by Graham

Author's note: This is a Settlement story. My latest novel is “The Settlement 3: The Expedition”, which is available from


Debris - A Settlement girl makes a disconcerting discovery

“Gosh,” said Beatriz, Number 313 in Settlement parlance, stopping for a moment. “The views are amazing up here!”

The other two young women, Sarah, Number 223 and Zuzana, Number 445 stopped behind her: they had to, for though the path itself was quite wide, there was only a single line of girl-rails, so there was no way they could pass the tall brunette. The two metre long chain tethers padlocked to their steel collars could move along the conduit that formed the rail, but they would not pass the steel ball that anchored the end of another girl’s bond within it.

“Have you not been up here before, then?” asked Sarah, who was blonde, grey-eyed, shorter and more curvy than Beatriz.

“I haven’t,” smiled the latter. “Well, it’s usually bolted off, isn’t it?”

This was true. The Settlement’s girl-rail system was now very extensive, giving the women chained to it lots of scope for exploration, but the more distant parts, such as this line that led up to the dams at the top of the irrigation system, were generally kept bolted off, accessible only when a man unlocked them, which was only done for specific reasons such as the maintenance visit on which the three women were now engaged.

“Well it’s not much further to the top,” said Sarah, “come on.”

Fetters rattling, the girls moved off. Despite their bondage, they walked quite easily: their tethers slid smoothly along the girl-rail, the forty-centimetre chain joining their ankles was quite adequate for mobility if you knew how to manage it, and the handcuffs that held their hands behind them left them more than enough arm movement for balancing. And of course they were all quite used to it: Beatriz and Zuzana, both in their early twenties, had grown to maturity in the community, receiving their chains when they had turned eighteen, and even Sarah, who had spent some time wandering in the wilderness outside before she found The Settlement, had now been resident for over three years, during which time, of course, only her handcuffs had ever been removed: Settlement women’s fetters, collars and tether chains stayed permanently locked in place, their being no reason ever to undo them.

Sarah had, like all the other females in the community, been naked throughout that time, too: Settlement women were never permitted to wear clothes. The path wound higher – they were almost a mile from the main campus now, and had passed the lower reservoirs. Ahead, the forested hills gave way to higher mountains, which even after the environmental disaster that had ravaged the old world still sported snow in winter. To the right, only about a hundred metres away, was the tall boundary fence that defended The Settlement from the outside world. To the left, running alongside the path, was a canal, delivering water for all their farming and domestic needs. On the far side of this, pretty alpine flowers bloomed in the grassy bank.

At last they came to a final, steep section of path. They crossed a bridge over the canal and then climbed up where their girl-rail ran alongside some steps cut roughly into the rock. “Ow!” yelled Zuzanna, treading on a stone. This was not a common experience for Settlement women, despite their being always barefoot: in the more populous areas of the community, the paths on either side of all the girl-rails were worn perfectly smooth from long use and careful maintenance.

“Wow,” said Beatriz, stopping again at the top. It was the uppermost dam, an earth structure, retaining a large open area of water. The girl-rail they had arrived by reached a T-junction with another one that led to their right all the way along the top of the dam, secured, as everywhere else, to massive concrete blocks placed at five metre intervals. To their left it curved down to a flat, concreted area right by the waters’ edge, with another short branch curving back again, ending in another small T-piece in an open-fronted wooden shelter.

“Welcome to the Top Dam,” said Sarah. “Come and look.”

She led the other two down onto the concreted area. Its surface felt warm to their feet, having been exposed to the sun for hours. At its edge they could see steps leading down into the water, and they could also see that the surface of the water was thick with driftwood, some large branches, mostly small.

“It’s all that wood,” said Sarah. “It washes down. We have to clear it out before it clogs up the sluices and gets into the canal. We just grab the wood and pull it out. The current makes the rest of it drift in. Dave will come with some barrows later and we can wheel it all away.”

Zuzana, who, like Sarah, was blonde, but taller with slim hips and large breasts, looked around her. She could see the wood, and in amongst it, other debris; plastic bottles, rubbish washed down from the mountains, relics of the old civilization, from before the cataclysm.

The sight made the tall blonde think. She had, of course, heard of the old world, though not in The Settlement’s formal education programme, which saw little benefit in teaching girls about alternative, lost lifestyles. But there were older residents, who claimed to remember former times, and told strange stories of cities and roads, and machines called aeroplanes that flew you right across the world. And even stranger stories about women who were not chained, and who wore clothes, just as men did. That, Zuzana thought, was a very weird concept. How scary it would be, to be allowed to wander freely, instead of being tethered to a girl-rail? How uncomfortable to cover up your body, not to mention how rude, when there were men that needed to be able to properly appreciate your beauty? But they were only stories. They meant nothing, really, did they?

Beatriz was also looking around. “What’s the shelter for?” she asked Sarah.

“Somewhere to take our breaks,” answered the blonde. “A bit of shade. It has water, see?” She pointed as best she could with her manacled hands, bringing them to her left hip and twisting her body, extending a finger. Beatriz could see the stand-pipe in the corner of the shelter, with a tin mug attached to it by a light chain, and beneath it, a wide bowl for lapping from, usable by animals or by handcuffed women. She looked to the side, further up the edge of the reservoir, where there was a smooth, sandy beach. It would have been ideal for relaxing or sunbathing, except that the girl-rail stopped before the end of the concrete. The beach was well out of the reach of a tethered female.

They started work, stepping down the concrete steps as far as their neck chains would allow, using their cuffed hands to grab bits of wood and carry them away from the edge. Like many tasks the girls had done over the years, the work might have been easier had they had their hands free, but since they had no male supervision, this was not an option. But they were used to working handcuffed, feeling behind their backs, helping each other when necessary, and they soon found a rhythm: a large pile of driftwood and a smaller one of rubbish soon began to accumulate, with, as Sarah had predicted, more washing in to take the place of that they lifted from the water.

After a couple of hours, they took a rest, sitting on the concrete with their feet resting in the cool water. “What happens to all this stuff, Sarah?” asked Beatriz, admiring their handiwork so far.

“The wood will be used for firewood,” the blonde girl answered, “and the rubbish will be sorted out. Some things might be recyclable. Even old bottles have a use, now we can’t make them anymore.”

“Do you remember using stuff like this then, Sarah?” asked Zuzana, gently kicking a piece of polythene, old packaging, that was trapped amongst the branches floating by the step.

“Some of it, yes,” said Sarah. She looked at the debris in question, but said no more. It was strange, now, to be reminded of old times. Not that it had all been happy. Not that any of it had been happy really – she had been a child when the earthquakes had started, and her father had died soon afterwards, foraging for food for the family. After that there had been years of wandering with her mother and sister, until all three of them had come to The Settlement. It had been difficult, and at times, savage, certainly not the old civilization, though her mother remembered that. But she had been clothed, and free of bondage, and she had used what remained of former things as it if had been normal. But now that world seemed so far away. It was almost as if even her own story was just a fantasy.

Would she go back? That was definitely a fantasy. Sarah twisted her hands in their cuffs, and looked down at her tether where it fell between her breasts. She’d grown used to being chained, so she rarely even thought about it. That was just how it was, here, for her and all the women. But over the years she had experienced enough frustration to have learned that however she might struggle, whatever she might do, a Settlement girl’s chains were quite simply inescapable. There was no way to break them, no way to slip them off, no way to defeat their restraint. And neither, of course, was their the slightest hope of ever being released. No, even if she wanted to go back to her old life, it could never happen. There was no way, now, that Sarah would ever be freed of the girl-rails. For better or worse, this was her life now, and The Settlement was her home.

They carried on, wanting to get as much done as they could before the sun got much higher, until at last they had worked their way through most of the thick driftwood. Isolated items could still be seen, gradually floating down the reservoir, but they were now taking a while to drift to where the tethered females could reach them.

“What is that?” asked Beatriz, noticing something in the water. “Can you see?” Instead of trying to point with a finger, she extended her long, elegant, shackled legs, and used a foot to indicate something coloured but floppy, floating some distance out from the shore.

“I don’t know,” said Sarah, curious. “It looks like it might be useful, anyhow.”

They watched for a while as the item edged steadily towards them on the current, but all of a sudden a breeze caught it and it drifted in towards the little beach, a little way from the end of the concrete.

“Damn!” exclaimed Sarah. “Just when I could almost tell what it was.” She pulled her neck chain right to the end of the girl-rail closest to the beach and reached out, straining against her tether, but it was no good, so she sat down and stretched out her legs, hoping to catch the mystery object with a toe. But still it remained several centimetres out of reach.

“Let me have a go,” said Beatriz, who was much taller than the blonde.

This necessitated a retreat to the T-junction leading to the shelter, the nearest place where the women could change order on the girl-rail. They dragged their tethers back and shunted around, allowing Beatriz to get to the very end of the concrete. The others stood and watched whilst the brunette sat down, stretched out her legs and supported herself on her shackled hands. “Help me pull my neck-chain,” she said. “It will go a bit straighter if you guys take some of the weight.”

Sarah and Zusana positioned themselves, kneeling with their backs to Beatriz’ tether and grasping its cold links in their cuffed hands. They pulled, whilst the brunette stretched until her collar dug uncomfortably against her neck. She tried again, lying on her stomach, the securely locked padlock at her throat clicking against its D-ring as the chain pulled tight, but it was no good. The thing that interested them remained just a few centimetres beyond Beatriz’ toes.

“Damn!” the brunette exclaimed, jerking frustratedly at her handcuffs. But there was nothing she could do. When something was out of a Settlement woman’s reach, it was out of her reach, and that was all there was to it. There was simply no defeating girl-rails and tether chains.

“Here,” said Zuzana, disappearing off towards the wood pile. “How about this?” She selected a long, but reasonably light piece of driftwood that they had recovered from the steps a little while before. “Perhaps we can use this to dislodge it?”

It took a deal of effort, all three women having a try, kneeling with their back to their quarry, holding the wood with their manacled hands and working blind, to the instructions of one of the others, but in the end Beatriz managed to get the item, which was plainly made of fabric of some kind, into the water once more. Then, the three of them sat on the top step, their ankles in once more in the water, while the thing, whatever it was, floated slowly within reach.

When it was near enough, Zuzana waded in, turned around and grabbed the object, which poured with water as she pulled it up the steps. It was perhaps half a metre long, vaguely triangular. Beatriz helped hold it out, while Sarah looked on, again thinking of times past. How many years since she had seen one of those?

“Wow,” she said. “It’s a skirt!”

Beatriz and Zuzana, still holding the garment behind them, looked over their shoulders at their companion. “What’s a skirt?” asked the former. Then “Oh, hey, Sarah?” as she realized that the shorter blonde girl had tears running down her cheeks. “Come on, let’s sit in the shade for a bit.”

They dropped the old skirt where they stood and made for the shelter, sitting with Sarah in the middle. There was not much they could really do: their wrist chains prevented them hugging her, or even drying her eyes, so they just pressed their arms gently against hers and waited for her tears to ease. “Sorry,” she said, at last. “Sorry. It’s just, sometimes, remembering the old days. But it’s nothing, nothing important. No need to concern yourselves.”

But Zuzana and Beatriz were both really curious: “Go on, tell us,” said the latter. “What is it, that makes you so sad?”

“It’s… it’s a female garment,” splutted Sarah. I used to wear them, before… you know.”

“Oh, right.” Incomprehension.

“It fastens round your waist, and dangles down. You wear it over panties.” Sarah smiled at her companions, realizing they were looking at her in complete bemusement.

“Panties,” she went on. “An undergarment. Sort of like a man’s undies, but tighter, more shaped.”

“You really used to wear things like that? Wow. How strange. But how could that work, without covering your muff?” The concept of covering up her feminine intimacies was utterly foreign to Zuzana. “What if a man wanted to see?”

“He couldn’t,” said Sarah, feeling the conversation very strange. “I mean, it’s hard to explain, but things were different then.” Then, when women could keep their bodies private. Here, now, only their names were private from men, who had to use their numbers. Even the women’s toilets and showers were open to the view of any men that chose to look – and many did. “See,” Sarah went on, “it must be contraband, really. There will be men that know what it is, just like I do.” And, she thought, unlike panties, or bras, or most other garments, it would even be possible to put on a skirt, notwithstanding that you were handcuffed and fettered. That would never do: it would be a serious breach of community rules.

“We’d better get rid of it then,” said Zuzana. “Shall we throw it back in the water?”

“No point,” said Beatriz, “it would only drift back to the steps.”

“It might be useful,” said Sarah. “It is fabric, after all. We should throw it beyond our reach, and tell Dave when he comes up, then he can take charge of it.

This was a good idea in principle, but not that easy to do. Throwing things was not something that women’s handcuffs were really designed to permit, and whilst all three girls had a go, none succeeded in getting the skirt – which was still quite heavy with water – beyond where they could easily reach it. Sarah tried again, taking a good grip on the garment and spinning round, trying to gain momentum. All she succeeded in doing was tangling her tether chain around her legs and collapsing in a heap on the hard ground. “Ooh!” she exclaimed, and then giggled. “Mother earth,” she went on. “You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get something out of reach, would you? The times you want something that is already out of reach.”

Beatriz shrugged, clinking her handcuffs. That was, as far as she was concerned, just the way it was. Women’s chains permitted what they permitted, and stopped everything else. That was what they were for.

“I know,” said Zuzana, “It’s simple. Here, put it on the end of that stick.” She brandished the long piece of driftwood they’d used to retrieve the skirt in the first place. “Now,” said the taller blonde, “push it as far away as you can with your hands, while I get another stick.”

Beatriz sat down to do the honours. She sat with her back to the stick and shuffled back till her tether pulled tight, whilst at the same time using her shackled hands to push the stick away. She got the nearer end of the stick about two metres from the girl rail, with the skirt, stuck to the further end, a good way beyond that.

“Now,” said Zuzana, returning dragging another long branch behind her. “Use this to push the other stick away. It will be easy enough to push, but impossible to pull back again, so we will never get at the skirt thing once it’s done.”

After a while, the three of them stood there, admiring their efforts. The second stick had been put back on the pile, the first one having been pushed well out and twisted sideways. Also, helpfully, the skirt had come loose from the end of it. It was far enough away to be considered safely beyond the reach of women who remained helplessly fastened to the girl-rails, even ones who, over their years of captivity, had developed the resourcefulness to test the very limits of their bondage.

“Come on,” said Beatriz at last, her hands twisting in their cuffs, “let’s do some more work. A load more branches have drifted in while we were doing that.”

Chains rattling merrily, the three naked girls returned to the concrete steps and set about the next load of driftwood.

The End

Copyright© 2012 by Kirsten Graham. All rights reserved.