On a Friday night, nearly two years ago now, I was set to go out to a party with my old roommate, Cynthia. She’d somehow gotten tickets to a private club downtown. She said it would be amazing and that, in her words, it would be “sexy weird.” Cynthia has always been freakier than me but I’d also never been to a private club so I figured why not. Maybe it would broaden my horizons a bit?
Cynthia got to my apartment at 11:30 in a rage.
“Why weren’t you answering your phone, idiot? I thought you’d bailed on me.”
“The ringer’s broken, remember?”
“Don’t you have another one yet? Go get one!”
Cynthia, aside from being gorgeous and the perfect frenemy, is also rich. She’s rich as in old money as in “I have no idea how much money is a lot of money” rich.
“Girl, money. Buy me a phone. Look, I’m ready now, do you just want to go?”
And so we went and she complained about the minor inconvenience of having to come see me instead of calling me for blocks. I was about to start regretting coming out at all when we arrived at the club. It was a towering five level brownstone with a subtle brass nameplate out front that bore the word “Prospero’s.”
“Wow Cynthia, this place looks intimate,” I said. The front door was huge and made from what looked like solid oak. The thing was engraved with ivy and what appeared to be foxes hunting hares. The detail was incredible.
We walked through the front door and there was a second inner door. Cynthia entered a four digit pin on a pad next to the inner door and a red light turned green and a lock clicked open.
Before opening the door she looked back at me and said, “intimate isn’t the word.”
She opened the door and pounding music was playing as loud as any club I’d ever been to. I looked back at the front door and there were carvings there too but they weren’t hares and foxes. The entire interior of the front door was covered in engravings people engaged in sex. That’s as simple as I can put it. Every kind of sex act imaginable seemed to be depicted in those engravings.
“What the hell have I gotten myself into,” I thought.
“You coming,” asked Cynthia, still holding open the second door, strobe lights flashing and breakbeats thumping behind her.
I paused for a minute. This might be over my head. I liked new experiences but thought this might be more than I could handle.
She flashed a smile, “come on, if you don’t like it then we can go but let’s at least check it out.”
“The door,” I said, and pointed to the door.
“Yeah, outrageous, right? C’mon!”
And in I went, the interior door thudding closed behind me. Inside, the brownstone was set up about how you’d think a brownstone would be with a central hallway leading to an open room with several other rooms set off to the side. There was a stairwell leading up. Glancing up the steps, I could see a central staircase wound up all five stories. The place was full of people. Some were talking by the bar. Some were wearing masks. Others looked like they’d come straight from work.
The main thing I noticed, though, was a table in a room off to the left we passed as we walked past the bar. On it, lay a woman wearing a leather skin tight outfit. She was spread eagled and the crotch of the bottom part appeared to be cut out. A man had his face buried between his legs absolutely enthusiastically going down on her. Behind them was a line of five other men. Her hands yanked at his hair forcing his face into her crotch over and over until finally, she appeared to have an incredibly hard orgasm. Her body relaxed and after her breathing slowed she took one booted foot and pushed the man off of her.
“I’m done with you,” she said and wagged a finger to the next man in line.
The man took off his tie and got down on all fours. She smacked him in the face repeatedly.
“Do good you little worm,” she said before pulling the man’s face into her crotch.
I looked over at Cynthia who was watching with me. She had the dirtiest smile on her face.
“Holy shit,” was all I could get out.
“Right,” she said.
“Um, I wasn’t expecting this,” I said, not sure whether I wanted to stay or go.
“You were expecting what, tons of guys gangbanging women? Why would I want to go to a place like that?”
“I don’t know, something tamer? Have you been here before?”
“A few times,” answered Cynthia, chuckling. It had clearly been more than a few times.
“C’mon prude, let’s get a drink.”
We walked over to the bar which was incredible. On the wall behind the bar was an enormous tilted mirror which allowed people drinking to still keep track of what was going on in the room behind them and wooden columns rose from the floor to the ceiling. The bar itself was timeless and immaculate, the top thick and heavy. You could probably park a car on top of it and it wouldn’t have budged.
Cynthia parked herself on a barstool and patted the seat of the one next to her saying, “have a seat, doll.”
I complied and before I knew it she’d ordered me a Stoli-O and ice and was taking a cigarette out of a silver case I’d never seen her use before.
“So, I guess you have some questions,” she asked, half rolling her eyes.
I downed half my Stoli and sputtered, “yes, obviously! What is this place?”
“What it is, is a revelation,” she replied. “It’s a sex club by women and for women. No man gets off in this place and if he does he’s thrown out. This is a place for women to feel the pleasure they deserve and that most of us have pretty much been denied since we first lost our v-card. Here, the guys do what they’re supposed to do instead of what they want to do. It makes everything wonderful.”
“But what about those guys standing at the bar? They look like Wall Street guys to me.”
“They’re here to do whatever they’re told. Believe it or not, tons of guys that look like that, like they’re powerful and in charge are actually just dying to be told what to do and how to do it and sent on their way.”
“So this is like a dom place?”
“Oh, it’s more than that. We’re not playing some role here. We’re not providing some service for guys to finally feel out of control and let go. We’re here for ourselves.”
“Okay, that’s wild but Cynthia have you actually joined in before?”
“Oh, hell yes, I’ve been here at least two dozen times in the last six months. Whenever I have an itch that needs scratched and I’m telling you, it’s exactly what you need.”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing and I mean that in a good and a bad way. The thought of strange men going down on me, my nails clawing through their hair, them doing exactly as I told them and then just tossing them aside had my heart racing. It was intensely wrong and dehumanizing and that’s exactly what was so exciting about it.
“Okay, whether you think I need this or not, how did you find out about this place? How did you get in?”
“It’s a private club. My mom is a member.”
Cynthia chuckled as she exhaled from her cigarette, “yeah, my mom. She’s a founding member, actually. I’m not even joking.”
“But, your dad…”
“He’s been totally checked out for years. Out of town most of the time. Tons of affairs. All my mom’s friend’s lives are like that. It’s sad, really, but at least they took all that frustration and made it into something positive.”
“…Your mom made a sex club because your dad was cheating on her?”
“Well, when you put it like that it sounds silly. I prefer to think of it as her taking her life into her own hands. My dad’s money pays for all of this. He just signs the checks because he knows a divorce would be about 200 million dollars more expensive.”
And then a large, handsome besuited man came over to the two of us and whispered in Cynthia’s ear. She smiled and put out the rest of her cigarette.
“My turn,” she said. “Wait here for me or walk around. I’ll be back when I’m back.”
And, with that, she got up and walked upstairs. Inside the room downstairs, the woman lying on the table was building toward another orgasm. I ordered another Stoli O with ice.
Cynthia didn’t come back downstairs for nearly an hour and a half and when she did she’d clearly showered. She looked even more radiant than usual. I was drunk by that time and the place cleared out with only the bartender and a couple of men at the end of the bar still around.
“Wait, you just sat here and drank the whole time,” Cynthia asked, clearly annoyed with me. She tamped a cigarette on the back of its silver case and shook her head. “What is up with you?”
Grabbing my by my arm she muttered that we needed to leave. I staggered behind her out the building’s two front doors and out onto the sidewalk. Cynthia walked to the curb and hailed a cab. A black car stopped almost immediately and she got in.
“I’m coming,” I answered, chuckling once I thought about all I’d just witnessed.
“Oh you think that’s funny,” Cynthia smiled. “Okay, it’s a stupid kind of funny.”
Sliding into the backseat next to her she was relentless in her criticism.
“Look, you need to do this. Every time the latest shitty guy in your life fucks you over you just mope and mope and talk about true love and shit like that. Maybe it’s time for you to face facts. True love isn’t around the corner. You might never find true love, whatever that really means outside of a book anyway. You keep reading these articles about finding your ‘forever person’ but you haven’t found him! What you have found is pain and plenty of it. What you need is to think about you, your pleasure, what you want, what you need.”
“Cynthia, I don’t know that a gang bang is what I need,” I told her, my voice dripping with sarcasm.
“You’re not getting gang banged, idiot. You’re taking control of your own life. Everything I did in there and have done before is because I wanted. Those men do what I say. I’m literally the opposite of you. I do what I want when I want. You wait for someone to come along and tell you what to want and when. You wait when they say wait and you go when they say go. It’s like this all the time. I don’t know how you don’t see it. Everyone else does.“
That was it. I’d had it. I screamed at the driver, “pull over now!”
He screeched to a halt and pulled over to the curb.
“Fuck you, Cynthia, you don’t get to talk to me like that!” Tears were streaming down my face. Cynthia looked genuinely concerned.
“I’m just trying to be real with you, shake you out of…”
“Fuck you,” I screamed and slammed the door.
I walked home alternating between crying hysterically and checking my phone for literally any human interaction to take my mind off the things Cynthia had said to me. Was she right? Was she right about me? I’d dated. I’d tried my best to make relationships work with men I loved and that I thought loved me and I’d been burned every time. I’d dated my last boyfriend for a year. He’d talked about marriage. He’d talked about it, not me. He’d brought it up. Is this how it was going to be for my whole life? Was I just going to lurch from guy to guy getting rejected while bitches like Cynthia did whatever they wanted and raved about it?
Is this how it was going to be for my whole life? Was I just going to lurch from guy to guy getting rejected while bitches like Cynthia did whatever they wanted and raved about it?
After a half hour of stomping along the sidewalk looking like a crazy person I got to my apartment and promptly fell onto the bed angry at the world, at myself, drunk. Within seconds I’d fallen asleep.
The next morning I woke up with the sun shining on my face and a half dozen texts from Cynthia asking if I was okay and apologizing for going off on me. I didn’t answer them.
Sleep hadn’t blunted any of what she’d said to me the night before and my head was pounding from about three too many drinks. I opened my email. A part of me was determined to prove Cynthia wrong, that my relationships weren’t all one sided, that they were complicated and something she just couldn’t understand. The last emails from my ex-boyfriends were typically angry and distant. That meant nothing. That’s how all relationships end, badly. As I got into them though I noticed that a lot of the emails were distant. They weren’t just rushed either. Reading them with a new eye it became clearer and clearer to me that I was always pursuing them, always pushing them to communicate more, always telling them I loved them.
My last ex, Brian was especially obvious in how little interest he had in me. It had been nearly a year since we’d broken up but the wounds were somehow still fresh. I suppose that getting stabbed in the heart repeatedly will compound the hurt but I had really cared about Brian and he’d been beautiful when we’d first met. I’d thought he was everything I’d ever want. He was delicate and kind but within just a few months he’d become cruel, impatient. He laughed at me when I made mistakes, told me I was asking too much and being unreasonable when I wanted to see him more than twice a week and we had dated for nearly a year all told.
I hadn’t asked too much. I hadn’t asked enough.
Why hadn’t I seen this before? Was I just so hung up on trying to find love that I was willing to pretend something was there when it was really just me making up a love story all by myself? Jesus, was this all my fault? Had I just been deluding myself for years?
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes ago but this time I didn’t allow myself to cry. I wasn’t going to fall apart again like I had last night. No more crying over those who don’t deserve my tears or my time. No more waiting for the attention I wanted.
I picked up my phone and called Cynthia. She answered on the first ring.
“You were right,” I said. “You were right about me.”
From that moment on, my life was changed. The timid girl that I’d been was soon swept away as I threw myself into self-focused hedonism unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I visited Prospero’s often, sometimes four times a week you would find me there. My personal life which had previously consisted of waiting around and hoping someone would call me or texting whatever romantically lazy guy I was dating at the time and trying to convince them to spend time with me took off. There was just something about me now and that something was ownership of my life.
At other clubs, men approached me that I would have been too shy to speak to and if I didn’t like what they brought then I dismissed them. I was getting what I’d never had elsewhere. I could afford to be picky and, even better, I stopped caring what anyone thought of me. My life was my own. Men came and went in my private life and if I didn’t want to keep them around then I got rid of them. Many times I just preferred the company of the other women in my life and worked out my sexual needs at the club. Intimacy was overrated. After all, what had intimacy ever gotten me?
Six months later, I had a new job at a PR firm making five times my previous crappy salary courtesy of an introduction by Cynthia. No man worked over me. My life had truly never been better.
And then, one cold evening, while walking home from work, I received a text message from Brian, my ex.
“Look, I have a lot of apologies to make and truly don’t expect anything in return but would appreciate the chance to make them if you’re feeling generous.”
This was followed by…
“I treated you terribly. I was terrible to you. I took advantage of how nice you were to me instead of appreciating it. I’d like to say these things in person if possible. If not, then I understand.”
Even in the cold, I could feel my face grow hot, my palms begin to sweat. I stood, stunned, on the sidewalk, a cold breeze blowing my hair across my eyes, the after work crowd swarming past me.
“Do I text him back, Cynthia?”
It was hard to believe. I had really thought that all emotional connection to Brian or anyone else who’d fucked me over previously had gone away. I’d thought there was a new me that wouldn’t have even considered such a question and while I knew that a big part of me didn’t want to speak to Brian at all I had to admit there was also a big part of me that did.
“Fuck no, why would you even want to do that? I swear, I thought you’d really finally come into your own, that you’d really found yourself. Do you actually want to get back with him?”
I thought about it, really thought about it, and asked myself the question and listened for an answer. While I definitely still felt something for him it wasn’t romantic love. It was more how you just want to rewrite an ending that didn’t go the way it should have.
“No, actually, I don’t,” I answered, and I knew what I said was true. “I don’t want to.”
“Well, it sure seems like you need resolution to me. I tell you what, if you’re free Saturday, come by Prospero’s. I’ll cook up something special.”
“Fine,” I answered. I’d planned on going to Prospero’s Saturday anyway and while I did know where I stood in regards to Brian I still felt like I could stand a drink.
In two days, Saturday rolled around and I made my way to Prospero’s past the door engraved with foxes and hares, past the keypad locked door that I’d entered at least forty times by then. Inside was what appeared to be the usual scene. A woman approached me wearing a thick leather bodysuit. She wore a mask that resembled a fox’s head and took me by the arm.
“Upstairs,” she said.
It was definitely Cynthia, even with the mask muffling her voice I could tell. I laughed, I couldn’t help it.
“What the hell is up with that costume?”
“Upstairs, I’ve got something for you. You’re at a turning point.”
“A what…,” and she jerked my arm, pulling me toward the stairs.
“I told you,” she said. “Something special,” she said, and with that, I followed her up the stairs. I had never been beyond the second level and there were five altogether.
As we approached the third floor I expected it to be yet another series of private rooms like there was on the second floor but it appeared to be entirely empty and, frankly, dilapidated. Dust covered everything and the only clear part of the floor was the area around the stairs leading up to the fourth floor.
The fourth floor was barred by another door with the same symbols on it as the front door downstairs and a keypad. Cynthia entered a code and the door clicked unlocked. I was getting a bit nervous now. I’d always thought the top floors were just more of the same and had never been curious enough to ask. The fourth floor was opulent, bright, and modern, decorated with white leather and animal skins accented by candlelight and a variety of potted trees and plants. There were no flowers, however, which seemed odd in a room full of living and once living things. Here, Cynthia stopped.
“Alright, I want you to take a deep breath,” she said. “Understand that you’re ready for this and you need this. You trusted me before and your life got so much better and I was so proud of you. Will you trust me now?”
I paused a moment. This was intense as fuck. I’d never heard Cynthia be this, well, sincere. There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
“I mean, yeah Cynthia, I do.”
She wasn’t convinced.
“I mean it,” she said and here she squeezed both of my hands in hers. “You have to be sure.”
I could see her eyes through the slits in the mask. They were pleading with me.
“Yes, fine, of course, I do,” I replied.
Still holding one of my hands she took me up the final flight of stairs which lead to another door also adorned with the typical foxes and hares. She again entered a code, ten digits this time, on a keypad and the door clicked open.
Inside, the room was dimly lit by candles and a gently flickering fireplace. I turned as Cynthia swung the door closed and expected to see engravings of sex like the front door on the bottom floor. Instead, I was greeted by images of death.
“You’re here. Good.”
The voice came from across the room and near the fireplace. There was a passageway there and a woman emerged from it wearing the mask of a fox. She was wearing a leather bodysuit identical to Cynthia’s.
“It’s good to see you again. It’s been a long time.”
It was Cynthia’s mother, Sharon. I had never seen her at Prospero’s before. She motioned for Cynthia and I to come into the center of the room and we complied. I had, frankly, expected an orgy, not Cynthia’s mother in a mask in a dimly lit room. I was beyond uncomfortable.
“This has been a long time coming for you,” Sharon said. “But still, this is earlier than most inductees make it to the fifth floor. Some never make it and others are never invited.
“Inductees,” I asked.
“Yes, inductees. See, the first four floors of this club, this establishment, are called Prospero’s but this floor is different. It’s called Morte Hominis by those allowed in and it isn’t a club. It’s a place that myself and other members have made into a kind of meeting place, a place where decisions and plans are made.”
“Where are the other members,” I asked.
“Oh, you won’t meet them until after you’ve made them comfortable that you can be trusted.” Here she threw two more logs on the fire. The flames jumped at the addition of the dry logs and the flame grew bright and hot. “You seem to have really changed into quite a woman,” she said to me. “Cynthia says you’ve become incredibly independent. She says you’re comfortable in that but that some things might still be conspiring to hurt you.”
Here she motioned towards a dark room behind her which I couldn’t see into. Two large men in masks brought out another smaller man. His wrists were tied and a hood was over his head. He was struggling and yelling in a kind of muffled panic.
“You see, you have to kill the lessons you’ve been taught that hurt you and sometimes, sometimes that involves actually killing other things that hurt you as well.”
She pulled off the hood and before I even saw his face I knew who it was. Brian swung his head around, wild eyed. We locked eyes. He was panicked nearly beyond reason and moaned loudly through a gag. One of the men produced a mask of a hare and placed it on his face.
“Here in Morte Hominis, men serve and if their will to dominate others does not die then they die.” She paused, “I need you to kill Brian.”
“You need to do this,” said Cynthia, half pleading. “You need to sever this connection.”
Brian’s muffled screams emanated from behind the hare’s mask.
“Oh, shut him up,” Sharon barked. One of the two men struck Brian on the temple. His head hung as the men held him, stunned.
“I can’t kill him! I’m over him completely! This isn’t necessary!”
Sharon wasn’t having it. She shook her head.
“We have given you the opportunity to achieve everything. You have realized the best things about yourself because you trusted Cynthia, you trusted us. Look at him! He’s pathetic. He’s nothing, a worm! He hurt you before and then he crawled back into your life to try and absolve his own guilty conscience. He doesn’t want your forgiveness, he just wants to not feel guilty anymore. He’s a monster, a liar…and besides, if you don’t kill him we’ll kill both of you.”
For the first time in this place over all the months I had been there, I felt afraid.
“You’ll kill me if I don’t kill him?”
“No,” Sharon said. “We’ll kill both of you. Believe me, I wouldn’t prefer that.” She stepped directly in front of me and took me by the shoulders. “Please believe me that I don’t want that but Cynthia said she could feel you slipping back into the person you were, that this man was taking away everything that you’d become, and insisted that we move things along more quickly. Understand that this is a privilege even though it seems horrible right now. Do this one thing and your life will only continue to get better. In a week you won’t even think about it. But, also, believe me, you can’t escape from here. You’ll do this or you’ll die.”
I looked around the room. The door we’d come through had a key code pad on the inside as well as the outside and all the windows on the fourth floor appeared to have been filled in with brick. The two men holding Brian eyed me as if they were waiting on Sharon’s order to attack. Brian stirred and looked up at me. He moaned in pain and a drop of blood dripped from his temple.
“What do I do it with,” I asked.
“This,” said Sharon and pulled a large knife from a sheath behind her back. “Cut his throat with it.”
Sharon held the hilt of the knife out toward me and Cynthia put her hand on my shoulder.
“It’s better this way,” she whispered. “Don’t let him steal who you are.”
I took the knife. In a sense, Cynthia was right. Brian had nearly stolen myself from me just by reaching out. He’d unsteadied me and made me doubt my own importance, made me doubt who I’d become, a person I’d never known I needed to be. But I’d overcome. I was over Brian. I didn’t need his apologies or approval. I didn’t even need to forgive him.
Taking a step towards Brian I put the tip of the knife up against his throat. He began to struggle and try to get away. One of the men beat him mercilessly until he went slack again. He looked up at me through the hare’s mask, his eyes full of fear, full of fear…and rage. I was close enough to the two men that I could probably stab them both before they knew what was happening. Their attention was fully on Brian in case he tried again to break free. It wouldn’t be that hard to stab both men. Sharon was an old woman and I was stronger than Cynthia. It was possible that with this knife I could kill them all and force Cynthia to let me go.
I paused for what seemed like minutes. No one spoke. Brian moaned. I could tell he was saying “please” and “sorry.” I could get us both out of here. I believed I could do it.
With a flick of my wrist I moved the knife through his throat. Blood poured from the wound and onto the floor. He gurgled and stared, astonished. His eyes rolled back and he shook and gasped. The two men let him drop. He died in seconds. I wasn’t shaking. I wasn’t upset. I was calm. Sharon approached me with the mask of a fox and placed on my face.
“Morte hominis,” she said.
“Morte hominis,” I replied.
Six weeks later I received a promotion and a corner office. The view is spectacular.