Sunday, August 14, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 44) Amongst the ruins of our souls

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: A story about unrest.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words (or fewer).

"Nature is indifferent to the survival of the human species, including Americans." Adlai E. Stevenson

The odors of rotten meat from the defunct freezer and spilled cherry syrup from the snow cone machine assaulted the nose of Irvin Washington as he hid behind the checkout counter of the long looted convenience store. The slight gasoline smell coming from the full five-gallon container he clutched only made things worse and it was all he could do not to puke in spite of the danger making any sound might bring him. Through force of will alone, he stayed completely quiet listening to the words of the seven militia personnel across the street as they interrogated the Hispanic teenager they caught sneaking out of the equally looted grocery store.

“Where’s the rest of your gang, Jose?” One of the more verbally belligerent members of the irregular militia asked for the fifth or sixth time. The terrified kid mumbled something about being alone and looking for food for his family. A chorus of laughter and disbelief was all he got for his fearful honesty before the sounds of multiple blows impacting a helpless human body drifted back over to Irvin.

Irvin desperately wanted to look over the counter and see what was happening to the boy but if he were discovered there was no doubt the militia types would turn their attentions on him. As far as they were concerned anyone they ran across was guilty of looting until proven innocent. Irvin’s black skin would only make his presumed illegal behavior that much worse.

Still, the screams of the unarmed teenager being beaten clawed at his soul, so much that he pulled his old M9 army service pistol from his shoulder holster while forcing himself to get up and look over the counter. Irvin played with the insane idea of attacking the seven heavily-armed men with his pistol or walking over and demanding they stand down and submit to his authority as a former US army major, anything that might save the kid’s life.

But it did not take a military genius to realize neither idea would work, the seven men, dressed in mismatched camouflage clothes, were armed with an odd collection of assault rifles ranging from the leader carrying a tricked out, high-priced civilian version of the army’s M4 carbine to several with cheap AK-47’s.

All were working under the auspices of the ad hoc Committee of Public Safety based out of the secure area around Greenville in the upstate. The committee was the only thing South Carolina had close to a state government since everything went to shit after the president federalized the National Guard and deployed them up north to assist in controlling the insurrection in the northeast and Midwest states. Helpless against the overwhelmingly armed psychos Irvin, now just a simple high school science teacher, could not help but marvel at how far the once nearly omnipotent United States had fallen in the twenty years since he left the service in 2006.


Since the start of the twenty-first century, the United States had suffered a steady stream of mainly self-inflected military, diplomatic, and economic disasters that deeply strained the fabric of the nation. The catastrophe that finally pushed it over edge was the 2024 election where the political machine of one party was discovered to have rigged the presidential election in favor of the daughter of a former vice president.

The voting manipulation was so blatant in thirteen states that the governors took the issue to the federal courts, only to see Supreme Court uphold the results. The riots that soon erupted quickly became pitched battles so intense that regular army and National Guard forces from across the country had to be called in an attempt to restore order.

The violence was made even worse as gangs used the chaos to spread out from the cities and start attacking the suburbs. Once it became too dangerous to transport goods on the roads store shelves became bare and with that, the remaining social structure of the country fell apart.


Peering over the edge of the counter Irvin watched as the Hispanic boy was pulled to his feet. Somehow, he found the ability to stand on his own as the militia leader with the fancy M4 broke away to say something over the radio in the truck they were using. It was then that Irvin realized the boy had been one of his high school chemistry students a few years back. His recognition came right before the militia leader walked up to the boy, placed the barrel of his rifle a few inches from his head, and pulled the trigger. The body fell to the ground like a wet sack.

“The command post,” the leader said, “in Columbia has confirmed sightings of gang activity a few miles from the coliseum, load up and prepare for battle.” A chorus or rebel yells met the news and a minute later the odd collection of armed men were gone leaving only a dead body and silence in their wake.

Irvin wanted to do something for the dead boy but the smell of gasoline brought him back to his own needs. The gasoline he was able to scrounge from the virtually empty underground tanks might be just enough to allow him and his family to make it down to Manning, South Carolina and the relative safety of his brother’s property.

Quickly Irvin lifted his precious load and left the convenience store from its rear exit. He darted from behind one building to another staying out of sight as much as possible, with any luck he hoped to be home by nightfall and then after refueling his car leave his suburban home the next morning during the brief time the local militia allowed people to travel.

Even with his most determined efforts to make it home, just a couple of hours later a sudden thunderstorm with severe lightning forced Irvin to take refuge in the ruins of a strip mall. The respite was welcome along with the luck of finding an untouched vending machine inside what was once a nail salon. Irvin sat in the small office in the back listening to the pounding rain and the crackle of lightning while gorging on small bags of corn chips.

As the rain fell, Irvin used the sounds of falling water to think of happier times before Americans abandoned hope, reason, and compassion for apathy, rage, and selfish desire. In the comforting darkness of the small office, he was unable to understand why such a destructive road had been taken by a people who had so much.

Over the days and weeks as the violence grew, Irvin and his family would huddle together at home and listen to the reports over the shortwave radio as a stunned world watched America fall apart. His more fearful thoughts made him wondered how far he might have to fall to get his family to safety. The answer to that question came the next morning.

The thunderstorm that had forced Irvin under cover persisted through most of the night. Sleep came softly but when it did, it was heavy, so much he barely awoke up in time to aim his pistol at silhouetted figure standing in the doorway.

“Back the fuck off or I will shoot!” Irvin yelled.

“Irvin Washington is that you?” The dark figure said before backing off from the doorway a few inches and into the feeble morning light coming from the broken windows at the front of the store. “It’s me Peter Jacobs.”

The recognition was instant, it was one of his neighbors from his own subdivision who lived a couple of streets over. Even in more civilized times they did not consider each other friends but with children the same ages they had talked many times at school social functions and the community pool while watching their kids play in the water. Now all motives carried a possible sinister side and the two suspiciously eyed each other while not making any sudden moves.

“What are you doing here Peter?”

“Same as you I guess,” he said easing forward back into the office doorway, “looking for food or fuel to get the family and me through another day.”

The same time Peter said the word “fuel” Irvin saw his eyes dart to the five-gallon can of gasoline next him, probably drawn there by the smell. Back in the 1990’s, when Irvin was a young lieutenant in the army he served peacekeeping duty in Bosnia. He never understood the stories of how people who had lived next door for decades could overnight begin to slaughter each other.

In a flash he finally understood as Peter’s right hand began to move for something in his pocket while still looking at the gasoline. The shot from Irvin’s pistol was so surprising both men were startled by the sound. The only difference between the two was Irvin leaving for home minutes later while Peter died alone with a gunshot to his neck.

(Author's note: First, I'm actually under the word count for a change. Secondly, this is part of a series of stories I have written about a second American Civil War. "After the House of Cards has Fallen" is the first and "When the Center Cannot Hold" is the prequel. This story sets somewhere in the middle of the two time wise.) 


goatman said...

I want to be sad for the Navy Seals who died in the copter crash, and the ones who probably die an equal number of miles from anything resembling Navy surrounds but I can't help thinking that, in worst case, these are the heavily armed guys with the camo faces and set jawlines who will be standing in front of me with evil intent as I defend my rights above those of the government.
Pretty sad, I know.

Mike said...

Maybe a very realistic portrayal of what is to come. I hope not. I hope we have more sense. However I'm not convinced we do. Good piece of writing Beach Bum.

John Myste said...


They say the most important lines are the first line and the last line.

The last line is a winner: The only difference between the two was Irvin leaving for home minutes later while Peter died alone with a gunshot to his neck.

Now, is 1500 words truly flash fiction? I have participated in some flash fiction "challenges." I put it in quotes because they were not graded.

They were usually more like 100 words.

Yours tend to be longer.

Here is an example of such an assignment:

Use these words to write 100 word flash fiction:

Raggedy Ann
double agent

I would like to see what you would do with that.

Windsmoke. said...

Well written piece considering the riots going on in the U.K. over a compeletly different set of circumstances. Its amazing what happens when the crazies are let out of the asylum with differing agendas and opinions to justify their appalling actions. :-).

Pixel Peeper said...

Yes - that last line was gripping.

And, like Mike, I hope this is not what awaits us. We can't be that full of apathy, rage, and selfish desire...can we?

Beach Bum said...

Goatman: Most special ops guys are cool and know that wars are won by taking away reasons to fight. Only the survivalist wackos make the news.

Mike: I'm not completely happy with the story, the 1500 word limit held me back but I wanted to stay under it for a change.

As for a second Civil War, I don't see it as a certainty by a long shot but with types like Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, and several others challenging the patriotism and basic humanity of anyone who disagrees with them I just do not know sometimes.

I know the left is guilty of the same thing sometimes and that only makes the possibilty that much stronger.

John: I heard several stories about Bosnians who lived next door to each other for decades and were friends in everyway but once the civil war started the killed each other without any thought. With the United States so polarized while its a long shot the samething could happen here.

Windsmoke: Exactly! As much as we dress up and play civilization humans are still wild animals.

Pixel. I hope not, but there are elements in this country with access to media that I believe want to see the country burn.

Akelamalu said...

After the disturbances here in the UK last week your story is very believable. :(

goatman said...

But, unfortunately, it may be their reasons to fight.

lime said...

eerily timely with the london riots. and i fear we may eventually be headed this way too.

Marja said...

Very well written. You got me shivering as this sience fiction sounded so realistic seen the english riots on TV. Lets hope it may never come to that.

Sue H said...

Not so long ago, this would have read like a post-Apocolyptic disaster way in the future, as humanity struggled to survive.

Now - I'm not so sure! This is scarily real, again reminding me of the violence and rioting we've seen here in the UK.

Excellent (if terrifying) piece of work BB - I'm in awe and will be heading over to read the other stuff on your links!

This needs to get published!!!

Randal Graves said...

You better not even think of trying steal our fresh water, or our plasmas.

Lowandslow said...

Wow. Pretty bleak picture you paint. A long shot, but believable. I would personally love to see a revolution, but a peaceful one, brought on by a 20M man march demanding all the elected rascals get out of Dodge. Nobody wins via anarchy.

Nice writing, BTW. :)


Beach Bum said...

Akelamalu: Americans seem to have an inbreed nature to rebel, while a good thing sometimes certain "leaders" with a talent at manipulation can drive it to nefarious ends. The only problem is that when you pull the tiger's tail it may eventually eat you as well.

There are truly insane people here in the States that are inciting violence for political gain.

Goatman: Maybe.

Lime: The main factor that could condemn us all is the supply chain that brings food. medicine, and fuel to stores and gas stations. Disrupt that and we are three days away from anarchy.

Marja and Sue H: Hopefully our better angels will win out in the end.

Randal: Actually I bought an urban farming book recently which teaches easy way to grow food around suburban houses.

LowandSlow: This story, and the others before it, has an undeniable left-wing slant. But changing a few elements could make this a natural disaster story or a lefty dictatorship "epic."

When I wrote the first story, "After the House of Cards has Fallen," early Tea Baggers were showing up at town hall meetings with assault rifles, a blatant violation of democracy and a clear attempt at political intimidation in my opinion. Since then various pundits on both sides have been vilifying the other clearly implying that they are "evil."

Since I lean left and the fact that its the righties who started carrying weapons to meetings that is why I lay most of the blame on them. Recent laws passed in several states, including South Carolina, restricting voting rights on the grounds of nonexistent and delusional fears of voter fraud only makes me feel the same.

Still though, our society is riddled with apathy and corruption on both sides with no one truly looking for answers. It has become far easier to bitch, whine and moan and in that case liberals are far worse.

Cloudia said...

gosh I hope it doesn't come to this. I do notice that in real emergencies, folks seem to get real kind to each other...

Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral
> < } } ( ° >

Ranch Chimp said...

Good Morning Bum ... A well put together story ....

Flannery Alden said...

What a bleak story, but as human nature goes, it's not far-fetched. I really liked this bit: "Clawing at his soul..." It demonstrated his inner conflict very well.

Great job!

Anonymous said...

Very well written and very bleak. I'm sensing your second Civil War doesn't have a happy ending.

Joyce said...

What a superior piece of work. One can only pray it never comes down to such a basic need for simple survival. It is a dark vision you have created here. The comfortable and familiar became frightening and alien. Unrest indeed and the fallout from fear. Brava!

Nance said...

I'm on the road in California, trying to have fun and finding no refuge from worry about my country. This is powerful fiction, but I couldn't bring myself to watch "The Road" yet and I find myself barely able to peek through my fingers at this. And, yes, I predicted it in my own small way, too, but you and I have a stake in this holocaust through our children and this potentiality just hurts all over for us both.

RegCPA5963 said...

Very nicely written, very entertaining as well, I'll definitely be sure to read the other two accompanying pieces when I get the chance. I was wondering at the end who would kill whom, the way you set it up, no way one or the other was going to let the other walk away with that fuel. Thanks for sharing

L Turner

Ingrid Hardy said...

Wow, this should be published. Bleak, but so excellently written. The way you convey sensory imagery - like at the beginning - is terribly well done, better than most of the published works I've read lately.

That last line was definitely a killer.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh my goodness, what a gritty and hardhitting story! I was not expecting such a bleak ending, but it was really effective. Excellent job!