Darkness first, then the sharp but flickering illumination of a single candle.
Where am I? What’s happened to me?
A light, damp fog filled the narrow alley, shielding its darkened corners from the gaslamps of the nearby main street. Not a soul stirred in sight, yet Swinburne still felt a need to nervously check his loaded revolver, just to make doubly sure it was there. He patted its comforting weight hidden beneath his coat and took out a pocketwatch with his free hand.
It was nearly 11 o-clock.
Damn the woman, he thought again for about the twentieth time that evening.
Why did she have to make this so bloody difficult?
Swinburne looked back at his waiting carriage. He nodded once to his man there, then turned around and walked into the alley. He retraced his steps back to the small window-front and knocked at it rapidly.
Eventually, the door beside it opened.
“Comes in, Mr. Swinburne. Comes in. She’s alls ready for you.”
“I should hope for your sake that she is, Mrs. Paddock,” Swinburne replied coldly. “Why did we have to meet at such an ungodly hour?”
The old woman stood a good full foot shorter than the young aristocrat, gray-haired and thickset. Her accent was course and lower class, especially compared to his. She stepped aside, and he walked into the shop for all the world as if he owned it. “I apologize, m’lord,” she said, though not sounding very apologetic. “The olds have theirs eccentricities, youse knows.”
Swinburne quickly glanced around the studio and lightly touched his revolver again. He was not anticipating trouble, but he was prepared for it nonetheless. His motion did not go unnoticed by Mrs. Paddock, nor was it meant to.
“Spare me the usual artistic gibberish, please,” the young man finally said. “What I expect, madam, is more of an answer than your senile ravings. Why did you demand I come here so late?”
He was trying to intimidate her. It should have worked, too. Physically, she was no match for him. Moreover, he had all of society on his side, all of the breeding and refinement of the English upper class. Mrs. Paddock met Swinburne’s gaze defiantly, however, almost as if she were his social equal. She stared back at him with hardly any deference shown at all. She is in desperate need for a lesson in manners, he thought.
“Really, thens, Mr. Swinburnes,” she said after a moment. “Youse said it yerself, ye did, when we first mets. Ours is a secret business. Woulds you really haves felt comfortable like arriving in the middle of the day?”
Swinburne made no reply. He simply snorted derisively and allowed the old woman to lead him into her workroom.
“Besides, sir,” she went on, smiling wickedly now, “I justs finished tonights, and I thoughts ye would wan’ inspect her as soonest, yes?” She opened the door for him.
As he crossed the threshold, Swinburne unconsciously ran a tongue over his suddenly dry lips. Truth to tell, beneath his practiced and resentful attitude, he had been quite acutely looking forward to this moment. He had been, in fact, ever since he had first approached Mrs. Paddock some weeks ago.
Mrs. Paddock the artist.
Mrs. Paddock the waxworker.
The miracle waxworker, she was called.
Swinburne’s eyes noted the large metal vat in the room’s corner and the many shelfloads of wax heads, limbs, and torsos stacked neatly along the walls. They all appeared very real and quite horrible. It was the mysteriously draped figure in the center of the workchamber that truly captured his attention, though. He didn’t wait for Mrs. Paddock to remove the cloth herself. He moved past her abruptly and did it himself.
My god, he thought a moment later. Miracle waxworker indeed.
“You’ve done it,” he said, somewhat wonderingly. “It’s her. It’s really her.”
Mrs. Paddock had crossed over and sat down in the rocking chair in the
corner. “Yes, Mr. Swinburnes, ye could say that. It definitely
is her.” She cackled.
What’s happened to me?
Why can’t I move?
It . . . it’s so hard to remember.
It was a perfect reproduction of Andrea Atwater.
Perfect in every detail.
“I takes it youse are satisfieds with me work, Mr. Swinburne?”
The aristocrat was too well-bred to express any true feelings to someone like Mrs. Paddock. Nevertheless, he nodded slightly and continued his examination of the statue he had had made. It was perfect . . . or almost so. I mean, Swinburne thought, it’s not as if Andrea had actually posed for it or anything. It couldn’t be exactly like her.
Yet, it was.
The figure was magnificent, a masterpiece. It was Andrea Atwater in the flesh. The waxwork was so lifelike, even close-up, that it was as if the living person were actually standing there motionless, frozen in time. Swinburne reached out a hand to touch the figure’s face, almost expecting to feel warm skin. Instead, all he felt along the smooth cheek was cold wax. It was a perfect reproduction of Andrea Atwater, right down to the same golden shade of hair, only here on the statue it was worn down, free of a confining bonnet or complex style and spread over bare and pale, milky-white shoulders.
The statue wore Andrea’s hair just as he had seen her in his dreams.
Remarkable . . . .
If the plan had gone right, Andrea wouldn’t ever know about it, unless Paddock had slipped up somehow. But Swinburne was reasonably confident that had not happened. He would have heard about it otherwise. He and Andrea traveled in the same circle.
Swinburne’s problem had been a confounding one, and he and the artist had come to their arrangement only a little over a month ago. It was amazing the old woman could work so fast. But she had, apparently, and now he could gaze upon Andrea as he liked, for as long as he liked. The young Miss Atwater was simply a divine creature in his opinion, the darling of the social set she and Sir Robert Swinburne were both party to. But she would have nothing to do with him. He had tried everything, but she had refused every advance, avoided every delicately laid tactic, returned every letter he had sent.
It was utterly perplexing to him, her attitude.
She might have sensed, perhaps, some degree of the possessiveness he felt towards her, his desire for almost literal ownership of her soul. She might have grown uncomfortable in his presence. Such was the extent of Swinburne’s desire that he had dedicated a small shrine to Miss Atwater in his home. There he kept all their one-sided correspondence. He had stolen photographs of the young lady as well and privately commissioned drawings of her, and he had acquired other more select and delicate items from her wardrobe through the agency of certain domestics he could afford to bribe.
Swinburne had spent a great a great deal of time and energy in his devotion to Andrea Atwater. To say that he adored her was a bit of an understatement.
He was obsessed by her. It was as plain and as terrible as that. And therefore, when he had heard of a certain Mrs. Paddock, an artist who could do things with wax that not even the famed M. Tussaud could do, he knew he would have to make another special commission. Gazing upon an image of Andrea was one thing, but to actually be able to touch her, or a reasonable facsimile of, until that fateful day when he could touch the real person . . . .
Swinburne was rich. He could afford any price.
The lithe wax figure of Andrea Atwater was adorned in an exquisite green evening dress. A ribboned choker collar encircled her slim throat, with an ivory cameo set in its center. Swinburne recognized it as one the real Andrea wore but assumed it was a reproduction of some kind. The dress showed just the barest hint of cleavage beneath the exquisite decoration, enticing the young aristocrat all the more since he was standing so close. The waxwork’s pale arms were folded inward, their hands meeting delicately at the waist.
The figure’s eyes were open and doelike, though glassy.
Who . . . who is that?
Who’s looking at me? Watching me?
Why . . . why can’t I move?
Swinburne’s awe was impossible to hide from Mrs. Paddock’s keen scrutiny. She watched the way he examined the waxwork’s mouth, the lips, and the turn of her jaw. He was falling in love, she saw. He liked the still form better than he did the mobile. This Andrea, after all, didn’t speak harsh words or turn away. All that she was, all the beauty of her, the grace and perfection of form, Swinburne was slowly realizing, was all his now, still and forever, unchanging.
He was almost ready.
“I’ms goings to makes us some tea, I think,” she said, getting up slowly. “It be late, but tea helps me sleep, do it does. I’lls leaves you two be and be back in just a few minutes.”
Swinburne seemed to barely hear her, but just before she left he caught her with a question. “How . . . I mean, your technique, madam, it’s flawless.” He saw her looking at him, and he swallowed. He took a deep breath and calmed himself. “How could you achieve such a perfect reproduction? Surely Miss Atwater didn’t knowingly participate in the modeling . . . ?” He was sure she hadn’t, but the statue was so real!
Mrs. Paddock smiled. “I uses a very special techniques, m’lords, taught me by masters in the field. Truth to tells, sir, most of the real works was done this very nights, whether ye believes me or whether you don’ts. It’s a secret, though, I’m afraids.”
She tittered softly.
“Rests assured,” she went on, her back to him and walking out, “Miss Atwater had no idea what was happenings to her.” She left for the kitchen laughing.
“Though now she mights.”
This is so . . . so very strange.
It’s hard to see. I can’t move my eyes.
Everything is so stiff, so . . . rigid.
I remember the old woman. What was her name?
Paddock. Paddock, yes, that was it.
And she did something . . . something to me.
Made me stiff, rigid, unmoving.
Made me . . . wax.
Help me. Somebody, please help me.
Swinburne waited until Paddock was completely gone.
He had to see, had to know.
He could wait no longer.
He had dreamed of a situation like this for years. Dreamed of having Andrea standing mutely before him, her master, helpless to do anything as he slowly, ever so slowly, let his hands caress her body . . . undressing her, touching her as he pleased. And the statue was his, after all. He owned it, and it was his to do with as he pleased.
And it wasn’t as if it were the real Andrea, after all.
Somebody’s touching me!
Oh, please, please. I can’t move.
Swinburne knew he didn’t have a great deal of time. Later he could indulge all of his fantasies, but now Mrs. Paddock might be back any minute. Right now, though . . . .
Swinburne knelt in front of the waxwork, swiftly looked behind once to check the doorway, and then slowly lifted the figure’s dress up, revealing not the fancy bloomers he had expected but plain bareness instead. The statue’s legs were nude, pale, and shapely, and they went up, and up, and . . . .
Swinburne reached up to touch, to ensure he was not hallucinating, but when his fingers brushed that most private of areas, that place which he thought would not, could not, be reproduced in a waxwork, he felt as if he had touched heaven.
He shuddered all over, prickly warm and cold suddenly.
“Naught, naughty, m’lords,” he suddenly heard behind him, and he pulled his hand away too late. “Weren’ts ye’s ever been tolds it weren’t proper for a gentleman to look up a lady’s skirts?” Paddock laughed in the doorway holding her tray of tea and cakes.
Swinburne grunted with surprise and fell back, twisting about awkwardly on the floor in front of the exquisite waxwork. “You bitch, I’m going to . . . .” and he stopped in mid-sentence, the words caught in his mouth. His eyes grew wide.
His hand was different, the one that had touched the statue’s treasure. Swinburne brought it up in front of his face and gasped, the color bleaching from his face.
The hand was different.
It was no longer flesh.
It was wax.
Paddock walked by him and set her tray down on a nearby table. She then moved past the aristocrat as he sat there mute and amazed and gently readjusted Miss Atwater’s dress. Swinburne wanted to say something, do something to wipe the smirk he saw on the old woman’s face, but he couldn’t. His tongue was wax, he discovered.
He tried to grab his pistol with his other hand, but waxy fingers couldn’t bend, he found.
He tried to run and failed. His legs were wax.
His brain was wax.
I was tricked. She tricked me.
It was Andrea. It was her.
She transformed me like she transformed her.
Somebody help me.
The curator of the museum was favorably impressed.
“If this is an example of your work, Mrs. Paddock, you’ve got the job. I’ve never seen waxworks so detailed before. You’d think they were almost alive.”
The elderly woman beside him blushed slightly and tittered.
“I’d like to welcome you to our staff. I’m sure the statues you make will boost our ticket sales through the roof.”
They stood before a matching couple, a Victorian gentleman and his lady out for a evening, both elegantly groomed and coifed. The lady’s green dress was exquisite, and the gentleman’s dark suit fairly gleamed under the museum’s lights.
“Thanks ye. It’s beens a longs time since I’ves worked professionally.”
The curator took Mrs. Paddock gently by the arm, and together they started toward the museum’s workroom. “Do you model from life, ma’am?” he asked politely.
“Oh, yes. Oh, my yes.”
It’s a trick. Don’t trust her.
It’s me. I’m still here. We’re still here.
It’s been a hundred years! She’ll do to you what she did to us.
Me. Robert Swinburne!
The curator made sure to turn out the lights before they left the Victorian