Prudence Bennett awoke slowly, groggily. Her head felt stuffed with flannel, as it had last winter when she was ill. She could not remember going to bed. The young girl tried to stir, but found she could not. The sensation was odd; it was even more confining than her motherís bundling-bags. Prudence tried to open her eyes. She could see only blurry images at first. She tried to raise her arms, lift her legs, but found she could not move them more than the merest fraction of an inch. But where was she? She was not in her bed! She was sitting up, for one thing. The surface beneath her and against her back was not soft like her bed, but hard, rough. And, if she was not mistaken, she was out of doors! She could feel a cool breeze on her skin, smell the sharp woodland scents of the forest.
Prudenceís vision cleared, and she looked down at herself. What she saw made her gasp with surprise. She was bound! She was in a clearing somewhere in the forest, sitting on the bare ground. Her back was to a tree, and her wrists were tied together behind the tree. Her legs were straight out in front of her, spread apart, and her ankles tied to wooden stakes driven into the ground. She still wore her simple gray dress, but her shoes and stockings had been removed; her feet were as naked as the day she came into the world. She blushed with shame at this; her lower extremities exposed to the world like a common harlot!
How had she come this way? Prudence tried to remember. She thought back to the last conscious memory she had. It was the feast, to celebrate their first harvest in this new land of America. Goodman Procter, in the spirit of brotherhood, had invited the red-skinned savages of this land to join them in the feast. Many of the townfolk had balked at this, fearing for their lives, but Procter had assured them they would be safe. Tensions were high at first, but as the feast got under way everyone relaxed. The red skins seemed polite, friendly people. Prudence, the youngest unmarried woman there and quite beautiful with her blonde hair and pleasing form, would have had her pick of strong young Christian men to protect her, had the need arisen. But it had not. Prudence herself had talked to several of the red skins, and found them charming people, if possessed of strange names. Why, they had even brought a dessert to the feast, a flavorful confection of fruit and honey. Prudence remembered how good it tasted, how light-headed it made her feelÖ
The confection! Had the red skins put something in it, to make them sleep? That must be it! And now they had taken the townspeople prisoner! Horror gripped Prudenceís young soul like a hand of ice. She had heard rumors of the horrible tortures the savages inflicted on their captives. What terrible fate did they have planned for her? She glanced uneasily at her spread legs. Could they--did they--were they planning to violate her? No! It could not be! She would die first!
A few minutes after Prudence had awakened, she heard someone coming into the clearing. She looked up with fear in her heart, expecting to see some of the red skin men with their cabled muscles and dark eyes coming toward her. Her heart was relieved somewhat when instead she saw two of the young savage girls she had met at the feast. They were younger even than she; their names were Gray Feather and Laughing Dove. They looked at her with broad smiles as they came toward her. Their smiles put Prudence somewhat at ease. She had spoken to these girls, had laughed with them. Perhaps they had come to release her!
Prudence tried to speak to the girls, but the savage maidens did not answer her. The one called Gray Feather sat down on the ground, next to Prudenceís left foot. Prudence wondered what the maiden was doing. Then she saw Gray Feather reach into the folds of her own garment and take something out. Prudenceís eyes grew wide when she saw what it was. A gray feather, soft and fluffy. The red skin girl looked up at Prudence and flashed her a wicked grin; then she began gently stroking the wispy tip of the feather up and down the bottom of Prudenceís foot. The Christian girlís foot twitched and flailed as much as her bonds allowed. She was terribly, terribly ticklish! The soft feather gently stroked her sensitive skin, producing maddening sensations in her. As a proper Christian woman, she had never gone barefoot; her feet were thus soft and free of callus, and totally defenseless against the tickling. Giggles soon bubbled from her lips, and quickly grew into robust laughter. Gray Feather began stroking the feather across the tips of Prudenceís toes, eliciting louder laughter from the Puritan maid. When the savage girl drew the feather between Prudenceís wiggling toes, the maidenís laughter turned to shrieks. Gray Feather grinned evilly as she sawed the plume back and forth between Prudenceís toes, faster and faster. After a few minutes she switched back to a gentle stroking up and down Prudenceís sole, which still tickled but more soothingly so; the maidenís laughter subsided to giggles and occasional bursts of laughter.
After what seemed an eternity to Prudence, but was really closer to half an hour, Gray Feather stopped tickling her foot with the feather. She said something to her sister in their savage tongue, and Laughing Dove helped her to her feet. Prudenceís head sagged onto her chest, and her breath came in desperate gasps. She could not stand this! She had not been tickled since she was a child. Her father had tickled her often, and her feet were his favorite target; but this was nothing like the gentle teasing of her tiny toes that he had done! This was maddening, and did not stop after a few moments. It went on, and on, and on, and nothing Prudence did could stop it!
Prudenceís head lifted as she heard the two savage maidens speaking to each other in their native tongue, giggling as they spoke. Gray Feather was now sitting back on her heels, watching with interest. Laughing Dove had produced something and was moving toward Prudenceís right foot with it. It took a few moments for Prudence to recognize it; a chickenís claw! The red skin maiden began raking the birdís talon up and down the sole of Prudenceís foot. The Puritan maid screamed with laughter. This tickled a hundred times worse than the feather! This was an intense tickle, like tiny lightning bolts shooting through her foot up her leg and into her stomach. Laughing Dove worked the claw expertly, raking it across Prudenceís arch, below the balls of her foot, and even across the soft space where her toes met the foot. She howled with laughter as the claw sent one furious tickle sensation after another lancing through her. This was torture! Unbelievable, unbearable torture! Prudence begged silently to her God for release. But release did not come; Laughing Dove continued raking the claw over the bottom of her foot, changing from slow strokes to rapid scribbles, from one spot on her incredibly-ticklish foot to another. This girl was a fiendishly talented tickler!
Finally the savage girl stopped tickling Prudenceís foot. The two red skin maidens got up, and left the clearing. Prudence sat on the ground, heaving and gasping for air. Her pretty pale face was flushed bright red. Sweat and tears streamed down her face. She was so exhausted from the tickles, she was not even ashamed that she had lost bladder control under the intense laughter. She begged to God for deliverance from this torture; for freedom, or death!
After a long interval, Prudence heard someone returning to the clearing. Hope dared to flower in her heart; could it be her fellow Christians, come to deliver her from this torture? But no, it was Gray Feather and Laughing Dove again. Prudence saw the wicked smiles on their faces as they returned to the clearing. They were each carrying a clay jar, somewhat larger than an oil lantern. Prudence saw another red skin woman, somewhat older than the maidens, coming into the clearing behind them. She recognized this woman as Gentle Breeze, the mother of the two girls. This one sat down on a rock, and watched Prudence with a slight smile. Gray Feather and Laughing Dove walked up to Prudence, and held the clay jars out for her to see. She looked down into them, and gasped at what she saw. The jars were swarming with furry brown caterpillars, crawling all over the smooth walls of the jars, trying to climb out but unable to find purchase on the glassy surface. They were as fuzzy as dandelion puffs, and writhed with liquid motion. Prudence gaped in horror as the red skin maidens popped the jars over her bare feet. She immediately felt the tiny fuzzy bodies crawling all over her feet, slithering between her toes, across her soles. She burst out laughing again, and shook her feet from side to side, trying to dislodge the jars.
Gray Feather and Laughing Dove sat on the ground at their motherís feet. They watched Prudenceís ticklish agony with joy. Gentle Breeze smiled down at her daughters. They were truly happy, and very thankful for their new toy. They would play with this one a long, long time, until the tickles drove her mad. Then, there would be another new toy. There would always be another new toy.