Like centipedes scurrying across his shoulders and tapping along his spine, the 28 soft leather lashes, each 20 inches long, at first tickled. Terry would have giggled as much out of embarrassment as amusement, but the ball gag made speech difficult and irrelevant. Arms and legs spread-eagled as if attached to a St. Andrew’s cross, his ankles and wrists cuffed in leather and chained to eyes hooks in corners of the frame, his body formed a giant X in the doorway. The position was beginning to cause discomfort. His muscles ached. Sagging strained his arms even more, and Kurt forbade it, ordering to straighten up. The next two strokes also tickled, as if the flogger was practising before he got down to the business of discipline. A fourth lash, however, hissed across the buttocks. Terry flinched. He grunted through the ball gag.

Before being shackled, Terry had separated and fondled each individual lash several times over, believing such soft suppleness could do little harm. He had read somewhere that Inuit women used to chew animal hide to render it soft. Had someone chewed the animal skin for these lashes? Being strung up and whipped hardly constituted a statement of love and trust, Terry had laughed off the suggestion after the German porn flick ended. A half-hour into the grainy film depicting males and females bound and abused by sundry means—the idea of being bound, roped, chained or shackled always excited Terry—Kurt brought in his flogger and the cuffs from the bedroom closet.

In the army, a soldier obeyed commands or faced the consequences. No, they didn’t flog soldiers anymore; this wasn’t the frigging 18th century, he had answered Terry’s question. He displayed his toys, as he called them, on the coffee table. The film came to a nebulous ending in a warehouse outside of Berlin where water leaked down the graffiti-painted walls. Aside from a prolonged whipping scene or two of willing partners strapped to a St. Andrew’s cross, Terry hadn’t really followed the action, but those flogging scenes riveted his attention. His nerves strummed with cat-like tension, and he didn’t know where to look.

“That excites you, doesn’t it, bitch?”

“No, not really, can’t say. I just feel odd, that’s all.”

“I can make you feel good, trust me. I know what you need, bitch, more than you do.”

In the porn video, the man in black with the whips grunted a guttural German, verbally abusing his sklaven, his slaves, but language was irrelevant to the action. Now he, Terry, hung in the doorframe like a giant X, the same position as the guy in the porn flick. The effects of the popper brightened the light in the room, almost altering its hue and texture. When the sixth stroke swiped against his buttocks, Terry tried to kick his legs free of their restraints, but the pain, for now he was feeling tangible, muscle-burning pain, blended with the colour of the light. It hurt his eyes to see so much shuffling, shifting hues.

The window fractured into a kaleidoscope of purple, orange, blue, and yellow wheels and Fibonacci spirals. They curled and whizzed in his head. He had sniffed up another hit of poppers. The spinning colours diminished the shock of the lash after the initial rush through his system. He was beginning to sweat at the temples. He didn’t know if it was fear or fire searing through his muscles as Kurt applied the seventh and eighth stroke of the flogger without pause. He wanted the torture to end, for the word cut across his mind like a whip stroke, but he didn’t want to disappoint Kurt by giving in like a pussy. Kurt had said that he, Terry, was man enough to take it.

His mind struggled to form words, but only colours instead of syllables roiled in his brain. Please, no, no, as they had agreed, no, he was sure he wanted to say. The intensifying pain drove clouded his brain. The popper bottle pushed against his nostril; he breathed in, the hit instantaneous. The bedroom window trembled and softened. His body sagged as if his arms had broken free from the shackles, but the smarting ninth lash whistled and cut into his consciousness like a scream. His eyes watered, saliva gushed around the black ball gag; he wanted to die, and he wanted to live. Fuck me, he mumbled behind the ball gag, fuck me, please, surprised by the wish and repeating it until it no longer made any sense. He tried to move his tongue to respond to the signal from his brain and shout no, no, so loudly it would force the gag out of his mouth, but a mere word could not move an object. He had no magical powers. No, his brain screamed, and his tongue pushed against the ball, but without the help of the great and important safe word. What word would help him now? They had agreed on the safe word, and he heard it loud and clear in his mind, but his tongue remained inert.

A storm of lashes raged against his back, buttocks, and thighs, stroke after stroke, beyond his ability to count, without ceasing, hard, each lash distinct, welt-raising, hard as fuck, Kurt’s guttural voice spewing out bitch, cunt, bootlicker, dogfuck, pisspig, cocksucker, cumslut, fag, fuckhole, and Terry’s brain embedded the words where they sunk deep, and he thought he was repeating, agreeing, anything to get Kurt to stop. Yes, yes, I’m your cunt, anything, your bitch, please please fuck me fuck me, master, he wanted to confess in a garbled, spit-soaked version of words the soldier hissed in the air with each lash, but he couldn’t speak. The safe word erupted behind his eyes. He could see the letters inside his head as if they were aflame. No, No. Why did Kurt not hear? The storm did not abate. His scream bounced back in his throat. He tried to dislodge the ball gag securely strapped around his head. His jaw was hurting. No, no: the safe word bounced around his mouth like an India rubber ball and would not roll out. He couldn’t think, vowels and consonants clattered together against his skull, forming nothing, just noise, the noise of the scream behind the gag. His arms and legs vibrated in their shackles; he tossed his head like a mad pony bucking in a stall to break free from harness and bridle; a feral muzzled dog snarling in a cage. Kurt must have heard his screams.

Why didn’t he stop when he heard his cunt’s agony? Kurt, please, you’re hurting me, oh, god, stop, I can’t take it anymore, please please please, I’ll do anything you want…yes…cunt…fuck…pig…your cunt…oh please, God, please, please, please…don’t…please…Kurt…oh Jesus fuck…kill…bitch…fuck it kill fuck me fuck it your slave fuck it fuck it. As if his skin had caught fire, his thoughts sizzling with pain, he dredged up a deep protest from the pits of his stomach and almost expelled the ball gag with the power of protest and terror on the tip of his tongue—no—when the window dissolved before his eyes, the room snuffed out, and he tumbled down a funnel where the fire did not follow. He began crying. Head lowered between his outstretched arms, he heard his own voice whimpering in his mind tumbling over itself, thinking nothing.

Kurt stopped flogging. The tears poured down Terry’s cheeks. Releasing one arm at a time, Kurt instructed him to stand still. He ordered him to sniff up another hit of poppers, after which he pulled Terry’s head back by the hair and placed his lips next to the teacher’s ear, so close his tongue could have entered the ear and licked. Instead, slow and quiet words slipped into the canal. Bitch, you’re my cunt. You liked that, didn’t you, cunt? The words as quiet as a monk’s solitary prayer curled around Terry’s mind and his body went slack. And then something hard and smooth pushed against his anus. You want this, don’t you, bitch? Kurt’s voice whispered, so only Terry would hear, only Terry and Kurt alone in the room, would hear what the words spoken under a breath. His body then jerked up and bucked in its chains as Kurt pushed the flogger handle into his ass. His sphincter muscle seemed to have softened to allow entry, but the teacher groaned as the handle penetrated; he could not tell how far. You know you want it, cunt. You’d like that. I know what my cunt needs. But you’re not ready yet. You’re tight. Maybe I’ll make you teach with a dildo stuck in your ass. Open you up day by day. The words spoken softly, Kurt held his head and pushed the flogger handle a bit more. My cunt! Pain shot straight up Terry’s spine and he yelled. Kurt pulled the handle out; it couldn’t have been all the way in, but it had hurt, although he didn’t say no, and he didn’t say the safe word, no. He had shown Kurt that he was a man, too.

Kurt unshackled the ankles, put an arm over Terry’s shoulder, whispered okay, you’re okay, my bitch, I got you in his ear, and helped him walk to the couch. Terry lay on his stomach and sobbed. His arms were tingling and numb as if half-asleep. Burning, burning sensations streaked across his back with every movement of his body.

“You needed that, bitch. Trust me. I’ll always take care of you.”

Terry flinched, almost bucked upwards, as Kurt applied a cooling salve to his flesh. The welts sucked it down through the swollen skin to the aching muscles. The soldier caressed each red mark, and Terry’s pain seemed to slide under the surface of his skin, absorbing the merciful unguent. He didn’t know why he couldn’t stop crying, but he buried his head in his crossed arms and sobbed into the leather cushion.

“The skin didn’t break. The marks will disappear soon. Fuck, I feel great. We’re going to party at Jamal’s place tonight. He wants you there. You’ll be fine soon. Trust me.”

It was a statement like a simple fact. Water boiled at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain fell. Cars crashed. Soldiers blew up. Jamal was Kurt’s army buddy. Terry trusted Kurt. He didn’t think, not really, for his mind had faded to the colour of fog. Kurt’s hand spread healing relief over his shoulders, lower back, and passed gently down to his reddened buttocks, massaging the mounds and sliding into the crack, a finger prodding the sphincter. Terry gasped, his legs opened as the fingers continued their work, more on the ass than on the back. Kurt also managed to light a cigarette. Closing his eyes, still sobbing, Terry saw his body curl and float in a pool of warm clear morphine, circling like a boneless fish with translucent fins, nullifying the pain.

He yearned to stay under, miraculously breathing, soft and safe, deaf to the noise of the world, not having to think, just submitting to and believing Kurt’s consoling voice, you’re my cunt, bitch, you belong to me now and forever, like a line out of a love sonnet. His body floated upwards through the water to greet the downward pressure of Kurt’s loving hand on the surface, submerging him again in the easy warmth, Kurt’s fingers working wonders as Terry pushed up, as if he were easing their entrance, the entire well-greased hand slipping slowly in and caressing his heart: oh, sweet mercy: Terry smelled smoke, and remembered that today was Valentine’s Day and he had bought the soldier a carton of cigarettes wrapped in red cellophane. And his heart swelled.