Read Toxic Treacle Online

Authors: Echo Freer

Tags: #Young adult, #dystopian, #thriller, #children and fathers, #gender roles, #rearing, #breeding, #society, #tragic

Toxic Treacle (7 page)

BOOK: Toxic Treacle
12.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘What is it?' Angel whispered and leant forward to see for herself.

But Monkey restrained her. ‘Don't look,' he warned. ‘I don't want you to think badly of Tragic's nurturer.' He returned to the window and stared at Jane. The provider reached over and kissed her full on the lips, then pulled away, laughing. Jane was laughing too; her head thrown back in joy. Monkey had never seen her looking so relaxed - and beautiful.

A roar went up and Tragic strode into the crowd. His eyes sparkled in the firelight and he looked happier than Monkey had ever seen him. Everyone raised their glasses and began singing
Happy Birthday
as though he was a bub again. No one sang at graduation parties - and no one drank keg either; they were just about wishing your friends well and giving them a gift to see them on their way on the next stage of their life. But then, Monkey witnessed the most shocking spectacle of all; a pre-nurturer, no older than Tragic, went up to him and kissed him - on the mouth! In front of everybody! And everyone cheered.

Monkey moved away from the window and leant back against the wall, trying to make sense of it all.

‘What's happening?' Angel asked, urgently.

Before Monkey could reply, a deep male voice boomed along the footpath behind them, ‘That's what I want to know!'

The State of the Nation

The laughter and singing ceased and an uneasy silence descended on the birthday celebrations. Apart from the pain in his upper arm where a burly male was holding him tightly, Monkey was acutely aware that he was standing in the midst of a group of people wearing his nurturer's skirt and his sister's childhood dressing-up wig. It was hardly the first impression he might have hoped to make. With his free hand, he snatched the wig from his head and glowered balefully at the provider who held him captive.

‘Monkey! Angel?' Tragic was standing with one arm round the shoulder of a pre-nurturer and a glass of keg in his other hand. ‘What are you doing here?'

Monkey scanned the assembled crowd then shook himself free of the provider's grip. ‘‘Flecting back, cuz.'

Tragic dropped his arm from the girl's shoulder and his eyes darted to Jane and the provider whom Monkey had seen kissing her earlier. It was the male who broke the tension.

‘You must be Mickey; Jane and Trevor have told me a lot about you.' He turned to Angel. ‘And, if I'm not mistaken, you'll be Angelina?'

Angel stepped forward and cocked her head enquiringly. ‘How did you...'

‘I recognise the description,' he gave her a disarming smile. ‘I'm Tom - Trevor's father.'

Monkey recognised his voice immediately; he was one of the providers who had been working in the field the previous night when Monkey had been on his way home: the one who'd been talking about having a ‘big day' and taking someone down the snug for his first legal keg. Then came another voice that was familiar to Monkey, only, when he'd heard it the previous evening out in the field, he'd been unable to place it.

‘Mickey, man! Wozzapp'nin'? What you doin' here?' It was Jumpy, the hyperactive Mooner who'd been sentenced to a spell on The Farm for being caught with a pre-nurturer before he'd graduated.

‘Jumpy?' Monkey was shocked.

‘They call me Noel here. And guess what? I ain't jumpy no more, neither!' he grinned, raising his glass and taking a sip of keg. ‘Edge and Riddler are over there too - only we call ‘em Edward and Roger. We don't do tags here. Good to see you, mate.' He walked off towards the back of the snug where several pre-breeders and pre-nurturers were gathered round a table. One or two of them raised their glasses when they saw Monkey, as though toasting his welcome to the community.

‘They think you've joined us,' Tragic commented.

‘What're they doing here? I thought they went straight from The Farm to the Breeders' Zone?'

Tragic shook his head. ‘There's quite a few Farm escapees in the rurals. They hear what the zones are like from some of the older farm workers and there's no way they're going there. So they make a run for it.'

Monkey was struggling to take it all in. ‘And who's...' he looked at the pre-nurturer who had kissed Tragic but had now moved slightly away from him.

‘Oh, this is Zoë - she's my girlfriend.' He shot Zoë a sideways glance, blushed, then looked at his feet, grinning widely.

‘Girlfriend?' Monkey shook his head in disbelief. ‘First, you're calling Jane,
, and then some guy introduces himself as your father - now you've got yourself a
. What's going on here, Tradge? You've only been away a week and it's like you've turned back time fifty years.'

Tragic shrugged. ‘Well, maybe that's not such a bad thing.'

Monkey slapped his head with his hand. ‘You have got to be raggin' me!'

Tom interrupted and suggested they go somewhere quiet so that Monkey could be offered some explanations. Tragic said his goodbyes to the crowd in the snug, kissed Zoë and told her he'd see her later, then Tom and Jane led them back to the cottage. Jane could barely conceal her consternation that Monkey had returned, so it was Tom who spoke.

He explained that all the adult males in the snug had once been residents of the state zones. They'd started out just like Monkey and Tragic, attending the local school, eager for graduation; many had been in brotherhoods, some had the scars to show for it. Once in the Breeders' Zone, some had continued their education but many had dropped out, doing menial jobs just for the money until they'd bred their offspring and moved on to the Providers' Zone. Here, they spent their days working, evenings watching vids or drinking down the snug and weekends playing sports. They ate, they slept, they drank - a few took solace with the charity-spins - but a substantial number of providers found themselves bored after a while. The old rivalries of the hoods reared their heads from time to time to add spice and excitement but, for many, life lacked any purpose or meaning.

‘Basically, we were all just waiting to move on to The Pastures - and die,' he said.

‘That's what I kept trying to tell you,' Tragic chipped in. ‘It wasn't this Utopia that T.R.E.A.C.L.E. wanted us to believe.'

Monkey looked at Tom, ‘And you're telling me it took sixteen years for the coin to drop?'

Tom smiled. ‘No - about five, actually - and then another couple to get out.' Monkey raised his eyebrows as though to say,
go on
. ‘I was one of the ones who did carry on with my education...'

‘Now, why doesn't that surprise me,' Monkey sneered, trying not to show his disillusionment that everything he'd believed in; had hoped for all his life, was a sham.

Tom went on, ‘I became a teacher...'

‘Figures!' Monkey interjected.

‘...and, seeing the students growing up and moving on, touched something in me. I got to wondering about my own child.' He looked across the room at Jane; there was softness in his expression. ‘And his nurturer.' Tom turned back to Monkey. ‘I wanted to know what they were doing, what my son looked like. I knew Jane had miscarried a couple of times but I didn't know if she'd chosen someone else to breed with after I went on to the Providers' Zone, and it started to eat away at me.' Monkey shook his head as though dismissing Tom as a wuzzle and silently thinking that he could now see where Tragic got it from. ‘One evening, I was playing racquetball with another guy and he told me he felt the same way. And it started from there.'

The men had made contact with the nurturers of their children, publicly at first to avoid suspicion then, when it was clear that there was still attraction between some of them - like Tom and Jane - they continued to meet in secret, Tom going to the house several times a week.

‘So, they were your clothes in the cellar,' Angel observed.

‘Yes, and when Security started to snoop around, we had to get an extra freezer and cut it open so that I could hide down there in case there was a raid.'

‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!' Monkey stood up and began pacing the floor. ‘You're telling me this has been going on for years?'

He turned to his friend. ‘And you didn't think to mention this?'

Tragic looked away guiltily. ‘I didn't know until recently,' he pleaded. ‘But then, when I did find out, I couldn't say anything. Like Dad says, Security was hot and I couldn't risk you letting it slip.'

Monkey snorted. ‘Cheers for the vote of confidence.'

Three clear knocks sounded from the front door of the cottage and the room fell silent. Tragic, Tom and Jane looked at each other anxiously. Tom made a gesture for the others to remain quiet and Jane, clearly agitated, indicated for him to take Tragic, Monkey and Angel to the back of the room behind the screen that separated the kitchen area. Two distinct knocks followed and Jane relaxed slightly and, when a further three knocks were heard, she breathed deeply and went to answer the door.

‘What's going on, Tradge?' Monkey whispered from behind the sheet of fabric that had been strung across the back of the room.

Tom peered round the edge of the screen then, visibly relieved, went out to meet the two males who had entered the cramped room, one wearing women's clothing.

Tragic replied, ‘We're expecting an escapee but you can't be too careful. You never know who might be kosher and who's a spy.'

Monkey heard one of the newcomers speak. ‘Evening, Tom; Jane. This is Karl. We were hoping to find you down The Volte Face, but they said you'd gone. Had you forgotten he was coming out tonight?'

The three pres emerged from behind the screen, startling the two men.

Tom reassured them. ‘It's OK. They can be trusted.'

The man in the skirt and headscarf, who had been introduced as Karl, looked at Monkey's female apparel and shot a look of betrayal at the others. ‘You didn't tell me anyone else was coming out tonight.'

Tom beckoned the three forward. ‘This is Trevor, my son - and these are some friends of his,' he hedged. ‘They are all one hundred percent trustworthy.' He looked directly at Monkey as though daring him to breach his trust. He turned back to Karl. ‘Now, let's get you something to eat and find you a bed. I hope you don't mind sharing with Trevor.'

Karl smiled, relieved. ‘No. It's only for tonight. I'm on my way north to join my kid and his nurturer. Told The Assembly I was transferring to Anglia,' he laughed. ‘That should give me a few days to go to ground before they're on to me.'

Tom smiled. ‘They think I went to Deira: probably still looking for me up there.'

During the course of the evening, Monkey and Angel listened to the others discussing the political situation. With the help of the rebels, providers were leaving their zones in ones and twos; applying for transfers to far-flung towns across the country, then joining the network of underground communities that were springing up in the rurals. Females were allowed to move around freely, so many of the providers and pre-breeders fleeing the regime did so undercover of female garb, much as Monkey and Karl had done that day. Local road traffic barely existed - unless it was by bike or donkey cart. And inter-city travel was by state coach on the motorways, or loco via the capital. The by-roads had long since fallen into disrepair, making travel through the countryside slower but safer than the State-controlled routes.

And, from what the adults were saying, it wasn't just the providers who were turning their backs on the system: nurturers too, tired of raising their offspring alone, were finding obscure, and sometimes manufactured, relatives to go and live with, away from the hood violence that terrorised the towns. The security forces, already stretched, had neither the time nor the personnel to follow up everyone reported missing; many were simply presumed dead, caught up in the crossfire of rival zones and disposed of after shut down. From what Monkey could gather, once a community had been established, the males worked under cover of night so that, should Security or representatives of The Assembly decide to do a random check, the villages were, ostensibly, self-sufficient co-operatives run by nurturers, for nurturers. In the privacy of their communities, however, nurturers and providers worked in partnership to raise their offspring with a balance of both male and female role models and some, like Jane and Tom, even lived together.

As the adults talked, Monkey looked around the room and reflected on his situation. If the hood could see him now, sitting there in a skirt, listening to a provider who must be over two metres tall and weigh nearly one hundred kilos - who was also wearing a skirt, he'd be mocked until he graduated. He didn't know what to make of all this political intrigue he was hearing about. Angel was quite clearly devouring every word, nodding and shaking her head in, what seemed to Monkey, appropriate places. But Monkey's mind was in turmoil. What he was hearing conflicted with everything he'd been brought up to understand and believe. His head felt like a box that was so crammed full to bursting, it hurt with the effort of trying to make sense of it all.

Karl was talking again, alternately wringing his hands and clenching his fists. ‘The nurturer of my lad already had a male bub before we bred. He'd be fifteen now if he was still alive.' He shook his head. ‘Got into a turf war and was mauled to death by dogs. Rotties, Staffs, Dobermans - used them as weapons - a whole pack of them. Didn't stand a chance.' He looked round the group gathered by the fire. ‘No way is that going to happen to my kid. He's ten and she says he's already hankering after revenge.' He dropped his head into his hands. ‘I've got to get to him: talk sense into him before...'

Tom put a consoling hand on his shoulder. ‘We'll get you out, no worries.' He let out an explosive sigh. ‘This madness has to stop - and the sooner the better.'

Karl turned to Jane, the only adult female present, his voice suddenly bitter. ‘All this
crap that The Assembly advocates! Can't they see it doesn't work?
Love the hood and make them good
? All this sickly-sweet philosophy is poisoning society. It's like anything: balance it with a bit of savoury and it's fine but too much and it becomes toxic. Love isn't just about saying
at the end of every sentence: it's about guidance and balance and being there - day and night - even when it's tough. And it's about boundaries and consistency...'

‘It's OK - I'm on your side,' Jane interrupted, clearly taken aback by the way Karl appeared to be making her personally responsible for how the matriarchal society had descended into anarchy.

‘Sorry,' he apologised. ‘I get so frustrated. I've been hearing for years that there was a movement underway to repeal the Segregation Laws but I don't see any changes - not for the better anyway. Do you know,' Karl scanned the room, ‘last week, on my way to work, I saw a provider beaten and kicked to the ground just for looking at some of the hood that were hanging round The Plaza. A grown man! In broad daylight! Forked out every month into the National Maintenance Fund to provide for those ... those...' Karl broke down. The rest of them watched him, uncomfortable in their impotence. Slowly, he straightened up, shook his head and whispered shamefully, ‘And I was too scared to go and help him.'

BOOK: Toxic Treacle
12.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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