Mr Scroggins contemplated the two teenagers who stood before him. The young people today, he sneered silently. The two boys shuffled from foot to foot, heads bowed. If they had dared look up Mr Scroggins would have seen the terror in their eyes.
Three other men stood close by. They were Mr Scroggins’s back up. If the two nineteen year olds tried to make a break for it, they were on hand to restrain them.
Mr Scroggins knew the two boys by repute. They were part of a gang of hooligans who refused to obey the new Teenage and Young Persons Act. They defied curfews, they drank alcohol and smoked dope in public. They dressed lewdly in skimpy clothes. They thought they were above the law.
Well, they were about to be corrected on that.
Mr Scroggins hated young people and he despised the two boys in front of him more than most. What did they look like? Both were bare chested. At least they hadn’t disfigured their bodies with tattoos as so many young people in the past had done, Mr Scroggins thought. These two were smooth skinned and hairless.
They wore sports shorts so short they hardly covered their buttocks. They were so tightly fitting at the crotch, Mr Scroggins could see the outline of the tip of their penises. It looked like one might not be wearing underpants. The other certainly was. The waistband of his green Calvin Klein briefs poked above the top of the shorts.
One boy had mousy brown hair. It hadn’t seen a barber’s in a very long time; a fringe fell over the boy’s eyes like a Dulux dog. At the back it fell to his shoulders The other lad had shaggy hair over his ears and down his neck. Their “look” was quite deliberate. The hooligans’ “fashion” harked back to the nineteen-eighties; the days when young people were free. Before the country left the European Union and the New Democrats took control.
Mr Scroggins was the “punishment officer” for the Neighbourhood Watch. It was a title he chose for himself. It wasn’t official; he wasn’t paid a salary. He didn’t want paying, he was glad to perform his civic duty.
The Neighbourhood Watch had been formed in the words of its members, “to take back the streets.” The Avenue was in a prosperous middle-class suburb. It was a street that didn’t need “taking back” from anyone. Nevertheless, the good citizens patrolled the adjoining areas, rounding up trouble-makers.
They didn’t conform to the letter of the law, but to the spirit. The teenagers should by rights have been taken to a police station and then before the magistrates. The court would in all probability sentence them to a birching. The Neighbourhood Watch was simply cutting out the middle men.
They had a “punishment room” at the community hall. It was a plain functional room; windowless and lit by a single overhead light. It was quite small, but big enough for its purpose. It contained a small whipping horse which enabled the wrists, ankles and knees of the youth to be secured with straps. The horse itself had once been in the gymnasium of a local school. It had been lowered and modified so that when a young man was properly mounted and helpless the padded upper surface was quite comfortable.
What happened next, of course, was anything but. But, no amount of writhing or jerking, inevitable during a birching, would harm the boy’s bare hips and stomach as he moved about on the padded leather.
At this time there were twelve birch rods soaking in brine in plastic buckets. The two boys would not be the Neighbourhood Watch’s only customers that day.
“You first,” Mr Scroggins pointed to the boy in the tight red shorts; the one with the longest hair. Mr Scroggins did not know his name and didn’t care to know. In his mind he was an animal, not a human being. The boy’s look of terror satisfied the Punishment Office enormously. The boy stood rooted.
“Bill. Tony,” Mr Scroggins nodded towards two of the guards. No more needed to be said. Each took one arm and manhandled the teenager through the door into the punishment room. The boy hated the vigilantes as much as they hated him. His struggle was futile. He tried to dig in his heels but he lost his flip-flop shoes and his bare feet could make no traction on the cold floor tiles.
In one well-rehearsed movement Bill and Tony had him face down over the horse. The buckles of the leather straps bit deep into his wrists and across his back. His stomach rested on the padded leather top and his backside was raised at a perfect angle to receive slashes from the birch.
The two men made their preparations in silence. Tony gripped the waist of the boy’s snug-fitting shorts and briefs with both hands and ripped them over the boy’s buttocks and down his legs. He took them over his feet and contemptuously threw them into a corner of the room. The nineteen-year-old was now completely naked across the horse. His entire body, except the small area around his buttocks, was suntanned chestnut brown.
The boy had not uttered a word. He wouldn’t plead for mercy. Let the bastards do their worst. The work of the Neighbourhood Watch was well known among the young people in the area. The boy wouldn’t be the first to be birched by them and he wouldn’t be the last. Others in his gang had been flogged by the ruthless Mr Scroggins. The scars they displayed were awful, but they had lived through their ordeal. So, the boy tried to convince himself, would he. He expected that later, when he displayed his wounds to his friends, he would be quite the hero.
The boy wanted to believe that. But his throat was dry, his legs shook uncontrollably and his stomach lurched with such sickening fear he thought he would vomit. His brain was feverish with the enormity of what was to come. The horse, the straps, the birch, all threateningly combined for an attack on his fragile body.
The boy felt a breeze against his naked flesh as the door to the punishment room opened once more. Mr Scroggins had entered. He scrutinised the boy with eyes ablaze with venomous hostility. The boy wasn’t very tall and his body was firm and lean. The buttocks were quite the smallest Mr Scroggins had ever encountered. That would prove a challenge. It would be impossible to deliver a birching without whipping across the same area of the boy’s bum more than once. The damage to his arse would be terrific.
Mr Scroggins was a tall beefy man. He had in his time been a keen prop at rugby. He had recently returned to the gym to build up his muscles. He took his duties as Punishment Officer very seriously indeed.
He approached the nearest bucket and withdrew a birch rod and swished it, shaking the water off the branches. It had eight branches, each about three feet in length, all held together by sticking plaster at one end.
The boy saw none of this. His only view was of the side of the wooden horse and the old scratched grey floor tiles. His view was blurred by the tears prickling behind his eyes.
He felt the gentle touch of splaying twigs on his backside, followed by two swishes as the birch lightly touched the fleshiest part of his small round buttocks. Then the rod drew back and hit him. He couldn’t hear it coming and when the birch connected he felt the dampness of the twigs but no pain. Then, his backside lit up. Twenty seconds later the rod fell again. By the fourth stroke the boy was lurching both to the left and the right, straining to break free of the straps. Tears flowed down his face. By now the strokes were penetrating his flesh fully; he was being cut to ribbons.
The next stroke came down hard, it was the worst stroke yet. The fine wet tips of the rod splayed out to contact with his entire bottom. The boy ground his molars hard. Each new stroke was hurting more than the one before. The next pushed all the breath out of him and he lay across the horse panting and squirming.
Mr Scroggins paused to admire his handiwork. As he had expected, the birch rods had connected over and over again on the same small area. The boy’s arse was criss-crossed with small cuts. Blood was seeping from many of them. His bum reminded Mr Scroggins of the minced meat he regularly bought from the butcher’s.
There was a deathly hush in the Punishment Room apart from the swish and crack of the birch rods and the boy’s continuous howls and sobs. The agony was so much worse than he had expected. Another wicked stroke swished into his bum, the impossible sting once more taking his breath away. When he got it back he was screaming at the top of his voice for it to stop. He bucked and twisted frantically.
Mr Scroggins didn’t care. He hated the naked boy, restrained, buttocks high to receive his whipping. He hated all young people. Every one of them. Without exception. The next stroke was delivered with all his weight behind it and was the most vicious yet. The boy howled! His body shook violently; he struggled relentlessly to no avail. The thick leather straps were doing their job. Any pride or attempt to show toughness had fled; his bottom was in flames and the scolding birch continued to hiss and lash, flogging his bare buttocks unmercifully.
Then it stopped. “That’s it. Twelve. If you’re ever back here again, it’ll be twice as many.” Mr Scroggins kicked pieces of broken twig from beneath his feet and retuned the broken birch rod to the bucket.
The boy gradually ceased his screaming but continued to sob and bleat. Even that faded away to nothingness and eventually an eerie silence and stillness enveloped the room. Only the picture of a beaten boy, stretched naked across a vaulting horse, remained.
Changed Times 3: The Office will be published on 26 August 2016
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second