As I walked through Aunt Rachel’s studio I marveled at the number of pieces she had in progress, even in the early stages her sculptures held lifelike characteristics and once completed were easily mistaken for living people. Walking through her studio was similar to strolling through a hectic bus terminal or other crowded public space, each of her sculptures possessed the uniqueness that human beings did; some were plump while others were skinny, some were tall and others were petite, some bore scars, freckles, or tattoos, while others possessed unblemished skin. Each had their own hair texture and complexion capturing the diversity found within the human race. She had numerous examples of adults that were all within a wide age spectrum, but as I ambled through the congested area towards her working space I found only a single example of an adolescent.
Approaching the lone sculpture, which stood facing my aunt’s workbench, it was easy for me to determine by its posture and form that it was a male. It stood just a few inches taller than me, though his physique suggested that he would have been more athletic than I was ever inclined to be if he had been an actual incarnated person and not just a piece of art created from resin. Aunt Rachel had bestowed him with dark brown hair styled in a modern faux hawk, similar to the cut favored by her son, my cousin Christian.
I circled to the front of the sculpture and felt my stomach flip. My throat tightened as I gazed at the lifeless features of the statue. The statue was a synthetic duplicate of Christian from his light brown colored irises to the scars on the fingers of his right hand, a permanent reminder of when he punched his fist through the glass of his bedroom window. My aunt’s precise attention to such personal details astounded me and gave credence to her inherent talent as an artist and why her patrons willingly paid the hefty price tag to own one of her sculptures.
I took a few steps back to appreciate her craft and bumped into a wooden stool. I found the position of the sculpture in relation to the stool to be somewhat peculiar as the piece looked to be finished. I wondered why it wasn’t with the rest of the completed pieces across the room closer to the double doors. I gazed at the convincing replica of Christian’s face, gazing into its haunting eyes until I had convinced myself that it was no longer a molded piece of resin, but a living breathing person that could speak if he so desired.
“Yes?” I peered into the golden eyes that were fixedly staring back into mine.
“What are you doing?” questioned the voice. It sounded as if the timber of his voice had become deeper, more mature; if that was possible.
“I’m looking for you,” I responded, reaching out to touch his cheek.
“I told you that I was going to check the garden.”
I was confused by not only by the vocal response, but also by the firmness of his skin as my fingertips made contact with the surface of the figure standing before me. I had been convinced that I was going to feel the warmth of living flesh and not the hardness of molded resin. The voice I heard did not belong to Christian as I imagined; it belonged to my tutor.
I looked over my cousin’s shoulder towards the studio doors to see Mr. Stokes approaching me with Heimdall meandering behind him. I frowned. My mind was surely playing tricks again, but was I experiencing delusions or was there something peculiar occurring here in my aunt’s house? I glanced from the statue of my cousin to my tutor.
“Have you seen this piece?” I gestured at the inert figure.
Mr. Stokes stopped just behind the sculpture and crossed his arms with a nod.
“What do you think?” I asked as I leaned against the stool inspecting my aunt’s work for any imperfection. “You know, it’s weird. I get the impression that he has something to say to me. I mean, I’ve always felt that Aunt Rachel’s sculptures had something to share, but this time it’s different. Maybe it’s because I’m off my medication and can tell when I’m having an auditory hallucination and when I’m not.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. But when my parents took me to Aunt Rachel’s opening I would stand in front of each piece and just listen. I honestly believed that I was actually hearing them speak to me,” I chuckled as I tapped on my skull with my index finger, “in my head. I desperately wanted to know what they had to say, but now I’m not really sure if it was their voices or The Ancestors or just hallucinations.” I paused and leaned closer to the piece before me. “But this one … I swear … it’s breathing …”
My tutor glanced at the sculpture out of the corner of his eye and scowled. “We don’t have time for this, Angie. We’re here to find your aunt or clues to her whereabouts.”
I nodded. “I know. It’s jus –”
“Angie,” a strangled whisper echoed in my head. I watched as a furrow appeared on my tutor’s brow. Curious. Was his expression a reaction to the whisper or just coincidence?
“Let’s go,” he urged, moving towards the double doors. “This was a waste of time. There’s nothing for us here.”
“Wait!” I exclaimed, convinced that it wasn’t mere coincidence and that there was something he wasn’t sharing with me. I caught his arm and forced him to stop midstride. “I know you heard that. You heard that whisper. It called my name.”
He roughly shook off my hand and continued towards the exit without looking back. He cautioned, “Angie, leave it alone.”
I wasn’t good at heeding warnings from anyone whether written or spoken so why would my tutor expect me to do so now? I sprinted after him and positioned myself between the doors that lead to the front hall and where he stood in the studio. It was obvious to me that he knew something and was attempting to avoid sharing the information with me. I wasn’t going to stand for it, not again. Transparency was a priority to me, the more information I had the more comfortable I felt.
“You’re kidding me, right? When have I ever listened to your warnings, Mr. Stokes?”
“Well, I really wish you would just this once,” he explained, caressing the scar on his forehead. “As usual, you have no idea what you’d be getting into if you were to engage with that. Back there,” he said, gesturing behind him with his thumb, “is a power that you shouldn’t try to manipulate. It’s something even your aunt knew to leave alone.”
Instead of instilling restraint or fear within me, he was intriguing me even further. I was fascinated and wanted to know more. I needed to know more. Maybe the power he alluded to had something to do with my missing time. It probably had something to do with Aunt Rachel.
“What power? What is it?” I questioned.
Mr. Stokes shrugged. It was clear he was tired of fighting me and acquiesced to my appeal for more information. He removed his glasses carefully sliding them into the pocket of his light blue button up shirt before reaching for my hands and gently but firmly holding each of them palm to palm with his own. The connection created a lemniscate symbol with our arms.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, instructing me to do the same and when we reopened them we stared into each other’s eyes. It took just a moment for my essence to tumble into the seas of green that were his irises and to withdraw into my center. I listened for the whispers that I knew would eventually creep into my head. I probed Mr. Stokes’ thoughts … his memories … all of which were submerged beneath layers of murky emotion. The shadows concealed, shrouding that which Mr. Stokes desired to keep hidden from prying minds such as my own, but after sweeping aside the darkness his center gradually opened like the petals of a flower revealing within what I was unconsciously seeking … the whispers gifted me the knowledge.
“I … I …,” I stammered, overwhelmed by the secret I had just learned. “I don’t understand … how?”
“Because we are bonded,” he sighed, releasing my hands and pinching the bridge of his nose before replacing his glasses. “Your aunt must have performed the binding ritual sometime after I left your house on Saturday night. She bequeathed me to you, which bestows upon you power and abilities that you would not usually have access to.”
“She must’ve known,” I said.
“Yes,” he nodded his sad agreement. “She probably did.”