"Would the following students please report to the Principal's Office?"
Like every other student in the room, I tensed up and listened carefully. This was The Program. The students summoned would spend the next week attending school completely naked. That's right. Completely, totally, utterly naked. Not only naked but getting groped and felt up by every idiot in the school.
The Program was some moron's brain-spasm of an idea about getting people to be more comfortable with themselves. Apparently going around school utterly naked and being groped and forcefully masturbated by people who either hated you or who didn't know you was supposed to teach you important life skills. You aren't even allowed to complain, or stop them or defend yourself or anything. You're stripped naked and left completely vulnerable – both physically and emotionally. Then, while you're vulnerable, you are subjected to a week of sexual humiliation and torture. The entire thing is a week of state-sanctioned rape covered over with a thin veneer of social engineering.
It's bad enough if you're an extraverted type of person but if you're like me and prefer not to be at the centre of attention then being in The Program is a week of sheer hell.
Even the blatant exhibitionists find being in The Program daunting and challenging. And they're people who enjoy being naked or having people watch them doing some sort of sexual act. Some people argue that the sex that happens is like a reward for being put through all of that. And some people do end up gaining a bit of self-confidence or whatever. But do the ends justify the means? That's what I want to know.
Now maybe you understand why everybody was nervously waiting to hear if their name would be called.
"Jeremy Stanners, Lily Li, Margot Delaccio, Alistair Lister, Estella Dunn, Jacob Neeker"
The list of six names rolled out. I gasped when the last name was called – Jacob Neeker.
"No way!" I muttered.
I rocketed out of my chair and ran to the door. "I've got to go!" I told the Mr Mahoney, not quite yelling in my urgency.
I think he was surprised by my reaction. I'm normally such a quiet little mouse of a person.
"Naomi Neeker, sit down!" Mr Mahoney said in a severe voice. "Your name was not called."
"Yes, but didn't you hear? They called my brother. I have to go."
I darted out the door, ignoring Mr Mahoney's increasingly strident orders to return.
You know how I said I was a bit introverted. Well my brother Jacob is the definition of introverted. He's made being invisible an art form. Part of that is survival – he's the smallest kid in the school and an obvious target for bullying. Not that he's a wimp or anything. They push him and he pushes back. Plus he looks at them with contempt instead of fear. The bullies end up leaving him alone and go looking for somebody who is afraid of them. Mind you, this is a pretty good school so the bullying isn't that bad. Just pushing and name-calling and whatever.
The main point is that Jacob just doesn't want to be noticed. He doesn't like people making a fuss about him. Being stuck in The Program is going to blow that out of the water. Jacob's not going to be happy. And like I said, Jacob isn't a wimp. This was going to be bad for Jacob and I would do anything I could to protect him.
Frantically, I ran down the hallways and hurtled down the stairs as I made my way to the Principal's Office. Fortunately, everyone was in homeroom so the hallways were mostly empty. I overtook Jeremy and Lily on the stairs. Jeremy looked unhappy, Lily not so much. I never took Lily for an exhibitionist, but there you go.
The door to Mr Macleith's office was open and I could see Jacob and a couple of others were already in there. Jacob was looking pale and frightened. Even in that small group he was somehow behind the others where he wouldn't be noticed.
Remember I said I was a bit introverted? What I did next was totally out of character for me.
I charged into the room and started talking as soon as I was through the door.
"Mr Macleith, I need to talk to you. You can't do this. You can't put Jacob in The Program."
Mr Macleith glared at me from under his thick eyebrows. "Naomi Neeker, your name was not called. Return to your class."
Mr Macleith was used to being obeyed by everyone in the school. Mr Macleith was particularly used to me meekly saying "yes sir" or "no sir" every time he spoke to me. I think he was more surprised than I was that I ignored him and kept talking.
"But Mr Macleith, you have to listen to me. Please don't do this to Jacob. He doesn't deserve this. Why can't you leave him alone? I beg you. Don't do it."
"Why not? Jacob is an ideal candidate. He is quiet and withdrawn. He has few friends. A week in The Program will help bring him out of his shell. It will help him gain the confidence to make friends. It will get him noticed so that others will be interested in being his friend. We've seen it happen before. Quite a few students like Jacob have been through The Program and benefited greatly."
"You'll get him noticed all right, but not the way you mean. Has it occurred to you that he doesn't want to be noticed. Not like that, anyway. You get so hot under the collar about bullying in this school but this is worse than any type of bullying the kids do to each other."
"If you're concerned about his safety, I assure you we have that covered," said Mr Macleith. "We are issuing whistles to all of our Program students." He held up a bunch of lanyards, each with a whistle attached. "Jacob will be able to call for help using the whistle if there is any problem. We are also giving him two wrist bands to wear. The right one says YES and the left one says NO. Jacob will be able to clearly give or deny permission to any requests made of him." He handed the wrist bands to Jacob who looked at them doubtfully.
"Just because Jacob cannot speak should not prevent him from gaining the benefits of The Program."
I glanced over at Jacob. He shrugged.
I could see I wasn't getting anywhere with Mr Macleith. It was like arguing with a brick wall. But I wasn't ready to give up.
"Mr Macleith, that isn't the only problem. He has some scarring down his front. It's not..." I stopped and tried again. "He wears full-cover clothing for a reason."
I looked back at Jacob. He looked upset, scared and a tiny bit angry but all he had done was shrug. Maybe he was accepting this better than I was.
"If he's embarrassed about a few scars, then this is a chance for him to get over that embarrassment," said Mr Macleith. "Now, you have gallantly defended your brother but it is time for you to return to class, I need to get this started."
I looked around the room, all six of the named Program participants were now in the room and were watching our exchange in silence.
Jacob signed to me: <Thanks for trying. I guess I have to do this. Can you stay with me?>
"I think I better stay," I said to Mr Macleith. "You might need me to translate."
Mr Macleith considered that for a moment but then shrugged and gestured for me to step back so he could address the other six students. "You have all been selected to participate in The Program for one week. That means for the next seven days, you will be naked at any time you are in school or attending any school event. Covering up in any way is not permitted. The only exception is that you may don protective clothing if it is required for safety reasons. Sport bras are considered safety equipment for girls during sporting activities. Jacob may, of course, wear his artificial leg."
The others all started and looked at Jacob in surprise. Very few people knew about his leg. Since it was only from the knee down, he was able to move around quite normally. He was even able to participate in most PhysEd classes, though his PE teacher knew to excuse him from some activities. Since he didn't get changed with the others, his leg had been a well-kept secret – until now.
Jacob blushed at the attention and looked down.
I didn't like the casual way that Mr Macleith had exposed that secret, but then again, forcing Jacob to undress would have exposed his leg anyway so maybe I would have to let that one slide.
"Most students," continued Mr Macleith. Then he paused to make sure that he had regained everyone's attention. "Most students find it beneficial to engage in what we call Program Outreach. This means continuing your nudity at home with your family and in other places where you can safely do so. During your time in The Program, other students may make a request. If the request is reasonable, you are required to comply. The other student must allow you the opportunity to accept or refuse. If you refuse, you need to have a persuasive reason for refusing. The consequences for refusing a reasonable request without good reason are severe. On the other hand, mistreatment of a Program Participant is treated even more severely. Reasonable requests may include asking you to pose and some external touching. They may not include any contact intended to cause pain. You may refuse a request for any form of penetration. You may refuse a request if complying would cause you to break some other school rule, such as attending classes on time, staying away from out-of-bounds areas, and so on.
.... There is more of this story ...