Occupational Hazard By Stephen Faulkner

If asked, Carl would not have been able to say what style or technique he used in his writing. All that he knew was that he did it, that it came to him – plot, theme, dialogue and motivation – and, as if in a trance, he recorded it all in a flurry of near-blind touch typing.  Others would be astounded to see the pile of manuscript pages he poured forth in barely a month’s time: 200 to 250 neatly typed pages of unadulterated dreck, “Easy as can be,” he would say if asked how he did it while he rapped out yet another sentence, formed another paragraph almost as if by telekinesis; his fingers seemed barely to touch the keys, his eyes never to consider the words on the computer screen that was slowly filling with the product of his imagination. “But let me finish this thought first before I say anything more, okay?”

His fingers flew on the keyboard, tracing another of the numerous athletic couplings of his insatiable, shallowly drawn heroine. “She watched him approach with their drinks,” Carl wrote. “She noted with satisfaction how his meaty cock hung between his strong, hairy thighs. She could not help but think what a waste it was to have him with her, both of them naked and sheening with lusty sweat on that very private beach, and not do anything about it. ‘Let me,’ she offered as she took the drinks and put them aside. Then, in one smooth, fluid motion, she took his fat tool into her mouth and began slowly to suck its sausagelike thickness. It felt like something magic the way the soft putty of his fat cock stiffened and grew in her mouth, the knobby head of it sliding over her tongue to touch and massage the dangling uvula at the back of her throat. She had known his rod was big but when she drew her face back to see what her mouth had accomplished, she was amazed to behold that it had grown to the thickness of a beer can and the length of a child’s forearm and the solidity of stone. She wondered how she had been able to accommodate such a massive wanger in her mouth without choking.

“Like falling off a log,” Carl would say with a shrug regarding the speed of his composing, “once you’ve got the basics down pat. And let me tell you I’ve had plenty of practice at this kind of stuff.”

The fact of the amount of practice he had had over the past several years since he began writing his “pieces” was not a point of pride with Carl. At the beginning he had considered himself to be a “serious” writer; an unknown writer, too, which meant unpublished, unread, that peculiar type of pariah of the publishing industry that gets nowhere without “connections” in order to find a sympathetic ear for his particular brand of talent. The connections that Carl was able to foster grew out of his friendships with several junior editors at what are known in the magazine trade as “men’s sophisticates,” and not those of the more high toned variety, either. The editors he knew and whose business he received worked for the more raunchy of the men’s magazines, each making it clear that they were not looking for quality of theme and characterization in the stories they bought as they were for quick, three and four page vignettes for their respective publication’s “letters” columns that made the most of the sexual shenanigans of people like Carl’s latest heroine, her friends and male counterparts in the most explicit of terms. “Remember,” he was told at the outset, “a penis is never a penis but a cock or a rod or a shaft or some other cylindrically phallic item. A vagina is always a cunt or a pussy or twat or a snatch, maybe even a ‘love tunnel’ if you’re hard up for a synonym. Use words like fuck and suck and ream and poke and thrust a lot and you’ll do just fine.” So much for stylistic integrity. With the how and what already predetermined, all that was left to dicker with was the who; and it was a sure bet that the readers of such simplistic drivel wouldn’t care a whit for that, one way or the other.

Those editors had been his preliminary connections; it was the secondary one that got Carl to where he later found himself. After about six months of selling his letters to three different editors and having developed a reputation for coming up with the goods without a hitch, one of them put him in touch with a publisher of “sophisticated adult fiction,” paperbacks which were often advertised in the mail-order sections of the editor’s sleazy rag, or sold in adult bookstores and occasionally off the top tiers of candy store magazine racks, away from the curious eyes of adolescents. The publisher put his wares out under several different imprints with names like “Squeeze,” “Skintight” and “Lip Service.” Carl was immediately interested and purchased a few such books to familiarize himself with their particular approach to what had become for him a habitually worked subject matter.  He finished the first draft of his first book-length manuscript in two months, the final draft two weeks after that. He sent off the “work” to the publisher with the same kind of pessimistic trepidation with which he had mailed out his serious submissions to Triquarterly, Esquire, Shenadoah, Prairie Schooner and The Atlantic, expecting to receive the ever familiar form rejection letter in due time. Three weeks later he received a check in the mail for a thousand dollars and the request by the publisher to see more of his output. A sample copy of the book, (under the spuriously chosen pseudonym of “Oscar Putznik) said the letter, would be forthcoming in about a month and a half.

So began a career that, so far, spanned two years and five months with a new “work” required by two different publishers on an average of once a month. Since that first sale his asking price had gone up to fifteen hundred per book length piece and, more recently, to two thousand, so the money was at least somewhat livable. Along with the letters he still wrote for a few editor friends (usually excerpted from whatever book he had in progress at the moment and transposed from a third person to a first person format) at a rate of about twenty to twenty five dollars per letter, Carl’s current yearly earnings reached about a few hundred dollars shy of thirty thousand.  This, coupled with his wife, Lena’s, income from her job as an editorial assistant at a small women’s magazine, had them in a pretty comfortable financial position.

Carl’s output, he would be the first to admit, was fairly prolific and mostly quite easily attained with his “write it and forget it” habit of working. Let the editors do the editing, he figured; he was just a writer.  And he never fooled himself into believing that it was anything even remotely akin to being serious writing. “At least it’s honest, though,” he would say if asked what he thought about his subject matter. “Not like the stuff Lena copy-edits for – what’s it called? – oh yes, Ladies’ Choice. Now there’s real crapola for you.  I call a vagina a cunt? Well, listen to this: she has to call it a ‘ripening fruit’ or a ‘tender flower’ or some damned nonsense. Now you tell me: which is the more honest? I’ll leave that up to you.”

***

Lena moved the ruler down to the next line of type and lazily read the words in the narrow column. This is not what I had envisioned for myself, she thought. I’ve read this paragraph three times already, the whole story in fact, each time looking for typos, inverted e’s and transposed adverbial clauses. Then, I’ll look at the next one for the fourth time and five others as well and won’t find anything more than a missed comma and a misspelled word or two for every thousand words or so. Not what I had banked on when I took this job; certainly not.

Lena recalled what had been promised (or what, at least, had been alluded to) when the final interview was over and the job was hers. “Don’t let the title fool you,” said Mrs. Halbistam, the woman who in a week’s time would be Lena’s boss. “Editorial Assistant is a misnomer; you’re really going to be on your own much of the time. The job will be whatever you make of it.” What she was to make of it, she found, was precisely what was given to her each day and no more: taking other people’s writing, shifted around and worked over to suit the stringent format of the magazine by one of the Senior Editors (usually Mrs. Halbistam, sometimes Ms. Kramholtz) and reading it all very closely to be sure that the typesetters hadn’t screwed it up too badly. If the story or article was readable and made sense after four runs past an Editorial Assistant, several bouts with SpellChek and the typesetter’s CompuGraphic, then it went to press, ready for inclusion in the next issue of Ladies’ Choice.

Lena sighed, thinking that it was a small blessing that she wasn’t doomed to read and reread diet articles, health articles and how-to articles on pleasing the eye with an artfully appointed dining room spread. At least she had the fiction section to work with, somewhere in the middle of the preference list among the assistants on the magazine. Judy, in the cubicle next to hers, had the most sought after section to edit: the sex articles on how to attract a man, how to keep him interested, the how-to aspects of where, when, how and what to do when you got down to actually making love, and advice on how to gain the most pleasure from the entire scenario. There was at least one such piece per issue and since the entire staff always started working on an issue at least four months in advance of press-time with four readings of every piece to be included in the magazine, Judy had her hands full of flesh, lacy lingerie, dildos and condoms (figuratively, of course) from the time she walked into the office in the morning until she went home at five. Lena was occasionally tempted to check Judy’s seat for damp spots or other signs of excitation brought on by such continuous exposure to the licentious and lubricious, the baser instincts of the human species. (What else would you call an article that discussed the different types of orgasms to be experience, depending on the type of sexual position you were engaging in with a man?) Such temptations never lasted, however, and were usually replaced by musing reveries on her own sex life with Carl.

The ruler remained on the page, unmoved for several minutes as she recalled her previous night’s scrambling for a balance of passion and equality of result. She had demanded tenderness from him and had gotten it, hearing the tension in his voice as he whispered his endearments. He had wanted to call her a slut, she knew, but he yielded to her wishes, calling her “sweetheart” and “sugar bear” and other conservative coochy-coo words as he labeled them. It was what she had asked for, sweetly demanded, and was surprised when they were no longer sufficient and hadn’t been for some time. Was the honeymoon so long past? Her orgasm would have been rated a 5 on the scale developed by one of Judy’s “expert” authors on the subject; as a muted hum in her crotch that never had a chance to grow to the previously accustomed roar before it was all over.

Lena shook her head, clearing it of the disappointing memory and dipped her eyes to the line on the page which was underscored by the ruler. “…the roseate aureole shadowed under the filmy fabric of her peignoir. Her firm, round breasts rose and fell with her breathing as if on the lever of her growing excitement. ‘You know you want it,’ she told him in a husky, sultry voice. ‘Just take it and it is yours.’ His hands reached….”

“Right for her crotch,” Lena extemporized, not bothering to read any further. She looked out the window and let her train of thought develop. “His finger slid into her cunt to the second knuckle, serving to kick her libido into overdrive. Now all she wanted was for it to continue, to feel his fat cock where his finger now was.” She laughed and looked back down at her work. With a deft stroke she deleted “roseate aureole” and substituted the word “nipple.” She nodded at the change. At least that’s honest, Carl would say. Taking the idea further, she crossed out “breasts” and penciled in “tits.” She looked at the revisions she had made and then shook her head with a sigh. “Now that,” she told herself. “Is getting a little too close to his sort of thing.”

She erased the penciled changes, leaving only shadowy remains of the squiggly delete marks and the two words hovering to the right of the printed column. “Honest or not,” she muttered to herself, “this kind of thing could easily get me fired. Out on my pretty ass, bouncing all the way to the unemployment line.”

***

After making love, they talked; it had become something of a hallmark of their marriage. They both agreed that their willingness to communicate with one another was the glue that bound them together. Sex was a beautiful thing, they seemed to say as they talked of many things after the bed was no longer a field of foreplay and tussle, but it was not the whole and only. There were other things in their lives to indulge in and discuss.

“How did work go today?”

“You know how it was,” said Carl as he rezipped his fly. “Same old shit.”

“That’s what I’d call it, too, “Lena answered, nodding. Her fingers wrestled with the top clasp of her bra behind her back, always the hardest for her to reach. Carl stepped forward to lend what aid he could. “Six, seven years ago and you would have spun me around, kissed me like you meant it and we’d start all over again,” she said over her shoulder as he cinched her into her garment.

“Six, seven years ago I did mean it,” he said and spun her around to deliver an affectionate smooch to her cheek. “But then we were newlyweds, it was all brand new, being married and in love, and we were as hot as smoking pistols. And what do you mean, ‘That’s what you’d call it, too’?”

“Shit,” she replied. “That’s what you said about your work and I agreed with you.”

“Are we going to start that again?”

“We never really stopped,” she said calmly, answering the groaning query in his tone. “You know what I think about that crap you write. I’ve told you often enough.”

“And I’ve agreed every time. It’s crap, garbage, dreck, whatever you want to call it. But it brings home the bacon.”

“That’s not the only reason that you continue with it. You could do something else.”

“We’ve been over all this before,” he said, his voice tinged with frustrated anger. They had been over it all before, true, and he knew what little worth anger was when the outcome was almost a fait accompli no matter what emotion he displayed. “And I never know how to answer that except to say that now that I have the contacts it’s easy money and I’m stuck in a rut.”

Lena had her blouse on and was reaching for her skirt. They were going out; it was Friday night and dinner and a movie had sounded like a good idea when they had made the plans earlier in the week. “Still, you know how I feel about it all.” She turned and smiled at him. “What I wish could happen.”

:That I’d join the staff of some magazine, read manuscripts all day, ten out of eleven of which would be written in barely readable English – if you could call it that – and the eleventh one wouldn’t be up to the editorial standards or format of the rag I’d be working for.” His answer, in spirit, was nearly memorized. They had been over all this before.

“There is some good stuff out there, though. You could be one to make a difference.”

“Wasn’t that your dream when you started at Ladies’ Choice? Make your mark, make a difference? And so what are you doing there now? Reading spinsters’ trashy fantasies about being ravaged by pirates on the high seas or in the jungle by some Great White Hunter. Checking their spelling, dotting their i’s, changing all the dirty words for less objectionable ones so that your ‘lady’ readers can get a vicarious jolt without feeling cheapened.”

“That’s for now,” said Lena defensively. “But I’ve only been there five months; things’ll get better. And you make it sound so – I don’t know – so tawdry. It’s romance fiction and that’s what it’s all about, getting your thrills from reading about someone doing it right against the odds, no matter how unrealistic the circumstances. Romance: it’s beautiful, sensual and it takes you away from reality for a little while. What’s so wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” he said, surprised by the sudden heat of her reply. “But why so serious? When you started the job you’d come home laughing, telling me about what this writer or that one you were reading called a vagina or a clitoris or fucking….”

“I don’t see anything wrong with using an objective correlative,” she snapped.

“They’re called euphemisms, Lena,” he corrected. “And you only use them if you’re either trying to be cutesy, poetic or to get past the censors. Or if you’re too damned embarrassed by sexuality to call a cock a cock and instead have to have some virginal bimbo ‘gaze longingly at his phallic instrument.’” His eyes rolled comically as he recited the remembered phrase.

She eyed him coldly, or at least tried to; a smile began to form at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll always remember that one, won’t you?”

Carl’s smile was already at full shine. “You’ll  have to agree it was pretty bad. Personally I would have said ‘his stiff, drooling member’ and made it a point to spell out its dimensions. But hey, that’s my stock in trade, telling it like it is.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said facetiously. “Like it is, you pervert.” She slapped him playfully on the behind as she sauntered past him through the door to the hallway. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

***

Lena gave her husband a photocopy of the manuscript she had taken with her from the office. “Strictly against the rules, taking work home like this,” she told him as he began to read. “But I thought you’d get a kick out of it. And anyway who’s going to know? We’re certainly not going to plagiarize it for publication.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Carl said absently as he slowly turned the pages. “This stuff is pretty damned close to my own shit, just taken from a different perspective.”

“’Bodice ripper’ type garbage,” Lena said, identifying the sub-genre. “Virginal young woman finds herself in a compromising position with a lusty-horny older man; she finds it exciting and feels driven to give in to his advances. But she must yield to decorum to maintain her reputation – as if anyone really cares these days; people will say and think what they will no matter how loud you scream.”

“Yeah,” Carl interrupted. “They might think that’s the kind of noise you make when you’re coming.”

Lena had paused to allow for his comment then went on as if he hadn’t even spoken. “And so she puts up a brave fight,” she continued. “Gets her clothes all ripped and messy in the process. In the end, the randy d.o.m. has his lusty way with her and she gets her thrill with the added plus that she can say it wasn’t her fault, wasn’t her choice. Reputation soiled but not irretrievably lost, or so she thinks. You see, because of the loss of her virginity she becomes, by nineteenth century standards, unmarriageable.  Result: she marries her erstwhile rapist, though she finds out on their honeymoon that his predilections run only to virgins. Being that he has already deflowered her, he views her as soiled property or some such chauvinistic horseshit and she is no longer desirable to him.”

“Leave it up to the reader, then, as to why the hell she even married this son of a bitch in the first place,” sniped Carl. Lena shrugged; she couldn’t figure out that part, either

“Anyway,” she said, summing up. “She lives a sexually unsatisfying life until the old boy dies afterwhich she is a rich but still unsatisfied widow. Moral of the story: she got what she deserved, as do all young virgins who give into temptation with horny older men before the gold ring is firmly placed on the left hand ring finger. The conclusion to be drawn for the impressionable young women reading this claptrap (no pun intended): it’s always your fault, no matter what the outcome, so beware the man with the tempting way and empty hands.”

Carl had been listening to this with a thoughtful, if sarcastic, air of interested respect. His response was anything but flattering. “You about finished?”

“That’s about it,” said his wife evenly, having expected such a reply. “Sounds kind of medieval, doesn’t it?””

“I don’t know. Change a few things around and it could have some glint of truth in it.”

Lena laughed. “You’d have to revamp the whole thing to make it sound anywhere near reality.”

“Not really. I mean, take away the virginity angle, make the girl a bit more experienced, knowing that the rape part was just a game to keep things interesting and you might have a pretty good story.”

“One of your stories, you mean.”

“Well, that would take a little more work.” He was silent for a moment, then: “Mind if I try?”

“That kind of thing is second nature to you,” she said. “Just a walk in the park. Just for fun, though, why don’t I try? I’ve always wondered how close the stuff you write is in the spirit to this kind of thing. It’d be an interesting way to find out.”

Carl had no complaint with the suggestion. He gave her a few pointers in composition: lists of vulgar words for genitalia and coition, an admonition that the focus of the tale should be on the act and that any conclusions should be limited to a defense of the beauty of the orgasm and continued desire. Finished with his little lesson, he watched as she repaired to her computer to begin her first trial run at pornography.

Lena’s resulting story was longer by several pages than what Carl would have concocted out of the raw material, much shorter than the original. She had focused on the sexual aspect, as advised, and had skillfully used a number of the epithets her husband had listed for her. Her one main failing, in Carl’s estimation, was the last page, her summing up. She made decided conclusions far beyond what he would have deigned to be fitting to the subject at hand. Her heroine did marry the old roué and their sex life continued on, orgasmically fiery for the both of them. Her reputation was shot in the end, however, its plummet brought about by her insatiable need for more and more couplings and her later dissatisfaction with her husband as a lover. Instead of an unsatisfied spinster living on the memories of a few passionate experiences she became a single-minded bitch-slut, seducing young men in back alleys, spending all her money on a downward spiraling series of affairs that turned into a caricature of seedy sensuality.

“Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone?” he asked as he laid her efforts aside. “Cut the cheap moralizing in the bud. It’s supposed to be a story of the sport, the acquisition, not the rotting corpse after the kill has been made.”

Lena had been standing beside Carl’s chair as he read her rendition of the rape story. She was wearing the sort of loose fitting blouse and skirt ensemble that had become a comfortable habit when she was at home; in the warm months of summer, as it was now, underwear was rarely worn, seen as just an unnecessary annoyance. “It’s real,” she insisted unsurely. “At least it tries to be.” Maybe I should have toned down the part about the woman enticing young studs into back alleyways, she considered in hindsight. Even without that the point would have been clear enough.

This is real,” said Carl and without warning he brought his free hand up and under Lena’s skirt. Her legs were slightly akimbo so that his fingers found easy access to her crotch. He moved his hand deftly, massaging her firmly, this thumb rubbing and insinuating itself between her labia as if motor driven. She squealed at the sudden intrusion, then giggled and squatted in compliance to give his fingers better, deeper access. “The rest,” he said as his middle and forefinger worried their way into her vagina. “Is all unnecessary chatter signifying nothing.”

“Nothing,” Lena whispered, intensely excited as she leaned forward to fumble at the fly on her husband’s pants. This was truth, she thought, here and now. Without thinking about it she felt that she understood what Carl had been talking about. Though she missed the foreplay, the slow build up, the tender beginnings that would have proved this to be a loving rather than a simply carnal experience, she indulged herself without any real consideration. That other way, she told herself somewhere in the back of her mind, could wait for another time. This time it had all come about too suddenly, had become too immediate, too intense all at once for niceties to be applied. As her hand grasped his erect cock and his hand had her on the brink of orgasm while she still stood next to him in his chair, right then she understood too well his lesson and what its outcome would be.

In the spirit of the immediacy of the moment, however, one so impetuously begun, outcomes did not come as promptly as Lena would have liked. As soon as her sliding hand had Carl shooting his jism onto his slacks his hand had slowed its work, then stopped. When her needs weren’t being met as she wanted them to be she told Carl what he needed to do in the most vulgar terms, surprising herself at how honestly insistent her voice sounded. Sure of its purpose, the lewdly worded demands that he do her, eat her, fuck her, seemed to have come from the mouth of a woman she did not know.

***

She came home several weeks later close to tears.

Carl jumped up from his writing desk to ask the reason why or, if no reason was to be given, at least to be near enough to be of help when comfort was needed, and she needed it right away. They embraced; the shoulder of his shirt was immediately soaked through with her tears. It was a moment that he would remember for some time to come since it was the first really tender moment they had shared in a very long time. He only wished that the circumstance were brighter. What he would recall, besides the tears and the ensuing embrace, would be the story she would tell, tearing little pieces of it from her harrowing day to offer to him in scraps. He would later recall the way it came out as being a strange rush of non-sequiturs pinned to a common theme: the last story.

It was titled “Red River Meeting” and was about an encounter between a man and a woman (what other kind of tale ever appeared in Ladies’ Choice?) on a bridge over the river in the title. The main theme of the story was the unspoken yet implicitly smoldering sexuality that passed between them as they greeted one another, shared pleasantries and local gossip. They had been lovers once, their affair having ended some years before; they had been engaged when it was abruptly called off because of some misunderstanding and they went their separate ways. They both continued to live in the same town, each ever aware of the presence of the other, just across the river. In the story they singly, silently revel in their memories of the relationship they once had together, indulge in fantasies of continued love, lust and moral lassitude with the other that, even as they had dated and been engaged they had denied themselves.

“It was the best thing that had come across my desk since I’ve been there,” Lena nearly wailed, her tearful distress having turned to anger and frustration. “And she turned it into a cutesy little melodrama about how the two characters had had a chance at love and had blown it in favor of ‘safe’ relationships with other people. God! It was revolting to see.”

“What’s so revolting? It sounds like a pretty good story to me.”

“Sure; one that’s been done a thousand times before and much better,” Lena huffed as she struggled to control her emotions. “But I had seen the original manuscript. It was great, it was daring. They still wanted each other – nothing bittersweet about it – they had to have each other. She made a grab for his balls, for Christ sake!”

“Don’t yell at me. I didn’t read the thing, you did. Just tell me…. What did your Mrs. Halbistam do to it?”

“Tore the guts out of it is what she did. The girl reaches for the guy’s nuts, right? So what does Mrs. Goody Two Shits do? Has the girl’s hand flutter helplessly at the guy’s shirt while she fights the temptation to just touch him one more time, lay her hand on his chest to feel the thump of his heartbeat. Yuck! And I have to read this crap, make sure that the typesetters spelled ‘tempestuous’ right.”

“So you got a good story made bad. But that’s part of the territory of your job, isn’t it? So what does this have to do with your dramatic entrance, all the tears and yammering about – what was it? – your career going down the toilet?”

“I’m getting to that,” she said, then stopped to give him a questioning look. “Was I really yammering?”

“Blubbering is more like it. I couldn’t catch more than a phrase or two. ‘Career going into the shitter’ is the way I think you put it and then something about wanting to break something over Mrs. Two Shits’ head. Would one of the everyday dishes do? The good china is kind of expensive to be used for mayhem.”

“That’s not necessary now. Just let me talk.” She took a deep breath and seemed to deflate as she let it out. She sat down and shook her head. “I couldn’t believe it while I was doing it,” she said as she recalled her day. “I even tried to blame it on someone else when it went through.  You ready for this, Carl?”

“I guess I am,” he said, not sure at all that he was. Do what? he thought. Blame what? He sat down and pulled his chair along the floor until he was directly opposite her, knees to knees.

“I changed it back,” she said.

“Changed what back? The story?”

“Yep, just the way the author wrote it, nut grabbing, passionate kisses, hands getting lost under the clothing and all. The only reason it was caught was that it ran over the limit that Mrs. Halbistam had set for it.”

“Caught? You mean it never got to typesetting?”

“Oh it got to them, but they bounced it right back to her to make sure the length was okay. The original ran over by a good ten lines of type.” She sighed and shook her head again, still not believing what had happened. “It was only the second edit so it was really kind of stupid of me. I should have waited until the final came by me. Even so it probably would have come back to her with question marks all over it. My only defense was to demand an explanation from the old bat why she’d bought the piece in the first place if she knew that she was going to rip the heart out of it.”

“She called you on the carpet? What happened? Don’t tell me you were….”

“Fired,” said Lena solemnly. She paused and gave him another quizzical look. “Didn’t I mention that before?”

***

Time soon became Lena’s own.

There was only so much of it she could spend each day in hunting for a job, only so many ads per week she could answer, interviews that she could go on. By the end of the first month it became evident that all time thus spent was a bleak exercise in futility. Despite a rather impressive resume interviewers brushed her off as soon as her references came through. It was not long before references were not needed at all; the offers of interviews stopped coming altogether. The phone only rang with calls from friends, family members and Carl’s associates. It seemed that Mrs. Halbistam’s influence in the industry was quite considerable. The word had gotten out and all those concerned were listening attentively to what the old bat had to say: Lena was not a “team player.”

Despondency did not become Lena’s naturally active demeanor nor did the role of the harridan or common scold that she thought she might become in those first few weeks of being at home with her husband day in and day out. No; instead she began to foster an interest in his work, much as it pained her to admit it. The manuscript of Carl’s present work-in-progress was daily growing in bulk and Lena began to read it, to give thoughtful suggestions on how this wording or that might better serve the licentious action building in a given paragraph. Carl listened and then patiently explained that style did not matter so much as long as the simple point was gotten across and the scene became visually, tactilely, even tastily vivid to the reader. “Put the reader there on the edge of the bed where the action is taking place, make him know what it feels like to be there and doing it,” he said of the purpose of his prose. “That’s the whole point of the thing; just get him as horny as hell.”

“I don’t think ‘tastily’ is the right word,” she remarked. “But I know what you mean.”

“What I do,” he said, having warmed to the subject. “Is elicit the simplest response from my audience. And I have to have it done by the end of next week. You know something about deadlines, so may I…?”

“But what about the letters,” she asked. “You usually do four or five of those each month for that editor friend of yours.”

“I’ll use parts of chapters four, eight, nine and fifteen, maybe thirteen, too, if I have the time,” he answered. “Just switch the perspective to first person, change the names and maybe the setting and nobody’s the wiser.”

“But how do you manage two deadlines like that?”

“The magazine’s deadline comes two weeks after Squeeze Publications’.  Plenty of time.”

“What if your magazine editor got ten letters from you? Would he still buy them and pay the usual rate?”

“Sure. He’ll snap up whatever I send him, check in the mail upon acceptance.”

“Then let me try my hand at chapters – what? Four, eight, nine, fourteen….”

“Thirteen and fifteen,” he corrected, looking at her as if at a total stranger. “You serious about this?”

“I might as well be doing something,” she said simply as she lifted the stack of typed bond paper from his desk to extract the needed material. “See you later.”

She came back to him that first day in only four hours, her work complete on three of the five chapter/letters. “Editing is editing” was the way she explained the alacrity with which she had transformed the chapters into self-contained vignettes of first person porn. By the time he had finished the novel she had done with the final two excerpts as well as five more letters of her own. “Just let your fantasies run free,” she said with a shrug. “Really nothing to it.” Carl read her efforts, made some comments but, on the whole, had no complaints with any of them.

They had to call several other editor friends of Carl’s with whom he had not been in touch for a while in order to sell Lena’s output. She was cranking out as many as five new letters a day when she was really on a roll. By the end of the second month they celebrated with a trip to the theater and dinner in the city. Their financial status, though not too much healthier due to Lena’s involvement in her husband’s work, had improved enough for the splurge to be justified.

Lines had been drawn and, for a while, they seemed to hold. Carl wrote the book-length material and Lena concentrated on the short stuff for the magazines. When Lena’s pieces began to reach the ten and fifteen page mark (deliberately; they brought in from $250 to $400 per piece when sold) she began to pester him about her helping with his own writing.

“An experiment,” She finally offered when hints did not seem to have any effect. “Alternate chapters, man’s point-of-view and woman’s point-of-view of the same affair. How does that sound?”

Carl did not have to think about it for long. The editors at four different men’s magazines loved her for her ingenuity and profligacy and she could write a steamy sex scene with the best of them. “What’s the underlying plot?” he asked.

She held up the wrinkled, well-thumbed photocopy of a manuscript. “’Red River Meeting,’” she said of the pilfered piece. “Start on the bridge, the meeting, the memories of a torrid affair, an open marriage where anything goes, lovers galore for both of them, every position and kinky twist we’ve used and that are still being used in every porn novel around. End with two quick chapters – his version and her version – of nuts being grabbed, the impassioned grappling on the bridge. Leave it open – do they get back together or is this the final heaving sigh of a failed relationship? – maybe work out a sequel on what happens next.”

Carl nodded thoughtfully, liking the idea. “Let me see story again first,” he said, reaching. “Then we’ll talk.”

“Just talk?”  Her excitement for the project turned to sudden disappointment.

He flipped through the pages, stopping quickly to scan a paragraph here, read several lines of dialogue there before flipping again. “Talk about how we’re going to go about it,” he said distractedly. He tossed the manuscript onto his desk and rose to approach her. He pulled her into a bearlike embrace and slipped his hands under her slacks to massage the buttocks and insinuate his fingers between them while continued to knead and massage. The pleasure of his warm, strong hands on her ass drew a moan from her throat. “Something like this takes more time to work out than just sitting down at the computer and banging away,” he whispered in her ear. “Something like this takes a bit of thought and planning.”

Lena undressed slowly, said nothing as if her actions were answer enough. For this, she knew, coming to him hungrily, no thought was necessary.

***

Slow and languid, that was the way she remembered him from the last time. She looked deep into his soft brown eyes, gently traced the line of his strong jaw with her finger and saw from his expression that he remembered, too. It had been more than two years and yet she recalled their last meeting so long ago as if it had taken place only hours, perhaps just minutes before.

            “Tell me that he still makes love the same way,” she thought. “Let me believe that he hasn’t changed in that regard.” She wanted to believe that his kisses would come slow and sweet, hot against the skin, sensuously defining the hollow at the meeting of her shoulder and neck, that he would still slowly, maddeningly, slide his tongue over her breasts, muttering sweet yet mildly vulgar words of appraisal as he took her brown nipple into his mouth to work it to a tingling hardness, an excitement that would wind serpentlike through her body until she would be just about ready to scream. If that was so then she knew that she would be the same as she remembered, stifling her instinct to howl and keen, muting her voice down to a guttural moan that would serve to pique his desire further, get him to continue his ministrations, make him want more, want to push her to the limit, have her grapple him, pull him closer (though that would be near to impossible), have him make her demand what they both knew that they would have of the other in that slow, languid, wonderful way that he had.

Lena stopped reading aloud and looked up at Carl. He had been listening intently; his only comment now was a disinterested shrug. “I got tired of the ‘wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am’ stuff I was writing for the magazines,” she said, defensive against his obvious indifference. “This is going to be book length so I figured I’d do it a little differently, with a slow build-up, kind of like the way I used to like it. Know what I mean?”

“Of course I do,” said Carl. “But you’ve got to realize, book length or not, it’s all pretty much the same thing as those little pieces you’ve been doing for the men’s rags. A major sex scene per each chapter. That’s the nature of the beast. You don’t want to risk losing your audience in the second chapter. They expect sleaze; that’s why they buy this crap in the first place.”

“I know that, but I thought….”

“Look, we’ve agreed to twenty-two chapters: ten for you, ten for me, an intro and a tie-up at the end where they break things off with a vague promise to see each other again, kind of hinting at a sequel. Now, the intro’s pretty good, draws’em right in. Then…this. Ba-bing! The reader puts the book down – and I’m talking about the reader at the publishing company here – and says that it’s too slow, so no sale. Don’t call us, et cetera, et cetera. Lena, you know the rules….”

“No way to break them, be creative?”

“Not if we want to sell this thing to Skintight Press. The form is the given, no way to play around with it.”

“It’s not fair,” she complained. “I mean, I’m trying to write this from a woman’s perspective. When a woman’s recalling a sexual encounter she focuses on the kisses and the build-up, what makes the man special. Sure I can do the heavy breathing suck and fuck stuff but I figured this being book length we could ease into it more slowly, give it a glow of realism… people….”

“Uh-uh, not for Skintight. All their stuff is pretty much the same with very little variation from the tried and true. All heaving bodies and musky damp sheets, cocks and cunts and asses and tits being used in imaginative ways. Remember their motto: ‘Every page guaranteed to scorch your fingers.’ With this….” He patted his wife’s draft chapter. “You barely warm the skin. Remember your audience and what they want. That’s the first rule.”

Lena nodded glumly as she picked up the sheaf of paper. “So,” she said dejectedly. “Try, try again, eh?”

“That’s my girl,” he encouraged lamely.

***

The actual writing of the novel took only one month to complete with both Carl and Lena working separately on their respective chapters. As with Carl’s first book, more than two years before, though, it was the editing and rewriting that required the most effort. An additional month was needed in actual collaboration to segue their alternating chapters into one another and to write the tie-up last chapter together. The time factor was further lengthened by the fact that each of them were, at the time, also writing the shorter, letter pieces to provide them with walking around money since the added month’s worth of work on the novel was taking a healthy bite out of their customary income. In effect, they would only be getting a month’s worth of pay for two months of work. That averaged out to about thirty letter pieces needed from each of them just to make up the month’s deficit that the additional novel writing was costing them.

In the end, though, the effort and mild hardship seemed worth all that they had put into it. They couldn’t us the title “Red River Meeting” as they both would have liked for fear of bumping up against some copyright law against employing a previously used title for a book that bore at least a superficial resemblance to the original, shorter piece. Old Goody Two-Shits Halbistam would be just the person to find out about it and take legal action against Skintight Press and the pseudonymous “Carla Lenz,” as Carl wished to have the author of the work be known.

When the photocopied acceptance letter came through for “Rivers of Lust,” Carl and Lena celebrated in their usual, low-key style: dinner and a movie. At Lena’s suggestion they went to an art-house showing of Casablanca. Lena cried at the airport parting of Bogie and Ingrid Bergman as she always did (she had seen the movie three times already, this being the fourth).

“What a thing to do,” Carl commented as they emerged from the little theater. He said that he wasn’t sure whether to respect the Bogie character for letting go of the love of his life for noble reasons, or to call the guy a foolish idiot. “It always gets me,” he said.

“That’s romance,” said Lena, still teary eyed.

Back home she would call that which she and Carl almost immediately engaged in by the same name—romance – ignoring the stark differences. The build-up of the foreplay was the way she used to like it: slow and languid. Carl was ever the perfect lover; he knew exactly how to turn her on and keep her body humming at near peak excitement until he was ready to apply just a bit more friction, more pressure, more intensity to tip her over the edge to orgasmic oblivion. Used to like it, she realized. Now, the going was much too slow. She told her husband what she wanted in no uncertain terms. She did not giggle as she used to when he heaved her onto the bed and projected himself on top of her; this was serious and not to be taken so lightly.

She did not notice the vacant gleam in Carl’s eyes, the fact that he was doing all by rote. It did not matter to her that he was a thousand miles away, indulging in the simple, animal essence of one of his (their) many sex stories, If asked she, too, would have had to agree that Carl was not her real lover that night. The man she was with had the cock the size of a donkey’s pizzle and it was splitting her cunt ecstatically wide with every pounding, vigorous drive of his hips as he forced himself into her further and further, ramming home, pushing her deeper into the mattress as his massive dong prodded and bruised her cervix with each propulsive thrust. Just the way that she had come to need and want it.

Words were moaned and growled; there were no endearments. Words uttered, meant to sting, to hurt and arouse one another to the steepest pitch of those feelings that were by nature the most basic to all mammals. Cunt, pussy, whore, bastard, cock, fuck, ream, shove, bang, ball, pound – words of anger and incendiary lust without true meaning; there was no reality shared between them. Their meeting was completed individually, inside of each of them, Carl and Lena, singly and without reference to the other.

“Ram it into me,” she moaned heartily, huskily as she thrust her hips at him for yet another exquisitely forceful entry inside her of that massive hot cock she had dreamed for her pleasure. She was playing the character in one of their stories with no real mind, no past, no ambition save for this. “That’s it,” she encouraged greedily. “Fuck me harder. Harder, I said! Make me scream!”

And he did, puffing and cursing mightily with the effort.

And when it was done, their orgasms spent like money paid, they lay separately on the tangled, dampened sheets of their connubial bed, each breathing heavily, exhausted, staring at the ceiling in wonder. And this is what it was, the thing they each had sought in the air above them, the thought and memory that had escaped them and which they would not fully realize: that neither of them was truly satisfied. Yet the driving, heady desire was still keen within each of them.

Penance By Lee Todd Lacks

On the third Saturday of Lent, Sister Claire McKenna arrived at the office of the Reverend Mother Martha Clancy, promptly at half past six, as she had done every Saturday evening for nearly three years. “What have you done this week, Sister Claire?” the Reverend Mother asked. For the first year or so, the confessions came easy to the young novice, but after a while, they had to be contrived.

From the time she was young, Claire had taken pleasure in being spanked, first by her widowed mother, then by the nuns at school. The Ursulines who taught at St. Angela’s struck a delicate balance between compassion and severity, a balance which Claire found most alluring. One day, during her sophomore year, Claire had given sweet Sister Helen cause to keep her after class, yet again, for a dozen with the strap. Having tended Claire’s bottom to their mutual satisfaction, Sister Helen looked up at the clock, and noticed that she was late for an appointment with the Reverend Mother, at which point, she suddenly became alarmed. Without waiting for Claire to inquire, the middle-aged nun confided in her young pupil, “Let’s just say that I won’t be sitting comfortably for the next week or so.” Sighing ruefully, she then left the classroom in haste. Claire could hardly believe what she had heard. The thought of Sister Helen having her ample backside paddled by the Reverend Mother seemed inconceivable, and yet, inexplicably arousing. At that moment, Claire realized that she wanted to join the Ursuline Order.

There’s never been a student at St. Angela’s who has graduated without visiting the Reverend Mother’s office at least once, and during her thirty-seven-year tenure as abbess, Mother Martha had chastened the bared bottoms of nearly every one of the nuns, from novices younger than Claire, to the eldest sisters of the convent.

The Reverend Mother knew what motivated Claire to be such an eager penitent. In fact, she had known for quite some time. Loathe as she was to admit it, Mother Martha had enabled Claire’s self-indulgence because she derived a commensurate satisfaction m from strapping, paddling, and caning her. Though she knew that it was sinful to take pleasure in Claire’s pain, the Reverend Mother persisted in doing so, thereby abetting Claire’s sin. Tonight, however, she was determined to put an end to it, for Claire’s sake, as well as her own.

Claire approached the desk of the abbess, stopping just a few inches short. All too familiar with the chastening ritual, Claire proceeded to unfasten the black woolen belt which secured her habit, and handed it to Mother Martha. She then removed her scapular, folding the apron neatly before placing it upon the Reverend Mother’s desk. Next, she reached down to the floor and grasped the hem of her white tunic, raising it well above her waist, till it draped over her back. Then, she turned up her long black underskirt, thereby revealing the opaque woolen stockings and voluminous cotton bloomers customarily worn by members of the Order. Finally, she took down her bloomers, placing them upon the desk, next to her scapular.

Claire could feel her excitement growing as she presented her bare bottom to Mother Martha. While she had never been able to explain her longing for the proverbial rod of correction, she knew that it awakened her nether regions in unspeakably impure ways.

Claire could barely suppress her enthusiasm, as she waited for Mother Martha to pronounce her penance. Mother Martha held herself accountable for the piety of her female charges. To this end, she regarded the administering of corporal punishment as being one of her most sacred duties, a duty which she had faithfully discharged for nearly four decades. ”Twenty-two with the paddle, one for each day remaining in Lent.” Claire gasped. Accustomed as she was to the paddle’s wicked sting, the Reverend Mother’s pronouncement seemed frighteningly severe. “Oh, my God! Twenty-two?!” the young novice fretted. For the first time in a long while, the solemnity in Claire’s voice seemed wholly genuine, as she uttered the obligatory refrain, “Yes, Reverend Mother.”

Bending sharply at the waist, Claire reached out and grabbed the oaken edge of the Mother Martha’s desk, once again marveling at the myriad indentations formed by countless fingers, desperately struggling to maintain their grip. For Claire understood that the urge to let go often seemed irresistible. However, the consequence of having to restart the count served as a most effective deterrent. While Claire savored the Reverend Mother’s attention, she dared not test her limits by letting go intentionally.

Moments later, the young novice heard a resounding thwack, accompanied by a sudden, searing pain, as the Reverend Mother put the sturdy maple plank to her backside. The sting of the first two or three strokes never ceased to amaze her. With each successive stroke, Claire’s cries grew more fervent.

“Unnnoooooohhhhhhh!” While cognizant of her acute discomfort, Claire began to notice herself becoming highly aroused. Upon receiving the twelfth stroke, her whole body shook in an effort to throw off the pain. Mother Martha knew that Claire was nearing her threshold for punishment, and yet, she felt obligated to rid the young novice of her craving.

“Uuunnnnooooohhhhh!!” Claire wailed, as the fourteenth stroke lit into her. Just then, Claire become aware of a forbidden sensation welling up inside her. Dread mixed with shame, as she realized what was happening. Her all-consuming pain, awful as it seemed, was being transformed into that most carnal expression of femininity. Try as she might to keep the wave from breaking, Claire’s rapturous outbursts shook her to the core. As the seventeenth stroke seared her tenderest parts, Claire could feel every muscle below her waist tensing in anticipation of the impending release. Recognizing Claire’s condition, Mother Martha swung the paddle with even greater force. The sound of its impact echoed loudly within the close confines of her office. That very same moment, Claire let go a piercing shriek, which quickly morphed into something much more primal. Mortified by her body’s inability to repress itself, Claire felt it rush past the point of no return before she finally broke down. The Reverend Mother stayed her paddle for just a moment, as she watched the young novice undergo her catharsis. Though she did her best to seem appalled by Claire’s lack of inhibition, Mother Martha couldn’t help but feel similarly aroused. Steeling her resolve, the abbess exacted the remainder of Claire’s penance.

Just then, the young novice regained enough composure to cry out. “Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!” The Reverend Mother’s voice turned icy, “What have you done, Sister Claire?” “Oh, Reverend Mother! I’m so sorry!” “What have you done?!” repeated Mother Martha, struggling to sound condemnatory. “Oh, Reverend Mother!” Claire pleaded, her confession in tears.

Mother Martha brought the paddle down upon Claire’s frightfully distended bottom once more. “Unnnnooooohhhh!!! Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!!” she pleaded. “Say it again, Sister Claire!” Mother Martha demanded. “Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!” “Again!!”shouted the abbess. “Let this wickedness out of you!” Sister Claire did as she was told, veritably bursting with pain and shame. “Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!!”

The paddle found its mark for the twentieth time. Suddenly, in spite of her dire distress, Claire became aware of the Mother Superior’s strident voice calling out with hers. “Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!!” The Reverend Mother delivered yet another stroke, once again professing her guilt. Raising the paddle for the final time, Mother Martha swung with a zeal that astonished even her. Claire screamed, as the dreadful plank caught her full upon that very sensitive region just above her stocking tops. This time, however, she did not hear the Reverend Mother repenting in unison.

“Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!!”cried the young novice, choking on the words. Moments later, Claire was startled by what sounded like a bellow through clenched teeth. Mother Martha had succumbed to her own womanhood. Not daring to look back, Claire listened in disbelief, as the Reverend Mother Martha Clancy came completely undone. “Oh, God! Oh, God!! AAAAGGHHHUUUNNNN!”

Claire suddenly realized that she wasn’t the only one sobbing. The Reverend Mother’s fall from grace only led Claire to feel even more ashamed. Defying every convention, young Sister Claire reflexively stood up and let her underskirt and tunic down, so as to maintain some semblance of decency, before turning to face the Reverend Mother. Realizing that Claire had borne witness to her abject humiliation, Mother Martha accepted full accountability for her role in the young novice’s folly. “Please forgive me, my child. I have let you go astray for these many months, solely to indulge my own impure urges.” Please forgive me!”

Though her bottom was throbbing, Claire rushed over to embrace her beloved Mother Superior. “No, Reverend Mother! Only I should be seeking forgiveness. I willfully exploited your duty to correct me, because I craved the penance. It was a terribly wicked thing for me to do, and I’m so, so sorry!”

“Oh, Sister Claire. I’ve known your reason for seeking absolution ever since you first started coming to my office, and yet, I did nothing to deter you. The sin is mine as much as it is yours. Now, I’m afraid we both must accept the consequences of our wrongdoing.”

How, Reverend Mother?” Claire asked. Mother Martha let out a deep sigh. “By paying a penance that will seem wholly disagreeable to us both, I’m afraid. “

“What will be our penance, Mother Superior?” Claire asked. The Reverend Mother paused before answering, “Starting tonight, and for the next twenty-two nights, you will administer correction to me, as I have done to you, during Evening Services, just prior to the Act of Contrition……in front of the entire convent.”

Claire gasped in horror. “Oh, no! Please Reverend Mother! I could never…cause you suffering…Oh, please! Don’t make me do this!” Mother Martha’s voice became firm. “You can, and you shall, Sister Claire. The time has come for us both to relearn the divine purpose of punishment!” Claire resumed her sobbing. “Now, put your bloomers back on, and bring the paddle. Come along. We mustn’t be late for Evening Services.” With that, Mother Martha proceeded to exit her office, with Claire following closely, if ever so reluctantly, behind. Stepping outside of the vestibule, both women began their sorrowful march towards the chapel.

 

 

The Cost That Lies Between Heaven and Earth By Matt Piskun

The sweet perfume wafting from the grape vines was strong that morning, making one dizzy despite the fruits lack of fermentation. Isabella studied the figure before her, its features hidden in the shadows of the mid-summer sun.

“Do you know what it means to call me, child?” The beast’s growl was deep and rhythmic.

“I do.” Isabella was not afraid. The young girl moved slowly forward, struggling to contain the anxiousness brimming inside her.

“I sense a kind heart in you. It is merely buried under several layers of venial sins. Why do you seek me? ”

“My brother, Henry, has stolen my inheritance left to me by my father, the King.” Her olive eyes narrowed. “He leaves me with nothing. Am I to beg for crusts of bread? Furthermore, the family fool, Alfonzo now threatens my path to the throne. Spain is my birthright, but he desires it as his own and would toss me aside as one would a barren cow.”

Sensing her ambition the figure in the shadows smiled, its breathing now faster. “I don’t know if I’m drunk from the nectar that drips off these vines, but I think I am falling in love with you, child.”

Isabella’s cheeks flushed pink as she moved toward him. “Let me see your face.”

Emerging from the darkness came a young male demon. The sunlight made his skin, the color of ripe plum flesh, all the more brilliant. He was slender and muscular with two small horn buds protruding from his forehead. Two majestic wings of burgundy leather were folded neatly behind his back.

Isabella smiled and extended her hand to be kissed.

“I may be a youthful demon but I am no fool. I can help you reach the throne.” He looked into her eyes of lime-colored sea and knew this was what she was waiting for. “Although royal blood may course through your nubile body, it’s you who will be subservient to me.” The young hell-spawn spread his great wings and hovered above her.

Isabella took pause. She had vowed to never let any man hold dominion over her. Surrounded by incompetent males trying to prevent her ascent to the throne, she knew in her heart that she would still one day be queen and any man that was lucky enough would be her king. However, this was no mere man that floated above the earth before her. A feeling spread through her that she’d never known before. An ember of admiration and desire lit inside Isabella and the beating of leather wings now fanned it to flames. Isabella took a knee and bowed before his floating body.

“Save yourself for me, girl.” He grabbed hold of his horns. “When you become a woman I will come back for you. It is with your first blood that we will consummate our arrangement.”

Isabella, looked up into the swirling ash of his eyes and told him, “For my rightful place, I will wait for you…”

“Ingot, my name is Ingot.” With that being said he sailed up above the clouds and out of sight as Isabella clutched her pounding heart.

# # #

Father Juan de Valera watched with pursed lips, shaking his head back and forth. He pulled his beard, dotted with black hairs drowning in a chaotic sea of grey, into a fine point. His queen spoke through clenched teeth of sheen ivory and cruelty.

“Whore!”

A young woman kneels before her, nude and covered in binding chains. Long, red hair sticks to her face as she trembles with fear.

“I can smell your sex, that which you give so freely and without commitment from God. Whip her again!”

The high priest, whose fat and swollen face is hidden beneath a brown hood, cracks his whip. It sounds like thunder and the young girl whimpers as the lashes tear thin, scarlet lines into her milk-white flesh.

“Again!” Isabella commands, her fist raised.

The priest snaps his whip repeatedly and the wooden cross hanging from his neck swings back and forth wildly. Large droplets of sweat fly from the darkness of his hood.

Every cry from the naked girl elicits a small burst of excitement from Isabella. She presses her thighs together tightly, enjoying the hot pleasure building between her legs. When she can no longer endure the mounting desire she commands the high priest to take the girl away and convert her to God. “If she does not admit to believing, make her do so! Spare not one inch of her!” A sweaty smile spreads beneath the hood of the priest.

Isabella, Queen of Spain, tries to hide her lust as she speaks but her eyes, wild with desire expose her growing passion. “I’ll pray for your success, priest.” Father de Valera, his tanned and wizened face looking all the more angular from his sharpened beard, watches as she turns and enters her private quarters. He makes the sign of the cross, whispering the names of the holy trinity as he turns to leave, unseen.

Closing the door behind her, the Queen loosens then drops the purple ceremonial robe she wears exposing her scarred skin. A myriad of criss-crossing magenta scars decorate her breasts and abdomen. She runs her hands over them and shudders as her fingertips play with the grooves in her skin.

“I yearn for you,” Isabella moans. A small flame deep inside her flickers, reminding her of the first time she laid eyes upon him. She thinks back to that day as a young girl in her garden, but she can no longer remember the sweet smell of the flowering vines.

# # #

Her scars writhe as if alive in the candlelight that illuminates her bedroom. Ingot sits in a chair with his arms resting on his now sizeable belly.

“You are a wicked woman, Bella.”

“I need satisfaction, my lord.” Isabella kneels before him.

Ingot stands and strokes the great, curved horns that sit upon his head. “So be it.”

She takes the demon’s member in her mouth and works it feverishly until her pleasing him results in the monster’s orgasm. He releases his semen upon her chest and it sizzles leaving a new pattern of fresh scars that ooze bright red in their infancy. Isabella moans with pleasure and writhes in pain, unable to tell the two apart.

Ingot sits back down in his chair and sighs. “Must I always please?”

“I’ve another favor to ask of you.”

“You’ve such greed in you! Did your brother, Alfonso, not suffer from an unfortunate case of poisoning, along with a slit throat for good measure? You were there grinning in the shadows as he choked, gurgling on his own blood, knowing I did this for you, for your crown. And what of your other sibling, Henry? For wronging you I removed any chance he could have to bear children. Like grapes his manhood were in my talons, oozing from the palm of my hand.” He ran a long black fingernail across her face racing her cheekbone. “And yet you need more?” The swirling embers that made up his eyes grew a little brighter. “I suppose this is why I love you.”

“My kingdom needs land. The people demand it from their Queen and I am not accustomed to disappointing my citizens.”

The demon smiles with jagged, yellow stained teeth and waves a hand in Isabella’s direction, causing his stomach to shake. “You are a good Queen. There is a man who prays to my black kingdom for fame and discovery. He’s not a Spaniard but he will suffice if you will have him. His name is Columbus. I will deliver him to you and he will discover new lands in the name of Spain, allowing you to keep hold of your coronet.”

Isabella winced as she put her ceremonial robes back on. “I will do as I must. Now I must return to the business of running my kingdom.”

“And I think I will pay a visit to mine.”

# # #

Father Juan de Valera finishes his tapas of chorizo and bread then puts on the surplice and purple stole he wears for the sacrament of confession. He’ll confront her today. He has finally seen enough and will tell her that he can no longer sit in silence as she performs atrocities in the good lord’s name.

The torture, the sacrifice, and the experiments must come to an end.

His Queen comes to him in a simple green dress, her straight, brown hair, tipped with gold, flows over her bare shoulders. She likes to appear a simple woman when confessing to him.

“Good afternoon, Father.”

“Blessed to see you, Isabella.”

She will not allow herself to be called Queen during penance. Isabella takes the velvet, padded seat across from Father de Valera who twirls the grey hair of his beard between his thumb and forefinger.

“I no longer love my King.”

“We must meet together, the three of us.”

“No. He is more of a house pet than a man. I no longer know what to do with him.”

“We can annul the marriage if you feel the relationship can’t be mended.”

“That carries risk, father. The people grow restless and I do not want to give them further cause with the belief that I have chosen an impotent and spineless king who can’t handle his woman. I will pray for an answer.”

Isabella rises to leave but the priest quickly stands and raises his hand, signaling for her to wait.

“What is so pressing that you choose to waste my time?” The gold of her hair twinkles as if full of stars in the candle light of the tabernacle.

“That young girl today…”

“The harlot being whipped?”

“Yes. What became of her?”

“Are you spying on me father?”de Valera twisted his beard into a fine point. “All that concerns our loving God finds it’s way to my ears.

The Queens eyes looked black in the deep shadows of the church. “I don’t know yet, but whatever happens will surely be God’s will and then I’m sure it will make its way to your foolish old ears.”

“You talk of God’s will and yet I heard her cries of torture,” he looks Isabella in the eyes as he speaks, “as I have the screams of all the others.”

The queen’s expression does not hide her surprise at the priest’s audacity. The sparkle in her hair vanishes as she stands. “The Lord knows what I do in his name and he allows it.”

“It is not God’s place to forbid you, it is your choice. Also, I respectfully disagree that God would want his teachings forced upon others.” Father de Valera bows his head and stares at the deep wrinkles around his knuckles in silence.

“You dare! You crusty, old eunuch! You may spread his word but the Lord speaks through me.”

The priest sighs. His highness’s reaction is expected. He looks at the silver cross that adorns the bookcase beside him. Its rubies sparkle in the candlelight as his Queens hair did moments ago. The images of Christ dying on the cross, the spear poking through his ribs, the briny rags stuffed in his mouth, fill his mind. He can feel his lord’s last breath across his cheek and finds the courage to truly speak his mind. “What sort of sins are you atoning for? What possesses you to produce converts in such a manner?”

“I do what I must.”

“You serve the devil when you act this way.”

Isabella’s olive eyes narrow and her hands ball into ring covered fists. Her chin quivers as she speaks. “Wrong! You are wrong! What I do, I do to fight the devil! You may have read of him in your texts, but I have met him, touched him! I create an army of worshipers whose belief in God’s kingdom will oppose such evil. I do what needs to be done!” Spit sprays from her thin, red lips, “Cross me or speak out against me again and you will meet God much sooner than you desire!”

The Queen turns and leaves, slamming the wooden door of the church with such force the stain glass windows quiver. Juan de Valera sighs long and hard then picks up the silver cross next to him. “You do what you must.” He pulls the top of the cross off, unsheathing a steel blade. He looks at his reflection and frowns. “Now I must do as I must.”

# # #

Isabella tosses and turns on her bed. The silk cloth that adorns her canopy sways as if alive. She sweats into her cotton sheets as her heart races. Her king sleeps alone in an adjacent bedroom, but her thoughts are not of him, they are of Ingot and Father de Valera.

A bead of sweat slowly slides down from between her breasts onto her stomach. Isabella feels as though the aged priest saw right through her. Maybe he knew her secrets, but who could read his withered old face? It hardly mattered if he did. The price of her throne was Ingot and Christ forgive her she loved the foul beast. Ingot was the only male she had ever been with that truly understood her. Despite loving as only a devil can; she thinks his feelings are genuine nonetheless. It’s with great sadness that she builds a kingdom of Christians to combat her lover’s dark realm, but the web of power stretches wide and is taught with deceit. Just as her sovereign duties must be necessitated, so too must the obligations to her soul be met. Her sheets are now soaked with sweat as she wonders how much more her conscious can take. A decision must soon be made and tomorrow she will make it. Satisfied with this resolution, Isabella closes her eyes to sleep, but as she does Ingot appears before her.

# # #

It’s dark. He can smell the wisps of smoke from the recently snuffed out candles that line the hallway to the Queen’s quarters. Father de Valera shuffles quietly across the stone floor his blade gripped tightly in one hand, the other stretched out before him feeling into the shadows. He stops as the darkness shifts before him. The priest flattens himself against the wall and hears what sounds like the scrapping of claws against stone. The air moves around him and he feels a cold, heavy darkness pressing upon his skin. He prays to God the almighty for courage then continues forward. He pictures, for fortitude, his lord carrying the True Cross, whipped and bleeding as his crown of thorns tears into him. Finally he comes to the Queen’s door made of carved cypress. De Valera hears talking inside and puts his ear to the door. In between beats of his heart he can hear Isabella shouting. “I love you! I love you! You are a part of me!”

Father listens for a response, but hears no answer to the queen’s admissions. He presses his ear more tightly against the sculpted wooden door. If she were with someone else he would have to terminate his holy mission. The priest is old and tired. He does not have the strength, physically or spiritually, to take two lives, but he fears he will never have the courage to get this far again. He holds his breath to hear more clearly and is quite sure he hears only Isabella’s voice inside. He presses his hand against the door, finding it unlatched. After making the sign of the cross he slowly pushes Isabella’s door open.

The door opens with a slight creak that may as well have been as deafening as canon fire. His Queen spins around to see who has entered. She is naked and the priest gasps, not at her nude form but at the great maze of scars that covers her flesh in various shades of scarlet.

“You abandon me now?” She turns and shouts to a fluttering shade of black silk that hangs over an open window. A small vase of citrus scented oil is heating on a black iron stand in the fireplace, making the room smell fresh and sweet.

Still lost in the labyrinth of maroon gashes that decorate her peach colored skin, Father de Valera keeps his knife at his side. Isabella grabs hold of the poker that lay across the hearth and swings it across the priest’s face. He screams, dropping his knife and covering his face with his hands. He gags as blood pours out from between his clamped fingers.

“You dare, priest, to invade my privacy? First you question my motives then you come to me uninvited?” She looks down at the jewel-encrusted blade on the floor. “And you have come to kill me.”

Father de Valera reaches out for the blade but Isabella brings her weapon down across his hand snapping his fingers. The priest shouts out in pain and brings his gnarled fingers to his chest. Blood drips steadily from his beard. He gets to his feet and charges her, hitting Isabella in the chest with his shoulder and knocking the poker from her hands.

She lands on her back by the fireplace, the priest on top of her, his one good hand pressing down on her throat. Isabella puts both hands around his wrist to remove it but can’t. Blood from the father’s nose falls steadily on her naked torso filling the scared channels in her flesh. De Valera’s eyes flicker with the fires roaring light. The Queen reaches behind her into the fireplace, grabs hold of a smoldering log and brings it down across his head, knocking him off with a showering of embers.

The priest rolls onto his back, consciousness coming and going, with Isabella standing over him. Her breasts heave as she struggles for breath. Queen Isabella’s body is sticky with blood and ash. She holds the smoking log overhead as the priest weakly covers his face. Suddenly, Isabella drops the wood in her hands. The Queen turns as she hears the beating of wings.

“Coward, you come to me now that the fight is over?”

Ingot comes in through the open window, the black window shade across his shoulders resembling a cape. “I can not lay hands on a holy man. It’s a treaty older than time itself.”

“You disappoint me, Ingot. For that you will pleasure me.”

The demon flies in on outstretched wings and lands in front of the fireplace. Isabella approaches him on her knees. ‘This disappointment is the end’, she thinks, ‘I will launch a grand inquisition today, forcefully shaping, as if from clay, an army of Catholics. Their faith will save me. I may give my body to hell but my soul is still Gods!’

Father de Valera opens his blood-encrusted eyes to see Isabella on her knees talking to herself. Her hands stroke the vase of boiling citrus oil as she pours it onto her chest, searing the skin where it hits causing more wounds to bubble and blister. She wails and writhes in ecstasy.

de Valera starts to crawl towards the blade that is still on the floor. He inches forward and grips the jeweled handle, but when he does he sees Isabella’s reflection in the blade. “Don’t worry, lover, I will take care of the priest.”

With blade in hand he turns over to face Isabella who is holding the iron poker in her hands. He points the blade at her. “You’re mad! There is nobody here but you and I!”

Whispering she tells him, “Tell God I do what I must.” Then the Queen drives the poker through his ribs.

With his hands wrapped around the iron protruding from his chest, Father de Valera’s vision begins to fade as shadows start to ebb out the light. He gasps for air as his punctured lung collapses. Isabella turns and walks toward the fireplace. Once more she appears to be talking to no one. From within the encroaching darkness the priest hears the rhythmic beating of his dying heart; or is it, he wonders, the beating of wings?