Friday, 1 May 2009

The People's Flag is Deepest Black... - Early Short Story

Reading these short stories from the mid-1980s, it is clear that I enjoyed things set in the near future. Living in that era when the present was bleak the future really looked like it was going to be dystopia. This story written in Spring 1986 was influenced by the number of anarchists I knew in my late teens and how I perceived them as misguided in expecting any change to come after seven years of Thatcherism. They seemed to follow radicalism because it seemed cool and I remember complaining that it was a shame the pop group U2 did not support the IRA as it would make them cooler to follow. This story was also influenced by programmes like 'Noah's Castle' which I have mentioned before which I found both attractive and yet frightening, and certainly all too possible. Looking at it now, I see a connection into my novel, 'The Karskoe Assassin' about a group of terrorists which is manipulated and destroyed by the authorities.

There was also the constant example of Northern Ireland with its incessant violence and bleakness; the burnt out cars and the armoured vehicles were drawn from those television images. Seeing funerals of those killed in mid-March of this year, it seemed in fact despite the peace process quite a great deal has not changed. The title of this story was a distortion of 'The Red Flag' a Socialist anthem which used to be sung at Labour Party conferences and there were complaints from left-wing students at the school that I had abused it. However, I was pleased that I had at least attracted their attention and usually the only one who commented on my 'odd' stories was one of the History teachers. One thing that comes out in this story as with 'Manmade Man?' was how addicted I was to ellipses, presumably because they seemed urgent and trendy. 'MP' in this story refers to Military Police, clearly I had assumed that they would be given jurisdiction over the civilian population in this future. When I had visited the Netherlands in 1985 I had seen Dutch military police being used in Amsterdam on civilian-jurisdiction duties to combat the drugs trade. I remember they drove mud-brown Volkswagen camper vans. The reference to the prime minister I think was inspired by the Brighton bombing of 1984 which I had envisaged a very harsh government response to.

The People's Flag is Deepest Black ...

The armoured car drove slowly past, its headlights cut deeply into the cool darkness.

"... declared. Stay off the streets, looters will be shot. Martial law has been declared. Stay off ..." The address system droned on as the vehicle round the corner into the next street.

"Come on, along here." A figure with its voice muffled by thick scarves scrambled out of an alley, a shorter person followed behind.

Bricks and bottles lay strewn along the road. The pair passed the burnt out remains of a small call, still smouldering. There was the sound of gun fire in the distance, across town and flashes lit up the sky. Suddenly glass shattered and an alarm rang out. There were footsteps, the the rattle of machin gun fire. A man fell to the ground, dead; his flour bags scattered and burst on the tarmac.

The first figure approached a side door, its wood was battered, the small windows by it were boarded over. The figure knocked, then again. There was a pause and the door swung open. The two entered and closed the door; they passed through another then up a narrow staircase. Finally they entreded a room, lit by a few candles.

"Who's this?" A fat woman sat at a table with a rifle lying in front of her, "why's he here?" she leant forward to address the taller figure.

"Keith put him onto us, he wants to join," the first unwrapped his scarves, exposing the face of a man in his early twenties, red and sweating from running.

"Look, we've got enough trouble with the MP's on our backs continually. We're moving West, away from the centre of things, hopefully to re-group. This whole thing's been a mess, has been since the Prime Minister was gunned down. It's been a chain of bombs, shootings and riots."

"We realise there's chaos but there's nothing we can do, the overthrow failed and now the Army's in power." a middle-aged man interjected as he appeared from the shadows behind her.

"You're right, the people come first. There's hunger, no services; the junta's crippling the nation, 'till we're squeezed out - ten shot or arrested in a fortnight from this cell aloone."

"That's why I brought him. We need as many as possible." the young man broke in.

The plump woman turned to the shorter figure; he removed his face-mask. The woman leant forward.

"Why do you want to join?"

"I want a better Britain, fit for humanity." the youth replied.

"Cut the rubbish. This is no interview. We want dedicated troops, to liberate us from this oppression."

"I'm willing to risk it, for the end of domination."

"Sounds too rehearsed. He's an infiltrator." The middle-aged man concluded.

"Look I'm starving. I've got nothing to lose. I can help." the youth added.

"What can you do? Fire this?" the woman questioned.

"I could practice."

"Practice is not what we've got time for, we're leaving soon."

"I've got nothing with me."

"What you've got is enough. Take this." she handed him an automatic pistol. "Get him a sub-machine gun as well. Use them well."

"Trust me."

"We'll have to. One step out of line and we shoot. the middle-aged man handed him the gun. "We don't stay for injured."

"MP's!" There was a shot from downstairs; another younger woman leapt up from downstairs, with a gun at her waist.

"You idiot!" the leader bellowed, "Through here!" The rest of the group hurried through another door into an adjoining room, then outside onto the roof. The candles blew out in the strong draught. The leader snatched up her rifle. There was a crash and a CS cannister burst through the window. The youth ran forward through the smoke, but the woman threw him back; he crumpled against the door.

"They followed you," she spluttered, "you traitor."

The youth turned. There were two thuds as the bullets tore into his back. The body tumbled down the rotten stairs. The leader turned and ran through the door as she heard feet hammer up the stairs.

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