As old economies collapse and new ones rise, the tide of 21st century immigration has turned, bringing an influx from the once prosperous West.
Tolerance, an impoverished widowed mother of two, believes she must do anything to survive, including escaping her birthplace; a once genteel city now shrouded by a seething, perilous shanty town.
This book will be available December 21, 2018
Colour of the Day by Barbara Jaques
Blue, green and red. These were the colours of the day.
And brown. Brown horse, brown bark, brown earth. Curled beneath a tree, hidden amongst shrubs gone rangy, colour was all I could think of. The spring sky so bright, unfurling leaves vibrant; blood wet. His jacket, too, was red. Stop thinking of stupid things, was my next thought. Fuck, I want to end this but I can’t, was the thought that came after. It was not the stuff of nightmares, where cries lie trapped or shrieks fly free. It was the stuff of real life, sound leaking from me and making me feel as a child. Lying there, I knew that all it needed was one more shot and it would all be over.
It was odd, in a way, to be feeling overwhelmed. Not too much earlier, I’d been filled with relief that this long-anticipated event was finally underway. This is not to understate things. The lead up was pressured; tension of expectation, horrific. But I always knew the reality of this day was likely to be easier than the prospect of it. That was, until I was lying terrified in the undergrowth, trapped in a situation beyond my control.
The rhythmic drumming of hooves was drawing nearer, when only seconds before it had been fading away. The steady pace of it was no match for my rising heartbeat. I searched my mind, trying to release everything I had committed to memory, and closed my eyes. Try to relax. Slow the beat; regulate energy.
I hadn’t understood how tough it would be or anticipated the advantages of my opponent. Had I known, I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. In so many ways, choice was a privilege that had already ceased to be, though no one forced my hand. No one insisted I enter. I’d chosen to take part in that very first stage of the draw, the outcome of which could just as easily have left my life unchanged as to offer me this.
It was thoughts of the draw, the random selection of an individual, that revived my courage: there were better ways to narrow choice than leaving it to chance. I should act. Horse and rider again cantered by, blackish mulch scattering with the flick of hooves. I could see him, through the tangle of stems. His seat was deep in the saddle, neatly rocking with the motion, his gun easy across his thigh. The pair reined to halt. It was instant; no last few strides or move down through the paces. Canter to halt, horse standing square. There was a time in my life I would have been in awe of such skill.
As I watched, the rider’s foot twice nudged his mount, and smoothly it stepped back into canter. Again, it transitioned instantly. No head toss or excitement, no fidgeting; no rush to be away. Canter to halt. Halt to canter, nothing more and nothing less. When they had disappeared, I eased myself up using the trunk of a tree. The skin of my shoulder felt sore as it punched and climbed the bark. The bullet may only have nicked my side, but the pain was immense. I had never been shot before, which, with hindsight, was a stupid thing to have overlooked when I’d been so thorough with everything else. But maybe that sort of preparation would have proved counterproductive. After all, the birth of my first child had not better-prepared me for the birth of my second, only planted a fear of labour.
I trailed in the same direction, aiming to keep my enemy close, aware that he could easily circle round and come back at me from behind. It wasn’t so much a good plan, as a plan, and therefore better than nothing. The path was good, as were all I’d encountered so far, clear of vegetation and reasonably forgiving underfoot. The few denser parts of the woodland were more challenging, though not enough to keep horse and rider out. Up to now, I’d not been anywhere they couldn’t follow.
Inevitably, he would find me. I knew that. That was the point. But I needed a different location to create the setting for our finale. One of the best pieces of advice I’d been given was to stick to my plan; essentially, to follow my own script and not be influenced by his. This hadn’t proved an easy thing to do. Already, I’d allowed the idea to slip away, and by letting my thoughts range, ended up hiding, useless as a corpse.
Amongst the seemingly endless grey-brown trunks of oak stood clusters of white birch trees. I’d seen them before, in old blood hunt footage, and thought of them again now. Because this was the other colour to have struck me that day. White was the colour of the clothing and footwear I’d been issued, I suppose intending to undermine me. I’d scraped the ground and piled dirt on, doing all I could to camouflage myself. It all fell away, leaving the fabric so free of grime it was as if it had been freshly laundered. It was this unexpected setback that had given me my first tremor of doubt. It seemed nothing could mark it except blood.
Turn disadvantage to advantage: the words of my late father. I intended for white to be the colour of my success; strategy not back on track but improved. The birch trees were growing in places where other species were sparse; slim trunks like beacons amongst the gloom. Until now, I had purposely stayed away from these pockets of brightness, keeping to the shadows, waiting for that first shot to ring out, and ring out it had.
Now, it was time to draw the hunt to an end. I began peeling off the one-piece suit, intending to finish as naked as the day I was born, and so perhaps end my life as it had begun.