A peach-colored moon hung aloft over the edge of the sparkling city, and there were nightingale among the fig trees. On the outskirts of town, through which the three trashmen now drove, a squadron of bull bats, like little angels of black death, tacked and veered through the twilight air. Farther north, over the landfill, the desert sky boiled and predatory birds were swarming.
Bald eagles had for months been flocking to the landfill — America’s big bird now a winged creature unhinged, tearing apart all manner of waste, stomping with talons hooked and needle-like, much of this waste vile and dangerous and consumed by the eagles and fed to their young, but also flown away with, only to drop across surrounding neighborhoods. Neither was it just eagles. There were vultures and gulls and other carnivorous birds, as there were also rats — rats who’d glutted themselves so thoroughly on rubbish that in the landfill now these rats had grown to enormous sizes, fat and fearless. That evening, Kristy with a wrist-rocket and a heavy round ball of solid steel shot one of these rats right between the eyes as it was scuttling toward the hauler. The leviathan-sized rodent died instantly, but there were dozens more behind it, seemingly inexhaustible.
“Human history is reflected in the landfill,” said Kristy’s co-worker — a thirty-five-year-old baldheaded black man named Tor, who was calm and contemplative and wore gold-rim specs. He was smoking a cigarette now and staring philosophically across the landfill. “Do you know how much space it would take to accommodate all America’s garbage?”
“Not very much,” Pancho said.
“That is correct,” Tor said. “Not very much. Put it this way: if we permitted the rubbish to reach the height it did at New York’s fabled Fresh Kills site of such propagandistic proportions, a landfill of that size would hold all America’s garbage for the next century, and it’d only be about ten miles on a side. Mandatory recycling creates so much unnecessary waste that it’s sickening. It borders on criminal, in my opinion, as it also changes the nature of pollution itself — often increasing it dramatically, recycled paper processing in particular.”
“Also steel and glass,” Pancho said.
“Disgusting amounts of unnecessary waste because of it,” Tor said. “If the average American citizen had any idea, they’d keel over.”
“The dogma of recycling has been too completely absorbed into the collective psyche to ever be expunged now,” Pancho said. “Taught from the cradle to the grave, it is a conviction so long ago elevated to the status of Truth that I believe it’s now beyond questioning.”
“Nothing is beyond questioning,” Kristy said.
“The more immediate problem is the rats and birds.”
“Maybe we thin out their numbers by killing them off, as Kristy just did.”
“That’s not the solution,” Kristy said.
“What is, then?”
“The solution is to address the issue at its root,” Kristy said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean ideologically,” Kristy said.
Pancho and Tor both looked at Kristy.
“Incinerate it,” Kristy said.
When the starting gun went off, nobody expected that this would be anything more than another unspectacular and uneventful college cross-country race — a five-miler over a rolling golf course, this peaceful autumn Saturday. Neither in retrospect did any person among those present remember seeing the young Navajo boy, aged seventeen, as he slipped silently up to the starting line, illegally, blending himself in with the other runners, all of whom, without exception, were elite college athletes and significantly older than him.
But less than a mile into the race, something spectacular did happen:
An All-American runner from the University of Northern Arizona named Ryan Butler, the indisputable favorite in this race, went out as expected and immediately took the lead, disappearing over a high grassy hill, into the unseen undulations of the golf-course. The pack of runners behind him soon vanished over the grassy hill as well, so that for approximately five minutes the onlookers saw nothing of the race. When, however, the runners looped around and came back toward the clubhouse, the onlookers saw that the All-American Ryan Butler was no longer running alone. He was being challenged. A young black-haired boy, who wore no uniform but only dark shorts and a tank-top patterned like an American flag, was running shoulder-to-shoulder with the All-American.
Together these two pounded up the grassy trail, stride-for-stride. The black-haired boy was not nearly as tall or as mature-looking, but the sense of energy about him was overwhelming.
Coaches and race officials began pointing and murmuring. More than a few raised binoculars to their eyes.
“He’s a bandit runner,” one race official said, finally.
“What’s a bandit runner?” said a young girl beside him. Her older brother was competing in this race, and she stood along the sidelines with her parents.
“It’s somebody who’s not officially registered,” the race official said. “Somebody who just hopped in the race. It’s illegal. And confusing.”
At length another person among the spectators said he thought he recognized this bandit runner. He said the bandit runner was a teenager and his name was Kris or Kristy.
“A teenager? Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am.”
At which point, several officials now moved out onto the course, and when the runners came near, with still three-quarters of a mile left in the race, they sent racing elites after him. They sought to capture the bandit runner and stop him from participating.
By this point in the race, Kristy had pulled ahead of the All-American Ryan Butler, and Kristy’s look was one of pure intensity and focus — so much so, in fact, that he didn’t appear to be aware of the many race officials now barreling toward him. Yet he was aware — fully aware. Thus the instant before they clutched at him, Kristy dodged and slipped out of their reach. They went for him again, and still he evaded them.
“Let him run!” someone yelled from the sidelines.
A few others joined in.
“Let him run!”
A small chant started:
“Let. Him. Run. Let. Him. Run.”
The race officials, if they heard this at all, paid no attention.
Ryan Butler, meanwhile, was back in the lead, pulling away, while Kristy Reed slipped the clutches and grasps of race officials. More came out to catch him.
“Let. Him. Run!”
One official, a young man and former football pro and sprinter, with dark-chocolate skin and long sleek beautiful muscles, succeeded in grabbing hold of Kristy’s forearm. Kristy, still running, slippery with sweat, jerked his arm violently down and broke free. The young man stumbled and fell, but on the grass he swept his foot to trip Kristy.
Kristy lurched, somehow gracefully, and almost avoided falling, but not quite. He hit the grass on his side, shoulder first, unhurt, and the race officials all pounced. They tried to hold him down, but Kristy rolled. He spun away from them. They grabbed at him but couldn’t capture him. They couldn’t hold on. He rolled away and then like a wildcat sprung up to his feet.
“Let him run!” more spectators shouted from the sidelines. “Let him run!”
“Let him be!” said the young girl who’d asked the question about the bandit runner.
A rabid throng of race officials converged on Kristy and clutched at him, but still they weren’t able to grasp him. He was slick with sweat but also unorthodox in how he moved: fluid and graceful yet never doing quite what you’d expect. At one point, a small slip of paper appeared to fly from somewhere off his person.
There were a great many people now, a large pack of coaches and officials, so many hands reaching for him, trying to hold him back. He was too quick, however, and too canny and too fast. He maneuvered and ran, stopped-and-started, tiring them out. At last, just when a group of five were closing in on him, believing they had him cornered, Kristy broke abruptly left and dove into a shallow pond. He swam several swift strokes and then bound through a white-sand pit, up across a golf green and down to a small creek, which he leapt over, and then to a chainlink fence that he mounted like a spider and, still dripping with pond water, vaulted over and ran away.
His pursuers stopped, but Kristy did not stop. Neither did he look back. He kept running free of them, and they watched him grow smaller and smaller and then disappear.
Among the spectators watching this incident that day was a high-school senior, who’d been flown out that weekend by the University of Nevada Las Vegas as a track and cross-country recruit. For the past two years, this young man had been one of the fastest high-school milers in the United States. His name was Lucien. Long after the excitement died down and the crowd dispersed, Lucien remained near the spot where the throng of race officials had converged upon Kristy Reed. Lucien had watched this entire episode — watched it with rapt attention and in disbelief — and now, alone on the golf course, he appeared pensive and preoccupied. He’d heard the man say that the bandit runner was a teenager named Kris or Kristy.
Lucien scanned the grass of the golf course now, as though searching for something — something he’d seen slip like a white flower petal from somewhere among the bandit runner’s person. At length, Lucien caught sight of what appeared to him to be a small piece of paper, and he immediately trotted over to it and picked it up out of the sand-bunker, where it lay fluttering in the breeze. Lucien read the following words, which were written in an odd meticulous handwriting:
Politically the word ‘freedom’ has only one legitimate meaning, and that meaning is this: freedom from state compulsion and governmental force. It does not mean freedom from the necessity to work, or freedom from an employer, or freedom from paying the person who rents lodgings to you. It does not mean freedom from the facts of nature which do not assure human survival nor grant human-beings automatic prosperity. Life requires work. It requires effort. Work is effort. Work is often difficult. Poverty, however, is far worse. To be free in a political sense means simply this: to be left alone — free from the coercive power of the state, which is the coldest of all cold monsters who bites with stolen teeth.
Lucien read and reread these words, and then he folded the petal-shaped slip of paper and tucked it securely inside his wallet.
That, he thought, is something worth fighting for.
The waitress watched him while he sat.
She recognized him and she was curious: his wet black eyes, his ropy arms.
Something in him interested her inordinately, yet she couldn’t pinpoint precisely what it was. He had a certain way — a certain look, she thought, something enigmatic behind his eyes. He was relaxed but at the same time intense and thoughtful. No party boy, this. He was polite and pleasant but spoke only when spoken to. He always had a book with him. She liked that. She was bookish herself.
He sat at the coffee counter now, the sun through the window coppering his face, his right arm. His skin was sun-baked and so dark that it outstripped the color of his coffee which he drank black. He stared through the plate-glass window. Across the highway, a pair of dust devils wobbled across the desert earth and spun themselves out. He watched them. A triangle of cherry in the pie case sat bleeding upon its tin. The coffee tasted faintly of chicory.
The waitress refilled his cup and he said thank you. The sound of the pouring coffee made a soothing plash. Her eyes were gray and striking, her brown hair pulled back into a pretty ponytail. He liked the way she moved, the way she worked. There was lightness and happiness in the motions of her body.
“You’re always reading,” she said.
“It’s my favorite pastime.”
“Have I seen you running?”
“It’s possible. Are you a runner?”
“God, no,” she said. “Are you crazy?”
He smiled. His teeth were snaggled but very white. “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”
“Is that why you run, then?”
“No, it’s not,” he said.
He looked as though he might say something more, and the waitress waited.
“I feel most free when I’m running,” he said. His eyes were averted when he spoke these last words, and only after he was finished did he look up at her: across the counter where, in her powder-blue uniform-dress, she stood before him. They regarded each other in silence.
“You run like the wind,” she said, and smiled. “It’s quite impressive.”
A second silence ensued.
“Do you remember me?” she said.
“Why do you think I’m here?”
Her name was Sophie Carlyle. She was twenty-years-old, and she was the girl he’d seen over a year before in the classroom, who’d shown him the book.
That day in the diner, before Kristy left, he slipped under his coffee cup the bookmark she’d lost:
Who now knows the White Rose?
Kristy had laminated this bookmark, though not before first adding in his own handwriting the following words:
White Rose was a small endeavor with large and lasting consequences. At its core were two siblings: Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl, who were both in the beginning, like the overwhelming majority of German people, enthusiastic supporters of Adolph Hitler’s new and exciting socialist government — just as the overwhelming majority of Italian people, along with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration, were also enthusiastic supporters of Mussolini’s government. Roosevelt modeled much of the New Deal from Mussolini’s ideas.
When Hans and Sophie Scholl learned about the crimes committed in Poland and when they saw firsthand the violence and blatant acts of injustice committed by the German government, of which they’d initially been enthusiastic supporters, they began revolting. They fought back with the power of their ideas, which were contained in the written word.
Hans Scholl conceived the idea for White Rose.
Starting in June 1942, the White Rose began printing and distributing leaflets in and around Munich. These leaflets implored fellow students and the German public to take action against the beloved NAZI regime, which, also like Mussolini’s regime, was socialist-collectivist and on the left of the political spectrum. Mussolini’s so-named Corporatism, admired deeply by FDR, was Mussolini’s version of the collectivist idea of Syndicalism, which to this very day is popular among labor unions and labor parties all across the world.
Joining Sophie and Hans Scholl were their fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and a professor of philosophy and musicology at the University of Munich named Kurt Huber, who believed passionately in individualism and independent thought and the pure power of human reason. Professor Huber’s philosophical ideas influenced the White Rose immeasurably.
Altogether the White Rose published and distributed six total pamphlets, first typed out on a typewriter and then multiplied via mimeograph.
In the end, they distributed thousands and thousands of these pamphlets which reached households all across Germany and even beyond. Some pamphlets were dumped like confetti from the highest windows of university buildings.
White Rose succeeded.
Part of their success was through their engagement of a wide-ranging network of supporters in cities and towns as far north as Hamburg and as far south as Vienna. These networks were also active in distributing the White Rose pamphlets, attempting to trick the Gestapo into believing the White Rose had locations and headquarters all across the country and even beyond. The majority may have been passive or, in other cases, explicitly against the White Rose, but the White Rose woke and galvanized a great many people. The White Rose also gave courage and a voice to a previously silent minority who, though silent, disagreed with the philosophy of tribal-collectivism and believed implicitly in human individuality and independent thought and the liberty to live and think freely and individually.
The White Rose were eventually caught, convicted, and killed by the German government whose collectivist-authoritarian regime it so vehemently opposed. None of these individual human beings were given the opportunity to speak at their own trial. Sophie Scholl’s last words were these:
“Such a fine sunny day, and I have to go. But what does my death matter, if through White Rose, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
Twenty days after their meeting that afternoon in the diner, Kristy came to visit her at her home, when she was sick and burning up with fever, and the lights of the city hung in a rippled haze beyond her window. She lived in a bare spacious flat far west of town, on the fringes of a subdivision the skirted the wide western desert. Their were cypresses along the streets, and gossamer-wing butterflies slept among the branches. She lay upon her back on a wide black futon on the floor. Her slender white fingers looked flowerlike across the dark-blue sheets. Kristy brought her a bottle of icy-cold water.
“I would say that I’m surprised to see you,” she said, “except for some reason I’m not surprised at all. I think I half expected it.”
“They told me you were sick,” he said.
She lolled her head on the pillow and looked at him from under heavy eyelids. Kristy didn’t speak but regarded her frankly.
“I think I was hoping you’d come,” she said.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
“You already have.”
“What do you mean?”
“My bookmark,” she said. “You kept it. And you made it more beautiful.”
“I didn’t know about the White Rose until I found your bookmark,” Kristy said. “That day in the classroom. I looked them up afterward. I read about them. It’s very important that people like the White Rose never be forgotten.”
“I was named after her.”
They were both silent for several seconds, and in the silence a generator throbbed outside, and Sophie Carlyle looked at him and then looked away. She apologized for the noise and told him she was unable to sleep because of it, because city road-crews were tearing up the entire street right out front and rebuilding it. She said that even though they stopped working at 5:00pm, they left their klieg lights on all night long, for some reason, and the generator too, and she said that it was loud and bright and that the lights and the noise kept her awake, even though she had heavy black curtains. She told Kristy that she’d even called the city and complained about it.
“What was their response?”
“That nothing could be done,” she said. “They told me to just be patient. This is just the way it is, they said.” Sophie paused. “I guess you really can’t fight the city hall.”
“What is that?” Kristy said.
“Just an expression.”
He looked contemplative, and in this moment Sophie was once again struck by his haphazard education, which in the past two weeks she’d come to know. She found curiously endearing the gaps in his knowledge but also the sprawling depths, which stemmed from his upbringing, his autodidacticism, his singleminded decision to take upon himself the task of educating himself.
“I think it means you can’t fight bureaucracy,” she explained, “because there’s no one human there, and because it entrenches itself so rapidly that in virtually no time people can’t imagine life without these bureaucratic institutions.”
“Have you tried?”
“Fighting city hall?”
He looked thoughtful again, deeply thoughtful, his eyes narrowed as thin as saber slits.
“I suggest earplugs,” he said. “For the noise,” he added, “not the fighting of city hall.”
He smiled and so did she, and then she laughed.
“Don’t make me laugh,” she said. “It hurts my head. I’ve tried earplugs. They don’t really help. I’ve resigned myself to the noise.”
“Don’t resign yourself.”
“Besides,” Sophie said, “I can hear my heartbeat when I wear earplugs, and I don’t like it. It reminds me too much of my own mortality, and that definitely keeps me awake. I’ll let the generators do their obnoxious throbbing and the artificial lights do their retina-scorching.”
Kristy didn’t say anything more.
But that night the lights and the big generator went simultaneously silent and black.
Read the rest…