Jenny looked at her reflection in the mirror in the ladies room. Her golden hair drawn into a pony-tail. Her face made up to give her pretty features the look of a middle-eastern harem girl. The look continued below where a bikini of pale blue transparent fabric supported and displayed her bust. In her navel sparkled a blue stone that might be a sapphire.
Barely above her hips began Harem pants in the same material as her top. Jenny was amazed and confused by what was below. Instead of her legs, as might be expected, she disappeared into a trail of smoke that wafted lazily into the spout of the Aladdin-style lamp that had been placed on the counter in front of the mirror.
She picked up the lamp and drifted purposefully out of the door to continue her organisational duties.
Jenny was an events planner with an events planning agency and was accustomed to organising all aspects of all sorts of events; everything from charity dinners to celebrity weddings and everything from catering and entertainment to take home bags of goodies at awards ceremony after-parties.
The head of the agency called her in and offered the challenge of her career. "I want you to organise every aspect of a weekend-long charity event, but before I tell you any more, I need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement."
Jenny glanced over the NDA and found it to be standard, except when it came to the penalties for disclosure; these seemed draconian, including losing her job and the circulation of her name to other agencies as having broken the NDA.
"How am I meant to organise anything if I can't tell anyone about it?" she asked.
"You get them to sign a similar agreement before you disclose any details, legal have prepared them so that if they are broken then the contract breakers go out of business, but the remuneration reflects this."
"Who on earth would want to have such a secretive charity event?"
"Celebrities and business people who want to let their hair down and not have it get into the media. They pay handsomely for the privacy and donate a huge amount to charity to make it tax deductible. Have you ever heard of the Transformations Trust?"
"Yes, they donate to other charities to help 'transform' people's lives, but I never heard where they get so much money."
"And you never will, unless you sign the NDA, Jenny."
Curiosity and a liking for a challenge caused her to sign the NDA.
"Now that you have signed, I can tell you that the Transformations Trust's main source of income is the annual event you will be organising. It's called the Transformations Ball. It's a combination fancy dress ball and a sex party, hence the extreme secrecy, because what happens there stays there, no matter how much newspaper A would pay to find out what celebrity B did with business man C; get my drift?"
Jenny nodded "I assume there's a brief."
He handed her a thick manila folder. "You should find the venue, catering and security quite easy to sort out, because there is a short list of each, which gave a good showing for the last three years that the agency organised. So you'll spend most of your time with the entertainment and the costumes, which must top last years. A full list of the entertainment and pictures from the past balls are on the data-stick; the password is 'Fred Flintstone'."
"You mentioned costumes; surely they can't be that difficult."
"The costumes are probably the most important part after the privacy. The tradition is each guest comes in a costume and if it is deemed unoriginal or not good enough, that guest is 'fined' a donation to the charity (last year it was $20,000) and provided with a costume that meets the standard. The first year the replacement costumes were of a very high quality and the second year they were even better because we had a team of seamstresses to make sure they actually fitted perfectly. Last year, Connor, our new executive in charge of administration, had the inspiration to replace inadequate costumes with body paint." Jenny raised an eyebrow. "Yes, it is that kind of party. You'll see when you get a look at the pictures. So the most challenging aspect of the whole thing after the privacy and keeping a hundred or so guests, who are used to demanding the best and getting it, happy, will be coming up with a costume regime that beats anything that has gone before."
"I'd better go and put my thinking cap on, once I've looked at the pictures."
"You do that, we are counting on you. By the way, if any of those pictures or the guest list find their way to the press, you are so fired, that you'll need to leave the planet to get another job. And good luck!"
As her boss had said, she found the venue, catering and security easy. The previous suppliers knew the form and readily signed up to their NDAs. The entertainment was a bit trickier, partly because some of the acts did not like being so secretive, but mainly because the type of act was not in Jenny's usual line. But, soon, after some consultation with a colleague, Jenny had most of the acts sorted. That just left the problem of the costuming.
The progression of costume originality and quality needed to be maintained and Jenny was beginning to feel the pressure.
Just providing high quality costumes, even with a fitting service, just would not cut it and doing body painting again, would lack the originality factor.
Six weeks before the event and she was losing sleep. She had even flirted with the idea of virtual costumes only to discover, despite some claims to the contrary, that even the most up-to-date technology would not be up to it.
Eventually, her flat-mate asked her what the problem was. "You seem way beyond the normal stressed that goes with your job, you're not sleeping and pacing all night; quite frankly it's getting on my nerves. I know you don't like to talk about your problems, but we both need the rest, so talk to me about it."
Jenny was about to protest the NDA, when she realised that she did not need to go into details. "What the hell; they say 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. At the moment I'm organising something called the Transformations Ball; it's an extremely high end fancy dress party."
"From what you've said before, that should be a walk in the park for you. I'm guessing that there's some catch."
"Well, yes, if you call it a catch. I've got to top the previous three years balls and the standard started very high, especially for the replacement costumes for those guests that don't meet the standard for originality and quality of costume. In fact everything is sorted except the costume business. If I get it right I might get a seat on the board, but if I get it wrong my life won't be worth living."
"It can't be that bad, surely?"
"Yes it can. I signed up to 'you'll never work in this town again - or any other'"
"So, you worried you'll get fired, if you can't come up with some costumes for this thing you're organising."
Jenny described in general terms the costumes she was trying to better and some of the avenues she had explored.
"Wow! You seem to have got yourself a problem and a half there, Jenny."
"Yes, and you said you'd help me solve it, Karen"
"No. I did not. But what kind of friend would I be if I didn't try to help a bit."
The silence that followed lasted for more than ten minutes during which Jenny became acutely aware of the tick of the clock in the kitchen and the rumble of the late night traffic on the street fifteen floors below their apartment.
When Karen said, "Ah-ha!" Jenny physically jumped.
"You've had an idea, Karen?"
"Not directly, but I've thought of a place to start. You know that management course I went on last month?"
"Yeah. You said it was mostly the same old BS and the good bits, you could write on a small piece of paper with room for a laundry list."
"That's the one. But I remembered something they said that may help your problem."
"And this discarded pearl of wisdom was ...?"
"They said, 'Restate your problem differently'"
"And what does that do?"
"It's supposed to let you look at the problem from a different angle that may lead to an unexpected solution."
"Sounds like a load of rubbish, but I'm getting desperate, so how does it work?"
"First you state the core of the problem in as simple and specific a manner as possible, then you change the terms you are using until something happens that inspires."
"So, my problem is to find better costumes for this event I'm organising."
"Be more specific!"
"'Better costumes for the Transformations Ball'"
"Good start, but we already know 'costumes' is the word that is causing the problem, because none of the other words could be changed without changing the problem too much."
"I suppose, but what can we do with that?"
"Replace it with something easier to solve."
"You mean like 'changes', because you wear a costume for a change from your usual so you feel like someone different."
"Now you’re getting it, but what about 'transformations'?"
Jenny ran that thought past her ear by saying, "'Better transformations for the Transformations Ball'" A moment later inspiration struck. "Who transforms people?" trying to get a handle on the thought before it escaped.
"Plastic surgeons?" suggested Karen.
"True, but totally impractical for a weekend. But what about movie makeup and special effects artists?"
"That sounds do-able to me. Write it down and go get the rest you've been denying us for the last week. If it still looks like something worth pursuing in the morning; great. If it looks like rubbish at least we'll have got some much needed sleep."
"Thanks, Karen." Jenny sent herself an email for the morning and then went to bed.
The following morning was spent talking to various makeup and effect companies and experts. Most seemed of the opinion that they were too busy or the timescales were too short, if such an enterprise was actually possible at all.
Jenny was coming to the end of the sixth similar conversation with a head of effects, when the sentence came over the telephone, "You want all that for that many people in less than six weeks; you don't need an effects company, you need a magician."
As she went to the staff kitchen to get yet another coffee, the word 'magician' wandered through her brain looking for something to hook up with. It hooked up with the word 'transformation'.
She had already hired a magician, because they were good at combining secrecy with publicity, so she called him.
"Let me get this straight, you're asking if I can do transformations on guests that will last the weekend by magic."
"You're kidding right. You know stage magic isn't real."
"Yes, but I thought I'm looking to transform my guests and I thought I'd ask you, as a professional specialising in transformations, what you thought. If nothing else, I'd know not to look any further in that direction."
"Well, I can't do anything like that, but I have an acquaintance who may be able to help. How about if I call him and call you back with his number if he is interested. If you have some TV producers or such like on that guest list of yours, he may not even charge you."
Two coffees and a lack-lustre cheese and tomato sandwich later the magician called back, to say that Mike the Magician had said yes to doing 'transformation of guests'. There was an up front fee for 'gathering of materials', but on the assurance that there would be several major TV executives present, Mike agreed to do it at cost. Once the contracts and NDAs were signed, he said he would be there with his two assistants on the Friday morning to set up and would begin transforming guests from Friday afternoon in the pair of large meeting rooms he insisted he needed.
That night Jenny realised that she had not asked, and Mike had not volunteered, what he was planning to transform guests into or how. When she called, the answer-phone told her that Mike would be unavailable for the next few weeks while he prepared for possibly the biggest and most important gig of his life.
Jenny had spent a large part of the week working out of a conference room at the large hotel in the middle of a vast estate that was hosting the Transformations Ball. The troubleshooting of the event had been very minor, leaving her plenty of time to worry about things that did not need to be worried about, because they were in the hands of experienced professionals.
About 10:30 on Friday, security called saying that a man calling himself Mike the Magician had arrived with a convoy of three large vans, but was not on the list of people to allow in. Once Jenny had sorted this rare oversight out, Mike and his two assistants unloaded the contents of the first van into the allocated meeting rooms and parked them all in a secure, but out of sight car park.
After lunch, Jenny went down to the meeting room to apologise for the mix-up and get some idea what Mike had planned for her guests.
She knocked and entered. The three people in the room were totally not what she had expected. Mike was in his early twenties and lounged in a chair, wearing a faded green t-shirt and equally faded jeans; on the phone he had sounded a lot more mature. His two assistants were Mary, his mother, and Hannah, his sister. They resembled each other and they all had red-brown hair, which might have been chestnut or ginger depending on the light. Hannah, in a smarter green t-shirt and brown skirt, fussed with a vast array of wigs that had filled the table that had been pushed to the wall. Mary was in a red dress and was steaming the costumes that hung from a rail that ran the length of the wall opposite the table full of wigs.
Beyond the partition, the connecting room was crammed with all manner of equipment, boxes and cabinets.
"Hello, I'm Jenny. I guess you have to be Mike. I'm sorry about the oversight with security, but you did not say you would be arriving in a convoy."
Mike looked at Jenny as if he was having ideas that might be inappropriate. Jenny decided that given the chance she would avoid him for as much of the weekend as possible. "Yes, I am Mike and the thing with security only delayed us by about half an hour. That reminds me, we haven't eaten yet. What do we do about meals here?"
"Call Room Service and order whatever you want. Event staff are not allowed alcohol while on duty and will be charged for it when off duty." Jenny went into her patter to newly arrived event staff.
Before she got through the next sentence, Mike held up his hand and interrupted. "Hold your horses, Miss Jenny; we are most certainly not 'event staff'." He sneered the last words as if he felt he had been insulted. "We are 'specialist magical contractors', and as such we don't do alcohol." This he said as if it was totally, obviously and unquestionably true. "We have all read and understood the contract and so know how we are meant to behave, so save your little lecture for those who don't understand from the outset that you treat everyone with respect and the clients with a degree of deference, without being outright sycophantic."
"I’m glad that's understood," commented Jenny, not sure she liked Mike, and not sure what to say next. She was flustered, which seldom happened.
Before anyone else could speak, Mary intervened. "Hi, Jenny. I'm Mary. My son gets a bit grouchy if he hasn't eaten or been doing magic. We got your message, but as we were busy organising supplies and access to specialist materials, we didn't really have time to get back to you. Besides we don't really know exactly what we are going to do," Jenny's jaw dropped at this admission. "Don't worry, we have the materials and equipment to do what you want to achieve, even if we don't have an exact plan." She turned to her daughter and said, "Go in the other room and order us all a good solid lunch; I expect we will be very busy and we'll need to be at our best when things start happening."
Hannah scurried to find the phone the other room, while Mary continued, "perhaps you had better come back once we've eaten so we can demonstrate what kind of transformations we plan for your guests; I expect Mike will be more likable with steak and chips inside him."
Jenny left the room worried that a large part of her future depended on a moody magician who didn't seem to have a plan.
The next couple of hours flew by as Jenny inspected all sorts of things that did not need or want inspecting. This was mainly because she was nervous and needed the distraction from what seemed to have all the makings of a disaster in the transformations department.
About three in the afternoon she returned to the meeting room.
Mike was in the other room, but Mary greeted her. "Welcome back. We are nearly ready for your transformation."
"Yes, of course. You wanted to see what we have planned for your guests. So, what better way to demonstrate than performing a transformation on you? It will assure you that we know what we are doing, give an example of the standard of costume/transformation expected and you'll feel so much better about everything too."
"I thought you were going to show me your stuff on yourself or Hannah."
"That might have been a good plan if we didn't want to show you that we can work with unprepared people, which will be most of your guests, right?"
"I guess, but what are you going to do?"
"Well, I'll provide that costume part and Hannah will sort out your hair and make-up, then Mike will add the magical finishing touches that will turn an ordinary costume into something special."
"I don't suppose it'll hurt to try it out. Hair or costume first?"
"I've selected a costume for you; It's hanging on the screen over there," Mary said, pointing to a screened off area. "You'll need to remove all your clothes before you put the costume on, because it'll spoil the effect if you don't."
Jenny went behind the screens and found only one costume. It was a pale blue bikini top, so sheer you could have read through it, and a pair of harem pants in the same see-through fabric and colour. "I can't wear this," she protested, "everyone one will see everything; it's indecent."
"You have read the brief you sent us? Indecent or very sexy are what we are supposed to be aiming for. You'll look very sexy once we've done our thing and there won't be as much as you expect on show, once Mike has done his bit; until then it's just us three girls and I don't reckon you've got anything we haven't."
Not seeing any other options that did not involve being on the breadline for the rest of her life, she stripped and put on the bikini and harem pants, which, as she feared, concealed nothing.
As Jenny stepped out from behind the screen, Mary gave her a wolf-whistle. "I thought you would have a good figure under that business suit, but you look even better than I expected. This transformation will be so perfect for you. I'm glad we persuaded Mike to do this one on you. Alright, sit over there and let Hannah do you hair and make-up!"
As Jenny sat, Hannah opened a huge make-up box and picked out brushes and applications and then started to put most of it back. "You have lovely skin," she complimented, "I only really need to do your eyes and lips and then your hair." Soon Hannah had applied lipstick, kohl and an eyebrow pencil, changing Jenny's occidental features into something more resembling a beautiful middle-eastern face. "Now for your hair. Please sit up straight!" Shortly, all Jenny's hair had been swept up into a ponytail high on the back of her head and extensions added so that the ponytail was uniform and reached the base of the back of her neck.
While Hannah was putting the finishing touches to Jenny face and hair, Mike entered from the other room dragging a contraption that, while not totally unfamiliar, she could not quite place. One end was a person-sized cabinet, next to that was a table about waist height and then a clear plastic box the same height as the table. Jenny clamped an arm across her chest and a hand over her groin. "What's that?"
"This, Jenny, is how I'm going to complete your transformation." He turned to Mary, "Mum, please would you install Jenny in the cabinet, while I go and get a last few items."
"Hannah, are you finished with Jenny?"
Hannah gave one last sustained spray with the hair lacquer, then announced, "She's done."
Mary opened the door on the side of the cabinet and with a motion, invited Jenny to step forward and enter the cabinet. Jenny approached as if she almost expected Mary and Hannah to jump her and compel to enter the cabinet. Still tense she looked inside and saw nothing, but empty space, holes for face, feet and a hand to show through and the outlines of a pair of roughly triangular doors in the front.
"Is it safe?" asked Jenny.
Mary smiled, "Yes, of course it's safe. I've been in there dozens of times and the worst I've come out with was a small bruise, which was mainly my fault." Jenny looked doubtful. "I assure you that Mike is one of the best at what he does and you'll come to no harm."
"So, what do I do?"
"Just get in the box and face front and let Mike do his thing."
"That sounds too simple."
"It is, but when you see what Mike's thing is it takes some courage." Jenny was still hesitating when Mary added, "And you had better get in now, if you don't want Mike to see everything."
Jenny stepped hurriedly into the cabinet and positioned herself with face, feet and hands at the holes in the front, while Mary latched the door by which she had entered. The interior was not quite as roomy as it first appeared as in this position Jenny's barely covered breasts pressed against the front of the cabinet, her bottom touched the back and her hips did not have more than an inch of sideways movement allowed to them.
She heard Mike enter the room, but with the cabinet facing the other direction, neither could see the other. "Is Jenny ready?" asked a voice that seemed more like the mature Mike she remembered from the telephone. Hannah nodded. "In that case I'll get on with it. It'll feel so good to use my magic properly."
Mike came into sight and she was amazed; he had changed from the scruffy early twenty-year-old into a dapper well dressed gentleman, with a sapphire tie-pin in his early forties, but somehow Jenny was certain that this was the same person. The biggest change had come over Mike, was that, instead of producing a terror that he would ruin her life, he actually seemed to instil confidence that everything would turn out for the best.
He carried the tray he was holding over to a small nearby table and transferred a bottle of water, a polystyrene box and middle-eastern style oil lamp. The tray turned out to be a flat sheet of metal with a handle at one end and a sharp edge at the other. He approached the cabinet swinging the blade casually, but always in control.
"Where's that going?" Jenny asked.
"Through you," he replied matter-of-factly. "I'll be using it to divide you into two."
"Oh," responded Jenny; not sure what to make of this information. "Will it hurt?"
"Not unless you have an extremely low pain threshold. In fact, most people would not notice it if they didn't know it was coming." Mike lined the blade up with a slot in the side of the cabinet through which she had entered and smoothly pushed it through. It touched her at the widest point on her hips and passed through as if she was smoke. "Please grip the handhold on the inside of the cabinet and keep you other hand in the hand-hole."
"Ok," as she leaned back slightly to see the handle he had referred to. Handle gripped, Jenny returned her face to the face hole. Almost immediately her point of view moved eighteen inches to her right. "Hey, what just happened?"
"Mum, bring the mirror and show her, while I get the last bit ready."
Jenny discovered that she had indeed been cut in two, her legs standing in the bottom half of the cabinet (she could see they were her legs once Hannah had opened the front cabinet doors) and her top half sat on the adjacent table. By straining her face through the face hole, she could just see her bare toes sticking out of the lower half directly.
Meanwhile, Mike slid the top off the clear plastic part of the apparatus. He put some water in the lamp and lowered it onto a shelf inside.
"Are you ready? Because I need to do the next bit quite quickly."
"Ok, do it!"
Mike went to the polystyrene box and using tongs extracted a whitish pill that smoked faintly. He placed the object into the open top of the lamp and closed it. Vapours began emerging from the spout of the lamp. The magician slid the clear plastic top back onto the clear box and flicked a switch that activated some fans in the walls of the transparent section. The vapours formed into a vortex that rose towards the box lid. Satisfied with what was going on in the box, Mike slid the upper cabinet onto the lid of the box and lifted it up off Jenny's upper half. He opened a control box and made some adjustments, resulting in the smoky tornado in the box being altered into something that seemed lazier, like an inside-out version of the eddy over the plughole in a draining bath. He gripped the edge of the box's lid and said, "It'll feel strange at first, but it will start to feel normal-ish. Don't try to do anything until it feels natural."
The magician yanked the lid from below Jenny's torso, but Jenny only dropped half an inch; when her severed surface touched the smoky vortex it seemed to connect to her.
At first, all Jenny felt was the chill of the smoke from the lamp touching her in places nothing should be able to reach, deep inside her upper pelvis. As they all watched (Jenny via the mirror) the quality of the funnel of smoke changed; the white that had issued from the lamp's spout, gradually shifted to a grey and then the blue of Jenny's costume. It also stopped being a swirling mass; becoming a lazy undulation, like the drift of smoke from a recently snuffed candle. Jenny was feeling the sensation from her legs fade and a connectedness with the smoke and the lamp.
"I think I know what you mean by it feeling normal-ish," said Jenny. Mike switched off the fans and the smoke between her severed hips and the lamp stabilised a bit and thickened a bit. "I'm feeling calm about something that shouldn't be possible or happening to me."
Mike reached into the plastic box and took out the lamp. The only part of Jenny that moved was the trail of smoke. He handed the lamp to Mary and said, "Take Jenny to somewhere she can practise moving around in privacy. Then we can have some tea and get ready for the guests that will come to be transformed."
Just before Jenny was out of reach of the magician, he said, “Oops! I nearly forgot something,” as he grabbed her by the wrist. He drew her back to him, while Mary stopped where she was and the trail between Jenny hips and the lamp in Mary’s hands thinned a little. Mike drew the pin from his tie and inserted it point first into Jenny’s navel. The sensation that accompanied pushing in of the pin was a sensual rubbing, not the sharp and painful feeling that she had anticipated. “That’s the final touch to you transformation. Enjoy the weekend.”
Jenny followed Mary to the ladies room; it seemed natural to follow the lamp, if she stopped of tried to go in another direction it seemed wrong. Once in the room Mary helped her with moving after the lamp when held by another and the drifting when Jenny herself carried the lamp. Mary left when she could see that Jenny was fully in control of the new version of herself.
Before Mary went, Jenny asked, "What's going to happen to my legs?"
"We'll store them so they will be good as new when you get them back on Sunday, unless we need a spare pair of legs of someone else's transformation. Don't worry though, because if somebody borrows your legs, they'll need your permission to use them for anything other than legs so they will be safe."
Jenny paused to admire her new self, then went to continue her duties.
She felt the weekend was going to be the best of her life.
Continues in part two