Today, I welcome the lovely Holly Day back to the blog to talk about her newest release The Hunger Gap. Welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to have you here! ❤️
Hello, Nell! Hello, Nell’s readers! *waves*
A few days ago, my story The Hunger Gap was published. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with what the hunger gap is. I suspect it’s a term you might not have heard unless you’re into gardening and growing fruit and veg. It probably depends on where you live, too.
The hunger gap is that period in the spring when there are no fresh fruit or vegetables to be had. If you’re in California or Florida, then you don’t really have a hunger gap since you can have fresh things growing year around. In Sweden – we’re still at risk of getting nights below freezing. Things are starting to grow, gradually. The trees are getting greener by the day and my radishes, lettuce, spinach, and snow peas are just peeking up out of the soil.
So if we’re going back to a time when our grocery shops weren’t overflowing with fruits and vegetables from around the globe, the hunger gap was very real and had a huge impact on people’s lives. About this time last year, my biggest fear was a food shortage. I might like to have a few garden beds, but I don’t have the knowledge, and I don’t have the space to provide for my family. What if they closed the borders? What if lockdown meant no one would go out into the fields to harvest?
In 1867, there was a bad harvest here. People starved to death, and out of those who survived, about 20% of all men and 15% of all women left for the USA in the following years. If you’re from the midwest, you might have some Swedish genes since it was where most of them ended up. They left because they didn’t want to see their children starve to death, and they’d heard about the fertile soil on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Enough of a history lesson, and by now, you might have an idea of what The Hunger Gap is about. It’s a dystopic story where every district has to grow its own food. And since I’m Swedish, I gave them a climate similar to where I’m at in Sweden – with a hunger gap stretching from January to May.
As if having to struggle through a hunger gap wouldn’t be enough, we also have a corrupt government and rigorous controls of how much food you’re allowed to keep for yourself and your family. George has a homestead and has to pay a weekly toll in food that he’s to produce. And the story starts with Axel’s first day at the job as a controller – the one who has to make sure people pay their tolls.
Oh, and I probably should say, I wrote this story to celebrate World Plant a Vegetable Garden Day, and that’s today.
As soon as the car rolled out of the yard, George rushed through the house. He stopped a few seconds by the light switch and flicked it up and down at a rapid pace, hoping June would see it.
Then he ran out the back door, took the stairs up the hill two steps at a time, and then jogged down the slope they’d dug out of the stony ground, and in through the door on his side of the hidden garden.
“What the heck are you doing with the lights?”
He jumped at June’s voice. “Run!”
June looked up at him, her hazel eyes widening. “What’s going on?”
“New controller. He’s traveling the round to prepare for Thursday, inspected my barn and wanted to see my hens.”
“Shit.” What little color she had on her cheeks drained away. “Shit, the hens are out. The roosters—”
“I know. One cockerel came strutting into the barn.”
She dropped the garden trowel to the ground. “What happened?”
“I scared him off, and when he crowed, I told them it was your rooster.”
“Go! I’ll try to lock them in. Turn off the light.” She jogged toward the door, scared a couple of hens in the process, but left the secret garden within seconds.
They had dug out a hole in the hill. It wasn’t a perfect square, but they’d aimed for thirty feet times thirty feet, and they’d dug it ten feet deep. It had taken ages—buckets of sweat and too many blisters on their hands to count, but they’d done it.
George had traded food for acrylic glass at the black market. It wasn’t ideal, but they needed a material that wouldn’t shatter if something fell on it, or if an animal were to walk on it. They’d installed poles to keep the glass from falling in, and while it was slow to get the heat up at this time of the year, it created a big greenhouse.
June had gotten hold of wires, so they’d hooked it up to the distribution box in George’s house and buried the cord in the ground. They’d built an area in the corner where they’d installed shelves with growing lights for seedlings.
By the door on the other side of the hidden garden, they’d built chicken coops from leftover boards and planks they’d found, stolen, or borrowed. Farther in, they kept a few rabbits. George didn’t like raising rabbits, but it was food. They reproduced fast, which was good. The main problem was keeping them fed.
Together, they kept twenty hens and two roosters. Which were fifteen birds more than they were allowed. The cockerel walking into the barn earlier was not included in the twenty-two birds, he was destined for the pot. George would take care of him. With a new controller, they had to be more careful. Better to eat the bird than get thrown in jail because of him.
George had watched June starve, had watched her children starve, and had suggested they work together. It had started with allowing June’s rooster to walk with his hens. Then there had been chicks that he’d butchered and given the meat to June.
He’d been starving too, but as Mr. Rowe had pointed out—he got breakfast every day at the bakery. June did too, and he suspected, now during the hunger gap, it was all she ate.
Watching children starve was terrible.
He didn’t agree with the government’s system; didn’t agree with people being given less food if they worked less than others. He did not agree with the government having the right to take everything you made for yourself.
Yes, there was a food shortage, he understood that. And yes, he understood people living in apartments in the city could not grow their own food. But to take the food he grew, to restrict how much he was allowed to have when he worked hard for it—that he didn’t agree with.
A person like June didn’t stand a chance. She was a single mother of three boys, her husband had walked out on her years ago. How was one person’s weekly quota supposed to feed four people?
It didn’t. Even with the extra food packages for children, it was nowhere near what a family needed to survive.
She got a little extra for having the kids, and a few measly boons for being a homesteader, but it wasn’t nearly enough. After a few years of watching her struggle, and struggling himself, he’d tried to do something about it. It might be his death, would most likely have him end up in prison one day, but to see those kids get to have fresh vegetables, allow them to eat eggs and the occasional chicken—it made it worth the risk.
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.