Identity ’18: “Unsolved” by Brandon French

I steal. I am a seventy-one-year-old retired FBI profiler – remember Duane Margo, the “Cookie Monster” who cut up and baked his victims on cookie sheets? – and I steal. Are you shocked by the incongruity? I began stealing as a child, nickels and dimes from my mother’s pocketbook, to buy milk shakes at the Rexall Drug Store two blocks from our apartment on the west side of Chicago. Milk shakes are a preference that would have interested me, by the way, if I were profiling myself. (Milk linked to mother linked to inadequate nurturing, which stimulates self-nurturing by way of stealing what is not readily given.)

My shoplifting came later, when I worked at my Uncle Edgar’s drug store in San Diego as a teenager. (Note to self: Rexall Drug store, Uncle Edgar’s drug store. Unconscious self-medicating of unfulfilled needs?) My uncle was a nervous man, even more nervous than my mother, his older sister, a woman prone to sudden moves and explosive outbursts. In retrospect, I suspect my uncle’s anxiety was accelerated by the advent of rapacious chains like Rite-Aid, Rexall, Thrifty and Walgreens, which were swallowing up the mom and poppers like grazing orcas. But what did I care? I stole from the drug store every afternoon, mostly make-up, nail polish, and cigarettes, at first Camels, then Marlboros (I loved the box), hiding them in my dust rag, which my uncle insisted I use whenever there were no customers in the store.

“Look busy, Reggie,” he barked. “Customers don’t like it when the workers are just lollygagging around.”

Lollygagging. He used a number of weird expressions like that. For Pete’s sake. Who was Pete? Mollycoddling. That’s what he said my mother did with me instead of making me ‘straighten up and fly right.’

Well, I certainly put that dust rag to good use.

He almost caught me once. I’d gone into the back of the store to unload my day’s booty into my purse, not realizing that he was already back there checking invoices. His nose twitched like a rabbit, which made his tiny trimmed mustache do the jitterbug. But he didn’t say anything, he just glared at me, his black eyes enlarged to owl size by his thick horn-rimmed glasses. I guess he didn’t want to upset my mother by firing me, when she was having a tough time recovering from the circumstances of her divorce. (Note to self: research statistical effects of divorce and uprooting on adolescents. Symptoms?)

I don’t remember stealing again until I was away at college in Los Angeles, living in a cramped Westwood apartment with my Chinese roommate Matilda. At that time I stole steaks and lamb chops from the supermarket. All I had to do was put my big, open straw satchel in the shopping cart and casually toss the meat into it. This happened by accident the first time, which gave me the idea. I had the same m.o. in graduate school at UC Davis, only with clothes, blouses and tee-shirts, parking my cart next to a rack of size smalls whenever I was in a department store.

I was very good at shoplifting, and didn’t really worry much about getting caught. If a store detective spotted me, I’d just say, ‘Oh my goodness, how did that happen? I guess it accidentally dropped into my carryall when I tossed it in the cart.’ But I never got caught. And afterward, I’d have a moment of intense relief and exhilaration, like inhaling the first cigarette of the day after going all night without one. (Note to self: Research neurological connection between drug highs and behavioral highs.)

All this ended when I entered the program at Quantico. I became haunted by scenarios of discovery and disgrace, and they drove me to clean up my act. For the next five decades, except for one slip (an exquisite $200 cream-colored blouse at Henry Bendel when I visited New York), I was a model citizen. Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. (What a hoot that movie was, especially for us female profilers, although we pretended to poo-pooh it at the time. My cousins and nieces were all over me, wanting to know everything about the Bureau.) And then out of the blue last week, when I was having my annual gynecology check-up to make certain that all those unused parts hadn’t gotten into any mischief, I stole a magazine.

Food and Wine. The issue with the babkas on the cover. I wanted the recipe for chocolate babka.

Not for me, although I confess I had a moment of temptation. It was for my friend Stephanie and her wife Jill. Two skinnies. Not that I’ve ever had much of a weight problem myself. But retirement can be fattening if you don’t watch out. Back in the day, as part of my training, I tackled “The Yellow Brick Road,” a 6.1 mile run which won me a yellow brick and the admiration of the other trainees, most of whom had declined the optional challenge. Nowadays, though, with my arthritis and fibromyalgia, I’m pretty much reduced to the Yellow Brick limp. And of course, with the advent of increasingly precise and accurate DNA processing, CODIS, and vastly improved methods of data collection, not to mention the proliferation of surveillance cameras wherever you look, the whole game has changed.

But back to that stolen magazine. (Observe how quickly I steered away from the subject. Note to self: avoidance of guilt and shame, a primitive defense). This was a major regression, seemingly out of nowhere. I took off my new, navy blue Banana Republic blazer (which I hadn’t stolen, by the way) and hid the magazine in the folds, just as I would have done as a teenager. But I wasn’t as stealthy as I used to be, nor nearly as adept and graceful in my larceny. My jacket fell out of my grasp and spilled onto the floor directly in front of my ob/gyn and her assistant, partially revealing a corner of the magazine cover. Luckily, a second before they could bend down to help me, I scooped up the jacket and clutched it to my chest like a life preserver. Walking out into the fierce afternoon sun, I felt that still familiar cocktail of relief and exhilaration, as if I’d just snorted cocaine. My God, what was wrong with me? And after all this time!

The incident reawakened my passion for solving mysteries, that inexhaustible quest for answers. It also caused me to recollect what a psychiatrist had called me when I was in my twenties.

“Greedy little piggy,” he’d said, apparently not caring if he hurt my feelings. “Whatever Reggie wants, Reggie takes.” (Note to self: stream Hitchcock’s Marnie and review kleptomania.)

Michael, my last romance, had a different bone to pick with me. “Every time you ask me a question, I feel like you’re gathering data. Stop profiling me,” he’d shout. I honestly wasn’t aware of doing that until he pointed it out. Occupational hazard, I guess.

I was simply on a lifelong quest to understand the mysteries of human behavior, my own included. My house became overrun with books, psychology, neurology, child development, books about attachment and the lack of attunement, the formation and deformation of empathy. Journals about human sexuality, perversion, criminality and psychopathy. Books about specific sociopaths, including fifty copies of my own, Addicted to Evil (Simmons, Regina. Karnac, 1996) in which I argued that serial killing was an addictive behavior that shares the characteristics of all other addictions. (Well-reviewed by Michiko Kakutani, no less, as “a fresh twist” on the subject, and available in paperback on Amazon for $12.99, if you’re interested.)

After the publication, I was a sought-after speaker, especially for my stories about various psychopaths that my colleagues and I had profiled (“Mr. Potato Head”, the Arctic Icicle Killer, Freddy Friendly-Face, and, of course, “The Cookie Monster.”). That’s how I met Michael, my ex, as a matter of fact. He was a forensic psychologist who’d read my book and wanted it autographed.

But while I could explain how we created the profiles, and how they helped us track down the culprits, I had to admit that none of us could account for why they became killers, any more than I could explain why I’d become a thief. (Or an FBI profiler, for that matter.)

These are the questions I continue to ponder. Yes, I can reference the violent battles my parents waged, and my terror that they might kill each other. I can factor in my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s borderline personality. I can cite that I was an only child who had undoubtedly been spoiled, within the limited means of my parents, and that I became somewhat entitled in my expectations of life, like the much maligned millennials.  I can also recall the precocity that drove me to read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams when I was nine, and my fascination with Leopold and Loeb (“The Crime of the Century”} when I was eleven. (I wrote to Leopold, putting forth my theory that it was Dick Loeb and not he who was the psychopath. My mother was horrified when he wrote back, addressing me as ‘my very dear young lady,’ with ‘Joliet Prison’ as big as a black eye on the envelope.)

But the seminal event in my upbringing, I suspect, occurred one morning when I was four years old and jumped out of bed, knocking over a vaporizer shaped like a tea pot, which spilled a quart of boiling water onto my feet, causing first and second degree burns.

There was a blizzard that morning, one of those infamous Midwestern howlers that thrash the trees and pound the windows like angry gods. I was home from nursery school for the second day, sick with a cold. My father was taking care of me, as usual, while my mother was off teaching p.e. to grade schoolers, and apparently we were playing some kind of game. Then, for no reason I can recall, I jumped out of bed. The next thing I remember is my mother carrying me back and forth across the living room rug as we waited for the pediatrician to slog through the snow. I recall screaming in pain while she alternately comforted me and shouted at my father that it was all his fault!

In my father’s last letter to me before he died of leukemia, he referred to the incident and said he had inadvertently “done something” which frightened me. I did not ask him to elucidate (Why? Was I afraid to know?), and now, of course, it’s too late.

Fact: Whatever that ‘something’ he referred to was, I developed mysterious symptoms afterward, a persistent dry cough and chronic stomach aches, for which there was no physical cause. The pediatrician suggested that my parents consult a child psychiatrist, which in 1948 was a radical idea.

Fact: After the consultation with the psychiatrist, my mother filed for divorce. A month later, she changed her mind.

Fact: During that same year, my father began to drink heavily, and suffered a major heart attack. He survived the coronary but continued to drink to excess for the rest of his life.

Fact: Within days after we visited the psychiatrist, my nervous symptoms disappeared.

I suppose that my father’s profile is relevant. Younger son of two Russian immigrants who fled Odessa at the beginning of the last century, shrewd, suspicious, ‘People of the Book,’ who were ravenous for their sons’ educations although they themselves were illiterate, and fatally infected with the iconic American hunger for material success in the new world. My father graduated from law school but flunked the bar after announcing that he was a communist in 1924, a bad year for radicals. He subsequently followed his musician’s heart into opera, becoming a mediocre tenor in the Chicago Opera Company. Late to marry (age 40), he found work as a furniture salesman and occasional high holiday singer for various synagogues. But unlike his older brother, who became a successful insurance broker, my father’s income was spotty, and his jobs came and went.

Relationships? He was adored by his mother but found no favor with his taciturn, pragmatic father, who considered the manhood of someone who sang opera and wrote poetry suspect. This suspicion was reinforced by my father’s friendships with a number of homosexual men, although for people in show business, those associations were commonplace. The rest of my father’s friends were mostly Irishmen he met in bars, several of whom regularly helped him home on nights when he was too unsteady to walk by himself.

My father, as well as my mother, had a critical spirit. When they watched Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows each Saturday night and The Ed Sullivan Show on Sundays, they savaged the singers and dancers, shouting their insults at the small black and white screen like rowdy wrestling fans.

“Eeeeeeeee!” my father would shriek, imitating a pop singer’s flat note.

“Get off the stage!” my mother would shout at a dancer whose leg was not perfectly straight.

Nothing short of perfection was acceptable to my parents and that message was not lost on me. (Note to self: check out the impact of perfectionism on various deviant and rebellious behaviors.)

The honeymoon pictures of my parents in Florida seem characteristically romantic. She leans her tiny body against him flirtatiously and he feeds her an orange he has just plucked from a tree. But the images I remember are shouting matches, during which my mother would attempt to hit my father with heavy objects like the bakelite phone or the cast iron frying pan, and my inebriated father would roar with rage as he charged at her like a Miura bull.

My mother filed for divorce again when I was eleven, after my father crashed through the window of a liquor store with me in the car, and this time she did not relent. We left Chicago and moved to San Diego, where her brother, my Uncle Edgar, lived, and that’s how I ended up working in the drugstore.

I did well in college and graduated from UC San Diego summa cum laude with a degree in psychology. Afterward, I decided to visit my father in Chicago, perhaps seeking his approval for my academic success. My mother insisted that I only meet up with him in public places, and never in the little residential hotel where he had a room. When I asked her why, she said, “Because he’s a man.”

“What are you talking about?” I said, with considerable heat. “Tell me!” But my mother refused to elaborate.

I never learned what the child psychiatrist said to my parents that caused my mother to contemplate divorce, and without actual memories, I can only speculate about what happened on the day I was burned. It’s possible that whatever my father took from me, assuming he took anything at all, led me to believe that I could take whatever I wanted from others. It sounds like a reasonable etiology of my pilfering, does it not? In a self-helpy sort of way. Like Tom Harris’s indictment of the sadistic grandmother in Red Dragon, which is meant to “explain” why Francis Dolarhyde became a homicidal maniac. But my deviant behavior could just as well have been a reaction to a deficit on my mother’s part, a failure to protect me, or to love me without ambivalence, if love without ambivalence even exists. Either way – or both — insight is not enough. That’s where Freud’s psychoanalysis went wrong. There has to be a transformation in the brain which alters behavior, or you’re just another New Yorker couch cartoon.

News Flash: I am watching an interview with Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer who strangled at least 49 prostitutes, when the reporter asks, “Don’t you have any guilt for what you did? Aren’t you sorry?” Ridgway looks thoughtful, as if he is rummaging around in the basement for a cache of old socks. “You mean that caring thing?” he asks, frowning. “No, I don’t think I have that.” Charlie Manson said practically the same thing. “I was aware of being totally without conscience,” and “I can’t put my finger on when I became devoid of caring emotion.” Suddenly I realize something, which throughout all my years of compulsive navel gazing never occurred to me. I have no guilt or remorse about stealing. I suppose that’s a terrible thing to admit, but I want to be honest with you. It’s not that I’m without conscience. Good heavens, I still carry the pain of having accidentally stepped on a neighbor boy’s pet turtle when I was three. And there’s a whole Rose Parade of other regrets that I can’t shake off. But guilt for stealing? Not on the list. “No, I don’t think I have that.”

Boy howdy!

Anderson Cooper, whose brother Carter inexplicably jumped off a building when he was 23, said that we live in a world without why’s. Like him, I shall probably go to my grave without an answer that satisfies me, although I’ll continue to investigate, probably from force of habit, like Dr. Bernard Rieux in The Plague, because it’s my existential raison d’etre. Maybe I’m not even asking the right questions. This past Thursday, I stole two more magazines. I was on my third day of jury duty and had grown so restless and irritable that I either had to steal the two New Yorkers, or get a second packet of M&M’s from the vending machine. Yes, I know, it was only a couple of old magazines that I saved from the garbage collector, but that’s not the point. In any event, I’m hoping that I got whatever compels me out of my system, but who knows?

After all this time, the sum total of my wisdom is, who knows? Why, despite becoming an ardent pursuer of truth and justice, do I steal? Why does a firefighter start fires? Why did Duane Margo, whose beloved grandmother baked cookies to console him for the loss of his parents in a fire he probably set, become “The Cookie Monster” rather than an arsonist, or a fire fighter? For that matter, why didn’t he become a pastry chef?

You tell me.


Brandon French is the only daughter of an opera singer and a Spanish dancer, born in Chicago sometime after The Great Fire of 1871. She has been (variously) assistant editor of Modern Teen Magazine, a topless Pink Pussycat cocktail waitress (that’s another story!), an assistant professor of English at Yale, a published film scholar, playwright and screenwriter, director of development at Columbia Pictures Television, an award-winning advertising copywriter and creative director, a psychoanalyst in private practice, and a mother. Sixty-one of her stories have been accepted for publication by literary journals and anthologies, she’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart, she was an award winner in the 2015 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Short Story Contest, and she has a published collection of poetry entitled “Pie.”

We are open for submissions for our THIRD PRINT ISSUE!

Hello folks!

It’s that time of the year again, and Windmill is finally open for submissions for our third print issue! This print issue will be published in the spring of 2018.

We accept original, previously unpublished work for our print edition. The ideal piece length will be 3,000-5,000 words. We will accept submissions up to 10,000 words but longer pieces will be judged at a higher standard. Be sure to check out the previous two issues here and here.

For more information on how to submit, visit our Submittable page. We look forward to reading all of your submissions!

submittable-submit-button

The Holiday Issue, 2017

Last week, on the last Friday before Thanksgiving, a fake two-feet Christmas tree that I had bought from Target was built and decorated in the Windmill office. The tree was on sale and marked down from $20 to $16, and with the $5 gift card I had from buying a S’well water bottle weeks ago, the price went down to only $11. Of course, I didn’t stop at just the Christmas tree. This Target had a huge section dedicated to all sorts of decorations, all on sale through the Target app, of course.

I was with my friend, Jillian, and, originally, we were only stopping through the store to get essentials like shampoo and paper towels, but how could we help ourselves when the glimmering lights of the holiday season were calling us. So bright they shined, that they became entrancing and, almost, mind-controlling.

One of Target’s many ornament collections included various stuffed toys on strings. I bought a cute bunny and a mouse, and named them Amelia and Liz, respectively. Both were wearing long pea coats, plush scarfs, brightly colored pants, and grey boots. In my head, Amelia and Liz were best friends and, with the help of the other ornaments in the display, they were planning the holiday pageant when, suddenly, mean ol’ Forest the Owl shut down the pageant because he, himself, was having a terrible holiday season. His wife had left him and taken the kids, so, all alone he sat in his house, festering in his own misery.

It was on that note that I decided to take Amelia and Liz, leaving Forest behind. Someone was bound to help him find love in his heart again, but that someone was not me. Enough of my own holiday anecdote, let’s talk about this year’s Holiday Issue, shall we?

For fiction, we have “Buddy” by Mike Wilson, a coming-of-age Christmas story of a young girl understanding the complexity of her parents’ divorce. Annie Dawid, who has been published by Windmill before, once again creates a thoughtful narrative about the complexities of familial relations in “June in December,” which depicts a young woman, 20-year-old June, struggling to navigate adult life and dreading visiting her family for Christmas. For our last fiction piece, written by Michael Chin, “Christmas Eve” details both a cousin and her girlfriend’s struggle to fit in with a family once considered perfect and picturesque.

For nonfiction, the short memoir,  we offer “Ornaments” by Amanda Noble. The author reflects on the stories behind cherished family keepsakes and holiday traditions. This piece makes us question: How do we deal with these traditions in the face of loss and hardship? In her creative nonfiction piece “Sibling Revelry,” Eileen Cunniffe shows us that not all happy families are alike at Christmastime, thus proving Leo Tolstoy wrong. To wrap this issue, we suggest “Holiday Rodent Wars” by Bill Diamond, a light-hearted and funny anecdote about finding those picking pests during the holiday season.

From all of us at Windmill, we wish you all happy holidays, and a wonderful New Year!

Keaton Ramjit
Managing editor

 

Fiction:

“Christmas Eve” by Michael Chin

“June in December” by Annie Dawid

“Buddy” by Mike Wilson

 

Nonfiction:

“Sibling Revely” by Eileen Cunniffe

“Holiday Rodent Wars” by Bill Diamond

“Ornaments” by Amanda Noble

The Haunting of Writers’ Past 2017

When we first had the October online issue a year ago, it made sense to make the theme “Ghost Stories” to celebrate one of our favorite holidays of all time: Halloween. Last year, our managing editor, Keaton Tennant, decorated the office with tons of crafting pumpkins, bats, spiders, and all sorts of things that go bump in the night. He even kept several secret stashes of candy hidden around the office.

We were ecstatic to open up submissions, awaiting the avalanche of spooky tales we would read wide-eyed. What we got was something different. While some stories were traditional ghost stories, others were more introspective and struck our soul with melancholy. They delved deep into the human experience in response to subjects like the death of a family member or the ghosts of war. For this year, we wrote it into our submission guidelines that when we said “ghost stories” we wanted to know what haunts you.

For fiction, our traditional ghost story comes from Eric Maroney’s “Reuven’s Vow.” “This ghost story has been told from various Jewish sources,” Eric told us. “This is my version.” Matthew Harrison’s Kafkaesque “Induction” details the violent yet mysterious orientation potential employees must face in order to work at a company. Two more stories that struck a chord with our editors were “Filthy” by Hannah Kludy and “Forever Now” by Max Talley. Both stories exemplify the main theme of “What haunts you?” “Filthy” follows the life of a young woman struggling to find a purpose in her life. “Forever Now is not a ghost story, but a haunting story about the human condition, buried emotions, and ghosts of the mind,” Max stated so perfectly in his cover letter.

For creative nonfiction, we have “The Three of Us” by Diane Payne, and “Loose-Leaf” by Toti O’Brien. Payne’s essay details the inner mechanisms and complexity of the relationships within her family and the emotional hurricane that erupted as a result. O’Brien’s essay recounts her meditative and self-reflective journey of writing her memoir through mind-capturing and bewitching language.

These pieces were chosen because the stories they told continued to haunt us after reading. Each of our editors can pinpoint the page, the sentence, or the word that made us feel the arrow shot through our hearts. After all, nothing haunts more than the darkest secrets in our souls.

Happy haunting,
The Windmill Team

 

Fiction:

“Induction” by Matthew Harrison

“Filthy” by Hannah Kludy

“Reuven’s Vow” by Eric Maroney

“Forever Now” by Max Talley

 

Creative Nonfiction:

“Loose-Leaf” by Toti O’Brien

“The Three of Us” by Diane Payne

 

October 2017: “Induction” by Matthew Harrison

It was Peter’s first day at Subjugation plc, and as he looked around the meeting room with its truncheons and handcuffs in the glass cabinets around the walls, he was a little nervous. The HR manager who was welcoming him didn’t provide much comfort either.

“It’s just that I’m not sure you’re up to it, dear.” The lady looked at him doubtfully over her glasses, her face framed by tinted auburn hair. “I’m Violet, by the way.”

Somehow, she didn’t seem hard enough for HR, Peter thought. He was about to reply, but then the door swung open with a bang, and a burly man with a balaclava over his face and black leather gloves burst in. He marched up to Peter and swung a punch right into his face.

The room jerked backwards, and stars exploded across Peter’s vision. He went down, but even as he fell, his employee instincts took over and he clutched at his chair. If you want to dish it out, you have to take it. Hauling himself up, he looked around, shaking his head, ready with the chair. The attacker had already left.

“Not bad,” Violet said grudgingly. She made a note. “I see you have some experience, but mind you,” she continued, “it’ll be a pretty tough week. They don’t all make it.”

Peter grunted. He had expected violence – this was HR, after all – but the ferocity of it had taken him by surprise. He gingerly felt his jaw and his teeth. Nothing seemed broken.

Violet finished her notes, stood up, and looked at him expectantly.

For a moment, Peter didn’t understand. Then, even as Violet murmured, “This is Subjugation, Peter,” he got it. Slowly, he came round and knelt down in front of her. He extended his hand flat on the floor, palm down. Violet put one high heel cautiously onto it. Balancing herself by gripping Peter’s hair, she transferred her full weight onto his hand. Then, with a final twist of her heel, she stepped off. “Thank you, dear,” she smiled, and left the room.

Peter knelt there, panting with the pain. As he caught his breath, he looked around for a weapon, but the glass cabinets were all shut. Then, through the open door he heard the sounds of vacuuming down the corridor, interspersed with screams. He didn’t want to be vacuumed and without waiting for instructions, he grabbed his bag and staggered out.

**

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully. Peter found his cubicle, kept his head down, and was even given some work to do, which he accepted gratefully. His bag was stolen – a passing colleague just picked it up and swung it onto his shoulder – but Peter had his phone and his wallet in his pocket, so he let the bag go. Peering cautiously over the top of his cubicle, he saw that there were other nervous-looking faces around. Plucking up the courage, he even walked along the aisle and introduced himself to a blonde young woman, who turned out to be called Trina. She grimaced as she stood up to greet him, and pointed to her leg which through the torn stocking showed an ugly weal. That was her welcoming interview. Peter grinned in sympathy – a little stiffly, given his bruised jaw.

Later, he got up to go to the washroom, receiving a warm glance from Trina as he walked past her seat. Hey! he thought as he reached the corridor, things weren’t so bad. No bones broken; his hand – he checked it – was merely bruised. Violet wasn’t up to her job, he chuckled to himself. In his previous place he’d have been in a much worse state by now. He opened the washroom door and stepped inside.

Whomp! A high-pressure jet of water caught him in the chest. Peter tumbled over and slammed against the tiled wall. The hose transferred to his face, blinding him and filling his open mouth. Choking and gasping, he tried desperately to deflect the jet with his arms, floundering across the tiles towards the shelter of the toilets.

The hose suddenly switched off, leaving Peter choking on the floor. Wiping the water from his eyes, he made out two burly figures in black by the washbasins. “Welcome to Subjugation!” said the bigger of the two, who was holding the hose.

Screwing up his eyes against the light, Peter saw that the man was wearing black leather gloves. Although the balaclava was absent and the fleshy crewcut head was unfamiliar, he recognized the man from his posture. It was his assailant of earlier that morning. As Peter nodded in acknowledgement, there came to him an absurd concern for the leather gloves amid all that water. He struggled to rise, feet slipping on the wet tiles. If you want to dish it out….

“So you want to work here?” Black-gloves continued.

Peter nodded again – and was again blasted off his feet by the hose.

“He can’t stand up!” laughed the smaller man raucously. He was also dressed in black, but his outsized hands were bare. “Why don’t you help him, Bill?”

This Bill switched off the hose and gave it to his partner. Then, stepping forward, he launched a powerful kick at Peter as he lay gasping. Peter somehow managed to parry the blow with his hands. Then, his staff training kicked in – he rolled, and quickly rose to his feet, where he stood dripping, his eyes on the two men.

“Ho-ho!” said his smaller assailant. “Got spirit, have we?” He raised the hose again.

“Nah, Fred.” Bill put a hand on the nozzle. “Our new colleague wants to go the toilet, remember?” As Fred grudgingly lowered the hose, Bill motioned Peter to the cubicle.

Warily, Peter glanced towards the toilet. In the excitement he had forgotten his bladder, but now that he was reminded, it was bursting. Cursing himself for not having gone earlier, he edged inside the cubicle. There were no doors.

“Don’t be shy!” Fred was enjoying himself again now. “We’re all boys here.” He slapped his bigger friend on the back.

Gritting his teeth, Peter undid his trousers. He daren’t turn his back on the two men, so he lowered himself trembling onto the toilet seat.

The men waited in silence. At last Peter’s bladder opened, and at the tinkling sound he sighed with relief.

The water jet knocked him off the toilet seat.

**

“…And those are the Subjugation values,” Violet intoned. “We are a Caring Company.”

She smiled, and wrapped up her presentation, clicking the PowerPoint off. The lights came on again, making the large meeting room uncomfortably bright. Peter blinked, and from his vantage point in the second row, looked cautiously around.

A battered group met his gaze. A few looked determined; most had had the spirit beaten out of them and were avoiding Violet’s eye. Peter turned back, a feeling of elation rising in his chest. It was already the fourth day of Induction Week. Subjugation had done its worst, but he had survived with nothing more than bruises and scrapes. He glanced to the back of the room where Bill and Fred leant stolidly against the wall, and felt almost sorry for them. There was a limit to what they could do: it couldn’t really be fingernails, not even waterboarding. The kicks and punches had been pulled. It was more bark than bite.

Trina, sitting beside him, swept back her blonde hair and gave him a glance. Her lip was cut, and her eye a little swollen, but she was taking it. Good girl! He smiled with encouragement. He then turned back to the front of the class only to find Violet looking directly at him.

Peter lowered his gaze, but too late. Violet gave an odd little smile. “Now, Peter, a test for you. What are the Subjugation values?”

Peter cleared his throat, trying desperately to recall. “Er, there’s-”

“Why don’t you just step up here so that everyone can hear you?” Violet interrupted. She stood aside, gesturing to the centre spot.

Nervous, for he was not a good speaker, Peter got up and sidled out to the front. The eyes of the other inductees were on him; Trina’s sympathetic, other faces just relieved that it wasn’t them.

“There’s Fulfillment…,” Peter began slowly, trying to remember what came next.

“I can’t hear you very well, Peter,” Violet said, putting a hand to her ear. “Can you speak louder?”

“I said, there’s FULFILLMENT,” Peter said, as loudly as he could.

Violet walked to the back of the class, and stood beside a smirking Fred. “I’m not sure they can hear you back here.”

“THERE’S FULFILL–”

I know what the problem is,” Violet said triumphantly. She had a penetrating voice that drowned his own. Already too late, Peter realized that he had underestimated her. “It’s your breathing,” she went on. “You’re too constricted around the middle. Take your trousers off!”

What!? Peter looked numbly around. Bill and Fred stirred themselves from the wall and took a step nearer, grinning at each other. Violet repeated her command.

Slowly, Peter undid his belt, and let his trousers slip to the floor.

Everything off!” Violet continued with relish.

She did not stop until he was completely naked. Next, he had to shout the five Subjugation values three times while the class shouted after him.

There was pause. Peter, almost dying with embarrassment, gasped for breath and reached for his underpants. Violet still hadn’t finished.

“Do you love this company?” came her strident voice.

Peter hesitated. “Yes, I love this company,” he mumbled.

“Louder!”

“YES, I LOVE THIS COMPANY!”

Violet came forward until she was close, nearly as tall as him in her high heels. Peter shrank back. If she touched him, he was ready to strike back, but her gaze wandered elsewhere.

“Trina!” she called. The young woman looked up. “Do you think Peter loves this company?”

Trina kept her eyes down. “I am sure he loves the company,” she said quietly.

“And do you think he loves you? With that teeny-weeny thing of his?”

The class giggled; Fred roared with delight. Trina said nothing.

“I can see you need a speaking lesson too.” Violet turned back to Peter. “That will do, you can go now.” She walked over to Trina. “Up you come, my love, let’s see what we can do for you.”

**

Peter was now into his second month. Induction Week, with its bruises and humiliations, was long behind him. He and Trina even joked about it. She had healed well, and was already busy with her first assignments. Life at Subjugation was not so bad after all. Bill had taken him out for a drink (‘Nothing personal, you understand, just doing my job!’), and had shown him the padding in the gloves, even offering his own jaw for a mock punch when Peter had put the gloves on. Although Peter could not bring himself to speak to Fred, he nodded to him when they passed in the corridor, receiving a respectful grunt. Violet had given him a congratulatory call when he passed his probation. He had had his first paycheck. With the key to the permanent staff toilet, there would be no more getting caught with his trousers down.

No, there was just one thing missing to make life in Subjugation perfect.

Peter walked along the corridor, fingering the key in his pocket, relishing the moment to come. He reached the meeting room, and thought of bursting in, but no, that would be too… too Bill. He had his own style. He knocked gently on the door, humming, You have to take it, to himself.

“C–come in!” quavered a male voice.

Peter entered, and a young man started up nervously on the other side of the table. His hair was disheveled, and a bruise was already forming on his cheek. He eyed Peter warily.

“Welcome to Subjugation!” Peter said, extending his hand. He gestured to the glass cabinets with their truncheons and paraphernalia. “I’d like to show you how things work here.”


Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.
www.matthewharrison.hk