Palo Alto Weekly 26th Annual Short Story
by Alexandre Poux
George Magellan dismissed the large piece of plaster that fell on his tile floor and fell back on his
dilapidated couch. The 2060 elections had been raging for nearly half a year now but the incessant din
of explosions in Washington D.C. no longer bothered him. He did not even notice the four knocks. One
came to believe that violence and political change were inseparable.
“The infamous rebels have made it through our bravest men, brutally and swiftly massacring
thousands in their quixotic desire for absolute power. Our government—”
The old man wondered where everything had gone so wrong; why election would forever infer violence. He remembered that long ago times were not so forlorn, but everything became a blur if he pressed deeper into his memories. Instead, he noticed that he had not eaten in the past two hours. Reluctantly rising from the couch, he staggered to the kitchen. George had run out of “real” food and was surviving on emergency rations, which vaguely resembled rancid and pale dog food. Forcing a small mouthful, he noted the foul taste that left him nauseated. Knowing well that spasmodic retching was part of the hourly procession, the bathroom became a very inviting room.
George knew survival was the ultimate goal but he could eat no more. A few more months of hiding would allow him four, perhaps even eight more years of dismal life. Four thumps sounded in the background. The old man’s feeble heart raced. He glanced once more at the trusted gun hanging over his television set and felt reassured. Made entirely of carbon fiber with the exception of a traditional metal trigger, the rifle had become the prize of his years spent in the military. Curiosity took him and George switched to the democrat channel.
“Not one shall survive. All resistance is futile. We are coming for you! The enemy will be crushed and victory—,” droned the angry hostess.
His heart sank. Four knocks now thundered throughout the room. George was coming to realize that the inevitable was approaching. Eager to bury the thought, he reached for the dusty diary of his disappeared girlfriend, Evelyn. He had procured the artifact nearly twelve years prior but had never laid eyes on any of the pages. Too afraid to revive the haunting memories of past events, he had tried to bury the cowardice and treachery so deep that he would never be reminded of his acts.
He flicked through the pages and found himself reading the last entry.
“August 13th, 2048. They are coming. George is nowhere to be found. They are breaking through. All this waiting, all this pain… for nothing! Why does my life have to end? I have done no wrong; I am a respectable woman. Where is George? If there is any hope, it lies within his trusted hands. He is an influential figure in the Republican militia. He may be able to stop the massacre. In my deepest despair, I am alone. Who do I have to turn to? Why? Somebody… please…” The writing had gotten faint.
The years of aging and the distinct ripples in the paper from where her tears had fallen made the reading insufferable to him. He could not read another word. For the first time in many years, true tears of remorse trickled down George’s venerable face. He lived every day with the shame of having arrived outside her blazing building with his militia just minutes too late. He was helpless in the face of the dreadful events that had unfolded. The prospect of never seeing Evelyn again made him mad with violence. The blind and heartless killing, the lives that he had destroyed thereafter would never cease to haunt him.
The old man now understood that there was little hope of change. Laws never existed for more than two years. In fact, very few laws had been passed in the past twenty. Each party seemed more intent on amassing weapons and raiding public funds for personal purposes. George sighed deeply. His life had been disrupted so many times by power-hungry organizations that every step forward seemed pointless. People lived between elections, losing their humanity every four years. Humanity was barbaric.
Four sonorous, regular, and slow thumps echoed. Cold sweat was forming upon George’s petrified face. He could hear yelling and gunfire outside. Thoughts raced across his head. Images of death, stories of torture and pain, and common propaganda fueled the old man’s raging inferno of fear. The gun was hanging on the wall. The room’s paltry barricade was shaking; it was not long before they would break through. The distinct screams of his neighbors could be heard over the angry din. George leapt for his rifle and prowled around the room, damaging what little he had left in the process. But that didn’t matter. He needed to find his ammunition.
Holding the precious cartridges, time suddenly ground to a slow trickle. The rapid beats of his heart resonated in his ears. All the pain and shame seemed forgotten. Eying the trigger, the welcoming outline of the weapon gave the man comfort. He would not go down without a fight. He deserved to
“I deserve to live. Come on in if you’re men, you sons of a gun!” he roared with passion.
He loaded the rifle with fervor and stood still for what seemed to be a lifetime.
“You don’t stand a chance. We have the weapons, and the will to make a difference. The time of old is over. You will die today,” chanted the deep and exhilarated youthful voices.
All his life had amounted to nothing. All his energy had been spent in vain and George knew it. The last entry of his former loved one resounded in his skull; he seemed to be responsible for all the pain of men. He hated himself for what society had extracted out of him and the suffering he had induced. The line between right and wrong had been twisted and smeared in all directions. War was hope, death had become joy. The rifle had grown heavy in his arms and he was tired of the drama.
In one majestic thrust, he crashed the weapon upon the ground and yelled from a deep place in his soul. He would not be responsible for the deaths of any more people. He was drawing the line in his living room, moments before his death. Windows were breaking, emitting the frightful screech of shattered glass. The door was succumbing to the violent exterior pressure. Holes were being forced through the walls by the loud drills and bullets. None of this bothered him anymore. He simply limped to his couch and grabbed a piece of paper and an old pencil and wrote his thoughts as though a better future was in sight.
“I have lost. Wherever I turn, the gates are shut. But that does not matter. In my ultimate defeat I will have the consolation of winning the battle over myself. I will not be the author of any more pain. I repudiate violence. I’m coming Evelyn.”
The door was no more. Armed men and women were storming in. George hurriedly scribbled his last words. “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others that have been tried. — Winston Churchill.”
This story takes current political polarization and successfully carries it to its logical and frightening extreme. A fine cautionary tale.
Registration now open
The Palo Alto Weekly Moonight Run & Walk is happening September 16 at the Palo Alto Baylands.