Read an Excerpt
Shirley Grainger stood on the other side of the narrow street and looked at The Jane Flockman Institute of Political Science and Ethics. It looked warm and homely in the drab confusion of Liverpool University. Its red brick and warm, cream limestone made a statement of old-fashioned and subdued good taste.
Today was October 31st. This year, Hallowe'en had come quickly for her. She had already been at University for over a month and her old life, living with Auntie Joan in Staffordshire, had grown hard to remember. Auntie Joan was a world away, and she now here lived at the Institute, and in her room at Smethwick Hall in Penny Lane.
Holly Greenleaf's bright yellow Mini Cooper roared down the lane, braked hard, and parked in front of the Institute. Holly was Tutor in Residence at the Hall, a cheerful woman, her long dark hair flecked with grey. She got out of her car and came over to stand beside her.
"It's a fine old place, isn't it? Sometimes we forget how lucky we are."
"Exactly how old is it?" asked Shirley.
"Let me see; they started to build just at the end of the First War. Jane Flockman died in 1916, and I think Albert decided to build something as soon as he heard. It must have taken a couple of years to build. I suppose we'll be having its fiftieth birthday party soon. I wonder what we'll do."
Shirley thought for a moment. "Was Albert a witch too?"
Holly chuckled. "Certainly not. He was a very conservative sort, a solid, boring businessman. Apparently, Jane used to drive him nuts with her crazy ideas and premonitions. It was Sarah Biddell the herbalist who persuaded him to build the Institute. Left to himself, he probably wouldhave dedicated a park or something like that.
"Do you know about Sarah? She was a little bit of a witch, but she came to it late in life and did not get trained. She was good herbalist though. I still use her Medicinal Herbs sometimes. She finally convinced him about what had been disturbing Jane, how she'd been driven half-mad by her premonitions and was trying to reach the Archduke before Sarajevo. Albert hadn't believed her at the time."
"And so he built the Institute?" continued Shirley.
"Yes, and Sarah told him not to ask too many questions but just let our founding members get on with trying to stand up against the Dark Light. They wanted to steer history away from catastrophes like the War. It must have been difficult, trying to get Albert to understand and not interfere.
"So Shirley, you've settled in, do you think?"
Shirley did not need to think about her question. "Yes, definitely. I had no idea when I came, but now ... I'm really enjoying it."
"You had no idea! Don't make me laugh! I remember you on your first day, arriving at the Hall with that poor taxi driver. You positively skewered him in his seat. I don't think I could have done it so easily, and I've been studying for years."
Shirley still felt embarrassed. "Well, it was his own fault, giving me the grand tour like that. And besides, I didn't understand what I was doing then. I'd always done it, don't forget. Auntie Joan must have been the only one who kept me in check."
"You must have been a right little monster when you were younger. Anyway, what have you got this morning?"
"I'm free first, and then Rostov again. More pain and trouble, I suppose."
"No more invitations from the great man?" Holly was smiling at her.
"No. I'm afraid not, but no-one gets more than one, do they?"
Rostov, thought Shirley, Dr. Nikolai Rostov, late of Romania and now lecturing in geopolitics. The Institute's great gift to women, so he thought. The trouble was, he could still make her feel uncomfortable, along with most of the other females. He was tall, with wavy back hair swept back from a long, Slavic face. You only had to listen to that voice for a couple of minutes before you knew he was educated and cultured, that he lived on a different plane. He had long pianist's fingers and deep, dark eyes. If he was interested in you, those eyes could make you feel like the only woman in the world.
Shirley and her friends had met him soon after the start of term. They had been waiting in the lecture room, all quiet and expectant, for their first lecture in 'Central Europe, 16th & 17th Centuries'. True to the minute, Rostov swept down the steps, his black gown flowing behind him.
He had a presence, and commanded everyone's attention as he stood at the lectern.
"Curtains, please," he demanded, and the slide projector behind his audience clicked into life. A map flooded the screen behind him. It took Shirley a while to sort out the location. The Baltic formed the northern edge, and she quickly picked up the cities of Berlin and Prague. The map extended further east too, but she did not recognise any names there. She had not studied that part of the world at school.
Rostov gave them a moment to consider what they saw, and then he started. "Central Europe at around the year 1700. We shall use this area for the study of how the forces of history ebb and flow, and the way they affect people and countries. Let me start by sketching quickly, the centres of effective power at this time..."
Shirley grabbed her yellow pad and frantically tried to keep up with the flow of names, places and dates that poured out of Rostov. All around her, pens shuttled back and forth as the students tried to catch ideas that flew past them and disappeared. Life with Rostov would not be easy.
Three quarters of an hour later, Rostov stopped abruptly. He had spoken continuously all that time and left his audience stunned. In the same tone of voice he had been using to lecture, he announced "This evening we will be meeting at The John Barleycorn. You should be there." He swept out of the room without looking at them.
Shirley's day had continued with an afternoon practical on crystallography with Dr. Paul Grimes, a long session of peering at rocks and minerals, and trying to describe them accurately.
By five o'clock that evening, all the students were tired. Shirley nearly gave up and went home. Instead, she went looking for Debbie. Debbie was a mousy girl with a disproportionately large bust. They had been thrown together at Smethwick Hall and still spent much of their free time together.
They set off into the city streets to look for the John Barleycorn. They could have easily missed it. On a narrow side street off Pembroke Place, they found its small hanging sign. John Barleycorn stood as a red-faced gentleman in a low-crowned hat and a blue tail-coat, smiling and holding a foaming pint. The girls took two steps down to reach the door and pushed it open. They stepped into another world.
It felt warm and comfortable and looked exactly as a pub should, with horse brasses pinned over the bar and heavy harness displayed on the walls. Low wooden beams painted black held up the ceiling and more horse brasses. A rustic wooden bar looked out onto a room of round tables and Windsor chairs. Benches like church pews lined the walls. Rostov and Paul had pushed two tables together and were holding court the students.
"Come on, come on," called Rostov, "tonight Paul and I will buy the first one. After that, you are on your own. And, for the rest of the year. What will you have?"
Everyone sat behind a beer except for Rostov who had a glass of colourless liquid that might have been water. Paul went to the bar and brought back two halves of bitter.
"So?" he asked as he set their beers down. "What do you think of your first day?"
"It was..." Shirley hesitated. "There was a lot to learn."
Laughter ran around the table. "You too? I thought we were being kind to you."
"Well, don't ever be hard on us then," snapped Debbie. More laughter and they settled down to relaxing.
Rostov sat across the table from Shirley. "Do you like the pub?" he asked.
"It's good. I'm surprised. I thought Liverpool pubs would be different, but this one's just like at home. In the country."
He smiled. "That's right. Kent or Sussex. Liverpool pubs are different. Some are pretty rough. Others still think that only working men like a drink. They even have smoking rooms where women can't go. Terrible places. The Institute encourages this place to be a bit more civilised. No slot machines, no juke-box, good lunches. The beer's a penny a pint more and that's enough to keep most of the engineering and medical students away. And any other devoted piss-heads. Have you been to Liverpool before?"
"No, it's all new to me. I've hardly had time, but it looks very run-down from the bus."
"You're right. It's a dirty old town. Lost all its money and doesn't know what to do next. It's criminal what's happening to some of the areas around the centre. I'll show you round if you like."
Shirley thought no more of his offer until seven-thirty and the party started breaking up. She was getting into her coat when Rostov said "Come on, I'll take you for a drive around the centre."
Surprised, she looked for Debbie. "Go on," she whispered, "I'll be alright."
Shirley followed him out and he led her briskly back towards the Institute and his car. She still felt in awe of him. Why had he selected her for his guided tour? She should have asked if Debbie could come too, but she sensed he would not have wanted that. She pulled her coat tighter against the evening cold and hurried beside him.
He took her down Brownlow Hill and into the centre. The evening rush hour had gone but the streets were still full of cars and taxis. They drove past closed shops and people hurrying by on the pavements. Rostov said nothing as he steered through the traffic.
They turned into an anonymous city centre street and he spoke at last. "Paradise Street. Perhaps you've heard of it. You could find all the sailors' brothels along here in the old days. All gone. Now there's only a couple of restaurants worth visiting."
He drove on, following side-roads, past tall, dark buildings and dirty streets. Fish and chip papers blew along the empty alleys. He pulled up in a narrow street and pointed across the road. Shirley could see nothing, just a double doorway leading, she supposed, to a storehouse.
"The Cavern Club," he said. "It used to be here, and just a few years ago you could have seen The Beatles for no more than the cost of an entry ticket. Nothing there now. It's closed. No-one's got any imagination around here."
He drove on and slowed down again in another side street. They paused opposite a pub called The Slaughterhouse. "Remember this place. Fenwick Street. They have the best steak and kidney pie in England. I wouldn't come down here during the week, it's much too busy with people from the offices, but they're open for Saturday lunch and it's still the same pie."
They drove out of the labyrinth into an area of massive stone buildings. The hub of Victorian Liverpool. "Pier Head. This is where it all used to happen. That's the Liver Building, and Cunard next to it. It's all here. Let's go and look at the ferry."
They walked down to Princes Landing Stage. In the gathering night, the whole structure made a cast iron statement of Victorian achievement. A wide sloping walkway led down to the actual landing stage, a massive floating pontoon big enough to accommodate several ferries at a time. Nothing stood between them and the dark waters of the Mersey rushing and gurgling past. The lights of Birkenhead on the other bank glimmered far away in the darkness.
For once, Rostov showed some signs of enthusiasm. "This place is fantastic! I love it. It's so big, such engineering for the time. Look, we're floating and only held onto land by the walkways. It moves up and down with the tide and the river level. And it flexes, look at the waiting room."
Shirley looked along the front of the waiting room and the landing stage stretching away up the river. Sure enough, as the sea waves moved up the estuary, the landing stage flexed like a snake and the waiting room lifted up and down as if it too, could bend. It fascinated her, and she tried to understand how it worked.
Suddenly, in a cloud of spray and acrid smoke, a ferry came to them out of the night. Powering up against the current, it pushed firmly against the stage and a sailor dropped a noose of woven cable over a bollard. The gangways banged down and passengers disembarked on two levels. Minutes later the sailor recovered his cable and the current swept the ferry back and away into the centre of the river.
Rostov showed her the details of the landing stage. "All riveted together, they had plenty of people then and no welding. You see, each one taking two men to set. And, the decoration, it's beautiful. Look at these lamp standards, that's real artistry in iron. Just imagine what they must have looked like when they were gas-lights. Hard to think that they all came out of a foundry."
He led her back to the car. "Now we will go and eat," he announced, "Salad, black bread and pickled fish."
"No, not Romania. But the fish and the bread you will find in Danzig. Or Gdansk, if you prefer."
He took them away from the city centre along streets Shirley did not recognise. Finally, he turned into a gateway with imposing sandstone pillars. Beyond them lay not a Victorian mansion like Smethwick Hall but an ugly glass and concrete box. "Collins Hall. My flat is at the back here."
His front door opened directly from the yard. He took her coat and ushered her into his front room. The decoration declared severe good taste. She sat and looked around as Rostov busied himself. He had painted the walls bravely in apricot, with cream ceiling and trimmings. A large minimalist pastel of a nude girl reading at a desk filled the space over the gas fire. The artist had enjoyed the flow of lines and curves in the girl's back. Rostov turned on the stereo, a futuristic turntable, a thin aluminium platter with heavy golden posts to support the disc. When he turned it on, the golden posts started to flash hypnotically past as the turntable gathered speed. He lifted the Perspex cover and lowered the counter-weighted arm delicately onto an LP. Mellow sax filled the room. "Getz," he said, "and Gilberto. The best!" He disappeared into the kitchen.
Suddenly, she felt adult. Rostov had invited her to his flat and taken her seriously.
He returned in a moment with a bottle and two small glasses to set on the coffee table. "Vodka. Specially from Poland." He did not offer to pour but returned to the kitchen. She looked at the bottle. Wyborowa Wodka. She did not recognise the name.
He brought a tray of food and settled beside her. She was surprised at how elegant the tray looked. He had arranged small pieces of pickled herring and continental sliced cucumber on one plate, and thinly sliced black bread on another. Between them sat a small bowl of chopped tomato and herbs.
Rostov filled the two small glasses with neat vodka and offered her one. "Now, drink up. The first one you must finish instantly. The next one can be sipped. So cheers!" He raised his glass, tipped his head back and the vodka disappeared.
It would be childish to object. She put her doubts aside and copied him. The vodka came as a shock. It bit her throat and made her eyes water, but she survived. A warm glow grew in her stomach. He re-filled the glasses. She did not think she could drink one too.
"Now, we will have a Prussian snack to go with your Prussian history. Or a Polish snack because Prussia has disappeared." He manoeuvred a piece of herring and a slice of cucumber onto some bread with a fork. She copied him. Sharp, clean flavours hit her, the sourness of the cucumber, vinegar from the fish and the bitter grainy flavour of the rye bread.
She was enjoying herself. Sitting on the sofa next to Rostov felt good, and she liked eating the foreign food and drinking vodka as she had never done before. It was exciting. She helped herself to more food and cautiously sipped at her glass.
Rostov sat back and put his arm around her. That felt good too. She liked the size of him, his maturity and even his arrogant self-confidence. She leant against him and did not resist when he lifted her face to kiss her.
His touch and the smell of him overwhelmed her. Her heart raced and she felt suddenly clumsy in his strong, confident arms. Nothing she had done prepared her for this. Rostov was a man and completely eclipsed the boys she had kissed before.
She surrendered everything to him, happy to follow where-ever he led. He pulled her closer. His kisses made her body sing and she reached up to hold his head. She wanted more of him.
His fingers worked at the buttons of her cardigan and blouse. He did not hurry or fumble. As they kissed, she felt her heart rise in her throat and a warm open flowering within her. She was light-headed, half drunk from his kisses.
She felt the steady flick-flick-flick as he released her buttons. He reached inside her blouse to cup her breast and stroke her nipple through her bra. She shivered and moaned as he crushed and twisted her nipple between finger and thumb. She could feel the twisting deep in her stomach.
Still kissing her, he pushed the coffee table back and turned to kneel between her feet. He reached around her, and pulled her blouse out of her jeans. He sat back to look at her and his dark eyes shone for her. "Beautiful!" he said, and unbuttoned her cuffs. She sat silently under his gaze; there was nothing she could say.
She felt no shame with him. It felt natural to sit forward as he pushed her sleeves off her shoulders, and reached around to unhook her bra. He examined her, delighting in her nudity. He took her hands in his and lifted her arms wide.
"Beautiful! Truly Beautiful!" He bent to kiss her breasts and tease her nipples with his teeth. Shirley jumped at the first sensation of his moist lips on her, and then moved to press her breast against his mouth. She let her head fall back as waves of excitement rushed through her. He held her breasts and sucked her nipples, one after the other, and rolled pleasure into them with his tongue. As he sucked and tormented her, she barely felt him pulling off her shoes, jeans and panties. She was naked before him, presenting her pussy to his gaze. She was conscious of a tightening between her legs, and in her mind her pussy loomed large and swollen.
He sat beside her again, holding her and reaching under her. She caught her breath as she felt his fingers slide over her thighs and into her wetness. She sat back to lift herself to him and he rubbed slowly, exactly as she wanted to be rubbed. His fingers pushed inside her, and at the same time he rubbed her with long, slow strokes. Her hips were moving against him, opening herself and seeking more of him inside her. She heard herself panting, and she buried her face in his neck as she lost control again and again.
The storm he stirred inside her with his fingers left her hardly able to think. His fingers continued to play as he took her hand and put it into his open trousers. He helped her to unravel his cock and pull it out into the open. It stood out of his trousers, long and white, and its swollen purple head shone.
His hand left her and now he pushed her down, pushing her head towards his cock. She had an instant to look at it before it butted against her lips and she took his cock into her mouth. She sucked at it, gripping the shaft with both hands and rolling her tongue around its head. Vaguely she could hear Rostov gasping.
He pulled her away. "Let's go into the bedroom." He led her by the hand into his room and steered her onto the bed. Rolling her onto her side facing him, he stood beside the bed and presented his cock to her. She took it in her hands and suckled on it, comfortable and happy to receive. She raised a knee to open herself and invite him. He reached for her again, strumming her clit rhythmically, firmly, continuously. Her pleasure mounted rapidly.
He began to pant again as she worked on his cock. She heard him whisper, "So good. Oh, so good..." and he pulled away from her.
Without speaking, he helped her from the bed to her feet and led her to the dressing table. Standing behind her, he bent her forward until her elbows rested on the table. The top of the table was polished, and nothing stood on its surface. She felt him reach under her to take something from the drawer. A quick fumble and he was entering her. His cock pushed into her and she welcomed its presence, drawing it into her and wanting it to fill her completely. His hands gripped her hips and he moved in and out of her, firmly, deliberately, slowly.
She could see them both in the mirror. Her own face looked flushed and swollen. Rostov stood behind her, still fully dressed, working on her and searching for his pleasure. His eyes were half closed and his hair had begun to fall wildly.
Moving faster now, he slammed against her with each stroke. He moved faster and faster. She knew that soon he would come. His cock flew in and out of her now, and the table rattled against the wall. She watched his face, contorted in pain, striving for release. And then it was happening. His expression hardened in animal ferocity as his cock jumped and spat inside her, and he pulled her hard against him. He stood still, rigid, holding her in a grip of steel against him. She felt only the pulsing of his cock deep inside her. Then he relaxed and slipped out of her.
Smoothly, he stripped off his condom and tied a knot in the neck, and hid his cock in his trousers again. Shirley had not moved. She remained resting on her elbows, trembling.
"Come," he said, taking her arm. "Let's sit down again."
He took her to the sofa and refilled their glasses. "Your very best health," he offered and Shirley sipped her drink again.
Suddenly she wanted to dress, but he put his hand on her arm. "Don't. You look very pretty like that. Here--have some more fish."
"But, I don't..." She felt uncomfortable sitting naked beside him, but she took the bread he offered and scooped up a piece of herring and some cucumber. She drew a deep breath. "I think I should go..."
"Of course. But finish your drink first, and then I'll drive you home. The bathroom's there, if you need it."
She sipped her drink long enough for politeness, gathered her clothes and made for the bathroom. She did not want to dress in front of him. That would have been even more uncomfortable than drinking vodka in the nude.
He had her coat ready for her when she came out of the bathroom. He drove her back home with a proprietorial hand on her thigh. She felt grateful for his silence. He pulled up outside the hall and she got out. As she closed the door, he smiled at her.
"Thank you, Shirley. I enjoyed that. You're surprisingly good at it. I'll invite you for dinner soon, and we can do it again."
"Yes, that would be nice," she found herself mumbling and he pulled away.
She showered automatically and went to bed early. She felt numb and shaken. Was that how it is meant to be, she asked herself? Is that all?
Next morning, Holly Greenleaf was waiting at the foot of the stairs to give her a special lift to the Institute. She looked forward to a ride in Holly's yellow mini, a rally version that went really fast. She quickly found out what Holly wanted from her.
"So, how was Nick last night?"
Shirley felt shocked. How on earth did Holly know about him? And so soon? "Er, alright, I suppose. Interesting."
"I'm sure it was. Pickled fish and cucumbers? Polish vodka?"
Shirley could not say anything. Holly knew more than decency allowed.
"Don't worry, Shirley. It's your business. I just want to know how you are."
"Me? I'm fine. Honestly. I mean, it's okay, really."
"Good. I'm glad to hear it. I just wish he wouldn't do it. Not with new students. It's not fair," Holly grumbled.
"But it was okay. I mean, he didn't force me or anything."
"How would you know? He could persuade you to do anything and you'd never notice. Or perhaps you would. You especially. Are you sure you didn't feel him pushing you?"
Shirley thought back to the night before. She could remember nothing strange. "I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I was doing what I wanted to. Does he really, I mean, push girls?"
"Perhaps I'm just being negative about him. Sometimes it's hard to judge where seduction ends and persuasion begins. But if you're happy, that's the important thing. Do you think you'll see him again?"
"Er, I don't think he'll want that."
They pulled up at some traffic lights and Holly took the chance to take a good look at her face. Then she smiled. "Good. You understand. Lots of them don't, and that makes for problems. Tears, moping, upsets. Upset me too, I don't mind admitting."
"Yes. I was honoured once. We had quite an evening. Until he gave me the brush-off and I went to bed by myself. I didn't know if I wanted to sleep with him or shoot him. Or both."
Shirley giggled. She liked knowing that Holly had shared the experience. It made her feel more adult. "It was good while it lasted, I suppose."
"Yes. Me too. He took me to the theatre and then home afterwards. He put some sexy jazz on the stereo and fed me pickled fish and vodka."
"He did the same with me! Except there I didn't get the theatre, just a drive around Liverpool and a visit to Pier Head. I've been cheated! But I got the jazz, and the fish and vodka. And he made love to me."
"He kissed me on the sofa, and played with me..."
"And he made me suck him. And then he bent me over the back of an armchair and had me from behind."
"Exactly! Except he took me into the bedroom and bent me over the dressing table. I could watch him do it in the mirror."
"Lucky you, I could only see cushions and the carpet. But I have to say it wasn't bad. Sort of animal really. But, I would've appreciated a cuddle afterwards."
"I didn't get one either. He made me have more fish and vodka before he let me put my clothes back on. That felt a bit uncomfortable." They drove on in silence until something occurred to Shirley.
"Is he allowed to do that? I mean, with a student?"
"He wouldn't be allowed to in the rest of the University. He'd be out of a job in no time. But we're different, and the lecturers don't have any real power over the students because we don't have proper exams. Professor Rundle doesn't like it but she reckons you're all eighteen or more, and it's all part of growing up. Happened to her as well, although I find it hard to imagine Eliza nude and bent over an armchair. She says she enjoyed it and would do it again given half the chance. Only she says that next time she'll be forewarned. She'll lay him on the floor and sit on his cock until she decides it's enough. That'll put him in his place. Or her place, I suppose." They were still giggling as Holly pulled up in front of the Institute.
The more Shirley thought about her encounter with Rostov, the less she liked the way she had behaved. I let him push me around, she thought. I was just like a silly little girl. Well, that's not going to happen again. If he ever asks me for that dinner, he'll have to be really, really persuasive. I think I'll just brush him off anyway.
In the meantime, Shirley had the Institute and her friends. She loved the old place, from the dark coffee room in the basement right up to library on the top floor. Ari ran the library, Ari of the long dark hair and long, long legs. She was the sexiest librarian Shirley had ever seen, with her short skirts and a naughty twinkle waiting in her eyes.
Each student had a carrel in the library, a private place to study. Ari had taken Shirley to hers, and showed her the books she could take home, and the private ones that must stay in the library. In the drawer of her carrel she had found a note. To the next occupant of my carrel. I hope you have as much fun here as I did. I'm sure you're looking at all your books and wondering how you'll manage. Don't worry--I felt the same but it all worked out in the end, and now I'm sorry I'm leaving. Good Luck, Julian Frobisher. It had been good to be welcomed like that. It made her feel she belonged, that she was part of a tradition.
The following Sunday, Holly had taken her off to Snowdonia, for a walk in the mountains, in a bus with the Open Air Club. She could not walk with the others. She only had jeans and tennis shoes, no good for the mountains. Instead, Holly had taken her for a walk in the valley, and taught her something of what it meant to be a witch and how they had always fitted into the countryside. On the way home, the bus had been full of singing. A dishy student called Tim had come to sit next to her. He had long blonde hair and a straggly beard, and he taught her the words to The Leaving of Liverpool.
Shirley followed Holly into the Institute. Someone, presumably pretty Goldpenny the Professor's secretary, had taped a large notice to the wall.
For all Students
Hallowe'en Party Buses leave at 16:30 hrs
DON'T BE LATE!!!
Hallowe'en had come. Shirley had never done anything to celebrate Hallowe'en. She knew about it, of course, but mostly from America. Pumpkin lamps, kids in costumes, trick or treat, those all meant nothing in England. All the same, a folk memory lived on of witches flying on Hallowe'en, so she supposed Holly planned something special for them.
All day, the air at the Institute had a buzz in it and that buzz reached a peak when buses pulled up outside at four o'clock in the afternoon. Shirley stopped staring at minerals with Paul Grimes. The practical finished early and they filed down to get on their buses. The organisation surprised her. Paul even checked off the names of students on the buses. Holly waited at the gate of Smethwick Hall and ushered them all inside. She sent them to their rooms to drop their things and change into party clothes.
The common room waited for them. Brightly lit, chairs around the walls, side tables stacked with plates and bottles. Ari, the librarian, had come, dressed in a very short smock and long boots. She had put her long dark hair down in a loose tail tied with black ribbon. She looked very sexy as she struggled with the ping-pong table, trying to fold it up without losing her hemline. Shirley went to help and they carried it out and left it under the stairs.
"You're looking very kinky, Ari. Where did you get those boots?"
"Oh, just down town. You don't think my dress is too short?" Not a serious question. She knew exactly what she was doing and had judged her dress to the limit.
Shirley pretended to study her. "No. Not too short. Very brave though. I expect all the boys will have heart attacks each time you move. And the girls will die of jealousy." She looked down at her own skirt. She had thought of it as daringly short, but it did not risk everything the way Ari's smock did.
"I don't suppose there'll be many males. That's the only trouble with the Institute. We're nearly all girls. No wonder Nick manages to catch us all, there's hardly any competition. Did you know he's even had Professor Rundle once?"
"I'd heard that. I suppose you..."
"Yes. Once. And you?"
"Yup, me too. At least I don't feel left out. But that was ages ago now, and I wish there was a bit more fun on offer. Do you have a boyfriend? Or husband?"
"No, it's difficult. Librarians, you know. We've got such a boring reputation."
Whatever else Ari might be, she was certainly not boring.
Holly came in with her arms full of a Dansette and LP's. They hurried to help her set it up and put on her new Simon & Garfunkel album. It sounded good, but it was not dancing music. People had begun to gather now, and Holly went back to her flat to bring a large pan of mulled wine. By the time she returned, the room had filled up.
She put the ladle in Debbie's hand, and everyone filed past with their paper cups. The wine smelt rich and spicy, and slices of orange and lemon circled slowly as Debbie dipped and poured. Holly called them around.
"Well, everyone, welcome to Hallowe'en at Smethwick Hall. I've got some good news for you. Firstly, you're all here. A couple of people have dropped out of the other halls, but you've all survived and done well. Secondly, the syllabus will change next week. Now we're sure you've all come to the right place and belong with us, we can start on the serious stuff. It might sound like fun but, believe me, if you think you're working hard now...
"But tonight we're celebrating. You've finally made it. All you have to do now is turn up to all the lectures and practicals, and make sure that all your assignments are long enough and relevant. That's it. No final exams. You won't have to waste springtime revising and cramming useless facts into your heads, you can enjoy it instead. And we can keep you busy right up to the last minute. So, a toast to the students of Smethwick Hall!"
The wine tasted strong and warmed Shirley's insides. She wanted to start chattering but Holly called them to order again.
"Just a moment more. As you know, you've been kidnapped here for drinks and dancing. In fact, we've quite literally kidnapped you. The Institute is locked down for the night, and Paul Grimes and Pretty Goldpenny are outside right now securing our boundaries. They'll be with us in a moment. Yes, it's Hallowe'en, folks, and that means there'll be lots of things out there that you don't want to meet. Harmless mostly, but there are so many of us around that we attract them. Tonight is just the time for someone to try and slip in unnoticed. So, we're going to stay here and enjoy ourselves until midnight. It'll be safe enough to go to bed then, and tomorrow will be just another day.
"So, I don't want anyone leaving the building. No one at all. We'll all go out into the yard for a few minutes later on, to see what we can see, but that'll be all. Inside you're safe. Put some dancing music on and let's have fun. I hope you three men are feeling fit because we're going to wear your shoes out. Oh, and leave the lights on. We need bright lights and loud music for safety." The music changed to The Hollies and they started to dance.
It might have been the wine, or it might have been the unpleasantness of 'outside', but Shirley found the party atmosphere went rapidly to her head. She danced with everyone and with herself. She deliberately lost count of the paper cups. Paul came in trailing Pretty Goldpenny. A tall woman made taller by impossible stilettos, Pretty liked to party. She sank a cup of wine without blinking and dragged Paul onto the floor. She was still dancing an hour later, her long auburn hair growing wild about her face.
At some point the mulled wine had given out and been replaced by large bottles of cheap Australian white, straight from the fridge. A huge pot of stew appeared, a rich and heavy soup to give a lining to their tummies. They ate and went back to dancing.
At sometime during the evening, Shirley found herself dancing with Ari. She liked Ari. The librarian had a cheerful sexiness. Her long, long booted legs looked modern and sophisticated, and it was impossible not to stare at them. Ari danced closer to her and asked, "Can I stay in your room? I don't want to go back home tonight."
Shirley started to say that she only had a single bed, but stopped herself. Ari must know that, and it did not matter anyway.
"Of course, you're welcome."
Ari gave her a smile like a tigress and went back to dancing.
Later, about eleven o'clock she guessed, Holly turned off the Dansette. "Come on, people, let's go outside and take a look. Stay together, and don't go outside the yard."
They filed out onto the cobbles and looked around. Night and cold surrounded them. Nothing broke the darkness.
"There!" called Paul, pointing low in the sky. Close to them, just over the fence, a white wisp of cloud shot past. "That's one. There'll be more now. Just wait a moment. They'll start to sense us."
Quickly the sky filled with rushing white shades, passing over and around the house. They did not come near. They hurried past as if on the other side of a glass wall. As if we are in a goldfish bowl, she thought. The white shadows had shapes, distorted figures in the smoke. As she watched, she began to pick out veiled faces with empty eye holes. Some of them had a suggestion of hair and clothing, and she could guess at their sex.
Pretty stood beside her. "What are they?" she whispered.
"Dead souls," Pretty answered in a normal voice. "They can't hear you."
"Can they see us? Do they know we're here?"
"Hard to say, you can't talk to them. Not in the normal way, at least. They seem to be attracted to us, but they don't react. Or wait and watch us. Just hurrying past. There must be so many stories out there."
"It's so sad."
"Yes, I suppose it is. They used to be here and now they're not. But that's life. They might be happy where they are now, we could never tell."
Shirley wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. "I don't like to think about it."
"Of course not," said Pretty, putting an arm around her shoulders. "We'll all have plenty of time to worry about that when our time comes."
The party was difficult to re-start when they went back inside. The students looked thoughtful and a little frightened. Holly put soft music on and the party slowed along with it. Shirley found herself holding Ari and dancing to Hey Jude played again and again.
"Let's go," said Ari. "It's not quite midnight, but I'll take you up and we can get to the bathroom before the rush."
Shirley was alone in her room. With the lights off, she put her head under the curtain and peered out. Nothing. No more dead souls. Behind her, the door opened.
"Still looking?" asked Ari.
"Yes, it was horrible."
"I suppose so. But I don't like to think about it. Golden lads and girls, I suppose."
"Golden lads and lasses," Shirley corrected her.
"Ah-ha! Arguing with the librarian. You can't win--Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. Cymbeline, speech by Guiderius. Now you owe me. Can I come to bed? I'm cold." She still wore her smock but carryied her tights and underwear in her hand.
Shirley watched as Ari took off her glasses and pulled her smock over her head. She had a chance to stare as Ari worked the smock over her hair. Nude and beautiful. Her body looked milky white and elegant, with firm round breasts and very dark nipples. At the base of her belly, a dusting of trimmed black hair emphasised rather than hid the long lips of her sex. She caught Shirley staring and smiled. "Are you going to let me in before I freeze?"
Shirley threw the covers back and Ari slipped in beside her. She huddled up shivering. "Hold me, I'm cold." She wriggled around to present her back. Shirley reached around her to pull her tight and spoon against her. "Oh, that's better. You're nice and warm." She took Shirley's hand between her own and held it against her chest.
The shivering girl overwhelmed Shirley. Ari felt big, adult, and their weight made a deep valley in the mattress that rolled them closer together. Ari's perfume filled her nostrils, and her thick, silky hair flowed under Shirley's cheek. She enjoyed the softness of Ari's body against her own and her senses started to sing.
Ari's shivering died slowly away and she reached behind her to grab Shirley's hip and pull her closer. She still held Shirley's hand to her chest, and slowly Shirley became aware of the soft weight resting on her wrist, Ari's breast, heavy and rounded. She moved her hand experimentally to feel it roll against her, and Ari sighed.
"Mmmh, that's nice," she said softly, and with no protest, she moved Shirley's hand to cup it over her breast and held it there. Shirley's mind raced. This was wrong, she knew that, but it felt so good. She liked the heavy softness of Ari's breast. Its generous roundness filling her hand. The roughness of its hard button poked insistently into the palm of her hand. It felt wonderful, and Shirley's heart jumped with the blessing of Ari's sigh as she rolled the hard point in gentle circles.
She pulled at Ari's nipple and twisted it between finger and thumb.
"Oh--oh--oh--oh God!" Ari mumbled. "Yes--like that--yes. Oh yes..." To give pleasure like this was something new and exciting for Shirley, and she twisted and pulled at Ari's nipple until Ari wriggled onto her back and held the teasing hand still.
Ari smiled at her with bright eyes. "You nearly made me come," she said. "Just like that. You're very naughty."
Shirley moved to the other breast and teased that nipple into erection. Ari's eyes were frowning, half closed, and she was whimpering. I am giving her that, thought Shirley, and it's good. She wanted to give more and lowered her head to take the near nipple into her mouth. Suckling and teasing, she played with her breasts. Ari's scent surrounded her, Ari's soft body enveloped her, and Ari's sighing and panting rewarded her. This was magic, and Shirley felt proud.
Ari pushed her head away. "Wait, it's too much." She worked her way up onto one elbow and pushed Shirley to lie on her back. "I could see you were sexy, but I had no idea how clever you were. You must have done this before. No? Then it's just natural talent. I loved it." She unhooked the buttons of Shirley's plain flannel pyjamas.
"It's your turn now." She spread the shirt open. Shirley felt shy and wished her breasts were as big and round as Ari's, but she did not stop her. Finger tips brushed her breasts, circling and tantalised until they reached the hungry points. Her nipples stood proud, hard, and ready, and grew bigger under Ari's nips and scratches. This felt good. And she could see that Ari knew what was happening. She understood the flowering she was causing in Shirley's belly and did not stop.
She threw a leg over Shirley and knelt astride her hips. Now she could play with both nipples at once. Perched above her, Ari looked beautiful. She watched Shirley's face as she twisted and teased. Her hair fell loose. Shirley reached up and drew it forward over one of her shoulders, straight, black, and heavy. She tugged at the ribbon and let it fall down one side of her face and onto her breast. She ran her fingers through its richness. "So beautiful," she whispered and, reaching round Ari's shoulders, pulled her down to kiss.
Kissing a girl felt different, softer and smoother. Ari was hungry and demanding, and very clever. Her hair hung down around Shirley's face as she took her with her kisses, and Shirley was hers.
Coming up for air and sitting back, she lifted Shirley and drew her shirt from her arms. She threw back the covers and roughly pulled her pyjama trousers off. The cold air filled the bed for an instant, and then Ari was back, kneeling over her and drawing the covers over them both again. Ari kissed her and she did not resist when Ari pushed her legs apart and lay in the cradle of her open thighs. She sucked her breasts turn by turn and her tummy pressed against Shirley's pussy. Her wetness grew slippery between them, and Shirley raised her knees and opened wider to hold her lover between her thighs.
Ari slipped down under the bedclothes. Her warm breath and her kisses trailed down over Shirley's tummy and lower still. Her hands held the insides of Shirley's thighs and her kisses touched her hair, nibbling and pulling, and venturing further down the outsides of her lips and along her thighs. Shirley wanted Ari at her centre and forced herself to spread wider, lifting her cup to Ari's lips.
Ari's first tentative brush with the tip of her tongue took Shirley's breath away. She felt herself sucked very slowly into Ari's mouth, everything, all her hot and sensitive places, drawn in and crushed between covered teeth. She was held there, sucked into delicious tension until Ari relaxed and let her slip out equally slowly. And then, drew her in again. Sucking her up and releasing her, slowly, rhythmically and irresistibly.
Shirley lost control and waves of ecstasy rolled over her again and again. She was vaguely conscious of the fingers inside her, of the dancing tongue driving her, and that she held Ari's head between her thighs. She knew that, over it all, the slow, imperative sucking and releasing had taken her life.
When she returned, the sucking had stopped. Ari's fingers were unmoving inside her, and her covered teeth held Shirley's clit clamped tight. She had crushed her lover's head between her thighs and tangled her fingers in Ari's hair, trying to tear her tormenting mouth away. She did not move.
Cautiously, Shirley relaxed her legs, but still Ari did not let her free.
"Please no more," she begged.
Ari chuckled with a full mouth and Shirley jumped as deep vibrations sheared through her. With painful gentleness, the wonderful woman let Shirley slip from her mouth, and her sensitive clit gave up an agonising spasm.
"Aaah, oh Jesus! What did you do to me?"