The House of the Sculptor

By Andrew Looney

The house at 1074 Farinas Lane was very old. It was so old that no one seemed to know exactly how old it was. It was as if it had always been there.

It didn't fit in with the rest of the quiet metropolitan suburb at all. Although it was largely hidden behind two tall evergreens at the top of a dead end street, it was as noticeable as a gravy stain on a white sports coat.

It was built entirely of wood, which was splintered and weatherbeaten, and had eleven windows, placed at irregular intervals. The long front porch sagged slightly on both ends, where the supports had apparently weakened, and thus the whole house seemed to frown upon the occasional passerby.

No one in the neighborhood knew who lived there, and no one really liked the house itself very much. Jack, in particular, did not like the house at all. He had always been a little afraid of it, but now that he had to deliver newspapers to it, his fear had turned to hate.

Jack was twelve years old, and this was his very first job. He had been doing it for almost a month, and it was now time to collect the bill from his subscribers. He went to all of the other houses first.

At last he could put it off no longer. One warm sunny afternoon, he boldly approached 1074 Farinas Lane and knocked on the front door. He paced up and down the long porch, waiting for someone to answer. The floorboards rattled. He knocked a second time.

A voice said, "Come in, the door is unlocked."

Jack nervously turned the knob, and stuck his nose inside. "Collecting for the 'Post'," he said. No one responded, so he forced himself to walk in.

The front room was cluttered with furniture from a wide variety of stylistic periods. There was an irregularly shaped Atomic Age coffee table, in which there were three large, inexplicable holes, and on top of which was an Art Deco lamp. Behind the coffee table was a couch with overly soft white cushions and gleaming chrome armrests. Beside that was a shabby looking, faded blue armchair, which was covered with a clear plastic slipcover as though to keep the chair from undergoing any further deterioration. In the corner was a two foot tall Roman column on top of which was a digital clock. An empty birdcage hung from a hatstand, and there was a thick orange carpet on the floor.

There was no one in the room, so Jack proceeded cautiously into the next one. "Hello?" he said. He was even more nervous than before, but he had come too far to stop now.

The sun was shining brightly through a large plate glass window. Two men sat by the window, deeply absorbed in a game of chess. They sat on low stools, carefully regarding the board and the configuration of pieces thereon. They gave no indication of being aware of Jack's presence.

Jack cleared his throat. "The bill for the last four weeks is..."

Jack's voice trailed off as he realized that he was talking to a pair of statues. He was rather taken aback by this fact, but quickly realized that whoever lived in this house must be a sculptor, and a very good one, too, judging by the realism of the work Jack beheld.

He made a cursory examination of the game. Jack enjoyed chess, and played frequently with his older brother. He was, however, a terrible strategist, and his brother invariably won.

Aside from the statues, there was nothing else in the room. The stained hardwood floor had various markings on it, indicating the positions of furniture that had since been taken away. Near the far wall, the floor sloped down several inches, forming an irregular depression.

Jack went upstairs, looking for the voice that had instructed him to enter. At the top of the stairway was a long hall, filled with doors. It reminded Jack of those cartoons where characters pursue each other, entering a doorway at one end of the hall, and emerging from a different door at the other end.

Most of the doors appeared to be shut, and Jack's bravery had not yet risen to the point at which he'd be willing to open a closed door. So he proceeded down the hall until he came to a door that was open.

He found a study, cluttered with books and papers. Against the back wall of the room was an enormous roll top desk, buried under an immense pile of documents, letters, and newspaper clippings. In the corner was a man, sleeping in a large armchair. At least it looked like a man. It was a statue.

Jack regarded it carefully. It was so perfect that it looked as if the man had gone to sleep for a quick nap, only to be frozen into stone for all eternity.

Beside the chair was a small table, and on it was a china plate, covered with crumbs. Jack continued his search.

Next he went into a woman's bedroom and found a statue of a woman. By now, Jack was not at all surprised by this. In fact, he was beginning to expect statues of people rather than real people.

This statue was even more remarkable than the others he had seen. The woman was wrapped in a towel, and was brushing out her long straight hair with a stone brush. Each strand of hair was a marvel unto itself, expertly hewn from the rock, with droplets of stone water clinging here and there.

Jack became suddenly embarrassed by the woman's compromising appearance, and hurried down the hall. "Is anybody home?" he shouted.

The bathroom at the end of the hall was steamy, and water gleamed on the smooth porcelain. Jack went back up the hallway.

As he passed the woman's bedroom, he was jolted with surprise. The statue had changed. She was sitting in a different position, and was brushing the other side of her head.

It suddenly occurred to Jack that she was really alive and went about her business normally when alone, but that she was somehow transformed into stone whenever someone entered the room.

Jack quickly dismissed this notion. He wasn't a child anymore, he told himself, and he had no time for such foolish thoughts. He must have been mistaken; the statue was the same as before, he just remembered it differently.

He went back downstairs, but as he passed the study, he distinctly heard a soft chuckle. He ignored it. He decided that he could leave a bill statement with the paper in the morning and they could simply mail him the money. All he wanted now was to leave.

Curiosity overcame him as he passed the room with the chess game. No, nothing had changed, he decided as he looked in on it. But then, things change slowly in chess, even when played by real people.

Jack started at the sound of someone knocking on the door, and walked briskly into the front room. There, he heard a voice saying, "Come in, the door is unlocked." The voice came out of a small speaker in the ceiling.

The door started to open. Jack was frozen in his tracks. A man walked in carrying a large package. He approached Jack, looking down at his clipboard.

"I got a package here for Robert Vander, and I need a signature... Jeez, what am I doing, standing here talking to a statue? Hello? Anybody home? Package delivery!"

This story appears in My Secret World. Copyright © 1985 by Andrew Looney.

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