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The Permanence of Stone
The Permanence of Stone
Published by In A Dark Light
2 Weeks Ago
The Permanence of Stone

This one was enjoyed by C. M. Muller, the editor of the Nightscripts series, but ultimately didn't quite make the cut. Personally, I feel there's a core of a good idea here, an idea which got away from me slightly and around which I seem to have wrapped a somewhat clunky prose style. Still, I'm happy to share it with you all, in case any of you see anything worthwhile in it.

***

The glimmer held within the depths of her eyes was but the coldly reflected lustre of the greater blaze of heaven; a pale memory of a long burned out light, still glowing minutely within a mortal pool of dew-eyed and vacuous darkness. Thoughts fired like the blossoming of beacon fires within the reciprocate vessel of her brain; set aflame with an ill conceived passion, one which mistook majesty for glory, bearing witness towards the unknowable and declaring it instead to be merely the unreachable. Night would pass into seasons, but no passage of time would lessen the lasting extent of her incomprehension.
The pumiced eyes of her companion knew better.


He had discovered her sitting out beneath a gentle gilding of silvery moonlight; her face but one amongst a pale cortège comprising of the cold company of statues; alabaster figures which were set about the cloistered garden with a neatly considered regularity, their illusory flesh attending the conjoining pathways and the numerous enclosed gables.
The order to which she had set him had been concise in its precision.
‘Fetch enough rope that you might ensure my immobility.’
That such an order had not immediately struck him as being wholly unusual spoke to the extravagant variety with which a night porter serving at ‘Achilles Reach’ convalescent home could be expected to contend; for where most such homes catered for the bespoke needs of those unfortunates whom suffered from some debilitating form of physical or mental impairment, to the extent of being deemed unsuited to a wilfully short sighted society, ‘Achilles Reach’ was a strictly private home of residence, intended for the exclusive use of those who were sick only by way of their soul.
An incalculable haze of years spent working in just such a role had conspired to fill Lucien with all the experience necessary for painting what he held to be a broadly accurate view of the type of person who would choose to reside at ‘Achilles Reach’.
For the most part they were a bourgeois breed of people; being such in both their manner and their deeds; the sort of people who might seek to acquire a vastly comprehensive library of exotic and subversive texts merely to assume the aura of rakish decadence which would be thusly bestowed upon them. They were the nouveau rich, who, coming from no established heritage of money or power, saw fit to squander their wealth at the behest of the moment, to such a point that they invariably wearied themselves with the very sight of the world.
Time, as it seemed to Lucien, hung heavily about the necks of those ‘blessed’ with an abundance of finance; like the man with a great and insatiable fondness for drink, who comes to despair of the headaches which follow inevitably in the wake of each and every spell of indulgence.
Prior to her taking so obsessively to the cultivated climes of the cloistered garden, Hibiscus Rue had not appeared to Lucien to be any more or less peculiar than any single other of the residents who were at ease within the walls of the grand and expansive old house. It was true that she was more than a little vain about her purported mastery of all such concerns as related to the topics of the arts and culture, but she had by no means seemed in any way inclined towards actual madness.
Such a cocksure arrogance regarding one’s own status was something of an endemic culture amongst those in any position other than servitude within ‘Achilles Reach’. Even the very name of the house spoke of the naturally assumed mastery of such matters by the founders of the institution. The intention, as Lucien had always understood it, had been to suggest that the house, and by extension all those who sailed the idle waters within her, would be considered somehow beyond the reach of mundane society; as though such a society would leave itself wide open to the sting of the fabled scorpion were it to so much as attempt to reach out to those to whom the house provided refuge. It had always seemed to Lucien to represent a most through misunderstanding of the myth of Achilles, though he had seen enough to know that it was a name which served its purpose in drawing in the business of those most likely to approve of and to be taken in by such a facade of lofted quietism. To those able to see beyond such a veneer of impenetrability, it was a name which succeeded only in evincing the house’s origins as a Gothically rendered folly born out of the fanciful dreams of the Victorian era, possessing the merest illusion of great age and antiquity, and surmising perfectly the entirely accurate notion that it was the sort of place to be found covered in overly intricate and ornate decoration, including such spreading panoramas of dark wood panelling which depicted the peacock and the ibis cavorting together as though they were the oldest of friends.
She had been sat with her back pressed up against the body of the most centrally located of the garden statues; a dimly Romanesque figure, of no great age or readily discernible gender, draped in a clumsy rendition of a thin silk shift, which sat about the body of the statue like the once gossamer strands of a spiders web turned petrified about the body of a Meduasan figure which had been crudely shorn of its serpentine locks. Hibiscus was herself dressed in a faint and flowing dress cut from a diaphanous fabric the colour of sun lavished opals, a combination which granted an almost spectral glow to the already muted tone of her skin. Her hands were clasped readily behind her back, wrapped in reverse around the exposed legs of the statue, waiting to be bound in place, like a sacrifice quartered on all sides by the funereally white glades of seasonally fading lilies.
It was not Lucien’s place to have questioned her orders.
‘Do you know who these statues are supposed to represent?’ she asked, as he set about the task of binding her wrists together, her head rolling languidly to one side so that it rested upon the tapering ledge of an exposed collarbone.
While he could discern every one of the statues by sight, he had undertaken no particular study of their significance, nor sought to divine any intention which might once have lain behind their placement. It wasn’t his place to think on such matters. The paucity of sound which hung suspended over the garden like a shroud of softly dampening snow, seemed almost to whisper out from the crudely wrought lips of the statues, as though silently condemning the peculiar practice which was being inflicted upon the foremost amongst their number.
When finally Lucien thought to reply, it was with the practised manner of a man who knew his place. ‘I’m afraid I do not, ma’am.’
‘Then let me tell you.’ His silence was enough to indicate his acquiescence. ‘These statues which you see before you, which so adorn this attempt towards an ornamental garden, represent absolutely nobody. No artistic renditions of deities past. No flights of fancy regarding the depiction of the human form. They’re simply cold and empty mannequins; every bit as hollow as the people whose task it was to create them’.
A final flourish of rope brought her two wrists firmly together.
‘It must take a very special breed of indifference in order to possess the ability to craft stone and marble to such a degree’, she continued, as Lucien began to wrap another, thicker, coil of rope around her chest, pulling her ever tighter into the embrace of the stony figure, ‘yet to waste that talent on so insipid an endeavour as the study in mediocrity from which I’m sure these figures were moulded’.
It was not within the purview of a simple night porter to be in possession of any great knowledge of either masonry or sculpture, but Lucien knew as much as his eyes reported back to him, and even he could see that those statues as peopled the cloistered garden were of a cast and variety almost entirely devoid of either character or soul, seemingly still-birthed into existence by their maker into empty facsimiles of cold and void humanity. There existed no evidence of any great study of form or feature within the aspects of their faces; each statue maintaining the same vague and amorphous approximation of a human face. Individual noses had been chiselled out into angular points, jutting out beneath distinctly simian brows which drooped far too heavily over shaded eyes.
‘Perhaps that’s where the money is to be found’, he ventured, ‘in perfecting one distinct style from which others can mould their own figures, without the need for any skill or expertise on their own part’.
A brief bloom of heated mist birthed itself within the weary excess of her sigh. ‘That’s rather the point, is it not?’ That any such person as could fashion a lump of stone to their own desire would choose to dampen such a gift in favour of money.’ A sudden tightening of the rope wrenched another gasp of air from between her lips.
‘I know what you’re thinking; how hypocritical it is for someone like myself to criticise another for the pursuit of money, but then, I was never blessed with anything by way of talent or ability, save for the acquisition of finance. I would have gladly traded all that money in exchange for such talent. Instead, I came here, worn down by my own desires.’
‘I think that should keep you firmly in place’, replied Lucien, stepping away from the complicated lace work of knots. A corset maker couldn’t have made a finer job of it, he thought.
Hibiscus pressed her upper body forward, testing the strength of the ropes. She’d moved barely a fraction of an inch forward before she was held back. Seemingly satisfied, she motioned with her head for the night porter to sit down beside her. Lucien obediently took his place on the stone flag, feeling the steely bite of cold piercing through his clothes and his skin in order to get at his bones.
Several archways stood directly before the couple; archways which let out onto the spreading moorland; portals which, under the light of day, would reveal the full extent of the isolation of the house. Hidden beneath the dark were many a rolling acre of almost fluid moorland; an untamed wilderness which would ripple like the skin of a pond at the deftest touch of a breeze. The winds herded entire lengths of the moor, in lieu of any form of pastoral animal life. It was a starkly barren place, honest in its comforting brutality.
The moon was not so bright that there were no stars visible, little insistences of light still peeking through the royal blue veil of the heavenly court.
It was to these stars that Hibiscus drew the night porters attention.
‘There is a star, just one, which is always visible from this position. It does not matter what time of the year it should be, whether high summer or deep winter, once the sun falls from the sky it can always be seen, shining its little light down onto what could easily be seen as this spot and this spot alone. That’s what so drew me to this statue. You see, whereas all the others are almost offensive in the manner of their banality, this one is special. This one is so perfectly positioned as to be the ideal canvas on which that star can paint its gentle light.’
Lucien scanned the panoply of distantly iridescent lights for a moment, as though he might somehow determine precisely which star she was referring to, even as the sky hung heavily laden with such examples of celestial artistry.
‘Why should that be of any significance?’ he asked.
‘The star itself is of no particular significance. Certainly, I have no real clue as to what its given name or designation might happen to be. I thought, for a while, that perhaps it might be Algol, the demon star, determinedly fixing its smouldering eye upon a familiar, but I’ve found no such evidence to support this ideal within my, not insignificant, researches. Just fanciful thinking on my part.’
‘It is the fact that it always shines on this one statue that is important. I’ve spent so many nights out here, watching that great heavenly wheel of a sky turn in its exalted circles, just so I could make sure that that one star was always in its position; that I might ever be able to pinpoint it when sitting in this very spot. I could be certain, that way, that even when during the hours of daylight, when the sun blanches out the whole of the sky and the stars seem to fade like cinders amongst a rekindled blaze, that some modicum of light should fall down from that star and should strike hard against our ever endurable friend here.’
Lucien tried not to allow the incomprehension he felt to show upon his face.
‘Take a look at the face of this statue and tell me what you see. Tell me what sets it apart from its fellows.’
Lucien craned his head up towards that of the statue, the awkwardly pyramidal nose further emphasised by the ungainly angle. Small craters and ridges of skin seemed to peel away from the face; a face which, on such closer inspection, was revealed to have been sorely cracked and blistered, in spite of the relative youth of the figure; at once a testament to both the lesser quality of the sculpture and to the ravages of the weather which dominated in so remote a spot. Other than these pockmarks of decay, he saw little that could possibly have marked it out as special.
‘All I see is a badly blistered face’, he remarked.
‘Then you do see it’, she replied. ‘This one has not been marked by any lowly human touch; not like some of the others in this garden. The one over there,’ she threw her head partly back over her right shoulder by way of indication, ‘has been marked by that fool Zasterband, the old watch maker. It seems that now deprived of the tools of his former trade he has taken to carving his initials into whatever suitably pliant surface he can find. A pathetically juvenile display, if you ask me, typical of a clockwork mind such as his.’
Lucien thought on the old watch maker; a singularly wizened figure who haunted the upper floors and communal areas of the convalescent home. The idea of the man being armed with any form of sharp implement made the night porter feel slightly uneasy. For all the old man lacked in strength or size he more than made up for in calculating deviousness.
‘This figure here’, she continued, ‘ has not been marked by man, or even by nature - as I believe you might suspect to be the case - but by the light of that single star. Those scars it wears about its face are the deeply honed impressions of starlight, and I can’t help but wonder just what such lesions might hold within their scabrous symmetry.’
Lucien looked again to the face of the statue, seeing only the same markings as before. A brief smile twisted its way onto the face of Hibiscus Rue, the same smile one might save for witnessing the perpetual failures of a particularly disliked child.
When she spoke again, it was with the certainty of one given over to their own superior sense of reality. ‘You see, this statue, in its relative blankness of form, is the perfect student for the teachings of existence. We, as human beings, have become too drunk on our own egos; slaves to the worship of the idolatrous self. I think it would be for the betterment of all mankind if we could be more like these statues; imperfect though they all may be. Immovably human in one aspect, but freed from the curse of identity; capable of living indefinitely, while simply absorbing all that existence - true existence; not the flyaway machinations of humanity - has to offer to us. Without prejudice. Without ulterior motive.’
‘It took me this long to work out what it was that was holding me back. It was necessary for me to come to vegetate in this place, in order to realise that my own longing for such earthly concerns as talent and ability were rendering me unreceptive to the truth behind all things. Cutting out first the noise of the world, then the noise of my own self, has helped grant me the clarity with which to realise that the equally productive and destructive nature of man is merely a manifestation for his failure to attune himself to the true meaning behind existence; which I know now to be exemplified by the gradual whittling away into non-existence of the stars by their own self-destructive fires. They kill themselves through the knowledge they hold, even in their insensibility, and I would discover just what is so momentous that it should cause one to see annihilation as a preferable alternative. Just how small might we truly be?’
Lucien forced himself to retain a stance of professional apathy in the face of such wild and unrestrained hysteria as he watched spilling out from her painted mouth.
‘That is what I wish to find out’, she continued. ‘I wish for that learned starlight to kiss my own eyes, to gradually erase my own self as surely it has begun to erase this statue. I shall not move from this position until I am granted such clearness of vision that I shall transcend the merely human. That is why I bade you tie me here. Trapped in this one position, I might suitably empty myself of such pride and hubris as would dissuade me from my task. I am as prone to the weaknesses of the flesh as any person. I cannot be quite so stoic as a statue, and am likely to have my own thoughts superseded by the domineering clutch of hunger. Better that I am held in place by these ropes, so that I may pursue this task relentlessly. You shall give word to the others that they are neither to attempt to free me nor to attempt to converse with me. I am as one with the statues now. I shall become a vessel for the knowledge of that distant starlight, and if that star should already have burned itself out then let its last will and testament be passed down to me, so that I might learn from the manner of its demise.’
And so it was he left her, a willing tribute to her own insanity.
*
From the moment of his departure from within the cloistered garden, Lucien determined that he would never again set foot within its walls. For all his opinion regarding the mental state of Hibiscus Rue, there had been a surety within the woman’s gaze which had suggested a more than thorough understanding of exactly what it was she was endeavouring to achieve.
For their own part the remaining residents of the convalescent home also began to spurn the cloistered garden, aiding the night porter in his avoidance of the place, seemingly fearful of the intensely silent presence of Hibiscus Rue, who sat motionless through every passing hour, far beyond the natural limits of the human body.
But the simple act of avoiding the garden could not rid Lucien of the influences which had become so exalted there. His dreams had become haunted by the presence of such visions as spoke of an atrophied God pointing down with the crumbling stump of an arm, from out of which sprouted the budding blooms of powdered lilies. With fingers worn down to the barest stubs, eaten away by the blinding eclipse of the darkness in its hungering lust for the stale flesh of a totality grown obsolete, the God figure motioned down toward an orphaned world, its own star burned out, inhabited by naught but silently observing statues, their unseeing eyes fixed upon the cinder like motes of distant starlight, thirsting for the last sparks of light within the deepening dark.
From the almost delirious vantage point of dreaming, Lucien the night porter - whose job title seemed within his dreams to take on so literal a meaning as to make of him a facilitator for the coming rot of ages, world, and spirit - floated through that gathering void, his drifting mind cast out from the uncharitable climes of ‘Achilles Reach’, to dwell upon the permanence of stone.

Her eyes purled with a fluid motion as they cascaded down her cheeks, spilling the unfathomable visions of failing starlight down towards its final resting place. The house came to dust, yet the spirit of her memory clung fiercely to the inarguable truths to which it had been subjected. As the blind eyes of statues everywhere looked up in recognition, her own silent screams failed to ruffle the taut extremes of existence, as the heavens burned in lasting darkness.
2 Thanks From:
miguel1984 (2 Weeks Ago), Zaharoff (1 Week Ago)
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