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The Wall

I originally wrote this story for an anthology of cosmic horror that ultimately never came to fruition.  It is based on an idea from my son, Cayden, who asked during the run up to the 2016 election, what if they actually did build a wall, and then there is some kind of  apocalypse and instead of keeping people out, the wall ends up trapping everyone inside with the sickness?  So when I saw the call for submissions for cosmic horror stories with a political theme, I asked him if it was alright if I stole his idea as long as I give him a co-author credit, and that he had better say yes, or I would make him pick up the dog poop all summer.  He agreed, his brother got stuck with the poop patrol again, and I sat down and wrote this story.  Since the anthology never came to pass, and it was written for that alone, it has been sitting in my file for quite some time.  Recently, there has been a lot of wall talk in the news again, and so I decided to just put it up here because, after reading it again, it seems particularly timely.  
I hope you like it, because if you don't, I'll make Cayden pick up the dog poop all summer long.
So without any further ado, this is The Wall

The Wall
By Ralph and R. Cayden Pullins

“I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me -- and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on the southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

-Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

          Construction started almost immediately. We watched it on TV, my mother, and sister and I. They had a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony like they had just built a museum. The president was there, with his smug grin, all his cronies standing around him with the same arrogant looks on their faces. The actual dirty, not good for TV, labor started soon after that. It was a difficult job, and costly. It took two years, but it was finally complete.
         Then things started going bad. Attacks on citizens, incidents, shootings. People became scared. The government told us that it was the work of outsiders, that after the loss of life, and the billions of dollars in construction costs, the bad people were still getting in. The answer, they told us, was another wall, this one across our unsecured northern border. That would stem the tide. And thus, a second wall was started despite the protests of hundreds of thousands of people, this one cutting right across the border with Canada, around lakes and over mountains.
         But the incidents of violence didn’t stop, it just got worse and worse, people shooting each other in the streets over parking spots, bashing skulls with baseball bats over disagreements about property lines and possessions. Line cutters got stabbed, road rage turned to murder, and tons of cases of just random senseless violence, people turning on each other over nothing.
          The coasts, they told us. Outsiders were streaming over our coasts, causing trouble with good God-fearing Americans. We will not be safe, they told us, until the wall is complete. When the next presidential elections came around, every other issue fell to the background. Education, healthcare, economics, all made way for the central issue, security. The polls for the last American election were heavily guarded, but even with the police, and in some cases the National Guard present, there were still horrific tales of violence that day, stampedes of people stomping those with opposing political views to death, mass hangings of dissidents. People were terrified, and after the lowest voter turnout in our nation’s history, they barely made a pretense at counting the votes. He has won, they told us. Our 45th president, the architect of the wall plan, was elected in a landslide.
          By the end of the election cycle, the coastal walls were complete, democracy had died, and we were trapped.
          No one knows when he stopped being president and became king. “Like a king,” they kept repeating over and over on interviews and news shows. ”Like royalty,” they kept saying, and then they just stopped saying “like,” and kept the “king” part. The White House was painted gold, which glowed orange in the mornings and evenings, and people would gather and marvel at its beauty. “All hail the Orange King,” they chanted, from outside the fences. “Keep us safe, Orange King.”
          But he didn’t. He couldn’t. Even if he showed the slightest interest in caring for the citizens of this newly walled nation, there was no way to keep us safe from the attacks, which happened all the time, sometimes two or three a day, in random places. People just seemed to give in to hatred, just seemed to turn into monsters. And there was no reasoning for the violence; mothers killed their children, children killed their grandparents, every day the news and internet was flooded with horrific images and terrible stories, and at night our sleep was interrupted by nightmares, faceless mobs and irresistible angry forces.
          And then they cut off the internet. “Cyber attacks on our grid, they told us, our networks were being flooded with foreign propaganda. The only way to stay safe, they said, was to isolate ourselves. The TV stayed on, but all regular programming stopped, and was replaced with a government approved feed; happy white families cheerfully and passively allowing security sweeps of their house. There were news stories downplaying the wave of violence, the palpable terror in the streets.
          Smart people stayed home, if that was a possibility, but you had to eat eventually, you had to pay the bills or they would shut off the increasingly erratic electricity. Every step outside the house was filled with fear. Every loud noise, every unexpected footstep behind you could mean your death.
          The incidents of violence continued and nowhere was safe. People disappeared. School had gotten terrible too, all the classes were flat and boring. All the teachers either burn-outs that would put on a movie, or were active party members, spreading their version of events, glossing over facts that we had been taught since we were kids. Any challenge to the information they gave us got us detention, or assigned “freedom work,” mind numbing and boring memorization and recitation of these alternative facts and statistics. I quickly learned to keep my head down, to avoid drawing attention to myself. After the third mass shooting in our district, Mom stopped even asking us to go.
          I was in my junior year in high school, and my sister had just turned fourteen. She was happy to stay home. She had somehow gotten involved in a kind of radio club, and her half of our room was filled with disemboweled radios and televisions, and anything else even remotely electronic that she could get her hands on. Most nights, I went to sleep listening to her whisper into a microphone “Hello, this is Roo, is there anyone there?” Roo. That was my mother's nickname for her, and she had adopted it as her secret radio nerd codename.
          It was Roo that saw the first shaker. “Oh my gosh Kanga,” she said, using the hated nickname my mother had given me.
          “It’s Catherine,” I corrected her, using my whole name because I liked the way it sounded, royal. Not Cath or Cat or Cathy, but Catherine.
          “Whatever,” said Roo. “Come check this out. This dude is messed up.”
          “Yeah, so what?” I said, but after being cooped up in a two bedroom apartment since forever with only government approved TV, any distraction was welcome. I turned out the lights in the room. Didn't want to be a silhouette in the window, people got shot like that. I walked over to her side of the room. Her side always smelled like hot electronics, dust, and nerd. I looked out the window and saw she was right. The guy there in the alley behind our building, staggering under the orange streetlight, looked messed up alright, but I thought he was sick, not drunk like Roo seemed to be implying. He was shaking and twitching, clenching and unclenching his fists and mumbling to himself, we could hear it even on the second floor.
          “Uh oh,” Roo said, and pointed further up the alley. There were two hooded figures walking toward the shaky guy, carrying bats. Given how people were afraid to gather in groups anymore, I wondered how long it had been since a baseball bat had been used for actual baseball playing.
          The shaker stopped walking and tipped his head to the side, watching the two approach.
          “Roo, this is going to get nasty, we might not want to see this.” I tried to back away, to turn her shoulder, but the scene in the alley was completely captivating. It looked like an old western showdown. The two hoods with the bats said something, it was muffled by the window so I couldn't make out exactly what they said, but it definitely wasn't friendly. The shaky one made a noise, not a word exactly, but a sound, a barked exclamation that was filled with hatred and loathing. “HAK!” It sounded like and then the shaker charged the two hoods. I grabbed Roo's shoulder. “Don’t watch this,” I said, but it was too late. One of the hoods raised his bat and swung like a designated hitter, and cracked the shaker right across the face.
          “Oh DANG!” Roo blurted. “Look at his jaw!” The hit from the bat had dislocated his jaw from the rest of his face, but it didn't seem to bother him at all. He staggered back, then charged again before the hood could get another swing in. The shaker grabbed at the hood’s face. We couldn't see what happened but we knew it was terrible, because an awful scream rose in the alley, clearly a cry of agony. The guy dropped the bat and clutched at the outreached arms of the shaker, trying to break his grip. The other hood took a huge swing at the guy, trying to free his partner. The bat struck the shaker square in the back. He let go of the first hood, turned, and grabbed the second hood by the throat. He squeezed and pulled and I saw a spray of red before I dragged Roo away from the window and straightened the blackout curtains closed.
          “Holy-” I said and sat down hard on Roo’s bed. I couldn’t get that hood’s scream to stop ringing in my ears.
          “That was messed up,” Roo whispered, and sat down next to me. She looked over at me and her eyes were wide and frightened. “What is happening out there?”
          “Some kind of virus” was the best explanation we got from the TV. It was “being investigated by authorities,” they said.
          “What authorities?” Roo said when she heard this. “They've gutted all the science funding, the CDC, even FEMA. Which authorities are doing the investigating?” she said.
          “How should I know?” I said.
          “This is bullshit!” She was over on her side of our room hunched over some ancient piece of radio equipment. I could see a wisp of smoke from her soldering iron. “They aren't investigating a damn thing.”
          “Oh, what do you know anyway,” I said. “You're getting the same information I am.”
          “That’s where you’re wrong,” she told me. “Look.” She lifted up her old phone, a smartphone, a couple generations off of the current one.
          “Oh, what? You managed to get the internet back all by yourself? Give me a break.”
         “No, not the internet, but there's something happening, alright. You know how I've been speaking into the radio?”
          “And keeping me up all night? Yeah I noticed.” I laid back on my bed, and stared at the ceiling.
          “Well the other night, someone answered.”
          I sat back up. “What? What do you mean someone answered?”
          “He spoke to me, on the radio, told me how to change the frequency to make it less detectable.”
          “You’ve been speaking to a strange voice on the radio? Does Mom know about this?”
          “No, of course not. Just listen okay? I talked to him for a while, and there's stuff happening out there that they aren't telling us, something worse than crazy people with guns. There's something awful happening, and since we built the wall and cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, there's no one to help us. If something doesn’t change, we might have to leave. If we were smarter we would already be gone.”
          “So you talked to a crazy person, then?”
          “No. There's a secret group, that all shares information through this network.”
          “There is no network, remember? They shut off the internet.”
          “How do you think you used to get data on your phone? Fairies? It's a radio signal. 3G, 4G, it's all radio. He talked me through it, and I converted my old phone into a receiver. I can get information from the group, on my phone now.”
          “When they bring up the networks again, you're not going to have a phone, you know that. You bricked that one for sure.”
          “Have you not been listening to me? They are not going to bring up the networks. According to the group, we are boxed in. The wall might have been built to keep people out, but now it's keeping all of us in.”
          “You're crazy. Crazy for listening to voices on the radio, and crazy for bricking your phone. You keep this up, I'm telling Mom.”
          But I never got the chance. We woke up that following morning, and she was gone. She might have had work that day, I guessed, but I swore she had told me she had the day off. Roo stayed in the room, messing with her radios and her phone. I waited in the living room, telling myself that I wasn't going to worry, that everything was going to be fine. I kept telling myself that she had just gone to get groceries, that she was just held up by something simple. But then it was night, and the TV didn't say anything useful, and Roo kept working in the room, and I kept ignoring her and trying to ignore my rising fear and my worry. What if she didn't come back? How much food did we have? If she never came back, what would we do? How long would we wait?
          I must have fallen asleep because Roo was shaking my shoulder. “There's more of those shakers” she whispered.
          “Is Mom here?” I mumbled, trying to shake off the sleep.
          “No,” Roo said. “Come look,” she hissed. “There's a bunch.”
          Something about the urgency in her voice finally broke through the sleep, and I felt fully awake. I followed her to the room and I saw that her side had begun to spread, the disemboweled electronics spilling over the line of demarcation onto my side, which I liked to keep tidy.
          “Oh geez, Roo,” I started to say aloud, but she hushed me.
          “I know,” she whispered. “ I'll take care of it I promise, but you've got to see this.” I walked over to the window and peeked through the curtain.
          “Holy- I mean, what are they all doing out there?” There were at least a dozen people, all shaking, all moving in that crazy erratic way out in the street, bumping into things and each other. I looked at Roo, who was pacing the room. “They are all acting crazy like that one guy.”
          I turned to the window to check out the shakers again, but as I did, I stepped on a stiff piece of copper wire, and cried out. I stumbled and fell through the curtain, leaving me completely exposed in the window. I looked down in the street to see a dozen shaking faces all turned up and focused on me. They held still for a minute and then, as one, they broke for the base of the building.
          They were coming for us, I knew it.
          “Kanga?” I heard Roo say as I ran for the living room. Our apartment was small, but it seemed to take forever to get out there. I ran over and locked and bolted the door and I heard a crash somewhere on the floor below. I was desperately looking for something heavy to throw in front of the door when the first arrival struck the door. The whole wall shuddered with the impact, and I could hear the shaker on the other side of it, jabbering to itself, a stream of awful hatred and filth.
          It was horrible.
          The pounding started then, the shaker on the other side of the door hitting it, accentuating each strike with a curse from the stream of words pouring out of it. Then there was another thump as a second body struck the door, and it shook in the frame.
          The couch. I went to push it, but it was heavy and kept getting stuck on the carpet.
          “Roo!” I called. “Help!” But she was frozen in the doorway to our room, staring at the hammered door in terror. “Please,” I yelled. “Come help push this thing. It's too heavy for me.” She finally saw what I was doing and rushed over and took the other end. The ancient couch was ridiculously heavy and had never been moved in the entire time we had lived in the building. We managed to shift it in front of the door just as a third and then a fourth body slammed into the other side of it. The door buckled and a bloodied and ragged hand squeezed through the crack. We shoved against the front of the couch, and after a terrible crunch the hand was pulled back and the door slammed shut again.
          The pounding continued for the rest of the night, and Roo and I sat on the floor in front of the couch pressing against it with our backs, holding the door closed against the intruders.


          “They are saying it's hate,” Roo said, three days later. There were no more attacks on our door, but still no more Mom, either.
          “Gabriel says they are sick. The shakers. He says there is something terrible happening.”
          “He’s the one that I found on the radio, but now he’s on my phone, look.” She handed me her old phone. It now had some bulky pack on the back of it, like one of those extended battery packs but bigger, all wrapped in black electrician’s tape. I looked at the screen, but it was just a stream of words, all together, flowing bottom to top.
          “What is this?” I said. “How are you getting a signal?”
          “It's not the usual towers, or satellite phone service, it's a broadcast, like a stream. It’s radio, but in text.”
          “I can't understand anything here,” I said handing her strangely converted phone back.
          “Yeah, there's no way to sort it, it's just this stream of people all sharing information all the time, and there's no topics or anything, you just have to sit there and watch it for a while and eventually the information becomes clear. It's weird, but after a while it starts to make sense.”
          “What?” I said. I was on edge, I hadn't slept but a few hours here and there, and we were down to scraps in the pantry. We sat all night in the dark, afraid that having the lights on might bring unwanted attention. The shakers had all wandered away from our front door eventually, but they were out in force, especially at night.
          “Res thinks it is hate that is driving the shakers, that makes them change.” Res. She used the collective noun for the group of people that had all hacked or cobbled their phones into those bricks, acting as both a receiver and a transmitter for the ad hoc network that Roo had plugged into. Res. Short for Resistance, and also a child's codeword, this group of teenagers all with delusions of grandeur about being this underground resistance against whatever was happening outside and the Orange bastard that had allowed everything to fall this far.
          “Hate?” I said. “How? What does that even mean?”
          “So this one lady on here, she is medical somehow, something about the brain, a neuro something, she says that there is something new happening, that it has spread, like a virus, that we all have it, even those of us that aren't shakers.”
          “Even you and me? We’re supposed to have this in us too?”
          “That is what this lady says, and she is using words to explain it that I can't even begin to pronounce. The main point is that there is a sickness, and it is in all of us now, something that wasn't there a few years ago, and that somehow it was sparked by hate, and that is what is changing all those people into shakers.”
          “Well you read it on the internet, so I guess it's true huh?”
          “This isn't the internet,” she snapped. “This isn't like that.”
          “Did you ever think that maybe the people you are speaking to are the government trying to find people that are going to fight? Did you ever think that what you are doing is putting us in more danger? Who are these people? Why are they even doing this? If this lady is a doctor why isn't she in a hospital or lab working out how to fix this instead of texting with a bunch of Nickelodeon freedom fighters?”
          “I don't know,” Roo said. “I don't have any answers, but I do know that I am scared, and you sure aren't doing anything about it. At least I'm trying.”
          “Mom will be back soon,” I said, “and then we will-”
          “Mom is not coming back!” Roo shouted. “Haven't you caught on yet? She had been out there-” she flailed an arm at the front door, still barricaded with the sofa, “for four days now, with them, the shakers, and she either has been arrested, or-”
          “Don't say it, you don't know anything-”
          “Or she's dead.”
          “SHUT UP!” I shouted, and I began to cry. I hated to do it, I hated to cry in front of her, because the first one to cry loses the fight, right? But I was so tired and scared and she was really only saying aloud the things that I was scared to admit even to myself. “It is fine,” I blubbered, “it is going to be fine.”
          “Kanga, -”
          “Catherine!” I corrected. “Why don't you just shut up and leave me alone? Go back to your stupid phone and your fake internet friends.”
          “We can't stay here,” she said again, and then she turned and went back into our room.


          Another two days, and still no Mom. We hadn't had a decent sleep in what seemed like forever and now we had even eaten all the scraps. The nights were the worst, people screaming in the streets, shakers everywhere, attacking anyone they saw, attacking each other, and peeking through the window, it definitely looked like Roo’s radio network buddies were right, they shook, constantly, with rage and hate, and they went after anything that moved. Anything that was even a little different than what they were used to seeing, they destroyed.
          I was a mess. Hungry and exhausted and terrified and worried and grieving for our lost mother. I was lost, drifting somewhere in my mind, daydreaming that none of this had happened, that somehow America was restored to something that I recognized, and jumped when Roo touched my shoulder.
          “Sorry Kanga,” she said, and I didn't even have the will to correct her for the millionth time.
          “You were right,” I mumbled. “We can't stay here. What about your resistance? What do they have to say?”
          “It's not really a resistance any more,” Roo said. And my heart fell. We were truly alone then.
          “It has become something else, something like an underground railroad, maybe. It's less of a resistance, and more of an evacuation.”
          “Can they help us?” I was tired, washed out, hollow.
          “Yeah, I think they can. I have been talking to them, and arranging things. I'm sorry Kanga, I just knew that we were going to have to leave. We have to get out of the city, out of the country even. We have to get over that wall. Might be too late though. They might not even let us out.“
          “What? I saw on the news that the Mexican Government has taken over the wall. The TV called it a cost saving measure, were holding it up as an example of the Orange King’s deal making skill.”
          “Kanga, think about it. You saw those guys on the wall right? Were they looking south? Did it look like they were keeping people from coming in?”
          And I did think about it, about the footage they were showing, the Mexican border patrol on the wall in their strangely militaristic uniforms, all the while the news anchors crowing about what a good deal this was for the Orange King to make for the American people, his business acumen shining through, but Roo was right, they weren't looking at their side of the wall at all.
          All of them were looking north. They were not keeping people from coming in, they were keeping Americans from getting out.
          “Oh.” I said, and suddenly everything seemed unreal, the whole world felt detached from reality. “Roo, what are we going to do?”
          “There's a plan,” she said. “A truck is coming. It will take us to the wall, or as close to it as we can get. They tell me there is a way under it, a tunnel or something.“
          “That's it? A tunnel or something? That's all you have?” I sat on the floor, focused on the carpet. “A tunnel or something,” I said again, unbelieving.
          Roo knelt down, lifted my face to look at her. “I believe them,” she said, “and you can believe me. You have to keep hope alive. Keep believing in something better, otherwise you will become one of them.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at our window. “Filled with hate and rage. Have faith. We will make it.” She stood. “Pack a bag. No more than you can fit in a small backpack. If you've been holding out any granola bars or something, bring those too. The truck will be here in the morning.” I stared at her, at how grown up she had become, working the problem while I fell apart. She seemed hardened too, not the kid sister I had, but something else, a veteran maybe. I stood up, that surreal feeling falling away. If she was going to be tough, I could too. I sought hope inside myself. We will be ok, I told myself. We will be fine.
          The truck came, just as it was supposed to. I had written a note, in case Mom ever came back, if she had been detained or something and they let her go. I didn’t really believe that she was okay, that she would ever see the note, but I wrote it anyway and I left it on her pillow in her room. We moved the old heavy couch away from the door and I stood there for a minute, looking at Roo.
          “This is real, right? We’re not running away for nothing right?”
          “It’s real,” she said.
          “These people aren't psychos?”
          She hesitated. “Mostly not,” she said. I sighed, because one way or another, we had to go out there. Psychos or not, we had run out of options. It was either the truck, or we try to find our own way out there with the shakers.
          I opened the door. The hallway was a mess, filled with trash out of people's apartments, and there was blood on the walls, a long dragging handprint made clear that someone was trying to gain a grip on the wall as they were carried away. I turned, wanted to go back in the apartment. This was nuts, leaving our safe shelter, maybe the last safe place ever, and I was going to go back, maybe just keep waiting for Mom, but Roo stopped me.
          “We can't stay here,” she reminded me. She gently turned me around and I somehow started walking down the hallway, stepping over trash and dark puddles on the carpet, holes in the plaster where something had been smashed against the walls, and more smears of blood. My heart hammered in my chest, the whole time down two flights of darkened stairs, constantly expecting some terrible sight, some shaking neighbor to jump out of the shadows. I nearly screamed when the door on the bottom floor opened, and a bright fan of light bloomed in the dark. A bearded face poked in through the open door.
          “Are you Roo?” he said to me.
          I shook my head. I tried to speak, but couldn't.
          “I’m Roo,” my sister said behind me. “This is Kang- Um, this is Catherine.” She corrected herself. “You're Dax?”
          “Yeah. Can you two hurry a little? There was a patrol just a minute ago, and we don't want to be questioned, not in this neighborhood. You're Hispanic?”
          “Italian,” Roo said.
          He shrugged. “Still dark enough to get us detained. I've got the back of the truck already opened. You just go in, climb over the full crates, and there's two all the way in the back that look full but they aren't. You just have to lift on the, uh, merchandise there, and it's on a hinge. You get in, and you stay quiet. You hear something, you hear anything at all, you stay down and you don't make a sound. Do you understand?”
          I just stared at him. It was all too surreal, the dark hall, the bearded guy. It sounded like we were going to get smuggled.
          He looked past me at Roo. “Is she alright? If she's got problems, this can't happen, okay? I'm sorry, but if she freaks out at a checkpoint, she could get us all arrested or worse.” Worse? I thought madly.
          “She’s fine. Maybe in shock is all. Our mother,” she started to say then choked on the words, showing the first cracks in her new in-charge attitude.
          He nodded. “I get it. It's okay, you've just got to hurry. In the back, in the crates, stay quiet. You get it?”
          I nodded. “Thank you for helping us,” I managed to blurt.
          “It's fine,” he said. “The whole world’s gone crazy, it seems like. There’s worse things to do with your time than try and help people find some sanity.” He smiled reassuringly. “It will be fine. Hop in quick and this part will be over before you even know it.”
          We stepped out and were blinded by the sun after the dark of the stairwell. My eyes adjusted just in time for me to catch a glimpse of the street, and it seemed just a bigger version of the hallway. Uncollected trash, distressing smears. We got hustled in the back of the truck, and were again momentarily blinded by the darkness. I followed Roo who was already scrambling over the tops of the wooden crates until she reached the ones in the very back. She lifted the lid of one, and inside were guns, big and black and ugly, laying in some kind of straw packing. She pulled up on the straw stuff, and it lifted easily, revealing a dark empty space underneath. She hopped in and I could hear her shuffling around in there.
          “Get in,” said Dax behind me. “But remember to stay quiet, okay?”
          It was pitch black in the space under the crates and it seemed like every way I moved, I hit something, a wood crate, or my backpack. It was like being buried alive.
          I could feel the panic start, feel my breathing start to rush. “Roo,” I said, “I can't do this. I can't be locked in the dark like this. I'm going to scream, I feel like I'm going to die in here. It’s too hot, it’s too- I've got to get out, I've got to get out...“ Then a light flared in the darkness, and I could see my sister’s face. She was holding her big brick of a phone out, so it lit the whole space.
          “Okay,” she said in a soft voice, “Shhhh, look, there's plenty of room.” She directed the light around so I could get a sense of the size of the space, and while ‘plenty of room’ seemed like an overstatement, I could see that it wasn't a coffin, and if I put my feet at the bottom, I could lay fairly comfortably there. Using the light, I shuffled my body around and got my backpack off. I still felt like I was going to die, but my initial panic was winding down.
          “Roo,” I said, “how did all this happen? How did they let it get to this point? Where are we supposed to go now?”
          Her face looked like a ghost floating in the dark, lit in the white light of her phone screen. “Next stop,” she said, “The Wall.”
          The trip was a nightmare. It was perpetually dark and every time the truck hit a hole or swerved or braked hard, it would jar us, send our things sliding into the darkness. In the three days we were boxed up in the back of that truck, we only got out three times, twice down some empty alley in some terrible town, the garbage piled up, and the stench of hot rotten meat, but the third time, was down an old bumpy country road, with fresh smelling air, and the empty sky above us, a million stars, and a moon that lit the whole plain. After being bounced in a terrible stale wooden box, it was like heaven.
          Dax tossed us each a protein bar which we both ate like animals. We were starving, and dehydrated, and bewildered.
          “We are outside the place we are going,” and he mentioned a town with a Latin sounding name that I was never able to remember, “and this is where it gets bad. Past here it is all shakers and self appointed border patrollers and vigilantes and lunatics. There is a friendly place outside of town that we will go, and that is where I'm going to drop you off.”
          “What are we supposed to do then?” I cried, suddenly feeling the reality of our situation drop on me after the euphoria of the night sky. “Are we supposed to climb? Or dig under or what? How do we get over the wall?”
          “That I can’t help you with. The place we are going, I don’t stay there long. I drop off my delivery, and then I go back. I’m sorry, I just don’t know.”
          “But nothing. We have to go,” Dax said. “I'm not trying to get killed out here. Hop back in.”
          And that was that. We shared a small bottle of water and climbed back in the box. In the thumping bouncing dark, Roo’s phone screen flared up again. I hadn't hardly seen it since the beginning of this awfulness; I think she was saving the battery maybe. She scanned the feed, that started pouring down the screen immediately.
          “It’s him,” she said.
          “Who, Dax?”
          “No. The Orange King. He’s why this all happened.”
          “He- What do you mean? The wall?”
          “That, yeah, but also everything, the hatred, the shakers, all of it. This isn't just politics, you know? People don't go insane because of bad policies. Something terrible is out there, and it all started with that man, and his ridiculous wall.”
          “Everyone blames the president for everything, “ I said dismissively. “that's nothing new. People have been holding the president personally responsible for every terrible thing that has happened since 1776.”
          “This isn't that,” Roo said, “this is different.” Her eyes never stopped scanning the feed as she talked and her voice had a distant dreamy quality to it. “It’s like suddenly he made it okay for people to hate again, like he somehow took off all the brakes on people's awfulness. There are theories being floated, a virus, maybe or something in the water supply, but nobody can seem to pin it down.”
          The truck started slowing down and we heard Dax tap on the floor of the cab with something, making a series of sharp tick noises. Whatever he was doing, the meaning was clear: Be quiet. Be still. Roo snapped off her light and we both held our breath. The truck stopped and we could hear voices outside, questioning and suspicious. And then the back door opened. “Yeah sure,”I could hear Dax’s voice, sounding somehow both bored and irritated. “Take a look.” And then the unmistakable sound of a crate being opened. And another, closer. Roo’s hand found mine in the dark, and squeezed hard. Another crate opened, and the ceiling above us creaked and bowed a little. I thought Roo was going to break my hand. Then light, just a sliver right over our heads. I could make out Roo’s face in the dark and I would guess that mine looked a lot like hers: a rictus of terror. This is where we die, so close to the wall, this is where we get shot in the street, or torn apart by shakers. All it would take is for the guy to try to lift one of the guns out of the facade and the lid would open.
          I heard Dax sigh. “We okay here?” he said. “I don't want to rush you guys here or anything but I'm expected at the militia compound and I've got to get back on the road. Those guys do not appreciate being kept waiting, you know what I mean?”
          “Yeah, alright,” a voice grunted right on top of us, a couple of inches of stage-dressed straw packing and a couple of guns the only thing keeping us from discovery. “Get on,” he said, and it was clear that he was a little disappointed that he hadn't found anything interesting in the truck. I never got a look at him, but I imagined from his grunty voice and lazy Texan drawl that he was a fat greasy slob of a man, stuck in a terrible checkpoint job, the only real pleasure he had was if there was something to find, and he could use his meager power against someone.
          The ceiling overhead bowed again as the man crossed over the crates over our heads, this time on his way back out, and the doors shut. Roo and I kept holding our breath and squeezing hands until after a few more mumbled questions that we could barely hear through the door, we heard the driver’s door thump closed and the truck start back up. Then the bumping and swaying started up again, and after a minute or two we heard that tapping noise again. We were clear. I let out my breath in a great big whoosh and when Roo’s screen came back on I could see the glistening trails of tear tracks on her cheeks.
          Nothing else happened on the way to Dax’s friendly place, wherever that was, and whatever that was supposed to mean, we passed through a couple more checkpoints, but no more inspections. We heard several times over the rumbling engine the sounds of what had to be gunshots, but soon all of that faded away, and it was clear that we had gotten out of whatever terrible city that was.
          When the truck stopped again, there was just a brief exchange this time and then a slow move forward. The back door opened and Roo again grabbed my hand and squeezed it. The ceiling bowed again, and the crate above us opened, but this time there was no hesitation, the facade was pulled up and there, surrounded by a halo of bright florescent light, was a kind looking Hispanic woman.
          She reached a hand in, and said, “Come on out of there kids, you’re here.”

          We sat at a splintery picnic table slurping down hot fragrant soup that had been poured out of a battered old plaid thermos into two styrofoam bowls. I looked around trying to get a sense of what was happening, what this place even was. It might have been a huge garage, and Dax must have driven the truck completely in one of the big bay doors that lined one side. The back was walled off and I could smell cooking and hear voices coming from back there punctuated with an occasional laugh. Dax was over by the truck, apparently negotiating the sale of his guns to a few scary looking men, scarred and tattooed up. He nodded at us and then with the help of a different scary looking guy started unloading the crates from the back. The Hispanic woman, who had helped us from under the crates and then had poured our soup came and sat down with us.
          “Which one of you is Roo,” she asked, after looking us for for a second.
          “That’s me,” Roo said and actually raised her hand.
          “I’m Marta,” the woman said and reached her hand out to shake . Roo shook it first and then me. Marta poked Roo’s brick phone with a long painted nail. “You built this thing?” she said.
          “Nice work. We have some things that could use a good young eye. Remember to make me show you what we have. You two were very brave getting here.”
          “Can you help us get over the wall?” I blurted suddenly.
          Marta sat back, looked concerned. “Who told you we could do that?”
          “I thought- I started and then suddenly second guessed myself. “Wasn’t the idea that we would get here and you would help get us over the wall and away from all of this?”
          “Come with me.” We followed Marta over to a huge garage door that was standing open, letting in a nice warm breeze. “That is the wall,”she said pointing, and in the distance, we could see a strip of dirty white on the southern horizon, lit in even intervals by huge lights. “It goes for hundreds of miles in both directions, and is manned twenty four hours a day by angry Federales with itchy trigger fingers and excellent aim. They will shoot you or me or anyone else that gets within twenty yards of it. I'm sorry,” she said, “but there's no way over the wall. We are the resistance, here to fight the awfulness that had been going on since that Orange madman took office and killed our republic.”
          “But,” I started but my heart sunk and I didn't have any more words.
          “I'm sorry,” Marta said. “There's just no way.”
          “Hey Marta, come check this out,” a man called. “This was in one of the crates. What the heck is it?”
          Marta turned and looked. “I'm sorry if you were misled”. She smiled a sad a smile. “I have to go see what these guys are yelling about. Excuse me.”
          I started to cry then, quietly and filled with despair. Was this it, then? Were we going to live in this greasy garage behind that wood partition, just waiting for the day that the government comes kicking down the doors?
          “She’s wrong.” A man’s gruff voice from the shadows outside the door startled me.
          “Wrong? What do you mean? Wrong about what?” I asked.
          “There is a way to get on the other side”, said the voice, and I saw a match flare up in the darkness, and an orange glow as whoever was speaking lit a cigarette. “I've seen it,” he continued. “It's not too far. That way.” He pointed a lit cigarette to the west. “In the hills there is a cave of some kind, not natural, but old.”
          “Can you take us there?” I said. Roo grabbed my arm in warning, but I shook it off. Roo may have wanted to stay here and fix radios until we both got shot, but I didn't.
          “I don't have to take you, just walk along the wall, going that way. You'll get there eventually. The locals think it is haunted or cursed or something, they tell ghost stories. I don't know about ghosts, but I heard it told that the Orange King himself went in there when they were doing the construction. A bulldozer fell in, broke through the ground and just fell in. This was a while back when when the wall was first going up, understand? Before he was the Orange King, he was just the president, had to answer to the people. Well, ‘the people’ wanted a wall and he said he would give them one, and an ego the size of his demands him getting it done, or at least taking credit for it getting done, if you know what I mean. He went right in apparently, threw out all the academics that wanted to study it, artifacts and what have you, just moved the construction thirty feet to the south and kept right on building. I knew a guy that claimed to be there for all that part.”
          “I don't believe in ghosts,” I said. “Or curses.”
          “Maybe not, but I have to admit that hole in the ground is scary. People go in there from time to time, and I guess it goes under, because nobody ever comes back out.”
          There was some kind of commotion behind us, voices raised and something about their tone made me feel scared. I turned to see what was going on and then the world went white. I was lifted and thrown, back out of the door, and landed thumping and skidding in the gravel beyond. I didn't even hear it, but as I shook off the daze I realized I wasn't hearing much except a high keening. I got to my knees and it seemed like everything hurt my whole body was just one incredible bright pain. Sounds started filtering in as my ears recovered, and I realized that Dax was there too, blood streaming down his face from a terrible gash on his forehead. His face was a horror mask. “You've got to go!” He was shouting but it sounded like it was a long way off. “Run! Go for the wall!” He pointed.
          “Those inspectors must have put something in the truck!” He said.
          “Roo-” I looked around wildly, suddenly terrified.
          She knelt down in front of me and started pulling at my arm, trying to help me to my feet. “Get up!” she shouted. “Come on, we gotta go!”
          I shook my head. I couldn't understand what had happened. I heard a rattling noise from- I looked at the entrance to the building that I had just been standing in, and it was a long way away, and had thick grey smoke pouring out. There were flashes of light in there and as my hearing came back the rattling noise resolved into what had to be gunfire, then I heard the screams. A figure staggered out of the smoke, and it had that particular jerky movement, and I knew instantly that it wasn't a member of the resistance.
          “Go!” Dax said. “Go for the wall! Stay out of sight! Keep moving west!” He pulled from his waistband a huge handgun. “GO!” He shouted, as another two shakers came out of the smoke.
          “Please,” Roo begged, “we have to go.” She pulled me to my feet, and I was a little surprised that I didn't fall right back down. My equilibrium was off, and I stumbled, but I stayed standing. “Come on,” Roo yelled. “Run!”
          Roo grabbed my hand and we took off running in the direction of the wall, where that guy had told us there was a tunnel or a cave or something. Behind us there was more gunfire and another big explosion. We ran holding hands, and my head was aching and I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest, but we kept running until we were out of the light. I risked a look back to see if we were being pursued, but it looked like nobody noticed us leaving. The earth dropped away from under my feet, and I stumbled into the darkness. I pulled Roo off balance, and took her down with me. We slid and rolled down a steep hill until we finally tumbled to a dusty stop at the bottom of a gully that ran parallel to the wall. I hadn’t seen it in the dark and ran right off the edge. Here at the bottom, it was quiet except for our pounding breath and racing hearts. My body was battered and bruised and I groaned as I crawled over to Roo, who was just sitting there in the dirt.
          “I think we got away,” I said. “I don't think they followed us, and they won’t see us down here.”
          “Yeah, but what now?” Roo said quietly into her lap. “There's nowhere for us to go. There is nowhere safe anymore. And now we’re here in some ditch. We have nothing left. I don't even have my phone anymore,” she said, sounding more defeated than I had ever heard her. “I left it on the table back there.” Her voice cracked and broke. “They're all dead aren't they? Marta and Dax and the rest of them?”
          I thought they almost certainly were and if they weren't they would be soon enough. I didn't say anything, though; what was there to say? It was her belief, her hope that had gotten us this far. Somewhere on the opposite side of this trench was a wall, and on the other side of that wall was-
          What was over there? We had been so busy running from that I didn't even really consider what we were running to. Even if we somehow made it to the other side, it wasn't like there was a family awaiting our arrival with open arms, we were going to still be homeless, still be scrambling for safety. But what was over the wall that wasn’t here on this side was a hope for something better. Since the wall had gone up, all hope seemed to have been sucked out of the entire country. I bet it was a relief to the rest of the world that we built the wall, maybe it was good for them, that we penned our particular brand of American Crazy in, maybe they were glad that they didn't have to build the wall themselves.
          But instead of saying any of these things to Roo, my hopeful and brilliant sister, I just pulled her brick of a phone out of the pouch pocket of my hoodie, where I had picked it up off the table. There was a thick crack down the glass on the face of it, but it looked otherwise unharmed. Given that there was an explosion and a rolling tumble down a gravelly trench, it was a miracle that there was only a crack in the screen.
          I touched the power button and it came to life, and lit the ground by my sister. She looked up, and my heart filled back up a little when she smiled.
          “I shouldn't have to pick up after you Roo.” I said with a weak smile. “This is why we can't have nice things.
          “Oh my gosh!” Roo beamed. “Thank you so much Kang- I mean Catherine. Thank you.” She took the phone from me and did something to it. The flow of information began flowing down the screen again but it was a little more sporadic now, less of a flow and more of a occasionally updating feed.
          She looked up at me. “A lot of this is in Spanish,” she said. “It must be coming from the other side of the wall.”
          “Maybe,” I said. “There's a lot of Spanish spoken on this side of the wall too, remember.”
          She thumbed the screen, clearly typing something in. “Huh,” she said. “It's not too far, apparently.”
          “The tunnel?” But she didn't answer me, just kept her eyes on the screen. She stood up and started walking down the trench floor. “Roo,” I called, “where are we going?”
          “It is not a tunnel,” she said. “It’s some kind of temple or something. I can't seem to understand all of this, exactly. It seems like people don't really know what it is. It's not a tunnel, but more like a man made cavern or something, or maybe a building that was buried.” She kept walking and there was nothing to do but to follow her and listen as she asked questions of the anonymous network of people.
          “That guy was right,” she told me. “They had found it when they were digging the foundation of the wall. A bulldozer had apparently fallen in, broken through the ceiling of a previously unknown temple or something, and the driver was killed.”
          This was in the beginning of all this, she read aloud, back when they still seemed to care what people thought of them. The Orange King himself went there, with a bunch of cameras of course, to “pay tribute to the fallen patriot,” to be seen as caring. The cameras caught all of it, and everyone watched as he was lowered, with his smug grin plastered on his face and waving like a kid on a train ride, via a crane into the cavern. Then everything went dead, all the cameras, all of the equipment. People said they heard screams, and some kind of noise, something that nobody could describe. It was never clear what had happened down there in the darkness, but when the lights came back up, all of the secret service agents that had gone in before, all of the construction workers, all of the academics and archaeologists, everyone that had gone into that cave was dead.
          Except for the Orange King. He was still on the crane lift, still grinning. His eyes were open, but he wasn't moving. They took him away quickly before anyone could get a good look. He eventually came awake, but something was different about him. He was more deliberate, had lost all of his loose talk and his arrogant swagger. He simply ordered the place closed, sent everyone away, and negotiated that span of the wall to be moved thirty yards to the south. They just kept right on going, and then the wall was built.
          “Ghost stories,” I said, after Roo had finished reading all of this. “They make all of this stuff to keep people away. They don't want anyone to know that there is a way under the wall. If all this happened, why didn't we see it in the news?”
          “They are the news, remember? We only get what they tell us. Do you really think that if a bunch of people die in a hole, that construction would have to stop? He wanted the wall built, so they kept all the problems quiet until it was built. But people talk and even the government can’t stop stories from going around.”
          “Who are these people you're talking with anyway?” I said, voicing something that had been bothering me. “How do they know all this? And why would they share it with us?”
          “They're just people,” she said, “and they know things. I don't know, but what are we going to do now if not this? You want to go back to the warehouse and see if Dax survived? There is nothing else. If this cavern goes under the wall, then ghosts or not, we're going in, and we are getting on the other side of that wall.” She kept walking and I kept following with sore feet and an aching and battered body. The whole time she was working the phone, and getting more and more information.
          I wasn't sure about any of this. It seemed too crazy, too far fetched. It was nuts, but something had happened. It wasn't always like this, there weren't shakers and checkpoints and a country filled with hate. So maybe it was true. I remembered Roo telling me that it was about hate, that shakers were just people that had given in to hate, and so I tried to keep hope alive inside, but it was getting hard. If I dwelled on all the things that happened to us, all the terrible things that we had had to endure, and the new haunted and mature look in Roo’s eyes, the look of a girl that had had to grow up too hard, too fast, it was nearly impossible to remember to hope for something better. This was it for me, if this cavern or temple or whatever it was didn't work out? Well, it really was our last hope, that was certain.
          The trench eventually petered out, flattened out and became a path. The terrain had gotten much rockier, and filled with large scrub brush, and then after walking through the night and into the early morning, we came upon the place. The wall loomed on our left, and there was a broad and flat area that had been cleared, about a hundred yards between the wall and the scrub and rocks. In that area, there was nothing bigger than a pebble, nothing to hide behind, nothing to use as cover, just wide and empty land. We walked parallel to the wall, staying in the scrub, looking for some sign of a tunnel or a cave or something.
          “This is where it is supposed to be,” Roo said, “or close to it at least.” We stood behind a scrub brush the size of a car, looking at the wall, and to our left the sun began to rise.
          “I don't see anything” I said peering into the twilight. “There isn't anything but-” and then I did see something, or rather blackness where there should be something. “Roo,” I whispered excitedly, “there it is. Look!” It was a hole in the ground, huge, twenty or thirty yards across, and it was surrounded by chain link fence, at least ten feet tall. As the land grew lighter, I could see a Mexican patrol manning the top of the wall all looking in. They were, as Roo had pointed out to me what seemed like a thousand years ago, definitely keeping people in the States, not keeping people out. The excitement of finding the cavern dropped out of me when I saw the predicament. Anyone trying to go in there would have to first run across twenty yards of wide open ground, then would have to scale ten feet of chain link, giving even the slowest of wall guards plenty of time to take careful aim and shoot. “There's no way,” I said, and I felt that last wisp of hope in my heart begin to flicker. Our situation began to really dawn on me. We were out in the middle of nowhere, we had no food, no water and no means to get either. We were going to die out here. Whether it was by bullet, by shaker, by starvation or dehydration, our fate was sealed.
          “There's a hole, look.” Roo pointed at the fence, the side closest to us.
          “Yeah, I said. “It's a hundred feet across, I see it, believe me. But-”
          “Not that hole. There's a hole in the fence. Down at the bottom.” I could see what she was talking about. There near the ground was a hole, The chainlink was lifted in such a way that if someone was fast enough, and aimed just right they could slide under the fence, and right into the hole.
          “No.” I said it before I could even think, a flat denial of what she seemed to be proposing.
          “We can make it,” she said. She turned to look at me. She held my hands and looked into my eyes. “We can make it,” she said again. “You have to believe me.”
          I didn't believe her, I knew it to be suicide, but there was really no other option. I thought about this being our last hope, our really last hope, and so I lied to her. There was nothing else to do.
          “Ok,” I said. “I believe you. We can make it.”
          She smiled, and I am not sure if she heard the resignation in my voice or saw it on my face, but there was a touch of sadness in her smile, too.
          “Who goes first?”
          “You go first,” I said. “You're faster. Show me how it's done.” She was faster, but really I wanted her to go first because I thought the guards on the wall would be more taken by surprise for the first, that maybe she stood a better chance if they weren't ready.
          “Okay, but you follow. Promise me. You follow, okay?”
          “Yeah, I promise.” She got herself set, like she had when she was on the track team in school in a more sane world. She turned one last time, gave her sad smile again, and said, “I love you Kanga.”
          “Roo, wait,” I blurted, but it was too late. She took off at a sprint, her long legs pumping, and she was eating up ground like a gazelle. I felt a momentary flame of hope flare up; she was flying, all she would have to do would be to slide like she was stealing second base, and she did, aiming for the hole in the fence, her foot out, and she slid neatly under the fence. I saw a guard take aim high up on the wall, aim down his sights at the girl, there in the early morning sun, and I yelled “NO!” But his partner pushed his gun down, and shook his head. Roo hopped up, and started to run for the edge, but then she slowed to a stop. She turned.
          “Kanga,” she yelled. “Don’t-” and then the wind changed, and my head filled with the most awful stench, rotting meat, or something much worse- “Kanga?” Roo said, but this time it was lower, not a warning but a question, filled with fear. “It stinks. Don't come. Dont-” and then she went rigid, and behind her, something rose out of the blackness of the hole something alien and horrible that looked like liquid smoke. It was unmistakably malignant, an ancient horror filled with malice and hate. My mind recoiled from the sight of it, and I wanted to scream, to flee, to squeeze my eyes shut, the mere existence of it seemed a blight on the world. Before I could do any of those things, it whipped forward and wrapped around the torso of my sister. “Kanga?” she whispered, and then she screamed, her voice breaking in fear and pain as she was dragged into the hole behind her. It went on for while, her scream went on and on, and then it was cut abruptly off.
          I stood, there in the heat and the dust, my lungs filled with the stench of the hole, and my ears still ringing from the screams of my beautiful hopeful little sister.
          It was our last hope.
          There was no escape.
          The wall had won.
          And the last hope flickered in my heart and died. My hands began to shake as my heart was filled with hatred and fear and anger, and my vision went red with fury and despair.
          I began to tremble, and my teeth ground together as I clenched my jaw. I wanted to scream in absolute fury but all that came out wasn't even a word, but a sound.
          “HAK!” I screamed, and charged at the wall.


Keep hope alive. Don't give in to hate. Build bridges, not walls.


My wife said that she thought Stephen King would like this, so if any of you know him, get a copy in his hands, please. :)
Be sure to share this with your friends if you think it relevant.  Or if you are angry about the themes presented here, steal an idea from your own kid and write a counter-story in response.  If you send me a link, I promise to read it.
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