Paul JohnstonPaul Johnston
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The Blood Tree
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The Blood Tree


Double toil and double trouble in the independent city-state of Edinburgh. Here, summer’s been known as the Big Heat since global warming got into its stride. Temperatures in 2026 had been the highest yet. We were still undergoing trial by sunstroke in early October, when autumn crept in like an assassin one night and amputated most of the leaves from the city’s trees. They fell to the pavements in their millions and were doused in a heavy dew. The infirmary quickly filled up with people who’d broken their legs. It definitely wasn’t the best of times.

Our leaders in the Council of City Guardians tried to cope. Citizens were drafted into squads to clear the leaves and to distribute Supply Directorate provisions to the housebound. But, like everything else the guardians have been doing recently, those were only holding operations. The tourist income from the year-round festival has taken a major hit, so the Council doesn’t have the resources to keep Edinburgh’s problems at bay like it used to.

In the last few months it’s become clear what the root of those problems is: the city’s disaffected youth. In the early years of the Enlightenment, the Council had things easy. People were so sick of anarchy and crime that they were prepared to accept the regime’s tight grip. Not any more. These days, gangs of kids - some of them as young as seven - rampage through the suburbs; they’ve even been known to infiltrate the central tourist zone and terrorise the city’s honoured guests. Most young people don’t buy the Council’s Platonic ideals and rigid regulations. They just want to be free.

I know how they feel - I’ve never been too keen on authority myself. But things are beginning to get beyond a joke. In late September some kids took on a City Guard unit and sent them back to barracks to think again. The Council, always quick to locate responsibility elsewhere, put the upsurge in civil disobedience down to the influence of democrats from Glasgow - there’s been a big increase in breaches of the land and sea borders. The guardians may be right, but I’d be more inclined to blame the disciplinarian culture that they’ve instilled. Eventually people aren’t going to take it any more.

That’s not all the Council’s been up against. The birth-rate has dropped like a cannonball in the last couple of years. Ordinary citizens are justifiably concerned about bringing kids into a city that’s no longer safe. Rumours started circulating that people were being bribed to reproduce. I wasn’t convinced. I mean, in this city of rationing and restrictions, there’s nothing much to bribe people with. What kind of offer are you going to make them? Get pregnant and get two eggs a week instead of one?

All of which was making me pretty jumpy as I stood on the castle walls and looked out over the darkening city. Soon it would be Hallowe’en, not that the Council allowed any celebration of the old feastday. A crow was perched in the branches of a tall tree in the gardens below, its harsh cry suggesting it had eaten something seriously stomach-churning. Away to the west the clouds were massing and there was a crash of thunder that rose in volume as it headed our way. Then, as the sun died, a gash of red split the sky above the hills. The rain came down and I asked myself the big question - what if the Council lost its grip?

The answers I came up with made me feel worse than the carrion bird. There was an old bluesman called Willie Brown who used to sing about the Future Blues. Recently I hadn’t been able to get that lyric out of my mind.

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