Author : Todd Keisling, featured writer
My brother used to tell me about the glory days, when the Government was less unified and there was more than a single state. Usually what he told me went along with what they taught us at the Academy in history class, but sometimes he’d add little details here and there. Things they didn’t include in their presentations.
This was after he’d joined the Military, served a couple of tours and came back. He was different when he returned. Told me and Mama that he’d seen his nightmares come to life during that time, that we just wouldn’t understand. Not long after is when he’d start telling me about the way things used to be. About how there used to be actual television broadcasts with fictional plots. He called them “sitcoms.”
We had this car. A real zoomer. Old rust-bucket from the 20th. He bought it before he was recruited, and before he left for duty I told him we’d fix it up when he came back. I didn’t expect him to return, but he did. Sometimes I think maybe it would’ve been best if he hadn’t.
One day, while we were both on our backs underneath the old GT, my brother told me that I should stop taking the supplements.
He said, “There’s more in them than just serotonin.”
I told him we had to by law, that we’d be in big trouble if we didn’t, but he just chuckled. He told me people used to read for enjoyment. The last book I actually saw was in an antique shop downtown.
“They didn’t have to outlaw books,” he said. “Back in the day, a lot of people wrote about futures where governments banned books. They were wrong. People just stopped giving a shit. Channel Zero took care of the rest.”
He took the ratchet from my hand and looked me in the eye.
He said, “This country was built on revolution. They want you to forget that. Don’t you ever forget that.”
Two days after he killed himself I was out working on the car to clear my head. Mama came to me, her eyes all puffy from crying, and gave me a letter. No name or return address. Just had my own name scrawled across the front. The letter simply said:
“Warehouse 27. Corner of Reed and Pine. Wednesday. 11 PM.”
And then, below that, it said:
“Your brother was a good friend.”
I was told my entire life not to break curfew. Two hours of Channel Zero were mandatory. We were always supposed to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, and I’d heard about what happened to those who were caught in the streets after hours.
What my brother told me underneath the car that day stuck with me, and I wanted to know who sent this letter, so I managed to sneak out. I took to the alleys and the old routes I used to follow when I was a kid.
Warehouse 27 wasn’t empty. There were a lot of young men like me there. There was a lot of anti-Government propaganda tacked to the walls. After a few minutes, the doors were closed, and several soldiers and patrol officers filed into the room.
One man in a black uniform stepped forward and said, “You’re all under arrest for conspiring against the Government.”
Everyone murmured. We knew we’d been had.
“High treason is punishable by execution,” he said, “or by four years of Military service. The choice is yours.”
The soldiers cocked their rifles and took aim. I realized then what my brother was talking about, and why he enlisted in the first place.
The choice was obvious. I just wish I’d had time to say goodbye to Mama, and that I’d finished that damn rust-bucket car.