This Time

You know when things were better than they are now and we all thought there was some kind of global crisis going on? Remember then, do you? It seems like a dim and distant memory, I know. We didn’t know the half of it, did we?

Back in those times – we call them the good old days now – I had time to daydream, make up ‘what if’ scenarios in my head, just to entertain myself really. Of course we all went out a lot less than before, so I had more time on my hands. We stayed in to save money, we told ourselves, because times were tight. What a pack of lies! We were all just working so damned hard, none of us could be bothered to drag our knackered carcasses to a bar, let alone a club. ‘Can’t Be Arsed’, we used to say. The number of times I went home from work to a takeaway, a couple of cans of lager and to fall asleep to whatever the latest new 3 part drama was showing on the box that night – well, I can’t think. Back then, we’d all got nostalgic for the good old days – we thought we were in The Worst Times ever to affect anyone. I don’t think somehow, that in say thirty, forty years’ time we’ll have that opportunity, this time round.

So, like I said, we were staying in because well, I explained why. We were having ‘staycations’ because money was so tight. But you remember – it was always more expensive to rent a cottage here than jet off somewhere exotic where you could rent a lovely villa on some remote beach in Thailand for 8 dollars a night. But we were martyrs, so…anyway. Play-acting at being poor. Stupid bastards, the lot of us.

Yeah. As I was saying, back then when things weren’t really that bad after all, I would crank up the old imagination and wonder what it would be like if I’d lived though the Second World War in occupied territories, or been a spy, or crash landed behind enemy lines and got caught by the Gestapo. So there I am, in my vivid imaginary world, and I’ve just been caught by the Nazis. They’re deciding what to do with me. Am I worth torturing? Should they just shoot me there and then? Am I important enough to spend time on, to spare a cell on?

We all have egos. Course we do. So yeah – they make the effort. I have information and they want it. At this point I just want to say that I’m not trivialising what happened to all those people – I was young, very young, back then. A different person. I had no idea what it really meant to suffer.

Here’s the tricky question. How long do I hold out under interrogation? Do I even get past the first smack round the head? Or do I hold on until the pulling out of the fingernails? Or the dunking in ice-cold water until I think that’s the end?
I’m not a gruesome kind of person, I don’t wish for bad things to happen to anyone. I don’t have a dark and twisted imagination, but you know when you watch those old war films and admire the hero or heroine – it gets you thinking, doesn’t it? What would I do? How would I cope? Would I be a hero, or a coward? And who’s to say that passing on classified information to escape unspeakable pain is cowardly anyway? Lets face it, none of us really knows how we’d react, when things got really, really bad. We all like to think we’d be that great person, but you know, we all have those dark corners of our souls we don’t want to investigate too deeply – don’t we?

Come on. You’ve done something a bit off, at least once in your miserable life, haven’t you? In my case, I once stole a couple of chocolate bars from the shop where I had my Saturday job, I bounced a cheque for £25 (knowingly) when I was a near-destitute student, and I drove at 50 in a 30 zone because I was really late for work. Does that make me a bad person? No, I don’t think so. Does it make me morally dubious? No, I don’t think so either. Does it make me weak-willed? Probably. No more than most, at any rate.

The thing is, all of that kind of stuff was way before my time. War – it was a history lesson at school. A blip – if you discount what happened in Yugoslavia, or Rwanda, or the countless other conflicts most of us ignored. What I’m trying to say is, all that heroism – it didn’t really enter into our consciousness, not my generation. Not really. We saw it as something to romanticise in films, and then just file it all away under Things Were Different In Those Days.

Different? Not really. Maybe just that little bit more honourable, if you were one of the good guys. These days we’re not so sure who they might be. That Global Crisis was all about money, and fraud, and deception. Then it filtered down into real lives – homes repossessed, jobs lost, families destroyed – that’s what happened if you were in the lower echelons. The rest of us carried on as normal, perhaps tightened our belts just a smidgeon, just to show willing.

And then oil came into it, like we knew it would. The countries that produced it had made more than enough money out of it from the rest of us, so they turned off the pipes, just like that. And then we all kind of struggled, watching the reserves dwindle, mesmerised. Or we had to get it by the back door. And then those who still had the money battened down the hatches and stopped spending. Which kind of made the governments sit up and take notice. Money talks, as ever. And at home they were fighting battles on all fronts, what with the rising violent unrest from the poor, and the rich leaving in droves to the countries where life could still be lived, as long as you knew someone – and lets face it, all rich people know Someone. And then even those countries shut their doors, because they didn’t want to spend their money on people who weren’t the same colour as them, didn’t speak the same language as them, didn’t worship the same gods as them… and so it went.

The rest of us, the also-rans, not rich, not poor, that’s when we really, really felt things go bad. We went out on the streets to replace the proper poor who were, to be honest, dying. We formed militias – very middle class miltiias to start off with, but then we got organised and serious. We had regional leaders and they had Connections. It went very bad, very quickly. Some deepest of deep underground agency broke into some establishment that should have been guarded 24/7, but the private security firm hadn’t had their bills paid by the government for months, so that had stopped ages before. They just walked in, got this stuff, bio-chemical stuff, and unleashed it on Number 10. Bad, bad move.

We had no idea that the government had what it had, under its belt. It was like the hounds of hell had been unleashed. Dawn raids, killings in the streets, home invasions. And I swear, these Hounds were privatised – but not paid for by our state. They were all foreign. No, not foreign exactly. Not human. Hard to see at first, but it was there. The actions a bit too smooth, the responses a bit too rehearsed. It was like they were being controlled. Or had been programmed. Bloody robots, literally.

And of course, when the government really got its act together, when it realised that the poor were no longer a threat and the rich had run off with everything to God knows where, they realised that it was us that had all the power. Us versus Them. I read something the other day, can’t remember who said it now: when government is big, the people are small. We’ve been there, we know it. But you know, the same is true in reverse. Government didn’t have a clue, nor any meaningful kind of support. The raids, killings and invasions happened, and we were totally blown apart – for a while. Too busy avoiding Them and working our asses off to keep it all together. But you know, there’s only so much we could take and after a while the government realised that they didn’t have anywhere left to put everyone they’d rounded up. Or any space left to bury the bodies. Or people to do the burying. The military had revolted after a few weeks – there’s only so much you can make normal people do – and besides, it was their loved ones being arrested and dealt with too. So, they didn’t stick around for long. They came over to us.

Fortunes change, don’t they. Nothing stays the same. You have to remember that, otherwise you’d go mad. So, as I was saying right at the beginning, I used to wonder how I’d deal with the whole interrogation thing. Who would crack first? Me, or them?

I found out. Of course I did otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about this now.
Oh, what? You didn’t expect this? You thought I’d be the victim? Well, sorry, but isn’t that the case? They expected us to stay downtrodden for ever, didn’t they?

Some of us, we get the robots to do it.

Me, I like to have a hands on approach.

7 thoughts on “This Time

    1. Thank you for reading it and for the compliment! I’d like to think that we have enough sense (as a species) not to let things get this bad, but in my darker moments, I’m not so sure.

  1. The world you describe reminds me of ‘Daz 4 Zoe’ by Robert Swindells. Unfortunately such an apocalypse does not seem so unfeasible.
    I like how we can so easily identify with the narrator, until the end where we are horrified that this was the case!

    1. Ooh, I must look up that book! It sounds familiar, but I know I haven’t read it.
      The ability to identify with someone and then realise that they aren’t all they seem to be is one of the facets of the human condition that fascinates me. Nobody (I don’t think) is born entirely good, or entirely bad. We are what we experience, and also how we manage to deal with that experience often seems to be down to the roll of the dice. I would love to think that I wouldn’t give in to ‘persuasion’ nor tip over the edge if I were on the other side. But, who knows, really…?!

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