The line of hopefuls is moving faster than expected. Alkem’s reputation as an efficient operation is well-deserved. Winding like a river around brass poles and velvet ropes, the flow of people draws me steadily forward. Within a few minutes, I’ve reached the head of the line.
I’m now facing a wall with five doors. A red light is illuminated above each of them. I wait patiently until the light above the center door turns green and the door slides open. I enter the room, and it slides shut behind me.
It’s a small room with a black marble floor and white walls. There are two doors on the opposite wall, one green and the other red. One tile in the center of the room is gray.
“Greetings, candidate,” says an automated female voice from speakers in the ceiling. “Please disrobe and stand on the gray tile facing the doors.”
I comply, setting my dress and heels next to the wall. Then I walk to the gray tile and wait—ten seconds of silence pass. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a bad sign when the voice continues.
“Please turn around slowly until you are facing forward again.”
I nod and shuffle my feet, turning slowly clockwise. It seems like an eternity until I face the two doors once again. I wait for the machine to decide my fate.
It is my twenty-first birthday. This is the first day I’m eligible to come to Alkem after years of waiting. Not everyone decides to come here, but I feel this is my destiny. I’m about to find out if I’m right. Only one in twenty are chosen. Another minute passes. Finally, the green door slides open.
“Congratulations,” says the voice. “Please drop your garments in the chute and proceed through the green door.”
I realize I’ve been holding my breath and exhale a sigh of relief. Fist pumping seems inappropriate in this setting, so I close my eyes and smile. I’ve made it!
I gather my clothes from the floor and drop them in the chute on the wall. My heels clatter down the metal tube. I turn to look at the two doors. I know the red door leads outside. Had it opened, I would have put my clothes back on and returned to my everyday life, disappointed and wondering what might have been.
Instead, I walk through the green door. It closes behind me, and I descend a short flight of stairs that opens into another room. I’m greeted by another set of brass poles and velvet ropes. I join the line of people and shuffle forward as we weave our way around the poles. These are the chosen. We’re all naked, of course. Alkem will soon donate the clothing we left behind to charity. We don’t need it where we’re going.
After several minutes of shuffling, I reach the head of the line. I’m facing another set of five doors with red lights above them. Once again, I wait. The light above the far left door turns green, sliding open. I walk through, and it slides shut behind me.
This room is almost identical to the first one: white walls and a black marble floor. Instead of red and green doors, though, a single black door stands in the middle of the far wall. Instead of a gray tile, a round white marble pedestal sits in the center of the floor. It’s about a foot high and three feet in diameter.
“Please step onto the pedestal,” says the same female voice. “Feet together.”
I walk forward, step up, and stand with my feet touching.
“Please listen carefully,” the voice continues. “Stand up straight. Arms at your sides with palms on your thighs. Shoulders back, chest out, chin up.”
The instructions aren’t needed as I’ve practiced hundreds of times in the mirror. As I assume the pose, my excitement begins to build. I can’t believe I’m here. My dream is about to become a reality. Ten seconds pass.
“Shoulders back more,” commands the voice. “Stop. Chin up one inch. Stop.”
Ten more seconds pass.
“Please hold your position.”
This is it.
I’m bathed in blue light shining down from the ceiling. It’s cool at first, but the intensity increases until it’s comfortably warm on my bare skin. Nothing happens for about thirty seconds, and then I feel it starting. I’ve reached the point of no return. I glance down and see the color draining from my feet until they match the white pedestal. The wave slowly sweeps up my calves and then—
“Chin up and eyes forward,” demands the voice.
I sigh. The voice is right, of course. As much as I’d love to watch the process, it’s important to hold my pose. Though I can no longer see it, I can still feel it happening. The change is not just in the color of my skin. The light is transforming me into the same marble I’m standing on. The wave flows over my knees and ascends my thighs. I feel my legs petrify and become dense stone.
I wonder where I’ll be placed. Perhaps in a museum. Or a gallery. Maybe a city park. Someone’s private collection. So many possibilities.
“Please hold your position.”
I snap out of my daydream and return to the task at hand. I’ll only do this once, so I should bask in the experience and embrace it.
The wave of stone continues to rise. I feel my glutes harden along with my nether region. My hips are next to calcify, followed by my lower back and abdomen. My pulse quickens in anticipation of what’s to come. I take a final breath as my lungs become marble. One last beat before my heart turns to stone.
“Please hold your position.”
Only seconds remain now. The petrifying wave reaches my shoulders and flows down both arms until my hands fuse to my thighs. Then it begins its final ascent up my neck—last few moments. As the wave reaches my chin and then cascades over my mouth, my jaw locks into place. My nose succumbs next, and the world goes silent as my ears turn to stone. The room blurs and disappears as my eyes become wide, blank orbs of solid marble.
My thoughts slow down as my brain petrifies. I have become art—to be appreciated and celebrated for generations. With my life’s ambition realized, my consciousness dissipates as the wave of stone crests the top of my head.
The blue light shines for a few more seconds and then fades.
“Transformation complete,” says the automated voice to nobody in particular.
The black door opens, and the newly minted nude statue glides forward on its pedestal into a long hallway. The door closes behind it as it continues on its journey. The hallway ends, and the statue enters a massive room the size of a football field. More statues emerge from other doors—men and women frozen forever in the same stoic pose.
The room is nearly filled with row after row of statues. The new ones glide forward and slide into open spaces. The scene resembles an army of stone with hundreds of warriors standing silently at attention, ready and waiting for orders.
Alkem will sell some to museums and galleries. Some to private collectors. Others will stand guard in parks, braving the elements and surveying the people as they walk by.
Aside from the same pose, they have something else in common. They wanted this. More than anything else, they wanted this. It’s not for everyone, nor is it granted to all who desire it. Only the best are selected for this honor. To step onto a marble pedestal and enter eternity. Mere mortals will fade and be forgotten, but the chosen shall remain—forever watching and silently inspiring others to follow.
Will you be one of them? Do you possess the same courage? Do you share the same desire? Are you worthy? When it’s your turn to be judged, will the green door open?
Will you falter before the marble pedestal? Or will you stand in the light?
Copyright 2022 Veronica Malbec
Believe it or not, this story originated as a dream. I remember feeling ecstatic when the green door opened. I couldn’t wait to stand on my pedestal and consummate my deepest desire. The crazy thing is I believed it was all real. I was even disappointed when I woke up. Perhaps, I am truly one of the chosen destined to stand in the light. Until that day arrives, I think I’ll keep writing stories.