Stalin Giggled, a novel of political apocalypse

Prologue, Playa Ceutas, Sinaloa, Mexico, June 28th, 2035

 

So what does a woman think about alone on an empty beach? Is it about civilization and what can happen to it? When she’s 80 miles from anywhere? Passing her days watching waves roll in and pound the sand? What are her thoughts then? She thinks perhaps of poetic allusions, even of poetic justice. Perhaps there are thoughts of bitter irony. She thinks perhaps of better times and opportunities missed. Particularly if she barely escaped the descent of America. Or perhaps she got but a glimpse of its newly emerging hope for a better tomorrow and that was enough. She had escaped all that. She didn’t want to deal with it. She wanted to be left alone. Now she was being made to think of modern times again. And to go back to what were modern times recently. All because some young cub reporter had tracked her down to the edge of nowhere. She had to give him two points for gumption. Now he was asking her about modern America and the recent past. So she had to readjust her thoughts from the sun and beach, the birds and the lizards running in the sand. All that moved and came and went. But the surf, that was continuous, that kept pounding the sand.

“Those past times were once modern America, remember? It wasn’t past yet.”

“Yes, but what was it like?”

“The country was great and decent. People were free and rich to pursue their dreams. Though with that right came obligations. One of those was to preserve it for future generations. Yet, back when modern times meant the hope of the beacon of liberty they became slothful and allowed incremental steps to accumulate that snuffed the beacon out.”

“I see.” But she knew he couldn’t see. He was too young to have seen anything.

“You know,” she continued, “modern times always become past times. And in these new modern times things are different. No longer is liberty seen as the last best hope, as it was once billed incorrectly. Things that are last are always of the past. But now liberty is seen as the first best hope of mankind to live in peace and prosperity, ah, that’s what liberty is. And the first is always the future. Mankind had suffered for centuries under king and church, emperor and pharaoh and god. Then they suffered under commissar and president-for-life and dear leaders. They all pretended as if this was different. But they were the same. They were all the same for millenia. Then, along the way came the United States. It was a new way of looking at mankind’s relationship to government. Not as master of the people, and giver of rights and privileges. But as the tool of a free people to settle the differences among them that naturally arose as each pursued their happiness.”

“Well, what about …”

“Shush and listen.” She shoot him a motherly scowl. Then she looked up at the clouds skidding across the sky and continued only after her admonition had sunk in. If he wanted to hear the story, she was not going to be interrupted. “Too bad this first best hope, this American experiment in liberty, succumbed to the siren call of planning and control. Just as king and pope, and first secretary and prime minister craved power above all else, the American presidents and their supporters began to seek power. For they thought power had the answers. The crude raw power of diktat from on high was the new mantra for a better state. It was said that the government knew best and could marshal the resources necessary. Just as it was said in every past empire and kingdom on earth. This formula was not new. It was borrowed from every other era of history in every corner of the world. This power was always couched in the name of the nation, or for the good of the people, and often for the glory of God.”

She looked at him sternly. “When you hear such things, run for the hills, Johnny, and load your gun.”

She turned back out to the ocean. “And so the American people had started down this path. Once on it they could not get off, it was like an escalator almost. And they accelerated the progress of their journey. And the experiment of America fizzled. Not because it didn’t work, but because it worked too well, and envy rose up, and it was backed with power. Which is a very dangerous combination. It did not fall at once. Instead, it took decades, one step at a time. But each stride was a bit further down the path to power in the hands of one man, as in times of old, back when those were modern times.”

“Sounds apocalyptic, ma’am.”

“It is, young man. It is. And you want to know the whole story, eh?” She looked at him with both wondering and disdain. Wondering if he really wanted to know, disdain because he seemed to be the sort to dismiss it all as nonsense.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, with a willingness that was obvious, and for which she was thankful.

“OK, then. Shush and listen. Don’t interrupt me.” She turned back to the timeless ocean. “The old adage was wrong. We did not sell the last piece of rope to the dictatorship of the people to hang us with. That’s what Lenin quipped. Instead we invited the bastards in to run the rope store. And they hung us all. As we were led to the gallows many perhaps heard Stalin giggle. Still we walked up and waited our turn to be hung. One by one liberties and her people were taken, and then there were none.”

“Who, um, are, um, Stalin and Lenin?” What blithering innocence.

“Go look it up.” She was harsh and her eyes shot a look of ‘you dummy.’

“Yes, ma’am, sorry. I should know, shouldn’t I?”

“Yes, you should know.” She pounded the arm of her chair as loud as she could. It hurt.

He noticed the force, but didn’t acknowledge it, but said, with plaintive tones, “I’ll go look them up, sorry, but, now, so what happened? Will you tell me? Please?” He was begging, for it did intrigue him.

“It’s a long story, you know.” She wondered if he would listen and learn.

“Yes, ma’am, I have time.” He said it with a solidity she no longer heard.

“It’s a long story because it was so incremental. I’ll tell you it as best I can, it’s all I know. No one can know the whole story. No one can know the actions of millions of people over several decades and three million square miles. No one can ever know everything they need to know. They can only give it their best shot.”

“Yes, ma’am, I understand, I’m ready to listen.” He was vigorous in his supplication.

“Good, now hush and don’t interrupt me.” She was glad to have someone to listen. For she was perhaps the only one left who knew of those times, when America was modern, and things were being well planned, for the goodness of us all, or so it was said.

 

 

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