Illustration: “The Flaming Phoenix Storm” © 2007 by Junior McLean
The first days were always the hardest. It had been six months since I stopped counting the days and the nights. But somehow, somehow — I knew this was the first day. Maybe it was the black fog overhead, or the constant beat of war drums coming ever closer.
First day. Sacrifice. Food. Women. Children.
And they didn’t give a damn who or what. When the drums sounded, it was time to pay. This gothic aural calendar never failed, and as I stepped out of the wreckage of what was once my home, I could see the neighbors had fled. That meant it was me and my Julie. And I’d be damned if they were coming for her.
It hadn’t been too long since we all had family, friends, television. Hell, even running water. I remember taking those things for granted. I remember my car. Then they took that away, too. First, it was our power. Then it was our rights. Finally, every living thing that was deemed unfit for “consummation” (whatever the hell that meant) was destroyed.
In the new world, they didn’t give a damn about society. They didn’t give a damn about the Constitution. Black-market money. Power. Pleasure. Those were their games. It was a shame, too. I know. I used to watch the news. No one thought this world would eat itself away from the inside out. No. We all were watching out for Korea, for Space Aliens, for the Boogey Man.
Sometime around six years ago, society collapsed. Sure, the government did all it could to help, to make things better. The president declared martial law. The guys in green came out in force. If you were out after dark, you were an enemy combatant. You were dealt with. Easy enough. They were too smart. The sniveling little bastards. Someone told them they had rights, and they ran amuck. Daylight massacres became an everyday thing. Soon our patrols of hundreds were whittled down to scores of ten, then five. Then we were lucky to see one at all. The first called himself “Herrod.” Or something like that. To us, he was master. We did what he said. Or we’d die.
I remember when we had our court, when there was “justice.” Fifteen-stories tall and brand new, shining against the sun now blacked out. He lives there now. On the top floor, overlooking what used to be beautiful sandy beaches and the fresh ocean breezes.
“All living things belong to the earth. And so they are returned.” That was his first decree, right before he burned my town to the ground. Right before the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic gunfire and the acrid black-powder stench of certain death filled the air. My friend Joe, he ran to get his gun. He was going to fight back. He was going to be a hero. He was dead in the blink of an eye. They took his head and placed it on the roof of what used to be our police station. We never fought again. As for the rest, I heard they took them out west. Fertilizer for their crop.
Now it was first day. And he was hungry. And I was alone.
Julie stirred in her crib, came awake suddenly with a start. She started to cry. Tears filled her little doe eyes. The drums got louder. The automatics flared. Then a siren, followed by his voice on the PA.
“Bring out the women.” Short, sweet, and amicable as always.
Only problem, he already took the last of them.
They entered through the south, passed by our community policing substation, now shattered and piss-covered. I stood alone in the silent streets, the drums echoed and then faded away. Soon the sirens would fill the air. And then he would be here.
It had gone this way up and down the East Coast, from New York to Miami. Sure, there were small pockets of resistance. Some towns who refused to give up the fight. When the black guard came marching through, they stood their ground. Some survived. Most died.
He stood before me now, all of 12 years old and bulletproof. I tried to count his guard, but lost track at around 20.
“Bring me the women,” he said again, his mouse-like voice cracking in the loudspeaker.
“There are no more. You took them all.”
The safety clicked off. “That’s not fair.”
“Sometimes life just isn’t fair.” My eyes met his and I gave him my best adult-sounding reprimand.
Behind him I could see the orange-amber glow of the firelight, and I saw hell on Earth. It was brutally hot. I heard the laughing of a tall boy somewhere to my left. The cracking and creaking of timbers giving way to the flames surrounded me. The sky was slowly turning from its gray-black haze to a solid, choking black.
“I… I guess you have to leave then,” I said, feeling heroic.
He laughed again and then thunder boomed out, echoing throughout the blackened streets.
My head swam and I could feel myself falling, slowly spiraling downwards.
“No. I think you’re leaving,” he said, his voice dripping with prepubescent sarcasm.
I called her name as the airplane engines roared above. The smoke was choking. There were more shouts of rage, then thunder. Lots of thunder. The colors faded and all I saw was white.
As my eyes closed for the last time, I heard a shout. Fainter. Farther away. Someone was carrying me now. There was more shouting and then the tearing of fabric. I couldn’t feel my legs. I only knew pain. Red-hot pain. And rain.
Rain. Water. The essence of life, falling about me. A girl was shouting at me. Telling me to hold on tight.
Several men were yelling now. But I could hear just one voice throughout all the chaos. And she cried as I felt the scalpel cut into my skin.
The rain fell in waves, cleansing this poisoned ground. I was bleeding. I could feel the warm liquid ooze out of me slowly. The cold rain was a welcome relief until it faded into a gentle white noise that lulled me to sleep.
* * *
I awoke somewhere white and sanitary. Julie lay next to me in a glass-enclosed crib. We were north of Charlotte. The pretty nurse would tell me no more. I was healthy. Julie was safe. And for that moment, this was all that mattered.
While I waited in white and sanitary surroundings, three more first days passed. I heard no sirens. I heard no gunshots. Julie grew in her little clear box, and finally we were allowed to leave. They put me up in Mayberry. The hospital was the only facility in the county still with power. We had running water, and several concrete fences lined with barbed wire.
By accident one day I found myself near the guard gate, where several men in full uniform and strange weapons stood at attention. Their backs to me, they looked out at a dusty narrow road.
And in the distance, I saw fire. *
About the Author: David Kerschner is a 24-year-old communications major who graduated from Monmouth University in 2005 and has since gone on to be a slave to the government. He has written several screenplays, short stories, and even a novel or two. He looks forward to writing more in the future.
(c) 2007 David Kerschner firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Junior McLeanis formally from the Bronx, New York City area; for 10 years he has studied basic website design and also began performing graphic/digital designs for clubs and event flyers in a few locations. He still strives to be the best at what he can achieve.
(c) 2007 Junior McLean http://lordfreeza.deviantart.com/store/