"Due to the new and evolving nature of this threat, the President has established temporary facilities to expediently determine who is and who is not a terrorist. That is all."
-Presidential Spokesperson; September 9th, 2008; 7 PM PST.
The trucks begin arriving at the camp sometime well past midnight, roll one after another down a dirt track and through a hastily erected wooden gate between twin rows of jumbled barbs and razorwire. In the distance, off to the sides of the road, there are brief but brilliant and irregular flashes of pinpoint hallogen lights spread at uneven points across a vast area. The sudden miniature blazes do nothing to illuminate any of the pitch black void beyond the road.
This was sort of what everyone has been expecting in some terrifyingly dark recess of their minds; but no one in the truck, certainly not Chevy, had been willing to put a face to it until now. It appears in every basic way to be a concentration camp.
What's more, as they'd bounced and jolted down the dirt road a terrible smell had begun to drift into the truck, stronger and stronger. At first he'd thought someone had finally shit his pants, but by the time they enter the gates the putrid odor has became so gaggingly overwhelming, so clearly indicative of death, he knows it's got to be coming from this place.
Chevy grew up in a country, in a time where he thought he'd never see a camp like this, let alone be interned in it. But he came from a long line of people who had learned to remain mobile, portable and adaptable in case shit like this ever happened. As the trucks pull through the gate, floodlights begin to sweep over them. Hastily he accounts for what he's got in his pockets. Thirty-seven dollars. Two credit cards and a driver's license. A cell phone with a digital camera built into it. Some receipts; he shoves those back into his pocket, lest his name be found on the floor of the truck by some sadistic guard on cleaning detail. There are two bright-orange laminated backstage passes that Doonan just mailed him, too, for the Wetnesses' big LA show on the 12th -- so much for that; it's a shame; he was looking forward to seeing them all and rocking out. The only other thing in his pocket is a strange metallic thing, the object Katie slipped into his hand at the last moment. He had completely forgotten it. He feels around the shape with his fingers and suddenly it pricks him sharply. He extracts it carefully from the pocket, trying not to snag it on anything.
It's a tiny rose, made of three kinds of metal -- the stem is silver, the petals a deep, luscious red, and two little leaves at the sides are rendered in emerald green. All in all, it's about the size of his pinky, only thinner. It looks very old; like something that belonged to someone's great-grandmother kind of old. But even in the dim flashes of arc-light that filter through to him, he can see the color isn't painted-on. The metals are really those colors; they cannot chip or fade. Attached to the back of the rose is a clasp and a small pin, which is what pricked him.
The truck is rambling over the uneven track, heading into the heart of the camp. Without stopping to reconsider, he wraps the pin in a twenty-dollar bill, quietly hocks a big fucking loogie onto it, unbuckles his belt, and mercilessly shoves the whole half-slick apparatus where the sun don't shine. Which is an incredibly unpleasant feeling; but one he will now probably need to get quite used to. If he's right in his thinking, they aren't gonna bother to do cavity searches on this lot.
The trucks stop side by side in the middle of a vast dirt yard surrounded by distant tumble-down barracks made of corrugated steel. The whole scene is lit up by half a dozen night-suns mounted on watchtowers, beams coalescing more or less at the dead center of the yard. It's brighter than shit.
He's the last out of the truck, lets everyone go ahead of him, just being courteous. He hops down carefully, ouch, carefully but casually, shuffles along with the rest of the crowd.
From what he can see it's basically about half the people who were at the protest that have made it here. There must be another camp somewhere for the rest. In the bright blaze of the spotlights he can see the dust clinging to the wet jeans of the tall blonde girl who was crying at the beginning. Now she looks miserably resigned. Others, too, have had their various accidents. They blink sheepishly through the billowing blue dust.
It will all come clean in the showers, he thinks darkly, then stops himself.
The unbearable stench which flooded the truck on its way up to the camp is even worse out here in the open, if that's possible. In some part of his brain that's desperately trying to turn itself off, he's already realized it's the odor of a slaughterhouse. He imagines it'll take awhile to get used to.
Well over a thousand people are milling around the center of the yard now. The guards, who probably aren't used to working on this kind of scale, are taking things slow and easy. They're standing around in several layers of semi-circles on the perimeter of the spotlit area, smoking cigarettes, keeping an eye on the prisoners. Chevy notices vaguely that some of them are in camo like the National Guardsmen who arrested them, while a lesser portion, seemingly more mobile, are wearing all-black with black caps. Like the snipers on the rooftops. Not that this makes the slightest bit of difference to him; all of them are carrying automatic weapons.
"Attention detainees," says a voice over a loudspeaker, echoing like cannonfire through the yard. Everyone shuts up and listens. "You will be processed and sorted, then assigned to barracks. Afterwards you will be questioned individually. Those of you who are not jihadists will then be released. Form yourselves into ten orderly lines facing the tables."
People start forming up. Chevy can see now that a row of zinc desks has been brought out into the yard; each has an identical laptop and a black-clad soldier sitting at it, backed by two guardsmen with AKs. Wirelessly networked, he thinks. Good to know.
No one says a word. Chevy falls into the back of a line between a stringy-haired dude with an ironic Nixon t-shirt and a big fat man with real bad acne. The fat man is breathing a rancid smell of hunger down his neck. One by one they approach the tables for processing. The black-clad soldier asks a few questions, then points toward one barracks or another.
There is a story Chevy remembers that he's trying very hard to suppress. It is about his great-uncle Eliott, the only of his Grandfather's eight brothers and sisters to survive Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz, they would line you up at a table every so often to administer a physical test. The table, Chevy imagines, was probably a wooden number in the middle of a dirt yard a lot like this one.
The test was meant to see whether you were strong enough to keep working, and thus avoid the gas chamber. You would put your hands at your sides. Then a guard standing beside the table then would grab your arms and try to lift you up. If he could lift you, you were considered too frail to go on; the officer at the table would point to his left, toward the gas chamber, and that was the end of you. If the guard couldn't lift you, the officer would point to his right. Toward another day of living hell.
Eliott, the story said, had become too weak and he knew it. He was a walking, barely speaking skeleton with skin hanging off of him. In this regard he looked like most of the other prisoners at Auschwitz toward the end of the war. But he knew with cold certainty that he was not heavy enough to keep his feet on the ground. He had seen which men could be lifted and which couldn't, had calculated precisely which category he fell into.
It was a cold, damp morning when Eliott was forced again to approach the wooden desk in the middle of the yard. It had been raining all through the day and night before. We can surmise that the officer didn't want to be there, in the mud and the stink; the prisoners sure as shit didn't want to be there either; everyone wanted to go home but no one knew how. As Eliott moved toward the table with his suffering gait, he carefully dug his feet deeper and deeper into the thick black mud. By the time he stood before the table, he was up to his ankles. The guard barely glanced at this worthless bag of bones before grabbing him and trying to lift him.
But he couldn't lift Eliott. Eliott was stuck in the mud.
"Must have eaten some rocks!" the guard chuckled; or something to that effect; and in German obviously. The story gets a little hazy here. But what we know is that the officer at the table pointed to the right. And that Eliott survived the war.
Funny how many fellow Jews Chevy knows that voted for Bush. Wonder how they'll like this.
"Take off the jacket," snaps the officer in black.
Shit, Chevy thinks, now I'm fucking in for it. He unzips the black windbreaker, slides it off his arms revealing big red block letters on a green field (reminiscent of Soviet tank markings) reading, "REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME."
Little late for that particular slogan, huh?
The stoic black-clad officer at the desk raises his arm and points to the left. A soldier steps behind Chevy, AK lowered, shoves the muzzle of the gun painfully into the small of his back.
"I'm going," Chevy says, just trying to keep one step ahead of the cold metal.