“Well, there it is,” said Jill. “Our next assignment, according to Danielle. Cute, aren’t they?”
“Cute?” I said, eyeing the statue up and down sceptically. “I thought we’d come to the museum to research an artistic shoot, but these guys are virtually soft porn. Did you really drag me all the way to Kensington for that?”
“You make Kensington sound like the end of the Earth rather than the richest part of London,” said Jill. “Anyway, ‘soft porn’? That’s ridiculous. This is one of the greatest artistic masterpieces ever, The Three Graces by Antonio Canova. According to the museum guidebook, ‘the statue depicts the three daughters of Zeus, Aglaia [uh-GLEYE-uh] (Splendour), Euphrosyne [yoo-FRAW-si-nee] (Festivity), and Thalia [THAH-lee-uh] (Rejoicing), locked in a sisterly embrace.’ ”
“So which of them is which?” I asked.
“Um, it doesn’t actually say,” said Jill.
“ ‘Sisterly embrace,’ my butt,” I said. “They’re obviously lesbians. Look, the girl on the left is stretching her right arm across to caress the right-hand girl’s neck. At the same time she’s caressing the middle girl’s left cheek with her fingers and turning her head towards her own. In a moment they’ll be kissing each other.
“Now look at the middle girl. She’s got her right hand on the left girl’s shoulder and her left hand on the right girl’s back. Looks to me like she’s about to caress their backs and bottoms.
“As for the one on the right, her left hand is just below the middle one’s right boob, and her right hand’s just above the left one. And from the way she’s looking at the other two who are just about to kiss, she’s probably going to steal a kiss for herself in a minute. And do you think it’s a coincidence that the drapery they’re carrying just happens to fall in just the right place to conceal their hot, wet pussies? I’m telling you, Jill, if that isn’t a lesbian statue then I’m Queen Victoria.”
“Oh, come on, Steph. If everyone thought like that, they’d be closing art museums all over the world for displaying pornography. Not that certain fundamentalist types don’t want to do that anyway.”
“Well, if you ask me a lot of art is nothing more than an excuse for showing tits-and-arse and getting away with it because it’s ‘cultural’. If the Three Graces could move they’d be putting on a red hot all-girl show, but because they’re made of stone they’re considered ‘high art’ and not pornography.”
Jill sighed. “Look, Steph, this assignment is worth a lot of money. All we have to do is imitate the statue for a photo-shoot and pick up a generous pay cheque at the end of the day.”
“Um...just how generous was that again?” I asked.
Jill showed me the draft contract Danielle had given her. I whistled in surprise. “That is pretty generous for one day’s work, even split between three of us.”
“Reconsidering your moral objections for the sake of money?” Jill grinned. “Hey, everyone else does, so why not you?”
“So...who’s the client, anyway?” I asked, avoiding the question.
“Somebody called Chronos Industries,” said Jill. “Danielle introduced me to their rep, Miss Charvik.”
“Charvik?” I muttered. “Funny sort of name.”
“That’s as may be,” said Jill, “but she seems quite nice. Apparently, she was impressed with our agency’s work, and approached Danielle with this proposal, asking if she could recommend three of her most talented girls for a, quote, ‘tasteful and artistic nude shoot’, unquote. That puts you and me in the top three according to the boss-lady, kiddo. And then when she mentioned the money, well Danielle could hardly refuse, could she? And neither could I.”
“Have you found a third girl?” I said.
“I’ve spoken to Karen and she’s fine with it. I’d have brought her along too, but she’s finishing up a swimwear shoot in the Bahamas, and won’t be back until Tuesday.”
“Oh, yeah, the Bahamas,” I muttered, trying to sound blasé. “Been there, done that.”
“Well...I think I’d better meet this Miss Charvik just to be certain she’s on the level.”
“I thought you might say that, so Danielle’s set up a meeting between all five of us at the office, three o’clock this Thursday. That’ll give Karen time to get over her jet-lag.”
“OK,” I said, “I’ll see you there then.”
With that, I stepped back and walked around to the back of the statue.
From the rear, the three embracing figures looked even more intimate than they did from the front.
“Yep,” I muttered. “Definitely lesbians.”
That evening I began reading a book about Canova that I’d happened to find at the museum’s gift shop. I thought it might come in useful to know a bit more about the statue we were supposed to be imitating.
Apparently Canova was already famous for his sculpture by the time the Empress Josephine commissioned the original statue in 1812. The Graces had been a popular subject in painting and sculpture for centuries - for instance, they can be seen dancing (a little stiffly) in Botticelli’s painting, La Primavera from 1478 - and Canova himself had previously depicted them in several drawings, and even in one small relief sculpture.
All of those previous works depicted the Graces wearing those thin, gauzy dresses that you often see in mythological paintings - I believe the word is ‘diaphanous’ - but for the statue version Canova decided to depict them nude except for the one long drape held between them. After trying out various poses in drawings and plaster models, sometimes showing the girls looking toward the viewer, he came up with the one in which they were totally absorbed with each other.
Just like lovers, I thought to myself. Surely no mere ‘sisterly’ relationship could ever be that intimate. One of the plaster models even showed the right-hand girl with her hands clasped together just above the middle girl’s left bosom. OK, I thought, so maybe ‘soft porn’ is going a bit far, but they’re definitely erotic.
That was almost the final version. Finally Canova made a full-size plaster model with the poses set exactly as they would appear in the marble statue. The model is marked with metal studs, which were used for reference when carving the marble version. Makes the sisters look like they have some weird kind of acne all over their bodies.
Unfortunately the Empress Josephine died in 1814, by which time the statue she had commissioned was well in progress. Early next year, while Canova was negotiating with the late Empress’s son and heir, Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, over the continuation of his commission (and more importantly, the continuation of his payment), he was visited in his Rome studio by the Duke of Bedford, who saw the work in progress and asked Canova to make another copy for his stately home, Woburn Abbey.
Canova finished the original, darkly-veined marble statue [very big image] in 1817, and it was shipped to Prince Eugène in Munich. It stayed in his family’s possession until 1901, when it was bought by Tsar Nicholas II for the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where it has remained to the present day (although it spent some years in Leningrad!).
The Duke of Bedford took delivery of his copy in 1819 and placed it on display in Woburn Abbey, although it was not until almost a century and a half later - 1955 - that the house was opened to the public.
The Woburn Abbey version has some slight differences from the original. It’s made of unveined white marble, the middle girl has a slightly broader waist, and the column at the rear of the statue is round, not square as in the original. Canova considered all of the changes to be improvements, which makes the British copy the definitive version. I guess you could call it the sculptural equivalent of a Director’s Cut, and that’s the statue that Jill and I saw.
In the early 1990s the J. Paul Getty Museum in California tried to buy the Woburn Abbey Graces, but the British Government refused to give it an export licence. That led to a long and complex legal dispute until finally, in 1994, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Victoria & Albert Museum jointly paid seven and a half million pounds for the statue, making it the world’s most expensive lump of marble. Since then the statue has been “commuting” back and forth between Edinburgh and London, spending about eighteen months in each museum.
On both engravings the name of each Grace was printed beneath her feet: left to right from the front (and right to left from the back), they were Evfrosine (Euphrosyne), Aglaia and Talia (Thalia).
At last I knew which girl was which.
Great, I thought as I put down the book, well after midnight. So now I can bore Jill, Karen and Danielle stiff with all my Three Graces trivia.
Stiff, I thought drowsily. Yeah, like a statue. ’Sfunny.
Then I fell asleep...
I was woken by the alarm ringing.
What a crazy dream, I thought. Wet, but crazy.
When I arrived at Danielle’s office at a quarter to three on Thursday Jill was already there with a smartly dressed woman who I guessed was in her mid-thirties. Danielle introduced us.
“Hello,” she said, with a trace of an accent I couldn’t quite place. “I’m Devenya Charvik. I have been so looking forward to meeting you.” And with that she smiled strangely and took my hand.
As our hands touched I felt a strange tingling sensation. Static electricity, I thought. Must be Danielle’s new carpet.
Miss Charvik said, “Now there is just one to go, yes?”
“Yes, Karen should be here any minute,” said Danielle. “Care for some wine while we’re waiting, Stephanie?” I saw that they all had half-empty glasses already so I decided to be sociable.
A few minutes later Karen arrived, looking radiant as ever. Miss Charvik beamed at her and said, “Ah, you must be Karen. So now all three of you are here. I cannot tell you what an honour it is to meet you.”
She’s laying it on a bit thick, isn’t she? I thought. The way she’s carrying on you’d think we were film stars or royalty.
I couldn’t help noticing that when she took Karen’s hand, Karen twitched a little and gasped in surprise. Was it really the carpet that was doing it?
“All right,” said Danielle. “Now that we’re all here, Miss Charvik, shall we go over the proposal?”
“Certainly,” said Miss Charvik. “My company, Chronos industries, has decided to launch a promotional campaign which will involve posing models as classic works of art. We have already chosen subjects like Myron’s Discobolus, Cellini’s Perseus, Rodin’s Thinker and Michelangelo’s David. The last one may present problems because of the giant size of the original - getting the...ah...dimensions to match properly, you understand - but I am confident that we will overcome them successfully.”
Right about then a little voice in my head began trying to tell me that something strange was going on, but I wasn’t listening hard enough. Meanwhile, Miss Charvik continued:
“There have been lots of excellent female statues, of course - Paul Manship’s Diana, for instance, or Albert Toft’s Spirit of Contemplation - but for some reason, there don’t seem to be as many that are readily familiar to the general public. Canova’s Graces is an exception to the rule.”
And with that she launched into a brief history of the statue, which was pretty much identical to what I’d read in the book.
“The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is still a bit off the beaten track for most American and European tourists,” she went on, “so the British copy is most familiar. In any case, it’s carved from pristine white marble which looks better, so that is the version we would like you to imitate. What do you think? Will you agree to this proposal?”
“Umm, Chronos Industries,” I muttered. “Can’t say the name is familiar. What exactly does your company do, Miss Charvik, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Not at all,” she smiled. “Chronos Industries is the world’s leading manufacturer of temporal relocation and displacement apparatus.”
Temporal what apparatus? I thought.
“I realise we’re not exactly a household name,” Miss Charvik continued. “The equipment we manufacture is highly specialised, after all. But we have a highly-trained staff of over four hundred engineers, as well as about eighty including myself in administrative positions.”
In spite of myself I couldn’t help digging further. “And, ah, where exactly did you say your company is based?”
“Northern Kalifornia,” she told me. (It sounds crazy, I know, but something about the way she pronounced it convinced me that she was spelling it with a K.) “We’re located quite close to the San Andreas Sea - er, I mean Fault.”
“Aren’t you worried about earthquakes?” I asked.
Devenya Charvik gave a strange smile. “Not any more,” she said.
“Oh, come on, Steph,” Karen broke in. “Why are you bothering Miss Charvik with all these questions?”
“It’s all right, really, I don’t mind -” Miss Charvik insisted, but Karen was in full flood.
“This is a simple assignment, it could be a lot of fun, it’ll show us all off to our best advantage and the money’s good. Jill and I want to do it, so I don’t see what your objection is.”
“Hey, hold on,” I protested. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it...necessarily...it’s just that....”
But what could I tell them? That I had misgivings about the assignment because of some weird dream?
They were all staring at me expectantly. The thing about being stared at is that you can’t help becoming defensive.
“All right, all right,” I said. “I’ll take the assignment. I never said I wasn’t going to, did I?”
Jill shot me a wry glance, which I did my best to ignore.
“All right,” said Danielle. “I’ll get the contracts printed up and book the studio.”
And with that it was handshakes - and more of those odd static discharges - all round.
A few days later we all met up again at the studio to begin rehearsing the shoot. Miss Charvik was there to supervise the set-up. She seemed quite surprised to see Danielle setting up the camera, along with the flash units, reflectors and diffusers.
“I was under the impression that this was a freelance studio,” she said.
“It is,” said Danielle, “but they let me take my own pictures in return for a small equipment hire fee. Anyway, I’m a pretty good photographer if I say so myself. You’ve seen our portfolio. I bet you couldn’t tell which pictures were mine and which were the professional photographers’. ”
“No, I must confess that I couldn’t. You seem to be a woman of many talents,” muttered Miss Charvik.
I checked out the props. The pedestal, complete with its small pillar, had been moulded from clay using photos of the statue for reference. There were wedges to support our raised feet - each of us would be standing with her left foot flat on the base and her right foot raised on its toes. The wedges weren’t necessary to support us, of course, but in the marble version they were needed to support the weight of the figures.
There was a long strip of cloth, which would represent the stone drape worn by the Graces. Once we were in position for the final shoot it would be painted to match our ‘marble’ bodies, but for now we weren’t bothering with the paint. Same with the wigs. They were designed so that we could tie our hair back on the side facing away from the camera and there’d be no telltale bulge beneath the wigs.
The only other prop was a bracelet that Jill - i.e., Euphrosyne - wore on her left wrist. I didn’t see the point of including it, since it was only visible from the back and we would only be photographed from the front, but Danielle had told us that Miss Charvik insisted on absolute authenticity. I thought she was just being obsessive, but then her company was paying the bills, so I could hardly argue.
“All right, everyone,” said Danielle, “the film’s loaded and the lights are all wired up, so let’s get set up. Steph, you’re the tallest, so you get to stand in the middle. Jill, you’ll be the girl on the left, and Karen’s on the right.”
“That’s weird,” I muttered.
“What is?” said Jill, overhearing.
“It’s just like in my dream,” I said, as the three of us walked into the changing room. “You were Euphrosyne, I was Aglaia and Karen was Thalia.”
“So you figured out which is which then. But what’s this about a dream? Don’t tell me you were having erotic fantasies about Karen and me?”
I didn’t really want to discuss erotic dreams and fantasies while I was undressing, but at that point Karen overheard and chimed in.
“What’s that? Steph’s having wet dreams about us? Hey, congratulations on coming out, Steph.”
“Look, I’m not having...I mean it wasn’t exactly...I mean, it was a dream, for crying out loud! It’s not as if I actually...I mean, as if I wanted...”
But they just kept grinning at me. I was so flustered by then I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say.
And the problem with blushing when you’re naked is that it doesn’t always stop at your neck.
So I just shook my head and walked out onto the set, where Danielle was waiting with the wigs and the drapery. Donning my wig, I stepped onto the pedestal and took up my position. The pedestal was warm against my bare feet, though the foot wedge was a little uncomfortable.
Danielle handed the drape to Karen, who looped it over her left hand and elbow before stepping up beside me. Finally Jill stepped up on my right and we took up our respective poses while Danielle adjusted the position of the drape. Finally, once she and Miss Charvik were satisfied with our poses, Danielle moved back to the camera and began clicking away.
So there we stood, me with my right hand on Jill’s right shoulder and my left hand around Karen’s upper back; Jill with her fingers teasing my cheek to turn my face toward hers, her right arm on Karen’s shoulder; and Karen with her left hand close to my right breast and her right hand on my shoulder just above my left breast.
Normally when being photographed a model is constantly moving from one pose to the next. By the law of averages, one of them will be perfect. At least in theory. Remaining rigid and motionless for long periods went against our instincts. It wasn’t all that comfortable either, and I found myself wondering how living statue performers coped with it.
Part of my stiffness probably arose from the fact that I was still embarrassed about the others finding out about my dream, which made me feel awkward to be in such an intimate pose with them. The truth was, I was doing my best to avoid becoming aroused.
After a couple of minutes Danielle stopped shooting and I began to relax, but it turned out that I was premature.
“All right,” she said, “that’s the Polaroid shots done, and they look OK, so now we’ll take a few transparencies to test the colour balance.” And with that she disappeared into the lab and returned with another film magazine. It took her only a moment to fit it to the back of the camera, and then she was snapping away again like a pro.
If she’s this thorough during a rehearsal, what’s she going to be like on the proper shoot? I thought.
But at last she was done, and we stepped off the pedestal and took a look at the Polaroids.
To my surprise Devenya Charvik also grinned. “I’m sure it will. Well, I will be getting back to my office now, but I will see you all for the final shoot.” And with that she shook all four of us by the hand. There were those weird static sensations again. Could they somehow be coming from her?
I shook my head and strolled back to the changing room with Jill.
“It’s going to take some work to perfect the poses,” I muttered.
“Ah, so you do care about this job after all,” said Jill.
“I suppose I do. I don’t know why, it just seems important that we get it just right.”
“We will, you’ll see,” said Jill, and patted me on the shoulder.
There was that weird static discharge again, just like when I’d shaken hands with Miss Charvik. Only this time it wasn’t just a spark. It was more like a vibration in my nerves and muscles that kept building and building until I gasped in astonishment. And so did Jill. She must have felt it exactly like I did. I turned and looked into her eyes...and suddenly her eyes, her face, her body, were the most incredibly beautiful, sexy and attractive things I had ever seen. I had to have them, have her, no matter what.
And from the look in her eyes it was obvious she was feeling the same about me.
And then we were all over each other. We were fucking like tigers, howling and wailing and biting each other for what seemed like hours. When we finally came it was so overpowering that we couldn’t wriggle or moan. In fact neither of us could move a muscle. We could only lie there like statues in helpless ecstasy for what felt like several minutes, melting in orgasm, drowning in it....
When we finally came to - or rather, stopped coming too - we found that we had almost drowned. Danielle had turned the cold shower on us, but even that hadn’t broken our orgasmic paralysis.
“My God, what came over you?” said Danielle, who was standing over us with Karen. Neither of them seemed to know whether to be amused or disgusted. “If it’s something in the water I’m moving to your street.”
Jill and I discovered that we could move at last. Feeling like naughty schoolgirls we stood up, both blushing red down to well below our necks, and reached for the towels without a word, dried ourselves and got dressed.
When we stepped out of the changing room, the studio clock showed that our little adventure had lasted just under ten minutes.
Danielle was still muttering something about how the studio wasn’t a knocking shop and it was lucky none of the male staff were in today and why couldn’t we save it until we were off work...but I don’t think either of us was really paying attention. Our feelings of euphoria and embarrassment were still too confused for us to think straight.
Just then Karen yelped, and we turned to see her falling.
“Are you all right?” said Danielle.
“Yes, I’m fine,” muttered Karen, sitting up and rubbing her backside. “I just slipped on that stupid drape. Who left it lying there?”
That was a good question. It could have been any of us. I just hoped it wasn’t me.
Danielle reached down to help Karen up.
Then they both gasped, as an almost visible spark seemed to pass between them. For a long moment neither of them moved. Karen, still sitting on the floor, stared into Danielle’s eyes. Poised in the act of leaning down to her, Danielle stared back.
Jill and I exchanged curious glances.
And then Danielle and Karen were tearing at each other’s clothing in frenzy, and stroking and pleasuring and mouthing each other with uncontrollable fervour, moaning and screaming with ecstasy, oblivious to the rest of the world including Jill and me.
“My God, did we behave like that?” I said.
“Uh-huh,” murmured Jill. “I don’t think Danielle’s boyfriend needs to know about this, do you?”
There didn’t seem to be anything we could do - they surely wouldn’t have appreciated any interference, anyway - so Jill and I just stood and watched for several minutes.
Finally the two of them shuddered and stiffened and froze into immobility, their faces contorted in orgasmic bliss. They stayed that way for well over a minute, and I began to wonder if I would have to throw water over them to snap them out of it. Finally, though, they just shivered and gasped and rolled apart with a pair of long sighs.
“Feeling better now?” Jill asked them.
“I guess now you know what came over us,” I added.
Neither of them had any reply. They were as overwhelmed by the experience as we had been.
After a while they stood up, carefully avoiding any physical contact with each other. Karen picked up the tattered remains of her clothing and winced.
Danielle said, “There should be some street-legal clothes somewhere in the studio wardrobe. Nobody will mind as long as we bring them back.” And with that she and Karen went to look for them.
A few minutes later they were decently dressed. After tidying up the studio and the changing room we all headed for the door.
Danielle still seemed at a loss for words, but eventually she managed to say: “Well, um...are we all still on for the final shoot next week?”
We all exchanged glances. In spite of what had happened to us, there was no rational reason to cancel the shoot...was there?
I had no idea what had come over us all, but I was certain that the mysterious Devenya Charvik had something to do with it. If only I could figure out what, and why.
It was true that this assignment was worth a lot of money, but I couldn’t help wondering exactly what we might really have to do in order to earn it.
When the Big Day finally arrived I walked into the studio feeling a curious mixture of excitement and trepidation. I’d been having erotic dreams about the statue, Jill, Karen and the Graces all week. Sometimes I’d had the dreams while I was wide awake.
Some kind of sixth sense (no, not the ‘seeing dead people’ kind) was telling me that something was going to happen today, something mysterious and out of the ordinary, but there was no way of knowing what exactly. The suspense was driving me mad.
Once again Devenya Charvik was there with Danielle. There were also a couple of makeup girls preparing the body paint. I saw that the wigs and drape had already been dyed to match the marble colouration we would soon be sporting.
Jill turned up a couple of minutes later, followed shortly by Karen. The three of us exchanged sheepish glances, and from their faces I could guess that they were having the same confused feelings as me.
Miss Charvik was in a buoyant mood. “Ah, good, I am glad to see you all. I trust you are all as excited about this session as I am.”
We all put on our best smiles and told her we were.
“All right, then,” said Danielle, whose cheer sounded as uncertain as ours. “Let’s, um, let’s get started, then, shall we? The makeup girls are all ready.”
For this shoot we were going to be painted white all over, except for the bits that would be covered by the drape - that convenient drape, falling in just the right places so we wouldn’t have to shave or disguise our pubic hair! - and small patches facing away from the camera which would be left unpainted to allow our skin to breathe. (I wasn’t certain that that was absolutely necessary for our health, but then, everybody knows what happened in Goldfinger....)
While they were busy applying the paint, the makeup girls were chatting about the usual stuff - boyfriends, music, soaps, clubbing, holidays - and the three of us joined in for the sake of politeness, though I don’t suppose we were really paying attention.
Finally the paint was done and we put on our wigs and stepped out to where the pedestal waited. It was weird, but as I looked at that pedestal, I almost felt I knew how prisoners felt when they saw the guillotine for the first time.
Oh, don’t be ridiculous, I told myself. You’re worrying over nothing. A crazy dream, some static discharges, a woman with a funny name, a couple of wild sexual flings, and you’re putting it all together to make something weird and unnatural. Go on, get on that pedestal, girl. In a couple of hours you’ll be out of here with a nice fat bank balance, booking a first-class Caribbean cruise.
I noticed that Jill and Karen also hesitated, but they must have been thinking the same thing as me because we all looked at each other with new resolve and stepped forward.
And I had to admit, Karen and Jill looked gorgeous made up like living statues. Until then I hadn’t realised just how incredibly erotic statues could be.
“Hey, has anyone seen my driving licence?” asked Danielle.
We all shook our heads.
“Strange. I was sure I had it in my handbag, but when I went to check it was gone.”
“Maybe you left it in the car,” I suggested.
“I don’t normally leave it in the car in case the car gets stolen and I need proof of ownership,” she said.
“I expect you’ll find it,” said Devenya Charvik. “Things have a way of turning up in the most unexpected places.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” said Danielle. “I’ll have another look after the session. All right, places everyone. Same procedure as before, we’ll do the Polaroids first and then the transparencies.”
We took our places on the pedestal and adopted our poses as before, me with my hands on the others’ backs, Jill with her hands on my cheek and Karen’s shoulder, Karen with her hands on my chest and shoulder. It was just as intimate as before, but this time I didn’t feel embarrassed about it. The makeup girls stepped up and carefully adjusted the positions of our wigs and the drape. I grinned at Jill, who grinned back and gave my cheek a little caress. My earlier misgivings were melting away. This was going to be fun.
“OK, girls,” said Danielle, leaning down to the camera, shutter cable in hand. “This is it.”
“It certainly is,” murmured Miss Charvik, who seemed to be glancing surreptitiously at one of the flash units.
Before I had time to wonder what she meant, the flashbulbs fired. Instantly, I felt that strange static sensation again, only this time it was all over my body, and it did not fade away instantly but became stronger moment by moment.
I probably would have yelped in alarm, but I couldn’t seem to make a sound. And the sensation was not exactly unpleasant...just the opposite, in fact....
Slow ripples of pleasure were washing over my whole body from head to foot. It wasn’t quite an orgasm, but it was both calming and refreshing. I couldn’t imagine what might be causing it. I could feel the other girls shivering slightly and guessed that they must be feeling it too.
After a minute the sensation stopped, leaving me feeling calm, euphoric and light-headed. I noticed that Danielle was still standing by the camera, holding the shutter release cable. Why wasn’t she doing anything?
While she just stood there, Miss Charvik walked over to one of the flash units and removed something from it. It wasn’t a flashbulb, although it seemed to have been designed to fit the socket. I had no idea what it was, but I had a funny feeling it was responsible for what was happening to Danielle and us.
“I am afraid I have not been totally honest with you all,” said Devenya Charvik. “My associates and I are not really representatives of a manufacturing company. The truth is, we are...art collectors. From the future.”
She bent down to take a look at Danielle, who still hadn’t moved. Apparently satisfied, she stood up, placed a hand on Danielle’s shoulder and continued. We all just stood on the pedestal as if in a trance and listened.
“I know you find that hard to believe, but I really am from the future. Those static sensations you felt when we shook hands were caused by the residual temporal energy flux. An inevitable side-effect of time travel, I am told, although nobody told me about the sexual arousal it would produce in you. In any case, that is now by the by.
“As I said, my colleagues and I collect art from previous centuries. I suppose there are some who might call us thieves, but that is a little harsh. You see, the world is entering a very turbulent period in its history, and we felt it would simply be prudent to remove certain original works of art from their present locations to a place of safety. Meanwhile, we shall replace them with less, shall we say, fragile copies.
“Strangely enough, replacing the originals has proved to be the most difficult part. With our level of technology it is a simple matter to duplicate an object so precisely that only an expert can tell it from the original. And when I say an expert, of course I am talking about one of our experts. No twenty-first century equipment could ever distinguish our copies from the originals.”
A time traveller? An art thief from the future? It was outrageous. Unthinkable. And yet, I still stood there in my trance, ‘Grace-fully’ posed with Jill and Karen, listening. And believing.
“But there was one problem that we did not foresee. No matter how good the copies of works of art, especially sculptures, something was missing. Something that was present in the originals and could not be copied. Perhaps that something represented the love and dedication the artist lavished upon his work. You might call it, for want of a better word, the ‘soul’ of the work of art.
“It seemed that our plan was doomed from the start. If we could not reproduce this ‘soul’, our reproductions would never be accepted by the people. Without knowing why, they would feel that there was something not quite right about the works and turn away from them. By the time our own century arrived, they would no longer be regarded as masterpieces, and our plan would be ruined.
“We planned, you see, to take the originals back to our time and then steal the copies. We would then announce that we were holding the world's most priceless works of art to ransom. Of course, once the ransom was paid we would return the originals and destroy all trace of the copies. A foolproof and ingenious plot, no?”
Actually I thought it was a weird plot, overcomplicated and full of gaping holes. But Devenya Charvik was into her stride:
“I only wish I could take all the credit for the idea, but that was the brainchild of a very brilliant man whom I hope will consent to be my middle husband very soon now.
“It was he who found the solution to our problem, a solution so simple and brilliant that it took my breath away. If our copies of artworks could not reproduce their souls, then we would simply have to create copies from ‘originals’ that already had souls of their own.”
While she spoke I felt my euphoria slowly dissolving, and as I became able to think more clearly the meaning of her words slowly dawned on me.
Oh, no, I thought. She can’t mean what I think she does. It’s just not possible.
But then I tried to move...
“In other words,” continued Miss Charvik, “all we had to do was transform human models into replicas of works of art, so that spectators would sense their living souls and assume they were feeling the ‘souls’ of the original works.”
...and I couldn’t. No matter how I tried, I could not make the slightest movement. I might just as well have been the marble figure I resembled.
“I told you it was simple and ingenious, did I not? Now all that remains is for me to make a few cosmetic adjustments and you will be ready to take your place in the museum.”
Noooo, I was thinking. I’m alive! I’m not a statue! I want to move! I want to move!!
But it was useless. There was nothing I could do. I was trapped, and Jill and Karen were trapped with me. And what about Danielle? She wasn’t moving either...
Miss Charvik was soon to answer that question.
“Of course, if people were simply to disappear it might arouse suspicion, so it was necessary for us to research each of our subjects very thoroughly. That way we were able to change their pasts, so that it would look as if they had died many years before their disappearances, or never been born at all.
“That was why Danielle here lost her driving licence. Her past had already been changed. As far as everyone outside this room was concerned, neither she nor her driving licence had ever existed. Its physical existence had already been erased and only her memory of it remained. It’s just as well she didn’t go outside - she would have thought her car had been stolen, whereas in fact, in this revised timeframe, she never owned one because she didn’t exist. And it’s the same with you three girls. Nobody you knew has any memory of you any more.”
Oh, God, I thought, please let this crazy nightmare end. I want to go home.
“To be honest, Danielle did not originally figure in our plans. Had she stayed in her office and allowed someone else to photograph you, she would still be there today, having no memory of you. But since she was in a position to witness the immobilising process, there was no choice but to include her in it. We will make her into a solo statue. Since her curiosity was responsible for her current state of affairs, perhaps it would be appropriate to make her into a copy of Pandora by Harry Bates. Another girl whose curiosity got the better of her.
“But first things first. Your current appearance is close to the original statue, but it has to be identical. I have a device here that will make the necessary modifications. But first...”
Miss Charvik stepped up to the pedestal and moved toward Jill. I couldn’t quite see what she did, but then she turned to me and it became clear. Reaching beneath the drape, she slipped something cool and metallic between my labia.
HEY! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF ME, YOU PERVERT!
I would have screamed those things at her if I could...but she just smoothed the drape back into place and moved on to Karen. The object she had placed inside me felt cool and obtrusive at first, but gradually it was warmed by my body until I could scarcely feel it. When she was done she went out of the room and came back with a small device, no bigger than a portable stereo, which she set on the ground before us. After making a few adjustments to it, she turned it on.
“There,” she said. “The converter will reshape your bodies into a precise replica of the statue, as well as altering your colouration to match the white marble. Your body paint is irrelevant, of course. That was just a red herring to make you believe you were only imitating the statue.
“Once the conversion process is complete, your bodies will be completely suspended. They will appear to be solid marble. They will even fool x-rays, spectrographs, lasers, cat scanners and the like, so that if anyone tries to check what they think is the statue for signs of wear and tear they will see only what they expect to see. You will never display the faintest breath of life.
“But of course, you will live. You will be able to see, hear, feel, think and remember, all quite normally. People who look at you won’t ever guess that you are alive, but they will subconsciously sense your life force and consequently feel that the statue has that certain something that a mere inanimate copy would lack. You should be proud that you are able to further the cause of art in this way. It is a kind of immortality.”
My God, she’s completely mad, I thought. Not a scrap of remorse for tearing us away from our lives and condemning us to this bizarre paralysis for God only knows how long.
“By the way,” she continued, “in case you were wondering, the makeup girls are asleep. By the time they wake you will be gone and they will have forgotten you. Well, the converter will take a few hours to complete its task, so I’ll just jump forward to when it’s finished. Until then, you may have been wondering what it was that I inserted into your vaginas...”
MAY have been wondering???!!!
“...so allow me to demonstrate.”
And with that, Miss Charvik pressed a button on what appeared to be her wristwatch. Three things happened.
First of all, she vanished into thin air, along with Danielle. Impossible as it seemed, she was a time traveller!
And thirdly, I was immediately and powerfully aroused. Now I knew what the things were that she’d put inside us. They were some kind of miniature vibrators (proving that size wasn’t everything). I couldn’t speak for the other girls, but the one in me was giving me incredible sensations. I didn’t want to give in to them, knowing that it was all part of Miss Charvik’s weird plan, but I couldn’t help it. I would have taken it out if I could, but my arms remained frozen around Jill and Karen, who remained equally frozen.
Eventually I found myself coming, and there was nothing I could do but give in to it. I wanted to cry out with the intensity of it. I wanted to dig my nails deep into Jill and Karen’s backs. I wanted to arch my back and howl like a wolf. (Or was the wolf called a lupinoid?)
I think I actually managed to shiver slightly. Perhaps I felt a slight tremor run through the others’ backs as well.
Three hours later Miss Charvik returned, carrying another unidentifiable piece of machinery.
It had also been three orgasms later. Judging by the wall clock, Miss Charvik’s mini-vibrators worked like clockwork. And like clockwork, they were also predictable. Each orgasm had been exactly like the last, no more, no less. If they hadn’t been so intense, they might almost have been boring.
“Excellent,” said Miss Charvik, looking us up and down. “The transformation is complete. All that remains is for me to transfer you to the museum and send the original statue to our holding facility. I’ll send you a few hours forward so the transfer takes place late at night.
“Well, congratulations, ladies. For the next three hundred years, you are going to be the Three Graces. Isn’t that a far greater honour than merely imitating them for a few photographs?”
Three hundred years! It hardly bore thinking about.
“I shall see you again in three centuries’ time,” said Devenya Charvik. “I know this, because I have already seen you there in the future. So you see, there was really nothing you could have done to prevent this. Your future was already set in stone - quite literally! - long before you ever heard of this modelling assignment.
So saying, she pointed the new machine at us and pressed a button.
“I shall not say ‘farewell’, ” she said. “You will fare exactly as you are now. Until we meet again....”
And then there was a momentarily tingling, a small flash of light...and Devenya Charvik and the studio were gone, and we were standing on our pedestal in a large, dark space. Dim moonlight shone through a skylight, illuminating numerous pale, motionless figures. We were in the museum, amongst the other statues. Assuming they were really statues, and not other frozen models like us.
A little later we had another identical orgasm, and another an hour later, and another, and another, and another...
And eventually it was day, and the first visitors arrived, never realising that we were not the same statue that had been standing on this spot the day before.
And so here we remain, rigid and immovable, helplessly experiencing the same orgasm over and over again, while the scholars and students and schoolkids and agalmatophiles and tourists stroll around us, discuss us, sketch us, ogle us and photograph us.
And all I can think is: What’s it going to be like experiencing the same orgasm for three hundred years?
One day, maybe a few months after we first arrived in the museum, three girls came to see us. We had seen so many visitors by then - it must have been thousands - that normally we would not have paid any attention to one or three more. But there was something curiously familiar about these three casually dressed young women.
As they approached I could hear them talking.
“So, how exactly do you tell a science fiction story from a fantasy story?” said one of them, but I never heard the reply.
The three of them walked up to our pedestal and smiled at us.
“Hello,” said the tallest of the three. “Recognise us?”
The strange thing was that nobody else in the sculpture hall was paying any attention to a girl who was talking to a statue.
“You should recognise us,” she said. “How about now?”
And with that the three of them embraced, their clothing vanished and was replaced by a single drape, and they became, for a moment, another living replica of Canova’s Three Graces.
And nobody else noticed three naked girls imitating one of the statues.
“Now you know, don’t you?” said the tall girl as her clothes and her sisters’ clothes reappeared.
And of course, we did. As if time travellers were not implausible enough, now myths and legends were springing to life in leafy Kensington. But there was no longer any doubt in my mind. The real Three Graces had come to pay their hapless imitators the honour of a visit. But why? Had they come to mock us?
The tall girl - Aglaia - seemed to read my mind. “We have come to give you a gift,” she said.
Thalia said, “We can’t actually free you from your pedestals - the paperwork for doing that would be a real nightmare!”
Paperwork? The Graces had talked about paperwork in my dream. Could it be that they had sent me that? But they didn’t say.
“Even so,” said Euphrosyne, “we can at least make your existence as statues a little more pleasant.”
“Right,” said Thalia. “I mean, who wants clockwork orgasms?”
Not me, that’s for sure, I thought - knowing that they could hear me.
“ ‘A Clockwork Orgasm’, ” said Euphrosyne. “What would Kubrick have made of that?”
The others shot her a pair of sour glances.
“Seriously,” said Aglaia, “who wants to be stuck in their own heads for three hundred years? That’s why we’re going to give you the ability to share thoughts and feelings with each other.”
It was true. I was beginning to sense Jill and Karen’s thoughts and sensations. Within moments we were sharing the mental equivalent of an embrace.
Thalia said, “You know, there’s a theory that gods can only exist if somebody worships them. Well, there is some truth in that, but we have a broader definition of ‘worship’ than most people seem to realise. As long as some people continue to study our images and think about what we represent, that’s more than enough to keep us going.”
Aglaia continued: “That’s why we send dreams and daydreams to artists like Botticelli and Canova to inspire them to create images of us. As long as people continue to study those images, they are in a sense still worshipping us. So you see, by turning you into our statue, Miss Charvik has really done us a favour.”
She looked us over and smiled.
“I must admit, Canova’s version has always been my favourite. Botticelli made us all look bored when we were supposed to be dancing for joy, and Thorvaldsen gave us all very stiff and formal poses. No, the Canova statue is the best. You should be honoured to be embodying our charm and beauty.”
“All right, girls, let’s not just tell them how grateful we are,” said Euphrosyne. “Let’s demonstrate. Ready? Then let’s do it!”
The three girls stepped forward again. Euphrosyne kissed her lookalike, Jill, festively. Thalia kissed her lookalike, Karen, rejoicingly. And Aglaia kissed her lookalike, me, Stephanie, splendorously.
I could feel their love and joy flowing into me and through me and into Karen and Jill, and from them into me. And all three of us could feel sensuous stirrings that had nothing to do with Miss Charvik’s mechanical stimulators. Our sensations were building slowly and surely toward an almost godlike state of bliss.
This time when we came it was an emotional as well as a merely physical experience. It was, if you like - appropriately - a state of grace.
Our love and joy seemed to burst out of us and enrich everybody in the museum. Or maybe everybody in the world....
At last our orgasms faded to a warm glow, and we exchanged long, thankful gazes with the real Graces, who grinned back at us. There was something small, shiny and slightly damp in each of their hands.
“You won’t be needing Miss Charvik’s clockwork orgasm generators any more,” said Aglaia. “From now on it’s the real thing for you.”
“So what will we do with them?” said Thalia. “Throw them away?”
“Oh, no,” said Aglaia. “I thought we might look up Devenya Charvik three centuries from now, round about the time she picks up Jill, Karen and Stephanie here, and give her them back...right where they belong.”
“Oh, you don’t mean....”
“Oh, yes I do,” laughed Aglaia. “Let’s see how she likes three hundred years of clockwork orgasms!”
And Jill, Karen and I were laughing too, inside our heads. That was something that was going to make three centuries of waiting more than worthwhile.
“Well, I think our work here is done, girls,” said Aglaia. “See you in three hundred years, ladies. Enjoy your orgasms. The three of us will probably stroll along to Harrod’s and see if there are any Sale bargains left.”
“Cute?” said Aglaia,eyeing us up and down. Then she slowly walked around our frozen bodies and looked at us from all sides.
Just being looked at by her was enough to trigger another slow, blissful climax, and we spent several long minutes just sharing our love and ecstasy with each other.
We couldn’t speak, we couldn’t move, but in this way we could and would make passionate love to each other for hundreds of years. We didn’t ever want it to end.
“I guess you were right, Steph,” laughed Aglaia. “The marble Graces are definitely lesbians!”
Shortly after this story was posted, e-mails began flooding in in ones and twos...