None of the Hallers expected what the meeting outside City Hall was going to be about, but no one could say they didn’t try to be prepared for anything. The Orphans had managed to secure the ‘honor’ of being the guard directly inside the door, with very little opposition to the idea from the elders. It seemed, in fact, that Ron Parsons was rather keen on the idea.
Reflecting on the meeting Alfonse had arranged with the supposed leader of the Hallers, it occurred to him that Ron may have thought of this as a prime opportunity to get rid of the Orphans. After the meeting, in the half hour the Orphans used to gather themselves inside the entrance hall, Al had learned that Ron had arranged to line up all the armed guards behind the Orphans, in case anyone broke through. Then the guards could shoot the few who did manage to break through. A growing sense of doubt had begun in Al’s mind, though, and the thought of a dozen teenagers with crude spears facing an unknown number of adults did not seem very promising.
He couldn’t reveal any of this doubt to the other Orphans, of course. He wasn’t sure if he was right or not, but Al suspected that he was about as close to a father figure these kids had left. He watched as they put on the old army helmets which had been on display somewhere within City Hall. They wouldn’t serve much protection, he knew, and there were only five helmets, so he and the other elder children had opted to give them to the young ones, who were feeling even more nervous than Alphonse.
Two of the more brave young ones, Lindsey the big girl who had bloodied the nose of a boy for making fun of a friend from her distant past, and a relatively small boy named Tyler Jeffrey who was experienced with martial arts, especially with a staff, had also volunteered to opt out of the helmets. Tyler had told Al that he was confident about the day, and that he didn’t feel he needed the extra security of the helmet, and so the decision had been easy. The four elders, Alphonse, Marilee, Wick, and Jared had given up their claims to the helmets, Lindsey and Tyler also, while the remaining three girls and two boys strapped on the Vietnam Era helmets.
A few years prior, the mayor had commissioned an exhibit in City Hall that would commemorate those citizens of Minde who had served their country. It was intended to boost the morale of the town, showing them that people from the town could one day amount to something if they really tried, but in actuality no one had paid much attention to the exhibit. Until today. The first question Al had brought up was whether or not they could use the automatic weapon which was in the case.
Rob had said no.
The reason was that it was just a display model, and the mechanics of the gun no longer functioned. But he had quickly volunteered the helmets, saying he was sorry there wasn’t more he could offer. That is when he had said he would have the remaining guards who actually had firearms stand behind the Orphans as a sort of secondary defense.
In the time since that meeting, Al had done nothing but fume over this. Instead of asking the guards to stand amongst the children and help in the event of a fight, the coward had casually volunteered a second option in the event that the brave kids fail. It was enfuriating.
It seemed that all of the Orphans were dressed, and Tyler had given them all a brief training session on combat with melee weapons. His expertise wasn’t the spear, of course, but Al figured it was better to have some sort of relative knowledge given to the Orphans before asking them to risk their lives.
God I hope there isn’t really going to be an attack, he thought. He had never actually believed that a break in was imminent from the Crazies, and the defense of the door was purely intended to be a ploy to win back some shred of respect from the townspeople after the shame brought on their heads by their parents. Now, looking at them all with their spears, awaiting instructions, the younger ones barely peeping out from below their helmets, he felt the fear of a father sending his children to war.
There was no doubt about the size of the crowd outside of City Hall. What had begun as a mere murmur of voices from the other side of the door had now grown to a rumbling of yells and loud talking, and occasionally a scream could be heard in the distance. One of the scouts from the second floor of City Hall said that the people didn’t seem to be getting along, and were fighting. He had volunteered the guess that perhaps they were all waiting for something, and were getting irritable and antsy with anticipation.
Either way, Al knew it was time when he saw the line of somber guards file into the entrance hall. Everyone else had been cleared out, including Mary Jorgens and the poker players. This was in case twelve children and four or five armed security guards couldn’t hold back the throng of invading people from the outside. Looking at the guards with their hands on their hip holsters, eyes wide and foreheads sweaty, Al felt disgusted at their blatant lack of courage. It was one thing for Robert Parsons to fail to exercise his assumed authority to mount a proper defense for City Hall, but it was an entirely different thing for these grown men, who only took Parsons’ orders because he claimed to know how to lead them to freedom, were standing there at the back of the hall looking like frightened children themselves.
He moved to the front of his fellow Orphans and raised a hand to draw their attention to him. “Brothers and sisters,” he began. “I thank you on behalf of everyone in City Hall for volunteering to make this bold stand in defense of people you don’t even know.”
Marilee and Wick gave a brief cheer at this, and the children all seemed momentarily proud to be a part of that momentous occasion. Some of those who were closer in their ties patted each other on the back, and assured each other that they were doing the right thing.
“I wish we could have had more time to prepare,” Al continued. “But this has all happened very suddenly, and we have at least done the best we can. Did you all learn at least something about how to handle your weapons?”
Several of them nodded, but Al was slightly dismayed at the large amount of the Orphans who didn’t seem to take any comfort from the brief lesson. Tyler himself looked taught like a bowstring, ready to be released and send forth the death blow. No lack of fight in that one, he thought.
“It is not much, but it is better than what we had two hours ago. Let me briefly go over our strategy, in the event of a break in. As we discussed, we will be in two lines. Tyler has volunteered to be in the front line, as has Lindsey. I will be there as well as Wick and Jared. We will form a semi circle around the door. As you can see, its not a very large entrance, and only three people at the max could fit through at any one time. Five of us will be there to meet them if they try.”
Tyler was enthusiastic about this, and there were a few dark chuckles from amongst some of the more light hearted ones. The others merely looked on, stone faced, seeming resigned to their fate. Except Marilee, Al was glad to see. She made no comment, but did not show any signs of despair. In fact, her eyes almost seemed to glitter as much as Tyler Jeffrey’s did at the thought of a fight. Part of Alphonse wondered just how many kids in Minde were like this, seemingly innocent but ready for a fight.
“The other seven will form a larger semi circle around us,” he continued, imagining the two lines in his head. “If someone gets past our spears and goes through that door, he will likely be tangoing with one of us, so it will be the second line’s duty to get the intruder while he is distracted by the front line. You are the real offense, members of the second line. We in the front merely push them back, but we need you to be waiting to stab between us and get at them. We hold them, you stab them. Make sense?”
Marilee and the others nodded, but Alphonse sensed that some of the others were daunted at the idea of having to stab a man, especially one who was preoccupied with someone else. Doesn’t matter, he thought. They will figure it out or die. We’re all probably going to die here, so it’s up to them to learn.
He had never killed anyone either. But he had been on many hunting trips with his parents, and he knew that if he kept the situation in perspective, killing someone in defense would be just as easy as shooting a deer for food and sport. Perhaps it would even be easier.
He moved to his spot, directly in front of where the double doors of the main entrance would part if they would open. He knew that he had claimed this dangerous position the day he had started acting as their leader. He remembered that day, which seemed longer ago than it really was. Day before yesterday, he thought. Christ, what happened to this place?
He saw Wick take the position to his right, and looked up at his friend. He was one of the few people inside City Hall who Alphonse had known before the shit hit the fan. Being part of the wealthy LeBray family meant seclusion from the lower class of children, but somehow the Cunninghams had started dealing with Al’s father, and the two had been friends since childhood. Wick was almost a foot taller than him, and twice as beefy. It was definitely a comfort having him there on the frontline. It was even more comforting knowing that his friend could have gone the other way, and stayed on the outside with his deadbeat father, but he had snuck off with Alphonse instead, to take refuge at City Hall when they heard others were doing the same.
To his left stood Jared Black. Alphonse didn’t really know what to think of him, but they had allowed him into their ‘elite’ council of elder children due to his age of fourteen and his stature, which was almost as large as Wick Cunningham. He was quiet, but seemed brave and dependent. Al had gotten very little of his story, but one thing he did pick up was that he was not an Orphan by way of his parents having taken part in the slaughter of Jerry Patterson, but was in fact the son of a man the cop had shot just before being overwhelmed by the angry mob. He certainly held no allegiance to the Crazies, but Al wondered if he didn’t keep the thought inside that they had all massacred the cop because he had shot his father in cold blood.
But he put such thoughts from his mind. Jared was a level headed boy who knew that things on the outside had escalated far beyond what was necessary. The tension and fear which had permeated the townspeople ever since the strange events surrounding the disappearance of Benny Jorgens had simply gotten to the breaking point. When those people saw their only remaining defense, a young, green cop with an authority complex, killing one of their citizens in cold blood, Al figured they just snapped under the pressure of feeling like there was no safe place left in their little town.
After that everything had been down hill, Alphonse remembered all too clearly. The fear from before the killing had been tremendous, but afterwards it had doubled and people didn’t even leave their homes, except the ones who knew that the law was gone in Minde and that looting was suddenly lucrative and easy. People needed food but no one was in business, so the only way to get it was to break in. After that had started, there was no stopping the people from taking whatever they wanted.
The one thing Al couldn’t explain was the sudden violence. Benny Jorgens had somehow recovered and was on some sort of killing rampage, according to reports from his mother and the scouts on the second floor who could still look out the windows. On top of that, one or two lone crazies would always come with a crow bar or some other tool and try to break into City Hall, and the only way to get them away so the damage to the boarding could be repaired was to have one of the guards fire a round at the top of the window, where it would hopefully cause the intruder a scare but ultimately not harm him.
Now there seemed to be a whole crowd of them, but the second floor scouts were having trouble looking out without being shot at or having something thrown through the window. Apparently even the gun store had not been secure enough to keep them out.
Al gripped his spear and stared at the door in front of him, trying to quell the fear that the people out there would just start firing at the door. He felt, however, that they were holding back for something. Something was making them hold back there desire to attack. Al didn’t know what these people thought the Hallers had done, but over the past couple of days they had displayed nothing but hostility.
Suddenly there was a loud screech, followed by a click. Al looked over at Wick, who whispered, “It sounded like feedback. Like from a microphone.”
That didn’t seem to make sense. No one from the second floor had reported any sound equipment. But they could have put the speakers close to the building, which would put them out of sight of the second floor because the first floor jutted out another ten feet below the second level, and by the close proximity from which the squeal had emitted, it seemed they were definitely close.
His suspicion was shortly confirmed when a smooth voice began speaking through the speakers, which were loud and clear, almost as if they were right outside the door. Al shuddered at the thought of some of those wild people moving amplifiers into place just a few feet away, with little more than a piece of wood separating them from him.
The voice which came over the loudspeaker was not one Al recognized. “Hello, people of City Hall,” the voice said. It was smooth and well paced, as if this were a carefully planned speech. “There are people out here who do not appreciate the fact that you have spurned your neighbors, and taken refuge with almost a third of all the food which was available to the town.”
There was a loud roar of agreement from the crowd. Al tightened his grip on his spear. Wick to his right was pale, but still did not look scared. Glancing at his knuckles, Al saw that they were white from clutching the sharpened broom handle as tight as he could.
“These people have done nothing to you,” the voice continued, and the crowd continued to echo approval of what the anonymous voice was saying. “In fact, some of them helped eliminate a man who would have ruined this town even deeper than you have with your fear. With your distrust. With your hate.”
The emphasis on the last word was augmented by an even louder cheer than before. Al turned around and quickly asked Marilee, “Do you recognize that voice?”
“No,” she said. “But I don’t like it.”
She was sweating slightly, and her knuckles appeared to be just as white as Wick’s, but she looked steadily ahead, without lowering her spear or cowering away.
“You have nothing to fear from us, who have had to steal and loot because you won’t come to your jobs and serve us. Money is no longer something we can use, yet you expect your neighbors and faithful friends to fight for scraps like dogs.”
Al didn’t like the preachy way this guy spoke, or the way he seemed to be whipping up the crowd with his little sermon.
“You must pay for this indignity.”
Loudest cheer yet.
“But,” the voice continued calmly, “I am a fair man and these are fair people. We will give you an equal chance to redeem yourselves. Your door is going to open now, but I don’t want you to be afraid. I have asked some of my more…faithful followers to make sure no one approaches your precious City Hall as long as I keep talking.”
The people to either side of Alphonse began shuffling nervously, and Wick reached forward to check the lock. His subtle nod told Al that the lock was good, and the only way someone could get through would be to break through.
“I know you’re standing there, right behind the door,” the smooth voice said. “Don’t leave, but you might step back, if you please.”
A loud click suddenly sounded from inside the door, and even though Wick had just checked the lock, Alphonse signaled for everyone to move back. After a few moments of anticipation, with only the murmur of the crowd filling the silence, the door began to swing steadily inward.
One of the younger children behind him began to pray in a hushed whisper.
As the door cleared his line of vision, Al instantly saw that he was correct about the speakers. They were directly in front of the door, one to either side, creating a passage way to the big flight of steps in front of City Hall. The body which had lain there was no longer present, and just beyond the lawn, there stood about a hundred people with rigid faces, all in a line, blocking the way for the other townspeople.
Alphonse could clearly see that the people who stood in the front had no expressions on their faces, as if emotionless. How could things get this way? He found himself wondering again. Behind the expressionless drones the rest of the population of Minde waited restlessly, barely held in check by the people at the front.
It appeared as though much of the town still had their emotions, unlike the line of people keeping them in check. Some looked angry, some looked scared, and to Al’s dismay, most of them looked, above all, hungry.
There was a loud roar as the people of Minde caught sight of the Orphans, standing in the doorway clutching their makeshift spears and their shanty helmets.
The person who was speaking over the loudspeaker was nowhere in sight.
Al heard a shuffling from behind and glanced back to see the guards all pulling their guns out of their hip holsters. At least the cowards know when to be ready, he thought bitterly, once again feeling that they should be the ones in front with their guns.
“The people you see before you are starving,” that smooth voice said over the speakers. “Not the fine folks at the front of course. They no longer feel the need for food, or any other indulgence. We had a meeting, these nice people and I. Not everyone in town was present, I was sad to see, but it was a great turn out. I think I made a lot of friends that night.”
The restless people mulling behind the cold-faced men and women at the front did not seem to understand entirely the jokes of the man, and many of them were looking just as questioningly at each other as many of the Orphans were. Al got the sense that a large majority of the people he once knew as neighbors were still untouched by this lunatic, whoever he was.
“Anyways, we came to an agreement,” the voice continued. Al continued to look for where the man was speaking from, but was having no luck locating him. “They agreed to do whatever I say, and I promised them eternal salvation when this is all done.”
So he really is a preacher, Al thought. But how could so many of these people be tricked into being his puppets simply by the age old Christian promise of eternal salvation of the soul?
Apparently the man knew they would suspect something like this, for he quickly covered that point. “I mean the real kind,” the voice said. “I will demonstrate. Benny, my boy, won’t you step forward so the children of City Hall can see you.”
There was a gasp from amongst the Orphans as the white haired Benny Jorgens stepped around the speakers and into their direct line of vision. Many of them had never gotten the chance to actually see what had become of the boy until then, and it was more shocking than any of them had imagined.
He was wearing filthy bloodstained clothes, and his eyes were filled with a hatred which had never been seen on the face of simple Benny Jorgens before by anyone in Minde. Except those who had fallen under his hands, who would never be able to report what they had seen. Al himself felt terrified. He had only met the common boy once, but he had heard much about him. He had always been accepted, if not well liked, and he seemed to be the sort of person who never attracted nasty rumors about himself. Now he was covered in dried blood, his hair was white, and he looked ready to spar with anyone who dared approach.
“This magnificent boy is my tool,” came the booming voice over the speakers. “He will do as I tell him.”
Suddenly a gun slid from out of sight onto the pavement directly in front of Benny. As he looked down at the gun and began bending over to pick it up, Alphonse and the other Orphans shuffled nervously. They were all thinking the same thing: Did we bring spears to a gunfight?
“Benny, shoot yourself in the heart.”
At this, the Orphans gasped again, and Alphonse noticed that many of the people standing behind the protective drones reacted the same way. What the fuck? Alphonse thought. This guy is a madman!
Al hoped that Benny wouldn’t do something so foolish as take his own life in front of hundreds of people and a number of children, but much to his despair the boy lifted the gun to his chest, turned it towards his heart, and pulled the trigger.
There was a chorus of screaming from the people, and Al heard a helmet behind him drop as one of his fellow Orphans lost his nerve and ran back to the safety of the meeting hall where the other Hallers were gathered, probably hearing every word of this mad man’s speech.
Benny’s body fell backward in a limp heap, hitting the pavement with a sickening thud. Many of the people who still seemed to have some shred of sanity were already disbursing from the crowd, heading back to their homes or wherever they had come from. Alphonse was beginning to suspect that many of the rumors he and the other innocents of City Hall had been fed were fabrications; there seemed to be only one true Crazy in Minde, followed by some fanatical group who seemed brainwashed by the man somehow.
Everyone else in the town, Al realized, were just scared, confused, and hungry.
“Don’t worry folks,” the voice said. “He’ll be quite alright.”
Alphonse detected a smug note in the crazy bastards voice, and it drove him insane. He wished he could see the man.
“Dean, you’re a strong fellow. Would you please place Mr. Harrison here next to our volunteer Benny?”
A large man dispatched himself from the line of people blocking the rest of the town, and he walked quickly forward. He disappeared briefly behind one of the walls of speakers and emerged with the limp body of Johnny Harrison.
The crowd let out a loud collective gasp as they saw the body of their sheriff for the first time since he had disappeared. He was definitely dead.
“This man requested sexual favors of Benny Jorgens as a bribe to overlook certain drug charges he was threatening the boy with,” the voice went on coolly. Al thought this was a lie, and looking over at Wick, he sensed that his friend felt the same.
The man who the voice had identified as Dean set the body carefully down next the bleeding body of Benny Jorgens. Then he resumed his place in the line where he had left, never once changing the expression on his face.
“God has given me many gifts,” the voice said, and there was a collective gasp as a pale, skinny young man in a black suit emerged from the crowd and began walking towards the bodies. As he moved forward, Alphonse registered the fact that this was the first time the people in the guarding line at the front of the crowd had shown any interest in anything at all. Every single one of their dazed, far-gone eyes were turned in his direction, following his path towards Benny and Johnny Harrison, the man everyone thought was dead or in captivity since his disappearance at such a crucial time in their town.
Al felt a chill run down his spine as he watched the man slowly and fluidly take a position over the two bodies with his hands spread out in front of him. There was no microphone that Al could see, so he guessed the man must be using a wireless mic, hidden somewhere within his coat.
He sure knows how to create an effect, Al thought as the man with straight dark hair turned his thick glasses in the direction of the Orphans. Suddenly Alphonse got the urge to chuck his spear at the man, now that he was within sight.
“I wouldn’t do that,” the man’s voice boomed through the speakers. There was a slight feedback, since the man was now only feet from where the hall of speakers started in front of City Hall.
Al knew he was talking to him, but by then the anger had already taken over his arms. They lifted the spear over his head, and his body hurled it with more accuracy and strength than even he would have suspected of himself.
The aim was good, but no one expected what would happen next. Through the speakers, the word “Arise!” echoed through the streets, and quicker than anyone saw, Harrison was sitting up, and he nimbly caught the crude spear in one hand, turned it, and pitched it back in their direction with more force than Al had even used. Alphonse ducked, but the spear still nicked the skin on his neck, and he heard a loud metallic clank from behind him, followed by a cry from someone and gasps from the other Orphans.
Pain shot down his neck as the spear grazed him, but he quickly recovered and turned around to see that the spear had struck one of the younger children. Luckily, this particular girl had been one of the five wearing one of the old army helmets, and the only damage was a slight scrape where the metal had dented in and scratched the girls scalp. Marilee had taken the dented helmet off, and was in the process of working with Lindsey, the big girl, to move her out of the entrance hall. To Al’s despair, two of the armed security guards had already deserted. He cursed under his breath and turned back toward the man.
“No one attack,” he warned the Orphans, wiping away the blood which was now quickly flowing down his neck from where the point of the wood had cleared away a chunk of skin.
“I warned you,” boomed the voice. Al looked forward at the man in the glasses with the dark suit, and loathing filled his heart. This man was pointlessly wrecking everything.
“What do you want with us?” Al asked, feeling naked without his spear.
“You attempted to kill these people out here,” the man said, as the crowd continued to gape and gasp as they watched Johnny Harrison rise to his feet. “I have come to save them, and help them try to do the same to you.”
Al was speechless at this. They had never tried to kill anyone, save for his own attempt on the life of the man standing in front of him. Harrison now stood silently beside him, the same absentminded look on his face as all of those standing in front of the crowds of Minde. Another pawn, Al thought grimly.
“Stand up, Benny,” the man said. “Let these people see that death only comes to those whom I let it come to.”
The crowd gasped and began to move back as the bloody body of Benny Jorgens slowly sat up and began to lurch to a standing position.
“I propose to you all, a game,” the man said. “And the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
Al couldn’t tell for sure, but he sensed that the man was smiling smugly. He had never felt so much hate for one person after only having been aware of them for less than ten minutes. He did this, he thought. He’s responsible for all of this.
The thought caused Al to wish inside that if he could only kill one man in his life, that it would be this one.
He forced himself to raise his voice and speak to the man across the twenty feet that separated them. “What sort of game do you propose?” he asked, just barely managing to conceal the quiver in his voice.
“It’s simple, really,” the man said. This time Al could see for sure that the man was grinning, perfectly white teach showing from between his pale lips. “There will be two teams. These that you see here are the more…faithful members of your town, who have chosen to swear their allegiance to me and my cause.”
Doubt that, Alphonse thought. He wasn’t sure if this man was a hypnotist or some sort of brain surgeon, but the catatonic state of those people with their vacant stairs did not seem to be a sign that these people had volunteered their wills.
“The rest of you will have the advantage of numbers,” he said. The crowded street was beginning to shuffle uncomfortably. “This is my gift of mercy to you all. If you defeat my team and I, as one united town against my modest army here, then you will have your peace restored and the whole experience will once again bring unity back to this broken town.”
Suddenly Al realized why the townspeople in the street were all becoming uncomfortable. They had all come here to see this man speak, expecting him to be their savior and talk sense into the eccentric people of town hall; instead they had found out the level of this mysterious man’s insanity. He was proposing some sort of game where he was pitted against them. At the very least, Al figured they had imagined they would be on his side of anything, and he on theirs.
This display had been set up for one very specific reason, Al concluded. The crazy man in front of him, the one Al was coming to refer to as the Crazy, had convened this meeting to reveal to the town of Minde that he was the one responsible for all the strange things which had befallen their town. He was the one who had kidnapped Johnny Harrison, or whatever it was that he had done. He was the one who had caused the mysterious change in the once sweet and sincere Benny Jorgens.
He had broken them, and now he was proposing a fucked up way to fix them. Al simply could not stop wondering what in the hell would possess someone to do something like this, and even more ponderous, how could someone even do this, without having some unheard of powers of manipulation.
True evil, Al thought, and shivered.
“What are the rules of this game, madman?” Al forced himself to shout across the distance.
As he was called ‘madman,’ the dark haired man registered some sense of satisfied recognition that Al didn’t understand.
“The rules are simple,” the man said, spreading his hands out in front of him. “Don’t die, and don’t kill each other. Kill my people.”
What the hell? Al thought.
“But we grew up with those people,” Alphonse said. “Why on earth would we want to harm them?” Al saw an old friend of his father’s standing with the expressionless pawns at the front line. “Jim Barrow, you came to my house every weekend for a barbecue until all of this happened. Surely you haven’t pledged any allegiance to this lunatic?”
He watched Jim and waited. The man with the dark hair even turned his grinning, smug face in the direction of Jim Barrow as if to see if the man had anything to say. Al was beginning to think there would be no response, but then Jim turned his eyes slowly on Al, and with a slow and steady movement of his arm, he raised his middle finger at the boy standing at the front of the Orphans.
Suddenly the man in the black clothes and dark sunglasses was laughing hysterically. “Looks like he doesn’t like you anymore, LeBray,” he said, smiling in his infuriating way. “They no longer care about their hometowns or origins or any of those pleasant memories you may have of them. I made sure of that. So you have your game. Kill my people before they kill all of you. But I wouldn’t try to kill these two.”
He gestured at the white haired Benny Jorgens and the massive, reanimated body of their former sheriff, Johnny Harrison.
“Big Boy is strong and little Ben…well… he’s a special one, to say the least.”
“We did nothing to you,” Al said quietly.
“I am not here for retribution, Alphonse LeBray,” the man with the smooth voice said. “I am here because of what you have all done to yourselves. I am the dry wind, here to animate your stagnant mists, so that life can spring anew.”
“I still don’t understand why you’re doing this to us,” Alphonse said. There were even murmurs of agreement from the crowd on the street, behind the drones.
“You would never do something like this, you say to yourselves,” the man said. “Surely no one would. And that is why I am necessary. Here, and everywhere else. That which I should do, I do not do. The thing which I am not supposed to do… well… that, I do.”
The man smiled again.
“My people, my team, whatever you want to refer to it as, will withdraw for one hour. At the end of that time the game will begin, and if you have not figured out who to trust by then, you will figure out what sloth, carelessness, and schism can do to a town.”
“What if we do nothing?” Al asked.
“Then you will die. Big Boy! Demonstrate.”
Johnny Harrison began moving in the direction of the drones. The crowd behind them backed off, and Al noticed that none of them seemed to have expected this new ‘game.’ They were caught as much off guard as he was.
As he approached one of the drones, someone Al didn’t recognize, the expressionless person remained immobile. He didn’t look at Johnny, or acknowledge his approach in any other way. The oversized cop grabbed the small anonymous man and picked him up, lifting him into a horizontal position over his head. Still the man showed no emotion, and people began pleading and trying to encourage the man to defend himself.
When the man continued to do nothing, the man in the glasses said, “He does nothing to protect himself, even though he knows destruction is imminent.”
Al turned around and addressed Marilee in a hushed whisper.
“Take the younger ones back inside,” he said. “They’re not needed here right now, and they don’t need to see this.”
As he was turned in that direction, he noticed with a quick glance that there were no longer any of the armed guards who had stood at the back. The cowards had all retreated.
Marilee began telling the young ones what to do, turning them away from the scene, and Al turned back around to see the inevitable fate of the motionless drone.
Just as he focused on Johnny Harrison, the man in the dark glasses put his fingers to his mouth and let out a long and loud whistle. When it died down, Johnny Harrison brought the man down on his knee, and the loud, collective scream of the crowd wasn’t even enough to deafen the sound of the man’s spine breaking against Johnny Harrison’s unrelenting leg.
All of a sudden everything in Al’s vision went black. He reached out to the side of himself and found Wick’s arm, and heard him whisper, “You too, huh? I can’t see a thing.”
The crowd began screaming, and Al could only hope that the screams were from shock at finding themselves blind as well. If they weren’t all experiencing the same thing as he was, then he didn’t want to know what could make all those people let out such blood curdling screams all at the same time.
“Alphonse!” Marilee said from the back of the entrance hall, her voice floating up to him. “The doors are locked! And its dark back here all of a sudden. Did you close the entrance?”
“Everyone, stay close together,” Al said. He didn’t have time to think about the locked doors. His earlier suspicion had been confirmed. They were all experiencing this sudden black blindness.
But just as quickly as it had crept into his vision, the darkness began to creep back out and the screams of the crowd died down into nervous chatter as some of them began talking to each other, comforting each other in some places and still quibbling in others.
As Al looked around, he didn’t see any of the faceless drones. The rows of speakers had been removed silently from just feet in front of where he stood, and even the blood of Benny Jorgens was no longer drying on the cement.
The man in black had disappeared without a trace, taking his pawns with him.
But the façade of City Hall wasn’t entirely without traces of what had occurred there. Looking up, Alphonse saw a terrible reminder of the Crazy Man’s abstract advice to them all.
There, hanging above the street from the top of flagpole was the body of the unnamed pawn, his back broken hideously in on itself, with his dead eyes staring out over the people of the city who had gathered to witness this spectacle of death.
If we do nothing, if we don’t actively defend ourselves, we die, Alphonse thought, looking up at the dead man, from his pointless defensive position between Jared Black and Wick Cunningham.
So be it.