The Hero Campaign

🕔Jan 27, 2010

They’ve taken the next step. This morning they came to the door. A man and a woman. Big smiles. Casual clothes, but just that bit over-the-top. Young, of course. Nothing as official as a clipboard. Well, they don’t want the neighbours to guess. They talked on and on. I barely heard a word but they left their ‘literature’ behind. Forms to fill out. They didn’t say what happens if you don’t complete the forms…if you don’t “cooperate.”

“The Hero Campaign.” That’s what they call it. The literature is all euphemisms, of course. “Willingness to do one’s bit for the good of the nation.” “Choose your future.” “Take control of your destiny.” They don’t once use the word “death.” They never once say “suicide.” They don’t even call it “euthanasia.”

It must be tricky, writing these brochures. Targeting the elderly, the single, those without family. I mean, they can’t offer much in the way of incentives. Money’s no use once you’re gone if you don’t have family. Anyway, money isn’t much good these days—can’t buy what you really need. So they have to appeal to your “community spirit.”

For me…it would be partly escape—mostly escape—although I am scared of dying. Partly it really would be a sense of acting for the greater good. I’ve been thinking about it for some time. The way things are going it will be a relief. Likely I’d do it even without their campaign. But coming to the door—I find that offensive.

I wonder what they do with leftover property? Maybe they move displaced persons, families into the homes. In which case I will want to sort out some of my things. I wouldn’t want just anyone pawing through my writings.

It’s harder than I thought, going through my writing. Reminds me of wanting to live. That’s because I’ve been reading things from 2011, 2012. The writing from more recent times is mostly jottings of horror, laments, cascades of fear. And always, always guilt. Every time I eat, take a sip of water, wash my hands, turn on a light (given the rare times that’s possible), I am swamped with guilt and regret.

Think of the countries where they already lived so close to the poverty line, where water was a rare luxury, and food. The way things went there: so fast, explosive. I saw the forbidden newsreels. Oh God. I don’t want to even consider…

I’m 58. I try to tell myself that’s a good, long life. And it is. It’s been a fine life. I’ve been lucky: health, enough money, some passions. I have a little arthritis in my knees and hips. Nothing unmanageable.

The mountain still rises huge and glorious, but the glacier is gone. Of course the garden turned to dust years ago.

The river is more like a creek. The dog used to be wild about chasing rocks I threw into the shallows. I don’t like to think about her. It was the right thing to do…I know it was. She was getting on, too—not so old that I would have put her down if I’d had a choice—but what sort of life would it be for a dog? Cooped up in secret, no walks, half-starved all the time. At least Quincie had a good life right until the end. Her last day I managed to get a bone for her; took her for a walk, threw stones for her to chase. Beloved dog.

I wonder what I’ll do to make my last day special…

A friend stopped by with a forbidden newspaper. Riots in the city. It’s been over 40ºC for a month there. No air-conditioning, of course. Water rationing, even for drinking. Well, it’s the same here—but in a city things feel worse. They’ve had a series of strikes, and the city is overrun with rats. You can imagine, in those temperatures! Makes the Hero Campaign sound pretty good.

The brochure says you can choose to do it at home or in one of their “elegant, air-conditioned suites where you will be offered an excellent meal, soothing music and the opportunity to talk with a counsellor trained to support our Heroes in making a smooth transition.” The “air-conditioned” bit should pull in the hoards. They should advertise that in the city—reduce the population in no time.

They’ve come again. Twice in a week. I’ve told them I’m not ready yet, that I’ll call them when I am. They were quite insistent, offering to go over the brochures again, help me with the forms. It was quite frightening. It’s one thing choosing to go, but another being pushed.

I just went to pick up my ration cards and there was no card for protein. The young couple ahead of me got one, but when I asked about it the clerk said it was no longer listed for me. I could hardly breathe—got quite dizzy. What else will they take away? No protein, no produce, and my electricity has been cut to three hours.

I went to see Harold. When I told him what was happening he wasn’t surprised. They haven’t approached him yet because he is still useful (computers), but he says it will happen. He’s heard from friends in the city that the pressure is mounting, becoming unbearable. He knows of seven people who have killed themselves in the last three weeks. Not as “Heroes”—didn’t want to give the bloody government that satisfaction. He asked me if I knew what they do with the bodies. Cremation, I assumed. He just looked at me. Oh, God.

It was cool enough this evening to go down to the creek. It’s still green down there: trees with leaves. I used to think I would go there in winter, find some thin ice and lower myself into the cold, dark water. That’s how I planned to go if things got too bad. Left it too late. Now, I’m not sure. If you don’t want to do it as part of their God-awful campaign, can you still get pills? Why would they care? Unless…no, surely Harold is just being morbid about the fate of the bodies.

I went to the grocery store today. It’s horrifying the way young people look at you—the rage in their eyes. They must believe I am taking the food out of the mouths of their children. I ended up leaving empty-handed, close to tears. Part of me feels like crying out, “I plan to go—I’m going!” But another part is furious, ready to scream that I have a right to live, too.

What I really want, I cannot have: the time I went inside the ice cave of a glacier. All that blue, blue ice, sculpted smooth, air bubbles trapped beneath the surface. If I must die then I’d like to die surrounded by cold, blue light. I know it’s impossible—such places don’t exist anymore.

I used to swim in the lakes. When I first moved here the summers were so cool you were lucky if you got to swim a few times a season. The water was clean. Fish. Loons. A family of beavers. Later on I could swim everyday for as long as I wanted and never get cold, but as time passed the weeds were impossible to control, scum floating on the surface.

Ran into an old friend whose husband works for the government. I wanted to ask her if she’s heard of the Hero Campaign, if he knows anything, but my attention momentarily strayed to the bag of groceries she was carrying. Immediately she backed away, refusing to meet my eyes. She started talking, very fast, about her daughters and grandchildren; how busy Ralph is; the volunteer work she’s doing. She seemed terrified, smiling with her lips pulled back the way my dog used to.

They came again. This time after dark. Gone were the smiles and the polite “Ms. Shane.” I was so shocked that I couldn’t speak. Apparently they have a quota to fill and I am “obstructing them from discharging their duties.” They are as trapped in this situation as I am, fighting for their lives. As they were leaving, the man “accidentally” broke a decorative plate. I’m scared. Really scared.

I couldn’t sleep. I tried to think of where I could go, how I could get there. I have a bicycle. That’s as good as it gets. I used to bike as far as the Babine Mountains. Two solid hours uphill. But that was years ago. And now this heat… The thing is if I have to kill myself I want to do it on my own terms. I mean, air conditioning and a good meal sound nice, but we are talking about death here, not a visit to the dentist. If I could get to the mountains I could at least end my life in a place that has been sacred to me.

I don’t know how I’d actually do it. There are cliffs, of course. That wouldn’t be a bad way as long as I didn’t just break my legs.

It took me close to five hours to bike here, with only a small pack: what water I have, a few tins of food, my journal and pocket knife. I’m not fit anymore but that’s no surprise. Then I had to hike up. The heat was building but it was beautiful to watch the sunrise as I climbed. I stopped at my old camping spot where the little lakes used to be but didn’t feel safe there, so I forced myself a little higher and found a place hidden by trees. It is so dry the heather turns to dust underfoot. It makes my heart ache when I think of the way it used to be—the little tarns, tiny creeks burbling through the meadows, their banks thick with moss and alpine flowers.

I was very tired but my mind was spinning. I just sat and stared. I didn’t try to sleep until the afternoon. Come evening I walked some, remembering.

Night is coming on. I am horribly thirsty. I drank the water from one tin of corn—nectar of the gods!—but that is it. So unless I want to die of dehydration (I don’t), tomorrow is the day. I plan to leave while it is still dark and relatively cool. My idea is to climb the mountain between the lakes; I know there are some steep drop-offs there.

The mountain rises to my right; below me I can see Little Joe Lake and—miracle of miracles—water! Not the brimming basin it used to be, but water nevertheless. I was about to charge headlong to the lake when I spotted a tent. Someone is camped in the trees just above the old shoreline! I am going down anyway. What the hell.

I was about to the lake when a man came out of the tent. I hid behind a boulder and after a while he walked away and out of sight. Up close the lake water was scummy, muddy; regardless, I was just about to drink when something caught my eye: half-hidden under a shelf of rock were several containers of water—clear water. Pure, sweet, glorious water! I drank two containers immediately and put a third in my pack. In exchange I left my tin of beans.

I was about to leave, carry on up the mountain, when it occurred to me: I could live! It might be possible —either there was a source of good water or the man had a filter. If there was water, maybe there were berries. Maybe he had food. Maybe he would let me join him, share. More likely he would murder me. Greedy savage, hoarding his stash. What right had he to live instead of me? I could kill him, instead! I could kill him and I could live!

I hid behind some trees, just off the path. I had a rock picked out, was holding it in my hand, feeling the weight of it, admiring its sharp point, when I heard him coming. He had his head down, obviously not expecting anything.

I let him walk by, then leapt out behind him, rock raised. He whipped around and his eyes met mine—open wide, terrified. And in that moment I recognized myself. I dropped the rock and fled.I had been going to murder that man…for what? For a jar of water?

To scavenge and scrabble for a few more days in a world gone mad? Because my life was worth more than his life? No, to kill that man so I could live would just have been perpetuating what destroyed us in the first place. I came to the mountains to die with dignity. To thank the Earth for the good life she gave me while she could. To apologize to the gods. There were ways we could have stopped all this; ways we could have saved the world, each other, ourselves. But we got the order wrong, exactly wrong.

hot. rocks radiating heat. sun searing, incandescent. dizzy, sick. Four Lakes far below. dried up, empty. oh, I don’t want to go. want water. blue ice. drink and drink drink. leafy, green. cool. I want to live….to live….I want….

The Terrace Writers’ Guild annual Fiction Contest:

Just over three years ago, Bryn Jones, an honest-to-goodness character (who was mostly both honest and good), got the idea in his head that we–the Terrace Writers’ Guild (TWG)–should run a contest to encourage Northern writers. And he not only came up with the idea, he put up prize money.

The TWG Fiction Contest was officially born, and generous members around our region came aboard to help make it the source of inspiration, motivation, and celebration of northern writing that it has become.

Sadly, Bryn passed away early in 2009. He is greatly missed and we dedicate this year’s contest to him–his kind heart, feisty spirit and quirky, dry wit. Wherever you are, Bryn, we know you’re philosophizing.

From all of us in the TWG.

The 2009 TWG fiction contest
First place: The Hero Campaign by Valerie Laub, Smithers, BC
Prize: $250.00 from UNBC and paid publication in Northword Magazine.

Second place: The Butterfly Jar by Jess Dafoe, Terrace, BC
Prize: $150.00 from Marion Olson of Terrace Re/Max.

Third place: Brave Girls by Charlotte Linford, Hazelton, BC
Prize: $75.00 from saz communications, Terrace,.

The Terrace Writers’ Guild would like to thank all those writers across the North who submitted stories. Although only three submissions could be officially chosen as winners, many of the other entries were great stories with excellent potential. Keep writing and keep putting your stories out there—and remember our contest again next year.

A special thank-you goes to the judges: Sarah Zimmerman of saz communications, Jennifer Brubacher, and Benjamin Bradford. Many thanks also to the 2009 Fiction Contest sponsors: UNBC, Northword Magazine, saz communications, and Marion Olson of Re/Max, whose continued support makes the contest possible.