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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Fellowes

The Awakening

Updated: Mar 28


Q: What if men needed permission to be out alone?


(Scroll down for Chapter three)


Chapter one - distract, deflect, disguise


Rhythmic repetition. The pitter patter of rain outside. The inane tap tap tap of my finger on the trackpad logging my answers. It was enough to lull me to sleep. This mindless procedure that we’d all been subjected to since The Awakening.

History books showed that it had all come to a head the day a young woman was assaulted and murdered by a policeman. Suddenly the spotlight was back on the daily fear women endured; the fear of being attacked, having drinks spiked, being raped, being killed. The difference this time was however hard the Men tried to distract, deflect, disguise the truth about her death, they couldn’t escape the hardest truth of all - the many investigations and consultations ran by Women made sure of this - that the very institution designed to keep society safe was in fact a hotbed of misogynistic aggressors.

I found it all hard to relate to. Even with sisters. I couldn’t have handled any of this happening to any of them but I was at ease in the knowledge that it would never have happened to me. Of course one could be unlucky but men didn’t have to worry in the same way. Well, that’s what I told myself as I reflected on these events in history class.

Years of turmoil followed as the Women tried to ensure the light remained on the issue while the Men did their best to turn it elsewhere. Blood and tears were shed as Women challenged, marched, fought for their rights to feel safe. Men in turn continued using sexual violence as weapons of war, brought back Trump, took away more bodily rights from women, carried on pillaging natural resources to expand their cities, their space programmes… and on it went. After all, the fear in Men was greater than the fear enforced on Women.

The trees, watered by the ever-flowing tears, sweat and blood of the disenfranchised, had been whispering to each through their network of roots. Men were endangering their world too through their destructive ways. This was not sustainable. A reset was due.

Mother Nature started off slowly. The volcanic eruptions were the first signs. Followed by the floods. She washed away, drowned, blew away, set on fire the many Men roaming freely through the streets. The Women were mainly at home, looking after children, hiding away. She then exploited the unfolding Climate Change, inciting wars and triggering migration. Children were the main victims. Women fell too but the net balance was slowly growing in their favour.

Over time, the increasing environmental stress caused more girls to be born and many boys that got through the birth canals perished prematurely, being the biologically weaker sex. Female bodies evolved to conserve surplus sperm after sex, a small sac-like feature developing in the Fallopian tubes which captured and stored sperm for later use. As for men, our numbers diminished to a manageable low, allowing the female species to overpower and control us for the first time in history. This was the start of The Awakening.

With the power of AI at their fingertips, Women finally ruled the streets. Infrastructure did not fail, services ran smoothly, wars ended, distribution of goods became egalitarian and fair. Women jogged at whatever times they wanted, wore anything, never had to text to say they were home safely, never had to carry keys hidden in their fists. Life was good. For them.

Men however had to ask for permission to go out. Fill in endless forms, detailing where we wanted to go, with whom, for what purpose, what we would be taking with us, till what time. Work load within a family was shared out equally and tasks had to be completed before one could even think about filling in an exeat. These forms were checked by the AI algorithm (configured by the female rulers of course) and it loved to issue arbitrary denials. One red flag would have you under close scrutiny until you could prove that you were no longer a risk. Too many and then family members got penalised. You were more likely to be allowed out if you were with a girl or woman but generally they didn’t like men out on their own after sundown.

I had nothing to hide but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t in charge of my own body. Not all men were bad but we were being treated as One. Sometimes a localised incident would trigger the AI to enforce an area-wide curfew. The innocents were paying the price for the sins of our forefathers as well as the few bad apples rolling about now.

It wasn’t a great time to be a young man. All I wanted was to experience normal, coming-of-age like shit... just like they did in the movies. Have fun, be reckless, meet someone. The only chance I had was at the underground parties sprouting on the edges of society but the girls there weren’t the dating kind and it was getting harder to even get a drink.

I had to watch my sisters flaunt their liberty in front of me. They didn’t mean to taunt me but I couldn’t help how I felt. Sometimes I wanted to be alone, to get away from it all and walk aimlessly for hours in the dark. Was that too much to ask? I didn't think so. Fuck the consequences I said to myself. This was my life. I crept out and darted through the shadows to the lake.

It was there that I saw her standing over the water's edge in the moonlight. She saw me and smiled. I looked away, unsure of what to do. I swallowed. Would you like to sit, she asked? Her confidence. It was amazing. Why couldn’t I be like that? Come, she repeated. I won’t bite, she laughed.

Sitting next to her, I stared ahead, in silence. I’m Lyla, she said. What’s your name? I panicked. The law required you to show your papers to any female who asked for your name. It also obliged you to report an undocumented or risk red flagging a male member of your household. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to talk to her but I couldn’t bear being locked up any more than I had to be. My older sister had just got into that college she wanted, I daren’t risk losing that for her. What should I do? I needed to get to know her but fear coursed through me. Should I get up and run or give her my name?



Chapter two - Spring Equinox


It was the best thing I had ever done. Introducing myself to Lyla that night, giving her my name, getting to know her… really getting to know her. She was the everything that I had hoped for that summer.

She didn’t report me that night or any other night that I sneaked out to see her. Whatever fear I may have felt previously now metamorphosed into FOMO on her. She was pervading all my thoughts, every waking moment, to the point of obsession but I didn’t care. All I cared about was whether she felt the same. The more I saw her, the more I wanted to see her.

The limitations on my freedom were punishing me like never before. My desire to be free, to do whatever I wanted was making me crazy. My family were getting concerned with all my red flags, worried that my misdemeanours might start impacting them soon. They cut down the tree outside my window so I couldn’t creep out any more. Don’t worry, said Lyla, just use the vines instead. What vines, I wondered? The ones under your window, she smiled back. How had I never noticed them before? I didn’t know but they were exactly what we needed at that moment.


***


The vines weren’t the only thing he hadn’t noticed. He had totally missed the flowers blooming where ever Lyla strolled, through fields, in window boxes as she passed. And when he undressed her in the fields, he had been oblivious to her vagina dentata waiting for him. Sharp and ready. For the fear in her was still raw. Centuries of repression, subjugation and bloodshed had turned her fear into a desire for revenge. A desire to inflict pain on whichever man she could get her hands on, to pay back for the collective pain caused by his kind throughout history.

Lyla had watched her mother play the long game with the volcanoes and the floods. Harnessing Climate Change and nudging evolution by natural selection in their favour. Lyla and her followers wanted instant gratification. To target the Men where it hurt them most and watch them beg for mercy. As a group they were gaining notoriety for their brutal means. Blinded by their pain and blind to the pain they were causing. Many critics were beginning to voice concern that in their process of retribution, they were losing their judgement and lacking proportionality.

But now, seeing how tenderly he was looking at her and how much he was falling for her, Lyla felt her teeth retract and found herself opening herself up to him. She would enjoy him for the moment and teach him a lesson later on, she told herself.

That later never came. She kept putting it off as the summer became autumn and autumn turned to winter. Lyla was systematically avenging her foremothers on the side but more and more time was being spent with him. Her followers were beginning to notice and urged her to purge him like the others. What’s so special about him anyway, they said. Lyla couldn’t say but it was getting harder to corral her feelings for him.


***


Spring Equinox. The start of spring. The day the sun crosses over the line of the equator. The day that they crossed the line.

I had woken early that morning, aware that dissent was growing within the ranks. I knew I had to give a rousing speech at the festival that night, make them respect me again and get back control but all I could think of was last night…of him.

In my reverie, I hadn’t noticed the commotion outside until a significant crowd had gathered, crying out Lyla! They were shouting for me, demanding blood, telling me to prove that I was a worthy leader, ready to take over from Mother Nature. The crowd swelled around me as I stepped outside and they carried me towards the hills where the festival was being set up. I gave in to the tidal wave and floated star-shaped amongst the sea of women until they deposited me in front of the stage. A white curtain, curved in a circle and decorated with flowers stood in the middle. What was this? Lights shone from behind the curtain. An outline of a body on a bed. A shadow play for tonight’s entertainment? Hushed silence from the crowd as they watched my reaction. And then the curtains were pulled back and I gasped. There he was, on the bed, legs and feet tied, blindfolded and gagged. Let him go, I shouted as I made my way on to the stage. He heard my voice and writhed about, muffled grunts. Someone grabbed both my arms and held me back. Let go of me, I barked but I was powerless in their grip.

Kaya, my second in command stepped forward and signalled for me to be brought closer. I was flung on to the bed, landing on top of him, a lance pointed at my heart. I froze.

It’s been brought to our attention that you might not be as focused to the cause as you once were, Kaya began. We need you to prove to us that you still have a right to be our leader. Birthright isn’t an automatic guarantee. You need to show us Lyla. Kaya paused. We’ve been told that he doesn’t have a sanction to be out alone today. Show us what we do to those who don’t abide by the rules. Teach him how we ask for permission.

They were right. I had foolishly let my heart rule, to drop my guard. I should’ve got rid of him a long time ago. Done the deed the first time. But no one had ever made me feel like this before. That feeling when he looks me in the eyes, as if he can really see me. And accepts me for who I am. But does he? Would he still love me if he knew what I’d been doing? Or who I was? I blinked away a tear and mustered all my strength to pull myself away from my restraints. I stood up tall. What was I to do? I couldn’t lose face. I could always find another. Really? Could I? But this is The Cause we’re talking about. Centuries of bloodshed and we finally have the upper hand. I couldn’t give that up now. What was I to do? I had to make a choice - him or The Cause?



Chapter three - the performance of my life


I had to act fast. Without hesitation. I knew what I had to do. Mother had always taught us to listen to the waves within, to drown out the sirens’ songs.

I turned to the crowd and assumed the power stance. A hush descended as they followed suit. Women of The Cause, I declared, today you ask me to prove my allegiance. Today of all days, the first day of Spring, when the buds of tomorrow start to bloom and when the light of hope gets that little bit closer to us. I signalled to Kaya for her lance. She handed it to me, studying my expression carefully, keeping a watchful eye on the surrounding guards readying their weapons. You have nothing to fear in me, I said. I am your natural leader and will always be. I have the divine spirit within me. Prove it you say? I strode behind the white curtain where he lay on the bed, tied up. Slashing the cords clean off his wrists and ankles, I pointed the lance at him. Strip and beg for forgiveness, I shouted at him. The crowd, watching the action via the shadows cast on to the white curtains from the sunlight behind us, clapped in delight. An industrial spotlight came on. Rousing cinematic music started playing from the surround speakers. I knew I had to put on the performance of my life.

Seductively I slipped off my underwear and threw it over the curtain into the crowd. Rhapsodic applause. Whooping. Cheering. I lowered myself on to him and firmly placed my hand over his mouth as he started protesting. Play along, I hissed as I pretended to writhe on top of him. He bit my hand, giving me a reason to slap him across the face. The crowd were loving the shadow play unfolding before their eyes. What do you say boy, I roared, thrashing around like a rodeo rider. He looked at me shocked, paralysed with fear. Even with all the limitations enforced on his freedom, he had no idea what to say. I arched my body over his and leant into his ear. Say you’re sorry, I whispered. He looked at me blankly. For not getting permission, he trembled? For the way you’ve kept us down, I said pushing him hard. His head struck the edge of the bed causing him to wince. I’m sorry, he cried. What did you say, I barked. I’M SORRY, he screamed as blood trickled down his forehead. This may hurt a little, I said as I revealed my other teeth…

Blood curdling screams as the white curtain turned crimson. The cries waned as the arterial flow of blood abated. Wiping a line of red across my face, I pulled myself together and stepped out from behind the curtain and in front of the baying crowd. They loved my blood stained appearance. Applause erupted. They started chanting my name over and over again, Lyla! Lyla! Lyla! as I looked over at Kaya. Bitter and sour, she stood silent. Is this what you wanted, I asked the crowd. The air filled with clenched fists, fighting cries and whistles. I took a deep breath. Not all men are bad though, I said. Who are we to judge? I did what I had to do just now because I felt obliged, that it was expected of me. It’s what’s been instilled in us by times gone by. I paused. Maybe it’s time to rethink…maybe it’s time we broke this circle of trauma…


***


Lyla never finished her sentence. She wasn’t allowed to. It was taken away from her by a lance through her heart. From behind. By him. Standing there, blood dripping from… his missing finger. For the fear in him was still raw. Centuries of repression, subjugation and bloodshed had turned his fear into a desire for revenge. In that moment, he had cracked, had given in to that fear. Everything he had been told about having to keep them down was right. His need to avenge his oppressed forefathers was stronger than any love that he may have felt for her. For he was a foolish boy and fear numbed any empathy that she may have cultivated in him.

A massacre ensued. The story of Lyla reached all corners of the world and The Cause grew in number. The Men fought back until only a handful were left standing…


***


The narrator pauses. An old man, he takes a deep breath and surveys the circle of young boys sitting in front of him. And here you are, he says. The remaining generation. With the future ahead of you, a future in which your hopes may be realised. You have the chance to make things better. Break the circle of trauma, just as Lyla wished. For in being blind to the problem in the first place, or in letting the sirens choose your song, you are complicit. Don’t let that happen. Educate yourself, experience, empathise. See things from other people’s perspectives. Feel their feelings. Talk to them. Only then can change and balance occur…

The old man brushes away a tear with his hand… a hand with a missing finger. A young mother approaches the circle. He nods. Dinner time, she tells the boys. They run off to join a group of young girls at a big, circular dining table. The old man watches on, a hopeful smile on his face. It grows as he sees one of the girls inviting a boy to sit next to her. I’m Carla, she tells him. What’s your name?




Join the movement - Safe Spaces Now - https://www.unwomenuk.org/safe-spaces-now/






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