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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison


Peter Johnson awoke in an unfamiliar bed. He looked at the corrugated roof above and then along the lines of stark, wooden bunks which filled the long, rectangular hut.

A young man in camouflage fatigues and waiving a rifle burst in through a door at one end of the hut. ‘Right you bastards,’ he screamed, ‘it’s four AM. Time to start work.’

Peter thought it best to copy the behaviour of his fellows who rose from their bunks and formed lines ready to be escorted to their work details. He noted that his companions, like himself, were in their sixties or seventies, although, seemingly, physically fit.

He was marched with them into a compound bounded by electric, barbed wire fencing. They passed through the camp gate, overshadowed by sombre watchtowers and under the intense gaze of youthful, armed guards.

Soon they reached the quarry where other young guards distributed sledgehammers and the daily labour of breaking rocks began.

Peter recalled his last memory prior to awaking in the hut. He had been walking his dog as he had done every morning since his retirement. He had been laughing, as usual, at those sitting in the traffic jams and queuing at the bus stops on their journeys to work.

After what seemed an eternity of exhausting, back breaking labour, a guard announced a ten minute break. Peter slumped to the ground next to an older man. ‘Where are we?’ whispered Peter.

‘No one knows,’ replied his companion, despairingly. ‘One moment we were all enjoying our retirements, joking with the youngsters that they needed to keep working hard to pay for our pensions. The next moment we woke up in the Camp. The guards won’t explain anything. They just say that we’ll work here until we die - and there’s no escape.’


‘I don’t bother to get up ‘til lunchtime now I’m retired,’ boasted George Smith, ordering another pint at the bar of the Rose and Crown. ‘I lie in bed listenin’ to all them poor buggers goin’ to work. Then I watch a bit o’ TV. Then I come down the pub. Then I go ‘ome and ‘ave a nap ‘til I’m woken up by the sound of all them poor buggers comin’ ‘ome again.’ He laughed. ‘Aye, it’s a grand life.’

Two young men sitting at a nearby table finished their drinks and departed.

It would be half an hour before George left the pub to walk home along the canal towpath. This was a route he particularly favoured after lunch as the canal passed through the industrial estate. He savoured the comparison of his freedom in retirement to the workaday drudgery of those he could observe in the offices and workshops and to whom he habitually gave an ironically jovial wave.

The two young men reached their van, parked adjacent to the towpath. They checked the chloroform and then consulted a map to confirm their route to the airstrip. Then they waited.

Before long, a two hour flight would take them, and George, to the remote Scottish island on which lay the young workers sponsored IWCSR facility - The Internment and Work Camp for the Smug Retired.