Copyright © 2016 David E. Nees
All rights reserved
After the Fall
Catherine’s Tale, Part 1
“Shall I tell you what the real evil is? To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.”—Seneca, Roman stoic philosopher, 4 BC – 65 AD
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”—Edmond Burke, Irish statesman and Member of Parliament, 1729 – 1797
The man made his way hurriedly through the shadowy streets. There were no lights to relieve the darkness; the soft glow of oil lamps illuminated only a few windows. The crescent moon and stars gave little light. Even so, he worked to keep to the shadows as he hurried along. The town was quiet, as it was most nights. He could hear an occasional pedestrian hurrying along. The man moved close to the buildings seeking more darkness when he heard footsteps. He didn’t want to be seen; no one did. It was after curfew and, if caught out, he would be arrested, with an uncertain fate in store for him. Others had been so detained and had reported aggressive interrogation, often accompanied by beatings with fists and clubs.
The questions were always the same: “What are you doing out? Where are you coming from? Who did you meet with?” The authorities had suspicions that there was a subversive element in Hillsboro. A group of people who, although law-abiding, did not approve of the dictatorial power of those in charge, who objected to the restrictive rules and were getting themselves organized.
Hillsboro, like the rest of the country, was still suffering from the after-effects of the electromagnetic pulse attack. It had destroyed electrical power, communications, and transportation throughout the U.S., leaving the country in a state of anarchy. The possibility of any rapid restoration was near zero. Many people had died that first year, mostly the old and sick. More waves of deaths had followed as antibiotics had run out in communities and sickness had spread from lack of clean water and proper sanitation. Now, two years later, stability had still not been restored, and Hillsboro had not returned to normal. The town was not completely under control. In spite of the best efforts of the civil authorities and their militia to impose martial law, there were still small numbers of outlaws operating within the city. They snuck in from outside or were residents who did not want to conform to the strict martial law imposed.
There had been a massive exodus from the large cities as disease and starvation reigned. Many smaller towns, like Hillsboro, had tried to resist the influx of refugees. Those that couldn’t had soon been overwhelmed, and the anarchy that engulfed the big cities erupted, making life nearly intolerable. Towns that had been fortunate enough to be able to build some barriers and resist the flow of people looking for any help they could find had avoided such a fate.
There were tense and often ugly standoffs between those lucky to be inside of a defended town and those outside. The refugees were all desperate. Some were heartbreaking: families with starving children, struggling to find scraps to eat and shelter from the weather. Some had become outlaws, desperados embracing violence or driven to it in order to gather the resources needed to survive. No relief agencies were coming to the rescue. FEMA was not functioning. There was no group that would arrive to bring some level of order and distribute food and shelter. People were on their own. They would get no help from the federal government. And, having grown up in modern society, they were not prepared to survive without its structures of support.
Hillsboro had walled itself in. During the first year, the city’s government had directed citizens to work on dismantling houses and buildings in a perimeter around the central core of the city. Kids had been put to work extracting and saving the nails, scavenging the wiring from the buildings, and collecting anything that could be useful. The main rubble had then been used to construct a wall of sorts. It rose in a jagged fashion, six to ten feet high. It was primitive, ugly and porous, reminiscent of the barricades of the French Revolution. A cleared space grew outside of the walls, marked with concrete slabs that had been foundations and open basements now flooded with stagnant water.
The man sensed he was being followed. He quickened his pace. He was taking a circuitous route to his assigned apartment. If he was not certain that he was alone, he would not return home but would instead keep moving on the streets, even if he had to walk all night, in order to protect his family. He was endangering them, but he rationalized his nocturnal behavior by telling himself that he was working to create a better social order for his family. If someone were caught and was thought to be doing anything subversive, not only did they disappear, but their family might vanish as well. The disappearances did not have to be publicized. Everyone who interacted with a targeted family would know its fate. The word always got out. Don’t stand out; don’t oppose the existing rules and authorities.
A sense of panic began to grow, creating a tight knot in his stomach. His body tingled with fear, the hair on his neck bristled. He began to run. When he had gone a half block, he stopped abruptly. Did he hear footsteps suddenly stopping? Or was his mind playing tricks on him? Summoning his courage, he spun around. There were only shadows behind him. Nothing moved. He turned back, taking a deep breath and started walking again. He decided the clandestine meetings were beginning to unnerve him.
After turning a corner three blocks from his home, he thought he saw two shadowy shapes ahead in a doorway. He turned around to go back and found two large men standing at the corner. With a shock, he realized his instincts were correct. He had been followed. His knees began to buckle. He turned again and saw the shadows disengage from the doorway and start in his direction. He lurched across the street in a desperate attempt to flee. It was futile. The men moved quickly and surrounded him and he sank to the ground under their blows. Not a word was spoken. They dragged him, weakly struggling, to a waiting van. They threw him in the back and drove off down the dark streets.