The future, writes Philip Ridgers, will bring some good with the bad.
It was early September 2060, and the town of Flotsam was literally in hot water. Tom Williams wiped sweat from his sunburned brow, peered down the hill at a small boat meandering among pale chimneys and mosquito swarms.
‘Poor folk,’ he said, as the boat receded.
‘Nothing to be done though,’ said Dan, his brother. He’d had the sense to wear his black cap that morning.
‘I suppose not,’ Tom replied. ‘Reckon they’ll be back?’
Dan did not bother answering. The Styles family needed to find cows if they had a hope of returning. Most of Flotsam doubted anyone within a hundred miles had come across beef in ten years.
‘Well good luck to them,’ Tom said. He wrung sweat from his brown factory sleeve and wiped his face again. If it’s this hot now, I dread midday. He thought the same thing every day.
‘I s’pose we should get to work,’ Dan said. ‘Pigs don’t kill themselves.’
They turned from the lake that had swallowed Bath a couple of decades earlier, and headed for the town slaughterhouse. Dan whistled as they walked.
‘You’re in a good mood,’ Tom said. He watched his footing, careful not to tread in the copious amount of pig dung that covered much of the town.
‘Well why not?’ Dan asked.
‘We just saw a family of four go to their likely deaths.’
‘They’ve got a chance. The professors gave them a month’s worth of insulin.’
Dan shrugged. ‘It’s all we’ve got. Better than nothing, right?’
Tell that to Anne Styles, Tom thought. All three of her boys had grown resistant to porcine insulin, and their blood sugars were constantly skyrocketing.
Flotsam was primarily diabetic. Some doctors with type one diabetes had made their home in an abandoned MOD site, on the hill of what had been Lansdown in Bath. As the waters rose, someone found it amusing to call the place Flotsam. The name had stuck. They made insulin for themselves from pig pancreases, and diabetics had rushed to the area.
‘Maybe they’ll manage to get some live beef after all,’ Dan said. ‘Dr Shortwick can have the pancreases, the rest of us can eat something different for once.’
‘And the waters will recede, and everything will be fixed,’ Tom said. ‘We’ll walk down to the city centre like we did thirty years ago, when we were kids. Maybe we’ll even go for lunch at the Royal Crescent hotel cos we’ll be rich too.’
‘Sarcasm only buys you an injury,’ Dan replied.
‘All right, save that for the pigs,’ Tom said. They pushed through the doors of a makeshift barn. It was even hotter inside, and the smell was incredible. Men and women were already hard at work, herding squealing pigs into a large room.
‘Oi, Williams and Williams! You’re late,’ shouted Rick. The bald old man was in charge of butchery. Tom wondered why he bothered with a meat cleaver, his tongue could almost lash skin from bone.
‘We were seeing off the Styles,’ Dan said.
‘Grab knives, and use ‘em an extra hour past everyone else,’ Rick said.
‘Balls,’ Dan said, though not loudly enough for Rick to hear. ‘I want to get my Friday started on time.’
‘It’s only fair,’ Tom replied, picking up a long sharp knife. He joined the other workers, waiting outside the room of pigs. Someone pulled a lever, and CO2 stunned the squealing swine.
‘They get a comfier death than most of us,’ Dan said.
‘That’s cos the whole world’s gone to the pigs,’ Tom replied. ‘But they should enjoy it while it lasts.’ Like everything else, Flotsam was low on CO2.
A gong sounded. The workers moved through the doors and among the unconscious swine. Tom grabbed the hind legs of an enormous sow, dragged it onto a table with Dan’s help. He ran his knife across its throat, grimaced as blood poured copiously.
We need more aprons, he thought. He doubted his three minutes of authorised shower time would give him a chance to clean his clothes properly.
Soon, dead pigs were being hacked into their various useful parts. Dan started whistling again as he chopped.
‘You know what tonight is,’ he said.
‘Obvious statement awards night?’ Tom asked. It was the hour of power. Once a month, Flotsam’s mayor allowed residents to draw an hour’s worth of electricity from the grid for entertainment purposes.
‘What shall we enjoy?’ Dan asked.
‘I was thinking a film,’ Tom said. ‘We could invite Bella and Amanda over.’
‘It’ll cost us,’ Dan replied, chopping away. ‘Bella’s had three hypos this month. She’s almost through her glucose rations already, and looking for help.’
‘We’ll just say no,’ Tom said.
Dan laughed. ‘When have you ever resisted her smile?’
Fair point, Tom thought. ‘It’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll persuade her to see the docs, reduce her insulin dose. If she sits nice and still, she’ll be ok. I’ll do the cooking, serve up my world famous regulation bacon, sausage and cabbage.’
‘You convinced me,’ Dan said, his broad chest spattered red. ‘We should watch Toy Story.’
‘That’s almost an hour and a half long.’
‘We’ll just act the first part of it then.’
Tom grimaced. ‘Don’t you dare…’ he began, but it was too late.
‘You got a friend in me,’ Dan sang.
I hate that bloody song, Tom thought. Dan sang it about six times a day. However, Tom seemed to be in the minority. To his horror, other workers started singing along.
In barbershop harmony.
‘You’ve ruined it even more,’ Tom said. ‘When the hell did you find time to rehearse?’
‘Oh come on, it’s catchy,’ Dan replied. Then, he launched into the chorus. Tom tried to frown, but a smile tugged at his mouth. He had to admit, they were rather good. He hummed along in spite of himself. Before long, everyone was singing.
The heat gathered, pig entrails were everywhere, and music covered the town of Flotsam.
Philip Ridgers is a piano teacher and accompanist currently living in Bath. When he’s not busy at a piano, he also enjoys writing. As a type 1 diabetic, it was a natural choice for him to centre his contribution around diabetes. You can judge him for his opinions here.
* This vision was submitted for the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.