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“You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.”
Maddie pried open the trunk in her grandfather's office and was immediately hit with the smell of mothballs and dust. It had been three days since his funeral and the media was clamoring for a statement from the prestigious Orwell family. There had been rumors of a closed casket funeral that required only a few pallbearers. They needed something to take the attention away from her grandfather’s death and instead focus on whom he had been.
Jeremiah Orwell was the man who saved the world.
She had looked up to her grandfather, but knew something was wrong. He had always led a quiet life, preferring the solitude of his own company rather than visiting with his family and basking in the glow of public adulation. In his last months, he had stopped eating all together. He had always preferred a diet of vegetables and fruits, getting his only protein from rice and beans, but his final moments had left him a withered husk. He weighed a little less than one hundred pounds and looked so ghoulish that they had to have the casket closed for the ceremony.
She riffled through the trunk in his office. It was mostly filled with books that didn’t appeal to her. The subjects ranged from ethics, rhetoric, but most were tied to his occupation, journalism. One thing did manage to catch her eye. It was an old hand-written journal sandwiched between a Jonathan Swift book and another book titled “Animal Farm”. She hoped that maybe it was an old letter to his wife, or maybe a memoir of sorts that could be used to remind the world that her grandfather was a great man and the circumstances of his death had no bearing on his achievements. She sat by the window and began to read.
The Last Words by Jeremiah Orwell
I want you to read this very carefully. What I am going to ask you to do is of the utmost importance. Even though I am dead, or soon will be, there is still work to be done. Wrongs can still be righted.
Before writing that awful editorial, the world's population had been over six billion. Current estimates suggested that had we continued at our current trajectory that we would have reached critical overpopulation within five years. It was a problem with a simple solution that no one wanted to answer. All we had to do was stop screwing so much. It wasn't difficult, but no one wanted to be the person to impose limits on family growth and reproductive freedom.
Many specialists debated and squabbled over what could be done. Agriculturalists demanded more land be set aside for planting to combat this, but this was only a temporary solution. Proponents for population control were shouted down as oppressors limiting reproductive rights. Humanitarians were decried as idealists who promoted the welfare of developing countries while neglecting their own countries’ fate. After the fifth consecutive week of scare tactics and alarmist rhetoric, I had had enough and decided that some levity was in order. I would write an editorial and try to beat some sense into everyone.
It was all meant to be a joke, I swear. I don’t know what gibbering God or smirking Satan took interest in me, but even in my final moments, I curse their name. I started with an outline of our situation. I addressed our growing population and dwindling food supply. I wrapped up the introduction by stating that if our current birth rate continued at its current trajectory, few of us would live to see the following century. (With the current life expectancy being at around 78 years, I thought this was a pretty tongue-and-cheek way to poke fun at all the 'specialist's' fear mongering.)
Unfortunately in our overly-panicked and alarmist state, many didn't see the facetiousness dripping from every word. I thought I was being so clever by referencing Jonathan Swift’s most famous satire. I explained that there was one simple solution that would address both of our issues at once. In one feel swoop, we could solve world hunger and overpopulation. Cannibalism.
I meant it all to be a dark joke. I dug deep into my period as a pretentious revolutionist when I was a scathing college student for source material. I declared this would be the perfect opportunity for Britain to return to its imperial mindset and re-spread their empire. I said that America could turn this to its advantage and re-don the mantle of Manifest Destiny that we had always wanted to wear. I proposed alternate methods of Japan collecting on its debt from various countries that were unable to pay their dues. I ended the piece with one last little bit of vitriol.
“Only by doing this can we return to the state we were truly meant to be.”
I submitted it to my boss, expecting the editorial to be denied outright or to get buried so deep in the newspaper that only archeologist would discover it. I had honestly forgotten about it a few months later. No one had really mentioned it to me and I didn’t see it published in the paper (they would publish it much later). I had written it mainly as a means of venting a little and testing the editors to see if they were paying attention. I was honestly surprised when I was called into the boss’ office and he told me I was being honored. It wasn’t until the award was presented to me that I learned why I was receiving this accolade.
They had taken my opinion piece to heart.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much of the ceremony. It was all lost in a state of surreal shock. I shambled through the next few months in a dissociative fugue. I wasn’t me; I couldn’t be the person who unintentionally brought all of this insanity into the world. I originally thought they were presenting me with some ego masturbation award to ‘celebrate’ my decade of work for them. It wasn’t until the keynote speaker started in on my brilliant ‘vision’ that I began to realize something was not quite right. The pieces of the puzzle all clicked together like bones snapping when he called me up. He dubbed me the ‘savior of the world’.
They had had weeks to put their plan into action. It was a simple one really. They didn’t need everyone’s complicity; they just needed to make them accomplices before they knew what they were involved in. A couple hundred missing people here and there, junkies, runaways, and criminals were all they needed. They weren’t missed, no one looked for them, and no one cared. They had been swallowed up in the sea of apathy long before they were gobbled up by the system.
These disenfranchised were ground, refined, and served to the needy. One of the higher-ups must have had a sense of humor as the product was called “soylent steaks”. They were distributed to halfway houses, low-income families, and stocked in bargain bin supermarkets. The program’s success was highly publicized, but officials made sure the truth wasn’t exposed until much later. They chose to reveal it to the world the same time I received my award. They put me on the pedestal and deflected any criticisms onto me as being the progenitor of the act.
There was some backlash at the inhumanity of it all, but a majority of the unrest was quelled by how effective the program had been. Why argue with success? A few people burned effigies of me that were, comically enough, called barbecues. The government made some amendments declaring our citizens would not be subjected to ‘refinement’ to make the bitter pill easier to swallow. It only took a few weeks before public outcry evaporated, leaving behind indifference. Our apathy gave them free reign to continue their systematic slaughter.
It didn’t take long for the other world powers to follow suit. Russia’s dissident population was gnawed away in a matter of days. Japan’s overpopulation was chewed up in a matter of weeks. The Middle East soon found a use for the more vocal and violent sects that had tainted their image. The world adapted. The population dropped by thousands in the first week and by millions in the next couple of months.
My shock and mental disassociation ebbed about a year later. I had spent months trying to pretend that all of this hadn’t happened. It didn’t work and the realization eventually caught up with me. Sometimes I wonder what I could have changed had I not suffered that mental breakdown. By the time I was ready to oppose these dehumanizations, it had become commonplace. It had become accepted.
It was too late.
It didn’t take long for the executors of this program to realize that I was not in support. Suddenly, all the requests to give speeches and interviews (which I had been turning down already.) stopped arriving. I’m certain they were still being sent, but someone was intercepting them before I could read them. Security began delivering my mail to my door, saying that it was too dangerous to go outside and that threats had been made against me. It would be safer for me to stay indoors at all times. They became a fixture of my everyday life. I’d wake up and they’d be around the perimeter of my house, keeping me ‘safe’, keeping me in. I’d go to bed knowing that they were lurking outside my house.
I became a recluse after that point. Not by choice. They wouldn’t let me leave the house and restricted who could come and visit me. All of this was under the guise of ‘keeping me safe.’ I spent the next decade under their watchful eyes. I tried to find some way to get my story out, but I was routed at every turn. Letters I sent out were returned to me with content blacked out by a Sharpie. Telephone calls dropped out mid-conversation. I was a mute figurehead, giving support to a cause I abhorred. They kept me around because I was more valuable to them alive than I was dead.
I now know what I have to do. There is only one way that I can try to undo some of what I have done. This will be my final moments so I feel like I need to act accordingly. First, I am going to sit down and eat my just desserts. I am going to eat a soylent steak. I have succeeded in avoiding it all of these years, but now I feel like I have to punish myself for what I have done. I already know what is going to happen. It is going to taste wonderful. Years of procuring and preparing human meat have rendered them excellent at their job. Even in all its ugliness, it will be palatable. That is what they are the best at, taking the unpalatable and making it palatable.
After I eat what I have wrought upon this world, I will sit at my desk and look out over the monument built in my honor. The statue built in celebration of my name. I will cry. I already know that will happen. Nothing I can do or say will prevent that fact. My tears and fears will not deter me though. I will still stick the barrel of this revolver into my mouth, fan back the hammer, and squeeze the trigger.
This is my last request. I have tried so hard to get the truth out, but have found myself silenced at every turn. They are always ten steps ahead of me. I’m certain that they have every keystroke logged from my computer, every phone line is monitored, and every form of communication is filtered and revised. That is why I’m writing this down. I think it’s the only way that I can communicate my message without them knowing.
With my death, their guard should be down. They’re overconfident and think that their spokesperson and greatest detractor has passed. They will make me into a macabre messiah and parade me around, claiming that the world has lost a great voice. That is not true, no one has heard my voice, not yet at least. I need whoever is reading this to publish it, to submit it and spread my final message, to set the truth free. I want the world to know. They want to bury me as a hero, the butcher messiah. I am not that person. Please, please restore some dignity to an old man who died with none. I beg you.
Maddie set the letter down on the table. She paused for a few moments before picking it back up and re-reading it. She did that a few more times; unable to comprehend what she was reading. She eventually picked the letter up and carried it out of his study and into the kitchen, away from the watchful gaze of his monument. She had been looking for something of her grandfather’s to print and she now knew what she had to do.
She lit the stove eye and set the letter on top of it. It crackled and hissed as if protesting its immolation. She watched as it burned away. A sigh of relief escaped her lips as the pages were reduced to ashes. She knew what she would give to the media. She would re-print his original article.
Maddie knew what her family had said about Jeremiah, that he had lost it. That he had gone mad in his old age and isolation. That he had starved himself until he was almost a skeleton. As the ashes swirled and danced in the air, she knew they were right, but no one else needed to know that. They needed to see Jeremiah Orwell as a messiah, not some madman. Her grandfather had saved the world. Her grandfather was a hero.
“Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”
Written by EmpyrealInvective