Velvet Noose

By Aureli

Part one – the offence

One glance. A single look that strayed too far and stayed a bit too long. Idle eyes seen as hungry eyes as soon as the others saw him. They noticed him from across the café and started tapping away at their phones, they stared back at him in disgust. It was a whole lot more than just a glance from that point on. Yeah. A whole lot more. At least five seconds straight he had had his eyes on her. Five seconds of staring which, in his case, qualified as ocular assault. Quite a serious offence, and this was his third strike in a row. He had crossed a line. This was not okay.

“His.”

“He.”

“Him.”

Those were the keywords. Jim – let’s call him Jim – was one of the ten percenters, one of the rare few specimens to be kept around after The Liberation had taken place. Womankind had had enough during the Great Blowback, when they were all dangerously close to losing the rights that their grandmothers, great grandmothers and great great grandmothers – their ancestors – had fought so hard for. Threats of violence, harassment or outright physical attacks were nothing new to anyone, but at that point in time something had shifted. The difference was in scope, in scale, and in degree of purpose. The men attacked en masse, organized everywhere and nowhere, from image boards and basements to gyms and lunchrooms. Ready and very much able to “take back” something that they felt had been taken away from them, unlawfully and without their approval. It was a perfectly normalized, well-orchestrated waking nightmare for anyone who was not them.

The women’s counter-attack was quiet, subtle. Slowly they took back the offices, the boardrooms, the workshops, the factories, the homes. Inch by inch, word by word, step by step. Year by year, all by the largely unspoken words of a mostly unwritten, untold pact. There was something almost mystical to the whole thing. Mystical, yet extremely real.

Jim pondered his crime. Didn’t move. Didn’t say anything to stop them or try to apologize. There was no use. There was only the wait. The witnesses left and so did the victim. The seconds dragged on. His coffee was going cold. His head was running hot with panic, his hands were sweaty and the shame was heavy on his chest, like extra gravity attached to him and no one else. A few minutes passed before two people came through the entrance. Their attire didn’t reveal that they were government officials, but the looks on their faces did. Concerned, troubled, disappointed. Pensive and in the process of assessing risk. Jim slowly stood up, stuck his head down and his hands up, and followed them.

All the while, the reborn, freshly repackaged alpha males went off to fight in the wars. Wars that were not their own, even though the men didn’t realize it. This time, the women had a common cause. Every war and every fight was manufactured so that as many as possible would die. Pitched battles on open fields were praised by the wives and girlfriends as the only true way to wage war, with no one else involved than the two brave armies of wherever the fuck they came from. The suckers bought it, wholesale. The women goaded them, cajoled them to the front lines and bit by bit, they took over. Their very identity, used against them. And the fewer the men, the easier the task. The men were quite happy to die their heroic deaths. After all, wars had been started and finished by the bearers of that precious pussy that so many of them craved. These same bearers also bore the hate and resentment of generations. They had fought a timeless, endless war and were all hardened veterans. Now united, winning was easy.

As far as revolutions go, it was a relatively bloodless one on part of the winners, but extremely tedious. It was almost glacial in its pace, but it’s amazing what patience one can have when one knows that there are no other options. The upsides to this, of course, was that very few could actually see it happening. The few that could, and who chose to dissent, were quietly ostracized. One of the most important steps, after ascending any heights of government that actually mattered, was the spreading of information, the teaching of the populace. Making sure that everyone knew very well why the world had to be remade. Luckily for the new rulers, they had truth on their side.

At the facility, soft, droning post rock was flowing out of the PA system. Closed into a square by four orderlies, Jim was led down through the pleasantly lit hallway. His feet pounded against the hardwood floor, and his heart pounded in his ears. He felt like utter shit. He felt like a disgrace. He was a disgrace. He had tumbled down to a subhuman level, driven by crude impulses and vile bits and pieces of a horrible legacy. He was no one now, deserving of nothing. He wanted to evaporate.

Before the The Liberation, a great deal of the violence against womankind had taken place in their own homes, and had been doled out by their own boyfriends, husbands and friends. This meant, amongst other things, that any man wanting to enter a relationship with a woman had to sign the appropriate forms, guaranteeing that he would never act threatening toward her and absolutely never hurt her, whether emotionally or physically. If this would occur – goddess forbid – he was expected to turn himself in for either reconditioning. Most of the perpetrators did so willingly.

Jim thought of why he did it. And what else could he think of, really? His mind was stuck in a loop now, meticulously going through every encounter to spot anything and everything he could have done differently. He did not want this. He did not want to hurt anyone. He understood that harm could be done unintentionally, and he was so mad with himself, so angry that he didn’t see it.

Violence was also the reason why the male population was kept at a low, even number. Research from before The Liberation showed that over 80 percent of every assault was committed by a man, and so it made sense that men remained a minority as a safety precaution. The same was even more true when it came to war crimes, genocide and rape.
There had been extensive talks on having the male race extinguished outright, but this was ultimately ruled to be barbaric and, what’s worse, was deemed to be a remnant of toxic masculinity. “We cannot end oppression by taking on the attributes of the oppressor”, a male rights representative had said, before being met with thunderous applause. The remaining men had welcomed the new ruling. Now properly schooled and thoroughly guided, they understood that it was all a tragic necessity. After all, it was all completely logical. Truth was not on their side.

The first one was called Miranda, he recalled. She had caught his eye at the bus stop because she looked very similar to someone he knew. He had looked at her face for a while, trying to figure out if he knew her and should say hello. She had taken out her phone and snapped a picture. Strike one.

Every person born with a penis was taught the history of male oppression toward females, of their role in the patriarchy, and how they all had too much of that woeful testosterone in their bodies. This made them a volatile breed, prone to aggression and hypersexuality. In the end, it was told, they could only hope to alleviate the symptoms, learn to cope with their innate anger and use extreme care when interacting with women. If this wasn’t followed, all the precious works of The Liberation could be destroyed, and The Communes could devolve back into another dark age. Those that did not identify as male were usually allowed to undergo the surgery they needed, but were observed with caution. “Even though they have the right to be who they are”, many a citizen had said, “we can’t be sure of what their agenda is.” Homosexual men were also deemed a risk factor, as any type of male bonding or male collective could have corrosive effects on The Communes. Almost everyone agreed that it weighed on their conscience to look at people with suspicion. It was not an easy thing to do, but a necessary thing.

He wouldn’t even try to object to the second one, not for anything in the world. He had been on on a subway train, it had been a sunday. A girl had walked by and his eyes had been completely glued to her chest. He was just ogling away, getting all kinds of funny feelings, all at her expense. It was all so completely abhorrent. He had been thoroughly scolded, to his face, live and direct. He was so incredibly thankful of that. That courage. The strength she had shown in the face of such a blatant violation. He really didn’t deserve the honour of being addressed directly. He should have been put away, right then and there, but after his plea the court had pardoned him. It actually made him feel worse.

Routine checkups had to be made on everyone else too, of course. An entire bureaucratic machinery was in place to make sure that citizens were kept in good health and of sound mind. Making sure that men averted their eyes, didn’t interrupt when they spoke, didn’t use any harsh tones or – goddess forbid – sexist language, or that women didn’t act overtly submissive toward them. After all, that was a thing of the past. The future was in sisterhood, and benign supervision. This was a completely different beast compared to the moronic colossi of the Gestapo or the Stasi, all sharp eyes and bravado and towering headquarters. This was a flat structure, a web of informants, made up of citizens and all perfectly undercover. One tweet, one incriminating picture, one drunken horny text, and it was all over. No more friends on your list, no more calls, and most likely not a job to go back to. Power had officially been taken back. Everyone agreed it was well-deserved. And why wouldn’t they?

Strike three had happened, and for the most pathetic reason possible. It was monday, he was tired, and had been staring blankly into nothing – or so he thought. He had developed such a deep pride in how he handled his eye movements, never anything out of place and always in a manner which was attentive yet not aggressive. But he had been looking in the wrong place this time. “Intention didn’t matter”, it was often said, “Only results mattered.” Jim agreed. He walked along, sometimes glancing at the paintings on the walls, the paintings that celebrated the female form in various ways. Not too long, however. Not too long, even though it didn’t matter now.

Any society has its shining examples though, even in the bottom tiers of it. The ones that did their homework, knew their history and what legacy they were part of. The ones that didn’t cause a stir and filled out all the necessary forms. Jim had been one of these “gold stars”, as they were called, signified by a literal gold star pinned on their chest. Up until a few months ago he had been quite the model of a sympathetic, astute male. He had worked hard, had even had a few relationships with a few women. His climb had been slow. His downfall was to be quick.

Part two – the correction

They finally stopped by a neat wooden door that stood ajar. He could see the Corrector sitting inside the room, in her pale, clean attire. The shirt with the collars that ended right below the her chin and the long, grey skirt. Light was spilling into the room from a huge window to her left. The colors were discreet, inoffensive, muted. Quiet greens and faint yellows, eggshell walls and a pale wooden desk, where she sat in a low chair. Sometimes there were two Correctors instead of one during the sessions, for safety reasons. Apparently Jim was not deemed to be too much of a risk, but he felt like he was. He was a horror. An abomination. Didn’t she understand what she was inviting into her office? “Then again”, he thought, “who am I to question her judgement?” She looked up from her notes, gave him the politest, most professional of smiles and signaled for him to enter. He did as instructed.

The correctional sessions were constructed as interviews, with guidance through questions, so as to make the perpetrator realise his mistakes on his own. This had been proven to be the best way to both assess risk factor and to eventually get the subject back into open society. Jim knew this, because he had written an essay on the subject (it had received a relatively high mark, which was improved thanks to the humility he had shown when the grade was set). Now he was in the system, a problem to be fixed, a most unwanted anomaly. It was all shame and pain and horror.

Soon, he was in the middle of a barrage of inquiries, all spoken with neutral tone and only with a slight edge of concern to them. Every answer was met with a distanced but clear validation, as per protocol. A humming, an “I see” or an “interesting”. Jim the Man was now Jim the Test Subject.

“..and looking at her at that moment, can you think of any particular feelings that it provoked in you? Ah, I see. And how do you plan to handle these emotions in the future?”

“Did it ever occur to you what SHE might have been feeling at that time?”

“What are some of your OWN thoughts on your behavior, Jim?”

He had soon began to shift in his seat, clearly uncomfortable. Left leg over the right, then reversed. Hands fidgeting with the hem of his shirt, then laid down flat in his lap. He had been so determined to stay focused, and these kinds of reactions were incredibly shameful. This was important! This was his attempt at penance! He had to show that he was serious about this, and not just in a selfish way, a way to avoid a life in the Colonies, but to show that his concern for womankind was genuine!

“How often would you say that these thoughts occur?”

“How would you rate the intensity of these emotions, on a scale from 1 to 10?”

“Do you ever feel like they are beyond your control?”

“How would you rate your progression from the second offence up until today?”

“..and where would you say that you.. “misstepped”, as you put it?”

Several hours passed. It was getting hard to breathe now, and even harder to focus on the Corrector’s questions. Too much going on, too much inner turbulence. He was sweating bullets. His insides were itchy, he was anxious and annoyed and almost… angry. Anger was the thing they had always warned him about. The great destroyer. The great mind-killer. The source and the fuel of everything that had been The Blowback. Where did this come from? This wasn’t him, so what the hell was going on? Who was this person wearing his skin?

“Okay. Yes, I hear you, I understand. And with all these things in mind, have you thought about what these things might mean for the value of the Gold Star, and for other males aspiring to it? Mm-hm. And what kind of standard would YOU say, in your own words, that you are setting for your peers, taking today’s events into account?”

“Making amends, yes. Have you thought about that before, or is today the first time? Very well. How do you plan on showing your Commune that you are, as you say, “a better person?” Mhm. And you believe they’ll be persuaded?”

“Right. And, in your mind, you think that those arguments are reason enough to be cleared of the charges? Oh. Interesting. Could you please elaborate?”

He was fuming now. He kept clearing his throat, a small tick to distract him from his own fury. Strangely, though, he wasn’t sure if he wanted another distraction, another coping strategy. Goddess damn it, it felt good. It was a rush. It was a high. His skull was on fire and something in him wanted to roar. And he had a target now, he had realised. It wasn’t just free-flowing hostility from some forbidden and forgotten abyss. He hated her. He wanted to yell at her. And – the shame stung him again – he wanted to hurt her. That stupid fucking stuck-up Corrector bitch with her smug, polished, professional demeanor. She was just about to fire off another round at him when Jim suddenly stood up.

“No. You know what? I’m fucking through with this. It’s over, y’hear me? It’s ALL. FUCKING. OVER.”

His arms outstretched, accentuating every angry volley of words. His face crimson, cut through by thick, blue veins.

“I can’t stand you fucking people! I fucking TRIED to do the right thing. I did it ALL RIGHT, EVERY damn TIME. But you’re so fucking smug, you got all the answers, you can do what you want, you can say what you wanna say, but me? I didn’t choose this. I never even knew how to want anything else. I didn’t choose my oppressor ancestors, I never WANTED to be them! I never chose THIS.”

He grabbed his crotch to accentuate his point.

“So fuck you and your fucking curriculum, you silly, stuck-up, ugly, conceited bitch! I’m through with ALL of you! So STEP the FUCK off, or things are gonna get BAD from here on, you hear me?”

That moment of triumph. That claim to infamy, that pride and engrossing feeling of greatness. I am Jim the Man, hear me roar. For the first time in his life, he felt like his own person. Free. True. Strong. Perhaps even happy, like actually happy.

A few moments passed. About as much time as a too-long stare, before the regret kicked in. He was right back where he had been before, when he was being led through the hallway. That had been the fall. Now, he had hit the ground.

The corrector had stood up, too. She was quite the sight to behold, and not at all the kind that Jim had seen when he committed his second offense. No, this was all raw composure and grace under pressure. Mouth half open, clearly shocked, but with her back perfectly straight. Eyes showing deep concern for him and for the rest of mankind, but with the deep disappointment of any mother, and the severity and gravity of any official.

“Jim. I can see that you are very upset right now. I’m going to have to ask you to count to ten, and breath deeply while doing so. As your Corrector, it is also my duty to inform you that this was in no way acceptable behavior for someone in your position.”

She pushed a button on her watch. If he had leapt at her, Jim could’ve easily have stopped her, but now he had shrunken back to his old self. “This is the lowest that I’ll ever go”, he thought to himself. “This was so wrong and it’s all my fault and I wish I was fucking dead. “

“It’ll never be the same after this”, he thought to himself, and he was right.

Being led through the hallway, now accompanied by six orderlies, Jim was crying. His body had gone limp, both head and heart had completely capitulated. He was beyond redemption now. He knew it. He accepted it. It was all for the best. History had been proven right, once again.

***

In the Communes, any kind of physical punishment was rare. It was considered crude to apply any kind of corporal punishment or prison sentence. Death penalty was rarely even discussed. Any invasive procedure was equally taboo, but this time there was not much else to do. Lobotomy was something seldom used, but it was not unthinkable. In some extreme cases – such as this one – it was applied even if it was undeniably ugly. As Jim was wheeled into the operation room, tears still streaming from his face, the nurses looked at each other with deep regret over what was about to happen. They didn’t like it. It was an ugly thing. But it was necessary.

“After all”, one of them had said whilst taking a break in the cafeteria, “he was given a third chance. I heard he even threatened to hurt his Corrector.”

There was a gasp, in perfect unison.

“Well, good riddance, then”.

“Yes. Good riddance.”

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