With five minutes left in his life, the mayor of the Salt Lake Community smiled at his fellow council members sitting nearby. One of his favorites, Maria Jenkins leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“It’s a beautiful day Marshall,” she said, patting his arm. “The turnout for your speech is better than expected, right?” She covered her eyes with a hand to filter the brilliant bright morning sunshine, scanning the multitude standing in front of the mammoth steps in front of the old Salt Lake City Masonic Temple; their modern day city hall.
Nodding his agreement, Marshall studied the crowd. “I’d say we have almost 1,200 or 1,300 people it appears.” He chuckled briefly before continuing. “But our detractors will say only a handful showed up.” A muffled cough from the chair on his opposite side signaled disagreement.
“Screw ‘em,” the older man countered. “If those idiots can’t find anything good with the hard work we’ve put in over the past five years,” the man turned his stone face to Marshall and Maria. “Then they can all go to hell.”
The mayor waved off the gruff comment. “Walter, it’s still a free country. Just not as free as it used to be.” Marshall stared at his own 36-year-old hands. “It hasn’t been easy for anyone going on twelve years now. So if they need something to grumble about,” he paused looking back at Walter Brushbrow’s weather-worn face, “let it be me. I don’t care.”
Four minutes, and no sense of urgency crossed Marshall’s overwhelmed mind. The crowd was happy, that was a good thing. Perhaps his speech would bring them more happiness. Leaning back, he stared at the other council members seated on either side of the stage. They were all engaged in separate, equally upbeat, conversations. Marshall smiled as he turned back to Maria, his second in command.
“You brought the megaphone?” he asked.
Maria turned and reached behind her seat. “Yeah, but it was a real bear finding batteries for it.” She handed the device to Marshall. “I mean there’s plenty of batteries around; just not a lot that still have any power.”
Marshall smiled broadly at Maria. “Sooner or later nothing’s going to have power. So I guess it really won’t matter.”
Walter scoffed at the pair again, still fixed the crowd. “I always thought someone would figure this mess out before I died.” Rotating on the brown metal folding chair, he faced Marshall. “Not so sure that’s gonna happen in my lifetime now.” He sighed, his brow furrowed. “Maybe my kids or grandkids will figure this out some day. Maybe even you, Marshall. You got a lot of good years left in you yet.”
Marshall bowed his head slightly and cast a quick sideways glance at his old friend. “It’s already been more than a decade, Walter. And there’s been no progress, none.” Staring down at the granite between his feet, he wiped his dry lips. “Not sure what 30 or 40 more years will bring, but we’ll try. I mean that’s all we can do.” His focus returned to the crowd. “Showtime.”
Three minutes remained and Marshall was thinking in decades.
Stretching his back, he slowly rose from his chair. Taking two steps forward he lifted the old amplification device to his mouth and pulled the trigger turning it on.
“Good morning,” he called out with a cheery tone.
“Good morning mayor,” a large part of the crowd called back. Marshall flashed his usual toothy grin at the assembled mass as they turned and focused on their leader.
Again, he squeezed the on button and continued. “I’m extremely happy to see such a large gathering of Salt Lake Community folks. It warms my heart, as it should yours.” A smattering of applause followed causing him to pause briefly. When it died away, he began again. “Today I want to tell you several important decisions that the council and I have reached on your behalf. But first I’d like to update you on several items that are of interest to us all.”
The megaphone screeched and Marshall held it away from his mouth. When he tried to speak again, the screech repeated. Maria rose quickly and turned the volume down a click.
“As always, Maria to the rescue,” Marshall joked. A heartier applause rose and Maria waved at the crowd. Marshall turned back to keep his speech on track. “First, our counters estimate that the population of our community is now fairly stable at about 6,000 residents. That’s a number we can deal with easily. A number that represents a workable community – society. Now, many have died. Many more have fled to the east in the mountains that tower over that side of this wonderful place.” Marshall’s face saddened momentarily. “For those of you who have lost loved ones to death, I, no we are truly sorry. These past twelve years have taken a toll on our stockpile of medicine. We’ve lost a numbers of doctors and nurses. I know it hasn’t been easy. But finally, thanks mostly to your hard work, we’ve made it through the worst.” Again, applause. The mayor raised his hand to silence the crowd; instantly, the gathering acquiesced.
Two minutes remained between the end of this life and Marshall joining those he just spoke of. Yet, he wasted precious time smiling and nodding at his friends.
“To those who have left,” he scanned the crowd from side to side, letting his eyes focus on almost a dozen people, “well, we wish them God’s speed. They had their reasons.” He shook his head showing he still didn’t understand why anyone would want to leave the safety of this community, his community. “Whether they didn’t want to help on the communal farms, or in the waste plant, or even at the food distribution facility – they all had reason to leave. But that’s what this country is about, still today.” His tempo and voice rose as he spurred on hope.
“We are free people. Free to choose how we live. If you want to live alone, or in a small group in the forests, you are free to do so.” Loud applause greeted his comments. Cheers rose agreeing with his patriot words. This time, instead of stopping their interruption, the mayor let it continue. He needed this upswell of emotion for his next piece of news. When the crowd finally settled, he lifted the megaphone one last time.
“And as free people, we too, in this community have choices, many choices. Today, I announce an important choice we have made. A choice that will make us more independent and self-sufficient peoples. A choice we can all be proud of.” The crowd moved forward like a wave coming to shore, all as one. Marshall Erickson steeled his face, showing the determination his office and message carried.
Now only sixty seconds separated Marshall from his death. He began, for the last time.
“I’d like to have Walter Brushbrow join me now as he was instrumental in helping work out a solution to a large problem that has plagued us for years.” Walter rose and shuffled forward beside the mayor. A small cheer went up from far out in the crowd, Walter acknowledging it with a quick wave. The mayor raised his hand signaling the groups attention one last time. “But first, there’s one last thing I want to talk about before Walter begins.” Erickson peered down at his now shaking hands, willing them to stop.
“As many of you know, we banished Will Tarlisch’s gang, I think they call themselves the Red Shirt Raiders, to the salt flats and away from our beautiful city. In the beginning there were some 250 of his followers out there. But I’ve learned recently that number has grown.” Marshall frowned.
“Willem Tarlisch now has more than 1,000 people living with him in the desert. And while they’re out there, miles away,” Marshall paused, mostly for effect, “well, there’s rumblings of a revolt on his part. The man’s crazy. That’s as simple as I can put it. He seems to think that his banishment should be over. He believes and that he should be allowed to return to the basin; to Provo and Salt Lake.” A murmur ran through the crowd, moving like a gust of wind across a field of wheat. “But that’s not the worst, people,” Marshall Erickson added without emotion. “He wants even more.”
Time ran out on Mayor Erickson’s speech. A speech he would never finish. Words that would never be spoken.