Extract: England’s Darkness
By Stephen Barber.
All that now remains of England, are these documents, these fragments.
The first document was scoured from a palatial but burnt-out and erased global archive of ‘destroyed lands’, in the city of Linz.
The second document was located among the ground-down ruins of the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds.
The third document was found placed, as though as an act of secrecy, into a rivet-split panel on the deck of a decommissioned and rust-fused oil-tanker in a frozen Riga dry-dock, its writer having disappeared without trace.
The fourth document was unearthed – along with a map (drawn on the rear side of a photograph showing a meeting of two dictators), from which almost all charcoal-inscribed traces and lines had seeped away – from a tin box buried deep under the soil, beside the site of T.E. Lawrence’s cottage, Clouds Hills, in Dorset.
The final document was discovered, in the form of two salt-preserved shreds of human skin, fused-together and eroded to the point of near-illegibility, buried among stones under Hardraw Scar waterfall, and accidentally uncovered by the action of the water.
The North Will Rise Again
A bad era came down on England… Soon, after a few years of civil warfare, England was transformed into a destroyed land, and what remained of its memory – nothing at all, beyond a few fragments – was deposited in the archive of destroyed lands, in the city of Linz, a resilient global site for the perpetual preservation of all that survived, of lands that had fallen.
That land brought down its own destruction, as though compelled, as with a beast that cannot resist its set-down poison, knowing that it will kill it. Following England’s long-foretold economic collapse, every other disintegration followed fast behind: first, and as though in unstoppable ecstasy, the collapse of all digital infrastructures, networks, transmissions, storage systems, together with the rendering obsolete of all systems of digital communication, telepresence and computing, both virtual and actual. Since the transferral of all of England’s knowledge to those systems had only just been achieved – with the now-anachronistic media that had previously stored that knowledge all comprehensively erased, wiped and obliterated – that land became one of oblivion, with its knowledge, visions and sensations now instilled solely in the immediate corporeal presence and eyes of its inhabitants, at the exact moment that all knowledge, vision and sensation had been negated, blinded and numbed, within those bodies and those eyes.
The final lapsing of fossil-fuel reserves, especially oil and benzine, followed on near-simultaneously from the collapse of England’s digital infrastructures, as though an unseen conflagration had incinerated those data-networks, and combusted the medium of conflagration along with its target. All that remained were immense reservoirs of petroleum, in reinforced tanks underneath the financial and corporate heart of London, located there to enable the resistance or flight of its governmental, administrative, military and corporate elites, in case of emergency, but inadvertently allowing, too – for any maleficent presence that chose to inflict such a fate – the instantaneous razing by fire of that city’s heart.
Following the extinguishment of digital and fossil-based resources, England plummeted fast, as though its vertiginous fall impelled wildly flailing hands in descent to tear apart what remained, of the glory of that land. The cities had already fallen apart, and what had resisted, was shredded by those hands. The passion, so intense, for consumer culture – incandescent, full of longing, always touched by death – was brutally voided, so that England’s great retail parks, multi-storey shopping malls, out-of-town retail centres, all became abandoned, as though all meaning had drained from them, like blood. Almost simultaneously, England’s great business parks, its centres of excellence and innovation, and its technology hubs, also suffered neglect, so that their illuminated frontages, facades, image-screens and monocultural insignia all cracked and became cloven. The last tourists – those from Albania, now Europe’s richest land – surveyed that disintegration, and laughed cruelly.
In that time, the people of England wrote nothing and said little. In their humiliation, they stood in compact groups under burnt-out street-lights, ashen, and looked out at their once-vibrant buildings and towers, as though in shame. Occasionally, someone would produce a concertina, accordion or harmonium, and with that accompaniment, sing a melancholy song. All food production and supply became impaired, and hunger came down, and anger.
England’s governmental, administrative, corporate and military elites assessed the situation urgently. Two solutions presented themselves. Firstly, a strategic retrenching was essential, focused around England’s South: its heart, and the site of its power for many centuries. With the erasure or extreme dilapidation of England’s infrastructures, and the reduction to starvation-inducing conditions of its food resources, all means of survival needed to be concentrated in the South. No sentimentality could be shown: the North must become a wasteland, its now-extraneous inhabitants driven to depopulation or into exile, across the seas – north-eastwards, to Scandinavia, or westwards, to Ireland – or else rendered into subjugation, to generate essential resources for the South. Within the newly created wasteland of the North, a few cities would be allowed to subsist – those that, in previous centuries, had provided vast resources of steel, wool, and ingenious instruments of mechanical technology, as though, in their interim existence as financial hubs or sites of luxurious department-stores, those cities had solely dreamed aberrant dreams, of their coming industrial reactivation – through their transformation into new hells of toxic chemical mass-production, populated by the enslaved, whose lethal and intensive subjugation would facilitate both their own rapid human culling, and also engender much-needed consumer products to console the South, for England’s fall. Those toxic subjugation-zone cities would no longer be known by their former names, such as Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Manchester, Middlesbrough; they would be rapidly butcher’s knife-skinned of those names, to evoke instead the immense toxic pollution they would now be required to disgorge across the North, as the model-cities of Mutagen, Aluminium, Sulphuric-Acid, Magnox, Toxica. Secondly, the suppression and eventual extermination of England’s North would demand vast conscript armies; mandatory incorporation within those forces would immediately engulf and diffuse the anger of populations now dispossessed of their iPhones and ultra-high-definition image-screens.
Soon, those immense conscript forces had been formed, and a map drawn up – the work of a senior bureaucrat, pen-hand hovering seismically, as two of his eager assistants took turns to fellate him – delineating the borderline division between the reduced terrain of England to be retained and secured, in the expectation of its imminent return to glory, and the wasteland-zones of the North, to be violently wrung and emptied. The first work of those conscript forces was to locate and exterminate all ecologists – of all dark, optimistic or intermediate factions – immediately and instantaneously, without discussion or hesitation, each shot in the base of the neck; a moment later, elimination camps had been established, to pacify the unruly elements of the North. The remaining population, after being graded according to criteria of servility and complicity, were assigned to work in the chemical plants, or, once each factory had reached its human saturation point – bursting with already-contaminated flesh – simply left to their own devices, in the expectation that they would find just causes, in their growing hunger and subjugation, to exterminate one another. The governmental forces then occupied and fortified each of the North’s great cities, basing themselves in the open-plan suites and hot-desking offices of abandoned business parks and technology hubs, or in the chandeliered ballrooms of once-luxurious railway hotels, avoiding the urban peripheries, where the reactivation of toxic chemical industries became concentrated.
In the plan for the all-out subjugation of England’s North, and its eventual evacuation and scorched-earth depopulation, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall were utterly disregarded, displaced into oblivion beyond the emergency concerns and future vision of England’s governmental, administrative, corporate and military elites, and left to self-autonomy. But the North needed to be obliterated from the face of England, as though it provoked a memory-trace intimation of danger, in the near-voided sensorium of those elites. That trace soon proliferated, and began cascading into obsession. More conscript forces were ordered to head North, in phalanxes, each one hundred strong.
Soon, the chemical zonal cities of the North expelled concentrated toxic residues from many thousands of colossal aluminium chimneys arranged around the urban peripheries, generating virulent hallucinations of anger in the inhabitants of the North not already pacified in elimination camps, brutally subjugated by the conscript phalanxes, or thronging ports to gain a desperate exile to mainland Europe via long-obsolete trawlers or tankers so calamitously rusted-away that they were near-certain to sink down into the cold depths of the Northern seas. The governmental forces established themselves securely in their new centres of operation, in luxurious hotel ballrooms and business-park boardrooms, certain the subjugation-campaign would not last long, and fully implemented their slave state, overseen by conscript armies which incessantly traversed the expanses of the North, executing capricious acts of massacre, sexual abuse and limitless detention. But the future-oriented vision of the governmental, administrative, military and corporate elites of the South, in assassinating all ecological activists, thereby foreclosing potential resistance to the wastelanding and depopulation strategy for the North and its cities, neglected the presence of aberrant elements, lost in the cracks of those cities.
After two years of hard starvation-winters and punitive subjugation in the North, the first manifestations of resistance arose. Under darkness, figures huddled together in cellars, saliva rolling down their chins and ferocity in their voices, and began to make plans. The first Northern rebel brigades emerged: each of them named after the now near-forgotten punk-rock idols of the North, forty years or more after their moment of glory, and in many cases commanded either by those aged and gnarled figures, or by their children or grandchildren, in an immense lineage of refusal and nihilistic rage. Soon, in a rush of exhilaration, they were fully-armed: governmental conscripts were discovered dispossessed of their weapons, along with their heads, sexual organs and boots, in the tracts of dirt that surrounded their barracks, often positioned in close proximity to elimination camps or toxic-chemical plants to facilitate optimum enslavement of their occupants. The uprising took the South’s governmental, administrative, military and corporate forces by surprise: complicity transformed itself into negation in the flash of an eye, and thousands of rebels began to make alliances across the North’s wastelands.
Almost immediately, those alliances turned haywire, collapsing into vitriol, and the initial elation of the rebel brigades cracked into internecine disputes, over territories, affiliations, names and insignia. The rebel brigades began to massacre one another. During that same era, the Northern cities also became consumed by secondary disputes between their young inhabitants: factional gangwarfare combat over ownership rights to the eroded and multi-graffitied facades of abandoned business-towers, stockpiles of obsolete iPhones and other monoculture-debris of all kinds, as though those residues had acquired a mutating and lethal new power of seduction in their utter obsolescence. As the Northern cities rapidly disintegrated into terminal ruination, they formed the starvation-hit arenas for those split-lipped, throat-slicing gangs, mostly headed by contempt-impelled fourteen-year-old girls with dreams of implosion in their shock-haired heads. The rebel brigades disregarded those gangs and left them alone to their massacre games, aware that, if those brigades were wiped-out through their own in-fighting, or in their eventual direct confrontations with the conscript armies, it would fall solely to those gangs to liberate the North.
Finally, one rebel brigade subsumed all the others, and called a covert meeting, in the dead of a night of storms, at the former Assembly Rooms in the city of Leeds, its now-dark auditorium having served as a pornographic cinema for several decades, the lush seating still intact, hardened into permanent endurance with multiple layers of semen and encrusted dust, and the barely-visible projection-screen lacerated by shattering bottles hurled during the cacophonic furore of a final all-night projection of Japanese sex-massacre films, before that auditorium had been shut-down for over thirty years. The rebels sprawled over the seats, as though they had arrived for the next screening, but had then been frozen for decades in film-time. That pre-eminent brigade had no leader; the meeting was driven by all-engulfing fury, and the desire, above all, to erase all traces of England and its conception, cast it into darkness, and instigate a new Northern axis and myth. Otherwise, within a year or less, the North would cease to exist, the chemical plants would exhaust themselves and lapse, their subjugated workforce wrung to death, the cities would all fall, and only a depopulated wasteland would occupy the terrain of the North.
At that meeting, the rebels attempted to evoke the infinite myths of previous uprisings of the North, from the Dark Ages to the Jarrow March and the Thatcher-crushed Miners’ Strike, along with the moments in England’s history when all power had been held in the North, so that those events could be recorded in some way, to serve as an inspiration for the current uprising. But with the erasure of all history and knowledge, in its transferral from annulled paper-based media to digital data and that data’s obliteration during England’s economic, infrastructural and technological collapses, nothing remained, and all memory had gone. All of the tongues that could have seized the memory of past Northern uprisings had been cut out, and stamped into dirt. But that zero-memory of the past served only to propel the rebels ever more violently into the immediate future, with such velocity – there, in that darkened cinema – that the dominant rebel brigade instantly bisected itself, then proliferated into multiple new brigades, each vying urgently to precipitate England’s darkness.
Only one rebel, standing in front of the cinema screen, and hallucinating with the toxic chemicals he had inhaled while traversing the urban peripheries on his way to that revolutionary assembly, managed to voice the uprising’s mythical, determining origin, desperately piecing together shredded fragments of memory, an instant before they deliquesced into oblivion. He evoked – deliriously, in bursts, as though speaking in glossolalia – a meeting that had taken place, in October 1988, at the Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane, between the two now-dead but still-legendary ‘Kings of Leeds’, Peter Sutcliffe and Jimmy Savile, during Savile’s era as that hospital’s de-facto director, having seized power from his ostensible advisory role, at a seminal moment when, due to malfunctions of its administrative regime, the insane had ruled that asylum, sweeping-aside its directors. The two Kings of Leeds had met for profound discussions of the future, in a palatial, thickly-curtained annex of the asylum, first embracing one another warmly, then stood together, Sutcliffe’s head turned attentively to Savile, two eager interpreters beside them, as though only irreconcilable idioms of madness could be voiced. But they remained silent, as though in anticipation of being photographed, like two dictators, though no image was to be made of that meeting, and its memory subsisted solely in the pixellated hallucinations of a soon-to-be-culled rebel boy, standing in front of the pornography cinema’s screen, in the semen-preserved grandeur of the Assembly Rooms, his delirium now drained, but his throat still convulsing with the effort to expectorate, at last, a myth, an origin.
Finally, via that throat, Savile calmly spoke just one phrase: ‘The North Will Rise Again.’ Exhausted, his throat’s membrane seared, the rebel fell to the ground.
From that moment, the South was doomed. An immense roar of approval split-through the cinema’s walls and permeated the entire city, terrifying the young conscripts stationed in the disused turkish baths beneath the Queen’s Hotel. The rebels were now certain that – with its origin in an amalgam of psychotic serial-killing and self-obsessional spectacle – their uprising could not fail.
The splintering of the rebel brigades into violent and inassimilably opposed factions, during their legendary conclave in the Assembly Rooms, delayed a formal declaration of civil war against the South: a moment of acute turmoil followed, in which, once again, rebel-brigades massacred one another in nihilistic abandon at the same time as they fought the governmental conscript forces with tenacity. Finally, the last-ditch survivors of a near-eliminated rebel brigade adroitly ambushed a motorcade of chemical-plant overseers and occupation-bureaucrats as they roared up the last stretch of the empty M1 motorway, complacent in their power as they anticipated the multiple sex-acts they would compel the children of the North to visit upon them. Following that ambush, the last-ditch rebels created such a spectacular display of the serially-killed and decapitated occupation-bureaucrats and overseers – stringing the bodies directly below the motorway-junction gantries announcing ‘The North’, and positioning the heads so they appeared to surmount the great cooling-towers of the power-stations that ran alongside that motorway – that they successfully precipitated a new massing of the Northern brigades, inspired by their uprising’s originating myth, driven by all-engulfing obsession and oblivious to all rules of combat, as they now turned in fury towards the South. Until that instant, the threat of their own elimination had never occurred to the governmental, administrative, military and corporate elites, and they responded by instigating still-greater conscription of the young population of the South, so dazed by consumerism’s fall that they had either been rendered bewildered and eager to die, or else ready to embrace the terminal-warfare ethos which that conflict now demanded.
A hard conflict came down on England, with no surrender conceivable on either side. Two winters of mutual attrition followed, with widescale punitive massacres conducted in areas whose populations were seen as affiliated to the rebel brigades; those populations were packed screaming into abandoned mega-malls and technology showrooms, the doors bolted and all means of escape sealed, then the buildings were incinerated by governmental death-squads, the inhabitants carbonised. The conscript forces lost over half of their number each winter, in ambushes as they moved in tactical zigzags across the Northern zonal wastelands, between the chemical-plant cities whose aluminium chimneys had been sabotaged, set on fire or put out of use. The governmental forces welcomed that reduction of the extraneous elements of their own conscript phalanxes, many of whom had grown already dispirited by the collapse of their mission, thereby rendering themselves vulnerable to immediate massacre by the rebel brigades. Only the most hardened conscripts would survive that process of reduction, and their reward would be the assignation to them, by the governmental elites, of the prized opportunity to accelerate the wastelanding and voiding of the North.
Each winter, the Northern famines grew more bitter, until they stretched all year-round; the populations, rebel brigades and conscript forces all endured the same virulent hallucinations. The eating of all remaining animals took place during the conflict’s fourth winter. In that time of famine, emaciated children of four years of age would be charged by their families with the dangerous task of walking great distances, barefoot, to collect loaves of inedible sawdust bread, almost the size of the children’s bodies, from the now-dispersed bakeries, then carry them home across the Northern wastelands, in terror at the prospect of being out-run by assailants, and dispossessed; a habitual sight, for travellers across those scorched-earth zones, was that of a felled, throat-slit child, lacerated feet surrounded by arcs of spat-out-again bread.
Soon, all inhabitants of those razed zones between cities fled them, and moved into the cities, if they could survive their transit through the burnt-out ruins of the toxic chemical-plants on the urban peripheries. Mass prostitution rapidly became the dominant industry of those cities, along with the provision of weaponry for the autonomous gang-warfare which still thrived among the sub-teen populations, directly alongside the incessant street-combat between the rebel brigades and the governmental conscripts, as though performed in oblique derision for those rebels’ aspirations and dreams. But after the hard winters of fighting, those cities, too, were now giving-up, too disintegrated to be tenable as cities any longer, even by the laxest urban criteria, as though those once-thriving cities had reverted as entities, backwards in time, in a veering blur of speed, back beyond the conception of the world’s first cities.
The Manchester rebel brigade’s gnarled and alcohol-addled leader – a legendary punk-rock veteran – had just comprehensively wiped-out the Liverpool brigade in factional in-fighting, and powered by elation, led his brigade directly into a governmental conscripts’ ambush, on Saddleworth Moor, his great plan to cull the Bradford brigade – after moving across the Pennines under cover of darkness – covertly betrayed to the overall commander of the governmental forces. Exhausted by the celebrations that had followed its triumph over the Liverpool brigade, and outnumbered by the well-armed conscripts, that brigade was soon obliterated, its leader decapitated, but his head, its tongue sticking-out between its toothless jaws, eyes still open and glaring, was taken up to the high moor by survivors and carefully preserved through immersal in a solution of vodka and formaldehyde, so that it resembled a feral child’s, then dispatched to the Bradford brigade in an old tin box, for display in future confrontations, to strike terror into the conscript phalanxes. The civil war in the North had reached its seminal moment, as the rebel brigades waged a mercilessly brutal combat to take the coastal axis-points of Yorkshire, and liberate the remaining chemical-industry cities, with their heavily fortified grand hotels, before launching their all-out assault on the South.
The overall commander of the governmental forces in the North put on a thick overcoat and black-fur hat, left his palatial suite on the top storey of the Queen’s Hotel, to give a desperate and ferociously amplified speech – from the balcony directly above the name of the hotel, incised into its vast Purbeck marble facade, which dwarfed his figure – to the contemptuous population, which had been forcibly assembled in the city square beneath that balcony, kept at a distance behind barriers by complicit kapos from the civilian population. The commander knew he had to deliver a speech able to bring that entire population over, in extremis, to the governmental forces’ side, and had spent all of the previous night preparing it. His microphone wailed, battering the buildings on the far side of the square in feedback. His audience, initially restive, had grown silent. He approached the microphone and began to speak, one hand executing a slicing-fist gesture of emphasis: ‘Citizens of the North! Let me speak from the heart. We have a divine mission which requires your participation… We will surpass the First World War! We will surpass even the Thirty Years War! – In genocide! In genocide! – You, the population of Leeds, we will send you out into the countryside around this city, into the blackened devil’s ground, we will send you for re-education, for massacre, for culling, for ”smashing”… Your next summer holiday-camp destination will be the Yorkshire Omarska.’ His microphone emitted torrents of feedback, erasing his words.
The crowd hesitated for a moment, seized by the commander’s vision, then his eyes abruptly reeled as he watched them storm the barriers, massacring the kapos, and attempt to infiltrate the hotel’s ornate foyer and chandeliered ballroom, that initial rush repulsed only by sustained bursts of rocket fire. The commander abandoned his forces, barricaded into the turkish baths in the hotel’s subterranea; he took the elevator to the roof, cursing the North from his helicopter as it pivoted over the river Aire to head southwards at speed.
Extracts from Stephen Barber’s new novel, England’s Darkness, to be published by Sun Vision Press, 2013
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Barber is currently an Invited Fellow at the Freie Universitat, Berlin. His next book is Muybridge: The Eye in Motion, to be published in December 2012 (Solar/Chicago University Press).
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 22nd, 2012.