This is KNBC South West bringing you the news from your area. It Is October the 14th, in the year 2036, and Hello to all you listeners; the sun is shining, and the world is turning. Strength through unity, people. Stronger together. It has 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. So, here is an oldie from 2015.
The music played from the drugstore window, and the dog walked down the side of the road. To anyone else, it was just another stray making its way along the row of charity, phone, vape shops, and bookmakers. It was, like so many, just looking for scraps to help it survive. Doing what it needed to do in this union that we had created. I knew it was here as my guide. A lone hound in this country of helplessness that I hoped would guide me to some salvation.
The years after the Brexit referendum had been harsh for a few and lethal for many. I am sugarcoating it, really; 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. Just wait and see, it will trickle down, and they will be on top. It will be their turn. They will be back at the peak soon, and then they will be the ones pissing down on those below.
The years between 2016 and 2019 came and went in a blur of whatthefuckidness. Governments formed, deformed, and fell by the wayside as the population looked on, first in horror and then in despair. The 2010s started the rot, but the Brexit vote accelerated it. The population, on the whole, were never particularly political. Still, wave upon wave of shite can turn people off. It was not just figurative shite; in 2020, 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. Just be careful not to swallow!
The winter of 22 should have been an eye-opener. Looking back, it was in many ways, but you did not notice then. Hindsight is a beautiful tool; it allows us to be wise after the facts. I can pontificate here about it all and act as if I was full of wisdom and knowledge at the time, but I was not. Like many, I had switched off from what was happening, and it blindsided me as much as anyone. What’s that, another shitshow in government? Yeah, it is also a day that ends in Y. Many people died due to the cost of living crisis; in previous years, it had been a case of heating or eating. This time around, many could not afford either. Families were torn apart, and communities were left devastated. 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; I do not remember mk1 ending. Warm places became familiar sights, as food banks had done before. They were normalised without so much as a blink from the majority. The UK has been called a rich country, but I think it was said best by someone else; the UK is a poor country with some wealthy people who happen to live there.
I had always thought that the population would eventually get angry. It took me longer than it should have, but I certainly did. I thought that if you pushed hard enough, people would snap and push back. The population would say enough by pushing and pushing and bite like a rabid dog. I have learned that this is not the case. The UK, famous for the keep calm and carry-on posters, was acting 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 trade unionists, the Jews, and finally me. There is nobody left to speak out for me, the writer.
I’d written some hokey horrors over the years, so it was nothing deemed to be offensive. Unlike many, it was not considered damaging to OTIN; I was allowed to continue writing. Even if I was considered offensive or subversive, nobody read the damn things, so no harm was done. I can only now speak out for myself. It will make no difference; the damage is already done, but I felt I had to do something. So I plan to journal my journey for anyone to read. I 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. I only really paid attention when I was affected. These warnings are scattered throughout history and stories, yet we still claim that we never see it coming. We willfully close our eyes to things as we do not feel the effects. We freely buy into the propaganda; oh, they are a scrounger, we tell ourselves when we read about a social security claimant who has been sanctioned. They must have deserved it; we say to one another when a protestor is arrested and jailed. When they 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 poem tells us, it is all too late by the time we realise it.
I followed the dog, and he led me along the road and down a small alleyway with a handful of stores. The homeless littered the alley; there was almost one for each doorway. Bodies in sleeping bags if they were lucky or wrapped in blankets if they were not. They were all trying to keep the snapping cold of this autumn at bay. The news and reports would tell them it was mild weather; many believed that over the evidence they could see and feel. Before we knew it, we had a tsunami of homeless people. Poor souls; many had been used to things not affecting them. It creeps; you start with one; that is easy to ignore but grows slowly. Poverty is cancer. It is nothing to watch, much like that single cell that mutates. One is nothing, but you soon have so many that it has become the norm, slowly killing its host.
I threw a few coins down and watched as they scuttled like rats to grab hold. Grabbing at the meagre amount I had thrown. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had. Sorry mate, it is all I have. Do you take cards? Not that I had any money in my bank account. Who does these days? I am doing better than many, but not by much. The impact of the cashless society bought 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. Of course, the cost of living has not helped either. A pocket full of change regularly would be a welcome thing these days!
I walked past the latest in a line of pawn shops. Rubbish lay on the floor; it had been scavenged for anything of value and left just like the people who lived in the doorways. The windows were barred with rotting black rusting metal; paint was peeling away from the bars. Come on and pawn your meagre possessions; it promises the best prices. We will take it all, from bedpans to TVs, for next to nothing. They know that anyone who takes their goods in are unlikely to return. It is all part of the business of screwing the lowest. Of tightening that screw, they lose what they have and then have to work harder. It is a vicious circle; wages only cover rents and bills, one emergency, and you are screwed. Time off? Oh, those rights went after Brexit in the burning of the great red tape. 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 will 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.
The boarded-up windows of an old takeaway came next. Graffiti covered the boards and phone numbers for work. Quick and easy work, come and get it, cash in hand. OTIN makes you happy; happiness makes the country great. Miniscule wages on the black market; it was all some could get. Then it was followed by a drug delivery service. The only store on the street that looked inviting. It was by government issue; you could not run a drug store without taking 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 early 24. Given freely to all those who wanted it. I have taken it, and it works; it blocks out all those feelings of hopelessness and leaves you in a semi-zombie-like state. It has been nicknamed the voodoo curse because of these effects. Two voodoos for me mind, please; I need to escape. It leaves you just not caring about it all. It was still, in 24, awaiting approval, but it was gaining much good press. The UK approved it in 27, and by the time it had infected the minds of the population, no other country had followed. Half this street will come here later and collect their dose from the vendor. They 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 mind and let the drug lock it away. Catatonic and wandering from the open window to the shop front like a pisshead leaving the boozer at night in the days gone by. The drug numbs the realisation of what the world has become, but who can blame anyone for taking them? I most certainly do not.
In 22, a new political movement started. The war in Ukraine 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 politically. Nobody paid much attention at first. In our system, First Past The Post, parties come and go, but none fracture the two main ones. 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 managed to take three seats. The biggest problem was that they split the vote on the left, so the same party of the right got reelected.
2025, and 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. I think it used to be a pub, but I can’t remember. There used to be so many. It will have been many things since, but the insides now were a ruin. When the streets are this rundown, one merges into another, and you quickly forget how vibrant and alive they used to be. 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 just an open area. 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 were protruding up and into the air in many places. A few lay on the beams so you could make your way through. The windows that had once been so grand were now smashed in and open to the elements. They had undoubtedly been boarded at one point, but any boards had been ripped away. They were open to all, just like the front door. An actual public house. The dog made its way past the floorboards with nails sticking through toward the rear of the building. It had taken the route before and knew where to step. I watched curiously and followed, hoping the floorboards would take my weight.
You can agree or disagree about Scottish independence; that is neither here nor there. 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 went ahead and had a vote. It was up to the Scottish people; therefore, it is not for me to comment too much. Most of us agree that the reaction was utterly disproportionate and should have been criminal in any just world. It took two years of bickering and arguing; it was a confrontation that made Brexit look like a mild tiff. 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 essentially governed at this point by a Nationalist Party. When the British Nationalists clashed with the Scottish, it was a bloodbath. Literally.
The UK government had wanted to clamp down upon any resistance quickly. To be shown as weak was considered unacceptable. 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, perhaps tens of thousands, were murdered. Whitehall claims the minimum amount; Holyrood claimed the maximum. Devolution and Holyrood were dissolved, and politicians were arrested and jailed. In any other place, they would be political prisoners; here, they were insurgents. There were a couple of terrorist attacks, and any party hinting at independence in the other nations was outlawed. Then the people and groups were classified as terrorist organisations. Many have floated the idea that was is an inside job, and the attacks could then be used to justify the response. Like the 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 will ever know for sure. Independence groups rise again on occasion, they gather and propose reigniting the flames of independence, 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 it had stuck in the frame. I placed my shoulder against the wood and gave it a short sharp push, and after finally giving it creaked open. I looked inside the dark and dingy room. I could smell the mould in the air and the cracks in the roof that let in the sunlight that danced in the dust. Water dripped from the roof; mildew had grown from the window frames and was now 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 atop the metal hatch door and watched me. It scratched at the metal as I hesitated in the doorway. The snap election in 26 threw up a major surprise. In the 23 elections, OTIN had won three seats, but they had learned from this. To separate them from the parties in previous elections, 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 other parties, they spoke and listened. The polling claimed that people wanted a strong leader, so they gave them that. They elected a new, more decisive and more assertive leader. She was someone who “says what we are all thinking.” I am not sure I have ever thought that way, but it would seem I am in the minority. 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 needed to hear.
Shunning the whip system was a political masterstroke. MPs elected could, and indeed should, vote for what is best for their area and constituents. They only demanded party loyalty in voting for a manifesto issue. Something that they had campaigned on. This had two effects. Firstly, OTIN wanted to enact what they had in the manifesto. For far too many years, parties had promised but not delivered. Secondly, 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 that 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 had gotten fed up with the status quo; they would tell you how all politicians are the same. OTIN gave the people what they wanted.
The dog sat and watched as I kicked some rubble away with my foot. The room’s roof had started to cave, and some debris blocked my path. I stepped into the room, pushing more rubble to one side with my foot. A metal hatch was next to the far wall, and the dog whimpered and clawed at it. I placed my hand on the handle and could feel the warmth from below. I lifted the hatch with a bit of trepidation; I had been told to be here, but now that I was, 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 wonder if it was a good idea in the first place. I held the hatch handle, and I had a choice. I could shite myself and turn away or lift it and climb down.
The metal stairs leading down were clean and new. They looked brand spanking new! I knew the person I was due to meet had connections, but I had not 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 seat would have done in the past. All imports had been hard to get after the 2030 rebellion. OTIN won power in 2028, and that was when the problems started. The people rejected the recognised two parties (and the others), choosing to elect OTIN. OTIN’s 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 main parties for years, but the response to the independence vote pushed them over the edge. Voter repression, 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.
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. Who had got this material or whoever 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 cables were wrapped around each other and then cable-tied and made their way to the rear of the basement. A large screen flicked on at the room’s rear; it was screwed or bolted to the wall.
“State your business.”
The voice made me jump. Its thick Welsh accent boomed from all corners of the room. I heard the hatch slam behind me and clank as the thick metal rods locked it. I turned and looked, the silver rods had slipped outwards on all four sides, and the hatch was sealed tight. I had no escape. “State your business,” the voice said again. I turned back to the TV, and a face had formed upon it. The face was drawn with letters and numbers and was not recognisable. “Steve sent me,” I said, “he said you can help me get out of the UK.”
“I could,” the symbol face said, “but why should I? What is in it for me?”
“What do you want?” I knew that this would come with a price. There is nothing in the world that comes without one. How far was I willing to go? Well, that was a tricky thing to question to answer. I was prepared to do almost anything. “Not much, the voice replied, “I would need a few favours en route.” The reasonableness of the voice and answer worried me, but I had no choice. “en route?” I asked.
“You will need to go to Dover; that is how I get you out of here. If you want to get out, 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 have a chance to escape, or I could stay here and join the zombies in rotting away to nothing. But Dover? That was on the other side of the damn country.