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Red Rock

Kai Wikeley

Instagram: @kai_in_the_ether

⛂___The stone was cool to touch. In his workshop, a small outhouse at the bottom of the garden, the sculptor regarded his new piece. He had been commissioned last autumn by a wealthy family ‘friend’ to make a centrepiece for their winter herb garden. He was finishing it, now, in February. The late frost had prevented the  finishing of the  work, he said. The greenschist would splinter into too many different shards if one attempted to carve it. This explanation was true-enough.

Stepping back, the sculptor moved his rough, calloused palm along the vertical edge of the block, which was indented every few inches with deep notches. When he reached a notch, he paused, inserted two thick fingers, and remarked on the accuracy of his technique. Running through the centre of the piece, a tall, long block, intended to be placed on a wooden stump or plinth, were a number of teardrop-shaped holes, spiralling slightly towards the tapered end. The holes were wide-enough to look through with both eyes, but too narrow for the sculptor’s wrists or arms. It was a beautiful piece, certainly, and it would instil the owner with the requisite sense of gestalt: each element somehow contributed more to the whole than one could tell simply by running a hand over it. Or, at least, that is what his commissioner and circle of wealthy friends might say. He could no longer feel anything about his art. Tired, he resigned to return tomorrow, or perhaps the next day.


The cool light of dusk was fading as he left his workshop for supper, closing the wooden door behind him, and locking it. The sculptor feigned to return to the house, but decided instead to walk south to the edge of the garden. It was quiet, and he heard bird calls and perhaps deer treading carefully through the woods to the east. While the garden sloped such that the workshop could not be seen from the house, the view from the out-building itself was broad and expansive, and the sculptor could see many sheep and a few goats grazing far away across the floodplain. In the middle-distance was a river, called Abbekas, which ran through the valley from the mountains to the north, skirting the main town below. Summerhouses and lodges surrounded the sculptor’s home, but if you walked in the direction of the river, you might have been in the deepest wilderness. Avoiding tourists was easy.

The flatness of this landscape still played tricks on him. The river looked far off, as there was nothing beyond the woods which surrounded the garden to break one’s view. Indeed, to the sculptor, it felt far, and this was partly the reason why he visited there every day. Avoiding a few larger cracks in the dry ground, he arrived at the riverbank. It was cold enough now that the river was drawn up to the cold earth on each bank, taught with icy wrinkles. Toward the far side of the river, there was a large, jagged granite stone protruding from the ice. Around the stone, the ice was cracked and split, but it grew thicker nearby, such that the intense white colour reminded the sculptor of a pimple. This annoyed him: such a gross blemish had formed on an otherwise pristine landscape; it distracted him from his thoughts. 

Coming, now, to stand alongside the riverbank, he noticed that the warmth from his workers’ boots was thawing the frozen earth by his feet. He felt as if he was giving his warmth to the ground, unwillingly. Beside his left boot was a pile of stones. He leaned over,  to pick up a small, wet pebble. Drawing it to his lips, he blew warm breath across its surface, while rubbing the stone between his flat palms, much like a firm round of dough. Using his weaker arm, he threw the pebble toward the blemish but, once again, overestimated his strength, and the stone skimmed stubbornly across the sheet ice. He tried twice more, but each time he missed. Perhaps the light was playing tricks: dusk had dragged a heavy, black liquid-sheen across the ice, and the sun was lost in-between the trees. 

Avoiding the large, orange slugs strewn across the grassy path —early winter had been warm, and their lives had begun too late—the sculptor turned from the river, and made his way briskly through the garden to the back patio door, sliding the glass partition across. The room, which served altogether as a kitchen, living space and study, was cold and dark. He felt too tired to make food. Dirty dishes from the day before were piled up in the sink, but on the wooden counter he noticed a clean fish knife. He picked it up, sliding the knife slowly across the work surface before snapping it to the magnetic strip along with four or five knives of various shapes and sizes. He noticed the digital clock on the oven pulsed 8 o’clock.


Every evening, he would drink brandy in the café by the river’s marina. It was a working harbour: often he would see strangers ,visiting for only one night, to be replaced with others the next evening. Tonight, he sat on a table behind the bar, next to the cold, wet window. A child, wearing a moustache of warm milk on their upper lip, drew ugly faces in the steamed-up glass. The child turned to stare at the sculptor. Looking up from his drink, he smiled back, but was met with a blank look. The child’s mother hastily set two notes down on the table and, fastening the boy’s coat, they left the café. A few men in work-boots and slips sat near the bar, talking quietly. The sculptor watched quietly, deciphering their conversation from their lips. It was dull: they were talking about low levels of something. Behind the bar, he saw the young man. 

The first thing that had first struck the sculptor about this young man—a server at the café—was his perpetually restless expression. It is easy to notice, as a quiet observer, when a waiter is bored, tired, sad, or angry. As a customer, one is too preoccupied with their own social anxieties that they generally miss these subtle tells. The man seemed to be in a constant state of anxiety, moving between tables a little too quickly, setting down clean plates a little too firmly. When taking an order, he would scratch the skin behind his ear, each time on the same side. Perhaps he was tired of the town, perhaps of its people. 

The man noticed the sculptor watching. He approached, reluctantly. As he reached the table, the two men stopped. They did not know each other, but they interacted every evening in some way or another. They both seemed cold, and disinterested to one another. The waiter began to speak, but the sculptor, feeling suddenly hot and panicked, rose from his chair, pushing past the two workmen at the bar, neither of whom turned to look, and left the café. The warm air from inside thrust him out and slammed the door behind him. 


Turning away from the marina, he met the coast road. He paced out of town, his body sensitive and his eyes watering from the cold. As he walked, he left his breath behind him. He turned south, toward home. The darkness of his road was at least a little comforting, and he followed the crackling of his footsteps on the gravel towards the house.

Out of the darkness, a hand jerked him back. His vision flashed in bright white and violet and his breath froze inside his throat, a heavy weight on his shoulders. He had not heard the footsteps following behind. 

It was the waiter. The light was inky black, but he could make out the distinctive break in his nose, and his thick, wide lips which were wet with spit. He could not speak, but the young man spoke first:

‘What the fuck was that?’

_____‘Sorry. Why did you follow me? Aren’t you working?’

‘Shift’s over. I’m done. You scared the customers.’

_____‘Maybe. Sorry.’

‘Are you going to invite me?’


___Two years ago, in the autumn, the sculptor had bought the house by the river. Every evening during the week, the waiter would serve him at the café. He didn’t know where he went on the weekends. Sometimes, the waiter had attempted to start conversations with the sculptor. He knew nothing about him, but was drawn to his size, his quietness. Sometimes he talked briefly about his own art, and his dream to move to the city and study. The man would listen, but rarely talk. He knew that he was an artist, a sculptor of some kind, but he knew nothing else of the man. 

And yet, on this late-winter night, he had followed him out. It was dark and cold, and he was still on shift, but something about the man’s ferocity had drawn him along. He was swept out the door with the air. He had waited long enough. 

Pacing awkwardly along the short muddy track to the house, the sculptor placed his heavy hand on the front door, and turned to him:

_____‘You can go home.’

‘No. It’s fine.’

The house smelled of wood, metal, and tires. It smelled used

_____‘So, can I get you a drink or something?’

‘Have you got any gin?’

He sat on the man’s sofa. He wondered whether it, too, had been sculpted, perhaps hewn from the wood of the silver elms that line the river from the mountains to the shore. It was large, too big for one person to sit comfortably. The sculptor had his back to him, facing the window which looked toward the river.  

‘Did you make this? It’s nice’, gesturing to the sofa underneath him.

_____‘There are no lemons; I’ve only got a lime, sorry.’

‘That’s fine.’

He watched as the sculptor pulled two flat whiskey glasses from a shelf behind him. He could hear the sound of this man’s large, rough hands moving the glasses, touching the rims with dry fingertips and cupping the base with a warm palm. He could hear skin rubbing against the wooden counter, rough, like sandpaper. 

He saw the man reach for a large, flat knife from above the surface, and winced as metal brushed sharply against metal. 

Suddenly, he remembered that he had come to this man’s home, alone. He hadn’t told anyone where he was. He didn’t really know who this man was. He knew that he was a sculptor, an artist. Probably just another lonely man in another quiet town, he thought. He relaxed.

He got up and walked around the room. It seemed that the man did everything in this one room. Yet, it was particularly messy. Wonder what his bedroom is like, the waiter thought in both nervous anticipation and excitement. He walked over a door opposite the porch, andreached for the handle-

_____‘Fuck. Stop it!’

He let the door handle go. It snapped back. It was still cold. 

‘Sorry! I didn’t...?’

_____‘Just-. Don’t go in. Stay out here. Or just leave, actually! Go.’

‘Fuck, I’m sorry! I’ll stay. You done there?’

__The sculptor set the drinks down and dropped his hands into his lap. He sat awkwardly alongside the waiter, his legs crossed away. He was a peculiarly beautiful man, the waiter thought. He had a wide nose, small eyes, beneath heavy brows, and scarlet cheeks, hidden beneath a thick gingery beard. He seemed uneasy, yet his presence was comforting. It was perhaps this tension which was the clearest indication of the loneliness of the man. This in turn made him feel less distressed at his own situation. He resolved to stay awhile.

‘Are you cold? You even have heating here? You’ve got gas...’

_____‘I’ve used all the good wood.’

The evening passed more quickly than the young man would have liked in the end, and soon he found himself supporting the sculptor’s warm, heavy body, as he slept. As he leaned over to check the time on the man’s watch, he noticed something odd on his wrist. Underneath the leather strap of the watch was a small tattoo, hidden from view to most people. At first, it appeared like a runic inscription, with strong crosses and marks that resembled characters. He realised it was a name. But it was upside down, so that if the sculptor brought his hand to his mouth, the text would be visible underneath his lips. He tried to manoeuvre so he could read it, bending the man’s elbow slowly toward him. As soon as he did, the man shifted, and he grimaced under the weight. He let go of the man’s wrist and was forced to move away. 

Quietly, so as not to wake the man, he released himself and got up. Looking around the room, he realised that everything faced the garden: the sofa, the sink and kitchen counter, even the mottled rug on the floor. Turning away from the dark windows, he walked towards the bedroom door, intent on seeing what he should not see. The man was asleep, so he crept past. Turning the cold, metal handle to the bedroom, it squealed violently: shit. Looking over, he saw the man was still asleep. Both glasses were empty, but the waiter had not drunk anything. Inside, the room was dark. He slipped through the doorway, treading lightly. 

He turned on a lamp, and the room glowed dark red and orange. It was small and wood-clad, much like the rest of the house, but there was something strange about it. There were bedside tables, lamps, drawers, but there was no bed. Yet, this room was clearly where the man slept, unless he passed out drunk on the sofa every night. He noticed that, on the floor, a matt of some kind was unfurled across one side of the room, facing the far corner. In the same corner was a large, stone sculpture. It was a tall, totem-like mound of grey marble. Moving closer, he leaned over to feel it: smooth to the touch, cold. He ran his fingers over its rounded surface, up and down. He noticed intricate inscriptions in the stone, skilfully carved in a curved, flowing script. 

Carefully, he lifted the lamp from its table and brought it near to the sculpture. He could just about make out the carved text. It seemed to be the same word, repeated across the face of the totem, covering its surface. He strained to read what looked like...a name

Not a name; it was his name. 

He saw his name written hundreds of times, carved by the sculptor’s hands, into stone. Inside his chest, something dropped. He let go of the lamp and the bulb smashed on the hardwood floor. The fuse fizzed and hissed, shifting the room between dark and light. 

He turned to leave. The sculptor was at the door. He could not make out his face. Panicked, his throat closed up. He could not move or speak. The man remained in the doorway. Suddenly he turned and raced towards the back of the house. The waiter remained on the floor of the room, smothered with darkness. He heard the man’s heavy footsteps moving away at speed.

He waited for two minutes, counting his breath. A heavy fear engulfed him as he pushed the door open and entered the main room. The ceiling light had been smashed. The glasses were shattered on the floor, and liquid stained the wood. He looked for the man. The knife was gone. Somewhere behind him, the front door slammed shut, and he did not wait to see whether it was the wind. Running out the back door, he stumbled but did not look back. As he ran down the path, toward the river, his footsteps disappeared, the sound muffled by the wood and grass that surrounded him. Leaves jumped and something fell from a tree above his head, missing him by a fraction. Out of the undergrowth, the path opened out and he saw the river. It was closer than he had thought. Follow it east to the town, west to the mountains. Over the river to the valley

A sea bird cried downstream. He turned east, toward the town, but stopped immediately as his eye was caught by something in the river. Or perhaps on the river?

He drew in a long breath sharply. The cold stung his lungs. Pushing out from below the ice was  a large, jagged rock. 

In the blue light of night, he could see that the rock was stained a dark, silky red. It shone bright, reflecting the moonlight, above the glow of the icy river. He followed the slick stain of light which drained outwards, through the ice, toward the far-side bank of the river. There, between the river-stone and the earth, was a large hole, a split in the ice. Around it, thick chunks of ice had been clawed into the water. He could see specks of light amongst the darkness, but everything was quite still. He turned away, looking down. Beside his feet was a pile of small pebbles. He reached down to pick one up. It was warm. 


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