Two powerful spotlights blasted their beams straight up into the obsidian sky, piercing the otherwise uninterrupted shroud draped over deserted monoliths, and silent thoroughfares of the once great city. At their base, a seething horde gathered to honor its mortal deity. Odes to tumult and chaos, howled toward the moon by a sea of degenerates, befouled one of Fall’s last pleasant evenings. Winter’s scouring wind would soon blast the faithful and faithless alike, indiscriminate in its harsh discourse. All would seek shelter from its bitterness. But tonight, all manner of demon joined the congregation worshipping at the altar of the beast.
The madness of a crowd was something that Gretchen never gave any credence to prior to the fall. She had believed in mankind’s humanity. Its ability to choose the right path, at an individual level, in spite of peer pressure. It wasn’t until she witnessed the mob first hand during the revolution that she was willing to concede how different people can become, when faced with standing their ground, while their beliefs come under attack. She had watched as men and women devolved into animals over something as simple as who was in line for the bathroom first. In reality, evolution, or its undoing, had nothing to do with it. An innate brokenness did.
Gretchen recognized there was a darkness present in every single person. Self-preservation combined with entitlement served as a catalyst for the most inhuman of outlooks. The possibility of baseness presenting itself, real, in nearly any situation where enough pressure was brought to bare. In the back of her mind, she heard a voice telling her how to use the madness. It was a cold voice. The voice of ambition, self-importance, and an indifference toward anything that didn’t advance those purposes. Initially she brushed it aside. Giving in to such ideals was something that would make her no better than those that had devolved around her. “Not so,” said the cruel voice, “It would allow you to sway the lesser creatures of this world toward a greater calling.” That was the moment she realized how easy it would be to use that depravity. Control could be exerted over the masses simply by planting the right idea in the minds of a few. They would do the rest. They would convince their friends, their neighbors, anyone who would listen, based entirely on emotion. Even reasonable people would succumb to the will of the mob eventually. The mob would be an instrument of her will.
Proof of her assertions played out right before her eyes as Kieran stood on the steps of a forgotten memorial, where towers once reached toward the heavens. Throngs of people hung on his every word. He wasn’t telling them anything prophetic or world altering. He simply told them what they wanted to hear. He did it with passion and fervor. His words like bellows stoking a furnace to a white hot blaze. They would burn the world to ash at the whim of a madman.
Despite the ravenous maw of the crowd, Gretchen felt perfectly safe. She was confident in the plan she had devised and everything to this point had given her reason to remain confident. She, through Kieran, had been able to channel the masses into a weapon more violent, and more effective than anything seen since the French Revolution. She gave them someone to blame, and the means by which to exact revenge for perceived offenses. As long as she kept them sated, they were loyal, and it was easy to feed them someone new when they became restless.
Desperation was a constant Gretchen and Kieran counted on. It was the single most powerful tool in their arsenal. It was plentiful as well. People who believed their lives would be bettered through the revolution were still as dissatisfied with their circumstances as they had been prior to the fall. The powerful had fled to Western Europe, taking their money and their businesses with them. Politicians paid a terrible price, but the ones who really ran the country escaped with ease when they saw things going south, leaving a void that was not easily filled. Small businesses were destroyed in the rioting and looting, leaving few who were able, or willing, to drag commerce forward.
Everything that could be consumed was, without thought to what would happen when it was gone. The concept of finite resources was simply beyond comprehension for the throng. Gretchen and Kieran knew that even a semblance of critical thinking could leave them in a worse position than they were in when they started. Yet, they also knew that the likelihood of reasonable arguments prevailing was less than a realistic possibility. People were too insecure to believe their own thoughts. They wanted to be told how to feel and what to do. It was simpler for them that way. It also meant someone else was ultimately responsible for their behavior. They could blame the world at all times. It didn’t matter that they would eventually run out of patsies, but they hadn’t yet.
Kieran was nearly done whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He looked toward Gretchen and she nodded. He pointed toward two men standing beside a large rectangular object draped with a black curtain. The men stripped the cloth away to reveal a stainless steel cage, reflecting the light from the torches and lanterns held by the crowd.
A wretch of a man huddled on the floor of the cage, covered in filth. He wore a grey, pinstriped suit and leather dress shoes. His jacket was torn at the shoulder seems, while his shirt displayed dark splotches of, what had to be, blood. Stubble shadowed his cheeks, chin, and neck. His bound hands were raised to shield his eyes from the light. They shook violently as they hid his face, his fear evident.
The crowd erupted into jeers and catcalls. Their lust for blood clearly on display. The man cowered in response to the noise, and begged for mercy. This only enraged the spectators further leading to increased volumes and violent overtures. Gretchen couldn’t hide her pleasure at the corporate aggression. It was exactly what she wanted, and expected, to happen. Kieran had such a talent when it came to stirring emotions in others. It was as though he could read their collective mind and strike the perfect chord that would resonate within their subconscious.
“Why don’t we bring our guest into the light?” Kieran again motioned to his men and they moved to unlock the door. With some difficulty, they dragged the resistant man out of his confines and propped him up beside the podium as if he were some kind of mannequin on display.
“How the mighty have fallen! This man was once part of the ruling class. One of them. He cared nothing for any of you then and cares even less now. He can think of nothing but saving himself as he stands here before you. What say you? Should we grant him mercy?” Kieran raised a thumb out in front of him.
The scene resembled something out of the Roman Empire. A coliseum full of zealots screaming for brutality as their entertainment. The call for vengeance was so blind that nobody cared to know who the man was or what his actual crimes were. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t actually any different than any of them, That he had been stolen from his hovel in an alley, and dressed in the suit just for this purpose, wasn’t something the masses wanted to know. They claimed the man’s life without questioning who he was for even a moment. If Kieran said he was an enemy then he was an enemy.
Gretchen smiled at the vociferous demands of the faithful, gratified by how easy it was to manipulate the rabble of society. She had never considered herself superior to anyone prior to the dissolution of the civilized world. Now she knew she was. She turned her attention back to Kieran and nodded at him again, a cold smile fixed on her otherwise lovely features. Just like that she condemned the man in the suit to death.
Kieran put the choice to the crowd once more and acclamation roared with one voice. The man was forced to his knees on the cold stone steps. Tears streamed down his face in a silent plea from a man resigned to his fate in every other way. His eyes closed as the barrel of a gun pressed into the back of his head.
It was in that moment that a lone dissenter stepped forward from the crowd and raised his hands for quiet. Silence fell as the figure, dressed in an obsidian black robe with a hood that hid his face, climbed the steps toward the condemned man. Kieran Skarsgard stood frozen at the podium, astonished. The executioner turned his gun on the newcomer, but a simple wave of the hand from the hooded figure drove the assassin to his knees. Strong hands pulled the unfortunate man in the tattered suit to his feet. The man in the suit grasped his savior by the shoulders as gratitude poured from his lips. The man in the cloak leaned in close and whispered in the other man’s ear. A visible change came over the man in the suit. He straightened up, squared his shoulders, and walked down the steps toward the mob.
“Grab him! Don’t let him get away,” Gretchen screamed.
Then the man in the cloak turned on the crowd and pointed a finger at them. When he spoke, his voice resonated with such intensity and authority that he would not be denied.
“Let him without sin cast the first stone.”
And the crowd parted silently to let the man in the suit pass.
Check out all the chapters of The Mountain by Duane Deats