Thomas Hellman

An elder statesman stood in his office on the top floor of a former business building. Most signs of the former occupant were gone, replaced by a militaristically bland desk and chair and a portrait of an eagle hanging on a side wall. The old man fancied himself as something out of a history book; he wore a full, dark blue suit and a wig that recalled the 18th Century colonials (some might think him foolish or delusional to wear such dated clothing, but those who did were in no position to question his fashion sense.) He wondered how disappointed those founding fathers would be to see what their descendants had done to their country…

The statesman looked out a window that stretched from the floor to the ceiling with his hands behind his back, surveying the world below. His world. The one he had helped to forge. The City called McCain. Through the chaos, the misery, and the filth, he had cleared a path, building a stronghold upon his own back, so that the people might not sink back into the grime that had befallen their once fair city 30 years ago. True, there had been some casualties along the way-perhaps a few he even regretted-but it was a small price to pay to give the people the sense of security that they needed. These were trying times, and there were many naysayers who would stand in his way. He could show them no mercy. No, for they had to be taught a lesson: if you uttered heresy, you would be punished.

The building in which the old man stood was a relic of the past. A past that was not so long ago, and yet as far removed as the day Jesus walked on water. It was a disgusting, reprehensible time, with peoples of a similar character. Dangerous ideas had been allowed to pass from the lips of the people, for no one had been there to silence their tongues. Now, all the filth had been expelled from the city below (or if they were still present, they were sure to be found out and cut down.) Beyond the city were the savages, who did not believe the correct things; they were the perpetuation of a lie. If he could but stamp them out… but there was more stamping out to be done than he could accomplish in the short time he had left. All the same, the sky never did seem to be able to wash all the blood away… Horrible things had happened.

“I see you are watching over your people once again, father,” a familiar voice spoke from behind the statesman. Was it that time so soon? …yes, it was. He had lost track of time, deep in thought, but it was made evident by the noon sun in the sky. “Ever vigilant, you are. They should feel blessed to have such a dedicated sentry.”

“Young man,” the father spoke as he turned to face his son-who looked like gutter trash, with his baggy, ripped clothing and long, unkempt hair, resembling a drug addict from 30 years before his time-“should my ears deceive me, but I think I heard a touch of disdain in your voice. Do you disagree with the way your father has conducted his business?”

“I do believe you are imagining things, dear old man,” the young man spoke in a tone that betrayed his true sentiments. “For all the years of my life, you have been the model upon which all proper McCainites based their behavior.”

“Your words warm my heart,” the old man stated flatly. “So, the time has come. You are here. Is there anything you wish to say to me now?”

“What might I say? What more is there to say, father? What more, but to sing your praises; that I always admire how you conduct yourself in your dealings with the people. For a recent example, how you handled the Jeffersonian refugees,” the young man continued in his mocking tone. “Such mercy and grace you displayed!”

“They could not provide for their own; they had to beg for handouts on my streets,” the old man intoned. “In our society, all must be able to work to sustain the whole. If you do not work, you do not eat. If by some act of trickery you acquire sustenance without working, you will doubtlessly find more ways to acquire things without earning them. Eventually, thievery and murder is introduced back into our society, should the infestation be allowed to continue. Therefore, those Jeffersonian pests had to be undone.”

“That sounds oddly like communism, old man,” the young man smirked. “I never took my father to be a Stalinist.”

“And in that, you are correct,” the statesman narrowed his eyes at his cheeky offspring. “Communism was a device created by the inhuman beasts off in the far east. They are the lowest of the low. Below even the savages who continue to listen to the profane music of the past, down in the South.”

“I still remember when all the city’s rap CD’s were grounded into dust and scattered on the ruins of Hillerania,” the boy betrayed no emotion, but his father remembered how he had reacted at the time. “That was when I began to understand what kind of a man my father truly was.”

“For certain, it was enlightening for you, boy,” the statesman growled. “Perhaps I should have gathered up those CD’s sooner, as to make a deeper impression on you; that filth clearly poisoned your brain.”

“HA! That darned rap music isn’t what got to me, pops,” The statesman’s son scoffed disrespectfully at his father. “If you really wanted to cleanse the uniqueness out of me, you would have gotten rid of the punk rock music.”

“…I suppose I thought even you would be too sophisticated to listen to that dribble,” the statesman eyed his son incredulously for a moment. He had been unaware that CD’s containing punk rock music hadn’t been destroyed by the common man simply for being an offense to the ears. “…As for the Hilleranians, those people insisted on continuing to encroach upon our lands. They threatened our way of life with their speeches of so-called ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance.’ Their only aim was to delude our minds, lure us back to a dangerous way of thinking that nearly eradicated the human race from these lands thirty years ago.”

“A beautiful city, that one. Places of historic significance all over it,” the boy noted nonchalantly. “The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial… those and all like them, destroyed. A significant city to a once great nation, burned to the ground, because you had ideological differences with its latest inhabitants-”

“How do you know of that city’s history, boy?” The statesman glared. “Why is it that you insist on resurrecting dangerous memories of a time and people who failed? Why do you hold on to such childish dreams? This is our existence, now. This is how we sustain ourselves, lest we be erased from the face of the Earth by another city state.”

“Why? Why must we worry that others will wipe us from existence?” The boy questioned, throwing his arms wide with a face of incredulity. “What feasible reason do we have that worry today, other than the fact that this is the very type of behavior we exhibit, ourselves? If we would but open the channels of communication-”

“Naiveté,” the statesman interrupted flatly. “You do not live in a world of trustworthy people; the lands around you are inhabited by savages who would sooner kill you than speak to you. The world of ideality that you dream of was always a myth, and that foolish dream cannot be tolerated anymore.”

“So you wipe from the world any dissenting voices, then,” the boy responded in resignation.

“You already know this,” the father stated sternly. The two stood in silence for a moment, the old man staring at his son, his son staring at the ground in front of him. Presently one of the statesman’s guards poked his head through the door.

“Sir, your meeting with the Board will be in fifteen minutes,” the guard informed the old man. “have you prepared-?”

“Yes, yes, thank you,” the statesman interrupted his fool guard impatiently. “My notes are prepared and sitting on my desk. Their concerns about the Eastside Slums are unfounded, as I will soon prove to them. Those people are grateful to even be allowed within our city walls, or they should be. Back to your post, and no more interruptions unless you know I would deem them necessary.” The guard looked as though he were about to utter an affirmation, but when his benefactor pointed to the door, he knew not to press his luck any further, and simply resumed his post outside. Having dealt with this interruption, the old man returned his attention to his less than grateful offspring, an irrepressible question burning on his tongue. “How is it you came to know of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial? Why do you know their names?”

“You really think I would betray that information to you?” The boy asked in a small voice.

“You will tell me who it was who taught you these things,” the statesman leaned in to his son’s face, “or not. The individual will be found out in time, regardless of your rebellious behavior. The outcome remains the same-”

“Then on with the witch hunt,” the son glared back into his father’s eyes. “I will not be party to it.”

“You feel so strongly about this individual, do you?” The statesman scowled as he folded his arms. “Would this person go to the same lengths for you as you do now for him? Where is he in your time of need? Why is he not here advocating for you?”

“He or she is aware of the ‘Wiping People from the Face of the Planet Who Disagree with You’ policy that you’ve instated,” the young man snarked humorlessly. “I would be thoroughly disappointed if he or she made him or herself known to you. Oh, and don’t fool yourself; you will never find this person. You haven’t the slightest idea where to begin looking.”

“Boy, you are soft,” the statesman placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Spoilt. You have never experienced the harshness of our reality. You have been shielded from the things that I have had to do-and I will continue to do-to ensure the preservation of our way of life-” The boy shoved his father away violently. The old man spilled across the floor, landing hard on his back. An undignified gasp escaped his mouth. The two guards standing outside his door quickly secured his insolent son, who glared down at him in defiance. Still, the statesman swiftly waved the two off. They holstered their pistols, and then resumed their positions, flanking the door outside. Slowly, deliberately, the statesman straightened himself up and rose back to his feet, staring the boy down as he did so.

“You are a menace,” the man’s son accused of him, “a monster. You claim the title of Governor. You emulate our Founding Fathers-the men whose very memory you’ve moved to erase-in the way you dress, with that ridiculous 18th century wig and suit. Yet you know nothing of governing. Your character does not emulate those great men in any fashion; you don’t believe in democracy. No, you run an autocracy, the very thing they fled from. Whose way of life are you striving to preserve?”

“The one true way of life,” the father straightened fully; a position that allowed him to tower over his son. “The Way that is the Only Way. It is sacred, and it must be kept. It is what we fought for thirty years ago when the world went to Hell. When you were still in your mother’s womb, there was a great enlightening; the people realized that there was no more democracy, only a select group of men lording over millions of people. Different ideologies and ways of life, incompatible with one another, were forced into representation as one. However, only a select minority’s voice was heard, and what it cried for was never in the best interest of all the people it represented.”

“Abuse of power, huh? Sounds familiar-” the young man began snidely, but his father cut him off with an outstretched hand, shielding himself from his son’s arrogant mouth. “What, you’re not gonna let me talk now? You self-important, arrogant, old-”

“What set of decisions and actions could possibly properly represent all of the people, all of the time?” the old man questioned, purposefully cutting his son off. “What of those might even represent a fraction of those people? Take the farmer out in his fields; what does he know or care of the struggles of the person in the inner city? What does the entertainer in his studio know or care of the soldier, fighting a war halfway across the world that he doesn’t understand or necessarily even agree with? What of those weak, slothful individuals who permeated society with their unrestricted girth? How long do you believe they lasted when the call to defend their very existence came to their doors? Their excess was erased in an instant. A great many other peoples and ideas were also irrevocably erased.”

“What does the ancient corpse know of the common man’s struggle in his fascist-run city? I can guarantee that once he’s gone, all he’s done will be erased and forgotten,” The young man rolled his eyes. His father glared at him dangerously for this second interruption.

“You keep your mouth shut until I’m done, or I will send you away right now,” the statesman glared dangerously. His son glared back at him but remained silent, so he continued, “So, you believe in unity? Do you suppose this belief was truly universal in that failed civilization you worship? What of the individuals who began killing those of a different race when they began to feel underrepresented? Are you aware of how many there were, and still are, who do not know reason, and only act on whatever raw emotion they happen to feel at any given moment? Do you know how much emphasis was placed on the dollar and to what lengths so many would go to get as much of it as they could? Did your friend tell you of all the legal nonsense that protected the criminals and punished the innocent? Of how frequently individuals sued others for frivolous reasons, and how acceptable this was in their judicial system?”

“…yes, he or she did,” the young man answered the rhetorical question. “That doesn’t mean-”

“Clearly, these people did not actually care one iota for what decisions or actions were best for all,” the old man continued talking as if his son had not spoken at all. “Clearly, they were always looking out for the best interests of themselves and their own kin. I will tell you something, my son; they were not wrong in this way of thinking. That is the basis upon which I make all my decisions today; my choices are what is best for the preservation of this city and her people. On that day twenty-five years ago, we became McCainites. We are McCainites today, and we will be McCainites tomorrow. There is no room for any other people or ideologies in this city, just as there is no room for any differing ideologies in any other cities.

There is no room for democracy or idealists in this world anymore; either the crooked nail will straighten itself, or it will be hammered down. If it cannot be hammered down, then it will be pulled out of its place and thrown away.”

So I am the crooked nail,” the boy glared defiantly. “I will not be straightened, father.”

Then it is time,” the father replied, turning his back on his son. Presently, the guards came back into the room and flanked the young man. “I would have hoped you would change your mind.”

You should recognize well the stubborn blood that flows through my veins,” the boy responded curtly. “I would rather go to this fate than remain as your slave.”

Yes, yes, the slave who was clothed, fed, and tutored well into his twenties, and gave nothing in return,” the statesman growled at his son. “You are a disgrace to your lineage, and your mother would be ashamed.”

Of course she would be ashamed,” the young man snarled. “At you.

SHOW HIM TO HIS FATE!” The old man could barely conceal his rage any longer, so embarrassed and disappointed he was at the thing that his only child had turned into. He did not look back as his son was led out of the room to be cleansed. All blemishes had to be cleaned; all dissenting voices had to be stricken down; and all crooked nails had to be hammered down, or gotten rid of. The City would be preserved.