I’m playing around with some fiction writing, and I was in the mood for some dystopia today. I’m thinking of writing some short stories as practise for a possible bigger project, so I’ll gather up a few and post them here for the craic.

Anyway, here’s the first one: The Letter.

The Letter

Ella thought about the handwritten letter in her pocket as she handed over the envelope of cash. The bar was dark, and the man had dark clothes and a hood over his head. She couldn’t make out his face properly, but he had a short beard and looked a bit scruffy. Her mouth was dry and her heart was beating rapidly. She watched the stranger open the envelope and quickly flick through the notes contained within.

‘It’s all there,’ she said. ‘I counted it before I came here.’

He stopped thumbing through the notes for a minute and peered at her closely, before continuing. It seemed he didn’t like being interrupted. After a few moments he closed the envelope – satisfied that all the money was there – and reached into his jacket pocket. He produced a small card with an address scrawled on it in pencil, and left it on the table in front of Ella. He got up, tucked the wad of cash into his jacket, turned around, and left the bar.

Ella, who had been trying to contain her nervousness, let out a sigh of relief and began to breathe heavily as her lungs tried to replace the oxygen that was missing from her bloodstream. She sat back in the booth and looked at the address on the card before closing her eyes and thinking about her son. He was gone for a long time, and the letter was the first she had heard from him in about a year.

Soon she would see him again. Soon they would be together and safe again.

The morning twilight air was cold, and in it hung a dirty fog, lingering over the city. The streets near the docks were relatively quiet, bar a number of civilian and military vehicles. Some coaches and large vans were moving people to the processing areas on Albert Dock, having collected them from various parts of Liverpool and the surrounding towns. Crossing the main road over towards the dock area, Ella could see the sombre faces of hundreds of people of different colours and shades, but hardly any white people. Some peered at her through the fencing, past the lazy gaze of the armed guards, and Ella felt ashamed for being “free” when they were hours away from being processed.

Ella breathed in the cool air as she made her way to the designated address. She had her hands in her pockets, one hand holding the address card and the other feeling the letter from her son. She saw the red Ford up ahead, parked just outside an old Mersey Docks and Harbour Company building. There were no guards around, but there were a few other civilians walking and parked nearby. Suitably inconspicuous.

As she approached the car a figure emerged from the front passenger side and opened the back door, gesturing to Ella to enter.

Once in the car, Ella was handed an envelope.

‘Here are your documents. Don’t lose them,’ the woman on the passenger seat told her. ‘We’ll be at the border in a couple of hours.’

‘Okay,’ Ella replied quietly.

‘The contact will meet us there and bring you across into Scotland. If anything else happens, just shut up and let us handle it.’

Ella nodded, and the car began to move off.

She opened the padded envelope and looked through it: some currency, fake documents “proving” her address in Edinburgh, and a forged North European Federation passport. She released a gentle sigh; not of relief, but a sigh of submission to the inevitable: she was now committing treason, and she had placed her life into the hands of these people out of desperation. She simply had to see her son again.

The car left Liverpool through a number of checkpoints, all of which did not pose any problems from the military. It had started to rain, and Ella gazed out to the Wirral, wet and grey. Its once tall buildings now flattened or torn apart from the Birkenhead event, and totally abandoned, with the exception of some underground scrap metal dealers. Some time later the car passed through the outskirts of what was once Manchester: just days before the Birkenhead strike in Liverpool, a small hydrogen weapon was dropped on Manchester. Refugees who managed to survive the blast made their ways to the surrounding towns and cities, and it’s what gave rise to the rapid expansion of the processing houses in Liverpool.

The car made its way into the countryside and Ella felt somewhat hypnotised by the rhythmic beats of the windscreen wipers. She rested her head against the cold glass of her window, her breath steaming it up. She removed the letter from her pocket and began to read it for the hundredth time.

Dear Mum,

It’s me, Trevor! I tried to send you letters before but I don’t know if you got them, so I’m trying again anyway. Hopefully you received them.

I’m in Edinburgh now, working as a builder. It’s tough: there’s a lot of work to do rebuilding parts of the city but it pays pretty well. I have a flat here too. It’s small but it’s warm.

Mum, I really don’t want you to stay in England. It’s too dangerous these days. I know it’s a big ask, and I totally understand if you can’t do it, but you’re always welcome to come here. I haven’t seen you in so long and I miss you so much.

I hope you’re safe, and I want you to know that I’m safe. It can be tough up here, but it’s like a whole new world compared to Liverpool. The Federation is actively trying to get things going again, and people actually smile up here!

I hope to see you again very soon. I’ll keep writing to you, even if you don’t get them.

I love you very much.

Trevor

Ella received the brief letter under her flat door about a month previously. It was unmarked, apart from her address. That was expected; a letter from her son in Scotland would have to be smuggled across the border. Maybe that’s why she didn’t get his other letters.

Ella woke up as the car drove across some potholes. The driver – a man – was slowing down and pulling in. They were in a hilly area on a country road, with nobody else around.

‘We need to walk from here,’ the man said. ‘If the guards see the car we’re fucked.’

The woman got out of the Ford and opened Ella’s door. She stepped out and stretched her legs, breathing in the fresh air. She hadn’t smelled air so clean in a long time. The woman directed Ella to follow her, and they made their way into a field dotted with rocks and watery puddles. Apart from some wild sheep in the distance and the sound of raindrops pattering on their jackets, there was silence.

After about fifteen minutes of plodding through the boggy fields, they stopped. The woman turned and looked at Ella.

‘Why are you doing this?’ she asked.

‘Wh… what?’

‘I said, why are you trying to get over the border?’

‘I want… I want to go to my son,’ Ella replied nervously.

‘And not come back? You know that’s illegal.’

‘I.. I don’t… Trevor, I just want to..’

‘Be quiet, you’re blubbering now,’ the man interjected. Ella realised she was starting to cry, the emotion and intensity of it all falling on her. ‘We’ve been keeping an eye on you for a while now, after your appearances at the rallies.’

‘Illegal rallies,’ the woman added. ‘You’ve been actively trying to undermine the State and this now proves it. You’re a terrorist and a traitor.’

‘No! I’m just…’ she gulped. ‘I’m just trying to get to my son! I’m not undermining–‘

‘Ella Jackson, you’re sentenced to death for treason against the State and acts of terrorism. Please turn around and get down on your knees.’

This was it, Ella thought. This is how it ends. She was being watched the whole time. Alone in her flat, just hoping to see her son again, and she was being spied on by these people. She was sick of it. Sick of Liverpool, sick of England, sick of the Chancellor and his government. Her efforts of trying to change things had made no difference, and she just wanted to leave. Scotland and Trevor was her chance. Her last chance.

‘Do you have anything to say?’ the man asked.

‘Can you tell Trevor I love him? Please? That’s all I want now.’

‘Your son is dead.’

A sense of dread flooded her body. ‘But the letter! He sent–‘

‘The letter is fake. It was written by the Police during surveillance.’

Ella completely broke down and became engulfed in tears, falling to the wet, muddy ground. She heard the click of a gun hammer being cocked, and then there was blackness.