I knew when the letter came that it was all over for me.
I answered the door to a blank-faced man in an immaculate uniform. He said my name, his voice toneless. When I nodded, he handed me an envelope, then turned on his heel and walked away.
His appearance and manner told me where the letter was from even before I saw the familiar logo stamped on its upper corner. The paper felt unfamiliar in my hands; the archaic personal delivery system was designed to prevent citizens from being able to claim they had not received their letter.
I turned back to the kitchen, where my girlfriend was eating breakfast. She looked up as I entered, her spoon pausing partway to her mouth when she saw my expression. I held the envelope out to her, my hands trembling slightly.
“It’s from the CoLD,” I said, the words emerging in barely a whisper.
Instantly, I saw the horror I felt reflected in her eyes. Her spoon clattered down into her breakfast bowl, forgotten.
X X X X X
It all started ten years ago.
My nation’s economy is based on deposits of a mineral found beneath the ground in an area near our northern border. It provides the main source of fuel for our machinery, heating and light, and makes up the vast majority of our exports to other nations.
One day, the miners broke through into a network of caverns previously undiscovered. They showed signs of manmade construction and contained relics of a bygone era, the like of which had never before been seen. The relics were raised to the surface, and the world marvelled at such a momentous find. An exhibition was mounted in our capital city and people flocked from many nations to see it. Our historians studied the relics and published their findings within their community.
That was when everything started to go wrong. Historians from our northern neighbour claimed the relics demonstrated links to their culture, and deduced that the site beneath our mines was significant to their religious history. There was much discussion and debate, but the ultimate conclusion on all sides was that they were correct. Long ago, the border between our two nations must have shifted, so that their historical site now falls within the land we control.
As a gesture of goodwill, our government offered to return all the recovered relics to them and to provide limited access to the site itself, but that was not enough. They demanded a redrawing of the border so that they could reclaim the land, and therein lay a substantial problem. Without the mines, our economy would be severely affected, and our government was not prepared to give up our main source of income to satisfy a cultural desire.
Things quickly escalated, with neither side prepared to accept any offered compromise, until, inevitably, war broke out between our two nations.
At first, the requirement for military personnel was covered by our existing forces but, as the years went by with no sign of an end to the conflict, more people were needed than volunteered. The draft was established two years ago, a random selection process that could result in any citizen being selected to join the fight at any time.
X X X X X
I opened the envelope and carefully removed the heavy paper sheet enclosed within. I unfolded it slowly and read the contents aloud.
“You are requested to present yourself at the nearest Council of Loyalist Defence barracks at second bell two days from acceptance of this letter.”
I raised my eyes to meet my girlfriend’s gaze once more.
I was going to war.
[This was my first winning entry in the weekly Hour of Writes competition - first published December 2014.
Comment from Alison Ireland, who runs the site:
"The winner provided a succinct and plausible account of a state’s movement into war, via a clever manipulation of the title."]