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Sleep always takes Jack by surprise now that he’s turned fifty. His legs can’t find a comfortable spot, his mind won’t turn off, he doesn’t feel as tired as he did a minute ago, but when he’s about to give it up—Pop! He’s in a brand new world.
Somewhere he doesn’t recognize.
Somewhere things sneak up on him.
Like the final exam for a college class he never attended.
Like standing in a crowded room where no one notices his pants are missing.
Like the most sexually exciting thing in the world that isn’t really sex at all. Not quite anyway.
[private]The image shimmers with erotic detail, too hot and far away to stay in focus, but its theme is as bright and clear as a full moon on werewolf night. For years this image hid in the glow of more acceptable passions, but those have faded now. Fifty birthdays will do that to a man.
This thing is as shiny as the day it popped into existence, when Jack was a thirteen-year-old late bloomer, all alone and thinking about the prettiest girl in the eighth grade.
Margaret somebody. Her last name is gone, but not what Jack was thinking about her, back when the world was young and his fetish didn’t have a name. Things like that never go away. They hide in the undergrowth and wait until the wolf bane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright.
Jack wakes with a start. Totally rested for the first time in years, alert, ready to put his dream on paper before it boils away like liquid nitrogen. This dream can’t be reduced to words, but that’s no problem for the best fantasy illustrator in Manhattan. That’s what people call him nowadays on fan sites and blogs, where everybody is a critique.
All the slippery details turn solid as he slides them onto paper. First, there is woman, naked except for a pair of Italian shoes. They have six-inch heels. They’ll be red when the drawing is complete, the color of an honest to goodness claret from the province of Bordeaux.
Two ropes wind around her wrists and ankles like loose strands of Virginia Creeper. They bind her into a kneeling position accentuating every curve. More ropes circle her chest, tied together with angler’s knots and reef knots. A taut-line hitch adjusts the tension between her ankles and her wrists. The whole thing will come apart with a single tug on a central hitching tie, the moment Jack is ready. Thank God he was a Boy Scout.
What Jack wants to do with this imaginary woman isn’t so important as the fact that he can do anything. The look in her eyes will prove her willingness, once he decides whose face to give her. The possibilities spell themselves out in heartbeats, like Morse code. How could he have forgotten all of this?
Jack closes the sketchbook when he hears Jenny’s footsteps. This is his exclusive fantasy—erotic, harmless, shameful—but something a wife might understand if he gives her a chance.
He asks her, “Did you ever have a dream you couldn’t talk about?” That’s at least half a chance.
She shows him her condescending smile, part Mona Lisa and part Jack Nicholson. Jenny won’t talk about dreams right now; she wants to talk about their daughter.
“Ellie’s coming over this evening,” Jenny says. “She’s got a new job—Art teacher at Sequoia elementary school.”
So now Ellie is an artist too, just like Jack and Jenny. Not Picassos, maybe, or De Koonings, or even Norman Rockwells, but they make a living putting ideas onto paper. Jack draws dragons, and aliens, and scantily clad women wielding swords. Jenny reduces Harlequin historical romances to two dimensions. Their pictures find their way onto the covers of the worst novels ever written.
Now Ellie draws flowers and stick figures for first graders with attention deficit disorder. It’s a start.
Jack thinks of the new image in his sketchbook, and wonders if anyone else might think it’s special.
“We’ll have tuna casserole,” Jenny says.
Except for the picture he’s just drawn, Jack’s whole life seems like tuna casserole.
A quick survey of the Internet convinces Jack that he is not alone. Wolf bane has been blooming for a long time and there are lots of fetishes. From bondage to corporal punishment to necrophilia, and each has a well-established niche for illustrators.
No one with any real talent in the ropes and chains category—not yet anyway—but there’s a lot of time and energy devoted to the craft. Clumsy, stiff figures in primitive colors. Too much detail, nothing left to the imagination. No understanding of perspective, composition, or even knots. The girls look frightened, or aroused. Both things are as wrong as the texture of the ropes and the interplay of light and shadow. None of the pictures tell a story beyond the illustration.
The websites are anonymous and corporate. They leave visitors feeling empty and exploited, not like they are totally normal people, who spice up their lives with a little something extra. Only the slightest amount of proof is required.
Misogynistic porn sites need a female face to pardon their mostly male visitors.
See, women like it too.
Preferably an attractive, young woman, just starting a sexually active life devoted to submission and humiliation. A fresh, innocent girl, almost too good to be true.
Jack has a pretty good idea what she’ll look like, and when he hears the doorbell ring he knows for sure.
Jenny opens the front door. “Ellie, we’re so glad you could come.”
Jack’s daughter makes it almost all the way across the room before he deletes his current bondage website, and the one behind that, and the one behind that. No time to do anything but point and click. He’ll clear history when she’s gone.
“Hi Dad,” she kisses Jack on the forehead. “Wait till you hear about my new job.”
Maybe Jack can get a few new pictures of her later on. It isn’t like he’s going to use her real name.
Some illustrations pour out of the mind like warm syrup, every line and color falling into exactly the right spot. Jack’s bondage fantasies have waited a long time to find their shape.
Jenny is more curious than usual.
“I’ll show you when the series is finished,” he lies. Usually he doesn’t need to do that, because Jenny doesn’t like his genre any more than he likes hers.
“Just the usual,” he tells her. “Girls with brass braziers, big butts, and weapons.” Maybe she won’t want to look, but Jack closes the sketchpad just in case.
“You’re so intense,” she says. “Like you used to be . . . You know?” She puts a hand on his shoulder and runs her fingers up his cheek. Her eyes are big, like an anime girl’s. The overhead light reflects in them, like a matching pair of full moons. Jenny smiles and kisses the fingertips that have just touched face.
Jack recognizes that look, and that gesture, even though he hasn’t seen either for a long time.
“I thought I might go up stairs in a few minutes,” she whispers. “Take a shower. You could join me.”
How can he say no?
Jack follows her up the stairs, basking in the view. How had he not noticed what she’s wearing? Something from Victoria’s Secret. Glossy and smooth, contoured to accentuate curves, like well placed ropes. Jack remembers all the reasons Jenny is desirable, her smile, the way she moves, the way she knows exactly what’s on his mind.
Does she know what’s on his mind—exactly? As they enter their bedroom, on their way to the shower, Jack sees the nylon rope coiled on his pillow. Ice white, whipped on the ends with green thread, like it came out of one of his illustrations.
Has she seen them? Does she know what he is up to? He’ll ask her later, if everything goes the way he thinks it will. They can take a shower later too.
Jack’s domain name is: Ashleysbend, the same as knot 1452 in Ashley’s Book of Knots. The host’s name is Ashley too, even though she has Ellie’s face, drawn from photographs in the family album.
Ashley Windsor, her last name borrowed from King Edward VIII before his abdication. First he invented the Windsor knot and then he gave up the crown for love. Who says obsession isn’t romantic?
Ellie’s face is on every illustration. Her pensive look goes well with chains. Her exercise face is good for peering out of cages. Sinnet ropes put furrows in her brow. Handcuffs make her grimace.
It wouldn’t be right to use his daughter’s naked body, so Jack borrows Jenny’s. The two of them have always been close. Now they’re closer. Only a few modifications are necessary to keep Jenny young and supple. Jack started making those in his imagination many years ago. It’s easier since the full moon came out. He doesn’t even need the digital pictures she allows him to take.
“Don’t let them fall into the wrong hands,” she tells him, without knowing they already have.
Jack asks Jenny if she thinks fetishes are contagious.
“Yes,” she says, and Jack knows it is the truth, because her arms are tied behind her back and her ankles are attached to them with double bowline knots.
Sometimes its a bite that spreads the madness. Sometimes it’s a kiss. Sometimes it’s a picture of the moon.
It isn’t long until Jack adds discipline to his website. It’s another kink Jenny is willing to try as soon as she’s infected.
One thing feeds another. First life imitates art, and then art imitates life, and finally the engine of obsession drives everything with a clean-green engine that has a zero carbon footprint but leaves other kinds of marks.
It doesn’t take long for the news to get around. There is a talented bondage and discipline illustrator who gets it. His ink and color accentuate all the essentials. Negativity is reduced to its necessary minimum.
Ashley is believable because she’s real. Everybody sees it, and for the first time, Jack regrets putting Ellie’s face on these images, especially with flagellation added to the mix. But the wrong-feeling only makes his illustrations more intense, more desirable to fans. He is linked with websites and blogs around the world, and Ellie’s face on Jenny’s body are there for everyone who has a laptop and five minutes.
Jack never suspected there were so many.
When he adds a member’s section to his site, some Ashley Windsor fans are willing to pay. Fifteen dollars a month to look at pictures he can’t stop drawing anyway. Some people are fascinated with black and white, others want full color. The site really takes off when he learns animation.
Ellie always knocks in case she’s caught Jack and Jenny doing something they seldom did before she moved away. This time she uses her key and storms in like a policewoman who is serving her first warrant and hopes to use her gun.
“God damn it.” She walks past Jack, straight to Jenny, and it’s a good thing because he’s just finishing a translucent tear that leaves a moisture trail down Ashley’s left cheek, and he can’t stop until it’s finished.
He’s pretty sure Ellie wouldn’t understand the ropes, and the Italian shoes, but he’s a little afraid she might. Jack blows air across the picture and hopes there is adequate mother-daughter time to allow the ink to dry.
Ellie slaps a stack of papers onto the kitchen table where Jenny has just finished her seventh cup of coffee.
“Would you like some?” Jenny shows her a one quart carton of artificial creamer with a picture of an Indian on it.
“I like to heat the creamer in the microwave for thirty seconds,” Jenny says, as if drinking coffee were the most important thing in the room. But she’s already turned her head toward the stack of papers.
“Can you believe this crap?” Ellie lifts the top paper so Jenny can’t ignore it, and even from another room, Jack can see it is a picture.
Ellie lays it down again when she sees him moving toward her. She picks the stack of pictures up before Jack can get a closer look, but first-rate illustrations stand out from across the room even if they are too far away to see the details.
Maybe I can explain.
Jack tries to think of how a father tells his daughter why her face is worn by a fantasy woman who is tied up and whipped, and why there is something in her expression that proves she likes it.
He starts a couple of sentences, but the words fall into a jumble of lies and confusion. Jack remembers a phrase from a legal document he once read: “Further affiant sayeth not.” It sounds biblical and official, like good advice sometimes does, so Jack keeps quiet and waits to see what happens next.
“Some pervert put my picture on the Internet.” Ellie almost has her voice under control.
Jack thinks pervert is kind of a strong word for a guy who just draws pictures, but he continues to sayeth not. He reaches for the stack of papers, and Ellie takes a step away. It’s pretty clear she hasn’t identified the pervert yet; Jack is grateful for that, but he sort of wants to get the whole thing over.
“Maybe they’re not so bad,” he says. Jenny nods her head and twists her face into a semi-agreeable look he hasn’t seen since he talked her into voting for George W. Bush.
“Maybe they’re art,” Jack says.
How long will it take Jenny to see that Ashley Windsor, has her body? It shouldn’t take too long, because both Ashley and Jenny have port wine birthmarks shaped like Oklahoma located where a tramp stamp tattoo would be. No more than an inch from the panhandle to the Arkansas border, but it probably wouldn’t happen twice.
“Maybe it’s a coincidence.”
Ellie stares at Jack as if he might have some odd colored nose debris. He checks just to be sure.
Ellie thumbs through her stack of papers until she settles on one that might be suitable to show to her parents while her mother drinks another cup of coffee and her father searches for the nearest exit.
“Check it out.” Ellie holds the picture out for Jack to see, but her hands are shaking so much that all the colors run together. His hands aren’t shaking quite that bad, so he takes the illustration from her.
It’s not mine. Jack mouths the words, but doesn’t give them any sound.
A naked girl is pressed against the iron bars of a primitive jail. She’s wearing nothing but Ellie’s face. Her Victorian dress is crumpled on the stone floor her. Behind her through the barred window, a full moon is shining.
The scene that led to this one fills Jack’s mind like a train passing through a tunnel. There is nothing to say until it’s out the other side.
“Well done,” he says without meaning to.
“Thank you,” Jenny says.
Ellie doesn’t notice. She’s busy tearing the picture in half. Then into quarters. Then into eighths. That’s as far as she can go.
That’s as far as any of them can go.
Ellie selects another picture. The full moon is bigger in this one.
Jack and Jenny watch their daughter trace it with the tip of her little finger. Waiting for the infection to take hold.[/private]