FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE JOURNALISTS
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Of all the people for them to send, and just tragic enough to be true.
She stood proud in all her misanthropic glory. Decked out in soldierly gear and flanked by paramilitary police. A small, garish red badge in the shape of a sphere circled by a single lightning bolt adorned her brown shirt collar––she kept her shirt tucked taut into starched straight pants.
“What is this?” I asked, voice curt to mask the fear reverberating through my body.
“Step outside,” Laura demanded, with her one overly-plucked eyebrow arched. Her hair, usually worn loose with soft curls, was now pulled back into a severe bun. Her red-ruby adorned lips seemed appropriately ghoulish, complimenting her filed sharp nails like talons perfectly. If forced to describe the radical transformation, I would have most certainly christened her a human hawk.
It was happening.
The rumors floating around had all been correct. I’d been expecting something like this and thought I had prepared. In the weeks leading up to the nation's mass culling, I worked through most nights to put my affairs in order––the best I could manage while under strict house arrest.
But now, as I watched events unfold, an inexplicable denial coursed through my veins, cold as ice. My closest friend of many years, a highly regarded professor at the local college and a woman who had won countless accolades for community engagement, now stood at my door, brandishing a gun.
Barely recognizable, Laura’s uniform mirrored a bygone tyranny in all its eerie glory. In one hand she held a slip of paper. In the other, a pistol aimed squarely at my forehead.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The choice is yours,” she said, with not the slightest hint of irony.
One officer, little more than a child himself, yanked the screen door open, pulling me by the elbow.
“Let go of me.”
I flailed my arms stretching to reach for the door frame, but his grip was stronger, more determined––his blue eyes burned with pure, unhinged hate. I had no chance.
“Why are you doing this?” I shouted at my former friend, my glare never wavering from her stony stare.
“You broke the law,” she retorted. “And from what I’ve gather, you’ve been repeatedly warned.” Her eyes narrowed. “And don’t bother looking at me like that. What did you think would happen?”
“What law?” I asked, a splay of my angry spittle filtering in the air. “Your law?”
“Oh please, Nadia, save your high and mighty indignation for court.”
“I demand to know what you’re charging me with?”
Laura ignored me.
“You!” she yelled to one soldier. “Grab her,” Laura ordered over my protests. “Make sure you secure this one.”
“Answer me––I have the right to know!”
Laura spun toward me, the front lapel of my shirt now clenched in her fist. With a strength I never knew she possessed, she shoved me hard against the closed doorframe.
“You. Demand. Nothing," she sneered. "You abdicated your rights the minute you decided to write your filthy, fake lies. Did you really think you’d get away with mocking our President? True patriots?”
“They weren’t lies, and you know it,” I roared back. But as soon as the words left my mouth, Laura shot her hand high in the air, ready to backslap me silent. Shockingly, she stopped short.
“You still don’t get it, do you?” she scowled. “Get her out of here!”
But Laura was wrong. I got it, alright.
As a seasoned journalist, I had seen up close and personal how the acquisition of power intoxicated. How former minions now freely lauded their pilfered control over the less privileged––and indiscriminately murdered Black and Brown people without fear of consequence. I’d witnessed how fascists wearing suits, ties, and bicycle helmets hunted down anyone daring to contradict their message of hate and exclusion. I’d seen them scouring the countryside and city streets, determined to jail writers and protestors by the thousands. State militias labeling dissident reporters as ‘liars’ and “fakes’ ––tossing bodies into undisclosed prisons for the so-called “common sanctity and protection of all good Americans.”
“Where are you taking me?” I again demanded, no longer afraid.
“You'll be detained in a holding unit until your case is sorted out.”
I shuddered at the sheer callousness behind Laura’s words.
“A holding unit,” I sneered. “You mean an internment camp.”
Laura leaned into me, displaying two rows of perfectly straight white teeth. Her hot breath pressed against my cheek. “I suggest you stop fighting.”
I jerked my head away. “When did you become such a bootlicker?”
That earned me a nice, sharp elbow to my ribs.
By now, a small group of neighbors had silently congregated on their lawns, hypnotized by the insanity of the scene unfolding before them. From across the street, I glimpsed my neighbor, Carlotta, lower her blinds, while Joan from the other side of the road, gathered her children, corralling them inside with sharp, punitive whispers. As she attempted to drag them away, I heard her oldest daughter Kimberly wail.
“What are they doing to Mrs. Rashid?” she cried before being jerked face-first into her mother’s shielded embrace.
I kept still, my mind racing. My only solace in the form of a flowerpot placed strategically by the side of my garage. Striking red impatiens bloomed and burst in bold hues. I made a silent prayer that in my haste, I had remembered to bury the USB thumb drive deep enough.
All eyes fell on me. I quickly diverted my gaze so as not to give anything inadvertently away.
Within seconds, the earth beneath my feet began to rumble. Turning the bend, a river of black and red charged forward in lock-step precision; their goose-steps reminiscent of old black and white war movies––with flags of sedition waving. I watched as soldiers paraded through the neighborhood street, some instructed to bear off and bang on doors while others snatched random people straight off their lawns. The air turned foul, filled with waves of terror-shrills and protests.
I glanced towards the young couple next door, waiting by their mailbox. Janet, who had made it known from the first day she moved in that she despised me and everything I stood for, smirked in my direction. Of all the neighbors, I knew this one in particular, would relish my untimely demise. Her husband, a tall, lanky man with a non-descript face, stood slightly behind her, visibly less enthralled, but not nearly uncomfortable enough to interfere. His lack of excitement, however, did little to dissuade his overly enthusiastic wife.
“America! America!” chanted Janet, her right arm jutted high in the air in proud salute as badge-less, masked troops marched past her house.
I squeezed my eyes shut in disgust.
I could deal with imprisonment, but the thought that I had not succeeded in handing off my last message hung heavy on my heart.
I had failed.
In a sudden fit of rage, I struggled to break away, but the two soldiers flanking me blocked my feeble attempt to escape.
“No, you don’t,” shouted one as he grabbed and yanked me forward. As he tugged, I willed my legs to go limp, causing him to trip forward and fall.
“Animal,” he snarled, ready to fight.
“Drag her if you have to,” ordered Laura from somewhere nearby. “And get the rest of these people off their lawns and out of the way.”
Out of the way? From what?
“Stand up,” taunted the irate soldier in my ear, his right cheek faintly smudged with dirt from his tumble. “You’re all the same,” he proclaimed, tossing me unceremoniously to the ground like discarded trash.
Ironically, this wasn’t some World War II reenactment or even an anomaly. This calculated scourge defined the new America; the land of the feared, the home of the coward. A country where free speech was now routinely besmirched and rankled. A country where anyone considered outside of the state sanctioned norm was deemed unworthy and, therefore, inherently disposable. Words had become the only remaining ammunition of the resisters; their writings now marked as crimes against humanity. But that realization did little to prevent the fighters who bravely marshaled together, willing to disperse the missives at considerable personal danger. These clandestine, unsung heroes risked exposure to protect the word, all while surrounded by an epidemic of morally bankrupt masses.
Laura marched past and lobbed the arrest warrant detailing my trumped-up charges onto my lap: Apparently, as a journalist, I’d been preemptively judged a War Criminal and Traitor.
I crumpled the paper and tossed it back at her. It landed by her feet. Instead of picking it up, she sneered, stomping it into the ground with the metal tip of her shiny black boot.
A police van pulled to the side of the road. Two new faces emerged, circled to the front and approached Laura to await their orders.
“MAGA,” they chorused, saluting.
“MAGA,” Laura replied. “Take her to Unit Seven. I want this one kept alive.”
“Yes, Commander,” they droned in unison before carting me off.
They ordered me to sit inside the van, where an officer proceeded to handcuff me to a chain attached to a metal bench. For whatever reason, they left the back door wide open, perhaps to increase my discomfort while affording spectators one last chance to savor my arrest.
I forced my head high, despite the restraints chafing my wrists.
But then, from the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something extraordinary happen.
This can’t be right.
I did a double-take, and then another.
I’d heard the underground worked in mysterious ways, but hell––even that couldn’t be for real.
Before I had the chance to confirm what I thought I saw, the van door slammed closed, and the engine started. We were getting ready to pull away from the curb. I stretched my neck as far as I could, pressing one side of my cheek against a small, smudged, square window in the back.
My eyes had not deceived me.
Even from a distance, I could clearly make out Janet––of all people––walking nonchalantly to my garage.
In one spontaneous motion, she lifted my flowerpot, turned, and began heading back to her house, never once glancing around or stopping. From behind her ear, she bore the symbol of the resisters––a simple yellow pencil.
None of this was making any damn bit of sense, but under the circumstances, I didn’t have the time nor the mental capacity to process the glaring disparity.
I leaned back, practically panting.
Faster, walk faster––I willed her, but Janet maintained her pace––slow and steady. Jaw tight. Vision forward, and arms protecting the planter.
Noise erupted. People were arguing. Screams. Footsteps running.
I stopped breathing.
A few more steps.
Come on––just a few more steps.
Janet had just made it to her front door when I heard it––the distinctive rat-a-tat-tat of wild, indiscriminate gunfire ricocheting off buildings––and landing inside once breathing bodies.
Shrieks of pain echoed by dazed disbelief tore through the people like wild machetes slicing through underbrush.
“Noooo,” I shouted as I watched Janet’s lifeless body crumple and thump to the ground, the flowerpot smashing against her cement step.
A howl so raw and hopeless burst out of me as I stomped, flung, and slammed my shackled body hard against the van wall.
“Noooo,” I sobbed, thrashing, but my wails and those of the despairing screams of the Peoples Protest fell once again on silent, indifferent ears.
“First they came for the journalists.
We don’t know what happened after that.”
Wake up people.
While this story is fiction, are these?