The British Revolution

The British Revolution

A Story by Mathew Nicolson
"

A piece I wrote for my Advanced Higher History folio in 2012. It's set in a parallel world where a fictional dictatorship's hold on power grows weak, culminating in the British Revolution.

"

   My cheek bursts open as it makes contact with the cold, hostile slab, sending reverberations deep into my skull.  A door bolts somewhere behind and the silence begins, enveloping me like the blood which drips over my face.

   After hours, or maybe days, I regain enough strength to pull my body up against the stone wall.  Its icy surface numbs the bleeding scars across my bare skin.  With effort I loll my neck back and see stars twinkling, free of earthly burdens.  I gaze at them for some time, immersing my thoughts in their beauty.

   Pain shreds my chest; I convulse; blood splatters from my mouth over scabbing skin.  My eyes are diverted down.  This cell is roughly four by four feet; its only feature is a drain.  I bring my hands together, my thumb slipping through where the index finger should be, and whisper prayers of hope.

  

   Bread.  That sacred meal which my family clung to for life.  I took the usual route to the queue, sliding through stinking slums avoiding the back streets where you'd be knifed from behind, or worse, your ration book stolen.  The first thing I noticed, stepping over an upturned rotting door, was the lack of beggars.  By then I'd have passed at least a dozen, their weak arms tugging at our own ripped trousers as if people still had money to give them.  Soon I became aware of a distant roar, which even at this distance was identifiably full of rage and despair.  I'd only heard the like once, at the annual Dispatch of Traitors, where enemies of the State would be hanged from the neck until death at the mercy of a vicious, mostly hired crowd.

   I emerged onto Preston Square and looked out at the mighty tempest that had gathered over it.  People stood in every available space, stretching out as far as I could see; the streets of London flooded.  Some chanted and some shouted, holding banners containing writing too distant to read.  Entire families stood together, laughing, while other solitary figures shouted hoarsely.  I hadn't expected this.  Where were the bread queues?  My family would starve without the daily ration.  I panicked and pushed past the shoreline into the depths, wading a delicate path through the excitement.  I was pushed against a fair-faced girl, apologised, then caught a glance of the writing on her banner.  "Dieu et mon droit."

   "What does it mean?" I asked her.

   "God and my right," she answered.  I had never seen a girl buzz with so much energy.  She was barely older than myself.  "You know.  The monarchy's motto!"

   I gaped at her.  "But that's treason," I said.

   "I know.  Isn't it glorious?"

   I looked away, hoping that to avert my eyes would absolve me of this dreadful crime, then continued my search.  My father once told me, before the accident, of a pair of youths who had been arrested for displaying similar sentiments.  They were never seen again.  But this was different, and I began to realise the scale of the scene I had wandered into.  Every single person in the square, and beyond - there must have been thousands - had similar banners, were shouting similar obscenities.  "Down with the regime!" often, and even chants of "Olly-olly oxen, see us; we are free!" in mockery of the first Lord Protector.  And there I found myself, in front of his statue positioned between two marble pillars of the reviled House of Lords.  Normally radiant in rich bronze, standing in a triumphant pose, the statue was now defaced beyond recognition: slogans written over the face, doused in paint, older boys hacking away at the neck. 

   Pandemonium.  Terrifying, exhilarating pandemonium.  I knew I would find no bread that day, but somehow that didn't matter.  The hope, the glory of this moment overwhelmed me, though I didn't fully understand why.  I had never felt so powerful.

   Pit-crack!  The bullets began to fly and I fled home empty-handed.

 

   The door opens and masked men throw forward a small figure before slamming it shut.  He falls against the wall and slides down onto the slab, next to me.  He looks up and, through a scarred face covered in burns, I see the face of a child no older than eight years old staring up at me.

   “What’s your name?” I ask.

   “James,” he rasps.

   “Would you like something to eat?”

   He nods.  I bend forward over my cracked rib and grab the bowl of rotting gruel I’ve been rationing, offering it to him.  There is no spoon.  His trembling hands can’t hold the weight so I help him lift it to his mouth.  He slurps the dregs in one great gulp, reminding me of a famished dog. 

   “Thank you.”

   We sit together in this cramped cell in silence for some time until the door is thrust open once again.  The men grab my arms and, without a word, drag me out, again slamming the door shut behind them.  I’ll never see the boy again.

   A room, dark and damp.  They strap me, half conscious, to buckles on the wall by my hands and leave me to hang with my toes brushing against a chair.  There is no light in the room besides a dim lamp in the corner giving off a green glow, like light gone sour.  I can hear a ‘drip-drip’ coming from somewhere.  Everything meshes and my eyes close. 

   The chair is kicked away and I fall, screaming at the crack of my broken back.  My body has turned to fire, blazing inside; wolves drive sharp teeth into my bones.  They ignore my cries and pleas.  Laughter.  I’ve lost vision but I can feel the electrodes as they’re strapped to my arms.  Agony surges through every cell until I feel no more.

 

   "The First Consul of France, despicable tyrant of Europe, made the following announcement."  So said a wizened news broadcaster on state TV, the BBO, one night a week after the protests began.  I frowned and watched the television patiently as the peaceable-looking leader of France, genocidal maniac, began to speak; captioned of course - French was a banned language in the Commonwealth of Britain.

   "The Lord Protector must stand down immediately," the captions read.  The broadcast cut to images of British soldiers fighting on streets as stirring music played in the background.

   "The French government has admitted to instigating an armed insurrection in our territory," the broadcaster read.  "The Imperial Army is valiantly fighting these traitors.  The Lord Protector has denied reports he is leaving the country.”

   The scene cut to a face imprinted on the mind of every British citizen.  Through the television stared a face of beauty, a face of infinite kindness, mercy and wisdom.  I felt light-headed to look upon such majesty, dropping my gaze in unworthiness.  Yet, after a moment �" gunshots still ringing in my ears - the voice morphed and I became surprised by how harshly it spoke.  I looked up and from out of his flawless complexion emerged a face carved with hatred and lined by wrath.  Eyes peered out from hawkish sockets blanketed by bushy eyebrows.  The man was hideous in every respect.  My first response was to scald myself for thinking such treasonous thoughts, and then I tried again.

   “My place is here, in this great city, in our great nation,” the Lord Protector began.  “I love Britain; I love its culture, its strength, its people.  And the people of Britain �" they love me.”

   The programme was interrupted by a trill of knocks from the front door - our code for 'family'.  I stood up from the moth-eaten sofa and unlatched the door to find my mother kneeling in the doorway, crying hysterically.

   "Mother!"

   She held a body in her arms.  The head fell back and I saw my brother, his eyes ripped out by bullets.

  

   Gunfire crackles in fits and bursts like a frenzy of ratchets - life snuffed out with each shot.  Even through the rainclouds above my flooded cell I can see warplanes darting across the sky.  I hear at least one ground-shuddering explosion every minute.  Every now and then a plume of dark smoke will form, blocking out the sky completely.  I pray the fighters, whoever they are, can find me before I rot in this perpetual torment.

   The door opens with a clang and a man I have not seen before, wearing a three-piece suit, enters with a chair and sits down.  He gestures to the guards behind who step back and slam the door shut.

   "I'm so sorry for what you have suffered," the man says in a typical Etonian accent.  He has a kindly look spread across his face by a faint smile, but his eyes are cold and gaze unremittingly into mine.  I say nothing.

   "Bit of a drainage problem we have here?" he says.  Again I say nothing.

   "I'm sure this has been a terrible mix-up," the man said, getting to the point.  "You never meant to get caught up in this so-called 'revolution', did you?  Impressionable young lad like yourself... Well, I was young too, once."

   Nothing.

   "I understand.  They promised you freedom, and retribution for your brother, but violence isn't the answer."

   "Violence isn't the answer?" I croak.  "You… bombing London…  Slaughtered… brother…  You, torturing m..." I lose the strength and slump against the wall.

   "You are terribly confused," the man continues in his calm, reasonable voice.  "We are fighting merely in defence against foreign agents.  They are the ones who killed your brother - not us.  I can ease these conditions for you.  I can take you to a warm room with delicious food and get proper medical care to these awful wounds.  But first, to show us you've seen the error in your ways, I need you to do one simple thing.  Do you think you're up to it?"

   I simply stare.

   "All you have to do is tell me which criminal gang you fell in with.  Their names will suffice.  The beds are very warm; wouldn't you like to be warm?"

   The walls shudder as another shell explodes.  The man perches on his chair in anticipation, eyeing me with a look of deep hunger.  I discover a lion within myself, caged by years of oppression, awoken by torture-

   "Liar!" I wheeze.  "This revolution is true… It won't end…  Not until every person in this… country… has risen up in rebellion… and the Lord Protector… dragged through the gutter… Until the streets run with his blood; the blood of corruption; the death of corruption; the death of tyranny!  Nothing… Nothing… can stop it now.  Nothing!"  I finish in a retching fit, spitting blood into the pool.

   The man stands.  "Let us know when you feel differently.  Should be freezing temperatures tonight."

   The door slams shut.

 

   Nothing could have prepared me for the fury I felt that day.  I stood at the fore of a procession of coffins, the bodies of martyrs killed in previous days' violence, being carried towards the graveyard.  The streets I'd known my whole life had turned to warzones, with fighting across every corner and rubble over every pavement.  A building blown to bits in the night still burned in anger across the Thames. 

   We met with a barrier of disciplined uniformity blocking the entrance.  Soldiers with guns, scarcely men any longer, watched us approach.  A crowd had accumulated behind us, every person feeling the same hatred for these murderers, their coats red with the blood of innocents.  We continued forward, our fear cloaked in hatred.  My fists clenched.

   The soldiers raised their weapons in a show of strength and intimidation, but the crowd stood resolute.  A cry rang up from behind: “the regime will fall!” Then shouts of fury and cries of hope spread through the crowd and we sang, in rhythm, forbidden hymns of freedom.  The power I had felt at the demonstration returned and I knew, together, we could enter the graveyard, we could tear down the government, and we could create a free future.  My heart soared with the hearts of thousands, of millions.  The false regime was miniscule next to us.

   And then the firing began.  Screaming - running - the crowd dispersed in all directions; down alleys, over the road, or frantically pulling manhole covers up and clambering inside.  I would not budge.  I stood among bodies, blood spilling past my feet, caring for nothing but to stand my ground for the sake of my brother - even if it meant being slaughtered in the same way.  The air stank of gunpowder.  A few others remained; either lying wounded or, like me, stood staring in horror at the shimmering shapes advancing towards us through the smoke.  They grabbed our arms, pushing them behind our backs, and shoved us to the ground.  I felt the cold steel of handcuffs over my wrists.

   I looked up at the little man dragging me and laughed.  I laughed at his weakness; so weak he must handcuff an unarmed youth.  I laughed at their fear, and at how obvious their terror of us was.  I laughed at the Lord Protector, who at that very moment was locked in a well-guarded room in fear of the people who supposedly loved him.

   And I laughed at their need to smash my innocent face against the wall when I refused to stop.

 

   The gunshots are closer now.  One pair and then another, which my ears follow like a tennis match.  My prayers have been answered.  Every thug in the building shall be suitably punished for the centuries of torture weighed against them.  Justice, for the first time in history, will be done.

   The door slides open and I'm hauled to my feet.  I turn to my saviour and see a gun pointed at my head held by a man covered in Union flags, blue and yellow.  He wears terror on his face; a physical manifestation of what I always knew, backed further against a wall than myself.

   "You've been found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth and been subsequently sentenced to death by the Supreme Martial Court," he stammers, looking nervously over his shoulder.  "By requirement of the law you are granted final words.  Speak quickly."

   The ground shakes once more from a closer detonation. 

   "You can kill me, but the revolution will never die," I say calmly.  "Every life you take is another dozen enemies you create.  My death hastens your regime's fall."

   "Scum.  Order is restoring across the country at this very moment - all traitors will suffer and die like you."

   "Lies, more lies.  Get on with it."

   Behind him a door smashes open and bullets erupt in hails of fire and rage.  I do not feel the lead as it burrows into my skull and we fall together, victim and oppressor, one in hope and one in terror.


© 2013 Mathew Nicolson



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I want to give the protagonist of this story a high five. I'm glad that at the very least the end was quick, but the interrogation and torture were very sad to read about. I'd love to read more about this universew you have created.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mathew Nicolson

4 Years Ago

Thank you! I haven't been writing much lately (the perils of doing a degree...) but it's definitely.. read more

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Added on August 6, 2013
Last Updated on August 6, 2013
Tags: British Revolution, Britain, dictatorship, protests, bread, famine, dictator, death, imprisonment, torture, war, civil war, propaganda

Author

Mathew Nicolson
Mathew Nicolson

Scotland, United Kingdom



Writing