Chapter One: Awakened
With a frustrated sigh, I sit up in bed. I should have known that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, not when today was my awakening. In just a few hours’ time I would be married, bound to an unfamiliar man for the rest of my life. And there was nothing I could do about it.
I pace around my bedroom, taking it in one last time. All of my clothes and personal belongings would be left behind after the ceremony, gone as though my childhood never happened. Perhaps my parents would sell them once I was given to my mate. They had no reason to keep them when they would likely never see me again. I bite back tears at the thought. Everything I cherished in my life would soon disappear. Even my own name would become obsolete, my identity erased and a new one assigned. From this point on, I would no longer be Mia Alvarez, but a “Mrs.” The idea made me want to vomit.
It seemed so primitive, the way I would be put on display for the men in the city to scrutinize, unconscious as they inspected me and my peers to see if we were up to their standards. It didn’t even matter if I didn’t like the man who selected me. I was a woman and, as such, I was to obey the laws of the land set forth by our all-male government. I was eighteen now and my binding would commence, despite my qualms. That’s just the way things were in the city of Grayson.
More terrifying than the stranger who might select me as a wife was the stranger who I might become. During the awakening, after a woman has been bound, her mate has total dominion over her, even down to her physical traits. While I am under anesthesia, some stranger will have the authority to genetically modify my appearance without my consent. By the end of the day I might not recognize the person in the mirror. Knowing it might be the last time I saw my face this way, I take one last look in my bedroom vanity, saying goodbye to the person I was before heading downstairs to meet my fate.
Mother was making breakfast and it smelled delicious, but I didn’t have the stomach for food this morning. She brings my father a plate, and he gives her a gentle kiss. I watch from the bottom of the stairwell as they stare into each other’s eyes, genuinely in love. I suppose if I could find a mate who looked at me like that, the ceremony might not seem so bad. But my mother had been lucky; most women don’t fair that well after they are bound.
Regardless of the circumstances, once you are bound, you are bound for life. Speaking up, even in domestic violence situation, would be risking persecution or life as a No Name woman, a fate much worse than the awakening.
I take my seat at the kitchen table, and their faces light up with joy. I smile politely, despite my trepidations. This was a proud moment for my parents, the day that their only child ventured into adulthood. It was supposed to be a cause for celebration, so how could I tell them that I didn’t want to go through with it?
“Good morning, Mia. Did you sleep well?” my mother asks.
“Very well,” I lie.
“Are you all set for the ceremony?” my father asks as he sips his coffee.
“Yes. I am going to meet Charlotte and we’ll walk over together.”
I watch their faces fall at my words. Even though Charlotte has been my best friend for as long as I could remember, my parents thoroughly detested her. I didn’t understand why until they gave me a long lecture about the sins of homosexuality. I had to stifle my laughter, assuring them that Charlotte was more like a sister. They never brought it up again, but I could tell they preferred we didn’t spend time together. Their opinions didn’t matter to me, though, because Charlotte was the only relief I found in this insufferable world.
Though I was truthful when I said that Charlotte was like family to me, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t previously thought about her in a romantic way. But then I reminded myself what would happen if I pursued a relationship, knowing that even if she accepted my advances it was sure to mean our deaths. Homosexuality was strictly forbidden in Grayson.
When the city bell chimes to signal the start of our day, I hug my mother and father goodbye, realizing that I might never see them again. I bite back tears as I leave the house, refusing to look back because I knew if I did, I would become inconsolable. I couldn’t risk losing control right now.
Instead I focus on the beauty before me. Despite our archaic way of life, Grayson was a stunning place. If I didn’t live here, perhaps I would find Grayson to be quaint, just a quiet town nestled in the heart of Appalachia with the rolling sea to one side and the mountains on the other. But I do live here and, for that reason, I can see it for what it really is- purgatory.
I could only imagine what life was like before the world nearly collapsed and Grayson was established. It’s rumored that women were regarded as equals back then, before our patriarchal society took over. The world was forever altered after the third world war desecrated most of human life. Between the nuclear attacks, radiation poisoning, and the increase of global warming, resources dwindled at an alarming rate. The small percentage who survived the war were unprepared for the aftereffects, and they teetered on the cusp of death for years.
The extremists who created our new society declared this an act of God, his way of cleansing the Earth of all things corrupt and deplorable so we could start anew. We couldn’t reverse the damage that had been done to our planet, but we sure as hell weren’t going to make it worse. They determined that the only way we could reverse the damage would be to go back to a simpler lifestyle, and strict bylaws were soon created to prevent our society from going down the same path of impurities. Amongst the worst of these crimes was murder, adultery, and same sex relations, all of which could be punishable by death.
The city of Grayson was soon established and we quickly began the path to restoration. No longer were the people inflicted with hunger pangs or overcome by the sweltering heat. No longer did the children clutch their mother’s bosom, crying over the agonizing blisters from breathing contaminated air. The council gave people hope in a time where hope was rare to find and, for that reason, they were regarded as our saviors.
Not only did Grayson persevere, it thrived under the control of the council. So much so that the objective shifted from survival to replenishing the now uninhabited planet so our species could continue. Population renewal became our main goal, the mission at the core of our new society. This led to the annual Awakening Ceremony, still continued to this day, where I would be selected by some stranger like I was fruit on a tree, ripe for the taking, and forced to have his children.
My heart thudded rapidly in my chest as reality started to sink in. I was on my way to the ceremony right now, like so many generations of women before me. In a few hours I would be a wife and in less than a year, I could already be a mother. I take a deep breath and have to double over to keep from being sick.
As I glance across the square, I spot Charlotte searching for me. When our eyes meet, she produces a brilliant grin that I couldn’t help but replicate. One of the best parts of Charlotte is that she was always smiling. My worries are pushed to the back of my mind when I see her, the one person who could make me feel better even in the worst of times.
“Hey Mama Mia. How’s it hanging?” Charlotte asks, wrapping her arms around me. I tense, my eyes sweeping the horizon for signs of the government chaperones who report noncompliance to the officials. “You ready for this?” she asks, unfazed by our prohibited interaction.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I mutter.
“Oh, cheer up, buttercup. You’re going to meet the love of your life today,” she taunts sarcastically. Charlotte had this uncanny ability to lift my spirts, and I soon find myself laughing with her.
“I guess anything would be better than becoming a No Name woman,” I admit as we pass a young woman on the street. She looked tattered and worn, aged well before her time. On her cheek, a small red “X” was branded into her skin, the sign of an unsuitable woman.
Becoming one of these women was my greatest fear in life, more so than the binding. We called them “No Names” because their identities have been stripped away. Their reproductive organs were surgically removed, deemed unfit to carry the next generation. For this reason, the No Name women are on the lowest rung of our society, same as common criminals. They are forced to wear robes of black and keep their eyes to the ground, too inadequate to look ordinary citizens in the face, and are seen as less than human by our government.
A person could become a No Name woman for a variety of reasons, but most of the time it was caused by insubordination or their husband’s rejection. It didn’t matter the circumstances, if your husband decided he didn’t want you any more, that was enough to end life as you knew it. You were considered incompatible, tainted goods in a society where your marital status was all that really mattered.
Being a No Name woman meant a life of labor in the factories or servitude in the household, if they were lucky. Others resorted to becoming beggars or prostitutes, using any means they could to survive in a world that didn’t accept them. They made my fears of becoming a wife look like leisure in comparison.
My eyes fall to the ground, unable to look at the No Name women any longer. Her derisible presence was more than I could bear at the moment, etched into my mind as a reminder of what my future could become if I didn’t please my husband.
Charlotte and I pass the woman and head to the processing center where the ceremony would take place. We walk into the foyer where a dozen other girls were waiting. Some looked as terrified as I did, but most were brimming with joy. We had been trained on becoming a prospective wife from the moment we were born, brainwashed to believe this would be the biggest moment of our meager lives. I wasn’t sure if I pitied the other girls for their naivety, or envied them for so readily embracing what was expected of them.
The girls chatter for a few moments, but silence quickly falls on the room as three women stride inside, their frocks flowing behind them. They were rigid with permanent frown lines indented into their skin, and they exulted an aura of no-nonsense. I know them immediately, legends amongst our society. We called them the trifecta, and they were rigid as the buns secured on the tops of their graying heads.
The trifecta were the only women in Grayson who weren’t married, but also weren’t No Name women. They committed themselves to run the processing center and preparing new girls for the awakening. The trio were the only women with even an ounce of power in Grayson, and they flaunted it openly.
The woman at the head of the group who I recognized as Margaret, observes us with her unrelenting glare. The room becomes so quiet that I can hear my own heart thumping anxiously against my chest.
“Strip naked, even your undergarments,” Margaret says without as much as a greeting. We all pause, eyeing one another as we considered the seriousness of the request. “Now!” she roars, startling us into action.
You could sense our mutual discomfort as we obliged. Modesty was proselytized in our society. Nakedness to this degree was prohibited, punishable by the government. But what Margaret says goes inside these four walls, so we follow her command without question.
The other members of the trifecta, Susan and Alice, begin to pat, poke, and prod each girl. Alice steps up to me, using a ruler to measure my height, bust, and waist sizes. She weighs me on an electronic scales, pinches my cheeks, and runs her fingers through my hair. She jots down the figures on her intimidating clipboard, leaving me to question if I was acceptable or not before moving on to the next girl in line.
“Be fruitful and multiply, so sayeth the Lord,” Margaret preaches. “The woman is a beautiful creature, made by God to replenish the earth. You are blessed to bear life; to cultivate, nurture, and nourish the next generation. Without you, our species would cease to exist. Now that you are of age, it is time to begin fulfilling your duty,” she says.
“The awakening will require you to denounce your old identity. Your name, your family, your memories- they are no more. Today you will be assigned your mate, and you are to subject yourself to his will. He is your superior, and you are to respect and obey him, as is your duty as a woman.”
Subject… respect… obey… but nothing about love. Love was a thing of the past, dying with the millions who perished during the third world war. We were simply human incubators, used to bring children into a dying world. You married, had kids, and that was that. If you could tolerate your mate, you were among the privileged and might have a decent life. But it wasn’t uncommon to see the bruised and beaten women from a home where they were seen as nothing more than a farm animal.
“At this time you will undergo the Awakening Ceremony,” Margaret explains. “When you come to, you will be bound and will begin your new life. Remember your purpose and you will be fine. Forget and you shall perish, as is God’s will,” she says, sending a chill down my spine. “Good luck to you all.”
I still had so many questions, but the trifecta left the room without another word. In their stead, several doctors walk inside, one for each girl. They give us a physical examination to test our health, endurance, and, most importantly, that our virginity has remained unsullied. Then the time comes and they inject us with a serum that induces a deep sleep. My heart pounds as I watch the needle enter my skin, and the only thing I can think of is how badly I don’t want to do this and hoping for a husband who is kind, before fading into unconsciousness.