I blame Chuck Wendig’s terrible mind for the existence of this story. No, really, he MADE me do it by posting a flash fiction challenge to acquire a random trope from TVTropes.org. I cheated and picked two. The first one is “splash panel” – a large spread in a comic book that steps back from the action to take a bigger picture. I actually picked a cover shot instead of a true splash panel, but I think the shoe fits. The second trope would change how you perceive the story, so I’ll tell you at the end. Without further ado, I give you “The Unveiling”:
I stand at the sculpture, barely registering the champagne clink and chatty buzz of comic art aficionados taking in Lopez’s latest show. Compared to the two-dimensional comic art, there’s something inescapably animated about the sculptures here. This one particularly captivates: the true-to-life blush on the child’s cheek, perhaps, or the different emotions she expresses, depending on minute changes in my viewing angle. From here, there’s a trusting restfulness in the face. A half step left…just here…a tension in the jawline and eyes transforms the expression into…it may be fear, but I’m undecided.
A troublingly masculine voice warms my shoulder: “In that dress, one might study you ten times longer than you’ve studied that piece.” There’s more than a hint of Spain in the accent.
My witty-but-defensive remark disappears as Lopez himself comes into view. He’s arrestingly attractive up close.
“Having seen your face, I might have said ‘a hundred times longer.’” Apparently the green cocktail dress was the right choice for tonight.
“Nonsense!” I offer a luminous smile, “An animate person is infinitely more viewable than a sculpture.”
Tiny, attractive wrinkles crinkle around his eyes as he smiles in turn. “Then we are agreed–I can study you infinitely longer than you’ve studied my Sonya here.” He gestures at the sculpture. “Though it is rather difficult to tear the eyes from her,” he says, his eyes not moving from me.
The tinkling of a bell across the room precludes further conversation. “Tragically, I must be excused.” He sighs, “It appears time to unveil my latest sculpture. I hope you find it similarly captivating,” clearly referring to me, and not Sonya.
A few graceful strides place Lopez before a red and black drape, a semi-circle of mostly black-clad guests gathering around. “This piece,” he gestures with a flourish, “which I will shortly unveil, pays tribute to my life-long…hmm…appreciation for the femininity of the super heroine. In particular, it translates a scene I had the privilege to witness as a boy. I barely recall the circumstances of the day it happened. I was most likely skipping school, walking in my usual reverie toward the excellent—now defunct—comic book shop on Front Street.
“Suddenly, a strange man stood before me. He eyed me with the most peculiar commingling of desire and contempt. He was huge and unmistakably powerful and I realized I was doomed. But then he froze, looking above me.
“I looked up, and her image as she soared over me will forever be frozen in my mind.
“Her stance is almost that of a hurdler: right leg bent behind, left leg thrust forward, an arm thrown out for balance. But her purpose is more aggressive than any hurdler, the left foot poised to deliver an awesome blow to my assailant. And her outfit, ay Dios mío,” he pauses to remember, “The way she fills that tight black leather outfit is pure heaven. Her hair swirls above her head, and her eyes look straight down into mine.
“Few people know I convinced my dear friend, Daniel Acuña, to draw the scene for the cover of Black Widow #2 in 2010. I sketched the lines for him and he did the rest. There’s magic in his work, but I’ve struggled for years to express my own appreciation. I had to capture the vision that is the ‘Black Widow’ in my art, to recreate the perspective from my memory, so that I might study the moment for an infinity of moments.” His eyes catch mine as he says this last part, and I decide that I like this man.
“But what could I create that would show both the power of her presence, and the unavoidable sex appeal of her oh-so-feminine body? How could I capture her, contain her, and yet maintain the sense of independence that always emanated from her? I tried. For years I’ve tried.
“And now, finally, I’ve succeeded.” He turns, grasps a black cord on the drape, and pulls. “Here, then, is my vision of the ‘Black Widow’.”
The black and red drape slips to the floor, drawing in the crowd like an inhalation. An excited murmur greets the sculpture.
She glides just above head level, suspended on nearly invisible filaments. Every curve, every line is so real that I wait for her to move, to continue the speed and fluid aggression of her frozen aerial kick. The curve of her hips, the arch of her neck, her amazing breasts, her grace and danger; she’s exactly what we expected from Lopez’s description. I finally understand what they mean when they say “masterpiece”.
She’s so entrancingly life-like that I barely hear a woman near the front: “My god, that’s too real to be a sculpture.” She’s clearly taken in by the workmanship, not understanding the idea she’s planted in me. I reexamine the sculpture, poring over minute details. Finally I see the blemish I didn’t want to see. From one particular angle, a fine line—almost microscopic—can be seen along the back of one arm. Another traces the nape of her neck.
I understand, all at once, that this is not really a sculpture at all. Horrified, my eyes circle other pieces in the room: several mammals, a shark, children in various poses, including Sonya. Now that I know, I see them for what they are: the carefully reconstructed flesh of the artist’s victims.
I complete my turn and find myself face-to-face with Lopez. He’s suave and calm, but—alert now—I detect a hint of formaldehyde under his expensive cologne. My arm tingles numbly where he touches my elbow, and I feel strangely removed from myself.
“Would you like to see my studio?” He asks, as he steers me, dumbfounded, toward a black door. “I’ve been…hmm…planning my next piece. It will have to include this green color you’re so delightfully wearing.”
So…I hoped you like it. I promised to tell you; the second trope I drew (at random, I swear) was “surprise creepy”. Hopefully I hit the nail on the head. And hopefully none of the Black Widow fanboys out there want to taxidermy my hide for this.