“The sons of bitches took my son but they ain’t taking my mind or my guns,” said George Willems over and over to himself as he methodically packed his black, three-quarter ton pickup with all of the important things in his life.
“God damned if I’ll get chipped or let them bastards tell me what to do or not to do,” he said out loud carefully piling another box up in the truck bed. Willems had lived in this small 2-bedroom, white, clapboard home on this same maple tree-lined street for over 40 years.
Mary, his wife, died last year, the insurance company called it a “pre-existing condition” and refused the expensive treatment. His lawyer told him what it would cost to sue them and pointed out his wife was over 60 so the payout wouldn’t be based on her income but rather her expected lifespan as a senior citizen. George couldn’t afford the lawyer so he swallowed his wife’s death and it sat in his chest like an undigested lump of gristle. His only son, George Junior, never returned from the Middle East because there wasn’t enough left of him to pack after his position was hit by a large bomb.
On his own now, he decided he’d had quite enough of government and what they were doing. Damned if I’m getting some damn chip so the government can track me anywhere they want. Yeah, they say they’ll monitor my health for me but what the hell, monitoring wouldn’t have saved Louellen from that damned insurance company he groused to himself.
“Good morning, Mr. Willems,” said Elizabeth Jameson. “Going camping?”
George turned to her and smiled. Recently widowed, Elizabeth still cut a fine figure of a woman and had things turned out different, George might have found himself sharing her bed.
“No ma’am, I’m off to Utah in the morning,” he said. “Don’t trust the government and those damn chips. They’ll be making it mandatory to get those chips before long and the further I’m away from Washington and radio systems, the better.” It was the longest sentence he’d uttered since Mary had died. “Don’t want any voices in my head.”
Elizabeth put a soft smile on her face while she considered this thought. “I’m told they can monitor your health and send alarms to the hospital if you get too ill to call. I also heard you can get rid of your telephone because you can talk to anybody you want just through thinking of them. I think I’d like that,” she said.
Which was why George had avoided any thought or action that may have brought them together. She is so trusting, he thought. Or, maybe too simple. But my goodness, she’s an attractive woman he thought. A few more thoughts rolled across his brain and he smiled in spite of himself. Damn, I may be old but I’m not dead he thought.
Elizabeth misread his smile as accepting her comment about the health alerts and smiled back. “Well, Mr. Gordon if you’re leaving, perhaps you’d like a home cooked meal tonight. We can celebrate together,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am I’d like that,” he said.
She smiled at him and said, “Six o’clock.” It wasn’t a question.
He nodded and his smile grew larger, “Six o’clock it is.”
Five o’clock the next morning, George stole silently out of Elizabeth Jameson’s front door leaving her sleeping soundly. He paused for a second to stretch out his back. It was sore from the amount of accustomed exercise loading the truck and also from the unaccustomed exercise after dinner. Two times he thought. Two times.
With a broad smile, he walked towards his own home. He noticed the realtor had placed for sale signs there last night as she’d promised. She had the keys and his forwarding email addresses for any file documents requiring a signature. All he had to do was turn off the water and do a few small chores. It was as if he were going on a holiday instead of a new life.
Ten days later, he pulled into the lane of a small farm. Some descriptions of the property described it as being in the Rocky Mountain foothills and some described it as a mountain retreat. George had bought it ten years ago when he’d inherited enough money to purchase it outright but usually only visited for a week a year during hunting season. It was far too small to be a working farm but it came with a small, wood barn to shelter an old tractor that would provide the snow clearing he’d be sure to require up here. The house itself was sound on the outside but the interior was going to take a lot of time to get right. With nobody living in an unheated building, there were cracks in plaster and peeling wallpaper. An entire nation of mice had moved in at some point in the last year and had ruined every mattress or piece of padded furniture in the place.
George made a note in the small notebook he carried in his pocket. “Rat and mouse bait”. He’d unpack and see if there was any in the cupboards.
On the first trip to the truck, George pulled out his phone from its holder on the dash. It lit up when it recognized his thumbprint and George’s smile grew broader as he recognized the no-signal icon appear on the top of screen. No signal meant no chips and more importantly, no tracking.
Over the next eighteen months, George improved the house, laid in a garden, shot and stored enough meat or caught and cured enough fish to last two years. And he generally woke up with a smile. His blood pressure dropped twenty points and after one dizzy spell when it dropped too low, he stopped taking his medications.
He saw his neighbors once a week at church and that seemed to be fine for all of them. George recognized kindred spirits living along this ridge and a live and let live philosophy prevailed. He’d been asked to help out at a barn repair bee one weekend and he gladly volunteered.
He’d met most of the neighbors then and discovered how much of an attitude towards the government they all shared. They’d either been born out here and stayed or accidentally discovered the region as George had. However they found it, they wanted it to remain the same and not be invaded by electronics or the government to “help them.”
It was a bright sunny spring day, the daffodils had finished blooming and the old lilac planted by some long-forgotten farmer’s wife was in full, fragrant, bright purple bloom when George heard something foreign to this place.
His cell phone started chirping. He kept the battery charged because he liked using it as a convenient memory reminder system. His paper notebook had long-ago been filled and burned as fire starting kindling and the phone was a simple solution.
George picked it up and looked at the face. His phone showed five bars likely from the new satellite system reaching down into his community.
He swore a string of words that would have had a sailor blushing, whipped the phone across the room to shatter on the old, black, cast-iron cookstove.
He didn’t need a phone anyway, he decided. He knew he’d do almost anything to stay off the grid.
Back in Washington, in an anonymous office, two officials dressed in casual, almost identical grey slacks and white shirts with red ties, laughed softly. “We lost about half of all Utah cell phones in the last 8 hours. They all simply disappeared off the grid,” said the taller of the pair.
The shorter, a female, said, “It doesn’t matter, sooner or later we’ll chip them – maybe when they go to a hospital or something similar – or they’ll die and we won’t have this problem.
“Yeah, we’ll get them all sooner or later.”