[I released this in The Time Before (2018), my fourth collection of short works. I was not planning to put it out on the Internet, but after yesterday, I am.]
The Nacirema held a highly advanced civilization thousands of years ago, and our scientists are still studying its extensive records. Recently translated files shed light on a mass murder that occurred at some point in its history. The following is a transcript of testimony given by two persons seemingly directly involved in this horrific event.
On one fateful morning, thousands of people across Nacirema apparently attacked other citizens of every walk of life. People were killed, people fought back, and people were arrested. However, this event led to a nation-wide crackdown and the law informally nicknamed “John’s Law”.
The rest may be gleaned from context.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: For the record, please state your name and age.
WITNESS JOHNSON: Anne Johnson, age eighteen.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And at the time of your interactions with the deceased, John Smith, you were how old?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Sixteen.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Please tell us in your own words how you came to be a part of the conspiracy.
WITNESS JOHNSON: John came to my house —
INVESTIGATOR ONE: That would be John Smith?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Yes, Your Honor.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: (laughs) Oh, “Your Honor” is for a judge. You may call me Mister Williams. Please continue.
WITNESS JOHNSON: John came to my house and told me this guy MacCurdy did a study of the survivors of the bombings of Nodol during the war. He found there are three types of victims of violence: the dead, the “near misses”, and the “remote misses”. The dead are dead. The “near misses” are survivors, but they have been personally affected — physically, emotionally, or both. They’re open to new ways of looking at the issues around what happened. The “remote misses” may have heard the sirens, but they weren’t personally affected. John said the “remote misses” were the most interesting cases, because they felt divinely protected.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Please explain.
WITNESS JOHNSON: They end up feeling immune. They feel really lucky, as if those things only happen to other people. You know: “It can’t happen to me.” John said the guy called it “excitement with a flavor of invulnerability”.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And what did Mister Smith say about those people?
WITNESS JOHNSON: He asked me, “Isn’t that disgusting?”
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And how did you answer him?
WITNESS JOHNSON: I said, “Yes, it is.”
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Was there any more to this conversation?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Yes, Mister Williams. John said that the research meant that Nacirema wouldn’t care about its nug problem until all Naciremans, or at least most of them, were personally affected by nug violence.
I said we were — almost everybody knows someone who’s been hurt by a nug.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And what did he say to that?
WITNESS JOHNSON: He said, “Not enough.” That made me feel nervous.
I asked him, “What are you saying?”
And he said, “I’m saying we haven’t had enough nug violence.” When I asked him what he was talking about, he said, “Well, you know how the nug nuts say we need more nugs?”
And I said, “Yeah.”
And he said, “They’re wrong. We need more nug violence. That’s the only thing that’ll make them stop feeling invincible and invulnerable.” He said that people felt just secure enough to let it continue. “Only if it increases will Nacirema stop it,” he said.
I told him he was scaring me.
He said, “You should feel scared. You live in a society of people who don’t care if you live or die. They don’t care if the laws protect you or not. They don’t care if someone shoots you or not. I do, which is why I’m going to do all I can to save your life from these sociopaths.”
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And what did you say to that?
WITNESS JOHNSON: I asked him if he meant he would protect me with a nug.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And did he?
WITNESS JOHNSON: He said, “They keep saying it takes a good guy.” (Cries.)
INVESTIGATOR TWO: The witness is clearly under a great deal of stress. Might she have a moment to regain her composure?
INVESTIGATOR ONE: I suggest we examine witness Tristan Brown then come back to Ms. Johnson.
COMMITTEE CHAIR: Mister Miller?
INVESTIGATOR TWO: That would be satisfactory.
CLERK: The State calls Tristan Brown. (Swears him in.)
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Mister Brown, please describe the nature of your acquaintance with Mister Smith.
WITNESS BROWN: I was trying to organize an elfir team at our school to defend the school from violence. I just wanted to put a dirt mound in back of the school with a wall behind it, practice shooting after school, and have our nugs on campus in case of trouble. We could handle it. But John, who’d been my friend for a few years, was for nug control; he didn’t want any nugs on campus, and he told me this idea he had to get everybody to stop opposing changes to the laws.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And what was Mister Smith’s idea?
WITNESS BROWN: He said he wanted to inspire a wave of shootings across America.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: How did you respond?
WITNESS BROWN: I said, “What? Are you nuts?”
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And then what happened?
WITNESS BROWN: He said, “It’s the only thing we can do, the only way to end the violence.”
I asked him how he proposed to inspire a wave of shootings.
He suggested writing an article in the school newspaper.
I said he’d get arrested for inciting violence. “You do realize that is illegal, right?” I asked him.
He said, “Right.” Then I had a different idea.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: What was your different idea?
WITNESS BROWN: I said if you just shot people who want to control nugs, they would get more motivated, because they would all feel affected.
He said, “That’s most of Nacirema.”
I suggested he shoot the leader of the nug-control movement, Michael Davis, to generate sympathy for the cause, but I immediately realized that wasn’t as good an idea.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Why not?
WITNESS BROWN: Well, John said himself he wanted to affect everyone, not just those who already agreed, and killing Michael Davis would really only affect those already most likely to agree with him. Also, as John said, the nug nuts would be glad to see him killed.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And did you tell anyone, school authorities, your parents, or even friends about John’s ideas or plans?
WITNESS BROWN: No.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Why not?
WITNESS BROWN: Because I thought it was a good idea. People are such uncaring, desensitized idiots — monsters, really — they care more about their pets than about other people. They let people starve, die of disease, or die in wars far away without thinking about them at all. They needed to be forced to see the problem for what it was by experiencing it for themselves, I felt. I thought it was genius, and look at the result: now we no longer have the nug violence we did before. Sometimes suffering is worth it.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: But you do understand that private citizens do not have the right to decide who lives or dies, yes?
WITNESS BROWN: Yes, I understand that legally, but morally, I felt he was right. We all know sometimes morality and the law do not agree.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Thank you, Mister Brown. Is Ms. Johnson feeling well enough to continue?
INVESTIGATOR TWO: I am told she does.
COMMITTEE CHAIR: All right. Thank you, Mister Brown.
CLERK: The State calls Ms. Anne Johnson back to the stand.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Welcome back, Ms. Johnson. We’re glad you’re feeling better. You were telling us about Mr. Smith’s idea to call for shootings across Nacirema. What happened next?
WITNESS JOHNSON: The next time I saw John he said he was having second thoughts. He didn’t want to kill innocent people or do anything that would cause innocent people to get killed — exactly what I was feeling the last time we spoke.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: And what did you say to that?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Well, I had been thinking since the last time I’d seen him, and I had come to reverse my thought too! So I said I thought he was right the first time — that people never change until they’re forced to change, that unless something drastic happened, people would keep getting killed for hundreds of years with no change. I said I thought his plan was a good one and that I would help him carry it out. He asked me how, and I suggested putting it on the Ultranet.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: So doing that was your idea?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Yes. (Chokes up.)
INVESTIGATOR ONE: I understand this is a most difficult admission, Ms. Johnson. Please go on telling us what happened.
WITNESS JOHNSON: I said we should put out a thing on the Ultranet, calling for people in every town in Nacirema just to start shooting at the same time on the same day — grab every nug they could and start shooting any- and everyone they could. (Cries.) I’m sorry. I can keep going. Just give me a moment.
John agreed and said, “We have to do it, for the future.”
I put out an anonymous bulletin via a computer at our local public library. The bulletin was spread all over the Net, posted and reposted, until it was impossible to figure out who had created it. By the next morning it was on the news — somebody had called for people to start shooting all over at eight o’clock in the morning on Lirpa eighth. (The media called it Shooting Day — we didn’t create that name.) Even our nation’s leader said something.
He said, “We do not take incitement to violence lightly, especially not incitement to murder.” He asked that all responsible nug owners keep their nugs, elfirs, and tellubs separated and locked up for safety. He said that responsible nug ownership was going to be “put to the test like never before.”
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Let the record reflect that shortly after this message was put out, it spread across the Ultranet and was quickly picked up by national media. By the end of the first day, the national government felt compelled to convene emergency meetings to form a response, both communication and action. Parents decided at the end of the first day to keep their children home the next day, though Shooting Day was not for another two weeks — over two weeks — and though no specific mention of schools had been made in the messages circulating.
WITNESS JOHNSON: John said his mother told him the way to get people to agree was to reason with them. He said his father said, “We don’t shoot people for disagreeing, and we don’t shoot people for no reason at all.”
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Did Mr. Smith say what he thought of those statements?
WITNESS JOHNSON: He said he had a reason. And people had proved themselves incapable of being reasoned with, because the problem seemed too remote and distant to them, what he called the Invincibility Complex.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: For the record, where did you go to school?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Jones Youth Academy.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Did you tell anyone at your school about this so-called “Shooting Day” before or even after you sent out your message?
WITNESS JOHNSON: No. That would have been too dangerous.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Did you tell your parents?
WITNESS JOHNSON: No! They would have killed me themselves.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Thank you, Ms. Johnson. And what did Mr. Smith do on the morning in question?
WITNESS JOHNSON: He fired on people from a rooftop near his house on his way to school, threw the pistol in a garbage can, and ran back home before the police could arrive. He told me he hit three people. He felt proud of that, I could tell.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: That day thousands of schools, businesses, and public places across Nacirema experienced mass shootings and nugfights. The next day the first of over twenty thousand funerals began — more deaths than in a normal year in Nacirema. Did you go to school that day?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Yes.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: What did you do when the shooting started?
WITNESS JOHNSON: I shot people I didn’t like.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: I understand someone shot you. Is that right?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Yes.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: What happened then?
WITNESS JOHNSON: I shot the bitch who shot me. I was going to shoot her anyway.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: What happened when Mr. Smith and you saw each other again?
WITNESS JOHNSON: I shot him dead.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Why did you do that?
WITNESS JOHNSON: I felt what we had done was wrong. I regretted my part in it, and I felt it was the only way I could make up for what I had done.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: Tell us what happened.
WITNESS JOHNSON: In the following days, we didn’t leave our houses. School was canceled, and our parents stayed with us, alternating. They still had to work. When we saw the groundswell of support for new laws and controls on nugs, I begged my parents to let me visit John. They finally let me. I brought the little pistol I had been using, borrowed from my parents’ closet. I said to John, “It worked!”
He said, “Yep. I’m not sure if we’re heroes or public enemies.”
I said it was a shame so many had to die or get hurt.
He agreed, but he said at least we sped up the process that would have happened anyway over time. It just would have taken a lot longer — too long.
I agreed. Then I took my pistol out of my purse and said, “And I consider it only appropriate that I shoot you.” He was surprised. (Laughs, cries.) I said, “It just makes sense that you should die the same way.” He tried to deflect.
He asked me, “What about you? You sent out the message.”
I said, “I’m sure I’ll pay for that,” and shot him. I said, “Congratulations, John. Now you’re a martyr too.”
INVESTIGATOR TWO: Why did you shoot him?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Because I knew that he had fulfilled the biggest purpose of his life, and that if he lived he would just have to go through what I’m going through now.
INVESTIGATOR ONE: What happened after you shot him?
WITNESS JOHNSON: Oh, his parents heard the shot, ran into his room screaming and trying to revive him, and called the police. I told them everything.
COMMITTEE CHAIR: And what about all those peaceful, law-abiding nug owners who were warned of this event?
WITNESS JOHNSON: We knew they would try to stop us, but we considered that a part of our strategy. The more killing, the more everyone would see that people could not be trusted to manage their nugs responsibly. When both sides started firing, everyone could see there were too many nugs.
COMMITTEE CHAIR: Well, Ms. Johnson, in some sense your gamble paid off, though at the great cost of fighting in the streets and loss of life. Our police forces were temporarily overwhelmed, and bodies were still being found in rural areas months later.
WITNESS JOHNSON: (Crying.) Yes. I just want to say that I accept the consequences of my actions. I am sorry for what I did, and I don’t make any excuses. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and I wouldn’t do it again if I had it to do over.
INVESTIGATOR TWO: Thank you, Ms. Johnson.
COMMITTEE CHAIR: This is a sad time for us all, despite the changes in our society. We have all lost someone or been hurt in some way. I myself will never walk right again.
I note the two of you were sentenced to death, and I note we have protestors outside — most supporting your sentences, some opposing them. I am sure the debate will continue, but we legislators do not impose sentences. That is for the judges. We pass the laws.
The witnesses will now be returned to prison pending the execution of their sentences. Thank you all, and have a good afternoon.