The train that brought me was an old one that sounded like an angry god as the gears worked together. Seating was poor and painful as no cushions could be found. The food we were given was warm water with some beef and a thin slice of rye bread, all the food was being sent to the front we were told. The soldiers needed it more than us. My first experience inside of Protegard was not a good one as my stomach rumbled and my back ached. I fear my foreignness was apparent the moment I stepped off the train all those months ago. Reacting to discomfort was not something these stoic people ever seemed to do; simply shouldering more pain was a feat even the smallest child or woman accomplished with relative ease. The result was a race of people slow to happiness and found great content in having a full stomach. Across the station were banners and signs glorifying the president of the country and his family, the sons in particular. Asking a passing guard whether or not the president had been in power long he seemed to be put off and cocked his head. Thinking back to that question makes me shake my head in quiet anger, to know so little about this country and still go. Nothing was more childish. Taking my small bags full of clothes and texts before the guard felt a need to detain me, I took my leave with haste. That encounter helped reinforce my conviction more than any reading could ever do. A corrupt state only deserves fire.
It was a few months before I made anything resembling regular contact with an underground movement. The group was full of revolutionaries all with piercing eyes and a keen intelligence. Some were natural speakers and were able to get a number of the lower classes to become lifelong revolutionaries in only a few hours. These speakers had distilled their complex politics into a few easy to understand questions, stories and examples that the mostly illiterate population could grasp with gusto. Others were better artists than speakers however and their talents were put to writing and painting to inspire the masses to rise in revolt. There were so many myriad tasks that called all manner of people to the cause that it would take pages and pages to list it all. Cooks, plumbers, priests, professors and students, disillusioned police and others all flocked to the cause bringing some special talent. It was cramp, loud and sometimes violent, but that basement was alive and free; a spirit that dared resist the President’s forces with might and venom either physically or ideologically. For many months I was proud to say I belonged there until the uprising began and the true character revealed itself.
That is why I must tell this story, that of youthful idealism meeting with reality, the young pulling the trigger for the old. The revolution was not meant to happen that way. This is not a story of heroes or villains, only men and their actions and the consequences thereof. I hear that the events of that day are quickly being forgotten or changed to fit a new ideal. I cannot allow that to happen, with every fiber of my soul I will make sure the truth is told and people made aware of what really happened on that hot summer day where violence unimagined was visited on the small republic of Protegard.
The first few weeks and months passed slowly as I trained and talked with my fellows in that basement. The place itself was located under a baker’s shop. The man had lost his son and daughter to the president’s lackeys, the first to execution by firing squad on some patch of land close to the front and the second to the whims of a wicked police officer with more lust than decency. There was no case, the father knew better than to try. He’d seen so many others only receive more trouble for trying to find justice that way. It saddened me greatly to see that man with a large belly and a ready smile that quickly turned to a bitter glare whenever a police officer entered his store to have so much hate. It also endeared me to the cause. I was righting wrongs committed by a corrupt police state, it was right. The baker tried to make the basement livable by putting mattresses, chairs and tables, some manner of comfort, but it was cold and wet most of the time. The training was more a series of lectures and dialogues between all the members on revolutionary rhetoric and ways to rally the populace to our cause. Every so often I’d head out to the dense forests surrounding the capital and take part in target practice firing at trees or abandoned homes. A few others and myself even went hunting to hone our survival skills and bring some actual meat back to the basement. The government run food stores were always low on handouts, ‘for the front’ they chorused every time someone objected to the laughable portions they received. Hunting was strictly forbidden however, it was a luxury that the wealthy enjoyed to hold absolute dominance over the wilds and all the animals that called it home. It was a liberating time to be sure. I never felt so alive, never had anything I could commit to with my entire person. This was what I was made for, I believed, I’m sure my fellows also enjoyed it at some sense as the spirited debates and hunting trips attested.
These debates sometimes became heated as there were so many differing beliefs stuffed together in that cramp basement. Men who championed the cause of those in the factories, others who saw the perversion of the republic as something entirely wicked, religious men who wanted a return of the church’s power and others who wore dark red armbands that sought to wipe away the old order and replace it with something new. I was somewhere between an adventurous youth and those that wanted the factories to respect its laborers. I believed the words and parroted whenever asked what I wanted to accomplish.
Those men with the dark red armbands, however, were all cold and distant from the rest of us. They always sought to dominate the debates and push their agenda of a new world. I feared them, but was entirely grateful they appeared to be on my side and against the president. One of them, a lanky man with a thin beard and bright blue eyes, seemed to be their leader. His name was Fitzgerald and came from a country across the ocean. He had worked his whole life in factories, seen the industry consume his brother and sister and had even lost two of his fingers on his right hand. The fury with which he condemned those with money was something that made a knot in my stomach, but excited and fascinated me. His words rang true and he believed them so fervently that I even saw myself more inclined to violence where before I saw the benefit of peaceful demonstration. Calling that folly, Fitzgerald spoke long and hard that those in power will never allow the masses to vote away their power or wealth. We must take it through armed force and ideological domination, he would say and his followers would whistle and applaud. I joined in with that applause, but felt uneasy afterwards. A feeling of a coming storm was forming in my mind, my anxiety seemed inflamed and a sense of desperation overwhelmed like that of a caged animal about to be slaughtered that would do anything and kill anyone to find some scrap of freedom.
The other groups became alienated after Fitzgerald called them all lackeys and fools of the president. He reasoned that any who worked within the system were doomed to fail, that the masses were too blind and passive to actually take care to vote us into the parliament. It came to a head not long after when it was discovered the men with the dark red armbands were actively stealing from or harming the masses while in the disguise of police officers. “They must be awakened!” Fitzgerald yelled and his lackeys echoed him. “We cannot wait for every single person to have an experience like that of our dear host above. This movement needs a push!” The other groups banded close together and expelled all of them from the movement. Fitzgerald laughed and left saying that we’d be lost without him and his fellows. That same knot grew in my stomach because I feared he was right. With so many different beliefs our debates often became little more than an ideological fist fight. It got so bad some nights that no progress could be made either in how to advance the revolution or awaken the masses. Even now I wonder what Fitzgerald thinks of the revolution and the violence that came after. Is he happy? Is that even possible? His steely face makes me think not.
At night I ponder if our refusal to work with Fitzgerald and his dogs was what drove him further down his hole of violence and hate. Perhaps we were softening him in some minor way. Was he just using us the whole time? Exploiting our resources and manpower to his own ends? I wonder. Trying to understand the motives of Fitzgerald is almost impossible now that it is all said and done. He would at times appear sympathetic to all the needs of the group. Other times he would curse us for our lack of foresight and our squeamish attitude to violence. Most of the time his face was constantly one of smug annoyance, he was there because he knew that together the movement stood a better chance than just him and his alone thrashing at the world. Some will call him hero, others will damn him. I belong to the latter as do many of my friends and collogues.
The Strange thing is that even with all our attempts at instigating or planning or Fitzgerald’s fear mongering the revolution came without our approval or knowledge.
The sun was low and heavy on that midsummer day, the wool clothing clung to all of us and the stink of sweat was intolerable in that basement. I left intending to head to a local café where a very pretty girl with sympathies to the cause worked. All the same, on the way I noticed a large mass of people milling outside one of the food depository stores. At a distance, I knew the group was agitated and the few guards were growing in anxiousness. Walking bristly to the group I saw a few comrades and joined them amongst the mass of people. Under the watchful and hot sun above and packed so close together with my fellow humans the heat became even more apparent.
A very large member of the working class was arguing with the officer who was resting a hand on his pistol.
The first said, “There is more in there than you’re handing out! Every day we come here and receive next to nothing! My children go hungry and yours get fatter by the day!”
The officer replied thus, “The president has made sure that the soldiers receive the largest portion. The front is strong because our boys are so well supplied.” My eyes squinted at his tone, one of rehearsal.
The worker continued his tirade, “No, no, no. You have been saying that for months, the same tired speech about the front and the soldiers. We here at home are starving, our soups are thin and the bread moldy, the milk sour. You expect us to believe those same lies day in and day out! My children ask me when they will eat a proper meal again and I cannot answer them! How am I supposed to feed them when I can’t get any food, answer me that you ass!?” A large number of the crowd echo the call and take a step closer the guards. The soldiers protecting the depository gripped their rifles and swords more sternly and the officer pulled his pistol out of the holster and grabbed it in hand and let it lay at his side.
“The soldiers at the front need all the supplies they can get. You should be so fortunate to get all you do. The stores are running lo…” The officer stopped himself before continuing and just glared at the crowd. The loud worker did not avert his gaze and a few others joined him at his side with rocks in hand. My nerves were fraying and my hair on end as the confrontation continued this way. My fellow revolutionaries were talking to each other wondering what to do. One was saying that we must diffuse the situation, now is not the time. Others were insisting that a better opportunity would not present itself. Words were caught in my throat and I stood mouth agape, my mind a maelstrom of thinking.
Cooler minds did not win that day as a rock was sent flying into one of the windows resulting in a shattering noise that snapped everyone’s attention. A second later came a gunshot that felled the large worker in front who was arguing for his children. The shot came from behind the group of people and I turned around seeing a man fleeing down the street. For just a moment I caught his face and studied it. The profile was something I’d seen before, but I was unsure where. That would have to wait as the mass of people began surging behind and around and started attacking the guards mauling with fists and fury. Some of the soldiers got shots off or thrust their bayonets madly into the crowd of people, but the boys never stood a chance. The officer fired five shots from his revolver and saved the last for himself before the crowd got to him. The revolutionaries around me had no idea what to do, some joined the carnage and others tried to stop it. The store itself was looted and the contents taken by people. The words of the officer came to me again as there was almost nothing in the store, far less than what the words of the father made me believe had to be in there.
The looting continued this way for a few minutes until a familiar voice on a loud speaker came marching down the street with his cohorts close behind. All were armed with rifles and pistols and wearing dark red armbands, some had flags with twin sickles emblazoned across the center. It was Fitzgerald and the look on his face is something I’ll never forget. It was not what he usually wore, but one of sincerity and compassion, his companions also had the same face. His language even was a utopian one calling for the people to finally throw off the shackles of the president and his cronies. The voice and tone were perfect, the rioters stopped and listened and watched. So effective was it that I found myself believing it for a moment until past events awakened me. This was the man who had his hounds attack and steal from the masses to inflame them. This was an act, nothing more than to appear sympathetic. In that moment I thought to grab the dead officer’s pistol and kill Fitzgerald, but I would surely not survive the attempt as the others would butcher me for killing their vaunted leader. This act of cowardice is something I ponder with great effort throughout my remaining days. Could I have stopped everything with a pistol bullet? It seems foolish to think as I knew the revolver was unloaded. Surely the officer had more cartridges though; I should have acted instead of standing like an ass.
The realization that Fitzgerald was acting was not the only one to happen that day. The man I saw fleeing from the murder of the father was one of Fitzgerald’s hounds. I had seen him before in the basement; he seemed like any other of the dark red armband fellows. He had fired the shot and maybe thrown the brick and fled hoping not to be seen. Was all this a plan by Fitzgerald? I could not figure that out at the moment, but it seemed likely. The wolf saw an opening and took it by being louder than anyone else and better equipped, using the hatred of the dead worker to compel more and more violence. Like a man who trains ravenous beasts, Fitzgerald brought that rage under his control.
Some of my fellow revolutionaries fled to them and joined their ranks seeing a shot at toppling the president. Only a few others and I resisted the urge, I do not know why they did, but I did not join the expanding legion of dark red armbands because I knew this was all an act by Fitzgerald, the man was a manipulator and one that could not be trusted. This was not how the revolution was meant to be; not through violence and blood, but something else, a general strike, a democratic uprising, not this. The rioters were flocking to the banners as the message appealed to them in their blind and ill informed minds. I tried to stop them, appeal to them that this was not what it seemed. My voice was drowned out by the mass and Fitzgerald on the loudspeaker. Soon shots from rifles and revolvers would add their volume to the cacophony around me, police sirens and more breaking glass.
I fled when the police forces began marshalling and the masses began throwing rocks and flammable cocktails. The basement was where I was headed, if my comrades weren’t already aware I must tell them and see what we can do to reverse this thing. The last I heard as I fled were screams, shots and that foul Fitzgerald urging the slaughter on his voice distorted into something monstrous by the speaker.
My sprint back to the basement was one fraught with the risk of danger as skirmishes were erupting all over town between the police and the rebels. Both sides were hostile to looters and would shoot first at anyone breaking into stores or homes. Seeing this bold faced aggression from all three parties was a bit much for me. The police I knew were not to be trusted, we could attempt to persuade them to join our side, but until then the men in uniform were our enemies. The rebels were a smattering of men and women some with the dark red armband and others just siding with them. The looters were the worst for these were the people my fellows and I intended to help, it was for them I struggled for and here the brutes were pillaging like some Mongol horde. The corpses were plenty along the roads and streets to the basement with mangled bodies riddled with bullets and left without attention in gutters and on sidewalks. I noticed some of the dead women had torn dresses and shuddered wondering whose allegiance the monster that did that swore to.
Providence found me however as I managed to find a dead police man still carrying his submachine gun and some ammunition. Around him were a few dead men with the dark red armbands and, I am ashamed of this, but determined to tell the whole truth, smiled at their violent end. To this day, as with whether or not I should have killed Fitzgerald, I wonder why I acted that way. Violent death was not something I wished for. My mind was focused utterly on survival that day, more base emotions came to the surface. That is the best explanation I can give for now I seek to take care of even the smallest of His creatures. Taking the submachine gun from the dead police man and seeing if the present magazine was loaded, it was not, I inserted a new one and went on my way. The sounds around me and what I’d seen that day made me think it possible to fire that deadly weapon on anyone who attempted to stop me. I doubt my bravado would have lasted long when and if I took another’s life. Fortunately that was not to be and I was not stopped by anyone on my journey back to the basement. The weapon may have had something to do with that though as the few bands of rioters and revolutionaries faded away from me when I closed to them.
Rounding a corner, I finally spotted the bakery with the basement below. The owner, the large man who lost his children, was sitting on an old chair right outside the door. In his right hand was an old hunting shotgun and in his left a tumbler of whiskey. Nearing him, I called and asked if he knew what was happening. A foolish question, but I couldn’t think of any other way to get his attention in a cordial manner. Slowly and lopsidedly turning his head to me the baker let out a bark of a laugh.
“Why else would I be in this state?” Said he with heavy slurring, getting closer I noticed a near empty whiskey bottle at his foot. “Finally those dogs of the president will be put down!” Emphasizing his point, he fires the shotgun into the sky and the force of the shot almost sends him reeling over himself. His size stops him however and he takes another drink from the tumbler and acts like nothing happened.
My voice perks up, “are my friends still downstairs?”
Said he after thinking for a few minutes, “aye, I believe so; they’ve been arguing something fierce though.” Giving him my thanks, I go on my way leaving him to his drink and celebration.
Before I get near the door leading downstairs, I hear muffled voices raised in hostility and shouting. In the basement are at least two dozen of my comrades all arguing with the other. Taking a seat to rest my weary lungs and legs I listen to them all as best I can.
One man I had known who had some sympathy for Fitzgerald was saying what did it matter how this started so long as the president was removed from power. Was that not what the movement had fought for these last few months? To refuse to take this chance risks the whole endeavor failing here and now. If the rebellion is quashed before a full fledged revolution can begin than all will be for naught. The people will receive another piece of bread a day and they’ll be happy. This must succeed and the advantage must be exploited or else everything will fail. Some cheered him and others shook their heads in disgust.
A woman with a small frame spoke next and denied all the other’s claim. This was not our rebellion, it went forward without our consent or knowledge said she. If this even manages to succeed than who will be power? Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald alone, he will become the de facto king and his cronies the new police force. He is a cold and unfeeling man, intent only on his own aims. With fire and thunder he will purge all those he feels a threat. We must not support this rebellion and watch as it smolders into nothing. If we’re lucky, Fitzgerald will be killed and all his men will too. Some cheered and others laughed at the perceived naivety. I found myself agreeing with the woman with a small frame.
More arguments continued after that for at least an hour. No consensus was reached. The man who supported Fitzgerald left with his followers to help the men with the dark red armbands. The woman and hers stayed waiting for the whole thing to blow over so as to start anew. As for myself, I left all of it. I had become rapidly disillusioned by the revolution and my comrades who became little more than a bickering nest at the smallest provocation. Images of the women with torn dresses, the fleeing hound of Fitzgerald, the butchered soldiers and my own increasing ambivalence towards violence were all playing on my nerves and my conscious which usually played an extensive role in my life. I was disgusted with all I had done and myself so I left it all behind so as not to become accomplice to slaughter.
Taking my submachine gun and some food I left the capital and hiked out of the country. I encountered only a few bands of soldiers and people. Everyone seemed to be heading to the capital. The president had signed a hasty peace settlement, I learned some time later, to draw the army to the capital to quash the rebellion. Nothing was to come of it as the soldiers flocked to Fitzgerald en masse with his promises of utopia.
The events of that day are becoming a distant memory for many and the descendents of Fitzgerald rapidly believe all his lies. The films and other propaganda pieces depict the rebellion and eventual revolution as something bloodless and accomplished with ease. I was not the only one to escape the country, those that stayed longer wrote of what they saw. These were good men and women who I know will tell the truth. Their words of the murder of the president and his family, numerous generals and politicians, artists not inclined to support the new order and so many others are absolutely true. What I saw fleeing that food depository makes the stories easy to believe.
Fitzgerald is lying to the world. It was not bloodless, it was not something everyone wanted, he is a monster intent only on expunging all his enemies without regard for compassion. I swear that the above words are not packed with any fallacy. Atop any holy book and before anyone I will swear this story is all true.
- Urbain T.