Welcome to a vision of dystopian future. It is the job, charge, duty and privilege of the author to visualize “what might be.” I’m not saying this is happening… I’m just saying, something like this has happened in the past. It’s a historical twist on a grim-looking future. May we never actually see anything like this in America.
Stay vigilant, watch, listen, and breathe, my friends. We’re not out of time… not yet.
Out of Time
Her world collapsed early Sunday morning
She got up from the kitchen table
Folded the newspaper and silenced the radio.
Sarah fully understood the idea of karmic return the day she began snapping photos of American refugees lined up along the wall. Children with blistered feet, covered in blood and grime, stood beside complete strangers who held their hands. The roads through the border walls had been barricaded and the patrol stations sat empty. Laser cannons acted as deterrents. No one even realized the military had the Laser Defense Array until it was much too late.
Sarah had gone to Mexico to visit her late-husband Hector’s parents. Their son Marc was two when the wall went up, and she wanted desperately for him to know something other than the collapsing society he’d been born to. She and Hector’s family had never seen eye to eye, but that mattered less after her husband died fighting for his country in a war than none of them understood. Their differences became a complete non-issue when the constitution got dismantled. Sarah’s only hope at real connection for Marc was to acquaint him with something outside his immediate world. Hector’s parents welcomed them and urged Sarah to visit often.
From a high rooftop in Nogales, Sarah zoomed focus on a pair of children playing tag. They went through the motions with dull eyes and lazy movements. Behind them, rows of sunbaked refugees withered under the Arizona summer sun. Those lying on the pavement were maybe sleeping but probably dead. No one bothered to move them save for rummaging for canteens or bits of food.
After the wall went up across both the northern and southern borders, the Grid went live. Invisible beams of deadly energy hovered between repurposed cell towers segregating the American population by age, skin color, gender, sexual orientation – whatever categorizations matched most visibly.
The wealthy thought they’d be immune, shielded by their status. But those with substantial net worth or advanced education were spirited away … away from family … away from friends … away from their own children. In reality, no one was safe from the segregation.
Those who escaped had run for the wall, hoping to find deserted spans that might offer passage into Mexico. But the government had been one step ahead the whole time. Those cannons, with their automated, watchful eyes, served as the border patrol now. Any who tried to climb over met a quick end, and their bodies were left as a reminder. The refugees feared they’d be killed with their backs against that impenetrable barrier, but they were left to fend for themselves. Rumor was that Washington joked about how the problem would solve itself eventually.
No one knew for sure what was happening deep within the former United States. All connections across the borders went dark the day the grid went live. Messages passed by word-of-mouth were highly suspect. The only photos taken were snapped at great risk from rooftops along the border. If the cannons caught sight of a glint off her lens, Sarah knew she’d be the next victim of the wall.
Like the supernova that it was, America had exploded outward, pushing its view of democracy across the globe like white, hot, angry fire. While its citizens argued over whose side was right, the government’s collective view of freedom consumed some countries entirely and left the rest to smolder in its wake.
But like all dying stars, the country eventually collapsed in on itself. Those outside its borders could only speculate about the black hole America had become.
All anyone really knew was that the daily escape attempts at the edges of the Grid always ended in disaster. The images of failed escape that hit the newswires illustrated in gory detail what New America did to “deserters.” Those visions of death haunted Sarah’s dreams. She’d captured many of those images with her own camera, adding to the hopelessness that had the whole world watching. Waiting. Wondering.
Back in her one-room apartment, Sarah plugged her camera into her laptop and pulled down her latest pictures. She patched into the hardline and started up her encrypted browser. It took time to connect over her secured channel to the BBC, and every second she spent online was another second she could get caught.
She glanced across the apartment at Marc, who played with the Duplo bricks they’d brought with them from Phoenix. A lump formed in her throat and she wondered for the thousandth time at what his future might hold. Bass thrummed from the small radio on her windowsill. The singer’s words gripped at memories buried deep within her heart.
Those creatures jumped the barricades
And headed for the sea
She held her breath and focused on the lyrics as the status bar filled with all the speed of tree sap. The song brought forward memories of her youth. It came from an album titled Out of Time, and she remembered thinking how ridiculous that name was. The world had been ripe, exploding with innovation, and she herself felt full of potential.
So much had changed so quickly.
Her trip to Nogales was supposed to be short – just a few days over the weekend. But fate is fickle, and the weekend she’d chosen to spend in Nogales was the weekend the government barricaded the roads. Then the cannons emerged from behind their secret doors. She was glad she’d thought twice and brought along her full camera rig. She was even more thankful her in-laws were able to find them a place to hide away.
Sarah grimaced at the irony of her gratitude for being trapped in Mexico. She might have a chance at raising her son in a safer environment. He might even have a normal life. At the very least, he’d know his family without the fear of them being dropped into color-coded buckets. She chastised herself for the times she’d fallen for her own government’s lies about the rest of the world.
The blare of a siren caught her attention and she glanced out the window. A Policía Municipal car raced past her building without stopping. She released her breath. Connecting to the Internet this close to the border was asking for trouble. The U.S. military’s only purpose now was to sniff out people like her, but she needed the money. Taking those pictures was worth the risk as long as she could keep a roof over her and Marc’s heads.
The progress bar inched to completion. Sarah inhaled sharply at the sight of the first story that displayed on her BBC landing page.
People by the hundreds in the Pacific, somehow beyond the grid. Rumors that it’s been compromised from within. Whispers of mutiny. Fishing vessels and sailboats amassing near the crowd, pulling refugees aboard. Colombian drug boats fighting a scant U.S. military presence. Hundreds from the California coast asking for and receiving asylum.
Perhaps her world wasn’t out of time.
Maybe she’d find a place for Marc to belong.
She uploaded her pictures and released her breath.
Those creatures jumped the barricades
And headed for the sea
She began to breathe
To breathe at the thought of such freedom
Stood and whispered to her child, belong.
Copyright notice: Italicized sections throughout this story are lyrics from R.E.M.’s song Belong. I do not claim to hold copyright over those words, nor did I ask permission to use them. I just love them, and they’ve been brewing a story inside me since 1991. So… thank you R.E.M. for 25 years of percolating inspiration.