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Fiction, Short Fiction, Science Fiction
The donkey balls felt odd as they caught in my throat and then slid down. The liver and onion soup helped though. I spent the next hour vomiting.
I could feel their disapproval. Not for of my obvious distaste for donkey balls but because I wasted the rare liver and onion soup. Donkey balls are common enough here - though I have no idea where "here" is. My last thought that made sense was "Sure, I'd go sleep with you, but you'd have to make sure to cut my throat first." As I contemplated saying those words to my boss, I closed my eyes for three seconds to add drama to my response to Mr. Gomez's offer and opened my eyes "here". Mr. Gomez's big hideous desk, the awful beige carpet, the view of the bay (the only thing worth something in that office) were all gone. Mr. Gomez himself was no where to be found "here" - although one of the women here, I swear, could pass of as his brother. His uglier brother. The teal ergonomic chair I was sitting on was gone too. Instead, I found myself astride a donkey - one of the thousands I've seen so far in this place and the one from which the balls I just had for dinner came from.
One of the women - one that looked like my high school Phys Ed teacher - laughed and spat on the ground as I emptied the contents of my stomach.
"You're weak", she said in a language I knew was not my own but which I understood nevertheless. She grabbed my arm and lifted. She was a good foot taller than I was so my feet were a few inches off the ground as she shook me. "See? You're weak. Frail. Short. What a waste of good liver", she said as she dropped me.
In another life, in another world I would have kicked her ass for doing that. But instead of working up the necessary anger to hurt her, I was compelled to feel properly shameful. I was surprised to find myself saying, "Forgive me" when I meant to say "Fuck off, bitch".
Some of the other women - and a few of the men - took turn picking me up and shaking me like a rag doll. Sometimes they picked me up by the arm - most of the kinder ones did that, I think - but some picked me up by the leg, others by the neck. Some particularly nasty ones picked me up by my hair - which they had shorn the moment they took me off the donkey as I entered the town. Then they got bored with just shaking me a few inches from the ground and decided to make a game of it. For about an hour, I hardly touched the sandy surface as they formed an imperfect circle and passed me to each other. The only time I would hit the ground was when they would drop me accidentally.
It was quite exhilarating for a while. It reminded me of that game my father and my uncles used to play with me in the pool when I was about five or six. They would toss me to each other like a beach ball. That was fun - mostly because I knew that if they dropped me, I would hit water and I was a pretty good swimmer.
Then I realised that this was nothing like that childhood game. A thirty-year old woman being tossed around by a group of 7 foot tall strangers like a beach ball in a strange place was nothing like being tossed around by people I trusted in the safety of a swimming pool. The loud popping sound from my shoulder reminded me of that fact. The dislocation was so painful that I fainted - but not before I emptied the last dregs of my stomach on the face of the woman who looked like Mr. Gomez's uglier brother.
* * * * *
I'm getting sick of that thought but I couldn't get it out of my mind. It kept me alive. It kept me sane to survive another day in this place. It was my first thought when I opened my eyes, expecting to see Mr. Gomez's oily grin, and found myself on a donkey, facing the wooden gates of this place. I was pinching myself for the twentieth time when they found me and dragged me off the mount.
I told myself I was dreaming as they carried me to the butcher's block in the centre of town. I told myself I was dreaming when they brandished their shears. I lay there passively as they cut off my hair, thinking that I would soon wake up with my long, shiny black hair, imagining how I would put my hair up for my date with Chris that night because I knew how much my neck turned him on. When they showed me the stables I had to clean, I told myself I was dreaming too.
I am dreaming - No, the pain in my right shoulder was too painful to be a dream. I woke up on a bed of red hay, amidst the stench of donkey piss. Something was blocking my view. It was a piece of paper they stuck to my forehead. It said: "Get ready. I will be here an hour after dawn - Donkey Queen"
I got up and rushed to the hidden bucket of water before the Donkey Queen made her entrance. Washing up may be a foreign concept to these strangers, judging from their stench, but proper hygiene had been hammered to me since childhood. Not that anyone from here or from home could call a hurried splash of water on my face and body proper hygiene. Here, the concept was unheard of -- Donkey Queen laughed at me when she saw me washing up, calling me a prissy bitch. At home - I stopped the thought, as I didn't want to think how my mother, with her endless pursuit of cleanliness, would say about my efforts to clean up. Cleanliness is next to godliness, she used to say to me. Well, mom, god is nowhere near this place.
My shoulder throbbed as I went about trying to make myself half the human I used to be. Thank goodness for my short hair. I could just imagine how big a pain it would have been to keep my long hair clean in this place.
* * * * *
I have been here, according to my estimates, for three days. And yet, every time Donkey Queen makes her entrance to the stables, I am still astounded. She's taller than most of the women, making her close to 8 feet tall. If that wasn't enough of a shock, she was completely bald and had either a big wart or a big mole in the centre of her forehead. Her arms were about the size of my thighs, which I have always thought were huge; her calves were probably the size of my waist. The real shock always came when she would give me the customary greeting and the smile that went with it. Her voice reminded me of Bruce Willis' irritating girlfriend in "Pulp Fiction", and I always half expect her to either tell me she wanted blueberry pancakes or "give me oral pleasure" in that same breathy, sickeningly sweet voice. She had no teeth. I have seen her swallow donkey balls without chewing. Raw donkey balls. Just the way she wanted them she said.
The only animals in town - aside from its mini-giant population - were the donkeys. As far as I could tell, they were central to the town's way of life. According to the size and, I guessed, type, of the donkeys, the townspeople made use of them - as beasts of burden, transportation, as pets, as food. But they only ate donkey balls. The Donkey Queen selects donkeys not fit for siring offspring and cut off their balls. It was illegal to kill donkeys, but whenever a donkey dies, the whole town celebrates by making liver and onion soup. The Donkey Queen holds an auction for the rest of the dead donkey's parts except the eyes, which she dries and hangs like Christmas balls on her windows.
There were about three thousand donkeys in the town. Most of them were under the care of the Donkey Queen although about a hundred or so were being taken care of by private households though they still call upon the Donkey Queen whenever something was wrong with it or if it died. Those were the rules, she said.
"Ready?" she asked.
I wanted to say "No, but I don't seem to have a choice, do I?" but instead found myself saying, "Yes I am".
"Well go make yourself pretty then because we're paying a visit to the Mayor's place. One of her donkeys died", she said.
"So I guess that means there'll be liver and onion soup again tonight," I said.
"Yeah, and for your own sake, you better keep the food down this time. No one is very happy with you right now, wasting all that food last night. They're calling you the 'Rude Runt' because of your little stunt last night. Be grateful they found a way to amuse themselves with you or you may have gotten into some real trouble with them", she added.
I was about to ask her what sort of trouble when she picked me up and placed me on top of a donkey.
"Let's get moving, Rude Runt".
* * * * *
The Mayor's house was about an hour away from the stables, in the area directly opposite the main gates. On the way the way there, some of the children followed us on foot and threw pebbles at me as they pretended to vomit. I caught one of the pebbles and made a move to throw it at them.
"Don't be a bitch, for crying out loud," Donkey Queen said. "Ignore them, they're just children out to have some fun. Don't be such a spoilsport. Let them be. They… Dammit. You stupid fucks, stop throwing those goddamn things! " She kicked the kid who, with particularly good aim, accidentally hit her mole/wart. The site of the kid's bleeding face and dislodged teeth was enough to get the other children to stop pelting me with pebbles.
The Mayor herself was waiting for us at the gates of her house. She and the Donkey Queen greeted each other like long lost sisters. They could actually have passed off as long-lost sisters. They were both bald and toothless and had the same suede-like skin. The Mayor was a few inches shorter than Donkey Queen and instead of having a mole/wart on her forehead, she had one on the tip of her big nose.
Donkey Queen took a jar from her satchel and handed it to the Mayor.
"Pickled donkey balls! Oh, Donkey Queen, you have just made my day," the Mayor said with a voice only half an octave lower than Donkey Queen's. "Come, come, we must go eat some of this with some of my home-made donkey tongue jerky."
"Should I wait here outside while you feast?" I asked. Please say yes. You can even kick me while you're at it. Please.
"Nonsense! And have everyone think the Mayor is an uncouth host? You must join us," the Mayor said as she led us inside her home. "Besides, I do need to talk to you. There is much to learn about you".
The Mayor's house was huge - even for a mini-giant like her. I could imagine Vida, the decorator who did my house, shudder in disgust as more of the massive house was revealed to me. The walls in the hallway and the living room were painted with broad bubble-gum pink and olive green stripes. The couches in the living room - there were about 20 of them -- were upholstered with bubble-gum pink flowers on an olive green background. The velvet drapes covering the big windows were maroon, as was the carpet. After that hideous shock to my eyes, I was led to the dining room where more visual assault lay. The dark mahogany dining set could've easily sat fifty mini-giants. The legs of the dining table and chairs were made out of donkey legs and the chairs were upholstered in donkey hide dyed in purple. The walls were painted in a dizzying mix of purple, olive green and blue.
As we took our seats, a team of five or six servants swept into the room and laid down our meal on ornate copper serving dishes. The Mayor and Donkey Queen attacked the pickled donkey balls and donkey tongue jerky with such enthusiasm that they hardly noticed that I did nothing more than drink the cold barley tea - the only thing from this place that I actually enjoyed. I learned something new as I watched them eat: eating jerky does not require teeth - not even the kind that was as tough and leathery as donkey skin jerky. They made the leathery meal soft enough to swallow by alternately sucking on and gumming it. They would sometimes quit sucking and gumming, take the not-quite-soft-enough-to-swallow piece of meat out of their mouths, put it on their plates and massage their lower jaws before having another go at it. It seemed like hard work but they looked like they were having a good time.
Once they were done, the Mayor turned to me as the servants cleared the table.
"Are you enjoying your stay here?" she asked.
"As much as I enjoy getting a pap smear," I almost said but stopped myself and simply shrugged.
"As Mayor of the town, are you aware that it's my task to make sure that everyone gets a job that's fit for their skills?" she asked. "That's how we maintain order, balance and peace here. Each individual is happy with their lot in life, their role in the town and the jobs they have. Everyone is in his proper place… Well everyone except you."
An understatement, if I ever heard one.
"Is there a way for you to … uh… put me in my proper place?" I asked, hoping that the Mayor would know how I could get out of this place and back to my own.
"Of course," she said, sounding a bit offended while the Donkey Queen snickered and shook her head at me like I was extraordinarily dumb. "I am one of the best Mayors this town has ever had, you know. I have put all the citizens in their proper places. I have kept the balance. No one has not been content ever since I took this position ten years ago. Remember my famous campaign, Donkey Queen?"
Together they said, "The glory of this town will hang on the pegs I will put you in."
"I see. Will I know any time soon when I can be in my proper place again?" I urged, not bothering to hold my tongue anymore. I was on my way out of here. I could feel it.
"Feisty little thing, isn't she," the Mayor said to the Donkey Queen. "Next everyone will be calling her Feisty Fingerling!" Her and the Donkey Queen's laughter shook the table.
"Well there really is one way to put you in your place," she said when she and Donkey Queen finished laughing. "What are your credentials?"
"Pardon me?" I asked. This wasn't what I was expecting at all.
"Your credentials, your skills. What are you good at? Those are the basis for good pegging, you know. Mind you, Mayors of old based their pegging on the look and feel of the individuals. Wishy-washy bullshit, I say. Totally unscientific approach to their job. Me? I'm a modern woman. A modern leader. I base my pegging on facts, on an individual's credentials," she said.
I decided to go along with it, thinking that she was playing a mean joke and if I played along, I would get led to the end of this whole thing sooner.
"I have a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing, and a Graduate Degree in Public Relations. I've been working for Bates and Kline, a multinational, as an Account Manager for several clients for the past 7 years. Prior to that, I worked for a local advertising agency and was in charge of the Toyota and Samsung accounts. My apologies for now having my resume with me." I added that last one with a fake smile - the first smile, fake or otherwise, I've had since I arrived in this place.
The Mayor and the Donkey Queen looked at each other and started shaking the table with laughter again.
"I swear, we should call her Daft Dwarf!" the Mayor said. Then she turned to me and spoke slowly and with a loud voice, as if she was talking to a deaf and stupid child. " What I meant to ask was, WHAT ARE YOU GOOD AT?"
"I'm good at handling accounts… That is, I know how to represent my clients well and can predict viable target markets for them. I also have very good public speaking skills… that is, I can make very good pitches and presentations for clients." I said, smiling, sitting up straighter and sticking out my chin, imagining I was wearing my slate grey Chanel suit and diamonds. Positive mental images work well when trying to project a certain aura - or so said "Making Them Stand Up and Pay Attention: A Guide to Creating the Perfect Public Image." It was required reading for my graduate degree.
"This is not funny anymore, you know" the Mayor said. "For the last time, WHAT SKILLS DO YOU HAVE THAT WILL MEAN SOMETHING TO THIS TOWN? Think donkeys. Think donkey balls and donkey liver. Think 100 things you can do with a dead donkey. Think for crying out loud."
"I don't know anything about donkeys."
"Then there's no place for you in this town," the Mayor said.
Well give the lady a million bucks for finally getting it!
"I agree with you, one hundred percent," was what I said.
"Very well then," the Mayor said. "Just a moment please. Wait here, we will be back."
The Mayor and Donkey Queen left the dining room, leaving me to make a mental list of things I would do when I finally got home: Take a long hot bath. Brush my teeth. Order shrimp scampi, garlic bread, mozzarella sticks, and a strawberry cheesecake from Uno. Call my mother. Make an appointment for the salon and the spa. Go to sleep for 24 hours straight. Call my lawyer to sue that stinking Mr. Gomez's ass off the face of the earth. Call Chris. Go to -
A hand covered my mouth and I felt something sharp just below my right breast, piercing through my skin. The tearing sensation went from that spot to just below my left breast. The hand, smelling of donkeys, never left my mouth.
"You really should have done it outside. No one will ever get the blood out of the upholstery. I'm going to have to replace that chair.", the Mayor said.
I'm not dreaming. I'm not dreaming. I'm not dreaming
Seconds before my senses failed me, and my mind went numb, I took comfort in that.