Mind Over Marble


Standing on the marble block, I glance sideways at the clothes I was wearing less than a minute ago. They tempt me from their resting place on a nearby wooden chair. Taking some deep breaths does nothing to calm my nerves, not to mention my racing heart.

The sculptor hums to himself in the supply room just off the studio. “Are you ready to begin, my dear?” he calls through the open door.

My palms sweat. “Um, yes,” I lie. “Ready when you are.”

“Excellent! I’ll be right with you.”

I survey my surroundings in a bid to distract myself. A dozen life-size statues stand and sit in various poses on marble blocks throughout the studio. They’re all quite lifelike—and quite nude. Like me. My face turns red as I glance at my clothes again. Maybe this is a bad idea.

The sculptor returns with some charcoal pencils and stands in front of me. His gaze starts at my feet and then slowly sweeps upward, pausing at various locations on my body before continuing. Sometimes he nods. Sometimes he raises an eyebrow. Finally, he smiles and looks me in the eye. “I believe your destiny is to do this, young lady.”

“Oh?” I reply with some surprise. I honestly feel destined to do anything but this. “Well, thank you. That means a lot.”

“And don’t think I say that to all my models because I certainly don’t.” He pauses before continuing.

“Let’s start with some warmups, shall we?”

We spend the next fifteen minutes working through some brief poses—a mix of standing, sitting, kneeling, and lying down. He sketches each position in charcoal and shows me the drawings. They’re quite good! I feel a hint of confidence in my modeling ability. I may have a future in this after all.

“Now, let’s try a longer pose,” he says. “Feet shoulder-width apart. Yes, that’s good. Now slide your left foot six inches forward. That’ll give you a stable base. All right, left hand on the front of your thigh. Very nice. And right hand on your hip.”

I follow his instructions carefully, making slight adjustments as directed. He narrows his eyes and strokes the gray stubble on his chin. Then he slowly walks completely around the marble block, examining my body from every direction. Finally, he returns to stand in front of me.

“Arch your back a bit more. Yes, stop there. And tip your head to the right. Good.”

He studies my pose for another fifteen seconds in silence and then smiles. “Perfect, my dear. Now let’s clear your mind so you can settle into this position. I’ll be right back.”

He disappears again into the supply room and returns with a metronome and an hourglass. He sets them next to each other on a wooden table ten feet in front of me.

“These will help you focus and be still,” he explains. “The best art models do not pose at all. Rather, they become works of art. They do not move because statues do not move. In this way, they maintain a pose for any length of time—hours if needed.”

He reaches down, starts the metronome, and turns over the hourglass. “We’ll begin with one hour. I’ve set the metronome to eighty beats per minute. I want you to breathe normally and focus on matching your heart rate to the beat. Keep your eyes on the hourglass and watch the grains as they fall.”

I take a deep breath and rest my gaze on the hourglass. My heart beats faster than the metronome but gradually slows down over several minutes until it matches perfectly. The sand in the hourglass forms a small pile.

“Very good,” he says. “You’re a natural for this. The metronome will steadily slow its beat. I want you to keep pace as that happens. And continue to focus on the hourglass. I’ll be back soon.”

He walks out of view as I maintain my gaze on the hourglass. The studio door opens and closes. I am alone. The metronome gradually slows down and my heart follows. I watch the individual grains of sand as they fall.

The door opens and closes again. The sculptor walks into view. “And that’s fifty-seven minutes so far. Time flies when you’re fully present and focused.”

It feels like only five minutes have passed, but nearly all the sand has fallen through the hourglass. Modeling is easier than I expected. The pile of sand grows larger.

“Now, I need you to listen carefully,” he says. “To model for a sculptor, you must become like a statue. You need to trust me and do everything I tell you to do.”

My heart continues to follow the metronome. My gaze remains locked on the hourglass.

“Feel the marble beneath you and consciously draw it upward. Allow it to enter your feet. As it fills your feet with stone, you feel yourself fusing to the block—becoming one with it.”

As he is speaking, my feet grow colder. I try to flex my toes, but they don’t respond. They’re locked into position. I lose all sensation in my feet as the wave of cold ascends my calves. The power of suggestion is so strong that I almost believe I’m petrifying.

“You are now one with the stone and no longer need to pull it upward. It’s moving on its own and steadily filling you.”

The chill reaches my thighs. An attempt to wiggle my knee yields no response. I can’t feel my calves. My heart continues to slow as the grains of sand fall.

“I want to tell you a story,” says the sculptor.

This is unexpected and piques my interest. I’ve lost all sensation in my thighs. The metronome is running impossibly slow, but my heart somehow follows.

“Certain elements of Greek mythology are real—Gorgons, for example. Perseus did indeed behead Medusa.”

I can’t feel anything below my waist. The coldness spreads like pins and needles up my abdomen.

“After many years, only Medusa’s skull remained.”

The prickly sensation reaches my breasts. My breathing is impossibly shallow.

“Eventually, Perseus ground the skull of Medusa into dust and placed it inside an hourglass.”

The metronome stops. My heart is no longer beating. A final breath rattles in my lungs as they turn to stone.

“I’m sure you’ve already made the obvious connection.” He motions toward the table. “This is that hourglass. Passed down through the centuries by the descendants of Perseus.”

The wave of stone reaches my neck.

“One glance at Medusa would petrify someone instantly. The hourglass is far more subtle but no less effective. Though it takes much longer, the end result is the same.”

The pins and needles sensation flows down my arms. I feel the heat drain from my left hand as it turns to rock and fuses to my cold thigh. My right hand follows.

The sculptor gestures vaguely at the other statues in the studio. “You are not the first, my dear, nor shall you be the last.”

With my arms fully petrified, the wave of stone moves up my neck. It reaches my chin and flows over my mouth and nose.

“Thank you for joining my collection. I believe you’ll fit in perfectly, my dear.”

Though my eyes remain fixed on the hourglass, I see some of my fellow statues in the background. I wonder what they thought when they learned their fate. Did they fight it? Try to scream and run? Or did they accept it?

The sculptor’s mouth is still moving, but I can no longer hear him since my ears are now petrified. My eyes remain fixed on the hourglass. The final grains drop as my vision fades into darkness. The cold sensation reaches the top of my head and stops. I can no longer feel anything.

My thoughts slow down as my brain hardens. I embrace my destiny and await eternity without fear as my consciousness drifts away.

A woman enters the studio as the sculptor inspects the latest addition to his collection.

“I see you’ve been busy,” the woman says. “Who is she? Or perhaps the more pertinent question is who was she?”

“Oh, just someone interested in becoming a model. Most of them are, you know.”

“Yes, quite right,” she replies. “And the hourglass?”

“Worked like a charm.”

“It’s truly incredible that the stories are real! I mean, the dust inside that hourglass is the skull of Medusa.”

The sculptor looks at her and laughs.

“What’s so funny?” she responds with a hint of anger. She doesn’t like people mocking her.

“Perhaps I could petrify you, too,” he says with a smile. “It only works if someone believes that it will. Medusa isn’t real. I bought the hourglass at a thrift shop.” He looks again at the newly-minted statue. “She did this to herself through the power of her mind.”

The woman’s eyes open wide as she processes this revelation. “And the others?”

“Same. The models turned themselves to stone with their own thoughts.”

“Does it always work?”

“Oh, certainly not,” the sculptor replies. “One in a thousand at best. It requires a powerful consciousness and sustained focus to petrify oneself. I’ve trained models for thirty years, and the statues here in the studio comprise more than half of my collection. So today is a rare occurrence, but it’s enough to keep me going—to continue searching for my next work of art.”

They both look at the new statue in silence.

“I could train you, you know,” he continues. “To guide future models to their destiny. I need someone to carry on my work when I’m gone. I don’t need an answer right away. You can take some time to—”

“Yes,” she replies without hesitation. “I accept.”

The sculptor nods and smiles broadly. “Our next subject will be here soon. Perhaps we’ll get two statues today.”

“Yes, perhaps.”

Copyright 2022 Patrick O’Ryan

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Patrick O'Ryan

Patrick O’Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief of Medusa Tales and an unabashed statuephile with way too many crazy story ideas. When he’s not reading or writing tales of transformation, you’ll probably find him on the ski slopes or a disc golf course somewhere in Idaho.

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