Forty Days At Kamas
Inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s account of a Soviet labor camp revolt in Gulag Archipelago, Volume III, the story of FORTY DAYS AT KAMAS follows political prisoners and security officials at a corrective labor camp in Kamas, Utah, where inmates seize control during the summer of 2024.
Kamas, Utah. 2024. In the totalitarian dystopia that America has become after the Unionist Party’s rise to power, the American West contains vast Restricted Zones dotted with ghost towns, scattered military garrisons and corrective labor camps where the regime disposes of its real and suspected enemies. Kamas is one such camp.
On a frigid March night, a former businessman from Pittsburgh, Paul Wagner, arrives at a labor camp in Utah’s Kamas Valley, a dozen miles east of the deserted resort town of Park City, which prisoners are dismantling as part of a massive recycling project.
When Wagner arrives, he is unaware that his eleven-year-old daughter, Claire, has set off to Utah to find him after becoming separated from her mother at the Philadelphia Airport. By an odd quirk of fate, Claire has traveled on the same train that carried her father into internal exile.
Only after Wagner has renounced all hope of survival, cast his lot with anti-regime hard-liners and joined them in an unprecedented and suicidal revolt does he discover that Claire has become a servant in the home of the camp’s Deputy Warden. Wagner is torn between his devotion to family and loyalty to his fellow rebels until, on the eve of an armored assault intended to crush the revolt, he faces an agonizing choice between a hero’s death and a coward’s freedom.
In FORTY DAYS AT KAMAS, author Preston Fleming offers a stirring portrait of a man determined to survive under the bleakest of conditions and against formidable odds. Fleming’s gift for evocative prose brings the characters and events to life in a way that arouses emotional tension while also engaging the reader’s intellect with fundamental questions about the future of American society.
*Borrow Free with Amazon Prime or Read with your Kindle Unlimited Membership*
“Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power politics and any dictatorship-run state has its roots in the street.”
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Our stone farmhouse atop a forested knoll commanded a sweeping view of the hills along the Ohio River to the southwest. The south end of the house projected just beyond a line of towering maples, the French doors of our old glassed-in porch opening onto a flagstone veranda. Beyond the boxwood hedge that enclosed the veranda on three sides, the hill sloped gradually at first, then more steeply, past our neighbor’s horse paddock to the two-lane state road that connected downtown Sewickley with Interstate 79.
I finished my mug of tea and joined my wife on the veranda. Juliet had begun covering the boxwood with burlap slipcovers and called me over to shovel mulch around the roots. I pulled a long-handled shovel from the wheelbarrow to join. Meanwhile, our two daughters, Louisa and Claire, aged three and nearly five, busied themselves collecting fallen twigs for the woodpile. The sun was already high in a cloudless sky and the morning frost had melted nearly everywhere.
It was the second Saturday in November, only four days since the national elections in which the President was re-elected under the banner of his newly formed Unionist Party. The Unionists also took both houses of Congress, which had come as a complete surprise to me. I had been spending sixty-hour weeks at the office and had not paid much attention to the persistent reports of large-scale voter registration fraud, voting machine hacking, pre-stuffed ballot boxes, and voter intimidation at polling places in major cities across the country. Even with a government blackout on live television and radio coverage at polling places, rumors of a stolen election had quickly spread to nearly every household with a phone or a computer. But like too many others, I did not understand what was happening until the damage had already been done.
“Where do we put the sticks, Daddy? “ my older daughter Claire asked, bringing my thoughts back to the present.
“By the woodpile, sweetie,” I replied. “Break them up in pieces about so big and make a stack with them.”
“This one’s too big to break.” She was dragging an eight-foot branch across the grass. “Will you help me?”
“Of course.” I lay down my shovel to give her a hand, but when I reached her, Claire had dropped the branch and was pointing toward the road at the bottom of the hill.
“Who are those people, Daddy, and where are they going?” she asked. “Are they going camping?”
I looked up and saw the road clogged with a slow-moving procession of cars, pickup trucks, trailers, Amish-style horse carts, bicyclists, backpackers, even big-wheeled garden carts pulled rickshaw-style. Those on foot were trailed by a pack of underfed dogs. It reminded me of World War II newsreels of the Dutch fleeing the bombing of Rotterdam, or German refugees retreating from the advancing Red Army. Most of the cars and trucks were far from new and many of the foot travelers shabbily dressed, though most gave the impression of being strong, hardy people who had once belonged to America’s middle class.
A trio of deer peered out from behind a copse of trees near the road and hesitated, unable to find a break in the uninterrupted stream of traffic. A few of the dogs looked up, as if catching a scent, but none gave chase.
“Where are they going, Daddy?” Claire repeated.
“I think some are headed north to Canada, darling, like the Moores.” The Moores were our neighbors who, having lost their savings to inflation and having failed to sell their horse farm before the mortgage company gave notice of foreclosure, abandoned the farm and their unpaid tax obligations and moved in with their son in Ottawa.
“The ones in the fancy cars are probably driving to the Toronto airport to catch a flight overseas. The rest are probably headed south, where there are more jobs and it’s cheaper to live.”
“Are we going away, too?” Claire asked, turning to me with a look of disapproval.
I heard footsteps behind me and felt my wife grip my arm. She held on with both hands as if what she saw on the road had given her a chill.
I looked into her eyes and saw the fear of losing our business, our savings, our house and everything in it—and not being able to start over. Not in America, anyway. Not with the Unionists in power. I glanced over to Claire, hoping that she had not sensed Juliet’s fear.
“Not today, sweetie,” I replied. “We’re staying right here at home. Mommy and Daddy have work to do. And so do you and Louisa. Here, let me pull that branch over to the woodpile for you. Now, break up the small twigs, like this.” I used more force than necessary to break one of the tender twigs in half. “But leave the big sticks for me, okay?”
My wife squeezed my arm once more and let go to take my hand.
“Jeff’s car just pulled in,” she said softly. “I’ll brew a fresh pot of tea. Why don’t you carry some chairs onto the veranda?”
Jeff Fisher had been my personal attorney and business advisor for nearly fifteen years. He was sharp, strong-willed, and experienced, but also honest and utterly down to earth. Jeff had studied law at Columbia and could have risen to partner at any of the big law firms in downtown Pittsburgh, but instead chose to join his father’s small practice in Sewickley. I was happy he did. His advice was worth far more than I had to pay for it.
“Any news from the Germans?” I asked, handing him a mug of Lapsang Souchong laced with a shot of twelve-year-old rum.
“Well, they’ve made you an offer,” Jeff said without enthusiasm.
“That’s more than I’ve had from anyone else in the last three years,” I replied. “I’ll give them credit for that much.”
“Don’t get too excited, Paul. Their offer is half of what we expected and a third of what the company is worth in today’s market. They don’t want to buy the company; they’re out to steal it. Still, it’s an offer. And it might even be worth taking, depending on what you expect from the economy under a Unionist administration.”
“You and I both know that wage and price controls have been a complete disaster for small manufacturers like us,” I responded. “The Germans, on the other hand, seem quite comfortable with government controls. With the European economy in the toilet and foreign trade down to a trickle, they seem almost desperate for a foothold in the U.S. I’d say that’s good news for us.”
“But the bad news is that they think we’re even desperate to sell than they are to buy,” Jeff replied.
“Do you think we might be able negotiate a better price?”
“I doubt it. They’re talking to some of our competitors. They seem pretty confident that at least one of us will decide to take the money and run.”
“Damned Europeans! They see the Unionists come to power and now they think they have us on our knees. They’re certain that the president will go to Brussels, swallow his pride, and give special trade and investment concessions to the EU. It makes me want to—”
“Not so fast, Paul. If you’re right about the Unionists and they do put the economy into a coma, this may be the last offer you’ll see for a very long time. And if you have to liquidate, you could wind up buried under a landslide of unpaid bills and tax liens. The Unionists play rough with tax defaulters, Paul. You could be looking at federal prison.”
“But if I sell, then what? This is the only business I know, and I am making a living in spite of it all. If I hang in there, the company might grow its way back to profitability somehow. If I sell now, and if there’s anything left afterward, where could I invest the proceeds and be able to live off the income? The only option I see would be to emigrate and start over—”
“Father says it would be crazy to emigrate now,” Juliet interrupted with surprising vehemence. “His contacts in Washington insist this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy assets at the bottom. And they also point out that when things get better—as they are bound to do eventually—anyone who emigrates will get a very chilly reception on his return.” Juliet looked at me as she continued. “Paul, both of our families have been in Pennsylvania for nearly a hundred and fifty years. You wouldn’t really give it all up, would you?”
Jeff spoke up before I could respond.
“Juliet, if you’ll remember,” he said gently, “the Jews had been living in Germany and Poland quite a bit longer than a couple hundred years. The Jewish families who emigrated survived. Same with the Russian aristocracy in 1918. And the French nobility during the Reign of Terror. The risks—”
“Jeff, you don’t honestly consider the Unionists to belong in the same category as the Nazis or the Bolsheviks?” she replied.
“You’ve heard their speeches, Juliet. A person is either with them or against them. To the Unionist mobs, you and I are class enemies.”
“But we’re all Americans,” Juliet protested. “Some of our neighbors are Unionists. They’re not bad people. I’m certain they wouldn’t do anything to harm us…”
“Maybe so,” I interjected. “But how can we be sure there aren’t others who would stone our Volvo the way they stoned Sally Zimmermann’s Lexus in Ambridge last week?” I asked. “Her children were in that car, for God’s sake. All the crazies saw was a shiny new SUV. Sally and the boys were lucky to get away with their lives.”
Juliet put down her teacup. When she raised her eyes I could see that she remained unmoved. In matters like this, she still looked to her parents for leadership. Even after fourteen years of marriage… I let the thought drop.
“Paul,” she addressed me in a conciliatory voice. “I hear what you’re saying. But if it’s a decision between emigrating and finding a way to make things work here in Sewickley, then in my mind the choice is clear. We both know life isn’t always easy. It was hard back in Washington’s day and in Lincoln’s day and during the Depression. If the wealthy and educated had emigrated then, America would have failed as a country long ago. I think we have a duty to stay.”
I paused to refill my cup before responding and didn’t spare the rum.
“I know how you feel, Juliet. I don’t like the idea of running away any more than you do. But deep in my gut I don’t trust the Unionists. Think about it: if we sold the business, we would have enough to start over somewhere—Australia, Ireland, maybe Costa Rica or some place in South America. It might be a little rough on the two of us, but the girls would do just fine. We could—”
“And walk away from everything we know—the company, our house, our community, our parents? Could you really do that, Paul? I don’t think I could look at myself in the mirror if I did. I don’t want to be a refugee…”
She lowered her gaze and her eyes seemed fixed on some frightful vision inside her head.
Jeff sighed, then let out a deep breath before looking to me for a decision.
“I suppose I can’t put it off any longer, can I?” I asked with a weak smile. “You both need an answer…”
“The Germans want a response today. Should I schedule a meeting or tell them you’re not interested?”
My wife raised her head and I felt the burden of her gaze.
“Well, it’s a tough call. Very tough,” I repeated, looking directly at my wife, then staring out past the trees to the rolling hills beyond.
“But in the end, I don’t see how I can run out on Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and a hundred and fifty years of venerable ancestors. As much as I’d like to tell the Unionists to drop dead, I suppose the principled approach is to stay and tell the Germans to drop dead instead.”
Jeff rose without showing approval or disapproval, merely giving me a pat on the shoulder as he left his cup on the tea tray. Juliet smiled, palpably relieved, then rose to carry the tray back to the kitchen while I escorted Jeff to his car.
* * *
Preston’s Website / Goodreads / Author Central / Twitter / Facebook Preston Fleming was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He left home at age fourteen to accept a scholarship at a New England boarding school and went on to a liberal arts college in the Midwest. After earning an MBA, he managed a non-profit organization in New York before joining the U.S. Foreign Service and serving in U.S. Embassies around the Middle East for nearly a decade. Later he studied at an Ivy League law school and since then pursued a career in law and business. He has written five novels.