Prompt: “A world on fire.”
My entire world burned. Flames moved like hungry animals, consuming whatever they could find. Bright flashes of dark reds and oranges, taking over my vision and my home. Buildings fell with tremendous crashes, echoing the crackle of the flames.
In a situation like this, one would expect these sounds to accompany screams of panic and worry, but they didn’t. The entire city was silent as we watched it burn. In fact, most people weren’t bothered at all, and sat reading books or continuing work.
This was a normal thing for us, ever since the beginning of the Phoenix Act. In fact, I’m only twenty and have now been present at three Phoenix burnings in my lifetime.
The Phoenix Acts started about sixty years ago, when a couple of revolutionaries demanded the right to rewrite the government. They drew from the Declaration of Independence, specifically the clause that states that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Thus the Phoenix Acts were born, an idea that if the government failed the people, they had a right to burn it down and rebuilt it from the ashes.
This last burning stemmed from the failure of the former Congress to work together to reach decisions. For years they were in gridlock and the people threatened calling a Phoenix vote.
It worked as a fear tactic for a while, but the representatives couldn’t work together, so a Phoenix vote really was called. Those for a rebuilding of government won out and now here we stand, watching our cities burn.
Don’t get me wrong, people here aren’t head-over-heels for the Phoenix Acts. Everyone appreciates the idea of being able to rebuild a faulty government, but the burning down of cities wastes money and calls for more of it to go into rebuilding them. It takes months after each burning to rebuild apartments and other buildings, and the money required is more than just a small sum.
People have suggested not actually burning the entire city down when a new government is instituted. Others have threatened a Phoenix burning of the Phoenix Acts themselves. Nevertheless, traditionalists and symbolism-lovers alike say that the act is a necessary and patriotic part of our country. These same people also donate large sums of money and time to help rebuild the cities, and none of the citizens pay for their material possessions in the first place, so everyone goes along with their ideas and the Acts are always rewritten into the Constitution at the inception of each new government.
As I mentioned earlier, this is my third Phoenix burning. The last two were when I was no older than ten, so watching from an adult’s point of view is new for me. I look around, making sure to stand behind the safety line so as not to be hurt by any jumping embers, and watch as a whole city full of people ignores their former homes as they begin to burn. They all know they’ll get new, probably better, homes once the burning is over, and were all smart enough to pack their prized possessions before coming out to the borderline of the city.
I stood at the front of all of the people with a duffel bag of my material possessions. It wasn’t much, seeing as I had just moved into a house of my own when the burning was announced. A small part of me ached for that house which I had just been assigned. I knew one day it would most likely be burned, but I didn’t expect it to be so quickly.
Soon enough, the burning ended and the city retreated into the small bunkers on the edge of the city, specifically meant for this moment, when no city was left and everything was a blank canvas. I stayed out there, looking into where the city stood and wondering what it would look like next time.
I stood there until it got dark and they called us to retire to our rooms. I complied, though I couldn’t taking my eyes off of the smoking remains. The small room I had been assigned in the bunker wasn’t nearly as nice as my house had been, but I knew I would need to get used to it, for I would be there until they had built and assigned me a new house in the city. That could take anywhere from a week to months, and seeing as I was young and healthy, it would probably be closer to the latter.
One of the more radical changes put into place by an old Phoenix burning and the constitution that followed was that no more money would be used in the hands of individuals, but only in the hands of the government to pay for goods outside of the country. This was used as a way to guarantee that no one would speak out against the Phoenix Acts for fear of losing the houses and furniture they had acquired with their hard-earned money. To many, it sounded like a good way not to worry about the burnings and to gain new houses and furniture without working for it, so the idea passed.
Other beneficial changes that have come into play through the Phoenix Acts include the abolition of political parties, the development of better public education systems, and definitive immigration laws. Many of these changes were debated in the old world, but never got through into laws. Now they reign in our country, and it is all the better for it.
Along with the beneficial changes, many malignant changes have been proposed, but none had ever gone through.
Then the new constitution came along.
It turned out I was back in a new home in only a month, and by that time they had fully rewritten the Constitution as well. It was officially presented to the people on the day I moved in.
A representative of the government gave a speech that was telecast across the country. He stood on a podium in his steel grey business suit, reading blandly from a piece of paper, “Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of the United States of America, I read to you today the new Constitution for this country, rewritten after the Phoenix burning of April 16, 2245.” He read the beginnings of the constitution, which is almost always the same and always includes a phrase guaranteeing the rights of the Phoenix Acts.
Everything seems as regular as usual, with a few new clauses added in to alleviate the problems experienced before, until the very end.
“Article 26 allows the use of capital punishment in cases of extreme crime, if, and only if, the procedure follows those explained in the new and updated Federal Health Administration’s handbook on capital punishment procedures.”
It will suffice to say that people were confused as to what this last Article meant, or why it was in the constitution at all. No one had access to the FHA’s handbook yet, as it was still being rewritten, so no one knew what the government had in store for us.
It was three months later when they first released the news. This new form of capital punishment, which of course had been outlawed in past constitutions and now was being brought back, was supposedly not death at all. At least, that’s how they were validating it. The process included putting the criminal into an induced coma, and then harvesting each of their organs for use in organ donations across the country. If the criminal’s organs were still living, they technically weren’t dead, and they were helping others. No one could make a case that this was cruel and unusual punishment, as in the past they had just been killed.
For many, the new procedure meant nothing. It seemed like a good idea, and since not very many people were criminals worthy of capital punishment, no one spoke out. That is until the practice spread. It was into retirement homes and insane asylums that it cropped up first. Unwritten accounts of certain patients being deemed past salvation and treated the same as criminals so that someone in a nearby hospital would have a new heart, or liver, or kidney. No one spoke about it except in hushed whispers, but these whispers moved quickly through society and caused an alarming unrest. People worried about sending their old to homes or their unstable to institutions, but the process still didn’t affect a great number of us and after a few years, it became only like urban legends and stories to scare children at night.
Then before we all knew it, pushes to make the process more popular began to show up in Congress. After only another year, the Process had become a punishment used for anything from vehicular homicide to vagrancy to juvenile delinquency. There was always another person in a hospital somewhere that justified the need for donations, and there was always another politician explaining how much good these people were doing and how they weren’t really dead and were living on to help others.
By this time I was twenty-four and looking for employment after college.
That’s how I got drafted into working at one of the Donation centers, and for years now I’ve worked with people of all ages as a nurse and counselor. I know my way around the process and around the system like the back of my hand, almost better than a doctor.
I met everyone: senior citizens, wanted criminals, workers from every field, all who had committed crimes or been labelled as useless. Of course, they were never actually useless, because, as the government said, they could donate and help dozens of people.
The worst were the kids, some as young as ten years old, who had been labelled as problem-children and sent to donate so that they would be doing some good. The more I watched children go into those operating theatres and never come out, the more my heart wrenched and the more I knew that this bullshit about them living on was purely that: bullshit.
I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew I had to do something. So I took a lesson from Old World History and started my very own Underground Railroad, which was, of course, not underground and not a railroad. Right before kids were supposed to be harvested, I helped them out of the building and sent them running. I couldn’t save everyone because if one kid every day escaped, I would be caught immediately, but I started saving as many as I could without being suspicious, believing I was doing my part in trying to lessen their burden.
The donors kept coming, though. Soon enough, they were pouring in so quickly that I felt like every citizens was now being donated. With more and more donors, my work helping a couple escape every couple of weeks wasn’t doing much, and soon enough the donation centre majorly updated their security. I knew if I wanted to make a difference, it was going to take a lot bigger of an action.
So I was back to drawing board, not knowing what to do, when I remember how we got here. I finally had an idea, and one that I thought to be brilliant, and all I needed was for others to follow my lead.
Knowing that pulling off the plan by myself wasn’t going to change anything, I got into contact with other centers. I sent out an underground link of information explaining my plan to many, and trusting that the people I had told wouldn’t report me to the government. For that very reason, I picked the people I spoke to carefully, and told them they had to be careful who they shared it with.
By the time it had gotten far enough for someone to report us, we were already ready to pull our plan off. On May 21st, 2250, the exact day that the government had gotten wind of our operation, we set out to complete our plan. It wasn’t a particularly complex plan, but when carried out in almost all of the donation centres across the country, it sure did make a statement.
It started with getting the donors out, which took more planning than we thought. In waves we moved people out, and by the time the guards had noticed we had gotten enough of them out and moved onto the second phase of the plan. This one was a bit more ardent.
The doors were locked from the outside, and those not smart enough or too despicable too leave locked inside. We never planned on killing people, but by the time we had put the plan into motion, so much anger and adrenaline was pumping through my veins that I didn’t stop to think. It only took one glance at all of the people who were about to be killed while giving donations and one small flame, started by a match thrown from my hand, and soon enough the entire building was in ashes on the ground.
For the fourth time in my life I watched a world on fire, but this time, the fire in my heart matched the ones devouring the hell in front of me.
Thanks to Netflix’s Daredevil for this prompt!
Photo used under Creative Commons from Matthias Ripp