Broken

I woke as the bombs dropped. The bed shook. Glass took to the air. The curtain pole dislodged, dropped the scarlet curtains like a matador taunting a bull. Sleep well and truly blown clear of my mind, muscle memory had my hand reach for the other side of the bed, only to be met with disappointment and a heavy heart as fingertip exploration registered nothing but cold, empty sheets. He wasn’t here. I knew that.

The wind stole in through the empty windowpanes and the hairs on my arms rose to salute its deathly chill. Pulling myself from the relative comfort of the covers was a trial, but one that had to be faced. There was breakfast to make and work to be done. Life goes on. As I shuffled into warm slippers and shrugged into a dressing gown, my thoughts slipped towards the dark place which questioned why, wondered whose war I was caught between. But that was quickly pushed away. Once power was back, the TV would no doubt reveal all… well, the most patriotic version of the truth, at least. For the moment my greatest concern was hunting down a milk bottle that hadn’t surrendered to violent force. I never could stomach dry cereal. My breakfast bowl was only slightly cracked, the cutlery still slumbered in ordered rows in its draw, untouched. I lifted a chair back on its feet, brushed dust off the tabletop and took my place. As I munched, I read the newspaper from yesterday, a morning ritual, although today the old issue’s lack of immediacy was more conspicuous than usual. No mention of war, not even the smallest of political slights. Instead, the front pages concerned with the success of a national tennis hero, the back with the whereabouts of a missing cat. There would be fresh “Missing” pages today, no doubt.

I dropped the dirty bowl into the sink without a thought for the crack, which took the hit and split the ceramic clean in two. The sound made me pause. My first impulse to throw it out was disregarded, my stomach churning on glimpsing the two halves. I left it behind in the sink as I threw on clothes and grabbed my bag, perched on the bottom step to tie the rough laces on my leather boots. The rubble behind the door offered more resistance to my exit that usual. I met the postman on the front path, his hat a little askew, a smear of soot across his cheek, but otherwise the same smiley, ruddy-faced man I had come to know well. He proffered my letters in response to pleasantries, and walked on to the next house, whistling a ditty out of tune. Well behind schedule, I ran for my bus, noting the lack of houses on the parallel row. The bus pulled up as I arrived. I should have missed it. Settled into a seat at the back, I shuffled almost unconsciously through my post, intermittently gazing out of the window, at the busy normalcy of Tuesday morning commuters. Nothing but unpaid bills.

The bus coughed me up in a cloud of acrid fumes, choking passers-by in the busy city centre street. People wandered by as if unaware of the hair matted to their heads by clotting blood. Injuries from flying debris. A man suffered alone, slumped in a doorway and nursing a bullet wound, spattered blood staining the wall behind him as his head bowed forward, unmoving. Another nameless civilian casualty to add to the toll on the ten o’clock news.

Automatic doors buzzed open, pockmarked but still functional, admitted me into the cool, air-conditioned building. The bloodstains on the carpet led me to her office, the well-manicured secretary waving me in.

“Doctor Herman’s waiting for you.”

Dream the Future

Teenage revellers gyrated off-tempo under unforgiving UV light, animated by the irregular beat synthesised by a cocktail of legal highs, cut with a strong helping of MDMA. The romanticised drugs of the past, ecstasy, opiates, had fallen by the wayside, cut too well, more talcum powder than high, the new generation of “clued-up” kids too ping-smart to be cheated out of chemical paradise. And they wanted it cheap. Body mods were still expensive these days, or the popular ones, at least. Fingertips fitted with chemical sensors sent drug breakdowns and calorie counts to microchips fused into skull bone. Displayed feeds across a high-tech retina replacement, the information travelling along microscopic optic fibre masquerading as neural pathway. Uninterrupted by social notification bubbles, pre-programmed software tinted teen vision green or red in line with the desirability of chemical breakdowns, ending in a swallowed bomb, or a dead dealer.

Tommo cursed Rezik’s name as he pelted flat out down forgotten back-streets, through the gaping maws of dead buildings, bomb craters, still smoking stacks of rejected human flesh. The enhanced cries of his already pinging assailant echoed in the empty streets like the bark of a vicious dog. Warm blood dripped from a gash across Tommo’s pounding head, a killing blow interrupted by a clumsy tween high for a hookup. He jumped a battered garden fence and for a brief moment forgot Rezik to berate himself, feet pounding across rough concrete and barren dirt. He’d known this would happen. The new mod updates released last week had updated scanners to catch sugar levels in chem soups, revealing the trick behind the deals Rezik’s guys had been offering pingers for the past month. And, as always, it was Tommo that inevitably took the hit.

The Chickens (An exercise in transposing Orwell’s 1984)

  First they came for the chickens

and I did not speak out – because I was not a chicken…’

 

In the beginning they were as free as chickens could be. Each morning, copious amounts of grain were scattered about the decrepit concrete yard and they would be free to peck it up at their convenience. They’d emerge from the henhouse as soon as a farmhand slid open the door, their first goal to seek out a patch of dust in which to immerse their tousled feathers. They lived in blissful ignorance, unaware of the feelings of resentment that emanated from the other animals as they toiled through mindless drudgery, or were led across the yard for the last time, en-route to the abattoir.

Mr. Frederick had never liked the chickens. They got under his feet as he went about his chores and their grain was so expensive, he was barely breaking even. Egg farming just wasn’t profitable any more. The other animals’ jealousy was hindering the production of the farm. Something had to be done, and fast.

The door to the henhouse slid up, and as usual the chickens shuffled sleepily down the ramp, only to be confronted by a fence. It was not a particularly high fence but, since Mr. Frederick had clipped their wings overnight, it was high enough. The ground was conspicuously absent of grain, and the chickens scratched aimlessly at the cracked concrete. Eventually, when the sun was sinking over the horizon and the bellies of the chickens were protesting their emptiness to the world, Mr. Frederick appeared with a small bucket of grain, grain that was crawling with weevils and green with mould. The chickens, starving as they were, fell upon the poor quality food, pecking and scratching each other in their haste. The sun winked one last time before disappearing behind the hills as Gobbler, one of Mr. Frederick’s favourite Rottweilers, crept into the barn where the majority of the farm’s animals slept.

“I suppose all of you have noticed the predicament of the chickens,” he said. “Do not feel sympathy. The chickens have been stealing food from your mouths.” The other animals bayed their agreement. “All Mr. Frederick is doing is moving the chickens into a separate area so they no longer hinder our production rate, and reducing their expenses.” With that, Gobbler left the barn and returned to guard the farmhouse door. The next morning, the animals went about their business without a thought for the plight of the chickens. After all, Gobbler had made it all seem quite reasonable.

After a week had passed, the chickens’ emaciated forms were a cause for concern. The other animals found it difficult to remain unperturbed by such a sight, and were often distracted in their work. The eggs the chickens produced were poor, and some had stopped laying altogether.

One dismally damp afternoon, Mr. Frederick and his farmhands converged on the chicken enclosure, dressed in long rubber gloves and wellington boots. Each grabbed two chickens roughly by the yellow stalks that were once healthy legs. They swung them by their sides as they strode towards an unused barn, one that the farmhands had been busily working on throughout the week. As they entered the gloomy depths of the building, thunder rolled and lightning flashed, illuminating, for a mere moment, the glistening metal of the blades arrayed before them and the stack of compact chicken-wire cages. Through a door left ajar, the chickens glimpsed a small room, empty but for a stump of wood that held a freshly-sharpened axe. Coldly and clinically, the men de-beaked the chickens, snapped a numbered ring of plastic around their left legs, and then stuffed them three to a cage.

Gobbler again visited the other animals, this time to inform them that Mr. Frederick had discovered that the chickens were able to provide a vital service, one that would give them an edge over Foxwood and Manor Farm, and they had been moved to the barn to allow them to work uninterrupted.

With each day that passed, the chickens were force-fed large quantities of grain. Some chickens developed infections in the wounds where their beaks had been, others developed problems with their legs from standing in their own excrement. Never were the chickens let out, except to be carried into the room with the axe. Carried to their deaths.

 

‘First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew…’

-Pastor Martin Niemöller