It had been coming for some time. The anxiety, the fear had been building like a mob gathering numbers in a square. So he was pleasantly surprised to find the day they finally came, all he felt was relief. He only wished he had had enough time to text or call his family before they took his phone.
“Would you mind coming with us, sir.” And that was it. A short car ride, a brief time in an interview room where no one interviewed him, a night in the drunk tank and then he boarded a bus with no windows. The bus was full of others, some quiet and placid like him, others though were wild eyed, weeping, praying. He wanted to help them so he started singing.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll…” they took it up in dribs and drabs until nearly the whole bus was singing. Their guards stood up and the billy clubs began their work. So he sang louder and was tazed.
When he didn’t come home she thought he was working late. He didn’t answer his phone but that was par for the course. After dinner however she called everyone she could think of to call. No one had seen him. He had been working alone. Fearing he had had an accident, she drove out to the site but his car was gone. She checked the hospitals. Then she called the police. The voice on the line sounded incurious and overworked as they took the relevant information and hung up.
Days passed. She slept very little. She moved around in a numbness. Packing lunches, sending the kids to school, going to work, making dinner and still he did not return. No word. No call. What finally shook her awake was the grocery store.
“I’m sorry ma’am, your card was denied. Do you have another?” She did. That card was denied too. As was her bank card. “Could you step out of line ma’am?” The manager apologized and tried her cards again at the desk with the same results. She had no cash. No one did. It was all counterfeit these days. They began to look at her suspiciously, she was too tired and confused to get angry so she left the groceries there at the desk. Driving home she realized she still needed them though so she tried another market. The eyes were more sympathetic but the results were the same.
“I don’t understand,” the manager there said, “this should work. You did re-register with the new system didn’t you?” She finally got angry.
“Your family will starve,” said the well-fed man in the suit.
“They may,” he answered.
“You haven’t asked for a phone call.”
“You haven’t charged me with anything.” He stared with the serene indifference he’d been blessed with these past few weeks into the eyes of the man across the steel table. It was the first time anyone had attempted to talk with him. It was the first person he’d seen since they put him in his cell. It was the first time they’d let him out of his cell. It was a day of firsts. He smiled. The man in the suit just stared.
“Is something funny?”
“You can save them.” The smile sank. Now the man in the suit smiled. An actor’s smile. A smile of pity. “All you have to do, is call them, tell them to register. Tell them it’s okay. They’re credit will be unfrozen.”
“You won’t let me go though.”
The man in the suit shook his head, “no, I’m afraid not. Your kind is too dangerous. We’ve done the psych evals. But there’s still hope for them, they’re not committed terrorists, they haven’t been brainwashed by your medieval brand of ignorance and hatred yet. Tell them it’s okay, tell them to register and they can live.”
The phone rang. She didn’t answer it. She’d forgot what it was. It hadn’t rang since people found out. They’d tried talking her into registering. They’d tried convincing her she didn’t have to live like this. Her mother was hysterical. She had tried to take the children from her, have her declared unfit. So she ran. In the middle of the night she loaded them in the car with what little food a friend had given them and left.
She had nowhere to go. They stuck to back roads, slept in out of the way parking lots. Though she still didn’t sleep much. Every time headlights would wash over them she panicked. She didn’t know what she would do if they took her children. They were lethargic and whiney much of the time now. They kept asking her why? She kept giving them every answer but the one on her heart.
This was his fault. He was the one who wouldn’t register, didn’t want her to register. He was the one with all the whacked out beliefs. They had fought. They had fought bitterly, she had threatened to register her and the kids anyway but something had always stopped her. Something stopped her now. She wasn’t angry at him for stopping them, she was angry at him for giving her these doubts.
The phone rang again. She recognized it this time, his face showed up on the screen.
“Baby, it’s me…wait, wait, baby wait. I have something really important to tell you. Are you listening? Kay.
Endure.” The phone went dead in his hand. The man in the suit shook his head sadly.
“You could have saved them.” The guards came. They took the phone and lifted him from his seat.
“If she listens to me, then she will be saved.” They put him back in his cell. That was the worst time of his captivity. Would she listen? Would she endure? Would they take his children and re-educate them? It wasn’t in his hands. He could only hope and pray the life he had lived before was enough of a witness. Two days later they came and got him again. This time he was put in a line and marched single file up some stairs and up to a large room where they were put side by side with three other lines of half-starved prisoners. Each line was made to stand before one of four doors. He looked around at the others, happy to be seeing someone at all. There were men and women of every tongue, tribe and nation but one thing was uniform. The two lines to his left were successfully taller and the one line to his right was made up of people about six inches shorter than he and his line. It meant something but he was far too addled by this point to figure out what.
The doors opened and they marched inside. It was buzzing, dark, dank and narrow; the walls rubbed their shoulders. Their slippers rang hollowly on the metal floor. There was a single row of red fluorescent lights down the center and by it he could see the only feature of the corridor was a track to either side about neck high. The first person came to a wall and stopped, the guards kept packing them in until they were pressed so tight they could barely breathe. He couldn’t move, there was nothing to see to either side so he looked up.
The lights he thought were red weren’t really. They were just covered with something red. The buzzing he saw wasn’t just flickering flouros. There were flies too. He looked again at the tracks. He looked up at the flies on the red stuff on the lights. His smile came back.
“My sin, oh the bliss, of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but in whole…”
This time the song was cut off when their heads were by the steam driven cable running down the tracks. The bodies were pressed so tightly together they just stood there until the floor opened and they fell with the other four lines into the truck bed below.
It finally occurred to her to chuck the phone after his call. It was probably being tracked the whole time she ran. They could have taken her at any time. She drove all that day until she couldn’t see straight anymore. She parked on a scenic overlook and watched the sun set into the sea.
“Can we be done driving?”
“Yeah, honey. We’re done.” They were out of gas anyway. They slept in the car that night. The only cars she saw were tractor-trailers, the kind they use to take refuse to landfills. There must be a dump nearby. The next day she packed up everything they had into one little bag and they started walking, she had to carry her daughter she was so weak. She found she couldn’t carry her far though as she didn’t have the strength. They sat under an outcropping and slept and ate the last of the food.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
“Let’s sing a song.” She racked her brain for a song. She had no memory for lyrics. Especially ones her children would know and draw hope from. In a weak but confident voice, her daughter began to sing,
“Jesus loves me this I know…”