(Content warning: This story has some pretty intense violence and themes in it, if that is something that might upset you, please give this one a miss -Max)
*They told me their name was Roamer. They definitely weren’t from around here. They spoke with a thick accent I found unfamiliar, and other than their name (that sounded like a callsign) I had no other information about them. They wore a head scarf and heavy clothing that covered every inch of their skin. All I knew about this person was they were passing through, they wanted a drink, and it was the only request for a straw I ever had. This is their story, quoted verbatim *
I wonder if every revolutionary has a point where they know they are a revolutionary. As in, a specific moment where they transition from peaceful protester to violent insurgent. I wonder if it is something that sticks to your memory, like remembering where you were when the bombs dropped. Or if it is just a feeling that slowly overtakes you until you forget who you used to be.
I often think about this, maybe because there is no one left to ask about it. I can only speak for myself and personally I can’t say it was any one thing that made we dedicate myself to fighting them. I was mad about a lot of things. The corruption, the injustice, the fact they just didn’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. And I knew enough about history to see down the road we were travelling.
The moment they started making discriminatory laws against certain people, that’s when I knew, that no matter what, this was going to end in blood.
Either theirs or mine.
I chose theirs.
I gathered what I thought I would need and left my life behind. I didn’t tell anyone, I just packed up my bag and I didn’t show up to work the next day. I never saw my family again.
I joined the resistance. It’s actually kind of funny to think back on it now but joining groups like that was easy. We even had a club at the university I was at, which incidentally is how I joined up. It wasn’t violent at first, it wasn’t even radical. All we cared about was standing up for our rights and protesting injustice. Our radicalisation only came as a response to the radicalisation of the government. I mean you could argue we were both radicalised by the division in our society over issues that social discourse was itself radicalising…
Doesn’t matter anymore, right?
Anyway, I joined the cause because I liked it, I loved the lifestyle, it was freedom.
It brought us together, we all loved the camaraderie, we loved the sense of belonging, we loved being outside of society, with our own mores and culture and sense of purpose. That period, just before the violence, was one of the best of my life. I felt important then, I felt like I mattered. I never got that feeling ever again.
We slowly transformed into a militia group this was long before the war mind you, I don’t know if any of us actually ever imagined we would do any real fighting. We trained for it alright, on every level we thought we were ready, but then it’s easy to feel that, when no one in your group had ever seen combat before.
I guess you could say we were emotionally ready for what we thought the war would be. Very romantic, very brave and dashing, we knew there would be horror, we weren’t naïve… But it was like, all the romance made that part a blur, an afterthought, just some unpleasantness we would just have to endure on our path to victory.
At the same time, I don’t think any of us actually believe there would even be a war, yes we hated the government and yes we would never re-enter society while the injustice and fascism endured, but…
But we always kind of believed it would just sort itself out. It seemed just as likely that sanity would return, as we would face a full blown war.
Maybe in another time and place, some other timeline, it did.
When we made the decision to commit to violence you could tell immediately how ready everyone had been for it. And not just us, there were militia groups everywhere with flags from every affiliation you can image. This was the start of the uprising. Do you remember that? I feel like most people forget that part of the story, I guess our war was just got overshadowed by THE war.
In any case OUR war became a reality for us when some black-ops guys contacted our militia and offered support. They weren’t from our country but the deal they offered was too good to pass on. Guns, radios, drones, you name it they gave it to us, they encouraged us to fight our government. We didn’t need much encouraging.
It was one thing to run drills and practice, but a real gun fight is something else entirely. For our first engagement we decided to go for an easy target, just something to give us some experience against real people, nothing too dangerous but enough to give us all a taste of combat. We sneaked through a forest on the edge of a small town, and scouted out the streets just after dusk.
We found the shift change of the local police force as they got coffee together, two police cars with four cops between them. We sneaked into the building across the street that had just locked up for the night. They were completely exposed walking out of the shop together and we were behind cover in the dark. They never stood a chance.
There were six of us and four of them, and we all wanted to get a kill.
We were so excited.
We watched our leader’s fingers count down to zero and we all pulled our triggers.
All of us were trained but, in that moment, when we finally had a chance to shoot at something alive, none of us really kept discipline, we fired on full-auto until our guns were dry.
It was loud, I remember that, and there was broken glass, and bullet impacts everywhere. It looked like the bullets were missing them and just hitting the wall and pavement behind them.
But we weren’t missing.
They just crumpled, I don’t think any of them even had time to know we were there.
We ran over to assess the damage and grab their equipment. I can tell you that entrance wounds don’t look like much, but exit wounds…
I was never excited to shot at a human being ever again. Especially when I looked up and saw the staff in the coffee shop were crawling on the ground in muted pain.
We just grabbed what we could and ran.
The second time we did it, was much neater, no innocent bystanders that time, and the shots I took were careful and precise, no suffering. That had become important to me.
None of this was mindless by the way, we had a plan and it was around this point that it started to work. We needed to lure the army into this town so we could ambush them.
After a few more easy ambushes of local police, we got our wish.
The army came through and we ambushed them and it was a slaughter.
But not of them.
We were so fucking stupid.
I mean our first shots did great, we killed maybe dozen of them before they figured out where we were. But once they did, they returned fired a hell of a lot better than the cops ever did.
I still remember up to that point thinking we were heroes and destined to win the war. Everything I believed in disappeared the moment I saw a heavy machine gun cut my friends in half in less than a few seconds. One of the armoured vehicles had an automatic grenade launcher mounted on top of it. It had this slow rhythmic cadence to its shots, and it just shredded the shop we were taking cover in. I didn’t even know human bodies could fall apart in the ways that fucking gun chewed us up.
Myself and four others just laid flat on the floor, I pressed myself so hard into that floor I could taste the ammonia someone had cleaned it with that afternoon. I was so fucking scared. Finally it stopped firing and shredded clothes and bits of wooden table and blood and flesh and bone were everywhere, some of it still falling to the ground when I looked up.
Our morale just shattered, and we all just ran for our lives in the lull. A group of us went for the back door, my friend reached it first and kicked it wide open, he immediately crumbled and rolled down the top stair as all the soldiers outside opened up on the door. The person behind him hid behind the wall next to the door but the bullets ripped through the wall just as easily as they ripped through her.
In mid-run I grabbed my friend’s hand and veered for a side door, the last thing I saw before we got through was the person in front of us collapse after their shoulder exploded. I hope they died instantly.
We looked for anywhere we could escape to, but every door and window had soldiers watching it. There was no basement, but there was a shop counter we took shelter behind, it was paper-thin, mostly made of glass too.
That’s when we finally decided to whisper about surrender to each other.
I felt the relief wash over me. For all my talk about fighting to my last breath, I had seen death now, I knew what it looked like, and I was terrified.
I nodded in agreement with her and we threw our weapons over the counter and we put our hands up high and we slowly stood up, I know we were both yelling something about surrender and not shooting, but that memory is all but gone now.
Before we had even fully stood up, I saw her hair fly up and she collapsed, I instinctively fell down too, I grabbed her and held her close, as the bullets cracked and flew above the counter. She fell into my lap and I saw the hole through her shattered nose and I felt my hand sink into the back of her head.
I just sat there and I didn’t move or think about anything, I just shut down.
The arrest was a blur.
There was no trial.
The hood came off my head after what must have been several days. It was dark, but then I realised the bus had no windows. I stood up with the other prisoners, our hands zip tied behind our backs. We stepped off the bus and into the courtyard of Howard prison.
I know you think you know what Hell is. But you are wrong.
Nothing compares to Howard.
We stepped into that yard and the flood lights from the perimeter towers blinded us, it was dark but we were awash with light, it burned and it exposed us entirely.
As we were marched in almost cadence towered the enormous iron doors. I tried to look around but couldn’t see anything but layers of razor wire surrounding our path, as I passed through the doors, I caught a glimpse of the night sky, it was the last time I saw it for nearly eight years.
We were taken to a large concrete room, they stripped us naked and all of our belongings were thrown into a pile in the centre of the room, we were told everything we owned was now in that pile, and we were to watch it all be incinerated.
We knew we were never leaving that place, and the remainder of our lives was to be spent in pain.
That was the whole purpose of Howard, it was once a refugee detention centre but over the years it became a general purpose concentration camp, and only the most savage, sadistic people could stand working there and not go mad.
Or maybe they already were.
We were marched naked one by one to our cells. They were tiny, just big enough to stuff a mattress on the floor and a drain next to it which served as both toilet and shower drain. The shower itself was installed high in the roof, you couldn’t reach it and there was no handle for it. It would turn on at a random point in the day and soak the whole room, you had about a minute to clean yourself, and drink as much water as you could. It was always the highlight of the day.
All the cells were back to back, and faced the wall of a narrow walk way, which in turn was the back of another cell.
There was always a cold blue light on at all times. The prisoners couldn’t see or speak to each other. There was always a patrolling guard, but they were covered head to toe with riot gear at all times, so you never saw their faces. They also always had a large dog with them, if you talked in their presence you either got the shower turned on again or if it was a particularly sadistic guard, they would beat you until they broke something.
There was only one meal a day, and it always came at 2am, that was when the full lights came on, our doors opened and we stepped out, they ticked off our names in silence and we were marched to the large, windowless mess hall. We had to stay silent at all times, if anyone tried to speak to the prisoner in front of them, the guards would beat them both to within an inch of their lives. So we would eat our porridge and look at each other in silence.
I spent eight years without saying a word out loud.
The worst thing of all was the walk back to our cells after the meal, they took us the long way, they mockingly called it ‘exercise time’ it was only about an extra hundred metres, but it took us past the execution block.
It was a big wooden platform in the middle of the giant concrete room that housed our cells. In the middle of the platform, there was a giant replica wagon wheel, that’s how sick these fucks where.
If they broke someone on it, they would thread and tie their shattered limbs through the spokes, sometimes they would still be alive for days after they did it.
The body would stay there until the next execution. That could sometimes be weeks. I still dream of that smell every fucking night.
8 years I was there. 8 years, with nothing to even kill myself with.
*Roamer went silent for a few minutes as they fought back tears, they ordered another drink with their hands*
The war was the best thing that ever happened to me.
We didn’t even know there was a war at first. One day the patrol guards disappeared, and the showers failed to turn on, and dinner time came and went.
It still took days before finally someone had the courage to talk, they asked if anyone had seen a guard, if anyone knew where they were or what was happening.
The voices got louder and bolder as the realisation we were alone became clear.
But the joy was short lived. It soon turned to panic when we realised we were trapped without food or water.
Another whole day past, and then another. We were weak, hot and thirsty, so thirsty. We began trying to suck the moisture out of the drains but it was futile.
We were done and we knew it. There wasn’t as much panic as you would imagine, there was a calm over the whole place, the suffering was bad, but suffering is all we knew, and at least it would be over soon.
Then I woke to the screaming and crying, and the smoke and the flames.
I had no idea what had happened, I felt like I had just woken up from getting knocked out from a punch to the head. The wall that held my door was destroyed and there was enough room to crawl through. I entered the corridor and saw only smashed concrete and steel re-bar, and beyond it, endless desert through the blinding light.
My ears were ringing but the screams came through, I looked down the half of the corridor that remained and it was just red mush from splattered human and concrete dust.
I ran the other direction, found some keys in an open office and tried to open as many cell doors as I could, some I could open, others were damaged and I was too weak to open them. They begged me not to leave them.
*Roamer took another minute*
I eventually made it based the wheel, I kept my eyes on the floor.
The mess hall was already open when I got there, people were grabbing everything they could before running away in all directions with their arms full. I did the same, got as much water and food as I could stuff into one of the delivery bags and ran back to the hole in the perimeter wall.
We stepped into the court yard. We began hacking and sawing through the fence with knives and scissor we found in the kitchen. It was not a fast process, but we had learned patience. At least we knew we were alone, and no one was coming to stop us.
The hot winds blew sand from the desert into our faces. We turned to face the building and shield our eyes, that was the first time we got a clear view of the damage to the prison and what had caused it. There was no mistake that a rocket had hit the prison. No idea if it was intentional or just a stray shot but it had blown half the complex to pieces, the rest looked like it could collapse at any moment. I think back on it now, if that had been any other point in my life I probably would have stopped to help anyone I could, but those of us that had survived this far, knew how close we were to making it out alive, a chance f escape none of us ever thought was possible. No one who could walk was going to stop. Not for anything.
As we hacked through the fence we pieced it together that there must be some sort of war going on, but we had no phones or radios or any way to communicate with the outside world.
We had no real information until we found the cars on the highway. That was ominous to say the least, but when we reached the city…
The dead city.
It is impossible to describe that emotion accurately. On one hand we knew we were free, truly fee. No one was looking for us anymore. We knew that for sure now.
But then the other half of that emotion sunk in, that no one was looking for anything anymore.
Everything we did, everything we fought for, all our principles and values… these silent, ash covered streets were all that was left.
All of it was for nothing, all the pain, all the killing, all the suffering, the wind slowing burying the world in sand was all it amounted to.
Now here we are.
The few of us the Gods decided to spare.
*Roamer scoffed loudly*
I notice the little councils, and the little towns, starting to pop up and rebuild civilisation, but I also notice they are already talking about borders and territories, and possession, and resources and blah blah blah…
Do you think there is any hope for us?
*I remained silent*
Yeah, me too.
*End of recording*
*Roamer barely said another word all night, but they did proceed to drink through their straw until they got blackout drunk. We put them onto the recovery bed once they passed out. In the morning they asked if they could stay on for a while, then asked if we needed any help around the bar. We didn’t, but I made up some small tasks anyway. I had a feeling they needed it*
Max Black March 2020