The instant I heard Calli’s sweet smoky voice I knew I was in trouble. We hadn’t exactly parted on the best of terms but here she was on the voicemail, like nothing at all had happened.
“Hey, you. Hope your day is going better than mine. Um, I got myself into a bit of a pickle and wanted to talk to somebody about it and I trust you. Can we meet over at Bucky’s in an hour?” There was a pause, like she was listening for my nonexistent answer. “OK, thanks, bye!”
Shit. The message was almost an hour old. Then again, she was never much one for punctuality. I wondered for a moment what kind of trouble she was in to call and if her restraining order on me had lapsed yet. Telling Erica we had to cut today’s adjustment session short was gonna cost some, but my curiosity had gotten aroused.
Sidewalk traffic was light; Tuesdays after a holiday most people were goofing. Found my usual table at the coffee joint and ordered her drink too; had to slip the barista an extra fiver to juice it up the way Calli liked. Everybody’s got a hand out these days.
Then I waited, back to the wall, Doc Holliday style, scoping out the people walking by. Pedestrians were well named, I reflected; most were ordinary and forgettable, bustling about their grey lives in quiet desperation. Kind of like me.
She swept in twenty minutes later, turning heads like she always did. I caught a glimpse of her as she appeared outside the window and made several customers’ day by just entering the café. Callisto Voss was dazzling, as always. She still had ‘it’ even though she wasn’t particularly pretty or voluptuously built – at least in street clothes – but people picked up on her style and energy from first glance. Later on, if fortune smiled, they would find out her intelligence and wit, as I had. Very few saw more than Calli’s outer shell. Her proportions were amazingly aesthetic, pleasing; one feature that stood out (literally) was her long legs compared to her height. She had on skinny jeans that hugged her shapely stems, calf-high heeled boots, and a knitted loose-necked pullover that was one part sweater and two parts miniskirt. One old dweeb held the door open for her and smiled, as if he’d ever have a chance. Her sitting down at my table earned me an equal number of envious looks and evil eyes.
Calli had cut her hair; the shorter bob style looked good on her, as did the subtle highlights. She grabbed the mocha espresso I’d gotten her and took a huge gulp as if she’d just crossed the freaking desert. I waited; it was never a good plan to prod her in a conversation. Finally after a couple of more barely smaller sips, she met my eyes and smiled broadly.
“You look good,” was my sparkling contribution to this repartee. True, too, although close up I could make out a certain tiredness on her face. Or was that remorse?
“Thanks. Glad your were able to get away,” she said. More sips; she’d almost drained the tall cup. I looked over my shoulder at the barista to signal for another, but Calli shook her head no, staring down fixedly into the pattern of the remaining liquid like it was cosmic freaking tea leaves or something.
“So, what’s up?” I added, ignoring my earlier sense to STFU.
“I had to talk to somebody; things are getting too weird. You were always the sensible one…”
Oh, this is not good, I thought. ‘Weird’ with Calli could be anything from an unexpected hangnail to mass murder; this girl had the uncanny knack for getting herself (and occasionally me) into seriously strange situations. She was the type that people liked to do things for, in return for her hanging around just being Calli Voss. People invited her to swanky parties; millionaires gave her designer gowns and jewelry, or an impromptu vacay in the South of France. At the same time, chaos seemed to follow her charms around: a yacht on its way to Cannes might strike an iceberg, for instance. Yeah, that really happened.
I felt my life starting to flash before my eyes. “How so?” I ventured.
“Did you ever get yourself into something that was so – wrong – yet you couldn’t stop?” she said with solemnity; a giggle would have helped.
You mean like seeing you again? I thought, keeping it to myself. “Every now and then…”
“Did you ever stop to notice that so many of the old myths are memorable allegories for plain old mundane reality? Trolls are just exaggerated highway thieves; the monsters under the bed, only parables. I used to think that…”
“What the hell are you talking about, Calli? I’d love to waste an afternoon to chat about philosophy but you said this was urgent; I left one of my patients to come here.”
She glared at me; I could see she was thinking about whether to leave. After a tensely quiet half-minute she continued. “Well, about six months ago, at the Jacobsen’s premiere party, I was just having a good time when this guy kept staring at me.” I bet you get that a lot; Calli in a slinky cocktail dress was a stunning sight… “It was flattering and all, but time passed and he didn’t come over or hit on me or any of the usual stuff. He just… watched. Finally, I walked up to him and asked what his problem was; it was starting to skeeve me out. The guy looked me over again, head to toe, and then said ‘You look like a work of art, my dear; how would you like to become one for me?’ I was speechless.” That’s got to be a first… “After a second or two, he continued, apologizing with a smile for what he admitted had to have come across as one of the lamest pick-up lines ever. He had a vaguely European accent as he said (Calli imitated) ‘However, I was briefly overcome by your beauty and forgot my manners. Allow me to introduce myself.’ Turns out this guy is someone I should have recognized on sight; one of the most wealthy men in the fashion industry, though he was rumored to be something of a recluse. My eyes must have widened, because he chuckled. ‘Oh, all that matters not, my lovely lady, only so much as circumstance and commerce has given me the means to realize my dreams: To create art.’ You want me to model for you? I asked. He smiled again; saying ‘not exactly, but yes.’ Weird, eh?” Calli paused to take a breath, glancing at me for a reaction.
“Not really. Artists ask you to model all the time; you’re gorgeous.” It was true; I’d been one of those fawning over her face and figure a while back. She’d agreed, too, at least at the start, until the pictures started to get too intimate for her.
“Well, of course, but that’s not the weird part, nor that he thought of me that way. Turns out that he could actually make me into a piece of art…” she confided, leaning closer across the table.
“I didn't find this out until later, however, but the guy’s attitude piqued my interest and I told him ‘sure, anytime,’ thinking he was just being metaphorical and flowery. He passes me his card; not a business card, but his personal one, engraved in gold leaf, and says ‘contact my associate for an appointment at your earliest convenience.’ I took it, and he walked away, but I could see he was still watching me from afar again for the rest of the night.”
“You threw the card away,” I hoped. This was just the kind of thing she kept getting herself mixed up in. Like when she almost joined a harem.
“Not exactly. I did fidget around for some days, not knowing if he was just another horny old sugardaddy with an eye for young models. That’s not how he came across that night, though. His offer was open and seemed sincere, as strange as it sounded. My curiosity got the best of me. When I rang the number, it wasn’t him that answered. No surprise I guess; the woman’s voice sounded crisp and efficient, one of those forty-something exec assistants with horned rim glasses. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong, but that’s for later. She thanks me by name, caller-id I suppose, and asks when would be the best time for my ‘assessment’, telling me I should clear the whole day on my calendar. Now, I don’t exactly plan things out…” You can say that again! “…but I gave her a date. Then she rattled off a whole bunch of things I had to do, or not do, beforehand. Eat this; don’t eat that; drink water; wear loose-fitting clothes. Nothing made sense at the time, although it does now.”
“You went through with it.”
“By then, it would have been rude not to.” She glanced up at me; I shrugged; it was her life. Calli continued, “Anyway, the address wasn’t in-town; I had to take a cab. Wow, that guy has quite a country estate; it took over an hour. One way. I could see why they needed the whole day, but that wasn’t the only reason. His ‘associate’ met me at the side entrance; I was right about the glasses, except they were rimless designer wire-frames and this lady was at least fifteen years younger and six inches taller than she sounded on the phone. She introduced herself as ‘Ms. Saunders’ and gave me a casual tour of her employer’s art gallery on the way to the meeting room. There had to have been thousands of paintings and sculptures displayed there. I’m not an aficionado, but a most of them were by famous artists and there was no way he would be content with reproductions. These were originals. Saunders dropped a few names and once asked me oddly if there were any poses I’d liked.”
“She was probably only making small talk, Calli. You sure you don’t want another coffee?”
She shook her head. “I thought so too at the time; turns out I was wrong. The first part of the assessment went OK enough; modeling experience, education, hobbies, but that was only the start. That woman started getting into my more personal details, asking about measurements, weight, dress size, and how comfortable I was with my body. She finally got to whether I had ever done any nude modeling. Peculiar interview topics, eh? Well, you know me; kooky as those questions were, I answered them all. Then she asked how I felt about being ‘objectified’ – that one was different! After a pause I told her the human body is a beautiful creation and should be appreciated as such. Ms.Saunders wrote this last down with a hint of a smile and then closed my folder. Standing, she asked me to follow as she opened another door and we went into a larger room with a high ceiling and overhead lighting. There was a marble pedestal in the center of the space with a statue of a woman posed there. It was really well done. We circled the figure for a minute, before the assistant asked calmly, ‘what do you think of Lucianna here?’ I told her that I wasn’t a critic, but this was a well-made sculpture and seemed to capture the essence of the model well. Hey, it was something I’d heard at an art showing; sounded good.”
“You didn’t…” I sympathized; having guessed where this soliloquy was going. Oh, Calli...
“Yeah, I did; completely missed the hints. Ms.Saunders seemed amused as she dropped the bomb on me and asked if I’d like to join Lucianna on my own pedestal. As a statue. I looked at her, then Lucianna, then her again. The assistant smiled and nodded. You could have knocked me over with a feather that instant as the certainty of what I was being asked to do finally sank in. He had said he wanted to turn me into an artwork, and it now looked as if he really could! My first impression was to get the hell out of there,” Should have gone with your instincts… “but there was something about the way that statue – that motionless girl – appeared so beautiful, yet so helpless, that started to arouse something strange in me. I didn’t run away; I asked what was next. By the way, I’ll take that refill now; looks like you could use one, too.”
We fussed around for a nervous couple of minutes until the order came and Calli had taken her sips, reflecting. Ignoring my better judgment, I decided to prod, “So, what was next?”
She scowled at me for a second, composed herself, and continued. “Sort of a screen test, you’d call it, or maybe a modeling tryout, because that’s what it was. Ms.Saunders showed me into a dressing room and asked me to disrobe, then drink the preparation on the tray. Then she left. Turns out that stuff is kinda vile-tasting, but that makes sense considering where it came from. Made my mouth all tingly. There was a mirror in the room and I stood there for a couple minutes, primping, before I realized I was stalling. They had provided a robe and slippers by the next door; I put those on and walked out into another workroom towards another pedestal. This one was empty.” Not for long… “Yeah, you guessed it; that was my display spot. Saunders was there, too, holding a compact video camera. She explained that some potential artworks met all the criteria yet didn’t look right when posing, so this was the final test. She would turn me into a statue for a few minutes, freeze me she called it, and then take photographs and video. Later on, her employer would review the tape and make the final decision. For the first time I was nervous and shivered a little, despite the room and lights being warm. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be accepted or not. Ms.Saunders misinterpreted my hesitation and said I could leave the robe on; that wasn’t a problem. I dropped it immediately, doffed the fuzzy slippers and stepped up onto the pedestal. ‘Let’s do this,’ I told her; I didn't want to lose my nerve.”
“What did it feel like?”
“Nothing at all! When she turned on that gizmo; I was instantly out cold, frozen, petrified, whatever you want to say. In a myth, the writer would probably say I’d been turned to stone! For me, time seemed to skip a beat. Saunders had been standing on my left an instant before; now she was on my right, asking if I was okay. Turns out, I’d been under for about five minutes clock time. She went on to explain that the combination of a ‘myotonic activator’ in the drink and a focused audio pulse had triggered my total suspended animation. I’d become stiff like a statue. At that point, I didn’t care about all that techno-babble nonsense she was spouting, though I looked it up later. Intriguing stuff. But that didn’t matter to me; I felt an odd pleasure at the notion of being immobilized, unaware, and asked her to freeze me again. She said that was the plan and asked me to pose more artistically this time. That was easy for me; ‘ready’ I called out to her. ‘You’ve been posed for over an hour,’ she replied a second later, stepping into my field of view, watching me through the viewfinder on her camera. It was so strange. Without something moving to compare against, my suspension didn’t seem – to me – to even happen. Spooky, eh? Damn straight it was, that is until she showed me the video she’d taken during my last stint as a statue. Then I was looking back at my frozen self during that time, posed stiff as a board, standing alone on that pedestal with a vacant gaze in my eyes like some kind of mannequin while she walked around me and caught all my angles, front and back, close and far. Then she did something I hadn’t expected: she put my robe back on my figure as I stood there and arranged the cloth around my frozen body, then stroked my hair, which of course wasn’t rigid like the rest of me. She wasn’t embarrassed, or anything. I’d been turned into an object, and thinking about her caresses was turning me on! Now you know I don’t swing that way, but I definitely was getting aroused by being touched by her, even though I couldn’t feel a thing when it happened. And what’s more, I wanted her to be a statue, too, so I could touch her motionless figure in the same way.”
“Wow! That’s some interview…” Calli wasn’t the only one who’d been aroused; I shifted in my seat, realizing the room had suddenly gotten really warm.
“Different, for sure. She had me pose a couple more times, sitting with my legs crossed and then reclining on the pedestal, which wasn’t really big enough so my arms and legs stuck out to the sides while my butt was centered. Of course holding those poses took no effort at all on my part once she triggered the freeze. I could have stayed that way forever, but the ever-helpful Ms.Saunders told me the activator wears off after about five days or so and then I’d unfreeze even if the sound pulse was still on. Finally, she said to get dressed again and don’t call them, they’d call me. That was a bit of a letdown, since I thought I’d done well and was kinda getting into being a statue.”
“You do have some interesting experiences…” I said, looking at the clock.
“Am I boring you?”
“No, please, go on.” I was anything but bored, but did avoid eye contact and hoped she hadn’t noticed my flushed face.
“Three days later, another lady, not Ms.Saunders, phoned and let me know I’d been accepted for a position in the gallery and that the initial stipend had already been deposited in my account. Saunders hadn’t said anything about any signing bonus, but it was a hefty sum. They left me instructions to report to an in-town office and sign the contract and release forms, as well as to make arrangements. The next morning, a car came to pick me up and take me to the estate. This time I was given a personalized key and my own dressing room, like a little studio apartment. It was bigger than the one for the assessment and had storage space for my things (they’d told me to bring several changes of clothes) as well as a kind of interlock on the door into the gallery. The reason given was that my employer (could I now call him a patron?) maintained very strict security among the artworks; as long as the red light above the door was on, I could not enter and take my pose. Oh, the pose; they said I could do pretty much anything I wanted, any costume or nothing at all, any position, as long as I remained on my pedestal. For starters, I decided on a pose I’d done during my interview. Time seemed to drag that morning and the red light remained on for hours, or at least fifteen minutes. Yes, I was nervous; I even put the robe on again. At last the light turned green and the lock on the door faintly clicked. I drank down the activator, reminded myself why I’d signed that contract, and opened the door. The gallery room beyond was enormous and dimly lit, save for one brilliantly spotlighted empty pedestal. Mine. The remaining pedestals and oblong blocks of marble were mostly occupied by very still and very beautiful figures, all female as far as I could tell. I had expected nudes, and most were, but a few had posed in costumes or clothing of various sorts, including swimwear. Apparently the models had some discretion here, I reminded myself to read that fine print again and thought about a slinky lace catsuit I sometimes sleep in that might be appropriate for a display.”
“Yes, the one you gave me a few Christmases ago; that was sweet of you and a little naughty. But, you’re interrupting. As I threaded my way through the gallery, one of the statues caught my eye. It was Ms.Saunders, frozen like the rest, dressed in royal blue lingerie and garters, holding up a note in her stiff fingers that said simply, ‘Welcome, Calli’ and it was signed Rachel. I didn’t know if I was supposed to, but I took the note and stuffed it in one of the robe pockets, then reached out and stroked Rachel’s frozen cheek. It was very firm and a little cool; a tingle passed down my spine. That would be me in a few minutes. I found my pedestal easily and dropped the robe behind it. Recalling the instructions, I took my first pose – sort of a classic reclining sprawl – then pressed the recessed button at the edge of the top surface. There was a series of five electronic beeps, like the timer on a camera, and the last beeep was a little drawn out. I wondered what had gone wrong, then I glanced down saw the notecard that had just appeared magically on my own pedestal: ‘you are now a true work of art’ written in what looked like a man’s handwriting. Him: My patron. He’d been here, seen me as a statue, which meant I’d been frozen for at least a week. My robe was gone, but I didn’t need it; none of the other still figures in that room would see me as I walked back to my dressing room. That afternoon, after I’d showered and cleaned up, the limo came to take me back. That was the beginning of my new career as an object of art.”
“That’s incredible!” But, not unlike a typical Callisto Voss adventure. There had to be more..
“But there’s more. Huge sums of money started appearing in my account; it seemed he’d give me a bonus if my pose was really appealing to him, so I started doing different ones and getting a little more risqué. He seemed to like the sitting ones, so I did several of them in kind of a series of striptease poses. At first I was going to the gallery once a month for a few days each time. Then he asked me to stay for a full week, then two. The bonuses kept getting bigger, too. The silly thing is, that I wasn’t really noticing the time passing, even when I wasn’t being a statue; but each of the seasons seemed to go by really quickly. By the way, he really liked seeing me in that catsuit too! After few months of posing, it didn’t make any sense for me to keep my place here in-town, no need for those pick-up jobs either; I moved onto the estate and he provided everything for me. I had my room in the mansion, use of the pool and spa, meals whenever I wanted. And, about the same time, gallery privileges.”
I simply raised my eyebrows.
“Yes, I could go in – when I wasn’t posing of course – and look at the other artworks. Which, from time to time, included Rachel Saunders. Don’t look at me like that; I told you how turned on I got by touching her when she’s a statue. I think she knows, too, and does the same with me when I’m frozen. One time I woke up and I was wearing lipstick and makeup that I hadn’t put on myself. Rachel’s statue had that same lipstick on, along with the hint of a grin. We don’t say anything about it when we see each other while we’re both awake of course. It’s our little secret, a serial flirtation between two sculptures.”
“Sounds like you’ve found yourself a cozy little arrangement.” Weird, but not unusual for her..
“It was, up until last week. Rachel’s gone. She’s not at her phone, and not in the gallery either; I checked.”
“She probably just took some holiday.”
“I would have thought so, normally, but I spoke with her just before she vanished. Rachel told me she thought her boss was getting obsessed with her, and with me too. Now, she’s gone!”
“Did you talk to the cops, file a report?”
“I tried. Turns out I don’t know much about her at all, besides her name, and even that might be a fake. There’s no Rachel Saunders online. Anywhere. Damn those security procedures! So, I’m going to ask him directly, tonight, before my shift begins. But I wanted to talk with you first. Just in case.”
“Don’t go back there, Calli.”
“I have to, for Rachel’s sake. Besides, I think I’m getting hooked on becoming a statue.” Her watch started beeping, five short beeps, and then a longer one. She stood up. “I have to go, there’s a limo waiting.”
“No!” I gasped, but she was already heading for the door.
- - -
That meeting was two weeks ago, and I haven’t seen or heard from Calli since; that’s not that unusual, given our history, but today a thick envelope arrived for me in the mail, addressed in Calli’s handwriting. Inside was a short note: “Stuff you might need!” and some apparently significant miscellaneous junk:
So, what the hell am I supposed to do with all this??
To Be Continued