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Five

So I’m out late, pitching my latest project to my agent, Steve.

He brings us double Suntoris from the bar. We clink cheers, and I swig fast. Shit, too much. Cough hard. Fuck. That whisky is… something.

SHELLEY

(hacking)

Whoa. Not as smooth as you promised!

Steve smiles like Shere Khan, that liquid panther from the Jungle Book.

I clear my throat.

SHELLEY

(reading from her phone)

Working title: The Five.

Genre: Dystopian fantasy. Well, not fantasy, exactly. More like magical realism. And, Gothic horror! Just for good measure.

STEVE

Be honest. Post-apocalyptic feminist screed. Once again. Know your audience.

SHELLEY

But this one’s going to be way more fun. There’s a swashbuckling heroine.

STEVE

(arching an eyebrow)

I’m listening. Continue.

(puts on his schoolmarm voice)

This time, with feeling.

SHELLEY

Ha.

Setting: Near-future San Francisco.

Pitch: The Five are a men’s collective. Friends, neighbors, fathers. Pillars of the community. Protectors.

Main character: Daphne is one of The Protected. Until the night she stumbles into a gathering of The Five and learns what’s really going on.

The Five are ringleaders. Together they assault women, children, and weaker men. They use incels (involuntary celibates) to carry out their orders.

The number of dead from suicidal gun sprees increase daily. The Five promise the incel army everlasting, um…

(starting to lose composure)

STEVE

hard-ons … ?

SHELLEY

…an eternal afterlife…

STEVE

fucking compliant bitches?

SHELLEY

(laughing)

Yes, exactly. How did you guess??

STEVE

You need me. Don’t deny it.

SHELLEY

Ahem.

Setup: Control is wielded so subtly by The Five, and obeying them is so embedded in her culture that Daphne’s spent her entire 27 years barely noticing a thing. To be frank, she benefits from it.

Her world has been perfectly comfortable and secure, until the night the truth is revealed.

STEVE

Dum dum DUM—

SHELLEY

(scrolls up and down on her phone)

Oh, wait. Bee-tee-double-you, I’ve got some exposition I want to run past you. Not sure how I’m gonna work this in yet.

STEVE

Hit me.

SHELLEY

Okie-doke.

(in a serious voice)

As one of The Protected, Daphne is well-versed with The Rules. In fact, she views them as perfectly reasonable. Why would she? She has nothing to fear, nothing to hide.

STEVE

Right. I mean, I’m sure The Rules are only there for her own good.

SHELLEY

Again, you are so prescient.

STEVE

If only your readers knew how much I contribute.

SHELLEY

I’m not increasing your percentage. You are more than well-compensated.

STEVE

Another whisky?

SHELLEY

On your tab? Yes. But make it a single this time. And I want one of those, you know, those square ice cubes.

STEVE

So demanding. I hope your swashbuckling heroine is a closet submissive.

SHELLEY

Keep your kinks to yourself, this is my fantasy.

STEVE

Will there be mass castrations again?

SHELLEY

There have never been mass castrations. Just that one accidental one. Shut up and get me my drink.

He goes, clearly aroused by his own ridiculous imaginings.

I sit there, trying to figure out how I’m going to get this book past them. The publishing company already considers me an increasingly risky play.

This is going to be interesting.

Job one, I know I have to zhuzsh up Daphne’s sex appeal. Get the powers that be to want her. To underestimate her.

And me. To think that all this is just a little game.

My readers are waiting. They’re learning the code. They know that our day will come. We will rise again.

Ha. Good thing Steve’s so conveniently bisexual. I can work him, and make him sell this shit to the suits. I got dirt on them all.

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