As we are currently in lockdown, I am not going on long walks or on trains for now. Today, in honour of the London Marathon runners who won’t be running the 26-mile marathon – I wrote 26 flash fiction stories to help keep charities alive, fundraising for Oxam.
The coronavirus knows no borders. But neither does our common humanity. Oxfam is supporting people at home and worldwide, as they stand up for each other, protect each other, and demand fair treatment for us all.
We need charities now more than ever. Fundraising has been hit very hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Charity shops including Oxfam’s have been closed to protect the health and safety of staff, volunteers and shoppers. And thousands of fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed meaning many charities are struggling to maintain services because of this huge reduction in income. This is a serious threat to their ability to respond to the pandemic.
So I’m doing whatever I can do to help!
I have put the 26 stories from my #TwoPointSixChallenge in order below.
After the devastation of the second disease and the completion of the Gibraltar Tunnel, a train carried her from London to Casablanca to meet her new family.
During the time of the second disease, ten years’ on from the first, she had been living alone. They had been living alone too.
Every day on their allotted walk, they stood at the same moment, each on a separate bridge over the river.
They were upsteam so, gloved, would put a message in a jar and lower it to the river.
It would float toward the bridge she stood on where she would hopefully catch it in her net.
One day, they turned up and she wasn’t there. They waited and waited but were not allowed to loiter for too long and devasted, returned home.
In the days that followed they walked with tears in their eyes to the bridge and waited.
She was nowhere.
On the twentieth day, they turned to go but as they did so saw something moving and turned back around.
It was a jar in the river with a message.
They ran along beside it until it was stopped by an upturned tree and fished it out.
The message in the jar said I LOVE YOU.
He opened the Unity Box on the table.
It had arrived that morning, sent by Prime Minister Maria Murphy.
Everyone had been sent one.
It was for the Unity Project.
After the 2019 – 2021 disease there had been signs of desertification spreading too fast. Planes had eventually all been grounded indefinitely.
A ten-year Fixed Crossing project had seen the opening of the Gibraltar Tunnel among others. The vacuum left by the planes had been filled by electric trains travelling between continents. And governments had been forced to work together to support the global population financially to avoid further catastrophe.
Ten years after the first new disease there came an even more devastating disease that travelled to all countries and killed millions.
During the first, people had learned to live in smaller spaces and had grown sunflowers and tomatoes and salad greens. After the second, it was clear that without immediate changes, humanity would not survive.
World Leaders had pooled their knowledge together and come up with a mass planting plan – the Unity Project. Drawing on expertise from, let’s call them, seed scientists, they had mapped out the best planting options for each area worldwide. And then each government had commissioned Unity Boxes for every citizen.
Those in flats grew indoor gardens as well as helping plant in the vast number of public spaces that had opened up – including the roads, which had all been grassed over. Some contributed to helping plant living walls outside their windows too. Meanwhile, people with gardens filled them with trees and grew vegetables and fruits and everyone shared what they had among them.
He followed the link on the paper inside the Unity Box at the time stated to open a video chat with the farmer he’s been assigned, Yahya. They waved at each other and smiled.
“Are you ready?” Yahya asked.
“Ready!” he said. And he opened the box.
The company had nearly gone bust in the deep recession that followed the pandemic.
When they’d reached out to employees to help, their employees told them they couldn’t care less, because the relationship had been an abusive one.
So they shuffled some things around and offered senior positions to some of their junior staff and let some of the senior staff go.
Then they offered all employees a stake in the company and a vote on how it was run.
The employees came back.
Together, they pulled the company out of the depths and it became successful for everyone equally.
They were not religious but admired their friends who were fasting during the day, in the heat at home.
So they called a baker and ordered a cake to be made for their friends for Eid.
And on the cake they wrote:
‘We have much to learn from you – happy Eid!’
It was weird suddenly being shut up together in a house of six.
They were four people working for companies and organisations and two academics studying for their PHDs in their mid twenties to mid thirties.
They had decided not to go home to their parents, as most were in their 70s and 80s.
So they decided to eat together each evening and once a week to have a special dinner they cooked together.
They were lucky, they had many friends who were suffering living with housemates that were not respectful.
During that time they became a funny kind of lockdown family.
During the lockdown he learned to make bread.
And he was grateful.
A vaccine was created.
People went to their local polling stations to get it.
Then they went out and changed a lot of things.
And then they were happier.
In the middle of the night
In the middle of the night he heard her screams through the wall as her husband beat her.
He called the police.
She was taken to a new, safe place with her young children.
All in the community helped.
It had not rained for a long time.
At last, clouds gathered, and rain fell.
And they felt pure joy.
The long call followed by three short two-syllable echoes made her think of eagles, which teleported her to another world. A world with forests covering wide, wide spaces and deer and bears and rivers with salmon. She closed her eyes and rested in the other world a while.
The light beam flashed across the blackness of the choppy water. They had made it.
The labyrinth stood on Bodmin Moor, a wild place were beasts were said to roam and ghosts to haunt.
It was built of Cornish hedging, funded by ‘hedge pledges,’ – one of many public planting projects.
It was covered in hundreds of flowering plants.
She walked to its centre and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she was standing in front of a mossy rock near Tintagel. A labyrinth of the same design was carved into it.
There was an out-door museum at the border.
They took the electric train to go and visit it.
They’d heard the centrepiece was an enormous sign.
When they arrived at the outdoor museum they saw the fabled sign at the centre of the gardens that comprised the museum.
NO ENTRY, it said – like an anti-Rosetta Stone.
The plaque beneath it read:
This sign was one of many variations with the same message, as well as similar no exit signs, that were placed at the borders of most countries worldwide at the beginning of the century.
Millions of people died in those years.
It was only afterwards that we saw the healthcare system restored through our contributions and the introduction of Universal Basic Income, the National Carer Service, to relieve people of all the unpaid care they’d put in, and the Unity Project, that saw us all planting trees to heal what we had lost.
They looked at the sign for a while in silence, then moved on to the next exhibit – an original concrete school complete with concrete playground.
Alongside digging for unity and reviving the nation’s immune system – the healthcare system, carer support, and universal Basic Income, there had been other, newer ventures that had taken root.
All schools now had access to nature every day for forest school as well as wellbeing guardians who made sure children had someone to talk to.
Today they were going to plant walnuts at forest school.
‘These are like time capsules but that grow into something we can see above ground in a few years time,’ their teacher said.
Then they were shown how to put their walnut into the soil and put little stakes next to them.
She planted her walnut and wrote ‘George’ on its label.
In the Before Time there were a lot of things that needed changing but everyone was too scared to do anything about it.
Forced inside at the start of the Now Time, they for the first time saw that there was not an infinite amount of time,
So they pooled their ideas together and everyone was assigned a role in changing course.
And that is how we will arrive in the Next Time.
She was alone.
Great sheets of plastic surrounded her in the hospital bed.
Shadows passed behind them –
Doctors in hazmat suits – like something out of the movie E. T.
And then a heart-shape projected onto her bed, made by a red laser pen.
And she knew it was her Dad come to visit.
Reflection was a luxury that those not run off their feet in the hospitals or serving lines of frightened people in supermarkets had time for during lockdown.
Some with time to spare used it to listen to those without it.
And this was the start of a path that would eventually lead to a happier world.
You can travel anywhere in your memories.
Today, she travelled to Angkor, where ancient tree roots wound themselves round the doorways of stone temples. At one temple, further from the grandest of them all and the one with the many stone faces, where there was not a soul in sight.
She perched on the windowsill of the temple, with her knees up to her chest, out of the sticky heat in the shade and breathed slowly and deeply.
And she was happy to be alive.
They had felt alone and been alone, physically.
But really they were alone together.
And alone together they had all they needed to turn the ship around.
And sail to a land where they walk out onto the shore.
And hug each other once again.
A few cities were submerged until only the tops of buildings poked out above the water – like the village that John Piper once captured but on a great scale.
A man still lived on the roof of one of the taller skyscrapers and people brought him food by boat.
The men on screen were sitting suited at each of their desks at home.
Many had important looking books on shelves behind them.
They were busy congratulating themselves over jobs well done by others and talking about what a drag it was to only have a couple of private acres of land each to play golf on alone.
They talked about their wives as if they were their mothers – managing the households and children, always nagging.
‘Susan asked me to do the dishes last night. Imagine! As if I have the time right now,’ one said.
Right at that moment, two women entered his room and asked him to go with them.
Susan appeared on screen in place of her husband.
The men went quiet.
‘Hello,’ said Susan.
And she proceeded to tell the men what needed to be done to save the country from catastrophe.
And then she fired them all.
There had been a time – for most only depicted for them on the series Cadfael, that not many remembered now – when people knew which plants could heal.
And there had been all of the 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution had spat on that knowledge and some of the wise women and men who had known how to use the plants in medicine had been sent to workhouses to work for next to nothing to line the pockets of the wealthy.
Later, women, men and children worldwide worked for next to nothing picking and processing food and clothing to feed, clothe and line the pockets of wealthy people in other countries.
Everyone who had worked close to nature had been identified as more useful elsewhere for someone else’s gain.
But after floods and drought decimated the places that served the wealthy in protected climates, the world’s eyes turned to them and they fell.
People returned to the earth with great spirit and learned the old ways again, led by wise women.
Her Unity Box contained 10 units to grow.
She had a small patio which had needed to be grassed over as temperatures had risen and concrete had become unbearable in cities.
The trees that would grow in the four corners of the small front garden were a crab apple, hazelnut tree, rowan tree and white bean.
She already had back-up walnuts and acorns too.
Next were mushroom spores, tomato seeds, rocket seeds, potato roots, soy bean seeds and carrot seeds.
All the fields had been taken over for grains and rapeseed for oil.
The food to grow to eat she started inside, the tree too.
And by the next summer she had enough to eat.
A tiny hazelnut tree had appeared and, with it, fresh hope.
Yes, I do feel better
One of those telly choir leaders had had the idea of the nation all going out and singing a song on a particular evening.
The BBC loved the idea and asked the public to suggest songs they might like to sing.
Some suggestions had to be taken out but somehow, the song Yes – by McAlmont and Butler made the list.
The nation voted.
Then, at 6pm one Saturday evening everyone went outside and sang:
‘Yes, I do feel better,
Yes I do, I feel alright,
I feel well enough to tell you
What you can do
With what you got to offer…’
Zen and the art of garden maintenance
The flat-ish black-and-white seed, beloved by hamsters, had been placed beneath the soil.
Within a week it had proudly shot up to five inches tall and shed its seedy head to reveal baby leaves that would fall away later.
Soon, it grew so tall that it was moved to the outside.
It was so happy that it grew new leaves and then was joined by more and more sisters.
Up they grew, and grew until they were ready to bloom.
They opened wide and bright.
Everyone who passed them smiled.
Thanks for reading!