If America got divided into two countries

From “The War Front” series

Ezra looks at the incoming billboard sign. One heart stops. The other one breaks.

“Didn’t know they had these anymore,” Ezra’s aunt tells his father.

“Billboards?” Ezra’s father asks.

“Stock pictures of babies,” his aunt replies.

“They must’ve forgotten to clean this part of the country.”

“About that,” his aunt looks around the car. “Jonas, how much time before we cross the border?”

The car doesn’t respond.

“Jonas?”

“The battery is almost dead,” Ezra explains. His aunt perks up as if she’d forgotten Ezra was inside the car.

“Batteries don’t die,” answers his aunt matter-of-factly.

“Yes, if you change the settings and your only source of energy are the satellites: we’re out of jurisdiction.”

The car slows down as it pulls into the shoulder.

“Guess we’re stuck here,” Ezra’s aunt tells his father.

“Guess we are,” Ezra’s father responds.

His father and aunt exit the car.

Ezra rolls his eyes and follows.

Outside, the wind howls. Ezra looks at the rolling hills. He smiles at his first take of Northern farmland air.

“It stinks,” his father says. “I’m grabbing the masks from the trunk.”

“Wait,” his aunt tells his father. “Something is approaching.”

Fear quickly flashes through his father’s face, but as his father looks up the road and recognizes the vehicle coming their way, he grins.

“It’s an Amish buggy,” his father says.

“I thought they lived in the Freelands.”

“They do.”

“Weren’t we going to New York?”

“I thought we’d take the more scenic route. After all, it’s our last day with the kid.”

His aunt grows worried, “We’ll get in trouble, John.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

The horse and buggy drive past the family. His father waves to the group of girls inside. The girls nod. One of them catches Ezra’s attention. She stares back at him and smiles. Ezra smiles too but turns around quickly, nervous. He was never good with girls.

The buggy rolls on.

His father claps his hands, “I’ll get the masks then.”

As his father looks inside the trunk, Ezra’s aunt moves beside him.

“So are you excited?”

Ezra smiles. “I am.”

“I can’t believe you have the balls to do this. I always toyed with doing the Switch, but when the date arrived to declare our country, I was too scared to leave my family.”

“Did people from your class Switch?”

“A handful actually.”

Ezra sighs.

“But back then a lot more people Switched. With the rising tensions, I’d imagine it harder.”

The trunk snaps to a close behind them. Ezra turns around to look at his father. Ezra ducks. His father fires. The bullet misses.

His aunt screams. His father reloads. Ezra jumps into the car and locks all the doors.

“I thought you were a fighter,” his father screams mockingly. “I thought you were strong.”

His father taps the gun on the window.

Ezra hits the dashboard. “Come on,” Ezra pleads under his breath. But the dashboard doesn’t light up. Ezra pulls his telcer off his wrist and places it on top of the telcer magnifier. The screen begins to load.

His father laughs at him from the passenger window, “My son: the traitor and a coward.”

Ezra loads the system settings and reinstates solar, wind, thermal, and kinetic.

“Jonas, start driving as soon as we have enough power.”

“Understood. Although we have two people less than 3 feet away. Proceed anyway?”

“Yes.”

His father fires a second shot. Ezra looks at his aunt, but she’s still standing. His father moves to the rear of the car. He fires a third one.

“Jonas, how are the tires?”

“Two of them are flat.”

“Can you repair them?”

“The hole is too big for the sealant to work.”

“Can you call 469?”

“We’re out of reach.”

“Pull up my childhood photos. Display them on the exterior panels.”

His father begins laughing. “You don’t expect me to curl over this right?” He yells from behind the car.

“Ezra, when you’re ready, back away at full speed.”

“Sir, the law prohibits me from killing a human being.”

“Oh, fuck you.”

Ezra sees the horse and buggy returning as he looks behind him. His father sees it too.

Before the buggy’s occupants can regret having turned around, his father fires four more shots. Blood splatters against the buggy’s window.

The horse goes berserk. It tries to gallop away but is latched to the buggy. The buggy crashes to its side, and the horse drags it through the asphalt before it trips and falls onto the ground, neighing and twisting its body maniacally.

Ezra’s aunt runs toward his father. His father drops the gun, raises his arms to calm his sister, but she lunges. His father is on the floor. She’s on top of him. Ezra’s aunt punches with unrestrained ferocity.

Her back straightens. His father chokes her. Ezra opens the door and bolts toward them.

His father grins, revealing the blood dripping down his teeth. Ezra smashes his foot against him. His father’s face slams like a slingshot against the asphalt.

Ezra kneels down to console an aunt gasping for air. But a cry of agony from inside the buggy makes him run away from his family.

It’s a bloody mess inside the buggy. All four girls lie like puppets with broken strings. One moans. She’s beside the dead body of the girl who’d caught his eye. The moaning girl stretches her arm toward him. When he grabs it, she murmurs, “Get off our land.”

Ezra releases his hold on her, and the girl’s body slides to the floor. Outside, his aunt is crying.

She looks at her dead brother with trembling eyes.

Ezra kneels down next to her. He passes his hand through her hair. She leans against him.

“He didn’t want to let you go,” she tells Ezra. She touches her brother’s face, traces his contours. “He loved you.”

Ezra stands up. He starts toward the car, but remembers the two flat tires. He looks at the horse: it’s still alive. Ezra walks up to it.

The horse rolls on the ground violently. It’s trapped in between bronze tethers. Ezra kneels down, trying to calm it, but he can’t. Ezra has never been near a horse, and although he pushes past his fear, the horse senses Ezra’s ineptitude and shakes more violently.

The gun fires. The head explodes. Ezra looks at his aunt.

“You’d hurt it and yourself,” she explains. “Now we have to move before the rest of the Amish county comes rolling in.”

His aunt starts walking West.

Ezra doesn’t follow. His destination in East.

“After all this, you still want to leave?” Her aunt stammers exasperated.

No response.

“Do you know how much hurt you’re bringing to this family?”

Ezra looks down.

“For God’s sake, your mother couldn’t drop you off because she can’t look at you anymore. And your father…”

His aunt shakes her head.

“You’re not a traitor or a coward, but you are selfish and reckless.”

Ezra wipes off a run-away tear.

His aunt softens. She walks up to him, raising her arms for a hug.

Ezra turns around, his eyes downcast, and walks East before they can stop his broken heart.

Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

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