(Dark as Night, Gray as a Siberian winter)
“Author’s Note: I had published this story once before, but it was so dark that I pulled it down. A few tweaks, a little editing, and I’m dragging it kicking and screaming out of the mothballs. It’s still dark, but with all that is going on right now, I felt I had to air it out.” Claire.
“Let me tell you story…”
I had been excited when I first got the news. A new country, and a new job. The fact that the position involved my traveling to Russia and many other eastern bloc countries was daunting, but exciting at the same time. My grasp of the Slavic languages made me a perfect candidate for the position, and the firm had been quick to call me for a final interview.
I had two weeks to wrap up my life in upstate New York, a place where I had lived my entire life, and make the move to Hamburg, Germany. The company dealt with medical equipment, and the sales position I had landed was very lucrative, my base salary already well into six figures, not including commissions and bonuses.
I said my goodbyes to my friends and family, who all nervously wished me all the best. It was my sister Isabelle who had voiced her concerns the loudest.
“You’re crazy traveling to those places by yourself. I mean, you could simply disappear, and then what? Do you think the country is going to come after you, or your company for that matter? Brie? I just have this awful feeling.”
“Relax, Belle, everything’s going to be fine. It’s not like the old days, you know. Everything has changed.” I assured her.
“Not everything, Brie. Please be careful.” She begged, pulling me into a bear hug.
Arriving in Hamburg, I was met at the airport by a chauffeur, who was more than welcoming. He drove me to the lavish company apartment, which was mine until I could secure accommodations of my own. I had contemplated leasing a car, but with the transportation system in Europe being so well developed, I thought better of it. Perhaps later, when I was more settled.
After having unpacked my two suitcases, and pouring myself a scotch from what appeared to be a well-stocked bar, I settled onto a sofa in the living room and took in my good fortune. Later, I took a bit of the nightlife Hamburg had to offer, and had to say that it was vastly different than the humdrum places I had been used to back home. Music pulsed in wildly energetic clubs, and I knew that this was where I belonged.
I was expected to report to the company offices the following morning, assumedly to be given a summary of my territories and accounts. My research was thorough, however, and anything they could tell me would already be well studied.
I showered, washing the smoke from my night out from my long blonde hair, which I promptly styled into an updo. Long hair down, was definitely not professional-looking, and I did not want to present that look to my new employers. I carefully donned the charcoal grey suit I had purchased just for that morning, and headed out the door.
“You understand, Ms. Condon, that some of the countries you will be traveling to still maintain a rather high-risk status. You must be careful in your dealings with these people.” The sales manager warned.
“You sound like my sister, Mr. Kreisler,” I said, optimistically. “I can take care of myself.”
“I’m not doubting your abilities as a salesperson, Brie, I just want to see you succeed.” He offered me a chair. Reaching into a manilla folder, he pulled out sales and statistics for the accounts I would be inheriting from the person I had replaced.
“Whatever happened to my predecessor?” I asked, reticently.
“We’re not actually all that sure, Ms. Condon. This is why I am offering my previous warning again. Do be careful.”
The following day, and very much in mind of Mr. Kreisler’s warning, I boarded a plane to Minsk, Belarus. My contact was to meet me at the airport, and we had a meeting scheduled with three separate hospitals. I dressed conservatively, but not flashy. The last thing you wanted to do was draw attention to yourself in these places.
The flight was uneventful, and I disembarked to the tarmac, something I hadn’t done in some time. I guess it was something I would have to get used to, as jetways were a rarity. Upon entering the terminal, I searched for my contact, but instead was approached by what appeared to be the equivalent of the TSA in Belarus.
“You are representing the Barranbond Corporation? The man asked, gruffly.
“Yes. Is there a problem?” I asked, nervously. “I am supposed to meet…”
“Plans have changed, Brie Condon. You are to come with us, please.” He roughly took hold of my arm and dragged me through the terminal and into a series of hallways. We ended up in a small room, with what appeared to be an interrogation table at its center. “Your papers.”
I reached into my satchel and pulled out my passport and wallet. Not waiting for me to hand them over, they were roughly snatched from my hands. “What is going on?”
“I think it is wise for you to leave the questions to us, Ms. Condon.” Another man insisted, there being three of them now. “Now sit!” I was pushed down into a chair, and pressed hard against the steel table, my breasts being caught by its edge.
“Ouch! No need to be so rough.” I complained.
“Rough?” he questioned, “You don’t know what rough is, yet.”
“Do you know a Hans Brauer, Ms. Condon?” The man asked, seeming to be in charge of the other two, who then stepped away from the table.
“I know I took over his accounts. That’s all.” I insisted.
“Mr. Brauer was involved in what we might call, less than honorable practices.” The man sneered. “We can only assume that you are here to continue those dealings.”
“I know nothing of any shady dealings. I work for a medical equipment co…”
“Enough.” The man threw up his hands. “Strip her.” As he walked out of the room, his two cronies began to remove my clothes. I felt as though I was about to be raped, or worse, the way they pawed at my body as I was systematically exposed.
When they had torn away the last of my underthings, they threw me back into the chair, naked. I did my best to hide myself when the senior man came back in, but that was soon impossible as my hands were then cuffed to the arms of the chair.
“You’re a very beautiful woman, Brie Condon. I would hate to spoil that beauty because you refused to cooperate.” He warned. He released the clip that held up my hair. I could feel it tumble over my naked shoulders and breasts. “Please. I just started with this company, and…”
“They told you nothing of Mr. Brauer’s wrongdoings?” He questioned, skeptically. “I find that difficult to believe.” He walked over to a small chest of drawers and removed something metallic from inside. He hid whatever it was, and returned to the table.
He stood over me menacingly, as he ran his fingers through the length of my hair. “You have beautiful hair, Brie Condon, but if you don’t tell me what we need to know, I will have to cut it.” Revealing a large pair of scissors, he slid them into my hair and quickly cut through it close to my ear. “Awe. Now, see what you made me do.” He held up the two-foot-long tendril of blonde strands and allowed them to float lifelessly to the table in front of me.
“Oh, please, stop. If I knew anything I would…”
“You would what, Ms. Condon. You would protect the honor of your company over your personal wellbeing?” Again, he cut, and I could begin to feel his breath on my neck, as its covering was removed.
A tear flowed over my cheek as I watched my hair pile up before me on the table. With each cut, I felt more and more defeated. I had no information for this man, and yet he showed no sign of stopping. I felt dizzy and disoriented as my beautiful hair was cut away.
“Look at you now, Brie Condon. Just look at you.” He roughly held my chin in his hand, shaking my head back and forth. He took my phone and snapped a picture of my face, throwing it down, on top of my hair.
I couldn’t help but look. Where once there were flowing blonde locks, only a ragged crop remained, uneven and hacked. In places, I could clearly see my scalp, where the scissors had tonsured me that closely. I wept now, but there was no pity in the faces of the men that stood around me.
“Why was Hans Brauer here, Ms. Condon?” He demanded. “Why was he seen talking to one of the most notorious drug dealers in the country?”
“I have no idea. I… oh please…no.” I begged as he again resumed his attack on my hair, the blades flat against my scalp now as he mercilessly cut and cut and cut. I could feel all that remained of my hair cascading unceremoniously over my shoulders and back, falling down my front and lighting on my breasts. Whatever this man was going to do to me, I was powerless to stop.
“Brie, Brie, Brie.” He tsked. “You’re running out of things to bargain with, young lady.” Again, he grabbed my phone and snapped another photo, this time placing it directly in front of me. “Such a shame, yes?” I looked down through my tears, seeing my roughly shorn head. Blonde stubble stood out from my scalp in hideous mockery of its former glory.
“I don’t know anything.” Was all that I managed.
“This I know, Brie. I know it. But we must make an example of you. Otherwise, we look like fools, yes?” Returning to the cabinet, he no longer hid what he retrieved. As the clippers popped to life, I was no longer able to react.
He seemed to enjoy his power over me as he stripped the last of my hair from me. He pressed the machine hard against my scalp as the blades cut close. I could feel the oscillations of the tiny teeth as they worked. Row after row they cut, as he roughly threw my head this way and that, like a rag doll. As a final insult, he ran them quickly over my brows before allowing them to fall silent at his side.
“Oh, God…, I…” I sobbed, almost incoherent.
“We’re done here. Get rid of her things, and I mean all of them this time.” He ordered. “We’re going for a walk, Brie. You know, it’s amazing how much hair does for a woman’s looks. You do look a fright without it, I’m afraid.” Unfastening the cuffs, he swung my arms behind me, refastening them together as and hoisting my nearly limp frame from the chair. He opened the door, and I realized that he was leading me into the hallway.
“But I’m naked.” I whimpered.
“Yes, indeed you are, Brie.” He chuckled.
Shocked and humiliated, I was lead through the main concourse of the airport, completely naked and bald. Even my shoes had been taken from me, so my feet slapped against the polished linoleum floor, bringing even more attention to myself.
To anyone looking, it must have been an amusing spectacle. I imagined what they all were thinking: What must I have done to deserve this devastating treatment? If they only knew that it was all for show, to save face after having been taken by my predecessor.
I wasn’t certain how long I festered in that squalid cell, but I knew it was long enough for the filth to become etched into my once perfect skin. I was never allowed a stitch of clothing, and at least once a week my head was taken back to stubble.
It became routine. If I didn’t push it through the hole in the door, they would come in and take it forcefully. The bang on the door would come, “Strizhka!”
Once the hatch was open, I would crawl to the door and slowly push my head into the hallway. They used manual clippers there, but they cut it every bit as short as the electric ones. I’d know they were done when they pushed me roughly back into my cell.
Most of the time I would fall into the muck on the floor, and still more filth would work its way into my pores, my skin. It was more black than anything else, with only the slightest hint of white where the dirt would get scraped away. Of course, I had no idea what I looked like. Hideous, no doubt.
“Days turned to weeks, which turned to months, and…”
I had no idea when I had been removed from the Gulag. They must have put something in the food. What I did know was that I was in a hospital, and everyone was speaking English. I wasn’t well liked by the staff and I wasn’t sure why. I know they scrubbed and scrubbed to try and removed the filth from my body, only succeeding in rubbing me raw. It was better, only in that it was more white than black for a while.
Eventually, I had shed enough skin that I shed the black along with it. Most of it anyway. Some of it stayed in the creases, like a bad tattoo. It’s been so long since I’ve worn anything against my skin that I’m unable to tolerate clothing. Maybe that’s what they hate, that I remove anything they put on me.
It’s not that I want to be naked, I just have to be. I know I insist that the nurses shave my head. I just couldn’t deal with the hair that would itch intolerably as it grew in.
The dentures they want me to wear are worse than the clothes. They said my teeth had pretty much rotted away, so they all had to be pulled out. I don’t mind seeing my gums all that much, or the fact that my teeth are gone, but the dentures are torture to wear.
Staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I’m musing over a distant memory of myself before I was imprisoned. I think that once, I was quite pretty. According to the hospital, I was only twenty-eight, but the bald, toothless woman staring back at me can’t be a day under fifty. The Gulag stole that from me. Hell, it stole everything from me.
My sister used to visit me, but that stopped after a while. I guess she figured I was a lost cause. Maybe that’s why I’m surprised you stopped by. I know that I’m in an asylum. Maybe this is where I need to be.
“I’ve got to go. The nurse is here to shave my head…”