The Youngsville Raid

As the News & Observer reports, the small North Carolina town of Youngsville has stated they will continue with plans to hold their annual Christmas parade as scheduled, in spite of Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting outdoor gatherings to 50 people. A bit of a debate ensued, and I found myself writing the following bit of fiction.

The town of Youngsville thought they could fly under the radar. Their small-town Christmas parade surely wouldn’t ruffle any feathers.

They thought wrong.

The atmosphere was festive, if slightly subdued, as the first spectators began to line the streets. As participants clustered in front of the First Baptist Church, COVID-driven anxiety combined with pre-performance jitters, making the parking lot uncharacteristically quiet. Conversation was muted by masks, and the usual dissonant notes of high school marching bands warming up and tuning their instruments died quickly in the cold, still air.

Suddenly, over the heavy quiet that lay like a blanket over the festivities, the THWUP THWUP THWUP of chopper blades became audible. The birds were flying in low and fast. As the choppers slowed to a hover over the crowd, the squeal of a megaphone rang out.

“Everyone stay where you are. This is an unlawful public assembly.”

Spectators and participants alike glanced at one another, wide-eyed, trying to process what their eyes were seeing. Then the first scream started.

Nobody quite knows who it was. Many will tell you a name, but few of those names are the same from person to person. What everyone can tell you, though, is what came next.

Everyone scattered.

If the pandemonium hadn’t started, the engine rumble from the incoming trucks would have alerted the crowd to what was coming next. As it was, the vehicles seemed to appear out of the early morning mist like eldritch beasts materializing out of some other dimension. Doors flung open and booted feet hit the pavement as the North Carolina National Guardsmen quickly and efficiently cordoned off the streets.

The thing about Youngsville, though, is that there are many ways between two points…and most of them do not involve paved roads. Finding their retreat blocked, the panicked crowd began dispersing out between buildings, over fences, and across open greenways.

As the National Guard tried valiantly to contain the rapidly escalating situation and the choppers provided aerial spotting, nobody noticed the new arrivals on the scene.

The local militia, who ironically styled themselves as the Youngsville Young Bucks (ironic in the sense that the average age of the Young Bucks hovered around 47), had gotten wind that the National Guard were going to make an example of the Youngsville Christmas parade. “Not on my watch!” the head militiaman had bellowed. The rousing cry of assent had been almost inspiring. The Young Bucks had been training (a regimen which largely consisted of sitting around, drinking beer, and swapping stories about how heroically ready they were to defend their families against the ambiguous oppressors that were going to show up Any Day Now) for this moment.

Everyone agrees that the first shots were fired by the Young Bucks. Nobody’s quite sure why there were snipers in the choppers or why the Guardsmen on the ground were quite so quick to return fire, but the prevailing theory is that the Young Bucks weren’t the only ones who’d been tipped off. Whatever the case, it didn’t take long for the quiet streets of Youngsville to sound like the front lines of a war zone.

The Youngsville Christmas Parade could have been a cautionary tale about public gatherings during a pandemic. Instead, it became part of the national discourse for some time.

It took the National Guard a grand total of twenty-three minutes to subdue and chase off their assailants. By that time everyone involved with the parade had fled, though over the course of the day occasionally spectators or participants would trickle back to reclaim abandoned vehicles or parade paraphernalia.

Thankfully, somehow, there were no deaths. The Guardsmen were all using rubber bullets, and the Young Bucks were not known for their marksmanship. The worst injury was a man who attempted to leap a fence, fell down the other side, and broke his arm.

There were no other Christmas parades left on the calendar in North Carolina that year.

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