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by James Stephenson

1. Curiosity Hurts

Michelle was middle of the road: middle ability academically, mid ability in sports, and middle in terms of behaviour. She was no goody-goody at school by any means. She had been in detention several times during the past three years, had been sent out of classes to stand in the corridor, and was quite proficient at writing lines. She spent many a lunch time picking up litter and had twice been put on report (which meant getting each teacher to confirm her work performance every day for a fortnight on penalty of being sent to the head if she got two bad reports in that time). However, there were those who, while they were perhaps not in trouble so often, nevertheless were regarded as more serious troublemakers, and who had been dealt with more severely.

More severely usually meant being sent to the headmistress and that often meant getting a strapping across the hands. The usual pattern was that the first time you were sent to the head, unless it was something extremely serious, you got a real telling off, recorded as a formal reprimand, and the next time you got the strap. Formal reprimands and strappings were, as an additional deterrent, recorded on end of term reports, but in most cases it was the actual strapping that they feared more than the parents' reaction. It was most effective. The most rebellious and hot-headed young girl would come back from a visit to the head's office very subdued and with her hands clutched under her arms and eyes looking distinctly red. There was also always a marked improvement in their behaviour for some while afterwards. It was also effective in other ways. It was almost entirely the reason why Michelle never got into really serious trouble, because, although she would have admitted it to nobody, she was scared stiff of being strapped.

At one stage early on in her time at the school, her fear had led Michelle to experiment with a strap for herself. One Saturday her parents had gone shopping and her brother was playing football for the school and she borrowed a leather belt belonging to her father. They had on one occasion all seen the tawse used by the headmistress - it was made of broad brown leather, fairly heavy looking, and split into two for about half of its length. Her father's belt was about the same width and looked about as thick, although of course it didn't have the split, so she judged it was the nearest thing she could use.

She had, rather timidly at first, swung it down across the palm of her left hand. It made a fairly healthy smacking noise, but only tingled a bit and she knew full well that Mrs Sharp must wield her strap a lot harder than that. Gritting her teeth she had tried again. This was a fair bit harder and did cause quite a sharp burning sensation in the palm of her hand, but nothing that she couldn't cope with. She'd decided then that she'd give herself another two... four strokes was quite a common number except for first timers. However, the next stroke had gone a bit wayward and the edge of the strap came across the ends of her fingers and really hurt. She had dropped the belt and clutched her hand.

That was the end of the experimenting on that occasion, but it wasn't the only time she'd played around like it. On one occasion she heard that a girl had been given eight with the strap for telling the art teacher to "Fuck off" ... this was a particularly severe punishment which had the whole school buzzing. At the next available opportunity, Michelle had decided to try and see what 'eight' felt like, and again had been surprised by her ability to cope, but a little sceptical that maybe the real thing must hurt rather more.

Michelle's attitude to rebellion was typified by her version of the school uniform. She didn't ignore it altogether because that would invite confrontation. She wore a grey skirt as stipulated but the phrase 'on or just above the knee' she had interpreted to her own standards with a good eight or nine inches of thigh on show. The rules also allowed girls to wear natural coloured tights whereas Michelle preferred opaque black as, to be fair, did almost half the girls in her class. Michelle's class were still supposed to wear school ties but Michelle hadn't been seen with a tie for a year at least, and nobody ever said anything.

The rules also referred to plain white cotton knickers and a white bra. The bra she usually went along with, although last summer she had teased some of the local lads by not wearing a bra at all - but she was openly mocking of the rule on knickers and never wore white, and tended to wear rather briefer designs than were probably envisaged when the rules were produced. "What the hell!" she would argue. "Who's ever going to see them?" However, of course, her classmates did see them whenever they had to get changed for PE, and they secretly if not openly admired her grown-up undergarments.

As Spring turned to Summer, so Michelle's mind was more prone to wandering and she was more regularly in trouble with her teachers. As an incidental, the headmistress was quite ill and in hospital for much of the summer term and an acting headmaster was brought in, but nobody really saw very much of him.

"Michelle Summers, come and see me at the end of class to collect two hundred lines."

Michelle had been too busy whispering to her neighbour to notice that she had attracted the attention of Mrs Johnston once again. She sighed and tried to look interested in Elizabethan history. Within ten minutes she had mentally switched off again. She began doodling and her mind was on the weekend, wondering if the weather would hold up, and if it did....

"Miss Summers, come out here, and bring that paper with you!"

With a fairly contemptuous pout, Michelle swung out of her seat and sassed her way to the front of the class to hand over the offending doodle. Fortunately for Michelle, although perhaps to the disappointment of Mrs Johnston, there was nothing offensive about the drawing which she rumpled and dropped in the bin.

"If you can't concentrate now, we'll see if your concentration is any better after school. You can stay behind tomorrow night for an hour and a half and write out pages from the textbook. Now go and stand outside so you're not distracting anyone else."

Michelle turned for the door, a look of weary indifference on her face, and muttered "Bastard" under her breath. It was intended that the front row heard her, but not Mrs Johnston, but she misjudged it.

"Summers - stop there and turn around! What did you just say?"

"Nothing, Miss."

"Oh yes you did, and I heard you clearly enough."

Michelle wisely refrained from asking why she should repeat it in that case, and stood watching as Mrs Johnston wrote vigorously on a piece of paper, folded it in half and held it out to her.

"Take this to Mr Charlton's office right now."

There was an excited buzz around the room as Michelle took the paper and left. To the best of anyone's knowledge, Michelle was the first girl to be sent to see the acting headmaster on a disciplinary matter.

Michelle felt a bit annoyed with herself; it had been a stupid thing to say, and she should have known that she was getting herself into a deeper and deeper hole, but as she rationalised it, she decided that it wasn't so bad after all. At the end of the day, it was her first ever visit to the head's office, and the offence was not serious enough to warrant more than a telling off. In some ways it might be better than the detention which she assumed would now be cancelled. The worst of it was having it appear on her end of term report. Her parents thought she was an angel, and they wouldn't be pleased to have their perceptions so rudely challenged.

She went to the cloakroom first to make sure she looked neat and tidy and had her long blonde hair neatly tied back; after all there was no need to rush. She also took the opportunity to read the note, which wasn't sealed. It simply reported that Michelle had not being paying attention in class, that this had been common lately, and that when given a detention and told to leave the room, she had muttered an offensive word. On arrival she handed the note to the secretary who glanced at it and then took it through to the head's office. There was a short delay and then the secretary returned.

"You're to stand at the front of the hall until he's ready for you. He may be some while because he has the Chair of Governors with him."

Michelle didn't mind waiting. It might be boring but it was better than going back to classes. It was as she was waiting that she got to thinking. Suppose he did take a stricter line than the regular head, and decided to strap her? In some ways, the thought that this just might happen now, unlikely though it seemed, and she could do nothing to make it more or less likely, excited her! After all, she had spent long enough wondering what it would be like, although she was still scared by the idea, especially with it being implemented by a man rather than a woman.

In fact, in some ways, the worst thing now was the thought of her parents' reaction to seeing on her end of term report that she'd been in trouble, regardless of the outcome now. What would they say? How would they react? She didn't relish the thought, and wondered how the parents of other girls had reacted on seeing their daughters had been in trouble. Several girls she knew had been sent to the head and a fair number had been strapped. There had always been a lot of discussion afterwards about the strappings and reprimands, but Michelle couldn't remember anyone ever talking about the reaction of their parents. Would it be best to tell them first?

She wondered whether she should ask one of the others for advice. Perhaps she could ask Michelle Clarke, because she'd had the strap three times now and was in trouble more often than any girl in her class. The fact that they shared a common first name made Michelle Summers smile, and then the smile became more thoughtful as an idea occurred to her. The note Mrs Johnston had given her had simply referred to her as Michelle, and he wouldn't know her at all. Suppose she told him that her name was Michelle Clarke?

He would obviously need to get her file to enter a note about the reprimand, but as far as she knew, there was no photograph on the school file, so there was no reason for him to realise the deception. He would see the long history of trouble for Michelle Clarke and would be almost certain to give her the strap, but it wouldn't be recorded to appear on her own end of term report. Okay, so Michelle Clarke might notice that there was an extra entry on her report that wasn't correct, but the chances of anyone working out how it had arisen were just about nil. For years she had wondered what it would be like to be strapped for real and this was her chance to find out without incurring the anger of her parents, or even letting her classmates know.

© James Stephenson
Not to be reposted, reproduced or distributed, in part or whole.