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Sandstone Short Fiction Competition – An Epidemic of Kindness

On Saturday evening we announced the winners of the first ever Sandstone Press Short Fiction competition - today we are delighted to share our first place winner, by James Thellusson. Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congratulations to James!

Our winning story takes the prompt, ‘An Epidemic of Kindness’, and turns it from a potentially rosy-tinted platitude into something far darker. In this dystopian satire – a partially redacted dispatch from a Carer on the Frontline of a world with many unnerving echoes of our own – the epidemic has become an enduring fixture of life, the elderly are subject to news censorship and coercive caring, and the phrase ‘Kindness Services’ has taken on a very sinister meaning. The attention to detail is brilliantly done, and the story gains extra power by echoing an earlier format too – the letter home from the Front. We have already seen how some of the world’s more authoritarian Governments are using the current pandemic to extend their powers further, and some might see parallels closer to home too… Powerful, original and skilfully executed, this is a very worthy winner. -Dan Brotzel

To:

██████ ███████ (Redacted)

Subject:

Care Report (Personal)

Date:

Viral Surge 15.1

Dearest Mother

I hope you are not alarmed to lose me to the War effort and are bearing Lock Down well. As this is not your first Lock Down, perhaps you are numb to its necessary privations?

I know you worry I am too inexperienced to be sent to the Frontline so soon after qualification, but my training is unrivalled and my equipment first class, so I beg you not to fret about me. I could not be happier. Since I was a young girl, I have dreamt of nothing else but becoming a Carer. Therefore, this outbreak is a welcome opportunity to prove myself quickly, rather than spend years dredging in Trace & Test, like father. In time, I hope you will see it this way, too.

Let me tell you as much as I am allowed about my first Kindness assignment.

They have billeted me with an old couple, risk rated ‘Category A’, in a house outside ██████ . They have a large garden, which we use when the weather permits, and I count myself lucky not to be boxed in a flat like so many other newly qualified Carers.

My couple survived the first season and tell many stories of it, which is both endearing and trying. Mostly, they praise the Institution for the improvements it has made since then. I think they are as happy as could be expected.

There have been challenging moments, as training predicted. The old man is used to his own way about the affairs of the house and he has created a major fuss on two occasions. The first when I disabled the News Channel because the surge data is so poor and the second when I insisted they sleep in separate bedrooms. When he refused, I reminded him that ‘Hygiene trumps Habit’ and this brought him to heel, thankfully.

I am surprised at their selfishness. It befits their years to be more compliant, but they appear reluctant to put aside their foibles to protect those of Key Workers, like myself, and the affairs of the Institution. They certainly make no allowance for my feelings in this difficult situation. I cannot imagine you and father behaving the same way.

Today, I received instructions to issue phase two medication. I will commence the procedure tonight. I have cancelled the food drone and have spent the day rehearsing the procedure, while they relax in the garden. I am nervous but I hope to shepherd them through this with kindness, as if I were doing this for you and father. I shall do my best, as you have always taught me.

Mail soon. I worry a little about the data. Let me know if Kindness Services contact you.

Stay safe.

Your loving daughter

████ (Redacted)