NWR Issue 122

The Word

‘This one,’ hisses Jonno, and I follow him through the gap in the hedge. Twigs tear at my clothing and it isn’t quite wide enough, so I have to drop my shoulder and push, but on the other side, hidden from the road, I stand and stretch gratefully. My back aches from stooping to hide.

The house looks empty, like every other house left on this street, and the backdoor handle gives under Jonno’s hand without being forced. The inhabitants didn’t even bother to lock up after them when they left.

Back at the Centre, Rachel said her parents used to reminisce about a time when you didn’t need to lock your door after you left the house. Perhaps reminisce was the wrong word, she conceded, after a moment. It had been before they were born, after all. But it had been; and the important thing was to get it back. That was what all this was for. The war, the experiments, perhaps even the Word: a gift from a benevolent God to protect His island children.

Now, I follow Jonno inside, like I follow him everywhere, and secure the door behind us. Then I wedge a kitchen chair under the handle to be sure. The activity helps, keeps me from listening too anxiously to the quiet, and I roam from room to room closing curtains, filling our water bottles, assessing the furniture for what might be most effectively stacked against the doors. Jonno stands at the kitchen table, leaning forward on flat palms, motionless. When I open my mouth to ask if he’s planning on helping me out any time soon, he holds up a hand for silence.

‘Listen,’ he says. ‘They’re coming.’

It’s a distant, mechanical rumble. Could be any kind of heavy machinery, from this far away.

We both know better. And as it approaches, moment by moment, even my reluctant ears detect the high, thin wail of feedback from a cliff-face of speakers, the anticipatory crackle of enough amplifiers to blow open your skull.

Slowly, the sound grows closer. In the end it grows deafening, turns our world into a silent film. I can’t hear the words Jonno’s mouth shapes when he turns to look at me or the clomp of his boots on the kitchen floor. I spread my hands, helpless. There’s nothing I can say, anyway.

The sound cuts out; the machinery grinds to a halt.

In the ringing silence that follows, there’s still nothing I can say.

I start when Jonno’s hand finds mine and squeezes it. It would be a lie to say that Jonno’s not given to displays of feeling – but they’re shoutier, generally. More stomping and slamming of doors. I don’t quite know what he means by it, but I squeeze back.


There were four born into our generation with the Word. Imperturbable Rachel came first; Cadi, the baby, five years behind her; and the two boys in the middle, Jonno and I, only six months apart.

We were a bumper crop. For the most part, in previous years, there had been just one or two every couple of decades. People muttered about what it might mean, not that we knew they were muttering at the time. I didn’t even really know what the Word was until the Centre took me in.

In my memories of home, my father’s eyes were always wide with terror. He moved in unwilling marionette jerks, compelled to perform whatever it was that I, in some childish tantrum, had yelled at him to do. By the time I arrived at the Centre, I didn’t even remember what it had been – an extra helping of sugary cereal, a cartoon on the TV. It had stopped mattering the moment I saw he was afraid of me.

I didn’t speak for three months afterwards.

A black car came to the house, carrying a man with some plasticky substance stuffed into his ears. He told me, in an awkward, too-loud voice, that I was to go with him to a special school for children who had been blessed, and because I was still angry at my parents for being so afraid, I went without complaining. I wasn’t sure I could have opened my mouth to protest anyway...

JL George was born in Cardiff, lives in Pontypool, and writes weird and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in Constellary Tales and anthologies including Resist Fascism and [:The Black Room Manuscripts]. She is a 2019 Literature Wales bursary recipient currently working on a near-future dystopian novel. In her other life, she’s an academic interested in literature and science and the Gothic. ‘The Word’ won the New Welsh Writing Awards 2019: Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella, awarded this summer at Hay Festival, and will be published on the New Welsh Rarebyte imprint in 2020. She is on Twitter at @jlgeorgewrites

Filmic trailer of a dystopian novella with big themes of propaganda, communication and cohersion with a touching teenage boys' friendship at it heart. Winner of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella.

Adjudication (Gwen Davies): "JL George’s The Word manages to place at the heart of her ambitious novella – which explores ideas about propaganda, communication and cohersion – a touching and compelling story of friendship between two teenage boys on the run."

Animation & artwork: Emily & Edalie Roberts. Shot-list & art direction: Gwen Davies. Senior Producer: New Welsh Review

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