When I was a teenager, I read George Orwell’s seminal novel, 1984. Written during the late 1940’s, Orwell’s work depicts a dystopian future under a brutal authoritarian regime. Many aspects of the story turned out to be eerily prophetic, predicting developments such as the emergence of the surveillance state. For example, who could forget the infamous and chilling slogan – ‘Big Brother is watching you’.
But one quote from the book has really stuck with me over the years, that being – ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever’. This is an image I can definitely relate to, because I live in a small town with a shameful tradition.
Because you see, we – the people of my community – stamp on human faces on a daily basis. I don’t mean that as a metaphor. I mean, we literally walk over the faces of fellow human beings each and every morning in a sadistic procession…a sick ritual overseen by a sinister otherworldly figure. We inflict pain and humiliation upon sentient and intelligent beings and then go about our daily business as if nothing ever happened…And the worst thing is, no one is doing anything to stop it.
This is quite difficult to explain, so I’ll start at the beginning. I was born and raised in this town and have lived here my entire life. You might ask why I choose to stay, given the horrible events I’ve witnessed, and indeed have participated in. Well, judge me if you will, but I have my reasons.
For a start, my family and friends all live here, and believe it or not, they are good people in spite of the horrible acts they’re obligated to participate in. And my hometown is actually a pretty good place to live, at least on the surface. Our economy is thriving, crime is nearly non-existent, and neighbours really do look out for each other. To outsiders it seems like the perfect community, but they don’t know the full story.
Some people reckon it’s the price we have to pay – that we must carry on this grotesque tradition to keep our community and families safe and prosperous. I don’t believe this myself. What I do know is that social pressure is a powerful thing, and this is what I grew up with.
We don’t expose the youngest children to the ritual. No child will visit the street of shame until after their 12th birthday. I’ll never forget the first time I made the walk.
My friends and I were used to hearing the siren ring, every morning at 7am. During my childhood I was told by my parents that this wasn’t a matter for children. They were very firm on this point, telling me that I should never follow when they went out every morning to ‘do what needed to be done’.
I was curious of course, what child wouldn’t be? But I saw how my parents looked first thing in the morning, as they solemnly marched out to do their secret business. They would arrive back about half an hour later, always removing their shoes at the front door (this was a tradition in our household, along with most of the others in the community – I would later discover why).
After my parents returned home we would sit down as a family and eat breakfast together, and the tension would gradually lift as we returned to some sort of normality. Nevertheless, there was always a darkness in my parents that I could never quite put my finger on. Later, I understood the heavy burden they had to carry, that of otherwise good people forced to keep a horrible secret.
I knew I would eventually discover the truth once I came of age, and so it came to pass. I remember that day vividly. I felt both excited and anxious as a million possibilities ran through my young and impressionable mind. On that fateful morning my father came up to my room shortly after the 7am siren. I looked into his tired and sunken eyes and realised this was the last thing he wanted. He never wished to expose me to this, but there was no choice. My mother was clearly upset too, but she remained strong for me.
I’ll never forget how tightly she held my hand as we made the short walk over to the street of shame, and all the time she whispered in my ear, telling me how everything was going to be okay, and that I must remember how much my family loved me, and would continue to do so, no matter what.
By that point I was truly terrified, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. The street of shame is cordoned off from the rest of the town, sealed off by barricades for all but the brief period in the morning when the twisted ritual takes place.
Only one person is able to grant access to the street – a mysterious, frightening and possibly supernatural individual known only as ‘The Lollipop Man’. I saw the man for the first time that morning and was so terrified by the sight of him that I almost passed out.
The Lollipop Man is elderly, perhaps in his 70’s or 80’s, his skin being wrinkled and his hair turned white. Nevertheless, he never seems to age, and his physical appearance hasn’t changed in decades. He wears a long yellow fluorescent jacket like those worn by council workers, and he holds a two-sided sign attached to a long pole, with green on one side for ‘Go’, and red on the other for ‘Stop’.
His sole purpose in life seems to be granting access to the street, managing the foot traffic, and ensuring everyone does their duty while also not taking things too far. At first glance he looks like the normal kind of lollipop man you’d expect to find outside any primary school, but upon closer inspection its clear there is something much more sinister about this enigmatic individual.
What really terrified me on that awful morning was seeing his eyes – so dark, dead and soulless, like those of a heartless monster dedicated only to spreading misery and pain.
I was astonished to discover the whole town was already there – every man, woman and child over the age of 12. All of our neighbours, my school friends…everyone from respected public servants, professionals and businessmen to everyday folk who worked for minimum wage.
There were literally hundreds of people there, all standing single file in a long queue stretching down the pavement, all waiting patiently for their turn. Surprisingly, the whole process was very well organised and efficient. The line moved quickly, and the Lollipop Man kept things running smoothly. Everyone waited their turn, and nobody expected or received preferential treatment.
We joined the queue and stood in line along with all the rest, my mum continuing to grip my hand tightly despite my obvious embarrassment, while my dad maintained a tough front despite his clear discomfort.
As we slowly walked forwards, coming ever closer to the barricade, I started hearing the screams, faint at first but soon increasing in volume, until they became a horrifying crescendo which drowned out every other sound. I was horrified, looking up to my mother’s eyes in the hope of finding some comfort, but instead seeing only a mirror reflecting my own terror and revulsion.
Before long we reached the head of the queue. The screams were deafening now, so much so that I thought my ear drums would burst. I remember my father physically pulling me from my mother’s arms and shoving me forward, slapping me on the back while mouthing something I could not hear.
I paused at the barricade, tears rolling down my cheeks while my whole body shook almost uncontrollably. I glanced up at the Lollipop Man, hoping for some sympathy but finding none. Instead, he looked down upon me with cold and emotionless eyes, turned his lollipop sign to green, and opened his mouth to speak a single word that was somehow audible above the hellish din – ‘WALK!’.
I reluctantly did as I was told, not seeing any other options or prospects for escape. The barricade slowly lifted, and I put a shaking foot forward before setting eyes upon the street for the first time. For a moment I could not understand what I was seeing, as my brain couldn’t process the inexplicable scene before me.
I glanced down at the pavement and was appalled by what I witnessed – human faces in the slabs, facing upwards towards the sky and completely encased in concrete. To this day I don’t know whether their bodies are trapped, buried underneath the pavement, or if the head is the only part of them left. In any event, they are all still fully conscious, capable of feeling pain, and able to move their eyes and mouths, to cry and scream out in agony.
There were several dozen such faces, all lined up in a row along the narrow pavement. I quickly realised there was no way to get down the street without stepping on their faces. There was no other choice – I could only go forwards, not backwards.
I looked at the first face in the line, bloodied after so many had already stomped over it. From what I could tell it was a man, but I found it impossible to be sure, as his face was a bloody mess, with his teeth smashed, nose broken, and his left eye swollen shut, while his right eye stared up at me, full of fear and pain.
He tried to speak through his bleeding lips, and I imagined he was pleading for mercy. I stood still for a moment, not wanting to go through with it, but somehow realising I had no choice. And so – to my eternal shame – I stepped forward and trampled the poor guy’s face. My victim screamed but I didn’t look back, instead taking the next step and stamping upon the next human face.
I continued the sickening process, stepping on face after face, fighting back the revulsion I felt and not stopping until I reached the barricade at the far end of the street. As you can imagine, I was in a near hysterical state by the end of it, sobbing into my hands as I waited for my parents to follow me through. And, the worst thing is, I had to do it all again the next morning, and every day that followed.
It does get easier over time. Eventually, your brain will adapt to the most horrible of things, and ultimately you can become desensitized to just about anything. But, even after all these years, I still face the walk with a sense of foreboding dread, and I feel disgusted with myself after its done. In a way though, I’m glad I continue to feel this way, as at least it means I have a shred of humanity left in me.
There are 36 faces embedded along the street of shame. No one remembers exactly who they were in life. The story which the town folk have settled upon is that they were all bad people who committed terrible crimes – murderers, rapists, child molesters, and hatemongers. We believe they are evil bastards who deserve their horrible fate. But perhaps that’s just a lie we tell ourselves to justify the awful things we do to them, over and over again.
Likewise, nobody can explain how they are still alive after all these years. Even more bizarre is the fact that they heal so rapidly. No matter how much damage is done to an embedded face – teeth smashed, eyes gouged out, noses squashed, and skulls cracked open – it will all be fully healed by the next morning, ready to take more punishment.
Even more terrible is how the faces are fully conscious throughout the daily ordeal, and they seem to remember every horrible act done to them over the years. As a result of years of horrendous physical and psychological abuse, the majority of the faces have gone completely insane, and will either scream their lungs out or babble incoherently throughout the whole ordeal.
There are however a few tortured souls who stand out from the crowd. Since we don’t know their real names, we’ve given each of the faces nicknames. I’ll describe three of them for you here.
The Pleader. This is a man of indeterminable age, the type who was probably once quite handsome but whose looks have long since gone as a result of years of brutality. Nevertheless, you can see an intelligence within his deep blue eyes indicating that he still has a rational mind, not yet broken by the insanity of his situation.
The Pleader will literally beg every person who tramples his face, raising his volume to be heard over the hellish din and asking reasonable questions or making statements, such as – “Why are you doing this?”, “You don’t have to do this.”, and “Please, I’m a human being and I feel pain.”
His heartfelt pleas will raise a ping of conscience for people like me, but it makes no difference in the end. He still gets trampled hundreds of times a day. I suspect he’ll eventually be broken and will descend into madness like so many others. But until that day he’ll continue to plead for mercy, in the vain hope he may receive it.
The Biter. This is a middle-aged woman with a steadfast determination evident behind her bloodshot eyes. As you can probably tell from her name, her thing is biting people. Other than pleading for mercy, this is the only defence the faces have against their attackers, and the Biter is something of an expert at it. Some say she’s as crazy as any other face, but I believe there’s an intelligence behind her attacks.
She watches carefully, searching for any signs of weakness. If there’s a toe or ankle left exposed, she’ll get it. But the town folk are wise to the Biter’s tricks, and so she rarely gets a chance to bite into flesh or inflict any real damage, instead merely gnawing into the hard soles of sturdy shoes and boots until she eventually loses her teeth. Still, one has to admire her defiant spirit, even if her resistance is ultimately futile.
And lastly, there’s the Masochist. Now, this is a young man who is severely disturbed. He is the only one of the faces who actually wants to be stomped on. It seems he gets a perverse pleasure from it. When you approach the Masochist you’ll see his eyes light up before the screams out, saying something like – “Please sir, smash your boot in my face. I deserve it…Do it!”
And, after you’ve trampled him, he’ll always follow with the words – “Thank you sir. That was wonderful!”
I don’t know whether it’s a fetish thing, or whether the Masochist truly believes he deserves his horrific punishment. Either way, I find his face the most difficult to trample.
I don’t know whether the embedded, self-healing faces are the result of some twisted scientific experiment, or if they’re supernatural in origin. I guess nobody knows, except maybe the mysterious Lollipop Man, and he’s not talking.
I also don’t know why the people of my town keep performing this terrible ritual, day after day. There have been countless nights when I’ve sat up, unable to sleep and vowing that I would not attend the ritual in the morning. And yet, when dawn comes around and I hear the blaring siren, I always relent. I don’t know whether its due to the powerful draw of social conformity, or if I’m genuinely terrified of the Lollipop Man and what he might do to me, but every morning I turn out, join the line, and make the walk.
People’s reactions to the cruel ritual differ significantly. There are those like myself who dislike it and are racked with guilt, but few of us are brave enough to publicly object. Years ago, there was a woman who staged a protest against the violence. She was a pacifist and did not wish to inflict physical pain upon a fellow human being, regardless of what they may or may not have done.
And so, one morning she elected to make the walk in her bare feet. As a political statement, her act was a brave one…but, needless to say, it wasn’t the smartest of moves from a practical point of view. The Biter didn’t care that the pacifist was trying to show her compassion. The malicious face bit down and took a chunk out of the sole of her victim’s foot, making the poor lady scream out in bloody agony.
Other faces followed suit, chomping on the woman’s exposed feet, making her suffer with every step. By the end of her walk, the woman’s feet were cut to shreds and bleeding heavily. She was rushed to hospital for treatment, but her wounds became infected due to the bacteria in her attackers’ mouths, and ultimately she died of sepsis. It goes without saying that no-one has attempted the walk in bare feet since her untimely death.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who take a twisted and sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain and humiliation upon the faces. There’s a family who live on my street who I will not name, but they’re this type. The father wears studded football boots most mornings, while his wife dons stiletto heels. They both make sure to stomp down upon every face with as much force as they can muster, so to cause the maximum damage.
Their teenage children are slightly more subtle, often choosing psychological humiliation over physical damage. Sometimes they’ll smear the soles of their shoes with dog faeces before rubbing it in their faces, while other times they’ll stand over their victims and spit into their open mouths.
After the foul deeds are done, you’ll see the four of them laughing and slapping each other on the back, congratulating themselves on the creativity of their cruel acts. The weirdest thing is how this family acts and behaves the rest of the time. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were the nicest neighbours around, always inviting you over for barbecues or offering to help when you have car problems or need assistance with a family emergency. But, for that brief period each morning, they turn into inhuman monsters.
My father used to argue that the ritual acts as a catharsis for our community, allowing those with pent up anger and rage to take it out on ‘deserving targets’. Perhaps this is the case for some. I tell myself I’m not like the others, but there have been times when I’ve let my darkest emotions get the better of me.
I shamefully recall days when I’ve been angry about various things in my life and have taken it out on the helpless row of faces. Other times, I’ve hated the faces – hated them merely because they exist. I want them to die so I no longer have to go through this, but of course they cannot.
For the most part though, I participate with great reluctance, and I wear a pair of soft-soled trainers, sturdy enough to protect my feet from the Biter, but not so hard as to cause the faces much physical pain. And once I get home, I carry out my own cleansing ritual – hosing my old trainers down on the patio, washing off the blood, tears, bone fragments and shit, so my shoes are clean and ready for the next day. If only it was so easy to erase the immense guilt I carry or end the vivid nightmares I suffer.
I don’t know what to do. I want to stop this, but don’t know how. I’m not brave enough to take a stand against my community’s continuous cruelty, at least not yet. Telling my story is the first step. It’s a relief to finally let the world know the truth.
You may consider me a coward, and think my neighbours are monsters, but I believe such cruelty comes from a dark corner of our human psyche. I still believe that change is possible, that this savagery can be stopped, but it won’t happen overnight.
I have to go now. I can hear the morning siren blaring, calling me to the street of shame. The time has come, and I must do what I need to…because, I am the boot, and they are my victims.
Credit : Woundlicker
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