Her name was June. She had been born in a cold summer. When she was a child, her relatives had joked that the cold had come in with her, because she was so quiet and so stern, but by the time she was ten the worn-out family gag had had to stop. It hit too near to the mark, and it started to become cruel.
June was cold, quiet, and shy. She was shy, not in the sense that she found other people frightening, but that she found them tiring, and interacting with them was painful. She kept her lips shut tight, and when they did open she spoke very quickly, and came across as severe, even rude. So she learned to restrain herself, and she became even quieter.
She developed much in the ways that one might expect of such a shy person. She found satisfaction in the ruthless abstraction of mathematics, and lesser satisfaction in the lesser abstraction of the sciences. She was never exactly gifted in these areas, but she was always a stand-out, and when worrying about their children, June’s parents always consoled themselves that June’s financial security, given her abilities, was probably assured.
June, too, realised the track that her abilities were laying before her, and she didn’t mind. She never showed it on her face, but she liked being praised, and if she could keep doing things she’d be praised for, then that was something. But, she reflected, if she could have snapped her fingers and had whatever life she wanted, she would have liked to have been a painter, for there was satisfaction in art as well; in the precision of capturing an object’s likeness, in the flash of colour when your brush first hit the canvas, in the final judgement that a work was complete, and could be added to a private store of achievements.
If she had actually told anyone that this was her wish, they would probably have supported her, for though her parents found her difficult to talk to, they loved her almost as much as her more assertive siblings. But she never said anything to anyone about it. It was deeply desired: therefore obviously impossible.
By adulthood this dream was all but forgotten. June managed to pass through school, through college, and through a post-grad degree like a mist: quietly, leaving few traces. Some of her fellow mathematicians remembered the all-but-silent, pale girl who sat at the back of their seminars and lecture halls. Some of the other students who frequented the swimming pools in the morning would see her leaving just as they arrived. She was pretty, so people did notice her, but they’d forget her before long. June preferred it that way.
By the time she was twenty-four, June had laid down a pattern for her life that she expected would continue more or less indefinitely. She had a job as a financial analyst at a large insurance firm called Mordhaus and Bennett., involved enough and difficult enough that there was pleasure in her work, but not so senior that she had to be in charge of other people. She even got to work at home for two days a week. In the mornings she would swim, at the weekends she would read, and on an occasional Friday she would sign onto a dating app and find someone - man or woman - who would give her a night’s pleasure and no more. The less like her they were, the more confident and funny and assertive, the more she found she liked being in bed with them. They took up so much space that she felt like she wasn’t there, and she liked that. Sometimes they wanted to keep seeing her, and June would always refuse. Very occasionally she would regret refusing, but in rebellion against a part of herself that wanted to make her life more complicated than it needed to be, she would delete all her apps. Give it six weeks, though, and they’d be back.
Of late, however, June’s routine, her pattern, had been disturbed. One reason was a new manager at the accountancy firm June worked in. Her name was Cynthia, and she was far enough from June in the company hierarchy that June had hardly noticed her at first. But over the course of about six months, she had made things more and more difficult. First it was the occasional email adding just a little bit to June’s workload. Then it was asking her to come into the office on days she wasn’t contracted to. Then it was publicly criticising her in front of the rest of the department. It meant that, for the first time since taking the job, June had begun to be anxious about her work. It meant that when she came into work on the day that concerns us, she was nervous in a way that went beyond the baseline of fear that dominated June’s emotional landscape. That was the first problem. The other problem - was Annika.
When Annika walked in, on a clear, crisp morning at the beginning of May, everybody looked. Annika was tall, strong, fit, and energetically beautiful. Her arms were tense with muscle, and she wore her hair in a golden ponytail. She had on a pair of tight, leather trousers, for the shape of her lower body suited this penchant very well indeed. She seemed proud of her looks, but not arrogant about them. She was personable with everyone - from senior management to the interns to the janitorial staff, and none of them ever felt she was sucking up, or talking down to them. She was self-possessed in the truest sense of the expression: every part of her seemed to be an expression of will. She was exactly what she wanted to be - or, that was June’s impression, anyway.
Annika was older than June, nearly twenty-nine, but had only joined the company recently. Annika had switched careers at some point, though she was always a little cagey about whatever it was she used to do, and June never pressed the matter. She tried, in fact, to talk to Annika as little as possible, because she found her so attractive, and just being around her was a minefield of potential embarrassments. But Annika always made a point of saying hello to her. She’d noticed that everyone else had, forgivably enough in June’s view, given up on trying to be personable with June. So whenever she came in with that bright, prettily asymmetrical smile, with a few beads of sweat dotted attractively on her forehead from the summer heat, June looked. She looked at Annika’s arms; at the way her trousers clung to her strong thighs and her backside; at her hair; at her hard, well-sculpted jawline; at the faint impression of her bra through her shirt. Looking, and looking to see if Annika was looking.
At this point in her life, after the experiences she had had, June herself would - probably - have - grudgingly - admitted that she herself was an attractive woman. Maybe even very attractive. She was very slightly above average height, quite slim. Her hair was black, and she wore it in a somewhat fluffy bobcut, her hair curling inward to frame the upper half of her face. She had delicate features: a slightly sharp chin, slender jaw, and a trace of the features of her father’s Thai mother in her countenance. She was pale, too - ‘beautifully icy’, one person had said.
It was all very pretty, but it was her eyes that made her face truly memorable. They were nearly unbelievable, eyes a shade of brown that looked nearly red, standing out so starkly against her skin that people were often startled to look at her. Not on the first glance, when most people thought that she was just wearing contact lenses. They’d be startled if they looked again, and saw that those sharp, upturned eyes set with such intensity and vulnerability really were that colour.
June’s figure - well, June had an odd relationship with her figure. She would look at herself in the mirror, and see her smoothly taut shoulders; see her slim white arms; see her large breasts and she would think ‘yes, my body is very pretty’, but it didn’t feel like she was looking at herself. Her attractiveness felt like something that someone had attached to her, after the fact. Not like Annika. Annika’s beauty was dyed into the wool of every inch of her. She, June thought, would be beautiful for her entire life. June’s beauty would last exactly as long as her youth. It didn’t really belong to her.
And yet it gave her pleasure to know that people liked looking at her. Being attractive gave her something. A tool… a weapon even. An advantage of her attitude to her appearance, that it didn’t really feel like hers, was that it was something she could hide behind. When people looked at her like… that… they weren’t really looking at June.
Hence the high-necked, bare-armed black sweater that held to her figure so nicely. Hence the high heels. Hence that short, tight black skirt which left her slender, white legs completely on show: her years of swimming making them just a little thicker and a little more substantial than you might have expected if you’d just looked at June’s face or her arms. It was a kind of armour.
“Hey, Juuuuuune.” Annika always greeted her when she came in, and she always greeted her like that. “Whatcha want? Latte or cappuccino?”
“Um…” June flicked her eyes up. Annika’s eyes were green, and bright. June had noticed that her left eye opened slightly less than her right eye, just by a millimetre or two. It made her look like she always knew something you didn’t.
“Oh!” June clenched in embarrassment. She’d been staring. “Uh… the latte, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“You’re so courteous,” Annika laughed. “There’s no need. I’m just trying to get in your good graces. I’m being completely selfish, really.”
“Not much point getting in my good graces,” June said. “I wouldn’t be able to promote you.”
“I was kidding,” Annika said, and June couldn’t tell from her tone if she was amused or somewhat impatient. June considered telling Annika that she had been joking too, just that her tone was so dour and quiet that she’d seemed serious, but couldn’t figure out a way of doing it which wouldn’t make her sound petulant or stupid. So she just kept her mouth shut. Every time she took a risk it made her feel less and less able to take another.
“Say, June. Can I ask you something?”
This was rare. June appreciated Annika’s efforts to be friendly to her, but only once in a blue moon did she do more than exchange pleasantries and, maybe once or twice every three weeks, bring June a coffee.
“...Yes?” June did her best to look friendly, but she seemed never to get her face away from a serious expression, or a sad one, or both. She turned her chair around, tightly crossing her legs; folding her hands over her thigh so that she didn’t have to think about what to do with them.
“Do you… like working here?”
June blinked. Annika had never asked her a question like that before. Her work had its satisfaction, at least for a brain like June’s, but there was no denying it could be dull sometimes. For the last two months June and the others in the financial analysis department had been tasked with preparing for the higher ups an analysis of the Congolese minerals market. Mordhaus and Bennett, as well as providing insurance, would also publish ratings on loans and whole arenas of industry. It was worthy work for someone in June’s profession, but it was the kind of thing that was usually given to a much larger team over a much longer period of time.
“I find the work interesting,” was all that June was able to say both politely and honestly. “It has its tedious elements, I suppose.”
“That didn’t answer my question.” The response was a little curt. Almost to the point of rudeness. But there was a touch of a smile in the upper corner of Annika’s mouth that made it difficult for June to resent her tone.
“Then I… I can’t give a clear answer. I suppose I’m ambivalent. But I’m sure that’s true of most people.” She began to turn her chair away, but Annika put her hand on the backrest. She didn’t actually hold it tightly enough to stop June turning it, but as soon as June felt the pressure she stopped. Slowly, she turned back. Annika was quite close now. She was tall, and since June was sitting down, Annika loomed even taller.
“If I could snap my fingers,” Annika said, “and give you exactly what you want, what would it be?”
June gulped. From the badly-suppressed smile on her face it was obvious that Annika had noticed.
“I wouldn’t stay here,” June eventually answered. “But that’s - I mean nowhere is perfect, so - in fact my arrangement here is very reasonable so… that is, on second thought maybe - uh…” She knew what she meant. Why was it so difficult? Yes, if I could have exactly what I wanted I would leave, because conditions here have deteriorated recently, but I have a pretty good gig and I don’t want to risk things getting worse. No reasonable person would think less of June for saying so. So why cringe?
“That’s fair, I guess,” Annika answered. She stepped back, looked away. Something of the static charge that she had been building up and up in her co-worker was allowed to dim. Like flicking a light switch, Annika had turned it into a normal conversation again. “I guess I’d stick around - but then I’m probably not as employable as you.”
“If you say so.”
“Mmhmm. Alright, I gotta run. See you later, June.”
When Annika turned back, June was staring at her. She had a look of such severity that Annika thought June was angry with her.
“Thank you,” June said, “for taking an interest. I do - appreciate it.”
“Aw, you’re welcome,” Annika replied, grinning at her own mistake. “You’re such a sweetie.” She waved goodbye, but just before she left, she turned back one last time. “By the way - you look killer today.” She winked. “See ya!”
When June looked back at her monitor, it had gone to sleep, so she saw her own reflection pretty clearly in it. She was brightly, and hotly blushing, and she hoped that Annika had not noticed.
June, for all her anxiety, did not think of herself as intrinsically pessimist. A bad thing was not any more likely in her mind than a good thing. For instance, she was one of the only right-thinking people she knew who believed that humanity had a decent shot at finding a way out of the worst effects of the climate crisis. So she did not necessarily expect that her day would have an unpleasant sting in its tail. But when it came, she was not altogether surprised.
She was packing up her things to leave work, when she heard heavy footfalls approaching her. Without even looking June knew that it was Cynthia, the new manager. She wore these large, clumping boots - something to do with collapsed arches, apparently - and she took heavy steps anyway, so it was very easy to hear her coming.
“Er, June?” she said, before even opening the door to June’s office, “could I have a word?” She barged in, still typing a reply to an email on what had to be one of the very last of the Blackberries anywhere in the corporate structure of Mordhaus and Bennett.
Cynthia was about forty, and she was a handsome woman - but one totally uninterested in anything but neatness regarding her appearance. She never wore makeup, she dressed plainly, and since she didn’t like her hair getting in her face, she wore it very short. There was an unpretentious efficiency about her. June didn’t like Cynthia, exactly, but she admired people who could be entirely themselves. In that way, she and Annika were somewhat alike. But only in that respect.
“June, hi, thought I should let you know since it’s affecting your department, Marcus’ contract is ending in two weeks, and we’ve decided not to renew.”
Cynthia had been so attentive to what must have been one of the very last Blackberries in full service anywhere in the desolate landscape of corporate America that she had started speaking before opening the door. She looked up to catch June’s eyes so briefly that by the time June met them they’d zipped down to another email.
“Oh, hell,” June thought. That put them down to four. With the amount that was being asked of them, it was getting close to unsustainable.
“How’s the Congo analysis going?” Cynthia asked. “Still on course for the end of the month?”
“Y-yes,” June mumbled. “But -”
As June struggled to find the right way to make a serious complaint to someone who could make her life very difficult, she fixed her eyes on Cynthia, and when Cynthia’s eyes flickered back up to meet them, she was startled. She had never taken the full force of one of June’s stares before, never really been hit with those severe, near-red eyes. She was visibly startled, and this embarrassed herself and June enough that June practically had to turn her back on the woman.
It wasn’t a disaster. Marcus wasn’t leaving immediately, and it wasn’t as if Cynthia had brought the deadline forward or anything. But Marcus was likely going to be going at half speed at best until he was gone. And though he was a bit lazy - part of the reason why they weren’t keeping him - he was very skilled. Losing him was a blow, and it would push June’s work over the line from merely difficult to being tedious.
June needed to go home, and unwind, but she knew that she wouldn’t. This was going to be one of an increasing number of nights where things were piled onto her, and though she didn’t really have to stay late she would, because that was the only way for her to feel sure that she was on top of everything, and that there would not be unpleasant, awkward conversations with people who demanded things the difficulty of which they did not understand.
In fact, forget the admiration June had expressed for Cynthia, however measured. The woman was an officious bore who treated her employees like automated productivity machines. She could go and fuck herself.
“Yes, June. Well done. That’ll show her. Swear at her in your head. That’s an excellent substitute for standing up for yourself.”
So angry with Cynthia, angry with herself, and angry that she couldn’t do anything with her anger except swallow it, June sat down, and did what she imagined was expected of her.
It was a shame that June had sat down in such a foul humour, because her report had started to incorporate some quite interesting material. Political stuff about who was in favour or disfavour in Congo’s Assemblée Nationale, attitudes of their leading lights to Western or East-Asian investment, and so on. Conjecture on which faction’s ascendancy would lead to greater stability, and so lower premiums.
At the very least, it held her attention. By the time it occurred to her to look at a clock, it was already quarter to ten. It was a privilege having an office to herself, but it made it very easy to forget that she wasn’t the only person in the world. She looked up from her computer. The windows in the building opposite to them were almost all dark - only one or two lights casting shadows of slowly shuffling cleaners on solitary vigils.
June got up. Her heels made no sound on the thin carpet, and it made June feel like her hearing was muffled. Paranoid that her years of shutting people out with earbuds had harmed her hearing, she rubbed her fingers together next to her ears. They were fine, and out loud she called herself an idiot.
“Idiot.” The word rang, but it didn’t echo. It filled June’s ears, surprising her with how loud it seemed when all the rest of the world seemed so silent. The last clicks of her computer as it shut down had fallen silent. The walls and the carpet absorbed the sound of her speech, the sound of her breathing. June’s ears were fine, but there was a kind of hum, a vacuum of sound where it was expected. It was unsettling.
June walked outside. There was no-one in the hallway outside. She couldn’t hear anyone. She shut her eyes, expecting to hear the sound of a vacuum cleaner a few floors above or below. A whistling security guard. Some other hapless office drone like her burning the midnight oil. But there was nothing. The lights were off in the other offices, but in the hallway, and the large communal area with the hotdesks and the kitchenette, everything was fully lit. It made the smaller, unlit rooms look creepy. Threatening.
Without June knowing why, her head snapped to the right, to the large windows that went all the way up to the ceiling. Something had startled her, but it had been and gone so quickly that the response had been completely autonomic.
“It was probably a bird,” June said, out loud, to reassure herself. There was no particular reason to think that she was wrong, but somehow she did not believe herself. The bright lights meant that she couldn’t see very well out of the windows, and she didn’t like the idea that she could be seen, but couldn’t see. She moved away from the window. She was unsettled. She was very aware of her heartbeat. She was pressing her thumbs against the knuckles of her index fingers. She turned around, putting her back against the window. She saw her own shadow in front of her. She saw another shadow flicker through it.
She didn’t turn around. Whatever it was had been and gone so fast that there was no point looking for it. She was startled, and a little scared, but it was a funny kind of scared. It felt like she was watching a film, June’s brain half-filling in the sharp, string-instrument music sting that would inevitably have come with the flickering shadow.
Despite a strange, morbid curiosity, June was unsettled enough to leave. There was an uncomfortable, nervous energy running through her, and it pushed her out of this desk area, into the hallway leading to the lifts. This part of the building was less well lit; the shadows heavier, with more corners where something could be hiding. The carpets had been torn up here, still awaiting replacement, and June’s shoes made sharp tacking sounds on the floor. No other sounds but the dull buzzing of the feeble lights. She turned a corner, and was startled by a motion sensing light suddenly switching on, illuminating her like a spotlight, then suddenly switching off again. It must have tripped a fuse, or something, because all the lights in the hallway blinked off as well.
June was not in complete darkness. There was a little light from the battery indicators of the smoke detectors. There was a little light from the hotdesk area that cast itself down here. There was even some light from a nearby window, through which an orangey, streetlight-haze filtered through. But it didn’t add up to much. June could hardly see more than six feet in front of herself, but she felt very visible. There was… an emotion rising in her, rising like mercury in the pit of her stomach, and she felt it moving up her throat, and she fairly naturally expected it to be something like fear. But it turned out, quite to June’s surprise, to be déja vu.
She had been here before. Stood here before. In this place, in this light, after dark in an empty office, with no one in the building but herself, wearing these clothes, with this silence and this - tension. She went completely still - it didn’t feel like she was holding her breath but she could no longer hear it. Could she even feel her own heartbeat? For a moment she thought she could, but the soft, rhythmic thump wasn’t her heart. It was the sound of footsteps.
Not heels. They’d have tapped harder. Light boots, or sneakers maybe. Something in the quality of the steps made it seem like they could be silent, but were choosing not to be. And these, too, were familiar.
“This was a dream,” June said. “This was a dream I had.” Her voice didn’t seem to carry, just like in a dream. She couldn’t move, just like in a dream. And like a dream that she’d had a hundred times, she knew exactly what was going to happen next.
June stood, motionless. She wanted to reach for the button to call the lift, but she couldn’t get her arms to rise. She wanted to move away, but her legs wouldn’t obey her. She knew everything before it happened, memory and reality resonating in a ringing harmony. She knew they were going to come and stand right behind her. She knew that she would hear their breathing, steady and strong like a little breeze in her hair. She’d feel their eyes burning into the back of her, eyeing her up, sizing her up.
And all this happened. Moment by moment exactly as June had dreamed. It was so precise that, inevitably, June began to wonder if she really was dreaming, for it seemed the best explanation of her experience. But she couldn’t think ahead, couldn’t remember where the dream went - beyond the next half-second - or where it eventually ended. She knew that it was within the next few seconds but - but where? Was someone really behind her? Was she imagining it? Did -
The lift. June thought she hadn’t pressed the button - but she supposed she must have. With a kind of static buzz in her ears, June realised that her dream and reality had fallen out of sync. The lift doors opened, and June was momentarily dazzled by the bright lights inside. When her eyes adjusted, she saw herself reflected in the mirror fixed to the back of the inside of the lift, and for a fraction of a second she thought she was alone. But there was someone behind her.
Tall. Not gigantic, but about half-a-head taller than June. Dressed in black - a practical outfit, lots of pockets, and a heavy belt with all kinds of tools attached to it - but form fitting around a shapely body - womanly, and well muscled. June couldn’t see their face. They were wearing a mask, covering everything above their mouth, a kind of glass over her eyeholes that June supposed was something like a one-way mirror. June opened her mouth, though whether to speak or to scream she didn’t know. An instant later it wouldn’t matter - for a strong, gloved hand clamped over June’s mouth - and pulled her back into the darkness.
“MMMMMMHHHHHPPPHHHHHHH!!” June was completely overmatched. With both arms she couldn’t pull this intruder’s one hand away from her mouth, with both feet pushing into the floor she couldn’t stop herself from being dragged backwards. Their hand pressed so hard against June’s lips, the heel of their palm and their fingers squishing her cheeks, totally suppressing her voice. She dragged June all the way down the hallway, and in her shock it didn’t occur to June that she was doing this to get her further away from the window - further from any possibility of being discovered.
June couldn’t think. Couldn’t engage with the reality of what was happening to her. Nothing made sense. Nothing seemed real. It was not like being asleep, but like the confusion of being only a few seconds awoken, when your mind hadn’t really taken stock of the fact that it was active again. Only when the woman turned her around, and briefly took her hand from June’s mouth, did June really feel as though she were actually there.
“Help!” June called, first hoarsely, and scarcely loud enough for the woman in front of her to hear her. But the next attempt had a bit more power in it: “Help! Someone’s broken in! Help mhhh - hh?” As her mouth had opened to scream, the woman had pushed something into it - a wad of balled-up fabric. “Wh - mmph!!”
With one hand, the woman in black pushed June’s lower jaw shut, and with the other, she whipped a piece of fabric around June’s mouth, a piece of - something soft and black and thick. Warm. She put her hands up to it, not to take it off, but just to check that it was there - that this was really happening to her. “Velvet… she just gagged me with velvet… I - mpphh!”
Ropes - white, nylon ropes - swished about her wrists as they were pulled behind her back. Rope coiling, trapping; slipping up her forearms, its fabric smooth against her smoother skin, anchoring her elbows together. Brought around with effortless skill, slipped around her chest; folded; turned; knotted; a sharp tug to pull June’s white arms against her back; putting pressure on her shoulders, making them tight; sliding around her breasts; crossing between her upper arms like a cobweb; looping over her shoulders; trussing up June’s arms and torso in one swift harness. Strong, skilful hands guiding the ropes about her like they were dancing, with such ease and - and even grace.
“Mph!” went June, as a thread was pulled, and her arms went tight, inflexible as rods.
“Mph!” went June, as a thread was pulled, and her shoulders were drawn back.
“Mmmph!” went June, as a thread was pulled, and the harness woven around her torso anchored her arms, straightened her back, and curtly squeezed her quivering, buxom chest - from beneath, from above, from between.
June’s eyes, red eyes, wide and unblinking, looked down at herself. Saw the rope biting teasingly into the fabric of her sweater. The knotted harness around her breasts. Looking over her shoulder to see her arms bound, her slim wrists drawn inescapably together, palms outward. She flexed her hands, her wrists. She could move her fingers, could roll her wrists if she moved them together. But nothing more. She could make the ropes creak, just a little, but she hadn’t a hope of breaking them. She looked up at the trespasser, and even with the woman’s face half covered, June saw - felt - a wry confidence coming off her in waves.
No, not just confidence. There was - there was danger in her. June could sense it, could feel it like a heavy pressure on her shoulders, that there was something fatal about this woman. She’d broken in, somehow, without tripping any alarms. She’d stalked June in complete, perfect silence until the moment she’d chosen to reveal herself. She’d bound her - bound her up so thoroughly that it would have taken a sailor at least five minutes to replicate - in just a few seconds. She was staring, too. June couldn’t see her eyes, but her smile, her lips… lips that were painted black. “Run,” June said. “Your legs are still free. Use them. Run. God knows what she’ll do to you June - she might hurt you. She might kill you! Run away! Run!” But she didn’t. She just stood still. She just stood there quivering as the trespasser walked closer, and closer.
“Like a cute little bunny in headlights, huh?” the trespasser laughed. Even through some kind of electronic filter, her voice was rich, and sonorous. “But we’d better make sure you don’t do anything… unwise. Hm?” She tilted her head, looked past June’s shoulder, and in a ratcheting little half-movement she followed the trespasser’s gaze. But there was nothing to see. The trespasser just wanted her to look away for a second.
“MMPHH!” With a flick of her calf, the trespasser hooked June’s knees, and pulled them towards her, lightly pushing her in the chest so that June tumbled backwards. She would have fallen hard, and painfully on her back, had the trespasser not caught her. Holding June by her neck and the small of her back, the trespasser dipped her like they were tangoing.
“Mmhh…mpph!” June went stiff. Her head was only a few centimetres from the ground, but it felt like she was dangling over a cliff, her captor’s hands the only thing keeping her from harm.
“Steady now, sweet thing,” the trespasser said, quickly easing June onto the floor.
June was startled by her strength. It was effortless. Tripping her, holding her, dropping her. Toying with her. Still shocked, still mesmerised by this impossible woman, June kept staring at those dark, glass eyes. So she didn’t see her unhook more rope from a clip at her belt. Didn’t even hear the creak as she stretched it out. She only noticed it when the trespasser held it up so June could see it.
“Now,” she said, “let’s get those pretty pins roped up too, huh?”
She grasped June’s ankles with one hand, lightly pushing them together with her thumb and forefinger. With the other hand, she twirled the rope she was holding like she was playing with it, slipping it around June’s ankles with one flick of her wrist. Then, keeping June’s legs lifted in a little cradle of rope she’d woven, she alternated swishing rope around June’s calves with one hand, then pulling in the slack with the other. In this way, she formed a lattice of cord around June’s calves, each new loop of cord caressing, June’s bare skin - an embarrassingly pleasant sensation, like a cat’s tail was stroking her legs. It wasn’t even that restrictive yet: holding, but not yet tight enough to restrain. Not until the trespasser passed the length of rope around June’s silky, white knees, conjured a knot - and yanked the whole thing tight.
“Mmhnnhhpphh!” June felt the ropes pressing into her bare skin, snapping her calves together, forcing her knees together - even her thighs she could barely part half an inch. She looked down at her body, her bound body: her arms and her chest looped up and harnessed; her calves criss-crossed with ropes. So hard to move, so impossible to get free, her long legs pressed so tight against each other, skin rubbing as she shifted and wiggled; her arms so straight, so fixed, so that even with the rolling of her shoulders June couldn’t move them, not even together. “I’m… I’m all tied up… can’t - oh - oh god, I can’t do anything!” The texture of the cords against her skin, the feeling of restraint, even the unpleasant sensation of the uncarpeted floor against her buttocks and her back - it made it feel real. The ice of her shock snapped into panic.
Finally the part that had been screaming at her to be afraid won out, and June finally began resisting in earnest. “MMMPHHHH!! HHHHLLLHHHP! SMMHHWHHNN HHHLLLP MHHHH!!” She shook with sudden ferocity, twisting her wrists and her slim, hard shoulders, pushing vainly with her chest as she fought to snap her bonds, writhing her legs, her heels scraping against the floor.
“C’mon,” the trespasser said. “Don’t be silly. You’re not going to get out of that. You’re only gonna hurt yourself.” She moved towards June, and June tried to wriggle away, but when that failed and the trespasser’s hand reached for her, without thinking June drew back her legs, and snapped them out with a vicious kick.
The kick didn’t land. The trespasser slipped aside like water, and caught June’s ankles, trapping them against her side. Her grip was ironclad - the nearest thing to pain she’d inflicted on June until now.
“No more of that,” she said, and for the first time there was open threat in her tone. “I have absolutely no intention of hurting you… but if you do something stupid… Well, you understand, I’m sure.”
June nodded, lowering her eyes.
“Aw, don’t be like that.” She brushed one of June’s cheeks with her thumb, gently tugged her chin up to look her in the eye again. “Oh… wow! I knew you were pretty from a distance but… you have incredible eyes.”
“Mh…!” June didn’t know how to feel. That the woman who had captured her found her attractive - it… it probably wasn’t a good thing. It was embarrassing - but it was an embarrassment that burned in June’s chest.
“Say, I don’t know your name, do I?” She looked down at June’s bound chest, traced a finger down her cool white neck, the stretchy fabric of her tight, turtleneck sweater, right to June’s large, high breasts. But she didn’t touch them - she was interested in the lanyard still hanging from around June’s neck.
“‘June’, huh? A summer name… for a lady as white as snow… I like it!” She grinned. “I guess you’ll need something to call me since you’ll be in my company for a little while. If you’re June, I’ll be… Friday. Yeah. That’ll do.”
“Friday…” It made her shiver. Giving her a name, even a quickly conjured fake, made her seem more human, less the dreamlike phantom June had first taken her for. What did she want? “And what does she want with… me?”
But ‘Friday’ was inscrutable. June couldn’t tell if she thought her an amusing distraction, an annoyance, or the whole reason she was here in the first place. She wondered about the kind of person that would break into an office late at night and tie up the first person they saw. She wondered what limits - if any - such a person would put on their behaviour.
“Now we know each other better… let’s go somewhere a little more comfortable.”
June more or less figured what this meant. She was tied up too tightly to walk by herself, so Friday was going to pick her up. But she still wasn’t prepared when it actually happened.
Friday half-knelt by June’s side, slipped one hand under her flank, another beneath June’s upper thighs. June quivered at the sensation of leather against her skin, but had little time to contemplate it before, in a show of extraordinary strength, Friday rose with June in her grasp, and in one movement took June from lying flat on the floor, to throwing her captive right the way over her shoulder.
“Mhhhh…!!” It was a gasp, rather than a shout of protest. June couldn’t believe it, that Friday had just - just taken her like that! Slung her around like a sack of grain and so - so easily…. It had been so disorienting that by the time June realised what had happened, Friday was already taking her away, carrying her off down the hallway. She felt sweat on her forehead, and her neck - trickling up, or so it seemed, towards the floor. Her long, white legs were draped over Friday’s chest, Friday’s fingers pressing into their soft, plush texture, her other hand shamelessly grasping June’s backside. The fabric of June’s skirt was crumpled up at the hem, riding higher, but over her buttocks it was stretched skintight, and conforming like paint to every sumptuous, feminine curve of June’s rear.
Nor was Friday shy about… appreciating her. Her right hand took a firm, satisfying grip of June’s backside, and when that grip relaxed it was only for her hand to wander, to appreciate June’s curves even. Her left hand swished up and down June’s legs, the acres of naked, moon-white skin.
“Mhh.. mphhh!!” June moaned, writhing on Friday’s shoulder, but it wasn’t even to get away. There was this… burning in June’s chest, and it made her squirm. She couldn’t help it. It was maddening - how - how easy it had been for this woman! Grabbing her from the darkness, wrapping her up like a parcel, taking… taking control of her. June’s attractiveness had always been a sort of defence - but now her beauty was overpowered and taken just as much as the rest of her. It was frightening. Maddening. Infuriating!
But not painful. Even as she tied her up, Friday hadn’t hurt her. She hadn’t been cruel. Forceful, but… careful. Completely confident that June was no threat to her. Smiling as she trussed her up. Smiling as she slung her over her shoulder. Smiling as she completely mastered June’s body.
Friday took June halfway across the width of the building, through lit and unlit hallways, the darkness never seeming to hinder her when it came. Her captive didn’t hinder her much either, despite some pretty vigorous, if intermittent, wriggling. Being carried gave June a pretty poor sense of where they were going: she could either see nothing, or could see just the small of Friday’s back. But she picked up on a loud, breathy hum as they continued, a hum that June eventually recognised as Mordhaus and Bennett’s server room.
Sure enough, that was where Friday took her. The door was glass, and there were large windows across the whole front face, so Friday carried June right the way to the back, through a narrow corridor of humming server towers. There was a small workstation at the back, with a cheap, flatpack desk.
“Here we go, sweetie,” Friday said, easing June off her shoulder, and setting her softly onto the desk, propped against the back wall, with her calves dangling off the desk’s edge.
“Now,” Friday said. “You just be good and sit here, alright? I’m just gonna do my thing, and then you’ll get to go home, have a big-ass glass of wine, and forget this ever happened. Well… maybe not completely forget.”
Suddenly Friday’s face was close to June’s, close enough that June could smell the dark scent of her lipstick. Close enough that Friday’s breasts were just brushing against June’s.
“Sorry about before,” Friday said. “When I had you over my shoulder, I mean. I know I was getting a bit… handsy. But you don’t know how boring this line of work can be. I can hardly remember the last time I had to tie someone up… certainly can’t remember the last time I tied someone as pretty as you up. And with those legs and that cute little butt in such a short… tight skirt…” She leaned even closer, put her nose a millimetre away from June’s. “... Well I could hardly resist. And from the way you were squirming? I’m not sure if you even minded…”
“Mmph…!” June mewed, by way of denial, her protest somewhat undercut but a bright, hot blush in her cheeks and her neck.
“What do you know?” Friday laughed. “I put some colour in your cheeks!”
She moved away from June, returning to a small terminal that she’d wired into one of the server towers. It was one of many she’d wired in, scattered haphazardly but purposefully about the floor. June was reasonably tech-savvy, but it all looked far beyond her ken. It wasn’t all too hard to guess the purpose though.
“She’s some kind of corporate saboteur. Stealing the company’s secrets or financial records or something.” Mordhaus and Bennett had always struck June as a pretty boring little corporate empire; but anything with big money running through it was bound to have skeletons in its closet.
For a while, Friday busied herself with her tinkering, leaving June just to sit there. Removed from the adrenaline-rush of her capture, June’s emotions chilled into something saner, and a bit unpleasant. The feeling of being bound, being so powerless - it was humiliating. Feeling herself all pressed in and caged - just a few yards of rope whipped around her and she was completely helpless.
“She could… she could do anything to me…” June thought, and even as she thought it she hated the ambivalence of it. She had had fantasies vaguely like this, had found pleasure in trashy romance novels where someone she could project herself into was overpowered and swept off their feet. But this was different. This was real! This woman wasn’t here to seduce her. Friday was a saboteur or a thief, and despite her assurances, god only knew what she’d do to keep June silent about her work.
The most perverse part of it, though? That wasn’t even what June was worried about. She was worried about the aftermath. About being underslept for the next work day. About the tedium of having to file a police report; whether they would believe her; whether they would suspect her. The grilling from her superiors. The suspicion. Rumours getting out of what happened, the half-serious sympathy from people who didn’t know her, the insinuations about her being found all tied up - and what if her family found out? Having to explain to her mother that she wasn’t hurt - or what if she was hurt and then they wouldn’t leave her in peace? What if - what if - what if -
Startled, June looked up, saw Friday standing over her. She was holding June’s face, brushing her cheek with her thumb.
“You were breathing pretty hard there, June. You okay?”
Shyly, June nodded.
“Hmm… I tried not to make your gag too tight, but… alright. If I take it off, do you promise not to scream, or anything like that?”
June hesitated a moment, then nodded.
Carefully, June unwound the velvet from June’s mouth, let her spit out the wad of fabric she’d stuffed in.
“Yes… thank you.” June felt stupid as the words came out of her mouth. She shouldn’t have been grateful to this woman. Anger flashed in her red eyes, but she kept them downcast until shyness, as it always did, took over.
“Do you want some water?”
“Um… yes.” It would have been braver to refuse, but June wasn’t feeling very brave.
Friday held up a small flask, rested it on June’s bottom lip, carefully tilting it so that it poured slowly into her captive’s mouth.
“Feel better?” Friday asked, when June had had her fill.
“Awesome. Just ‘cause I’ve tied you up doesn’t mean I want you to be uncomfortable, sweetie.”
She turned back around without gagging June again - obviously sure that June really was harmless. June imagined that Friday was quite correct.
Friday seemed surprised to hear June’s voice, but not angry.
“Go on,” she encouraged.
“Can I… can I ask what you’re doing here? Are you robbing the company or…?”
“Not exactly. If I’m right your share value is going to take a big-ass hit, but no, I’m not stealing anything. Not today, anyway.”
She strolled to one of the server towers, playfully stroked it.
“You’re, what, twenty-three, twenty-four? So I’m guessing you’re not one of the bigwigs. Not in the know. But your bosses have been very naughty girls and boys, June.”
“What do you mean? Fraud?”
“A kind of shorting, I think? But I don’t pretend to understand the specifics. I’m just here to bring it all out into the open.”
“Because,” Friday said, gravely, “it’s the right thing to do.”
Friday was able to hold a serious expression for about five seconds before bursting into distorted laughter.
“Oh, I’m sorry, that was mean. No, I’m not here out of the goodness of my heart. I’m being paid by one of your company’s rivals, that’s all. And they just want to hurt one of their rivals. But your bosses really have been up to some shady shit.” She shrugged. “Guess even in my line of work you’re the good guy sometimes.”
“I don’t think ‘good guys’ usually… tie people up…”
Friday clicked her tongue.
“Got me there, I guess.”
She moved over to June, sat next to her. June tried to shuffle away, but she couldn’t move enough. She put her arm around June, a gloved hand firmly gripping one of June’s marble-smooth shoulders, making June press them upwards and inwards towards her body, her eyes flitting around nervously, her thighs pressing close. Friday put her lips to June’s ear. June felt her captor’s breath. She shivered.
“Now,” Friday whispered, “I’ve got a question for you, snow-white-June…” She pronounced each syllable with deliberate, teasing care, her voice hushed and warm.
“Wh… what?” June mumbled, shutting her eyes, hoping that this would hide how much Friday’s voice affected her.
“I really didn’t expect to run into anyone tonight… though I’m so glad that I did. How come you were here so late? I mean usually when people burn the midnight oil they aren’t really doing it so close to midnight…”
“I don’t - know what you want me to say… I just had a lot of work to do…”
“Oh, is that all? Are you a good girl, June?”
And then something happened. June turned her head, and fixed her eyes on Friday, fixed her with the full, burning heat of those extraordinary eyes.
“I don’t know what you see here. You’ve captured me and… touched me, so I suppose you think I’m pretty, but there’s… there’s nothing here to excite you. I stayed late because I get nervous - because I - I want to make sure people stay off my ass… that they leave me alone - because I - I can’t bear them! I’m sure it’s fun for you to - tease me, but there’s nothing interesting here for you! So just… take what you’re going to take. From the company. From me. I won’t fight you. I can’t…”
June couldn’t see Friday’s eyes. Couldn’t read her expression. But she was silent for a few seconds, perhaps a bit startled by how June had spoken to her, when she must have seemed so meek before. Perhaps she was angry. It was hard to say. She raised her hand, and for half a second June thought Friday might strike her. But she didn’t. She stroked her face.
“I had no idea,” Friday said. “I’m sorry, June. I thought… fuck, I don’t know what I thought.”
It was a strange way to speak to her. Familiar.
Oh my god…!
June looked at her again. Christ, it was so obvious! The way she moved. The shape of her body. The quality of her voice. The shape of her mouth. The dark tone of her skin. The… aura about her. She ought to have known from the first second ‘Friday’ put her hand over June’s mouth. She was about to ask. She was about to say.
And then she saw the torchlight.
A guard. One lone, solitary guard still patrolling the building. Underpaid, poor devil, and expected to cover the entire building by his lonesome. But he had a gun, and a radio, and Friday had rather taken her eye off the ball in not noticing him. Swiftly, she moved her equipment where it wouldn’t be visible from the door, then paused, listening to see if he was getting closer.
June realised what was going on as well, and suddenly it was clear that escape was no longer completely off the cards. The guard might see her. The guard might hear her. Regardless of what she’d realised before, she was still captive, and survival instinct took over.
“He-” she began to shout, but before her voice had even really risen in her throat, Friday’s hand clamped down over June’s mouth, instantly and heavily muzzling her. “MMMHHHPHHH!!” June cried, but Friday’s hand was so strong, and her fingers clenched so tight that the sound barely escaped them.
Just as the torchlight flickered into the server room, Friday hauled June against the back end of one of the server towers, pushed June’s back against it, pressed her own body hard against her captive’s; keeping her silent, keeping her suppressed.
“Mgh… mhh…!” June whimpered, squeezed hard by Friday’s body. She felt Friday’s chest pushing into her own soft breasts; felt Friday’s hard abdomen against her midriff, felt the leather of her trousers and the tone of her thighs against the silken nakedness of her long, white legs. Friday’s hips grinding against hers as she pushed and pushed and pushed against June… so tight and hard and - and her hand keeping June so quiet…oh and she was so strong… help was just out of reach but June couldn’t get to it - she was so helpless… all tied up and wriggling against her captor’s overpowering strength - everything hemmed in - nowhere to go, just building up, and up and up.
“Is she… is she really… could she really be…?”
Carefully, Friday peered round the server tower, saw the torch sweeping lazily across the rows of equipment. She heard a sigh. Heard the adjustment of a belt. Then the torch swept aside, and some heavy footsteps went off down the hallway. Still Friday didn’t move, nor did she let June move. Only when she heard the distant ‘ding’ of an elevator did she breathe a sigh of relief. She looked back at June with a bit of a sheepish smile, and June looked back at her with a strange - blankness? No - no, not blankness.
“Mh…” she mewed, her red eyes fluttering, her body… rippling against Friday’s. Suddenly Friday was very aware of the texture of June’s skin, the consistency of her breasts, the shape of her features; the heat of her mouth against Friday’s hand. She took her hand away, and traced the contours of her lips.
“Annika,” June whispered. “It is you, isn’t it?”
“...Oh boy,” Annika replied.
She took off her mask; let her long, blonde hair tumble down her shoulders, revealing her dark eyes, her sharp features. She touched June’s face, and she let herself be caught in those extraordinary eyes, June’s expression at once one of the hypnotised and of the hypnotist, fixing Annika’s gaze on her, and herself lost helplessly in Annika’s eyes.
June could not have begun to name the feelings bubbling and surging through her. Even as Annika, she hardly knew this woman. She was no safer. No less a captive. If anything it was worse - a colleague; an acquaintance; something half the way to a friend had grabbed her - gagged her - bound her. Had felt her up as she overpowered and carried her. Had teased her; toyed with her. Who was she? Who was she, really? How could she make June… feel like this? And what was ‘this’, anyway? What was that feeling? June couldn’t name it. Couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t express it.
“No. That’s not true.” She could express it. She was shocked with herself, mystified with herself, in advance. But she did it anyway. She locked her eyes with Annika’s - and then let herself sink to her knees.
Whatever she had expected, Annika had not expected that. She just stared, not fully comprehending - in fact, not comprehending at all - as June knelt at her feet, looking up at her, surrendering to her. She was beautiful. What had happened here? What had Annika stumbled onto? Teasing her for all those weeks as she prepared for tonight - fancying that she’d have a little fun with her when she’d spotted that she was staying late. It had all been as Annika always had it - just a bit of entertainment for herself. But now - she’d had no idea that June could have been so - bewitching. She didn’t understand it. All she did know was that she could no longer resist.
She leapt down, springing onto June like a cat onto a mouse, and pressing her mouth against her captive’s. She wrapped her legs around June’s thighs and held her close, held her by the back and ran one hand through June’s fluffy, black hair. And she kissed her; she kissed her hotly, and with an artful carelessness.
“Mhhh… mhhhh!” June moaned into Annika’s mouth, feeling the warmth of her tongue, feeling the warmth travel all the way through her, melting her, making her quicksilver, making her molten metal to be shaped however Annika wanted. “Why is this happening to me?” she thought. “Why am I so… powerless?”
Annika’s mouth pulled away at last, and June tried to follow it. She didn’t want to speak. She didn’t want to be able to think. But she got her wish in another way: Annika lifted June’s sweater, crumpling it upward so that it caught in the ropes binding her chest, so that Annika could press her mouth to June’s round bosoms, pushing into the feminine plushness of them, slipping between them with her tongue, marking them with her black lipstick, leaving the sign of her mouth on June’s heaving, panting chest.
Then down - down to June’s bare legs, whipping off her gloves to feel them against her skin, and grunting with pleasure at the smoothness, the feminine thickness of June’s thighs.
“Oh…” June sighed as Annika’s hands danced over her long, bound legs, though even that sigh was a whisper - it was impossible to be louder. In this gloom, in this huge, dark building that now existed only for them. So when she called Annika’s name, it too was a whisper, but a whisper that shook right the way through June’s body.
“Annika,” she sighed, in a daze, her pale body glistening with sweat, heat rising and rising and rising in her. “I don’t understand you… I don’t understand what’s happening… I don’t - are you sure I’m not dreaming? Are you sure that - that you want to touch me? How… how are you doing this to me? How are you doing this to - unhh…!” She couldn’t keep speaking, for Annika had flipped her onto her front, and had started running her tongue up June’s legs, from her ankles, slowly, in the groove between her calves, the backs of her knees which made her quiver when Annika’s tongue reached them, and then her soft, milky thighs; and then down again - up and down, and up and down, and up and down…
When Annika turned her back over, June was panting; her half-exposed breasts straining against her bra, thighs rubbing and writhing together; in a trance, eyes half-closed, body undulating with sensual motion, quivering from tip to toe.
“Do… do you see me?”
“Of course I see you,” Annika replied. “How could I not see you? You’re gorgeous.”
“Yes, but… but it’s - do you still -” She made a strange shudder. “Do you still remember how awkward and - and difficult I am when you say hello in the mornings? When you bring me coffee?”
Annika almost laughed - for it was such a strange thing to say. But she caught herself in time.
She didn’t answer immediately, though. First, she leaned down, and with that astonishing strength of hers she slipped her hands under June’s body, and lifted her into her arms.
“Oh!” June gasped, still startled by how easy it was for Friday - for Annika - to just… take her like that. Her legs were lifted high, her skirt slipping further up her thighs. Her body was pressed close to Annika’s chest, her back supported so she could still look Annika in the face.
“I remember it fine,” Annika said. “I remember that you’re shy. I remember that you’re pretty strange. I remember that you seem a bit sensitive; like stuff under your skin. It… can be pretty difficult to talk to you.”
“Alright… alright,” June said, shivering. “That’s - that’s okay, then.” Even she didn’t know what she meant. But it made her feel like she could kiss Annika, and she did, with an electric passion.
For a good few minutes they were like that, Annika holding June, bound and trussed in her arms, kissing, June writhing in Annika’s grip, captor and captive sighing or moaning into each other’s mouths, locked together, until the pressure that built up had to be released, and they had to pull away. Annika carried her to the desk she’d sat her on before, this time laid her flat on her back, and slipped herself atop her.
“Stupid,” Annika said. “That I thought your name was ironic. June… summer-June… warm-June…”
June closed her eyes.
The next day, Annika Krauser didn’t show up for work. She didn’t show up the next day either. For a while people wondered what happened to her, and the emergency number she’d provided the office turned out to be a Chick-Fil-A in Massachusetts. Because they were in different departments, and because their whole vibe was so different (y’know?) nobody connected it when, four days later, June Kari handed in her resignation.
“I’m sorry to see you go,” Cynthia had said, passing her in the same hallway where Annika had tied June up. “I mean that.”
About a week after June resigned the news broke. Mordhaus and Bennett was involved in a massive fraud - effectively a form of insider trading, where they would arrange for the leaking of unfavourable ratings for industries or businesses, just after betting heavily against the relevant stocks. Time would tell if anyone would actually see prison, but the firm was effectively finished, and a certain rival in the insurance world was gleeful at the ruin their hired gun had wrought.
Most everyone who deserved to get clear got clear. June managed to sneak in just before there was a complete glut of jobseekers on the market, though. In a way her new deal wasn’t quite as good - she didn’t get to work from home as often, and the pay ended up being basically the same, but for whatever reason she felt a little more comfortable there.
But almost every day, she would think about Annika. That night that had been like a dream. The woman who had made her… burn… and had vanished like smoke. She still remembered the taste of her lipstick - the feeling of her hands on her legs - the feeling of all that rope wrapped around her body… the quivering, purring humiliation of it… and even though she knew it was real, it could not have been real. After a while, she might really have convinced herself that it was all madness.
Except, one night, she came home to something strange. She didn’t notice it for a couple of hours after getting back, in fact, until she was about to climb blearily into bed. There was something on her pillow - a small length of white rope, about five inches long. It was so out of the blue that June was trying to work out what she was doing with such an item and why she’d have left it on her bed. It was only when she lifted it higher that she recognized the smell of Annika’s perfume.
June closed her eyes.
After Dark in an Empty Office
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