Father Samuel, lost in thought as he’d been, didn’t realize anyone had entered until he heard the click of the door closing, and the uncomfortable rustle of someone settling themselves into a kneeling position on the other side of the screen. Then he heard the anonymous feminine voice, softened with shame and laced with apprehension: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…”
It had to have been a long time, considering her hesitation.
“It’s been… over a year, since my last confession.”
The voice went on to recount a story so extraordinary, it hardly seemed like it could be true—yet it must be, because who would admit to such sins if they weren’t real?
While he listened to the young woman unburden herself of her past deeds, desires, and thoughts, his sex stirred and thickened, until the outline of it against the crotch of his pants would not have been possible to conceal from her if the screen hadn’t been blocking their view of each other. Whenever it was his turn to sit in the confessional, he immersed himself in the tales of transgression told to him by anonymous voices in low, faltering, trembling tones edged with guilt-stained arousal, and their admissions swelled his sex until it strained at its full length inside his simple, formal black pants.
He was just beginning to allow his mind to drift into the thought of this nameless woman crawling around the side of the screen and showing her face, before unzipping him and accepting his shaft into her mouth—he imagined she could take it all the way, as she sounded like more than enough of a slut—when she, in reality, interrupted his fantasizing with the whispered question, “Father, is it too late for my soul to be saved?”
He knew this was the part where he should be giving her some stock answer about how it was never too late to return to God. There had been a time, not long ago, when he would have said something in that vein, and believed it himself, but since entering the priesthood, he had begun to get other ideas about human nature.
“Some souls are beyond the point of redemption,” he began, and let just enough of a space of silence after that phrase for her to fill it with a tiny gasp, before continuing, “and it isn’t my place to judge which souls have reached that point and which haven’t. I can only tell you that the Lord loves all of His children, doesn’t want to see any of them stray or turn away from Him, and will welcome those back who have a strong enough will to purify themselves and truly change, and a strong enough desire to serve Him.”
“I never meant to turn away from God. I want to be forgiven, and I want to change, but my weakness seems inborn. What if I can’t overcome my lust? It overtakes me, and I can’t stop. Does that mean I’m damned by my own nature? There has to be some way I can change. What can I do? How can I find strength?”
The desperation tinting her tone caused the head of his sex to twitch and leak. “You will need to be especially diligent against your appetites, more so than most need to be, if you’re sincere. When you begin to have impure thoughts, replace them with silent prayer. Try to become a more modest woman, and look to the Scriptures—they’re filled with passages which can encourage you in your efforts.”
“What about the woman in my dreams, the… harlot?”
“That woman is you—those dreams, and hallucinations, are your mind’s way of presenting an honest picture of your feelings about what you do in real life.”
“I was told something like that once before, but I don’t believe it’s true now. The scarlet woman can’t be me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I can sense the evil in her. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’m not willing to believe I’m evil. I know, I sound like I’m insane, but she’s a separate entity– she imposes herself upon my thoughts against my will. Isn’t there something I can do to drive her away?”
He decided to humor her. “Centuries ago, it was believed that there were demons called succubi. They were said to take the form of women, who would visit the dreams of men to lie atop them. Though you’re unlikely to hear anyone mention it now, there was a period of time during which the Church took the concept seriously as a threat.”
“So you believe me? And you think she’s a demon?”
Employing caution while still playing along, Father Samuel replied, “I hesitate to say yes. Nothing in the myth mentions the succubi ever having relations with women. But this ‘harlot,’ as you call her, obviously fits the description of a succubus far better than her male counterpart, an incubus. Priests, long ago, used to sleep with Crucifixes to protect themselves against the touch of succubi. Outdated as this practice may be, I’d suggest that, if nothing else, you may find comfort in it, and it may help bolster your resolve.”
He gave her absolution, and told her to say ten Hail Marys—he knew that wasn’t very original, and had a feeling it would take at least a whole Rosary’s worth of prayers to really cleanse her soul, but he needed to get her out of there.
Father Samuel slipped out of the confessional while the woman was kneeling near the altar, her back turned to him.
He went to his house, just on the other side of the church hall, surprised and relieved at not encountering anyone else along the way.
Terri felt lighter inside when she stood up, genuflected, and exited the church. It wasn’t going to be an easy path, but there might still be time to right herself.
She was tired, and she knew it wasn’t just from her walk to the church. She decided to take a bus back to Paris’s house, and picked her way up a gravel path towards the sidewalk that was about a block behind the church.
The path happened to take her past the priests’ dwellings, and through the only partially-closed curtains of one window, she saw a shocking sight: there was a young priest, stripped from the waist up, kneeling on the floor and thrashing his own back with a multi-tailed whip.
Was that the priest she’d just confessed to? It very well could be—he had sounded young (for a priest, anyway), and she had heard him leave while she’d been doing her penance.
In private school, she’d been taught about the flagellants, but she hadn’t thought this form of discipline was in use in the modern Church. Either she was wrong, or this man, who obviously knew something of archaic Church practices and had a presumable measure of admiration for them, carried on the rituals of his Medieval predecessors in secret.
What would she do if he happened to look up? She could only hope he wouldn’t, and would have to simply run if he did. She had already decided she wasn’t going to come back to this particular church after confessing, and she couldn’t help her morbid fascination.
Was this what it took? Was enduring strict suffering the only way to make oneself worthy?
A new surge of guilt overcame her—had her confession been so terrible, that he needed to do this in order to rid himself of all the filth she had made him listen to her speak of?
Most of the time, the coldness of the concrete floor and the sting of the lash were enough to soften his flesh.
But not today, not after his conversation with that whore of a woman. The truth was that he wanted nothing more right then than to watch the whip bite repeatedly into *her* bare back, inflicted by his own hand. He tried to drive the image from his mind by turning the lash on himself even more mercilessly, chastising himself for being a hypocrite, for being guilty of the same deadly sin that woman was…
It was no use. He cast the whip aside. Nothing could quell his fleshly hunger now… except his own hand, and not by wielding an instrument of correction.
Terri paled as she watched the priest undo his fly, and when he took himself into his own firm yet frantic grip, her respect for him and her fragile hope for her own salvation also drained and faded away.
She didn’t stick around. She was gasping by the time she reached the bus stop, and the question was haunting her: was there really nothing to be found in the world but corruption, no matter where she turned?
She had never been to a sex shop before. She wasn’t even sure how she knew that what she was looking for could be found in one. It seemed to her that somehow, certain bits of knowledge always ended up being absorbed into people’s consciousnesses, without their even realizing it, no matter how well they guarded themselves.
A saleslady asked her if she could help her find anything, and she said no, avoiding her eyes and feeling her cheeks glow the color of her shame as she turned away.
That was when she saw it—a short, multi-lashed flogger tipped with miniature steel barbs, that she was sure must have been designed to be hung on a wall and look intimidating enough to create an atmosphere, without ever having to be taken down and used to make good on the silent threat. It was perfect for what she had in mind.
Paris wasn’t home, and wouldn’t be until early evening. There was time to perform this impromptu ritual properly.
She went upstairs, and knelt in the rectangle of sunlight falling onto the floor through one of the windows. First, she prayed at length, and then she took her shirt and bra off.
Just as she began to raise the whip, she had the thought that she ought to be naked in her shame. It would emphasize to her all she had done.
She stood up and got undressed the rest of the way, laid her clothes and shoes aside neatly, returned to her place in the patch of sunlight on the coarse carpet, and took up the whip again.
The first strikes were tentative. Her body fought her with its natural reaction to pain. She paused. How many lashes would be proper? Twelve, perhaps? That would have seemed lenient if it hadn’t been for the barbs—with them, twelve would probably be just right.
Once she pushed through her bodily self-preservation, sucking in her breath, steeling herself and swinging her arm up in a blind arc, it became simpler. She recalled the Crimson Queen’s chastisement from her dream, so long ago it seemed…
No, she mustn’t think of that. She was washing the Queen from her soul and her life with her own blood.
She felt her skin open, and the sticky moisture of the blood drops springing up on her back. At the same time, the flesh of her areolas clenched up hard around her turgid nipples. Even as she brought the flogger down in the final stroke, weeping and moaning, she realized that her face and her back weren’t the only parts of her that were damp. Even with a tampon in, she could feel the sopping wetness gathering inside her.
Her frustration clouded by the oncoming rush of endorphins, as the flow of her tears stemmed, she dropped the whip and got onto her back. She brought herself off to peak after peak, not only heedless of the pain caused by her wounds pressing and rubbing against the floor, but driven further still into her pleasure by it.
Once she’d satisfied her body, she was flooded with regret. It was acts and urges just like this for which she was trying to punish herself. She knelt up again, reached for the whip, and counted out seven lashes, at an agonizingly measured pace to prolong her suffering, but her renewed resolve did not last even for the duration of this—the familiar stirring in her clitoris let her know that she was only working against herself, for the pain was actually fueling her ardor.
She dropped the whip and, beginning to weep again, let her body sink forward. She knew a thing or two about the ways of the Church in the Medieval Period too. She took up the position of the penitents of that time, stretching her arms out to either side of her to form her body into the shape of a cross. Her skin glowed with the pain that had been inflicted and a craving for more of the same, her feminine bud ached and strained for attention, and all she could do was pray, begging God to lead her out of temptation, deliver her from evil.
Without meaning to, she fell asleep, and into a fitful dream.
The Crimson Queen was standing over her.
“Do you see how miserable you are?” she asked. “I think I’ve been able to see it much better than you have for the most part, until now. You’re so conflicted. Just follow and join me, and it’ll be so much better than this.”
“I am conflicted,” Terri admitted. “But I intend to resolve it, and not by giving myself over to you.”
The Queen dropped her attempt at steering her along with gentle reasoning. “Enough of these games– you’ve already been given to me. It’s just been a matter of waiting, and now it’s time for me to collect what’s due. Do you not remember me telling you, years ago, that you would be mine one day?”
“What are you talking about? What do you mean I’ve ‘already been given’?”
From nowhere, Paris’s voice broke in: “Terri? You home?”
The sound of his footsteps led her back into wakefulness.
She only realized what was happening by the time it was too late.
“Terri? Are—oh, my God! What happened?”
She managed to pull herself up onto her knees, telling him she was okay.
“What happened?” he asked again. “Who did this?”
She started to pull her clothes back on, but he grabbed hold of her wrist.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to see this,” she told him. “Please, let go. Can we just forget about it?”
“If you’ll tell me who did this to you, fine, we don’t have to talk about it any further.”
She pulled out of his grasp. Or rather, he let her pull herself away. “Alright, I did it. Alright?”
“Are you serious, or just being facetious?”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
She started to get dressed again. He stopped her a second time, yanking her shirt out of her hand and tossing it aside, and pulling her by the wrists towards the desk at the other end of the room.
“What are you doing?”
“Is that what you like? Getting whipped?”
“Maybe it is! Maybe that does turn me on.” She might as well go ahead and say it—it wasn’t as if she could deny it after his finding her in such a state.
He sat her on the desk, pushed her legs apart, and took hold of the string attached to her tampon.
“What are you doing? You said you’d drop this if I told you who did it, and I told you the truth.”
“I said we didn’t have to talk about it,” he said. It was emerging again, that whole other side to him that she had never known until just the previous night. “You’ve been acting strange, Terri, really fucking strange. I don’t know where you’ve been getting these ideas from, but they’re obviously the result of a mind that isn’t kept occupied enough, getting twisted up by needs that I guess I’ve been neglecting.”
Her tampon lay discarded on the floor, and he hardly seemed to notice that her blood was staining the wooden desk. She tried to push him away, but he managed to hold her fast and get his pants undone at the same time.
“I told you already, you haven’t neglected me! What’s gotten into you?”
“I could ask you the same thing, but you don’t want to talk, and I already know the answer anyway. And I know what we’d both rather do than talk.” He shoved her easily onto her back. “A good, solid fuck should settle you down.”
“I don’t want this,” she moaned. “Why won’t you stop?”
“Because you do want this. Tell me a little more convincingly that you don’t, and I’ll stop.”
Her only answer was to moan again, as he sank his prick-shaft into her.
If she dreamed of the Crimson Queen that night, she didn’t remember in the morning. She had followed the priest’s advice about the Crucifix, but she had a feeling this would only help her for so long.
During her classes, she was distracted at best. Instead of going right home, she steered her steps in the direction of the French Quarter.
Cleo had taught her that magic wasn’t evil, nor was it good—it was a force in nature which was neutral on its own. Only when it was harnessed by humans did it take on a good or evil quality, and that was determined by the intentions of the person using it.
The Crimson Queen was clearly skilled in harnessing its power. If Terri couldn’t rid herself of her, maybe she could at least protect herself from her influence, and maybe the only way to do that would be to fight fire with fire.
Glancing around uneasily at the crystals, feathers, skulls, and voodoo dolls decorating the room, Terri told herself, *It’s only for show. It’s just for the tourists. This is what they expect to see, so she doesn’t want to disappoint them.*
The clinky rattle of a bead curtain parting announced Madame Odessa’s entry into the room.
“I thought I heard someone out here. I wasn’t sure, you came in so quietly! Sorry to keep you waiting. Did you want to make an appointment?”
“Well, actually, I was wondering, are you busy right now?”
“As it happens, it’s been so quiet this evening I was going to close early. I can do a reading right now if you’d like. Were you thinking of Tarot, runes, or intuitive?”
Terri didn’t feel entirely comfortable messing with Tarot cards, and she didn’t know what runes were.
“What would an intuitive reading be?”
“Instead of using objects, such as cards, to piece together the message you’re meant to receive, I simply tell you whatever the Spirit reveals to me about your life.”
Each time Madame Odessa mentioned “the Spirit,” Terri wondered whether she meant the Holy Spirit. It would probably be best not to ask. The back room was small, and musty with incense smoke, and she did her best to concentrate on Odessa’s words instead of looking nervously at the clutter of masks, candles, bells, mirrors, gems, knives, and jars of oils and herbs on the shelves to either side of the table.
So far, Odessa hadn’t said anything that hinted at her troubles, and Terri didn’t want to lead her—if psychic readings were real, she wanted this one to be accurate. She really hoped she’d be able to learn something helpful here, especially since she still hadn’t come up with a plausible story to tell Paris for when he would notice she’d spent an unaccounted-for forty dollars.
“…There’s a presence hanging around you,” Madame Odessa said suddenly, immediately regaining Terri’s attention. “There’s someone you want to get away from, and you don’t know how. I’m sensing that it’s a feminine presence… Very powerful… And dark.”
It seemed okay now to go ahead and show her hand.
“Yes, that’s true, exactly. Is there anything I can do?”
Odessa picked up a pen and notepad, and began writing a list of items and brief instructions. “This is a banishing spell. It’s to be performed during the waning moon, which begins in just a few nights. Follow this to the letter, and you shouldn’t be troubled anymore.”
Once on the trolley, Terri unfolded the sheet of paper Madame Odessa had given her. She would need a black candle, a jar filled with water, a piece of black thread, some dried vervain leaves, a clove of garlic, and… uh-oh. A picture of the person who was causing trouble in her life.
She didn’t have a picture of the Crimson Queen.
Or did she? Suddenly, she remembered a drawing of her that she’d done back when she’d been 18. Would that work? It would have to do, since it was the closest thing she had to a proper picture. Madame Odessa had emphasized, after all, that her *intent* would be the most important part of the spell.
She would need to roll up the picture and tie it with the thread, place it into the jar of water, drop the garlic into the jar as well and screw the lid on, light the candle, and sprinkle the vervain leaves over the flame, while saying, “I need you not. I want you not. Leave my life now, and come back never. And it harm none, so be it.” Then, she would have to take the jar outside, dig a hole, open the jar and pour its contents into the hole and cover them up, then go back inside and wait for the candle to burn down on its own.
She knew the drawing was still in a folder somewhere in her old room in the house in the bayou. She hadn’t been there since her father’s death, and she had a sense that getting her hands on some dried vervain leaves would be easier than going out there to get that drawing, but she didn’t see much choice. Performing the spell right there in her old room would make a kind of sense too, since that was where her dreams had begun.
A few days later, after school, she called Paris and left him a message, saying she wouldn’t be home until very late that night because something had come up where she needed to go to her mother’s for a couple of hours.
With everything she needed, except the drawing, already in the bottom of her book bag, she took first a bus to Lake Arrington, and then a taxi out to the house she and her family had once lived in.
To her disbelief, the abandoned house wasn’t boarded up, and the back door was actually unlocked. Considering the empty and broken bottles and cigarette butts littering the floor of the kitchen, she wasn’t the only one who’d discovered this.
While the first floor was trashed, the upstairs rooms seemed to have remained mostly untouched. She wanted to put this whole thing behind her as quickly as possible so she could go home to Paris, but the search for the drawing wasn’t easy. There was a whole stack of folders on the top shelf of her old closet.
The sun had begun to set and she was still rifling through sheaves of paper, wishing she’d thought to bring a flashlight, when she heard somebody enter the kitchen. She heard their footsteps now, coming up the stairs.
Terri was still trying to sort out whether it would be better to try to hide, or grab her bag and the stack of folders and run, when a familiar figure appeared in the bedroom doorway.
“Molly? What are you doing here?”
“I knew I’d find you here,” was all she said, stepping into the bedroom.
Terri stared at her. “Have you been following me around?”
“Not until today. Since our last conversation, I’ve been keeping my distance. Doing anything else wouldn’t have helped you come around any sooner.”
“What do you…” Terri trailed off.
Molly was in a black dress, adorned with loops of slender gold chain, and she wore miniature purple carnations in her hair.
So that was why her face had seemed so inexplicably familiar when they had first met—because she had seen her before that, she had just never been able to remember.
“You’re one of… them. The…”
“Yes, you like to call us ‘the Autumn People.’ Kind of poetic—I like it. I’m a servant of the woman you know as ‘the Crimson Queen.’”
“Why are you here? She sent you, didn’t she?”
“Yes, to attempt again to get you to see reason. There are some things it’s time you had explained to you. It was the Queen’s hope that you would go to her quietly, but you’ve put up a lengthy fight, and she told me to do whatever I think it would take to bring your resistance to an end.”
“What are you going to do to me?”
“I’m not going to do anything—except tell you the truth, which I believe you deserve to know anyway, though it may not be easy for you to hear.”
Trembling, but determined not to let her fear show, she said, “Fine. What’s the truth, then?” If nothing else, keeping Molly talking could help her stall for time.
Molly crossed the room to stand in front of her, saying, “Before you were born, before you were even conceived, your mother became ill. She was lying in a hospital, near death, when your father cast a healing spell in which he called out to the spirits of the West to save her. Your Queen was the one who answered.”
“My father? He cast a spell?”
“Oh, yes, and it wasn’t his first one, by any means. He had been practicing Witchcraft well before he’d met your mother. When they did meet and she learned of it, she convinced him to turn away from it and become a Christian.
“When she got sick, though, and his prayers for her went unanswered, he didn’t see any other way to help her than to return to his old ways. The night he cast the spell, the Queen appeared to him, and they made a deal—she would restore your mother to health and grant her a long life, and in return, he had to promise that when his wife bore a daughter, she would belong to the Queen, and go to her when she had become a woman.”
“Why? What does she want me for?”
“You were promised to her as a concubine, to be kept for sexual use and for the blood you’ll provide to her from your womb every month.”
“My father never would have agreed to that.”
“He did, for two reasons. One was the sheer depth of his love for his wife. He couldn’t live without her. You saw that for yourself.”
Terri couldn’t deny that—she remembered well how quickly the strong and stable man she’d known her whole life had fallen apart after her mother had left him.
Molly continued, “The other reason was that your mother, as far as he knew, was infertile. He didn’t think he’d ever have to make good on such a low promise, because he didn’t expect her to bear any child at all, much less a daughter in particular.
“But a bargain is a bargain, and you know how powerful the Queen is. It was a mistake to think he could trick her. Your mother recovered quickly, and the first time he took her after that, was the night he sired you.”
“This is impossible. You’re making all this up just to get me to go with you.”
“What do I have to gain from telling you this? I’m only doing what the Queen told me to. She originally sent me to this plane to seduce you, and lead you away from this world with my influence, but that turned out not to be enough. She might lend you to me every now and then once I’ve taken you to her, but that’ll be if I’m lucky. She can be possessive of her… playthings.
“She’s tried to entice you with glimpses of what life in her world will be like, but those have scared you as much as they’ve excited you. As I’m sure you’ve realized, she’s used to getting what she wants. She wants you, and you’re now in your twentieth year, well into womanhood—she’s grown weary of waiting.”
“So why doesn’t she just…”
“Come over to this plane and kidnap you? She’d be no better than that man of yours in New Orleans then.”
“Paris loves me.”
“Paris is weak.”
“No, he isn’t. Leave him out of this.”
“Just because he knows how to use brute force to fuck you, you think that signifies strength? Anyone can do that. But not just anyone can reach and slip themselves into your mind like the Queen has been doing so easily.
“Your father understood the magnitude of the Queen’s power. He saw it when your mother got pregnant. He was no novice– he was quite skilled in Witchcraft– and he was still no match for the Queen.”
“Does my mother know about the Queen?”
“No. She never did learn of her, or the agreement regarding you. However, your mother did discover him performing a spell for you, a spell meant to ward off vampires—when she smelled the burning myrrh and saw the bowl of water and salt and the oil-anointed candles, they got into an argument.
“She didn’t ask him exactly what he’d been trying to do—she didn’t want to know—she only made him promise that he wouldn’t work with magic anymore. She put out the candles before they’d finished burning down, which would’ve rendered the spell null even if the fact that your father had given his *word* to the Queen hadn’t already done so.
“Later, he made another secret attempt at changing your fate. When he was discovered that second time, it ended up being the cause of your mother leaving him.”
“I still don’t believe you.”
“Come with me, then.”
Molly led her to the door of her parents’ old bedroom.
“No, I can’t go in there.”
“That’s where the proof of what I’m telling you is.”
After a long moment of hesitation, she opened the door. The only piece of furniture inside was the bare frame of her parents’ old bed. Underneath it, on the wooden floor, something had been drawn.
No, she saw as she stepped closer, not drawn, carved—a small, quartered circle, with symbols inside it which she recognized from Molly’s books.
“Your father wanted to keep you safe from the Queen. He performed a protection ritual on an afternoon he was sure he was alone, during which he pushed the bed aside, made that etching you see, and then pushed the bed back over it to cover it up, so that he and your mother would be making love right over it later that night. He lit a candle by the bed, and he seduced her. He drew her spiritual energy into the working of the spell, and willed the power of their union to complete it.
“His intention was for the energies of his wife and himself to combine and create a wall of spiritual protection around their only daughter. She, however, didn’t see it that way when she later found the etching underneath their bed. As far as she was concerned, it was over then—she didn’t trust him anymore.”
“Why didn’t the spell work?”
“I told you—a deal is a deal. The agreement between him and the Queen couldn’t be undone by anything.
“The decision of whether or not to give yourself to the Queen is not yours to make. This was decided upon and arranged before you even entered the picture. It’s only been a matter of time, and it’s now only a matter of accepting the truth, and going to her. All throughout your life, your ‘freedom’ and ‘will’ have been an illusion. You were literally born to serve her.”
Terri dragged her gaze from the symbols on the floor, to Molly’s face. *Literally born to serve her,* her mind echoed.
Nothing else needed to be said aloud. The understanding passed between them: Terri was ready for her to lead the way.
The tall, narrow, spike-tipped, rust-orange gate that stood up on its own out in the trees had not been there before. She knew this, because she’d played in these woods often enough as a child, and walked in them often enough as a teenager. But she wasn’t surprised to see it there now. Some part of her had even been expecting to come to it.
And though the woods remained dark and ordinary-looking to either side of the gate, the red light of a rising sun in a different world shone through the bars of the gate. She glimpsed silhouettes gathering just at the other side of the gate as she and Molly approached, and when Molly opened it, Terri saw that more of the Autumn People were there.
In fact, she saw, as she followed Molly through the gate, that a small caravan was waiting for them, with a heavy, rickety wagon draped in bright patchwork and drawn by a pair of horses.
One of the Autumn People undressed Terri. Her clothes got left on the ground outside the gate, just before Molly closed and locked it, sealing herself and Terri inside the Crimson Queen’s realm.
Another of the Autumn People parted and tied back the flaps of cloth at the wagon’s back, revealing a brass cage. It looked like an extremely oversized birdcage, but nobody had to tell Terri that it was really meant for her.
Molly helped her up into the wagon, locked her inside the cage without disguising her delight in doing so at all, and then stepped back out and untied the flaps, letting them fall back together and leaving Terri kneeling there in semidarkness.
She heard Molly and others outside speaking words too quiet to discern, in deeply coarse, laughing tones, and, after a few more moments, the crack of a whip. The very sound seemed to vibrate straight down to Terri’s loins.
The wagon’s wheels began to roll, carrying her towards her fate.