I don’t remember what the assignment was here, but I know I wrote it for a class. It could’ve been a really vague assignment like “write a 1500 word story with first-person dialogue.” I really don’t know. All I do know is that it was inspired by events going on at the time. 9/11 occurred just a few years before this was written, and we’d only been in Iraq for a year or two. One of my classmates that reviewed the story felt it was a completely unrealistic story, and I’m sure they are right. But cautionary tales aren’t supposed to be warm, fuzzy, and realistic. They’re supposed to be terrifying. It should also be noted that I wrote this two years before World War Z was published, so the “human ramp” idea was my own. Not to say that Max Brooks took the idea from me, but I just want to be clear that I didn’t steal it from him.
I guess if I could pinpoint when this all started, it would have to be that Tuesday in September, at the turn of the millennium. Before that day everything was more-or-less normal. But then, religious extremism changed the world forever. Until that day, most Americans saw their nation as just, noble, and untouchable. I was just a teenager then, but I remember it well. Never before had the world witnessed terrorism on such a large scale. As it turns out, it was just the beginning.
Less than a heartbeat later, the United States had declared war on terrorism and had engaged the world in a great struggle. At first, the attention was focused on those who initiated and supported terrorism. After an unpredictably bloody war, it seemed that peace would finally take root. I’m sure it would’ve, eventually, had it not been for religious extremism.
We thought we had pounded the regimes into the desert, but really, we kicked up a sandstorm. An extremist Muslim minority, acting as though they understood the Koran better than Muhammad himself, declared a worldwide jihad to combat what they believed were overzealous Christians, exploiting the idea of jihad and using it to wage war on the “infidels.”
Throughout the war there were a few terrorist attacks, but after the war it seemed the anger had quelled. But then ten people, unfortunately all Muslim, stormed an airplane just as it lifted from the ground. The people on board fought back, and within minutes the hijackers were down to three, but the plane was in their control. They barricaded themselves in the cockpit and redirected the plane towards downtown Washington, D.C. A missile defense system, previously unknown to everyone except the governmental elite, intercepted the plane. The people on board were already doomed, but not even the missiles could stop inertia. The infamous White House was completely destroyed as the airliner crashed into the lawn, slid across the grass, and smashed right through the building. More than two hundred people died, both in the plane and in the building, including the vast majority of the current presidential administration. While all the networks were starting to report an attack on the White House, millions of people worldwide began tuning in. But this terrible act was merely a distraction. The real show was just getting started.
Across the world, while people were focusing on their televisions, computers, and mobiles, dozens of embassies came under attack. Car bombs, hijacked airplanes, shoulder-fired missiles, and dirty bombs were hitting their marks. In an otherwise impressive show of timing, organization, and desperation, almost ten thousand people were killed in more than forty countries as the terror unfolded, often on live television. Terrorism was back with bloodthirsty vengeance.
I remember how scared I was as I held my computer, watching everything happen as fast as stations could report them. Cell phones and webcams transmitted some of the most horrific scenes ever witnessed by humanity. It seemed that the world was literally coming to an end.
Fortunately, the world’s resolve was much stronger than the extremists had anticipated. Though it took years to clean up the wreckage of that day, the political shockwaves rippled through the world practically overnight. Each country dealt with the uncertainty in its own way, and many borders were redrawn or erased altogether. Martial law became the norm in many countries, and police were given an unprecedented amount of authority. This was especially true of the United States.
That’s how I ended up here in the camps. First introduced during World War II, these “retreats” were actually just malevolent reinterpretations of the internment camps that once held thousands of American citizens. They were essentially small prison cities enclosed by tall walls and armed guards. I knew people who were confined here simply because of what religion they claimed. Fear gripped the world; fear of religious extremism, especially fundamentalism. We did not realize the horror that certain freedoms could facilitate. This was something that my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents had taken for granted.
Millions of “dissenters” were being rounded up (by force or threat of force), and the camps began to fill with people. Their incarceration was primarily based on religious or political affiliation, and at the time it seemed fine to me. I was neither religious nor very politically-minded, so I pretty much went with the majority. I recognized that those who spoke out were the first to go, but I always felt that even those who didn’t speak out still felt worried. Dissent was the norm, and (I secretly believed) rightly so.
I was fresh out of college when these camps started opening. I was fully educated by books, but not by experience. I had been brainwashed to believe that our cause was just, that terrorism was the enemy, and that our nation did not engage in terrorism. People had to choose a side, and I chose the one that seemed the most noble. How could I have known?
The government was increasingly under the control of the military, and quickly developing into an oppressive regime. Martial law was implemented in most parts of the nation, and those who refused to comply were quickly imprisoned. Dissidents were seen as enemies of the state. The state of what, I found myself asking on far too many occasions. But I did my duty and stuck to my beliefs, no matter how often something or someone made me question them. It seemed I was not prepared for the truth. It was no longer a government of the people, but rather, a government for the people…even if they didn’t like it.
And, believe me, many did not. Dissent turned to protest, protest turned to riot, and riot turned to bedlam. It became clear to those in control that a police state was necessary, no matter the cost. Now that I have a little time to reflect on it, the problem was clear. Those who sided with the military were just as correct as those who sided with the dissidents. We all fought a common enemy, but we mistakenly attributed it to one another. The true enemy had many names: ignorance, hate, intolerance, and bigotry (just to name a few). Each side saw faults in the other, but saw none in itself. There were two entities smashing up against each other, and nothing between them to cushion the two. They clashed often, and they clashed violently. And before long the country was embroiled in our second civil war.
I have witnessed uprisings ever since I came to this camp. In fact, the very first day I arrived, there was a major riot. At the time there were more than eighteen thousand people imprisoned here. The best estimates indicated that more than a thousand rebelled, and at least half of them were killed. These continued uprisings were seen as further proof that the people who were locked up were dangerous. It was such backward logic.
Since the beginning of the war a few weeks ago, there has been a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of the uprisings. There was a sickness spreading through the populace, and the fever was reaching a breaking point. The system took great care to make sure that all devices that could be used as weapons were unavailable to the prisoners, but as my colleagues know, the fist is a mighty weapon when compounded with anger and numbers. Word started to spread that several other camps had fallen to successful uprisings. Information is tightly controlled, but among human beings, ideas spread like wildfire.
A week ago this camp saw its largest uprising to date. Of the seventeen thousand people here, more than a fourth of them were involved, and more than a thousand were killed. After that it appeared that there had been a significant calming of the prisoners. But I was not fooled. I have seen the storm on the horizon all week long.
A few hours ago the alarms began to scream, and I knew another riot had begun. Annoyed, I calmly moved to the viewing area to see what was happening. Sure enough, there was a full-scale riot in progress. These uprisings were beginning to seem routine, but there was something unusual about this one. Considering how many people appeared to be involved, they were abnormally calm. It was deemed a riot, but it was more of a protest. Taking a no-tolerance stance on the uprising, the order was given to maintain the peace. This meant that the guards were free to use tear gas and stun batons.
At first it seemed to be working. Of course, there is always a short term effect when force is applied. But then reports started coming in that the rioters were growing dangerous and destructive. They penetrated a few areas that otherwise wouldn’t have been a problem: the south kitchen, the secondary infirmary, and the exercise arena. The guards pretty much let them have at it. If they wanted to destroy their only amenities, so be it. But then there were reports of injured guards. Some were assaulted with knives and other domestic weapons. The first report of a guard being killed was the first catalyst towards chaos because that meant deadly force was now authorized.
Watching from a safe distance in my perch high above the camp, I saw the first rioters go down. The guards were taking full advantage of the order, and were killing anyone that came close enough to harm them. I watched with mild disgust as a handful of rioters were killed, then a dozen, then more. Suddenly, they seemed to be falling left and right. The guards were severely outnumbered but comfortably armed.
I poured a cup of hot tea as I sat to watch the riot work itself out. Why must they fight, I asked myself, watching more and more die as the moments ticked on. They should have known they were overpowered, but it didn’t seem to matter. The guards were holding their ground, but were meeting increasing resistance.
The riot had been going on for almost an hour when I saw the first section fall. I almost dropped my tea. Frozen, my cup halfway to my mouth, I watched the scene on the monitor. A young guard, heavily armed, had already killed several rioters when his stun baton was knocked from his hands. It never touched the ground. A rioter caught it and turned it on the staggering man. He twitched and fell limply to the ground, but he was only stunned. His arms waved uselessly around as they hoisted him into the air. I watched in horror as the rioters began to tear him apart…literally. Unable to look away, I gave the “man down” signal, and reinforcements started moving in.
I sat down, a row of monitors before me. On every screen, horrific scenes played out like some demented reality show. As every second ticked by, dozens of rioters died. I feared for the safety of my guards, innocent people dying needlessly in the onslaught. Another guard fell, then another, then another. It was becoming quite a gruesome scene. My tea grew cold as I sat transfixed on the horror before me.
The guards were falling back, unable to stop the rush of people. They were armed with the most modern weapons our government could provide, yet they were falling to the most ancient of weapons: brute force. I eventually lost count of how many guards had been killed. All throughout the camp, the swarms of people were overcoming the desperately outnumbered guards.
I feared for my troops, but never for myself. I was inside a reinforced tower, high above the terror below. The people could rebel, but they could not reach me. They couldn’t escape, either. The walls were fifty feet high, and there were no ladders or structures to help them make the climb. The prison was locked up tight. Water tight. Blood tight.
The radio no longer had the familiar sounds of official requests; it was filled with the screams of dying men. Their stun batons would only stop a few people before they were overcome by wave after wave of angry rioters. Soon, the guards were in full retreat, completely unable to hold off the crowds. I gave the signal for them to fall back, to retreat to safer areas, but it was useless. Only a handful of the hundreds of guards could respond. By that time, they had already begun their own retreat or were already victims of heinous mutilation.
There was no way the rioters could safely escape the prison, but safety was no longer an issue for them. They were trapped mice, and this was a tremendous cage. Masses of people began to pound away at every door, every exit, and I even thought that sooner or later they may make their way through. But at least I was safe. Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that the rioters might escape, and there was nothing I could do about it. They were sure to pound their way through the exits and escape into the city that surrounded the camp.
The exits were too sturdy and the walls were too high. Honestly, I thought there was no way they could really escape, but that is where I was terribly wrong. Hundreds of rioters had already died, and their bodies littered the floor of the camp. They were trapped animals, and they acted as such. The living rioters climbed on the bodies of the dead or dying ones, and soon a ramp of bodies developed. Horrified, I watched as a stream of people climbed all the way to the top of the walls.
That was when the gravity of the situation assaulted me. This was not a group of crazed rioters that were doing this, but human animals, doing everything they could to escape. For them it was the right thing to do. The only thing to do.
Then I thought about the guards, whose numbers were now dwindling. They were also doing what they thought was the right thing, and that was giving up. The civil war that raged all around the country did not come about because people were tired of paying taxes or because they were tired of having a Republican in office. They were rising against tyranny, and I was a part of it. That was when I first realized that I was partly to blame for all of this. I knew I was not the only one, but I felt that a person in my position should have seen this coming. How could I have known?
At first, only a few people had scaled the walls, but then there were dozens, and eventually hundreds. I knew how many people were trapped in this place, and they were on their way out, no matter what I did. They poured out of the camp, killing anyone unfortunate enough to be wearing a uniform. I was high above the horror and watched it unfold from my reinforced perch. They would have to go out of their way to get to me, so I felt quite safe.
Then it happened. Someone (or, more likely, many people) had reached the generators and switched off the power. All the lights and monitors suddenly went blank. The emergency lighting came on, but the monitors did not. I rushed to the windows to see what was happening. I knew that with the power out the gates were no longer sealed. The tide of people slowly pushed their way through the barriers, and eventually the people were free. I actually felt a sense of relief when it happened. I knew they truly deserved to be free.
A moment later, I heard a strange sound. A low thudding was emanating from behind me, and I turned to see a crowd of rioters. They had several of the guards’ weapons and other makeshift weapons, and were smashing their way through the barriers that separated them from me. My stomach suddenly felt cold and my head began to swim. This group of people did not care about escaping; they wanted justice. Slowly but maddeningly, they were making their way to my perch, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
When I finally realized they were coming for me, I was first afraid, then terrified. I knew that without a tank or artillery it would take them a long time to reach me. But there were hundreds of them, and none of them were trying to escape. By this time, the gates were fully open, and everyone was free to leave. But a large number of them seemed hell-bent on revenge. Everything flammable was on fire, every guard that was alive was being ripped apart, and every rioter was running and screaming. They had years of rage built up, and this was their chance to let it loose. The crowd that came after me pounded away at the concrete and glass that separated us, and I came to accept that they were not going to give up.
That was less than two hours ago. I knew there was nothing I could do to stop them, and at first all I did was sit and cry miserably. I cried because they were coming for me. I cried because there was nothing I could do to stop them. I cried because I was one of those who forced them to reach this point. But mostly, I cried because our species on the whole had reached this point. I would surely not be the last oppressive bastard to die at the hands of desperate people. I wanted to apologize for what I had done, but I knew there was no way I could.
That was when I decided to sit at my desk and write this letter. Using pen and paper, I began recalling all of the events that led up to this moment. With human beasts pounding their way to my perch and a flood of people rushing into a war-torn city, I sat in my quiet office and wrote.
Now all I can do is wait. The steel and glass are failing; flesh and bone are having their way. My only hope is that when they finally do burst through that they find this and see that I truly feel remorse for what I have done. How could I hav