Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: The Fool

Call of Nature and the Copper World

Smelling the fresh coffee poured steaming into my cup from the recently filled carafe, I leaned back in my chair, waiting for the grogginess of sleep to clear. My make-up and outfit were done as impeccably as the face of a clown to hide the dark circles of a sleepless night. I got those a lot recently, and it must have been frequent enough that my phone was advertising sleep aids and white noise machines to me. I must have spoken out in my sleep enough for the microphones in my smart house to have picked up on my troubles. But it was a troubled sleep without dreams, just like my waking life was without dreams.

Life was nothing more than a daily endless grind for me. I had been excited, once, for life. I thought I had been. A life full of wonder, like the books I had read growing up, had been what I had assumed was in store for me. A life full of fantastical journeys, trekking through the woods with like-minded companions, fighting evil sorcerers and falling in love with the handsome male lead. I would tramp through the nearby woods with the other neighborhood kids, playacting our wooden swords were steel, that my staff could shoot fire, and that our poor neighbors cat was a dragon breathing fire down on us.

I had imagined myself as the helpful sorceress, one who lives with nature, communes with nature, and serves nature. That had seemed right, in her young mind. No stuck-up princess for me; the enchantress was far more fitting than the passive milksop waiting to be saved. I almost felt she had been one, in a dream or in memories past.

They had been childish wishes, childish fancies and childish dreams; the kind of pure dreams only children can have. But dreams like that have a magic that quickly fades as one grows older and more aware of the world. And even for someone who was once a child as bright and expressive at that, it fades, replaced by the cold, hard reality that is our world

My views got somewhat more realistic as I grew older. Somewhat, at least. I still wanted to be something more than the mundane office worker. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to create works that would move the souls of audiences and inspire them to their own great works. The younger me really was an idealistic child. I wasn’t bad at it either. I wasn’t a natural born genius, one of those “once a generation” types, but I was reasonably good at it.

I spent many hours drawing what was around me. The plants, the trees, the animals that lived in them. I used to love going to the park and just sketching. Everything felt alive, and briefly, outside the edges of my awareness, I managed to capture a spark of those fantasies from early in life, breathing it into the lines of graphite and charcoal on the paper. It wasn’t a common thing, mostly my sketches were just adequate, but every once in a while inspiration would hit and the forms on the page would seem as though they were catching the breeze.

But still, it was a dream that was forced to give way to reality. It was my parents who were the driving force behind this. Artists just didn’t sell in this modern world. There was no great patrons of the arts, no great works being created by masters of the craft. Modern art, they said, was nothing more than a scam used by corrupt elites to launder money through the medium of splatters of paint on canvas made by other corrupt elites. A girl your age in high school, they had told me, has no business being this disconnected from what’s common sense. Dreams finally shattered, and directionless in life, missing the rudder that guided me through childhood, I joined the military.

Honestly, I don’t really have much of an opinion on that one way or the other. You could say I was broken already by the cruel words spoken by my parents, the words that pushed me into turning my back on my dreams. My actual time there feels like it happened to someone else. Just the mundane sort of time spent in the service, writing reports, passing them up the chain of command, and earning a paycheck. Nothing momentous, no large battles, or drama of any major importance. Just five years of my life in a daze before beginning the next stage of my life.

Maybe I misspoke, maybe I did have the remains of my dreams left, as I decided to go into Fashion. Everyone in the program seemed to say words that echoed what I had once held dear. They were all about sustainability, and the environment. Platitudes to please the higher-ups. Hollow words to match a hollow culture. Social media is a must because all the influencers are there. And you just have to watch the Emmy’s, the Grammies, the Met Gala. It’s where the real movers and shakers are, the ones who have clout. If you don’t spend your day glued to your phone or computer you just aren’t doing your job as a designer right.

Everything was interconnected, on the surface anyways. From the CAD programs used to draft patterns, to the programming used to knit sweaters. Hand-knit sweaters are a thing of the past, you know. They’re the work of programmers, typing code that’s spit out into automated machines like printers. I think the biggest company that makes the machines is based out of Japan. Copper, gold and silicon melded together telling motorized needles where to knit, where to purl, to make the next cute cardigan for walking the city streets. Everything’s interconnected, but even what we wear on our body is missing the connection of a sweater made by a loved one.

I, however, excelled in surface design, creating the prints and ideas on garments. Floral prints were my specialty, because every girl loves a sundress with flowers. My showing of my collection my senior year, painstakingly crafted on a computer, pattern emailed to a textile printer halfway across the world, and shipped to my door where I turned it into a final garment, caught the eye of a corporation in New York, and next thing you know I, Nadine Ludd, was an Assistant Surface Designer for one of the biggest fast-fashion conglomerates in the world.

These were the kind of dark, musing thoughts I would often have while sitting in front of my computer as I am now, working hard on the latest prints for the Mid-fall season. You would think working from home would give me the freedom to wake up when I want, relax with my coffee, and enjoy the breeze while pointedly ignoring the delivery drones buzzing overhead, but things have come a long way from the early days of working from home. No relaxing in your pajamas; at any moment your supervisor might pop on-screen to make sure you aren’t slacking off. My appearance needed to be perfect, and my botanical prints were not praised as much as taken for granted. Often, they were nit-picked for being too...wild.

Sighing, I took a sip of my coffee. Maybe that glimmer of a dream was still there? If it was, it wasn’t present in my conscious mind except as an abstract memory of what once was. Here I was, in my own home, dressed to the nines with make-up and lipstick plastering my face like a Barbie doll waiting for her Ken. There was no Ken though, just Margaret, the lead designer of my team. There had been hope once. People had thought fast-fashion would die, especially after the pandemic. But it had been an idle dream. It just used that collective pause in the breath of humanity to worm its way tighter, dig its claws further.

Workers from our company would go to all the big shows: Paris, New York, Milan, Tokyo. They’d go there and see what the big companies were doing, and send it down the line. Big fashion houses are bad enough, but this was one step removed from theft. It’d be sent to us, and we’d have to come up with our own take, made from materials cheaper and harsher than those used, and send the orders off to sweat shops over copper wires, silicon circuits and radio waves. A few weeks later it’s in our stores, ready to be worn for a season and discarded in a landfill after the end consumer is done with it.

The marketing itself is so effective it would be terrifying if we hadn’t been inured to it. Everyone now has a smart house. It’s one of the things that got mandated after one incident or another. It’s only a matter of safety. If you leave the stove on, or forget to adjust your thermostat, it could start a fire. It helps lock your doors for you if you forget, can bring up the music you want to listen to, and play the movies you’ve been wanting to watch. Algorithms have become so well-crafted they can even predict your shopping trends. It’s only natural my company would pay the small token millions to get in on that. Some people, the ones who got ID chips, even had updates based on where they’re at in our stores. And to think I get old fashioned for not wanting to be chipped.

The thrill of the hunt with shopping has long since been ruined, turned into one of those safari parks rich people use to shoot exotic animals from the comfort of home. Your ideal purchase is dragged out in front of you, and the only hunting you do is looking for your phone to press “buy.” If your tastes seem to be trending to dark, it may try to steer you towards pastels or the bright florals I still can’t bring myself to hate designing. If they turn too dark, they’ll give you a hot-line to call and a doctor to feed you medication to make it all hurt less.

I shook my head, taking another sip of coffee to clear my mind. At the moment, at least, the only drug I need to keep me going is delicious caffeine. My one true joy in life. They sucked the dream out of fantasy, they sucked the dream out of art, they even managed to siphon away most of the pleasure from my print designs, siphoning it away through the wires and cameras and sensors that dotted every moment of our waking lives.

At that moment a screen popped open on my computer, my boss Margaret.

“Ms. Ludd?” She spoke, voice sounding tinny over the speakers

“Yes ma’am?”

“You seemed to be slacking on your work, is something holding you up?” She said feigning concern, an expression slightly forced around her Anna Wintour-wannabe sunglasses.

“No ma’am, I was thinking about the florals I’d use for the a-line skirt in look 23, the jester one.” I don’t even know why I called it the jester one, it just sort of slipped out. Some fool I must be.

“It doesn’t have to be anything identifiable. Don’t overthink it. Simple, quick, and on the shelves in a few weeks.” She said quickly, in terse words.

“Yes ma’am.”

“And Nadine, we’ve had this talk before; feel free to call me Margaret. We’re all connected, part of this big family called a corporation.”

“Of course Mrs. Roofer.”

“Keep up the work. And don’t forget you’ll need to show yourself in the office next Monday.”

“Aye ma’am.”

And with an electronic blink the window closed, and back to work I went. I had already been certain of the plants I would use for that look, white roses to symbolize new beginnings if you’re wondering, I just couldn’t think of any other excuse why my mind would wander so. It must be the sleep deprivation. Why else would my thoughts go to such weird things as my dreams and aspirations? I’m stuck, stuck here, now, in the present, and idle thoughts of a life free of the shackles of adulthood aren’t going to do me any good.

When my work day was over I showered, as if to wash off the mask I had been wearing. I had worked later than I’d like, and had a cold dinner of leftover food, barely even tasting it as I began to dread another dreamless, sleepless night. I suppose I was wrong earlier when I said caffeine was the only drug I needed; I had a few glasses of wine to take away the tension, and to open me up to the idea that my bed wasn’t a major enemy, and that what lay beneath wasn’t going to hurt me. Then, as if taking a step off a cliff, I climbed into bed and closed my eyes.

And I dreamed.

Saito Forester
F.C Fondness
Ana Fowl