by Leo Gillard
There was, Pan noticed, someone watching them from across the street. Tall, muscular, and probably very slightly over the age for military service. It was almost always people like that who caused trouble, so they weren’t surprised when the call came.
‘Coward!’ the voice called, from over the road, in a position far enough away that Pan could feel fairly justified in calling him a hypocrite. ‘Traitor!’
In reply, they simply smiled at him and tipped their hat. He could say all the weak words they’d heard a thousand times before if he wanted, it wouldn’t make all that much of a difference.
They’d heard worse, even. A mother with two small children, who came right up to their face and yelled at them, spit and all, about how it was because of people like them that the war wasn’t already over. She claimed that if they’d just shoot some poor person who’d probably be no older than them, the war would be over and her children wouldn’t have to grow up in fear.
Quietly, Pan had wondered if the war was the only reason the children were growing up in fear. Outwardly, they’d used the response they always had to such an argument: ‘One more body on the pile won’t make any difference. The way I’m trying to make a difference instead is pressuring the government for peace.’
The reason the war was yet to end was that neither side, none of the combatants, would accept any form of compromise. Victory had to be absolute. To Pan, absolute victory meant nothing more than absolute chaos, absolute destruction. If the war kept going, if people kept dying, if both sides were worn down more and more, that was no victory worth having.
Every time a protest was held, the crowd swelled larger with ever more people who’d come back from hell on earth, or people who never wanted to experience it. Every time a protest was held, the government released a statement saying that they understood that people had suffered, but that they were making progress in the war and soon these five years lost would be worth it.
The phrase always made them chuckle, in a dark, humourless way. ‘Progress’ was something they could get behind. But they didn’t count a larger death toll as progress. No, progress looked like an end to this conflict as soon as possible. An acknowledgement of how wrong everything had gone.
Progress, in a twisted way, looked like the world collapsing around them. Every day that brought more suffering brought the government closer to the point where no one would tolerate them anymore. And maybe that was bad, maybe it was wrong to view it in such a way.
But at this point, Pan felt like it was the only thing they had left. How else could they view the suffering around them, if not progress towards something that could maybe be better?
They were, of course, aware that this was exactly the logic the government was using. ‘The suffering would be worth it in the end’ and all that rubbish. The government’s preferred suffering had an end point, sure, just as theirs did, but it was one that would only cause more pain. When they finally reached their point of triumph, who would pay the price of all the damage done? The people they’d just beaten into the ground, naturally.
The end to the suffering Pan envisioned… that end wouldn’t divide people. It wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Rebuilding would be difficult, and people would continue to feel pain and sadness. But they’d also continue to feel happiness – joy to be alive in a way they couldn’t with the weight of war and guilt hanging over their heads. Pan’s end point didn’t involve punishing one to benefit another.
So yes, each day brought trials. Far greater trials than a woman who couldn’t contain her rage or a man who wouldn’t even get close enough to have a conversation. But they knew that if they could just hold on, progress would tip over into peace, and the world would be righted again, if only a little.