Fiction by Bao Hu Yi
At the piercing sound of her blaring text tone, Teresa was suddenly and inconveniently awake. She reached around for the offending device, doing a fair impression of Ray Charles before he’d had his coffee. ‘Someone had better be dead I swear…’ she thought as she clumsily knocked the contents off of her bedside table in the struggle. She’d been up late the night before, adding a few last-minute adjustments to a freelance design project for a particularly demanding client. He had kept her up until the wee hours of the morning to meet his deadline, but with what he was paying she could hardly complain; once the payment cleared she’d be able to breathe easy…at least until next month.
A few moments later, phone in hand, she winced during the sudden transition from the pale blue illumination of her television in the dark to the stark white of her smart phone alert screen, the handheld miracle still intermittently shrieking at her. It reminded Teresa of an AMBER Alert, or one of those flash flood warnings on the local news. As her eyes adjusted, she wondered what could possibly have been going on…
She froze, instantly rendered immobile by the words on the screen in front of her:
9:24 SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2
THIS IS NOT A TEST
MARTIAL LAW IS NOW IN EFFECT FOR THE FOLLOWING LOCATIO…
Teresa felt the ball of fear, the one lurking and hiding in the depths of her being, lodge in her throat. It was ice-cold to the point of pain, or was she imagining it? It had been there for almost three years to the day, only surfacing when the ugly events of the present summoned it. It made its first appearance the night of the election, yes That Election, when everyone had assumed the powers that be, the forces of Rationality and Liberal Goodness would be enough to prevent fear, ugliness and evil to win the day. She remembered being unable to catch her breath, feeling it stolen away even as the salty tears streamed down her face. The only thing she could think, the only thing so many of us could think then was ‘What happens next?’
It started farcically. There were ludicrous claims of the largest inauguration crowd in modern history, a Muslim ban that even the most virulent Islamophobe would concede was unconstitutional; and a rotating cast of the most inept and corrupt staffers known to man: Flynn, Bannon, Scaramucci, Gorka, ‘Spicy” Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Dolores Umbridge to the President’s Voldemort. The fear receded. It became fodder for late night shows and stand-ups galore: “Can you believe this guy? I mean honestly…” Check out the laughing stock of the world…
But then it began to escalate; an attempted bombing of an apartment complex filled with Somali refugees in Kansas. The attempted hijacking of a passenger train in Nebraska by a white supremacist armed to the teeth. Fire bombings, graffiti, and vandalism; with each new report the ball of fear grew just a little bit. Then came Charlottesville and the ball of fear grew even larger at the sight of young men who could’ve gone to your high school and signed your yearbook chanting “BLOOD AND SOIL!”
The first time it had really hit home for Teresa it had been a few days after the rally in Charlottesville. The news was still covering it, shouting from the digital heavens the resurgence of good old-fashioned American Racism. She and her ex, Marta, had been waiting in line to pick up their car from the shop when the T.V. blasting Fox News caught their eye.
“…Condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides…on many sides…What is vital now is a swift restoration of law…”
“Pfft. Both sides? This guy is basically kowtowing to fuckin’ Nazis!” Marta almost shouted. “Imagine if they’d killed a POC! They’d be dancing in their Klan robes!” As Marta ranted, Teresa had noticed the clerk’s eyes narrow as they fixed on the two women. He was white, bald, skinny and sharp-faced and had been apparently listening while Marta had been talking. Teresa paid, and the girls returned home, seemingly nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until later that night, when Teresa had gone to the car to grab something out of the glove box that they found the note. Hardly legible, in a rough permanent marker scrawl, they’d only been able to make out a few portions of the note: RACE TRAITOR, DYKES, and at the bottom of the scrap paper, in place of a signature were the four letters they had began to dread: MAGA
Marta had wanted to take it public, confront the clerk, and the storeowner, and perhaps even take it viral. That was the birth of her political awakening, and the death of their relationship. She’d had a decent job at the time, doing design for a local firm and didn’t want to rock the boat at a time when she could ill afford it. Marta was a Dreamer and had been chomping at the bit to get more involved since The Election. Teresa was afraid; she’d never been as outspoken as Marta, never been as “political” as her mother would have said. She’d only just come out as bisexual to her friends and family the year before. As much as Marta had tried to convince Teresa of the necessity, the obligation to act, she’d been too afraid. One of the last things she’d said before she left was ‘The only thing that evil needs to triumph, is for good people to stand by and do nothing.”
Teresa dismissed the text alert with a wave of her thumb, the acrylic nail clicking as it glanced off of the glass screen. Jumping out of bed, she grabbed her television’s remote and switched from the light blue menu screen of her idling Blu-Ray player to the familiar cacophony of cable news. CNN filled the screen, and as much as she’d gotten used to the constant BREAKING NEWS header over the last 3 years, she was not prepared for this. The screen was divided into 6 equal squares, each showing a different scene. Two of the squares showed CNN anchors, seemingly talking over each other about two different subjects.
“….receiving information confirming the use of live ammunition on protesters in Waukesha, and St. Louis…”
“…no idea what’s happening now we’ve been told that several members of Congress have been taken into custody along with the Speaker…”
“…senator from Vermont is no where to be found — that following reports of violence during police raids on leftist organizers in and around…”
They all blended into one another, one horrible revelation after the other. The images on the screen were worse: A news helicopter hovering over an internment camp in Arizona showing blackclad ICE agents beating their zip tied prisoners with clubs. Tear gas grenades flying into a crowd of masked individuals brandishing rocks, shields, and Molotov cocktails.
Another shot showed a different protest, where the riot police were stepping over black and brown bodies lying twisted in the bloodstained streets. The last images were the worst, a young woman journalist reporting live on a protest in South Carolina.
She and her cameraman had been focused on the riot police gearing up to wade into the shouting masses when a group of civilian trucks had suddenly pulled into the marshaling area and began disgorging armed men. They weren’t quite military, but nothing about them said civilian either. The cameraman had just begun to zoom in on the men, focused on the red and white striped armed bands each of the men wore on their left upper arms when they were spotted. An older man in reflective sunglasses brandishing a sleek black rifle suddenly pointed directly at the camera, and the men began towards the journalists.
It happened so fast, Teresa wasn’t sure she’d actually seen it. The advancing men, the journalists backing up and then…
“PUT THAT CAMERA DOWN NOW!”
“I’M NOT TELLING YOU AGAIN!!”
“We have the right to record you! This is the First Amendm-“
Then the man’s gun barrel went nearly vertical, a yellow column of flame shooting out as the brrrupt of the gunshot distorted the sound. A hand reached for the tumbling camera, screams echoed in the audience ears, & the camera angle went flat on the pavement, with only the bottoms of boots now visible. A series of sharp reports, gunshots of course and then the blank screen of a live signal interrupted.
Gone were the arrayed images of societal breakdown in action, replaced by the stunned face of Don Lemon, visibly shaken, at a loss for words. The ticker crawled by the bottom of the screen, impossibly slow for those in need of information: REPORTS OF CIVIL UNREST IN 39 STATES; DECLARATION OF MARTIAL LAW BY PRESIDENT. Teresa was dazed; how could it have come to this? Had it really gotten that bad when she wasn’t looking?
She tried to remember the fear again, pull it back into her consciousness. The anticipated “Blue Wave” of the Midterms had been more of a ripple really. Taking back the House had allowed the President’s critics to begin investigation after investigation, but without control of the Senate this had only provoked the executive into dramatic action. After the administration had broken up the tech giants to prevent “censorship of our American values” and in the process seized the means of information, the fear had subsided. Why shouldn’t it? According to the newly empowered FCC, America was Great Again. Even after the El Paso Massacre, seeing women and children bleeding to death in the desert, the fear hadn’t returned as forcefully. The soldiers on the border had been provoked hadn’t they? And when the Supreme Court handed down ruling after ruling in favor of the administration: overturning Roe V. Wade, setting new limits on peaceful assembly, and of course the infamous Mueller ruling. Once the precedent had been established that not only was the President not subject to the same laws as the rest of us, but neither were his proxies, there was no one left to hold him accountable. And so the fear had retreated to bide its time.
Teresa changed the channel, but almost every screen showed the same devastation, more or less. Some stations were gone, replaced by blank screens that said NO SIGNAL. She didn’t know how long she’d been watching before she got to Fox News and stopped. The header read The White House, and she saw the familiar face of The President behind a podium. He was already mid-speech:
“…these are not Americans. These people want to keep letting in murderers and animals, they want to steal your property, they are here to destroy us. They’re breaking our laws! They’re letting them! The Democrats are letting them do this! Enemies of the people, the Democrats and the Fake news Media! I said I was going to Make America Great Again, I didn’t say it would be easy. I didn’t say it would be pretty. But By God I’m going to make America Great again! With emergency powers granted by our wonderful Congress, the following political groups are hereby outlawed on pain of imprisonment: The Antifascist International, Black Bloc, Black Lives Matter, The Industrial Workers of the World, The Democratic Socialists of…”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Teresa froze. Suddenly the ball of fear had exploded into sour terror in her mouth. Someone was at her door, knocking loudly. Startled, she dropped her phone to the floor. She rushed to the window, pulled back the blinds and saw two large black pickup trucks parked in her apartment parking lot, blocking both exits. Two men clad in flak jackets, Oakley’s & ball caps, and carrying AR-15s flanked the nearest truck, scanning the rest of the neighborhood with a practiced glance that told her that these men were dangerous.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Ma’am, open the door!” Teresa was panicking: she didn’t know what to do. She threw open her bedroom door, nearly tripping and falling over her cat, Perry. She passed her bathroom and was across her living room in seconds. At the front door, she looked through her peephole and saw two more men identically dressed to the men outside. In front, however, was a man in khakis and a white polo shirt. He too, was wearing reflective Oakley sunglasses and had what appeared to be a clipboard in his hands. All three of them were armed. She ran back to her bedroom. Absurdly the first thought that occurred to her was ‘Who’s going to take care of Perry?’ She grabbed a pair of joggers and threw them on quickly. She was walking back to the front door, cell phone in hand when —
In an instant her front door imploded and the apartment was filled with shouts for her to get down, and to not move. She screamed wildly and turned to run. A knee in the middle of her back, and suddenly she was on the floor, hands held behind her back as one of the men ziptie’d her wrists together. She struggled and cried out until a hard, metallic knock on the back of her head told her that one of these “soldiers” had pointed the barrel of his weapon down at her. She kept silent, shaking in fear. Craning her neck back as far a she could, she looked up into the tinted lenses of who she supposed was in charge, the man in the polo. He had a slight smirk as he scanned the page in front of him.
“Teresa Spiers? AKA Teresa Marie Spiers?” he read from the clipboard. They knew her name, where she lived… what else?
“You’re an acquaintance of one Marta…uh…Fernandez?”
She froze, bewildered by the question. What could they want with Marta? What could they think she had done to warrant this?
“Hey! You know the spic or not?”
“I- we- well- she was my girlfriend, but I don’t-“ Blinding pain as the hard butt of a rifle slammed into Teresa’s head.
“Shut the fuck up! I knew it’d be another dyke ass bitch…OK get her up.”
Pulled to her feet, she was dragged by the two other men towards the door, as the man in the polo began to read:
“Under the authority of the Executive of the United States of America, you are under arrest for aiding and abetting a known terrorist, harboring an illegal immigrant, and distribution of seditious materials. Get her out of here.” Teresa reached the threshold of the apartment building and saw other armed men — and a few women — pulling ziptie’d people from their homes, throwing them into the beds of the trucks assembled. Jumping at the sound of gunshots that were closer than she’d ever heard before, she realized all of the other prisoners were blindfolded or hooded, just as the bag was pulled down over her head and her vision went dark.