Bring Out the GIMP (Girls in Merciless Peril)
Stories


THE SOLDIER

By Kirsten Smart


AUTHOR'S NOTE

This is a work of erotic horror fiction. It will not be to everyone's taste and some readers may find it unpleasant. To the uninitiated, it is important to note that such fantasy works are not a celebration of cruelty or atrocity, but an metaphor for sexual dynamics and sensations.

I am a feminist, a supporter of human rights and liberties, in free speech and expression, and I am strongly opposed to torture, abuse, and capital punishment in the real world.


CAPTURE

I have never been tied up before.

It is terrifying. My arms have been pulled behind my back and my wrists are crossed over. Thin, cord-like rope, flexible, smooth and strong and probably capable of towing a full-size truck, is wound four times about my wrists, crushingly tight so that the bones seem mashed together. It hurts badly. The knot is tied tightly, well beyond the reach of my fingers. I know there is no hope of getting my hands free, they are inescapably tied behind my back. My shoulder blades arch back, thrusting my breasts against the fabric of my khaki tank top. It is awkward, humiliating.

But there is more. A heavy cloth is placed across my eyes, tied at the back of my head, a blindfold that encloses me in complete blackness. Finally, another cloth is pushed into my mouth, stretching my jaw wide, stuffing my cheeks, muting even the slightest sound. A rope is passed three times around my head, between my teeth, lashing the gag tightly in place and making my head ache.

I am made to sit on the ground, tied, blindfolded, gagged, and feel fingers at the laces of my combat boots. Moments later, my feet are bare. I have never felt so helpless in my life.

"Let's go."

Blind, mute, hands tied behind my back, it is a long walk, an hour at least by my reckoning in the sweltering jungle heat, and not easy going. My bare feet find countless twigs, thorns, roots; after the first ten minutes, I am hobbling. Worse, branches sometimes flick back, catching my shoulders or face, whipping my breasts. Unable to see where I am going, I rely on the warnings of soldiers who obviously care little for my comfort. The heat is awful, my bare arms, neck and decolletage wet, my tank top soaked and clinging to my skin, my fatigue pants wet in the crotch with my sweat.

Eventually, my bare soles touch the sharp stones of a gravel road. I limp, wrists pinioned behind me, for perhaps twenty paces, before I am unceremoniously hoisted into the back of a truck. I bump onto my back, lying on my arms. It takes effort to roll onto my side again. The truck engine guns, I hear troops clambering in alongside me, and we are moving.

They talk, in Spanish. I don't understand a word. We drive. It is bumpy, and it is only by bracing my bare heels against the floor of the truck that I save myself from helplessly rolling about. The trip takes another hour or more. The heat is awful. My clothes are wet. My hair is wet. My blindfold and gag are wet. The rope grinds painfully into my wrists, and my shoulders ache. Finally, the truck stops. I hear voices, other vehicles, and I realize I am at some kind of compound. I hear other engines. The soft clatter of sidearms. Soldiers lift me down from the truck, setting me on hot earth. For a time, I stand, dazed, feeling intensely vulnerable, aware that I am swaying. The sun scorches my dark hair. My pinioned wrists hurt and my shoulders are throbbing.

I hear the command, though its significance doesn't hit until a few seconds later. A woman's voice, thick with a Spanish accent: "undress her."

Hands, suddenly, at the belt of my combat pants. Sightless in my blindfold, voiceless in my gag, I give a muted protest and try to step away, but there's someone behind me, catching my bound arms. My belt buckle is undone, and my pants are dragged down my legs. My knickers follow.

Even blindfolded, my face burns with embarrassment. My legs, I know, are good - athletic, quite muscular. But I can hear jeers and whistles: they're ogling my thick, dark pubic bush. Even with my wrists tied behind me, my top is easy to remove. The spaghetti straps break at a tug, the fabric is torn and the garment is stripped away. I don't wear a bra, so suddenly I am completely naked, and unable to cover my nudity.

There is a whistle of appreciation from someone at the sight of my bare chest, my worked abdominals. I am so sweaty I know my skin must be shining like it's oiled.

"Muy bonita." A man's voice.

Though my breasts are small, the way in which my hands are tied behind my back thrusts them up, my nipples must be poking out like pencil erasers.

"Kneel." The woman's voice again.

There seems no point resisting, so I do as I am told, though the rough ground hurts my knees, so hot my shins and feet feel as though they're burning. Nobody cares: for perhaps twenty minutes, I am left, utterly naked but for a blindfold and the rope pinning my wrists so painfully together behind my back, the packing of cloth filling my mouth. The sun is fierce on my bare skin, searing my breasts and belly, my thighs, my face, my shoulders. I can feel it on the nape of my neck: a tomboy-short haircut seemed the only sensible option for the tropics. I am sweating heavily.

Eventually, I become aware of people standing over me again.

"Take out her gag."

The rope at the back of my neck is untied, and I am able to eject the wet packing from my mouth. My jaw hurts from being held stretched wide for so long.

"Tell me your name, pretty girl." The woman's voice is rich, the Spanish accent beautiful, each word rolling lazily.

My tongue is dry and speaking is effort. "My name is Kirsten Smart." I address the blackness of my blindfold, my face towards the ground. "Please, may I have some water? And please may I have my clothes?"

"It's not cold. You don't need clothes," the woman says. "You are a prisoner of the Free Nationalist Army. I won't fuck about: you will tell me where are your troops, you will tell me how many you have, you will tell me your orders."

"You have the wrong person," I tell her. "I don't know any of that -"

Suddenly I'm lying on my bound arms, my head pounding, ears screeching, the whole world spinning. My face feels like it has caved in. I can taste blood. I had no way of anticipating the punch to my cheekbone, and I groan in pain and misery, then burst into tears.

"Jesus, fuck! That hurt my hand! Puta!" the woman shouts. Next, a boot slams hard into my stomach, driving the wind from my lungs, lurching nausea up my spine. I shout and cry and retch, curling up with my wrists still pinioned behind me.

I can't breathe.

"Pick her up!"

Hands grab my arms and wrench me back to my knees. Drool spills from my mouth as I dry-retch at the ground, my head still ringing and ears roaring. I still can't breathe. My arms behind my back hurt badly; my belly is throbbing in terrible waves. The sweat of nausea is running on my skin. I finally manage to gasp air.

The woman's mouth is level with my ear while I continue to gag and moan. "You don't fuck with Rachel Paglia. I'm going to give you some time to think, because maybe you're tired, confused. But soon, you will give answers. If you like it or not." I groan. Rachel says, "take her into the bunker."

By unseen soldiers I am wrenched to my bare feet.

From the sensations and sounds, I am marched through a metal doorway into a bare concrete corridor, heading into the depths of a structure that smells of disinfectant and ozone and gun oil. One soldier in front of me, one behind me holding my arm. It is cold in contrast to the air outside, and the hairs on my arms and body stand up as goosebumps turn my skin coarse.

Corridors. Doors, metal doors, unlocked, opened, then closed locked after we pass through. Then steps, ridged metal chill to the soles of my feet, a tight, steep, descending spiral. It is terrifying, I am afraid I might tumble down, but for the hand constantly gripping inside my elbows. With my wrists crossed behind me, my sweat-wet ribcage is bare to the cool air, and my nipples tighten and swell like bullets. I am being taken deeper underground - I count at least two flights of stairs before we access a new tunnel.

This passageway is deathly silent. My bare feet slosh in icy puddles, the air is colder still. Finally we stop: I hear a heavy door grate open, heavy on its hinges, and I am thrust into a room. From the lack of echo, it's barely three meters square, concrete, empty.

I stand, naked, bound, blind. "Can you untie me? Please?"

"Cool down in here a while, puta." It is another woman, younger.

"No! Please!" I turn for where I think the door is. "Please, I'm still tied up!"

My cries of desperation are lost as the door thuds shut and a metal bar slides into place. As a key turns in the lock, I burst into tears, and sink to my knees. My arms are aching, tingling, my shoulders hurting. I can flex my fingers, move my hands a little against the hard coils of the rope, but that's all.

Kneeling, blindfolded, bound, naked, I cry with chattering teeth. The cold stipples my skin with goosebumps. My nipples are puckered and aching. The hairs on the bare nape of my neck and on my arms are bristling. Without even the light warmth of my fatigue pants and spaghetti-strap top, I feel horribly vulnerable and exposed and cold.

After a time, I start to creep, on my knees, across the concrete floor. Almost at once, the icy, hard touch of a chain brushes my shoulder, and I gasp. It seems to be dangling from the ceiling, and it chills me even more, conjuring visions of medieval torture chambers.

Momentarily I am overcome. I cry again, my bare arm still touching the chain. I am still sobbing as, still on my knees, I shuffle cautiously forward. It is only a meter before I reach the back wall of the cell: hard concrete. The room must be barely three meters square.

My head is pounding. My arms are aching. My wrists are burning. I am cold, terrified, sick, anxious. My stomach aches. Slowly I sit, my elbows and triceps against the cold stone wall. I try, briefly, to rub my blindfold off against my shoulder, but with arms behind my back, I cannot. I am defeated, and sit feeling the cold hard concrete under my buttocks, the soles of my feet; the air chill around my arched ribcage and thrustout breasts.

Even in this cold, the sweat still oozes from my armpits and trails in icy trickles down my ribcage, I can smell my armpits' ripeness: stress and fear. The only warmth is in the blindfold that keeps me in blackness as time begins to drag in this tiny, silent cell.


SUSPENSION

From time to time in my cell I feel sick. I am in so much trouble. I want to cry. I have to get away. I have always assumed that it would be possible to free tied hands. It would simply be a matter of patience, and time, and perseverance. It is a basic of adventure books and movies: 'little by little, she worked her wrists until the ropes were loose enough to slip free.' The heroine always breaks free.

In the cords, I cannot turn my hands, but I can wriggle them a few millimeters, shifting them very slightly in their binding, although it hurts to do it. Regardless, I rock my wrists, back and forth, persistent, patient, a careful strategy of shift-and-tug, shift-and-twist. At the same time I feel for knots, anything that might give me leverage or an escape. But with my wrists crossed and my thumbs facing outwards, I cannot reach any knots. Nor does the cord does loosen to my methodical struggling. There is no slack, no change of movement, and after two hours, I have sore shoulders, raw wrists, numb hands, and my wrists are tied behind my back as securely as ever.

I give up, siting on the cold concrete floor, naked. I am tormented by the cold, but also by the silence. Blindfolded, I am more acutely aware of sounds, but here it is deathly quiet, like being deep in a cave. From time to time I think I hear a distant sound - a footstep, a banging door, but not enough to discern.

I have never known this belly deep kind of dread before, an overwhelming angst, and it makes every second feel like an eternity. I am exhausted, but my brain won't slow down in its fitful, feverish imaginings of what might happen, why they want me, where I am, what lies ahead for me.

I seem to sit and wait, forever. My arms hurt, my wrists hurt, but my hands are limp now in their tight bonds. I don't even try to test the cord anymore, or to get free. I need to pee, but I don't even know when I will have an opportunity, and if I pee where I sit, I might be beaten again, so I hold it in.

Hours pass.

Finally I hear footsteps far away, muted by the heavy cell door. They seem to be a long time coming. A key turns in the door's lock, the bar is drawn, the handle turned, the iron hinges creak open and I hear people enter. Three people. Two of them stop either side of me. The door is closed again, locking us together in the small cell.

"Kneel." Rachel's voice.

With my wrists pinned, it is difficult, but I manage to get my legs under me and slowly kneel, still horribly aware of my nakedness.

"Take off her blindfold."

Finally, after perhaps eight hours, the cloth is loosened from around my head.

I blink against the glare of a single overhead light. I am in a cell that is featureless concrete, tiny - three meters by three. On either side of me are two women: both Latina, both pretty, slim, brown-skinned. Even in their fatigues they look sexy, tank tops and camouflage pants, one with an assault rifle diagonally slung over her shoulder, a purple tie in her curly brown hair and a stack of pink, purple and black bracelets on one wrist: the other with a sheathed knife and an army-green canteen hooked on her pants' hips, dark corn-braids, her tank top hem knotted to make it into a kind of sports bra, baring a hand-span of hard midriff.

Finally my eyes flit to Rachel, evidently their commanding officer. I am in the biggest mess of my life, sick with fear, on the verge of a complete breakdown, and for a moment all I can think is that she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

She looks thirty, so is probably forty: not overly tall, the same height as the other two girls, the same height as me, maybe one-seventy, but with a tone to her body that suggests physical toughness and the genetic perfection of a goddess. She wears a khaki spaghetti-strap tank: the skin of her bare arms and shoulders have a gleaming brown Latin tan. Across her left shoulder and crossing her collarbone is a sweeping indigenous tattoo, intricate and delicate. Her hair, brown-black and naturally crimped, is pulled back into a small ponytail, wispy stray hairs softening the nape of her slender neck.

Her posture is proud, strong: wide hips and the gentlest curve to her belly. Her khaki shorts are a few shades lighter than the tank: her brown legs are sleek, shining, strong like a sprinter's. Surprisingly, her breasts are big; teardrop-shaped but firm enough to hold the fabric of her tank top tight.

But it is her face that truly captivates me. She wears no makeup, probably has no regimen other than the natural oils drawn out by tropical humidity, and her face radiates glowing health: her nose and high cheekbones are dusted with the faintest of freckles. Her bat-wing eyebrows give a cheekiness to brown eyes whose shine of sharp intelligence strike me instantly. Her lips are beautifully shaped, perfect, framed by a firm jaw, planed cheeks. My god, she is beautiful, and I am momentarily flustered. I even forget that my wrists are bound as I stare up at her.

She speaks again in that beautiful Latin accent. "You and me, we need to talk."

It feels like a lifeline, and I look up at her, hoping for compassion, an ear willing to listen. "Please," I start. "My arms hurt."

Rachel ignores me. To the girl with the corn braids; "Carla, give her water."

The girl Carla retrieves the canteen from her hip, unscrews its cap and holds it towards my lips. I take it into my mouth like a suckling lamb and gulp the water, not aware until now of how dry I had been. I drink it all so that my belly aches, and Carla returns the canteen to her belt as Rachel casually says, "my chicas Daniela and Carla wanted to tie you in a tree and skin you alive." The horror of her words are like a slap in the face, and my guts plunge. "But hey, maybe they're angry because your people killed their families?"

I have no words, so Rachel crouches down in front of me. Her skin is incredible, I can see the reflection of the cell's light bulb in the curve of her bare shoulder. I can smell her: fragrant, clean and fresh. "So you can do me a favor and tell me where are your men now. What is their equipment, and what is their operational strategy?" Her brown eyes are gazing into my eyes with such intensity that I am overwhelmed.

Fat tears start to slide down my cheeks and I shake my head again.

"I swear, Rachel, I swear I don't know those things."

Quite calmly, Rachel fastens her fist in my hair and wrenches my head back, lifting my chin, raising me into an upright kneel. I squeal with the pain, my wrists still tied and arms twisted behind me. Her eyes shoot fire. "You will tell me, bitch!"

"Please!" I can feel the tears rolling. "I don't have the information you want!"

Rachel lets me drop, stands, glances at her girls. "We'll hang her up."

Realization hits me hard, as hard as Rachel's earlier kick to my guts. The chain my shoulder had encountered earlier hangs in the middle of the room, operating a block and tackle anchored to the three-meter ceiling: the kind I, in my job as mechanical engineer, would use. The lifting-chain hangs to about two meters, its hook replaced by a sturdy industrial padlock.

My heart is pounding. I cannot believe this is happening, I have to get away: but there are three of them, and I am on my own, naked, in a locked cell. I don't know what to do. My panicked eyes dart to the door: it doesn't even have a handle.

The girl Carla kneels behind me. She starts picking open the knots that have painfully fastened my wrists behind my back for so many hours, and she, easily, frees my wrists. I am still kneeling on the floor as Rachel stands in front of me, and the half-meter cord that had bound me is handed to her. Should I try to escape? Should I fight? I feel numb and too scared to do anything at all.

"Bring your hands in front of you and cross them over," Rachel instructs.

With shoulders and arms still aching from being held immobile for so long, I hold my wrists obediently crossed over in front of my body, my hands shaking visibly. Rachel ties them with the tightness and efficiency that a trailer-rope might be tied off, with no deference at all for my well-being or comfort: I give a whimper as she deftly winds the rope four times around my wrists, the muscles in her shoulders working as she crunches the binding so tightly that my hands begin to turn crimson. Around, through, around again, knotting the cord creakingly tight. My crossed wrists may as well be set in iron.

"Stand up."

There is no other option. I could try to fight, but to what end? To be beaten senseless? To be dragged outside and skinned alive? I stand, and shuffle, barefoot and terrified, to the middle of the cell. Rachel reaches up to take hold of the open padlock on its block-and-tackle chain, grabs my bound wrists with her other hand, and raises my hands to marry the two together, pushing the padlock's shackle through the ropes and clicking it shut so that I am standing with my arms raised in a diamond over my head. Rachel tests the padlock with a tug.

The girl Daniela, with the assault rifle and colorful bracelets, is at the winding-chain, and at Rachel's nod, she pulls it. With a soft chattering, my aching wrists are drawn steadily upwards. I bite my lip, watching my own hands rising, higher, higher: until my arms are reaching high above my head. Still the chain is wound, the ropes tug my wrists upwards, and my heels rise off the ground: I teeter on the balls of my feet.

Standing so stretched, I am suddenly, awfully aware of my vulnerability, and it is humiliating beyond words. I'm aware of my breasts and belly and groin all exposed, my arms stretched up and framing my face, my feet straining and tottering to hold my balance and weight.

"Jesus!" Rachel's voice carries disgust and amusement. She is staring at my armpits. It is months since I shaved them, and they have crops of dark hair, wet with the sweat of my fear. Her eyes drop to my hips, the broad spread of my pubic bush. "Are you a lesbian?"

"No," I say in a weak, sobbing voice. The shaming is awful. The other two girls have come to look, and with my arms wrenched over my head, I cannot stop them.

"Hola," says Carla, and waggles a tuft of my armpit hair as if shaking its hand, and the two girls laugh. Carla sniffs her fingers and crinkles her nose automatically at the acridity of my sweat, and they laugh even harder, even Rachel.

"Look, girl, huh?" Daniela folds her own arms behind her head and flashes both of her armpits at me: they are flawless and baby-smooth. "This is how a girl should look."

My tears are coming now. "Please," I whimper.

Rachel gives a nod. "Ok, enough."

Daniela lowers her arms with a snort and returns to the chain. To my utter disbelief, she starts winding it. The chain rises, hauling up the padlock; the rope digs hard into my hands, my arms and spine and belly and legs stretch as I am pulled up by my crossed wrists, forcing my head forward, until my toes are lifting clear of the floor and I am hanging by my wrists.

"No!" I cry, kicking my feet desperately for anchorage as Daniela cranks me higher, higher, higher. It hurts! "Oh God! Let me down!"

"Secure it," Rachel tells Daniela.

I am not sure what is happening. They are fixing the chain somehow, behind me. There is talking, there are sounds, but I am in such a panic: a flush of desperation. My face feels hot. I kick and reach my toes for anything, twisting on the chain, my own upstretched arms clamping my head behind my ears. The concrete floor is easily ten centimeters below my bare toes.

I would never have thought humiliation would be a factor in such a situation: and yet it is shame and embarrassment that hits me first. I am hanging by my wrists, completely naked before three people who watch me with amusement and absolute entitlement. My body is stretched out to their gaze: my hairy armpits, my barely-there breasts, my flexing belly with its blonde fluff and dark spider trail, my heavy pubic bush. My pencil-eraser nipples, my ribs and hips, wrenched arms and my reaching legs and toes, my straining back. My captors are free, I am degraded and dangling, without dignity, helpless, from this chain.

"Let me down - please! Let me down!"

"You are going to hang for as long as I want," Rachel tells me simply. "When I come back, maybe you will be ready to talk." With an amused glance at my straining body, she turns and taps on the cell door. I hear it being unbarred from outside.

"Don't leave me like this!" Desperate, I kick my bare toes wildly for the floor, as the three women leave: I am twisting, grunting in my desperation to find some anchorage for my feet, in panic as they leave. The door slams shut, the bar is shoved into place, the key turns, and I am left hanging.

Oh god, oh god ...

I struggle, swinging my legs and pedaling my feet, twisting my hips: I want to turn my body around so I can see how the block and tackle is secured, but I am defeated by physics. It is futile. I am just dancing in the air, without leverage, helpless, unable to turn. I give up, and hang, swinging, the chain overhead creaking.

My wrists are really starting to hurt.

I try to tip my head to look up at the padlock and chain from which I am suspended: but with my wrists crossed as they are and my body's weight pulling my arms so hard, my head is locked forward. Maybe I can raise myself up? I try, using the strength in my arms. I can do ten pull-ups on the exercise bar, surely just one, now, to escape ...? It is pointless. The way Rachel has crossed my wrists defeats any leverage my arms might have. She knew what she was doing: I am utterly, utterly helpless.

Defeat finally sweeps over me.

"Let me down!" I finally shriek at the locked door. "... Please!!"

Nothing.

I am panting for breath. I feel the cold air chill the sweat on my body and in my armpits. On the creaking chain, I swing in a slow ellipse, my arms stretched hard above my head, the rope grinding into my wrist bones. In addition to my burning wrists, my hands are starting to hurt, deep pulsing pain, and my fingers are tingling. My spine and ribcage feel taut and elongated, my belly drawn, my legs extended to their full length, toes pointed but still well above the floor.

I give a whimper and slowly my head droops further, until my chin almost touches my chest.

I begin to sob.

For a long time, I hang, a gradually-slowing pendulum, my toes chasing their shadow on the floor below, crying. The tears crawl from my eyes and drip to my breasts as the burning pressure in my hands grows worse and worse. I can feel the last of the strength draining from my arms, muscles shaking, even as a deep, ominous burning sensation seems to creep into my armpits and along my bones. There is nothing at all I can do but cry.

Time creeps.

Perhaps an hour has passed when I flex my toes, swirling my dangling feet briefly, in the vague hope that somehow I have missed some point of contact with the floor, that maybe I can somehow hook my foot around the chain behind me. No such luck.

I am aware of my collarbone pressed to my jaw, my own arms pressed to either side of my head, stressed and taut, bearing the full weight of my dangling body, the strain telling with growing pain in my shoulder and elbow joints, and hurting hotly down my triceps from the unusual stress forced on them by my crossed wrists. With my head forced forward, I see the twin points of my nipples jutting like cinnamon thimbles into the chill air, my breasts stretched out of existence. Far below, my own bare toes, well above the floor. I realize that I still need to pee.

Time crawls.

After hanging for hours, my roped wrists hurt madly and my hands are on fire: they feel like they are about to burst, my fingers raging with tingling, burning pain. My arms, drained of all strength, hurt with the strain of my weight as I hang like a carcass. I groan aloud. The unceasing, throbbing pain keeps my armpits wet with sweat, and droplets streak my sides, meandering slowly over my ribcage, tickling my goosefleshed skin. I can smell the sourness of my armpits: in peripheral vision I can see the cheeky crops of hair that had been such an amusement to my captors.

I groan again in pain. My own moans of pain are the only sounds in this silent hell. I have always assumed that people strung up like this would somehow black out, that the time would pass in a fade-out, a change of scenes. I haven't figured on the slow, relentless, unbearable, restless ordeal it turns out to be: after maybe six hours of hanging, the constant strain on my arms draws a pain deep from my shoulders and triceps, my wrists hurting like they are broken, my hands feeling like they have been smashed with a hammer. My body feels unbearably heavy, suspended like a lead pendulum, stretched, legs dangling, toes pointing uselessly towards the concrete below. There is no fade out. I am fully aware of every passing moment, the silence of my cell, the pain. My bladder feels like it is about to burst, spreading its burn into my bowels and lower back.

Time drags.

This is torture. Brutal, calculated, relying on time to work to its full effect. I lose track of how long I have been suspended here, my mind roaring with the pain in my hands and arms and joints. Eight hours. Or is it ten, now? Or is it really just one hour?

It feels like forever, and I am in agony. The sweat is dripping from my face and tracing rivulets down my sides from my armpits. I moan in my cell: I would scream but I have no strength. My hands throb in slow, terrible waves of hideous agony although I have no sensation or movement in my fingers. My wrists feel like they are encircled in red hot iron. My arms hurt as if the bones have been split, my shoulders in sharp, fiery pain like they are dislocated. Such torture would usually result in writhing, endless movement: but suspension has drained my strength so effectively that I have nothing, I hang limp, head down in the chill air, at the mercy of the tortures that rack my suspended body.

It is a lifetime ago that I needed to pee. Now the pain in my bladder overrides my fear of the consequences, and my pride. With a small whimper, I let a little go. A warm dribble leaks out from the tangled hair between my thighs. For a moment, it overshadows all of the agonies and brings relief so intense that I let go completely, and release. A hot stream of urine starts down the insides of my thighs, then becomes a heavy spray as my bladder empties, splashing the soles of my feet, wetting my legs, running down my calves and shins. I give a groan, half relief, half horror at what I have been forced to do.

When my peeing finally stops, I hang listening to the slowing drips of my own urine from my dangling feet to the puddle below them, as the roar of pains in my wrists and arms floods over me again.

When the cell door is unlocked, it seems as if in a dream. I have been hanging forever, with my chin on my chest, my eyes almost closed and unfocused, racked by a million roaring torments.

"Huh. You are still hanging where I left you."

I had not expected humiliation to return after so long, and after so much suffering. But there is a gloating in Rachel's voice: far from sympathy, or at least the gravity of the torturer, she seems to relish the discovery that I am still hanging here by my wrists where she left me.

"You peed yourself." It has been many hours: the puddle below my toes has almost dried, but Rachel doesn't miss the detail. Shame and embarrassment sweep me like a wave of heat, driven on adrenaline: although my muscles are still too exhausted to move and I cannot even raise my head, my eyelids grate open.

Rachel is standing there, brown shining skin and melon breasts, still in her khaki spaghetti-strap top and little khaki shorts, as if she has just sashayed in from the beach to update herself on my suffering. Daniela is here, too, her curly hair with its purple ribbon, bracelets stacked on her wrist, military dress made street-savvy. Openly, she looks my drawn, taut, helpless body up and down slowly. Her face wears a slight smile of satisfaction.

Rachel folds her arms and cocks her hips. Her eyes are level with my chin, and with my head locked forward by my up-wrenched arms, she occupies my field of view. "I thought, maybe, you would be the hero, you would get free and kill us?"

I want to cry. I had tried, and I had quickly failed. "Please ..." My voice is a choked whisper, and I have to force it through a fog of weariness, my body paralyzed after so long in its painful suspension.

"Please, let me down ..."

"Are you ready to talk, yet?"

"Yes," I croak at once. "Yes, anything, please let me down."

"Tell me the positions of your troops."

"I don't know," I groan.

"How many are there? What is their equipment?"

Tears slide down my cheeks. She is interrogating me as I hang in agony. "I don't know, I swear. I am just a drone mechanic. I was on my way to service a drone when we got separated. I don't know the information you want."

Rachel shakes her head. "That is not good enough, chica."

"I swear it's true," I sob.

"It's all ok." Daniela's voice, from behind me; she has checked the integrity of the ropes, the padlock, the chain, the pulley. She knows I am fixed here. Rachel acknowledges with a nod.

"I was kidding about getting free," she tells me. "You won't. You will hang here as long as I want it. Even if you could reach the chain, we locked it with a padlock, too. No way you could get free." She is studying my face for a reaction, and she gets it. I can't stop the tears. I have never felt this humiliated, this defeated, this helpless. "I will leave you to hang for another day."

"No! Please!" I croak, horror spearing straight into my guts. I watch in disbelief as she and Daniela, with last glances at my dangling form, exit into the dark corridor. The door slams shut, the bar slides into place, the key is turned, and I am left, still hanging by my wrists.

Even though I cannot move, exhausted, a return of panic and dread sweeps me. I can feel my heart hammering in my ribcage and it sets awful pulses of pain in my scrunched and useless hands above the ropes. The sweat bursts over my naked body until my torso is shining, perspiration on my bare back, oozing between my buttocks. Fat drops creep from the hairy crops of my armpits.

I moan, it is all I can do.

Time creeps, my panic slowly morphs into a dark sense of defeat. It is now, that my hanging is to be prolonged for many hours more, that the torture reaches new horrors. The burning, deep pain that smolders from the roots of my armpits down into my ribcage and all the way to my fire-encircled wrists is growing worse: and I cannot do a thing about it.

To compound the torment, now new pains are appearing. I had not expected my hips and spine to hurt; but nature never intended those ligaments and tendons to carry the deadweight of my lower body for so long. Slowly, the agony that has encircled my shoulders and upper body spreads down into my pelvis and back, the same tearing, burning pain. Even my toes and feet begin to throb, as my heart struggles to move the blood through motionless muscles. Though my toes dangle helplessly above the floor, the very air around them seems to burn my feet with electricity.

I cannot writhe. I cannot scream. I cannot express my pain as I hang here suspended by my wrists, except in one primal way: sweat. It clusters in tiny droplets around my brow, slides down my nose, it sits like dew on my naked breasts. Droplets nestle in the fluffy hairs along my jaw line and the peach fuzz of my belly and back. A wet slickness polishes my thighs and lower legs, my stretched arms. Fatter drops creep and prickle through the hairs on the nape of my neck.

But it is the sweat in my armpits that is heaviest, the pungent apocrine sweat of pain and fear. It oozes constantly, tickling and creeping through the hair, before escaping to tease in slow humiliating trails down my ribcage and flanks while I hang helpless.

"Don't shave your pits." That had been my CO's advice before this tour. "Cut your hair shorter. The guys will leave you alone."

So I'd had the cut, thrown away my razor. But stationed in the tropics and never wearing more than a military tank or spaghetti-straps, I was propositioned more times than I'd ever been in my life - told that my super-short hair was totally hot; that pit hair was really sexy on a girl; that my thick eyebrows were my best feature.

Now, hanging here by my wrists, my armpits are flags of shame, those supposedly cute pockets of hair are drenched with my unending sweat, feeding glistening streaks down my sides, and tormenting me with the rancid tang of humiliation and suffering.

Never once do I fade into merciful unconsciousness; but my mind, mashed by exhaustion and the unending pain, begins to lose its way. Countless nightmarish hours crawl in a pain-filled delirium, ranging from disorientation to sheer panic. I am barely aware of Rachel and her two girls entering the bare room, until my numb feet hit the floor, and I collapse in a greasy heap. My arms have lost all movement, and I lie weakly as the padlock is fitted with a key and opened, the rope around my crossed wrists loosened. My hands are purple, icy, my wrists grazed, black with bruising. My joints seem to have frozen solid: even if I wanted to, I am unable to move.

"Tie her up. Daniela, you do it."

There seems no point tying me, I am paralyzed with exhaustion after twenty-four hours hanging; my joints are so stiff the slightest movement is agony. Besides, I am naked, in an empty cell, with a heavy steel door that has no handle or lever on the inside, locked on the outside with a heavy sliding bar. Escape is utterly impossible and tying me is pointless. Nevertheless, while Rachel stands to watch, the girls roll me onto my belly on the cold floor. Carla kneels at my head, almost straddling it, her hands pressing down on the backs of my shoulders, while Daniela sits astride my hips and pulls my hands behind my back. I whimper.

"Cross them over," Rachel instructs helpfully. "If you cross her wrists, she can't get them past her butt and under her legs." Per instructions, Daniela crosses my one wrist over the other, and the rope - my rope, the rope that tied me on my first day of capture, that has suspended me above the floor in my twenty four hours of hell - is wound tightly around them.

"Tighter," Rachel says. "It has to be very tight. She must not turn her hands."

I give a moan as Daniela cinches the rope so tightly that my crossed wrists grind into each other, cord biting into my skin. Rachel goes on: "around, between - tight as you can. All your strength, chica." With step-by-step coaching, Daniela soon has my wrists tied more securely behind my back than ever. They hurt simply from the pressure of the rope: there is no way I can turn them, twist them, let alone get free.

"Now get her up, on her knees."

The girls grasp my arms and haul me up. I can't help but give a barking moan with the pain in my grating joints: for a moment I am kneeling naked in front of Rachel, then I am pitching sideways.

"Woah!" It's Carla who catches me. It is clear that I cannot support myself, so instead they half-lift me by my bound arms and sit me back so my elbows and tied wrists rest against the cell wall, bare buttocks on icy concrete, my legs loosely out in front of me. With the girls still holding me, a shoulder and elbow each, Rachel steps closer and crouches down by my knee.

"Hey. Hey."

My eyes can't focus. I mumble something through lips so dry they crack when they move.

Rachel's hard slap across my face seems to come from nowhere and leaves my ear ringing, but it works in an instant: my heart pounds, the adrenaline floods in a wave of sudden trembling, and my eyes are wide, alertness is back. My face is stinging and the tears well.

"Are you going to talk, now? Tell me what we need to know?"

"I can't," is all I manage to croak. My voice rasps.

Rachel growls, "do you want me to string you up for another day?"

"No," I groan again, my bowels weakening at the thought that I might hang by my wrists again. Tears squeeze from my eyes. More words come. "Please, I don't know anything. I'm no help to you."

Rachel contemplates, then says, "tomorrow I will torture you."

I have never dry-retched on words before, but I do now, with what she says. Daniela giggles, but Rachel's expression is more dangerous than ever, and she stands up slowly. "Give her water, then let her rest. And put her blindfold back on."

Rachel is up, stalking to the door, which is opened from the outside at her approach, then thuds closed after she leaves. I feel like my innards have fallen into a mush inside my bowels and my lip is trembling as I look to the girls.

"Please, don't let her do this," I beg.

Carla is unscrewing her water canteen. Daniela keeps one warm hand on my shoulder, the other gripping my arm just above the elbow, warning me to stay still.

"You need to drink," Carla says.

I drink as ordered, slow metallic glugs in the canteen as precious water restores some solidity to my guts, although my heart still hammers and I can feel the squishy sweat in my armpits. Rachel's words echo inside my skull. Tomorrow I will torture you. I wonder if anybody could hear more terrifying words.

The canteen emptied, Carla withdraws it, and, with her fingertips, wipes my lips, careful not to scrape me with her nails. The tenderness is almost obscene in my captivity.

I know each girl by her differences, now. Although both wear the khaki tank tops and camouflage pants, Daniela, the younger, is slightly taller. She would not fit the description 'voluptuous,' but she has full breasts and a perfect cleavage, a youthful tone to her arms, a roundness to her face, a pout to her lips that suggests haughtiness. She seems the living definition of Latina sexiness, with her hair tie and bracelets; but she is aloof, too. I wonder what she has seen in her eighteen or so years.

Carla, with her corn-braids tied in a pineapple spray at the top of her head, is leaner, a few centimeters shorter, with darker skin. In another life she might have been a dancer. There are striations in her brown shoulders, her arms are defined with gentle ridges of veins on her biceps, her collarbone is a stark shelf. There is a little silver crucifix on a fine chain around her neck, Jesus tortured in her decolletage. She does not wear - nor need - a bra, and she does not seem to care that her nipples poke thimble-sized bumps in her tank top. The way she has knotted her top reveals a span of worked, muscled abdomen. She has shaped eyebrows, strong cheekbones and a strong jawline. She looks to be in her early twenties.

"Time for the blindfold," she says.

It is just a long strip of khaki cloth, maybe cut from an army t-shirt, the same blindfold I wore when they brought me in here, lying where it was discarded. Carla folds it over to double its thickness, then wraps it around my head, tying it tightly at the back. I feel its pressure on my skull. As she adjusts it to make sure I have no sight at all.

The girls leave without saying another word: the door is closed, barred, locked, leaving me sightless and naked, sitting against the wall, feeling the unrelenting crush of the ropes on my wrists behind my back.

Slowly I let myself slip sideways, until I am lying on the cold floor.


SHOCKS

Rachel knew exactly what she was doing when she told me I would be tortured. Sleep is out of the question. Even though I am beyond exhausted, her words fill my head, over and over again. It drives me mad. My stomach feels as though it is boiling with acid. There are times I almost slip into a fatigued stupor, but then torture floods my mind again, my guts sink, my heart pounds, I am washed with heat and panic and the sweat prickles; I lift my head off the floor, sightless in my blindfold, helplessly tied, listening for clues that they might be coming for me.

At other times, I feel a gnawing dread that is hard to distinguish from hunger, a hollowness under my ribcage. It is then that I feel feverishly cold, the hairs bristling over my body as goosebumps crawl, my nipples puckering and hardening like stones, and I shiver convulsively.

There are times I bawl like a baby, my own voice echoing in the cell, my tears soaking the blindfold, until I have no more energy to cry, and lie numb, until the cycle starts all over again.

It is its own torture, calculated and cruel.

Is it night outside, or is it day? What day would it be? Is it morning, afternoon, evening? I have no idea, my isolation and disorientation is absolute: but finally, after an interminable time, I hear footfalls approaching outside my cell.

Panic returns. I manage, this time, to get my knees under me, but double over, snail-like, with my bound wrists resting on my lower back, as the cell door rattles and bangs its sequence of being opened.

"Hola, Kirsten," Carla calls. "Let's go."

"No." My response is in a small voice trembling with reluctance. If I go, I know what will happen.

"Hoy! Let's go!" Daniela is inside the cell, too.

"No, no! Let me stay here!" I sob.

"Come on. Get up." Carla takes my right arm at the elbow, Daniela my left, and I am lifted by my bound arms. Panicked and overwhelmed, as my feet come under me, I lurch up, twist sideways.

"NO!" I wrench free of Daniela's grip and Carla's seems to loosen, and, even blindfolded, I try to stumble for the door.

"Fucking puta!" Daniela catches me with her hands on my shoulders, spinning me into her knee as it slams into my undefended belly with a sound like hitting upholstery with a bat. Every last bit of air is flung from my lungs in a shriek, and a moment later my shoulder and the side of my head slap hard on the floor. Awful pain explodes up into my ribcage along with brutal nausea, I am gasping for air and retching at the same time, my arms twisted painfully behind me. Daniela's shin is across my neck, pinning my head to the floor, and she fastens a fist in my hair while Carla grabs the ropes on my wrists and raises my arms up behind my back, wrenching my shoulders painfully.

"Fucking try that again!" Daniela shouts at me.

Drool spills from my open mouth. I still can't catch air. I gasp, "I'm sorry! I won't! Please ... please forgive me ..."

"Get up," Carla barks. Even she sounds annoyed.

Still gagging and gasping with pain throbbing in my guts, I find myself stumbling along a passageway: my bare feet slapping on concrete, accompanied by the clumping boots of my escort. Naked, hands bound behind me.

Through a door - unlocked, opened, closed, locked. Up a spiral steel stairway, through another door, the same process. Finally, another room. I hear the door closed and locked, barred, behind us. My wrists are left tied, but Daniela removes my blindfold.

"Oh, dear god, no! Oh, no!" My knees sag, but Carla still has my arm and holds me up.

In a concrete, green-walled cell four meters square, bare fluorescent lights bathe a table of sorts: black, tilted slightly forward on a hydraulic base that is bolted to the concrete floor. Two meters square, a plastic grille surface. At each upper corner is a retractable strap, like a trailer tie-down, but riveted to their ends are thick plastic wrist-cuffs with buckles. At the table's base, anchored to movable carriages on a gently curving toothed track that spans the width of the table, ankle-cuffs. There are stainless steel crank-handles at the top and bottom of the table. Alongside this horror, a gurney is outfitted with devices that I can't bear to look at: a battery array, wires, clips, a capacitor and control board.

I am so scared.

"You know this is made in America?" Rachel's smooth voice comes from a fold-out director's chair to my left. "They don't tell you, what the Americans really do. Not you Antipodeans, you are too trusting. When I had to work for the government, I saw so many on this table. Now it's your turn." She points to the table with a thrust of her lips. "Put her on."

I want to scream, to fight, to struggle, but I can't seem to find the will as Carla and Daniela push me forwards. "Please," I quaver, my voice as loose and unsteady as my legs. "Can't we come to some arrangement, I'm begging you, please -"

"You had time to cooperate," Rachel tells me, "and you refused. Time is a factor, so now I will make you cooperate."

"I don't know anything!" I blurt, in desperation and panic.

"We will find out soon," Rachel shrugs.

Still bound, I am forced to bend forward over the end of the table, its curving base-rail cold against my bare thighs, as Daniela begins to untie my wrists. Carla has her hands on my shoulders, pushing down firmly. I have my head turned, and I try to look back at her. "Carla, please!"

Carla, with her corn-braid hair and compassionate eyes, her dancer's body and her silver crucifix, her knotted tank top, shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

"We are going to do this, Kirsten. Get on." Something in her voice, low and calm, soft, compelling, takes the last little resistance out of me. I realize it is pointless to fight. This is inevitable. As my wrists come free of the rope, I allow the girls to take my hands, turn me, guide me back and up onto the torture table. My eyes fill with tears.

Carla and Daniela are meticulous and thorough. I lie unresisting as my arms are stretched up-and-out to the top corners of the table. Around each wrist, the cuff is fastened, the thick plastic pulled through the buckle's frame until it is tighter around my wrist than the grip of a strong hand, triple prongs bedding into their holes. The girls each fit a sturdy padlock over the closed buckles, locking them with firm clicks. The measure is not lost on me: there is no way in hell I will get free.

Once my wrists are secured, the two girls grasp my ankles. I see no point in fighting. I let them fix my ankles a meter apart in the thick straps that are anchored to the movable carriages. Buckles tightened, padlocks fixed: I realize I must look like some Vitruvian Woman.

Carla briefly grasps my lower leg, something akin to a good luck as she and Daniela finish their task and step away. Carla goes to stand by the door, arms folded, watching impassively. Daniela hovers near the top corner of the table, beyond the uselessly-curled fingers of my right hand.

My heart is knocking painfully against my breastbone. I lie inescapably secured, naked: my bare body spread out for torture, my breasts drawn flat on my rapidly-shifting ribcage. My nipples, two fleshy thimbles, stand easily a centimeter. I can't see it but I know my genitalia are hideously exposed. I can smell the stale sweat of fear in my armpits even as fresh sweat creeps.

Rachel finally, slowly, rises, strolls to where I lie, and looks critically over my spreadeagled form. I am breathing hard just with terror.

"You have a good body," she notes.

"Please don't hurt me." I raise my head between my straining arms to look at her. I cannot stop my voice from shaking.

"Kirsten! I am going to torture you," Rachel says impatiently.

I make a sound that is a cross between a sob, a moan, and a sigh, and my head drops back. At the same time, my bladder releases a little dribble of pee: Daniela gives a laugh and then covers her mouth.

"You should really shave your armpits if you wear sleeveless," Rachel tells me, moving around the table, still inspecting my body. "And maybe trim your pussy. I dunno, maybe it's cute like that."

"I'm sorry," I quaver in terror. I don't know what else to say. "I'll shave, I'll do anything, please don't torture me."

Rachel puts a hand to my chest, closes her thumb and forefinger deliberately over the swollen stub of my left nipple. "You have beautiful nipples, Kirsten. I'm going to start with your nipples."

This time nausea lurches. My head rolls in an almost-faint of terror and I dribble pee again. "Please, please, please don't torture me," I beg again, and start sobbing. I tug on the wrist straps, hopelessly, knowing they are fastened tightly and padlocked on my wrists. I feel more exposed than ever.

Rachel bends to the gurney. She very deliberately picks out two long car jumper cables, each ending with its heavy copper spring clamp. The spring creaks as she opens the first. Daniela, alongside the table, takes my breast in her soft hands and plumps it, like squeezing dough, so that my nipple is presented like a ripe brown cherry ready to burst.

"Ohhhhh!" I arch my back in pain as the clamp crushes on to my left nipple. It is vicious, biting hard, its teeth sinking into my sensitive flesh. "It hurts! It hurts! Please!"

But even as I am pleading, Daniela squeezes my right breast and Rachel closes the partner clamp onto its nipple, with its awful, crushing grip. "Oh god!"

My mouth is open. The sweat is coming. The pain is bad. I find myself struggling on the table, even though I know nothing will dislodge these clamps, their cables draped across my chest, across the table, to terminals on the control box.

Rachel is there. She is calmly clicking switches, adjusting a dial, watching a meter. I hear the rising whine of a charging capacitor. Daniela is still alongside me at the table, her hands on its surface, watching me. My torture is imminent. I am desperate. Panicking.

"Please, please! I swear, I don't know anything, I don't know anything!"

"Wrong answer."

It feels as if my nipples have burst and an invisible vice has crushed my chest. My back arches, the breath is knocked from my lungs, and for a few seconds a terrible force is trying to pull my breasts from my ribcage.

The current ceases, and I fall back, my squeal evolving into a long cry of pain.

"Ohhh god!"

"God has other things to worry about," Rachel snorts. She throws the switch again: this time I hear sparks cracking on my nipples, the same crushing hand locks every muscle rigid, and, as my spine arches, I let out a scream. Urine squirts from between my legs, my fingers splay. The pain is like nails driven into my nipples, every muscle rigid, my mouth wide.

The current stops, and I drop, chest heaving. My heart is a jack-hammer, sweat springs from every pore in a liquid varnish over my skin. My pee trickles slowly from the drainage grid beneath me.

"Please," I pant, my voice thick with dread, "please stop!"

"Senorita," Rachel smiles. "That first shock was only fifty, the second was only sixty-five. But we'll go up fifteen volts at a time until you talk. Or your pechos burst. I've seen it. The fat goes everywhere. Maybe before that happens, I'll put the clips in those armpits. You'll discover how very sensitive your armpits are."

I can only cry, so Rachel turns up the voltage and hits the key.

Sparks fly, my breasts swell with pain as my body arches off the table. I am screaming, helpless to stop the torture. I have never even imagined this much pain, and my body has no way of coping other than complete panic. When the flow stops, I struggle dazedly to free myself.

"Ninety-five volts." Rachel hits the switch.

Cr-crack! A blue arc flashes in my eyes, and my body thumps off the table in a spray of flung sweat, accompanied by a scream that tears my lungs. The clamps seem to lift my nipples into the air, sending agony into my sensitive breasts.

The shock ends. I fall. Steam is curling from my crushed nipples. I can imagine my breasts bursting like microwaved eggs, and I let out a wail as Rachel sets the dial higher.

I have had electric shocks before in my life. Stupid ones - touching a refrigerator that had a short circuit, trying to change a light bulb in a faulty socket. Those shocks had jarred my body with a violence that wrenched the breath from me. But those shocks had lasted half a second or less. Rachel is running current through my body - through my breasts, my nipples - for ten seconds at a time.

"Talk to me."

"I don't know anything," I sob.

"One-ten." My jaw cracks. My shoulder blades and buttocks lift clear of the table, my spine creaking, nipples straining for the ceiling as current surges into them, sparks crackling and sputtering, and I am screaming. The pain is beyond description. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... seven ... eight ... nine ... the current stops.

I flop back.

I manage two gasped breaths, my heart pounding, before Rachel keys the switch again, and I buck off the table, screaming, electricity snapping at my clamped nipples. Only two seconds: she releases me, then shocks me again, holding the current, now, so that my spine creaks, my steaming, wired breasts straining upwards. My scream is endless, my body arched off the torture table. ... nine ... ten ... eleven ... twelve ... thirteen ...

The current stops, I fall.

Rachel's expression is predatory as she gives me a few moments to recover, increases the current to a hundred and twenty-five, and lets me have it. It is so easy for her: a nudge of a switch, and I am jolting upwards off the table, muscles contracting harder each time, sparks snapping and arcing through my swollen nipples, sweat flying off my body like mist. I can't hold back, shrieking and yelling.

When Rachel stops the current, I feel my whole body is wet. I am panting hard. I gasp like a fish, trying to catch air. "Please," I manage, "please stop hurting me! I haven't done anything to you! Please, just stop it, I will do anything you say ..."

"I want information," Rachel says.

"I don't know anything," I moan. "Oh, please, let me up!" I jerk my widely-spread legs, tugging my ankles against their restraints, heels digging into the table. I tip my head back, looking along the wide 'v' of my own wet arms, fingers open, tugging and jerking the straps.

Daniela giggles. "God, that's sexy!"

My face is wet with tears. My nipples burn, mashed within the savagely-tight jaws of the clamps, cables draped across my gleaming chest. My muscles are pumped and defined from the terrible clenching forced on them every time a shock hits me. I am helpless. I can't escape. I am stretched out across this table, naked, with no way to protect myself.

With the thump of electricity and the snap of sparks my body bows up off the table. My ribcage threatens to burst, my nipples seem to swell within the clips' bite. The pain is worse than anything yet, and I scream and scream. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... seven ... eight ... nine ... ten...

Rachel shocks me again, and again, and again. Each hits with a sound like a sledge-hammer, sputtering firecrackers on my nipples, jerking my body into a splayed, spreadeagled arch, until I can no longer scream, until it feels I can barely breathe.

How long has it been? An hour? I have lost count of the shocks. My head rolls. My eyes won't focus. My ears are screeching.

Rachel has stepped from behind the controls and has her arms folded, her head tilted, looking at me. Daniela, alongside the torture table, her hands on its surface, has a little smile. She loves seeing me in agony. "She can still wriggle. Shall I tighten her?"

Rachel nods. "Sure."

Daniela shifts to the head of the table, and begins to turn a softly clicking ratchet. The padlocked cuffs around my wrists begin to retract, stretching my body harder across the table. I feel it in my arms, my shoulders, my hips. I feel my ankles pull hard against their straps as the stretch spreads through my whole body. My spine pops loudly. I cannot fight it.

Rachel returns to put a hand to my brow, pushing back my soaked hair. "Now we can continue."

"No, no, please - please!" Now I cannot even struggle as she removes the left jumper clamp from my nipple, and instead pinches a fold of the wet hair and skin in the exposed hollow of my left armpit. I let out a cry at the awful pain of the vicious copper teeth sinking in. Daniela does the same with the clamp on my right breast, pinching a fold in the crease of my right armpit, and letting the copper jaw bite into the sweaty tangle. "Oh, dear God ..."

I feel degraded, terrified.

Rachel is still beside my left underarm. She strokes the soaked hair, unconsciously. "You ask any guy where to put the wires, he will say her boobs. Guys are misogynistic fucks. It is their fantasy to torture her breasts. Sex, sex, sex. Putting the wires in a woman's armpits is much better." She waggles the clamp that is pinching so awfully in my armpit. "You know why?"

"No." Miserably.

"They are so sensitive, and they are perfect conductors. In your underarm there are glands making so much salty sweat to take the current; and just below the surface is your brachial plexus. That's a bundle of nerves that spreads all the way along your arms and all down into your chest. Besides that, there are tendons and ligaments, and the shoulder joints, all that anatomy that is so sensitive to pain.

"Boobs are too insulated. Through your armpits, you're going to feel every volt."

Rachel is returning to the controls.

"Please," I whisper. My head rolls, I can't bear to look: instead I see Daniela, standing beside the torture table, arms folded. "Please," I beg her, "I don't know anything."

Daniela smiles.

Rachel hits the switch. The voltage is low: but the muscles in my arms lock hard, my fingers buzzing painfully; my back arches, my teeth clench in pain. It's different from the nipple torture: much deeper, far more intimate, far more invasive. It is much, much worse than my breasts. It's the most horrible sensation I have ever felt, and I wail in terror. Rachel keeps the current steady, and it seems to burn along the bones of my arms. I cry out again.

Rachel cranks the voltage high.

I scream in agony as sparks spit. It feels as if my arms are on fire, clenched viciously tight and trying to wrench themselves from my body. "That's one hundred thirty volts, baby!"

She releases the switch, hits me again. The paralyzing bolts of agony snap into my armpits with daylight-bright sparks, wisps of steam curling up from the copper jaws, the smell of searing hairs as I arch and scream on the torture table. My underarms seem to have split open, the clips delivering tendrils of agony along the nerves that radiate from each armpit, so that even my elbows, fingertips, breasts, ribcage, and spine all seem to be on living fire.

Rachel knows her torture, and she lets me thud back onto the table for a few seconds, before turning the voltage higher and hitting me again. There is a bright blue flash in both armpits, and I think my arms have been ripped from their sockets. I arch off the table, shrieking madly in agony. The sweat is profuse in my armpits, the salty perspiration a perfect conductor, and the pain is a thousand times worse than when she tortured my breasts. I hear my own skin hissing and popping like frying eggs.

Finally, release. Steam curls from my armpits. I throw my head weakly from side to side, moaning.

"Talk," is all Rachel says. "Talk, or it gets much worse."

"I don't know anything," I whimper in terror. "Oh, please, please, please -"

"One seventy-five!" My shoulders jerk off the table, my armpits flatten and lift towards the ceiling as if plucked upwards by the clamps while sparks flash and agony explodes deep in my joints and along my bones, drawing scream after desperate scream from my torn lungs.

I flop down, my body twitching and jolting with the after-effects of electric shocks. I can smell ozone. If only I could lower my arms, tear my wrists from the padlocked straps that hold them hard-stretched above my head. But Rachel hits the key again. Current explodes, my arms locking violently rigid as I shriek and scream in pain.

Rachel releases me.

"Talk, or it's two hundred and twenty volts!"

"Oh, God, God ..."

This time, it feels as if my shoulders have shattered, and I scream madly, eyes wide, agonized beyond all comprehension. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... seven ... eight ... nine ... ten ... eleven ... twelve ... thirteen ... fourteen ... the current ends: I flop down, my belly lurches and I vomit, a mouthful of warm water spilling down my chin. My stretched arms' muscles are trembling and exhausted beyond the ability to move. The world begins to spin, the nauseating odors of burning hairs and overheated sweat close in on me. I am starfished on this table, helpless.

Then the sparks crack again in the hairy pockets of my underarms and my body goes rigid. I am screaming and screaming, unable to do anything else. The agony bores through my armpits, along the very bones of my arms, deep into my ribcage, even my teeth and cheekbones are raging with fire. This time, Rachel leaves the current going for longer, much longer. Thirty seconds. Longer. It feels like eternity. Even my scream trails to nothing as my lungs are emptied of air and my body, locked rigid with the electricity surging into my armpits, shudders and judders with agony. My eyes feel as if they are about to be forced from their sockets by the pressure. The electrodes are sizzling wetly in my pits.

Finally, release and I drop heavily and hard to the torture table. My belly and breasts heave, wet with my own sweat, and I gasp and shriek with muscles shuddering and twitching. My armpits are steaming. I am gasping air, dazed: lights flashing in front of my eyes, whining in my ears. I have no strength. My arms remain stretched over my head, the electrodes remain anchored in my armpits for more shocks.

"Let's try three hundred volts."

I am too dazed to even register what she has said until she closes the switch.

White hot irons press into my armpits and the bone-bending contraction wrenches my body into an arch off the torture table, wrists and ankles pulling involuntarily on their restraints as I scream and shriek. The sputtering, crackling sparks in my underarms fill my ears as my lungs empty of air and my scream becomes a sigh, and then silence. There is only the snapping sparks, the rattling of the shaking table, the creaking of my own bones and joints as every muscle remains locked rigid by the current.

Rachel holds me with that current for more than a minute. Maybe it's two minutes. My ears begin to whine, I can feel blackness creeping in from the edges of my mind as lack of breath begins to steal me from consciousness. There is just the popcorn-sputter of the sparks in my armpits. My armpits, my armpits ...

Finally she ends it. I whump back to the table and gasp as if it is the first breath I have ever taken, release it with a shriek of pure agony. Lucidity returns as I pant and cry, my belly heaving. Rachel is beside the table, reaching down to put a hand between my breasts, feeling my heartbeat. My rolling eyes can focus on nothing, but I see her swirling tribal tattoo and it seems to squirm on her gleaming shoulder.

"Her armpits are smoking," Rachel says in wonder.

"That will teach her hippie ass for not shaving," Daniela laughs in reply.

Rachel laughs too and returns to the controls. "Stand back, I'll hit her again."

She shocks my armpits with three hundred volts again. Then again, then again. Over and over. Each time the same awful seizure of agony slams through me, my screams filling the room as the sparks fly and jump from the clamps anchored in the hairy gullies of my armpits.

I have no idea how long she has been torturing me, how many shocks. Fifty? A hundred? The world seems to shift and fade around me. I am unbearably hot. I can't move. My armpits both feel as if they have been flayed and doused in acid, burning, the mere touch of air too painful for words, and the bones of my arms seem to be smoldering.

"Daniela, prepare her," Rachel instructs.

It means nothing, until I hear the chattering ratchet at the table's head turning again. My buckled and padlocked wrist straps are somehow drawn tighter, and my spreadeagled body is stretched grossly, sharp pain in my shoulders and hips.

But worse is to come. Daniela, now at the foot of the table, begins to crank the lower lever. On their toothed rail, the carriages to which my already-parted ankles are locked begin to move steadily apart. "Ohhh! No, stop, stop!" I shout at the ceiling, helpless as my legs, already pulled to their furthest stretch, are slowly, cruelly spread wider by the ankles. I cannot stop it: the pain is dreadful. "No more, please, you're breaking my legs!"

"This is so cool!" Daniela bubbles as she turns the crank: my ankles are one meter thirty apart, and my hips pop loudly with the stress of it. Pain rages down my inner thighs, the tendons like steel. And still Daniela turns the crank, until my legs are almost meter and a half apart, obscenely wide. My genitalia are hideously exposed, I have never been so degraded. My vulva and vagina gape and the pain in my legs and hips is awful.

"That looks like it hurts," Rachel remarks. Casually, she removes the clip from my left armpit, and, a moment later she joins Daniela between my widely-separated feet, the cable draping across my thigh.

"So hairy down there, too."

"Oh God! Oh God! No!" I scream. I am helpless, stretched: I cannot struggle, as, given full access to my gaping vulva, Rachel's cool fingers push back the hood of my clitoris. When the copper teeth of the jumper clamp mash down onto the sensitive bud, pain erupts.

"Fuck!" She and Daniela both leap back as another squirt of pee escapes me. I am overwhelmed with terror, and with it comes the sobbing and the tears.

"You're pathetic," Rachel scowls. "I am going to enjoy this. Look what else I've got."

She is holding an object that looks like a tiny fat copper baseball bat, no longer than her hand. For a moment I have no idea what it means, until she says, "did you know your asshole is hairy, too?"

"No! No! No!" I shriek in horror, but with my legs spread so wide, there is not a thing I can do.

"Let me put it in!" Daniela appeals excitedly, and Rachel gives a shrug, giving the anal electrode to her guard. The younger Latina is smiling in delight and anticipation, and I feel cold copper touch the sensitive star of my anus.

"Oh god no, Daniela, please, no!" I wail.

Slowly, firmly, Daniela begins to push. I cannot stop her, I can only squeal and beg as the electrode is eased deep into my rectum. I can feel my pelvic muscles clenching and pushing as if trying to force it out, but it is shaped to stay in.

Rachel removes the second clip from my left armpit, hands it to Daniela, who carefully attaches it to the stem of the electrode protruding from my clenched anus, as if it were a battery terminal. "Oh god, please, please don't do this, don't hurt me like this ..." I am so tightly stretched and so drained by torture that I can't even struggle, lying with my legs spread and the wires draped from the hairy nest between them, the sweat of terror in fat droplets all over my body.

Rachel returns to the control unit. I hear the capacitor whine.

"Talk to me. How many units do you have? Where are they stationed?"

"Please! I don't know anything!" I'm desperate, hysterical, panicking.

"One hundred and fifty volts." Rachel hits the key and I am screaming as agony like the flame of a blowtorch fills my bowels and grips my clitoris, spreading like molten lead through my whole pelvis as my floor, abdominal and thigh muscles clench with superhuman ferocity. Somehow, my hips rise off the table, my obscenely-spread legs seeming to invite the electricity's savage penetration. One ... two ... three ... four ... five.

Release. I fall heavily, sweat running off me, my heart thrashing, my ribcage heaving two breaths a second. My clitoris and anus feel as if they are on fire. I'm crying, bawling, my head rolling between my upstretched and wet arms.

"Give her more!" Daniela, at my feet, has a predatory expression.

"You want more, Kirsten?" Rachel asks.

"Please, I don't know anything," I sob in a small voice.

"I'm going to hit the button again."

"... No ..."

I'm spread on the table, utterly helpless. Rachel closes the switch. Electricity jumps between my legs with a sound like fireworks, my body arches off the table. Little sparks snap in the wet tangle of hairs while I yell in agony.

When Rachel releases me, I drop to the sweat-wet table. My anus clenches and spasms around the electrode in response to the shocks, another dribble of urine escapes me. I sob. Torture has drained my limbs of strength, I can't even tug on the straps. My widely-spread legs hurt so much, I think my hips are dislocated.

"Talk to me, Kirsten," Rachel sings, turning the voltage up. "One seventy-five!"

"Please," I choke. "Please, I don't know anything ... I don't ... oh god, please stop hurting me, stop torturing me, please, I don't know what you want ..." Saliva dribbles from my mouth, tears from my eyes, snot streams from my nose. My whole body is wet with sweat. The awful spring-clip burns on my clitoris, the plug in my arse feels like a red hot iron. I sob as Rachel poises a finger over the button.

Crack!! Current heaves me off the table. My muscles lock hard, pain ravaging my most intimate parts, sizzling and spitting as I roar in pain.

I fall back. My ribcage heaves with every desperate breath. The electrode in my anus crackles with heat, sweat sizzling. My clitoris feels as if it has been burned with a red hot poker. It hurts unbearably. The capacitor recharges with a rising whine.

"Where are your troops stationed?" Rachel demands.

"Please, please, please ..."

Two hundred volts explode into my clitoris and rectum. My buttocks and shoulder blades rise up off the table, my whole body arching, hips jerking at the ceiling in a mist of spitting moisture and sparks. I scream, shrilly, the agony overwhelming. My scream catches, my voice suddenly silent, the only sounds my creaking limbs and the hum and sizzle of the electrodes. My pelvic floor muscles spasm in a gruesome orgasm of agony.

Rachel releases the switch. I fall hard, the breath knocked out of me, my mind a nightmare of pain. I can taste blood. I start to mewl and squeal like a kitten. There is steam clambering up from between my yawning legs.

"Two fifty!" Rachel electrocutes me again. I am screaming with all of my lungs against my will.

Even stretched so tightly, my hips and back rise clear of the torture table as my body overextends itself with the savage, churning power of electricity, the sparks snapping through my clitoris and into my anus. I am screaming while blue arcs flash off the walls and ceiling and my own sweat spits and steams.

Why won't I faint?

The question means nothing as Rachel shocks me again, and again, and again. The sizzling voltage in my arse, the sparks jumping through my clitoris, the involuntary pumping hips, my abdominal muscles corrugated and rigid, my thighs striated and hard as muscles lock with the current and my screams fill the torture room.

Every time Rachel lets me fall back I am panting hard. The roaring, the jangling, the twitching, the feeling that my very bones are like smoldering charcoal inside limbs utterly drained. And yet I won't faint. These scenes are supposed to end with the victim blacking out, with merciful unconsciousness, a natural crossfade into the next scene.

Not me. Not here. I am as conscious as when Carla and Daniela first buckled me on to this table, and I have been held perfectly in place by the padlocked straps while the torture was done. I cannot even fake unconsciousness to save myself from more torture: Rachel closes the switch and I am arching up again, screaming and shrieking, an uncontrolled show of agony.

There have been dozens of shocks. It has been hours. Finally, I realize that Rachel is turning off the switches. No announcement, nothing is said to me.

"Take her back, she is useless now. I will torture her worse tomorrow."

Carla has to knock on the torture room door and ask for the key to my padlocks. She and Daniela unlock the cuffs on my ankles and my wrists, their fist-tight grip finally released. But I cannot move. This is the aftermath of torture by electric shocks. I am not just exhausted, I am paralyzed. My muscles were spent within the first awful minutes, and the torture went for hours, electricity forcing contractions that were beyond human.

Even so, I am dragged off the torture table and laid on the floor, on my belly and breasts, and it is Carla this time who straddles my hips and ties my wrists, crossed over, behind my back. She ties them even tighter than Daniela had. She blindfolds me tightly, and then, between them, they wrench me up.

Outside the torture room they are joined by a man, lightly spoken, eager to help with my deadweight, and the three of them negotiate the spiral iron stairs to the lower level, and to my cell.

I am dumped on the floor.

"She is weak," I hear Daniela say, disdain in her voice.

"Maybe." Carla is closer to me, and as I lie on the hard floor, she kneels down, then, pulls my head into her lap. "Here, you have to drink this. It is sports water."

Her canteen is put to my lips and I drink it as best I can: my throat is raw from my screaming. And it is the least of my residual agonies. My limbs are starting to quiver like vibrating jelly, my muscles and joints aching badly. My breasts and my armpits, my clitoris and my anus throb in awful searing pulses from the scorch-burns. My jaw and my teeth hurt from alternating between stretching wide to scream and clenching down in anguish. Behind my back, my wrists burn from the crushingly-tight rope. Even my eyeballs hurt. I am too numb to cry, or to speak, but my head crashes with the echoes of my ordeal, the awful sounds of the sizzling electricity.

Carla carefully turns me onto my side, and I curl up, with wrists tied behind me.


RACK

How long has it been? Two days awake? Three days? My terror of being tortured again prevents me from sleeping, but my exhaustion is absolute, physical and mental, and the night passes in a sequence of nightmarish blackouts, where reality and dream morph into a panic-filled chaos.

Too soon, the door opens and I hear people enter.

"Let's go, puta." Daniela.

I say nothing. I do not move, lying on my side, arms twisted behind me.

"She's sleeping." It is the man's voice. I wonder why Carla did not come, this time.

My heart is hammering so hard inside my ribcage. They come closer.

"See? Like I was telling you," Daniela says. "You can see the hairs poking out from under her arms even now. It's fucking gross. And her pussy is a damn forest."

"It's cute," he responds. His accent is not as thick as the girls'. He sounds educated. "She has a little moustache too. It's sexy."

"Ew, Rico!" Daniela's admonishment comes with the sound of her slapping his arm, and he laughs.

"Come on, look at her. Those legs. Those abs. She's athletic. She could fuck all night." They are discussing my body as if I were some piece of meat, and the tears start to well into my blindfold.

"Hey. Bitch. Wake up." Daniela is crouching alongside me, now, and I can no longer pretend. I turn my face towards the floor.

"Who is she, anyway?" Rico asks.

"I don't know. Some fucking whore from the peace corps. Hey! Let's go!"

I have no chance to respond, because a moment later, Daniela and Rico hook their hands around my roped wrists and haul me up. As my arms are wrenched up behind my back, I discover the damage done to my muscles and joints by yesterday's torture session, as a thousand pains wrench through my shoulders, triceps, all down my back.

"Aaah!" the cry is involuntary, but at once I have my bare feet under me, scrabbling to relieve the pain in my shoulders and arms. It is that easy for them: I cannot even offer passive resistance. They have utter control over me, and, bent forward and unresisting, still blindfolded, I am walked from the cell, limping, my bare feet slapping the concrete, my whimpers echoing in the claustrophobic corridor.

The second level of this underground lair is where prisoners are tortured, and I am sobbing as I am brought to a room, its door closed and locked behind us as always. Daniela and Rico grip my arms, with my wrists still bound, as I teeter on aching legs.

"Take off her blindfold." Rachel.

While Rico holds me, Daniela removes it, and I stand dazedly in the glare of this new room, its green painted walls, its bare concrete floor, five meters square. Rachel and Carla are already here, standing alongside a bench or table, black, perhaps a little over two meters long and a meter wide. Its surface is level with Rachel's bare mid-thigh, just below her khaki shorts.

"Do you know what this is, Kirsten?"

I realize that it is not just a table. Riveted to each corner of the end nearest me are thick steel shackles with locks. At the table's far end, almost flush with its surface, is a winch, wound with a steel cable, which ends in another pair of cuffs, again with locks. On either side of the winch is a crank-handle.

"It is a rack."

My legs were already weak. Now they give out completely and I sink to the floor with a moan of dread. Even the pain in my arms, still held by Rico, is not enough to keep me standing. I have heard of the rack. Everybody has heard of it. The medieval horror, a device made to stretch its victim. I am as bewildered as terrified, in a fog of denial. This obscenity should not even exist.

"Put her on," Rachel instructs.

"No!"

Daniela and Rico impel me forwards, and my resistance is as fleeting as a bare heel skidding on the floor and a cry, as my aching shoulders are wrenched; then they are folding me onto the smooth black surface with my wrists still tied behind me. It is cold, smooth, slippery, like tempered glass or hardened plastic. I squirm, but Carla joins them, and Rachel: by four people, I am easily pinned down. My legs are spread wide.

"Oh, God, please!" I am sobbing and pleading, barely even aware of the reawakened pain in my hips and legs. Carla and Daniela have the honor of securing my ankles, wrestling each into a steel cuff and ratcheting the metal painfully tight. With my feet secured, Rico rolls me on to one shoulder, and Carla unpicks the knots that bind my crossed wrists, freeing them: my arms are pulled up over my head.

The wrist cuffs, too, are heavy, two centimeters thick, both attached to a single steel ring, which in turn is riveted to nearly a meter of steel cable running to the rack's winch. The cuffs are ratcheted tight, grinding brutally into my bones and capturing my wrists inescapably, holding my arms stretched up. My captors step away, Daniela and Rachel slapping a high-five, Carla with hands on hips, Rico looking my body from fingertips to toes. I am breathing hard, helpless in an inverted letter Y with my armpits framing my tears-wet face. "Please." I try to appeal to anyone who will listen.

"The rack is an amazing machine," Rachel tells me. "Like electric shocks, it tortures without scars or blood, just by stretching. But the rack is much worse. It hurts so bad, because your joints are so sensitive, with so many nerves, and it never stops. They say it is the worst torture of all."

"Please, I don't know anything," I whimper in terror.

As if she has not heard me: "This rack has a hand winch that can pull in the smallest amount, and it is so easy. Just on my own I can stretch you until every single joint pulls apart, and you will feel every little moment of it."

"No, no, please ... I swear, I swear I don't know anything!" I am so terrified I am drooling, tipping my head to try and see what Rachel is doing. I am so awfully vulnerable.

My protestations and pleading mean nothing to Rachel as she begins to turn the crank. With soft clicks, the roller far beyond my fingertips turns: cable is wound in and the steel pulls on my wrists. I am dragged fractionally across the table, until my ankles are jamming against their metal restraints. It feels so surreal, like some fairytale kind of torture, and I wonder if I am supposed to be in pain already. Daniela is standing by my anchored feet, her hands on the ankle-shackles as if wanting to make sure I stretch.

Rachel turns the crank again, a half-circle for every notch, and my wrists are pulled a little closer to the winch: a physical stretching of my body that I can feel all along my limbs, all through my torso.

"You resisted the electric shock torture so well," Rachel explains smoothly. "I needed something much more painful to persuade you." She tightens the winch again, and my body is stretched. I try to fight it, but every muscle is already taut. This is beyond mere physical strength: it's machine against tendons and ligaments. I am going to suffer whatever Rachel wants to do to me.

Rachel cranks me two more notches, and as I stretch, I hear my own joints popping loudly.

Unexpectedly, the first stabs of true pain surge hotly from my shoulders, along my arms. I gasp. My ribcage is lifted by the tension, the steel biting my wrists and ankles.

She stops.

I am lying, stretched, my heart hammering, my armpits crawling with nervous sweat. But instead of tightening the rack again, Rachel steps from its head, and casually glances at the others. "Okay. Let's eat."

The surreal nightmare has imploded. I am stunned as Rachel sashays to the door, thumps twice, and it is unlocked and unbarred.

"I will stay and watch her," Carla announces.

They are gone, all but Carla, who is by the door, arms folded.

I burst into tears. I cry for perhaps twenty minutes, gulping between breaths, lying stretched on this hellish machine while Carla watches me, seemingly without any emotion at all. It hurts, the tension is unrelenting, traction between shackled ankles and wrists, my bare arms pressing on either side of my head, but worse than that is the abject sense of vulnerability and helplessness.

My crying morphs into the panic of someone drowning: sheer, overwhelming. Without thought I find myself trying to escape. But it is completely futile: the ankle cuffs are so tight I cannot move my feet. My wrists are crunched so hard into the steel cuffs they cannot even turn, and the tension on my arms is so hard that I cannot move them. Even my fingers barely twitch. Besides, even if I had movement, the shackles are locked with a key: they are completely inescapable. After barely a minute, I acquiesce to the absoluteness of my restraint.

I am helpless. Helpless to the biting harshness of the steel on my wrists and ankles. Helpless to the burning pain in my shoulders and hips, along my arms and legs, of muscles already sprained and strained from my convulsions under the electric shocks. Helpless to the refrigerator-cold of this torture cell: my body is covered with blonde peach-fuzz, and those tiny hairs are on end with the stipples of gooseflesh across my naked skin, my nipples hard like stones jutting almost painfully into the cold air.

My armpits, though, are constantly wet with the sweat of pain and fear: the hair saturated, cold droplets occasionally creeping around my shoulders and dripping to the hard surface on which I lie. With my arms pulled up so tightly, my underarms flank my face and I can smell my own sour-stale odor.

The only part of my body that I can still move is my head: with difficulty, I can raise it to regard myself, and my prison. When I do, it is to see the plain of my ribcage, two dark nipples pointing into the air: my belly beyond, beneath the overhead bulbs. The stark ridges of my hip bones flank the thick mat of my pubic bush: my own legs, muscles drawn into definition, stretched wide to opposite corners of the rack's base, my feet helplessly sticking up beyond the tight shackles that moor them.

Beyond, I see the patiently standing form of Carla.

I let my head drop back. "Carla, help me! Please!" The appeal is pathetic, I raise my head again to make eye contact with her. Carla has swapped her khaki tank for an olive sports bra, baring abs so hard you could smash a cinder block on them. She has a black leather thong tied around one muscled arm, and her corn-braided hair is fixed in a casual bun. At my plea, she shifts from her position by the door and strolls to the rack.

She puts a gentle hand to my shin. "I can't help you."

"Please!"

"Your shackles are locked with a key. The key is not with me, not even with Rachel. I don't know where it is."

I let my head fall back, again, feeling the return of claustrophobia. I do not know which is worse. Torture itself, or lying here knowing that torture is inevitable, that nobody seems to even know whether I can be unlocked from this rack.

"I don't know anything. I honestly, genuinely don't know anything," I plead, my voice thick with the strain on my limbs.

"I will tell you something that might help," Carla says. She moves close, crouches down beside the rack so that her face is just beyond the hairy horizon of my armpit. "Señora Rachel was a doctor."

"Rachel? I don't understand?" My words come in gasps.

"She was a doctor, and a good one. During the regime, they took her husband and they forced her to attend to the prisoners. First she was helping them. Then she was advising on how to torture the prisoners. Finally, they made her be the one to torture them."

"Why?" The grip of steel on my wrists and ankles suddenly feels colder.

"They wanted to be able to torture people, then let them go with no sign of torture, no evidence. It was for the confessions. Señora Rachel could do it, with the electric shocks, and the rack, she could get answers but not do any permanent damage, and not leave any marks. There would be no proof they had been tortured.

"Rachel could make them scream like a motherfucker, you would confess to anything. You would confess to murdering Jesus by the time she finished with you. But no lasting damage was ever done."

My eyes catch the little crucifix that rests on her corrugated decolletage.

Carla stands without smiling. Then she is returning to her place. No more words are said. I do not know why she has told me about Rachel, and I am in too much discomfort and angst to think about it.

The pain gets gradually worse as the cold penetrates deep into my already-burning muscles. I'm beginning to shiver, the cold air biting into my lifted ribcage, invading the intimacy between my legs, my open armpits. As my muscles contract with cold, the stretching action of the rack seems to grow. I can feel it in my joints: a sharp, hot pain. The cutting pain in my wrists and ankles gets worse. But incapable of movement, I have no way of easing the growing torment.

It is to this helplessness and pain that Rachel and Daniela return. Rachel looks indifferent to my anguish, but Daniela's head lowers and her eyes are predatory, inspecting every inch of my taut body.

Rachel walks close to the rack. She trails a finger on my skin, from my knee, up my thigh, over the ridge of my hip, up my stomach, over the corrugations of my ribcage, ridge by ridge, ascending the gentle slope to my breast. A shudder follows her fingertip's progress as it circumvents my breast and follows my strained pectoral, until she lightly scratches her fingernails through the wet hair of my armpit and it draws a whimper from my throat, my belly spasming in a sensual overload. Rachel's fingers drag up my arm until they touch the steel shackle locked about my wrist.

"I think we have some unfinished business, Kirsten."

I cannot look. I know she has taken hold of the winch's lever. Daniela has a spot near my lower leg, biting her lip, watching me intently. I fight to keep my voice level, although cold and fear inject a tremor.

"Please, please, don't stretch me," I beg. "Please, I am just a drone mechanic, I don't know anything, I would have told you everything, I swear!"

"That is not even a convincing cover," Rachel responds in her drawling Spanish accent. "Maybe, I can help your memory a little?"

She cranks the winch, two full turns, and cable is pulled in. The savage, raw pain of being stretched flashes along my arms and legs as if the bones have been hit with hammers. I never imagined it would hurt like this. My head rocks back, my mouth opens wide. "Oh, god!!"

"It's going to get worse," Rachel warns me. "Tell me what we need to know."

Even breathing is difficult. I'm desperate for some relief from the slicing pain in my arms and torso.

"I don't know anything!"

"Yes, you do." Rachel turns the handle, my body is stretched, the most awful tearing pain shears through my armpits, up my arms, down my sides, and I give a scream.

"Oh, oh god! My arms! My arms! My arms!" I shriek, barely aware of what I'm crying, but desperate for the pain to stop. Sweat appears on every centimeter of my naked body, my ribcage, droplets over my belly and limbs. I cry with the pain in my strained limbs.

"Tell me," Rachel orders, and again turns the crank: I am stretched a little further. The pain doubles, fire engulfing my arms and legs, and my cries dissolve into a wordless scream as my body creaks.

"Oh God! Please! Loosen it! Please! Stop! Stop!" I am begging, pleading, mewling and bawling in my agony. Every nerve is ravaged, joints under awful strain. I can not fight it: I can only gasp and shriek; though every breath, every shallow movement of my inflated ribcage sends shockwaves of fire all down my spine, through my shoulders, my strained abdomen. Tears wet my face. Sweat runs. The steel anchoring my ankles grinds hard against bone: the cuffs on my wrists creak, holding the terrible tension. This is so much worse than the electric shocks: then, there had been moments of relief, the pain had not been so all-engulfing, so overwhelming, so unending.

"I beg you, I beg you, please, stop the pain, please ..."

"You want me to loosen it?" Rachel puts her hand to a release lever at the rack's head.

"Oh, God, yes! Please!" My swollen fingers flex uselessly beyond the cuffs that wrench them towards the winch. "Loosen it!"

"Tell me where your troops are stationed."

"Okay! Anything! Just release me!"

"Wrong answer."

"No!" I shriek. "Oh, god! I'll do anything! Please! God! Oh, please don't stretch me!"

Rachel doesn't care about my terrified pleading: she stretches me, and excruciating pain rips the breath from my lungs, white-hot agony that overloads every rational thought. The savagery blinds me. I'm aware of liquid fire down my sides and spine, roaring through my hips and shoulders and all along my legs and arms. I can hear it, the groaning of my own body, creaking like stressed leather. My ribcage can scarcely shift, but as soon as I have breath, I am screaming again. Sweat covers me like droplets of water. My tendons are as hard as the steel cable that holds the awful tension in my body.

Daniela is circling, watching me scream and shriek and cry, I think she touches the cable to test its tension, but my eyes cannot take in what they are seeing. I cannot regulate my breathing, I cannot stay silent. My body is tearing and it is terrifying, and agonizing. Being stretched is painful beyond anything I could have imagined, and every additional stretch makes it worse.

"Where are your troops stationed?" Rachel asks.

"I don't know," I gasp. "Oh, God! I don't know! Please don't stretch me!"

But Rachel turns the winch and I stretch: there is a sickening ripping sound followed by two loud cracks! and new pain seems to explode from deep in my armpits as my shoulders are dislocated. I feel the bone ends pull from their sockets. Everything pales to nothing against this new agony. I lose all awareness of who I am, where I am, shrieking and howling: white hot fire rages the length of my arms, searing my upper back and chest, focused with fury beyond all comprehension in my broken shoulders.

"Oh my god!" Daniela is laughing.

Rachel's voice drips triumph. "Now we're getting somewhere!"

My screams fill the torture room, along with creaks and groans from my own sinew and bones.

Nothing could possibly be worse than the pain that rages in my dislocated shoulders, drawing long, agonized shrieks from my throat. I want to die, but Rachel asks again, "where are your troops?"

I cannot even answer.

"Stretch her!" Daniela urges.

Slowly, Rachel cranks the handle.

The agony in my ruined shoulders is already like white hot knives thrust through my armpits: but as my body stretches, the knives sear into my hips, my elbows, my knees, my lower back. Fire seems to spread down my very bones and I can do nothing but scream, over and over, as Rachel stretches me further. My screams become demented as, with deep cracking sounds, muted by my own flesh, my hips pull out from their sockets. Now the agony in my armpits is equaled by that in my pelvis.

Rachel gives the winch another turn to stretch me again. I give shrill, harsh shrieks and yells that tear my throat, my mouth wide. My hands and feet, beyond the locked steel cuffs' brutal grip, are purple with strangled circulation. My body, naked, drawn in an upturned 'Y,' is held motionless on the rack: I am helpless to the unbelievable pain of bones sitting out of joint, all the strain now borne by the ligaments. Muscles are tearing from their anchorage. Tendons are fraying. Every nerve shrieks in a flood of pain that overwhelms me. My scream becomes a squeal, my breath stolen as my ribcage shudders.

"This is the sweet zone, Daniela," Rachel says. She is no longer at the winch, but is standing alongside me, her fingers trailing down my arm to probe the distorted hollow where the outer curve of my shoulder had been. I am in such agony I cannot even feel her touch, I can barely see her through eyes that are fogged with anguish. The room is spinning. I give another wailing cry. I can still hear the awful squeaking of my breaking body, my own creaking armpits pressed to my ears.

"Anybody with a dislocation will tell you it hurts too much to move, even a little bit. It is incredibly painful. So this is the point when we use stretching to its best advantage. Every tiny stretch will nearly drive her mad with the pain. And we can still pull her elbows apart. Then her knees. She would sell out her own mother when her knees pull apart.

"But even then we can keep stretching her, and the pain just gets worse, and worse."

The words float through my living nightmare. My bare belly rocks violently as I fight for breath. My arms and legs and torso and back rage with huge, paralyzing pain: I am hoping that my hands or feet will tear off so that the agony of being stretched might end.

Rachel stands with arms folded and watches me suffer, a demon goddess of immeasurable cruelty.

Daniela is on the other side, tying her own hair casually, biting her lip. My shoulders and hips are dislocated, the muscles in my forearms, upper arms, back, pelvis, thighs and lower legs are torn, tendons wrenched, ligaments half-ripped from bone-ends. The fetters at my wrists and ankles have stretched my body a dozen centimeters longer than it should be.

Lucidity interweaves with a red, roaring madness of pain, and I alternate between screams and wails, trapped in a horror of agony and brokenness that won't let me go. Even my eyes start to fail, my fluttering eyelids strobing a blurred view of the ceiling, sweat like condensation over my damaged and ripped body.

I become aware of Rachel and Daniela back at the winch, though whether they have just stepped to it, or have been there for some while, I do not know. I try to clear my vision, to focus on them. Brown skin and khaki blend: but I can see that Daniela is caressing the handle of the winch as if it were an erect penis.

"Can I stretch her?"

"Go ahead."

Those words hit home. My agony is compounded by a fresh surge of horror, but I cannot stop her; Daniela rolls the winch and I am stretched. It multiplies my agony beyond belief. Fresh fire explodes into my armpits and hips and roars along my arms and legs with a fury that tears a wild scream from my lungs, my eyes rolling back, my tongue flat. My whole body creaks, swollen joints violated by still more tension.

Rachel and Daniela watch while I scream, helpless to the excruciating savagery of being pulled apart by slow force. They are demons in my peripheral vision, they move around the rack, hazy, shadowy, words reaching through my cries as if ghostly whispers down a tunnel.

I want to die. I would embrace death now. Despite myself, I kept fighting to breathe; despite myself, I cannot even lose consciousness and fade from this horror.

After an eternity, my screams die to moans, exhaustion stealing even my ability to shriek.

Instead, I wail. "No more, no more, no more ..."

"She is vocalizing," I hear Rachel say. "That is a good sign."

"So can I stretch her again?"

"Sure."

Daniela winds in more cable. A blast of violent agony spreads, from my joints along every inch of my body, through every bone, every tendon, and I scream anew, my feet anchored, my wrists hauled fractionally towards the winch with the most terrible sound, like ripping out deep-rooted grass. I am screaming again.

Over five terrible minutes, my elbows pull apart. Despite the roaring horror in every other part of my body, I feel the excruciating agony of my tearing elbows in intimate detail. I scream dementedly, feeling tendon breaking from cartilage, bone from bone, muscle fibres and ligaments shredding. Shockwaves of fire flash to my fingertips and spear down my sides as the sensitive nerves through my elbows are stretched and torn. The sounds it makes are awful, the agony spirals me into near-madness: and yet, as my arms gradually lengthen another centimeter with my elbows breaking, Rachel guides Daniela in tightening the winch, stretching me more. I shriek with the unbelievable pain of ligaments now breaking anchorage in my hips and shoulders, fibre by fibre, and my knees beginning to pull apart. My ribcage has been forced upwards so cruelly that only my hollowed stomach has freedom of movement, spasms with every frantic breath.

I beg, "oh, please, please, please ..."

Rachel says, "stretch her again."

Daniela cranks the handle. As the cable is wound in and my body stretches, my knees finally break with the screeching of detaching cartilage. Added to the agony in every inch of my body, the pain of my knees pulling apart is indescribable, and yet I am helpless. The pain roars all the way down my shins and sets my feet on fire. I piss in agony, I scream and scream, spinning with the absolute horror of feeling my own body breaking apart.

They let me scream.

A lifetime passes in this nightmarish, unending hell. I scream until my voice fails. Even then, I am trying to scream, drawing ragged breaths, my mouth wide, tears pouring from my eyes, snot streaming from my nose, but only ragged croaks escape my throat. I cannot think. I feel neither misery nor fear, I am capable only of physical suffering.

Rachel and Daniela may have been gone five minutes. Maybe five hours. Maybe a day. It feels like eternity. I am still cawing in agony when they come back.

"Oh my fucking god," Daniela enthuses. Her eyes are wide, dark with lust. "She is in so much pain!"

"I told you so," Rachel says. She is standing between my wide-spread feet. She is looking straight up the V of my legs; my skin shining wet, the hair in my armpits and along my jawline saturate, muscles pulled stark and sinewy, my ribcage harsh, belly hollowed. My hands and feet are purple and crushed beyond the steel cuffs. My hips and shoulders are oddly distended. My knees and elbows are deep crimson and misshapen. They have wrecked me.

Finally Daniela says, "I'm going to stretch her more."

"Okay," says Rachel. "But slowly."

No questions. No more interrogation. Maybe they have known all along that I don't know anything. I can no longer beg, or plead, I can only gasp like a fish. My wrists and ankles are gripped soundly by the locked steel shackles, and when Daniela turns the winch, I am helpless to being pulled fractionally longer. Like pouring molten steel into a cast, new pain floods my elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, along my spine.

Now I scream. My body finds a way, and ragged cries escape my throat as my vertebrae begin to separate. My spine cracks and snaps loudly, each sound a new shockwave of agony, sending a hot lava of seething, moving pain all along my arms and legs.

Daniela stretches me again as I give hoarse, crow-like shrieks, short and desperate. Cracking and squeaking, my spine pulls further apart, and fury engulfs my back. They are no longer torturing me for information. They are torturing me for fun. Daniela wants nothing more than to inflict pain on me, and I cannot stop her, nor can I hide her success from her. I gasp in agony, now suffocating as I fight for air, hearing muscles tear all along my spinal column, the squeaks of gases escaping between my vertebrae, the cracking of ligaments loosening their hold on bone. My abdominal muscles are tearing with earthy groans. The pain is beyond comprehension: I have no thought, no identity, no sense, I am agony.

I cough, blood flecks my lips. My body is cracking and creaking.

"She is in Hell now," Rachel notes.

"I will make it worse," Daniela decides. She stretches me again and I, the plaything whose agony she has such control over, reward her with a hoarse wail of suffering. My belly is lurching, each spasm a shockwave of the most dreadful pain.

They listen to me groaning.

"It is enough," Rachel says. "We are doing real damage, now."

"But she didn't confess anything," Daniela sounds outraged. "We have to make her confess."

"Maybe she really doesn't know."

Rachel is walking around the rack. She is touching the cable, my cuffs, my hideously stretched limbs. I cannot feel her touch; only the pain, washing out everything with its screeching, deafening horror.

"What happens if I stretch her more?" Daniela asks. "Will she die?"

"Eventually."

There is a long pause.

"Can I stretch her, then? I want to watch her die."

Rachel gives an answer that seems to float on unreality. "Sure."

I cannot do anything. I cannot beg or plead. I cannot stop her. I am helpless to this whim.

Click. By my steel-crunched wrists my body is stretched, the pain surges and a groan is torn from my lungs. The agony is beyond all understanding. The pain of ripped muscles, torn ligaments, dislocated and ruptured joints and a distended spine are surely worse than anything a body can suffer: but I can't scream, can't plead for death. I can only gasp.

"Why did you stop?" Rachel's voice seems to float, disembodied.

"This is not how I want to kill her."

I am alone in my chaos of agony and I don't even feel Daniela's belt go around my neck until she tightens it and I am choking. I have no air at all. There is awful pressure inside my head and I feel my eyes bulging. I can hear a rattling sound: it is me, strangling. There is foam at my lips.

So this is how I die.

Like morphine, a white haze overcomes me. All I see are the tensed muscles in Daniela's bare arms and shoulders, her collarbone and decolletage polished with perspiration as she holds the belt tight around my throat. She holds it for the longest time. My head is pounding, I can feel each pulse like a shockwave.

Rachel's voice: "There she goes."

Daniela is still holding her belt tight on my neck as I feel my eyes rolling back into my head and the white fades into black.

C-crack! Pain. My knee. It is so terrible that I scream, but no sound comes. I cannot move. I cannot open my eyes.

I am still lying on the rack, my wrists are still locked in the shackles, but arms only loosely over my head now. My ankles are no longer fixed. There are hands on my body.

"Hold her hips steady." Rachel's voice.

Crack!

I feel the ball of my femur crunch back into its socket and another awful wave of pain explodes. This time a groan comes from my throat and I feel my head roll.

"She's waking up," Carla's voice.

"Give her more sedative." Rachel again.


CRUX

I am naked, lying on my side on concrete. My wrists are tied tightly behind my back with cord. My whole body hurts badly. I am blindfolded again.

"Good. You are awake. Can you roll onto your back?" It is Carla, by my side.

I can't.

"My back," I croak. My back hurts so badly it feels as if every muscle has seized. The smallest movement is agony.

Carla's hands at my shoulder and hip roll me over. I groan as my body is moved: my back is on fire, my joints hurt so badly. I don't think I could move anything myself. I lie on my arms, my crossed wrists nestling in the curve of my back.

Carla's hand comes behind my head and lifts it slightly off the floor, then the mouth of a canteen is put to my lips. "It's baby formula. But it's ok, it's for three years and over."

Nothing ever tasted this good and I begin to gulp it down, half choking myself but swallowing as fast as I can. "Hey, slow down, chica! Don't think I'm gonna burp you!" It is a gentle chide, it is humanity, and somehow it breaks my heart.

I am still alive. I am still a prisoner.

Carla pauses to let me catch breath, then lifts the canteen to my mouth again. I drink.

"You were left on the rack for the first four days," she tells me. "We couldn't move you until Rachel could get the swelling in your spine to go down. We just had to lock you back on to it. Rachel says you should be dead."

Four days? She is right. I should be dead. I want to be dead.

I drink until the baby formula is all gone, so full that my stomach hurts.

"There. That's good." Carla wipes my lips and chin with her fingers. "I will come back tomorrow."

In the darkness of my blindfold, there is nothing. My hands are left tied behind my back. There is no sound besides my own breathing, the subtle kiss of skin on concrete if I, gingerly, bracing myself against the pain, move. It never gets warmer, never gets colder than the chill of being underground. I sleep, and at other times I just lie, awaiting Carla's regular return like a dog awaiting its master.

The sequence of sounds is familiar, and every time I hear it my heart lurches painfully. A key in a lock: the shifting of a metal bar, the clank-and-creak of a heavy steel door opening. It has been five days, each time the same: a few words of encouragement, the milk, and I am left alone.

My moments with her soften my misery. With my shoulders in her lap, my head in the crook of her arm, close to her breast and her armpit, I breathe her scent. She never wears perfume, and has the fragrance of feminine sweat and sun-kissed skin, musky and intoxicating. She smells beautiful: my Latina angel.

"Carla?"

"Yes?"

"I didn't know anything, truly."

A long pause, then: "I know."

The blindfold hides my tears. "I volunteered because I read about the coup. I wanted to help. I joined the peace corps as a drone mechanic, that's all, I swear."

There is a tension in Carla's voice when she speaks next. "Our government is not like yours, Kirsten. They do not care for their people. I think there was never any peace corps, it was just a cover to commit more murder, supported by the West. They killed Daniela's family. She saw it."

I do not know how to feel. Daniela is pure evil and I wish she had been killed too. And yet something in Carla's words touches me.

"Will they torture me again?" I can barely ask the question.

"No, I don't think so."

"What'll they do with me?"

"I don't know. Kirsten I have to go." Carla's announcement is sudden, and she lowers my head to the floor, rising to leave.

"Carla! Please! I'm sorry!" I have my blindfolded face towards her. "Don't leave!"

"I will see you tomorrow," she says.

The door thuds after her, the bar slides home, the key turns in the lock.

I learn not to ask questions.

Carla comes once a day with milk, sometimes a tortilla, and every second day she brings a bucket of lukewarm water. Even my bodily functions are controlled by others.

"Shit now," Carla tells me.

I arrange myself in an awkward kneel, still bound and blindfolded, with my thighs spread as far as I can manage, and void myself on her instruction. When I am done, Carla sluices me with sloshes of the bucket, washing everything into the cell's single drain. Any leftover water she splashes onto my anus and through my pubes until I am clean, then leaves.

The days pass. I try to keep track of them. I think it is three weeks since I woke. Three weeks of being blindfolded. I have forgotten what it is like to see. Three weeks of having my wrists tied behind my back: I have forgotten what it feels like to have freedom of my hands. Perhaps five weeks without clothes: I no longer care about my nudity. Clothes are irrelevant, the world I knew is irrelevant, and the things that used to worry me mean nothing. I no longer even care if I am alive or dead.

If this is captivity, it feels strangely like freedom. I have never been more detuned to the burdens of life than I am now, bound and blindfolded in this cell.

My recovery continues.

I can finally move without much discomfort, although there are still twinges in my back and in my joints. I calculate I have been in my cell for a month, blindfolded and with wrists tied, when Carla's arrival is darkened by the sound of more boots.

"So, Kirsten. You are better."

Rachel's voice. In an instant, my fog of complacency, my Stockholm-syndrome numbness, is gone. Fear is back, so intense that the peach-fuzz hairs on my arms and back bristle and my bowels liquefy: I feel myself sag where I had been expectantly kneeling.

"Look at you! Strong again," Rachel marvels. She is circling me. "Good girl! We pulled every joint apart and I was thinking you might die, but here you are, fully recovered."

I say nothing.

She crouches beside me. "It seems you didn't know anything, after all. I owe you an apology."

I don't know if she is being sarcastic, or genuine. Either way, against the magnitude of what she did to me, the way she has torn my psyche to shreds and left me a shell, broken me so utterly that my only wish is to be dead, it is meaningless. So I remain quiet. Rachel grunts.

"Gag her."

"Open wide." Daniela is alongside me. I have no choice but to comply. Daniela pushes a plastic supermarket bag into my mouth, packing it to my cheeks. But it gets worse: with her fingers, Daniela shoves the bag deeper, all the way to my back teeth, almost touching my throat, and I retch, but Daniela is already cramming a second bag into my mouth. With my jaw stretched, my mouth completely stuffed with the bags. I feel Daniela winding a cord around my head, between my teeth, forcing the bags even harder into my mouth. I cannot make a sound.

Daniela ties the cord tightly behind my head. Now I am bound at the wrists, blindfolded, and gagged: I could hardly be more helplessly restrained. "We're taking you on a trip, Drone Girl."

Nothing could have prepared me for returning outside after six weeks underground. Even naked, the tropical heat washes me like scalding water and I find myself struggling to breathe, sucking air desperately through my nostrils with my mouth packed and gagged. The blindfold makes it worse.

"Get in." I am hoisted over the tailgate of a utility and dropped onto my side on a rough base of sacking. I hear Carla and Daniela clambering in with me, Rachel with Rico in the cab. The engine guns, and we are driving.

The journey is hell. The heat is stifling, I am bumped and jolted as we drive along a rough track.

Sweat is soon dripping off me, and droplets catch in my nose: with my gag it is like being waterboarded, and I have to snort my breath out to keep my nostrils clear. Worse still, the motion and the heat and the disorientation from my blindfold bring nausea, compounded by the plastic bags in my mouth. I know that if I vomit I will choke, and I doubt my captors would care.

We drive through a small town. I hear engines, voices, footsteps. I hear radios and laughter and I smell food and fumes and cigarettes. But I cannot call for help, I cannot see, and with wrists tied, I know I would have no chance at freedom. Besides, then what? Would anybody even help me, or would I be turned over to the Free Nationalist Army again?

As if she has read my thoughts, I feel Carla's boot on my arm, warning me to stay down.

We clear the town, and begin a long, bumpy ascent on winding roads. My nausea worsens and I desperately fight the spinning sensation; but as the utility climbs, the air becomes a little cooler and chills the sweat on my naked skin.

The last twenty minutes of the journey are brutal, and I am thrown about, knocking my head, knees, and elbows, until Carla and Daniela each brace a foot against me to pin me steady. The lurching, bouncing climb feels interminable: but eventually the utility slides to a halt.

I am dragged out and find myself teetering on my bare feet on hot, dusty, stony ground. We do not seem to be anywhere: all I can hear is the hiss of insects, the whooping and chittering of jungle birds. The sun hits my back. My captors are unloading other items from the utility: it sounds like heavy wooden posts, a tool bag, implements.

"Ok. Let's go," Rachel says.

For the others, it is an easy walk: but for me, it is an ordeal. I have learned that my muscles and joints still ache from my torture a month ago, and I am weaker than I was before capture. I cannot see where I am going, and I pick and stumble my way through grass, stepping on sharp stones, striped by razor-leaves, without the freedom of my hands and arms to steady myself. The bags wadded into my mouth restrict my breathing and add to the struggle.

We have walked up a hill, perhaps fifty meters from the utility, when I am stopped.

"Kneel here."

There under the sun, with the cicadas hissing, the flies buzzing, on a grassy slope, I kneel. My hands are still behind me, wrists tightly tied as they have been for the last month. My legs are aching, my hips seem to groan, and the sun burns on my bare back and shoulders. My jaw hurts from the wadding of my gag. Blindfolded, I can only listen to what goes on around me.

Two heavy thuds as wooden posts drop to the ground. Talking, in Spanish. And then digging. From the grunts of exertion, Rico is the one doing it. The women are working, too: Rachel is giving commands and I hear the sound of wood being fitted against wood, the clink of bolts. They are building something. Here, in the middle of nowhere, they are building something. What? A coffin? A scaffold? Rico digs. Is it my grave? I feel numb. A power drill whines as bits are driven through wood, then bolts hammered.

"Give her water."

It is an incredible relief to have the gag removed, and it is Carla who holds the canteen to my lips, as she always has. I am parched, and I drink gratefully until my belly hurts and the water is all gone.

"Uy! Es una hermosa cruz." Daniela's laughed words float on the humid afternoon air and it takes a few minutes before I finally comprehend what she has said. A nausea of dread that I have not truly felt in weeks is suddenly back.

"Bring the bitch," Rachel says.

I am hauled up by my arms, brought a couple of meters forward, then made to kneel again.

My wrists are being freed. For the first time in a month, the bone-crushing rope that has held them crossed over behind my back is untied, first one knot, then the other, and each loop is unraveled. But far from gratitude, it increases my terror. I realize I am trembling. Those ropes were my security, as long as they were tied around my wrists I had known some kind of routine and sameness.

My hands are held by my captors.

"What are you going to do to me?" My lips feel thick, my tongue likewise, the words slurred.

"Lie on your back," Rachel says.

I am laid on my back, but along a square timber post: it feels solid, thick and heavy. The two holding my hands, Carla and Rico, now stretch my arms up-and-out, and I feel the backs of my wrists placed against another piece of timber at right angles to the upright.

I am on a cross.

"Oh, jesus ..." The aptness of my blasphemy is lost on me. The hands holding mine grip more firmly as I ineffectually try to tug myself free. "No! No!" It is sheer terror as I wait for the nails through my wrists: but they never come. Instead, a small steel hasp is worked over my wrist. A pipe clamp. A simple U-shaped band, designed to anchor PVC piping to walls. The diameter of this one is clearly too small for my wrist, and its flanges do not reach the timber, but that does not stop Daniela. I hear her placing a screw in the clamp's lip.

"Oh god, no, not like this," I sob, and try to pull my arm away, again. "Please, not like this!"

"Like this, bitch," Daniela says, almost casually.

I hear the whir of a power drill. First one lip of the clamp, then the other, two screws on each side, mashing the steel hasp down onto my wrist, crushing it so hard to the timber that it feels like the bones have broken, my hand immediately starting to go numb. I give a shriek at the pain of it. The screws are driven so hard into the wood that the threads squeak and stop the drill.

Daniela shifts to the other side, and my right wrist is fixed by another clamp. One by one, four screws are driven into the wood, crushing my wrist down painfully, immovably.

My wrists are stapled to the crossbeam, hurting so badly I am moaning.

"Good. Now strip the heads." Rachel's voice.

I know exactly what that means. I give a wail. Now Daniela returns the drill bit to each screw and deliberately wrecks the head, making it impossible to ever unscrew them. My wrists are permanently fixed to the crossbar.

"How's that feel for you, puta?" Daniela hisses. She spits fully into my face, her saliva slaps across my nose and cheek and I cannot wipe it. I turn my head.

"Raise her," Rachel says.

It must be heavy, this cross, and it takes all four to lift it. As it rises up, my body slides down the upright and my wrists wrench in their clamps. "Oh God!" The pain in my wrists is joined suddenly by spearing pain through my arms as my full weight wrenches onto them.

An instant later I scream as the whole cross seems to lurch forward, at the same time dropping into the post-hole dug by Rico. There is a dreadful thump and my body jerks violently on my crimped wrists, swinging forward, hanging freely. It feels like my shoulders have just dislocated and I give another scream. I am hanging by my wrists from the crossbar. I am in a panic, my feet search for anchorage or support, scrabbling backwards for the post. I can hear Rico shoveling earth into the post-hole that now holds my cross upright.

"Pack it in," Rachel instructs. She, Carla and Daniela are holding my cross, and they wobble it back and forth to pack the earth: the movement swings my body about and tears at my clamped wrists and sends pain along my arms and through my chest, and I give another scream.

"Oh god, please, let me down! Not like this, please, not like this!"

My begging and pleading means nothing. It takes a long time to properly pack the earth around my cross: the women rock it side to side, Rico packs in more dirt and stones, and the process repeats. Every movement is pain, until I finally find a way to brace my bare feet on either side of the post behind me, relieving a little of the weight on my arms. It is enough for me to catch breath, although by now the sweat is running on my body.

Finally the cross is secured. From the sounds of the others' voices, my feet are half a meter above the ground. I am fighting to keep my composure. It seems pointless to struggle and fight, but the pain will not let me acquiesce.

"Carla, her feet."

The relief offered by bracing my feet on the upright was short-lived. Carla grabs my ankles and pulls them away, so that my full weight is on my arms again. I give a scream as pain shoots through my triceps and down my back, across my chest and through my armpits, trying feebly to tug my legs free from her grasp: but Carla quickly crosses my feet over, and the rope that bound my wrists is now tightly cinched around my ankles, binding them. She releases my legs and my now-crossed heels bounce uselessly off the rough wood of the upright, leaving me hanging fully by my pipe-clamped wrists. I twist and tug my legs, trying to get my feet free of their binding, but Carla was too good. They are secure.

"Oh, god," I moan, finally. I tip my head back, trying to drive it against the upright and stun myself to escape this pain; but they have built this cross with the crossbar bolted to the front of the upright, and I can barely even touch my head to it, let alone hit it with any force.

I have been rendered totally helpless.

"We decided to leave you blindfold," Daniela says, "so let me tell you where you are. You are on a saddle of land, just above a track that runs between two villages. From here, we can see one: my village. I was on that track when your forces hit my village with a drone strike. Boom." She claps her hands to illustrate. "Twenty people, dead. My family among them."

I groan. It all makes sense. Awful, terrible sense.

Daniela's voice shakes. "I saw the smoke mushroom cloud from here. My brother ran to the village, and you fuckers double-tapped it. Another drone strike. You killed him, too."

I don't give a reply. I can only gasp and moan with the pain.

"You're going to take a fucking long time to die, bitch," Daniela finishes.

And that's it. I am hanging here on a cross by my clamped wrists, dripping sweat with pain and the heat of the sun on my left flank. Naked, blindfolded. It is surreal to hear carry-bags being zipped, tools put away: and they are leaving. Over the hissing insects, I hear their voices and boots fading.

I can do nothing, I am slung by my wrists from this timber crossbar, my feet crossed and tied. My wrists, arms and across my shoulders are screaming pain and getting worse by the minute.

I hear the utility's engine start, and slowly, it drives away. For a time, I hang in a whirl, unsure of the reality, overwhelmed by the pain.

Have I really been crucified? What happens now?

As the truth sinks in, and the horror of my fate hits me, I find a new lease of life. I begin to kick my legs frantically, thumping my heels back against the upright, yelling and shouting hoarsely.

"Hey! Help! Please, somebody! Help me!" The movement compounds the agony in my wrists and arms, but I struggle nevertheless, swinging my crossed-over feet through the air, twisting my hips as if I might be able to wrench my wrists free of the clamps' savage grip.

For perhaps five minutes I fight, but finally despair overcomes me. I go limp, and burst into tears instead. I hang on my cross, sobbing. The blindfold hides my tears, but my skin is wet with my perspiration. Finally, even the tears stop, and I just hang.

The pain, the heat, the horror: all are unbearable. My poor arms are seizing with the stretching, tearing strain of being hung, hot pain through the bones, through my shoulders, down my sides and back. And yet with the crushing hasps on my wrists, and my feet so cruelly neutralized from finding leverage, I cannot do anything to alleviate my agony. I cry out, at times, at other times rock my head back, roll it to one sweat-wet shoulder or the other, its weight sending shards of pain through my wrenched shoulders.

Even though I cannot see, I can sense that the sun is almost down: its direct heat is all but gone, and a breeze stirs up. From where I hang, through the screeching pain of my crucifixion, I can hear exotic bird calls, the whoop of monkeys, and I realize that I am at the edge of jungle, and that my cross stands on a rise close to the dirt road Daniela had described. It gives me a thread of hope: surely somebody will come by?

In a surreal vision, I see myself on a two-meter cross of fresh-cut timber, wrists stapled to the crossbar. I can visualize my arms, gleaming with sweat, wrenched up-and-out, muscles in ripped definition, armpits drawn out and heavy trails of sweat running from their shameful dark brushes of hair. My head lolls onto a shining chest, my breasts pulled flat, nipples swollen in a perverse reflex to the pain, my shining ribcage sharply defined and reflecting the golden light of the setting sun. I can see my belly drawn hollow, my hip bones forming the rim of the gentle basin of my groin, with its thick thatch of dark hair: then my legs, toes pointing down, crossed and bound at the ankles, keeping the muscles of my thighs defined and stark. My captors have turned me into a living artwork of suffering.

The realization that I am going to die in agony like this takes a long time to set in. I will simply hang here, perhaps until I go mad with pain. I will hang here until I lose consciousness. I will hang here and I will never wake up. I will hang here dead, suspended by the wrists, growing cold, skin grey. I will hang here as my body decays.

Evening brings no relief. Even though the sun has gone down, the breeze falls as quickly as it had risen. My pain keeps me feeling unbearably hot, sweating still: and now insects begin to whine and whirr around my face, attracted by the salt of my skin. Night crickets and frogs screech and chatter in the jungle behind me, sometimes seeming to be immediately beneath my dangling toes.

How long will it take me to die? Each second is agony. Each minute an ordeal. Each hour is eternity. Surely I cannot live long, like this? I remember hearing that crucifixion brought death by asphyxia, that the stress of hanging made it impossible to breathe and that death would occur within hours. It does not seem to be the case: my arms have no strength, I am hanging utterly exhausted and spent, but breath comes with little effort on every shift of my belly. I am so helpless on this cross that I cannot even die.

The night is an endless horror. The insects. The swooping of bats. The humidity and heat. The pain. My arms cramp and seem to groan with the weight of my body, my wrists feeling broken and torn, hammered to the timber of my cross. I have been hung by my wrists once before, but it was not like this. I have quickly discovered that the way I have been hung on this cross, pinned with palms outward, puts a twist in my arms and shoulders that magnifies their agony by already stretching the muscles and tendons that bear my weight. It is fiendishly clever torture, and I am helpless to it, hour upon creeping, terrible hour.

There is no sleep: there are moments of lucidity, and moments of bewilderment, but never sleep. I do not know if there is a moon, or stars, or lights from the village. Blindfolded, I am forced to focus inwardly on my own suffering, the straining, burning pain through my shoulders and arms, my back, my ribcage. The only points of contact my body has with the physical world are the steel hasps mashing my wrists to the wood, and the means by which I hang.

In the endless hours of night, my head slowly lolls to the side, resting on the taut, straining muscle of my upstretched arm.

Dawn, eventually, comes: the frogs change shifts with the birds, and somewhere far distant, roosters crow. I groan. I know what the day will bring: more heat, more pain. I inwardly beg that it will also bring the mercy of death.

The sun is heralded by the return of cicadas hissing. Its light finds me still hanging on the cross. My wrists hurt unbearably, huge throbbing waves of agony that is matched by the racking, spearing pain through my armpits and back, along my arms, across my shoulders. All through the night I have sweated and stirred, sometimes reaching my crossed heels uselessly back to the upright, sometimes calling aloud in my pain, but my suffering has been unrelieved.

Voices.

Even over the cicadas I hear them, chatting, laughing, approaching along the track. My heart pounds, adrenaline surges as the voices draw nearer. Soon I can even hear their shoes crunching on the ground.

"Help! Please!"

I try to call out, but I haven't counted on the effects of hanging on this cross. Not enough to asphyxiate, but enough to cripple my voice. I manage little more than a croak, and there is no way they heard me. I can hear them walking, chattering still.

The footsteps and chattering stop. They have seen me!

There is a long silence. I am shaking, hanging heavily on my cinched wrists, sweating in my agony and desperation.

Then, a call, from the middle distance: "Hay!"

"Help me!" I try again. It is a pathetic croak.

Another long pause. Just the hissing cicadas, me hanging on the cross.

Then, "hay, puta!"

I want to cry. They have seen me, but they are not going to rescue me. I am going to be left here, they want me to die. As if in confirmation, I hear the impact of a stone nearby, then one striking the wood, just below my dangling feet. Finally, they continue on their way, leaving me hanging on the cross.

Hope has blossomed, and died. I am alone, hated, vilified, crucified. What was I thinking? How could I be rescued? Even if I am lucky enough to find a passer-by sympathetic to me, what can they do? The cross is too heavy to lift down. The crossbar is too high for anyone to reach, and even if they could, my wrists are pinned to the timber with steel fastenings, screwed deep, the screw heads stripped. I am permanently fixed to this awful symbol of suffering, beyond help.

Hell is not in death: it is this. As the sun climbs I feel its heat, adding to my suffering. The air is stifling, and the awful wrenching pain in my arms and back and my tension-raised ribcage is beginning to tell, making breathing an effort that taxes my strength. I find myself drawing breath in gasps, breathing with my abdominals.

Why can I not die?

Why can I not even faint? The pain, the heat, the airless horror of my existence. I am learning what the Romans, Assyrians, and Babylonians all knew: that by hanging somebody by their wrists and leaving them, you are torturing them to death. It is economical, it is easy, and yet it is an agonizing, lingering, terrible way to die.

The heat grows worse. The sun flogs my skin and I am helpless to escape it. I want to scream in agony but I am too exhausted after an entire night hanging. I can feel the sweat on my brow, on my back, between my breasts: I can smell it in my armpits, the anguish of my suffering, and all I can do is hang here and be tortured upon this cross.

The Earth turns. I know the shadows shrink to nothing as the sun reaches its zenith. Even in my blindfold I can sense its glare in a cloudless sky, shimmering heat above the jungle and the tangled undergrowth. It draws the sweat from my body even as it turns my skin darker, scorching my hair, kissing my straining shoulders with fire. It is unbearably hot, so that even the droplets that slide down my neck, and down my ribcage from my armpits feel hot. My arms and shoulders and wrists hurt in massive, slow waves of pain, but I am helpless to the agony.

I want to die. I want to die. My only ambition now is death, but it will not come. I am alive, and it is the very pain that makes my existence a living hell, that also keeps me conscious. I become aware, too, as the oven-hot day drags hour by hour, of thirst: a parched feeling in my throat, a rawness in my lungs, a salty sting to my lips.

The torture grows worse as the afternoon drags on.

I am being racked, and not just metaphorically. I cannot feel my fingers at all, but my wrists in their crushing screwed-down clamps feel as if they have been smashed with hammers, shattered. And yet it is by my wrists alone that I am hanging from the beam. My wide-stretched arms feel as if the bones have been scored with knives, burning, a fiery agony that spreads down through my pectorals, behind my breasts, encircles my ribcage. It feels like hooks have ripped the flesh of my back, down my sides, between my shoulder blades. Even my lower back hurts in maddening surges.

But the most horrible, urgent pain of all is in my joints. From hanging on my arms for so long, it feels as though nails have been hammered into my armpits and elbows, pain whose intensity overwhelms everything else in rolling waves that send flashes into my lightless, blindfolded hell. I can feel my shoulders on the verge of dislocating, and if I were not too weak to move, I might crack each ball from its socket.

The heat torments me, too, the sun as brutal as a flame scorching my skin. It is only profuse sweat that draws the heat from my core, and I know that, hung high on this cross, I am shining as if covered in oil, my polished skin an unwilling canvas on which the landscape and horizon are mirrored, a reflection contoured by my body's straining curves and the striations of tortured muscle and tendon.

Born of my sweat, my thirst worsens, sending flashes of sandpaper torment into my skull, compounding the agony in my arms with deep and brutal cramps that coruscate through my dangling body like long, slow electric shocks, sending paralyzing pain through my guts. My lips are cracking.

It is lingering torture. It is torture that Rachel and Daniela have chosen for me because it lasts for days; unbearable pain without end, slowly ripping away my sanity and spiraling me into a nightmare where it becomes shrieking demons, louder than the cicadas, that pierce my blindfold and float across my vision.

The day creeps towards its end. The clamminess closes in on me as the sun's reflection descends my rivulet-streaked ribcage, and the wood of my cross ticks as it cools and contracts. Now I am thoroughly spent, my head drooping forward so that my chin is on my chest, my belly shifting in shallow mockery of breath.

My second night hanging on the cross is an even more savage Hell of agony than the first. Even when the sun has set, I can feel the residual sting of its day-long whipping of me. Only the soles of my feet seem to have escaped its kiss. The crickets and frogs are back, but their sound seems to scrape out my ears and skull, given a serrated awfulness by my thirst and suffering.

This night I am truly being racked by my suspension, and I cannot escape the agony. Lucidity folds into a kind of dementia of raw pain that creeps through the hours like a nightmarish insect. When I hear voices and footsteps on gravel I think it is a dream, then reality, then dream. If they are real, will they even see me? It is only when the footsteps stop, and snippets of Spanish float on the muggy air, that I realize I have an audience.

I wonder if there is a moon. Perhaps I am a vision in moonlight, its shine creating a liquid stripe down one wet side of my body, highlighting breasts and nipples, hip bones, straining arms and trapped hands in polished reflections and deep shadows, framed by the cross on which I hang?

My observers seem to be there for a long time. The voices float into my chaos of suffering, disconnected and odd, they sound like people at an art gallery discussing a piece on display. Perhaps that's what I am to them, entertainment. "The Crucified Woman."

I know that they will not rescue me. I don't hope for rescue, any more, I only hope for death, and it will not come. But when a distant rooster crows and I realize the voices have long gone, I realize too that awareness and unconsciousness are now entwined and that I have hung for many hours.

Is this my third day hanging on this cross, or is it only my second? Daniela savagely tamping down the clamps on my wrists and stripping the screw heads feels like mere hours ago, but also a lifetime. My panic has long since faded into a fog of suffering, and now the sun touches me yet again, even its first rays scoring my naked body with unwelcome fire.

My throat feels raw; my lips swollen and dry, my mouth dusty. Breathing hurts. The near-dislocation agony in my arms and shoulders still sends enormous waves of pain through me. I had hoped that I would somehow become numb to the pain of hanging by my wrists, but it has just grown more awful, hour by crawling hour, until the pain smashes from shoulders and elbows that feel like they are strung together only by their last frayed strands of sinew.

The world does not care. The sun blazes and the heat swells and tortures me again.

Dehydration has robbed me of the ability to perspire: only my armpits are still wet, still oozing the apocrine sweat of suffering. As the sun sears my skin, I feel my temperature rising uncontrolled.

Thoughts become haze. Reality weaves into dream. Always the pain, the unceasing agony, tearing through me with every beat of my heart as it struggles to push the thickening blood through my veins. Blindfolded still, I am hanging by my wrists in a black, bottomless pit of unbearable heat and unbearable noise, the hissing insects sharpened to deafening shrieks.

A rumble precedes a sharp concussion that I feel in my guts, rolling echoes that swell and boom through the sky, and I am pulled dazedly back to reality. Thunder. I had not noticed that the sun's awful fire has eased, nor that there is coolness and the tang of ozone in the air; but now comes another, bigger thunderclap, so strong I feel it through the steel hasps that staple my wrists to the timber of my cross. My body, slung in the air, feels the charge, the hairs on my skin rising.

The next thunderclap is savage, shaking the ground, and as its long decay still rumbles, I hear a heavy tap on the ground nearby. Then five more. Then a hundred. The first tepid splats of rain hit my skin, slapping my strained arms, my breasts, my shoulders, my face, tapping my blindfold, thunking on the timber cross on which I hang.

The heavens unleash.

Heavy tropical rain is suddenly sluicing from the sky with a waterfall rush that drowns every other sound. The downpour douses me like a hose, and it wrenches me from my stupor. It is cold, fresh, even sensual. Although the racking in my wrists and arms and back does not ease, the feeling of rain on my body brings a kind of salvation to my half-crazed mind. I can feel droplets sliding along the undersides of my wide-stretched arms, coursing in streams down over the corrugations of my ribcage, raising fields of goosebumps across my flanks and back. I can feel cold droplets gathering beneath the fat stub of each nipple, before sliding down my tautened abdomen towards my groin. I can feel a small stream following the groove of my spine, trickling between my buttocks and dripping from the straggles of hair between my thighs. I can feel steady dribbles departing my dangling toes.

I am awake, and my head tips back, my mouth opening automatically. The teeming rain is obliging: it delivers water onto my swollen lips, rivulets running from the catchment of my soaked blindfold to my eager tongue, rain falling into my mouth directly. I am drinking, beautiful water sliding into my throat and finding its cool, refreshing way into my aching stomach.

It rains and rains. I drink and drink.

It is an hour or more before the rain eases, announcing its departure with a distant roll of thunder. It leaves me still hanging by my outstretched arms and pinned wrists, and I am aware again of the agony in my arms and back, of my feet suspended in air. Water still drips from the beam of my cross, from the ends of my toes, still trickles from my blindfold and my soaked hair.

I am no longer dying of thirst.

But I will still die.

As the heat and the cicadas return and the shattering agony of the cross spreads like molten lead again down through the bones of my arms and into the depths of my spine, I realize what I have done. I have been stupid, pathetic, I have surrendered to the temptation of water and, in doing so, sentenced myself to more suffering.

My delirium is gone. I am alert, alive, awake, and helpless to the torture of the cross. My wrists, mashed to the beam by the pipe-clamps, the means by which I hang, are in more agony than ever. My arms burn, fiery pain focused now with cruel intensity in my shoulders, where the bone-ends sit half out of their sockets, my weight held only by ligaments. My back feels torn, vertebrae and pelvis wrenched by suspension. And hydrated again, I can now groan aloud with the horror of my suffering.

I am overwhelmed with self-loathing for having prolonged my own torment. I have failed even at dying.

The night descends. My third night hanging on the cross, and there is no respite. The hours are endless. So many days without sleep draws a veil of madness over me again.

I am back in New Zealand. The sassy, confident Kirsten, the hot confident girl among engineering students and nerds, with her pixie short hair and her sleeveless blouses with jeans and flats, blowing kisses in response to colleagues' awkward attempts at flattery. Even the boss develops sparks of sweat on his brow when she talks to him. All it takes to get a salary raise is a halter top and a pout in his office; maybe it's time to return to university? He folds in minutes and offers more money.

But something is missing. Sassy Kirsten isn't satisfied by adoration and social media posturing.

Some real credibility is needed. And then she sees the article. About the failed coup, the harassed villages, the refugees, the poor, innocent children. They are seeking contract workers to support the peace corps, and barely two clicks later she is submitting a Contact Form. 'Drone engineer.'

A rooster crows. It is dawn. The merciless heat of the sun will soon return. My head is on the strained lateral muscle of my right arm, my naked body dangling from the timber crossbeam by pinned wrists, my ankles crossed and tied. Hell is eternity, and my torture on the cross is hell indeed.

The sun is a patient sadist, knowing that it compounds the racking agony in my arms with its hot-iron kiss, but in no hurry to do so. The suffering it adds is incremental, but slowly it comes. Its heat on my bare skin grows, the air becomes heavy and hot, and I sweat.

I know the significance of sweat. Sweat keeps my core temperature low enough for me to stay alive, aware, and suffering, and I, stupidly, drank enough water to renew my sweat. As the sun blazes on me, the sweat creeps from every pore, over my breasts, my arms, my thighs, my throat. Droplets slide through the hairs on the bare nape of my neck and down my straining, aching back. Sweat creeps from my armpits. The fourth day of my torment on the cross is acute and endless agony, second by second, minute by minute, hour by unbearable hour.

Training. The command structure. Basic drills. Basic weapons. Fire and movement. I am not a military girl but this is exciting. The bad girl haircut is next, and I can't stop sliding my hands through it. The armpit shaving stops: I feel tough and sexy, and revel in my new look and the attention it gets me. And finally, deployment. Hummers and barracks, tropical heat and a wardrobe of olive tank tops, shorts and fatigue pants, endless hours of driving, bland food, mosquitoes.

A bird lands on the beam of my cross. I am blindfolded so I cannot see what it is, but the weight of its landing was enough to rouse me. I can hear its clawed feet strutting along the timber. A hawk? A vulture? My god, I am so helpless it could eat me alive and I could do nothing. Rallying what little energy I have, I raise my head and give a croaking shout. It is enough: the bird is startled and takes flight with a whoosh of breeze across my arm and great, swooping flaps of its wings.

It does not return, and I am dragged back to the agony of hanging by my crushed wrists.

The slow crawl of the sun across the sky brings agony by the hour, and the returning signs of dehydration. The sweat slows. My throat becomes raw. My lips crack. My tongue swells. But the sun dips before I can slide into oblivion, and as the night's moths buzz and mosquitoes whine around my suspended body, I know I will still be here when dawn comes.

I know I can do nothing.

It is not resignation, it is not acceptance: it is defeat. I have been blindfolded for more than a month, so I have not seen. I have had my wrists tied, strapped, or shackled for six weeks, so I have been helpless. I am subject to the will of others, they decided I should die up on this cross, and so I shall.

Another dawn.

The fifth day. Daniela's prediction that I would take a long time to die has come true in the most obscene and frightful way. The familiar rooster crows seem to echo from another world, but they tell me, within the suffocating blackness of the blindfold that has kept me so isolated for more than a month, that the sun is rising. The screaming, racking torture through my arms and shoulders, chest and back has not lifted for a moment, but there is not a gram of strength in my body to bear that suffering. I cannot even raise my head. I can only breathe through the slightest shifts of my belly and be a victim to the pain.

The day does not hurry. The sun climbs, blazes, sears me with its cruelty, and I hang heavily in mid air by my crimped wrists, by my stretched, agonized arms, a helpless slave punished to madness. Savage pain. Searing heat. Bewilderment and confusion. I don't know if my face is down or sideways. The darkness of my blindfold is alive with sparks and flashes. The cicadas are jet engines screaming from the end of a long tunnel. I feel disembodied, but chained to the agony of my crucifixion, as if my descent into the release of death is denied me by the steel hasps that mash my wrists to the timber.

It does not end. Life will not let go ...


EPILOGUE

They crucified her across a small field from the path that connects the villages.

We heard about it, so six of us came up to look the next day, curious and a little excited. She was fixed to the cross with her ankles crossed over and tied, completely naked, her arms stretched up-and-out like a female Jesus, tanned and shining like she had been oiled. We should have felt bad to see her there, but none of us did. Everybody knew she was the one who flew the drone. Besides, there was a rumor that they'd put mines in the ground around her cross. Nobody was stupid enough to try and get to her.

Instead we videoed her from the track, and zoomed in with our phones to get more detail.

Zoomed in she was even sexier. You could see her muscles strained and stretched by the way they had hung her up there, every tendon was tight and her ribcage was arched. It looked so painful, but it looked so sexy, too. We laughed when we saw that they had fixed her wrists to the crossbar with thick steel pipeclamps, she was never going to get out of those! Her hands drooped so helplessly from the clamps like wilted crimson flowers.

I filmed her face for a long time. She was blindfolded so we couldn't see her eyes, but her head moved occasionally. When I panned my camera along her arm I could see the striated muscles in her forearm, her biceps and triceps, the pectoral that created the curve of her shoulder and the ridge that led to her flattened-out breast. It was fascinating to see the tortuous strain and stretch through her arms and shoulders, even though she hung as limp as a piece of string.

"Oh! Sophisticated!" one guy breathed when he saw the hair in her armpits through his binoculars, and although the guys all laughed and teased him, we knew what he meant. She looked like a goddess hanging up there. The taper of her body to a slender waist, such a taut and flat abdomen with her belly-button pulled narrow by the strain through her torso, the flare of her toned hips and shining thighs, that pretty dark bush, her gleaming shins, neatly crossed at the ankles and roped with four tight coils, the knots tucked out of reach, those perfect feet with their toes pointing straight down.

Everyone of us masturbated in her honor that night.

Somebody coming off the track reported on the fifth day that she was still alive. So after siesta on the sixth day we went back up the track to check her out. There she still hung, like she had almost a week ago, by her clamped wrists from the cross, with her feet dangling above the grass. I zoomed on her tits for a long time, and her face, but it seemed she might finally be dead. It was the most beautiful corpse I had ever seen. We all agreed we would leave it hanging there.

Kirsten Smart
February 2017
kirstensmart@clear.net.nz




Kirsten Smart Index  |  Bring Out the GIMP Stories Index  |  Back to Forum  |

Story page generator script by the Scribbler --- DaringHeroines.com