A feeling of defeat and general malaise flooded over me as I stared at the results on the computer screen.
There were no good jobs available and the ones that were required a specialized degree of some kind. I’d always wanted to be a Graphic Designer, but I had to have two years experience as well as a diploma from a reputable Art School; neither of which I had.
I typed the word Arts into the site’s search engine.
There were only four results for my area.
An English/Literary Arts Teacher for an Elementary school; no Education Degree.
Senior Marketing and Administrations Manager; wouldn’t even know what I’d need for that
Copy Writer for an Entertainment company; no degree and no experience.
And finally Director of Internal Audits with a large Public Insurance Company; no way.
I wasn’t even sure how that would apply to the Arts.
I don’t know exactly why, but I went back to the job search website and entered Model into the search engine.
It’s not like I’m conceited or anything, but I don’t think I’m entirely unattractive. However, my ex-boyfriend told me I wasn’t pretty enough to be a model. He said my blonde hair was too stringy, and that my hips were too wide and my breasts weren’t large enough.
Fucking asshole . . .
Thinking of Nathan’s comments made me want to do it even more.
I could do it.
I scrolled down the list of options. Some of them seemed rather sketchy but . . . thinking of starting up at another shitty, shift-work, Monday to Sunday job . . .
No, I won’t.
I felt a bright flush rush over me as I clicked on the link.
Blonde Athletic Female Model Needed For Downtown Photo Shoot (18-24)
It seemed legit. There was a website associated with it. It didn’t look terrible; but it wasn’t amazing. And I guess anyone can really start up a website, so that didn’t mean anything.
This is stupid.
I pushed myself away from the computer and my wheeled chair coasted away as I tried to decide what I should do.
* * *
I clutched my bag tightly.
I had my ID, some makeup for touch-ups, and a few extra bucks, but not much else. I had my cell phone, but it was essentially useless cause I hadn’t been able to afford more minutes for weeks.
Walking down to the studios address I felt the silliness of the situation cascade over me.
I’m not a model, I shook my head, what am I doing?
I stopped walking.
No, I stood upright and jutted my small chest out slightly, you’re beautiful and intelligent and . . . you’re beautiful.
I realized that people we staring at me.
I resumed walking.
The posting said that I needed to be at the studio at 8:30pm. I didn’t know why they wanted me there so late. Maybe that was the only time they could fit me in. Maybe . . .
I was starting to feel really apprehensive about this whole situation.
Maybe I should just go home.
A gorgeous blonde woman in a tight fitting pantsuit stepped out of the building to my left and moved gracefully down the front steps and passed me, without so much as a glance.
Was she my competition? I wondered, scanning the building for the number. How could I compete with that?
The green monster welled up inside me. I saw the woman’s dark, voluptuous lips pouting exaggeratedly as she strutted past. I was captivated by the way she peacocked her hips from side to side, her firm breasts gently swaying to and fro hypnotically.
I realized that I’d forgotten what I was doing. I looked down at the notepad in my hand and saw the numbers. Yes, I was looking for the building number, wasn’t I?
435 St. Josephs Street.
The building’s faded, tan-coloured bricks sported an aged mural of an early 1900s business. I could make out something that said:
LECTR SUP LI
– lim ed-
Is this is the place? I swallowed hard. If she came out of here, at least I know it’s gotta be somewhat legit.
I entered the building and the cracked plaster walls screamed out to me with an urgency I could feel in my teeth. There was something extremely wrong about this.
“Are you here for the photo shoot?”
I turned to see a woman about my height, and a similar build, smiling at me.
“I’m Jenny,” She said, still grinning in an almost comedic fashion.
She seemed nice enough, but . . .
I introduced myself and shook her hand.
“We’re all down here,” Jenny gripped my arm with a surprisingly tight grip and led me down the hall, past an area where the drywall was completely knocked out revealing the skeletal framework of the aging building.
“We’re doing repairs,” Jenny said, before I could comment. “We just purchased a portion of the first floor here, and we’re trying to fix it up.”
She was beaming from one ear to the other.
No one could ever genuinely be that happy.
“It’s just through here,” Jenny pushed a heavy, metal door open and ushered me into the room.
It was an enormous room. The floor was dirty with matted colonies of dust bunnies rolling about the rotted, graying, hardwood floors. There was a group of extremely attractive women standing in a tight group at the far end of the room, staring me down.
“Don’t mind them,” Jenny said. “They’re just sitting in.”
They’re all apprentice photographers? That didn’t make any sense.
“This is Henry,” Jenny said, pointing to a heavy set, balding man in his 40s. His shirt was a little too tight for his body, but I couldn’t imagine that they made shirts much bigger than that anyway.
“You’re the photographer?” I shot my hand out to shake his, but he just stared at it and grunted dismissively.
“No, uh, he’s your partner.”
“My what?” I realized I said it quite loudly and may it may have sounded rude so I brought myself back a bit. But it was just the way she said partner . . . it sounded really sexual. I definitely wasn’t down for any backroom casting couch shit.
“No no,” Jenny laughed, “not like that.”
She led me to the stage at the far end of the room. There were three chunky objects on stage, hidden underneath dusty red velvet. Jenny jumped up on stage and pulled off the nearest velvet cloth to reveal a kind of chair. It almost looked like an electric chair, complete with the metal helmet attached to the back of the chair.
“Um,” I swallowed again, “what’s that?”
“Props,” She said, “merely props.”
I wondered if booking it was still a possibility.
“We just need you up here-“
“You want me to sit in that?” I took a step back.
“Henry has one too,” Jenny said. “It’s just for the photo shoot.”
“But what do you want me to-“
“Just sit here,” She said. “That’s all. Just sit.”
Cautiously, I neared the object that looked to be an electric chair.
Henry was already uncovering his matching chair.
“So is this for a magazine or-“
Jenny interrupted me, “How are things over there, Henry?”
He just grunted again.
“He’s not a big talker is he?” I whispered to Jenny, hoping to dull the tension.
She just smiled her goofy grin.
Jenny pulled the straps around my wrist, tightly; extremely tightly.
“Does it need to be this tight?”
“We don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
My eyes grew wide, “Um, actually I’m not really comfortable with this. Can we uh, can I come back some other time? I just realized that I double booked myself and-“
She hit me across the head and I felt the bright pain rip through my temple and rush down my spine and trickle out my fingertips. My whole world went blurry for a few moments. I didn’t even yell out. I was too surprised by the fact that sweet, innocent looking Jenny had punched me in the head.
Before I could regain my wits, Jenny was stuffing a piece of dusty red cloth into my mouth. It tasted the way a Museum smells; it made me want to vomit. I heard the unmistakable sound of duct tape ripping away from its roll. I tried to fight as she began taping my head back against the headrest, but she struck me again.
Henry grunted something that may have been a chuckle.
Jenny made sure that my legs, arms and small chest were secured to the chair, and the metal hat dangling from the top of the chair was fastened to my head before removing the cloth off the third object. I couldn’t turn my head enough to see what it was, but I could hear a series of mechanical pops and clicks and the whirr of an engine starting up.
I was trying to shout but the dirty red rag in my mouth made sure I wasn’t heard.
Henry continued to grunt his sick laugh.
The group of attractive women moved in closer. They were all smiling.
I was beginning to feel woozy.
Was it the cloth in my mouth?
Was it the fact that Jenny had punched me in the head?
Was it the fear that I-
The machine behind me got louder and I was finding it difficult to think. There was a feeling at the back of my head, something like feeling of a drain in a hot tub. The one that sucks the water out and if you put your foot too close it-
What the fuck! I am suddenly aware of the randomness of my thoughts. I am duct taped to a chair against my will in some fucking, condemned building with a psycho woman, a group of weird model sluts and a fat man who looks like a pedophile. I don’t have my cell phone, and it wouldn’t do any good if I had it anyway.
The feeling of suction continues. It feels as though my thoughts are being ripped out of my head. The pain is crawling mercilessly throughout my whole body. I try to scream behind the disgusting, red velvet cloth but I can’t hear anything over the throbbing hum of the machine behind my chair.
I close my eyes and hope that whatever they’re doing will end soon.
Abruptly, it does.
“There,” Jenny says, sweetly. I can hear the distinctive tearing sound as she rips the tape off. “How do you feel?”
The voice is immediately familiar.
It’s my voice.
I open my eyes and I vomit all over my, no, his lap. I, or rather, he collapses off the chair and onto the dirty stage.
“What the fuck is going on?” I hear the voice that’s coming out of me and it sounds . . . no, it’s not me. It’s him.
Somehow, I’m him.
I peer down at my stubby fingers, and the belly protruding from the extra extra large shirt. I scream and everyone in the room laughs. They all move in to surround me . . . er . . . him.
“What the fuck is going on?” The sound of his dark, raspy voice frightens me.
“Thank you very much, Miss.” My voice says to me.
I look up and see my own eyes staring down at me. My own head, my own hair, my . . . he has everything.
“What the fuck is going on?” I’m sobbing madly. I don’t have enough energy to even sit myself up.
“Henry, oh sorry,” Jenny catches herself, “what should we call you now?”
I hear my voice answer, “I like Jessica.”
Hearing the man say my name in my own voice causes me to vomit again.
There is an unmistakable click as my body cocks the gun and aims it at his head.