Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Coming Winter By Karen Pearson

The autumn projections are worse than I estimated. Worse than last year, worse than the year before. Worse, if such a thing could be thought possible, than the two years after the election, when the city still had faith in its substantial stores and the people looked with hope to their new Minister for Food Distribution.

But how can I meet their expectations now? No one can control the weather. Four years of earnest talks with the rain forecasters can be condensed into four hopeless words, “We simply don’t know.” And today I am faced with the results of six failed harvests together.

I sift through the reports one more time, knowing there is not one figure I have missed, sadly aware that the future of our population cannot be guaranteed by any miracle hiding there. Numbers, percentages, statistics- the emotionless indicators of our dwindling supplies. And all of it moves us towards the inevitable: not everyone will survive this winter.

There will be a call for volunteers, of course. A handful of the brave elderly will be hailed as heroes, their final speeches recorded forever. Yet they will be the lucky ones. They will get to choose.

The next round will be harder. Names in a lottery. People who cannot work. Men without dependents. Prisoners, and those for whom no one cares. They will not make speeches, they will leave only empty spaces.

Then, God help us, there will be the next round. Names from the whole population. Someone’s mother, someone’s son, someone’s bride to be.

It happened in my grandfather’s time. I swore to them it would never happen in mine. But no minister can make crops grow from dust or feed animals on dead twigs. I can do nothing more.

They don’t see it that way, the ordinary people. I’ve heard the rumours, the widespread belief that the ministers are hiding secret reserves. Poor fools. I wish there really was the fabled stockpile beneath the citadel foundations. I would share it all.

The trouble will start soon, their desperation will boil over. Information has been sent to me that dissenters are plotting, their plans are whispered from byway to alleyway. They think to arm themselves with the redundant pitchforks, and our guards grow weaker every day. We must not risk an uprising. I will not allow an attack on our grand citadel. We shall face what is to come with dignity, accepting what must happen and not giving rise to panic. Order shall remain.

I wish to prove to the people that unrest is useless. I must make an example from the leader they listen to, I wish it could be otherwise. At this dark hour, the Council will not question the measure I propose. I cannot keep us all alive, but I can prevent fruitless bloodshed.

So, I have made my decision. I will volunteer. I will be the first.

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