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  1. Avenging Angel chapter 1
  2. Avenging Angel chapter 2
  3. Avenging Angel chapter 3
  4. Avenging Angel chapter 4
  5. Avenging Angel chapter 5
  6. Avenging Angel chapter 6
  7. Avenging Angel chapter 7
  8. Avenging Angel chapter 8
  9. Avenging Angel chapter 9

Avenging Angel chapter 4

Categories Fiction, Body modification, Drug, Female Domination

Authror: Clarissa Hendry

Published: 07 March 2017

  • Font:

FANTASIES CONFRONT REALITY

I couldn’t bring consistent rational thought to bear on the film excerpts, yet I was obsessed, unable to tear my mind away. Questions echoed in my head. In particular: what would a Part Four portray? What could follow such graphic portrayals of sexual violence and genital mutilation?

For days after the Specimen Eight film I was overwhelmed by visual and visceral memories and conflicting emotions: horror, fascination, excitement, disgust and desire. Perhaps Mandy recognised my need for a time-out because she didn’t reply to my next two e-mails. I resolved not to contact her again until I heard from her.

However, I needed to talk to someone sensible about my mental turmoil. Kelvin Marker was a friend from university days. He was now a GP in a town three hours’ drive from my quiet cul-de-sac. I phoned him and he invited me for dinner the following week.

It’s notoriously hard for men to talk about their darker thoughts and feelings, even to a friend whose profession enforces confidentiality. (Laura had known about my fantasies and enjoyed playing mock-castration games with me, though she never consented to a simulated rape. If you can’t share your fantasies with your partner there’s no point in having her. But outside the partner relationship, and sometimes within it, men find sharing difficult.) Kelvin’s wife, Margaret, was a quiet, intelligent woman and a perfect hostess. She served a delicious meal, and after we’d savoured it, murmuring appreciation amid the small-talk, she divined my need for private conversation with her husband and retired to play her harp. Kelvin poured another glass of port.

“What’s on your mind, Doug?” When my tongue remained paralysed, he probed: “I’d guess it’s something medical you can’t discuss with your own GP, something personal. Right?”

I nodded.

“Something like that.”

Finally I blurted out my confession: I had castration fantasies. He didn’t turn a hair. Lots of men have them, he said. Well, I knew that. Half-prevaricating, I told him an acquaintance had shown me some films portraying graphic sexual violence, including explicit genital mutilation of men who’d committed sex crimes, and I couldn’t get them out of my head. No, I assured him, the films weren’t on general release. I didn’t know their provenance but I suspected they were East European, though most of the narration and dialogue was in English. He wondered whether I’d warned my acquaintance that possession of such films could be a criminal offence. I told him that no minors were involved in the examples I’d seen. In that case, he said, perhaps the films were legal, provided all the participants were consenting adults. I said I presumed they must have been.

Why did I lie when I was desperate for confidential advice?

“So what exactly is your worry, Doug? Provided your fantasies are only fantasies, they’re harmless.”

His words touched a sensitive spot I’d only half-recognised.

“Yes, Kel, I know...” I swallowed the port and cleared my throat. “The question is, am I starting to want them to be more than fantasy?”

I frowned. Was I? He gave the “Mm-hmm” of the professional who isn’t sure how to proceed but must assure you he understands perfectly and is in control.

“This isn’t my specialism.” He smiled. “That’s the trouble with GPs: we’re half-informed about most medical matters but experts on none. And I don’t personally know anyone who does have the relevant expertise.” He looked thoughtful. “I believe there are a few recent papers on the subject. I’ll look them up and e-mail the abstracts to you. I don’t think they’re over-heavy with medical jargon, but if there’s anything you don’t understand I’ll translate it into English.”

* * * * * * * *
His e-mail arrived a week later.

Wassersug and Johnson had published several papers about castration with various co-authors. They said that about forty percent of castration fantasists have a ‘fetishistic’ interest, in other words the idea of castration excites them sexually, and are ‘at low risk of irreversible genital mutilation’. Twenty percent want a lower libido and a changed genital appearance, to cease to be males, and to prevent themselves from behaving offensively. The rest have transgender inclinations. Nineteen percent have attempted to castrate themselves. Sexual changes in castrated men vary, it seems, and subsequent hormone treatments can modify their urges, orientations and behaviour.

In another paper, the authors surveyed 134 men interested in castration; twenty-three had already been neutered. The remaining 111 were asked why they wanted to become eunuchs. The main reason was a wish to be free of sexual urges, but a third of the respondents wanted a ‘cosmetic’ change, while a similar number found castration fantasies arousing. The authors were ambivalent about internet discussion groups focussed on castration: such groups could provide a displacement outlet for fantasists, but they could encourage some men to act out their fantasies and risk the attentions of ‘non-medically qualified street-cutters’, or to mutilate themselves. Fewer than half of the castrations the authors studied had been performed by medical professionals.

In yet another article, they identified four potentiating factors in the backgrounds of castration-seekers: (1) childhood abuse, including threats of castration; (2) homosexuality; (3) seeing animals being castrated; and (4) religious condemnation of sexuality. I was interested by the overlap between these factors and the ten distinguishing characteristics the authors found among ‘street-cutters’ – who are apparently all male or were formerly male: (1) they present themselves as very masculine, (2) their most durable sexual relationships have been with men, (3) they grew up on a farm, (4) they’ve seen animals being castrated, (5) their past behaviour has been sexually inappropriate, (6) as children they were threatened with genital mutilation, (7) they have histories of self-harm, (8) they were raised in devoutly Christian households, (9) they themselves have undergone ‘street’ castrations, and (10) they have body piercings and/or tattoos.

How did any of this relate to what I’d seen on film, and how did it relate to me? If the Part Three excerpts of the films were genuine, the ‘cutters’ were women, not men. There was no evidence that any of the ‘ten distinguishing characteristics’ applied to the castratrices I’d seen. This seemed to swing the weight of evidence against the films being documentary: if Wassersug and Johnson and colleagues were right, the films were well-produced fakes, fantasy fodder for men with my tastes. On the other hand, although I belonged to the forty percent (or thirty-three percent) of fantasists who’re aroused by the idea of castration, I was never abused as a child, I wasn’t homosexual (though I had occasional fleeting fantasies about sex with men), I’d never seen an animal being castrated, and none of my family had ever condemned sexuality on religious or other grounds. Therefore, I didn’t fit the portrait of the castration fantasist as delineated by Wassersug, Johnson and co. Nevertheless I was a castration fantasist. This reductio ad absurdum made me question the previous inference. Was it right to conclude that the films couldn’t be documentaries merely because the castrations were performed by women and in the presence of women, not by tattooed and pierced men who extolled their own extant or extinct masculinity?

I was grateful to Kelvin for digging this literature out for me, but it had left me as confused as ever, and as obsessed. Did ‘Castration Festivals’ really happen?

One thing I’d learned from the Wassersug-Johnson research: some men genuinely wanted to lose their genitals, not because they desired or sought a sex change but because they no longer wanted to have cocks and balls. So Mandy’s comments about men actively seeking the ‘punishment’, volunteering for castration, rang true. The alleged origin of the Champion Castratrix’s necklace-and-earrings trophy had become plausible.

* * * * * * * *
Had I become more convinced about Castration Festivals? Mandy was right, wasn’t she? The films were documentaries. Well, maybe. Or maybe not. If they were real, then notwithstanding my obsessive enjoyment of the films, my longing to see more, the whole business was illegal and ought to be reported. But how, and to whom? The police wouldn’t be interested. Or, if they were interested, they’d raid the cinema and confiscate the films, which would spoil my fun.

Another former university friend was now a journalist working for a tabloid. In my opinion, the job demeaned him. Mike had worked hard to obtain his qualifications, and now he was using them to dumb down the news in order to misinform the stupid majority and market human misery as entertainment. He and I had kept in touch, though, so I drafted an e-mail to him. But even as I wrote it I knew I couldn’t send it.
What could I tell him? That an acquaintance had shown me porn films containing explicit rape and genital mutilation scenes, which were allegedly recordings of real events? Mike could (should, would) ask a host of questions. What evidence was there that the events were real? Where had I seen the films? Who was the acquaintance who’d shown them to me and where could he/she be contacted? Who’d made them and where? Where could they be bought? Where could he interview the actors? I could answer none of those questions. I couldn’t even guess answers to most of them. I could prove nothing.

I couldn’t even prove that the woman who kept returning to the shadow of the maple tree across the cul-de-sac was watching me.

Was my entire experience with Mandy and the films merely a product of my overheated imagination? That’s what Mike would ask. And I began to wonder, too.

* * * * * * * *
PART FOUR

Then Mandy e-mailed me again. She said I’d had enough time to reflect on the film excerpts I’d watched so I should now be ready for a Part Four. Friday evening again, 7.30?

Resentment surged into my throat: she was manipulating me, dictating my timetable, controlling much of my inner life. No wonder women get raped, I thought. They deserve it for turning men into trained pets, eager to run to their beck and call, begging for treats. The implicit threat of sexual violence was men’s only effective defence against the insidious manoeuvrings of women.

But I did want to see a Part Four. Maybe I’d be allowed to choose which one.

Throughout Friday I was restless, unable to concentrate. I did a little editing, a little cooking, a little tidying. I tried to read, with scant success. My guts were upset. I felt as though I was facing a job interview or a university exam.

My mind re-ran the comparison between Mandy’s films and standard pornographic fare. Aside from the drastic differences in acting and film quality, there was the contrast between realistic, multifaceted characters and one-dimensional ciphers. Of course Mandy’s films showed naked bodies with fully visible genitals, but the bodies housed simulacra of real lives and personalities. My thoughts shifted to the prostitutes I’d visited. Some of them complained about clients who presumed that online porn scenes could be replicated in the brothel, which they usually couldn’t. On the other hand, many of those women presented themselves as bodies-for-use devoid of personality. Their shows of sexual pleasure were transparently insincere, which was no use to me. In order to enjoy a woman I needed to know she was a person with interests, opinions, likes and dislikes, intelligence: a life. Only the best escorts met this criterion.

The analogy was irresistible: run-of-the-mill prostitutes offered an ‘experience’ equivalent to pornography - mindless, soulless, emotionless – even while they bemoaned the effect of pornography on their clients’ attitudes and behaviour. In contrast, high-quality escorts offered an erotic experience enriched with elements of mind, soul and emotion. In that sense they matched Mandy’s films in their capacity to arouse and satisfy. Also, there was a subtle tension that enhanced my pleasure. The escort’s client walked a tightrope: desire to know her better, take her out, make her a girlfriend or a partner, warred with the realisation that he couldn’t because her real family and social life had to remain sealed from her escort work; never must the twain meet. I’m told some clients can’t balance on this tightrope. Some escorts can’t, either. Imagine introducing your new girlfriend to your mates: “I don’t know her real name, only her working name... Yes, she’s a whore, but I get it free these days”.

Mandy arrived while I was trying to unpick this insight; half past seven on the dot. In an instant, it seemed, I was blindfolded in the back seat of her Volvo and we’d begun the forty-minute drive to her cinema. My mind drew forty-minute circles on a city street map with my flat at the centre, but the exercise didn’t reveal the cinema’s whereabouts.

* * * * * * * *
She didn’t give me a choice. She ran Part Four of the Specimen Five film.

“I showed you Specimen Five’s rape and castration first, Douglas,” she said, “because of this follow-up. Specimen Five was upgraded more completely and successfully than many, with few setbacks.”

The preamble to Part Four was brief. A narrator summarised Specimen Five’s crime, interrogation, preparation and punishment. At first I wasn’t sure whether the speaker was male or female. Then I recognised the voice, though the quality had changed: the narrator was Specimen Five. The film continued in documentary style, each stage in the ‘upgrading’ described in words and visual images.

Some say our upgrading began when our male parts were removed, said the voice-over, but others say it started during our interrogation and preparation. Those weeks before the castration were hard – daily exercises, restricted diet, isolation, continual questioning, punishments for any hint of resistance or rebellion, no sexual pleasure – but without them we couldn’t have faced our future. Castration remains a shattering experience, painful beyond measure both physically and psychologically, but in retrospect you’re grateful for the weeks of build-up.

The film showed a single-bed surgical room, white and sterile, packed with equipment, medical and nursing staff bustling. The narrator explained the specimen’s recovery following its removal from the post.

Our surgeons used the stub of penis and the skin of the scrotum that remained after my neutering. Only two weeks after I’d ceased to be a man I had a vagina. It wasn’t like a born woman’s pussy, of course, because there was no clitoris and it didn’t lead anywhere – no internal reproductive organs – but convincing labia had been fashioned and the area was uninfected and healing well. The doctors promised there’d be no scars. Two months later, when I finally saw it in a mirror, I was persuaded. Anyone who looked between my legs would see I was a woman. At first it made me angry and sad.

There were more pictures: bottles of colourless liquids, boxes of tablets, intravenous lines, hypodermic needles, all controlled with gloved hands and overseen by masked faces. But the alleged ‘vagina’ wasn’t portrayed. I curled a sceptical lip.

Full hormone treatment started shortly after my vagina was created. I was surprised how quickly my body began to change. It was like going through puberty again, though as a girl rather than a boy, and the transformation was far quicker than it had during those turbulent years of adolescence. My developing breasts were sore, and for a while I needed help to control the discomfort, but when I saw myself in the mirror at the end of each week I was both fascinated and confused. Was I appalled at what I was becoming, or excited? Enraged, delighted, or resigned? My emotions went into undamped oscillations as the medically-controlled levels of oestrogen and progesterone entering my blood-stream rose and fell in time with the lunar cycle. One day I wanted to smash every piece of equipment I saw and kill every member of our caring staff, another day I wept for what I’d lost, another I laughed for joy at what I was becoming, another I bitterly resented how my life had been manipulated; I wanted to laugh and joke with the manipulators, tear their heads off, kiss their feet. Time and counselling were needed before I could regulate those tides of feeling. Our psychiatrists are as skilled and experienced as our surgeons and I’m grateful to them.

There were four short clips of the patient being counselled, alternating with half a dozen images of behaviour indicating emotional extremes. I was enthralled and indignant. Was this ‘upgrading’? Being turned into a pseudo-woman? Upgrading?

Sadly, among the twelve who were rescued from maleness during last year’s Festival, three didn’t make it to full womanhood. One died of complications after surgery. Apparently that’s rare because our medical care is of such a high standard, but there are occasional failures. The other two committed suicide, despite counselling and supervision, because they couldn’t reconcile themselves to their futures as women. This happened after we’d been discharged from medical care and transferred to the Feminine Deportment Team.

The film now showed ‘training in feminine deportment’. Each member of the ‘training team’ wore an FDT badge and acted like a committed teacher: firm, attentive, demanding, encouraging, hard on pupils who forgot their lessons or failed to practise what they’d been taught. As in the rest of Mandy’s films, the acting was excellent.

This was when I ceased to be Specimen Five, said the narrator, and became Jennifer. I had to learn contentment and pride in being Jennifer, careful of my appearance, behaviour and speech, careful how I walked, entered a room, sat down, greeted others and responded to greetings. I learned how to choose outfits and accessories, how to cope with high heels without looking ridiculous. I learned how to choose the makeup that best suited me and my outfit. The FDT knew it all. They taught us every nuance or style and behaviour, they understood each new woman’s difficulties and they helped her to overcome them. My main difficulties were learning to walk like a woman and keeping my voice feminine. It took weeks of practice before I could do it without having to think. Gradually, it became second nature.

The film showed this ‘new woman’ walking, first clumsily, then confidently, then – I had to admit – alluringly. There were fragments of conversation in which the pitch of her voice fell no lower than a seductive contralto. And her appearance was striking; not delicate, not pretty, but an eye-catching body with flowing blonde hair, oval face, full lips, firm bust, shapely legs, and a hip-to-waist ratio close to that of conventional feminine beauty. If I’d met Jennifer without knowing she’d been a man I’d have been happy to fuck her. After what had been presented as brilliant surgery, precise hormone treatment and expert counselling, the FDT training seemed extraordinarily effective. But, I wondered, what had been censored from this film? What wasn’t I seeing?

And now, said Jennifer, I’m fully upgraded: proud to be a woman, proud to be me, and eternally grateful to the Festival Organisers, the medical staff, the FDT, and all who helped me escape the burden of maleness. Most of all, I’m grateful to my dear friend Melanie!

Part Four of the film closed with the image of two women greeting and hugging each other, smiling: Melanie Siddall, who’d castrated Specimen Five; and Jennifer, who’d been Specimen Five.

I felt contented rather than angry. The film’s ending seemed ‘appropriate’.

* * * * * * * *
“Typical Part Four?” I asked.

Mandy said not all upgradings were so successful and some took much longer. “And as Jennifer said,” she added, “a few specimens never succeed in becoming women. Two suicides out of twelve was a bad year, but there are usually some who can’t be reconciled to their changed lives and require long-term psychiatric care.”

If all this was true, then people who’d once been men had been treated in a manner reminiscent of the most brutal tyrannies, the cruellest of dictatorships. The allegedly high-standard medical and psychiatric care administered to Specimen Five after the castration was a facet of the same ‘state-sponsored’ subjugation, hiding its soulless face under a mask of humanity. That was why I’d wanted Part Four to make me angry. Now I was angry because it hadn’t made me angry.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Douglas.”

Well, well. Could Mandy have failed to read my mind?

“If we’re to believe this so-called Jennifer,” I said, “everything in her garden’s rosy. But I smell a rat. She admits it’s been hard work getting to where she is, and some of it’s been deeply unpleasant, but overall she tells a tale of unalloyed onwards-and-upwards-ness.”

Mandy smirked and commented on my ‘hyphenated abstract neologism’.

“You know what I mean,” I said. “What isn’t he – it – she – telling us? What are the weeds in the primrose bed and the thorns on the roses? And don’t tell me there aren’t any. I’m not talking about having one’s cock and balls destroyed in public. I mean weeds and thorns during the aftermath, during the so-called ‘upgrading’.”

I watched Mandy’s face settle into mendacity mode and my fists bunched, but I could seldom bring myself to hit a woman. I concentrated on breath control.

“Interesting, Douglas,” she said. “I hadn’t expected Part Four to annoy you. You have a point, though. In every film we’ve made of the Castration Festivals and their outcomes, I’ve been uncomfortable about Part Four. It feels like advertising rather than balanced documentary. But that’s inevitable because Part Four is always narrated by a successful upgrade. And you know what people are, women and men alike: our memories suppress the bad bits of the road we’ve travelled and focus on the good ones.”

Sometimes Mandy doesn’t lie outright, I thought, she just tells the part of the truth she wants me to hear. Definitely a lawyer. Or a politician.

“Thanks. You’ve confirmed that the garden has non-rosy ingredients, but you’ve managed to do so without disclosing what the non-rosy bits are. Which was the point of my question, in case you hadn’t realised.”

Her eyebrows rose.

“Dear me, you are cross. I’m sorry the film affected you that way. I hoped – believed – you’d be fascinated to see the butterfly of Jennifer emerge from the chrysalis of Specimen Five and the predatory larva that had raped Virginia Mitchell.”

Yes, I had been fascinated, but I wouldn’t allow Mandy to dodge the question.

“I’m sure you did, but you still haven’t answered – “

“Jennifer didn’t mention the less glamorous aspects of FDT training: learning housekeeping skills – cleaning, washing, ironing, meal-planning, shopping, cooking – all the domestic-goddess chores that are supposed to be second nature to women. Upgrades have to learn those aspects of women’s lives as well as the clothes-and-makeup stuff.”

Really? Is that all that’s been left unsaid?

“It might have escaped your notice, Mandy, that men who live alone have to be able to clean and wash and shop and cook and all the rest of it.”

“But if Laura Renshaw were still living with you, you’d expect her to do ninety percent of the household chores. And still be enthusiastic about sex. Wouldn’t you?”

How the hell did she know about Laura?

* * * * * * * *
I was silent for most of the blindfolded journey home. How much more did Mandy know about me? How had she found out? The only clear train of thought in my head as I sat in the Volvo’s back seat was: I’ll bet ‘Jennifer’ was right: the Festival victims start to acquire their femininity during the so-called interrogation and preparation. The diet, the anal penetration, the blanket ban on erections and orgasms, the subjugation...

“How did you become involved in all this, Mandy? What’s your story?”

For half a minute it seemed she wasn’t going to answer. Then she said, “I think, before too long, I’ll have to tell you my tale. Not yet, though.” There was another pause and then she chuckled. “But you can forget what you’re starting to think. I’m not an upgrade. I am as I was born.”

Actually, Mandy, I thought, the possibility hadn’t occurred to me. Twice in one evening your mind-reading skills have failed. Are you losing your touch or am I getting better at hiding my thoughts?

“How did you know about Laura?”

“I told you when we first met, Douglas: I know a lot about you.”

What do you know about Laura? About me and Laura?”

“Want me to repeat the same answer?”

I was becoming unsettled as well as annoyed. My mouth was dry, my stomach churning. How much did she know about me and Laura? If she’d heard Laura’s side of the story, what would she believe about me? That lying bitch could make any yarn sound plausible. And what else hadn’t Mandy told me?

“What happened to ‘Jennifer’? What’s she doing now?”

“Questions, questions, Douglas. Jennifer’s living her life as a woman. What else would you expect?”

* * * * * * * *
I endured another more-or-less sleepless night. Mandy’s question about domestic chores had summoned haunting memories of Laura out of their caskets and they wouldn’t lie down. Petite, brunette Laura, with her pretty little breasts and brown eyes, the entrancing curve of her spine, her impeccable taste in jewellery and clothes, particularly underwear, her spirit of sexual adventure... Yes, she had limits, like all of us; she couldn’t manage anal sex (too painful for her), and although she became excited when she was tied to the bed she froze when I pretend-raped her. She enjoyed fem dom games, including watersports, especially after three glasses of vodka and coke. And she loved being treated as an escort, being paid to submit to mild humiliation and degradation, though she became upset when I made disparaging (and unfounded) remarks about the size of her cunt.

Outside the bedroom we had similar tastes in music and literature, we toured museums and galleries, we booked holiday cottages and absorbed the delights of the countryside together... She didn’t share my love of cricket, nor did I share her delight in lying on the beach, but harmony in all aspects of life is unattainable unless one partner submits without let or hindrance to all the other’s preferences. In any case you need differences, you need separate as well as shared activities, otherwise you run out of conversation; and if you’re never independent of your partner, you’re lost when circumstances rob one of you of the other. I’ve never been as happy as I was during the two years I lived with Laura. In particular, the sex was spectacular.

No wonder it was spectacular. No wonder she was so adept at bedroom games. No wonder she was evasive about her well-paid job with its irregular hours. Love-blinded, I never suspected, or couldn’t let myself suspect, until at last the glare of truth forced my eyes open. Never had I been swept so far from the shores of reason by so implacable a torrent of fury. If she’d told me at the outset of our relationship I could have coped with it, probably loved her nevertheless. But she lied to me, deceived me: the man whose love she pretended to return.

That’s what they’re so good at, the high-class ones: pretending to love. The fucking bitches.

* * * * * * * *
WHEN IMAGINATION BECOMES TOXIC

Overheated imagination? Was I recalling a film I’d seen or was it a pseudo-memory? Had my mind reconstructed – or woven out of whole cloth - the content and narrative of ‘Jennifer’s tale’ and the segments of Specimen Five’s story that had preceded it, projecting the unacknowledged urges of a solitary male on to what might, for all I could prove, have been a blank canvas, a cold white screen? Had any of my friends and neighbours seen me with Mandy? Were her films real? Did her cinema exist? Did she exist?

These musings didn’t amount to logical catharsis in the style of Descartes: I was confident that I existed and I was certain my flat was real, along with the cul-de-sac in which it stood, the bare maple tree, the woman who stood beneath it, and the e-mails accumulating in my inbox. I doubted only the existence of the quasi-pornography that was threatening to take over my life. Yet there was no wish-fulfilment in the ‘Jennifer’ story. Fantasies notwithstanding I had no transgender inclinations. Like many men I sometimes imagined myself as ‘a woman’, but she was a male-fantasy woman not a flesh-and-blood one. Jennifer didn’t resemble, or evoke, any male fantasy to which I could relate. This could be construed as evidence that her part of the film was real, not a product of my imagination. But I was learning not to trust evidence. Even when evidence isn’t selected or biased it’s open to interpretation.

Similar mental unrest afflicted me whenever I recalled Laura. Why had Mandy stirred up the silt of memories that time had allowed almost to settle? When she e-mailed me again I didn’t answer. I deleted all her messages and sulked.

* * * * * * * *
Online porn had become bland and boring. I selected two film clips from a “fem dom castration” search but my attention wandered while they were playing out on screen. There was little imagination, little dialogue, nothing to surprise; they were devoid of motivation and characterisation and the acting was wooden. Such films had previously given me erections and usually orgasms, but compared to the offerings in Mandy’s cinema they were school nativity plays beside Shakespeare tragedies. I switched them off and paced around the flat. Outside, the weather had grown wintry. Darkness descended early.

In the evening I paid for a phone call to a ‘Mistress Black Diamond’ on AdultWork. She advertised as a thirty-four-year-old black lady (an ‘ebony ball-busting alpha female’) who offered, by way of phone chat, domination, humiliation, fetish, fantasy, CFNM, tease and denial, edging, CBT, chastity, castration, cuckold, bi, SPH, sissy, feminisation, shemale. Clients were invited to order a custom MP3. I didn’t ask for the custom MP3 but told Mistress Black Diamond I wanted to hear a good long detailed castration fantasy.

She began with the confidence of the experienced service provider, promising to relish the castration, stripping me and tying me over a whipping bench for preliminary punishment and quickly proceeding to scrotum-slitting. I interrupted.

“Perhaps, Mistress, this can be done in the open air, with your slave tied to a stake, and cameras focussed on its genitals so the women crowding the amphitheatre around the stake can watch large-scale images of them on screen. Then they can all applaud Mistress’s artistry when she disposes of the slave’s balls and subsequently relieves it of its cock. Judges can be in place to rate the quality of her performance, there should be guards to make sure the slave doesn’t struggle too much, and medical staff should be on hand to ensure it doesn’t die from losing its male parts.”

There was silence. Then, in a different voice, the woman on the phone asked “Who are you? What’s your game?”

“Douglas Hendry, Mistress. A castration fantasist. I’d love you to play along with my scenario.”

The line went dead. I didn’t try to call her back.

That evening I tried re-reading Thackeray’s Vanity Fair but I couldn’t concentrate.

* * * * * * * *
It was obvious I had to bring my obsession under control and put my life back on track. So I cleaned the flat, shopped, cooked meals and consigned portions of them to the freezer, went to local football matches with friends and then to the pub after the final whistle, cleared my backlog of editing, and polished two more short stories for publication. On a dry day I swept the leaves from the pavement and the back yard, chatting to neighbours. Those humdrum activities enabled me to put the undead memories of Laura back into their fireproof caskets and forget about Mandy. Well, not quite ‘forget’. I kept checking my inbox to see whether she’d e-mailed again. She hadn’t.

Kelvin Marker sent me a message, though. He and Margaret were worried about me. He didn’t say it in so many words, but his inquiry left no doubt about their concern (his, at least). I was simultaneously touched and irritated. I wrote a reassuring reply, thanking them and intimating that the literature Kel had sent me had helped to alleviate my anxieties. Even as I pressed ‘Send’ I felt a gnawing at my entrails that resembled guilt, yet as far as I could judge I’d nothing to feel guilty about. I spent the evening listening to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and wished afterwards I’d chosen Bach.

That night I dreamed I was visiting the escort I’d pretend-raped a week or two previously, the one who’d confirmed that women are more enthusiastic about cutting off a rapist’s cock than de-balling him. While my dream self was in the escort’s boudoir I discovered that the collar of my white shirt was soiled and there was a hole in my right sock. She noticed the latter flaw and I was so embarrassed I lost my erection. I don’t remember many of my dreams and I’d have been glad to forget this one. Trivial though it was it upset me. I was unable to masturbate when I awoke.

During the night the weather cleared and by dawn a frost had clamped the world between metal jaws. After a shower and shave and two cups of coffee I dressed for the conditions and went out to enjoy the air and the early sun. It was one of those winter mornings that sparkle and glow with infectious vitality, so I thought a couple of miles of quick walking up the valley would clear my head and lift my spirits.

But the woman who’d been standing under the cul-de-sac maple for the past few weeks accosted me on the path beneath the naked birch trees. Hat, scarf and hood almost hid her face. She stepped from among the trees with an attitude both timorous and determined.

“Mr Hendry.”

She had a foreign accent I couldn’t place, yet her voice seemed half-familiar.

“You’ve been watching my flat and I believe you’ve been following me. Why? Who are you? What do you want?”

Her left glove made a dismissive gesture. She glanced around, then turned her eyes to the hills.

“You run big risk. Do not go with her. Risk for others too; but for you, big risk.”

The walk through the cold air had quickened my heart. Now it started to thump.

“Who?”

“Siren sings from rocks, yes? I cannot stay. I put self in danger to talk with you.”

There was a flash of light as though a photograph had been taken from somewhere out of sight, and she gave a little cry and turned to run. I seized her arm.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

She struggled to free herself. I held her. The camera flashed again.

“Please, let me go! Please! I cannot – “

“Are you talking about Mandy? Are you telling me Mandy’s dangerous? How? In what way?”

Her eyes begged for release. The icy air drew tears from them.

“You ask stupid question. You are not fool.” She shook her head. “We are ruin, all those who - ”

With a sudden effort she jerked herself from my grasp and fled down the path. I watched her go, my anxiety graduating to fear. As she uttered her final words I thought I’d recognised her. But if I was right, surely she’d nothing to worry about?

I continued my walk but my pace had slowed.

* * * * * * * *
Three days later the police came to my flat, a young woman detective constable and an older male, burly and tough-looking. No, I wasn’t being detained, certainly not arrested, but it would be helpful if I’d go to the station with them to be interviewed. I asked what it was about. They said it would be explained in the interview room. They were courteous, but there was an unspoken hint that their courtesy would become strained if I didn’t help with their inquiries.

In the interview room I was given a cup of tea. Two female detective constables were present, the one who’d come to my flat with the muscle-man and one I hadn’t met. The stranger sat at the side of the room writing notes while the more familiar officer faced me across the table and posed questions. They both introduced themselves and I was invited to do likewise. I was told the interview would be video-recorded but assured that I could leave at any time. I said I’d be glad to help if possible, but I didn’t see how I could because as far as I knew I hadn’t witnessed a crime and there were no criminals among my acquaintance.

“No, Mr Hendry, as things stand we’ve no reason to suppose otherwise. May I call you Douglas?”

I shrugged and drank the tea. It was foul.

“How long have you known Sura Drilea, Douglas?” said the DC.

A couple of seconds passed before the name clicked into place. I felt my face betray the shock.

“I’d never met her until she approached me while I was out walking three days ago.”

“Have you seen her since?”

“No.”

“Why did she approach you?”

I summarised the woman’s cryptic remarks and assured the DC I had no idea what they meant.

“But she was warning you about something or someone?”

“Apparently. But I don’t know what or who or why, or what the alleged danger was, or why she chose to warn a total stranger.”

A few harmless questions followed about my lifestyle and background. I thought they should have been asked before the interview reached the nitty-gritty stage, but I suppose real-life cops don’t behave like the ones in fiction. I guessed the DC had deliberately opened with Sura Drilea’s name so she could judge my reaction. She asked where I’d been the previous evening. I told her the truth: I’d dined at the local Thai restaurant about six o’clock, returned home at half seven or quarter to eight, and spent the evening reading and watching the television news. I was in bed just after eleven. Yes, I’d been alone. I’d had no phone calls. The questioner returned to my encounter with Sura Drilea.

“You said you’d never met Ms Drilea before she spoke to you three mornings ago, Douglas. But you knew who she was. How, if you’d never met her?”

I paused before I answered but I maintained eye-contact.

“I’d seen her in a film. I only half-recognised her, and her name didn’t click until you mentioned it.”

The interview was becoming uncomfortable. What was the film, the DC wanted to know? Where had I watched it? How long ago? Had I seen it more than once? My answers were half-truths: it was a pornographic film in a private cinema, I’d only seen it once, I couldn’t remember how long ago.

“So you recognised the name from a porn film you’d seen in a private cinema an indefinite time ago. That’s a remarkable feat of memory, Douglas. Unless Ms Drilea has appeared in other films you’ve watched.”

“I don’t think she has.” My face twisted as though I was hiding something. Which I was. “I only recognised the name because I knew someone called Drilea at university. Neculai Drilea. Romanian, I gather. Might be a common name in Romania.”

The DC said “I see” in a tone both sceptical and ominous. For a while she didn’t speak but communicated silently with her colleague. I recognised a device to unsettle the witness. In due course she accepted a photograph from the note-taker, then she turned to face me again.

“Please look at this photograph, Douglas. Do you recognise the people in it?”

I’d been right about the camera flash. There I was, face to face with Sura Drilea, gripping her arm while she tried to get away.

“The people are me and the woman I now know to be Sura Drilea.”

“Doesn’t the encounter look surprisingly intimate for two people who don’t know each other?”

I explained: she’d seen a flash of light, possibly a camera, and wanted to run away before she’d explained what she was warning me about. It seemed she didn’t want anyone to take her photograph, which seemed odd since she’d acted in at least one film. I hadn’t wanted to let her go until she’d clarified her warning.

“But you said she didn’t clarify it, Douglas.”

“She got away before I had a chance to question her properly. If I’d chased her it would have looked bad, and she already seemed frightened.”

The DC frowned.

“Why was she frightened?”

“Apart from the camera flash, I don’t know. She said something about being ruined but it made no sense to me.”

“Do you know of anyone who might want to harm her?”

I felt my face grow pale. I shook my head.

“No. No one I know has ever mentioned her name in my hearing.” I looked from one officer to the other. “There’s nothing more I can tell you. Can I go?”

The smiles were not quite sincere.

“Yes, of course. Thanks for your time, Douglas.” They watched me put on my coat and gloves and let me walk to the door before the questioner said, “Ms Drilea was shot dead in the market square last night. We’re looking for the killer.”

My jaw dropped. I stared. She said as far as they knew I was the last person to have seen the victim alive. Of course, the investigation was at an early stage and their inquiries might lead to other people who could help them. However, they might want to talk to me again, so please would I not leave town during the next couple of weeks without letting them know?

* * * * * * * *
It’s impossible to be sure in retrospect, but I believe I’d begun to control my obsession until that winter morning encounter and the subsequent police interview. But I’d now found an anchor of certainty in the ocean of doubt: Sura Drilea was real. Even if Mandy, the cinema, the films and all the rest had been products of my imagination, Sura was real. At least, she’d been real until she was shot.

Not that this proved anything. I could have met Sura earlier in life, perhaps via Neculai, and forgotten her. The real Sura might have had nothing to do with the ‘Specimen One castration’ I’d watched or imagined I’d watched. My unconscious could have dredged up her name from the depths below memory and glued it to my fantasy. But why had she approached me out of the blue? How had she remembered me if I’d forgotten the real her? On the other hand, if the films did exist outside my imagination, similar questions arose. Why had she approached me, what was she trying to warn me about, and how had she recognised me? What had driven her to keep me and my flat under surveillance before she’d decided (or plucked up the courage) to speak?

Answers eluded me, which proves my capacity for overlooking the obvious. As Laura-bitch had demonstrated by deceiving me for two years, I can be blind and stupid. What price intelligence, academic success, creative and editorial skills and so forth when you can’t see what’s staring you in the face? The more I wrestled with the mystery the more far-fetched my conjectures became and the more tangled my reasoning. My obsession was back with a vengeance.

There’s a widespread if not universal human urge to fight restrictions, as when we lust for foods that are forbidden on medical grounds. If the police hadn’t asked me not to leave town I wouldn’t have hankered for a late-autumn holiday. I didn’t picture anywhere exotic, just a hotel in a seaside resort. At that time of year, holiday resorts have the drab air of drained aquaria, conniving with my love of solitude, inspiring story-creation. I suppressed the hankering. As things stood I might be a suspect in a murder case. To have gone away even for a long weekend would have looked incriminating.

Of course I could have given the police further help. If I’d told them Mandy’s e-mail address and described her I might have given them a useful lead. There were two reasons why I didn’t. First, if Sura had been trying to warn me never to divulge anything about the films (assuming the films were real and she’d participated), telling the police about them could have endangered me. In any case, Mandy - if she existed – had repeatedly proved how clever she was, how skilled at evading questions, so she’d handle a police interview with ease. Second, there was no logical reason to suppose that Sura’s fear, or her death, had anything to do with the films, and the police wouldn’t thank me for leading them up a blind alley.

I dragged my mind from these thoughts and renewed my attempt to re-read Vanity Fair, this time with more success. But my nights were turbulent again, and two mornings later I yielded to the inevitable: I e-mailed Mandy.

* * * * * * * *
Her reply was short: she’d visit me and help me resolve my confusion. She appeared at my door later than expected, well into the evening, carrying a bottle of five year old Nuit St George. I no longer doubted that she was real. Under her winter coat she wore a long black dress and matching boots. It was the first time I’d seen her in a dress.

I made coffee, led Mandy into the sitting room, and opened the bottle and left it to warm. We settled into armchairs with our coffee cups. Her relaxed posture was annoyingly superior.

“The police interviewed me,” I said. “About Sura Drilea.”

“I know.”

I wanted to ask how she knew, and what Sura had tried to warn me about, and who’d murdered her. Instead, I repeated what the police had told me: Sura had been shot dead in the market square and they were seeking the killer.

“So I understand,” said Mandy. After a pause she added, “What did you tell them?”

“What could I tell them?” I shrugged. “Sura – “

“Ms Drilea.”

“Whatever. She stopped me during a morning walk and said I was at risk, and she was at risk for telling me, and she was ruined.”

Mandy nodded.

“M-hm. You told this to the police?”

“I told them I didn’t understand what she meant.”

Mandy smiled. I saw nothing to smile about.

“Was that true?”

“Obviously. Then they asked how I knew her. Her name registered as soon as they said it. Registered visibly.”

“What answer did you give?”

“That I didn’t know her. I’d seen her in a porn film in a private cinema and I recognised the name because I’d known someone called Drilea at university.”

“Ah yes, Neculai. So what else did they ask? What more did you tell them?”

Mandy knew about Neculai, a slight acquaintance from years earlier.

“Nothing of substance. I didn’t mention your name if that’s what worries you.”

“What makes you imagine I’m worried?” Mandy smiled again. “Find some glasses, Douglas. Let’s drink wine.”

I produced two lead crystal glasses and filled them. I handed one to Mandy and gulped down the contents of the other, then mumbled an apology and replenished it. She toyed with hers.

“You promised to resolve my confusion, Mandy. Previously, you’d promised to tell me something about yourself and how you became involved in this ‘Castration Festival’ business. I await your explanations. For a start, can you tell me who killed ‘Ms Drilea’ and why?”

She said as far as she knew the police were still investigating and no one had yet been charged. She knew I’d been asked not to leave town.

“So you’re a suspect, Douglas, but I’m sure you didn’t do it.”

Such a weight off my mind. What was she doing here anyway? In Britain, I mean? Another economic migrant from Eastern Europe?”

I downed the second glass of wine and poured a third. It was making me thirsty. Mandy had hardly touched hers. I supposed she needed to stay sober so she could control what she told me. In any case she had her car. I lowered my glass to the coffee table. My hand was unsteady.

Mandy smiled, or grinned, or leered.

“She was hunting for specimens for the next Festival. I’m surprised you need to ask.”

I tried to formulate an answer but I seemed hypnotised. The room grew fuzzy. A voice in the back of my head said She’s drugged you, Doug[i], and then she stood up and went to the door. She came back a few seconds or hours later with what seemed to be two other women, or three, or four. Her voice sounded like an echo in a brass cauldron.

“Brought some friends to visit you too, Douglas.”

Nobody about in the cul-de-sac at this time of night, said the voice in my head. No neighbours. Deserted.

Vague impression of people around my chair, helping my body to stand, wrapping it in coat and gloves.

Open air. Cold.

Car.

Engine starting. Movement.

Sleep.
* * * * * * * *

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