Here is a Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Blog. The Challenge is this: mash two pop culture properties, concepts, whatever to create a brand new story. I got Handmaid’s Tale and the Bible. Since the Bible is such a huge body of work I decided to focus on Old Testament heroes and wonder workers.
Sixty seconds. That’s how long it takes me to shave a lady’s head. The other boys take a half minute longer, but they make it a point not to be too quick or too slow. I don’t know why my shaving speed matters to me. I have no one to impress. In fact, it’s better if the Sisters don’t notice you, or worse a Mistress. Life is better when you’re beneath their attention. And yet I have to be faster than the others. It’s something I can be proud of, even if it is a small thing. The name stitched on my shirt is Pablo. Just Pablo. No sir names allowed since the last campaign. The processing center where I live and work is a holding place for the accused until room is made in the nearby prisons. The main building was emptied out after the war and was surprisingly easy to retrofit for its new purpose.
The walls are an unremarkable white brick. A triangular edifice sits on top that once marked it as a superstore. We’ve no need for such extravagance now. The black pavement that surrounds it like a moat, its paint sun-faded and flaking away, is itself surrounded by a barbed fence. Army green tents are set up in neat rows on the pavement where the boys sleep, eat and work. Mistresses and Sisters sleep offsite. It isn’t prohibited, but they don’t like to mix with us. The light poles are gone, though their cement foundations remain, converted into tables or interior supports where it is convenient, punishment blocks where it is not. Valkyries patrol outside the barbed fence, always watchful for escape attempts by the accused.
It is a blessing that boys are never accused, Uncle Thomas said once. I do not agree. For boys, sentencing is quick, punishment is instant and very rarely is it nonlethal. Accusation is a luxury compared to that, but it is only afforded to the Sisterhood. Maybe that’s why the Valkyries don’t concern themselves with boys trying to escape. If anything they’d relish the target practice should we make the attempt. Not that we have the first clue what’s out there. No one’s seen anything that isn’t within sight of the processing complex since we arrived. This place is our world now. The lands of the Sappho Republic beyond won’t concern us until we are given new roles elsewhere, so we don’t think about it. I thought I’d be gone from this place already, but weeks quickly turn to months; a mild winter gives way to a short spring and then an oppressive summer. The daily routine becomes second nature, and I hardly remember my life before.
Work starts almost as soon as the sun is risen. Out of bed, clothes on, a quick bite, and then I’m at my station, shears ready to go. There are three other hair shearing boys besides myself. It seems like overkill some days, when we won’t even see a single one of the accused. Other days it seems like the line of ladies will never end and I miss my lunch because of the work. Day after day, they sit in my chair, or are made to sit, and I take from them the thing that most ladies these days prize most. Sometimes, by the time the day has ended, I am so covered in hair that I resemble a beast of the field. It’s even worse on the hottest days, when the black flag is raised and the Sisters and Mistresses are told to stay hydrated. The hair sticks to my skin, layer upon layer, and no amount of wiping will get rid of it for even my hands are moist and caked with it.
In the old days, they say, hair was a sign of vanity. Looks were prized only because they could attract the male gaze. It is difficult to even imagine such a world. Uncle Thomas told me that when the old government was crumbling and the new one couldn’t wait one minute longer to be born, hair was one of the first things to go. Looks, make-up, high heels, fake lashes, they were thrown off like a wool coat in summer. But we are social creatures after all, and after the turmoil of the early years, hair was reclaimed as a symbol of status, a marker in the pecking order. The Mistresses and Sisters wear their hair long in any style of their choosing. Valkyries bun or braid theirs to keep it compact and battle ready. I don’t know what an Amazon’s hair looks like. Never seen one in person. Long hair means status, but it also means responsibility. Only the feminine have the skill and discipline to maintain it. That is why the accused have theirs shorn off. They are made to appear more boyish. A cruel punishment.
From my post I’ve felled countless lock of hair. Brown, Black, Red, Blonde of every hue and style. As it piles on the floor I imagine it is like a many colored animal that grows and grows until sweeper Alfredo pushes it away. It seemed odd to me at first that they would assign us this role and not a Sister. Uncle Thomas said that boy’s hands are meant for rough things. Whether it is breaking stone or lifting support beams or defending one’s face from a Mistress as she violently takes his seed. Yet this role was given to me. Maybe it is because my hands are that of a youth’s. Callused, yes, but delicate and dexterous enough to handle shears. Maybe this role is too low for even a young Sister to take.
It is not punishing work, thankfully, despite everything. The accused are usually worn out by the time they get to me, either from hard travel or the beatings. Still, the danger is very real. They tell me it is a boy’s nature to be empty headed and distracted and that I must work to be more feminine in my vigilance. Women are always on, their minds constantly working. If I’m not careful, one of the accused could easily snatch one of my tools. Even dulled, they can be dangerous in the hands of a skilled Valkyrie.
The process begins just inside the first gate. The accused are stripped of all possessions, which are gathered and sorted by several Sisters, and then searched for contraband. Then they are led to the tent where me and the other boys wait with shears ready. I try to stay soft as I work. It isn’t easy, especially now at summer’s peak when the accused come in glistening with sweat, their breaths labored due to the oppressive heat. I pray that I can keep my beastly nature from bulging out of my shorts or at the very least keep it away from the Sisters’ notice. It’s the worst if a Sister catches you hard. They like to toy with you; ask if you like what you see. If the answer is no, they call you gay very loudly, encouraging the other Sisters and boys to laugh. If you say yes, then the offending member is smacked hard with a whip. Keep that blood in your other head, they’d say. And if you answer with even a hint of satisfaction, like you’re enjoying the sight of a naked lady’s body rather than longingly coveting it from afar like you’re supposed to, then we never see you again.
Once the accused heads are free of hair, (the mistresses don’t specify length or tidiness, just that it is short enough not to be grabbed), they are led to another area where a duo of Sisters hit them with the de-bugging spray and then rinse them off with cold water. I envy their cold rinses in the worst of the heat, though the cold shock does not look pleasant. Finally, a Health Mistress will look them over for contagions and disease before sending them to the main building where they are given their new prison grey attire and shown their beds for the next few weeks.
At night, once dinner is over and the boys are done with their roughhousing and chest beating and the lights are turned down, I take a long walk around the main building where the accused are kept. There is a spot on one of the walls near the back where, if you tilt your head just so, you hear what’s happening inside. Sometimes you catch the unmistakable sounds of love-making. Lesbianism isn’t common in Sappho, but desperate, fearful circumstances often produces strange bed fellows. It’s not why I come here, though. I listen for the stories. This is how I keep my mind occupied when I can’t sleep or when the beast below presses painfully against the stitching of my shorts and I can’t find release in the usual ways. These ladies come from all corners of Sappho. Many are here because of the northern campaign. They are scared. They don’t want to rot in prison, but they also don’t want to join the Matriarchy.
Sometimes I hear them call it a fringe cult or a rogue nation. Many are ignorant of what Sappho really is, a surprise to me since it’s been a generation at least since it’s founding. But maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. News doesn’t travel like it used to. Sappho must be a land of mystery to the outside world. It won’t be that way for long, to hear the Valkyries tell it. The outside world continues shrinking everyday.
I hear the story of Lotta. The Amazons had encircled the Twin Cities and were kidnapping, sorry, ‘rescuing’ the ladies while the boys were rounded up in camps. She and her husband and two sons fled in the night but they didn’t get far before the bombardment began. It was the first use of a new kind of weapon, she says. Before morning came again, the Twin Cities were wiped from the face of the earth, those still inside reduced to base minerals.
I heard about that, another accused says. A weapon that turns people into sand? No, not sand, Lotta replies. Salt. One of the bombs had flown off course and landed near her husband. As he turned to look, it exploded, draining him of all moisture and atomizing his complex organic molecules. Lotta kept running, never turning back to look, tasting the salt in the air as the winds shifted and the Twin Cities fell.
Another night I hear Joan’s tale. She was Navy once. Served proudly in the service of Sappho’s fleets, until one night when the Goddess came to her and revealed her life’s purpose. She was meant to save the souls of the people of Las Vegas, a wicked city that had lost its way. Joan refused. She was loyal to the Domina and her sisters in the Navy and wanted nothing to do with the dick lovers who lived there. The Goddess didn’t let her off so easily. She sent a great wind that threw Joan overboard. Before she knew it a great fish swallowed her whole and she lived in its smelly guts for who knew how long before it spat her up on a desert shore. Joan walked for days in the deadly heat before she came upon Vegas’ outer limits. She cursed the Goddess, saying she hated the Chauvinists and Lady pretenders who lived there. She was so angry she could die! But the Goddess wouldn’t let her. Joan found water and shade from a rare plant that somehow grew in those poisoned sands. Finally she relented and preached to the people of Vegas, saving them from the city’s destruction and a horrible death from thirst. She hasn’t regretted it a day since.
It is like this for months. Then she arrives. She can barely fit inside the tent, she is so tall. I have to get a box to stand on just to do my job. And her musculature! She is in peak physical condition. I notice more as I work on her hair. Her skin from head to toe is rough and scarred. Her hair is a very light shade of blonde, almost white. It is also very unevenly cut before I get to it, like someone had taken a knife to it and lopped it off in one swing. She seems very sad. Had I just met my very first Amazon? How had she ended up an accused? I don’t know what her story is, but I’m very interested to learn. That night I go by the usual spot and wait. I don’t hear any voice that sounds like they come from a giant. Maybe she has no stories today.
Sisterhood- Collective term for every lady on Earth.
Sister- The newest and mostly young members of the Matriarchy who earned the right to vote. They occupy the lowest rungs of the social ladder. They are assigned basic tasks in the community and supervise the menial labor done by boys.
Mistress- Of a slightly higher standing than Sisters, they are responsible for leading households, community groups and filling government and administrative positions.
Matron- Halfway up the social ladder above Sisters and Mistresses, they are kind and nurturing souls who cultivate talent and ability among the Sisterhood.
Valkyrie- Enforcers of law and order and protectors of the home front.
Amazon- A colloquial term for any elite lady warrior, but specifically refers to the enhanced core of the Matriarchy’s military arm.
The Matriarchy- The governing body of the Sappho Republic. It encompasses every lady who’s come of age.
Sappho Republic- A vibrant young nation located within the old borders of the United States.
Domina- The supreme leader of the Matriarchy. She assumed the title after the tragic death of Sapphoism’s founder.
Sapphoism- Born from Fifth Wave Feminism, this peaceful philosophy later turned into a violent movement which sparked a revolution and then birthed a nation after the Second Civil War decimated the fighting age male population.
Woman- A shunned word that used to illustrate ladies as being non-men.
Female- A shunned word that used to describe non-maleness.
Accused- Ladies who reject the tenets of the Domina or who constantly misbehave.
Lady pretenders- Ladies who blaspheme the Goddess by identifying as male.
boy- Collective term for every non-lady on Earth.
Uncle- Colloquial term for guys who groom boys for service to the republic.
Man- An evil term applied to violent and mindless boys or boys with overblown confidence or misplaced sense of worth.