Henry and his two grandsons returned home from their shopping trip laden with boxes of bullets and heavy-duty construction bags.
“Loaded for bear, we are!” Henry told the boys.
“Can I go with you guys tonight?” asked William.
“No way,” said his big brother Robert. “You’re too young.”
“I’m only a year younger than you!”
“And that’s a year too young for Privacy Night. Wait your turn.”
“Don’t argue, boys,” said Henry. “Your brother is right, Will. I’ll take you next year, when you turn ten.” He chuckled. “If I live that long.”
Henry raised his hand. “Not another word,” he said. “It’s time to clean the guns.”
“These are semi-automatics,” Henry told the boys as he handed each of them a pistol. “Old school hardware. They were my father’s guns, way back when. When you’re both a little older, I’ll teach you how to use a machine gun.”
“Cool!” said William as he examined the gun.
“Always check to see if it’s loaded first,” said Henry. “It’s not, but you always need to check.” He showed the boys how to rack the slides.
“Are we using these tonight, Grandpa?” asked Robert.
“Damn straight we are,” said Henry. “It wouldn’t be Privacy Night without some shootin’ and lootin’.”
Robert aimed the pistol at his brother’s head.
“Hey,” said Henry. He slapped Robert across the ear. “Never point a gun at someone you don’t intend to kill. That’s rule number one.”
Robert rubbed his ear. “Sorry,” he said.
“You’ll have your chance to point it at someone tonight,” said Henry. “And it’ll be loaded too.”
“I want to shoot someone!” said William.
“Maybe next year,” said Henry.
“This is gonna be great,” said Robert.
Henry pursed his lips. “Hopefully,” he said. “But it’s important to remember that Privacy Night is not just about fun and games. It’s about refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots.” He gave the boys a serious look. “It could be our blood.”
“My Dad died on a Privacy Night,” said William.
“Exactly,” said Henry. “Not everybody who goes out on Privacy Night comes home on Privacy Night. But that’s what freedom is all about.”
Martha entered the room with a tray of chocolate chip cookies.
“Fresh from the oven,” she said, setting down the tray on the coffee table.
The boys dug in. “Thanks, Grandma!” they said between bites.
Henry reached for a cookie, but Martha slapped his hand away. “Those are for the boys, not you. You need to watch your blood sugar.”
She noticed the pistols lying on the couch next to the boys. “Henry, what are they doing with those guns?”
“It’s Privacy Night,” said Henry.
“And I’m taking Robert on his first run.”
Martha tsked. “Don’t be ridiculous, Henry. He’s only ten. That’s too young. And you’re too old.”
“You’re never too old or too young to be a patriot,” Henry said, puffing out his chest. “We’re going. No ifs, ands or buts.”
They stared at each other for a moment, letting their eyes do the talking, in the way that only long-married couples can.
Martha sighed. “Oh, Henry, you silly old goat.” She turned and left the room.
Henry smiled and grabbed a cookie off the tray. He held it up for the boys to see. “Don’t tread on me,” he said with a wink.
“Please take me with you, Grandpa,” said William. “Please?”
“Stop whining, Will,” said Robert. “You’re not going.”
“Sit still,” Martha told Robert as she touched up his camouflage face paint.
“Next year, Will,” said Henry. He was dressed in black hunting clothes, a jungle hat sitting atop his head. His face was a mask of green and black.
“That’s not fair!” said William.
“Yes, it is,” Henry said. “Besides, you need to stay home with Grandma and protect the house. Remember last year’s Privacy Night? This place was a wreck afterwards.”
Henry turned to Martha. “You’ll be all right here, just the two of you?”
“Oh, heavens yes,” said Martha. She picked up a shotgun that was lying on the table. “Mr. Mossberg here will make sure of that.”
“That’s my Martha,” said Henry.
William started crying.
“What’s the matter, William? You’re not scared, are you?”
“No. I want to go with you!”
Henry sighed. “William, I told you before, Privacy Night is not about fun and games. Do you know why we have Privacy Night in America?”
William sniffled and shook his head.
Henry put his arm around the boy. “See, that’s what I mean. If you don’t understand why we have Privacy Night, you won’t be able to appreciate it.”
“Why do we have it?”
“Because we need it,” said Henry. He paused. “Did you know that when I was your age, every night was Privacy Night?”
William’s eyes went wide. “Really?”
“Well, kind of,” Henry said. “You see, back then there was no mass surveillance like there is today. Oh, sure, there were a lot of government cameras and such, but not in people’s homes, like nowadays. At home you had genuine privacy. No sat-cams that could see through walls, no listening devices recording your every breath.”
“So you went out shooting every night?” asked William.
Henry laughed. “No, no. That was against the law. But the thing was, back then, a lot of people broke the law. Criminals and terrorists and the like. Eventually things got so bad that the government instituted twenty-four hour a day surveillance systems, in order to keep track of the bad guys. That helped some, but only after the fact, once the crimes had already been committed. It wasn’t until the advent of CPPS that crime and terrorism really started to drop.”
“CPPS?” said William.
“Crime Prevention Predictive Software,” said Henry. “It analyzes all the data from the cameras and listening devices in real time, and lets law enforcement get the drop on evil-doers. Works like a charm.”
“And that’s a good thing,” said Robert.
“Well, yes and no,” said Henry. “At first, it seemed like a great thing. But America has always prided itself on being a free society. We had grown accustomed to crime–it was the tradeoff between freedom and security. Once that tradeoff vanished, there was something missing in this country. A kind of hole in our collective psyche, I guess you could say. And it caused a lot of problems.”
“Like what?” asked William.
“Well, like mass suicide, for one,” said Henry. “You see, America has always been a nation of guns, of self-defense, of standing your ground. But once CPPS came to be, well, then there was nobody to stand your ground against, and nothing to defend. So out of frustration, people did the next best thing: they turned their guns on themselves.”
“People started killing themselves?” asked Robert.
“Oh yes, in massive numbers,” said Henry. “It became a sort of national pastime.”
“That’s so cool!” said William.
Henry laughed. “Not as cool as you might think, Will. Because it meant that people were unhappy with the government. And they were using suicide as a way to express their dissatisfaction. Since killing yourself was one of the last few unpreventable crimes, it became the ultimate form of protest. Eventually it became an epidemic. That’s when the concept of Privacy Night was born.”
“The Night of Anything Goes, they called it back then,” said Martha. She loaded another shell into the Mossberg.
“That’s right,” said Henry. “One night per year when they turn off all the cameras and suspend all the laws. Anarchy in the USA.”
“What does anarchy mean?” asked William.
“Didn’t they teach you that in school?”
William shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Anarchy is freedom,” said Robert.
“Correct!” said Henry. “Well done, Robert.”
“Anarchy is freedom?” said William.
“Damn straight it is,” replied Henry. “It means there are no rules. It’s every man for himself.”
“And every woman, too,” Martha said as she pumped a round into the shotgun’s chamber.
“And every woman, too,” said Henry, winking at his wife. “On Privacy Night, it’s a free for all. People loot and shoot, stab and grab, plunder and pillage–anything goes, like your Grandma said. It’s up to the individual to stand his–or her–ground. And if there’s one thing the American people are good at, it’s standing their ground.” He put his hand over his heart. “That’s what makes America great.”
“I can’t wait until next year,” said William.
Henry looked at his watch. “Well, it’s just about time. Are you ready to go, Robert?”
“I’m ready, Grandpa. Let’s do this!”
They turned towards the door.
“Wait a second,” said Martha. She held out a plate of cookies. “You’ll need energy. The both of you.”
Henry beamed as he picked up a cookie. “God bless America!” he said, saluting with the cookie. “Now batten down the hatches, we’re moving out!”
“Robert!” said Martha. “Is that a knife sticking out of your back?”
“Yes, it is, Grandma. And it hurts.”
“It’s not his back,” said Henry. “It’s his shoulder. He’ll be fine.” He hobbled over to the closet. “Now where’s that crutch?”
“What happened to your foot, Grandpa?” asked William.
Henry looked down at the hole in his boot. “Oh, that? Your brother shot me.” He gave Robert a look.
“Robert shot you?” asked Martha.
“It was an accident, Grandma, I swear!”
Henry laughed. “Of course it was, son.” He looked at Martha. “The boy got caught up in all the excitement, is all.”
“What happened?” asked William.
“Well,” said Henry. “We were out traipsing around, looking for something nice to steal, when some silly man decided to bring a knife to a gunfight.”
“He stabbed me,” said Robert, pointing to the pocketknife protruding from his left rear shoulder.
“So I shot him,” said Henry. “Right in the guts.”
“Then how did you get shot?” asked Martha.
“I’m getting to that,” said Henry. “So the guy is lying on the ground, see, but he’s still alive. I told Robert to finish him with a headshot. Unfortunately, his aim was a little off, and instead of the coup de grace hitting the guy in the dome, it clipped me in the foot. I think I’m gonna lose a toe.”
“Oh, dear,” said Martha, looking down at Henry’s feet. “Your boot is ruined.”
“Sorry, Grandpa,” said Robert. “But he was squirming all over the place.”
“It’s all right, son. A toe is a small price to pay for freedom.”
“So what are you two doing here?” Martha said. “You belong in a hospital.”
“Gee, you think?” said Henry. “I know that. We just wanted to make sure you and Will were all right before we went.”
Henry looked around the place. The living room window was shattered. Broken glass littered the floor.
“Is that all the damage?”
“That’s it,” said Martha.
“Somebody throw a brick?”
“Actually, it was a shotgun blast,” said Martha, giving William a reproaching glance. “From inside the house.”
“I knew I smelled gunpowder,” Henry said. He looked at William. “Explain yourself, boy.”
“I thought I saw someone outside,” said William. “I was only trying to protect Grandma.”
The boy started crying. Henry hobbled over to him and gave him a hug. “It’s all right, son. You did your best. But next time, wait until you see the whites of their eyes before you start blasting.”
Henry looked at Martha. “Sounds like it was a pretty quiet night for you overall.”
“It was,” said Martha. “But next door at the Doyle’s place, there was a lot of commotion. I hear that Jimmy and Sally Doyle didn’t make it through the night.”
Henry shook his head. “Aw, that’s a damn shame,” he said. “They were such nice people.” He shrugged. “Well, that’s the price you pay for liberty. Somebody’s got to water the tree.”
“Grandpa?” said Robert.
“My shoulder is killing me. I can feel it throbbing. Can we go to the hospital now?”
“Good idea,” said Henry.
William reached out and gently touched the knife handle. “That is so cool,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be cool if it was stuck in you,” said Robert.
Martha looked at the floor. “You’re both bleeding all over my beautiful carpet. Go and get yourselves stitched up. Right now. Git!”
“Okay, okay,” said Henry.
He opened the front door, then turned back to Martha. “Oh,” he said, “one thing before we go.”
“Can we get a couple of cookies for the road?”
Originally published at InfectiveInk