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The Stories of Yvonne Sinclair

Alice And Anna
On The Beach
The Bisley Boy
Silk Stockings On A Ladder
A Merry Ferry Christmas
Stella and Fanny

The Story Of T

Arrival At The Institute

The Dominafuhrer

The New Recruit

The Sacred Feminine

The Sacred Feminine

Julia

An Introduction

VO Stories

Jenny
Miss Malcahy's Detention
Nine and a Half Hours

The Weight Loss
Programme

I Sign A Contract

The Convict

The Convict/My Prison Folder

Stories

65
A Caning By Miss Spiteful
Always On The Bare
A Visit To Greenwich
At My Lady's Pleasure
Ball Shackle Story
Charles
George
I Met Claire In A Coffee Shop
Judicial Bastinado
Kevin's Poem
Kim
Long Weekend
Long Weekend Conclusion
My Visit
Penitence
Plimsolls
Robin's Electrical Torture
Shoeshine Boy
Slave To The Cane
The Basement
The Colony
The Escape Artist
The Huntress Caning
The Language School
The Worm's View
Webb Encounters
Z

The Bossy Bank Women

A Judicial Punishment

The Valkyrie

Episode 1

Norseland

The Vision
The Agreement
First Blood

EXIT

EXIT THIS SITE

Nine and a Half Hours

I saw Sarah along the concourse the very first day. It was drizzling and she was wearing a smart little trenchcoat and schoolgirl's rubber boots and, startlingly obvious, nothing else.

Later, she told me she often liked to do that - looked forward to the rain and the excuse it brought to show herself half-secretly through the thin tissue of her mackintosh. We are all of us naked under our clothes, she said, but covered only by her mackintosh's slight and moulding fabric she felt her nakedness revealed.

So whenever the clouds gathered and a raincoat seemed justified she would return to her room and take off her things - bra, slip, panties, everything - and then, enjoying the shiver as the cream rubber lining slid cool against her skin, slip into her mac. She would watch herself in the wardrobe mirror as she did up the buttons and pulled the belt tight, taking pleasure in the cinched waist, the flare of the material over her hips, the thrust of her breasts highlighted by the garment's fashionable triangles of fabric descending from the shoulder. She would then resume her day.

It was later still that she explained, hinting obscurely at first, what it was she really wanted to do, or have done to her, once prepared in this singular way.

One day in April she wanted to know what I was doing for Lent.

"Easter eggs," I said, "I'm giving up Easter eggs."

"No, I'm serious. I think you have to do something. Something you think twice about."

We were in her flat, just finished eating, stretched out on the bed.

"Something that stops you short and makes you think."

"You're not religious, are you?" I asked.

"No, but there is value in a lot of religious things. We have it so easy. We are comfortable, we are warm and full, and we take it all for granted. We should stop every now and again. Stop and realise, appreciate."

"So what do you propose?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't know. I'll have to think. Something uncomfortable, painful perhaps. Some kind of discipline, I suppose, to bring home how comfortable and privileged everything normally is."

"You could stop seeing me."

"No, that wouldn't hurt much at all. It would have to be something like starvation or getting up at 3 o'clock in the morning, or wearing a hair shirt."

"Or eating at Mario's."

"Yes, but I'm serious. If I think of something, will you help? I may need someone."

"Anything for you. Just give me the word. But I won't join in, if that's all right. I shall go on taking my pleasures as and when opportunities present themselves, all right?"

There was a pause after this. Sarah shifted her head on the pillow so she was staring at the blank wall. Then she said quietly:

"Frank ... I've actually thought of something." She hesitated - and then- "I thought perhaps ... the cross."

"What?" I had to ask.

"The cross. I thought the cross. As a penance."

"Oh, I see. I suppose it could be seen like that. For the sins of the whole world, and all that. Yes. I thought you meant for you!"

"Yes," she said, tense and quiet. "I did. I do. I'm thinking of it as the most daunting thing I could do."

"Well, yes. I can see that," I said rather lamely. "And you need me to get the nails."

"Rope, stupid. It would be rope. They usually used rope, nails were overkill."

"Ah ."

"Nails were a mercy, really. You fainted with the pain. But with rope you just hung there."

I tried to enter into the spirit of things: "And then you would need me to make a cross, I suppose. Easy."

"I've got a cross," she answered, intense, disregarding my bantering tone.

"What?" I was incredulous again. Was she joking?

"In the cellar. In bits, but we can put it together. And all the pulleys and ropes. I've got it all."

"Christ ..."

"I could do it myself really, but it's difficult. And it's not really the same. If you do it yourself you know you can always stop it if you really want to."

"Christ," I said again. "You're serious. You're really serious."

"I'll show you," she said abruptly, sitting up. Just let me get into my uniform and I'll take you down."

She was back from the bathroom in a moment, wearing her mac and boots.

"This is what I have to wear down there," she said, with something of a wry smile now. "Do you mind?"

"A girl has got to do," I observed, "what a girl has got to do."

It was a ground floor flat, and we went down a flight of steps behind a door opening from the kitchen. There was not just one cellar at the bottom, but a passageway with openings off on either side, some with doors. The house was Georgian, I think, and really big.

Sarah took us through one of the doors, using a key. It was heavy - wood, reinforced with steel - but it swung open smoothly and also clunked very solidly shut behind us.

"I've just had that put in," she explained. "And I've finished decorating. Do you like it?"

"Very post-modern," I said. It was, as far as I could see, a cellar in the classical mode. Whitewashed stone walls and vault, no windows, stone floor.

Against one wall lay a couple of lengths of wood.

"This it?" I asked.

"It just needs bolting together. And it goes here."

Underneath the highest point of the vault a square hole had been cut in the stone paving. "I'm quite proud of that. It goes down two feet, and it fits. And there's the hoist." She pointed up. "That was quite difficult it's quite high up there and it's difficult to lean the ladder." Somehow she had fixed a pulley into the stonework.

Round the pulley ran a rope, and Sarah showed how one end of the rope was already fixed to the top of the longer piece of wood. The other dangled down in the middle of the room. Sarah took it and tied it off to a cleat on the wall.

"I thought of other things, you know. Like the wooden horse. Do you know that? You have to sit astride a narrow plank thing. I could fit that up. Especially with you to help. You will help, won't you?" She was pulling the wood out into the middle of the floor. "Can we just do this?"

The main post was long and heavy. There was just room for it to lie flat between the hole in the middle and the wall. Towards one end a groove had already been cut, and when we manoeuvred the cross piece into place it fitted tight and true.

"Just needs bolting, that's all. I'm doing that on Saturday. And these rings for the ends." she showed me two sturdy rings on steel backplates and positioned them at either end of the wooden arms. "You good at knots? I've got a book if not."

A pile of books lay in a corner, and some more, left open, were scattered about.

"I think the best would be to tie one end round the wrist and then fix the other with a quick-release knot to the ring." There was a picture in one of the books showing it.

"Could you do that?" She handed me a length of rope and held out her wrist.

Pushing back the sleeve of her mackintosh, I had a go - and made a mess. We looked at the book and found the step-by-step instructions. I tried again. Practice made perfect, and after half-an-hour I found I could make a tight, neat job, the white rope circling her slim wrist four times and leaving a tail of about a foot.

"Clever thing!" she enthused. "That really looks professional." She stretched her arms out. Great! And what about fixing it to the ring? Is there enough?

"Can you fix it so it'll come undone quickly?"

There were several rings set at various heights on the walls, so I suggested we try with one of those. I knew a good way to tie the rope this time, and had her wrist securely hitched without looking at the book once.

She tugged at it sharply several times. It passed the test.

Then I pulled the loop and, Hey Presto! the knot dissolved.

"Fantastic!" she said. "Brilliant!" Then - "Let's do it again - from scratch." She held out her wrist.

Obediently I undid the rope, and then re-applied it. I was really quite efficient now.

"This wall, she said," crossing the space. "Then we can try it properly." There were two rings there, one for each wrist. With all the practice I had had it took me no more than a couple of minutes to have her spread-eagled with her back against the white stones.

She pulled and twisted, testing the knots, but they didn't budge. "Oh God," she said. Then, "This is good..." she struggled again.”You're marvellous," she said. "Marvellous! The ropes are so tight!" More pulling and twisting. Her face was flushed now. She wasn't exerting herself all that much but even so her temples were beading with perspiration. With her wrists hoisted high I could also see damp spreading through the underarm eyelets of her mac.

"I can't move! God! It makes me feel so ... " But she didn't say. Instead she seemed suddenly to check herself. With a change of tone she asked me to pull the loops and let her go, which I did.

She led the way upstairs in silence, the evening clearly over.

She looked bedraggled now in her mackintosh. Her exertions may have been modest, but the rubberised material had made her sweat and now it was clinging wetly to her.

"You ought to get changed," I said as I hugged her goodnight. The air struck cold through the open front door.

"Oh, no," she said quickly. "I'm not allowed. I have to wear this all night. When I've been downstairs. Regulations." There was no hint of a smile this time, and in fact she went on in some irritation: "You know, what I said. Penance." She stopped, close to tears. "I can't explain. Goodnight... Goodnight." And she pretty well pushed me out.

Poor Sarah! She was upset, I think, because she was trying to believe her own stories and not quite managing it. In the midst of what she thought should be discomfort and suffering she kept stumbling into pleasure - sharp, shivering pleasure - and knew, and hated to know, that it was indeed this brilliance rather than any grey moralistic ratiocination that inspired her scheme of being bound helpless and enduring pain .... I wondered, half wondered - had to stop myself half wondering - how soon it would be before I had to acknowledge the irresistible brilliance it held for me too.

At lunch the following day, she seemed to have been comfortably repossessed by her fiction. "It's a week on Saturday," she said. "Can you manage that?"

"What?" I asked.

"You know - the vigil, the Lent thing. You must help. I need your help. Say you can!

It was a bright day, and there was no excuse for wearing the mac, though she had it with her, and had had it hung over her shoulders when we met. Now it lay folded over the chair-back next to her and she appeared in black jeans and navy silk shirt. Anyone who looked at her sitting in the window of the cafe, and plenty did, would have found her preoccupation not a little surprising.

I said I would.

"It's eight hours. Eight hours! Shall I stand that?"

I asked what she meant.

"I have to be up there for eight hours. That's the Penance."

Where she got this from I didn't know. It could have been from one of the books in her voluminous collection, or she could have just dreamt it up. It seemed to me an impossibly long time, but then so did fifteen minutes. I asked how she knew it had to be eight.

"That's the rule, the Roman working day. I can't really imagine eight hours. It'll be awful. It terrifies me. Look!" She held out a shaking hand. "I dreamt about it last night, after you had gone. It was that practice with the ropes, I suppose."

"Look," I began, "don't you think ..." I didn't know how I was doing to finish. but Sarah stopped me anyway

"It's no good," she said. "I have to do this thing, so please don't try and put me off. It's nice to talk to someone about it, but if it's a bore, just say. Only I must do it."

She was on the verge of cutting me out, I could see, but I couldn't resist one more attempt: "But why so long? There are real dangers, you know. There are limits. Isn't there a problem about breathing?"

She explained that there was, but that there was a way round that, which was to have a footrest. Either that or a little ledge behind the bum to take some of the weight. She hadn't decided which yet. Both worked, she assured me, perfectly well. Breathing apparently got painful but it didn't stop, not within eight hours or anything like.

I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. Sarah was discussing this thing like she was planning to decorate a room, but what she was suggesting seemed really dangerous.

"Must dash now - a lecture at two. Say 8 tomorrow and I'll do some paella?"

I promised, and she was off, slinging her mac over her shoulders.

After the paella the following evening Sarah went across to the wardrobe and showed me the outfit she wanted me to wear. It seemed that I too was to dress for rain: a trenchcoat, like Sarah's, except that the one for me was heavy and black, and a pair of matching boots. Not, I thought, a terribly comfortable ensemble. I learnt however that there was little room for argument. "Regulations", Sarah quickly explained, laid down in detail the uniform for someone officiating at a penance, and this was it.

She then also explained, as I was pulling it on, that of course I couldn't wear it over anything. I had to take off my other clothes first.

It was a peculiar experience, slipping nude into the extraordinary garment Sarah had got for me, and having her pull the belt tight and buckle it round my waist. The material hung heavy on the shoulders, touched the skin elsewhere in a way not exactly uncomfortable but enclosing, enveloping, imprisoning.

"That s good," she said, standing back. "You look right. And here's your staff of office." She handed me a short black leather-covered cane. "And your cap." I put it on.

In the wardrobe mirror I was surprised by a quite striking figure. I posed with legs astride, cane underneath my arm, chest out.

Sarah took only a moment to take off her things and slip into "uniform", and a moment after that we were down in her sanctum.

The cross was flat on the floor. It now sported a little wedge of wood about a third of the way up. Sarah explained she had decided on a footrest. A saw and various pieces of wood lay scattered about.

"Can we try the gag?" She gave me a long strip of cotton, I guess torn off a sheet.

"It's either this, just wound round and round, or a bladder thing." She rummaged in a cardboard box. "Here." She held out a short strap, like a dog-collar, with a red flap of rubber attached half way along. "You buckle it on, and then pump it up. Hold this a sec." She handed me a bicycle pump, then proceeded with a demonstration. She took the rubber into her mouth and fixed the buckle at the back of her head, then took the pump and attached it where the strap passed over her mouth: and then pumped! Gradually her mouth sort of bulged open and her eyes began to bulge too. She stopped pumping, fiddled with a valve in front of her mouth, and there was a hiss of escaping air. She unbuckled the strap. "A bit inauthentic, do you think?" she asked reflectively. "Perhaps we should stick to the cloth. Of course, that's just as bad really. They didn't really use a gag at all."

I thought breaking with tradition was not allowed.

"I know what you're thinking," she said quickly, noticing my look. "It's because of you. If you're there and there's no gag, you won't let me alone. If I can, I'll scream. I know that. I'd scream, and beg and plead to be let down, and if you heard all that you would give in and break your word, I know, because I'd actually be asking you to, and you'd take me down and ruin the whole thing. So it has to be a gag. See?"

I saw. "Christ!" I said, frightened again at her clear-sightedness and commitment, "How can you be so sure all this is right? Don't you think there ought to be some kind of safety net, some way of keeping control if it doesn't go like you think it will? How can you rule that out? - Sarah?"

She was looking at me in silence, with a little smile of indulgence. Then she said: "You don't have to understand, it's all right. But the control has to go. That's the essence of it. It's a penance, remember!"

"But you choose a penance! It has to be voluntary or how can it be any good?

Sarah remained serene. "You choose it, yes, but once you've chosen it, you must carry it through. No matter what. And it's bound to be unpleasant. That's what it's about."

"Unpleasant!" I couldn't help picking up on the word. 'Christ! Not sure you've quite caught it there ...It's going to be like nothing on earth up there, you know. It's supposed to be one of the really nasty things you can do to anybody, crucifying them. You'll have to be careful it doesn't actually kill you. And you want to block up every possible escape, every possible way of changing your mind."

"Exactly," she said with quiet indulgence. "That's exactly what I want. A decision, but then no going back. No second thoughts when the going gets tough, or its useless, don't you see? I know it'll be ghastly, that's what I'm bothered about. I shall be quite desperate to stop the thing, I know, and if I can, I will, I certainly will. So I can't leave it up to myself. That's why I need you. With you fixing it it's out of my hands. It doesn't matter then what I feel, how weak my will is, I won't be able to jack out. Surely you see?"

I don't know whether I saw or not. But I knew I couldn't argue her out of anything. Her plan had been thought through, and I suppose the thing was that once you accepted her premises, it was a perfectly logical one.

We proceeded with the remaining rehearsals. The monitoring gear I had left at Sarah's flat the day before and she had brought it down earlier. Just a black box and a TV monitor and some wires really - nothing complicated. The trick was to keep the long trails of thin wire untangled.

"Do we have to bother with all this?" Sarah protested wearily as I set it up. "It isn't necessary, you know.”

She unbuttoned her mac and pulled the flimsy fabric open. Her breasts were damp from the rubber - and also, I was moved to see, pouting with excitement. The dampness made wetting the little suction connectors unnecessary, and I quickly had them firmly applied in just the right position. I then fed the wires down the left sleeve of her mackintosh, out at the wrist, securing them with a light band, and across to the equipment.

"What about the rope?" she complained. "That's just where the rope round the wrist will be."

"It's all right," I had to reassure her, "I'll fix the rope first, and then the band. It'll be fine."

"Won't it come lose?" was her next objection. "I don't suppose I'll be able to keep absolutely still. The wires are bound to come loose. Perhaps we just try. Fix me to the wall like last time and I'll see if I can wriggle them free."

This was the bit she liked, and I didn't object. It took me a few minutes to rearrange the wires and fix her wrists to the rings, and then she was free to indulge her interest in wrestling against the ropes. I helped. "See if you can dislodge them while I get the electronics going," I said, and went to twiddle with the black box. The cg trace danced into life without any trouble, and showed Sarah's heart responding jauntily to her exertions. How long it would remain perky when she was perched spread-eagle and fighting for breath on her cross was another matter...

Meanwhile, she was entering fully into the spirit of the test, struggling resourcefully against the ropes, wrenching to the left, then to the right, then attempting a rhythmic twisting to and fro, then thrusting her chest in and out, all to the accompaniment of little gasps and grunts and expletives, which might be registering climaxes of frustration and effort, or bursts of pleasure: or, of course, both. "Huh. OK", she said at length, catching her breath, "You win. I can t dislodge them. Great. Undo me now."

I didn't jump. she looked vulnerable and alluring in her exhaustion, her face highly coloured and glistening, her breasts, waist, hips accented almost unbearably by the clinging mackintosh, which covered but did absolutely nothing to conceal.

I pretended to be concerned with the screen. "OK," she said again, "You can undo me now." Again I ignored her, engrossed in the electronics. "Frank!" she asked again after a pause, now with an edge of irritation. "Just undo me will you? I've got something in my boot."

"Uncomfortable?" I asked. I couldn't help making the point. "Don't you think you ought to stay a bit and get the feel of the thing? You've only been there ten minutes, and you've got your feet on the floor."

"Just untie me, please," she said, not really amused. "We've got the other things to see to."

I did as I was told.

The other things didn't take long. she stretched out with her back on the cross for me to get the right knot for her ankles, and we arranged the monitor where I could see it from the chair she had brought down for me. The Walkman was also ready, with a pile of tapes. Sarah said she would make sure there was food too - for me only of course. Regulations would certainly not permit nourishment to the penitent.

She explained as we went up that she didn't want to say anything or take any initiative on the day itself. I was to take charge, escort her down at the fixed time, bind her in position, fix the wires if I must, raise the cross at the fixed time, and lower it eight hours later. That was what I must do, and it was all I must do.

She didn't invite me to agree or anything. She was just telling me how it had to be. I didn't argue, leaving her preparing for another night attired as the Regulations prescribed, her legs presumably hot and uncomfortable in the boots, her body damp and presumably quite sleepless in the mackintosh. The next time I was to see her was at five in the morning on the Appointed Day. I had a sleepless night myself.

What was I doing collaborating in such a dangerous game? It was dangerous, no matter what assurances Sarah had found in her literature. Crucifixion after all had been a method of execution, a punishment as well, but not one you were expected to recover from. You were hung up to suffer, but also to die, and surely the dying didn't take that long. Could I really accept Sarah's casual assurance that eight hours was certainly safe?

That was why I shouldn't have been collaborating. The reason I was that since I had first stumbled wide-eyed into it, I had come to find the thought of Sarah roped to her cross unbearably exciting. Simply that.

I didn't know why, nor did I like to dwell on the reason.

Whatever its ground, my caution was absolutely no match for the excitement - excitement which gripped me with almost unrelenting persistence during the three days, the thirty-eight-and-a half hours that intervened between my last sight of Sarah and the appointed hour.

The night before I attempted an early bed to prepare for the early rise. It didn't help much. The alarm was unnecessary. I had a bath, dressed, walked round the block three times so as to press Sarah's bell at five o'clock precisely.

It opened immediately, as though, what I suppose might have been the case, Sarah's cue for opening it was the strike of five, not my fallible ringing of the bell. I went to kiss her, but she drew away. She wouldn't even meet my eyes. Her special day had clearly begun.

"There s just one thing," she whispered as I went in, not raising her eyes but very intently. "There is a libation. You have to take a libation. It's ready, but you mustn’t forget. The book says it’s very important. You take it at the beginning, as soon as I'm up. O.K?"

In the circumstances, a drink was not something I was going to object to. "O.K., fine," I said, not trusting myself with anything else.

Sarah was of course already kitted out. My own gear lay on the bed. I got into it, and we went down.

I locked the heavy door behind us. Sarah had put cushions on my chair, and a little table by it with a plastic food box and a half-full wine glass. By it there was a little card, impossible to miss. It said in printed letters:

VERY IMPORTANT

THIS DRAUGHT MUST BE TAKEN

BY THE PERSON

SUPERVISING THE PENANCE

IMMEDIATELY IT HAS

BEGUN

Laid out on an inverted box were the things that would be needed - ropes, gag, wires and clock. Sarah just stood in the middle of the cell with her hands clasped behind her back and her head bowed. I wanted intensely to ask for her assurance that she wanted to go ahead; even though the presence of her slight figure, neat and demure in her schoolgirl mackintosh and boots and her pose of utterly suppliant obedience should have been reassurance enough. I knew I mustn't ask anyway. She had me there to fulfill a perfectly defined role in a drama she had very carefully devised, and I must simply get on and play it.

I took the long length of cloth which it had been decided should be used for the gag and took it behind her. "Open," I said, and pulled the cloth into her mouth. I crossed the ends at the back of her head, and brought them across the front again, settled the second turn of cloth firmly between her open teeth and tied the ends behind. Sarah worked her jaw and head once or twice, but she resisted any temptation to use her hands.

As she twisted her head up I had sight of her eyes for the first time that morning, and that gave me a hint of how excited she was. They were twinkling bright, and the colour in her cheeks was high too. They belied the quiet resignation affected by the hanging head and averted eyes the penitent had presented me with up to that moment.

Perhaps that was the reassurance I needed. Anyway, it gave me a newly businesslike air.

"Keep your hands behind your back and hold your chin up," I instructed her with a new severity. I unbuttoned the top of her mac. She was already streaming with sweat. I pushed the two sensors into place and poked the trailing wires down her left sleeve, then buttoned her up.

I tried to keep my voice controlled, but it was increasingly difficult as the big moment approached.

"OK," I said, "you can get into position."

In her painstaking way she had already marked the wood where her behind would come when her wrists were correctly positioned for the rings. Now, carefully but without hesitation, she put a foot on either side of the post and sat on the marked spot, using her hands to keep the skirt of her mac from rucking. Then she lowered her back till she lay flat, and stretched out her arms along the cross beam.

She performed these movements with practised accuracy - but once she had got into position and tried to lie still, I could see she was shaking. As I began to bind her right wrist I saw I was shaking myself! It made me get the rope wrong the first time, but I knew we had time to spare. I fixed the left wrist neatly at the first attempt, then slipped a band over the wire as it came out of the sleeve and secured the connections to the cross.

Before fiddling with the electronics I fixed her ankles. There was no need for anything special with them, since they weren't to carry any weight. In fact, roping them was really quite unnecessary. To move her legs Sarah would have to take her toes off the footrest, and I couldn't see her tempted to do that.

Still, "Regulations", I knew, were Regulations, and I did as I had been instructed, running a short rope first round each ankle - protected by the boots of course - and then back to the ring.

I stood up. She was ready.

The moment, which both of us had been preparing for these long weeks, she from one perspective and I from another, was almost upon us. I could see that it meant a great deal to her - not from her face - she was holding the back of her head motionless against the wood and staring straight up at the pulley in the vault, and the cloth across her mouth made her face rather immobile, expressionless - but from the movement of her chest, which, displayed, rather, by her uncompromising pose, was rising and falling with almost wild exaggeration.

This reminded me that I had yet to tune the monitor - made me glad indeed that I had managed to insist on having it. For if this turmoil was what the mere thought of her ordeal did to her breathing control, what would happen to her physiology when it began for real?

I glanced at my watch. Five minutes to go. I used a couple of them get a nice trace on the screen. I checked that my watch and the clock were synchronised, then crossed to the rope that looped its way lazily from the pulley up above to the cleat on the wall. I unwound it, took up the slack. I checked the position of the bottom of the cross. Sarah seemed to have got it just right, ready to pivot against the edge of the hole and tip in.

Unable to assist now with the project, she was waiting for fate to take its course - the fate, albeit, that she had herself so deliberately decreed. She lay rigidly back, seeking not to disturb the disposition of her body that the three ropes now largely prescribed, her eyes open but fixed on the vault.

Her breathing she had not been able to discipline.

Her chest was heaving as mightily as before - and what I now saw was that the thin cotton of her mackintosh, tightly belted and buttoned over this seething maelstrom, would certainly not withstand the extra strain that would come in a moment or two when her weight, carried solely by her outstretched wrists, would be dragging her down, sharpening the angle between her arms and the wooden upright.

"I'm loosening your belt," I told her. "Or your mac

will tear. I'll tighten it when you're in position."

This broke her studied detachment. She strained her head up and shook it left and right in an effort I think to forbid such a gross departure from the prescribed procedure, but roped more or less immobile as she was, silenced as she was, virtually expressionless as she was, her powers of protest were not considerable.

I just went ahead, loosening the belt, which she had fixed really tight, by six holes.

Then back to the wall. The time had come.

I wound the rope round my hand and began to pull.

It pulled easily - there was gearage in the pulley and without my feeling very responsible for it, the wooden structure with its peculiar human attachment slowly tilted.

I just kept pulling.

The degree of tilt just kept increasing.

Then the base caught on the edge of the hole, as was intended, and from that point on progress was less steady. The wood stuck and scraped, stuck and scraped as the heavy structure located itself in the unyielding stone.

For Sarah this meant a jolting introduction to the full traction of the torture. With every lurch, a further increment of her weight was transferred to her wrists, her back slipped against the wood; her feet sank towards the footrest.

A few more feet of rope passed through my hands. Now as the discomfort mounted, her toes were straining for the shelf below them.

Suddenly, with a final shudder, the base dropped the last six inches. The jolt, quite a severe one, displaced her toes from the footrest they had just found, and, with the post now quite vertical, Sarah swung for a moment from her wrists.

I could only suppose this to have been the moment of truth. At any rate, this was the point at which she broke her rigid pose, twisting her head down, and then up to the left, and then to the right - and uttering such a cry as was by no means smothered by the gag. Her feet lost no time at all in re-establishing themselves on the rest, the rubber just behind the toes creasing so very sharply, as she fought desperately to ease her suddenly outraged arms.

I wound the rope on the cleat out of the way, then, with my part essentially done, sat awkwardly in the chair. Sarah had not stopped making noises. When I looked directly at her, which I found myself surprisingly loathe to do, she was looking straight at me and jerking her head. she was attempting to tell me something, I imagined. That she had had enough? It couldn't be that, I thought, or if it was, she wouldn't thank me for taking any notice. I would keep my eyes on the monitor, and if it gave me an excuse or, actually, I thought, even if it didn't - I would let her down as soon as a face-saving interval had elapsed.

As I reached for the glass to fulfill my final ritual obligation, the mewling she was making made me look at her pinioned figure again - and I noticed the loose belt. Was that what was exercising her? It could be. The tightness of the penitential belt was sure to be covered in the Regulations, and maybe - or was this really unthinkable? - maybe even in the sudden dizzying swirl of insupportable discomfort that those first moments of suspension must have represented she still had room for worries of that sort.

Anyway, I went over and pulled the belt tight, much tighter round her diminished waist than it had been originally. The thin material was safe from ripping once the loosened belt had allowed it to ride up to accommodate the high spread-eagle of her arms.

Close to, it was obvious that the impact of those first moments of penance had been enough to induce a drenching sweat. It was running in rivulets where the skin of her forehead and temples and highly-coloured cheeks was uncovered, bedraggling the cotton swathed round her mouth, and her mackintosh, clinging everywhere, was already pungent with the warmth and wet enveloping her straining body. Just before, I had found her expressionless, on account of the gag. But by creasing her eyes fiercely shut, and wrenched her brows together, she now achieved the expression of desperate discomfort.

As I stood back though she opened her eyes to stare at me, and then, when she had caught my eyes, she transferred her gaze to the table by the chair - and then, when she had caught my eyes, she transferred her head. Again her stare concentrated on the table - again a vigorous shake of the head. What was it now? - The drink, of course. The "libation". I had not yet taken of the cup.

I went over and sipped it down - just a cheap sherry wine, I thought, reminiscent of Sam on a Sunday morning.

With that done, Sarah apparently felt free to concentrate on what gravity and those short pieces of rope were doing to her muscles and nerves. Her eyes snapped shut, her head twisted up, and the noise that was forcing itself past the cotton binding took on a tone of even greater distress.

In a moment though the eyes were open again, searching for mine and expressing what seemed more and more like insupportable suffering. The gag wasn't serving its purpose at all. It took me only a few moments of this desperate, urgent, pleading, agonised look of hers to realise that regulations or no regulations I was going to have to bring this project to an end. My sadism, lively in my imagination, had been completely doused by the reality of this girl I knew, Sarah, hanging there, in front of my eyes, in obvious and extreme distress. It was beginning to make me feel ill.

I went over to loosen her gag, so she could respond when I told her what I was going to do. My legs felt distinctly wobbly, and it took me a moment or two to get the cotton strip undone. My head was beginning to feel funny too.

"For Christ's sake!" she screamed, as soon as I had freed it sufficiently for her to get her tongue in action, "Get me down! Quick!" She was clearly shouting this with great urgency, but it somehow sounded distant and somehow not very much to do with me.

"The drink! It was drugged! It'll put you to sleep! Get me down before it works' For Christ's sake!"

I heard these things, and in a way understood them, but they didn't seem to be of much concern to me. At this point my legs must have given way and I left the scene of Sarah's penance: for a number of hours.

When I came to, nothing had changed, except the shouting had stopped.

I don't know what the drug was, but it left me with no sense of the passage of time. Later I discovered I had been slumped there below Sarah's feet for 9 hours and thirty two minutes: an impressively accurate dose. she was hanging there unmoving in the silence, her hands white and limp beyond where the ropes circled her wrists, her head slumped down between her shoulders, chin on her right breast. Her hair hung in ropes. Her penitential robe was sodden, the rubberised fabric smothering her thighs and waist and chest. Huge circles of dark centred on the underarm eyelets, where the sweat had escaped from the mackintosh embrace.

With a shock I discovered that in the still silence her eyes were open! She looked down the length of her body, past the boots still perched on the rest, and into, or rather through, my own eyes. Involuntarily I glanced over to the monitor screen - I must have been suddenly very wide awake - and the slightness of the flicker I saw there galvanised me into action.

I pulled the steps over, got to her right wrist and released the knot. Thank God it came undone with a single pull. she then swung towards me at a crazy angle, held, of course not only by the other wrist but by the rope round her ankles too. I saw it would be disastrous to have her crashing to the ground with her ankles caught three feet up, so I jumped down and freed them first. Then she was dangling from a single wrist. I pulled her so she would collapse onto me, and then tugged the wrist rose undone.

She folded over my shoulder like a tablecloth.

1 staggered upstairs with her draped over me and slipped her onto the bed. She lay exactly where gravity left her. Even her eyelids lacked the power of movement, and she stared out unblinking from the depths of her ordeal.

The arrangements had been of course exactly as she had intended, give or take an hour. She had known she would not be capable, once the torture had actually been applied, of enduring it voluntarily, that in the face of the devastating agony in arms and chest and belly for which crucifixion was famous her resolution would fail: so she had arranged for someone else to bind and release her. She had also realised that this person would be humanly incapable of ignoring the desperately eloquent imploring that would undoubtedly be wrung from her as the torment developed: so she had insisted on the gag.

And she had seen, though I guessed rather at the last minute, that no gag would conceal her suffering completely, and that I was not be relied on to sit back and ignore the unequivocal manifestations of distress that her body, in spite of the gag - and the ropes, and every ounce of mental determination - could not be stopped from displaying. Hence the drug.

I had to insist to myself, as I peeled off her mac and pulled the duvet over her now-stiffening body, that there had been no "disaster".

When she had screamed in the awfulness of those first revelatory moments of suspension for me to release her, and I fell back unconscious before I could do so, there had been no "failure", no appalling lucklessness of timing. She had planned it that way - engineered the execution of her rational will; the circumvention of the "emotional" reaction she knew would usurp control if she didn't take steps in advance to render it impotent. Those searing hours she had endured, the merciless and ineluctable physical destruction devised by ingenious Roman sadism for those held in most contempt, this, I had to remember, was no more than the sentence she had soberly passed upon herself.

It turned out that Sarah had done herself no lasting damage. I stayed with her until she got back enough strength to insist on me leaving, and we slipped back over the next weeks into our old pattern. Those extraordinary nine-and-a-half hours were never alluded to, except in my asking early on with calculated vagueness "how she was," and in the embarrassment with which this gentlest of sallies was received. And, I suppose, in the fact that, as before, she was inseparable from her (cleaned and crisper-than-ever) white mac.

Until, that is, three months and five days after I had drawn that duvet over her drained and motionless body, when out of the blue she asked me - we were sitting on the bed just as we had done when she broached that first bizarre project of hers - whether I thought that when you had done wrong you should be punished for it.

I was beginning a careful reply when she cut me short. "I do," she said. "It puts things right." And then, into the silence: "Frank, do you know anything about "the Wooden Horse"?"

I knew what was starting, but I could see no way of stopping or even deflecting it. "No," was all I could muster.

"It's a punishment," she whispered. "Especially for women. You sit astride this plank thing with your legs up and your hands tied, so all your weight is carried by your ... Oh well, down there. A real lesson, apparently-”

A pause. I could think of nothing to fill it.

She went on, "I- I've .... I've got all the stuff..."

Pause.

“I could do it myself, of course - it's quite straightforward really, but ...." Her voice trailed off. Her request, an earnest, importunate appeal, was left to be posed by her eyes.

Should I have been embarrassed? Or disappointed? Or frightened? Or bored?

I was not.

It was a thrill that I felt: physical, strong, unmistakable, and irresistible.

I didn't want it to, didn't like myself as it did, but the thought of Sarah bound and helpless and, yes, suffering again ran through me like a flash-fire. And as I had none of her ingenuity in protecting myself from the emotional reaction of the moment, the new project was born. Those nine-and-a-half hours had not changed her, and, to my astonishment, they had not changed me either.

I offered desultory opposition for half an hour, but before the evening was out my collaboration was committed.

Sarah changed into her beloved mackintosh and we were on our way downstairs.

END


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