Dystopian Fiction by Melissa R. Mendelson
The office wasn’t small but cluttered. Outside the door was a reception area full of people, and a woman’s voice slipped underneath the door and into the room. The windows were shut, overlooking a large parking lot, and clouds gathered in the sky. The aroma of coffee filled the space between file cabinets and two large, wooden desks. Chairs squeaked and rolled as two men turned in their seats.
“Coffee?” I asked.
“Please.” Henry James rubbed his left knee. He glanced outside at the approaching clouds.
“Black,” Henry James said.
The phone rang. “V.N.A.” Jeffrey Hollis rocked back and forth in his seat, creating more squeaks. “What does that mean? Victims need assistance,” he said.
“And veterans need aid,” Henry James replied, receiving a look from his partner.
“Coffee?” I asked Jeffrey Hollis, but he shook his head.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” Jeffrey Hollis said into the phone. “Yes, that’s correct. It’s a five-hundred-dollar deposit. Non-negotiable. After that, it’s two hundred an hour. Right, and what kind of threat are you dealing with? I see.” He jotted something down on the notepad in front of him. “Yeah, we’ve dealt with this kind of threat before. Yeah, isn’t the internet wonderful? Okay. As soon as we get the deposit, we’ll get started. Okay. Thank you.” Jeffrey Hollis hung up the phone and looked at me. “I’m sorry. I know you’re here for an interview. We’ve just been really busy today.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I made coffee.”
Jeffrey Hollis gestured toward a metal chair nearby. “We normally don’t deal with the media because…. Well, you know the media. They’re…”
“Storytellers.” Henry James grinned.
“So, why did you agree to this interview?” I asked. “Why did you ask to speak with me specifically?”
“Because,” Henry James said. “You still tell the truth, even if others choose not to believe it, and if the local paper doesn’t publish the story, then you will still publish it on your blog. And your blog’s very popular. Have you received death threats?”
“I have,” I said. “But thank God, nothing’s come of it.”
“You’re fortunate,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “Most people today are not so fortunate, and there are people out there, who think they’re untouchable.”
“Or they lost touch with reality,” Henry James said. “Even after the fact, after what they did, they don’t regret it, and given the chance, they would do it again. And again.”
“Is that why you both created the V.N.A.?” I asked.
“It was needed,” Henry James said. “Nothing against the police.”
“But the police are not what they used to be. Now, they’re underfunded, under attack, and some of them…”
“Maybe a lot of them,” Henry James added.
“Maybe,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “They are not who you want coming to your aid. If you understand me?”
“I do. You never know who is a White Supremacist these days.” I looked down at my notepad and then glanced up at both men. “So, you only hire Vets and only Vets?”
“Yes,” Jeffrey Hollis answered. “Only Vets. Men and Women.”
“But how do you know that they are really Vets?”
“Oh, the Santos Syndrome,” Henry James said. “We still have our contacts with the government, and we do our homework.”
“And if the person is found out to be a liar, a fraud?” I asked.
“We bury them.” Jeffrey Hollis laughed at the look on my face. “Not really. But really. If you lie about serving this country. Well, forget about serving this country. We serve the people. We still serve the people, so if you lie about that and we find out that you lied, then we will make sure that the people know about it, that they know what kind of person you really are.”
“And how do you do that?” I asked.
“The internet,” Henry James said.
“The internet is a wonderful creature,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “But it’s also a cruel beast. Maybe, I will have that coffee.”
“I’ll get it.”
“No. Stay seated. I like mine with sugar.” Jeffrey Hollis moved away from the desk. He limped toward the coffee machine. His button down, flannel shirt was half tucked into his pants. He adjusted his top, maybe because I noticed, and I looked down at the mud on his shoes. “Damn rain,” he said.
“Damn rain,” I repeated.
“More on the way. Always raining these days,” Henry James said. “Fits the mood.”
“The mood?” I asked.
“The mood of misery.” Henry James finished his coffee.
“Want more?” I asked, but Henry James shook his head and rubbed his knee again.
“So, how does the V.N.A. work exactly?” I asked.
“You’ve seen the news?” Jeffrey Hollis returned to his desk and drank his coffee.
“Thought you didn’t like the media?” I asked.
“We still watch the news,” Henry James said.
“There are a lot of victims in this country. There are a lot of senseless killings, and we want to be the ones to stop that. The people need protection, so we will protect them like we have always done,” Jeffrey Hollis said.
“But how do they find you before they wind up on the news?” I asked.
“Word of mouth,” Henry James said.
“Meetings. Community meetings, and yes, the internet. But we don’t do that social media bullshit. We just do listings, postings around the web,” Jeffrey Hollis said.
“Do you have a website?” I asked.
“No. That could be taken over and used against us, and word of mouth is still powerful. People still talk to each other. At workplaces. Parties, if they still have that. Bars. We prefer word of mouth,” Jeffrey Hollis said.
“And we do have business cards,” Henry James added. “We leave them around town, villages, local businesses, bars, meetings. Wherever we can.”
“Even churches,” Jeffrey Hollis threw in.
I turned in my seat. “You said that having a website could be taken over and used against you. What do you mean by that?” I looked at both men and waited for an answer.
“Don’t get us wrong,” Henry James said. “There are a lot of good people in this country.” He glanced over at his partner.
“But there are also a lot of people, maybe certain people that don’t like what we are doing, what kind of service we are providing for the people. They might feel that we are overstepping, that we should just stay in our corners, and not disturb the political machine.”
“Oh, politics. I was wondering if we were going to address that,” I said.
“I would rather not,” Henry James said.
“All I will say on that issue is that you have the red side and the blue side,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “But the people are orange, and we’ve been orange for a very long time now.”
“Orange?” I asked.
“Orange because we are caught in the middle of those two sides,” Jeffrey Hollis said.
“Are ripped apart by those two sides.” Henry James looked out the window. “Nobody knows what to do anymore or who to trust, and people are fighting with each other. Coworkers. Neighbors. Hell, even family. We are at war with ourselves, and there are people out there, who don’t like what you said, what you wrote, or even what you’re wearing, or what sign you have on your front lawn. And these people don’t even think anymore. They just do. They show up at your house with the intent to harm and most likely kill you, and how did they find you? The internet.” I flinched at the look of anger on Henry James’s face.
“There are a lot of Vets in this country that are trying to survive. They are trying to clothe themselves, feed themselves and their family, pay their medical bills and prescriptions. They are trying to survive. So, because of the state of affairs that this country is in right now, the V.N.A. is the answer,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “You receive death threats? You find yourself targeted for whatever reason? You get a hold of us, and a Vet will be assigned to protect you. And you pay them directly two hundred an hour for their service. I think that’s fair.”
“And the five hundred deposit?” I asked.
“Oh, you were listening,” Henry James said.
“Yes, I was,” I said.
“That’s for us. To keep this business going. You saw the reception area?” Jeffrey Hollis watched me nod. “They are all Vets, at least, most of them. We will find out, but you saw them.” He watched me nod again. “They need the money. They need this, and so do the people.”
“When are they mostly protecting the people?” I asked.
“Mostly, at night,” Henry James said. “When the people are asleep. That’s when they are most vulnerable.”
“But,” Jeffrey Hollis added. “The people are starting to learn that they are not even safe during the day, so the protection detail, if you want to call it that, could be during the day.”
“How did things get so bad?” I asked.
“That takes us back to politics,” Henry James said.
“And, speaking of politics,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “We, our services will be really booming soon.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “Election Day, so you do offer to protect the politicians then?” Henry James burst out laughing at my words. “Something I said?”
“We do not protect the politicians.” Henry James sneered.
“Then, who do you protect during Election Day?” I asked.
“The election workers. The people at the polling centers. They receive a lot of death threats, especially if they’re put on the news as liars about who really won the election. You wouldn’t believe it, but they’re right up there with the police and firefighters now, risking their lives for their jobs. What does that tell you?” Jeffrey Hollis asked.
“Nothing good,” I said. “And there are a lot of election workers across this country.”
“Which is why we need more Vets to hire,” Henry James said.
“And there’s no shortage of them.” Jeffrey Hollis checked his watch. “Shit. We really need to get started on the interview process now. I hate to wrap this up.”
“But you need to,” I said. “One last question?”
“Sure,” Henry James said, glancing over at his partner. “Ask away. One last question.”
“How long do you plan to have the V.N.A. out there for the people, to provide your services to them?”
“Indefinitely,” Henry James answered.
“We have reached a breaking point with this country,” Jeffrey Hollis said. “And depending on how the election will go, we could implode. We don’t have the leaders that we need to unite the people. We just have the blue and the red, which is why we are…”
“Orange.” Now, I watched Jeffrey Hollis nod at me. “Well, thank you both for your service and for your time.” I moved away from the chair and walked toward the door. “And don’t worry.” I looked over at both men. “Even if the newspaper were not to print this, I still will.” I walked out of the room.
Bio: Melissa R. Mendelson is a Horror, Science-Fiction and Dystopian Author. She is also a Poet. She recently re-released her Sci-Fi Novel, Waken on Amazon and Amazon Kindle. She is also the author of a poetry collection called, This Will Remain With Us published by Wild Ink Publishing. She also has two short story collections “Better Off Here” and “Stories Written Along Covid Walls“, both of which can be purchased at Amazon, or found on our Bookstore page.
She can be found at her website HERE.
Melissa has several stories posted to The Yard. They can be found HERE.
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