“My father was a great man.
I was born in the Vaults, and lived there for the first 18 years of my life.
Then, the snow melted.
Everyone was amazed when it happened. Nobody saw it coming, not even the experts. When the next Exodus day came around, my father and I left. No money to our name (not that it would have been worth anything), nowhere to go, no idea what to do now. But we made it work. We wandered from Richmond to Texas. He was from Texas before the Event; he was nostalgic. We would have looked a sight, if anyone was around to see us. After a year of travel on foot, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas. And out of either respect or a bizarre sense of humor, we set up camp at the Alamo. There were others there, around ten or fifteen people. No leader. No order. No idea what to do now.
My dad was always good at making something from nothing. When we lived in the Vault, he became a doctor out of necessity, but spent exorbitant amounts of money bringing in wood from the outside world. He loved to make things like tables or chairs or what have you. We had a lot of spare time down in the vaults, and that was his way of relaxing. Watching him work with wood and watching him work with patients was one and the same. His attention to detail, his minimalistic movements, and his hope for the finished product were unmatched. That’s not to imply that he looked at people like he looked at tables; he loved tables the same way he loved people. He was a loving guy.
So he brought them together. He made a society. He helped the sick, protected the unable, and created a safe place to live. He died just three months ago, at the ripe old age of 75. And then, all eyes fell to me.
In all honesty, I’m not even his real son. My parents were teenagers in the Vault, scared, alone, and with nowhere to turn. So he adopted me. Kept me safe. Raised me like the son he never had. He told me often that he had a son, out there in the stars. I never knew what he meant by that. He wasn’t crazy, but he was eccentric. Who knows. Point is, I was the one they turned to for leadership.”
I stopped the recording and looked at my watch. 14:32. I was behind schedule. I stood up from my chair, putting the tape recorder on my belt. I could continue dictating on the way there. I stepped outside and approached the Jeep waiting there.
“You’re late,” the driver said.
“I’m well aware of that, Matthew,” I replied, climbing in the passenger seat. “I came as soon as I realized. If you’re done sassing me, we can be on our way.”
He hated being called Matthew, but I hate being sassed. We had a mutual understanding.
We started off on the road to Barn 18. The Barn thing… Well, it’s kind of my thing. Dad didn’t start the barn thing; I did. But hey, what works, works.
I pressed Record again.
“As I came to power, there were subtle changes. Some people got nervous that it wouldn’t be the same. Some saw it as an opportunity. But there was a bigger problem on everyone’s mind: overpopulation. We had been growing and growing because people had heard of the promised land at the Alamo, and we needed more land. Badly. Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately, we had competition nearby. They heard about the Alamo and wanted to take it from me. So I did what I had to do.”
We were here. We already had two men inside, keeping our prisoner safe. I pressed Stop and got out of the car. We got into our usual position: Matt on my left with a shotgun, Marcus on my right with an AK-47. Showtime.
They opened the barn doors for me and I entered. The barn was totally empty, save for a man seated in a chair and two men standing guard over him, and an old phonograph in the corner.
“First, I sent in a sleeper agent to keep tabs on everything. He went in, got the information, and got out. That was Matthew, my right-hand man. Poorly armed, not prepared for a war, but with a lot of determination. Sometimes, determination can make up for your other flaws.”
“What are you doing?” the man tied to the chair asked.
I sighed. “Look, Les… Can I call you Les? I’m kind of in the middle of something, it’s very rude to interrupt.”
“So we had to thin their ranks. We started approaching hunters and scavengers who lived there and went out to forage and offered them a safe place to stay and peace if they worked with us to get their neighbors to defect. The less blood we had to spill, the happier I would be.”
“Hey, don’t just ignore me!” Les continued.
“Look, Les, I really need you to just keep quiet while I finish this. It’s important, that’s all you need to know.”
“Either kill me or don’t, but don’t keep me tied to this chair while you monologue!”
“I’m not monologuing, I’m dictating something. You’re not going anywhere, you can wait.”
“Just get it over with, already!”
“Cut his pinky off so he’ll shut the fuck up,” I ordered.
Matt looked at me with a slightly confused look.
“I don’t give a shit which one, just cut one of them off!”
He knelt down and cut off Les’s left pinky toe. Obedient to a T, that one. If you don’t tell him pinky finger or toe or which side of the body, he gets confused.
Les tried to save face by not screaming, but the tears streaming down his face told a different story.
“Now, if you’re done interrupting me…”
“Once his own people were against him, we needed to take him out. All we had to do was march in and grab him, with his own right-hand man helping us get him out.”
“By the way, how was the reunion, Luke?”
One of the two men who had been waiting looked up and smiled. Les had been cruel to Luke for no good reason. One of his many, many shortcomings.
“Fuck you,” Les said to me, tears still streaming down his face.
“Break his hand.”
Luke took his pistol and broke Les’ hand with it.
“And that brings us to today,” I said, motioning to the record player. Luke stepped over and cranked the player a few times to get it going, then put the needle on the record.
“Mozart’s Requiem,” I began, “was composed on his deathbed. He had a rough life; a musical prodigy, a true genius, forced by his father to compose music since he was a young boy. It was all he did, his entire life. As he died, he dictated this final piece to a number of composers who helped him compose it. He was 35 years old when he died. Truly, it was a horrid loss. This is movement seven, Lacrimosa.”
I stepped closer to Les.
“Now, Lester Sullivan, I want you to know: you will not be remembered. You will not be mourned. You will not be honored. This is where you shall die, physically and in the memories of all. I am going to burn this barn to the ground with you in it. There will be a pillar of smoke in the sky, visible for miles, and the only thing people who see it will think is ‘That’s Dave’s doing. That’s what happens when you attack the Alamo.’ And the smell of burning flesh will even tell the animals near here that I am not to be trifled with. Unlike Mozart, you will be forgotten immediately and permanently. Now, I want to give you one last chance to apologize to me for what you’ve done here. What you’ve tried to take from me. For who you tried to kill. I want you to tell me that you are sorry.”
I pointed the tape recorder at Lester. He looked up at me defiantly, but I could see the fear in his eyes. He spit in my face.
I sighed, and wiped my face off. Marcus moved to knock over the chair, but I put out a hand, indicating that he stop.
“Well, I see you’ve made your choice,” I concluded, walking out. “I’m sorry, Lester Sullivan. I’m sorry that I had to do this to you. But if I didn’t make you an example, you wouldn’t be the first to try to take over my Alamo. This way, you’ll be the last.”
I pressed Stop.
We all turned and left. Luke, Matt, Marcus, and John, the fourth man in the job, all got in the Jeep. They knew what to do: head back home while I took care of business.
There was a pile of straw that reeked of gasoline on the East side of the barn. I paused here. As the years passed, I always paused here. The Barn 18 procedure was always tough to follow through with.
Barns 1-17 were back at the Alamo, holding livestock or whatever other supplies were necessary. Barn 18 was off the grounds, about three miles away. A heavy forest had somehow sprung up in the fifty-five years since the event, so it was well-hidden. The first two versions of Barn 18 had been built by my father. He always wanted to build something huge, so he built a barn, using the very forest that had destroyed all traces of mankind for lumber. The first Barn 18 wasn’t very sturdy and collapsed a couple of days after he put it up. No one was in it yet, so it was just a moral loss. But he went up and he built it all over again, making sure it’d stand up this time around. One night, it was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground. Miraculously, none of the trees nearby caught fire. My dad was a superstitious man, so he thought it’d be foolish to build a barn there again. When he died, I went out to where Barn 18 was and found a small shack that someone had built. It was a spy for Lester Sullivan, stationed out on the hill above our base to get a better idea what we were up to. I was angry at the time, so when the spy came around, I killed him. I killed him, and I burned his shack to the ground with his body inside. But as I looked at all the destruction, I saw a sapling that had grown near the edge of the original Barn 18’s area. A little bit of life brought about by the destruction of my dad’s work. Maybe it was symbolic of something. I couldn’t tell you. But I did what my dad would have done, and moved that sapling back to the Alamo so it could grow safely. And in atonement for what I had done, I built a new Barn 18. But when the opportunity came to give Sullivan a symbolic death, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Now, as I stood in front of a pile of gasoline-soaked straw at the side of a barn with a man struggling to escape inside, I thought of my father. He wouldn’t have done things this way. He wouldn’t have killed anyone. He would have figured out some other solution. But I am not my father. I wasn’t even really his son. But I am the leader of the Alamo. And I needed to keep my people safe. Part of that was keeping invaders away and my own people sane. That’s why I had to torch the barn. It was my duty.
I lit a match and threw it into the pile before I could wait any longer. I walked back to the front of the barn as it went up in flames. I could hear Sullivan inside, screaming for help. I would have burned the place down if he had apologized, but I might have done something different. I hadn’t thought of it. I didn’t think he’d apologize.
I began walking back after I knew the fire was spreading. I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere near that thing when the roof came down. As I walked away, I could hear Requiem warping and slowing down as the heat got to it. I was safely far away when the roof came down. I hoped Sullivan had died quickly, if only for my own conscious. I pulled out the tape recorder again.
“To be honest, I don’t know who I intend to give these tapes to. Maybe my successor. Maybe my killer. Maybe just my own child. But if anyone is listening and is ashamed, or furious, at my actions, know this.”
I paused. Tears welled up in my eyes; I fought them back.
“I did what I had to do. And though you may hate me for what I’ve done, I hate myself even more. Because I’m only getting started.”
Drew Schackmann is a guest writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. You can contact him on Twitter.
© 2015; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.