And for the conclusion.......
Sunrise at Coffin Rock
Thomas sat alone upon the cold stone, shivering slightly in the chill pre-dawn air of this
April morning. The flashlight was turned off, resting beside him on the bare granite of Coffin
Rock, and involuntarily he strained his eyes in the gray non-light of the false dawn, trying to
make out the shapes of the trees and the mountains across the river. Below, he could hear the
chuckling of the water as it crossed the polished stones. How many times had he fished there,
his grandfather beside him?
He tried to shrug away the memories, but why else had he come here except to
remember? Perhaps to escape the inevitable confrontation with his mother. She would have to
be told sooner or later, but Thomas infinitely preferred later.
"Mom, I've been expelled from the university," he said aloud in a conversational tone.
Some small night animal, startled by the sudden sound, scurried away to the right. "I know this
means you won't get upgraded to C-3, and they'll probably turn you down for that surgery now.
Gee, Mom. I'm sorry." It sounded so stupid. Why? she would ask him. How?
How could he explain that? The endless arguments. The whispered warnings. The
subtle threats. Dennis had told him to expect this. Dennis had lost his parents in the First Purge
back in ‘04, and his bitter hatred of the State's iron rule had failed to ruin him only because of his
unique and accomplished abilities as an actor. Only with Thomas did he open up. Only with
Thomas did he relate the things he had learned while in the Youth Re-education Camp near
Charleston. Thomas shuddered.
It was his own fault, he knew. He should have kept his mouth shut like Dennis told him.
All of his friends had come and shook his hand and pounded him on the back. "That's telling
them, Adams!" they said. But their voices were hushed and they glanced over their shoulders as
they congratulated him. And later, when the "volunteers" of the Green Ribbon Squad kicked his
ass all over the shower room, they had stood by in nervous silence, their eyes averted, and their
tremulous voices silent.
He sighed. Could he blame them? He'd been afraid too, when the squad walked up and
surrounded him, and if he could have taken back those proud words he would have. Anyone is
afraid when they can't defend themselves, he'd discovered. So they taught him a lesson, and he
had hoped it would end there. But then yesterday had come the call to Dr. Morton's office, and
the brief hearing that had ended his career at the university. "Thomas," Morton had intoned,
"you owe everything to the State." Thomas snorted.
The light was growing now. He could see the pale rain-washed granite in the grayness as
if it glowed. Coffin Rock was now a knob, a raised promontory that jutted up from a wide,
unbroken arm of the mountain's stony roots, its cover of soil pushed away. There were deep
gouges scraped across the surface of the rock where the backhoe had tried, vainly, to force the
mountain to reveal its secrets. He was too old to cry now, but Thomas Adams closed his eyes
tightly as he relived those moments that had forever changed his life.
The shouts and angry accusations as the agents found no secret arms cache still seemed
to ring in his ears. They had threatened him with arrest, and once he had thought the man called
Goodwin would actually strike him. At last, though, they had accepted defeat, turned away from
Coffin Rock and walked slowly down the mountain, following the gashed trail of the backhoe as
it rumbled ahead through the woods.
At home, he had found his mother and father standing ashen faced in the doorway.
"They took your grandpa," his father said in disbelief. "Just after you left, they put him
in a van and took him."
"But they said they wouldn't!" Thomas had shouted. He ran across the yard to the old
man's cottage. The door was standing open and he wandered from room to room, calling for the
grandfather he would never see alive again.
It was his heart, they said. Two days after they had taken him, someone called and
tersely announced that the old man had died at the indigent clinic a few hours after his arrest.
"’Sorry," the faceless voice had muttered. Thomas had wept at the funeral, but it was only in
later years that he had come to understand the greatest tragedy of that day: that the old man had
died alone, knowing that his own grandson had betrayed him.
That grandson was Thomas, and he was now too old to cry, but in the growing light of
the cold mountain dawn, he did anyway.
Thomas was certain that his father's de-certification six months later was due to the
debacle in the forest. As much as anyone did these days, they had "owned" their home, but the
Certification Board would still have evicted them except for the intervention of Cousin Lou, who
worked for the State Supervisor. As it was, they lost all privileges and, when his father came
down with pneumonia the next autumn, medical treatment was denied. He had died three days
after the first anniversary of Grandpa’s death.
Thomas had been sure that he would be turned down at the University, but once again his
cousin had intervened and a slot had opened for him. But now that was finished, he reflected.
He would be unable to obtain any certification other than manual laborer. "Why didn't I keep my
mouth shut?" he asked the morning stillness. In a tree behind him, a mockingbird began to sing
its ageless song and, as if in answer, the forest below began to twitter and chirp with the voices
of other birds, greeting the new day.
No, what he had said had been the truth and nothing could change that. The State was
wrong; it was evil. It was unnatural for men to be slaves of their government, always skulking,
always holding their tongue lest they anger The State. But there is no "State," Thomas
considered. There are only men, holding power over other men. And anyone who speaks out,
who dares to challenge that power is crushed.
If only there was a way to fight back!
Thomas shifted on the stone, hanging his feet off the downhill side. His feet had almost
touched the grass that day, but now, although his legs were certainly longer, it was at least
twelve inches to the scarred rock surface below. As he kicked his heels back and forth, he could
almost hear his grandfather speaking to him from long ago...
... one day, America will come to her senses. Our men will need those guns and they'll be
ready. We cleaned them and sealed them up good; they'll last for years. Maybe it won't be in
your lifetime, Thomas. Maybe one day you'll be sitting here with your son or grandson. Tell
him about me, boy. Tell him about the way I said America used to be.
You see the way this stone points? the old man had said. You follow that line onehundred
feet ... Thomas' heels were suddenly still. For many minutes he did not move, playing
those words over and over in his mind. ... Follow that line ...
What hidden place in his brain had concealed those words all of these years? How could
the threats have failed to dislodge it? He stood upon shaky legs and climbed down from the
Coffin Rock. In his mind's eye, he could see the old man pointing and he walked down the hill
and through a clinging briar patch, counting off the paces. The round stone did seem solidly
buried, but he scratched around near the base and found that the rock ended just an inch or so
beneath the surface. One man with a good bar can lift it, Gramps had said. Thomas forced his
fingers beneath the edge and, with all the strength in his twenty-one year old body, he lifted.
The stone came up, and he slid it off to one side. Cool air drifted up from the dark opening in
the mountain. Thomas looked to the right where the scars of the State's frustration ended, only
fifteen or twenty feet away. They had been that close.
He squatted and stared into the blackness and then remembered his flashlight. In a
moment, he was back with it, probing the dark with the yellow beam. There was a small patch
of moisture just inside, but then the tunnel climbed upwards toward the ridge. On hands and
knees, he entered.
It was uncomfortably close for the first twenty feet or so, then the cavern opened up
around him. The men who had built this place, he saw, had taken a natural crevice in the granite
rock, sealed it with poured concrete, and then covered it with earth. The main chamber was
bigger than the living room of his house, and they had left an opening up near the peak of the
vaulted roof where fresh air and a faint, filtered light entered.
Wooden boxes and crates were stacked everywhere on concrete blocks, up off of the
floor, stenciled with legends like RIFLE CAL30M1, 9MM PARA, M193 BALL, MAK90,
7.62X39MM, and 5.56MM. He pushed between them and crawled to the wall where he found
cardboard boxes wrapped and sealed in plastic sheeting. These were imprinted with names like
OLIN, WW748, BULLSEYE, and RL550B. There were also green steel boxes, stacked almost to
the ceiling. He did not know what the crates and boxes contained, and was afraid to break the
seals, but near the center of the room he found a plastic wrapped carton labeled OPEN THIS
FIRST. With his pocketknife, he slit the heavy plastic wrapping.
It contained only books, he saw with some disappointment. But he studied the titles and
found that they were manuals on weapons, how to repair them, how to clean them, how to fire
them, and ammunition ... how to store it, and how to reload it. And here was something unusual:
A History of the United States. He lifted it from the carton and crawled back to the open air.
Leaning against a stone, he tore open the heavy vinyl bag that enclosed the book and began to
read at random, flipping the pages every few moments. On each page something new met his
eye, contradicting everything he had ever been taught.
Freedom is not won, he learned, by proud words and declarations. He remembered a
quotation taught at the University: "Blood alone moves the wheels of history." An Italian
dictator named Mussolini had said that, but now he read of a man named Patrick Henry who
said, "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and of
tyrants." Mao was required reading at the University, too, and he now recalled that this man
called a hero by the State had once said, "political power comes out of the barrel of a gun."
Freedom is never granted; it is won. Won by men who are willing to die, to lose
everything so that others may have that greatest possession of all.
Mentally, he began to list those he could trust. Men who had been arrested for speaking
out. Women whose husbands had been arrested and had never returned. Friends who had been
denied certification because of their father's military record. The countryside seethed with anger
and frustration. These were people who longed to be free, but who had no means to resist ... until
Thomas laid the book aside and then worked the stone back into position, carefully
placing leaves and moss around the base to hide any evidence that it had been disturbed. He
tucked the book under his arm and started for home with the rays of the rising sun warming his
back. He imagined his grandfather's touch in the heat. A forgiving touch.
A long, hard struggle was coming, and he knew with a certainty that defied explanation
that he would not live to see the day America was once again free. His blood and that of many
patriots and tyrants would be spilled, but perhaps America’s tree of Liberty would live and
There is a long line stretching through the history of this world: a line of those who
valued freedom more than their lives. Thomas Adams now took his place at the end of that
column as he determined that he would have liberty, or death. He would be in good company.