Rebecca Johnston |
She Was a Beauty in a Cage responds to the prompt of ‘gender issues in science fiction for children and young adults’. I wrote it in response to a real life experience that gave me cause to reflect on pervasive gender issues in our society which also exist in the media we consume and in science fiction, namely the idea that women should be submissive and constantly granting allowances for the insensitive behaviours of men – be they the bio mechanical heroes in sci-fi novels or the sleazy guys at the bar. My idea was to conceptualise a world in which the women are the stronger physical beings in every sense imaginable, with all of the fantastical agility and strength we typically see in our male sci-fi protagonists. I imagined how our society would change as a result – how would gender roles be altered? What archaic and offensive ideas about gender-specific behaviours would be done away with permanently? This was all subtext to the perspective of the female protagonist in my piece; a kind of protagonist which I can only hope we see more of in this genre and all other genres in future.
Demanding and bourbon soaked breath touched my face before his hand did. His eyes were keen but somehow uninterested, feigning distress in front of his similarly apathetic friends. I took in his small frame and his purposefully unkempt hair, his easy gait and presumptuous smirk. I took it all in and threw it all back again; his presence an inconvenience. His graceless request caused my head to cock rapidly sideways in indignation, animalistic in the simplicity of the movement. My eyes lingered a second on the stairwell behind us, blissfully envisioning all the ways in which he might find himself at the bottom of it. My jaw clenched and unclenched in angry pulses, filling the rest of me up with an unannounced but potent fire. The heat was necessary to meet his eyes, to pierce his skull with my pupils, to make him know me. His eyes were misty with liquor and saw nothing. I was nothing.
The side of my face was met with sticky fingers, he gripped at my cheek in his attempt to transform me into his grotesque mask of submission. The pressure was alien and maddening; tearing through me as shards of a mirror mockingly reflecting my own unwilling expression. His face changed into what he must have thought was a likeness of my own, lips pulled up in an ugly grin. He was filled with undue satisfaction and I with a heat that grew hotter the longer his hand stayed molded to my cheek. I glanced sideways to the indifferent security guard, content in staring absently in the opposite direction. My fury grew wings and landed on his broad shoulder, talons slowly digging into flesh.
But I would be my own guard. I would stand tall in my fortress and force out the evils that the boy had pushed upon me. I am not nothing. I am my own warden and none shall pass by me without strict and unyielding scrutiny. As I pull away the sharpness of my elbow meets his protruding ribs and he is sent backwards with a jolt. I hope that he understands my flaming irises for the warning that they are. It is kind of me to give warning at all. My jaw now clenched in beautiful unison with the booming of the music around us; the harsh and vibrant flash of the lights. My breath is out of time with what surrounds me, deceptively slow and deep. This intrusion finds itself a calm body on which to rest, its perches fashioned into the sharpest of steel spikes. It sits in waiting, pierced through and bleeding but unwilling to abandon its cause. It questions and challenges and tries unceasingly to pull me apart, fragment by fragment. He would not, could not continue unanswered.
The words I had created for him take the form of a low hiss, a piercing shriek, a measured growl. It is all of this at once and more. My hands are fists, are claws, are hammers. They are all of these simultaneously. I am the great rock upon which the eager ocean laps, slowly eroding over centuries. Old and worn tapestries will speak in hushed voices of my hunger, my rage. The time comes in short bursts and long laborious pauses; lulling both he and I into an inescapable and impenetrable limbo. We dance and it is no routine that I had ever learned. I return his misplaced touch with teeth and bone, the mirror shard the tip of my spear. It tears through once, twice, again. I grip the wood hard enough to invite my burning blood to the surface of my skin, tainted by sticky fingers. I watch his eyes fill with dread and I revel in the sight of it. My mouth grows full with fangs as I clamp down on his raised forearm, his blood cool and immaterial. Him, immaterial.
The fibres of my clothing tear alongside the fibres of my Self, allowing my innards to grow legs and walk in tandem beside me. They whisper to me, to conjure a storm and become its eye. Mud and salt and smoke fill my nostrils and my breath comes easily. He and I are outside of time. He and I are all that is left. Neither he nor I could have predicted what savagery would sprout from my insides and emerge, blinking widely under this artificial light. It colours our faces in greens and purples and gives nothing at all away. Lilies extend from my fingertips and he is strangled by their stalks; muttering something about tongues and teeth and the ever elusive Time. I cannot find it within myself to hear his words. He has made me into nothing and I have returned him to dust and ash in kind.
I no longer stand alone on the rock face nor do I swim amongst the waves. The lines of my face increase considerably in number as my breath grows heavier. The weight of all that has been done crashes down upon my back and I bear it. He will not be anything now. I have made certain of it. I can no longer see his face or feel his fingers. I can see the heat rise up around me in a whirling mist of condensation; clinging to my forehead and clouding my vision. I stumble but I do not fall. Exhaustion caresses my sides and grazes my brow, but I pay no mind. This is to be my answer. Men will tell of this and feel my heat upon them, feel the sweat on the backs of their necks. They will run and be run down.
I become the predator, shouting and crying and kicking, I become. She is the fire in my eyes and the blood that continues to linger on my bottom lip, filling my mouth with the bitter taste of iron and something newly created. The way back is obscured and unreal, my desire to return waning with each passing moment. The bridge collapses brick by brick, a wretched mold creeping in and souring all that once stood secure. It falls to the ocean below, the waves ever eager. She threatens to push me over with it, gripping my shoulder and driving her sharp nails into my neck. I welcome the sting of it and lean all of my weight against her.
He is only the first of a multitude that will come to understand, to know my burning eyes as intimately as a lover. He is the canvas on which I throw crimsons and rubies and never once pause to consider the meaning. The canvas hangs high on my wall and stands watch over my transformation into that which is more than the girl whose face is painted by the glaring and unforgiving light. The girl whose body shivered and whose mouth constricted in horrid and lifeless indecision. I stand on the rock at sea. I glance down at my hands to find them covered in gravel, aching. My legs sprint and my lilies wither and die. I will not wither with them. She is the one who stalks, who is strong – she is the rock and she is the sea. Without her I am nothing, just as before. My now-cold eyes scan the room and come to rest on his motionless form. Returned to nothing but a sigh and a whimper.
I am captivated by all that follows, the screams and the howls. It is my reparation. I look upon all that I have and have not done and find my eyes mercilessly dry. It is finished now. I wipe the blood from the corners of my mouth and feel the gravel fall from my open palms. It meets the ground with an unceremonious scattering, a map of my newly forged being taken tangible form. I see her face in the formation and she stares up at me, urging; the fire in her eyes a funeral pyre. He burns atop it. I stand below and consume the smoke.
Bec Johnston is a Drama student at Deakin University, currently in her first year. She is predominantly a songwriter but enjoys writing short stories in her free time. Bec has a love for all things science fiction, particularly Star Trek.