Bottled Up by Justin Norton-Kertson

“… that emotion breeds inefficiency.” The floor supervisor pauses and raises his gloved hand in the air demanding silence, then holds his wand back up to the side of his throat to amplify his voice above the groan of the machinery churning in the background. “Don’t forget that here at NazCo we’re a family, and families look out for each other. Isn’t that right?” Despite his choice of phrasing and inflection, it’s quite clearly a statement rather than a question. “We want to make sure this family is healthy and efficient. So if you see any one who looks like they aren’t pulling their weight, please let us know. We can’t build a community of vigilance and strength if we don’t know where to root out the weaknesses. Together, we can make sure this family is strong and productive! Alright, we’ll see you back here at work first thing in the morning.”


Meri rounds the corner and that damned billboard is there staring her in the face, again. Like everyday on her way home from work she stops and studies the sign, traces the letters with her soft hazel eyes, and reads the words to herself:

“Emotion Breeds Inefficiency” the three-dimensional, bright orange jumbo letters jump off the billboard and down her throat with such force that she almost chokes.

Is it happening? she thinks to herself as she analyzes the physical discomfort it causes. Intellectually, she knows she doesn’t like the billboard and its message, that it hits her in a way that takes the breath out of her. She also understands, however, that there should be more. She should feel not only depressed but also angered by it. The fact that she is even familiar enough with depression or anger to know she should be feeling them is exactly what makes someone like Meri so dangerous in the eyes of The Corporation.

No, not yet, but soon … she thinks with anticipation.

She hurriedly shuffles down the wide open avenue doing her best to appear innocuous and remain anonymous. Invisible as I can get—just another piece on the set, she repeats to herself. She slips through the door with a smoothness and ease that only comes through well-worn routine. Navigating easily to the back of the hardware store, she whispers a quick incantation under her breath as she glides through the wall in the spot between the electrical and the plumbing aisles.

“Good evening Jorunn,” Meri grins uneasily as she emerges from the other side of the wall. She exchanges pleasantries with the clerk as she paroozes through the display cases. The inside of the hardware store’s wall has the aesthetic of a musty old apothecary, but instead of jars full of medicines and cauldrons boiling slightly smoking potions, these jars are full of emotions.

She isn’t a newbie though, bare in mind. Like a lot of people, she’s been experimenting with illegal emotions for years now. She’s a fairly regular user of a lot of the more affordable strains like shyness, focus, satisfaction, and appreciation. She has even done her fair share of dabbling in some of the more pricey stuff like love and anger, which is how she had met Angela.

“What’ll it be today, Meri?” The clerk has a look of curiosity in their eyes and if they’ve been dipping into the product, then possibly one of concern as well. No doubt they can sense what Meri is thinking too. Jorunn has always been fairly adept at telepathy.

Meri’s eyes dart nervously from the jar to the clerk and back again a number of times, then a few more … She has been saving her money for this for almost a year. She had been so sure that it was the right time only five minutes ago. Why is she doubting herself now? Probably because she knows what doing this means. Her life will never be the same. If she goes down this road it’s going to be extremely difficult, assuming she even lives that long.

“Meri, what’s up? Are you okay?” The concern is transparent now, they definitely dipped into the stash.

“I’m fine Jorunn,” she finally replied, only slightly breaking the tension her silence had built. “Never been better, in fact.”

“Oh shit. You’re gonna do it, aren’t you?” they asked.

“Yeah, I am,” Meri said, sounding only sort of confident. “I’m ready to try it. I’ll take the entire jar of Revolutionary Fervor.”

Justin Norton-Kertson is a queer and bigender writer, poet, musician, and organizer. They are a founder and composer for the neofolk band Ashera. His music has been written about in publications such as Protean Magazine, The Ark of Music, and A Blaze Ansuz: Antifascist Neofolk. She is also a labor and community organizer who has worked on minimum wage, new union, anti-racism, and other campaigns throughout Oregon and SW Washington for over a decade. He currently lives outside of Eugene, Oregon with their partner and cats.