As Michael turned towards the door, he clumsily stubbed his toe on a large, square pedestal. The lissome figure perched on top began to wobble from the force of his accidental stumble, forcing Michael's heart to literally skip a beat. However, despite the rather violent intrusion into her perfectly motionless world, she failed to topple, much to Michael's relief. Carefully, he reached out to the exuberantly positioned model, delicately shifting her on the platform until she was centered flawlessly on display once more.
This time Michael took a few deliberate and certain steps back as he admired the athletic curves of Yvette, easily one of the sweetest people that Michael had ever known. With a quivering hand, he traced the curve of Yvette's strong and powerful calf muscle, trailing his fingers down to the velvety folds of her instep. Each minute detail of her body was locked solid now, held firm as an ornament of lasting grace. As if in a daze, Michael felt transported back to that distant time and place, to the moment when Yvette first walked through his studio door.
After the fortuitous experiment with Cassie and the mysterious strobe, Michael was undeniably a wreck. In his quest to find a cure for Cassie's halted condition, he'd totally ignored his already struggling business enterprise, not to mention his own bodily needs. Weeks would go by without any rest or food. Yet Michael could scarcely care about his own puny wants or desires, his guilt over Cassie proved too strong for him to overlook. Day by day, he lived in a state of limbo, somewhere between bliss and damnation. For one part of him felt ecstasy just knowing that Cassie longed to be with him, to share her passion for life. At the same time, another part of Michael was wracked with intense feelings of remorse and duty. The only option that would be acceptable to him would be to restore his darling Cassie, the one he adored, back to flesh.
Over the course of months, dark storm clouds began to lurk in the recesses of Michael's mind. Doubt ruled his every action. Already, he'd tried every technique imaginable, from hypnosis to alchemy. Yet after each painstaking attempt, she still stared unblinkingly at him with those bright eyes, the curious and playful statement still cemented upon her precious face. Like a princess cursed, she looked so peaceful and lovely, yet Michael couldn't get past his torment to appreciate the perfect doll that his beloved had become.
At his moment of deepest despair, he often considered ending his own life, since the guilt was proving too great for him to handle. However, blinking silently within the back of his brain was a persistent feeling of hope. After two months of sleepless torment, Michael finally surrendered to the sandman.
In vivid color, he could see Cassie in all her glory, dancing gloriously in the moonlight. She reached a hand out for him, and he grasped it, celebrating with her during her moment of joy. Big band beats and triumphant horns emphasized the festive atmosphere, setting their feet in harmonious motion. They twirled and played, seducing each other all over again.
In the blink of an eye, the first anthem of exultation faded, giving way to a slow ballad of warm sentiment. Michael hugged Cassie tight as he savored every second with his reanimated model.
"It isn't so bad, you know," spoke Cassie in that sweet voice.
"Being a statue. I can see your frenzy every day." A soft furrowing of her brow revealed Cassie's concern.
Michael felt his face growing flush as he asked, "You can see me, Cassie?"
"More than that," added Cassie with a coaxing wink. "I can hear your rage and feel your pain, Cowboy. You shouldn't blame yourself for what happened to me. Believe it or not, I feel content. I only wish you could find a way to forgive yourself and appreciate me as I am now. Don't fight the threads of fate, my friend."
As his eyes welled up with tears, Michael tightened his warm and reassuring grip on Cassie, never wishing to let go. "I miss you so much," confessed Michael.
"I know. However, even though I can't move or speak to you anymore like before, I can still bask in your adoration. I remain sentient and aware, yet I don't have any mortal worries like I did throughout my life. Your devotion, even in this petrified state, gives me purpose. Your desire makes me real."
Slowly, the final chords faded into silence. Firmly, Cassie separated herself from Michael, standing resolutely on the plank boards of the dance floor. Dumbfounded, Michael asked, "Will we meet like this again, my dear?"
Cassie quickly returned to her familiar mannequin pose before replying, "I will always be alive in your dreams. Remember me fondly for who I was during my life, Michael, and don't forget to cherish me for who I am now as well." She tossed one last smile at Michael before settling into her immortal position. Within moments, she had stiffened noticeably and developed a gloss on her already luminous skin.
As Michael found himself jolted back to reality, he muttered, "You will be with me always, Cassie." After stumbling out of bed at last, he prepared a place of honor for the plastic figure of his lithe companion, placing her boldly on a raised pedestal of glass in the main studio. He dusted her lovingly using gentle strokes as he talked to her.
Once the sun had risen high in the sky, he actually decided to flip the closed sign to open. For the first time in months, Michael felt inspired to beautify the world like Cassie, to create lasting art on film. He checked his full answering machine and spent several hours returning phone calls, apologizing to many for his long hiatus.
While tied up on one such return telephone call, a leggy woman strolled through the doorway. As the bell above the door chimed, so too did the bell within Michael's head -- she was a phenomenal looker. She coyly tossed her chestnut locks as she waited patiently for Michael's conversation to conclude.
Finding himself unable to pry himself away from the call, Michael waved politely to the striking woman, welcoming her inside. She nodded, then stepped into the well-lit studio, strolling leisurely from item to another. Noticing the full-sized figure of Cassie, her eyes lit up.
After several moments of admiration, she began to stretch out her limber body, lifting her left leg high into the air as she stood. She repeated the process with her right, then slowly stretched her inner legs, concluding by doing the splits. Michael's jaw dropped as he admired her from the distant counter. He even lost his train of thought in mid-sentence. After a few more minutes, he lied about some fictitious calamity that required his immediate attention simply to escape the banter on the phone.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," called out Michael as he pranced closer to the seductive lady. "I'm Michael Andruzzi. What can I do for you today?" (Please tell me you wish to stay here with me forever...)
A bright smile swept across her face, a smile both seductive and knowing. After extending her hand, she replied, "Yes, my name is Yvette Reisender. I'm hoping you can help me." Secretly, she stole a subtle glance towards Cassie, then added, "I need your expertise, Michael."
"How about some coffee?"
They sat and talked for several moments, passing the time in utter delight. He described his experiences in the world of photography, as well as his past awkward upbringing as the son of a military man. The conversation even steered towards past loves, and he volunteered his experience with Cassie. His eyes glowed warmly as he reminisced, revealing his infatuation and longing.
Yvette, as she explained, had been a contortionist almost all of her life. She traveled with a troupe of circus performers, taking her around the world several times. She showed him a few wonderful examples of her flexibility, clueing him in regarding the tricks of the trade. It didn't take long for Michael to realize that this woman was blessed with an immeasurable gift.
As the coffee began to grow cold, so too did Yvette's statement. Michael quickly noticed her forlorn statement. At last, she revealed the catastrophe that changed her life forever. "Our group of performers were an incredibly tight group, as you can imagine after touring together for so many years. During my time on the road, I even managed to find love with the kindest gentleman I'd ever met. We quickly got married and built a wonderful life together. Not long after, our love produced a beautiful daughter, Estella. Everything I'd ever dreamed was revealed in the light of that infant's eyes. My husband and I quickly decided to make arrangements to leave the show and settle down. Unfortunately, our hopes were not to be."
"Why? What happened?" asked Michael in concern and fascination.
"On the night of October 3rd, while I was performing on stage, a fire tore through my family's trailer. One second, I was on top of the world, making plans to live the good life with my husband and daughter. The next, everything was dissolved within a thick, black cloud of smoke. My tiny girl would never be allowed to grow into a woman. The pain was indescribable, Michael." Yvette stopped for a moment, choking back the anguish locked within her heart. "Everything that had ever mattered to me was lost. I felt like a spirit dispossessed; a walking corpse waiting for the end to mercifully arrive."
"That's the most tragic thing I've ever heard, Yvette. I'm so sorry for your loss."
"But, that's the amazing thing, Michael. In the months that followed, I began to sense them around me, guiding me. I found a way to reach them using my mind." Yvette closed her eyes tightly, adding, "I could be with them in my dreams. Slowly, I began to hone these empathic abilities, longing to understand the principles of the craft. After struggling though many hoaxes, I eventually found the power within myself."
Confused, Michael asked, "So, you can read other people's thoughts?"
As her eyes snapped back open, she replied, "It's not so difficult to believe, is it? Look inside yourself, Michael, and you will see a power that you never knew existed before. Your power of persuasion is incredibly strong. Send me a thought, and I'll tell you what you're thinking."
(Have you been searching for me? projected Michael with just a hint of doubt.)
"Yes, I have sought you out." She waited for Michael's surprised statement to dissipate before continuing. "For many months I felt your pain as you struggled to revive Cassie."
"But, how...?" began Michael before quickly understanding the nature of her gift. "So you know about her metamorphosis, then?"
"Yes, and I can feel her with us now, in fact. You may not understand what has happened to her, but she is not in peril. She wants you to understand how happy she is with her new existence."
Michael confessed, "I felt her with me in my dream last night. She begged me not to worry about her."
Yvette smiled warmly before replying, "Yes, she found a way to reach you after all. That's why I'm here, Michael. I wish to undergo the very same process myself."
"What?" screamed Michael in frustration. "Why would you want to suffer the same fate as Cassie?"
"Why else? To seek out my family, Michael."
Michael couldn't believe his ears. He stood straight up from his chair before walking over to the stiffened form of Cassie. "You can't want this, Yvette."
"But, I do. You see, in her new form, Cassie can break free from her mortal demands, letting her mind travel to new places and dimensions." As she placed a gentle palm on Cassie's forehead, she added, "I wish to share that same ability, Michael, so I can effectively reach across to the realm of the dead. This world means little to me without my husband and daughter."
Michael felt so much pity for the endearing woman, that he could scarcely deny her request. "I hope you can reach your loved ones, Yvette. I've only used the strobe device once before, and I don't know quite how it works. But, if you think it will allow you to break out of this reality, I will do whatever I can to help you."
"Thank you for your kindness," offered Yvette with a grateful bow. "You shall possess my remaining shell after I'm gone, so I leave it to you to sculpt my mortal remains as you see fit." Without any hesitation or doubt, Yvette stripped away her outer clothing, revealing the tight outfit beneath. In preparation for her journey, she'd chosen a pair of short bicycle shorts and a sports bra, each matching garment in red. "I can assume almost any potential position you can imagine, Michael, and probably many that you can't. If you'd like, I can show you a few of the more difficult ones?"
At first, Michael worried that it all was happening too quickly. He didn't even know if the strobe would capture another, yet alone help Yvette to achieve her far reaching goal. Still, after seeing her eagerness to proceed, he began to realize just how prepared Yvette was to complete her task. She couldn't wait for her reunion with her adored family.
As he charged the ancient strobe, she fluidly stretched and reached, bending her supple body into marvelous contortions. She moved from handstands to splits, even displaying more diverse elements of yoga. At one point, she positioned her weight onto her forearms, then bent her legs all the way over her body until her feet hovered near her expectant face. Michael quietly offered, "I like that pose, Yvette. Why don't you lift your right foot a bit further forward and lift your left one straight out, perched just a bit higher?"
"Like this?" asked Yvette as she languidly lifted her legs as requested. Michael nodded his approval almost somberly, secretly worrying for Yvette. "Don't fear, Michael," replied Yvette to Michael's shrouded concern. "You will help me to reach a level of peace unattainable in everyday life. Through that tranquility, I will rejoin my family and take my place alongside them."
Michael studied the strobe and noticed it was fully charged and ready. With a polite smile for Yvette's benefit, he asked, "Are you ready for immortality, Yvette?"
Quickly, Yvette composed herself before saying, "Do it now, Michael, and wish me luck on my journey."
"Yvette, I wish you a safe journey home," offered Michael as he closed his eyes and triggered the strobe. As before, a brilliant pulse of light shot out from the unit, bathing Yvette in its starry glow. In an instant, she felt her muscles tighten resolutely, restricting all movement. Her head felt incredibly buoyant, almost separate from her solidified body. Slowly, she tugged her soul away from her enraptured body. Within moments, she found herself witnessing her own bodily capture, marveling at her unique shape and positioning. Before setting out on her momentous mission, she pushed through Michael's body, sending shivers of delight pulsing through him immediately.
"Godspeed, Yvonne!" shouted Michael as he savored the mingling of their souls. After returning to his own senses, he walked around Yvonne's radiant body, exalting her in this graceful yet static form. It only took a few moments to lift her carefully into the back room to display her seemingly abandoned body. All the same, Michael talked to her repeatedly, just in case she could still hear him.
And so she has remained for all of these many months, a perfect representation
of balance and flexibility. Often Michael wondered if she'd like to be
displayed in a storefront display along with her many eventual successors,
yet he always dismissed the notion, immediately realizing just how special
Yvonne would always be -- far too special to share.
(To be continued... on The Medusa Chronicles in the not-too-distant future...)