by Leo Gillard
Annie woke up to the sound of an emergency alert on her phone – the screen lit up, the ever familiar sound of an alarm played. The proximity of the strike was three miles, enough to justify hurrying everyone into the shelter at five in the morning. Normally those things were accurate, but sometimes the intended target was a little too hard to hit. Better safe than buried.
Three hours later, the air strike had ended. The planes were gone – for now – but they’d probably be back soon enough. In place of the alert, there was a simple audio message from President Shala: a short message of solidarity, of thanks. She commemorated a year of bravery, a year of sacrifice, and hoped that the coming months would bring them closer to victory. She implored everyone to hang on a little longer.
Hearing it, Annie was reminded of some of the history classes she’d had just under a year ago. They’d referred to a war, so many years in the distant past, where soldiers and their families had been told on the outset that they’d all be home for Christmas.
Annie didn’t remember the name of the war – it had been an anecdote, nothing more. Maybe the war didn’t even have a name all these years in the future. The point her teacher was making had been one of comparison: there was no such promise for this war. It stretched on with seemingly no end, and no one pretended it had much of one either. Doing so would just be lying.
That was why, when the recruiters came round, Annie answered the door. Previously, she always turned them away; she wasn’t even eighteen when the war began, and when the second recruitment drive started she still hadn’t left school. Her mother was the one to turn them away, saying there were no eligible people in the household, that she and her wife had already sent two sons off to who knows where.
But this time, she answered the door. There were two recruiters there, standing two paces away from the doorstep. They always did that, though Annie hadn’t yet been able to work out why. They must have been trained to do this, and somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered if they were being paid and what having a job like that was like.
“Good afternoon!” the one slightly further forward said. “We’re here as part of the year two recruitment drive for the armed forces. Would you consider letting us talk to you about this?”
Annie was fairly sure that her mothers would want her to turn them away. They’d given up enough already, she supposed. But at the same time…she’d been thinking about it.
It had been a year since the war began. A year since nearly a quarter of the students in her classes went home, leaving the school for good; some of them just left the city, returning to where things were a little safer. Some of them hadn’t given any notice of withdrawing. Some of them had been forced out of the country. They hadn’t really been allowed to talk about those people. It was a shame: some of them had been really lovely people.
It had been a year since the curfew was instituted: no one was to be out past ten. The first week, it hadn’t seemed like a big deal. An overreaction, maybe, but it wasn’t too bad. But ten was startlingly early when public transport was frequently suspended due to air strikes, or when you got caught up in the moment with friends and had to cut time short or overstay your welcome.
It had been a year since rationing began. Rationing of electricity (bad in the summer when it was hot) and heating (bad in the winter when it was cold). Rationing of chocolate, or sugar. Of meat that Annie hadn’t even realised was imported. It felt less like the rationing of luxuries and more like the rationing of so many little pieces of joy she’d never even thought about missing.
It had been a year since her brothers left. A year since the world had started falling apart with no warning and with no sign of stopping. It had been a long, long year.
‘Sure, go ahead.’ Maybe, just maybe, her efforts could help them avoid another anniversary.