The pillows - pantomime

Author's note- This is the second of Grace's misadventures in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, but it can also be read as a standalone piece.


Whitechapel, London 1887

A bell jangled over the door as Grace entered 'Cornelius Blake's Pictorial Parlor'. Her bustle bobbed with giddy excitement as she swept into the shop's dark vestibule. Grace brushed the road grime from off her simple lavender dress, her Sunday best still wasn't very fine but she wouldn't let that dampen her spirits. She was to have her very own portrait!

The bell rang again as Grace's stepfather followed behind and began removing his hat and coat. In a rare display of chivalry, he helped her out of her cloak. He readjusted her golden curls, pausing for a moment to admire her pretty face.

At the age of eighteen Grace was still in the first flush of youth but had since shuffled off the awkwardness of adolescence. The gawky child had grown into a beautiful young woman. Yet she was still not accustomed to the newfound attentions of men.

"You look perfect, my girl." A smile brightening his ruggedly handsome face, making her blush and whisper timid thanks.

Grace was surprised by her stepfather's kind offer. Not that he couldn't be kind but only if he was getting something out of it. As a practiced thief and conman, Owen Blythe had a talent for turning most situations to his benefit. Yet Grace couldn't figure how he stood to gain from getting a family portrait taken. There was also the matter of her recent behavior which had not been entirely exemplary. But she was too excited by the prospect of having a likeness of herself to invest much time in considering the whys and wherefores.

Without further ado Owen pushed open the door to the studio and they stepped inside. From the rundown outward appearance of the shop and the shadowy location, tucked away in a less than prosperous neighborhood, Grace expected the inside to be equally as shabby. Yet as they walked into the parlor she had to admit how very wrong her expectations had been.

Grace blinked in the brightness, momentarily dazzled by the light. A few large windows let in great streams of sunlight but offered only a grim view of a neighboring brick wall. She supposed that was for privacy's sake. It smelled curiously, like acrid smoke and strange chemicals. But the most curious aspect was the furnishing. Each wall seemed to have a different theme. There was the Greek wall with an ornate couch perched between two plaster columns. The oriental wall had a long gold and black screen adorned with elegant cranes and lush cherry blossoms. Ornamental objects and brightly colored pillows were scattered across the floor. A pastoral scene filled one part of the room with a stone bench and a canvas backdrop painted to resemble a wooded landscape. Lastly the fourth section had an enormous red settee and heavy velvet drapery that very much resembled a boudoir. The effect of the varied décor was rather striking, like traveling to different lands with a simple turn of the head. In the center of the unusual room stood a large wood and brass camera mounted on a sturdy tripod.

Behind the shining contraption gathered three men. Upon seeing their arrival, the central figure came towards them. From the way the others deferred to him, Grace supposed he must be the shop's owner.

"Ahhh, Mr. Blythe good to see you and this must be the lovely Grace." The young proprietor was taking her measure with dark, energetic eyes. Assessing her not as a man would a woman but as a merchant might evaluate a potential product. Finally, after a few seconds perusal he bared his teeth in an approving smile and performed a shallow bow. "Cornelius Blake at your service."

Grace returned the favor and sized him up from head to toe. Starting at the top, Mr. Blake had black hair parted severely to one side. High cheekbones and hollow cheeks gave him a lean and hungry look. Still lower, a simple but smart grey suit complimented his rangy build. Everything about him, from his strictly controlled movements to his sharp hawk-like features hinted at a naked ambition for fame and fortune. He was not traditionally handsome, she supposed, but something about his vigorous energy was enticing nonetheless.

"Might I introduce my assistants, Alfred." The fellow came to greet her though he appeared noticeably reluctant to leave his place beside the camera. He was a small man, not much older than Grace, with a shock of straw-colored hair and a pale complexion. A pair of icy blue eyes bore into her with unnerving intensity as he dipped his shoulders in a cool greeting.

"And this is William." William stepped forward. He was so very tall that Grace had to crane her neck to look into his face. And what a face! Perfect nose, full lips, strong jawline. Thick chestnuts hair and long sideburns framed his faultlessly chiseled features, which seemed oddly familiar in their masculine beauty. His muscular frame radiated an effortless confidence that bordered on arrogance but Grace still found it rather irresistible. That broad body was well-attired in a showy black suit and a bright gold waistcoat, though he wore it uncomfortably, like a costume.

Nevertheless, he looked unnervingly like a hero from a fairy story. Grace had to stifled a nervous giggle as Pantomime Prince Charming leaned in and pressed his lips to her hand dramatically. The gesture was equal parts adorable and ridiculous.

Once the introductions were over Mr. Blake instructed for Grace and Owen to stand before a rather plain cloth backdrop while he readied the camera.

With a snap of Mr. Blake's fingers, he and Alfred sprang to action, preparing plates and arranging equipment. It was a veritable whir of activity. As for William, although he had been described as an assistant he seemed to do very little besides look handsome. Though he performed that one task astoundingly well.

While the men prepared Grace busied posing herself in a stiff, proper posture, hands clasped nervously before her. Owen stood just behind her with a hand on her shoulder. He cleaned up well. All the holes in his garments were patched up neatly. His curly brown hair was brushed back into some semblance of order. He'd even shaved his signature salt and pepper stubble.

Grace felt awfully pretty herself. Her plain lavender gown had admittedly seen better days but she liked the way it hugged her curvaceous figure and the way the color set off her bright blue eyes and golden blonde hair. The two of them would look a fine pair in the photograph.

"Do you not fink I would notice Grace?" Her stepfather asked into her ear, jarring her out of her daydream of modeling on a velvet couch in fancy costumes.

"What's that Papa?" She asked, face fixed in a placid expression.

"The little fings you've been doing like the parsnip soup that made me itch. Or the iron burns on me favorite jacket."

Grace turned to face her stepfather but Mr. Blake chided, "stay very still please."

"You've been very naugh'y Grace. It's almost as if you was asking for a punishment."

"I don't know what you mean Papa. I always try to please you." A chill of apprehension ran down her spine. It was getting harder to maintain the tranquil expression for the camera.

"The fact that I'm ge'ing paid is just icing on the cake."

Just then two things happened in quick succession- the camera went off and Owen clapped a damp cloth over Grace's mouth. Understandably startled by the events, Grace gasped. Instantly the sickly-sweet smell of chloroform was invading her airways. At first she failed to react, losing long moments to shock but then she started fighting. By then Owen had wrapped an arm around her waist from behind and pinned her firmly against him.

She tried to cry out but the cloth smothered her voice. The devious vapors were already working on her increasingly light head. Grace managed to get one hand free and used it to claw at the rag but Owen easily presses it harder. All of a sudden Mr. Blake was approaching. He sidled forward until he was a few inches from her writhing form. She tried to use her eyes to send a petition for help but he merely looked at her with the kind of amused curiosity that a cat might give to a struggling mouse.

"I told you she was a pret'y one." Owen slurred, his breath tickling her neck.

"Very pretty. Innocent face, lovely blonde hair, slender but with ample curves." The photographer examined her, ignoring the entreaty in her big blue eyes. He leaned in to get a closer look, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Seduction wrapped in the guise of innocence. Yes, she'll do nicely."

Though he was looking straight at Grace it was very clear Mr. Blake was not talking to her. They were discussing her as if she wasn't even there. In a strange place surrounded by strange men, Grace was quickly losing what was left of her senses. Soon she would be completely at their mercy. The gravity of her situation was beginning to sink in.

"And I get a cut ov the profits." She heard Owen asking. His voice sounded far away.

"Yes, ten percent of every postcard sold."



"Agreed." Grace's body swayed gently against Owen's chest as he momentarily removed his grip from her waist to shake hands and seal the deal. She nearly laughed out loud. That they should be carrying on with business as usual under the circumstances seemed amusingly absurd to her giddy mind.

Owen replaced his grip on her but higher this time so that his hand was resting on the abundant swell of her bosom. "Do ya fink I might stay and be ov some assistance?"

"No, I have plenty of assistance already. And I prefer to work in privacy." Mr. Blake replied, he glanced over to Alfred who was watching closely, as always. "So to speak.- You may retrieve her when we are finished."

Grace couldn't quite make out the words but after a bit more quibbling her noticeably disappointed stepfather seemed to concede. Their discussion may have continued but Grace was no longer sensible of it. The ringing in her ears was too loud. She tried to work out what it all meant but her mind was moving at a sluggish pace. Her thoughts were seeping out slowly like treacle on a cold day. All she knew was that it likely wouldn't be to her benefit.

Grace's feet slid and skidded on the hardwood floor, legs no longer able to hold her, and she sank deeper into Owen's arms. Her sleepy head was suddenly very heavy. It fell back and rolled limply against her stepfather's shoulder.

Inhaling more of the pacifying perfume, her numb fingers slid from his hand and her arm dropped like dead weight at her side. She lost herself for a few moments and when her senses returned she was slipping towards the floor, still supported by Owen's tight hold. Grace made one more attempt to fight back but her movements were slow and unfocused. Then they stopped altogether. Her limbs would no longer listen to their owner no matter how hard she willed them to.

To be stripped of even the most elementary control over her own body was terrifying. Inwardly she was panicking. Yet outwardly she appeared tranquil and content as if she was drifting peaceful into a much-needed nap.

"There, she's almost out."

Owen was right. Grace could feel consciousness slipping away. Every breath was bringing her closer to a frightful oblivion. With one last soft whimper, she succumbed to chloroform's inescapable embrace.

* * *

Grace's eyelids cracked open reluctantly. Her mind clung desperately to the final moments of slumber. But the dreamy haze was swiftly dissolving and in its place crept the cold splash of reality. Fragments of memories flickered through her head; a blinding flash, a cloying rag, a dastardly bargain. And then the smothering blackness.

And by the feel of it, her predicament had gone from bad to worse. As the sensation returned to her body Grace noticed that something was wrapped around her mouth rendering her mute. Her limbs were stiff and she didn't even need the benefit of sight to ascertain that they were bound. Grace finally managed to open her eyes fully to find herself tied to a sturdy wooden chair. Coarse rope secured her arms and legs to the solid beams of the chair.

Gone was her demure pastel gown and in its place she was dressed in loose and transparent harem pants. The only thing covering her upper body was a chunky jeweled necklace that dangled just above her ample breasts. Bindings wound around the ripe swells which were on full display thanks to her unconventional attire. The effect of the ensemble was somehow more scandalous and revealing than complete nudity.

Once her awareness of her situation returned so did the panic Grace felt before she had taken her forced nap. She was helplessly bound and nearly nude. Her muscles went rigid and strained vainly against the tight ropes but they didn't budge.

"Mmmpphhhh," she mumbled into the gag.

"Perfect timing, my dear." Mr. Blake suddenly appeared in her line of sight as he crouched down before her. "I've just finished developing our first prints."

In his gloved hands, he held some photographs still damp from their chemical bath. He held the sheets up proudly before her eyes. Her mind was still sluggish. At first she only noticed the salacious nature of the model's dress and poses. Then it hit her like a freight train- the pictures were of her!

In some of them it was obvious she was unconscious, with loose posture and limbs at odd angles as if her body had been piled haphazard onto the couch like a broken doll. But in others it didn't look like she was asleep at all. She looked like her eyes were shut in transported pleasure. She was displayed in varying stages of undress. In one photograph her legs were positioned wide open so that her most private place was exposed for all the world to see. Still others she appeared bare and bound like an exotic captive. The images were shocking and shameful- and deeply arousing. Grace felt the wetness pool between her thighs.

"I hope those ropes aren't too uncomfortable, my dear. The captive slave girl tableau is particularly popular." Her captor ran his finger along the bindings that crisscrossed her chest. It began to heave harder in response. "The public is going to lap you up. Every man who sees these pictures will fantasize about fucking you."

Countless strange men would see all of her. Lust after her. Stroke themselves to her image. The idea was alarming. The alarm deepened when the lurid prospect brought about a sharp twinge of desire.

"So what do you think of your modeling debut?" He asked excitedly while yanking the gag from her lips.

"Please let me go, please," she begged, her voice brittle and her mouth dry.

"Let you go? And spoil such a delightful opportunity to marry art with commerce. I think not." He replaced the gag, cutting off any further objection. "No Grace, my dear. You're such a good subject I'm not done with her yet. The next set will be something different, for clients with less subtle taste."

Mr. Blake snapped his fingers and Alfred scuttled over to take the wet sheets from him and hand over a stack of glossy photographs on thick cardstock. One by one he showed her some of his previous work. There were women naked as the day is long or cinched into lacy negligee that didn't hide much of their modesty to the viewer, some smiling and winking into the lens without an ounce of shame. Postcard girls she had heard them called. Their faces and bodies known far and wide. And timid little Grace would be one of them! Disgust and desire warred within her at the very notion.

The last collection of photographs was even more graphic. They showed couples in flagrante delicto. And not just couples, sometimes they were in groups of three or more, all quite engaged in the act of 'love'. So many bodies tangled together, limbs entwined, faces contorted in pleasure. In one photo, a woman was kneeling before a fellow, taking his manhood into her mouth. In the very next picture the man was returning the favor, his face buried deeply between the girl's thighs. Grace's cheeks grew warm and flush as she wondered how it would feel to have someone lapping at her own sex like that.

"Besides, methinks the lady doth protest too much."

His dark gaze dropped down to her chest and then his hand followed, letting the postcards fall to the floor. The way she was trussed up thrust her breasts forward. Grace liked her breasts, they were full but still firm and pert- just the way they should be. And judging by the way he paid attention to them, Mr. Blake seemed to like them too.

Concentrating his feather light caress on her right breast, he strummed it 'til she long for more. Next he turned his focus to the left orb. Slowly and deliberately he tormented her nipples until they rose to stiff peaks. Grace tried to fight it but the flicker of lust was swiftly becoming a conflagration she could not control. She needed more of his touch. He was cold and cruel, openly enjoying her thwarted desire. Toying with her until she was wriggling against her bindings to arch further into his hand. The rope bit into her torso, abrading the already over-sensitive flesh. She wanted to scream in frustration but the gag would not allow it.

"You may have everyone else fooled with your false show of modesty but my camera has captured you as you really are; a shameless hussy. I bet if I checked your hungry little pussy right now I'd find you soaking wet." His fingers crept down her torso.

Grace moaned behind the gag, not really sure if it was a plea for him to stop or continue.

By achingly slow degrees his touch slipped passed the thatch of golden curls to her silky folds beneath. Then he held his hand before her to display the glistening proof of her arousal on his fingers. A cruel smile spread across his face. "Sodden, as I suspected. Cunning little slut."

His degrading words prompted another flood of moisture to wet her thighs.

With another snap of his fingers, Alfred was at his employer's side handing over a damp rag. Grace didn't even have time to mumble a weak objection before the cloth was being pressed over her nose and mouth. The familiar fumes jolted her out of her lustful daze and she began to struggle against her tight bindings. But with her arms tied behind her and her legs secured to the chair there was very little she could do. A frightening surge of dizziness hit her as she sucked in her first deep breath.

"Don't worry, my friend and I are going to give your greedy cunt what it needs while Alfred captures it in print. Then I'm going to peddle those pretty pictures all over London so that everyone may see what a shameless slut you really are." Mr. Blake taunted while continuing to caress her sex.

He was rubbing her clit now, tracing little circles around the swollen bud. Just like that her arousal ratcheted up to painful new heights. The rising tide of lust made her breathe come in rapid shallow gasps, forcing her lungs to suck in more of the conquering vapors. They certainly were doing their job. Every part of Grace's body was going numb apart from the throbbing place where Blake was stroking her. She wanted to hold onto the delightful sensation but it was fading fast like everything else.

Grace felt herself tumbling through the rabbit hole into a dark wonderland. Falling farther away from the world she knew until up was down and down was up. It was becoming progressively difficult to form coherent thoughts through the dense fog of chloroform and lust. And the thoughts that did come were disjointed and silly. Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Mr. Blake's Cheshire cat grin was the last thing she saw as she slipped once more, d o w n into the darkness.

* * *

Tap. Tap. Tap. Grace was roused by the feeling of someone patting her firmly on the cheek.

With an in every home, people have become increasingly insular, depending on and trusting their obliging personal robots as much as any person. Dom knows this as well as anyone. By day he sits alone in peoples homes prescribing the correct unit for each family. By night he sits a alone in the solitary company of his own model. However when Dom is given a chance to break the cycle of his loneliness and regret when meets someone who invigorates the monotonous routine of his existence.

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"Indeed, I am heartily glad that I don't know all that is being said and written about Helen and myself. I assure you I know quite enough. Nearly every mail brings some absurd statement, printed or written. The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen demonstrating problems in geometry by means of her playing blocks. I expect to hear next that she has written a treatise on the origin and future of the planets!"

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"I think at the beginning I didn't realise it would be 12 hours a day. My fitness is at the top its ever been. I'm definitely feeling stronger all round."

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I am a nurse working in the field of Hospice and Palliative Care. I am a Complementary Therapy Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse overseeing a complementary therapy program that employs CHPN certified hospice nurses with additional advanced practice certifications in bodywork therapy. We offer and recognize the value of adapted versions of massage, light pressure reflexology and energy based therapies in working with individuals moving through the last months, weeks and days of their lives. We also work on stressed caregivers, regularly. As program coordinator, I have been in a position to identify therapies that matter, make a difference.. and support therapeutic goals professionally in a healthcare system. The entire program started out very simplistically, with comfort massage and reflexology added to the plan of care of high priority patients / caregivers. Within a few years it was clear to me that we needed an energetic (biofield therapy) to meet particular needs for symptom relief and anxiety / fear based states.. conditions .. that concrete touch therapies were not capable of supporting. I had access to the use of Reiki practitioners and a Healing Touch practitioner / Holistic Nurse and Psychiatric Nurse to meet these needs. We ultimately decided on Healing Touch since it is a long certification process (developed by a nurse, and patterned on nursing process), embraces a number of energy techniques and develops the professionalism of the practitioner.

The staff are very friendly and helpful. The room is clean. But the main problem is that the pillows are too hard and uncomfortable. ibis as a chain hotel should resolve this because it really affect sleeping quality whichever ibis I stayed at. If this continues it would affect my choice of stay. If this is resolve, i'd be very happy to continue to stay at ibis in Birmingham and wherever I go.

The Pillows - PantomimeThe Pillows - PantomimeThe Pillows - PantomimeThe Pillows - Pantomime