Ann looked down at her address book again to make sure she had the number right. She adjusted her glasses and searched for a nameplate somewhere on the brownstone front. She could see nothing, however. There was no name or number anywhere in sight to indicate this was the right place, but she judged it had to be from the buildings surrounding it. That is, unless she had taken a very wrong turn on her drive over from the university. Well, only one way to find out, I suppose, she thought, and rang the doorbell.
The door opened a few moments later.
“Ah, Dr. Grant. I’m so glad you could make it. Do please come in.”
Ann greeted her host and looked around the foyer as she entered. The room was elegant and richly furnished, almost Victorian in its decorative excess, just like its owner. Dr. Carnelian was dressed in a smoking jacket and matching slacks, the velvet red contrasting sharply with his pale complexion. He held a drink in one hand.
He’d be a handsomer man, Ann thought, if he’d only step out into the sun every once and awhile.
“I’m glad to be here, doctor. I’m anxious to see it. I want to thank you again for inviting me.”
The physician led her through the house as they spoke. “Think nothing of it. You are doing me a favor in examining it. I’m sure the cabinet is authentic, but I would naturally welcome a professional observation.” The hallways were painted a pale yellow and lined with small urns and paintings. They showed landscape scenes mostly, though one or two were of beautiful women in poses of artistic splendor. “It’s this way.”
Ann found the paintings fascinating. They were all clearly by the same hand, but the style was unfamiliar to her. Each was almost of a photographic quality.
“These are beautiful paintings. How long have you had them?”
Carnelian paused in the doorway to his study. “Oh, for a long time, doctor. I’ve always enjoyed Art.” Ann could hear the capital letter in the way he spoke. “The Artificial is such an improvement over real life.”
The study was walled with books and scrolled manuscripts, bric-a-brac on shelves and along the fireplace mantle. The walls were wood-paneled and the chairs soft and plush. A mahogany table with ornately carved legs stood off to one side. To Ann, the room seemed cluttered and overcrowded with heavy furniture and ugly-looking ornaments. It was like stepping back into the 19th Century, she thought, and again Ann was reminded of Victorian excesses.
She caught her breath, then looked back at Carnelian as he entered. “You don’t like real life?” she asked. “That’s surprising, considering all this landscape art.” She gestured.
The doctor smiled. “Nature, to me, has always looked better at a distance, ma’am. Art perseveres, but nature has a tendency to rot. Would you care for a drink?”
Ann looked around at some of the titles on his bookshelves. He had a fine collection. “No thanks. I want to have a level head for the cabinet. Do you really think it’s T’ang?”
“I’ll leave that to you to judge.” Carnelian pulled on a rope cord in a corner of the room, and almost immediately a uniformed butler stepped in. The doctor handed him his glass. “I’ll take a sherry, George. We’ll be in the Asia Room.”
The butler nodded his head once and returned to the hall. Carnelian crossed over to a door on the other side of the study and opened it.
“After you, Dr. Grant. You won’t be disappointed.”
She stepped through after him and saw it for the first time.
He was right. It was magnificent.
The cabinet was large and had basically the same dimensions as a modern telephone booth, but it was black and solid too, decorated with ornate golden scrollwork. It stood in the middle of a room heavily furnished in ornate tapestries, smaller lacquerwork cabinets, and a small army of carved jade ornaments on shelves, all Chinese or Chinese-influenced. But Ann’s mind wasn’t on any of these things. Only the central cabinet held her attention. She approached it and put her hand just over its surface, not quite daring to touch the ancient lacquer. She slowly circled it, her eyes moving across its complex exterior, its patterns of Chinese ideograms, symbols, and pictures.
While she examined the cabinet, Carnelian examined her. He stood by the still open study door and carefully watched his guest. Yes, he thought, she’s just that short of perfect already. She’s an excellent choice. Her hair was dark but not too long. She possessed a lovely figure, a nice bosom and firm behind, and beautifully stockinged legs. The assistant professor was wearing a blue, semi-tight skirt and matching white blouse, well-suited to her slim figure. Her face was made-up but not overdone, just a light blush over naturally clear cheeks. Her petite mouth was just barely touched by cosmetics. Dr. Grant appeared younger than her thirty-five years and could easily be mistaken for a graduate student still. Even the gold-rimmed glasses looked appropriate on her.
Yes, Dr. Carnelian thought. She’ll make an excellent subject. He would have to remember to thank his patient down at the university for recommending her.
Ann failed to notice the butler George come into the room and hand Dr. Carnelian his refreshed drink. She didn’t notice how mechanical his movements were, how stiff-armed and stiff-legged he seemed, how very robotic. She didn’t notice either how he never spoke to his master but only responded in gestures from him, ordered to stand and wait by one golden tapestry, standing there silently, motionlessly. No expression filled his pale features, paler by far than Dr. Carnelian’s. The butler’s eyes stared ahead blankly, not even a whisper moving his broad, uniformed chest. He stood literally as still as a statue, waiting to be commanded. Ann didn’t notice any of this. She was completely absorbed in her study of the cabinet. She didn’t hear Carnelian step up behind her.
“Is it authentic, do you think?” he asked softly.
Ann didn’t look up. “It’s definitely T’ang-influenced, and it’s remarkably well-preserved for its age if it is T’ang Dynasty. It’s at least a thousand years old, of that much I’m sure.”
She stopped and looked at her host, seeing him smiling bemusedly. “Where did you find this? It’s museum quality work, but I’ve never heard of anything even remotely like it being uncovered.”
Carnelian sipped his sherry. “I obtained it from a private collection. The previous owner was unaware of its value or antiquity, and he was equally unaware of how it could be used.”
“Used?” Dr. Grant asked.
“Well, doctor, it is a cabinet, after all, and you do put things inside of cabinets.” He leaned slightly against it with his shoulder, his hand trailing over the scrollwork. “Do you think you can open it?”
“Oh, please, don’t do that,” Ann breathed. Carnelian moved aside, and she examined where he had touched it for damage. “It’s fragile. Have you managed to open it?”
“Yes, certainly. This particular cabinet is the prototypical Chinese puzzle-box, doctor.” He laughed softly, then met her gaze with his own. Carnelian had the deepest green eyes Ann had ever seen, she noticed for the first time. They were like great emerald pools of darkness, and she shivered suddenly for no apparent reason. “I’ll make you a bargain, Dr. Grant. If you can find the right combination to open the cabinet, I’ll let you take it back to the university for study. But I warn you, it won’t be easy.”
Ann blinked, surprised at the offer. “Are you serious?”
Carnelian continued to stare directly into her eyes. He told her solemnly, “I’m never completely serious, doctor, but I always keep my promises. The cabinet is yours, if you can open it correctly.”
Ann looked at the Chinese marvel. “What do you mean correctly?” she asked.
“You’ll see.” Carnelian stepped back to let her work.
Ann found she didn’t like Dr. Carnelian very much. He was a prominent physician, she knew, and an extremely urbane and sophisticated man, but something about his manners struck her as being decadent . . . almost effeminate, really. There was something unwholesome about him, something morally ambiguous. And then, of course, there was the whole layer of mystery surrounding him. Ann was as intrigued by a mystery man as much as the next girl, but Carnelian . . . his patients were rumored to be made up exclusively of the elite of society, but no one she had met would ever admit he was their doctor. He was always invited to the best parties and social gatherings, but there was a sinister aspect about him, and few would ever dare to approach him.
Some women found that sort of man intriguing, but Ann surely didn’t. She couldn’t even tell how old he was by looking at him. His face was completely unlined. He could have been anywhere from his late twenties to his early fifties. Ann just couldn’t tell.
Taking a deep breath to clear him from her mind, Ann turned back to the cabinet and resumed her minute examination of it. The blackness of its surface was like midnight pearl. Gold scrollwork covered every inch of it, twisting in a thousand different designs. She recognized many of the ideograms as ancient Chinese, but she could only translate a handful of them. The more Ann looked at it, the more certain she was of its antiquity. At the same time, though, she wondered if it really was from the T’ang Dynasty. The cabinet was sophisticated, but it was a little too sophisticated. She hadn’t believed even the T’ang could construct something as exquisite as this art piece.
She wondered how old the cabinet really was. When Ann had heard of the antique in the first place, from a friend in the department who said that a certain Dr. Carnelian owned an ancient T’ang-era artifact in mint condition and wanted it appraised, she had jumped at the opportunity. Later she had met Carnelian briefly at a charity get-together sponsored by the university, and she had spoken to him about it.
If she could get the cabinet back to the university where she could study it in the close, close detail it deserved, Ann believed it might make her career. She had to have it. Her fingers traced lightly over the long edges and golden patterns, looking for a seam or hidden button.
She glanced back at Carnelian. “How did you manage to open it?” she asked.
“With great skill, ma’am.”
Ann snorted derisively and went back to work. There had to be a hidden catch somewhere in the frame. There was probably more than one, actually, if Dr. Carnelian wasn’t lying about how there was more than one way to open it, a right way and at least one wrong way. She worked on the puzzle for more than an hour, her small hands lovingly caressing the ancient box as she probed for a clue to its entry.
The cabinet remained stubbornly solid, though. As solid as a brick, apparently, she occasionally thought as Carnelian stood by watching her. The butler George also remained in attendance, never moving, perhaps not even breathing.
Ann had three of her fingers on one intricate spiral pattern and was pressing in with her other hand on a figure of a bowing woman when she heard a soft click emerge from inside the box. She felt something jab into her finger.
“Oh!” she cried. She looked down at the small dot of blood on her left index finger. A small needle must have punctured her.
Ann began to say something to Dr. Carnelian . . . and then she stopped. Or, rather, her train of thought stopped. She kept on staring at the single drop of blood on her finger, a look less of pain on her face than that of mild surprise.
She had to keep looking at her finger, she found. Ann couldn’t move. She couldn’t budge an inch. I’m paralyzed, she thought, horrified. Help me. I’ve been poisoned. Help me!
None of her racing thoughts showed on her face. Ann’s eyes continued to stare down at her hand, her mouth caught slightly open in a darling little moue of surprise.
Dr. Carnelian put down his drink and walked over to Ann. He beckoned to George, who followed with precise robot-like grace. The butler put one hand on Ann’s outstretched palm and another under her chin and slowly straightened her out. She moved easily, with someone guiding her. Ann still couldn’t move on her own no matter how hard she tried, and her eyes remained fixed in a thousand-yard gaze.
Help me, she screamed mentally. Help me!
Carnelian smiled at Ann and made sure he was within her limited line of sight. “I’m sorry, Dr. Grant. You found one of the wrong ways to open the cabinet, it seems. Don’t let the failure disturb you too much, however. After all, you found that needle trap after only an hour’s work. I’m sure it would have taken a lesser mind hours more to do the same.”
He turned to George. “You may begin removing her clothing,” he
Remove my clothing! Ann struggled to break out of her frozen state, but her body refused to obey. She still had all of her normal sensations, though. She could feel and experience everything. She was not numb at all; she just couldn’t move. Carnelian’s butler began unbuttoning her blouse first, undoing each button one at a time. There was no expression on his face. He might as well have been wearing a mask for all the apparent humanity in his features. It was only now while forced to look at the man so closely that Ann realized how robotic he seemed. George undid her skirt, pulled her blouse up a bit, and then raised Ann’s arms and slid the garment off.
The butler began with her skirt next, soon leaving Ann clad only in her bra and pantyhose, her shoes still on her feet, glasses still over her eyes. As she was stripped, off to one side where she couldn’t see him, Ann heard Carnelian speaking.
“I learned a long time ago, doctor . . . or may I call you Ann, now? Yes, I think that’s more appropriate to your station now. I learned a long time ago, Ann, that to indulge one’s fantasies is the highest and most rewarding form of Art there is. I consider myself living testimony to the value such indulgence can bring.”
George began undoing Ann’s bra. Her breasts, small and lovely, were slowly uncovered. The nipples were perky, a symptom of how physically aroused Ann was becoming even in spite of her great fear. They’ve turned me into a mannequin, she thought. The butler’s hands were touching her all over, and there was nothing she could do about it,
Uncontrollably, Ann began feeling a little damp in her innermost sex. The butler pulled off the bra and then her glasses.
“I read about the Hei-pi Cabinet some years ago,” Carnelian continued. “It fell within the purview of my interests . . . dolls, statuary, the occult. And Art, of course.” He moved a bit closer to Ann, but she still couldn’t move her eyes in his direction. George carefully began removing her shoes.
“Early on the Chinese developed a most admirable fascination with automata. The court machinists designed artificial birds that could actually sing and hop from branch to branch in their little artificial trees. It was marvelous. They designed robots that could serve meals or perform intricate dances at their owners’ behest, play musical instruments and even carry on complex conversations with their masters. They came up with all sorts of wonders. And, naturally, not to be outdone, the Emperors’ magicians also began building their own clockwork pieces. The best of their work were so very much alive in appearance one would have to wonder whether they actually were alive.”
George rolled Ann’s hose and panties down her legs. She was wet, she hated to admit to herself. At some level in her mind she was definitely being stimulated by the touch of the butler’s hands on her immobile form, her nude body open to inspection.
“I’ve managed to collect many of these Asian curiosities over the years, Eastern counterparts to my own small efforts in the field. The Hei-pi, however, is the centerpiece of my collection.” He sounded right next to Ann now. “The Emperor Lao Tsung had an assembly of the loveliest and most happily obedient concubines ever assembled in China prior to his reign. The advantage he held over his predecessors was his ownership of this cabinet, built for him by an obscure alchemist-craftsman whose name history has failed to record. Pity, that.”
Ann was completely naked. George neatly folded her clothes and place them next to her, glasses and shoes resting on top. The butler then unfolded Ann’s arms and arranged them at her sides, straightening her legs, and facing her head up and forward. He did this all in such complete and utter silence, his movements so much like the automata Carnelian had been describing, that Ann began to harbor a dreadful suspicion.
What is he going to do to me? she thought desperately. She stood as if at military attention, helpless yet strangely enraptured by her trapped state. Carnelian moved in front of her again, nodding with approval with what he saw.
He turned to the butler. “I believe it’s time, George. Put her in the cabinet.”
As the robotic servant moved to obey, Carnelian smiled at Ann. It was a warm and pleasant smile, not at all sinister or threatening. This made it all the more terrifying.
“You, my dear Ann,” he said, stressing the word ‘my,’ “are about to receive the benefits provided by the Hei-pi. You will remain young and beautiful forever, and you will make me the perfect maid. My congratulations.”
No, no, she screamed inside, helpless to prevent George from putting his hands on her bottom and thighs and lifting her up. He turned around slightly, and Ann could see the cabinet again. The side by Carnelian was open now, two narrow and expertly crafted doors folded back on hidden hinges. He must have opened it when I couldn’t see him, Ann realized. She could that the edges of the doors were jagged, shaped like giant jigsaw pieces that would close seamlessly upon one another, their openings camouflaged by the golden scrollwork. The interior of the cabinet was featureless save for a row of small round holes lining the bottom. Ann really couldn’t see too much, though, because she still couldn’t move her eyes from her mannequinesque stare.
George carefully tilted Ann’s legs in first, then straightened her out vertically inside. He positioned her so that she could see forward again out the open doors.
The butler moved out of sigh, prompted by a gesture from his master. Carnelian came to stand in front of Ann, one folded door in each hand. “Don’t be frightened or worried, Ann. All your fears and worries are about to go away forever. I promise, your new life will be a much simpler one. And I always keep my promises.”
The last thing Ann saw was Carnelian’s good-humored features. Then the doors closed and everything went pitch black.
Oh my god, ohmigod, ohmigod, she cried silently in the dark.
Carnelian stood there a moment considering, then he walked over and behind the cabinet, reached around its sides and lightly touched two different yet easily unnoticed ideograms. One was an ancient symbol meaning ‘white’; the other was an equally obscure character for ‘soul.’ He depressed both keys at once and was rewarded with a brief yet clearly audible click. Carnelian moved away then, asked George to remove Ann’s clothes, and went off to make a few phone calls.
The “changing” process, he knew, would take some time, and meanwhile
there were a thousand details to take care of. Dr. Grant’s car would
have to be removed - he would get Michael to do that, he was an inventive
lad - and then the professor’s associate at the university would have to
be rewarded, then . . . well, it wouldn’t take too much time or effort
for a man of his resources to make a beautiful young woman disappear without
a trace. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t done it before, after all.
Inside the box, Ann waited in silence.
She had heard the click, some mechanism inside the ancient cabinet being activated, but what that meant she didn’t know. What’s going to happen . . . . Ann’s thoughts trailed out again as she realized she could see the box’s interior again. A soft glow, a bluish light, was beginning to build. The interior walls were shining and getting brighter, and within minutes Ann felt like she was trapped in some weird fantasy version of a tanning booth. The light didn’t hurt her eyes, but it did cause them to blur slightly.
She was unaware, at least at first, of how the rays of light were affecting her body. Had she been able to see, she might have liked what she saw. All of the slight imperfections in her skin were fading away . . . all of the freckles, moles, and birthmarks any natural woman was heir to. They each slowly disappeared without trace, leaving skin totally blemishless and perfect in their absence. Even the scar left over from having her appendix out a few years ago disappeared.
What’s happening? she thought. What now?
A tingling sensation had started in her skin, like a lover’s caress that managed to touch everywhere at once. It started at the bottom of her feet, then Ann felt it in her face and breasts, and then it was truly everywhere, steadily getting stronger.
The sensation was not unpleasant, Ann reflected. It was, in fact, quite pleasing.
That feels so good, she realized. I can’t believe how horny its making me. It feels sooo good. But I can’t, I can’t let him win . . . it’s doing something to me, and I want it, no, no . . . I have to fight it. Ann struggled inside. It’s wrong . . . I’m nobody’s maid . . . but it feels so good! The stimulation steadily worked its way into her body, into her mind. It focused on her sex, the pressure and the power forced there more than she could stand. The power touched her almost physically in her clitoris, penetrating deeply into her vagina. The first orgasm shook every fiber of Ann’s being, rocking her to the very soul.
And then it came again . . . and Ann came again.
Only this time, the orgasm was so great it made even that first titanic event seem small.
And then there was a third, dwarfing in intensity the second. And then a fourth . . . and a fifth . . . and . . . I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!
It feels so good!
Waves of excruciating pleasure coursed through Ann’s body. They took their time with her, stretching out longer and longer, leaving her all the more helplessly needy for the next one. Her body remained perfectly motionless; her eyes remained absolutely blank and staring. Not a quiver emerged to give hint of the struggle going on within her. Each wave would build, crest, then tease mercilessly, holding on without giving Ann the satisfaction she increasingly needed and craved. And then the wave would break, pouring pleasure through every square inch of her rapidly transforming body.
I can’t. I can’t. I have to fight this. If I give in . . .oh god, that’s good, that’s a good one . . . no! If I give in, if I give in . . . oh, ahhh . . . I am Ann Grant, assistant professor of Asian Studies at . . . at . .oh, oh my, oh my . . . it’s coming, I can’t take, I have to take . . . yes, no, yes, yes, yessss. Ohhhh! Ohhhhhhh! The power crested and broke, and Ann broke with it. And then it started again, and again, each wave lasting longer and longer, the resulting ecstasy greater and greater.
Ann’s surrender was complete and absolute.
As Ann’s mind began to melt under the constant ecstatic barrage, her body continued to change. Lines of force lanced out from the cabinet’s interior walls, from the floor and ceiling, the beams passing through her motionless, nude form and dividing her in an intricate gridwork. Her unmarked skin began to shine with its own inner light. She glowed blue, and the very texture of her skin slowly altered. It softened, yet at the same time hardened into a plastic-like surface. Doll-like she became, soft in all the right places, hard as stone everywhere else. Ann’s eyes and open mouth shone out with their own radiance; it was as if the inside of her was on fire, with her luminescently blue skin forming only a thin shell over a raging inferno inside. Her hair, both on her head and at her sex, grew deeper in color, blackening till it reached the same exact shade as that of the black lacquer surface of the cabinet’s exterior. Everywhere else, especially along her arms, Ann’s hair burned and faded away. She was left smooth and very, very artificial.
Outside, the cabinet stood perfectly still. Not a sound could be heard from within. It looked much the same as when Ann first saw it.
Carnelian came back into the Asia Room after about two hours. Everything had been arranged. He consulted a silver pocket watch and estimated it was about time. He walked over to the cabinet and waited for a moment. There was a loud click from inside.
He reached out with both hands past a corner on the cabinet’s front left side, depressing three different hidden catches simultaneously. Pressing any one these keys alone, or pressing them in any other combination, would activate a needle trap. The same was true of the hundred or so other hidden catches along the box’s lacquered surface. There were a hundred different ways to end one’s existence as a mobile human being in the Hei-pi, but only one way to open it safely.
The two hinged doors in front softly clicked open.
Carnelian slowly reached out in a high overhand gesture, and a soft,
graceful arm from within greeted his palm “Come out, my dear, and
let us have a look at you.”
Ann stepped out of the Hei-pi Cabinet. There was no expression in her face, no sign of self-awareness at all. She retained the same mannequin-like gaze from before, but now her eyes tracked, and they followed Carnelian as he led her out and into the room. She didn’t blink. She moved, not jerkily like some crude mechanism, but not entirely smoothly either; her arms and legs were stiff in their gestures, engineered in perfection.
“Stand here and do not move,” her new master commanded, and the robot girl obeyed, not breathing, her eyes frozen ahead of her. She stopped in mid-stride with her right arm still held out and her left arm swinging back, her legs slightly parted. Carnelian released her hand and slowly circled around his new maid. Her hair was darker, and her skin was alabaster, almost marble-white in its perfection and smooth loveliness.
“Assume your position of attention from before,” Carnelian ordered.
Ann, like a clockwork figure, straightened into a rigid pole, her arms and legs straight and at their sides. Carnelian moved close to his creation, pausing within inches of her immobile face. He caressed her thighs, not salaciously but professionally, admiring how firm they were, how hard and yet how strangely soft. The doctor experienced no desire while performing his inspection. He had long since given up the desires of the flesh.
He touched Ann’s bottom and allowed his hands to rest on her breasts, feeling how firm and uplifted they too felt. Her skin felt like vinyl. He motioned with his lips, a turn of his head, and Ann automatically moved to comply. She put her arms around her master’s shoulders, enfolded her legs between his, and upturned her mouth to meet his implied kiss. Her lips were warm and yielding, yet they retained the same inner hardness he had felt elsewhere in her new body. After a moment, Carnelian passionlessly broke their embrace and moved back. Ann returned to her position of attention.
The doctor was once again filled with admiration for the Hei-pi’s unknown crafter and regretted never having met him. His own efforts in the creation of living dolls seemed crude and uninspired in the comparison.
“Yes, you are much improved, my dear Ann,” he remarked finally. “And you will be happier now, or at the very least not so concerned with everyday life. Your only obligation now is to continue pleasing me.” He walked over to his study and pulled the rope-chime for his servants.
“I would like you meet your colleagues, Ann,” Carnelian said as his two other servants entered the room. “You’ve already met George. George was the Hei-pi’s most recent owner, the one I told you who had no real grasp of its intricacies. Now he does.”
Carnelian beckoned the other servant to come nearer, and he took her hand in his. “And this is Lin Yua, whom I found inside the cabinet when I first opened it. I gather she had been inside it for at least thirteen or fourteen hundred years.”
Lin Yua was an incredibly beautiful young Asian girl with the most darling of dimples in her face, her skin an unnatural yellowish-beige color, like the skin of a lovedoll. She was dressed in a red and green cheong-sam, the slits on its side reaching well to the tops of her thighs. Her legs were perfectly clad in nylons.
“Lin Yua will show you what your duties will now entail,” Carnelian said, addressing Ann. “You will find a uniform in one of the upstairs closets.” He lifted Ann’s chin, tilting her head to left and right. The living automata no longer wore makeup, but it was no longer really necessary. Her lips were already a light shade of red, and they would remain so now always. Her cheekbones were strong yet graceful, and her pale, pale coloring served to highlight them better than any possible store-bought commodity might. The only thing the doctor thought he would change was her hair. It would need to be cut slightly to match her maid’s uniform, styled to fit her tiny bonnet. He gave Lin Yua the appropriate directions.
Sometime later that evening Ann came downstairs again for inspection. She was clad simply in a short and skimpy French maid’s uniform, black and white, with a small bonnet topping her new page-style cut. Her legs were nicely shown off by the fishnet stockings and garters traditional to the outfit. The uniform’s skirt was so short Carnelian could see where they reached nearly to the edge of Ann’s ruffled panties.
“Lovely,” Carnelian said, approving of his latest acquisition. Ann was glad the master was pleased. A wave of pleasure crested and broke behind her mannequin eyes.
Life was simpler now.