In the Reign of King Ronald Drum I, Rex America
By David Hartley Mark
It is becoming too cold and dark to write. This stub of pencil hurts my hand, but no matter. Just before the Drumbeaters grabbed me, I stuffed some lined paper into my pockets, along with the manuscript of the Kabbalah-Jewish Mysticism Commentary I had been working on for the last three years. My family is gone; I do not know where they are. King Ronald Drum and his Hordes of the Night have swallowed them, me, and most of the America we knew and loved; gulped them down, into his gaping, bottomless maw….
It was nighttime when I awoke; the lump on my forehead where the Minute Man Sergeant-Major cracked his brass knuckles is raw and bleeding—how can one hit a man, without anger? It has become far too easy, these days….
We are riding along, through the black, uncaring, godless night, in an open-top boxcar, and I look around. The railroad needs all rolling stock for our planned military assault on the Free State of Canada, for committing the “crime” of harboring American refugees from King Ronald’s wrath. Some of these unfortunates, all wearing torn clothing and bearing the stigmata of beatings, are sharing the car, which hurtles through the night like a lost angel, or arrant demon: former Catholic priests, rabbis like me, Protestant ministers, Islamic imams, atheists, agnostics; writers and editors, news writers, social critics and commentators, fired “radical” university professors; musicians, artists, performers, even a standup comic or two. Who fears an artist, a musician? Gays, transvestites, transgendered—we are all easily visible to one another by the vari-colored triangles that the Drumbeaters forced us to wear, sewn on the left breast and back part of our jackets. We are a crazy quilt of races and ethnicities; we have been dubbed “Threats to the Divine Drum.”
And the snow will not stop falling. From time to time, one of our number, bloody-headed, broken, will climb up the side of the car, boosted by his dearest friends and comrades, grab the rough planks that hem us in, haul himself up-and-over, and jump out, into—where? Certain escape, more likeliy death; better that than where we are going, surely. But I am a coward, shivering with cold, and I determine to see where we are going, to bear witness, and bend to my scrap of paper, writing, writing….
Rumors abound: we are going—where? To the Drumhead Colonies of the New Mexican Conquest, which King Ronald I ordered invaded during Year II of his Reign. He first disbanded the Regular US Armed Forces, and turned the weapons and arsenals over to Chief Regent Misera Pound, who in our—former Democracy?—had been his vice-president, but to whom he handed responsibility for all domestic affairs.
Regent Pound wasted no time: he declared DrumFederalOrder VI: Temporary State of Emergency due to Threat of Domestic Terror and Potential Insurrection, and passed Martial Law on an Indefinite Basis. The rubber stamp National Assembly, made up of former State Campaign Chairs for the Drum Movement, passed it without a murmur, after the Regent disbanded Congress—he surrounded it with members of the National Arms Association, and “strongly suggested that they go home, to strengthen DrumbeatThink in their home districts.”
It was an effective method. It really didn’t take that much effort, or time, to kill Democracy in America….
King Ronald took over—stole leadership of?—both the US Dept. of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service and placed them under his Regime’s direct supervision, using their databanks to issue Official US National ID Cards, using everyone’s Social Security Number to track every citizen—track them down, actually. Some resident foreign nationals and illegal immigrants—who would have thought this would a good time to be an illegal immigrant?—escaped his nationwide dragnet, and escaped to either the Free State of Canada, which hunkered down behind the DrumWall which King Ronald built to contain the thousands—millions?—of American refugees seeking sanctuary beneath the Maple Leaf Flag, or to South America, where Costa Rica and other states offered refuge to any North American who could render their economy useful service. Ironic, that the same countries against whom he fulminated during his campaign should become places of refuge for those Americans whom he swore to protect….
Ronald is threatening to invade these lands, but he must bide his time, and seek ways to rebuild his strength, following mass resignations by the US professional officers’ corps and soldiery, now scattered and leaderless among the general American population.
There are rumors that former Secretary of State Cowell is hiding somewhere in the Rocky Mountains with a cadre of trusted lieutenants, but no one knows what to believe, nowadays. After King Ronald took over the US CellPhone Industry, and his regime forced every citizen to give up their phones and receive “improved” ones chained to our wrists, we receive only the “official news” that his people put out—BBC and RadioCanada are jammed, mostly….
For those of us who could not, or refused to, see the threat that King Ronald posed to our Democracy, it quickly became too late to escape. We were caught like rats in a trap. I suppose the first warning came with the opening of offices to enlist what was called the Drumbeat Minute Men (MM’s), initially advertised using the Internet and TV, of course—as an alternative to the Regular Armed Forces, but rapidly overtaking them in numbers, after Speaker Bryan, who became King Ronald’s Official Public Spokesman, led a series of televised “Town Hall Meetings” featuring professional actors dressed as real-looking “ordinary folks,” and assured them that the MM’s would get first pick of the “Amazing Jobs for a Fantastic New American Age” which the Drum Administration—they still called it an Administration, ‘way back then—was preparing.
I still remember the TV Programs—propaganda commercials, really—with King Ronald making his familiar Chef Boy-Preh-Dee thumb-and-forefinger curl and shouting,
“Yes, lots of jobs—good, good jobs! Amazing jobs! Fantastic jobs!”
And that smile—like a shark’s, only without teeth. It haunts me in my sleep: blinking on-and-off, on-and-off, like an electric light. It is everywhere, from the billboards they put up. His voice: bellowing his speeches, night and day. He has become The Beloved Drum, or Dear King Ronald One: that is how we must refer to him, among one another, or face quick and painful consequences….
I suppose that the same folks—desperate young folks, in particular, but a lot of elderly, desperate people, too—who were taken in by King Ronald’s high-speed huckstering during the Last Presidential Campaign were similarly fooled by the MM ploy. They flocked to the Recruitment Stations, were duly photographed and enlisted, receiving black uniforms “modeled on the same style as that worn by our Dear King Ronald.”
What appeared strange at first, however, was the insistence that every recruit, male and female, be anesthetized for the sake of receiving a “special tattoo” in the right armpit—supposedly, it held their Official MM ID Number, visible only under ultraviolet light.
When the recruits awoke from the anesthesia the next morning, they were surprised to discover that, in addition to the tattoo—which was plainly visible under blacklight, as promised—a small patch of hair, just above the ear, was also shaved away, on both sides, but the recruiting team assured them that this was just to identify them instantly as Drumbeater Minute Men. They were told to keep those little bald spots clean and dry for a couple of days, until they had a chance to heal—but why should a simple, shaven area need to heal?
It did seem strange—though the large number of tattoo artists, formerly on the outskirts of society, were happy to be embraced by the King Ronald Club, the new name given to the Publican Party, which had successfully run Candidate Drum for the US Presidency….
Things were happening quickly; too quickly, it seemed. We slower, duller Liberal Progressives didn’t know what to do. When an anonymous team of assassins firebombed the Arizona home of Progressive Candidate Ernie Flanders, we were all shocked and dismayed. Ernie, his wife Sylvia, and their Schnauzer, Michael Harrington, died in the holocaust. The King Ronald Internet News Outlet, The People’s Drum, said “conclusively” that Ernie's killers were from SISI, a NearEastern Terrorist Group, though this was never proven—both the FBI and CIA had been disbanded, and renamed the Drum Inter-External Security Dept., with its main offices moved from Washington, DC, to Drum Tower in New York City, with younger son Baldric in charge. Bernie, Sylvia, and the dog’s ashes were scattered at sea before their thousands of supporters “could be informed,” making a Memorial Service impossible to be organized.
Worse, at the time of his death, Senator Flanders had yet to concede his loss in his race for the US Commonweal Party Presidential Nomination to former State Department Secretary Jillian Swinton.
Because, shocked by her colleague’s death, fearful for her own life, unable to further articulate her own message clearly, Swinton groped her way through the remainder of the campaign, with most of Flanders’s diehards deciding to protest by not voting at all. The Commonweal Party, which had hoped to provide a more open-minded alternative to Ronald Drum’s right-wing extremist views, split clean in half along Flanders-Swinton lines.
Election Day dawned cold and raw over much of the nation, finding Drum’s bullyboys surrounding the polls, openly threatening those Commonweal Party members who carried signs on Swinton’s behalf, or desperately coming to vote for Swinton and buck the Drum onslaught. Despite well-known rules against electioneering near the polls, the Drum supporters were overheard whispering to them,
“Watch yourself, Commie. What happened to Old Ernie could happen to you. We know where you live.”
On the early morning of Election Day, while a series of 911 calls summoned the police to other parts of town, a mysterious series of bombings rocked various ethnic neighborhoods, killing hundreds of people of color. In Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Little Rock, and other metropolises nationwide, potential voters cowered in their homes, and the police, exhausted by running all over town to cover every possible threat, resorted to declaring martial law. The US National Guard was called out to protect poorer neighborhoods, while the Publican Party provided car services and chartered buses for their supporters to get out the vote. People drove to the polls in style, and Drum became president by a landslide….
Which leads me back to this freezing railroad train, on its way to—where? I have heard rumors that “troublemakers” like me will be deported to “our countries of original origin”—Poland, of all places, though my parents and grandmother were born here. The Drum International Peaceful Resettlement Organization has set up—Polish factories? Work camps?—where “you people can prove your usefulness,” as an MM Colonel told us, just before a squad of his MM goons with attack dogs and whips herded us into the open boxcars. And then, the snow started falling.
Before they forced us onto the train, we had to empty our pockets, and I lost my life’s work, my pages on Kabbalah, when an MM forced me to remove my lined leather jacket. When I protested the cold, he grabbed a ragged fleece from a pile, and thrust it at me. I had barely enough time to take it, and here, surrounded by my colleagues—the group to my right is discussing String Theory; across the car, they are comparing Gersonides’ and Maimonides’ definitions of God—is God here, in this open boxcar?
I put my hands into the jacket pockets—they were freezing. I found there a scrap of paper. Taking it out, I saw it was a bit of page from a lost siddur, a prayerbook. It read, “Shma Yisroel—Hear, O’ Israel”—the most fundamental, loving prayer I know—
Is God then, in this Place? He must be.
As the train hurtles on through the night, an Orphan of the Drum-Storm, taking us only God Knows Where, I listen to the murmuring around me: Science. Mathematics. Art History. Theology. I smile.
Humanity—American Civilization—may have lost for now, but we are not done yet.
Rumors abound. Who will rescue us? Israel? The United Nations? NATO?
I wish we had done something earlier to stop Drum…but it’s too late, now. Or is it?
Dawn is breaking. If I stand up, even briefly amid the rocking and swaying of this ancient train, I can see a mountain range. (If we escaped, how long could we survive, in the mountains?) Perhaps the day will warm up. Still, I feel warmer now, among my brothers and sisters: we are rebels, all of us.
“I look to the mountains, whence cometh my help.
My help is the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth….”
I sigh: a sigh of resignation, mixed with hope….
Sadly, it really didn’t take all that much to kill Democracy in America….