Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Perfectionists – the story in two parts

Story from Janus 54.

The Perfectionists. Part I.
by Stephen Sims

THE CHAPEL looked gaunt and grey against the pale-blue evening sky. Erected during sterner Victorian days, it had for many years served as a religious centre; and if its function then had been a meeting-house for those seeking spiritual elevation, it was certainly no less so now. The great difference was in the methods practised therein to uplift and purify the adherents of the moral ethical group known as the Perfectionists, to whom it now belonged.

The chapel stood about a mile outside town, perched high on a rocky spur overlooking vistas of lovely English countryside, flanked by fields and woodland, so that its interior was perennially washed through with the pure scents of nature.

The Perfectionist sisterhood fluctuated between thirty and forty devotees, though there were signs that these numbers were beginning to increase. Each adherent was unwed, led a normal everyday life as regards work, home and social relations – and none was more than 25 years old. On the weekly communal evening when they all gathered hip-to-hip on the pews in the tiny hall, the light striking through the colour-stained panes fell on faces fresh and devout – some pretty, some plain, and several of startling beauty. And every girl was comely and healthy, attractive to the male and eminently marriageable.

Over this purity-aspiring sorority one man ministered: an exceptional man known solely by the devotional appellation of Magister. It was one of life's ironies that he might have been fashioned from a woman's ideal of how a charismatic spiritual mentor might appear: earthy yet mystical, evangelically fervent in the ways of Perfectionist enlightenment, he was tall and broad with rugged features, and an unflinching gaze that had a way of coaxing a female's darkest secrets out into the light.

On this particular non-communal evening in mid-week only five young ladies were at the chapel – four of them to attend contrition, an intensely personal affair where each in turn gave an agonising self-appraisal of her falls from grace during the past few days, and submitted herself to whatever form of atonement the Magister deemed appropriate. For the fifth girl, named Melissande, it was her first visit. 19 years old and painfully shy, she was constantly plagued by feelings of inadequacy and imperfection – and, having heard vague stories of the 'self-improvement' sisterhood in the old chapel, had plucked up the courage to come along on the off-chance.

Melissande was training as a classical dancer. The routines were mentally and physically punishing, and her whippet-lithe body was extremely supple from stretching and leaping, driven by the hectoring voice of Madame. She stood five feet five, willowy and swan-graceful, with a slender waist and small but perfectly rounded breasts. Her legs were springy and swift, the hips of that nubile breadth between girlish cuteness and womanly voluptuousness. She approached the chapel with trepidation up the steep rocky slope from the road, and entered the little slate-roofed porch. On the weathered oak door was a silver plate so highly polished that her reflected face stared anxiously back at her – the elfin features, oval and pale, dominated by beautiful green-flecked eyes framed by long thick lashes. She might have been a child's vision of a very pretty fairy with her high forehead and swept-back chestnut hair, the tip-tilted nose and pertly pointed chin – though the wide mouth and innocently sensuous lips belonged more to lusty male fantasy than fairy-tale.

Rat-tat-tat. Melissande gnawed those pretty lips as she swung the heavy antique knocker. Having no idea what to expect, she was completely unprepared for the splendour of the man who, after a few tense moments, pulled open the door and stood filling its frame, a smile of peace-filled welcome on the arrestingly handsome face. The white robe he wore seemed to give off a shimmering aura against the gloom behind him; and his hair, thickly flowing and as startlingly white as his gown, appeared to radiate an effulgence emanating from within the powerful leonine head, as though a light were glowing there. In her awe, Melissande judged this towering Being to be no more than 35 years old, though the expression in his deep-set eyes beneath the imposing brow belonged to someone of infinitely maturer age. He exuded a pristine freshness, animal vitality and sheer unadulterated goodness which permeated the young girl's bones like some heavenly balm – and made her certain, in those first moments of seeing him, that here was one who would irrevocably change her life's course forever, to the good. It was a golden moment.

But the nerve-wracked Melissande was able to answer his smile with little more than an awkward facial contortion. She licked her lips and blurted out: 'I... want to be a Perfectionist! M-my name is Melissande.' His fathomless gaze brought more words up, like bile. 'I'm hopeless, you see,' she found herself saying. 'I-I need some sort of extra discipline in my life. I'm unhappy with myself! C-can you help?' She at once felt confused and foolish, until it seemed that the man absorbed her quailing figure with a penetrating gaze which read to the depths of her being. It was a magical, all-seeing, consuming look such as the wizard Merlin might have cast on her, stripping her soul. Weirdly, it brought her peace.

'You're welcome, Melissande,' he said at length in warm vibrant tones. 'I am the Magister. Please come in.' The girl stepped across the threshold and followed him in through a small congregational hall with polished pews and a raised altar stone. She was puzzled to hear subdued sobs and mutterings and, looking around, glimpsed two girlish figures crouched before the eastward window murmuring fervently and clearly moved by some powerful emotion. Melissande would have been alarmed to know that beneath the grey gowns they wore both girls were naked, and that their tender hides still smouldered with the embers of a righteous scourging.

'This way, please.' He held open a door, and the dancer was ushered into a cosy inner sanctum where two other young females were perched on chairs sipping tea from a bone china service and nibbling petits-four. A plush carpet cloaked the floor, there was a pleasing smell of pine polish and expensive perfume. The furniture was austere but comfortable. 'Won't you sit down?' invited the Magister in deep tones.

'Thank you.' Melissande lowered herself on to a Queen Anne chair and accepted a cup of tea. She felt unpleasantly nervous again, hating the shyness that made an ordeal of every social situation. The man turned graciously to the other two ladies and introduced them as Anita and Gail. Two pairs of eyes inspected the new arrival who sat awkwardly twisting her hands; quickly took in the elfin prettiness, the straight-backed poise, the flinching ocean-deep eyes.

'And what do you do in life, Melissande?' asked Anita conversationally in soft, highly-cultured tones. The enquirer was vividly attractive with a carefully disordered mass of butter-coloured hair and sky-blue eyes pellucid with intelligence.

'I-I'm training as a classical dancer,' mumbled Melissande meekly, annoyed with herself for blushing but sensing the contempt of the one called Gail who, after her initial scrutiny, had turned away as though it were beneath her dignity to show favour to a mere beginner. The Magister's shrewd glance, observing this and much more, remained impassive. Gail was aggressively appealing in a sultry way, her buxom figure hardly disguised by the trendy shapelessness of her dress, the out-thrust bodice swollen by full heavy breasts. Her wavy hair was long and coal-black, her feline features plump and restless, with an autocratic glare in dark ovoid eyes which betrayed a fascinating dash of oriental somewhere in her ancestry.

The Magister's voice purred into the mounting silence. 'Anita is a solicitor, soon to be called to the Bar,' he informed Melissande. 'And Gail is a gifted fashion designer who runs her own business. The two in the chapel completing their weekly penance are Michele and Tracey. One is an unemployed social worker, the other a bank teller.'

Melissande was becoming increasingly affected by a curious thrilling tension in the atmosphere. Her mouth felt dry, and she sipped more tea. 'Penance?' she echoed, unable to restrain her surprise at the word.

'Of course you know very little about us,' said the Magister. 'The Perfectionists ask nothing of you that you are not prepared to give,' he went on. 'You are at all times free to go. The motivation for seeking to achieve a perfect nature and forming thereby the nucleus of an ideal society must come from you. It is your will. Nothing is imposed unless you yourself invite it.' The strong gaze settled on Anita, who reacted in apparent agitation; then his eyes returned to the new girl. 'In a moment,' he informed her quietly, 'I will take Anita for her contrition and atonement. If you wish, Melissande, I will then take you.'

At this, Gail bridled, her mouth hardening into a line. When the young dancer looked startled he added, 'I do realise that this is merely an exploratory visit on your part, but making contrition is the best possible way to experience at first hand how we function.'

'Well...' she faltered, 'I-I'm not sure if I –'

The Magister frowned. 'There is no provision for negative thoughts in the Perfectionist code,' he observed with steely gentleness, then turned to address them all. 'You are the mothers of the next generation,' he declared, 'the guides and inspirers of your children's earliest attitudes. As such, you form the spearhead of our earnest crusade to raise humanity from the pit of moral poverty, cowardly violence, selfish greed and spiritual degeneration into which it has allowed itself to sink. Unless you are all willing to accept the painful consequences of your laxities and base human solecisms now, you cannot help to uplift and purify the vital, coming generation to whom you collectively hold the key!' The burning gaze fell once more on the statuesque solicitor, and his voice sank to a murmur. 'Are you ready, Anita?'

The blonde girl stood up, and Melissande was able to fully appreciate her beauty. It seemed preposterous that this vibrant young woman could be a solicitor – a profession she had always associated with pedantic pin-striped men with joyless faces. As Anita walked to the door her hips swayed, consciously or unconsciously seductive, and her sharp yet slumbrous blue eyes smouldered with strange excitement. Her face, a little too round for classical beauty, was enticingly watchable, the full lips constantly mobile as if seeking phantom kisses. Anita exuded sex-appeal, and as she vanished from the room behind the Magister, Melissande couldn't help wondering how the male in the man could fail to be aroused by her.

After the door had closed a silence grew between the aloof fashion designer and the shy young dancer. 'Er, excuse me,' ventured Melissande after some while. 'Wh-what did he mean by "painful consequences"?'

Gail was a busy, talented lady. Her drive for success was rooted in a need for self-perfection. In her view the road to this did not lie in consorting with less elevated mortals such as this hesitant slip of a thing. Fixing the dancer with a brief look in which pity and scorn were intermixed, she snapped: 'I expect you'll find out soon enough. Now if you'll forgive me I must prepare.' At this, Gail turned snootily away and closed her eyes in dramatically devout contemplation, ignoring the girl completely.

Being so obviously snubbed, Melissande felt terrible. Several times she thought she would get up and go, yet some instinct held her there. She was imprisoned by her own self-conscious thoughts. The antique long-case clock tocked on, the tea grew cold.

Some 25 minutes later the door opened and Anita stumbled in, ashen-faced, her clothing disordered as if it had been removed and replaced in great haste. Without a word or a look she collected her bag and hurriedly left the building, clearly in great distress.

'Melissande?' The Magister was there, his voice a polite query with no hint of compulsion or threat. What on earth was the matter with Anita? Painful consequences? Gail was glaring, greatly indignant not to have been given priority.

Uncomfortably aware of the other's resentment, Melissande stood up apprehensively and left the room. She followed the dazzling-robed figure along a passage and down a flight of stone steps. At the bottom of these he opened another door and led the mystified girl into a basement room illuminated by many candles and scented with joss-sticks. Melissande stopped, and stared. Dominating this room was a magnificent confessional box, ornately carved and of great antiquity, its two sections enclosed by faded velvet curtains; and so strongly did this imposing structure take the girl's attention that she barely noticed another piece of seasoned carpentry standing in a nearby corner. This resembled a hurdle on trestled legs, with a leather padded cross-beam some three feet high. Just as Melissande's bemused eyes found it the Magister said in his calm voice, 'Do you still wish to take contrition?'

The girl hesitated, then nodded with a tight little smile on her pretty elfin features, her chestnut hair burnished by the strange wavering light. From the gravity of his expression she knew that whatever the ritual entailed was extremely serious, and that this man was utterly sincere. She could not deny that she found his presence disturbingly attractive, and perhaps for this reason was able to allow curiosity to overcome her extreme diffidence. Yet her vital being seemed to be held in his inner magnetic embrace, his eyes penetrating her soul.

He indicated an alcove, which she entered. On a hook inside hung a grey gown of the kind the weeping girls in the chapel had been wearing. Remembering this, Melissande fingered the fabric doubtfully.

'All who make contrition must humbly wear the gown,' came his voice. 'The clothes associated with your everyday life must not be worn, so kindly remove them.'

'Ev-everything?' she faltered.

'As you were when you came into the world, so must you be beneath the gown.' Melissande swallowed hard. It was, she thought, a little odd, but scarcely different from changing for dancing. The girl stripped swiftly and pulled on the gown. It hung loosely, bringing up goose-bumps on the nude flesh beneath. In a way, it was a little exciting. Self-consciously she stepped back into the room.

'Go into the Contrition Box and kneel beside the speaking grille,' the Magister now instructed. And so she did, easing somewhat warily into the curtained gloom and sinking to her knees. She could smell Anita's perfume. That glamorous creature had so recently knelt here, as naked under the gown as she. What had been said or done to upset her so profoundly?

The Magister's voice was suddenly strong and clear in Melissande's ear. 'You are here,' it said, 'to come to terms with the frailties of your flesh and try to transcend them. As womankind you must know how prone you are to waywardness and temptation, to evil thoughts and malicious cruelty, deceit and foulness of mind.' At first the girl found it hard not to giggle, but unpalatable though his words were they held a chilling truth which killed her smile. 'Open your soul to me, Melissande,' coaxed the throbbing tones. 'Begin by saying what has truly dissatisfied you about yourself during the past few days.'

For a while Melissande had no idea what to say. And then, from some previously unknown mental reservoir, the words began to trickle, then rush as though a dam had been breached by a silver sword of light: an admission of laziness at ballet training, her hurtful rudeness to a friend, malevolent thoughts towards those who sought to improve her, little lies she had told to avoid trouble. None of the offences was serious, yet collectively they were a source of not-inconsiderable guilt to the highly sensitive girl, a guilt which Melissande needed deeply to have assuaged. Merely declaring them like this, however, seemed scarcely enough; and when she had finished she continued to kneel without hope – for now, the girl felt sure, this quasi-priest would intone a few meaningless words of absolution and she would go home and forget the whole idea.

She heard him leave his side of the Contrition Box. 'Come out here, please,' he said. Melissande did so, and watched the Magister cross the room and select what looked like a scrap of cloth from a cupboard. 'Do you wish to receive atonement?' he now asked gravely, returning to her.

The girl gulped. Atonement? She supposed it would be a mild telling-off. All right, best to get the charade over with. She gave a weak smile, and nodded.

'Very well. Put these on, please.' The girl took the piece of lightweight fabric he handed her, and not till she had returned to the sanctuary of the alcove did she discover it to be a tissue-thin pair of thigh-length Victorian drawers, flimsily silken and virtually transparent with age and wear. She lifted the gown and pulled the drawers up her legs with some difficulty, for they were extremely tight. She was mystified as to their purpose, for it wasn't cold in there. Once she had smoothed them into place the old-fashioned garment felt slinkily cool against her intimate zones, and from the manner in which it sleekly hugged her hips and thighs and clung with embarrassingly thrilling snugness to the inward curves of her buttocks, she imagined that these drawers had been especially tailored to fit her bottom like a second skin.

Rather flushed now, and slightly alarmed, Melissande hastily pulled the gown back in place and represented herself. The Magister at once took her hand and led her to the corner where the hurdle contraption stood. The young dancer stared in puzzlement at it. She could feel the power and heat of his hand spreading tingles through her. Then he released her. 'As this is your first atonement,' he explained, 'I will allow you to wear the drawers. Having identified a few of your more negative traits and destructive behaviour patterns, I have decided that six strokes will serve on this occasion.'

'I b-beg your pardon?' stammered the girl. 'S-strokes?'

The Magister frowned, and surveyed the slight, trembling figure thoughtfully. Barefoot in the gown, the large soulful eyes a-glitter with flames, her deliciously pretty face a mask of girlish alarm, the new girl looked waif-like and vulnerable. 'Have you ever been chastised before?' he asked softly.

'Chastised?' she whispered in horror. 'Surely you don't mean...?' Blood rushed to her cheeks, then drained to paleness. 'Well no,' she gasped. 'No-one ever.' Indignation flared, lifting her graceful head. 'Certainly not!'

'Do you wish in your heart to become a Perfectionist, Melissande?' he asked, not unkindly.

'Not if it means that,' the girl declared firmly. 'I had no idea...'

'Then you may leave,' he told her calmly. She knew she should run. Run now. Quickly. And yet she hesitated. The Magister's eyes held hers, hypnotic as whirlpools in whose depths smiled incredibly beautiful things beyond immediate comprehension. Melissande was breathing hard as thought struggled with thought. No-one had ever laid hand on her. It was inconceivable that a complete stranger should do so now. And yet...

'I don't want to leave,' she whispered.

'Then raise your gown to the waist,' came the instruction, gentle yet unopposable, 'and bend forward across the beam with your head well down.'

Melissande could scarcely believe it was happening. Thrills squirmed in her bowels, it was like a dream. The decision had been hers entirely. This was unthinkable! Cheeks flaming she lifted the gown up her slender, exquisite legs, all the way up, disclosing more and more of the naked dancer's limbs, up and up to where the agile thighs swelled to the girlish hips, the tightly-clenched posteriors in their flimsy dressing so exposed, so exposed! Delirious with embarrassment she stood up on the little step and stretched obediently forward across the padded beam with a weird sigh, gripping the lower struts on its further side. The position was insufferably humiliating – her face, close to the floor, staring briefly at her shins before the gown rustled down the steep slope of her back to blot them from sight, the tight-packed mounds of her pert young bottom forming the topmost apex. Never had she been more conscious of her arse, not even when catching boy dancers watching her sinuous body at the training bar.

'Don't hurt me,' she pleaded in a tiny voice.

For a moment the Magister surveyed the ripe hillocks so snugly encased in the whipping drawers; then went to a marble-topped table on which lay a fine-bristled ceremonial brush known as an aspergillum. This he dipped into a silver chalice of purest spring water and returned to the girl, who was now making little entreatying moans from her abjectly doubled-over position. 'Before the atonement I will anoint you,' he announced devoutly, spreading a hand on the tissue-thin silk and reverently cupping each buttock in turn.

'This crude area of your body,' he intoned, 'through which purification's flames will blaze, is the very obverse of higher thought and spiritual enhancement. It bears the brunt of the physical shocks necessary to attain Perfection – and as such, in the Perfectionist creed, represents the gates to the soul.' So saying, the Magister flicked water with the aspergillum on to the flesh-hugging drawers, and Melissande shuddered wildly at the cool kissing licks of the bristles which dampened the cloth so that it sucked each individual bottom-cheek and showed clearly the pinkly pretty virgin buttocks through the wet silk.

Then, with an air of firm duty, the Magister picked up an oval-bladed paddle, clamped his other hand on the small of the girl's back, and swung the wooden surface sharply against the straining target with a loud whap. The blow wasn't hard, but Melissande screamed! Never could she have imagined such pain! It sprang into and possessed each tender nether-cheek like jets of flame. The paddle drew back and smacked in again, appearing to bounce off the springy cushions of caressable flesh. The girl called out hoarsely, inarticulately. Crack! The paddle impacted for a third time on the wet, drum-taut cloth which scarcely protected her bottom, and Melissande loosed a shriek. SMACK! The blade landed harder this time, firm and square across its daintily quivering target, and the dancer screeched through lips slack from shock, her pretty head jerking from side to side as she kicked her feet in spasmic convulsion.

But the remorseless paddle swung back yet again, hissed through the incense-scented air and splatted emphatically against the meatier zone at the girl's thigh-tops with an almighty spank, igniting fresh fields of fiery sensation. Her anguished howl seemed to make the candle-flames shiver. 'N-No more! No!' she wailed. The Magister cocked his arm judiciously for the final stroke, a righteous zeal burnishing his eyes, for he sensed that this doe-like creature could be brought in time to the highest levels of enlightenment. She was pleading with shrill little bleats as the Magister ran a testing hand over the smarting target; then dampened the diaphanous membrane once more, almost lovingly, with the aspergillum, and swiped a final blast across the girlish bottom that had never in its life before been so used.

He had to help the young dancer from the whipping-beam and pull her gown back into place. She was shaking violently, her cheeks and eyes as soaked and heated as the flesh inside the drawers. He felt greatly encouraged by her utterly chastened expression.

'Come with me.' Melissande limped in the Magister's wake, hanging her head. He led her out of the Contrition Room to a little side-chapel with velvet hangings, where he set her on her knees. 'I want you to remain here and ponder on the reasons for your chastisement,' he told her, 'and on how your entire mode of thought and self-conduct can be radically altered to enhance your life and the lives of those around you. You are here to be transformed to purity, ecstasy and light. Believe me, Melissande, this goal is attainable.'

At the doorway he paused, and added mysteriously, 'If I should call, come at once.' Then he left the chastised girl to her penance, and returned to summon the impatiently waiting Gail.

Minutes later the buxom fashion designer stepped into the Contrition Box and knelt devoutly, having shed her day-clothes and donned the penitential gown. When the deep voice invited her to speak, her words came gratefully, pregnant with self-dismay.

'Oh, Magister,' Gail moaned dramatically, 'I try so hard to rise above the faults which hold me back. But this week I slipped from the high standards you have helped me to expect of myself. Please punish me as I deserve, drive these weaknesses from me!' Gail proceeded to unburden herself of a catalogue of failings such as letting down a colleague, using another's design idea and claiming it as her own, negative thoughts, lack of charity, vulgar extravagance.

When she had completed her contrition a heavy silence grew. A stern, sombre silence in which guilt crawled into every crevice of her soul. She heard him leave the box and cross to the punishment cupboard. Then he spoke.

'Come out!' His voice had a quality like thunder, and the shapely woman shivered. She wanted to feel his powerful presence dominating her, his hard hands holding her down, flailing her flesh. She stepped from the box and quailed before him. Her sensual olive-toned features and black eyes with their oriental slant appeared like an ivory carving in the candle-light, the lips parted to show pearly glints. She was panting slightly in suppressed excitement, her large breasts billowing against the cloak, nipples stiffly defined. Her insides seemed to melt when she saw the leather tawse he had selected – and gave a little yelp as he grasped a shoulder and shoved her stumbling into the middle of the room.

'What keeps you grounded, Gail,' he declared coldly, 'is pride – misplaced pride.'

This she had not expected. 'Pride?' queried the designer, puzzled. 'I'm sure I can't think what you mean!'

'It surrounds you with disharmony,' said the Magister tartly. 'As long as your offensive attitude towards those you consider "beneath" you is maintained, you cannot ever hope to achieve Perfection.'

Gail was nettled. 'In my business,' she expostulated, 'you need to be tough to succeed! The weak and the meek get flattened. If I'm proud, I've earned that feeling by guts and damned hard work! It's against my nature to be crawling and humble to wimps and idiots, so don't ask it of me!'

His measured words came back at her, crisp and chill. 'Until you are able to embrace humility and humiliation,' he intoned, his steady gaze challenging her autocratic glare, 'you will remain the brittle, cramped-minded hoyden that you are.'

'What?' Gail was gaping in shock.

'Yes!' he rapped. 'You are an over-proud, haughty young madam – and the first part of your atonement will stress the need to expel this distorting imperfection from your nature, for with humility and loss of face begins the true quiet strength and inner light which will lead you the way to Perfection.' The man raised his voice in command. 'Bend over and touch your toes!'

Gail's eyes had hardened to match his own. No-one, not even he, had ever dared speak to her like this. She was extremely angry. 'No,' she snorted. 'No, I won't. Not this time!'

The Magister stepped forward till he towered above her. 'Then, for your own good,' he said earnestly, 'I must make you.'

Astounded, she protested: 'It's against Perfectionist principles to impose against will!'

'But not,' returned the man, 'against our principles to save when there is a chance of salvation. Bend over!' The young woman cried out as he seized her in a powerful grip and forced her to double forward at the waist till her head was level with her knees. Amid a storm of shrieks and struggles his strength prevailed: in a moment he had gathered up the gown and flung it up over Gail's bare back to expose two large, smoothly naked buttocks, soft and invitingly rounded, the pale light quivering on the lush cushions of pliant flesh.

With an expression of unrelenting sternness the Magister drew back a well-muscled arm and slashed the leather down on the twin-globed target with the deeply-cleft divide. Gail exhaled a groan at the full-blooded impact, and tried to heave her body upright.

'Down!' he roared. The man's power and will were unopposable. The tawse sang again through the air and struck home, imprinting a second burning double oblong on the ivory skin. Then up and down, biting and retreating, smacking and thwacking against the rosy moons with fierce gusto; and when the stalwart woman began to buckle at the knees he wrapped an arm around her middle to hold her tormented body steady.

Crack, crack, thrash. The volatile leather spat and sang ceaselessly as Gail gasped out shrill cries, all anger blasted from her system by the first few searing strokes, the split-tailed demon of pain beating a tempestuous rhythm on the broad womanly bottom – till Gail began to screech and squeal in what sounded suspiciously like pleasure.

The Magister stopped the beating. The full-seated buttocks were blushing angrily, and he kept her bending while he tested each with his broad palms, expertly fingering the raised weals caused by the tawse. All was well, he decided – this lusty young female could certainly take more.

'Now,' he declared, 'your real punishment this evening will be for something you neglected to mention in the Contrition Box.'

Gail's voice sounded strangled as she laboured to catch her breath. 'I'm sure I admitted everything of importance, Magister,' she protested.

'No you did not,' he retorted. 'As I think you well know.' He had brought forward a low padded stool some two feet high and three feet square. 'Take off your gown completely,' he commanded, 'and resume a standing posture.' Gail did so, breathing rapidly as she straightened up to stand naked in the restless light, her magnificently spheroid breasts swinging free, nipples jutting like bullets, the supremely globulous bottom-cheeks raging with ecstatic fires. Pointing at the low stool the Magister now growled impassively: 'Lie on your back on there, and raise both legs in the air.'


'Do as I say!' he thundered. During the tawsing Gail's defiance had collapsed, and so she lay back in trepidation, feeling her spine and shoulders sink against the chill leather as she lifted her legs in an ungainly manner. When she was in position the Magister strode to the door, opened it and called out loudly: 'Melissande!'

And, with a horror no chastisement could inspire, Gail knew what was about to happen. She tried to struggle up off the stool, but his warning glare froze her there. 'No, Magister,' she pleaded, 'I couldn't bear it. Not the new girl! She – she's a neophyte...'

The Magister nodded sagely. 'Had you been contrite about your disgracefully overbearing attitude towards this hesitant girl a little earlier, you would have been spared this,' he bit out. 'But perhaps at the hands of a neophyte you will at last begin to learn the virtues of humility. And Melissande may benefit by learning what it is like to be totally positive.'

Melissande's penance was interrupted by the man's call. She had heard the noises of Gail's chastisement, the frighteningly rapid cracks and strange cries. Her nerves jumped with dreadful thrills as she rose and returned, still gowned and barefoot, to the room of candle-flame and shadows. As the dancing girl entered she was amazed and nonplussed to see the haughty fashion lady sprawled stark naked on her back on a stool, the darkly intriguing features contorted, the black hair brushing the floor just beneath her head. The Magister took a long cane from a selection hanging in the tall cupboard, and Melissande could only stare in astonishment as he handed the implement to her.

'Now, Melissande,' he said evenly, 'this woman, your sister Perfectionist, requires to be soundly chastised. By you, a neophyte.'

'M-me?' The girl was astounded.

The Magister nodded gravely. 'As always here, the punishment will be with love, never rancour. Stand forward, please.'

The young dancer gripped the cane in a dainty fist and trod trimly up to the stool, staring down in fascination at the fashion designer, observing in a daze the mortified tears squeezing from the tight-shut lids. 'No... no-o-o.' Gail was whimpering so heart-rendingly that Melissande made to query the extraordinary request. But when the Magister took up a stance immediately behind Gail, grasped her ankles one in each hand and heaved her legs up over her head to hold them there in the most appallingly abasing position for any woman, Melissande had no further doubts of what he required her to do.

The dancer licked her lips and turned her wide pretty eyes on the upthrust moons so temptingly – yes, temptingly, she breathlessly realised – presented. Every vestige of the snooty designer's dignity had been taken from her. The great breasts shivered like two cream blancmanges where she lay on her back, the sturdy legs pointing tensely ceilingwards, her feminine sensibilities burning in shock at such humiliating exposure. Melissande's own pert bottom-cheeks still smarted from the paddling they had received, and she was surprised at how far from unpleasant the sensation was. The delicious tingling warmth that had stolen over her body filled her with a curiously suspended rapture. Experimentally the girl flicked the thin cane, which swished and quivered in a way that brought chok¬ing thrills to her throat.

'Proceed with the caning,' came the commanding voice, and Melissande hesitated no more. Raising the cane above the full, lush buttocks she brought it somewhat tentatively down to strike with a swish and splat across the inverted buttocks, 'Harder, much harder – but remember, with love,' instructed the Magister, locking the squirming ankles in the vice of his arms. And Melissande did. Bracing her frail-seeming shoulders the pretty dancing-girl swung back a graceful arm and swept the cane against the springy globes with a vigorous thwack. A bright line at once flamed across the curved cushions of flesh, and Gail gave a yowl like a cat that has had its tail stepped on. The girl hesitated, alarmed at the mark and the terrible cry. 'Again!' commanded the Magister. 'It is for the good. And harder – as hard as you will!'

In a haze of duty and pleasure in which his voice became a clarion call of all that was right and true and good, Melissande obeyed. Lifting the cane, feeling it quiver and wobble, she swung it sharply against the upraised rude arse with its livid mark; and she shrilled in sheer startlement as the stick struck home with a jarring, slicing, meaty judder which seemed to fill her veins with light. A hoarse shout exploded from Gail as a second crimson streak flared across her bare bottom.

The young dancer looked enchantingly spritely and sweetly beautiful in the intimate cosy light, her eyes pools of startled innocence as she wondered if she should slop – for the young woman she was, incredibly, thrashing with a cane was in evident distress. Yet Melissande's deeper instincts informed her that, with the Magister's saintly presence seeming to bless her every breath and movement, she was merely the instrument of a greater good, and that beyond this ephemeral pain and abasement lay a scarce-to-be-dreamed-of joy.

Gail was in a nightmare of embarrassment, appalled at being chastised by anyone but her revered Magister. Yet the girl seemed to have become infused with his spirit, magnificently clean and uplifting. Wielded by her dainty hand the cane took on life of its own, the candle-light catching its supple shaft as it sped up and down, cracking, snapping, biting, scorching, searing the helplessly upthrust buttocks. Again and again the cane swished through the air and struck in with solid thwacks; and through the inverted arch of her upstretched legs Gail saw, in a sparkling nimbus of hot salt tears, that her nimble and lovely chastiser seemed to be dancing, shifting as if choreographed from angle to angle to deliver a full-weighted blow on every square centimetre of the blazing, curvaceous targets. And then it seemed, as the searing concussions continued in a thrashing, hypnotic rhythm, that the girl was a conductor conducting a symphony of slashing, cleansing pain. God, the little bitch was strong!

Gail was roaring-crying now, and Melissande's eyes were glittering intently in the smoky radiance as the cane she wielded beat out a crimson network on the fleshy globes. Swish-crack, swish-thud, swish-splat: the cane's staccato voice snapped remorsely on, slowing as the energy drained from Melissande's arm.

'Enough!' called the Magister, and the young dancer stood weakly back, breathing deeply. In a daze of self-amazement she watched the man release Gail's ankles. At once the fashion designer squirmed over and lay across the stool on her stomach, hiding her face in shame. The Magister was satisfied. He knew how difficult this particular atonement had been for the proud, talented lady – but he also knew that she was able to take a great deal of punishment, and that this evening's work would undoubtedly serve to lift her a little higher up the long ladder to Perfection. He went to the punishment cupboard and brought out a tube of some substance which he handed to the new girl with an infinitely gentle smile, then left the two alone.

The tube contained a salve, and Melissande realised at once what it was for. Gail still knelt in unspeakable humiliation across the stool, her roasting buttocks thrust out as though seeking forgiveness. The dancing-girl squeezed out some salve and applied it with cool palms and fingers to the twin tumuli of lividly-marked buttock-flesh, tenderly caressing, easing the agony from the heart of each soft buttock till Gail's sobs ceased, and moans of relief began.

At last the fashion designer steeled herself to turn and look at her chastiser. Their eyes shyly met. 'Thank you,' she said to Melissande, and managed a remorseful smile. Then she took the hand which had wielded the cane with such zest, and kissed it with extraordinary tenderness. 'Thank you, Melissande dear,' whispered Gail. 'Thank you for caning my bottom so thoroughly. I'm sorry for being so sniffy with you.' Again she smiled. 'It used to be a fault of mine.'

'It's strange,' came Melissande's sweetly piping tones, 'but while I was thrashing you I was filled with love for you. And I don't feel hesitant any more, or shy. He's a wonderful person, almost unearthly.' The girl blushed prettily. 'He made me wear some very tight Victorian panties and bend across that beam. He spanked my bottom with a paddle. I'd never been smacked before. It still hurts. Look...' Melissande turned her back, bent forward and lifted the gown to exhibit her own reddened buttocks.

'You poor thing,' said Gail. She got up and sat gingerly on the stool. 'Come across my knees,' she murmured, 'and let me soothe that darling bottom of yours like you've soothed mine.' Melissande did so with a sigh of pleasure, and allowed Gail to work the salve gently into the springy globes in sisterly comfort. It seemed hardly more than a formality, for the sweet little rump was scarcely marked; but from the way the pretty dancer began to writhe her stomach against the other's lap with weird little grunts she was evidently deriving much soul-benefit from the contact – so much so that the happy Gail felt obliged to give the girl a couple of salutary slaps to quiet her.

It was dark when Melissande left the Perfectionist chapel. A full moon washed the roads and fields with silver radiance. Never before had she felt so complete and alive. Guilt and inadequacy had melted away, and it felt as though her spirit had been swept by a cleansing wind. Something rather special had happened to Gail too, because when they had parted with warm embraces, the fashion designer had been radiant.

But what about Anita? mused the girl as she cycled back into town. After that golden young woman's traumatic session with the Magister she had left in a rush, desperately distressed. What atonement had been given or promised? Or had she left for ever? Somehow, Melissande thought not, and that the statuesque solicitor lady had only just begun the punishment which her un-Perfectionist behaviour had provoked.

Melissande's bottom throbbed and tingled on the hard saddle. Yes, she would go back – for the doors to a new life had opened and let her in. The way, she knew, would be hard: there would be pain and penance, self-denial, tears. But above and beyond it all there shone like a beacon a haven of joy and light, the ultimate state of spiritual rapture any human can aspire to: Perfection.

Sweetly, Melissande began to sing.


Story from Janus 55.

The Perfectionists. Part II.
by Stephen Sims

THE PERFECTIONIST chapel, grey-slated and sombre-bricked on its high rocky spur, seemed to glare sternly about itself through colour-stained panes that shone with sunrise as it reared up out of a mist which blanketed the countryside far below – so the chapel appeared to be floating through clouds as if the heaven-high ideals of Perfectionism were influencing the solid Victorian structure as comprehensively as they aspired to transform its human adherents.

Even at so early an hour the frontmost pews of the tiny congregational hall were crammed with young females, 35 in number, who comprised the growing sisterhood – for this was a very special occasion. The only approach to the chapel was up a steep flinty climb from the road, often slippy with mud, and though all the devotees were in vigorous health each was aware as she entered, panting hard, through the carved stone doorway, that an ordeal had already been imposed and undertaken. Upon their arrival today all girls had been obliged to strip off their everyday clothing at once and don the penitential grey gowns over their nakedness, for although only one of their number was to receive Prime Atonement, the Magister had decreed that all taking part must themselves be garbed for penitence.

Aged between 18 and 25, each ardent aspirant led a normal everyday life when not at her devotions, for though each yearned to achieve a state as close to absolute soul-purity as the human condition allows, the Magister deemed it essential that the intensely arduous striving towards Perfectionism was undertaken not in some airy-fairy ivory tower, but from a standpoint of gutsy reality. As mothers-to-be and prime influencers of the coming generation the Perfectionists formed thereby the nucleus of a wonderfully elevated society which would spearhead a worldwide movement to raise Mankind from the morass of degeneracy, amorality, apathy and violence into which it had allowed itself to sink.

Now they sat on the hard wooden benches, hips shivering warmly against hips and hands clasped on laps as they waited raptly for their spiritual guide the Magister to appear. Many a softly-curved cheek was flushed with guilt at its owner's little weaknesses which she strove continually to transcend; and private pleas for inner strength fluttered on plumply kissable lips. Yet all too many an eye gleamed with not-entirely-admirable excitement today – an excitement which each who experienced it would feel compelled to own up to, and be punished accordingly for, when next she took contrition. A Prime Atonement was a rare event, but the anticipation of it struck into their hearts, for every girl knew that a sufficiently serious breach of Perfec¬tionist principles would have her on the receiving end of the awesome ritual about to be carried out.

One of their number, a dancer called Melissande, was especially intrigued, for this ultra-special atonement would climax something which took her back to her very first visit here three months before. The 19-year-old's pretty eyes blinked at the memory of Anita, the stunningly attractive lady lawyer who had taken contrition ahead of Melissande on that occasion, and had then hurried from the chapel in obvious distress. Whatever Anita's 'offences' were had clearly been considered extremely grave by the Magister, for her atonement had evidently been continuing ever since, and this Prime Atonement at the sleepy dawn hour was to be its cataclysmic finale. Melissande certainly recollected how astounded and embarrassed she herself had been, having shyly responded to the Magister's invitation to take her own first contrition, to find herself bent double across a padded beam being spanked firmly on her bottom with a paddle over tight-fitting whipping drawers by way of initial atonement! And yet, extraordinarily, the experience had filled her heart and mind with light somehow; and since then the sprightly ballet girl had expanded her vital awareness to a remarkable degree, eliminating many selfish traits and negative attitudes which had been holding her back. But the road to inner purity was rigorous indeed, and Melissande had so far received six further chastisements, without the scant protection afforded by the whipping drawers, on her glaringly bared bottom. Indeed, the rear ends of most of the girls gathered in the chapel that morning, pressed squirmingly against the time-seasoned pews, glowed from the Magister's recent devout attentions.

Now the object of all this speculation and anticipation, the young female barrister called Anita, was alone in the chapel basement kneeling on a rush mat, as naked as the rest beneath the grey gown she wore. She had been in that cripplingly humbling position for six hours following a midnight arrival. A single candle had burned the night hours away with the scent of joss, accompanying the agonised inner contemplations of her lone soul-vigil. Physically Anita was lovely. Five feet eight inches tall, her magnificently-proportioned body was crowned with a head of shiny-thick butter-coloured hair which made it seem that sunshine played constantly about her vivacious film-star face. The candle-light flapped and flickered on her bowed figure, casting the rounded cheeks into shadow and igniting summer-sky eyes, half-closed in the healing anguish of penitence. The vertical forehead and plucky chin were a sculptor's dream, the full red lips seemingly made for kissing rather than mere functions like eating or speaking.

As Anita squatted there with pain-cramped muscles, the flame-radiance glissaded down her spine and brought into shadow-valleyed relief the twin rumps trapped tightly in the gown's fabric, while her breasts hung hidden like cherry-tipped moons under cloud. Pressed for so long against the floor the girl's knees had ached to burning-point, then numbed. Her hands had chafed with elegant fingers at thighs and hips to restore circulation during the long hours, and had wrung themselves hard together as she had contemplated over and over the deep offence against Perfectionism for which the Magister had ordained such extreme atonement.

Yet and again too, Anita had relived in her mind the particular contrition she had taken those dozen or so weeks before – of stripping naked as usual and pulling on the chill grey gown, then kneeling inside the Contrition Box. The Magister, so imposingly tall and broad in his snowy robes, the white hair of a magician or prophet belying the youthful handsome features, had invited her to unburden to him the lapses from grace which were retarding her way to Perfectionist enlightenment.

'I have broken a marriage,' she had declared in her husky, highly-cultured tones. Her normal niceties of expression and clever word-flow had deserted her. 'His wife found out,' she had continued bluntly, horribly aware of how coarse and flagrant it sounded. 'I'm a normal woman with full appetites, Magister! Because of my – well, my looks – I have many temptations. My lover's wife begged me to end the affaire, if only for their children's sake, but I insisted that the decision lay with him. Her husband refused to stop seeing me, so she sent him packing, had a breakdown. It all amused me, rather. He asked me to live with him – then begged. I felt only contempt at how quickly he fell apart under stress, and told him to go. And then I found another. And another. My body burned for sexual gratification. I am Scorpio. My body rules me, Magister. The more I attempt to pursue the Perfectionist ideal, the more my body burns with impure lusts. One day I wish to marry, to truly and purely love, to have children raised in enlightenment. But I cannot get through. Help me...'

Here Anita, choked with emotion, had been unable to continue.

The Magister had helped the distraught young woman from her side of the Contrition Box. This time he did not fetch any instrument of chastisement, but said with passionate solemnity: 'The first part of your atonement, Anita, is abstinence from all sexual practice for the next three months.' She had gaped at him, appalled. 'During this period,' he went on, 'you are forbidden absolutely to relate to any partner in a sexual way. Nor are you permitted to gratify yourself. You will conduct your professional life with your usual dignity and skill, but not respond to or make use of sexually orientated advances. Chastity and decorum must be your watchwords. If at the end of this period you have managed to triumph over these base bodily cravings, you will receive Prime Atonement...'

At this the already shocked Anita had cried out in amazed protest. 'Yes, Prime Atonement,' the Magister repeated firmly. 'To be regarded as privilege rather than punishment. It will take place in the chapel hall with all your Perfectionist sisters participating, for in this ceremony of ultimate abasement you will be celebrating the ascendancy of spirit over impulse, and have demonstrated to yourself that you truly have lit your inner light which will lead to Perfection.'

That had been three months ago. Now, upstairs in the chapel hall, the grey-gowned neophytes sat up more alertly as the Magister appeared through the velvet curtain from his inner sanctum. For more than a minute he stood surveying each of his charges in turn from beneath the imposing brow, sensing each tender soul quail under his searching gaze, his Messianic form etched dramatically against the high eastern window behind him. Then he raised large hands, of crushing power or butterfly-gentle, to demand their total attention, and many a girl's eye grew moist at the recent memory of those hard palms spanking their rosy upturned rumps in the atonement room, rumps which had grown so accustomed to the stinging detonations that they yearned for more, for soul's ease, as a thirsty body yearns for drink.

'Sister Perfectionists,' the Magister began in a clear, reverberating voice. 'We are here to help our fellow sister Anita transcend the shackles of her baser senses, just as each of you must learn!' In the congregation breasts rose and fell, fingers twisted tensely. 'As you are discovering, we weak human creatures can find great strength by constant self-examination of our sinful selves, and by unflinchingly driving out all foulness and damagingly negative traces from our natures. As mothers of the generation yet to be born you hold the keys to a vivid new world of joyous fulfilment, of universal peace and plenty and compassionate understanding. A world where cowardly crime, uncaring cynicism and self-degrading morals will have been rooted out in their infancy. Perfection is attainable by all. We are here to make reality of dreams!'

The Magister now turned towards the altar stone – a flat surface of prehistoric granite some three feet square, raised as many feet above ground level. With great ceremony he took a spotlessly white cloth which he opened out and laid over the chill stone so that the multicoloured daylight streaming in through the tall windows stained it with rainbows. He then indicated a large open box beside the altar, filled with what appeared to be long strips of dark coarse hair tied together in bundles.

'You will file up here, please,' he instructed more quietly, 'and each take one of these swishes, with which you will at once assume your positions around the hall, in readiness.'

The congregation rose with a strange collective sigh and shuffled silently forward, one by one, to withdraw from the box a horsehair swish some two feet long, bound with a thong at the top to form a handle. Pretty faces, pursed lips, gleamy eyes, hips broad or slender, breasts softly shivering, feet bared, the Perfectionist sisterhood moved dutifully, love-hot in the purest sense, and took up their individual prearranged stations around the walls of the little chapel – a long grey-garbed snake of perfumed femininity which began at the head of the basement steps and ended at the snowily cloth-draped altar stone, each gripping one of the long swishes as though a pony's tail grew from her feminine fist.

'Ready yourselves,' came the Magister's ringing tones. 'The Prime Atonement of our sister Anita will now begin!' So saying, he strode across the hall and started with awesome solemnity down the steps.

In the basement side-chapel the kneeling Anita stiffened. The three-month sex ban had seemed to her an impossible ordeal when the Magister had ordained it. Many times since, she had woken sweating in the night, aching for masculine comfort. Many times she had decided the Perfectionist road was far too arduous for such as she. And yet that dream of enlightenment had continued to shine like a beacon through fog – and the highly intelligent, erudite young woman had rebelled furiously against her own frailties and continued to relinquish all carnal or romantic contact with men, though the yearning was like an appalling void in the centre of her being. Racked by desire, her fingers had strayed time and again to her own roused moistness – but had not touched, for in those rages of need the thought of the Magister's reproving gaze had stilled her.

In due course, then, the intense yearnings had ebbed, as a fever will pass. She re-read Nietsche, seeking solace. In 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' Anita had smiled to find again:

I teach you the superman. Man is something to be surpassed.

And under the heading of 'Chastity' she had wept contentedly to read:

Would at least ye were perfect, as are the beasts. But to the beast belongeth innocence. Do I counsel you to slay your senses? I counsel you innocence of the senses!

Now, three months later, already much elevated in spirit by her abstinence, Anita had to face and endure the Prime Atonement. Still kneeling, she pushed steepled fingers against her lips, mumbling pleas that she might bear the humiliation and pain. She had heard the rustling commotion up in the chapel as the sisterhood prepared to receive her, and her heart began to slam as the Magister's footbeats approached down the basement steps. Then he was there.

'Are you ready to receive Prime Atonement?' His voice was calm and deep as he stood over the kneeling penitent.

Anita's lips had dried. She could not speak, but managed to dip her head in obeisance. Now the moment was here, trepidation froze her.

'It is time to be brave,' he murmured. 'You may stand now.' The Magister stooped and grasped the girl's elbow to help her rise. Anita's muscles were cramped, and although the stabbing ache was acute as she slowly straightened her legs, the brief physical contact with the man shot exquisite bolts into her which made her gasp. The Magister at once released the young woman. 'Take off your gown,' came his commanding tones.

'Must I?' It was a plea. Surely this ordeal would be enough without the ultimate abasement of nakedness! The restoring circulation stabbed her with a million pinpricks.

'Take off the gown,' he insisted.

Anita's fingers trembled as she fumbled with laces, then eased the grey garment back off her shoulders so that two beautifully spherical breasts burst clear in the candleglow, softly quivering, marble-white. The crimson nipples surrounded by dark-brown areolas were stiff with fear. Even the Magister, as accustomed to naked females as a surgeon, felt an awe settle into him as he gazed at the sublime girl. Her gown rustled to the floor, and Anita stood defencelessly exposed, every inch of her bare flesh lapped by the candlelight. Her butter-cup-yellow hair framed a face of heart-wrenching appeal, the dazing blue eyes wide with apprehension. The neat nose and full sensuous lips, the plucky chin and plump cheeks, seemed to the Magister to have come to glorious life from some mediaeval masterpiece. Her body was truly magnificent, the broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist, the belly flat as a boy's beneath the ripely hanging globes of her gorgeous breasts. Her hips and pelvis widened to support long stately legs, at the apex of which was a triangular bush of yellow-gold hair. Instinctively the graceful arms swung forward to cup hands over her private regions and a faint flush appeared on her cheeks. Untouched for many weeks her skin was elsewhere flawlessly pale, tender and warmly pliant.

'I'm afraid,' she whispered.

The Magister's voice, normally vibrant, sounded hoarse. 'What is about to happen,' he declared, 'is done with purest love, Anita. There is not one of your sisters who does not wish you the ultimate fulfilment of Perfectionist enlightenment.' He moved around behind the young woman, and his throat constricted. Her supple back swooped down to the top of the deep incurving cleft between the swelling glories of two exquisitely rounded, petal-soft buttocks, the undercheeks dipping tightly into the bushy crevice between sturdy silken thighs. A staunchly-controlled joy surged in him, for that marble-white, flawless bottom – the gateway to her soul in Perfectionist parlance – was to be his to chasten and control on the final drive to the ecstasy Anita yearned for.

'Go now!' he instructed. And Anita squared her shoulders, stepped out into the lower passage. Then, her extreme agitation tempered by an incomprehensible elation, she mounted the steps.

Up in the congregational hall the 35 young females tensed where they stood in a staggered line to left and right of the path Anita would have to take around the back of the pews and down the far side to the white-draped altar-stone. Grey-gowned over their nakedness they gripped their swishes more tightly. The first in line, called Berenice, red-haired and freckled, gaped in momentary stunned rapture at the sight of Anita as she came slowly into view up the steps. Indeed, Anita's appearance was as sensational as a Venus rising from the deeps to walk among mortals – and there wasn't a girl there who didn't sense that this breath-catchingly lovely young lady, as naked as when she was born, was about to blaze through her self-imposed barriers to achieve a glorious destiny.

Anita sensed it too. Her glamorously attractive face was rapt, the angelic eyes widely alight as she took a pace towards the first girl, Berenice. The redhead, transfixed for a moment more, came suddenly to herself as Anita drew alongside, eyes fixed on the ground a few feet ahead. She swung back the light horsehair flail and struck it with an energetic grunt at Anita's thigh. The scourging was symbolic rather than punitive, and although the coarse hairs lashed the soft flesh of her upper leg with some force, they did little more than prickle the skin there and pinken it, as a light slap might do.

Anita had paused, surprised at the lack of impact in the caressive thrash. 'You must not stop. Keep walking!' Was that the Magister's voice, somewhere behind her? Anita felt entranced, like a firewalker dreading the sear of red-hot coals yet experiencing instead a mild, almost pleasurable, warmth. She took another step – two, three – and to her left a grey-robed figure swung an arm. There was a brief whistle in the air and a slap against her other thigh, tingling in her blood like sparkling wine. On she moved into the waiting gauntlet of femininity till the next mild, hissing splat of a hair-flail sprayed against her stomach – that firm, flat belly with its snug golden triangle between the slender thighs, across the backs of which the following flail lightly stung. Her golden head held high like a lovely nude model practising deportment with an invisible book perched atop it, Anita trod ever forward along the sides of the pews, flinching only slightly as each swish hissed and tingled.

At every stride, and as she turned the corner to start along the rear of the hall, Anita's bright bobbing hair ruffled her shoulders, the glorious pendulous breasts shivering and swinging. The light caught her eyes and lit each with glittering radiance, her redly kissable lips raptly parted as each gowned sister waited her turn to apply the gentle scourge – the collective purpose of which was to stimulate the Prime Atoner's skin follicles like a loving massage, to attune her beautifully statuesque young body for what was to follow once she reached the altar-stone; to open up her senses as sunlight opens a flower.

Swish-swosh! Two flails struck almost simultaneously with a slight smart and a tickle across her back and shoulders; and still Anita trod on past the staggered line of grey-garbed young women with flails raised to whip down or across with calculated accuracy as she came by. The coarse hair-bundles flicked and flashed as each sister struck – now on Anita's calves, her elbows and knees, the back of her neck. Each girl had been pre-primed to strike in a particular spot on Anita's delectable anatomy, and after more than a dozen flailings Anita's proud straight back was reddened as if from sunburn; as were her shoulders, the backs of her legs, her thighs. Pinkly tingling, arousing her like the light-fingered subtle stokes of many diverse lovers, one after the other with scarcely a pause. The licking blows had a cumulative effect, stimulating from its dormant state the inexpressibly sweet arousal she had spent so many long, lonely weeks denying.

Anita turned the second corner at the top of the hall to pursue her naked walk along the frenziedly active line of grey-garbed lashers; and the swishes continued to strike her, from either side and sometimes both sides at once, with tickling tingles – now across her throat, her midriff, the backs of her knees, her feet. One bundle of rough hairs caught her left breast and made the lushly pendulous mound quiver and blush; another kissed her right breast with the same effect; the next brushed both nipples to full erection. And Anita strode on, her lovely long-lashed eyes watching in dazed fascination the gowned arms rising like train-signals at her approach, to unleash the swiftly-whipped swish then fall to rest as the recipient passed on her way.

Anita's body was now swarming all over with warm tingles, itching and tingling in a most arousing way – but it came to her, even in the heat of the activity, that the only part of her body that none of the switches had touched was her buttocks, which shivered chaste and inviolate at every step she took. In a sort of wonder her hands went behind her and cupped each fleshy cheek, marvelling at their unblemished coolness. She could not see, as she turned the final corner in a continuous hail of whippy tickles against her shins, forearms, upper chest and sides to move along the front of the pews to the altar-stone at the front-centre of the chapel hall, that almost every inch of her skin-surface was now flushed a bright pink where the 35 swishes had aimed and struck. Except for her buttocks, whose enticingly swelling rounds glared like two white moons in contrast.

Reaching the sanctuary of the altar-stone, Anita sank devoutly to her knees. The first part of the Prime Atonement was over, and all but four of the gowned sisterhood filed wordlessly back to their places in the pews, where they perched and tensely watched for the next stage of the proceedings to begin. They saw how unmovingly the beautiful young lawyer knelt before the altar-stone, her naked reddened back towards them, tapering from broad shoulders clouded by tumbled saffron hair to the enviably narrow waist and outswell of nubile hips. They could not properly see, until Anita rose up off her haunches, how flawlessly white above her flushed thigh-backs were the exquisitely rounded buttocks.

Four of the Perfectionists had remained standing when the others returned to the pews. They were Melissande, the young dancer, Gail, the fashion executive, the redhead Berenice, and a girl called Ingrid who had a mop of flaxen hair and was a Scandinavian au pair. Having been allotted this important role by the Magister, they stepped around to flank the kneeling nude, two on either side. And then the Magister was there, appearing dramatically between altar and high eastern window. His imposing, white-robed form approached Anita – who, in rising from her haunches while remaining on her knees, was offering herself submissively for inspection.

This the Magister now did, with great and exacting thoroughness, noting how the creamily petal-soft nether-cheeks stood out in stark contrast to the pink skin-flushes which lividly coloured every other part of her body. And a sigh went up around the chapel hall, for the grey-garbed sisters knew that their spiritual mentor was satisfied with the part they had played in the ritual scourging of this lovely young woman.

'Present our sister Anita to the Place of Punishment,' came the deep-toned command. The statuesque blonde shut her eyes as if in prayer as the four Perfectionists so detailed assisted the Prime Atoner to her feet. They led her, unprotesting, to the altar-stone and stood her to one side of it. Then they turned Anita so that she was facing the rapt congregation.

With the window at her back, the young solicitor appeared ethereally beautiful: sapphire eyes upraised in the face of an angel, a face wreathed by the thick hair-clusters of tumbled golden radiance set atop a figure with the timelessly exquisite proportions of a Greek goddess. And all those in the pews watched entranced as, at a signal from the Magister, Anita turned her mother-naked body to her left to face the side of the white-draped altar-stone, which reached up as high as her pelvis. Her upright, graceful form was now in profile to the watching congregants, who gazed in dazed pleasure at the firmly out-thrust glories of her unsupported breasts, the supple swoop of her spine to the ripely-rounded convexities of her marble-white buttocks and the long slender legs, pinkened in contrast, which by now were shaking more than a little.

'Place our sister across the stone,' the Magister intoned. Just for a moment Anita struggled, like a wild bird trapped in a net, as the four assisters were required to use a certain force to draw, heft and pull the Prime Atoner forward over the high, flat stone. But once she was lying helplessly across it, and the chill of the stone, striking up through its snowy drapery, was sinking into her naked belly and breasts and thigh-tops, Anita gave a long sigh and her struggles ceased.

'Secure our sister to receive her thrashing.' At this ringing command, Gail and Melissande each seized one of Anita's outflung wrists and squatted down. In like manner did Berenice and Ingrid each take one of her ankles and do the same – so that the lovely nude girl was spreadeagled across the altar-stone with her outstretched arms and legs secured in an enchanting cross. And, with the four limb-pinioning assisters crouched low at each corner of the stone, the rapt congregants had an unrestricted view of Anita held down naked across the draped altar-rock, her pallid buttocks, swellingly rounded in horizontal profile, gleaming ripely in the strengthening light.

The Magister now took up a long-bristled ceremonial brush called an aspergillum, dipped it into a font of pure spring water and flicked it with devotional fervour and a murmured blessing at Anita's sacrificially pre¬pared bottom-cheeks, observing the muscles flicker beneath the pump satiny skin. Then he drew out from behind the ancient lectern a stout rod of birch-twigs, raised it on high – and all in the congregation gasped. Muttering invocations, the Magister now stepped down from the slightly-elevated platform behind the altar and stood before Anita's down-hanging head and its cascade of butter-hued hair. Stooping, the tall powerful man placed the instrument close to her mouth with a humbly sacramental gesture. 'Kiss the birch, Anita,' he murmured.

With an involuntary shudder, Anita pursed her mouth and touched it to the birch-twigs, smelling the brushwood aroma, tasting the bitter tang of the whippy strips.

She kissed tentatively at first, then greedily, with her sensuously wide, full red lips. The Magister then withdrew the rod, remounted the step and took up a position facing the congregation of grey-gowned femininity, standing a little above Anita's smooth white waiting buttocks, his right arm at sufficient height to allow for a vigorous down-swing.

Standing thus, with his ruggedly handsome head irradiated in dramatic silhouette against the sun-filled coloured windows behind him, he raised his voice to address the sisterhood.

'The world which our sister Anita seeks is the world you all seek, the one I have had the everlasting joy to find!' he exclaimed. 'A plane of soul-incandescing experience infinitely beautiful, beyond this immediate plane and yet an integral part of it, where joy and light infuse every element of our beings!' His voice lowered to a husky growl, inflexibly sincere. 'It is in pursuit of this rapturous and perfect life-condition, attainable by all who truly seek it, that Anita's Prime Atonement now continues.'

There was a watchful, exhilarated stillness as the Magister paused, then proffered the birch-rod to the Prime Atoner's rich, springy bottom-cheeks; and Anita sucked in her breath at the tickly feel of the slender twigs pressing coolly against the fleshy cushions upon which she normally sat. The rod felt so intimate, intimate and virtually alive, and thrilling flickers deeped into her. Elsewhere her lightly-flagellated, reddened body continued to tingle with deliciously langorous warmth. Anita squirmed, with the softest little groan of what she had to admit of as pleasure, as the supple twigs sank into the snug crevice between her posteriors and briefly, tantalisingly, touched the quick of her. She felt the eyes of the entire congregation focused upon her, an exhibitionistic, self-sacrificing rapture kindly in her soul.

Then the Magister raised the birch-rod into sun-hazed silhouette, paused a further moment in stern contemplation of the recipient spreadeagled naked across the altar-stone before him, then brought it swishing down to collide with a profound Thrashhh! against the marble-white cheeks of that glorious upraised bottom.

Pain roared through Anita's senses and found expression in a harsh yowl which echoed round the wails of the tiny chapel. While the shock of the blow, full-blooded on the petal-soft mounds of that exquisite womanly arse, infused them with furnace-heat, the birch climbed above his shoulder and swept down again to jar splatteringly against her buttocks with the sizzling impact of a lightning-flash. The watching sisterhood strained forward with mouths agape and hearts drumming, imagining with stabs of bewitching dread how that fearsome rod would feel battering against their own bared bottoms.

Even the Magister grunted with effort as he dropped the next stroke with accurately-placed force against the shuddering hillocks, making them wobble and jump. A meshwork of scarlet lines had sprung up glaringly on the satin-smooth surfaces of the target area, changing their previous ivory hue to the healthy pinkness of a maiden's blush; and he knew it was his stern duty to cover every inch of those ripely curvacious mounds so that Anita's entire bare body was one all-suffusing flush. Thwosh! The birch-rod slammed against the under-cheeks of Anita's rippling seat; and when she began to plead incoherently and tug against the four girls who held her legs and arms in rigid grips, he struck through her cries with another scorching stroke.

As the hurt erupted again and again in searing shocks against her bottom, Anita began to squirm and groan all the more, grinding the front of her naked body on the hard cool surface against which it was pressed, restrained as she was at ankles and wrists. Berenice and Ingrid, hugging her feet to their breasts with all their strength, strove against Anita's kicking struggles and stretched her long shapely legs. Anita's gasped shrieks rent the chapel air as the Magister shifted position and directed the birch in a series of hissing swipes to turn even the flesh closest to her intimately private zone a livid red.

As the thunderous birching continued, thrashing and swoshing across her roasting nether-globes, it seemed to Anita, impaled on a rack of anguish, as if a tiny silver spot in the very centre of her consciousness were beginning to activate, as if the blasting pains which slammed with such remorseless regularity through her entire being were combining with the throbbingly pleasant post-chastisement tingles of her back, breasts, legs, arms, hands, belly and thighs to melt into a single core of paradisal sensation somewhere at her spine-base. Anita lost count of the number of thrashes which lashed with stunning severity across her proud haunches: 15, 20, 25 – it had now become of vital importance only that they continue. The Magister took on, in her hazing senses, the aspect of a tower of numinous magnificence hovering somewhere on another plane – and as her mind floated into a limbo where pain and joy were fused into one extraordinary new sensation, only the slashing impacts of the twigs served to connect her to earth; while piece by piece, as stroke followed stroke, the fierce sparkling jolts were easing the beautiful, highly-sexed girl free from the shackles which bound her to baseness: the scalding blasts were transmuting to concussions of sweet energy feeding into her soul via her blazing bottom-cheeks – an inner-irradiating force which began to vibrate to her very extremities, swelling and intensifying.

Hrrrassh! The twigs slammed yet again across the lushly feminine derriere now crimson-hot – but the Magister did not stay his hand, for cries of a subtly different kind – little sobbed bleats and trills of wonderment – started from Anita's red, parted lips, her adorably lovely features contorted to bare perfect pearl-white teeth in a silent snarl remarkably like that of a woman in the throes of mounting desire. Melissande and Gail still clung to her rocking wrists, Berenice and Ingrid her ankles, yet found it increasingly difficult to maintain their hold on the perspiring skin as Anita's soundly-thrashed body bucked and writhed in its anguish on the altar-stone. The four girls holding her down were beginning to sweat themselves, and each could feel a dark excitement building inside them where they crouched – transmitted from the naked gold-haired beauty being birched so intimately close to them, whose every breath and groan might have been their own, whose every muscular contraction rippled through their own bodies, whose arousal was striking directly into their senses now, like a maddeningly exciting perfume.

Thwash, thwosh, swish! The birch had life of its own. Anita was no longer Anita, but an entity of light: a blazing light which had intensified from that tiny silver core; and as the vortex of delectable sensation swirled ever wider and deeper, Anita's hips began to rock with rhythmic urgency, and at each spasm her tormented buttocks heaved upwards, so eager did they seem to meet the birch's downstroke. And the Magister saw, and a stern joy flowed through him as he subtly altered his arm's rhythm to match that of the beautiful livid bottom which was now rising and falling with the intent thrusting energy of a piston.

For Anita, the whirlpool dominating all her senses boiled suddenly up. She did not know how loudly she cried, nor how her body wrenched and pushed to the plunging kisses of the birch. She did not know that the four Perfectionist sisters who held her were in the grip of those same transmitted throes which incandesced her entire being, their own thighs beneath the grey robes jerking with elated shivers. She did not know that five of the watchers in the pews had sagged sideways in a faint, nor that the rest were ululating in transports of shared ecstasy. The thrilling, sparkling whirlpool turned in on itself, became a sun which burst apart into wave after wave of inconceivable rapture.

Anita's long climactic wail was the enthralling culmination of the symphony her delicious body and the birchen scourge had played. At the massive intensity of her release the sisterhood in the pews fell forward, spent. The four who had held her sank down shaking and weeping. And the Magister stepped back and laid the birch-rod to rest, with great reverence, on the altar-stone beside his Prime Atoner.

And Anita burst into a land of light: she was transformed, flying through zones of spirit unimagined. No mere lover could ever give her what she had just known, an emotional implosion so comprehensively prodigious that she would never again experience self-doubt, or fear the path she must take. It was as though the burdens of her worldly self, grey and poisonous, had fallen from her like a chunk of granite as cumbersome as the altar-stone across which she still lay, face-down and gasping, laughing, weeping.

When Anita stood up, the Magister saw that she was indeed transformed. Her eyes were clear, the storm had passed; her smile was of a quality that only he could recognise, as one who had himself broken through that largely self-imposed barrier which separates the dross of earthly life from the spiritual gold.

Anita sank to her knees and kissed the Magister's hands. She did not thank him in words, for words were too preposterously trivial a vehicle of communication. Her lovely upturned eyes, melting into his own steady gaze, said what her lips could not. And the rest of the sisterhood, enchanted by the revelational happening to which they had all contributed, felt their own souls uplifted, their own wills reinforced to continue along the path to Perfection.

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