Clarke stops in her tracks as she exits the fine arts building, caught in the middle of sliding on her sunglasses to block out the mid-afternoon sun. “What’s happening here?” she asks, staring at the section of courtyard marked off by wooden stakes and construction tape and a few orange cones. The brick within the staked-off area has already been pulled up, revealing packed hard earth underneath.
“Oh good,” says Lincoln, coming up from behind her. “They’re moving the statue.”
“The one in front of the econ building. You know.”
Clarke pushes her sunglasses up her nose and stares at Lincoln.
“The warrior statue? The campus is famous for it? It’s on the cover of a ton of our brochures?” Lincoln sighs. “Have you ever even been to the econ building?”
“Why would I ever go to that part of campus,” Clarke says flatly, one hand gripping the strap of her satchel.
“For class. Meeting people. Ever leaving the fine arts building,” Lincoln says with steady exasperation. He starts walking, Clarke jogging a few steps to catch up. “It’s what you do when you’re not a tortured artist.”
“I’m not tortured,” Clarke says with the tone of someone who has been losing this particular argument for years but refuses to give up. “I’m just dedicated.”
“Well anyway admin thinks because the econ building isn’t really close to the center of campus they should move the statue here,” Lincoln says.
“That’s our administration. Always hustling to push enrollment and please donors.” Clarke tilts her head up, enjoying the weather, already thinking ahead to dinner somewhere outside, preferably with a bottle of wine.
“I like it,” Lincoln says, but by then Clarke has moved on to pizza or burgers, and the statue is forgotten for the night.
Clarke isn’t exactly lonely, but she is by her lonesome a lot, usually by design. She likes holing up in her tiny studio space in the fine arts building, sometimes overnighting and emerging for a random class the next day groggy and nonverbal, still lost in contemplation of her work. At least all of her general requirements are out of the way, letting her spend her senior year mostly focusing on her final semester project. Lincoln sometimes pokes his head in to remind her to eat or sleep or to simply leave behind a steaming cup of coffee, and every other weekend or so she might find herself with their little shared pool of friends hitting an art exhibit or enjoying dinner. But her art is her life and her life has been an unending search for that perfect expression of – well, she’ll know it when she finds it. Her professors can lavish praise on her and her classmates can be awed and jealous of her but Clarke has yet to produce anything that is truly, singularly representational.
She disappears into her studio on a Thursday morning and pokes her head out nearly twenty-four hours later, stomach gnawing and eyes rimmed red, a dull ache in her neck from hunching too much in front of her canvas. And standing tall in the courtyard, resting on a five-foot plain stone plinth, is the statue.
It faces away from the fine arts building and Clarke has to circle the base of the statue to peer up into its face. Her face. Late morning sun slants down over the both of them, directly onto the front of the statue, illuminating the stern planes of her face, the waves of loose hair cascading over her armor. She’s caught in the act of striding forward, one arm crossing her body with her hand just about to draw forth her sword, calf-length cape gently swirling behind her. The sculptor somehow captured an urgency to her, a sense of motion perpetually stilled yet perpetually striving to break free. She looks fierce, covered in beautifully-embossed leather, neither time nor weather stripping away the details.
Clarke stares up at her, those sharp gray eyes focused on something in front of her, something in her way that Clarke thinks wouldn’t be there for long if the warrior were truly alive. She stares until she blinks suddenly, completely unaware of how long she’s been standing there, except that she has a slight crick in her neck. She cracks her spine with a few practiced movements and makes to hurry away, but something pushes her closer to the plinth, her hand lifting and trailing along the smooth stone almost of its own volition.
The statue is sun-warm, practically alive, and Clarke feels the urge to linger steal over her almost without noticing until her phone chirps with a text, and then she does manage to hurry away with the impossible sensation of being followed by a pair of stony grey eyes.
It’s ridiculous to avoid eye contact with a statue, but Clarke can’t make herself look at the warrior every time she has to come or go from the fine arts building. She wants to, so badly that it feels like a compulsion, like a hand on the back of her neck trying to force her to look. But the statue twists something soft in her gut, something she doesn’t understand, that she has never felt before and isn't quite ready to feel now. The only thing she can see that might help with that twisting unknown is retreating to the knowledge and control she finds in her art.
But that is no refuge either. She seems now to know always where the statue is in relation to her body, even buried deep in her studio, even all the way across campus in her dorm.
“Lincoln,” Clarke says one day at lunch, sunglasses firmly on to hide the dark bags under her eyes, though they do nothing for how her skin has turned even paler, almost sallow from exhaustion. “The statue in front of McLeod. Who is it of?”
Lincoln shrugs, halfway through an enormous salad. “Some historical figure I guess. I never really looked it up. She’s just the warrior statue.”
Sitting in broad daylight with Lincoln for company, Clarke feels confident enough to at least look at a picture of the statue on her phone. She googles it, trying not to let on how her fingers buzz slightly from too much caffeine. There are a lot of pictures, mostly students partially braced on the plinth, one hand rubbing the statue’s feet or holding on to her legs. On the university website, a simple paragraph as part of a longer description of campus highlights.
The warrior maiden has a new home in front of the McLeod Fine Arts Building, closer to the center of campus. This statue has been a silent sentinel since the university’s founding in 1919. Unfortunately, the records of her whereabouts before 1919 were destroyed in a fire that consumed the original administration building in 1921. Historians believe the statue was bequeathed as part of the Nieman estate that helped originally found the university, though the Nieman family does not include her in their own records. The only things known for sure is that the statue is not made of native stone and that she is believed to bring good luck to those preparing for final exams. You may see students rub the statue’s feet at the end of the semester in a time-honored ritual.
Clarke can’t help but fixate on a close up of the statue’s face, her features seeming less stern when not viewed from ten feet below. She looks young, no wrinkles except the slight indent between her eyes as she forms the beginning of a frown. Clarke takes a moment to really admire the quality of detail, how none of it seems overwrought or too sharp. But for the coloration the statue could be a real human.
“What’d you find out?” Lincoln asks, arugula hanging out of his mouth.
Clarke sets her phone on the table face down. “Just the stuff they tell tour groups. She was here when they founded the university, stuff like that.”
“So about a hundred years old. She can’t be much older than that or else they take really good care of her. She looks like she got sculpted yesterday,” Lincoln says.
Clarke hums noncommittally, as though she’s satisfied with the answer, but she only has more questions.
The admin department is decidedly unhelpful when she asks about the statue, merely guiding her to the paragraph about her on the website. The history department is marginally better, eventually guiding her to a cramped, musty office tucked down a hallway and around a dimly-lit bend. “Hello?” Clarke calls as she knocks on the partially askew office door.
“Office hours are over,” says a sharp, cranky voice inside.
Clarke pushes the door all the way open, revealing a desk piled with papers and books, surrounded by shelves crammed with more books, hemming in a woman who can’t be much older than her. “Professor Foster?” she asks.
The foxlike woman behind the desk narrows her eyes at Clarke, who feels suddenly like taking a step back. The other woman is on the smaller side, swathed in an overlarge cardigan, but for all that she seems as though she could literally bite off Clarke’s head without much effort. “Can I help you?” she asks.
“Uh. My name is Clarke and I just have a question about some campus history,” she says, wondering if maybe she should just turn back now.
Those dark eyes somehow manage to sharpen in intensity, like seeing a cat’s pupils dilate just before the fatal pounce. “Sure,” says Foster.
“Um, it’s about the warrior statue in front of the fine arts building,” Clarke says. She tries not to wring her hands, feeling very much that she would like to retain as much dignity as possible in front of this woman. “I looked it up on the university’s website but do you know where she comes from? Like, who donated her?”
“Why do you want to know?” Foster asks, leaning forward, seeming suddenly very interested in the answer.
“Uh. I guess I just like the statue? I’m an art major. Painting, but you know. I appreciate all good art,” Clarke says. It feels like a lie and sounds like a lie, and yet she has no better answer. It’s the only truth she can fathom right now, and she offers it to Foster with all the humility of a freshman on her first day of class.
Another weighing stare that makes Clarke want to squirm, though for some reason she feels it extremely important that she hold her ground. “Well,” Foster says at last, leaning back in her chair, “No one is really sure. But I can tell you this: that statue is probably older than you think.”
“What makes you think that?”
A shrug, too casual to really be casual. Clarke might have just met this woman, but she can tell that much. “Unconfirmed oral histories. Nothing concrete. I’ve always wanted to carbon-date it, but the university doesn’t want to front the money and resources when they think it’s only a couple hundred years old at most.”
“Isn’t it?” Clarke asks. “I mean, if it were older than that wouldn’t it be weathered or just…not in good condition?”
“That would be the point of asking the question,” says Foster. “Any other questions?”
“Oh. Uh, no. Thank you for your time,” Clarke says, and makes her retreat as quickly as possible without looking like she’s running away.
float freefall weightless hand reach impulse energy channel energy energy energy flow form growth convert cycle withdraw restore new impulse reach energy warm ground feet ground warm soft-
Clarke fades back into consciousness, groggy and uncertain of anything except an urgent need to pee. She stumbles off her bed and into the bathroom down the hall, head drooping while she empties her bladder, and then stumbles right back into bed. Five minutes later, her hand gropes towards the end of her bed until it finds her phone somewhere underneath her pillow. She at last had the presence of mind to plug it in, so the screen blinks brightly up at her as it informs her that it is past noon.
Fortunately it’s Saturday, and so she lets herself doze for another half hour before the next biological urge strikes in a wave of hunger. She definitely didn’t eat dinner last night, caught up in her work, spurred by some furious font of creation. What she left on the canvas was unsatisfying, still unable to capture the omnipresent feeling growing inside her. She could say it was the statue, but it’s been growing inside her all her life, only now it roars within her instead of murmurs. She must create, or the impulse will consume her like a fever.
Eventually she rolls onto her back and lets her eyes stay open for longer than a few seconds, the last fog of sleep clearing from her brain, along with the defining edges of a dream she couldn’t describe now if her life depended on it. She’s left only with the sense memory of the thing, an ephemeral haze of light and warmth. It was a positive dream, she can at least say that.
Her stomach rumbles menacingly, followed by a sharp internal creak just shy of a cramp. Probably almost twenty-four hours without food now by her reckoning, which is no good for someone who needs to feed calories to her precious artist brain. She rolls out of bed once more, stripping off yesterday’s shirt and exchanging it for another one from a mostly clean pile. She scrapes her hair back into a ponytail, finds her sunglasses, keys, and wallet, unplugs her cell phone, and shuffles out in search of brunch.
Normally Clarke would relax on a Saturday; even she needs breaks sometimes. She checks her phone to see if any of her group chats have plans, but it’s radio silence. It’s only a stopgap measure; Clarke knows where she really wants to be. At the tail end of her eggs benny and green shake, she gives up on pretense and begins the fifteen-minute hike over to the fine arts building. This time she stops at the statue again, studying it from different angles.
She circles the plinth once, spiraling in close until she’s within reach of the statue’s feet. If students have been rubbing her feet for decades asking for luck, Clarke can’t see any evidence of wear. The artist styled her in sandals laced up to mid-calf, and the way the leather cuts slightly into the skin, the way her feet seem balanced against the plinth, every detail feels real and urgent.
She looks up at the statue, though she can barely see the face from this angle. “Luck,” she murmurs to herself, and reaches out to let her fingertips brush the top of one foot.
warm ground walk warm soft
Clarke stumbles back, almost tripping over her own feet. She has to catch her breath from the shock, the spike of surprise. It was like – she can’t even admit it to herself, not in so many words. But she knows. She knows what she felt. It felt as though she were brushing real skin, human skin, blood rushing under the warm surface.
She whips around, though she’s already so startled that seeing Professor Foster only a few yards away can’t push her any further off her equilibrium. “Oh. Hi. Um. Hi. I didn’t see you there.”
“I was just walking over. You got me thinking about her,” says Professor Foster, though her eyes remain Clarke, scanning up and down without subtlety.
Clarke has to take a deep, deliberate breath before she can speak normally again. “Thinking about her? How?”
“The usual. Where did she come from, who sculpted her, was she based on a real person. It’s quite a good sculpture, you’d think someone would want credit,” Foster says.
“Maybe the sculptor just wanted to create something. It’s a powerful feeling, pure creation,” Clarke says.
Foster couldn’t have made Clarke feel more observed if she pulled out a pair of binoculars and zoomed in on her right there. “Pure creation?”
“I guess that’s, you know, artist ego or whatever. But sometimes it’s enough to create and just put something new in the world. It’s not about, you know, your name. Your brand.” Clarke makes a face on “brand,” her disgust clear.
“I thought all you artists were about your brand these days,” Foster says, but with a hint of humor tugging one corner of her mouth.
Clarke shrugs, still struggling to right her sense of balance and make sense of what she felt. She can suddenly feel how warm it is outside, hear the sounds of cars and rustling leaves and distant laughs. The scrape of her own feet on the brick as she shifts her weight is like a dozen concrete blocks rubbing together. Her fingertips tingle magnetically and she wants to touch the statue again – touch her. But the sensation was so strange, and not in front of Foster, who is standing there with her arms folded, clearly waiting to see what Clarke does next.
“I have to…” Clarke points at the entrance to the fine arts building.
“On a Saturday?”
“Have to go build my brand,” Clarke says, earning her an outright smirk.
“I’ll let you know if I have any new thoughts about her,” Foster says, not moving from her spot by the statue.
“Sure. Thanks,” Clarke says, before reluctantly carding herself into the building.
“You look different. Less terrible than usual,” Raven says over dinner. Lincoln immediately turns to peer at Clarke, who rolls her eyes.
“Did you finally stop sleeping in your studio?” Lincoln asks from his spot next to her.
“I don't sleep in my studio anymore,” Clarke says, rather unconvincingly. Raven and Lincoln exchange looks, not bothering to hide them from Clarke. “I don't,” she insists, keeping the technicality that she slept in her studio two nights ago to herself.
The three of them lapse into silence, broken only by chewing as they finish their meals.
“Anyway, you’ve slept in McLeod too,” Clarke says.
“Like once a semester, not every week,” Raven says. “And my dorm is a lot farther away than yours.”
“I feel fine,” Clarke says, and this time means it. She’s a little tired, but energized at the same time, completely focused on her work, on expressing the bloom inside her own body. Ever since she touched the statue, though that's not a thought she ever allows to linger for long.
There’s no capturing whatever it is, just hours at a time spent in a near-trance state letting herself act as a conduit until she blinks herself back into the tangible world. Her largest canvas can’t possibly hold the multitude of thought that needs sorting, and yet it must. There’s something waiting for her at the end, something that could change her life, her world. Her, Clarke.
Afterwards, Clarke hopes the two of them will split off, perhaps go find their partners or some other friends. But Raven sticks by her side, unerringly pointing back at the fine arts building. “I have a shit ton of welding to finish,” she says as they cross the park bordering campus. She doesn’t say much else as they approach the front entrance, although she glances up at the statue, which naturally draws the eye from its prominent spot front and center.
“This statue is amazing,” Raven says, stopping for a moment, gazing up at the warrior’s face.
“I…yeah. I guess it is,” Clarke says, trying not to let on how much she’s drawn forward and up.
“Look at the detail. The proportion. She looks like Medusa froze someone,” Raven says, admiration clear in her voice. “If I could I’d go back and work in stone instead of metal.”
“You would not,” Clarke scoffs, and Raven gives in with an easy grin.
Raven shuffles up to the statue, pushing onto her tip-toes, hand reaching up over the top edge of the plinth to touch the warrior’s foot. Clarke almost holds her breath, waiting for Raven’s reaction. But her fingers simply brush down from ankle towards her toes before she rests firmly on the ground again. “Could really use an A this semester,” she says.
“You’ll do great,” Clarke says, automatically supportive, but with her attention split in half. She wonders if maybe she imagined it, what she felt when she touched the warrior. She hasn’t tried again since that Saturday almost two weeks ago, when Professor Foster found her. She wonders if perhaps she should return to Foster, ask for help with her suspicions. The woman is highly intimidating though, and Clarke doesn’t feel like embarrassing herself in front of faculty any more than she has to.
Raven cards them into the building and Clarke splits off to her studio while Raven heads to the metalworking shop in the back, but something makes her pause before her hand can wave her card in front of the security pad. She checks both ways down the hallway and sees that she’s alone; normally the building is still busy after dinner with night owl art students, but it’s Friday and everyone is probably out trying to forget about the looming end of semester in a few months.
Her feet carry her back out to the stairwell, down to the ground floor, out to the statue, looming like a spire in the new darkness that follows on from sunset. Clarke circles the plinth a few times, hand trailing along its cool, smooth surface. “Who are you?” she dares to wonder aloud.
There’s a park bench nearby, and Clarke makes herself comfortable, legs drawn up so she can fold her arms on her knees and rest her chin on top. The bench faces the statue about thirty degrees off of head on, but Clarke can feel the weight of her stare anyway.
It's certainly a well-made piece of art. The student in her can appreciate that. Raven was right; she looks as lifelike as a statue can look, ready to spring forward at a moment’s notice. Clarke can practically see her striding forward and wants to follow her, wants to follow that dynamism. She has nothing but her imagination to fill in the gaps of this anonymous warrior’s life, if she ever really lived, but as Clarke scans slowly over her features, she thinks she can see courage, and thoughtfulness, and determination. She feels…reassured.
Clarke doesn’t keep track of how long she sits with the statue, but when Raven comes sauntering out of the entrance, arms above her head in an effort to stretch her spine, she stumbles to a surprised stop when she sees Clarke. “Have you been out here the entire time?” she asks.
“Uh,” Clarke says.
“Dude I’ve been welding for almost three hours,” Raven says.
Clarke can suddenly feel the ache in her back, the stiffness in her knees. “Oh.”
“Are you okay? I think you should go back to the dorm and get some sleep,” Raven says.
“I’m – no, I’m okay,” Clarke says, shaking her head, trying to unfold her body with some grace.
“If you’re worried about your semester project, maybe you should talk to your adviser or something. Just take a break for a day.”
“Really, I’m okay,” Clarke says. She finally stands up to her full height, imitating Raven with her own overhead stretches. “I’m, you know. Getting inspiration.”
“It’s not that good a statue,” Raven says, only half joking, throwing a frown over her shoulder at the warrior.
Part of Clarke wants to argue, but Raven has jolted her too far back into their world, like losing the last of a dream and knowing that it’s time to wake up. “I’m gonna go home.”
“Okay,” Raven says, voice drawling a little with her suspicion. “Text me when you get there.”
“Text me back when you get home,” Clarke replies, and makes herself leave.
Clarke has resisted until now, but after pacing her tiny single several times, she finally digs out a sketchpad and begins committing the statue to paper. It’s harder without a direct reference and not having seen it from any perspective but below, but she draws what she remembers, and she remembers surprisingly well. The proportions of her body first: the long, lean legs, the wiry arms and small torso, the graceful strength of her neck, the hair curling around her face. Her face, also surprisingly easy to assemble. Big clear eyes, noble brow, full mouth, petite nose. The details of her armor, the leather emerging soft and supple under the tip of Clarke’s pencil. The way her cape drapes from her shoulders down her back, swirls gently around her ankles. It’s all there, waiting for her.
Clarke tears the page out when she’s done, taping it up on the wall by her bed. She sits cross-legged, staring at it, at her. Eventually she lies down, and her eyes drift shut, and she sleeps.
earth real warm so solid! muscles push pull push pull walking unaccustomed touch soft hard soft new real untethered reconnect new tether free mortal oh mortal-
Her body needed the rest, Clarke can tell by how refreshed she feels when she wakes up to the warm murmur of a Saturday morning in spring. The picture is waiting for her, standing silent watch over her. More sense memories, stronger this time. A touch, maybe a hand in hers. Wondrous marveling, a sense of excitement at the birth of something new. The pleasant churn of apprehension and anticipation in her stomach before taking a leap of faith.
She packs her sketchbook in her satchel along with a metal canteen of water and her phone charger and bustles out of her room.
Just outside of the fine arts building, she pauses, contemplating angles. The bench will be more comfortable, but she wants a more comprehensive sense of the warrior. She chooses to sit on the steps of McLeod at first, a bit in the way but hopefully not too many students will be in and out on a Saturday.
From this angle it’s mostly the warrior’s hair and cape and the scabbard of her sword. Clarke can feel the soft drape of the material as her hands guide the pencil in smooth, sure strokes down the page. It would have felt rich, but not too heavy, hanging lightly from her shoulders. Soft, smelling of well-kept leather and a bit of woodsmoke and perhaps a hint of horse around the edges. She can almost imagine the way it would fall over her fingers, slithering quietly in a hiss of fabric.
It strikes Clarke like a bolt out of the blue that she can remember that cape. She has a flash of how it would flap to the side in a breeze, then drape back into place. She has an idea of what to do next but can’t quite push herself to her feet to do it for a few moments. It’s foolish, but also the only thing that makes sense, and finally she yanks herself upright in one jerky movement and manages the handful of steps to the statue. It’s a bit of a reach; Clarke can just about see over the top of the plinth and with her arm fully stretched overhead her hand snags the edge of the cape.
And it’s not soft, it doesn’t ripple under her touch, but she can see how it would, she knows that it should.
Clarke stuffs her sketchpad and pencils back into her bag in a hurry and takes off for the history building, hoping she won’t find an empty office.
The door to Professor Foster’s office is once again slightly ajar and Clarke heaves a silent sigh of relief as she knocks, still trying to catch her breath from her dash across campus. “Hello?”
A creak from an office chair turning around and Foster comes into view, leveling her usual borderline glare directly at Clarke. “You again.”
“I’m sorry if I interrupted, but I just have more questions about the warrior statue,” Clarke says.
To her surprise, Foster gestures to one of two old chairs in front of her desk, looking like the vinyl upholstery might crack and sprout stuffing at any second. Clarke perches on the edge of the chair, one hand gripping her satchel strap. “So what is it you want to know?” Foster asks.
“I think you should carbon date the statue,” Clarke says.
“Oh? Have you found something to indicate it might be older than we think?” Foster asks, giving Clarke mild eyebrow.
“I don’t know. I think. I mean. There’s something different about it. Unusual.” Clarke tries not to stammer as she tries to push Foster towards a yes without outright lying.
“Is that a yes or no?”
Clarke grips her satchel strap tighter. “I don’t have any concrete proof,” she finally admits.
“You seem pretty convinced for someone without proof,” says Foster.
Clarke crosses her other arm across her stomach, hugging herself, searching her innermost feelings. It’s confusing, to know so little and yet also be completely sure that this road she must travel. “I just know that we need to know more.” Her mind whirls, spitting out a possible thread; she seizes on it and tugs. “I mean, what if the statue is older than it appears? It would be great publicity for the university. They could get a lot of attention, maybe get some grants or funding or something.”
Foster leans back in her chair, where her expression shifts like quicksilver from moody to something almost knowing. “Well don’t tell me, go convince the guys in the archaeology department.”
Clarke has to wait until Monday, but at least Foster doesn’t make her go it alone. The possibility of an archaeological mystery coupled with some sharp prodding from Foster and her flat but sincere promise that she’ll owe the department an extravagant favor earns them a test scheduled for the next day. Afterwards, the pair of them amble around campus, the warrior at the center of their meandering loops.
“What made you want to know more? Why now?” Foster asks, hands in her pockets. Clarke isn’t deceived by her laid-back tone or posture; the woman is probably intense even in her sleep, and she seems to circle the question of the statute almost as much as Clarke.
“I guess the curiosity just got to me,” Clarke says. She’s told Foster as much as she’s told anyone, but she can’t trust her with the rest of it just yet. The dreams, the sensations, the things she can only describe as memories. The world increasingly feels like the liminal space between true sleep and full wakefulness, where she is aware and not aware, still skimming just under the dreaming threshold but also sensing that it’s all slipping away. It would be disorienting without her fixed point: the warrior, proud and silent and watchful.
Foster just makes a thoughtful humming sound that Clarke can’t interpret at all.
“Why did you agree to help me?” Clarke asks instead.
“I guess the curiosity just got to me,” Foster says, amused by her own wit and Clarke’s exasperated reaction.
Clarke tries again. “What do you think they’ll find?”
Foster seems to seriously consider this for a few moments. “Whatever it is, I hope it’s only the beginning,” she says.
The beginning of what, she doesn’t specify, and Clarke doesn’t think she’s ready to pursue any further. They eventually close in on the statue itself and stand together in front of her, two supplicants waiting for a benediction that will never come. “I can’t believe I never even knew she was here until they moved her,” Clarke says.
“You’re a senior?” Foster asks, waiting for confirmation. “You wouldn’t be the first one to get tunnel vision.”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve been like that pretty much as soon as I knew I wanted to be an artist,” Clarke says. “My friends always tell me I work too much. Even my parents…” She hadn’t expected to think about her father, and the sudden mention of him, even from her own lips, requires a pause to compose herself. “Anyway, I guess I just thought I was focused. In love with the art, you know?”
“You’re a creator,” Foster says, a simple pronouncement, but a profound one for the way it lands solemnly on Clarke.
“I guess. Yeah. It’s always been a need for me,” she says.
“Don’t let me keep you,” Foster says, turning away from the statue. “Go create, or whatever it is you artists need to do.”
“You’re not going to tell me to go get some sleep?” Clarke asks, surprise taking the edge off her sarcasm.
Foster snorts. “What am I, your mother? I don’t care as long as it’s not against university rules.”
It’s refreshing to have someone just tell her to go and be Clarke, whatever or whoever that is. Clarke tries to tamp down on a grin, suspecting that would just drive Foster even further into a pocket of studied not-caring. “I’ll see you here tomorrow.”
“Whatever,” Foster says, but Clarke doesn’t miss how she once again stares up at the statue in anticipation.
The archaeology department sets up scaffolding all around the statue, allowing them to climb up to the crown of her head some ten-plus feet above the ground. Clarke withdraws to the front steps of the fine arts building and watches them clamber around her, taking samples from agreed-upon points that won’t compromise her appearance too much.
“It’s mass spec so we don’t need a lot,” says Doctor Kane, the head of the archaeology department from his supervisory spot on the ground a few feet away. Still, it sets her on edge a bit, seeing them behave so familiarly with her, even though she can tell they’re being as careful as possible. Foster is somewhere, lurking around, popping up next to Clarke from time to time and breathing down the necks of several terrified grad students, which mollifies Clarke somewhat. Eventually they climb down, capping samples and closing up boxes.
“We’ll pull down the scaffolding after the dating is finished. Might need to come back for more samples,” says Kane.
“What’s the timeline on results?” Foster asks, back from her prowling.
“Well it only takes a few hours to run a sample, but there’s always a queue, and we’ll want to run a couple tests to be sure. End of week?” Kane says.
“See you Friday then,” Foster says, the words almost coming out as a threat. Kane seems used to her surliness though because he just shakes her hand and collects his grad students, most of whom look relieved to have him as a buffer.
Clarke somehow manages to fill the time until Friday. She does her best to focus on her semester project, although the warrior still manages to creep in here and there. She doesn’t mind though, not when her work takes on added vibrancy, a sense of emotion long repressed. The compulsion is different now – painting not because she can’t think of anything else, but because she only wants to think of painting. She embraces it in a way that has felt denied to her before, and when Friday arrives she finds a medium-sized canvas of the warrior staring back at her in full, regal color. The warrior rests underneath a tree with her cape spread out underneath her, sword nearby, calmly biting into a ripe fig. A scene she has no way to remember, yet cannot help but remember.
Clarke is waiting out by the warrior at nine on the dot on Friday morning. She sits on the scaffolding, still erected around the statue, and sips her coffee while one leg jiggles against the ground. She and Foster hadn’t made any specific plans to meet up today, but she somehow knows to wait here.
Foster comes along shortly, a file folder dangling from one hand. She stops in front of Clarke, tapping the spine of the folder against her palm.
Clarke looks up at her expectantly.
Foster is blunt with her answer. “Eleven thousand years. Give or take.”
Clarke nearly falls off the scaffolding, just barely managing to catch her coffee cup and set it aside. “Thousand?” she repeats, voice climbing almost to a squeak.
“There’s a margin of error, but that’s the closest round number,” Foster says. She holds the folder out to Clarke, who takes it and thumbs through it, looking at graphs and scanning words that have no meaning to her. She slaps it shut and puts it next to her coffee so she can get up and pace.
“Eleven thousand,” Clarke says again, one hand pressing against her forehead. The enormity of it is having trouble properly sinking in. “That can’t be right.”
Foster is calm and still, only her eyes tracking Clarke back and forth. “You were the one who came to me suggesting something like this might be the case.”
“Yes, but not like…like this! Eleven thousand years old?” Clarke says for the third time.
“Would you like them to test her again?” Foster asks.
“How is that even possible? Look at her! She barely looks a hundred years old, if that. What is this statue made of? Was it kept in a museum until it was transferred here? Who made her? Why was her provenance lost?”
“All questions the university has asked me to answer,” Foster says, arms folded, amusement at Clarke’s consternation rapidly growing evident. “You were right. It’s a great find. The archaeology department is already writing up their findings for an article.”
“But…” After being the one to come up with the publicity angle in order to push through the testing, Clarke can’t now admit that she hates the idea of other people coming to see the warrior, pawing at her, scraping away pieces of her. It’s a ridiculous notion but it would be such an invasion of privacy.
“Why don’t you take some time to think this over,” Foster says. “I’m sure there’s a place for you to help shape the discussion around her. We’ll need plenty of illustrations.”
If Clarke were less frazzled, she might have grown concerned over how Foster seems intentionally to goad her consternation, but instead she just stops pacing and nods, hands on her hips now. “Okay. Okay.” A breath. “Thanks, Professor Foster. For helping me. And uh, congratulations I guess.”
“Don’t congratulate me yet. We don’t have a lot of places to start with research into provenance,” Foster says.
Clarke starts to swipe the folder up to give it back to Foster, but she shakes her head. “You can hold on to that. I have a copy in my office.”
“Okay. Thanks,” Clarke says, and Foster turns on her heel and walks away without any further niceties.
Clarke means to go back to her dorm or the library or her studio or anywhere else really, but she finds herself unable to leave the warrior. She pulls herself up onto the lowest level of scaffolding and traces over the report several times, googling terms on her phone until she has at least a vague idea of the process and the results. Really, the only thing that matters is the final result, and she has no reason to doubt Kane or his very distinguished archaeology department.
The hours peel off the day and she gets a few looks as people go in and out of McLeod. She doesn’t even have her sketchbook with her, just the remnants of her coffee, the cup long since drained, and the now much-combed-over carbon dating report. Shadows lengthen, the air cools, and still Clarke lies on the scaffolding, as though proximity alone might solve the mystery. As night settles around them and foot traffic trickles away, Clarke finally clambers up to the top level of the scaffolding, where the makeshift landing is even with the warrior’s stomach. There Clarke lays herself out flat, staring up at the sky, wishing all the lights in McLeod and along the nearby pathways would go out so she could see the stars proper.
“You’re ancient,” she says, hands folded on her stomach, face tilted to look at the warrior. From this angle she can see a new detail: the thin cord of a necklace partially exposed against the warrior’s neck, sliding down underneath her leather armor. It’s barely there, the rest of it obscured by hair. Assuming the artist always planned to stand the statue up on the plinth, it’s a detail no one could ever notice from ground level, but Clarke appreciates the commitment to detail. It makes the warrior feel even more human, more like a person who just happens to be caught out of time.
Clarke trails her fingers along the warrior’s arm, bare from just below her triceps down to her elbow, where her gauntlet begins. The muscle there is whipcord tough, taught and lean. There’s no reason the stone should feel that way, but it flexes under her hand all the same. There’s no surprise here, only the satisfaction of expectation fulfilled.
Clarke pulls herself up onto her knees, settling back on her ankles and getting her first proper look at the warrior face-to-face. She’s all there, everything Clarke remembers about her. The beautiful tilt of her cheekbones, the face somehow still clinging to the very last roundness of youth, the clear eyes and stubborn set to her brow. Clarke’s hand slowly travels the distance and lightly, gently her fingertips press to the warrior’s cheek.
To her artist’s eye, it’s almost as though the rosiness of healthy skin ripples faintly under her touch. When she removes her hand, the stone remains, as smooth and unperturbed as it probably was eleven thousand years ago. Clarke touches her again, and can feel as much as see the slight give of skin, the reciprocal touch against the pads of her fingers. But still, the stone remains.
“Wake up,” Clarke whispers. To herself, perhaps, as much as the statue. “Please wake up.”
Clarke’s fingers trace the warrior’s hairline, a slow caress from the center of her forehead down to her ear.
“I’m here. You found me. Wake up.”
Something whispers back, an impression of speech not meant to be heard by ear. An impulse, a goad, a plea. Clarke leans forward from the waist, her forehead coming to rest just on top of the warrior’s. Her lips are close, close enough to leave the faintest hint of moisture when she exhales. Close enough that when she whispers a third time, her lips brush the statue’s brow. Clarke wakes up.