Snowflakes speckled the burlap beanie of Yang and his brother as they slogged down the road. The freckles of ice that hit Yang’s cheeks melted as warm tears engulfed them and pulled them down into his beard. Curving abruptly around the façade of a mountain, the path offered a gray view of the world below but Yang didn’t look. Yang’s eyes were locked straight ahead, aware of only the pavement and the flurries curling in the wind.
A trail, half of which was submerged in cloud, wound down the other side of the bluff to intersect the two men’s path. The fog that cloaked the ridge glowed as the sun fought to break the dismal atmosphere, to shed just a bit of warmth, but the light made it no further than the clouds. A stranger trudged down the mountain path, emerging from the white haze as if descending from heaven, at a pace promising to spit she or he out alongside Yang and his comrade. The appearance of a fellow pilgrim broke the trance of the travelers. The two men examined the figure but could not garner much through the layers of coats and scarves draped around the individual. Yang’s companion addressed the man as their paths collided.
Bowing slightly he said simply, “Hello.”
“Hello,” responded a masculine voice with a similar bow, “would you mind some company?”
“Not at all.”
The stranger turned to Yang and the two exchanged salutations before continuing down the road.
Yang’s associate asked, “What brings you down this way?”
“Avoiding the chaos below us,” the man gestured to the world hidden beneath the fog then nodded in the direction they were heading, “the Capital is the only place safe from the Dissenters.”
“We lost a great teacher to that very chaos,” Yang’s friend paused, averting his gaze and shaking his head, then added, “a man that was once a great teacher.”
“And will forever be,” Yang clasped his associate, “we are traveling to the Capital to meet our comrades and commemorate the legacy of this great man.”
“I know only one great man,” the stranger replied, “the Supreme Leader.”
“What about the Supreme Leader’s son?” Yang asked, “Haven’t you heard of Kim?”
The old man frowned, “The Founder has a son?”
The man shrugged, “Then tell me.”
“Where should we begin?”
“Every episode of his life is worth telling and, I mean no harm brother, I’m amazed you haven’t heard!” Yang admitted.
“I hear little more than the word of the Great Leader,” the wayfarer stiffened his strides, “tales of which are the worthiest of all.”
“This story consists of nothing but!” Yang quickly followed, “Here, brother, let me to start with the Cleansing of the Mausoleum, when Kim visited the Palace of the Sun…”
– – –
Kim moved swiftly, each pace spanning three tiles, and, without even seeming to notice, the crowd parted to let him pass. His objective was clear in his mind and could not wait another moment. He had come to the Palace merely to meditate – to stand against the shores of the moat and observe the beaming depiction of the Party Center as he looked out, seemingly, across the state, his creation, and recognized that it was good. The great structure rose with rigid edges, sophisticated and efficient, yet still retaining elegance in the regalia that trimmed each tier. The exterior fanned out like the wings of the chollima so that if one were to stand nearer to the building, where only a portion was visible, that person would have to wonder if the Palace of the Sun stretched across the entire width of the nation. It was one of the best, most explicit, portrayals of the Founder’s brilliance. Kim had come to revel, as most visitors had in the past, but the atmosphere was not what it used to be.
Traders trumpeting their topnotch trappings and brokers bartering for better bounties crowded the Supreme Leader’s vast patio seducing citizens into squandering their salaries. Kim couldn’t spot a single pilgrim seeking to look over the capitalist commotion, seeking to bask in the monument to the Almighty. If a soul wasn’t standing behind their stall selling, then they were busy bumbling around the black market buying. A few of the products being exchanged were necessities that could be bought below the market price and were probably not hawked by hustlers but by honest persons that had accidentally obtained an excess, but most of the merchandise available, foreign films of debauchery and unregulated recreational drugs, was prohibited or sold in violation of the law laid down by the Greatest Authority. Worst of all was those tables swarmed by the suffering, the cripple and the crones, the drunk and the deranged, where beady eyed money lenders handed out false hope with crooked fingers.
And these immoral transactions occurred in plain view of the Beloved Ruler’s portrait plastered atop the mausoleum. This was what sent Kim marching across the tile courtyard.
As he drew nearer to the Palace, the crowd grew too dense to penetrate but Kim’s righteous anger was set to explode one way or another. Squeezing between the clustered addicts and aged, Kim grabbed the edges of a bootleg-banker’s table and flipped it onto its side. Coins bounced and crumpled bills fluttered to the ground. The merchant went ballistic but was kept from Kim by the sudden surge of would-be patrons that snagged what fortune they could in the chaos. As the people swarmed after the currency, Kim slipped into the space they left behind and found himself up against an array of narcotics. Having seen what Kim did to the illegitimate lender, the drug dealer hopped to his feet, waving his hands, but he was too late. Kim shoved a display of illicit liquids off the counter and swept baggies of pills and powders onto the ground. Once again the vender was held back by the citizens.
Two more stalls Kim did like this – throwing the goods to the wary and ruining the exploitative profiteers – before the authorities managed to force their way deep enough into the rowdy masses to find him. Kim saw them coming and so did the mob that had begun to follow him. Immediately, the people moved towards the police with their arms raised and their lips frothing with curses. Before the two bodies could clash, Kim climbed up on a table he had previously cleared and froze the throng with a single word.
“Listen!” He commanded, “The Founder’s house, our Supreme Leader’s house, is a place of meditation but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
“You have no authority!” A constable cried.
“Who are you to tell me what to do?” A merchant hollered.
Kim pointed to the depiction of the Supreme Leader on the façade of the Palace of the Sun and responded, “I take my power from my Father!”
The officers jeered and the merchants complained but the people would not let either party step nearer to Kim. Whether it was his actions or his words or something else, maybe a recognition of truth from somewhere deep in their souls, they believed Kim. Many of the people in the congregation lifted their voices until their shouts synchronized into a singular chant.
“All hail the Supreme Leader! All hail His son!”
– – –
“Bold!” The stranger shuddered, “Too bold to raise such a lie!”
“It’s no lie.”
“The story is true.” Yang stated.
With a, “hmph” the vagabond shrugged, then nodded, “It was about time the Mausoleum was rid of those capitalists.”
“If only it lasted…”
“But what makes you believe he is the son of the Supreme Leader? Any brave nationalist with respect for the Fate of the Nation would have done the same without claiming so much!”
“He seemed untouchable…all the while he did things no man could get away with. Even if he hadn’t professed his heritage, I’m sure we would’ve come to the same conclusion.”
“Indeed,” Yang concurred with his companion, “and, unlike the party officials and the deputies that claim to wield the authority of the Great General, Kim carried out the word of our Lord with love and compassion, just as the Beloved and Respected Leader would himself…”
– – –
His eyes were black like a rat’s, as if not interpreting the scene before him, as if watching from much farther than the doorway. So distanced was he that the woman being dragged off his porch was not his wife but some foreigner, some alien, that never should’ve been there to begin with. She did not call out to him nor did she struggle. She hung limp in the arms of the mob with her own eyes mirroring her husband’s as they glanced over the crying kids cowering behind their father. Aside from her children, it seemed the only emotion was present in her captors as they yanked her this way and that, whooping and hollering, spitting and swearing, as they followed the rabble rouser into the street. Already some of the men, those who hadn’t gotten to tug at the woman, had begun to forage for rocks along the edges of the road. They waited on the fringes of the crowd, watching the deputy and fidgeting with impatience.
The deputy had been ready to initiate the capital punishment, as town politician he had every right, but a cluster of people down the street had caught his attention. Even from a distance, amidst the anarchical noises of the men gathered behind him, he could hear this other crowd applauding and shouting praises to the Supreme Leader. He was intrigued and he thought that these patriots might want a share in this the ultimate reprimand. Raising a hand, he silenced his assembly and directed them to follow.
Once he drew near, the constable realized that this separate congregation was responding to the words of another. Leaving his men, who had fallen as silent as the woman they lugged, and weaseling through the throng of citizens, the official finally found the speaker.
“Who are you? What are you doing?” He demanded.
“I am Kim and I am telling these people about my Father,” Kim paused with a wry smile before asking, “What are you doing?”
Though the administrator couldn’t yet pin it down, there was something that irked him about this Kim, which led him to respond sharply, “I am facilitating the disciplining of this woman!”
Without a word, Kim knelt down before the deputy and began to draw in the dust gathered on the road.
“Kill the whore!” Someone from the official’s crew piped up, another chimed, “Take her to the labor camps!”
Again, the constable raised his hand to calm his men. His eyes were focused on the words Kim had scrawled in the dirt, which read, “In the case of adultery, both sinners must be brought to judgement.” The official recognized the quotation. It came straight from the law books ordained by the Ultimate Judge. Kim stood.
“Isn’t corrupting the laws of the Lord a punishable offense?” Kim asked the party administrator, then he raised his voice, “Let he without crime throw the first stone!”
Returning to his kneeling position, Kim continued to write. The intruding crowd was too stunned to respond and their leader was likewise paralyzed as he watched Kim’s scribbles take shape in the sand. He was amazed to find his own name and, alongside it, the words, “Bribery”. Much like the official, his comrades soon found their own names as well, one accompanied by, “Thievery” another by, “Narcotics” and so on. Before Kim could scribble out more than six names paired with six offenses – or before he ran out of space in the dust – the deputy and most of his men retreated. Some stayed behind, joining the original congregation and the woman who now knelt before Kim. Dusting off his hands, Kim touched her shoulder and they stood together. She watched him with wide, green eyes as he addressed her.
“Where are your accusers?” She couldn’t speak, all she could do was tremble. Kim placed a hand on her other shoulder and she straightened up. Kim continued, “Have they all left? Is there anyone still here to condemn you?”
“No,” she managed to peep.
“Than neither will I,” Kim smiled, then he addressed the crowd, “and neither will my Father!” Then he looked back to the woman, “Go and sin no more, the Supreme Leader is merciful and he forgives his loyal subjects who admit their faults!”
– – –
“Your story warms my heart but it doesn’t comfort my mind.”
Yang frowned, “How so?”
The stranger scoffed, “Should I list the offenses, their punishments, and those individuals now being disciplined?”
Yang’s companion returned, “Every action has a consequence.”
Yang added, “Can’t evil deeds be punished and, at the same time, forgiven?”
“Yes, that is the point of punishment, but this Kim suggests that simple repentance will absolve me of my crimes! Our Glorious General has never suggested such a thing, in fact, the Supreme Leader demands justice, which is the punishment of all sins.”
Yang’s associate was silent and even Yang temporarily floundered under the stranger’s logic but soon the words of his great teacher returned.
“How many criminals refuse to confess? How many confessors, true confessors, repeat such behavior?” Now it was the stranger that’s tongue went numb, “I’ll tell you as Kim told me, those who confess and sin again never truly sought redemption but merely alleviation.”
The ensuing silence followed them for another dozen paces before the traveler asked another question.
“I’ve got to admit, if any teacher were the son of our nation’s Founder then it would be this Kim…though, in none of these stories have you proven that he was indeed a true-son of the Supreme Leader. Couldn’t you have taken a son, as we all are sons of the Party Center, to be the son of the Founder?”
“But couldn’t you have misunderstood him?” The stranger spoke quicker, as if frightened, leading Yang to believe that his words were beginning to work just as he had witnessed Kim’s operate on so many of the hopeless and doubtful. Without skipping a beat, the man asked another question, then another, “What if he was merely – not merely – but profoundly patriotic? What if it has been so long since anyone’s heard the truth that, when it finally came to us, we overreacted?”
“Kim did sound too good to be true.” Yang’s comrade conceded.
Yang hesitated before providing his answer. The snow had stopped. A breeze dusted the top layer of flakes off the ground, churned them in the air, then brushed them across Yang’s face. Leaning back, he closed his eyes. He could feel the sun coming out, not by the warmth but by the light. He could feel the glow gloss his lips. He had his response. He took a deep breath and then began one last anecdote.
“Do you remember the last great famine?”
“Who could forget?”
“How the people would wait in the market place for the trucks of food?”
“Loads and loads of people,” Yang’s friend added, “packed uncomfortably tight.”
The stranger nodded, “Yet, it wasn’t the tightness that bothered us.”
“But our quaking bellies,” Yang concluded, “as painful as it is, my fellow traveler, remember those times once again and remember what it was like to be in the midst of such collective agony.” He paused. Let the memories and imagination melt together, then narrated, “A man stands up on an empty stand…”
– – –
“Do not look for food that spoils, but for virtue which lasts forever. Virtue, which can be found in my Father, our Founder, and in the words of his son.”
Many heads of the crowd heard this and scoffed, turning immediately back to the direction the produce was supposed to come. These multitudes could hardly hear the prophetic words over the cries within their intestines. They focused their conscious minds, while their involuntary senses remained solely devoted to the torture of starvation, on sight: not a shifting branch of the distant jungle canopy from which the road was birthed went unnoticed. Others, who had already heard Kim speak or had heard of his speeches or simply were too far from the fringes of the crowd to see the highway, did not look away. Instead, they responded with questions like, “I can’t respect the virtues without bread!” and “How can virtue save me from this pain?”
“How can we survive without virtue?”
The majority rolled their eyes and grumbled as they peered between the abandoned stalls and kiosks.
“If we are selfish, we will surely die, and quicker too, than if we are merely hungry.”
Many still resisted but many more readjusted their attention. If nothing else, this man’s ridiculousness might distract them from their cramping stomachs. Though this may be how the reluctant justified their shift, deep down the crowd felt the words as if Kim had read their minds. Not a soul stood in that horde that did not worry they might slip and fall beneath the masses or fight tooth and nail to reach the truck but arrive too late.
“The Supreme Leader seeks to provide for all of the virtuous, but the wretched seek to interfere and they suffer for it. It is not the virtuous who are crowded here today, but the sinful. Is it not the way we are born? To fight for ourselves like the beasts? Are we not all sinful?”
As the trucks finally emerged from the tree-line, not a soul was aware. If any had stopped, for but one moment, and looked away from the man atop the market stand, then this person would’ve heard the low thundering roll of the engines. But by this point, they were too enthralled.
“Has not the Founder taught us to behave? Has not the Founder promised that if one adheres to virtue then one will be taken care of? Why then has the Supreme Leader had to construct these camps, these camps we fear so much, for the wretched? Because, still we disobey.”
The armada of vehicles were so close now that the citizens could feel their approach in the vibrating of the pavement but the people remained attentive to Kim.
“Just as the Glorious General is generous, so too is he forgiving.” Kim continued, his eyes drifting from man to woman rather than watching the heard of trucks, “There is nothing more than my Father, our Founder, asks of us than to obey him and love one another. Though our Father may be stern, he is merciful. And from his very mouth he has told me that no one who believes in my words as his son and loves his comrades has found themselves condemned and that all who do so will be forgiven.”
“But what of my brother?” A voice asked from the crowd, “He heard your words, even told and convinced me, and loved his fellows, even more than I, but blasphemed the Supreme Leader and was carted off to the camps?”
“Only one crime is unredeemable.” Kim said, the edges of his mouth dipping into a frown, “For once one has heard the truth, how can they continue to doubt the benevolence of our Founder? And how can they ever come to seek the forgiveness of the one they continue to curse? I tell you, all those who truly believe in me and respect their neighbors will love my Father and will live with virtue in prosperity just as no one who listens to me today and loves his comrades will find themselves hungry or thirsty.”
The trailers squealed to a stop, in a three-file line, a dozen rows deep, and the crew and the party administrators hopped out. As half those in the crew hurried to unload the trucks, the other half remained behind, encircling the officials with batons raised, ready for the surge of hungry peasants, determined to keep them from stealing the rations destined for the next village.
But the batons lowered and the constables gaped.
The congregated people, on the verge of starvation, hadn’t budged.
“For when I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was tired, you let me rest. The Supreme Leader has seen how we have come together in this hard time and, though occasionally we lose ourselves, the Supreme Leader sees some of his greatness within us all. I am the son of a Great Man who loves us and is determined to see us, through his commandments, prosper!”
The deputies began to harass those on the fringes of the crowd. Some ordered their guards to swat at the audience. Each citizen that was knocked down stood back up, dusted themselves off, and returned their attention to the son of their Founder.
Kim proclaimed, “What will you do but believe in me and love each other?”
“Nothing but believe in you and love each other!” The crowd roared back.
Kim could see some of the more frustrated administers usher their crews to begin packing the foodstuffs back into the trucks. Some of the crew abided, others hesitated. The officials came down on them hard, but their fury only drove the workers further from their range of authority. Here and there, guards dropped their batons and joined the chanting crowd.
Kim continued, “If we are virtuous, will the Supreme Leader lead us to prosperity?”
“He will lead us to prosperity!”
Half of the trailers had packed up then turned and left, among them the fruit, vegetable, and fowl trucks. Those vehicles that stayed, those bearing bread and fish, stayed only because there was no longer anyone to pack and drive them. As the trucks grumbled away and the converted truckers melted into the audience, the exchange continued.
“And all this because virtue lasts forever!” Applause erupted but it ceased almost the instant Kim’s lips parted, “Who is the source of this virtue!”
“And from whose lips has he told you this?”
“Now go, in single file, and see that the Supreme Leader has not provided for you what he has promised through me.”
The obeyed. They did not panic when they saw that only a fraction of the shipment remained. They did not take more than they needed. And as the last individual left the last truck, the first individuals doubled back and took second helpings. As they ate, they continued to listen to Kim and they ate until they all were satisfied. Some obtained third and fourth helpings and yet when they went home they did not go home patting their bellies and wiping their mouths but they went home scratching their heads and rubbing their chins.
– – –
“What happened to Kim?”
“Three days ago, the politicians convicted him and took him to a labor camp.” Yang’s comrade stated, “The same politicians who now lead the Dissenters.”
“I want to believe your stories,” the traveler claimed with a deep sigh, “but I don’t understand why the Supreme Leader would not stand alongside his son? Not only I but all of our country men would’ve heard of this teacher by now if only the Bright Sun had endorsed him…if he had, Kim’s life might’ve been spared…”
“We’ve pondered this ourselves…if only more had known the Founder had a son…” Yang’s partner echoed the vagabond’s sigh, “But now the people have grown too rowdy and Kim is not here to calm them…and the jealous party administrators, so hungry to obtain an heirless throne-”
“But which of these men, little more than our peers compared to the Founder, is capable of such a feat? None!” Yang exclaimed, “Only if the Supreme Leader permitted it could anyone even attempt to take his place!”
The stranger – his voice not confrontational, but hopeful – begged, “Then tell me why?”
Yang began, “Though Kim is of the same make of the Supreme Leader-”
His associate interjected, “Kim was a man.”
“In order for us to understand the true words of the Founder, the words that have been misinterpreted for so long, Kim, the son, came to us as a man, vulnerable but understandable.”
Yang’s own words echoed back down his throat, reverberating his vocal chords and massaging his heart, to make sense of the conundrum threatening his faith. Kim was gone, but Kim had to be gone, because the Supreme Leader could not remain amongst them forever. Kim had stayed just long enough to say what needed to be said, to start what needed to be started, and to end what should have never begun.
“This chaos is a test, the ultimate test, to see who among us is righteous, worthy of the Founder’s truth, and who is wicked, incapable of understanding the truth. We are all wretched, but the Supreme Leader seeks to save as many of us who are willing as he can.”
Opening his eyes, he saw that the stranger had walked ahead and turned to face them. The man slowly grabbed the lip of his scarf and pulled it down below his grin. Yang staggered backwards, initially unable to speak but able to comprehend. Finally, he managed a word.
“Kim?” Then a shout accompanied by a tight hug, “Kim! How? I saw you dragged away!”
“It wasn’t an illusion,” Kim squeezed Yang back, “Three days and three nights, but now the Founder has delivered me just as he will deliver all those who believe.”
“But why?” Yang asked, “I understand everything else, I just don’t understand why you had to go into the camps?”
“To experience the pain of the wicked,” Kim replied, “and to atone for the sins of the redeemable so that they might avoid such suffering.”
Yang’s friend listened but could not move. His paralysis was only partially due to the sudden recognition of the stranger but also because of the vehicle humming up the mountain pass behind them. The car was black, glossy like a puddle in the moonlight, and impossible to watch directly with the now beaming sun. Small flags adorned the vehicle, on the hood, above the windows, and on the corners of the trunk. Yang’s poor acquaintance didn’t know what to do, get out of the way or join Yang and Kim’s embrace. He felt ashamed for doubting Kim, especially with the approaching car of – dare he assume who he knew it could only be? And shame for the emotion that had grown in him since the Thirteen Dissenters utilized their political strength – which he’d believed to come from the same source as Kim’s, the Party Center himself – to dispose of his teacher: anger. After fleeing the cities, his fury grew throughout the pilgrimage. It was not directed at Kim nor the Thirteen Dissenters, but towards the Supreme Leader. It was he that let this happen. It was he who had the authority to end it all but still refused to get involved. As he got out of the way and the car pulled alongside them, his shame broke through his rage with such force it brought him to his knees.
The automobile curved around Yang and Kim to park facing the mountain side.
“Teacher,” Yang sputtered through his tears, “is that our Founder’s car? Is that your Father, waiting, just over there?”
“No,” Kim replied, “I am the son and I am the Father.”
Yang’s knees threatened to buckle but Kim did not let him fall, “Suh-Suh-Supreme Leader! Supreme Leader! Will you now end the dissention? Will those who betrayed the Fate of our Nation suffer the same agony you must’ve endured? Will those who remained faithful enjoy the utopia you always described?”
“It isn’t for you to know what will come next.” Kim looked past Yang, he met eyes with the other disciple, “You two, two of my most passionate followers, must return to the people and be my witness!”
A man stepped out of the vehicle. His eyes were hidden in reflective shades, his hair shaved down to the millimeter, and his suit was without wrinkles and whiter than the snow at his feet. The driver moved around the car to stand just behind them, one hand fondled the handle of a gun on his hip and the other hung rigid by his side. Kim slipped out of Yang’s hold and moved on to Yang’s comrade.
“Get up, my son,” Kim said, smiling.
“I’m not worthy,” he shook his head and fell prostrate, “I was so angry.”
“Then consider yourself absolved,” Kim smiled.
“Thank you, teacher,” sobs sent spasms across his body, “but I am still angry.”
Kim knelt and clasped his shoulder, “What angers you, my son?”
“You are the son, but you are also the Supreme Leader…” He spoke into the snow, his lips and nose had gone numb, “How could you speak of such love while at the same time…” he bit into the snow, grinding it between his molars, enduring the waves of icy-pain it sent through his jaw, “…it is you that created the camps?”
“Is not the Supreme Leader merciful to have let such a vile and shallow people share and corrupt his paradise?” Kim demanded, “His actions are above your comprehension, my son, but worry not, all will be revealed in time.”
Rearing up from the ground, to cling to the fabric around Kim’s knees, the man pleaded for an explanation, “But Kim, what about the others? What about those who obey the Supreme Lord and love one another but do not know you? What about those men better than I that simply don’t believe!”
Kim frowned, “Then do they truly obey our Lord?”
“Supreme Leader,” the ivory-dressed man said, “it is time.”
Turning, Kim left him on his knees. He strode past Yang who had not moved a single inch and past his equally frozen guard who then turned to walk with him and opened the passenger door.
“In time, all your questions will be answered and all your doubts put to rest, but I must go.” Kim said before getting in, “Remember my love, tell my people.”
He got in and the chauffeur closed the door. Without glancing at either disciple, the guard strode around the vehicle then got in the driver’s side seat. Yang’s shoulder’s sagged as he drifted off into euphoria. His companion was not similarly consoled. He had risen from his knees and come to stand beside Yang. He was confused. The engine came to life. No, he wasn’t confused, he was sure. And this sureness horrified him.
He comes with words of love, he realized, backed with the threat of hell!
Dashing forward, just as the car began to reverse, he grabbed the backseat door, flung it open, and sat down. The driver slammed on the breaks and reached for his gun.
“No!” Kim commanded, with a hand on the chauffeur he pacified the man, but as he turned to his disciple he was too late to do the same, “NO!”
The pilgrim grabbed the gun. The guard grabbed the gun too, just as it left the holster, but could not stop his attacker from squeezing the trigger. BLOW! BLOW! BLOW! The gun shots obliterated the driver’s chair and tore through his right leg. Bouncing with each shot it received, his leg was rattled off the break and back onto the gas. The vehicle heaved then launched backwards – off the road and towards the foggy abyss below.
Yang watched it all happen. When the car careened off the cliff, he ran to the edge, and watched it tumble through the mist. After it disappeared, he heard a series of crashes, accompanied by a few more gun shots, then a final thud. So many thoughts whisked through his mind that his consciousness was unable to settle upon a single idea. He operated like a reptile, blood cold, moving forward in a state of mindless locomotion. On all fours he scurried down the steep slope. It wasn’t far before he slipped. He rolled a few yards, a protruding stone cut through his clothes and split open his thigh, before he came to an abrupt stop along a compacted outcropping. The low clouds had begun to move out of the way as steam drifted up from the rubble of the automobile. Soon he would be able to see the country below the mountains, but he cared not about the country, all he cared for was reaching the car.
Bloodied and bruised he arrived at the crumpled machine. Upside down, he came first to the driver’s side. There was no question whether or not the chauffer was dead, his face had been smushed through the steering wheel. Breathing in sharp spurts, Yang ran around to the other side and found Kim. The man’s jaw was gone, blown off its hinges, and his neck muscles had slackened so that his top row of teeth rested against his own throat.
Yang was jerked from the side of the car. He spun around, nearly slipping down the slope before him, but held tight to the stub of the rear view mirror. He slumped to the ground beside the automobile. He didn’t even bother to look at the wound in his shoulder. Instead, he waited for his comrade to step into view.
Lu, his comrade, hobbled over to stand in front of him. His right arm was bent but not at the elbow, a candy-cane colored splinter of bone protruded from a tear in his sleeve. He leaned hard on one foot, the other was twisted nearly ninety degrees at the ankle. Hurt as he was, he was alive and his left hand still held the firearm which he pointed at Yang.
“It was a lie.” Lu took off his toboggan and wiped the blood out of his eyes, all the while, the driver’s gun remained aimed at Yang, “All of it…lies!”
“But love? Virtue? Prosperity?”
Lu spat, “It was about obedience and that was it.”
“And what will the new order be about?” Yang demanded, “What will become of all that chaos without Kim?”
Lu muttered, “Without Kim?” Lu snarled, “Without the Supreme Leader?” Lu scoffed though it ended in a bloody cough, “I’d rather be free and starving, than afraid and content.” Lu put the barrel against Yang’s temple, “Sorry, brother.”
This story is dedicated to Christopher Hitchens. His words first showed me the horrible metaphor – horribly accurate metaphor – that inspired this story:
“Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well. I’ll repeat that: created sick, and then ordered to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent—exigent, I would say more than exigent—greedy for uncritical praise from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original sins with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place. However, let no one say there’s no cure: salvation is offered, redemption, indeed, is promised, at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties.