Chapter Eighteen: Martyrs of little consequence, or Revolution's Requiem
I don't know where I am. I don't even know how long it's been. I've been completely blocked off from the world; it feels like years have passed since I've seen anyone or anything. I've lost my sense of time, of direction, of awareness of anything beyond my own thoughts. I sometimes forget there ever was anything else. I feel sluggish, lost, foggy. A bag over my head blocks out the light and muffles the few voices I hear. My wrists and ankles are tied, preventing me from moving any more than a sluggish, pathetic twist. Every time I struggle, or speak, or even make the slightest indication that I'm conscious, I almost immediately feel the jab of a needle in my arm, and slip into nothingness again.
I can't see, can't move – after a while I can't even feel, and my ability to think is slipping fast. The only sensation I'm aware of is a vague sense I'm moving. I bite my lip just to make sure I'm really still alive.
When I wake up again, I taste blood. Something's off, too – something has changed. It takes me a few moments to realize that I don't have the sensation of movement anymore. And distantly, muffled, I can hear a dull roar of incomprehensible sound. I try to sit up, hoping to clear my head and get a better sense of what's happening, but I can't manage to do any more than lift my head slightly. I try to move, and the handcuffs scrape against my already badly chafed wrists.
Something nudges me in the side.
"Well good morning, Mr. Leclaire." The voice is gravelly and unfamiliar. "You've been out for a while."
Hands grab me by the front of my shirt, drag me up roughly, shove me against what can only be a metal wall. My legs are numb and wobbly, and I slump against the surface for support, unable to hold myself up on my own. I try to say something, but my mouth is too dry to produce sound.
"Leclaire is awake!" The voice is much louder now, clearly intended for ears other than mine. There's a distant, muffled shuffling sound, and then the clank of a door opening. I desperately try to figure out where I am, to no avail. I'm too disoriented to even begin to reason this out, and with my senses cut out, I'm completely lost. Wherever I am, though, it has an awful reek. Even through the fabric covering my head, the smell chokes me.
"This way," a new voice says. I'm dragged away from the wall and propelled forward, only to collapse to the ground again when my legs give out. My knees hit the ground hard, and I can't help but cry out hoarsely.
"Get up, you piece of shit." Hands grab my shirt, lifting me up once again. Finally some feeling begins to return to my legs. I start moving forward with tiny, unsteady steps, steered by a heavy hand on my shoulder.
There's the screech of another rusty door being pushed open, and I'm shoved forward again. This time, I'm engulfed in warmth and sound and muffled light. I try to suck in air, still tasting that reek. My mouth is stained with the scent. Two shallow breaths later and I'm pushed forward again, reeling. I'm helpless, directionless, only moved forward by a will other than my own.
The sound starts off distant, but gradually grows louder and louder. Voices, lots of them – all shouting, so that it becomes a jumbled mess of sound, blended and indistinguishable. I can't make out any words from the cacophony. Soon I feel like I'm right next to the roar, and the next time I step forward, I bump into something. I instantly recoil, and try to dig my feet in to prevent from being moved again. But another rough shove propels me forward, into what I can identify as a mass of people. Living, breathing bodies are on all sides, pressing in.
"Police!" my escort yells. "For God's sake, police! Clear the way! I will shoot!" After some more shouting and shoving, the people blocking my way are cleared aside, with sounds of protest. I breathe in dust and sweat as we move forward.
I stumble up some stairs, nearly toppling over again on the first one, and then we finally stop. For a moment I'm allowed to pause and catch my breath, and then the bag over my head is yanked off.
I duck my head immediately, shutting my eyes tightly against the sting of the light. The roar of noise seems to swell up. My head swims, my stomach churning with nausea, overwhelmed by all the sensations I've been cut off from for God knows how long.
A hand grabs me by the hair and yanks my head up, making me face forward.
"Open your eyes. Look, you coward, look."
We're on a raised platform. A woman and a man that look vaguely familiar are seated near me, and the three of us are surrounded by a shield of police. Down below us is an ocean of people, a mob much greater than even the one in Utah. But these ones don't have signs, or weapons. Anyone who tries to fight is instantly subdued by one of the many policemen swarming the area. On all sides, there's a wall of them, blocking the people in. The crowd shifts and swells and cries out, but they are pinned in and helpless. I let my eyes drift ahead.
At the head of the crowd is another platform, a stage. On that stage is – my stomach lurches – a hangman's noose, like an old-fashioned executioner's.
And that, I realize, is exactly their intention: a public execution. I look around a little harder, and notice that there are numerous cameras around, all pointed towards the noose.
So this is how it's going to end, then. After everything that's happened, it's finally over. A wave of sickness goes through me; I would probably vomit, if not for the fact that my stomach's completely empty. Instead I bend forward slightly and dry heave, spitting up nothing but the thin, burning bile rising in my throat.
My eyes are stinging and blurry, but once I manage to control my stomach and straighten up again, I find that I'm not as scared as I thought I'd be. Instead, all I feel is a vague sense of hopelessness, and resignation.
I tried my best. It's out of my hands now.
The woman seated next to me suddenly stands up, holding out her hands in a call for silence. She's hook-nosed and dark-eyed, with a hostile scowl that seems to be engraved in her features. The police shout for silence, and after a few moments of struggle and tumult, the crowd obediently dies down. It seems like everyone is holding their breath, eyes turned towards the woman above them.
"It disgusts me," she begins, speaking slowly and levelly, "how little loyalty you people have. After the years we have protected you from foreign threats, and guided you, and sustained you – this is how you repay us? With a revolt?" I finally recognize her. She's Governor Lain, the one whose house I saw being burnt down. I must be somewhere in Arizona, then. "Though, I must say, a poor excuse for a revolt it is. Thankfully, the majority of people seem to have the good common sense to stay out of it. And as for you – you revolutionaries. Did you really think you had a chance?"
She pauses, and coldly observes the crowd.
"It's time to end this, once and for all. We're about to show you how useless all of this rioting is." She looks towards the noose, and her lips turn upward ever so slightly. "As you all well know, a few days ago my son died in the hospital – a result of complications due to the burns and smoke inhalation he suffered while my home was attacked. May he rest in peace. Because of my loss, the federal government has decided to allow me the honor of holding this execution in my state." She pauses, licks her lips. "With that said, let us begin." She seats herself again.
I tense, prepared to be escorted away from here and brought to my death, but nothing happens. In fact, no one seems to be paying much attention to me at all. The focus has shifted entirely away from Lain and our platform. Instead, all eyes are on the stage ahead, watching that noose with a hushed expectancy.
Oh, God. Of course. Nobody knows who I am; even if I do die today, I'm certainly not going to be the main event. This is something else entirely. The idea fills me with nausea again. I resist the urge to throw up or collapse or try to make a run for it. I know it's all futile at this point, completely meaningless. I'm forced to watch the stage with mounting anxiety with everyone else, just another face among the powerless crowd.
A small group of policemen make their way onto the platform. A handcuffed person is in the midst of them, head covered with a black bag like mine was before. I can't help but think how easily it could be me up there, facing the noose; that very well could be me in a few minutes. Maybe they're waiting for me to see this, letting me witness the horrible act before I experience it. They make their way over to the noose, stop, and slip the rope over the prisoner's head. They turn towards Governor Lain for a nod of approval, and then yank the bag off.
There, standing on the executioner's platform, is Anna Belrose.
The sight is like a punch to the gut, a moment of stunning, sickening realization. My vision blurs, the cries of the crowd fading away to silence. I can't even think anymore, acting blindly. I lunge forward, as if intending to break out of my handcuffs and somehow, some way, rescue her. Policemen are instantly on either side of me, grabbing my arms and pulling me back. I think I'm shouting something – her name, maybe – but I can't even hear my own screams above the sound the crowd is making. One of the policemen sends a fist into my stomach, knocking the breath out of me. I gasp, trying to fill my lungs up again, and then they force me back upright so that I have to watch.
I feel like I can see every detail of her. Her beautiful eyes, currently full of tears she refuses to shed. The way her lower lip trembles slightly, like a child on the verge of crying; the rough rope of the noose digging into the tender skin of her neck; the bruises on her slender arms. She looks so delicate, so utterly helpless, trying to be brave even though the terror is written on her fragile features.
I realize in that moment that it doesn't matter that the memories are fake. They're still there, lurking in the back of my head, even though I now know that they're not mine. Knowing something is much different than feeling it – and all I feel right now is love. I love her - completely, frighteningly, desperately. And I realize that what I'm feeling right now are the Dreamer's feelings passed on to me. This is how he would feel if he was here at this moment; I am living it for him. Except I, unlike him, am completely powerless to stop what's about to happen.
I tear my eyes away from her and look down at the crowd instead, frantically hoping that they'll do something, that they'll save her. I've seen people like them around the country, fighting back, making a difference, succeeding against overwhelming odds as they try to win back their freedom.
But the crowd is as helpless as I am. Some try to push out, reach the stage, but they are beaten back immediately. The effort seems almost half-hearted, sluggish, as if they already know exactly what's going to happen, and they know that there's no way to stop it. And maybe they're right. But, no, I can't let myself think like that – this can't be it. Things can't end this way. I'm not going to let Anna die like this, put on display for the world to see, an example, a sacrifice for our – my - error. It isn't fair. It isn't right.
I muster up my strength and resume the struggle against the men holding me, trying to break free. I yell out.
"Fight!" my voice comes out desperate, pleading, rough with the dryness of my mouth. "Fight, god d-" I'm instantly cut off with another blow to the stomach, breath torn out of my chest again. One of the policemen clamps a hand over my mouth, holding it there to prevent me from making any kind of noise. I can't even tell if anyone heard me. There's no response, no sudden uprising.
I look back at Anna. She's staring at her feet, resolute and trying her hardest not to cry. After a few moments she slowly raises her head and locks eyes with me. She looks disbelieving for a moment, as if half convinced that she's imagining me, and then she smiles. A small, tender, teary-eyed smile – and her mouth words, saying something I can't hear or read off of her lips.
And then the ground drops out from beneath her.
The noose pulls taut and her body jerks and I look away from her face because I can't take it. I can't take this. I can't watch her die. But the policemen are forcing my head towards it, screaming in my ears for me to watch, to see what I've done. So I look at her feet instead, her small feet like a little girl's, and they're still twitching and they shouldn't be. One of her shoes falls off and drops to the ground and her feet are still moving, and not in the small convulsions of death, but really moving. Struggling.
And for a moment I can make myself think that this is a miracle, that she's going to be okay, that she's going to survive after all. I think that maybe the Dreamer is here after all, or even more powerful than anyone thought, and that he's going to save her.
The crowd is silent, so I can hear clearly when a policeman leans into the governor to speak.
"The drop didn't break her neck," he says. My breath catches; I listen intently. "Should we shoot her?"
I can see the governor out of the corner of my eye. She raises a hand and waves it dismissively.
"She'll die eventually."
And I'm screaming again, stomach wrenching, realizing that this is no miracle, it's some divine cruelty, some horrible twist of fate that hasn't saved Anna, but has doomed her to a more painful death. I'm screaming wordlessly, nonsense noises, and I can't hear myself and all I can see is Anna's feet still moving, and I wonder oh God, how long is this going to take? And I have to stop this, I have to, but what can someone like me do? And where is the Dreamer? And why won't he save her? And why won't he save all of us? And if he doesn't, we'll all be just like Anna, squirming helplessly and dying slowly under the hand of a master too cruel to give us the mercy of a bullet in the head.
And I'm still screaming, and I don't know how I have the strength or the breath to, but I'm still screaming. I'm not stopping and the tears are pouring from my eyes and I don't even care how weak I look because I am weak and I'm helpless and I don't know how I ever thought that I could save the world because I can't even save her, I can't even save myself, I am insignificant and helpless in the face of this. And then I'm on the ground and Anna slips out of sight and I see rather than feel the batons hitting my skin and I think one of them is pulling out a gun.
Everything goes black.
x x x
So... I suck at updating this. Which is sadder still because I have the complete story finished, and there really isn't much left. Long story short, I'm not all that happy with the last few chapters, so I wanted to revise them... and then I decided I wanted to revise the whole story... But I've decided it's better to just finish uploading it so I can receive some concrit about what to improve before that step. So thanks to everyone who has helped so far, and I'm so sorry about the delayed updates! Just a few chapters left.