As your story ends the flames grow dimmer. The fire darkens but its warmth persists.
Well done ladies, we've made it one round through the telling. Heather you did wonderfully to close us out, although...
Sorry, I'm not trying to be weird, my eyes are just tearing up in all this smoke. It looks like you spilled a little bit of your dinner on your shirt right there.
Well what else could it be? Sap maybe? Looks like jelly to me.
Alright, take a moment to start thinking of your story for our second trip around the circle. The moon is just starting to creep up through the treeline, if you look closely you can see it through the leaves. We have plenty of time to fill before the witching hour that completes our autumn ritual. Remember the change in incantations when the telling comes around to you. Here we go.
Let the silent stars bear witness to my words as I begin our seventh story.
"Close your eyes and don't resist," the kindly voice advised me as the cushions of the bulky headset slid along my temples, "She wanted you and she will have you. Nothing you can do will change that. It'll be better to just give in."
I snarled around the ball gag as the speakers sealed against my ears. For a moment more I could faintly make out the faint sounds of footsteps and machinery before a mechanical whine plunged me into silence. I used what little slack I had to thrash against the bonds holding me to the chair, the attendant before me gracefully taking a step back. I snorted and strained in anger as a series of beeps began pouring through the headphones. They were loud and chaotic to my captive hearing. I redoubled my efforts to break my bonds in any way possible. Hell, at this point I would even settle for breaking myself.
The beeping increased in its ferocity, picking up pace and volume to match my tantrum. They blared louder and louder and I struggled harder and harder, the pain in my wrists cutting through to let me know I was getting somewhere. Maybe I couldn't escape, but I could hurt myself bad enough to become damaged goods. Then maybe she wouldn't want me anymore, then maybe she would let me free. I was almost ecstatic as I felt a warm oozing sensation from where the cuffs had been biting into my wrist. I looked down gleefully, expecting to see blood. Instead I saw the attendant who had placed the headset on me slowly wringing a warm sponge over my thrashing arms.
The warmth continued along my arms as she washed me, the perfumed scent of the soap aggravating my nose. The beeping was screaming in my head now, pushing out everything except its shrill presence and my blind rage fighting against it. A million miles away I felt my other arm become pleasantly warm as the attendant deftly and carefully washed along it. I was staring unseeingly off into blank space, focused solely on battling the binaural beeps. My eyes bulged. I could just barely register my distant fingers digging like claws into the armrests of the chair, disconnected from my body by my vanished arms but still somehow capable of transmitting the stress-borne clutch they had on the chair through the ether. It continued until I existed in a world of only pure noise contesting with primal fury, and then it began to diminish.
Bit-by-bit the beeping became more orderly, the volume lessening further and further with each passing second. I breathed a sigh of relief, somehow I had won. I let all the stress begin to flow away, unnecessary now that I had outlasted the fiendish program. I relaxed as I breathed deeply, appreciating the lovely warmth of my body as the beeping and buzzing in my ears became calmer and calmer. There was a pleasant scent, a relaxing perfume, that I drew in deeply with each breath; something that helped me calm more and more with each inhale. My body stilled as my muscles relaxed.
It was okay now. I had won. The beeping had calmed down so I could too.
Whispered voices began congratulating me on beating the brainwashing, telling me that they'd have to let me go. I smugly smirked as I relaxed even more into the chair, enjoying the champion's bath I was being given by the attendant who had said with such certainty minutes before that I couldn't win. The whispers assured me that I deserved this pleasantly warm bath, that I deserved some relaxation after such a valiant struggle. In fact, I deserved even more than just my freedom; there were other prizes in wait.
The gag was popped out of my mouth and the shackles released from around my torso, arms, and legs. An electrical click popped through the headphones and suddenly I could hear the world around me again. Haughtily I stood tall, giving the attendant my most arrogant look.
"I bet you didn't I'd beat your brainwashing program," I sneered. She bowed her head and shook it sadly.
"Your prizes await," she said, motioning to a door, "Please follow me."
With my head held high I followed her, the subdued beeps still whining piteously in my ear. She led me into a spacious changing room, where three dresses sat on mannequins. One was white, one was blue, and the most striking one was a fierce red.
"You have won this beautiful white dress," the attendant said, her head bowed again. I could hear the defeat in her voice, "We would prefer you wait until you're home to wear it of course. It would be most embarassing for my mistress if she saw you wearing it as you left."
"Oh you would, would you?" I chuckled viciously, "Well I'm going to wear it out, and I'd like to see you try and stop me!"
The attendant's hands flew to the sides of her face in horror, her eyes brimming with tears. The whispers were asking me if that was enough, if that was all I could do to foul up all their plans. I knew I could do even better. I turned on my heel and charged for the red dress, the attendant running five feet behind me.
"Wait! You can only take the white one!" she cried out as I disrobed the mannequin. I gave her a nasty grin as I pulled the dress on, reveling in how powerless she was to stop me. Resigned to her fate, she floated behind me and zipped up the back of the dress.
"Okay fine," she sobbed, "You can have the red dress but you have to leave the rest of the outfit."
Amid a series of pulsating beeps I scanned the mannequin for anything I had missed. Had the foolish attendant not moved towards them to protect them from my rightful claim, perhaps I wouldn't have found them. A shelf ten feet away had the stockings, garters, shoes, panties, and gloves that matched my frilly red dress; all mine. There was something else too, something that the attendant slipped behind her back when she thought I wasn't looking. Whispered voices told me it would feel the best to wait until I had forced her to help me put on all these other things before making her reveal that she had tried to hide it's final component from me. I was vibrating in excitement thinking of that moment.
She sorrowfully helped me put on every accoutrement of the dashing dress, my mind awash in the joyful beeping music with its softly whispered lyrics. When it was all done I admired myself in the mirrors of the changing room. I was beautiful and strong and powerful and pretty; the only person who could have possibly escaped the brainwashing headphones. The attendant approached me, trembling.
"That's the whole dress," she pleaded with me, "Now please just show yourself out."
"Oh, I don't think so," I responded, shaking my head, "You hid a piece from me. Where is it? It's mine!"
She scrambled away at my powerful command to fetch a long, red veil she had tried to squirrel away, thinking I wouldn't notice its absence. On the verge of tears she place it over my bowed head, fitting it snugly against the useless headphones. The fit was so perfect, it almost seemed like it was designed to be worn with them. I stood back up and examined the world through my new red veil; a world of red shapes and shadows in crimson mists. Beautiful.
"Now please, just leave!" she sniffled.
"You'll have to lead me out," I demanded, wanting to continue to bully her into doing my bidding, "Otherwise I'd have to lift my lovely veil, and I don't want to."
I could hear the sigh as she resigned herself to being my guide. Her small hand clutched around my own and tugged me towards a door. She led me through a labyrinth of hallways and rooms, with me only able to see red outlines of the world beyond. I began brainstorming my next move to embarrass this lowly attendant and her failure of a mistress. The whispers eventually came up with a great one.
They said that I should demand that the first thing I saw when I lifted my veil would be the thing I belonged to. That then I could lift my veil and spot a painting or a chest or a particularly nice vase and say I belonged to it. And belonging to it I would both be permitted to enter the place where it resided to torment the tearful assistant even more and it would reciprocally belong to me; the thing I possess possessing me implying that the thing possessing me is my possession. Oh, it was a brilliant trick.
I informed her of the new command I had and she pulled me harder and faster through the hallways. I was tempted to lift the veil at every object I vaguely saw as we passed by, but the whispering in my ears kept assuring me there was something even better just a little ways onward. We finally stopped after minutes of frantic scurrying on her part. I could just barely see her point through the veil.
"Please, there's the door out. Just open it and leave."
"What about my most recent demand?" I snarled, "I still need to see something so it can own me!"
"Fine! Look at anything you want except..." she let her sentence trail off.
"Except what?" I demanded, I knew she was holding out on me. I knew she was trying to keep me from being owned by the best thing in the manor.
"Please. Anything except what's right behind you. Anything else. Even me."
I knew I had her. The beeping and whispers ecstatically urged me on. I spun around and lifted my red veil, coming face to face with Ms. Mencken. I should have known, she had been pursuing me romantically for years. Of course the billionaire heiress was behind this whole failed brainwashing scheme, but the joke was on her. She thought she could brainwash me into loving her, but she owned me now. I had won! I had tricked her and her mewling servant into letting me dress up in an elegant dress and into owning me! What an arrogant bitch!
I laughed at her as she tried to admit to losing with grace.
"I own you now Liz," she said with a coolness that could only be covering for her humiliation, "I own you as a thrall and as my partner."
"Damn right you do." I snickered as I melted into her, extracting my winner's kiss from her soft lips. I threw my arms around her and hoped she had learned her lesson. Try as she might, she could never not own me.