Months ago, I had a dream. The only part of the dream I remembered was this — my sister calling me and telling me she was taking the jump. That brief memory of a dream turned into The Jump.
I liked writing the story. It gave me a chance to go a little weird. To create a bit of a different world. Maybe with a different set of rules. But still keep it in the world of America and humans. I decided to see if I might be able to take it a little further. I think there’s a novel here. Or maybe just a novella. But, there’s at least a part two now. Go back and read The Jump and come back here for …
The President’s Men
They came in the dark of the night. They always did. In their crimson blazers and starched white shirts. Black slacks and Chuck Taylor high tops with their tartan pattern. The only variation in their uniforms was in those shoes. Some were the traditional red and green, like the old Scottish kilts. Some were yellow and blue, or combinations of other colors. Their shoes were the one place the President’s Men could be different. The one place where conformity was not the end all of things.
The knock on the door came just when I was about to turn in. Ceci had long ago gone to bed. A habit I had noticed was getting earlier and earlier. While she slept in more and more. I didn’t know what to do about it. I understood what she was doing. She was giving up.
The knock came again and I rose from my chair. I looked around to make sure things were right.
Out on the street, the lights were out, having been shut off years earlier due to yet another energy crisis. Porch lights were off and windows blackened as well, all by edict from the government to “lessen the risk” we would be targeted in our own homes by the rebels. We knew though that the rebels only targeted government buildings and military bases. None of their crudely designed bombs and rockets ever landed in residential areas. We followed the orders so we wouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, not from the rebels, but from those who now stood just outside our front door.
As I walked to the door, the knock came again. Louder and faster. It was joined by a voice. “Mr. Bell. Open the door.”
On the porch, dimly lit from the interior light that leaked out through the open door were three men. In the uniforms of the President’s Men. I couldn’t help but look at their shoes. Two wore the traditional red and green patterned Chuck Taylor’s. The third, who stood slightly behind the others, had a black and white pattern. And a matching tam o’shanter on his head. I knew then that he was the captain of the crew. It would be his decision how things would go.
“Mr. Bell,” he said now. “We’ve received a report that you have contraband.” His voice was quiet. His eyes piercing.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We follow the rules.”
“A neighbor reported that you were handing out fresh tomatoes. Like this.” He pulled his hand out of a pocket and held it out in front of him. In the palm was a cherry tomato, just like one I had given to Mrs. Geraghty earlier that day. Sweet ol’ Mrs. Geraghty who wouldn’t have stood a chance if they came to her house. And why would they?
Because they were the President’s Men and that’s what they did. I said a silent prayer for her and hoped I would find out in the morning that she had survived the night.
I stepped aside and allowed them to enter my home. “My wife is sleeping. I’d … I’d appreciate it if we didn’t have to wake her.”
The captain looked at the others and back at me, sneering. “That’s pretty much up to you, Mr. Bell.”
“I’ll do whatever you need, Mr. …”
“I know you will,” he said, tossing the tomato into his mouth and then holding his hand out to shake mine. His hand was warm and damp, but his grip was firm. “It’s Tim. No need for titles. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine. Right, boys?”
The other two nodded their heads and smirked. “You betcha, cap’n,” one said, while the other began leafing through a stack of magazines on the table behind our sofa. Every one of them with the Old Man on the cover.
“Let’s have a look around, shall we?”
They fanned out. One went into the kitchen. Tim stayed in the family room by the front door. The third went down the hall towards the first floor bedroom. I couldn’t keep track of all of them. I stuck with Tim.
“Nice painting,” he said, motioning at the only painting in the room.
“Thanks. I kinda like it, too.” Truth is that I did. When I was a kid, back in the 70’s a couple of the pictures hung on our garage wall. When the Old Man put one up behind his desk in the Oval Office, it was one time I didn’t mind the thoughtless impulse forced on Americans to do as he did. I happily went out and got a painting. It reminded me of the smell of grease and the ticking of a cooling car engine and the pop of a can of Oly as I took it to my dad, sitting in a lawn chair and watching his street.
I placed it above the fireplace, where the family portrait used to be. Ceci was none too happy with that, but I put the portrait on the wall in our bedroom. Maybe that was why she spent so much time there now. My girl couldn’t stand the things that had happened, were happening. She couldn’t stand the painting, but I knew what would happen if we didn’t have one. I’d heard enough stories. I had no choice and now that they were in my house, I was glad I had done it.
“Eh. I never liked them,” Tim admitted. “Seems kind of silly to me.” It was all I could do to not agree and point out that there was a whole lot of silly going on. While I pondered that, he began walking towards the back of the house. “Boys, you finding anything?” I took a quick look back at the painting before I followed him. I wondered if I’d need somebody slipping me an ace before the night was over.
“No, boss,” said the one from the back of the house. “Nothing sir,” replied the other.
Tim approached the sliding glass door that led to the yard. It had been barely an hour since I had turned the lights off and stored them. It was so dark, you couldn’t even see any shadows. Without turning to me, he asked. “Why don’t you show me your tomato plants?”
“I don’t have any …”
He held up his hand. “Please, Mr. Bell. None of that. The tomatoes.”
“Sir, we don’t have any lights.”
“I understand.” He drew a flashlight from his pocket. “We’re good.”
Outside, I took him to the two tomato plants. His crew members joined us. While Tim inspected the plants, they wandered about, going as far as they could in the glow cast off by Tim’s flashlight. I could only hope one of them might fall in the pool, long dried up, but still a deadly hole that might surprise them. I also hoped they wouldn’t find what was behind the pile of trash that had accumulated on the other side of that pool. Where the rose bushes were, and the tomato plants I fertilized, and a few other things I preferred they not find.
There wasn’t much for Tim to inspect. “Tsk, tsk. Mr. Bell, what am I going to do about this?” He wagged his finger at me. “I wanna honor your request regarding your wife, but we’ve got a problem here.”
“These plants are illegal. Been illegal for years know. You know that, right?”
“Yes, but …”
“Yet you have them anyway.”
I felt beat. “Yes.” My face burned in the dark. Humiliated by two measly little tomato plants. At risk, because I tried to give Ceci something good and helped out old Mrs. Geraghty every now and then since her husband passed.
“Hey, boys, why don’t you go on and check upstairs.” I caught his wink in the dark. “You know they say where there’s smoke there also is fire.”
“Please, sir … Tim … there’s nothing up there … just my wife …,” the words spilled out like diarrhea and wouldn’t stop, “she’s sleeping … not feeling well … I’ll do anything … here … I’ll rip them out.” And I started to, in my desperation I reached for one of the plants and began pulling and yanking. It ripped out, the dirt clodding in the roots. “Here … I’ll never plant them again … ever … please … just let Ceci alone … there’s nothing up there … I promise.” I began pulling the ripe tomatoes of and tried to hand them to the man.
“Honey, what’s going on down there?” came the drowsy voice of my Ceci.
* * * * *
Oh Ceci, if I had only known, I would have done something. If I had known that was the hidden ace. The hole card. I would have never sat down to play the hand. Or I would have folded long before. But I thought there was a way, that I could work it out and Tim and his men would leave, maybe taking a patch of me with them. A little loss of pride, maybe a piece of skin, or a few bruises here and there. I would have taken that and bore it for you.
I had heard the stories, but I didn’t want to believe them. That our President was capable of such a thing. Of employing men who could do such things. This was a thing that happened in the Third World, in lesser civilizations, where war raged and evil reigned. America was not that place, was it?
Turns out it was. I’ll never stop crying, never stop bearing the damage done.
* * * * *
A week later, I began to make my plans. In the basement, where Tim and his crew never went, I began to build a wall. Behind the wall, I stored a few things. If I were to run, there were things I wanted. Things that might see me down the road a bit. Maybe Ceci would join me. And the kids, Nicole and Cameron. We’d leave together. Find the rebels. Join the fight. Enough was enough.
A week after that, while the wall was only half built, but the supplies were in place, I let Cameron know. He came over. I showed him the backpacks and told him there were things in them he would need. I wasn’t yet ready to tell him my plan. I wasn’t ready to even acknowledge it was my plan. Maybe I was still crazed by the events of that night and I’d come to my senses. I’d stock our shelves with marshmallow fluff and Fritos when they showed up on the Old Man’s desk. When orders came out that we could no longer have pets, I’d hand over the cat and bury the hamster in the backyard.
I might, just might, find a way to get through this. Just in case, though, I wanted Cameron to know.
Another month and Ceci walked out one day.
“Honey?” I said as she made her way to the front door. “Where are you going?”
She barely paused, only slightly, and turned to me. “Oh, out for a walk, I guess.” Her eyes were vacant, empty husks. Her voice barely above a whisper. I should have suspected something. I should have known, but I thought the idea that she was finally willing to go out, to get out of the house, was progress.
Ceci walked off the bridge that day.
And several weeks later, I cracked and took a backpack and walked off myself. I don’t know why I didn’t gather Cameron and Nicole with me. I wasn’t thinking straight. I … don’t know. I needed to get out of Omaha and find a reason to hope again. I crossed a bridge and made my way through the ruins of Council Bluffs.
I wanted revenge and I thought I knew where to find it.
*** END ***
For now at least. I have chapter three mostly written. I’ll likely share that here once it’s complete. And then this story will be going dark while I see if I can take it somewhere good. Thanks for reading.