There’s a lot of it about. Did you see those women dressed up in Handmaid gear hassling the new Supreme Court Judge? And Climate Change Fiction. Apparently it’s now a thing. We’re all going to die. Or end up in some version of Mad Max crossed with 1984 and a really boring wedding reception.
What we need isn’t more blueprints for apocalypse, but visions for a better future, and how to get there. In this context I just love this song by crippled (and now dead) singer Ian Dury.
So in the spirit of Cheer Up Mate, Worse Things Happen at Sea, I’m going to offer you a pre-taste of just one out of many possible utopias…feel free to join in.
“Oohh,” says Clara, craning her neck. “What IS this place? It’s creepy!”
Jack snakes his arm cunningly around her waist. He can just touch the underside of her boob. Things are looking good.
“Yeah,” he says coolly, “there’s supposed to be ghosts. Can you see them?”
She shrinks against him. Better and better. He can smell the herby smell of her hair, tickling his nostrils, her body in sweet, cruel proximity to his. She stares around, bug-eyed.
“No…? What ghosts?”
Should he kiss her now? No, better to wait.
“They say if you come here at midnight, you can hear the screams.” Better not make it too gruesome, she might want to go home. “They don’t do anything, they just look at you, with their big, brown, dead eyes.”
“Big brown…what are you talking about?” She twists about to face him, her tight jeans brushing in an agony of desire against his groin.
“Cows.” Jack looks down into her face. At this distance, he can see the tiny soft fuzz on her upper lip. She’s so damn cute with her big brown eyes, lashes as long as a calf’s. “They used to kill cows here, lots of them. Hundreds. Thousands, even.”
She draws in her breath, makes a face. “They did not. Why? Why would anyone kill a cow? You’re just trying to scare me.”
“God’s honour, I’m totally not. They used to call this place an abattoir, it was for killing cows so people could eat them. Pigs and stuff too.”
Her brown eyes travel around the vast empty shed, with its long iron railings and silent, mysterious machines. Then they drop to the stained concrete floor at her feet.
“Eww! So those are…”
“Blood stains!” Jack says in the kind of voice they use on TV crime shows, an octave lower than his usual.
“Yuck. That’s disgusting. I don’t even believe you. Eating pet cows? Go on…”
“They weren’t pets then. We ate them. Like, steaks and chops and…”
Now they’re on familiar ground. “Steaks,” says Clara, with the certainty of someone who knows, “aren’t made of cows. They’re made in laboratories. My uncle works in one.”
He’s gone too far, he knows he has. She’s beginning to withdraw. Any moment she’ll say she wants to go home. There’s a fine line between nice scared and nasty scared. So Jack moves in for the kill.
“You know the last cow ever to come here…my grandmother adopted her. She was one of them activists back in the day. Anyway, she was called Buttercup. The cow I mean, not gran. I’ve got a photo at home, I can show you if you like.”
“Really? I love cows, don’t you? They’re so sweet..”
“Sure are.” Jack knows what should be said next, and he says it. “Not as sweet as you.”
Clara turns her face up to him, smiling, and that’s his moment. He kisses her, right on those grass-soft, cloud pink lips. She tastes just as he imagined she would, like crushed thyme. As he breaks from the kiss, both arms around her now, holding her tight against his tee-shirt, he hears a deep, soft moan. It’s not Clara.
“Let’s get outta here,” he says, taking her by the hand, hoping she didn’t hear. Because he knows what it is, and he’s scared, now – really scared. The ghosts crowd around him, lowing, panicked. He can almost smell the iron stink of their fear: the pain pounds in his chest like the trampling of a thousand hooves. He pulls Clara, so roughly that she squawks, out into the daylight. The feeling of uncomprehending dread leaves him. The abattoir looks back at him, an empty reminder of things better left forgotten.
So that’s my first try at a short utopian story. Anyone else got a story or an idea around a better world? I’d love to put your short story up on the blog, or alternatively weave one of my own around your rose-tinted spectacle.
And while I’m on the subject, Storiesbywilliams has tagged me in the Ten Day Book Challenge to nominate a book that’s influenced me greatly in my life. So in keeping with this post, I’ll pick The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams. For every heartwrenching appeal to donate to medical research, there are hundreds of laboratory animals that never signed a consent form. Maybe curing a child’s cancer is worth it, but I’d like to see the guinea pigs at least rate a mention in those TV ads. Save little Annie – and don’t forget to say thanks to a thousand white mice. I don’t give to medical research for that reason, but then, my child isn’t ill and (thanks no doubt to those beagles, mice etc) neither am I. Feel free to disagree. In turn, I’d like to tag Sharon, who’s kind, erudite and always interesting.