Tuesday, August 17, 2010


The Witch's Model
By Andrew Johnson

As a model, I had learned to deal with the various creeps and pervs that I would encounter in my travels, but the witch, however, was completely unexpected. It started when I was traveling the country on modeling jobs.
“That should just about do it, Jenny,” Robert said, as I pulled on my shirt. “Let me know the next time you’re passing through, we can shoot again.”
“Definitely,” I said. “This is fun. You have a nice studio here.”
“Thanks,” Robert said. “Now, I have some releases for you to sign.”
We walked down the hall to the living room where his girlfriend was waiting. “Good shoot?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Robert was the perfect gentleman.” She smiled. “And trust me, I’ve worked with some real pervs.”
“Are they really that bad?” she asked.
“Most are perfect gentlemen, like Robert, but there are a few that it’s just about seeing a naked woman for them,” I said, scribbling my signature on the model release.
“That’s what I thought it was at first,” she said, looking at Robert. “And I didn’t think any models would work for him. I thought they all lived in New York and Paris, walking runways.”
“Doesn’t really work like that,” I said. “There are lots of girls who just use modeling to travel around the country.”
“So where are you off to next?” Robert asked.
“There’s a woman, a photographer up in the backwoods off of Route 16. Daisy something,” I said. “I’ll shoot with her tomorrow. Then I’ll drive on through to Texas.” I noticed the worried look on his face.
“Are you sure?”
“She’s a female photog,” I said. “I don’t think I have much to worry about with her. Why?”
“I’ve shot with two girls who later shot with her. Jolene Maye, I haven’t heard from since and the other, Sandy, she’s just off.”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “She’s off kilter. She used to be this bubbly and fun girl, and now she’s all serious and all. She even has a streak of gray in her hair I didn’t notice before.”
“It’s hardly rare for models to lie about their ages,” I said. I didn’t tell him I had been twenty-four for the last three years.
“True,” he said. “But there was also a girl I was going to shoot with who flaked on me after she shot with Daisy.” I shrugged, as we both knew models flaking was hardly uncommon either. “Just be careful, OK?” he said handing me my two hundred dollars.
“Sure,” I said. But his words were dismissed as soon as I walked out the door.

I was up early the next morning and I was off to my next shoot. Daisy’s place was definitely out in the boonies. There was a long dirt road and after all that I arrived to find a little shack. It looked like it had been here since the Civil War. There was a high creep factor to the whole thing, but I could comfort myself in the fact that it was a female photographer and she had promised me a thousand dollars for a few hours’ work, five times my normal rates.
I pulled in what passed for a driveway and I saw a woman sitting out on the front porch.
“Jenny Ryder?” she asked, with a bit of a drawl.
“That’s me,” I said. “Are you Daisy?”
“Yup. Please follow me.” I got out of the car as she ambled over to me. She looked like she may have been a model once herself. She had a nice curvy shape and long blond hair that fell over her shoulders. If it weren’t for the gray hair and the crowsfeet around her eyes, I was sure she could still get some jobs somewhere. She was holding a big old contraption that resembled a Poleroid camera in her hands.
“So what kind of shoot are we doing? Lingerie? Swimsuit? Nude? You weren’t really that clear when we set this up.”
“Don’t matter. But I did promise you a thousand dollars, didn’t I?” Daisy smiled. She handed me a roll of bills.
“Wow, thanks,” I said, resisting the urge to flip through it. “Whatever you want, I’m yours.”
“Wonderful,” she said. “Jolene, please take Miss Ryder’s coat.” A dark haired woman walked over to me, weird that I hadn’t seen her before. Suddenly I found myself staring into a pair of gray eyes, like she was wearing freaky contacts or had cataracts or something.
“I haven’t seen anyone shoot with one of those for a long time,” I said, pointing to her camera. Or ever really, just a few of the older photographers I worked with told me they used Polaroid's before going digital.
“This is a special old camera,” she smiled, tapping it with her finger. “Care for a test shot?”
“Right now?” I asked. “I haven’t even done my make-up yet.”
“Don’t matter,” she said holding up the camera. There was a flash and then it spat out the picture. She grabbed it and started waving it around for a few seconds before looking at it. “Oh, that’s nice. Wanna see?”
She turned the photo towards me and I found myself looking at a very life-like portrait of myself. So lifelike, in fact that I felt a little diminished. Like I was the image, staring out at the real people around me.
“What...did you...do?” I started, but then something changed. I had no energy, no willpower. I just felt like standing there.
“I just borrowed your soul, Honey. If you work good, you’ll get it back.” I wanted to laugh, but my face was frozen. A camera actually stealing my soul? It was unbelievable, like those primitive tribes you read about in National Geographic or something, not in the 21st century.
“Now,” Daisy smiled. “There’s a lot of work that needs doing. Jolene start fixing supper. Miss Ryder, go chop wood.” I had never chopped wood in my life, but the next thing I knew I was out in her backyard swinging an ax. It was like everything she told me to do was a command of god or something I could not disobey.
When that was finished, Jolene had fixed some kind of thick soup or stew or something that we ate for supper. “Now,” the witch said when we were finished. “You have a lot of good years left to you. You’re about twenty-seven, right?”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“So, I’ll take a few years from you and send you on your way in the morning.”
And so she did. I don’t remember much else, but when she spoke to me the next morning, I noticed the gray hair was blonde again and the crowsfeet were gone. As for me, on the other hand, I just felt stiff and tired.
“Now, Honey,” she said. “Don’t be telling anybody about this or you’ll regret it.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said. She handed me picture she took of me yesterday.
“Now, go, get in your car and leave. A shame, I coulda used you. If you don’t think about what happened here, eventually you’ll forget it. Thankee for the years.”
I got in my car without a word and started down the road. I had been driving for about an hour when the spell she put on me wore off. I pulled over and immediately pulled out my cell phone. I dialed Robert’s number because his was the first one I thought of at that moment.
“Hello Robert,” I said when I heard him answer. “It’s me! Jenny Ryder!”
“Jenny, are you OK?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m fine. But you were right about that woman. She has Jolene and she did something to me...” I trailed off when I noticed the cell phone was no longer in my hand.
“I warned you not to tell anyone,” Daisy said, from behind me. I turned around to see her glowering at me. I wasn't even in the car anymore, but standing in the middle of the woods.
“How did we get here?”
“That’s no nevermind,” she hissed. “But I warned you.”
“What will you do now?” I asked. “Your secret’s out!”
“Actually it’s not. And I offered you my hospitality in exchange for a few years of your life. I don’t think that was too much. But now.”
“Are you going to make me your slave, like Jolene?”
“Jolene knows her place, I need to teach you a lesson. First I’ll take a good ten years.” There was a sudden blinding pain and it took all my effort not to drop to my knees. I felt as if the life had just been ripped out of me. I looked at Daisy and she actually looked younger than me. I looked at my own hair and picked out a few gray strands.
“And now,” the witch said. “You need some time to think about what you’ve done.” Before I could do anything else, everything changed. I could not move and felt very sleepy. Even my eyes seemed fixed, fixed on Daisy, that witch smiling in front of me. “I’ll be back in a hundred years or so,” she said, patting my shoulder. It was not really a patting, but more of a tapping sound and then I realized what had happened. The witch had turned me to stone!
How many years ago that was I lost count. It’s odd being a statue, and aside from the birds, it’s not all that bad. But I know now is when the witch comes back, I’ll do what she says.

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Andrew Johnson was born in Pennsylvania and currently lives in Arizona.


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