Letters from the Waste: Part II is the second installment in the ongoing Puritan serial, chronicling the throes of power and the aftermath of omnipotence in a regime on the edge of reality. Click here for the previous chapter.
Fragment 0002, Anne Milton – b
The meeting went well. I cannot go into full detail, but I will be at the Citadel for at least the next few months. The Patriarch requires my assistance, although he has not yet made clear exactly what that entails. Still, I have the utmost confidence. I love you.
Yours truly, Anne
Fragment 0319, Flora Eliot – c
It was so good to get a letter from you. I’m glad that things are going well at school and you are making friends. In answer to your first question, I’m doing alright. It’s lonely, but there’s a young child in my building, Mary, right across the hall, who has been helping me with some things and keeping me company while her mother is still at work. Your father and mother have kept in steady contact with me for the past few months, and it’s been delightful to hear from them about all the wonderful things that you’ve been up to. They miss you a lot. We are all so proud of you.
In response to your second question, I’d be happy to help you with your history project. Lately, I’d been thinking a little about those things myself. The world has changed a great deal, ever since the Puritan, our Patriarch, stepped into the spotlight. I’ve written up this reflection for you, enclosed below. I hope that it helps, although I may have veered a little off what was expected.
I love you. I know that you’re busy, but feel free to send more letters whenever you need.
The world used to feel big, like it could only get bigger. It used to be a lot of things, some better, some worse. Only two things for certain can be said about it now. First – it’s still the world, as real as anything else, even if sometimes, to those who remember the times before, it feels as paper-thin and faded as a VHS tape. Second – it’s his world, unequivocally. It’s the Puritan’s world.
Before the Puritan, the nations of the world seemed jumbled and confused, chaotic and ambitious. Before he first stepped onto the stage over thirty years ago, everything felt like it was on some sort of collision course. The world was getting hotter. Contention was continuously growing between two increasingly vocal groups. The specter of the second World War seemed to have moved on, allowing new forms of nationalism to run rampant. With every passing day, the tension grew tighter and more unstable, and everyone was aware of the violence creeping inevitably at their peripherals. Not to sound melodramatic, but the world felt like a burning fuse.
What none of us expected was that that global burning wouldn’t lead to the explosive ending that we all anticipated. This was a slow fire, and he was the embodiment of that burning flame. For all intents and purposes, the Puritan actually came at exactly the time we needed him. The Puritan burned the old world to the ground. In doing so, like a forest fire, he allowed his new society to seed and grow.
Without this context, to someone who was not there, he would have seemed to come from the most ridiculous of places. As you know, I was at his first and only performance, at the Westward Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Your grandfather had been given tickets for the show through his work. No one had really heard of the man before; at the time, he went by the stage name of Johnny Lightcloud, before he received the moniker of “Puritan” about two years later.
At first, his show just seemed like a regular magic show, with all the same cheese, glitter, and brand of illusions. The first thing that truly amazed me, before I figured out what I was actually seeing, was his last staged trick, a card trick. He started by pulling out a standard deck of playing cards, shuffling them between his hands in midair. Then, with a sudden flourish, the cards burst from his hands out towards the audience, flying through the air. As they flew, they slowed to a stop. However, they did not drop to the ground. Not one of them succumbed to the pull of gravity. Eventually, each of the fifty-two cards drifted themselves in place above fifty-two seats, floating just above the heads of certain audience members.
“Grab them,” he said, flashing his million-dollar smirk. The people directly below the cards obeyed, reaching up and pulling the cards down. “Look at your cards. Show them to the people around you, please, as well as you can.” Again, they followed his instructions. A man two rows in front of us held up his card for us to see. It was the four of clubs. After nearly everyone had had a chance to see the cards, with the flick of a wrist, the cards suddenly launched back upward, floating just out of reach. The faces of the cards spun away, leaving everyone to only see the red, stylized backs.
Lightcloud stepped down from his golden platform, towards the audience, giving a speech that I will remember until the day I die. “The cards you were dealt were completely random. I did not choose them. I do not know which went where.” In my mind, I assumed he was beginning the part of the trick that would ultimately lead to the predictable question, ‘is this your card?’ “Some of you were aces, kings, queens, jacks, tens. Some of you were twos and threes. Some were diamonds, some clubs. Completely random. And this randomness, the shuffling of a deck, has more to say about us than we think. In life, some of us are kings and queens. Some of us are twos and threes. Usually, whether we are on one end of the deck or the other depends entirely on that same force: chance, luck, happenstance. In the end, the cards that we are dealt are random.” He paused. His smirk wavered. “Growing up, my family was never very wealthy. I was a two or three, dealt with poor cards. From the clothes some of you are wearing, I can tell that some of you are wealthy,” the Puritan said, pulling an expensive-looking watch out of his pocket, which had been locked in an untouched safe at the beginning of the show, and throwing it to the audience member who had volunteered it, “especially that man. Nice Rolex.” His smirk broke into a smile. “Some of you are the kings and queens, dealt the right cards. But now, I invite you to ponder, what if there was another force, beyond chance? A force that could make us all.” He paused for dramatic effect. Above our heads, the suspended cards began to turn over. “The same? That could make us all equally … important?”
Where the faces and numbers had once been, every card now held only one symbol: a perfect, black grid of four rectangles, forming a sort of cross. Some in the audience shifted around in their seats, and a few impulsively coughed. Clusters of stray claps echoed beneath the high ceiling. The Puritan, undeterred, continued. “I came to Vegas one time prior to this month, when I was nine. At the time, I hated it. Even then, I felt like an outsider to all the opulence. As my parents drank next to the slot machines, I waited on the outer aisles of the carpet. I never understood it, this obsession with false pleasures, the decadence of it all. It was all so fake. I hated this place then. I still do. But, I see tremendous potential in it. It has passion. Which is why this city is where I’ve decided to start my work. Ladies and Gentlemen, good night.”
That’s when all the chandeliers broke. Throughout the hotel, every crystal string snapped and shattered onto the floor. Luckily, or deliberately, no one was hurt. Sprinkled amongst the glass heaps strewn and sparkling in the theater aisles, the cards fluttered aimlessly to the floor. Even then, none of us understood entirely what was going on. Some people began to clap again. And thus, the Puritan began.
Effortlessly, snapping his arms through the air, the Puritan began to tear the theater apart with his mind. The tapestries and ornamentation, hung upon the walls, ripped and tore into long strips, dissolving into grey, formless tatters. For the first time, Lightcloud began to demonstrate the true nature of his magic, although there was nothing fantastical about it. Never before had the world witnessed a man with telepathic abilities, but, on that fateful evening, the Puritan showed the world his unprecedented power.
Your grandfather and I, along with a stampede of other people, ran out of the theater and through the hotel and casino. Some people were screaming; outside, they rushed to jam their cars into the outgoing traffic, as horns and alarms blared. Most people were panicked, with no idea what was actually going on. Jim and I had made it into our car seats and turned on the car, when he stopped and pointed up in awe.
All the windows of the hotel had shattered outwards into a million shards, twinkling and suspended in the air. Alongside them, hotel guests had been flung out their windows, tumbling head over heel. None of them fell. As we watched, they descended into the parking lot on invisible wings, unharmed by the glass or the fall. As the last guest touched down, Jim and I turned our gaze back to the hotel. On the steps of the outer lobby, we could just make out the Puritan, holding his arms upwards and outwards. Above him, cracks began to form on the side of the building, and the lights flashed on and off inside. Then, it collapsed up. The building, crumbling into massive chunks of concrete and glass, ripped off its foundations. The meteoric fragments slammed into one another, spinning like a tornado until it was reduced to a fine dust. At the center, we could still make out the silhouette of the Puritan, and, all around us, we realized that the other buildings and hotels were being demolished in precisely the same way. The lights of the city began to blink out.
In the distance, we heard police sirens. Before we could react, stunned in silence, every car alarm in the city began to go off at once. The doors of our car were ripped off and we were thrown outside, into the air. We lost consciousness. The city lost consciousness.
When we awoke the next morning, we found ourselves once again in a car, but not our original car. This one was smaller, nondescript – you know the design by now, since it’s the only kind of car your generation has seen, the only model of car you have ever known. Meanwhile, beyond the dashboard, all around us, an immaculately clean road stretched off and around a curve, hedged in by pale grey buildings and strips of urban gardening, the Puritan’s archetypical city plan. Eerily, everything had the hint of a mid-twentieth century aesthetic, cubed and curved with nuclear optimism. I got out of the car. Your grandfather followed. Others began to funnel onto the sidewalks, eyes blinking tiredly beneath the thin, white rays of the morning sun. Our paces quickened. Every building, every car, every garden patch was indistinguishable from one another. Every fine detail was the same, maddeningly so. Not even the smooth concrete gave away the facade, unmarred by splits or cracks of texture. We ran, disoriented, looking and needing something new.
Before the Puritan, you have to understand that few things were ever so uniform. There were a dozen choices for what kind of phone you had, what kind of car you drove, where you lived, what job you had, even where you wanted to buy groceries. Naively, we were not ready for that to go away. No one was ready to lose their possessions, to share everything, even if it meant the end of greed and hunger.
Finally, after an hour of panicked searching, we reached the center of the city, where a crowd had already formed. The city center was different from the layered buildings that formed the outer labyrinth, in that it opened into a wide clearing of grass and fountains, all surrounding the Puritan’s dome. In some great irony, affixed to the dome, we could just make out the Las Vegas sign, except the letters had been changed. Eventually, someone nearby figured out what it said. “Welcome to the Citadel.”
The crowd continued to grow around a tall platform beneath the dome, people pressing in around each other. Then, Lightcloud stepped out onto the platform. The drone of speakers turning on reverberated through the city center. The Puritan gave his first real speech at the Citadel, an event that he made sure was broadcast across the planet. He introduced himself by his real name, John Wade, and spoke about a new age, a better world that he would have us help to create. He spoke about the futility of fearing him, stressing the “importance” of every person within his world order. He spoke about the new vision to govern our land. He spoke about becoming a city upon a hill, a lighthouse in a stormy sea, building “a heaven on earth.” On cue, Belinda Carlisle’s song began to play from the speakers as he left the platform and returned to his dome. It was all impossible, ridiculous, completely unreal, but it was happening. I prayed that it was a dream. It was not.
What amazed people most about what followed, the Puritan’s rapid conquest and global disarmament, aside from the sheer power and speed of it all, was the fact that so few people were directly hurt by the Puritan in the process. He made his changes and demands, moving from city to city without difficulty, but doled out few punishments or personal judgments in the initial wave. He always spoke of how everyone was “important” to him. It was the word on his lips when he cast the world’s nuclear arsenal out of orbit. It was the central theme of his American reconstruction, as he centralized the populace to major, capital cities. It was the assurance he made to every newly claimed citizen. He could have easily taken on every other nation of the world, but he preferred to weaken them, rendering the status quo of the world’s newfound peace. The United States was his and, eventually, he fully reordered any nation which asked him to.
Of course, people tried to stop him. Every bullet was stalled in its barrel, every missile on its launch pad, every knife bent, every thrown fist broken without a touch. Every desperate attempt made to stop him was itself stopped. When the attempt was made, he would rarely punish the culprit himself. After a short time, he would not need to. When people began to look at his words and actions as a whole, overlooking some of his shortcomings, we began to see the goodness of his message and the simplicity of it all. The Order took care of dissenters and, oftentimes, dissenters took their own lives. When the news channels still broadcast things like that, I remember the reports coming in every day. My brother was one of them.
The Puritan’s society sprang up naturally from the physical framework he had erected. His housing units placed a focus on equality and the distribution of households and families. Family life became essential, guaranteeing basic importance within The Puritan’s order. Energy, agriculture, medicine, and every other necessity were in-built features fulfilled and taken care of by the Puritan’s deliberate, reasonable construction. In fact, a great many things were already taken care of. With his own massive strides, the age of aimless scientific dependency and innovation came to an end, although he still celebrated the depths of knowledge and truth with reformed systems of education. He had achieved a Utopia.
As long as one fulfills one’s importance, one remains an inviolable piece of the society that the Puritan has built. Compared to the unemployment and poverty of years past, this was a relief to many. However, as the Puritan began to select his most prominent ministers, generals, confidantes, and advisors, the adjective “important” began to take on a greater meaning. To be important meant to be important to the Puritan. From across America, sometimes from across the planet, the Puritan called and summoned, often without warning, specific individuals, who became Vicars and Auxiliaries beneath his patriarchy. Things became complicated, in ways that I cannot entirely describe.
To this day, I wonder whether the Puritan’s rise to power was a good thing or bad thing. Ultimately, he is our leader, and he has brought us peace. But Rose, I ask you to question for yourself – for how long?
As requested, I have had the cadavers sent to your study. They were altered precisely to your specifications, and a medical kit was also left for your use.