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the countdown: 41 days

        As her dirty bare feet alternately pushed down to work the blades of each treadmill, the slim, naked, sweating teenaged girl looked down in desolation and watched as a bead of sweat fell from her forehead straight down all the way to the floor.  There it joined the constellation of previous drops.  The girl felt another drop run down her out-splayed left leg, finally reaching the treadmill blade at her instep.  This drop, too, was one of many, following a well-worn rivulet that began at her armpit, angled around her firm breast, across the hollow of her concave tummy, stopping midway for a moment at her navel, which was a little lake of sweat, then down to hunt through the forest of her pubic hair, into her pussy lips, across her butthole, and then down the inside of her thigh.  .  .

 

        The whole room smelled of the girl’s sweat as she continued to work the twin treadmills.  They were separated by about three feet, forcing her pumping legs to spread open, while her arms thrust up in an “X” on the two widely separated overhead bars.  She was on her third session of the afternoon, having taken two short breaks for water, and had been pumping continuously now for twenty minutes.  A rigorous aerobic workout, but within her capabilities as a trained athlete.  Not that this activity wasn’t serving to make her beautiful, strong, slim body even more toned, strong, and perfectly in shape.

 

        She looked up at the roof as if praying for strength, and licked at some sweat that was caused to run into her mouth.  She glanced at the dials on the canisters against the wall but knew that not only were they too far away to read from where she was, but that they would show that she was not nearly finished with her daily quota of three hundred turns.  At her last break she was only up to 144.  She was stuck here for another hour, at least.

 

        The blades of the treadmills passed slowly and laboriously under her flexing feet.  It took constant pushing and quite a bit of force to keep them going.  She could not afford to ease off even for a second, or they would grind to a halt, requiring a huge push to start them going again.  Her entire body was shiny with sweat.  Oddly perhaps, her nipples were erect.  The dust in this old wood building had stuck to her body so as to give the appearance that her all-over tan was darker than it actually was.  The only evidence that the darker hue was due to dust were the streaks of dirt where she had scratched herself or wiped away sweat.  These streaks ran across her face, her thigh, and across her concave tummy.

 

        There were the visitors and their stares, which she tried to ignore.  Grounds crew workers, who came by at odd intervals to get some coffee at the table and then stood around and stared at her from every angle, absently sipping from their paper cups.  At length the naked girl decided to keep her eyes closed, which made it easier to pretend they weren’t there.  In her ears the grinding sound of the treadmill wheels and her heavy breathing blocked out the sounds of footsteps as workers came and went.

 

        Blade after blade passed under her hardened soles as the girl kept her eyes closed and said to herself, forty-one days, forty-one days, forty-one days.  .  .

 

        This was a bad, bad day for Tami Smithers, the girl who was forbidden to wear clothes, and the shame of this heavy labor just added to her existing frustrations.  She still hadn’t found a summer job; the bulletin board in the Student Union was still devoid of any notices for work outside of town, where she could secretly live a summer in clothes.  Clothes, clothes, blessed clothes, please God .  .  .

        And then there was the day before, Sunday, the day of the week she and her boyfriend had reserved for all-day sex and togetherness.  They had tried oral sex, traditional sex, even anal sex, but she did not have an orgasm all day.  She knew the reason but could not face it or express it to her puzzled boyfriend.  The weekly session of artificially induced orgasms at the Chalfont Institute lab had become part of the sexual rhythm of her libido.  And last week’s session had been cancelled, and like a dog who will not chew a bone until it is thrown and retrieved, she had gotten hung up on this lack of machine stimulation and could not proceed with her boyfriend.  She knew it was hateful and shameful to admit to herself, but she had come to need, even crave, the weekly penetrations and vibrations and frictions of cold, metallic scientific instruments.

 

        Then there was the time she had to pee this morning and slipped into the women’s room in the Student Union.  On the wall of the stall she found another of the gross, insulting drawings of her, this one with exaggerated sagging boobs and overgrown pussy hair hanging down to the knees.  She recognized the work of Lorinda, that geeky bio major.  And then to pass Lorinda herself on the paths not five minutes later, with a couple of her geeky bio friends.  That crowd was getting bolder and bolder.  This time they did not try to hide the fact that they were joking about her, and after she had passed them one of them called out, “Tami!  Your feet are muddy!”  and heard giggling.  She just shut her eyes and tried to ignore it, walking on.  She tried telling herself, “Ignore them, they’re so immature,” but she herself was only 18 years old, just out of high school, and the teasing still hurt.

 

        Now, sweating and pushing on the treadmill blades, the naked girl turned her head upward, eyes still closed, as she said to herself again, forty-one days, forty-one days, forty-one days.  .  .

 

        It was late in her labors, when her breathing became more ragged and she could feel the sweat pouring down off her body, that she detected a faint smell of perfume.  She opened her eyes, wiping away the sweat from her eyebrows so that she could see, and was dismayed and shamed to see four well-dressed, important-looking visitors watching her intently with varying degrees of interest, morbid fascination, and horror.

 

        The naked girl blushed as she realized that her visitors were probably being overpowered by her body odor, which permeated the room.  She had the urge to cover her breasts with her hands but then saw that two of the visitors were Dean Jorgon and Henry Ross.  Doing anything to cover any part of herself would be a big mistake.  She thought it polite to stop her exertions, and she brought her hands down to her sides and let the treadmills stop, balancing her widely-spread legs on the blades, the toes of each foot clasping the edge of each blade, so that she stood perfectly upright.  She felt the sliminess between her arms and her sides and knew that she must look and smell disgusting.

 

        “How do you do, Miss Smithers?”  the Dean said quietly and politely.  “I’m sorry to interrupt your assigned task for Mr. Winant.”

 

        Tami didn’t answer.  Standing sweating and naked on her precarious perch, the two blades under her at unstable angles, she made a little nod and silently regarded the two other visitors.

 

        The other two were vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place them.  One was a minister, black shirt, white collar, wearing an opened black coat.  He was tall and middle-aged with black hair that was gray at the temples.  He looked at Tami with a steady glare of distaste that was so intense that she averted her gaze from him.  The other was a grandmotherly type woman in a green dress and heels, wearing a soft green hat with netting.  It was her perfume that had first drawn Tami’s attention.  The older woman looked at the naked girl with concern.

 

        “Please come down, Miss Smithers, it must be awkward standing up there like that,” the Dean said.  Whereupon Tami carefully stepped back and dismounted and, unsure of where to stand, decided to approach her visitors so that she stood with her back to the treadmills, facing them from a distance of about ten feet, shoulders thrown back, legs slightly apart.  Sweat had plastered her hair to her head and to her upper back and had made her feet wet so that she left a track of bare footprints behind her.  She was still breathing heavily, her concave tummy moving in and out as her diaphragm flexed and relaxed.

 

        The Dean stepped forward slightly from the rest.  “Miss Smithers, you know Mr. Ross.  This is Reverend Stipend from the local Baptist church, and Mrs. Millicent Lowell.  You might remember them.  They are on your scholarship committee.”

 

        Tami felt a shaming flash of recognition that caused goosebumps on her bare buttocks, fortunately out of the view of her visitors.  She remembered these two distinguished personages sitting behind that long table last summer as she and her father answered questions as part of the application process for her scholarship.  On that day she was wearing her very best, a white silk blouse over a sensible white bra, red linen pants over sturdy white panties, nylons, patent leather heels.  She almost wept with longing for those long-ago clothes, and with shame at the thought of how changed was the impression she was making on these people now.  Totally naked, sweaty, dirty, a beast of burden .  .  .  She had never felt so degraded.

 

        It was the Reverend who increased her shame by pointing this out.  “Miss Smithers, you certainly present a different appearance than the last time we saw you,” he said with a tinge of evangelistic condemnation.  This was New England, and he was an American Baptist, not a Southern Baptist, a distinction unknown to the naked teenager, who had been raised Catholic, but there was a shade of that southern fundamentalist lilt in his voice that made it unnecessary for him to say his full thoughts.  As in, “You have become a child of the Devil!”

 

        Mrs. Lowell said, “You are a much different, uh, person that what we remember.”

 

        Tami almost cried.  She wanted to say, no, I’m the same girl, the same girl that loves to dress in that white silk blouse and linen pants and heels you saw me in, you must believe me!!  But she knew how utterly ridiculous the words would sound and they died on her lips.

 

        “This is the way Miss Smithers has chosen to live her life,” the Dean said.  “Total nudity at all times.  It is her religion and according to Mr. Ross it would be unconstitutional to penalize her for it in any way.”

 

        “Is it true, child, that you have discarded all your clothing, and intend to stay totally naked for the rest of your life?”  the Reverend asked, as if interrogating her at an inquisition.

 

        Tami had caught her breath by now and stood calmly and nakedly in front of her audience.  She felt the urge to at least clasp her hands in front of her pussy, but knew she could not.  Then she noticed that, standing behind the others, Henry Ross was looking at her with a raised eyebrow that told her with fatal certitude what her answer to the Reverend’s question must be.  “Yes,” she said, briefly looking the Reverend in the eye, but then glancing downward again.  She thought again of summer, and clothes .  .  .

 

        “And that you consider modesty a -- a sin?”  the Reverend said with incredulity.

 

        “Yes.”

 

        “Then shouldn’t we all be naked?  Are you calling us sinners?”  The Reverend stepped forward slightly, getting agitated, but was held back by the gentle arm of Mrs. Lowell.

 

        Tami thought quickly.  “My -- religion is just for me.  .  .  I can’t explain it.”

 

        Mrs. Lowell spoke with concern.  “This .  .  .  assignment with the ground crew, I hear, was a substitute for your athletic requirement.  Is this suitable?  It looks like hard work.”

 

        The naked girl said, “No more than gymnastics workout,” which was only partly true.

 

        The older woman had other questions.  “The .  .  .  research at the Chalfont Institute, is that acceptable to you?”

 

        Again, a quick look at Henry Ross gave Tami the cue.  “Yes.”  Tami felt a drop of sweat running down her tummy and again felt the slimy feeling as her arm shifted minutely against her side.  She wished she at least had a towel to wipe herself off with, which probably would have been allowed, but this big bare room had nothing, not even a dirty mechanic’s rag.  She longed for her dorm shower, but that was more than an hour away, after more laboring on the treadmills and a dirty, sweaty, embarrassing walk across campus.

 

        Then Henry Ross spoke up for the first time.  “Is your participation in the project with Dr. Harridance, and then the project with Mr. McMasters -- is all that freely acceptable to you?”

 

        Tami knew this was not a fair question.  She didn’t know what the McMasters project would entail.  She had her fears.  But under the intense stares of these people she could not think of a way to express her misgivings without giving lie to her professed religion.  She said what she had to say.  “Yes.”

 

        There was some silence as the naked girl and her four questioners regarded each other.  She tried not to notice as their gazes tended to fix downwards to her breasts and her lush pubic hair.

 

        Mrs. Lowell’s warm, grandmotherly voice was heard.  “Dear, are you happy like this?”

 

        That was the question of questions.  Henry Ross’s eyebrow cocked again and he gave Tami a very, very suspicious look.  Tami’s voice almost cracked but she said quietly, “Yes.”

 

        “Well now you have it,” the Dean said to the two scholarship committee members.  “Miss Smithers is living her religion and appears to be thriving.  I don’t mind saying,” he said, with a bland look at Tami, “that her grades have been perfect A’s, and her conduct under the campus rules has been impeccable.”

 

        The Reverend gave Tami a long, roving look up and down her naked body with undisguised contempt.  It was all Tami could do to keep from crying with shame.

 

        After a little shuffling around the Dean said, “Well, I think we’re done here.  Miss Smithers, you might remember that your scholarship involved freshman year interviews in December and in April.  Mr. Noyes conducted the December interview, and this is all that was needed for the April interview.  In fact, we usually dispense with the April interview entirely if the grades are good, but in your special case the committee decided that you should be, uh, viewed in person.  .  .  I thank you for your time.  You may continue with what you were doing.”

 

        “Viewed in person.”  These words just reinforced Tami’s sense that she was like an animal being stared at in a zoo.  The Dean led the others out of the mill.  Standing in her moist footsteps, afraid to move, Tami watched them go.  The last one was Henry Ross, who turned back for a long, thorough gaze at Tami’s nakedness, somewhat like the Reverend had done, but instead of contempt, Ross’s gaze was full of gleeful, sadistic lust.  Tami glared at him, trying to project hatred through her helplessness and shame.

 

        After they left, the naked girl dutifully climbed up and splayed her legs out onto the treadmills and put her arms up to the overhead bars.  She grunted with a big, long push down and up as she got the machine moving again.  She briefly looked down at her dirty, naked, sweaty body, stained with dust, her erect nipples, her gritty bare feet.  The naked teenager, barely out of high school, closed her eyes.  She thought of lacy bras and nylons and silk blouses and patent leather shoes and all kinds of pretty things to wear.  Tears slowly rolled down her face as she wordlessly trudged on. 

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