Hello everyone, Holly Day here. Today my story The Hunger Gap is released.
Do you know what the hunger gap is?
In Sweden, where I live, we can’t grow things all year. Our winters are too dark and too cold. Some crops can survive in the garden beds, kale for example, but they don’t grow. So everything we want to eat during the year we have to plant during spring and summer, and then we need to preserve it. Or had to, is more correct since we now have fresh fruit and veg all the time in the shops – not from Sweden, though.
Potatoes and salted herring were pretty much all there was to be had during the winter months before we had the overflowing grocery shops we have today.
When covid hit, I wasn’t particularly scared of getting sick (don’t get me wrong, the virus is scary) but I worried more about what would happen if borders closed completely. We wouldn’t survive up here and the thought of starving scared the crap out of me.
For how long would you survive if you didn’t have a shop or a marketplace to go to?
If you live in California (just as an example) you can grow things all twelve months of the year. It’s possible. If you have a piece of land, you could grow stuff. Here? Not so much.
The Hunger Gap takes place in a dystopic future where every district has to produce their own food. I gave the people about the same climatic conditions as I have where I’m at. This means that now in May, things are slowly starting to get green. We’re still at risk of getting nights below freezing, so lettuce, radishes, brassica, and a few other crops are about what you can grow at this point. Though I moved my tomato plants to the greenhouse a few days ago. I’ll likely have to carry them inside again, we’ll see.
So, The Hunger Gap, no fresh veggies, and everyone living outside the city limits have to grow enough food to not only feed themselves but the entire city. To make sure no one gets more than the other (unless they’re rich and powerful, of course) they have controllers – government-employed workers in charge of bringing the food into the city market every Friday.
George is a homesteader, and Axel is a starving controller with a daughter. It’s pretty much as grim as it sounds LOL
Axel hadn’t been in a barn in about thirty years. He’d spent the summers with his grandmother as a child, and she’d had a small farm similar to this. But that had been before the economy collapsed, before people were starving. Axel hadn’t paid much attention, there had been food in abundance, and no weekly controls or food tolls.
“I keep them here.” Mr. Vega gestured at a small stall with a couple of laying boxes in the corner and a roosting bar on the opposite wall. Axel didn’t know much about keeping hens, but it looked a bit too clean compared to the vague memories he had of his grandmother’s chicken coop. “See, there is one now.” He gestured at a bird coming in through the door. Axel frowned. He knew nothing about hens, but the one strutting around by the barn door looked more like a rooster than a hen.
Mr. Vega took a few hasty steps in its direction, and it hurried off. “Oh, she ran off.”
Of course, it did. Mr. Vega had intentionally scared it off. Axel frowned at him. A crow cut through the air. “That’s a rooster.”
“The crowing. I might not know a lot about homesteading, Mr. Vega, but that sound, it’s a rooster.”
“It’s June’s rooster. She’s allowed one.”
For a second, Axel wanted to argue. He couldn’t appear weak. Before he accused Mr. Vega of anything, he glanced down at his paper. June Stone, George Vega’s next-door neighbor, was granted three hens and one rooster. She was a single mother of three and was allowed to keep fourteen eggs a week—seven eggs, as every adult was allowed, then two per child, and one extra because she was a homesteader. He assumed she was allowed the extra hen so she would cover her own consumption. He still didn’t understand the rules. Many seemed as if they’d been made on a whim and then never changed.
Mr. Vega, for example, could keep eight eggs for himself, not a single more, but on Friday when he got in line for his food package at the town square, he could be given seven eggs, and then he’d have the right to them. If Axel dropped by on a control and found fifteen eggs, Mr. Vega would be punished. It made no sense.
Axel took a deep breath as a wave of dizziness hit him. “Ms. Stone lives on the other side of the hill.” He tried to focus on the conversation, and not on Mr. Vega or the rules.
Mr. Vega nodded. “Yes, but birds roam, and our properties border each other. We have a fence between them, but we’ll hear the rooster. And sometimes they fly over the fence.”
Axel wasn’t sure he believed him, but he let it go for now. He straightened his back and met Mr. Vega’s gaze. “I’ll be back on Thursday, Mr. Vega. I expect you to have everything ready for me when I come.”
They walked out of the barn and toward the car where the guard was waiting. What was the point of having him if he stayed by the car when Axel inspected the property?
“It’ll be eggs.”
“What?” Axel blinked, having lost himself in his head again. For a second, he thought Mr. Vega would smile, but then he scowled instead.
“My payment this week. It’ll be eggs.”
“Oh, no vegetables?” He looked around the garden bed closest to the car. What he wouldn’t give for something fresh. He hadn’t had anything green in months.
“We’re in the hunger gap, Mr.…”
“Rowe, Axel Rowe.” Damn, should he have introduced himself when he arrived? Probably.
“There won’t be any vegetables for weeks. The government hasn’t decided yet how many seeds we’re allowed this year.”
They hadn’t? But it was already April. From what Axel could remember, his grandmother had the windowsills packed with seedlings in April. Maybe he remembered wrong.
“What’s this then?” He gestured at the plants taking over the garden bed.
“It doesn’t count as chicken food.”
Axel nodded. “And that?” He pointed at some leaves coming up through the soil.
There it was again, a flicker of something too quickly concealed for Axel to know if it was there or if he imagined it.
“Is it edible?”
“It’s not poisonous. Can’t have poisonous plants growing where the hens peck around. I wouldn’t survive if they died.”
Axel assumed he was telling the truth. The hens would help a good deal to keep Mr. Vega fed. A quick glance at the record before he’d exited the car had told him, Mr. Vega most often paid his toll in eggs.
Mr. Vega turned toward the house, effectively preventing Axel from asking more questions. “See you on Thursday, Mr. Rowe.”
Axel nodded and climbed into the car.
After years of the government taking everything he grows, homesteader George Vega has had enough. Food is scarce and people are starving. To provide for himself, he’ll need to break the law. Together with his next-door neighbor June, he sets up a system to hide food from the controller during his weekly collecting visits.
Axel Rowe won’t survive much longer. Every scrap of food he can get his hands on, he gives to his six-year-old daughter, but it isn’t nearly enough. Luck is on his side when he secures a job as a controller. He realizes taking the job will make people dislike him, but he has to eat.
George understands the danger he’s in when his old, lazy controller is replaced with a new, more observant one. Axel suspects there is something George is withholding, but when George takes care of him after nearly collapsing from hunger, Axel is more curious about how he’s able to keep food for himself than he’s interested in reporting him. George knows the risk, but after having looked into Axel’s desperate eyes, he’s compelled to take care of him. But can an outlaw homesteader have a relationship with the man who’s supposed to make sure he follows the law?
Dystopian M/M Romance: 23,976 words
According to Holly Day, no day should go by uncelebrated and all of them deserve a story. If she’ll have the time to write them remains to be seen. She lives in rural Sweden with a husband, four children, more pets than most, and wouldn’t last a day without coffee.
Holly gets up at the crack of dawn most days of the week to write gay romance stories. She believes in equality in fiction and in real life. Diversity matters. Representation matters. Visibility matters. We can change the world one story at the time.