I’m a dancer. A ballerina, to be exact. I’ve studied ballet for as long as I can remember. It’s my one real passion. I’d spend every waking moment dancing if I could.
I met Adam when I was still studying. I had just turned nineteen and was training at a small school in New York. Adam was a film student. He was tall, handsome and clean-shaven. I don’t think I ever saw him wear jean, sneakers, or anything resembling casual clothes. He was always dressed in neatly-pressed slacks and a button-up shirt. He usually wore a tie. I had noticed him watching us practice, but I hadn’t given him a second thought.
It wasn’t uncommon for us to have an audience at some of our rehearsals. My school put on a big production of Swan Lake every winter, and we’d let school children and nursing home groups watch our dress rehearsal. So, seeing Adam sitting in the audience every now and again wasn’t jarring or creepy. It certainly didn’t raise any red flags.
Adam approached me after one particularly grueling rehearsal and introduced himself. “I’ve been watching you dance for quite some time,” he said. He gestured around at the entire group on the word ‘you,’ making it seem like he’d been watching everyone and not just me.
“I’m making a movie and I was wondering if you’d like to be in it.”
When I heard the word ‘movie’, I immediately thought he was asking me to star in a porno or something. “I don’t know if I have time,” I said, trying to turn him down as politely as possible.
“I understand your concern,” he said gently, as if he’d read my mind. “Let me assure you, this isn’t a pornographic film. You will be fully covered at all times.”
He explained to me that he was a film student at a nearby university and that he was making a short film for his end-of-term project.
“It’s about a man who keeps seeing visions of a woman made of glass,” said Adam. “She follows him everywhere, and her beauty ultimately drives him to madness.”
“I don’t really act,” I told him.
“I don’t need you to,” he said quickly. “I want you to play the woman made of glass. You see, I initially thought that the woman would just stand in the corner, just outside of his peripheral vision, but then I saw you dancing...”
“You want me to dance?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “The whole thing would only take a weekend, two days tops. I would film you dancing, then edit you into the movie later.” He paused. “I can give you two thousand dollars.”
As you can probably guess, I was a poor student who really, really needed the money. I gave Adam my number and we arranged a time to film.
The space that Adam had procured was on campus. It was a small, windowless room that had been painted a bright, garish green. Adam explained to me that this was for a green-screen effect; he’d film me dancing and then edit me into different backgrounds. I thought it was a pretty cool idea.
“This is Kelly,” said Adam, introducing me to a mousy girl with thick glasses. “She’s in charge of costuming.” I hadn’t considered how Adam would make it look like I was made entirely out of glass. Before I could ask him, he turned and walked towards the door.
“I’ll give you some privacy,” he said before leaving.
Kelly held up a giant bag of sequins and rhinestones. “Take your clothes off,” she said tersely. When I balked, she explained that she intended to cover me head-to-toe in sequins and rhinestones to make it look like I was made out of stained glass. Technically, I would be completely naked aside from sequins and rhinestones.
I opened the door to leave. There was no way I was going to allow someone to film me like this.
“Wait!” called Adam. “You can’t leave.”
“You said I wouldn’t be naked,” I told him.
“And you won’t be,” he assured me. “You’ll be completely covered, I promise.”
I shook my head. “I’m not doing this,” I told him.
Adam sighed. “What if I gave you five thousand dollars?”
I had thought that his initial offer of two grand was generous, but this was something else entirely. This was something that I couldn’t turn down. I know five grand might not seem like a lot, but to a starving dance student who’s neck-deep in student loans...well, you get the picture.
I let Kelly cover me with sequins and rhinestones. She painted my entire body white and applied the sequins and rhinestones in intricate patterns. I can’t remember how long it took. It must’ve been hours. I shoved my hair underneath a bald cap, which she also decorated. I remember staring down at the delicate swirls along my stomach and over my breasts and being genuinely impressed.
When I was finally “in costume,” Adam came back into the room. He gasped when he saw me, clasping his hands in front of his chest. “You’re perfect,” he whispered. “Absolutely perfect.”
Adam set up his camera and told me to stand in front of the garish green wall. Kelly brought in a boombox and popped an audio cassette in. “Just let the music take you,” said Adam.
The music was unlike anything I had ever heard before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard anything like it since. I can’t really describe it. It started with soft piano tinkling and gradually crescendoed into a full orchestra. Drums beat, accompanied by full woodwind, string, and brass sections. The music ebbed and flowed, swelling up into magnificent crescendoes and lowering into something barely audible.
I don’t remember dancing. It was as if I’d been lost in some kind of trance. I don’t know how long I danced. It felt like mere minutes, but in reality, it must’ve been hours. I only stopped when the music did. I looked down and realized that my feet were bleeding. Blood welled up between the rhinestones and trickled onto the floor. I had left smeared red footprints all over the floor. I must’ve been bleeding for quite some time. How could Adam have not noticed? How could I have not noticed?
Adam was standing next to his camera. Tears streamed down his face. Kelly was nowhere to be seen. “That was beautiful,” he said. “So beautiful. So perfect.” He pressed a large, thick envelope into my hand. “Kelly will help you get changed.”
He picked up his camera and left the room before I could say anything. Kelly came back in and helped me remove the sequins and rhinestones. As it turns out, my feet weren’t bleeding too badly; a rhinestone had cut one of my heels, and another had bit into my toe. Kelly carefully cleaned the white makeup off of me and bandaged my feet. She didn’t say anything, even though I asked her numerous questions about the project.
“Adam will get in touch with you if you’d like a copy of the movie,” she said when she was done. She glanced down at the blood on the floor. “I’ll clean that up.”
I was shocked to see the sun rising when I left the room. Had I been in there all night? I checked my phone. It was nearly six in the morning. I had arrived promptly at nine a.m. on a Saturday, and I was leaving almost twenty-four hours later. How long had I been dancing for? Luckily, I hadn’t missed any rehearsals.
I took the train back to my dorm and fell asleep instantly. I didn’t dream about anything. I woke up sometime in the afternoon to find an email from Adam waiting on my phone.
“You were perfection. I’ll be doing a lot of editing. The final film won’t be done for a few weeks. I’ll email you when it’s finished.”
I remembered the thick envelope that Adam had handed me. I dug it out of my purse, opened it, and counted the money. There were five stacks of crisp, hundred dollar bills held together with a rubber bands. True to his word, Adam had given me five thousand dollars. I would’ve skipped all the way to the ATM if it hadn’t been for my aching feet.
It was months before I heard from Adam about the film. I had all but forgotten about it when I received an email from him.
“Free screening of ‘The Woman Made of Glass’ tonight in Tallbott Hall.”
I cursed and considered skipping rehearsal to go see the movie. Our dance instructor was a notorious hardass, though; the only way he’d let anyone skip a rehearsal was if they dropped dead. I emailed Adam and told him that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I never heard from him again.
To this day, I’ve never seen the movie I appeared in. I don’t know exactly what happened in Tallbott Hall, only what I saw later on the news and what Kelly told me when I went to visit her in the hospital.
Tallbott Hall was a large lecture hall at Adam’s school. It had been packed with film students and their friends to the point where it was standing-room only. Adam turned off the lights, fired up the projector, and started playing his film.
Something happened. No one has been able to figure out why, but about three minutes into the film, people in the audience began to react strangely. It started with fidgeting and small movements, then it quickly escalated.
People wept. They howled and screamed and made animal noises. They laughed uncontrollably. They attacked each other, screaming and clawing and biting. Some people got up and began dancing. One girl laid down on the floor and just let herself be trampled underfoot. When the whole ordeal was over, she had been reduced to bits of pulp and bone; if not for a charm bracelet with her name on it, they wouldn’t have been able to identify her.
A couple in the middle of the room tore each other’s clothes off and just began fucking like animals. Several other people -- some of them couples, some of them not -- joined them in the grotesque orgy.
A girl turned to her boyfriend and began scratching him, raking her nails along his chest until bloody strips of skin began to peel off. The boy sat there and howled, never moving. It was as if everyone had just snapped.
Another boy pulled a big plastic button off of his backpack, snapped it in half, and used the jagged edge to slash his own throat. People danced in the blood spurting from his neck, rubbing it on their faces and into their hair like shampoo. As the boy lay dying, a girl pounced on him, sinking her teeth into his cheek and tearing off a huge chunk. She chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed.
Adam stood in the midst of the chaos, never taking his eyes off the flickering screen. He was weeping, tears streamed down his face. It was like he was oblivious to everything that was happening around him.
Kelly told me all this when I went to visit her in the hospital. The last thing that she had seen before frantically clawing her own eyes out was me, dancing on the screen at the front of the room, the sequins and rhinestones shimmering like glass.
“It was too beautiful,” she whispered, scratching absently at the bandages wrapped around her face. “And hideous and grotesque and just...beautiful.”
A surprising number of students survived. I tried talking to them, trying to figure out what had happened. Most of them refused to talk to me once they found out that I’d been the dancing woman in the film. The boy who’d been scratched up by his girlfriend reluctantly agreed to talk to me.
His name was Kyle, and he’d been in Adam’s film class. “Adam always seemed like a regular guy,” he told me. “He was really into grindhouse and giallo films, but that’s not so weird. A lot of people in class were into weird shit. They all wanted to make world-changing art films.”
Kyle sighed and looked down at his bandaged chest. “My girlfriend doesn’t remember doing this,” he said. “I don’t really remember it either. I just remember dancing.” He looked at me. “You were the dancing woman?”
“Yes,” I told him.
He nodded thoughtfully. “I didn’t see you on the screen,” he said. “I mean, not really. Not the way you are right now. You’re normal right now.” He gestured at my ponytail and hoodie. “You’re not...you were something else in the movie. I don’t know what. You were just...” his voice trailed off and he shook his head.
“I can’t really describe it,” he said. “It was like you weren’t human, and it was so scary. It was wonderful and terrible all at the same time.”
It didn’t make much sense to me, but I didn’t press any further. I never saw Kyle after that. I never saw Kelly either.
Adam was never found. No one saw him leave the lecture hall, and there were several bodies too damaged and mutilated to identify. It’s entirely possible that he died. It’s also possible that he lived. I’ve never seen the movie that he made. As far as anyone knows, there aren’t any copies of it.
When the police checked the projector, the film was gone.