Saylor Webby was a young adult. He was valedictorian of his high school class just a year before, which wasn’t easy to do amidst all the changes that were taking place. He had the work experience that most men would gain by their 30s: he hung drywall, repaired the oven in his parent’s house to keep operating an illegal bakery, he even knew how to change the transmission in a car.
And he was the only young man in his town who had all of his male relatives in prison by the beginning of the year 2022.
Saylor nearly went to prison with them. The authorities believed that guilt by association was legitimate, and even though Saylor didn’t do anything, the authorities believed it wouldn’t be too long before he did something to break the law.
The law was in transition, and very much screwed up, not very lawful. The city Saylor lived in had a District Attorney who freed people for some of the craziest crimes. One man was set free for breaking into a family’s home, beating the crap out of the mom and dad, tying the kids up with duct tape and rubbing soap in their eyes, then stealing three thousand dollars in jewelry, another five thousand in gold coins, and about a thousand in sports memorabilia.
The thief got to keep all that he stole. And the dad was arrested for not retreating from the house with his family. That was the worst example so far, but there were lots of others.
Saylor saw that on the evening news and almost expressed his anger too vehemently. He began punching a pillow, but it wasn’t satisfying enough; once he started to raise his voice, his Aunt Clara threw a shoe at him, smacking him in the chest.
“You sit down and shut up now,’’ she told him. “If I lose this house because of your big mouth, boy, I’m gonna beat you with more than just a shoe.’’
Once Saylor’s dad, his uncles, and cousins were tossed in the detention camp last year, all of the women in the family sold their homes and moved into his Aunt Clara’s house because it was the biggest. Some of the townspeople said it was a bad idea; all of the Webby women being under one roof made it easier for the local authorities to keep an eye on them, and harass them whenever the need came to put them back in their place.
Saylor’s dad and his brothers weren’t the types of men to put up with being controlled. They neglected most of the local ordinances before the Great Change took place: they collected rainwater; were in property tax court constantly for fighting tax hikes, which happened every other year; they operated a bakery out of Saylor’s home without a business license; all of them, at one time or another, did multi-thousand dollar renovations to their homes without applying and paying for permits.
Saylor heard his Uncle Zeke say, “Everyone with a small amount of power always has to have their hand on the pie.’’
“Sucks, doesn’t it, Unc,’’ Saylor said.
“Yeah. It sucks that a bunch of small-time nobodys who have no ambition or ingenuity have to suck off the rest of us to make their living,’’ Uncle Zeke said.
And that was before the Great Change swept across the country. Saylor’s dad and brothers were among the first to get taken once the Great Change started. Independence or self-sufficiency became archaic very fast. The psychological war started then, and everything that so many people believed in quickly went out of style, was shunned. Laws were either changed or neglected or new ones were made to negate the old ones. The old laws were applied arbitrarily; it depended on who broke it and the amount of social credit they had. Criminals became victims, and victims became oppressors. So it was fine for a person living on the wrong side of town to rob a man who drove a late-model Cadillac. The reasoning, if you can call it reason, was that since the man driving the Cadillac was able to afford that car, he must have oppressed the man who robbed him.
Guns had to be reported if you owned one. And once all guns were listed, they had to be turned in or you’d be arrested. The city fathers said it was to stop domestic violence, but everyone knew that was a lie.
Politicians in local, state, and federal governments started to promise all kinds of free things to the people, like a check every month, and you didn’t have to go to a job to get it. Kids who went to college, went for free. Everyone got a free cell phone.
Everyone loved it, and voted for every politician who promised this stuff. People were brainwashed.
Saylor’s dad asked at suppertime, “If everyone gets a free check each month, who’s going to work?’’ Then he predicted, “Government ought to go bankrupt quick.’’
It was only a few days later that Saylor’s dad and uncles and cousins were arrested. The mayor and city council were on the evening news, doing a live press conference. They had already hired armed security guards – besides the overabundance of police – for protection when they told the people of the city that there was going to be a massive property tax hike for the new school year. It was a 13 percent rise in school taxes, not for an education campaign to raise reading levels of kids, which were low; and not to raise proficiency in math, which was also low in the city’s school district.
This hike was to hire special teachers – not special education teachers – to teach a special curriculum in psychology and history. It turned out this was a nationwide curriculum, and the governors of each of the states used their National Guard soldiers to help enforce tax collection and protect the newly hired teachers who were instructing the students.
Saylor’s dad and uncles got on their phones and organized as many people as they could to show up at city hall the next day. It turned out that thousands of people showed up with large signs, cow bells, bull horns, compressed air horns, and anything else that could make loud, painful, uncomfortable noises.
Saylor’s dad made one of the many speeches about the unknown curriculum and tax increase. Some folks expressed that they’d lose their homes. Some of the protestors brought pocketsful of rocks and whipped them at the city hall building, others broke the windows, and groups of others beat up police officers. No one was killed, but it was raucous and violent. National Guard and both local and state police arrested hundreds of people. Facial recognition cameras caught thousands of others who were later arrested in their homes through the next week. Saylor’s dad, uncles, and cousins were arrested at their homes. The mayor and city council called it an insurrection and made sure all perpetrators were dealt with.
Everyone knew those arrested weren’t coming back; that’s why Saylor’s mom and the rest of the Webbys consolidated their resources into one home. The Webby women tried to visit their husbands and children, but were threatened with arrest. They got three miles out of town when a state trooper pulled them over, told them to turn back around.
“You know you’re violating our rights,’’ Saylor’s mom, Polly, said to the officer.
He called for backup and three more state police cars showed up in two minutes. Each officer got out of the car and drew their weapons. Aunt Clara yelled “Okay. We’ll go back. Just don’t shoot.’’
The Webby household was slapped with a 7 p.m. curfew and continuous surveillance; they tried to fight it and hired a lawyer, but it didn’t go to court because the mayor and city council enforced the curfew on the whole town and installed cameras all over the city.
Saylor lay in bed, thought about his father, uncles, and cousins, and what they were dealing with in a detention camp. It was almost the one-year anniversary that they were arrested and he and the women of the family were not over it yet. Saylor slunked to his job every day and slunked back; his mom stopped cooking with the enthusiasm she once had, made sandwiches and simple salads most weeks; and Aunt Clara slept a lot more; and the daughters went to school and were harassed by kids and teachers.
Saylor came up with an idea. When he was in high school, he made a wooden gun for a project in shop class. After searching his Aunt Clara’s shed in the back yard, he found it, all covered with dust and cob webs. He cleaned it all up to make it look like a real weapon, painted the barrel and muzzle black and put a coating of clear nail polish on it to give it a shine.
His mom, Polly, watched him in his room, going through all the work to make the fake weapon look as real as possible.
“What are you doing?’’ she asked.
“Nothing. Just playing around.’’
“You know, if the wrong people see that, you’re going to jail.’’
“It’s not real.’’
“Doesn’t matter anymore. You know that.’’
Saylor finished the renovations on the phony gun and went to thinking of what he planned to do the next day.
Just before noon, Saylor threw on a long, black jacket that went down to his knees, tucked the butt of the stock of the gun under his left shoulder and walked out the door. He walked the six blocks to city hall and walked right through the front door without setting off the metal detector. It was lunch time, and he was surprised that the police were derelict in their duty by not having anyone manning the metal detector.
A lady in the tax office saw Saylor, asked, “Can I help you?’’
“Nope.’’ Saylor saw the sign painted on the wall, “Mayor’s office’’ with an arrow pointing down the hallway.
“You’re not supposed to be in here, you know,’’ the tax office lady said.
“I pay taxes. Lots of them.’’
Saylor heard the lady call for security, ran down the hall to the mayor’s office, walked inside. The mayor stood up, told him to get out. That was when Saylor pulled the phony gun out from inside his coat. The look on the mayor’s face changed quickly from angry and authoritative to flushed white with fear.
“Shut your mouth right now,’’ Saylor ordered.
The mayor stopped talking, sat back down in his chair. Saylor locked the door, went to the far side of the office in case security burst through the door.
“If security comes through that door, I will shoot you,’’ Saylor said. The mayor then put out the order for law enforcement to stay away from his office on the interoffice phone.
“Good,’’ Saylor said. “We can talk now.’’
“There’s nothing I have to talk to you about, Webby.’’
Saylor pointed the gun at the side of the mayor’s head. “Nothing to talk about? You sure about that?’’
The mayor gasped for air. “Oh my God. Ok. We can talk.’’
“Much better.’’ He pulled the muzzle of the gun away from the mayor’s head, and with the butt of the stock, Saylor smacked the mayor in the head, then repointed the muzzle at him.
The mayor slumped over the arm of his chair, straightened himself. “What do you want?’’
“I want you to admit that you’re violating the rights of everyone in this city.’’
“There are no rights any more, Webby. It’s an old thing of the past. Control is in style and everyone wants it.’’
Saylor pulled out his cell phone, told the mayor to repeat that statement so he could record it. The mayor wouldn’t repeat, so Saylor smacked him in the head with the stock of the gun, this time harder.
The mayor fell out of his seat, then climbed back on it. He repeated what Saylor wanted, and it was recorded. Saylor immediately sent the recording of the mayor and his statement to three separate text groups, about 100 people total.
“Thank you,’’ he said to the mayor and cracked him in the head a third time. This time the stock of the gun broke off in a large chunk. The mayor saw it, staggered to the door screaming, “The gun is fake.’’
Three city police officers and a National Guardsman burst through the door, hitting the mayor in the ribs. They hopped over the mayor, knocked Saylor to the floor, and smacked him in the face and gut before handcuffing him.
“I hope you rot in jail, Webby,’’ the mayor said.
With his nose and lip bleeding, Saylor was being led out of the mayor’s office. He made sure to kick the mayor as the police pushed him out the door. “You mean the detention camp, you scumbag pig,’’ Saylor said and spit on the mayor.
Outside, hundreds people heard of what happened and gathered at city hall. Most of the townspeople clapped and cheered for him. A few others called him “radical pig,’’ and “communist.’’
Saylor’s mom pushed her way through the crowd. She was crying, knowing what her son’s consequence was going to be. She slapped the boy across the face hard enough to make his head turn.
“What did you do, you stupid boy?’’ she cried out. She hugged him as tightly as a bear hug then kissed him on the face five times.
“I love you too, Ma.’’ The police and National Guard soldiers pushed Saylor through the crowd to the closest police car, shoved him inside.