With a hefty sigh, he pushed his chair back from the desk and gently set his work down onto the black velvet cloth. He reached his nimble tradesman hands up and dry washed his lined face. Instantly sensing his frustration and despair, she stepped forward and leaned on his sagging shoulders. Rebecca laid her face against the back of the Master Craftsman's head. She wanted nothing more then to help him through this, but she knew there was nothing she could do in regard to what was vexing him. After a moment of her face held to his head, he raised a hand to one of the woman's hands on his shoulder. He reached out with his other hand and pulled the end of the cloth over his work and she could sense the shame within his heart. It pained her deeply. Driving through her body, that shame felt terrible, beyond her ability to cope with it. The ring couldn't be hidden by the the velvet; it shone through as if it were glass and not fabric. He had been working on it for over two years and was now barely able to progress much on it. He tapped Rebecca's hand and she was comforted slightly. He was tired. The dark haired woman had to close her eyes to shut out the emotions that were flooding in, threatening to drown her. She needed to be strong for him, because if she failed him now it would be the end. It was not lost on her that she was taking a severe risk in attempting to press things faster. Slowly and carefully, he stood from the chair and made his way out of the workshop; making his way to the door he reached up and held the light switch.
"Goodnight Becca." he said solemnly and shut the light off before closing the door.
The sun has just began to dip below the building across the street, casting a long shadow that leans across the blacktop into the jewelry store's manicured lawn. With a creak, the store's manager stepped out from a door on the lobbie's side, her long black hair held in a high pony tail to keep it from touching her grubby rubber smock. There were small smudges of dirt covering her face and she wiped her brow, "Stephanie...?". The woman called out, standing on her toes to get a view over the counters and shelves. A light haired girl's head popped up at the sound of her boss's voice, seeing the girl notice her the manger woman threaded her way through the store to where Stephanie was perched behind the counter on a stool reading. "Hey it's getting late, why don't you go ahead and close up, and meet me in the show room." With a smile, Rebecca turned back into the small room set off to the side of the lobby for showing off pieces of jewelry to perspective clients.
Steph stretched as she set her book onto the counter and stepped off the stool, letting the stiffness fade from her legs as she went to the shop's large stained glass door turning the small plaque from "OPEN", to "CLOSED". As she turned the lock - sliding the bolt into the door jamb - she looked up and spotted someone standing at the bottom of the store's walkway. The person, a woman, looked up the stone steps; her pale eyes meeting with Steph's for the briefest of moments before she turned and walked away. With a shrug, Steph turned and made her way back to where her boss waited. Pushing through the half open door Rebecca was sat at the fold-out utility table sometime used for presentations, on its top was a large semi cylindrical object covered in a soft cloth tied at its top. "Care to stay after work for a bit?" She smiled.
Stephanie met smile, "I'd love to stay and learn more from you."
"Then please, have a seat," Rebecca motioned to a chair close to the covered object and Stephanie relaxed into the offered seat. "I've been very pleased with your work, Steph. I was a little nervous about your credentials and references. They seemed exaggerated. Rare is the person who receives such accolades. You've been all that they've said and more." Becca leaned on the table's edge . "I'd like to give you an opportunity to see some truly rare, intricate work. Show you how to ... appraise it." With deliberate care, she reached for the cloth covering the object and slowly lifted it.
She gently slipped the cloth up and off, revealing something truly exquisite. In the center of the table was a two and a half foot tall sculpture, rendered in perfect feminine detail of pure gold. Steph couldn't resist the impulse to gasp she was in such complete awe of the creation; it was so perfectly crafted with every minute crease of the eyes and its body were caught in such minute detail. The figure's eyes were cast in twin amethysts and they sparkled with such a incalculable depth they caught the room's flood light overhead. Stephanie finally caught her breath, staring at the sculpture. Her eyes were drawn to the twin amethysts.
"You could live a thousand lifetimes and not see another like this, Steph," Rebecca's words barely registered as she stared at the sculpture. Stephanie was jarred back to reality when she realized Rebecca was standing behind her. The sudden change in direction and volume surprising her. "How... how do you appraise such a piece?" Stephanie managed to finally ask.
"Well, there is the typical historical research that I know you are well aware of, to certify the age, to determine who crafted it, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, when you come across something like this..." Rebecca leaned over so that her head was inches above Stephanie's shoulder. "... you need to study every detail. Not just look at it. Here, run your pinky along its arm. What do you feel?" Tentatively, Steph did as she was asked. At first, the arm seemed to be what she expected, smooth, cool precious metal. But as she took her time, she felt the tiniest of bumps and the gold actually felt rather warmer than she expected. Rebecca must have seen the surprise register on Stephanie's face, for she gently spoke. "Amazing, isn't it? Now, do the same with its legs." Stephanie, did, running her fingertips gently along the outside of each leg. Again, at first they seemed smooth and cool, but she became aware of the tiniest of bumps, barely perceptible. Rebecca whispered, "You can do better than that, Steph. You have to take it ALL in. Every detail." Tentatively, Stephanie leaned closer and gingerly ran her fingers along the inside of its legs. "Fascinating, isn't she?" Rebecca whispered. "Yes", Stephanie answered in a barely a breath. "You're holding back, Steph." Rebecca continued to whisper, "ALL the way up the inner thighs." Stephanie slowly complied. "Good." Rebecca continued to whisper. "Let me guide you through the rest of this process..."
The manager of the jewelry store reached up and and tenderly took Stephanie by her wrist. Becca's hands pushed her employee's fingers between the statuette's legs. There was a jolt catching Steph off guard, she instinctively tried to pull her hand back, but Rebecca held it firm. "Can't you feel every intent of the maker's hand, how he molded every inch of this body to his desire?" Her hand slowed the tips of Steph's fingers ascent up over the golden stomach. "I can feel it, I can see the process just by touching... it." Becca drug Stephanie's fingers up ever gradually, letting her calculate the path to the swell of the rendered gold breasts. Fingers were directed between the swells.
"Feel the detail. Feel what the sculptor felt. Feel what the sculpture feels."
"Sculpture feels?" Stephanie glanced back over her shoulder to her boss.
"Shhhhhh. Trust me. Close your eyes. See her in your mind's eye. Rendered in purest gold. Can you picture her?"
"Yes." the girl's breath was low and rapid.
"Good, now, run your fingers between the swells, around them. Slowly circle until you feel the very tips of the nipples." Stephanie concentrated and began to move her fingers. A slight gasp escaped her lips as she began to understand... now feeling both the sculptor and sculpture... feeling each of their innermost feelings and then feeling them merge within her. Stephanie felt the fingers on her own breasts, between then. Such a light touch, as if she was touching herself and not the sculpture. Rebecca watched Stephanie intently, sensed the change in thought, saw her visibly become aroused. "That's very good, Steph. Open your eyes now. I think we've had quite a lesson for one evening, don't you think?"
Stephanie's eyes fluttered open, her awareness slowly returned to her. As it did, her cheeks burned bright red, trying to hide from Rebecca the intensity of the experience.
"We'll go into insertion... of the gems into the soft metal." Rebecca stepped away and lifted the covering again setting it back over the top of the golden figure. It took several more seconds but Steph blinked and looked over to her Boss.
"O.K. Becca. " Stephanie blinked away the now receding haze. She turned and left the sitting room, Rebecca followed behind her, watching as the younger girl walked to the counter and bent over to gather her bag. A sly smile spread from ear to ear on the store manager's lips as she couldn't help but notice how Stephanie's eyes tried to peek through her bangs into the room to the figure under the covering. "Come early and we'll get to the real work."
Later in that evening Stephanie began to dream.
She had fallen asleep, her face buried in a gemology book studying. She was back in at Eternal Luster, the jewelry shop, back in the show room. Every thing had been the same as earlier, except her perspective. It was Rebecca and the store's owner who leaned over the statuette on the table's center and it was from there that Steph's perspective was positioned. With an extreme start Stephanie sat up, spilling her books from her desk, her heart was beating so fast, perspiration seeping from her brow, she looked around. She was in her apartment, and not on the table. What puzzled Stephanie was that she was more disappointed than relieved.
The following morning, Stephanie was back in the shop, about an hour earlier than normal, seated in front of the sculpture. "How did you sleep, Steph?" Rebecca asked as she lifted the cloth from the sculpture. Stephanie's cheeks flushed for just an instant, "Pretty good, thanks."
"Good!" Becca replied as she stroked the sculpture's cheeks. Stephanie felt the touch and her cheeks flushed again. If Rebecca noticed, she hid it well. "Let's examine her eyes, shall we, Steph?", Rebecca asked, handing her a loupe. Stephanie accepted it and leaned in to study the gems in greater detail. Rebecca also leaned in, again her head close to Stephanie's. "Now, see how the light is refracted and reflected within the gems? Does that look typical for amethysts?" Stephanie studied each gem for a moment.
"No, not all." For a long moment she considered, "These are fakes?"
"Dear Steph, no. They are true amethysts, but they have a unique quality." Rebecca lowered her voice to a whisper, "Look at the pattern. Swirling clouds. Almost spiritual in nature. Perhaps her very soul. If you examine it long enough, you'll notice another quality." Rebecca waited a few seconds before continuing in her low whispers, "They seem to be staring back at you, don't they?" Stephanie slowly nodded. "They hold you in a gaze of their own. They want you to feel its existence, its joy, its... pleasure, its... desire... to be as it is." "Now, I want you to touch her again, Steph, but focus on the patterns in one of the gems." Stephanie reached out with her left hand and brushed a fingertip against each of the sculpture's nipples, causing Rebecca to smile. Stephanie saw and felt the reaction to her touch. The swirling clouds, or soul within the sculpture's eyes intensified.
"Ooooh!" She felt a presence staring back at her. She sensed thoughts and emotions. The thoughts were unintelligible, perhaps of a language foreign or long forgotten. The emotions, however, were quite clear and powerful. Those eyes, they were hypnotic in the extreme. She felt herself pulled into them and in turn could feel herself puling them to her. Twin feelings were creeping through her, and they vied for supremacy with inside her. The first was the unfamiliar sensation that the piece of work had stirred within her, it was the intense desire to be near it. Not just near it, but to touch it. This gave light to the other emotion, a lesser but familiar one. It was fear. Fear because she was afraid of the first emotion that was being generated by the statuette. Stephanie had always had a passion for these things, precious metals, gems, and works of art and they had always spurred emotions within her. This... this was different, it was a longing, an obsession. It was like being given a narcotic and the effects were foreign to her. Why would this piece do this to her? This did not stop Steph though and she caressed her fingertips over the metallic face, softly tracing those eyes. They were so beautiful so entrancing and she couldn't pull her eyes from the stream of consciousness that poured from them. She realized she was making a tactical mistake; she was giving life to objects, something that a professor had warned her about her previous year in junior college. She turned to Becca but the manager nodded, almost like she was saying that there was life inside the work. But that can't be. Steph didn't know she had mouthed the words.
Rebecca stepped close leaning down over Stephanie's shoulder. "Everything she is is there for you hun, you just need to learn to read it." The emotions collided. Was Becca doing this on purpose, was she giving this lump of gold and gems a sense of life to try and make her feel more inclined to care for it? It wasn't alive; it was a a statuette, a lovely one, but a statue. Steph gulped and turned to the face of her boss mere centimeters from her own, the woman's warm breath on her face. Behind Becca, Steph saw a shape. Another person had silently entered the room. Becca pulled her face back from Steph's just enough for Steph to see that it was another woman. Becca turned to the woman. "Welcome back. Master will be pleased to see you. " Becca then ran the fingers of her right hand through the hair of the out of focus woman. A pleasant sensation passed through Steph as she felt someone's fingers running through her own hair, confusing her. In that moment of confusion, Becca kissed the woman. Steph felt it, warm, moist lips pressed against her own. Gently at first, and then with increasing pressure. Her lips parted and a tongue entered her mouth, probing its depths. Steph moaned in pleasure. Becca and the stranger did not seem to hear her. She fought back the desires that were building with her and focused. Her vision cleared. Becca was clearly embracing the stranger, giving her full attention.
Becca bent backwards, exposing the stranger's face, lip locked to Becca.
It was her own.
"Steph! Steph!" Rebecca was shaking her. A moment later, Steph's racing heartbeat returned to near normal, her body coated in sweat.
"what... what just happened?" Steph asked as she felt herself waking as from a long, dream.
"You really zoned out on me, Dear. You were examining the sculpture's eyes for a few minutes. I thought you were merely focusing on the task at hand when you suddenly started screaming. "Are you ok, Dear? What happened?"
Something stirred within her. She lied, "I don't know. it was like an intense daydream, but it's fading... I can't really grasp any of the details." Steph smiled weakly, "I need to take a break, Rebecca."
"Of course, Dear. We'll continue this another time. You gave me quite a fright." Stephanie retired to the small bathroom in the back of the store, splashed her face with cold water and stared, simply stared at the reflection in the mirror. The reflection of someone she didn't quite recognize. The remainder of the day passed without incident, yet Steph was continually distracted by her experience.
She laid on her bed and stared at the ceiling, the previous days experience had done nothing to soothe the dreams. It had heightened them in contrary. Steph hadn't the guts to actually talk to Rebecca and had left a message on the store's voice mail. She had told her that she was sick and wouldn't be able to make it into work that day. A couple of hours later her cell phone had rang with the store's number, anxiety had welled up through Stephanie but she had resisted. How she wanted to answer it and tell Rebecca that she felt better and would be in to continue with the examination of the piece. "What's your problem Steph?" the young woman asked herself and grabbed one of her pillows, holding it over her face. The golden statuette was bothering her in a way nothing else had ever gotten to her.
"Damnit." Stephanie rolled onto her side and threw the pillow onto the floor. Sighing, she slid her feet around and sat up on the bed's edge. Something wasn't quite right. Things at the store were strange all of a suddenly and Steph couldn't understand why. Without a doubt it had something to do with the golden beauty created by the store's owner. Mr.Craft... when was the last time she had seen him? Steph began to bite on her thumbnail and think about the elderly man who she had met on the day of her hiring. The careworn nature of his eyes had taken her in and told her that this was the place for her to earn money and experience between school years. Rebecca was carrying on all the time about how passionate he was about his work and that he was constantly creating at his home. Maybe that's what this game being played on her was about. Was she being subtly shifted into that kind of existence? To be a recluse living in the deep confines of a dark house, crafting beautiful feminine pieces of work.
She sighed deeply and laid back onto her bad again looking up at her apartment ceiling, was that so bad?
Stephanie did not sleep well that night, but she was looking forward to the following day as she did not have to work. While sleep did not come easily,it did eventually come and Stephanie awoke later in the morning than normal. Not knowing exactly what to do with herself, she decided to walk to the nearby park to organize her thoughts and center herself. An hour later, she found herself several blocks away from the college campus, about halfway to the park near to where she worked. She decided to sit down on a oddly comfortable stone bench and take in the scenery around her.
It didn't register at first, but slowly, her attention was drawn to a statue of a beautifully posed woman barely dressed appropriately for the park setting. She stared at it, oblivious of the passing of time. memories of the golden statue came back to her, but with a new perspective. She stood up, approached the statue, studying it. She reached out to touch it.
Stephanie knew she shouldn't have touched it the moment she did, suddenly it was just her and the statue, no one else on Earth existed, no thing on Earth existed.
Eyes rooted on the smooth marble, her fingers traced its every curve and sweep of the maker's hand. The maker's hand? Steph could feel her mind divide, she was standing behind herself yelling to stop to take her hand from the sculpture, but she wouldn't because her fore self was becoming enamored by the touch. No tools of metal were used upon this beauty of stone, just the graceful touch of the maker. The woman's fingers had swept about the creation in ways that the store's owner had done to the golden statuette. Her vision blurred and she swore she could see the store's owner, just over the maker's shoulder. The maker, the owner, and... Rebecca. Was that Rebecca she was seeing, there next to Mr.Craft. Both stood behind the maker. The statue's maker. Things were muddled, it wasn't the park, it was a canvassed work room. Stephanie was scared, where was she?
The maker was offering her hand, and was saying something, but Steph couldn't hear it, she couldn't hear anything but her own protests to stop this. Though Stephanie didn't stop she took the hand and stepped up onto a raised pedestal and as she did she came level with a mirror set above the maker, Mr.Craft and Rebecca. This isn't right, Steph yelled out, as she looked at the visage of the woman the mirror reflected. It wasn't her; it was the statue. But she wasn't a statue, she was a living woman, and she looked down on the maker. What was this? What was going on? The reflected woman said something and again Stephanie's own questions were drowning out what she said. She began to position herself and as she did so a stark unsettling realization settled on that still-rational piece of Steph's mind. That's how the statue is posed, that's how the statue is posed! Smiling, the maker stepped up with her on the raised pedestal; the woman who made the statue said another unintelligible series of words and then leaned forward and kissed the woman just above the swell the breasts above where her robe covered her.
Steph watched as the woman's head bobbed up and down, the sensation of her lips on her skin tingled and she focused past her to where the mirror reflected the scene. The creator kissed over the woman's bosom and Steph tried to look away in shock, but her vision was held firmly, the woman who she had assumed kept her vision fixed. And as the maker pulled her head back the light gray spot where her lips had been been shown like neon. Steph recognized the growing gray splotch on her skin for what it was. She tried to scream but her body was locked rigidly in place. For all intents and purposes, she was already a statue and only now turning slowly to stone. The creator gently blew on Steph's breast. The gray grew and spread in response. Steph was near panic. There was nothing she could do to stop this madness. That's what this had to be, some sort of onset of insanity. Things gone to a place where she had never envisioned. The maker's hands fell downwards to settle upon her hips pulling herself close to the immobilized form Stephanie found herself within. The maker ran her tongue up the exposed flesh of the body and the petrification spread, consuming more of her body, turning this lovely woman into the marble statue. Her passion poured from the maker into the the statue-to-be. Mentally Steph thrashed as her face was completely covered in stone. Those hands caressed and fondled and where they went more and more of the body of the woman was transformed.
The maker stepped back and looked quizzically into Steph's eyes. Her lips moved. Steph heard sounds, but could not make out anything the creator was saying. A muffled response was heard. It was Rebecca. She stepped toward the creator and extended her palm, revealing an ornate gold ring, a dark red blood ruby set upon it. The maker took the ring and slipped it onto Steph's left ring finger.
The jewel began to glow. Steph felt herself being drawn... no PULLED... into it. A moment later, her vision faded to red. Looking up, she saw her body changing. Through the red tint there was no mistaking the vision before her. The maker was kissing that body and each kiss transformed her that much more. As she screamed in silence, a feeling rushed over her, as if she were falling a great distance.
She caught her breath and blinked.
The entirety of the park was staring at Stephanie as she had been standing there her hands on the statue for quite some time before she then began to yell hysterically. Steph's cheeks turned bright crimson and she turned away from the statue and made her way across the park to a more secluded spot. Her breathing was still ragged as she took a seat on the grass and held her head. What in the hell was going on?
Something was happening to her, but she had no clue as to what. She had an idea who had instigated it and when but just not how, in someway this had to do with Rebecca and the lesson she had be giving her. There was an incredible side to all this, something that she had began to suspect since the first night. But how?
How did someone do that to someone? Why would someone do it? Unbidden tears began to flow down Stephanie's cheeks and she sniffled, bringing her arm up to cover her eyes with the flats of her palms and wipe away the tears. Did Rebecca and Mr. Craft do that to the statuette; was she once a breathing woman before? Suddenly she balled her fists up looking out between the bushes she was sitting behind to the silhouette of the statue against the fading sunlight. How? Stephanie asked herself as anger grew inside of her. "Bastards" she seethed and stood up, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and watching as the last of the park goers leave. Purpose was beginning to build in her and she strode to the statue again; this time she bent down and looked at the plaque on the plinth where the statue stood. She didn't know how but she was going to find the statue's maker and now she had a good place to start.
The sun had gone down and street lights cast ill-looking patches of sickly yellow light onto the sidewalk. Stephanie stood in one of the spots, looking up at her work place, it was well lit. She swallowed; Rebecca was waiting for her, Steph knew it. Her boss had done this to her for some reason, some terrible reason she couldn't understand. She steeled herself and made her way up the walkway into the store. The door wasn't locked and swung in easily, the bell over it tinkling slightly as she entered. Stephanie noticed the door to the show room was propped open and the light inside was on. Stephanie's fists were clenched tightly as she entered the room. Rebecca was sitting on the table's edge, her fingers idly tracing over the bare shoulders of the golden statuette.
"Hey Steph, I see you're ready to start your real lessons..."
To be continued... in Reservations