Respirator

By Addison Herron-Wheeler

Illustration by Lonnie MF Allen

Neeka pulled on her gas mask and headed out into the smoggy street. Looking around, she noticed everyone was wearing some kind of face protection. Although she only had to walk five blocks between her day job filing papers and her night shift as an exotic dancer, she didn’t want to risk breathing the toxic air. Her mask was old, picked up from a local shelter, and her breath came in short little gasps as she walked.

She paused before the solid steel door to The Tower, the night club where she worked. Pulling her mask down, she glanced around before heading inside. She could lose her day job for working at a place like this by night, despite that she recognized a lot of the men and women from her floor here. Her salvation was that she donned her gas mask during her act, along with bondage gear and tight black latex. The irony of her ode to the fetishization of the apocalypse was lost on the mindless drones that sipped plasmid mixers until their eyes were glazed and they shoved dollars into the jar on stage.

Neeka pulled her mask back up as soon as she got inside, though her eyes had to work double-time to adjust to the darkness of the club after the blinding afternoon sun. She made her way backstage by sheer instinct and tossed her bag onto a grimy bench in front of a cracked mirror. She was ready for her show in less than five minutes. After pulling off her dress and leggings to reveal her latex getup, she re-adjusted her mask and teased up her hair.

From the stage, she could tell that it was going to be a busy night. A group of young executives were gathered at a table right near her platform, celebrating with a round of plasmids. She recognized them from her floor in the Energy Center where she filed papers and answered phones. Although it was unlikely anyone would recognize her with the mask on, or in this outfit compared to the modest—even puritanical—dresses she wore to the office, they could easily ask her supervisor, and for a little bit of extra cash, reveal her identity. Neeka knew that even though she was one of the best dancers, she could expect no real loyalty from either of her places of employment.

One of the men approached the stage, egged on by his friend who stood behind him making comments about her body. She tried to ignore them and continued her dance. For the most part, people respected the no-touching policy and put their money in the jar, or they were just at the club for its subversive appeal and ignored the dancers altogether. Since strip clubs were technically considered prostitution and ruled illegal, many people simply wanted to experience nostalgia or some cheap thrill by visiting the dive.

The man got closer, and his friend muttered something in his ear. The man reached up, and at first Neeka thought he was going to put some money in her jar. Then his hand jutted past the jar, up onto the stage, and grabbed her crotch hard, bringing her to her knees.

Something inside Neeka snapped, and before she realized what she was doing, she pulled out the knife she kept on her leg for walking home after her shifts and jabbed it directly into the man’s stomach, thrusting upward. She watched, as though seeing a scene from a film, as he staggered forward, blood gushing from the wound in his stomach. A woman at a nearby table screamed, and the repetitive bass-driven music abruptly stopped. Without hesitation, Neeka lept from the stage and ran for the door and out onto the street.

A thousand thoughts pounded through her mind as she ran. Of course, her phone and wallet were inside, and her employers would be calling the police, giving a full description of who she was. It was over. She could never go back to work and now she’d be hunted day in and day out by the drones that constantly hovered over the city. She ran without stopping, covering at least fifteen blocks before she dropped to her knees, gasping for air, unable to take another step. Suddenly, out of the fog, she heard a lilting melody.

This land is your land; this land is my land…

The voices got closer, and soon she could make out a group of hooded figures dressed in white. A fleet of priestesses was out on their nightly walk, singing softly. In between verses, they all puffed on the respirators they carried with them, making the song sound more dirgelike than Neeka imagined it was meant to.

The women were all around her now, encircling her. For a moment she panicked. She had no idea what these women actually did or whether they would turn her in or attack her. She was covered in blood, dressed in a bondage outfit with a gas mask on. Then she noticed that one of them was holding a robe out to her. She suddenly understood that the only way she could hide was if she pretended to be one of them. She pulled on the robe and took off her mask, tossing it aside. Inside the robe was a respirator like the ones the women used. Slowly, she fell into step with them as they made their way down the block singing their woeful song.

This land was made for you and me…

 

 

 



Addison Herron-Wheeler is associate editor of
OUT FRONT, Denver’s LGBTQ media, and the reviews editor for New Noise magazine. She also works as a copy editor. Her favorite pastimes are metal, more metal, science fiction, yoga, and dog spotting.

 

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