- PAGE NINETEEN -
FEATURED STORY 005
FICTION SECTION ARCHIVE PAGE
- HOME PAGE -
A PRIVATE EXHIBITION
- Arrival -
The gallery took up the entire ground floor of the converted storehouse in one of the posh areas of the redeveloped dock lands. Bright light spilled through the extensive windows cut into the old brick facade and peering inside, she could see throngs of exquisitely dressed people swirling around the big room, forming stationary vertices in front of the paintings and slow eddies around the sculptures. The muted sounds of laughter and lively conversation filtered onto the street, interspersed with the cool riffs of a jazz trio valiantly fighting to make itself heard through the din.
She checked her reflection in the side window of a parked sports car one last time then walked up to the entrance. The eyes of the uniformed security guard lit appreciatively when she entered the lighted area in front of the massive portal; his unabashed stare making her blush self-consciously. With an abrupt gesture she passed him the invitation and began a deliberate study of the intricate relief on the metal door. He scanned the document perfunctorily, then with a small bow handed it back to her.
“You are eagerly expected, Miss Liddell.”
The deep, cultured tones of the guard’s voice surprised her as much as the unexpected statement and made her look at him questioningly. He only smiled enigmatically at her, whispered some words into a microphone camouflaged in the lapel of his jacket, and opened the door. Instantly the noise level redoubled. She stepped through the entrance into the waiting arms of a liveried attendant who, after a brief skirmish, succeeded in separating her from her well-worn coat. He vanished with his prize, to add it to his hoard, leaving her behind in her plain black gown. Another attendant, balancing a tablet, cruised by and forced a glass of straw pale wine upon her. She decided to leave the conspicuous neighbourhood of the entrance and drifted into the room, mixing with the other guests. Occasional glances came her way, lingered for a moment to tally her net worth, and, after coming to an apparently unfavourable conclusion, slid off. In these rarefied circles, her simple clothing marked her as an outsider and pariah.
Inevitably, she arrived in front of a painting. At first glance, it showed a spherical composition of translucent, intersecting golden planes that somehow appeared to float free of a dark brown background, but after a while, when the eye had picked out more details, the planes seemed to coalesce into a multitude of vaguely humanoid shapes, strangely contorted and intertwined, evoking a subtly erotic sensation. She looked at the catalogue excerpt pinned next to the painting. Apparently, it was an early work, non-descriptively entitled “Protuberances”. The attached price tag made her eyes water.
The music stopped and a sudden hush spread through the exhibition hall. Near the big freight elevator at the hall’s rear a knot of people was rapidly forming around a tall man with long, dramatically silver hair who now stood in the centre of the commotion. He was dressed conservatively in a black suit, an extravagant, silver belt buckle echoing his hair’s colour; the only concession to his image as eccentric artist. Involuntarily, her heart started a faster beat and the palms of her hands turned moist. With an effort, she wrenched her attention away from the figure and retreated to the opposite end of the room, against the forming, general drift. Once there, she consciously drew several deep breaths to bring her reaction under control, then, remembering her glass of wine, emptied it in one big swallow, barely tasting the excellent vintage. She valiantly refused the urge to stare at him again, instead concentrating on the works displayed in this part of the room.
They were large-sized paintings from a more recent period. One she instantly recognized: an image that had piqued her interest in his art in the first place, and the reason she had taken up the course he taught at university. Almost against her will she became engrossed once more, as had happened so many times in the past already.
Painstakingly executed in an almost minimalist style, it depicted a young woman, her naked body suspended by chains connecting her limbs to the edges of a triangular arch formed by two massive wooden beams angled toward each other. The scene was shown from the perspective of someone standing almost below the high arch and looking straight up into the woman’s lowered face. There was a bright halo around her head as though it eclipsed the midday sun; however, what could be seen of the sky was a midnight blue inconsistent with this assumption. Her features were hard to make out due to the brilliant nimbus, but somehow an expression of deep serenity was conveyed.
'What would it really feel like to be the woman in the painting?'
She was so lost in her reverie that she only became aware of his presence at her side when he spoke.
“Your devotion to the study of my art is commendable. However, everyone else has abandoned it for more carnal pleasures, I’m afraid. The buffet has opened.”
Startled, she looked up quickly. His ironic expression did not soften the devastating impact his smile had upon her and she quickly lowered her head when she felt her face heating. Disconcerted by her reaction, she brusquely gestured at the painting.
“Your works always seem to revolve around carnal pleasures as well, admittedly those of a darker nature. In your lectures, you never tire of stressing how important the motive of Eros has been throughout the development of art. So why begrudge your admirers their simple joys?”
“And why should you defend them, since you don’t seem to share their proclivities? Or is it that your appetite for this different kind of carnal pleasures just happens to be more poignant?”
“Man shall not live by bread alone.” She piously countered his teasing.
“Indeed.” He chuckled. “However, I was about to ask if you’d care to join me for a private dinner?”
“Oh! I’d love to accept, but wouldn’t it be unfair of me to deprive your other guests of the privilege of your presence?”
“Believe me, that’s a ‘privilege’ they can dispense with quite well. Most of the men are here because their investment consultants advised them to come. They can’t help wondering how much the market value for my works might rise if only I had the good grace to pass away soon, so they seem to consider it a personal affront that I’m actually younger than most of them. Constantly answering veiled inquiries regarding the state of my health makes conversing with them a tad too tedious for my jaded tastes. Anyway, the situation’s actually worse with the women. Attending my party is more than sufficient to satisfy their taste for scandal, and actually talking to me would have to be considered an act of outright frivolity.”
“So you were forced to invite one of your humble students to keep you company at the opening night of your first exhibition in your very own gallery. I suppose I should feel honoured, Professor Lewis?”
“Please, don’t call me that. It’s Stephen. Actually, it’s been my pleasure to invite you, because, unlikely as it seems, I enjoy talking to you, Joanna. It’s gratifying to learn that at least one of my students listens to what I have to say during my lectures, instead of just speculating about the truth behind the latest rumours regarding my private life.”
Fantasizing about just these rumours had occupied a large part of her waking time. She blushed again but he had the good grace not to notice her embarrassment and continued.
“I’d also like to extend our association for a little longer than just tonight, for I need to discuss some plans concerning my latest project with you.” His dark eyes searched her face intently, his meaning clearly more significant than his words indicated.
She felt her pulse racing, for this was the moment she had dreamt about and dreaded simultaneously, ever since the time she had got up the nerve to approach him after one of his lectures. Unsure whether she could trust her voice, she acquiesced with a wordless nod.
Stephen relieved her of the empty glass and beckoned an attendant who had been unobtrusively hovering nearby to approach.
“Please see to it we aren’t disturbed.”
- A Most Unusual Dinner -
He took her hand, and, setting a brisk pace, led her towards the elevator. Quite a few pairs of eyes followed their rapid passage, and she felt their curious stares burning into her back, so was glad when he did’t bother calling the lift, but opened the door next to it instead. In the staircase beyond, he drew her up one flight of stairs before unlocking the door giving access to the next floor, then gestured for her to precede him into the dark room. She hesitantly complied and the solid clunk of the door closing behind them, cutting off the noise from the ongoing party, sent a shiver down her spine. It was as if she had suddenly entered another world.
After the brightness of the gallery and staircase, her eyes needed a moment to adjust. Unexpectedly, she found herself in a spacious pantry, dimly illuminated by the light falling through the open doorway to the adjacent room. A mostly-filled wine rack took up one entire side of the room with the other dedicated to a massive refrigerator and rows of shelves filled with all kinds of provisions. He took her hand again and led her through the doorway into the next room which turned out to be a large, well-appointed kitchen-cum-dining room. For the first time in her life Joanna saw a cooking island outside of a furniture store’s exhibition. The dining table had been set for two.
“Please take a seat. Dinner will be ready in a minute.”
“Thank you!” She delicately lowered herself onto one of the severe-looking chairs, which, despite its straight, high back, turned out to be surprisingly comfortable.
He captured her wrist, and bowing gallantly, touched his lips to the back of her hand. When he straightened, he pulled a pair of gleaming handcuffs from his pocket and looked at her questioningly.
“Do you mind?”
Her pulse spiked again.
'My flight reflexes really get taxed to the limit this evening!'
The wry thought bolstered her confidence, and ignoring her hammering heart, she graciously offered him her hands.
“Not at all. I was taught to respect the indigenous customs, even if they appeared somewhat strange. Please go ahead.”
Stephen moved behind her and brought her arms close together around the back of the chair, gently twisting them until her palms faced outward. Slowly, almost sensually he ratcheted the heavy cuffs closed around her wrists to a tight, but not uncomfortable fit. When he released her arms, she compulsively tried to slip her hands out of the uncompromising embrace of the cuffs; immediately establishing the hopelessness of her efforts. She was not even able turn her wrists within their close confines!
To her own surprise, as the realization of her helplessness sank in, instead of panicking she felt an accepting calm come over her and a dreamy smile spread across her face. She could not deny she was turned-on by the whole situation.
“I hope your precautions don’t reflect the quality of your cooking. Anyway, how will I be able to eat, with my hands bound like this?”
“It looks like I’ll have to feed you. And don’t worry; it’s never been necessary to force-feed my guests yet. Not to say that the thought of thus stuffing your clever mouth is without appeal.”
The accompanying grin robbed his words of the sting they otherwise might have held and although she did not really agree, she wisely choose to swallow the barbed retort that came to the tip of her tongue. Content with having the last word for once, her host departed for the kitchen area and busied himself with the simmering pots and pans, soon causing delicious aromas to waft through into the dining area.
Craning her neck, Joanna watched with interest while he readied the first set of plates. Satisfied with the artistic arrangement of the ingredients at last, he brought the fruits of his labours over for her inspection.
“Voila! Our first course: Rochette salad with shaved Parmesan and pear.” He announced grandly.
“That sounds promising.”
“Just wait until you taste it.”
“It seems you’re leaving me no other option.”
“Ah, indeed. However, let’s toast to our future collaboration first, Joanna. It may seem a little premature, but it’s been a very auspicious start, and I hope the evening will continue in the same way.”
Stephen held a glass against her lips with his left hand, slowly tilting it until the dark red wine it held threatened to spill past her mouth and over her chin. Perforce she took a generous swallow, while he took a much more sensible sip from his own glass, savouring its rich body appreciatively.
He set down the glasses and reached for the cutlery.
“Let the feast begin!”
- Secret Lives -
An hour later, Joanna leaned back as far as her chair would permit and sighed contentedly. Although her helplessness and the somewhat uncomfortable configuration of her bound arms had bothered her at first, she felt completely at ease now, if somewhat replete and just a tad tipsy. The food had been excellent and she feared she had overindulged herself; certainly disabusing her host of the notion that she was the dainty eater her slight frame and slender figure suggested. With a regretful head shake she indicated that she did not want yet another pastry from the plate Stephen held before her.
“I’ve had enough. One more of those and I shall burst.”
She unsuccessfully tried to stifle a giggle when, unbidden, the memory of a notorious movie scene resurfaced, graphically detailing just such an event. Joanna hated it when she giggled, fearing it made her sound like a little school girl, rather than the sophisticated young woman she actually was. Or fancied to be., she corrected herself, thinking back to how often she had already felt out of her depth during the course of this remarkable evening.
He raised his eyebrow, silently inquiring about the cause for her exhilaration and she shook her head again.
He shrugged and put the pastries away.
“I assume that the dinner met with your approval?” he smiled, “I’d hate to think you ate only to pre-empt me from force-feeding you.”
“You needn’t worry. It’s been delicious. And thank you for feeding me. I could get used to that, you know?”
“Maybe you will. Let’s get down to business. I have a proposal for you Joanna. But before I go into the details, let me explain to you what I’ve been really up to in recent years.”
Stephen had her full attention now; her earlier drowsiness replaced by a state of anxious expectation and not a little apprehension.
“About three years ago, I had a creative crisis. I felt I had grown stale in my work, beginning to repeat myself. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I’d exhausted the possibilities that canvas and bronze offer for artistic expression and needed a new challenge, so decided to change the material I work with. For the last three years my raw material has been the human body ... female ones, to be precise.”
He paused, watching for the impact his words had on her. Obviously quite a profound one, judging from Joanna’s wide-eyed expression, vividly reminding him of the proverbial deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. He continued smoothly in a matter-of-fact voice, as if discussing the weather.
“As is obvious from my art, I’ve been interested in the darker aspects of human sexuality for a long time now. More specifically, the intricate ties between Eros and power, as revealed in the interplay between sadism and masochism, dominance and submission, have come to fascinate me. Over these last years I’ve explored those inter-relationships with brave women who are not afraid to break the stifling mould of their middle-class existence. Women who are driven by the same urge to explore ... driven by the necessity to bring their inner truth to its fullest realization and have it revealed to themselves as well as others, by becoming what they’ve in their inner gestalt always been: a living work of art.”
He looked her straight in the eye before continuing.
“I believe you can be one of them.”
His calm assertion caused a multitude of conflicting impulses to race through her. The images his words conjured in her mind resonated with a deeply-rooted aspect of her personality that had lain dormant for the longest time, but had gradually come to dominate her dreams and fantasies in the past year or so. Other, more familiar parts of her were alarmed and terrified by these same images.
“What do you mean? What did you do to these women?”
“Unfortunately, what I mean is not easy to explain in words. Let me show you instead.”
Not waiting for an answer, he again moved behind her. Joanna raised her arms as far as their awkward configuration allowed, expecting to be released at last, but instead, he took hold of her by her armpits and effortlessly lifted her from the chair, setting her down on her feet next to it. With a strange mixture of apprehension and relief she concluded that, apparently, Stephen had no intention of giving her the option to decline his invitation. Her assumption was further substantiated when he pulled another item out of another of his surprisingly deep pockets: this one turning out to be a leather collar with a light but sturdy looking chain attached. She stood motionless while he fastened the collar around her throat, readily tilting her head forward when he lifted her long, black tresses out of the way to close its buckle at the nape of her neck. Each touch of his cool hands, each breath caressing the flushed skin of her bared nape seemed to send an electrical discharge through her, further rousing the fire that simmered in her loins.
As with the cuffs, he tightened the collar to a snug but not uncomfortable fit, then grasped the chain cascading down her front and exerted a gentle pull.
- Deeper Into Privacy -
She followed him through the pantry to the elevator and watched him punch the call button with trance-like detachment. The doors opened immediately for obviously the cabin had been waiting for them. They entered and ascended to the top floor.
The high-ceilinged room they arrived in was probably even bigger than the pantry and kitchen below put together. At first glance it appeared to be an ordinary, if exceedingly well-equipped workshop with crates stacked along the inner wall, further on giving way to storage cabinets and shelves where all kinds of neatly laid-out tools vied for space with cans of paint and stacks of brushes. Most of the floor was taken up by workbenches and bulky machinery, that, judging from its sleek lines and attached computer terminals, would do a dedicated machine shop proud. However, totally out of place in such an environment was a massive, clinical looking, rubber and steel contraption resembling a gynaecological chair; this sitting incongruously amongst all the other equipment. It gave the whole ensemble a deeply sinister note that became even more pronounced when she noticed the numerous, strategically-mounted straps that would make it quite impossible for the chair’s occupant to move a muscle, let alone escape its confines.
Luckily, Joanna had no time to dwell excessively on the likely applications of the chair that made these precautions necessary for the insistent pull on her collar urged her on to the far end of the room where she had to wait for her host to open a massive metal door. This led into a wide and quite long, windowless passageway, blocked at the far end by another door identical to the one they had just passed through. Both side walls were hung with close-packed photographs and paintings, with the occasional bronze sculpture on a pedestal interspersed at irregular intervals.
Stephen stopped in front of the first picture; a large black and white portrait of a nude woman. She was a quite stunning blonde, standing upright in front of the camera with a cool, self-assured expression, as if daring the viewer to comment on her nakedness.
“I met Susan about two years ago. At the time she had just finished her degree in History of Art and worked as an unpaid trainee for some art magazine. She wanted to do an interview with me, but in the end it was me interviewing her. It turned out we had a lot in common.”
He smiled, as if recalling a fond memory. Meanwhile, Joanna experienced an unfamiliar emotion she reluctantly identified as jealousy.
“However, I convinced her to stay on as my model and muse, and together we embarked on a venture whose stations you will see documented here.” He gestured at the pictures covering the corridor’s walls. Following his hand movement, she turned her head and studied the photograph on the opposite wall. It showed Susan kneeling in front of Stephen, head lowered with arms held before her in supplication, ready to receive a collar very much like the one Joanna was wearing now.
'Was this woman’s history a preview of her own fate, should she give in to her deepest desires?'
The thought electrified Joanna, breaking the spell of detached compliancy that had enthralled her since the collar had been fastened around her neck. A wave of sexually-tinged excitement urged her onward to find out what thrilling future lay ahead, if she was to follow the example of her newly-revealed soul-mate. She took a few quick steps until her leash snapped tight and stopped her short.
“Not so fast.” Stephen chuckled and began reeling her in like a fish on the hook. Smiling, she put up a token resistance to his irresistible pull and when she ended up standing close to him again, she was flushed and breathing hard from more than just exertion.
Perforce, she made her way down the corridor at a much more sedate pace with Stephen leading the way and pointing out particularly momentous events in his and Susan’s quest to create the perfect slave. It was a mind-blowing journey into a fantasy she had thought no one would dare to bring to life.
“She wanted to wear a visible mark of her slavery. I was happy to comply.”
He indicated a framed drawing of a deceptively complex pattern which she recognized after a while as a highly-stylised ‘S’. Apparently, it was the draft for the two inch high, black tattoo on her left thigh that a proud looking Susan now presented to the camera in the accompanying photograph.
“It’s very pretty.” Joanna’s voice held a wistful note that was not lost on Stephen.
“I designed it especially for Susan as a present. For you, I’ll do a new design.”
His confident assumption that she would agree to have a slave’s mark tattooed on her unblemished skin sparked a flash of anger, but her protest died stillborn when the simultaneous spike of irrefutable arousal forced her to accept that he was probably correct. The realisation came as a shock and she quickly distracted herself by wondering how much such a tattoo would be worth to an art collector. Before she could expand on her fantasy of being auctioned off at Sotheby’s someday, a tug on her collar interrupted the daydream and they progressed further along the corridor, past numerous pictures that showed Susan in various states of bondage.
At first she was restrained with rope, or leather straps, but later, heavy shackles made from shiny metal became predominant. What did not change though was the character of the bondage she had to endure: everything looked extremely tight, the arduous positions requiring a gymnast’s flexibility from her body, and more often than not, Susan’s plight was aggravated by large-sized gags or even hoods encasing her entire head. Despite their blatant nature, the depicted scenes seemed utterly familiar to Joanna; obviously they had inspired or been inspired by the paintings that had fascinated her for so long.
- An Incredible Array -
Stephen stopped in front of another large-sized portrait, this depicting an uncharacteristically anxious looking Susan.
“Here, I have replaced her first collar with a permanent, steel one.”
The photo showed an obviously custom-fitted, shiny metal band, snugly encircling Susan’s slender neck: equipped with substantial rings at the front, sides and back, leaving no doubt as to its purpose0 From behind a chain looped down from the collar. leading off into the background.
“What do you mean by permanent?” Joanna asked, not sure if she wanted to hear the answer.
“Permanent ... as in forever. It has no lock. Now that it has been fastened around Susan’s neck it cannot be removed. I designed the mechanism myself to make utterly sure of that. Of course, one could try to cut the collar off, but I seriously doubt the wearer would enjoy the experience.”
With the significance of the heavy machinery they had passed on their way finally dawning on her, Joanna had no doubt at all about the accuracy of his claim. Unconcerned by her shocked expression, Stephen continued in the same level voice.
“I also fitted her wrists and ankles with cuffs of the same type ... i.e. they are quite permanently affixed. There is little likelihood they can be cut off, either. They make keeping her restrained so much more convenient.”
Joanna’s mouth went dry. An undercurrent of terror crept into her arousal, perversely making it all the more poignant. Unbidden, the fantasy of having the same thing done to her rose within her, stoking the fire in her loins. She experienced a feeling akin to vertigo and desperately tried to get her balance back.
“I can’t believe that Susan agreed to all this!”
“But she did, both beforehand and after the fact. I could prod her along for a while, nudge her over a particular hurdle, but that only went so far. In the end, she had to go all the way on her own. See for yourself.”
He gestured for her to precede him to the next picture, staying back to give her the space to study it on her own. In the photograph, a chain-leashed Susan had turned her back to the viewer, showing the sturdy links leading upward and off to the side from the back ring of her steel collar. What was the centre of interest in the photograph was that the camera peered over her blurred left shoulder, focusing on her face’s reflection in the small mirror she held in her right hand. Her expressive eyes were wide open and brimmed with unshed tears, staring horrified at the barbarous device adorning her straight nose. It took Joanna a while to interpret what she was seeing.
“That, too, is a permanent fixture.” he stated quietly.
A sturdy steel rod had been run completely through Susan’s nose, transfixing both wings and her septum. Over its outer ends, the arms of a massive, slightly-bellied, U-shaped shackle had been clamped so that the lower third of her nose was outlined in gleaming metal. The shackle’s apex was level with her upper lip and within its confines Joanna spotted a second, smaller U; this one emerging from high up within Susan’s nostrils, obviously also anchored by the nose-piercing shaft.
'Hard to believe that she endured this of her own volition! Unthinkable that she herself would ever put up with being disfigured in such a manner!'
Yet, even as Joanna shied away from the thought intellectually, her body’s contrary response betrayed her. This was when the backlash set in: a delayed reaction to the emotional strain she had been subjected to in the course of this remarkable night. Terrified by the newly-awakened sexual drives that threatened to consume her, Joanna retreated as far as her leash allowed, straining in mindless panic against the chains that held her captive.
Suddenly, there was a hard yank on her leash and she stumbled forward into the waiting arms of Stephen. He hugged her frantically squirming body tight and murmuring soothing words into her ear, waited patiently for her struggles to subside. When she regained her composure at last, Joanna raised her tear-streaked face to meet his sympathetic, knowing eyes. Her inner turmoil dwindled away under his rock-steady regard and all of a sudden, Joanna no longer felt restrained by his unrelenting embrace, but secure and protected. Likewise, the cuffs and collar she had fought like mad only moments before, no longer seemed to bind her, but instead to deliver her from an agonizing, inner conflict. The last tension left her body and she snuggled against him, closing her eyes and offering him her lips for a kiss, but to her dismay he let go of her instead.
She nodded silently and looked away, ashamed by her display of hysterics. Stephen continued, a faint trace of disappointment colouring his voice.
“It’s been an eventful evening. Perhaps I’ve asked too much of you, too fast. Would you prefer to go home?”
“No, I’m fine now.” she whispered.
“It won’t get any prettier, I’m afraid. Susan and I have come a long way together.”
“Please, I want to see this through. I need to.”
“As you wish!”
- Permanent, Punitive Jewellery -
They resumed their tour down the corridor.
Stephen took up his role as guide again and provided her with explanations and additional information not readily apparent from the photos alone, while Joanna tried to see beyond his plain words, imagining what consequences they’d entailed for Susan. With respect to the pictures, she found herself focusing most of her attention on Susan’s expressions, hunting for an insight into the soul of this brave woman to whom she felt so akin; one who had chosen to follow such an extraordinary path.
“Her nose shackles come in very handy to control her occasional impetuosity. You probably didn’t notice it, but there are grommets in the holes so that her flesh won’t tear, even under substantial stress.”
To illustrate his point, Stephen called her attention to a photo that showed a very unhappy looking Susan, balancing on the tip of her toes, her lithe body stretched tight by a spring-mounted chain connecting her nose to the ceiling.
“Fortunately, Susan i’s a very resilient woman and all of her piercings healed without any complications. After the initial success with her nose rings there was, of course, no question that she was to be pierced and ringed in other places as well. At first, she hated each of these additions to her body with a passion, but since she had to concede their usefulness, our arrangement left her no choice but to consent. Eventually she became reconciled to her new look and I’m glad to report she’s quite fond of her ‘jewellery’ now.”
The following sets of prints would have looked right at home hanging in a piercing salon, to advertise its operator’s astonishing prowess, were it not for the model’s manifest unwillingness to undergo the depicted procedures. Taking Stephen’s disdain for merely decorative jewellery and evident preference for industrial strength, utilitarian, albeit elegant designs into account, Joanna was not in the least surprised to see Susan shunning the role of contented client.
While the massive U-shackles in her eyeleted earlobes and their slightly smaller twins at the tips of her ears might be considered a bold fashion statement, the array of tiny, steel-rimmed holes dotting her flesh, a few millimetres above and below her upper and lower lips was a lot harder to explain. Especially when they were employed - as shown in one picture - to lace Susan’s mouth shut. The large metal grommet through the tip of her tongue paled in comparison to this bizarre, nonetheless strangely erotic sight, Joanna concluded with an involuntary shudder. However, this last item seemed to complete the inventory of additions to Susan’s head, since the subsequent photos documented even further extensive modifications to the rest of her body.
Large diameter, surgical steel tubes had been run horizontally through the firm flesh of her breasts, their flared ends inseparably fused flush with the outer rim of the wide nipple shields they anchored in place. Except for an opening at their apexes, each shiny hemispherical cone covered not only her aureole, but also a centimetre wide stripe of skin around them. Susan’s large nipples had been pulled through the shield's small diameter apertures and secured in this awkwardly-tensioned state by rings of greater diameter that had been pierced vertically through their bases. Adding insult to injury, the steel tubes through her flesh also played host to the shafts of substantial, freely swinging U-shackles! The entire, mechanical assembly at the tip of each of her breasts reminded a thoroughly-appalled Joanna of miniature door knockers. Stephen helpfully provided her with further details she would rather not have been privy to.
“There’s more to her breast restraints than meets the eye, Joanna. For example, there are a number of grooves around the edges of the nipple shields’ central openings. Why? Simple - this way, when I twist her nipple rings, the grooves will arrest them in this position. Quite unpleasant, I’ve been given to understand! I’ve also created spacers I can use to stretch her nipples even further. These are basically small washers with a slot to accommodate the nipple ring. They’re grooved like the shields and moreover strongly magnetic, so they can easily be mounted or stacked together. The system’s simple but has proven to be very effective.”
Joanna sucked in her breath in a sympathetic reaction, trying to imagine what Susan must experience when she was thus ‘modified’ even further. Attempting to stem the flow of unsettling revelations, she turned away and feigned interest in another picture. However, she was granted no respite, for only new horrors were unveiled.
The next image showed Susan strapped tightly into the chair-like contraption they had passed earlier and Susan’s eyes were pressed tightly shut, tears trickling down her cheeks. Her legs were splayed wide to grant the viewer unrestricted access to her private parts; these festooned with a glittering array of metal. Stephen’s relentless explanations robbed Joanna of any chance to shy away from what she was seeing.
“Piercings turned out to be the solution for another problem as well, for they finally provided me with a reliable means to control her sexuality. We experimented with conventional chastity belts, but Susan had become quite proficient at circumventing those. There’s little she can’t accomplish when sufficiently motivated.”
With the last sentence, a hint of true affection crept into his until now carefully neutral voice. Despite herself and all she had seen so far, Joanna suffered another pang of jealousy. She stole a quick glance at Stephen and was surprised to see an expression bittersweet melancholy on his face. A moment later, he deliberately smoothed his features and took up his lecture again.
“It’s entirely plausible that males are evolutionary primed to strive for control of their females’ sexuality, trying to ensure they actually are the biological fathers of the children they’re supposed to help bring up. Consequently, patriarchal societies tend to invent all kinds of often unsavoury means to this end, generally disguised as sacred traditions commanded by divine revelation.
“I prefer to avoid such delusions. However, since sexual slavery is what this is all about, it was crucial to establish control over Susan as a sexual being as well - to be able to grant, or to withhold pleasure at will. I’m happy to say I succeeded.”
Being confronted with the results, Joanna was not sure whether she really preferred Stephen’s sophisticated sadism over the institutionalised brutality of primitive, patriarchal societies, although she had to concede that he at least did not practice his art on unwilling parties.
“As you can see here, I inserted metal grommets into her labia; seven on each side. They form the basic matrix to which Susan’s vaginal dilation device is mounted.”
The picture he indicated showed a contrivance looking like the distant cousin of a miniature bear trap, with each of its jaws replaced by a double set of closely-spaced, concentric, slightly-curved metal bows. At both ends, the flexible, spring steel curves of the jaws were joined together in what appeared to be intricate hinges
“Now, her labia have been clamped between the inner and outer brackets of the dilator’s jaws and permanently secured to them by cross bolts through the grommets. The jaws can be locked open or closed at any angle; so I can either distend her sex or close it up completely, as I feel is required. The outer bows also provide anchoring points for additional hardware, such as the crotch piece of a chastity belt that cannot be escaped or removed without the highly-specialized keys.”
Stephen pointed out a snapshot of a crestfallen Susan contemplating the obviously impenetrable nature of shiny new steel briefs, these concealing the inner horrors of the tormenting guardian locked onto her body. Clearly, she was not particularly enthused by Stephen’s taste in lingerie.
“While this took care of her vagina, there remained her clitoris to consider. This I had earlier pierced crosswise and equipped with another U-shackle. Next, I fitted a small metal cap over it that is held in place by the shackle’s shaft. Again quite simple, but very effective.”
During his extensive explanations, they had strolled further along the corridor and the pictures she passed reminded Joanna more and more of the murals found in some Christian churches, these used to bring biblical stories of suffering and transfiguration home to the illiterate masses. She could not help wondering what kind of Golgotha waited for her behind the door at the passageway’s end, looming larger with every step she took.
'Would there be any kind of resurrection for her from behind it?'
She would soon find out, since Stephen took the lead again, striding towards it and firmly dragging on her leash.
The final stretch of corridor was sparsely decorated with only a scattering of detailed drawings, but this time without any photos accompanying them. "Blueprints for the future evolution of Susan’s slavery?" Joanna hypothesised, but she had little opportunity to verify her theory by more than superficial glances.
One drawing had Susan’s head surrounded by a complicated network of broad, interlocking steel straps that closely conformed to its contours and were, apparently, anchored directly into her flesh and perhaps the underlying bone. In another, her head had been replaced by a metal ellipsoid, unblemished except for an assortment of ports and sockets located in front of where her mouth and nose should be. With her head locked into the contraption, poor Susan would not be able to see or hear.
- Susan’s Secret Sanctuary -
Finally, they reached the end of the passageway where Stephen took an electronic key card from one of his jacket’s pockets and inserted it into an unobtrusive slot in the massive frame. With soft clicks, the hidden locks disengaged and the vault-like door swung out of their way to reveal an obviously spacious, but windowless room, bisected by a wall of tightly-spaced bars to the right of the entrance.
Joanna was instantly reminded of a prison and it was an entirely apt association, as she immediately discovered when - reluctantly yielding to Stephen’s insistent pull on her leash - she crossed the small distance separating the door from the barred wall and was able to peer through its spacing. Deliberately taking a quick look around the cell first, she confirmed the existence of a cot, a metal washbasin and toilet before she let her attention be drawn to the tear-shaped form dangling in mid-air beyond the barred wall, in the cell’s centre.
Everything Joanna had seen so far had still not prepared her adequately for the sight she was now confronted with. Illuminated dramatically from above by a powerful beam of light from a single spot light situated in one corner of the room, a tall tripod formed by converging steel girders dominated the room. From its apex a glittering chain descended to about the level of her head, where, swinging gently back and forth at the end, was the contorted, naked, sweaty body of a woman.
Joanna instantly recognized the blonde beauty from the pictures she had seen before, although Susan’s current plight left her too dumbstruck to sort it out all at once. Susan’s legs had been bent upward past her arms and shoulders until her ankles could be crossed behind her head and shackled in this position, then, her arms had been forced around her thighs to go behind her back. There, a scant length of chain, mercilessly also fed through the back ring of her collar, joining her manacled wrists together. Thus locked in her awkward posture, Susan had been hoisted by her ankles; however, her tormentor, obviously not satisfied with her predicament, had found ways to increase her suffering even further.
A light chain was strung between her exposed genitals and her face. At one end, it was locked to the shackle transfixing her armoured clitoris, then it had been fed through the eyelet in her drawn-out tongue before being fastened off to the outer shackle framing Susan’s nose. Apart from rendering her effectively speechless, it forced her head down until she had little choice but to stare along its tight length at her own gaping sex, held wide open by the horrific vaginal dilator. Amid the jumble of Susan’s intertwined torso and limbs, Joanna espied more chains; one pair leading from each breast shackle to the opposite-side earlobe and another pair connecting her tensioned nipple rings to her clitoris also. Hence, each or any tiny head shake of protest was translated into painful tugs at her most sensitive parts. Susan was effectively discouraged from moving her head at all, ensuring that her uncomfortably close, yet forever unreachable genitals enjoyed her undivided attention.
Despite her humiliating and excruciating posture, Susan’s expression was tranquil; almost serene, betraying no sign of the pain and discomfiture she was most certainly experiencing. Her bright, dark eyes darted to her visitors, and apparently unfazed by her own exposed condition, she blatantly sized up the disconcerted Joanna before meeting her eyes with a challenging stare. It was not Susan but Joanna who blushed and had to look away first.
“As you must know, appearances can be deceiving, Joanna. What you’re witnessing is a very proud moment for Susan. This represents her graduation, her rite of passage if you will.”
- A Happy Destiny -
This time Stephen did not even try to hide his emotion but his voice held a decidedly wistful note as he continued.
“I consider her to be, without doubt, my finest artistic achievement so far. I’d like to call her my creation, but in reality, what I did amounts only to cutting a raw diamond. We’ve covered a tremendous distance together, for with Susan I got farther than with any woman I’ve known before, but our common way has come to an end at last. I’ve found a new owner for her, or rather, she found him, or they found each other: fate, providence, whatever you wish to call it. The fact is, they’re madly in love with each other and by the way, you’ve met him already. Eric’s doubling as security guard tonight. It seems I’m about to loose both my slave and able assistant, but stand to gain two close friends in exchange.”
Joanna tried to bend her stunned mind around these new, utterly unexpected revelations.
“You’re setting her free? Just like that?”
“No, of course not. I’m a commercially successful artist, remember? Actually, I’m selling her to Eric and she won’t come cheap either. However, in this case, most of the money will go to Susan and she’s the one who fixed the price. I’m taking only a very modest percentage as a ‘commission’.”
Noting her incredulous expression, Stephen sighed wearily.
“Whatever you may think, I’m not a jealous man. On the contrary, I almost feel sorry for Eric, since I’m not sure he’ll be a match for her. The ordeals dear Susan had to endure as my slave have taught her to tap into an enormous reservoir of inner strength. By now, she’s like damascene steel. She just won’t break. And she’s absolutely fearless, too. I also know from experience that Susan can be headstrong, intractable and quite demanding at times. I only hope she’ll cut poor Eric some slack.”
Looking at the systematically-enslaved, permanently-pierced, inescapably bound and humiliatingly-displayed woman dangling helplessly from the ceiling of her own private and secret prison cell, Joanna felt hard pressed to stifle a sardonic laugh at the preposterous reversal of roles that Stephen’s words implied. But then, she remembered the expression in Susan’s eyes, and was not so sure that his sympathy was in fact wasted on the wrong party. There was no question that Susan’s ostensible submission alone constituted an almost irresistible erotic allure and, combined with her natural beauty, she exuded a sexual magnetism that affected even Joanna.
'What kind of power could a determined slave wield with such a weapon at her command?'
Stephen’s voice intruded before her fantasies could blossom any further.
“So now that you know what I’ve been up to these last years, what do you think?”
Although Joanna had been expecting a question like this, she nevertheless felt ill-prepared when it finally came, and so tried to prevaricate.
“Do you mean from an artistic point of view? Your work’s definitely pushing the boundaries of art in an unexpected direction. Very ori...”
An irritated tug on her leash put an ungentle end to her desperate babble. Obviously, Stephen felt not inclined to indulge her intended diversion. Instead, his inscrutable dark eyes searched hers and held them.
“I understand you’re probably little overwhelmed Joanna, so let me put this as bluntly as possible. I plan to embark on another journey of erotic exploration like the one I undertook with Susan and you’re by far the most promising candidate. You’re intelligent, inquisitive and quite beautiful, with a rarely found kind of unconscious grace. You’re alternately audacious and endearingly shy; at times insufferably impudent and then suddenly vulnerable again. In short, you’re utterly fascinating and I want you. Yes, I want you. I want to own you, to form you, to break and remake you until your true inner gestalt lies bare for everyone to see and admire.”
To Joanna, his words felt like lightning bolts unerringly aimed at the awakening slave that had dwelt unacknowledged within her mind all of her life; laying low until she was finally ready to succumb. They pierced her to the core, throwing her unresolved inner conflict into stark relief.
'He wanted her! But was she ready to pay the price?' However, Stephen had not finished yet.
“I know you’re unsettled by the dark fantasies and dangerous desires I have presented to you and that taken hold of you; invalidating your lifelong conceits of who you are, Joanna. However, let me tell you, in the final analysis there is no denying who you really are.
"I sense an enormous potential in you that I want to help you realize. No doubt, right now you feel intimidated by Susan’s example, but consider that what you see is the culmination of her own life-long fantasies. On a journey like this, the course cannot be set in advance, but has to be decided day by day.
" Believe me, in the process, you’ll discover that you’re a lot tougher and braver than you consider possible now. Susan had her own reasons to join my quest and she has attained her goal at last. With you, I believe the quest might be open-ended and proceed even further than Susan has. And, I want to keep you for myself.”
- The Opportunity -
Stephen pulled two more items out of an apparently depth-less pocket and held them up for Joanna’s inspection. One was a large, pear-shaped object resting in a nest of leather straps which she knew to be a fiendishly efficient gag; the other was a tiny, silver key.
“In my left hand I have the key to your handcuffs and by extension, the key to your freedom. In my right I hold a gag; again, by extension, a token of your slavery. Left or right, what will it be, Joanna? Choose!”
Stephen’s uncompromising command reverberated through her, jolting her stunned mind out of its paralysis and she blinked as if roused from a particularly vivid dream. The key to her freedom! It glinted in the overhead light, beckoning her to use it, to break the spell binding her in this wild, dark, dangerous place and return to the familiar world she had grown up in and knew the rules of: the world of packed trains, traffic jams and tiny apartments, of row houses with tidy front gardens and double garages, if you were really lucky. A world where money was the universal and only standard by which everyone and everything was measured. The lack of which was the root of all evil, as her late parents had maintained - they now tragically detained from continuing its relentless pursuit by their early deaths in a senseless accident.
Joanna glanced through the bars at the bizarrely twisted and suspended figure of Susan, dangling in her cell and suffering through her rite of passage.
'Did she really want to follow the path of this woman? Had the same seemingly uncontrollable compulsions led Susan to this culmination point of her submission? Had she rued her choice? Many times, certainly!'
The pictures in the corridor had spoken a clear language. Nevertheless, Susan’s demeanour left no doubt in Joanna’s mind that she would do it all again if that was demanded of her.
'Why? What was in it for her? What was the point of it?'
For herself, Joanna had already chased this particular question down almost every other track of human endeavour and come up empty time after time. At least here she had found something that called out to the innermost parts of her personality, these having lain dormant for the longest time, but now rousing with a vengeance; poised to consume all that she had been before. For the first time in her adult memory she felt the urge to relinquish control and become part of something bigger than herself.
She almost spoke the word that would have condemned her forever to the existence of a slave. Almost. But then, her lifelong habit of distrusting her own impulses kicked in. All her adult life, Joanna had been wary of her emotions; never allowing them free reign and always reviewing them with her analytical mind. Instinctively she had known about her dark side all the time, although she had until recently denied its existence, even to herself. What Stephen had presented her with was by no means a trivial choice, but a decision that would shape the balance of her life, and it therefore warranted careful consideration.
'But what kind of existence could she look forward to as a pierced and shackled freak, indelibly marked slave and always held imprisoned ? She had barely tasted life yet! It was all entirely ridiculous!'
Clearly, there was no sound reason to do what Stephen had asked of her, yet she felt so tired of always acting sane. She stole a glance at Susan again; an incredible exhibit of the appalling consequences, should she allow herself to enter the same role. Nonetheless, even though Joanna told herself again and again over the last minutes how abhorrent Susan’s condition was, her own body was at odds with her conscious mind.
She was undeniably aroused and becoming more so by the minute. Trying to calm down, Joanna forced herself to breathe slowly and focus her attention, until her whole world contracted to just the pair of hands in front of her and the choice they symbolized. Despite all efforts, her fatal arousal only deepened, causing her heart to pound and her insides to become warm and wet. Incredulous, she identified the first stirring of a powerful orgasm inexorably building within her and groaned helplessly.
Stephen’s left hand slowly closed around the gleaming key and began to withdraw. It took Joanna a moment to register what she saw, and when she did, her heart skipped a beat then a wave of panic crashed over her.
“No! Left! I choose the left hand! I want to be free!”
The retreating hand wavered for long seconds; then reversed its course. Joanna released her held breath in a long sigh and began to weep quietly. Contrary to what she had thought, she did not feel relieved in any way after her emotional ordeal, only tired and numb. Stephen did not say anything for the longest time, but watched her intently, his face an inscrutable mask hiding his deep disappointment. When he spoke at last, his voice was carefully neutral, tinged only with the faintest hint of regret.
“I understand. You aren’t ready yet, but I’ll wait for you.”
- Epilogue -
Joanna stared tiredly at the screen of her computer, trying in vain to make sense of what she had written in the past few hours. Her article might just find her editor’s approval, for it was quite incomprehensible through the use of a highly specialised jargon creatively assigning new meanings to common terms and sufficiently vague to allow for a multitude of different interpretations. She sighed. Although her studies had enabled her to write for an elitist, but (in her considered opinion deservedly so) obscure art journal, they failed at providing her with a steady income.
Since her graduation she had moved from one temporary position to the next, at most earning a pittance, a boon especially the more renowned institutions sometimes dispensed with altogether on the basis that working for them was amply recompensed by the honour and the opportunity to build a reputation for oneself. Maybe she should really have gone to med school as her late parents had wanted, or married some nice, rich guy and given up on this “art thing” of hers once and for all. However, the latter plan had already fallen through several times, although not for lack of opportunity.
Her relationships with men tended to be very short, in recent times not even surviving the inception phase, due to the lamentable fact that she became bored even before her suitor had the chance to provide proof of his depressing usualness. She had also delved into the SM scene for a while, but was quickly dissuaded by the hollow pomposity of its kingpins.
The ringing of the phone intruded into her glum thoughts, interrupting before they could complete their familiar course and return to the one pivotal moment that might have given her life a new direction.
“Hi Joanna, it’s me, Adrian.”
“Hi Adrian. Listen, the article would already be done if you’d kindly refrain from pestering me about it every five minutes.” She did not bother to keep the exasperation she felt out of her voice.
“Forget the article. Something important has come up. Guess who’s just agreed to do an interview?”
“Please Joanna, this is serious! The enigmatic Stephen Lewis has called to congratulate us on one of our recent articles and said he’d like to discuss some of its implications with you personally.”
Joanna felt her heart skip a beat. Although almost two years had passed since her encounter with him she still had nightmares about it, and occasionally, also a pleasant dream, she had to admit. About every other night lately and very pleasurable ones, if she was to be completely honest.
“Stephen Lewis?” She repeated numbly.
“Yep! The reclusive master himself.” Adrian lowered his voice conspiratorially. “If you ask me, he’s not so great an artist at all, at best thoroughly commercial. There’s no truly revolutionary spark recognisable in his so-called art. He’s just another interchangeable representative of the system’s structural oppression of true …”
Joanna wisely interrupted, before Adrian could launch himself further into one of his dreaded monologues.
“Was he by chance referring to my article where I interpreted some of his recent artistic endeavours in terms of a psycho-pathologic condition manifesting itself? The one you didn’t want to print for fear of a libel suit?”
Adrian switched to his most persuasive voice.
“Well, yes. However, regardless of what you or I may think of him, the guy’s popular and the interview with him could be big for us. This may be the break we’ve all been working so hard for. And don’t forget, being the one to interview Lewis can do wonders for your reputation, too. Considering your article, I wondered why he wanted you of all people to do the interview, but he specifically said he’d only do it if you are available. So! Are you ready to do it?”
Joanna had the distinct feeling that the interview had the potential to do wonders for more than just her reputation. Her heart hammered in her chest. She’d wanted to provoke a reaction with her article and it seemed that she’d succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. She had not been ready for Stephen’s proposal then, but was she ready now? All of the incredible sights that had etched themselves into her memory came back, plunging her into the by now familiar maelstrom of dread and desire, and for the first time in what felt like years, she was fully awake. It was as if her whole life since her last encounter with Stephen had been nothing but a particularly dull dream and with this realisation, a deep calm came over her, for once stilling all the quarrelling voices in her head. Now fully aware of the consequences and embracing all of their implications she gave her true answer at last.
“Yes, I’m ready.”
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