Written on the pale wall, the slogan greeted her on the first day of her job. She was standing in a dimly lit, narrow reception area. It was desperately in want of a receptionist as there were no visible directions about where she was supposed to go. She gathered her teal patterned muffler and covered her face as a protective response against her nerves, which were threatening to overcome her resolve for a yearning for the signature hustle and bustle of a London evening filled her. But there was only the mild noise filtering from the bar above to keep her company. Previous day’s events ran before her eyes like that of a play she had watched repeatedly.
She was clutching a letter in her hands that congratulated her on securing a position. A position which she had never applied for. But it incited her interest many degrees more than the prospect of engaging with an unknown family and educating their children. A tedious but also the only other means of earning for her. Curiosity coupled with the greed of being called the 1st woman to be selected for the work of such a unique nature motivated her. She looked at the letter again for reassurance. .
The SLitS Headquarters,
October 16th, 18____,
As per our previous correspondence, we offer you the said position. Consider this letter your official appointment. Please take note that you, under no circumstances, are to show this to anyone. If you want to decline, then burn the letters and speak no word about them. However, if you were to accept, then we request your presence at The SLitS Headquarter (basement of The 1888 Bar) today at sharp 20:00.
May the Power of Words shine over you!
Secret Literary Society.
She ventured forward and after a few minutes located a spiral staircase leading deep into the building.
A year later
She was standing in the lavish garden of a grand mansion that she was to enter in due course. The paper in her gloved hands read,
“Story-telling is not mere escapism. It is more real than reality; truer than the truth.”
Chilling air cut through despite her heavy corset, abundantly ruffled bustle skirt, and a copious amount of hosiery. Her ample bosom peeked out of the sensuous V-neck of her bodice, which was tighter than the pursed lips of her mother, when she lost her temper. A Gainsborough hat covered her curls, except for a few strands that were let loose purposefully. While her figure was plump in all the right places, her face — if not flattered with hair — heavily inclined towards corpulence.
She looked about her anxiously. It had taken her more than the standard 3 days to avail the invitation to this ball. She had almost lost hope, except in her line of work, one did not have the luxury of giving up. She sighed and threw back her shoulders before she entered the royal venue with a lady-like gait she had been practicing for a month.
Blood-red carpet covered the floor of the gigantic hall. Draping the 7 feet tall windows, the satin curtains in a shade of deep burgundy shielded the room from the gloomy weather outside. Within a few moments, she had detected her target and was moving towards him but was hindered by her hostess. As guided by her mentor at the SLitS headquarter, she fended off the emergency by cutting her off mid-dialogue without appearing curt or disregarding in the least.
She noticed that the night was advancing fast. Soon the mad chaos of colliding bodies in the jolly ritual called dance will ensue. It would be impossible to get hold of her target then. She decided that it was time to make her move. But —
“A woman of exceptional beauty in a room full of prospective grooms, interested not in even one of them only falls short in terms of suspicion to a handsome bachelor, with a large income and handsome disposition yet who was not pursued by a string of women,” said a velvety, almost intoxicating voice.
She stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes closed in a gesture of frustration, not unlike someone who was caught in the midst of performing an illegal deed. With great difficulty, she brought herself to face the watchful eyes under the drooping upper lids of this man of extraordinary eminence.
He was towering her 5 ft. 4” figure by a good 8 inches. Devoid of his wide-brimmed hat, sporting a tuft of curled hair neatly separated in a straight middle parting, and dressed in a silk frock coat of indescribable brown hue, he looked a character from the 17th century.
“Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde,” she curtsied and offered him her hand.
His Grecian features transformed utterly as he boomed with laughter and kissed her outstretched hand.
“It is odd you presented your left … ” He lost consciousness mid-sentence. Her backup had caught him and transferred him into another room before he had completed his fall.
By the time, Wilde came to his senses, a crucial piece of information had been exchanged between the 9th Marquees of Queens-berry and a charming lady who was never again seen in the same circle. It was an information that could char the name of a certain Lord Alfred Douglas for debauchery of inconceivable nature.
“A few years and his work would have bestowed upon him success and popularity,” she told a mysterious man in black, “Why did we do this to him?”
“I may not have foreseen the level of injustice they perpetrated on him,” said the man but without even a shred of remorse in his voice. “Nonetheless” he added, “Our actions have only made him immortal.”
“Because that is our job,” she retorted, “We kill wordsmiths to immortalize them.”
The man had had enough. “His work is larger than his life and our sins,” he told the girl he had recruited a few years ago, “Besides,” he said adjusting his bowler hat on his head, “He isn’t dead, yet.”
A strange woman visited the most controversial prisoner of his time. What a scandal! thought everyone at the prison.
The powers that be had wanted to keep the whole affair a secret; thus, it was on every tongue like the other secrets of the literary world. Why was every great writer afflicted with misfortune? Why was there always a back-story about the best of storytellers? These were more than mere coincidences. Spicing up the lives of great writers was the job for which our protagonist had been hired!
“Why have you come here, dear lady?” questioned a prisoner whose glory and dignity had been drowned in a gong that still echoed “Shame!” “Shame!”
A veil covered the face of the woman in black, but he knew who she was. He looked down at the gloved hand more lethal than the most venomous serpent living in the depths of the African jungles.
“Apologizing will not absolve me or undo my deed,” she said in a sepulchral tone, “I want you to remember who you are irrespective of what happens in this dreadful place.”
She offered him her hand again. This time it was the right one.
“De Profundis,” wrote the queer prisoner on a sheet of paper that night.
Now as my ‘about section’ will tell you, I am crazy for stories. I read them, write them, adore them, inhale them, exhale them… you get the idea! For me life was going this way until kismet decided to do me a favor, which given my history doesn’t happen too often, and I met this awesome woman, Midu Hadi, who shared my passion for stories.
Long story short (see what I did there =P), we became friends. One thing led to another and now we are here to further our dreams that every story-enthusiast will share with us.
The aim is to tell a story! This is as simple and as complicated as that. However, there are no rules. It can be prose, poem, art work, or anything. As long as it tells a story, it floats our boats. This makes it that easy and that hard. Okay, I should stop doing that. Here is the deal:
We will be sharing a story, every week with our lovely friends here but with a twist. I will give you a link of her story before sharing mine!
“Hi, doctor!” Jaz greeted Dr. Domestica. A poker face stared at him as she lowered her veil.
Duzan Domestica, however, had been too long in this line of business to miss why this green-skinned, strange looking girl was there in his clinic. Despite her emotionless face and heavy makeup, her smile lines were more than visible. Fanning out at the corner of her eyes were several small wrinkles resembling a cat’s whiskers or a crow’s feet. Then there were the horrible concaves bracketing her thick lips, almost conquering her nasolabial region. Duzan focused hard on her left cheek but was not sure what to make of it. He reflected for a while. Then, “Smile,” he sighed and issued the one command that only he could give without risking his life.
As if waiting to do so all her life, Jaz gave him the brightest of smiles he had ever received. It indicated that she was in her happy place and probably knew that it was the last time she would be there because her smile was a classic clichéd one. The one that came straight from the heart or could illuminate the darkest of the hours, you know the magical one!
Duzan shook his head in despair. It was there alright — deep enough to house a million of microscopic entities or a very tiny grain — depending on which you are more likely to carry. She had the cursed symbol that alone could have destroyed her forever. She had a dimple!
“Is it that bad?” asked Jaz. Her eyes were moist because there was a lot of smoke in the dingy clinic of the damned doctor. Duzan, however, misinterpreted it to be tears of sadness.
He took a step backward from her and barked, “Hold the waterworks, please. I hate emotions. I will fix this for you but you must never do it again.”
“Do what?” asked Jaz, “The S-word?”
“Smile, laugh, giggle, snicker… nothing!” he told her, “Or else…”
“You are giving me the last stage treatment, huh?”
“I have to,” he said, “orders are orders.”
A few hours later Jaz emerged from “Domestica Cosmetica.” She was the same woman who had entered the loathsome glass building with only one exception — her face was now completely devoid of any line.
With Zac gone, she did not have any reason to smile anymore. Zac would probably be under some kind of genetic experiment at the moment that the West is notorious for, she thought, meanwhile I am stuck in the pathetic East aka the rat hole where women can’t smile.
“Women do not smile like we do,” A man on a large screen which were very common throughout the country was saying, “Their smile is a weapon more lethal than the most dangerous bomb you and I could ever invent.”
“What b*******!” Jaz checked herself just in time. She was about to scoff.
“Therefore, we suggest that all the women should pay a visit to Domestica Cosmetica and be free from the wretched signs once and for all,” the screen man concluded with a smile.
“And become a ticking time bomb the moment they dare to stretch their lips only a centimeter wider from their natural position,” Jaz muttered to herself.
She was very upset now. She missed her childhood, where all the sci-fi villainy belonged to her imagination and her mother played the role of an evil person by imposing certain rules. This real-life nefariousness was taking a toll on her nerves.
“If it got really difficult,” she told herself, “I will just laugh my worries out.”
“Natural selection,” the voice said, “is obsolete now.”
Zac was struggling to focus on the words that were resonating all around him. Despite having memorized them by heart, he had to listen to them daily because according to ADLTHood 101, he had yet to internalize the concept.
“After extensive research, it has been concluded that Nature has turned too soft in deciding what to keep and what to discard,” the words continued. “Therefore, We had to intervene.”
Zac had no idea who these We were. Neither any of his acquaintance knew. The only thing they were aware of was that We were important and right. There was no question about that. Zac was too much of a conformist to question who’s, how’s, and what’s of the system. He was not a rebel, at least not until he had met Aby!
“By our method, only the best will be allowed in this world,” the metallic voice summarized. “Misery will be eradicated, once and for all.” Zac had once again missed the point and he knew that We would know. He will have to attend this session again tomorrow. He was not worried about it because he had just spotted Aby and judging by the sheepish look on her face, she will be attending the class too. He waved at her and she smiled.
“May you see the birth of supreme race,” he greeted her.
“And you,” she replied.
“Today?” he asked her in an undertone.
“Too dangerous,” was her reply. Before he could completely wear his disappointed look, she added, “but I want to.”
This made him happy but in an attempt to show it, he ended up with a comical expression on his face that was a mixture of happiness and disappointment. Aby couldn’t help but laugh. Zac was born with a genetic defect that slowed down his gestures. Therefore, he was often caught between two emotions that resulted in a confusing look on his face. Aby thought it was cute. On the other hand, Zac found it even cuter that instead of inheriting her mother’s dominant gene, the love of his life had her father’s recessive ones. She was bald. This made her unique because according to what science he knew, this was a sex-linked gene. Yet, he had never set eyes upon a woman more womanly than Aby!
They both knew they were not supposed to be like that. We had told them often enough about their defects but failed to instill a feeling of regret in them. It was mainly because the whole world was like that. Everyone had their own set of deficiencies. Since they had never seen for real what Wedescribed to be the perfect human being, except as models in labs, on technological devices, and as monumental structures on every street, they thought it was just an impossibility and an exaggeration.
“Meet me behind the great statue,” he told her. “The one at the end of your street.”
She blinked and was gone.
“You are beautiful.” He was drawing intricate patterns on her hairless head with a SpecPo, which was a pointer with fluorescent ink in several shades. He was holding a mirror in his free hand to let her see his art.
“This is beautiful,” she almost screamed examining the now-finished mandala of vibrant colors on her head. It was the latest fashion trend and Zac did the best replicas of the designs she pointed out to him, from the international magazines.
“Shhh!” he warned her. She suppressed her giggles and clicked his photo from her DigCam.
“No way,” he almost yelled looking at the photo. “Is this the expression you will draw? It is ugly!”
“Fuck off!” she said. “This is such a singular expression. I have never witnessed you being scared, amused, and turned on, simultaneously.” His eyes twinkled and she busied herself in drawing magic on a paper pad. He produced an electronic cigarette from his pocket. They puffed on, taking turns.
“Zac,” she said after a few minutes. “If we got caught, horrible events will ensue.”
“How about we register for a compatibility test?” he suggested.
“I don’t know, Zac. There had been zero cases of love marriage in the previous centuries of which we have any record,” she was unsure. “Rom/Jul were the last ones to think about the L-word and you know how We had staged a series of evil stratagems leading to programmed deaths.”
“This is why I propose to follow the rules,” he tried to convince her.
In order to ensure that children with only the best genetic makeup were born, We used compatibility testing called SPPRIG. It stood for sex, philosophy, psychology, religion, intellect, and genetics — the characteristics that were evaluated in this test. It was based on the latest scientific research and was supposed to generate the ideal results. Data of thousands of people reached them and they ran a set of tests on it. There conducted interviews, blood testing, psychological checkup, and medical examinations. Only after that, were two people allowed to copulate.
“I am positive that our SPPRIG will be acceptable,” said Zac, hopefully.
“You do realize that so far, none of the marriages arranged by We have succeeded in terms of love,” she said.
“Look, they are not interested in love, I agree. But if our SPPRIG score is convincing, they might let us do it,” he told her. “Our sexes are different for the starters,” he joked. She rolled her eyes at him.
“Philosophy and religion are not an issue either,” he counted on his fingers. “You know our family backgrounds, schooling, and beliefs are similar”
“Hey, you missed the psychology P,” she intervened. “Also, what about intellect and genetics. There is no way to estimate those parameters on our own.”
“I ran a few tests on my tech toys using our data,” he told her. “The results were promising.” Zac hesitated and then added, “I have a friend in the SPPRIG headquarters. He will make sure our tests come out alright.”
For the first time during this conversation, she looked hopeful. “What is his id?” she asked.
“Pac. The one with two pair of hands,” he said. “Let’s do this!”
“Bos”, said Pac, “These two are a perfect match.”
The one called Bos smiled. He took the application form from Pac and stamped it.
“Denied?” asked Pac, shocked.
“My dear Pac,” said Bos mockingly, “do you really believe that SPPRIG is about compatibility?”
“Then?” inquired Pac.
“It is for controlling their willpower”, came the reply as Bos’ characteristic multiple laughter sounds rang out in the walls of the SPPRIG Testing Laboratory.
“Most people aren’t really bad, you know”, she told him.
“If that is so, they don’t do a very good job of showing their true intentions”, said he.
“Why do you have to be so bitter all the time”, she was saying. He, however, was busy observing her. Her small lips were moving in circles as if her sentences had words with lots of Os in them. Her fake accent made her words come out all rounded. How he had hated the pretentious accents that were so common in his days! Yet, he couldn’t find it in himself to even slightly dislike hers. He ended up focusing on her lips. The one thing he knew he shouldn’t have done.
Do I want to kiss them? He reflected. Out of love, he added hastily to his incomplete thought. He’d kiss them out of lust any time. That he knew very well.
“So?” she asked.
“I don’t care”, he said and he didn’t. She wanted to know what had hurt him so bad. The old story he had repeated so many times before people who had shown even the slightest of interest in him and his miseries but who like him had never really cared.
She didn’t insist though, which was odd. He was actually expecting her to show more interest than she had or perhaps that was what he secretly wished for. You don’t care he told himself again, and she shouldn’t either.
Both of them were now boarding their separate trains of thoughts. But soon they were interrupted. “A moment of peace inside your head”, he told her, “is too much to ask you know”. She smiled.
They turned around to find the source of the disturbance. A group of hooligans was standing a few feet away from them. They were shouting obscenities, most of which, were directed at him.
He looked at her. She was observing him.
When he did not stir and made it clear that he was not going to respond in any way, she rebuked him.
“Why don’t you respond to them?”
“I am out of credit”, He told her.
“What do you mean?”, she almost shouted, “They are standing right in front of you. What do you need credit for to retaliate against their insults?”
“I have nothing to my credit. A nobody like me has nothing to say to the people who have a lot to say about my character without even knowing me” was his reply.
She looked disappointed. “You are a loser”, she told him and stood up.
She is not very beautiful, he thought. Drawn to her full height and she was still a small awkward figure that leaned heavily towards chubbiness. Shoulder length, rough brown hair, a too prominent nose, and a pair of ordinary eyes always in need of some kohl to avoid looking dead. Ah but those lips, he thought. She was wearing a lilac T-shirt with grey trousers. Her brown leather handbag with the long strap was dangling from her right hand. It took him a few minutes to realize what she was about to do.
He had thought she was walking away from him because he had upset her but she was going over to the villains who were still insulting him.
“Woohooo”, one of them shouted, “So the pimp has sent his girl to defend him.”
He was on his feet now taking long strides to prevent any harm before it would be too late.
By the time, he reached there, it was already too late.
“That is all you got? In a fight, you guys would last even less than you’d do in bed”, she scoffed, “And with your tiny excuses of dicks, that would be what? Microseconds?”
“You bitch”, one of them screamed.
“This bitchy pimp’s girlfriend has more balls than all of you combined”, she retorted coolly, “So scram.”
To his utter disbelief, they did!
At that moment, it hit both of them. She is too strong of a person for a coward like me, he thought. What was I even thinking, she thought, fancying myself in love with a loser like him.
Walking their separate ways, they both decided to live happily ever after.