Short Story – “Last Post From The Bugle”

None of us thought that there’d be any real consequences to the cease and desist letters we’d received over the preceding months. After all, we were just a tiny, digital production from Portland. That’s Portland, Maine. Not Portland, Oregon. Had we been from Portland, Oregon, you better believe they would’ve closed in on us fast, long before we reached this sorry state of affairs we’ve found ourselves in. In this moment, in what could be our final moments, I still think that events escalated to this point due to the fact that we were allowed to fly under the radar for so long. One evening we were four kids in a basement, playing at journalism to an audience of twenty-thousand. The next, we had the armies of America at the door, ready to shut us up, and shut us down.

The Backwoods Bugle started out as a small project between my brother and I. We were twins. Well, we still are twins, although I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be much of anything. Growing up, Chris and I shared similar interests. It’s hard not to when your parents send you to the same after-school clubs, and often buy you the same birthday and christmas presents. Chris was always a lot smarter than me, in the traditional sense. We both had book-smarts, two skinny white kids from Maine were never going to have street-smarts, but Chris excelled at anything scientific or technological. Whereas you’d usually find me with a work of fiction, as opposed to a computer science textbook.

We both attended different local colleges, our mother had been sick for most of our lives, so we didn’t want to stray too far from the family home. Our father, on the other hand, has been non-existent for most of his life. Non-existent from our perspective at least. As kids we used to pretend our Dad was an astronaut, or an explorer. One morning, mother caught us having a make-believe adventure with our father, we were somewhere deep in the heart of the African jungle, and the couch was our travelling elephant guide; named Tim. She snapped us out our playtime daydream, became very upset, and sat us down for a serious talk about the realities of our father. She revealed to us that he was far more likely to be dead in a gutter, than searching for habitable planets across the stars. This conversation, this moment in my life, is one that I always return to in moments of doubt or crisis. Moments just like the one we’re inhabiting today.

I learned that day that the truth is harsh, it can hurt ones very soul and snap you out of some fantasy you’ve been living. But it is also pure, and a necessity. Had I not been told the truth of my father, I would’ve continued to falsely believe that he was a great man, instead of an uncontrollable, harmful drunk. Had my mother not told me at aged nine that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, then her death at aged twenty-three would’ve made for an even more harrowing experience. The truth is always going to hurt someone, but in the long run, it softens the blow, and helps others to cope with the realities of modern existence.

Truth became my calling. At college I became obsessed with the old-forms of journalism. I’d gone to study English Literature and came away with a passion for an outdated and extinct industry. Personally, I blame the library. There, I managed to research and discover everything that anyone could possibly want to know about the history of journalism. It was print newspapers that I formed a romanticised bond to. How exciting it must’ve been for a newsroom to work together as a unit of truthseekers, in order to get the word out to the people before the daily deadline. I spent too much of the time I was supposed to have spent studying, researching the history and methodology of journalists. By age twenty-two, I wanted to run my own newspaper, in a country that had outlawed them.

Chris studied at a college approximately forty miles from my own, so we’d often visit each other on weekends. He chose a more useful degree in the form of Computer Science, but more importantly, he actually read about the subject he had come to college to study. I knew that as soon as our studies were over, he would be made an offer to work somewhere in Boston or New York, and I would be left to look after mother because I chose to read books, poorly.

This is exactly the way it turned out, but mother put an end to Chris’ success, and our dual eternity of sadness and sickness. On the ninth of October, three years ago, mother killed herself. She had used pills, which hit me hard. Her passing was surely peaceful, but I remembered a conversation we had several years before her suicide. She had been joking about it, as she often did, and I became angry that she was considering this as an option, so I shouted ‘If you must do it mother, take a hundred pills so I know you won’t feel a thing!’ Right before I stormed out of Grandma’s funeral.
After mother died, Chris returned to the family home and took a job at a computer repair store in town. His knowledge and genius were far above the level of telling old people to switch their routers off and on again, but he had returned for his weeping baby brother. Chris was two minutes older and he regularly reminded me of this fact. Looking at us, you wouldn’t be able to tell. I thought about describing our appearance for you, but by the time you’ll be reading this, I’m sure our mugshots will be showcased as memes, all over the internet. I just wish we could make the news, like the good old days.

Six months after mother died, Chris came stumbling into my room and declared that we needed a change. He opened up about being happy to come home, that he loved me no matter what, but if we was to stay, we needed to make something of a life in Maine, and not just be the grieving children of a mother who suffered. He knew that the only subject that could ignite that sparkle we get in our eyes when we’re excited, was journalism. So, he pitched me his idea.

I thought Chris had spent his time at college plugging away at the syllabus. Well, it turned out we’re a lot alike, because during all of his free time, Chris had taught himself the more illicit aspects of computer science. He proposed that we start an online newspaper, just like in the old days. He assured me that he could encrypt each issue that we published, and that we could build up a subscriber base in secret. Once a subscriber was trusted and we had performed a basic background check to make sure they weren’t affiliated with informants, we could use end-to-end encryption to release the latest issue.

And so The Backwoods Bugle was born. A weekly publication that grew rapidly in its first year of operation. We soon found we had a lot of truth-seekers out there, we were touching an audience that hadn’t felt the sting of truth since the early days of the Administration. The major news outlets were the first ones to crumble, they were the easiest to target under the Abolition of the Media act. For a while, the Administration attempted to run their own news outlets as the only source of information. Thankfully, pressure from both sides of the aisle guaranteed that they didn’t last long. It was quite terrifying for a year or so, when LietLisa and FactBattle were the only national news outlets in America. They soon crumbled, and over the course of the next several years, local and purely online publications were stomped out.

Elle got in contact with us after we’d been publishing for three months, to an audience of three-hundred or so people. Chris had been handling the technical and security aspects of our operation, so I had been writing all of the articles. The chore of writing ten or so pieces every week was starting to drain my energy, and on the darker nights, I thought about shutting down the Bugle for good. Elle found us at just the right time. She had a background in creative writing and she had spent a childhood looking up to the great journalists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Due to the fact she’s here with us now, that she didn’t run when I gave her the chance, you have no doubt seen Elle’s mugshot. I understand the inherent sexism in describing women by their appearance first and foremost, so let me underline the fact that Elle was a better writer than I could ever hope to be, and saved the Bugle from the brink. But, I mean- come on, I guarantee her mugshot looks more like a headshot, and I still hear Pale Blue Eyes everytime I look her way.

With a team of three, we started to publish almost twice as much content every week. That’s when The Backwoods Bugle really took off. Chris had to get very careful when it came to accepting new subscribers. Back then I wasn’t worried about our security, he knew what he was doing, and members of the public had to go through a lot of questions just to join the waiting list to become a member.

Some companies have a mission statement when they first start out; a sentence or phrase that they can focus on each day, and work towards achieving the aim or goal. If we had one, it was simply “truth”. Truth was all we aimed for. Every piece we wrote was meticulously researched and we avoided divisive language where possible. Although given the state of the country, the truth was often in itself divisive. We published the kinds of stories that would’ve been branded as “fake” in the early days of the Administration. That was the dangerous buzzword that seemed to shift from a joke to a legitimate, baseless accusation over the course of a year or so.

As a team of three, we were driven by truth. We didn’t want to bring down the Administration, we knew any thoughts even remotely connected to this idea would be entirely futile. On nights after we had just published the latest issue, when we were furthest away from the next deadline, we would drink together and bitch about the country. The same way that all twenty-somethings have done since the advent of the middle classes. We wanted to challenge the Administration with the truth, to offer citizens the correct reading of their actions, but we never wanted to overthrow the government. If I look out of the window, I can see signs that contradict what I’ve just told you. No matter what you hear in the coming weeks and months, we’re not terrorists, we’re not treasonous, we only wanted to tell you the truth.

By the time we published our one-year anniversary issue, we had over four thousand readers. This was beyond anything that Chris and I could ever possibly have dreamed, and The Bugle showed no signs of slowing. Elle moved into the family home, which gradually became more like a pressroom with every passing day. Especially when Joel started writing for us. We were reluctant to bring him aboard, as he was known to be extremely outspoken (within the realms of the law) about the negative aspects of the Administration. For him, it was less about telling the truth because it was the truth, and more about kicking up a fuss and causing some trouble. This led to some disagreements between the two of us, but we was a strong writer, and he wrote with passion. Besides, as editor, nothing I didn’t want published made it to “press”.

I’m not entirely sure how long we have. Someone just threw a brick through one of our downstairs windows. The protesters know that they can’t trespass, they’d be arrested in the same way that we most likely will be, but it hasn’t stopped them from yelling obscenities and launching projectiles at our home. It won’t take the authorities long to get a warrant. As fucked up as the Administration is, they won’t do anything if it’s not within the parameters of the law. Granted, whenever they want something done that’s outside of these parameters, they change the rules of the game. However, thankfully, warrants to enter and search a property are still a part of the legal process. Although I can’t help but wonder if that’ll all change after today.

We first noticed a glitch in our security when a subscriber found his way onto our list without going through the correct application process. Chris noticed him within twenty-four hours, and he had not yet received an issue of the Bugle from us, so there was no way he could discover our location. Chris removed him and put a week-long lock on accepting new subscribers while he tinkered with the security codes. I wish I could describe the work that Chris has done for us more accurately. He’s currently, frantically deleting files, an action I should probably help him with. Except, I want to document what’s happening right now, and to explain our side of the events.

It’s a scary thought to think. This idea that only twenty-thousand or so people around the world will know the truth about our operation. But also that we’ll be arrested, and a statement will be released by the Administration, a statement that will be henceforth regarded as gospel, as an absolute false. I keep wondering what they’ll say about us. Most issues contained a page or two about the Administration, with all other pages being devoted to international news or the economy. We’re hardly commiting treason, twenty years ago our publication would even be considered the norm, but that’s the word they’ll brand us with. That, or deviant. That’s been one of their favourite words in recent years. Despite the Administration being filled with known rapists and pedophiles, they love to label anyone who goes against their agenda as a “deviant”. Well, just call us three proud deviants who’re willing to serve some time for the truth they’ve found a pleasure in sharing.

Around three months ago, a few weeks after the subscriber blip, our readership suddenly tripled in number. We were all suspicious about the sudden surge in subscribers, but Chris quadruple-checked the security and assured us that we had nothing to worry about. I believed him, and I also believe that the top cyber-security experts in the country would have drawn the same conclusion. Even when we received our first cease and desist letter, I didn’t blame Chris. He wouldn’t have gotten into this line of work if it weren’t for my archaic passions. Please understand that whatever happens to us today, and in the coming months, it’s all my fault, I take sole responsibility for our collective fates.

Joel tucking tail should’ve been a warning sign as to the cause of our discovery. In hindsight it was obvious he had ratted us out to someone, maybe he signed a plea deal with a local authority or something, I hope one day we find out the truth. To be perfectly honest with you (I always have been, why stop now) the four of us had formed a bond that I thought to be unbreakable. We lived together, we worked together, and we believed in a collective cause that was much bigger than ourselves. I always figured that if we were to be found out, it would’ve been through a hack or something. I never even considered that it could be one of our own, not until he disappeared within twenty-four hours of us receiving the first letter. I’ve been wondering what I would’ve done in Joel’s shoes. I bet he was offered a lot of money to give up our location, immunity as well, obviously. He loathes the Administration more than anyone I know, but no matter the distaste, the fear they project is enough to get to anyone.

The letters continued to arrive, and we continued to ignore them. Social media started to buzz with condemning comments about the work we were doing. People were starting campaigns that called for our arrest, some even for our death. It’s funny, after the Abolition of the Media Act, social networks are the closest thing we have left to an independent news source. Pre-act, these were the glory days, everyone sharing and expressing their opinions on matters of politics and the world at large. Things only turned sour once the Administration realised they could control which posts appeared at the top of people’s feeds, and which ones got buried under the masses of content.

Outside, they’re starting to chant and yell. I think they would’ve broken in by now, if it weren’t for local law enforcement holding them back. I feel sorry for them, the people out there with their signs and bricks, and I don’t blame them in the slightest. People will always latch onto the information that’s convenient for them. It’s easy to control an entire country when you incite hatred and anger, praying on the worst aspects of your average human. I don’t blame them because they’ve just been led in a certain direction, and they haven’t been able to easily hear anything remotely close to the truth in a quarter of a century.

I’m not entirely sure how much time I have to write this final post. When you’re reading this, I’ll have been taken into custody. We distribute our publications in a matter of seconds. So I think I’m going to wait right up until the front door is broken down, before I hit send. If this all ends fairly abruptly, now you know why. I wish it was only me sat here. I think I’d be taking this a lot better if Chris and Elle were already six states away, down some long highway, never to be caught by the Administration.

The notice that kicked up all of this fuss arrived yesterday. We’d seen online campaigns against our publication, I guess one of their members must’ve seen that the Administration had issued a final warning to us. They must’ve decided that now was the time to protest outside of our property, to really apply that extra ounce of pressure on us “fake-news fags”. The signs outside are abhorrent, but it’s the new normal. It’s been the new normal for quite some time. I guess I always knew that America was never as free as it proclaimed to be, but I could always confidently say “hey, it’s not North Korea.” Now, looking outside, I’m not so sure anymore.

The hilarious aspect to all this is that The Backwoods Bugle never once contained an article from a place of actual bias. Our subscribers know this much, but in the last few weeks, several of our articles were leaked to the masses. Hell, one of these articles even praised the Administration for its stance on a major European trade agreement. No matter what they tell you in the months to come, we never once had an agenda beyond the truth. I know I’m repeating myself here, I know I am, but I feel as though I need to. I fear that once we are silenced, only the spin of the Administration will reach your ears. So, that’s why I’m going to ask something of you.

You; a kind subscriber of our primitive publication. First, I want to thank you for your readership over the last two years, without you, we wouldn’t have been able to carry on writing the truth for as long as we managed to. Second, I want to thank you once more, for seeking out an alternative light in a dark and misty world. Finally, we’re going to ask something fairly major of you. Over the past year, the team here at the Bugle have been preparing a report on a meeting that took place between key members of the Administration and the cabinet of a political opponent. All of the evidence we’ve compiled on the subject will be included (and encrypted) within this document. We want you to be braver than any of us ever were, we want you to finish our work and distribute the story to the masses.

We’re not even talking election interference, or e-mails, or cover-ups. This goes beyond the realms of anything we thought possible from the Administration. Our country has not been our country for quite some time, and there’s a very good reason for that; we don’t own it anymore. Around ten years ago, America was sold to the highest bidder. Ever wonder why we’ve been moving backwards whilst the rest of the world marches on? Someone who wanted to put a stop to our country paid premium to cease the evolution of our society. The accused, and the evidence to support our claims, are contained within this file. Take this truth, and run with it. Share it across all platforms and to all citizens, share it with the world. We know you’ll be placing yourself in just as much danger as we find ourselves in now, but trust me when I say that you’ll be joining a noble history of truth-tellers, whistleblowers and silence-breakers.

I can’t help but think about mother. How she must’ve felt in her final moments of lucidity. My current situation has me closer to her mindset than ever before, and I think I understand it all now. Maybe it’s okay to tap-out and exit on your own terms. Maybe you don’t wait for the disease to take you, and instead you stride out of the door filled with the confidence that you’ve done the right thing. Mother’s suicide was harrowing, and if I close my eyes I can still feel her lifeless body in my arms. If she were still alive today, she’d be a shadow, a remnant. Mother called her own shots, in her final moments she displayed a trait that’s consistent with something all of us humans want to feel; freedom.

I’ve just spoken to Chris and Elle. We’re in agreement and we hugged. Man did we hug, for longer than we’ve ever hugged before. We may not get the chance from our separate cells. We’re going outside to face our accusers, we’re shutting down this publication on our own terms. It may just be the only freedom we have left.

It’s time for us at the Backwoods Bugle to sign off. At the end of this paragraph, I’m going to hit send and release this final statement to all of our remaining subscribers. We’ve played our part, now it’s your turn. I almost can’t wait to walk out of that door. I know I’m speaking for all three of us when I say that we’re proud of the work we have done here. Thank you for taking some time to read our story, I suppose it’s the closest I’ll get to a suicide note, I guess that’s why it sounds like one. I’m not entirely sure what will happen next, but I feel safe in the knowledge that we’ve done the right thing, and told the truth to the best of our amateur abilities. Farewell Bugle readers, continue to seek the truth, and pray we find a lawyer that wants to represent us.

Marc Reece – The Editor

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

On 4/9/38 at 13:20 we arrived at the scene of the crime. My team had to exit our vehicle around one-hundred metres from the suspected property, due to approximately three-hundred civilians protesting on the street outside. Local law enforcement continued to keep the civilians under control as Sergeant Jackson of the Maine State Police briefed myself and my team on the known actions of the suspects over the course of the last twenty-four hours. As Sergeant Jackson briefed us, at approximately 13:23, all three suspects emerged from the front of the property. Civilians began shouting and screaming at the suspects, that was when we noticed that all three were brandishing semi-automatic weapons. Myself and my team were quick to act, and we dispatched all three suspects before any of them could fire into the crowd of civilians. One member of my team called in an ambulance and all three suspects were pronounced dead on the scene. We aided in the dispersal of the civilian crowd, before leaving the scene at approximately 13:40. My team then returned to base and were debriefed on the operation.

Statement from Captain Oaks of the 602nd. From the official records of the Administration.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

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