For a long time I had the idea of writing a “mainstream” science fiction story that would appeal to general audiences, but with statuephile elements sneaked in.
This is not that story. This is just a tribute.
Recently while searching for statue pictures that I might use in this site’s Art Gallery I came across a picture of L’improvisateur by Félix Maurice Charpentier (1858-1924), which bore a striking resemblance to the way I’d always imagined my hero would look as a statue, and that motivated me to complete this story.
Once I started writing the story I realised it had obvious similarities to The Here and Now, although the prose is less experimental.
My later story Be2ng is not a sequel, but a companion piece inspired by the same statue.
I’m not sure how I came to be standing here or why. I think that I may have spent a long time standing here without being able to think, but now thoughts are beginning to work their way through my fuddled brain once more.
What am I doing here? Well... I’m looking at my hand.
It’s curious how people always say, “I know it like the back of my hand”. After all, how often do most people look at the backs of their hands? In fact, how many people look at their hands at all? To most people their hands are just tools, to be used rather than studied.
Nevertheless, I am studying my hand now, in great detail. It’s a fine hand, well-shaped with long, supple fingers - a musician’s fingers if ever I saw them. Yet I can’t recall those fingers ever looking so grey, or so hard.
My hands are holding a flute - at least I can only assume that it is a flute, since I am holding it horizontally with one end to my mouth. It looks more like a section of a narrow tree branch that has been hollowed out to serve as a makeshift flute. I am quite certain I never played anything like that before. Anyway, if it is a tree branch then why should it also be grey and hard?
At least it matches my hand.
If I look past my hand I can see... grey cobblestones. Shops. Houses. Red slate roofs, shuttered windows, painted doorways. Banners advertising wares. Gold-painted lamp posts with hanging baskets of flowers. A man washing down the steps of a shop beneath its colourful awning. Another man carrying something from the back of a cart into another shop, while the drisk yoked to the cart ruminates quietly. Not many other people about.
What was the word for all this? Town, that was it. Town.
It’s a town square, no different from a hundred others, although I don’t recognise which town it’s in.
There’s something slightly unusual about the angle that I’m viewing it from, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
No, of course not... because my finger is still on the flute.
My finger hasn’t moved the whole time. The flute hasn’t moved the whole time.
Why does that seem to bother me? If I’m a musician I should be used to holding flutes.
That’s the thing, though. I’m holding the flute, yes... but I’m not actually playing it, am I? I’m just standing here posing with it. I don’t know why I’m doing that.
In fact there isn’t much that I do know. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t remember at all.
I have a vague feeling that I should be worried about not being able to remember.
The cart draws away and the shutters on the shop windows open. It must be morning.
Normally at this time, I seem to recall, I would be eating breakfast. Except....
Breakfast is what you eat after you have slept, and although I haven’t been fully conscious I don’t think I’ve actually been asleep.
In any case, I’m not hungry. Breakfast can wait.
There are some more people about now, men and women from all walks of life, walking past, visiting the shops or just milling about the square.
The curious thing is that I seem to be looking down on them all, though I thought the square was all on one level. Either I’m a giant (and I’m not certain that I’m not), or I’m standing on a raised platform.
Some of the people glance up at me, but none of them speak to me. I’m disappointed. It seems that hospitality is a dying art.
I don’t consider myself above speaking to them (no pun intended), but the flute is still in front of my mouth. It is still as grey and stiff as my fingers and neither it nor they have moved at all.
Nor have my arms or legs.
I’m sure there’s something not quite right about that, but I still can’t seem to think clearly.
Everyone’s milling about the square. Smoke is wafting from chimneys. Banners are waving in the breeze. The sun is slowly getting higher in the sky. Wispy clouds are drifting on the breeze. Birds are flying past and perching on rooftops.
What do all these things have in common? They’re all moving.
And I am not.
There is a burst of laughter and a pair of young boys run past throwing a ball to each other. Overtaken by a mischievous impulse, one of the boys throws the ball at me. It bounces off my stomach and his partner catches it.
“Here, what are you doing?” cries a grown-up voice, and a man and woman - their parents, I suppose - arrive to drag the boys away.
Their father grumbles, “What are you trying to do, knock it over? It’s only just been erected and all. Silly little....”
And then he is out of earshot.
When the boy threw the ball, why didn’t I try to catch it? Why didn’t I move? Is it anything to do with my hands being so hard and grey?
It’s so hard to think straight. If only I could remember how I got here.
There are images in my head. They might be memories, but they feel like scenes from a play that I am watching from the back row, emotionally detached from the characters.
Was that me? Was that really my memory? The paralysed youth was a musician, and I’m holding a flute...
They drugged him, paralysed him... and then they raped him.
They raped me.
I suppose I should feel angry about that, except that it still seems like something that happened to someone else. Perhaps that’s just as well.
And then the machine... I still don’t remember this machine they talked about, but I feel certain it had something to do with my being here.
It’s raining now. People are sheltering in doorways or running past with hoods up. A few of the talented ones are able to deflect the raindrops away from themselves, and the rest watch them enviously.
As for me, I’m still standing here, not moving, and the rain is pouring over my bare skin from head to foot. I find it quite pleasant, like taking a cool shower.
My bare skin...?
My God. I’m standing naked in front of all these strangers, yet I didn’t even realise it until now.
I can feel them looking at me, caressing my body with their eyes.
I have to admit it’s not an unpleasant sensation. In fact it’s more than a little erotic.
I feel as if I’m on the verge of understanding something, but before my thoughts can become clear they are swept away by more images in my head.
So that’s how it ended? The singer got turned into a statue?
No, wait - that can’t be right. Not if I’m the singer. I can’t be a statue. It’s impossible!
My fingers are grey and hard... I’m looking down on the square from a pedestal... my arms and legs haven’t moved all day... I’m naked in public and nobody objects... I couldn’t even react when the boys threw the ball at me....
No, of course it isn’t true. There’s obviously some other explanation. All I have to do is move my fingers. Never mind how grey and hard they look, just concentrate on the muscles and order them to move. Got that, fingers? Just open and drop the flute. That’s all you have to do. Just let go of the flute.
Just let go.
Please let go.
Nothing. Not the slightest response.
I can’t move. My body is solid and inanimate.
No wonder I couldn’t play the flute... I’m not even breathing any more.
It’s true. It’s impossible but it’s true.
I really am a statue.
And if what the men told me is true... then I will remain a statue forever.
A living statue, conscious and inanimate. Able to observe life but never participate, a secret voyeur whose disguise will never be suspected. A musician who plays forever without making a sound. Naked and unashamed in public, a magnet for every passing eye.
That’s me. I am all of those things and more.
I’m quite surprised at how calmly I am taking all this. The thing is, I don’t think I’m capable of getting overwrought about my helpless situation. Ever since I woke up as a statue I have been quite emotionally detached. That may be a side effect of the stasis machine, and it could help me to stay sane.
The truth is that emotions haven’t always been my friends. I was neurotic, obsessive and prone to depression and anger. The irony is that in my current situation, where depression and anger might be natural responses, I can’t feel them at all.
Of course I feel sad that I may never see my friends and family again, that I may never sing or play music... not to mention that I might never eat, drink, sleep, breathe, or do any of the other million and one things that made me alive.
Yes, I am sad, but I can live with the sadness. It won’t overwhelm me.
There may be some chance, however fleeting, that I will be found and rescued, but I have to live with the knowledge that I may remain stone forever.
Very well, then. Say that I am a statue forever. What then? What will help me to survive and remain sane?
Well... I feel no pain or discomfort. Holding the same pose forever doesn’t make me tired or cramped. I like the feel of the sun, wind and rain on my naked body. Even more than that, I like the feel of people looking at my naked body, and they certainly seem to like looking at it. I have a good view over the town square that daily attracts a broad cross-section of humanity, and I can spend each day watching them talking, flirting, playing, fighting, courting or getting drunk. I can think back to my past life and remember all of the good times and bad, and feel melancholic nostalgia for the friends I have been forced to leave behind. I can compose new tunes in my head, although I will be sad that I can never play them.
Is that enough? Will it save me from being driven insane, locked in this unbreakable stone prison?
I hope so. If determination is enough, then yes, it will.
There is just one more thought preying on my mind.
The stasis machine is still out there. Now that they know it works on humans, how many others will share the same fate?
I would sigh if I could. It’s no use worrying about it. It’s no use worrying about anything at all.
The problems of life are for the living to solve. I’m just an inanimate object.
Later that night as the taverns empty, one drunken reveller staggers up to my pedestal and casts a bleary-eyed stare up at me.
“Ain’ seen you ’ere before,” he shouts. “Cute li’l thing, aintcha?”
Somehow he manages sufficient muscular coordination to climb on my pedestal and start fondling my stony penis and bottom. I’m amazed at my body’s reaction. His touch on my stone skin feels almost orgasmic. It’s wonderful.
“Ye’re a’right, mate,” he bellows in my ear. “Really nice arse. Woun’t mind givin’ ya one, thass a fac’.”
I think you just did, I think.
Somehow he manages to climb down again without tripping, and then weaves his way toward the street. As he leaves he turns and waves to me, yelling, “Welc’m to the square, cute-arse. B’seein’ ya.”
I watch him leave with a curious mixture of amusement and lust.
I think I’m going to like it here.