“Stone” (Original Short Story)

Devin chiseled out a set of eyes on a newly-formed, stone face. His left palm rested against one of the columns of Worthington Manor, but it was now slipping down in order to allow Devin to lie himself on the ground. “I’m terrible with simple rest,” he muttered, wiping his miserable brow dry of sweat. He had originally intended to sculpt a face at every twelve meters, but in his increasing exhaustion, he had unwittingly begun falling into a practice of skipping sections.

“Hullo, hullo! There you are!” He turned his head and shuffled over to the area underneath the stairwell, where he had placed his cap a few hours before.

No one was immune in this area to the searing heat of August. No, not even he. Devin had only taken the cap off, of course, to give himself a swift burst of cool air across his balding scalp. But then the cool air caused him to immediately forget about putting the cap back on.

Funny enough, what came to his runaway mind just then was the old story of Vlad Dracula, Prince of Wallachia, who at one time had a group of Italian ambassadors come before him. When they arrived, they bowed their heads and took off their hats, but the berets that they were wearing underneath yet remained. “Will you not take those off as well?” Dracula inquired. “It’s a matter of custom,” they said, talking of how they wouldn’t be taking them off—nay, not even for their own leader. And Dracula—sly dog—told the fellows that he wished to reinforce the custom for them. By God, laughed Devin, he did! He nailed the bloody things to their unsuspecting little heads!

Unsuspecting…

That’s how Devin had felt when he had first been commissioned to start work on the Manor. Devin’s approach to labour was something like a dedicated acquiescence. He never wanted anything to do with the commissions, but he could never help bringing himself time and again to a place of obligation. He always regretted it, to be sure. But what room is there for regret when they’ll run a person out of town over it?

In fact, they almost did it to him once before.

It was around the time that he started allowing his angst to creep into his sculptures. He was carving the faces to portray something that was no longer pleasant, but astoundingly grotesque, with twisted snarls and sealed-up eyes and jagged forms. Once the townspeople had gotten wind of it, Devin found himself surrounded by a legion of protestors, all intent on seeing his assignment cut off and his abilities permanently stunted. Oh, how he loved Lancashire.

Devin now held out his finger, eyeing the stone sculpture’s face and tracing along its edges with a carelessness and nonchalance. It was all beginning to feel like a load of nonsense to him again. The changing city, with its gradual passage from a newly outmoded old world to all that was suddenly becoming fashionable, was the height of predictability.

Was it a mark, a legacy, that he needed to leave? And for whom? He could just as easily leave a legacy, he supposed, by writing graffiti in blood on the castle walls. More life to it. It might be a tad less dignified, sure. But all the same, he figured that it would take a lot of genuine heart and soul out of him.

Just the idea itself brought him back to thinking of Dracula. There was another folk story that took place at a feast, where one of his good ol’ boyars was offended by the god-awful stench of some corpses who had been impaled. He was holding his nose. Well, there trusty Vlad went again… he decided to impale the protesting gentleman himself. Devin humorously remembered the prophet Joel: “His stench will rise; yes, his rotten smell will rise, for he has done catastrophic things.”

The eye of Devin’s mind continued onward, drifting into a kaleidoscopic void that had the ability to bring him everywhere and nowhere all at once. He thought of time. There, in the best way that he could comprehend it, Devin saw the measure that all his obligations would forever follow. Two charcoal lines extended out from its center. It was an oppressive and rigid circle that showed itself to be a passageway of finalities and fates.

I wish the hands would’ve stood still years ago, he thought to himself. I hate time. It’s binding; it’s inevitable.

His hands were growing far too dry, crackling from the intensity of a noonday heat. But he perceived something significant. Outside of his shell, away from his worries, there was something else. He simply felt it. Devin knew, notwithstanding his incredible reluctance to attribute anything of positive quality to life as of late, that some pesky emotion of hopefulness was continually bringing itself back to him.

What was there that remained to be done? To see the cities outside of here? To run away for months on end, with the changing moons and seasons at his side, rushing toward a horizon that held the very edges of sunrise and twilight?

Or, instead, he could remain in this place. Devin might stay here for the very reason that destiny had seemed to have placed him in Lancashire; else, of course, would he not have been somewhere else?  There is a reason, he thought, but I’m damned if I’ll ever run across it. Always, continually, it was this miserable little voice that kept him away from any lasting hope for an epiphany.

“Trouble ye fer a pound note, guv’nor?” a voice emerged from some small distance away. The speaker was a miserable, wretched beggar. Devin, of course, was not the least bit impressed with this pathetic approach to monetary gain. Imagine, he thought to himself, me working day and night to me wasting bones. And the total gall of this fellow, trying to strip me of the only possession I have left of me in the world!

“Get out of here,” he mumbled coarsely, doing nothing more than turning his eyes in the man’s direction. “I sure as hell don’t need a leech.”

“As you wish,” sighed the man.

Devin relented. “No, no… wait.”

“Hum. What is it?” He abruptly stopped himself.

“I suppose I should tell you. By God, you’re the only one here anyway. You’re the only fellow who’s come around this way for quite some time.”

“Any reason for such regular loneliness?” The man was chuckling lightly.

“Well, no reason to laugh about it. But, I will tell you, there’s something that these people long haven’t appreciated about me. I don’t truly keep to myself. They keep me to myself. I certainly had little choice in the whole matter.”

Devin had a certain arrogant passiveness about him, this un-charming and un-captivating disposition that would have made anyone lie themselves down and not take any notice. The beggar man did just that.

Devin looked about the Manor. It was a courtyard of sandstone and granite, largely virginal and untouched as a result of the light travel carried out during these long summer months. “I’m simply not in love with it,” he remarked. “More than that… I’m disappointed in the ventures… disenchanted with the very thought of doing anything else for them. They’re worthless to me.” Devin crouched down lower to the ground, his elbows resting for a moment just above his knees.

As he rose, just before fully starting to walk away, Devin remained and ventured somewhere else in his mind again. It was a decade earlier. Going through the door he used to always frequent, there before him was the same room in which he had started this entire line of commissioned work. What is this nonsense, he wondered, of doing everything that others demand of you? What is the art in that?!

It had degenerated into something of a different quality. Ignoble craft—not art—is what it had become. Devin had the finesse; he had the talent. Yet who was the beneficiary now? Was it any longer made to serve his ego? No, he supposed, it is only here now to serve the people.

There was little wonder why his quality of work had been on the decline for years. His hands chose the objects of his will because the public would pay him for it. It had no longer been because Devin took any pleasure in it. Unhealthy, unhealthy, Devin thought, And yet they’d call me well off – every last one of ‘em.

Indeed, what was the mark of his work? They were perfectly-formed faces on stone walls—intricate, angelic faces—with an approach that was completely unlike the gargoyles, those spiritual scarecrows who were frequently built onto the city’s steeples by some such other renowned masons. Aside, of course, from the times Devin began carving grotesque features out of pure weariness and spite.

In any instance, they were the most beautifully curious kinds of composites, with human heads that melded into white stone bodies. They reflected how Devin wanted nothing to do with the abstract. He desired the real faces, the genuine images of persons who were firmly embedded in his mind by way of either experience or imagination.

The Manor was always the most imposing of edifices—eight stories tall, swallowing up the entirety of even the grounds surrounding it. Several years earlier, Devin had been called there to refashion the many corners leading up to its entrance. It was captivating, a mark of architectural wonder, with varying twists and turns and a roof that stood out prominently against the washed-out skyline. It had dizzying height and width of walls and windows, with supreme prominence above all the other structures of the city. There was simply nothing like it.

Yet Devin, alas, was growing ever compelled to leave it all behind. There was nothing imaginable that could keep him here willingly any longer. His body was spent, his heart entirely out of the running. You may have wanted a way out, he thought. But even time will never give that to you.

He knew that it was the resentment, and its comfort, that kept him alive. Devin’s hatred for the work was his worst weakness, but it was all the while his greatest strength. Every morning, there was the newfound courage and determination to march forward into evening. A potential end to it all would be the glare at the end of the mineshaft. His end was not fixed, he knew, but determined by himself alone. How many more hours must I kiss their hands, Devin questioned, and kiss their ignoble faces, only to construct their antithesis upon these walls?

He had a great deal many more hours to waste, pounding his breast with intense regret over the course he had chosen so long ago. What is its purpose? Where is life in this death? The self-inquisition plagued him in his soul, like an angel of death threatening to bear down on a child left alone in its crib. But there remained the hope that death itself would die. It might give way to a rising sun with warmth to send upon desecrated flowers.

But now, in a fraction of a second, Devin’s movement was sudden and spontaneous. His hand was swift, bringing the chisel out of rest and straightaway onto the edifice of the stone wall there before him.

What?! This is not of my own will!

He was shocked by the immediacy of something that he had not actually purposed himself to do. Devin’s heart, an inebriated hummingbird, was now fluttering like the engine of a locomotive. He had no control, no intention or wits about him.

What is causing me to do this?!

His eyes were set on the rock before him with an incensed glare. Devin had a newfound disposition of shock and awe over the indisputable loss of control and self-agency in his very bones.

His hand was now another entity’s hand. It began to set the chisel deeper into the stone, an inch inward in order to start a normal process of carving. There was nothing distinguishable yet, save what seemed to him to be a preliminary incision to frame what was to be made. The hand made a thin outline, like those of the faces Devin had long been creating himself. There was no doubt that this was intended to be a face.

What sort of face is this? I’ve grown tired of these!

The unknown mechanism in his hand outlined lips.

Then, there were sockets for eyes.

And then eyes.

Nostrils.

Cheekbones.

Teeth.

There was, however, a curious quality to all these. They had something horrifying in them. The eyes were desperate, the mouth gaping as though it were crying out in torturous pain for relief from some unignorable calamity. There was something fidgeting about on this surface of stone, swimming around in that evening breeze with fluidity and carelessness, and filling Devin’s lungs with a wild air of confusion.

Devin knew his love of art. But this was something different; a creation molded and shaped by his own hand, yet not by his own hand. It had the same old, seductive form of stone. But it was grotesque, like those he had done out of spite so many years ago. He had ceased in carving the grotesque forms out of a loss of desire. Curiously, he still knew that he had never yet retained the love for sculpting vile faces ever again.

But now, it was only the hand’s working. And these new sculptures were far worse than his had ever been. Devin would never have willingly brought such fright into existence, such boundless ugliness to be placed straightaway before the sight of man and of God.

But his hand itself was dragging him in, using novel baits and pulls to ensure his mind’s abduction. It searched into his eyes, tearing at his soul. Devin now felt the statue’s fear vibrating within his own chest, pulsating as a storm-tossed ship in a sea darkened by oppressive clouds.

“Listen to me!” the Spirit possessing him finally spoke.

Devin trembled with rage. “What are you? Where have you come from?”

“I’ve emerged from the place that only I could have—the formless, the void, the darkness. You, Devin, are but one of the thoughts that has always been emerging and reemerging within my mind. And I am your unconscious, your life even when you are dead.”

“What are you saying? What am I? Am I a figment?”

The Spirit interjected, “You are merely a question.”

“I don’t understand.”

“No, of course you don’t. Questions aren’t capable of understanding. They’re only capable of existing for another to make rightful use of them. Only another—the questioner, and the one who fleshes out the answer—can comprehend all that encompasses your being.”

Devin stood at the edge of the ravine, looking back at the Spirit and struggling to discern its face. “This is frightening. I’m not blaming you for it,” he told the Spirit, “but I’m telling you that I’m afraid of what you’re telling me.”

“What shall you fear? Fear is directed toward the unknown. And there is nothing before you but that which you already know and understand. All I am doing is reminding you.”

Devin leered down the passageway still behind him. The ever-hurrying wind was beginning to catch his hair, pulling off every piece even the slightest bit loose and scattering it into fragments.

The Spirit leered back at him. “I will be what I will be. But you, Devin, cannot be without me.”

“Oh, curse you!” Devin spat back. “I don’t believe in you. You don’t exist! You’re nothing! Be gone!”

“You say this—and yet, you could never have lived any of your days without me.”

Devin crouched himself down, still spitting out growingly treacherous curses and babbling about the airs around him. “I have heard so many thousand damning words from the likes of you,” he spouted, “and from the mouths of wretched wolves and sniveling sisters throughout this town who would have wanted nothing other than to see me burn. For this is the judgment: that good is always at arm’s length in the realm of my world, and yet I will never abide in it, and I will in no wise have the least thing to do with it.”

“Yet you will still disregard me also? And of your own volition, then?”

“Of course I do! And I will never choose to bring myself to you. There is nothing I would rather do in this very moment than push you off into this ravine. You are what I hate. I am consumed with a fire against you. But just the same, I know that you feel these very things towards me.”

“What are you to do with me, then?”

Devin chuckled, “Why, I’ll chase you out! You, Spirit, you are dwelling here against my will. I have nothing that obligates me to keep you around. You will flee at my command. You… you are a product of superstition!”

“And you, oh man,” the Spirit chided, “You are merely a product of science. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Now, choose life in order that you may live, you and your creations. Yea, but you have made your heart as an adamant stone, lest you should hear the words which have been sent.”

Blast you! If I only wanted to,” he answered, “I could capture you with as much as a simple fly rod, and I could shove you straightaway into my creel!”

The Spirit departed, speaking once more as it left, “His heart is as firm as a stone—yea, as impenetrable as a piece of the nether millstone.”

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