Sometimes you start with just an image in your head. You want to write it, to do something with it. A story emerges, you decide on a point of view, a way of telling your story, the image that has become a story, or at least a part of something bigger. You have to limit yourself, you can't write a book about every idea in your head.
So, here it is, an image that has become the merest minimum of a story. Something I just wrote, writing without thinking too much.
When I saw their wagon I had been alone in the wasteland for five days and had begun to despair. I wasn't sure I would reach the river in time, having lost my way in the endless desert. I was apprehensive, of course, but seeing their horses and their fire gave me hope.
They greeted me with some suspicion as I approached their camp. I wasn't surprised, I was suspicious too. I explained my situation and they saw the importance of welcoming me. It took a while before we all relaxed but when I took from my bags the food I had brought they smiled and I think they then saw my honest intentions.
I had food but not much water and although they were well supplied with both, the fresh meat I had hunted and brought made them far more friendly than before.
They were two rowdy men, unshaven and weather worn. They had travelled a lot through the wasteland, I could tell, and seemed to belong to the hardy stock of men who inhabited these trails.
As I tied my horse to the wheel of their wagon, I saw that there were one more companion in their group. Suddenly I stood face to face with a girl.
She had blond hair that was cropped short, like that of a boy. She was slender and at least a head shorter than me. She stood by the wagon, leaning against it, her hands behind her back. She was almost completely naked. The only garment she wore was a loincloth, like a pair of knickers that looked to be made of chamois leather. It consisted of just a triangle in front, that hugged her body, and was tied with thin strings in the sides.
The girl regarded me but said nothing. She looked sullen and glared at me.
'Hi, there,' I said, a little surprise to find her there.
I looked at her body, that was on full display. It was delicate, young and slender. Her belly was smooth and flat and her legs long and shapely. She had narrow shoulders and narrow hips and her breasts were small and round with rosy nipples. Her skin was fair but was a little tanned.
It was a surprise to suddenly stand face to face with a so naked girl. I looked at her face and then at her body, then at her face again. I wondered who she was and what she was doing there. Why was she naked?
She didn't reply. She just stared at me and I couldn't tell what I saw in her face. She looked sullen, almost angry and I felt a sudden pang of annoyance with her for being so silent and so untalkative.
I took a look at her breasts and let my eyes linger on her nipples, then glide down her belly and then further down her lower belly and onto the chamois leather cloth. Her sullenness made me think I had the right to ogle her, as if her refusal to greet me gave me the right to enjoy her nakedness, as if she didn't deserve my respect.
'Isn't she pretty?' One of the men said.
'Quite a catch,' the other one said.
I didn't reply.
The girl moved a little and I saw the reason why she held her hands behind her back. A leather strap was tied around her wrists. I knew then that the other man's use of the word 'catch' was not a manner of speaking.
'Who is she?' I asked as I returned to the men.
'She won't say, we found her in the desert.'
'We call her Cathy,' the other one said, smiling.
We sat down by the fire and one of the men, the one who was called Bart, stirred a pot of stew he had made from the their supplies and the fresh meat I had brought. He scooped the stew onto tin plates and handed them to me and to his friend, Matt.
'The girl, won't she eat?'
'We use to feed her after we have eaten, we don't want her to get ideas.'
'But if you want,' Matt continued, 'we can give her some now.'
'If she is as hungry as I am,' I said.
'Bart, get her.'
The man called Bart, who was a little burlier than the other got to his feet and returned with the girl in tow. He conduced her with a grip on her arm and she seemed reluctant to move.
'Knees,' Matt commanded and she gave him a surly look and dropped to her knees.
'You know what I mean,' he said, sighing, 'do you wan to go naked tomorrow?'
The girl awkwardly moved her knees apart. Matt looked at her but said nothing. The girl glared at him and moved her knees further apart.
'Untie her now,' he ordered his friend.
Bart then untied her wrists and gave her a plate of stew. She smelled it suspiciously but then she begun to eat.
I had my own stew and thought it delicious, at least as delicious as food ever become in the desert. It was fresh meat and I was hungry.
I looked at the girl, they called Cathy, and enjoyed the sight of her naked body by my side. She ate and moved and in the light from the fire her body had taken on another hue. The sun was sinking and the world became darker.
'Do you want to fuck her?' Matt said, turning to me.
It struck me that this was a great kindness. He wanted me to share her with them. A woman in a camp of men in the desert was a valuable thing and now he offered her to me, to share her with them.
I looked at Cathy and I felt deep in me that I wouldn't mind. She was young, almost a girl, but in many ways she was very much a woman.
'Or if you don't want it, you can whip her.'
This remark they both found hilarious. Both he and Bart began laughing.
I looked at Cathy but she seemed not to be upset or shocked. Maybe she was used to being whipped, or maybe she didn't understand what it meant.
'Yeah, isn't that what you do to women?'
Matt seemed to find this remark very witty, he looked at Bart who nodded consent.
'What has she done?'
'Nothing, we do it for fun.'
I looked at him, then at Bart, then at Matt again and then at Cathy.
'Don't worry, we don't use a proper whip on her, just a martinet, show him, Bart.'
Bart turned to his saddle that was lying beside him and produced a martinet with thin leather strands with knots on. He gave it to me to hold and I felt it was heavy enough to make an impact, especially if the girl was naked.
I looked at Cathy who was still eating her stew and wondered what it would be like to whip her with the martinet. I found the thought both cruel and exciting and wondered if I should do it, just because I could, just because the opportunity had presented itself.
'I am tired,' I said as I handed the whip back to Bart. 'I don't want to cause her any misery.'
'Too tired to fuck her?' Bart asked me, a grin on his face.
'Yes, too tired to fuck her,' I said.
Cathy got to her feet and collected the plates. She poured a little water into a bowl and washed them. She worked with just the tiniest amount of water as one does in the desert. I looked at her while I rolled out my blanket and prepared my bed.
She turned her back towards me and in the light from the fire I saw that her buttocks were marked by darker patches. I wondered if the two men really whipped her with their martinet.
I curled up under my blanket. Matt and Bart was still rummaging through the wagon, rearranging things, as it seemed. Cathy stood to the side, regarding them.
I was really tired and nodded off. I woke up again, a little later and found that the others were still up. I heard some groaning and moaning some distance away. I heard the murmuring of deep voices and thought that Matt and Bart were talking to each other.
I heard another voice, not talking but giving off tiny whimpers. I wondered if Matt and Bart were enjoying themselves with Cathy. Then I heard a swishing sound and a sharp report. Then the sounds was repeated. And again.
The whimpering grew to moans while the series of sounds kept on. I knew that this was the sound of the girl being whipped. The sharp reports were the sound of the martinet making contact with her skin.
She didn't scream of cry out. I heard only those whimpers. And the deeper sighs and mutterings of the men.
After a while the sounds stopped and a little later Matt and Bart made their beds with their blankets on the other side of the fire, from me. I didn't see Cathy anywhere.
In the morning, I woke up early. I rose and went to tend to my horse. My limbs were stiff after a night on the ground. The sun was rising slowly and was warming up the cold night air.
As I came round the wagon, I saw Cathy sitting on the ground. She had her hands behind her back and I saw that there was a rope tied round her ankle. She was leaning against the wheel. I thought she must be freezing. The air was still cold. I saw a blanket by her side and thought that her captors had been kind enough to provide her with at least some comfort.
'Morning,' I said.
'Morning,' she replied and I was surprised she had answered.
I patted my horse and made sure she was happy before I turned back to Cathy.
'Did they whip you last night?'
She didn't reply, instead she turned her body and showed me her bottom. In the morning sun I saw that there were new marks on her buttocks, a chaos of straight lines that shone red and blue in places.
I was surprised she wanted to sit by the wheel. Her bottom must be sore. I noticed she hadn't her chamois leather knickers on. They had been removed and I thought I knew the reason for that.
'Where are you from, Cathy?'
'I am not Cathy.'
'What is your name, then?'
'So, where are you from, Amanda?'
'From the east, a farm by the river.'
'How come you ended up here?'
'They stole me, not more than a hundred yards from my home.'
'Do you want to go back?'
'Of course I want to go back.'
'They are still sleeping...'
'Don't, don't even think of it. They will cut you down in seconds. I have seen it happen.'
'If I act now, while they are sleeping.'
'No, please, don't. You seem nice. I don't want to see you hurt. And you will have to kill them. They will hunt you as an outlaw.'
'But they stole you.'
'How will I prove that?'
'I have no money, I can't buy you.'
Then Matt was awake. I knew I had been playing with options and possibilities but in the naked morning light, faced with Matt and Bart, all seemed so normal. Amanda was just a girl, a girl with no clothes on, who now belonged to these men. It was as it was.
We had breakfast and Amanda, or Cathy, served us and knelt to the side, this time she kept her knees apart without having to be threatened by Matt. She was still naked.
The temperature rose slowly and Amanda was cold. I could see goosebumps on her skin and thought that it made her look smoother and lovelier in a way.
Bart threw her the leather garment and she donned it eagerly. I looked at her and she looked up at me and our eyes met. She held my gaze for a second, then she turned away.
They were going west and I was going east so we departed in opposite directions. I knew now were I was and they had given me a small supply of water so I knew I would make it to my destination.
I turned around in the saddle and saw them leave. Matt and Bart on their horses, Amanda, or was it Cathy, really, on her feet, walking away.
I wondered what happened to her.