[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared, in slightly different form, on Ruthie's Club, accompanied by two delightful manga-style illustrations by Lady Neko. I'd like to thank Ruthie for patiently working with the rather tempermental author on beating the story into shape. I'd also like to thank The Wolffman and Selena Jardine for their help with an earlier draft.

Ruthie was originally planning to run it in late September, but I asked if it could go up for the last week of August instead—a wish she happily granted. It was important to me because that was the week of Burningman. On that week about thirty thousand cyberpunks, aging hippies, unemployed dot-commers, artists, rave kids, musicians, gawkers, unicyclists, fire-breathers, and assorted freaks were converging on the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada for the Burningman arts festival. There, they built a city and, at the end of the week, tore it down. They had parades, parties, poetry readings, puppet shows, public spankings, and pillow fights. On Saturday, with much ceremony, a fifty-foot wooden effigy of a man will be burned. They whooped, danced, threw things on the fire, packed up, and finally headed home. Ruthie asked me to include a note about what the Burningman festival is all about. Ruthie, if I knew, I promise I would tell you.

Vinnie]

{Narrator's Note: I sent a draft of this story to Amanda. Here's the e-mail I got in response, reprinted without comment:

Hi, Vinnie—

I read your story and I thought it was pretty good. I mean, apart from you making me look like a total bitch who talks like a teeny-bopper. It was a weird situation, though, and it's interesting to see how it looked to you.

I noticed you didn't say anything about how you look, though, which is kind of unfair, considering how you go on and on describing Tanya and how many remarks you get in about the size of my ass.

In case you haven't looked in a mirror in the last decade, here's a description for you:

You're tallish and kind of skinny, a 35-32-34, I'd guess, with a little bit of a slouch. You've got beautiful big brown eyes and pale skin. You've got a long, kind of aqualine nose, and not much chin to speak of. Most of the time, you look kind of like Franz Kafka in a good mood, if that's not a complete contradiction.

I've seen you comb your hair with my own eyes. Otherwise, I might think you never had. The effects never seem to last more than about ten minutes.

At Burningman that year, you had a scrufy little goatee that you were constantly pulling on.

You don't have much in the way of body hair or muscle tone, though you can be surprisingly strong. You do have a very cute little ass and beautiful slender hands.

Hugs 'n' noogies,
Manda

}
I returned from Center Camp to find that Amanda had started breakfast without me. It wasn't yet nine o'clock, but it was already bright enough that I needed my glacier glasses as I set her large latte down in the dust beside her. "You took forever," she observed as I settled into the cheap lawn chair beside hers, put my small black coffee down, and dug in.

Soon, a precarious assemblage of plates and bowls bearing bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, and chopped red onions teetered across our knees. We'd lugged several packed picnic baskets and coolers with us. Hey, just because we're spending a week in the desert doesn't mean we can't eat well.

We were dressed similarly, in patterned sarongs, sandals, and glacier glasses, our torsos bare to catch the last cool breezes before the day's real heat set in. Both of us had various beads, trinkets, and medallions strung around our necks, though Amanda had been given many more than I had by the guys who passed them out—one of the side effects of having tits. Our chairs were positioned at the edge of our camp to face the passing traffic. Behind us stretched the sprawling chaos of RVs, tents, temporary wooden buildings, geodesic domes, tractor-trailers, and military surplus parachutes called Black Rock City.

The Swiss Army knife Amanda had used to chop the onions and slice the bagels was now being used to spread the cream cheese. While I waited for my turn with the knife, I sipped my coffee and surveyed the passing scene. A guy in a motorized easy chair came buzzing by. He wore a top hat and some sort of furry loincloth. Behind the couch was a dusty red Radio Flyer piled with bags of ice. "Mornin'," I nodded as he went by.

He tipped his hat genially. "Mornin', neighbor!"

An Asian woman sauntered by in the opposite direction, wearing only a straw cowboy hat and a toddler tee. Her golden skin glistened with sunscreen as she swayed, her bare feet raising little clouds of dust with each step. Rapt, I watched her bare ass twitch as she made her way towards Center Camp.

Amanda cleared her throat loudly. I looked around. She was holding the cream cheese-smeared knife and grinning. "Spectator!" she accused.

I bristled a little at her suggestion that I was violating Burningman's famous "No Spectators" creed. "No Spectators" doesn't really mean that no one should ever act as an audience— after all, what's the point of a performance or an artwork without someone to look at it? What it means is that no one should be exclusively a spectator. Each participant has a responsibility to add something to the Burningman experience. Some people help with construction, some people do fire safety, some people tool around in elaborately decorated golf carts—it's all participation, and each of those people will spend time enjoying and appreciating other people's work as well. I started to launch into my rant on this topic when I remembered that I had already delivered it to Amanda yesterday, a fact she would happily remind me of if I started in again.

I snorted. "I'm a spectator until I've had my coffee. You done with that knife?"

Amanda passed it to me and, with a hand free, finally picked up her coffee, and took a grateful sip. "So, what kept you at the cafe," she asked. "Forget your money again?"

It's easy to forget about money in a place where the only permitted commercial transactions are buying coffee and ice. Carrying a wallet around is generally more trouble than it's worth. "I ran into the guys from Primal Sheep Therapy," I explained, trying to pick capers out of the jar with my knife blade.

"Is that a theme camp or a rock band?"

"Well, it's definitely a theme camp. It may well also be a rock band. They were the guys with the blow-up doll Stonehenge last year, remember?"

"The transvestite pancake guys?"

"Only two of them were transvestites," I objected.

"Well, that was enough to make an impression. Where are they camping this year? I promised I'd bring them some Bailey's after that great breakfast they made me last time."

That year we were camping with Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index for short), some Portland folks with a little lending library and a guerrilla storytelling troupe. They would set up in a random public place and tell subversive or obscene folktales—sometimes original stories, sometimes a selection from the nineteenth- century pornographic anthology "Tales from the Beginning," or sometimes something completely improvised.

Their library was similarly eclectic. They tried to keep a lively and subversive collection of literature on hand, but their necessarily lassiez-faire attitude toward the "returning" part of a lending library meant that their collection arrived every year liberally salted with Victorian porn, Loompanics drug manuals, and surrealist manifestoes, but by the weekend mostly consisted of battered sci-fi paperbacks, skateboarding zines, and surrealist manifestoes.

Much, though not all, of Black Rock City was divided into similar theme camps—groups of people with a name and some sort of shtick to contribute to everyone else's experience. Three of them—let's call them Curly, Moe, and Larry—were friends of mine from college.

"They're pretty close by," I said. "You can bring that Bailey's to them any time."

Next to us was a little green-and-tan Kelty backpacking tent that was suspiciously clear of the ubiquitous dust. Muffled sounds from within suggested someone was waking up. "I guess another member arrived last night," I speculated. "Moe said a friend from his yoga group was supposed to arrive yesterday"

A zipper buzzed, the tent shook, and a figure emerged from the far end of the tent. From behind, Amanda and I watched as the dark-skinned woman raised her muscular arms to the sky and stretched luxuriously. Her supple waist twisted back and forth with unconscious grace, her short dreadlocks tossing with her motion. Finally, she turned. Her breasts were high and plump, with big areolas that looked black in the desert's harsh light. Amanda and I tried to look like we weren't staring. I don't think we succeeded.

"Hello," said the newcomer, in a soft, high voice, squinting at us.

"Hhh—Good morning." Amanda found her tongue first. "I'm Amanda, this is Vinnie."

"You must be Tanya," I cut in.

"Yeah," she said, with a radiant smile, "I got in last night." She stepped around her tent. White panties surrounded the dramatic curve of her hips from her trim little waist, and set off the dark chocolate-brown of her skin. Those and white running shoes were all she wore.

Amanda and I spoke at once.

"Welcome to Burningman!" I said.

"You want some breakfast?" said Amanda.

Tanya grinned still further. Despite the merciless light of the late-summer desert, it seemed for a moment like a dark room had suddenly been illuminated. "Actually, could you tell me which way is the closest bathroom? I'm bursting!"

"Center Camp is about two blocks that way," I told her, pointing. "There's a row of port-a-johns there."

"However, if you head outward a couple of blocks," Amanda interjected, "you'll find ones that are cleaner. And this time of day, there probably isn't a line there."

"That's good to know, said Tanya, nodding. "I'm gonna have to pick you guys' brain for more tips like that when I get back."

"Absolutely!" said Amanda.

"We're happy to help!" I added.

Tanya sauntered off in the direction Amanda had indicated. Amanda and I watched her high, round ass sway for a long moment, bagels forgotten in our laps.

Finally, Amanda took a long drink from her latte, then spoke: "What the hell was that?"

"I dunno," I said, "but I want some."

"Race ya."

"You're on."


When Tanya got back, she accepted half a bagel with cream cheese and squatted beside us, unselfconsciously, to eat.

"Did you get to do any exploring last night?" I asked.

"Not really," she admitted. "I'd been driving all day to get here. A couple of people helped me set up my tent and I kinda crashed."

"Then there's no time to waste!" I urged her. "You need to go make your pilgrimage to the Man."

"He looked so cool, all lit up last night," said Tanya. "I could see him for miles coming in."

"I'll come with you if you like," I offered. "I haven't been there during the day yet this year."

Amanda said, "I wouldn't be in any hurry to bother. He'll be there all week. I was gonna walk along Esplanade to look at the new theme camps. Wanna come?"

Tanya thought for a moment. "I think I'd like to go see the Man first," she said politely, "can you show me around later today, Amanda?"

"Sure, no problem," Amanda shrugged.

Through a mighty effort of will, I managed to refrain from doing a victory dance.


After packing up our food and dishes, I threw on an old, formerly white dress shirt to protect against the sun. Tanya put on a turquoise sundress and we set out on the half-mile walk to the heart of Black Rock City, the stylized fifty-foot sculpture that is the Burning Man.

Tanya was curious about how we arranged the trip from the east cost.

"It's nice coming out with Amanda," I explained. "We split the driving, the cost of the rental, we take turns cooking meals. There's definitely inconveniences—even if you buy a lot of stuff in Reno, packing is always a little tight—the two checkins and two carryons apiece have to hold all our clothes, our sleeping bags, both our tents—"

"Your tents? Aren't you guys a...?" she waved her hand vaguely.

"No, not really," I explained. "We dated for a while a few years ago."

"But it didn't work out."

"Well, she mostly likes girls."

"That must have been rough."

I shrugged. "Yeah, I guess it was.

We walked in silence for a few moments.

"So now you're just friends?"

"Errr... basically."

She cocked an eyebrow. "Basically?"

"Well, if I meet someone nice, or she meets someone nice, we've got two tents. And if we don't, we have sleeping bags that zip together."

"That's sweet."

"I'd like it better if her pickup record wasn't so much better than mine. But it generally works out well," I admitted.

"So, have you met someone nice this year?"

I paused a little too long before answering: "I'm workin' on it."

We walked on for a while.

"That's a lot of work, coming out this far every year," Tanya observed. "Why do you keep coming?"

I thought for a moment. "Let me answer that in a couple of minutes."

The base of the Man was relatively uncrowded. We clambered up the hay bales to the platform at the Man's feet. Two guys in lab coats were necking in one corner, and a girl in a glittering fairy costume was blowing bubbles with a drugstore bubble wand. Around the base were a half-dozen men in shorts and tee-shirts taking pictures. We stood gripping the man's legs, looking up at the abstract forms his wooden skeleton assumed when viewed from below. We brushed our fingers along the glowing neon running up his legs, and felt the electric tingle it exuded. Then we sat on the edge of the platform and looked out across the playa.

The desolate former lake-bed was dotted with pedestrians, bicycles, and art installations. In a great semicircle in front of us stretched the arms of the distant city—geodesic domes, scaffolding towers, and gay banners—crisp miniatures in the desert air. Behind rose the mountains, blued by distance, their crenellations highlighted in the angled sunlight.

"Wow," Tanya said at last.

"Yup. There's nothing else like it. To see this is amazing, but to be part of it... Well, Burningman has its downsides. There's the heat and the noise and the inconvenience, there's the annoying drunks, but I've never seen so much creativity in one place anywhere else. For one week, it's a pointer to how rich and strange life can be." I paused for a moment. "That was so fucking sappy. Did I make any sense at all?"

"I think so."

"What about you?" I asked. "What brought you out here?"

"Well, Moe's been talking about it for years, always trying to get the rest of us to go. He says it recharges his freak batteries—helps him stay weird for the rest of the year. I know a few dancers who came out last year—they showed me pictures of some of the art and talked about all the cool music—sounded like something I had to see." She stretched, then winced. "Still stiff from driving," she explained.

Ah-ha! My opening. Nervously, I scooted around behind her, and put my hands on her shoulders. Half of each hand was on thin fabric, the other on hot, smooth, dark skin. The contact reminded me of when I'd touched the neon minutes before. "You want?" I said, with affected casualness.

"If you don't mind," she shrugged.

Rubbing the firm muscles of her shoulders, I relaxed again. I was a little aroused, but mostly now it just felt good to be giving another person pleasure while looking out over the familiarly exotic landscape around us.

She leaned her head forward and purred with pleasure as I massaged the tendons in the back of her neck. Uh-oh. That sound was turning me on, and it's not easy to hide an erection in a sarong. I tried to lose myself in the technical aspects of the backrub, with moderate success, deploying every trick in my repertoire on Tanya's firm and supple back.

Eventually, when my hands and wrists were sore, I stopped. She looked over her shoulder and deployed that dazzling smile again. "Thanks, that was nice. You want to switch?"

I thought a moment. "I think I'll take a rain check, actually. There'll be times this week I'll need it more."

As we watched people come and go down the avenue to the Man, she told me about her experiences at the Oregon Country Fair, and I told her some stories from my previous years at Burningman, mixed with some of my thoughts about its aesthetics and significance.

Eventually we got up and went back to our camp. Or we tried to. Walking back toward the city, Tanya pointed to a large open geodesic dome with a crowd gathered around and swarming over it. "What's that?" she asked.

"That's Thunderdome," I said.

"Like in the movie?"

"Just like in the movie. Well, except with padded weapons. It's really cool."

"I thought you said you hated camps that got their gimmicks from movies or TV."

"`I am vast,'" I quoted, "`I contain multitudes.' Let's go take a look."

Our timing was good. We squeezed into the crowd just as two combatants in nylon harnesses were being strapped in. Attendants in over-the-top goth regalia (in hundred-degree heat!) were fastening them to bungee cords hanging from the top of the dome. The crowd chanted "Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves!" as the players strode about experimentally, hefting their padded weapons.

The contestants looked like frat boys-two muscular shirtless guys with short hair. The attendants guided them to opposite sides of the scaffolding, where they clung like spiders. A big bearded guy in a black leather cowboy hat was officiating. He swung down his staff and the contestants lunged at each other, grabbing at one another's torsos while raining blows to the head and shoulders to a yell of approval from the crowd. By the third round, Tanya and I were roaring with the crowd, caught up in the elemental combat we were witnessing.

It wasn't long before they were separated a final time and the marshal, after a dramatic pause, waved his scepter to declare one of the combatants the winner. Both flushed and panting men were lowered from their harnesses as the crowd cheered. They met in the middle of the dome, embraced and kissed heatedly for a long moment, then walked out of the arena hand-in-hand. When a second fight wasn't immediately apparent, we wandered off.

By the time we got back to our own camp, most of the members were having lunch in the kitchen they'd set up under some camouflage netting. We got out our mess kits and joined in. A few minutes later, Amanda strutted in looking immensely pleased with herself. She was wearing a sports bra and thrift store tuxedo pants, the buckles at the hips open to accommodate her broad ass, the shiny strips down the sides dulled by the ever-present dust.

"Guess what I found!" she announced to the gathering.

"Larry Harvey's birthplace," I said, referring to Burningman's flamboyant founder.

"Castle Anthrax!" Curly said, with his mouth full of feta and cucumber. Trust Curly to manage to insert a Python reference in every situation.

"A bar with decent beer!" suggested Larry, who would sooner die of thirst than be seen holding a Budweiser can.

"Hush, shh." said Amanda, a little annoyed. "This is really cool. Take a look." Facing the people across from me, she unzipped her pants, tugged them, with some effort, off her substantial hips, pulled them down to her knees, then held out her arms in a "tah- dah!" gesture.

"It's a beautiful ass," I said, "but it's the same one you had this morning."

"Vinnie!" she complained, and turned around. Her pubic mound was completely bare, exposing the slightly reddened skin of her fat labia. "A shaving camp!"

"Ooh, pretty!" I said, sincerely. "Let me see closer"

"I dunno if I trust you to behave yourself."

"You can generally trust me not to."

Beside me, Tanya asked, "Did they use an electric?"

"Blade," Amanda answered, shuffling towards her, pants still around her knees. "They'd wanted to do electric at first, but then they'd have had to bring a generator. It was kinda classier this way though, with the lather and the hot towels and stuff."

"It looks really smooth," Tanya said.

"It is," said Amanda, stroking her mound lightly. "You want to feel?"

"Um..."

"I don't mind," insisted Amanda.

Tanya tentatively reached out and stroked Amanda's mound with her slender dark fingers. "Oh, that's so soft!" she exclaimed.

Amanda pulled her pants back up, closing the zipper with some difficulty. "God, I'm hungry. Vinnie, is my bowl still in the tent?"

"Yeah, I put it in the- Oh, I'll just show you." I put down my plate, and we walked over to the other end of the camp.

"Very subtle seduction technique there," I teased her as she unzipped the tent "Drop your pants and ask her to touch it. Wonder if that would have worked for me..."

She entered the tent, and I crawled in after. The heat in that enclosed space was stifling. "I dunno, but it sure worked on you," she retorted, cupping my half-hard cock in her palm.

"You're a sexy woman," I conceded. "Just not a very sneaky one." I took one of the canvas bags from a pile in the back, unzipped it, and rummaged around.

"So you like my new do?"

I found the bowl, handed it to her, and zipped up the bag again. "I dunno. I haven't done nearly enough research to tell yet."

"Research?"

"Yeah-how does it feel, how does it taste-?"

"Shit, Vinnie, I'm really tempted. I'm ravenously hungry, but I'm also really turned on. If we spend too long in here, though, everyone will know what's going on."

I snorted. "Some exhibitionist you are."

"Can you lick me for just a minute and not get carried away?"

"You're trusting me to behave myself?"

She tugged her tuxedo pants down again, and I grabbed her ankles and pushed her back onto her camping mattress until her feet were above her head and her hips were in the air. I stared with pleasure for a moment at her broad ass and plump, depilated labia, then dove in as she gasped and whispered encouragement, my body twined around hers in the confined space of the tent.

At first she was a little sour with sweat and dust, but that soon gave way to sweet voluptuous juiciness. I lapped away at her until her hands tightened on my hair and her motions coalesced into a rhythmic rocking. Sweat was running down my forehead. I pulled away from her, and started to crawl out of the tent.

"Vinnie, what are you doing?" she cried in exasperation, squeezing her cunt with her hand.

"Not getting carried away," I answered. "How long you gonna spend in that tent, anyway?"

"You bastard." She pulled her pants up and began to crawl out. I tried to arrange myself so my erection wasn't obvious. "When it gets cooler tonight, I definitely want to get fucked," she added.

"Was that an offer, or just conversation?" I asked

"I'm not sure yet-I'll let you know."


⇒ to Chapter 2

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