When I was young I used to have a dream. As far back as I can remember I wanted to escape into the wide open. I always hated the bricks and concrete walling us in. Do you remember when we used to go on holiday into the country every October and go for walks in the forest? We used to stop and watch the sun setting, and I would always reach out like I was trying to touch it. I so badly wanted to be able to reach it, just to brush it with my fingertips. I would cry when it set. I felt so sad and alone watching it go down behind the autumn trees. Now I think I know why.
The alarm clock went off at six, as it did every morning, and Ryan felt himself being pulled out of a dream which evaporated as soon he woke. He never seemed to remember the dreams that got cut short by the alarm anymore. He sleepily knocked the clock onto the floor where it mercifully stopped, then he got up and opened the curtains onto the gravel path and garages behind the block of flats where he lived. He unlocked the window and opened it, feeling the cool spring air drift into his room as he watched the sun rising from behind the sparse row of trees that lined the back of the garages. Despite all of the grey that surrounded him he always smiled at the gentle colours of the sunrise. He would stand at his open window and watch it every morning, and every morning he knew it would make him late. Today was no different, and eventually he tore himself away with a sigh and got ready for work. He was still late as he rushed out past the newspaper cuttings from a week’s worth of job pages and drove the small car he could barely afford out of its garage and onto the road to the town centre.
Before long he arrived at the supermarket where he worked as a janitor. He didn’t usually mind the work as it gave him opportunity to think and to daydream, but lately he had been feeling slightly different. It had begun when he had returned to his old flat one evening after work and looked at the clock, and it had struck him that the day was gone. It was just gone, forever, he would never get it back and all it had done for him was to leave him here in a cramped home that was starting to fall apart. Over the next few days it had begun to breed a sort of vague and frustrated restlessness, a fire smothered by a damp blanket which he could feel even now, fighting to stay alight. He knew this wasn’t the life he was supposed to have. He stopped for a while as he walked in, just looking at the deserted aisles, wondering how much more of his life would be spent in here, cleaning up after other people.
He sighed and carried on, shrugging it off as he'd had to do the past few mornings, and ended up working the day through just like always. His mind wandered and dreamed of the house he would have soon, the big garden he would have, just as soon as he got the perfect job to pull him from this rut of a life he had slowly fallen into, and as he drove home that evening he watched the orange flashes of sunset breaking out from between the buildings and began to wonder if there was anywhere left where you could see the sky anymore. Buildings everywhere... Once he had got a good job, he decided, he would get a place on the edge of town, near the surrounding countryside. He would be able to watch the sky all he pleased then.
He was still imagining how peaceful it would be as he returned home and climbed the flight of stairs to his door, finding the "rent overdue" notice that had been hastily posted through the letterbox.
I always remember what grandad used to say. "Nobody takes the time to just look anymore." I never understood what he meant at first. Even though I was still very young when he died I still missed him, but like all things lost I soon learned to live without him until he was almost forgotten. Childhood becomes a fond memory, then it just becomes a different world. I grew up, got a job, left you and dad behind and moved out, tried not to think too hard so I could get a good night's sleep. It caught up with me though. That feeling of being contained. Even the quietest street walled off the horizon with a silhouette of rooftops, and work stopped me even dreaming anymore. I felt the old urge arise, buried since I was little, the urge to leave it all behind and run away into the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to walk through the forests like we used to, and watch the sun setting and feel the pouring rain. I wanted to just stand there and shout, a primal catharsis of every limit ever forced down into the skeletal frailty of society.
A few days later Ryan stood in the staff canteen, staring out of the opened window, feeling the cool air breezing in. He had begun to feel so trapped lately that he couldn't concentrate unless there was a window open, letting in just a little of the restlessness of the outside, awakening that dormant fire inside him. Over the last few days he had felt it burning more intensely and more focused than ever before, burning to break free and getting stronger every day. He didn't feel real anymore. He dreamed of running away from all the glass and asphalt and straight lines, out into the country. Not a building or a road in sight, just that endless field in the middle of nowhere.
He was so lost in his daydreams that he didn’t hear the store manager walking in behind him. "Oi!" he snapped. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Oh," Ryan shrugged. "Just looking."
"Well stop looking!" He glared at Ryan in disbelief. "Get back to the shop floor, we open in a half hour! And close the damn window, heating costs money."
Ryan sighed and closed the window, then headed downstairs to clean the shop floor. He kept glancing at his watch, waiting for his lunch break, but after a while he couldn’t wait any longer so he packed up his things and left early. He grabbed a sandwich from the counter by the door and hurried out, walking for about half a mile to the park on the edge of the town centre where he felt like he could breathe at last. He found a bench by the large pond and sat looking out across the water as he slowly ate. It was nice to be away from the endless buildings of the city, but he still felt uneasy. Normally he would come here to relax during his breaks, but lately he still felt trapped even here. It just wasn't the same, the manicured picture of domesticated nature that surrounded him. All of the wildness was missing, all trimmed back and mowed down.
Ryan looked back down the path he had walked along to get to his bench. He could still see the buildings from here, boxing people in. How many of them dreamed like he did of just dropping everything and leaving it all behind forever? How many of them had already had those dreams crushed before they could even arise? The more he thought about it the more he felt the fire inside him burning deep and dark, filling him with the smoke of a restless claustrophobia.
I don’t know why it happened so suddenly, but one day I realised that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t live the life of a prisoner. Everywhere we go we are prisoners, hemmed in and walled into narrow streets, herded into cages where we work away our lives. Society had made it impossible for anyone to escape and live the life we were born to live. It all costs money, and the system is ingeniously designed so that no-one can ever work enough to afford escape. It’s not even capitalism gone wrong, we’re all falling into the same rut the world over. We're all watched and pushed around, and we have to either take it or get out. At first all I wanted was to get out, but something inside me wanted to shout to everyone left in there that they can get out too. I'm still going to get out. I don't want to sink beneath a sea of knowing eyes.
One evening after work Ryan walked very slowly, looking up at the sky. The clouds looked like cotton wool, ripped and scattered and reflecting the orange of the sun. He wanted to be there. He felt so unreal, as if he could just spread out and become part of it. He wondered if anyone else had laid claim to it, and remembered the words of his grandfather. Nobody just looks at the sky anymore. Well they should, he thought, because he knew that when you just let go and look up, when you realise there's nothing but air between you and the sunset, that's when you taste real freedom. He stopped and just stood, staring at the orange clouds. He suddenly remembered crying when he was very small, crying because the sun had gone. All at once he felt like his life had no longer happened in stages, it was just one set of memories, none more faded than any other. Tears began to fall from his eyes. He wanted more than ever to run into that field, across the sea, into the sky.
So he did.
He ran. The wind blew rain into his face as he stumbled, almost enough to hide his tears. He didn't know where he was headed but his memories pulled him and he ran and ran and ran. Air forced itself into his burning lungs, but he knew he could never stop. He was no longer real. I'm not here. He closed his eyes and ran and ran until his legs gave way and finally collapsed, his knees hitting the hard concrete. He felt tears streaming but was too breathless even to cry, his heart pounding and his vision fading, and he knew there and then that he could never escape.
It was almost two hours before Ryan returned to his flat, walking on shaking legs, exhausted but feeling as if something had been cleared out and swept away to reveal the fullness of the fire that burned inside him in all its brilliant clarity. He knew something had to be done.
That’s why I'm going to change things. I don't want to take lives or bring the cities crashing down, I only want to send a message. "This is what's wrong with the world." If enough people see it then maybe we can get somewhere. Maybe we can start something. If enough people see me leading the way, and if they get up and follow, then we can take the world by storm. The Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata once said "I'd rather die on my feet than keep on living on my knees." If the slaves care enough about their freedom then the masters are powerless.
Ryan had a plan. It had its beginning early one March morning as he pulled up in his car outside the supermarket. He sat there, just looking out of the window at the dark, squat outline of its shadow looming across the dawn. In the grand scheme of things it was just another cog in the machine, just one molecule attached to the entity that was civilisation, but at the same time this tiny microcosm represented the whole macrocosm that it had helped to build and all that was wrong with it. He began to despise it as he got out of the car and walked toward the back doors, and as he worked through the morning he now saw the aisles and corridors and offices as being no better than the cells and corridors and offices of a prison. He was sure that deep down most people must feel the same way, they must feel the same disaffected resentment at being constantly pushed and pulled to where they never wanted to go, but the society that was pushing them had smothered and muted any fire that dared to burn against it. If there were some way to wake everyone to the potential that already lay with them, if there were some way to make them see each distanced and fractured microcosm as a mere reflection of the broken whole, and if there were then some way to bring down this one microcosmic fragment, this monster of a building, then they would see that it can be done. They would see this whole prison that surrounds them for the fragile and tangled wreckage that it really is, and they would see how easily it could crumble.
All of these ideas swam around him as he worked, and by the time he had finished and began heading home all of the loose shards forming and floating in his mind had resolved themselves into a whole and workable plan. When he got back to his flat he went straight to the cupboard full of old pieces that he had collected over the years and opened it, impatiently searching through everything until eventually he found what he had been looking for - the replica handgun that used to belong to his grandfather. It was a small semiautomatic that was heavier than it looked. He felt its weight in his hand and smiled. Perfect.
Over the next two weeks he began to collect as many metal containers as he could, and one by one he filled them all up with petrol. Having always kept very much to himself, no-one ever asked him what he was doing as he came home each day with another full can in his hand, and he spent much of his time after work organising which cans fit best together to make them as compact as possible. Soon every room in his small flat was filled with rows of stacked cans and the smell of petrol.
I’ve been watching the kamikaze on TV lately. It means "Divine Wind" in Japanese. It’s from the legend of the typhoon sent by the gods that sank the Mongol ships and stopped the invasion, so that's what they called the suicide pilots who sank the American ships when they were invading. They were like a wind, the way they filled the sky and rained down on the carriers with such one-pointed singularity of purpose. That’s the kind of firestorm that is trapped inside everybody, if only they could stop and just feel it. The kamikaze didn’t fail, there just weren’t enough of them to stop the tide of the enemy that outnumbered them. Just imagine if everybody joined together and we became the enemy that outnumbered the few. That is why people everywhere need to know that all the power to change the world already lies inside them.
Ryan sat on the solitary dining chair at the small round table in his cramped kitchen, and wrote a letter to his mother. He told her that he had a plan, that he was going to break free at last, and he told her why. After that he wrote a statement. It was the statement that everyone would hear if his plan worked. He sat and thought, writing it line by line, scribbling parts out and adding others until he was sure it said what he wanted it to say. Short and to the point. He read it over one last time.
My name is Ryan. I am just like you. I don't want to hurt anyone. All I want is to send to all the people like you and me a message. I want to send the message that there is no reason why we have to keep living the frustrated lives of permanently unfulfilled prisoners. There is no reason why we can't arise and change the world. Take a good look at this place, the supermarket where I used to work. How do you feel when you enter a building like this one? Left with no choice but to buy what they want you to buy. You're just one of a set of figures, served by uniformed staff who are nothing more than another set of figures to the faceless masters who hold their sway over us from miles away. In a world where they control what we wear and what we eat life is no better than imprisonment. If an ordinary man like me, acting alone, can bring down this symbol of all that is wrong with our civilisation then imagine how much all of us working together can accomplish, how easily we could break our own bonds. Always remember that we are limitless. That is all today means.
Satisfied, Ryan folded it up and put it in his back pocket, looking across the table out of the open window. It was a bright, clear day outside. When he had awoken this morning and opened the curtains there had been the most beautiful sunrise he had ever seen, shining out from between the trees, and he had smiled to himself as he opened the window and leaned out to breathe the soft and silent morning air. He had stood there for almost half an hour, just breathing, feeling unusually clear-headed and calm despite almost vibrating with the strength of the fire that burned with such focused heat inside him.
He still felt just as calm and focused now, even after the swell of excitement he had felt earlier at having got everything ready. Once he had torn himself away from his view of the sunrise he had spent much of the morning walking up and down the stairs to his flat, packing can after can of petrol into his small car. When he had finally finished, the boot and the back seats and footwells were full of them, with some even packed into the passenger side in the front. Once they were all securely in place he had got a couple of old blankets and covered them up, then he had gone out and spent the remainder of his money on an aluminium baseball bat, a box of fireworks and a notepad to write his letter and the statement that would be read out.
As he sat at his table he knew that everything was now finished and ready. He got up and picked up the firework he had modified to have a much longer fuse, slipping it into his pocket, and dropped a cigarette lighter into the other pocket. He then went over to the old cupboard and pulled out his grandfather’s replica handgun, slipping it into the same pocket as the cigarette lighter before picking up the baseball bat and heading out and back down to his car. He climbed in and drove carefully to the supermarket where he would normally have arrived for work hours earlier, and parked it directly opposite the large glass front doors, leaving the engine running. It was halfway through the afternoon already, and the shoppers were everywhere. He felt a wave of doubt wash over him, washing away some of the peace and focused clarity that had held back the heat and intensity of the fire so far, and reached into his pocket to feel the hard metal of the replica gun. Solid. Unyielding. He gripped the steering wheel, watching his own hands shaking. I can't stop it now. The fire was burning white-hot, deep and unstoppable. He slowly slipped the car into first gear and pulled up the clutch until it bit. This is it. He released the handbrake and then floored the accelerator, screwing his eyes shut as he felt himself pushed back into his seat, the engine roaring for what seemed like far too long for such a short distance, then suddenly there was a deafening crash and a violent impact, the scream of shattering glass surrounding him as there suddenly came another hard crash and the car stopped dead.
He opened his eyes and looked around. The windscreen was opaque with a latticework of spidery cracks, and all he could see from the side windows was the smashed glass and debris that was once the front of the store. He felt as if someone had just beaten him with a mallet, the impact smashing all of the peace and calm away until there was only fire. As his eyes refocused he saw a spot of blood on the steering wheel but he didn’t stop to find out where it had come from, he just forced open his jammed door and stepped out, his body shaking as the ringing in his ears giving way to the screams of the panicking shoppers and staff. He looked around him as they ran, and pulled the gun from his pocket. The front of his car had crumpled, embedded in the Customer Services counter, behind which a terrified young girl still stood in shock. "Evacuate the store!" he shouted, walking over to her and pointing the gun at her. He motioned toward the microphone and waited until she had ordered everyone out, then he held her gently but firmly by the wrist. "Nobody’s going to get hurt," he calmly assured her, trying to stop his hands from shaking. "This is just to send a message. Now I want you to tell the police that I have a hostage, and that I’ve filled the car with explosives and will set it off if any of them try to come in. I want the press here as well, filming everything. Got it?" The girl nodded, breathless with panic, and he let her go and ordered her outside with the others. Once she had gone he put the gun back in his pocket, wiping the sweat from his brow, and went back to the car, picking up the baseball bat and smashing the remains of his windscreen out onto the bonnet, knowing he may need the opening later. He took the bat with him as he went to the back of the store and hurried up the stairs to the security office where he could keep a watch over the whole building through its array of monitors.
Once he was in he locked the door behind him and went over to the small window opposite, overlooking the car park at the front. He closed the blinds just enough to let him peer out every few minutes, and watched the car park slowly empty as the panicking customers left. When they had gone he crouched down on the floor beneath the window, waiting for the police and cameras to arrive. He realised that he was still shaking, that he could feel his heart pumping adrenaline through his veins, and a drop of sweat fell from his forehead onto the carpet.
Before long Ryan heard sirens, and he got up and looked through the blinds to see a lone patrol car speeding into the car park. "No!" he hissed through gritted teeth. "Not yet!" He crouched back down and wondered what to do. If they realised how powerless he really was before the armed police and press arrived then it would all be over. He stood up, feeling adrenaline pumping the fire around his veins, and he picked up his baseball bat and walked out. He was burning hot, the heat spreading outwards from his insides and soaking his clothes with sweat, and as he ran down the stairs and out across the shop floor he slipped out of his coat and let it flutter to the ground behind him, pulling off his T-shirt as he ran. Shattered glass crunched underfoot as he raced out of the twisted and smashed front doors toward the police car. There were two officers standing behind the car's opened doors, a man and a woman, both holding what looked like taser guns, but Ryan did not stop. "Not yet!" he yelled as he sped up, two loud cracks echoing through the air as he felt the sharp jab of the needles pierce the flesh on his chest and arm. The currents coursed through him but he was burning so hot he could barely feel it. He ripped the taser needles from his skin and leaped toward the car, swinging his bat into the left headlight and smashing it to pieces. The police officers hurriedly got back inside, slamming and locking the doors, but Ryan was still coming at them. He swung the bat again, this time hitting the windscreen so hard that it punched a hole in the middle, the rest of it sagging and shattered like the windscreen of his own car. He heard the starter motor go and the engine leaped into life with a roar, and as the tyres squealed Ryan swung the bat through the passenger side window, shattering it completely, the sounds of breaking glass almost masking the yelp of the policewoman in the passenger seat. "Not yet!" he yelled after them.
He stood, shaking with adrenaline, watching the car speed back out of the car park. He smiled. It had felt good to let go and just let the heat and the energy take over. Fire was now etched deep into his every cell, and he felt as wild and free as he knew he was born to be. He ran back into the supermarket and back upstairs into the security office, a sharp twinge of pain rippling from the reddened needle-pricks of the taser guns.
The next ten minutes seemed to stretch on forever as he crouched, shaking, looking nervously across the bank of impassive security monitors. Suddenly he saw flashing lights on one of them, and he stood up to look out of the window. This time there was a fleet of police cars and vans heading toward him, and he saw with excitement that there were news vans pulling into the car park behind them. "It’s all working," he said aloud, hearing his own voice as if it were someone else's, hollow and distant and almost drowned by the thumping of his heart. Before long the car park was full and the police had snipers trained on him, their senior officers trying to negotiate, but he could no longer hear them above his own breaths, each one adding fuel to the roaring fire. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the folded statement, swallowing the rising terror he suddenly felt, and went to unlock the door.
He calmly walked out and down the stairs, sweating as he walked across the shop floor toward his car. They had been told it was full of explosives, so he knew he wouldn’t be a target as long as he stayed near it. As he approached he saw the rows of police cars and yellow cordon lines through the shattered glass, the flashing blue lights refracting broken patterns onto the walls and shelves all around him, and he carefully pulled his replica gun out of his pocket. He heard the shouted commands of the senior officers as he approached, and saw them all hurrying to get into position.
Stopping about three feet in front of the car he stood and held out his statement, gripping the gun tightly with his other hand. "No-one will get hurt if you read this to the cameras," he called out. There was no response, and for a while he just stood, holding it out. He wondered whether or not he should threaten to shoot his imaginary hostage, but before he could decide a police officer in a bulletproof vest ducked the yellow cordon and slowly walked toward him, hands in the air. "It’s okay," he said reassuringly. "Just give me the note." Ryan handed him the statement, and before the officer could try and play for time he turned to go back, breathing a sigh of relief as he started walking. Suddenly he heard a commotion behind him and looked round just in time to see the police officer reach to grab his arms from behind. Panicking, he span around to face him and squeezed the trigger on his replica pistol.
He jumped and closed his eyes as a lightning flash of muzzle flare exploded with a deafening bang, the shock of recoil jarring through his wrist and arm and jerking the gun upward. He gasped in unison with the rest of the crowd’s sudden shouting as he opened his eyes and saw the look of utter shock on the officer’s face. He watched him stagger backwards, clutching his shoulder where it had been left exposed next to the straps of the kevlar vest, a deep red stain soaking into the pristine white of his shirt underneath. Ryan looked down at his gun. It was not a replica. He looked back at the wounded officer, now falling backwards onto the floor, his breathing becoming shallow and fitful as he went into shock.
Ryan turned and ran, keeping close to the car, knowing they wouldn’t shoot. Sliding to a halt behind it he crouched down and heard himself panting, his head swimming, and he wondered how such a simple plan could suddenly have gone so disastrously wrong. He had to think quickly. What now, what now...
He would have to run for it.
Pulling the modified firework from one pocket and the lighter from the other, he straightened out the fuse and lit it, throwing it through the smashed-out windscreen. Feeling his head pounding with each harsh thud of his heartbeat, he leaped back up and ran toward the back of the store as several loud shots rang out. He knew he was nowhere near the car now and that some of them had a clear shot, but he just kept on running until he reached back doors, a swell of elated relief overwhelming him as he burst through. He ran up the stairs and back into the office and locked the door. He was still shaking, the raw energy of fire tearing through his veins, and he crouched down onto the floor by the window as he figured out his next move, his head swimming and aching, his vision strangely distant. He knew he didn’t have long. There was no way the police could know that his car was about to go up. They would probably try to storm in and arrest him now that he had shot one of them.
He stared expectantly at the locked door, and before long he noticed the pattern of the blinds that hung behind him being projected between shafts of soft orange light onto the wall in front. He held his breath and realised how quiet everything had suddenly gone. He stood up and leaned against the wall to peer out of the blinds. The sun was starting to go down behind the trees that lined the car park, and he smiled, the unexpected sight of it making him feel calmer. He just stood and watched for a while, not noticing the tiny red laser sight marking his chest.
All of a sudden he felt himself thrown backwards by a bruising impact as if someone had punched him hard. He staggered back to the door, realising he had been shot, feeling his heart suddenly beating harder and faster than ever before. He hurriedly unlocked the door and opened it, running out and up the next flight of stairs, not even knowing where to but just running. The adrenaline began to rise again, an abrasive heat burning through every fibre of his body, reawakening him. Defiant to the last. He heard the shouts of the armed policemen already behind him as he ran gasping through the corridors, a dull and blinding ache filling his head, the heat of the fire inside burning away the rising agony in his chest, and soon he was climbing one last set of stairs which ended in one last door. He had no idea where it went as he raced up toward it. Go down fighting.
He burst through and out onto the roof, suddenly stopping as daylight hit the back of his eyes and fresh air coursed into his lungs. It suddenly felt as if the wild outside had surrounded him and filled him. He smiled. Finally, from up here he could see out over all of the rooftops that had always walled him in. Finally he could see the sky. He just stood as the orange sun slowly set in front of him, and as it began to dip below the horizon he staggered toward it, reaching out, feeling his eyes fill with tears. He so badly wanted to be able to reach it, just to feel it brush against his fingertips. He barely noticed the noises behind him, and suddenly a sharp bang tore through the air, then another, and still another. He felt the impact of the bullets and felt them pass through him, but he felt no pain. I have become pure water. The fire was burning so hot that he was almost evaporating, and as a strange silence descended over the rooftop all Ryan could hear was the sound of his own painfully rasping breath above the hammering of his heart. He slowly felt his strength draining from him, dripping away with the sweat that fell from his body onto the concrete below him.
The gun fell from his hand and landed with a dull metallic thud. He felt himself gently swaying, and as his vision blurred he felt the jolt of falling hard onto his knees and saw each memory pass upward past his eyes like a film projector as it sped out of his body, the way they say your life flashes before you when you're about to die. Tears streamed from his eyes but he began laughing as relief poured out of him. He fell forward onto his hands and crawled along the concrete roof toward the setting sun, reaching out to touch it as it shone through the stained glass of his escaping memories. Suddenly it felt so close and suddenly he felt so unreal. He felt himself becoming lighter, fading away. The fire was burning him away from the inside. He collapsed onto his front, feeling the cold hard concrete against his skin, and in the silence he heard the grating of his own breaths gradually slowing down and becoming so quiet that he could hear the gentle whisper of a warm spring breeze.
He slowly rolled onto his back and looked over at the officer still standing by the door, but all he saw was a dark outline still aiming the menacing black shape of a rifle at him. "Did they read my statement?" Ryan asked him in a hoarse whisper, tasting blood.
"Yes," the officer replied. "They read it out to the cameras, just like you said."
Ryan smiled. "Good. That’s all I wanted."
There was another long pause as they looked at each other across the rooftop, the police officer’s shadow thrown long and dark behind him. He lowered his gun and frowned quizzically at Ryan. "Where were you trying to go?" he asked.
Ryan’s smile broadened into a grin. "I’m going home," he said.
The explosion was heard a mile away. For the briefest moment Ryan felt the whole roof of the building bulge beneath him as if it were made of rubber, then his childhood suddenly flashed past his eyes and shot outwards. He saw his mother and his grandfather smiling at him as the fire inside consumed him, an exploding joy of utter relief expanding inside him as he came apart, all of his atoms split open and blown outwards and upwards, a soul torn and flung toward the sky before it showered back down with the smashed concrete and bent steel and shattered glass.
I'm the kamikaze, the Divine Wind. I'm going to tear through the world like a windstorm. I just wish you could see it. I know you'll never read this but I always want it to stay with you, resting with you next to your gravestone, until the day the sun sets forever and we'll all get to touch it. Then we'll all get to go home. Maybe it's not too far away. Maybe I'll see you there soon.