By Max Masen
Patriots is a work of fiction and any similarities between real people, both living and dead, are purely coincidental and products of the author’s imagination. Any places that resemble real locales in the book are, again, purely coincidental, and have been fabricated for your enjoyment.
Story by Max Masen
Edited by Shannon Johnson and Tommy Jay
Cover design by Shannon Johnson and Max Masen
For my lovely girlfriend
Is This What Thriving Looks Like?
I pushed back the flaps of the tent and found the community was sprawling, everyone moving intently in different directions. Mr. Bran held a bucket of water and dropped it on his growing crops. Jane, the teacher at our makeshift elementary school, stood outside the door and motioned for the children to come and join her inside.
The sun was high in the sky, shadows mere dots beneath our feet. I overslept. Jess approached me and slapped me on the back.
“What were you dreaming about?” she asked.
“Home, I think,” I replied.
“You are home, Dustin.”
“Sure, sure.” Seven years later and I still don’t feel like it’s home. But I’ll let her have it for now. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.
I lowered my gaze to the ground, my brow slightly furrowed. I had another dream about that night. I suppose it was more of a memory than a dream, yet a nightmare nonetheless. Every time I had the dream, our town was always crystal clear, and I could make out the look of the house perfectly. My parents were starting to disappear, though. They were in the dream but they were starting to grow fuzzier and fuzzier every time the dream occurred. I didn't want to lose them completely.
I saw Levi was in line over by the mess hall and walked over to him. The sun was out and the weather was beautiful; it wasn't too hot or too cold. Jess was clearly upset that I ignored her; she had that look in her eye that told me so. I wasn't mad at her though. I had actually grown pretty close to her during this time.
“Levi, what's the plans for the day?” I asked. I already know the answer.
“Y'know, I figured we'd go over the wall today and go about town. Maybe do some shopping and go-karting,” he said sarcastically. Yup, I guessed it exactly. Maybe it's because his answer never changes from day to day.
I shifted my gaze to the metallic wall. It was built to keep us safe. Can it really keep us safe? It spanned the length of a small town and every Hyena outpost had one. Nobody was allowed in or out except for the Soldiers of the Revolution. Many of the outposts had been located underground early in the revolution. The government could easily bomb any settlements above ground so it was only logical to go where they couldn’t be reached.
Many of the soldiers were just average people that had fallen on hard times and had a gun in their house. Anyone could fight and the Hyenas used that as the calling. The Hyenas aimed to fix the apparent problems and blights of the country, most of them not even being able to agree on what those problems were, but they were determined to do something. Many of them weren't sure how, but they knew that they had the nation's best interest in their hearts. I guess that was enough to start this whole thing. Maybe that’s what gets every revolution, every instance of change, to start.
“It gets funnier every time, Levi,” I said back.
“Dustin, this sucks.”
“I know, buddy, but we're safe. Seven years and still alive. That counts for something, right?” I asked rhetorically.
“I don't like Jess,” he stated bluntly. He didn’t look at me when he said it, knowing I would be upset.
“I know. You wear that very well.”
“I get bored in here, Dustin. There’s not a lot of kids left. They keep getting sick and have to leave.”
“I know,” I said sympathetically. “They're looking in the city for antibiotics. Everybody is gonna be fine soon.”
Living in close quarters with a shortage of doctors led to catastrophe. Many people were growing more and more ill and eventually died. We'd lost around twenty in the past two weeks. Jess was showing signs of the sickness but brushed off any remarks regarding her health.
“You better be right, Dustin. I don't want to live here anymore. This isn't living. This is just not dying.”
“That's more than a lot of people have right now,” I replied sternly. “They'd kill- literally- to be in the spot you're in right now. So get cozy. We're not going anywhere.”
“I didn't mean it like that. I just- I meant there's gotta be better things out there.”
“There's not, Levi,” I replied. “Outside of the walls there are hunters, raiders, madmen, cannibals, and all other sorts of horrible things.”
“You just keep saying that to scare me.”
“No,” I said softly. “There's people outside of these walls doing anything in their power to stay alive right now and you're complaining because there are a shortage of kids to play with. Get over it and grow up.” I was quiet after saying that. I didn’t want to upset Levi, but I had to give it to him sternly. He had to know that I was not the bad guy, and neither was Jess. We were doing everything we could to keep him and everybody else safe.
“This is because of Jess, isn't it?” His tone was becoming more hostile.
“What do you mean?” I didn’t like playing oblivious, but sometimes I was too tired to do otherwise.
“Because you feel some kind of misplaced obligation to her instead of me.”
“You are the most important person to me, Levi. The only reason we're here is because of you. So stop picking fights and start thanking me for keeping you alive. I know none of this makes sense but it will when you're older,” I chastised him.
“You're not dad, Dustin.”
“Yeah, but I'm all you got so get used to it.”
A moment of silence passed and Levi looked down at the ground. He slowly raised his head to look me in the eyes.
“I'm sorry, Dustin. I just miss how things used to be, you know?” he asked softly.
“Trust me, I know. It's been years, though, and this is what we know now. Things are going to get worse before they get better. That's what Jess told me seven years ago. I think we've already gotten through the worst of it. Things are finally going to get better. I know it's hard but we have to trust the leaders know what they're doing. Things might actually get back to how they used to be.”
I waited for him to answer, but he never did. I could see in his eyes that he was trying his hardest to think of a response, but he couldn't. He knew I was right. I was his older brother and no matter how smart he thought he was, I was always right.
“Now go get something to eat,” I demanded.
He turned to face the line again but he turned back suddenly to face me.
“Dustin, you're the most important person to me too,” he said.
I turned to face the rest of the community with the abundance of tents and makeshift homes. We had families living there. For the first time in years, we were finally starting to rebuild what once was. We were not well off but we had running water and a lot of food. That was enough. Also, we had each other.
These were people that seemed like your average townsfolk, but just a few months prior they were slaughtering the few government officials and army personnel that remained in the area. I held them in high regard, though, and had actually gotten to know many of them. I still couldn't get used to them calling me by their former leader's name, however. I just wanted to be able to tell them that Marley was dead and my name is Parker. I didn't feel that knowing their leader was dead would do anything to their cause now, anyway. After all,
I walked through the center of the town. I decided to talk to Jess again. She always knew what to do to keep me from getting too bored. She would be in the only building that served alcohol, the bar. It was a beat-up, rundown joint, but that’s how she liked it. A few nights back she got hit in the face pretty hard, left a shiner by her left eye. Still, she couldn’t get enough of it and so that's where I went. She was in her usual seat in the corner of the place. The building was dimly lit and had the feeling of a bar before the revolution started.
“Jess,” I called out.
“What do you want now? You're not gonna mouth off to me again, are you?” she asked jokingly.
“Right now, do you believe what you've done has made the country better?”
“We've gotten rid of the ultra-rich. We've killed or removed the ones who fell into the top one percent and watched the rest of us suffer and scramble for the money that was left over. I think that counts for something,” she explained.
“Making things worse for a few just to make a point doesn't mean things are better, though, Jess. Are the previous poor any richer? Everybody is living in shacks. Everybody.”
“Take a seat, Dustin.” She pointed to the seat adjacent to her. She had an unmoving expression on her face. Nothing I was going to say would change her opinion on what she had done.
I sat down and looked at her, waiting for a response to my previous question. She had no answer. She just looked back at me with a smirk on her face and a drink in her hand.
“Do you not like that we're friends? Is that what this is?” She raised her drink, looked into it, seemingly contemplating, before setting it back down.
“No, Jess. I've just been thinking a lot lately.”
“You think too much.”
“Somebody has to do it around here,” I replied. “The Hyenas don't even know what they're going to do with the country if they manage to take the new Capital and I'm the spokesperson.”
“If we take the Capital?” she asked with an amused expression.
“Yes, Jess. If. Nothing is certain right now, is it? You don't even know if you'll last until the end of the week.”
“You shut up right now, Dustin.” She raised her voice. There was a frustration coming from her, evident from the bulging veins in her forehead. She didn’t think I could see them, but I always could. “Nothing is wrong with me. They're bringing back the medicine and I am going to be fine.”
“We need to look at the bigger picture. You're getting older, Jess, and you're the one who's in charge around here. What happens after you do go? Am I in charge? I don't feel as passionately about this as any of the rest of you do. I'm just here for the ride. I'm just here for you. But most importantly, I'm here for my brother.”
“I'm not going anywhere, Dustin. Remember that. Remember that I'm going to lead this country into the next era,” Jess said poignantly.
“Yeah, you're gonna lead this country.” I rolled my eyes. “Nobody even knows your name. They hang pictures of me all over the damn place but you'll be the one leading things.”
Things started to get heated between the two of us. The tension had been rising for a while. I started to question her too much and was pointing out her faults. She couldn't handle it. Her plan was poorly thought out and she was starting to fear that it would crumble from under her. The government was on its last legs for a while but was starting to bounce back. Its power was uncertain.
“Dustin, I-” she was cut off quickly as an explosion shook the entire town.
“We'll discuss this later,” I said sharply.
Jess reached for her pistol, which was resting in its holster. The man standing behind the counter was yelling to me. He threw me a shotgun and instructed me to hide.
“Listen to him,” Jess demanded of me.
“No, I need to find Levi!” I examined the area, looking for the exit. I knew where it was, but a sense of fear took hold of me and became dominant over my previous knowledge of escape.
“I'll find him. Just get to cover.”
Jess grabbed my shoulder but I threw her hand off. She tried to grab me but I threw her to the ground. I quickly ran out the door of the building and witnessed the drones flying overhead.
“Dustin, get down!” Jess yelled. “If you die, this is all for nothing!”
I ignored her and kept running. I was determined to find Levi. Nothing was going to get in my way. I refused to lose another brother.
Bombs were dropped and tents started to explode along with everything inside of them. There was nothing left of my tent when I reached it. My ears were ringing and soldiers in power armor were climbing the sides of the walls. The scraggly Hyena soldiers attempted to hold them off but the government warriors pushed on and decimated the rebels on the wall. A line was drawn that the remainder of the rebels were holding. I used this to my advantage as I ran through the town looking for Levi.
There were about two hundred of the rebels living in the outpost. Within a few minutes, there was only a fraction of that.
“Hold the line!” one of the Hyenas yelled.
“I got one! I got one of them!” another yelled upon shooting a government soldier.
The military’s might, what was left of it that is, compensated for their lack of numbers by being crack shots and experts with any given offensive tool. I may not have gotten into any conflicts before that moment but that much I knew was certain from what Jess had taught me about them.
The attack was coordinated. The government soldiers seemed to have been after something. It appeared as though they knew I was there. The Hyenas weren't trying overly hard to conceal my location. Jess and the others were under the impression the government was too weak to launch an attack like this. They were wrong.
I finally came upon Levi on the other side of town. He had been hiding under the remains of one of the makeshift brick homes. He was curled up in the fetal position and covering his ears. I grabbed his arm and he punched me in the face. He looked terrified and he clearly didn’t realize who I was. I wiggled my nose around, fearing that it was broken. The shock of the punch finally wore off and I leaned down again.
“Levi? It's me, buddy,” I said.
“Dustin?” He looked to me in shock. “Get us out of here.”
I grabbed his arm and pulled him up. We ran back the way I came to get him. We dodged bullets from soldiers and bombs that the drones were still dropping. Jess and a team of men came from the side and were making gestures indicating she wanted us to follow her. We ran to her as quickly as possible.
“Jess, what's the plan?” I asked.
“Escape,” she replied. “That's all we can do. We're going to lose this outpost. The few men still holding the line will allow us the time we need to get out of here.”
“We're leaving them to die?” Levi asked.
“It's either that or we all die,” Jess responded.
“We don't have any other options.” I knew what I was doing. I was scared, but what I did was put myself above the other men that had used their lives to protect me. There was no getting past that fact.
Levi appeared confused. He looked at me as if I should have done something. There was nothing I could do. I knew I was disappointing him. He looked up to me and I was letting him down. He couldn't believe his brother would leave these people to die for us.
“Let's go, Dustin,” Jess ordered. “There's another outpost close by that we can evacuate to.”
We went into one of the buildings that was bombed out. There was a hidden door under a rug that we used to sneak underground into. I could still hear the battle raging above ground after we had exited. I heard men and women screaming in pain. The bullets were unrelenting and the death toll must have been massive.
“Were all those deaths necessary too, Jess?” I asked furiously.
“We didn't see it co
“I can get mad at you for this. You dragged me into this from the beginning. I'm the one responsible for all of this, because of you. Had I just exposed that I wasn't Marley, none of this would have happened. This is on me!” I yelled.
“Think what you want. Let's keep going, though. They'll be looking for us. Whether I like it or not, I still need you alive,” Jess said in response. She didn’t mean it, but she knew it would get to me.
We walked the length of the tunnel in silence. We finally saw light at the end. We cleared the rocks that led to the outside and walked out. The outside was beautiful. Plants, trees, and insects all around. The sounds of birds could be heard.
“Get down!” a voice yelled.
We looked above and standing on top of the rocks were two government soldiers waiting for us, ready to ruin the beauty of the outdoors for me upon first step onto the unkempt grass. They had weapons trained on me, Jess, and the other Hyenas we snuck out with. I carefully raised my shotgun but one of the soldiers spotted me.
“Drop your weapons or we'll shoot right now!” the soldier yelled.
They were in the power armor that amplified their strength and resistance to bullets. Their faces were covered.
“It's Marley. Tell command we have a positive ID,” one of the soldiers said to the other.
“No, let's just kill him here,” the other suggested.
“Or we could forget about all of this and you guys could pretend you didn't see anything?” I said uneasily.
“I'm doing it,” the soldier said. “I'm ending this right now.”
He lifted his rifle to me and put his finger on the trigger.
“No!” Jess yelled.
Jess raised her pistol and shot the soldier in the head. The bullet bounced off his helmet but caused him to lose balance. I raised my shotgun and blasted the other soldier in the chest, causing him to bounce back and fall to the ground. We knew the blasts from our weapons wouldn’t kill the soldiers; the power armor was far too resistant to be penetrated by a regular round from a pistol or a buckshot from a shotgun. The other soldier raised his rifle and shot Jess repeatedly before I could pump the shotgun and fire another buckshot into the soldier that was still standing. He also fell to the ground and I walked up to the one that shot Jess. I ripped off his helmet and grabbed my knife. I looked to Levi, then to the knife. I gripped it tightly in my hand and then threw it away from me. The other soldier began getting up and limping away.
“Yeah, go ahead!” I yelled to the soldier who was in full retreat. “Run away! Tell everyone you meet who kicked your ass!” My heart was beating too quickly, threatening to rip out of my chest. The second soldier got up, looked at me with wide, terrified eyes. “Get up!” I yelled to him. “Get out of here!” I reached for the shotgun as the soldier got up and ran to meet up with his friend. I shot a buckshot into the sky and screamed. Jess, I remembered. Jess is in trouble.
I raced to Jess who was struggling to breathe.
“Jess,” I said faintly, “I'm sorry.”
“Dustin, you were right.” She looked sad, remorseful. “I was in over my head. You're in charge now. I trust that you'll make the right decisions for us. For all of us.”
“I never asked for this.” My eyes were filling up, my vision becoming blurred. I was angry, confused, and I felt more lost than I ever had before. Without Jess I didn’t know what to do, where to go, how to carry on.
“I know. And I'm sorry I put you in this position. What was that you always used to say?”
“The one thing that never changes. The only constant.”
“That I'm always with you.”
Jess smiled and I shot her a smile back. I held the back of her head loosely and tried to savor the moment. I tried not to look at the blood; I only looked at her smiling visage. But she suddenly lost her expression and her head rolled back. I got up to look at Levi and the two soldiers that accompanied us.
I lifted the shotgun up and aimed it at the sky and cocked my knee. “We got a long road ahead of us.”
Patriots by Max Masen / Actions & Adventure have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes