I just read this short story by Amanda Ching, and I’ve been rendered speechless. Not only is it a brilliant piece of writing — funny and poignant — but it is also frighteningly prescient. By my estimation we’re maybe 10 to 20 years away from this sort of dystopic existence. It scares the shit out of me.
for Evil Dr. Em and the twitter brigade
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? James 2:25
About fifteen percent of Merrimack, Virginia was unemployed, but by god, they had congressmen looking out for them. It was comforting, one could have thought as they sat in the dim light of the living room and flipped through the government channels to watch lawmakers burn the midnight oil and make more laws.
“In this desensitized society, there is a shortening list of things that criminals consider punishment,” droned Representative Carter, a white man from Maryville. “They’re better fed in jail than they would be out on the streets. We give them free educations, money for working. We give them health care.”
One of these aforementioned unemployed people was Penelope Gallagher, a tall thin woman with a horsey face and a nervous twitch in her eye whenever she heard the sounds of a congressional meeting on the television. There was a certain crackle in the back of the recording, like a thousand hissing cockroaches.
“If jail isn’t a deterrent, then we need punishments that will work. Punishments that are effective.”
Her husband was asleep in front of the set, supine and sprawled on the recliner. There should have been something on the TV worth watching, but that seemed so old-fashioned now. Penelope tried to remember when television was for fun. These days every time she stared at the screen, she just wanted to stab something.
“Passing Proposal 404—the Punitive Display Edict is the first step in reclaiming our streets, our state, and eventually our country.”
She stood, turned off the set with a click and listened to the sound of the house, quiet creaking, the heater blower, and her husband’s soft snore. Then she opened the front hall closet, pried up the boards in the floor under the row of galoshes and pulled out the black bag she’d hidden in there. She covered her face and hands with the black knit gloves and mask she had stashed there, shrugged on the sack, zipped up her coat and boots and was out the door.
Kayleigh Bent had a full backpack. She ran down an alley towards the park with the jungle gym, her boots barely making any noise on the concrete. Just once, she wished that she could swing from rooftop to rooftop like Batman or something. Alas, that was something she would never master.
It would have been cool, though.
Her team met in the darkness behind the closed middle school. The few floodlights back there had been strategically broken and lazily never replaced. Kayleigh had heard that P. had shot them out with a BB gun, but she’d never asked. One of the rules was that you didn’t know much about the other people, so if you got caught you couldn’t tell much.
Kayleigh hid behind a dumpster and smoked a cigarette. Her mom hadn’t figured out yet that she was sneaking out, but she had caught her stealing smokes. She was down to her last pack, and she didn’t know when she’d get any more. They only sold them to men and women who carried nonbirthing cards.
The headlights of the van cut across the parking lot when it pulled into the back of the school. Kayleigh stayed where she was until the lights flicked on and off a few times, and she knew it was her ride. She ditched the smoke, pulled on her cotton gloves and ran for the van, which only slowed enough for her to jog alongside it.
“Hey,” G. said as she rolled open the side door. P. waved in the driver’s seat. “Busy night tonight.”
Kayleigh slung her pack into the van and they trucked off into the night. Her heart started to thud in her chest like a runaway drum set. G. was laying out a suction set, just in case. P. turned out onto the street and mumbled something under her breath, probably the address of where they were going.
“How are you guys?” Kayleigh asked, kicking her backpack under the passenger seat of the van. The rest of the van aside from the driver’s seat was devoted to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals—if they were ever stopped by the police that would be the end of them all.
G. held up an IV bag of something and read the label. “Oh, you know, just another day in paradise.”