Title: Watch the World Fall
A/N: I think I could have honestly done better with this piece than I actually did. The reason I'm putting this very first rough draft up is because I'd like feedback on what I can improve so that I can revise more effectively. Still, I like this idea and want to make it better, so be sure I will come back and revise it later.
In the yard of the Garners' farm, in between the house and the barn, a young boy runs chasing fireflies. This is Smits Grant, taking refuge at the Garner home. At the door, Mark stands and watches, calling that there will be no fireflies – but Smits disagrees, already giving chase to one of them.
Dusk is falling. The power is out in all the houses around the Garners', but the resourceful farming family has candles. Light from their house illuminates the figure of Smits, but only barely.
Neither Mark nor Smits know that, in the Baron house right next door, Trey Torrance, alias Travis Jackson, wanders. Right now, he's on the other side of the house, still immersed in that endless battle to quell his ever-present panic. There is no electricity now and, while the darkness itself doesn't frighten him, the knowledge of his situation does. He doesn't know what to do, floundering and alone, waiting and hoping his friend Lee Grant will come and bail him out.
No one comes. Trey circles the house and returns to the side facing the Garners', and he peers carefully out a window, furtive and scared. By this time, night has fallen. The Garner house, though some of its windows are lighted, has no boys standing in its doorway. Its yard is dark and empty by then, Smits having been called back inside by Mark.
Watch. Trey is scurrying away from the window like a terrified mouse, fearing he's already stood there too long. He's darting back into the kitchen where an empty cupboard stands open. Feeling every bit the coward he is, Trey dives back inside, pulling the door closed behind him. He can wait for Lee to come from in here. In here, it's safer.
Now, here is a prison cell. It is small and damp and filthy, and it holds five occupants. They are all chained to the wall, all bruised and disheartened. Among them is the friend Trey is waiting desperately for – Luke Garner, alias Lee Grant, is chained next to Nina, who is next to Joel, who is next to John, who is next to the chauffeur. They stare at the opposite wall; none of them knows what has happened, or indeed what is happening outside their tiny cell. All they know is what they've been told – they are known traitors. They are to be executed.
They wait for the rest of the night and who knows how much longer. They are all afraid. Some of them are angry, some of them just desperately, horrifyingly sad. Luke thinks he hears all of them cry at one point or another. He tries hard to keep strong through the night; but, sometime in the dark, horrible hours leading up to his inevitable death, his thoughts drift to Jen. What a mess he's made of what she tried to do. And he hears Nina softly crying, and he thinks about the line of chained prisoners beside him, and the few short hours they all have left. He's not scared for his own life, not really, but he hates even thinking about his friends dying too. It is this that, despite his best efforts, finally draws him to tears. He keeps them quiet and personal, but even so, he thinks everyone probably hears.
They don't know it's morning until the soldiers come. Rough hands unlock their chains, leaving their wrists cuffed to one another. They're all led down a hall and out into another room, just as dark, but this time they have company. Five men wait for them, dressed well and looking like high-ups if Luke's ever seen one.
And Luke has to wonder whether the men's telling them the punishment for traitors to the government is for the benefit of the prisoners or the benefit of the Population Police officers. All the prisoners know the punishment, of course. But Luke sees one officer's mouth twitch in an evil smirk, and he wonders whether this is being done solely for the officers' enjoyment. Maybe they just like watching prisoners squirm.
The punishment for traitors is death by torture. Standing before the officers now, in the dark, right wrist chained to Nina's left, Luke is sure he can feel the last hours of his life ticking away. It's a feeling he's glad he'll only have to endure once.
They all react differently when they're unchained and all led away from one another. They all struggle and fight and yell, desperately trying to keep together, but to no avail. Luke can hear John and Joel screaming as they're led away down one hall, can hear Nina half-sobbing already, and is all too aware of his own desperate cries. He's not sure there are even any words in them anymore – he just knows that if he loses his friends now, he'll never see them again.
He loses them anyway, one by one, as they're led around corners and away. He knows, with that calm finality that only comes once in your lifetime, that they're all dead. So is he.
Watch now. Watch hours pass. If you listen, you can hear five sets of screams echoing eerily through the halls of the building. You can hear crying. You can hear, after a while, the prisoners begin to beg, because even the strongest among them can be broken eventually. Watch as, one by one, five of the people on whose shoulders the world rests collapse, unconscious, barely alive.
Their last breaths, bubbling with blood or forced through a crushed windpipe, are heard virtually around the world. They echo out of millions of television sets, Baron and commoner alike, a hideous, twisted cue to return to regularly-scheduled programming. An end. A finale. That's all.
And here, a different prison cell. Just as dark, damp and cold, but emptier. There is only one occupant, also chained to the wall, beaten bloody and near unconscious. This is George Talbot, whose home Trey cowers in right now. He, too, knows what will become of him, but he knows more than do the prisoners in the other cell. He knows of the coup that has taken place, and he knows the gravity of the situation. He hopes that someone has notified the rest of the resistance movement; now, they are the only ones who can do anything.
He does not yet know how many of those resisters are already dead, and how many more imprisoned. His is one of few chests in which hope still burns.
But that flame is dim and small in the face of what he's already been through, and what he still has to face. He hates the thought of leaving the resistance he's built up, hates the thought of this being his last day to help the cause. But what can he do? His wrists and ankles are raw and bloody from his attempts to break out of his chains, and even if he could get out, he's not sure he can go very far in his condition. Theo's a doctor, and living alongside a doctor has taught him at least that much.
He suffers through the painful hours, gashes and cuts still bleeding, dizzy with hunger and blood loss. They come to get him in the morning, but he's barely conscious by then, and he has to be bodily dragged out of his cell and into the room where he, too, is to be executed.
This execution too is televised, watched by Barons and commoners, loyal to and disloyal to the cause. Some people smile. Some can't help but cry. George Talbot doesn't know any of this, and even if he did, he would not care by then.
And if you could watch the world, you'd see it shudder with the last breath Mr. Talbot draws. Another pair of shoulders, growing cold and stiff, can no longer support its weight. The scales tip, ever so slowly, ever so slightly. The government's power grows. The bloody crusade continues.
Look forward now, passing over days and days of bloody riots, of raids and arrests and death after death after death. Here is the warm Garner household again, except it isn't so warm anymore. Their candles are nearly gone, their supplies sorely diminished, their minds bogged down with worry. They sit around the dinner table now, the Garner parents, Mathew, Mark, and Smits Grant. He's taken Luke's old spot at the table, from the time before Luke had to sit apart. They talk amongst themselves, but the conversation is strained and spartan. They're all worried, for Luke has still not returned and their food is getting less and less. They fear venturing out. The riots in the streets worry them, and the fact that Population Police are everywhere deters them. They know they'll have to go out eventually, but they prolong the trip as long as they can.
Secretly, they're all sort of waiting for Luke. Maybe he'll return, with good news and food and an end to their problems. They know he's been working closely with lead figures in the resistance, and they hope he's doing well. They know they can't depend on him, but hope isn't such a bad thing.
Still, days pass and Luke does not return. The Garners have no TV. They do not see the execution of their son. Maybe that's all for the better, in the long run; still, waiting is almost as bad.
There's a stone house on the grounds of Hendricks School for Boys, one in which the one remaining occupant of the school still lives. Wheelchair-bound Mr. Hendricks, headmaster of the school, does have a TV. He's seen the executions of his pupils and close friends, and all the deaths after that. Each time he makes himself turn on the television, it seems that there's a new death occurring on screen, and it seems as if it is always someone Mr. Hendricks has worked with at some point. Families of third children; members of the resistance movement; third children themselves, mercilessly captured and eliminated for the world to see. With each death, Mr. Hendricks feels the world deteriorating around him, and is all too aware of his own inability to come to its aid.
Time passes. Mr. Hendricks subsists off the food from Lee's garden, rationing it carefully between himself and Mrs. Talbot, who is also living with him. Periodically, the Population Police officers return, hoping to find anyone else able-bodied to work for them. Mrs. Talbot keeps out of sight. Mr. Hendricks tells the same story, over and over, he has no able-bodied workers left for the police to take.
Mr. Hendricks knows that Lee's garden won't last forever, and he's always worried about the winter months. The garden will die then; and even if he stockpiles food now, he won't be able to last forever. He, too, fears going into the city, for there are still hungry mobs rioting in the streets and Population Policemen with trigger-happy fingers. He doesn't want to risk it.
Anyway, he's not sure how much food he can get, since he has no one to work for the Population Police to bring it in. He can't help but worry.
The two survive, day by day, over the weeks; the last part of autumn wastes away and nothing improves. People starve in the streets, are executed as traitors, and the remaining people can honestly say they know what blood running through the streets means.
Now, it's winter. Look as, over the course of days and weeks, the garden is picked clean, withers, and dies. Mr. Hendricks and Mrs. Talbot have all the food they can possibly get out of the garden, and they ration it as best they can, but they know there will not be enough to last them through the winter. The months grow bitterly cold, and oftentimes, people simply freeze to death before they have a chance to starve. The world is dying, and it's more than just the plant life this time.
In early winter – some time, Mr. Hendricks remembers, in late October – the two fugitives eat their last meal. There was an early frost this year and it killed whatever was left in the garden. They search the entire house for scraps, but none can be found; the house has been cleaned of all its remaining food.
They debate about what is to be done now. Mrs. Talbot offers the suggestion that she should infiltrate the Population Police and bring food back. Mr. Hendricks shoots this suggestion down, for Mrs. Talbot's face would be recognized as the famous wife of Mr. Talbot, who was once so high in Population Police hierarchy. They can't afford that, not with the new government in power. It seems that the world is against them.
In the end, Mrs. Talbot leaves the house and ventures into the city, aiming to steal or forage for what food she can gather. Mr. Hendricks racks his own brain, trying desperately to come up with a way in which he, too, can be useful.
He contemplates transplanting some of the garden plants into pots inside the house, where they will be warm and he can water them, and he thinks this may be a good idea. But then he recalls how long it actually takes for a garden to grow – they cannot subsist that long on no food, surely.
Mrs. Talbot returns with a measly handful of food that's nearly gone bad, barely enough for the two of them. They eat anyway, and hope against hope that they'll be able to get more of the same tomorrow.
They keep themselves alive this way as long as they can, with Mr. Hendricks foraging around in the school grounds and the woods, scrounging what food he can from them, and Mrs. Talbot doing the same in the city. Together, they make enough to survive until early November, but even that is a chore.
But, one day, Mrs. Talbot does not return from the city. Mr. Hendricks feels he knows what's happened to her, but he turns on the TV anyway. The picture is grainy, for this is one of the commoner channels, but he can still hear and see the report. They've captured the wife of a well-connected traitor, George Talbot, whom they executed several months before. Mr. Hendricks turns off the TV.
He lasts into mid November by gathering from the woods whatever they can offer; but it is not easy. The trees and plants have died and the animals fled to warmer places, and there is barely enough for him to eat. Still, in the end, it isn't a lack of food that kills him.
It is a case of mistaken identity – Mr. Hendricks knows little about the woods, but he thinks he knows enough to survive. Still, when he finds himself weak, sick and feverish one day in November, he finds that he doesn't know as much about the woods as he thinks he does. One of the plants he's eaten, he concludes, was not meant to be eaten.
He spends that night violently ill, and when morning comes, it finds him in a restless, uneasy sleep. He never wakes from that sleep.
With the death of Mr. Hendricks, the resistance truly crumbles. All its heads are gone now, and it is in disarray, diminished more every day. There are other factions scattered around, of course, but Mr. Talbot's was the largest. Without him, without Mr. Hendricks, the largest resistance to the Population Police crumbles to nearly nothing.
Watch. You can almost see it happen.
There's a young boy stumbling up the pathway to the stone house on the grounds of Hendricks School for Boys. He looks haggard and woebegone, shivering with cold, eyes slightly glazed, staggering like a drunk man. This is the third child Matthias, and he is in desperate need of help.
Matthias doesn't even manage to knock on Mr. Hendricks's door; he falls into it, ending up leaning, exhausted, against it and waiting for someone to answer, to call him in. All his thoughts are consumed by Percy and Alia, left alone in the cabin, sick, dying – Percy shot, Alia having barely escaped being crushed by a tree. All he wants is help for them.
He waits and waits and somehow finds himself on the ground on Mr. Hendricks's doorstep, but no one comes to the door. Matthias tries to knock again, but the rap is so feeble that he's sure no one could have heard it anyway.
He tries to speak anyway, calling out something that may have been Mr. Hendricks's name. His tongue is thick and will not cooperate; his head spins and he feels sick with hunger and exhaustion. He can't help but recall the Greek warrior who ran twenty-six miles to tell his king of a victory; he recalls his own thought, that he be at least allowed to deliver his message before he dies. He's not sure that prayer will be answered now, collapsed outside Mr. Hendricks's home. His head spins wildly and he feels nearly ready to throw up, and somehow he's missing gaps of time here and there. Maybe he's passed out, he doesn't know.
And still, no one comes to the door. The last thought Matthias remembers having is God, protect Percy and Alia.
And when he wakes up again, he's not even cold anymore. He thinks maybe Mr. Hendricks found him, brought him in. He can't feel his fingers or his toes, and his head is full of cotton wool. He tries to move, but that doesn't work – and anyway, the more he thinks about it, the more it seems unappealing to move at all. He relaxes into the warmth, resolving to thank Mr. Hendricks later. The only thing that still remains to think about, an icy needle in his heart, is the thought of Percy and Alia. He wants to tell Mr. Hendricks about them now … But, try as he might, he can't seem to open his mouth.
Or his eyes, for that matter. He tries, but he can't make words emerge from his lips nor sights register with his brain, and all he can think about is the warmth. He seems to see Percy and Alia then, approaching him, and it puts him at ease. Mr. Hendricks must have found them, brought them here with him. They look okay. They look perfectly well.
He hasn't failed them. That knowledge allows Matthias, finally, to relax.
The Population Police, when they next visit Mr. Hendricks's home, barely pay heed to the frozen corpse of the youngster on the front step. They kick him aside like trash, proceed into the home, find Mr. Hendricks himself dead. They leave in disgust, not even bothering with the two dead bodies anymore. They don't care either way. After all, what are two more dead?
But those two more dead make all the difference. Not too long after this, there's a report of another rebel caught within Population Police headquarters – currently going by the name of Mike. He's executed too, just like all the rest. It's become like some bloody routine.
Months pass. And on one particular Friday, the world changes. Many, many people are arrested – rebels and third children, the police say, but some of them are more than that. Some of them are just simple enemies of the Population Police. Many people are executed. That day, the president gives a speech. He lists the names of the people executed – illegals, traitors, enemies of the people.
And then the feast. People rejoice all around the country for the food they receive. People on the brink of death by starvation are saved. It's a miracle, they say. And all because of the death of the illegals. Of the traitors. Of their enemies. All because of the Population Police. All around the country, cheers ring out. Flags are waved. Parades spring up, spontaneous but as grand as the people can make them. Police officers ride down the street in elegant black cars, and people cheer as they go by. Like they're royal. And for all intents and purposes, to the people lining the streets, they may as well be.
Still, things are not over. Many more illegals are still in hiding, the government knows that. Merciless, are the Population Police in their extermination of the dregs of the resistance, in their subtle oppression of the populous, in their hunt for third children. It's different now, though. The people don't realize what's going on. All they know is that they can eat now, and that's all it seems they've ever wanted. It's a terrifying world now, because the hunt for third children still continues. Neighbors turn in neighbors and friends betray friends, all in the name of loyalty, all to gain favor. The executions go on, except now they're not televised. Now they're private, quiet affairs, but no less terrifying because of it. The fear's still there. It's less palpable, less real – it hides in the dark, a nightmare thing – but it's still there.
Watch. Winter has melted into spring, and birds return, chirping merrily even though there's no merriment in the world anymore. People live in fear, but it's the kind of fear that warns you never to mention it, warns you to pretend it isn't there. No matter how many people dessert the Population Police, their forces are still far too numerous for anyone to combat. People try, but nothing works. On every corner, officers stand to "enforce the peace," except that's not true. They watch with hawk eyes for traitors in the crowd. They have quotas. Sometimes, to fulfill their quotas, they take in innocents and brand them traitors regardless. No one dares speak about what's really going on, because if they do they'll be taken in for spreading needless alarm and panic.
Only a select few keep their Baron status, those in favor with the president; and it is this group that, in the end, is given the grand estates of the old Barons.
The houses may be torn apart, in ruins, but that's okay; the Barons have more than enough money to fix them up. People hate the fancy Barons with their riches and wealth and favor, but nobody can do anything about it. Not without "spreading panic and alarm." The lives of the Barons continue, almost as if they're ignorant of the silent oppression. After all, it doesn't truly affect them. Why should they care?
In one house, the house next to the Garners', a new family moves in. It doesn't take them long to realize that there's someone else living in their house, a ghost, a shadow that no one can quite pin down. Food goes missing from their refrigerator, things are misplaced when everyone claims never to have moved them, and sometimes, there are faint noises in the night.
The Baron kids – two young ones, six and five – are a little scared, but their parents are just angry. They install cameras in the house, only temporarily, so that maybe they can figure out what's been going on.
For two nights, there is nothing. But then, on the third night, the Baron father sees something strange on the security tapes. It's hard to see clearly, since the figure keeps to the shadows as much as possible. But the Baron father freeze-frames one particular moment on the security tape and spots a flash of dark hair, the shape of a person. They know someone else has been living in their house.
The search is on. The family treats it like an earth-shattering event, even though people still silently die outside their home. Not like they care. They devote all their resources to tracking down and finding the intruder.
And in the cellar, if you look closely, you might be able to see him. He's cowering in the dark, with the stockpile of food he's stolen, face, hair and clothes dirty and unwashed. He's lost track of the time he's been hiding out here – all he knows is that, for what seemed like forever, the house grew nearly unbearably cold. There was no electricity, and therefore no heating. This was winter, but he can't remember how long it lasted, nor how long it's been since things began to warm up. He can't even remember how long it's been since the Baron family moved in. All he knows is that the house that's kept him alive all this time isn't his anymore, and that there's no way of escaping. This terrified wreck is what Trahern Torrance has become.
He's heard gunshots sometimes, floating through the night, and he's afraid to set foot outside. He knows of the new government, because he remembers a time oh-so-long ago, standing before a TV with Mrs. Talbot, before she ran away. He can't remember the speech he watched; all he remembers is the conversation he had with Mrs. Talbot afterwards.
But these people aren't the Talbots. He knows that. He wants to run somewhere else, to go to a safe place, somewhere where he won't have to huddle in fear at nights, alone in the basement of the enemy house. But there's nowhere he can go. He wishes Lee would come to help him, but Lee is far too overdue. He can't think about something happening to his friend – but at nights when he's huddled in a corner, terrified and sleepless, he can't help it. Self-proclaimed pessimist that he is, he's lost the ability to pretend Lee is okay long ago.
He knows they've installed cameras, but he doesn't know what to do about it. He can't starve voluntarily. His body won't let him even think about it. So he creeps up for food anyway, trying hard to keep to the shadows, dashing away as soon as he has what he needs. He's sure the camera's seen him. He's sure his game must be up. Still, he waits.
Some nights, when he's sure he'll go crazy with the terror and the silence and the loneliness, he thinks of leaving his cellar, running up to find the Barons, screaming and begging them for mercy. Maybe they'll help him. Maybe they'll hide him. Maybe they'll save him before he starves or breaks down. But again, his intrinsic desire to survive keeps him still, even though all he wants to do is begin to scream, "I'm still here, I'm alive, I need help!"
He survives one more week on stolen food and a burning desire just to keep living. He wakes up every day with the horrible feeling that today is the day he'll die, that today they'll find him. Still, they don't, and he lives out another twenty-four hours. He doesn't think about the future, living day by day and moment by moment and second by second, because that's all he can deal with.
Still, one day he wakes and feels that instinctive rush of terror. He listens to the silence around him and tries to quell it, but this time it won't go away. He jumps at the slightest noise, shivers at every creek of the house above him.
Then he hears footsteps on the stairs, and the terror nearly suffocates him. For a moment, he can't move, can't breathe, can't think. It's over. They've come for him. Finally, finally, they've located him.
Into Trey's blurred field of vision come two guards, roughened and twice Trey's own size. He can barely breathe for the terror, pressing himself back against the wall, mouth open as if to scream but unable to issue any sound. The guards approach, speaking into radio receivers they have with them. "We've found him," one says. "What do you want us to do?"
He doesn't hear the response; but suddenly the two guards come hurriedly forward, and before Trey can protest, they've grabbed his arms and hauled him to his feet.
The screaming starts when they're nearly at the stairs – a delayed reaction, that's all. He struggles and kicks fiercely, voice cracking with hysteria and lack of use. The guards avoid his clumsy kicks and ignore his cries, dragging him roughly up the stairs. He can't seem to stop screaming. He tells himself to stop being a coward, to shape up, to be brave. But he can't.
Trey's dragged roughly before the Baron family – a mother, a father, two children. They stare at him, held up by the guards, unable even to bear his own weight, screaming himself hoarse. They can't even understand his words; they're not sure he's speaking anything coherent anyway.
The Baron mother steps forward, all grace and silks and expensive perfume, and comes close to Trey. She wrinkles her nose disdainfully as she eyes him, dirty and unwashed and out of control, and then she motions to one of the guards. He places a huge hand over Trey's mouth, silencing his frantic cries.
Then she speaks. "So. You've been stealing our food, have you?"
Trey's eyes are so wide the whites are visible all the way around. He doesn't know what makes him nod – maybe the thought that, if he tells the truth, they'll be easier on him. Still, he nods anyway.
"And hiding out in our house?"
Another miserable nod. The woman motions again, and the guards let Trey fall. He lands in a heap on the floor, and when he scrambles to rise, a high-heeled shoe lands daintily on his back. The woman stares disdainfully down at the pathetic heap of human at her feet, and in that look, Trey can see his own death coming. He struggles, but she only leans on the foot pinning him down, and he's sure he sees her smirk. Then she motions again and one of the guards draws a gun.
They shoot Trey as a trespasser, and not even as the third child he truly is. He's the last one left, the last one who has enough information to possibly oust the corrupt government. Even now, he has the papers from the Grants' house in one pocket of his pants. He's the last one left with any hope of bringing the world out of the chaos it's fallen into.
But now, If you watch closely, you can see the world fall away from the heaving shoulders of the dying boy on the floor. You might even see its last hope float away with Trey's final, short breath.
This is an end. A finale. For everything.