“You better smile and wave.”
That was the command passed down from the highest officer in the United World Militia. It wasn’t a request. In fact, if you didn’t follow orders, it was grounds for immediate termination.
Your status on this planet didn’t matter. Your occupation didn’t matter. Your level of security didn’t matter.
“You better smile and wave.”
It applied to everyone, all across the globe, to those of us who survived the explosion and to those who created the explosion. All were equal when it came to this law. Not even the pope himself could get around it.
Speaking of the pope, they stripped the papal system. They condemned all priests and those who were unlucky enough to be caught died deaths equal to their lives. No sin left uncovered, their shame laid bare, most of them crucified on crosses made of crude wood. They hanged naked, castrated, and bleeding until their lives ceased. These priests of the highest order on the planet became examples, and it was not lost on the people.
The new World leader, once the President of the United States, made the decree.
“You better smile and wave.” His command, scribbled on a napkin in a small diner located in what was left of the District of Columbia, became law. Directed mainly to these priests who hanged on the crosses, it applied to all who faced termination. Ordered to stay until the last person drew his last breath, they required we smile and wave all the while.
Once the crucifixions ended, the militia herded us into the nearest temple, all of which were made of glass, where they stripped us and bathed us, all in the name of a new god fabricated from the President’s imagination. They rubbed our flesh raw until it bled, and then held our bodies over a large moat that ran around the temple, a conduit to capture the blood. This giving of blood was another law and to refuse was suicide. They always tore the flesh in visible places; the scars left behind became the necessary proof for the right to exist, the right to shop, the right to marry and have a family, the right to be with your family, and the right to be free, though the freedom offered was a sham.
Unless you lived in the hills.
Only the hill people were free. Only the hill people didn’t have to smile and wave. The hill people could hide in their cabins and turn a blind eye to what was going on in the world. One man led the hill people. They called him Ebby Shroud. There was nothing special about Ebby that set him apart from the rest. He was neither the youngest nor the oldest; his voice was neither the loudest nor the softest; he was neither the tallest nor the shortest. His appearance was no more attractive than the next man was. He was the only man willing to step up and take charge. “Desperation had given him authority.”
Desperation drove the hill people to keep to themselves and build a defense system that included ten foot walls and automatic weapons that fired with the first alarm. No one managed to penetrate it. They let no one in, and few out.
Your status on this planet didn’t matter. Your occupation didn’t matter. Your level of security didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, unless you had kin among the hill people. Your birthright was your only salvation from the chaos dwelling in the valley.
I was a lucky one. I could join the hill people, but I dared not leave the love of my life. It took me 35 years to find him and it would take more than a nuclear explosion set off by warring Presidents to separate me from him. I know that if I left, he wouldn’t follow. He hated the state of the world as much as I did, but running was never part of his vocabulary. They knew I wouldn’t leave him but still they invited me. I received letters regularly from my father begging me to join them. I wrote back requesting passage for David, my beloved, and the answer always came back no.
David was a leader in his own right, though the group he led was small. Some called it a militia, but it really wasn’t. We learned to carry any weapons we could find, because it meant a matter of our own survival if we didn’t. David and I were the only ones among our tribe that had actually killed someone. I wasn’t proud of it, but I’d done what needed doing, and I looked back with no regrets.
That’s the key to leadership my dad always said.
“No regrets” was his motto, and he did some horrific things while he served in the Army. Stuff so bad it woke him up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. One time he grabbed my mother by the throat and forced her up against the wall. She couldn’t scream. She couldn’t breathe. Who knows what else he would have done to her if I hadn’t approached when I did. Needless to say, he let her go but I’ll never forget the haunted look in his eyes when he realized what he’d done. He packed his bags the next day and we never heard from him again until recently. I suppose he finally had something to regret.
That’s neither here nor there to the current moment. I heard my beloved rustling around, stifling angry grunts and protests over shared food and sleeping space. More than one voice chimed in asking when we would go to war, and, as always, David’s soft tone soothed them that it would be soon. Soon was always the answer, and I knew the people grew restless. We were tired of the needless executions and crucifixions. We were tired of looking over our shoulders and the distrust that permeated everything, even between David and I, like a fog rolling in from the water. I knew an uprising was coming, even if David didn’t. Perhaps he did, he just preferred to live in denial. He’d always been a lover versus a fighter, but I was proud of how far he’d come. I wished my father could see us. They’d welcome us for sure if they could.
And maybe they could, if the last letter was any indication.
My father said he heard rumors of an uprising and begged me to come to the hills where it was safe. It was more than David that I would be leaving now, and I couldn’t do that to these people depending on me. They were all children, and I had somehow become their den mother. They lifted their frightened eyes to mine every morning and clustered around my waist every day they demanded us to “smile and wave.” No, I had a purpose here, now. The only way I would leave was if I were dead. That day may come sooner than I’d like. The people were more afraid of dying then of the President’s laws and so we waited.
Waited for the fear to subside. Waited for the courage to come. Waited as we smiled and waved at the new round of crucifixions, this time making martyrs of Christians. We waited so long Ebby started his own revolution and down from the hills they came, in small clusters like mini battalions.
At first, we thought they would help us, but they didn’t. Blood flowed like a busy stream on the streets, man, woman, and child alike. Shouts of “Coward” and “Scaredy cats” echoed in abandoned alleyways. This death was merciful in its quickness though and the people welcomed it. Few resisted. Few fought back. Our numbers dwindled until only a few brave souls remained. The powers that be watched from their thrones as we destroyed each other as if we were on a giant chessboard and they’d called the pieces.
Finally, I saw my father again. Ebby stood proud and tall before me, a dagger in his hand, the blood dripping from the blade that of my beloved. He smiled the award-winning smile I remembered from my childhood and I took a step towards him, tentatively. He spread his arms as if inviting me into his embrace, only once I got there, he squeezed me so hard I gasped.
“You should have come home when I asked you to. Now you are as poisoned as the rest of them and you cannot survive.” A sob escaped his throat even as he continued to squeeze me. “How I wish you would have listened instead of standing there smiling and waving.”
He looked me in the eyes once before slitting my throat and letting me drop. I felt warm liquid flow down over my bodice and my body weakened too quickly. I gasped one last time, my eyes searching for my father’s, but he’d turned his back on me. I closed my eyes and let the darkness take over, my soul finally at rest.
I gave Sam Edge this prompt: When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand. –Raymond Chandler
This also fits the Master Class assignment for this week. Renée gave us the second line of the last paragraph on page 152 of T.H. White’s Once and Future King which is “Desperation had given him authority.” The line is enclosed in quotes in the story above.
I welcome and appreciate honest feedback. Please share your thoughts in comment. I tried using a narrative POV with this piece. Should or could I have shown more and told less? Tell me what you think.
Thanks for stopping in!