Once, when we were healthy, the future stretched ahead like an endless road. No deviations appeared, no roundabouts, no cross roads. Not even an exit ramp, presumably that was way ahead, further than eyes could see. The verdant surrounds were lush, making everything seem extravagant, even taking a breath.
But the thief stole our futures. He came with stealth, not one of us prepared and left us with dry barren lands. Trees withered and died. Grass crunched underfoot. People grew suspicious of others, casting sideways glances on approach. Many became sick with a bark that sounded like an angry dog.
A return to the way of the past seemed beyond reach. We were destined to live on the plains, in small groups, scavenging for food and clothing for our children and elders.
An unknown woman appeared, late one afternoon. Dressed in white flowing robes, she called those in our camp to come together. Without question, we did.
‘I can help you return to your former glory,’ she said. Her voice was low, calm, reassuring. I watched as my camp mates leaned forward, keen to hear more from her.
‘I am Eleanor, and if you follow me now, you will be promised great futures. I will take you back to my lands, where there is plenty of green fields to sow and cool rivers to bathe.’
‘Yes, we’ll come.’
‘Please take us!’
My camp mates echoed their agreement; their voices rising in an effort to be heard by our new leader. Each person rushed off to grab their belongings while Eleanor murmured on.
‘You must drink this potion. It will save you from future ill health and is for our good.’ She held up a small vial.
‘For who’s good?’ asked Bert. Always enquiring, never just accepting.
‘For our collective good, yours and my people,’ Eleanor replied. Her voice was a monotone, her smile passive.
‘I will not be forced to ingest your poison. Where are my rights? How do we know what’s in your potion? What are the side effects?’
Eleanor ignored him, while others near to Bert whispered in his ear. From where I stood, it looked like they were urging him to take it. He shook his head defiantly and crossed his arms.
My camp mates lined up to take the potion. Including me. Within minutes we were all vaccinated, but for Bert. We began our journey behind Eleanor, like sheep. I turned to look at him, alone in our old camp site. He sat by the fire, staring as we all walked away.
‘Release the hounds,’ growled Eleanor. This time her tone was angry, harsh, sharp.
I stopped, watched in silent horror as a pack of wild dogs pounded their way to our old camp site and pounced on Bert. As they tore at his limbs and torso, his cries about his civil and personal rights shattered across the land.