by Van ©2012
|OUR STORY BEGINS
The late model Honda Civic was traveling south on US-101.
"Well, that was Coos Bay," the redhead in the passenger seat said. A road map was open in her lap. "It looks like a bunch of small towns along the coast 'til we cross over into California. Maybe we can find a place on the water and have seafood for lunch."
"We need to save money for gas, remember?" the brunette behind the wheel sighed. "Maybe we can share a bowl of chowder... if the place is cheap."
"We're budgeting our resources," the redhead muttered. "We're not broke. Not yet."
The two women were in their early twenties, and the trip they were on was a combination vacation and job hunt. Okay, it was a job hunt, but they might as well look along the coasts of southern Oregon and northern California and pretend it was a vacation. If nothing turned up they could always go home to Eugene and flip burgers (like they'd done since high school). Anyway, it was good to travel the coast and see the ocean. Both were dressed in sneakers, jeans, and summer-weight blouses.
"Oh, look at that place!" the redhead said, pointing at a Victorian mansion on the beach side of the road. "Look at the sign!"
"Sarand-ip, a boutique of discovery," the brunette read aloud. The house was a large, rambling structure with gables and turrets and a wraparound porch. It was a "Painted Lady," a Victorian with trim and decorative details painted in a dozen pastel shades, mostly blues, greens and browns that complemented the seaside setting. The result was quite pleasing to the eye.
"Not that sign," the redhead said, "the 'Help Wanted' sign next to the front door."
"Good eyes," the brunette chuckled.
"Stop," the redhead urged.
"It looks like a hippie shop," the brunette muttered, "old clothes, pet rocks, patchouli incense—"
The brunette was already braking. "Cool your jets," she muttered as she guided the Honda onto the gravel drive leading to the parking area. "Let's just look around like tourists. Don't say anything about jobs 'til we decide whether we think we might want to work here." She parked the Honda and they emerged and closed their respective doors. Thunk. Thunk. The brunette thumbed the remote to lock the car—Bleep!—and pocketed the keys. "Try and act normal," she told her friend.
"You should talk," the redhead countered.
They paused to admire the sign over the porch, a smaller version of the sign on the highway, then climbed the steps and entered the shop.
|HELP WANTED (Desperately!)
Tinkle-tinkle-tinkle. A tiny brass bell above the door announced their arrival.
A forty-something woman with long, dark hair smiled in greeting. She was wearing jeans and a light blouse, like the new arrivals, but sandals instead of sneakers. "Good day, ladies," she said in a pleasant soprano voice. Everything about her was pleasant. Oh-by-the-way, she was gorgeous—tall and gorgeous, with dancing brown eyes, a dimpled smile, and a killer body.
"Hi," the brunette and redhead responded.
"Cassiopia Fell." the woman introduced herself as she offered her hand. "Please call me 'Cassie.' Welcome to Sarand-ip."
"T-Tiffany McCoy," the redhead stammered, shaking Cassie's hand. She didn't know why she was flustered, but Cassie Fell was somehow special—gorgeous and special.
"Ashley Jones," the brunette said when it was her turn to shake Cassie's firm, warm hand. "Tah-Tiffany and I are touring the coast."
Tiffany blushed and gave her friend an elbow-nudge in the ribs. "Sorry," she muttered. "It's Tiffany. Just Tiffany. My throat is dry."
Cassie's smile never wavered. "I've just prepared some tea. Please, come this way." She led Tiffany and Ashley through the shop.
The shelves and display cases they passed held a variety of merchandise: vials of essential oils, candles, lamps, incense, glass globes and figurines, necklaces, bracelets, kitchen towels and aprons, hand-thrown pottery mugs and cups, sun-catchers, postcards and small prints, a couple of guitars and a mandolin, books, DVDs, music CDs... If there was logic and order to the arrangement, it was elusive. And yet, somehow, the shop couldn't be called cluttered or chaotic, and it was very clean.
There were side rooms with racks of clothing—vintage dresses, skirts, and blouses. They might have been period costumes of some sort. Another room held leather apparel. As they passed, the faint aroma of tanned cowhide added its scent to the shop's ambiance.
They approached a small group of café tables and wooden chairs in an open, airy alcove. Its bay windows overlooked a very scenic stretch of beach. Cassie gestured to a table, then walked towards what appeared to be a small kitchen. "I won't be a moment," she announced. "Everything's ready."
"This place is weird," Tiffany whispered under her breath as the friends pulled out chairs and sat.
"Weird and wonderful," Ashley whispered back.
"That's what I mean." Tiffany continued looking around. "Is there such a thing as a high-end hippie shop?"
"Apparently there is," Ashley chuckled.
Cassie was returning with a tray in her hands. "I hope you ladies aren't vegan," she said as she set down the tray. It held a pitcher of iced tea, three glasses with ice and lemon wedges, and a platter of a dozen or so finger sandwiches. "I can prepare a bean salad if you are."
"No, we're both carnivores," Ashley answered.
"Omnivores, actually," Tiffany corrected her friend. Her eyes were on the sandwiches.
Cassie identified the available selections. "Smoked turkey and apple wood bacon with avocado, spring greens, and mayonnaise on mini-croissants—lox, cream cheese, and capers on mini-bagels—and chicken salad and romaine lettuce on oat bread toast." She poured tea into the glasses and distributed them to her guests, then did the same with small plates with folded cloth napkins.
"This is very nice of you," Ashley said. She nodded towards the kitchen. "You also serve food?"
"My customers often appreciate a little refreshment," Cassie answered. "There's no set menu or price list, and I reserve the right to treat new friends."
Ashley and Tiffany exchanged a smile. It was impossible not to like this woman.
"After we eat, I'll give you a tour," Cassie continued.
"Super," Tiffany said as she lifted the platter and offered it to their hostess.
Cassie selected a club croissant. "Thank you."
Ashley took a bagel. "You're here all by yourself? This is a big place."
"Not too big," Cassie smiled. "And I'm not alone any more." She sipped her tea. "You're here."
Tiffany and Ashley exchanged a slightly quizzical look. Was she referring to the "Help Wanted" sign? They hadn't mentioned that they were looking for jobs.
"I'm sorry," Cassie chuckled. "Knowing what people need or want is a necessary skill for running a place like Sarand-ip. Some of my neighbors think it's spooky. Some of them think I'm a witch."
"Are you?" Tiffany gasped. "Ow!"
Ashley had kicked her friend's ankle under the table. She smiled at Cassie and ignored Tiffany's wounded pout.
"Spooky is in the eye of the beholder," Cassie purred, "and I'm often a witch for Halloween."
Tiffany and Ashley smiled and exchanged another look—an amused look—and continued to consume their excellent lunch.
|HELP WANTED (Desperately!)
"What does 'Sarand-ip' mean?" Tiffany asked as they looked around the shelves and display cases in the front of the shop.
"Hello?" Ashley sighed. "Serendipity?"
"I figured that," Tiffany huffed. "I mean, is it in a foreign language or something?"
Cassie laughed. "It's anglicized Persian for Sri Lanka, which was once called Serendip. Three Princes of Serendip is an ancient tale of fantastic and accidental discovery. From it, Horace Waldpole coined the word serendipity."
"Cool," Tiffany responded. "It fits... the shop, I mean."
"Persian?" Ashley asked.
"My mother was Persian," Cassie explained.
"Cool," Tiffany said again.
Ashley rolled her eyes.
Cassie was leading them through one of the clothing rooms. "These costumes are for Halloween and for visitors to a couple of destination spas that specialize in role-playing."
Ashley frowned. "Huh?"
Cassie gestured towards a rack of costumes that might be appropriate for a Renaissance Fair, then another with Victorian gowns and coats. "Guests lounge around in period costume and are pampered by similarly attired staff. It's a small sideline of my business. Such costumes are widely available elsewhere, of course, but guests in the know can stop here on their way to the spas and find something appropriate. It's a matter of convenience for select clients."
Ashley and Tiffany were looking at a display of what appeared to be antique eyeglasses and goggles. They all had tiny, often colored magnifying lenses mounted on metal swivel-arms and attached with overly complex gears and ratchet mechanisms.
"Steampunk accessories," Cassie explained. "You'll find many strange and unusual things lurking among the shelves, cases, and cabinets."
"How do you stay in the black?" Ashley inquired, "selling a little of this and a little of that?"
"And the occasional fancy costume," Tiffany added.
"I manage," Cassie responded. She led the way to the room full of leather goods. "More costumes," she explained, "medieval fantasy and steampunk, as well as a few jackets, coats, and... specialty items."
Tiffany had made a beeline to a counter in the corner. "Bondage gear!"
"As I said," Cassie chuckled. "Many strange and unusual things. More items I stock for select clients."
"If you say 'cool' I'm gonna punch you," Ashley warned Tiffany in a quiet whisper. Tiffany stuck out her tongue in response.
"You girls are a lot of fun," Cassie laughed, then led Ashley to the glass case. "I carry a limited line from a few very select suppliers," she explained, "and do customizing at customer request. I have a small workshop in the back."
Tiffany was gazing at pairs of leather cuffs, coiled straps of various widths and lengths, ball-gags, and an array of tiny padlocks. The leather was richly textured in black or shades of brown. A few of the rubber balls of the gags were the traditional red, but most were pleasing shades of purple, green, and blue. The padlocks were steel or brass and took the shapes of simple cylinders or tiny hearts.
"What are these?" Ashley asked. She was pointing at a row of neatly coiled cords of braided fabric with tassels at their ends. They were in a variety of colors, and each had a tiny metal barrel-clamp similar to the spring-loaded clips used to secure the drawstrings of clothing, laundry bags, and the stuff-bags of tents and sleeping bags.
"Those are new," Cassie explained. "The manufacturer calls them Gorean Slave-binders." She opened the case, selected a sage-green cord, and handed it to Ashley.
Ashley turned the cord in her hands. It was something like a yard in length and was surprisingly heavy. It was also less pliant than she'd expected. The brass barrel-clamp was unusual in that one end was a closed channel and the other was open. A gap in the side of the cylinder would allow one end of the cord to be completely removed when the spring-loaded end of the clamp was depressed. Also, a decorative metal flange protruded from the opposite end of the cylinder. Ashley uncoiled the cord. "Why is it so stiff?"
"The core is loosely-braided heavy wire," Cassie explained. "The outer sheathes are polyester and are very tough."
"It's too stiff," Ashley objected. "It doesn't feel like it'll hold a knot."
Cassie's smile widened. "It doesn't have to. Here, I'll show you." She placed her hands on Tiffany's shoulders and gently spun her around, then gathered her hands behind her back. "May I?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah, sure," Tiffany muttered, "I guess."
"Good girl," Cassie chuckled. She took the cord from Ashley, crossed Tiffany's wrists, then quickly bound then together with deft ease. When the task was accomplished, two or more neat rows of sage cord encircled Tiffany's wrists, formed an "X" across both, and was cinched between. "That shouldn't be too tight," Cassie purred.
"N-no, I'm fine," Tiffany answered.
There was a metallic click and Cassie released Tiffany's hands. The tassels dangled from the barrel-clip with only an inch or two of unused cord, and the flange was revealed to be the end of a tiny key—a tiny key that was now in Cassie's hand. "It can be tricky to get the tassels the same length," she explained.
Tiffany tested her bonds. It was obvious that she was stuck. There was nothing to untie and the web of expertly applied wire and polyester allowed no slack. She curled her hands and managed to brush the sides of the barrel-clamp—make that barrel-lock—with her fingertips, but that was all. She turned and favored Cassie with a sheepish smile. "Ya got me."
"I do, indeed," Cassie chuckled, "and I think I'll keep you." She planted a light, teasing kiss on the now blushing redhead's forehead.
Ashley and Tiffany watched as Cassie pulled a silver chain from under her blouse and snapped the barrel-lock's key through the curled tail of a cat-shaped charm on the end, then slid the charm, key, and necklace back under her blouse and between her breasts.
Cassie smiled at Ashley. "Would you like to try something? Perhaps a pair of leather cuffs?"
"Uh, no thanks," Ashley muttered. She was also blushing.
Just then, the sound of the bell above the front door sounded from the main shop.
"Customers," Cassie said as she turned and headed for the door. She paused in the threshold to wink at Ashley. "Take care of her," she said, then was gone.
"So..." Ashley said. "What'cha think?"
Tiffany tested her Gorean Slave-binder, again. "I think she really does have me," she muttered. "No way I'm getting out of this thing."
"No," Ashley sighed, "focus. Should we ask her for jobs?"
Tiffany shrugged. "I suppose. I like her, and I like this place. That assumes we can find something in the area we can afford."
"Yeah," Ashley nodded. This close to the ocean, rental apartments were not going to come cheap. She nodded towards the display case and a wicked smile curled her lips. "Wanna try one of those ball-gags?" she suggested. "That one with the jade-green ball and brown strap matches your outfit."
"So very funny," Tiffany drawled. "The periwinkle ball with the black strap would look good plugging your big mouth."
Suddenly, they heard the sound of approaching voices, including Cassie's.
"Quick, hide!" Ashley hissed.
Tiffany frantically looked around. "Where am I supposed to—" She'd noticed a closed door between two racks of leather coats and ran towards it. Ashley followed. "Open it—open it—open it!" Tiffany urged.
"Calm down," Ashley muttered as she twisted the knob—Unlocked!—opened the door, and watched Tiffany scamper through. She closed the door just as Cassie appeared with a thirty-something couple in old-fashioned garb.
"I have a pair of leather car-coats I think will be perfect for you," Cassie was telling the couple.
On the other side of the door, Tiffany could just make out Cassie's words. "Customers interested in leather," she muttered under her breath. "Just my luck." She turned her back to the door and surveyed her surroundings—and her green eyes popped wide in astonishment.
"Oh. My. God!" she gasped.
|HELP WANTED (Desperately!)
Tiffany was in a Chamber of Horrors!
There was a pillory or stocks or whatever you call such things. It was two wooden posts on a raised platform. A pair of horizontal boards with two circular cutouts stretched between the posts at ankle level. A second pair of boards with three cutouts was at throat level. There were hinges and hasps and padlocks and it was obvious that anyone with their ankles, wrists, and neck in the holes would be stuck—As stuck an an idiot who allowed herself to be bound with a Gorean Slave-binder, Tiffany mused.
Next to the pillory was a narrow, upright cage on another low platform. Its vertical elements followed the general shape of the human body. Tiffany noticed a pair of bulges in the front. A female human body, she amended her earlier assessment. The cage was hinged in the back and was standing open in two halves, like a wire-form clam-shell on end—a woman-shaped clam-shell of thick steel bands on end. When closed, it looked like it would be a tight fit, even for Tiffany's slender, modestly endowed (in the boob department), 5' 2" form.
Across the room was another cage. It was tall and rectangular and also looked like a close fit, and on either side were complex, heavy-duty mechanisms, each with a vertical panel studded with long, horizontal spikes. The mechanics were complicated, but Tiffany surmised the panels slid along heavy-duty steel tracks on the platform to plunge the spikes through the cage and into anyone unfortunate enough to be inside. Gears would turn, chains would clatter, heavy weights would fall—and that would be it.
"What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?" Tiffany wondered aloud, then noticed a small bookcase across the room, and above it was a framed poster of Harry Houdini. She stepped closer and read the titles on the spines of the many books on the shelves. All pertained to stage magic, slight-of-hand, and escape artistry. "Magic!" Tiffany sighed in relief "They're props!" Not that she'd really been afraid Cassie was secretly a sadistic maniac with a well-equipped torture chamber.
Tiffany strolled back to the upright clam-shell cage. "What do you call these things?" she muttered to herself. "Gibbons? No, that's a kind of monkey. Gibbets! That's it." Tiffany had a habit of talking to herself when she was nervous. It drove Ashley crazy.
Tiffany's curiosity got the better of her. She gingerly stepped onto the platform, turned her back to the open cage, and carefully shuffled back until she was inside the two halves and her fingers brushed the steel hinges. She only had a few inches clearance on all sides, more in front and much less in back, of course. Curved, six-inch flanges protruded from either side of the open cage halves. They had rounded tips and were notched along their lengths. As the cage closed the flanges would enter narrow slots and, presumably, lock the cage.
Tiffany heard a quiet creak from under the platform, looked down, and noticed a hair-thin outline in the wood under her sneakers. It took the general shape of a pair of feet and—Creeeak-CLANK! The outlined area had dropped from under her, but only about a quarter-inch. At the same time, the two halves of the cage had slammed together!
"Oh shit!" Tiffany gasped. The flanges did, indeed, fit into the slots, but most of their lengths were still visible and held the cage halves a few inches apart. But even so, it was a tight fit. "Just great," Tiffany sighed. "Ash is never gonna let me live this down. Could this get any worse?"
With every "thunk" the cage halves were closing an additional notch. The sounds were coming from under Tiffany's feet and vibrating through the cage. What little wiggle room she had was rapidly diminishing.
The two halves had met, the flanges had completely disappeared, and something that sounded like turning gears had sounded. And now... silence.
With the cage completely closed, Tiffany only had one or two inches clearance before she made contact with the bars. She tried pushing against the sides, but the cage didn't even shake. There was an oval-shaped opening directly over her face, but every six or eight inches the rest of her body was surrounded by curved, inch-wide, thick bands of steel.
"This is humiliating," she muttered. She squirmed and twisted her bound wrists, but knew she wasn't going anywhere. Tiffany wasn't scared. Cassie would let her out once the customers left, but Ashley was gonna give her a world of grief.
Tiffany wondered if maybe she ought to say something... or rather scream something. Best to wait, she decided.
More time passed... something like a total of fifteen minutes.
Tiffany had just about decided she would start screaming for help when the door finally opened and Cassie and Ashley appeared.
Ashley stared in horror—which quickly turned to uncontrollable mirth. She'd noticed the Houdini poster and reached the same conclusion as her bound and caged friend: that they were standing in a room full of stage-magic props. She doubled over with laughter, having also surmised that Tiffany had somehow trapped herself in the form-fitting cage. "You hopeless moron!" she chortled between giggles and guffaws.
"Be nice," Cassie chided Ashley, then stepped forward and smiled at Tiffany. "You've never heard about curiosity and the cat?"
"Sorry," Tiffany sighed, blushing furiously. "Stop it!" she snapped at the still highly amused Ashley. "How was I supposed to know this thing is automatic?"
"I'm just glad you didn't decide to try the cage with the spikes," Ashley laughed, pointing at the other cage.
"The Cage of Death is always kept locked," Cassie explained, "even if the spikes are spring-loaded and it's perfectly safe."
Ashly was finally regaining her composure. "Good news," she told Tiffany. "We're hired, and Cassie has a room upstairs we can share."
"We're hired?" Tiffany smiled. "Goodie."
"Tomorrow I'll print out the required paperwork and you can start learning the shop," Cassie said. "Do you girls like seafood?"
"We love seafood," Ashley and Tiffany responded in perfect unison—then giggled
Cassie laughed. "You two are really going to brighten up this place. After you move in and get cleaned up, I'll take you to a restaurant down the coast. My treat."
"Cool!" Tiffany said.
Ashley rolled her eyes. "I'll get our stuff from the car," she announced.
Cassie nodded. "And I'll go looking for the key and instruction manual to the Gibbet of Doom." She kissed Tiffany's pouting lips. "Don't go anywhere," she purred, then turned and headed out the door.
Once Cassie had left, Tiffany sighed. "Our new boss seems very nice... in a cruel, sadistic sort of way."
Ashley rolled her eyes, again, then also turned and headed for the door. She paused in the threshold and smiled. "Are you sure you don't want to try that ball-gag?"
"The hilarity never stops," Tiffany sighed. "I am sooo gonna murder you in your sleep tonight."
"Then I guess I better ask Cassie to leave you tied up with that pretty Gorean Slave-binder," Ashley quipped, then closed the door, leaving her caged, bound, and helpless BFF alone in the Chamber of Magical Horrors.
"Epic revenge," Tiffany muttered under her breath. "Somehow... epic revenge."
|HELP WANTED (Desperately!)