would be the hope of many that it would NEVER come to such a conflict.
Sunrise at Coffin Rock
Thomas sat alone upon the cold stone, shivering slightly in the chilly pre-dawn
air of this April morning. The flashlight was turned off, resting beside him on
the bare granite of Coffin Rock, and involuntarily he strained his eyes in the
gray non-light of the false dawn, trying to make out the shapes of the trees,
and the mountains across the river. Below, he could hear the chuckling of the
water as it crossed the polished stones. How many times had he fished there,
his grandfather beside him.
He tried to shrug away the memories, but why else had he come here except to
remember. Perhaps to escape the inevitable confrontation with
his mother. She would have to be told sooner or later, but Thomas
infinitely preferred later.
How could he explain that? The endless arguments. The whispered warnings. The subtle
threats. Dennis had told him to expect this. Dennis had lost his parents
back in the First Purge back in 2004, and his bitter hatred of the State's iron
rule had failed to ruin him only because of his unique and accomplished
abilities as an actor. Only with Thomas did he open up. Only with Thomas did he
relate the things he had earned while in the Youth Reeducation Camp near
Charleston. Thomas shuddered.
It was his own fault, he knew. He should have kept his mouth shut like Dennis
told him. All of his friends had come and shook his hand and pounded him on the
back. "That's telling them, Adams!" they said. But their voices were
hushed and they glanced over their shoulders as they congratulated him. And
later, when the "volunteers" of the Green Ribbon Squad kicked
his _ _ all over the shower room, they
had stood by in nervous silence, their faces turned away, their eyes averted,
and their tremulous voices silent.
He sighed. Could he blame them. He'd been afraid too,
when the squad walked up and surrounded him, and if he could have taken back
those proud words he would have. Anyone is afraid when they can't fight back,
he'd discovered. So they taught him a lesson, and he had
expected it to end there. But then yesterday had come
the call to Dr. Morton's office, and the brief hearing that had ended his
career at the university. "Thomas," Morton had intoned, "You owe
everything to the State."
The light was growing now. He could see the pale, rain-washed granite in the
grayness as if it glowed. Coffin Rock was now a knob, a raised promontory that
jutted up from a wide, unbroken arm of the mountain's stony roots, its cover of
soil pushed away. There were deep gouges scraped across the surface of the rock
where the backhoe had tried, vainly, to force the mountain to reveal its
secrets. He was too old to cry now, but Thomas Adams closed his eyes tightly as
he relived those moments that had forever changed his life.
The shouts and angry accusations as the agents found no secret arms cache still
seemed to ring in his ears. They had threatened him with arrest, and once he
had thought the government agent named Goodwin wouId
actually strike him. At last, though, they had accepted defeat and turned down
the mountain, following the gashed trail of the back-hoe as it rumbled ahead
through the woods.
At home, he had found his mother and father standing, ashen faced, in the
"They took your grandpa," his father said in disbelief. "Just
after you left, they put him in a van and took him. "
"But they said they wouldn't!" Thomas had shouted. He ran across the
yard to the old man's cottage. The door was standing open and he wandered from
room to room calling for the grandfather he would never see alive again.
It was his heart, they said. Two days after they had taken him, someone called
and tersely announced that the old man had died at the indigent clinic a few
hours after his arrest "Sorry," the faceless voice had muttered.
Thomas had wept at the funeral, but it was only in later years that he had come
to understand the greatest tragedy of that day-that the old man had died alone,
knowing that his own grandson had betrayed him.
That grandson was Thomas Adams, and he was now too old to cry but in the
growing light of the cold mountain dawn, he did anyway. Thomas was certain that
his father's de-certification six months later was due to the debacle in the
forest. As much as anyone did these days, they had "owned" their
home, but the Certification Board would still have evicted them except for the
intervention of Cousin Lou, who worked for the State Supervisor. As it was,
they lost all privileges and, when his father came down with pneumonia the next
autumn, medical treatment was denied. He had died three days after the first
anniversary of Grandpa's death.
Thomas had been sure that he would be turned down at the University, but once
again his cousin had intervened and a slot had "opened" for him. But
now that's finished he reflected He would be unable to obtain any certification
other than manual laborer. "Why didn't I keep my mouth shut" he asked
the morning stillness. In a tree behind him, a mockingbird began to sing its
ageless song, and as if in answer, the forest below began to twitter and chirp
with the voices of other birds, greeting the new day.
No, what he had said had been the truth and nothing could change that. The State
was wrong. It was evil. It was unnatural for men to be slaves of their
government, always skulking, always holding their tongues lest they anger The
State. But there is no "State," Thomas considered. There are only
evil men, holding power over other men. And anyone who speaks out, who dares to
challenge that power, is crushed.
If only there was a way to fight back!
Thomas shifted on the stone, hanging his feet off the downhill side. His feet
had almost touched the grass that day, but now, although his legs were
certainly longer, it was at least ten inches to the scarred rock surface below.
As he kicked his heels back and forth, he could almost hear his grandfather
speaking to him from long ago...
"One day, America will come to her senses. Our men will need those guns
and they'll be ready. We cleaned them and sealed them up good' they'll last for
years. Maybe it won't be in your lifetime, Thomas. Maybe one day you'll be
sitting here with your son or grandson. Tell him about me, boy. Tell him about the
way I said America used to be. "You see the way this stone points."
the old man was saying. "You follow that line one hundred feet..."
Thomas' heels were suddenly still. For many minutes he did not move, playing
those words over and over in his mind. "...Follow that line..."
What hidden place in his brain had concealed those words all of these years.
How could the threats have failed to dislodge it. He
stood upon shaky legs and climbed down from Coffin Rock. In his mind's eye, he
could see the old man pointing and he walked down the hill and through a
clinging briar patch, counting off the paces. The round stone did seem solidly
buried, but he scratched around near the base and found that the rock ended
just an inch or so beneath the surface. "One man with a good bar can lift
it," Grandfather had said. Thomas forced his fingers beneath the stone
and, with all the strength in his 21-year-old body, he lifted. The stone came
up, and he slid it off to one side. Cool air drifted up from the dark opening
in the mountain. Thomas looked to the right where the scars of the State's
frustration ended, only 15 or 20 feet away. They had been that close.
He squatted and stared into the darkness and then remembered his flashlight. In
a moment, he was back with it, probing into the darkness with the yellow beam.
There was a small patch of moisture just inside, but then the tunnel climbed
upwards toward the ridge. On hands and knees, he entered.
It was uncomfortably close for the first 20 feet or so, then
the cavern opened up around him. The men who had built this place, he saw, had
taken a natural crevice in the granite rock, sealed it with masses of poured
concrete, and then covered it with earth. The main chamber was bigger than the
living room of a house, and they had left an opening up near the peak of the
vaulted roof where fresh air and a faint, filtered light entered.
Wooden boxes and crates were stacked everywhere on concrete blocks,
up off of the floor, stenciled with legends like, RIFLE, CAL. 30 M1, 9MM PARA,
M193 BALL, 7.62 x 39MM, and 5.56MM. He pushed between them and crawled to the
wall where he found cardboard boxes wrapped with plastic sheeting. They were
imprinted with strange names like CCI, OLIN, WW748, BULLSEYE, and RL 550B. He
did not know what the crates and boxes contained, and was afraid to break the
seals, but near the center of the room he found a plastic-wrapped carton
labeled, OPEN THIS FIRST. With his penknife, he slit the heavy plastic
It contained books, he saw with some disappointment. But he studied the titles
and found that they were manuals on weapons and how to repair them, how to
clean them, how to fire them, and ammunition...how to store it, and how to
reload it. And here was something unusual - "A History of the United States".
He lifted it from the carton and crawled back to the open air. Leaning against
a stone, he tore open the heavy vinyl bag that enclosed the book and began to
read at random, flipping the pages every few moments. On each page, something
new met his eye, contradicting everything he had ever
Freedom is not won, he learned, by proud words and declarations.
He remembered a quotation taught at the University' "Blood alone moves the
wheels of history." An Italian dictator named Mussolini had said that, but
now he read of a man named Patrick C Henry who said, "The tree of liberty
must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and
tyrants." Mao was required reading at the University, too, and he now
recalled that this man called a "hero" by The State - had once said,
"Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun."
Freedom is never granted, it is won. Won by men who are
willing to die, willing to lose everything so that others may have the greatest
possession of all: liberty.
Mentally, he began to list those he could trust. Men who had
been arrested for speaking out. Women whose husbands
had been arrested and never returned. Friends who had
been denied certification because of their fathers' military records.
The countryside seethed with anger and frustration. These were people who
longed to be free, but who had no means to resist... until now.
Thomas laid the book aside and then worked the stone back into position,
carefully placing leaves and moss around the base to hide any evidence that it
had been disturbed. He tucked the book under his arm and started for home with
the rays of the rising sun warming his back. He imagined his grandfather's
touch in the heat. A forgiving touch.
A long, hard struggle was coming, and he knew with a certainty that defied
explanation that he would not live to see the day America would once again be
free. His blood and that of many patriots and tyrants would be spilled, but
perhaps America's tree of Liberty would live and flourish again.
There is a long line stretching through the history of this world a line of
those who valued freedom more than their lives. Thomas Adams now took his place
at the end of that column as he determined that he would have liberty, or
death. He would be in good company.