His cellar is dark, but the Bottler knows its cataloged contents better than anyone. He peruses the shelves which contain his private collection of bottles, his fingers carefully lingering on one in particular. This specimen is a larger bottle that has been rubbed and polished enough that the cheap, gold veneer is changing color and wearing through. For a moment, he becomes abstractly aware of the darker emotions he once possessed and their associated memories, but it is difficult to reconstruct them. What remains in the bottles tell the story of how he arrived on a path to perdition.

  He is torn from his reminiscent emotional debitage by the ding of his shop bell ringing upstairs, followed by footsteps on the floor he does not recognize. He is careful to lock the cellar door on his way upstairs.

Waiting for him at the front desk is a sleuth of the most amateur sort. Her position is obvious to him from the way her uniform rests flawlessly on her figure, not a crinkle in the fabric nor a stain upon her breast. Her name tag is proudly on display, which he interprets as a clear suggestion she hasn’t figured out that, like the Bottler, her occupation requires both discretion and a bland outlook on humanity. Her hair is pulled back so tightly that he has to wonder if her mind can relax long enough to make a proper deduction.

“Can I help you officer?” the Bottler asks. From the look on her face, it’s clear she’s been sizing him up too.

Detective Kelledy,” she introduces herself, flashing her badge.

Pardon me, detective, the Bottler sneers privately to himself, unimpressed by her distinction of the two titles. He neglects to introduce himself, and instead wrinkles his nose at the sharp scent of scrutiny. She is removing a photograph from her inner pocket.

“Have you seen this woman before?”

He has. Only in the photograph, she is smiling. He ponders this fact for a moment, scarcely noticing her other features. They are insignificant in comparison.

“Sure, I perform her extractions and deposit the bottles to the dispensary at the end of every week.”

“And exactly what kind of emotional extraction does she participate in?”

             Had the knowledge been less common, he might have lied. “Allegra markets in the rawest forms of sexual commodities—pure lust, sexual desire, and orgasmic release,” he answers. He knows the woman in the photograph is troubled. He suspects that her pattern of initiation and extraction is both a cathartic evacuation and a defense against deeper feelings of despair and insecurity.

             A slight shuffling of the body is the only indication the detective gives of her discomfort on the topic. “Are you aware, sir, that the reality of this voluntary commodification is the latest evolution of the sex trade, and that despite the anonymization and alienation of solitary sex work, it is fundamentally still a selling of the self.”

             The Bottler has enjoyed watching her squirm, but his response is pointed. “Look, I am a Bottler. I only deal in the selling of the self, and I follow all of the regulations set forth by the Ministry and its associated dispensaries. If you don’t like it, fine, but don’t come in to my business and lecture me on propriety.”

             Detective Kelledy’s eyes narrow at his increasingly hostile tone, but she has a job to do. This is the only lead she has so far. “Allegra Solt was found dead in an alley not far from here. Were you aware of this sir?”

             He snorts. “Obviously not.”

             “Sir, I would appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”

             “This is the slums. People show up dead all the time,” he says casually, but he assures himself he is not completely devoid of compassion. As the only intermediary between Allegra and the end product of pure, bottled sexuality, he shares an intimacy with this woman, whether real or imagined. “But I am sorry this happened,” he adds.

It comes across as a tawdry afterthought but, Detective Kelledy loses interest in him for the moment. Her eyes are peering somewhere behind him in the shop, and the Bottler feels a moment of panic. Has he left the door to his cellar ajar? He hopes not, for legitimate bottling is done in specially marked vacuum bottles using proprietary preservatives that can only be obtained from the dispensaries. The bottles in the cellar are...personal.

             He continues to stare expectantly at the detective, pondering what it is she is looking at. He notices the cool, gray of her eyes then. They are like stars, weaving in and out of a stellar mist. He wonders what emotions are contained there.

             “Who is that?” she asks finally, pointing a spindly finger beyond him. She removes her flashlight from her belt and shines it into the back of the dimly lit shop.

             The Bottler turns to follow her curiosity and realizes she is pointing at his apprentice. The corners of his mouth frame into a scowl. “Get over here, boy,” he says gruffly.

             The boy, who is more alike in age to a 16-year-old rather than a boy, comes obediently. He never looks up, and the process is slow as one of his legs drags behind him. “You’ll have to excuse him. He’s impotent, this one.”

             “I’m not impotent,” the boy interjects aloofly. “I was in a car crash, asshole.” He adds this last bit under his breath.

             “What is your name?” Detective Kelledy asks him.

             “Tobias Reed.”

             Detective Kelledy looks to the Bottler for confirmation. He nods, and she proceeds. “Did you know this woman?”

             The boy’s cheeks color. “I’ve seen her in the shop.”

             The Bottler listens as she questions Tobias. The boy manages to make it to the end before saying something completely stupid. 

             “Was there…was there a lot of blood?” the boy asks, raising his eyes to meet hers.

             Though his tone remains timid, Detective Kelledy feels something sinister wash over her. There is a calculated intelligence to his gaze masked by cold indifference. She sees a smoldering ember where there shouldn’t be in the bright blue of his eyes. It’s almost as if he is aroused by his own question.

             “That’s confidential,” she confirms after a long pause, though it seems to go against her better judgement. He must sense her shift in mood, for his gaze quickly returns to the floor. She notices as a slight, yet rapid twitch develops in the youth’s jaw.

             Another ding resounds in the shop, signifying a second arrival and cutting the tension in the air like a knife. “Detective Kelledy, unless you have any further questions, I must insist you take your leave. My three o’clock has arrived.”

             Detective Kelledy gives the impression she wishes to stay, possibly to see her own desires unbridled at the prospect of a live extraction, but she needs this job. This promotion is her one chance to prove to her peers once and for all that she matters—that she isn’t just some silly girl wanting to play cop. Her soon-to-be ex-husband was sure to engrain the idea of worthlessness into her brain on multiple occasions. Now He is a memory worth extracting, she decides silently as she heads for the shop door.

             “I’ll be in touch,” she says on her way out. The Bottler is left to his three o’clock, a prospect he finds most grim. He is aware of the acute suffering he witnesses in his shop every day and its ambiguous connection to the cynical, hidden manipulation of humanity for profit, power, and control. He is also aware he has developed an emotional detachment to the whole process.

             Meanwhile, Detective Kelledy lingers in front of the shop. It isn’t much to look at. The sign reading, “Allinar’s Extraction Emporium,” is outdated beyond the literacy of its title, a thick layer of grime incessant in the woodwork. It is a far cry from the extraction facilities in the Ornate District. The grandeur of their sleek, marble finish and spacious waiting rooms make the entire process seem lavish, and she suspects no one there is even peripherally aware of emotions being dealt on the black market. Nothing there gives breath to the rumors of corporate-government agencies utilizing elicit emotions for conditioning soldiers, public servants, politicians, or a hidden class of pseudo-slaves used in a variety of public and private enterprises. Everything there is exactly how it should be: ornate. 

             As if on cue, an ad on this very subject dominates the vast expanse of a nearby slum building. Melissa Merin’s face appears, slandered with portions of the same filth that cover Allinar’s Emporium, but you can still tell it is her. The Ministry of Isolated Citizen Emotions, more commonly referred to by its acronym, M.I.C.E., shines brightly in the background of the ad.

Merin is the head executive of M.I.C.E, and it is her job to ease the public's minds about the entire extraction process. Her words echo across the landscape like sweet honey, but in Kelledy’s opinion, the only minds that can be pacified are the ignorantly wealthy, the destitute, and those who have no emotions left with which to form an opinion.

Detective Kelledy adjusts the hood of her jacket as a light rain begins to fall, but she knows it’s Merin’s propaganda she is really trying to avoid. Kelledy likes the rain more than most.

The rail car arrives a few minutes later, and she boards, taking her place among hundreds of other statistics that use the public transportation system to travel between Districts. Kelledy lives in the Pulse district, which is known for its working middle class and vibrant sense of community. The thought of letting her hair down and snuggling up in her armchair with Sergeant Sly and a good book is tempting. Sly will probably be upset she didn’t leave the gas stove lit and his cat food out, but she senses her next clue is contained in the bottles of Allegra Solt.

When she exits the rail car, the M.I.C.E. building appears as an exact replica of the ad she saw earlier. Metal detectors await her at the entrance, and she puts her belongings in the bin and steps through the security check with ease.

All extractions are cataloged with a serial number and a descriptive title as to exactly what emotion is contained. This protects the name of the individual while providing a trail of both the bottle’s origins and those who purchase it. Detective Kelledy has already looked up the serial number associated with Allinar’s Extraction Emporium, so it only takes her a moment to cross-check this number with a customer list. There is one name that stands out like a fire on a dark night: Tobias Reed. Next to it are titles of bottled emotional content Kelledy does not care to repeat.

She quickly gives her boys over at the Ministry of Justice a ring. It is Officer Bailey who picks up the phone, obviously stifling a yawn.

“Bailey, I need you to run a background check on a Tobias Reed. He works as an apprentice at the bottler shop in the slums, and I’ve found evidence he was purchasing goods extracted from our jane doe.” There isn’t much further conversation required. Bailey will take care of it and give her a call when he has the information she needs. For now, she is heading back the way she came, hoping to catch Tobias at the end of his shift.

She tries to remind herself that the evidence might be circumstantial—that it doesn’t prove anything—but she knows he is the killer. In her heart, she knew the moment she saw him in the shop, quietly keeping to the shadows.

             A few days later, the Bottler is in his cellar once again, fiddling with the bottles taken from his most recent extraction. His eyes read each of the labels, deliciously drinking in their contents. Betrayal… fear…pain… He is far more careful with the contents of these bottles than with the body of their former owner, which he has discarded in an adjacent district.

He finds the essence of the pretty, blonde stranger he lured in from the street to be a powerful intoxicant. Allegra had been delectable to be sure, but she made things too personal. He was thankful when they pinned that fool apprentice of his for her murder. Apparently, Tobias had a history of domestic abuse, and he had been purchasing the erotic bottles the Bottler was extracting. This was all it took these days to condemn a man. Well, that and an amateur sleuth. Had the Bottler been a different person, he would have laughed to himself, but like the fog of anger, some lurking, underlying cause for his rage threatens to break through and prevents him from doing so. 

January 17, 2020 06:40

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Lee Kull
17:39 Jan 29, 2020

Interesting story. Is it dystopian, or fantasy? It had me wondering... not that you can't have elements of both. ;-) I've written a couple dystopian stories myself, and I'd love to know what you think of them if ever you find the time. They are called "Number One" and "Amusement". Thanks for posting this interesting tale. What an imagination! - Lee


Natalie Nicole
18:19 Jan 29, 2020

Hi Lee, Thank you so much for reading! I get the more dystopian vibe from it myself, even though I think either term is technically applicable. Furthermore, dystopian is somewhat subjective depending on personal beliefs. I'll be sure to check out your stories as well! Best, Natalie


Lee Kull
22:29 Jan 29, 2020

Your comment inspired me to look up "dystopia”. The Tormont Webster's Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary says, “An imaginary place where everything is as bad as it could possibly be.” I wonder why nobody calls a non-futuristic story dystopian? Hope you like my stories! - Lee


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Natalie Nicole
16:38 Jan 17, 2020

Apologies for the formatting everyone. It would not let me update the paragraph structure after I had already submitted. Unfortunately, it copy/pasted weird from the word program. Hope you enjoy anyway (:


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