Stefanie knew that stripping down to her underwear was not the brightest thing to do in a secluded wood, in the dead of night, but, hey, she did what she needed to do for art. She stepped up to the rock where she had trained two lights and her tripod-held camera set on time-delay. In between each click, telling her that the camera had taken a picture, she struck and held a pose with a katana a friend who was into swords and knives had leant her. Her poses were those of a warrior. In one, she was of a victorious sword-maiden, her weapon held confidently at her side. In another, she was holding her sword up high as if ready to make a strike a final, victorious blow. In another, she was crouched down on her hands and knees as if stalking prey. In another, she was standing with a haughty gaze, holding her katana, as if a warrior princess expecting tribute.
To see Stefanie pose, one might mistake her for an anime heroine from some fantasy Manga series. Her body was petite, with a slender waist, that most women would kill to have and men would do anything to hold. Her thin limbs were long but athletic and she moved them with grace as she switched from one pose to the next. Her face was lovely, topped with copper-colored hair and ornamented with dark green eyes that twinkled with smartness and sensibility and laughing vivacity.
Stefanie was so consumed with her work that she did not notice the man who had stepped out of the darkness. He was a small, olive skinned man with thick curly hair and a goatee. He wore a tight v-necked shirt and threadbare jeans. On his wrist was a thick, golden bracelet studded with colored gems. As the young woman posed for her camera, the man watched her intently as if a critic examining the merit of her work. Only when he clapped in appreciation did Stefanie realize, to her complete surprise, that she was not alone. She jumped and nearly fell off the rock but quickly regained her balance. She held her sword hilt tightly in one hand and another with the scabbard. If the man was dangerous, she meant to use the weapon to defend herself even if she did not completely know how to fight with one.
"Excellent, excellent work. Your poses were deeevine," The man said in a strange accent.
"Thanks." Stefanie replied gruffly. "And you are?"
"I am Alessandro." The man said with glee. "Alesandro too is arteest. Alesandro ees seeking a model for a commission in town square. Alesandro has found her. Eet es you. You shall be Alesandro's muse."
Stefanie was skeptical. What kind of artist hangs around a forest in the dead of night? Then she checked herself—she was an artist that would do that sort of thing. She stood up and walked over to her clothes, keeping the sword next to her while she put them on just incase the strange man tried anything.
"What did you have in mind?" She asked him as she jammed her legs into her pant legs one by one.
"Alesandro needs model for statue. You would make perfect model for Alesandro. Like one of the poses you made just now. Excellent. Alesandro like. Alesandro like very much.
Stefanie quickly put on her shirt. "What do you want me to do? Meet you at your studio?" She said accusingly to let him know she suspected he had ulterior motives.
Alesandro shook his head. "No. Meet Alesandro in town square. Three o'clock in the morning. You model for Alesandro then and there." He walked up to Stefanie, who tensed, ready to split him in half with her sword if he tried to attack her. He handed her a business card and bowed after she took it. "Tomorrow at three am." He reminded her. "Bring the sword." Then he stepped jauntily into the dark wood and disappeared.
Stefanie read the card aloud. "Alesandro. Life should be art. Art should be life." She hmphed, gathered her equipment and went home.
The next day, Stefanie decided to forget the strange man and his offer but out of curiosity she Googled his name to find out if he was legitimate. To her surprise, he was indeed a real artist and a fairly famous one. She found pictures of his work—mostly incredibly realistic nude statues—positive reviews of his work and lists of his exhibitions.
"Well, that changes things." Stefanie thought to herself. She had just been asked to model by a famous artist. How could she pass that up?
Stefanie had become so excited by her modeling job that she found the hours passed interminably for it to take place. It was as if 3:00 am would never come. Finally, the time she set to leave for her date with Alesandro arrivd and she made her way through the eerily quiet town streets for the square and her appointment, swinging her borrowed samurai sword with enthusiasm as she thought about the art she would help to create.
The square was deserted, almost anyway. The strange man she had met before was sitting against to large two-tiered pools of water. Both tiers had concentric rings of nozzles for jets of fountain water. In the middle of the top tier was a raised pedestal big enough for a person, or a statute of person to stand.
Alesandro greeted Stefanie enthusiastically. "Greetings. Greetings, Alesandro's muse. We shall do beautiful work together! Yes?"
"Yes." Stefanie replied giddily. "What do you need me to do."
"Please." Aleasandro told her. "Stand on the pedestal in fountain."
Stefanie looked at the pedestal, which stood in the center of the placid water in the tiered pools. "Um, did you really need to fill the fountain with water?" She asked.
Alesandro looked confused. "Yes. Ees fountain. Fountains have water, no?"
"Did you bring a camera? Or some things to sketch with?" She asked him.
Alesandro looked more confused. "Alesandro ees sculptor. Alesandro does not photograph. Alesandro does not paint."
Stefanie stared at the artist a minute confused but figured he would just make her pose on the pedestal and then work from memory.
Deciding that Alesanrdo had already seen enough of her the night before, she shed her modesty as well as her shoes and pants. Grasping her katana tightly, she waded through pools and climbed up the tiers. Finally, she pulled herself up the pedestal and stood on top of it.
"Ok?" She said in an exasperated voice. This was a lot of work for just a pose, she thought to herself acidly.
"Ees good!." Alesandro said with a appreciative nod. He raised a hand and fiddled with his jeweled bracelet.
Stefanie looked down to see the surface of the pedestal glow.
"What the heck." She blurted. "Oh no. You're not into performance art are you?"
Alesandro did not reply but continued to his bracelet with his fingers while he fixed a stare upon her.
"Ok. This is getting a weird." Stefanie said while she stood on the pedestal waiting some more direction. It was summer but the nights were chilly and she was wet and half naked. As the strange man took his time to do whatever he was going to do, she started to grow more annoyed and finally decided she had had enough.
"Ok, I am so out of here!" Stefanie declared and tried to jump off the pedestal back into the fountain only to find she could not move her legs.
"What the hell?" She gasped as she tried to bend down to see if anything had happened to her limbs. She managed only a slight incline but could not move any further.
"Hey!" She cried to Alesdandro. "Something is wrong. I can't move." She tried to raise her arms but they defied her command and hung limply by her side, one hand still holding the katana.
Stefanie noticed a satisfied look on the man's face and realized the source of her trouble. "You did this!" She accused. "You..." Her voice stopped abruptly. Her lips no longer moved at her command. She couldn't even get her tongue to budge. Stefanie stood completely still on the pedestal. Her own body was now completely beyond her control.
Dumb in speech and dumbfounded about what had happened to her, Stefanie could only watch as the man pressed jewels on his bracelet and could only listen as he issued her a command. "Disrobe!"
Instantly, Stefanie obeyed his order, stripping herself off her remaining clothes and tossing them over the fountain onto the square. She was totally naked when she realized how quickly and compliantly he had obeyed his suggestion. How did he get this power of her, she wondered. Now she was getting scared. Could he make her do anything?
"Show Alesandro your poses from yesterday."
Stefanie knew her poses well from her photo shoot in the wood last night. She had planned the shots meticulously and could have copied all of them for anyone who asked. In this situation, she strained to restrain herself from showing them but her mind and body obeyed the artist's desire and she struck the poses for him, holding each for several seconds so that he could get a look. One moment she was holding her sword up high as if ready to make a strike. In another she was crouched down on her hands and knees as if stalking prey. In another she was standing with a haughty gaze, holding her katana, as if a warrior princess expecting tribute. Stefanie never felt as vulnerable as she did now. It was as if he had his own personal remote control for her mind and body.
Alesandro finally stopped her exhibition when she took a pose with one arm down straight down by her side holding her scabbard while the other was slowly drawing out the katana blade. She was standing erect with her legs set apart. She looked like a warrior princess preparing for a fight against a hostile army. It was a pose for a picture she called "The girl and the darkness." "Stop!" He commanded and she instantly obeyed, remaining fixed in that position.
"What's he going to do now?" She thought to herself. "Make me stay like this all day long? Everyone will see me like this! How embarrassing!" The thought of being frozen and nude in the town square made her frantic, though there was one small part of her that found the idea strangely attractive.
The artist was back to thinking about her again. "Uh oh!" Stefanie told herself. "This can't be good."
"Hmmm." Alesandro thought aloud. "Granite? No. Limestone? Yes, gray limestone! Alesandro ees brilliant!" Again he fiddled with his bracelet.
"What the hell is he going on about now!" Stefanie wondered. All of a sudden, a bolt of white light shot out from Alesandro's palm and struck Stefanie in the chest. She would have cringed if her body would have let her.
The anxiety-induced butterflies in Stefanie's stomach, hatched by Alesandro's control over her, suddenly froze and disappeared. In their place full was a feeling of fullness. It was not the eating lots of food fullness. This was different. It was as if her stomach cavity had had become instantly fully solid. As weird as this feeling was, what made it creepier was that Stefanie could tell her all of her insides were becoming one hard, concrete-like mass. She could tell her internal organs melding and fusing together and her insides were becoming one single hard block, like a pillar of rock.
The heavy feeling spread through her waist and began to creep up and down her body. "Oh no! He's going to kill me!" Stefanie moaned to herself as the feeling spread up her chest. She took one last breath and prayed as her porous lungs started to become harden.
She did not suffocate as she expected she might when her lungs were petrified. She felt no discomfort at all as she ceased to inhale and exhale. Then it hit her, somehow she no longer needed to breathe.
The need for air was only one of the first signs of life she lost. Her heart made one last pounding thud and then stopped, becoming hard and heavy as a stone until it blended into the thickness within her. Her blood stopped pulsing as it had congealed in her veins, which, in turn became as hard as bone. Veins, bone, muscle lost any pliability, were drained of any moisture and eventually any distinctiveness as everything beneath her skin became as one. All the signs, sounds and feelings of life were taken one by one as the heavy dense feeling flowed over her. But they departed not as a consequence of fading life but because they were no long necessary to supporting her existence.
"What's happening to me!?" Stefanie asked herself in a strange mixture of fear and curiosity. Before this strange transformation, Alesandro had rattled off a list of stones, stones used for making buildings or statues. That was it! He was turning her into a statue! Stefanie knew that was impossible but everything the artist had done up to now was impossible. Desperately she strained her eyes in her immovable head to get a glimpse of her reflection in the moon-dappled waters of the fountain below her. She could see her milky white skin was being shaded into a light gray. She was going to become a three dimensional realization of the image she created in her picture, the fighting warrior princess in "The Girl In the Darkness" that was facing down an army.
Stefanie realized her head was just about to succumb to the transformation. She looked back across the square because she figured, if she could still see, when she completely became a statue, it would be more interesting to see the square than only her own reflection. She made her glance none to soon. Her voiceless, breathless throat became full of gray limestone accretion. For a moment she got the dull taste of stone before her tongue blended together with her now fused jaw. Unable to take a breath to smell, her now useless naval cavity sealed up.
Her head became as heavy as the rest of her body and even though she guessed she no longer had a brain, she could still think. "Now I've got rocks for brains!" She joked morbidly to herself. Individual strands of her hair bonded together into locks and then one single mass, making her feel as she were wearing a helmet. Her face became hard and her eyes finally fixed into an unblinking stare.
Strangely, Stefanie's ability to see did not abandon her but it had changed. She no longer saw as her flesh and blood human sense. Her sight had been linked to her eyes but her new ability to see was an ability to sense everything around her and make pictures of it in her mind. Her vision expanded to 360 degrees and encompassed everything in the square, her fountain, Alesandro, the buildings fronting the square but no further.
Even paralyzed by Alesandro, Stefanie had been able to move her limbs just a fraction of an inch. Soon even this ability was denied her as her arms and legs became fixed and rigid. Her feet became fixed tightly to the pedestal on which she stood, which seemed to become an extension of her body. She wondered if her katana would become stone like her and an extension of itself. It remained iron and her rocky hand remained fixed grasping the hilt, trapped in the act of removing it from its scabbard to fight that imaginary army.