Prudence

Prudence: Chapter 8c

Flavia peers through each portal as she heads down the hallway.

Sexual activity abounds in every room: one on ones, threesomes, gangbangs, orgies, bondage, and things she can’t possibly reconcile – extremes that most wouldn’t entertain, even as fantasies. She recoils, horrified, but cannot stop herself. It becomes an addiction to see what comes next. She wonders who all these people are. Do they all come from upstairs? Or is there another way in here? Or – and she tries to shut this thought out the moment it begins to enter – do they abide down here, souls lost in the torment of their own desires?

The sight in the next portal surprises her most of all: a diminutive blonde woman without a facemask – a woman Flavia believes is vaguely familiar – masturbates. Flavia watches her longer than she should, trying to identify her (she bears a striking similarity to a minor foreign celebrity), and is fascinated that this room can be dedicated just to her.

But then Flavia thinks about her own exhibition. Perhaps this blonde isn’t alone, and there are people on balconies watching. Flavia tries to check, but the portal doesn’t offer her that vantage. One thing she is certain of, though: the depth of the room. It’s long, and probably just as wide – like her own room was. But the portals are spaced twenty or twenty-five feet apart. The rooms seem bigger than that.

The blonde shrieks, the cry muffled as it tries to penetrate the door. Her body bucks, and then she falls limp. She lies there, still but for her heaving chest, then slowly hauls herself into a sitting position. Her face sheepish, she looks to the left, then to the right, as if seeking approval.

Flavia is sure now there is an audience watching, although perhaps they’re not physically there, but digitally – Closed-Circuit Television cameras perhaps. If that’s the case, who is this performance being broadcast to? Flavia flushes. Perhaps she herself was filmed.

She forces herself onwards. The portals continue endlessly. She stops and checks the way she has come, and is alarmed to find there’s no end to the hallway. How far has she come? The string of portals is like the illusion of looking into reflection of a reflection in a mirror.

Everything takes on a surreal quality as her mind struggles and fails to grasp the physical improbabilities of the distances involved. She must’ve walked thirty minutes at least. But it’s only fifteen minutes back to her hotel. Can she really have walked further than that? Could the basement range that far underground? It’s impossible to believe. Her gauge might be awry – perhaps it’s the shock of what she’s done with LeBeau.

Flavia rises onto her toes to peer into the next portal. A face shoots up – pale and gaunt, raven hair dishevelled, eyes dark and sunken – and hands slap against the glass. In the instant before Flavia stumbles back and falls on her butt, she can’t determine the person’s gender. She looks up. There is nothing in the portal now. She pulls herself to her feet, and rises warily towards the portal.

Nothing.

Noting but a big empty room.

She sinks onto the soles of her feet. That can’t be right. Of course, the owner of the face might be leaning against the door right under the portal. If so, what is this person doing? Everybody else was having sex – even the diminutive blonde was gratifying herself. This person looked like they were suffering.

Flavia hears a thumping – it is her own heart. She is holding her breath, and the hairs on her arms and neck rise, slowly, as if drawn to some static electricity. Curiosity transforms into dread. She has amused herself, but this is the time to leave. But, still, there is something behind that door, something unalike any other portal she has looked through.

A creak punctures the silence. Flavia pauses. A door two portals down and to the right opens. Flavia takes a step back. A shadow is cast from the doorway. Flavia takes another step back. A short figure in a flowing robe of the darkest crimson with violet trim emerges. He wears a crimson mask that has a silver lightning bolt running down from the middle of the temple, and over the right eye.

He turns toward Flavia. His robes make it impossible to gauge whether his posture is aggressive or surprised, and the mask makes it impossible to read any expression, but Flavia feels a cold that starts at the nape of her neck and spreads across her shoulders and down her back.

It is time for a retreat. She has tempted … well, she decides whatever is going on down here, it has a collective whim that she has antagonised. She should’ve have left immediately. She should not have come down here at all. All these regrets shoot through her mind, coalesce, then explode in fear.

She bolts back up the hallway.

The footsteps that sound behind her are steady and measurend. Flavia doubles her efforts, pulling her heels off as she runs. Her breath comes in ragged gasps and burns her throat.

She has rarely run since being an adult, unless it is for a train or a bus, or to get to or from her car if it’s raining, so this distance exhausts her quickly, but stopping is not an option. Stopping will consign her to some ghastly fate.

Again, the distance seems askew. It’s just minutes before she takes the stairs two at a time. At the top, she thrusts her hands into the door, expecting them to swing open, but they jar against her assault. She bangs into them, startled. There are no handles on this side. She slaps at the doors and pushes them again and again until they rattle.

‘Open up!’ she says. ‘Open up now!’ But her voice is barely a whisper, her breathing shallow, her throat coarse.

Her hands fall from the door and she looks back down the stairs. The bottom is dimly illuminated. A shadow appears, or perhaps she imagines it. There are no footsteps. Nothing. The shadow lengthens. Darkens. No. There is something coming.

She moves to smash her hands against the doors but they swing open. Prometheus is there, his face implacable. He tips his head to her. Smiles that big smile.

Flavia blunders down the hallways and doesn’t look back.

* * *

Marcus’s right cheek rests against the felt of the pool table. Tears flow from clenched eyes. He wishes he could stop them, but whatever self-control he might’ve once exercised was broken long ago. His back and buttocks burn. There’s a crack. His buttocks quiver as leather snaps against his flesh. The pain is an eruption that explodes from the point of impact, and mushrooms up his lower back and down his hamstrings. He grunts into the lace panties that gag him.

‘Fire!’ somebody says.

There’s uncertainty. Queries thrown back and forth. Confirmation. More confirmation. The mood shifts from vicious jubilation to panic. People shriek. Feet stampede out and recede. Now the pandemonium sounds from elsewhere and spreads.

Marcus eases his head up. There’s a tightness in his neck that is resistant to unwind. He rests his chin on the table and forces his eyes open. Whereas there had been a mob, now the room is empty. He tries to call out that he’s been forgotten, but even if it weren’t for the gag, there isn’t the strength to speak.

Then there’s the shame – how would he deal with being found in this predicament? Questions would be asked. He would be humiliated.

A memory rears up: playing basketball in the fifth grade despite the desperate need to pee, being knocked over in a contest, and wetting his shorts. Everybody had laughed. He’d fled home, locked himself in his room, and cried for an hour. After dinner, his dad had asked him what was wrong. Marcus had relayed what had happened. His dad had told him he should do whatever it took to stop people laughing – to make them respect him.

The next day when Marcus had shown up for school, the class captain, Harrison Leury, had mocked him, and gotten the other kids to jeer him. Marcus had punched him in the nose. When Harrison’s friends tried to jump in, he’d attacked them ferociously. Teachers had intervened and he’d been suspended a fortnight.

When he got back to school, Harrison and his friends had confronted him; Marcus had fought them again, although their numbers had been too great and they’d beaten him. Now they’d been suspended. Once they returned, Marcus sought out Harrison and beat him in the toilets, threatening to break his arm –  if not now, then any other time something like this happened, or if Harrison reported him. Harrison said nothing. People stopped making fun of Marcus. Marcus learned there was power in strength.

‘Well, well, well.’

He swings his head to the left. It’s Gabriella, a belt looped around her right hand. The bitch strapped him three times. There is nothing more than that thought, though. The silence of his mind scares Marcus. Once upon a time, he would’ve vowed revenge. He thinks back to Harrison – a memory that usually triggers exultation, but that is gone now, too.

‘You are so unimportant, so insignificant, that not one woman stopped to think they should free you,’ Gabriella says. ‘Except me.’

She runs her hand down his back and onto his right buttock. Her hands are smooth and cool and, even if she is an older woman, Marcus knows there was a time he would’ve welcomed her touch, but now it only ignites his pain.

Gabriella fishes into his mouth with one finger, and pulls out the panties the way a magician might pull a string of handkerchiefs out of his pocket.

‘Nothing to say?’ she asks.

Marcus takes a deep breath. He can still taste the lace on his tongue, and he was sure they were also wet – whether from sweat or ejaculate or something else, he doesn’t know.

‘What would you give me to untie you?’ Gabriella says.

Marcus turns onto his left cheek. It feels so good to have his head in another position. ‘You wouldn’t …’ he says, but can’t get out more than that. His throat is dry.

Gabriella starts for the archway.

‘Please …’

Gabriella stops.

Please …’

Gabriella returns to the table and kneels before him. ‘Yes, I wouldn’t leave you,’ she says, ‘but I want you to know that for every remaining moment of your life, you were at my mercy.’ She unties his left wrist, and then his left ankle. ‘I think with somebody like you, that’s probably not going to matter. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before something like this – or worse – happens to you again.’ She moves around the table and unties his right ankle. ‘But who knows? Miracles have happened.’ She unties his right wrist.

Marcus draws his hands up and plants them on the table. Shoulder muscles that had been locked finally relax. He propels himself up, the way he would with a push up. His back burns. His crotch is sticky and his cock glistening and limp. There is a stain on the table. He doesn’t remember ejaculating, and doesn’t know why he would’ve given the circumstances. Warmth fills his cheeks. The smell of smoke teases his nostrils.

He sits up, hoping his body will obscure the stain from Gabriella, but she is by his side, manoeuvring under his arm in support. Marcus pauses to gape at her as her eyes go sidelong from his crotch to the stain on the table. Marcus looks away from her in embarrassment, but she says nothing, instead hoisting his arm and pushing up with her legs, giving him the leverage to clamber off the table.

‘Hang on,’ Gabriella says.

Marcus supports himself against the table and notes that smoke has trickled in and spills across the ceiling, like some ornate web taking form. He has no idea what’s gone on but knows it can’t be good.

Gabriella herself shows not an iota of urgency as she fetches the leather pants he wore as an Icon and a half-filled Corona, which sits discarded on a table in the corner. She proffers the Corona to Marcus – who takes it weakly – and then kneels before him and fits the pants to him. Given the Velcro seams, she can piece them together around his legs, although he trembles and gasps when she presses them to his buttocks.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘But I don’t think going out naked is a good idea.’

Marcus lifts the Corona to his lips and takes a long drink. The beer is lukewarm, but it feels good to wet his mouth and his throat. He looks down at the redhead, hovering around his crotch and leers.

He lifts the bottle. Tightens his hand around its neck. Sets his jaw.

‘Marcus!’

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