Annie brushed the electrostatic duster over the statue’s neck and shoulders, glancing up at the blinking red light on the surveillance camera. Every shift, every night, ended in Beckworth Hall with the same intriguing question. What would it take to trigger the centerpiece’s pressure-sensitive alarm? Patrons touched him all the time, causing the ear-piercing bell to ring more than once.
The Watchman was easily the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most popular piece. According to the legend the museum received, he was originally carved as a human gargoyle. Donated by Eldridge Beckworth III when the Beckworth Estate burned to the ground, The Watchman had stood in the center of his grandfather’s honorary hall since 1864. The artist was listed as “Unknown”, and countless studies had resulted in nothing further than speculation.
Her museum job was quiet, dark in the dim, energy-conscious half-lighting, and extremely lonely. Even in tennis shoes, the echo of Annie’s footsteps in the corridors haunted her like the ghosts of the artists themselves. Every night, she rushed to finish earlier and earlier, to spend a few extra moments with the grey marble visage that was the closest thing offered for company by the museum’s hollow halls. Every night, she would talk to him as she mopped the floor and cleaned the lint from the displays.
More than conversation drew Annie to the oyster grey sculpture and his eternal vigil. The Watchman was, of course, as quiet as a rock. The desire to touch him however, was at once terrifying and intoxicating. It wasn’t that his carved physique was sexy, which it was. He was the ultimate hard-body, and quite naked, but he was only a statue. The raw allure of The Watchman was that his exposed marble virility was just… so… lifelike. Annie simply had to touch him.
“It’s Friday again,” she whispered behind his ear as the lens passed them by. “I have to leave you with that boring Michael again for two days. I’m soooo sorry. You do understand, don’t you?”
For the first time in three months, her words gave her the courage she needed. She slipped her hand over his shoulder in place of the duster, tracing her fingers delicately over perfectly chiseled pectorals and slowly down the ripples of his abdomen, all the while watching the camera’s slow pan. Profound fear of the alarm bell bounced through her veins in exhilaration.
The figure’s skin was so uncannily smooth it was as if its sculptor had discovered one of Medusa’s hapless victims and passed it for his own work. For all his hewn perfection, The Watchman was cold, hard, and utterly inanimate. Still, he made Annie’s heart race. Her fingers dared her to push, to squeeze, to trigger the sensor in the floor-plate with unconcerned abandon. But that would almost certainly mean the end of her job… and the last time she would ever touch him.
Her hand caressed further and further down his smooth surface. She stepped around to face him. His strong cheek bones and Neanderthal brow promised unrefined masculinity. Stone eyes stared forward, unwavering, piercing, penetrating her. Full, perfect lips, grim and determined, would never part. He reminded her of the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace, if slightly under dressed.
“You’re awfully hard for being permanently soft,” she teased. “Is that for me?”
Behind her the camera made its stop and started back again. Annie resumed her pretense. Her eyes played quietly with his naked torso, while her hands dusted aimlessly now. It seemed impossible that such detail could survive even the 139 years since The Watchman was donated. She stepped away and around behind him again stopping to linger once more at his ear.
“I have a surprise for you tonight,” she whispered. This time she didn’t even look at the camera. She’d rehearsed its sounds nearly a hundred times in her head. It was trained on a painting at the north end of the hall and she still had several seconds. She darted her mouth forward to gently kiss the side of his neck. For a moment, she could smell him, until the cold musty odor robbed her of her imagination.
A sharp, shrill bell shattered her ear drums. Loud clacks of the breakers sounded over the alarm as bright floodlights lit the hall, blinding and paralyzing. Panic seized her. Trembling, she tried to convince herself that the camera had seen nothing, but the image in front of her eyes screamed louder than the alarm. It was a tiny outline of lipstick on The Watchman’s neck. Hastily, she reached to wipe it away, but her hand stopped and her blood ran cold. The Watchman turned his head and blinked at her with steel blue eyes.
Annie sat up in bed with a start. It was still early morning. Dawn had come, but the sounds of the traffic were still sparse outside. How stupid, she thought. The excitement of touching the statue was real enough, but the lipstick wasn’t. Annie almost never wore lipstick, and certainly not at work. She got up from bed, and wandered groggily into the kitchen to put on coffee.
Brittney was already up and dressed in her uniform. “What are you doing up? And what’s with the silly grin?” she asked.
Annie grinned even wider. No way was she admitting she’d felt up a human gargoyle at work. “Nothing…” she said absent-mindedly. “Just something I was dreaming?”
“Do I even wanna know?” Brittney asked.
A loud rap at their apartment door interrupted Annie’s answer. She changed course from the coffee maker to the door and answered it. It only took a moment to recognize the uniform of an MMA Security inspector. Annie swallowed a lump in her throat and she went blind and dizzy with instant fear, grabbing the door with both hands for support.
“I was just dusting him for lint!” she exclaimed with no introduction.
“Excuse me?” the inspector answered in surprise.
“The Watchman, I was only dusting him for lint. I didn’t touch him.”
“No one said anything about touching him. How did you know I was here about The Watchman?” the guard asked, puzzled.
The adrenaline subsided and Annie’s focus gradually returned. “I didn’t. I-I-I just…” She stopped. Telling the museum inspector about her dream was a worse idea than telling Brittney about it.
“Never mind,” his full lips offered a relaxing smile. “Actually, The Watchman disappeared during the night. The surveillance video shows you were the last one to have seen him. I was just hoping you might have noticed something unusual.”
“Disappeared?” Annie exploded from a deep sigh of relief and looked up into the inspector’s face. Familiar steel blue eyes stared back at her behind strong cheek bones set under a Neanderthal brow, piercing, penetrating her…
© 2012 Anne Schilde