Catharsis (Side Dish)

From the back of the truck, I could see everything. The blaze bearing down on buildings of cold, seemingly impenetrable steel. Skyscrapers raising twenty, thirty feet into the air, swarmed in flames. As I watched, a metallic scraping noise could be heard, the ruining of their foundations. Were I closer, I would have seen the edifices bending and buckling ominously, preparing to topple over and crush the men in black coats below. All the civilians had long fled Crofton, taking to the streets in large bands, hoping to be protected from plunderers and the like. Only the most rugged of police officers remained, though their presence would, in a short time, become totally obsolete. The city was now irrevocably overrun by the rebels, or Black Coats, as was their popular name. There was no hope left.

Men clad in tones of death surrounded me, leering down at their prisoner. As my gaze swept over them, I fell into an old habit. Had I killed this man's family? Or the one with the beard. Maybe I'd ordered some relative of his to be assassinated. The redheaded woman, the sole female kidnapper, looked vaguely familiar. Had a friend of hers been a recent death? She certainly threw glares with enough venom for that to be true.

Throughout the whole trek up to this hilltop, she and a black-haired, barrel-chested man had tried their hand at shaking my confidence.

"Justin Croft," Ginger crooned, "'The future is now.'"

My trademark saying, the one that had won the fickle approval of people.

"Your future is over." The man snarled. In his hands, he held a rifle, caressing the barrel of it as though running his fingers through a lover's hair.

"You think you can hold my future in your greasy hands." I said softly.

"I know I do. Look at you! You're a failure!" Greaseball belted out a laugh.

I shuddered, turning away from the repulsive noise back to Crofton. In the center had been the city's presidential home, glorious in its immaculate garden and sweeping windows, bordered with white and blue carnations. Of course, it was currently being broken down to its components of singular bricks and wooden boards. The last sight I had ever had of my former home was of urchins in black coats felling the sky-blue shutters, watching them burst into splintered fragments. Wincing, I recalled the blood spattered on the front door, the same life essence that had coated my chalky white hands.

"Promise me-!" Alicia's face twisted in grief as she expired.

"What? Promise you what! Alicia!" I bellowed, perceiving the hot liquid pouring in every direction, yet chiefly flowing over me, down the hands which cradled her wounded head. Gently, I set her broken body on the floor, and leapt to my feet, nostrils flaring, fists clenched. "Curse all of you! She had done nothing!"

"She made her choice." Ginger whispered, raising her pistol so that it was level with my forehead.

I fought wildly with the two Black Coats that seized my arms, but to no avail. It was over.

"Promise you what?" I muttered. God knew I would do anything for the woman, even now. Especially now.

Catching on, Greaseball leaned in closer, and declared, "That woman you were clinging to yesterday, she was righteous. It's a shame she messed around with scum like you. I would've liked to know her, if you get my drift."

"Your mockery has little effect on me, child." I said through gritted teeth. "Alicia was a fine lady, and would never have associated with the likes of you urchins."

"Not what I hear." Ginger chimed in. "I heard that she used to run with a tougher crowd when she was younger, until you carted her off. If I'm not mistaken, she was actually the daughter of Jeff Grimes."

My eyes flashed at that name.

"Oh, I forgot. You two didn't like each other." She continued.

"That's a bit of an understatement." I allowed. "The urchin."

"He was the only one who dared stand up to you. He was the one voice we had, and what did you do? You killed him." Greaseball said in disgust.

"Were you a friend of his?" I swiped my tongue ostentatiously over my upper lip.

"Everyone here looked up to Jeff." Ginger informed me. "The Black Coats formed because of him!"

"And here I thought they formed because of me, and my tyranny. Gee."

Greaseball sent a blow to my head with his massive hand.

"Neanderthal." I sneer. "Resorting to violence the second words become complex, and lack innuendos. What a fine leader you'll make someday."

"You're right. It's absolutely better to simply obliterate any opponents you have, Justin Croft." Ginger retaliated.

The corners of my lips curved up.

"You, Ginger, might have done well on my side. It's a shame."

She made a noise of dissent, and remarked to Greaseball, "He speaks as if he has a gun to our heads, and not the reversal."

"Speaking of which," I smirked, "when are we planning to use said gun? I'm all for drawn-out executions, except when they are mine."

"You've got about twenty minutes left!" A unisex Black Coat called.

"Don't you worry about time, Justin Croft." Ginger said in her mocking sing-song. "Just keep your eyes fixed on those buildings."

A groan came from my chest.

"You stupid creatures!" I snapped. "That city is my life's work! Why tear it apart? Why is killing its president not enough?"

"For this moment alone." Ginger whispered with relish. "To see you break."

Cursing them under my breath, I set my eyes on the flames below. These were my final moments. Why indulge them? But oh, the sight of Crofton ablaze drilled a hole in my heart! My final comfort denied me. The streets would be littered now with disheveled parts of buildings, whole bricks, shattered glass. These sleazy creatures would be working their way through each one, stripping them of all that was salvageable, all that was mine.

And of course, the memory of Alicia dying in my arms, indifferent onlookers preparing to kidnap me. She should not have died. Alicia, simple but beautiful Alicia, had never been a party to the murders committed in my name. She knew little of the actual government, as was her want.

"I don't want to hear about the life you lead when we're apart. It's your burden, not mine." That had been the night preceding their marriage. I could remember it without fault. Before it, our love had gone unprofessed, our bond informal and undefined. Yet that evening, an errant word had sparked an argument, a silly thing, but resulting in their respective confessions of feelings, and in the end, a marriage proposal.

"I've waited forever to meet a girl like you." I sighed.

A forever of delays, and a tragic end. Very little room for happiness between. All that waiting, gone to waste, just as my city had.

"Do you ever feel remorse?" A different Black Coat leaned against the truck and spat on the ground. "You killed a good number of people."

"Do you feel remorse?" I countered. "You did as well."

There was silence.

"I thought not."

Ginger recovered first. "It was for the greater good."

"And scum like you don't count!" Greaseball put in. "You're a murderer."

"And what of Alicia? She barely knew what was going on in Crofton. You killed her to break me." Then to myself in an undertone, "Promise you what?"

"A casualty of war." Ginger affirmed. "The lives of your whores are meaningless, anyway."

Seething, I writhed against the ropes that bound me, shouting obscenities at the flame-haired woman. How dare she!

"I think it's time." Greaseball announced. Twenty heads lifted up from where they had gathered, a few feet away. A handful of documents were stowed carefully in the crumb-lined pockets of their black garments.

"There will be swift retribution for this!" I swore. "Not by my hand, but by those who stood with me. They will outnumber you one day, and they will honor me and my wife as we are due. You say you work for the greater good. I did too. You think me wrong to sacrifice a few lives for a general state of well-being, yet what do you do? I'm no monster, and you had better remember that."

Ginger gave him a withering look, and then began to clap. Initially, I actually believed it was applause, but it had a stern rhythm. A drumbeat, almost. Greaseball joined in, and in a short while, all the Black Coats were clapping.

"Turn to face that city one last time!" Ginger shouted over the sound.

I did. It was ruined. I was ruined. And as I felt the barrel of that rifle pressed to my temple, I knew I had never seen anything more beautiful.

One final time, I murmured so that Ginger could hear, "Promise me."

By: Steph Kenific