Return of the Witch
by Lord Malinov
I eventually ran into the model who had portrayed the witch in a coffee shop near one of my publishers. I had driven to an unfamiliar part of town to pick up a check and when I arrived, I had been asked to wait an hour while the publisher spoke with someone in Vienna. Rather than sit uncomfortably in a folding chair, I took off and found the coffee shop down the block. And there she was.
She’d been to Europe, on model business or on witch business, I’m sure I’ll never know but for the three weeks she was gone, I became a wreck. The experience of taking her pictures had drained me, the persistent visions of creatures in motion, in her dress, in her flesh, I couldn’t get the images out of my mind.
Then I began editing the photographs and soon realized that the beings I thought I saw continued to writhe between the pixels of the digital images. I couldn’t stop seeing them, twisting and turning, as I worked, amazed at this phenomenon of action in a static representation. Triumphant and distracted, I proudly showed some of the photos off. No one else saw what I saw, in the darkness of her black velvet dress, in the pale cream of her belly and thigh. Just nothing.
They showed concern at my frustration, I’d been working too hard, an optical illusion genetically accessed, perhaps said the scientist among us, but I couldn’t stop seeing the creatures grasping angrily alive and no one was more concerned than I was. What madness had I contracted? I spent sleepless nights staring at her visage, praying she’d return my calls.
Finally, she answered. I told her about the hallucinations I was having and after a bout of inappropriate laughter, she promised they would stop. I looked over at the omnipresent picture on my screen and for the first time in three weeks, I saw nothing out of the ordinary; a woman in a dress.
I’d told her I was going to send her part of the bonus I’d been paid for the witch photos we’d taken. She thanked me and I thanked her; I couldn’t help being grateful, being paid extra for turning in work I’d barely participated in creating, witnessed perhaps.
When I saw her in the coffee shop, I looked her over carefully but there was nothing moving as though alive in her clothes or her flesh, at least not where I could see. In fact, she looked strangely normal that day, more normal, I would say, than really seemed possible, as though she’d cast a spell of normalcy that worked very, very well. Be that as it may.
I’ve assumed that the woman is a witch. She’s never told me so but that’s the only thing that makes sense to me. Maybe it’s all the opium I’ve been smoking, but she seems like a witch to me.
I wanted to discuss our success with the witch photos, for they had been extremely successful, more successful, I have to admit, than any other photos I’d ever taken. People really dug them. The conversation flowed naturally, my excitement feeding her excitement, bold ideas and brave ambitions flooded our heady senses.
But I really wanted to discuss the spell she had cast on me; I appreciated being released from her mesmeric grip, I was relieved to be free from an insistent obsession to watch her naked living flesh. My mind burst with questions I didn’t dare ask. I don’t know why I didn’t dare. You have to understand what it feels like to be in her presence. I’d never want to piss her off.
She could do it again. She could make it worse. She could destroy me. I know it. And I pressed on.
It was clear she was a dangerous companion but I like living near the edge, and, God help me, she attracted me.
Made bold by our success, I invited her to come by the studio, to take more shots, going through the motions, never dreaming she’d agree. This was clearly a world-class model and I’d been lucky to get one session with her. I felt sure she had work in London or Milan.
To my surprise, she said yes, proposed dates and times and made me promise to call her to firm up details. When she asked me what she should wear, she spoke with a wry smile that somehow told me that she had already decided for us. Now I’m not the kind of artist who easily hands over creative control of a project. I’m usually a dictatorial ass about these things, really. Not with her. I told her to wear whatever she wanted.
My mind immediately went to the details, the questions that needed to be decided before anything could happen but a look into her dark eyes silenced me. I will do what Simon says. The experience would unfold, I heard myself tell myself. I watched her walk away.
She was wearing jeans and t-shirt when she arrived at the appointed time. It wasn’t the kind of costume I was expecting but I resolved to make whatever she chose work for us. Then she laughed and told me that the costume was in her bag, that she thought walking around in classical witch regalia would draw too much attention. I told her that she didn’t know the neighborhood. She laughed.
She asked me about the backdrop and all the props we had. I told her that I put them away because I thought they were too cartoonish for the realism she brought to the role. She told me that was nonsense, that the environment helped to bring the witch out of her, cheezy though they were. I went to fetch the cauldron and broom while she changed into a witch.
As I gathered props, she yelled “crystal ball” from the other room and I added the large crystal sphere to my box of witch goodies. I hung my medieval forest backdrop and arranged the lights. As I turned to go and check on her progress, she entered the room.
Again, she transformed from ordinary young woman into a living, breathing witch, this time in long skirt, corset, cloak and brewer’s hat. I know it sounds trite but on her, the Halloween costume became somehow authentic. I believed she was a witch, although I had already come to believe that, but she looked the part. A pretty witch, no warts on a misshapen nose this one, but not a good witch. I could feel the bad energy surrounding her as she rearranged my props.
She suggested that I move one of the lights over and turn another one down and I did as she said, which is not the sort of thing I would usually do. I couldn’t help myself. I did as I was told. I stood behind the camera and watched as she adjusted her sleeve and then smiled.
I couldn’t take enough pictures. The camera could only respond so fast. I couldn’t capture every angle. I could only be one place at a time. I moved and shot, moved and shot. She twisted, turned, writhed and arched, every expression on her too lovely face contorted to perfect the passing expressions of a bona fide witch going through her courses. Not a moment of her modelling was unusable; I, or maybe it was the camera, seemed to know exactly when to shoot, always from a perfect angle with the light just so. Again, I wasn’t sure I was participating so much as being used. I felt like I was doing her bidding. The entirety of the art was hers.
The woman in the coffee shop was lovely; the dressed-up witch was stunning. Even so, as beautiful as she began, as she stripped away the layers of clothing, her beauty intensified; a flame became a fire became a conflagration became a raging inferno devouring a state’s forests and a visit to hell. That’s how pretty she was, stripping away her stockings, her panties, her bra. Pretty as hell if we can take my metaphor more literally than is usually the custom. Burning lava and brimstone blazing hot hot hot.
The series of photographs depict a woman in constant transformation, changing frame by frame, forcing perspectives and stretching muscles so that continuity in costume was the only thing connecting some captures. The long lean lines of a dancer’s legs would be seen plump and maternal seconds later. No one has ever questioned my use of a single model but I suspect it is because they assume there are hours between each take. I would have taken hours to accomplish the effect.
She didn’t hold back and the camera caught everything. I have seen as much of her as I could see of any woman, in a few hours, brief but intense.
They weren’t commissioned and I haven’t sold them yet. I don’t know if I want to, although I’m sure she expects her share, so I should. I don’t know. I don’t think I can. Nothing moves this time but I still can’t stop staring.