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“Well,” I start, “I suppose this is the time for me to tell you everything.” To them, I’m sure I already appear to be guilty. It’s so intimidating to be in this position. My hands aren’t cuffed, but one leg is chained to a post. I already felt like a prisoner.
I look around the room, surprised at how this method has stayed in place. After all the changes made to the government, I’m still standing in front of a jury, fighting for my innocence. I had been away from people for so long, it was bizarre to be this close in proximity with them. I could see the worry lines on their faces, the crumbs on their mouths from the lunch break, and the clothes they wore that all looked alike.
It was the same basic idea, except without lawyers. They took away most specialized training when they implemented this new way of life. We told our stories, completely, and the jury decided if we were guilty or not. Then, the judge gave you a verdict and a sentence if you were found to be guilty.
“Well, as you know, I’m Sara. I moved to the woods because I’m a writer. There were…circumstances that took an emotional toll on me. I wanted peace. I wanted inspiration. If you knew me before, I’m not the type of person who pays attention to politics. I was just tucked away in my cozy cabin, secluded from the world. I had no idea what would happen, there was no foreshadowing or curiosity from me. One minute, everything was fine. The next, the world was in shambles. There’s a lot that I don’t understand, that I don’t remember, and that I can’t explain.”
I was sitting on the back porch with my dog, Maggie. If I wouldn’t have been out there, I would have been caught and taken then, I suppose. I was typing on my laptop, trying to force the words to come out of my soul. I had my blue journal next to me, as always. I wrote down every idea for a story, every dream, every little bit of inspiration.
The worst part is that it was such a beautiful day. It was mid-spring. My porch was screened in, the sun was rising, casting intricate shadows off of all the twisted trees. The steam from my coffee was dancing. I took a moment from typing to take it all in, I remember. I was trying to not get frustrated. My brain couldn’t tell my hands what to type, and Lord knows I needed to get another book out.
I heard a rustling and a low hum coming from the city side of the forest. It was certainly unusual, in all the time I had been there, not a single person came to visit or stumbled upon my place. It was a family cabin and only my parents knew that I was staying there. Come to think of it, they’re probably the only ones alive that even knew it was out there. Anyways, I was frozen with curiosity more than fear. My sweet Maggie started growling. The hair on my back stood up. Something told me to hide. There was a little cave-like spot near the cabin, it was covered in moss and branches, so you couldn’t tell what it was if you didn’t already know it was there.
I stood up quickly, spilling coffee all over the porch. I should have taken a minute to clean it up, to make it look like no one lived there. It would have been too easy, really. My belongings were minimal since I didn’t initially plan on staying there for very long. Instead, I just grabbed Maggie and I ran. We were perfectly concealed and had a moment to catch our breath by the time they arrived. Peeking out, I could see several large trucks. There were a few men who looked like soldiers wandering about. They were intimidating, but I thought that maybe I was overreacting. I contemplated revealing myself, just to ask what was going on. That’s when I noticed all the guns. Nothing made sense, these were soldiers. I decided to stay, but keeping Maggie quiet was difficult. I wasn’t sure what they were looking for, I knew hiding just made me seem guilty, but I was already too far in.
“No one’s home!” I heard one soldier yell.
“Check again, we aren’t leaving anyone behind!” The one who seemed to be in charge responded. He was so angry. I couldn’t see his features from this far, but I could see that his face turned bright red. I thought, this must happen often because his soldiers knew not to mess with him. They all just nodded their heads and continued searching.
“I got something back here!” Another shouted.
“Looks like someone is on the run,” said the leader, admiring my open laptop and the fresh coffee, splattered across every surface it could find.
I could barely see from my position. He sent out his men to search for me while he continued rummaging through the house. Finally, he gave up and sat in my spot on the porch. I could see he was on my computer. I felt embarrassed, it was possible that he was reading my rough draft. It was terrible. Then I thought, maybe he was trying to find a picture of me, so he knew who to look for. I was squinting. I was really happy to have this hidden space, but now I just wanted to see what he was doing. Suddenly, he stiffened.
He stood up and said, “That’s enough, she’s not here. The woods are vast,” he paused to look around, “she’s probably long gone. We’ll find her later.”
A wave of relief hit me. I didn’t get caught. I hugged Maggie, knowing I escaped them for now.
Several days went by without anything weird happening. I probably should have gone into town to figure out what was happening. But even then, I don’t think anyone had answers. So, I stuck to my normal routine. I made coffee, I went on a few walks with Maggie, I attempted to write my book, and I minded my own business — all without interruption from the soldiers.
I was returning from a walk when I noticed a man sitting on my porch. His sweaty face rested in his palms, and he was breathing heavily.
“Are you OK?” I asked from a distance, holding back a barking Maggie.
He looked at me. It was like his soul was sad. There was something broken, and he found me to fix it. Over the next several days, he gained my trust and informed me about all that was wrong in the world. More time had passed than I thought, I had been alone in the woods without as much as an alarm clock. I didn’t know how he knew so much, I thought that he got most of it from listening to the radio. I know — I was being incredibly naive. It was nice to have someone around and I didn’t want to ruin it.
He told me that his name was Mark, he told me about his life, his family. I had started to fall in love with him without even realizing it. After I learned his story and what he knew about the world, I couldn’t help it. He had lost everything, including his wife.
My understanding is that the government was threatened with nuclear warfare. They responded by enforcing equality across the world. If everyone was equal, exactly the same, then there couldn’t be any problems. They started to tear down buildings and houses. They wanted to start from the ground up. He didn’t tell me how everyone got on board, he just made it sound like they started using technology to brainwash people.
In a way, I think maybe…he was brainwashing me. I was alone and he made me fear the outside world. He was all I had and I couldn’t do anything aside from believe what he told me. He said that his cabin was ransacked just like mine was a few days before. They had arrested him but somehow he escaped and was wandering through the woods until he found my cabin.
Mark had the means to protect me, and I let him. For the most part, we were happy. It was just us and Maggie, all alone in the forest. It was selfish, considering everyone else was forced to be together. Forced to be equal. It all sounded quite miserable.
He said that they were living in newly built apartment complexes, all the same exact shape and size. They were furnished the same. I heard they had curfews and had to rise at exactly 5:30 every morning. They all had jobs or went to school, but it wasn’t normal. Everything was exactly the same, even the groceries they were allowed to have.
Anyway, he told me all of this. He wasn’t really lying to me; he just wasn’t telling me the whole truth. I honestly didn’t realize how bad the situation was until they came looking for him. He warned me that it might happen, but he made me feel so safe that I ignored him.
We were having lunch together. I had just made us sandwiches. I was running low on ingredients to make bread, on everything really. Even with the shortage, I piled on way too much jelly, just how he liked it. This made me nervous. There’s only so much food we could get from the woods. We had picked all the nuts and berries within a certain radius, hunting would most likely notify people we were there unless we were very careful with our traps, and there weren’t many streams to fish in. We’d have to go to town, but I was told that was far too dangerous.
“We’re almost out of food,” I mentioned.
He glanced up from whatever he was working on and noticed my fear, “Right, don’t worry. We’ll get more soon.”
“From where?” I demanded, setting his sandwich in front of him.
He took a bite and held my gaze, “I think I have a way to get into town, to a grocery store.”
It seemed as though Mark always had a plan, it was even odd sometimes. He was so prepared, and I had no idea where he got it from. He told me a lot about his life. I knew things about his family, friends, and hobbies. He wouldn’t talk about work or school though, he said that something really terrible happened, he seemed scarred so I didn’t press him. Of course, now I know why he wouldn’t tell me.
He started developing this plan more and more throughout the day. I didn’t try to help, because he clearly knew a lot more about the current state of things than I did. That evening, I was washing the dishes. I was playing with the bubbles, trying to find any sort of entertainment. The light hit them so perfectly, you could see a rainbow within each one. When I glanced up, the same large military trucks were approaching again. My jaw and the plate I was holding dropped at the same time. The glass plate shattered into a hundred different pieces. They tumbled around until they found a place on the floor to settle into.
He snatched Maggie up, grabbed my hand, and we headed for the cave. He agreed that it was still the best shelter. The cave provided just enough light to see each other.
“Don’t say a word,” he said with a finger pressed to my lips.
I have to admit, I was curious. Why did it take them so long to return? At that point, it had been months of peace and quiet.
“They’re hiding,” said a soldier, “they must have seen us coming, there’s broken glass all over.”
“Two of you keep searching the house, the rest can search the woods. You find him. Tonight!”
“OK, boss,” a few of them muttered.
Mark tensed up and rolled his eyes at the last phrase. I peered out to see what was going on. I didn’t really get a good look, before I knew it Mark had grabbed me and slammed my back to the wall of the cave.
He shook his head and mouthed, “Don’t blow our cover.”
The next hour was nerve-racking. There were a few times they were so close to us, it took all I had to slow my breath and keep Maggie from barking. One would crunch a branch three feet from us, another would say something and it would echo in our cave, one was so close I could smell him.
Finally, they gave up. I thought that was weird too, since they seemed so determined at first. Before they left, the boss yelled something that I’d never forget.
He was so angry, he screamed, “We finally figured it out, you know? You keep hiding out here, we’ll find you! You know we will, you trained us!”
I was able to glance out again, and saw them loading their trucks up. The boss was looking around, veins protruded from his forehead and neck.
Before he jumped into the truck, he made one last threat, “Did you know we found Asher?” He giggled and the trucks took off.
A thousand thoughts began racing in my mind. I didn’t understand what was happening, what the boss meant. When I looked at Mark, he was angrier than I had ever seen. Suddenly, it was too familiar. Then I remembered why I recognized his bright red face. The first day they ransacked my house…he led it.
Suddenly, I realized how tight of a space we were in. As I got more nervous, it felt even smaller. How could I have been so foolish? I felt my breath pick up and noticed my hands were trembling. I didn’t know this man and I just let him into my life. My God, he was one of them!
I knew I had to wait for the trucks to leave. But at that point, I didn’t know which was worse: getting captured or staying in an enclosed space with someone I no longer knew. As soon as the last truck was out of sight, I burst free and caught my breath.
“Who are you!?” I demanded.
Maggie sensed the bad vibe and started growling, both of us unsure how to act.
Mark looked guilty as hell, yet sad. “I wanted to tell you sooner,” he said, “there just isn’t a good way to explain it.”
“What are you even doing out here, are you trying to get me killed?!” I was crushed, “What did I ever do to you?”
“N-no,” he stuttered, unsure of what to say, “if that was the case, you’d be dead already!” He looked at me apologetically, “I thought all of this would be a good thing, then it turned into something that wasn’t. I was leading all of these missions and when we came to inspect the woods, I already knew it was wrong. But when I saw a picture of you and Maggie on your laptop, I knew I needed you.”
I stared at him in awe, not sure if he was a romantic or a lunatic. I was unsure of everything at this point.
“Why!?” I demanded, not letting my guard down.
“I need to show you something and you’ll probably think I’m crazy,” he replied. With a steady hand, he began reaching in his pocket. I was afraid he might pull out a weapon and took a few steps backward, ready to run if needed.
Instead, he pulled out his wallet. He searched through a few pockets before finding what he was looking for. Slowly stretching his arm out, he handed me a photo.
It was a woman and a boy, playing on a beach somewhere. The boy looked like he was 4 or 5. He had dark hair, a button nose, and he was missing a front tooth. Utterly adorable. He was wrapped up in his mom’s embrace, they were fighting over a ball, both with huge smiles on their faces.
The woman’s hair was stark black, it was windswept and messy. She was very pale but you could tell she was turning pink from being out in the sun. Her arms were freckled and her eyes were green. That’s when I realized that I looked exactly like her. The resemblance was uncanny.
I looked up at Mark, “What is this?”
He sighed, “That’s my wife and our son, Asher.”
“So you saw a photo of my dog and I and thought that you could pretend I was your dead wife?” I was disturbed.
“I know it’s weird,” he pleaded, “I got them to call off the search on the woods. After it was final, I went AWOL and came back for you.”
“And your son, Asher? What happened to him? You’ve never mentioned a son to me,” I said.
“He’s been in hiding with my parents. When the time is right, we’ll go back and join them,” he rushed forward and grabbed my arms, “Sara, we can be a real family!” He seemed so desperate.
I ripped my arms free and ran towards the house, wanting to find the comfort and safety that I once felt.
When I opened the backdoor to the kitchen, the air felt still and abnormal. The silence was deafening. After a few moments, I heard him enter the door behind me. He began to plead for my forgiveness when I interrupted him.
I held a hand up, “the food…it’s gone. All of it.”
That’s why they left, they took everything. The cabinets doors all stood open, completely bare. We would starve if we didn’t do something soon.
“We have to go to town. Now,” he said, “They know we are here and they’ll be back at any time.”
I had no idea what to do.
“Pack the bags, we leave in 15 minutes,” he ordered.
I followed his order and was trying to figure out why I didn’t see this coming. It didn’t take long to pack up, we didn’t have much left.
As we set out for town, he explained what we were going to do, but I was so angry and confused that I didn’t absorb anything. Not that it mattered, anyway. They were taunting us. Somehow, they knew exactly what we were going to do. Probably because they would have done the same thing. After what had happened and knowing that I was so mad, Mark wasn’t thinking clearly.
He led us straight into one of their traps. If it had been any other day, I’m sure he would have noticed something out of the ordinary. I mean, even to me it all seemed too easy.
We were almost to the edge of the woods when we came to a small clearing. They messed with us, it was terrifying. They let us think that we got away. Halfway across, it was too late. We were surrounded.
They beat him, I’m not even sure if he’s still alive, and they brought me here. I’ve been in jail for the last few weeks, in solitary. I don’t even know what they’re accusing me of exactly, if I’m even guilty. I’m just ready for it to be over.
“And that’s everything, that’s what happened,” I confess.
I’m not sure how this new government works. I’m not sure if I want to be part of this life, spending the remainder of my life in their prison might be better. I suppose the goal was to make everyone equal, but I think Mark figured it out in the end, I don’t think we’re meant to be equal. The rest of them don’t understand, it’s really like they’ve been brainwashed. Maybe they actually have been, I guess I won’t ever know.
“So, whether I’m guilty or not… I suppose that’s up to you,” I finish, finally taking my seat.
After a period of contemplation, the jury handed a slip of paper to the judge. He reviewed it for just a moment and yelled the verdict, “GUILTY OF TREASON!”
Initially, I was shocked. My shock morphed into a smile when I realized I would finally have a story to write about.