My first flash fiction of 2017, and one that is found quite close to home for me.
This week’s challenge, courtesy of Chuck Wendig, is to write of an act of rebellion (in less than 1000 words).
After reading the stories, poems and essays of others, I see a trend of modern stories of fighting oppression. Therefore, I have decided to write of rebellion from a page of history – namely, one that took place a couple of miles away from where I am writing, 200 years ago.
The Pentrich Revolution took place in June 1817, after a series of events that wrought havoc on Britain (such as American Independence, the changes with industry and mining, and the famous “year without summer” caused by the Mount Tambora eruption which devistated agriculture). Local men took arms and lead a mob to revolt, only to be stopped 12 miles into their march. In fact, my walking buddies Craig and John have ancestors that marched that day (a local pub has a placard with names of those caught for taking part in the mob – some executed, some imprissoned, and some exiled to Australia).
I highly recommend you visit the Pentrich Revolution website to read more about the march (http://www.pentrichrebellion.co.uk/).
But less about that – here is my flash fiction piece on Acts of Rebellion:
O-ah, this night could be the night; because somewhere out there, someone needed a right good hiding; and if anyone was to do it, why not us?
I hung around the barn doors with eyes on the horizon, watching the dusk of a dying land fall into pitch darkness. Rain began to fall like nails onto the barn roof above, chipping ever more at my spirit. You wouldn’t believe me when I say the blight outside, the frost that nips the mornings and the dark stained skies that follow it, is the excuse of summer that taunts us to no end. The fields should be glowing gold against the blue sky, as with every June I can remember. Never have I seen so such nothing in this world.
A few of the young farmers and colliers invited me here, on a word uttered from their fathers at the quarries; that men were gathering to make a change for the better, and were heading this way soon.
Soon could be a long time, they told me, so I joined the youths at the back, where we huddled for warmth with nothing but our wits, waxed coats and hastily drawn weapons at hand; pitchforks, scythes and the like. We talked for an hour, praising the good man Jeremiah and his company who has a promise, they said, to rid us of debts and famine. They were to march on Westminster, and take the house for their own. It was historic, they said, and I wanted to be a part of it.
And then, footsteps!
I pounced up and peered around the barn doors to see shadows of a hundred, maybe more, striding with pipes in mouth and weapons high. Their feet splashed through the puddles along the lane, and their spirits unburdened by the weather.
“Those truly loyal won’t care for cold and rain” a voice boomed from the crowd; it was Jeremiah. “Our numbers are yet to peak. Any man wounded by poverty will join. God save us, because the king certainly won’t”.
We watched Jeremiah stride past, along with the others I had been told about; Ludlum, Turner and Oliver. Amongst them were others who had their reasons to march tonight, and they all told us something similar. Independence in the colonies to the west, they told us, and no more wars on the continent, as war means money, they said. Huge factories and industry meant work in the countryside was worthless by comparison. Ores are being mined faster and cheaper elsewhere. A depression, they call it, because nobody’s smiling anymore.
“Except the Mad King!” blurted out Jeremiah, far in the front. Some cheered, but probably because we had approached a town, glowing through the cold fog. Most of these men had been marching since sundown, and deserved more than a hearty drink if we were to stride onwards.
I peered into one pub the crowd had gathered at. Jeremiah and Ludlum were telling the landlady there to fill up all the glasses, and that she’d be paid handsomely on our return from London. Maybe she could have some of that gold the Lords brag about, when we take it from their cold dying hands.
Something bitter infected me, probably as I hadn’t felt excitement like this for a long time, and seeing others fight amongst themselves during a time of unity was harming us more than the rain and cold. I wanted to think it was passion, not the beer, which was pushing these few men apart. I was looking forward to the road ahead, especially as I saw some groups wander off to the way we’d came from, and never show their face again.
“There is too much anger here” One man said, clad in a woollen coat, sopping wet and anxious to rest. His hands shook as he struggled to light the last of his pipe tobacco. Our eyes soon moved to Jeremiah, who was thumping on doors up and down the street, stumbling as he yelled out for more to join us. He was clearly drunk, and when the next few pubs declined his promises of payment when we return, we soon moved on.
We continued onwards into the dense night, onto paths unlit by lamps or torches. I kept looking back to see fewer men by our sides, and those who stayed were tired, filthy and starting to sober.
“God save those with a conscience” someone piped up when another asked about deserters, but Jeremiah remained silent. For a man I had only heard about this very evening, was worried by his stillness amongst the crowd. But hours ago, he was telling us of the taxes he will abolish, the souls he will save, and the rest. I saw very little of him, and as the hours passed the fringes of our destination approached. The rain continued, but the darkness was fleeting as a dim grey from the hidden sun rose in front of us.
“He’s talking of some thousand men, waiting south of the rivers for us” I heard one whisper. “Sounds like utter nonsense”
“He can’t even keep this mob under control” another replied.
Then, we heard footsteps.
Some twenty men, bearing the red coats of the local yeomen, blocked the path ahead. Muskets aloft, and eyes pinned on the leader, they ordered “yield!”
In a flash, the men around me darted in all directions, leaping over the stone walls and hedgerows that lined our path. A clatter of boots across the sodden ground splashed into the distance, yet I paused. I watched several yeomen scramble into the bush after them, shouting as they chased them down.
I tried not to think of myself as naïve, not before I too vanished over the walls. For a moment, I felt like it could be summer truly. I wanted to walk back to the barn and look over the fields to see golden fields, and hear the carts being pulled to and from the mines again.
I then jumped over the wall, and to my astonishment, it was still grey.