The Outrider

     [A short story for you today. Some “great events” are, in point of fact, merely resultants. They’re preceded by much smaller and less visible events that made them, if not inevitable, at least overwhelmingly likely. If there’s a great event to come, where should we look for the seemingly insignificant precursors that will precipitate it upon us? – FWP]

     He struck at the stroke of noon.
     It was the best time by far, for the confluence of conditions made him both a rebel and a hero. With a single mighty sweep of his arm he cleansed the counter of the offending items, the instruments of oppression accepted too meekly and for too long. With motions both magisterial and reverent, he restored the ancient devices the oppressors had seized. As dozens of patrons gazed upon his deed in wonder and joy, he stood aside and gestured at the symbols of freedom reborn.
     “Comes the revolution!”
     He swept his cape aside and marched out of the building with a conqueror’s stride, to the sound of overwhelming applause and cheers.


     The authorities were swift to descend upon the scene. It availed them naught, for no one who’d witnessed the event could identify the perpetrator. Their words gave him gentle homage and thanks. Yea, even those who stood mute testified thereby to his greatness.
     “It was magnificent,” one young woman said. “He was magnificent. A hero of the old type, when men were truly men.” There was no mistaking the adoration in her eyes or voice. Had he been present, she would have gladly made herself his slave.
     The myrmidons of the State were not pleased. Their distaste reached its peak when the crowd forbade them, by their sheer numbers, from undoing his handiwork. At that moment it was plain that something greater than they had expected, perhaps greater than they or their masters could gainsay, had begun in that place.
     Their report to their superiors was not cheerfully nor placidly received.
     “Find him,” their commander bellowed. “Leave no stone unturned. Though this be a mere token, a dash of rebellion from a lone outrider, it could galvanize the rabble, spur them to much larger acts of defiance. It is at this stage, when the matter seems trivial, that the impulse to defy us must be crushed.”
     Chastened, the brutes set forth upon their mission. Yet not one dared to return to the place where the rebel had struck. The people had made it into a shrine.


     They never found him.
     Days gathered into weeks, and thence to months. His identity remained unknown, as did his whereabouts. Yet he had inspired others to take up his cause. Incidents spread from that seemingly insignificant village with a speed that confounded the oppressors’ expectations. He had kindled the flame of rebellion that commander had feared. His likeness—a short man garbed all in black, with a cape and a mask—became the icon of the rebels from coast to coast. Try as they might, the agents of the State could not erase it, nor him, from the minds of his followers.
     Only one knew him for what he’d done: the woman who nightly shared his bed.
     “Are you happy?” she said when the lights were out and their arms were around one another.
     He smiled in the evening gloom. “Very. You?”
     She nodded. “I wouldn’t have believed it would spread like this.”
     “I couldn’t be sure it would,” he said after a moment. “But big things start small more often than the histories admit.”
     “This seemed pretty damned small, Everett.”
     “It was, no argument.” He chuckled in remembrance. “But it had the advantage of proceeding from an absurdity that had already started people grumbling. Remember?”
     “Not exactly when,” she said. “But what? Of course.”
     He squeezed her gently. “I was there, you know. I didn’t want anything but a burger and a little ketchup for it, the same as a lot of other customers when the jackboots marched in. They wouldn’t even speak to us. They just took the ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise pumps, put up a sign about the new public-health regulations, and marched out. Remember how I looked that day?”
     “I’ll never forget it.”
     “Then came the little portion-controlled foil packages,” he said. “The ones so hard to open that half of them were wasted and half the customers didn’t even bother trying. And then—”
     “The protests about the packaging waste and the damage to the environment?” she said.
     “Yeah. That was when I realized that someone had to take a stand.”
     “Before that,” she said, “I had no idea how…how brave you are.” Her voice shook. “Driving to Mexico all by yourself, evading surveillance, finding and buying those condiment pumps, smuggling them back here, keeping them in secret until it was time to strike…”
     “Don’t think too much of me, Alice. It was something any decent man would have done. Eventually, anyway. The proof is all around us today. Someone just had to be first, that’s all.”
     “They could still find you.”
     He nodded. “They might.”
     She pulled him tight against her. “I love you, Everett.”
     “I love you, Alice,” he whispered.
     They slept.


Copyright © 2024 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

(With gratitude for the works of Harlan Ellison.)


  1. A fairy tale, although a pleasant one.

    Far too many miscreants would point a finger to gain notoriety in an age where the notable are either ignored or pilloried. Come up with a believable fictional account in which the notorious end up on the gallows again. Please.

    • anonymous on April 2, 2024 at 2:03 PM

    I remember during covid, some intern from the local health department came into a laundromat and insisted that the owner block off use of the folding tables with caution tape and prevent people from using them.

    The owner complied until I went in and removed all the caution tape and pointed out just how ridiculous that was.

    Unfortunately, this is not fiction so much as an analogy of real life.

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