Hey all,

Just rediscovered this story. I got a lot farther into it than I'd remembered, and I think it's kind of good, actually. Might continue at some point, but it's fairly far back in the queue. Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Ms. Coriander's Academy for Feminine Correction, part I

A ticklish adventure by Munchausen

She waited in darkness, nervously listening for anything. The solitude was beginning to get to her-- it had probably only been about ten minutes since the robed, hooded sisters had led her to the ritual chamber, but it felt like much longer.

It was a goof, of course -- a sorority initiation. All the sisters had gone through it, and none of them were maimed or visibly traumatized. Still, such an air of solemn mystery surrounded it -- no-one would speak of it, other than to call it "the ordeal," and she'd had to sign all sorts of papers saying she wouldn't disclose anything about it. Legally binding or not (and they probably were not), they freaked her out.

Now, sitting alone in the darkness of the ritual chamber -- a space forbidden to pledges, locked away in the basement of the great sorority house -- she found herself swept up in the uncanny weirdness of it. She knew the hooded sisters who had led her here were the same ones she'd played drinking games with, gotten mani-pedis with, went shopping with -- but this morning, they were faceless, almost silent, unrecognizable in their black ritual garb. They had led her down the stairs to the locked door in the cellar through which none but Sisters were allowed to go, taken her to a small antechamber where she was made to change into a brief, sleeveless white toga, then led her here, to this small, close, dark room where she stood barefoot on a cold concrete floor and awaited her fate.

Whatever it was, it was worth it. The Gammas were the oldest, most exclusive sorority in the south. For all their old south, proper-lady trappings, their alumni included politicians, titans of industry, movie stars, and the wives of billionaires. Whatever this was, they had all done it, had lived through it, and had thrived. This was her chance -- the culmination of a long, challenging pledgeship that had tested her diplomacy, resolve, grace, and commitment. She had done it on her own – no legacy pedigree to smooth the way, just her own charm, savvy, and credentials. She wasn't about to screw it up because she was afraid of the dark, or because a bunch of 19 and 20 year old sorority girls looked creepy in black hoods.

Finally, a door opened on the opposite end of the room from where she had entered. A black-hooded figure, silhouetted in flickering candlelight, beckoned for her to follow. She did, stepping from the antechamber into what felt like a large, dark room. A circle of candles stood in the center, and in the middle of that was a peculiar chair. Large and heavy, upholstered with rich leather, it looked like a recliner, except with a couple of odd attachments: an adjustable metal post extending perhaps four feet upward from the back, with what looked like padded cuffs attached to it, and something she couldn't quite make out at the bottom. She had a vague sense of hooded figures lining the wall at the far end of the room, but they weren't quite illuminated by the candles. The one who had beckoned her gestured toward the chair. Swallowing her fear, she sat in it, and two others came from the darkness. One lifted her arms above her head, cuffing her wrists to the post so that she was partially suspended by them, but supported enough by the chair that it wasn't uncomfortable. The other eased the bottom part of the chair into the reclined position, so that even as her upper body remained straight, her feet were raised to a little above waist level. She snapped her ankles into another pair of padded cuffs affixed to the footrest. She was comfortable -- physically -- but her wrists and ankles were quite snugly locked in place. A lock of black hair fell over her eyes -- she tried to blow it away, but it was stubborn. One of her captors brushed it back into place. Her face invisible in the depths of her hood, she whispered, “If you say the word ‘chrysanthemum,’ it will stop, but you will fail.’”

And suddenly, as if to confirm a creeping, incredulous, “surely they wouldn’t” feeling that had been building since she first laid eyes on the chair, she felt fingertips glide into the smooth, helplessly exposed hollows of her underarms, making her whole body jolt as if she’d been hit with a cattleprod. Her arms tugged automatically – futilely -- against the cuffs that held her wrists. Panicked gasps spilled over into frantic giggles as skillful fingers tickled her, probing her ribs, teasing her pits, even crab-clawing her slender waist, forcing squeals and titters, giggles and guffaws from her as she writhed and bucked helplessly against her bonds. The ticklers – surely there had to be more than one, as the hands sometimes felt everywhere at once – stood behind her, so she couldn’t see or anticipate where they might strike next. Sometimes it was a full broadside, fingers digging into her ribcage and virtually squeezing the laughter out of her. Then again, everything would stop except for the lightest, most maddening teasing around her head and neck – feather-brushing her ears, flickering devilishly to that part of her neck that made her try desperately to squeeze the offending fingers between her cheek and shoulder, which, of course, only held the wriggling torturer in place.

She found herself shaking with silent laughter, gasping for breath, tears rolling down her cheeks. And then her torturers strode out from behind her, flowing silently – she noticed, blinking through tears, that they were barefoot, as well – down the length of the chair, moving with horrible inevitability to stop at her cringing bare feet. “No…” she croaked, her voice breaking.

Each took control of one soft, sensitive foot. They began terribly slowly, tracing a single sharp but smooth fingernail from heel to toe with nerve-shivering effectiveness, forcing from the poor girl a desperate shuddery hiss that erupted into hoarse barking laughter as they branched out to let multiple fingers flutter in her high arches or over the balls of her feet and stems of her toes. The feeling of helplessness, of losing control over her own body, was both exquisite and awful – even as she writhed and shrieked and bellowed, toes wiggling and clenching, soles wrinkling and flexing, she felt a wetness growing between her thighs, and her nipples were on fire. Still, her excitement – her awful, irrational, delicious excitement – was not enough to counterbalance the awful torture that emanated from her devastatingly ticklish soles to wrack her body with hysterical spasms. It was horrible. Unbearable. And then, as the tickling of her feet drove her to the very edge of madness, that two others joined in, shocking her from behind, adding their maddening fingertips in her underarms, ribs, along her ears and neck, squeezing her waist, prodding her belly, and she threw her head back in a silent scream…

Present Day

At least it was a beautiful day.

Chloe was working on her positivity. Breathe deeply, slowly. Appreciate the blue, cloud-dappled sky, the way the pontoon boat glided across the water, the song of the birds in the trees, the gentle sun on her shoulders. Soak all of that up, and don't think about what a colossal, absurd fucking injustice the next six weeks were going to be.

At least it was a beautiful day.

The boat's pilot, a striking but stern-looking woman with olive skin and a model's height and physique, had greeted Chloe with polite professionalism, loaded her bags, which she lifted effortlessly, made an unnecessary gesture toward helping her on board, and proceeded to ignore her as they pulled away from the dock and sailed toward the island. Chloe had asked her one question -- "Are we waiting for anyone else?" -- just before they left.

"No. The rest arrived this morning." She had an accent -- British, maybe? But with something island-y -- that, along with her appearance (Middle Eastern? Mediterranean?) marked her as from somewhere other than this coastal Carolina town. Her starched navy blue uniform, cap, and knee boots did the same -- not exactly the typical wardrobe around here at the beginning of summer. It wasn't terribly hot, and there was a nice breeze, but Chloe got the sense that even if it had been 95 and humid, this woman would somehow be just as crisp and sweat-free and put together as she was now. She was tall, too -- probably 6'1" or so, a good six inches taller than Chloe -- and her breasts swelled against the fabric of her blouse.

Chloe herself was dressed casually, in a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops -- she wasn't sure how one was supposed to dress for a combination resort and reform school. Her thick, curly, deep brown hair hung loose around her shoulders and down her back, and her face, shoulders, and even the tops of her feet and toes showed the kiss of the sun -- she had what people used to call a healthy tan, and faint freckles dappled her nose and cheeks. Her big green eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, so she felt a little freer than she might otherwise to stare at the
woman driving the boat. Nyssa, her name was -- one of the few details she'd divulged in their minimal conversation.

Chloe had a hundred questions she wanted to ask: who are the others? What's this place all about, really? What should I know going in? Is it weird working for someone who runs an "academy for wayward young women" in a restored plantation house on an island off the South Carolina coast? How do you manage to make that uniform look bangin'? A combination of wariness, the noise of the boat's engine, and the signals she was getting that Nyssa had zero interest in shooting the breeze with her passenger kept Chloe from asking.

After a long enough ride that Chloe felt thoroughly removed from the mainland, the boat approached a picturesque island, with pristine white sand beaches leading up to patches of dense woodland. They disembarked at the dock, and Nyssa -- again, effortlessly -- loaded Chloe's bags into the back of a little motorized cart. Chloe climbed into the back, and Nyssa drove them over a bumpy gravel path up to the woodline, where the path widened into a paved road. At each stage, Chloe was struck by the beauty of the place -- it really did seem like a resort, rustic and natural in places, manicured and beautiful in others. And so quiet! Other than the soft hum of the engine and scattered birdsong, the island was enveloped in a pristine hush.

It would all have been so pleasant if it weren't 1) an outrage and 2) so goddamned weird.

Chloe felt the muscles in her jaw tighten as she remembered, unbidden, the faux-concerned look on her stepmother's face as she told her where she was going. That manipulative bitch. Half her father's age, trophy-wife Tiffani had skipped her clueless, generally benign father and gone straight to her grandmother with her (mostly) fabricated stories of Chloe's debauchery. Chloe could imagine how the conversation had gone, with the blonde gold-digger playing her stern, willful, but generally confused grandmother like a violin. "Really worried about her...doesn't reflect well on the family...she needs a wake-up call...can't have her dragging your name through the mud with her antics." Ugh, it made her furious. And now, with her inheritance very much on the line, she was heading in to this boot camp for unruly rich girls.
At least it was a beautiful day...

Nyssa pressed the doorbell, setting off a gentle chime that reverberated inside, and opened the door, gently ushering Chloe inside. "Remove your shoes, please. House rule," she said, her voice low and silky. Nyssa nodded toward a little shoe shelf on one wall. Over it hung one of those little hand-lettered signs that coastal craft and souvenir shops sell, with girly lettering saying things like "Live, Love, Laugh" or "It's Wine O'Clock." This one said, "This is our Barefoot Place" in loopy cursive, and had two little bare pink footprints stenciled on a white background.

On the shelf beneath were three pairs of shoes. One was a small pair of red Chuck Taylors, low-top, maybe a size 5, with a pair of white ankle-socks stuffed into them. Next to them stood a pair of tan gladiator-style sandals, the kind that lace well up the calf. They were larger than the Chucks, maybe a size 10, and though Chloe wasn't as fashion-obsessed as most 20-something women who came from money, she knew the brand and appreciated the craftsmanship. Those things easily cost a month's rent, even in her upscale apartment. Finally, and maybe most strikingly, despite the sandals, was a pair of Nike trainers, again with socks stuffed inside. The shoes themselves weren't particularly noteworthy, but their size was -- Chloe couldn't tell, at a glance, but they looked to be at least a 14 or 15!
Three other inmates, then, she thought, slipping out of her flip flops and placing them on the shelf.

"Follow me, please," Nyssa said, once she had removed her own high boots and socks.

Barefoot, the two women padded through the foyer into a sprawling, sunlit greatroom, furnished in shades of ivory and impeccably decorated. They walked over plush rugs and magnificently restored hardwood floors through a conservatory, replete with grand piano, past an extensive sunroom, through an enormous dining room with a great, gleaming dark wood table, and on and on. The house was tremendous, and beautiful. Windows were open throughout, allowing a fresh, cool breeze to enliven the antique feel of the place. "It's so cool," Chloe said, just to break the silence.

"Yes. Something about the way the island is situated here. We get breezes that tend to make it a good ten degrees cooler than it is on the mainland, just a short distance away. The house is fully air conditioned, but even in summer, we often don't need it." Nyssa slipped into tour guide mode for a moment, her deep, smoky voice smooth and professional. Then, as if remembering who she was talking to, she slipped back out, her stoic mask snapping back into place. She led on in silence.

Finally, Nyssa opened the door to a small sitting room where three young women were waiting. Taking a quick survey, Chloe immediately matched them to the shoes in the foyer.

First was the Chucks -- a small, slender young woman with red-gold hair that fell in artfully wild waves around her shoulders. She had large, striking grey eyes set in a pixieish face, and her expression was a mix of nervousness and amusement. A small silver stud gleamed on the side of her nose. She wore a black t-shirt with the logo of a band Chloe had never heard of, and tight jeans. She was sort of curled up in the big chair, her legs crossed under her. Where her toes peeked out on either side, Chloe could see her nails were painted black.

Next to her, draped imperiously over a love seat and ottoman and exuding an air of regal boredom, was the owner of the gladiators. Tall, elegantly dressed, with long, shiny, razor-straight black hair, perfect cheekbones, and long-lashed dark eyes, she looked like a princess. A pair of very expensive sunglasses was perched on her head. Her skin tone was a flawless light brown -- she was Indian, maybe, or Pakistani -- and her teeth, flashed in a perfunctory smile when Chloe entered, gleamed white. She wore a casual skirt and sleeveless top that left her long arms bare, spread out along the back of the seat in haughty repose. Crossed at the ankles on the ottoman, her bare feet were long, high-arched, and as elegant as the rest of her.

Finally, the owner of the trainers turned from the window where she stood as Chloe entered. She was tall and imposing, with the strong shoulders and powerful legs of an athlete. With her dark blonde hair pulled back in a long braid, her ice blue eyes, and her square-jawed, angular but beautiful face, she looked to Chloe like a valkyrie, if a valkyrie played, say, beach volleyball. Even barefoot, she stood at least 6 feet tall. As she stood, she shifted her weight from one leg to the other and rolled her shoulders, as if she wasn't sure what to do with her nervous energy.

Chloe smiled and nodded to each of them, and took a seat in a big, overstuffed chair near the little pixie who belonged to the chucks. She slipped her phone out of her pocket, planning to defuse the awkward silence by disappearing into it, but Nyssa cleared her throat and held out her hand. "I'm afraid I'll have to take that. House rules."

Chloe sighed, turned it off, and handed it over. This was not unexpected, of course -- she just thought she might have a little time until the prohibition kicked in. She should have known when none of the others were on their phones. So. No phones, social media, or online activity for six weeks. On the bright side, three total strangers to share the experience with. She glanced out the window at the manicured gardens stretching to the woodline. At least it was a beautiful fucking day.

Nyssa slipped her own phone from her breast pocket and dialed. "All here," she said quietly, then hung up and addressed the four of them. "Please make yourselves comfortable. Ms. Coriander will be with you momentarily." And with that, she left.

An awkward silence settled over them. Chloe looked around at her fellow guests. Every once in a while, she made eye contact with one, and they gave each other an awkward little smile, or that little raised-eyebrow, tight-lipped expression that said, "Welp, here we are..."

She was about to say something, just to end the awkwardness, when a woman glided noiselessly into the room, and immediately commanded their attention without saying a word.

She was older than they, perhaps in her mid to late 30s, and she had a kind of mature beauty that inspired both desire and respect. She was of medium height, 5'4" or so, and lean but curvy, with large breasts, a flat stomach, and a slender waist. She had shoulder-length wavy hair, almost blue-black, a peaches-and-cream complexion, and blue eyes -- a combination that reminded Chloe of Snow White. She wore an elegant-casual sundress that subtly emphasized her bosom, and, like them, she was barefoot. A little sapphire ring gleamed on the fourth toe of her left foot, and her toenails, like her fingernails, were painted a cheery red.

"Hello, ladies. Welcome to Ms. Coriander's School. I am Ms. Coriander, and I will be your principal host for the next six weeks, though there will be other guides joining us. If you'd please introduce yourselves, and let us know why you're here?" Her voice was like honey -- deep, musical, and gilded with a patrician Southern accent. She looked pointedly at Chloe and raised a brow.

"Um, hi, everybody. I'm Chloe McKenzie, and I'm here because my stepmother is a psychopath," Chloe said. Gladiator sandals let out a little snort of laughter. Chucks looked shocked, and trainers looked down at the floor.

Ms. Coriander gave a little chuckle. "Now, now. I'm quite aware none of you are here because you want to be. But the first step in our program is being honest about who we are and why we're here. Each of you comes from a family of means and reputation, and with those come certain expectations that your elders are concerned you are not properly meeting. I'd like for you, as you introduce yourselves, to acknowledge the shortcomings you're here to remedy."

"For Christ's sake, we're adults. I'm twenty-six years old," gladiator said. She spoke with an aristocratic British accent.

Ms. Coriander smiled gently and nodded, as if she'd expected this and heard it before. "You absolutely are. And you are absolutely free, at any time, to reclaim your phones or any other property and depart. Simply say the word ‘chrysanthemum,’ and our contract will be terminated, aside, of course, from the binding NDAs you've all signed. Nyssa will take you to the mainland at your request, and we will part ways. And I will report to your familial sponsor what choice you've made."

Even dripping with the cheerful music of her southern accent, the threat was clear: quit, and I'll tell the person who sent you -- the one who holds the purse-strings, and likely makes the decisions about your inheritance -- that you did. Had that threat not been real for each of them, they wouldn't be here in the first place.

"Now, Chloe, let's try again. Why are you here?"

Chloe sighed. "I'm here because my stepmother has convinced my grandm..." She saw Ms. Coriander's brow furrow and started over. "I'm here because my grandmother is concerned about my partying. Specifically, my marijuana use and sex life." A few judiciously-chosen shots from her Instagram, taken during parties at the end of her senior year and after her college graduation, had sealed the deal. Her stepmother had dug them up, presented them as evidence of her debauchery, and the case was closed. They weren't even particularly bad -- one ill-advised shot of her doing a bong rip, and a couple of her grinding on shirtless guys at a beach-themed party. That was enough to convince Grandmother that her heir was headed down a shameful and dangerous path.

"Thank you, Chloe," Ms. Coriander said, and turned to the Pakistani princess on the couch.

"Right. I'm Parveena Richards -- mother Pakistani, father British, to clear that up without awkward questions. I'm here because my mother's family believes women should confine themselves to nurseries and kitchens and their husbands' beds."

Ms. Coriander looked at her for a beat, and seemed as if she might make her answer in a more appropriate way, but let it go. Instead, she turned her expectations to the redhead who belonged to the chucks.

The redhead shifted uncomfortably, her face flushed. Defiance and embarrassment seemed to be fighting it out inside her. "I'm Tyra Hitchings," she said, her voice low and resentful. "And I'm here because my stepmother thinks I'm a nymphomaniac." She looked around at them as if daring them to say anything. They didn't. Parveena smiled a small, amused smile.

Ms. Coriander nodded, looking concerned, and then turned to the athlete at the window.

The big blonde scowled. "My name is Astrid Viklund. I'm here because my grandmother, in 2019, still hasn't accepted that women are athletes." Out of all of them, she seemed the angriest.

Ms. Coriander nodded. "Welcome to you all. I detect a pattern in how you're all thinking about why you're here, and it's a common and understandable one. Every one of you blamed someone else -- a grandmother, stepmother, someone -- for your circumstances. And I have no illusions that any of you would be here without the threat of a withheld inheritance or other financial consequence looming. But you won't get anywhere in this program unless you learn to accept some personal responsibility." She looked at each of them hard, in turn, and there was something so powerful in her gaze that even Parveena averted her eyes.

Ms. Coriander held the stern expression long enough for it to leave a strong impression, then replaced it with a beaming smile. "Now, we are here to do the work of self-improvement. You've all signed your contracts, and you know the basic rules, but I will review the essentials with you now.

"First and foremost, as I have already mentioned, but will remind you often, you may leave at any time. It is entirely your choice. If you wish to do so, simply say the word ‘chrysanthemum’ to me or to a guide, and your participation in the program will terminate immediately. You must only say the word if you intend to quit the program, depart, and face whatever consequences your departure may bring."

Like a safeword? Chloe wondered. That made her a bit uncomfortable.

"While you are here, you agree and consent to participate in and submit to the entirety of the program. There will be no opting out of any activity, unless you are prepared to leave the program. It's all or nothing. You do this, or you don't.

"Hopefully you have all taken leave of friends, family, online communities, et cetera, for the time being, as there will be no cell phones allowed for the duration of your stay. Every Sunday evening, you will be allowed to make calls from a supervised landline to speak with family or other loved ones. While you are here, you will be here and here alone. Your only contact, beyond your Sunday calls, will be with each other, with me, and with our staff.

“The Coriander School seeks to instill in young women the fading virtues of a lady. These include grace, humility, chastity, and poise.”

“Chastity? What century is this, again?” Tyra asked, rolling her eyes.

“I understand that our tenets will strike you as old-fashioned. But many of the most worthwhile and precious values are. These attributes are the ones most often cited by sponsors – those who paid to send you here, and who will receive the ultimate report on your progress – as essential to their vision of what their heirs and representatives of their families should embody. Our group activities will be devoted to cultivating these activities, and your private interactions and activities will be monitored – not always, but periodically – to ensure that you are living up to these ideals.”

“And what if we aren’t? Are we out?” Parveena asked.

“Oh, no, my dear. This is a program devoted to your improvement. No-one will be expelled for falling short of our expectations. You will simply be subjected to a gentle corrective, scaled to match the severity of the transgression.”

“What counts as a transgression?” Chloe asked.

Miss Coriander smiled beatifically. “Like most worthwhile matters of character, the boundaries cannot be strictly defined, and will be up to the discretion of the staff. In general, though, you’ll be expected to behave as a lady should behave. To comport yourself with taste and civility. To avoid lasciviousness and debauchery. To respect boundaries, property, and privacy. And to engage with tasks with enthusiasm, good humor, and industry.”

“And what’s a ‘gentle corrective?’” asked Astrid.

Miss Coriander's smile grew a little broader, and her eyes seemed to twinkle. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, shall we? Oh, look! Two of our lovely guides are here!"

The girls turned to see two women standing in the doorway. One was Nyssa, whom she had met earlier; the other was new. Like Nyssa, she was tall and broad-shouldered, built a bit like Astrid, but with thicker arms, as if she lifted heavier weights than women typically did. She had the rare and striking combination of very dark red hair and deeply tanned skin, and her eyes were a smoky grey. Nyssa had changed her clothes and hair. Now, both women had their hair pulled back in severe buns, though a few strands hung loose to brush the redhead's strong jawline. They both wore crisp white blouses open at the neck and tight black pants that ended halfway down their muscular calves, and both were barefoot, in keeping with house rules.

"This is Honey,” Miss Coriander said, indicating the redhead, who smiled a narrow-eyed, vulpine smile. "And I believe you’ve met Nyssa. They will be assisting us in all sorts of ways in the weeks to come."

They look like the muscle, Chloe thought. Pretty enough muscle, but muscle nevertheless.

"We've brought the basin and linens, ma'am," Honey said. Her voice had a lilt to it -- Australian? New Zealand? Chloe wasn't sure, but it was one of those. For a plantation house on a Carolina island, this place had a remarkably cosmopolitan staff.

"Excellent! One thing that I want to be clear about, my new friends, is the value of humility. In our contemporary, Instagram-everything, boastful society, humility is a virtue often neglected. But it is essential in the character of a true lady, whatever her position. And so, I give you our first lesson. I believe we'll do Parveena this afternoon," she said.

Parveena cocked a curious eyebrow as Nyssa began laying out thick, fluffy white towels on the floor in front of where she sat. "May I?" Nyssa asked, her voice low and husky. Parveena nodded, and Nyssa took the ottoman on which her feet had been resting. She moved it to the side of the room, then spread more towels over the spot where it had been. Once the spot was prepared, Honey carried in a large basin full of steaming, soapy water, heavy enough to make her biceps strain against the sleeves of her blouse. She laid it on the towels at Parveena's feet.

"Please," Ms. Coriander said, gesturing at her feet. A little hesitantly, Parveena submerged her bare feet in the warm, soapy water.

"Is the temperature all right?" Ms. Coriander asked.

"It's quite nice," Parveena said. She glanced around at the others as if to confirm that they were as lost as she was about what was happening, and gave a little shrug.

"Excellent. Now, the Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet has become an important cornerstone of our program. It sets the tone for our whole experience, and helps to clarify the relationship we will cultivate between hosts and guests."

Parveena's smile remained, but a little worry line appeared between her eyebrows. "Oh, nonsense. You don't have to..."

"It's a very important part of the program," Honey said. Ominously, she and Nyssa came to stand behind Parveena, one on either side of the loveseat on which she sat.

"Please, join us over here where you can see," Ms. Coriander said to Astrid, who shrugged and padded over from the window to take a seat in an empty chair. The three other guests now sat arrayed in a little semicircle to watch. Parveena, embodiment of devil-may-care cool only moments before, was visibly uneasy as Ms. Coriander knelt before her and reached into the steaming water to find her long, slender feet.

When Ms. Coriander's questing fingers brushed against her arch, Parveena let out a little squeal, and her whole body jumped. A little water splashed out of the basin onto Ms. Coriander's blouse.

Chloe giggled sympathetically. Parveena looked mortified. "I'm so sorry," she said. "It's just...I'm a bit ticklish. My feet are, particularly. I'm not sure I'm the best-suited..."

"Nonsense!" Ms. Coriander said, grinning so her nose crinkled cutely. "You're perfect for this lesson. Now, let's lift one up here and get a little of this lilac soap on it..." She raised one of Parveena's elegant bare feet up out of the water.

Sudsy water trickled down her wrinkly sole as the British-Pakistani princess curled her long, slender toes. Chloe noticed her hands gripping the arms of the love seat -- her knuckles were white. Parveena's jaw was clenched tight, and a her beautiful, high-cheekboned face was set in a kind of pleading, cringing expression as Ms. Coriander squeezed soap from a bottle into a plush washcloth and began to apply it to Parveena's bare foot.

Parveena couldn't help but writhe and squirm as the sudsy washcloth squelched between her toes, slithered over the ball of her foot, buffed her sensitive arch. Little hissing, giggly gasps wracked her as each motion of the soapy cloth found some new, terribly ticklish spot, or returned to a particularly tender one for a longer visit. Her body kept convulsing in little jumps, her fingers reflexively reaching for her foot as if her impulse was to protect it.

For the girls assembled to watch, it was cute and funny at first, as the model-gorgeous fashion plate Brit lost her cool to her ticklish feet. The longer it went on, though -- the more contorted with desperate, hilarious suffering Parveena's face became, the more her poor foot jerked and wiggled under the washcloth's onslaught, the more mercilessly dedicated Ms. Coriander seemed to her task -- the more uncomfortable it became. Chloe found herself wincing sympathetically and hiding one bare foot behind the other beneath her chair. Glancing at the other two, she found them looking equally disquieted. Tyra was worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, and Astrid, blushing, kept looking away, then glancing back in morbid fascination.

As it became clear that Ms. Coriander was going to take her time and be fiendishly thorough, Parveena could do nothing but surrender to the laughter building inside her. As the rag continued its slippery, squelchy journey over her wildly sensitive foot, Parveena unleashed a rich, cackling giggle that, once unstoppered, just poured out of her like a bubbling stream.

Her other foot seemed, if anything, even more ticklish, once Ms. Coriander had abandoned its mate and pulled it from the tub like a wriggling prize fish. Parveena let out an absolute whoop as the sudsy cloth -- which seemed somehow perfectly textured to be maximally tickly -- found its way into her high arch. Her futilely-squirming toes proved equally devastating, bringing forth a choked cry. And then something -- some magic spot, or combination of spots, hit just the right way, sent a ticklish shock through her that made her shriek with laughter and kick a cascade of water all over Ms. Coriander with her untended foot.

There was a moment of near-silence. Parveena, momentarily untickled, gasped for breath. The other girls stared at Ms. Coriander, already weirdly afraid of this pretty, petite southern belle's wrath. There flickered over her face, just for a moment, a look of cold annoyance, as droplets of soapy water dripped from her shiny hair and eyelashes. Then, she let out a peal of bell-like laughter.

"Oops! No worries, sweetie. We'll just have the ladies help you hold steady."

Before Parveena could collect herself enough to protest, Honey and Nyssa each seized a leg by the calf and held them out straight in front of her. Parveena's bare toes curled and wiggled, now all removed at once from the momentary comfort of the warm basin. Her soles, aimed directly at Chloe, were a rich, gleaming wet network of wrinkles.

Any doubt that they were witnessing anything but a torture session faded when Ms. Coriander produced a long-handled scrub brush and began to gently but firmly glide its knobby rubber bristles over Parveena's slick, ticklish bare soles. From its first touch, Parveena positively erupted. The tall, regal woman began to buck and howl, fighting helplessly against her captors as the awful brush wracked her with heaving gales of laughter. Tears poured down her reddened cheeks; her long toes flexed, wiggled, and otherwise fought to protect her arches, the balls of her feet, the sensitive little spaces in-between them from the terrible onslaught of the tickle-brush.

"Stop it!" Tyra cried out, as Parveena's laughter became silent sobs. "Look at her! She can't stand it!"

There was another still, tense moment of near-silence, broken only by Parveena's ragged gasps. "What do you think, guides? Is that lesson enough for the first day?" Ms. Coriander asked. Her voice was noticeably lower now, not quite the gilded, dulcet murmur that it had been a few minutes before.

Nyssa glanced at Parveena. Her sunglasses had come askew on her head, and her previously flawless makeup was marred by tears. Her ample bosom heaved as she tried to catch her breath, and she kept trying to hide the sole of one beleaguered bare foot behind the other.

"Sure. I think the lesson got through," Nyssa said. She and Honey grinned coldly. They released Parveena, who pulled her feet, wet as they were, up under her, blinked away tears, and stared at her captors with incredulous rage.

"Wh-...How could...what the fuck!?" She cried out, when she could speak, her British accent adding elegance to the invective.

"Language," Ms. Coriander said coolly.

She took a step back, so that she could address all four of them. "I hope this lesson in humility has helped us to understand each other. You may leave at any time. Until and unless you do, you will comply with whatever you are told to do, for as long as you are told to do it. And remember that whoever you are at home, however much money your daddies or your mommies or your grandmothers or whomever might have, certain vulnerabilities are great equalizers, and excellent tools for... teaching."
__________________________________________________ _______________________

“They went through our stuff!” Astrid shouted, storming out of her private bedroom into the living room they would all share. This section of the house, evidently a recent addition, felt more like a well-appointed dorm room than anything else – a suite, with four bedrooms and two baths arranged around a spacious living area with a large picture window along the one exterior wall.

“Really?” Chloe asked. “How can you tell?”

“They took things. They took my Ipad, they took my FitBit. They took my fucking vibrator,” she said, her voice dropping to a slightly more conspiratorial volume for this last one.

“No…” Tyra said, hopping up to check her own luggage.

“It figures, I guess,” Chloe said. She’d expected this sort of casual invasion of privacy, and hadn’t even bothered to bring anything that might tempt confiscation.

Once they’d been shown to their rooms (their suitcases had already been moved in and unpacked, their clothes hung up and placed in drawers with care), Parveena had stormed straight into hers and slammed her door. She’d seemed pretty shaken up, understandably. In the meantime, the other three had begun to settle into a kind of cabin-mates at summer camp camaraderie, three reluctant strangers in a strange and unpredictable new environment.

Astrid stormed back into her room. Chloe heard some things clattering about, and then she stormed back out again, looking even more outraged than before. “They took my shoes! My crosstrainers and my running shoes! What the hell is that?”

“All part of the program,” Tyra said, emerging from her bedroom looking glum. “That’s what that whole spectacle with Parveena was about, you know. They’re telling us they control our bodies. What we wear, or don’t wear. What we do with them. What happens to them.”
Astrid collapsed onto a couch, disgusted. “Whatever. I’ll train barefoot if I have to. I’m not missing six weeks of workouts. I have qualifiers coming up.”

Chloe checked her gear – she hadn’t brought anything that seemed likely to be considered contraband, so the only things missing were the shoes she’d brought. She glanced around her bedroom, which was comfortable and elegantly furnished – immaculate white linens and plush comforter on the bed, tasteful beach landscape photos on the walls, a comfy love seat under the picture window – and found a black folder on the dresser. She returned to the main room, sat on the sofa, propped her bare feet up on the coffee table, and began to read aloud from the schedule.

“Day 1:
3:00 PM: Welcome
3:30-6:00: Settle in. Down time.
6:00: Dinner in great hall. Come appropriately dressed.
8:00 – 9:00: Lessons.
9:00-10:00: Down time.
10:00: Lights out.”

“Well, looks like we have a little time before dinner. Might as well get to know each other,” Tyra said, curling into a chair near the sofa.

Astrid, still fuming, acquiesced and sat in another. Like Chloe, she propped her bare feet up on the coffee table, then, perhaps self-conscious about the prodigious size differential, withdrew hers a bit and rested her toetips on the table’s edge. Her legs and feet had the deep, even tan of someone who spends a lot of time at the beach.

“Parveena? Want to come out? It’s just us girls,” Chloe called.

After a few moments of silence, Parveena’s door opened and she emerged. She had fixed her hair and makeup and collected herself, and, aside from a slightly shamefaced air, seemed none the worse for wear. She managed a smile, waved off their concerned questions, and joined Chloe on the couch.

“God, that was so awful,” Tyra began, but Chloe, sensing Parveena might not want to talk about it right away, shot her a glance that said “not right now.” Tyra took the hint.

“As prisons go, I guess it’s a pretty one,” Astrid said. And, bound by the camaraderie of compulsion, they began to get to know one another.

Tyra had run afoul of her family’s disapproval when an ex-boyfriend had shared a very private video she had sent him during an extended time apart with a carefully chosen group of her friends and contacts. Parveena’s very traditional mother, goaded on by her half-sister, felt she needed to learn how a lady should comport herself. Her crime, it seemed, was an excessive streak of independence, which manifested itself in her desire to pursue a post-graduate degree instead of marrying advantageously. Astrid, too, was a victim of her own ambition. A world-class athlete, she had set her sights on playing beach volleyball in the next Olympics, a pursuit which required tremendous dedication and physical training. Her grandmother, a benign, distant presence in her life most of the time, had laid eyes on her rippling muscles at a family reunion and decided that ladies simply did not carry themselves that way. None of them had any idea how their families’ matriarchs – some of whom had never so much as sent a text or an email – had stumbled across Miss Coriander’s peculiar academy.

There was a certain sameness to all of their stories – all of them being controlled by families who used their inheritance as a way to force compliance, and who were offended by their daring to exert control over their futures, their sexuality, their bodies. Spoiled little rich girls on the surface, they quickly bonded over the double-edged sword of privilege.

“Well, we just have to help each other get through this. It’s not forever. Whatever they do to us, whatever they make us do, it will be much easier to bear if we have each other’s backs,” Chloe said. The others agreed. Parveena, who would perhaps have held herself a bit more aloof, seemed humbled by her earlier ordeal, and a bit relieved by this emerging esprit de corps. Before Chloe knew it, they were chatting more or less like old friends. For a while, the trepidation and uncertainty about what lay ahead of them over the next few weeks faded away, and they were merely four bright, pretty women relaxing on comfy chairs and couches in a beautiful restored antebellum home.

After a while, a knock came on the door to the shared common room, and Honey entered, wheeling a hotel-style luggage cart with four simple, elegant dresses hanging from the top bar. “Dinner will be formal. We trust these will fit,” she said. “Make-up and jewelry are in your respective powder rooms.” She left the cart and closed the door.

Each dress bore a name tag, and each was a different shade: Parveena’s was ivory, Astrid’s, light blue, Tyra’s, green, and Chloe’s, black. On the base of the cart were four pairs of minimalist, somehow elegant flip flops, color coded with the dresses and sized appropriately.

“Of course, she’d want to dress us,” Parveena said, the bitterness in her tone leavened by her genuine approval of her dress.

“If being her dress-up doll means I keep my inheritance,” Chloe said, “Call me fucking Barbie.” They laughed, a bit ruefully, and set to dressing for dinner.
__________________________________________________ __________________________

True to Ms. Coriander’s bizarre split aesthetic of resort and torture chamber, dinner was spectacular. Chloe wasn’t sure if Honey had cooked it, or was simply the one in charge of serving it, but she, newly dressed in flawless, starched whites, a chef’s hat, and spit-shined black shoes, delivered china plates laden with shrimp and grits, reasonably healthy southern vegetables, and fresh fruit to each of them. Even uncomfortable and weirded out, they couldn’t help but dig in. An added bonus was that eating meant their mouths were too full to talk.

Ms. Coriander, served no food of her own, watched with approval as they ate. At the moment, she was in her full, sunny hostess mode, showing no hint of the menace she had manifested earlier. She glowed in this admittedly strained social environment, telling little anecdotes about the island -- did they know it had been a hideout for pirates in the 18th century? Or that one of the owners of the plantation had freed all of his own slaves in 1858, disowning two sons in the argument that led up to it? Or that Honey had been a sous-chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Charleston before Ms. Coriander had wooed her away? Of course, they hadn’t known any of this, and would have thought they didn’t care, but Ms. Coriander, with her genteel southern accent, impeccable manners, and sparkling, laughing eyes bizarrely went a long way toward winning them over. Even Parveena, who had begun the meal with a resentful scowl, seemed to soften a bit, and began to eat some of the excellent food.

Ms. Coriander took her leave for a while and left the girls together at the table. As soon as she departed, the mostly-silent girls began to chat like old friends, commenting on the food, remarking on her stories, and generally getting along famously -- so much so, in fact, that when Ms. Coriander returned, some ten minutes later, Chloe noticed the slightest furrow of her brow at the good spirits and camaraderie her charges were displaying. The look of displeasure flickered over her face for a brief moment, then was replaced by her customary serene smile. Chloe glanced at her tablemates and realized that she was likely the only one who had seen it.

After dinner, they were instructed to change out of their formal dress and to put on the “work clothes” that had been laid out on their beds. The work clothes, Chloe discovered, were a plain white sports bra and sheer, soft white yoga pants. No shoes or socks with these -- the barefoot indoors rule was apparently back in effect. As she took her dress and sandals back out to place them on the cart on which they’d been delivered, Chloe noticed an interesting development: while everyone’s clothes were identical in style -- sports bras and yoga pants -- hers and Parveena’s were white, while Tyra’s and Astrid’s were black.

When they reported to the conservatory, the reason for this became clear. Tonight’s “work” -- a lesson in grace, poise, and focus--would be a team competition, Ms. Coriander had decided. Chloe and Parveena would be one team, while Astrid and Tyra would be the other. Whichever team did the more satisfactory job with the evening’s work would earn a treat -- extra phone time, perhaps, or a morning sleep-in instead of the 6 am yoga required of the others. Such fun, to introduce some healthy rivalry! The girls exchanged glances and shrugs. Hey, whatever got them through.

The evening’s exercise, it turned out, was artistic. At each corner of the room, there stood a little booth, perhaps as wide as a voting booth, with an easel, palette, and brush. The work of the evening would be a simple paint-by-numbers exercise. What the women were to do was to focus entirely and unceasingly on their work, to paint as carefully and meticulously as possible, and to avoid any distractions as they did so.

“I have found that our culture of distraction is one of the greatest barriers to true virtue,” Ms. Coriander explained. “Tonight’s work, then, is less about artistic talent or expression than it is about focus and poise. You will focus entirely on this work for thirty minutes. You will paint the entire time, and you will not turn away from your work, speak, or otherwise disrupt the room. While variations in quality of work are expected, disruption will necessitate corrective measures.” At this, a little of the edge that had crept into Ms. Coriander’s voice that afternoon came back. Then, she smiled. “You should be perfectly comfortable. The only challenge here is to your attention span, your diligence, and your care.”

Each woman slowly approached her own corner. Each booth, in addition to an easel with the paint-by-numbers, brushes, and paints, had a high chair, like you’d find at a bar, but larger and more comfortable. The chairs had narrow backs, and were considerably higher than Chloe had expected. She had to climb up into hers, and her feet were several inches off the ground. A fold-down tray on either side of the chair held paints and brushes, as well as one more item.

“The headsets are to help you to focus. Please wear them for the duration of the exercise. They will cancel out ambient noises and sharpen your concentration. Please put them on, and begin,” Ms. Coriander said.

Chloe picked up the wireless headset, which was simultaneously light and state of the art and, it seemed, unnecessarily chunky. She fitted the earphones over her ears and was greeted by soft ocean sounds -- soothing, but loud enough to shut out everything else. Oddly, little plastic shields protruded from the earphones on either side of her head, obscuring her peripheral vision and acting almost like blinders for a horse. Ms. Coriander wasn’t kidding about focus.

The painting was diverting enough. Chloe sat there, feeling like a little kid on her unusually high chair, and listened to the ocean sounds and painted inside the lines. The picture was a still-life -- the usual bowl of fruit sort of thing -- and she actually found the whole activity oddly soothing. She had kind of been getting into mindfulness and meditation, and this sort of thing appealed to her, though she was sure some of the others would probably think it was bullshit. For a moment, she entertained the possibility that Ms. Coriander, while certainly some kind of charlatan, might at least be harmless.

Once half an hour had passed, Ms. Coriander’s smoky voice sounded softly in her ears. “Please remove your headsets and stop painting.”

Chloe did, feeling rather proud of what she had accomplished. She turned around to see how the others had done.

Something was wrong. Tyra was visibly very upset -- red faced and angry, eyes wide with outrage as she looked back and forth between the others. Parveena and Astrid, whose experiences had evidently been much like Chloe’s, looked confused. Glancing at Tyra’s painting, Chloe saw at least part of what was amiss: it was a wreck, full of shaky lines, seemingly random blobs of color, and at least one great swoop of yellow that had run all the way off the side of the easel and cast drops of paint all over the inside of the booth.

Ms. Coriander glided back into the room, her finger on her lips to signal that they were not yet allowed to speak. She drifted silently on bare feet, perusing one painting after another, nodding her approval, pointedly, it seemed, saving Tyra’s for last.

“Goodness!” she said, cocking her head and making a little “tut, tut” noise. “It appears, Tyra, that your poise and self-control need considerable work. I’m afraid you’ve let your teammate down.”

Tyra began to protest, but Ms. Coriander raised a finger, and Tyra fell into an exasperated silence.

“Congratulations, Chloe and Parveena. You’ve done quite nicely, and will be allowed to sleep in until 7:30 in the morning. Tyra, since you clearly need extra work, you and Astrid will report to the great lawn a bit early -- let’s say 5:00 -- for yoga and mindfulness.”

Tyra looked like she might cry. Astrid, however unfairly implicated in Tyra’s failure, kept an impassive poker face. And with that, Ms. Coriander dismissed them for the evening.

“Seriously? None of you got fucking tickled?!” Tyra demanded, throwing herself onto the couch. She grabbed a throw pillow, put it up to her face, and let out a muffled scream, kicking her bare heels against the coffee table.
Parveena shut the door to their suite of rooms, and all four of them settled in to hear what had happened…

Tyra had settled in like the rest of them -- climbed onto the high chair and settled the headset onto her wild red locks. As the shortest of the four, she had to hoist herself a bit to get into the chair; she hooked her bare toes onto the crossbar between the chair’s front legs for stability. For a while, everything was fine -- even relaxing. The ocean sounds were a wash of pleasant white noise, and Tyra, who had always enjoyed art, settled into the therapeutic mindlessness of paint-by-number.

The first of it came as she was focused on a particularly meticulous section of the still-life. High as her chair was, the easel was positioned higher, and for some parts of the painting, she had to reach above her head. She bit her bottom lip lightly in concentration, and reached up to work on a section of ivy.

Suddenly, she felt light, scampering fingertips invading her bare armpit.

Tyra squealed, unable to hold back her ticklish shock. Her body jumped, leaving a streak of green across the right side of her painting.
Instinctively, she tried to whirl and confront her tickler, but her chair didn’t swivel, and the stupid blinders on her headset meant she had no peripheral vision. By the time she worked her way around to look behind her, there was no-one there.

Please focus on your paintings, Ms. Coriander’s voice said in her ear.

Shaken, Tyra dipped her brush again, returning to her work. What the fuck was this? Did Coriander see it happen? Did she do it? Was tickling some sadistic part of this whole exercise? God, she fucking hated to be tickled.

She started in again, painting for a few minutes without incident. Then, as she started in on a vase of sunflowers, she felt devilishly skilled fingertips digging in to her lithe, taut waist.

She choked back a giggly cry, remembering even as her body reacted helplessly that causing a disruption would lead to ‘corrective measures.’ Based on what she had seen this afternoon, and what she was experiencing now, she wanted no part of those. This time, the tickler stayed longer, taking advantage of her position behind her and the immobility of the chair to give her ribs and sides a good tickling, now squeezing, now poking, now brushing with a maddeningly light touch. The trays that held the paints limited her ability to block her sides and belly with her arms, operating almost as an infant’s high chair would, allowing her tormentor to tease and tickle her ribs, waist, and tummy as she pleased. As she shook with desperate, silent laughter, Tyra wondered if the others were suffering the same torment. Quickly, the tickling became too much for her to stay silent: guffaws began to spill out of her as she jumped and wiggled in her seat. The others, of course, heard only ocean.

After what seemed like much longer than the 40 seconds or so that it actually was, the tickling stopped again. Tyra sucked in a deep, ragged breath, and tried again to look over her shoulder to see who had done it. Again, no-one.

Thoroughly shaken, Tyra did the only thing she could think to do. She dipped her brush in a color and returned to her sloppy, ruined painting. Again, for a little while, the painting went well. Maybe they were all getting tickled, she thought, in which case maybe there was still hope for her moderately fucked-up but still salvageable painting. She took a deep breath, brushed at the tears at the corners of her eyes, and set back to work. If this was the bitch’s sadistic game, then she would play it like the rest. She already felt the strength of solidarity with her new sisters, and it helped her take the brush up again.

She had a few blessed moments to gather herself, to regain some semblance of control and poise, to dip her brush and start in again at her poor, paint-streaked picture. And then her troubles really began.

She had been resting her bare toes on the crossbar connecting the chair legs, stretching the smooth, soft pink skin of her soles taut and totally defenseless, when suddenly a single fingernail stroked down the center of each high arch.

Tyra never had a chance. She shrieked, both feet jumping, knees knocking against the trays that held the paints and brushes, her brush trailing a broad yellow streak up one side of the canvas. Biting her lip, she tried to get a look at who might be tormenting her, but, just as the “blinders” kept her from looking behind her easily, the trays effectively kept her from seeing below her own lap. A shivery shudder shook her, and she wiggled and flexed her toes, rubbing her soles together as if to erase the tickle. Her armpits and waist had been bad enough. Her feet took things to another level.

“This is the test. You can take it,” she told herself. She took a deep breath, dipped her brush, and, toes clenched tight enough that her now-crinkly soles showed white as well as their usual pink, she clenched her jaw and resumed painting.
Four of five strokes in, it started. Someone took the hems of her yoga pants in a firm grasp, holding them tightly enough that Tyra, unable to get any leverage in her position, couldn’t pull away. She knew immediately what was about to happen -- in spite of herself, she began to babble “nononoNONO!!”

Her pleas turned abruptly to frantic giggles as smooth but sharp fingernails began scribbling over the soles of her trapped bare feet to devastating effect. They skated over her heels, zipped into the curls of her writhing, wiggling toes, whispered over the balls of her feet, all as a prelude to the main course -- her high, helpless arches. Still trying to be quiet and contained but taken immediately far past her endurance, Tyra, her whole body shaking with poorly-suppressed laughter, made a series of squeaks, squeals, and occasionally barking guffaws that would have been hilarious themselves if she or any of her fellow painters could have heard them. Her body went into full-on panic mode as the nails skittered and scampered over her bare soles, but she could find no purchase to pull her feet free, and if she gave in too fully to the rush of panic, she feared she might topple over backward, taking chair, easel, and everything else with her. All she could do was sit, take it, and laugh her poor head off.

The longer the fingernails tickled her feet, the less she could resist fully surrendering to the sensation. Soon, she was full-on cackling, now throwing her head back in a nimbus of wild, crimson tresses, now leaning forward, shaking with laughter, the ends of her long hair trailing carelessly through the paint on her palette. At least it’s watercolor, she thought, in a brief moment of clarity before another wave of tickles invaded her arches and wracked her petite body with waves of helpless hilarity.

When the tickling suddenly stopped, she slumped forward, rubbing the sole of one foot against the top of the other, then switching, over and over again until she could catch her breath and regain composure. Maddeningly, those few moments were enough for her tormentor to slip away -- by the time she turned, red-faced and tear-stained with wrath in her eyes, she saw only the backs of her fellow painters, blissfully ignorant as they finished their paintings, hearing only the sound of the ocean.

This, in a somewhat less formal and elaborate form, was what Tyra explained to her sympathetic fellow inmates as they sat in their now-accustomed spots in the common area.

“And you’ve no idea who it was? I mean, it had to be Coriander, right? Or one of the ‘guides’ -- Honey or Nyssa,” Parveena said.

“I guess,” Tyra said. “But why just me? And now I feel like a jerk because Astrid has to suffer, too.”
Astrid shrugged. “I’m always up by 5. If I weren’t doing yoga with you, I’d be running or lifting,” she said. Tyra gave her a grateful smile.

Chloe frowned, her nose crinkling cutely. “That’s twice today they’ve tickled us -- first Parveena, then you. Why, I wonder? What are they trying to accomplish?”

“Well, it’s bloody torture, isn’t it?” Parveena said, unconsciously rubbing her bare soles against the carpet.
Chloe laughed aloud, then immediately realized, form the looks on Parveena’s and Tyra’s faces, that she’d profoundly misread the room.

“I mean, not really, right? Don’t get me wrong, I know it sucks, but torture just seems…” she trailed off, sensing she was digging a hole. Fortunately -- perhaps -- the tense moment was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Honey.

“Evening, ladies. Just wanted to borrow Tyra and Astrid for a bit. We start bright and early, you know, and I want everything to be clear before lights out.” Honey’s low, kiwi-accented voice had a hint of a teasing lilt to it. Her smoky grey eyes twinkled with humor.

“Right. See you later, ‘winners,’” Tyra said, resentment coming through clearly as she tossed her wild red mane.
Astrid cocked her head in a little shrug and followed Honey and Tyra.

“Nearly lights out,” Honey tossed over her shoulder. “Best prep for bed. A schedule’s a schedule, for winners and losers alike.”

A little troubled by the adversarial turn the evening had taken, Chloe looked at Parveena and raised an eyebrow.

“We’re number one, I suppose,” Parveena said. “I’m a bit worn out. Whatever strangeness this place has in store, a good night’s sleep can only help.”
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

Chloe had always been a deep sleeper. She didn’t always fall asleep easily, but once she was out, she was out. Even in the strangeness of this new place, in a strange but comfortable and luxurious new bed, with so many thoughts and questions racing around in her head, it wasn’t long before she slipped into a deep sleep that would, ordinarily, have carried her through til morning.
It was not to be. She blinked gradually awake in the dead of night to find that something was very wrong. First off, she realized to her alarm that she had been gagged with what felt like a broad swath of tape. When she tried to reach up and tear it off, she found that she could not move her arms. Panicking, she looked down the length of her body, illuminated by the bright moonlight coming in the windows, and saw that she had been rolled completely up in her bedclothes, neatly and effectively, and that the Chloe blanket burrito she had become was cinched at her elbows, above and below the waist and at the knees with what looked like bedsheets that had been twisted into ropes and knotted. All that emerged were her head and shoulders at one end and her bare feet at the other.

“She’s awake,” a voice said, and two figures emerged from the shadows. Into the strip of bright moonlight stepped Astrid on one side of her bed and Tyra on the other, their hair and eyes glinting in the silver light, their faces mostly in shadow.

“Hi, sweetie!” Tyra said, leaning in and brushing a strand of hair off of Chloe’s forehead. “You’re an awfully deep sleeper, aren’t you? I can’t believe all that rolling and wrapping didn’t wake you up. But I guess being a backstabbing bitch is pretty exhausting, isn’t it?”

Chloe’s eyes flew wide, and she grunted her objections behind her gag. What was she talking about? What did they think she’d done?
Astrid, usually laconic, spoke up, her voice cold. “All for what, a couple of hours sleep? And after all that about us sticking together to get through this. That’s pretty shitty.”

“Oh, it’s more than that,” Tyra said. “She didn’t just cheat, or, like, passively screw us over. This bitch tortured me. But then, she doesn’t think tickling can be torture, does she?”

With that, the gravity of Chloe’s situation began to sink in. Here she was, wrapped up in a neat sheath of sheets and down comforter, barefoot and helpless, at the mercy of two furious women who thought she’d screwed them over -- one of whom, who thought she’d tickle-tortured her. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where this was going. She groaned and grunted behind the tape-gag, but “MMMMMPH!!” could only be so persuasive. This was going to be bad. And yet, as the two of them made their way slowly, inevitably, toward the foot of the bed, Chloe felt a little shudder of -- excitement? A faint hint of that feeling as the roller coaster clicks its way slowly to the top of that first, great drop, only this one centered a bit south of the pit of her stomach?

She had little time to sort through her feelings as Astrid and Tyra lifted her feet up and tugged, sliding her down the bed so that her heels, cushioned by the bottom of the comforter, rested atop the footboard. Astrid’s brow furrowed slightly. “What if she’s not ticklish? Some people aren’t, I think.”

“Coriander said she was. And look at her. She’s freaking out,” Tyra said, indicating Chloe’s nervously squirming bare toes, her tense body and alarmed, cringing face. Coriander said? How the hell would she know? Chloe thought.

She had maybe a second to ponder that one before Tyra, with one finger, erased any doubt about the ticklishness of Chloe’s feet. Starting at the pads of her toes, Tyra began to trail the very tip of her index fingernail over them, cooing gently as she did so. “Chlooooooeeeeey...does this tickle your little toesies?”

Chloe’s toes twitched and flinched, and in spite of her best efforts, she began to shake with little shivery chuckles, muffled by the tape, but clearly audible. This was like tickle foreplay -- very much like it, given the odd way Chloe’s body was reacting -- but it was already enough to get her going.

Tyra’s nail traced down the outside edge of Chloe’s foot, making her pull ineffectually away, then scratched maddeningly and insistently at a single spot on her heel, as if she were trying to scrape some imaginary spot away. Chloe squeaked and bounced, her eyes pleading, as Tyra took her sweet time.

“Weird how much that tickles, even on a rough part of your foot, isn’t it? Of course, you showed me that, just a few hours ago. You showed me just how ticklish my feet are, and all sorts of new ways to tickle them. I thought I was going to wet my fucking pants.” At this last sentence, Tyra’s voice dropped from the teasing baby-talk she had been using to a flatter, angrier tone. She scribbled her fingernails up unter the stems of Chloe’s toes, making her squeal and giggle into her gag as her trapped and trussed body jumped with ticklish response. Chloe shook her head no, no, I didn’t do it -- of course, to no avail.

“But you don’t have any real rough spots on your feet, do you, cutie? No, these pretty little tan beach princess feet are just as soft and pampered as can be. Even here, where some people get callouses, you’ve got nothing but soft, smooth skin.”

With that, Tyra held Chloe’s big toes together and used two fingernails to scribble softly at the balls of her feet. Ungagged, Choe would have roared with laughter -- as it was, she bucked, shook, and quivered, her laughter bubbling up from within and forcing its way through her gag as frantic grunts. Tyra grinned, pleased with the response this particular attack was getting, and kept it up a bit longer, savoring the sounds Chloe made, the bucking of her trussed body, the way the toes she wasn’t holding captive splayed and curled and wiggled in futile, unconscious efforts to protect the bottoms of Chloe’s defenseless bare feet. Astrid, a little less invested, looked on with amusement as Tyra took her revenge.
For her part, Chloe had already discovered two things. One was that, her earlier notions to the contrary, tickling could absolutely be torture. It wasn’t torture the way the rack or thumbscrews or any of that stuff was, but to be held still and helpless while somebody made your body respond in ways you absolutely could not resist or control was maddening, and quickly became unbearable. She had known she was ticklish -- very ticklish, in fact -- but it had never been a particularly important fact. Friends and boyfriends took advantage occasionally, pedicures were always a struggle, but none of that was particularly traumatic or terrible. Even watching Parveena suffer through her tickling that afternoon, she hadn’t fully realized how awful it had been. Now, though, actually bound and forced to endure focused, vengeful tickling on her feet, which won a tough competition for the absolute most ticklish parts of her body, Chloe had begun to think of tickling in an entirely different way.

At the same time, though, there was the other thing. The way her nipples were hard points, rubbing against her silky, thin t-shirt and the Egyptian cotton sheets that bound her. The way her juices were soaking the crotch of her brief cotton underwear. Chloe had always found the idea of being tied up or otherwise trapped exciting. Though she was ardent and eager in sex with partners, she tended to be fairly vanilla. More often than not, though, when she was alone, and her fingers crept inside the waistband of her panties, or she detached the pulsating showerhead for a little extra self-care, the fantasies that came were of being tied, blindfolded, teased, denied. Those were her go-to images as she made herself cum.

Somehow or other, this torture, as awful as it was, was lighting up those same pleasure centers. If she hadn’t been flushed from the tickling -- tickled pink, as it were -- she would absolutely have been glowing with arousal.

Tyra stepped back for a moment, giving Chloe a moment to catch her breath. “Astrid, you want a shot? I left the best part for last.”
Oh, god, she did, Chloe thought, frantically hiding the sole of one foot behind the other.

“Yeah, why not?” Astrid said. The big blonde athlete padded over to Chloe’s cringing feet. “I bet I know right where it tickles worst.” As if to confirm, she tapped the tip of one finger -- just a tap -- right in the center of Chloe’s arch. Chloe let out a little desperate moan, which somehow managed to compound her embarrassment. Then, with enthusiasm that more than made up for her lack of technique, the Amazon began tickling the soles of Chloe’s bare feet -- both feet, all ten fingers, just a wild scrabble that somehow managed to be just the right combination of gentle and intense to throw Chloe into instant, howling hysterics.

It was, in a bizarre way, like the moment when a teasing lover finally fully entered her -- not quite orgasmic, but a culmination of what the teasing touches before had been leading up to. If tickling her toes and heels and the balls of her feet could make her giggle and squeal and snort, tickling the soles of her feet proper --especially her high, smooth arches -- could and did make her scream and howl and convulse and, were she not gagged, beg and plead through peals of laughter. Astrid just kept up the tickling, varying her scribbles and scrabbles just enough that Chloe could never get even a little bit used to them, as her victim bucked and heaved and laughed ‘til she cried.

“You know, this isn’t the kind of thing I’d ordinarily do,” Astrid said. “I mean, it’s not the sort of thing anybody would ordinarily do, I guess. But my point is I’m not mean. But I don’t like bullies and I don’t like cheaters. And once Coriander told us you were the one who’d sneaked across the room and tickled Tyra to ruin her painting, all I could think of was what an awful person you’d have to do to do something like that.”
Chloe bounced, thrashed, screamed in laughter and frustration at not being able to defend herself. Astrid kept tickling, and talking.

“I mean, we’d just talked about working together. I kind of thought we could help each other out, maybe even become friends. But then you do something like that. And for what? A couple of hours’ sleep?”

For variety’s sake, Astrid, who was really starting to figure out how to tickle Chloe’s feet like a vitruoso, began squeezing the fingers of one hand between Chloe’s toes, all the while maintaining her assault on the bottoms of Chloe’s feet. Chloe’s laughter had gone silent, now, as her whole body shook. Without even consciously thinking about it -- well, not really, she’d tell herself later -- she worked one hand around between her thighs and pressed hard against the hot swollen wetness there. She gasped amid the peals of laughter, the overwhelming sensations of tickling at war with her arousal. If it kept up for a few moments more, she would either cum, lose her mind, or both…

“What the hell is going on here?” an elegant, British-accented voice said. Parveena clicked on the lights, and the tickling suddenly stopped; clarity, sudden, and not entirely welcome, washed over Chloe like a bucket of cold water. A few more moments of pressure on her clit would have sent her over the edge, but to finish now would just mean she was masturbating in front of three almost-strangers. With a shuddering sigh, she stopped, her body on fire, her private erotic drama concealed from her torturers and possible savior from the sweat-soaked sheets and comforter.

“This bitch tickled me to win the contest today. Drove me about out of my mind, and cheated, all for nothing. Astrid and I were just returning the favor,” Tyra said.

Parveena shook her head, incredulous. “No, she didn’t.”

“How do you know?” Tyra asked, suddenly looking troubled.

“Where I was sitting, I could see Chloe’s booth reflected in the glass of one of the bookcases. When I’d get a bit bored, I’d watch her paint for a moment. It was a bit like checking my rear-view mirror -- I didn’t watch her constantly, but if she had gotten up and left for any period of time, I would have noticed. Whoever tickled you, it wasn’t Chloe.”

“Oh, shit,” Astrid said. Tyra’s jaw literally dropped.

“Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no,” Tyra said, running up to Chloe’s face and, wincing apologetically, yanking the tape off of her mouth. “Oh, god, Chloe, I…”

“I...didn’t...tihickle…” Chloe managed, loopy and giggly from what she had just gone through.

“I’m so sorry. We’re so sorry. They told us...” Astrid said, untying the bonds that held the comforter and sheets around Chloe. Chloe, still gasping, managed to fight her way free of the covers and let the cooling breeze of the ceiling fan wash over her sweat-soaked body. She could only hope the general smell of sweat and desperation would camouflage the more particular scent of her arousal. Conscious of the wetness between her thighs that would doubtless be obvious to anyone looking, she kept the sheets over her lower half and held up a hand.

“Give me… a minute..to get it together,” she managed. “Then, let’s all have...another talk.”

Apologizing the whole way, Astrid and Tyra followed Parveena back out into the main room. Chloe went straight for the shower, shedding her soaked clothes as she turned on the hot water, and as soon as the water was hot enough, she stepped in, closed the curtain, and brought herself, finally, to a fierce and shuddering orgasm that sapped any remaining strength from her limbs. She actually slid to the floor of the tub, the steamy water beating down on her exhausted body, rinsing away the sweat. until she could catch her breath and the strength gradually began to come back to her body. She climbed back to her feet, washed her hair and body with the lavender wash Ms. Coriander provided, then donned the plush bathrobe on the back of the door and padded out into the common room, still toweling her long, dark hair.