by Edward Ashton
They lined us up then, along the edge of the pit. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder, shivering because they had taken our coats. We stood silent, heads bowed, staring down into the freshly turned earth. We breathed in the crisp winter air, and waited.
They called us together, to the center of the town. They called us from loudspeakers mounted to the tops of their trucks, told us that if we came to the square, they would give us the mercy of bullets, but that if we fled, it would be fire. A few of us ran. They were true to their word. By ones and twos, and then all together, we came.
It was done for holiness. They told us that much. It was God's inscrutable will, a solemn duty, to be undertaken with sorrow rather than joy. They told us this as they killed us, but the grins on their faces betrayed them. And we asked ourselves: would we have done the same to them, if we could have? If chance or fate or Providence had placed the whip in our hands, would we have cut them down in their thousands, then millions? Would we have murdered their children and burned their homes, taken their lands and their lives and their names, tried to pretend that they never had been? We told ourselves we would not have, that our rule would have been kind and our justice fair.
We told ourselves this, and it may even once have been true. But in the dark of the night now, we know that it is far too late for justice. We have lost too much. If we could murder them all, we would do it.
I come from the north, from the cold, windy shore of a great, frozen lake. Ours was one of the last towns to fall to the UnAltered. We had seen the news, knew what they had done as they spread like a brush fire up from the south. We should have fled, should have crossed the border into what remained of Canada. We should have never come back. But there was a base nearby, and a loyal General. The UnAltered were a rabble, my father said, the products of random inbreeding and inferior genes. The army would hold. And hold they did, along the northern bank of the river, for a week, and then two. Every day, though, more soldiers crossed over. The General was killed in his bed, and what remained of the army melted away.