I wrote this story in a Dystopian Fiction Class at DePaul University in 2016, where it was eventually published in "Outrageous Fortune" which is MaryBaldwin University's literary magazine. This is the first version of the story, the next post will be the new and improved version.
Belle awoke from a nightmare. One where her innocence and humanity was lost all once by thick black tentacles and a cold grey cloud, suffocating and invading her. Finally the coils entered her spinal cord and that is when she woke up. While she sat in bed, breathing heavily, she noticed a wetness on her nightgown. She didn’t know if she was that scared during the night, or perhaps she really was invaded by the inhuman things. The church bells rang, it was time for mass. Belle woke her older sister Jillian by throwing a balled up sock at her head. Jill made a noise that sounded almost a bit like “Fuck church” but Belle knew that Jill would never slander the Lord like that.
Belle got dressed in a hurry while Jill was already dressed when she took off the covers.
“Why are you wearing your clothes to bed?’ asked Belle.
“Uh….I came home late.”
“Jillian were you with that Jack boy again?”
“Maybe if you were a real women you’d know what it was like to be with a man.”
Belle studied Jill like she did every day. Child bearing hips and large breasts, the treasure that all men in the village wanted. Whereas Belle was a short and childlike, despite being almost twenty. She didn’t hate her sister, but there was as strong envy toward her. Belle knew that the Church said to not be envious, and she wondered how they knew what it was like to be the woman who was never looked at. To be the woman that no man wanted. Deep down Belle was angry that The Great Shepard did not bless her with good genetics. If she did have kids, they would be weak like her. Her sons would never be hunters or builders. Her daughters would not be attractive enough to get a man with better genes. And when she was old and grey, she would die alone, unable to be helped by her children. The Village might even send her to the woods to die, it was either death or be damned eternally if the witches got to her. If I am truly blessed, Belle thought, then I will die in my sleep while my God laughs at me.
The two sisters went to the temple in the center of town. Jill went to sit next to Jack, the strong son of a woodman who had been very kind to Jill ever since she developed. Belle, looking for a place to sit, sat next to a blind old man who didn’t seem to notice her. The sermon began.
“It is the fourteenth day of the Harvest season, and our Lord has blessed us with wondrous crops this year.” Said the High Priest as the crowd began to cheer.
“The Great Shepard has blessed us with food, clean water and air, and beautiful child bearing women. We will return the favor, but first, today’s lesson.”
The crowd grew silent. Everyone in the room was ecstatic to hear what knowledge the High Priest had for them.
“In the Dark Age, men and women held power beyond even our Lord’s understanding. They were demonic, evil creatures, the False Adam and Eve’s were given seats at the grand feasts, and even man and demon joined in an unholy matrimony. This is why we are safe. The False One’s and their enlightened slaves rule the outskirts of our peaceful and God fearing village. I look around the room and can recognize all of you. We have been a strong community, blessed and pure, we will be the ones in the kingdom of heaven, because we were blessed with death, forgetfulness, and the brain fog. Does anyone here know why we live in this sanctuary? It is because our ancestors knew what was right. No one here knows why they were right, but we accept it as truth, because that is the way of The Great Shepard. Men are not supposed to know everything. From the first men to the last, we will be humble in our death.”
The crowd erupted with applause. The blind old man wasn’t clapping, and he leaned into Belle’s ear and whispered “One day we will both laugh in the face of God”. Then he got up and walked out of the temple.
Belle wondered what that old man meant. Did he know she was angry at the creator? Was he a witch? Or worse, was he a False One? Infiltrating the village. No that’s silly. The False Ones probably don’t even exist. Belle thought. She continued to sew a hole in a dress and not think about such nonsense.
Jill had been missing for several hours now. Belle was told by her uncle when Jill didn’t come back from the well.
“She’s probably off with Jack.”
“What do you mean she’s off with Jack?”
Belle froze up. She didn’t mean to give away her sister’s secret like that. She stammered and stuttered and tried to fabricate a lie to cover up what she meant, but her uncle wasn’t listening. He was already taking the pitchfork off the shelf, ready to hunt down this Jack and protect his niece’s soul.
What started out as a manhunt by one angry uncle, turned into a community lead search for bodies in a matter of hours. Nobody could find a trace of Jack or Jill. The High Priest lead a sermon an hour after the search ended. Belle wasn’t paying attention. Her mind was occupied by the fact that her sister might be dead. There were talks of False Ones in the forest, or witches looking for a sacrifice. The blind old man was in the corner of the room. Even though his eyes were milky white and dead, Belle could feel his gaze upon her.
As Belle slept that night, she dreamed of the black tentacles and grey cloud surrounding Jill, and violating her. Eventually the tentacles slithered away and the cloud disappeared. What was left was a grey being, that somewhat resembled Jill, but hairless and covered in strange markings. The grey being open its mouth and a blue light shown. Belle was drawn to it, it called out messages of peace and unity. Of knowledge from beyond the stars and deep within the human mind. Temptation was too much and Belle embraced the grey being. Then she woke up.
Belle made the decision to skip church, and sneak off to the woods. She crept by her uncle who was making his way toward her cabin, and entered his tool shed. She grabbed a hammer and broke into a sprint into the woods. She didn’t know where she was going, but she thought that The Great Shepard would guide her. Belle was barely one hundred pounds, she knew she couldn’t do much damage with a hammer, but it was the first thing she grabbed and she couldn’t head back now. Everyone in the village would be in the temple, nobody would know that she was gone until hours passed. Besides, she could always blame witches that controlled her mind or a False One chased her into the woods. The elders of the village believed such nonsense. Belle was too smart to fall for superstition. Though the deeper into the woods she traveled, the more frightened she got. There cannot be any witches or False Ones, but what about bandits or murderers, or worse, lurking in these woods. Belle thought to herself. She knew many people were exiled over the years to this forest, what if they were still here. A twig snapped and Belle dropped her hammer. A cackle rippled through the woods and Belle took off running. Her sense of direction was lost, all that mattered was to move away from whatever laughed at her. She saw a clearing in the trees, a small patch of grass where she could hid. Suddenly the grass burst into flames. She turned around to see an old woman draped in rags standing in the distance. Belle turned, another exact replica stood in her path. Every direction held an identical old woman rapidly approaching her. Belle screamed and as hands covered her face, and her world turned to blackness.
Belle awoke to the smell of boiling roots. She opened her eyes and watched the old woman dice mushrooms with a large knife and gently drop them into a boiling pot.
“You’re up little one.”
Belle was petrified. The old woman walked slowly toward her, flashing a smile of yellow and jagged teeth. “What are you going to do to me? What did you do to my sister?”
“I know where your sister is. The air tells me she is in the False World, as you people call it. She is…enlightened now.
“The church says enlightenment is a terrible thing.”
“The church?” The old woman cackled. “The church knows nothing and they are proud of it! I? I see all.”
“How do you see all?”
“Our ancestors left us gifts everywhere. You just need to know how to tap into them. Each on smaller than a speck of dust. But as powerful as a rifle. More so. I, communicate with these gifts. I was too poor to become a False One. I could never have that luxury. But I studied the world around me, and became one with the universe.”
“I don’t understand anything you’re talking about.”
“You will learn little Belle, one day you will laugh in the face of God.”
“How…how do you know my name?”
The old woman cackled again, but this one turned into a rough cough. “I told you dearie, I know everything. Head to the big mountain. All your questions will be answered there. But first, you are weak, drink this and you will be strong.”
The old woman handed her a bowl of steaming blue liquid. Belle sniffed it, it had no smell. She drank it with hesitation, knowing it was the only way out of this old woman’s hovel.
“All finished?” the old woman said with a smile.
Belle couldn’t answer, for everything went dark and she could no longer see the old woman. Belle stood up in the darkness, and the floor formed where she walked, she was afraid she would misstep and plunge into infinite darkness. A door appeared, she opened it, and entered a field of blue grass and glass trees. She wandered the landscape, when off in the distance she saw two children, both wearing masks, off in the distance. She ran over to them. She kept running, never getting closer, the children kept their distance no matter how fast or far she ran. Eventually she stopped, gasping for breath. The children approached her, it only took them a few steps. She looked at them. She couldn’t tell their gender. One was wearing a mask that looked sad, the other wore one that looked happy.
“Who are you two?”
“We are Strife and Paradise. One does not exist without the other”. They said in unison.
“What…what are you?”
“We are the new Gods. Built eons ago and put in charge of you mortals. Your old Gods died, never existed, or abandoned you. We cannot come to a solid conclusion.”
“Where is my sister?”
“Safe. For now.”
“How do I get to her?”
“I don’t understand. Where am I?”
“You are in the place of the Enlightened. Your kind calls us the False Ones. Your kind builds, then tries to destroy. You are a paradox of nature.”
“How do I leave?”
“Not many of your kind want to leave. But we suppose it makes sense. After all you are but a child, new to this universe and your own. You know nothing. At the moment you are nothing, until you can prove yourself.”
“How do I prove myself?”
“Embrace us. Then you will know.”
“Belle walked up to them cautiously, and suddenly Strife and Paradise expanded outward, black tentacles and grey clouds emitting from their bodies. Belle was terrified, she couldn’t move as the cloud entered her nose and throat, and the tentacles burrowed into her flesh. She did not feel pain or discomfort, just fear. Fear of the unknown. She could faintly hear the words “She’s waking up, plug her back in”. It sounded too clear to be a coincidence.
Suddenly she was back in the dark word. Nothingness. She tried to look at her own hands, but couldn’t find them. There as just nothing.
“Hello?” she called out. And then big white letters appeared in front of her and spelled out HELLO. “Is anybody out there?”
IS ANYBODY OUT THERE.
“What is happening?”
WHAT IS HAPPENING.
“Great Shepard please help me.”
Suddenly a field appeared out of nowhere, this one different from the previous one. It was bright green grass, dark grey clouds covered the sky, and a young man wearing a cloak and carrying a cane stood next to Belle.
“You called me?”
“Yes. I am The Great Shepard. You know you have done some naughty things Belle.”
“I know. I shouldn’t have been jealous of Jill. I shouldn’t have skipped church and wandered off. I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please just give me my sister back and bring me home.”
“I want to bring you home. But I don’t think I can. It’s not up to me.”
“You’re a God! We worship you! How can you not do anything to help me?”
“I am a construct in your mind Belle. I exist only because you exist.”
“I don’t understand any of you! What is going on?”
“All we be forgiven one day. Soon you will laugh in the face of God.”
Just then everything disappeared again. And Belle awoke in her bed. She got up, and walked over to her sister’s bed. It was empty. She knew what needed to be done, but she had to make sure.
Belle journeyed to the well where Jack and Jill were last sent. She peered inside. There were their bodies. Their skulls caved in, from a several hammer blows. Belle went down to the temple, and told the community what she did. There was a trial, some claimed that Belle was driven mad by her sisters genetics, and killed her and her lover out of jealousy. Some claimed that Belle went mad when some pervert killed Jack and Jill, her being the only witness and thinking she killed them, that a girl that small and weak could never do that much damage. At the end of the day Belle was found guilty and sentenced to burn at the stake.
Belle stood on the pile of twigs and branches, the High Priest held the torch and said a quick sermon. Belle wasn’t listening, she just couldn’t wait to die. The High Priest dropped the torch and set the pile ablaze. Belle’s dress caught fire, the fabric melting to her skin. It was excruciating pain and some villagers turned away to block out her screams. Eventually Belle’s nerve endings fried and she couldn’t even feel the pain anymore. Then she died.
She awoke. The glass tube opening and the face mask coming off. She fell to the floor and gasped for breath. Two orderlies rushed into the room, nightsticks ready.
“Wait, wait was all of that real?”
“How does she have her memoires intact?” said one orderly to the other.
“Must be a glitch in the system.”
“I mean, do we owe her an explanation?”
The one orderly laughed.
“I’m serious she must be so confused right now.”
“Okay okay, let’s talk.”
The two men looked at the naked woman on the ground.
“Hey there sweetie, you’re probably wondering what’s going on exactly.”
“I don’t understand?”
“You see, your genetics just aren’t up to standards. Your tits are small, your ass is flat. Your face is kinda cute, but not cute enough. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but you can’t afford gene editing or cybernetics, and we as a society don’t want you breeding and making other inferior people.”
She was awe struck. She couldn’t talk. The other orderly spoke up.
“Nothing personal, but humanity is a beautiful race now. We can do things beyond your comprehension, watch.” The orderly snapped his fingers and a small flame appeared.
“Severe gene editing mixed with a little bit of augmentation. Isn’t humanity wonderful?”
“We got rid of the weak centuries ago. But killing you was too unlawful. So, now you get to be immortal! Isn’t that great! You get to live in a fantasy land where nothing bad happens and you don’t age or get sick or starve. Trust me, you wouldn’t last day out in the real world. Be thankful for what you and where you are in life. So, ya, let’s get you back in.”
The orderlies picked her up and strapped her into her pod. The needles entered her spine and the drugs started to flow throughout her body. The last thing she heard were the orderlies talking about how great their job was. How they were making humanity stronger, and how they were laughing in the face of God.