The year was 1955. Internet dating sites had yet to be invented, so a good place to pick up a girl was at a dance. Many unattached girls and boys would gather each week at Mrs Robinson's Friday Night dance with that in mind. It was there that Harold met Catherine.
Catherine didn't look a bit like the girls in his magazines. She had more clothes on for one thing, but she was a real girl and that was a plus. Catherine eagerly accepted Harold's offer to escort her home after the dance. He didn't have a car, but she didn't mind the walk because he was such a dreamboat. By the time they reached her front gate, she had a crush on him that could have turned coal to diamond. They kissed. Harold had never kissed a girl before, but Catherine was an experienced teacher. When they eventually came up for air, he returned her chewing gum and bade her goodnight. Catherine thanked him and then went inside and changed her underwear.
For three Friday nights in a row, Harold went to the dance and took Catherine home. The kisses got better and better as she fell deeper in love. Then Harold stopped coming to the dance. Her euphoria turned to misery. He had missed three Fridays in a row. She was distraught.
Harold had stopped going to the dance for one reason only. He heard that Catherine's father was a communist. The cold war was at its height in the 1950s and everyone feared the red under the bed. Harold wanted nothing more to do with Catherine. She might be a communist too.
Mrs Gribble was pleased. She had warned Harold time and time again that consorting with girls would lead to trouble. What had that horrible Catherine girl done to him? She wanted to know, but Harold declined to answer. He wanted to tell his mother to shut up about Catherine but he didn't dare. She still disciplined him like a little boy and would tolerate no lip from him. He would have left this house of tyranny by now but he didn't want to give up the free meals and lodging.
Harold had all but put Catherine right out of his mind when a phone call brought her right back in.
'Hello? Is that Harold Gribble?' The voice sounded like that of a teenage girl.
'Yes, I'm Harold Gribble. Do I know you?'
'No, but we have a mutual friend. Catherine.'
'Catherine? I don't ... oh yes, Catherine at the Friday night dance.'
'Catherine wants to know why you haven't been back to the dance for a while.'
'I ... uh ... well, I just don't want to. That's all. '
'She's pretty upset that you aren't there to take her home any more.'
'So what? She's not my girlfriend or anything.'
'She thinks she is.'
'Well tell her I'm not interested.'
'So you're dumping her?'
'She's not mine to dump.'
'The girl's head over heels in love with you.'
'I didn't know that, but she means nothing to me. I don't want to see her again.'
'Hey, I ...'
Click! She hung up.
A few days later, an envelope with no return address appeared in the Gribbles' letterbox. It was addressed to Harold. Mrs Gribble tore it open. A whiff of lavender escaped as she withdrew a sheet of fancy notepaper. Drops of moisture had made some of the ink run. It was from Catherine. 'You have pushed me from my rosy cloud,' the note said. 'Good,' said Mrs Gribble to the empty room. 'The boy's learning.' She screwed up the note and envelope and tossed them into the rubbish bin.
As time went by, Catherine's grief segued into outrage and then into rage. Catherine in a rage was fearsome to behold. An observer might have been startled and a little afraid to observe the red glow that pulsed behind Catherine's eyes when she was angry.
'How dare he!' she screamed when her rage hit its peak. A sparrow that had been happily pecking and pooping on the ledge outside her window dropped dead. Dogs howled all over the neighbourhood. That made her feel a bit better, but Harold should not be allowed to get away with dumping her like a sack of garbage. She phoned three of her closest cohorts, Mabel, Harriet and Eliza. 'We need to talk,' she said. The telephone lines crackled with ice. Her cohorts smiled. When Catherine was in this mood, fun was sure to follow.
The four girls met at a milk bar and held a kangaroo court over tutti frutti milkshakes. They looked so cute in their ponytails, petticoats and flared skirts. Nobody could have guessed that they had been born more than two hundred years ago. Physically, none was more than sixteen years old. In no time at all, they had tried, convicted and sentenced Harold, giving him no chance to defend himself. But why would they? The facts of the case were clear.
Two days later, the telephone rang at the Gribble household. Harold raced to answer it. If Mrs Gribble had reached it first and it was for Harold, she would have hung up at once in case it was a girl. You couldn't always tell from the voice. But Harold reached it first. It was a girl. He didn't hang up. He recognised her voice.
'Aren't you the girl who rang me up the other day and called me a bastard?'
'I am, but let's put that aside for now. I've got something to show you. When can we meet?'
'Never would be a good time,' Harold said, but he was curious. 'Who are you and what do you want to show me?'
'My name is Mabel and I'm a friend of Catherine's. She's still very upset you know.'
'Look, I just took her home a couple of times. I don't owe her a thing and I don't want to see her any more. OK?'
'I really think you should see what I have to show you.'
'What is it?'
'Can't say. You have to come and see.'
Harold knew he ought to end this discussion. For all he knew, Mabel was a communist too; but curiosity can be a potent persuader. 'OK, where and when?'
'Tomorrow morning. Nine o'clock sharp. Queens Park. Outside the ladies restroom.'
'What? I can't be seen lurking around the ladies restroom.'
'It will be closed. There won't be anyone around. I'll be there to meet you.'
'How will I know you?'
'Don't be stupid. How many girls would you expect to find hanging about a closed restroom?'
The next day was a Saturday. A few people were out walking or running in the park, but only one girl waited near the restroom block. She looked pretty in her yellow skirt, white blouse and matching yellow scarf.
'Mabel?' Harold enquired with a smile.
'Who else?' she replied, flashing a smile in return. She hadn't been sure that he would come. 'Come with me.' She opened the barred gate to the restroom and went inside.'
'I can't go in there!'
'Of course you can. I'll be with you. We need some privacy. What better place for that than a closed restroom?'
Harold could think of several places, but he wasn't going to leave before he found out what this was all about. He followed Mabel through the gate, wondering if she could kiss as well as Catherine.
'Of course I can,' Mabel said.
Had she just read his mind? They entered a long room with white tiles on the walls and floor. A row of toilet cubicles occupied one wall and a row of mirrors, wash basins and benches occupied the other. Harold had never been in a ladies' restroom before. It was just like a gents' restroom without urinals. No surprises there.
He followed Mabel to the far end of the room, admiring the sway of her skirt as she walked. She turned to face him.
'Well?' he asked. 'What is it you want to show me?'
'Nothing really,' she replied. 'That was just a ruse to get you in here.'
'What the hell …?' Before Harold could finish, he heard a rustle of petticoats and the scuff of saddle shoes on the tiled floor behind him. He whipped around and was startled to see Catherine and two strange girls barring his way. They wore coloured flared skirts, matching scarves and white blouses. All had their hair in ponytails. 'Typical teenage girls,' Harold thought, but this belied the malice that showed on their faces.
'Oh … uh … h … hello,' he said.
'Get him!' shrilled Catherine. The four girls fell upon Harold in a flurry of skirts, petticoats and ponytails. He fell to the floor. Someone grabbed his legs and tore his shoes and walk socks from his feet. Then he felt his cotton shirt ripped asunder as hands tore it from him without troubling to undo the buttons. Two girls sat on him and pinned him down as hands tugged in vain at his walk shorts. 'His belt,' someone said. 'Undo his belt.' Someone did, and he immediately felt his shorts slide down his legs, and then his underpants followed. In a matter of seconds, he was lying naked on the cold tiled floor. They dragged him to his feet. He struggled and cursed them with a stream of expletives that would have shocked a seasoned sailor.
Catherine's eyes pulsed red. She slapped him hard. The stream of expletives stopped.
Potty mouth,' she said.
'That hurt,' Harold said.
'Why are you doing this to me?' He looked close to tears.
Catherine took a step closer to him, her red eyes staring into his. 'Because we can.'
'Your eyes. What's wrong with your eyes?' Harold trembled, and not just because of the chilly air.
Catherine stepped back and looked at him with eyes that were now clear and hazel. She laughed. 'There's nothing wrong with my eyes. I can see you perfectly well.' She scanned him from head to toe, pausing briefly at the part that Harold tried to cover with his hands. Mabel thwarted this act of modesty by pulling his arms behind his back while Eliza tied his wrists together with a silken cord. Catherine dropped to her knees and hobbled him with the same kind of cord: soft and thick but very strong. 'Now get in there and sit on the potty,' she said, indicating the nearest toilet. Eliza pushed him into the cubicle and sat him on the cold seat, which made him flinch. 'Welcome to my world,' she said.
'Are you going to leave me here like this?' Harold asked.
'Oh no, darling,' Catherine cooed. 'Harriet has gone for the car. When she comes back, we are going to take you home, just like you used to take me home …' Her voice turned to ice as she added, '… until you didn't!' Then the ice melted and she smiled warmly at him. Harold found her rapid mood changes quite scary.
'Take me home? Oh God! My mother will …'
'Not your home, idiot. My home. My parents are away so we can do what needs to be done with nobody there to tell us what naughty girls we are.'
Harold heard a car pull up outside. Harriet must have driven across the grass. 'Bring him,' Catherine commanded. 'She who must be obeyed, Harold thought. So much like his mother, but prettier.
The girls hustled him to the car. He felt like an arrested criminal in a crime movie, except the police in this case were pretty girls and he had no clothes on, so maybe it was more like a porn movie. They squeezed him into the back seat of the car between Eliza and Mabel. Their closeness teased his naked body and triggered the bad thoughts that Mrs Gribble had warned him about. Harold hoped that nobody would notice Mr Willy groping for freedom beneath the spill of their skirts and petticoats.
Ten minutes later, the car pulled into the drive where Harold had enjoyed his very first kiss. Then a thought struck him; a thought so terrible that it made Mr Willy faint. 'Hey,' he said. 'What about my clothes? You forgot to bring them.'
'Oops,' said Harriet.
'My keys and wallet are in the pockets,' wailed Harold. 'We have to go back and get them!'
'Um … no!' said Catherine. She got out of the car and unlocked the door to a garage and then heaved it open on counterbalancing springs. Harriet drove into the garage. Catherine closed and locked the door behind them. The girls pulled Harold out of the car and marched him as nearly as his hobbled legs would allow through a side door into the silent house. They took him into what must have been Catherine's bedroom. Harold cringed at the extravagantly feminine decor. They threw him face down on the bed, untied his hands and feet, and retied them to the bed frame. The pink satin duvet caressed his body as he squirmed in vain to break free.
'You know what's going to happen now, don't you?' enquired Catherine.
'I'd rather not speculate,' replied the unhappy boy.
'You are going to be punished,' Catherine said, 'and it's going to hurt. How much pain do you think you can take before you start crying like a little girl?'
Harold said nothing.
Eliza giggled. Mabel licked her lips. Harriet took deep breaths and fanned her face with her hand. This was the part they had been waiting for.
'You still haven't told me why you are doing this,' Harold said with pretended indifference.
Catherine's eyes pulsed red and her voice grew harsh as she replied, 'Because you dumped me you callous bastard.' She swept out of the room and returned seconds later with four straps designed for smacking the hands of naughty school children. The straps were short and broad with a hand grip at one end. Harold was no longer in any doubt as to what was coming, and it wouldn't be just a smack on the hand. He wondered if it would hurt as much as Catherine had implied.
It did! He had two buttocks and two thighs, one target for each of them. They whacked each one in turn with their straps again and again. Lost in a sea of pain, Harold thought he could hear them chanting in strange voices to the beat of each stroke. He imagined their eyes pulsing red each time a strap struck home. He was hallucinating. He was also crying like a little girl just as Catherine had predicted. He begged them to stop, but they paid him no heed.
At last, the beating came to an end. 'Poor dear,' Harriet said. 'We ought to get him dressed now.' Harold stopped crying. A glimmer of hope. They must have brought his clothes with them after all. But no, that was too good to have been true. Catherine went to a drawer and pulled out something silky and pink. It was a short satin nightie with lace around the neck, and bloomer-like pants with frills around the elasticised legs. Harold knew what they were: baby doll pyjamas. He had seen pictures of them and had marvelled at how sexy they looked. But not on him. Please no …
'Each time you brought me home from the dance and kissed me goodnight, I put these on and dreamed of you,' Catherine said. 'I cried when you didn't bring me home any more. Now I've made you cry so the tables are turned. These are yours now. I want you to wear them and dream of me as I once dreamed of you.'
Harold blanched. 'Please! You can't expect me to wear …'
'But I do,' Catherine declared. 'I place this curse on you.' The air in the room grew colder as she spoke. 'Every night until the end of time, you will wear these to bed and weep yourself to sleep, just as I wept for you.'
When it came down to a choice between the nightie and remaining naked, Harold decided that the nightie won by a slim margin. But every night until the end of time? That was a laugh. But he didn't feel like laughing when the girls slipped the nightie over his head and drew the frilly pants up his legs. Mr Willy stirred at their touch, but did not wake.
'Good girl,' Catherine said. 'You can fetch the wheelchair now, Mabel. It's time to take our little girl walkies.'
'You can't take me outside like this!' Harold protested.
'Of course we can,' Catherine said brightly. She leaned over him and her eyes started pulsing red again. Then in a cold voice she added, 'We can do anything that we like with you. Anything at all.' She smiled. Harold hadn't noticed her teeth so sharp or crooked before. He blinked … and then they weren't. Now she looked prettier than ever.
Mabel came into the room pushing a child's antique wheelchair. They squeezed him into the chair and secured him with straps around his chest and across his lap. They used smaller straps to bind his wrists to the arms of the chair, and the same with his ankles on the footrest. Harold could barely move. He was as helpless as a baby.
'Don't you realize that anyone seeing me like this will know that I have been kidnapped and call the police?'
'You don't understand human nature very well do you?' said Catherine. 'Most people will think it's some kind of a dare or stunt. Nobody will want to interfere. Trust me.'
'They will if I call for help.'
'Well, we can't have that, can we?' Catherine said. She went into the bathroom and came out with a roll of bandage and some surgical tape. She thrust the bandage into Harold's mouth and taped it closed. 'Mmfff,' Harold said. Nobody understood what he said but it was bound to be something rude.
They wheeled him out through the garage and walked toward town. There were lots of people about. Most stopped and stared at them for a moment, and then moved on. Some smiled. Some laughed. Some said 'Good for you.' Some tried to ignore them. Nobody interfered.
Harold saw friends who gaped at him in awe and then hurried away to tell other friends. None of them came to his aid. The girls stopped at a milk bar and left Harold parked outside while they went in to enjoy tutti frutti milkshakes. Little girls who had been playing hopscotch nearby gathered around Harold. Seeing that he was restrained, a girl dared to poke him in the ribs. They giggled. Then someone pinched his arm and they giggled some more. The little girls grew bolder, pinching, poking, touching. One climbed onto his lap and twisted both his ears. Harold said 'Mmfff'. He was hugely relieved when Catherine and her cohorts came out to resume their journey.
They meandered toward Queens Park. Harold guessed correctly that they were heading for the ladies restroom. When they got there, they wheeled him straight inside, startling several occupants who hastily finished their business and hurried off. Now the distressed boy sat facing his tormentors alone. He wanted to say something, but the gag kept him silent.
'Goodbye, Harold,' Catherine said. 'I hope that in future you will treat women with greater respect than you have shown me.' Then the image of the four girls began to shimmer and change shape. It morphed into an image of four crones in black robes and pointy black hats. Harold stared at them in horror. As he watched, the image faded away, and then he was alone. Harold blinked. 'What kind of drug was that, and how did they give it to me?' he wondered.
He had never before known such a vivid hallucination. But the wheelchair and his bonds were no illusion. He would be stuck here until someone came along and released him. He wished the girls, or whatever they were, had at least taken the gag out of his mouth so he could explain things to his rescuer.
At last, a group of elderly ladies came into the restroom chatting happily to one another. They stared at Harold in delighted surprise. 'Oh look at this, Millie,' said one. 'See what the good fairies have left for us? Go and fetch the car and we'll take him home with us.' She giggled. Harold fainted.
Harold woke up next morning in his own bed. He remembered nothing of what happened after he fainted. Whatever it was, it was best forgotten. He couldn't forget what those girls had done to him earlier though. He still felt the pain of the welts on his backside and upper legs, and of the chafing of his wrists and ankles. Worst of all, he felt shamed that so many people had seen him wheeled through town in such an ignominious manner. Would he ever be able to live that down?
He ought to go to the police, but that could just make things worse. He had a better idea. He would confront Catherine's communist father. Let him know what that daughter of his has been up to. Maybe screw a bit of compensation out of him. Having decided on positive action, Harold got out of bed, showered and dressed himself. He seemed unaware that he was putting on the same clothes that had been torn from him and lost yesterday. His wallet and keys had reappeared too.
He skipped breakfast and went straight to Catherine's house. Or rather, to the place where it had been. The house was gone! Now there was just a patch of vacant land. It looked as if it had been that way for a long time. Confused, he wandered into town, following the same route as he had been wheeled yesterday. Nobody showed any sign of having seen him yesterday. Friends greeted him as always. Had any of this really happened?
He ended up in Queens Park. The restroom block was still there. He walked toward it. Everything seemed normal, until he began to feel queasy. The closer he got to the restroom the worse he felt. He stopped and lay down on the grass. He felt better. He could no longer feel the pain of his whipping. That puzzled him. Bruising like that should have stayed with him for days. He groped down the back of his shorts. Nothing. No welts. No pain. He looked at his wrists and ankles. No sign of the chafing that had been there when he woke up that morning. Could the whole thing have been a massive illusion? Did Catherine even exist?
He headed home with his brain in a whirl.
'Is that you Harold?' The shrill voice of Mrs Gribble rang out as soon as he walked in the door.
'Come here!' She sounded a bit cross. He found her waiting for him in his bedroom.
'I have found what you have been hiding under your pillow. Explain!'
'Oh, Jeeze! She's found my stash of Man and Adam magazines' he thought. Well, what of it. He was an adult now and ought to be able to choose what he liked to read.
'Those are mine, Mum. I'm old enough now to have them if I want and you can't stop me.'
Mrs Gribble's voice softened. 'You mean you actually like these? You want to keep them?' Why is she suddenly being so nice?
'Of course I do.'
'Well, that is so lovely dear. But why only in bed at night?'
'Because I thought you would be cross if you saw me with them during the day.
'Oh you silly boy. Of course I wouldn't. Come on, slip them on now and let me take a look at you.'
'What? … Slip them on?'
'Yes, come on. Don't be shy. You'll be wearing these every night now, won't you?'
Mrs Gribble produced what she had been holding behind her back: Catherine's pink satin nightie and matching frilled bloomers.
'What the …' and then he remembered.