“Bring Grandpa some of his favorite tea. The kind with an ounce of Pernod in it,” shouted his Grandson with desperation in his voice. “And hurry, we must hear the rest of the story. It could explain so much!”
Another Grandson set a cup of hot tea by Grandpa, gently nudged him and blew the fragrance of the tea mixture under Grandpa’s nose.
A pleased yet secretive smile came to Grandpa’s lips and he slowly opened his eyes. “Grandma, are you there,” he gently called.
“No, Grandpa … Grandma isn’t here,” they responded in practiced unison as if they had done so many times in the past.
Grandpa’s smile faded and sadness crossed his face when he realized Grandma wasn’t there. He sat up straighter in his chair and took the warm cup of tea in his hands as if the comfort and fragrance of a memory would bring her back.
“Grandpa, you were telling us about the Terrible Year. You fell asleep just when you got to the part where people were coming out of the shadows and were met by a line of shouting people. You must tell us what happened next,” pleaded the children.
“Oh yes,” he sighed, “the story must be told.”
He began where he left off.
The Terrible Year continues
People, mostly men, were marching and chanting in unison, “You are not us; we’ll never be you.” Their voices were rhythmic and strangely hypnotic. They carried torches in one hand and raised their other arm with a closed fist. A gun hung from a strap carried across their shoulder.
Turns out the passing parade was so focused on keeping step and staying in line, they didn’t notice the people who emerged from the shadows, who had by now moved slightly back to avoid a confrontation.
Determined not to be afraid, the shadows group scattered with a plan to gather once they learned as much as they could about the state of the country. Ever since President Grumpet was successful in shutting down what he considered unfriendly media coverage, the truth was always questioned.
Most news came from his tweets, rallies and OGN, Old Goat News, none of which had reports of government activities or policies. Reports occasionally surfaced on Russian television.
The national newspaper was Barkrite News, owned and operated by the very powerful Tiny Bananha, said to be the real power behind Grumpet.
In the interest of fairness, President Grumpet allowed ABG — name changed from “Anything But Grumpet” to “Always Buy Grumpet” — to broadcast news reruns of his inauguration, the ground breaking of the southern wall, Pillory Pew bailing her storm-ravaged room in Guantanamo, and GFL — formerly the NFL — reciting the pledge of allegiance daily between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. He extended their hours only if they promised to show reruns of his early reality show.
Other reports occasionally showed up on Russian TV.
Reporters who tried to penetrate the news blackout were roundly taunted which resulted in frequent death threats. It wasn’t clear who was doing the threatening. GBIG, formerly the FBI had little interest in investigating what were thought to be fake threats and deaths.
What was known is that the nation experienced another round of devastating storms that destroyed large parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
As if that wasn’t enough, wild fires destroyed a large swath of California and an earthquake just off the coast of Oregon and Washington sank the coast of each State.
“Most and biggest disasters ever,” exclaimed a beaming President Grumpet at his rallies, which brought cheers from crowd. Most rallies were held in South Dakota or Wyoming due to limited facilities and available personnel in other states.
Back at the nation’s capital, lines of chanting people wrapped around federal agencies to seek help. Shades were pulled in the government buildings because everyone was out of town or not hired or gone to a disaster site.
That would be everyone but the agency secretaries appointed by the President. His cabinet, mostly men, was holding a meeting in Paris to discuss the response to the disasters. The meeting happened to coincide with new fall fashion week in Paris, so spouses were invited along.
The people of the shadow heard a tape of the Paris meeting on Russian news and learned the meeting was actually intended to develop a strategy to cut income taxes. The meeting started over the old news that some people had stopped paying taxes to prove they were smart which caused an even more serious deficit in the treasury. They continued to borrow money from social security and Medicare to make up the shortfall.
“Promising to cut taxes to create jobs has always worked before and now we control everything,” scowled an impatient secretary, “Let’s just get on with it and go to that great French Bistro.”
“We can’t keep robbing the social security and Medicare Trusts,” replied the pessimistic one. “What will people think?”
“Won’t be a problem any more. You know old people are the ones who couldn’t get out of the way of the storms, fires, earthquake and tsunami.”
“Oh right,” pondered another, “we will always remember them in our thoughts and prayers…let’s stop for a minute of sorrowful silence.” Then added, “Oh, and let’s be sure OGN gets the clip for air tonight of our thoughts and prayers.”
“Brilliant, we’ll have a tax cut soon and jobs cleaning up the disaster. Grumpet can take credit the biggest tax cut and the most jobs.”
Followed by a minute of silence.
The terrible discovery
Shocked, the shadow group began gathering again to report their findings. They were amazed to walk through the lines of torch bearing, gun carrying and chanting people without so much of a sneer. They just kept marching in step.
All the returning groups reported the same monochromatic monosyllabic melding of voices and steps. They looked at each other as the realization flooded over them.
The people in the lines had turned into zombies trapped in formation.
Is that possible? If not zombies, what caused them to give up their passion and will to repeating the same slogans, rallies and marches.
Perhaps, they were hypnotized. Before they retreated to the shadow, they heard that the now government controlled Facebook and had launched an experiment on its platform intended to “strongly” persuade.
Grandpa told how they quickly turned off their computers and Facebook pages and searched for paper and pens.
“We knew we had to be careful. We just discovered the greatest manipulation of illusions of all time; one none of us ever experienced before. We didn’t know who were the puppets and who were the puppet masters,” Grandpa said, his face both sad and angry as he recalled the Terrible Year.
“Grumpet? Banaha? Russia? The Cabinet? Facebook? Climate Change?
At least we know it wasn’t Congress; they only meet 12 days a year.”
“Now, I am really tired. I must rest, but I promise I will end the story of the terrible year next Halloween,” he said with finality … rose from his chair and left the room.
Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.