Borders and Blood
The earth is ripe and black and spinning with white hot streetlight. Somewhere, in the slumbering gloom, an island burns bright at the edges. Like a frightened child surrounded by candles, this place never will never stop watching for The Others.
A boy crosses a street. Grey blocks, grey road, grey faces and grey hunger. The only colour is the bright red flags over smashed windows. Grey skies, grey warplane. The low buzz of a police radio. A woman sings on the third floor above. Her voice lingers for a few yards, then disappears. Like everything here.
The boy, like every boy on the island, is pale and thin. Except that word is frowned on here. Lean. Lean Means Loyal, as the posters said. An excuse from the government for the low thud of hunger. No one thought The Others were coming anymore. The drills and the training camps were all for show.
At the end of the block, where the boy used to play ball against the wall, was a large painting, covering the graffiti. Red print, black paint. The face of Protector Forde. His nose looked Saxon here, eyes printed to look blue. The boy knew the reason why he gave speeches up on the balcony, away from the citizens. If you really squinted, he could almost be an Other. Hypocrisy was the new truth.
The boy was going to the borderline. You couldn’t actually get to the border, but you could stand on the roof of St Paul’s and see where the river met the sea, with the big black wall ran like a scar across the horizon. He would sit and stare out into the low cloud, wondering about all the places in the books he hid under his sister’s wardrobe.
They were fifty years old, banned material, back when you could leave the glorious republic. The people looked happy. They weren’t dirty or poor looking. They weren’t killing the white race. They were just living. Same laughter, heartbreak and grief. White faced women smiled next to the dark faces of Others. They didn’t look afraid.
The swarm of boats on the other side of the border (that the Protectors said were always coming) didn’t seem to be visible over the wall. There was just the mud green flat sea mingling with the dead Thames. Maybe the boats came at night. The Others were treacherous, cunning, the posters said.
The Protector was supposed to be greeting the citizens today, as it was Sunday. God’s day, when all of the great Capital and beyond could marvel at the great kingdom kept safe by The Protector. He was a frail man, tall and thin, beady eyed and pious. He avoided women, sin, vice, anything that hinted at the ways of The Other. A good Christian man who loved his republic.
Since I came before you: How many have died at the hands of The Others?
None Protector, glory to you!
How many have fallen to the lust of The Others?
None Protector, glory to you!
How many have had their wealth taken by The Others?
None Protector, glory to you!
And so the circus continued, until everyone felt a bit less obsessed by the hunger in their stomachs and souls. Fear was a brilliant anecdote to thinking. He’d parade through the town, obscured by armoured men, and the anthem would deafen the screams of the most loyal of citizens.
Except today, there seemed to be something of greater interest. Crowds were muttering, leaving the main streets and scurrying down an alleyway off Brick Lane. The boy, curious, decided to follow. There was music. Only it wasn’t like anything he’d ever heard. This wasn’t a war anthem or patriot hymn. This was a girl singing, sweetly but with anger.
Brothers and sisters, how long has it been? Since we were joyous and happy and free? The wind travels south but never can I, the law of the land demands where I die…
The girl appeared in the market square, surrounded by a crowd of entranced civilians. She danced barefoot, her voice echoing against the stone. It was bestial, raw. Honest. She was pretty, but not like the girl on state posters. Big black eyes, low nose and wild hair. It was a miracle she was not in the Impure cordon. Perhaps her attractive mother had bribed a protector.
The song was simple, repetitive, but the crowds grew, the sad sweet melody burning through the streets. She danced without sensuality, but with a force that seemed almost sorcery.
It was so enchanting that the boy did not even hear the drums of The Protector’s Men. He didn’t hear the approach of soldier feet, or see the frail man in the red robe stare into the square. But he did hear his voice.
“How dare you stand here on the day of God, exhibiting your licentious propaganda?”
The Protector rose from his sedan chair, taller than all the men around him. There was a fury in his eyes that froze all but the girl. This is where you run, where you hide your diaries from the police before they break down your door.
“Why?” Answered the girl, bluntly. “Am I distracting people from yours?” The crowd fell completely silent, some running from the imminent shower of bullets. The Protector strode towards her, pulling a pistol from his belt. He’d shot civilians for less.
But then something strange happened. He stopped, inches from her face, and lowered the gun. He just stared. The boy had never seen him silent, but now it was as if The Protector had seen hell in her eyes.
“Go home.” He whispered, his voice barely audible. She didn’t move. “Go home.” The guards looked confused. “Damn it, she’s just a child, let her go home.” The Protector spun around angrily, dazed. “All of you, go home! That’s an order!”
The crowd didn’t need to be told twice. In a few moments, the square was empty, only the clatter of pans in the wind breaking the silence. The girl hesitated, and disappeared into the crowd.
The boy watched as The Protector stared after her. No one had ever spoken to him like that, not since the Uprising. Shaking, he turned to his men.
“Find her. I want her name, her history, everything. Alive. Alive. Understood?” He sat down, head in his hands. He wasn’t so young anymore. In a few moments, he too was gone.
And the boy stood in the square and knew change was coming.