To mark the 70th anniversary of George Orwell’s death, you were invited to submit a short story with an Orwellian flavour.
This challenge was inspired by an entertaining thread on Twitter started by @rcolvile who asked for ideas for sequels or spin-offs when Orwell’s work goes out of copyright next January. Among the suggestions that elicited the most ‘likes’ were @NickTyrone’s ‘a sequel to Animal Farm in which all the non-pig animals console themselves with the idea that at least they “won the argument”.’
An honourable mention goes to Nick MacKinnon, whose twist on Nineteen Eight-Four sees Winston consigned to a Room 101 that is the embodiment of his greatest horror, native English culture: ‘a Wetherspoons. Winston felt the carpet cling to his shoes, saw old maids in cycle clips drinking halves of mild after Evensong. A bearded giant turned from the fruit machine. “Not the Green Man!” yelled Winston…’
The winners below snaffle £30 each.
The smell was all wrong, though the Victorian façade stood unaltered but for telescreens promoting Victory Ales. Where once the Moon Under Water had welcomed George Blair with a pleasing musk combining tobacco and several distinguishable ales, now there was only the ammonia and ersatz Alpine freshness of cleaning fluid. Formerly distinct bars had been brutally knocked through, creating one vast gastropub. George, its sole lunchtime customer, ordered a pint of odour-less brown fizz. It came in a handleless glass from a bored youth in a bootlace tie sporting a lapel badge proclaiming him Manager. George glanced at the menu, a little masterpiece of advertising copy whose promises couldn’t have been under-stood, let alone honoured, by the pub microwave. Belching uncomfortably, after the manner of regulars long vanished from the place, George flashed the Manager his card. ‘I’m from the Oceania Pub Company.’ He said, remorselessly. ‘We’re closing you down.’
The Central Barn at America Farm was packed when the now semi-human hog, Trumper, the self-declared King of the Porkies, stood up on his hind legs to ad-dress the animals. On one side were the sheep, his devoted followers, wearing human-style red baseball caps with the initials MAFIA, for his slogan ‘Make America Farm Immense Again’. The sheep were noisy and belligerent, because Trumper had persuaded them that they were actually elephants, but they remained very dim sheep, agreeing with Trumper’s every word. There had been an attempt by the donkeys to dislodge Trumper, but he had explained that since it was good that he was in charge, everything he did had to be good, even if it was bad (he called this ‘trample-think’) and the sheep believed him, chanting their slogans ‘Four Years Good, Eight Years Better’, and demanding that the wife of the old farmer be locked up.
The emporium, saw Winston, was crammed with china memorabilia, sometimes still in its original wrapping. Clothes rails bulged with oddly-ripped jeans. There were rows of shoes, scuffed, occasionally a pair.
‘Golden days,’ said the Head Volunteer. ‘They used to sell these knick-knacks in proper shops. Cheap as chips. Bargains.’
‘But did people actually pay for these?’ asked Winston.
‘Oh yes, they were worth every penny, especially after the Recycling Laws. And you were giving to Charity, too, that was when we cared for the elderly and the poor. Before High Streets were abolished. Oh look you’ve got a Travis CD in your bas-ket, haven’t seen one of those for 20 years.’
Winston clicked on Checkout with his ring-finger.
‘Sale,’ remarked the Head Volunteer, her image vanishing. The drone arrived seconds later, nudging his elbow in an unfriendly manner. No think retro, said its voice, deep in Winston’s synapses. Last warning.
With a resigned sigh George Hargreaves brought up the Egolog page on his screen. He thought for a moment then tapped ‘Why?’ into the search bar. No result found. Egolog could tell you anything you wanted to know but it couldn’t answer a simple question. It would, though, log what he had asked. He switched to Pangloss News. Googazon was delivering a speech. George muted the impermeably bland anthrobotic voice but ran the subtitles: ‘…this world-leading utilisation of human-waste fertiliser means that crop yields are increasing excrementally.’ Excrementally? He hurriedly played the passage back with sound. The spoken word was ‘exponentially’. George’s whole body trembled. Someone, somehow had infiltrated the system. It was an act, however tiny, of subversion. More than that, it was an-other’s footprint in the sand. He gave out an exuberant howl. Whatever else now, he was not alone.
Arthur Stiggs, curator at the National Museum of Art, studied the painting before him. What had so incensed the Minister for Arts to ask for its immediate destruction? He studied the clouds, the trees, all depicted beautifully. Then his eyes were drawn to the main subject, a horse and cart and their driver marooned in a pond. Yes, he could see it now. This image of incompetence would not be tolerated in a society where everyone had their specified job and was expected to do it well. This representation of neglect of common values should not be seen. He could not stand too long, as his every move would be reported, so he made a quick decision. He beckoned a pair of workmen who on his instruction took the painting down. He hoped the cameras would not catch the tears in his eyes as Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’ went to its end.
Your next challenge is to submit a poem in the style of a famous poet in which they make a surprising confession. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 11 March.