This story is by Zane S. Andrew and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Comes a time when it is really quite difficult to impress the general mainstream culture of planet Earth with art. Suffice it to say that this time is in the distant (but perhaps not so distant as you are imagining) future.
The artist’s name is Sagittarius Muncy and she is famous for her bright red hair, but she is hardly important because the piece was bought from her before she finished it, even before it was pulled up from deep beneath Kearney, Nebraska where she constructed it. And that is all Natalie is told of her.
The concept is this: The Stone Goliath with a Living Heart, a name which only generates enough to buzz to be a tagline, and so the official title of the piece (as decided by the wise executives of Waffle House Inc. who bankrupted their company to purchase it) is King Life.
Natalie, who is the only person to have come anywhere near King Life and not seen him from the outside, imagines the behemoth is hideous. Why else would people be so eager to see it? A towering, tattered marble Frankenstein, a 1:500 scale model of Sloth from Goonies, which she has watched eight times since she accepted her promotion and became a part of the sculpture two weeks ago.
It is the 31st of May when the door opens to her room, which is to be her world for an indefinite period of time, and one of the three-pronged staff assigned to monitor her health steps in from the dark shaft behind. This is the man that comes in the evenings. “Good news,” he says. “They are moving the piece to Seattle.”
Naturally, Natalie asks, “Why is that good news?”
The man is visibly confounded, as he was not prepared for this question. “Well,” he says with one hand clamping his right hip, “because it means the statue is popular, so popular that people all the way on the West Cost of America want to get a look at it!”
You have to understand that by this point in the distant (but not altogether supremely distant) future, the once vibrant system of interconnected media has quite largely collapsed. Internet is now most often used in slang form, translating to something like catastrophic failure or laughable mistake. And so now Word has regained its old-fashioned means of travel, and people have adopted a revived emphasis on seeing truly miraculous things with their very eyes. If tell of King Life has spread all the way to Seattle in only two weeks, he must be an awesome sight indeed.
“Why?” says Natalie.
“Well,” says the man again, “because it is incredible! Imagine standing at the feet of Lady Liberty.” His hand has left his hip and is now drawing a rainbow in the air. “You are staggered by the sheer impossibility of her stature, the very majesty of her presence, and then you remember that a living, breathing human being resides in her very bosom!”
Natalie is now confused, and not only because she’s never seen Lady Liberty. She says, “There’s a person inside the Statue of Liberty?”
“No!” says the man, “But there’s one in King Life!” He chuckles merrily. “Additionally, it’s time for a check-up. Please sit down and remove your shirt.”
It takes a month and a half to transport the King halfway to Seattle. She doesn’t feel the statue move; her room remains still as ever. She’s told they have to lift him up onto great wheeled carts and pull him along the major interstates. She cannot for the life of her imagine how they manage this, but she does picture Sloth in roller-skates, and that’s almost funny.
Another of the three walks through the door. He is also a man, but shorter. He comes in the mornings. His opener is: “Tits and ass, you are a hit.”
Natalie is struck by this verbal abrasion, but she reconstitutes, bless her soul. “You mean King Life is?”
“Is what?” He fishes an energy bar out of his jacket pocket and accidentally drops his clipboard.
“A hit,” says Natalie.
“Oh,” this is either the beginning of a sentence or a grunt as he stoops down to pick up the clipboard, “well yes, the King is, but only ‘cause he’s got you in him.” He tosses Natalie the energy bar and she ducks it. “There’s a whole parade on our, his, heels, been following us since Denver. People are paining pictures and things of you; someone even printed a big ol’ banner, says Queen of the King on it.”
“But they don’t know what I look like,” says Natalie.
“Yeah, exactly,” says the morning man. “Now eat that bar, keep your blood sugar up.”
King Life arrives in the Emerald City on August 11th. “Well, something happened today,” says the evening man. He’s got a Popsicle stick on Natalie’s tongue. “Someone tried to get in and see you.” He shakes his head and clicks his tongue. “Understandable, you would suppose, that they would get so curious.”
Natalie does not respond because there is a Popsicle stick on her tongue.
The man continues. “He found a hatch on the big toe. No one even knew it was there. But the fool left it open, and they caught up to him in the stomach.” More head shaking. “Could you imagine, if the sonuvagun had actually reached you?”
“No,” says Natalie.
Goonies is her favorite movie. It is, of course, very old by this time. They remade it four decades ago, and just like the first time a professional football player played Sloth. But Natalie hasn’t seen that one; it’s the original she likes.
“Whores and asses,” says the morning man. “They’re rioting.” The King has been in Seattle for one week.
“Who is?” asks Natalie.
“Seattle,” he says. He looks very tired. “We’re going to have to move again.”
“Oh?” says Natalie. He hands her a banana.
The woman usually hangs around the longest of the three. Splitting the two men, she comes at midday. She and Natalie do puzzles and crosswords, to keep the mind sharp. They would play chess but Natalie does not know how. “There is going to be someone new in the mornings,” says the midday woman. “It’s only fair to let you know. The man quit. Someone is going to replace him.”
“Where is he going next?” Natalie says.
“Who knows?” replies the woman. “Back to a normal job, probably.”
“Not him,” says Natalie, “The King.”
King Life is to spend August 21st to November 12th at sea. There is to be a barge beneath each foot, which does seem ridiculous, but keep in mind that this is in fact the future, and also that Natalie has no way of knowing whether or not she is told this as a silly joke. For all she knows, the King never left Kearney. He sails for Antwerp.
“All art must go through Belgium these days,” says the new morning man. “Obviously.”
How is it that floating on the water feels no different than being on the ground? There is no one on either ship who could properly answer the question, and besides Natalie does not bother to ask. She has now seen Goonies four hundred and thirty-seven times.
“We have received word from India,” says the evening man. He is ensuring that Natalie can still touch her toes. She can.
She says, “India.”
“They have, in an absolute landslide, elected you Prime Minister.” He rubs his eyes and they seem too squishy. He’s got a beard now. “Some imagination they have. Prime Minister of India, can you believe it?”
Natalie says, “No.”
Belgium has deployed its navy. She does not remember who told her this, but she does remember, hardly, that she used to be an Accounts Payable Clerk for Waffle House Inc. The midday woman brings her a near-full bottle of cherry wine. “It’s only fair,” she says.
On November 2nd, King Life will sink. Quickly, because he is made of marble.
“You have this one opportunity,” says the evening man, “to speak your first and last words to the whole of the world.” He is holding a notepad and a red pen. “Make it good, alright? These will be historic words. They’ll be etched out somewhere grand. They’ll be remembered for a good long time, long after anyone even remembers where they came from. But until then, the dying words of the Heart of the King. How does that sound? How incredible is that?”
Natalie is not thinking. She is staring at the pen because she has not seen the color red in person for some time.
“Mama,” she says, “you’ve been bad.”
That is what she says. The evening man does not write it down. Instead he says, “Are you absolutely sure?”
And Natalie says, “No.”