The stars were out, but they were obscured by the brightness of the campfire at the center of the group of seven people. Fish had been caught, cooked, and eaten and everyone was lounging comfortably in a post-meal stupor.
"Favorite book," said Jeb.
"Too easy," said Wally. "Truth or dare?"
"I like easy," said Christy. There were a few giggles.
"I vote for books," said Kit.
"You always vote for books," said Wally sternly. "Even when it's not in your best interest."
"Books are good," said Kit, sticking her tongue out at him.
"Truth or dare," said Judith, who separated Kit and Wally. She leaned forward to nip in the bud any escalation of hostilities.
"Truth or dare," said Barry.
Everyone turned to look at Loreen who was the remaining holdout.
"Can't we do both?" asked Loreen.
"Always looking for a compromise," said Wally.
"Now's not the time to get into that," said Judith.
"Stop momming me," said Wally.
"We can do both," said Barry, "but not simultaneously. What's your pick for what we do first?"
"Uh, well we'll be only more tired later on, so I think maybe truth or dare?" Loreen looked for approval.
"I concede then," said Jeb.
"Jeez, look at us," said Kit, "being all, democratical."
"I don't think that's a word," said Barry.
"It is now," said Kit smiling.
"Can we get started or what? That moonshine stuff's gone to my head," said Christy. Jeb kissed her and put his arm around her.
"Who's first?" asked Judith.
"I'll go," said Christy. "Jeb. Truth or dare?"
"Ooh. Uh, dare I guess!"
"Fine," said Christy. "I was hoping you'd say truth--" she broke into a fit of giggles.
"Come on sweetie," said Jeb a bit embarrassed. "What's the dare?"
"I dare you," she said, "to take off your clothes and run around the fire three times."
"Really?" Jeb asked, bemused. He stood up.
"Oh, he's gonna do it," said Wally.
"Damn right I am," said Jeb, stripping down. "I don't like to lose."
Everyone was laughing loudly when he finally got everything off and started his first circle. There was an echoing crack and Jeb lost his balance. He fell into the fire, clutching at the bullet hole in the middle of his chest. Christy screamed and scrambled to pull him free of the flames.
"Stop immediately!" screamed a man running out from the edge of the forest. He was dressed in the black uniform of the nationalist militia.
Christy kept pulling on Jeb's arm and the man shot her as well. The others held up their hands, shaking. They were caught and they all knew how it would all end.
The militia man was joined by several others.
"Hippies," said a man with a few bars on his sleeve. "I don't like hippies."
"We're not--" said Wally.
The man with a few bars pointed a handgun at Wally's head.
"Hippies," he repeated. "You are one if I say you are."
Wally shivered and looked around at the other militia goons who stood either smirking, or stony-faced. There was not a shred of compassion to be shared amongst them.
"Alcohol," said one of the militia men. as he kicked an empty mason jar. The man with a few bars flared his nostrils with practiced hatred.
At this time, the stench of roasting human flesh filled the air.
"Take that off," said the man with a few bars to one of his underlings, pointing at Jeb's corpse. The task was completed with efficiency.
"What am I going to do with you?" asked the man with a few bars. "Colluding. That's what you're doing. Organizing, aren't you? Generating alcohol for use in bomb making. Oh, and public nudity, so I'm guessing were practicing your secret and illegal religion."
The group endured this by not listening to the content of the words but rather the tone, except for Wally. He clenched his toes in the ends of his shoes since that was the only part of him the man with a few bars couldn't properly see.
The man with few bars sighed dramatically.
"What shall I do? I could shoot you here, but your rotting corpses will smell up this pristine forest, and this forest belongs to our honorable leader. Just your presence here sullies it. And yet I do not want to pack you off and take you in. You look to be too low down in the resistance to be at all useful in interrogation. Why should I waste the government's money like that."
"You could leave us be," said Wally. The rest of the group instinctively flinched at the sound of his voice.
"Well boys! Don't we have a feisty one?" The man with a few bars laughed heartily.
Wally stood and faced the man with a few bars, who stared at him with wide, indignant eyes.
"You've been lied to," said Wally in a calm voice. "You think you are a shark in the ocean but you're just a sad little fish in a little bowl."
The man with a few bars struck Wally across the face with his handgun. Wally stumbled back a bit, then righted himself. He spoke again calmly.
"I see," said Wally. "You've bought into a system that ultimately diminishes you as a--"
The man with a few bars shot Wally through the bridge of his nose. He fell backward. Judith caught him and laid him gently to the ground.
"To Kill a Mockingbird!"screamed Kit. "My favorite book," she said. "And yes, mister, you betcha that one's banned!"
The man with a few bars aimed his gun at Kit.
"Are you There God? It's Me Margaret!" shouted Judith. She exhaled noisily. "Banned!" she added.
The man with few bars pointed his gun at Judith.
"The Handmaid's Tale!" said Barry.
"Really?" asked Kit. "I thought you hated Atwood?"
"Not that one," he said. "Banned!" he added triumphantly.
"A Wrinkle in Time," said Loreen, "and In the Knight Kitchen. You can't ask me to pick just one favorite. Oh. And they're banned."
"Pathetic," said the man with a few bars. "This is your revolution?"
The man with a few bars laughed while his militia looked on, unimpressed.
"You can't kill ideas," said Kit. "They are free."
The man with a few bars raised his gun and shot her.
"You could be free too," said Judith, "if you--"
The man with a few bars shot Judith.
"Anyone else want to make a speech?" he asked.
"Fuck you," said Barry.
The man with a few bars shot him.
"And we are down to one. The timid one. Should I let my men all rape you or do you want me to kill you now?"
Loreen got to her feet shakily. She straightened out the wrinkles in her pants.
"Because I choose to think for myself, I am, and always have been, free." She smiled slowly. "And I forgive you."
The man with a few bars swallowed hard. His hand shook, and for a moment, he absorbed the opposite of everything he'd been taught. Then he smirked and pulled the trigger and Loreen fell, completing the circle around the crackling campfire.
For Mr. Bradbury. The assignment I had in ninth grade to extend your story "The Veldt" made me realize how fun and rewarding the process of writing fiction could be.