The Country/The Country

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13. The Will of the People

Keel walked out that night. He liked the darkness because of the sensation of privacy it lent to all his surroundings. No one saw you on the sidewalks after dark. Someone might see you, of course, from somewhere --a darkened room; a spyhole on the night -- but you wouldn’t realize it, so it was just as good as being invisible. It pleased him, this illusion of invisibility: night-walker, spirit of darkness.

He looked for graffiti. Or campaign signs. Who was for Pig; who was against him.

Many Pig supporters were fond of a sign that showed a large man in profile, casting a shadow. Was that a boast, this long shadow? To Keel it seemed like a threat. He brooded on other questions. Was the woman at the hospital truly a member of the Common Bureau of Inquests, keeping watch over a woman comfortable with the name of ‘witch’? How long before leading candidate Karol Pegasso was replacing the head of this agency with one of his own witch hunters?

Who were those people packing the rally halls the TV networks showed him almost every night? From what he saw on the screen, they were all light-skinned. Most people in the country were -- descendants of the fair-skinned people who came to this land centuries before. Some down from the North in some forgotten migration in the mists of time; some from the countries over the seas. Others, darker peoples, had come later, from various lands. Some, according to the stories, were a wandering people who scratched out a living as entertainers, singers, storytellers, fortune tellers, psychics, impersonators. But these groups had blended into the mix of the general population. All of the country’s districts had among its citizenry some proportion of the travelers’ descendants, just as they had some darker-skinned people.

Yet their faces never appeared at the televised Pig rallies.

Keel walked away from his own neighborhood, toward the city’s border with the outlying town of Moorsby. Since his visit to the hospital he had been fending off the awful suspicion that the woman whose mind had called to him from a woodsy hideout in Green Hills Park knew what he was dreaming. And knew the sense of it. The same choking, helpless sensation Keel felt when he woke from the dream. Perhaps her dreams were of the same horrific hue.

What evil -- or possible good -- did that shared knowledge portend?

Was there something to be valued in the sharing? The old woman, Mrs. Nathan, had hardly struck him as a hopeful figure. Yet she had desired to see him. Why? She did not ask anything of him. Expect anything; seek anything. No, she had simply wanted him to know that she knew too.

Message delivered.

What use would that knowledge do him? Or anyone? No one knew what would happen when Karol Pegasso took office. His campaign was more like a performance of mass hypnosis than a rational appeal for public support for a elective bid. No one could say what he stood for. If he had a policy plan to govern the country, he did not share it. His campaign appearances were unscheduled, though meticulously contrived. They took place in large halls with standing room audiences who applauded, or cheered, or stomped, or hooted, or booed, or sang on cue.

Their presence itself was an amazement since no public announcement of the gatherings was ever made. How did they know when or where to show up?

The media broadcasts of these performances were also last-minute, haphazard, ill-prepared rush jobs.

Someone would call a studio with a frantic message -- Pig’s in the County Auditorium! Get yourself over there!

When the cameras arrived the business inside the hall was already at a roaring pitch, people standing and shouting! Waving their arms with a pulsing sort of synched motion! Chanting “Pig! Pig! Pig!”

People said ‘revival meeting,’ but that wasn’t quite the feeling, the atmosphere. People said ‘big’ football game. But sports fans -- even in overseas foosball -- hardly ever remained at such a pitch of energetic response. They ‘sang’ team songs standing in their enormous foosball stadia. How quaint, Keel thought, was that? The feeling conveyed by Pig rallies was more like cheering on an execution. He would prefer to be caught in a full-fledged foosball riot than exposed to any five minutes of Pig-love hysteria...

Keel has already seen enough of these to recognize the pattern.

When the cameras showed up and the networks turned on their lights from the back of the hall, the network people were never permitted to get more than a few feet inside the hall. The candidate’s men, his ‘phalanx,’ positioned themselves in a protective semi-circle so the eye of the camera could never get more than a partial view of the candidate himself. We saw (Keel searched his visual memories) the side of his head, a bullet-headed oversized cranium that appeared to thrust its way into the upper atmosphere beyond those who worshipped from below. A battering-ram of a head pounding forward with each word, each blow, at the still-resisting frame of the country’s status quo. At reality itself.

The image of that human piston breaking through the space-time continuum, poking holes in the three or four or however many dimensions in which human beings lived their poor, brief earthly lives -- though what about dreams? weren’t dreams another dimension? -- so terrified Keel and disturbed his state of mind for hours afterwards that he vowed to never again remain glued in front of the screen for even the shortest ‘clip’ of one these performances when they turned up on the nightly news.

But then, always, he did.

Just as, the night before, he could not -- for some reason -- help it. He was powerless, mentally naked and exposed to its intrusion. And so he had seen.

It was not what the man said. Keel could not recall a single word of what the candidate said.

No one, it could occurred to him now, could ever report what it was that Pig actually said. And so no one did. Listeners in the hall, viewers at home, sometimes recalled a few hammered snatches of speech: “power, right, nation, today, tomorrow, journey, battle.” Sometimes his speeches -- or ‘performances’ -- were interrupted by waves of chanting emerging from the crowd and overwhelming even his piston-powered emissions. But even then observers could not seem to recall these chants in any meaningful fashion.

“We! ... People!... No!... No more!... Now!...Tomorrow!”

Many people said they heard these words. But when microphones were thrust in their faces, they could not draw any further connected meaning, any sense, from what they did hear.

“Uh. Well...,” they said, “...the people. The people don’t want no more. They want different.”

And yet they all knew what he meant. At least Keel suspected they did. Something they could not put into words. Or didn’t wish to.

He was coming for ‘them.’

For people like Keel. People who stood in the Pig-chanters’ way. Who stood in the way of their desire to sweep everything away that held them back. Anything they didn’t like. And remake it all in some new image. Whose image?

Pig’s? Animal Firm’s?

The image of the head-person, the willful, shouting, pushing human being (presumably) that no one but they could see.

Keel knew himself, knew who he was. A man, a citizen, of the rational, cautious sort. The caution of reason. He did not wish the government of the Commonhope of UZ to adopt drastic new measures. He did not wish to see laws and policies that benefited himself and many others -- millions of others -- swept away in the name of instituting some new regime. Based on what?

Pegasso’s campaign never released any copies of his speeches, his remarks. His campaign spakesmen said they did not trust “outsiders” to report them accurately. Or to comment on them fairly. They did not trust ‘outsiders’ period. Who were these ‘outsiders’? People like himself, Keel knew.

And when the first Voting Days were held, in districts far from his own, Karol Pegasso, to the surprise of almost everyone, swept all the contests.

Celebrations were held, but no ‘outsiders’ were invited to them. The campaign said only that Pig was ‘pleased’ by the results. But he expected no less. Because, as his only public statement put it: “my candidacy expresses the will of the people.”

That was all he said after each victory. All he would ever say.

No one interviewed by the news-sheets remembered signing a petition to place his name on the ballot in any of the districts. When the Voting Days came, broad-shouldered, heavyset men turned up to watch the polls. They wore dark clothing, sometimes made of leather, and pulled their sports caps low to their eyes. A few women with them, women you might expect to see with men like these. Solid and barrel-shaped themselves, with muscles on their limbs, their expressions hard, their gestures more blatant and determined than those of the men.

They behaved like people who knew they would get their way with a paucity of speech, because of who they were. Who they appeared to be.

Keel saw them the day that he signed in to vote at the upcoming Voting Day.

No one spoke at the Signing-In. This was surprising. The atmosphere at Signing-In was not ordinarily one of constraint. The mood tended to be mildly jovial; a room of strangers connected by the broadest of common beliefs. The obligation to do an ordinary job, though singularly important job that all were clearly capable of doing. The widest circle of capability. Yes, these moments seemed to declare, we are all citizens of this country today, though strangers we may be on other days. This much we share in common.

But this time Keel felt he was fighting his way against a stiff, invisible breeze. Some would-be voters sensed an unstated opposition, this stiff wind in their face, grew uncomfortable and walked away. They rationalized their retreat. Theirs was only one vote; why go to such trouble?

Keel supposed that was how Voting Days felt as well in the districts where they had already taken place. Possibly that was how Pegasso won.

Still, it was a shock. Now it appeared inevitable, after the next few Voting Days, that Pegasso would be proclaimed the country’s next Chief Adjudicator, the highest office in the government. The position commonly known as Chief Xec.

And nobody really knew who he was.

Keel did not see as many stars from the Monro city line as he had in Green Hills Park the night before, though a few gleamed brightly. Were they also beacons -- these midwinter stars? Signal fires? Drawing something onward? Some approaching force, for good or ill?

He was not anticipating good.

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