They Shoot Horses

I thought we’d have a story today.  This the beginning of one of my stories set in a vaguely futuristic age when TV is the only game in town.

They Shoot Horses


Queue is not a remotely adequate word – but it will have to do. I had never seen anything like this queue, though I could have queued for England at one time: I mean, when you add it all up – the Post Office, the airport, the bus-stop, the doctor’s, the taxi-rank – it can seem like your whole life is just one long line. But this queue is like a fourth dimension; it winds around the city, coiling in and out and squeezing it like a giant snake. I felt like Jonah inside the whale, only instead of a whale it was a vast boa constrictor which strangled the city in its coils. I had no idea where I was; time after time I thought we were close, but then we shuffled round a corner and I could see the queue stretching away into the distance.

Nobody spoke, and after a while I gave up trying to make conversation. Some people would smile at you but most wouldn’t: we weren’t people to them, just competition. Some of the younger women tried to be pally, but I knew they were just after information. Most of us kept to ourselves.

There was no need for supervision, although a few guards stood here and there with machine-guns dangling off their shoulders. But mostly the queue policed itself: any pushing or shoving was dealt with pronto by throwing the pusher out and sending them to the back of the queue. When you think of what most of us had sacrificed in order to be here, it just wasn’t worth it.

The hardest thing was to keep yourself busy. There were screens every few yards to entertain us, but more and more of the ‘entertainment’ was adverts. So I kept occupied by singing in my head and running through my lines to make sure I had them straight. I could do this for hours, even though I knew I’d probably never get to see a camera or say my few lines to a waiting world. Like everyone else I stayed. We stayed because there was nothing else. Queuing was all we had.

It gave you plenty of time to think. In the first few days I was impatient: stamping my feet and checking my watch – but after a while I gave it up. It wasn’t that it was futile: it’s futile to get impatient in a traffic jam – but here it was more than futile; it was out of place, irrelevant. Impatience lost all meaning in the queue.

I keep active. First thing in the morning, I do some exercise – jogging on the spot, stretching, twisting and touching my toes. My neighbours used to laugh at me but now they don’t. Sometimes they even join in and while it lasts we’re almost friends.

Then I have breakfast. I take a long time over this, even though it’s only water and bread or a few biscuits. And then the day begins.

During the long hours when the queue doesn’t move at all, I start to question everything. How did I get here? Where did it all start? Where am I going? – the questions go round and round, and I don’t find any answers. But it takes me back to a time before the queue, and that’s a good thing. Because when the queue stays put for hour after hour like a sleeping snake and you can’t help looking ahead every minute to see if it’s shifting, and it isn’t; when you start to feel like you’re stuck here outside Lew-S forever with all the shoppers looking down on you like the gods surveying the damned – that’s when you want to jack it all in. And that’s why you must remember.

You must remember what it was like before the queue.