The Personal Trainer and the Cabinet Maker

a novella by Anna D.

Chapter I

 

Trouble, they say, comes in threes. For me one day four months ago, it did.

I am Charlene and for the purpose of this memoir my last name is unimportant. You should know that I am a white, divorced and mercifully childless 29 year-old social worker from Cleveland who is sadder than then, yet I suspect still no wiser now as I gauge my fading courage by the times that I pace my tiny jail cell waiting to refuse yet again to testify before the Grand Jury.

The first of those troubles to come my way on that deceptively cheerful June day was the notice of a rent increase I found slipped under my door. The second was the news I heard on NPR that Congress had defunded my agency, putting my job in jeopardy.

Those two troubles were of this world. The third drew me into another; one that most dare only to dream of when they know they're alone.

To put myself in denial of those first two, I had gone through my daily routines as if nothing had happened: making my rounds at the clinic and taking comfort like so many in my line of work secretly do that it wasn't ME suffering there, then luxuriating some more in that sick power trip during my volunteer hours at hospice, following that with my thrice weekly and pitifully short jog and a drive to the food co-op for groceries and a stop at the video store for some romantic tragedy whose title I cannot now remember, which I had intended to wallow with alone, eating my corn chips and sipping my designer water till I worked up a good cleansing cry. After that I was going to take a cool shower and- that being a Friday, pack for a few days camping alone in the country where I'd try and tell myself that maybe it was for the best that my life was being disrupted again so soon after my sweet beautiful husband of five years had abandoned me so suddenly for another man- that I might learn and GROW from this disruption, and it was for that little spiritual epiphany I was planning instead of watching where I was driving on a busy west side street, and struck the rear driver's side of a brand spanking new sport utility vehicle that was squeezing into a tight parking space.

Metal cut into metal one hundredth of a second too soon for me to twist my wheel away from it.

My seat belt was on, my air bag exploded and I was not hurt. Nor it seems, were either the van's driver or passenger, who emerged, slammed their doors hard and flanked my old Honda just as I peeled the deflated bag off of me and fumbled for my license.

The driver was a tall blond haired young man in a black leather vest, with a magnificent panorama of tattoos covering his heavily muscled arms and bare, hairless chest, and his voice was thick with Russian when he asked: "Are you hurt, Miss?"

"No," I answered in not much more than a whisper.

"That is good," said the other, "but my cousin's new van IS." She was as tall as he, and dressed in tight, stylish athletic gear. Stunningly beautiful and Caucasian- but with the sharp Eurasian slant in her dark eyes that one often sees in Slavic people, her voice too, was heavily accented in Russian. "How will you pay for it?"

"I don't know." My head swam.

"You WHAT?!?"

I repeated myself, imagining the damage. "I've let my insurance run out." The gash I'd cut in the side of his van would clean me out. "Please, don't report this. I can get the money somewhere..." In Ohio, you could go to jail for letting this happen. "Please," I begged.

The driver crouched to inspect the damage and check to be sure he wasn't leaking gasoline. Then he conferred with his cousin while I got a good head start on that cry I had planned. He returned to my door, took my license and told that me she would accompany me to the parking lot of a nearby tavern, where we would discuss the matter without the interference of law enforcement.

I was in no position to disagree. She entered and helped me bunch up the air bags and stuff them beneath the seat. "Push it back," she told me, so she could fit her long legs in. She carried a musky, animal scent, but not an offensive one, as well the faint odor of freshly chopped wood in her long silky black hair, which fell gracefully over her shoulders from a ponytail tied high atop her head. Her hand was hot when it brushed my cheek. She spoke a few soothing Russian words, then grabbed me under the chin to lift it and turn my face to the road. In an instant, that hand had turned to ice. "Follow him," she ordered me. "And don't hit him again." She kept it on the back of my neck.

I was too shocked to protest. I simply obeyed.

We traveled without incident. It seemed that nothing was knocked out of alignment on either vehicle, not did tire scrape on metal, so I counted my small blessings.

I was told to get out of my car and sit in the van's back seat. Behind me, a finely tooled woodworking bench bristling with saws, drills, milling wheels and the like was secured by bolts to the floor. Stacked around it were the disassembled components of exercise equipment, whose saddles, knee rests and such- if they were not of fine black leather- were covered in plush royal blue velvet to soften the user's burdens. I was not surprised that this handsome couple would possess such fine goods, but my admiration of that display of machine sensuality was cut short by the woman's curt introduction. "I am Tatyana," she said without offering her hand, "and this is my cousin Peter."

He did touch my hand. "A thousand dollars, Charlene." He sighed. "To fix dent, at LEAST one thousand it will cost, and you say you have no insurance?! Tsk, tsk!"

I was in a shameful position. "No, I don't." So shameful that I had to avert my eyes.

Tatyana 's hand, warm again, touched my cheek. "Can you take money from bank?" She wiped away a tear.

"I don't have half that much," I confessed. I told her I that could pay the rest in installments from my paycheck, but my doubts must have been evident, because they both scowled and gave one another a knowing look. I'd seen these two somewhere before, but not remembering where only deepened my sense of helplessness.

There was a terrible silence, punctuated only by my crying.

Finally Peter smiled and touched my shoulder. "Perhaps you can work for us weekends to pay off debt?"

My relief at hearing that had to be palpable. In the depth of my shame right then it was positively a joy, an opportunity to restore my honor! Grinning, I nodded, and felt myself blush.

"Good." Peter handed his cousin my license, which she slipped into a tiny ankle pocket in her tight lavender workout tights.

For a split second, I had the impulse to demand it back, but I stifled it. I was much to intrigued by what may lay ahead to let my common sense spoil the drama.

I was instructed to meet them the very next morning at a job site some thirty miles east of town on Route 6. Describing it, Peter told me it would be impossible to miss. "There, you will assist us to make ready Tatyana's new studio."

"Rest well tonight," she advised, "for tomorrow, you will work very hard."

I drove home feeling oddly contented. That we hadn't agreed on a rate of pay ought to have alarmed me, but it didn't. Drifting off to sleep and imagining the rigors of my servitude, I sought comfort in giving myself caresses. But in order to sweeten my apprehension, I forced myself to stop and lay still before I could bring myself to climax.

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday morning was splendid, crisp and bright. An overnight shower had cleansed the air and moistened the meadows and woodlands to coax forth an abundance of oxygen that my tarnished city girl's lungs were totally unaccustomed to.

Lightheaded, I drove my battered little Honda to my appointed destination, delighting in the quaint old farmhouses and stables along the way, and at how so many of them had recently been rehabbed- not for agriculture, but for the illusion of country living that the city's professional class was willing to drive nearly an hour to and from their jobs each day. I knew that for the mysterious young Slavic cousins to afford ANY property in these parts marked them as being rich indeed, and a small alarm bell in my head said: "Beware, these might be Russian Mafioso," but I chose to ignore it. Who was I to question these two, who had given me this opportunity to work off my debt?

Ahead, on the right, loomed a great white barn and on its front above the double doors was painted a stunning red Russian Imperial eagle. All one side of the sloping roof was sectioned off in skylights, as were the adjacent stables, which were painted in the deepest ferrous red and grown over with ivy that had somehow made its way halfway back up the side of the barn already since it was painted. Fifty meters or so away was a small but elegant Colonial style house, all sparkling white, with shutters of the same red hue as the stable houses. Behind it, two sleek black horses grazed unattended in the field.

A quaint rural mailbox at the roadside said Sergeyev, with what must have been the corresponding Cyrillic letters painted not below- but above- the Roman.

Peter stood at the roadside gate, dressed in nothing but workman's denim overalls and boots. Sweat glistened on his hairless chest and he suppressed a sly grin as he greeted me and swung open the gate. Towering over me, he declared: "You are ten minutes late, Charlene!"

I felt myself wither, and I apologized, something I knew I had better get accustomed to doing there.

"Go park behind the house, and wait there for Tatyana." He pointed and I went without question.

Too afraid to get out without permission, I sat in my car for what seemed like a half an hour. Finally a door slammed and Tatyana emerged, wearing NIKEs and a long-sleeved black body suit that was little more than a g-string below her waist. Her hair was tied up in a hastily made bundle that spilled out long wet shards that she brushed away from her face when she peered in my window, laughing. "Charlene, you stay in your car for a fast getaway? Get out of that hot thing, silly you!" She'd just emerged from the shower and had a fragrance of lavender and cinnamon.

Blushing, I popped open my door, but bumped her gorgeous muscular thighs with it; she was standing so close, yet it felt perfectly natural and proper for ME to be the one excusing myself again.

Tatyana sat me at her patio beneath a big umbrella to shield us from the sun and served me pastries and strong Turkish coffee. She told me that she was opening an exclusive health club there; one that would cater to the rich gentry of the nearby township. A track and field star in her native Russia, she had come within a few points of making it onto her country's 1996 Olympic team for the javelin and the 440 meter relay team. Failing that, she finagled her way to the U.S. anyway and so she could hide from the INS and look for work, she moved in with an elderly aunt who had emigrated legally in 1990. Aunt Darya had a penchant for gambling and hit the Lottery big in 1997. The stress was too much for her heart and Tatyana was left with her fortune, more than six million dollars after taxes. That was more than enough to straighten things out with the INS, and she sent for Peter, who had been like a brother to her during the hard times that came after Communism collapsed. He worked in construction then and had trained as a cabinet maker. There, the economy got so bad he couldn't find work any more, but here at her spa he was in his element and directed a small crew on weekdays rebuilding the barn to her demanding specifications.

"Come, take a look!" She took my hand and led me like a child to see her project. Oh, it was incredible! Just inside was a one-half Olympic sized pool, with an overhead running track, banked for the turns and lined with cork circling the perimeter. Aerobics rooms, saunas, solariums all filled the upper level of that one side under the skylights, and Peter had just hammered down the floor boards for a dance studio in the other half. It was eerie, as I could not imagine how what I saw within could have fit into the structure I had seen outside, yet it did.

She'd led me out on a narrow tarp to the center of the dance floor when Peter reappeared, still sweaty and shirtless. He and Tatyana spoke at length while I stood feeling awkward and afraid to move for fear of marring the newly waxed floorboards. They seemed to argue, then shared a harsh laugh at my expense. A bulge bobbed in his overalls and the way he looked at me make me feel naked.

Tatyana tip-toed out on the tarp, took me by the arm and led me back to the weight room. "You are tense, Charlene. Peter is an expert masseur. He knows accupressure and Reiki. Let him massage your back." She stepped aside, turning me over to him. He had me lay face down on an exercise bench and showed me how to secure myself there by positioning my calves behind the padded leg curl attachment and hanging my arms down off the edges. I felt perfectly ridiculous, angry and at the brink of declaring that this whole arrangement would not work- that they could damn well REPORT the accident to the police if they wanted, but I was LEAVING, when my panic was eased by how gently he held me with those strong carpenters' hands of his; how their warmth and the sweet antiseptic scent of Pine Sol on the sparkling clean rubberized floor made me feel like I was a patient in physical therapy and I found myself issuing a pleasured little sigh in spite of myself, and grew weak and pliable under his tender ministrations. He thumped rhythmically up and down my back, then gently stroked the tension up from the base of my spine to my arms, then to my fingertips and out of me entirely, repeating that several times while I yawned and my whole body shuddered like one's legs do sometimes at the brink of sleep and a dream of walking, then tripping, causes one to thrash suddenly, unwinding like a clock spring and expelling all the pent-up tensions of the day. He spoke to me softly in his native tongue, and always he stopped just at the waistline of my loose khaki shorts, never going any further down, nor did Tatyana stroke my thighs any higher than the bottom of them when she joined in to massage them and the respect they showed me by not touching what lay beneath- soft and white and unpainted by the sun- only caused the little secret I'd carried in my lap since the previous night to grow ever more urgent and before I could stop it, it spilled out of me and at the first ring of it their hands came off of me and they knelt back watching me and going "Tsk, tsk, tsk!" as I gasped and rocked and my womanhood shared that secret with my moist shorts and the hot leather bench. Then all was quiet save for my whimpering and I brought up my hands to cover my face, so great was my disgrace.

"Shame on you, Charlene!" Tatyana pinched me hard behind the ear, so hard that it hurt and I cried out. She hooked the bottoms of my shorts with two fingers each of her hand and tugged, twisting my left arm behind my back with her other hand as she did. Peter helped her haul me up, then stood back while she frog-marched me to the shower and I choked out my apologies.

She lifted my chin, but I tried to avoid eye contact. "Look at me!," she demanded. "Your language has saying about idle hands?"

"Yes," I said, "that they are the Devil's tools." Part of me wanted to say something about them being His agents or some other such defiant comeback before marching on out of there, but my power of speech failed me. I was humiliated, frightened and angry, yet with each new insult to my dignity the intrigue grew. So I just bit my lip and sat like a sullen teenager, waiting for some clear sign that I should stay there or flee.

Tatyana feigned a sad sigh. "For YOU Charlene, no more Devil's play!" The Devil's play was in her stony Tatar face. "Peter!" she yelled, "make ready Charlene's tasks!" She sat me on a bench in front of a bank of old-fashioned gym lockers and plopped down a pair of foam rubber knee pads. "You will do much kneeling today."

I glared at her, threw back my hair and flipped the pair over, inspecting them like I wasn't sure if they were good enough for me. I was about to slip one over my sneaker and up my leg when she said: "No. you change first." That's when she held up a skimpy one-piece swimsuit- pink, complete with a frilly little pleated skirt at its waist that didn't even begin to cover the bottom, which was a bit more modest than hers, but not much.

"Where do I change?"

"Where? Right here!" She stood just a meter from me with her arms folded and a sneer on her face, staring me down. "What are you waiting for? You're too proud to strip with someone watching?"

I just glared.

She slipped my license from a tiny breast pocket and dangled it in front of me. "Is this what you want? Sure, you can have it back!" She slapped it down on the bench. "Don't want to work?" She shrugged. "OK, go back to Cleveland! Our lawyer call the prosecutor. Criminal court is SPORT now in Russia, you know! Here too, if you have connections. We pay prosecutor, watch our enemy squirm! Ha! Watch YOU squirm like you did on bench out there! You like THAT, Charlene? Do you?! Do you!?" She snorted. "Who knows WHAT the judge sentence you? Thirty days? Sixty days? Ninety, maybe?" Inches from my face, she asked: "Charlene, do you like mop handles?"

My lip trembled and I asked: "What? What are you talking about?!" I knew already what she was getting at, and she knew that I knew.

"Charlene..." she cooed, stroking my cheek as I stood there trembling. It was ice again. "...we can PAY the judge to give you the cell mate WE choose." She drew it away and smacked the license in my hand. "We try to HELP you, but YOU don't WANT it. So go! Go now!" She pushed at me and called for her cousin to help her throw me out of her little palace. He came and stood silhouetted in the doorway glowering at me. They exchanged a few words and he moved forward to take me out by force.

As frightened as I was, I knew that Tatyana was bluffing. NOBODY had that much influence, yet her little charade was all the excuse I needed to engage a deep dirty longing I had carried for years- to abandon all of my self will and surrender to ones whose approval could be won no other way than by throwing myself at their mercy and drawing comfort and redemption in equal measure to my self-abasement and the abuse I endured at their hands. Only through that surrender could my spirit ever truly take flight and feel the joy that comes with helplessness and the blind faith that cruelty must eventually give way to kindness.

I dropped to my knees and begged them to let me stay.

Chapter Two

To stay, they permitted me, and put me hard at work as was our initial understanding. The smooth, mirror-like dance floor needed to be waxed yet again. With a close eye to any imperfection in the wood and with the hand of a dedicated adept, I knelt in that childish little swimsuit and polished it with a soft velvet cloth that I dipped into a tin of exotic aromatic wood conditioner that was imported from Belarus. Tatyana made sure I wore the kneepads to keep my long labor from hurting my knees and Peter provided me with gloves, telling me that regardless of my debt, my hands were too precious to spoil on an assignment such as this. From those small mercies I could already feel my soul's wings start to flutter.

With my nose to the floor, just centimeters from where Peter stood in slippered feet, and my nearly bare backside raised for the breeze wafting through the old barn to tickle with the frilly skirted bit of that swimsuit, I polished along the wood's grain in short, quick strokes till my arms ached and sweat dripped from my brow. Peter was to supervise my every movement, while Tatyana would come and go, overseeing the project between her exercises in the gym. They warned me that I dare not speak or even look up without permission, but told me I would be given regular periods of rest so I could stretch and rehydrate.

"There," he would say, pointing with a staff to a tiny blemish in the wood, "It needs more polish. That is right, rub it good! No, no, not like that!" He squatted and grabbed the cloth from my hand, "Not against grain! Here!" He demonstrated again, like he'd already done a half dozen times. Each time that his eyes caught mine, I saw a deep sad longing in them and each time they would dart around again to be sure his cousin Tatyana didn't see him showing me any favor. So long as she didn't, he dared each time to thump the center of my spine gently again or whisper something in Russian and brush the hair from my face, wiping the sweat from my brow as he did. That started the little motor purring in my loins again, and I made an effort to suppress its volume from coming up too soon. There would be plenty of time later to disgrace myself with another spontaneous climax.

I could hear the soft patter of Tatyana's feet, and I shot a cautionary glance to Peter, who sprang to his feet and loomed over me again. I needed no command to know I was to put myself back into a position of abject submission, like a Muslim at prayer.

"How does she work?", she asked him in English.

"She PRETENDS to work hard, but she needs teaching, again and again." He spoke contemptuously, and I knew he would show me little mercy so long as she was there.

She squatted and lifted my chin with her finger. "Charlene, what is the MATTER with you? The most simple task and you still need teaching, my cousin tells me!"

"I have not paid attention, Ma'am," I whispered, knowing that self deprecation was my only salvation. "I have allowed my mind to wander and waste a valuable learning opportunity. I am very sorry."

She sighed. "Perhaps after rest you will do better. Stand up now."

I did, and she directed me through a series of stretching exercises while Peter massaged me again. But this time his hands were cold and he touched me roughly. I was learning that it would be like this- one would show me some small favor while the other was aloof or even cruel, then the roles would suddenly be reversed, as when Peter had been nice while she was gone and we were silent conspirators in looking out for her. Hard cop, soft cop- then soft cop, hard cop was how they planned to treat me and I would grow weak and pliable in their hands as I tried to please them both. If it kept up, I would soon be but a marionette's puppet with them both pulling my strings. But that didn't bother me. Freedom was only for the lonely, and lonely I was no longer. And I reasoned that even the one who was cruel to me at the moment must still care for me to pay me so much attention, and that sweetened my penance all the more.

Tatyana asked me if I had anything to ask. I blushed and asked permission to go to the toilet. "Yes, you may." She took me by the elbow and led me to the stable building attached to the barn. Free of horses or hay, it seemed to be under renovation to be an office. The only clearly equine artifact there was a fine dark leather saddle slung over a horizontal section of telephone pole mounted at chest height. I marveled over it and Tatyana said to me: "Do your work well, Charlene, and you can ride it twice today."

Twice?, I wondered, but I did not ask what she meant. All I could think of was the feel of it between my legs. Tatyana showed me to a commode and said: "Promise me Charlene, that you will not make indecent touches on yourself." I promised and she shut the door softly.

I emerged no less bothered than when I entered and she made it worse by sitting me down, standing behind me and working the snarls out of my hair with a brush, whispering a little apology every time it snagged. My plight was evident and as much as I wanted to just let go and climax right there and hope she'd be merciful this time and hold me like a lover would do when the waves broke, I held tight, drew in a deep breath and stilled every muscle in my body till the storm in me settled again.

"When I was a girl, I spend summers at Young Pioneer Camp," Tatyana remarked. "Was in Glasnost, you know- still Communism, but big freedoms start?"

"Oh yes, I remember. I was just a little girl then, but I remember how amazed my parents and big sisterrs were watching the news about it."

"Well, was no freedom yet at Young Pioneer camp! But kids, they still rebel- you know, smoke, drink..." she giggled, "sneak into boy's camp and learn how to fuck?"

I laughed. "So I've heard."

"Well SOME girls rebel more than others that summer. A COUPLE girls," she cleared her throat, "they do it the WORST! Act like they think they're major big Mafia sluts." A hard pinch to my neck got my attention. She was the hard cop again... "Those girls, for stealing and slutting, they face girl's PRISON! Mop handles, psych drugs, TB! Oh, they begged for second chance, BEG their camp counselors, PLEASE don't report them to commissar! 'We'll do ANYTHING,'" she whined, mimicking the delinquents. She laughed harshly and a long moment passed while I squirmed.

Finally, I asked: "What happened to them?"

"Counselors say they don't report it if girls accepted a whipping."

I gulped. "Did they get it?"

"They did." Another awkward moment passed. "Do you want me to TELL you about it, Charlene?"

I could only make a little nod.

"Girls had to strip and bend over, over, oh how you call it..." She mimicked a carpenter sawing wood.

"A saw horse?" I asked, my voice cracking.

"Yes, a saw horse!" She glanced over to that saddle, then crouched and grabbed my face again to force me to look her in the eye. "They tied them over saw horses. Tied wrists together..." she demonstrated, "then tied wrists behind knees, so that bare behinds are UP in air and saw horse holds them up at waist. Tied them TIGHT and made them WAIT for all the girls to gather at attention. Then counselor whipped each bare rump twenty times with a leather strap! Oh, did they cry!" She shook her head as if she was still in awe of the spectacle.

"Oh God, that's terrible." I was slack-jawed. "What happened to them?"

Oddly, Tatyana grinned. "Mmmmmmmmmmm, can tell you what happened to ONE of them..." She could scarcely contain her mirth.

"What?!"

"Became BEST girl in camp! Got HER little butt in line, quick!" She snapped her fingers. "Became teacher's PET! No more trouble, no report to commissar, no girl's prison!! Very worthwhile outcome, no?"

With that, I had to agree.

Tatyana stroked back my hair from my eyes and grinned mischievously. "Do you know what, Charlene?"

"What?"

"I was that girl!"

"No!"

"Yes! Never told anybody but you and Peter. No one! But it was BEST thing ever happen to me! Made me think about what is important, what isn't. Drinking and stealing and slutting around are no good! Sure, they TELL kids that, but you know kids... Well, I LEARNED that GOOD, before I could screw up my life! Got SERIOUS about school, about sports, about staying out of trouble so I can come to America! Oh, the one who the put strap on me, I THANKED her and gave her KISSES on last day of camp!"

"But..."

"But WHAT, Charlene?! 'But' you want to get back on knees out there?"

I winced.

"You LISTEN to me! You think we NEED you to pay for van? Ha! No, we want to HELP you!" She pulled her chair up close and spoke more softly. "In Russia, fate is like religion. There is no accident in this universe, no coincidence. Same day Peter and me are talking over wine about back in Russia and I confess to him about whipping at camp and how THAT was what made me better person, all of a sudden this spoiled little American crybaby come smack into his van and go 'boo-hoo-hoo,' we KNEW right THEN that Fate, God, the Big Plan, whatever you want to call it send YOU to US so we could make YOU better, too!"

I knew what she wanted to hear. And though I dreaded it, I wanted to say it; wanted so badly to please her and show her my appreciation of her concern for me that I would have fallen on a sword for her right then. The scent of that saddle made me dizzy and my voice was a tiny, high-pitched peep: "Would a whipping absolve my debt to you?"

"It would make a good start."

"O.K." I positively beamed.

She returned the smile but turned cold again in an instant. "You wait here. Sit still and don't touch." She nudged my knees apart so I couldn't even get myself in trouble squeezing my thighs, and left the door wide open to put me on notice I'd be watched while I sat there trying to still my every muscle and slow my racing heart.

From the sound of the footsteps, I knew it was Peter who came next to visit me. He cleared his throat to get my attention. "Charlene?" He was as nervous as me.

"Yes, sir?" I dared to look up and what I saw was a shock. He wore a splendid, crisp, and perfectly black police uniform. At his waist were handcuffs, mace can, a club and a cell phone, but no gun. His boots sparkled like the floor I'd been polishing and his badge was of gold, but I didn't risk looking to see what jurisdiction it indicated that he served. It all gave the lie to Tatyana's story about Fate just dropping me in their laps, but at that point I scarcely cared any more.

Peter perspired though it was not hot and loomed in the doorway regarding me sadly. "Tatyana says you are to have a punishment, correct?"

"Yes sir," I whispered, drowning in his presence. Oh God, seeing him there nearly salivating over me, but knowing I was a fruit still forbidden to him, I imagined the torture I could inflict on him if I were to bend over his knee and present for chastisement that part of me which I had been taught for a lifetime to keep out of the view of men. So close, yet so far.

"Here," he said, handing me a yellow legal pad. "It is important that you give consent. Give it in your own words. Tatyana review it, we make record of it, then you are punished." He put a ballpoint in my other hand and squeezed. "Start now and no crossing out. Everything you write will be used against you."

I had only one question for him and so filled with the passion of surrender was I that I would not have protested even if he had answered in the affirmative: "You won't kill me, will you?"

He turned looking shocked and hurt that I would even entertain such a notion. "No Charlene, we will not."

"I'm sorry."

"Write your statement." He left the room and that pen became the instrument of my unbridled perversions. More thrilled than I have ever been, I cast away all of my self-respect and put to paper my most secret longings to be helpless and at the mercy of others. Recognizing, and accepting their moral authority over me, and absolving them of responsibility for any harm that might befall me- even unto death- (though I trusted Peter's promise that would not happen, it was nevertheless a dramatic little flourish that served to both weaken and arouse me into a state that was previously unknown to me,) and in the most florid and self-deprecatory language that I could plumb from my river of shame, I abrrogated any "right" I might otherwise enjoy to refuse acts they wished to perform on me, and signed it in tiny, lower-case letters, all of that to demonstrate my complete acquiescence to punishment and correction at their hands.

Once finished, I folded the document once and I sat holding it till the sweat of my hands caused the ink to run. Time froze and my tiny universe spun. That stable became my own personal Purgatory. The crushing weight of my helplessness stripped away my ego, my will and my very identity as I waited. Yet still there was no sound of my captors, no frame of reference for me to imagine myself existing in but as a burden to them; a bad dog who would be dealt with once their day's work was done. And like the bad dog who knew very well that it had misbehaved and slinks around with tail between legs waiting for the master to arrive with the stick and the bone he would give it afterwards, that point afterwards is when I would know happiness, and not until then. I imagined them bringing the whip, and on it would be chained a bright golden key, the key to my Salvation.

Though I was to sit still, my apprehension was so great that I had to stand and pace my little stable. Though they were not in view, I had to wonder: were they watching me through a peephole or concealed camera? Assuming that they were (and taking no offense at it, for I had already shown myself to be unworthy of their trust,) I kept my movements dignified, my posture erect and my facial expressions respectful of my audience. I tried to hum Beethoven's Ninth as I paced, but only a high-pitched warble emerged from my throat.

Then came panic. Had they abandoned me? Was my punishment to die there of starvation, or perhaps of sheer despair? I went back to my seat, assumed my former posture and sat as still and as stoic as an Easter Island statue to atone for the sin of my movement.

"It is time now," said Tatyana. Her voice startled me so that I cried out and nearly wet myself. I hadn't heard them coming. I went limp, and each took me by an arm and pulled be to the saddle horse. Peter pressed me up against the saddle, and the heavy stirrup dangling from its side bruised my shins. The smooth, cool hump of it brushed the bare flesh of my thighs and the enormity of my predicament suddenly overcame me and I cried out.

"Quiet!" Tatyana slapped me once in the face, and that braced me, at least for a moment. "Thank you," I whimpered.

"Let us get this unpleasantness over with." She patted my cheek where she'd slapped me, and her hand came away wet already. "You know your bottom is to bare, don't you?"

I nodded and started to wiggle out of my little pink swimsuit, but she stopped me.

"No. We will undress you."

They peeled it off of me while I held tight to the far edge of the saddle. My loins were moist and when I touched them up against the smooth leather I knew that my struggle to keep from climaxing would soon end in failure.

Tatyana carried over a stool and Peter's cool hand covered my eyes gently now. I heard the whisper of leather moving across Tatyana's hand and I began to tremble. The next thing I knew, she yanked a cold, broad belt around my waist, drew an extension of it up between my legs and buckled the whole apparatus tight.

Peter took his hand away from my face so I could see just how I'd been prepared. Like a chastity belt, it was a heavy armored g-string, with thick foam rubber pads strategically mounted to cover the wearer's vulnerable orafices.

Tatyana spun me around to face her and reached back to pull the buckle on my backside a few notches tighter. "It is to protect you from the strap where it should not hit."

To feel the cruelty and the kindness of that belt, intermingled in equal measures upon the private crescent of my body where lust and shame are first awakened in a girl made my knees buckle and I dropped before the saddle horse and knelt climaxing there as if in prayer before the Golden Calf.

I was vaguely aware of being shackled by my wrists and more leather straps being latched to my knees, and when they hoisted me up over the saddle, those bindings were joined, wrapping me around the saddle horse so I dangled upside down with my armored backside presented to them and my face just inches from the floor.

"Take in a deep breath, Charlene," Tatyana commanded me.

No sooner did I obey than it was expelled in a gasp when Peter brought the strap down across the higher part of my soft white offering, just below the buckle covering my tail bone. Tatyana commanded me to count, and I think that I even managed to follow a few of the blows with their corresponding numbers, but as they continued on down across the region protected by my belt and onto the part of me which bears the weight when i sit, I can remember nothing but wailing and begging for it to stop.

Then I was vaguely aware that it had indeed, stopped. Tatyana crouched where my tears had made a puddle and lifted my head by my hair to face her. Through the echoes of my lament that still rang in my head, I could hear her speak to me softly: "...Charlene, little sister, you are HELPLESS. No amount of your begging is going to stop your punishment! Why can't you accept that and take it like a big girl?"

With that, I reached an epiphany. The combined weights of my pain and regret reached a critical mass that crushed my will down to something that was actually nothing and forced it through a black hole of shame into another universe where I felt my soul finally spread its wings and take flight, and my cries became the esctatic song of a once-wounded bird now healed and released by its keepers to fly again.

At some point, the whipping stopped, though when that was, or after how many blows, I had no idea, nor did I care, for I was content to let them do what they wished with me, be that more whipping or not. Peter unlocked the handcuffs shackling my wrists to my knees but he secured my legs with another strap so I wouldn't slip headlong off of the saddle. He turned on a fan and the cool air blowing over my wounded bottom was like electricity, but oddly not painful. Tatyana knelt and stroked my back and arms with a fur mitten that she said she would use to soothe the pain in my hindquarters, but not yet because they were still too tender to touch. My view was completely inverted and I tried to imagine how young Tatyana must have felt looking up at her campmates who gathered to witness her and the other girl be chastised.

Peter left for a moment and I whispered: "May I ask you a question?"

She knelt and held my head in her lap. "Yes Charlene, you may."

I took in a deep breath for nerve, then blurted it out: "How did the other girl take her punishment, the girl who was whipped with you at camp?"

Tatyana drew away, leaving me to struggle to raise my head. I saw her facing out into the dark. I thought she would turn and answer me, but she just walked out into the night.

End of Chapter Two
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