In a simpler time, long before teenage boys logged on to the internet for their solitary amusement, Wenches Magazine was consistently among the top ten best-selling men's magazines. While having neither the urbane sophistication nor the truck-stop charisma of its competitors, Wenches had a large following among young adult males who still found their wives sexually desirable, but sometimes wished her best friend would sometimes join in.
But those glory days were long gone. For every page of actual content there were now two to three pages of advertising, and much of that the semi-pornographic sort that made the old cigarette and liquor ads seem respectable. The quality of the glossy stock the magazine was printed on had so badly diminished you couldn't be sure whether the stains on your hands were just ink rubbing off or if you had an infection caused by improperly sanitized recycled paper pulp. And you could not store a year's worth of the magazine in a sturdy collector's case the magazine used to sell at the end of the year, few survived the elements that long. No, the only ones with collections of Wenches were the editors who kept each issue on their hard drive, those who remembered to back-up their hard drives on occasion.
There were other budget cuts, too. The staff, once thirty-five strong, was now at five: the editor, chief copywriter, photographer, layout designer, and janitor (who doubled as the assistant copywriter). The printing and financial aspects of the magazine had been outsourced (to Estonia and India, respectively), and the editor's teenage son managed the feeble, ad-ridden website.
Yet James Carter MacGonigal persevered. His father, Franklin Roosevelt MacGonigal, founded the magazine during the swinging '60s with ten dollars, a Japanese twin-lens reflex camera, and the addresses of several dozen women willing to do some nude modeling. "JC" wanted his father's dream to succeed, but not end up like his father, whose various addictions, substance, gambling, and sexual, led to a premature -- but not unexpected -- demise.
One day in early 2011, he called a staff meeting. All except Bert the janitor, who was busy removing a dead squirrel from the ventilation system, attended. "2012," he said, his pencil tapping a transparency saying '2012,' in large sans serif letters, (Ariel, I believe, but possibly Futura) "What does this mean to you?"
"The year we go bankrupt?" Judd, the copywriter suggested.
"The year Sports Illustrated finally hires me?" Denny, the photographer, asked.
"The year budget cuts force us to sell the computerized editing system," Fran, the layout designer asked, "and I go back to getting paste all over my hands ... and arms ... and most of my body." Fran was talented but clumsy, capable of making an excellent photo-montage from a dozen of Denny's pictures, but incapable of keeping herself free of adhesive materials.
"Think," JC said, "the Mayan Calendar."
"Ah yeah," Denny said, "the world's going to end. Well, that should help our balance sheet in 2013."
"In the magazine's early days," the editor continued, "we put out a yearly wall calendar."
"I remember that," Judd said, half-chuckling. "My dad used to put ours on the bathroom wall. Said it helped him focus while taking a crap."
"Poorly thought out," Denny said. "The magazine's 'Wench of the Month' never coincided with the one on the calendar."
"I was supposed to be on the October page," Fran stated, proud of her well-photographed past. "Then they pulled the damned thing from the production schedule."
"Everybody," JC pleaded, "please stay focused, for at least a moment. There are plenty of hot Mayan women still around today in Mexico."
"Hopefully," Denny said, "they don't have the huge noses as in the Mayan stone sculptures."
"The ones whose heads look like the 'at' symbol attached to a face?" Judd asked.
"Denny, Judd, I'm sending you two down to Cancun to pick twelve of them. Denny, you do what you do. Judd, talk to each of the women and write twelve captions -- some sort of mystic, astrological mumbo-jumbo -- to go with their pics. We'll include it in a special, meaning more expensive, December issue."
"Do we even have the money for this?" Fran asked, perennially worried about losing her computerized system since the Great Paste Disaster of 1990.
"I'm paying for this out of my own pocket," JC MacGonigal said, which in his father's day might have sounded impressive, but now only pointed out how impoverished the publication was.
So Judd and Denny found themselves on an airliner over the Gulf of Mexico. Judd was scanning his e-book reader, refreshing his knowledge of both the Mayans and astrology. Denny was studying pre-Columbian Central American makeup techniques. "Ochre?" he asked. "Do makeup counters even sell that anymore?"
"Yes," Judd said, "but they call it something else and charge twenty-five bucks for a little tube."
"Are you serious? Never mind, I have a bigger issue. I was wondering, how well groomed should the models be? I mean the Mayans did not have steel for razors. Then again, many primitive societies, the ancient Egyptians, for instance, did a lot of what we would consider modern grooming."
"Native Americans frequently plucked," the copywriter said.
"Wouldn't that take a long time?"
"Nothing better to do, back then," Judd replied, returning to his reading. Then he laughed a bit to himself. "Or you can let some clumsier models play around with a vat of hot paste."
"Fran was really hot back then," Denny said, smiling. "Still not sure if it was the husband or the kids that did her in."
Finding women willing to pose nude in Cancun was an easy enough task; finding authentic Mayan Indian women in Cancun eager to do so was a bit trickier. "As far as I've read," Denny said, rejecting one surgically-enhanced applicant after seeing her passport, "the Mayans never got as far as Florida, even at their cultural peak."
Judd's extensive reading also created problems: he decided there should be one model for each of the twelve astrological signs. Gemini proved a problem.
"Two women, it's hot," Denny stated.
"Yes, it's hot," Judd admitted, "but isn't the whole twins thing more a porn cliché than reality?"
"Well, I've never read any actual studies," Denny admitted, "but have heard plenty of anecdotal information." He thought it over for a moment. "Maybe we could just imply it."
"Fine," Judd said, unwilling to argue the point.
"I gave in on the whole astrological thing," Denny said, reminding his partner. "That blond would have been great for August, but 'Leo demands a redhead.'"
"Who ever heard of a blonde Mayan?"
"Who ever heard of a red-headed Mayan?"
"Yellow ochre? Why don't we throw the purple in too, have a Mayan goth."
"Would work for Scorpio."
"Yeah, it would ..." They were both silent for a long moment. This bickering was often the source of their best ideas.
The photo shoot and writing went very quickly. Judd would walk a little behind Denny, getting ideas, and writing those down in a notebook.
Denny preferred shooting in outdoor settings. He chatted with local photographers, knowing when sunrise occurred and times the police were least likely to be around. (After being arrested for doing a nude photo-shoot in Central Park.) Police officers, in his opinion, had no respect for art or for artists.
While they were barred from doing any nude shooting at actual Mayan sites, Denny was a master of putting people where they had never been. He generally hated photo-manipulation programs, feeling they made the model look unnatural, but to him, putting a "nun" in a sheer habit climbing the south steps at Chartres Cathedral or a little girl-girl action right in front of the podium at the State of the Union Address were entirely proper uses of technology.
They finished two days ahead of schedule. But instead of checking out the bars and other tourist spots, they continued working. Judd was convinced this was some of the best poetry he'd ever written and was determined to improve on it. Denny was busy adding subtle computer effects to give each month a more mystical look. You could feel the chill of January, the calm breezes of May, and in August, you could sense the impending thunderstorm, clouds just on the horizon.
Wenches Magazine December 2012 went on sale November 11th 2012, and with the headline "Mayan Calendar Inside!" in a font JC found on the web resembling Mayan carved stone, it sold better than all the other year's issues combined. Native American groups protested. Religious groups, previously silent on the whole issue, suddenly protested -- claiming this gave validation to a Satanic belief. Of course, this only increased sales.
The fact that the world did not end in 2012 surprised nobody.
Yet this success could not be carried over to the 2013 issues of the magazine. Sales returned to their perpetual state of stagnation. And as the shapely but powerfully-built Miss Taurus surveyed her field, looking for something new to plow, Wenches Magazine closed its doors.
JC sold the office equipment and walked away with a nice profit. He later moved to Mexico, his curiosity about native women having turned into a fetish. And in a slightly authentic Mayan ceremony, married the Gemini twins.
Judd, Denny, and Fran formed their own website where Judd was free to include epic poems, Denny could do more sports-related articles, and Fran would never again have to fear being covered in paste.
Bert the janitor remained with the building, which was converted into a very nice faith-based community center and preschool. A far cry from the implied, although non-existent, debauchery of its past.