Stone Faced

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Stone Faced

Joseph wasn’t a night watchman. He worked the day shift, but tonight he was filling in, which he did infrequently, and reluctantly.

In the dead of night, at 3:30 a.m. Joseph left his co-worker and walked into the dark of the art museum to do the rounds.

The sound of his footsteps echoed as he walked through the entrance lobby, past the ticket counter and information desk, towards the main stairwell.

He made his way to the upstairs gallery. The motion sensor switched on the lights, although only to half power. Everything was dim, and shadowy.

He came to the Native American Arts room. It was filled with vases, masks, and weavings. Joseph himself was filled with resentment and defiance, upset with having to cover this shift.

In the center of the room, there was a life-sized bison, and a bear. These were roped off to keep the visitors from trying to touch them. The bear was standing on its hind legs and towering 9 feet into the air.

The bison was positioned standing in grass, but looking to the side, like it had just spotted a threat. Joseph examined it for a moment and then did what no visitor was allowed to do. He stepped over the rope and stood next to the bison. It was so lifelike that it seemed alive. Joseph put his ear next to the nostril of the bull. It sounded like the bison was breathing. That startled him and he took a couple of steps backwards right into the bear.

Joseph let out a short scream as he realized he was leaning against the bear, its fur touching his neck. He lost his balance as he fell to his side, and hit the rope. One of its stands tumbled over making a loud clank as it hit the tile. Joseph stayed on the floor for a few seconds, his heart pounding. As he set the stand back in place he said to himself, “I really don’t like this. I really don’t like this at all. I hate walking through here at night.”

He continued his rounds, walking down the service steps and into the storage and work area, a room as big as football field with art that was crated, sheeted or boxed.

There were also worktables, where the art was cleaned and repaired. On one of these huge tables was a sheet cloaking an item about 6 inches tall. Joseph was curious. He knew it was against the rules, but he lifted the sheet to see a small statue of a smiling man carved out of stone.

He picked up the statue and examined it. He guessed he was holding something that was more than two thousand years old. Joseph looked at the ancient face. It stared back at him, but it had no eyes, just indentations where the eyes should have been. He couldn’t break his gaze.

He thought, “Put it down.” But he couldn’t. Then in his imagination his saw his own eyes set into the statue’s face. Joseph felt a pressure in his cheeks and forehead. His face was inching toward the statue. He could hear his blood pulsing through his head.

Breaking the gaze and pushing the statue to the table, Joseph quickly recovered it with the sheet and walked out of the room.

He was out of breath as he climbed the stairs back to the main floor. He was almost done with his walk.

Entering his favorite part of the museum, Joseph slowed his pace as he walked among the life-sized ancient Greek and Roman statues. He could feel his heart pounding. He knew there was nothing that was going to get him, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone. He didn’t think that there were other people here, but he wondered about the artwork itself. Did it have life?

Could there still be a spirit in the bison, in the bear? How about in the crates, or the little statue?

He paused and looked at one of the masterpieces standing before him. It was a combination of two figures. One was of a man, powerfully built, but damaged. His head was missing, and his left hand was gone.

Joseph knew this was a valuable piece of art, carved out of marble by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students. Even without the head, it was a stunning piece.

The woman, who was the other figure in the duet, was staring at the man, smiling, leaning and reaching for him. She was barely dressed with a cloth covering her. Her hair hung down below her shoulders, her head tilted.

Looking at her stirred something deep in Joseph. He felt a sense of melancholy. She was forever reaching for her lover, who had lost his head.

How did that happen? Was it damaged in the making so that he never had a head? Or did vandals some hundreds of years ago knock his head off?

Joseph reached out and touched the lady’s arm. It was cold and not exactly smooth. He thought that it would have been perfectly smooth, but it had a roughness to it.

He looked closely at her eyes. They were carved out stone, not nearly as convincing as the glass bison eyes. Yet, there was something about them that was moving, captivating, entrancing.

Joseph saw a dark spot under one of her eyes. He looked closely, and it appeared to be a tiny bead of water. Perhaps a leak from the ceiling had caused it. That was a comforting thought to him, for Joseph knew he was breaking the rules. He was touching the artwork, breathing on it, stepping on it. But now, he had found a reason why he should be so close to the artwork.

He examined the ceiling with his flashlight. There was no sign of a leak, no pipe, no stain, no drip. He shined the flashlight onto the statue. There was clearly water there.

Joseph climbed onto the pedestal housing the statues. The bead of water looked like a teardrop. He put his index finger into the droplet. He pulled it away and rubbed the water with his thumb and index finger. He brought the finger up to his own eyes and looked at the wetness glistening in the dim light. He opened his mouth and placed the tip of his finger on his tongue. It was salty.

He thought he would need to report this, yes, he definitely would. He had found water on a priceless statue. Joseph stepped off the pedestal and looked at the scene, the lovers trying to reach one another, the man deformed with no head or left hand.

Joseph’s gaze locked on the man’s wrist. He felt a pain in his own hand. He laughed quietly. “I feel your pain old fella. Wish I could have stopped the people who broke your hand and head right off. That wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”

He rotated his wrist. His hand was really hurting. He rubbed his wrist with his right hand. He let out a moan, which alarmed him. It was a sickly cry in the quiet of the night.

Now he felt a pressure in his neck. He brought his hands to his neck and chest. He tried to massage his neck, to relieve the tension. There was a force pulling on him.

Joseph tried to walk, but the pain stopped him. No breath. He couldn’t breathe.

Falling to the wooden floor, landing on his back, the pain in his hand felt like a clamp was severing it. He writhed in pain, and lay helpless on his back. As he stared at the ceiling a gruesome sight appeared. It was a hand, dripping with blood floating through the air, moving toward the statues.

His neck, his neck, it felt like it was being broken. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t breathe. But he could hear snapping and gurgling.

His gaze was elevated. He saw down the hall. He looked at the other statues so nicely laid out in a row.

His vision moved to the floor. It was as if he was in a dream. He saw a body lying on the floor. He saw blood, blood leaking from the body. The body had no head, and was missing a hand. It was wearing his clothes.

Now he could see her. She was coming into his vision. His gaze was locked upon her beautiful, stone face.

His hand was reaching for her.

The lights in the gallery went dark.

But he could see through the darkness that her expression was changing, her eyes narrowing, and her smile becoming a smirk.

It was as if she was saying, “I have you now. You’re mine, and you are not going anywhere.”

The dead of night silenced the room.

 

Reflection

Rules Are for Our Own Good

Every organization needs rules, but not every organization is good at explaining the reasons behind the rules. Some rules may seem arbitrary, and others outdated.

Healthy organizations are able to discuss and revise rules.

What rules did Joseph break in this story?

What are consequences that might happen in your organization when the rules are not followed?

What rules don’t often get followed?