The Statue That Knows
Knowledge Isn't Always Power
Molten metal. With a temperature of 2750 °F, one drop would slide through your skin, cooking the veins and organs inside your body in an instant. Carefully, I lowered the crane down, hooking to the steel ladle which carries 330 tons of melted aluminum. My line partner Chris and I guided the container over to the castings. Today's order is flag poles commissioned by the city of Detroit. Even with the aluminized PPE, and high heat face shielding, the intense energy radiating off the glowing metal liquid is still furiously hot as we slowly poured into the sand moldings.
"Kurt these castings are done." Chris said to me. "I'm going to wheel them over to cleaning."
I have been employed at Martin Manufacturing Ltd for over 18 years now, and training Chris for about 6 months. He's good enough for foundry work. He's only 30 years old, still young and strong, about the age I was when I first started here. These days my body just aches. Sometimes I feel like I'm training my replacement, especially after spilling a sizable amount of high quality metal to the factory floor three years ago, putting many people at risk for injury. One more slip up like that and I'll certainly be sacked. I hope Chris is ready for a lifetime of work on the disgusting industrial pit that is Zug island. Where the air is poisoned with high levels of lead and zinc, and the surrounding rivers are polluted with factory runoff. If it weren't for the daily hikes I take along the local forest trials, I would have lost my mind working on this grim landmass that mirrors the horrors of Mordor.
Outside the air is thick, heavy with the scent of sulfur. I've always dreaded walking between all the factories to reach the north bridge which connects to the city of River Rouge. Today, as I reached the crossing there was a large group of people protesting the companies that occupy the isle.
Many of the protesters held large signs with their message written across them. "Down with Martin Manufacturing!" swaying next to "You're poisoning the Detroit river!" I agree of course, I hate the work I do, and I despise what’s being done to the area's wildlife. Unfortunately, this is the only job I was able to get when I came here from Germany ages ago.
Awkwardly I squeezed my way through the picket line.
The college kids yelled, "You should be ashamed of yourself!" while others screamed "You're killing us!"
With my head down I pushed through the crowd, until accidentally I walked straight into a young girl, causing her to drop the flyers she was handing out to the employees leaving the factories.
"Excuse me. I'm sorry I didn't mean-" I fumbled my words while helping her pick up the pamphlets scattered all around. Her face was painted for the protest with peace signs and hearts.
"No problem at all, accidents happen," she said. "Here take one of these while I have you cornered." She handed me a flyer then hopped away into the thick of the crowd, joining in with their chant, "Hey! Ho! Zug Island has got to go!"
She's so beautiful. I hope she doesn't think I'm a monster for working here. Martin Manufacturing is really the only job I've had. Here in America.
The pamphlet held information about the hot sludge that's dumped into the Detroit River by the steel mills and foundries. The waterway connects to Lake Huron and Lake Erie, two of North America’s freshest water sources. Such a shame. I pocketed the flyer while crossing the bridge towards the bus stop. The bus had arrived early today and I managed to catch it, but now I have shin splints. What's the point of going on hikes all the time, if I can't run 25 yards.
The girl from the protest ran through my mind as I headed back to Detroit. Her long brown hair, big blue eyes and delicate smile, book-ended by dimples. The passionate ferocity she shows raging against the machine is admirable.
When I finally got home, I took the cheap ceramic bowl from the fire escape outside my bedroom window and refilled it with bird seed then placed it back out on the 4th floor metal stairs. Immediately small birds flew down and ate their dinner.
"Hey little guys," I said.
That girl remained in my head for the rest of the night.
I got off the bus and began my miserable walk across to Zug island, into the depths of hell, at least what I imagine hell looks like, and smells like.
As I reached the other side I was surprised to see the protest was back, earlier than the day before. The girl I ran into yesterday stood at the front, tenaciously protesting the putridity of the tainted land. I hid my face and circled around the group of people. I understand what these companies are doing to the planet, I'm sorry.
All throughout the workday, heavy guilt hung over my head. I'm in here, a part of the problem, while she's out there fighting against it. I should just quit.
"Kurt Focus!" Chris yelled at me, over the whir of the factory's machines.
Deep in my thoughts I almost missed the sand casting. I nearly slipped up, almost causing another accident. The hot metal's steady stream combined with my nerves, made me sweat under the heavy protective gear. The rest of the day Chris gave me the cold shoulder. I don't blame him, I am the one who put his life in danger.
The protesters were gone by the time I finished work. I guess they packed in early today. It would've been nice to have seen that girl after such a stressful day, I wish I knew her name.
After I returned home and fed the wild birds who like to visit my window, I filled my pockets full of nuts and oats and went for one of my hikes.
The forest is lush, enveloping the area in a deep green. The tall trees shielded me from the hot July sun, allowing me to enjoy the cool breeze without the humidity from the city. At the edge of the woods there is an invasive, loud freeway that you can hear from the path. However, the further you venture down the trail the quieter it becomes.
I approached a small pond where ducks are dipping in the water. I grabbed a handful of oats from my left pocket and tossed them to the ducks, who indulged in the treat with delight. People usually feed ducks bread or crackers but plain oats are healthier for them.
I continued along the path and found a few small squirrels. I took nuts from my right pocket and quietly placed them on the ground. Each squirrel grabbed his or her share and hurried away to their little homes in the forest. One squirrel climbed a very peculiar tree. On the front side of it, something unusual reflected the sun. I stepped through thick bushes, underneath reaching branches, and up to a massive oak tree that towered high above the freeway. Coffee cups, bottles and garbage thrown from the road littered the grounds, and graffiti covered the cement wall.
In the center of the tree's trunk, something gray and rock-like had grown into the bark. I touched it’s smooth surface, only to realize it was a statue, about the size of my hand. The figure was embedded deep within the wood. The statue had a curious face containing two dark pitted holes for eyes, and a black circle for a mouth, all colored with charcoal by the looks of it. This tree must have grown into this small statue because only some of its face, chest, and arm were visible. How old is this tree? This could be ancient. I found it difficult to tell if the carving is made of stone or petrified wood. I touched its featureless surface again, when unexpectedly. It spoke to me. Not speaking in the traditional sense, but I heard it, in my head.
"Precious knowledge awaits to be known.
Secrets from this realm to claim as your own.
envision your mysteries but for a price.
With flesh and bone you must pay a small sacrifice."
I stepped away from the oak, scared. Did I really just hear that, or am I going crazy? Envision your mysteries. What could that mean? Staring at the weird doll-like statue I reflected on the words. "Secrets from this realm." Like secrets I want to know? About anything? What could I want to know? I felt a little silly humouring this random delusion I was having, and only one thought came to me. What is that girl's name? I pictured her in my mind's eye and remarkably I knew her name. Melanie. It just popped into my head like I knew it all along. The doll peered forwards with its dark circular eyes. Incredible. Does this strange statue hold the answers to any knowledge I seek?
I moved closer to inspect it, but sensed an unusual feeling in my left foot. I removed my shoe and sock to find that my pinky toe was gone! Completely vanished, with a patch of skin covering the spot where it used to be, like it had never been there to begin with. I paced around, dizzy by the fear coursing through my body. The statue's eyes appeared to follow me. The message played in my head. “Flesh and bone, a small sacrifice.” I ran away from the old oak still barefoot, holding my shoe.
The entire walk home was an adrenaline fueled blur. I was operating on autopilot, close to passing out.
I sat in my bed staring at my foot, disbelieving my toe was lost. Since the horrible experience, I had calmed a bit but mostly from exhaustion.
"Melanie." I said out loud. Her name is Melanie. The statue gave me that at least. What else could I learn?
The dreaded Zug island. Plumes of poisonous smog towered into the air from hundreds of smoke stacks. Walking across the bridge I was surprised to find how easy it is stepping on my foot without my little toe. The protest against the manufacturing companies was in full swing at the mouth of the island, in the crowd I could see Melanie. She looks courageous. As I got closer to the protest, and nearer to Melanie I became nervous. What would I even say to her, it would be so unnatural, I can't do this.
"Melanie!" I yelled out. Why the hell did I do that, I'm so stupid?
"Yes?" she said. "Do I know you?”
The waves crashed against the shore and under the bridge from the river. The protest was loud, chanting "Down with pollution, let's find a better solution!"
"Hi, uh. No, well sort of. I ran into you the other day."
"Oh I remember you. You work in this revolting place," she said with a kidding smile.
"Yes. Well, I hate working here. Maybe I can take it down from the inside," I said, and she laughed. "It can't be that disgusting if you're here everyday."
"Well being a biologist doesn't mean I have to spend all my time looking at frogs around rivers and ponds. Sometimes you gotta get out there and save the planet!" she said, putting her hands on her hips imitating a superhero.
"How did you know my name?" She asked.
"I. I heard your friend say it the other day." What a stupid answer, but I couldn't exactly tell her a statue in a forest told it to me, and took my baby toe.
"Oh that must have been Paul," she said. "Well if you ever want to help save our environment, you can definitely join us. We could use your help," she said smiling. "Bye now!" Melanie ran back to the group.
All throughout the work day I was distracted by the great conversation I had with Melanie. Surprisingly it was easy to do my job minus one toe. Who needs baby toes anyways? Who needs toes at all? If I can learn just one or two things more about Melanie, from the statue in the tree, she will definitely take a liking to me.
There are more ducks than usual in the pond today, I hope I have enough oats for them all. The forest is quiet. The traffic on the nearby roadway is less busy than normal, I love days like this. Today I will ask the statue more questions. There's no difference in missing a few useless appendages, especially if I can learn what I wish to know.
I maneuvered through the thick brush and reached the giant oak. The odd statue looked different. The surrounding bark had subsided some, showing more of the figure's leg, greyish white and smooth like the rest of it. I tried to pull it out, but the tree's hold was unmoving. Then it spoke, without sound but I heard it in my mind, the same message as before. Gooseflesh electrified my skin. I removed my shoes and stood barefoot on the forest floor, cleared my head, and asked a question.
"What does Melanie look for in a man?"
All at once I understood what she likes. Funny but confident men, and animals. Another toe vanished. This time it was the middle digit, gone without pain. I can be funny, I can be confident. Like a kid disobeying their parents, I felt afraid but full of excitement. Breathing in deep, I composed myself and cleared my head again.
"Where does Melanie like to spend her time?"
The new knowledge was now in my mind.
I watched my feet wondering which toe would vanish, except. It didn't happen. Each one remained, except of course for the two I already sacrificed. I squatted down to inspect the flat surfaces where my toes once were, and was horrified to find that the thumb on my right hand was gone. I opened my hand wide then closed it into a fist repeatedly, hoping this would somehow bring back my thumb.
"Give it back!" I screamed at the statue. "No, no!"
The statue's hollow eyes seemed darker, its rounded mouth agape and deep like an endless abyss. I rubbed the flat skin on my palm where my thumb was. The haunting face of the small figure appeared more sinister to me. Is this thing tricking me?
Most of the walk home I stared at my hand, experiencing the strange sensation of phantom limb syndrome. I guess my body wasn’t ready to part with the thumb on my prominent hand. I wasn’t ready to part with it.
Zug island is shrouded in a thick fog this morning. The foul land wasn't visible, but I could smell it. My left foot is sore, and hard to walk on, causing me a slight limp. Maybe it's a good thing a thumb was taken instead. I looked at my hand. How am I going to explain this at work? They can't find out.
All throughout the workday I never removed the aluminized gloves from my hands, and avoided people as much as possible. My foot and hand hurt terribly. It seems you can't simply remove a part of your body without your body retaliating. Each of the spots where the digits had been, are red and infected, pooling with blood underneath the skin. Every touch against my right hand and left foot caused unbearable pain. Was it worth the information? To understand what Melanie desires in a man, and where she enjoys hanging out? Yes. A confident man can fight through this suffering.
Luckily Chris and I were on the last order for the day. 300 tons of melted steel boils in
the ladle ready to be casted into some car parts.
I just want to get home and soak in ice.
I hooked the crane to the enormous bucket and guided it over to the sand casting. Pulling the massive ladle was awkward with a missing thumb.
"Careful man, you're tipping it," Chris said.
I pushed the bottom to compensate but lost balance on my left foot. The container swung back, I tried to stop it but misstepped and mistakenly knocked it forwards, like pushing someone on a swing.
"Kurt stop!" Chris screamed.
Chris fell back over the empty sand molds. The huge ladle full of molten steel tipped over. A tidal wave containing 2750 degrees of liquefied metal washed over Chris's body. His aluminized PPE immediately vaporized. His skin, muscles, and organs melted down to the bone then ignited into a high heat fire. Someone in the factory hit the emergency alarm, halting production. I stood watching the blood and fat surrounding the burned flash mass cook to the cement floor. The steel ladle lazily swung above his burnt tissue. I stared dumbly at Chris's burning body, while others attempted to extinguish the flames.
Martin Manufacturing held a press conference, and labeled the incident a horrible and unfortunate accident caused by human error. I was obviously fired. I rubbed my right hand while looking out the window of my apartment. I have nothing. Except Melanie. For the last three days I have been walking to her favorite place to hangout hoping I'll run into her. My foot stings with infected pain, but I'll still walk to Lafayette Coney Island today. It usually only takes me an hour.
Limping my way up Michigan Ave I could see the restaurant. There are many places in Detroit where you can get a Coney Dog, but Lafayette is the best. Today, I was lucky. Melanie and two friends were just leaving as I arrived.
"Melanie. Hello again," I said. She was only halfway out of the door to the restaurant, she seemed surprised I was there.
"Oh. Hi!" she responded. "I'm sorry I don't remember your name."
"It's Kurt. I don't think I ever introduced myself," I said, hiding my right hand in my pocket to avoid anyone from seeing my missing thumb.
"Kurt it is then. What are you doing here?" she asked, stepping onto the sidewalk.
"Lafayette has the best Coney Dogs, everyone knows that. I come here all the time," I said.
"That's so weird I feel like we would have run into each other by now."
"Are you still fighting against the machine?" I said.
"Yes of course. As a biologist, I make it my responsibility. Are you still working for the machine?" she asked.
I clenched my hand into a four fingered fist at the question, and paused causing an awkward lul in the conversation. Her two other friends stared at me.
"No. I quit. So maybe I can help you," I said.
"You can join Samantha, Paul, and I, anytime on the bridge if you want." She said, gesturing to a tall girl with long black hair wearing a jean jacket covered with patches, and a slightly muscular red-headed man.
"Melanie we should go." Paul said to Melanie.
I interjected. "Well maybe we'll run into each other here again sometime, or if you want to get a Coney Dog together just give me a call." I handed her a card with my number on it. She took it and seemed taken aback for a moment. Then smiled.
"That sounds fun," she said. "Bye for now Kurt!" Melanie, and her two friends walked off down the street.
I stepped into Lafayettes, and sat at the window. 6 men ran around taking orders from customers and yelled them to the chef in the back. Right away someone asked for my order. I wasn't hungry at all, so I just ordered a coke, and immediately the drink was in front of me.
Down the street Melanie was walking with her friends. When they reached the corner Paul parted ways but not before giving Melanie a long passionate kiss.
"What?!" I said out loud, and crunched the soda in my hand, spilling coke on the table.
Why is she kissing him? We hit it off so well. We were going to come here on a date. Melanie and her friend Samantha were out of sight now. I threw down a dollar and stormed out of the restaurant and began walking to the woods. To the accursed statue.
Night had fallen by the time I arrived in the woods, and it was raining. Full of anger I limped through the rough forest to reach the statue. It was hard to tell where I was going, but eventually I found the statue in the tree. Even more of it was uncovered by the bark, now a leg and its torso. I stormed up to the statue and placed my hand on its smooth cold surface. I don't care if I lose a finger or a toe, this is important.
"What can I do to be close to Melanie?." The haunting doll-like sculpture said to me in my mind;
"Companionship is what she desires, as she cries.
Slay the one she loves, to win your prize."
I watched as the index finger on my right hand vanished. At least I still have my left hand intact. "Slay the one she loves, to win your prize." I’ve already lost so much. I need Melanie in my life. She’s all I have left.
"Statue. Where does Paul live," I said.
Within an instant I knew exactly where Paul sleeps. Heavy rain poured down on me, I moved my arm to wipe the hair from my face but nothing happened. I looked to my left to see my shirt sleeve dangling in the wind.
"You took my arm! You bastard!" I yelled at the damned figure, and ripped off the sleeve to see a flat skin patch where my left bicep should be. I feel like this wretched statue is laughing at me.
With my three fingers I clawed at the tree, attempting to peel back the bark around the thing, but I couldn't get a solid grip with only three measly fingers. This is all Paul's fault, and now I know where to find him.
The busses stopped running for the night, so I walked for miles into the early hours of the morning. My foot throbbed with pain. The rain never let up, and I was soaked. I rubbed my shoulder stump with my talon-like hand. The neighborhood is quiet and empty. Across the street from where I stood, Paul smoked a cigarette in an open window on the main floor of his house. He finished it and flicked the bud into the wet grass of his front lawn, and walked away.
I wasted no time and hobbled over to his beautiful two story home, complete with a white picket fence surrounding the front.
I awkwardly pulled myself through the open window, dripping water and mud on the clean white carpet of his living room. The window's drapes blew around from the gusty wind outside. I stepped around a glass table towards the kitchen where a light was on.
Abruptly, a blunt object struck me hard in the back of the head. I fell forwards smashing through the coffee table. Shards of glass cut into my hand and arm. Darkness encroached on my vision as I fought to remain awake. I pushed myself up to see Paul holding a baseball bat.
"Who the hell are you?!" he yelled.
Dizzy, I quickly charged at him, ducking under his swing of attack. He smashed a lamp instead. I aggressively tackled him to the floor, breaking an end table in the process. I pinned him down with my elbow, but he easily broke free. We both jumped to our feet. He attempted to chokehold me but I pushed him hard against the wall near the window, and slipped away, which was easier without my left arm. I grabbed the window's drapes and wrapped it around his neck quickly, like reeling in a fish. With my knee I pushed him forwards while pulling the curtain back. He tried to get up but I pressed my knees down hard in the center of his back.
"Stop. Please," he said.
He struggled for about 90 seconds, I tightened the fabric for several minutes longer, until finally his body went limp. I stepped off him and let go of the drapes. His back arched, pulling his neck upwards.
Two people have now died by my hands. It doesn't seem to bother me. All I can think about is the statue, and knowing Melanie.
Wandering around the house it was clear that Melanie lives here too. There are pictures of them together all around, female clothing in the closet, and two toothbrushes in the bathroom. It's unfortunate she's not here for me to comfort her.
It’s still raining outside, and the sun is starting to rise. I'll wait in the alley behind the house for when Melanie comes home, she'll obviously call me, and I'll be there for her lickety-split.
I waited all morning and into the afternoon before she finally arrived home. Paul's lifeless body laid right in front of the door inside. She was horrified when she found him, I could see through the window. She took out her phone, and I held mine anticipating her phone call. But it never came. I can see her speaking into her phone. Who is she calling? She has my number, I gave it to her. In the distance emergency sirens echoed through the neighborhood. She called the police?
Within minutes droves of cop cars arrived at the house, closing off the area. Neighbors gathered in front of the house, crowding along the perimeter. I carefully circled the block and joined the crowd. Melanie was being questioned by officers, I could faintly hear what she was saying.
"Please help me," she said. "Who would do this?"
She was devastated. I did this for us. She will call me. Any minute now.
After the police were finished questioning her, Melanie got into her car and drove away, crying. Where the hell is she going? That statue lied to me. I need to find out where she went. Where she is going. The statue will know.
The forest is hot and muggy, and the freeway was much louder today. With my single arm I pushed the branches out of the way to reach the small littered clearing where the oak tree sat. The figure was mostly uncovered by the bark now, only really connected by its feet, like it was stepping out from the tree. I marched right up to it and looked into its deep dark eyes.
"Where is Melanie at this very moment?" I said, determined to find my love.
Images of a river flowing down into a pond entered my mind, the same pond where I feed the ducks. She is here, in this forest with me.
I fell to the forest's floor. My right leg had disappeared.
"You devil. You horrible devil!" I said to the statue, almost laughing. “You took my leg!” It doesn't matter. She's not far. I can still be with her.
With one arm I dragged myself through the bushes back to the trail, then followed it to the river. Rocks scraped through my shirt tearing into my skin. The blisters on my hands popped open, spewing blood all around, mixing into the mud I pulled my body through.
Melanie was sitting at the edge of the pond, looking at leopard frogs hopping in the grass. I emerged from the bushes.
"Melanie," I said.
She jumped up startled at my disfigured body.
"Oh my god!," she cried, holding her hand to her mouth.
"I'm here for you," I said, crawling closer.
"Kurt?" she said. "Wh. What happened to you? Your leg. Your-"
"I'm fine, don't worry."
"You look. Jesus Kurt," she said looking down, afraid at the sight of me.
"Don't be scared. I'm here to be with you during your time of need," I said wheezing from exhaustion. "I'm sorry for your loss."
Her expression changed from frightened to confused.
"How?" Melanie said, stepping away from me. "How did you know about Paul?"
She started crying.
"I. I'm here for you," I said to her. Blood leaked from my hands and arm socket, and my shirt was torn showing bloody scrapes along my chest and stomach.
"How did you know about Paul? And how did you find me here?" she said, stepping forwards with her hands clenched into fists, still crying but angry.
"I did this for us," I replied. "And now I'm here to be with you."
"You killed him to be with me? You fucking psycho!" she yelled. "I don't even know you. I was only being polite to you because I felt sorry for you."
"What is wrong with you," she said walking away .
"Where are you going? I'm here to be with you!" I wriggled my body on the ground following her as she walked past me.
"I'm going to the police."
"No," I said, grabbing her ankle, wrestling her to the dirt.
She clawed at my three fingered talon holding her leg, trying to break free.
"I'm here for YOU!" I yelled, pulling her towards me with all the strength I had left in my mangled body.
"Let go!" She screamed.
I rolled her under my arm like an alligator flipping its prey. We fell into the shallow water of the pond.
She needs me! I need her!
Melanie bit hard into my hand and I lost my grip.
"Get off!" She yelled, then kneed me in the bloody stump where my leg once was. She jumped up and kicked me in the jaw, breaking it.
"Melanie, wait," I said, struggling to speak through my broken teeth.
Now freed, she ran away into the woods back to the trail.
Blood from all my wounds and disfigurements drifted around me in the water. I lugged my body from the pond. Why did she leave? I was here for her. The statue said this is what I needed to do. Did I do something wrong?
Exhausted, bloody, and covered in mud I pulled my limbless body back to the large oak. However, when I reached the tree the statue was gone. Only a dark burnt cavity remained.
"No!" I said. "Please, I need to know." I raised my hand up to the hole, feeling the smooth surface of the empty crevasse.
"I need to know more. I have more to give."