Critics complain of the U.S. Postal Service’s inefficiency when compared to the Internet. They cry out for reform, stridently claiming that the post office should in some manner be modernized, the implication of course being that it is not. The derogatory term "snailmal" is often heard in reference to these criticisms, and, admittedly, nearly everyone at some point or other has complained about the mail’s apparently glacial pace, especially when they were waiting for an important package to arrive.
One should pause and consider, though. On the average, daily, the Postal Service delivers over three billion pieces of mail a week and tends to over seven million individuals through its post offices. It maintains nearly 40,000 regional offices and employs an army of mail carriers and support staff to ensure that those letters and packages entrusted to them reach their destinations in what is in most cases only a few days. Furthermore, one should, at a minimum, take a moment to reflect that in a single year, over 150 billion pieces of mail pass through the Postal Service, of which only a handful are ever lost or delayed. To call such a vast enterprise inefficient seems at the very least to be somewhat incongruous. Certainly, as in all things, there is room for improvement in the mail, and some alternative and competitive services are admittedly faster, but to condemn arbitrarily an entire system on such comparatively small complaints as these critics would have would be to perform a disservice.
The Postal Service is an admirable instrument. It is cheap and publicly available, yet retains an exceptional degree of privacy for its size. Few other services anywhere in the world can say the same, and such noteworthy qualities do not go unnoticed.
Or unused, for that matter.
* * * *
A smooth, willowy hand reached out and gently grasped one of the antique pens lying on the desk. The limb was lightly tanned, and in the soft illumination of the study its texture seemed hardly distinguishable from that of the vellum paper it hovered over. Whereas the latter was blank, though, the former was certainly covered in small, intricate glyphs.
From the tips of the writer’s fingers to the narrowness of her exquisite wrist, letters and signs spoke in dead languages. Were there someone else in the room to observe her, the words would almost seem to be moving, marching like tiny black spiders across a pale tan surface, but of course the writer was alone. She dipped her pen into a nearby ink fountain, paused a moment to collect her thoughts, and then proceeded to write.
Dear Brieanna, her letter began. I received your inquiry, and I am pleased to say that what you have asked for is well within our capabilities. We can, and, I feel, should, continue our correspondence. With this thought in mind, I enclose an item which should help you in fulfilling your part of our agreement. Future exchanges may then begin in earnest. I look forward to hearing from you. And it was signed simply, P.L.
The letter was carefully sealed in an old-fashioned envelope, thick and coarse-papered, and later that day it was inserted into a small neutrally wrapped package.
The post office did everything else.
* * * *
The doorbell rang while Leslie was sorting out her laundry. She got up from the floor and walked over and looked through the peephole. There was a deliveryman there. He rang the doorbell again, and Leslie opened up the door.
"Yes?" She hadn’t been expecting any packages.
"Ms. Bauman?" the deliveryman asked, and Leslie nodded. He handed her an arm-sized package wrapped in brown paper and scotchtape, then took out his clipboard and offered Leslie his pen. "Package for you. Would you sign here, please?"
Leslie took the clipboard and signed her name. At the same time she examined her unexpected delivery. There was no return address on it, but she recognized the handwriting. She smiled. It was from Robert, her boyfriend.
How sweet, she thought, thanking the deliveryman and closing the door after he left. It was just like Robert to do this sort of thing. She should have known at once whom the package was from. In the few weeks they had been together, he had made a habit of showering her with small, impulsive gifts. Flowers, candy one time, a tiny stuffed bear with a heart symbol on it. They were inexpensive things, but sweet and endearing. This was the first time, though, Robert had ever sent her anything through the mail.
Leslie stacked her laundry away and sat down in her apartment’s small living room. She reached behind her in a nearby drawer and took out a pair of scissors. She snipped the scotchtape but was careful not to pass the blades through the paper itself. The package was soft and flexible; she didn’t want to cut whatever was inside. She wondered what Robert could possibly have sent her. The paper fell away and revealed a thin cardboard box. A loose-leaf note was taped to the outside.
Leslie, it read. I saw this and immediately thought of you wearing it. If you like it, would you please try it on? I’m not sure, but I think the blue matches your eyes. Robert.
Leslie pulled open the cardboard box and saw what was inside it. She gave a short, light gasp of surprise and admiration. Oh, wow, she thought. Oh my. This was unexpected.
Robert had sent her a dress. She stood up and draped the sequined fabric over her arms. It was a dark blue color, with an open back and light white trims along the sides. It was a gorgeous piece of work; Leslie couldn’t believe Robert would do something like this. It was an expensive dress, she could see that at once. It was a dress designed for eveningwear, not for everyday wearing or going to the mall. This was a dress women wore to fancy dinners in upscale restaurants or on trips to the opera or something.
She checked for a manufacturer’s label but couldn’t find one. There wasn’t a size listed anywhere on it either, but Leslie thought it would fit her, and probably fit her very well. She held it against her body and looked down. The dress seemed to be about the right length. Robert apparently had a good eye in addition to his flowing bank account.
Leslie thought it passing strange that a man should send her a dress through the mail, though. It was a little weird. Underwear, maybe, she had heard, if they were that kind of people. Leslie had a girlfriend whose lover had sent her lingerie as a gift, though she had suspected at the time it had been more of a gift to himself than it had been for her .. . . but had he sent it through the mail? Victoria’s Secret catalog, perhaps? Leslie couldn’t remember. It was odd, now that thought about it. A little presumptuous even. If Robert had wanted to give her a dress, why couldn’t they have gone out shopping together?
Leslie read his note again. I’m not sure, but I think the blue matches your eyes. She carried the dress into the bedroom and held it up again against herself while looking in her full length mirror. She turned on the overhead lights. It does kind of match my eyes, she thought. Leslie abruptly made up her mind not to be mad at Robert for the presumption. It was a strange thing to do, okay, but the dress looked great.
Now, if he had sent her underwear through the mail, that would have been different. But this was okay. She could live with this. And it was a nice dress. Leslie removed the t-shirt and jeans she had been wearing and threw them over on the bed. She undid the clip in her hair and slid the dress on. She purposefully avoided looking at herself until she had finished with the zipper in the back. Then she turned around and looked.
"Wow," she said softly. Wow indeed. Leslie was a tall, slender girl, and the blue dress she now wore looked as if it had been poured on her rather than merely put on. It flowed over her figure. Her blond hair, falling in curly ringlets over her shoulders, easily complimented the dress’s shades. She ran her hands over the smooth, silky fabric, over her hips and sides, enjoying the touch of it against her bare skin. The sensation was practically electric. The top of the dress came to just above her bustline, revealing just the right amount of creamy swell, comfortable and slightly provocative all at the same time. Her bare arms and shoulders seemed to just scream for attention. The bottom showed just the right amount of leg, too, just over the knee. It made her legs seem longer, somehow, and her waist trimmer. She turned around slightly and for the first time saw the top of her exposed back and shoulders as yet another tantalizing zone, as alluring as her breasts and thighs might be.
She was definitely keeping this dress.
And, she and Robert were going out this evening. That was definite, too, she decided then and there. They were going to go to a fancy restaurant . . . Blair’s, perhaps, or The Mountain View, and they would go dancing, and they would drink champagne, and it would be a perfectly wonderful evening. And, at the end of it, Robert would get the reward he deserved for being such a considerate and kindly fellow. Leslie developed a dreamy expression as she thought about it, and she went over to the telephone to call her lucky boyfriend. He was going to get lucky tonight.
She heard his phone ring, but he didn’t answer. Leslie looked at the clock on her counter. He should be home now, she believed. Maybe he went out for something. She would have to try back in a few minutes.
Maybe he was on his way to see her. That would be just like him, too.
Leslie hung up the phone and strolled back to her full length mirror. She pirouetted in front of it and laughed softly. The dress brought out all her best features. It had been made just for her, it seemed. It was simply incredible the way it looked on her. The way it hugged her hips and sides made her feel deliciously smooth and flexible. She liked how it lifted her breasts, too, raising and making them look and somehow feel fuller, softer. Who needs the wonderbra with this? she asked herself, examining her reflection.
She would have to ask Robert where he found it, and who made it. She wanted to see other items the manufacturer made. The dress made her feel like wanting to change her whole wardrobe. Maybe even her entire life.
The only thing . . . it felt just a little too tight around her hips, she believed. Leslie stroked her sides there. The fabric was tightly stretched over her thighs and middle, cinching in her almost like a corset would. It wasn’t uncomfortable . . . but it was tight, and maybe just a little too tight. She was surprised she hadn’t noticed it before.
Leslie thought she might have to do some slight alterations in her new dress. Either that or go on a very strict and sudden diet. She rubbed her hands over the clingy material. The top felt a little too tight as well, she noticed. This dress is about one size too small, she thought, and that was really too bad because it did look so good on her. Maybe she could exchange it for one her own size, if she could find out where Robert had bought it. She went to the phone again and redialed Robert’s number, but he still wasn’t home.
Leslie sat down on the edge of her bed and sighed. She wiped a bare arm across her forehead. Was it getting hot? She would have to check the air conditioning.
Now that she had sat down a few minutes in it, Leslie could see that the dress really didn’t fit her at all. She had been caught up in how pretty it looked, or something. Truth to tell, the dress was so tight it was getting kind of hard to breathe.
Leslie reached behind her to get to the zipper. She found it and pulled, but it stuck.
Ah, crap, she thought and got up. The room spun. What was that?
A momentary dizzy spell had confused her. She really must be having a problem getting air. The dress felt like it was getting tighter. Staggering for a moment, still trying to pull down the zipper in back, Leslie went to her mirror a third time.
She gasped when she saw her reflection.
The dress was getting tighter. It stretched over Leslie’s body like spandex, hiding absolutely nothing. It had spread over her figure like a lycra bodysuit. She could see the outlines of her nipples through the sheer fabric. It was pasted onto her thighs and hips like rubber. Leslie stood in horror as she saw the outline of her vulva begin to peek through the material.
It was suddenly impossible to breathe!
Leslie gasped, pulling with all her strength on the stubborn zipper, but to no avail. It was as if it had been fused shut. Desperately, she began trying to pull the dress off of her, not caring if she tore it to shreds in the doing so - she had to breathe! - but she couldn’t get a grip. The dress felt glued on; the smooth surface of it had now shaped itself perfectly to her figure, with no room at all between it and her skin. The dark blue material looked less now like a real dress than it did like a bodypainted version some artist had made.
It was unremovable.
It was so restricting Leslie found she couldn’t move. Her legs had been pressed together awkwardly, and she fell to her bedroom floor in mortal terror. She felt like she was going to die! She couldn’t get a breath in at all.
Something else was happening too. Leslie could feel it. On the floor, on her back, struggling helplessly, it was as if a great weight were suddenly pressing down upon her. The sensation was everywhere, even on her exposed face and arms - an indescribable pressure squeezing the life out of her. She tried to scream, but she couldn’t. She simply had no air left with which to do so. Her lungs could find no room to expand.
Leslie began to get lightheaded. Is this what it feels like to suffocate? A warmth had spread throughout her body. It felt like she was mildly tipsy, like the buzz she sometimes received when drinking a glass of wine or a beer. It wasn’t, weirdly enough, a completely unpleasant sensation, either. Leslie’s dire need for breath receded. The room didn’t darken, as she had heard it did for people who were dying, but it did feel warmer.
The pressure kept building and building. It was pressing at her, shaping her, Leslie felt, making her fit some invisible mold. She imagined herself caught in some great padded vise. Her exposed skin felt unbelievably sensitive, too, as if the force raining down on her were also heightening the receptivity of her nerves, like the way electricity flows faster through a conductive surface. She could feel every fiber in the carpet beneath her, it seemed like, and every stitch in the confining blue dress.
The sense of unseen weight continued to mount.
Leslie’s body responded to it, uncontrollably. Without changing size in the least, the width and length of her arms and legs remaining constant, Leslie’s figure began to flatten out. Her breasts, her nose, her upright toes, all those parts of her anatomy that stood on end, began to recede, smoothing out, evening into one even plane. The process continued until her breasts were just two incredibly sensitive circles on her chest, her nose a somewhat triangular shape on her face, and her toes mere little white circles at the tips of her feet. They deflated the way a balloon does when the air is drawn from it. And then it happened everywhere else at once, uniformly, her body ironing out as flat as a pancake, or even flatter. There was no pain involved, just a certain lightheadedness.
Leslie’s need to breathe disappeared completely.
The pressure increased.
Her skin felt so incredibly sensitive. Sight, sound, and especially touch had all achieved new levels of awareness. She heard, for instance, the tiny metallic sounds of the lock to her apartment door being picked, and the door itself being opened a few moments later. She could tell, too, even before he stood over her looking down, just by his footsteps and the way in which he breathed, unsqueezed as he was, that it was Robert.
"Hi, Leslie," he said, grinning. "Did you like the new dress I got you?"
Leslie could say nothing. She could not move at all.
She was totally at his mercy.
Robert reached down to stroke his girlfriend’s face. The touch sent a ripple of pleasure coursing through her body, though she could not show it. Carefully, Leslie’s boyfriend removed the blue dress she was wearing. It looked ironed, perfectly soft and smooth . . .. just like Leslie herself now. He removed her panties and other articles of clothing too.
She was naked.
Leslie lay on the apartment floor like a life-size poster of herself. Her complexion was unchanged. The feel of her skin had equally been unaffected, though its sensitivity had of course increased. Robert traced the outline of her nipples and sent Leslie into a silent yet utterly mind-numbing orgasm. Her stroked her flattened vulva and clitoris next and again forced Leslie to climax in ways she had never thought possible. The hair at her sex had remained virtually unchanged and felt wonderfully fuzzy, though its dimensions now, and Leslie’s overall dimensions bodywise, had been reduced to less than a quarter of an inch it width. The thick blond hairs on her head were clumped together now into a soft helmet of sorts and felt equally fuzzy and delightful.
The dress had worked its magic again.
Leslie had been turned into a living paper doll . . . a personal amusement that he would gaze upon, manipulate, and play with for a long time before becoming bored. Taking her by the shoulders, Robert pulled the flattened figure to a position where she could see herself in the mirror. She weighed next to nothing, and her body folded and unfolded bonelessly, yet he knew she would be nearly impossible to tear or damage. She would stretch nearly endlessly, and, if he wanted, he could use his girlfriend as a bedsheet tonight . . . and he probably would. It wouldn’t be the first time he had done so with a member of his collection.
"What do you think, Lez?" he asked her, holding her passive features to within inches of the glass surface. "Did you like my little gift?" He stroked her fanny as he spoke, aware that he was sending his doll into untold heights of ecstasy. He didn’t expect a reply. "It wasn’t the dress, you understand, but the sensations it offered."
There was another girl Robert had seen. A receptionist in that dentist’s office down the hall. They had been flirting for some time. Maybe she’d like to wear his special blue dress, too. It was, after all, the gift that kept on giving. He was glad to have it in spite of all the pains he had spent in getting it. The price had been very high.
Thinking about it, Robert began rolling Leslie up, starting at her head and working his way down. The unusual positioning drove the paper dolly into a completely mindless state of utter, heavenly pleasure. Yeah, the other girl might deserve a gift too, he thought. And then she too could be added to the growing collection hanging from his bedroom walls. The gift that keeps on giving.
Putting Leslie into the poster tube he had brought along, and making sure he had the dress with him, Robert capped the end and walked out of the empty apartment.
* * * *
Brieanna looked both ways before crossing the street. Seeing no cars coming, she hurriedly crossed over and walked up to the copier store. The door jingled as it opened. The proprietor glanced across once at the small plain teenager, recognized her, and went back to his talk with the customer in front of him. Brieanna dug out her keys from her tiny purse.
One of the walls in the front of the store was lined with row upon row of small boxes, each with a smaller number and a keyhole below it. They could be privately rented and were accessible anytime between normal working hours. Brieanna found her box and put her key in the lock. She had been coming to the store to check for mail every day for the last three weeks, but every time she had looked her box was empty. A number of times she had felt near tears. The box had been expensive, especially since Rebecca didn’t allow her to work after school like any of the other kids could. She didn’t even have an allowance. Brieanna had had to pay for the box entirely from the money she had saved up from past Christmases and birthdays, and she was starting to run up short.
Please, she closed her eyes and prayed before opening. Please God, just this once.
Brieanna turned the key. She looked inside, and right in front was a small brown parcel.
"Yesss," she whispered loudly, the sound of her voice hissing through her braced teeth. The store proprietor looked over again at the noise and frowned. Brieanna caught his look and blushed. She closed up her box and practically fled out of the store. She ran nearly three blocks before stopping to open her package.
There were no names on it, only address numbers written in a very ornate and intricate hand. The return address was the one she had sent her letter to, hoping against hope that the ad she had read wasn’t just a joke or a con of some kind. Brieanna tore open the paper and revealed a small black box. Taped to the top of it was an envelope.
Brieanna opened the box. A pair of fine, silky pantyhose was carefully bundled inside. Brieanna looked around to see if anyone was watching, and, seeing no one, slowly ran a finger over the velvety material. The sensation sent shivers racing up and down her spine. She shuddered once, closed her eyes, then hastily closed up the box again.
She read the letter, and for the first time in months, really since the day her father had so dreadfully remarried, Brieanna smiled. She practically skipped back home that day.
* * * *
A packaged cylinder was sitting on top of the front desk when Walter came in. The sight provoked an immediate rise in his spirits. He hadn’t been sure if she was every going to send him anymore gifts, but even from the door he could recognize the Lady’s distinctive spiky handwriting. Walter practically beamed at the doorman as he rose up to greet him.
"Good evening, Mr. Seacover. Did you have a good day?"
"Outstanding." The doorman held the glass partition open, and for just a brief moment the apartment lobby was filled with the sounds of the crowded street outside. Walter brushed off the snow on his collar, then shrugged in the direction of the desk. "Is that for me?"
The doorman walked over and picked up the cylinder. "Yes, sir. You have some other mail in your box, but the mailman couldn’t get this one to fit." He handed it over to Walter, and Walter thanked him kindly. He went to his box, used his key to get the rest of his mail, and then strolled in the direction of the elevators. There was a definite bounce in his step. The doorman walked over with him and pressed the call button.
"I hope you have a good evening, sir."
"Oh, I will," Walter said, the elevator doors opening in front of him. "I definitely will."
A few minutes later Walter was in his apartment and throwing the bills and credit card applications he had removed from his box onto his coffee table. He took off his coat and hung it beside the door, awkwardly holding onto the wrapped cylinder at the same time. He began walking into the living room, then paused. He debated about taking a shower first. He was impatient to see what he had, but he thought he might as well be comfortable while he was opening it. Almost reluctantly, Walter put the Lady’s package on the coffee table too and went into his bedroom.
He took a long shower, then decided to eat something and went into the kitchen. His eyes lingered for a moment on the cylinder as he walked past it. Fixing himself a drink and a sandwich, Walter came out to the living room again after a few minutes and sat down on the sofa. Breathing heavily, he just stared at the package for a while and thought about what he might find inside it. He carefully sipped his Scotch.
I made a mistake, he thought. I should have sent Claire over last month like she wanted me to. Or sent Jeanette back, or something.
The problem was, though, that once he had them in his possession, it was kind of hard to let go. Walter sent the Exchange a photo and a description of Claire, and it took only a week before the custom jewelry arrived. The interest level had been that high. Walter remembered how Claire had squeaked so just before the bracelet let go of her. She looked so darling afterwards, however, that Walter found he couldn’t bare to get rid of her. He sent back Betsy instead, one of the first ones he had received when the whole thing started. He had hoped at the time that would be satisfactory.
Walter didn’t want the Lady mad at him or anything. It was just .. . . just that some of the girls in his custody he liked to keep more than others. Everybody had their favorites.
That was only natural.
But now a new package had arrived. Walter had wondered whether he was still going to get items from the Exchange. He had sent a picture of a new girl, Erica, back along with Betsy, and he had hoped that would ease the situation. He would definitely send over Erica after she was converted. Guaranteed, he promised himself.
Walter put his drink down and picked up the cylinder. He skillfully slid a thumbnail beneath the scotch tape at one end and eased the wrappings off. He uncapped the parcel and tilted it over. As usual, a scrolled vellum sheet was the first thing out. Restraining himself - anticipation was the best part of the game - Walter kept the rest of the tube upright and its contents safely inside. Shivering a little, he picked up the letter.
Walter, it read. I must confess that I am disappointed with your behavior. Claire was expected here some time ago, and you are delinquent in your exchanges of Jeanette and Mabel. Others are waiting to see them, and I hate disappointing my correspondents.
Walter gulped as he scanned the lines and picked up his Scotch again.
The value of a gift lies in its delivery, young man, not in its possession. You have failed to keep promises, and not for the first time either. Fortunately for you, I do not hold grudges. I shall expect recompense shortly, and upon such delivery you may rest assured that no future ill will will continue between us. Yours sincerely, P.L.
There it was, in black and white. Walter ran a hand through his hair and breathed a sigh of relief. No doubt about it, he thought, you get Erica when she’s done. And I’ll even send you Jeanette. Maybe.
"And anybody else you want, no problem," he whispered out loud. If he sent enough, made the Lady happy enough, he might even get to keep his favorites, too. He had heard that was possible. But if he had to, even Claire would have to be let go.
He would do anything for the Exchange.
Walter tipped over the hollow tube again. With trembling fingertips he removed his latest gift from the Exchange. He wondered what her name was. Usually they were introduced by name in the letter - that was typical of the Lady’s courtesy - but Walter just put it down to bad feelings this time. He would work hard to improve relations later.
Bright, luscious red hair spilled out over his hand. A flesh-covered scroll, light as a feather, fell into Walter’s grasp, and, casting the container aside, he gently unrolled it. Lovely green eyes stared up at him as the life-size dolly unfolded out before him. Walter gasped while taking her all in. She was perfectly proportioned, small busted and narrow hipped the way he liked them, and her skin was as soft as a baby’s, strangely cool yet warm all at the same time. Long narrow legs flapped bonelessly on the floor beside him.
God, she’s beautiful, he thought.
Walter’s fingers roamed over the tiny reddish-brown circles of her nipples. Flat, as flat as cloth, they nevertheless carried an impression of solidity. It was part of the magic. Walter stroked the flat, level belly of the paper doll, marveling as he always did at how lifelike the sensations were, as if he were actually petting the body of a still three-dimensional figure, one that had not been transformed and reduced to a mere two. He could even hear, in his mind subliminally, the purring of pleasure his touch was causing the flattened girl. Walter pressed his left hand against the dolly’s sex, dry yet simultaneously moist, and gently pinched the flesh there, folding it between his fingers. It was a feeling impossible to reproduce anywhere else.
Shuddering, his penis throbbing like an electrified rail, Walter staggered to his feet, bundled the nameless paper doll up into his arms, and quickly made his way into the bedroom. Along the walls, hanging in specially-designed frames, Claire, Jeanette, and Mabel decorated the otherwise pictureless surfaces. Each was hung spread-eagled, arms and legs wide and inviting, their nakedness exposed beautifully if not especially tastefully. Motionless, their eyes nevertheless tracked Walter and his new possession as they made their way past them.
Holding the doll out in front of him, tearing away his bathrobe, the desperate man flopped face first onto the bed. A scream of inaudible ecstasy rang through his mind; the expression of the dolly did not change, could not change, but he was aware at some level of what was going on inside her. Walter spasmed, rocking back and forth in mounting bliss. Unconsciously, he took one of the flat, paper-thin toy hands and wrapped it tight around his member, enjoying the all-around sensation, releasing himself into her grip.
He did not notice the other flat arm swinging around, now how it wrapped itself around his waist. Walter definitely had other things on his mind. The doll’s legs enfolded those of the man on top of her, wrapping around the ankles like a velvet-covered vise.
The doll’s head lifted up, and a flat, flat tongue playfully inserted itself into Walter’s ear.
"Eh?" Walter opened his eyes and stared directly into the face of his new toy. The even surface was less than two inches away from his own.
She winked at him.
She can’t move, he thought stupidly for a second. Then Walter felt the tightening of her legs around his ankles. The hand wrapped around his sex unfolded wetly and flashed out and around his left wrist. Quick as a towel being snapped, the other arm wrapped around Walter’s other wrist, the dollhand enfolding it like a snake.
Walter panicked and tried to break loose, but he was very firmly held. He flopped around the bed trying to get up, but he had no leverage. The paper doll’s head bent forward loosely and gave him a kiss square on the lips. Walter’s face turned red as he struggled to breathe.
An exchange began. Walter felt something, some tangible quality he could no describe, being drained out of him. The lines around his eyes and cheeks smoothed out. His weight began to disappear. His arms and legs gradually lost their strength. At the same time, an observer of this unusual lovematch would have seen an odd change occurring in the paper doll, as if it were a hollow balloon and air were being blown into it. The whitish-pink flesh expanded. The breasts filled out. Dimension was added to the striking, aristocratic face. The doll’s arms and legs slowly unfolded as pressure was forced into them. They released their stranglehold around the rapidly shrinking limbs of the man-doll on top. One doll disappeared, and another was created.
Phoebe disentangled herself from the Walter-doll and stood unsteadily beside the bed. For a moment she fought vertigo. Behind her, the flat, even surfaces of Walter lay silently screaming, his eyes wide and staring at his apartment ceiling.
The nude woman took one step, then another, carefully balancing herself. She felt so heavy, so . . . so fat and awkward. She moaned, hating feeling so solid, so dense.
But she had a job to do, and if she did it well, her Mistress might allow her to become flat again. She had to get back as soon as possible with all the missing items. The redhead tottered over to the nearest wall and leaned against it for a minute, then looked up and reached over to start unfastening the paper dolls hanging there.
The Lady was not a vindictive person. She held no grudges.
But fair was fair, after all, and compensation always had to be paid. Besides, the boy doll market was as much a part of the Exchange as the girl dolls were.
Share and share alike.
* * * *
The steam from the shower had fogged up the mirror. As soon as she was finished toweling herself dry, Rebecca used a corner of the damp cloth to wipe a clear spot for herself. She smiled briefly at her reflection, checking her teeth and complexion, then set about fixing her hair. It was almost forty-five minutes later that she finally stepped out of the bathroom.
Rebecca strolled over to her dresser and pulled open one of the drawers. From a wide variety available, she pulled out a set of black lace panties and slowly began putting them on. She took a matching bra from another drawer and spent a few moments putting that on as well. Another mirror stood next to the dresser, and standing in her underwear, Rebecca posed for herself, constantly checking, anticipating her evening that night.
She and her current husband were going out to dinner.
She smiled. That was how she thought of him . . . as her current husband. Though she had never been married before, Rebecca held no illusions about the anticipated stability of her relationship with Greg. It was only a matter of time before he suspected . . . and it was even possible that he suspected already. Not that he would do anything about it, even if he had. He still considered himself lucky to have such a young wife.
The dinner was only her first course that evening. Afterward, after she claimed a bit of fatigue, and he had returned to his office to sulk, Rebecca would rendezvous with John at the club, and together they would start the real festivities of the night. Rebecca turned sideways to the mirror and stretched to enjoy the look of her shapely profile. Long pale legs, a narrow waist, and a trim bustline were only the most outward of her many studied advantages. She did not even need to hide that well from Greg anymore. The man, for all his money, was a simpleton, and his twelve-year old daughter a cowering rabbit.
And speaking of which . . . Rebecca went to her seat before her makeup table and called out, "Brieanna! Come here!" A few moments later she heard the little nag’s footsteps running down the hall, and the door to her private bedroom, which she definitely did not share with her current husband, popped open suddenly.
God, Rebecca thought for the hundredth time, what a homely little girl. Brieanna stood reluctantly in her stepmom’s doorway, chubby, face sprinkled with unattractive freckles, and teeth that not even braces seemed to be able to straighten properly The cheerless expression on her face only further increased Rebecca’s instinctive dislike for the toad.
"What did I tell you about running in the house, Brieanna?" Rebecca said, turning to another mirror and picking up some eyeliner from the table.
No answer. Rebecca stopped and looked at the little girl again. "Well? Answer me."
Brieanna sighed. "No running in the house, you said. It’s against the rules." She looked down at her shoes while saying it, refusing to look directly at the woman in front of her.
Rebecca returned to her makeup. "Your father and I are going out this evening. We’re going to be late, but I don’t want you using that as an excuse to stay up. I want you in bed by eight, no later."
"Yes, ma’am," Brieanna said. She started to turn away, but before she could get away, Rebecca called her back. "One of your teachers called me at home today."
Brieanna’s tongue zipped in and out of her mouth nervously, quickly. "Which one?" she asked.
Rebecca shrugged. She did not turn around. "Who cares? The point is, one of them called me today. It interrupted my morning exercises, and let me tell you, I did not like that one little bit." She turned her face from side to side before picking up some foundation. She picked up a light brush.
Brieanna just stood there for a few moments, and finally her stepmother had to put down her things and ask her directly, "Well? Would you care to explain this, missy?"
Brieanna looked down a second time at her feet. "I guess my grades haven’t been so good lately."
"Yeah, that’s what the woman said to me, too, this morning." Rebecca picked up the eyeliner again. "That’s going to change, isn’t it, dear?" She put a menacing tone in that last syllable. Brieanna knew what it was like receiving punishment from Rebecca.
She nodded. "It won’t happen again, I promise." Pause. "Can I go now, please?"
Rebecca negligently waved a hand, and her husband’s daughter slowly walked away, very noticeably not running down the hall this time. God, what a toad, the young woman thought, finishing her preparations. It’ll be a relief to get rid of her.
Boarding school, perhaps? Maybe a military school. They accepted girls now, too.
Rebecca got up from the chair and went to her closet to pick out the dress she would be wearing. It wasn’t so much her stepdaughter’s homely appearance that she disliked so much, though she was an ugly child, the spitting image of her father; it was the fact that she had so much that Rebecca herself didn’t have when she was Brieanna’s age, and she did absolutely nothing with it. Rebecca herself at that age was already planning her future, one of the first stages of which she was finally at now.
All Brieanna did after school was spend her time mooning up at those posters on her walls, all those teenybopper idols the girls her age all seemed to obsess over. Ricky Martin. Matt Niven. Leonardo DiCaprio. It was disgusting. Rebecca had seen them one evening, and in a wild mood she had felt like ripping them all down, which she did.
She made Brieanna watch as she burned them in the fireplace.
The girl just doesn’t know how to defend herself, Rebecca thought. She pulled out a short black dress - she tended to favor black in her accessories, the color complementing her brunette locks so well - and went over to her dresser to find the right shade of pantyhose. She’s a victim, and she’s always going to be a victim, just like her father.
It was a chore just staying in the same house with them.
Rebecca pulled open a drawer and let her hand drift through the stockings and nylons she had haphazardly in there. The soft material rustled silkily across her kin. She wanted to find a dark-colored one, and it took only a moment before she found what she was looking for.
I don’t remember buying these, she thought, holding up a pair of silken hose. Then again, she had purchased a lot of things since she had married Greg and his credit cards. It was easy to forget the little things. Rebecca’s hands fondled the sheer material, her fingers caressing its utter softness while her eyes checked it for flaws. A cold, electric chill passed through her suddenly, and she shivered a little in delight. Unnoticed, goose pimples sprang out across the back of her neck and arms.
Yes, she would definitely wear these hose tonight.
Going to the bed, Rebecca sat down, bent over, and began pulling the lacy pantyhose over her feet and legs. Her pulse quickened slightly as the gauzy material flowed smoothly over her long, pale legs. These are really nice, she thought, kicking one leg up and luxuriating in the gossamer sensation the movement caused. I wish I could remember where I got these. She stood up and pulled the hose over her thighs, moving her legs back and forth in natural adjustment but also in simple excitement.
She ran her hands over the delicate smoothness of her legs and thighs. Her touch only seemed to increase the electric sensation the pantyhose somehow inspired. Rebecca closed her eyes and tilted her head up to the ceiling as she gave an unexpected cry of unadulterated joy. A burst of rapid pleasure rocked between her legs.
Rebecca sat down again on the bed, blinking, surprised at herself. She had had an orgasm . . . and from nothing more than putting on a pair of pantyhose! She could hardly believe it.
Rebecca laid back on the bed and closed her eyes again. It felt like there were hundreds, thousands of tiny fingers in those flimsy pantyhose, all of them carefully massaging her legs, thighs, and buttocks. It felt incredibly good, incredibly relaxing and stimulating at the same time. Her legs rose and bent up and down, kicking slowly in ambrosial agitation.
It wasn’t a natural sensation, Rebecca realized after a few minutes of heaven. It couldn’t be. But she didn’t care. She just enjoyed the moment, her lower self squirming back and forth in satiny delight. So slowly did the effect pass through her body that she did not notice the gratifying sensations traveling upwards . . . at least not until she felt the edge of the pantyhose touch the undersides of her breasts.
Rebecca sat up abruptly and looked down. The silken material had stretched upward from her waist across her stomach. As she watched she could see it growing like a living thing, first cupping the bottom sides of her breasts, then inching up past her nipples.
Shuddering in mixed fear and pleasure, Rebecca tried to pull the material away, but such a powerful burst of ecstasy rocked through her body as the pantyhose slipped over her nipples that her vision momentarily exploded into white light. For several minutes she quite forgot about struggling as her eyes rolled back in the throes of her second powerful orgasm. By the time she could think again, or act, the edge of the pantyhose was over her bust and crawling into her armpits.
Helplessly, she watched the material flow up her arms. They was not so much a pair of pantyhose anymore as they were a sheer bodystocking.
"Brieanna?" Rebecca screamed at the top of her voice. "Brieanna! Help me!" There was no one else in the house. Greg was still slaving away in his corporate office.
Brieanna did not run in the halls. She opened the door to her stepmother’s bedroom again and stood there watching so quietly that it took a minute for Rebecca to realize she was there. The pantyhose had formed extrusions of itself which were glossily passing down her thin arms, coating them in silk like opera gloves in reverse.
"Brieanna, for God’s sake, help me!" As the material stretched to encompass her arms, massaging them just as delightfully as they were massaging everywhere else, the ring of material at the top was slowly forming a collar around Rebecca’s neck. She knew it would then flow up past her chin and over her face in minutes. It felt wonderfully good, but it was so frightening too! Her pantyhose was literally attacking her!
And all her stepdaughter was doing was just standing there, watching.
"Help me!" The hose had reached her fingers and flowed over them, little holes forming and then closing on the tips of each finger just below the nail. Rebecca was completely enclosed from her chin on down. Her body looked very trim, very smooth.
"You don’t sound like you’re having a good time, mom," Brieanna sneered at Rebecca. "Or maybe you are, and you just don’t want to admit it." She stood far out of reach of her stepmother, who could not move off of the bed due to overwhelming pleasure as well as by an increasing stiffness felt all over.
As the pantyhose slipped over her chin and across her mouth, all Rebecca could do was lie there in mixed joy and distress as she received the most perfect massage she had ever had in her entire life. Her mouth opened and closed helplessly beneath the gauzy material. And all her stepdaughter did was stand there and watch.
Finally, Brieanna came into the room and sat down at Rebecca’s makeup desk. She turned the chair around so she could observe her stepmom’s transformation. The hose slipped up past her nose and over her eyes. Rebecca’s hair, dark and luscious, began to get pushed upwards in a large ponytail as the unearthly mesh bunched it up.
"I want you to know," Brieanna said, holding her hands primly in her lap. "I really hate you. You ruined my life, and you tried to ruin my Daddy’s. I knew from the first time I saw you that you were nothing but a gold-digging slut."
She blushed a little at her own language.
Rebecca had stopped struggling. She could hardly move at all anymore. Her eyes roved back and forth in panic and pleasure beneath the silk. She slumped down to the side of the bed like a limp ragdoll, her encased arms dangling at her sides and legs spread wide and loose in front of her. Her hair began to resume its natural shape. The pantyhose enveloped the roots but otherwise left them singularly alone as it gradually merged together between them on the top of her head. The all-body massage truly was now all-body. Rebecca was completely enclosed.
"A couple of weeks ago I read an advertisement in a magazine," Brieanna said to the nylon-covered doll. "It was really weird, too. I showed the same magazine to my friend Amy, and she couldn’t find it. She looked through every page while I sat there and watched. She just couldn’t find it. But when I opened it, I saw it first thing."
The thousand tiny fingers in the mesh gradually increased their pressure. The massage wasn’t at all painful - it was incredibly pleasuring, actually - but the tension kept building up. Rebecca felt like the pantyhose/bodystocking was squeezing her, tightening even though it was already skintight. She was so caught up in the experience she could hardly pay any attention to what Brieanna was saying. It sounded incredible, what little she could hear. Unbelievable. And yet .. . . .
"The ad said ‘Parchment Lady.’ It was really neat, like it was meant for me alone."
Brieanna closed her eyes and thought about the ad.
"It talked about a gift exchange sort of thing, I guess, run by this Parchment Lady. Everybody sends her stuff, and she sends them stuff in return. Posters and paper dolls, like those you tore up and burned, but better." Brieanna leaned forward and smiled at Rebecca. "She also sends clothes and jewels and other things, too . . . for making paper dolls, I guess. Nylons and pantyhose, too, which I guess you already know about."
The all-around pressure increased. Rebecca leaned back even closer against the edge of the bed as her features began to flatten out. She watched in horror and amazement as her legs, the first part of her body enclosed by the special pantyhose, began to deflate like a holiday balloon. Without losing shape or integrity, the legs simply spread wider and decreased in volume, flattening out as smooth and level as if they had been ironed.
There was no pain. Her legs, from the tips of her toes to her shapely, well-honed thighs, had become as flat as a pancake . . . as flat as paper.
As flat as parchment.
Brieanna stepped out of the chair and crawled up to just beside her stepmom. She watched as the flattening process worked its way up Rebecca’s mid-section, slowly turning her washboard stomach even more even. She was careful not to touch her, though, as she whispered in Rebecca’s ear.
"Do you know Matt Niven? You tore up one of his posters in my room. He had this really neat show on Friday nights." Brieanna closed her eyes and hugged herself dreamily. "He’s the best. Or he was. He disappeared a few weeks ago."
Brieanna opened her eyes. Rebecca’s chest was flat. Only her arms and head still had substance. Everywhere else she was a nylon paper doll.
"The Parchment Lady said she could give me the real Matt Niven .. . . the real thing, for my very own." Her voice rose in excitement. "I can give him a good home, especially since you won’t be around anymore. I can look at him hanging on my wall and play with him every night, and you won’t have anything to say about it. Daddy will think you just ran away with one of your boyfriends."
Rebecca’s arms deflated as her legs had done. Her head seemed to shrink, her face becoming a mask of itself, the impression of eyes and nose and mouth formed solely in exquisitely-designed silken mesh. Brieanna got up and left the room. She came back a few minutes later with a large envelope and a book of stamps.
Carefully, the twelve-year old folded in the legs and arms of the nylon doll lying on the floor, then folded the head in, and tightly doubled over the body several times. When she was finished, the whole bundle was still less than an inch thick. Rebecca fit inside the large envelope easily, with room to spare.
Brieanna then went down to the copier store and mailed her stepmom off. She hurried home, hoping to get back before her Dad did. She did.
She could hardly sleep that night, eagerly waiting for her next package to arrive.
* * * *
Phoebe knocked once on the heavy wooden door, then opened it softly and peered inside.
"Ma’am? May I come in?"
The Parchment Lady sat at her antique desk, her head bent down slightly over the stack of paper before her. She lifted her eyes and made a short gesture with her left hand. Phoebe closed the door behind her, walked to the front of the desk, and waited.
Presently her Mistress looked upon her. Her dark, ebony-black hair gleamed like an oil slick at night in the office’s dim illumination, and the multitude of tiny, intricate tidings tattooed across every inch of her exposed flesh flowed and shifted with her every movement. Phoebe knew they spelled out something, revealed secrets and told tales, but she really didn’t want to know what they were. She preferred some things to remain a mystery.
"I brought Claire back and the others. And I have Walter. Would you like to see?"
The Lady shook her head silently. She lifted her hands and made a series of complex signs in the air. Her pale-tan face remained as calm and expressionless as a mask.
That will not be necessary, Phoebe. Thank you. There was a pause, then another set of flowing hand movements. I have another small errand for you.
Phoebe moaned slightly and wrung her hands in front of her. The brief dress she was wearing felt so heavy and awful, and she wanted so badly to return to all the others in the Gallery. "Oh, please . . . I want to go home. I want to be flat again, please."
She felt horribly round.
There was no change in the Lady’s porcelain face, though she did slightly wave an index finger disapprovingly at her assistant. Her hands flashed another message.
Be patient, dear. Be patient. First, I need you to mail some more packages for me. We have a new member of the Exchange, and I want her to be satisfied with our service.
Reluctantly, tears moistening her eyes, Phoebe nodded. The Lady was right, of course. She always was. The Exchange always had to come first.
There was another pause. Her Mistress checked an address on her desk and made a brief notation to a list beside her.
I would like you to process this new acquisition, too, please.
She handed Phoebe a letter. The amanuensis recognized the address at once, and again she nodded. Bad service had to be rewarded with bad service, as in the case of Walter, but good service too deserved its recognition. Fair was fair.
* * * *
The doorbell woke Robert up. He yawned and opened his eyes, feeling the cool warmth of Leslie wrapped around him. He reached down and found her hair, pulling her flattened mask of a face closer to his own.
"Good morning, darling. And how did you sleep last night?"
Robert shrugged and got out of bed. Tucking Leslie beneath his arm, he carried the life-size paper doll and hung her on one of the towel rungs in his bathroom to dry.
No one was at the door when he got there, but he did see that the postman had left him a package. Seeing the handwriting on the address, Robert eagerly seized it up and opened it. He read the letter quickly, then reached inside for the enclosed bundle.
With a sharp flicking motion, he unfolded the soft, silky nylon doll and dug his hands into her lovely, dark hair.
"Hi, Rebecca. My name is Robert."