No sooner had Sharon enrolled in the modeling school than she started receiving all sorts of junk mail. It was annoying, but it was the sort of hassle she used to dream about. Most of it generally had a line somewhere to the effect, "tasteful nudity required." The rest was more brazen. Letters ranged from requests for art models to sleazy magazines. Sharon wanted to be a respectable model, the sort that went on to become supermodels, although she had been an art model a few times already to pay the bills. She'd always had the impression beforehand that there ought to be something exciting, secretly thrilling, about posing nude before a bunch of aspiring artists, immobile for a crowd hoping to immortalize her. But it was just boring and irritating. The guy students were never as professional about staring at her as television and the movies always suggested, and the girls didn't do much better in hiding their jealousy. Sharon never wanted to have to do that kind of thing again. That's why she'd saved up enough money to see her through modeling school without any part-time jobs. She really didn't want it getting back to them; they were exclusive, one of the finest modeling schools in this part of the country, and they frowned on extracurricular work of a modeling nature. Sharon didn't mind being ogled per se, but she wanted to be admired for more than just her body - for her style, her motion, her elegance, her strut. Modeling was about motion and presentation, not just standing there motionless for all the world to see what you'd been born with. Or had done, in the cases of some of her classmates. So Sharon threw out all the ads as they came, while secretly admiring the fact that they came at all. Besides, girls fell over themselves to get accepted into this school, so she could hardly bitch to someone about them selling mailing lists of their students' names. Sharon just preferred to think that that sort of thing kept the tuition down.
They didn't take many girls, and while the admission-interview consisted of a lot more than just showing up beautiful, that was certainly necessary for openers. Sharon was a natural blond with natural breasts, only average height but well-rounded in all the right places. Like all modeling people, they seemed to frown on nice female curves and were always trying to starve their students. Sharon didn't much mind about that. She'd tried to get into this school for four years now, since the moment she'd gotten out of high school. This time around she'd made it to the short list. It kind of pissed her off that her roommate, Monique, had entered on a whim and gotten on that short list on her first try, but the girls had been hoping to be accepted together. So giddy and giggly had they been on the way back to their apartment that Sharon hadn't been paying enough attention to the road. One moment, they were laughing away about the fun they'd have together at the school, Sharon straining to see out the rain-soaked window slightly fogged by their chattering, and the next, Sharon was dragging herself out of the demolished car, struggling to her feet, bruised but more dazed than seriously injured. All that'd registered had been the skid and a loud crash. Now, bracing herself against the remains of the car, she stared numbly at the telephone pole embedded in the passenger side. Monique's arm was cut up pretty bad. "Sh-sharon..." she gasped, unable to move. "For god's sake... help me..."
Sharon only stared at her, unable to move. She had to do... something. You shouldn't move them, right? God, Monique's arm was gushing blood, and she was crying out in pain, crying out for Sharon to do something. Monique was pinned in but her legs looked all right and lucky it wasn't her face but she couldn't get free and her arm was gushing blood and Sharon had to stop the bleeding because there was no one else way out here on this country road and if she didn't do something soon Monique was gonna....
"Sharon..." she gasped. "Come out of it... Puh-please... I can't reach my arm... you gotta..."
The next thing Sharon knew, the rain had stopped, a police car was alongside, and Monique wasn't moving. She looked to her right and saw a policeman. "You all right?"
Sharon's heart skipped a beat. Another policeman was pulling Monique's body from the car and shaking his head. Sharon panicked. What would they do to her if... She could never explain it right. It'd sound like she'd just let Monique die, which wasn't the truth, not at all. "I... hit my head..." she began. "W-when I came to, I crawled out and found Monique was... d-dead..."
He replied that she was very lucky, but that she should be checked out
at a hospital anyway. They took Monique's body away, back to her
family across the state, and Sharon never saw her again. She couldn't
even call her friend's mom. They'd hear it all from the police.
Sharon just couldn't deal with it. She felt guilty about lying, but
it was better than risking jail for something that she hadn't done.
She'd just panicked, first on seeing Monique there and then when they'd
asked. They couldn't hold panic against her. No one knew how
they were gonna fare up under pressure, that was all.
She had to tell the modeling school, anyway. A week went by before she got up the nerve, and when she shyly arrived and told the woman who'd interviewed all the girls, she replied, "Well, that is a blow. You might as well know, the decisions have already been made. Monique was... would have been... one of the lucky ones. It couldn't have been any secret how impressed we were with her."
"No," Sharon admitted, muttering.
The woman opened up a filing cabinet, found Monique's application, and tore it up. "While you're here, I may as well tell you that you were borderline, but we really didn't feel that..." She looked over Sharon, standing there quietly, mistaking her diffidence for grief. "Well, I suppose we do have an opening now. Welcome aboard, Sharon."
It wasn't the way Sharon would have wanted to get in, she told herself,
but at least she was in. She felt sorry for Monique, but they'd only
been roommates for about two months anyway and she hadn't known her before
that. She decided to view her admission as a tribute to Sharon.
She would make it in this business for both of them.
After only a month in the school, the junk mail was coming thick and fast, about three pieces a day on the average. Normally Sharon just dumped it unopened at this point, but one envelope emblazoned with the words "Market Yourself Professionally" caught her eye. She opened it and glanced through it on a lark. It was from something called the "Mediterranean U.S.A. - Modeling P.R. Services", and since it was more understated than most of the ads, she gave it a look-see. The letter inside was plainly-typed, apparently on an actual typewriter, from one Anthony Marmax. "Strange name," she remarked to herself. "As if the company name weren't strange enough." But the one explained the other, for the letter detailed how Mr. Marmax had emigrated from Greece, which he called "the birthplace of beauty", to open this service here in America. He struck Sharon as a little naive, but the professional side hinted that he certainly knew his business. Basically, the service offered to help her advertise herself for modeling services once she graduated, a sort of personal advertising agency guaranteeing to set her apart from the crowd of would-be models. The price for services was surprisingly cheap, for they made their real money off the one-third cut of all business steered her way in her first year. "After the first year," the letter promised, "most clients no longer need our help. We just open doors for you." The fine print detailed at some length that they were not a modeling school but a supplementary organization in no way affiliated with any modeling school and designed only for the purposes of publicizing those who wished to make it in the modeling business.
"What the hell?" Sharon decided, picking up the phone. Mr. Marmax himself answered; that didn't inspire much confidence of their professionalism. But he was very polite and accommodating. His Greek accent took a minute to get used to, and she explained that they kept her rather busy at the modeling school and could she meet with them in the evenings.
"No, no," he insisted. "Not when you're tired. That would not do. Must look your best. Come Saturday." And she found herself making an appointment for the following Saturday at noon.
The building was in the warehouse district and the plain door outside rather took her aback. But she could at least hear them out and politely turn them down. She entered without knocking and climbed a flight of stairs into a much more promising loft area. Makeshift walls had been set up and everything was painted with bright colors. Photos of clients hung everywhere. "This is more like it," she laughed, approaching the receptionist, who was filing her nails while reading a romance novel. "Um, I have an appointment. I'm Sharon -"
"Sharon, of course!" the receptionist smiled affably. "Go on in, second door on your right." Sharon headed down the corridor; it wasn't really a corridor, for it lacked a ceiling, but the floor of the warehouse itself was about three times the height of a normal floor. She glanced back and found the receptionist already engrossed in her book and filing again. Sharon found the second door on her right and knocked. Mr. Marmax's voice invited her in and she entered.
The man didn't match the image in her mind. His hair was black, but he was a little light for a Greek. What caught her attention more was how Americanized he was in clothes and general style. She'd expected some old-world cliche and hadn't been able to reconcile that "out of touch foreigner" routine with someone on the cutting edge of such a fashionable business. She was reassured. The tall, somewhat skinny woman in her mid-thirties beside him was thoroughly American and dressed professionally but with a certain awareness of style. He introduced her as "Miss Flint", his associate, and she had no trace of an accent. It was possible Marmax was just the money end. He spoke in generalities about their P.R. service at some length in that thick, fatherly Greek accent before turning over the floor to Miss Flint, who apparently ran the actual service end of things. She spoke at length of their specific services, how they tailored their facilities to the individual client. They did photo-shoots and created fliers of their client to send out to prospective employers; they gave Sharon a few to look over and she was very impressed at the fliers, classy and eye-catching but tasteful. They created professional-quality audition tapes to send out. They steered clients toward the jobs more likely to catch the eye of future employers and sometimes they even pounded the streets selling their clients by word of mouth. "It all depends on what you're looking for, and what forms of advertising seem to work best for you. Remember, we're at your disposal, not vice versa."
"I haven't done much actual modeling work," Sharon blushed. "Real modeling work, I mean. And I couldn't start just yet. I mean, I'm just here for a kind of... preliminary interview. I don't graduate for another five months and they really frown on outside work..."
"It's all right," Miss Flint laughed. "We get a lot of our clients from modeling schools. Remember, we tailor ourselves to our client's needs. But it's never too early to start hyping yourself, to put it crudely. You want to burst onto the scene the day you graduate. You want photographers and, yes, even designers lined up waiting for you. We make them compete for you for a change, like admissions boards for high school jocks. Modeling is all presentation, of course, as I'm sure they've taught you by now. We just take a lot of that out of your hands."
"Well, I have to admit I'm impressed by what I've seen. Okay, I'm interested. What next?"
"Preliminary photoshoot," Mr. Marmax suggested. "Get some photos."
"Leave this to me, Tony," Miss Flint smiled. "He's right though."
"I, um, brought some photos with me -"
She put up her hands. "None of that. We know what we're after. Just finish up here and join me across the hall." Sharon decided to be bold for once. She signed the necessary forms and wrote out a check to "Mediterranean U.S.A." and then headed across the hall to a room filled with clothes. Miss Flint proceeded to take her measurements and write them all down in her notebook. "We'll design some clothes just for you, with your input of course. For this preliminary photoshoot, we'll find you something almost as good. Have you ever done any photoshoots?"
"A few in school," she blushed. "I don't know if -"
"Just put yourself in my hands," she insisted. Together they picked out a lavish pink gown and then she led Sharon into yet another room with tall lights and a waiting photographer who put Sharon through her paces. Miss Flint let the photographer take charge - he seemed to know his business - but she remained in the room and gave helpful advice to both of them when it seemed appropriate. Sharon was getting much further than she'd intended to today. She'd only come for a preliminary discussion, and here they were actually photographing her. She shuttled back and forth from the shoot room to the clothes room several times as Miss Flint and the photographer wanted to see her in different kinds of outfits ranging from gowns to dresses to swimsuits to underwear. About three hours later, the shoot stopped and Miss Flint explained, "We'll make up a preliminary pamphlet from these by your next visit. Only preliminary, of course, I must emphasize. For your eyes only. The real work will be done over the next few weeks. Clear next Saturday, my dear. We'll go over the pamphlets in detail and get a better feel for what works for you."
Sharon positively bounced out of the warehouse. Seeing other people as enthusiastic about her career as she was was a pleasant change and a real mood-lifter. It wasn't just their enthusiasm. It was the relief of having so much of the burden of it taken from her shoulders. The modeling school talked a lot about their famous graduates but they didn't make any explicit promises and they apparently didn't do much to place their graduates. "A good model can place herself," her poise teacher had told her. So to have a whole agency of people working for her was a great relief and a positive godsend. She couldn't help thinking, as the week in school passed, what an edge she was going to have over the other students. Sharon had been pretty far from the favorite there from the moment they'd first let her in on pity. Not that Sharon had cared then what terms she'd gotten in on - the important thing was to get in, and she'd have done anything to get in - but at the agency she was the center of attention and everyone was working with friendly enthusiasm on her career. In a way, it was exactly what she'd wanted from modeling itself. They were her first real audience, so unlike the snobs and snots at the school. Of course they knew all that already, which was exactly why they were so good at their business. No doubt they were training her rather deliberately in precisely those areas in which the school was deficient. They built her self-confidence - the school was always talking down to the students and putting down the bodies of the most gorgeous - and they kept alive and built up her own enthusiasm for modeling, where the school was making it all seem like so much of a chore. Probably that was their way of weeding out the less committed... but it was nice to have people reminding her what it was really all about.
Sharon was impatient to get back to the agency and see what they'd come up with, but she tried her best to pay attention in modeling school. It wasn't always easy. But finally Friday evening rolled around. The agency was right, of course; the school left her exhausted every night. Sharon got a good night's sleep for her appointment the next day, and she showed up half an hour early.
The receptionist was even more engrossed in her romance novel - a new one - than last time and Sharon chuckled a bit as she saw her mouthing the words she was reading. "What? Oh, hi, Sharon," she replied, startled.
"Should I... sit down and wait? I know I'm early."
"Oh, go right on in," she replied. "They're expecting you. By the way, your pamphlets look gorgeous. Can't wait to see the final one."
"Oh," she blushed, "thanks. There's more than one pamphlet?"
"Yeah, they do up a few. Usually they ask you which one you like best, and so forth. It doesn't get used - it'll look crude by the end - but that way they can judge your preferences, your taste, and so forth. What kind of model you want to be? High fashion, I suppose. That's what they all say."
"W-well, it'd be nice."
"Pity. Your underwear pamphlet was the best, I thought. I'm not trying to prejudice you or nothing, but that's how I see it. Wish I'd had a body like yours. Get out of this dead-end job."
"Oh, it's not so bad," Sharon smiled. "Looks like there's a lot of romance in it."
"Oo, good one," she shot back, picking her book back up. "Yeah, I get lots of time to read."
"How many clients do you handle at a time?"
"Oh, about two a day. They don't all come weekly. It varies. You'll taper off to once every couple weeks, then once a month, as time goes on. Right now they're just getting your bearings, not producing anything to actually distribute. Anyway, like I say, they're really impressed with your pamphlets. That's not a necessarily a good thing, by the by."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Well, pamphlets are all very well, but don't let'em decide early on that that's the way to go with you. Get'em to make a test-video. Who knows, it may come out even better. Seems to me a no-brainer that you'd want motion, not just pics, when you sell yourself, but what do I know - I'm just the secretary around here."
"I'll keep it in mind," Sharon smirked, heading down the hall. Mr. Marmax and Miss Flint greeted her eagerly as she entered his open office and plopped out all the pamphlets in front of her. They really were gorgeous, very professionally done, and somehow they made her look a thousand times better than the best pics in her portfolio. Sharon didn't see what was so special about the underwear one. She rather preferred the classical elegance of the gowns. Maybe the receptionist just swung that way.
Both Mr. Marmax and Miss Flint - who seemed to hold the more important vote - seemed rather sold that brochures were the way to go with her, while emphasizing that it was far too early for any official decision. But they were leaning toward forgoing the video-test for the moment to concentrate on what Miss Flint called her "photogenic strengths." Miss Flint had been very impressed with her shoot and had sold Mr. Marmax on Sharon as someone who was good at posing for a still-camera, suggesting that they start her out with fashion photography rather than runway work. Sharon knew they knew their business, but in her gut she felt a little shortchanged. "It couldn't hurt to do a video-shoot, could it?" she blushed.
"Someone out front's been shooting her mouth off again," Miss Flint winked to Marmax. "We know our business, Sharon. We find the best open doors suited for you. There's plenty of time for video-shoots later, say two or three weeks down the line."
"But we're not infallible, and we don't want you to feel we're pressuring you," Mr. Marmax insisted.
Miss Flint took notice of Sharon's rising hopes. "They always want to jump to the videos," she sighed with friendly exasperation. "There'll be no working with her until we do a couple. Okay, here's how it works." She reached back and opened up a cabinet, revealing about thirty show-videos. "Take a few at a time at random and view them. There's a tv and VCR in the next room and you won't be disturbed. Take an hour or so to look them over, and when you find a theme you like, we'll get started. There's everything from science fiction to Renaissance stuff - do you up in one of those pointed hats with the silk coming out," she smiled.
The videos were obviously just for inter-office use, with no boxes and handwritten labels. Sharon took out a few without reading the labels, so as not to be prejudiced. She thought it rather professional of her. Then she headed into the next room on this side, shut the door, and began viewing them. Miss Flint checked in on her a couple times, but mostly she watched them undisturbed for about an hour and a half. When Miss Flint came in again, she blushed, "I'm, um, not holding you up, am I?"
"We're here for you, not vice versa," she smiled, "remember? Oh, we have plenty of other work to be getting on with, composing pamphlets, running new ideas past each other, phone calls for clients. When you're ready."
"I'm about ready now," Sharon admitted. "I've tried to give the last couple a chance, but really I was sold some time ago. I had no idea you could do special effects like this. They're really eye-catching."
"Those are copies of final, professional releases of course. We can put just as much work into a preliminary tape. We can tailor-make tapes later for your taste, but for a prelim. tape we'll stick to one of these themes which's already been done, that way the CGI work is mostly old hat, all the heavy stuff done already."
The tapes really did impress Sharon. The medieval one had a knight hunting for the Holy Grail, and then when he tilted the cup toward the ground, the water poured out into a woman-shape, gained color and texture, and became one of their clients, with a caption below with her name and the knight bowing at her feet. A really cute cartoony one had little talking mice gradually assembling a huge woman-form out of odds and ends around the house, and then a little mouse-fairy coming down and bestowing life on it, creating another of their clients. A classical one started with a statue of a beautiful woman in a flowing, carved Greek gown over one shoulder and then skin, hair, and gown slowly gaining color as if the statue were coming to life. Sharon was sold. "We'll do most of the conventional ones in the weeks ahead," Miss Flint insisted, "but we'll start with your favorite."
"The statue one," Sharon smiled, totally fascinated with it. She'd played it again and again and for some reason, though a lot of the others were better made technically and more show-offy, that one really did something to her. It made her feel... She couldn't describe it. It was the best, that was all. It was the fascinating one, the one she had to have of herself. She didn't know why. She'd already popped it back in and sat down on the floor a couple feet from the screen to watch it starting up again. She could have sat watching it forever if Miss Flint hadn't stopped the VCR and laughed, "All right, I know which one you meant. They always want to start with that one for some reason. I think because it looks like the easiest to make. You really don't have to go easy on us, dear. We can do any one you like."
"The statue one," Sharon snapped. She caught herself and blushed. "I'm s-sorry. I just... like it, that's all."
Miss Flint threw up her hands. "All right, all right. I should've seen it coming a mile away, but hope springs eternal." She opened up the door and shouted down to the studio, "Set up for the statue video!"
"Already on it," one of the crew shouted back. Miss Flint only smiled and shrugged her shoulders. It bothered Sharon to be that predictable, but she wanted that video of herself. It was the best, that was all. It was the fascinating one, the one she had to have of herself.
Miss Flint led her off to the wardrobe room. "We've taken the liberty of having some fashions altered for you," she explained. "We'll design you some things from scratch a few weeks down the line, but you'll look stunning enough in these. For a test-video, I mean. Now we have about three major ways to go here. Option one, something elegant. Classical works best, but gowns can be quite nice too. Option two, something tight. That can be anything from tank tops to sweaters, hot pants to spandex. That's the way to go to highlight your personal curves without necessarily showing off your body blatantly. Option three, swimsuits or underwear. That can be a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini, depending on how much skin you're comfortable with."
Sharon thought of showing off a video of her stone-skin gradually becoming real. What employer could resist a sell like that? She'd have so much fun just showing it off to the other girls at the school, without telling them where she got it of course. Sharon didn't want any competition. Sharon had never wanted any competition. Never. Underwear seemed kind of sleazy though. She wanted something a little more respectable than that. After all, this was for professionals to look at, people who'd hire her, who she wanted to take her seriously... and she probably wouldn't get a chance to do the statue one again. She had to get it right the first time. Perfect. She chose a silver bikini and changed into it.
"Bikini look," Miss Flint nodded. "Yes, that can be quite nice. Jewelry doesn't really work with it, though. Do you mind...?" She removed Sharon's earrings and placed them in a drawer. "Makeup should be understated too for a beach look. Let's get you looking perfect." She led Sharon into another room where a girl worked on her makeup and her hair. Her hair was arranged loosely but attractively, and they seemed determined to emphasize her curls as much as possible in the time they had before the shoot, without resorting to messy styling gel. Miss Flint added as the girl worked, "The stone-effect is only part of the CGI of course. Just as we airbrushed the photos, we edit out imperfections on the video. Most of those aren't terribly controversial. Just leave the decisions to us. But about that mole on your arm - leave it on for character, or edit it out for perfection?"
Sharon thought about it. She wanted to be perfect... but she wanted it to be herself as well. She decided that the mole was rather cute. She'd leave it in. By the time Miss Flint led her into the studio, everything was set up for the video shoot. She was rather surprised by how much work went into it, but once she thought about it, she didn't know why. A camera crew controlled lighting and shooting and other general effects. A specialist with thick glasses sat at a computer console. In the center of the room, a huge video screen, life-size, was set up facing a white screen, with a circular platform about an inch high in between. Behind the video screen was a sophisticated camera system. Sharon looked puzzled. "Yes," Mr. Marmax laughed, inviting her in. "The camera's actually behind the video-screen. We can shoot right through it. You'll see why we have to in a moment. He took her by the hand and led her onto the platform, facing the video-screen. Ringing the edge of the platform was a series of small circular lights, each about six inches in diameter and pointing straight across for now, so that they pointed directly at her bare feet from every angle. "We probably won't be using those," he explained, noting her interest. "They're for special lighting effects from below. I don't think they'll work very well with a bikini theme -"
"Leave that to me," Miss Flint smiled condescendingly. "A lot of it depends on the background we edit in later."
"What will that be?" Sharon wondered. "A beach?"
"Well, the beauty of this process is that we just film you against the white screen," she explained. "We can put in different backgrounds later, and choose the best next time you visit."
"Oh," Sharon replied, disappointed. "I won't... get to see it today?"
Mr. Marmax laughed. "Always so impatient with the videos! It's all right, Sharon. You won't see the background, but you'll see the statue effect. That's the point of the screen. You'll see."
Sharon relaxed a little. She really wanted to see that statue effect today. Come to think of it, some of the others would have been nice too. She didn't know why this one had moved her so much. The "pouring out a girl" one looked pretty damn cool compared to this. Why...? She rubbed her forehead. Well, it was too late to change her mind now. She could do the others later, like they said. And this was gonna look pretty damn cool by any standard. It was fascinating, and... one she had to have of herself. Pretty damn cool special effects. "Do you have a headache?" Miss Flint wondered. "We can put this off."
"N-no," she insisted. "I'm all right now. I -"
"Do you want some aspirin -"
"No!" Sharon snapped. She blushed. "S-sorry. I just... really want to do this, that's all." The camera switched on, and Sharon saw a life-sized video of herself facing her. "Have we started?"
"Just getting everything ready," Mr. Marmax explained. "We'll tell you when we start shooting."
Sharon stared at the white screen. "Shouldn't the screen be blue... or green or something? I mean, I always thought -"
Miss Flint chuckled a little. "We don't use those primitive techniques, dear. Don't worry about it. You'll see. No blue shadow around your edges, my dear."
"Now the first thing you'll notice," Mr. Marmax explained, "is how disorienting it is to face a video-image of yourself."
"Yeah," Sharon noted. "It's like... a mirror, but all reversed." She raised her right arm and the arm on the left went up.
"Right," he continued. "So to offset that, we invert the image. Just for display purposes during the shoot. We'll invert it back for the video." All of a sudden the image on the screen flipped, making it like a mirror image. Sharon tested with her right arm again, and this time its "reflection" went up. "Next, I should explain that you'll actually see the statue effect as we shoot. So it's important that you -"
"You mean it gets filmed in real life time?" Sharon replied.
"Something like that," Miss Flint chuckled. "You see, the video is filmed backwards. We start out with a human image and gradually morph it into a statue. Then we reverse everything for the final video. It's important for you to remember that all all times. I can't emphasize that enough. If you don't remember that any movement you make is going to be seen backwards, it can look awkward when we're done. So it's important that you leave the choreography to us, so to speak, otherwise move slowly when at all, remembering that your motions will be viewed backwards."
"It's kind of complicated," Sharon admitted.
"Well, you had to start with this one," Miss Flint smirked.
Sharon wasn't going to start thinking about that again.
"I think the effect to go for here," Mr. Marmax suggested, "is something like this. Start with your hands locked behind your head with a sort of sexy tilt..." He tried to demonstrate. "Um, Miss Flint?"
"Yeah, I'd better," she laughed, taking over. She locked her hands behind her head and struck a sexy pose. "Note the feet - left foot slightly forward, and not standing too rigidly. Chest forward and up a little, just a teeny hint toward the left. Show it all off. Got that?"
Sharon took up the pose. "How's that?" They took a minute or so to perfect the pose, and then another minute to make certain that Sharon had it down pat, releasing it and resuming it repeatedly.
"Excellent, Sharon. Now of course remember that in filming, that's how you finish up. The effect we want is something like this..." She took up the pose. "Now you'll gradually unlock your hands, like this, and lift them forward and up toward the sky, turning your gaze that way as well - not too much though, because we want a good shot of your face at the end. You're thanking Zeus or whoever but your thoughts are on your earthly life to come."
"Aphrodite, wasn't it?" Mr. Marmax put in.
"Galatea didn't wear a bikini," Miss Flint shot back. "But you'll look classy, my dear, have no fear. Now get that motion down, first of all..." And they took about two minutes to perfect it. "Now of course you have to reverse it all. The shoot starts with your hands in the air, your chin high but your eyes to the camera, then your eyes shift to heaven for a moment, then the arms and head come down into your classic pose, which you more or less stay in for the rest of the shoot. Something wrong, dear?"
A cold shiver had run down her back at the word "heaven." Sharon told herself she didn't know why, and turned her thoughts back to the present, to the video shoot. "Like this?" she tried.
"Not bad for a first attempt," Miss Flint insisted. "Try again. Now remember, it's important to remain relatively still after the pose. In some of the shoots, there'll be a little motion even by the statue-part, and sometimes it can be pulled off rather well. Bearing in mind that you have to be completely motionless for at least a few seconds at the end. But it's better to move as little as possible after the pose, and REMEMBER, no jerky movements - they'll look pretty damn awful when they're reversed." Sharon practiced her reversed movements while she listened, and in another few moments she had them down to Miss Flint's satisfaction. "Excellent, dear. Now I think we're about ready to begin. Take your pose."
Sharon raised her arms to the sky, heaved her chest out just a little, enough to show off her body without looking too tacky or obvious, and raised her chin a little. "Now look right to the image," Miss Flint continued. "Remember, that means you're looking toward the camera, toward the people you want to impress. Then you look upward for a second or two, thanking the gods, and then back at the image on the screen. We want the statue looking to the viewer too, remember. So keep looking right at the image until we say, 'Cut.' We're not doing sound - we'll have some music edited in later - so never mind our voices. If you have to talk, try to move your lips as little as possible -"
"But it'd be better not to," Sharon smiled. "Getting the hang of this. Don't worry, I want it to look perfect."
"Excellent, dear. You should be a cooperative subject," Miss Flint replied. "Now remember, not till we say 'Cut', even if it looks to you like we're finished. We'll keep you as a statue for a bit at the end so that we can edit in some other effects - a man praying to the statue, or pretty birds flying around it, or some sort of time-lapse thing that makes it look like the statue's been there for ages and ages. We'll find something good."
"The statue won't be moving," Mr. Marmax pointed out. "We could spare her holding the pose by just freeze-framing and holding it at the end."
"Leave it to me, Tony," she sighed. "Freeze-framing has a tendency to look kind of tacky. You can always tell if you look closely. I've seen her photoshoot; she can hold her pose. Can't you, dear?"
"Of course," Sharon replied. "I'm a professional... or at least I'm supposed to be."
"Well said, dear. Video ready?" The guy must have nodded, but Sharon had her head up and her eyes dutifully on the screen. "Computer end ready? Good. Begin recording. Follow my voice on your movements, Sharon." Sharon kept staring at her image, right into her eyes... hopefully where the viewer's eyes would be, and donned a friendly expression. Her gaze wandered over her image-body for a moment despite herself. She squinted a little as something caught her eye. The white backdrop seemed to be moving a little, or rippling, ever so lightly... or was it her imagination? She really had to squint to make it out, but she couldn't just ignore it, obsessed with figuring out whether it was there or not. Miss Flint must have noticed the confusion on her face. "Those are interference ripples on the video, Sharon. They're a little disconcerting, I know, but they're how we edit the background in. They demark the foreground. If you look closely, you'll see that they seem to be behind you, not over the image of your body itself. We wouldn't let you be distorted, dear, never fear. Take a moment to get comfortable with them before we start. It would've been better to keep your eyes on your image and not to have noticed them."
"Sorry," Sharon blushed.
"It's all right, dear. We want you at your ease. Don't blush. Take a breath. Better?" Sharon looked at the ripples despite herself. They were very faint, but that faintness only drew her eyes to them even more. They seemed to emanate circularly from her body, or behind it. "Don't squint, my dear. All right. You should have the hang of the interference pattern. Now focus on the image and ignore the ripples, or they may make you a bit dizzy." Sharon tried to obey, but her eyes kept following the ripples out again. "Hmm..." Miss Flint mused. "Tony, I have an idea. Could we..." And apparently she motioned in some way toward the screen. Sharon understood in a moment. The ripples reversed motion and now seemed to move in toward her body. Sharon kept being drawn back to the image, and she focused without any further difficulty on her own eyes. "Excellent, Sharon. You've got the hang of it now. Okay, action!"
Sharon just stared out toward the camera, or tried to imagine that she was. She was a statue just come to life, a newly-made woman experiencing all the joys of real flesh and real being. "Very good, Sharon. You could be an actress. Now eyes away from the screen for a moment, may be difficult but do your best, upward, that's right, not too far... slowly... Now arms falling, not too fast now, lock them behind your head, remembering this gets reversed - you're unlocking them. Eyes gradually back down, you're forgetting the gods, you're not really aware of yourself yet but you're just starting to move, awareness fading, movement slowing, eyes back to the screen and gradually freezing into place, not too suddenly..."
Sharon followed Miss Flint's voice, looking away from the screen - it wasn't so hard, she wasn't a moron, and Miss Flint was a little patronizing about that - and then up, and then gradually coming down into her statue-pose, fingers locking firmly behind her head. Eyes back to the screen... and drawn right to the image. The hard part was over, she remarked, laughing at the pun in the word hard... for now she'd get to see her body turning into a statue before her eyes. She kept her pose dutifully.
"Now eyes blank, dear. This is a good statue - it has pupils, so we rely on your facial expression to convey fading awareness. You're just a statue, just a thing... standing there since the dawn of time, the work of some ancient craftsman..." At first Miss Flint's voice was kind of distracting as she tried to blank her expression. The difficulty was that she kept mentally pulling back from her eyes to take in her face as a whole, study it for blankness... and of course read instantly her own searching eyes looking for a blankness that was no longer there. It was frustrating for a moment, but then she concentrated instead on Miss Flint's soothing voice, and tried to forget about her reflected expression. She just let Miss Flint's voice soothe her and looked away from her face toward the ripples just beyond, just at the edge of her head, right where they vanished behind that head. The camera would never pick up that tiny motion of her eyes, she knew. She just watched the ripples drawing her attention forever toward the statue, but never quite there. "Exquisite, my dear," Miss Flint said softly, trying not to distract her. "The perfect faraway look. Don't lose it, remember you can see it later. Just keep doing whatever you're doing."
Sharon was so intent on staring at the ripples coming into her head that she didn't even notice exactly when the image began to turn gray. Her first awareness was that her hair didn't look quite right, wasn't the right color... and then she remembered. She was becoming a statue. That is, the image was. You know what I mean, she told herself. The color faded gradually from her face, and she looked down ever so slightly. The camera wouldn't take it in. Her whole body was turning gray at the same rate. Color faded and gray began to reign. At first it was just a color change. Then ever so slowly she began noticing that the texture of her skin was a bit different, ever so slightly... a stony look. Not crackly - she was a perfect statue - but definitely stone. She was now undeniably staring at a statue of herself, the process complete.
"Exquisite, Sharon," Miss Flint's soothing voice came. "You've been immortalized in stone. Remember what we said: hold that pose. Don't let yourself be distracted. Statues can't move, my dear, and we want as long a lead-in as you can manage. Maybe there's a crowd staring at you now. Maybe children playing at your feet. Maybe an artist studying his handiwork. All you know for sure is that you don't know. You're a statue, oblivious to everything going on around you."
Yes... Sharon told herself. She was a statue. The effect was so realistic that for a split-second she really thought she was a statue. Miss Flint's soothing voice was still coming about something or other, all the possible stuff they might edit in. Sharon concentrated on her tranquilizing tone and ignored the words, trying to keep that faraway look that she was told she had, so perfect, so exquisite. The ripples now seemed to be drawing her into the statue itself... drawing her eyes in, she meant. Same as before. She was posing, she was flesh and blood. She mustn't move, but... She wiggled her fingers a little behind her head, and her thoughts became a bit more sensible again.
"Don't move, dear..." Miss Flint cautioned her.
"Behind me..." Sharon managed without moving her lips noticeably. They just about understood her.
"Yes, Sharon, but you may disturb your curls. It can show, so be careful. Besides, you're nearly losing that perfect look. Concentrate on the screen, nothing else. Don't answer me. Don't say you're sorry. Statues can't say they're sorry."
Statue... yes... Sharon concentrated. She was a statue, a work of art, standing here from all eternity, wherever here might be after the editing. She wouldn't let herself be distracted. She could do this. She could play a statue, because she was a good actress. Miss Flint said so, and Miss Flint wouldn't lie to her, not even to put her at her ease. And she didn't need to be put at her ease, because she was a statue, and ease was all she had. She was immobile. Immobile. She wouldn't move. She wouldn't ruin this video. It had to be perfect. It was the best of all the videos and she wouldn't have another chance at this one. Of course it was the best. Whatever had she been thinking before? The ripples were so soothing and Miss Flint's voice was so soothing and the soft music was so soothing and she just let herself be drawn into the statue, keeping that faraway look that would make her video so perfect and make her the envy of all the other girls at the school who would think she really was a statue if they saw her now because really she was a statue and don't think about anything else because you're not here, you're faraway and the ripples are forever bringing you toward the statue which is you...
Music? What music? When had the music started? It'd just come up gradually in volume and she hadn't even heard it at first, couldn't even tell when she'd first heard it. They were playing music to put her at her ease, to help her keep that faraway look that would make her video so perfect and it'd sound kind of lame in the video though but no they were filming backwards and there was no sound anyway so it had to be to put her at ease because Miss Flint really wanted that faraway look that was so exquisite and she mustn't try to look at it cause she'd look like she was looking at it and there wasn't any need because Miss Flint said it looked exquisite and Miss Flint wouldn't lie to her so she just concentrated on the ripples and the beautiful statue that was her which the ripples helped to make so perfect and drew her in helping her to keep that faraway look that Miss Flint wouldn't lie about because Mr. Marmax wouldn't lie about Miss Flint lying to her...
"A perfect statue," Mr. Marmax continued in that tranquil voice. "You are a perfect statue standing there for the ages, beautiful for all time, not yet come to life, never alive, never fading. Statues are eternal and their truth is eternal. Stone can't lie... marble can't lie... Flint can't lie... Just concentrate on the ripples, Sharon, and let them draw you into the statue..."
What'd he say? Sharon wasn't paying attention, just listening to the soothing voices, first his and then hers and back again, keeping her focused on the statue and...
"That faraway look is perfect and will make your video the envy of everyone," Miss Flint was saying. "There never was a more perfect statue than you and you'll be the envy of everyone who sees what a perfect statue you are, all the girls in your school who see what a perfect statue you are and how the ripples keep you thinking about what a perfect statue you are, immobile because statues can't move, not even their fingers which wouldn't show on the video but might disturb your perfect stone curls and betray the fact that you're not a statue but just a silly, deluded girl standing there who thinks she's a statue which wouldn't be right, not at all right..."
What'd Miss Flint call her? Miss Flint wouldn't lie to her but how could she be a silly deluded girl who wasn't really a statue but no Miss Flint hadn't said that but was just saying how it wouldn't be right, not at all right, if people saw her as a silly deluded girl who just thought she was a statue because of course she wasn't a silly deluded girl who thought she was a statue but a statue which was gonna be the envy of everyone who saw it, all the girls in her school who weren't statues but just silly deluded girls who thought they could be statues as good as her, no, models, they wanted to be models, not statues and she wanted to be a model and that's why she was having this statue video done...
"Don't lose your concentration, Sharon, dear," Miss Flint's voice came. "Your expression dropped a little and it must be a perfect faraway expression so concentrate on the ripples as they draw you into the statue which is you, not a silly deluded girl because look at it, isn't it obviously a statue? How could you think you're staring at a living girl when it's all gray and stony and see how the light catches it, no, light from somewhere, dear, never mind where, it's the studio lights reflecting off your lovely stone surface because you're not flesh you're stone and don't you feel like stone because look at yourself, that's what you are, stone..."
N-no... Sharon wasn't stone. Sharon was standing here trying to make her video perfect. She was getting tired of holding this pose and surely they had to be done by now, but no one had shouted cut so she had to keep her pose to make her video perfect to be the envy of all the other girls and get the best modeling jobs and they were gonna be so jealous cause Sharon was so hot and not just cause you could see right through her silver bikini which looked kinda weird when you think about it because why would a statue be wearing a cloth bikini, even when you could see right through it why there were her nipples plain as day and she could even see the gentle curls of her hair down below if she looked really hard but it wasn't weird precisely because she didn't think about it but just watched the ripples helping her keep her faraway expression which made Sharon look so hot...
"Don't look down, dear," Miss Flint trilled in that soft, soft voice of hers. "Statues can't look to their bikinis because statues only look at their heads and their faces and the ripples which help them keep that faraway look..."
"Fuh-funny looking," Sharon managed, trying not to move her lips, only she did see her lips move a little on the video and now she'd ruined things and her video wasn't gonna be perfect and all the other statues would laugh at her...
Miss Flint knew what she meant. "Leave it to us, dear. Your clothes take longer to turn to stone because cloth is easier to make real than flesh so the gods started there and turned your bikini into a real bikini first and don't worry, your lips moved a little but no one is going to notice on the video, remember, you're paying far more attention to detail than they would ever pay and it's barely noticeable unless you're looking right at it and most screens will be much smaller than this so no one will notice because they're far too busy staring at such a beautiful stone woman immortalized and all the girls will be so jealous when they see what a perfect statue you are..."
Sharon wanted her video to be perfect but really maybe she was obsessing a little about this because the screen would be much smaller and who was gonna notice tiny details like that but really it was kinda strange that she'd been able to see right through her bikini or almost. Sharon tried to tear her eyes away from the screen just for a moment to look down at her own breasts, not the breasts of the image, which was a different thing than her, she was Sharon and that was just an image and she wanted this to be over, not because she was having trouble holding her pose because that was surprisingly easy really but because she was confused and why couldn't she get her eyes off the screen from the ripples which kept pulling her into the statue...?
"Don't lose that expression, Sharon. Don't get distracted from the ripples and what a perfect statue you are and..."
It was such a little thing that no one would ever notice so she could check to see because there was no way her bikini could really be growing transparent was there but everytime she tried to look away the ripples drew her back in again so maybe she could look down, straight down her stone form and straight across to see her breasts. Sharon managed to look away from the screen and glance for a split-second downward without moving her head. She was still wearing her bikini of course, and it was as solid as it'd ever been. What'd she been thinking? Concentrating on those ripples to make the video perfect was making her so dizzy...
"Don't get confused, dear," Miss Flint's voice came. "If you look away from the screen you may get dizzy, even though we can probably edit out any glaring error, but I don't think it'll be necessary - that brief glance will never read on the video, especially with all the other stuff edited in around the statue so that's right, dear, focus back on the screen. Good girl. Keep focused on the ripples and the head and don't look down..."
Damn, this is taking forever, Sharon thought. How long was it taking? She'd lost all track of time. But the dizziness was fading now that her eyes were back where they were supposed to be, or else she was getting used to it. Mr. Marmax was right that she really should obey Miss Flint because Miss Flint wanted her video to be perfect and that faraway expression really made her look like a statue and she was such a perfect statue, so hot, really so hot, or maybe cool, yes cool was the word, or hot for a little while and then cooling off and buzzing and pulling her into the statue which was herself...
"H-hot..." Sharon managed without moving her lips.
"Don't get dizzy," Miss Flint insisted. "You'll get dizzy if you look away suddenly from the ripples. If you have to look away, follow the ripples back rather than looking away from them because if you follow the ripples you won't get dizzy and they'll lead you right back to the statue which is yourself and will look so perfect if you don't look away from the screen..."
Sharon tried to obey because she really should obey Miss Flint like Mr. Marmax said but it was so tempting to look down the image that was her to see if the bikini was still there like it was on the real her and how could it not be but sure enough you could barely see the outline of it anymore even though that didn't make any sense because how would they even know what Sharon looked like nude unless there were cameras in the changing room and they had no reason to do that because they weren't perverts but people who wouldn't lie to her who she should obey and who couldn't know what her nipples or pubic hair looked like but sure enough that was her alright in the image, totally nude and you couldn't even see the bikini anymore but that was alright because really it had looked pretty weird on a statue anyway but the point was that it was embarrassing even though it wasn't her and she didn't want a video like this did she but no maybe it would look really nice like this because Greek statues looked really nice nude and it didn't mean it was smutty or anything because the bikini appeared when they ran it backwards and she was dressed when she became real which wasn't yet because Sharon was a statue because Miss Flint told her so and Miss Flint wouldn't lie to her but her ankles were so warm, not like her feet which were cool and buzzing...
"A-ankles..." Sharon tried again. "H-hot..." She'd panicked and moved her lips. She knew she'd moved her lips because she could feel her lips move but the lips on the statue hadn't moved so maybe she really hadn't moved her lips and how could a statue move its...
"...lips anyway because that would mean that you aren't a statue but just a silly, deluded girl but that would mean that Miss Flint was lying, and if you'd moved your lips sound would have come out just like when real people talk," Mr. Marmax's soft voice came, "but if you'd said anything Miss Flint would have answered you and anyway how could a statue say anything..."
Sharon struggled to wiggle her left elbow a little, not enough to be really noticeable on the video and not because she wasn't a statue or thought she was a real person but just to see if the statue's elbow would move and that had to be noticeable to her at least but the statue's elbow hadn't moved and god she was frozen she couldn't move but no she'd just moved her elbow so she wasn't a statue but a real person getting a video for modeling but that couldn't be right because the modeling school didn't even know she was here because Sharon hated competition and had gotten into the school and oh god oh god oh god...
She was distracted from her thought by the sound of voices muttering and she didn't understand it at first because they were supposed to be soothing to help her keep her pose for her video but the muttering stopped when Miss Flint said so and Miss Flint's hand wiped away her stony tears and then was gone again but none of that could be right because she hadn't seen Miss Flint reflected on the screen and because a statue couldn't cry, like Mr. Marmax said, it was silly to think that a statue could cry and of course she hadn't seen any tears either on the image which was frozen even though she thought she'd moved her elbow but hadn't so she must not have cried. None of the others had cried, like the muttering was saying, so why had this bitch cried and Miss Flint was right just shut up all of you because you're supposed to obey Miss Flint, even Sharon knew that much but that bitch Miss Flint wasn't a bitch, she was really nice and friendly and helpful and never lied to Sharon and Mr. Marmax was right that it had to be something else on her mind because she couldn't realize yet what was yes just shut up because Sharon could hear you and Miss Flint ought to be obeyed so just shut up...
But her shins were really hot, not burning hot just hot not cold like her feet and ankles. "H-hot!" she shouted out even though she hadn't moved because she could see herself and it was clear that she hadn't moved. Why was she nude? No, she wasn't nude. She pulled away again from the ripples and the screen and looked to her own breasts and of course she was still wearing her silver bikini so how could she be the image which didn't have a silver bikini and of course she wasn't the image because she'd shouted out that her shins were hot but the image hadn't moved at all but she'd heard her voice and it was still ringing in her ears so she couldn't be wrong this time, she definitely had shouted out that her knees were hot... Oh, god, that buzzing feeling went all the way up from her toes now almost to her shins which weren't as hot as they had been, and where had she felt that buzzing feeling before and how could a feeling be buzzy anyway cause that was a sound but she knew what she meant and there was really no other way to describe that feeling that your foot's gone to sleep but it was both feet and even her ankles...
"Don't lose that faraway expression, that's right, keep looking at the ripples," Miss Flint's voice came. But that couldn't be right because Sharon was still staring at her silver-covered breasts and the only ripples were the ripples of the bikini and even for that she had to look really close because it was such a perfect fit and she looked so hot and felt so hot on her knees... "You're doing fine, Sharon. An exquisite statue. You're a very good girl not to look up from the screen because that would mean you were moving and of course statues can't move and if you look at the screen you'll see that you're looking at the screen so you can't possibly be a statue which is looking down at its own breasts..." the soothing voice came, even though it didn't make sense anymore because she was definitely staring down at her bikini and oh god she couldn't feel her feet... "No, Sharon, your feet aren't numb because I don't lie to you, so they're just asleep because you've been a good girl and have kept your pose so long and it won't be much longer now so be patient and keep your pose and look at the screen and the soothing ripples and my soothing voice and the soothing music which is so soothing and draws you into the statue, or sort of because of course you can't be drawn into yourself, you just are yourself so you just are a statue which can't feel so it's only natural that your feet have gone to sleep, being such a good girl who keeps her pose..."
"N-no..." Sharon gasped. "I'm... real..." It was a stupid thing to say. Of course she was real, getting her video done like Mr. Marmax was saying but remember she mustn't lose that faraway look so she should really be looking at the screen like a good girl who obeyed Miss Flint and of course she was right, she didn't want this video to end up looking crappy no don't do it because if you do you're lost don't you realize what's happening no don't be silly that can't be happening because how could it be happening and what is "it" anyway, no, it's just those ripples you mustn't look at that...
"The ripples that you're staring at right now," Miss Flint's voice came. "The ripples which make you a bit dizzy as you try like a good girl to keep your pose for your video, and of course you're not a statue, that's just the video, after all you're dressed aren't you but the statue is nude as you'll see when you look up because you are looking up like a good girl and the ripples just make you imagine you're looking down so it's just your mind playing tricks on you and don't worry, Sharon, this often happens to the girls. They look at the ripples like they should because they should obey me and then they imagine all sorts of strange things as they get drawn into the statue and think they're becoming the statue, which they're not of course because the statue is on the screen and you're a real girl and if you look you'll see the difference..."
Sharon's heart pounded and tried to warn her as she gave in and looked back to the screen and let the ripples draw her in and here they went again with the same old routine on and on about her being drawn into the statue for that faraway look to make her video perfect and Sharon wasn't a fool, she knew what was going on, she was real not a statue but any moment again they were going to start in about her being the statue like they didn't know the difference and for someone who didn't lie to her Miss Flint sure was stupid to equate the statue-image with the living, breathing girl staring at it like a good girl...
"And since you are a statue you must have imagined all that stuff about looking away and shouting out because your video is perfect so far and you haven't ruined it by looking away, it was all just your imagination because you've been staring at yourself for so long like a good girl who wants a perfect video..." Mr. Marmax intoned.
Yes, Sharon told herself. It hadn't really been that long, because they didn't need a lead-in on the video to be that long, so she must have imagined it, and it'd really only been a couple minutes because she shouldn't let her mind wander or she might lose that exquisite faraway expression...
"Good girl, Sharon," Miss Flint began again. "You're a good girl who's going to be an excellent model because you haven't looked away or moved once, yes, an excellent model, a life-size model of a real girl named Sharon who stood here long ago and posed for you and then went on to become a famous runway artist and married a really rich, really sensitive guy who didn't ask that she give up modeling but she did because she loved him so much and knew that you, her perfect statue, would always be there so she didn't mind getting older and raising a family and having grandchildren and we all miss her but you stand forever as a monument to her beauty when she was young..."
N-no, Sharon told herself, forcing her eyes shut. They were getting silly, she was Sharon and she was still young because, well, look at her, no don't open your eyes they're trying to trick you into looking again think of anything else like how she could feel her shins again and wiggle her fingers like this behind her head where it couldn't be seen except maybe...
"...to disturb your stone curls," Mr. Marmax intoned, "so be a good girl Sharon and open your eyes to see that you're you and not a statue, yes, look down at yourself and see that you're dressed but then look to the screen and see that the statue is nude so of course you're different things..."
No, Sharon told herself. She had to get out of here, had to stop this. What were they doing to her, and why wasn't she getting out of here? She was just dizzy from staring at their damn hypnotic ripples and needed a minute before she ran out... Oh, god, think of anything else. What was it she'd thought about before, when she'd imagined that she'd cried? It was important, something she mustn't admit to herself because who could stand there just letting a friend die like that just to eliminate some competition, even if she hadn't known Monique that long it was still wrong...
"We're losing her," Mr. Marmax's voice whispered. He didn't realize that Sharon had heard him but she had. She always had. Just stare off into space and pretend you don't hear the policeman saying, "We're losing her," and let them think you're just numb because if they think you just stood here watching her die they'll put you in jail but they're not fools they have to know you're faking so just push it away, all away, and wake up like you really were just numb and don't remember a thing, which is true because you don't, do you?
"Open your fucking eyes!!!" shouted a voice that sounded like Mr. Marmax's but without the accent. Oh god, oh god, she hadn't done that, couldn't have done anything like that because Sharon was a good girl like Miss Flint said...
"I'm... a good girl..." Sharon managed to get out.
"Of course you are," came Miss Flint's soothing voice. "A good girl who can't face up to whatever it is you're trying to push away, trying so desperately to push away..." Miss Flint was sharp, Sharon had to give her that. But Sharon wasn't going to fall for that. How stupid did Miss Flint think Sharon was? "Your will can do anything if you let it, so just push it away and forget. Try really hard. If you can't manage it with your eyes shut, the ripples on the screen may help..."
Sharon was so dizzy and confused. She didn't understand anything anymore. They were doing all this to her, making her think she'd just let her friend die to get into the school, but she couldn't do anything like that because she was a good girl, like Miss Flint was telling her yet again in that drony voice of hers which she mustn't listen to, had to listen to, because she wasn't a murderer, not really, and had to push it away but mustn't use the ripples or they'd start that weird statue routine again and she could feel her ankles now so the whole thing was silly and she must have imagined it, her feet were just asleep...
"Sharon, you're letting your mind wander!" came Miss Flint's voice, suddenly stern, suddenly not soothing at all. Her eyes opened just a crack. "Your eyes nearly closed that time, dear. I think we can edit it out, but you want your video to look perfect don't you, so don't fall asleep. You've been watching too many corny movies, my dear. Hypnosis doesn't work that way, you're just tired, but stare at the screen and it'll all be over soon..."
At some point Sharon had opened her eyes and obeyed Miss Flint, like she was always supposed to anyway. What had she been thinking? She'd nearly fallen asleep and had some sort of dream, but she couldn't remember it now. This video was gonna look so hot! So... Why were her ankles hot? Hadn't she dreamed something like that? No, it was just deja vu. She remembered hearing somewhere about how that was an illusion, not really remembering having dreamed what you were now experiencing, which was hot ankles, cooling feet, and numb toes... She was being drawn into the statue by that stupid interference pattern, but she wasn't a statue, not really, despite what Miss Flint was saying because it made no sense that she could be a statue but Miss Flint didn't lie to her so something didn't add up somewhere...
"That's right, dear, banish it all," Miss Flint's soothing voice came. "Just like you did before. It was just a dream, not something you mustn't face, not something that the ripples dredged up because hypnosis doesn't work that way and anyway how can you hypnotize a statue...?"
That's right, it couldn't be hypnosis. Since she was a statue she had the perfect defense. It couldn't be hypnosis and it couldn't be murder because she was just a statue. That real Sharon had committed the murder, had let Monique die, but you couldn't blame her statue for that now could you...? Of course not. "I'm... a perfect statue..." she said aloud.
"Cold and stony and not at all a real girl," Miss Flint continued, "and not someone with horrible memories like the real Sharon had, who wasn't a good girl like you..."
A good statue, obedient and exquisite with a faraway look forever in her eyes that'd really impressed Sharon's friends all that time ago. She looked just like that statue in the mirror, only of course that was her reflection so of course she did, but it wasn't a mirror, was it? Well, the statue of Sharon knew what the statue of Sharon had meant, and since she was such a perfect statue she had to get one perfect glimpse of herself... "No, dear, don't look down!" Miss Flint said sharply. But it was too late. Sharon had looked down, and that couldn't be right. She was all flesh, not like a statue at all but living flesh...?
"H-how can I be flesh?" she said aloud, looking up at Miss Flint.
"Your pose, dear, your pose!" she shot back.
"Oh, right," Sharon said without thinking, catching herself and resuming her pose. It wasn't quite the same pose as before though because her chest wasn't out so far, she was standing straighter and she could see her legs, her hot fleshy shins, her cooling, off-color ankles, her cold, gray feet, her stony toes... "Oh, god what's happening to me?" she shrieked. "This can't be happening, I'm dreaming, oh god, I'm dreaming, it's a nightmare, a fucking nightmare!" She pinched herself, slapped her face. "Wake up, wake up!"
But she didn't wake up. This couldn't be happening, Sharon told herself. It was impossible! She was making a video of herself becoming a statue, to be run backwards like a statue coming to life, and her mind was playing tricks on her. She wasn't becoming a statue, just the image on the screen, and it was all her mind playing tricks on her, it had it to be...
Miss Flint intoned, "Don't get distracted by your imagination, dear. Some of the girls sometimes imagine that they're really turning to stone, but it's just your eyes playing tricks, because the ripples made you dizzy and you're not thinking straight and the video puts the idea in your head and your feet are numb from standing too long. But you really will ruin the video if you don't look back to the screen..."
Yes, she was right. Miss Flint was only confirming what Sharon had already figured out, and of course Miss Flint never lied. It was just her imagination and she could beat it if she tried. She kept looking at her ankles. She wasn't a statue. Of course she wasn't a statue. And as she looked her ankles turned fleshy-colored again and started to get hot and her shins weren't hot anymore. Her feet regained their color, and her toes looked gray but not stony and she could feel them again, just a little.
"That's right, dear, it was just an illusion," Miss Flint told her soothingly. "Just your mind playing tricks. Now remember, even though we've just completed the statue-effect, you have to hold still for a bit longer so that we can edit in some action during the part when you're a statue."
"Sorry," Sharon blushed. "I guess all the girls lose their heads like that and imagine they're really..."
"No, dear, just the naughty ones. But you're a good girl, so it won't happen again, will it? Just ignore what you think you feel and resume your pose like a good girl. We'll just edit out that motion later, will be barely noticeable."
Sharon resumed her perfect pose, no longer able to see her feet.
And that was for the best because she was going to
imagine all sort of silly feelings of hotness and numbness. She looked back to the statue's head and it passed briefly through her mind that something was wrong with its chest, like something was missing, but she wasn't going to let her imagination get the better of her anymore. She just watched the ripples coming into the statue head and pushed everything away. There was something she was supposed to be worried about... Monique. That was it. But it wasn't her fault for blacking out like that. The policeman had said so, not to blame herself and to get herself checked out, though she did feel bad about lying about hitting her head. But she wouldn't think about it, wouldn't think about anything but the ripples, wouldn't ruin this statue video because of her silly, groundless guilt-trips. She just watched the ripples and it all went away. Her shins were hot again and her ankles cooling, but not really again because like Miss Flint was saying deja vu was like that, not anything real, and Sharon had read that somewhere anywhere, or maybe that was deja vu too. She felt kind of guilty that she imagined that her shins were getting hot because Miss Flint had said that only the naughty girls felt that, but really Sharon had... Oh, god, no, no she hadn't. Just watch the ripples, they'd push it away like Miss Flint was saying...
She hadn't really lost all feeling in her feet, they were just numb from standing here so long, nearly two minutes now according to Miss Flint, who was right that Sharon was an exquisite statue. N-no, Sharon wasn't a statue, was she? Well, she knew what Miss Flint had meant, of course. She just watched the ripples and listened to Miss Flint's soothing voice, not what she was saying, because really it was all a load of crap about her really being a statue so she wouldn't listen to it, just the soothing voice and soothing music and the ripples pulling her, though a statue couldn't really be pulled into itself, it was just a way of speaking. But Sharon wasn't speaking but silent like a good statue, no, person keeping her pose so that she'd be a perfect statue who couldn't feel her feet, couldn't feel anything if she didn't want to like Miss Flint was saying not even what she'd done because she hadn't done it because she was just a statue, right? Yes, Sharon must be a statue after all, and it felt so good to admit it, and all the confusion seemed to fly away when she admitted it, and everything became much clearer in her mind when she admitted it, because a statue had no worries, after all, and didn't have to think about the accident, right, accident, so not her fault and not her fault anyway because she was a statue and how could a statue be at fault? But it didn't make sense that she could still feel things from her knees up because a statue shouldn't be able to feel at all, should it, or was it she, or was it it? She had a vague feeling that everytime she thought of herself as a statue, whatever was hot on her began to cool and go numb, but whenever she had doubts that she was really a statue, it just stayed hot or the hotness moved down her. That feeling she was imagining was really annoying, but it didn't mean that she was a bad girl because how could a statue be good or bad, except in how it looked, and Sharon would make an exquisite statue by keeping her pose until they said cut. She was such a perfect statue, all stony and carved to smooth perfection, not a trace of a chisel, from her thighs down, only her thighs didn't really look stony and above that she looked like flesh and now her thighs were turning fleshy too and getting hot again and Sharon didn't like it because she had decided that she was a statue at least she thought so and everything was getting confusing again. "N-not a perfect statue..." she managed to get out in her confusion. She motioned to her thighs with her head. "That's wr-wrong, all wrong..."
"Don't look down, Sharon dear," Miss Flint replied.
"Oh, right," she remembered, catching herself and looking back to the ripples, the soothing ripples.
"See yourself in the video, Sharon?" Miss Flint's soft voice came. "You are a perfect statue, and nothing's wrong. Remember what I said, how you're going to imagine all sorts of strange things, like how you look fleshy and think your thighs feel hot, but remember what I said about how it's all in your mind. Just because your image will become a real person doesn't mean you are, it's all in your mind and it sometimes happens to statues, especially the naughty ones, not that you're naughty, my dear..."
"Y-yes..." Sharon sighed with delight. "Just in my mind..."
"Don't move your lips, dear. And resume your pose."
"Sorry, Miss Flint," Sharon blushed.
"Remember your faraway look. You're not human yet, so keep your faraway look. Watch the ripples... watch your statue head, because it is a statue head, you're just imagining it's not..."
Sharon sighed with delight, determined not to make another sound or move again, because she couldn't be anyway, right, and she mustn't indulge those imagined sounds and movements, because it meant she was a bad statue, bad like the real Sharon, but she captured Sharon's best. Sharon really is beautiful, despite what she did, her thoughts came.
That annoying hot illusion of a sensation had moved up almost to her waist. She didn't feel it too bad on her cheeks, but it made the silver bikini bottom feel a bit warm. Her upper thighs felt it the worst. The suit blocked it out mostly in front too. There was still that annoying illusion of fleshy sensation from her waist up, but from her thighs down she was the way she was supposed to be, unfeeling and - she somehow knew - cold and stony to the touch. Now there was a new sensation, one that didn't really fit with that strange idea that she was a real person but wasn't like the hotness either. It was a sudden, sharp coldness on the right side of her waist, under her bikini, cold like metal. She heard a "snip", but not really because statues couldn't hear, like Miss Flint said. They couldn't feel cold metal against their skin either, she was going on, and of course she was right. Miss Flint was always right. When she felt it again on the left side she tried to block it out, pretend she didn't hear it, and if she pretended hard enough it was almost like the truth, because of course the truth was that she couldn't feel or hear it... She felt the rest of her thighs growing cooler and - she somehow knew - grayer, like they were supposed to be. She was beating this weird sensation of hotness and flesh. And not just her flesh, but that strong, fleshy hand on her derriere. It would have felt so good if statues could feel at all.
"Don't fuck it up now," Miss Flint's voice spat. She couldn't mean Sharon, could she?
"Been dying to do that just once," Mr. Marmax's voice shot back. Oh, of course she hadn't meant Sharon. Mr. Marmax had just been running his hand over her stony ass. She couldn't begrudge him. She had a lovely stony butt, perfect as Sharon's had been perfect, and how could a statue complain anyway? She was here to be admired. That's why she'd been made. And anyway, it felt so nice and no one could begrudge her for wanting to feel something on her cheeks just one last time before the end and... Oh, god, no...
"Don't lose your expression now, Sharon..." came Miss Flint's tender voice.
Sharon didn't reply as she quickly resumed her faraway look by staring at the ripples and the reflection of her stony head. What had she been thinking? It wasn't important, because Miss Flint was telling her that it wasn't important. Weren't there some things she wasn't supposed to think about? Her cheeks were bare and Mr. Marmax liked that, and she liked that he liked it because it meant that he appreciated a good statue, even if it was a little kinky. She could see that her cheeks were bare in her reflection, or surmise it anyway from her bare front. So why was there a feeling of cloth coming away from her private parts and being pulled away from behind her...? Sharon didn't care. It was gone now, and that annoying sensation of feeling in her cheeks was going away. She barely felt his hand anymore, and now not at all.
The hot feeling was now retreating up her back and stomach. She really was beating it. She glanced down and saw that she looked all stony and cold from the waist down, just like her reflection. Probably Mr. Marmax really appreciated her stony little hairs, but she shouldn't really look around for him. Miss Flint was telling her to look back to the screen, but come on, Sharon knew that and she was going to anyway. She'd just wanted to see for real what a beautiful statue she was.
That metal feeling again, right on her back. It would be followed by another "snip" but she just concentrated on the ripples and didn't even hear it. She felt proud of herself for that. She was a little embarrassed that she thought she felt the cloth coming off her breasts and pulling away behind her, but she tried not to blush, like Miss Flint was telling her.
"That's right, dear, statues can't blush." And then, harsher, "Don't even think it, jerkass."
"Spoilsport," came Mr. Marmax's voice behind her, and then she felt him moving away. Why hadn't that hot sensation affected him, she wondered? But she knew it was because he was a real person, not a statue, and anyway that sensation was all in her stony mind so why should he feel it?
She could see it now. She looked down at her breasts and saw bright light shining on them from somewhere below, making them feel hot. Miss Flint didn't even seem to mind her watching this time. "Round, perfect breasts firm and smooth for all of time," Miss Flint intoned. Sharon didn't even understand anymore, but she thought, Yes... yes... The light moved up past her breasts, but she didn't follow it. She watched as her breasts grew gray and stony and numb, like they were supposed to be. She just stared and stared at those immortal breasts, until Miss Flint finally said sometime later, "Better get your head back into position, Sharon, dear."
Sharon nodded slightly and obeyed, turning her gaze back to her video-reflection. It still wasn't becoming human yet. Was there a problem with the CGI? Not that it mattered. She was a statue and so there was no hurry, but she did kind of feel bad that all the real people might be being held up, indirectly because of her. The hot sensation was on her neck now.
"Exquisite, my dear. A beautiful, perfect statue. I know
your face feels strange and you think you can feel your hair, but remember
that's just your imagination..."
Sharon didn't even care anymore. She just ignored the sensation and the more she ignored it the less she felt it. The less she felt it, the faster the cooling numbness seemed to move up her neck and arms. But the more she thought about how that cooling numbness was moving up her, the more it slowed down again, and she didn't like when it went slow, so she tried not to think about it, just like Miss Flint was telling her. And soon, but never soon enough for Sharon, she lost feeling in her arms and she could actually feel with her fleshy fingertips the stony curls of her hair. She really was stone. She could actually feel the stone. She really was a statue, not a silly, deluded girl. She lightly caressed those comforting stone curls which banished so much confusion until slowly the feeling in her fingertips began to vanish. She tried to caress her stone hair with her right index finger, greedy for any comforting traces of that stone hair, but her last finger would no longer move even a little and seemed to be fused against the last stony curl she'd been able to feel, and finally she could feel nothing on her head at all anymore, her hands and fingers locked forever behind her and fused against her stony curls. Anxiety and sadness tried to well up inside her at the thought of that for some reason but Sharon resisted the feeling, any feeling, and remembered that all was as it should be because she was a statue after all and such a perfect statue at that. As the feeling of hotness and tightness began to caress her face, she only sank in the immortality to come. She took one last look up and down her reflection, which she finally mirrored perfectly. Which she'd always mirrored perfectly, because they hadn't even started the CGI yet to make her image a living girl. She briefly wondered why they were making a video of the statue of Sharon coming to life and remembered that it had something to do with making models of her. Maybe she was going to be merchandised! Copies of her everywhere! But she was still the original, the perfect statue of Sharon, who hated competition so really she hoped that they were really models and not life-size copies of her.
"Eyes, dear," Miss Flint reminded her. "Your faraway look, once and for all, or you won't be a perfect statue." Sharon hadn't come this far to end up looking crappy now, so she concentrated on the ripples for the last few seconds, before that nagging illusion of consciousness, that faint scream so far away in her mind, was gone forever. It felt like the moment would never come. She could almost feel - if she indulged the fantasy - that the white part of her eyes were growing cold and gray. And then, suddenly, her reflection vanished as the video was switched off. The ripples were gone, and Sharon was shocked back to -...
Oh, god, oh god, what was happening to her? This was a nightmare, a fucking nightmare! She could dimly make out her stony reflection, her real stony reflection, in the turned-off video screen facing her. She saw the cold grayness setting in on her eyes. No, no! she wanted to scream. I'm real, I'm human! What's going on? But no words came. She couldn't move. She couldn't feel. Her whole body was numb. Her whole body, genuinely reflected, was a statue, a cold, gray stone paralysis of her final pose, more real-looking than any CGI, than that freeze-frame of her ever-so-slightly different pose how long ago now, more realistic than any sculptor could ever dream of creating, but cold gray stone and all that was left of Sharon, of her, oh god, no, this couldn't be happening... She tried to plead, tried to cry, tried to close her eyes to shut it all away and somehow end this horrible nightmare, but all in vain. She was helpless, frozen in stone, could only watch as the stony grayness finally claimed her pupils and her vision began to fade, leaving her alone in darkness, feeling nothing, hearing nothing, seeing nothing... Oh, god, what had they done to her? What had she fallen into? She remembered it all now with perfect clarity, looking down, fighting the petrifying stone effect creeping up her body... but not really fighting it. It was the other way around, Sharon somehow knew. Her mind, that idea they'd planted in her mind that she was becoming a statue, had somehow catalyzed the effect. Oh, god, this couldn't be really happening. Oh, god... She was nowhere and nothing, couldn't even feel anything...
That wasn't exactly true. Ever so gradually a feeling set in that she was floating, pulling up and away from herself... or from the statue that had been her flesh. She saw them, and she saw herself. They were all there below her, Mr. Marmax and Miss Flint congratulating each other, and all the studio crew. One of them was switching off the ring of lights, which Mr. Marmax insisted were called "psychosomic silicators", now pointing up at her stone head. Miss Flint was rolling her eyes about his being such a fucking pedant even for a scientist. The guy with the thick glasses at the computer took them off and peeled away a phony beard. He was the photographer from her shoot! And at some point the receptionist had come into the room, only she was wearing a long white coat now and had a stethoscope which she pressed to the statue of Sharon that Sharon or whatever was left of her was looking down at. "Any traces?" Mr. Marmax asked, with no accent at all. The doctor-receptionist only gave him a thumbs-up, and everyone cheered at a job well done. That meant no, of course, Sharon realized. That meant it was just stone, inside and out, and Sharon was... was... They'd turned her body into a statue by using her mind against her, and not just her mind but all her dreams. And now the studio crew were beginning to move the walls all around, taking down photographs of clients, rearranging everything, and Miss Flint was going through Sharon's purse and saying something about Sharon's car outside, but it was harder and harder to hear... Sharon squinted but they were all getting further away, so far below her, as the world dropped away and she floated upward, upward toward a tunnel with a bright light at the end of it. Sharon was dead. Oh, god, she was dead... but the light was so bright and she wanted so much to move toward it and be enveloped by it, as if it were all she'd ever been born for, only she began to feel herself being pulled back, pulled away back into blackness, as a raspy, inhuman voice croaked, "You're mine forever..." And Sharon tumbled into blackness, screaming... and suddenly she could see again, see out of her own stony eyes. There was a real mirror in view now across the room. She was a statue.
She was her statue.
There was not one glimmering of reality to her stony eyes, but somehow she could see through them, though she could still feel nothing nor control her statue-body. She could hear though. The noise of everything being shuffled about was just dying down, and the whole layout of the loft was different now. The sign, "Mediterranean U.S.A." was still in clear view before her, but the caption, "Modeling Public Relations Service" had been taken down.
The receptionist-doctor was staring right at her, admiring the statue. "Beautiful..." she sighed with delight.
"Our best yet," came Mr. Marmax's unaccented voice.
"You say that about every girl," Miss Flint shot back, as she fitted a new logo into place under the agency's sign. Sharon read it but she had no blood to run cold: Med. U.S.A. - Statues so lifelike, you'd swear we used a Gorgon's head.
"The bidders should be arriving soon," Marmax put in. "That bitch took too long."
"We're damn lucky the whole thing wasn't fucked up this time," Miss Flint shot back, approaching Sharon. "She had a stronger will than most. As usual, you can thank me for finding her chink. I wonder what it was that finally nailed her?" She looked straight into Sharon's stone eyes and laughed, "We'll never know, will we, my dear?"
"Don't be so damn anthropomorphic," the doctor-receptionist shot back. "I told you, it's just stone now, pure and simple. The bimbo's dead and gone."
"Fucking pragmatist," Miss Flint shot back. "Must you always be so damn literal?"
"I don't see where it matters," Mr. Marmax laughed, even more pragmatically. "Besides, if you remove one letter from 'Perseus', which means 'destroyer', you get 'Pereus', which means 'slave-trader.'"
"I'm getting damn sick of that snobby joke of yours too," Miss Flint
snapped. She looked back to Sharon and smiled. "Best or not,
you're certainly up there. Your stone curls alone'll have the bidders
swooning. You're going to bring us a fortune, my dear. A pity
you're not around to appreciate it."
Oh, god, oh, god, Sharon thought, this couldn't be happening. Not for all time, not for centuries and centuries and maybe somehow forever... She couldn't bear it. Oh, god, please no, this couldn't be happening. Anything but this, nude and immobile forever, nothing but an unmoving thing to be gawked at and, all too soon when her buyer's thrill wore off, not even looked at at all, but dumped on some pedestal in some lonely, unfrequented garden someplace or stored away in someone's private collection of artwork for one person to glance at once every few months, with Sharon staring for years at the same things, even appreciated for what nature had given her by some new viewer all too rarely, and then, someday, gradually eroding away to nothing over thousands and thousands of lonely years, maybe buried somewhere... She couldn't bear this kind of hell. What had she ever done to -...
"Oh, don't feel too sorry for Sharon," Mr. Marmax - or whatever his real name was - laughed. "After all, she's in heaven now." The doctor-receptionist laughed despite herself, though 'Miss Flint' only whinced. "At least, that's the way I like to think of her..."
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