FOR WANT OF A NAIL

(January 16, 2033. A fire-lit cabin in the hills of Brezhnev City, Stalinton – formerly Boise, Idaho. A man sitting on a shattered milk crate looks older than his 53 years. His rumpled, malnourished grandson sits at his feet.)

"Grandpa? My friend Sergei says that this used to be the most powerful country in the world. Is that true? I thought it sounded silly."

Grandpa looked around cautiously. They are alone. "Actually, your friend is right, Vlad. It used to be called 'America'." His eyes glimmer briefly. "Now there's a word I haven't heard in ages."

"What does it mean?", the child asked.

"No one knows. Some say it's an Injun word meaning 'God's chosen people.'"

Vladimir is more confused than enlightened by this information. "Well if America was so powerful, what happened? Today one of the Petrov girls died during Orderly Socialist Playtime, and teacher said to be careful with her body because her parents might want to eat her. Why do moms and dads have to eat their own kids, Grandpa? Are you gonna eat me someday?"

"Heavens no!", Grandpa chuckled. Oh, the things kids say. Who was that man with the TV show about kids saying funny things? Now it's gonna drive me crazy, he thought. Colored fellow, with those delightful sweaters. Hmm. Oh, no matter. He gently chided himself for thinking of frivolous things. Think about something important, you old coot. Like where you're going to find enough turnips for daily meal tomorrow. Vladimir's ribs are showing, for god's sake.

Ah, God. Another flashback. How long since he was banished from these lands?

"I don't get it," the boy insisted. "This country doesn't seem powerful. What happened to it?"

Grandpa inhaled deeply. How much can a child understand? He isn't old enough. But if you don't tell him, old man, then who will?

He paused to consider his words. "Vladdie, a little more than 20 years ago, America was a wonderful place, full of more people than you could ever imagine. And 53% of them were the best people who ever walked the Earth. But back then countries used to choose their leaders. Isn't that something? Imagine if you got to pick the Great People's Secretary! Well if people can pick their leaders, that means sometimes people will pick a bad one. And that's what happened."

Vladimir struggled to process this. "What was his name?"

Grandpa suddenly looked pained. "You already know his name, child. You say your Patriot's Loyalty Oath to his picture every morning."

"You mean…Father Obama?"

The name sends shivers down his spine. Or maybe he is just cold. So cold.

"Back then we called him 'President' Obama." His face was taut with the tension of a man forced to recall an ex-wife or a particularly obstinate bowel movement. "We the People" – gosh, what a phrase! – "gave him power. And then he became a tyrant." The child looked confused again. "A tyrant is someone who takes all of the power for himself."

"Is…is Father Obama a 'Tyrant' then?"

"He is. He certainly is. That is why we must till the mung bean fields for him every day, dawn to dusk. That is why he took our cars and melted down the metal to make rings for gay weddings. That is why every year the child selected in the Lottery is fed to dogs at the Coliseum for his amusement."

Just then, the old man noticed that his fist was clenched tightly.

Vladimir paused, unsure if he should go on. Hesitantly, he said, "If he was bad, why didn't you pick a new one?"

"BECAUSE!", Grandpa roared. He even startled himself with the outburst. He forced himself to relax. The fire was getting low now. "Because he changed things so that we couldn't." He anticipated the next question. "We tried to stop him. Oh how we tried. We fought a war, a war that is not taught in your history class. Many people died. Millions, maybe. Your Uncle Vernon died in the Patriotic War, as did…" A long pause. "…as did your Grandma."

For a moment there was silence. "I suppose you want to know the rest of the story, sonny. That's OK. Don't be shy."

"I do, Grandpa. If there was a war, why did you…" He regretted the word choice. "…why did the people lose?"

It is not an easy question to answer, even though Grandpa and everyone else who remembered the War knows exactly why. Some memories are too painful to relive. It was like being hypnotized and having memories of one's own circumcision extracted from the subconscious and played out in vivid Technicolor.

"We lost," he began slowly, struggling to choke down the Slurpee of pain and anguish he was being forced to drink, "because our guns couldn't hold enough bullets." This, the boy seemed to understand. Certainly he was familiar with guns, what with the People's Security Police on every block. "Their guns could hold 30 bullets. Ours could not."

The fire was nearly extinguished now. The boy began to rise to find another chip of dried ox dung to burn. Suddenly, Grandpa continued. "Your Uncle Vern died not too far from here. I was with him when it happened. The Blackshirts were attacking our humble village and we were giving 'em all they could handle. They sent a flock of their trained Death Beagles after poor Vern. He was a great shot though. He picked 'em off, one by one. But then…then he pulled the trigger and nothing happened except a little 'click'. He had shot 15 of those evil monsters, child, but there were 15 more. First they gnawed out his eyes. Then, as they were trained to do to all heterosexuals, they bit off his genitals. He was still alive to watch those trained dogs remove and eat his intestines, occasionally pausing to attack the driver of a non-hybrid car. It was…the look in his eyes was something I will carry with me forever."

It was now completely dark. The daily Match Ration was gone; there was no way to restart the fire. "Grandpa? Would Uncle Vern be alive today if his gun held 30 bullets?"

"He would be. Yes he would be."

"Grandpa? Would…would America still be alive too?"

This was the deepest cut, like a cut that is so deep that you look at it and say, wow, that is way deep.

"Yes," he muttered, barely audible. Then they sat in silence looking at the extinguished fire, a subtle metaphor for the extinguished nation for which he grieved silently and always.

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71 Responses to “FOR WANT OF A NAIL”

  1. Stephen Says:

    This is a most beautiful thing. I support the move to narrative fiction!

  2. chautauqua Says:

    You had me at : His face was taut with the tension of a man forced to recall an ex-wife or a particularly obstinate bowel movement.

  3. J. Dryden Says:

    Stephen: Seconded. Pieces like this make me want to join in, but any contribution of mine would just flail. Well done.

    That being said: Where's my goddamned COTY Award? (By which mean, "where's the column awarding the title," not "I deserve the award, give it to me." Although…Nah, not so long as Dick Morris is still alive.)

  4. Major Kong Says:

    I'm sitting here enjoying the sheer awesomeness that is Death Beagles.

  5. Both Sides Do It Says:

    Whatever combination of boredom and El-P is driving you to such heights I hope you can maintain it a little longer to see what else you find up there

  6. Middle Seaman Says:

    Say what?

  7. Talisker Says:

    Great stuff Ed.

    Another sad story: "One night I head an intruder downstairs. As a responsible gun owner I keep my handgun in a locked cabinet, and I had time to unlock the cabinet, get the gun, go downstairs, and fire off 15 rounds. Sadly all of them missed, and none of them could have possibly hit any innocent bystanders, and that was when the burglar shot me. As everyone knows, burglars are exactly like minor bad guys in a Bond movie, and that's why he stayed for a gunfight instead of grabbing my iPad and running like hell."

  8. Arslan Says:

    Beautiful. You should make this an ongoing thing every time the right gets into pants-shitting rage mode at something. I mean one for Obamacare, for example.

    "Well you see son, they had a secret weapon which we never could have imagined. They made people purchase insurance from private insurance providers. And we lost…"

    Also make sure you mention that the capital of the US was moved to Chicago(New Stalingrad), as per the old anti-Communist prophesy.

  9. Buckyblue Says:

    Maybe along with NPF, we should also have 1984 Thursday. Writings that mimic some of the great political fiction pieces, you know, like Ann Coulter books.

  10. gruaud Says:

    Also much love for Death Beagles.

  11. Everett Volk Says:

    So much win packed into so few words.

  12. ABK Says:

    I n-th the epic win contained in that post

  13. c u n d gulag Says:

    Beautiful!

    But at the end, why did you let the old man live?

    Surely, by then, ComradeHerr Obama would have had tiny, bug-shaped armed drones flying around, monitoring everyone's conversations, listening for treasonous traiters to the Motherfucker Land like Grandpa, and then blowing them up as a lesson to survivoring friends and relatives, leaving his grandson to clean up the mess and eat his Grandpa, giving him the strength that he needed to bury him in the mung bean fields, resulting in a record crop, and the boy becoming named the leader of the local Obama Youth group?

    See, that way, the country dies because of ComradeHerr Obama nixing the 2nd Amendment right, and Grandpa dies because he tried to exercise his 1st Amendment right. And it would show how government tyranny leads to Obama still having support from the nation's youth.

    Oh, wait! I see – you're going to use Grandpa as a running theme in future cautionary tales!
    Well, then…
    Never Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind…

  14. Anonymouse Says:

    Wow, this is just like the spam I get from right-wing friends and relatives, except it's spelled correctly, uses English grammar, and has narrative flow. Don't let this fall into the wrong hands!

  15. Mr. Prosser Says:

    You compose enough of these and find illustrations (maybe some sort of Marvel or Spawn knockoffs) and put them in an e-book a la Takei, I'd buy it.

  16. RosiesDad Says:

    Ed: Why are you wasting your time in the Poli Sci department when it is so clear that you should be in the Writer's Lab?

    Great stuff, just the sort of literary interlude this gray morning demands.

  17. Seth Says:

    Bravo. That is all.

  18. anotherbozo Says:

    Beautiful NRA propaganda, Ed.

    For a good run-down of the grotesquely and deliberately inept state of gun sales supervision and details on the emasculated Burau of ATF—thanks to the selfsame NRA—I'd recommend last night's Daily Show.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/

    Of course their review should be old news to anyone who watches network news or cable, but understandably the real state of enforcement, and the deliberate dismantling of laws that could have been enforced, are considered too hot to handle by most of the media.

  19. DH Says:

    This is just pure genius.

  20. Hazy Davy Says:

    Well done. Perhaps in future editions, you will skip the cheaper laughs of "Slurpee of pain and anguish". [Don't know why that one bothered me. It was probably because of the Pop-Tart of criticality I ate…]

  21. CaptBackslap Says:

    Hoooollllllly shit, that's awesome.

  22. Facehammer Says:

    Ed, you are the Jonathan Swift of our generation. You should write a book or something.

  23. skyskier Says:

    I think that's how Glen Beck got started. You know, just writting unbelievable crazy shit that makes no sense but then something funny happened…

  24. Misterben Says:

    Yes! This was terrific! Thanks!

  25. Hugo Says:

    "That is why he took our cars and melted down the metal to make rings for gay weddings." Superb.

  26. Jrx Says:

    Got a pretty good laugh at that.

    I hate to nitpick, though, but "first they gnawed out his eyes", then he was "still alive to watch those trained dogs remove and eat his intestines" and then "the look in his eyes was something I will carry with me forever".

    Also, near the end, the part about the cut being "way deep" seemed to me to fall a little flat and out of place. Author intrusion, its called.

    Hope you're not offended; I enjoy your writing very much. This wasn't meant to be a critique. I still thought it was pretty good satire. Keep on keeping on.

  27. JB in Walla Walla Says:

    Jrx: Wait a minute!! This was satire????

  28. ladiesbane Says:

    "We laugh because it's funny, and we laugh because it's true."

    Did Matt Drudge's emo poetry lead you to this? You win, hands down.

  29. Chris Gerrib Says:

    Amazing! Truly amazing!

  30. oat://penguin_march Says:

    tied a lot into this… well done, very well done

  31. The Mad Dreamer Says:

    This is the America I dream of having one day.

  32. RyanH Says:

    I feel like I was there in the glow of the smouldering ox turd. Outstanding!

  33. Stefan Says:

    Its a Poe :D http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law

  34. acer Says:

    Mr. Zucker on line one!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1190617/

  35. Nick Says:

    Okay, I still think the assault weapons ban is silly, but this is awesome. I'm going to go home and load my AK now, I'm worried about the Death Beagles and my precious bodily fluids genitals.

    Ten bucks says this eventually makes the rounds among right-wingers who don't understand satire.

  36. Chris Says:

    * slow clap *

  37. Jerry Vinokurov Says:

    Well done! I would like to point out that the tradition of post-apocalyptic futures brought on by electing the "wrong" president has a proud tradition in America.

  38. JohnR Says:

    Good point by Mr. Prosser – I suggest for illustrations that you look no further than the artist who has been doing the WSJ editorial page cartoons (cf TBogg). That combination of NeoSoviet Realism and Apocalypto-Fatalist Angst seems perfect for the job.

  39. hwooda Says:

    Chile, that is exactly the same story Limbaugh was spouting yesterday. Didn't know you were a fan.

  40. LK Says:

    @Nick: I don't think you'll find anyone willing to take the other side of your bet. If this is some fiendish scheme by Ed to increase traffic to his website from unsuspecting card-carrying NRA members, it's gonna work like magic.

    The hallmark of truly great satire is that without prior knowledge and/or context, one cannot tell if the writer is serious or not. You nailed it. And without so much as a nail.

  41. Xynzee Says:

    You may scoff at the idea of "Death Beagles", but if you've ever seen a beagle at work you know how frightening they can be. Particularly when there're treats on the offering.
    AQIS and customs use them for that very reason.

    Yes Nick, this shall definitely make the rounds. So who wants to take odds on the increase in troll traffic?

  42. who knows who toes Says:

    Ha!

  43. vegymper Says:

    Wow. Just ate it dry, no introduction and all. Perhaps something like Art Spiegelman's drawings in "Maus"? I'd like to see the dialogue between the old man and the young kid telling "how did this come to happen", in animal pictures.

  44. Glenn F Says:

    So good. So very good.

  45. Major Kong Says:

    Death Beagles would also make a pretty good band name.

  46. Bernard Says:

    Now why can't we all just get along? lol

  47. Mike Says:

    Another stinging rebuke of right-wing philosophy delivered with all the subtlety of a frying pan to the head.

  48. Surly Duff Says:

    "His face was taut with the tension of a man forced to recall an ex-wife or a particularly obstinate bowel movement."

    Sorry, I thought that face was perfected by Newt.

  49. Glen.h Says:

    My God, this is exactly what happened here in Australia! Except we use Death Blue Heelers.

  50. Suttree Says:

    Reminiscent of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Just without all of the work. Ahhh! Obama's handiwork again!

  51. Warmbowski Says:

    Brilliant. From the second paragraph on, I imagined an old 20's radio sitting next to grandpa playing XTC's "This World Over" on low volume. But that song is about a parent having to explain to his child a mere post nuclear world, not a post gun control apocalypse (with death beagles). So it doesn't really apply, I suppose.

    Carry on!

  52. jimbo57 Says:

    I wanted to see little Vlad shop Grandpa to the Secret Police so he could be sent to the FEMA camp for Socialist Re-education Funtime. Vlad could have been rewarded with an extra ration of broccoli and a medal from Mama Michelle's Rangers.

  53. Izzard Says:

    Fear the Death Beagle!!
    http://deathbeagle.com/_borders/DeathBeagleSmall.jpg

  54. My Says:

    I'm with Buckyblue. "1984sday" posts, please…

  55. j Says:

    Fantastic! Please give us more of this in the future. Maybe one of the other readers who can draw can give you some illustrations to go along with these too, that would be very cool.

  56. violet666 Says:

    oh my fucking gawd that was fuuunneey.Write a book draw some stick pictures and i will buy 10 copies and give one to every friend i have.Yep 10 .

  57. jk Says:

    Art Linkletter was colored?!?

  58. Ash Cambell Says:

    All you NRA homophobes need cement poured in both your empty craniums and gun barrels.

  59. Death Panel Truck Says:

    "Reminiscent of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

    I remember the day my 12th grade English teacher assigned this book for the class to read. As he was passing them out, he said, "And, no, kiddies, this is not "One Day in the Life of Ivan Dumbsonofabitch." Most of the class laughed; the rest were shocked. "Oh my God, he used a cuss word!"

    —————————————————————————-

    "Art Linkletter was colored?!?"

    No, but Bill Cosby is. He did a version of that show for a while.

  60. Tennwriter Says:

    Pretty good. Its nice to see a Lefty with a sense of humor.

    One point, its pretty easy to make a magazine. And, well, the likelihood that the fascisti will pry 300 million guns from Americans' hands is roughly the same as my chance of winning the Powerball. And I hardly ever buy lottery tickets.

    For Conservative humor, I'd reccomend Iowahawk, Scrappleface, and Frank J. Fleming of 'Nuke the Moon for World Peace' and 'Puppy Blender Smoothie' infamy.

  61. Xynzee Says:

    Oh goody! And now we get that special kinda stupid.

  62. xynzee Says:

    @GlenH.: Blue Heelers? Must be a Victorian thing. For the rest of us it was the specially trained drop bears.

  63. Bern Says:

    Wait…drop bears? They use parachutes? Man…

  64. Mr. Prosser Says:

    I tack back the Marvel illustration suggestion, try the DC Sgt. Rock style, best ruined countryside and ragged clothes and drained, totally exhausted facial expressions.

  65. LarryE Says:

    Nicely done.

    However, unable to resist the impulse to a little re-write, a variation on the ending:

    "Then they sat in silence looking at the extinguished fire, a subtle metaphor for the extinguished nation.

    "The silence was broken by a distant sound, like tables and chairs scraping across a floor. It was getting louder.

    "'Oh God,' Grandpa said, his voice little more than an anguished whisper. 'It's the Death Panels. They're coming.'"

  66. LarryE Says:

    Oh, and yes, I know my re-write doesn't really fit with the rest of the piece but hey, I never said it was a good re-write.

  67. Jak the Yak Says:

    Totally. Frigging. Hilarious.

  68. JP Says:

    'Then Great-grandpa coughed. Loudly. "I may be 104 years old, but I fought in real wars boy", turning to granddad, his kid. "Sonny boy, we defeated waves of crazed Chinese commies, Millions of 'em, using what.. old M-1's with 8 shots and new M-14's (when we got 'em) with the standard 20 round box! Hell there was not a standard infantry weapon in the Great War (WW11) or any 20th century War that we had that had a mag of larger than 20 rounds!" "No Vlad, your great granddad and the rest of his crank pals, the legendary braggarts the gun punks, neer-do-wells and Rpug crazies Lost the Great Patriotic War the way all wars are eventually lost! With determined poor leadership, poor planning, worse strategy, hope and dreams as operational plans and then ultimately the rejection of about a half decade of peace talks and conferences. We squandered our freedoms kid! We did it for sport too! Geez we were stupid! Why for almost the 1st 150 years the former US Army used nothing but Single Shot rifles and muskets to get the job done! What he just told you in Bunko kid, big time crazy, just more lies…" Great granddad tried to take another breath, but just then 'Sonny boy' had suddenly reached up and cut his throat cleanly, ear to ear with a broken tequila bottle. As he gurgled and fell into the dirt, Granddad muttered, 'Serves him right, the old reprobate commie! He voted for Eisenhower! We never forgave him or forgot that! It was the road to perdition for sure! Sic Semper and all that." Vlad shrunk back from the dying light and whimpered more loudly, liked a whipped cur.

    Cheers, 'VJ'

  69. Ruthie Says:

    The evil Feinstein gubmint took away my neighbor's Uzi and 100 round gun clips, and I did nothing because I didn't own a gun. The gubmint insurance took away my other neighbor's scooter, and I did nothing because I didn't need a scooter. Then the gubmint took away my BMW to melt it down to make gay wedding rings–and I tried to catch up with the tow truck; but you can't run worth jack in Uggs.

    By the way, Ed: If grandpa hasn't figured out how to bank the coals in a fire so it stays lit all night after 20 years of living on the lam, he deserves to have his 'nads chewed by coyotes!

  70. Samuardo Says:

    "That is why he took our cars and melted down the metal to make rings for gay weddings."

    Yes.

  71. Lv Clutches - Top Quality and Astounding Layouts Says:

    However once I attended into university, I paid more attention to them