“The Ones Who Remember” by Eric Putnam

As soon as the old man sat down beside me, I knew it meant trouble. Usually I would sit alone on my bench, for hours on end (days on end!) and no one would dare even approach me; I already longed for that loneliness. Other loners, like me, were sitting on the scattered benches in Central Park, with me. Of course none of the others had any old men sitting beside them.

The Blue Coat Guard paced around looking at the different benches. His eternal clown smile etched on his face (it was a trademark of all Guards to have permanent smiles cut into their faces). He glanced at each of the benches, containing their sole citizens, making sure no trouble aroused spontaneously. This old man was trouble, in its purest form, and quickly attracted the attention of the guard. He never stared directly at us, in any accusing manner - for that would be a degree of Slander, punishable by death. The old man knew that he was being eavesdropped upon.

"Nice day, isn't it?" the old man spoke at last. "The sun is shining and everything."

"Yes, very nice, one of the nicest days I've seen in a long time. Very nice," I replied, loud enough to let the guard hear me so he might diminish any thoughts of Inappropriate Conversation.

"I've seen much nicer days, to tell you the truth," the old man continued, my eyes widening in the horror of what he was saying, "Oh yes, about fifty years ago, when I was just a boy..."

I whispered harshly, "Quiet, old man! Leave me alone! Your lies aren't welcome here."

The guard suddenly started walking away, apparently not hearing the old man's last statement. I could tell why; Two cars were revving their engines, on opposite ends of the street next to the park. They were, predictably enough, about to play "chicken." The Blue Coat Guard could, of course, do nothing to stop it.

There were no laws against attempting murder, as long as you are put to reasonable harm when attempting it, or at the very least, had probable cause. If anyone was killed, the charge would be First Degree Murder. The sentence, death on the spot. The cars continued to rev their engines.

The old man kept going, "You know, boy, the sky wasn't always yellow, and the clouds ruddy brown... The sky once was a beautiful tinge of sapphire blue, and the clouds wonderful shades of white. And the ground used to be covered in grass - an emerald carpet! It was wonderful... quite wonderful."

A certain brand of fury rose in my throat. Doing my best to keep my voice down, my teeth clenched I half-warned him, "Shut up old man! Enough of your lies... Any more and..."

"Wonderful! That is all I can say to describe it! Yes, yes and the sun - you couldn't look at it, it was so bright! Bright enough to blind you - yet soft enough to look beautiful out of the corner of your eye," the old man raved.

I could kill him right now. The law permits me - and may require me to kill him. I warned him this time; a full fledged threat, "Quiet you old geezer! I'll kill you!"

The cars were off. Smoke quickly leaped into the air as the tires spun, creating a black haze around the two cars. A station wagon, and a pickup truck; Both probably more than forty years old.

"Yes, boy I remember a time when you could talk to someone without worrying about being either killed or reported, and then killed... You could talk to whoever, whenever.

"You know what else, you used to be able to buy food in stores with your own money! I bet you haven't eaten in over three days! Don't be ashamed of it, neither have I. I have a thousand dollar bill in my pocket, and can't buy lunch to save my life. For a thousand dollars, you could probably have bought the food store!"

The old man was chuckling like a lunatic. He was a lunatic. Any man who would dare sit down beside a stranger and break the worst law possible - Discussing the Evil Age, and lie about it, as well... The mind of the demented was a strange one.

I sat, silent in non-thought and anger, fist clenched at my sides.

"Kids didn't always kill each other with cars! They used to play hopscotch, and color with crayons, maybe stay home and watch TV!"

Suddenly the thought that he was right invaded my closed mind. Trying to resist the urge to think about it, my temples throbbed. The pressure built in my mind, it was so difficult not to think about it... Thinking led to talking, talking to death. And then, as if a valve had been turned, releasing all of the pressure and rage in my mind, I cried. Not a sole tear streaming down my cheek, but a full fledged head in hands weeping. I cried like a baby.

The sheer thought that life used to be so much better than it is now... the sole thought that everyone avoided with their life. As a child I was told never to believe the lies of the old. As I got older I was told to kill the old who told the lies. And now... for some reason, contrary to all reason, I believed that things weren't always this dismal.

"Yes boy, cry, cry away. The tears cleanse the soul," the old man went on, now appearing evil, to continue my psychological maiming, "I'm afraid I am right. There used to be birds - they would fly... they would fly so high that they looked like little m's... until they would fly past the sun that you would have to look away..."

The cars collided, in an intense impact that forced my head from my hands. In slow motion, the truck drove over the hood of the car, and came to a complete halt, resting with its bumper through the windshield, and its right tire where the driver's head should be. Two people dead, the driver and passenger of the car, probably more in the back seat. Two more people flew through the air, out of the windshield, as if from some perverted rocket launcher. They both flew almost side by side, for almost twenty meters, when the passenger lost the "race" and tumbled into the ground, like a crude doll tossed carelessly by the hand of a child. The driver continued the flight, he appeared to be about fourteen years old, and wore a "baseball cap" as all young people did. In a terrible crunch of humanity, he hit the ground and became a shapeless, lifeless tumbling ball of scarlet.

"Terrible, isn't it? Although you'll probably stop yourself from thinking about it too much, and just pretend that that's the way it has to be. Population control concept from a government who truly loves us. Loves us enough to kill for us, even though we are the ones dying.

"No one is immune to the laws, you know. I'm sure you have had 'impure' thoughts about life. Don't answer that because you would be guilty of 'Admission of Inappropriate Thinking,' punishable by what else - death!" The disgusting light tone he put on "death" suddenly made me ill. More ill, possibly than the crash I had just witnessed.

The Blue Coat guard rapidly approached the crime scene, with his side arm drawn.

"Yes, Blue Coat. Punish the survivor. Guilty until proven innocent. You know he deserves it. For 'First Degree Murder,'" the old man stated, staring at the scene. The passenger of the truck had survived, and now would be punished for the deaths of everyone else. I continued my weeping, although now more quietly. The old man raved, not loud enough for the Blue Coat Guard to hear, but loud enough to make his point. "Kill him, Blue Coat, kill him. We, the decent public, need a scapegoat. They can't be responsible for their own deaths, that would be suicide! That's crazy, and might encourage others to think about it! Yes, Blue Coat, that man, that one right there - he did it! He killed everyone! Punish him!"

The voice of the Blue Coat guard was loud enough for everyone in the park to hear, "You are under arrest, for the First Degree murder of three people! By the power invested in me by the World Empire, I sentence you to death!"

The half dead passenger lay moaning audibly, as he raised his head just a little off the ground, and lifted his arm to protect himself. Just as his head lifted, it was dropped to the earth again, by the silent venomous bullet fired from the Blue Coat's gun.

The old man went on. "Yes, Blue Coat, you are the arrestor, the prosecutor, the judge, and executioner. Smile away, with your disgusting mutant grimace grin. Justice is once again served. How could it not be? You served it!"

His constant sarcasm made me sick. I stopped crying and sat slowly upright, my face still and emotionless, with the moisture of the tears leaving stinging streaks on my face. Fury once again rose in my throat.

"Why have you stopped crying? Do the deaths cheer you up...?" The old man said, more softly.

I suddenly felt cold, and as quickly as my mind had opened, I closed it. Shut and sealed like a rock. The sky was never blue, the clouds never white, birds never flew...

"Would you like me to tell you more stories? The rain... when it rained, it used to be clean and fresh, and you could drink it... open your mouth and drink it! It was wonderful!" the old man said, with a gentle smile looking as if it would crack his skin any moment.

"Shut up! It was never 'wonderful,' the sky was never beautiful... You are a liar!" I stood up, and any thoughts of sadness were replaced by rage, "You are sick and evil! Shut up shut up shut up!"

The guard's attention was quickly grabbed, and he ran towards the old man and I, his weapon still drawn. In no time, he was there standing before us with his plastered on smile, perpetually grinning at us. He never smiled, guards never smiled, their faces were just engineered that way.

"Is there a problem, sir?"

"Yes! This old man, he is preaching to me, about the Evil Age!"

"Is this true, old man?"

"No! It was not an evil age! It was a superior age! Listen to me people! It was far superior!"

"Kill him! Quickly! His lies hurt my ears!"

"You are under arrest for Discussing the Evil Age..."

"The sky, the birds, the sun, the clouds... They were all beautiful!"

"KILL HIM! Quickly!"

"By the power inv-"

"You could pick flowers from the ground... and smell them! They smelled just like million dollar perfume... except free! Wonderful!"

"DO IT!"

"By the power invested in me by the-"

"You could roll in the grass, and it would feel like a million tiny fingers tickling you! Oh! It was so wonderful!"

"-World Empire, I sentence you to-"


"Chocolate, it was delicious! Wonderful, even!"




Silence. Cold, deafening, wonderful, silence. And then, the old man was dead.

I sat back down, this was my bench, and no one could sit on it but me. The smell of burnt rubber filled my nose. It made me ill.