This is a short story that I wrote many years ago for a fiction writing course while studying at Columbia College Chicago. The piece was published in Hair Trigger 32, an award-winning literary anthology published by the college, in 2010. It's a story that I come back to occasionally and think, "Wow, where did this come from?!" It's a bit dark and twisted, and perhaps part of what will one day be a longer story. I hope you enjoy!
The night air was thick with fog rising from the concrete and brick of the alley. Magdalene heard nothing but Sofia’s footsteps ahead of her. They were nearly running, the heels of their shoes tap dancing around puddles and pebbles, and Magdalene’s chest was heavy. She could feel the air in her lungs being choked by her nerves. If someone were to catch them, they would both be dead.
Sofia led Magdalene behind a dumpster, supporting herself against a brick wall and catching her breath. Sofia’s breathing was deep and fluid. She was seasoned, accustomed to the alley and its smells of drying blood and flesh. Magdalene had never been to the back of a butcher shop before. By the time she bought her meat it was cut into tender squares, its juices absorbed by its wrapping. Now she stood next to a pile of leftover bodies discarded by the shop the night before. Even in the night, the flies were teeming.
Sofia motioned with her hand to the metal door. They would have to move now. She counted with her fingers—one, two, three—and darted. Her body movements were feline. Drawing a key from between her breasts, she unlocked the door and pushed Magdalene inside. Through the crack of the door she scanned the alley; they had not been followed. The alley was dead except for a lone rat running through the yellow flickering of a street lamp. Sofia shut the door and locked it from inside.
Magdalene was blind in the darkness. Her breath whistled in and out of her nostrils, and she smelled a very distinct odor in the air: men. Beside her Sofia was silent and still. Together they stood in the dark, as if waiting for the authorities to burst through the door, but they did not come. In the darkness, Magdalene felt like the room stretched for miles, and for the first time in a very long time she was afraid of the dark. Closing her eyes, she waited for Sofia to speak, the silence filled by a constant tick, tick, like a roller coaster drudging uphill. The hum of a motor was barely audible, and somewhere in the darkness the remnants of the evening rain storm drip-dropped into a bucket. Finally Magdalene heard the rustling of Sofia’s jacket, her arm tugging on a string that turned on a light overhead. Magdalene shielded her eyes from the blaring bulb.
“I will give you a moment to look. A patrolwoman will come in twenty minutes. Push this button to stop them, do you hear?”
Magdalene nodded, her eyes fixed on the display before her. Her mouth gaped and watered. It had been six years since she had seen a man alive, six long years since the Royal Sisterhood came to power. It had been six agonizing years since the women of Nayosh had watched their husbands, fathers, and sons being dragged away in their war against overpopulation, six years since they were able to feel the warmth of male bodies in their beds. Magdalene was electrified, her body buzzing at the site of them. There, hanging before her from a ticking conveyor belt on the ceiling, was the remainder of the male population.
They were naked, their limbs and genitals hanging limp, their heads hanging low against their chests. There must have been a hundred, at least, hung from the tracks on the ceiling in long rows that weaved back and forth like a maze, strung up by heavy, metal chains wrapped around their armpits and their backs. When she listened hard, she could hear them moaning faintly, and their crazed eyes rolled in their sockets.
Magdalene swallowed a mouthful of saliva and took a step toward them. She watched them float by her, running her eyes up and down their bodies. They all looked the same, every last one, skinny and pale, their skin hanging loosely from their bones, their eyes empty and mad. Most had lost their hair. She searched their eyes. It was impossible, she knew, but somewhere deep inside of her she hoped that she would see Joseph hanging there, that she would recognize the blue in one of these men’s eyes and know that it was him. She swallowed the thought. Joseph would surely be dead by now, taken to a shop like this one to be sliced and sold and served as someone’s dinner. She never ate without praying that it was not his flesh she was chewing on.
She looked up at a clock, and her heart sped up to the beat of its ticking. She had to hurry. She sprinted to a panel of buttons on the wall, big and plastic: reds, blues, and a yellow. Which one had Sofia said would stop the belt? Magdalene pushed them all at the same time, and with a grinding squeal the machinery came to a halt. She returned to the men, walking along the row of bodies in front of her, and examined them with the least amount of emotion possible. She took slow steps, gazing up at each body. Then she saw him: He wasn’t Joseph, but something about him called to her. His eyes were tired and rolled to the side, but they were not dead like the others. They blinked at her. Magdalene went to him as if his gaze, locked onto hers, was reeling her in. She stood below him, her eyes in line with the middle of his shin. She touched the top of his foot. He flinched. Magdalene moved her hand up his shin around to the back of his calf to what was left of a muscle.
Magdalene could feel her heart in her groin. Her chest and stomach tingled and her knees went weak. Six long years. She swallowed again, her eyes still locked with his, and leaned forward. She began to trace the path that her hand had made with her tongue, licking his skin. Her desire took over. The man began to moan louder, perhaps in an effort to speak or perhaps because he was enjoying the feel of her touch as much as she was his. Her tongue moved faster now, up and down his leg, and pushing up on her tiptoes she rounded the curve of his knee with her mouth. She let out a moan to accompany his. Her hands felt his body wildly, grabbing and scratching at the skin of his thigh and the flesh of his backside, all the while her mouth licking and biting, chewing his skin between her teeth. The salt from his body made her mouth water.
Behind her, Sofia cleared her throat. “You will take him then, yes?”
Magdalene tore herself from the man, her breathing fast and shallow. She wiped a line of drool from the side of her mouth, straightening her sweater with the other hand.
“Yes. Yes, I will take him.” She caught the man’s gaze as she spoke.
Sofia nodded in approval and went to work at once. She made her way to a large metal cabinet that stood tall against the wall and opened its old rusted doors. She struggled to pull loose a heavy burlap sack.
“Come, we mustn’t waste another minute!”
Magdalene ran over to the woman and grabbed the opposite end of the sack. It was rough against her hands, and it smelled like the fur of a wet animal. Together they pulled the sack free and it fell to the floor. Sofia dove back into the drawer and threw a length of rope over her shoulder, and finally a piece of torn cloth. Magdalene watched the woman’s hands, their sagging skin colored with age, and for the first time realized how old Sofia must be. Beneath the rim of her brown leather hat, strands of gray and white hair fell onto her weathered face.
“We must let him down without a noise, and put him into this sack. I will need your help, and we have to move fast. When I let him down, you support his body. Grab his arm. There.”
Magdalene rushed to his side and reached up. Sofia gave the chain more and more slack, and lowered the man to the floor. Sofia fed his feet into the sack. She reached for the torn cloth and pulled it up around his body, gagging him with it.
“To keep him quiet, should we get stopped by the patrol.”
Sofia worked quickly, and it was obvious that this was not the first time she did this. She had worked at the butcher shop since Mr. Gauche, the butcher, had been taken away. Sofia was strong and silent when she worked, and many women spoke highly of her, praising her generosity and fair prices. Magdalene wondered how many of those women had visited Sofia here in the night, smuggling out men of their own.
Chicago-born citizen of the globe, rich in the things that really matter. Let's get weird.