In the segment of "The Country/The Country," my political thriller set in a fictional country resembling our own, I posted today, events move to a crisis in the small city of Monro, where Voting Day is about to take place.
Keel, the novel's principal character, a retired teacher living a largely self-contained existence, has learned that the Leading Candidate in his country's election of a new leader -- a loud-mouthed, rabble-rousing businessman called 'Pig'-- is bringing his frenzied campaign to Keel's city of Monro.
In chapters 22 to 24, (here's the link:
Keel comes face-to-face with the campaign's violent, bullying tendencies, as ordinary citizens cower in their homes. Somehow the nastier details of the Pig gang's takeover of the small cities on the campaign trail never seem to make into the popular news media: cars stolen, drunken parties, confiscations of booze, food and firearms. Plus some short-term disappearances among the female population.
To add to his s own anxiety, the opposition has chosen Keel to confront Pig in person.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter 24, "Vikings of the Road."
The Pigglies who traveled with the leading candidate called themselves "Road-Kings." Some special in-group faction of these christened themselves "V-8 Kings," a motorhead term that sounded to Keel like Vee-Kings, raising echoes of an ancient, perhaps legendary wave of invaders called Vikings. So in Keel's thoughts they became Vikings of the Road.
However named, or nameless, they arrived in force, overwhelmed their opponents, ferreted out opposition leaders, especially those critical of Pig, and hung them in effigy from lampposts. Sometimes, if the opposition did not cave and cower immediately, but stimulated the deeper foul and feral instincts of the attackers, they hung women too, letting their colorfully draped bodies swing in the air as warnings to the locals and stimulants to the sadism of their own followers. A subterranean current of angry rapacity they could tap as needed. If they turned it on, it would flow.
In his own dream-haunted consciousness he saw the engines left to roar even after the vanguard arrived and secured the Capitol Zone, pulling their machines up onto the grass and staking them on the broad lawns. Tents would be planted there soon and on other nearby green spaces, the few square blocks of city commons where an occasional monument served as a tent pole.
He saw more; day-dreamed more deeply. He could not turn away.
The newcomers surged over the landscape, set fires to warm themselves, broke out their canteens and flasks, smashed a few windows when they found doors locked against them, rousted out a mayor's aide and a handful of councilors from City Hall to serve as guides and local reference sources (the mayor himself, a secret Pig ally, having been tipped off and allowed to flee to the city's sub-lands), then began to tamp down some of the engine-roar so long as the local populace remained suitably cowed.
After which they began looking for stuff. Drink and provisions came first, of course. Then girls, a little later.
The nearby markets were quickly looted. Employees fled at the sight of the approaching Pigglies, their beards, their bellies, and their girth; and their flesh marked with arcane symbologies... He recalled momentarily the opposing symbols of guerilla graffiti artists; the comparatively harmless 'Kevvens.'
Now he kept off the main roadways, hearing from these wider spaces the aching sound of car alarms, loudspeakers, and the screeching of brakes typically followed by the deeper bang of collision, but on this occasion simply by louder sirens. He did not walk toward these noises.
He followed the residential streets that looked as if the sirens had done their clearing work, for now nobody was venturing out of doors, even to stand on a porch and crane a neck at the sky.
Block after empty block. Angry noises in the distance, no one on the sidewalk or the streets. The occasional vehicle pawing slowly up to intersection to take a fearful peek before making a turn. Its driver rigid and anonymous behind the wheel. The corner shop closed, locked down for the night hours before nightfall. Dog owners bade their pets to stay inside and hold it. The cats were in closets, whining.
By the time he came within blocks of the Capitol Zone -- the distance of a long shout in the street that no one would hear -- the compounding of sirens and amplified PA noise rose to a volume beyond which ordinary conversation could not be attempted. Keel imagined pointing to his ears and shaking his head if anyone else manifested on the street, but no one did.
Faces appeared at the upper windows of the four and five story apartment blocks, looking dumbstruck, dazed. Beyond the last brick building, the view opened and he spied a few scurrying figures, walking hurriedly away from the center, their bodies hunched forward as if lowering the head to protect the ears. They did not look at Keel or anyone else, but hurried past. Homeward, he supposed -- or hoped. Unless their homes had already proved unviable, commandeered by the intruders or rendered unbearable by the constant noise or foul exhausted air, and they were now hastening to some more distant sanctuary.
Fugitives from the party: hands shoved deep into pockets, features raw, red-eyed, perhaps from passing through smoky patches.
Keel thought about trying to stop someone, forcibly, to demand an account.
What's going on? What are you afraid of?
But it would be like trying to lay hands on a tempest.
Then smoke reached his senses, flowed thickly in streams, borne by the wind.
He ducked into a narrow alley, a final sanctuary between cramped buildings, and studied the prospect of Capitol Plaza between volleys of smoke. He saw the bonfires, wood fires sprinkled with trash, burning on the Plaza lawn and others spread across the old town green like pustules from a raving fever. He saw the brightly colored tents, planted here and there where the green space allowed.
He saw what he took to be dummies, effigies, hanging from the lamp posts. Some clad in what looked like business suits. He heard the loud pulsing sounds of what he supposed was meant to be music. What did they call it -- Crash Music? Train Wreck? Dead Mental?
A small knot of men, suited but not wearing overcoats, huddled on the stone portico outside the main entrance to the District Capitol building, the old stone heart of the Capitol Zone. Its carved columns gave little protection from the elements, the stiff late-winter wind, whiffs of smoke blown by a cross-breeze into their faces.
One of the men, gray-headed (possibly a mayor's aide, Keel thought) began to cough.
The noise grew, as if amplified by open space. He did not know what he would do if anyone approached him, but no one did.
He left the alley and walked slowly toward the smoky fires, a jumble of waste wood and garbage at their base, dismembered chairs dispersed among them. Toward the human figures dispersed across the lawns, some edging in or out of tents: the central one of these a big circular, party-looking big-show shelter; the others triangular, monochrome, with tent-pole spines and a revivalist aspect. People gathered, unhurried, looking at home here unlike the fugitives hurrying way. They wore big-shouldered jackets, sports caps, belts with chains; men and women dressed alike. Figures merged, broke away, threw their heads back and laughed, lifted cans or bottles to their mouths. Some strode purposefully away from the plaza lawn to the town green on the other side of a rectangular big-shot parking area, the green's civic monuments now draped with the tent cloths and plastic layers of improvised shelter. Others strode from the green back toward the plaza, pausing to slap hands or greet others, shouting 'hallo!s' to acquaintances.
The carnival air of these ambulatory figures contrasted so strongly from the cowed, fugitive aspect of those escaping the city center -- and (he noticed) the huddle of anxious figures planted outside the city hall entrance -- that Keel struggled to understand what he was seeing in this transfiguration of a once familiar setting; to assimilate these new impressions.
Festival? Or conquest? It took him a moment to convince himself that the people he was now critically regarding were the campaign followers of one Karol Pegasso...
The Pigglies. Creatures of his dreams, nightmares...
Their dreamlike aspect changed as a pair drew closer. Noticed him, exchanged a glance, turned his way.Large men, two of them.
For more see:
"Second-act crisis" implies there's much more to come. There is. I will be posting new segments of my serial novel twice a week from now through the November election.