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Stranger in a Strange Land

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            People with M’s kind of power and wealth simply weren’t interested in someone without a trace of it. David understood this, as he continued to wait, thirty minutes after he'd been led into the library by the butler. He passed time reading the titles of the books in the expensive glass bookcases. The wait wasn’t personal. David had expected his presence to be merely tolerated.

            It was an interesting moment when the master of the house finally arrived. David didn't hear him come in, his eyes still focused on books with German and French titles in one cabinet. He turned when he heard the door click shut. The man was taller than he was, thin, but well built. He was good looking with an exotic aura about him, a groomed look that commanded attention and something else. Something...lethal, even though he wore a pleasant smile. It was a look David had seen before. It wasn't until the man approached him and offered his hand which David took, that it came to him what it was, although he hadn’t a word for it then.

            “The person you are looking for, does not live here,” the man said, and gestured for David to sit in the armchair by the window. “Please call me M.”

            David took his seat and M sat down in the chair next to him, angled slightly so they could face each other. There was a miniature chess board set on a small antique table between them.

            “M,” David said. “You don’t have a surname?”

            “Is it necessary for you to have more information about me, as you are in my house, asking questions meant for someone else?”

            David tapped his fingers on the small stack of manila folders in his lap, carefully assessing the cards he wanted to play. The meeting wasn’t that important. This place was only one of many on a list for him to check off. If M had wanted to, he could have left then and told one of his many servants to escort him out.

            “No,” David said finally. He decided not even to ask why the listed owner of the mansion wasn’t on the premises. It wasn’t an essential detail, but he couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed by M’s air of arrogance. “I'm sure you must be very busy. It was probably very far for you to walk from one end of this house to the other to see me.”

            A corner of M’s mouth moved ever so slightly. “Yes,” he finally said. “It was a long walk.” He leaned over one arm of his chair. “How may I help you, Detective Krause?”

            For the first ten or fifteen minutes, David found himself annoyed by the dismissive, terse replies to the questions he asked. M was a rich man who was probably used to having lawyers and servants speak for him. Then M asked that they should adjourn to a different room.

            “I hadn’t expected this meeting to last more than a few minutes,” he said, standing up from his chair and straightening his sleeves. It appeared the mannerism was something he did instinctively - adjusting his clothing and brushing the gathered wrinkles at his elbows and lap. “We should continue this conversation where it’s a little more pleasant.”

            “Your library is nice,” David said, but he got up anyway. “It smells like a Barnes and Noble.”

            A curious look came over M, as if he weren’t certain whether David was being sincere or sarcastic; then it appeared as though he didn’t care as he led David out of the room.


            “He visited many BDSM clubs,” David said, sliding out the post mortem pictures and selecting the least offensive ones to lay on the table first. “His secretary gave us a list of the ones he frequented. This address was one of them.”

            M looked at the photos with disinterest, and that alone fascinated David. He had expected the shock that usually came with seeing death, either when viewed in person or when it was carefully documented in detail. Death was a part of life, as the tired saying went, but it still usually pulled a visceral reaction from people when it was laid out like some kind of grim holiday brochure. Or it should have. M’s stone-like mask remained in place, even as David fanned out more color pictures over the table top. The man merely picked up a freshly refilled cup of coffee and drank it as he studied the photos of the plump, middle-aged man trussed in leather gear – his limp, nude body crumpled in a corner of a basement dungeon in a rough S&M club. The senator had been asphyxiated and had been dead for a few hours before the police got to the scene. A leather collar was cinched around his neck so tightly that the man’s face had blackened, his tongue lolling out from the corner of his mouth, his eyes bulging under his closed lids.

            “Obviously this did not happen here,” M said finally. “And so your questions are about what, exactly?”

            “I’ll be very honest with you,” David said, gathering the photos and slipping them back into their envelope. “Politics.”

            M raised a single eyebrow, which was the most expression he'd shown David so far, and a departure from the pleasant but empty smile he had worn since they met.

            “I already know that the death was accidental. The man couldn’t wait for his mistress who was stuck at a hair appointment, and so he started without her. The fail-safe mechanism caught on a single screw that had come loose. It’s not substantially different from autoerotic asphyxiations I’ve seen.”

            “And so speaking to me will confirm what?”

            “Confirm that some people’s deaths are more important than others,” David said. “The senator’s family and the department are tasking me to find any reason at all to believe this man might have been murdered. Seeing as how he was found in a not-so-flattering position, being murdered would be a little bit more noble than if he simply killed himself accidentally as he was getting off.”

            M’s smile grew, and this time he laughed. David took the last sip from his coffee cup, draining it.

            “Are you surprised that this house could be a place like that?” M asked him, nodding at the manila folder.

            “I am, and then again I am not,” David said. “I admit I’m pedestrian enough to assume that there should be greater physical pleasures someone could buy with this kind of money, but then again, doing the job I've done for all of my adult life so far, some people’s choices no longer shock me. I’ve seen worse and I'm sure I'll continue to do so.”

            “Would you like to see it?”

            “Your dungeon?” David asked, and then chuckled at the ridiculous way it sounded. “Unless there's something illegal there that you’d like to show me, no thank you. I have a lot more people to annoy today.”

            He pushed his chair back and stood. M did as well. He took David’s outstretched hand and shook it.

            “Thank you for your time,” David said. “I really am not the sarcastic, bitter man who killed time reading book spines in your library as I waited for you to show up, when I say that.”

            “You have an interesting sense of humor,” M remarked.

            “Frequently a very misunderstood sense of humor,” David said. “None of my superiors gets it. I’m glad you do.” He pulled a card case from his jacket pocket, retrieved a card and left it on the table. “Not that you'll need it. Protocol to leave a bread crumb behind me with every person I speak to. Call me if you think of anything pertinent later.” With that he let himself out of the room and didn’t look back, although he had the sense that M was watching him as he left.


            As David stood on the front steps of the mansion waiting for his car to be brought around by a valet, he realized that he and M had circled each other like two predators for the two hours, eyeing and observing each other with cautious curiosity. In all his years as a cop, David had gotten used to people taking a step back when he came into a room. He was used to that level of control and having that kind of effect. He hadn’t met anyone who was able to captivate him with what felt like a bigger than life presence, someone who simply wasn’t the least bit intimidated by him.

            After he slipped into the driver’s seat, he turned off his radio and drove back to the city with that on his mind, then forgot about M until a courier left him a message a month later. It was a dinner invitation back to the Long Island estate. It was as if David had been an unresolved afterthought for M, as well.


            In the months that followed the initial invitation, there had been only private, casual dinners in the small, modest dining room tucked away in the back of the mansion. It was the same room where they had drunk coffee while looking over the grotesque photos of a senator’s death. They spoke sometimes about updates in the case, although David knew M didn’t care; it was simply a topic that both of them shared. David liked M, although they usually spoke a lot of nothing. That is, until David finally broached the subject, “What do you really do here?”

            The question excited M, David could see, the way he sat up a little straighter and leaned forward. “Would you like to see it?”

            It was the same question M had asked him months before, the one David had casually declined. This time, he told M he would.


            M led David to the part of the mansion that was closed except on two weekends a month. This was the first time he had walked through those quiet rooms. Some were plain, almost empty, except for a couple of chairs and a coiled whip hung on a single hook. There were rooms that had cuffs and chains hanging off expensively made crosses. In spite of the point of the rooms, they felt elegant, clean. Even the pale carpet was spotless and looked new.

            “I wouldn’t have guessed,” David said, walking up to an X-cross and tapping a cuff that hung off it so it swung like a pendulum. “It’s almost like an art exhibit. Sedate and sterile.”

            “A room like this forces focus,” M said. “One thing, one person.”

            David nodded.

            “Then there is something else,” M continued, gesturing for David to follow.

            They were quiet as they continued down the hall. The light carpeting ended and wood flooring began. The sound of their heels was loud. Recessed lighting flickered on two panels ahead of them; motion detectors, David thought to himself. The bright wash of light that came from the LEDs was unkind; it hid nothing, swallowing even their shadows as they passed.

            The door they came to at the end was unlike any other in the hall; it was solid, dark oak with a polished silver handle, and unlike the other doors, it didn't seem to have a keyhole.

            “I would have thought this would be the one place you would have locked up,” David said, as M opened it for him to step through.

            “People who come to this side of the mansion comprehend the house rules,” M said. “I don’t need to lock it.”

            He followed David as they descended stone steps. Some were uneven – left the way they had been when they originally were cast in cement. The chill of the underground seeped through David's shirt the further down he went. The tips of his fingers were a little numb by the time he reached the bottom of the stairs that spiraled down at least two floors.

            When the light clicked on, David took in a breath and held it. Drab stone walls and freezing cold, a damp feel to the air - it wasn’t quite the dungeon that he had walked through when the senator’s body had been found. That S&M club was exactly what it sold – sexual deviancy and leather and fetish, rooms with various trusses and devices made for sex. The dungeon he stood in now in the deep recesses of this mansion, was different.

            The misery it was capable of was instant and tangible; he could feel it as soon as he entered. The smell of it. The sight of it. There were a few contraptions that he couldn’t tell what they were or what they were for, until he had stared at them for a while and circled them. Lights came on over a few. He could tell the dungeon was big, although most of it remained unlit.

            He slid his finger along the top of a wooden horse, the first thing he walked up to. The pale planks of wood it was made from were beautifully finished. Leather cuffs hung from both sides, and from below. Where the planks met and formed the apex of the triangle, the edge was blunt, but it felt like he had just run the tips of his fingers along a dull knife.

            “Get all this from a “Medieval Torture Depo” catalog?” David asked. His voice echoed as he spoke. “People allow themselves to suffer at someone else’s hands like this?”

            “They beg for it like it is the most important thing in their lives.”

            David glanced over at M. He was standing on the last step of the stairs, watching.

            “Has anyone died down here?” David asked.

            A laugh answered him. “Depends on if what you are asking is a form of legal entrapment.”


            Something else caught David’s eye. A long cage in the corner was inserted into a tub. It took him a little time to realize the captive in the cage was meant to lie prone with no space for him to turn on his side. A plug in the drain in the bottom trapped water let in from faucets on the sides. The top of the cage was almost flush with the rim of the tub where the water would top off - to be used to simulate a drowning. David touched the cage curiously. An unusual sense of realization came to him then, that he wasn’t repulsed by this, or the other dozens of pieces of equipment in that room that were built to hurt, to inflict the kind of pain that was severe and permanent. He was utterly fascinated by all of it – much the way he was fascinated by M.

            “All of this is meaningless unless you experience it,” M said. “Just looking at these things like pieces in a museum tells you nothing. In two days, come and watch. Take no part in it. Just watch and take in the sounds and the smells.”

            “Maybe,” was all David said to M’s invitation, when he finally turned away. He started up the stairs, passing M, feeling a curious anxiety. It wasn’t something he had felt before, but he knew if he stayed longer in that dungeon – regardless of his fascination, he might be sick.


            The weekend came, and once again M's mansion did not appear as he had expected. He was still recalling the dungeon and how the rooms smelled of leather and rust -- or it might have been blood, the way the air smelled metallic. When he drove up and left his car with the valet, he could see the usually empty side of the mansion's parking lot filled with expensive sedans and sports cars. It looked more of a cocktail social than what he thought he had come for that night.

            M was waiting for him, smoking a cigarette outside by the main door. He was no longer in a suit or an expensive designer sweater, the only things David had seen him wear. Instead, he wore a fitted black silk shirt tucked into leather pants, and heavy boots. He looked his part.

            “Didn’t realize there was a dress code,” David said. He had come straight from work, wearing a white dress shirt that was a little rumpled, and dark blue slacks a bit wrinkled. He hadn’t planned on staying. “My leather pants are still at the cleaners.”

            M only gave him a nod in greeting.

            “Can’t stay for long,” David said. “In the middle of a triple homicide that's about to go before the Grand Jury on Monday. Have to be back at the office by early tomorrow morning.”

            It was half true. He had a case that was headed to court on Monday, but he'd already finished his paperwork. Somehow, he felt compelled to have an out. Being there made him uncomfortable, although he wasn’t certain what it was that bothered him. He just knew he didn’t want to stay. Standing on the stone steps of a mansion that was hosting a BDSM party for the rich, David felt his most fundamental moral compass being challenged; he felt he shouldn’t be there and that he shouldn’t even have this curiosity - but he did. He told himself that once he'd experienced a few hours of whatever this entailed, his inquisitiveness would be gone, and having been introduced to BDSM would just be an unsettling memory.

            “You don’t need to stay long,” M said, throwing the half-smoked cigarette on the ground and rubbing it out with the toe of his boot. “You don’t need to sample a banquet to know when you're hungry.”

            David shrugged, and followed him through the front door.


             The day was still long, and although they had been served dinner – swordfish with greens on the side - there was still plenty of daylight outside. David found himself staring at the garden with more focus than at his food.

            “The dinner is not to your liking?” M asked, breaking the minutes of silence that had begun after the butler had served their dinner and left.

            “No,” David said, looking back at M. “It’s not that....”

            “Work?” M asked, cutting off a piece of his swordfish steak and eating it.

            David was at a loss for words for a few moments, as if he were trying to decide how to answer. Ten days had gone by since he'd visited that night. As he had said he would, he'd left after an hour and half. He'd cancelled one dinner the week after, using work as an excuse. He hadn't wanted to explain that he needed more time to think.

            “I want to do it,” he finally said, deciding not to argue further with himself. “Or rather, I want to try.”

            The room was quiet, except for the occasional chirping of birds from the garden coming through an open window. The sound was in odd contrast to the tension that filled the small room after David said those words. M placed his silverware on the side of his plate. “Why?” he asked.

            “Must there be a reason?” David asked, cracking a small smile. “You’ve been subtly introducing me to it. I might be very new to the scene, but I can read you.”

            M only smiled at this reply.

            “You've worked very hard to nudge me into this...,” David continued. “You’ve been inviting me into your circle and personal space, like you are now, to convince me that it's safe, that I should want to be here. I don’t think you're interested in having a lowly detective as your friend. I can’t even fix your traffic tickets.”

            “Do you want to be here?” M asked.

            “You know,” David said, straightening. “You just want me to say it.”

            “Yes,” M said. “Do you?”

            “I do, and I don’t,” David answered. “I am powerfully attracted to what I shouldn’t want, but I constantly feel I need it. And so...if I get a taste of it, perhaps then....”

            “That tired cliché? Once a dog has a taste of human flesh, you have to keep feeding it to him or you’ll have to destroy him.”

            “Do you think my will is weak?”

            Although it was phrased as a question, it wasn’t. M's smile remained. “How about if we test your conviction first?”

            The way the offer was made, David knew deep down that M was asking for more than he was probably willing to give, but he stayed quiet, waiting for what would come next.

            “To be a good Dom, you have to experience the pain of the sub,” M said. “Are you willing?”

            The invitation didn't sound nearly as frightening as it was, David thought. Maybe it was the way M said it, in his calm, soothing voice. He blurted out the first thought that came to mind anyway, although he didn’t mean it.

            “What if I just want to be a Dom,” he said with a smile. “I don’t have to be a good one.”

            It made M laugh. David took a sip of white wine and waited for M to answer. He hadn’t realized that his fingers were trembling until he saw his glass shake in his hand. He set it back down on the table.

            “You would be spectacular,” M said, “as both a Dominant and a Submissive. My instincts are never wrong. I would never make a proposal if I didn’t think you were worth my time.”

            “So you want to play with me,” David said, summarizing.

            “'Play' is such a shallow word,” M said. “I am asking you to trust me to give you an experience that can show you what you really are, and what you really want. No social restraints. No pretense of what you're supposed to be, just what you already are.”

            David ran the words through his mind, over and over again. Each time they cycled through, the more attractive the proposal became.

            “Were you tested as a submissive before you become a Dominant, yourself?” he asked.

            It was a trite question. David knew what the answer would be and the fact that M wouldn’t answer it.

            “This isn’t about me,” M replied.

            David let a few moments pass. He picked up his wine glass again, and this time drained it before replacing it next to his plate. “As long as you don’t hurt my pretty face,” he said finally. “I have a meeting with the lead prosecutor on Monday.”

            “I wouldn't think of it.”


            “I think I’ve left enough marks,” M said, running a hand over David’s thighs. The touch was gentle, barely skimming his skin. “The pain is probably dull to you by now.”

            Thirty-four lashes striped the back of David’s thighs. M had told him to count them out as each one fell. There were no breaks between each stroke. Layers of fire, narrowly placed by the thin bamboo cane, repeated until the sharp pain was increased into what felt like being skinned alive. The instinct to pull away was incredibly strong. Not knowing when the torture would end hurt as much as the physical pain itself. When the whipping stopped, his legs warmed. The heat crept upward until he could feel even the tip of his tongue go numb.

            “You took it very well,” M said, stroking David’s back. “Not even a scream.”

            David wanted to thank M sarcastically for the compliment, but thought better of it and stayed quiet. His face was turned away to face a mirrored wall where he had watched himself being whipped.

            They were in a spare bedroom, one of the few M would allow guests to stay in overnight, with the supposition that M probably brought his lovers there and perhaps also toyed with them in the same way he was toying with David. David didn't think M would ever have allowed anyone into his personal bedroom. Before his whipping, the mirrored walls had been draped shut by two panels of burgundy-colored curtains that matched the rugs and the bed’s duvet. After M had secured padded cuffs around David’s wrists to the padded cuffs around his ankles, leaving his ass up with a small length of spread bar between his ankles to keep them separated, M drew apart the curtain panels and told David to watch himself.

            “You were spared the rest of the strokes simply because you’ve managed to retire my favorite cane,” M said, laying it next to David on the bed. The handle was wrapped with leather, the grip thick. The light-colored bamboo stalk was polished, coated with a light varnish and was longer than an arm. Toward the tip, it thinned. The end had splintered.

            “Sorry,” David blurted out and he wanted to laugh, but he held it back. Perhaps his reaction was from pain. He was drowning in it, and in the awkward position he was cuffed in. Perhaps it was also because he realized that less than an hour ago, he was a cop having a pleasant dinner with a socialite. And now....

            M sat down on the edge of the mattress, blocking David’s line of sight to the mirror. It took a little effort for him to see M’s face. It was then he understood what M was. The kind of power the man had, evidenced through the violence he meted out, was both enthralling and frightening.

            “I suppose what I know about BDSM has been wrong, huh?” David asked. He didn’t hold back the chuckle this time. “Padded cuffs. Safe words. Gentle spankings that just give that pleasant rosiness to the ass.”

            M appeared amused. He brushed the sweat-damp locks from David’s forehead to the side, following with a particularly gentle touch – combing through his hair with just his fingertips.

            “I don’t play games,” M said. “Most people who come here and visit the dungeons in my house may play them...but this isn’t about sexual gratification. This isn’t about a pretense to be someone else for a few hours or a weekend. This is about who I am.”

            M shifted and moved to unlatch David’s wrists from the ankle cuffs. “And now, this is about you learning who you are.”

            “I learned that I really don’t like being hit with a cane.”

            “Yet you took each stroke. Your body tensed, but it still prepared itself for the next one. Why do you think that is?”

            “Maybe I'm a masochist.”

            There was a pause, then a soft laugh. “What you are learning isn’t something you can put into words,” M said, running two fingers along David’s spine and resting his hand on his lower back. “It’s something you already know, but never had the words to describe. Just as, I’ve always known what I am. I see this in you because you are the same."

            David let the words churn through him – somehow, what M was saying made sense and then again it didn’t. He didn’t even know how to ask the questions he had.

            “You are drawn to violence, just as I am. It doesn’t matter if you are the one giving it or receiving it. There’s power in violence that excites you and arouses you in a way nothing else can.”

            “I still can’t say I enjoyed being whipped.”

            “No,” M said. “But there was something more than just the physical pain that was intoxicating when you took the cane almost unflinchingly, wasn’t there?”

            “Maybe it will come to me when I stop hurting.”

            There was a brief moment of silence. M simply stroked David’s back that was glossy with sweat. It was a soothing gesture and it felt right, feeling the gentle strokes in contrast with the angry flares of pain.

            “We’ll do something new,” M said after a while. “It’ll be interesting.”

            He gave David a pat on his bare ass, and stood. David folded his arms and cushioned his forehead against them. M had moved out of view of the mirror and out of the room. Instead, David used the time to study his injuries. Hideous bruises had already purpled, and spots of blood welled up from them. He studied them with a mindless fascination at first, temporarily forgetting the pain. There was a disassociation with what he was staring at and the pain itself.

             He hadn’t any idea how much time had passed until M returned – he could hear the door opening and closing again. He could hear M come up bedside him, leaving a silver tray covered in white linen on the bed next to his still-bound ankles. M gave him another assuring touch on his lower back, then went over to a tall cabinet in the corner. David watched him open it to reveal an ancient phonograph. It was something he hadn’t seen before in his lifetime.  Buttons were pushed, then a vinyl record that was already on the turntable crackled and started to play.


            The music was loud, almost too loud for the room, but it filled the silence, taking away any need to speak from either of them. M returned to the bed and sat down. He took the white linen from the platter, but David couldn’t see more. He did see M pull on a pair of black gloves, then pick up a paring knife.

            He squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered when the first waft of the spicy aroma came to him. It was familiar, but he couldn't place it in that instant. The scent grew heavier and stronger, until he realized what it was. He turned his head toward M – his eyes wide.


            The word could barely be heard through the tempo of the music. M only replied with a smile. His gloved hands were slick with juice seeping from the extended fingers of a ginger root that had been sliced off and skinned.

            “It’ll be exciting, David,” M said. He placed the knife back on the tray, along with the naked ginger, save for the couple of inches of peel left at the root where he had held it by his thumb and forefinger. The strong scent of the spice made David recoil.

            “No need to be scared,” M said. “This will leave no damage if you do as you are told.”

            First, his damp finger touched the tip of David’s cock and it made him wince. Then his body bucked as the leather glove, damp with the raw juice, wrapped around its soft length.

            “This shouldn’t hurt,” M said. “Just a little warm.”

            David cursed under his breath, his hands curling into fists. M pulled at his cock a few more times and released it. His hand moved to David's ass, following the muscles along both flanks before a finger pressed insistently between the crease. David cursed louder and his legs started to tremble as they struggled to close, but the spread bar held them apart.

            “Easy...,” M said, but his words were lost in the heavy tempo of the music.

            M's finger pressed in, and when it circled his puckered hole, David finally screamed. The pain wasn’t as bad as how his raw thighs still felt – but the burn, although it was slight at first – was startling.

            “Relax your body or it will hurt so much more,” M said. His finger pressed through the tight hole, the first bend of it slipping inside. David’s body went rigid. It was altogether a completely different sensation – to be invaded in such a personal way. It was more than just the intimate pain. A mild panic came over him and he thrashed. M seized him by the back of his neck and held him down, pressing him hard against the pillow when he tried to get up.

            “Stay down,” M said. His voice was hard and in a commanding tone that David had never heard before. “If you try to get up again, I will leave this in overnight.”

            It was gradual and it was with difficulty that David did as he was told. He took in deep breaths, trying to ease his rising panic. It was a constant cycle of telling himself he needed to obey, he needed to finish this. He ignored the echoing question as to why he needed to.

            “You may scream, but don’t speak,” M said. He relaxed his grip on David’s neck and finally pulled back. “Focus on just the sensations and what I am doing to you.”

            He allowed David a few more moments to collect himself, and then pressed his finger back in. It wasn’t slow this time. One finger pushed through the rings of muscle and David tensed from the slow, intimate burn of the ginger juice left by the soaked finger of the glove. Before he could get used to it, another finger came in – stretching and painting another coat of heat inside. He didn’t’ scream, as much as he wanted to. Instead, he panted into the small gap between his two folded arms that were cradling his face.

            “You are doing well,” M said. “Relax. If you clench, it’ll just hurt more.”

            The two fingers inside spread his rim open. He was shaking, anticipating the cold heat that was coming, and it came, making him scream although he had braced himself for it.

            The wet root pressed into him steadily, the liquid heat pouring into him – filling him so fully that he felt like he was being lit on fire. His legs were shaking again, straining against the cuffs and the spreader uselessly, but he kept his head down, swallowing all the sounds and words that wanted to come.

            “It’s not pain you are feeling,” M said, sawing the skinned root in and out slowly. “Try to feel what it really is.”

            The burn only became worse, as the sharp spice penetrated deeper and deeper – in spite of the gentle strokes. It was so deep now that David swore he could taste it in his mouth. It was finally seated inside – the heat lessening only slightly, as his body became familiar with it.

            “Keep it in,” M said. “If you can’t do it at will, I’ll strap it in.”

            The heat rose, but then became a steady burn. A sharp spike of pain even more fierce than the fire came when M touched his injured thighs with his damp gloves.

            “Pain is all a state of mind, David,” he said, getting up. While he walked toward the phonograph, he peeled off his gloves. “Not many people can master the effects of it with their minds but....”

            He pulled the needle from the record and placed it back into its cradle. The room was suddenly quiet again, and oddly, even how David experienced the pain was different with the absence of the sound.

            “I believe you can,” M said, turning the machine off and closing the cabinet door. “Actually, I know you can.”

            “Is there a point to this...?” David panted out.

            “Of course there is,” M said with a smile. He sat down in an antique Victorian chair by the window. “For you to understand what pain is, you have to know what it is. For you to be able to understand it in a way that you can see it and feel it – like how you can see and touch this chair. You can’t master anything with just an idea of what you think it is.”

            “And you have....”

            M’s smile only widened. “If you can control what another person feels...pain, pleasure, hate, anger...then you can own that person. Pain is the only sincere switch everyone has. Pleasures can be replaced with another kind of pleasure. Hate and anger can always betray you. Pain...pain is always what it is. Most people bargain with everything they have not to feel it. Some bargain for everything to feel it. Whatever it is, you can change anyone into whomever you want if you use just enough pain – they gladly will exchange their souls for it.”

            M got up, straightened his sleeves and brushed the wrinkles that had gathered in his lap. “And when you come to recognize you have that ability, it will be the most powerful feeling in the world. You will find it, once you decide to give up what you think you are and simply embrace what you are.”

            M walked toward David and gave him a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll come back in an hour, maybe two,” he said. “I would like to think you will comprehend my meaning, after you are alone for a while. You will think about how you feel, what you want, what you are...everything. When I come back, I will ask you if you are willing to take my hand and allow me to be your master.”

            The corners of David’s mouth tightened. He held back the reply that almost came.           

            “Six months,” M said, raking his fingers through David’s hair. “It will take me six months.”

            He bent down, gave David a quick kiss on his temple and left. David watched him leave in the mirror. He waited for a few minutes before allowing himself to lay prone on the bed, sinking into the mattress. His body throbbed and the root inside him steadily burned. The sensations were something he got used to quickly and already he didn't mind it. His thoughts were filled with M’s cryptic words, then he summarized it all.

            I’m a stranger completely lost in this strange land….