Fiction: Chapter 1 OAK by Tim Bragg

             August 23rd  2009

Oak book cover

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Rowan woke startled from sleep. Her blood petrified. It was – the still small hours; it was – the rap on the door they had, deep down perhaps, been long expecting.
Oliver pushed his chair away from the dead-screened computer and bending his head through the low doorframe stepped into the kitchen. He’d been working very late and tried to brush tiredness from his eyes. Stone flagging carried his footfall to the farm’s main entrance. Taking a deep breath and holding the handle of the door, asked, ‘Who is it?’ (As if he didn’t know.)
‘Open up,’ came the dark reply, ‘or we’ll batter the door down.’
‘Who is it?’ Oliver repeated, with some courage.
‘Police. Open Mr Holmes. Immediately. This is your last chance.’
Oliver tentatively undid the catch, slowly turning the handle. The “castle gates” gave very easily. Almost as soon as he’d begun to open the door, a clutch of armoured policemen (possibly also policewomen) barged in. Oliver was pushed aside and slammed against the white plaster of the lobby’s cob wall. Rowan began to descend the stairs.
‘Stay back,’ a lighter voice instructed. ‘Stay where you are.’
‘What is this, what’s going on?’ Rowan called.  More police entered. Lights blazed outside the farm. A petite, armour-clad officer was motioned in Rowan’s direction. Sprightly this officer climbed the lower stairs. A truncheon shaft exploded from its handle and was thrust towards Rowan’s face. Though he couldn’t see, Oliver sensed what was happening. The policeman who held the truncheon at Oliver’s neck kept silent – Oliver could not see the man’s eyes through the dark tinted visor. Could only hear the shouting of the other officers as they barked orders through the baying pack. Rowan continued to protest but in subdued tones.
‘Are you arresting me?’ Oliver spat towards the alien shaped helmet.
The alien did not reply. Oliver could only see his own dark reflection in the visor – the officer’s body was eyeless – not of this world. The tips of Oliver’s fingers tingled, and his hands shook – his tongue felt dry and he swallowed with difficulty.
A few moments later Oliver witnessed his computer being carried past. Magazines, folders, office debris following.
‘What are you looking for? You can’t do this. I have rights…’
Did the Helmet snigger?
‘What is it I’m supposed to have done?’
An officer carrying a pile of cardboard backed folders paused in the entrance hall. ‘You and your fucking lot,’ his voice began, ‘are trouble-fucking-making scum. You understand? You’ll be charged soon enough. We’ll be taking you to the station in due course. We know all about you and the kind of filth you write. Your type breeds hatred. If you know what’s best – keep it buttoned.’
‘Charging me? What with?’
‘Public Order,’ came the half reply.
The officer had his visor pushed open. Oliver looked into his eyes. Their blue was metallic and cold. How was it, he thought, that this man, this stranger could hold such views upon him? How did “they” know about him? His fame had long since dried up, been wafted into the billowing clouds passing over the southwest and deposited far out to sea. He was a no-body, a family man, an animal rescuer and small-time organic farmer. And…
Yet part of him relished this vitriol he was receiving – if he had been younger – if he hadn’t had a wife and children…well then…Thank God Jenny was not at home. For her to see this. In their house. In their village far removed from it all. He had tried to keep her and Ben safe. But “they” had come to his house – sniffed him out. They were hunting down every dissident, it seemed. But Oliver also carried a smirk on his face – the kind of smirk teachers hate. And the officer would have liked to wipe it right off. The visor came down and Oliver’s sight was blocked – his tentative bravado evaporating.
‘Keys,’ a voice called. Somewhere else there was the noise of glass smashing. Rowan called out but it sounded to Oliver as if she had been physically shut up.
‘What are you doing to my wife?’
The officer ignored him, taking the keys from another visor-clad accomplice. ‘What are these for? Come on,’ the blank-faced officer shouted.
Oliver felt confused, was thinking about his wife…He bent his head to study them and the officer whisked them away. ‘Well?’
‘One of the sheds outside…we keep animals, you’ll disturb…please don’t…’
‘Outside,’ the helmet shouted. The “alien” that had forced him back against the cold cob relaxed its pressure. Oliver sank down the wall glad that he was not being pinned by the truncheon. 
There were sounds of doors slamming and shouts from around the house. What had he actually done? What were they looking for? Perhaps they had nothing. Perhaps it was bluff and intimidation. The loose Green Alliance he was in contact with (still) – had they had trouble? There had been the recent raids on farms not so far away (but far enough) and those opposed to the Union. (Sometimes it was enough of a crime to breed a pig and slaughter it oneself – then feed it to friends or family.) Thoughts raced across Oliver’s mind. The officer had said something about what he wrote…was that it? And all the time he worried about Rowan but each time he called out he was quickly silenced. Thankfully the eyeless, cold, visor wearer did not force its truncheon against Oliver’s throat.
There was no escape. There was no peace. The mythographers were wiping out the national memory – it would only be a matter of time before England’s resistance collapsed (so he thought, pessimistically). Perhaps he was too dangerous as someone who witnessed. Recalled. Wrote things down. But that was all he was doing – wasn’t it? Perhaps society could and would not bear to support writers who wrote freely and against the system – against the state and the Union. But it was stories he wrote – fiction for Christ’s sake. Were they now entering an age of book burning? What kind of joke was this?
Oliver stood by helplessly as his office was emptied. There was his life. Diaries, notes – there was his unfinished novel, in first draft. Four years of work. Four years of snatched time from his family and farm. And there were his published articles and Fables. Thinking quickly, palms sweating and head throbbing he could only imagine that his Fables were what they were after – fiction being even more dangerous. But they couldn’t be. Was it an offence to read alternative Green or radical political magazines? Had things got that bad? The alien kept him held back. The officer who had insulted him stepped inside again from the cold morning light. Was fact imitating fiction? Oliver thought of his Fables…
‘Have you a warrant?’ Oliver heard himself ask. It took all his courage to force out the question. The officer’s presence almost choked the words in his throat – almost kept them lodged in his brain. The question sounded limp and pathetic.
The officer nodded. ‘Under the Public Order Act 2006, Section 23.’ It came as a lifeless drone.
‘What’s that?’ Oliver asked involuntarily.
The officer eyed Oliver suspiciously. ‘If you’re charged you’ll find out. Got something to hide? You want to tell us something? Or do you want the rest of your house gone through?’
‘Hide?’ Oliver said. Had he got something to hide? Were his Fables dangerous? Was he guilty – did he deserve what was happening?
‘But has someone complained about me, something I’ve written?’
‘You’ll find out.’ To the “alien” holding Oliver against the wall the officer said, ‘Let him go. We’ve got everything we need.’ The “alien” stood back a pace. Oliver crumpled forwards. At the same moment Rowan was escorted through from the kitchen. Oliver went towards her but he was stopped. Police officers came from various parts of the farm.
‘Checked outside? Good.’
Rowan looked at Oliver, managed to say, ‘What have you done?’
‘Nothing,’ he said softly, ‘I don’t think. Nothing. Except, I wrote. I wrote…’


1 Comment »

  1. OAK was written some years ago now when 2009 seemed far enough in the future – not the past! Already some of the events predicted in OAK have come true…Shame no major publishing house took it on. It would then have been hailed as an important piece of work – discussed on Radio 4 perchance. NO chance! At the end of the novel there are some short-stories which the reader is asked to judge whether the should fall foul of “censorship laws”…OAK is easily available…


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