Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 1 of 11

As a treat, I’m putting out a short story in installment over today and tomorrow.  This was written at last eleven years ago, when I still lived in Virginia.  I love resurrecting the older stories, it makes me feel like Victor Frankenstein, bringing life into the parts that had been buried in boxes.

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thesculptorThe clay was wet and sticky, clinging to her hands as she shaped it into a rough form.  Her nostrils felt raw, the smell of new clay always overwhelmed her.  She felt too sensitive, too vulnerable to the scent.  Yet, instead of putting aside her effort or waiting until the odor drifted away, she embraced the pungence.  She saw it as part of the agony of creation.  Every birth involved some kind of pain; her sculptures could not be any different.  Each creation had been born of her wretchedness, just beginning with the anguish of the smell and the shooting, burning sensation already traveling up her fingers, her hands, her arms.

With only the most basic work on the piece done, her world had already begun closing in on the growing sculpture and her hands as they caressed it.  Sunlight bathed her studio, but its efforts were fruitless. Everything past the misshapen clay was out of focus, darkening further as each minute passed.  For her, it was as though night had fallen and her universe was illuminated only by a small candle.  Beyond what that candlelight touched, nothing could be distinguished.  Her hands, her tools, and this malleable, muddy substance were all that she could see.

As her perceptions contracted, her world grew more fundamental.  She stopped thinking consciously, her mind enraptured by the smallest movements of her fingers, how the clay responded to it.  ‘Push here, add more there, use the blunt tool, this amount of pressure’ became the only words left to her, and even they transcended language.  The ticker-tape of letters and sentences usually present in her mind had been silenced, as she moved on a more intuitive level than anything language could carry.  Any sensations of hunger or thirst or external stimuli received a flickering acknowledgment at best, before they disappeared under the weight of her creating.  Unable to support anything else, she breathed in her work, her blood pulsed to the rhythm set by her fingers.  To her, it felt like she was manipulating her own heart as she held it before her, outside of her chest.

This sculpture had already been living inside her mind for hours.  When she slept, visions of how she would craft this image danced before her.  She saw it from all angles, in every possible gradation of light and darkness.  Caught in an obsession, she made it and modified it hundreds of times during the night.  Painted, antique, smoke fired, naked, glazed in an orgy of color, the idea took on three dimensions within her subconscious, showing her how to recreate it with her conscious efforts.  Her dreams changed the figure each iteration, exploring what it could be, what it should be.  Asleep, her hands moved, anticipating the project they would undertake when awake.

Even the early afternoon sun had failed to chase the image out of her mind when it draped across her eyelids, the inundation of light forcing her awake.  With her vision still foggy from sleep, she could see nothing clearly but the image of what she knew she must create.  The sculpture stood before her, bathed in golden sunlight.  It occupied her mind wholly.  When she went to the bathroom and then as she dressed, she moved vaguely, as though these essentials were mere distractions.  Her need to sculpt possessed her, making her neglect eating and showering, so that she could begin her work immediately.  They seemed irrelevant in the face of the overpowering pull of the clay.

Even her troubles and sorrows had vanished from her mind, as she threw her soul into the tactile infant before her.  Slowly, her vision began to take shape.  She was sculpting the madness that had overtaken her.  Some part of her realized that and saw danger in it, but the warning dissipated after echoing within her for a moment.  It became another distraction to be ignored.  Throwing herself into her insanity, she soundlessly gave it form, oblivious to reality as it passed by her.  Dusk came and went without her noticing.  Darkness shrouded her, leaving only the light on her table, but it did not matter.  It illuminated everything she could see: the universe of her hands and clay.  Nothing existed but this madness she manipulated so lovingly.

Even she did not exist, at least not beyond being a conduit for her creation’s birth.  More than once she had wondered if the sculpting actually originated in her, or if she was channeling someone with greater talent.  There seemed to be so little of her present when she sculpted.  ‘How did I know to do that?’ the question often flickered through her mind, ‘How did I know that one movement would create the perfect eyelid?’  It felt as though she merged into nothingness, her personality, her flaws, her virtues all subsumed by the delicate movements of her hands.  The sensation of the clay working itself into the lines of her fingerprint filled her.  All of her demons and triumphs vanished as she worked, for they were only able to sustain their reality when she had the presence of mind to acknowledge them.  Even the fear she had of the finished creation, of the power it would have over her, dissolved in her desire to complete it.  Memories of what had happened with other sculptures tried to enter this realm of candlelight and intensity, but they could not break in from the darkness.  Instead, they hovered on the edge, caught in a twilight of consciousness, barely noticed and quickly forgotten.  The utter absorption she found in sculpting was the closest she had ever come to knowing peace.  It would abide no distractions; she had no room in her for fear as she created.  Willingly, compulsively, she allowed herself to become enraptured in her task.

Madness, for its part, took form under her care.  It had become a myriad of faces: a sphere with five visages, four on the sides, and one on top.  Each countenance had become radically different, conveying different emotions, different elements of insanity.  Sorrow, anger, manic happiness and serene joy formed the base for a near featureless mask, with eyes tormented and huge gazing wildly at the sky.

Finally, the body she dwelled within demanded that she take a break.  Staggering to the bathroom, she suddenly realized she had been enveloped in pain.  Her back, legs and arms screamed at her, enraged for being kept tense and still for so long.  The hands she depended upon so desperately throbbed as blood rushed into them; the fingers were swollen, livid purple and red from the effort of hours of work.  She stared at them absently as she relieved herself, wondering how she could have gotten to such a state without noticing it.  ‘Why didn’t I feel this while I was sculpting?’ she muttered.  The sound of her voice made her jump, it seemed too loud after being in the quiet for so long.  ‘How can it hurt so badly?’ she silently wondered.  Yet, even the thought seemed too loud as it blasted through her calm.

Running her hands under cold water, she waited for the throbbing to lessen, for her skin to return to its normal mottled color.  Then, she resolved to get something to eat, to shower, to try to sleep without dreaming of some new sculpture.  As she walked to the kitchen, madness caught her eye.  She looked at it marveling for a moment, amazed that something so powerful had come from her.  Intent, she picked it up, turned it around, exploring it as she had in her dreams.  Sculpting fascinated her; it had so many angles, so many possible points of view.  They perpetually seemed on the verge of moving, their three dimensional existence fooling her into believing they were alive.  ‘They aren’t, they aren’t,’ she whispered to herself in reassurance.  Even so, terror ran down her back for an instant, as she remembered how mercurial those faces could be.  Quietly, madness pulled her back into it, compulsion overriding  both memory and fear.  Like all her other works, even with the finished product, she became lost in it: rotating it, peering at it from the top and from the bottom.

After a few moments of studying it, she saw a flaw on the laughing, manic face.  Absorbed again, she picked up a tool and gently soothed the offending line away.  But, almost instantly, she saw another flaw, and another and another.  The stiffness in her hands vanished and they suddenly enjoyed the grace of a dancer.

Dawn was breaking when she finally tore herself away from the sculpture.  At last, there were no flaws left to fix.  It was finished.  Exhausted, she limped to the refrigerator, her legs cramped and bent from sitting for so long.  Too tired to eat, she got a glass of milk and crawled to her bed.  Immediately, a deep, dark sleep reached out to embrace her.  As she flung herself into his arms, she thought briefly of her sculptures. In that twilight between wakefulness and dreaming, the small statuettes in the room appeared to move and shift. With her last shred of consciousness, she grew afraid of what she had done, but the darkness was too close for her to escape.  Even dread could not keep her awake.  She fell into sleep as the last tremor of fear left her body.

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