Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weirdly prescient? Or just a really corny short story?

Last October I entered a short story competition ran by the Sunday Tribune, in conjunction with Dublin City Council, which was in honour of Bram Stoker. The aim was to begin a short story with a line from Dracula "His eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat." Below is my effort (shockingly, I didn't win. I'm sure you must be finding it difficult to contain your outrage at this injustice).

To be fair, while the writing is hammy and cliche-ridden, it was prescient, considering the events outside the Dail last week during the Right to Work protest . This week's protest passed peacefully, but will we see a repeat outpouring of the people's righteous anger next week? Or was the disturbance only a one-off minor kerfuffle caused by some bearded lefties with too much time on their hands? And will the Gardai remain loyal to the government, or will they begin to have their doubts too?

One Step Away

His eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I flicked up my shield, and through its clear plastic I saw his fingers jar painfully on the hard surface, while my other hand brought down the baton with a solid crack on his skull. The thud of metal on bone shocked me, even on this extraordinary day, and my gloved hand began to slide from the baton’s handle, as his blood slipped between my fingers.
The slightly balding, middle-aged man, dressed sensibly against the cold in a warm overcoat and wool jumper, collapsed heavily back into the mob, hands raised to his fatherly face. He mouthed a soft whimper, inaudible through the roar of the crowd, and then he was gone, his place filled now by another enraged bourgeois rioter; all their respectability washed away in this overwhelming tide of anger.
“Christ” I gasped, less a curse than a prayer for deliverance from my own brutality and the catastrophe I was watching unfold before me; the complete collapse of a nation, the dissolution of a society. To my left I sensed Pauli tense as yet another bottle swung through the air, arcing towards his shield, while Macker to my right heaved against the press of incensed bodies, trying to clear some small space for himself in this sea of rage.
Just a week ago, I would have addressed these people as “Sir” or “Madam” if I had stopped them on the street, now I was drumming them back with almost medieval violence. We were besieged by the most unlikely army; battalions of nurses, architects and IT engineers were hurling themselves against our line, trying to break through and scale the railings behind us. It would have been absurd, were it not for the underlying desperation that drove them; they knew that all was lost, they sought no compensation, no handouts; they merely wanted to hold someone to account, to savor one final, defiantly human act of justice.
Bobbing along the surface of the mob came a lamppost, long, thin metal driftwood in the sea of despair, and we steeled ourselves for its impact.

“Fall back lads!” I heard the Sergeant order from the rear, and our line folded in on itself, each guard slipping in turn through the gate behind us, backwards, always facing the mob, until we could slam the narrow metal door against the howling of the horde, and breathe deeply in this brief moment of relief, as the lamppost clattered impotently against the railings surrounding the gate.
Staring through the bars at the twisted faces and raised fists, I pondered the events of this past week, the week that had ruined my homeland. For months, we had survived with a half-million unemployed, their long lines of wasted ability and still-born opportunity streaming into the welfare offices. We had struggled on after the U.S. firms had pulled out, searching for profit in Poland ’s Limerick or China ’s Kildare. Somehow, we had even continued after the collapse of our banks, as one by one the Irish financial houses were crushed by the weight of their own lies.
Yet last week, the Europeans told us there was simply not enough to go round, someone in this ever-closer union would have to lose out. The final decision came down to a choice between saving Greece or saving us. Greece won.
We had dropped so far in the world’s eyes, first through our hubris and self-congratulation, and then through our chicanery and book-cooking, that we were considered more risky than a country that once had a junta, less commercially viable than a country where anarchists are part of the political mainstream.
And so Brussels pulled the plug; no more pay for our nurses and teachers, who were asked to be patriotic and work for free. We could not feed our prisoners, so the jails were emptied and the convicts let loose onto the streets. The hospitals went dark; the buses sat, decaying, in their stations; the desperate lines outside the embassies of the rich grew longer, as thousands hoped for escape in Australia , Canada or the U.S. And still, the government did nothing; they did not plan, they did not promise, and worst of all, they did not lead.
So it was inaction, rather than action, which had set flame to fuse, which had roused this righteous anger among the ordinarily meek, an anger which must be vented, must be sated by some small act of vengeance.
I stood behind those railings, watching my lovely city burn, seeing the crowd boil with rage, and wondered at what point would duty be overtaken by justice? When would I throw down my shield and join the ranks of the betrayed?

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