The amount of light that reaches the camerasensor,
determining how light or dark an imageis…
Dark an image is…
The lights seemed to be what bothered her the most. The flashing of that damn strobe in the studio earlier made Brianna’s head pound like the feeling you get from standing too close to the speakers at a rock concert. Being at the fashion magazine release party was almost the same experience as those booming speakers over the past months. The ticking of stilettos on the tile floors by the wealthy women in her social circles, the bright lights of the camera flashes, and the constant chatter of those who just came to be close to the rich and famous; it was all too much mixed with the throbbing migraine that was putting pressure behind her eyes.
As she glanced around the room of elite regulars, she didn’t even think they noticed her in the way they once did. The life of a fashion model turned photographer wasn’t all glitz and glam as it was in her youth, and the idea that they weren’t raving over her was getting on her last nerve. She was still beautiful. Wasn’t she? What was the point of all the hard work she did over the years if no one noticed? But wasn’t that the way in the life of a celebrity? One day you’re in, the next you’re out.
What they didn't know was they would see her again; she’d make sure of it. One last big hoorah to solidify her as the most well-known supermodel of the ages. Her manager had assured her that the new photography and art show she was planning was going to be the best one yet and this would be how she made her mark on the industry. Despite not being the center of attention as a model anymore, she had become one of the most sought-after fashion and art photographers in the city.
Her new project would show women in their truest form, yet subconsciously, reflecting her own inner turmoil with her failing beauty. The art exhibit would show the deepest of carnal desires unleashed as the look of ecstasy on the face of her muse would shine as she went over the edge. They’d see her then, and the beauty maven would be right back on top.
“Bree, there are some journalists here who want to talk to you about your new gallery show. Come on over and I’ll introduce you,” said the man who gently led her to a group of media guests.
Hearing his shrill voice, her manager didn’t do anything to help the headache. Hell, Ross was probably the reason for it that night. Selfish, coattail riding, jerk was what she recently believed he was, and she didn’t know why she kept him around.
“Yes, I do. He keeps me relevant,” she thought to herself before turning to him with a tick to her jaw. “Stop calling me, Bree. My name is Brianna.”
“Don’t argue with me tonight, princess. Just show off those pearly whites and get in front of the paparazzi’s camera. I don’t know what’s been up with you, but I’m just trying to help you.”
“Just mind your own business and stop pressuring me.”
“Pressuring you? I… geez. You really are ungrateful. I remember now why we broke up. Just do what you’re being paid for and let’s get this over with. These people wanted you here as a celebrity guest. You’re being paid well for just standing around looking pretty, so do it.”
Paid. What a joke. She believed in her mind he’d been skimming off her royalties for years and his only concern was money. He had been booking her for these types of social gigs for months when what she really needed was legit work. She didn’t even know what he was talking about when he referred to them dating. Just another of his delusions of being with a hot supermodel.
“I don’t feel well. Is there any chance I can dodge out early?” she asked as they made their way to the group.
Rolling his eyes, the man lightly pushed her to meet the cameraman and journalist. “Deal with it. You never feel well. All those years of snorting coke are finally catching up to you. I told you that stuff would eat your brain.”
“That was years ago. I’ve not done drugs in six years.”
“Well, sobriety didn’t fix your prima-donna attitude, now did it?”
“Fine, let’s get this over with.”
Before she started to walk away, Ross gently grabbed her arm. The sad look in his eyes said it all, but the pain in her head wasn’t going to let him get close again, “Bree, you know I still love you, right?”
“You love my money.”
Throwing her long brunette locks over her shoulder and putting on her best thousand-watt smile for the cameras, she greeted the awaiting fans as she’d done a million times before. A retired model had its perks in some ways. When you walk the runway with the likes of the top supermodels for fashion designers across the globe, even when you’re not relevant, you’re still relevant. It’s an odd dynamic, that's for sure.
“Seth, so good to see you,” she chirped, throwing a wide smile at the young and brutally handsome reporter, before turning to his cameraman. “Make sure you get my good side, Christopher. I need to look good for that next September issue. The last one you took of me was atrocious. I hit the worst dressed list because of wearing that hideous gown those amateur stylists put me in.”
“Of course, Brianna. It was just bad lighting and worse styling. You always look ravishing, no matter what you wear.”
Suck up. He didn’t mean a word of it. She knew she was a mess that day and every moment since. She had become a ghost of her former self. As she looked around the room, all Brianna could see were those beautiful young women and men in their prime. Once one of them, her obsession with beauty consumed her and so did the blinding jealousy that had settled deep within her hardened shell.
Then there was the girl coming up next to her with a bounce to her step and a glowing personality. Her perky breast and perfect nose made Brianna stand a little straighter as she admired the woman. She clearly hadn’t had work done, and that was rare in her line of work.
What I wouldn’t give for that skin. Enjoy it while it lasts, sweetheart, because one day you’ll be sagging to the floor wondering where your youth went. Just ask the modeling agency that hasn’t given me work in months. I was on the cover of the top fashion magazines and now they want me to do some old lady commercials about aging skin and bladder leaks. Who do they think I am? I’ll tell them who I am. I’m a star. When they see my new gallery show in just a few weeks, they will know that Brianna Durham still has the one thing they crave, immeasurable beauty. And you, my next muse, will keep it alive.
Lucky for her, the manager waved over the new young talent. Brianna’s eyes roamed over her with a snarl while the woman sauntered over, and the cameraman took notice. As much as she cherished the woman’s lovely image, she despised it just the same. Beauty was wasted on the youth.
Little twit. Look at her. She doesn’t even know what she has.
“Oh my gosh, Brianna Durham.” Her hand rested dramatically on her chest with a gasp as she greeted her idol. “I can’t believe I’m meeting my favorite fashion photographer. You were a model once, right? My mom used to love you back in the day.”
If looks could kill, the little brat would have been dead where she stood. Yet, with her best toothy grin, Brianna let it slide. At least the young woman’s mother knew true talent when she saw it.
“How do you look so young? You must work hard to keep yourself up. You’re beautiful.”
Ah - There it is. The compliments she had been searching for all night.
“Oh, bless your heart. Thank you. It takes a lot of work and loads of Botox, darling. So, are you new on the scene?”
“Yes. There is no work in Idaho where I started modeling. I don’t have any family and I moved here a few months ago. I intern for the magazine that’s hosting this party. At least until I can pick up modeling gigs…”
As she listened to the girl rattle on, Brianna couldn’t concentrate on the words. Her head felt like it could explode at any minute. She had to stop her, so she handed the young woman a business card, mid-sentence.
“You say you have no family back home?”
“No, ma’am. No friends here either. I’m sort of a loner.”
“I can relate. You remind me of myself when I first came to New York. We all make sacrifices for this business and leaving home is one of them.” Using her fake smile once again, her eyes studied the woman’s features. She’d be perfect for what she had planned for her next artwork. “I have an opening for a photo shoot for my new gallery show. Meet me at my place tomorrow night at seven o’clock sharp. Come alone, and don't tell anyone. I don’t like people snooping around my home.”
“Really? You want me to model for you?”
“Of course. Don’t be late.” Reaching to touch a strand of the woman’s hair to feel the softness, Brianna gave a light smile. “You’ll be perfect. I hope you like flowers. I like to incorporate it with my art, and your skin tone would look lovely with nice accentuating hues.”
“Yes, Ms. Durham. I can’t wait. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
As her manager stepped next to her, she could feel the smug roll off of him as the girl walked away with a bright smile.
“A new muse, beautiful?”
“She’s young. Pretty. She’s perfect. One more to capture the beauty in a timeless image.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that she reminds you of yourself?”
“Oh, hush. I like her hair.”
“Of course, you do.” He chuckled, noting to himself that they had the same hairstyle. “Maybe I could stop by and see what you have going on for the show. You haven’t shown me anything yet and I’m getting a little worried.”
“How about you mind your own business, Ross? I’m the artist here, not you. Anyway, I’ve had enough of this lame party. I’m leaving.”
As she walked away, she could hear him grumble obscenities under his breath. Typical for him, and she knew him well enough to know what he said without even fully hearing his taunts.
“What was that?”
“Nothing… Brianna,” he said her name with a certain misplaced superiority.
“That’s what I thought.”
Brianna grabbed the television remote, turning up the news report as she edited her last set of images as her laptop rested on her legs. The model she had worked with the night before did well and she was happy with what they created. She had been right about the girl. The beautiful woman was perfect for the project, and her facial expression captured in those last moments would be a hit for her gallery show. Not the absolute ideal muse, but close. With each attempt, it seemed she was getting closer to achieving the ideal image, but she still was looking for that perfect woman to capture pure flawlessness.
“Another model has gone missing as the fourth in six months has virtually vanished from the streets of New York. According to the FBI, the person involved is escalating with the two most recent abductions happening within weeks of each other. With the fashion community on high alert, NYPD has encouraged them to ramp up security at photo shoots and large fashion events…”
Watching the faces of the missing woman flash across the screen while the reporter spat out facts, Brianna felt that pounding headache inching into the back of her skull again. Her eyes closed as the swirls of lights flashed behind her dark lids, but even darkness didn’t help the throbbing pain. Her fingers made their way to her temples, grinding into the flesh while her teeth gnashed together as she screamed out in frustration.
“Damn it,” she cried as her own voice made the pain even more unbearable.
As she was about to grab a bottle of pain meds from the nearby table, her phone vibrated across the glass surface, making the pill bottle almost crash over the edge. Knowing damn well who it was, she wasn’t in the mood to listen to the man’s constant harping on her to get her work done. She was the artist, not him, despite her telling him repeatedly just that. So why did he need to call her several times a day to keep pressuring and reminding her how much of a failure she had been over the past months?
“What do you want, Ross?”
“Are you watching the news, beautiful? These abductions are crazy. Those poor women were all new to the city and had no family or friends. The only way they’ve known they were here was from the modeling agencies who were saying they’re missing. Someone must be targeting them, or maybe a trafficking ring. I think we need to hire some security for you for a few months. You have no family and I worry about you. I know you think I’m an asshole, but I care about you, Bree. I always have.”
“Whatever. Like I said before, you only care about the money I make you. Besides, those girls who are missing are half my age. No one’s looking for an aging fashion model.”
Ignoring her former boyfriend's standard rambling, she went back to down a handful of pain meds with a shot of whiskey straight. At least if she fell asleep quickly, the blinding pain would subside for a while. She could have sworn she had been hearing voices, but knew it was just hallucinations from the amount of liquor she had guzzled down that night.
“How are the images going from last night? I know you’ve been saying you keep getting headaches, and it has you a little behind. I think you need to see a doctor about the migraines to be sure it’s not serious.”
“I’m fine. I’m actually working on the images now and they look good. The girl did great. I think she’s headed back out west, though. She didn’t seem cut out for this life.”
“Well, one less woman for the cops to worry about then. The sweet girl is better off back home in Idaho with these abductions going on. She seemed too naïve.”
Listening to Ross, memories of the night before made her smile. The woman was a vision of pure youthful splendor. No Botox, implants, or jaded industry standards had yet to touch her. She was natural and innocent, the way Brianna once was.
With the years catching up to her, the supermodel couldn’t even look at herself in the mirror anymore. To see those youthful ladies, who reminded her of herself, somehow gave her a sense of satisfaction that she just wanted to hold onto forever. A few years ago, she found that comfort in her art and photography, making her a sought-after artist by the top fashion magazines, celebrities, and designers. At least she had that to reclaim her once thriving lifestyle.
If it wasn’t for her amazing makeup skills, she’d end up looking like one of those women who landed themselves in botched surgeries and black-market injections. Sure, she had some light work done but wasn’t going to be some science fiction freak and destroy herself like that. She’d stay her natural self so long as the special FX makeup did the work.
When she looked at the last image of the woman, whose facial expression showed her in a euphoric state, she knew it was her best work.
“Ross, start working on the gallery event. One more model and I think I’ll be ready?”
“Really? You’ve been working on this for months. What’s changed?”
“Last night was invigorating. I think I’ll find my next muse soon and I believe I’ve caught my stride. It’s time for Brianna Durham to show she still has what it takes. One month and I’ll be ready.”
“Great. I’ll tell the gallery to get it all set up. We’re on our way back to the top, Bree. I just know it.”
Tucked away in the back of her loft apartment, Brianna worked on the next 3D image to go alongside the photo shoots she had completed. After her chat with Ross, she couldn’t get the news reports out of her mind. At least the woman in front of her could bring her thoughts out of the missing women.
“You look amazing. That skin is lovely, and I’d died for those cheekbones,” she said, boosting up her muse. “You’re going to be a hit at the show. I can’t wait to show you off.”
Listening to the only other voice in the room, she smiled to herself. The one in the room who led her to this work, and the reason she found herself seeking a new way to find the perfection she sought.
“Oh yes. She is perfect, isn’t she?” Brianna smiled at her muse. “How do you keep that rosy glow, dear? I’ve never been able to perfect that in my work until now. Now, let’s get you in the pose and I’ll work on getting that look just right to match the other artwork. I was right, the lavender will be just right. There… perfection. Perfection. That’s it! I’ll call this one perpetual perfection.”
It had been a long and productive day, and Brianna hadn’t even suffered any migraines while doing the photoshoot for the designer who booked her for the day. The fact it was an overcast afternoon helped to keep the sun from bothering her while she took photos of each couture look.
Taking a breather while her model changed into the next look, Ross stepped up, rubbing her back. “Are you tired?”
“How many times do I need to tell you I’m fine? I don’t know why you keep fussing over me.”
“Bree, please tell me what’s going on. I know you saw that doctor. It was on your schedule from the assistant I hired for you.”
“That was months ago.”
“Months ago, yeah. But you’re still getting these headaches, and I noticed you’ve been acting odd. Maybe you need to go back and see him.”
“Odd how?” she asked as her head turned to him as if he was treading too far into her personal life.
“I caught you talking to yourself again.”
“So what? People talk to themselves, Ross. It’s no big deal.”
“Maybe, but they normally don’t answer back.”
Shoving him away, she grabbed her camera, checking to make sure the Image SD card still had space to take a few personal images. “I’m going for a walk in the park for a minute. Tell the models to take a lunch break.”
“We have a deadline, Bree.”
“How many fucking times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that?” she yelled, grabbing her head. “I hate the way you say my name. I hate your voice. Why can’t you just stop talking?”
“Bree. We’ve been friends for years. Hell, even lovers. We were engaged, for gosh sakes. I always called you that until recently when you started bitching about it. What’s wrong with you?”
Slinging the camera strap over her shoulder, she had enough as she stomped out, leaving him standing with his mouth gaped like he was catching flies.
“Bree, come back here! We need to talk about this.”
Flipping him the middle finger salute, she went on about her business, ignoring the bossy manager. She needed space, and she needed it now before the angry woman did something to him that she’d regret.
Deep into the woods of Central Park, she finally started to get some much-needed space and a breath of air. Being around all those people back at the photoshoot was smothering. At least the nature walk could give her some peace and quiet.
“There’s not one good model in that bunch,” the voice that followed said in a huff.
“Yeah, I know. They all look like clones. I like variety and they don’t have it. It’s not like when I was in my prime. I gave something different. I think I’m just going to do some nature shots and clear my head.”
“Good idea. We don’t need Ross’s negativity right now. We have more important things to worry about.”
“Like finding the next muse… and I think I just did.”
As Brianna snapped images of a nearby bird, she noticed through her lens a woman sitting on the park bench. Pulling her eye away from the camera, she took a closer look, returning to snap a few images while adjusting the exposure on the camera to fit the lighting where the girl was sitting.
Dark, curly auburn hair, beautiful clear complexion, pert breast, and soft, smooth skin. Not an imperfection on the lady. The woman couldn’t have been a day over twenty-one and was exactly what Brianna had been looking for to complete her project. In fact, she was a glowing reflection of herself. Had she known better, she’d thought the girl could have passed as her younger sister, or at her age, maybe her daughter.
As the photographer stepped closer, the woman quickly noticed she was being watched. Shifting her weight, the tension was written all over her.
“Can I help you?” She glared with irritation as she reached her hand in her purse, obviously to grab some pepper spray in case she needed to.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I was just admiring how lovely you are.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed as she stood to walk away. “Get away from me, weirdo.”
“No, wait. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m a photographer. I was working on a fashion photoshoot down the path.”
As Brianna stepped closer, the woman’s face turned from annoyance to a slow smile. “Oh, you’re Brianna Durham. I didn’t recognize you in jeans and a sweatshirt.”
Looking down at herself, Brianna hadn’t even noticed how frumpy she was dressed that day. Normally so pristine, the past few months she had been slacking on her upkeep. When she was sick almost every day, her looks weren’t high on her priorities, even though her mind was consumed with it.
“Oh, yes. I wasn’t feeling well this morning when I got up, so I just threw on whatever I found in my closet. It’s a little chilly today. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice how much we look alike.”
Nodding, the woman agreed. “Yeah, I get that all the time. My family all thought I should be a fashion model because we look so much alike. But I decided art is more my thing. I moved here from LA, and art is my life. Being the new girl in town, I don’t have any friends here, so I just try to focus on my career.”
Brianna’s ears perked up. “Your career?”
“Yes. I’m trying to get a job at the art gallery that is going to be hosting your new gallery showing.”
“Oh, that's wonderful. You enjoy art. Listen; I am working on the last project for that show. I need a model and you would be a wonderful addition. Would you be interested?”
“I don’t know. I’m not that good of a model.”
“Nonsense. I could teach you. You’re beautiful, and despite looking like my younger doppelgänger, I think you’d be perfect for this last image I’m creating.”
“You think so?”
“I know you’d be the perfect muse. Here’s my card. I have free time this week. Maybe we can have coffee and talk about it.”
“Well, no further talking is necessary. You’re an icon and I’ve never been anyone’s muse before. I’d love to.”
“Great…” Feeling the phone go off in her pocket, Brianna checked who was calling. “I’m sorry I have to take this. I’ll be right back.”
Stepping away, Brianna’s hands were shaking. It was her doctor. Little did Ross know; she had already talked to the doctor. Her migraines were getting to be a daily occurrence and there seemed to be no relief.
“Doctor Lee, I’m glad you called. Do you have my test results back?”
Hearing the sigh over the phone, she knew the news was bad before he even said, “Brianna, I think you need to come in so we can talk.”
“No. Just tell me over the phone. I don’t have time to come in.”
“All right. Bree… I’m sorry…”
“So, the tumor is growing again.”
“Yes. As we said before, it’s inoperable. The radiation didn’t work, and at this point, I think you need to put your affairs in order.”
“So, that’s it then. I’m dying,” she said, rubbing her head and feeling her wig shift.
“I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could do.”
“Thank you, doctor.” Looking over at the woman, who was looking at her with concern from seeing the tears rolling down her cheeks, she took a deep breath. “I think I know exactly what to do.”
Hanging up, Brianna just stared at the phone in her hand. Shock didn’t even describe what she was feeling. There was no hope left now. But there was a mark she could put on the world that would last forever.
“Ms. Durham. Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine. I just…”
But she wasn’t fine. When Brianna collapsed into the woman’s arms, she was a wreck.
“I just want to go home,” she cried.
Looking around finding no one was there to help, the woman agreed that was best. “Can you call someone? Or I can take you. My car’s not far from here.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Not at all, and maybe we can talk about that photoshoot.”
After Brianna calmed down, she convinced the woman to stay at her loft and do the photoshoot. Things were going well, and the new muse was like looking at a mirror image of the aging model's former self. The only thing missing was emotion. The one thing in this project that Brianna strived to achieve and knew only one way to get what she wanted from her muse. If they wouldn’t evoke emotion, she’d make it happen.
There was a clear difference between her and the models she chose. Even the ones who she worked with in her daily business. They didn’t have the passion that brought forth a story. That’s what she wanted and was only portrayed when she pushed them to their limits. Her art needed to show the height of raw passion. The mix of fear, excitement, longing, and pure primal reaction would be like an exotic dance of the mind of the viewer.
When she felt her model for the evening was comfortable enough to trust her, it was then she would bring out the height of their abilities. She’d show them true talent, and what made her the supermodel she once was. Now was the time. It would be her greatest work yet. The image within herself, frozen in time through a woman who was like looking in a timeless mirror.
“Great work, Lexi. Let me go get the SD card changed out and we can move on to that last part of the shoot. You’ll need to be nude, but I promise it will be tasteful, just as we discussed.”
“Yes, Ms. Durham. I’ll just freshen up.”
“The dressing room is down the hall. Make yourself at home.”
As Lexi excused herself, Brianna went to work to get everything set up. A platform pulled to the center of the room, created for just this shot would put her model right where she needed her for that last image.
While the model-turned-photographer went to set up her camera, Lexi made her way down the hall after changing into a robe. Down the dark corridor, a door swayed with a creek, making the model assume Brianna had gone that way.
“Ms. Durham. Are you there?”
The hallway, dark from the photoshoot that was taking place, it was almost unnerving how eerie it all suddenly became. It didn’t help that Brianna had changed the upbeat dance music they were listening to, to a somber erotic-sounding concerto.
Following down the hall, she poked her head into the room she assumed the photographer had gone.
When she entered, the space suddenly lit up, making the woman jump back a little. Clutching her chest, she worked to catch her breath from the spook that had overcome her.
Slowly, she entered the room of Brianna’s private gallery where all her art was being held. Around her, images in frames among her artworks.
“I see you stumbled upon my work. I call it Beautiful Exposure. The perfect image taken when the camera angle, lighting, and model are just right. The framed art is something special I’ve been creating.”
Stepping to the art pieces on the wall, Lexi was in awe as her fingers roamed over the canvas. “Wax?”
“Yes, with a layer of epoxy to preserve it.”
Scattered around the room were five frames, each holding a woman’s three-dimensional image, placed in a wax that looked as if they were lying in a milk bath with flowers placed about.
“They all look so real. Are those the women you photographed? This is beautiful.”
Praise. That was the one thing that Briana longed for. Seeing the woman’s adoration for her art was almost euphoric. She knew this woman was perfect for this, and she was. None of the others appreciated her art, but this one did.
“Do you think it will do well at the gallery?” Brianna asked with pride.
“Are you kidding? They’re going to love it. They’re all so lifelike. How did you do it?”
“A secret. I’ve been working to develop this technique for over six months. It took some time to find the right models for my work to get it just right.”
Turning to Brianna, Lexi tilted her head, noticing something strange about them all. “They all look like you.”
“I suppose,” Brianna said nonchalantly as she looked them over. “Hum. I never noticed before, but I guess you’re right. They do.”
“It’s a reflection of you. I think you should add that to the gallery information. People would like to know that.”
“I never meant for it to be. It just… happened.”
With a soft smile, Lexi reached to touch the aging model’s hand. “It’s nice. I’m honored to be your next muse.”
“Well, by all means, let’s get started.”
“What’s this?” Lexi asked, watching Brianna pull in a platform for her last shots. “What are the wires for?”
“Oh, that’s nothing. It’s…” she stammered. “Just a light-up platform that will help illuminate you more.”
“Oh, that’s cool. I’ve never seen one like it.”
“I designed it myself, just for this project. Why don’t you climb up and get comfortable so we can get started? It’s time for your big finale.”
“I can’t wait.”
Camera snapping, strobes flashing, and sounds of erotic moans mixed with classical music fill the room. It was all in seamless syncopation as Brianna’s body swayed with her camera taking images as her model moved with the music. Both women caught up in the art that they were creating was like a dance. Lexi’s nude body under the bright lights let off a glow against her porcelain skin, almost angelic in nature.
“That’s it. Let the love-making sounds from the music track fill your mind as if you were there. Imagine being seduced by your lover as they cherish every inch… good… good. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Lexi’s hands roamed her soft skin as if she herself was making love, just as the photographer envisioned. As her eyes closed, and her head fell back, it was pure and sensual. Capturing every intimate expression, Brianna readied herself for the moment that the final shot would take the woman over the edge.
“That’s it. Close your eyes… feel the music. Feel your body. Show the camera your beauty in its rawest form.”
“I feel like I’m floating,” Lexi said as her hands swayed like a dance.
When her head tilted into the perfect position showing the best lighting angles, Brianna set her camera on the tripod, careful to not disturb the woman.
“That’s it, keep going,” she instructed as she set the camera to auto, letting it capture the images freely. “We have one more shot. I want you to really go for it.”
“One last shot?”
“The very last and most important. The one that will hold your beauty in the timeless image forever. You’ll never age, never grow old and lose your precious youth. You will never be more lovely than you are at this moment. Now, and forever.”
With that, a cold chill ran up the nude model’s spine, startled from her thoughts. When she reached to feel her back, she realized it was wet and the worst feeling came over her as she remembered she was surrounded by electricity. When her eyes fell on the platform that she was standing on, Lexi went to complete panic as more coolness dripped over her body. She hadn’t noticed at first, but it was almost as if it was raining over her.
“Brianna, something is leaking. I’m getting wet.”
“Don’t worry, darling. It’s part of the show. Just relax.”
As a cold drip from above dropped on her cheek, the model looked up, finding a bucket that suddenly poured down over her. She screamed out in shock from the sudden cool water blast. Just before she attempted to jump from the platform, she looked back at the photographer, who had been holding a camera trigger with the most horrifying look of darkness in her once kind eyes.
“One last shot, Lexi. Say cheese.”
The screams were deafening as Lexi’s body shuddered under the strobe light. Like lightening, the waves of electricity shot over her body, jolting the woman, and making her body jerk and clench. Waiting for just the right time, Brianna waited for the life to drain from her model’s body before she flicked the switch to turn it off.
For a moment, Lexi’s body almost seemed to be held up on its own as the camera continued to flash. When her body relaxed and dropped to the floor, Brianna knew she had gotten the perfect shot before making sure it was safe to move the lifeless woman to her artist's workspace.
Standing over her muse, the older woman just looked at the younger one in awe, leaning down to touch her face. She hummed along with the music, happy with her creation and what it would soon become.
“Beautiful, even in your last moments. My finest work yet. Now, let’s really get you ready for the show. Our audience awaits.”
Placed into the best pose, the model looked as if she was nothing more than relaxing in a warm milk bath of white wax, with a thin layer smoothed over her skin to create a smooth seal. Onlookers would think nothing more than a wax figure in an art museum.
With careful precision, Brianna scattered flowers around her body, as the smell of red wisteria blossoms filled the room before she would complete the artwork within the heavy canvased frame. Taking the epoxy in hand, she hummed the eerie tune that was playing on the radio as a thick layer smoothed over her muse, entrapping her in elegant artwork. She always had a love for classical music, but this particular song felt like it spoke to her, just like the voices in her head.
“Oh, my beauty. Look at you. I knew you were perfect. The final addition to my masterpiece. Together, you and I will forever be remembered in that one point in time where age hasn’t touched us, and elegance and youth become one.”
As she went to pour the layers of clear epoxy, she was careful to make sure not to disturb even so much as a flower peddle or a hair on the lovely woman’s head. Everything needed to stay just as it was. Those years working in a funeral home, doing makeup for her uncle’s business, while waiting for her big break, paid off. Preserving the body before she sealed it in its forever artful tomb, she kissed the woman’s cheek before laying the final layer over her lush form.
Just as she was ready to pour the last jar, a knock came on the loft apartment, and a door squeaked. Quickly, she shut the curtain by her workspace, slammed the workroom door, and rushed to the front where her photo studio was already cleaned and shut down.
“Ross? What are you doing here?”
“I came to check on you,” he said, stepping closer, checking her eyes when his hands grazed her soft cheeks. “Are you all right, Bree? I’ve been calling for hours. I heard you left the photoshoot early and I was worried sick.”
Pushing his hands away, she went to check to be sure her camera card wasn’t in the camera, knowing Ross would go snooping around. He’d been trying to get a glimpse of her art for weeks.
“Bree, we need to talk. I’m worried, sweetie. You know I care about you. You’ve been making me out to be this tyrant and… my God woman. Can’t you see I love you?”
Slowly turning back to him, a faint memory swept through her mind. Months before she found out about the brain tumor, they were happy.
“You know I do, but you keep pushing me away. I know you said you don’t want a relationship anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want what’s best for you.”
Closing her eyes, she thought back to the night Ross proposed to her. The last time she remembered being truly happy was before the headaches started and the voices filled her poisoned mind.
Stepping closer, Ross moved her hair, grazing his lips along her jawline. “I miss you, Bree.”
“I miss you too, but I can’t do this.”
“Why? Am I not good enough for you now that you have this big gallery show? All you have ever done is care about yourself, and I’ll I’ve ever wanted to do was to make you happy. Now you don’t even let me do that, either. What have I done that isn’t good enough for you to want me? We were so good together once.”
Letting his soft fingers linger over her shoulder, she leaned in, allowing that brief moment to not feel the pain that had consumed her.
“Let me care for you, Bree. Let me back in.”
“No, he’s selfish. He wants to see you fail,” said the voices in her head.
“No. He loves me,” she said aloud.
“He wants to end you, Brianna. He wants this project to end so he can control you. He doesn’t want what we want.”
“No, stop!” she said, grabbing her head and crying in pain.
Watching as the woman he once loved so dearly wreath in pain, Ross took her into his arms, leading her to the bedroom. “Come on, let’s get you some rest.”
“Please. Don’t leave me. Not tonight. I just need one night where I don’t feel alone.”
“Of course, beautiful. I’ll stay as long as you want. Don’t worry, I’m right here with you. Always.”
“Not always, but for now.”
Sitting in front of the makeup mirror, Brianna smoothed the last bit of powder over her jawline with a hum. She was at peace with what she would do tonight as each sweep of the brush was like reinventing herself as she did every day. Reversing the lines of aging that had creased her skin over time, this would be how she wanted to be remembered if everything went as planned.
Lightly brushing the soft bristles over her skin, she looked up at the man standing behind her with love and adoration of the night he gave her just a week before. She hadn’t let him back in emotionally, but that night he made her feel alive again as they made love for the last time.
“You look lovely tonight. More beautiful than the night we met.”
“Ross, I want you to know, I always loved you. I never meant to hurt you.”
“I know, beautiful. I just wish you would give me a chance. I can’t help you with whatever is going on if you don’t talk to me.”
“Never mind that. I have an event to attend and you’re going to be the one who will be by my side. Have the frames been taken to the gallery?”
“Yes. Art and photos. I can’t believe you wouldn’t let me see them before they hung the frames.”
Turning on her heels to face him, her fingers lightly brushed over his chiseled jawline as she looked lovingly into his eyes. “Oh, darling. It wouldn’t be a surprise if I gave away all my secrets.”
“Secrets. It seems you carry a lot of those lately,” he grumbled as he spun her to zip her long black evening gown. “We need to get going. We’re already—”
“Fashionably late.” She giggled. “Just like you taught me. Is the runway set up with my custom platform?”
“Ready and set up, just like you said. What does it do anyway? Is my girl going to do some magic trick?” he asked, nuzzling her neck with a chuckle.
“I told you it’s part of the live art performance. Stop trying to sweet talk me into giving away the secrets,” she said with a playful smile.
As she exited the room to pass him, her smile dropped like a brick as her expression went stone cold when she sauntered out. This was her night, and she wasn’t going to allow his affections to stop her from what must be done. One last chance to show them who she was and how she wanted to be remembered.
The biggest names in art and fashion were there, and the pristine white tiled gallery was the perfect setting for Brianna’s morbid display of the reflection of the world she lived in. Maybe it was fashion, media, and the ideal worldview of beauty that created this. She was a product of her surroundings, and tonight would be the height of the result of the actions of being put out to pasture by virtually everyone in the industry.
The night had gone off without a hitch, despite a few questions as to why her models weren’t in attendance. Thanks to her quick wit, she had convinced everyone that the models she used were just average women who were not part of the glamorous life the guests were accustomed to. A live model walking around would ruin the vision of her work.
The clanking of the champagne glasses and chatter from the crowd that night wasn’t like the nights the voices were their loudest. No. Tonight they were silent. She was at the forefront and everything that she had done led up to this moment.
Stepping beside her, Ross’s hand glided down her back, giving her some comfort for what she was preparing herself for.
“Are you ready for the live performance?”
“Yes. I’m going to head backstage and get ready. Make the announcement. And Ross,” she said stepping closer, her lips lingering on his. “I’m sorry.”
As her lips met him, he couldn’t help but feel like something was wrong. When a salty tear traced over his lips, he looked down at Bree who gave him a soft smile.
“I love you, Bree.”
“I love you, too. Let’s get this show started. Tonight, I will make history.”
As Brianna made her way backstage, she hesitated. One moment to watch her love before she made her final curtain call.
“Go. Do it now. Show them the real Brianna Durham. Show them you’re a star,” the voice told her.
With that, she nodded to herself with her head held high.
Quickly, she removed her dress as the sound of her own voice of her once lover came over the speakers. This was her time, and she was ready to show her true self as her dress fell to the floor and pooled at her feet.
She wouldn’t allow her illness to take her life, leaving her a frail and weathered woman. She wouldn’t let the cancer dictate her beauty. Tonight, they would watch her age reverse before their eyes in a display of her creation.
Just behind the curtain, she took the pail of water and poured the cool liquid over her body just as Ross announced her.
“… And now, our own Brianna will take the stage. For over two decades, the woman of beauty and grace has shown us what being a supermodel really is. Tonight, she will share her unique art form, live on stage. And now we welcome the one and only, Brianna Durham.”
Waiting for Ross to leave the runway, Brianna took the trigger in hand that would light up the stage when timed just right.
This was it… showtime.
As she stepped out on the runway for the last time, the crowd gasped in awe at her in her truest form. Nude before them, she was lovely, stripped down from the glamor. One last thing to show who she was and what they had made her to be.
Taking a warm rag, Brianna stood proudly as she washed away the makeup and tears trailed down her cheeks. Even in her aging image, she was stunning. Her porcelain skin almost glowed under the stage lights as she took one last strut down the runway. Cameras flashed, and the crowd clapped in respect for her boldness.
As she reached the platform, she gave one last pose, letting the paparazzi get in their final shots. Just as the flash of their cameras slowed, she raised her head with pride.
Then he saw it. Ross’s eyes fixed on what she was holding in her hand. A camera trigger. As his eyes veered to the platform, he knew it wasn’t just a prop.
Unable to speak, it felt like the room was spinning as he glanced around to see if anyone else noticed. But they didn’t. They were too enthralled with her beauty. Across the room, he saw the framed three-dimensional images of the woman encased in wax and the memories of the news reports.
When he looked back at Brianna, she gave him a soft smile before she pushed the button that sent electricity through her body.
“Bree, no!” he screamed as the surrounding guests’ voices started to do the same.
Every person in attendance was in shock as her body convulsed from the volts that sucked away life from the once thriving woman. It seemed like forever as her body almost seemed to levitate, and as her big finale, her body collapsed within a frame-shaped around the platform, followed by a flow of wax and flower peddles from above that encased her beauty in perpetual time. The lights in the place flashed on and off before the electricity stopped, leaving her encased in melted, milky wax.
Ross stood frozen to the floor as people rushed around, trying to get away from the horror before them. His breathing was restricted, unable to fathom what he had just seen. Without caution, he knelt beside her, risking one final kiss to her rosy lips.
Beside him, a woman stood in wonder, not seeming in the least bit affected by the display. Brianna’s agent for over twenty years and the woman who introduced them saw it for what it was. Art.
The two looked at Brianna’s image, noticing the wax had made her skin like smooth silk with not an imperfection on her lovely face.
“She looks like she did when I hired her with our agency twenty years ago,” the woman said as her hand went to her mouth in sudden sadness while her eyes scanned the gallery walls. Tears threatened to break free as she realized what had happened. “Ross. The missing women…”
“I know.” Ross nodded.
About The Author
Loretta Kendall is a full-time traditional and self-published romance author,who has a passion for creating stories with the perfect mix of steamy and slow-burn moments. A retired talent agent she also spends her time as a photographer, book cover designer, and editor-in-chief of Lux Local Magazine.
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