Selected

Most mornings were the same back then. I woke up, I had breakfast, I got dressed and went to school. 5 days a week, every week for 8 years. The morning in question was just another one of those. 1 Wednesday in 1 week out of 52, but when I close my eyes I can remember it all like it was yesterday. 

I can taste the corn flakes and fresh milk I had for breakfast, I can smell the toast and coffee my father was eating as he sat at the breakfast table across from me, I can hear the morning radio playing away to itself.

I can see the puppy-dog eyes Robbie, our dog, was giving me as he tried to guilt me into stealing him a piece of toast from my father’s plate.

I can hear the shower getting switched on upstairs and my sister wandering from room to room singing to herself as she busied herself getting ready for school.

Most of all though, I can hear my mother’s weeping. Over the radio, over my sisters singing, her weeping drowns it all out. I can see her face as she appeared at the kitchen door mumbling to herself through streams of tears, holding in her hands a blood red envelope.

I can hear the smash of my father’s coffee cup hitting the floor. I can sense the panic from Robbie as he scattered and scampered out the kitchen in fear.

I can see the deep, black lettering of my name on the envelope and I can see my mother’s eyes, bloodshot and haunted as she laid it down on the table in front of us all.

Dear Brandon,

As you are aware, since the enactment of the Bardow Selection (Scotland) Act 2024, all citizens of Scotland can be selected at random to become recipients of Dame Yanzi Bardow’s life enhancing medicine. It is estimated, but not guaranteed, that the medicine will increase life expectancy of the lucky recipient by an additional 50-80 years.

The legislation states, in line with the Transan Global Agreement 2024 (TGA ’24), any Transan Government introducing the use of the Bardow medicine must take appropriate steps to regulate the population of the country. Where a country does not take these steps, appropriate action will be agreed upon by the Transam High Court, Washington DC. To ensure Scotland adheres to the conditions set out by the TGA ’24, all citizens of Scotland can be selected at random to to be terminated.

I am writing to advise that you have been selected for termination.

Please accept my apologies to your family for this inconvenience, however I am delighted to advise they will be provided with a Government grant of £500 which can be used to part-fund your funeral proceedings.

Within 5 working days you will receive, by drone delivery, a package which you can inject to carry out the termination. Further details can be followed in the attached guidance document ‘How to administer your terminal injection‘.

If you have not carried out the termination within 5 working days of receiving the package we will take swift and appropriate action against you and your next of kin.

I thank you for your sacrifice and know you will join me in wishing the recipient of the Bardow medicine, Lord Morton Brown MBE OBE, well for his extended future.

THUG SI A BEATHA AR SON A TIRE, FUAIR SI BAS AR SON A TIRE

Yours,

William H Ferguson, Minister for Population and Environmental Control

I stood rooted to the spot, staring at that word. “Terminated”. A cold chill took over me and the room seemed to dim in colour. My stomach churned as the floor beneath me began to tilt. I felt like I was being spun round a kaleidoscope of greys and blacks. I couldn’t even take in the commotion around me. Mother had passed out on the floor next to me, my Father and Sister were fussing around her bringing her back to consciousness.

“Brandon?”

“Brandon??”

My Father’s hand gripped my shoulder tightly from behind. Still stunned and wobbly, I allowed myself to be spun around and pulled tightly into his embrace. His chest bobbed my head up and down as he quietly sobbed whilst simultaneously gripping me tighter and tighter as if he could squeeze away what the Government had decided on for his son. “It’s OK” he mumbled, maybe more to himself than me “I’ll do something about this.”

Since it’s commencement 5 years ago, every single recipient of the Bardow medicine had been some old, rich, white person. Whether a man or woman, they always had some initials after their name or had some connections to the Scottish Parliament or Scotland’s Royal Family.

We weren’t living in the slums, but we weren’t eating caviar every night either. I saw how hard my Mother and Father worked to provide for us every single week. My Father worked his job as a freelance journalist well into the evening most nights, sometimes starting his morning before the milkmen woke up. My Mother juggled three different jobs across the week including cleaning toilets every Saturday morning at our local leisure centre. Much of my Saturday morning social media mentions consisted of me being tagged in a recently used toilet with a witty message about my Mother cleaning up after them.

After the first couple of years of the medicine lottery we didn’t really take much notice of it. Media coverage tended to focus on celebrating whatever privledged person had become recipient of another 50-80 years on this dying planet. We didn’t really think it was ever anything that would ever affect us.

Of course, the person who the media now referred to as ‘the leveller’ i.e. the poor person selected for termination was always someone from a poor or working class background. A 46 year old joiner, a 25 year old Polish bus driver, a student nurse placed here in an exchange agreement with the German Government, a 17 year old black girl who had gathered a large following online through her brilliant songs addressing social issues in the country. And now me. A 17 year old mixed race kid from a working class background with two hard working parents who have only ever tried to live well and provide for their family. It stunk. Selected at random, yeah sure.

We sat together around the kitchen table and agreed to try to go have a normal day, the bills didn’t stop needing paid just because we’d received this. We’d talk again tonight, a bit of time would give us all an opportunity to try to think a bit clearer.

I opened our front door and was immediately blinded by a flash from a giant, remotely operated camera, it was sat on a tripod on large, all terrain wheels. Some journalist obviously didn’t have the balls to brave the outskirts of Edinburgh so had instead decided to send in the machines. Unfortunately, the camera wasn’t alone. Around 10 or 12 drones zoomed around above my head, each one with voices shouting questions at me as they swooped down towards me at increasing speed. With the focus on keeping my head remaining on my shoulders, I jumped back into the house and shut the door.

The following day was worse. Our whole family had been plastered across the media’s 24/7 breaking news ticker for much of the day and night. Sat holed up in the house we spent most of our time staring at eachother and consoling my Mother. That was until the next breaking news of the day exploded onto the screen.

The reporter stood in front of a grey stone pathway with a professionally trimmed garden running up either side of it. In his face you could see the reflection of blue and red flashing. As he tried to speak he was knocked sideways by a line of black-clad men wearing helmets and thick vests. SPS was emblazoned across the back in bright yellow and white reflective material. The reporter returned back onto the screen and began to describe the scene.

A hostage situation was ongoing and he had been told that the Special Police Scotland branch had surrounded the house and were believed to be attempting to negotiate with a lone combatant. Just as he was about to explain where the location was, my phone exploded with WhatsApp notifications. 20 or so urging me to click a link. Distracted from the TV, I clicked the link and was taken to a streaming site I didn’t recognise.

What I saw, I couldn’t comprehend. What looked like a balaclava’d man was stood in a large living room with a camera trained on him. A small older man, clearly terrified, was perched down in front of him with the butt of the man’s gun placed to his head.

With a large intake of breath my family were suddenly around me, eyes fixed on my phone too. The TV had been muted as we huddled round watching the small screen.

“I am the rich man’s nightmare.” the man bellowed. “for too long they’ve taken from us and filled their own egg timers to the brim. Lord Morton Brown. This privileged, rich, white, 76 year old man here has been randomly selected to receive the Bardow treatment.” for a second he had released the gun from the terrified man’s head to accentuate air quotes when he had said the word random. At this movement the older man had cowered and screamed.

“For the first time in your life, my privileged friend” he continued looking down at the top of the man’s head “you have been incredibly unlucky. Not only have you been selected to receive the Bardow medicine but you’ve also been randomly selected by me, the Reaper.. ” the word random triggered air quotes and a scream again “…for execution. This is for you Brandon.”

A pop filled the air. The older man slumped to the ground out of the grip of the masked man. Red spilled from the top of his head. The masked man walked towards the camera, he held up a piece of paper with the phrase “#forBrandon” and the stream turned to static.

The Book Assignment

After another round of aimlessly running his index finger along the dusty row of books, Thomas sighed and slumped down in the uncomfortable plastic chairs which were dotted around the school library. He was running out of time now, the library closed at 4pm and it was pushing 3.40pm. He had been here since lunch time and was yet to find anything he was remotely interested in.

Mr Graves had been clear about the assignment. Pick a non-fiction book, preferably an autobiography, written about someone you’ve never heard of. The 3 month assignment then required pupils to read the book, do some follow-up research then submit a report to Mr Graves about who the person was and what you’d learned about them. Tomorrow, Thomas would be required to tell Mr Graves the book title and subject, right now he was looking at failing the assignment before it had even began.

His friends had been so excited to come along to the library after class had finished. They were all having a great time picking out all sorts of weird and wonderful titles, laughing at the strange characters who adorned the front covers. Mrs Mayer, the head librarian, had warned them that if she’d heard anymore laughing and shouting when there were people trying to study they’d all be banned for a month. She explained to them in great length how she she’d happily tell Mr Graves why none of them could complete their next English assignment. As their heads dropped and they apologised in whispered grunts and shrugs, she returned to her task of stamping a large pile of returned books with a smug look of satisfaction on her face. This ticking off had resulted in the group grabbing books in the ‘biography’ section of the library at random and trudging out one after the other like a conga line of extras from Night of the Living Dead.

Thomas, though, couldn’t find anything that interested him. That’s why he’d decided to use his free afternoon to find something and someone he could get lost in. He had an obsessive behaviour type and he felt there was no use spending 3 months researching, reading and probably obsessing about someone if they’re as dull as dishwater.

Sat there, drifting off into thought, Thomas cursed Mr Graves. Why couldn’t they have done what his brothers class had done only 2 years ago? That would have been so much better. They had each got to pick a book and research someone they classed as their hero. Thomas’ brother, Barry, had ended up actually meeting his hero, footballer and infamous granny-botherer Wayne Rooney, after messaging him on the social media site Twitter to tell him all about the assignment.

These thoughts vanished suddenly as Thomas was jolted backed into the present when the library bell rang out to signal 3.45pm.

“15 minutes children! grab your books and bring them to me at the desk” announced Mrs Mayer.

She pursed her lips and seemed to be making a particular point of looking directly at Thomas. He acknowledged her with a nod of the head and pushed himself out of the small, uncomfortable chair. The plastic arms clung to his thighs as he tried to make his way out of it, almost as if to try to coerce him into sitting back down again. He shrugged it off and gave it a little kick back under the small desk.

He had been sat opposite the ‘autobiography’ section and as he stood up the pitch-black spine of a book caught his eye. It was tucked in between 2 brightly coloured books which each had small square pictures of their subject with bright, witty titles dancing down the sleeves. This one, however, was completely black. He placed his finger on the top of the spine and gently pulled it out, blowing the dust off the front cover. It was completely black. No title, no author – just black. He flipped it over to check out the blurb on the back, but to his surprise the back was the same as the front – completely blank, pitch black. This was clearly odd but it was also really intriguing to Thomas. The mysterious cover had drawn him in, he needed to find out more. His quiet surroundings and the ticking clock evaporated as all he was concerned with at that moment was opening the first page and finding out more. His eyes danced across the page as he took in the introduction.

“My name is Frank McQueen. I’m 25 years old and I’m a Newark native. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve walked up and down these streets my whole life, as a kid and as an adult. If you’ve lived here and walked these streets too, we’ve probably bumped into each other once or twice. But, you wouldn’t know me. I’m no-one. No-one has ever given me a second look. I’m a boring-looking average Joe. I look like every other dumb schmuck who sleepwalks his way through his life from being a gormless kid beat up at school to suffering through some dead end job to make ends meet. No-one will remember me. No-one.”

Wow, thought a dejected Thomas. That’s about as boring as it gets. That’s the dull dishwater he was looking to avoid. Mr Graves had said they should look for a book that would challenge them. Thomas thought the only thing challenging about this book would be staying awake to read it.

“Ouch!!” shrieked Thomas. Pain radiated between his shoulder blades as something piercing struck him and burrowed into his muscles. He spun, switching his focus from the words on the page of disappointing mystery book to the cause of the pain. Mrs Mayer was stood staring down at him, hands on her hips, lips pursed like she was sucking on a lemon with a solitary long red nail pointed directly at him.

“2 minutes Thomas.” she squawked. “Some of us have homes to go to you know.”

He looked down and realised, in his haste, he had dropped the black book at his feet when he had been prodded in the back by the stuffy librarian. As he reached down to pick the book up with the intention of disappointingly putting it back on the dusty shelf, he noticed it had landed open on the following page from where he had been reading. Putting Mrs Mayer and her oddly sharp, painted talons to the back of his mind, he read on.

“My name is Frank McQueen. I’m 25 years old and I’m a Newark native. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve walked up and down these streets my whole life, as a kid and as an adult. If you’ve lived here and walked these streets too, we’ve probably bumped into each other once or twice. If you’re a dirtbag, a scumbag peddling drugs to our kids or fancy yourself as some kind of kingpin, well we’ll have definitely bumped into each other. You’d know me. I’m the guy you met in the dark. The guy who made you rethink your career choices. I was your worst nightmare. I’m the man they called the New Jersey Devil and I stalked the streets of our great city from 1982 to 1987 wiping scum face-first from the earth. This is my story.”

“Wow” said Thomas out loud into the silent room. He grabbed his bag from his feet and ran to the check out desk. Mrs Mayer sucked her teeth and tutted as he snatched the book back from her and flew out the library door in a haze of excitement.