At the risk of irritating the real short story writers out there, today’s offering comes in the form of the short story written for BBC Radio Kent’s Writers’ Room.
In terms of word-per-minute it took approximately twice the time I would devote to a passage of similar length in a novel, so I’m not sure I’m going to be repeating the exercise any time soon, but I’d be interested in people’s thoughts.
A field, grass worn to bare earth in patches, ragged trees in the middle distance motionless under a heavy grey sky. A group of young men, all dressed alike, sprawl on the ground, joking, laughing, their muscles defined, their edge keen. A pale, slight youth rises to his feet as if to an unseen signal and his companions follow suit. Gathering in a tight knot, their jokiness left behind on the ground, they thrust their right arms into the closed centre of the circle, rigid, like spokes on a wheel. Fists pump, voices chant; there is an abrupt beat of silence and one voice is raised ‘Garden of England!’
My lips move with them in the chant and I wonder – will I ever feel that passion again?
They can’t see me, my former comrades, but I watch them as the onscreen image tracks over their heads. The invisibly tiny surveillance bot darts ahead of them and, suddenly, they appear to be running towards me. As they run, the bot scans retinas in non-compliant identity checks.
Names appear onscreen, as familiar as my own. But individual names are irrelevant; the young men running, unseeing towards me are simply Garden of England.
Garden of England are criminals. The government courts have found them each guilty – twice – of crimes against the built environment.
Crimes like planting a thousand oak saplings on a farm. A farm destined to become a shopping village with car parking for ten thousand vehicles.
A money-shaped, greed-flavoured shopping village?
Or an oak wood?
If juries weren’t just a memory - would you convict Garden of England?
The government courts did.
On each member’s identity record there is a two crimes tag; a signal that if this person commits one more crime, he will be imprisoned for the rest of his life. No parole. No time off for good behaviour. For the rest of his life.
I gaze at them as they run towards me onscreen. Like ancient warriors, their arms are bare, and, on each left wrist, a pale band of skin not yet used to sunlight. Pale skin where identity bracelets used to be.
Garden of England have gone No ID.
They have declared themselves non-members of society. Without ID they have no access to government food programmes, health monitoring or skills provision. They no longer have even the conditional protection of the courts.
No ID means no rights. The security forces can shoot them on sight.
No ID means not British. Not one of us. A threat.
But Garden of England would rather be shot than spend the rest of their lives in jail. Like young warriors throughout time, they don’t really believe in their own mortality.
But they should. I’m living proof of that.
Yes, living - though they think I’m dead. They saw me dragged off by the security forces, a lifeless corpse.
But I was revived and, when the stark reality was laid out – life in prison for me and all my family’s social rights revoked – I turned. I put on the ID bracelet with my new – clean – information and sold my soul to the government.
And now, as the surveillance bot tracks Garden of England in their latest action, I must prove myself.
The government doesn’t want them dead. Killing people makes them into martyrs. And martyrdom is bad.
Garden of England was my battle cry when I was one of them. And now it’s their name. That’s my martyr’s memorial.
The monitor assigned to me shifts restlessly. It’s time. I must atone for my crimes against the government’s wisdom, prove myself a compliant citizen once more.
The surveillance-bot is a clever little device. Its retinal scanner has two settings – press one button for ‘read’ and another for ‘erase’.
A blinded activist is no activist at all.
A blinded No ID refusenik is no threat to the government.
But he is a very clear warning.
One of them – Jared, the youngest and sharpest-eyed – suddenly looks up. He doesn’t know it but, through the surveillance-bot, he looks straight into my eyes. Straight into my soul.
‘Jared’ I whisper and close my eyes.