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By Leem

For a long time I had the idea of writing a “mainstream” science fiction story that would appeal to general audiences, but with statuephile elements sneaked in.

This is not that story. This is just a tribute.

Recently while searching for statue pictures that I might use in this site’s Art Gallery I came across a picture of L’improvisateur by Félix Maurice Charpentier (1858-1924), which bore a striking resemblance to the way I’d always imagined my hero would look as a statue, and that motivated me to complete this story.

Once I started writing the story I realised it had obvious similarities to The Here and Now, although the prose is less experimental.

My later story Be2ng is not a sequel, but a companion piece inspired by the same statue.

I’m not sure how I came to be standing here or why. I think that I may have spent a long time standing here without being able to think, but now thoughts are beginning to work their way through my fuddled brain once more.

What am I doing here? Well... I’m looking at my hand.

It’s curious how people always say, “I know it like the back of my hand”. After all, how often do most people look at the backs of their hands? In fact, how many people look at their hands at all? To most people their hands are just tools, to be used rather than studied.

Nevertheless, I am studying my hand now, in great detail. It’s a fine hand, well-shaped with long, supple fingers - a musician’s fingers if ever I saw them. Yet I can’t recall those fingers ever looking so grey, or so hard.

My hands are holding a flute - at least I can only assume that it is a flute, since I am holding it horizontally with one end to my mouth. It looks more like a section of a narrow tree branch that has been hollowed out to serve as a makeshift flute. I am quite certain I never played anything like that before. Anyway, if it is a tree branch then why should it also be grey and hard?

At least it matches my hand.

If I look past my hand I can see... grey cobblestones. Shops. Houses. Red slate roofs, shuttered windows, painted doorways. Banners advertising wares. Gold-painted lamp posts with hanging baskets of flowers. A man washing down the steps of a shop beneath its colourful awning. Another man carrying something from the back of a cart into another shop, while the drisk yoked to the cart ruminates quietly. Not many other people about.

What was the word for all this? Town, that was it. Town.

It’s a town square, no different from a hundred others, although I don’t recognise which town it’s in.

There’s something slightly unusual about the angle that I’m viewing it from, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

No, of course not... because my finger is still on the flute.

My finger hasn’t moved the whole time. The flute hasn’t moved the whole time.

Why does that seem to bother me? If I’m a musician I should be used to holding flutes.

That’s the thing, though. I’m holding the flute, yes... but I’m not actually playing it, am I? I’m just standing here posing with it. I don’t know why I’m doing that.

In fact there isn’t much that I do know. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t remember at all.

I have a vague feeling that I should be worried about not being able to remember.

The cart draws away and the shutters on the shop windows open. It must be morning.

Normally at this time, I seem to recall, I would be eating breakfast. Except....

Breakfast is what you eat after you have slept, and although I haven’t been fully conscious I don’t think I’ve actually been asleep.

In any case, I’m not hungry. Breakfast can wait.

There are some more people about now, men and women from all walks of life, walking past, visiting the shops or just milling about the square.

The curious thing is that I seem to be looking down on them all, though I thought the square was all on one level. Either I’m a giant (and I’m not certain that I’m not), or I’m standing on a raised platform.

Some of the people glance up at me, but none of them speak to me. I’m disappointed. It seems that hospitality is a dying art.

I don’t consider myself above speaking to them (no pun intended), but the flute is still in front of my mouth. It is still as grey and stiff as my fingers and neither it nor they have moved at all.

Nor have my arms or legs.

I’m sure there’s something not quite right about that, but I still can’t seem to think clearly.

Everyone’s milling about the square. Smoke is wafting from chimneys. Banners are waving in the breeze. The sun is slowly getting higher in the sky. Wispy clouds are drifting on the breeze. Birds are flying past and perching on rooftops.

What do all these things have in common? They’re all moving.

And I am not.

There is a burst of laughter and a pair of young boys run past throwing a ball to each other. Overtaken by a mischievous impulse, one of the boys throws the ball at me. It bounces off my stomach and his partner catches it.

“Here, what are you doing?” cries a grown-up voice, and a man and woman - their parents, I suppose - arrive to drag the boys away.

Their father grumbles, “What are you trying to do, knock it over? It’s only just been erected and all. Silly little....”

And then he is out of earshot.

When the boy threw the ball, why didn’t I try to catch it? Why didn’t I move? Is it anything to do with my hands being so hard and grey?

It’s so hard to think straight. If only I could remember how I got here.


There are images in my head. They might be memories, but they feel like scenes from a play that I am watching from the back row, emotionally detached from the characters.

I can see somebody lying on his back on what looks like a bale of straw. Is he me? It’s hard to tell where he is. It is very dark. Then I seem to be looking through his eyes. He tries to look around but he can’t seem to turn his head. Then two shadowy figures loom over him. The scene seems to be taking place in a barn.

“Is he unconscious?”

“No, but he can’t escape. The drug has completely paralysed him.”

“Do you recognise him?”

“Yes, he’s that pretty young musician the papers are always making such a fuss about. Saw him up at the Symphony Hall a while back, singing and playing the guitar and flute. I have to admit I was impressed by his talent. He’s not just about good looks.”

“Doesn’t look much like a spy, does he?”

“Of course he doesn’t. That’s just the point, isn’t it? A spy should always be the last person you’d expect, and he’s certainly the last person I would have expected.”

“How much do you think he knows?”

“I’m guessing not much. If he’d been tailing us before we’d have caught him already.”

“Still, the fact that he’s here means they’re on to us. The operation’s compromised.”

“Not necessarily. They may suspect, but they don’t have proof. That’s why they sent him.”

“When he doesn’t report back they’ll move against us.”

“Not a problem. I’m guessing they won’t be expecting him for a few more hours at least. All we have to do is move the timetable up a couple of days.”

“Well... all right, I guess we can manage it at short notice. Only....” He glances at the recumbent captive.

“Only what do we do with him?” says the other one. “Yes... it would be a shame to kill him. Such a beautiful young man, don’t you agree?”

“Oh, yes. But what can we do with him? We can’t keep him paralysed forever.”

“Not with drugs, no. But... we have the machine.”

His companion makes a quiet sound under his breath. “The machine... I don’t know about that thing. I mean, we have no idea how it even works.”

“No, but we know that it does work, don’t we? We’ve tested it on everything from flowers to dogs and it’s worked every time. It should work just as well on our young friend here.”

His companion shudders. “That machine scares me. We don’t even know where it came from. I tell you, there’s something weird about it, like it doesn’t belong to this world at all.”

The other man scoffs. “Now you’re just being superstitious and that’s the last thing we need. We have to stay focused and alert. Remember, once the operation is underway that machine will play an instrumental role - no pun intended for our musician friend here - an instrumental role in getting our opponents out of the way, so we may as well start with him.”

He takes a quick peek through the edge of the doorway.

“It’ll be dark in an hour, and then we’ll take him to the site. Until then...”

He looks down at the paralysed youth. Then he bends down and kisses him, and begins to unfasten his clothing.

“I’ve never made love to a famous musician before.”

Was that me? Was that really my memory? The paralysed youth was a musician, and I’m holding a flute...

They drugged him, paralysed him... and then they raped him.

They raped me.

I suppose I should feel angry about that, except that it still seems like something that happened to someone else. Perhaps that’s just as well.

And then the machine... I still don’t remember this machine they talked about, but I feel certain it had something to do with my being here.

It’s raining now. People are sheltering in doorways or running past with hoods up. A few of the talented ones are able to deflect the raindrops away from themselves, and the rest watch them enviously.

As for me, I’m still standing here, not moving, and the rain is pouring over my bare skin from head to foot. I find it quite pleasant, like taking a cool shower.

My bare skin...?

My God. I’m standing naked in front of all these strangers, yet I didn’t even realise it until now.

I can feel them looking at me, caressing my body with their eyes.

I have to admit it’s not an unpleasant sensation. In fact it’s more than a little erotic.

I feel as if I’m on the verge of understanding something, but before my thoughts can become clear they are swept away by more images in my head.

The two men sigh contentedly and re-fasten their clothing. Their paralysed victim lies face-down in the straw, his mind reeling from what has been done to him. Presently the men bring damp cloths and wash the semen from his body, stroking him gently - almost lovingly - as they do so.

“It’s a shame,” says the one he has identified as the leader. “You had such a promising musical career, and now nobody will ever hear you sing or play again. The newspapers will sell lots of copies with lurid headlines speculating on the reason for your disappearance. You will officially be pronounced Missing, Presumed Dead, but your body will never be found - because you won’t be dead. At least, not exactly.”

While he is wondering what they mean by that, the men bundle him into a sack and carry him outside, gently lowering him onto what seems to be a cart.

“We’re just going on a little journey,” the other man tells him. “Not very far. Then we’ll get you settled in your new home.”

After a moment the cart gets underway, jogging and bouncing over dirt farm tracks.

A new home? he thinks. A new home where I’ll never be found, but won’t exactly be dead? Oh, God, what more are they going to do to me?

After a few minutes the ride becomes a little more comfortable as the cart reaches a paved road. Less than half an hour later the cart stops and the men take him out of the sack.

They seem to be in a small town square, but the street lights are all dark.

“This square is closed for renovation,” the leader tells him. “Actually it was our people who persuaded the town council that the square needed refurbishment. Very convenient for us - disguised as workmen, we were able to hide a few things here that will come in useful for our operation. Anyway, you needn’t concern yourself with that any more. All you will ever have to do from now on is look pretty, and we know you’re good at that.”

With that, the two men lift him onto a stone pedestal at the centre of the square and start to pose his naked, paralysed limbs like a doll’s.

“We do have an old bronze statue that was looted from the enemy during the war,” the leader tells him, “but you’re going to be a much nicer decoration for this pedestal. Not to worry, we can always put the bronze boy somewhere else once we’ve taken over.”

I’m going to be a nice decoration on a pedestal? he thinks. No. No. He can’t mean... that’s impossible!

The paralysed singer tries desperately to struggle, but his body will not respond in the slightest.

“Because you’re a musician I’d really like to pose you with a musical instrument, but I couldn’t get one at short notice. Never mind. We’ll just have to improvise.”

So saying, he poses the singer’s hands as if holding a long flute and places a narrow severed tree branch between them, moving the other end to the singer’s mouth.

”There. I know it’s not as good as a real flute, but we can pretend it’s been hollowed out to use as a makeshift instrument. All right, his pose is all set. All we need to do now is finalise it.”

So saying he slaps the singer’s buttocks affectionately and steps down, leaving the singer frozen in his pose.

The other man reaches into a leather case and brings out a small, cylindrical object that glows with opalescent colours. Its luminescence is almost hypnotic, and it almost seems to afford fleeting glimpses of colours never before seen - colours perhaps never meant to be seen - by human eyes. The sight is both compelling and subtly disturbing.

“Curious little thing, isn’t it?” says the leader. “I consider it a miracle that our side found it first. It’s going to be an absolute godsend to our cause.”

The other man places the cylinder on the base of the paralysed singer’s pedestal then steps back quickly as if he is afraid of what it might do.

The leader says, “We have no idea where it came from nor who might have made it. All we know is what it does.”

With that he takes a smaller, narrow cylinder from his jacket and points it at its parent.

The singer cannot look down to see what is happening, but he can see the square growing bright with the cylinder’s incandescence. He can feel strange energies flowing through his body, an erotic and disconcerting sensation.

He is vaguely aware that the leader is still speaking:

“I call it a stasis machine. The word means ‘stillness’, you understand? What it does is to make things very hard, completely immobile, and virtually indestructible, as if they were frozen in time. The drugs can’t paralyse you forever, but the stasis machine can. You will never move, never escape, and nobody who sees you will ever guess that you are a human being trapped within a statue’s body.”

As the sensations completely engulf the singer he hears the man say: “Farewell, singer. This may not be how you imagined it would happen, but you have achieved immortality.”

Time passes. A day, a month, a century - it is impossible to tell.

He wasn’t sure how he came to be standing there or why. He thought that he might have spent a long time standing there without being able to think, but now thoughts were beginning to work their way through his fuddled brain once more.

So that’s how it ended? The singer got turned into a statue?

No, wait - that can’t be right. Not if I’m the singer. I can’t be a statue. It’s impossible!

And yet....

My fingers are grey and hard... I’m looking down on the square from a pedestal... my arms and legs haven’t moved all day... I’m naked in public and nobody objects... I couldn’t even react when the boys threw the ball at me....

No, of course it isn’t true. There’s obviously some other explanation. All I have to do is move my fingers. Never mind how grey and hard they look, just concentrate on the muscles and order them to move. Got that, fingers? Just open and drop the flute. That’s all you have to do. Just let go of the flute.

I'm a statue and I can't get free
L’improvisateur by
Félix Maurice Charpentier
Just let go.

Just let go.

Please let go.



Nothing. Not the slightest response.

I can’t move. My body is solid and inanimate.

No wonder I couldn’t play the flute... I’m not even breathing any more.

It’s true. It’s impossible but it’s true.

I really am a statue.

And if what the men told me is true... then I will remain a statue forever.

A living statue, conscious and inanimate. Able to observe life but never participate, a secret voyeur whose disguise will never be suspected. A musician who plays forever without making a sound. Naked and unashamed in public, a magnet for every passing eye.

That’s me. I am all of those things and more.

I’m quite surprised at how calmly I am taking all this. The thing is, I don’t think I’m capable of getting overwrought about my helpless situation. Ever since I woke up as a statue I have been quite emotionally detached. That may be a side effect of the stasis machine, and it could help me to stay sane.

The truth is that emotions haven’t always been my friends. I was neurotic, obsessive and prone to depression and anger. The irony is that in my current situation, where depression and anger might be natural responses, I can’t feel them at all.

Of course I feel sad that I may never see my friends and family again, that I may never sing or play music... not to mention that I might never eat, drink, sleep, breathe, or do any of the other million and one things that made me alive.

Yes, I am sad, but I can live with the sadness. It won’t overwhelm me.

There may be some chance, however fleeting, that I will be found and rescued, but I have to live with the knowledge that I may remain stone forever.

Very well, then. Say that I am a statue forever. What then? What will help me to survive and remain sane?

Well... I feel no pain or discomfort. Holding the same pose forever doesn’t make me tired or cramped. I like the feel of the sun, wind and rain on my naked body. Even more than that, I like the feel of people looking at my naked body, and they certainly seem to like looking at it. I have a good view over the town square that daily attracts a broad cross-section of humanity, and I can spend each day watching them talking, flirting, playing, fighting, courting or getting drunk. I can think back to my past life and remember all of the good times and bad, and feel melancholic nostalgia for the friends I have been forced to leave behind. I can compose new tunes in my head, although I will be sad that I can never play them.

Is that enough? Will it save me from being driven insane, locked in this unbreakable stone prison?

I hope so. If determination is enough, then yes, it will.

There is just one more thought preying on my mind.

The stasis machine is still out there. Now that they know it works on humans, how many others will share the same fate?

I would sigh if I could. It’s no use worrying about it. It’s no use worrying about anything at all.

The problems of life are for the living to solve. I’m just an inanimate object.

Later that night as the taverns empty, one drunken reveller staggers up to my pedestal and casts a bleary-eyed stare up at me.

“Ain’ seen you ’ere before,” he shouts. “Cute li’l thing, aintcha?”

Somehow he manages sufficient muscular coordination to climb on my pedestal and start fondling my stony penis and bottom. I’m amazed at my body’s reaction. His touch on my stone skin feels almost orgasmic. It’s wonderful.

“Ye’re a’right, mate,” he bellows in my ear. “Really nice arse. Woun’t mind givin’ ya one, thass a fac’.”

I think you just did, I think.

Somehow he manages to climb down again without tripping, and then weaves his way toward the street. As he leaves he turns and waves to me, yelling, “Welc’m to the square, cute-arse. B’seein’ ya.”

I watch him leave with a curious mixture of amusement and lust.

I think I’m going to like it here.

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