As the candle flickered out, true fear rose in Alice's chest. For a while now, she had been hearing creepy noises in nearby parts of the house--footsteps on creaking floorboards; faint, unrecognizable voices; indoor wind gusts; doors opening and closing, locks clicking--and was utter convinced it was all real. The house was actually haunted.
Terrified as she was, she still stood a helpless occupant of the posture former expecting, at any moment, to be at the mercy of whoever, or whatever, came through the door to find her. Attempt after attempt to break free had done nothing but tax her strained muscles even more. In the end, her strength was spent, and a growing inventory of aches and pains warned against further efforts. Nevertheless, the constant tension was an even worse problem. Too much of her weight was supported by her upraised arms. Now they were becoming stiff and numb from lack of circulation, and she was starting to get a hint of what being crucified might be like.
Screaming for help was not a consideration. Even if she could make enough sound to get through the thick door, which was highly doubtful given the horrible, and amazingly uncomfortable, wooden gag tormenting her mouth, she didn't dare risk attracting unwanted attention from some malevolent spirit. She wasn't even sure if she was back in the present where her friends might hear her. It had seemed like time moved, but where was the electric lamp? Or her bags? Maybe she had never actually been in the past at all, and now was just a continuation of the illusion. Reality was suddenly a relative concept.
All she could do was wait and hope help would arrive soon, and it promised to be a long, tortuous wait at that. After yesterday's long drive and last night's bender, it would be late morning before her friends were up and about enough to possibly miss her. Connie, for one, slept like a log even on a normal day.
In an effort to stay calm, she watched the last tongue of flame flicker in the dying fire while trying to ignore the pain and discomfort as much as she could. The reddish orange light was decidedly better than looking into the unnerving shadows--likewise the bit of unearthly moonshine that crept into the room around the edges of the curtains; it only served to remind her that some other horror could be waiting for her outside. Mostly, though, she just wanted to look anywhere other than the mirror. The wavering light made her look like a ghost floating in the shiny silver, but the eerie image of herself was not the reason for her aversion. The true reason was locked snugly between her legs.
How could the chastity belt fit so perfectly? The thought that it could be made via some kind of ghostly, inescapable magic made her feel sick to her stomach. There has to be some way to cut if off with modern tools. It can't really be some haunted supernatural object, can it? Yet with her sense of reality in doubt at the moment, Alice didn't really know what she believed. Regardless, in the meantime--until she felt the cold metal and pulled at it with her fingers--she would try to believe it was not real and just part of the nightmare.
The corset, however, was a different matter. It was beautiful. When she did look in the mirror, it was to gawk at it. The construction and fit were superb, the way-too-tight lacing notwithstanding. It forced her curves into an exaggerated hourglass profile that made her feel ultra-sexy. In fact, she would readily bear the discomfort to look like she did for the right occasion. A longstanding curiosity was satisfied, now she knew what it was like to wear one, a real one (if any of this was real). If only she could turn around to see the laces and complete the picture.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, two knocks on the front shield of the chastity belt made Alice flinch. She squealed and jumped in reaction, then heard laughter.
"Knock, knock," said Abby, knocking on the chastity belt again.
Alice gasped as she turned suddenly to find the ghost of Abby directly in front of her. Contrary to preconceptions, the ghost did not glow in the dark. Instead, the real visage was even more creepy. Abby was semi-transparent and nearly invisible in the dim light, the pale pink color of her dress barely discernable.
"Cat got your tongue?" Abby mocked. "Let me try again."
"Knock, knock," she repeated, knocking harder.
"Who's there," she mocked in a high voice.
"Coming, who?" Again in a high voice.
Abby ran her hand over the silver intimately cupping Alice.
"Go away! Coming isn't allowed here anymore!"
Abby laughed heartily at her own inane joke then danced around like a merry drunkard.
Leaning in close to Alice's ear, as if a lover about to whisper sweet nothings, Abby groped the restrained woman's left breast roughly. Alice knew the act was meant to intimidate her and emphasize her vulnerability--and it worked. Message received. Yet more disturbing was Abby's cold, otherworldly touch, a touch more substantial and real than anyone so transparent and ethereal should possibly have. Alice unconsciously recoiled, or rather tried to recoil, which only made Abby smile as she pressed in closer. How could this be the same being she had shared a warm, sensuous body with just hours ago?
"We're going to play a little game of questions and answers," said Abby softly. "You tell me how to remove this demon jewelry, and you win the prize; I'll tell you where the key is. And if you lose...well let's just say you really don't want to lose."
Alice panicked. All she knew was that the piercing studio had special cutters for the extremely hard metal, cutters clearly not available in 1868. How could she tell Abby that? What would she do to her? She mumbled unintelligible gibberish, trying to get Abby to remove the gag so that she could scream for help.
"I can't remove the French pear, dearie," said Abby. "So you may as well talk as best you can. I could not remove it in my time so cannot remove it now. It's a law of science." With that, Abby reached for the wing nut right under Alice's nose, and her hand passed right through it.
Alice wanted to scoff. There was very little science involved here at all, except the laws of physics applied to her body. They were most certainly real.
Going with the truth, Alice tried to tell Abby that the rings needed to be cut off with special tools in a series of carefully enunciated gag words.
"I already tried cutting them off with tools from the barn," snapped Abby angrily before she stomped off behind Alice. "I was trying to be nice, too. We'll call that strike one. You aren't very good at this game."
A second later Alice heard the ratchet clicking. To her horror, her wrists were pulled higher until she could only stand on her tip toes. Within seconds, she was begging Abby to lower her back down.
"You don't need to make this hard, sweetie," said Abby firmly.
Dancing around on her tip-toes to gain balance, Alice desperately tried to think of some way Abby could remove the rings short of surgery, but could not. If there was a way to cut titanium alloy that close to the delicate flesh a century and a half ago, she didn't know what it was. She doubted that cutting them off of Abby now, or whatever time it was, would do any good given her partial materialization--if even possible.
Maybe she could trick Abby into freeing her under the pretense of showing her how to remove the rings? Wait, that wouldn't work. Just like with the pear, Abby wouldn't be able to free her arms.
Alice heard a swish a moment before pain ripped across her buttocks--the unmistakable sting of Aunt Harriett's hickory switch, this time directly on her own behind instead of Abby's. She screamed into the gag and pranced on her tiptoes, yet at the back of her mind, the part where darkest secrets are kept, she could not deny feeling a little thrilling spark of pleasure. Maybe Abby wasn't the only one that reacted in that particular way, however irrational.
"You know, there are much worse places to get a whuppin'," said Abby as she leaned in close to Alice and circled her right nipple with the tip of the hickory switch. "Much worse places."
The look in Abby's insubstantial eyes was still visible enough in the poor light to be unsettling. It was the look of the once downtrodden now in control and enjoying it too much. Alice had to come up with something quick.
Demon jewelry... Could she really...
There was one thing Abby might just believe: Magic was as good an explanation as any. Babbling through the gag, Alice watched Abby's face carefully, looking for any little sign, as she spun her tale. Abby seemed to have a quizzical look as if she didn't believe or understand a word of it, but she never stopped listening.
First there was Alice's stay with her uncle's family in Massachusetts, not far from Salem, the Salem. Then there was her walk in the woods looking for wild berries and the discovery of an ancient stone circle, mostly hidden by moss, probably predating European arrival in the Americas, and its mysterious carved runes--"runes" being an especially difficult word to say while gagged. Then there was the book--another difficult word--in her uncle's library that she should never have read out loud, sounding out the Latin. A love poem to a demon turns out, once translated.
It was a good story. She still remembered getting aroused listening to--what was her name, Sandy?--tell it at summer camp one night around the fire during ghost stories. The way the demon claimed his prize when she returned to the circle on the evening of the new moon was a bit different than the very lurid original version, but it was easy to substitute a few details.
Abby seemed to hang on the words, evaluating, long after Alice would have called bullshit. Perhaps demons were a little more real back in 1868 to a relatively uneducated young woman with mysterious space age metal in her flesh as evidence. Thinking about, it had seemed very real when Sandy told the original version years ago.
"Stop! I don't want to hear the rest!" said Abby suddenly. "I don't want to hear more of your demonic sin and risk being caught in your web of evil."
Abby stomped around the room with her fists clenched, flapping her arms in anger as if fighting off invisible flies.
"Isn't it enough that my family must endure generations of that one fateful night. Must the sins of the father be inherited by all! It's so unfair. Will it never end? What have I done to deserve this!"
She looked at Alice again, fire in her eyes, but then her eyes went lower. Alice knew what she was looking at. The name. It wasn't Abby's name engraved in the silver.
"I'm so sorry," said Abby. "You didn't know what coming here could mean. How could you? It's not your fault any more than it is mine. Now you bear my curse and I yours."
With that, Abby lowered the ratchet until Alice's feet touched again.
"I can't lower it any more than that," she said. Even as she spoke, Alice felt the world spin again, as if gravity itself has been tipped on an angle, but the floor quickly righted itself. Over at the table, the unlit electric light was back. Time must have shifted again. Alice turned and, as she suspected, the fire was gone. When she turned back, she saw Abby touching her own right breast, feeling the nipple ring through the fabric.
"What did the demon look like?" she asked.
Alice paused. Was Abby suspicious of her fabricated tale? The campfire story offered no inspiration about the actual appearance of the demon leaving Alice to improvise.
Once again she did her best with the gag and to her continued surprise, Abby seemed to have no difficulty understanding at all, even wiping the drool from Alice periodically.
"Except for his cloven hoofs, he appeared more man than beast, yet like a beast, he wore no clothing." A good start, thought Alice to herself. "He was heavily muscled from head to toe and was larger than a man, both in body and in manhood."
Alice could see Abby's chest heaving a little more heavily even though she could not hear her breath.
"He stood at least seven feet tall with broad shoulders and piercing black eyes. Ivory horns projected forward from his brow and then curved upwards. I couldn't help but think of the legendary Minotaur except there was no other similarity to a bull about him. His leathery, bright orange-red skin nearly glowed like a burning ember with the most orange and seemingly hot portion of his lower body projecting rigid as a tent pole towards my body.
"He turned me around to face away from him then lifted me as easily as a feather to stand on the largest stone of the circle. One arm held me around my waist as the other pressed on the back of my neck. After he had bent me over, I was immediately conscious of his member probing--"
"Tell me how?" interrupted Abby, urgently. "How, did you come to bear these infernal rings? Silver is supposed to repel demons is it not."
Only silver plated, Alice thought.
"Perhaps," gargled Alice. "But, I don't know for sure. When I woke the next morning, lying naked inside the circle as dawn broke, the rings were inside me. Whether to protect me or claim me, I did not know. I only know that since that day, I have never seen the demon again--though, I have never returned to the circle of stones."
Abby seemed to be crying, but it was hard to tell with someone so translucent.
"So, if even if I could remove the rings, I dare not or this demon could come for me as he once tried to claim you?"
Alice already started to regret her story.
"I don't think it works like that," sputtered Alice. She considered whether to confess her deception or to elaborate on it further. "Abby, I really need to--"
Abby faded into nothing right as Alice watched. Only after she was suddenly alone, did she see the traces of sunrise around the curtains. Was that the end? The sunrise?
As she thought about Abby and the terrible misimpression she had created, Alice remembered Abby had also not told her where to find the key!