When the Warden left Laura looked over her shoulder to watch him walk away, then turned back away from the bars and faced their room. He had just released them from their restraints, reaching through the bars of their cell to remove the handcuffs and leg chains. Cathy was already sitting down against the far wall. To one side were toilet facilities, bare floor on the other. Laura’s hand went to the collar around her neck first. It wasn’t heavy or uncomfortable, but she could feel it resting on the back of her neck and above her collarbone. She pulled on the sides but it didn’t open. Exploring with her fingers she could feel some type of keyhole in back. There was enough space to put her fingers between throat and the band, but not nearly enough to slip it off. There was no mirror so she couldn’t see what it looked like, but judging from the one Cathy wore it wasn’t unattractive. There was something etched into the side but she couldn’t make out what it was from touch alone.
Maybe she couldn’t see the collar, but she could see what they had put around her waist. The waistband had the bright mirror polished look of chrome steel. With her fingers she could tell it was edged with some type of rubbery material. The inside of the waist band was padded with foam. In the front was a metal plate with a circular lock, the kind she had seen on candy vending machines. It appeared to hold the belt together, both the waistband and the lower section. It was that lower section that Laura concentrated on. Roughly triangular, it fit snugly against her body. It was slightly rounded to better accommodate her natural curves. It narrowed at the lower point between her thighs, before it continued around behind her as a bar, attached to the rear of the belt. In back was a circular cutout. In front the shield portion had a narrow slit, too small for her fingers.
At least she could use the toilet, but it would be difficult. She ran her hand over the front first then tested the sides. “Don’t do that,” Cathy warned, “it won’t do any good but if you get caught then they put you in something that’s guaranteed tamper-proof. And very unpleasant to wear.” Laura looked up as Cathy spoke, jerking her hand away from the belt. Laura turned back to the cell door, trying to look down the hallway through the bars.
“We aren’t supposed to do that either. Unless told otherwise, we are supposed to keep at least an arm’s length back from the door at all times.” Cathy patted the floor next to her. “C’mon over and join me on our luxurious living room couch.”
With some difficulty due to the unfamiliar constraints of the belt Laura managed to sit down, but couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. “You’ll get used to it,” Cathy advised, “try sitting slightly to one side.” That helped and Laura was able to relax, joining Cathy in leaning against the wall.
“Why all this?” Laura questioned. “Why the prison, the chains, locking us in these things? What’s the point? What am I supposed to learn from it?” She was still in a state of bewildered shock. So much had happened so quickly she hadn’t had time to think. And why did it happen to me, Laura asked herself.
“I can’t answer those questions Laura. I think I understand a little of it, but I can’t explain how the dominant mind thinks or justifies their actions. I can’t make my brain work that way. It’s true I went through this once before, but what I learned had more to do with admitting who I am, not the methods they used to open my eyes. The people here are not sadistic. They aren’t doing it for the sole reason of seeing us suffer. It all has some kind of purpose.”
“But what kind of purpose?” Laura argued. “This is degrading. Forced to strip, locked in handcuffs, kept in little more than a cage, even a collar for god’s sake, and then to put us in these things,” Laura pointed to her belt. “It’s like we are nothing but sex objects. No, not even that, our sex has been taken away too. And always follow the rules, jump through the hoops like trained animals.” The more she thought about it the angrier she got. “No one has the right to do this to me. I’m no criminal. I didn’t break any laws. And even if I have, crooks get better treatment than this.”
Reaction setting in, Cathy thought to herself, I need to get her talking about something else. “What did you do to wind up here? Are you married, a boyfriend?” Cathy actually knew the answer, from the little Robert had told her, but she needed Laura to say it.
“My husband, Frank. Up to tonight he’s been great, a real dream come true.” Laura told Cathy about the party and the fight, how she had stormed out, then wound up trapped in the elevator, and finally the parting scene with him as she was taken away. As Laura talked, the tone in her voice became calmer.
“Tell me about Frank. What’s he like? Do you get along well?” Cathy could see it was working. The signs of anxiety were fading when Laura was distracted by talking about herself.
“We’ve been married just over a year. Frank was everything I could want. Good looking, smart, successful, funny, charming, all the things you look for. He gives me lots of attention and actually listens to what I say, at least most of the time. He keeps his promises and handles all the problems.
“One time, we came home and the roof had leaked over the bedroom. There was water everywhere. I got so upset and started crying, but he sat me down in the living room and told me not to worry about it. The next few days he got the roof fixed, replaced the carpet, got us a new mattress and bedding, and handled all the paperwork for the insurance. A week later you couldn’t even tell what had happened. He does things like that for me all the time.”
Laura paused for a moment, thinking about Frank. She still couldn’t understand why he had done this to her. He had never even raised his voice to her, much less given her any indication he would do something as drastic as sending her to this place. He was always so patient, no matter what he had to deal with. But tonight a very different side of Frank had appeared, one she had not suspected.
“Why did you walk out on a man like that?” Cathy knew it was a leading question. She had done the same thing once before, which had landed her in the Center the first time.
“He wanted me to go to this party, for some friend of his. I was tired and didn’t want to go, but he insisted. Truth is, I would have gone if he had said it was important, but he didn’t tell me that. It was the way he acted, like my going was a foregone conclusion. I don’t know, maybe I was tired and irritable, but I got so mad I walked out the door. I was going to teach him a lesson not to take me for granted.” As she talked to Cathy, her description started to sound childish and silly.
He doesn’t ignore me, Laura thought. He asks what I think about everything. Even the dull stuff, like the insurance, their investments, he always took the time to make sure she understood it. Laura didn’t really care about most of it; she trusted his judgment. But his decision to send her to this place she did not comprehend at all.
Their conversation was interrupted by sounds from the corridor. Cathy immediately knelt facing the door. Laura was slower but copied Cathy’s position, concentrating on what Cathy had told her. The same Warden who had brought them to the room earlier had returned, this time with a cart. Before speaking he took a moment to observe them through the bars. Laura felt nervous as his silent gaze took the two women in. From the way Cathy acted there was no question that the proper presentation was essential.
“After you finish your meal you will be allowed to sleep.” He slid two covered plates through a slot cut out from the bars at the bottom of the door. Two cups followed. “You are required to eat the entire meal. When I return I will bring you some bedding. You have permission to eat after I leave.” Abruptly he turned and walked away, pushing the cart.
Laura started to get up but halted when she saw Cathy still in position. Not until they heard another door open and close out in the corridor did Cathy stand up. “You have to be careful about relaxing too soon,” she warned Laura. “If he comes right back you won’t be ready. It’s better to wait and listen.” Laura nodded, realizing she still had a lot to learn about surviving in the secure area.
Cathy picked up one of the plates, unwrapped it, selected one of the beverage cups and went back to her spot against the wall. Laura followed and sat down next to her, balancing the plate in her lap. The dinner was a warm roast beef sandwich and some salad greens. The cup held iced tea.
Laura hadn’t realized how hungry she was till the aroma of the food reminded her. The taste was plain but the added spice of an appetite made it a welcome meal. While they ate she asked Cathy about her reason for being at the Center. Cathy hesitated for a moment before answering.
“I’m not allowed to talk about the last time here, but my master decided I should return because of an attitude problem. He thinks I have a quick temper and a sharp tongue to match, something he doesn’t approve of, so I’m here to learn about self-control. I didn’t even know about it until just before that van stopped to pick me up. He didn’t give me any warning, but as my master he can send me here anytime he thinks it’s necessary. I can’t say no to him; he really does own me. It may not be legal, but I can’t stop him. Truth is, he may be right about my attitude. In any case, here I am. I know I won’t get out until he’s satisfied so I have to do the best I can.
“I don’t like being here Laura, and anyone who tells you differently is lying. It’s a miserable place, intentionally so, they don’t want you to get comfortable. It’s unpleasant for a reason, to get all of us motivated to get out of here. No TV, no radio, no phone, nothing to read, it keeps you focused on the lessons. But I do know everyone who goes through the Center comes out better for it.” Cathy stopped to take a bite of her sandwich.
“But why am I here? Frank is my husband, but I don’t call him master. I’m his wife, not his property. What right does he have to send me here?”
She doesn’t know about domination and submission, Cathy realized. “Laura, let me ask you a bit about your marriage before I answer that question. Do you have what might be called a traditional marriage? He is the breadwinner, you take care of him and the house, that type of setup?” Laura nodded in agreement. “Do you like it that way, where each of you has a specific role?”
“Oh yes, I don’t want to be in charge. I love how he naturally takes over, how he always seems to know what to do. I know it’s supposed to be equal and sharing and all that, but it’s not for me. When he looks at me, telling me in that low, quiet but oh so confident voice exactly what he wants me to do, well, it’s like my head empties out and all I can think of are his words. And when he looks pleased afterwards, it makes me feel so good I can’t help myself.”
Cathy nodded. It was a typical story. “You gave him the right to send you here Laura. Not a legal right, in fact you could probably have him arrested for kidnapping and false imprisonment. But you gave him the moral right to run your life, and that’s what he’s doing now. You put him in charge, the dominant role, and chose the submissive role for yourself. You’ve just discovered how serious he is about his part in your relationship.”
Laura was quick to argue. “I didn’t tell him he could send me to jail! I obey him because I love him, not because I’m afraid of what he might do. Sure, it’s important to me that I be a good wife and see to it we have a nice home. In time we’ll have a family too, and I want to be able to stay home to raise our future children. But being a good wife doesn’t include something like this.” She waved a hand around their room.
Cathy sighed; it was going to be a long night. “You are wrong Laura. I want all the same things you do. But I do not decide what my husband can or cannot do. I trust him. Period. Do I want to be here? No. Am I mad he sent me here? You bet. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except what I’m told, so I can get back to him as soon as I can.”
Laura opened her mouth to respond, but Cathy stopped her with an upraised hand. “I can guess what you’re going to say. But think Laura, you can’t have it both ways. Either he decides for you or he doesn’t. You don’t get to pick and choose. Remember the vow, for better or for worse? Welcome to the for worse part.”
Laura lost her argument with those words. She remembered the ceremony, how she had quietly asked the minister to use the older version of the wedding vows, the one that included the now politically incorrect “and obey” phrase. Frank had raised an eyebrow on hearing it but never mentioned it again. It was all too obvious he had not forgotten it though. Those had not been empty words. It was a promise she had kept till now. I can’t stop either, she realized. Cathy is right, I’ve had a very good life up to now, so if the time has come to pay the toll then so be it.
The First Day
The Teacher stood in front of Laura and Cathy. “Since the two of you can’t attend classes yet, I’ve been given the assignment to tutor you both. You will address me as Miss Jennifer and I will be your only assigned instructor for the quarantine period. Learn what I teach you, and you will be able to leave this place. If you choose to ignore the information we present to you, then be prepared for an extended stay here, for I promise you this. You will not leave until you demonstrate to everyone’s satisfaction that the circumstances that brought you here will not be repeated. Everyone, not only your master but the staff here at the Center too.
“Your visit with us can be tolerable or a nightmare. The choice is up to you. Cooperate, obey the rules, study the lessons, think about what you are taught, and you will progress. Assume the wrong attitude and steps will be taken to correct it. You don’t want that to happen.’
Laura knelt on a cushion next to Cathy. Their lesson had begun shortly after breakfast. One of the Wardens had brought the Teacher and two cushions to their cell. Cathy had talked about the classes over their food earlier, stressing how important it was to pay attention. Laura was still angry at being abducted but looked at her situation realistically. Her first inclination had been to adopt some kind of passive resistance, but Cathy’s warnings worried her. Even the Teacher’s lecture carried only veiled threats, but something in Cathy’s demeanor told Laura it wasn’t a bluff.
The lecture went on, covering specific rules they must follow and what they had to avoid. Laura listened, but in the back of her mind a new question had arisen. Was Frank her master? Did he literally own her? Everyone here had referred to him as such, but at home they had never used such terms. Before she had met him the answer would have been clearly a no, but the question didn’t seem so simple now. The problem was something inside her found the idea appealing. She couldn’t deny those times he acted aggressively, she felt compelled to comply with whatever he asked.
“At home your master may not demand you kneel before him, or address him as sir.” Laura’s attention turned back to the Teacher’s lecture. “That’s fine, at home you do as he requests. But here you will kneel, and you will show your respect for the Wardens by calling them sir. This is not the outside world; there is a different protocol to follow here. This is a closed world of absolutes. We are the submissives, we yield control of our lives to the ones who dominate us. Here there are no adjustments for public sensibilities. Everyone knows who, and what, you are. Any doubts or uncertainties are swept away by the simple fact of this collar around our necks.” Jennifer put a hand on her own collar. “Here you can no more deny your nature than you can take this off. See this as an opportunity, the chance to finally free yourself from all your inhibitions. Don’t fight what’s inside your head. You won’t win; I won’t let you, this place won’t let you.
“We’ll stop for a moment. You may stand, walk around, and talk quietly. I’ll answer questions within allowed guidelines.” Jennifer finished and gestured for them to stand. “Please, relax, I’m not your adversary. My assignment to teach here is coming to an end. My master allowed me to stay on a few more days until you are moved in with everyone else. You won’t be seeing me once that happens.”
“Why the quarantine?” Cathy asked. “The last time I wasn’t isolated.”
“You’ve been here before? This whole quarantine procedure is new. Seven months ago someone showed up with the flu, but her symptoms weren’t obvious the first day. In an enclosed environment like this it spread rapidly. We had to have mass inoculations to stop it. The procedures were changed to add an observation period instead of relying on a quick visual examination. The school is still adjusting to the change. I don’t mind too much though. I had to delay my departure a few days, but my master asked me to do it. You know how it is, not like I’m going to say no.” Jennifer smiled and shrugged.
Laura felt a short pang of envy. She wanted to be the one leaving. While Cathy and Jennifer talked she walked around their small cell, stretching her sore legs. She noticed how both the other women seemed to be indifferent to their condition. For her own part Laura was constantly distracted by the weight of the collar around her throat and the press of the chastity belt against her body. The slow circulation of the air touching her skin accentuated her lack of clothes. Even the slightest movement brought a reminder that she was not in control of her surroundings or even her own body.
To Laura it appeared that being a Teacher did not carry too many special privileges. Jennifer was dressed, or undressed, in the same manner as Cathy and herself, wearing only a collar and belt. Nothing indicated her status. It seemed the only way she would recognize a Teacher is by how they were introduced. How did they get used to this, she wondered, how can they stand there chatting away as if they had met at the mall?
“Laura? Please resume your position. We will continue.” Jennifer gestured to Laura’s cushion. Cathy was already kneeling. Laura rejoined them, lowering herself on the cushion as she had been taught. “Eyes front, no talking. I will allow questions later. For now you listen.” Jennifer’s tone had shifted, becoming more assertive. She might not be their adversary, but Laura had no doubt the Teacher was once again in charge.
“We’ve gone over the basic rules that govern your stay here, now we’ll talk about why those policies exist,” Jennifer began her next lecture. “Foremost, we need structure, boundaries, we need to know what’s right and wrong. At home we each have a master to lay out a personalized set of rules. Here it’s one size fits all. Even I have to abide by the same restrictions as the two of you.
“The organization that built and now operates the Center is composed of men who have definite ideas about how we as women should behave. You may or may not agree with them but while you are here you will make every effort to see that you live up to the code of conduct they have imposed on us. You will not be given a choice. I know it doesn’t sound fair. No one asked you if you wanted to come here, or if you agreed to all this. The man who owns you, whatever you call him, agreed for you when he sent you here. Maybe you didn’t know it at the time, but you attached yourself to a man who doesn’t hesitate to act when he deems it necessary. He is not pleased with your behavior and has taken steps to see you change for the better. You must now adjust to his expectations. It may not be reasonable from your point of view, but there is no other option.”
Laura was taken aback at the forcefulness of her words. It brought up her own internal confrontation, her desire to please Frank, to do whatever it took to make him happy and find her attractive. Against that was the conditioning that said she had to be strong and independent, that no man should run her life or make decisions for her without her approval. None of her friends had ever said anything remotely similar to Jennifer’s speech. The concept that a man had the right to simply dictate how she should conduct herself would have been absurd. Yet her relationship with Frank had turned out to be precisely that. Before today she had never looked at their marriage from the outside, but applying Jennifer’s description she had to admit that Frank did dominate her life, and she willingly accepted it. No, sought it out, Laura told herself. I deliberately looked for someone strong and decisive. It’s what I wanted, the structure and boundaries he sets.
Jennifer turned to Laura, almost sensing the inner turmoil. “Laura, you don’t have to hold back anymore. All of the women here think like you do. The men in our lives are our masters, they own us, body and mind, and we are proud of it. Here you don’t have to follow the politically correct party line. When you say that word, master, everyone knows what you mean and who it is. No one will laugh at you, or criticize you for being dependent and submissive. In here those are virtues, not weaknesses. You are with your peer group now, among men and women who respect you for your devotion and obedience.”
Laura looked from Jennifer to Cathy, who nodded in silent agreement. It didn’t seem possible. Her friends from college had gone on to pursue careers while she had chosen to marry Frank and be a housewife. She was happy with her choice but sometimes wondered if she had done the right thing. The times she had met her old friends the conversation always seemed to revolve around how little time they had for themselves and how difficult it was to find the right guy. Though she had thought she would be out of place, it had proven to be just the opposite; she had everything they were still striving for. Some of her friends were openly envious of her life and joked about trading places. Laura had never elaborated on her own private life, how she felt about Frank and how he dominated their relationship. Now she was being told that what she had tried to hide from her friends was acceptable and openly discussed, even encouraged.
Laura turned back to Jennifer as she continued speaking. “Let’s start with this”, she reached up to the collar around her neck. “Why are we required to wear one? Why can’t we take them off? It is a badge of possession, a sign to the world that we belong to our masters and a constant reminder to us individually of who and what we are. We cannot ignore it, we cannot remove it; it is always there. His hand is always on us, holding us, pulling us toward him. Just as we cannot escape from the collar, so we cannot avoid his power to control us. When we see it reflected in a mirror, or feel the weight resting on our skin, we cannot help but respond, moving ever deeper into submission.”
Laura was surprised that she had reached up with one hand to touch the band of metal around her own throat. Jennifer was right; its presence did affect her mentally. It instilled a feeling of ownership that was hard to ignore. She was compelled to be pleasing, to be obedient, and not to resist when the guards ordered her to do something.
Cathy spoke up when Jennifer paused. “I hate it when my collar is removed. The times I have it on it’s like he is touching me. It’s a way for him to lay claim to me. When he places it around my neck, and I hear the lock snap shut, I know he wants me. Enough to never let me go. When I have it on I can’t say no to him, the word won’t come out. This collar doesn’t physically restrain me, but it does lock up my mind. I think he knows it too, because he makes me wear it most of the time, except when we are in public.”
Jennifer went on to explain to both Cathy and Laura that every woman in the school, even the staff, was required to wear a collar at all times. It was a part of the Center’s doctrine, to reinforce the roles of dominant male and submissive female, publicly and privately. She went on to show how the other rules fit in with the same philosophy.
“Look at this chastity belt,” Jennifer emphasized her point by placing her hands on her hips. Like Laura and Cathy she wore the same kind of belt of inflexible steel. “It’s obvious as to what it does, but why? Why must we wear one? Laura, you answer me first.”
Laura hadn’t expected to be called on to answer questions. Caught off guard, she had to think for a moment. “It’s like the collar, to remind us he is in control. We can’t take it off, and I sure won’t ever forget it’s there!”
Everyone laughed, and then Jennifer continued. “Yes, but that’s not what I was looking for. Cathy, what do you think?”
“I know there are a few places in the world where women wear belts like this out of necessity, because the incidence of rape is so common. Otherwise I can’t imagine anyone who would put one of these things on and hand someone else the key, at least not by choice.” Cathy paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. “I wasn’t given a choice. He told me I was going to wear one, that I could not take it off, and I did not have permission to ask him to remove it. Then he put it on me, that first time years ago. And true to his word he didn’t give me a key, or put one in a place where I could get to it.
“The first day, it was all I could think about. He didn’t allow any discussion about it. I thought it meant he didn’t trust me, maybe even that he suspected I was having an affair. That evening we went out to dinner, with the belt on under my clothes. I didn’t want to go, but he insisted. All night it felt like everyone was staring at me, as though they could see it. I was so scared someone would find out.”
Cathy ran one hand along the waistband. “I had to get it off, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I couldn’t ask, and I had no way to open it myself. Sitting in the restaurant that night, right in the middle of a bite of spaghetti, it struck me. He knew exactly what was happening, what was going through my head, but he had done it anyway. It wasn’t that he distrusted me at all. It was all about control, just as Laura said. Not just that he now controlled my ability to have sex, but that he overpowered me in a way I had not expected.
“He hadn’t told me beforehand. Bam, there I was, no time to prepare, or even tell him if I objected. He forced me to depend on him, in a most intimate way, and in a way that would have a tremendous impact on me mentally. In a matter of moments he had actually seized my body. What had always been mine now belonged to him, and there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t given it to him, he had simply taken it. Like nothing since it brought home to me the significance of being owned.
“Up to then, in my own mind at least, I had been giving to him. I granted him the power to control me. Suddenly the ground rules were different. Now he took what he wanted, when he wanted it. It wasn’t up to me to choose to give. His order not to discuss it was key; that’s what turned give into take.” Cathy put one hand on the front of the belt. “That’s why we all wear one now. It’s a symbol of control, but one of unrestricted control, a reminder that he will take if it suits him, regardless of what we might think on the matter.
“To this day, I can’t have an orgasm with this thing on. It’s some sort of psychological conditioning I guess. He got inside my head and changed me. I suppose he does the same thing in other ways, even some I don’t know about. At the time it frightened me, somehow I had gone beyond some point of no return. Over time I’ve learned that he won’t misuse his power over me, to where I now trust him without question.” Cathy finished with a smile.
Jennifer picked up as Cathy finished. “That’s what I was looking for. You were correct Laura, in that it is control, but Cathy pointed out how it differed. Any other questions about the rules here?”
Laura spoke up. “Yes, why can’t we have any clothes? If not our own, at least a uniform or something?”
Jennifer smiled while she answered. “First of all, they are men.” Both Cathy and Laura laughed as they nodded in agreement. “Aside from that, it puts us at a disadvantage, in several ways. It’s part of the strict security here. Even if you could get out, how are you going to cross the desert dressed, or rather undressed, as you are now? It forces you to accept that you can’t leave, so you have to focus on learning instead of plotting some miraculous escape.
“When you interact with the Wardens, don’t you feel self-conscious about your nudity? The rule about presenting yourself in their presence enforces it. Again, you are at a disadvantage, you have to please them by demonstrating obedience. Society has conditioned you to the necessity of wearing clothes whenever you are in public, and to a certain extent the type of clothes dictates one’s relative position in that society. Here they use it against you, depriving you of any clothes, and the status that goes with it. In your mind you can’t help but react to it, by being submissive.
“And then there is the disadvantage of being forced to depend on them for everything. You must submit to their authority out of a sheer need to survive. You have to rely on them to feed you, to take care of you, even to open the doors here. Taking away your clothes is a reminder you can’t even influence that little bit of your life. It’s a not so subtle message that you can’t be independent.”
A sound from the hallway interrupted Jennifer’s speech. The women heard the gate in the corridor being opened, a signal that a Warden was coming. Cathy and Laura looked to Jennifer, unsure as to what they were to do. She pointed to the rear wall, and both of them quickly assumed the required presentation position, kneeling next to each other while facing the door. Jennifer didn’t move but turned to face the cell door, standing with her back straight and hands crossed in front of her, eyes down, and feet slightly apart.
Footsteps, and then a Warden was at the bars of the cell, looking in. He gestured to the teacher and ordered her to the door with a curt command, “hold out your hands, in front.” Both Cathy and Laura saw Jennifer hold out her hands through a narrow slot in the bars, while the Warden locked handcuffs around her wrists. He opened the door and nodded for her to step out. After closing the door he led her away. At the sound of the corridor gate closing, both women relaxed.
Cathy sat leaning against the rear wall. After a moment Laura joined her. “What she told us, is it true? Are the men here so ruthless, deliberately forcing us go through this to make us more submissive? Is that why Frank sent me here? Is that why you are here?”
Cathy looked at Laura a moment before answering. “Ruthless? I suppose so. I told you once before, the men here are not what you encounter in the outside world. They are, hmm, determined. That’s a good way to put it. They are determined to have it their way, and will do whatever it takes to see we do it their way too.” Cathy stressed the we, meaning not only the two of them but all the women at the school. “Do they force us? Depends on how you look at it. For myself, it’s more a matter of bringing out the submissive nature that’s already inside me. It works too. Intellectually, I know what they are doing. But emotionally, I can’t help myself. Is it the reason Robert sent me here? I don’t know. I don’t really think about why he did it, except that I want to know how I can make it right again so he’ll come back for me.”
The two of them sat quietly for a few minutes, both thinking about the lesson for the day. Laura pondered Cathy’s last remark. Jennifer had offered the explanations, and now she could see how what seemed to be cruel and unnecessary conditions were in place for good reasons. Good for the men who run this place, she thought, but is it good for me? Just like Cathy the rules were working on her too. When a Warden appeared the compulsion to obey was so strong that all she could think about was earning his approval. Was it brainwashing, or as Cathy called it merely her own nature being set free?
In The Mirror
“Eyes front,” Laura heard, “concentrate on what you see in the reflection of the mirror.”
Both she and Cathy had been out of quarantine for at least a week, but keeping track of time was difficult. The schedule had been unrelenting. Get up when lights come on, eat when fed, shower and clean up when allowed, exercise when ordered, and always the lessons. So far there had been lectures or interactive sessions, like seminars. The mix of students in the classrooms changed constantly though she did see Cathy frequently. At the end of their day they were divided up, apparently at random, and taken to cells to sleep. At least there was time to relax and talk with whomever was in the group for the evening. Until the moment the lights went out, or rather dimmed. Then it was no talking and go right to sleep.
The first day it seemed impossible to tolerate. The second day was a struggle to make it through without breaking down. But Laura adapted. She still had to watch herself and try to remember what seemed to be an endless list of rules, prohibitions and requirements. What had been a conscious effort seemed to happen by habit now. Laura found herself looking forward to the daily lessons, and the quiet time afterward when they could sit and talk. There were hardships, but she shared them with everyone else. Even the teachers, who presumably were at the school voluntarily, had to keep to the same regimen as the involuntary guests. Laura suspected that in the staff area life might return to something like normal for them, but there was no way to know. Asking was forbidden, and the teachers never talked about it.
The high point of her day was being granted permission to take a shower. Not so much because the warm water felt so good but that for a few brief moments she was freed from the intimate confinement of the belt. Like the rest Laura was tempted in that short few minutes to seek relief by touching herself, but during showers the teachers were stationed everywhere and always watching. It had been made very clear on the first day that anyone making the attempt would simply lose her shower privileges. Fear outweighed desire, in Laura and the rest, for no one ever tried.
This morning had not been routine. Instead of breakfast and a shower, they had been taken directly to a long narrow room. One entire wall was covered in tiled mirrors. On the floor in front were mats. One by one they were assigned a spot and told to kneel facing the mirror. Cathy was to Laura’s right. Laura started to look questioningly, hoping Cathy could give her some idea if this was going to be a complicated lesson, but on hearing the command from one of the teachers she immediately turned to face the mirror. That was unusual, Laura thought, generally there weren’t more than one or two teachers in a class, today she could count at least five by their reflections.
“Your master works himself to death to support you. He lies awake at night worrying about you, trying to decide what’s best for you with little regard for himself. He would risk his life to protect you, and not even question the danger to himself. Every moment of the day he thinks about you, constantly reviewing everything he does, looking for things he forgot, signs you might be unhappy, making sure he lives up to his own standards about how you should be treated.” The teacher lecturing was someone Laura hadn’t seen before. From the way the other teachers seemed to defer to her it was apparent she was one of the senior staff.
“All of you are some of the most fortunate women on earth. You have found someone who is dedicated to giving you the best life he possibly can. Does he want your gratitude for all this?” The teacher’s tone was abrupt.
“No! Don’t thank him; he doesn’t want to hear it. What he wants, in very simple terms, is you. All of you, not what you see in front of you in the mirror. He desires your body, but even more he needs what is inside each of you, to take hold of your mind and spirit. He lives to possess all of you. Now, you will stare into the mirror in front of you, and you will tell him, silently, what he wants to know, that he owns you. He has an unbreakable hold on you. A hold you cannot deny, a hold you don’t want to end.”
Laura watched out of the corner of her eye as the woman walked back and forth, scrutinizing all of them. She stopped behind Cathy, staring intently at both Laura’s and Cathy’s reflection. “Eyes on yourself, girl” she admonished Laura. Cathy didn’t escape the teacher’s sharp eye either. “And you, pull those shoulders back. Make him look at you. Grab his attention, don’t take it for granted.” Cathy did, forcing her breasts out. “You were born with everything you need to catch his eye. Use it, and don’t be ashamed to flaunt it. This isn’t a stranger in front of you, so don’t hold back.”
Everyone in the line came in for some kind of criticism. The teachers patrolled back and forth behind them constantly, looking for any sign of inattention. Laura stared at her reflection, picturing Frank sitting in front of her, looking down at her kneeling at his feet. She stared at her reflection, imagining him watching her. The collar around her neck gleamed in the light. She lifted her chin slightly, thinking to draw his attention to it.
“My job,” the head teacher continued, “is to instruct all of you on how to communicate. Not with words, but in the way you present yourself to him and the world. Don’t ever underestimate his powers of observation. He sees everything. It may not make a conscious impression, not right away, but everything you say and do goes into the back of his mind. It rolls around in there, mixes together, and out of it comes his impression of how well he’s doing. What you have to do is make sure that impression is the right one.
“He has his pride. That pride comes from his image of himself, whether or not he’s living up to his own standards. He’s no sociopath, born without a conscience. He cares, about you, about your problems, and about doing a good job. He wants you, on his terms and never doubt that, but he has to know you are getting everything you want and need too. That’s why you are looking at your reflection. You have to learn to see yourself as he sees you.”
What does Frank see when he looks at me? Laura wondered to herself, does he know how much I really do love him?
Cathy knelt next to Laura, lost in her own reverie. The image in the mirror was familiar to her. Robert didn’t know it, but when she was home alone she still faced herself in the bedroom mirror doing the same thing. They had been together long enough for her to learn what he liked. She tuned out the teacher’s lecture and thought about his instructions to her.
No one must know the real reason she was here. If she was too perfect there would be suspicions. Already she had heard whispered remarks about not belonging with the rest of the group. She had to do something, but what kind of mistake would be reasonable for her? It had to be believable, but not overboard. She thought about the last time at the Center, when she had lost her temper. If they took her away then she would lose contact with Laura. But if it were so minor as to be overlooked then there would be no point.
Robert had sent her to the school on the pretense of having a bad attitude. Disobedience and backtalk, that’s how she would accomplish it. So whatever she did had to incorporate those problem areas, but in a passive way. An idea began to take shape.
As soon as the lights came on Laura woke up. She wasn’t sure of the date or time, but her internal calendar said it had been three weeks since they had been released from quarantine. She and Cathy had been separated several times, but last night had found them in the same room again, along with two others. The four of them had talked for a while before lights out the night before.
Immediately she got up and began folding the bedding. The other women were doing the same but Cathy remained in bed asleep. Concerned, Laura went over to her as soon as she was finished. “Cathy, get up! A Warden will be here any minute.” Laura shook her shoulder.
“I’m awake. Leave me alone. I don’t care who’s coming, I wanna go back to sleep.” Laura couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Cathy had been the one who always told her rules here were paramount and never to be violated. There was no sleeping in.
“Come on! You don’t have much time. You’ve got to get up.” Laura pleaded with her. She had no idea what would happen if they found Cathy still in bed but it had to be serious. She looked over at the other two women but they were already taking positions against the rear wall.
Too late she heard the corridor door open and the familiar sound of the bedding cart. Laura hesitated only a moment before joining the others against the back wall. Cathy didn’t move under her blanket. Within moments the Warden was in front of their door. At first he said nothing, only staring at the blanket and Cathy’s head. The woman with the bedding cart started to reach in but he stopped her with an outstretched hand. Laura could see her back up to stand next to the cart.
“Is there a reason you are still in bed?” he asked. Inwardly Laura cringed at the flat emotionless tone in his voice. She wanted to plead for leniency for Cathy but knew it would serve no purpose other than to get her in trouble too. She kept silent and held her position, as did the others.
“I don’t want to get up. I’m tired. Master lets me sleep in when I want.” Cathy turned away from him as she finished and pulled the blanket over her head. Laura was horrified. Was she crazy?
“I see,” was all he said in response. He gestured toward the rest of the bedding. The woman with the cart reached through the bars and picked it up. They moved to the next cell.
Laura had no opportunity to speak to Cathy. Two more Wardens came to the door almost immediately. Both looked down at Cathy but said nothing. One looked over to Laura and the others. “The three of you stand and line up in front of the door.”
The rest was the standard procedure. Each was taken out of the cell and cuffed to a long chain. Laura was the last to leave. As they were led down the corridor she looked back to see Cathy still on the floor. For the moment it appeared she was going to be ignored, but Laura didn’t believe it would last.
The day was routine. It began with breakfast in the dining room, then showers followed by an inspection, leading into the classes. There was a break for lunch, more classes, and some cleaning duties afterward. Not once did she see Cathy, an ominous sign. At the end of the day they were taken back in small groups to the dormitory cells. Usually the company changed every day but this time Laura found herself back with the two women from last night. They were not taken to the dining room for supper so Laura figured they would eat in the cell.
A single Warden was in charge of the three of them. Chained together they were easy for him to handle. As he led them into the dorm area Laura wondered if she would see Cathy again. Her curiosity was answered in seconds as they stopped at a cell. Inside Laura could see Cathy, standing in the middle of the floor. Laura’s eyes went wide in surprise as she saw what had happened.
All Day Long
The night before Cathy had finalized her plan to show everyone the perceived reason for her presence in the school. She had considered several scenarios, settling on sleeping in as the least risk, figuring that minimizing the number of people who saw her performance would influence the guards to go easy on her. That and she didn’t have the courage to stand up and openly defy the Wardens. While covered by the blanket no one would see how scared she was.
When the others had been taken away and she was alone in the cell her first reaction was surprise at being ignored. After she heard the corridor doors close she got up to look out into the hallway. She pressed against the bars, trying to see if anyone had stayed behind, but no one else was visible. Her initial trepidation at facing a swift and certain punishment gave way to puzzlement. Had the Director intervened, knowing she was acting? It seemed unlikely since it would immediately single her out as someone who had received special treatment. From her last experience she knew the Wardens reacted immediately and forcefully when faced with any hint of insubordination.
Her hands gripped the bars of the cell door. She had wanted to push the door open and run away, to hide somewhere, but it was only wishful thinking. The door was locked and didn’t budge. For the first time she noticed how the bars were recessed into the cell room, limiting her ability to see to the sides.
The sounds of a door opening and marching boots on the concrete floor brought her back to reality. Real fear gripped Cathy. Several men were in the hallway, heading her way. In seconds they came into view, at least four of them, dressed entirely in black, wearing helmets and some kind of mirrored faceplate. All she could see was her own terrified reflection in their faces. She backed up as they stopped in front of her. One of them had a large transparent plastic shield, curved forward at the sides, with what appeared to be strips of reflective tape across it. Another guard began to unlock the door.
Their ominous appearance frightened Cathy, bringing her close to panic. “Please sir, don’t hurt me. I’ll do whatever you tell me.” She pleaded with them, but they ignored her. The guard with the plastic shield entered first, holding it out as he approached her. Two others came in and took up positions on either side of him. The last man stayed by the door.
Cathy backed up as they came closer. She had tried to move to one side, but they tracked her movement, keeping her centered between the three of them. Then she ran out of room as her back hit the wall. They were inches away when in desperation she reached out to push the shield away.
It looked like they were going to crush her against the wall. She put her hands against the shield trying to hold it back. As her hands came into contact with the front she discovered the reflective tape was not a decoration. She saw the man behind the shield press a button on the handle. The shock of the stun gun discharging into her hand from the conducting foil convulsed her muscles, throwing her back against the wall. Before she had fallen the guard used the shield to pin her body against the wall. The jolt of high voltage had left Cathy disoriented and only semi-conscious.
By the time she had become aware of her surroundings again she was on the floor. Something was wrapped around her upper body. Cathy tried to move her arms but they were held tightly against her body. Opening her eyes she saw the front of the straitjacket imprisoning her arms. One of the men behind her pulled on the last strap, the one between her legs, as he tightened it behind her back. She felt something being fastened to her legs too, but couldn’t see it.
When they finished with her one man rolled her onto her side. Her ankles had been crossed and tied with some kind of strap. Two more held her knees together. Another ran from her ankles to her back, forcing her to keep her legs bent. She tried to struggle but it was too late; by the time she had recovered from the stun gun they had progressed too far for her to attempt to stop them.
The two who had been restraining her legs picked her up and placed her on the bedding. The third one picked up the blanket and covered her, telling her “since you wanted to sleep in, take all day.” After the three men who had subdued her left, the last one closed and locked the cell door behind them. Lying on the floor, barely able to move, she stared up at the lone remaining Warden. She could only guess at his thoughts; the helmet hid his face and any sign of reaction. A moment later he walked away as well, leaving her alone.
The shock from the stun gun had hurt. Cathy was content to lie still while the aftereffects wore off. If she had known it was coming it might not have been so bad. She would have gone straight to the floor if he had been approaching her with the kind she recognized. That plastic riot shield had confused her. The metal strips on the front looked nothing like the kind of stun guns she had seen sold in stores. Those were about the size of a TV remote control, with small metal prongs in front.
Feeling better, she started to explore the limitations of her bonds. She managed to shrug off the blanket by sliding to one side. Looking over her shoulder she saw her ankles bound tightly by a wide leather strap. The buckle holding it together had a small slot on top, probably for some kind of key. Straps above and below her knees had the same kind of buckles. Another long strap, of what looked to be nylon, ran from her ankles to her back. She couldn’t see how it was attached to her back but the end at her ankles had a large metal ring through which the strap around her ankles had been threaded. The only way to remove it would be to free her feet.
Convinced she couldn’t release her legs, she had turned her attention to the straitjacket. The material appeared to be a stiff, heavy cotton cloth, probably canvas. Her arms were in sleeves that wrapped around behind her. In the front both sleeves went through a loop of material sewn into the front that prevented her from moving her arms up or down. She could see a wide strap stitched to the front bottom, starting just below her arms and extending down between her legs and up behind her. She could tell it was tight by the press of her chastity belt underneath the crotch strap.
From the feel against her body the neckline ended just below her collarbone. It completely covered her shoulders preventing any attempt to slip it down. Rolling on her back she could feel where the straps were buckled behind her: some just below her neck, several down her back, and one to either side, probably the sleeves. Although she knew there was little chance of success she still tried to get it off, pulling the jacket up, down and to either side, hoping something might come loose. She remembered a scene from one of the Houdini biography movies, where he had managed to work an arm over his head, but apparently the designers of this jacket had seen the movie too. The restraining loop in front made it impossible for her to move her arms up more than a few inches above her waist.
Having given up hope of escape, she tried to make the best of the situation and find a comfortable position. At first she tried lying on her side, but soon found it hurt whichever arm and shoulder was underneath her. Then she tried on her back, with her knees raised. That had been a relief for her arms, but all too soon the buckles in back had begun to feel like sharp stones under a sleeping bag. Rolling back on her side, she tried to sit up. That’s when she discovered how important arms were to one’s balance. Several times she tried to get her legs under her and sit up, but each time she fell over. No leverage, she thought, I need my arms to lift myself off the floor.
After the fourth attempt she gave up. It would have been easy with her legs free, but no doubt the Wardens knew that. Her comfort had not been the overriding consideration. She even tried kicking her legs, jerking against the holding strap on her ankles, but it wouldn’t pull loose. There was enough play in her legs that she could manage a slow crawl across the floor. On her side she surveyed the cell, looking for something that could help her to sit up. There had to be some way.
When she finally figured it out the answer was simple. She pushed herself across the floor with her legs, into a corner. With her back against one wall and leaning into the other, she worked her way up into a sitting position, with the added benefit of something to lean against. It had left little play in her legs but if she was careful she could raise or lower her knees to the floor to help keep her muscles from cramping. Sitting up was an improvement over the floor but she still had to move around to give her legs a rest.
If only they had allowed her to straighten out her legs, then she could have sat all day. The straitjacket was more of an inconvenience than a punishment. There was some pressure on her shoulders but nowhere near as uncomfortable as handcuffs behind her back. She could move her arms a little, but the thick, stiff material rendered her hands useless.
The worst part was the boredom. Cathy found herself missing the classes and having others around. The silence got on her nerves. If she could stand she would be pacing the floor by now. She had no idea how much time had passed but it must have been hours. This is deliberate, she realized, the isolation and monotony is the real punishment, not the restraints. The bonds are just to make sure I don’t get comfortable. It’s working too.
Cathy tried to pass the time by bringing up past memories with Robert. She couldn’t concentrate though, her legs and shoulders were starting to hurt, a dull throbbing pain that couldn’t be ignored. It was too much; she had to get the jacket off. She started struggling again, pulling on the sleeves with all her strength. In the process she fell over on her side. She started pulling against the straps holding her legs, trying to work them loose. So intent was she on trying to find some escape, rolling around on the floor, that she didn’t even notice the Warden standing at the door, watching her through the bars of her cell.
“Take your time, I’m in no hurry,” he spoke quietly. Cathy jerked to a stop, surprised by his voice. She hadn’t heard him enter or walk up to her room. Breathing hard and sweat glistening on her brow from her efforts, she looked up at him from the floor. Seeing she had finished, he continued, “what are your instructions when a Warden is present?”
Cathy stared in confusion, unsure as to what he was asking. “Sir, we are to kneel at the rear wall in a respectful manner and await orders.” He didn’t answer. Instead he waited, staring at her. What does he expect? She could hardly move, was that what he was waiting for? She couldn’t do it by herself in the middle of the floor, so she began crawling back to the corner of the room. Using the walls she was able to raise herself up again, with her legs under her. She shifted around to face him, back straight, first looking directly at him, and then lowering her eyes.
“That’s better,” he finally answered. Taking out a key he opened the door and came in to stand in front of her. Cathy could feel the straps on her legs digging into her skin as she knelt, but knew she dare not break position now. “There will be no sleeping in from now on.” He towered over her, not moving. She looked up once then back down again. So helpless, she thought, no matter what I do they will always get their way. “Do you understand? This will not be tolerated. There will not be a next time.”
“Yes sir, I understand. It won’t happen again.” She was trembling as she spoke. Her words were contrite and sincere. The stunt had been a poor choice; she should have thought of something else. She knew they were manipulating her, the confinement, the restraints, and now the Warden’s stance as he stared her down, but she could not resist the effects. All she could think of was pleasing the stranger in front of her, doing whatever he ordered, anything to get the straitjacket off.
Holding her shoulder with one hand he reached down behind her back and released the strap holding her legs bent. “On your stomach” he ordered, and helped her lie face down on the concrete floor. “Hold still,” as he undid the straps on her knees and ankles. He lowered her legs to the floor. Relief flooded Cathy when her strained calf and thigh muscles were finally able to relax. She waited patiently for him to open the straitjacket, but he made no move to release the buckles. After a few moments he took hold of one arm, within the jacket’s sleeve, and began to lift her. “Stand up,” came the crisp command. With his help it was far easier to get her legs under her and then rise up off the floor.
Cathy’s sore legs protested against bearing her weight but he held onto her until the shakiness passed. When she was finally able to stand on her own, he gestured toward the open cell door. “Let’s go” was all he offered by way of explanation.
First stop were the showers, where he finally removed the straitjacket. He waited patiently while she took a shower and cleaned up. Cathy was uneasy about the sudden change and what was still to come. A few hours of solitary confinement seemed to be far too little in the way of correction for what she had done. And there had to be some significance to the change in procedure; he had not removed her belt while she showered.
Dried off, teeth brushed, hair combed, she felt much better. Crawling around on the floor in that straitjacket had been sweaty and dirty work. If she was lucky the guard would take her to rejoin the group for lunch. A growl from her stomach reminded her she had skipped breakfast.
“Turn around, hands behind your back” came the expected command when she had finished. In the hallway she tried to spot something she could recognize, to give her some idea of where they were headed. But the same bland paint scheme and lack of signs left her as unsure as ever about where they were. Everything looked the same. Finally he stopped at a solid office type steel door. Cathy sighed inwardly, definitely not the lunchroom.
A Friendly Visit
The first thing Cathy saw when the door opened was her clothes, on a hanger attached to a hook mounted on the wall. Next to them were a table and chair. Her shoes were underneath the dress. Something isn’t right, Cathy thought, I can’t be leaving this soon. After what she had just done the punishment had been too mild.
“You have an appointment with the Director, in his office. While in the administrative area you will be allowed to wear these clothes. Do not speak to anyone unless you are asked a question. Do not make eye contact with anyone. Keep in mind you are being granted a rare privilege, do not abuse it.” He removed her handcuffs and gestured to her clothing. “You may dress now.” He sat down in the chair by the table.
Cathy was surprised. It was indeed unusual. During her first visit she knew of no one taken to see the Director. The only possible explanation was that it had something to do with the real reason she had been sent here. Although Robert had been adamant that she would tell no one, he had worked out the plan for her visit with the Director. She took the dress off the hanger and slipped it on, reaching behind her back for the zipper. No underwear, she noted. This was for the benefit of anyone who saw her, not to help her own self-confidence. She finished by slipping on her shoes.
“Sir?” she asked, “I had a belt with the dress.”
“I have one for you. Turn around, back to me.” She heard him open a drawer under the table as she turned. A moment later she felt him threading two ends of a belt through the loops in the skirt, working from the middle of her back. “Turn around, face me, hold your hands out to your side,” he ordered. She watched as he finished with the ends of the belt, and then pulled it tight. Satisfied it was a snug fit, he pushed in a small button on the closed buckle. The Warden tested it to make sure it wouldn’t open.
“Turn around again, this time with hands behind your back.” Cathy had already figured it out. A locking belt, there had to be something on the back to hold her hands. Sure enough, he placed her wrists in handcuffs held close to her back by a ring sewn into the center of the belt. “Don’t move.” She heard him taking something else out of the box.
The lights went out a moment later as he covered her eyes with the blindfold. A simple and very effective way to make sure I don’t stray, Cathy told herself. Or there is something in that area she wasn’t supposed to see. Maybe an emergency exit, some way to get out of this place. She hadn’t thought much about where the Wardens and teachers lived, or any of the other people who had to exist to keep this place in operation. It was off limits and inaccessible under normal circumstances.
“Let’s go.” He took hold of her arm and walked her out the door. Cathy was grateful he took it slow. She didn’t like not being able to see. It made her feel clumsy, as if she was about to walk right into a wall.
They went through two security gates before Cathy realized the surroundings had changed. She was now walking on carpet, and the sounds reaching her were muted compared to the brittle sounding echoes from the corridors. A few times she heard voices, as if they were passing open doors. Once she even heard music.
They must have reached the Director’s office because her guard stopped to open a door. A real door, as Cathy could tell from the sound of the door knob. He led her inside and closed the door behind her.
“Catherine Kincaid, to see the Director,” he told someone. Cathy was surprised at hearing her full name, but it made sense since they would have records about her. She heard the sound of a keyboard as the receptionist typed in something, probably Cathy’s name.
A short pause then the receptionist answered. “He will see her shortly. Sir, the Director indicated I should inform you that you are welcome to have lunch while waiting. We will take responsibility for her while she is in the office. He asks that you return in one hour’s time.”
“Alright, I’ll be in the cafeteria if the meeting ends early and you need me back.” There was a rustle of paper. “If you could sign this receipt? She is all yours.”
The Warden took Cathy to one side and used his hands on her shoulders to position her. “There is a couch directly behind you. You may sit down.” Cathy felt the edge of the couch against the back of her leg. With some idea of its location she sat down. He leaned close to her and whispered in a low yet ominous voice. “Don’t try any of your stunts here. Remember where you are, and keep in mind you won’t be leaving anytime soon. Act up in front of the Director and every single one of us will personally take the time to make your stay one long bad memory. Understand?”
Cathy had no intention of exhibiting anything but her very best behavior but even so the warning from the Warden scared her. She had no doubt he wasn’t bluffing. And if Robert kept getting reports on her poor progress he would assume she was doing it deliberately, to stay and help Laura. “Yes sir, I understand,” she answered. Her throat fell dry. Behind her back she clenched her imprisoned hands into fists and pulled at the bonds holding her, frustrated at her helpless condition.
It was all she could do to keep from shaking in fright. The past few days she had been so intent on helping Laura she had forgotten about her own situation. She might have played the part of troublemaker too well for her own good. Robert wasn’t here to protect her. If she earned the special attention of the Wardens they would see to it she had plenty of their particular style of discouragement. She would be isolated and unable to help Laura in any way. By the time Robert found out it would be too late to do any good.
And he would not be pleased she had failed. This was important to him, so she had to do her very best. She didn’t want to think about facing him and explaining what had gone wrong. He might even decide to leave her here as punishment for failure. Her attention returned to the office when she heard the door close. It must have been her Warden leaving, she thought.
She leaned forward and shifted position, trying to get comfortable on the couch. “Stay right where you are, dear. I may be the same size as you but I’m not wearing handcuffs. Just sit there quietly like a good girl and wait till he’s ready for you.” The receptionist’s condescending tone irritated Cathy but she bit her tongue and said nothing. She never had a problem responding to a man controlling her but she hated the idea of a woman telling her what to do. This isn’t the time or place, she told herself.
She could hear the receptionist working on a keyboard but didn’t hear anyone else. Either there was a partition blocking any other sounds or they were the only ones in the office. Undoubtedly the Warden had brought her early so she would have plenty of time to worry in advance. Always at a psychological disadvantage, that’s how those dominant personalities liked to operate. It works too, a nervous Cathy realized.
After a while, it seemed like hours, she heard a door open and someone enter. “This is your next scheduled appointment sir, Catherine Kincaid.” From the way the receptionist was so polite and deferential Cathy was sure it had to be the Director himself. The door must have been to his office. The blindfold forced her to listen for any clue as to what was going on around her.
A strong grip on her arm raised her up off the couch. “Come with me,” he ordered her in a gruff tone of voice. She heard the office door close behind her. Still holding her upper arm he guided her to a chair and helped her to sit down. She heard him sit down across from her and pick up some papers from his desk.
“Now then Mrs. Kincaid, my name is James Polson. I am the Deputy Director of this establishment, filling in for Director Harfield, who is not available at the moment. I apologize for the restraints but as you are currently enrolled here there is nothing I can do. I’m sure you understand our policies.
”I have been reading this report of your difficulties in adjusting to the school’s rules. It is especially troubling when your prior attendance is taken into consideration. There is no question that you are aware of all the regulations, in particular the sleeping arrangements and the necessity of rising in a punctual manner. The justification for your actions that you communicated to the Warden is not satisfactory either. Now that you have had time to reflect on the matter, would you care to offer a better explanation for your lapse of judgment? Take your time.” His chair creaked as he leaned back in it.
Cathy thought fast. He doesn’t know the real reason or he wouldn’t be asking about the sleep in. Only the Director knows. And she was forbidden by direct order from telling this man. She couldn’t disobey Robert but she had no other story to offer. The fact she was here meant it was being viewed as an extremely grave matter. What could she say to him?
“I have no excuse for what I did sir. It was foolish and I promise it won’t happen again.” Even to Cathy her statement sounded like an insincere formula response.
“As you wish. I gave you a chance. You must understand that a returning student reflects poorly on this institution and the staff. We do not like being disappointed. On the rare occasion when one does return, we hold that person to a higher standard than first time attendees. If this incident had happened to anyone else we would have taken the usual steps to discourage repetition. However, in your case the standard procedures will not suffice. You are already familiar with the operations here, which tend to diminish the effectiveness of normal corrective measures.
“I think the best solution may be to transfer you to a program where you can focus on achieving your goals without the distraction of other people. A program where you will receive intensive personal instruction every moment of the day. I’m sure after three or four months we will see a substantial improvement in your attitude.”
Cathy was horrified. It couldn’t get any worse than that. It meant solitary confinement and teachers or Wardens jumping all over her if she even blinked without permission. Robert would be so mad at her he’d probably leave her at the Center indefinitely. And all because she had thought it would be a good idea to act up so no one would be suspicious. “Please sir, I promise, just let me have another chance. I’ll prove to you I can do better.” She was desperate, reduced to begging as she had no other option. There had to be some way to persuade him. If only she could see his face. With the blindfold in place she had no visual cues to go by, only the sound of his voice.
“Quiet! Will it be necessary to call in your escort to gag you? You will speak only when asked a question.”
Cathy stopped. She had no hope now. His order had effectively blocked the only way she had to try to avert the worst. If the Warden was called in he wouldn’t hesitate to carry out his threat. She hung her head in failure. She could feel the tears running down her face from under the blindfold. The Deputy Director said nothing as she silently cried.
“There is one other possibility.” Cathy raised her head, confused, not sure what he meant. “You arrived with another woman, one Laura Ferren. Her husband is a leading member of the oversight board for the Center. While he has not asked for special treatment, he did ask that we do anything possible within the regulations to make her adjustment to life here as uncomplicated as is possible. I’m sure you know her. The two of you arrived here together.
“I see a notation here in your records that on your arrival you intervened on her behalf and were able to talk her through a stressful moment. The Warden overseeing your processing was impressed by your skill in handling the situation. If you are willing to continue assisting her in reaching her goals while she is staying with us, and in the process demonstrate to my satisfaction that you are working toward a more positive attitude yourself, then it will not be necessary to transfer you to another program. I believe a more favorable report to your master would be appropriate as well, though you do understand he will have to be told the details of the incident today. If we give you this second chance, do I have your solemn promise that there will be no further problems like this morning?”
Cathy couldn’t believe her good fortune, from complete failure to success within minutes. She could see it was a classic carrot and stick approach; the carrot of a good report if she agreed, and the stick of being dumped into solitary if she declined. The report to Robert didn’t concern her too much. He would know she was acting to stay in character. No need to conceal her relief and gratitude for his offer.
“Of course sir, I can assure you it will never happen again. And whenever I have the opportunity I would be happy to provide Laura with the benefit of my experience. I know all too well how confusing it can be.” In other words, Cathy told herself, you go easy on me and I’ll help you look good for your board. It was a simple trade. He didn’t need to know it was the only reason she was here in the first place. Nor did he need to know she had no real bargaining position.
“I’m glad we were able to work this out, Mrs. Kincaid. I don’t like to resort to extreme measures. I will be reviewing your progress on a timely basis to confirm those measures will not be required. Please take this in the proper spirit, but I hope we shall not have to meet like this again. I will see to it that your assignments will correspond to those for Mrs. Ferren. Naturally you will not be together at all times but I will adjust your schedules so that the potentially difficult areas for Mrs. Ferren will be those times you have the same classes.
“Your escort will return you to the secured section. You can wait in the outside office until he is ready. Here, let me assist you.” He took her arm and helped Cathy stand up. As they went to the outer office he helped her sit down on the couch before addressing the receptionist. “Miss Wu, could you inform the Warden that he can return Mrs. Kincaid at his convenience?”
“Yes sir, I’ll see to it right away.” She was on the phone before he had even closed the door to his office. Cathy listened as she called the cafeteria. For the first time since her little act of defiance she was able to relax. She was still stiff and sore from wearing the straitjacket all day, but the worst was now over. In less than five minutes Cathy heard a door open and someone come in.
“Let’s go,” he ordered, a familiar voice now, as he took hold of her arm and steadied her as she stood. “Any problems with her?” He directed the question to the receptionist.
“No sir, her visit was normal in all respects,” the receptionist answered. Cathy was relieved to hear her say it. The Warden said nothing as he took hold of her arm again and led her out the door. The walk back to the secured section was uneventful.
Cathy knew she was back in her area when she heard him start to use a key to unlock doors. They went through several. After the last door, he stopped her in the middle of a room and removed her blindfold. Blinking at the return of the bright lights, she saw they had returned to the same dressing room. The empty hanger for her dress was still on a hook on the wall. She watched as he used a small key to open the belt buckle. Then he went behind her and opened her handcuffs. “Arms at your side,” he ordered. Cathy wanted to stretch and rub her wrists but she did as he commanded. He finished by taking off the belt.
“Remove your shoes and clothing, hang up your dress.” With a silent sigh of regret Cathy reached for the zipper and pulled the dress over her head. She placed it on the hanger and returned it to the hook on the wall. Her shoes went underneath. Once more in regulation uniform: collar, chastity belt, and nothing else, she turned to see what the Warden wanted next.
He was sitting at the desk, reading something on a sheet of paper. He looked up at her. Seeing she had finished, he pointed to a line painted on the floor in front of the desk. “Stand there quietly, facing the desk.” A few steps and she lined up in front of him, about three feet from the desk. He returned to the note he was reading.
A noise from the corridor distracted her. She started to turn to look but a sharp “eyes front” from her guard stopped her. He continued to read, making notations every so often. This went on for several minutes before he stopped and looked up at Cathy.
“You are a problem,” the Warden spoke suddenly, startling her. Her attention had been wandering as she stood in front of him, apparently being ignored. “We are not stupid, you know. What you did this morning, you know better. So we have to conclude it was willful. For some unknown reason you have decided to test our resolve, even though you know fully well games like that are not tolerated here. There are no mitigating circumstances to take into account on your behalf.”
Cathy opened her mouth to try to offer some explanation, but stopped before uttering a word as the Warden held up a hand. “No, don’t say anything. It won’t make a difference. You have the experience and training to do better. You have also learned from your last time here that actions have consequences. I’m sure you expected something to happen, even if you weren’t sure what it would be. I assume you are also smart enough to figure out your quiet time today was not the sum total of the penalty that would be exacted.”
He stood up and took out a set of handcuffs from a holder on his belt. “Stand still, hands behind your back,” he ordered. Here it comes, Cathy thought, I knew this was too easy. Her hands went behind her back in a well-practiced move as he walked around behind her. Swiftly he applied the cuffs, rendering her virtually powerless to resist whatever was to be her fate. Please don’t hurt me, she prayed silently.
He led her out into the corridor and through a maze of hallways and gates. By the time he stopped she had no clue what direction or how far they had walked, or if he had deliberately run her in circles to heighten her anxiety. When he did stop her mouth was dry from fear, and her knees felt so weak that she might collapse at any moment.
At the door Cathy could see some kind of elaborate fixture beyond the bars. Inside the cell she saw it was some kind of wooden stocks, similar to those in old drawings from centuries ago. At about shoulder height were two wooden pieces, hinged together, with cutouts for hands and neck. This one differed from others she had seen in that there were stocks at the bottom with cutouts for ankles. She knew it would soon hold her prisoner.
He unlocked the cell door and forced her to the front of the device. Bending down he opened the bottom portion. Cathy could see the oval shaped holes cut into the wood were padded, and the stocks were raised off the floor several inches. “Step forward, ankles inside the keepers,” he ordered. She placed her feet against the fixed part, legs spread beyond the usual standing position. He closed the ankle stocks and used a padlock to secure the hasp.
Standing up, he opened the top part. Reaching behind her he removed the cuffs from her wrists. With her ankles already secured Cathy had no chance to make a dash for the open cell door. She rubbed her wrists while looking at the Warden. He gave her a moment to stretch her arms before gesturing to the open stocks. Resigned to an unpleasant afternoon she leaned over, placing her hands and neck in position. He quickly closed the top part, again using a padlock to secure the hasp.
Looking sideways, immobilized in the pillory, she couldn’t see the door but could see part of the corridor to one side. She heard him walk away, out to the hallway. Oddly he had not closed the door. Alone, she tested the limits of her new prison. The stocks were not uncomfortable but she had virtually no freedom of movement. Nor could she see behind her. The worst drawbacks were the wide spread of her legs and being forced to lean forward. At the moment it didn’t bother her but she could feel the strain on her legs, back, and shoulders.
She heard footsteps behind her as someone came into the room. Shoes, so it must be another Warden. He came up close behind her but she couldn’t see him. The sudden sharp pain as he grabbed her hair and pulled up her head made her gasp. A stifled gasp as a stiff spongy foam filled her mouth. He held the gag against her face with one hand while he took hold of some straps attached to it with his free hand. Bound in the stocks she couldn’t dislodge it or pull her head away. She felt a wide strap go behind her head, securing the gag. More straps went over her head and under her chin, making it impossible to remove.
Finished with silencing her, the Warden walked around and stood in front of her. Cathy froze as she recognized him. He had been the first one to speak to her that morning, the one who asked her why she hadn’t got up with the others. The one she had told off.
“You were not pleasing this morning.” His hand tightened painfully in her hair. “You earned some quiet time in the straitjacket for sleeping in, but for talking back you earn a different penalty. You are going to stand here while considering the wisdom of making the same mistake in the future. Ponder who you are and why you are here. You had better consider how to explain this to your master as well.” He let go of her hair and walked away. She heard the door close and lock behind him.
The spongy material in Cathy’s mouth was expanding, turning into a tight fitting soggy mass. She tried to push it out with her tongue but the harness held it firmly in place. She tried talking, even yelling, but only garbled incoherent sounds came out. Her hands were too far away to reach her head. Once again she tried to slip a hand out of the stocks but the fit was too close. Around her ankles the boards left little room for her to lift a foot. The height of her neck and wrists was just enough to be uncomfortable. Even though it had only been a few minutes her legs and back were starting to protest their unnatural position.
This is going to be a lot worse than the straitjacket, she realized. No wall to lean on now. The height and spacing of the stocks were designed to be unpleasant, deliberately. Cathy had hoped the worst was over when she was taken to the Director’s office. Instead it was only beginning.