"Go ahead. Touch it."
Richard leaned over her shoulder, his breath hot by her cheek. Bridget pulled instinctively away from his rancid, scrubby beard, but she couldn't help reaching out with a horrified fascination.
"Go on," Richard breathed harshly.
It was cold and rough under her fingers – hard, rusted, eaten away by time and ground to dullness with sweat and misery. This was what it was like touching evil.
What he was doing with it, she couldn't imagine. But it was there. Real. Three hundred years old, and it had lost none of its craven power. It was like meeting the eyes of a decrepit old rapist – ancient, feeble, but with none of his evil gone.
"I can't believe you're talking to him." Judy had wrinkled her nose that afternoon, chatting over sandwiches at her desk. "You heard about him 'bumping' into the secretary in the break room, didn't you? Right up against the cabinets?"
Bridget grimaced. "Oh, I know. He talks directly to your tits. And that beard. It smells like something died in it."
Judy gave a theatrical shiver. "Ugh. That is so nasty! So what are you doing with him?"
Bridget sighed. "I don't know. He came in last week – when the power went out?" Judy rolled her eyes, and Bridget nodded. "Yeah, creepy. Caught me in my office. I couldn't even pretend I was working with the lights out. He started looking over the books by the window, and he saw my dissertation. Then I couldn't shut him up."
Judy frowned. "Him? Women's discourse communities in 1680's New England?"
"Yeah, I know," said Bridget. "But he saw the title, and then he said he had one. I thought he was making it up, but he knew exactly what it was. And get this – Massachusetts. He swears he's got papers on it."
"I thought you said they only had them in England?" Judy asked.
"They did!" said Bridget. "I couldn't find a record of one anywhere in the colonies. Nothing came over. It might be a mistake in the papers, but still. It's here, or at least it sounds like it's here. He said he got it up in Vermont and it came with documentation – brought over for a village in the 1660's. If that's really true, it's a piece of history no one has ever published on."
"Yeah, but you know why he probably has it," said Judy. "He doesn't look the women's studies type to me."
Bridget nodded, chucking her Coke can in the trash. "You're not kidding. But I want to see this. You know what it would mean." She struggled for a comparison, glancing around at Judy's shelves. "It'd be like ... you finding a letter from the Gawain poet. It would be that big."
Judy laughed. "Ah. So you mean something that an amazingly small number of people would get very excited about, with the rest of humanity blissfully unaware?"
Bridget grinned. "Academic publication, baby," she said. "That's the name of the game."
Judy smiled. Then she went more sober, and her eyes met Bridget's.
"Just be careful, OK? Because – let me guess. You're going to his place to see it."
Bridget blushed, then nodded slowly.
"OK," said Judy. "I don't want to be a noodge. But leave me his number? Then we can do dinner or something, and if I don't see you ..."
Bridget had laughed, but a little shakily. Their eyes met a long moment. Then she'd written the number and address out – the same he'd given her the day before. She'd left with a smile, both of them passing it off, but the little ball of tension that started in her gut hadn't left her since. Bridget had gone back to her office and settled into her chair, musing over the blue-cloth binding and gold letters down the spine of her dissertation.
The Scold's Bridle: Discourse, Dissent, and Silence in 1680's Plymouth.
Now she was touching it. Richard's wheezing presence faded from her mind as her fingers brushed over the pitted metal framework. It was a perfect specimen. The hooped metal cage to fit the head. The locking buckle to close the trap. And the bit. She shuddered as she touched it. A hard, heavy trefoil of iron, forced into the mouth when the cage was closed about the head. She slipped a finger underneath it and felt. Yes. An especially nasty version. There were small pyramidal points on the underside of the bit, spiking down into the tongue of the wearer.
How long, she wondered. How long the torment? Two hours was common. Four nothing unusual. Six, even. Once, at least, a woman had worn one more than a day – "so that the blood was forced out of her mouth," she thought, seeing the words on the fading page where she'd read them. A farmer's wife. She'd been driven through the streets with the bridle on her head and a rope about her neck like a dog.
"And that is the punishment which magistrates do inflict upon chiding and scolding women; and I have often seen the like done to others." She murmured the words aloud before she realized that she had spoken, and startled as Richard crowded in at her elbow.
"Yes," he said, "and look. Have you ever seen that before?"
Bridget shook her head as he touched the long metal rod fixed to the back. She'd noticed it already. She'd never seen anything like it, in person or in pictures. It was a straight, heavy bar nearly three feet in length, with leather straps and an iron buckle at the middle. The leather was cracked and nearly perished with age, so brittle that she didn't dare touch it – but the bar looked ancient as well. Original construction. She was sure of it.
"A ramrod," breathed Richard, running his finger lovingly down its length. Bridget felt a prickling discomfort as he caressed the thing. She would have stepped back, but there was nowhere to step; he'd crowded in behind her at the table, and now she felt with a sudden chill how close and tight it was in the corner. She forced herself to respond calmly as she looked for a way to edge out around him.
"Really? I've never seen one on a bridle."
"Oh yes," said Richard. "This is a very special piece. I don't think you'll see another like it." He looked, Bridget realized, much too interested. And in an instant, she didn't give a damn about that bridle. She never wanted to see it again. As a symbol, an historical artifact, a metaphor for the devoicing of a minority discourse community, it was a fascinating concept. But here in all of its ugly reality, it was starting to make her sick. It drew her eyes like a hideous corpse, and she wanted nothing but to be out of that house.
"You know, I really don't feel all that well –" she began, trying to slide past him. Richard carried on quietly, never looking up from the bridle – but never moving out of her way, either.
"The rod attaches down the woman's back," he said, stroking a squat, stubby finger along the metal brace. "Then she can't speak or bend. Or sit, even – see? It's too long. Down past her spine. She'd have to stand." His eyes took on a distant, dreaming look as he petted the obscene thing, and Bridget pressed back into the corner. In a moment of cold, clarifying fear, she realized, as her eyes darted about the room, that she was looking for a weapon. Richard's blank, mild eyes came up to meet hers, and he gathered the bridle up from the table as he stepped toward her into the corner.
"They used to hang the bridle by the chimney to let her know what to expect," he said, raising it slowly toward her face. Bridget shook her head, her mouth silently framing a protest. "I wonder if they chained her to that hook – once they had it really on her."
One tiny, sickened corner of Bridget's mind noted his straining erection, the dark spot of wetness spreading where his pants were tented by the press of his cock. Then, with a convulsive effort, she threw herself past him toward the door.
He struck her hard in the small of her back, and she tasted dirt and carpet as she slammed into the floor. It knocked the sense out of her; he'd hit her like a linebacker, driving into her body in ruthless, brutal blow that shot the breath from her lungs. She tried to crawl out from under him, but he slapped her hard, open-handed but with all of his might, so that her head rang with it. Her hands gripped and clawed at the floor, but he jammed his knee between her shoulder blades and crushed her to the ground. His hands closed on her neck, fierce and brutal, and a moment later, with a frantic struggle that ended in a scream, she felt the bridle slip over her head.
The bit jammed into her mouth. She tasted iron and ancient blood. She screamed again, but the pain was instant and searing, lacerating her tongue. She choked and tried to pull back, but Richard forced the cage shut around her head and shot the lock into place. As screams of desperation welled up within her, he forced his knee into her spine, grinding the sharp, iron-cold pain of the ramrod into it. Then he shot the leather bands under her. He was buckling them, she realized, her mind reeling. She struggled, but feebly; she could hardly draw breath now, with his weight crushing down on her chest and her mouth crammed with the dead, heavy thrust of the iron.
It was done. Bridget lay sobbing. She could feel him over her, feel, even, the nauseating stab of his erection jamming into her back. The sick fucker. She tried to crawl away from him and he let her, standing with his back against the door. Weeping, pawing helplessly at the wall – you sick, fucking bastard! – she somehow dragged herself to her feet, feeling the fierce welt of the rod all down her back and the bite of the leather straps on her body. They gripped her waist, digging in cruelly. That's not right, she thought muzzily. They ought to be falling apart. But when she clawed at them, they were strange and terrifying beneath her touch. Slick. Smooth. Unyielding.
She turned, backing into the wall behind her. What else could she do? She shuddered as she looked up to find Richard watching her intently. He had unzipped his pants and had his thick, stubby cock in his hand, jerking it. His mouth was half-open, his expression almost glazed as he watched her.
"Why?" She wanted to ask it, but the mutilated gulp of her words left her gagging with horror and choked-back speech. She tore frantically at the cage, staggering against the walls as she fought the thing in sheer blind panic. Then, suddenly, she froze.
She'd felt it.
A moment later she felt it again.
It was moving.
The heavy bit stifled the scream that tore from her lips. Richard watched, unchanging, fisting his cock with tense attention as Bridget beat the iron with her fists and tore hopelessly at the straps. It was moving. The grip about her waist was cinching, getting tighter, and then, with a bloom of utter horror, she felt the bit twitch and writhe in her mouth. Shuddering, crashing against furniture and clawing for purchase, she staggered across the room. There was a mirror over the mantelpiece. She found her own image in it, and what she saw stifled all screams together.
Demon. Imp, homunculus, devilkin – a hideous, reptilian thing with long spidery arms, wicked black bat wings, and a writhing tail that hung and lashed the length of her back. It was crouched and wound about her head, grinning a deep, evil grin that split its jaws open in saw-ridges of bone. Shrunken. Wicked. Eyes gleaming with a rapacity beyond all speech – beyond all that it had torn from her.
Its arms were wrapped around her head, the bars of the cage that had held her. Its legs gripped her waist, the cruel scaly spurs of its heels digging into her flesh. And as she stared, shuddering, it raised its head, grinned to her in the mirror, and then shot its thick, forked tongue back into her mouth, jamming it deep and stabbing its barbs into her tongue.
Her screams were swallowed in the demon's assault. She clawed and beat at it, trying to tear it from her back, but it only sank its talons into her hips and shoulders and jammed its tongue down into her throat, lapping and flickering, barbed and vicious, until she felt the blood flowing over her lips. Its tail curved tight to her body, writhing up between her legs, and in a daze of horror she felt its remorseless intent. The tip of it twitched, darted, then shot up under her skirt and thrust blindly at her hose and panties. Bridget screamed, but her cries were smothered in its burrowing snout as she clawed frantically at her body. She fought for breath, panic rising as she struggled to inhale and the demon's grip dug into her flesh, its obscenely writhing tongue pressing ever deeper until there was no breath, no strength, no help as a cold and coiling length slid supple between her thighs. Bridget's eyes rolled slowly up as the agile tip of it wormed against her, tore through her hose, slithered around her panties, and rammed hungrily into her.
She jolted, stiffening through her body. The cold, hard, writhing length of it shot up into her, sickening beyond all possible expression, fierce and plunging, rampant and cruel. Beyond it, faintly, she heard them talking, Richard's voice coming in hard, panting gasps. He was kneeling now, she saw as she staggered on her feet. She was still fighting for air, but nothing came – nothing but the slick, plunging tongue that twitched obscenely down into her very heart. The loathsome thrust of its tail forced her open as its feasting tongue choked off her sobs of violation. Richard grunted, shuddering and stiffening, and gasped out his words.
"Gooood." The hiss of the homunculus reached her ears, gradually dimming as her senses faded. The tongue whipped out, then shot into her mouth again, cramming down her throat. Somehow it still seemed to speak: "Sweet feeding."
She shuddered, the cold tail plunging deeper into her body until she shuddered and heaved with retching. Slick. Like the tail of a monstrous serpent. It thrust fiercely into her, twitching and writhing until she trembled and shuddered. At last she fell to her knees, the vicious length of it ramming her cunt as she dug feebly at the carpet. Her vision was starting to gray. Her nails snagged in the filthy pile as she tried to brace herself with her hands, the demon's tail whipping in and out of her in rapacious violation. She whimpered, fighting her last battle for breath in an agony. Her body was stretched obscenely, a foot and more of tail jammed into her and writhing with the tip doubling over and its relentless thrust stuffing more into her with every second. The vicious snake-tongue crammed her throat and her senses. She felt Richard move near her head – her vision was nearly gone now, the blackness rushing in around the blurry edges – and looked up, near blind, reduced to a mute plea. She plucked feebly at the cuff of his pants. A moment later she felt hot rain on her cheeks and her slowly closing eyes. He just came on my face. Then a strange, heavy gonging sound, and nothing.
"Bridget? Bridget, honey, come on."
Bridget moaned. She hurt. Her throat was raw, aching and torn, and her head rang. Her thighs and body burned. She turned her head slowly, feeling gentle hands on either side. With a massive effort, she opened her eyes.
Judy. She sighed and closed her eyes again.
"No, Bridget, wake up. Wake up. I need you up."
Judy's voice was urgent. Bridget forced her eyes open again. With light came the return of memory.
"The bridle," Bridget croaked. Judy shuddered.
"That – thing. It's over there." Judy pointed to the corner where a heap of metal and leather straps lay flung. Bridget lifted her head weakly. Then, with Judy's help, she sat up. She took in the images as best she could. Bridle. Richard, in a heap. Frying pan. Cast iron. She looked up and smiled.
"Judy." Her voice was warm with relief and gratitude. Judy got her to her feet, Bridget clinging to her.
"Yes." Judy's voice was taut, her mouth thin and hard. Bridget looked into her eyes, saw the frightened shadow there, and forced out a whisper.
"You saw it."
"Yes." Judy glanced down, and a dark flush rose on her cheeks. She touched Bridget's skirt, brushing it helplessly back into place, then looked up with tears in her eyes. Bridget forced the answering tears back and gripped Judy's hand.
"God, I'm glad to see you." Judy's eyes lit a moment with a smile. Then she turned to Richard, her expression darkening.
"Him?" Her voice was low, a whisper. Bridget felt a sudden stir of instinct. She glanced toward the phone, then searched Judy's gaze.
No. She hadn't.
She hadn't called the police.
Bridget looked around the room – the scarred walls, the scattered papers and overturned chair. She took in Richard, slumped with an ugly gash across the back of his head and his limp cock still dribbling out the front of his pants. Then she looked down at the heap of rusting metalwork in the corner.
It was a low, soft whisper. Richard stirred. His dick felt weird, cold, exposed. But the whisper was tender, coaxing, slithering gently into his ear.
"Ah, Richard. How long I've waited."
Richard groaned. He was lying on the carpet. Why? He pushed himself groggily up to his knees, scrubbing at his face with his hands.
"Our time at last, lovely Richard." A flickering tongue caressed his cheek, and a long, slithering touch slid up his leg. As he felt again at his face, shock giving way to terror like nothing he'd ever felt, a cool, scaly, twitching touch slid down inside his pants. He opened his mouth to scream and a writhing, eager tongue plunged deep into it. His cry was stifled in the devouring thrust, and a moment later that cold, fierce, probing length shot between his thighs and rammed up into him in the last and most intimate violation of his life. The pain blinded him; he could only wheeze as iron-hard claws dug into his scalp and a tongue and limber, ruthless tail plunged into him in fierce and ever-quickening frenzy. Richard strained back, fighting the demon's grip, but it only chuckled and yanked at his hair, forcing him into a harder arc still and opening him to a ramming thrust of its tail that left him stunned and reeling. Further, harder, deeper than should have been possible, it twitched cold and sickening within him. Somewhere, hazily, he felt blood. He tasted blood.
Behind him, a door quietly closed.