Wow. I mean, just… wow. I’m finding it a bit hard to process how much I love this story. It’s an amazing spin on the classic “Grrr, grimdark communist dystopia.” We so often equate art with freedom and purity and a way to fight against oppression. But here? It’s become a tool of that very same oppression. A means by which the state keep people down and a populace in line. @hobofood could have written something happy, upbeat and utopian. But it appears that their response to that particular thought was “Ahahahahahahaha! NOPE!”
STORY NUMBER: 57
PROMPT PROVIDER: @piratemoggy
TITLE: Love & Art & War
Vitaly had never considered himself an artist. It had been a girlfriend who convinced him to paint, after a long day years ago. One of those days when somebody had made a bad decision and a lot of people had died under Vitaly’s command, she sat him in front of a canvas with a pile of oil paints and a bottle of vodka. The girlfriend was long gone, lost to years of alcohol and infidelity but he still painted whenever people made bad decisions and he was consumed with guilt. He had hidden behind his paintings, as bland and rudimentary they were, when the Union fell apart and they had saved him. The attempts to make art had been barely enough be declared as “enlightened” and to maintain his position as friends and family had lost theirs. He sat now in front of an easel that same distant girlfriend had given him for some birthday or other holiday all those years ago, staring at a blank canvas.
He had just selected his first colour, a deep grey when the buzzer for his apartment pulled him away from the image of the painting that had been beginning to form in his mind. Vitaly pulled himself from his stool staggering more than he expected to and dragged himself to the screen by the door. The same kind of screen his sister was forced to make in the factory. He twitched his fingers at and it flashed on, displaying for a fraction of a second a single word “SORRY”. It hung there, caught in his throat, the afterimage burnt into his eyes for no time at all before showing the face of a man outside. Vitaly knew who was behind the word, and he knew the face, but his memory was blurred by the vodka, the word and the painting. A uniformed officer was outside, stood immobile in the freezing air. “Vitaly Korolev?” he asked. Vitaly pulled the door fully open and took a step back. The man’s name hit him in the stomach, Ivan Aristov, a middle ranking official in the Cultural Police. “May I come in? We have some questions for you”.
It would be about his sister. It was all her. These “questions”, these things were always about her. She was unenlightened, she had no appreciation for art, beauty or culture. She had suffered for it, was suffering for it. Vitaly had tried to help her all those years ago, as his girlfriend had helped him but it had been hopeless. She had never been able to sit down and spend time creating things, she had always been too active to put thought into what she was doing. And now she was in trouble again. Vitaly sighed as he invited the officer in, quietly grateful that they had used somebody who would hopefully remember the history buried in the apartment so that he would not have to justify his own enlightenment again. He would not have to drag out hundreds of canvases and prove that, unlike his sister, he could see the beauty that the New Union was creating in the world.
Aristov pushed his way in from the cold, made his way past Vitaly into the kitchen and deposited himself onto a chair past the blank canvas sat on its easel, in front of the tube of deep grey paint sat on the kitchen counter. Vitaly returned to his stool and stared at his hands.
“Mr Korolev.” he began, “we have some questions about your sister. We would like to know if you have seen her recently?”. Vitaly looked up at the man, trying to remember how many times he had had conversations just like this one. “It has been months. I visited her in the factory. It must have been six months ago. What has she done now?” he replied. A brief smile of satisfaction washed over Aristov’s face, “She was not at her job yesterday morning, she did not return to her housing unit last night and she failed to turn up for her art class today, we have evidence to suggest that she has made her way here, tell me, have you heard from her recently?”.
Vitaly’s heart sank, he knew what this meant. He himself had given orders that would have caused meetings like this to happen hundreds of times before. When Vitaly had last seen his sister, she had been doing much better. She had been trying to learn how to sing while working in the factory. At the time he had encouraged it, the first signs of enlightenment in a person, even one condemned as she was, were always to be encouraged. He had not guessed how far it would go. It was only recently, as reports had crossed his desk of factory workers singing songs of rebellion, reports with her name in them. Then he saw the evidence when he walked in, the easel not where it normally sat. The punch in the gut, “SORRY” hanging in the air. Now this visit from Aristov.
“I know what you want”, he responded, swallowing hard. “I haven’t seen her, she wouldn’t come here. She doesn’t understand this”, he said, gesturing to his canvas. “She knows…she knows I would take her back to the factory”. Aristov nodded and twitched his fingers, Vitaly could see the flash of light tracing across Aristov’s eyes, data being fed to him from a thousand different sources. “There are traces of her DNA on your front door, coat and the sides of your easel. Behavioural analysis of you over the past evening shows you have not eaten, you have been drinking. Looking at the state of this,” he stared directly at the blank canvas, “and your sister’s history, we are placing you under arrest”. Another twitch of his fingers. “Vitaly Korolev, please come with me. Officers, search the flat. She has been here and he knows it”.
PROMPT: The Soviet Union falls but instead of capitalists, it's sold to the artists it revered