ongoing story

The air inside the foyer rotunda smelled like Purell. There was a thrum of activity all around her, and high, well-lit ceilings that trapped echoing laughter and a general din, so that her initial sensation was disorientation, as if she’d stepped inside a shopping mall. This was nothing like the sticky-floored bar of her bathtub reverie, and she was confused to the point of wondering whether she’d misread the address.

She took a few steps forward, more than half-expecting to see a Starbucks. And then an imposing electronic gate was in front of her, completely walling off her path. It was made of opaque smoky glass and had several cutouts for doors, completely flush with the wall save for brass pushplates. As she stared at it, feeling like one of the apes in the opening of Kubrick’s 2001, a few impatient people brushed past her from behind. They held a device that looked like a phone up to some sort of reader on the wall, which gave a discreet beep of assent. There was the “ka-chung” of an electronic lock being disengaged, and then they disappeared through the doors.

One of the women tapped her on the shoulder as she passed, and wordlessly directed Penny’s attention to a poster on the wall by the gate. The poster read:

“WELCOME TO THE INFERNO. This is a members-only club. We welcome prospective members and all inquiries, but admittance is only permitted with a staff escort. And even then not for the faint of heart. Please press the buzzer for assistance.”

Penny turned and fled.

“…Do you really think it’s appropriate…?” Andy was asking her, his voice low and urgent.

She tried to pay attention. She’d been distracted all afternoon, and, worse, unable to figure out whether she was disappointed with herself for going back to the club, or disappointed with herself for not going in. Context suggested that the answer Andy was looking for was “no.”

“No,” Penny said.

“So there *is* something untoward here,” Andy said, pacing, suddenly agitated.

Oh dear. This did not seem to be the correct answer. How can any living person’s skin be so *gray*, Penny thought, staring at Andy’s moving lips as though it would help her focus on his words. Wait…did he just say “appropriate”? Did he see her go into the club? Did he *know*? Penny’s lower stomach gave a sickening lurch, and she had to grab the back of her chair to steady herself. But…how?

“Penny dreadful…!” Seamus called out as he came back to his cubicle from somewhere or other, probably one of his many smoke breaks.

Andy closed her office door.

“This is what I’m talking about!” he hissed.

“Oh — Seamus?” Relief unknotted her stomach and put a natural lightness in her laugh. “You think there’s something odd going on with *Seamus*?”

“Well — that is — with *you* and… I mean…”

“Shouldn’t you be talking to Seamus, then?”

“You’re his supervisor.”

“And that’s *all* I am,” Penny agreed pleasantly.

“I never meant that —”

“I think that you did. And it’s kind of sweet, in a devious, insulting way,” she smiled, “but there’s no HR scandal here, Andy. I’ll admit, Seamus can be kind of…a handful…and — ok, perhaps the banter gets out of hand sometimes, but —”

“He bullies you.”


“You do not maintain supervisory control over him, and it shows. It shows in how he talks to you, and it shows in his work — and in yours.”

“I— oh.”

He leaned in over her desk and rapped his knuckles on her blotter with each word. “Sort. It. Out.”

There was nothing accidental about her commute home this time. It had been an awful, sweaty, frantic afternoon after Andy left her office, with Penny’s determination fierce enough to plow through nearly the entire contents of her towering inbox, but not fierce enough to delegate anything to Seamus. Or even to approach him, actually. Not that she was bullied, dammit, she thought, as she rummaged through her handbag for a slip of ricepaper that she used to blot her forehead and cheeks, in a rare concession that she had a physical appearance that might require occasional tending. Interpersonal relationships were complicated. Not subject to casual inspection by gray interlopers. In fact, if you want to quibble about “what’s appropriate”…

Warmed by self-righteousness, Penny strode down Marlowe Avenue, through the Inferno’s doors, up the gate, and pressed the buzzer.

Nothing happened. Penny felt her resolve falter. What was she expecting, that someone would spring up through a trap door? She felt a little foolish. A group of three men and two women entered through the cardreader gates, looking at her with curiosity. Her cheeks burned. As her adrenaline from the afternoon abruptly subsided, she could smell her own flopsweat. She turned to leave.

A door in the wall perpendicular to the gate — she hadn’t noticed it before — slid open, and a young woman stepped out. Her honey-colored hair was in a long braid wound around her head, and she wore a simple, toga-like dress of amber silk that flattered her slim figure.

“Hello,” she said musically, her smile revealing small and dazzlingly white teeth, “I’m Beatrice.”

“Gaaaah,” Penny said.


“Is that *really* your —”

Beatrice gave her a look that managed to be both slyly conspiratorial and warning. “First time here?”


“Come this way.”

She took Penny’s arm and propelled her through the door.

The antechamber was cool and minimalist. A few counters rose from the marble floors, and behind them was a projection screen with chairs in front of it. Beatrice gestured to a chair, made a few motions over by the wall, and the screen came to life. She disappeared for a minute and then returned with a chilled glass of pinot gris, which she pressed into Penny’s hand.

“It’s very obvious that you need this,” she purred, as the video started to play.

“Welcome to The Inferno!” a stentorian narrator intoned, and Penny relaxed and giggled, half expecting the next line to be “I’m Troy McClure.” A sex club with a cheesy corporate video didn’t seem nearly as threatening as the anonymous warren of bars she’d presumed it to be.

“And welcome to a new concept in erotic enjoyment. At The Inferno, we aim for total fantasy fulfillment.”

And absolute alliteration, Penny thought, feeling the warmth of the wine drift agreeably throughout her body, like ink dropped in water.

“Each floor of The Inferno specializes in particular delight.”

Limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and…what was the last one, Penny thought.

“We start you off here in limbo…”

Penny snapped to full attention.

“…to introduce you to the club.”

Was that a smile in the narrator’s voice?

“Which we’ll follow with a tour of the first two levels.”

A schematic of the building appeared on the screen, and areas lit up as they were mentioned.

“On the first level, we welcome you to a world of relaxation, socializing and making exciting new friends. Take in a movie in a plush state-of-the art cinema; get a drink at one of several themed bars or signature restaurants — or even go bowling. And if any of your new friends prove especially exciting, hotel rooms are available. Please note — public nudity and sex are not allowed on level one.”

“Think of level two as a nightclub. Many of the same features exist on level two as on level one, but there’s less clothing, and, no wonder, because the temperature is hot, hot, hot!”

Ever the literalist, Penny frowned, wondering if level two was, in fact, kept much warmer than the first level — a kind of Bikram sex club, or something — necessitating a change in wardrobe. The confusion eased as the video displayed a montage of still photos from the second floor, showing attractive men and women — their faces obscured — dancing sweatily in tight and revealing clothing. Women in bikinis danced in cages; a chiseled man was shown from behind, with his nude muscular buttocks bouncing to the beat.

Public nudity and sex are allowed on level two, Penny theorized.

“Of course, you’ll have noticed that are club is a lot larger than just two levels — a *lot* larger.”

The narrator appeared on screen for the first time, and looked just like he sounded: a well-built, almost plasticine, blond young man with even and pleasing features. He winked at the camera.

“Here at The Inferno, we believe in celebrating all forms of desire…all forms of fantasy. If you dare to dream it, here you can do it.”

“Of course, we do have a few rules.”

Safe, sane, and consensual, Penny was expecting. As her relationship with her last partner, Walter, fumbled to an uneventful close — boring to the end — she’d thought about, but never actually succeeded in suggesting, going together to a swingers’ party. She’d done some basic research; the terminology wasn’t unfamiliar to her. The other rules enumerated by the good-looking narrator made sense. She felt herself relax a little more deeply, aided by the surprisingly drinkable pinot gris. Somebody had evidently put some good thought into this place.

Penny learned that most members never went beyond the first two floors, and, that, indeed, the standard membership allowed only that access.

“The heart of The Inferno,” her Troy McClure continued, is your I-dentity, or I-dent for short.” He held up the same device she’d seen others use to enter through the Club gates.

“When you become a member, you will answer a detailed set of questions about what you like, what you’re interested in trying, and what you do not want — your desires, your fantasies, and your limits. We then communicate that information so that you don’t have to. Let’s see how it works.”

Troy pointed his device at a slim red-haired actress in tight jeans who was wearing her I-dent on a lanyard around her neck and chatting with another actor, oblivious to Troy. The video showed a close-up of Troy’s screen. A picture of the redhead came up on his I-dent, along with a picture of the man, and he touched the man’s picture to confirm his choice. A message flashed on his screen: “Straight only! Select again.” He went back and chose the redhead. Her preferences evidently included whatever sexuality was encoded on Troy’s I-dent, because a menu of options appeared, and he selected “Oral?” The data came back from the woman’s I-dent right away: “Giving/receiving.”

Troy selected “Statement” from the menu, and his screen filled up with the text, “I like ‘manly’ men who are assertive in bed, but I wouldn’t describe myself as ‘submissive.’ Size does matter, and I’m looking for a thick cock I can ride for hours…” Troy made a show of scrolling rapidly through several screens of additional text before returning to the menu in comic exasperation and selecting “Anal?” The answer came back: “Ask. ;-) ” Troy smiled and walked up to the actress and slipped an arm around her waist as he introduced himself. He gave another wink to the camera while escorting her offscreen.

His voice continued: “If you opt for deluxe membership, your I-dent will determine which floors you can access, and where you can go. You can consult an Inferno Guide to change any of your data at any time. In fact, we recommend that you start conservatively. And don’t worry — there’s a mandatory class on how to use the I-dent for all new members.”

Total fantasy fulfillment is starting to sound a lot like GRE prep, Penny thought, and, as if reading her mind, Beatrice came forward and switched off the video.

“He *does* go on a bit,” she said, her exaggerated eye-rolling mimicking Troy’s exasperation with the redhead. “How about a look around?” She handed her a bright red “visitor” I-dent (“It will only display ‘not available,’ Beatrice assured her.) and, obediently, Penny hopped up and followed her out of the room and into the club.

The main hall of the ground floor looked a lot like a shopping mall, if shopping malls had the nervous sexual energy of teens at the prom. There were small fountains — she supposed they were probably called “water features” dotting the walkways, masking the too-loud self-conscious laughter of small single-sex groups pretending not to eye each other.

“I’m not sure—” Penny began, but Beatrice cut her off.

“Honey, it’s six pm on a Thursday. If you want to check out the grown-ups, come back at ten.”

They walked past an Irish pub that was buzzing with a quiz in progress. Next to it, tentative couples studied “now playing” posters by a theatre.

“It’s very *nice*,” Penny ventured, “but it’s not how I pictured a sex club.”

Beatrice stopped walking. “First,” she said, “it’s a fantasy fulfillment club. Second,” she grinned, “let’s go upstairs.”

As the elevator doors swished shut behind them, Penny’s nose was assaulted by clouds of vapor from dry ice. The lights were low and pierced by strobes and multicolor LEDs. And, just as in the video, young women in string bikinis were dancing in elevated cages.

Beatrice deftly led her past the introductory floorshow. They walked down a corridor that could not have felt less like a shopping mall.

“There’s a lot of parallels with the first floor,” she explained. The movie theater, however, showed erotica and X-rated movies. The bars were low-lit and served cocktails; no pub quizzes on this floor. As they walked past one, Penny caught a glimpse of what looked like a big screen on which various porn scenes flickered.

“I’ll explain that later,” Beatrice said, following her gaze.

Instead, Beatrice launched into an explanation of how I-dents could also be loaded with Units, the currency of the club, and purchased at reception. No actual money changed hands anywhere in The Inferno.

Penny was contemplating the ramifications of that, when she stopped to watch a scene unfold. A man stumbled out of a cocktail bar. He held his I-dent up to a large oak barrel outside the club, fiddled with the device, and then held it up to the wood again. There was a pause, and then the man groped at his fly, took out his cock, and plunged it into the barrel. Penny stood transfixed as the man thrust furiously, his cock disappearing into the staves again and again. Then he groaned and staggered backwards, his deflating cock dripping come onto the floor. There was a small and definitive slamming sound, which Penny realized was an opening in the barrel being shut.

She eyed Beatrice quizzically.

“Uh, yes,” she answered. “The I-dent currency function in action.”

“Ok,” Penny said, “but what’s in the barrel?”

In reply, Beatrice held out her I-dent and showed Penny the screen. Hovered over the barrel, the text read, “Male slave.”

“This raises more questions than it answers,” Penny said.

Slaves, Beatrice explained, came from one of the upper floors. Their memberships were often paid for by their masters, with the fees being earned back by services throughout the club, including in the barrels.

She then began an overview of the fee structure of membership. Penny wanted to steer her back to the subject of slaves, but she was also astonished by the costs of joining the club.

“Not all donated memberships involve slavery,” Beatrice hastened to assure her. “We have many different gifting options, involving the entire spectrum of indebtedness. To keep things simple, it’s all color-coded. I can give you a brochure on it, but, basically, it ranges from a 10 percent subsidy — a green ticket — to a 100 percent gift certificate — a literal golden ticket.”

“Why didn’t the slave’s sexual orientation come up on the I-phone-thingy?” Penny asked.

Beatrice shrugged and smiled brightly, “A slave doesn’t really have an orientation that matters,” she said. “They do what their masters tell them.”

“Oh, of course they *do* have an orientation,” she added hurriedly after a moment’s silence. “I mean, this is about *fantasy fulfillment*, so of course, when they *become* slaves, we take careful note of how far they’re willing to go, and the I-dent does the rest.”

She peered closely at Penny. “You’re really interested in how the whole club infrastructure works, aren’t you? I’ll tell you what. I’m really not supposed to do this, but I think you can handle it. And it’s not because I want the commission—” she laughed. “It’s not *just* because I want the commission, but I don’t think you’ve been too impressed by what you’ve seen so far. And believe me, there’s more I can show you.”

She took Penny’s arm and led her over to an elevator. As before, she held up her and Penny’s I-dent. This time, however, she hit the “override” button on hers, and keyed in an identification number. She looked at Penny and her eyes twinkled.

“We’re going to the third floor.”

When the elevator doors swished open this time, the first thing Penny realized was that this floor *was* warmer — probably to make things more comfortable for all the naked people. As they stepped into a crowd of flesh, she became acutely self-conscious of her frumpy work clothes — less their frump than their existence — and sweat began to bead on her upper lip. Pale flanks, dotted with the occasional ebony or bronze backside, were everywhere — firm, jiggly, smooth, and dimpled. A few people wore g-strings or short skirts; some wore abbreviated tunics that resembled Beatrice’s. And they were clustered around the plexiglass walls defining a sunken circular amphitheater, or looking at the big video screens hung high around the other walls of the viewing area.

Beatrice pushed them to the front of the crowd, so that they were right up against the plexiglass, looking into the sawdust-floored pit. Opposite to the viewing area, there was a door on either side of the pit, a huge video screen in between the doors, a high table, a few crude sawhorses, and dingy gray mattresses directly on the sawdust, and a big rack holding dildos, whips, clamps, and devices Penny couldn’t immediately recognize. It looked like the performance space for some kind of perverted circus. A couple of Inferno Guides — she guessed, because their tunics were identical to Beatrice’s — carrying video cameras and trailing cables stood in the pit, hovering near each door.

“What the —” she started to ask Beatrice, but the guide shushed her and directed her to keep her eyes forward.

Penny jumped as a loud buzzer sounded and the people around her cheered. Both pit doors opened simultaneously, and a naked woman stepped out of each one, each about Penny’s age, each blinking in the light of the video cameras and seeming surprised by the crowds of viewers.

The buzzer sounded again, and a pictogram appeared on the central video screen. It showed a stick figure of the woman on the left putting on a harness with a dildo. Both women studied the screen, sneaking shy looks at each other, and then the one on the left, a blond, gave a small shrug and dutifully located a harness on the toy rack. She paused in her selection of dildos for the harness, enjoying playing to the onlookers, who hooted and took up a chant of “BIG-GER! BIG-GER!” They booed when she selected one about six inches long and two inches in diameter. The other woman, who was dark-haired, looked down. Her hands fluttered nervously at her sides. The camerawomen circled.

The buzzer sounded, and the pictogram showed one stick figure sucking the dildo of the other. The word “VOTE!” appeared in the upper corner of the screen.

The brunette sank to her knees in the sawdust and tentatively took the dildo into her mouth. The blond put her hands on her hips and thrust into the other woman’s mouth. “Yeah!” she yelled, pumping her fist in the air, working the screaming crowed. She cupped the back of the dark-haired woman’s head and pulled her face toward her crotch. The cameras caught a close-up of the fellating woman’s face. Her eyes were big and she looked bewildered. Some in the crowd started to boo again.

Penny noticed people around her fiddling furiously with their I-dents.

September 2018
« Feb