A Troll in the House of Nails
In a world where the 'community rules' and bad taste is now a thought crime, meet Shannon. School girl. Young. She lives in the future. Maybe about 50 years ahead. She’s trying to adjust to the newest rules. But something is wrong.
The economy is in shambles. Jobs are scarce. Old men work until they die. Religion is no more. Cursing is punishable by dislocation – not jail – but they are one and the same. Constables on every street corner.
Schools that teach kids new community skills. It is a tasteful new world, they say.
“Say it ain’t so!” Shannon screamed.
“It is so!” Walton hollered back. He had a rock in his hand, ready to throw.
“It is!” Walton drew back.
“Now what’s this all about kids?”
Walton dropped the rock.
It was the Constable, all squared away in his pressed black uniform with the new Free Speech ribbon above his name tag. He was standing at his brand new ‘Listening Post’ at the corner of Main and Eden.
“Shannon doesn’t know the new law about Hate Free Speech, Constable Garner. She thinks it’s only a suggestion.”
Walton gave Shannon an ‘I’m-smarter-than-you-look.’ She ignored him but kept an eye on the rock at his feet.
Constable Garner squatted, tried get on their level as he was taught in the new “Get on Their Level” training session last month. It was a mandatory credit Garner needed every year now, along with, “How to Spot a Curse, before it was a Curse and ‘In Bad Taste,’ which was updated and redacted almost daily.
“Shannon,” Garner started out, “Walton here is absolutely correct. As of the first of this month all forms of hate speech are now illegal. Your parents should have told you and your school as well.”
Garner handed her the Patriot Free-of-Hate-Speech pamphlet. Gave her a stern look, to instill seriousness, as he had been trained. Right now, Garner knew he was using a ‘Level One Stern Stare,’ from the ‘Matrix of Proper Censoring.’ It seemed to be working.
Shannon took the Patriot Free-of-Hate-Speech pamphlet, then gave the constable a skewed glance.
“So, you are our new Censor now?” Shannon asked.
“Yes, Shannon. I am the Censor on this block.” He pointed to his new red ribbon. “This means: ‘No Hate-Speech.’ This one,” he pointed to the rim of his helmet with a spike on top, where another red ribbon hung like an ornament, “means Community is Quality.”
“Slogans?” Shannon asked.
Garner’s knees were aching now and for that very reason he tried not to squat his elderly frame too often. But the training had insisted, ‘Keep Low Until They Grow.’
“See, I told you!” Walton yelled. “You’re so stupid.” Walton ran off, heading to school. He forgot the rock.
Shannon looked at Garner. “Are you okay?”
Garner stood, wobbled. “It’s my knees dear. I’m getting older.” He smiled. “But I should be asking you that question.”
“Walton’s just a bully,” Shannon said.
“Remember dear, we don’t use words that can be construed to be hateful.”
“Walton is not a bully. He’s ‘socially challenged’ we say now.”
Shannon could see the strain on old Garner’s face. Too bad he had to keep working, she thought.
Shannon had known Garner before the Thought Crimes building went up downtown and even before they detained all the religious leaders for talking about their hateful things. Zombie Jesus, all those virgins after death in some other religion and onward soldiers of God in yet another. Maybe it was a good thing after all, Shannon thought. To get rid of religion altogether. But it still bothered her and she missed the Christmas lights – even if her parents weren’t religious.
“You should run off to school now, Shannon,” Constable Garner said. “Before the bell rings.”
Garner took a handkerchief from his back pocket and mopped his brow.
“Okay, Constable.” Shannon gave a rough approximation of a salute, right fist raised, arm straight.
Garner returned Shannon’s salute, laughed. “Run along, Shannon.”
“But?” She hesitated.
“Yes?” Constable Garner leaned forward, not using any training stance, but his own judgment, which was strictly illegal.
“What is this thing called ‘community?’
Garner shrugged. “It’s the majority I suppose. You and I vote for the managers. They then tell everyone what to do.”
“But what if the community is an ignorant bully?” Shannon asked, coyly.
Garner laughed. “It has never happened child. Not in my lifetime. But mind your manners – those are illegal words now. No ignorant. No bully.”
“There are so many ‘bad’ words now.”
“Yes, Shannon. It’s a new day of peace and joy, don’t you think? Hate is now Love. Imagine where we’ll be in five years. No more hate speeches, no more disrespect, no more religious wars! Shorter dictionaries. Silent nights.
"Now run along, dear.”
Shannon did just that. Ran past the sealed ornate Mosques, closed by order of the Council Against Wanton Hatred. Took a shortcut through the alley where the News Station used to be and climbed the small grassy knoll where she could see this side of the town.
As Shannon took the winding trail toward school, an abandoned ‘open air’ warehouse that used to be a porcelain factory, she saw skinny cows grazing in the fields nearby. Why they were so skinny was because the Community Ranching Association (CRA) had not yet agreed upon the proper grazing pastures.
Shannon walked up to the starving herd and plucked grass from her side of the fence to give to the cows. They always came when she approached. This time however, Shannon saw a man in uniform, like Constable Garner’s, coming her way.
“Here, here, young lady! Why are you feeding these cows?” His manner was brusk, impatient.
Shannon dropped the bits of grass, to the consternation of the cows, turned.
“They are starving, Constable…”
“Jenkins. My name is Jenkins and I’m in charge of policing Community Ranching.” His uniform was neatly pressed. A dry middle-aged face, red cheeks, watery eyes and a trimmed light brown mustache.
“What is that?”
He gave her a look one would give a daft child.
“What did you say?”
“I asked you, what is Community Ranching?”
Again, the pinched face look. “My dear, Community Ranching has appropriated this ranch in the name of the Censors of the People.”
Shannon saw the new sign now. The brand: “CRA,” for Community Ranching Association. But the cows still had the old “HT” brand.
“Why do all the cows still have the “HT” brand? Where’s Henry Taft?”
“Now, young lady, you must have heard.”
Shannon shook her head. “The news station is closed.” She knew a little, however.
Constable Jenkins folded his hands together. “He’s been dislocated.”
“He violated the Community Guidelines.”
“The Community of Good Taste, of course.” Constable Jenkins said. “Where have you been?”
“Who are they?” Shannon asked, completely befuddled.
“Who are who?”
“The Community of Good Taste.”
“The CGT? They decide what is and is not permissible to say, using the Patriot Free-of-Hate-Speech Rules.”
Shannon folded her arms. “What did Henry say?”
Constable Jenkins stood over Shannon, using the newly taught skill of the “Patriot Fear Stance,” when citizens dared question the CGT.
“Henry Taft stated that he wanted to place a cross of Jesus Christ on his front door at home.”
“So, then he went and did it.” Constable Jenkins straightened further, but the little girl didn’t seem to react to his stance.
“He put a cross on his door?”
“So, what?” Shannon asked.
Jenkins deflated. “Don’t you understand?”
“The cross represents Jesus Christ!”
Jenkin’s face turned three shades of purple. He was arguing with a kid – and losing.
“So,” Shannon prodded again.
“Young lady, Jesus Christ – and the bible – are full of hate speeches. Have you read it? Murder, mayhem, rapes, incest, zombies. Such nonsense is no longer tolerated under the Patriot Free-of-Hate-Speech Rules! It is just as hateful as the Koran!”
“Is that why the CGT shut the news station down?”
She caught on fast, Jenkins thought.
“Yes, they celebrated Hanukkah in full view of the CGT. Very disrespectful to the Buddhist Bakery across the street. All fake news as well. And hateful. Always on about censorship. Not in good taste at all.”
“And our old school?” Shannon asked. “Why did they close it?”
Jenkins knew the answer, but hesitated.
“They refused to install the proper curriculum.”
“You mean they refused to stop teaching history?”
“And Algebra and foreign languages filled with filth and sports and art – I can tell you so much more – but don’t you go to school, young lady?”
Jenkins leaned over, let his shadow cover her.
“The crumbling warehouse, where we straighten nails all day – for the good of the community – that school?”
“Yes. The Warehouse of Education. I wish I learned a trade like you when I was in school,” he said.
“Where we recite slogans like ‘The Community is Always Right?’ And ‘Long Live the Censors’ and ‘Obedience is Best?’”
“Yes, of course, young lady. You seem to have your lessons well in hand. You must be a star pupil. Now run along and don’t concern yourself with these cows.”
“No buts. The CGT meets in a week to discuss this,” he gestured at the herd, “mess.”
Shannon knew that in a week, old Henry’s cows would be dead. She headed off to school then. Reported to table nine, under the open air, recited the morning lesson about being nice to everyone all the time and never to question anyone’s else’s opinion, even it appears wrong.
The teacher, in her one-piece white “bag” covering her from head to toe, as not to cause any type of hatred, disrespect or other fooleries, handed out the hammers for the day.
Shannon hefted her hammer and noticed that Walton had switched with her. His hammer was bent with that chip in the handle. The claw was also broken.
Shannon raised her hand. “Teacher-Teacher?” she asked in the proper way. No teacher’s names were used. Some people felt belittled about certain names, so that was that.
“My hammer is missing.”
Teacher-Teacher shuffled over. Pinched the plastic film covering her eyes to get a better look.
“Why, Student-Student, you have a hammer, in your hands.” She shuffled her chubby form away.
Shannon heard Walton giggling. “But it is not my hammer!” Shannon yelled.
The class went deathly quiet. Teacher-Teacher turned, almost bumping into one of the tables stacked high with rusty nails. A full day’s quota almost tumbled to the floor.
“Student-Student, there is no property in this classroom. Don’t you know the new rules? Ownership would cause jealousy and incite hatred. That hammer is everyone’s hammer. Remember to bring joy to the class, and harmony.”
“It is Walton’s broken hammer. I saw him throwing it at the wall just yesterday. It rang when it hit the floor. Was that harmonious enough?”
A collective gasp. “Student-Student, you will refrain from name speech in this classroom!” Teacher-Teacher yelled. “No first names. No last names. Refer to seat numbers or table numbers only – from now on.”
Shannon lowered her head to the sound of laughter. Walton was carrying on with his buddies, pointing at her. She began to straighten nails with the broken hammer. Faster than Walton was doing with her hammer – that was not broken.
Shannon hammered away with abandon, often clipping her thumbs, making them bleed.
“Now we count, Student Students,” Teacher-Teacher said.
“One nail straightened, two,
three nails straightened,
Four nails straightened, five,
Are we not Alive?
We need nails!
We need nails!
Pound, pound, pound
and smash them straight!”
“Again, Student Students, recite,” Teacher-Teacher said.
It went on, relentlessly. Hour after hour. Shannon ignored the recital as the others droned on in time with the song. Pound, pound, pound!
At the lunch break, Shannon had straightened 29 boxes of nails, but she didn’t leave her seat. The class got up, moved to the door, Walton glaring as he walked by, and Teacher-Teacher followed them into a makeshift kitchen.
Shannon wasn’t about to let Walton steal her nails and claim them for himself. She skipped lunch, which, said Teacher-Teacher, anyone could do.
Shannon kept straightening nails, while the others ate and ran around the small field between the crumbling buildings. She could hear their laughter and illegal words, as Teacher-Teacher kept far away.
After the students filed back in, Walton saw the huge stack of nail boxes on table nine, belonging to Shannon.
“Teacher-Teacher!” Walton screamed as he walked by. “Shannon has violated the rules!”
“What?” Teacher-Teacher asked. Once again, she shuffled to table nine, pinched her eye visor to get a better look.
“Student-Student!” she yelled. “Why have you taken the straightened nails of another?”
By now Shannon, still pounding with Walton’s broken hammer, was on her 35th box. She looked up at the bagged appearance of Teacher-Teacher.
“These are all the nails I have straightened,” she said.
“Student-Student, those are too many nails. You must have taken other boxes from other students!”
“I did not!” Shannon hollered.
Walton was snickering. “And she cheated – look at her hammer!”
Teacher-Teacher seemed stymied. Never had a student become so brash and irresponsible in the House of Nails. She bent at her ample belly. Once again looking closely at Shannon as she hammered away.
“Your hammer, have you modified it in some fashion?” Teacher-Teacher asked.
“No!” Shannon yelled, frustrated now. “This is the broken hammer from the student on table 14, front.”
“You stole a broken hammer?”
“We will ask the community,” Teacher-Teacher said.
Shannon froze in mid-swing, a rusted nail wobbled to a stop on the table in front of her.
“The community?” Shannon asked, unstressed.
“Yes!” Teacher-Teacher responded.
“What is the accusation?”
“Theft!” yelled Walton.
Everyone in the class raised their hand.
“The judgment of the class community is unanimous. Redistribute those boxes of nails on table nine to the entire class.”
Walton stood. Walked over to Shannon. Smiled. Then started taking her boxes of straightened nails.
“The community is always right,” he said. Then he chuckled. “You little troll.”
Shannon looked up at Walton. He was a full head taller. Everyone in the class was afraid of him, even Teacher-Teacher.
“Troll?” Shannon asked. “If I question the class community, I’m a troll? If I question the nail count I’m a troll? If I work hard for rewards, I am a greedy and hateful…troll? If I curse, I’m a troll?”
At once she saw Teacher-Teacher and the class community for what they really were. The ugly trolls they so despised. And Shannon had a suspicion. Maybe Teacher-Teacher was the real troll. Certainly, she smelled, walked strangely and made odd sounds.
Shannon got up and walked to the front of the class, hammer in hand. Teacher-Teacher followed her moves, a bit frightened by the turn of events. Shannon walked up behind the teacher and with a quick pull, jerked her ‘bag’ covering from her body. It came away easily.
Before the class was not a portly female teacher who followed the rules of envy and jealously by covering herself from head to foot. Before them was the real troll. A hideous creature so foul and disgusting, even Walton immediately threw-up.
“Here is your troll!” Shannon screamed.
Teacher-Teacher tried to cover herself with the torn white ‘bag,’ yanking it from Shannon’s hands. Her big claws almost slicing into Shannon’s arm in the process.
The class continued to scream.
“And they are taking over! We cannot earn. We cannot talk. We cannot debate. All in ‘good taste’ the real trolls tell us! Shut-up and learn to straighten rusty nails!” Shannon screamed.
Shannon walked out of the mandatory class.
“You may not leave,” the troll teacher said, as she or it, cowered low in the darkest corner of the class.
The students had now gathered around the troll, hammers in hand. They were yelling now. No longer afraid.
“You lied,” Walton said as lifted his hammer. “You are the real troll.” He swung.
© 2018 Jack Shorebird