Julie peeked from her sixth-floor window and watched TerraOne’s black-clad police search the ruined and smoking buildings. Now and then shots rang out as they discovered and murdered the last of Julie’s comrades, the few rebels still alive after the helicopter assault. The police moved toward her down the street, making steady progress.
Julie guessed she had maybe an hour to live. But the thought didn’t frighten her as she’d always imagined it would. She spat into the plaster debris on the floor.
Scum! The so-called Peace Police — the name itself a show of arrogance, a cynical euphemism for what was nothing more than a teeming death squad, sons of the poor recruited with diabolical cunning. TerraOne fed and housed them like princes and equipped them superbly, creating a legion of grateful slaves who repaid their benefactor with mindless allegiance and implacable brutality.
And what a master they served! The TerraOne Corporate Alliance, running the earth itself like a giant factory, purposely heating the atmosphere so food could be grown virtually everywhere to feed an enslaved populace harnessed to work in the fields, mills, and sweatshops. Meanwhile TerraOne’s ruling elite, a thin shaving of the world’s population, lived in unimaginable luxury, vile parasites sucking the life from earth’s sweet, blue-green blood.
The police drew closer, alien-looking in their backswept, gleaming black helmets. But they were all too human and an all too familiar type, thugs with millennia of killing behind them and still more killing to do. Julie and her comrades had fought to change that, and failed. She had no choice now but to face the truth: The future would be as grim and bloody as the savage past.
They dragged a comrade into the street, flung him face down on chunks of concrete and shards of glass. Tall, long-legged, bearded — could it be? Julie held her breath. When the comrade rolled over, she slapped her hand against the wall.
She’d long ago written him off for dead. Four thugs surrounded him and kicked him with heavy boots while he tucked tight and fetal, wanting the womb again, the only safe world we ever inhabit. When they grew bored with kicking him, they taunted Alessandro and laughed with each other, relishing their power and the sadism it enabled. Then they gestured, indicating they wanted Alessandro to rise in some fashion. He shook his head, and one of the thugs slammed a boot into his back.
Julie closed her eyes. Alessandro — god, how she’d loved him last summer, their brave summer in the mountains, during those last months when they still believed the revolution would succeed. Before the traitors and costly defeats, the harried night marches and narrow escapes, the shivery, thin sleep and helicopter dreams, the revolution’s slow death by attrition, until any hopeful words they could muster had merely bandaged their fear.
One night that summer they’d sat talking beside their fire, cross-legged and facing each other, looking into each other’s eyes like bold children. They’d agreed that together they possessed the most precious things of all, things they believed no tyranny could ever take from them: love, freely given, and that tireless runner, hope.
Alessandro brushed his hand across her cheek. “I love your courage,” he said.
They laid down on their blanket, looking at the stars strewn overhead, the home lights of wonder itself, burning in their vastness.
Julie laughed. “You love my breasts, comrade.”
“True,” he said, laughing with her. “But your courage equally.”
“I draw my courage from you,” she said.
“And I from you.”
“By myself — I don’t know. Stay with me, Alessandro.”
But they’d lost each other, driven apart during an ambush that scattered them, sent them running for their lives. The remnants able to reunite had infiltrated the city, to fight an urban battle of harassment, assassination, and sabotage. Now that too was over.
Out in the street, Alessandro rose to his knees and brought his hands together as if in prayer.
No, Alessandro! Julie tried to make her thoughts shout. Do not beg! Off your knees, comrade!
Behind him, one of the thugs raised his pistol. While Alessandro begged one thug to spare his life, the other blew his brains out.
Julie had seen death, had stood as cold and calm in death’s presence as a goddess carved in marble. But the shot through Alessandro’s head buckled her knees. She spun away from the window.
For her, the end would be far uglier. Her bullet through the brain wouldn’t come until those scum had finished taking their pleasure with her. But never, ever would she cower and beg.
She looked toward the door. Still time, perhaps. Down the stairs, into the city’s maze of basements and tunnels, and out into the countryside. Then south on the river by night and back into the mountains, still alive.
But why? Why live in a world so corrupt, where every heartfelt song would have to be stifled, where any whisper of hope would sound like howling madness? She’d already lived as the leaf she was born to be. From a bud she’d taken shape and grown into her purpose, into the sympathy and outrage that had brought her to clarity, to pure, righteous passion, the sanest madness. She’d done her work for the common good, for justice and human dignity. Time now to let go, as every leaf must, and blow away.
A door crashed open down below. The thugs entered the building, their shouts reverberant in the empty hallways, boots a mad drumbeat on the stairs.
The revolution had been crushed, but in Julie’s heart it would rage into eternity. She grabbed her shotgun, her best and bravest lover, so fruitful in its deadliness. She swung her last bed, an old couch upholstered in dust, toward the door, and sat down to welcome her guests. She slid six shells into her shotgun.
Five for tyranny, and one for herself.
Douglas Campbell‘s fiction has appeared online and in print, in publications such as Many Mountains Moving, Every Day Fiction, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Litsnack, and Short Story America. He loves to tell stories, and tries to do it as best he can. Douglas lives and writes in southwestern Pennsylvania.