I was in the shadows behind his head when he started to come around but I kept silent because that’s part of it. Despair felt like a stone in the middle of my body and my tongue was a bar of copper in my mouth. I knew the script because I wrote it but it didn’t make me feel as if I were either in control or sane.

The demons gibbered madly from the darkness at the edges of the room but only I could hear them so I waited and I listened.

He moved his head a little and the muscles along his shoulders and down his arms twitched. His thighs bunched and the calves hardened but his legs hardly moved at all.

I felt it when his eyes opened but I remained silent.

His head jerked to the left, then the right, and then he muttered something incomprehensible. That’s when his body tightened and he strained for almost an entire minute before he went lax and still again.

I spoke softly from behind him, “You never understood.”

His body stiffened again and his head turned but I stood where he could not see. For a few moments, he fought against the restraints and the veins stood out stark black lightning lines across pale, white flesh but the leather held him well and he finally collapsed and sagged against them.

“I told you what it was like.” I drew a deep breath and caught the scent of him and that told me everything I needed to know. The knife-edge of desperation has a scent all its own and that smell hadn’t arrived yet. “I tried to explain it to you in so many ways.” I shook my head and looked at the floor. “But words never got the job done and you never understood what it was that I went through.”

He muttered something.

My eyeballs started throbbing and I felt the beginning of the migraine so I reached up and rubbed the sides of my temples. “I don’t like coming to this place. I don’t like it here. I didn’t want to do this to you… but words don’t work and you still want what you want and you don’t see why that’s an awful thing.” Pain lanced through my right temple and slid out the back of my head again. I winced. “So, I have to show you. And, yes, you’ll hate me for it.”

When I looked back to where he lay, the lone light in the ceiling cast a cone over his body and I sighed because it would not protect him. “But, you already hate me so… at least, after this, you’ll know why I am this way. And maybe it will be easier for you to put me out of your misery once this is done.”

The demons gibbered louder and I shook my head again until the noise died away. “Alright, enough. Let’s begin.”

I entered the light, put my hands onto the table on either side of his head, and I leaned over until I caught his eyes.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but,” I lifted my chin in a brief gesture, “these restraints are the same ones you purchased for me to wear with a few additions. The rubber ball gag,” I raised my hand and flicked the red ball wedged between his teeth, “will keep you from screaming too loudly. The carbon steel chains are half an inch in diameter and are normally used for logging purposes but they were the closest match to what was used on me.” I ran my eyes over his body. “Try not to wiggle too much because the wooden X I affixed you to is raw and unsanded just like the pole you tied me to, once.”

He jerked hard against the restraints and muttered harshly against the red ball. By the sound of it, most of it was cursing, and his eyes flashed like the shine of light on a spill of coffee.

I waited until he wound down again.

“It took me months to fashion the leather harness that’s on your hips now.” I hummed and met his eyes. “There’s no velvet or anything backing it, so try not to sweat too much.”

He muttered again while I studied his face. There was rage in his eyes and the lines around his mouth. It always begins with rage. Rarely, does it end that way, though.

“You never mentioned slavery until last year, do you realize that?” He turned his eyes away, toward the wall. Denial, then. He was progressing quickly. “You always referred to it as bondage or S&M. Do you remember why you finally admitted what you wanted? It was because someone finally told me about safe words and I confronted you about it. How could it be bondage if there were no safe words? How could it be anything other than torture?”

His body went completely taut and he struggled against the bonds while he muttered curse after curse. Even muffled, they were distinguishable.

“You and Thomas Jefferson. Slavery means no consent. Slavery means you’re property, you’re a coffee table, and you can do anything you damned well please to a coffee table because it’s yours and if you want to abuse it, then that’s your right. And that’s how you view me.”

He continued to move against the restraints but he stopped trying to talk.

I shook my head. “You’ve never been confined and beaten, abused and tormented, brought to the brink of death over and over and over and denied that release. You don’t know what it is to have no say, no control, nothing to call your own while the monsters use you any way they want to.” I leaned over him and caught his eyes. “I told you. Monsters only raise monsters. I warned you how much worse my monster was when compared to theirs; I told you so many things but none of them mattered because I’m a coffee table. So, now,” I lowered my voice to a whisper, “I am going to do to you what they did to me, what you did to me, only I’m going to do it here and all at once. Knowledge is power, right?”

He met my eyes and I couldn’t read the emotion in his but it didn’t matter. The demons gibbered more rapidly. “Prepare to be powerful, darling. Remember – what does not break you will make you stronger.”

I pushed back from the table and returned to the shadows. Another table at the rear of the room sported silver trays that aligned neatly with one another and each one held four objects. I placed two trays onto a wheeled cart and moved them into the light at the side of the table.

He got a look at some of the things on the trays and he strained and wriggled against the leather again and again.

I watched until he subsided and then I picked up a piece of paper from one of the trays. “I have decided to make this an orderly process and I’ve broken it down into steps.” I placed my fingers on either side of the sheet of paper and held it out toward him. “I’ll list them for you so I can remember them more easily.” I lowered the page until the edge of it rested on his thigh, moved it back and forth until I opened a tiny cut with it.

The blood rushed to the surface quickly because the muscle was tight and the line of red swelled. “Step One is pain,” I whispered as I released the paper and grabbed a bottle from the tray. The cap flew off with a twist and disappeared into the shadows. “We’ll start small,” I looked up at his face as I squeezed the bottle and lemon juice fell onto the cut.

He snorted and went still and I could smell the grim determination in his sweat. Perhaps, he thought I lacked the nerve or, maybe he thought I wouldn’t go that far, that I was bluffing.

The demons cackled and I closed my eyes.

“Soon,” I whispered, “you’ll understand.” I picked up the brass knuckles and slid them onto my shaking hands. For a time, I looked only at my hands until I could will them to stillness.

The first punch went into his ribs, the next into his cheek. Enraged, he strained toward me and the veins in his wrists stood up as he exerted against the bonds.

I brought my hands up, clasped my fists together, and brought them down into his solar plexus and air exploded out of his lungs so hard that the red ball almost came free from his mouth.

“We’re going to be at this a while, darling,” I moved back, away from the side of the table. “But I can’t hit that hard, so I doubt I’ll break anything irreparably.” I drew in my breath, closed my eyes against the images, and slowly released it again. “Step One is Pain. Step Two is Torture. Step Three is Humiliation and Step Four…” I trailed off and grimaced, glad that he couldn’t see me, “Step Four is irrelevant.”

He turned his head and tried to find me in the shadows while he muttered something into the red ball.

“For Step One and Two, we’ll be alone, my love.” I moved to the only door in the room and put a hand on it. “For Step Three, though, I have a whole lovely group of people outside this door that believe you are into this sort of thing because they are into this sort of thing and so were easily manipulated.” I felt the brief, bitter smile on my lips. “After I have placed my marks upon you, they are going to come in here and they are going to treat you the way a slave should be treated. I am going to let them do anything they want to you and you will not be able to stop them. They have their instructions…” I slid my hand across the door and then dropped it to a small table that sat beside it. I popped open the drawer on it and withdrew the gun. A quick check made sure it was ready to go. “…and their monsters aren’t as massive as mine.”

When I turned back, his eyes were large and I caught the first whiff of fear. The monster inside me stretched and grew. I put the gun back into the drawer and slid it closed.

I relinquished my hold and let the monster take over. My lips cracked as the smile bloomed. “Let’s get back to it, shall we?”





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