With all due respect to professional filmmakers, that was this week’s prompt that I liked from r/writingprompts, so I gave it a try. Had a bit of fun.
Josephine looked down at her watch again, even though she didn’t need the reminder. She already knew what time it was, shuddering at the thought of what was about to come. Her other hand fumbled nervously in her pockets.
8:32. The Purge would begin less than two hours.
“Bedtime, sweetie,” she called out to her seven-year old son, her voice cracking unsteadily. A soft sigh left her lips, but if he heard, her son behaved no differently.
“But Moooooom, I’m not tired yet,” he whined back from several rooms over. It was the beginning to a familiar routine, the first act of a nightly back and forth that almost always resulted in her relenting. She loved her only son too much not to let him have his way.
There would be no negotiating this time.
Josephine made her way to the living room, where she found Marcus sprawled out on the carpet, his eyes still glued to a cartoon playing by the holovision. A bright red countdown continued to flash at the top right of the screen, but her son ignored it in favor of the animated characters chattering away in front of him.
“Come on, Marcus.” she said, her voice full of a rarely used command. “Bedtime.”
She motioned for him to get up, shutting off the colorful holograms with a snap of her fingers. Recognizing he was defeated, Marcus offered no protest. He headed down the hallway to brush his teeth, tip-toeing on a small stool to see the mirror. Josephine continued to talk over the sound of the running faucet, trying to hide her anxiety underneath parental authority. Time was ticking, but she tried not to rush her son along. Familiarity would buy some calm, after all. One of her books had said that.
“Things are going to be a little different tonight, because we’re going to the safe room instead. You know why, right?”
He spat a mouthful of mint froth into the sink and paused thoughtfully before answering. “The Purge?”
“But what is The Purge? All the kids at school talk about it.”
Now it was Josephine’s turn to pause.
How was she supposed to simplify a government mandated 12 hours of lawlessness into terms a seven year old could comprehend, let alone begin hashing out the rationale for doing so? Legalizing crime for a short window each year had barely made sense to anyone when it was first proposed, but now that it had been implemented, she could hardly argue with the results. Within the first three Purges, the economy had already sharply bounded to record highs, and perhaps just as unexpectedly, crime went in the reverse direction — there were record lows for rapes, robberies and homicides the other 364.5 days of the year. The country had never been in better shape, as the New Founding Fathers were always quick to point out. They attributed the immense gains to the ritualistic festival of chaos and sin.
Evidently, the American people agreed. The NFF had not lost an election since the institution of the Purge, although whispers of a deep conspiracy continued to persist.
This one would be different, though. Marcus, usually long out of the country visiting his grandparents or on some sort of club field trip, would be at home, and Josephine’s method of hiding her child abroad had caught on, now well-practiced in the mainstream. Try as she might, another trip was utterly unaffordable on her single mother salary. The roads leading out of the city were also blocked off, part of some misguided government attempt to contain the damage.
That left them no choice. They would simply have to survive the night and hope nothing happened.
“Well, Marcus…” she paused again, peeking down at her wrist. 8:44.
“Every year, the President gives the policemen and hospitals the night off. They work hard every day, and they could use a break every once in a while,” she lied, deciding that this was not the time to introduce her son to government programs of questionable morality. Whether or not he bought this story, she could not tell, but Marcus reached for the handle and turned off the water as she finished.
“Alright, are you done?” He nodded.
The two headed downstairs into the basement of the house, stopping in front of an otherwise innocent looking bookcase. Sensing human presence, the lights automatically flickered to life, giving just enough brightness for Josephine. Still in front of the bookcase, her hands spidered over the list of titles on the third shelf, searching for one title in particular. Tucked in the top right corner, she found a leather-bound volume of 19th century poetry by Matthew Arnold and attempted to remove it from the shelf. Instead of grabbing something to read, though, Josephine triggered something else altogether – the worn cedar gave way and slid sideways, revealing a second, hidden room.
“Remember, don’t open this door for anybody, unless you hear our secret knock. An-y-body.” Josephine stretched the last three syllables for emphasis as she ushered her son into the tiny shelter. The four concrete walls housed a small bed, a toilet, some of Marcus’ toys, and a caseful of emergency rations, which would last several days should anything go wrong. “Got it?”
It was at this last set of instructions that her son began to cry, his 4 foot 4 inch frame starting to shake with confused tears. “M-m-m-m-om, aren’t you going to stay with me? What are you going to do when I’m sleeping?” he asked, now realizing that he was going to be staying alone in the safe room.
Josephine knelt down to meet her son’s soft, scared face and reached over to hold him close against her. “Mom’s got some work to do. I have to fix up some things around the house before the Purge hits.” she whispered gently, stroking his black hair slowly as he sobbed. “Don’t worry. I promise, I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“It’s just one night.” Josephine remained on her knees with her son in her arms, her voice still in the most calm, comforting register she could manage. She stayed in that position until the fall of his tears turned into frantic gasps for air, repeating words of soothing all the while: “It’ll be okay, sweetheart. It’ll be okay.”
But she knew that that, too, was a lie. There was no other way to describe the Purge but as a 12 hour glimpse into Hell – one that bought a year’s worth of security in exchange. Though its ultraviolence was now quickly becoming a well-accepted part of American life – security systems like the one she owned were constantly being sold, for example – she still dreaded the occurrence, and with good reason.
Last Purge, Josephine knew of 15 murders on her street alone, decent men and women all of them. Some had been victims of random attacks. Others refused to give up their prized possessions, or were being paid back for slights, perceived or imagined.
And yet, all shared a common end.
Josephine didn’t know how long she stayed there with her son in her arms, but eventually, Marcus stopped his crying and looked up with red, tear-stained eyes, having accepted that his mother would not be there that night. He offered only a few words of goodbye, each one as heartbreaking as they were hopeful. “Please come back, Mommy.”
“I love you,” she said, getting back up amid his sniffles. “Remember, don’t open the door for anybody.” He nodded as the bookcase shut closed behind Josephine.
Instinctively, her eyes went back to her wrist, and with her free hand, she felt again in her pockets. Good, it was still there. The time read 9:28. She was going to have to move quickly to ready the rest of the house.
Redoubling her efforts, Josephine ran back upstairs to her bedroom, reaching underneath the bed for a pre-packed dufflebag of small bills and jewelry. After a quick inspection of its contents, she carried it back down to the kitchen and placed it on the table. She scribbled a note next to it, figuring that if anything worth stealing was already readily available, the looters would simply leave after. With that issue managed as best she could, Josephine proceeded to unlock every door in the three-bedroom house, moving with well-practiced method. One by one, every cabinet was opened, and so too, were the dresser drawers. Save for her son in the safe room, she had nothing to hide, and it was essential that it look like there was nothing to find.
Her flurried movements only came to a halt when three blaring sirens cut through the unsettling quiet. By now, every citizen knew what that sound meant.
The last moments of peace were about to elapse.
With everything in the house now set up, Josephine stopped to breathe deeply, her nerves finally at a standstill. There was nothing left to worry about. She had done the best she could, and her son was as safe as he possibly could be. That meant she was now free to prepare herself.
Now crouched behind the front door, Josephine reached into her pocket pulled out what she had been fumbling with: a blank, featureless mask.
One siren. Purging time.
A smile crept across her face, now calmer than it had been just minutes before. Josephine stood back up and slid it on, her features now consumed underneath its null visage.
She had work to do if she was going to beat last year’s 15. It had been a new record, after all.