I wrote this story a couple of years ago. It’s a dystopian short story that relates somewhat to what we’re currently experiencing and it has a good ending:
First there were the bike riders. They were on the highways, the backroads and the throughways. I even saw some of them riding along the beach. They were everywhere it seemed, but I never really noticed them until it was too late. Just like the rest of humanity I was too busy swiping at my phone and commenting on Facebook to notice anything other than the Twittersphere. For me and people like me it was over long before it began.
“Why are you hanging out the window?” Sami asked me.
I wasn’t hanging at all, I was really only peeking out through the gap where the curtains met.
“I just thought, you know, that maybe the drovers might come through today,” I answered without looking around.
“Drovers? You’ve gotta be kidding me Tommy, they won’t be back this way for months yet.”
“Yeah, but Jonno said that he’d heard they’d rounded up a new lot. The breakaways from the sustainability movement. He reckoned they were bringing them through the valley in the next couple of days.”
“I wouldn’t believe anything Johnno says mate. You know what he’s like. Always making up cock and bull stories about one thing or another. Get away from the window before someone sees you and reports you, you bloody idiot.”
Sami was paranoid about the window. Usually I didn’t go near it, but I was longing to get a glimpse of the drovers. I’d never seen them and rumours were rife. I was sure my brother Saskia was one of them, but that wasn’t something I’d let anyone else in on. I felt that if I could just get a look at him and his wiry hair I’d know there was a way out of sequestration.
After the collapse the authorities directed everyone back to their homes and forced all people to remain indoors. We became The Sequestered. It was like this all across Australia and probably the whole world, but no one had any way of knowing anything other than what was happening in their own tiny sphere. In an instant we had gone from a society who knew no boundaries to only knowing four walls.
It didn’t matter anyway because there was no point going to work, to school or even to the park. Nothing worked anymore. The internet was gone and with it had gone our freedom, if indeed we were even free to begin with.
“Illusion,” I said out loud.
“What?” Sami asked.
“Illusion Sami, it was all a bloody illusion.”
“Life. The rat race, the pubs, the tele, the train timetable, work, Christmas, uni, dating. All of it.” I said with a rising tone.
“Let it alone Tommy. They’re gonna bloody hear you.” He looked towards the door with a wild eye.
“I don’t care anymore Sami!” I shouted back at him. I’ve got to get to Saskia and maybe if I shout loud enough they’ll come in here, cart me out and I’ll be sent out droving with the rest of them.”
“No Tommy, you don’t know that. They might put you on parade, mate. Cut you down in the main street like they did to Thursa.” His voice was a shouted whisper as he kept a furtive watch on the door. It was kept unlocked just like everyone else’s. A policy instated by the Sequestration Board.
Saskia was the one who pointed out the bike riders to me. He came home one day and said, “Tommy, I saw the weirdest thing today. I was driving along the highway and here comes this old bloke on a pushie with these big bags hanging off the side. So, I slowed down to get a better look at his jallopie and the bags were grass catcher bags off a Victa ride on mower. I went around the next bend and here are two more riders. They didn’t have mower bags on their bikes, but they were pretty laden down with stuff strapped down all over the frames of their bikes.”
The next day, instead of staring at my phone on the train ride to work I looked out the window and I looked at the other people sharing the carriage with me. Some of them had bulging hiking packs. I thought it was a bit weird, but how would I know if it really was? Before then I couldn’t recall the last time I’d bothered to look up from my phone on the way to work.
Out the window I saw people riding horses along the side of the train track. Some of the horses were riderless and laden with bulky bags. I could have sworn I saw the barrel of a shotgun sticking out of one of the bags, but in an instant the horses were gone and when I turned back to the carriage a small spike of worry inched its way into my gut. What else had I missed in the world of flesh and blood?
Saskia offered himself up as a drover. Well, so I’d heard because the last time I’d seen him he was walking out the door and telling me not to worry about the team of gyro copters that had buzzed across the sky the previous night. We’d grown up on a big property out west and he was always good with horses, we both were. After I’d heard he’d gone droving I tried to enlist myself, but they wouldn’t accept me, told me I was too citified, that there was no way someone like me would be able to ride a horse, and I was herded back indoors.
The Sequestration Board was promising authority and small freedoms to those willing to chase down and bring in the breakaways: the bike riders, hikers, gyro copter pilots and horse riders along the train tracks, plus the scores of others who had made their ways to the mountains to live in resistance to sequestration. They’d seen it coming long before any of us; the constant phone users, the Facebook fiends and the Twitter addicts. We thought we were connected and up to date, but all we’d done was left reality behind us and created a hyper version of the real world where everything wasn’t what it seemed. While we weren’t looking our future was being taken from us.
I couldn’t be bothered arguing with Sami anymore. It wasn’t his fault we were stuck here together, so I took a couple of deep breaths and prepared to apologise for losing my cool. Before I could open my mouth the door flung open and a Black Ranger grabbed me around the middle. My breath squashed out of me and there was no room in my lungs for new air. I felt like I was in a vacuum as the ranger hurled me down the stairs and onto the concrete path at the front of the building.
“You know we don’t tolerate your kind. There’s no room in sequestration for defectors,” the ranger growled through his mask. I couldn’t see his eyes and for a weird moment I wondered what colour they were.
“I’m not a defector, I’m just bored. What do you expect being shut up inside all day long? I can’t live like this. I’m being wasted here. I should be out droving and bringing those bastards in for the punishment they deserve.” I said with what I hoped sounded like conviction, although of course I didn’t mean it. I wished long and hard that I wasn’t blind for so long, then I would have been able to make my own way to the hills.
“Drovers are coming through today. Let them decide. Until then, get up and get moving. You gotta go on parade.”
“Parade? No need for that, I’ll just wait inside until then and you can come back and get me when the drovers arrive.”
“Shut up and get moving.” He said as he pushed me hard in the back with his big fist.
I thought I might throw up. Anything could happen on parade. Thursa went on parade and never came back. It wasn’t something I ever really believed could happen to me, but it wasn’t like I had a choice so I let myself be propelled forward to the centre of the street.
I was nervous about being outside after so long shut up indoors. The air felt lighter out here and I was sure I could taste the ocean. I put one foot after the other and the bitumen cut into my bare feet. I was scared but at the same time I felt like maybe, just maybe this was going to be the day that would change everything.
I wasn’t out there for more than a minute when I heard the distant thunder of thousands of hooves. It sounded like a big rush, the kind that any good drover would want to avoid. I knew it, but I could see the ranger didn’t.
“That’s a rush coming. Better get off the road or we’ll be squashed flat out here.”
“Shutup and get walking.”
“I’m not kidding, mate. That’s a big mob headed straight for us. We can’t see them yet, but mark my words, they’re coming and there’s nothing that will hold back a mob that sounds as big as that.”
I could see he was starting to take me a little bit more seriously as the broken panes of glass began to rattle in the shop front next to him. A piece of the shop façade shook free, landing at his feet and he promptly jumped to the right.
Whip cracks sounded and I could hear shouting, cooees and all manner of bush calls that rose on the thunderous approach. Maybe it’s not a rush afterall I thought. I could see the ranger was starting to lose his nerve. Afterall, he was probably just some bulked up twenty year old kid who didn’t have a clue about droving, cattle, horses or anything other than pumping iron at the gym.
The drovers approached in a brown cloud. They weren’t pushing a mob or driving breakaways, there were just thousands and thousands of them. Men, women and children. All on horseback and all at flat gallop. I’d never seen anything so spectacular in all of my life and it clear took my breath away.
The boss drover emerged at the front. The horse had its head as the rider swung two whips simultaneously to elicit an ear-splitting crack. Immediatley the overlanders at his back slowed to a trot and at the boss’s whistle they halted and the horses stood still, sweat and foam dripping off them everywhere.
His whips now stowed, the boss rode forward rolling a smoke with one hand, something Saskia was renound for. Some wirey hair poked out above his ears and I smiled.
“Saskia,” I whispered. “ I knew you’d do the right thing! How did you manage to get all these buggers together like this?”
“Mate, I just thought of how we used to round up all the boys when we were kids and set off on those wild rides through the mountains. The stuff that mattered to us back then, still matters now even though we forgot it for a while. All of us, all these people, they all just needed reminding,” he said as he gestured back towards the army behind him. “See, that’s what the collapse was for: a wake up call.”
“I’m so glad you’re here. I was on parade you know. I thought you were bringing in defectors, but here you are a defector, no less the head defector, yourself! Bloody awesome.”
“Right now there’s mobs like this in every city in the country. Not all on horses of course. Some of us were working on the inside to disarm the authorities. It was a collaboration like the world has never seen before. It’s amazing what humans are capable of achieving through the collective when all the unimportant stuff is swept away. We’ve got to start fresh Tommy, but in a way we’ve got to start old. Go back to the old values. Keep our sights set straight and true. It’s the only way forward.
“Sami!” I yelled up to the window. “Come down here right now. It’s time to get real!”
With trepidation people began emerging onto the street. The ranger who had so recently thrown me down the stairs stepped out from shadows onto the road. He pulled his mask off and threw it in the gutter. I saw then that his eyes were brown. Realisation fell on me. “Thursa!” I yelled.
“Sorry Tommy. I’m sorry. They made me. I had no choice.” He said with downcast eyes.
“You’re forgiven buddy,” I said as a grabbed him around the shoulders. “It’s good to have you back. It’s good to have everything back.”
We live in a time of dire predictions, fear and uncertainty. How will we prevail in such a calamitous future? Accepting that the predictions play out and the approaching end game arrives, we might open our hearts and minds that even through destruction, some of us may come to know a happiness that we would have been cut off from in the current model of life. Abundance might be possible and arrive in unimagined ways. New meanings and connections will form borne of liberations from a system that seeks to tie us down bodily and shackle us neurologically. Perhaps we can at last become what we were truly meant to be: HUMAN.