Statue in Silicone I: A Visit to the Museum
The weeks leading up to the museum’s grand reopening were busy ones. Walls were painted and carpets rolled out. Colorful backdrops were set up and cordoned off with velvet rope in hopes of keeping curious hands at bay. Lighted display cases gleamed inside and out, their glass panels rubbed to an impeccable shine. Newly prepared mannequins rolled in on carts, ready to take up residence inside them. Many others found their way into the surrounding displays, most of which required them to be outfitted in appropriate clothing to suit the eras they represented. Fortunately, the few employees on hand were fully dedicated to these daunting tasks, often working well into the night and the wee hours of the morning. Some hung rare paintings on the walls, while others added appropriate props to the displays. As days turned into hours and hours into minutes, their skills were put to the test.
One such devotee stood before a mannequin in the Universal Horror display. She dabbed her brush in red and then stroked the tip over its parted lips. After a moment, the artist took a few steps back, visually inspecting her progress. “Excelente!” the woman proclaimed with Hispanic flair.
The beautician set her brush and palate off to the side, before searching through her opened tray. The aluminum case itself had multiple levels of shelves that extended up and outward, much like a large tackle box. She retrieved some fake eyelashes and her applicator tool, and then returned to her budding canvas.
“Now all I haf left to do is thee lashes and you will be all set,” the beautician observed (as if her static subject might actually hear). She then raised the applicator and carefully pressed each one of the lashes in place. Her subject remained resolute throughout the entire process; it didn’t even blink, despite the close proximity of the woman’s fingers.
The beautician stepped back once again to examine her handiwork. The woman smiled in admiration and proclaimed “Perfecto!” before blowing the figure a kiss.
As the woman began putting away her beauty supplies, her employer suddenly rushed up beside her...
“Look what finally arrived!” he announced before holding up a red ribbon with a mysterious medallion. He immediately stepped in front of the Bela Lugosi look-a-like that was menacing the mannequin the beautician had been working on and grumbled, “Nothing like waiting until the last minute...”
The man raised the red ribbon up over Dracula’s head before lowering it around his neck. As he tucked the satin material beneath the vampire’s black cape, he boasted, “It was used on-screen by Lugosi himself!” “Ah, very beautiful,” the woman replied as she glanced over at the prized ornament. “Yes ...and very expensive,” the man assured her. He carefully centered the medal on the figure’s chest and then queried over his shoulder, “So how’s that one coming along?”
“She’s ready for display, Master... Her pouty lips are so supple; my paintbrush kept catching on them!”
The man spun around, immediately grasping the figure’s wrist and giving it a good squeeze. He furrowed a brow in thought as he gauged the tightness of the skin.
...Hmm, we’re gettin’ there.
He withdrew a pen-sized flashlight from the inner pocket beneath his blazer. He shone the purple UV light over the silicone skin, closely examining the pores. A moment later, he changed the setting to normal and waved the beam across the mannequin’s glassy eyes, taking note of the dilated pupils. He smiled and assured his assistant, “She’ll set up soon enough.”
...That’s when he finally acknowledged the mannequin’s airbrushed face. “My goodness ...she does look stunning!” The man cupped the mannequin’s cheeks within his hands admiring its glowing beauty.
“Careful of the makeup!”
...The man flinched and immediately withdrew his hands. He upturned his palms, frowning as he saw the mess he’d just created. “Well that’s just great! ...You’ll have to touch her up quickly, and then I want you to get over to the Oz display; I’m afraid our ‘Dorothy’ is still showing...”
The assistant had already added some foundation to the left nostril in question. She opened her mouth to object, yet her response immediately fizzled; a familiar tingle swept up from below and spread throughout her body. Her eyes lidded, exquisitely, as her mind softened in response. A sense of compliance and purpose quickly returned...
“Of course, Master.”
...The man withdrew a monogramed kerchief, flipping it out in the air a few times before wiping off his hands. He watched in appreciative silence, as the beautician powdered the figure’s nose and applied a little more blush to its cheeks. A second man soon approached them from the right. His features were Asian, and he had the blocky build of a professional wrestler...
“Hey boss,” the man greeted as he crossed the aisle. “The ticket booth is ready for business.” The man’s wraparound shades concealed his eyes as they swept over the blonde-haired mannequin. His gaze followed her shapely curves, which appeared in a fuzzy silhouette beneath her sheer nightgown. The figure’s neck arched upward, the head tilted as if magnetically drawn to a stranger’s seductive eyes. The arms hung down at her sides and had a certain sense of looseness to them. His eyes then darted over to the more familiar backside of the animated beautician, but a voice shattered his daydream...
“Good, very good,” his superior interrupted. “...And the girls?”
“Uh, Madison is OK, but I’m not so sure about the blonde...”
“Did you give her the proper trigger?”
“Uh...I think so,” the beefy man replied uncertainly.
“What do you mean, you think so?” His employer glanced at his expensive Rolex and threw his hands up in the air. “Christ, we open the doors in less than an hour!”
“You might want to check, boss... just in case.”
“I pay you quite well, Max. I shouldn’t have to verify your work!”
Max just shrugged his broad shoulders in doubt.
The curator made a disgusted face as he stalked away from the display. After a moment, he looked back to see the man still ogling both of the female figures...
“Come on! We’re losing precious time here!”
“Right with you, boss.”
As the two men made their way around the other displays, the anxious crowd continued to grow outside...
* * * *
Heidi sensed the anticipation the moment she set foot inside the museum. The enthusiastic buzz of hundreds of attendees, amongst them film buffs, cosplayers, and devout collectors, their excited voices talking over one another, collectively echoed off the surrounding walls. They’d come from both near and afar simply to experience Movie-Con for themselves. The annual event promised to be even bigger than ever, with its latest “Turn Back the Clock” theme. The colorful insert in the local paper had boasted “A little something for everyone!” The variety of exhibits would include: rare advertising memorabilia; original film and TV props; pre-production scale models; and of course the astounding ‘ONE-OFF’ mannequin series. Many of the items were on display for the very first time, with a select few even available for purchase. Massive posters hung from the walls of the entry hall, giving tempting previews of the objects on display.
Heidi didn’t think of herself as a devotee, but rather one of the curious horde tempted by the unusual sights on offer. The truly dedicated stood out clearly, easily recognizable in their fanciful costumes and with expressions both knowing and expectant. Even as she waited among those that were queued to enter, the young woman could see the wide-eyed wonder on the faces of both children and adults alike. Anyone looking at her would surely sense that she shared their expectations.
The exhibition had been chosen to celebrate the grand re-opening of the Crown Point Museum, a historic landmark situated on the scenic waterfront of Lake Tahoe. From the immense granite columns, to the ornately sculpted scrollwork that surrounded its arched windows, the imposing structure was a standing work of art in its own right. But after its 102 years of existence, the aging museum had been in dire need of repairs. When the Lakefront Restoration Society had deemed the century-old building “historically significant” a generous donation was made by a wealthy private party, and the structure was finally restored to its former glory.
In addition to the exterior renovations, there had been many upgrades to the interior as well. Heidi was amazed at all the changes, the museum was so different from the last time she’d been inside. They’ve done a fantastic job; it’s almost worth the price of admission just to see it. Skylights pierced the vaulted ceilings, providing natural lighting to the floor space below. Freshly painted walls gleamed in the light. Kiosks now accompanied many of the displays, allowing visitors to learn about each exhibit. Electronic scanners replaced the long outdated cash registers in hopes of alleviating long lines at the entrance. However, with the large crowd that day, even the new technology appeared to be overwhelmed.
Heidi shuffled along behind the person in front of her, patiently waiting to buy her ticket. Looking up and down the line, the attractive brunette was amazed; she hadn’t expected that there’d be this many people. She’d correctly assumed that the “diehards” would be there to see the remarkable ‘ONE-OFF’ mannequin series, convincing replicas used as stand-ins for their celebrity counterparts. Many Hollywood productions had started using them in place of well-paid actors (whether for monetary or safety reasons). Previously annoyed directors had to do the best they could, managing with editing and special effects, as when actress Kristen Stewart had to be Cryo-frozen in Zathura, or when a fidgety Kristy Swanson had difficulties standing perfectly still while filming Mannequin II. Now those problems could be easily solved, a simple request made through the proper channels, and the solution was produced. If Mannequin II was being made now, Heidi knew, an incredibly lifelike “Jessie#2” would be created, and she’d hold still for as long as the most demanding director required. From what Heidi had been able to discover, the process used 360-degree body scanning. Renowned sculptors and art critics alike had immediately pounced, engaging themselves in the never-ending argument: ... Are the reproductions truly art, or just pop-culture schlock?
Heidi didn’t really care one way or the other, and regardless of one’s personal opinion about their artistic merit, there was no doubting that the figures were masterpieces of their craft. The secret process somehow managed to do exactly what it was supposed to do: capture each and every living detail (right down to the smallest freckle), and fool the eye of the observer.
In a world of ever-tightening budgets, film studios had also found that it made far more sense to place a mannequin in harm’s way, rather than pay higher insurance premiums often associated with stunt men and women (or even the actual stars themselves). As a powerful Studio Executive had once said, “Why would I pay a union guy to stand around all day, when one of these dummies will do it for next to nothing?”
He surely had no idea that he’d be responsible for starting the next Hollywood trend...
Heidi had advanced to be the next person in line for the ticket counter. Now able to see them clearly, she noticed that even the two girls running the ticket window had gotten in on the act. Keeping with the throwback theme, both were identically dressed as old-time usherettes. The costume consisted of a red bustier made of velvet-like fabric, with flamboyant gold piping framing the outer borders. Two vertical rows of buttons ran down over the front, gradually tapering inward at the bottom. Their short skirts gathered in at the waist and then flared dramatically outward at mid-thigh, allowing for a nice view of their fishnet-bound legs. Identical pillbox hats with chin straps, white cufflinks, and black satin chokers completed their adorable ensembles. Both of the girls (one a sandy blonde, the other a brunette), looked young and vibrant and appeared to be college-aged. They were both very pretty, the blonde especially so.
... Probably liberal arts students from across the lake, Heidi presumed. Have to pay those high tuition costs off one way or another.
As Heidi unbuttoned her purse, the next teller finally became available. The uniformed blonde of the pair began motioning with her hand for the young woman to come up to the window...
“Hello, and welcome to Movie Con!” said the beaming girl. “My name is Victoria and how may I help you today?”
“A ticket for one, please,” Heidi replied, searching through her purse.
“And will you be paying by cash, card, tablet or iPhone?”
“Uh,” Heidi stalled, still trying to find the right change, chuckling at her unexpected predicament. Then the teller’s comment finally registered. “Oh wait: —my iPhone! Well, duh! ...Why didn’t I think of that? I guess you’re not just a pretty face are you?”
Heidi stopped, one hand flying to her mouth. She didn’t know where that last comment had come from, but it was condescending, and rude, and she felt totally embarrassed. “I am sooo, so sorry for that; I don’t know what I was think—ing...” Her voice trailed off as she studied the teller.
When Heidi had uttered the words “just a pretty face” Victoria’s whole expression had transformed. The co-ed’s features had softened and her head had tilted a little to the side. Her bare shoulders went slack. Now her eyes stared, vacant, and the attendant’s still reaching hand had dropped to the counter to lie limp upon the surface. Then, as if speaking in a trance, the girl dazedly recited, “I will remain completely loyal to my company... I will maintain a positive attitude toward my customers at all times, utilizing my best assets in order to provide a more pleasurable experience... Just a sculpture in silicone ...Beautifully posed for my— Ugh!”
...The girl’s voice caught and her body stiffened. Then she snapped out of it. No rhyme or reason.
Heidi eyed the poor thing suspiciously, before withdrawing her iPhone back from the ticket window...
The adorable blonde fluttered her eyelashes a few times, as if awakening from a dream. Her head slowly straightened and then she stared at Heidi with an expectant expression, as if nothing had happened...
“...Your iPhone, ma’am?”
“Um, are you OKay?” Heidi asked with concern. “You sort of just spaced-out there for a minute...” “I... I’m p-perfectly fine,” the girl stuttered while pushing an errant lock of hair up over her ear. She casually smoothed out her skirt and then flashed her pristine smile before politely reminding, “Your iPhone, ma’am? ...Other people are waiting...”
With a bit of reluctance, Heidi finally handed over the phone. Frowning, she shook her head, not understanding what had just happened.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
...This girl might be cute, but she’s definitely out there!
As the attendant passed the phone over the scanner, a security camera was closely watching over the transaction... On the other side of the counter, Heidi expelled a bothered sigh and then turned to look over her surroundings. She noticed that the waiting line had doubled in length since she joined it.
...Just as well that I got here when I did.
Most people were waiting patiently in line, but Heidi could see a few irritated expressions. Still others were craning their necks, trying to look through the doorway at the exhibition inside. Her gaze slowly shifted away from the jostling line, and over to the gift shop across the way. She noticed a well-built Asian man standing out front. He stood out from the rest of the crowd, partly due to his cleanly-shaven head and his sharp grey suit. A tethered security badge hung from his thick neck, while dark sunglasses added to his mysteriousness...
Heidi chuckled, thinking to herself... Looks like Mr. Clean has taken up a security job.
The muscular-looking man continued to scrutinize the crowd through his wraparound shades, his shiny head slowly revolving back and forth like a gun turret. Occasionally he’d touch a finger to his ear, as if listening to incoming information, and then return to people watching.
A sudden beep from behind her drew Heidi’s attention back to the ticket counter. With relief she saw that the electronic transaction had been approved.
“You’re all set, Ms. Goodwin,” chirped the teller, handing back the iPhone and the ticket for one. With utmost sincerity, the blonde girl smiled at her and added, “We truly hope you enjoy your visit.” Heidi noticed that there was no further sign of the teller’s earlier bizarre behavior. “Well, thank you,” the brunette replied, “I hope so too.”
As Heidi turned and stepped away, the security camera followed her movement...
The young woman fell in with the steady flow of people. She was surprised to see so many fans walking around in period costumes, ranging from extravagant medieval outfits to Trekkers in crew uniforms. One oddly mismatched couple walked by as Captain Jack Sparrow and Wonder Woman.
...I bet it really took some guts to pull on that Wonder Woman costume this morning! In addition to the imaginative costumes, Heidi admired the attractive design of the museum itself. The interior walls consisted of exposed brick for a rustic, old-timey ambiance. There were alcoves in the walls for individual presentations, while the larger, much more elaborate exhibition spaces were surrounded by ropes with signs that warned, “Please: Do Not Touch the Displays!” Off in the far distance, Heidi could see what looked like some mannequins standing in glass display cases...
The young woman eventually came to a complete stop behind an elderly couple blocking her path. The pair had parked themselves in front of a roped off display to admire the four iconic figures standing inside. They represented a bygone era of “Classic Hollywood” and perhaps one of America’s best known fairy tales. The cowardly lion and tin man stood on the left, while the scarecrow was standing at the far right. A pig-tailed Dorothy beamed from in between them, modelling a blue and white gingham dress and her legendary ruby slippers. The jolly foursome stood posed in the middle of a yellow brick road, their arms playfully interlinked, and with little Toto panting at their feet. A massive rainbow arched over into two pots of gold, providing a colorful backdrop. Vintage posters, a witch’s broomstick and hat, and even a flying monkey prop surrounded them. A very rare, first run print of the Baum novel from 1900 was respectfully displayed on a lighted bookstand.
Heidi briefly studied the orphaned figure. Though faithful in general appearance, this version of Dorothy looked more physically developed than the original. (If viewed any closer, Heidi might have noticed the faint mark of a piercing on Dorothy’s left nostril. With some further, more intimate exploration, she might have discovered the ornately scrolled tattoo work across the figure’s lower back).
Heidi’s gaze shifted between the amazing likeness of Judy Garland’s face and the figure’s prominent chest ...I guess our little Dorothy isn’t quite so innocent anymore, eh?
Turning to move on, Heidi noticed a group of teenaged girls to her right. They pointed and giggled in excitement, as one of them snuck underneath the ropes that surrounded the image of the latest teenage heartthrob. The mischievous intruder struck a pose next to the smiling facsimile, holding perfectly steady for 1 - 2 - 3 seconds, before lowering and checking her phone. Satisfied with the results, she gave the rigid pop star a quick smooch on the cheek and then escaped back to the other side of the barrier. Completely embarrassed, her friends began laughing and taunting, “Olivia kissed a mannequin- Olivia kissed a mannequin!” before taking off in the opposite direction. The poor girl trotted along behind them, fumbling with her purse as she desperately yelled out, “Wait you guys! - Don’t leave without me!”
Heidi sighed, thinking about how she could have been here with her own friends. This was originally supposed to be a playful outing for all of them, but Annie and Carrie were out of town on business. Even Sara, her gal-pal and next-door neighbor, found herself scheduled on the weekend rotation at the local hospital. Heidi was disappointed that her friends had let her down, even if it had been with sincere apologies. She realized that they all had their own careers and goals in mind and life might not always let them be together. The twenty-three-year-old sniffed and then shrugged the thought off, reminding herself to enjoy the moment. As she began to walk along she mumbled, “I guess a girl is better off doing it on her own sometimes...”
...And that almost sounded a little dirty.
Heidi casually drifted from exhibit to exhibit, amazed at the realism of the figures in the displays. Entering the wing entitled ‘Salute to Horror’ she could see several displays ranging from the traditional Wolfman and Dracula, to more modern staples like the Slender Man and Freddie Kruger.
The first display had a nearly 8-foot-tall Frankenstein figure overlooking his dead-bride-to-be, Heidi shivering at the detail in his expression, the monster’s eyes and mouth set in a mixture of determination and longing. She shifted her attention to the prone woman. The very convincing dupe was strapped to a wooden table in a tattered white dress, while a black conical wig with two white streaks stood up from her head. Her skin was a sickly pale, as if all the blood had been drained from her body, while her dark-ringed eyes stared up vacantly at the ceiling. Surrounding the two figures were a variety of bubbling test tubes, gauges and all sorts of other strange laboratory equipment, all of them working together to create the look and feel of a mad scientist’s lab.
Two young women with heavy eyeliner and dark colored lips were regarding the wild display from beside its kiosk. Both were thin and pale and attired in stark black clothing. The taller one had distinctive bleached white hair with numerous streaks of pink. Her vintage dress was corseted and lacy, while vertical pinstriped hose and pointy shoes completed the look. Her shorter, hard-bodied, companion was sporting a tee-shirt, Heidi could only assume it was for a band, but she’d never heard of any group called Bauhaus. Complementing the tee-shirt was a dangerously short leather skirt, and diamond-patterned fishnets. On the girl’s feet were clunky black combat boots. Her hair was dyed jet-black with bright blue streaks, while two enormous blue pigtails bowed out from the sides. The pair took turns nodding their heads and pointing out all of the little details to one another.
Now there’s a rather unique pair, Heidi thought, trying to examine the exhibit without intruding on the two girls’ space.
“Those bolts are fake,” the dark-haired girl scoffed.
“Ya think?” her blonde companion mocked. “What gave it away?”
“No, really,” the first girl insisted, shaking her head so her blue pigtails swayed about, “you can see they don’t really go into her skin.”
“Meh,” the blonde girl shrugged, “probably it’s just a mannequin they did up for the display. You can tell those stitched-up seams are just prosthetic makeup.”
“Some pretty convincing effects work though.”
“True.” Blondie peered at the kiosk. “Hey, what happens if we do this?” She asked, pushing at a button.
The wooden operating table slowly rose upward, giving the audience a better view of the monster’s bride. When it reached a certain point, electrical charges arced back and forth between two Tesla coils. The bride stiffly sat up, her legs still stretched in front of her, arms straightening out in a zombie-walk pose. A pre-recorded voice excitedly shouted: “SHE’S ALIVE! –SHE’S ALIIIIVE!”
“OH—MY— GOD!” the girl with the blue pigtails exclaimed as she fist-pumped the air, “THIS IS SOOO FREAKIN’ AWESOME!”
Her blonde friend nearly buckled over in two, partially from laughter (and partly from embarrassment).
“Oh man, that’s so badass!” Pigtails continued, awestruck.
“And you’re such a psycho!” her blonde friend replied, trying to wipe away tears of laughter. “You’re way too into this stuff ... And besides, you can see the wires on her shoulders and wrists.” “Alright, but can you try not to be such a downer for once?”
Her taller friend shrugged. “Whatevs. Let’s see what this next one is like.”
Next up was the Wolfman. Tattered remnants of clothing still dangled from the creature’s hairy body, while his jaws were opened wide to display his sharp teeth. The figure’s eyes seemed ablaze with animalistic fury.
“My turn,” the dark-haired girl insisted, rushing up to the kiosk to press the activation button.
The display came alive, the Wolfman aggressively lurching back and forth, while a pack of unseen wolves howled at the moon in the airbrushed background.
“Oh, now that one IS sorta lame,” the girl lamented.
“Hey, check this one out,” the blonde called to her friend, the dark-haired girl hurrying up to her side. The display the pair now stood in front of housed Dracula, who was menacing a beautiful blonde, his intended victim dressed only in a sheer nightgown. She stood before the legendary vampire, arms loose at her sides as she stared up glassily into his mesmerizing eyes...
Heidi (who’d been following along behind the two girls), couldn’t help but think that the blonde wasn’t fighting too hard. There was something in her pose that held just a hint of invitation, whether it was in the figure’s expression, or in the way her head was tilted up to offer her neck; the brunette couldn’t tell... Maybe a little of both, Heidi finally decided.
“That chick is hot,” the dark-haired girl observed.
The blonde snickered, gently elbowing her companion in the ribs.
“Well she is, isn’t she?”
The taller girl shrugged the comment off, changing the subject. “Ok, now it’s my turn!” ...She reached out and pushed the activator on the kiosk. Nothing happened for a moment, then Dracula spread his cape menacingly and leant in for a juicy bite. The audience’s view of his victim was now blocked, but in this case, a good imagination was probably better than the reality...
“Oh man,” the blonde breathed.
“I know, right?” the pig-tailed girl said, dropping her head against her friend’s shoulder. She gently rubbed the taller girl’s back for a bit, moving her hand in slow circles, before looking up and admiring the blonde in profile...
Heidi had been watching the pair and listening from afar. When she made direct eye contact with the shorter girl with the pigtails, that one glanced in her direction and gave her a meaningful wink in return. Then she pulled the taller blonde in for an impromptu kiss, which managed to linger on for much longer than Heidi (or even the blonde) were expecting... ...Oop! So that’s why she thought the blonde was so hot!
Heidi decided to give the pair some privacy by quietly sidestepping past them to the other side of the partition. If the first half of the display represented the “Universal Era” in horror, then the other side signified more modern times and featured more gruesome themes. The first items she noticed were the molded silicone masks placed on numerous mannequin heads. Names like Jason, Michael, and Freddie immediately came to mind. Memorabilia from several lesser-known villains hung limp from wooden pegs. There were limbless torsos and severed body parts suspended from meat hooks. Some appeared to have chainsaw damage, while the rest were graphically injured in many other ways. A few were placed out on a demonstration table where visitors could actually touch them. Heidi hesitated at first, completely put-off by the creepy-looking nature of it all. But then she saw a chubby kid pick up a bloody arm and start shaking it all around. When he started tormenting his younger sister with it, his mother stepped in to scold, “Brody, you put that down –RIGHT NOW!”
...The spoiled brat carelessly tossed the arm back on the table, causing the rubbery limb to bounce and roll across the surface.
Heidi waited for the family to leave. Then (and with both hands clasped safely behind her back), she leant in closer for a better look. She’d half expected the “severed” limb to look fake this close, yet the striking realism surprised her.
Still not curious enough to touch anything, Heidi decided to move on. As she left that section of the exhibition she could hear the two goth girls giggling over the display of body parts. Up next after the horror-themed displays was the Ben-Hur exhibit, where a life-sized and (seemingly) wax replica of Mr. Heston was hunched forward in a white and gold chariot. Judah stared out over the reins through glass eyes; his oily hair swept back by an imaginary wind. The figure’s clenched teeth only emphasized his determination to win the race for his life. The actual film segment showing the chariot race was playing on a massive UHD TV in the background. The curved monitor not only allowed the scene to play out in its glorious widescreen format, but provided the ultimate backdrop as well.
Heidi noticed some excited chatter coming from the opposite side of the divider. Her curiosity growing, the young woman crossed over to see what the fuss was all about. The gathering of people was noticeably heavier here, with zealous fans crowding each other and pointing in excitement. A plastic banner above boasted, “Thrones: the Latest Home Box Office Hit!” ...Indeed, the mythological series had just had its most successful season to date, inspiring legions of followers to not only dress in period costume, but to recreate many props from the show. With smartphones raised, said fans were taking numerous pictures of the hand forged swords, shields and many other examples of ornate metalwork.
Heidi slowly managed to force her way close enough to get a good look at the items. Even the wood on a crossbow appeared appropriately aged and worn. A voice-over started, Heidi realizing that someone had probably pressed a button on the nearby kiosk. She wasn’t the only one to make surprised noises when they heard that everything in the display was made of silicone. Every single piece had been painstakingly reproduced to exact specifications and then aged to perfection. As convincing as they were, nothing could prepare Heidi for what was about to come...
A thickly-bearded man in barbarian garb stood on guard in a case in the center of the show’s display. He stared out glassily, as if looking right through the crowd of onlookers. At first, Heidi assumed that it was a person hired for a freeze-modeling stunt. But then she did a double-take, finally realizing that the man standing inside wasn’t a living being at all, but rather a realistic mannequin in silicone. She slowly approached him, all the while trying to convince herself that it was surely a prop and not real. She glanced at the information display beside the glass case in which the mannequin stood. Apparently in one episode the character had been frozen by an evil mage and had been required to hold perfectly still for almost every scene. This would’ve been much too long to expect an actor to remain still without extensive breaks and complicated editing. The director also preferred live action shots (as opposed to using special freeze effects), thus Will’s #2 and #3 were born. #2 survived (as exhibited here), while #3 had been destroyed while filming a battle scene.
Heidi moved on, enjoying the many other exhibits. A few were of obscure films she’d never even heard of, though she thought her friend Annie probably would have recognized them, while others displayed items from more mainstream classics such as Cleopatra, Planet of The Apes and Star Wars. There was even a Bond display, recreating the iconic 1964 scene of Jill Masterson, sprawled out lifelessly across a bed and spectacularly gilded from head to toe. The shimmering gold paint only seemed to highlight every one of her feminine curves...
Before she realized it; Heidi had come to the last display. She frowned, wondering what this one could have possibly been used for. It portrayed a stressed office worker who was attractively attired in professional business clothes. She’d been captured mid-stride; her hosiery-sheathed legs still stretching out the thin material of her questionably short skirt. Up top a black designer jacket struggled to contain her rather impressive cleavage. The example had unfastened one button too many on her silk blouse, allowing “the twins” to enjoy a little air time. Her frizzy hair had been pulled back into a conservative bun, while her pretty face stared down into the mobile phone within her cupped palm. The other hand was clutching a leather Samsonite briefcase. A small acrylic stand rose up from the floor at an angle beside one of her polished black pumps. A textured parchment was sealed within its surface with the simple, yet entirely ingenious title: “HARRIED”.
As a young professional herself, Heidi immediately related ...Yep; been there, done that!
The accountant couldn’t count the number of times she’d gotten stuck in heavy traffic, only to return late from lunch. She’d rush through the parking lot, sucking on the straw of her power shake which she held in one hand while frantically scrolling through her voice mails with the other. Her impractical heels would taunt her every step of the way; tripping-up feet and twisting her ankles until she’d swear that she’d never be late again.
...Not until next time, anyway.
Being dressed in modern clothes, the prop seemed even more realistic than the others. And as with the bearded barbarian; a small part of Heidi almost expected the figure to “snap out of it” at any second. She’d suddenly cast her eyes up from her phone and complete her stride, stepping down from her podium and hastily exiting the display before walking right out across the museum floor. The paranoid brunette looked around suspiciously, imagining Allen Funt and a camera crew to appear from behind one of the display curtains. They’d shout out, “Surprise: you’re on candid camera!”
Heidi couldn’t help but smile at such a silly thought.
...As if; he’s already dead!
She stared at the mannequin for a while longer, still unsure whether it was a real model or just an incredibly realistic prop. She soon found herself watching for the slight rise and fall of the chest, but the mannequin remained perfectly still.
...She looks so damned real.
Heidi was completely captivated. She felt an urge to reach out and touch the mannequin, just to see what the skin felt like. The case prevented her from doing that, she realized she’d have to be content with resting her fingertips lightly against the glass. At one point, the young woman even stretched up on her tip-toes, just so she could get a better look at the mannequin’s glassy eyes. The vacant stare was somewhat unnerving, but just like the mannequin itself, Heidi couldn’t seem to look away...
“Fascinating, aren’t they?”
Heidi jumped at the unexpected sound. She staggered back and managed to stammer a “W-wha?” before quickly turning around...
A man she didn’t recognize stood beside her.
“The mannequins,” the stranger stated, “We try to make them as life-like as possible.” “You make them?” Heidi asked, giving the man a once over. He was wearing a navy blue blazer and a white Oxford shirt (its two upper buttons coolly left undone). His khaki pants were neatly pressed and were likely chosen to bring out the rich color of his burgundy loafers. The look was decidedly casual, yet flawlessly put together. Judging by his graying temples; he was much older than her, but his face was unlined so she couldn’t be sure... “Yes, well, my company does,” the man readily admitted. “But if you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to try and answer them.”
The well-dressed man reached into one of the pockets on his jacket to withdraw his contact information. Scissoring the business card in between his fingers, he extended his hand to his attractive guest...
“I’m Daniel, by the way.”
“Heidi,” the young woman responded, briefly flashing a polite smile.
“A lovely name for such a fetching young lady,” the stranger mused.
Heidi studied the striking card within her pinched fingers. The background was done in matte black for a classy and sophisticated look. Printed across the center were the words ONE-OFF in elegant silver foil. The art deco style font was similar to that used for the iconic Studio 54 logo. The end result was rather decadent and effectively eye-catching. ...Like the mannequins themselves.
Heidi flipped the card over to find that the obverse was done in the same tasteful style as the front. Turning the card to a slightly different angle revealed the shadowy silhouette of a shapely woman striking a pose. The advertisement read:
“I happened to notice you back there at the Universal Films display,” the man revealed, “And I couldn’t help but wonder what brought such a beautiful woman to an exhibit such as this?”
Heidi wondered if this Daniel guy was trying to pick her up, so she choose her words carefully. Like any attractive woman, she’d had plenty of experiences with men trying to hit on her; some were legitimately decent guys while others were total creeps. This one definitely wasn’t her type, but she was curious enough about the display to try stringing him along...
“I came across an article some time ago,” Heidi admitted. “It was a, well, scathing review by some art critic, from the Las Vegas Sun I think. She’d attended one of your exhibits on the strip and thought that some of your work was a little ‘too realistic’ and seemed to objectify women. She said she walked away feeling repulsed, and you could see it in what she wrote, but her article totally backfired and only managed to create an even bigger stir.”
“Ah yes; ... the Mallory Saunders piece,” recalled the artist. He raised his chin, as if reliving a distant memory, before going on to add, “Quite an attractive woman in her own right.”
The young woman shifted her weight from one foot to the other, unsure how to take the artist’s comments about feminine beauty. “Well anyway, I saw the ads online for this exhibit a while back and thought it might be fun,” Heidi paused then added, “I was going to come with my friends, but they couldn’t make it, so here I am...”
Heidi didn’t know why she’d told Daniel that much. It wasn’t was if she wanted a conversation with him. And admitting she was here alone was almost giving him an invitation. “Yes, well; a little culture never hurt anybody,” the man stated. “So you live here locally, then?”
Daniel’s eyes narrow slightly as a wolfish grin played across his face. Heidi thought he was liking their conversation far too much. Maybe she should end it now...
“You seem drawn to this particular piece...”
“Umm; yes,” Heidi agreed, “I was actually wondering what movie this one’s from? It seems like such an odd display in comparison to the others...”
“Yes,” Daniel smirked, “I suppose it is. This was my first attempt at Ms. Roberts. She was an early prototype, you might say; one of the first to utilize my latest process.”
Heidi studied the figure once again: the frazzled hair; the long, purposeful stride, the Samsonite briefcase... The memorable line, “They’re called boobs, Ed...” suddenly sprang into her mind.
...Of course; Erin Brockovich! Annie would kill me for being so slow.
Sensing her apparent recognition, Daniel politely requested, “I’d like to show you something.” Heidi considered refusing, but she couldn’t think how to do it politely. Curiosity winning over caution, she let the man lead her back to the mannequin representing the frozen barbarian warrior.
“Ladies and gentlemen; if you could excuse us for a moment please,” Daniel’s voice appealed over the sound of the crowd. Confused faces turned in their direction and Heidi felt a flush of embarrassment at being the center of so much attention. Daniel didn’t seem to be suffering from any similar nervousness, he was gesturing the crowd back with a wave of his hands.
Excited chatter rose from the few that actually recognized the artist, while other spectators paused just to see what the commotion was about.
Daniel produced a key from his trouser pocket and unlocked the case. He then beckoned to Heidi to come forward... Up close, Heidi could see that the mannequin’s surface didn’t quite look the same as human skin. The bumps and imperfections of real skin were there, but appeared to be muted or smoothed over. There was a glistening tone to the skin color that didn’t quite match that of real skin. It was very close, but even from a few feet away she could see that it was not quite exact...
“So?” she asked, perplexed.
“Touch him,” Daniel said.
“Are you sure?”
“Please,” the man insisted.
Hesitantly, Heidi slowly reached out with one finger and ran it along the skin on the model’s arm. As she gradually applied more pressure, the surface began to yield to her touch. She immediately backed away in shock, the near-realism jarring her mind...
“That’s messed up!” her voice rose in surprise.
Daniel smiled with pride. The he shooed away an onlooker who wanted his turn. The man seemed disgruntled that he didn’t get the same opportunity that Heidi had received.
“Sorry, special guests only,” Daniel said dismissively.
Heidi wasn’t sure she wanted to be his special guest. Daniel would probably want something in return. The young woman could only think she knew what that would be. But she didn’t want to miss the opportunity this gave her to learn more about the models. At the very least it would be a story to tell her friends, Annie especially was sure to be jealous.
“We use the highest quality silicone that’s available on the market today,” the artist revealed. “The raw materials are rather expensive and the process itself is quite involved. Right now, most of our clients are established Hollywood Studios with deep pockets. In the future, our hope is to reduce production costs to attract smaller studios. And as you’ll see; we’re constantly improving our methods.”
“Okay,” Heidi murmured, unsure of how these so-called “mannequins” could possibly be any more realistic than they already were...
“Now,” said Daniel, after relocking the case, “Let’s revisit our friend Ms. Roberts over there.”
Heidi found herself being led back to the prior exhibit.
“Just give me a moment to unlock her display case,” Daniel said as they approached the motionless figure. ...Display case; he talks like she’s some sort of collectible doll or something!
Daniel swung the door out of the way and then motioned for Heidi to come forward.
Up this close, Heidi could see the point he was trying to make. The female figure’s skin showed much more detail than the male’s. She could see the slight rise of every mole and the dint of every pore. There was even a hint of the veins beneath the synthetic surface. It was so close to the look of someone real that Heidi wasn’t sure whether she was imagining the difference or not. The complexion on the figure’s face was practically flawless; so much so that it seemed as if the artisan had started out with a real human, and then airbrushed her features to make her seem artificial. Heidi glanced at the mannequin’s cleavage, then, embarrassed, quickly switched her attention to the hands, the only other parts of the figure not covered by clothing. She was sure that there was just the faintest artificial sheen to the skin, something that could only be noticed when looking as closely as Heidi was, inches away... “Touch her,” Daniel insisted.
Heidi started, almost losing her balance. She gripped the side of the display case, realizing how still she’d been, looking at the mannequin, almost as motionless as the figure in front of her. “After the last one, I don’t know...” she replied, the uncertainty she felt clear in her voice.
“She’s just a prop; it’s not like she’s going to reach out and grab you.”
Still hesitant, Heidi looked over her shoulder at Daniel for just a little more reassurance. The artist gently placed his hand at the small of her back and guided her forward...
Heidi finally reached out, a little more prepared this time. The same feeling of uneasiness slowly washed over her, as her fingers connected with the surface of the mannequin’s skin. The female’s flesh wasn’t quite as stiff as the male’s, yet it was still noticeably firmer than a human’s. Although initially cool to the touch; it seemed to warm beneath her fingers...
Heidi thought of a wax figure she’d once seen online of Jennifer Lopez; her shapely derriere would light up whenever it was held...
“It’s all in the details,” Daniel remarked. “Like the difference between an original piece of 17th Century art and a very clever fake.”
“So I see,” Heidi replied, finally retracting her hand.
“Ms. Saunders in that article stated that our mannequins are so realistic, they’re beyond human,” the man sniffed. “I took that as a compliment; though I’m certain she didn’t mean it to be. Then again; I suppose you haven’t officially ‘made it’ in the art world until you’ve been insulted by the free press.”
Heidi could sense the sourness in his voice; as if he were a man at constant odds with his surroundings. Yet, he continued to gaze longingly at the unmoving figure before him...
Heidi frowned, glancing between the image before her and at the barbarian, barely seen through the crowd. “I don’t remember anything in that article about this figure.”
“That exhibition was held before I produced any using this process,” Daniels replied, his eyes fixed on the mannequin before him.
“Err,” Heidi wasn’t sure how to reply. If the reviewer hadn’t liked Daniel’s earlier efforts she’d probably be even less impressed by the more realistic models like the one before her, “Umm, has she even seen the new ones?”
“Oh yes,” Daniels flashed s smile at Heidi, “Miss Saunders completely reconsidered her opinion. Did you know she wrote a favorable review of my next exhibition just before she quit that job and came to work for me?” "Oh?” Heidi couldn’t hide her surprise, “What does she do now?”
“This and that,” Daniel shrugged. “She’s a bit of a fixture around the place. Some publicity work, she wrote most of the text for the exhibition’s catalogue. In fact, if you look, you’ll see this isn’t really Julia Roberts, it’s Mallory. She looks remarkably like Miss Roberts but they’re not identical. She’s about the age Miss Roberts was when the film was made, which made her a much better subject for this than Miss Roberts herself would be now.”
Heidi did a double take, peering at the model. She wasn’t sure that she believed Daniel. Pulling out her iPhone, she quickly located some pictures of Julia Roberts from the film. Holding up the phone she examined first the images and then the model, peering at each in turn. She could see the differences, the mannequin’s face a little thinner, the nose a little higher. Despite what Daniel said, she wasn’t entirely convinced, perhaps the differences came from some flaw in the process. "So Mallory Saunders modelled for this?” Heidi asked, a little skeptically.
If Daniel noticed her doubts he didn’t let on. “Yes, you could say she’s the subject.”
“How does she feel about seeing herself like this?”
“I don’t think it bothers her. She’s never said anything.” “As with all my works; this one has served her purpose well,” Daniel continued, before reaching out and straightening one side of the mannequin’s collar. He then whispered in a lowered voice, “...Isn’t that right, my dear?”
...The figure didn’t reply, of course.
Heidi furrowed her eyebrows in concern ...Okay, so now he’s talking to her —it. The mannequin / prop thingy, or whatever she is! Dammit, now he’s even got me doing it! ...This is getting weirder by the minute... “I think we’ve disturbed Ms. Roberts long enough,” Daniel advised, before closing the case and then locking the door with finality.
The artist turned to Heidi with a delighted smile and asked, “Have you any more questions, my dear?” “Umm,” Heidi hesitated in thought, “...Not really, no.” It’s been interesting, but I need to get away from this guy. There’s something off about him...
Daniel shrugged before adding, “I will say that it’s a very unique and time consuming process; one which requires a lot of skill and patience ...A practice that’s not without, umm, some specific complications...” Heidi wasn’t sure what he meant by specific complications, nor did she care to find out. As fascinating as all this has been, she’d seen and heard quite enough. Getting out was now her priority before this Daniel guy tried to make some awkward move ...Like invite me back to his office, or something. She could sense him trying to work himself up to ask for her number already...
“Well I appreciate your time, and it was very nice meeting you,” she paused, glancing down at his business card, “Mr. Farnsworth.” She brushed her bangs over to the side rather nervously before adding, “I’m actually supposed to be meeting up with some friends for lunch in ten minutes, so I’ve really got to be going.” ... She was lying, of course, her friends were all tied up with work. She wouldn’t see Annie and Carrie until next week, and even with Sara (who lived in the apartment across the hall from hers), it would depend on the nurse’s roster. Hopefully the little fib would discourage her unwanted suitor.
Seemingly ignoring her attempted rebuff Daniel offered, “Perhaps they’d like some free season passes?”
“Umm, sorry, no. Thanks though, but I have to get going.” Heidi waved over her shoulder as she left, her heeled mules clip-clopping away with her hurried pace.
“Nice to meet you too,” Daniel said aloud as an afterthought. As he watched the pretty young woman blend in with the flow of the crowd, his earpiece suddenly buzzed to life... The man raised his wrist to speak into a cufflink.
“Yes? ...I’m still down here on the museum floor ... Yes, Max; you’ve got a good eye and she’ll certainly do ...Victoria already swiped all of her personal information from her phone. Yes, she brought up Mallory Saunders ... Of course she doesn’t know; I told her Mallory was the basis for the reproduction!”
Daniel glanced over at the figure in question, still standing in profile inside her display booth.
“Yes, she believed it and anyway I’ve told you it doesn’t matter. If anyone asks difficult questions then I’ll just get Mallory to answer them. No, of course not while the exhibition is still on, how would we explain that? Now what else do you want?”
“What?”...Daniel questioned with a growing sense or worry. “Which one, Victoria or Madison? ...Dammit, why didn’t you tell me! ...Did you use her trigger phrase? Get her down to the dressing room. I’ll be there to deal with her in a minute!”
With that, Daniel Farnsworth pocketed his phone and disappeared through a maintenance door nearly as fast as he’d first appeared. The artist mumbled to himself, as he quickly made his way through the narrow and hidden corridors inside the museum. He was mentally running through a list of options on how they might deal with the unexpected emergency. We’ll just freeze her up and send her back to the damned mansion, if we have to!
Meanwhile, Heidi was already nearing the exit from the exhibition. As she approached the gift shop, she just happened to glance to her left. She noticed the blonde ticket girl from earlier being physically turned away from the desk by Mr. Clean. Victoria looked dazed and under the weather, nearly stumbling over her own two feet as she was steered along. A door opened just beyond the service area, and someone that looked an awful lot like Daniel Farnsworth drew her inside the darkened room...
...Huh, Heidi thought, looking back over her shoulder in the direction from which she’d come ...It couldn’t possibly be; I just left him a minute ago. How would he get there so fast?
She then briefly recalled the ticket girl’s strange behavior from earlier and considered ...Maybe she really was sick and he’s coming to her aid. I hope she’s going to be OKay.
Heidi turned away from the odd scene and decided to stop inside the gift shop for a quick look around. More than a half an hour passed by the time she’d picked out a movie prop catalog for Annie, as well as some small novelty gifts for her other friends. On her way out the door, she noticed that a brunette had stepped in to help the other at the ticket window; this one nearly as pretty as the blonde she’d replaced.
As Heidi pushed her hip against the turnstile, she thought to herself ...This Farnsworth guy sure has plenty of attractive young women working for him.
A short time later and Heidi was getting inside her car and pulling away from the curb, the gifts for her friends safely tucked in a bag on the front seat. As she drove the distance back to her apartment, she couldn’t help but reflect on some of the unique displays she’d seen. The amazingly life-like ‘One-Off’ series mannequins were worth the admission price alone, and perhaps she’d return one day and bring her friends along for the visit... Only time (and fate) would tell.