[This is a story I wrote for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. I had to write a 1,000-word science fiction story that took place at a laundromat and involved a tongue ring. I had a lot of fun with it.]
Five days after a Yopra scuttled up to me on the street and whispered, “Go to Laundromat. They take care of hardware in you mouth,” I was walking out of my tenth Laundromat, drowning in desperation and confusion. I had no method other than going into every Laundromat and speaking, revealing the ring, and exposing myself for what I really was. So far, nobody had offered to do anything helpful.
A van drove by with huge letters L, A, U, N, D, but a truck blocked the rest of it. Before I’d registered the impulse, I chased it. In the perpetual rush hour of Deimos, I pulled even with it in a half a block: a blindingly clean white van declaring, LAUNDRY.
I zig-zagged across two lanes of traffic and banged on the passenger door. “Hep me!”
The driver rolled down the window.
“Cang you hep me?”
He must’ve understood, despite how the ring made me talk, because he jerked his head in the universal sign for get in. The road erupted in honks and yells, so I stepped up on the running board, hooked my left arm through the open window, and banged to let him know he could go. We drove like this for three blocks until there was a red light and I could hop in.
“What can I do for you?” His voice was so nice. Or, rather, he was being nice, so it sounded like a serenade.
“A Yopra say Aunroma hep.”
He laid on his horn before I was finished. “You’ll have to put these on.”
The sunglasses looked ordinary enough, but when I put them on, they blackened my entire range of vision, even the transmundane aspect. So I was blind as a Lucifungus, headed to an unknown location with an unknown Tut to see an unknown being for an unknown purpose on the advice of a strange Yopra. This was everything they’d warned us girls about back home, but it was my only hope.
We were silent while we drove, so I could hear water sloshing and a motor running in the back. Did they have working washers in the van? Finally we stopped and sliding doors scraped shut behind us. I went to take the sunglasses off, but was told to keep them on and stay here. One of my hearts sped up and the other slowed down: one preparing to fight, the other for flight.
Everyone had warned me not to move to Deimos, but I just couldn’t believe an entire society could hate me because of my tongue.
The door opened; somebeing took my elbow and guided me out of the van. It felt like we were indoors. After fifty-three steps, and three turns, I was maneuvered into a chair.
A door closed, and then opened and closed again. Something else was breathing in the room.
“Open your mouth for me, hon.”
I did, but I could only push my tongue level with my lower lip, and even that hurt like the Dybbuck.
“Ach.” The woman had the voice of someone who’d worked in a diner back when everyone could still smoke MeO in them. “The new bind ring. We’ve been hearing they were going to start using these. I’m going to have to call a few people in.” She opened the door and bellowed some stuff before sitting back down in front of me, our knees touching. “We’ll get you taken care of.”
“Who are you?”
“The Laundromat Battalion.”
That didn’t explain anything, but other beings came into the room and she made me open my mouth again.
“See this?” she said. “There are two piercings on either side of the central vein, and this figure-eight metal bar between them, going across the tip of her tongue twice. I’m just going to lift you up.”
That last bit was said to me before she revealed the underside of my tongue. Even though she was gentle, I whimpered.
“Sorry, hon. Almost done. The bastards clipped her webbing. How long ago did they do this?”
“Oo weeks.” I held up two fingers.
She patted my shoulder. “Close up.” She addressed the others. “Her muscular hydrostat is completely shackled.” There was a noise like metal instruments on a tray. “This’ll be my first time removing one of these, but the closure system looks the same as the previous tongue rings.”
I slapped my hands over my mouth. “Ay cash me.”
“They won’t catch you. Don’t you know what we do?”
“We’ve figured out how to trick the sensors so you can get this off and keep it off without ever alerting the tracking system. I surround your tongue with a warm, sopping wet towel—I hope you don’t gag easily. Then I clamp the tips with a torsion tool of my invention, shimmy you free, and immediately throw the whole thing in a perpetually running washing machine set at 97 Farenheit. Moisture, motion, and temperature sensors remain satisfied. We even drive the machines around the city so they’re not always in the same place.”
“Nope. We’re a real mobile laundry company. It’s the perfect front. You ready to get rid of this thing?”
I smiled for the first time in two weeks.
“When I’m done, stretch out once, and then not again until the swelling has gone down. The holes should be closed within two days.”
She used the same bracket to keep my mouth open that the police had; although she was helping me, it still made me tremble. Water from the towel dripped down the back of my throat, but that was nothing compared to the vibrations of her machine. I was howling and punching my leg and panting, then all of a sudden, I was free.
I unfurled my tongue to half its full length, down to my chest, and let each muscle untwist, until all eight were waving like seaweed.
I over-enunciated because I finally could: “Thank you.”