Fire rose in large plumes and blood flowed as freely as the black and grey smoke.
The village was destroyed.
I was surrounded by people, but felt more alone than I had in my life.
He was gone.
He was dead.
The ground continued to shake. I continued to cry.
We were completely blind to it. Those of us affected had an inclining of what was going on but for the most part, the United Kingdom chose ignorance over enlightenment. The tide changed when private emails between the key players in parliament were leaked on the Internet, revealing that the cuts to allowances of the most vulnerable people in out country in the name of Austerity were actually a small part of something bigger. An attempt to cull the population by targeting what the power figures of our country considered to be ‘the most expendable.’ After all, most disabilities are hereditary. After the documents were leaked, the disabled and mentally ill tried to rise up and topple the government. Along with a few sympathizers, they barely broke four millions in number and after failing to make a difference, our worst fears were confirmed. That we were powerless against the establishment built for our benefit, and that the majority of people do not care about things that don’t affect them. Of course the larger problem was that with the rise of capitalism and consumerism, the only people with a voice that mattered, a monetary voice, didn’t want the way we lived to change, and so did nothing. The cuts stopped of course, but by them around half of the disabled and mentally ill population was flushed out, along with the people from low-income backgrounds and refugees. The police became corrupt, and personal prejudices bled into the enforcement of the law. Other countries ignored what was happening for as long as they could, and when the discord became to great, they sat by and simply reported what was happening. After all we were no longer part of the European Union, we had foolishly believed the subtle propaganda that had filled our television screens telling us we were ‘Better of as Britain’. We had become insignificant, if they could ignore the suffering and corruption in Africa and South America, then we were inconsequential. Eventually the rest the world grew bored with the scandal.
I think it was the public’s failure to make change happen when the evidence of wrongdoing was so, well, evident, that sparked the next wave of attacks. With basic morality discarded in such a public and open way, hate groups became active, emboldened by the lack of consequence from the governments mass genocide. Their attacks had evolved from the days of taking to the streets and targeting individuals that fit their profile.
Tom, a good friend and sometimes colleague, saw this coming, He moved out of our house to investigate the hate groups, filming them in secret.
As we evolved so did our means to destroy one another. Now people from privilege were living without the fear of ‘god’ or repercussions, advanced science lead to a way to map a person’s origins through their DNA, and history allowed us to track the origins of race. It wasn’t long before viruses were engineered to target specific races. Luckily, Tom and I were able to get out of the city before ‘The First Cleansing’ as they called it; Tom posted the footage he had gotten on the dark web, now the only internationally accessible Internet from the UK. By the time the rest of the world saw fit to get involved it was too late. Half the Black population and two thirds of the Asian population were wiped out by the hate groups using gases released into the air at major cities in the UK and people attempting to leave at the UK’s airports. Me and Tom and a group of others that had the foresight to see what was coming and flee into small villages barely marked on a map, watched from the sidelines, powerless, hopeless. But safe.
Of course as the civil war raged brightly for all to see, we’d have company soon enough, and not just the people running to escape, but people coming to pursue. And their wasn’t much time.
Tom woke up first and shook me playfully awake, I shot up expecting feel the ground shaking, the fear already rising in me. “Calm down” he said gently, “We have to do our exercises” he kissed me and went downstairs, I followed reluctantly, even the end of peace couldn’t get me out of bed in a hurry.
We’d chosen this place for two reasons firstly because of its miles and miles of farmland. It was nearly time for the harvest and we’d spent months consulting with the farmers in the area about how to preserve fresh fruit and vegetables for a few months, we’d bartered our labour for a percentage of the food. I had no problem with this as I loved the feeling of pressing my fingers deep into the dirt and meticulously caring for the plants, the amount of green was refreshing and it made the air so clean, aside from the constant smells of smoke that had begun to creep up on us. We had adjusted to it, but were cautiously aware that if we could smell the smoke, the bloodshed wasn’t far behind we’d already amassed a huge store of canned and dried food from all the nearby places but we were taking our time with the medicine, knowing that it would involve breaking into a local hospital and taking it from the needy patients.
I looked over at Tom, a mixture of emotion flooded me, I did care for him deeply, and even found him attractive, but it wasn’t love. I think he felt the same. Our relationship was born from necessity. But it worked. We could talk about our fears and hopes, our pasts, and we spent hours mulling over our futures.
‘I think we should get the medicine today” I muttered. The look of fear in Toms face was evident, my eyes misted as I started my next set of push ups. The silence stretched on for what seemed like forever and I was about to take back what I said when I heard his clear reply “Okay.” I looked up and his expression had changed, his eyes hard and his jaw was set, it was a look of determination.
After the exercises we went over the medical books we’d found in one of the shops we’d visited on the way here, we’d had to smash our way in, and there was blood on the pages that shook the memories from me every time I read them. We’d compiled a list of the medicines we needed weeks before and we’d be combing over the text to be sure. Then we placed the textbook with the bags of herbs and plants we’d foraged and went to get the car of Billy.
The hospital was a 15minute drive from the village, and was run by the people in the closest city to us, as far as we could tell, they hadn’t been hit by the encroaching epidemic but we’d both been feeling uneasy for a while, Billy shared our concerns. Billy used to work at the hospital before he was caught stealing supplies, he’d helped us compile a detailed plan, he found satisfaction from it. It was his kind of vengeance.
Two hours later, we were in the car.
“I’m scared” Tom croaked out. “Me too” I whispered
I lost myself in my thoughts for fifteen minutes, thinking of the cave.
The cave was our haven, Tom had come here when he was fifteen years old with his parents to explore the caving system here, this was the second reason we chose this place, the cave stretched underground for about a twenty kilometers, had a source of fresh water and had twelve large cavernous spaces, we had already began to fill one of these spaces with our supplies, we had enough to feed four people for a year and had already set up lighting and heating attached to two generators, one fuel and one using solar panels on the surface. This elaborate set up had all been Tom; he was good with this type of thing. When the fuel ran out or the solar panels didn’t work, we had candles and matches. However the good ventilation was also my biggest fear, the chemicals in the air used to target specific races could not be stopped, if they were released here, their would be no avoiding certain death, despite all our preparations.
The hospital loomed on the horizon. “There’s something going on” Tom pointed to the shattered windows.
I hear the screams before I saw the people, flooding out into the streets and heading our way. Then I saw the tank.
“Turn around!” I shrieked “Fucking turn around!!” Tom spun the car around his breathing was coming hard and fast, my palms started to sweat. “how the fuck did they get a tank?” I said incredulously. As we surged forward I glanced quickly in the rear view mirror and saw a man point directly at me. The only black guy in a sea of white. I froze. Clambered into the back seat, watched as a man threw something small at us. Rocks? No, not rocks.
The windows smashed inwards I ducked and covered my eyes, glass ricocheting against Tom and I, while the sound of bullets being fired were almost lost from the shattering glass and howling wind. The car barely missed the blast and Tom’s mad driving had saved us.
We took the empty streets and village roads at a fast but safe pace while I cleaned Tom’s cuts. We spoke in hushed tones as if they were still in earshot, I could barely hear Tom against the wind and the deep boom of the grenade still ringing in my ears.
“We’ll have about ten minutes to grab everything and take it to the cave, we need to get the herbs to use to make medicines, the fruit and vegetables we have are still at our house which isn’t far from the mouth, I think we can make it.” His breathing was labored. I looked over my shoulder but couldn’t see anyone behind us yet.
As we entered the village I began shouting out of the windows, a few residents heard me and I saw them rush to gather things to evacuate. I began to shout louder. I looked at Tom wondering why he wasn’t shouting. Sweat beading on his head he was deathly pale, I looked over the seat and saw the pool of red that was soaking his t-shirt. He caught me looking and gave me a half smile. My eyes widened, I fought to control myself but the tears began to flow and the feeling of despair that I’d kept subdued ripped through me making me double over in pain. The screech of the breaks, told me we were back. I felt his hand on mine.
I got out and tore open the drivers side door. Blood immediately began to spill on to the gravel of our drive. We both knew.
I fresh emotion began to rise, rage. I bit down on my lip and looked around at the crowd gathering outside our house. “You have to go, they’re coming” I managed to gasp out between the sobs that felt like bubbles of emotion so strong they threatened to devour me. Tom grabbed my hand again. “Go” he said simply. I didn’t move. “Go” he said urgently. My head bowed as a fresh wave of grief momentarily drowned me. “I love you, so please go.” I looked at him seeing he was smiling. Then he was gone.
A familiar booming sounded in the distance. They were here. I didn’t care. Screaming filled the air and the scent of smoke intensified. I heard the cannon of the tank and felt the ground shake. I didn’t care.
‘Go. I love you, so please go.’ I heard the words again and then got up.
In the time I had my head bowed next to the corpse of the person who had saved my life, the sky had become grey, and the sounds of violence had become deafening, I dashed into the house, breaking the door and retrieved the herbs, and two boxes of fruit and vegetables, it all seemed worthless. I rushed through the village square as the cannon crushed an entire building sending rubble raining down into the streets. At this point it wasn’t even clear what the aim of this savage violence was. Men, women and children of all races lay in the streets, killed by anger that had no purpose but to kill. Inside me, something coiled, it wasn’t enough to survive anymore, I wanted to fight, to tear apart the world until there was nothing left, to bury my fingers into the dirt and pull out life itself. Before I could surge forward, I felt a hand on my shoulder and for a second, hope crushed every other emotion I was feeling. But it was just Billy, he grabbed the boxes and led me forward, towards the cave. Towards Tom’s cave