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“Who can tell me what Panopticism means?”
Mr. Larson had a mustache like a dirty brown push broom. When he smiled, as he nervously did now, it looked like the push broom had snapped in half trying to sweep the tragedy of his yellow teeth out of his mouth.
Judy winced as he worked his lips, smearing the teeth with saliva.
“Does anyone know?”
Mr. Larson’s ugly mustache contorted, this time in something that looked like the precursor to mania. She wondered if he’d drawn a short straw or if he was merely expected to give this talk in his role as the history teacher. Whatever the case, Judy couldn’t stand to look at those teeth for another second.
She chose instead to stare at the intercom over Mr. Larson’s head.
“Let’s… let’s try this another way.” Mr. Larson swallowed, flashing his nervous smile.
Still staring at the intercom, Judy’s nose shriveled in distaste. His teeth were like the porcelain in an unclean urinal.
“Who… who can tell me why we have… Lights Out?”
It was as if the last two words had been ripped from his throat. He was starting to sweat. Judy also noticed his eyes kept going to the clock in the back of the classroom.
Judy figured his mistake was that he was trying to talk about Lights Out like it was just some history lesson. But Lights Out wasn’t about history. Lights Out was about evil. Horrible, rotten, stinking, putrid evil. Mr. Larson was making himself sick trying to put a shine job on it.
Judy glanced over at Elisha Powell who was rubbing her chest and wincing. Elisha still wasn’t fully recovered from her mastectomy. Her parents should have scheduled it earlier. Now it was too late and she would have to face Lights Out at less than full strength. Judy shook her head in bewilderment.
How the fuck do you not plan for something you see coming sixteen years away?
Mr. Larson had apparently decided it was easier to speak if he stared at his shoes.
“Panopticism is… it’s all the cameras everywhere. Well, I suppose that’s a simplification… but Panopticism means being watched all the time. It means there’s no such thing as privacy,” Mr. Larson realized he’d made another mistake. “Does… anyone know what privacy was?”
Judy knew. Though from the reactions of the other students, she figured she might have been the only one. Privacy was an old archaic word, representing a concept that was now unthinkable.
Privacy was other people not being able to look at you naked any time they wanted. Privacy was not being sent videos of boys masturbating while they murmured your name into their pillow. Privacy was going into a room by yourself and crying without anyone being able to see.
It must have been wonderful.
When no hands went up, Mr. Larson took a moment to dab the sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief. He scanned the classroom. Their eyes connected for a moment.
Mr. Larson flinched.
Creep, Judy thought.
“Privacy was when people had secrets from one another.” Mr. Larson swallowed again, realizing he had used another archaic word. “Secrets are events that occur… Off the Record.”
That got a few raised eyebrows. No one in the classroom had ever done anything Off the Record before. On the Record was a common enough phrase. People said it to seal promises and the like. But Off the Record… that was intriguing.
You’re wrong, Judy thought. Privacy was more than that.
“The world has been On the Record for over sixty years now. No one chose it. There was no action of government. There was no vote. Total Panopticism… that is to say, being watched by everyone… was an inevitable extension of technology and economics. But still… here we are.” Mr. Larson gestured at all of the cameras in the room. Most were too small to see, of course, and they were everywhere, on just about everything that was manufactured… but he chose to wave at the intercom over his shoulder anyway.
Every classroom had an intercom. Intercoms represented Complete Coverage. Judy favored the intercom with a scowl.
Mr. Larson had failed to mention that the most important part of Panopticism was knowing that someone else was watching.
Jennifer Lawrence asked a question about how things could ever happen Off the Record, if the Record was Infallible? Infallibility was one of the pillars of Complete Coverage that everyone learned about before they could read.
Jennifer Lawrence seemed awful dumb for someone who had been smart enough to get her mastectomy six months ago. Maybe her parents were the smart ones and had known she would need time to recover.
Judy’s own budding breasts remained embarrassingly ample, which was why she tended to have her arms crossed over them more often than not.
“Well… let’s see. What’s the best way to answer that?” Just for a moment, Mr. Larson had been fine, as if discussing any other history lesson but now that he’d come straight up against Lights Out again the nervousness was back.
“As you know, at first we reaped enormous benefits from the Panoptic Model. It almost totally destroyed the need for a legal system. It made corruption virtually impossible….”
Come on! Say it! Stop focusing on all the good and tell them what happened!
“After the first ten years of Complete Coverage, violent crime rates dropped to less than one percent of what they had been… except… there was one significant drawback….” Mr. Larson was really sweating now. “I don’t suppose anyone here knows-”
“Suicide,” blurted Judy..
The eyes of the class swiveled to her. She felt like they were staring at her breasts and her face flushed. It took a concentrated effort not to shift her arms.
“All the crime stopped but the suicide rate jumped to twenty-percent,” she mumbled.
Mr. Larson’s face reddened. He was struggling with tears. Lights Out affected everything, but speaking of it was taboo. It was like standing at the Thanksgiving dinner table and shouting curses at the top of your lungs. This talk was the only time it was ever spoken of in any official capacity.
“Judy is correct. While the Panoptic model stopped almost all crime it also increased… I’m afraid the polite phrase is ‘self-termination’ Judy.” Mr. Larson forced a grin. Judy wished she had a pipe wrench so she could swing it at his jaw.
“Lights Out wasn’t seen as a solution early on, of course. It evolved quite naturally. You see… the cameras,” Mr. Larson waved at the intercom again, “create a sense of pressure. It makes us feel bottled up even if we’re not aware of it. Although Complete Coverage has numerous benefits, human nature rebels against it.”
Judy turned to look at an empty desk. Ian McCaskill used to sit there. Until the video surfaced of him wearing his mother’s underwear. Stupid kid thought he was too unpopular to be Searched. He should have known no one is too unpopular to be Searched.
“Ten years after Complete Coverage a section of Chicago suffered a system-wide power and information outage. All the cameras in the east side were off for almost twelve hours.”
Now we get to it. Tell us Mr. Larson. Tell us the truth about the human fucking race!
“By that time termination was unheard of, but thirty-three people were terminated that night….” Mr. Larson had finally managed to sweat through his shirt.
“There were also a number of other crimes like forced-copulation and other types of lesser body-violation. At first the wave of violence was seen as a tragedy, a form of group madness, however in the aftermath it was noticed that….”
“No one involved in the Power Outage committed suicide,” said Judy.
That’s us. That’s people. We need to do bad things just to live.
Mr. Larson’s hands trembled. Everyone tried to pretend Lights Out never happened. Everyone tried to pretend the world was a polite and wonderful place where no crimes could ever be committed because people were good. Lights Out told a different story. Lights Out said that being watched and being good were two very different things.
“Judy is once again correct… even if her… verbiage is a little out-of-date. The results were confirmed in a few other isolated incidents that mirrored the first outage. Five years after the first data black out…” Mr. Larson started to cough until his eyes were red and full of tears, “There was a nation-wide outage lasting six hours.”
And what happened, you apologist fuck? What happened when all the cameras were shut off?
“There were thirty-thousand terminations, over three-hundred thousand forced-copulations and millions of lesser forms of body-violation. Afterward, the self-termination rates plummeted across the nation. Lights Out therefore… after a few more large power outages… became a national custom.”
Bet you don’t say anything about there being no police response! Bet you don’t say anything about how no one gets punished because I bet I’m the only one here that knows there used to be police!
“There were modifications to be made before Lights Out reached full acceptance. Firearms, of course, had to be done away with. As with most other weapons. You’ve probably all seen them in movies.” Mr. Larson, hands still shaking, mimed a few shots with a gun.
No one laughed.
“Explosives are also controlled as there is too much possibility for damage to the infrastructure otherwise. And… it was also necessary that young children be protected, which is why we’re having this conversation.”
Judy had read that during the first Lights Out, over five hundred mothers had murdered their children. Most of them had been infants or toddlers. Kids who cried all night.
“During Lights out, there is only one place where Coverage still exists. There is still Coverage in ‘Safety Boxes’ where children remain until they reach the age of sixteen. When you go home today, you will find that your Safety Boxes have been removed.”
The age of majority was supposed to be sixteen. However, they’d changed it later to be your sophomore year of high school. That’s when the suicide rates spiked. Shame. Judy was still only fifteen.
Mr. Larson raised his hands when he saw the classroom tense.
“Now don’t panic! The terminations were only a major issue during the first few years. Less than a thousand across the entire nation are terminated during each Lights Out. Most people pass the time away in their homes with the door locked.”
Judy noticed Mr. Larson didn’t say anything about rape, or forced-copulation as he styled it. There may not have been that many murders, but rape ruled during Lights Out.
Rape was why Elisha was still hugging her chest and why Jennifer Lawrence had had her tits cut off six months ago. Rape was why all the girls had their hair cut short and ugly in the last few weeks. The way people thought now if a girl looked nice during Lights Out she was asking to be raped.
“I imagine your parents will all have some tips for you. And now… I believe our time is done.” Mr. Larson practically fainted with relief when the bell rang.
All the other children headed to the school buses. All except Judy.
She went for a run.
Judy’s tits didn’t bounce when she ran. She’d gone through three dozen sports bras finding the perfect one that kept them from jumping up in her face. Even so, men watched her when she passed, an ancient hunger in deep in their eyes.
Judy flipped them the bird.
Perverts, Judy thought. I ought to do a Search and send a video of you looking to your wife.
A girl with no tits was the norm and no girl except Judy wore tight clothes where anyone could see. All kinds of papers had been written about how this would one day change the standards of what was considered attractive but the men Judy ran passed told another story.
Judy ignored them.
She didn’t run any faster than was needed to get her blood pumping. She’d need her speed and stamina for tonight. This was just a warm-up. A way to get herself physically and emotionally prepared for the nightmare that was to come. She let herself look at the community.
The more forward thinking adults were putting their cars up on blocks and removing the tires. Judy’s neighbor buried his tires in his backyard every year. No chance of the car being stolen that way.
Others were checking the bars on their windows. Window bars came out every year like Christmas lights. They couldn’t stop a whole mob of men, but if you’d done like you were supposed to and not made any enemies they didn’t have to.
On the enemy front, Judy saw housewives going from house to house, handing out cookies in a last ditch effort to generate good will.
Judy passed a couple who were filling water buckets in case of a fire. Waste of time. All building materials had been fireproofed for the last forty years. It was made a priority after the Great Fire of Phoenix during the second national Lights Out.
They should have done what their neighbors were doing. The father and son just happened to be playing baseball.. with aluminum bats. The mother just happened to be cutting back some hedges… with a machete. The daughter just happened to be breaking up concrete with a crowbar. It sent a strong message. A good message. They would be safe during Lights Out.
Judy had no intention of hiding indoors. Her breasts were full. Her hair was long. She was beautiful. Her beauty was a sin against Lights Out and tonight the mob would come to punish her. No fortress would stop them. They would chase her.
They came for old Mr. Harlow’s Sports Car. It was the only nice thing he had, but it was nicer than what everyone else had so they smashed it all to bits. She was like the sports car. They would come for tonight.
Judy let loose a burst of speed.
Let them chase.
In another few years, Judy would be on the Olympic team. There were a lot of women runners now. As fast as any man. That was another unforeseen benefit of Lights Out. Women were getting faster every year.
Judy sneered at a few more men.
I’ll run you all into the fucking ground, she thought.
Dad made a light dinner of chicken and vegetables. It was good, but Judy only ate half. Eating slowed her down.
“Tell me about mom,” Judy said, putting her dinner napkin on top of her plate.
Dad sighed, drumming his fingers on his stomach. His plate was empty. Dad had put on a lot of weight since Judy was a little. He told her that was because Mom was the one that used to get after him about eating right.
Her father looked at her with kind brown eyes. He was a sweet man. Too sweet for the world he lived in.
“Your mom was beautiful, smart, and-”
“Tell me about how she died,” Judy interjected.
Dad’s face fell. He pushed his chair back from the dining room table and stared at a picture of the family on the mantle. He lifted it and ran his fingers across the frame lovingly. It had been taken just after Judy had been born. They hadn’t even been married a full year.
“You know I don’t like talking about that, Judith.”
“Tell me so I don’t stop running when my legs get tired.”
Dad closed his eyes. There were no sobs. It had been too long ago to even seem real anymore.
“It was Lights Out. You were just a baby in the Safety Box. Some men broke into the house and raped her. When they were done, one of them slit her throat.”
Judy didn’t ask her father what he’d been doing during that time. When she had been old enough, she’d run a search and seen video of him bloody and scarred the second the cameras came back on. The men who’d killed her mother hadn’t got to her without a fight.
I’m so proud of you for that, Dad. I’m so proud you fought when they came for her.
“And that’s why you taught me to run,” said Judy.
They repeated this ritual often. Judy was the one who instigated. It helped her when her lungs burned so much she wanted to throw up, or when her legs quivered from strained.
Dad nodded. “That’s why I taught you to run.”
She walked over to a wall where her trophies were kept. Lots of pictures of her with first place medals around her neck. Her dad was holding a stopwatch in all of them.
“Am I fast enough, Dad?”
“You’re the fastest, Judy.”
Judy took her plate to the kitchen and shoveled the remains of dinner into the garbage disposal. She ran upstairs and changed into her tight running clothes. She re-checked the weather report to confirm there would be no rain. Then she got the knife from off her nightstand and strapped it to her hip.
“Drive me out to the forest now?” she asked.
Her father looked at the door, frowning.
How long have we been planning, Dad?
“It’s early yet. Why not wait a couple hours?” The color was starting to run from his face. Judy could tell he was rethinking the whole plan. Thinking there might be some way to fortify the house and protect her with only a few hours left.
The only way I’ll be safe is if I’m alone, Dad. We both know that.
Judy kissed his cheek.
“You can’t protect me. A mob of them will come tonight and your only hope is to leave all the doors open so they can see that I’m not here.”
They’d both known running was the only way for years.
“Take me to the park now.”
“You’ve been there a thousand times. Ever since you were little.”
But people need to see me there. They need to see me there through all the cameras before Lights Out so they know better than to come for you.
“I just want to make sure nothing’s changed.”
“Wait an hour?” her father pleaded, putting an arm over her shoulder.
“Fine,” said Judy, “one hour.”
“Take a blanket, for Chrissakes!”
Dad waved a blue flannel blanket but Judy kept on walking. She’d be warm enough when the running started and she had no intention of sleeping any time during the night.
“You’re gonna freeze to death out here, Judith!”
Once Judy crested the hill, she climbed atop a picnic table and shouted goodbye. Her father lowered the blanket in defeat. She could hear him cursing as he changed gears and drove off.
Judy watched the car drive away until it was only a trail of dust off somewhere in the distance.
He’ll be safe. Anyone out to get her would have already done a search and tracked her progress to the park.
She watched the sun sink down toward the horizon. Lights Out started at sundown. It ended at sunup. All Judy had to do was keep her eyes open. If someone wanted to chase her, there was a forest for her to play hide and seek all night. A forest she knew so well there were maps of it on her feet, separate from her brain.
Judy took the knife out of its sheathe on her hip. It was a boning knife from a high-end kitchen set and the closest thing she had to a combat weapon. She spent an hour sharpening it as the sun went down.
She hoped people were watching through the cameras.
She hoped she gave them second thoughts.
The city lights burned in the distance, still bright even under the sun. Then some time later the sun disappeared and the city lights went off. Darkness smothered the world like a blanket.
Judy fought off the need to tremble. There were no cameras in her head. The fear could be her secret if she kept it there.
The park was an hour away from anywhere else.
That’s why they’d chosen it. That’s why her father had picked it out off the map. The further away it was, the more time people would have to spend chasing her. An hour there… and hopefully an hour back if they didn’t want anyone to suspect where they had been.
Two hours gone from the night.
Judy walked in a short circle on the hilltop, keeping her eyes peeled open. If they came, they’d have to come from the road. She would let them get halfway up the hill, to make sure they exhausted themselves, and then she would run out to the forest and lose them. Just like she’d planned.
She tried not to look at the dark city. She swore, even though she knew it was impossible, that she could hear screams coming from that direction.
I should have had my tits cut off. I should have lit my hair on fire and poured acid on my face.
She realized her breathing was getting out of control, so she forced it to slow. Judy resisted the urge to press the glow button on her watch to check the time. She couldn’t run the risk of ruining her night vision.
She kept running through her strategies.
Up the hill. Let them get half way up the hill. Up the hill. Halfway up the hill.
If she ran before then, they’d just skirt off the side, and her advantage would be gone. If she ran out into the woods right away, they might be able to band together and search in some logical fashion.
She’d planned it for years, but it now seemed like the most insane strategy in the history of the world. Half the hill was too damn close.
Halfway up the hill. Halfway up the hill.
Judy wished there was some kind of training for waiting in suspense.
Headlights blared into existence from beyond the curve of the road.
Judy’s mouth went dry. Her heart hammered. They were coming.
Am I a runner? If I’m a runner then why do my knees feel so weak? Why do I feel like I’m going to faint?
Another pair of headlights followed the first. Then another. Judy’s hand went to the knife. She couldn’t breathe. Three cars in all.
Oh God! Oh God! They’re going to work together! They’re going to surround me and then they’re going to hold me down and…
She bit her tongue. She clenched her fists.
“I am fast,” Judy said to the air.
“I am a runner.”
The headlights of another car, more distant than the first three appeared. Judy started to cry. Couldn’t help it. There were no sobs, but try as she might she could not stop the tears coming from her eyes. She forced her breathing to stay even. Forced her hand to say on the knife at her hip. The tears though, continued.
Four cars! Jesus Christ we never figured on four cars!
“I am the fastest.”
The first group of three cars was nearing the parking lot. Judy jogged in place. She closed her eyes and counted to ten. The first group of cars had parked. The fourth was still in pursuit. Speeding.
Judy flinched when the car doors slammed open. There was only a sliver of moonlight to see by.
“We’re coming for you, Judy! We’re gonna fuck you in every hole you got!” Judy couldn’t recognize the voice. Other boys whooped and shouted in approval. Someone laid claim to her asshole.
I am going to die.
“If one of them takes out their penis, I will cut it off and throw it at the others.”
Judy forced herself to count. Sixteen. Some boys and some men by the look. And more to come in the fourth car.
The group advanced. Some were holding rope. Others were holding bats and clubs. All of them wore masks of one kind or another.
“We’re gonna hold you down, Judy. Then we’re going to tie you up and fuck you till your pussy breaks,” it was an ugly voice. A voice no one would use if they thought someone else was watching.
They weren’t to the hill yet. Judy held her feet firm. Forced her breath to flow evenly. Half of running was breathing.
Even as her lungs pumped smoothly she wanted to shit. Wanted to piss. But she held firm.
“I’m gonna fuck you like I own you, Judy.”
“I’m going to make you all mine, Judy. You and them big ol’ tits of yous.”
Someone made a slurping noise. Someone else laughed.
“It won’t be so bad, Judy! I bet you like it after the first couple of throws!”
They were at the base of the hill now. It took all of her willpower not to take out her knife and throw it at the nearest assailant in some mad animal assertion of her territory
Why hadn’t she thought to stack rocks? Maybe she should have brought a slingshot? Why hadn’t she brought a fucking slingshot? How could she have been so stupid?
“Gonna fuck you Judy! We’re gonna fuck you in half!”
They were going to rape her. They were all going to rape her. She should have prepared for a fight. Running? That was idiocy.
Her breath continued as regular as the tides.
“I am fast. I am a runner. I am the fastest,” Judy whispered it like a prayer. She no longer had any idea whether or not she was fast. It was only a hope now.
They were a quarter of the way up the hill. All sixteen of them. They only had to come up a little bit more. Just a little bit more and she could do something other than stand there. Stand there breathing like an idiot.
They were shouting. It looked like they were running except their feet seemed to fall in slow motion. Judy couldn’t hear what they were saying over the pounding of her heart.
The fourth car pulled into the lot. Only one person in it.
God she needed to piss.
They came onward slowly. Still more slowly. How could they move so slowly when their legs pumped like that? She would be dead of old age long before they ever raped her.
One of them stepped on a branch and it snapped. Judy had put it there earlier to mark halfway.
The world suddenly started to rush by. The men weren’t walking. They were charging. And she was still standing there breathing.
“If one of you takes out your dick, I’ll cut it off and throw it at the others!” Judy shouted.
She turned. She ran. Faster than she ever had. Faster than she knew she could. And still her legs brought on the speed. Bountiful reserves of energy opened to her.
“Catch that fucking whore!”
A baseball bat landed miles away behind her. They couldn’t even throw anything as fast as she was running. She passed into the treeline. The voices faded.
Judy spared one last look over her shoulder. The headlights of yet another car appeared around the bend in the road.
Five Cars! I am going to die I am going to die. I am going to…
“I… am… the… fastest!”
The forest was hers. She would face them there.
Judy ran and the men chased.
Their eyes drank from the smooth flex of her buttocks beneath her running pants, the perfect pump of her legs, the rhythmic slackening of her calf muscles.
Their teeth gnashed in shameless hunger.
The men ran with a strength absolute, powerful and primal. There was no longer any single man, naked and blameless in the night. Only a group of men without a thought other than that they must catch her.
They howled in notes of blood and adrenaline. In notes of meat and bone. In notes of need and lust. Unstoppable, they ran, as fast as they could…. for half an hour… then for an hour.
Run! Run her into the ground! Take her!
Naked in the night, blameless, and without shame, they ran. Unstoppable but….
Men fell left and right.
The mob shrank.
Judy’s soles flashed white in the distance, never flagging, never slowing, their rhythm sure and constant.
Those left standing became dizzy. They leaned on trees, panting with trembling legs.
Judy smirked, upright and proud in the moonlight.
In movies, monsters never got tired.
But then no monster had ever had to chase down Judy.
Twigs crackled like distant gunfire. Breathing, muffled by masks seemed to come from directly behind her. Every now and again, someone would strike a tree with whatever weapon they had handy and it took all of Judy’s willpower not to bolt like a startled hare.
The mob was maybe half the size that it had been. All those left looked tired as they wandered through the forest like zombies. She could have kept running, she sensed she had a good three hours of energy left, but if she ran too far she would come to a road and the woods held a greater safety.
Judy leaned against a tree, quietly breathing. Steady and controlled. A runner’s breathing.
Now that she had stopped running it was hard not to feel afraid. Crazed, delirious thoughts floated through her mind. For some reason she couldn’t stop thinking about a paper mache mask project that was due for art next week. She’d never done paper mache before.
Not even once.
Her life might well be over and she had never even done paper mache.
She supposed she thought of it because one of the men chasing her seemed to be wearing a paper mache mask. Judy wondered if he might have any tips.
Just stay calm Judy. Just run them down. Run them out. You’ve got the speed but you’ve got the endurance too, so don’t do anything stupid.
A twig snapped nearby
Time to move. Don’t hide. Let them see you.
Judy sprinted from behind the tree, crouching low to avoid high branches overhead, taking full advantage of her short stature. She let her feet fall flatly, not caring if she made noise. The whole point was to make noise, then go quiet again.
Just don’t let anyone get in front. If even one of them grabs hold of me…
Judy tried not to think about that.
She leaped over a creek, which she would never have dared do at night, save for the fact she had already leaped over it a million times during the day. Judy tried not to think too hard about running, lest she confuse herself. She had run through this forest often. Her body knew where to go, even if her eyes didn’t.
I’ve got to trust myself. I’ve got to believe in myself. Believe I know where I’m going….
Judy could see the shadowy forms of the men chasing her. She figured she would run parallel to the road for a while, let them get close enough to see, and then putt on a burst of speed. It would wear them out quicker that way.
A scream, high and shrill penetrated the night. Judy’s breath caught and she risked standing up straight to stare in the direction of the sound. Whoever had screamed had done it out of sight.
Another moment passed without sound.
Judy realized she was still standing up straight, and cursed under her breath. As quiet as a mouse, she hid behind the next tree, waiting for the men to chase after her. Those left had stopped yelling at her an hour ago, which was unfortunate as it was now harder to tell where they were. Judy supposed they didn’t have the breath left for it.
In the old horror movies, the bad guys would chase you all night without ever getting tired. But I’ve trained to outrun the monsters.
Judy allowed herself a satisfied smile, if only to bolster her courage, until another shrill scream filled the air and wiped it from her face.
If she listened intently she thought she could hear something like the sound of meat on a chopping block.
“Who’s there!” one of the men shouted. It was the one with the paper mache mask unless she was very much mistaken. Judy could see him by the moonlight, with his back now turned to her.
“Who’s making all the noise?”
Judy patiently counted out four minutes to herself. Then she turned on the glo-light on her watch. The scraping against the forest floor said that a half-dozen pairs of feet had turned to face her direction.
Judy broke cover and ran again.
Five hours till daylight. Five hours till daylight. Five hours till daylight.
Judy crawled through a wide swath of thorny bushes, with a passage so small that it was hard to find even during the day. Four of the men left seemed to have flashlights, but Judy didn’t doubt the bushes would catch at least a few more eager fellows whether or not they could see.
I bet they couldn’t even get hard right now if they wanted. They probably just want to fall down and take a nap.
When she was through the other side, with more than her fair share of scrapes, Judy picked up a fallen branch and struck a tree. In the silence it sounded as loud as a thunderclap.
Footsteps turned toward her. Flashlights illuminated the area around her. Judy let one shine briefly on her leg before she hurried onward again.
Are there even less than there were, or am I imagining things?
True, the cloud of adrenaline that had rolled over the mob had long since been forced to abate by the sheer physics of the task. Sprinting through a forest was no small matter. Let alone sprinting at night.
I think some more of them just gave up. I wonder how much quicker they would have walked away if I’d just brought a fucking slingshot.
Judy slowly backed up the incline. The forest covered a hilly ground, but as a whole it trended upward. It was getting steeper with every foot covered but it was steepest here. If Judy was lucky, in the next few hours the rest of her pursuers would drop like flies.
One of the flashlight men made his way toward the bushes. Judy hid behind a tree, and let herself watch. Although it was close, on an incline like this, with the thorn bushes in the way, he could never catch her even if he saw her.
The flashlight man tested the bushes with his hands, then turned the flashlight from one side to the other, looking for a way around. He crouched low, walking a ways in either direction as he searched for a passage through.
A dark shape appeared out of the darkness behind the flashlight man.
The flashlight man didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, assumed it was one of his comrades.
But it’s not. It’s not someone who came with him… because….
The blade of a fire axe gleamed in the moonlight. Almost too fast to realize what was happening, the axe swung down, fast, striking the flashlight man right in the side of the neck.
Blood spurted an insane distance from the wound.
I just saw someone get murdered.
For some reason, Judy’s hands, which had been sweating, went bone dry. The man with the axe, put his foot on the neck of the flashlight-man and yanked.
The axe came free without a sound.
I just saw someone kill a man for real, in real life.
The axe-man fumbled for a bit with the flashlight, trying to find the off switch. The axe-man had a large build, and wore a catcher’s mask with other sporting gear like it was a suit of armor. But there was something else… something odd. Two cylinders protruded through the catcher’s mask like….
Night vision goggles. You’re not supposed to have those. Where did he get night vision goggles from?
But more importantly, who was he? What was he doing here? The flashlight clicked off.
“Dad?” Judy whispered, hopefully.
The axe-man stood still as stone, except for his head looking every which way.
Judy could just make out two circles of reflected green light as the axe-man tilted his head toward the sound of her voice. Judy knew him when he smiled.
She swore, even in the darkness with only the moon for light, that the teeth were urine-yellow.
Why am I running so fast? I’ve left everyone else behind. I’ve left everyone else behind, so why am I running so fast?
Stupid. There was no other word for it. She was being stupid. Her legs were burning but still she couldn’t make herself stop running.
His teeth, biting my ears. Biting my lips. Biting my nipples. His horrible, awful, ugly, goddamn yellow teeth biting my… no. No! No! No!
After ten minutes, Judy crumpled like a shot buck. Her legs folding underneath her, and she fell forward weeping.
Mr. Larson. Mr. Larson is out here chasing me, and he’s killing everyone so that he gets to have me all to himself.
It had been so much better when the terror hadn’t had a face. She knew that was unusual, but all Judy could see in her mind’s eye was Mr. Larson’s too-wet tongue licking his sour teeth, then reaching out to taste her and… and….
Judy threw up, shaking like a sick cat.
It wasn’t much because she hadn’t eaten much, but with her abdominal muscles already tied in knots, vomiting felt like being punched in the stomach. She retched again, imagining Mr. Larson’s awkward fumbling fingers running over every part of her body.
I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to get back in control. He hasn’t caught me yet. No! No, I meant he hasn’t caught me and he won’t ever catch me!
Legs suddenly weak, Judy used her arms to half-climb a tree to get her feet back under her. She held the tree for a moment, pretending it was her father, letting its strength reassure her.
Mr. Larson isn’t a runner. He won’t be able to catch me.
Judy breathed through her mouth, ignoring the sharp taste of her own vomit. Absentmindedly, she put her shirtsleeve against her tongue and rubbed the taste away. She took three confident steps forward.
She knew where she was. She’d walked this way before.
Another confident footstep. Then another.
Someone else screamed, far off and away. Judy heard four or five chops. Meat on the chopping block.
Her legs buckled again.
The second the lights went on out there, the lights went off in here.
Her father told her that, first pointing at the cameras, then pointing at his own chest. Judy wished he was there now. Wished he could appear with his great big belly and his great big hands, and wring Mr. Larson’s neck.
Everything good went away when privacy went away.
Judy walked, almost drunk with terror, bouncing off trees, not even flinching at the occasional scream from behind her. Mr. Larson had walked the whole way, Judy could see it now. He’d saved all his strength even when everyone else was running.
There were no more flashlights behind her. Mr. Larson had either killed all the men with one, or those with the flashlights had wised up and turned them off.
People didn’t need privacy just to do bad, Judith. That’s a lie you’re going to get told and I want you to know it for the damn lie that it is.
People needed privacy to do good. People needed privacy to know they were good.
You’ve got to be able to do good things where no one can see, just so you know there’s something decent inside yourself. Something that’s all for you that isn’t there just because someone’s watching.
Being watched takes being good away from us. It makes it so that we never have to be strong for our own sakes… so when the Lights go out, Judith… when the world turns its back on us… there’s no more light in our hearts to scare away the night.
Another scream. The sound of a man running away.
People need to do bad things to live, Judith. I won’t deny that. But we need to do good things too. We need to do right for ourselves because otherwise it’s all just meat and there’s no reason for any of it. Even bad men have got to have something good, otherwise you can’t stand to be a human being.
A branch scratched her cheek, drawing blood just under her eye. Judy didn’t bother to notice.
Used to be, back in the old days, the lights would go out and people would help each other. That was back before there was cameras everywhere. There was just people, sitting there, knowing in their hearts what right was. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. Do you know what means, Judy?
“Who watches the watchmen,” Judy murmured to herself.
It’s a bullshit question, Judith! They’re going to throw that in your face when you go to school, but it’s bullshit! People watch themselves! People watch themselves just fine!
Real strength comes by testing yourself for yourself. But… these damn cameras everywhere! Used to be the only camera you had was inside of yourself. That was the only camera that mattered! That was the only one that never went away!
But when the lights went on out there, Judy.. when they took the cameras outside of us and propped them up all around us, well then… in a lot of people… the camera inside just went away.
Maybe the camera wasn’t perfect, Judith. Maybe people lied to themselves about what they saw there, but they had to just to live don’t you see? People needed to be people. And when the cameras came, when it became impossible to reconcile anything away… well, everyone who had an ounce of shame killed themselves Judy.
It was like being torn apart. They couldn’t take it.
There’s only two kind of people left, Judith. Only two kinds.
The shameless and the patient.
“And you and me, right Dad?” Judy croaked.
Judy stopped, without knowing why. She turned around.
Mr. Larson stood perhaps twenty feet away, bloody catcher’s mask, bloody axe, bloody everything. He smiled. Judy could make out his broken push broom of a mustache when he smiled.
“Judy,” he said.
From his lips, her name was the most awful word ever spoken.
Judy screamed, and without any strength left, she ran.
How did mom die, Dad?
He told her she wasn’t old enough to know, and that she shouldn’t look it up even though she could. Judy had learned all about “Search” at school and about how you were supposed to search everyone or else you were just a little kid with bad manners.
Dad told her he didn’t like “Search” so Judy had explained that her teacher said “Search” keeps everyone honest and makes sure everyone is doing a good job and if we didn’t have “Search” we’d be like the crazy people from a long time ago.
Her father insisted that she not “Search” on the causes of her mother’s death.
Will you check on me, dad? Will you make sure I don’t look it up?
“No, Judith. I trust you.”
She looked it up anyway. If her dad broke his word and checked on her, he never said and she never did a Search to check. Judy was only been six, holding the computer under her comforter thinking the blanket somehow made a difference as to whether or not she could be seen.
“Search: All dates footage available for Heather Lindall-Everidge.”
The index included the present day. She’d forgotten there was a camera in her mother’s coffin.
Judy opened the link, took a look at the corpse, saw it was shriveled and unrecognizable. No information there. She didn’t care much that it was a dead body. The kids at school had shown each other all kinds of gross things and it got old after a while.
She did another search.
“Search: First death Record of Heather Lindall-Everidge.”
Judy saw a body laying on the ground, blood puddled all around. The dress was hiked up around the waist. The legs were twisted oddly. The body had been savaged.
Judy saw a face that looked something like her own. She zoomed in on it. Bruises in knuckle shapes marred the cheeks and forehead.
When she got old enough to understand, Judy would be taught that “Search” actually created a composite of tens of thousands of different viewpoints. As it would be cumbersome to use any of these separately, “Search” tied itself to people via face-recognition. It worked to a lesser extent on objects.
Judy rewound the footage and something darkly unsettling happened. The screen went black. “Footage not available.”
She knew this could not be correct. Her teacher had taught her about “Complete Coverage” and “Infallibility.” She went forward, and rewound again.
“Footage not available.”
When she went to school the next day, teacher didn’t want to answer the question about the missing footage. That was for when you were older, she said.
Then they ran searches of people going to the bathroom and teacher explained why it was nothing to be ashamed about and everyone did it. That got boring after a while too. Even after teacher went around the class and showed a video of every child going to the bathroom.
When she got home from school that day, her father had placed her first pair of running shoes on her bed.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Judy!”
Oh that was awful. So awful. If she had anything left to throw up, she would never stop puking.
Judy scurried toward the highway. There could be no cat and mouse game with Mr. Larson. Not so long as he had those night vision goggles.
“Please, Judy. Just come out here. I’ve scared everyone off. You’re safe now!”
He believes it. He thinks he’s saved me, and that I want to run into his arms like he’s a noble hero. He thinks I will kiss him and spread my legs for him, and moan when he enters me. He thinks I love him now.
Judy clutched the knife in her hand in a death grip, knowing that it could never deflect an axe blow. Oh God her legs burned. She’d used up too much in her fear. She’d let herself run too hard and now, only an hour from daylight, Mr. Larson was going to catch her.
“I knew they’d come after you, Judy. I saw it and I came out here to protect you. You have to believe me!”
“I don’t believe shit!” Judy hollered, unable to help herself.
Judy had seen a video of Mr. Larson masturbating to her once. Well actually, it was a video of him not masturbating to her. Numerous children had done searches, trying to find footage of Mr. Larson masturbating but none existed.
What Judy called “The Masturbation Incident” happened when footage from a week when she had taken to wearing a very tight runner’s outfit suddenly became very popular. Someone then cut it together with footage of her in the shower.
The boys shared it with each other. There were hotter things on the Web, hotter couples you could search out, but Judy supposed she had a local flavor.
Back before Complete Coverage, seeing someone naked was called porn and a teacher looking at naked students would get fired.
Someone in turn did a Search and made a compilation of everyone who masturbated to the video of her, inter-cut with the original video. It had been the talk of the school for a month. It ended with Mr. Larson staring at her video and turning off his computer with a sigh. Then of him going to sleep with his hands folded on his chest.
Judy spit, clenching the knife as hard as he could. Mr. Larson was approaching a clearing close to her tree.
“I would never hurt you, Judy. Every Lights Out, I go and find a girl to protect. This year, I wanted to protect you. I’ll protect you every year if you want.”
He flashed her a bit of broken push broom.
Judy jumped into the clearing, threw a rock, and turned to run.
“Judy, don’t be like this!”
Her father explained what happened to her mother when she was eight. She had been running around the jungle gym, her father standing by with a stopwatch, urging her to climb and crawl faster and faster. He pulled her aside and told her in the parking lot.
When she finally understood exactly what had happened to her mother, Judy asked about getting a big metal bathing suit.
That made her father frown, although there was a hint of a smile about his eyes. A bit of “oh shucks, kids say the darnedest things.”
“They tried that in the first years. But if you were someone men wanted they tore them off with saws. The women died of blood loss come sun-up.”
“What about a castle?”
That made her father snort.
“You’d think that would be the most obvious thing. But I’ll tell you what Judy. If you read the building codes very carefully, you’ll see you can build every kind of house there is… except one that other people can’t get into.
“Oh, they give you a few concessions. They let you put bars on your windows, but not the kind that can’t be pried off. They do it quietly like that, keeping Lights Out dangerous. That way no one has to come out and say ‘What if I want to murder or rape my neighbor?’”
“But… but why does it have to be this way?” Judy cried, putting her hands in her father’s.
“It’s not, Judith. Not for everyone. Some people like it. It’s not bad for them. They have… I don’t know how much you know about this.”
Judy had of course seen several hundred sex “Searches” and being eight, had found them all to be incredibly boring.
“Some people just throw their doors open wide and have whoever comes in, but… that’s not the whole story. For those who don’t want to live that way, there’s another kind of person out to get them. The kind of person that only wants something if they’ve been told they can’t have it. Do you understand?”
Her father made her run.
He said understanding could come later.
Her breathing was ragged. Torn. Not a runner’s breathing at all. Judy followed a mostly unused path up to the dirt road out of the forest. If she got on it, and ran straight till sunrise, another half hour or so, then she could nullify Mr. Larson’s advantage.
What then? Do I just go to school and pretend this didn’t happen? Do I just sit in history class and pretend that Mr. Larson never tried to fuck me?
Part of her knew the answer was yes. Even for her. Even for all her hate, she would be glad to go back into the safety of the classroom, under the safety of the cameras and pretend this had never happened. Even with Mr. Larson.
She could see the road up ahead. All she had to do was run. Just a bit longer. Just a big farther.
“I don’t think it’s safe up there, kiddo,” Mr. Larson hissed from somewhere far below.
Judy didn’t care. Only one footstep and she would be on the road….
A jolt shook her whole body.
A car was parked on the side of the road. Her father’s.
He came after Mr. Larson came. Then he drove around, up here.
Judy looked down, and realized that her leg had been broken in a bear trap.
There’s only two kind of people left, Judith. Only two kinds.
The shameless and the patient.
And you and me, right Dad?
Judy scooted away like a crab, dragging her useless limb with her other three. The car door opened, and she turned away not wanting to see her father step out.
He was smoking. Her father didn’t smoke… except now, when the cameras were off. He reeked of whiskey.
She tried to whisper something, couldn’t.
Her father sauntered over to her, pushed her flat with his heavy hands, and cut at her top with a knife. He ripped the top off with one rough pull, leaving her there in nothing but her bra. He did the same for her pants, until all the was left hung around her broken bear trap leg like a piece of dead skin.
“Shouldn’ta gone to the road, Judith. I told ya not to go to the road.”
She opened her mouth but her father slapped her hard across the face before she could say anything. He’d never struck her before. Never even raised his voice. He pushed her flat on the ground.
“You shouldn’ta gone to the road, Judith!”
Judy put her face flat against the pavement and wept.
“Lights went on out there, then the Lights went off in here. Oh, how it itched at me Judith! Even your mom. Even my wife, who would have given me what I wanted with no fight, I had to take it from her.
“Don’t you see Judy? Don’t you see!”
He straddled her now, toying with her breasts.
She tried to move, couldn’t.
His face bent low, his breath like a tavern.
“I used to watch you in that fucking box of theirs. I used to look at you like a Christmas present, and I waited. Oh I waited so long Judy. I’ve been such a good boy waiting for my Christmas present.”
He ripped her bra off, but she covered herself with her hands as quickly as she could. She tried to move them away to fight, couldn’t.
“Do you know what it was like? Knowing that I could see you naked with just the press of a few buttons? Do you know how hard it was to wait? But I was patient, Judy. So patient.” He nibbled at her ear while he whispered to her.
Her father stood up in a flash. He grabbed the knife she’d carried on her leg, and put it in her hands. Judy looked at the knife trying to remember what it was for, couldn’t.
“I’ll give you one chance. If you’d got here sooner, if I’d been able to have all the fun I wanted to have, well then I probably wouldn’t even give you a chance but….” her father shrugged. He pressed over her again, this time kneading her breasts.
“Why…” her voice was a needle of air, forced through her throat, “… did you teach me… to run?”
Her father laughed like Judy had told the most hilarious joke in the world.
“Why did I teach you to run, Judy?” he slapped her, full across the face. The knife in her hands clattered back to the ground.
“Oh you stupid cunt!” he was crying, blubbering even, “Can’t you see it, you stupid awful cunt? Why did I teach you to run?” Her father wept harder as he tore off her underwear and began to unbuckle his pants.
“I wanted you to get away from me little bitch!”
He spat in her face.
Then Mr. Larson put his axe in her father’s head. He fell forward dead.
Mr. Larson pulled the body off, and laid it by the side of the road. He crossed the arms of her father’s corpse in the classic “I’m Dead” pose. Then Mr. Larson took off his jacket and used it to cover Judy.
“I wasn’t lying Judy. I really did come here to protect you. You’ve got… you’ve got to be able to do the right thing even when no one’s looking.” He smiled. His teeth were urine yellow.
He wanted to kill people and not feel bad about it. He wants you to tell him that killing people is okay. Don’t let him fool you. Judy tried to understand why it was her father’s voice in her head, couldn’t.
Judy stared at the road. The cold and unforgiving road. No expression was discernible on her face. She saw a few cameras set on the street lights.
Fifteen minutes later the sun rose, the streetlights came on, and the cameras flickered to life.
Judy tried to weep for her audience. Couldn’t.
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