The Inferno Ch. 01byMaryMidnight©
Penny awoke feeling like she was in a dark wood, but it was only that the motion-detecting light in her office had given up on her being alive, and the sunshine leaking in through the battered industrial metal blinds hit the mirror behind her desk and projected upon the wall as silver-lit elms. Rather lovely, in a way, she thought, half-asleep. Then she suddenly remembered where she was.
"I'm working, I'm working" she yelped to no one in particular, and heard giggling from the cubicle outside her door.
"You finish those name authority files?" she called out.
"All except one."
"The book disappeared."
"Yeah - 'The True Way'"
Penny craned her neck and snuck a peek out the door. Craggy-faced Seamus was sprawled back in his chair, hands locked behind his unruly curly hair. She suspected he was making fun of her, but she didn't get the joke. In talking with Seamus, she often felt as though she didn't get the joke.
Seamus spotted the movement from within her cubicle.
"All right, Pen?" he called out lazily.
She blushed, hotly. Things were not all right. Let me count the ways, she thought. World's most boring job? Check. Dumped six months ago by the world's dullest man, someone she herself could never, not after a dozen years, work up the courage to leave? Check. Loveless and facing the becalmed waters of middle age? Check. She turned and glanced at her desk-blotter-creased face in the mirror. Face that looked more like a Shar-Pei on a daily basis? Check. "All right," she called back cheerily.
"Tops. Get us a cup of coffee?"
She leaned out of her chair so they could see each other and made a face at him. He shrugged, in a can't-blame-a-guy-for-trying kind of way.
A niggling thought was trying to escape her groggy brain. Before falling asleep, what was she...? Oh yeah. She reached into the garbage can next to her desk and withdrew a crumpled flyer. Frowning, she smoothed it out again. The glossy strip depicted a skyscraper that burst into flames near the top. "INFERNO" was lettered across the top in block Romanesque capitals, and for the first time she noticed that if you angled the flyer so that the light raked it, "INFERNO" became "ILIUM." As in, the topless towers of? she wondered. But the careless conflation of the classics irritated her. And how do topless towers even burn?
More importantly, how the hell did this get on her desk?
"Seamus, did you...?" the words stuck in her throat.
"Er, did you finish the other files, except for, y'know, that one book?"
"All standardized and accounted for, MA'AM!"
She smiled. It must have been...hm, Andy? Her boss was a gray, apologetic figure in a sweater-vest. Perhaps not.
"So do I get a cuppa?"
Thinking back on it, she was never quite certain what made her decide to take a different route home. Most of the time, she took the bus. Sometimes, the train. Never the train and then walking aimlessly in the wrong direction, out past the warehouses and towards the docks. Perhaps it was the weather, that kind of foreshadowing of spring on a gray February day, the wind ushering in the hints of humidity and wanton lushness to come: the aromas of mud and distant gentle hints of mulch and swamp and the barest suggestion of pussy willow buds. She'd been pulled out of her thoughts by a street sign: Marlowe Avenue. Why was that familiar? Her mind obligingly returned an image of the glossy black flyer. Oh, right. Might as well have a look at this preposterous mashup of the humanities, then, right?
The club wasn't hard to spot, but its boundaries and outlines weren't easy to figure out. It looked like a cross between a giant shopping mall and a warehouse, with a tower stuck on top. Not quite as glossy as the flyer — and not engulfed in flames — but not entirely inaccurate, either. But surely not that whole massive thing could be a sex club?
She stood across the street from the complex, watching, mesmerized. People went in. They didn't look furtive, like she expected them to. They came out. She tried to zero in on their faces. They didn't look...well, how she expected them to look. They looked...normal.
Penny thought about that again as she undressed that evening and ran water for her bath. Lately, she'd avoided looking at herself in a full-length mirror at all, never mind while naked. Tonight, she forced herself to stand in front of the glass. She tried to imagine seeing herself as a lover might...a thought she hadn't allowed herself to have in months. Would he be attracted to her?
What, with the once-proud breasts threatening to fall from her ribcage? She arched her back a little, pulling her shoulders as far back and down as possible. Her waist had thickened but was still defined. Her hips were full and womanly, but, she thought, not out of place on a woman of forty, and not unalluring. She turned slightly. Ass full and high and round, barely dimpled by cellulite. The ass and well-muscled legs of an active woman.
She leaned in closer to the mirror and took off her glasses. Her pale skin was lined, and she looked tired, with dark circles around her hazel eyes. Her hair, an inoffensive and unremarkable brownish-blonde, the color of rope, fell to her shoulders, dry and frizzy, streaked with silver, and merely pushed out of the way. Even to herself, she had to admit, she looked like someone who wasn't trying, who had given up, who was just trying to blend in, escape notice, get through another day without falling asleep in her office too conspicuously or for too long. And yet, the thought crossed her mind: neither would she stand out among the women she saw going into the club.
The bath had finished filling, and she sank into it gratefully, feeling the hot water attack her tight and sore muscles. Her full breasts floated, the nipples barely breaking the surface. Without thinking about it, she rocked slightly in place, swishing the water so that it lapped at the hardening tips. She ran her hands through her hair, briefly ducked her head under the water, and absently ran her hands down her body. What would bring women to a place like that? She supposed she expected to see prostitutes and porn stars — hired women, caricatures of women, women imported for the uses and pleasures of the male clientele. It gnawed at her thoughts that that wasn't what she'd witnessed. It was a puzzle, and as she relaxed and cleared her mind of the clutter of the day, she found she kept returning to the question.
She let herself think it. If someone — she — went in, what would they - she — find? She closed her eyes and imagined a dark, smoky, stale space, like a nightclub, with neon over the bar and stickiness on the floor. Thinking of such a vast space uniformly like that — the universe of sleaze — was both daunting and unlikely; she knew she had to have it wrong, and at some level that did indeed pique her curiosity, but, at another level, she didn't care — it was a place to start. In her mind, she strode confidently toward the bar in a miniskirt and bare legs — no, her clingy leopard-print dress that she bought because it fit but had never worn anywhere, and silky, semi-sheer stockings that caressed her legs as she walked. Penny massaged the tension out of her thighs, starting at her knees and working her way upward.
In her mind, she felt the nylon grip her skin. She brushed a hand over her pussy. A bit of moisture, wet but so different from the bathwater that surrounded her, greeted her exploratory finger. Pleasure and the hot water swelled her labia, which she deftly parted as her fingertip sought her clit.
In the sex club in her mind, she was drawn to dark indistinct corners of the room, even as she approached the bar. She ordered a vodka martini and downed it in a few stinging efficient gulps. She felt the warmth spread over her body, radiating outward from her throat, even as the warmth began to in actual fact radiate out from her cunt as she rubbed her clit. She put a dab of soap on the tip of her finger and yelped involuntarily as the slippery smoothness conveyed new electricity to her senses.
In the club, someone pressed up against Penny from behind. His erection pushed against her bottom, but he didn't otherwise touch her. She could smell him — musky and peppery, a bit of smoke — but she deliberately continued to look straight ahead. She pressed back against the unseen cock, and he placed his hands on her hips, pulling her lower body against his pelvis. In turn, she wriggled until her soft dampness, separated from him by only a few thin layers of lycra, centered on the head of his large, hard organ. He moaned softly and slipped his arms around her waist, holding her tightly against him. She glanced down and saw well-muscled arms, brown skin covered by curls of black hair. That and the impressive outlines of his cock was the only information she had about her bold stranger.
She felt lips against her neck. He wasn't kissing, exactly, more like tasting her. Smelling her. She tilted her head back, giving him better access, and continued to wriggle against his insistent hard-on. While one of his strong arms continued to encircle her waist, the other abruptly lifted the edge of her dress. He yanked down her stockings, impatiently pushed aside her underwear, and, without preamble, plunged a stout finger into her wet pussy. She gasped and fell back his powerful body. He was everywhere at once, now, supporting her pliant form at its core with two fingers in her cunt, kissing and nibbling her neck, pawing at her breasts.
In the tub, Penny slid a water-wrinkled finger into her cunt while working furiously at her clit with her other hand.
In the club, the man withdrew his attention from her pussy, and firmly positioned her so that she was leaning over the bar. They didn't exchange words; none were needed. Her breasts pressed against the wood of the bar. Taking his time, he pulled down her stockings and underwear, gathered up the hem of her dress and tucked it out of the way under the band of her bra.
Are there others in the bar, Penny idly asked herself. Mentally, she populated it: a bartender, nonchalantly taking note of their activities, watching but continuing to dry glasses. A few rough-looking men sitting at the bar, perhaps, largely in shadow. Watching a little more intently. The one nearest to them had dropped his hand into his lap and started to discreetly touch himself. Her proffered ass and her bare, wet pussy were fully on display, framed by her rumpled clothing. The idea of being an erotic centerpiece on the bar, arrayed for the pleasure of these anonymous men, filled her with a special kind of lasciviousness. "Use me," she hissed softly, arching her back, thrusting her hindquarters up higher, achingly available.
There was silence, a moment of extended limbo, as if her unseen lover had vanished. And then, suddenly, his thick cock was pushing its way inside her. In the tub, Penny forced three fingers into her cunt, feeling a twinge that bordered on pain, half-convinced as she was that the invading force came from someone else. In the bar, she gave a full-throated moan and thrust back against the intruder, pushing off against her hands on the bar to arch her back and raising up her ass even higher. The man fucking her ran his fingers through her hair. He gathered up a hank in his fist and used it to press her face down against the wooden bar, which was warmed by her gasping breath and slick with her spittle. She could not, at this point, she realized, see the owner of the cock inside her even if she wanted to. All she could see was the man seated nearest to her, who had now released his own engorged penis from his jeans and was stroking it vigorously. She wondered whether he would take his turn next.
Anchoring her in this way, the man inside her began to fuck her with increasing strength and speed. The hand not pinning her head squeezed her breasts and pinched and pulled at her nipples. Her breath was coming in ragged bursts now, both in the bar and in the bathtub. The man pushed his fingers into her mouth, and she reflexively began to suckle, thrusting back against him all the harder with the dizzying sensation of being filled at both ends. He dropped his wet fingers to her clit and busied them pawing at and tweaking her swollen bud.
The spinning vortex of pleasure building where he stroked her leapt like a lightning strike from her clit into her, up her cunt. She cried out as her muscles convulsed and she became liquid.
The club in her mind vanished.
She must have dozed off for a minute, because she was suddenly aware that the tub water was cold.
Matter-of-factly, somewhat chagrinned, she stood and drained the tub and toweled off her prune-like skin, taking care not to look in the mirror again. A clicheed stranger in a goddamned bar, she reproved herself. Jesus, Penny: what's happened to you?
"Mornin' darlin' — you're looking a little pale and piquey," Seamus greeted her. "Rough night?" he leered.
Penny ignored him and went into her office and shut the door. She could feel Andy patrolling outside her door, like some kind of job-preserving and incredibly dull Spidey-sense, so she did not sleep; she worked.
Warhol might have waxed rhapsodic about how the most important thing is work — or so the Velvet Underground tells us, she thought — but Warhol wasn't a mid-level manager in the authorities department of a municipal library. Sometimes she felt as though her life was probably being used as an object lesson in the halls of the Bryn Mawr Comp Lit department to scare freshmen. Study harder — or else.
By lunchtime she felt as though she'd earned a walk in the crisp but still unseasonably warm sunshine. The smells of snowmelt and thaw made her feel restless, and she walked without paying attention to her surroundings until she suddenly snapped out of her reverie and feared that she was lost. No, wait, this looked familiar. Ah, right: Marlowe Avenue.
As if it'd been hiding, the (uninflamed) tower was suddenly directly in front of her. Without breaking stride, without stopping to think about it, she went in.