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SCENE ONE of my short story THE BREAKDOWN

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

What will you do when society breaks down?

THE BREAKDOWN by Michael Dean Cook Copyright 9-24-18

At least during the American, and then the French Revolution, you had a pretty good idea of who your enemies were. During a civil upheaval, it is "mob rule", with each person being asked where their loyalties lie. Your life or death depends upon your answer to the particular crowd at your door. There's little likelihood of having the convenience of crafting your answer according to uniforms or armbands. Either way, you might be struck down by this crowd or the next one. There are now, and always have been, people living under these exact conditions, all over the globe, and all throughout history.

I know Man's propensity for violence and criminality. I've heard about, and read about, and seen documentaries of massacres and genocides. All of our fussing, fidgeting, praying, and political gamesmanship is an effort to create a civilization in which Man can escape his death and destruction from his own hand. I am not encouraged of progress even in this early twenty first century. I see a political party being lead down an evil path by a candidate who orchestrates a chant of "Lock her up!" against his innocent opponent. I know that misled followers such as these have a strong tendency towards using violent and evil schemes to gain their advantage at any cost; but many of them would quickly falter if they were met with solid and unforgiving resistance, and harsh conditions. Yet, there are the brutes.

The breakdown of law and order could take many people by surprise. In your neighborhood, probably not one in ten gives a glance at the political conditions boiling around them. After all, there are jobs to be worked, bills to be paid, kids to raise - a million and one everyday demands on attention and energy.

It might start with scenes on your TV, in cities far distant from your quiet neighborhood, and totally unrelated to your concerns. You won't understand what all the fuss is about. On your local news, you might see some protesting and skirmishing in the city nearest you, like Toledo, Ohio. The next night, you may hear Channel 11 report that protests and violence are spreading to outlying areas.

There will be warnings about the looting of food stores and gas stations. You'll stop for gas on your way to work, and the station will be closed, due to lack of delivery. People will be lined up at the grocery store, struggling to buy the remaining canned goods. You stop at the ATM for some cash, and it's "Out of Order".

Pickup trucks with five or six men in the back will be seen on some of the side streets. You'll wonder what they are up to, and why there are several more cruising around. At the stoplight, three motorcycles pull up in the lane next to you. Are those guys carrying weapons? You dial the police, but there is no answer. When you reach your workplace, there is a guard out front at the front door, and he tells you - "We're closed. It's not safe. Go home". On the way home, you see heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic, headed north. You don't understand, but later you'll realize they were headed to Canada.

Back at home, you'll prepare a meal, and then sit back to watch TV. All the stations are showing these protest scenes, and commentators are engaged in hysterical shouting matches with politicians. This isn't your thing, and you try to find the Tigers game. Suddenly, the TV reception goes off. Try the radio. Nothing but static! The game is probably over anyway, and dusk is settling into your quiet neighborhood. That's when you hear the slamming of pickup truck doors, and the annoying revving of motorcycle engines. There is a hard knock at your front door.

You debate about answering the door. Why should you? Who could it be? You decide that you had better answer it, because whoever it is, is hammering hard enough to maybe knock the door down. When you go to the door, there is a pickup truck on your front lawn with its lights shining at the front of the house. It sounds like somebody is going along the side of the house to the back yard.

Is this official business, you wonder? Maybe it has something to do with your attempted phone call to the police? Maybe they finally traced your call? All these questions are answered in the negative when you take a quick look at the visitors. You know at once that this is trouble on your doorstep. Three scruffy guys are visible. Headlights are blinding you from ahead, and the edges of the yard are becoming dimmer as the sun is going down. But clearly, there is a guy by the pickup, and one facing you about ten feet from your front door, and a third, heavy looking man, with his back to you, peeing on your petunias. There is a bottle of Jack Daniels sticking half way out of the back pocket of his grungy, low slung jeans. Who knows how many more are headed out to the back of the house? You are startled to see that they are all carrying rifles slung over their shoulders.

"What's going on?, you ask. "What do you want?

"I'm ex-military", says the guy who had been pounding on your door. "I'm looking for recruits and supplies. Are you a Democrat or a Republican?"

Suddenly, you realize that your life is on the line here, and your answer will seal your fate. You try to anticipate what it is that this guy wants to hear. But it's impossible to make a correct guess under these circumstances. You decide to take a middle road. Behind you in the house, you can hear reckless ransacking. Men are going past through the side yard with sacks and boxes. Gasoline was siphoned from your vehicles.

"I don't pay attention to politics", you say.

"Who did you last vote for?", he asks.

"I don't bother to vote. I don't know enough about it", you say.

"Having no side", he says, "is just as bad as being on the wrong side. You're going to be held to account, one way or the other, if not by me, then by the next group that comes along. Meanwhile, if you aren't joining us, then we are taking supplies: food, drink, weapons, and anything else we want. Stand aside, or I'll knock you on your stupid ass. Good luck with the next bunch who comes along here. Take your chances on your own."

You hear shots ringing out down the street, and dogs are barking all over the neighborhood. You are starting to grasp the the reality of this breakdown, and you wonder how it ever came to be.

The group packs up and takes off down the street. Relieved, but deeply frightened, you go inside and see that your home is in shambles. Cupboard doors and drawers are open; the refrigerator is open and nearly empty. You didn't have any weapons to begin with, but you notice some of your large kitchen knives are gone. It strikes you odd that the twenty foot roll of braided nylon three quarter inch rope, that you bought a month ago, is gone from the shelf in the laundry room.

You decide to go next door to see how your neighbor Mark is doing. Maybe he can shed some light on this, or at least offer some commiseration. He's a seventy three year old guy who is caretaker for his ninety three year old mother, as well as his handicapped wife, who uses oxygen. Normally, you don't disturb him, but you knock on his door. From inside, the sound of footsteps creak near, and the door opens only a crack at first, and then swings open. Mark steps out, leaving the door ajar behind him. The conversation goes as follows...

Mark - Hey Dan, I see you had visitors. You're lucky they didn't kill you. Did they clean you out?

Dan - Let's just say I'll have to eat tomatoes from my garden. Why me? Did they get you yet?

Mark - They were here earlier today. You must have been at work.

Dan - I tried to go to work, but they turned me away - said it wasn't safe and to go home. So I came home, and look what happens.

Mark - Those same guys were here earlier. I told them I was a Democrat, and so they wanted me to join them. I told them I've got people to look after. They said, in that case, I was on my own, but they were going to have to come in and take supplies.

Dan - They asked me too, and I said I didn't take any sides.

Mark - At this point, it doesn't matter which side you're on. Now it's a matter of survival, no matter who you are.

Dan - How in the hell did it come to this?

Mark - I can explain it, but it's a long story. Right now, we need to figure out how to protect ourselves and survive.

Dan - Do you have a plan?

Mark - Well, we need to take stock of the overall situation. Different gangs have been going through here all day. We don't know who's who. That last gang tried to recruit us, first of all. They're trying to build up their numbers. Let's see how other folks think around here. Let's start with that guy across the street.

Dan - He's lived there for four or five years or more, and I don't know how he gets by.

Dan and Mark knock on the door of the tidy looking home on the corner. It's answered by a slim young man in his early thirties.

He says, Hi - I'm Jim Schweigert. I saw you guys out talking. What's up?

Mark - We're checking with some neighbors to see if they're okay, and how these gangs treated them.

Jim - They cleaned me out. Food, gasoline, you name it.

Dan - Did they try to "recruit" you?

Jim - Yeah. But I said I was afraid to. So they just took everything I had, and left. They went across the street and got you guys, and then they went down Fairview, and I saw them turn right on Baldwin.

Mark - Did you see which way they came from?

Jim - Yeah. They were working their way up Elmwood, and when they got to Airport Road, mine was the first house they hit. Then they went across the street and got you guys.

Mark - How about the guy next to you in the brick house?

Jim - There was a different gang there earlier, but when they saw the group coming up Elmwood, they took off down Fairview. I'll bet they're going up towards the mall.

Dan - That could be. It's about deserted.

Jim - There's not much there anymore but a big parking lot. I used to work at Penney's until they closed it up and moved out.

Dan - Let's see how the people in the brick house made out with that other group.

Jim - It's just one guy. His name is Carl. He's the guy you see riding a bike now and then.

Mark - Let's see what went on at his place. I've talked to him two or three times before. He's a good guy, and a solid Democrat.

Dan, Mark, and Jim walk next door to the brick house to knock, but the door is ajar, and broken off at the bottom hinge. There's no answer. So they start to walk in, expecting the worst. Suddenly, from the back yard, a voice asks, Mark, is that you"?

Mark - Yeah. Carl? Is that you? Are you okay?

Carl - Yeah. But some guys were here. They scared the crap out of me. I hid back here behind the shed. They took a bunch of my food, and left.

Mark - We've all been hit. We're trying to check out the neighborhood - take stock of things - try to see what's going on.

Carl - Well, I'm cleaned out. What are we supposed to do now?

Mark - Let's go to this next house.

At the next house, there's no answer. They decide to go around to the back and try there. Maybe they're hiding out back like Carl was. The back door is open, but a voice comes from the bushes in the back yard.

Voice - Hey neighbor. Please don't go in there. A gang was here and killed my whole family.

Mark - Okay neighbor. We're just here checking on people, to see if anyone needs help. We mean no harm.

Voice - Okay, I recognize you. You live across the street. I'm coming out. Don't pull any funny business. I have a gun, and I'll use it.

Mark - Don't worry. We're here to help. Who are you?

Voice - Manuel. Manuel Lopez. They killed my whole family and my parents. They're all in there, dead. They used knives. I guess they didn't want to waste the ammo.

Dan - Okay. Sorry man. We're here to see if we can help.

Manuel comes out from behind the overgrown Forsythia bushes, carrying a huge shotgun.

Dan - That's a mean looking shotgun you've got there. Why didn't you use it?

Manuel - It's a double barrel, and only holds two shells at a time. These guys had AR-15s with clips of thirty hanging all over them, and there were three truck loads of these guys. They killed my whole family because they were "brown".

Dan - Did they try to recruit anybody?

Manuel - No. They were Goppers, and all they cared about was killing us and taking supplies. I saw them killing people across the street out in their front yard.

Mark - I think I'm seeing a pattern here. Manuel, you called them "Goppers". Why?

Manuel - Because their trucks had "Rumpf - Pence" bumper stickers. GOP people.

Mark - We need to take stock of our situation, and decide what we need to do about it, in order to survive.

Dan - Can't we just lay low?

Mark - That'll keep us alive for a week or two maybe, but after that we're going to starve to death, or be murdered. We have no utilities. No electric! No water! No gasoline! No food! No money!

Jim - Also, no weapons! No ammo! No transportation to look for anything!

Carl - No phone service! No TV or radio! No internet!

Manuel - No protection! No way to eat or drink!

Jim - Where did everything go? How did it happen? What are we supposed to do?

Mark - Well, if I could put it into a nutshell, President Rumpf was blackmailed by the Russians, and sold out the country. The Russians brought us down with cyber-attacks. They did it without firing a shot, or losing a man in "battle". There was no response from our government, because Rumpf, under the control of the Russians, prevented any response by our intelligence agencies, or military. Russians were allowed to hack into our computerized systems of utilities and communications, and shut them down. Russian hackers and agitators used their expertise in propaganda and misinformation, to divide the nation, by setting one group against another. I don't think I can explain it any clearer.

Dan - That pretty much sums up how it happened.

Carl - We can't do anything about all that now.

Manuel - All I want to do is get revenge against the bastards who killed my whole family for "being brown".

Jim - But what are we going to do now?

Dan - Okay. We know how we got here. Now how do we get out of this mess?

Mark - I've got some ideas. But you guys are going to have to nut up.

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