Buzzcut Season

January 24, 2019
          Began Project: September, 2016-Present
          Status: Querying
          Genre: Alternate History/ Thriller/ Sci-Fi
        It's 1972, gory Vietnam battles play on TV, while political strife and mischief have reached an all-time high during the presidential campaign. Thankfully nothing's changed behind the Idaho Wall. Or has it?

To the rest of the world, Idaho's been a condemned radioactive wasteland for the past eighteen years, while Idahoans suffer under the suppressive and regressive rule of the Idaho Wall Protection (IDWP) officers. Every year, the officers pluck teenagers away into the Buzzcut Season. Though many citizens have rebelled against the Season, just as many have died or mysteriously disappeared doing so.

In the town of Paradise, the Shelley family is often targeted by the IDWP officers’ harassment given the interracial makeup of their family. At the 1971 Buzzcut Season, their oldest daughter Lucy was abducted. This was the last straw for her mother Sylvia, a once highly esteemed journalist, who left Paradise to investigate the annual kidnappings and put an end to them once and for all. Neither of them have been seen for almost a year. In the wake of the upcoming Season, Zora, Sylvia’s youngest daughter, faces the ultimate American nightmare; enduring a lifetime with the IDWP officers or boarding the train to the unknown to find her family. Zora knows without a doubt boarding that train would answer the most important question in all of this; what exactly is the Buzzcut Season?

This sentiment is echoed in New York by seventeen-year-old news reporter, Joy Kingsolver who was snatched up in a freak Buzzcut Season raid in the South Bronx. For over a year, Joy’s done her captures’ bidding, terrified to cause trouble or risk certain death for her loved ones. It isn’t until she meets a certain Idahoan escapee that Joy allows herself to defy and question her captures again. Why lie about Idaho? Where did her friends go? And is the man running for president behind all this?

“Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of the horrific atomic bombings on Idaho.” I paused letting the impact of my words settle as per Quin’s instructions. “The Legacy Dailey crew and I are reporting from Snowville, Utah where the devastation that rocked the nation happened just about seven miles from where I stand. Not much changes in this desert village, that is, except for the horizon.”
The camera zoomed over my shoulder towards the two-hundred-foot concrete wall on the edge of Snowville. This gave me time to wipe my sweaty palms against the skirt of my checkered choir boy dress. Slowly the camera panned back to me, “For a time, the town was considered to be affected by the radiation, but by some miracle, Snowville was spared!” I plastered a grin, as directed by the jabbing motions my producer Quin Taylor did to his cheeks.
“The northern tip of Utah only saw a shadow of the suffering that those in Idaho faced seeing as the second bomb had hit Arco, home to Idaho’s first and sadly last, nuclear plant. Earlier this week I spoke with Dr. Ronald Wilde, an expert in military arms and nuclear physics, to speculate over the events of that awful day.”
In the final edit that would be broadcasted, they would cut to Dr. Wilde and me in a hotel conference room, sitting in antique chairs by a large fireplace. “If the second one didn’t hit Arco, do you think Idaho would’ve survived?” I had asked the old doctor.
“Oh most certainly!” Dr. Wilde nodded vigorously, his pale, loose skin jiggling with each head bob. The ends of his white wispy hair stood at attention as he wheezed out every word. “Arco’s bombing could’ve set off a chain of terrible, downright dreadful, events. Worse than the ones even in living memory, mind you.”
“This chain of events being?”
“Some hypothesized earthquakes that could shift the tectonic plates. Many of my colleagues have discussed this with me, my dear. Some even speculate that the Idaho Incident could’ve set off the super volcano in Yellowstone!”
“What would that’ve done to us?”
“To put it simply, Ms. Regina, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Mirthless laughter left his pink lips, the kind that came from witnessing tragedies.
At this point, the final edit would cut back to me in Snowville.
            “Many in Snowville will never forget where they were on June twenty-first of ’54,” I said as the crew and I walked across the street to an automobile shop right off the highway. Quin prompted me to talk with the shop owner. “Excuse me, sir, were you here when the Idaho Incident occurred? Would you mind talking with us about it?”
            “Yes, yes, I was…little lady.” The man wiped his oil-stained hands on a filthy rag, looking me up and down with a curious eye. It was a look I often received out here in the west. They all know I don’t belong.
            “Do you mind telling me about it?” I put the microphone in front of his face, squinting my brown eyes against the hot summer sun.
           He stuffed the rag into the pocket of his stained jean overalls. His greying mustache gave a twitch. “…It was something right off the TV, I swear. There was this bright light… I really thought the world was ending. Even kissed my wife goodbye when that sandstorm came. We all thought we were gonna drown in sand that day. Never seen a wall as big as all hell like that before! Not until they built that monstrous thing.” The mechanic added darkly as he gestured over his shoulder with a thick thumb towards the Idaho Wall.
            A little later on the crew found another man down by the town gas station drinking a beer with his buddy. “Thank God Snowville’s a desert right!” He laughed, revealing a grey tooth. “This whole place was covered in sand, had to shovel Grandma out from her house!”
“Man shouldn’t have all that power.” A plump woman in a pale blue house dress said as she opened the car door for her elementary-aged daughter. “What were they doing flying over this way anyhow? Where were they going? It’s been near twenty years and we still don’t know. It’s like they don’t trust us. ‘Accident’ my big toe!”
“So you don’t believe the Idaho Incident was an accident?” I eagerly asked. We had run into a couple of conspiracy nuts by the Oregon border who didn’t believe. Not that I’m supposed to entertain their ‘crazed’ ideas, that is. I had been warned before.
The woman went pink. “Well, you see, it’s only my husband doesn’t think so either. He was in the Air Force during World War Two and Korea, mind you. Now, why on earth would our military move nuclear weapons to Idaho?”
“The official statement did say it was for security, ma’am. The Panhandle and Arco Bombings were both because of mechanical malfunctions with the planes carrying the weapons.”
“Ha!” The woman shut the car door with complimenting thud! “Now why would our military send dud planes full of nuclear weapons up north? During peacetime? I’m telling you it doesn’t make a lick-of-sense, so says my Air Force husband, as well.”
 “I don’t think it really struck me until that wall was being built.” The mechanic from the automobile shop mused as he continued his own version of the Idaho Incident. “Y’know they had that fence go up, first of all, to keep the rest of us out. Then you’d see these men in yellow and white hazmat suits building day and night. My son and I would drive down the road just to watch. Never thought that ugly thing was going to be permanent, y’know.”
“How do you feel about the Idaho Wall?” I asked all of them.
“…It’s there to protect us of course, I understand that.” The mechanic mumbled, making a face and adjusting the brim of his worn-out baseball cap. “It’s just not easy waking up to that big grey thing every mornin’.”
“Now I’m a proud Mormon woman,” the woman with her daughter leaned in to say as if revealing a secret. “I was brought up to see the best in everyone and everything, you understand that?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered as if she hadn’t just been rambling about her suspicions.
“But I have to confess, I can’t stand that darn humming all the time!” She put a hand over her chest as if trying to conceal her mild curse.
I knotted my eyebrows, “The humming?”
“Don’t you hear it? Probably not with all these trucks goin’ by. Well, when you get closer, you will. It’s almost like that buzz you hear before a thunderstorm, that electric feeling. You understand what I mean?”
“I think so, ma’am. What is the humming though?”
 “I heard Daddy say it’s got something to do with the officers keeping us out.” Her daughter said, poking her head out the car window. “They scare me.”
 “The officers scare you?” I let my microphone drop to her height.
The girl bobbed her blonde pigtails up and down. “Mommy says we’re not allowed to go to the wall alone. That we aren’t to bother the IDWP officers when they come to town.”
“Why’s that?”
“They’ve got guns and they’re mean lookin’,” the girl said in an isn’t-it-obvious tone.
 “I was pissed when they started to build that wall.” The buddy of the grey tooth man told me. His smoky grey eyes looked up from the ground where he’d been previously concentrating on kicking gravel around with his dusty worn-out boots.
“…How come?” I asked.
“I got family up in Pocatello…” He stuck a cigarette in his mouth, fishing around for a lighter in his pockets. “I had family in Pocatello. In my mind, they were closing that off forever. Guess I was still pretty messed up from the whole thing… I kept calling them after it happened. Like they would just pick up or something and be fine.” He lit up and inhaled. “They never picked up.”
Quin beamed from ear to ear at that shot. We’d traveled every bordering state looking for this type of tragedy and this poor man in Snowville, out of the hundreds we’d interviewed, was it. That kind of desperation was the perfect fodder for Legacy Dailey viewers to eat up while the nation held the annual memorial for the Idaho Incident.
            “Sadly, many from around the country share those sentiments about their loved ones they never got to see again from that day on,” I stood in front of the guarded graffitied grey wall, hearing the thunderous hum all too clearly now. “As you can see people have laid flowers down at the base, which stretches around what used to be the Idaho border, extending between seven to thirty miles into the surrounding borders of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. Fortunately for our Canadian neighbors, we didn’t have to impede on their territory.
“After this segment, the President will hold a memorial service for the millions that lost their lives that day. To all those families and friends of the Idahoans that are lost; We remember and we’ll never forget them.” I placed a bouquet of red roses at the edge of the wall and bowed my head in silence for a good ten seconds. I took a deep breath and turned back to the camera.
“I’m Marie Regina and you’ve been watching Legacy Dailey TV.
“And that’s a cut! You did great Marie!” Quin appeared out from behind the camera. “Andy, go get some b-roll of the flowers and the graffiti. Ms. Suzuki’s gonna love that.”
Andy Irwin traveled down the once working highway that was littered with bouquets. Above him read a red heart with R.I.P. ID! in white letters. Many more hearts were scattered upon the wall. Most were for couples long forgotten, fading from rain and sunshine. An IDWP officer looked down at me with his rifle lowered yet ready to shoot if I did anything stupid. It wouldn’t be the first time I was shot, though I’m not looking to be shot again any time soon. My right shoulder ached terribly at the memory.
            “Is it really happening over there?” I wondered over the hum while Quin and the rest of the crew packed up. The officer in all white with accents of light grey tilted his head as if I was talking to him.
            “Is what happening, Marie?” Quin shouted from the ‘61 Chevy van, fighting with one of the two door handles that refused to open half the time.
            “The Buzzcut Season.” I’d heard the rumors in New York but had been too scared to voice them. Then the conspiracy nuts in Oregon had mentioned something as well. ‘They’re still livin’, I tell ya, they are!’ One of them had insisted. Then the disbelieving Mormon woman today.
Standing in front of this monstrous beast of a wall I had to know, no matter the cost. “Are they really still alive over there?” The IDWP officer’s rifles seemed bigger since I had asked the question. I touched the concrete, unaware I’d grown so close. Vibrations shot up my brown fingers racing through my arm and colliding with my heart. It was like placing your hand on an amplifier while a bassist played, but a thousand times more powerful. As if the bassist was playing your veins instead of the cords.
Quin came over with his western-style sports coat slung over his shoulder, sweat stains under each arm, eyes cocked up towards the officer. “What do you think?” He sneered. “Now come on, I want to get out of this shithole town and get back to the city, where there’s actual life.” He ripped the microphone from my hands and stomped off towards the van, as Andy pried open the door for him.
It took all my willpower to let my hand fall back to my side and follow Quin down the cracked asphalt. Hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention for the IDWP officers with their guns. A wind picked up, throwing sand over my shoulder. A daisy slipped out of its bouquet, tumbling back towards Snowville alongside me. That daisy’s freer than I am… 
A year ago, if you were to tell me I’d be yearning to be a daisy in the deserts of Utah, you’d have ended up at the bottom of the Harlem River. Then again, a year ago, they were taking me. The daisy rolled past the van of my captors, taunting and tantalizing my desire for freedom.

            The Trading Post was abuzz with officers’ mindless chatter. The sunset’s orange glow glittered off the fork that I used to scrap off their dirty dishes. Next to me were stacks upon stacks of once bright white plates soaking in their soapy tub waiting to be sent to the kitchens. The little bell above the door rang, inviting a cheer of ‘Hey there!’ and ‘Hello’ from around the red-booth diner. Officer Richard Templeton and Officer Joseph Trinley sat in their corner table.
            I would have traded my entire paycheck not to wait on those two, but as luck would have it, I was the only one manning the floor this evening. The twentieth of June was always the busiest day of the year at the Trading Post. Simultaneously it was the day everyone wanted off. This was all thanks to the Buzzcut Season. The Idaho Wall Protection (IDWP) officers were busy setting up for their biggest day of the year. Those not working at the restaurant were busy saying goodbye to their children.
            “Good evening, officers.” I forced a smile that would rival my older sister Lucy’s. The officers always loved Lucy down here. Day after day she’d have a smile for them, through all their taunts and groping. Lucy confided in me once that she had built up an arsenal of dirty secrets that each and every officer held, and one day she was going to use them to her advantage.
This absolutely terrified me.
“They’ll hurt you if they ever find out.” I whimpered.
            Lucy had shrugged. “They’ll hurt me even if they don’t find out.”
           When Lucy was taken during last year’s Buzzcut Season, the officers had all asked me about her. All of them were oddly mournful to see her go. If you wanted her to stay you should’ve made sure she didn’t get on that train, I wanted to scream at them.
Officer Templeton’s lustful leer brought me out of my memories. He made those eyes at just about every woman in Paradise. It was the kind that made you feel dirty and no matter how many showers you took you couldn’t get clean enough.
“Would you like the special today? We just got fresh huckleberries from Elk River,” I suggested.
            “Billy still making ‘em huckleberry wings?” Officer Trinley, on the other hand, avoided looking at me altogether. He hadn’t made eye contact with me since he kicked his daughter, who happened to be one of my best friends, out of the house.
            “He can add blueberries to them now too.” Does he even try to visit her anymore? Not that Cherry would want that.
            Joseph waved me off, “Just the huckleberries.”
            “I’ll have that too.” Templeton flipped the menu back to me. His eyes traveled up my white apron poodle-skirt till they fell onto my face. “Your mother come back yet?”
            My heart stopped. Of all the things to come out of his sleazy mouth that was the last thing I had expected. “No… Aunt Janice still needs her up in Wallace. Especially after the fire in the mines. Hopefully, she’ll come back before school starts.” I added, praying the lie settled.
            Templeton unraveled his cloth napkin and twirled the butter knife between his fingers. “What a damn shame Mrs. Shelley won’t be here to see you off tomorrow.” The sun’s glare caught on the blade and blinded me.
            “These things happen.” I muttered, hating how he had snarled the ‘Mrs.’ in Mrs. Shelley. It was terrifying enough to hear him mention Mom. For all of my life, I wasn’t supposed to talk about her outside of the house. Nor was the rest of my family supposed to be seen with her in public. Simply for the fact that Mom didn’t look like any of us kids.
            Which isn’t true. Lucy had most of Mom’s features, albeit with a darker complexion and hair. My little brother Nicky was Dad’s little twin, and well I, I looked like Grandma. From my jet-black mane, supple cheeks, large nut-brown eyes, to my round nose, that was all from Grandma Alice. The only hint that I was my mother’s daughter were the freckles splayed across my face and arms, they were my favorite feature.
            “It’s to protect us.” Lucy had once explained after I became upset for the umpteenth time that Mom wouldn’t come with us to the store. “They hurt Dad real bad whenever they see them together.”
            “But why?” A young me had demanded. “Birdie and Josie can be with their parents outside. So can Fredrick and Nona! Why can’t we?”
“The officers say it’s illegal and unnatural that Mom and Dad are together. That life’s not for us, Zora.”
Not for us. A very good way to describe life behind the Idaho Wall for anyone not an IDWP officer. Or the wealthiest amongst us. The officers and the wealthy were the lucky ones who could afford to live behind their own protected wall. It was nicer than the one humming high above us. No spiked iron claws ready to rip anyone apart who tried to escape. It was a clean white brick wall with high willow trees lining it. Willows Grove, that was the name they called their happy little suburban life. I was only allowed in here when I was working the Trading Post. If I was caught behind their bright white wall when I wasn’t working, I’d pay deeply and dearly.
Not that I’d ever want to be on this side of Willows Grove otherwise. Far too ostracizing for the likes of me. It was safer back in our Paradise trailer court. The very one they forced us into a few months ago after raiding our old home on Pine Street, looking for Mom. Though those Grove mansions would be better than that tin can we have now.
“Would you like any desserts tonight or will that be all, officers-” I hardly finished when Officer Trinley slammed a five-dollar bill on the table and stormed out the building. The headlights of his car shone across the black and white tiles as he sped away. “I hope it wasn’t something I said.” I turned to Officer Templeton. “If it was I’m deeply sorry, I didn’t-”
            “-It’s just the edge of the Season.” Templeton cut me off. “He’s got a daughter about your age, you know. Sweet little Carrie,” he gave a smirk. “They all gotta leave sometime though.”
            “They can’t take Cherry she’s pregnant!” I blurted. I dug my fingernails into my palms bracing myself for his punishment for talking back.
            Templeton only eyed me, making my skin crawl worse than the bite of my nails. “No one’s safe from the Buzzcut Season. Not even if you’re pregnant.”
“But I thought officer’s families were safe.”
“Not if they disown you. You got any more coffee?”
“Sure thing,” I croaked, taking the blue mug behind the counter, my mind frantically racing. Settling Templeton’s coffee on the table, his stare now the least of my worries. The Trading Post was empty save two men and Templeton. Putting Officer Trinley’s five in the cash register I nicked a quarter and ran past the kitchen to the payphone in the back. There was only one public phone in every Paradise neighborhood that was guarded by one of the IDWP officers and a dodgy street lamp. All phones had been removed from the houses eighteen years ago for ‘safety reasons.’
            By the third ring, my fingers had drummed at least a hundred times against the top of the yellow box. Six rings, then there was a click on the other end. “Who’s calling at this hour!” A man barked.
            “Zora Shelley, I need to talk to Carrie Trinley. She’s at the Collins’ house. Y’know, the cute redhead.”
            Lies flitted through my head until I landed on the most plausible of them, “… Carrie took a fall yesterday and I haven’t heard back from her. I wanted to make sure the baby and her were okay…”
 “Absolutely not!”
“Officer, please! It’s the last time we’ll be able to talk, I’ll be taken by the Season in the morning. I just wanna know if she’s alright.”
There was a long silence on the other end. The Trading Post bell tinkled twice and Billy the chef called out goodbyes. “Okay. Okay. Wait here.” There was nothing but static on the other end for a good ten minutes. “This better be good.” The officer’s sudden growl from the phone made me jump back.
            Cherry came on a moment later, sounding breathless, “Zora? What’s wrong? I thought you were working tonight.”
            “I am. You gotta leave. Tonight. Take Fredrick and go. You’re not safe from the officials. They can still take you even with the baby.” I whispered fast into the phone, cupping the receiver with my hand.
            There was a long pause. “I don’t get it,” Cherry whispered back. “I thought they only took teenagers, the kind that aren’t pregnant. The good kind.”
            “That doesn’t matter. It’s because of your parents. You’re not immune anymore, not after…” I couldn’t finish, I didn’t want to break her heart again.
            “Well my goodness, I thought parents could only torture you for as long as you’re in their home!” She chuckled, probably more for the officer listening than for actual merriment. “Zora, you should come with us. We’ll be safer together.”
            “More like I’d paint a big ol’ target on your guys’ backs.”
            “You’re not going to the station tomorrow then? You can’t!” Cherry gasped.
            “I… I don’t know yet. I wanna find my sister. I wanna find Nona…and Birdie.” My hands flew to the raven skull necklace she had made for me. “I wanna get them back.”
            “I don’t pay you to talk on the phone all night!” Billy yelled down the hall. He waved a spatula in my direction, “You got tables and floors to clean, girl!”
            “I gotta go. Cherry, just promise me you’ll leave. We can’t let them take all of us. Be safe. I love you gu-” Billy’s hairy hand tore the phone from me and smashed it back in place. His beady eyes glared through me. “I’m sorry, Billy,” I mumbled, my hand still trapped under his large and sweaty palm.
            “Disappearing on me for ten minutes, right before closing, the Lord give you some brains, girl!” Billy grumbled and let go of my hand. “Now get back to work.” He whacked my behind with the greasy spatula and threw me down the hall. The Trading Post was empty and a mess like it was every last day of spring. I stripped and cleaned the tables till they sparkled. Swept and mopped the dining area just how Billy liked.
            It was a good hour before I was able to hang up my apron and lock up for the night. I was letting my hair out of its high ponytail when I noticed that the parking lot was far from empty. Templeton was leaning up against the hood of his car, long legs crossed out in front of him. The white hilt of his handgun catching the pink fluorescent light of the Trading Post’s sign. My hair fell down around me in black curtains. “Have a good evening, Officer.” I gave him a big smile, striding past his car.
He got off the hood coming towards me. “Let me drive you home.”
Oh God no… “That’s so nice of you, but, I like walking. The weather’s been so nice lately, y’know. Thank you all the same though, Officer.”
“It’s past curfew and you’re in Willows Grove not Paradise. It’s safer with me, come on, how often can you say an officer gave you a ride home and not to the station.” His grin would’ve been more reassuring if it was coming from anyone not wearing the IDWP uniform. However, because of that uniform, I had to accept. I put my purse in my lap and sat as close to the door as was physically possible.
Mom warned us about this. Every woman and girl in Paradise knew what would happen if you spent time around the officers. When Lucy was still here she had taken most of the crude comments and groping at work. She was older and prettier, it was only understandable that they would like her. Since the end of last Season, all the officers’ unwanted attention at the Trading Post had fallen to me.
           We pulled onto the gravel road entering the trailer park. The lights were on in my tin can home, Dad’s rusted old ‘54 Mercury sat in the driveway. Templeton parked his car behind Dad’s, blocking it in. Turning the car off he shifted to fully face me. “You didn’t have to let Lucy leave.” I tried to keep my voice calm while my nerves rattled and screamed at me to throw the door open and run.
            “I gave Lucy an offer to stay but she refused. That’s why she ended up on the train last year.” His hand slung over the back of the headrest twirling my hair.
            “Where does the train take them?”
            “To hell if I know!” Templeton snorted. “None of the officers wanna go there. My buddy Officer Randall got offered a promotion with a raise and he refused. And he’s one tough son-of-a-bitch too!” His hand slipped down to my shoulder. I wanted to bend all his fingers backward but I didn’t dare. “I could keep you safe from that train to hell.” His hand slid further till he grabbed both my shoulders to face him. His grey eyes were thrown into shadow as my back hit the door, the window roller jabbed into my left kidney. Only my purse separated us.
            The heels of my hands dug into his shoulders to keep him away from me. “How? Not even an officer’s daughter is safe. That’s flesh and blood. I’m nothing to you.”
            Templeton threw my purse to the floor, putting his full weight on me at last. His handgun dug into my hip. Dear God he weighs a ton! The officer’s lips touched my ear, “I wouldn’t abandon you,” his breath was hot and smelled of huckleberries and coffee. “Only if you’re a good girl to me, of course. I could keep you safe in Willows Grove. Take you away from Paradise.” Templeton kissed under my ear then along my jawline.
            “How?” I asked again struggling underneath him. “I’d never be accepted in Willows Grove. Not ever.” All the same, it was a dream that did sound sweet… Even if it was coming from a lying scumbag exhibiting as a human being that was Richard Templeton.
            “ZORA!” A metallic bang sounded through the night. Light poured through the window with Dad’s shadow casting over the car’s hood. Templeton at least had the grace to get off, allowing me to snatch my purse up and bolt out the door. “I thought you’d be home by now,” Dad said through gritted teeth. He’s gonna kill me. His dark eyes were shrouded in shadow but I knew that look all too well. He had worn it ever since Mom left to find Lucy.
            I ran past him, ashamed that if he even saw so much as a glimpse of my face he’d know what was happening in that car. I expected Dad to join me and slam the door in Templeton’s face, but he just stood in the doorway. Oh no. My little brother Nicky was asleep on the couch, the theme song of Hawaii-Five-O blaring from the tiny TV. I yearned to be blissfully asleep but my entire body felt like it had just contracted the Black Plague.
            In our tiny shower, I scrubbed every inch of myself several times over. Soaking my hair in shampoo twice to get Templeton’s touch off of me. By the time I got out and had my hair wrapped up in a towel the familiar sound of men arguing drifted over me. Just go away, Templeton!
            “She’s fourteen! You’ve got no business being alone with her at this hour!” Dad snarled. I peered through the kitchen window. The two were facing off in the dark like some sad-man’s Western. Templeton slouched on his car and Dad in front of the trailer with his shadow as tall as the wall.
            “I’m an officer of the Idaho Wall, Shelley. It’s my business to protect those behind her.” Templeton crossed his arms.
            Dad snorted, “Protect, yeah, okay. She’s home now, you don’t have to be here.”
            “You dismissin’ me now, Shelley? Just like you dismissed your wife? Where is Mrs. Shelley? Where’re you keepin’ her?”
            “She’s with my sister-in-law up in Wallace.”
            “My buddy Officer Randall’s stationed up there. Can figure out if she’s really there or not just within a phone call. So, Shelley,” Templeton leaned off his car, getting into Dad’s face as the two men closed the space between them. “You wanna tell me where your wife is?”
            “If you feel the need to, go ahead, just stay away from my daughter,” Dad backed away. “You officers gotta get up early tomorrow, first day of summer and all.” The unending silent tension was enough to wake the entire town. Finally, Templeton huffed, looked my way and gave a smirk, instantly making me want to return to the shower. The car pulled away as Grandpa’s clock hooted eleven times over.
Dad stood in the open front door, Jack Lord’s voice echoing from the TV. I was still too scared to face him. “You alright?” He sunk into a kitchen chair, a hand on his bad leg.
            I shrugged, “Just another day at work.”
            “Did he hurt you?”
            I shrugged again, I didn’t know how to talk about this with Dad. I could with Mom, Grandma, and Lucy or even my friends Cherry, Nona, and Birdie. They’d understand. They all knew what it was to be a woman behind the Idaho Wall. “I’ll be fine, I’m just tired.”
            “Aren’t we all,” Dad massaged his left leg, his frown deepening.

            In the morning, we both acted like it was any other Wednesday. Dad would work a double shift at the New Mill, I would be working at the Trading Post, and Nicky spent his days doing whatever nine-year-old boys did under iron skies. It would have felt like any other day if the suspense of the first day of summer didn’t linger in the air. If Dad’s newspaper headline didn’t read;
The Seventeenth Annual Buzzcut Season Begins Today! 
It would have been just another day.
“Zora,” Dad put down his fork of scrambled eggs. “I want you to lie to them again.”
“I can’t this year,” I said in a low voice not wanting to wake up Nicky. “It’s far too obvious and they’ll take me anyway even if I didn’t hit puberty. They take us all eventually.”
Dad’s expression switched to one I hadn’t seen since last year’s season. Mild horror would be an understatement. “You’ll never come back. We’ll never see each other again.”
“You don’t know that. Mom’s trying her hardest to figure out what's happening. And she obviously found a way out of here! She got outside the wall! Or else why would she be gone this long?” We didn’t know for sure that Mom had gotten past our cage, we only hoped for the best. “She’s gonna bring them back. All of them, even Lucy.”
“What if they can’t be brought back?” He clenched a fist under the table. “What am I supposed to do when my wife and daughters leave? What about a few years down the road when they take Nicky? The hell am I doing in this trailer working this shit job if you four aren’t here!”
“Waiting for us?” I said meekly.
He hit the top of the table sending pieces of egg into the air. “Wait for you? I can’t-” Dad rubbed his face in frustration. “I can’t just sit here and wait day after day not knowing what’s happening. I mean I haven’t heard a word from your mother since September. I don’t even know if she’s alive anymore!”
“I could find out. I can try and find them. Mom and Lucy and all my friends. I could tell Mom to come home or at least send you a letter or something. Somehow.”
“If it’s taking her this long to find your sister, what makes you think you’re gonna find her?”
That point had fleeted through my mind but I had yet to find an answer. “Dad, they’re gonna take me today, whether I willingly go or not.” He silently glowered at me. “There’s no way I can escape it. We’re only fish in this grey barrel. Sooner or later they’re gonna shoot me down and take me away. I have to become a Buzzcut. Whatever that is.”
“All of this is so damn ridiculous! When I was your age this never happened. Sure, we were at the end of World War Two but things back home were never this bad. Christ! I fought a war for this country! Now they built this damn cage, took my leg, my family, my children. Though…” He got a faraway look in his eyes. “It’s not the first time the government's screwed over our children for money…”
The coo-coo clock chimed eight times above the stove. Each bell chime made my heart beat faster knowing exactly what that meant. This’s the last time I’ll hear those bells. Dad was now standing in front of me, each of us sharing the same fearful expression. Throwing myself into his arms, I hugged him so tightly that if the officers burst through our trailer door it’d take ten of them to pry me away.
We stayed like that for a few minutes forgetting that he was now late for work. Today it doesn’t matter. Our embrace reminded me of the times when Lucy, Nicky, and I would hug his legs as he left for work not wanting him to leave. I felt as small and powerless as those times now in Dad's arms knowing I wouldn’t see him again. I gotta be strong today. I can't cry. Not today.
I raced out the door. “I love you, Dad!” I called after him for the last time. “I love you!” Memories of my siblings and I waving desperately at the back of his car while Grandma tried getting us to eat our cereal flooded my mind. All of them are gone now. I won't ever see them again...
            Templeton’s offer from last night racked my brain. I’d become nothing more than his whore. I’d be dead inside but at least I’d be here with Dad and Nicky. Not that I truly believed Templeton could keep me out of the Season. We’re just fish waiting to be shot, I reminded myself.
I went back inside and headed towards my room. Then again, weirder things have happened here. I took one last look around the messy bedroom covered in Nicky’s comic books. I plucked Niku’u, the family toy bunny, from my shelf. “Keep him safe,” I whispered and laid Niku’u next to my sleeping brother. “Bye Nicky,” I kissed his forehead, jealous of his freedom. “I love you.”
            I walked down to the train station where the mayor was already making the annual opening speech. He went on and on about how great the officials and officers were. How, if all went well this year, Paradise would be able to afford new roads, finally put in sidewalks, and even a stoplight by the Trading Post. Which would be impressive as it would be Paradise and Willows Grove’s first stoplight.
No one in the crowd appeared to be buying anything that the mayor was saying; And, why should they? Seventeen years of child kidnappings would do that to a town’s morale. It was hard to believe how wonderful it was when the world thought we died in an atomic bombing accident with a wall thrown up for the rest of the nation’s ‘safety’.
I had learned last year when Lucy was taken why our town could afford all the new roads or sidewalks that all conveniently went to Willows Grove. I had seen my parents’ tax return. Though they didn’t say it outright, I knew why my parents received $57.20 as a tax break from the city. That was the final breaking point for Mom. Within a week she left to find Lucy and uncover why this was happening.
Soon the mayor was done and was met with the saddest applause I ever heard. The crowd made their slow processional to the station where the officials were set up. They loved our red train station, seeing as it was the biggest public building in Paradise. Officers were lining the entire building, Templeton was not amongst them. 
He lied. My legs quaked as an officer pulled me from the long line as parents said their tearful goodbyes. Inside he threw me down into an empty chair by a desk. Every time I attempted a look around the station the officer’s fingers would squeeze down like a warning. I guess I was suspicious. A teenage girl, alone, at the Buzzcut Season. An obvious threat.
I breathed away the panic building in me as the platinum blonde woman from across the desk fiddled with papers and pens. “Good morning! I need your full name including the middle one, your birth date, sex, and race, deary.” The woman smacked her gum noisily, unmoved by my panic attack.
“Uhm...My name is Zora Sylvia Shelley. I was born on October third, nineteen fifty-seven. I’m female and American-Indian.” I sound like I’m reciting the grocery list to Nicky, not my personal facts.
“Oh!” Blondie looked up at me with bright eyes. “I get to fill in question 4a. I never get to do that! How fun! What tribe, deary?”
“Coeur d’Alene.”
“Ohhh, you survived the Rebellion of ’60 then, mmm. I don’t really know anything else about your people. Though I did know one Nez Perce fellow, handsome son-of-a-gun he was. Oh, what was his name?” Blondie smacked her gum some more. “Carl Snow! That’s it! Or was it, Clyde Snow? Well doesn’t matter, I only knew him once.” I nodded along as if Carl Clyde Snow actually mattered to me. “I’m going to need both your parents’ full names and race. Include your mother’s maiden name if you can, deary.” Her pink lips smacked together as she poised her pen over the form.
“My father’s name is George Clive Shelley, also Coeur d’Alene,” I waited as she scrawled his name out. “And my mother’s name is Sylvia Kathleen Lewis, white.”
“Wait…” Recognition crossed Blondie’s face. The officer’s grip on my shoulder tightened. “Is your mother that journalist from back in the day that wrote for The Legacy Dailey? Sylvia K.L. Shelley?”
“That’s her.”
Blondie laughed, “Oh ho! My boss went off on a rage over her back in the day when she exposed all those congressmen. How come I haven’t seen her name in any articles lately?”
“She’s on a… Vacation.”
“Oh, well I hope she gets back soon, her pieces always gave me the tickles when she berated my bosses.” Blondie winked at me, then asked for my parents’ personal information that I could remember. She wrote down one last thing on the chart. “Here, your Buzzcut number, deary.” 431L10357. My new name. “Forty-three stands for Idaho the State. One L is for Latah County and I think you recognize the last five as your birthday. Make sure to memorize that number, you need to know your name. Understand? Good! For now, just hand your chart to the nurse over there when you get your physical done.”
It was unnerving how nicely she told me I was now only a number. The officer allowed me to stand only to escort me to the nurse’s station. I did as Blondie said and gave the nurse my chart. “How old were you when you had your first menstrual cycle.” The nurse asked after reading my birth date.
Her head snapped up, “And you’re about to turn fifteen now?” I nodded. The nurse clicked her tongue. “You should’ve been here three years ago. You know, your parents can get fined or imprisoned for keeping children after they hit puberty.”
“No, I didn’t know.” I lied.
“Hmm, I wouldn’t think people in this small town would know too much about the law. Well, regardless that puts you in the normal category.” Red pen in hand she wrote beside my Buzzcut name, NORM. She then made me strip down to my underwear as the doctor came to conduct the physical. Making sure nothing’s wrong with their tax refund. They drew five vials of my blood and asked for other samples. Afterward, the nurse handed me a loose-fitting grey t-shirt and faded grey jeans.
Still an apparent threat, the officer followed me to a tent that had been set up in the back of the old train station. The buzzing sound it produced was a horrible ominous reminder. It’s just like the humming from the wall. I breathed deep before entering. A shrill gasp went out from one of the hairdressers turning the whole of the tent’s attention on me.
“Look. At. Your. Hair!” A man squealed and ran the distance of the tent. “Oh now, this is beautiful.” He stroked the span of my waist length hair. I tried to pull away but the officer put a hand on my shoulder once more. “What a shame though really,” Touchy pouted his thin lips. “All for science though!” He clapped his hands over my wrist and dragged me to the far end of the tent. “Stand in front of that wall there, yes that one, sweetheart. Aww now give us a pretty smile.” He had pulled out a Polaroid camera. All I could see was Templeton pawing at me from the night before. My mouth formed a half-smile that felt more like a grimace. “You’ve got such sad eyes, sweetheart.” Touchy pouted again clicking the camera button with a picture rolling out.
Touchy picked up a pen, “Your Buzzcut name?” I handed him my chart. “Oh, well isn’t that a pretty one.” He giggled. Touchy grabbed me again and sat me in front of a vanity where he began to braid my hair.
I closed my eyes. I'm back on the living room floor of our old house. Mom and Dad are getting ready for work and Grandma's braiding my hair. My eyes flashed open when I heard him withdraw his scissors. Five short snips later, my braid fell into a plastic bag his assistant held. My gift to the Buzzcut magi. The last time my hair was this short was when I was four and just starting school. Touchy’s scissors proceeded to cut the rest of my hair until it was short enough to pull out the electric clippers. The buzzing would later be the soundtrack of my nightmares.
            When it was all over, Touchy took another picture of me with my bald head. He set the picture down in a file briefly while his assistant zipped shut the bag of hair and handed it to me. At least I don’t have a weirdly shaped head like Robin Beau over there. You could ski off those slopes… The officer escorted the scrawny girl and me to the train. Most of the teenagers were already aboard.
            We all look alike. Everyone was wearing loose-fitting grey t-shirts, pants, and fresh buzzcuts. I silently counted the shaved heads in front of me. Thirty-eight. That would make forty-one of us if Fredrick and Cherry hadn’t taken my advice and left. I swiveled around to find them. I hope they left last night. The officer that had been following me gave a warning reproach. Probably thinks I’m like to run.
A few minutes passed as the conductors checked the rest of the cars before they began to pull out. The red train station slowly crawled past my window. Beside the bright blue banner celebrating the Buzzcut Season, my brother leaned on his bike looking desperately at each window of the passing train. Niku’u was sitting in the woven basket at the front of the bike. Without thinking I yanked the window up, “Nicky!” I waved at him.
“Zora!” He yelled back as the train began to speed up. “I didn’t miss it! I didn’t miss it!” Nicky waved frantically. He looked like a maniac with his hair sticking out in all directions and yelling at the train. I was about to call back to him when the window was smashed down along with the blinds. I turned to be met by the barrel of the officer's gun touching the tip of my round nose.

“Don’t open the window again.” He growled. The other officers slammed the blinds down on the rest of the car, eclipsing us into fluorescent lights. I kept my head down for the rest of the journey never daring to look up at the barrel pointed my way.

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