It’s cold here. Very cold. Commissar Chu laughed when he said he didn’t expect me to last the month. I still can’t rightly explain how I got to this place. I am writing these words with the stub of an old pencil I found in the back of the box car. The train from civilization was packed. Nose to nose. I think most of us can tell the same story. One instant, we were sitting in our homes safe and sound, browsing the internet. The next instant, our doors came down and the enforcers stormed in. I remember screaming. And a woman’s face — another of the endless number of commissars — as she watched me dragged out the door. She was visibly gleeful over the fact that the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction had discovered me. There would be no trial, she gloated. Merely punishment.
I’m actually seeing a lot of familiar faces here, assuming I can pry my eyelids open against the arctic wind. On the work gangs, they chain us together at the ankles and make us recite the lines from Andrea Dworkin and Derrick Bell. Those who fail to enunciate with force . . . are whipped savagely. Sometimes, when my back is bleeding from the numerous blows, I wonder what happened to my wife and daughter. You’d think a man’s life, honestly lived, would be enough to speak for his character?
But I have learned the hard truth: our commissars aren’t interested in proof. Only confessions.
You are guilty until proven . . . guilty.
Tomorrow they march us to the reservoir. An experienced man — barely more than a skeleton, after all this time in the gulag — thinks we’ll spend the morning burying the dead. He’s had to do it twice before. They will make us carve a pit in the earth with dull picks and blunted shovels. Then we will carry the free to their final, unmarked resting place. And pour the dirt back over them.
I almost envy those people. They have escaped the harangues and the marathon reeducation sessions, with commissars pacing the aisles and shouting “TOLERANCE!” at us through the speakers of their olive drab bullhorns. If you try to cover your ears, they kick you until you’re bruised.
The giant posters of progress are arrayed on every wall in every building in the Peoples Republic. Those posters are here with us now, in the pallet wood dormitories that lack heating and proper toilets. Only, tattered and smudged now. Made shabby by the wearing of time, and the disinterest of all us prisoners.
I think the soiled condition of the propaganda quite suitable.
The dream of the cultural revolution is dead. Long live the cultural revolution.
If my fingers are not too swollen, I may write again soon. And hope they don’t find these scraps of paper I have to hide in my shoes.