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Disclaimer: The racial epithets and slurs used in this chapter are not intended to malign anyone, nor to reflect the attitudes of the author. Though some aspects of this work are inspired by real life events and people, this work is fictional and such words are only included as part of a narrative.
I thought about skipping breakfast. I need more time to myself, what was left of me. It’s too easy to fade into the attitudes of those around you. I wanted to please people, avoid arguments, remain neutral. But people see that as weakness. If you didn’t conform to a side, you were targeted. That was even more true now, in fact, codified into law. Lean right or die.
My stomach growled, hunger gnawing at me all the sudden. I missed the days of granola bars and fruit parfait cups, those portable breakfasts that saved time and money wasted on cooking. Now there were diet restrictions.
“All of these fat whores lazing about, wolfing down Cheetos and barking at men because they aren’t society’s perfect vision of Adonis. You need to put the ice cream down, get on the treadmills, and stop your bitching!” I remembered men’s rights activists yelling into a crowd of like-minded chauvinists.
Funny how the women couldn’t eat certain things, but men had hardly been limited. I still saw potbellies on men, some with bigger breasts than women. I couldn’t linger on the hypocrisies though, it would rile me up too much. Anger was exhausting and I needed to conserve energy. It was hardly worth it to let rage consume you when nothing could be done about it.
So, I walked down the stairs into the foyer. It was much bigger when it was empty of people and the paintings were easily visible. Oil paintings of landscapes, bridges over water, snow-capped mountains surrounding a frozen lake, the cliché bowl of fruit. Mom enjoyed painting before the war, but I never had the talent for it, myself. She loved to paint beaches, especially the beach of her childhood vacations down in what used to be South Carolina. She would spend hours painstakingly looking over the intricate details, how the sun reflected off the water, the layers of sea foam washing up on shore, the wisps of clouds against the azure blue skies. My chest ached with these memories, even though she was still alive. That creative part of her had been killed. I guess in this circumstance, you mourned the days when you were happy like a dear friend had died.
Isolde sat at the island counter, reading the newspaper while spooning oatmeal into her mouth. She had ditched the hair net and curlers, her hair in loose ringlets around her pointed face. I’ve hardly ever seen her face relaxed, as she was always scowling or looking like she was gnashing her teeth in our presence. Her eyes seemed too large for her face, the hazy light blue-gray irises reminded me of clouds during a blizzard. Her cheekbones were severely defined, like they’d been contoured. Maybe the First Wives received dispensation for makeup, or maybe she thought she was above the restrictions. She looked sideways at me, coming down the stairs. Instantly, her jawline narrowed, her lips shrinking inward as she pursed them. I thought of her as a cat, haunches raised, fur fluffing up and sticking out, making herself as threatening as she could without speaking.
Opal noticed me, her own shrewd expression on her face. I was still trying to think what I could have done to earn her disapproval. Perhaps she thought me a whore that would increase her workload. I guess as a servant, she had to find someone to hate. I didn’t reciprocate her angst. Maybe she was just fighting the only way she knew how, through projection.
I felt stupid standing there in the hall. I didn’t know the etiquette. Did I have to ask to sit down, to eat?
“Waiting for someone?” Opal asked me, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
“I…no.” I replied awkwardly, slowly edging toward the table in the middle of the kitchen. It was a circular dining table, painted robin’s egg blue. The chairs matched, which made me think they were handcrafted and painted. There was a floral cushion in the seat, one that looked like it was going to be uncomfortable for me to sit on. Nevertheless, I pulled out the chair, lifting so that the legs didn’t scrape the floor. I sat, the cushion beneath giving no back support. I didn’t dare to slide it out from the chair and set it against the table leg; lesser things had been sacrilege in this house.
Opal slid a bowl of oatmeal in front of me with two pieces of very toasted bread. No cinnamon, brown sugar, butter, or jam. Though I didn’t know if that was regulation or if I could even ask for it. I didn’t want to tempt Opal’s temper, though. I ate the oatmeal, which was surprisingly good on its own. She must season it with something while cooking.
It was too quiet in here. Except for the incremental sniffs from Isolde or a crumples of her paper, no one was making small talk. My grandmother used to have tea parties at her house, inviting her church friends. They’d talk and holler with laughter at each other’s jokes and stories over peach cobbler. That was a kitchen full of endless talk and mirth.
Even funerals were livelier than this.
I heard footsteps coming downstairs. I knew from the continual silence that it was a fellow concubine. Sure enough, Flora came to sit beside me at the table. We glanced at each other, neither thrilled to see the other. It wasn’t indifference as much it was mutual sorrow. She wore her hair up in a bonnet, looking very Puritan or maybe Mennonite in her dark green dress. We haven’t had a chance to see each other long enough to notice fine details. She was a redhead, her hair light auburn that had hints of blonde, like she’d had highlights at one point before they grew out. Freckles pocked her nose and cheeks, her nose was large, but it fit her face well. She was also considering me like she was taking me in.
I somehow doubted we’d be friends. Friendships meant alliances, alliances meant rebellion. Women’s gossip was as dangerous as a knife, secrets becoming plots and conspiracies. It’s how we’d done it before, banded together back then. Whole communes full of women desiring to eradicate the need for men. We’d burned our bras, marched in the streets, engaged in lesbianism in our little cults of misandrist orgies. That was the men’s rights’ take anyway. I hadn’t done either of those things, yet I was accounted for among the many.
Kristen also made an appearance. Isolde decided she’d finished her breakfast or she was too sick of our existence to continue. She handed the bowl over to Opal, who scraped out the uneaten oatmeal into the garbage disposal. Kristen was wearing a pink dress, sans bonnet. She had gone for a beehive hairstyle, looking like the modest version of a 1960s housewife. She had a mousey sort of face that would be better suited to a shorter hair style. Her chin was prominent beneath thin lips, her nose was broadly ridged and the tip anchored downward. Her eyes seemed too close together under bushy eyebrows. Opal served Kristen her oatmeal, considerably kinder to her than she’d been to me all this time.
Isolde cleared her throat from behind them. I turned myself in my chair, not wanting to seem like I was ignoring her. She was wearing her overcoat, a hideous sunflower-printed cloak that looked more carpet than cotton.
“There’s a rally in the square, attendance is mandatory for all household members,” she told us in a heavy, drawling voice like a scolding Sunday teacher. “If any of you embarrass me on this errand, you will be punished. If people ask questions, you respond courteously and appropriately. If you cannot do either, stay silent and allow me to answer for you. Your behavior reflects on me and I will not be tarnished because of a group of whores like you.”
That was one hell of an introduction, wasn’t it?
We left the house out the front door, trailing behind Isolde. She had an honest-to-God parasol in jade green, decorated with pink rosebuds, frills of lace around the rim. She was like a woman out of the 1890’s reincarnated. All that was missing was a corset, petticoat, and hoop skirt. She walked with poise and propriety. I was reminded of etiquette classes in high school when we had to put on dresses and learn the difference between salad and desert forks. I found them sexist, those lessons, that insisted we sit like “proper ladies” with our legs crossed and our chin up. We learned how to dance with the boys, who were more concerned with getting sneaky handfuls of our breasts or buttocks. I remember Tonya Lewis from those lessons, slapping the shit out of Brandon Hyde for grabbing her tit. The principal had suspended her and only given Brandon detention.
I was grateful for the walk, at least. It was a respite from the rooms filled with silent tension. Loneliness accompanies silence, despair accompanies loneliness. You can be lonely in rooms full of people. I felt the loneliest when the Head of House was using me, raping me, violating my body. At those moments, I float away from myself, into the void, into lonely nothingness.
But now I felt my feet on the ground, my legs supporting me. I could still walk, my body was my own for this short time.
Other households were filing out along the cul-de-sac of mansions, also renovated plantation houses. The next-door neighbor’s Head of House had five concubines, which was like a collection of dolls with different colored hair, like a child collecting Barbies. One with black hair, one brunette, one red, one blonde, and one was albino with startling silver-white hair. I wonder if they considered her the epitome of white culture, the template of what they wanted to achieve in the Sovereign State: vanilla ice-cream people, stark white, pale as an unpainted canvas.
Each cul-de-sac had one large connected fence perimeter with wrought iron gates to the walkways of each house. Adjudicators monitored these gateways, checking off on their clipboards. Many of the Adjudicators were once in prison, skinheads, part of the Aryan Brotherhood on the inside. Some of them still had the swastika tattoo in the middle of their forehead, accompanied with a collection of inked teardrops around their eyes. Their hate crimes were pardoned, even rewarded by the State for bravery and dedication to the cause. The more infamous white nationalists had been given higher accolades and jobs within the new government. Those were the type that burned down mosques, shot up synagogues, and torched minority churches.
I never made eye contact with them. The hatred that resided in their eyes never softened, not even in the society that they had long desired. It was superstitious, but eyes like that seemed like vacuums, sucking all joy out of you if you stared too long. They weren’t as shallow as people thought. They were caves full of demons, experiences that warped them into what they were, psychoses that fed on innocence and implanted fear that morphed into rage. Some part of me wanted to pity them, but they had gone far past redemption. Yet, they stood free, while I was in chains.
The rallies took place at the far end which was the beginning of the cul-de-sac. The formidable barbwire, chain-link fence extended, nine-feet tall, connecting at the posts were the iron-wrought fences began. Climbing it was suicide. Even if you managed to get over the barbwire loops, the chain-link was sensor-activated, instantly electrified at point of contact. They left the remains of the people that tried to escape, as a warning. The odd scrap of fabric that was once a lilac prairie dress; a stubborn rotten hand, disconnected from the body which had probably fallen and been eaten by the guard dogs; tragically, a dress that could only fit a young girl, left at the bottom, dark brown with dried blood and rain-weathered.
A stage had been erected a few paces in front of the chain-link. Today, upon the worn wooden rise, a cage of hounds kept in a cramped metal kennel snarled through their muzzles. They would no doubt have been starved days before this. They barked restlessly, whined with hunger, fought with with the other dogs as they scrambled around in the confined space. On the far left side of the stage, there was the main course: slaves, defectors, disobedient women, and rebels to the regime, hobbled like horses and gagged.
This was the second rally I had attended. The first one had been a hanging gallows. That’s when I knew this wasn’t a nightmare. I watched the ropes being looped around their necks, saw a couple pissing themselves, hearing their sobs as they pleaded for mercy. The floor dropped out and they scrambled, the nauseating crunch as their necks were broken, each and every face turning blues and purples, their eyes screaming as they grasped desperately at their ropes… and I hadn’t woken up.
“Justice is never delivered lightly,” said the Justiciar. Howard Klark was a man with a head like a massive thumb. Bald, brisk, and too robust for his navy blue suits, his massive beer belly entered a room before he did. The two buttons of his blazer were holding on for dear life as he climbed upon the stage. It took him two tries. The wooden platform creaked under his footsteps as he approached the podium in the center. “We gave these coons and spics every chance to do their part for the Sovereign States, but they betrayed those expectations. We must make an example of them.”
They had brought children to this rally. I saw them sitting atop their older siblings’ shoulders in order to see the stage better. This nauseated me considerably. At least with hanging, there was no ripping and tearing of flesh, no blood, no screams of agony to suffer through.
Justiciar Klark pulled out a pocket Bible out of his inside coat pocket. The miniaturized kind that only had a few choice chapters, the ones that supported their state-sanctioned murder. It was what the state called the “Sovereign Edition,” which was, according to the government, a more concise and accurate translation of the Holy Bible. It had an orange cover, looking more like a thick slice of cheese than a book. He opened it, the spine still stiff. He only read this Bible at rallies. It was probably the only time he read the Bible at all. He began to read, mopping sweat from his face and neck with a blue silk handkerchief.
“’Slaves and concubines, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ and your nation. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves and concubines of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.’”
No wonder other versions of the Bible were banned. They had added words to benefit their doctrine and laws. Anyone that tried to challenge the Sovereign Edition was charged as a Blasphemer and had their tongues burned off.
Justiciar Klark put the pocket Bible back in his coat and left the stage to stand behind the plexiglass screen off to the side, to protect against the starving dogs and visceral splatter. Heavily padded Adjudicators unsnapped the muzzles from the dogs’ mouths, retracting quickly behind the plexiglass along with the Justiciar. Someone pulled a lever from with the confined space.
The kennel doors unlocked and rose.
The chained and shackled prisoners started panicking and flailing against their restraints, crying out for mercy. I wanted to close my eyes, put my fingers in my ears. But I’ve seen what happens to those that do such a thing. They wanted us to see, to watch what happens to rebels. The dogs charged, drool trailing the wood as they lunged for the prisoners. A pitbull made the first bite on the leg of the woman. Her excruciating cry of pain pierced me like the dog’s fangs had bitten me instead.
It took forever for the dogs to finally kill them. I managed to strain my eyes, diverting them slightly so I would see only blurs of what’s happening. The wailing cries gave away to snarls and growls as the dogs fought over the giblets. The wet sounds of flesh and sinew being chewed threatened to bring up my breakfast, but I was determined to wait until we were back to the house.
“This execution has been partaken. Thank you for attending. You are dismissed.”
This final statement was punctuated by Kristen vomiting on the ground in front of us. The people in front ducked out of the way, looking at her like she was Linda Blair from The Exorcist. I chanced a look at Isolde. Indeed, she was glaring at Kristen like she was going to offer her to the dogs for dessert.
“Follow.” Isolde seethed.
I gave Kristen a brief look of sympathy and followed Isolde back to the house.