Straitjackets

by Rebecca

This story consists of three linked episodes. The second episode also links to my previous set of reminiscences about handcuffs, but, other than that, I can't really date these with any degree of confidence. Possible years are anything from 1958-1961. I have written them us as if they followed on fairly closely after each other, but that's really just a device to make the narrative flow better. Similarly, I have injected dialogue where necessary, but I can't honestly claim to remember the exact words that were spoken so many years ago. On the other hand, I do still seem to be able to remember how my sister and I were tied up in vivid detail.

1: Inspiration

I don't think I had heard the term 'straitjacket' until I was about nine years old (or if I had, it didn't make any impression on me). It was while watching children's television with my sister one afternoon (this was back in the late 1950s, when British television was small, flickery and black-and-white and there were only two channels) that we saw a straitjacket in action for the first time. I haven't a clue what the programme was that we were watching, but this particular segment of it featured an escape artist who specialised in doing a very quick straitjacket escape.

The sequence began with the performer being inserted into the jacket. The compère of the show pointed out the strength of the jacket's canvas construction and the robustness of its leather straps and big metal buckles. We saw the performer being helped into the jacket. The compère showed us that the long sleeves of the jacket completely covered the artist's arms and hands and had no hidden openings in them. We watched while two assistants fastened the back of the straitjacket shut with a series of leather straps and buckles. Another strap went between the performer's legs and was buckled to the back of the jacket. The escape artist then crossed his arms in front of him and the assistants pulled the ends of the straitjacket sleeves around behind his back and buckled them together.

Karen and I were fascinated by how neatly packaged and thoroughly trussed up the performer now was. Surely nobody could escape from that? The escape artist dropped first to his knees and then right down onto the floor as he engaged in a titanic struggle against the straitjacket. We watched spellbound as his strategy became apparent. He was using his body weight to force one elbow as far across in front of his body as he could and then to work the sleeve containing that arm over the opposite elbow and up towards his shoulder. Eventually, he got the sleeve up over his shoulder and was able to get it over his head. (I'm sure you've seen escape artists, or at least pictures of them, using just this method to escape.) The sleeves of the straitjacket were still buckled together at this point, but the performer was able to get his arms in front of him. He reached behind his neck and seemed to be fiddling with the highest strap securing the jacket, manipulating the buckle with his fingers through the thickness of the canvas sleeve. Suddenly that strap was undone and some more intense wriggling ensued. Soon, the escape artist's fingers were visible at the neckline of the straitjacket. He undid another, possibly another two, of the straps securing the back of the jacket. The performer got back up onto his feet and, with a little more wriggling, the straitjacket slid down his body and he was able to step out of it.

My sister and I were enthralled by seeing this and, as soon as it was over, we went off to tell our mother what we had seen. It was she who explained to us that the garment we had seen was called a straitjacket. (We thought that was a funny name as it didn't look to be any straighter than any other kind of jacket, but she explained that 'strait' was an old-fashioned word meaning 'narrow'.) She also explained that it was used to restrain mentally ill people who might be a danger to themselves or others.

Naturally, being the kind of little girls we were, Karen and I decided to try to replicate the straitjacket at the earliest possible opportunity. We decided that a sweater with its sleeves knotted together might present a similar challenge. Although my sister is over a year older than me, I was significantly taller and more heavily built than her (and indeed still am as an adult), so we tried one of my sweaters on her, a heavy winter one. It was quite roomy on me and vastly too big for Karen. The sleeves came right down over her hands, which was exactly what we wanted. She crossed her arms, as we had seen the escape artist do, and I pulled the ends of the sleeves round behind her back and knotted them together. Given the enormous struggle the performer we had watched put up in order to make good his escape, we thought that Karen might well be completely helpless. However, very much to our surprise, Karen found it quite easy to work one sleeve up to her shoulder and over her head, without any of the thrashing around on the floor that the escape artist seemed to need. We tried again, this time pulling the sleeves much tighter, but it made almost no difference to how easy it was for Karen to escape.

We wondered if the sweater was actually too loose on Karen, so I put it on instead. The sleeves were too short to be knotted together on me, but could still be pulled down over my hands. We linked them by using one of the old winter scarves in the box of tying-up supplies we kept in our wardrobe. We tried several times, pulling everything tighter each time, but, just as Karen had found, I had no real difficulty escaping.

We tried again without the sweater but with my arms in the same position and with my wrists linked together by a scarf going behind my back. Once again, I could free myself within seconds. It was a little more difficult without the stretchiness of the sweater sleeves, but not significantly so.

Finally, I wore a pair of mittens to protect my skin and Karen used rope to link my wrists in a sort of straitjacketless straitjacket position. There was a small amount of struggling to get the rope to ride up over my elbow and then over my shoulder, but it really wasn't difficult. Years later, I discovered that this tie-up, done with rope, as we had done it, is called a 'Jacobi tie' and it was popular both with stage performers and fraudulent spirit mediums precisely because it looks so utterly incapacitating yet is simplicity itself to get out of.

Karen and I were driven to the conclusion that the performance we had seen on television was just that: a performance, an act. The escape artist's predicament looked quite impressive, but on the basis of our own experience, we reckoned that he could have escaped from his straitjacket with far less effort and in a fraction of the time. Of course, it would have been much less exciting that way and he would never have been on television doing it.

We were disappointed, but nevertheless puzzled. A straitjacket was clearly a perfectly genuine piece of equipment intended to restrain unruly psychiatric patients; our mother recognised it from our description and a quick check in an encyclopaedia confirmed her explanation. (There was even an drawing of a man strapped into one.) The question remained, however, if they were as easy to escape from as we believed, why were they used?

Months later, possibly over a year later, enlightenment came in the form of a newspaper advertisement. I no longer remember what it was advertising, but it was one of those ones with a slogan along the lines of "You'd have to be crazy not to...". The picture was of a middle-aged woman in a straitjacket, gagged with a handkerchief and with her ankles roped together. My mental image of the picture is crystal clear, so much so that years later I was able to identify the straitjacket as a Posey, just from memory. The interesting thing for Karen and me was that the straitjacket had a loop of fabric on the front, through which the wearer's arms were passed, and just visible in the shadow under one arm was another smaller loop through which the strap attached to the opposite sleeve went. Now we understood that the makers of real straitjackets had anticipated the escape strategy that the escapologist had used. To our eyes, the arrangement looked to be inescapable. While it was interesting, Karen and I couldn't think of away of applying our new-found understanding, but we kept the newspaper cutting anyway.

2: Implementation

Having failed to produce anything remotely secure, my sister and I gave up on trying to devise our own straitjacket until the incident I described in my story "Handcuffs", when I got stuck after tying myself up and handcuffing myself. I came away from that with badly and deeply bruised wrists. For some time afterwards I couldn't tolerate pressure on my wrists, so being handcuffed or tied with rope was completely out of the question. We experimented with our old standby of using winter scarves, but although that was less painful than rope anything tight enough to be even remotely secure still hurt too much.

After some thought, Karen pointed out that our attempt at using a sweater as a straitjacket didn't put any pressure on the wrists at all. I agreed with her but reminded her that we had never managed to make it escape-proof. Karen took the optimistic view that re-visiting the problem might suggest a solution. My sister tended to take a slightly Micawberish view that '"something would turn up", and her optimism was often vindicated, so I concurred with the suggestion.

It was a weekday afternoon and I was still dressed in my school uniform dress, a grey tunic (one of those pinafore dresses that are sometimes mistakenly called 'gymslips'). It was a chilly November day, so I had worn a thin white sweater underneath it instead of the proper shirt and tie. I removed the grey cardigan I was wearing on top and shed the tunic. I dithered about putting a skirt on, but decided that I would be all right in my sweater and red school tights. Karen put a pair of socks over my hands to stop the sleeves of my sweater from rucking up then helped me put my heavy navy blue sweater on top, the one we had used in our earlier experiment. I crossed my arms and Karen pulled the sleeves down over my hands. She took one of the old scarves from our tying up box and knotted it to one sleeve then pulled it tight across my back as she tied it to the other sleeve.

We pondered what to do next, then my sister suggested enlisting some help from our mother to see if she could make any suggestions.

We went downstairs from our bedroom and found our Mum in the kitchen. We delivered quite a long complicated explanation about the escape artist we had seen on televison (which she knew about), the experiments we had carried out (which she was only vaguely aware of) and our conclusion that the television performer had been pretending his escape was much harder than it really was. Finally, we showed her the newspaper cutting and pointed out that the straps over the photographic model's arms would prevent the type of escape that we had found so easy with our improvised straitjacket.

"There ought to be a strap between her legs too," I pointed out, "but you can see that it's been tucked up inside the jacket for the photograph."

"They probably couldn't do it up because she's wearing a skirt," Mum suggested.

"How can we do something to keep Becca's arms down like that?" Karen asked, pointing to the newspaper advertisement and bringing the conversation back to the point.

Mum thought for a moment then said, "I think we can do it quite easily." She described one of the scarves in our collection of tying-up material and sent Karen to fetch it.

Karen ran upstairs and returned about half a minute later, handing the scarf, one about four feet long, to our mother. Mum shook the scarf out (it was a trifle crumpled) then found the centre. She hung it over my forearms (which were parallel across my tummy) with one end going down between my arms and my body and the other hanging free in front of me. She took hold of the two ends, passed them between my legs and tied them together around the scarf that linked the sleeves of my sweater and ran across the small of my back.

Karen and I were delighted at the ingenuity and simplicity of Mum's solution. My sweater had been transformed in an instant into a very effective improvised straitjacket. There was now no way that I could raise either arm enough to get the a sleeve over my head and thus escape. At the same time, there was no stress whatever on my bruised wrists. I was completely helpless but perfectly comfortable.

"Do you want to try it too?" Mum asked Karen, who was very obviously just as taken with my predicament as I was myself.

"Yes please," she replied.

"Let's go upstairs and find a sweater then," our mother suggested.

Without waiting another instant, Karen ran out of the kitchen and I could hear the thumps as she took the stairs two at a time. Mum followed at a more sedate pace and I brought up the rear. I was not about to risk falling on the stairs, so I took them slowly and carefully.

By the time I arrived in my bedroom, Karen had already divested herself of most of her school uniform. Unlike me, she had been wearing a grey skirt rather than a tunic with a white shirt and red school tie. She had a thin grey V-necked sweater over her shirt and a thick grey cardigan on top of that. These garments were now in a heap on my bed, which, as the lower of the two bunks, tended to get used as a dumping-ground for clothes. Karen was just in the singlet she had been wearing under her shirt and her red school tights. As I arrived in our room, she had selected a round-necked pink sweater and was in the process of wriggling into it.

Mum arrived a moment later, having been to her own bedroom first.

"This should be big enough," she declared, shaking out the sweater she was carrying. It was a heavy skiing sweater, mainly white but with a pattern of running reindeer in navy blue on an ice-blue band around the chest and upper arms.

Mum held the sweater ready to help Karen put it on.

"Socks over hands first," I prompted, keen to ensure that my sister had the same experience as me.

Karen selected a short but thick pair and handed them to our mother, who pulled them on over her hands and tucked the ends of her sweater sleeves neatly into them.

Mum's big skiing sweater went on next. It was enormous on Karen's tiny frame with the sleeves hanging down over her hands and the hem coming well below her bottom. The collar was designed for someone with a rather longer neck than Karen's, so Mum rearranged it with an extra fold so that it came below her chin. The sleeves were long enough that they could be knotted together behind Karen's back with no difficulty. Mum selected another scarf from the collection of rather stretched and battered specimens we had in our tying-up box and used it to apply the finishing touch to Karen's sweater straitjacket, just as she had to mine.

Karen tested the limits of her freedom, realising quickly as I had done that she was completely helpless.

"Good, isn't it?" I asked my sister.

Karen grinned and nodded in reply. "Can we stay like this until teatime, Mum?"

"I don't see why not, but do you want me to switch the television on for you?"

My sister and I had lost track of time and hadn't realised that children's television was just about to start. (There was only an hour of children's programmes each afternoon back then, with only two channels to watch, and we liked to get our daily dose.)

We followed our mother downstairs, walking carefully as we negotiated the steep winding staircase. We settled ourselves down on the lounge sofa as usual and waited while the television warmed up. (Old-fashioned sets with valves or vacuum tubes took several minutes to come on and settle down.)

Karen's and my younger brother Timothy (three years younger than me) generally joined us when we were watching television together. He was quite used to seeing his peculiar big sisters trussed up, so he studied us briefly, taking in the details of novel way we were immobilised, then sat down on the sofa between us without making any comment at all.

We were still patiently watching an information card on the screen telling us that we were watching the Croydon transmitter of the Independent Television Authority broadcasting on channel 9 and that programmes would begin shortly, when our mother came into the lounge again.

I heard a startled squawk from Karen and turned my head to see that Mum was pulling a pink balaclava down over her head. A few seconds later, I suffered the same indignity with a grey one. The classic British knitted children's balaclava has a completely open face and only covers the top, back and sides of the head and the neck. However, these ones were altogether more substantial. Karen's pink balaclava had been inherited as a hand-me-down from our cousin Annie and had been knitted by one of her Canadian aunts. (Annie's father, our Uncle Alf, was Canadian.) It covered her head completely with vision being through a slot about three quarters of an inch high, with neatly-finished rounded ends and just wide enough for her eyes. In order not to be left out, a similar one was made for me, but in grey. These balaclavas were wonderfully warm, but not particularly convenient. The knitted fabric was not stretchy enough to pull down to expose your mouth (it was just about possible to get it below the nose, but not at all comfortable like that). This meant that on a cold day you could be comfortable outdoors, but rapidly overheat going into a shop and have to take the balaclava off completely only to have to put it back on again when you went out.

"Just to keep the knots safe from your teeth," our Mum explained.

Timothy looked first at Karen then at me then grinned broadly, as well he might; I'm sure we both looked quite ridiculous.

"And don't you go untying them either, Tim," Mum added.

"Hadn't you better tie me up as well, to make sure?" Timothy asked.

Timothy generally didn't join in our tying-up games (and could sometimes get quite frightened if he was tied up), but from time to time would decide that he was being left out. The novelty of the situation seemed to make this one of those times.

Mum beckoned to Timothy from the doorway, so he jumped down off the sofa and followed her out of the room. When he came back a few minutes later, he was immobilised in much the same way as we were. Mum had straitjacketed him in a red sweater which was rather generously sized for him 'to grow into'. His arms were held down using his own school scarf going down between his legs and tied to the knotted sleeves between him. He also had a grey scarf tied over his mouth and nose and knotted behind his head. It was a bit of a struggle for Timothy to get up onto the sofa tied up like that but, after a couple of tries, he managed it and settled down between Karen and me again.

"Did Mum gag you?" I asked, wondering about Timothy's scarf.

"No, she said it was so I didn't untie you with my teeth," he replied.

"Shhh!" Karen exclaimed impatiently, trying to concentrate on the television programme.

Most afternoons, children's television consisted of two half-hour programmes on each of the two channels (although there were exceptions). I remember that it was the offering in the first slot that we were interested in, although I no longer have any recollection of what it actually was.

At half-past five, after our programme had finished, Karen and I briefly discussed our predicament. We agreed that we would have been quite happy to sit in front of the television, just enjoying being tied up in a new way, but the balaclavas and Timothy's scarf were as good as an escape challenge from Mum. She might just as well have taunted us with "Now get out of that!" and we felt that our skills as escape artists were being called into question.

The problem was that, it wasn't at all obvious that there was any possibility of escape, no matter how motivated we might be. On the face of it, we were completely stuck. With the few knots securing each of us being placed behind our backs, they were completely out of reach. It was unlikely that we could make any impression on each other's knots with our fingers, as our hands were covered by socks and then by the sleeves of our improvised straitjackets. On top of that, our arms were positioned so that we could only bring one hand to any knot we tried to loosen and if we did try anything like that, the elbow of the opposite arm was almost guaranteed to get in the way. Our legs were free, but that seemed unlikely to be of any help. I couldn't imagine being able to untie knots with my bare feet, let alone with thick tights on.

Using our teeth seemed to be the most promising direction to investigate. At my instigation, Timothy bounced himself off the sofa and went over to sit on another chair so that I could try to loosen Karen's knots with my teeth. Unfortunately, my balaclava worked just as effectively as Mum thought it would. Any attempt to grip a knot simply resulted in getting a mouthful of wool and not being able to obtain a firm enough grip to do anything. Much the same thing happened when I tried to use my teeth to pull Karen's balaclava off.

Defeated, I flopped back on my half of the sofa. It really looked as though our mother had defeated us with this deceptively simple tie-up.

"I think I know how to get out of this," Karen said cautiously after several minutes' thoughtful silence. "Give me some space, Becca."

I was sitting on Karen's right, so I shuffled as far towards my end of the sofa as I could go.

My sister brought her right foot up close to her bottom, the bent knee of her right leg pointing towards me along the sofa, which is why she needed the extra space. I realised immediately that she was trying to hook her toe under the scarf that linked her arms in front with the knotted sleeves behind. The problem was that the sweater Karen was wearing as her straitjacket was very long, so a lot of it was bunched up between her legs.

"This isn't working," Karen told me after a few minutes of effort.

"Let me try," I offered. I reasoned that I might have a better chance with the shorter sweater I was wearing.

I tried the same manoeuvre as Karen, but with my left leg. I had no problem getting my leg into that position: like my sister, I had attended ballet lessons for several years and in consequence was very flexible. (Yoga has kept me supple since then.) I forced my arms a little lower to generate some slack in the scarf between my legs and at the third or fourth attempt, hooked my toes under it. Once I had my whole foot through, it was simply a matter of straightening my leg while keeping my foot bent at right angles to my shin. There was enough stretch in the sweater and scarves with which I was bound that the scarf slid smoothly up over my knee, ending up completely slack at the left side of my waist.

"Well done, little sis!" Karen congratulated me.

I wasn't out yet, but was fairly sure it was just a matter of time now. There was no problem getting one arm up over my head, so that I had my arms in front of me, the sleeves of my sweater still linked by a scarf and the scarf that had been between my legs a somewhat complicated tangle around my left arm. I reached up and pulled my balaclava off, gripping it through the sleeve of my sweater with my sock-covered right hand. With my mouth now uncovered, I could tackle the knots with my teeth. I was completely free within another two minutes.

It only took a further five minutes or so to free Karen and Timothy. We neatly folded the sweaters, scarves and balaclavas we had been bound with and piled them on an empty chair, then settled down to watch the last few minutes of children's television.

When Mum looked in at about six o'clock to see how we were faring, she was utterly astonished to see that all three of us were completely free. We refused to be drawn on how we had done it, citing the magician's traditional rules of secrecy.

Our mother was truly baffled by our escape and formed the theory that we had found some way to get one arm up over our heads, despite the scarf holding them down. She promised to come up with an even more escape-proof straitjacket that she was sure would hold us. Of course, simply tying our ankles together would have foiled our escape completely, but we never told her that.

3: Embellishment

Although Karen and I steadfastly refused to reveal our escape secret to our Mum, we nevertheless felt a deep need to brag to somebody about it. The chosen somebody was our cousin Annie, eight years older than me. She was our babysitter when her parents and ours went out for an evening together every few weeks. She was also our confidante and an enthusiastic participant in the crazy tie-up games we sometimes played.

The opportunity arose one Friday evening when Annie was in charge while the grownups were out for a meal and an evening of dancing together. She was impressed both by the apparent technical difficulty of the escape and the cheekiness of our refusal to tell our mother the secret. Annie insisted on seeing a reprise of the escape, so Karen tied me up in exactly the same way that Mum had. We pointed out the security measures that our mother had employed to thwart any escape attempts, including the socks over my hands before the straitjacket sweater went on and the balaclava to prevent me from deploying my teeth on any knots.

Once I was all done up in the improvised straitjacket again. I set about repeating my escape technique for Annie. Having done it once before, there was no wasted time figuring out what I was doing, so I was completely free in only three or four minutes. Annie, Karen and Timothy gave me a little round of applause as I finally wriggled out of the big sweater.

After we had all eaten and Timothy had been put to bed, Annie asked if Karen and I would like to repeat the straitjacket experience but with our legs tied so that we couldn't escape this time. When our mother had tried the straitjacket arrangement on us, it had been because I still had sore wrists from my misadventure with handcuffs. It had been a good solution to allow me to be tied up without getting hurt further, but we had effectively subverted the experience by treating it as an escape challenge and had never had the chance to simply enjoy the helplessness of being secured in our improvised straitjackets. We had thought of asking our mother to tie us up that way again, but also to tie our legs, but had been reluctant to do so in case we gave away the secret of our escape that we were guarding so jealously. Accordingly, Annie and I enthusiastically agreed to our cousin's suggestion.

I was already dressed in just a sweater and a pair of woollen tights for my earlier escape demonstration and had not bothered to put a skirt on since. Karen went up to our bedroom to change out of her school uniform and into a similar outfit while Annie and I fetched my mother's skiing sweater for Karen and our box of tying-up materials for the other items we would need.

Knowing that her cousins were a pair of fairly tricky customers, Annie took a cautious approach to securing us. She started by pulling socks over our hands and up over the sleeves of our sweaters. She used knee-length socks, which came well up over our elbows and would therefore be totally impossible to jettison inside our improvised straitjackets. We both put our arms in the classic straitjacket position next. Karen was easier to secure like this as the sleeves of her sweater were long enough to be tied together directly. As mine required a short scarf to link the sleeves, Annie took considerable care over the knots. Instead of just looping a scarf over my arms where they crossed, Annie tied it around them and then took the ends down between my legs and tied them off to the scarf across my back. As Annie applied the same arrangement to my sister, I studied what she had done and realised that this would stymie my escape technique quite effectively, even without tying my legs together.

Annie helped Karen and me sit down side by side on the sofa then set to work to tie our legs together. She selected some more of the rather stretched and battered winter scarves that we had accumulated in our collection of tying-up materials. In her opinion, this was more appropriate than rope for a 'padded-cell' style of tie up, Annie explained. She bound our legs at the ankles and below our knees, neatly and securely cinching each of the bindings.

The way Karen and I were tied was perfect in our estimation. It was quite comfortable and, given the relaxed position of our limbs, would probably remain so, even if we were tied up like this for several hours, but, on the other hand, it was obvious to us that it was utterly inescapable. We expressed our appreciation to Annie and she surprised us by putting a proposition to us. It sounded excitingly scary so we cautiously gave her the go-ahead.

Our cousin disappeared from the room and reappeared a few moments later with a polythene bag of cotton-wool balls and a small jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly. She formed one of the cotton balls into a small cylinder, coated it with Vaseline and eased it into my right ear, repeating the process on my other ear and then on Karen's ears. Both Karen and I had suffered from frequent ear-aches and occasional infections when we were younger (resulting in a perforated eardrum in my sister's case) and these improvised earplugs were our mother's standard precaution when we went swimming. The layer of Vaseline around the plug of cotton wool meant that they were both waterproof and a very intimate fit inside the ear canal. As well as being cheap and disposable, these earplugs also reduced the volume of sound we could hear far more than the commercially made foam earplugs sold by pharmacies.

Annie took another trip out of the room, returning with two balled-up handkerchiefs in her hand. It was obvious what these were for so Karen and I opened our mouths and allowed our cousin to push the handkerchiefs inside them. When I closed my mouth, I realised that Annie had moistened the handkerchiefs in warm water, vastly improving their comfort.

The next stage was for our cousin to pull our balaclavas on over our heads. I had doubts that this would prevent me from pushing the handkerchief out of my mouth with my tongue, but Annie had thought of that: she tied a short scarf over each of our mouths on top of the balaclava. This was cunningly thought out. The scarf covered my mouth but not my nose or chin and prevented any attempt to spit out the handkerchief. The friction between the scarf and the wool of the balaclava also made it impossible to work the scarf down over my chin.

Finally, Annie blindfolded Karen and me. She centred a scarf at the back of my head and then wrapped each end across my eyes, knotting them together behind my head. I assume she did the same to Karen, but of course I wasn't able to see that.

"All done," Annie announced.

With the cotton plugs, my own hair, my balaclava and two layers of scarf over each ear, my cousin's voice sounded muted and distant, but from the tone of her voice she was clearly speaking very loudly, almost shouting. All the smaller noises in the room, such as the ticking of the clock and the gentle creaks and groans made by the springs in the sofa where Karen and I sat had disappeared completely.

I had expected the experience just to be like any other tie-up game but without being able to see or hear. I was surprised at how disorientating it was. I was aware within a few minutes that I had completely lost track of time. Warmly bundled up and without any aural of visual stimulus, it was also very difficult to keep awake and I am sure that I drifted off into a light sleep from time to time. After a while, I suddenly became aware that my ankle binding was being loosened. This stopped after only a few seconds and then a little later, I felt it being tightened again. I tried to work out what might be going on, but in my peculiar mental state, I found I was unable to focus my thoughts clearly and may well have dozed off again.

I finally came to myself properly when Annie unwound the blindfold from around my head. I blinked in the brightness of the room lights as she untied my gag, took my balaclava off and removed the packing from my mouth and ears. She left me tied up while she took the wrappings off Karen's head.

My senses seemed oddly heightened after the spell of darkness and silence. As I looked around the room, the colours of everything looked more vibrant than usual and the small household sounds like the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece seemed crisper and more distinct. After a few seconds of looking around me, my eyes came to rest on my brother Timothy. He was in his usual winter nightwear of warm pyjamas worn with socks and a sweater and lying on his tummy on the hearthrug. He had been tied up rather ingeniously using one of the very long scarves in our collection of tying-up materials. His wrists were crossed and tied with one end of the scarf, while the other end bound his ankles, which were also crossed. His knees were bent so that his feet were almost in contact with his bottom. (This was the first time that I had seen this arrangement and it was only many years later that I learned that it was called a hog-tie.) He was gagged with a long sock pulled between his teeth and knotted behind his head. I could also see the corner of a handkerchief protruding from his mouth.

I swallowed a few times to get my mouth working properly than asked Annie why Timothy was tied up.

"He must have sneaked downstairs while I was in the kitchen and I caught him fiddling with the scarf around your ankles," she explained. "I knew how my Mum had dealt with that before, so I trussed him up before he could be any more of a nuisance."

By this time, Karen's senses were all working again and we compared notes on our experience as Annie freed us from the rest of our bonds. Like me, Karen had also found her mind wandering and had been unable to keep track of time. (We had actually been tied up for an hour, but it somehow seemed both much shorter and far longer than that.) Annie explained that what we had experienced was called sensory deprivation and that it could seriously mess with your mind if it went on for long enough.

"I suppose we'd better get this one back to bed," Annie said, indicating Timothy.

"We could just leave him tied up," Karen suggested, provoking a satisfactory squeak of protest from our brother.

"Tempting," Annie agreed, but she knelt down and untied Timothy's bonds.

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