«My father alone knew about the existence of Etanidrobus, but he never explained how he knew. So when he brought it up, he met ridicule rather than ...»
Holly Domney, a student on the Creative Writing and Publishing MA
at City University London, won the Orwell Society Dystopian Short
Story Competition 2016 with this gripping tale.
My father alone knew about the existence of Etanidrobus, but he never explained how
he knew. So when he brought it up, he met ridicule rather than intrigue and dropped
the subject altogether after a while. No one believed a country ruled by women
existed and laughed at his notion that it could be threatening.
After I succeeded my father as Captain of the Discoverer, my crew fantasised about the land until it was reduced to mere legend in everyone’s minds.
“Etanidrobus,” they sighed over the rolling waves, “is a land of just women, who run their slender fingers through their golden locks, which drape over their pale, bare breasts. If a man dares to penetrate the thick, jealous wall that guards the country endless happiness awaits him.” I forgave them for ridiculing my father’s beliefs, because I could never quite believe him myself and it gave my crew strength in their loneliness. Fish were harder to come by, so we went further out and didn’t return for weeks on end.
If their invented legend kept them going, then I overlooked it.
But Etanidrobus was no myth, nor had it the romantic, golden trimmings of their fantasy.
I never partook in my sailors’ imaginings, but no one could have anticipated the grim reality Etanidrobus sucked me into. It is a hero-less country, a bleak fortress above and a science laboratory beneath.
How I offended the sky I do not know, but grey cloud smothered us, the ocean bit and slobbered over the rusty sides of my ship and swallowed my flailing men one by one.
What hung in my memory the most was the silence. Water silences horror. The screeching of metal grinding on itself as my ship split, my frantic crew and my own screaming throat, were all obscured and muffled when I was submerged. It was deceptively peaceful.
I saw Death’s slender and supernatural figure.
Her arms cut through the water like blades and her eyes were grey as dull, silver coins with bottomless dilated pupils. She had me in her grip, my limbs went limp and grief held me more powerfully than the current.
Her nails dug into my forearm.
That’s when I realised I was being robbed of the honour of going down with my ship and joining my father. A real female pulled me from the sea and into this living death, into the clutches of the Etanidrobus women.
*** Battling lethargy, I glimpse some of the country. They carry me on a stretcher faceupwards. Drugs subdue my terror. My eyes strain to see what is happening.
Black buildings meet black buildings, none higher than three stories. Thickly built, inelegant, these structures squat closely together, a group of old crones whose glazed square eyes watch me pass suspiciously.
Are all the men hidden inside the buildings? Please be hidden inside. Women are everywhere, black-cloaked, going about their business. Some look towards me, is that hatred in their eyes? I feel my anatomical difference like it’s a punishment.
In this woman-infested place my masculine presence sticks out like an unwanted erection.
Unlike my sailors’ fantasies, however, all these women arouse in me is fear.
The houses close in on me and the streets feel as if they are narrowing.
They carry my stretcher up a steep road that overlooks endless flat, black rooftops. A giant wall rears itself into view. It is impenetrable, formidable, black, bulging with stone like a powerful creature does with muscle. It seems to have taken breath and patiently waits for, or dares, an attacker to come forth or an insider to get out.
Black shutters, black buildings, dark grey ribbons of road and no hint of lampposts or any lighting. It all looks the same. I panic through the sedative then. When darkness falls I would be blind. Trying to escape through a maze of streets that mirror themselves in black sameness would be impossible. And the silence, the same silence I felt underwater drowns me here. Girls run on rubber-soled shoes, the women carrying me march to some noiseless drum, even horses plod by with muted clops.
Etanidrobus is in stealth mode, bracing itself for some imminent attack. It appears calm, yet I feel a hidden power, swirling under its surface like a strong current under gentle waves.
I don’t want to be dragged deeper into this city, but struggling would achieve nothing.
One building seems to be the tallest, but that is mere illusion. The steep hill it perches on gives it false grandeur. It is no higher than the standard three stories but is much wider, indicating its superiority to other black buildings that stand to attention by its sides.
This building reminds me of geodes I found near the shore in my childhood. These rocks had ugly, hard exteriors, but once cracked open, exposed the richest most beautiful crystals in the centre. This building is stunning inside and, given the mere three-story height, the hall is vast. My imagination bends around the construction of it. It is made of white marble and intricately carved pillars support large archways.
Layers of gold-rimmed balconies frame the enormous, painted ceiling mural, which depicts women reaching up towards an infinite sky.
They bring me to my feet, into the view of three huge identical portraits hanging on each wall. The fierce, redheaded woman repeated in each picture is on the fourth wall behind me too. Her inescapable gaze boring into the back of my head.
Sinewy, stoic women tower over me. Their muscles ripple with each breath. The longer I look at theirs, the more mine seem to shrink. Despite this freakish strength, they aren’t unattractive, but beautiful in the same way tigers are.
From a distance, impressive, attractively muscular and sleek, but up close you sense how dangerous they are. No weapons are visible, but I know they have them, hidden like retracted claws. Even without physical restraint, I know I’m trapped.
Instinct tells me to remain silent.
A young woman strides out of a passageway towards me.
She isn’t the one framed in the pictures, but the other women press me forwards as if I’m a sacrifice for some deity. Wearing a lab coat and with a clipboard in hand, she looks me up and down, unwrapping and assessing me. I feel exposed under her striking, dark eyes, not sexy.
Her gaze isn’t seductive but emotionlessly scientific, as if I’m a rare species for capturing and scrutinising.
She delivers words that echo around the hall and still ring in my ears when I try to sleep.
“You have been cleansed from what is dishonourable.
You are a Vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy and useful for the Mothers of Etanidrobus.” She nods twice and the white interior of the building dissolves into darkness.
*** I wake on a small, red bed, wearing a crimson robe about ten times too large for me and nothing else. Is that blood on the floor?
My gaze comes into focus;7 it’s fabric that pools around me like blood. The robe is so long. Needle pricks in my arm mark the sedative they used to get me here.
Otherwise I’m unharmed.
There is nothing here I can use as a weapon. Both the bed and one table are screwed into the floor.
There’s a hole in the corner of the room, for me to defecate in.
My prison must be underground. The ceiling and walls are made of glass, with earth piled around and on top of the cell. If I break it, the earth waiting on the other side of the glass will charge in and crush me. These women prefer dead men to escapists.
I sit up to see I’m at the beginning of an endless row of glass cells.
Earth oppresses me on two sides and above. One glass wall faces the corridor and I share the other wall with another cell.
My calm resolve begins to crack and surrenders to panic. Until I notice the back of another man nearby.
My hysteria succumbs to relief.
He can’t hear my greetings through the glass, but the discovery of another human like me is too much good news.
Even if he is the only one I can reach.
His back faces me as I approach. I stand stupidly, not wanting to startle him. I want to create a friendship here, something that looks harmless.
I don’t know if I’m being filmed. I tap lightly on the glass.
The man’s head jerks around, he stares at me over his shoulder with mad eyes;7 the whites more prominent than his irises.
He’s an awful combination of child and old man. His wrinkled skin implies his age, but his expression is savage and stupid like a boisterous little boy’s.
My fear doubles and hopes waver.
He leaps at the glass, banging his splayed white palms on it, sending me staggering, tripping over the goddamned robe and to the floor. I look with horror; saliva gropes its way down his chin and hangs in strings connecting his mouth to his fingers.
The stub of his tongue waggles behind the cage of his teeth. It had been cut, my own aches to look at it. The thing begins to smear his saliva all over the wall, like a giant child learning to finger paint. I catch my own eye in my reflection. See myself in his box, lying back in fear, propping myself up on my elbows on the floor. My red robe an exact match with his. Is this what was to become of me?
I stay on the floor after my fall, for how long I don’t know.
Fear or despair keeps me down. Where is the natural compassion in these women? Their motherly instinct to protect what is vulnerable?
*** I hate the robe, until they take it off me. I keep my head down hoping to appear complicit.
I’m outnumbered five to one.
The women are all EVE, the same word embossed on each pristine, white, lab coat. One EVE becomes my shadow, scrutinising my every move from just out of my sight and two others lead the way to a new room, where a steel contraption waits for me.
The metal chair sucks warmth from my skin. Leather straps bind my wrists to the arms and restrain my legs in specially designed holders. Secured in, the leather straps are so tight that my skin bulges around them. I feel faint, think that they are going to kill me, but the words “for honorable use” echo in my mind.
I am a necessity destined for “use” not death, I am about to find out which is worse.
One EVE pulls a lever, which tilts the chair backwards and splays my legs. Another EVE with latex gloves comes nearer.
The gloved EVE’s tightly curled hair doesn’t hide her eyes that glint like a sadist’s.
I brace myself for the medieval torture this restrictive chair implies. For the love of God, what did I do to deserve this?
The gloved EVE prepares a syringe, connecting a tube to its opening then to a needle, deliberately holding the needle high enough for me to see it sparkle in the artificial light. My balls shrink away, attempting to retreat into my body, they are entirely exposed.
My fists and kicks can’t protect them now.
My back presses so hard against the back of the chair I stick to it, like a wet tongue to ice. Sweat pours from my forehead; droplets of it run down my cheeks like tears.
I feel pressure as she holds my testicle, forcing the skin to stretch over it, preparing for injection. Will looking make it more or less painful? My heart pounds so hard I hear it clanging against the metal chair behind me. Never losing my eye contact, half smiling, she penetrates my sac with the needle.
If pain took liquid form, it would be corrosive acid.
It feels like the EVE isn’t extracting sperm from me, but injecting burning agony into me. Debilitating nausea sets in.
I can’t make a sound, the vomit that crawled before, now gargles in my throat choking me.
Sick threatens to come out of my nose.
My muscles can’t relax.
Longing for the fetal position, I want to lie, shiver and recover in a ball around my tender manhood. Turning my head, I spit out the contents of my mouth, moan and shake in the chair. No anesthetic.
I couldn’t bear the helplessness and the unavoidable pain.
The EVE leaves the room with her sample. I seek the only other EVE in sight, my eyes beg, please, compassion, mercy? I ask,
My begging is cut short by the re-entry of the gloved EVE, who smiles.
“Hush now, it’s time to do the other one.” *** Seeding happens twice a week. They say three times is too much. Once is too much.
They play with language.
Changing a word doesn’t make an ordeal acceptable, well, apparently it does for those who inflict it. Those women feel no guilt. They just Seed the Vessels for their Harvest. In reality, they force my sperm from me in the most painful way possible. A better word for this would be extraction. Theft. Rape?
With knees to my chest, I lie on the floor where I imagine the soft padding of footsteps when legs sometimes pass. Imagined sounds keep my sanity. A pen falls and rolls under my door, the dropper curses. I forget everything, become not Vessel, but gentleman again. I pick up the pen to hand it back to her. The nib clinks, hitting the glass that separates us. Feeling stupid, I lie down. Roll it back through the gap under the door. She picks it up wordlessly.
“You’re welcome,” I croak.
When did I last speak?
“Thank you.” My speech surprises her as much as her response does.
Austerity replaces her politeness. She examines me with the dark eyes I recognise from the hall, then turns and leaves. I imagine the clopping of her shoes down the corridor.
The sadistic EVE no longer inflicts Seeding on me, but dark-eyes does. Everything is as before: the restraint, the tilt, but this time dark-eyes has two syringes at the ready.
She sees my widening eyes.
“Easy does it now.” She moves swiftly and accurately.
The extraction is still painful, but over quickly.
“Ice.” Another EVE brings a pouch forward, dark-eyes accepts it, stares at me for a while, can I trust you? Then undoes a leather strap around my arm. I cup my testicles in my hand defensively. She places the ice pouch in my other hand and unties it.
“It brings relief.” She leaves and the other EVEs return me to my cell.
Once on the floor, I apply the ice to my exhausted genitals, the relief makes me cry with joy. Any hope I have for mercy, for maybe even escape, lies in the quick-fingered hands of dark-eyes.