| 2 |
When I had put on my fine clothes that morning, I had not imagined I would be discarding them so soon. I set the flogger upon the altar, and my hat beside it. I struggled with the buttons up the back of my dress, so much so that I glanced back at Caleb pleadingly.
“Would you help me?” I said, hoping the allure of assisting me to undress would soften him. I could please him into offering his blessing and forgiveness, I was certain…
He seated himself upon the foremost pew, resting his arms along the back and giving me a crooked, heartless smile. “Certainly not,” he said. “I rather enjoy watching you struggle.”
My face burned. I faced away from him, back toward the stained glass Christ. After much struggling and reaching I managed to loosen the remainder of my buttons. My back was laid bare, and as I slipped from my clothes, so too was the rest of me. Before long I wore only my undershirt and knickers. I glanced back at him again, still utterly torn between defying him to the bitter end and trying to illicit some compassion. “Shall I take off the rest, Father?”
“I rather like the knickers,” he said. As he toyed with his lower lip between his fingers I caught a glimpse of sharp canine teeth I had never before realized he had. “I suppose you should be allowed some modesty.”
Perhaps he expected a “thank you.” I did not give him one. Instead I took up the flogger again, knelt before the altar, and cast up my eyes. The mournful glass Christ stared back. Mother had always said that Christ was but an image, made to comfort people. Our Devil was real, and palpable, and kind to those who served.
I hoped he would forgive me for what I had to do.
“Heavenly Father, most Holy Christ,” I began. “I pray to you in utter submission, and offer this confession.” I cleared my throat, nervousness bubbling over. I would let Caleb Morley have his sadistic show and have it over with. “I confess to all my sins. I have lived in defiance of the most Holy.”
I lashed the flogger across my back, but pulled my strength at the last moment. The tails snapped and stung, but I could have done worse. I sucked in my breath, hoping the preacher was fooled.
“I have practiced witchcraft, magic, and divination,” I said, and lashed my back again. It was all true, and it was the answer to how I had managed all these months alone, and how my mother had managed before that. Sweet oils and herbs we offered up to our Devil, as well as the power of our own bodies and sexuality. In return, our Devil gave us plentiful crops, long-lived chickens and geese that gave numerous eggs, and the luck to always find coin when we needed it.
“I have neglected my duties to the Lord in pursuit of my own pleasure.” Another lash, and I gasped again for good measure. I had done far worse to myself to the past, reveling in the sensation of pain and pleasure becoming one. Even now, with these meager lashes, I could feel my cunt swell in anticipation.
“Let us explore further into your pursuits for pleasure, Amity,” Father Morley said. I glanced back, to find him still seated upon the pew as if he were witnessing a theater play. “Describe them.”
There was a rush of heated shame to my face. These perversions in which I partook had always been private – they were intimate, sacred things. And even though I saw the glass Christ as nothing more than a fanciful image, there was a powerful feeling of wrongness to speaking of such things here.
I turned away from him again. “I have been perverse in my desire, O Lord. I have neglected the Sabbath-”
“Ah, now, now, Amity.” There was a creak, and the sound of Caleb’s boots approaching. “What did I say just now? You are not being thorough in your confession.”
I did not look up at him. I stared resolutely at the altar and said, “I don’t want to speak of such things. They’re…they…it’s private.”
“There is no privacy in the eyes of the Lord. Stand up. Now.”
I rose, still determined not to look at him. He meant to shame me, and I had no means to stop him. He held out his hand, and said, “The flogger, Miss Fenn. Don’t think I have not seen you tempering your lashes. This is no true confession you offer. But fear not.” His fingers clasped my chin, forcing me to turn and meet his eyes. “It is my sacred duty to guide my flock in obedience to God. By the rod shall you be comforted with the release of your sinful thoughts.” He stepped back, and motioned toward the altar. “I think this is a suitable place to learn penance. Bend over.”
My eyes widened, darting between him – fingering the tails of the flogger – to the waist-height altar before me. I gave a small shake of my head, and Caleb went dangerously still.
“It is not wise to refuse me, Amity. Besides, I’m certain you’ve inflicted worse on yourself in pursuit of pleasing the spirits you serve. A masochist like you should be glad that I’ve offered to assist you.”
My hands shook. Certainly I could flee – I could leave town before the authorities could be called, I could start a new life elsewhere. Almost as if he could see my very thoughts, the preacher said, “It is not my aim to see you dead, or displaced. I seek only to aid you in your devotion, in a righteous life. I have locked the door. I have provided us privacy so that you might confess your sins without anyone else discovering them. Is that not merciful of me?”
I did not respond. Instead, I slowly lowered myself over the altar, centered between the two tall wax candles that flickered there. I utterly hated Caleb Morley in that moment – I hated his smug smile, the way he was so sure of everything. I hated that I was willing to lower myself before him to avoid further trouble.
I hated – utterly and truly hated – that a small part of me reveled in the humiliation I was about to endure.
“Very good, Miss Fenn. You have chosen wisely. I will not go easy on you, my dear. There are severe consequences for sins such as yours. Were it anyone else who glimpsed you last night, you would be awaiting the stake and a fiery death. Instead, you have been granted a private, if painful, reprieve. Is that not fortunate?”
I grit my teeth and did not respond. Caleb did not seem to like that. There was a whistle of the flogger through the air before it smacked against my buttocks and thighs with far more force than I had put into my own lashes. The gasp that was forced out of me was very real.
“I asked a question, Miss Fenn. Is it not fortunate that you have been granted the opportunity to atone for your sins in private?”
“It is fortunate,” I stuttered, still trying to catch my breath. My skin tingled where each of the flogger’s tails had bitten into me. The sting did not have a chance to fade. The flogger lashed me once more, curling about my legs and nipping at the tender flesh of my inner thighs. I clenched my fists, struggling not to make a sound.
“You can only find true forgiveness if you confess wholly and truthfully, Amity,” Caleb said reproachfully. “You confessed to neglecting your duties to the Lord in pursuit of your own pleasure. What pleasures were these?”
“Fleshly pleasures,” I said quickly. “I had given myself over to the perverse.”
Three times the flogger lashed me. I held my breath, not crying out through sheer force of will. I knew now that my fortitude would not last long.
“The pleasures of the flesh are an entrapment,” he said. “Look at me, Amity.” I turned my head slowly, unwillingly. I was shocked to see that he had removed his dark, tightly buttoned coat. The black shirt he wore beneath was looser, and unbuttoned at the neck. I did not want to look at him. I did not want to see that somehow he still looked alluring with that cruel whip in his hands. “Describe these pleasures, Amity.”
I shook my head. “I can’t.”
“No? Perhaps this may refresh your memory.” He approached, and with his booted foot he kicked my legs apart. Thus spread, he proceeded to whip at my tender inner thighs, right where the welts from my own ministrations lay. My will crumbled. I could not remain silent. I gave a sharp yelp at each lash, struggling to resist the urge to close my legs.
“Does that feel a bit familiar?” he said, as he paused in his lashing. “You can still see the marks from your own hand there too. Perverse pleasures indeed.” The lashing commenced, as I tensed and flinched in anticipation of every strike, crying out as they landed with the viciousness of hornet’s stings. It was an entirely different sensation when it was not my own hand doing the lashing. At last, I could bear it no longer. I squeezed my legs together with a broken cry, trembling and gasping. I would not beg him…I wouldn’t…but I could not bear any more.
“Ah, not so composed now, Miss Fenn?” he said. “Well then. Let us delve a little deeper into these perverse pleasures of yours. For of course, it would seem you want this to stop. Yet you do not beg. And yet -” Suddenly, he yanked down my knickers. I gasped in shock, and would have stood to cover myself had he not swiftly placed one hand firmly upon my back to hold me down. As they slid down, I could feel the wetness from my cunt on them. The silken juices dragged across my thighs, a damning giveaway of my own desires. Caleb chuckled, and I wished I could sink into the foundation stones.
“My, my, Miss Fenn,” he said. “What’s this? It would seem you are not so miserable after all.” I buried my face in my hands in shame, blushing from head to toe as Caleb continued to berate me. “This is very naughty of you, Amity. Truly, lusting after a preacher? And in a church at that?”
“I’m not lusting after you!” I exclaimed, my voice muffled in my palms. “I can’t help it!” He had known, somehow, that I would react like this. He had known I would be unable to resist the pain, the humiliation. He had used it against me.
“It would seem you’re worse off than I thought.” Caleb hardly sounded surprised. In fact, he sounded pleased. He had counted on this, waited for exactly this reaction from me. “Your perversion has truly captured you within its snare. But fear not. As a man of God, I feel it is only my duty to help you.”
“Help me?” I scoffed. He would not let me up, but I uncovered my face and snapped at him. “You cannot help me! I need no help! Let me go! I’ll leave this town and be gone, and you needn’t think of me another moment.”
“Nonsense, Miss Fenn.” He pulled me up and turned me, so that my tender flesh pressed to the altar. His fingers caressed my jaw and held me in rapt attention to his blue eyes. “I could not possibly cease to think of you, knowing you are in such need. But fear not. I know that my guidance alone is not enough.”
“Don’t tell,” I whispered. “Please. Don’t tell anyone.”
He smiled kindly, and brushed the dark hair from my face. “As I said, fear not. There is only one other I would trust with such intimate knowledge of you. Only one other I would trust to guide you back to obedience.”
I gulped, hardly able to bear the thought of my shame being made known beyond the confines of this church. “Who? Who is it?”
“Chastity Morley, Miss Fenn. My wife. Rest assured, I believe she can guide you even better than I.”