“Can you arch your back a little more, honey?” Brady said, peering around the barrel of his lens. “I’m getting a bulge in that position.”
Sidney strategically pinned herself in the base of the large, empty bathtub. She rolled her hips forward to obscure her pubic hair with her thigh and draped her forearm across her nipples. She flinched at the word bulge, wanting to contort to smooth her side. Without unraveling the meticulous pose, she strained to turn her gaze toward Brady. She felt the sharp tug as her skin held fast in place.
“Uh, no, I can’t,” Sidney replied. “I’m stuck.”
“Damn it,” Brady huffed, placing his camera down on the bathroom counter beside him. “Is that blood dry again?”
Sidney’s bare flesh glistened in a liberal coating of fake blood. The thick, red liquid drew patterns over her naked skin in drips and spatters. Stark, crimson smears tainted the garish white tub, evidence of Sidney’s every movement.
Brady snatched the small spray bottle from beside his camera and bent over his model.
“This stuff looks so good, so real, but it dries so fast,” he said.
The spray bottle honked loudly before the chill of the water droplets bit at Sidney’s skin through the blood. She contracted against the cold, flexing her muscles to hold the pose. She did not want to endure Brady’s exasperation at having to align her again, and she did not want to tug her skin into bruises as it peeled away from the dried blood, like last time. She hissed through pursed lips and lay frozen until the water began to loosen her syrup bondage.
“At least we learned about the water last time,” she laughed.
Brady replaced the water bottle and gathered his camera back into his hands, climbing up on the tile platform encasing the bathtub. He straddled the basin and leaned forward over her.
“Do not fall on me,” she said, still giggling.
“Oh honey, I don’t know if that would be more traumatic for you or me.”
“You. You would be stuck to a naked woman.”
“Plus, I would probably break my camera.” Brady peered through the view finder. “OK, there. Now, arch. Little more. Little more. Yes, right there. Bulge gone.”
Sidney let a subtle, relieved breath escape her lips before going rigid in the awkward position. The blood tightened as it dried on her skin. The unforgiving curve of the tub pressed into her hips, her knees, her elbows. She craned her neck until a light burn stretched along her tendons. Then she stopped breathing as the camera’s shutter snapped furiously.
“I think we got that one,” Brady said, dismounting the bathtub platform. “It’s some creepy shit for sure.”
“That’s what we’re after!” Sidney remained immobile, splayed on the bottom of the tub. “Can we turn on the water now?”
“You want to go full blood bath?”
“Sure, why not?”
“You just want to wash off the blood,” he laughed, placing his camera down again.
“We could add some blood to the water. Really make it red. Brace yourself for all the period comments online!”
“We get those every time we do blood. No matter where the blood is. Blood plus woman equals menstruation, apparently.” She rolled her eyes without moving her head.
“I blame straight men.”
“You blame straight men for everything.”
“Am I wrong, honey?” Brady’s light laugh danced against the tile. He popped out a hip and raised his eyebrow high at his model. “We can do blood bath, but I want to get some shots of you kind of gripping the edge or climbing out of the tub first. Bloody like you are.”
“Um, you’re going to have to spray me again.”
Brady emptied his lungs dramatically, allowing his hands to fly up then slap onto his pants. He rolled his eyes with his entire face before his smile betrayed him. He snickered to himself as he brandished the spray bottle again.
“You enjoy this too much,” she said, slowly unhinging her limbs like the Tin Man.
“Taking bloody pictures? Of course I do. I love our twisted little art.”
“No, my suffering while we take bloody pictures.”
“Well, that’s just a lovely bonus.” He smirked.
“Sadist,” she returned.
Brady mimed a gasp and pressed his fingertips to his chest. “What has Jordan been telling you?” he laughed.
Brady stopped spraying and pursed his lips sideways at her. Finely misted, Sidney released her pose, peeling her limbs from their suggestive positioning. Slick with the mingling of fake blood and water, she slid and skidded over the porcelain as she struggled to pull herself out. She slipped and groped, wrapping her fingers around the edge of the tub.
“Shit!” Brady exclaimed. “Right there. Don’t move!”
“You are just the worst.” Sidney shook her head.
Brady hastily tossed the spray bottle and replaced it with his camera once more. He dropped expertly to his knees and leveled the lens with her fingertips.
“Oh, it’s dripping perfectly,” he mused, clicking away. “Now, move closer. Get your eyes up behind your knuckles.”
Sidney submitted to his guidance, as she always did.
“Yes, right there,” he continued. “Now, give me creepy eyes. One, two, three!”
Sidney snapped her eyes open to the limit of their lids and tugged her lips tightly across her teeth. Brady gasped quietly before the sound of the ravenous shutter drowned him out.
“Yes!” he laughed, staring at the back of the camera to review the shots. “Shit, you are creepy! I love it.”
He turned the screen to her. She barely recognized her contorted and blood-stained face. Her creased forehead drew up her brows to show the whites of her eyes in full, panicked flare. Her grimace drew awful lines in the blood trailing her chin. She looked maniacal, frantic, possessed.
The image struck her in its entirety, before her brain could pick apart the residual shape left in her consciousness like a sunspot on her eyes. Could she still see that bulge? Would the filters Brady applied deepen the creases in her face? When would she post the image? How many clever blood bath puns could she come up with for captions? When the commenters became vicious, she thought she might say something about bathing in the blood of her enemies.
“It’s perfect,” she smiled.
Brady snatched the camera to his eye and captured the honest grin on her face before it faded back into the blood on her cheeks.
“Now, you can have the water,” he said from behind the lens.
Sidney peeled herself carelessly from the tub and cranked on the faucet. She captured the spray in her hands and smoothed it over her skin. The blood swelled and spread at the contact.
“Don’t go washing it all off,” Brady scolded. “I don’t want to have to completely reapply. It’s bad enough I have to pour the blood on you myself. We really need an assistant for this.”
“Aw, you poor baby,” Sidney mocked. “Yes, please come pour fake chocolate blood on some naked girl while she whines and the photographer yells at her.”
Brady gasped again. “I do not yell at you.”
Sidney puckered her lips and furrowed her brow.
“OK, I don’t yell at you that much,” he laughed.
Sidney pressed back from the faucet and lounged in the deepening water. Smooth warmth swelled around her, glorious in comparison to her dry contortions against the cruel tub. She basked in the contrast, swishing her fingertips through the surface of the water. Brady popped to his feet and gently placed his camera on the cabinet again. As he lifted the red-stained Tupperware, Sidney cringed.
“Don’t give me that face,” Brady said, slowly stirring the fake blood with a large spoon. “This is always your idea.”
Sidney let out a little whimper. “I know,” she said, pouting.
Smiling broadly, Brady scooped the red liquid and began drizzling the spoon over the water. Thick and lazy droplets slithered through the air and splattered over Sidney, dripping from her skin to turn the water crimson. As the spoon emptied, Brady cocked his head to evaluate the scene. Then he heaped on two more spoonfuls.
“So, what are you planning to do with these blood bath pictures?” Brady said through the lens as he hovered over her.
“I’m writing an article about the best bathroom death scenes in horror,” she replied, between poses. “So, the pictures will go into the article. Then I’ll use them when I post the article on social media. You know, the usual.”
“Luring people like a siren with your bloody nakedness.”
The shutter snapped again.
“It gets people’s attention. If I can get their attention, they might click. If they click, they might read. If they read, I might not have to work my horrible, soul-crushing day job for the rest of my life.”
The answer felt dead in its rehearsed dance off her tongue. She said it so often when asked about their pictures online. She told herself, as much as she told everyone else, that she just needed the right amount of internet celebrity—enough to be able to support herself.
The shutter snapped again.
“Lift your chin, honey,” he said, crouching closer.
Sidney’s reflection gleamed in the open mouth of the lens. Her eyes looked wide and lost, searching. She tugged her face to exaggerate the expression. She stared into the black hole until the camera blurred out of focus.
“They do catch people’s attention,” he echoed, continually turning the focus on the lens. “I’m going to use these and the ones from our butcher shoot at the next convention I go to. Might see about getting into a gallery around Halloween. You know, when people are in the bloody mindset. You could bring your mother. I know they’re her favorite.”
“I don’t know why that woman bothers to follow me on social media. Everything I post just upsets her.” Sidney splashed defiantly in the water.
“You’re like a train wreck. She can’t look away.”
“Hey now!” she laughed. “It’s not just my mother. People have the strangest reactions to our pictures. Every time you release one, there are the comments, of course.”
“Straight guys making jokes about periods.”
“Right. But then there is also a rash of messages.”
“Honey, I told you to just forward those dick pictures off to me.”
“And face Jordan’s wrath? I don’t think so.”
The shutter continued to snap.
“OK, sink lower into the water,” he said. “Yeah, get some of your face in there. I know it’s gross. You do this to yourself.”
Sidney pursed her lips and sunk into the sticky water. She let the horror on her face tell the story Brady wanted to capture.
“I think we got it,” he finally said, after another flurry of shutter snaps. “Let me help you out of there.”
Brady extended his hands and gripped both of Sidney’s. His fingertips pressed into her skin through the slickness of the blood. As she stood in the tub, a strange mingling of water and blood droplets rained back down around her. Once she was upright, naked and dripping, Brady released her and gathered a towel around her. He held her shoulders through the towel and steadied her until she stepped out onto solid ground.
“How long on edits, do you think?” Sidney said.
“I’ll have at least a couple done today, just like usual. I know you have that article you want to get posted.”
“And you need fresh pictures on your profiles.”
“Exactly. Our symbiotic collaboration. I get a cooperative model into all sorts of twisted shit, and you get custom, clickbait media for your articles.”
“I think you got the sweeter end of this deal.”
Sidney smirked as she stood naked, awkward, and sticky—coated in dried fake blood. Brady responded with a mischievous grin.
“Get showered off,” he said. “And we’ll see how terrifying you were today. Then you’ll help me clean up this disaster.”
“Maybe we do need an assistant,” Sidney said.