We line up backstage, listening to our directions again. We haven't been assembled all together like this in a great while. I'm careful to look straight ahead, but I gather hints of the ensemble through scent. I know most of the group either through interaction or reputation, but there's at least one new catch in the line. I'm just a little surprised to smell someone new, so I pay attention. I can't get much more than “wet” from the momentary “glimpse” I have of the newest; but I file it away for later.
I mentally prepare myself for the show, and submit to being brushed. The bristles and combs and scissors and fussing unsettle me more than words can say. I truly hate the grooming- I'm fairly good looking on my own and I care for myself well. I hold my tongue while paying mind to my tail.
The music begins, and we listen to the announcements booming across the auditorium. I wasn't allowed to participate in the last show, so my curiosity is up. I don't know why we're here; I know the last time was to invoke some sort of border skirmish over poaching or something akin to that. I hear a large audience waiting for our show, the bustle and voices in the crowd growing with the anticipation of the forthcoming display.
Just before the cue to walk, I’m pulled from the line and moved to the end. I’m handed a donut, and turned to face the rest of the Lost. I hear her cool voice in my ear, more demanding than ever.
“Eat it. Look at them. I want you to wear them all at the end of the show, in the order they walk. It’s very important to look your best, so pay attention. Look carefully, especially Steven. The fins are very important- don’t forget the fins.”
I’m not fazed by the fins- I can handle that. I’m too busy carefully examining the gill-like membranes on his neck. Last time I wore Terrance, I nearly suffocated to death- he doesn’t have a traditional mouth. The gills concern me, so I make certain I understand what they look like, and get ready for the show. His coloring is also a niggling detail. He's a strange hybrid of blue and green that's hard to replicate outside of water.
It just now occurs to me that I’m the finale, and I find myself breathing hard. I swallow down all the thoughts in my head, trying not to recognize the fear or the pride as they slide along with the crumbs of the donut in my throat. I wait and watch as the others move along the catwalk.
Terrance is first. His brutish beauty is hard for any not of this world to see. His thick, rock-like facade appears as obsidian. The harsh folds of rocky outcroppings across his face are the merest suggestions of eyes and mouth, the molten lava angrily glowing in the trenches. His shambling walk, his rugged mantle, and his thick appendages are nothing short of ugly.
Aimee is the contrast to Terrance. She is light and beautiful, full of grace, elegant and perfect. Her dress is made of white roses, her hair silken strands of lace. Her soft skin glows under the spotlights, displaying a hint of blush at the admiring glances. Her stride is careful and she shows her true self as she becomes just a touch arrogant, working her way down the platform, her beauty entrancing many in the crowd.
Mouse follows in a perfunctory fashion, his clockwork body a dazzling display of gears, mechanisms and levers. He's cobbled together in an almost haphazard fashion, nearly contradictory to his precise and impeccable nature. His brass fittings and bronze pieces glint under the harsh lights, and his winding key slightly protrudes from under his plate jacket. His timing is perfect, and he moves off the stage, making room for the next of us.
Rena follows behind him, with a cautious walk. In her time here, she has become a beautiful redwood cello, with her face in the scrollwork, her neck the fretboard, her shoulders the rounded body, with her chest as the bridge and crosspiece. I avert my eyes for a moment, the F holes hard for me to take. She plays a haunting melody with her bow like arm moving across her strings, as she turns and moves off the stage.
Sally is an exceptionally tall, thin and lithe woman. She's pale, ethereal and doesn't appear to be completely finished. She's stitched together in places, with her neck lolling just a bit. Her jet black hair is yarn like, and her eyes are glittering jewels under the dimmed lights. Her long, slim hands are a deep, greasy grey, waxy and pasty, with knife like nails and bits of grave dirt rubbed across them. Her dress is a frothy pink confection, torn and ripped with a skillful eye, and small pieces of puckered flesh peek out from the holes. Her yellow peep toe pumps strike an oddly complex note to the whole picture as she struts along the runway. The crowd notices her unpleasant smell, deeply sour with hints of formaldehyde and makeup. She turns and takes a flourishing bow, smiling with Jack-o-lantern like teeth.
Clarice has been the finale at least once before, but seems to take her change in position well. Her fiery exterior breathes and smolders as she moves down the walkway, her tall form exuding an aura of power. It takes skill to notice the tightly patterned scales beneath the flames, covering her in an exquisite design. Every time I look at her, the figures seem different to me, but today they appear almost as small lizards being consumed by flames. I am transfixed by her hair, each tendril of smoke and flames unique and shifting with her movements.
Steven, the newest of our group, is next. His massive head, with the snarling mouth full of teeth, invoke interest in the crowd. His sleek lines, powerful muscles, rippled fins and thick skin are all marvels in their own respect. His coloring and gills are unique in our group, and his predatory nature peeks through as he seems to survey the crowd for a quick snack. His burbling laughter is cruel and heartless as he whips his body around and heads to the backstage entrance.
I am last, and I step onto the runway, wearing Terrance well. I've mastered his gravely steps, and I've remembered to breathe through my nose. I turn, and Aimee's visage ripples across my body, her white roses falling gently to the floor with my pivot. I stop and turn to the other gallery, with Mouse's mantle dropping quickly into place. The gears, the springs, the levers and the fittings are all in place as I clank a few steps to turn to the next set of viewers. I broadly stroke the strings across my torso as I wear the masterpiece of Rena, and as I raise my bow, my arm lengthens and stretches into Sally's. I've slid into the grave girl, with long and spindly arms and legs all akimbo as I drop to the floor, rag-doll face smiling. My head drops a moment, and I wipe away a “tear”, dripping the wet liquid across my waxy skin, rippling into Steven with a slight amount of effort. I'm now an immense shark, my head moving to and fro across the walkway, searching out new scents and portraying the nature of the hunt. I stay as David just a few moments longer, as I hear her cool voice coming across the auditorium.
“What we have here is an exposition of exquisite enjoyment, a collection of curiosities, a parade of passions. Each item in my collection serves as a symbol of my power, my interests, and my intrigue. I share with you the beauty, the strength, the precise and the mercurial. I offer you an insight to might, a glimpse of the world I invoke. I hope you've enjoyed it.”
I move backstage, still in Steven's form, an idea rumbling in the thick cranium. As I turn towards the group, I notice a full length mirror placed in the corner. It's unusual, but I try to put it out of my head at the moment. I move to the group, talking as well as I can still in his shape. The group disperses after a while, and I move apart from the rest of them.
I take a moment to look in the mirror. I can't remember what I looked like before, so I examine myself now. I drop the contract, and see myself as I truly am.
I hear her voice before I see her or even feel her presence.
“Do you know how I caught you, my dear?”
I shake my head, mutely negating her. I can't bring myself to voice a negative with her nearby.
“If you want to find out, all you have to do is look in the mirror.”
I quietly turn, my fur bristling at the back of my neck. I see her standing before me, tall and imperial, her crystalline ice form shimmering with various colors in the light. Her angular features are grotesquely beautiful, and the shape of her mouth brings up feelings I force right back down.
“Now, now, let's not be contrary, shall we, Elle? Do as I say, and you'll never want again. That was the promise, wasn't it?”
Again I shake my head, unable to breathe the word “no”. My face is blank, a mask-like canvas, empty and waiting for the first touch from the artist. I gently taste what I suspected in the back of my nose, and hold on to the idea behind a careful screen.
“Elle, you must listen to me. I am here to bring you truth. You know why I caught you, don't you?”
She's getting more insistent now, trying to bring me back to face this thing she calls truth. Every time she's used truth before, it's been the deepest of torture, and today, I refuse.
I turn, quick as a flash, and smash the mirror over her head, crashing its immense weight down on her. The frame is a thick, old fashioned iron affair, and as it crumbles and breaks down over her, it bites into the top of her shoulder. Her crystalline form is her downfall today, as she shatters and breaks into slivers and shards all across the back room. I look behind where the mirror stood, and my idea is proven. There's a door, with scents I remember from the land before time, and I dart out, trying not to betray my fear.
I look back one last time, and her smashed and battered form lies at the center of the room, the million little pieces each just as beautiful as her full self. I shake my head and run, trying to clear both the image of a tail with a flash of white at the tip laying among the ruins, and the voice echoing behind me.
“You know why I caught you, don't you? We're both just alike.”