It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
The pounding on the doors, the words, “Open up in the name of the law.”
Juan Johnson who had been lying in the dark, in his little bed at the back of the house, half asleep, retained only a sense of explosions, a smell of something burning, papa up front saying he didn’t know anything of these Usaians and besides, he was a honest carpenter and what could they—
And mama! Mama, who had never left dad alone in any difficulty, Mama who rarely left the house without him and never at night, had gotten Juan and Angelita out of their beds, in the dark, wrapping the baby and putting her in a sling, and dressing Juan, fast, so fast that she’d put a sock of each different color on his feet.
This still bothered him, as they ran down the alley in the night, and then up another alley, all staying away from the police.
Juan could hear other pounding and “Open up—”
And fragments of other sentences, too, “Forbidden,” and “Dangerous elements” and “Seditious ideology.”
Juan knew what “dangerous elements” were. He was only ten, but Mama and Papa had taught him at home and he’d been allowed to read a lot of dad’s old books, the sort of thing they no longer taught in the school. Dangerous elements were things like Uranium and other things that gave off radiation that could kill you. Why the police would be looking for it, he didn’t know.
He did not however have any idea what Seditious ideology meant.
He repeated the words to himself as mama stopped in a dark alley, by a flyer. It wasn’t their flyer, but then Mama rarely drove their flyer, and she certainly never burned its genlock clean off, reaching in before it could do more than emit a bzzzt and burning something else, murmuring to herself as though to remember a list, “Alarm off,” Then went in, leaving Juan alone at the entrance for a moment. She came back and threw something to the floor. Juan didn’t know what it was – pieces of something electronic. “Tracker,” Mama said.
She pulled Juan in with one hand, and closed the door, then sat him in a seat, and – strangely – put the sling with Angelita around him. The baby was only three months old, but Juan was a slim boy and the sling – and the baby – very big and very heavy. He thought of protesting, but Mama looked as though she would start to cry, so he said nothing. He let Mama put the harness over both of them, and saw her consult a paper in Papa’s handwriting as she set the coordinates.
Moments later they were in the air, and Juan might have dozed, but he woke with the flare of explosions, and the shaking as Mama sent the flyer careening side to side.
“Mama!” he said.
“Say it, Juan, say it, my little Juanito.”
“I pledge allegian—”
Mama made a sound. It wasn’t quite laugh and not quite a cry. “Not that one. The other one. The human events one.”
Juan blinked. He’d learned all these from as soon as he could speak. The only time dad was really strict was in making sure he remembered everything, every single word. And the meaning. All the meaning. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—”
An explosion came very close, making them shake and showing Mama’s face, very pale and marked with trails as if she’d cried a lot. He hadn’t heard her cry. How could she cry so silently.
“Nature’s God?” Mama prompted.
“Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—”
Mama sobbed then, but didn’t say anything but “Go on,” so Juan did, as explosions rocked the small flyer, and Mama, finally, just took them really low, and did something, and pulled Juan out after her, but never took the baby sling of him, and she pushed him against a wall and put her hand over his mouth, while the flyer lifted off again and flew a programmed course.
“It was only a second,” Mama said. “Only a second. Maybe they won’t notice.”
But then she was pulling Juan, and running down an alley, and then another.
Juan heard heavy boots after them, and was surprised when Mama pulled out a burner and shot a man down. Juan didn’t have a very clear idea of what happened then, save the man fell, and mama pulled Juan after her again.