After The End: Center #22573

After The End…

Re-Americanization Center #22573
Late XXI Century
Before Sunrise

“Wake up, you racist scum!”

John heard the clomp of the guard’s boots even before he did his normal bellowing wake up call. He rolled off his hard cot, feeling the ache in his 60 year old bones, and got up for “inspection.” The slow to rise were prodded by another guard’s truncheon.

Another man died overnight. John said a silent prayer for him, that he was released from his torment at this labor camp. He wondered when his turn would be, and truthfully hoped it was soon.

Mornings were always the toughest. The guards made the prisoners, pardon “wrong thinkers,” stand at attention at their hard cots for long periods of time and heaped on verbal or physical abuse depending on their mood. Today, it seems, they were racists.

“You disgusting racists,” the guard continued, “are here to work off your crimes against the State. The Perpetual President cannot abide racism and hate in our wondrous nation, and you will be punished for your wrong thoughts!”

John, and a few others, have heard almost every variation of this speech. It was nothing new to him. He tuned out the verbal abuse and tried to keep at attention. He hoped the guards wouldn’t deny them rations due to “infractions.”

Somehow the guards always found something wrong. The man to John’s left was dragged off to be beaten and then tied to the “punishment pole” near the work gate for “low spirit.” He died of exposure around noontime.

As a result, everyone in their barracks was denied their breakfast as punishment.

John was detailed to “land reclamation” along with a few other older men. A couple of new arrivals, the “puppies,” were also assigned to the work party. Having been in this labor camp for 30 years and doing almost every job imaginable, he felt a stab of fear in the pit of his stomach. He had never been assigned to this detail before.

The camp was getting fuller and fuller these days, with the Perpetual President sentencing more and more “hate criminals” to serve out labor sentences of indeterminate length. The “land reclamation” detail was something relatively new, and felt much more sinister than the other ones.

The work detail was finally lined up and marched out the work gate past the for now empty punishment pole. Instead of getting into one of the waiting line of trucks, John’s group was steered off onto a newly blazed trail in the nearby wood. The air was still full of the smell of fresh sap from the felled trees and cut softwoods. The knot of fear in his stomach didn’t subside as they marched on deeper into the woods.

After marching for around two hours, cresting two hills in the process, the work detail came to a stop in a large clearing. More guards waited at their arrival, curiously heavily armed. A pile of shovels and picks were stacked nearby a large freshly cut stump. A guard with lieutenant’s insignia then stepped onto the stump and addressed the raggedy group of prisoners.

“Today you will dig a trench, the length of which which your supervisory personnel will specify. However, you will each dig such that your portion is 2 meters deep and 2 meters wide. There will be no rations until you finish your job. Those that shy from work will be beaten, at a minimum.”

John felt his heart sink when he heard this. He knew deep down what was going to happen, so he resigned himself to the inevitable, and lined up to get his shovel. The quick glances at the other older prisoners confirmed his own assessment of the situation.

He felt fear as he began digging, but a calming serenity gradually replaced it as he lifted endless shovelfuls of earth. At least the pain in his bones would be gone soon.

John thought back to his former life some 30-odd years ago. He really could only remember bits and pieces from the days leading up to his arrest and imprisonment. Usually they were the happy memories. A faithful dog. Mother congratulating him on his report card. Father teaching him how to shoot a gun. The first girl he ever kissed (John smiled). Playing on the floor with his godson. Swimming with his siblings.

All of these fragments he desperately tried to hold on to while in the labor camp, so he wouldn’t fall completely into despair. He saw too many that intentionally walked across the point of no return lines by the fences. The machine guns in the guard towers made short work of those men.

Families of those that died received a letter from the Department of Re-Americanization that their loved one was “shot while trying to escape” or “died of natural causes.” John vowed he would never even think of doing that, no matter how dark it became for him. Walking into a hail of bullets was the easy way out. A coward’s death, and John was no coward.

As he lifted yet another shovelful of dirt, he tried to remember exactly what “law” he “broke” all those years ago. He knew it was one of the many subsections of the “Protecting America From Corrupting Influences Act,” or as it came to be known: “The Hate Speech Laws.” Was it something he wrote on social media? Or, was it something he said in public that someone eavesdropping took offence to? Regardless of what the exact charge was, he was here digging this trench to the guard’s specifications.

It took John and the other prisoners a good portion of the morning to finish digging the trench. The sun was high in the sky when an equal number of guards carrying carbines began collecting the shovels and picks. The prisoners were then ordered to face the trench and kneel on the edge. Only the “puppies” were confused about what was happening.

John dredged up from his memory one of the prayers of contrition he learned in the Catholic Church, and closed his eyes to pray for his soul. The puppy on his left began blubbering, an odor of urine hitting John’s nostrils shortly after. He finished the prayer and began saying an Ave.

Hail Mary

“Collection complete, sir!”

Full of Grace

“Very well, continue the operation!”

The Lord is with Thee

“You racists and misogynists have been sentenced to death by the Perpetual President…”

Blessed art thou amongst women

“…In accordance with his most recent executive order concerning Hate Criminals in the Re-Americanization Centers…”

And blessed is the fruit of Thy womb Jesus

“…You are to be shot…”

Holy Mary, Mother of God

“…And buried, forgotten by all…”

Pray for us sinners

“…for your crimes against the State!”

Now and at the hour of our death

“Ready!”

Amen

“Aim!”

Hail Mary, full of Grace

“Fire!”

The Lor…

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