Knuckles insisted on his door. He laced his shoes, stood, and tightened his bowtie into a black noose. He released the top choking button of his starchy shirt and hid it with the bowtie, which took an oblique position in the tall mirror.
The knock on the door now came from a desperate palm. He stared at himself, at the bags under his big eyes, squinting from fatigue. He now found himself in the sixth country to show off his infamous Angel of Death. Another gala, more compliments, applause. Praise poured on him, meant as fuel for the prodigy. He scratched his wild hair and tried to pull it back behind his ears.
The door clicked open and he turned agitated. The pressure from the lie was increasing around him, becoming tangible, physical, visible. It was coming through the open door in the form of the unavoidable hotel attendant. “Sir, they’re waiting for you downstairs.”
The artist nodded. He had it, what he had wanted, fame. All of those people waiting for him downstairs, interested eyes, his name flipping off of their tongues, kissed by their lips.
He winced. Another gala, more compliments, a continuous streak of lies. The hotel attendant hadn’t moved from the doorway. He made the effort to obviously look at his watch. “Sir, it’s getting late, and they’re waiting for you.”
He shook his head at himself. His thin frame looked weak in the mirror, he struggled to stand up straight. He was breaking from the pressure, crushed from the inside by the emptiness in the place where his soul used to be.
This isn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t real. He thought that wouldn’t make a difference. He was wrong. It meant everything. The hotel attendant cleared his throat. “Sir, they’re-“
“Waiting,” the artist said, “I know.”
Descending the elevator of the hotel, he entered the golden lobby, filled with finely dressed men and sparkling women, tanned by their climate yet refined, an upper-class holdover from an age when paleness was beauty. He had shaven, and the first acquaintance who saw him remarked that a man so young should not be receiving such an award. He bowed respectfully, though he doubted that she truly cared about his age.
Other compliments came out of the same vein: a man so young honored for an achievement so powerful. Where did the inspiration come from? It is an outstanding piece, captivating and utterly terrifying. Impressive by any measure. Someone handed him a glass of champagne, another took it away empty.
More people filed into the ballroom and the volume waxed from chatter to clamor. He shook hands and turned to every touch on his shoulder, to meet smiling faces and half hugs from the community of people considered his peers. Arms hooked under his elbows and he was twistedly introduced to the people that he absolutely must meet. Another glass of champagne was offered, pushed into the air, clinked, inverted.
The temperature under his tuxedo mounted, he searched to find slight relief by loosening his bow tie. A well-intentioned friend offered to help him, and instead tightened the knot around his neck, resulting in a painful gulp and a strained thank you smile from the artist. The unknown friend patted the perfectly strangling bowtie with a gracious grin.
Checking his watch as casually as possible, the ticking hands spun his head. The sound of the room began to run together into a startling cacophony.
Everything went silent, and his vision blurred translucently into his memories, before him he saw the dust, caked to the hairs in his nose, dust covering and dust rising through static air. The dust became shards of blackness floating in a humid light, yellowed by tungsten, sparkling like fireworks.
His eyes were rolling into the back of his head when through the fireworks he saw her, exploding brightness and burning like fire. Everything about life was reflected back to him from her presence, and the world stopped moving.
There was a moment which passed for everyone else that could only have been as long as half of a second. For him it was eternity. He saw her clearly and in every detail. Her slender arm extending down her side as she gazed towards the ground somewhere behind her golden right foot. Like she was stopping to listen to someone.
But there was no one behind her. The folds of her silver dress flayed symmetrically down her legs from a cinched belt just above her waist. The tip of her chin rose elegantly, with the resolve of a person of unchallenged confidence. He could almost see her breathing the ether of existence, he could trace the paths of all the elements in her body back to celestial novae. The only other person freed in his unending moment, she looked directly into his eyes.
The crash of breaking champagne glasses and the rattle of a shiny aluminium tray gave him no notion that he had fallen over. As the horizon was righted by the people around him, he was unaware of everything that passed in front of him. There was a soft song in his ears. Slow, rhythmic, the humble tune of conquest. It was his heart beating, and it was beating for her.
A douse of cold water decanted the fermentation of his imagination, and the world became scary. Sharp white napkins stabbed into his face. His arms were both buttressed by the men supporting his weight. Another was brushing off his shoulders, to make sure that the subject of the evening managed to look presentable.
Slowly the muscle memory of his legs kicked in, and he pushed to regain his standing on a floor slippery with dry Reims. He took a napkin from one of the attendants and dabbed his forehead, gently this time. His sweat broke and he shivered out of soaked coldness.
Happy to see that he was alright, the crowd exploded into murmurs which soon turned back into the acceptable and necessary shouting level of most galas.
He hadn’t yet taken his eyes off the ground but as he felt a touch of confidence coming back he glanced up. Mere centimeters from him, she was there. Her face was unlike the others around it who had broken out into laughter and seemed to have forgotten that a man had fainted in front of them. Her warm glow radiated concern. She seemed to say that she will make sure that everything is alright.
When he felt it he couldn’t believe it. It was impossible. But no, it was there, and it was about to become very real. For the debt of the second was called in. This second was erased entirely, deleted into oblivion.
If he had had that precious second, he might’ve been able to avoid being sick all over her symmetrically-flaying dress folds. He at least could’ve moved his head down enough to avoid her elegantly resolved chin. In truth, not a touch of her well-placed cinch belt was spared. No, that second was taken from him. Consciousness became obliviousness.
An ambulance was called. They took the sculptor’s limp body to a couch in the hotel lobby to wait. She wiped the sweat off of his head and the sickness from his suit and her dress. A few modest acquaintances kept the crowd from circling around him in his moment of pure vulnerability. The ambulance arrived and three medics came in. One of the medics asked if the sculptor had any family present at the event.
She looked at his helpless form being laid onto a stretcher. She knew of his talents. She knew that he was dedicated to his work. She knew that he didn’t have many friends, he had almost no relationship to his family. She knew that he was someone different, outside of the mold of the usual social being. She knew all about him already. “Yes,” she finally said in response to the medic.
“Are you his wife?” He asked.
He needed someone to help him now, someone to stay with him, or else he would be utterly alone. “Yes,” she said. They departed as a group while the organisers huddled around.
There were too many important people here to cancel the event, that much was sure. It would be odd, however, to not have the guest of honor present. “Who is this event for really?” Someone asked. The huddle paused to reflect. “Us,” they all agreed.
The emcee took the stage next to the Angel of Death which, even while covered with a sheet, pierced the happiness and goodwill of the evening. The emcee, having approached the statue, felt a need to distance himself a few steps. There was a field of energy that he could sense, aligning the magnetics of evil in his body.
He found refuge at the very corner of the stage and addressed the gathering from his odd position. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began. “Thank you for joining us this evening to celebrate such an achievement. The man known among our circles as the true sculptor has created one of the most powerful works of art of our time: the Angel of Death.”
The sheet was torn from the statue, exposing the pure soul of darkness. Audible gasps rose from the crowd. A chilling silence followed, like a collective heart skipping a beat. They had heard of the statue, they had not seen it in person. Nothing could have prepared them for how alive the statue was.
As if in response to the violent call of the existence of the obsidian, timed perfectly in the moment of shock, a masked man dressed all in white leapt onto the stage, shouted “death to the devil” and with a sledgehammer smashed the obsidian Angel of Death into an eruption of millions of shards of black, volcanic glass.
The doorknob turned gently, with purposeful care. He awoke to the sound of the door closing that was caught in the bright rays of the morning sunshine refracted by translucent windows into a strong glow that cupped each physical object in the room. The metals of the hospital bed and medical equipment were warm to the sight. In the blur of his awakening, a gentle figure leaned towards him. Its feminine contours were unmistakeable, and as she neared his face the sun’s glow faded and a new luminescence took root in him. She smiled, and he rose up against the pillow in the bed of the hospital. He was feeling stronger, but just as disoriented. She motioned for him to stay where he was. She pulled a chair close to him.
He looked up at her and she started off directly. “You will probably be very upset when you hear this,” she began.
A more inaccurate phrase had never been uttered. They were the first words that she had spoken to him. Her voice was soothing like a lotion. Desire flooded the delta of his confusion.
She carried a sternness across her brow, and through some extrasensory comprehension, his wonderment turned to dread that clutched his dry throat. He had no recollection of what happened after he saw her.
She smiled at him. “Don’t worry, you’re safe now.”
She recounted to him what she had been told, how he was sick and was taken out from the event. Considering the gathering of people, the award ceremony had to continue, even in his absence. And then, she paused, a masked man dressed all in white came leaping onto the stage, shouted “death to this devil” and smashed his obsidian statue into a million pieces with a sledge hammer. She paused to hear his reaction.
He digested the events of the evening with a blank expression, all synapses of his brain were occupied by the moment he saw her and he could see her clearly then as he could now. His mind moved to the obsidian, the weight of his sin he had carried across his back. The weight was gone.
She feared that he would be angered. Yet a small upward turn came to the corners of his mouth, jarred by these two strokes of incredible luck. A few moments of reflection passed. “The obsidian is destroyed,” he said to himself aloud.
He felt her sympathetic grip squeeze his calloused hand. Her fingers delicate like clouds, the only firmness coming from her resolute compassion. “I brought you something,” she said. “It is very special to me, my father made it many years ago. It was what he considered his finest tool. I’ve been waiting for someone who could use truly use it.”
It was a seven-inch course stone file, with a perfectly symmetrical handle that settled into his palm like it had been molded from his hand. He gripped it even without closing his fingers, the balanced weight hung pleasurably from the top of his palm.
“You created terror.” She closed her hand around his hand holding the file together. “Now,” she commanded, “make something beautiful.”