As I walk out into a new, bright Sunday morning, the roads surrounding my home remain deserted. A silence takes the place of what’s often an active, busy street. From the second I step outside, I catch the volume of the crowd a few blocks up, down on main street.
I strut the sidewalk without rush. The ceremony doesn't begin for another ten minutes, but the town remains impatient. The earliest citizens were there hours before the announced time. The masses were overwhelmed with shock and excitement when the event was posted on the board. Schedules cleared, meetings cancelled, personal obligations scrapped, all for ensuring a good audience.
A mere two minutes go by before I pass town memorials. The stone warriors throughout town are connected, forming their own episodic timeline as one makes their way towards the center. First come the spear-armed, unclothed statues. Next are the armored, sword wielding guardians, some taking up horses in the midst of a charge.
I space out while walking, and arrive to the painted, detailed figures of the today’s troops. They carry rifles and explosives, but their figures are there to show suffering, not victory. Red is their signature color, which is meant to burn into the minds of passing citizens. Not mine. They demand sorrow with their presence, though I respond with curiosity, nothing more.
I walk past the monuments and memorials unaffected, with my eyes keeping forward. The crowd’s roar grows as I approach. Town center’s around the corner when I reach the billboard. The standard propaganda plasters the space. “KEEP RESPECT TO THE FALLEN”, and “INSINCERITY IS CALAMITY. STAY IN CHECK” are the common shoutings.
My eyes are drawn in, however, by a large poster centered on the board. It shows the photograph of a young boy, with short cut blonde hair and brown eyes. His white face stares straight, focused, but his lips appear to be struggling. His eyes are strained, as if to hold back tears. Below the photo is text:
“DEAN WALTERS: AGE 12, ARRESTED AND IMPRISONED AT 8:47 PM ON OCTOBER 2ND. CHARGE: DISHONER OF RESPECTS BY LAUGHTER, RESISTING ARREST. SENTENCE WILL BE PUBLIC IN TOWN CENTER AT NOON ON OCTOBER 4TH. ATTENDANCE OF ALL IS MANDATORY.”
As I finish observing the poster, the sound of an engine enters my right ear. Closing in down the road is the Mayor’s vehicle: a reflective, black limousine with tinted windows and spotless paint. It slows as it approaches me. The front, right side window rolls down as it stops. An officer in uniform locks aggressive eyes on mine.
“It’s eleven fifty-five, citizen”, he says. “Get moving.”
I nod. The vehicle moves by the time my head straightens.
Town center’s at the end of the block. A crowd of dark dressed, rowdy citizens blanket the circle. They surrounded a stage, with a small glass chamber protruding from the middle. Left of the stage is two officers, dawning black, faceless masks. They’re gripping a boy. The Boy.
I use a gentle hand to push myself closer, until I’m about twenty feet from the stage. Off stage left is the Mayor’s limousine, in which he’s now stepping out. He’s tall, at least six feet, and bears a hairless head with multiple scars. He wears a black coat, with a silver insignia of a lion on the right breast pocket.
The Mayor steps on stage. I remain silent in curiosity, but the crowd’s volume overcomes my own thoughts. The Mayor observes the citizens for a moment before extending an arm above. All voices extinguish like a boot to a match.
“Citizens!”, he shouts with a serious, aggressive voice. “We gather here today to observe a historical downfall. After almost a decade of respect, mourning, and dedication to our ancestors, the sincerity has been broken by the traitor you see here!”. He points to the boy, who can no longer hold himself back from tears.
“The boy has been seen indulging himself in laughter, breaking the respects that we so dearly hold. The boy’s reason for the crime does not hold importance, as his sentence will commence immediately. For his outburst of dishonor, he will be subjected to the despair and suffering that our fallen brothers were forced to endure. Here, in this chamber, the boy will know the fires and pain from the battles and wars. There is to be no speech or interruptions until the ceremony ends! We will now begin!”.
Almost everyone in the crowd nods after the Mayor’s speech. I’m left wondering how to react, alien to the ceremony about to commence. The guards carry the boy to the chamber, who’s now making a pointless struggle for freedom. A glass panel on the chamber opens as an entrance, in which the boy’s tossed through. The panel is shut and locked as the officer’s step back. A tension settles in me, but not out of fear. I’m locked into the situation, curious, excited, with a mind ripe for discovery.
The boy pegs at the glass like an animal, showing no signs of exhaustion as a colorless gas distorts the air inside. The walls do their job of blocking all sound, leaving cries unnoticeable. His head focuses to the floor, with his face painted with an open, shaking mouth and darting eyes. They turn to an orange when the chamber erupts in flames.
The fires take him in an instant, an soon enough he’s flying against the wall like a headless bird. The crowd around me remains rather expressionless, concentrating on the boy’s suffering. Some heads begin to look down, cowering from the sick display. I can’t turn my eyes away. They’re no reason to restrain myself from the entertainment.
Just as the fire appears to diminish from the chamber, revealing the boy’s ravaged clothes and stripped skin, a series of sparks start to scatter the box. The boy’s now flailing about, knocking against walls as he starts to bleed from holes across his figure. Small dents and scratches form across the glass walls. I feel the inside of my chest start to shake. The corner of my mouth begins to twitch. The box is such a clever design. Heads of the crowd (that are still watching) try to spot for any holes or devices across the chamber. Imbeciles, I think. They’re blind to the idea of the floor, and the space below the stage acting as a storage for the deathtrap.
Goddamn, the display is spectacular! I can imagine the bullets being sent through the belt of the floor even as their firing into the boy’s torso. Soon enough, a stray shot bounces off the ceiling, and strikes right above his forehead. He falls to his knees, and his face and torso soon follow. The bullets stop firing as soon as his mangled head impacts the floor. The show’s over.
The crowd is still silent, with eyes now closed, which makes my low self-containment all the more visible. I still stare at the boy’s corpse, fascinated, with my mouth open in awe. First, my shoulders tremble, then bursts of air shoot from my nostrils. The crowd around begins to peer back at me, showing looks of disgust and hatred. Before I can bring myself together, I’m already starting to laugh.
“It’s amazing!”, I try to tell them. “How can you all be so calm and passive? It was inspiring, specta-“
Before I can finish, I’m grasped and restrained. I’m lifted by both arms, and carried forward. The crowd begins to part in front of me, and I’m brought towards the stage. My breaths become short as more laughter escapes me.
I’m on stage, then thrown in front of the Mayor to my knees. He looks down upon me, in what appears to be disappointment. I take a deep, painful breath to speak. “Thank you”, I say. “Thank you for showing me this. It’s beautiful.”
The mayor only looks at me for a second, sighs, then looks to the guards behind me.
“Burn this monster.”, he says.
I’m lifted, and tossed in the chamber. A foul odor of charred skin and iron enters me as I notice the boy on the floor, smoke exiting his riddled form. The walls block the sound of my hysterics. I don’t look around to the crowd, but I can sense them just as passive as before. I’m left in my own glee as I feel the gas seep into the space, the stench of propane staining the air. My mouth remains open, struggling for breath as my laughter remains constant. The floor grows orange. I close my eyes as I pay for the disrespect of those fallen.
With the joy I’ve discovered, it was worth every moment.
Written by Emeryy