Beautiful World

Beautiful World

by Melanie Brown
Copyright  © 2014 Melanie Brown

It's a beautiful world

I woke up lying in tall grass; a warm morning sun shining brightly overhead. Just a moment before I was in the factory. I just lay there for a few moments afraid to move. A gentle breeze stirred the grass.

I sat up and discovered more surprises. The breeze blew strands of long blonde hair across my face. Weight shifted across my chest. I looked down at myself lying in the grass and saw I was wearing a very pretty, flowing white dress and was barefoot. I could see two round firm breasts expanding out the top portion of the dress. I looked down at my arms and my muscles and clan tattoos were gone. My hands were no longer calloused, but smooth and delicate. Just what in the hell is going on? Slowly, fearing the worst, I slid my hand to my crotch.

I jumped up, horrified and screamed. Like a girl. Thick blonde hair cascaded about my shoulders. The skirt of my dress billowed in the breeze. What’s happened to me? This can’t be real, can it? I touched myself again and again verifying the impossible. I was a girl. I must be losing my mind.

Until I woke up, I had been doing my shift at the factory. There was a bright light. And then I’m suddenly here. I looked around and saw nothing familiar. There was no factory. No city. None of my coworkers. Instead I saw a rolling meadow of green grass, large trees dotting the meadow. The sky…the sky was a rich blue with large puffy clouds casting shadows on the ground. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

I’ve lost my mind, I thought. None of this could be real. It just isn’t possible. I took a few steps and felt the cool grass beneath my feet. I heard insects buzzing. I saw and heard birds in the trees. The sun was bright and warm. The breeze stirred my hair once more. It all sure feels real.

From behind me, I started to hear a faint noise that wasn’t at all familiar to me. I turned around and saw a middle-aged man sitting on wooden wagon being pulled by two horses. That’s when I noticed the rutted, dirt road. The man waved and smiled. I ran up to the wagon and the man pulled the reins and brought the wagon to a halt.

The man smiled again and tipped the large floppy hat he was wearing. He said, “Good morning, Miss. It’s a beautiful morning for a walk, isn’t it?”

I looked up at him, shading my eyes from the sun with my hand. I said, “Yes it is, but can you tell me where I am? I seem to be lost.” I never trusted a complete stranger before, but this man seemed very open and friendly.

He chuckled as he looked around. With a grin he said, “I can understand that. You get too far from the city and there are no clear landmarks to guide you. If this road wasn’t here, I’d get lost too.”

“I didn’t see the road until just now,” I said honestly.

“Well, I’m bringing cloth from the mills to the city. You’re welcome to ride along,” said the man with a gesture to climb up into the seat at the front of the wagon.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully. Maybe I could find out what might be going on at this city.

“You’re welcome, young lady,” said the man. “Your husband is probably starting to worry about you anyway.”

I sat down next to the man and looked at him curiously. I said, “I…I’m not married.”

He looked at me curiously and said, “Not married?” He laughed. “That’s hard to believe. You look to be at least sixteen so you’re of age. What man would be foolish enough to not marry such a beautiful girl?”

I shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t have a husband.”

The man shrugged too and said, “Very unusual. Anyway, the name’s Jacob. I live in Cole’s Mills. And you, Miss?”

I just stared at him. I couldn’t remember my name. I know I have one. But I’m sure it wasn’t a girl’s name. I examined my hands and said, “I don’t remember.”

A look of concern fell across Jacob’s face. He said, “We should probably get you back to the city. Maybe someone there knows your husband or maybe your mother if your family is there.”

I just nodded.

The trip was surprisingly short. After passing two low, tree topped hills, the city because visible. Well, it was like no city I’ve ever seen. More like the villages of old that you read about or watch in movies. The conversation was pretty sparse.

Beauty. That was the best word to use. I could just not get over the total beauty surrounding me. I just couldn’t imagine where I was. This has to be the same planet, right? I looked down at my slight, female frame, my long blonde hair falling around my face and the soft, white dress I was wearing. Okay, I guess all bets were off.

As we neared the city, small houses began to appear in the open land surrounding it. Jacob called them farm houses. Said food was grown there. I’d never heard of such things being real. Fascinated, I watched as we rode past them, looking at both men and women working in the fields. Children running and chasing each other and … and laughing. I was suddenly thunderstruck. When was the last time I’d laughed?

A woman riding a horse approached us as we neared one of the farm houses. She waved and called out, “Hello, Jacob! I was wondering when you were going to make another trip out to these parts.” She cast a quizzical glance at me. “Pick up a new wife?”

Jacob looked over at me and laughed. He said, “Oh, her? Just a stray I picked up. I think she’s been out in the sun too long. Doesn’t remember who she belongs to. I think she’s from Newton as that’s the closest city. Unless you know her…”

She turned her horse so she matched our speed and rode along beside us, next to Jacob. She studied me a moment and said, “No. I can’t say I’ve seen her before. I know most of the farm girls and farmers’ wives around here and I’ve never seen her before. You found her out there?” The woman pointed in the general direction from which we had just come.

Jacob nodded. “Yep. She was just standing there in the middle of nowhere.”

“Lucky you came along,” said the woman. “Not many travelers that way. She could have been out there for days.” To me she said, “Do you know you name, girl? Or your husband’s name? Or how you came to be so far from home?”

I tried to make myself small. I said, “No. Sorry. I don’t remember my name or where I am or anything. Nothing here is familiar to me.”

Frowning, the woman said, “She should probably see a healer as soon as possible. I’ve seen folks lose their memories when hit on the head. She doesn’t appear to be injured though.”

“I want to find her mother or husband first if at all possible,” said Jacob as he flicked the reins. “Then they can decide what to do with her.”

The woman nodded and said, “Have a safe trip, Jacob. On your way back, stop by the house for a meal. We have some venison and beef in the smokehouse.”

Jacob grinned broadly and said, “I think I’ll take you up on that, Vonda. I’ll stop by tonight.”

Vonda smiled back and said, “I’ll let Eric know you’re coming. There’s room in the bunkhouse if you want to stay the night.”

Jacob waved and snapped the reins to get the horses to speed up. The city of Newton loomed before us.

A half hour after meeting Vonda, rode into Newton. The architecture was odd. I couldn’t determine what kind of material they were made of. The main street we came in on had all kinds of buildings with store front names attached. I still had a hard time calling it a city, but it was larger than it looked far away. Streets branched off going to obvious residential areas. Newton had a rustic look, but was clearly an urban center. Still, it wasn’t anything like the giant, mostly enclosed city I live in. Or lived in. I’m not sure of anything anymore.

Jacob stopped his wagon in front a building on the main street that had the markings of a law enforcement facility. I’ve had plenty of experience with law enforcement. Mostly bad.

Jacob turned to me and said, “Hop down little lady. Let’s see if anyone knows you.”

I climbed down from the tall wagon, careful not to snag my dress. I started to shake I was so scared. Even with Jacob, I was alone and vulnerable. For the first time in my life, standing there among strangers as a young girl, I truly knew fear.

A rather chubby man, wearing an overly large broad brimmed hat and that ever present badge of authority, came walking out of the building. He carried no weapons that I could see.

He tipped his hat to me and said, “Hello, Miss.” He then looked over at Jacob and said, “Anything I can help you with, sir?”

Jacob removed his hat in a show of respect and said, “I hope so, officer. I found this young girl out wandering by herself very far from here. She doesn’t remember who she is and I’d hoped someone here in Newton might know her.”

The officer looked at me through squinted eyes. He said, “Can’t say I know her. You know, girls are always wandering off and doing silly things. Take her to the Church near the Town Square. If she’s from Newton or the surrounding area, somebody there will recognize her.”

Jacob put his hat back on and said, “Thank you officer. I think we’ll walk if it’s okay that I leave my rig here?”

The officer shrugged and said, “Fine with me, sir. Just don’t be too long about it.”

Jacob extended his hand in a gesture that indicated I should take it. He said, “You heard the reeve, Miss. Let’s go find the Church.”

I looked at the ‘reeve’ and he tipped his hat again at me. I took Jacob’s hand and he led me down the street.

The streets were dirt. There were shops hawking various wares. Mostly women, but some men were milling through the business area buying or bartering. There were a few sidewalk vendors as well. Colorful flags and banners were hung in front of the buildings. It was very busy and noisy.

The street finally ended at a large circular area that I learned was ironically named the Square. At the opposite end of the Square was a very large building covered with what I took to be religious symbols.

Pointing, Jacob said, “There’s the Church. Hopefully there will be someone there who will know you.”

As he pulled me along, I said, “I just showed up here. Why do you insist that someone knows me?”

Again Jacob laughed. “Because, little girl, people don’t ‘just show up.’ This is the only place that you could have reasonably walked from.”

“What if I’m not from here,” I insisted. “What if nobody knows me?”

Smiling, Jacob said, “Then the women at the Church will find you a suitable husband and you will live here and be happy. Either way, you will be off my hands.”

With me in tow, Jacob walked into the Church as if he owned the place. The women near the entrance paid little attention to us as we passed through. In the small ante room that made up the building’s entrance was a large wall mounted mirror. I glanced at it and stopped in my tracks, letting go of Jacob’s hand. I couldn’t help but stare.

Looking back at me from the mirror was what had to be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. The women I’m used to seeing in the factory were hardly beautiful, though they might have been so in their past. But with their short cropped hair, faces covered in grease and dirt and arms as big as mine…as mine used to be, it was hard to tell if they were even female or not. But this image of me, with pretty, delicate features, the long, flowing blonde hair, I was just stunned by what I saw. I walked up to the mirror and saw the girl reflected it in touch her face when I touched mine.

A wave of fear and feeling of vulnerability swept over me again. My small frame, graceful arms and shapely legs meant I was a goner if someone should want to harm me. I just stared, mesmerized by my own beauty. If a girl looking like me showed up on the factory floor, a hundred men and the women too probably would descend upon her and rape the hell out of her. To my sudden shame, I admitted to myself that I’d probably join them.

“I swear. Women and mirrors,” grumbled Jacob. “If you’re done, let’s go see if anyone knows you.”

As I took Jacob’s hand again, I said, “Sorry. I’ve never seen myself before.”

Jacob grunted and said, “Yep, you’re a looker all right. That’s why you shouldn’t be out alone like that. Even in these enlightened times, a girl like you should be with her husband.”

“What if I don’t want a husband?” I asked. And I didn’t. Like everyone else, I’d had sex with several girls while I was in school. I didn’t get all I wanted because Mom forced me to drop out to go to work in the factory. Not much time for women when working at the factory. In a few years, after I had fulfilled my contract, I’d try to get a job in an assembly plant or food processing, get a wife and have our one allotted kid.

Jacob gave me the oddest look. He said, “You must have been dropped on your head! Every girl wants a husband.”

We walked into a larger room where there were a lot of women and girls engaged in a wide variety of activities, such as making garments, sorting vegetables, and other things I couldn’t identify. They were all dressed the same.

An elderly woman approached us. She wore no badge of office but seemed to have an air of authority about her.

“May I help you, sir?” she asked.

Jacob removed his hat and smiled at the woman. He said, “I certainly hope so, ma’am. I found this girl wandering around in the unclaimed lands outside of the city. She doesn’t know who she belongs to or even her own name. I hoped someone here would.”

The woman looked at me with eyes that had obviously seen too much and said, “You poor child. Come with me and we will try to help you.” To Jacob, she said, “Thank you sir for helping her. You are discharged from any further duties regarding her. She is our responsibility now.”

Jacob nodded to the woman. To me he said, “You are in good hands now, Miss. I wish you good fortune.” He turned and without another word, walked back out of the Church.

The woman regarded me for a moment. She said, “You do not look familiar to me, child. Let’s see if anyone here recognizes you.”

She led me around the large room, lit by a huge skylight and candles. I thought the candles were odd as I noticed several of the machines some girls were using to sew cloth and other tasks were obviously using electricity.

The elderly woman, who I learned was named Cora, led me around to every woman and girl in the room. All of them shook their heads when asked if they knew me or anything about me. I almost hoped someone would recognize me so I wouldn’t feel so alone. I was hoping that my memories of that factory world were only a dream. But why would I dream that I was a man?

But I knew those were not dreams. I was a man. A man who is now, impossibly and inexplicably a young girl. A girl in a strange and beautiful world.

After interviewing the hundred or so females in the building, Cora said, “Come child. The council must now decide what should be done about you.”

“Why can’t I just leave? Am I a prisoner here?” I said as just stood there, not following Cora.

Cora took a step towards me and said, “And go where, child? You have no family. No husband. No place to stay. No currency. What will you eat? Don’t be afraid, child. The council is wise. We will not cause you harm. Our only goal will be your happiness. Come with me.”

Cora made a gesture that I should follow her and without waiting to see if I was, she turned and started walking across the large room. I sucked in a deep breath. I had no other real choices. I followed her.

Through several doors and hallways, Cora led me into a smaller chamber with a large table and a dozen elderly women seated. They were in an animated discussion about something but immediately quieted when Cora and I entered.

Cora quickly explained my predicament. All the women of the council stared at me with looks of concern on their faces. Several kept shaking their heads. A few frowned at me.

After Cora finished speaking, one of the women looked at me, apparently annoyed. She said, “And what do you have to say, girl?”

I felt my cheeks redden with all the attention focused on me. I looked over at Cora who just smiled and nodded at me. I said, “I…what she just said is true. I woke up in a field of grass to find myself as you see me. I don’t know how I got there. I don’t know who I am. To be honest, I doubt everything I see.”

There were nods around the table. Some of the women turned to whisper among themselves.

Cora said, “So. What is to be done about her?”

Another woman said in a raspy voice, “She needs a name. If she can’t remember her own name, we must give her one. Mary, you’re in charge of names. What should we call her?”

Mary, a very old woman with thinning hair looked at me. She gestured and said, “Come closer child. Let me get a good look at you.”

Nervously, I took a few steps closer to her. She leaned towards me and squinted.

As she leaned back in her seat, Mary said, “Grace. Grace should be what this beautiful young girl be called.”

Cora smiled at me. She said, “Grace is a fitting name.” I felt weird. I was just given a name with no choice in the matter. Shouldn’t I get to pick from a list or something?

Another woman said, “So, Grace. What is to be done with you? Do we assign you to a family? How old are you, girl?”

I shrugged and said, “I have no idea. Honestly.”

The woman who spoke suddenly stood up and walked to me. “Let me see your hand,” she said as she grabbed my hand. Before I could react, she pricked the tip of my finger with a pin. I tried to pull my hand away, but she held it fast. With her free hand, she pulled a bottle of some liquid from a pouch in her dress. She squeezed my finger to cause a large drop of blood to spill into the bottle. She let go of my hand and returned to her seat. I sucked on my finger hoping it would stop bleeding.

At her seat she shook the bottle. Her eyebrows went up when the liquid changed to a bluish color. She said, “This girl is past her sixteenth birthday. Not yet seventeen. She needs a husband!”

“Why the hell do I need a husband for Chairman’s sake?” I blurted. “Do I have no choices here?”

Upset at my outburst, Cora said, “You must have a husband. If don’t have a husband by the time you turn seventeen, you must join the Church. Once in the Church, you’re not allowed to have children.”

“Why would I want to have children?” I said. The thought of getting pregnant and having to waddle around for nine months made me ill. And apparently here, there wasn’t a limit to one child. I continued, “You mean all those girls in the big room are nuns or something?”

Scowling, the woman who took my blood sample said, “You really have forgotten your teachings, girl. Every under aged girl must serve the Church for a year. All of them are looking forward to finding husbands and fulfilling their obligations to society.”

Cora turned towards me and said, “We will find you a suitable husband. Trust me, Grace. You will be happy. You will feel fulfilled as a woman.”

“I…I’m not sure I want to be!” I said. I started shaking at the thought of being paired with some man, as casually as they had assigned me a name, becoming pregnant by him, multiple times. This was insane!

Mary said, “Of course you do, child. It is the desire of every girl.”

In a soothing voice, Cora said, “You’ll be okay, Grace. You have no reason to fear. You have to be somewhere. And you are of age.”

One of the women who had yet to speak said, “What’s the best approach? She must have a husband, but normally the pair has already sought each other out. By the time the girl becomes of age, she and her future husband have become a pair in all but name. We don’t want to pair this girl to just anyone. I’d feel bad if she thought she was being punished just because she doesn’t remember.”

Another woman said, “She doesn’t look strong enough to be a farmer’s wife. What man in the city is without a wife?”

Yet another woman said as she raised her hand needlessly, “The Martin boy. He’s a very handsome young man. He’s strong and full of life. The girl who he had chosen as his wife tragically died with her whole family in that fire a few months back. He hasn’t looked for anyone new.”

Mary said, “Dora, that is an excellent suggestion. What’s his name? Umm…Anthony. That’s it. He’s learning his family’s baking business. Grace would be perfect for him. They would be a beautiful couple. Who agrees?”

Every hand was raised in the vote to decide my fate. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I didn’t want to be somebody’s wife. I didn’t want to be a girl. I just wanted to go home. Or at least go somewhere else.

Smiling, Cora turned to me and said, “So Grace. It is decided that Anthony Martin will be your husband. This may seem sudden, but I know you’ll be happy with your husband.”

“Just like that, I’m married?” I shouted. “I …I don’t get any say?”

Cora said, “There still needs to be the ceremony. You will have a few weeks to get to know your future husband. Trust me. You will like him. Every girl without a husband wants Anthony. He’s very handsome and very desirable. He comes from a prestigious family.”

“Why not let one them have him then? Why me?” I asked.

Cora looked at me with an odd expression. She said, “I think he’s been waiting for you.”

Begrudgingly, I followed Cora across the Square and down a side street towards a large beautiful building where the most wondrous smells were coming from. It was now late afternoon and quite warm. Walking in the heat, I was now quite happy to be wearing a light, flowing dress that kept me cool.

As we entered the building, a woman carrying some things I couldn’t identify, recognized Cora. She stopped and with a nod of respect said, “May I help you, ma’am?”

Cora, standing straight said, “I wish to speak with Anthony and his mother.”

The woman again nodded and said, “Yes ma’am. Right away.” She pushed open a door and disappeared.

I stood there nervous as hell. I said, “Ma’am is this really necessary? I mean, I’ve only been here less than twenty-four hours and I’m being married off?”

Cora said, “It’s not like you just materialized out of thin air. You have no memory of who you are. No one here recognizes you. We can’t return you to your family. You are of age and this is for the best.”

“I really don’t…” I was interrupted by the door opening and the woman we had spoken to, a middle-aged woman and a young man came through it. The young man I took to be Anthony Martin and the woman his mother. Anthony’s eyes fixed on me immediately. While you don’t usually call a man beautiful, he certainly was. A very handsome face, dark hair, well defined muscles, much like what I used to have, were evident under his work shirt.

“Mrs. Martin,” Cora said. “I have good news for you from the council. We have found your son a most suitable girl to be his wife. This beautiful girl, Grace, we feel would make an excellent wife for Anthony.”

Anthony stared at me and smiled. My cheeks reddened. I couldn’t believe I was standing here, be stared at and appraised by a man. I felt humiliated.

Mrs. Martin said, “While I appreciate the council’s interest in my son, don’t you think he should pick his own wife? After all, his happiness depends on it.”

“She’s beautiful, Mom,” said Anthony.

Cora smiled and said, “Isn’t she though? Mrs. Martin, Grace has no home. Please. The council has helped you many times.”

Frowning, Mrs. Martin said, “Okay. I’m shorthanded. I’ll take her in and put her to work. In a few weeks, if Anthony wants her for his wife and it seems they’re a good pair, I won’t oppose it. Otherwise, there are several men without wives working here that she might take a fancy to instead. That’s all I can do.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Martin,” said Cora. “I can’t really ask for more than that.” To me she said, “Welcome to your new home, Grace. I hope you find peace, happiness and fulfillment here.” She turned to leave.

“Wait! You’re just going to leave me here?” I said, suddenly again flushed with fear and anxiety.

Mrs. Martin pointed at the other woman and said, “Esther. Please show Grace to her room and find her a job to do. Come Anthony.”

Esther said, “Yes ma’am. Follow me, Grace.”

Anthony said, “It was nice to meet you, Grace. We’ll talk more later.” He turned and followed his mother back through the door.

I just stood there, shocked and stunned. Just like that I was handed over to someone else? Why do I have no choices? I know to them I’m just a problem they’ve been forced to deal with. But hell’s bells. I’m still a person.

Esther said, “Are you coming, girl?”

Shrugging and feeling depressed, I said, “Why the hell not?” I followed her down a hallway.

There was actually a dormitory inside the large bakery building. At the end of the hallway, Esther led me to the women’s dorm. Across the hall was the men’s dorm. There were no locks or guards to keep the wrong sex from the dorm rooms.

Esther opened the door and waved me inside the women’s dorm.

Esther said, “This is where all the unmarried women who work at the bakery lives. Mrs. Martin has made a deal with the Church that lets women over seventeen work for her instead of the Church.”

The dorm was just a long room with ten beds per side. There was a small dresser between the beds. There was a long glowing bar in the center of the ceiling that emitted a light blue light. There were no frills here.

“Through the door at the end are the showers and toilets,” said Esther. “You are expected to be in your bed by the twenty-first hour. We get up at the fifth hour to shower, get dressed and eat. Work shift begins at the sixth hour. Promptness is expected. Any questions?”

Pointing at the row of beds, I said, “Which one is mine?”

Esther walked over to a bed and said, “This one. The one closest to the door. Anything else? Anthony will provide you with your work assignments.” She turned and left. I wasn’t finished asking questions.

I went to my bed and looked into the small dresser. Just more dresses like the one I was wearing. And panties. I hadn’t really noticed I was wearing panties.

“Are the accommodations adequate?” I jumped at the sound of a male voice behind me. I turned and saw Anthony Martin standing behind me.

“You startled me!” I said with a nervous laugh. “Men are allowed in here?”

Anthony smiled and said, “Sorry. It wasn’t my intention to frighten you. And yes. This is my family’s building. I’m allowed everywhere.”

I faced him, taking a step backward from him. I said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Anthony laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I didn’t think you’d be naked or anything. I do respect your privacy.”

In a small voice I said, “Thank you.”

“Would you like a tour of our bakery?” asked Anthony. With obvious pride in his voice, he said, “We’re the largest bakery in the Seven Communities. We serve up more bread, rolls, pies, cakes and many other baked goods than any other bakery. My father sits on the Community Council.”

“Very impressive,” I said.

Anthony extended his hand and said, “Come. Let me show you around.”

He led me back out of the dorm and into a back entrance to a huge kitchen area. I was expecting stone ovens and other primitive items. But the kitchen was clean and very modern looking with brushed metal and chrome. Dozens of people of both sexes were busy moving about the kitchen. I couldn’t even begin to follow all the activity.

Anthony waved his arm and said, “This is just one of our baking rooms. This one is dedicated to baking several types of bread. Everyone loves our bread.”

We entered another spacious room adjoining the kitchen. There were large vats. Mostly girls worked here on long tables covered with a white powder. The girls were mostly covered in the powder as well. It was surprisingly noisy.

Anthony said, “This is where we make and process the dough for our bread and pastries. Kneading the dough is a low skill job, so mostly girls your age work here. This is where you’ll start.”

We passed through a few more bakery rooms until we came to the far side of the building. It was a large open space, with rows and rows of long tables. Tall shelves lined the walls. A dozen male workers loaded the baked goods into boxes and slid them along the tables. In many ways, this bakery reminded me of the factory where I used to work, where I handled hot steel instead of hot dough.

“This is our warehouse and shipping area,” said Anthony. “This was mostly my idea. After adding this, we have less spoilage and faster distribution to the Communities. Your friend Jacob, that was his name, right? He used to work here for us until he retired to the mills.”

“I’m very impressed, Mr. Martin,” I said sincerely. “From the outside, everything around here looks so pastoral.”

Anthony said, “We strive for balance. And please. Call me Anthony. Let’s return to the dough room and I’ll show you your duties.”

After we came back to the dough room, Anthony led me to an open space along the long table. I hadn’t noticed before that the middle of the table was a moving, rubber surface.

From behind him, Anthony reached into a large bin of newly made dough and plopped the dough down on the table. He then scooped a handful from the pile and kneading it with his fingers.

Anthony said, “Knead the dough to the proper consistency. Then roll it up into a ball and place it on that moving band. That’s it. Can you handle that?”

I smiled at him and said, “No problem!” Compared to the massive, glowing hot steel bars, buckets of burning liquid metal and other equipment I was used to, this seemed a snap.

As I started making the dough balls, Anthony nodded with approval. “Just make the balls a bit bigger. But it looks like you have that down. I’ll check on you later.” He turned and walked away.

A girl a couple of stations down from me, her hair covered with what I learned was flour, wiped her brow and only managed to smear more flour on her face. Looking at me suspiciously, she said, “Just who are you? I mean, you’re down here doing menial labor, but you have Mr. Martin’s personal attention.”

I shrugged and said, “I’m nobody. Really.”

Another girl, not even looking up from her work said, “You’ve definitely caught his fancy.”

I glanced at both girls and said, “Don’t you like your jobs here? Are you not happy?”

The first girl who spoke laughed and said, “Trying to change the subject won’t help you, girl. But to answer your question, I’d say yes, we enjoy our jobs. It’s hard, boring work. But we feel fulfilled when we’re done. So anyway, are you going to be his wife? That’s the rumor.”

“Doubtful,” I said. “I mean I just met him around an hour ago.”

The second girl laughed. She said, “As if that means anything.”

The first girl said, “Don’t worry. We’ve all been trying to get him to notice us. Someone is bound to.”

I spent a week rolling dough into balls. It was pretty monotonous. I got to know all the other girls in the dough room. Not only was I becoming more familiar with the people around me, I was also growing more familiar with being female. The other girls taught me how do things with my hair and how to change up what I wore. I stopped wanting to go back to where I had been. I started liking being a girl and the work at the bakery was so much easier than at the factory. We worked five days on, and three days off.

Anthony would drop by from time to time to see how I was progressing. He’d chat with all of us, but he seemed to spend a lot of time with me. The other girls would give me knowing glances. I enjoyed our chats. He’s quite charming.

At the end of that first week, however they measured it, Anthony came by as we were starting to clean up. He walked up to me. He said, “I need you to stick around and sweep up. I need the left-over dough tossed in those bins over there against the wall.”

I frowned, but said, “Yes sir.”

Anthony started to leave the room when he stepped on a glob of dough which stuck to his shoe. He lifted his foot and scraped off the dough from his shoe and absentmindedly flung it away.

Splat! I was hit right in the middle of my forehead. It stung a bit. Anthony turned and laughed. “That was a one in a million shot!” Chuckling, he turned to leave the room.

I pulled the dough from my head and flung it onto the back of Anthony’s shirt.

Anthony spun around and said, “Did you just hit me with raw dough you insolent little girl?” Frowning, he picked up one of the left-over dough balls and threw it at me. It barely missed my head and splattered in a puff of flour against a post. I screamed and ran behind the post, grabbing two dough balls as I went. I quickly turned and hurled them at Anthony.

He managed to duck one, but the other caught him squarely in the chest. He grunted and picked up two dough balls. As he launched them at me, he shouted, “All right for you! No mercy!” As soon as he threw the two in his hand, he picked up two more from the table behind him.

His aim was terrible but I still got hit once on the hip. I dodged the other balls and heard them impact the wall behind me. Flour dust began to fill the room. I was giggling as I picked up my next balls and toss them towards Anthony. Laughing, he easily dodged them.

This exchange of dough balls went on for several minutes with flour dust raining down on us, the floor covered in dough. Both of us laughing and giggling like children as we slung dough back and forth.

Suddenly, Anthony slipped on the pile of dough under his feet and fell. I pummeled him with four dough balls. Laughing, he raised his hands and shouted, “Truce! Truce!” He started to stand up, covered from head to toe in flour and dough splotches.

I walked up to him and offered my hand to help him up. He took my hand but pulled me down to my knees instead. He picked up a handful of flour and dumped it on the top of my head. He laughed, “Hah! Got you!”

I laughed. I’ve never laughed this much in my entire life. He continued to hold my hand as we just looked at each other and laughed. The laughing began to subside and Anthony sat on the floor, amid the flour and dough and just stared into my eyes. I’d never noticed until now how pretty his eyes were.

He sat up on his knees and looked down on me. Still holding my hand and leaned in towards me. I was suddenly worried about what he was going to do. Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and pressed his lips against mine.

By the Chairman! He was kissing me. I wasn’t sure how to react. He only knew me as a pretty girl. I had kissed the girls I had had sex with and even that factory woman who had raped me on the factory floor had kissed me. But this kiss…this kiss was so different! So sweet. So tender.

Instead of pulling away, I closed my eyes and slowly put my arms around his neck and leaned into his kiss. I found it suddenly hard to breathe. His kiss grew in passion. It was like I had been waiting my whole life for this one kiss. I was filled with a desire for Anthony. Chairman’s Eyes! I can’t believe I had a growing passion to be with a man. I never wanted the kiss to end.

Anthony finally pulled away. I lifted my face towards him and leaned in for a few quick kisses. Anthony took a deep breath and composed himself. He closed his eyes for a second, and then looked deeply into my eyes. Into my very soul.

In almost a whisper, Anthony said, “Grace, I want you to be my wife.”

I looked at Anthony for a few moments, his face smeared with flour. Be his wife? Be any man’s wife? The whole idea was absurd. Insane even. Regardless of what I may appear to be, I’m still me…a man inside. Aren’t I? I smiled at Anthony as I realized just how badly I never wanted to return to my old factory again.

In a hushed tone, I breathed, “Anthony, I want you for my husband.”

A huge smile split Anthony’s face as he helped me to my feet. He put his arms around me and pulled me close and kissed me deeply. My knees weakened and I was sure that if he hadn’t been holding me, I would have dissolved into a puddle amid the dough and flour.

We both jumped when Anthony’s mother shouted, “Just what is going on here? This place is a mess!”

Anthony turned towards his mother and said, “Mother. Meet the new Martin!”

His mother’s scowl faded and was replaced with a grin. “Finally! A daughter! The law requires we wait two weeks. There’s lots to do, so we must start planning the ceremony right away! Welcome, Grace. Welcome to the family.”

Mrs. Martin looked around the room in disgust. She said, “Girl. Until the ceremony, you’re still just an employee. I want this place cleaned before you end your shift tonight.” She turned and left the room.

I looked around the room in dismay. Anthony lifted my chin with his finger and gave me a long, tender kiss. He said, “I’ll help you.”

The next two weeks were a whirlwind of activity. Mrs. Martin, who now insisted I call her ‘mother’, except when in front of employees, had me fitted for a new dress for the ceremony. In fact, she ordered a whole wardrobe of new clothing for me. I had to visit a stylist to ‘do something with that rat’s nest’ on my head. The women here don’t wear cosmetics, but there is a berry that reddens the lips to a soft, kissable color.

The unmarried girls at the bakery just went into a frenzy about the ceremony. They wanted to help with the planning and help with planning the decorations and help preparing the meal. Everyone in the city was so friendly to me. The memories of the factory were fading quickly. I wasn’t even sure if they were real anymore.

The day of the ceremony, the young girls from the Church made a wreath of small colorful flowers for my head. With the same flowers they made bracelets for each hand. Just before the ceremony was to begin, the girls spritzed me with a wonderful smelling perfume.

Anthony’s mother led both of us across the Square to the Church where the ceremony was to be held. The large room of the Church had been re-arranged to accommodate rows of benches. I was shocked to see how full the benches were. As all three of us walked down the aisle, I scanned the faces for people I knew. All of the bakery staff was there. I was surprised to see, sitting right on the front row was Jacob. He grinned at me acted like he was tipping his hat, though his hat was on the bench next to him.

At the altar, or whatever they called it here, stood Cora. She would be officiating the ceremony. She smiled at both of us as we stepped up on the dais. She said, “Welcome children.” Anthony’s mother turned to sit on the front row next to a man I’ve never seen. Looking at his features, it must be Anthony’s father.

Cora spread her arms and said, “Friends. We are gathered here for a very special celebration. Today, the girl we know as Grace joins the family of Anthony Martin as his wife. Anthony, today we give to you this delicate and precious flower for you to protect, care for and treasure. Do you promise to do so?”

Holding my hand, Anthony looked down upon me and said, “I do so promise.”

Turning to me, Cora said, “And you, Grace. Will you promise to submit your will to your husband to ensure his health and happiness?”

I paused for a moment as those words sunk in. I looked up at Anthony. There wasn’t any place else in this universe I wanted to be than by his side. I said, “I do so promise.”

Cora raises her arms again and said, “So let it be witnessed before all in this chamber that the girl Grace submits herself willingly to the delights of her husband and that Anthony Martin is bound to love, protect and cherish this woman. A child no longer.”

Cora paused and smiled again at both of us. She said, “You may kiss your wife.”

Anthony smiled at me, devouring me with his eyes. He slowly bent his head towards me and pressed his lips against mine. I felt faint as I closed my eyes and returned his kiss. A cheer went up inside the Church’s large chamber.

I’ve never been happier in my whole life as I was at that moment. Tonight, after a feast and dancing, my husband and I will consummate our union.

It truly is a beautiful world…


*          *          *


“I’m sorry, Ms. Clotzky. Your son is gone. The injuries he suffered in that explosion were just too severe.”

A nurse standing next to the doctor said, “Thank the Chairman his suffering is over.”

Ms. Clotzky said, “I’m surprised he held on this long. Three of his coworkers were vaporized. The family is really going to feel his loss of income.”

The doctor said, “His injuries are such that his organs aren’t in any useful condition for harvesting.”

Ms. Clotzky nodded. She said, “Even in death the little brat cheats me. That would have been good income.”

The doctor said, “May we send the body to protein reclamation?”

Frowning, Ms. Clotzky said, “I get credits for that, right?”

The doctor nodded and said, “Yes. Sixty percent.”

Ms. Clotzky said, “Do it. It’ll save me the trouble.” She turned and looked out one of the few windows in the hospital. The rain splattered against the window. Not a day in her life had she ever once seen a day that wasn’t darkened by heavy clouds and constant rainfall. The glass started to fog from her breathing.

Still facing the window, Ms. Clotzky said to no one in particular, “It’s an ugly world…”


*          *          *


The End

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