I don’t remember when it first started. I was too young…young and innocent. I remember my sister crying and telling my brother that she missed our parents, and that she never thought she would have to raise me raise me in all this.
On the morning of August 12th, 2025, we sat at the breakfast table eating a familiar, yet unsatisfying meal of rationed porridge. I wished for something sweet as I swallowed the gruel that tasted like sawdust and wallpaper paste. We were given 250 grams of sugar and 150 millilitres of golden syrup three Christmases ago, although no one called it ‘Christmas’ anymore; now it was called ‘Giving thanks to our humble comrades day’, or that’s what it translated to in English.
I looked down at the grey mess in my plate and sighed. Everything looked grey nowadays: my clothes, the city, the people’s faces as they hurried fearfully along the streets.
My sister, who had been reading the daily newspaper, looked up at me as I pushed away my plate.
“Is there something up Annie?” she asked as she reached for her tea.
“No.” I mumbled.
The atmosphere in the apartment was so taught. My brother and sister were quiet as they sipped their tea. Hah, tea. It was as close to tea as this porridge was to a Sunday roast with gravy and potatoes. Grey, watery, cold, gritty ditch water more like. They used to talk when they ate…they used to laugh, but now eating was such a strained affair, like everyone wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible but not look like they were rushing. Every rustle of the newspaper sent my brothers eyes darting around the room to settle finally on the window.
“Eat some more breakfast Annie, please” Ruby said as she pushed the plate back towards me.
“…do we have any oats left? Any real oats?” I asked hopefully
“No.” Ruby said sharply as she looked at me, the edge of warning in her eyes.
“What about the ones you hid behind the cupboard?” I continued “Are they really all gone? I just want some-”
“Annie! That’s enough.” Michael said loud and firm, making me jump.
I looked at him as he glared at me before looking back into my lap. My thick woollen skirt itched. I rubbed my legs but my woollen gloves made it itch even more. I’m not quite sure why, but I felt tears start to well up in my eyes. I just felt so wretched.
I shoved my chair backwards with a screech and ran out of the dining room to my bed room.
“Annie! ANNIE!” Ruby called before giving up.
I ignored her and flew up the stairs. I ran inside my dark room and closed the door. I drew back the curtains and looked out at the sooty, hazy, dark city that had once been called London. Now it was called ‘Bezmelnizingrad’, named after Alexe Bezmelnizin. Ugly name. For a person and a city.
I sighed and stepped away from the window. I felt so betrayed. This regime had taken everything from me: friends, colour and now my brother and sister. I could see them and their individuality crumble; a tiny piece of them disappeared each day. It was their hope. This life style, it was like a cancer turning people against each other. When I was little my siblings never yelled at me, but now their tempers grew short and their spirits dimmed like a lamp running out of oil.
I remembered Mr. Simmons from down the street. He used to tell people things when no one from the party was looking. Then one day some people in a black van came and wrestled him out of his house and into the van. That was almost four years ago and no one had heard or seen anything from him.
I wiped away the tears and searched for Lellow, a grubby old stuffed giraffe that used to belong to my mother. I found him under my bed and sat cross legged in the middle of the floor, hugging him close. It was cold. The tears on my face had made my cheeks cold. I looked at lellow and sniffed. I turned him over in my hands; he used to be yellow but now he had turned a pull white, his brown splotches dirty and worn. As I turned him over in my hands I noticed one of his seams was torn slightly and a little thread of stuffing poked through the hole. I stuck my finger gently through the hole and suddenly noticed that the inside of the seam had a tiny bit of colour left on it. It was pale but it was definitely yellow. I smiled. If Lellow could hold a bit of colour inside him then I guess I could to. I moved to my bed and laid down.
I awoke to the sound of a car backfiring and a dog barking wildly. The room was dark. Ruby and Michael were probably at work as no one had come to wake me. Michael works in an engineering company that makes car motors and other bits of hardware on an assembly line. Ruby works at one of the party bookshops, selling party approved literature of course. They keep asking when I will get a job but I always change the subject when they bring it up.
I walked downstairs and boiled the kettle for a cup of tea. I lit the stove and put the kettle on the old iron hole at the top. I opened the tea tin and scooped out a small spoonful of dried, gritty leaves. While I opened the old, cracked tea-pot there was a knocking sound from the front door. I jumped and turned around, fearful of whom it might be. I walked to the end of the hall, the front door looming ahead of me, the shadow of the visitor obscured by the tinted glass.
I almost didn’t open the door but I heard the voice of my friend Lucy sound from the other side of the wood.
“Annie, open up, it’s Lucy” she said knocking loudly again.
“Oh, you frightened me” I said as I pulled open the door to see her standing, shivering in the hallway.
“Let me in, I’ve got something to show you.”
I stood aside and let her walk in. Her coat was bunched up around her as she shivered. A grey scarf was wrapped tightly around her neck. She clutched her chest like something was hidden under it.
“What is it?” I asked curiously.
“Close the door, quickly, quickly” Lucy said as she hurried into the living room.
I was puzzled by her change of demeanour. She was usually so solemn and secretive but now she was excited and unreserved. I watched her stride inside and then closed the door, looking outside into the gloomy corridor outside before I did so.
“Well?” I asked as I joined her in the living room.
“No one was behind me?” she asked as she lowered her voice.
“No, why? What?”
“Look at this” she said as she reached into her coat.
She produced a large, hardcover book. She cleared a space on the coffee table by the armchairs and placed it squarely down on it. She sat down in front of the coffee table and looked up at me. I sat down to and looked at the book.
“En-cy-cle-pe-dia Bri-tan-ica” I said as I read the cover.
“Look inside” Lucy said eager as she opened the book.
“Lucy…this doesn’t have a party approval sticker” I breathed as I ran my hand over the empty first page “this…is an unlawful collectible!”
“I know” she replied as she smiled slyly as me.
“Where did you find it? How did you find it?”
“I can’t say right now” she said as she waved a hand at my questions.
“Why not?” I asked indignantly.
She ignored me and flipped through the book’s pages. You should have seen it! A galaxy of colour exploded from the pages. Illustrated pictures came to life in front of my eyes; pictures of furred creatures and battles, ships, clouds, far away fields, it was like magic.
“Oh my god!” I said as a pressed a hand against my open mouth.
“I know” Lucy said with a grin “we could get into a lot of trouble for having this.”
“We could get into SO MUCH trouble!” I said, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages as I flicked through them once more.
“Come on” Lucy said snatching up the book “let’s go and show Georgia!”
I caught her arm and said fearfully “No, I don’t want to, what if we get caught…”
“We won’t get caught!” Lucy said shrilly.
Half an hour later we were stealing through the alleys and dirty streets of the city like a pair of rats. I felt so exposed and open. I felt like a mouse running across an open field, the chance of being swooped on by a hawk now very real.
Our footsteps echoed along the cobble stones.
“Come on, hurry, we’re almost there” Lucy breathed as we ran.
I suddenly looked in horror as a figure materialised from around the corner of the street. I felt a bolt of cold lightening thunder through me as I saw Lucy, who was looking at me, crash into the figure. She hit them so hard, they both went tumbling down.
I ran up and nearly fainted with fright as I recognised the red uniform of a Party officer. He sat rubbing his knee in the dust, while Lucy sat clutching her head. I gasped as I realised that the book Lucy had been hiding was now lying open on the street.
My terror increased as I saw the officer straighten and lock his eyes on the book. He was a party member so spoke with a thick, proud Russian accent. On his helmet was a long bird plume.
“What is this?” he barked, his face now angry and disbelieving.
He picked up the book and looked at it as though it was a piece of soiled garbage.
“This is illegal material!” he said as he dropped the book “You are both under arrest.”
He grabbed hold of Lucy’s arm so suddenly and roughly that she squealed. I looked at her helplessly as the Officer fumbled for a pair of hand cuffs on his belt. Lucy’s eyes were filled with panic and terror.
“RUN ANNIE!” she cried as she kicked the Officer in the shin.
He yelled in pain as I turned and ran back down the street. A primal need to escape had filled me right up. Nothing mattered anymore, not Lucy, not the book just my need to escape. I ran until my legs felt weak. I didn’t dare turned back although the Officer’s shouts of rage and Lucy’s screams echoed and followed me all through the dark alleys.
I stopped in front of a brick wall plastered with Party propaganda and panted. I was about to continued when I suddenly hear a gunshot ring out from about a mile away. I froze. I wished there were no buildings in the way so I could see. My stomach fell three feet. I sank to my knees and tried to weep as quietly as I could.
Six months later, no one had seen Lucy. No one had heard her laugh and her parents had given up hope. I was sitting in my bedroom, on the wide sill beneath the window when I noticed a red figure. I sat up and focused on the bright purple bird plume that now threaded its way along the street.
Before I could realise what I was doing I was rushing to the downstairs cupboard. I was fishing the keys from their ‘secret’ hiding place behind the dresser. I was opening the draw Michael had told me never to go near. I was feeling the cold surface of the .45 Revolver. I remembered Michael’s words in my head, telling me never to touch the gun in the cupboard. That it was just there for an emergency. In case any members of the opposition broke in and “burned the place down”.
I closed the draw and ran outside, tucking the gun into the pocket of the coat I grabbed from the hallway. I tried to slow my breathing as I spotted the red uniform moving along the end of the street.
Before I could think, I was running after it, trying to hide my face but still keep an eye on my target. Every day for the past half a year, I had been thinking what I’d do if I ever saw that Officer again. Now I was living it.
I watched the Officer as he strutted proudly down the street, turn into a small side road. There was no one in the small space between the buildings so I hurried and followed him.
I don’t remember the exact moment when I pulled the trigger. Maybe because I closed my eyes. All I remember is the Officer being alive, and then he wasn’t. When I opened my eyes, he was lying on the dirty ground, a gaping hole blow through the side of his face.
For weeks I had longed to hear the sound of the gunshot that would kill my best friend’s murderer. I had wanted to see him bloody and broken. But now that I was here, all I could feel was the heat of the gun in my hand, the gun that was still smoking. All I could smell was the Officer’s blood that was now painting the pavement a sickening red. All I could see was the piece missing from his face. All I could hear was the gunshot over and over again…and all I could feel was hate.
This regime has taken everything. My parents, my brother and sister, the joy in my life, by best friend…and now it’s taken me.