One Page Stories – Second Web

Making War

Jeremy Hanson sat nervously in the corner of the bar. He waited while a second man ordered a beer and brought it and a glass to the table. “Hanson,” the other man said in greeting, nodding as he took a seat across from Jeremy and began pouring his beer into the glass.

“Connors,” Jeremy said in response. He glanced around surreptitiously, but no one else in the bar seemed to care or even to be aware of the two men’s existence. “I suppose you know what this is about?” he asked in hushed tones, leaning low over his own beer.

Alan Connors had been working in this country for three years – just after the civil war had started. He himself considered it more of a rebel-empire sort of civil war, one easily squashed by more ruthless governments, but the current people in power seemed strangely content to let the upheavals continue with minimal repercussion. “I imagine you want to be part of the local unrest,” he answered. “But I don’t see why. You’re not the type to want to take advantage of situations like this.” In fact, Hanson had shown himself to be a very sincere sort of missionary; his focus had been on helping everyone – no matter what side they were on – without question or reservation. Connors waited while Hanson sipped his beer and thought about how best to reply.

“I don’t like what’s been going on in Ritika,” Jeremy said finally. “But I can’t get in there. They know who I am; they know I don’t favour what they’ve done. Last time I tried to sneak in with another group of missionaries, they turned us all away at the gates – rather aggressively. They made it clear missionaries were no longer welcome.” He sighed. “And I don’t really want to die here,” he added wearily, and took another sip of beer.

Connors was aware of what was going on in Ritika. The whole place had a forty-foot wall around it, and inside was a massive compound, built by fundamentalists who had sought an enclave to follow their own religious and political views. They had even declared themselves their own country, but the country they were in – despite the constant upheavals – were not willing to let go of such a big corner of their little piece of the world. “There are places like that all over,” he said to Jeremy. “Why is this one such a big deal to you? I mean, if they’re willing to shoot at you about it, maybe it’s something you’d be better off leaving to the military.”

Jeremy scoffed. “This isn’t some part of the local crap,” he said. “This place was built by my people – missionaries who came here to spread good words, and ended up walling themselves in there like hermits!”

Connors tilted his head to the side and watched Hanson curiously. “Like a lot of other people,” he pointed out. “They’re hardly the first to use the words of their god to justify controlling their fellow men.”

“That’s true,” Jeremy acknowledged. “But that doesn’t make it right.” He looked up at Connors. “And it means what’s happening in Ritika has nothing to do with the civil war. Most of them aren’t even from this country. They openly assault local government at the gates, and nobody – not even the government – seems to care!” He realized he was talking more loudly, and that men at the next table had glanced in his direction; he quickly adjusted his volume, and leaned closer to Connors. “They’re holding people in there as slaves,” he went on intensely. “They’re forcing children into their army.” He shook his head. “If we can get in there, get in to Ritika, maybe we can start educating people in there – people who haven’t seen outside the wall in thirty years – and help them take advantage of the rebels’ situation.”

“That sounds great,” Connors said. “Except for how difficult it is to get in there. They don’t even let missionaries in, Hanson. Not to mention that the people you’re talking about have never been outside the wall, not in thirty years. They may not want to come outside, especially into a country overrun with civil unrest. They may be better off not coming out.”

Jeremy’s shoulders slumped. He hoped this didn’t mean that Connors wasn’t willing to help. Connors was his last chance. “I understand what you’re saying,” he said. “But I think it’s never okay to be a slave. And I think people have the right to know about their own situation. I would do it myself,” he added. “But they won’t let me in.”

“And I suppose you wouldn’t be very good at it, anyway,” Connors said with a faint half-smile. “You don’t seem like the infiltration type.” He drank deeply from his glass. “Well,” he said. “Every place has spies. I’m sure someone’s already in there, figuring out how best to turn Ritika into a tool for their own ends.” He stood up, glass in hand. “I’ll find them, see what I can do.” He bent down and rested his free hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. “But make no mistake, Hanson – we’re starting a tiny little civil war ourselves if we do this, and just because you want to help people doesn’t mean they’ll be helped. The government here has let Ritika thrive for thirty years because it’s gaining something from that set-up, and the rebels have left it alone for reasons that I can only guess at. We could be opening up a really big can of worms.”

“I know,” Jeremy said. “Don’t you think I know? I’ve been trying for a year to get into Ritika through official channels. You’re the only one who’s even agreed to meet with me.” He frowned. “Everyone has the right to be free,” he said.

“I agree,” Connors said. “That’s why I came to this country in the first place. That’s why I’m taking your money, and taking this job. I just wanted you to be real clear on what we’re doing, that’s all.” He patted Jeremy’s shoulder, then casually drained his glass and set it down on the table. “And after this, Hanson, I won’t be able to contact you; you’ll just have to trust that it’s moving forward, and see what happens. This kind of thing can take a while – years, sometimes, if it works at all.”

“I understand,” Jeremy said. He watched as Connors walked out of the bar, then, finishing his own beer in a few gulps, he got up too, and walked out into the midday heat. He thought about his brother Cal, who had come to this country eleven years ago and had never been heard from again – he had disappeared without a trace behind Ritika’s fortified walls, and Jeremy was only here now in search of him. “I understand all too well,” he said to himself, and walked down the narrow street toward his lodgings. “We’re starting a war today,” he murmured to his absent brother. “We’re gonna find you, Cal. I promise.”

With Connors’ help, Jeremy would find his brother – and, hopefully, bring Ritika’s walls down.

The Thing I Like About …

Forrest Gump: the way Tom Hanks chose to run like the little kid.

Tom Hanks patterned his movements after the actor who played his character Forrest as a little kid. Because of this, grown-up Forrest runs a little differently than other grown-ups. Why does that matter?

Well … why do grown-ups run differently than little kids?

Little kids could run for … years. They never run out of energy. They do exactly what they want, and their little bodies just pretty much do what they tell them to do. So why, when we grow up and allegedly have so much more autonomy and freedom, do we choose to change the way we do things? We try to do it a certain “way” that someone told us was the “right” way – a way that promises we’ll be going faster, or doing it better, or getting further, or whatnot. Why do we do that, when kids go so fast, and so far, and do what they want (even when it’s a bad idea, like jumping off the garage roof to see if they can fly)? Why do we decide to throw away the very things about childhood that made us value freedom and speed and running?

When grown-up Forrest runs like little-kid Forrest, he wins awards and accolades. When grown-up Forrest runs like little-kid Forrest, he becomes famous for running. He goes everywhere he wants to go. He does everything he wants to do. He experiences things that other grown-ups don’t get to experience. He basically lives the kind of grown-up life we all dream about when we’re little kids. Maybe he’s … I don’t know … on to something?

Maybe we grow up listening to “they” and doing it “right”, and we end up turning our backs on fundamental parts of ourselves. We stop running because we like it, and we start running because we feel chased – by judgment, by time, by death, by “they”.

Maybe we grow up, and we forget the simple truth: run. Run fast. Run far. Run the way that feels natural to your body, and your body will take you anywhere … like magic.

The Thing I Like About …

No One Lives: when she realizes the door was never locked.

In No One Lives, the bad-guy imprisons a girl, keeping her in a locked cell – and sometimes in the trunk of his car – for months. We watch in flashbacks as he enters the cell and closes the door behind him; he tells her that if she kills him, she’ll starve to death in the cell since no one knows that either of them is there and he hasn’t brought the keys in with him. Then he cuts his own throat, and waits for her to save him. Does she save him because she doesn’t want to watch a man die? It would be hard, perhaps, to watch someone die, even if he was an evil man; she’s not evil, after all. Does she save him because she doesn’t want to die? – without his keys, she’d be trapped in the cell, and no one would ever know to come look for either of them. For whatever reason, she saves him. He lays there, recovering from his self-inflicted wound, and tells her that she’s chosen to be his victim. She disagrees. He gets up and walks out of the cell, through a door that had been unlocked the whole time.

She could have walked out with no trouble.

What does that mean? Well, for the girl, it means that the bad guy locks the door again and keeps the girl trapped for a long, long time.

For us?

Well, for us, I think it’s a call to look around us – at our problems, our attitudes, our goals, our suffering, our plans and dreams, our future, our happiness. We should examine our excuses, our reasons, our motivations, our assumptions … our fears.

How many of our metaphorical doors are actually unlocked? How many of our choices and actions and feelings are based on “realities” that don’t actually exist? How many of us, at any time, could just turn from the situation (internal or external or both) that we’re in … and just walk right out the door?

How many of us are in prisons of our own making?

You may be thinking: “Well, I’m not that girl! If I were in that situation, I would have let him die and just found a way out of the cell somehow. If I were in that situation, I would try the door.”

All right, then.

But you’re not in this extraordinary situation, filled with dramatically enhanced moral dilemmas. You’re not being locked in a trunk every other day by a madman. You’re not faced with the terrible choice of letting another human being die or not. Compared to this scenario, your life is … easier.

Easier to live. Easier to fix.

Whatever limits you’re facing, there (probably) isn’t a serial killer bleeding to death between you and the door to your freedom. You don’t even have to step over the body, or fish through his pockets for the key.

The doors have all been unlocked the whole time.

The Thing I Like About …

Team America: World Police:  the total and all-encompassing irreverence.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker don’t – from all I can see – take anything particularly seriously.  They pick on grown-ups for being so useless to children.  They pick on children for picking on each other and whining for toys.  They pick on Republicans.  And Democrats.  And Christians.  And Muslims.  And actors.  They pick on people who are patriotic.  They pick on people who are not patriotic.  They pick on black people and white people and fat people and gay people.  They pick on Americans.  They pick on Kim Jong Il.  They pick on everyone who is a) willfully stupid, b) pompous and overbearing, or c) evil.  This gives them an enormously huge pool of people to pick on … and they are not afraid to do it.

In Team America, the Team travels the earth blowing up Wonders-of-the-World and historically and culturally iconic landmarks.  They engage in overkill at every opportunity.  But when Gary Johnston, an actor, is asked to join the team, the little song that plays over his inner debate is actually a touching (and funny) look at the price of freedom, and the “real” bad guys turn out to be Hollywood celebrities and Kim Jong Il.  What does that mean?  To me, it constitutes a dispassionate look at how people on all sides of a problem are equally (and usually stupidly) responsible for it.  To Matt and Trey? I have no idea.

All I know about Matt and Trey, really, is that everything they do is designed to cast the people they dislike in a disagreeable light … and that’s wonderful.

Everything in Team America offends at least twenty-seven different groups of people at any given time … because offending people isn’t a crime.  Offending actors isn’t a crime.  Offending politicians or parents or activists or North Korea is not a crime.  Offending me is not a crime.  Making fun of people is not a crime – which is good for all of us, since we’re all happy to make fun of people until someone starts making fun of us.

Matt and Trey have virtually no rules, no boundaries, no limits. They make a lot of people uncomfortable … and then they make fun of those uncomfortable people, because making people uncomfortable is also not a crime.  In a world so ruled by hypocrisy, tyranny and fear, Matt and Trey are fearless.  I suppose, in a way, they are Team America.

I wonder how they’d feel about that?