Notes on notes.
Notes from a fallen island is an unfinished project. That is important to remember as you venture forwards. It has been lightly edited, and is largely ‘first draft’ stuff. I am posting it to demonstrate how an idea can just run out of steam, and at 35k words, it’s a large idea to lose!
Some things work, and some don’t. I may go back to a few of the themes in the future, but the story itself will never be finished. There will be a few paragraphs at the end to explain the direction I was heading in, and the ideas that I had. I could never quite get the timeline right. I wanted to start at Brexit being a catalyst, but that wouldn’t work well with the other themes in the tale.
It was originally going to be released month-by-month on my website, so parts do work ‘standalone’ at times, and I enjoyed reading it back as I prepared to post this.
So enjoy what Brexitopia brings, and don’t fell too bad about Dave the dog, he was going to come back!
Notes From a Fallen Island.
Past Is Prologue.
This is KNBC South West bringing you the news from your area. It’s October the 14th, and hello to all you listeners; the sun is shining, and the world is turning. Strength through unity, people. Stronger together. It’s been reported that our brave security services have stopped an incursion at the Ilchester Smiloxitin factory. Fear not, my friends; we have news that the intruders have been rounded up and placed into protective custody. OTIN keeps you safe. Here is an oldie from 2025. I hope you’re ready to rock…
The music played from the drugstore window, and the dog walked down the side of the road. To anyone else, it was another stray making its way along the row of charity, phone, vape shops, and bookmakers. A lone black lab. It was, like so many, looking for scraps to help it survive; like many of us, it was doing what it needed to live in this union that we had created. I knew it was here as my guide. A lone hound of helplessness that I hoped would guide me to some salvation.
My history is rusty, but the years after the Brexit referendum had been harsh for a few and lethal for many. I’m sugarcoating it; fuck, it was a damn disaster. Many aspired to be in that small grouping at the top of the pile, so they looked the other way. The ‘I’m alright, Jacks’ who are skint because they suffer a temporary setback to their millionareship. Wait and see; it’ll trickle down, and they’ll be on top. It will be their turn. They’ll be back at the peak soon, and then, having climbed the ladder, they’ll be the ones pissing down on those below.
Time passed in a blur of what-the-fuck-edness. Governments formed, dissolved, and fell by the wayside as the population looked on, first in horror and then in despair. The rot had always been there, hidden below the surface, but the Brexit vote sped it up. The population, on the whole, was never particularly political. Still, wave upon wave of shite can turn people off. It wasn’t figurative shit; in the 2020s, they started pumping it literally into the rivers and sea. Come and visit the seaside! Bring your Bristol Stool Chart and play Spot-the-Turd. Remember to be careful not to swallow! Don’t talk about politics or religion it’s often said; it would have been better if we had.
Many times should have been an eye-opener; that winter especially so. Looking back, many were, but nobody noticed. Hindsight is a beautiful tool that allows us to be wise after the event. I can pontificate here about it all and act like I would have been full of wisdom and knowledge as it unfolded, but I wouldn’t have been. Like many, I had switched off from what was happening and was blindsided as much as anyone. What’s that? Another shitshow in the Government? Yeah, it’s also a day that ends in Y. Did you know that bears shit in the woods? Breaking News: The Pope discovered to be Catholic! Many people died because of the cost-of-living crisis in previous years, it had been a case of heating or eating. This time around, many couldn’t afford either. Families were torn apart, and communities were left devastated. Ripped apart as people were dragged from where they grew up in search of work that was at best scarce and, at worse, non-existent. The war in Ukraine raged, and the gas price seemed to rise with each missile dropping. The Government embarked on an era of mass privatisations and cost cuts that exacerbated things. Austerity mk2, they called it; nobody remembered mk1 ending. Warm places became familiar sights, as food banks had been before. They were normalised without so much as a blink from the majority. The UK has been called a rich country, but it was said best by someone else; the UK was a poor country that had some wealthy people domiciled there.
Everyone presumed the population would get angry. It turned out this was an assumption instead, and, like so many over the years, it was wrong. Follow the evidence and not your gut feelings. Even now, so many years on, it took me longer than it should have, but I did, eventually. I, too, always believed that if you pushed hard enough, people would snap and spring back. It had happened before, and I thought everyone would holler ‘enough’ and finally bite like a rabid dog. It was taking longer this time, but I believed it would happen. That it had to happen, eventually. I have learned that this is not the case. The UK, famous for the ‘keep calm and carry on’ posters, acted that out. “Yes, dear, I know things are going to shit, but the report said rain is due, so we mustn’t grumble.”
The poem by Martin Niemöller summed it up best.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist.
Then the trades unionists, the Jews, and finally me. There is nobody left to speak out for me, the writer.
I’d written some hokey horrors since the fall; harmless, brainless tat, so it was nothing deemed to be offensive. You know, the type of thing that sits on a bookshelf and nobody admits to reading. Unlike many, it was not considered damaging to OTIN; so I could continue writing. Even if my work had been considered offensive or subversive, few read the damn things, so no harm was done in the eyes of the state. I can only now speak out for myself. It’ll make no difference; the damage is already done, but I felt I had to do something; I plan to journal my journey for anyone to read. This first part will be the briefest recap of what the UK has become. If this is ever found, it will be my last book.
I was a young man then, but had joined with the rest of the population and ignored the first steps. I ignored the communists and socialists. The poem warns about the uprising of fascism and the Nazis, and I only paid attention when it affected me. These warnings are scattered throughout history and its stories, yet many claim we never saw it coming. We close our eyes to what is happening around us, as many don’t feel the effects; happily, and without a care in the world, we buy into the propaganda — “Oh, they are a scrounger,” we tell ourselves when reading about a social security claimant who’s been sanctioned. “They must have deserved it,” will be said to one another when a protestor is arrested, tried, and jailed. When the Government clamped down upon the unions and strike action, we looked and shook our heads before deciding that the UK needed growth, and strikes prohibited that. And, as the past tells us, it’s all too late by the time we realise it.
I followed the black dog, and he led me along the road and down a small alleyway with a handful of stores. If ever there was a visual representation of my mental state; this was it. The black dog leading me (or am I following?) but to where? I don’t know. People without homes scattered the alley; there was almost one for each doorway — bodies in sleeping bags if they were lucky or wrapped in blankets if not, all trying to keep the snapping cold of this autumn at bay. It was not raining today, but it would soon enough, as the weather changed with the season. The media had long been reduced to nothing but a shell. “Enemies of the people!” had been screamed at the ones who didn’t toe the line. “Saboteurs and Traitors!” the headlines said, and was thrown at the more liberal media. What’s that, you don’t support our cause? How unpatriotic of you! The news and reports would tell people it was mild weather; many believed that, over the evidence they could see and feel. Before anyone knew it, we had a tsunami of homeless people. Waves that caused floods of the poor and needy to drown the streets. Wretched souls who had been used to things not affecting them. I’ve observed that it creeps; you start with one, and that’s easy to ignore, but it grows. Poverty is cancer. It’s nothing to watch, much like the single cell that mutates. One cell is nothing, but you soon have so many that it’s become the norm, gradually killing its host and consuming all of it.
I threw a few coins down and watched as they scuttled like rats to grab them. Snatching at the meagre amount I had thrown. It always feels inadequate and never enough, it wasn’t much, but it was all I had. Sorry mate. Do you take cards? Not that I had any money in my bank account. Few do these days. I am doing better than many, but not by much. I am the poor giving to the poorer; it’s funny how it always works out like that. The impact of the cashless society brought in after the great pandemic had (un)intended consequences. Where I used to walk with a pocket full of change, I now had to remember to grab some before leaving home. I’d emptied the last of my coin bottle to give it to them. I wouldn’t be needing it now. Of course, the cost-of-living hasn’t helped either; a pocket full of change would be welcome!
I sauntered past a line of pawn shops. Rubbish lay on the floor, it had been scavenged for anything of value and then discarded like the people living in the doorways. The undamaged windows were secured with rotted, black rusting metal, and paint had peeled away from the bars. It was barely hanging on, much like the human inhabitants. Come on and pawn your meagre possessions; we promise the best prices. We’ll take it all, from bedpans to TVs, for next to nothing. They know that anyone who takes their goods in is unlikely to return. It’s all part of the business of screwing the lowest. A business plan designed to profiteer from poverty, of tightening that screw. People will lose what they have and then must work longer and harder. It’s a vicious circle; wages only cover rent and bills; one emergency, and you’re in the shit. Time off? Oh, those rights went in the burning of the great red tape. “Bonfire of regulations,” they called it. People wanted rid of human rights and completely forgot that they, too, were human. In time, those goods you can sell or pawn dry up, and you’ll end up in a doorway. I’ve seen it happen before and am under no illusions about the fate that would befall me if I were to remain in this Sector.
The boarded-up windows of an old takeaway, followed by graffiti, covered the cheap slabs of MDF, and it was accompanied by phone numbers offering work in this Sector. Quick and easy jobs; come and get it, cash in hand. Miniscule wages on the black market; it was all many could get. LED signs were the only thing that looked in good repair and displayed the Governmental messages. OTIN makes you happy; happiness makes the country great. The evolution of the gig economy had finally reached its peak. Moving much quicker than any biological Darwinism, it had evolved into a monster of capitalism. A shop offering a drug delivery service followed the graffiti and signs. It was the only store on the street that looked inviting. This was by Government issue; you couldn’t run a drugstore without taking good care of it. Gone were the constraints and treatments for some mental health conditions; Smiloxitin had been made available for all. The genuine happy pill. Happy, happy, happy. Great, great, great.
Smiloxitin, the wonder drug, was first created in the first quarter of the century. Given without restrictions to all those who wanted it. I’ve taken it, and it works; it blocks out all those feelings of hopelessness and leaves you in a semi-zombie-like state. It’s been nicknamed the ‘voodoo curse’ because of these effects. Two voodoos for me mind, please; I need to escape. I want to be free. I want to forget. It leaves you not caring about anything. It was still, at first, awaiting approval, but it was gaining a shitload of good press. The press again pushed what the Government wanted. It’s never what’s best for the people; editorial and governmental lines have taken over and decide what matters. You may think that is a quant idea, doing what is best for the population at large; at the very least, they should have been doing what they thought was best! But no, as always, follow the money, honey, follow the money. The UK approved it for mass use quickly, and, by the time it had infected the minds of the population, it was too late. Half this street will come here later and collect their dose from the vendor. The users will shuffle to the window, take the pill, and then sleep, forgetting all their worries. They will push the cold and depressive existence to the back of their minds and let the drug lock it away. Semi-catatonic and wandering from the open window of the shop front to sleep like a pisshead leaving the boozer at night in the days gone by. The drug numbs the realisation of what we have become, but who can blame anyone for taking it? I don’t. I get it; truly, I do.
With war in Europe came a new political movement. The war coming so soon after the pandemic, coupled with over a decade of absolute clusterfuckery of Government, led to it. OTIN, “Our Time Is Now,” they called themselves. They stole from both the left and the right. Nobody paid much attention at first. In our system, First Past The Post, parties come and go, but none fracture the two main ones; it’s why they wouldn’t change the system. Take Back Control. For The Many, Not The Few. We Refuse To Be Poor Any Longer. Building Back Better. They used phrasing and terminology from both sides of the political argument. They did better than expected and took three seats. The biggest problem was that they split the vote on the left, so the same party of the right got re-elected. The right has a way of grouping at election time; it’s a lesson the left has never learnt.
Later, when I was older still, Scotland voted for independence. I thought it was the right move, and I still think that now, but it was a complete and utter shitshow.
I followed the dog into an old building that used to be a pub I think, but I can’t remember. There were so many when I was growing up. It will have been many things since, but the insides were now a ruin. When the streets are this rundown, they merge into one another, and you rapidly forget how vibrant and alive they used to be; even for someone who grew up as things were changing. They are now the streets of the dead, populated by drugged-up zombie-like human beings who care about nothing. The insides of the building lay desolate and empty; it had been gutted and was now an open space. An open sore of an echo of what once was. Anything worth stealing had been taken, and many things that could be burnt had also been ripped from the walls and floor. The floorboards were broken, and the ones left protruded up and into the air in many places; a few lay across the beams so I could make my way through. I didn’t know if they were left for me or if they were the remnants of an old settler who had once lived here but was now long departed. The windows that had once been so grand were now smashed in and open to the elements. I suppose, like the other buildings, they had undoubtedly been boarded at one point, but any boards had been ripped away and taken for firewood or for building a shelter. Recycled, you could say. The frames of the windows were open to all who wanted to wander in, much like the front door. The irony is that what was once a pub had become an actual public house. The dog made its way past the floorboards with nails sticking through and toward the rear of the building; he jumped across a couple of beams. I presume it had taken the route before and knew where to step. I watched with interest before I followed, hoping the floorboards would take my weight.
You can agree or disagree about Scottish independence; that is neither here nor there. It has happened and what is in the past is in the past, we can’t time travel! Scots law said the right to have a referendum was legal but English law said it was not. Our laws, so similar in many ways, differed where it mattered the most. So, being that they are in Scotland, they had a vote. It was up to the Scottish people; consequently, it is not for me to comment too much. Most of us, I hope, would agree that the reaction was extremely disproportionate and should have been criminal in any just Union. It took seven years of bickering and arguing; it was a confrontation that made Brexit look like a mild tiff; a silly, petty argument between friends. Holyrood and Westminster had often butted heads; that was not unusual. But, like Spinal Tap, when the referendum hit, that was dialled up to eleven. The UK was, in essence, governed at this point by a Nationalist Party. When the British Nationalists clashed with the Scottish, it was a bloodbath. Literally.
The UK Government wanted to clamp down on any resistance. Being shown as weak was unacceptable; they went in full force. Whitehall sent in the police first and then, finally, the military. People were beaten, and many were killed. Nobody knows the exact figures, as they have never been made public. It is estimated that thousands, conceivably tens of thousands, were murdered. Whitehall claimed the minimum amount; Holyrood claimed the maximum. Politics at play always trumps the truth. Devolution and Holyrood were dissolved, and politicians arrested and jailed. In any other place, they would be political prisoners; here, they were insurgents. There were a terrorist attacks, and any party hinting at independence in the other nations was outlawed, and the people and groups involved were classified as terrorist organisations. Many have floated the idea that it was an inside job, and the attacks could then justify the response. Much like the historic Russia/Chechnya apartment bombings in ’99, it is alleged that they were a means to start something rolling. A showing of strength and any damage was collateral and worth it. I doubt we, the people, will ever know for sure. Independence groups rise again sporadically; they gather and propose reigniting the flames of liberation, but they are soon extinguished. I suspect they are dosed up to the eyeballs with Smiloxitin and end up like the poor souls outside this building, or worse; they have ended up in prison. Political prisoners in this new Disunited Kingdom.
The dog had made its way to a door and then went through a hole in the bottom. I pushed the door, and it was jammed. The wood had warped and had stuck in the frame. Placing my shoulder against the wood, I gave it a short sharp push, and, after finally giving, it creaked open. I looked inside the dark and dingy room. I could smell mould in the air, and cracks in the roof let in the sunlight that danced in the recently disturbed dust. The room looked messy, but I could see this was for appearances only. The glass in the windows must have been replaced at some point; although it looked old now, the putty was a different colour to the frames, and a large beam propped up the roof. Shrubbery and plants grew around the room, and water dripped from the roof; mildew had grown from the window frames and was taking over the small glass windows. The shadows that grew from the mildew crawled up the opposite wall; they almost felt alive and as if watching my every move.
The dog sat on a glistening, shiny, clean metal hatch and watched me. It scratched at the metal as I hesitated in the doorway. I wondered what lay below the hatch that the dog wanted me to open.
A sudden snap election after the failure of a minority Government threw up a major surprise. In the previous elections, OTIN had won three seats, but they had learned from this. To separate them from the other parties they refocused and took in the lessons that had been taught. They looked at all the opinion polling and then spoke to the people. Unlike in previous years and with others, OTIN spoke and listened. The polling claimed people wanted a powerful leader, so they gave them that. They appointed a new, more decisive and more assertive leader. She was someone who “says what we are all thinking”. I’m not sure I have ever thought that way, but it would seem I’m in the minority, or, at least, I was. It does not matter these days. They gathered local voices for candidates; no longer did they parachute in those who agreed with head office. They smiled when it was right to smile, then frowned and barked what the public wanted to hear.
Shunning the whip system was a political masterstroke. MPs elected, could, and should vote for what’s best for their area and constituents. They only demanded party loyalty in voting for a manifesto issue; something that they had campaigned for during an election. This had two effects. First, OTIN wanted to enact what they had in the manifesto. For far too many years, parties had promised but not delivered. Second, people saw, and the party made sure they did, the elected MPs arguing and voting for what was best for them and the people they represented. Why should someone in Cornwall have an MP who votes for what is best for Newcastle, Glasgow, or Wrexham? It made sure the public knew what they were getting. Genuine representative democracy. At any other point, it may not have worked, but this was the time, and the place, for a new party. People got fed up with the status quo; they would tell you how all politicians are alike. OTIN gave the people what they thought they wanted, and the people gave OTIN the chance. “They are all the same so what harm can it do?” people asked; as it turned out, the answer is, a lot.
The dog sat and watched as I kicked some stones away with my foot. The room’s roof had caved, only the wooden beam held it at bay, and some debris blocked my path. I stepped into the space, pushing more rubble to one side with my foot. The metal hatch was next to the far wall, and the dog whimpered and continued to claw at it. It scratched at the metal and whimpered a little more. Placing my hand on the handle, I could feel the warmth from below dissipating through the hatch. I lifted the hatch with a bit of trepidation. My instructions had been to follow the dog, but now that I was here, I wondered if it was the right thing to do. I had that sudden feeling you may have experienced when you were about to leap. As you stand on the edge of a diving board 20 feet in the air, you question if it was a good idea. I held the hatch handle, and I had a choice. I could shite myself and turn away or lift it and climb down. Turning away changes nothing, and I wanted change. I could not continue like this.
The metal stairs leading down were spotless and reflected the light at me as the hatch opened. They looked brand spanking new! I knew the person I was due to meet had connections, but I hadn’t seen workmanship like this in many years. The stairs didn’t move as they took my weight; I’d expected them to creak, much like a new armchair may have done, but only silence followed as I stepped down.
All imports had been hard to get after the rebellion. OTIN had won power, and that was when the major problems started. The people rejected the recognised two parties (and the others), choosing to elect OTIN. Their plan had worked, and their policies and pledges had won over the people. The imprisonment and carnage bought on by the Scottish referendum had been the final straw. People had mumbled about the two dominant parties for years, but the response to the independence vote pushed them over the edge. Voter suppression, ID, boundary changes, and straight-out gerrymandering have kept them in power. Lincoln said you couldn’t fool all the people all the time, but you can, in the UK, fool enough of them.
The basement, or cellar, had been cleaned from top to bottom and was the opposite of what was above. It was well lit, and I could see everything. Upstairs had been old, broken, and dirty. Down here was all new, clean, and working. Whoever had got this material or had arranged it and carried out the work was well connected. The room was filled with computer banks and server racks tied together with neat cabling. Each slot was filled with a different server; from each one, a cable ran up and along the wall. The wires were wrapped around each other and then cable-tied and made their way to the rear of the basement, spiralling along the wall like snakes connecting limb to limb. A large screen flicked on at the room’s rear; it was screwed or, perhaps, bolted to the wall.
“State your business.”
The voice made me jump; its thick Welsh accent boomed from all corners of the room. The hatch slammed shut behind me. It clattered as it locked. I turned and looked; silver rods had slipped outwards on all four sides, and the opening appeared sealed tight. I had no escape. “State your business,” the voice repeated. I turned to the TV, and a face formed upon it. The image was drawn with letters and numbers and was not recognisable as anything other than a face. Details or any hints about who I was talking to were hidden. Numbers and letters dipped and moved as the voice had spoken. “Steve sent me,” I said. “He said you can help me get out of the UK.”
“I could,” the symbol face replied quickly and without pause, “but why should I? What’s in it for me?”
“What do you want?” I knew that this would come at a price. There is nothing in the world that comes without. How far was I willing to go? That was a tricky question to answer, but I was prepared to do almost anything. “Not much,” the voice replied chirpily, with the symbols following suit. “I would need a few favours en route.” The reasonableness of the tone and answer worried me, but I had no choice if I wanted out. “En route?” I asked.
“You will need to go to Dover; that is how I get you out of here. If you want to leave, that is how we do it. Your call; I’ll contact you as you travel.”
“Dover?” I said as the TV blanked off. I heard the lock on the hatch detach and clunk open. The voice, the man, had left the choice in my hands. I could either travel to Dover and escape, or stay here and join the zombies in rotting away to nothing. But Dover? That was in Sector 74 and on the other side of the damn country.
You may imagine this was a straightforward choice; I could choose to stay here or take the chance of a better life. In my youth, when the world was different, I wouldn’t have even had to take a second to think it over. It is the luxury that many of us have in our younger years, that veneer that we think makes us indestructible. Whatever is thrown at us, we can take it and scream for more. Many might say that I have nothing to lose, and it’s an argument that’s been put forward many times in various situations. But you always have something to lose, most of all, your life. This is what age brings you, not always wisdom, but a realisation that life is short. I slept on it; why rush such an important decision? I could decide tomorrow and then either go from there or stay where I was. Those were my two options, but at least I now had them. My future was, for once, back in my own hands.
The dog followed me as I left the building. I wanted to get away from the area as swiftly as possible. The offer had been made far more rapidly than I had imagined, and I didn’t want to cause any problems and have it withdrawn. The walls in these parts of the Sector have ears, the roofs have eyes, and the streets often follow your scent like a bloodhound. You feel you are being watched when nobody is around. Your words can be used against you when you consider them said in private, and you are often found when you believe you’ve left no trace. Public money was available for nothing unless it helped the state. I’ve often wondered how they afford it, but they do. Priorities, I guess. With the red tape burning came tax cuts. “It’ll raise more money,” they said as the rates fell. Nobody ever considered that you can’t have good services if you don’t raise the cash. There was always money for CCTV that watched our every move. It was digital surveillance; informants preyed upon those with loose lips. It was an easy way to make money; everyone wanted and always needed cash. Keep your eyes and ears open, as you never know what your neighbours are doing! Even in the best times, people were always willing to sell what they could; especially when they thought it would bring no harm to themselves. It was another byproduct of the lockdown times that had also advanced into something even more sinister; neighbours were encouraged to grass on each other. Once these things have entered the system, they are hard to eradicate, and even then, you need the political will; OTIN did not.
My home stood as it always did; the sign on the outside had the message “OTIN: Home is Heart” flickering on ancient, illuminated LEDs. Things either changed at pace or not at all. Home, ha! That’s a good one; it’s more of a hutch. Mine sat in the middle of a row of twenty-five such boxes. Row upon row had been built, and each had an illuminated sign displaying a different OTIN message. The homes, a term used slackly, were fifteen-foot square and self-contained; everything you needed to live the most simple existence was inside. The rows above ran to twenty lengths and above that fifteen. They grew that way until the penthouse hutch at the very peak. The towns were rebuilt and rearranged into circular havens with these triangular pyramid-like hutches encircling them. Larger ones were on the other side of the Sector for families. Those have got rarer and rarer; people can’t afford to breed. You still hear children’s laughter occasionally or a baby crying, but it’s a noise you forget when it’s not a daily occurrence. It’s a strange thing when a noise vanishes from your world. Had you asked me in times gone by, I’d have told you I’d be happy to not hear children, the screeching of a toddler having a tantrum or a baby’s cries, but now they are gone, I miss it.
The new Sectors with these Happy Homes had shrunk and became villages, or possibly they could be called hovels, straightforward, simple sets of huts for the population. The settlements grow from the centre, and the closer you are to the middle, the safer it is. Reverting to some old-fashioned system, in the centre lives the guardian. Different sectors have different names, Mayor, Lord, Guardian, or Gatekeeper; they all amount to the same thing. In the centre is the King of the Sector, the Lord of the manor, and then the factories and upper-class shopping districts. Happy Homes are next, and finally, the low-class slums and pleb areas. Outside of that are the Outlands — I’ll come to them later. The Outlands was where I’d be heading.
My neighbours would be out and dosing themselves with Smiloxitin; I would have been doing the same in the past. I pushed my thumb onto the scanner and waited for the door to open. “Rejected,” the robotic voice said. I grabbed the corner of my black coat and rubbed it on the sensor. Cursing, I rubbed my thumb on my trousers and replaced it on the sensor. “Good evening,” the voice said, “Mr Peter Hopkins,” in a disjointed manner. The voice seemed to be worse than the very best of systems from times gone by. Everything was done on the cheap when it involved the population. For OTIN, the best, but for us, the underclasses, it was the cheapest they could get. The door slid open with a creak, and I walked to the small room and threw my coat onto the bed as it closed.
Happy Homes were introduced early on. The Sectors and Outlands had been devised to counter the climate crisis. “Let the country heal,” they had said, “a simpler existence, and let the plants and trees help restore the planet’s natural balance.” Hutches were said to be a solution to the housing crisis, they had said. It solved the problem, but who wants to live in a fifteen-foot square room? Like many solutions, it led to issues beyond the obvious. Happy Homes became the minimum acceptable. Quick and easy pre-fab boxes that could be placed and stacked almost anywhere. Heat pipes were laid first, along with the electricals, plumbing, and communications, and then the hutches were placed on top. Stacked like Lego bricks on top of one another. They would regulate the heating for all, controlling how warm you were. So those who lived higher up had the cheapest heat. Heat, like money, rises, after all. This is one of the other ways they divide the population. Saving you money, they claimed. Self-regulated and state-controlled for the poorest in the union. Housing benefits were cut and abolished; who needs to rent a private house when the state can provide you with a Happy Home? Pounds plummeted, the housing market collapsed, and the only ones who could afford a house now were the rich and powerful. The irony is that many landlords and homeowners had voted for OTIN, but nobody was left to speak out when they came for them.
The TV was on, as it always was. Mandated to be hard-wired in the Happy Home and on all the time; pinned to the wall and with sensors to avoid coverings. There was a five-grand fine for those caught disabling or covering the screen. Nobody in a Happy Home could afford it, so covering the screen would mean destitution. Some people read a book or watch a movie and see it as a warning; others see it as a guide. We can still lower the volume for now, though I am sure that will change; what is to stop them? “OTIN: Building back for a better tomorrow. Happy Home, Happy Life.” The screen displayed various nonsense fed straight into the houses from OTIN. It would cycle through different slogans and catchphrases throughout the day and night when not being used to watch state approved TV. I made myself a coffee and sat on the edge of the bed. I’ve learned to ignore the screen; I’m sure it still has an effect, but it is a light in the room’s corner. Nothing more and nothing less.
We all have something to lose. The real question is, are you willing to risk losing it? For some, it might have been their Happy Home. For others, a job or a partner. I would have risked all that, and I was prepared to lose all of that. Life, that was the one I had to weigh up. In the past, I’d considered suicide; I had been very close to ending it all. What I didn’t realise was that suicide takes a massive amount of courage. It takes balls the size of a fucking mountain, colossal massive things. Let no one tell you any different. Some say suicide is a weak way out; it is anything but! Perhaps it’s how I am wired, but I always found an excuse to stop. If it were pills, I would think, what if it goes wrong and I’m left alive but even more broken? Hanging myself, I could envision the rope breaking, along with my neck, and then either being found or dying over days and days. Crippled, or a long slow mental death, as I hung or lay there, rotting away in my Happy Home (the height would have also made it difficult), only to be discovered when I stank more than the surrounding area.
We all have something… My biggest fear was losing something I had already lost. I haven’t seen my children in three years; after their mother left with them, I have been confined and alone. It’s why I need this escape. I mentioned children earlier; I suppose that is why I miss the noise. Happier times, and when we could afford it. But, paradoxically, it also led to me breaking free. It was then that I quit Smiloxitin. During the withdrawal, I danced with death and salsa’d with suicide.
Breaking free from any drug is hard; ripping yourself from the clutches of a mind-altering one is incredibly tough, and tearing your mind from the grip of Smiloxitin is a nightmare. Maybe it was engineered to be so addictive; I wouldn’t be at all surprised. All drugs have a comedown, and all of them have withdrawal symptoms. I lowered my dose at first but then went cold turkey. The headaches came and were followed rapidly by the shaky train. A boneshaker of a journey as it travelled at full speed along a disused rail track. My frontal lobe felt like I had a man with a jackhammer whom I had offended, digging away. My hands shook, and soon after, my whole body. I couldn’t write or do anything that required any precision. I looked like an escaped jelly from a mould whenever I ventured into the toilet. I had to sit down to piss; if I didn’t, I decorated the tiny room. My knob would shake around like a water sprinkler that was over-pressured. Then came vomiting and diarrhoea; if it was not escaping my body from one end, it was gushing from the other. The dry heaving followed and was coupled with the fear of farting. My stomach would retch, and I would shake to the toilet. Kneeling over the bowl as my guts tried to throw up what was not there, usually followed by the escape of wind and the realisation that I had not shit myself this time. There was always a next time to look forward to. The next time when I could erupt like an over-heated volcano from either end. If I were unlucky, it could be both! Happy, Happy, Happy, Great, Great, Great.
The realisation of what the drug had been blocking was worse. It was like the special features on an old movie disk. I was seeing the UK without the special effects laid over the top. I was finally noticing what the country had become! A fog had been lifted, and the things the drug had withheld from me were now visible. The nightmare of reality was worse than the withdrawal. Headaches, sickness, shits, sweats, and shakes were something I knew would pass. The daymare of the world as it was will be etched in my mind forever. The suicidal thoughts were worse than any physical withdrawals. It would forever be a lingering scar, scratched across my memories, because I took the drug and ignored the reality of life. I turned away from what was happening in the UK. I had turned away from my fellow citizens. I was ignoring the plight of those like me and letting the green screen of drug-induced happiness take over.
That’s why I’ve decided to move on, and the risk is worth the reward. I had waited here for three years, planting myself in one place, hoping my children would return. Nothing I do can change things here; I do not have, nor ever will have that power. I am resigned to never seeing my children again; continuing to live like this isn’t an option. My life means nothing without them, and I have to move on and build better for myself. If, by some miracle, I ever see my children again, I must have made more of myself! I must be more.
The following morning, I packed my bag and stepped outside, blinking at the sunshine and turning to my Happy Home. My last goodbye to the only physical thing that tied me here. I’d miss it; if nothing else, it offered security, but I looked forward to moving on. Familiarity and a fear of change can be a harmful chain that holds you back. A deadweight that weighs you down. Accepting what is and what isn’t can help; I had long been pining for the past and hoping for a better future. I needed to grab that hope by the balls and go for it myself. Sometimes I need a push with things, and understanding what the UK had become was the kick in the arse I needed. It was a relief to have finally chosen my path.
I closed the door and noticed the dog was still under my solitary window. I’d expected him to have moved on overnight. It lay curled up with its dark fur absorbing the early morning sunlight. I bent over and gave him a pat and a stroke. He rolled over onto his back, and I continued to rub his belly. “You can’t come,” I said to him. I knew I would relent if he followed, and I had a feeling he would follow. It was something I knew deep down inside. Was I the master of the dog, or was he of me? The dog had been used and was now, it seemed, unwanted. He had followed me home, hoping to find a new friend. “I don’t even know how I am going to get there,” I told him.
Petrol was a luxury; cars even more so. Public transport, ha, that was a joke. It had long been curtailed and deemed too expensive for society. I could have cycled, but my bike was in disrepair and I wanted to get going. I know what I’m like; I have to do it when I set my mind to something. Suppose I stop and think; I back away and find reasons to stay or to give up. See the talk of suicide for an example. So I walked. The dog watched me as I walked away; he looked at me like the homeless looked at the drug stores. Vacant, longing, and unsure of their next move. I undoubtedly appeared the same to him.
With the Sec behind me, along with the dog that followed at twenty paces, I entered the Outlands. I was going to wave goodbye as I left the Sector, but I saw no point. There had been some good memories of the place but also awful ones; I wanted to move on quickly. I am not sure the bad outweighed the good, but they were the more potent memories. The Outlands is a dangerous place, but they are also quite beautiful. With the population cramming into smaller areas, as planned and sold to the public, it had left the outskirts free from human interference. With speed, wildlife and fauna took back what humanity once stole. The colours flooded the trees to either side of the road which was now brimming with leaves and branches. The branches stretched like people in a bed with entangled hands over the potholed road. Their twig fingers holding on to one another across what was left of the tarmac.
That was the other problem with most other forms of transport. When almost every road outside the towns resembled a teenager’s face with acne, I had little choice but to walk. Planes, trains, and automobiles are all still very real, but every single one is out of reach for your average person. Despite that, out of the darkness comes light, and the lack of fossil fuel being burnt has given the planet a chance to repair itself. The Outlands have also helped in that regard. As I walked, the golden, red, and orange leaves that had fallen from the trees scattered the road. The colours merged into one perfect patchwork blanket of autumnal beauty along the floor. We forget, well, I most defiantly do, what a beautiful and wonderful world we inhabit.
As I walked, I kicked at the leaves, knocking them up and into the air, and I watched them fall back to the ground. It made me forget what else was out there. I’ve always loved nature but forgot it when cooped up in the Sector. The shows we have petpumped into our Happy Homes are always set in towns or buildings, never out here. It feels pretty silly now, but it becomes a blur when you don’t see the world outside the Sectors. It becomes a holiday you remember but don’t think about until prompted. I suppose that’s why TV is filmed that way. If you don’t see it, then it fades into the background. It was on purpose, I’m sure, but it is clever. I’d not thought about it or noticed it before. That was the point.
I walked for miles. I followed the road where I could, and if it became too overgrown or dishevelled, I’d go around. The dog followed me every step of the way. The further we got from the Sector, the more confident he became. A dog will do what it wants, but, for now, I decided I needed to give him a name. It was, no doubt, a mistake and something I’d regret. I’d form an attachment to him; before he was mutt or dog, it was easy to be impersonal. Now he’s Dave. Dave the dog. I have never been good with names; can you tell?
We walked until dusk, and then I found a slight parting between some trees and away from the road. I removed the pop-up tent from my bag and shared some dried meat I’d packed. Supplies would always be a problem, but it would be worse now that I was feeding two. Nevertheless, Dave had made me his, so what else could I do? I pitched the tent and wrapped myself in a couple of blankets. Dave joined me half an hour later; I had made the right choice. If nothing else, he was an excellent source of warmth.