at Coffin Rock - The Sequel
By Raymond K.
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
here, 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.
"Mom, I've been expelled from
the university," he said aloud in a conversational tone. Some small night
animal, startled by the sudden sound, scurried away to the right.
"I know this means you won't
get that upgrade to C-3, and they'll probably turn you down for that
surgery now. Gee, Mom, I'm sorry." It sounded so stupid. "Why?" she would
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 learned while in the Youth Re-education Camp near
Charleston. Thomas shuddered.
It was his own fault, he
knew. He should have kept his mouth shut like Dennis told him. All 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 ass 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." Thomas snorted.
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.
Those 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 would actually strike him. At last,
though, they accepted defeat and turned down the mountain, following the
gashed trail of the backhoe as it rumbled ahead through the woods.
At home, he had found his
mother and father standing, ashen faced, in the doorway. "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 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 in the growing light of the cold mountain
dawn, he did anyway.
Thomas was certain that his
father's decertification 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 began to twitter and chirp with
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
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
What hidden place in his
brain had concealed those words all those 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 of
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 States frustrations ended, only 15 or 20 feet away.
They had been that close.
He squatted and stared into
the darkness and he 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 twenty 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 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, 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
With his penknife, he slit
the heavy plastic wrapping.
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 been taught.
Freedom is not won, he
learned, by proud words and declarations. He remembered a quotation taught
at the University:
"Blood alone moves the wheels
An Italian dictator named
Mussolini had said that, but now he read of a man named Patrick Henry who
"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 from
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 father's 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.