Short Story: SCATTER
Theoretical debates today are centered on the effects that coronavirus will have on society. From early analyses that predicted a utopian exit from the capital-driven neoliberal democracies that drive our accelerated inequality, to the virus as the perfect disaster for disaster capitalism— predictions range from utopia to dystopia. What is certain is that today the near future is our biggest mystery and if left to our present devices, society's current inequalities will widen. This short story is a diary from 2025 that problematizes many of our current predicaments. A group of friends who used to work as curators and artists, opt for a new life in the countryside that attempts to achieve sustainability in a virus-racked world. But without knowledge or preparation for an agrarian lifestyle and no social safety-net, the utopian project takes a nefarious turn.
Midnight. The moonlight shone on the menhir as I broke the earth beneath its shadow. The key to the front padlock jingled as I struck down the spade. Trembling blue hands covered in black mud and that evil metallic key shining in the moonlight. Now they can’t escape, they won’t be able to leave our territory, at least not with the tractor and the animals. If they want to escape on foot so be it, but they won’t be let back in. Together we established clear rules. I’m doing this for the wellbeing of us all. Why do they not understand it?
It has been almost three years since we came here. I often think back to the beginning of this. How unreal it seemed, I would wake up in the mornings often thinking the past couple of months had been a dream. During the previous decade we had a “normal” life. I shared a studio with Anna and Antonia after we graduated from art school together and we worked odd jobs - bartending, call centers, the occasional artist talk. We had often dreamed of building a commune in the countryside with a couple of our other classmates. When the epidemics started to hit these plans became more urgent. I called Anna each night and we detailed our plans. We imagined how we would escape the city, what we would bring, where we would go.
Escaping the city, we had a vision.
None of us had lived in the countryside before but we thought it should be easy; we would simply grow our own food, raise a couple of animals to supply us with proteins. Government controls and surveillance tightened in the city as one pandemic hit after another. Since 2020 each month saw more and more difficulties to procure food. The prices went up constantly, the highest bidder only left the last crumbles and the people already burdened with debt started pouring into the streets in rioting bands of the starving. It wasn’t safe to stay there. The wealthy escaped on their jets and they left us there without infrastructure. The electricity went out. When we finally made our escape we didn’t have the time or resources to escape prepared, we simply met up and left.
When they found a cure they didn’t share it. “There are too many of you,” they said, “we don’t know how to organize the administration.” The police fines and their laws stopped working, nobody could pay, the city became an anarchic place ruled by gangs of hungry teenagers. Everybody was contagious with one thing or another. Escaping to the countryside seemed like the next logical step for survival – to cut ourselves off from the cycle of infection. At least here we hoped to start farming, to rear animals, to create a commune and a utopian society far from the pestilential metropolis.
Little did we expect what we found here. Resistance at every step. We were attacked by the people who already lived here before. They tried to run us out. We took food from their fields because we needed it, and slowly they all got sick. After a week, we were left alone.
We took over their house and buried the dead. That year we had plenty of food.
We harvested the crop that they had planted. The second year we didn’t have any as we didn’t know what to do with that barren land. Our trials resulted in a partial success. By the middle of winter we had run out of food and the crop had rotted during fall. We had to learn the hard way that we had to prepare, stockpile, dry, can, conserve – we had already lost four of our group. At times we looked out through binoculars when we heard the rustling leaves, half-starved thieves breaking into the premises. We locked ourselves up and let them pass through, waiting at least a day before stepping outside again. If anyone came here from the city, as we had done, they would bring the new curses that we hadn’t been exposed to. We built a fence out of wood and crushed glass. Tall. And we shut ourselves in.
Traitors! All of them. How dare they, now in our third year, when the chickens are finally laying eggs after we learned to feed them back their own crushed eggshells – that suddenly Anna wants to leave. She’s convinced Antonia and they’ve started a faction against me. I know the others still have mixed feelings but those two have started a row and sowed discord within our community. They criticize me, they question me. I can’t stand that. I have done nothing wrong. How dare they. This time of crisis is the last time they should be leveling criticism, this is the time for unity! We will only come out of this alive if we band together.
There she went again, Anna, blabbering about “news” from the city. That it’s all fine now that the sun is out and they’re handing out bread and sausages in the park. People are walking with their sun-deprived children and the electricity has been switched back on. After nearly three years I remind them again and again not to believe the fake news. As long as we stay isolated we are safe. The virus responds to tidal movements – it always goes away and then comes back, like ebb and flow. Only the rich survive in cities. The ones who can escape in private jets and they always come back to bleed out the starved little bodies who remained. Of course, they want us to come back – to add to the human tinderbox of the collapsing metropolis. Propaganda, vile disinformation. They make new viruses from time to time because they found a way to benefit from this biological warfare. We are at their every mercy. She’s glorifying that kind of lifestyle even though I tell her constantly that anyone who goes back to the city is not only doomed to die, but complicit in the survival of the elite.
Antonia packed her bags. She’s turning the house upside down looking for that key. She wants to drive the truck out of the gate. Her eyes are wild and bloodshot, she hasn’t slept in three days. I am trying to dissimulate and staying very still near the window. Looking out in the opposite direction of the menhir. I’m giving all of them a silent treatment until they come to their senses. We have plenty of bread, a bit stale, but it is okay dipped in our fresh goat’s milk. While they are all arguing I’m the only one gathering the firewood and the fresh water from the river. I am the only one feeding the chickens. I’m going on a small walk to gather nettle – soon it will be wild asparagus season. I can’t understand why they would want to leave now. Obsessed with their material pleasures. Needing contact. They nostalgically remember that old “normality” as some idealized utopian world. Working 60 hours a week and scraping by a living and supermarkets full of food that seemingly comes from nowhere – that’s what the scabs crave. As if people weren’t living in these conditions in the time before, just to grow us city folk a tomato.