Unbound Story Five: Waking Up
Prompt: Six word story
And the story finished. Again. And two men died. but again, the heads around Shirren just nodded, grey. ‘Mmm,’ some of them said. ‘Aah.’ Final aahs. Aahs that accepted this story, concluded it was a lesson in and of itself, that there was no more to say on the matter. The teller, a doctor from a hot country, stared, perplexed that his words had had no apparent impact.
This was a common occurrence. The telling of a koan or story to reinforce an orthodoxy which everyone in the room already knew to be true – that their rulers were irrevocably decadent, morally and spiritually lost, perpetuating outrage – at which point they’d nod, their prejudices confirmed, secure in their own powerless, superior lot. In fact, it wasn’t so much a common occurrence as the whole point of the meetings.
It had been thrilling at first, talking to wise women and men, sipping rough liquor out of mugs; just the very joy of thinking in a different way. But thinking, it seemed, was all they were ever going to do.
The day after that old stinking fisherman had been thrown out of her office, Merven, the skinny, keen-eyed security guard had stopped her in the corridor. A shock, as they’d never spoken; there had been smiles though. Nice smiles. He wasn’t such a bad looker, for all his wiriness.
‘Shirren. Would you like to come to dinner with me tomorrow night, at the house of my friend Amanda Block?’
She hadn’t thought anything too strange about his manner of speech at the time, the formal way he weighed the words as though each were a code in itself; or the strange, precise directions he gave her. She’d been concentrating on his smile; on how long it had been since she’d had a warm body in her bed.
She knew now that this was because she’d been switched off.
They’d opened the door, down the alley, on the third knock, and a woman with rough-skinned hands helped her into a dark room.
‘Hello,’ said Shirren. ‘Are you Amanda?’ She held out the gifts she’d brought, as was the custom: a bottle of cheap local wine and a small bag of coal. No-one took them; instead, she was seated at a table. If they’d only put the lights on, so she could see. And then a screen lit up, floating over half the room, illuminating the five people in there. None of them were Merven.
‘Shirren,’ the man beside her had said. ‘Who is this, on the screen?
‘It’s the President.’ Was he stupid? Foreign?
‘Is there anything unusual about the President?’
Oh, a spot-check. She’d heard the police carried them out all the time. They were just checking she knew her catechism.
‘The President is a great man. We are lucky to live within the love and the Castle of a man like this.’
‘A man like what? What makes him great, exactly, Shirren?’
It had gone on for hours. By the end, she was weeping, digging her nails into her palm around the neck of her wine bottle.
‘He has a tail! Is that what you want me to say? The President has bought himself a tail and four arms while we live in poverty. Is this what you want? Is it?’
And the screen had shrunk down, and the lights had gone on, and the man at her ear had come round to face her and shake her hand.
‘Shirren. You’re awake. Welcome to the Amanda Block.’
Awake. She’d felt it then. But one month on, she’d realised that all the Amanda Block did was awaken. What you made of it was up to you.
The awakened of the Amanda Block turned to look at her. This was not a place where people shouted. Merven’s kind eyes were panicked.
‘They are cutting out our voices and soon we won’t be able to tell these stories. What are we going to do about it? In the now?’
This was not her. This was something else, something long, long dead, making use of her throat.
‘They’ve held us in sleep for so long, they think they have us. They’ve grown cocky with it. They send their youths up here to manage us and tease us, as their citizen training. They strip our country (the word brought gasps, even in this crowd) yes, our country, of its resources, our rocks and trees, and make themselves new limbs – tails – on the proceeds. But sleeping lions are still lions, no matter how complacent their keepers, and there is always a way out of a cage.’
She pulled out the old, dusty book, showed them the words.
‘We have lived like this for over two hundred years. Ladies and gentlemen of the Amanda Block. We won’t be truly awake until we take action.’
That night, sure, she dreamt of trees. But there was no-one in them. The trees were in themselves, and they were marching.