Timothy rode alone on the train to work. When he’d first moved to the city, the notion of trains excited him. He’d imagined it would be something sleek and modern, a fast and ultra-quiet hybrid of the Japanese Shinkansen and the monorail at Disneyland. He’d imagined sitting comfortably in a well-upholstered seat, sunlight streaming through the window as chill electronic music played softly through speakers. But this was a case of Timothy’s imagination running away with him. His actual commute was much different. At its worst, it was a mosaic of slow, lurching progress, screeching brakes, crying babies, unpleasant odors, strangely loud and aggressive riders and, occasionally, vomit. And at best it was merely boring. Sometimes on the train, Timothy would listlessly scroll through a news feed on his phone. At other times he’d stare out the window at the bleak cityscape of gray apartment blocks and think about his life and all the choices he’d made that brought him to this place. Most of the time, he thought about buying a car.
As it lurched closer to downtown, the train could become quite crowded. Sometimes a stranger would take the open seat beside Timothy. At these times, he would do his best to ignore the stranger. Sometimes the stranger smelled bad. Sweaty gym socks, overpowering perfume, spoiled milk—Timothy had encountered them all. One morning, a stranger sat down beside him who did not smell bad and who he could not ignore. She was a woman roughly his own age. The first thing he noticed about the her was that she held a small, red, paperback edition of The Communist Manifesto. The woman opened it and began reading.
“Is that The Communist Manifesto?” he asked. He was surprised to hear his own voice forming the words. Such was his distaste for talking to strangers on public transit.
“I’m not really a communist,” said the woman, continuing to read.
“That’s too bad,” he said. “I always wanted to meet a communist.”
The woman closed the book and laid it in her lap. “Actually I’m not a capitalist, either.”
“Good,” Timothy said. “All I ever meet are capitalists.”
“Capitalism is like a good song you’ve heard too many times on the radio,” she said. “After a while, it’s just boring.”
“So if you’re not a capitalist, and you’re not a communist, what are you?”
“I’m Sabine,” she said, extending her hand to shake. “I read manifestos.”
[ [ KLAXON SIREN ] ]
We interrupt this love story for an urgent message.
[ [ KLAXON SIREN ] ]
A specter is stalking Western Civilization. The specter of the tyrant. Rise up! Rise up! The time has come. The time is now. All revolutionary cells should mobilize immediately. This is not a drill. This is not a test. This is an actual revolution. Red alert. Set phasers to kill. Those of you who have been stockpiling weapons should begin distributing them. Arm your families. Arm your husband and children. Arm your grandfather and your beagle. All hands on deck. Storm the barricades. Members of the police and military should proceed to execute their superior officers. Teachers should distribute revolutionary propaganda to their students. The message of the propaganda will be “don’t panic.” The propaganda will explain that this revolution is necessary and good. It will expose the tyrant as an authoritarian and fascist. It will enumerate his many crimes. The propaganda will inspire the children to fight alongside us. Every revolution needs children. The children are our future. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. These are the times that try men’s souls. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Death to the dictator. Death to the dictator. Death to the dictator.
A week after the train, Sabine met Timothy at his apartment for drinks after work. The sun was setting, and they stood at a window to watch as the sky gradually transitioned from orange to red. A large flock of starlings flew—almost as a single object, amorphous and flowing like a house-sized amoeba—among the rooftops downtown.
“How many do you think there are?” she said before putting her drink to her lips.
Timothy considered her question. Hundreds? Thousands? He had no idea. Instead of answering he kissed her. They left their unfinished drinks on the windowsill. He closed his eyes and felt the softness of her lips. Sabine pulled away and ran her hand—softly—down his cheek. She had a peculiar expression on her face, as if she were trying to make up her mind about something. She turned back to the window and picked up her drink again.
“Those birds would be in trouble if a hunter showed up,” she said.
“Wouldn’t we all.”
“Imagine standing below a flock like that, and just opening up on them with a shotgun,” Sabine said. She stretched out her arms as if she was holding a long gun. “Blam, blam! Starlings just falling from the sky.”
“Dead birds everywhere,” Timothy said. “What a nightmare.”
“I’ve gone hunting before,” she said. “My brothers used to take me. I know how to shoot.”
Timothy imagined her on a hillside, wearing camouflage and tall rubber boots. He saw her pointing a shotgun to the sky, pulling the trigger, jerking from the force of the shot. Dead and dying starlings drop out of the sky like little meteors. In his mind, it was sunset. He saw Sabine and the birds painted gold by the fading rays of the sun.
He kissed her again. And by the time they stopped kissing she was in his bedroom. The room was dark but for the silvery blue light of the moon. The light washed over Sabine. Timothy first thought she looked ghostly. But that wasn’t right. She looked like something else, something harder for him to imagine, something like a spirit of nature, the incarnation of a river or hidden lake. He began to unbutton her shirt. He wanted to see the silver-blue light all over her body. He wanted to see—
[ [ KLAXON SIREN ] ]
We interrupt this sex scene to enumerate the many crimes of the tyrant.
[ [ KLAXON SIREN ] ]
The tyrant stole migrant children from their parents. The tyrant locked them in icebox cells. The tyrant conspired with Russian agents. The tyrant invaded the Ukraine. The tyrant silenced the opposition with a wave of kidnappings and assassinations. The tyrant constructed false islands to dominate the South China Sea. He deployed security forces to raid the homes and offices of dissident journalists. The tyrant banned the Fallon Gong. The tyrant barred Muslims from entering the country. He built massive labor camps to hold upward of 120,000 political prisoners. The tyrant built a torture prison on the island of Cuba. He dropped bombs on children in Yemen. The tyrant said of the starving masses, “Let them eat cake.” (The tyrant’s wife? No matter). The tyrant raided the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. He invaded Iraq to secure nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. He forced off senior justices from the Supreme Court to stack the vacancies with loyalists. He banned women from driving. He banned women from revealing their skin in public. The tyrant sold advanced military weapons to other tyrants. He declared martial law. He bombed Guernica. He bombed Saigon. He sent tanks into Poznań to crush the demonstrations. He sent tanks into Tiananmen Square. The tyrant dropped nerve gas on the Kurds. The tyrant exterminated 6 million Jews. The tyrant built a wall through Berlin. He built a wall along the Mexican border. The wall is not to keep the migrants out. It is to keep you in. The tyrant will never let you go. He is always watching. The tyrant utilizes facial recognition software to track your movements. He reads your email. He knows what you watched on Netflix. The tyrant is not amused by your viewing habits.
Timothy and Sabine had been dating for several months when they rented a cabin one weekend in a national park. They woke up early Saturday morning for a hike. Almost as soon as they’d set out on one of the park’s woodland trails, they saw an elderly couple. The couple moved slowly and deliberately, and the old man pointed out small obstacles in the path for the woman to avoid. They held hands and smiled at Timothy and Sabine. Timothy wondered how many times the couple had walked together in the park. He wondered how any two people could keep their love alive as years turned to decades.
“We’ll be just like them someday,” Sabine said, leaning into Timothy’s shoulder as they walked.
“They are us. Us from the future,” he said. “They traveled back in time to watch how it all started.”
“How long do you think they’ve been married?”
“Fifty years,” Timothy said. “Sixty? Basically their whole lives.”
“I don’t know if I could do that,” she said.
“It’s a long time.”
“I don’t even know if it makes sense to get married at all anymore,” she said. “I mean with the revolution. It’s getting so ugly.”
“That’s a long way from here,” Timothy said.
“Seems to be getting closer.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Timothy said. He gestured to the park. The green manicured lawns. The trees. “It’s beautiful here. I’m glad I’m with you. I want today to be about you and me. I don’t want politics to have anything to do with it. All that junk happening out there,” he waved his hands in a dismissive gesture toward the horizon, “it’s somewhere else, not here. I love you. I don’t want anything to get in the way.”
The trail curved around a hillside and took them to a more deeply wooded area of the park. As they passed a fir tree, a large bird opened its wings and took flight, sending shudders through the green needles. Gradually the trees gave way to an overlook above the valley. This is the place, he thought. Here and nowhere else. He stopped. Sabine turned to him. He fished a small box out of his pocket and put it into her hands.
“Is this?” she said.
Timothy felt his heart race. He forced himself to look into her eyes even though he could hardly bear it. He wanted to be connected to her by touch and sight. He wanted to feel her and see her. He wanted—
[ [ KLAXON SIREN ] ]
We interrupt this proposal to inform you that nothing will ever be the same.
[ [ KLAXON SIREN ] ]
The revolution has begun. It is here and there’s no escape. The revolution will change your life. You won’t grow old commuting to work everyday to the same gray office. You will die heroically on the field of battle. You will live a short life and die a glorious death. The tyrant will fall. He will fall because you will kill him. You will kill him because you gave up your old life to dedicate yourself to his murder. Strike down the tyrant now before it’s too late. There’s no more time for love or childhood or innocence. The children are carrying guns. They’re learning to break down and reassemble assault rifles. Timothy didn’t marry Sabine in a church. He married her at Firebase Airborn. She hid her face behind a veil of camouflage mesh. When he parted the mesh, her lips were red with blood. He kissed her. Her blood tasted like iron and fire. Timothy didn’t marry Sabine. He married revolution. Timothy said “with hatred of the tyrant, I thee wed.” Sabine said “I pledge myself to you, oh righteous violence.” Timothy and Sabine live during a moment in history in which there is no time for love. It won’t always be this way. That’s why they fight. So it won’t always be this way. Timothy and Sabine will maim and kill, score headshots from sniper rifles, detonate car bombs, collect scalps. They will thrust their sharpened blades into the beating heart of the tyrant. It is necessary. They won’t stop until all the tyrants have fallen. Timothy and Sabine believe in a better world. Timothy sees this world, sometimes, when he looks deeply into Sabine’s bloodshot eyes. He sees a world of joy and laughter. A world where all people are free to live and love as they please. He sees what could have been, and what still can be.
Sometimes at night, when Timothy and Sabine are pressed together in the sleeping bag they share, Sabine whispers, “Why do you fight?”
Timothy whispers, “For you, my love.”
Sabine whispers, “No darling. Tell me the truth.”
Timothy whispers, “I fight for a new world. One without nations or borders. One without rank or class, without money or property. I fight for a world where all men and women are united in brotherhood and sisterhood. Where there are no more dictators or presidents. Where there is peace. I fight for a world where there’s no more fighting. Where the people have food and freedom. And time. So much time. Time for nothing but love.”
Alex Miller is a writer and graphic designer who lives in Pittsburgh. His fiction has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Galavant and Rabbit Catastrophe Review. His collection of short stories, “How to Write an Emotionally Resonant Werewolf Novel,” is slated for publication in summer 2019 by Unsolicited Press.