Pushed Too Far- Part 2
Part Two- Escalation
“This is unconscionable,” the Congresswoman snapped, slamming her hand down on the desk. “My constituents are trapped in a city full of people who already hate them!”
The Storyteller's Corner is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
“I’d wonder how that could be, ma’am,” the woman sitting behind the desk replied with a cold, predatory grin. “After all, don’t all the polls keep showing just how popular you are? I mean, you keep winning your district, and by such wide margins! I should think your voters will come together on this and figure things out,” she said, returning her attention to her computer screen.
“I am a sitting United States Representative, and I demand you get your people to get this situation under control,” the once-refugee sniped once again, slapping the desk. Wiry and looking like a living leather boot, the major behind the desk just aimed her eyes up at the Congresswoman, leaning down urgently on the other side of the desk in her cultural garb.
“I’m a major in the Minnesota Army National Guard, ma’am,” Major Cutler replied, still keeping her tone and volume neutral. “I don’t answer to you. You represent your district at the federal legislative level, and so, you have absolutely zero say over what I or my people do from here.” The Congresswoman clenched her jaw and fists, easing up off the desk.
“Then perhaps I need to go speak with Governor Walz,” she said through clenched teeth. The major now offered a thin-lipped smile and nodded.
“By all means, do that. Best of luck getting to the Governor’s Mansion.”
“Surely you can at least provide me a protective detail to try getting there,” the Congresswoman said, now starting to sound a little nervous. She had come to the outpost north of St. Cloud in the hopes of getting help with the blockades surrounding the Twin Cities, a promise she’d made to the scores of constituents who had been endlessly calling and emailing her offices in D.C. about their plight.
“Once upon a time, I might’ve been able to,” the Major replied with a shrug and a frown. “But my command lost about a third of its core back when it was determined that any of ‘em who refused the Covid-19 vaccine or who had a Gadsden Flag in their social media profiles was some kind of high risk, a danger to the espirit d'coeur of the mission. Add to that the fact that it would appear that our reserve tankers of fuel on base and the tanks of most of our vehicles have been either drained or sabotaged, and we couldn’t even drive ourselves out if we wanted. So no, ma’am, I cannot provide you with an escort. Now,” she said, flapping a hand at the foreign-born Democrat. “Get the fuck out of my office.”
Caleb tucked the rolled up towel under his apartment door, then returned to the kitchenette area to turn on his microwave. He’d learned earlier that day that if people heard the ‘ding’ of his microwave, they would assume he had food. He’d already shared out about a third of what he’d been able to bring home from Cub, and despite the guilt that came with hoarding his supply, he also experienced a twinge of contempt for the others on his floor for not properly stocking up on their own.
He was a normal guy when it came to his physicality, perhaps slightly smaller of frame than most of the men his age from the Midwest. Then again, he wasn’t from Minnesota; he was a Jersey boy, born and raised. He’d come out this way for work, since the University of Minnesota had a fairly prestigious sports program in need of a physical therapist for its many student-athletes. It had been a dream job for several years, and he hoped sincerely that when this whole weirdness was over, he’d be able to get back at it.
He took the pizza rolls out of the microwave five seconds early, cutting the ‘ding’ short just for safe measure. Taking them to his darkened living room, he sat down and hopped on his phone, hitting up several news sites. Everything seemed to be much the same now, on Sunday, as it had been on Friday: nobody seemed to be in charge of what was going on, and no solutions had been arrived at. Various social media accounts, especially on what remained of Twitter, were howling that this was the opening salvo of a kind of a second Civil War. Rep Ilhan Omar in particular had some choice words to say regarding a National Guard Major who cussed her out and told het to get lost when the Somali-born Congresswoman merely went to her station on base to ask for assistance with the situation in the Twin Cities. This claim was met with scores of counter-claims that she was lying, that she had no grounds to demand help, and reminders that her party had brought this situation on themselves.
Caleb fixed on this last sentiment immediately. “How could anybody say that,” he asked himself aloud. “What kind of nonsense is that?” But this gave him an idea, and Caleb followed up by heading to the r/Conservative subreddit online, where he found dozens of posts of people cheering on the blockades around the Twin Cities, Philadelphia, Omaha and most recently, the one developing around Chicago.
‘These deep blue cities claim they don’t need us, let’s see how they fare on their own’, claimed one user dubbed ‘FREEDOMREDTRUCKERMAN1776’. ‘They called us deplorables, and MAGAts (real clever libs) and racists and sexists and every other ist and phobe for years. They froze our bank accounts, banned us everywhere online, and demanded we lose our jobs and sense of normalcy. Let’s see how they like it now when they lose everything.’
Caleb read through dozens of similar comments and threads, each time hoping that this was just a big troll, a kind of 4chan-level prank that would be declared having gone too far, and it was time to scale it back now. But as evening drew on, and he heard screaming and fighting out in the halls of his floor, as neighbors started getting desperate, he wondered if perhaps this wasn’t some joke gone wrong.
What if they’re right, he wondered. What if they all feel like we just pushed them too far?
Sarah grunted as another fist slammed into her abdomen, the other woman not bothering to hold anything back as she followed up with a haymaker that knocked a molar out of place and sent Sarah sprawling to the ground. She could taste the hot, acrid sting of blood in her mouth as she lay flat on the dry witch grass, surrounded by chuckling animals. That’s what these people are, she thought as she tried to struggle up onto her hands and knees. They’re fucking animals. She spat out the fallen tooth to the dirt, and stared at it for a long moment, wondering how things had gotten so bad so quickly. She’d gotten home just a couple of days prior, only to realize that her best bet at making it through this ordeal was to get back out of the city.
She supposed it had started the day before, when one of the small groups of militiamen had blocked her way toward the city’s outskirts and, rather than threatening her or hurting her, one of them had instructed her to open up all of her social media apps and hand over her phone for ‘inspection’. The masked wannabe soldier had thumbed through it, using his own, cheap-looking, likely prepaid phone to take pictures of her phone, and finally, of Sarah herself. He then handed her phone back and simply instructed her to try another way out, or return to the city proper.
“We’re running out of food in the city,” she pointed out, to which the militiaman replied with a silent shrug and return of his hands to his weapon. “You wouldn’t be such a big man without that fucking gun,” she spat.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” he’d replied evenly. “You should go grab yours if you want to feel safer out here.”
“I don’t believe in using guns,” she responded.
“Seems like kind of a bad choice of perspective right about now, now doesn’t it,” he answered, sauntering back over toward his comrades without another word. And now, here she was, almost 24 hours later, being worked over like a prison yard combatant by another woman who clearly had combat training and no compunctions about using it.
“Come on, Sarah,” the other woman taunted, as Sarah managed to get upright. “Aren’t you just feeling this ‘Summer of Love’ right now? Isn’t it great to feel so alive?” Sarah said nothing, looking around to see if she had any avenues of easy escape from this field she had stumbled upon on the outskirts of the city. “Weren’t you just saying a couple of weeks ago that you’d like to meet a, quote, ‘pro-life troglodyte woman, so you could slap them in the face’,” the militiawoman said, quoting one of Sarah’s Tweets at her. “Well, here I am, bitch! Come try it!”
Sarah took one shaky step toward the other woman, but her knees buckled, and she dropped into a prone, pseudo-prayer position, her head hung down. “Please,” she rasped, shaking her head. “Just please, leave me alone.”
“Funny,” said one of the still-masked men standing in a half-circle behind the other woman. “We been saying that for years, but that was never good enough for you, was it?” Sarah reached up, moving the hair from her face, and watched as the speaker approached, pulling off his gas mask and hooking it to a clip on his armored combat vest. He looked vaguely familiar to her, she realized as he knelt down a few feet away from her. “Do you remember me, Sarah?”
She shook her head in the negative, but with some hesitation. “You’re familiar, though,” she said, though the words were warped by swelling lips and loosened teeth.
“I used to have it pretty good,” he said with a grin in the middle of a dense, bushy black mustache and beard. He was handsome, in a rugged outdoorsman kind of way that, while not Sarah’s personal cup of tea, she could certainly appreciate. “You see, I used to have a small hunting and camping supply store, up north, near Duluth. I expanded after a few years, opened up a shop closer to the cities here, and started a little YouTube channel- MinnesotaMagaMan.”
And the wheels clicked into place for Sarah then. This meeting had been no accident, then; this man had, she was sure, been out with his companions here as part of the blockade keeping people trapped in the Twin Cities. But she could just imagine that the day before, when that other militiaman had been contacting his friends, sharing her information around, this guy had reached out and asked for her general location. And he came a-calling, it would seem, she mused. Funny how these things turn around.
“You kept flagging my videos, Sarah,” he said, hunkered down, arms draped over his knees. “And you even reached out to me personally to let me know that you’d get my sponsors to drop me from YouTube. And then,” he said with a snort, looking aside. “When that wasn’t good enough, because I kept making videos, you organized an online boycott against my product suppliers. I lost all my vendors inside or a month, Sarah. I lost my livelihood. All because you didn’t like the things I had to say online.”
Sarah felt a numbness settling over her then, a bleak acceptance. This man was going to kill her, right here, right in the open, and nobody was going to stop him.
“Just make it quick,” she asked, her own voice hollow to her ears. She lowered her head for a moment, looking up at the group when they started laughing like hyenas at her, shaking their heads. “What? What’s so funny?”
“Did you think we were going to kill you,” asked the woman who had kicked the shit out of her. “Oh no, honey, no no no. You don’t get the easy way out, come on,” she said. She and another of the men swooped in, standing Sarah up and putting her wrists together behind her back, zip-tying her hands together before guiding her in the summer afternoon sun toward some kind of four-seat ATV. They situated her roughly in the back beside MinnsotaMagaMan, who now smiled like a man who had found pure joy’s source in the world.
“See, Sarah, we’re giving you exactly what you and your friends have been asking for all along,” he said, as another of the men got the off-road vehicle moving back toward the city. “We’re getting ourselves out of your precious Twin Cities. And lots of other cities, from what we’ve heard! And, we’re not going to kill you, not unless we have to in order to defend ourselves, which a lot of us have argued is all we ever would have done to begin with, you know?”
“But you’re going to get us all killed,” Sarah said through lips now fully swollen. “We’re going to starve! People can’t get their medicines if they aren’t brought in!”
“Not our problem,” he replied with a cold shrug. “For about a decade now, you and yours have tried taking everything from us. You called truckers a bunch of uneducated rednecks, hicks and racists. You assumed folks like us were barely functional idiots, all the while putting the screws to us. Well, turn about seems like fair play to me, Sarah. So what we’re gonna do now, is we’re going to get you as close to your place as we feel we can, and we’re gonna let you go. And maybe, if you hadn’t gotten rid of all the legal guns in the area, you could find a way to defend yourself if we run into you again,” he said with a wolf’s flash of teeth. “But I’m sure there’s a gun or drug dealer somewhere in the city with a heart of gold, who’ll just offer you a weapon. Yeah, that’ll work out just fine for you.”
The laughter of the other three jangled through her head the rest of the trip. Twenty minutes later, the ATV came to a stop near a sidewalk downtown, and MinnesotaMagaMan planted one boot on her shoulder, and he shoved her out with all he could muster, knocking her flat to the concrete. There was a flash of light in her head, a freeing of her hands, and Sarah sat up, watching as the ATV buzzed away into the distance.
Her last thought before she fell over and passed out was, I’m going to die here, out on the street, like an animal.
“I’m not sure,” Jayden said, looking north through his dorm room’s window. “I mean, it sounded like an explosion, but who knows these days?”
“Dude, all I know is, I’m hungry, my folks are freaking out, and I have to get out of here,” Seth replied, zipping his backpack shut. “We can’t stick around here, man. You should come with me.” Jayden appreciated his roommate's apprehension, but didn’t think it wise to try and leave the cities. He’d read and heard a lot of horror stories about what happened to people who got caught trying to leave.
“I agree about the campus, but I think there’s a smarter place to go; a police station,” Jayden said. “The cops have to keep people safe.”
“Dude, are you blind,” Seth asked, waving a hand toward the window. “When was the last time you saw a patrol car out there? I’m telling you, the cops have probably either all bugged out already, or they’re bolted into their own stations. They’re not going to let anybody inside unless they want them.”
“Exactly,” said Jayden, starting to pack his own bag lightly. Seth snapped his fingers then, nodding.
“That’s right, your dad’s a cop, isn’t he?” Jayden nodded. “Nepotism saves the day, man.” Jayden gave Seth a withering glare, but said nothing; he wasn’t entirely wrong, after all.
“Let's just get going,” he said, leading the way out into the dorm hallway. The campus had been buzzing with life just a week earlier, back when the blockades started taking shape. There had been plenty of excitement then. But that had vanished almost as soon as it became apparent that this whole thing was some right-wing stunt being pulled off by a bunch of Maga dopes.
In the days since the first few folks got ‘turned around’, the U of M campus had become a kind of way station for folks who normally lived outside of the cities, but worked within. Trapped in the metro, they had taken up temporary residence in tents purchased at area Target and Walmart stores around the campus and surrounding neighborhood. What had once been a quaint ‘college town’ part of the cities now looked an awful lot like Skid Row.
Jayden tried to keep a low profile as he and Seth made their way through the makeshift shanty town fronting the dorms toward University Avenue, which would, blissfully, take them almost directly to his father’s precinct. Saint Paul hadn’t succumbed to the kind of in-fighting that had begun to cripple Minneapolis yet, but it wouldn’t be much longer now at this pace. Even as he thought this, Jayden watched as a pair of men began throwing punches at each other over what looked at middle distance like a bag of Doritos.
“Shit’s got real weird,” Seth remarked as they got clear of the densest of the encampment. “You think it’s like this in the other cities?”
“Worse in Philly from what people are saying on Twitter,” Jayden replied, pulling up his Feed as he made the remark. “Look at this; Mayor Sonders resigns from his post amid crisis of police abandoning their posts,” he said, reading from the ‘Trending’ tab. “This whole country is falling apart, dude.”
“Makes sense, if you think about it,” Seth said quietly, following Jayden along the lone turn they would take off of University Avenue toward the station house. “I mean, remember how bad shit got with the supply chain crisis?”
“Well, yeah, but we got through that,” Jayden said, slowing down to double-check they weren’t being followed along the street. There were people milling about, yes, but nobody seemed to be paying them special attention. “We all learned to get by with less.”
“But dude, some people already had next to nothing to begin with,” Seth said. “And if they voted the wrong way, a lot of them lost what little they had left.”
“What are you saying, Seth,” Jayden asked plainly, now coming to a complete stop in the middle of the sidewalk. He could feel his temper coming up, suspecting that his roomie had, after all of this, been a secret supporter of the lunatics trapping people by the thousands in the cities. “Are you saying what they’re doing is okay?”
“No way, dude, they’ve turned the Twin Cities into a huge open-air prison,” Seth said quickly enough. It had been, in Jayden’s estimation, a natural response, neither stilted nor forced. But there was something else there in Seth’s voice, a sense of empathy. “What I am saying is, maybe their rationale isn’t so far-fetched. I mean, the truckers got shit all over up in Canada a few years back, remember? Over Covid vaccine mandates?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Jayden replied, moving toward the station once again. “But what’s that got to do with this?”
“It’s all politics, man,” Seth said, hitching up his bag higher on his shoulders. “I mean, when was the last time you actually thanked a trucker for just doing their jobs?” Jayden just shrugged. “Okay. When was the last time you spoke up for someone who got suspended or banned online who you didn’t agree with, politically?” Jayden felt his own shoulders hunching up. “They feel cornered, dude. And this is how they clap back; they remind us how much we need them. Trust me, in a few more days, this will all blow over; Walz called for the National Guard yesterday.”
As the roommates drew within view of the precinct building, Jayden asked the one question that he had yet to see anywhere online- “What started this all, do you think?” Seth didn’t offer an immediate response, but as they got to the bottom of the precinct steps, he paused to face Jayden.
“Honestly? I think it’s when Foster got acquitted.”
The Storyteller's Corner is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.