The clay was always cold and clammy when he started, and it reminded him of the post-arousal moisture on his brow.

His hands rubbed against the soft surface, his fingers depressing the flesh-like tension to form moist trails. The contours gave the illusion of motion, heightened by the water’s dark passage, and he felt, just for an instant, as if he were truly creating life. But then his eyes would light upon a grey, powdery ridge, brittle and dry, and he was forced once more to confront the reality of the clay’s inanimate nature.

Sertio sighed through pursed lips, the rush of air cool on the back of his hands. Hairs, some of the few on his body, stood to anticipatory attention as a shudder ran through him. His fingers, spurred on by the intoxication, squeezed gently, and the urge to caress his work in a tear-stained embrace was almost overpowering.

Yet he resisted, instead reliving the process of creation‌—‌the clay tightening, threatening to crack until he massaged it with more water, easing his fingers and then his palms over the bulge as it took on form. The work had been exquisite, and he’d truly lost himself in those moments, his eyes closed to help him see as his hands transported him into a world of intense sensations.

His throat was dry, and when he swallowed there was a strong desire to cough, his stomach clenching in sympathy. That focused his attention on his own body; the uncomfortable heat deep within, and the phantom movement beneath his work garments.

After all these years, such manifest excitement was still a source of disgust and depression. Where others would worship such reactions and seek ways to share the ecstasy, Sertio felt only revulsion, at what he had once been and what he still remained, if only in echo, despite his best efforts to rid his body of such stirrings. He would never be free‌—‌he’d long ago reached that depressing conclusion‌—‌and so he must retreat within. He must never force his ugliness on others again.

And yet he was driven to share. What was this exquisitely drawn-out creation if not an opening up of his innermost being? Why did he torture himself so unless it were to draw others into this hell of wonder that blew through his mind and massaged his heart so terribly?

The clay, unlike flesh, succumbed to his desires and yielded to his touch. As he caressed and stroked, the substance underwent a heavenly metamorphosis, a blasphemous corruption that yielded a fleeting life before the water was gone and all that remained was an eternal expression of pains and pleasures, his act of creation no more than a mirror to his everlasting purgatory.

Then, the birth complete, Sertio would reject this abortion, and his agent would become the guardian, ready to breathe a new kind of life into the stillborn monstrosity. Daventree would extol the virtues that Sertio no longer believed in. His serpentine tongue would caress the ears of the dealers and the gallery owners, and through the exchange of moneys they would become the godparents of a thing that had no deity, because it had no life.

They would sing Sertio’s praises, and the stroking of his vanity would drain his stomach, leaving an acid yearning and a bitter contempt for these blind fools who believed his art was more than a lump of lifeless clay.

But still Sertio created, and still he strove for that perfect expression of the inexpressible. As the sun’s rays bore down through the skylight, shining on the clay even as it vaporised the only thing that gave it life, Sertio had to believe that this might be the one. He saw the untapped form within the material, and his fingers teased it out, hardened clay cracking on the backs of his hands as the entwined limbs developed, and the features of the faces underwent infinitesimal twitches as raw emotions rose to the surface. The forms became their own things, Sertio nothing more than a conduit for something greater. Yes, this could be the one that retained the dread life, and didn’t let the grey dust-shroud come down to petrify it for all eternity.

Where the potential existed, Sertio must bring it forth, a slave to the muses he called on daily in his hellish prayer of supplication.

And so he dipped his fingers in the tepid water, breaking through the grains that rode its surface. Then he teased with his fingers, drawing grooves that would form hips, interlocked yet separate, at one but also disparate.

And the clay was already drying. Where before he had stroked the smooth, oiled muscle, now there was a pale dusty coating that was too rough under his fingers. Where the golem clay had been pliable under his digits, now it threatened to erode at the slightest brush. Before there had been life, but now that force evaporated into the ether.

But Daventree would become the reanimator, and those he called would fall over themselves to devise their meaningless platitudes. This crime against all that was good would, through some magic too base for Sertio to grasp, become another success.

That thought left a hollow deep in Sertio’s core, and he heard the muses laughing at the notion that a mere human could achieve anything worthy of life.

And yet, he would continue. This piece was now doomed to fail, but the next one might work. Already, Sertio could see the kernel of an idea, the notion of an expression.

Yes, the next one. That might be his perfect salvation.

And then, his life’s work over, he would be free from the torment, and the muses might finally let him be.

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One thought on “Clay

  1. Pingback: How I used short stories to explore characters | T. W. Iain

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