It’s raining again. I haven’t been out for weeks, but it seems every time it’s my turn in Cell 421, it’s raining. Chuck wanted to trade. He said he’d give me his lunch for three days if he could stay in Cell 421, the only one with a window. Although I do want to eat more, I simply couldn’t take away his food. Not for this. Not for staring out of a window. It’s always the same thing; rain. It’s rain and with these long, almost endless lines of people.
They’re not humans anymore. It happens to a lot of us. One day you’re conserving your energy, the next day you’re trading away your food. There’s no future. That’s what they believe and that’s the only thing they know.
They walk and walk, no one looks up. They just stare down at their bare feet in the mud. Just a stream of naked white ankles. Once you walk, you’re not human anymore.
They’ve been stripped of their humanity. It happened sometime when enough people started talking about Destiny and Brotherhood. I should have known better. Those dangerous increments. Media changed focus. It wasn’t stories about the little person anymore; it was stories about rights and who was there first. When I grew up it wasn’t uncommon to have a harmless article here and there, stuck in between all the thunder and the earthquakes. Like the one about little Frida. The associations Frida gave me were freckles, gossip and blossom. She sat with her friend, can’t remember the name, on a bench gossiping. Really high grass behind her, the sun shone in on their golden hair through the grass. Curls, of course. There was a barn beside them. Full of old fishing rods and a non-working lawnmower. Probably, I made the last part up, but that was the world portrayed with little Frida. A flourishing world and freckles. But now the stories are about Brotherhood… Which associations does it conjure up… ?
I stand up and salute my guard.
“Are you daydreaming of the March? Don’t worry your time will come.”
I remain standing.
“Well, what do you say to that?”
“What? Nothing!? You always have something to say. Aren’t you the paper-boy?”
“The one who writes articles for you people.”
“Yes, and some for—“
“Yes, I’ve read them. I liked the one about the… uhm. The Fodder.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“That was about you, right? About you people.”
“The importance of ethnicity, patriarchs in a pack of wolves… that was us?”
“Yes. I was ordered to by the warden—“
“Yes, Warden Jones wanted an article to boost morale among the guards. Just the guards around this facility and possibly a few more, but it actually became national.”
“Ha! Even wider than that. It was chosen to appear in the Media. And you know what an honor that is…”
“I do. Thank you for telling me, sir.”
He waves it off as nothing. “Well then… Go back to your daydreaming.”
The articles… Is that the reason I haven’t been transferred to the March yet? Why I haven’t been told to walk? Is it why I’ve seen thousands arrive later but depart sooner than me? I should do something. I should write something. But then again, what’s the point? ‘Fodder’ was satirical, yes, and I tried my best to show what is censored, yes, but that satire flew right over the heads of anyone important.
Something about the March… Walking to a naked beat, soles in mud. Souls in mud…
What does ‘believing in the March’ mean? The expression everyone uses here. What does it really mean? Is it relief? Yes, I guess it is. It is a relief. If you make living horrible enough, then almost anything can be preferred. They told Gareth he’d walk the lines two weeks ahead of his time. Two weeks!
At first it was mostly men who walked, but that didn’t last for long. I don’t know what happened. The lines aren’t shorter; they just changed from only being men to being mostly women. Are the men shot on sight? Chuck tells me they work. In big factories, such as ours, but with no food. Five men in the same room, no food and with tools. But Chuck is constantly wrong and sometimes speaks to fill the silence, rather than have something to say. He wasn’t a writer. He was a photographer, not even a professional one. But his number came up, as mine did, and he was chosen out of us, out of the hated intellectuals, to be saved. Until further notice…
I remember those three words best. I read the letter over and over again, memorized it verbatim but I always stopped at those three words. My thumb lingered on them, grazed them to feel the only three words which told me anything about my future… about MY destiny.
I wonder what my destiny would have been if I took a bigger misstep. If I refused, like many did. Well that’s not what I wonder. There’s no hesitation. I’d join a statistic somewhere. A nameless death toll. Just a number for sympathetic people in numbed countries to care about. “We ought to do something”, they cry. The steps from ‘We ought to do something’ to ‘We’re doing something’ seem unrealistically large. I’m sure there are people who understand the satire in Fodder. I’m positive! Yet that was a year ago and nothing has happened.
No, what I wonder is what would happen if I joined the resistance. I’d probably be dead just as well, but I’d seen something before it happened. Something other than what I had grown used to. I’d be outside of my comfort zone, not repeating the same routines. I would not be locked in a facility where the only joy is the look at the March and thinking to yourself ‘That’s not me, yet.’
I’ve lived my life in such a wasteful way. I found meaning in those routines. I have to go up and go to this place, talk to those people because that’s what I’m supposed to do, I thought. Or, I didn’t think at all. I just did it and never stopped doing it, because if I stopped doing my routines I’d start to worry. Maybe if enough people started worrying there’d be no facilities and there’d be no March.
Chuck told me about a writer who wrote in code. The fourteenth last letter of every fourteenth sentence formed the cry for help. I told him not to believe in such fairy tales. It’s incredibly dangerous. They check for those things. And even if they’d let it slip, you know, who don’t check for those things? Those he writes to. No it’s better to do what I did. I made sure I met their expectations, and then I made it into a satire by raising the qualities of my torturers. I made us into fodder. I considered using the word “log”. Something to throw at the fires of industry, but fodder sounds more like war. What is arrow fodder in a time without arrows? Meaningless sacrifice, no. Productivity! That’s what I wrote and my friends, if I can call them that, taught me the meaning of group productivity. Maybe that incident caused the article to become global. I know it was mentioned in the article. Someone wrote it in. We have no control over the piece once we’ve handed it in. Amendments are to be expected, as they say.
“Chuck!” Oh no! Chuck’s walking the line! “CHUCK!”
I bang the window. Louder. I even kick it. Come on!
“Shut up in there!”
“What did he do!? Why!? He’s a creative!”
“He wrote something. Don’t worry. You’re safe.”
“Why!? What did he write?”
“I don’t know. Why do you care?”
I bang the window again. “CHUCK!”
“Hey! I’m serious. If you do that once again I’d chop off your legs!”
“But what did he write?”
“Something in code.”
“Did Chuck write in code?”
“Yea. Every something-something diagonally or… I can’t remember. But you don’t do that… right?”
“Right. What did he say?”
“In the code, Sir. What did he say?”
“Are you correcting me? You know I’ve taking a liking to you, don’t interpret that as a guarantee of immunity. Do you want to join the March?”
“Good. Get back to the window and wave goodbye. Then write something about… you know something to boost morale. What’s the word? Give me a word.”
“Yea-yea, that’s right. Our splendor. Keep it up.”
“Keep what up?”
“Write about it. About our splendor. Or face the March.”
“Is that a directive from Warden Jones?”
“Directive? No. Consider it an order. Ha! Sometimes I wonder if you have any clues… Don’t you ever wonder why you’re kept alive?”
“If you haven’t figured it out by now… Not? Well, as long as you please your audience.
“Well, I’ll leave you to your writing. Make it short but on the theme Splendor. That’ll please Warden Jones.”
I sit back down and stare out. It’s raining. The lines are still moving. Chuck is gone. I open my pad.
Splendor requires determination and once achieved permeates your every action. It is not the nation-building ingredient; it is the empire-building factor. In history, the few civilizations whose destiny it was to build empires, became anecdotes to the present empire when they lost their splendor. Now, as we change the chapter, they become murked by the shadow our empire casts when it raises itself above them. Splendor engulfs. It singles out the Man in men and leaves the lesser to follow in line. When the heavens open up, rain stops and wind settles, a ray of light will shine solely, but clearly, upon the Splendor.
6 thoughts on “Michael by Tobias Haglund”
This is excellent Tobbe. I’m a sucker for a dark miserable future so this was always going to be a hit with me. A very easy read but with a lot of depth – this one will stay with me for a long while. Cheers, Nik
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Thank you, Nik. That’s very kind of you. Yes I’m also a sucker for this kind of dystopia. If it’s dark and if it’s miserable – we love it! ATVB my friend
A powerful little masterpiece! Brilliant! June
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Thank you, June! That’s very kind of you to say. 🙂
ATVB My friend
For everything that you made me consider…The thoughts on oppression which are now and always will be relevant…For the intelligent way that the story was constructed and for the ease of the read, I can only say that this is an excellent piece of historical / present and futuristic observation. (I know observation can’t be used in the context of the future…But I’m sure you get my drift!)
All the very best my friend.
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Thank you, Hugh, that’s very kind of you. As always! I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories, so I’m always happy when it is appreciated elsewhere. Thank you very much. I can’t say it often enough.
ATVB my friend