by: Dennis R. Humphreys
The world had changed drastically since Taylor heard his father talk about ihis changing world when he was a child... back before then. Politically, economically, socially... nothing was as it was. Those born into it didn't know it. They knew nothing else but the feeling of uselessness and hopelessness which abounded, this was not natural. Men dictating to men what they do, and how they do it... controlling every aspect of your life. It's unnatural. While those living in such conditions may not have fully understood its ramifications, they did understand the underlying feelings that dark cloud that hovers on the horizon, and the feelings of nothingness imposed on the human soul.
It's difficult to understand, perhaps without some knowledge of history, but history books were no longer printed and those that existed, were slowly collected and destroyed. Prior to every citizen's birth, there was no longer a history. Those that do remember the way things had been forbidden to talk about it. Homes were monitored through televisions and computers. The same went for phones. Every aspect of life was monitored, and AI computers filtered through the millions and millions of communications for key words for which you might get into trouble.
He was beyond that now... getting in trouble that is. When Taylor turned fifty, which was the government declared useless age... he got a test. Everyone gets one at fifty. It was a three-hour thing that questioned every aspect you could have possibly experienced. If you passed, you get to live another five years. The test was given every five years. It was the only way to reach old age status. If you failed, you had two weeks to report with your notice into a district reclamation office where you entered a room with forty-nine other people, and were gassed into, something learned from the Nazis, but who were they, since there are no history books? Life was so mundane no one ever really fought it. Many were on government distributed drugs anyway and numb to the process.
The world had been divided into six hundred sixty-six districts by the government. Some were in more populous areas than others. Everyone in them worked for the government, which consisted of twelve of the largest industrial monopolies in existence. Citizens were given quotas to meet but were not paid if you met them. You were doled out what you needed to survive by the oligarchy, consisting of thirteen families worldwide. If you did not meet your quotas, there were two outcomes: you might be sent to one of the less populated districts, where it was impossible to survive very long, or you could be administered the test with other fifty-year-old citizens to see if you were worthwhile saving.
Taylor failed the test by one point. He received his notice that morning, so he decided not to go to work. What were they going to do... punish him his last two weeks of life?” Taylor resented them and the fact they determined his usefulness. Worse yet, he resented the fact they determined his end of life. There wasn't even any proof that he really in fact did fail the test. He guessed there was some sort of obtuse reasoning there, figuring he came into the world without his consent, they didn't need it for him to leave it. But dying... isn't that the most personal thing a person does? And someone else deciding for you was evil, unless you represented a threat to other lives.
Taylor decided the last two weeks of his life, he was going to be a pain in their ass. He remembered his dad talking about flagpole sitters he learned about when his father was younger. The act was done mostly as a competitive thing to see who could endure the longest. Taylor certainly wasn't going to win any contests for two weeks, but he could call everyone's attention to other people calling their shots. There were plenty of old flag poles around since it was illegal to display any flag whatsoever.
There was an old deer stand in the basement that Taylor's father, owned in the days when a hunter could still hunt for venison, if he wanted. It was with all the other items the three other families he lived with in the house he grew up in, and nationalized by the government, where they placed immigrants. It was illegal to hunt now anything without a nutritional label. The government owned the animals and the only meat you got, which was rare, was doled out to you from company issued payment cards.
He managed to shimmy up a fifty-foot pole and attach the stand. Some people watched but most ignored his actions in their self-imposed stupor, living their fifty years quietly. He climbed again, with a rope tied to my belt loop. He took no water or food... why should he?
When he reached the top, he tied the end of the twenty-foot rope around his neck... the other end to the pole, just under the tarnished brass ball on top. There he sat awaiting the end. He knew eventually he would tire and without food or water, he would pass out within two weeks. Taylor was too much the coward, or was it he loved living too much, to jump and hang himself right away. He would let nature take its course. He would pass out or fall asleep only to roll off the four-foot tree stand and hang himself... but it would still be his call.
Taylor sat on the edge of the stand watching the few people on the street walking by the first day. It was too dangerous to be on the streets. Even though your needs were met by the government, people still wanted more. It was the human way of things. If they couldn't get them honorably, they would take what they wanted. There were no longer police forces but an international force that kept what order there was. For the most part they enforced, judged and carried out the sentences as they saw fit, on the spot. There were always gunshots in the air. It was their sound, most often heard, that replaced the sounds of birds.
The second day of Taylor's display saw a few more people surrounding the base of the pole watching him. One person yelled up to him and asked what he was doing. When he yelled to the woman, she seemed to agree with him. He saw her begin talking with others around her, and a few left but as she talked more began gathering. Soon someone brought a sign and attached it to a long cord. The opposite end they tied to a weight and swung it up to him. It took several tries but eventually Taylor caught it and pulled the sign up.
The sign simply read: 'My Life...My Own'. When he read it, he liked it, so he attached it proudly to the tree stand so anyone watching could see it. It appeared to attract more on- lookers as a wide selection of people began gathering at the bottom of the pole. It finally gained the attention of the international so called 'Peacekeepers' who shouted at him and tried talking him down. By this time there were about fifty people gathered, so they didn't want to just shoot him down in front of everyone, fearing it might cause some kind of a backlash.
Taylor watched down the street as he saw a truck with a lift on the back of it drive towards him. It was to repair the few streetlamps around. There were no longer any overhead utility wires to repair, nor were there traffic lights since all vehicles were government owned self-driving electric cars without the need for traffic signals. Such a truck was rare to see, so he knew it was coming to him.
That caused more people to gather at the base of the pole. The flagpole sitter watched as the truck parked and a man climbed into the basket, which was raised to several feet away from his perch. It was one of the peacekeepers.
“Hey Taylor... why don't you come down now. You only have a couple of weeks left. Come on down and enjoy them. This is senseless,” the man told him.
“This is the way I want to spend them... on my terms. You know one of the fucking things I hate is that I've never met you... We've never been introduced but you call me by name like you know me. He'll, you probably know everything there is about me and I haven't told you a damn thing. It should be up to me to tell you what I want you to know about me,” Taylor responded vehemently.
The man saw Taylor tied to the pole. If he tried to grab him or shoot him, Taylor would define his own death, something the man didn't want. Taylor and his life belonged to the state, not to him. They determined how this was going to end.
“Listen ass hole,” the man spoke completely changing his approach,”climb in here with me or I'll make your last two weeks a living hell. Get in here now!”
“My life is a living hell. You're not going to make it any worse... or better. If I'm going to die, I will not relinquish my right to die when, and as I see fit to you or any government official. Go fuck yourself,” Taylor told him.
His comment had its effect. He could see the man wanted to pull his gun out and shoot him there on the spot. The officer was red in the face with anger but contained it, as he gave the signal to lower the cage. As his platform lowered, a bus pulled up with people. About thirty or so disembarked with signage, a definite militant action answerable to gunfire from the other officers there.
As the new arrivals assembled, they carried their signs and chanted for Taylor to jump to his death. Taylor didn't know if these people sided with him or were just onlookers wanting to see macabre ending. It was an organized group though.
Three days went by and the crowd now was about seventy-five. At night, they built fires to keep warm and maintain their vigilance. He was accomplishing more than he thought he would. People were coming out from nowhere, showing a kind of solidarity that was unlawful. After this was done, all those people assembled would have to face the authorities, and it wouldn't be pleasant. With facial recognition capabilities and all the information, the oligarchy had on everyone, Taylor was certain they already knew the names and addresses of everyone here.
Taylor watched the next day as the cherry picker climbed up next to his mount. There was a different official in it this time... someone not in uniform.
“Taylor! I'm Justin Horne, local administrator for the district. I'm here to give you a reprieve from your mandated sentencing. You can come down now and not have to worry about 'reclamation' order, the man told him.
“First, why should I believe you? You're in your position because your lies and those listening to your lies over the years, put you there. This isn't just about me anymore but all those whose lives you've taken and those you will. My life...my own,” Taylor ended with a shout loud enough that others on the ground took up the chant.
“My life, my own,” those assembled took up the chant, over and over again... louder and louder.
Justin Horne looked down at the crowd and decided he wasn't about to achieve anything by being there, so he gave the sign to be lowered.
“We aren't going to get anywhere here, and it's only going to get worse the more people assemble. We told the media not to cover any of this but word's getting around quickly. There are independent broadcasters using old ham radio technology that are starting to broadcast this. We can't catch them since they keep moving around. We have to end this. I suggest when you can, to put a bullet though his head. Hopefully we can get his body off where he's sitting. It'll show we have jurisdiction over his life... not him, but do it after dark,” the official instructed when he got to the ground.
But it never got dark that night. As the sun went down, the LED lights came out to shine on the spectacle, illuminating the platform where Taylor sat. He was getting sleepy. Taylor was hungry and thirsty after four days of abstinence. He caught a few cat naps here and there, but he failed to fall forward as planned, ending his plight. He couldn't see the crowd below him now, the lights were too bright and in his eyes. He couldn't have seen one of the enforcers anyway as he moved to the edge of a tall building across from him. He carried a high-powered rifle. It was one the sniper hoped would cause Taylor's body to fall backwards in his platform as requested by the official. The message was the state held jurisdiction, not the individual, over their life. If he fell forward, regardless of the fact he might be dead before falling, those watching the scene unfold, would give Taylor the credit for ending his life.
Someone in the crowd began chanting the message again, 'my life, my own', when a shot rang out, silencing the crowd. Taylor felt the bullet as he struck him in the head. The power pushed him back against the pole but as it did, in that brief moment of time he pushed back with his last life's effort, away from the pole. The last thing he remembered was falling and then nothing.
The crowd remained silent watching the spectacle as Taylor's body twitched its dying convulsions, hanging from the end of the rope.
Everyone looked up and watched. Suddenly a cheer went up followed by the chant... 'my life, my own'.