Reaching Out from a Mind as Dirty as All Outdoors

If you get lucky enough, I might post adult-only material from time to time, so be 18 or over, or please be elsewhere.

I'll be discussing erotica here, the writing of it and the people who write it, as well as what we've written. I find all these aspects stimulating, but if any of them bore you, feel free to skim. You never know what you might miss, though.




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Saturday, January 28, 2023

KIT IN BOOTS




IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) ((ifaw.org) works around the globe to rescue and rehabilitate animals, end illegal wildlife trade, and conserve habitats.

We collaborate with local communities to create sustainable livelihoods that benefit both people and animals.

Thanks to your support, IFAW rescuers and veterinarians are there to rebuild koala habitat in Australia, save whales and dolphins entangled in fishing gear, help Ukraine refugees get to safety with their pets, and protect animals worldwide.

I’m supporting this charity in honor of all the dogs I’ve had in the past, and one animal that isn’t even real. When my life-long mate died, I was torn by the emptiness of the well-used recliner chair where my love would never sit again. My son brought me Cheetah, and announced that now I had an emotional support animal. Oddly enough, he was right, at least in the case of the chair. Now every day I set Cheetah there, where I pretend he can watch the birds and squirrels out by my bird feeders, and somehow it does help me that the chair is no longer empty. (Don’t tell anybody that I also put Cheetah on the otherwise empty pillow beside mine in my bed.)



Onward with the story I’m sharing, which actually isn’t about animals, real or imaginary, so “Kit in Boots” is my only excuse to pair it with this charity. You know the drill: I'll pay my charity $1 for every hit on this blog, and $2 for every comment.

Kit in Boots                                                                                           4571 words

Sacchi Green

Kit gazed into the miller’s open grave and vowed silently that Puss would be forever buried with him. As the gravediggers shoveled earth over the coffin, she thought of tearing off her drab, shapeless gown and shawl and tossing them in as well, revealing the shirt and breeches and, yes, even boots, she wore beneath, but some of the mourners would enjoy that scandal all too much. Just a few more hours and she could shed entirely the life she’d led. 

What lay ahead…well, the course of a new life was always unclear, but she knew where to begin the search for all that she wanted, and needed, whatever the price. A certain memory drove her on, so vivid yet unreal that by now she could scarcely tell what was truth and what was dream. 

There had been high winds hurling cold spray from the waves on that moonlit night as she tramped along the shingle beach. In her few rare hours of respite from tending the old man, she often walked two miles from the inland village to feel that wind, and space, and illusion of freedom. Sometimes she yearned toward faraway places she had heard of beyond the sea. But this time, a great dark figure on the low cliff above had been watching, clutching his hooded cloak about him so that even his eyes could not be seen, though she felt their gaze like a searing touch. 

Kit’s hedge-witch mother had given her little power and less instruction, but enough that she could to feel the aura of fierce desire emanating from the brooding watcher. It inspired a tremor of fear, yes, but a wild, wanton impulse as well that made her spread her arms and let the wind blow her threadbare cloak out behind her and mold her damp, shapeless dress tightly against her very shapely body. Long hair whipped about her face at one moment and streamed free like a banner at the next. She flashed a look of challenge, a laughing invitation, upward to the cliff-top; he raised an arm in salute, letting his cloak rise in the wind like a mighty wing—and then he turned and was gone. Kit had waited on the shingle as long as she dared, shivering in the cold wind yet burning with anticipation, but he had not come. 

Even now, by the graveside, she yearned to feel again that aching intensity, that fierce power and irresistible force of nature that might yet be bent to her own desires. She would begin her new life by searching out the mysteries surrounding the man on the cliff. In the harbor town of Rockbay, she knew, they called him the Ogre, but had little more to tell, though he had taken residence in the old castle on the coast more than six months past.             

The diggers signaled Kit that they had finished. She tossed a handful of daisies onto the new-turned earth. The old man had been kind, in his way, taking her from the workhouse at fifteen to keep house and cook for himself and his three sons. Five years later, as he’d grown ill and blind, she had nursed him through his last days. If calling her “Puss” and stroking her tangle of hair the color of a ginger cat soothed him, so be it.   

But no one else should claim that liberty. Rolfe, the middle son, had tried, and still bore the scars of her claws. He had tried a good deal more than that, in fact, and Kit had chosen to give in to him a few times, on her own terms; satisfying a man she despised might be a useful skill some day, and learning to satisfy herself, since he could not, was a valuable lesson as well. Having soon wrung from him what little he offered, she fended him off once by force and afterward when necessary by twitching her fingers to make his old scars burn anew. Her mother, who had come and gone unpredictably throughout her childhood, had at least taught her a few tricks, bare essentials for survival, just as her poacher father had taught her the survival skills of trapping and snaring wild game before he’d been hanged for shooting deer.

 Now Rolfe would be off before the funeral dinner had entirely cooled. He would ride the horse that was his only inheritance in search of a fortune to be made by any means possible, a rich widow or tradesman’s heiress being his preference. The local rich widow had already been appropriated by his oldest brother, Willem, who inherited the mill and had grand plans to expand and update it with his wife-to-be’s wealth.

Just a few more hours… Kit drew a deep breath and turned from the grave. She had already prepared the dishes for the customary dinner, more bountiful than the family could have afforded without her skill at snaring rabbits and pheasants. Now she must serve the guests, clean up afterward, and then she’d be free to go. More than free. The rich widow had no intention of sharing the house with Kit, being shrewd enough to recognize her allure for men in spite of Kit’s own attempts to conceal it. The wedding had been delayed only until there was no more need for her to stay and nurse the old man.

Free, except for one detail.

“Kit?” The youngest boy, Jotham, turned back from following his brothers. “Are you feeling all right?” His blue eyes filled with honest concern. He had a kind nature, a handsome—some would say pretty—face, flaxen hair, and very little sense. Kit merely surveyed him without answering. “I mean…” Jotham hesitated. “Well, Father said that I must…must stick by you. Help you, I suppose, although I don’t know what I’ll do myself.”

Yes, that one detail. “Take care of the boy,” the miller had pleaded on his deathbed, and what could she do but promise? There would be no place for him, either, in his brother’s house. The widow had a certain partiality for pretty boys, and Willem had no intention of sharing. 

“I will work out a plan,” Kit told Jotham, “but you must do everything exactly as I tell you, or I’ll leave you to your own devices. Do you understand?”

“Oh…yes, of course.” Jotham’s face eased in relief. He was in the habit of being led by Kit.

“And tell no one, no one at all, about anything I do or say.” She steered him along the path back toward the mill and the house.

“No one.” He nodded vigorously, then nearly stumbled, and stared down at her feet. “But Kit, you’re wearing boots!” He looked harder. “My boots!”

 It was too late too arrange her skirts to conceal them, so she pretended her carelessness had been planned. “Yes, the boots you outgrew before you were fourteen.” She raised the skirt higher. “And your old breeches as well. But that is just the sort of thing you must not reveal to anyone, or I will wash my hands of you, and use them to good purpose first!” She raised one fist, and Jotham, whose ears she had boxed more than once, flinched.

“See that you remember,” Kit said in a milder tone. “Now go to the house, eat your dinner, make proper responses to those offering their condolences, and then pack up all the belongings you can easily carry in a pack on your back.”

She strode off ahead of him, feeling as though the boots were carrying her into a different life, as a whole new person. 

Without Jotham to consider she would not have paused at the mill longer than it took to retrieve her own meager bundle of belongings, already packed. As it was, she finished her work with unobtrusive efficiency, feeling the tug of the boots and her own deepest yearnings, tinged with darkness, all the while.

“Meet me in an hour in the copse past the mill,” she whispered to Jotham at last, and was off and away before anyone else noticed she had gone.

Before the hour had passed Kit heard Jotham approaching, and stepped out from the trees to meet him.

“Who…what…” he stammered in astonishment, in spite of the hint he’d been given. Kit was every inch—every visible inch, at any rate—a young man, or a boy on the cusp of manhood. Her hair had been cut short to about the length a pageboy might wear, and brushed to a smooth, gleaming russet. The clothes that had once been his were of good quality, if somewhat out-of-date; the breeches, shirt and jacket fit her slender figure perfectly, with only the aid of some inner binding about her breasts. Jotham’s mother had favored and indulged him while she lived, dressing him above his station; now even his Sunday-best suit worn for the funeral was a hand-me-down from his brother Rolfe. 

“We must find positions, you and I,” Kit told him, “and I refuse to consider any that I might be offered as a woman.” 

Jotham nodded. “Yes, I had thought about seeking a position at a wealthy man’s estate, but worried as to what you would do.”

Kit’s surprise was nearly as great as his had been. There was hope for the youngster yet. “Good! Have you chosen a first place to apply?”

“Well,” he said, “the few manor houses nearby are too small. That huge dark castle on the north coast might need staff…they say he has none but a housekeeper and a deaf-mute gardener…but they also say he is an ogre who can transform from hideous beast to man. Nothing could make me approach him!  So…” here a blush rose on his cheeks…”my only choice is to try those foreigners renting the fancy villa to the south.”

Kit knew at once what he was about. “Ah yes, the royal something-or-other from the minor princedom with an unpronounceable name. And his very beautiful daughter.” Not a bad idea, even if Jotham was so obviously smitten with the girl. He would make a fine—and tempting—figure as a footman. “Let us both try our luck, and meet again in three days at dusk where that old fisherman’s shack was half blown down in the gale last summer.”

“You aren’t going with me? What will you do?” Jotham’s concern was touching.

“Oh, I’m all for the dark castle. And the ogre. Those are more to my taste,” Kit said, and strode off without a backward look.

Even the boots and the freedom of breeches did not quite give her the courage to brave the castle yet that night. In any case, it would be impolite. She could see a light in the castle, high in a tower; if the man had been alone, she might yet have risked all, but with a housekeeper present it would be a different matter. 

Kit paced on the shingle beach near the castle for a while, imagining a watcher’s gaze on the slender legs and hips so brazenly displayed by her snug breeches and short jacket. After a while she even seemed to sense such a gaze, but that was impossible. This night the sky was dark and moonless, and only the faint phosphorescence of the now-placid wavelets showed her the boundary between land and sea. Even if there had been moonlight and a watcher, he might have been deceived by her disguise, and thus shown no interest. But oh, to feel this freedom and be swept by desire; to be exposed, vulnerable, and yet strong, meeting passion with passion, and returning bruise for bruise, if it came to that!    

Eventually Kit trudged up the narrow path to the clifftop, rather enjoying the mild discomfort of breeches dampened in the crotch, and pausing at the top to add to the sensation by stroking her own so-accessible limbs. She followed the path back toward the town and the abandoned fisherman’s hut, which had still enough wall and roof in one corner to provide some shelter, and there she spent the night.

At a civilized hour of the morning Kit stood at the castle entrance, bearing a brace of newly-snared pheasants as a gift. There was no knocker or bell-pull to be seen; perhaps she should seek out a tradesmen’s entrance at the rear. But the forbidding iron gates swung open at her approach, with much creaking and grating. After one glance back at the brightness of the day, she plunged on through the stone arch into a dim walled courtyard.

A massive wooden door in the inner building swung slowly open, though there was still no one to be seen. Kit hesitated a moment, thinking of old tales meant to frighten children, then shrugged and stepped on through into a corridor with reassuring light at its end.

The room she entered was indeed well-lit, and comfortably furnished. The woman seated by the hearth seemed at first glance old, fiercely ugly, and forbidding, but Kit could see beneath the illusion; her mother had often used one very similar, though not as skillfully.

“Well,” said the pleasant woman of middle years--though Kit could not be certain whether that too might be an even more skillful illusion--“so he was right. You do have a touch of magic about you. I had thought his judgment was swayed by his desires.”

Kit struggled to maintain a cool exterior, and proceeded with her planned speech. “Indeed, Ma’am? I’ve merely come to apply for employment, since my old master has recently died. Have you need here of a page, or footman, or even gamekeeper?” She lay the pheasants on the hearth. At the housekeeper’s raised eyebrow, she added, “these are from the common heath, not any nobleman’s estate.”

“Have you other skills?” The woman’s amusement was clear, as was the fact that Kit’s disguise had not deceived her. “Did you not nurse your old master through his final illness?”

“I did,” said Kit, since it was clear that her past was no secret here, “and kept him alive and comfortable far past any expectation of the doctors or his family. Past any desire of his family, indeed, though they would not dare to admit that openly.”

The housekeeper surveyed her long and thoughtfully. Kit did not try to conceal anything about herself, but finally blurted out, “Is it an invalid’s nurse that you need here?” It was far from what she had wished for; then again, one never knew.

“Not precisely. Or, rather, not in the common way, but you might yet be of use. Sometimes pleasure can heal flesh and mind better than any medicine, or even magic.” She rose. “Come along. You must meet the Master, something he both wishes and dreads. We shall see how much you can endure. They do call him an ogre, after all.” Kit, though she could seldom read minds, caught a further thought from the housekeeper’s mind, no doubt intentionally unguarded; Once they called him General, the savior of his country! And she, his wife, with her mincing, dainty ways, called him her hero, then turned away in revulsion after that last battle. Gold enough they gave him, as though that could ever heal such wounds!

Kit felt chilled and heated at the same time. She followed along a corridor and up winding stairs, only asking, “What shall I call you, Ma’am?”

“Mrs. Thorne,” the housekeeper said over her shoulder; then, turning for a moment to face Kit, added with a hint of menace, “and do not try the sharpness of my barbs!”

“Yes, Mrs. Thorne,” Kit answered meekly, understanding her perfectly. “My name is Kit, but I can sheath my claws when I wish.”

“As to that,” Mrs Thorne said, “best keep them sharpened nonetheless.”

By that time they had come to a landing giving onto several doors, one of which the housekeeper unlocked with a key from the bunch hanging at her waist. Before opening it, she murmured into Kit’s ear, “Do not injure him more than the world has already done!” Then she motioned Kit through, backed away herself, and went down the stairs.

This was clearly a test. Kit braced herself for whatever might come, and entered a great room richly furnished but somewhat dimmed by heavy curtains at the windows.

“Sir,” she said to the dark figure seated at a desk, “Mrs. Thorne thinks that I may be of some use. My name is Kit.” She ducked her head just enough to show respect.

He rose slowly and came toward her, tall and powerful but with the gait of a man who refuses to limp, though his body demands it. His features could not be made out clearly, with such light as the windows provided still behind him, but she could see that a patch covered his left eye. 

He circled her, and she stood still to let him assess her as he would. Desire was still apparent in his aura, and she felt it grew as his gaze swept along her legs so exposed by the breeches, but a profound loneliness was there as well, and sadness, and echoes of old anger. Even, possibly a trace of fear.

“So you’ve come to see the Ogre,” he said, a note of bitterness in his deep voice as he stopped at last in front of her. “Does he disappoint you?”

Kit took that as permission to look more closely. She was, at first, disappointed. His silver-streaked mane of black hair was striking, but his face was unremarkable, even bland, like a…yes, like a mask, as indeed it was, she realized; an illusion Mrs. Thorne must have provided, for Kit detected no personal magic in the man himself.

“Yes, I am disappointed,” she said. “I came to see the true man, beast and all. The man who watched me from the cliff. If I am to help you, and if…” she took a great daring leap into the truth, ”…if I am to achieve my own deepest desires, there must be no deception between us.”

His mask wavered just slightly; out of sympathy Kit looked away and pretended not to have already seen what he tried to hide. Not until he was ready to bear it. The cruel scars descending from his left temple along his cheek and neck and down under his collar evoked compassion in her, not revulsion 

“I will begin the revelations myself,” she said, knowing that he had never been deceived by her disguise. “First this.” She unbuttoned her jacket and shed it, along with her muslin shirt. “And this.” The inner cotton bindings came off, freeing her breasts, their rose-tinted nipples tightening into thrusting points as he watched. “Not yet enough?” She bent and wriggled free of breeches and boots, and the stockings beneath, feeling her naked buttocks flush in the heat of his gaze. Then she straightened and turned to expose her full womanhood, slick dampening folds beneath a light furring of russet curls. “Enough now?” she asked, with all the challenge she had projected that moonlit night by the sea, and even more.

“Enough!” he said sharply, stepping back, though now she felt from him a surge of need pent up so long that it towered like a giant wave suspended above them.

“Not quite enough,” Kit said. “Your turn now for revelations,” and before he could prevent it, she reached up to his cheek below the eye patch and brushed the long scar with a touch so light, so tender, she doubted he could feel it, though he grasped her hand and pulled it away.

“Do not bait the lion in his cage,” he grated, his grip tightening until it was painful.

“It is the lion I came for, both man and beast.” Kit expertly extricated her hand. “I am strong enough to bear your anger and sorrow, as well as lust—but I must begin with the lust, or go mad!” Before he could resist, she dropped to her knees and reached out to the mighty bulge in his trousers. His growl of warning turned to a growl of quite another kind as she swiftly unbuttoned his garments and freed his demanding flesh. By the time her mouth was on his cock, sliding over all that could fit of its great length and thickness as her hands worked at the rest, he had given in to deep groans and rasping breaths. His hands wove deeply  through her hair and pressed her face ever harder into his raging need.

The giant wave crashed over them. Kit’s ears rang with sounds like thunder and the screeching of sea birds combined. Her own need was still great, but elation at her new master’s release buoyed her up, and indeed it was mere moments before his desire began to revive. He pulled her to her feet, then crushed his mouth against hers and ran his hands roughly over her body, arousing her to the edge of pain. She scrabbled at his clothing until it was all in a heap along with hers, and skin could press against hungry skin. When he lifted her so high that he could tantalize her breasts with nips and bites, she wrapped her legs tightly about him, his cock hardening once more beneath her buttocks, and forced his mouth roughly onto her aching nipples, one after the other. She could hear herself growing shrill with the desperate need for more.

He carried her through another door into a second room. Soon a bed was beneath her, lurching under her thrashing body as she opened to him, begging to be filled. He responded with more than she had thought she could hold, thrusting hard, sending bolts of pleasure into her deep, ravenous core until her own wave hit, overwhelmed her, and receded in ripples of such joy that she scarcely felt his second eruption.

In the aftermath Kit noted drowsily and with gratitude that her ogre’s long scar, and several others she had not seen while he was clothed, ended well short of what had given her such piercing fulfillment. With one hand she stroked tenderly all down his body, noting the effort he made not to wince away.

“Does it still give you pain?” she asked gently.

“No. Or, at least, not enough to signify. But…how can you stand to touch me? To even look at me?” 

She wriggled onto his belly and chest. “It is you yourself I see, and touch. Not merely certain parts—except when they are in a particularly interesting state.” She touched his cock, hardening yet again. Good. Let him not regret his moment of vulnerability. Better to distract him.

Kit reached up to the posts at the head of the bed. “What are these contraptions? Playthings?” 

He tensed in quite the wrong way. “Cuffs and fetters. Restraints. There are times…dreams of battles…when I must…”

She could feel him retreating from her. “Well, all the better to have someone attend you who knows how to deal with them. Especially if you should wish to travel abroad, as I have always longed to do. Besides, I have also heard of such things used for pleasure. Perhaps you should show me…restrain me, punish me, have your will with me, test my strength. I might surprise you.” She saw his arousal revive, and knew, with a prickle of anticipation, that she had succeeded. If there had indeed been a test, she was sure that by now Mrs. Thorne would know that she had passed it beyond any possible doubt.

Two nights later Kit met Jotham at the abandoned shack. She was moving a bit stiffly, still savoring the soreness. “I have a most secure position,” she assured him. “How did you fare?”

“Oh, Kit, she is the most beautiful creature!” he gushed. “Sweet, and delicate…she thought all our countrymen were rough louts until she met me! They are leaving very soon for their own land, but I have hopes…”

“Hopes? Of going with them as a footman?” But Kit could tell already that there was more to the story than that.

“Well, at first it was like that, but when I told her I was the impoverished younger son of a nobleman, and my horse and fine clothing had been stolen as I swam in the sea so that I was reduced to common rags, and I had only applied as a footman because I had seen and loved her and wished to be near her…and when she told her father she would have no other husband…”

There was definitely more to Jotham than Kit had ever suspected. And possibly a good deal less. “Can this all be truly settled?” she asked dubiously.

“Oh yes. At least…I told him that my distant cousin owns the castle by the sea, and now he wishes to see it. I was sure you would succeed there, so if you could arrange to let them come at least into the gardens and have a cup of tea, saying that your master is not at home, my entire life will become a heaven on earth!”

Fools and their luck, Kit thought. And their wild, if sentimental, imaginations!

Two days later, while Mrs. Thorne served the guests tea in the castle gardens, the master of the castle was unfortunately indisposed. In fact, he was fettered to his bed, after Kit had pointed out that it was all very well to let loose the lion or ogre within, but it took even more strength of will to submit like a lamb, or perhaps even something as outwardly weak as a mouse. By then there was enough trust between them for him to acquiesce, and while tea and conversation were consumed below, Kit was in the tower making submission very much worth her master’s time. Among other delights, she had but to twitch her fingers toward a part of his body to make him writhe with remembered pleasure. If she had a few tricks, why not use them?

Six months later, in a great city on the continent, a wealthy and imposing figure strolled amidst the demimondaine with an assured bearing that made one overlook his scars and eye patch. The sleek and charming page so often beside him inspired sighs from both men and women, but their highest awe was reserved for the lady who sometimes hung on the gentleman’s arm, dressed in the finest and most severely tailored of women’s clothing in greens and bronzes that set off her shining russet hair. Either of those companions wore especially elegant boots suited to their respective costumes. No one was truly deceived, of course, but that made it all the more entertaining.

The chambermaids in the luxury suite at a first-class hotel were well-paid to refrain from gossiping about their household, though of course they did, especially about the rather specialized accoutrements of their bedchamber. After all, such fur-lined restraints were not unheard of in certain circles. No one bothered to relate how the lady, when the man occasionally tousled her hair and call her “my pretty puss,’ would stiffen for a mere second as at an old memory. Her lord would beg her pardon, earning a fond kiss and forgiveness. “ You may call me anything you like, my love,” she would say, “as long as I have such fine boots to wear.”

This story is so old that I can't even remember where it was published, so let's pretend it's brand new! 

For the other Charity Sunday Blog this time, go to https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com    


 

                        

   




     

 

                      


 

 

       

 

 





           



     


Saturday, November 26, 2022

Charity Sunday: One-Eyed Jack



My chosen charity this time is The Mercy Ships, an international charity that operates the largest non-governmental hospital ships in the world,[1] providing humanitarian aid like free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs, agriculture projects, and palliative care for terminally ill patients. If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen their ads about children with disabilities and disfigurements that can be easily fixed by surgeons from the ships .

https://www.mercyships.org

You readers know the drill by now, right? All you have to do is read at least some of this blog, and hopefully comment. I’m the one who will donate a dollar per hit on the blog, and two dollars for every comment. 

If you'd like to read another blog on this month's Charity Sunday, go to https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2022/11/charity-sunday-for-shelter-homelessness.html

  My story “One-Eyed Jack” really has no connection with this charity. The setting is the historical Wild West, and Jack, after a long violent life, has been reduced to only one eye, one arm, and scarcely more than one good leg, so clearly surgery is the last thing he needs. But, as whorehouse madam Miss Lily found, “Lightning Jack lacked nothing in between. Nothing at all.” The story is really not quite erotica, but close. And weird. Possibly warning-type weird, but trust Miss Lily to handle anything.

First published in the early on-line spec-fic erotica magazine Clean Sheets, founded by Mary Anne Mohanraj. I know it was stolen at some point, because I got a fan letter from someone who wouldn’t say where she'd found it, except that it wasn’t on Clean Sheets. Later, I think I let it be used in some Weird Wild West thing, but I don’t remember the exact name.

So here we go. (I used my real name back then)

One-Eyed Jack

By Connie Wilkins

6 August 2001


He might have been reduced to one eye, one arm, and scarcely more than one good leg, but Lightning Jack lacked nothing in between. Nothing at all. Half a man? Miss Lily's first impression had been wildly off target. Two or three men put together (and of course you never could put the good bits together) couldn't equal his endowment.

No one judged better in these matters than Miss Lily, better known as The Schoolmarm. With a whip.

Not that she often took gentlemen into her own bed these days. She might, for a substantial fee, apply her other, very specialized skills where they would do the most good; but any customer with the fortitude to seek a bedmate after Miss Lily had latticed his hairy butt with her lash could make do with one of her girls.

Jack, though, was an investment. An unwise one, she had feared, watching him hobble from the train; but an investment nonetheless. And rumor insisted that he still possessed that legendary aim and lightning speed, and a gun with new notches earned only weeks ago.

More certain was the cold fire of revenge consuming him. Miss Lily understood the power of that fire. And, since his enemy was her enemy, she had welcomed his written offer and guaranteed his personal safety up until the shoot-out, as well as a handsome fee upon completion, payable to an address in San Francisco in the event that he was unable to collect it himself.

Jack's personal safety was best guaranteed in The Schoolmarm's well-guarded establishment. That it required sharing her own opulent rose-and-ivory bedchamber was less self-evident, but Miss Lily had acquiesced. Something in his blend of frailty and rage recalled men she had nursed in the War Between the States, long ago, before she had come west as a teacher and learned a lesson or two herself, the foremost being that she might as well make men pay for what they were determined to get anyway, the second that there was no limit to what some men would pay for.

Miss Lily would have drawn the line at taking her whip to Jack's already-ravaged body, but she was expert at reading men and doubted that he wanted anything more than the softest bed in the Territories and maybe a little womanly comfort. It came as no surprise that before dawn he was sobbing into her ample breasts. The surprise was that those breasts were heaving as though the Grand Tetons had been tossed on the waves of an earthquake. It seemed forever until she could catch her breath, and even then she was still shaken by the best time she'd had since . . . since . . . but there was no comparison in all her years of experience.

Lily stroked his scarred face and made soothing sounds and let him fall asleep atop her, then gently eased him off. She tried to lift the bedclothes just enough to get a glimpse of what she'd been enjoying, but he gripped the satin comforter and muttered, "No . . . no . . . please . . . ," so she let him be.

In the morning Jack accepted a hot bath, but refused assistance, even from Slow Joe the bouncer, who carried the steaming buckets up from the kitchen. Only when fully dressed did Jack re-enter her boudoir.

"Miss Lily," he said, sitting awkwardly on the slippery rose satin edge of the bed, "there's one more thing I'd like to ask of you."

"No harm in asking," she said, feeling an urge to ask for a little something herself but knowing that what lay ahead would require all his concentration. She hoped he hadn't already lost the edge he was going to need.

"Well, it's just, if it should turn out . . . if you should feel you could handle it . . . I'd appreciate if you'd look after that." He nodded toward the long gun-case sitting on the marble-topped bureau.

"Don't you worry any about that," Miss Lily said. She decided it was time to fan fires that might have got a little dampened last night. "You just fix your mind on dealing with Rigby. Is it true what they say? He's the one who tied you to that railroad track like a dime-novel virgin?"

Jack's smile would have been grim even without the scars. "Is it true what they say, Miss Lily, that you near to killed Rigby with a bullwhip after he and his boys cut up one of your girls, but you weren't tough enough to finish the job?"

"True enough," she said. "I stopped too soon."

"I won't." He stood and limped to the bureau. Lily heard him opening the gun case.

"Jack," she said over her shoulder as she slipped on a lacy peignoir, "should I . . . if there's a need . . . should I send your things on to that San Francisco address?"

"No need," he said, closing the case and turning back. "If you don't mind keeping them." She noticed the single holster slung low on his right hip, empty sleeve dangling above it. "There's somebody in 'Frisco I owe, but it's not what you'd call personal. Old Chinaman there fixed me up about as well as anybody could, after the train crew got me that far. I couldn't pay him right then, but he seemed to think my reputation was guarantee enough." He twitched his shoulders to adjust the fit of his shabby black coat. "Amazing what those pigtailed doctors can do, what they've got, dried stuff hanging on the walls, pickled stuff in bottles, live things in big jars and baskets. Truly amazing." He avoided her eyes; she figured those memories must be hard to handle.

"I'll see your debt paid," she assured him. "I might go to San Francisco myself, one of these days. Once I know Rigby won't be carrying out his threats against my place and my girls." She let her peignoir fall open, and was only mildly disappointed that her rose-and-ivory charms sparked no interest in Jack's dark, single eye. His focus should be on the coming confrontation, the bizarre, balletic ritual wherein men could kill with honor, publicly, face to face in the dusty arena of Main Street under the blazing sun of high noon.

"Go on down and have breakfast with the girls, Jack, while I take my bath," Miss Lily said. "Slow Joe won't let anybody in, and I have men outside on watch."

"Just some of that coffee I smell, Ma'am," Jack said. "That's all I'll need. But thanks, Miss Lily. Thanks for everything."

Then he was gone. Miss Lily listened to the uneven thumps of his progress down the stairs. When the dining room door swung shut she crossed to the bureau and opened his unlocked case.

A strange, musky odor, not unpleasant, rose from the interior. Maybe some oriental perfume. The single revolver-shaped niche was empty, but the case could hold a good deal more, and clearly had. A channel coiled through the jade-green satin lining, looping around the perimeter and inward toward the center. A perfect whip-case, she thought automatically, not big enough for a standard bullwhip, but fine for her own customized instrument. Was that why he wanted her to have it? If he didn't survive?

She bathed and dressed slowly and meticulously. Jack had no expectation of surviving. She knew that. Remembering last night, the tears as well as the delight, she was more than willing to call the whole thing off, find another way to deal with Rigby; but Jack's own rage for vengeance drove him now, holding him together just long enough to satisfy it.

Any aftermath would be Miss Lily's to deal with. She smoothed the lines of her long, fashionable skirt, arranged the lace at her neckline to reveal just the right swell of bosom, and hung her neatly coiled whip from the belt that cinched her waist. Then she went down to face the day.

As the sun neared its zenith Miss Lily's girls clustered on the verandah, designed to give her establishment a touch of elegance. Their seductive gowns and poses were good advertising; folks had crowded into town for the upcoming spectacle, and business would boom tonight. If the business survived.

Slow Joe and two hired hands manned the roof with an arsenal of shotguns. The girls had derringers tucked in amongst their ruffles, and knew how to handle them. But Jack was Lily's best hope.

Jack sat stiffly in the parlor, expressionless, barely breathing. Miss Lily didn't intrude. She trusted him by now to know his own business best. Maybe he'd learned some kind of concentration trick in the alleys of Chinatown.

She stepped out onto the verandah, adjusted her chiffon-swathed hat at just the right tilt, then moved down to the board walkway along the street. As though he'd been waiting for her appearance, a horseman left the milling throng in front of the general store and approached her. Henson, Rigby's mouthpiece. She waited calmly for his opening gambit.

"So, Miss Lily," he said, glancing around to make sure of his audience, "you finally allowed as how that whip ain't enough to make a man of you. Heard you brought in a hired gun, or more like half a gun. What's that make him, a firecracker?" This drew a few laughs, at which he bowed and preened, but most folks waited to hear Miss Lily's reply.

"If your yellow-bellied boss would rather face a woman, I'd be happy to oblige," she purred huskily, fondling the tip of her lash. "If not, he's about to get a firecracker up his ass."

The laughter now was sly, muffled, nobody wanting to be identified. Rigby wouldn't take kindly to ridicule. Nobody was willing to bet on an outcome in which his petty tyranny would no longer be a factor.

The street emptied. Miss Lily glanced up at her own rooftop troops to be sure they noticed Rigby's henchmen up behind the general store's false front. Slow Joe jerked his head in their direction.

The sun was directly overhead. Shadows had been sucked back under whatever cast them. But Lightning Jack, when he stepped down into the street, was shadow itself, a bolt of blackness against the dusty, glaring light. His scarred face hid between the dark brim of his hat and the black neckerchief at his throat. You couldn't tell whether he had one eye, or none.

He walked slowly, scarcely limping, shoulders rigid, until he reached the point of least threat to bystanders from errant shots. Miss Lily followed along the walkway, hips swaying in their trademark undulation, the ultimate advertisement for her establishment. She sensed rather than saw Jack's admonitory frown but held her ground. No matter what happened, she would be the first to reach whatever was left of him.

Rigby moved out into the other end of the street. He took a few steps, then a few more, bravado growing as Jack swayed slightly. Lily braced herself to keep from running to prop her champion up.

Rigby held both hands curved tensely above the grips of his paired revolvers. Jack's left hand extended halfway across his sunken belly toward the double-action Colt on his right hip, but it didn't seem possible he could draw and fire in time to do any good.

Rigby made his move; all eyes swung toward him. All but Miss Lily's. She kept her gaze fixed on Jack's gun, and the empty sleeve above it. He had to have some good reason for slinging his gun on that side.

It happened too fast to be sure of anything, but Miss Lily could swear that something stiffened that empty sleeve, something drew and fired that Colt before ever Jack's left hand reached it, and kept on firing even as he fell.

Rigby was down, and so, with farther to fall, were the men he'd posted on the store roof. Miss Lily darted into the street and stood over Jack on guard. The right-arm-that-wasn't still raised the gun and swung it in short arcs, searching for more targets, jerking Jack's body from side to side, but Lily knew that Jack himself had finally left that ruined hulk.

"It's finished," she murmured. "You did it." The sleeve collapsed. Lily knelt in the dust, unmindful of her finery. With one hand she pulled the neckerchief up over the ruined remains of his face; with the other she gingerly lifted the edge of the empty sleeve and peered in. Her stomach lurched, but she refused to let her body jerk away. She stood, moved even closer, and raised the dusty hem of her skirt just slightly at the front. "Well, come on if you're coming," she muttered. For just an instant, before her skirt overlapped the threadbare cuff, she had another glimpse of that jade-green serpentine form, its blunt tip almost entirely taken up by a single, glistening eye.

As the creature coiled its way up her silk-clad calf, she stood unmoving, head bowed as though in grief, suppressing an almost overpowering urge to shudder and cursing Jack for not telling her what to expect. "Amazing what they've got," he'd said. "Live things in big jars and baskets." Hardly enough warning for this. But, as the sinuous pressure reached above her garter to her naked thigh, the creature's familiar touch ignited other, pleasanter urges.

Gundersen, the undertaker, approached Miss Lily warily, and she realized she was gripping her whip as though she meant business. "Give him your best coffin, Sam. I'm paying."

Then she walked, very slowly and carefully, out of the street and toward her verandahed haven. Her hips swayed only slightly, so as not to dislodge her passenger, but all male eyes were on her, and she knew she must be projecting a good deal of what she was feeling. "If you only knew it, fellows," she thought, with a sly inward smile in spite of genuine grief, "I've got more between my legs just now than any ten of you." Not that it made her feel in the least like a man. Far, far from it.

Walking up the stairs toward her room was . . . interesting.

Slow Joe burst through the front door just as she reached the landing. "Joe," Miss Lily said, "Get me a train ticket to San Francisco for tomorrow. And tell Annie to come up and pack for me -- but not for an hour or two yet. Make damn sure she knocks first!"

She'd more or less promised Jack to take care of his . . . whatever. In the long run she was going to need to find out more about its care and, well, feeding. For now, she knew all she needed to know.

"Thanks, Jack," Miss Lily murmured in the sybaritic privacy of her bedroom. Her breasts were beginning to heave again and her breathing was getting out of control. "Thanks for everything."

__________

If you’ve managed to read this far, you might be interested in another story about Miss Lily, called “Flying Miss Lily”, also set in the west, with a hot air balloon. That’s in a collection of my own work, Wild Rides, and in my long-ago first anthology, Rode Hard, Put Away Wet,  but those are out of print now. I should do something about that.


Thursday, November 10, 2022

Sapphic Book Bingo

 

Something different this time. This week’s Sapphic Book Bingo (link below) features books about butch characters, and one of the anthologies I've edited is among the 15 books promoted. I'm not posting any stories from the book--after all, they're by an assortment different writers, with just one by me--so all I'm sharing here is my introduction to the book. One of my very best intros, I think, fun for me to write and worth your while to read. 

https://jae-fiction.com/sapphic-book-butch-character/


Me and My Boi by Sacchi Green (editor)

Me and My Boi throbs with the currency of lesbian love and lust today, when the love dares speak it’s name using new words, terms and letters. Me and My Boi celebrates lesbian bois, butches, and screw-the-binary free spirits; cool bois, hot bois, swaggering bois, shy bois, leather bois, flannel bois, butch daddies, and the girls (and other bois) who wouldn’t have them any other way. The stories range from Sinclair Sexsmith’s raw “Five Blow Jobs” through Victoria Oldham’s searing “Resurrection” and old-school lesbian bar tale “Hot Pants” by Jen Cross to the aching tenderness of “Her Gardener’s Boy” by D. Orchid. Twenty authors, among them Sommer Marsden, Annabeth Leong, Tamsin Flowers and Kathleen Tudor, heat up settings all the way from a Regency drawing room to modern Paris to a Brooklyn bike shop. Whatever turns you on, or cuts deep, or sparks your wildest fantasies, if these writers don’t push the buttons you already have, they’ll hook you up with some new ones. Gender has no boundaries, and neither does lust.


Saturday, August 27, 2022

Charity Sunday: “Petroglyphs”

   



Charity Sunday: “Petroglyphs”                                                

In the current atmosphere of attention to the burden of loans for college students, I’m donating to American Indian College Fund, www.collegefund.org. This charity supports “Native students working toward game-changing degrees so that they can build stronger, healthier, more sustainable communities for themselves and for generations to come.”

As always, I’ll contribute $1for every view of this blog for the next two weeks, and $2 for every comment.

[To read the blogs of other participants in this month’s Charity Sunday, go to 

https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2022/08/charity-sunday-on-border-refugees.html.

I’m including an entire story that I’ve probably shared before on my blog, but long enough ago that it’s worth, I hope, repeating. You may wonder at first what connection it has to education, but finding out will be worth your while. And hot. I promise. (I originally published this story under a different name than usual, because I had another story in that sane anthology.)

Petroglyphs

by

T/o/b/y R/i/d/e/r

Sacchi Green


     Something moved among the Douglas firs where the forest sloped upward toward burnished rock. The short hairs at the nape of Sigri's neck prickled with the sense of being watched. 

     Outwardly undisturbed, she went about the business of pitching camp on the open plateau. No staring toward the trees or up where rocky crevices concealed, she knew, a narrow cave. No pausing to listen for movement. Just aware, as always, of every detail of her surroundings.

     Copperlode grazed serenely on patches of autumn-browned grass between the gone-to-seed wildflowers, lupine and columbine and monkeyflower. She raised her chestnut head from time to time to cock an ear toward the forest, but without alarm. Sigri pretended not to notice. No grizzly, for sure. Even without the light breeze from that direction the horse would have been aware of danger.

     When the mountain tent was firmly anchored and a small fire begun in the circle of blackened stones, Sigri went to lean her close-cropped head against Copperlode's glossy neck. She murmured a few words, stroking the soft muzzle, until the mare's head twitched and one ear pointed again toward the trees. 

     Sigri moved away at a tangent to the direction of the horse's attention. When she reached the brushy edge of the woods she drew her knife and hacked away at deadwood. Her only apparent concern was gathering fuel for the fire, but tension built in her gut as she progressed slowly, casually, toward where someone waited; a tension that spread in ripples up and down her rangy body. Still she gave no sign of awareness, or of the tingling in her ass whenever her back was to the treeline.

     Finally she dropped the armload of small branches, sheathed her knife, and stood stretching and rubbing her back. Stetson tilted against the sun's glare, she gazed out over the plateau and beyond to the mountains and valleys of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. 

     Now. Any second. Now the attack would come. 

     She would come. Pi'tamaken. Running Eagle. 

     A whisper of sound... Sigri whirled to meet the onslaught, the thought flashing through her mind that twenty years ago Pita would have made no sound at all.

     Arms raised, hands locked in each other's bruising grip, they strained together, strength against strength. Pita tried to hook Sigri's knee, but Sigri jerked a thigh hard into her opponent's elkhide-clad crotch. When they fell together her Stetson was jolted loose but she managed to stay on top, her cropped yellow-white head leaning above the other's bronzed face and tangle of long black hair.

     Pita tried to twist away. Sigri's head plunged suddenly toward her exposed throat, teeth nipping hard at the salty skin, counting coup according to their private ritual. The familiar taste sent a ripple of heat through her own throat and chest and beyond. Once she wouldn't have hesitated to draw blood, but that had been long ago, and the world a different place. No knowing what might be in blood these days. 

     She raised her head. Pita glared up, eyes fierce in her angular face. Then she grinned, teeth flashing white. "Good one," she conceded. 

     Sigri worked her thigh against the elkhide with less violence, or maybe just a different kind. Pita began to arch toward the pressure. The old, imperative ache hit Sigri's cunt like summer lightning, but Pita lurched abruptly aside and then upward with a whoop of triumph, and suddenly Sigri was on the bottom, needles and twigs prickling into her back and ass. The scent of arousal mingled with the sharp tang of crushed fir seedlings. She could see in Pita's face that the moment had passed. 

     "Heluva place you picked for bushwhacking," Sigri said. "What were you gonna do if I didn't come close enough and then kindly turn my back? Wait to scalp me in my sleep?"

     Pita rolled off, leaving Sigri dangling between chill and heat. "Something like that. If the smell of coffee didn't drag me out first. But you knew all along somebody was there. What made you think it was me?"

     "What did you expect, ferchrissake? One, you only made about as much noise as a pair of bull elk in rut, whereas most folks would've trampled the place like a herd of bison. I nearly didn't hear you. Two, that's one of my own horses you've got stashed over behind those boulders." They eyed each other warily as they stood up. No need to add that it was twenty-five years to the day since they'd first discovered this place, and the cave beyond. And twenty since the last time they'd met here. Promises had been made. Not counted on, maybe, in recent years-- neither had gone so far as to remind the other--but here they were.      

      "Your pretty lady back at the ranch seemed to think you wouldn't mind if I trailed you up here. Even outfitted me and trucked me in." Pita eyed Sigri sidelong as they strode toward the campsite. "That's some mighty appetizing armful you got back there."

     "Emmaline been giving out free samples?" 

     "Just coffee and pie good enough to keep any cowboy close to home. Doesn't seem to have fattened you up much, though." She tweaked Sigri's lean rump. Sigri tweaked right back, harder, finding more to get a handle on. Running Eagle didn't appear to have been doing quite as much running as she used to. Still not that far past slender, though.

     "Guess you'll just have to put up with camp coffee for now." Sigri ignored Pita's unasked question as she added wood to the fire and set up the tripod for hanging the pot.

      "So does she?" Pita persisted. "Keep you close to home?" The fact that the ranch was two hours of driving and three of trail riding away was irrelevant, and they both knew it.

     "Emmaline's got no worries, no matter where I go. Or who I do." Sigri finished messing with the pot and sat down to wait for the coffee to boil. No need to mention that she'd had little enough inclination to wander these last few years. Sending Pita up here had been a generous gesture, and Sigri had no doubt that Emmaline had known just what she was about. Emmaline always did know.

     Pita surveyed her closely for a moment, then nodded and went off to bring the hidden horse and gear to the campsite. When they sat side by side at last, devouring hot coffee and cold ham sandwiches, proximity and unresolved arousal went a long way toward restoring old bonds. But not all the way.

     "Haven't heard from you in a while," Sigri commented. Two years since that last brief post card from Durango, down in Anasazi cliff-dweller territory. That had been about the time Emmaline moved in. Sigri'd be damned, though, if she'd let on that she'd kept count. "How's it been going? Still irresistible to all those eager young archaeology grad students? I don't imagine you have any problem keeping your bedroll warm out on those digs." 

     "Nope. No problem at all. But damn, they get younger every year!"

     "What's the matter, Professor, you getting tired of teaching youngsters the same old games?"

     "Most of 'em you made up in the first place," Pita said with a reminiscent smile. "That one about buttering the sweet corn always goes over real well, whether they're convinced it's a genuine ritual or not."

     "Nothing like getting an ear of corn nice and slippery the natural way," Sigri agreed. Her boyish grin would never grow old, no matter how many lines time and weather etched on her face. "Sprinkling cornmeal on the belly and licking spirals through it was a good one, too. Can't go wrong with corn when it comes to ritual material."  Her tone was light, but the way she remembered it, those things they'd done with and to each other all those years ago had always had a touch of sacrament about them.

     Well, maybe not always. "I'll bet they appreciate the hell out of Little Big Horn, too," she added. "But I expect you've gone more high-tech by now, with silicone or whatever they're using these days." Not that Sigri didn't have her own fairly state-of-the-art mail-order equipment stashed in a handy drawer at home.

     "Little Big Horn was always just for you," Pita said gruffly. "You made him. " She stared into the fire, which seemed brighter now that the sun had edged below the highest peak. "Like you made me."

      Sigri sensed the sudden change of mood and searched to find the kind of words that seemed to be called for.

     "Always struck me that was pretty much a team effort," she said, knowing it sounded lame. What was Pita looking for, after all this time? After all she could’ve had if she'd wanted to stick around for it?

     But Pita seemed to have some words penned up that needed setting loose. "So how did it happen," she mused, eyes fixed on the stick she was poking gently among the embers at the fire's edge, "that I turned out to be the college professor, instead of you?" 

     She didn't look much like an academic just then, dressed in traditional elkhide, black hair streaming wild, her strong dark face needing only a few streaks of war paint across the high cheekbones to strike terror into the hearts of intruding settlers. "I never had any use for books or history or any kind of learning until you dug up those old woman warrior stories and made me read them. Woman Chief of the Crow. Running Eagle of my own Blackfeet tribe, who even took a wife. You gave me my true name."

     "As I recall, I had to tie you to a fence post to get you to hold still long enough to listen to me read 'em out loud," Sigri said. "I got tired of the both of us always picking fights just for an excuse to grab each other, not knowing what we were doing or who we really were."

     "Hah! You couldn't have tied me to anything on your best day!" Pita retorted. "But you did know enough to look in books, and those hippy magazines later with all those Two-Spirit movement articles."

     "I had a little help from Miss Edmonds in the library behind the Post Office," Sigri said. Just knowing that Miss Edmonds had understood what she needed and not been scandalized had helped her as much as any book. Not many, she knew, were so lucky, even these days.

     "So now," Pita said, as if she'd followed Sigri's train of thought, "I'm the one who passes along the lore, with everything else I can dig up, literally, about the ancient history of my people."

     "And I'm the one tied to the land," Sigri said. "These mountains and plains. And the horses. That's all I need."

     "And Emmaline?"

     "She goes with the deal," Sigri acknowledged. "With the plains, and the ranch, and the horses. All part of the same thing." She flipped the dregs from her coffee cup into the fire and was on her feet before their aromatic sizzling had subsided. "How about you?" she asked, stretching out a weathered hand. "Is Running Eagle still part of the mountains?"

     Pita reached up to grip Sigri's proffered hand. "I'm here," she said simply, and yanked herself erect. There was an instant when they leaned apart, balancing each other's weight; and then both arms tightened and their bodies collided.

     It was a hug to leave bruises, more like two grizzlies than lovers. There would be finger marks on backs and asses for days. Sigri bit along the side of Pita's neck and stopped short of drawing blood this time only because her lips and tongue demanded their turn at feeling and tasting. Pita tore Sigri's shirt open with her teeth and chewed at a muscular shoulder as though softening up the sinews before devouring them. The old need rose between them, demanding, raising gutteral sounds to rumble in their throats.

     "Here?" Sigri gasped, "or up there?" jerking her head in approximately the direction of the rocky cave on the mountainside. Pita's answer was a hand shifted from clutching at Sigri's ass to thrusting against her denim-clad crotch. "Plenty to go around," she muttered, ducking her head against Sigri's tingling chest so she could see to unzip the jeans and get her fingers where they'd do the most good. Sigri got her hand inside the elkhide trousers almost as soon.

     It was all powerful thrusts and surging responses, heat and wetness and more, more, harder, faster, until tensions building for years found sudden, sharp release, as near to simultaneous as made no difference. 

     "God damn!" Sigri panted, when she could speak again. "We've still got it!"

     "That's just for openers," Pita said, struggling to control her breathing. "I'll meet you up there." She knelt to dig in her pack, then moved off across the plateau, slowly at first, accelerating into a smooth lope that took her swiftly into the forest. 

     When Pita's lithe form had melted into the trees, Sigri turned away to bank the fire and check on the horses, then followed at her own striding pace.

     The trail, such as it was, ran along beside a narrow stream. Sigri was glad to find no signs that any creatures besides wild ones had been this way in recent years, except for Pita, who, at this moment, was as good as wild.

     The last stretch was steep. Sigri paused to try to catch her breath where the trees ended abruptly at the rocky outcropping. Anticipation had as much to do with it as exertion.

     There were easy hand- and footholds in the stone at first, but higher up it would have been slow going for anyone who hadn't been this way before. Sigri pressed her body close against a vertical rock-edge barring the way and swung one long leg over to the unseen side. Her foot found the knob she knew was there, her hand reached out to find the slanting finger crack high above; and then she was all the way around, leaping from her tenuous hold into the narrow, gravel-floored entrance of the cave.

     Sigri's eyes adjusted to the relative dusk inside. There had been a time when Pita might have lunged at her at this point, but their games had moved on to something more like ritual, and the place had taken on a touch of something close to sacred. 

     She almost wished Pita would lunge. But there she was, several yards inside, waiting as motionless as the stone pressing into her back; and as naked, except for a soft deerskin pouch on a thong around her neck. She had built a small fire with wood gathered along the way, and, though it gave off only a little heat, Sigri felt no chill when she, too, left her clothes at the entrance. 

     She stopped just inside for a moment to duck her head toward four small dark splotches on the cave wall. Painted handprints, left hundreds of years ago. Had they been messages, or a simple affirmations of someone's presence? Or existence? Twenty-five years ago two girls in need of affirmation of their own identities had drawn wishful conclusions. The prints were small enough, after all, to have been made by women. So they had left marks of their own to puzzle explorers hundreds of years in the future, deeper marks, laboring at them each time they returned.   

     Sigri moved on in, gripped by the increasing urgency of the present. Pita stood silently, pressed against the rock wall, arms at an angle from her sides, legs slightly spread. Only her black eyes moved, burning into Sigri's pale blue ones.  Stifling the urge to lunge herself, Sigri fell into the remembered ritual, lifting the deerskin pouch gently from Pita’s chest and drawing out of it a stick of compressed charcoal wrapped in corn husks.

     "Pi'tamaken," she murmured huskily. "Running Eagle." The roughness of the husks raised a flush on Pita's bronzed skin as Sigri rolled the still-wrapped cylinder along her collarbones and across her breasts, forcefully enough to scrape against dark, hardened nipples. Then down the curve of her belly, and lower, pausing to thrust a few times between her thighs until wet streaks darkened the pale, dry husks.

     Pita stood outwardly unmoved, but a pulse throbbed in her throat and the beating of her heart disturbed the smooth skin of her chest. The tender flesh of Sigri's own cunt and clit swelled and moistened, and she knew that Pita's body mirrored that reaction. The mingling of their musky scents was intensified by the drifting smoke of cedar and sage.

     Sigri lifted the cornhusk packet and tore away the covering with strong teeth. Pita's taste clung to her lips and tongue. When enough of the black stick was unwrapped, she splayed her left hand across Pita's belly and traced around it, leaving a five-fingered mark on her flesh. Then she drew a line down one side of Pita's crotch until she hit the rock wall. Sigri could feel, without seeing, the shallow groove she’d chipped into the stone years ago to follow the entire outline of Pita's body. 

     Down along the inner thigh, the muscular calf, the ankle's bones and tendons, she drew the charcoal, following that groove. Her left hand still pressed into Pita's flesh hard enough to leave bruises as she knelt to draw her line along the outer leg, hip, waist, arm, smearing the skin as well. When she stood to trace around shoulder and neck and head, her body pressed so closely against Pita's that she could feel their hearts pounding in counterpoint.

     Sigri switched hands to draw the line down the other side. This time her fingers gripped Pita lower down, her palm pushing hard against the silent woman's mound.

     "Don't move," she warned, kneeling to complete the outline, moving the charcoal inch by slow inch upward toward the triangle between Pita's thighs; but her left hand urged something different, sliding downward and kneading flesh grown hot and slippery. Still Pita stood immobile, except for her quickened breathing.

     "Almost done," Sigri murmured, so close that her breath stirred Pita's pubic hairs; and then, as the lines met and the pattern was complete, she dropped the charcoal and leaned forward to taste what she'd been hungering for. 

     Pita did not move. Her stillness became a challenge. Sigri grabbed at her hips now with both hands and licked and bit at the flesh so clearly eager for what the will resisted. Pita's thighs tensed. 

     Sigri worked her tongue deeply into Pita's warm, welcoming cunt, then abruptly withdrew, and suddenly Pita's hands were clutching at her short pale hair and trying to force her head closer. Instead, Sigri's fingers took over, thrusting far into the depths she had once known better than her own. 

     Pita's head tilted back. A sound like the low rumble of a cougar sure of its prey began deep in her chest. Then, as Sigri pounded into her faster and harder, Pita's voice rose in pitch until her final cries could have rivaled the screams of an eagle.

     When the echoes had subsided from flesh and stone, Pita slid down along the rock wall to slump against Sigri's shoulder. They leaned together for a few moments, in perfect balance, until Pita lifted her head.

     "That's only half of what I came for," she said, not altogether steadily. "Up against the wall, now. If you dare." Intense emotion underlay the mocking words. 

     This ritual had always had more meaning for Pita than for Sigri, who looked up now at the cave wall. The newly-blackened outline overlapped another, the pair linked so that the grooves defining arms and legs and torsos intersected as though two bodies stood close together, each with a hand on the other's crotch. Their shapes were curved just enough to show that they were female, which, in Sigri's case, had required a bit of exaggeration of her rangy lines; and, between each pair of hips, a line coiled across the belly into a spiral. Future archaeologists should have no trouble interpreting their symbolism.

     Sigri did, of course, stand and press her back against her own outline on the rough rock wall. If she didn't get fucked by Pita pretty damned soon she'd be banging her fist against that same wall. And when Pita stood before her, outlined by the glow of the fire, naked and wild as some shamanic spirit from the depths of time, Sigri felt the power of the ritual grip her. 

     "Sakwo'mapi akikwan," Pita murmured. "Matsops." Boy-girl. Crazy woman. Old words, signifying their connection to those who had gone before.

     The stroke of Pita's hand along her side, drawing the charcoal through the stone groove, the clutch of Pita's fingers on her flat belly, heated Sigri's blood to boiling. She needed to move, to thrust her hips forward, to grab at Pita and force her to feed the hunger pounding through her body. 

     Still she stood, as Pita had, pressed against the stone. Part of the mountains. Part of time. Linked to those who had gone before, and would come after.

      Pita's hand reached Sigri's wet folds, probing into her depths, and time and place were swept away by the surging demand of her body. She clenched around the pressure, demanded it, devoured it, until her final shout of triumph rang out like the bugling of a bull elk in rut.

     Then, like Pita. Sigri slid down the rock wall, ignoring the scrapes its roughness imprinted on her back. They huddled in each other's grip until the little fire was almost out. Slowly they pulled each other upright.

     "We have to go back," Pita said softly. Sigri nodded. Going back meant more than just climbing down to the campsite. It meant Emmaline, and the ranch, and classrooms and archaeological expeditions and nubile grad students.

     But there was still tonight. Where the trees met the rock Pita turned to flash Sigri a grin of challenge. "I'll race you," she said, and then, shouting over her shoulder as she got a head start, "I did bring Little Big Horn, and first one back to camp gets him."    

           

        

        

      

      

                  

         

        

                                      

       

        

  

                           

     

         

     

 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Night Witch--When Russians Were Heroes/Heroines

 


Charity Sunday--May 29th

Night Witch--When Russians were Heroes/Heroines.

United Help Ukraine is, tragically, my charity of choice this time again. The Russian invasion of Ukraine goes on. I’ll donate one dollar for every view of this blog post, and two dollars for every comment. 

“United Help Ukraine” provides direct assistance to those impacted by war in Ukraine, including providing medical supplies, food, and other humanitarian aid. 

https://unitedhelpukraine.org/ -

I’ve read that Russians still feel that they fought the most in WWII, and should have the most credit. In some ways they may be right, It could be argued that they lost the most yet survived. The story I’m sharing here is set back then, when a woman pilot crashes and is saved by a wounded sniper. It features  one of my few heterosexual pairings.

For links to the other bloggers on this Charity Sunday, go to https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2022/05/charity-sunday-for-love-of-reading.html

So here goes. This was published in Duty and Desire, edited by Kristina Wright for Cleis Press, Nov. 13, 2012. Since I had another story as well in the book, I used my real name for this one and kept the pen name for the other.

Night Witch

By Connie Wilkins

(Sacchi Green)

Far away someone played the balaika.

Darkness, slashed by searchlights and bursts of antiaircraft fire, gripped Yelena. Over and over she glided silently, engine cut, the only warning for the German defenses the whistling of the wind through the biplane’s wing-struts—until Yevgeniya in the navigator’s cockpit released the bombs. Over and over in her mind, the silent approach, the bombs dropping, exploding, then the side-slipping her plane out of the searchlight beams and restarting the engine—but never the flight back to their base. Never escape.

Yet now there was balalaika music. A simple tune, simply played, achingly sweet. The notes tugged at her heart, her mind, and led her at last out of darkness.

At first all she saw was the fire in the hearth. Then the subtle movement of fingers plucking the balalaika’s strings caught her eye. Her gaze moved up along a muscular forearm to the shirtsleeve rolled tightly across the bicep, and onward to the dark head bowed over the instrument. He sat near the hearth on a low stool, and the firelight glinted on streaks of silver in his hair; but that hand, that arm, were not those of an old man.  

A dream, of course, but much pleasanter than the dark one. Often at an encampment when they could snatch some sleep she had dreamed of a small farm cottage, a hearth, and perhaps even a man in the background, though visions of a simple piece of rye bread and a bowl of hot barley soup had ranked higher. Some of the girls in the all-women’s regiment talked on and on about men, while others, like Yevgeniya…

“Yevgeniya!” Yelena struggled to sit in spite of a throbbing pain in her head. The balalaika music ceased abruptly. But the room, the fire, the man calmly rolling his shirtsleeves back down and lighting a lamp with a brand from the fire, were still there. Not a dream, then. 

Now she rememberd Yevgeniya calling, “Lena! Lenotchka! Can you get free?” while her hands tugged so frantically that Yelena had blacked out from the pain.

“Yevgeniya?” She fought back panic. More memories came; the blasted wing, the plane plunging and shuddering as she struggled to keep in the air long enough to safely cross into Russian-held territory. 

“Your navigator survived the crash with only a few cuts and bruises.” He took up a walking stick that had leaned against the chimney and made his way slowly toward her. An old man after all? The lamp showed a long scar across his cheek beside his left ear, disappearing under his collar. A good face, with strong bones, lined by pain and stress rather than age. Not old, but wounded, which explained why he could be here instead of in the army with every Russian male fit to fight.

He set the lamp on a wooden table and pulled a chair up beside the couch where she lay. “She saw my light on the hillside and came to me for help, with her handgun ready in case I should need persuading. Such a forceful girl! The Germans are wrong to call your bomber crews ‘Night Witches.’ That one is more like an avenging Valkyrie.”

Yelena smiled at that, but asked, “Where is she now?” She felt for the handgun that should be in her flight suit pocket, and realized suddenly that she lay all but naked under a soft woolen blanket.

 “Your weapon is beside your pillow.” 

The hint of amusement in his voice dispelled her sudden fear. She restrained herself from groping for the gun. 

“Once convinced that I would not eat you, she went to find the nearest Russian troops and then to make her way to your airfield. She will send help for you if she can. She assured me, though, that you would understand her first duty is to get back into the air and drop more bombs on the invaders.”

“So it is,” Yelena said. “And mine as well.” 

“Then mine must be to make sure you’re fit to travel and to fly. No bones broken, but your leg was badly bruised by the fuel tank that trapped you in the cockpit, and yesterday your head had a lump as big as a goose egg.” He reached out and gently lifted the russet hair away from her temple.  “Tonight I think we have only a common hen’s egg to deal with.”

Yelena’s hand went to her wound. She flinched at the soreness. There was indeed a lump, and a short gash already scabbing over. She must have bled a great deal. But…“Yesterday? How long have I been here? And how long has Yevgeniya been gone?”

“She was off within a quarter of an hour after we brought you here.” He said it very casually, but Yelena knew he understood what she was thinking. This man had not only rescued her, even wounded as he was, but had cared for her unconscious body for at least a day and a night. 

The thought of his strong hands cleaning away the blood, removing her clothing, doing for her whatever else had been necessary, did not trouble her as much as it should have. She felt a traitorous flush rise from her chest to her cheeks, but kept her voice steady. “Then I thank you for your care of me.”

“You would do the same for any fellow soldier of the Rodina.” 

It was true, though something in his eyes made Yelena hope that she was not just any fellow soldier to him. It could hardly matter, since she must indeed return to flying, and her chances of survival were less even than for foot soldiers in the Russian Army.

The army. She struggled again to sit up, and managed it with his right arm around her shoulders. “Are we still behind our own lines?”

“The German guns have been coming closer. One more day, perhaps.”

There was no need to explain the danger. If the Germans found the remains of her mangled Po-2 biplane, their search for survivors would be unrelenting. No “Night Witch” had yet been captured; they had each been given handguns to assure that none ever would. Better to die that way.

She clutched at his hand. His fingers tightened around hers. “I must get back on my feet. What should I call you?” It felt strange that she did not already know.

“Arkady is my name. But…wait while I find something for you to wear.” He rose and turned away so quickly that she guessed he was trying to spare her embarrassment. Or, she found herself hoping, trying to keep from staring as intently as he wished.

How had she forgotten her undressed state? Her fur-lined flight suit and wool uniform and ill-fitting army-issue undergarments were gone completely, and all that covered her was a man’s cotton undershirt that might have reached to the hips if her movements hadn’t bunched it higher. Just the thought of his gaze on her body made her tightened nipples show clearly through thin fabric. “What has become of my own clothing?” she called after him, more to distract herself than out of curiosity.

“Burned. And then buried. The fuel tank had leaked onto you, and there was so much blood…to keep them here was too dangerous.”

 Of course. Yelena pulled the blanket back over her lap. This was no time for… Or perhaps it was. War topples all conventions. She was no virgin, after all. How could one deny a childhood friend going off to fight and likely never to come back? All the girls in her village had done their part. It was not until a year later that she had discovered how much more she could do for her country, when the famous aviator Marina Raskova persuaded Comrade Stalin to let her form female air regiments, with women trained in the aeroclubs so popular across the country in the last decade. Surely by now, after more than 800 bombing missions, she deserved some pleasures of her own choosing. 

Arkady could be seen through an open door rummaging through a chest at the foot of a wide bed. When he returned he brought a nightrobe of fine embroidered wool. “I don’t suppose my grandmother ever actually wore this after her wedding night, only saved it with her bridal clothes and other treasures.”

“Lovely,” Yelena said sincerely. “I hope she wouldn’t mind letting me use it.”

“She would call you a heroine of the Motherland, and be honored,” he said gravely, and after that she couldn’t refuse.

When she sat decently clothed at the edge of the couch, he helped her stand erect. The bruised leg felt as though it might give way, and her head began to pound. Her first steps were unsteady, but motion strengthened her, and she walked on her own to the haven of a chair on the far side of the table.

“Good! That deserves a reward.” Arkady took two bowls from a shelf and limped without his stick toward the iron cookstove beside the chimney. Only then did Yelena realize that the aroma of barley soup had been teasing at her subconscious mind. In dreams it had always come first, but now the man—and the danger—had distracted her. Even his movements, stooping to add wood to the fire, preoccupied her, and she wondered how far down past his shirt and into his loose farmer’s trousers his scar extended. 

They shared the soup, thick with carrots and onion and bits of chicken, and slices of rye bread far enough past fresh to be ideal for dipping into the broth. Yelena was suddenly so hungry that she ate much too fast and let a bite of soup-sodden bread slide down her chin. Arkady laughed, and she grinned widely, until she saw him wince and touch the scar on his face.

“Does it hurt?” She wished she dared reach out to soothe him.

“No, just…pulls a bit if I laugh. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Does anyone laugh in these times?”

“One must laugh, to prove to fate that you are alive!” This time Yelena did reach across the table to touch his face, and, after a tiny flinch, Arkady did not pull away. “You should do it as exercise, to stretch the scar tissue. And rub it with the ointment my grandmother used to make with goose grease and herbs.” She ran a finger very lightly down his wounded cheek, and felt a tremor he could not suppress. She did not think pain was its cause. When her hand reached his throat he pulled it gently away, but did not let it go.

“My grandmother never kept geese,” he said, “but she had her own home remedies.” His tone was light, though the darkened eyes fixed on hers were saying something else entirely.  “Her chickens and sheep are still here, in my care, while she has gone to live in a safer area with my cousins.”

“I expect chicken fat would do. Or lanolin from the sheep’s wool.” Yelena too was matter-of-fact, while in her imagination she rubbed ointment all along his wounds however far beneath his clothing they extended. “Proper massaging can work wonders for stiffened scars.”

Arkady dropped her hand and stood abruptly. “You had better watch out, Lenotchka, or I will decide you make an even better nurse than pilot, and keep you here.”

“I am a very good pilot, Arkasha,” Yelena said teasingly. Did he even realize that he had used the intimate form of her name, and she had responded in kind?

“I’m sure you could also be a very good nurse.” He retreated with his walking stick to the stool by the hearth and picked up the balalaika, idly stroking its polished surface. “And if you cured me, I could go back to… to do my part for the Rodina.” All the lightness left his voice.  “In truth, I should go back now. I knew, when I managed to pry that fuel tank away, and carried you with the Valkyrie’s aid all the long way back here, that I was well enough now to do whatever must be done.”

“And what…” Yelena hesitated. “How did…” 

“A building fell around me.” Arkady stared into the fire. 

She didn’t press him, and instead asked, “Is the balalaika your own, or your grandmother’s?”

“My mother’s. The music is all I remember of her.”

So much for finding a more pleasant topic for conversation. But then he said, so quietly she could scarcely hear, “I have not played for years, but tonight I had the strangest thought that she was telling me to play the music to wake you.”

“I’m very glad she did.” Yelena struggled to find words to tell him how truly she meant that, but nothing came.   

After a time he rose and walked to the bedroom door, body taut with the effort not to lean on his stick. “You sleep in my grandmother’s bed tonight. I will keep watch out here and tend the fire.”  

Yelena made her way around the table. While Arkady stood at the bedroom door, she deliberately slipped out of the lovely robe, folded it neatly, and set it on the couch. Then, her back toward him, she wriggled out of the clinging undershirt. If words could not tell him of her feelings, she would find a different means.

“We will both sleep in your grandmother’s bed tonight.” She turned back and picked up the lamp. “She would call you a hero of the Rodina as well, and approve of some good nursing.” 

As she brushed past him he gripped the doorframe so tightly that his knuckles showed white, and not, she thought, because of his injured leg. 

The lamp went on a bedside table, and Yelena sat on the bed’s feather-stuffed coverlet. “Surely,” she said, “after so much death, we can have a brief taste of life. And of comfort.” The quaver in her voice was both genuine and deliberate.

“Your injuries…” But he moved closer with no trace of a limp and stood looking down at her. 

Yelena shrugged, knowing his gaze followed the lifting of her breasts. “And yours. Don’t worry, I will be gentle.” 

“I will try,” Arkady said, with a gleam of amusement, “but I cannot promise such a difficult thing.”

“Begin with something easier.”  She grasped his arms and pulled herself up along his body. “Let me help you take off your clothes. Fair’s fair. And I’m your nurse.”

He glanced toward the lamp; this was not so easy, and she knew it. His hidden scars, those of the body at least, must be severe enough that he feared to reveal them. The flesh, however, had already revealed by its urgent thrust against hers what she needed most to know; that part of him was intact, and so eager that her own desire intensified. She pressed in even closer.

“Please, Arkasha,” she murmured. Under her hands the buttons of his shirt gave way, one of them even flying off into the shadows. “Let me feel you. I have seen many wounds, even unto death. Yours are precious to me.”

Arkady groaned at the stroke of her fingers on his bare chest. She touched her lips to the raised, livid streak all along his left side, then kissed all along it down to the point where it descended beneath his trousers, and further yet when she had managed to unfasten those and pull his underdrawers lower. “Ointment would be best,” she said, “but we must make do with what we have,” and she applied her tongue to the task.      

Arkady, his breathing rapid and harsh, could not have found words to stop her if he’d wished to. When Yelena sat back down on the bed, pulled his garments all the way down to his boots, and licked gently along the cruel scar that tapered off just where the tender skin of his inner thigh met even more tender flesh, he thrust his fingers into her thick russet hair and tried to pull her head to where he clearly needed it most intensely.

Yelena stopped just short of his goal and pulled back, the bruise on her head aching from the pressure. “Come into the bed, Arkasha, between the covers. I’ve seen now where I must be gentlest, and where I may play at will.” Her fingers traced a promise along his quite startling length before she folded down the bed’s coverlet and lay back.

“Gentleness be damned!” he growled, but threw himself down beside her and pulled the covering over them both.

Yelena was on him at once, straddling his body while his hands moved over hers in a storm of stroking and pressing and tormenting. Their mouths clung and moved against each other, each pressure speaking more than any words, until the need for even sharper sensation made her pull free. Her aching breasts and nipples claimed the attentions of his lips and tongue and teeth, and her mouth was now free to let out sighs and moans and inarticulate pleas.  Meanwhile he explored her tender folds and swellings until she could bear the protracted pleasure no longer, and settled herself firmly onto his searching cock. By stages she raised up and slid down as he thrust from beneath until she had taken him in completely. Their movements became a dance of lust, a give and take with no room for thought, only for need, and more need, and at last a pulsing demand that burst into a blaze of fulfillment.

When their cries diminished, Yelena thought she heard the throb of a Po-2 engine, familiar as her own heartbeat, pass by overhead on a bombing mission. While sleep claimed her, held close in Arkady’s arms, she wondered muzzily which of her friends had been piloting the plane, and whether even there in the sky they had heard her cry out.       

The sun was high when Yelena woke. The bed beside her was empty, and a skirt and blouse in an old-fashioned style were laid out on a chair, along with a wool shawl and shabby boots such as a farmwoman would wear. More things Arkady’s grandmother had left behind. Her handgun lay on top of the pile. She dressed quickly in spite of stiffness, some of which was really quite pleasurable, and went out into the main room, her gun in the skirt’s capacious pocket.

Arkady stood by the window that looked out over the valley. Beside him was no walking stick, but a long rifle of antique design.

Yelena went to him and leaned as naturally into the quick pressure of his arm around her waist as if they had always been together. “You have a gun,” she commented unnecessarily.

“An old one. No wolf has come down from the mountains after our sheep for many years, but one never knows.” He manipulated the rifle, checking its parts, making adjustments, then raised and sighted along it. Merely an exercise, but even to Yelena it was clear that his skill with guns went far beyond that of an ordinary farmer, or even footsoldier.

He saw her expression. “I was on the shooting team at the Academy of Agriculture when I studied there.”

She was not deceived into taking that as the whole story. “And where were you when the building fell around you?”

There could be no more secrets between them. “In Kiev,” he said. “And now there is need of me in Stalingrad. I cannot run, but I can still shoot.”

A sharpshooter, sniper, picking off selected targets on city streets, through windows, in blasted buildings as shells landed around them, and a target himself. If only they could run away together!

But her own duty called as firmly as his. “I too have a gun,” she said. “And now they are coming.” She could see through the window where a German motorcar had emerged from a wooded area a mile away and was making its slow bumpy way along the lane.

“Shooting a man face to face is a different thing from dropping bombs. Especially in your dreams.”

“I can do it.” Yelena hoped she spoke the truth.

“You may need to, but not here. Leave right now. Our troops are directly to the east, judging by the planes overhead last night. I will persuade these invaders that you were never here.”

They both knew that there was no time for her to travel across the open fields and out of sight behind the next ridge. His plan was to kill every German in the car, sacrificing his own life if necessary, to give her a chance to get away.

“You will never persuade anyone with a nose that there was no woman in your bed last night. And why should your new bride not be with you? Can you play the simple sheepherder? If after all it comes to killing, two guns are better than one.”

By now there could be no other choice. Arkady smoothed her hair over the bruise on her temple, scarcely swollen now, kissed her deeply, then went outside. When the motorcar lurched to a stop, Arkady waited, leaning heavily on his walking stick. “You have frightened my sheep!” he called in a querulous voice as soon as the interpreter opened his door, and indeed five sheep could be seen running off on the grassy hillside.

Four uniformed Germans emerged, barking questions faster then the interpreter, an ethnic German born in Russia, could handle. At last Arkady shrugged and let them file past into the house. Yelena stood stirring a pot on the stove and looking very young and frightened.

“They search for the crew of the plane that crashed down below.” He came to stand beside her, moving with an exaggerated limp. 

“Was it their plane?” she asked the interpreter timidly. “I only returned yesterday, and he told me of it.”

“You should have obeyed me and stayed in the north with your mother,” Arkady growled at her. “I told you it was too dangerous here!” 

Yelena dared to show a flash of spirit. “You were glad enough that I was not with my mother last night!” She mustered a convincing blush as she looked around at the others. One of the younger Germans laughed and muttered to his comrade, who snickered and shook his head. Yelena knew little of the German language, but was quite sure she heard the word “Nachthexen.” Night Witches. From the way the soldiers looked her over, she was very nearly sure that that they had judged her too pretty to be a witch. Their officer watched her keenly with a different sort of assessment.

“And if I am not here,” she went on, “who will sew on your buttons? See what a state you get into without me!” Arkady wore the shirt from the night before, when she had sent a button flying in her haste to strip him. “Who will make cheese from the sheep’s milk? And rub ointment on your scars?”

It was Arkady’s turn to duck his head and look embarrassed. “Tell them to look around as they please,” he muttered to the interpreter. “Women pilots, did you say? If you find any, take them away! One woman is trouble enough.”

More laughter, followed by a thorough search of the house and outbuildings. One young soldier emerged from the bedroom carrying the embroidered wedding nightrobe, and whispered a sly comment to his friend, but at last the group went on to search elsewhere. Yelena knew by the officer’s backward glance that they would still be watched from time to time.

“Hold me,” she begged Arkady, who pulled her so close that her voice was muffled against his shoulder. “They will spy on us, I’m sure.”

“And what should they see but a man whose wife cannot bear to stay away from him?”

She swatted at his firm buttocks, then pulled away. “A virtuous farmer’s wife is what they should see at this time of day.” So she checked the henhouse for eggs, scrubbed such accumulated laundry as there was and hung it out to dry, and even took the bit of worn carpet from beside the bed outdoors to beat the dust from it. By dusk, when they had eaten soup of her making and the last of the rye bread toasted with cheese, they were so ready for the best part of this game-that-was-no-game that Arkady lost two more buttons from his shirt, and the gathered yoke of Yelena’s blouse would need considerable repair.

“Surely a new bride would be submissive to her lord and master,” Arkady teased as they fell together onto the bed.

“Of course.” Yelena rolled onto her back. “And besides, it’s your turn to be on top. So I can use my hands.” Which she did, running her fingers over every delicious part of him she could reach, probing between their bodies to find the most rewarding bits, and discovering which sorts of touch, and where, could drive his gasps and moans to the highest pitch. When finally he pounded into her with fierce intensity and she arched her hips upward to meet his thrusts, there was no up or down, top or bottom, only shared need mounting higher and higher until it soared past all thought into release.

The drone of planes overhead seemed at first an extension of their heavy breathing. When the pounding of Yelena’s heart subsided, she realized suddenly what she was hearing. “Listen!” she said against Arkady’s sweaty neck, and raised her head. “They are flying in force to raid the German lines. So many close together! Usually we go in, two or three at a time, at five minute intervals.”

He listened, and after a while rose, went into the main room, and opened the window. Yelena joined him with a blanket to wrap around them as they listened to the distant thunder of bombs. 

“So many! And look, such fire, and smoke!”

“You wish you were with them,” Arkady said. 

“Of course! Yet I am infinitely grateful that the choice is not mine to make.” 

They clung together watching until they could stand no longer, then lay entwined in the bed, unable to sleep, though the sound of motorcycles outside the door near dawn startled Yelena so sharply that she knew she must have been dozing. Arkady was out of bed with his rifle ready before she had tossed aside the blankets.

“Yelena!” Someone pounded at the door. “Yelena, come quickly!” It was Yevgeniya, with a young Russian soldier at her back. 

Arkady lowered his gun. Yelena reached him swiftly, again with a blanket to cover their nakedness, and Yevgeniya flashed a broad grin.

“The Germans are falling back!” She could scarcely get the words out fast enough. “We hit the fuel depot at Armavir, and some aircraft as well. Our troops are advancing, only twenty miles away now, and we will meet them half way.”

“Arkady comes too.” Yelena disregarded the soldier’s amazed gawking and rushed naked into the bedroom to find her clothing.

“Just as well I brought two motorbikes, then,” Yevgeniya said cheerfully.

Arkady, as soon as he was dressed, scrawled a note to leave on the table. “My neighbor down the hill brings fresh bread every week, and this is the day. She will see to the care of the sheep and hens.”

In seconds, it seemed, they were off, two to a motorcycle. Off to more bombing raids, to the ruined buildings of Stalingrad, to three more years of war; to letters written and sent, and many more days without, and weeks of no news culminating in rushed visits in hospitals. But the day did come at last when Yelena and Arkady climbed the lane to the hillside farm, crossed the threshold, and stood together at last where they belonged; and, though no one else was there, still both heard far away the achingly sweet music of a balalaika.

_______