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Posted by Patrick Macias on


Story by Patrick Macias


Stage 1: Be a Model or Just Look Like One

Mary stood on the corner of Omotesando and Meiji Dori, just across the street from the shop display window she was going to destroy.

The V.M. was on the giant LED screen just behind the store glass: a pretty face at least 12 feet high framed by blue hair in a bob cut. The cold and neutral expression seemed to be staring back at Mary, mocking her for what she’d become.

It was late February; bitter and chilly. The full moon came down through a fabric of scattered clouds. Mary had been waiting around for nearly twenty minutes, wondering if anyone would show up for what she had planned tonight.

Only a few people, very few, milled around on the sidewalks of Harajuku. Most chose to stay at home after dark these days. There were fewer foreigners in Tokyo now, which meant that Mary – in her distressed designer clothes (a denim Southpaw Cathy overcoat from their F/W 2020 collection) and shock of blonde white hair – stood out. But like everyone else, she wore a cold mask to protect her from the virus. Now she hoped the mask would also keep out debris and broken glass.

There was more waiting, and more looking at her phone in case there were last minute messages from anyone. The event looked like it was going to be a total no-show.

She’d half expected the others to flake, but it was surprising that even Shozo – who was supposed to bring a baseball bat for her – was nowhere in sight. Mary needed a weapon of some kind. There were probably lots of things she could use at the sporting goods place nearby—if it was still open for business—although buying something now meant less money for food later.

Mary was broke after being in Tokyo on her own for nearly a month. She was living on food from the convenience store: packaged sandwiches and instant foods. She used to carefully watch what she ate—or rather her agency did—but now she could do as she pleased. It was the best part about being an unemployed model.

Mary had come from St Petersburg to Japan, along with a dozen other girls, for brand campaigns and runway work during Tokyo Fashion Week 2021. But the virus had come back again, even worse this time, and all her jobs were cancelled soon after she’d arrived. Things began to shut down. The president of the agency sent out a lame message saying they couldn’t afford to pay anyone, he was sorry, and thanks for everyone’s support. Mary didn’t take it well. She wrote FUCK YOU back to him and forwarded it to everyone on staff.

The next few days were bad ones. Mary had to move out of the agency’s share house and find a new place to stay. She got lucky with a room for rent in an old office building in Shibuya that had been converted into tiny apartments. It smelled like tobacco and hair tonic inside. It cost almost all the money she had.

Mary spent days in her room alone with her phone, counting the days until her return flight back home. But that was still two months away. With so many travel bans taking effect, would planes even be flying back to Russia then? Some of the foreign models came down sick and vanished. Her head was full of anger and paranoia.

One day Mary decided she needed to go out and get some air. She promised herself to avoid crowds, to not touch anything, and to try and keep moving.

She headed to nearby Harajuku. The SIF flagship store was there, and it was one of the brands she had come to Japan to model for before the state of emergency, so she wanted to see what she was missing out on.

She had never seen the area near the station so deserted. There was little foot traffic surrounding Takeshita Street. The restaurants and shops along the sidewalk that used to be packed now sat deserted. A few were open, but no one was dining out these days.

A huge video display, made up of multiple LED screens synced together, took up the entire front of the SIF store. It showed a brand video that looked like it had been shot on an observational deck somewhere high up in the Tokyo skyline. A long-legged girl clad in red and yellow SIF tech wear (a cross between jogging clothes and a swimsuit) was posing on the screen in a montage of closeups and medium shots.

That was supposed to be me, Mary thought to herself. It was not a good feeling to see herself replaced like this, but she wanted to see the video to the end.

She waited a few minutes for the footage to loop and repeat, the way store ads always do, but it never happened. The screen continued to produce new images without stopping.

Something was off. The girl on the screen seemed stranger and stranger the more Mary looked at her. Her eyes were both too sharp and too large for the head they had been placed in. Her hands moved at unnatural angles. Skin textures were inconsistent from shot to shot.

Mary wondered who the girl was. She looked up “SIF Japan” on her phone. The first hit was a photo match for the girl on the screen: “Meet V.M. – Japan’s Virtual Model Who Never Get Sick or Tired.” 

It sounded like her worst nightmare.




Patrick Macias

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