“Steph… oh god…,” Will fought back his tears. The statue looked exactly like his best friend down to the jean jacket she wore the last time he saw her. He knew she was working on a huge story and had not heard from her in a couple of days. He went to her house but only found an array of notes and half-thoughts. More than anything, it amazed Will that Steph was one of the best journalists in the city considering her disorganization. He learned the wealthy, mysterious sculptor was the center of the story and decided to try his own investigating.
It was just past midnight on a brilliant moonlit night that Will found a statue that looked too much like Steph. He snapped a picture of her and the rest of the lifelike statues in the courtyard. He didn’t have a plan yet; but, he at least wanted to have evidence in case the statues disappeared somehow. He felt grateful the full moon gave him plenty of light and did not have to risk using a flash. Will headed to the main house to see what he could learn; but, the glass doors swung open as he got closer.
“I’ll show you…,” the sculptor said. Will recognized his portly form and silver hair from Steph’s notes. He panicked for a moment until he realized the sculptor hadn’t noticed him. His attention was focused on someone else and Will had time to hide behind one of the larger statues.
“Wow…,” Will heard a woman’s voice, then watched the pair walk into the courtyard. “They’re beautiful,” she said as she took a moment to admire different statues. Then, she turned to face the sculptor.
“You’re really talented,” she said as she stepped closer. “And your hands are still sooo soft.”
“Well, I do cheat a little bit,” the sculptor replied with a chuckle. He brought his hands up on both sides of her head and caressed her cheeks. Will watched it happen; but, he couldn’t pick out the moment when her pale flesh became solid stone. He did not notice it until her dark hair began turning stiff and white.
“NO!” Max dashed forward to try and stop the process. He threw all his weight against the portly sculptor and received only pain for his efforts. A bright blue flash blinded him momentarily the moment he made contact; he was flung backward and landed on his butt.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?” the sculptor turned to face Will once his date was solid stone. As Will tried to process the situation he realized this man was likely a wizard. He watched him turn someone to stone, and Will guessed it was some sort of mage armor that pushed him back.
“You turned my friend to stone!” Will yelled from the ground. He stayed down to give himself extra time to think. He didn’t answer any of the questions, but Will hoped the accusation would put him on the defensive.
“Ohhh, I didn’t know she brought a friend,” the wizard said. “But, that’s kind of weird; what was the plan there?”
“Not her,” Will replied. But, he offered no more information. The wizard sighed.
“Listen pal, you’re lucky I’m not rushing to call the cops on a trespasser,” he said. “If you don’t start being helpful I’ll skip that courtesy.” Will finally pulled himself up from the ground and laughed as he did.
“Go ahead and call them,” he said. “Maybe you can explain how you’re turning people into statues and pretending to be a sculptor.”
“Oh, yeah, I kind of don’t want to damage that reputation,” the wizard sighed again. “Look. The cops don’t have to get involved; just tell me what you’re doing here.”
“You turned my friend to stone!” Will repeated.
“Ughhh,” the wizard gave a frustrated sound. “I turn a lot of people to stone. You need to be specific, and what exactly do you want me to do about it?” The discovery happened so fast that Will hadn’t fully registered the situation yet. But, once the wizard asked what he could do, Will realized the obvious answer.
“Changer her back! Change them all back!”
“Whoa, whoa. let’s not get crazy,” the wizard replied. “Let’s start with your friend and go from there. Who is she? You said it wasn’t her, right?” he nodded at the recently created statue.
“No, but her too!” Will said. The wizard shook his head.
“She didn’t see you interrupt our date, I might still be able to salvage it,” he said. “Who’s your friend?” Will was only there for Steph. He didn’t want to push his luck when it looked like the wizard was willing to talk things out. He pointed at the stone Stephanie.
“Oohhh, you’re Steph’s friend?” the wizard asked. “You must be Will,” he said. He walked toward the statue and Will approached too. Although he kept his distance from the wizard.
“How’d you know?” Will asked.
“We got to talking when she interviewed me; she told me all about you.” They reached the statue and the wizard placed a hand on it without hesitating or stalling. Stephanie’s cold, pale cheeks filled with warmth and color again. She was facing forward and only noticed the wizard.
“How long was that?” she immediately asked. Then she looked up. “And why wake me up at night?” The wizard nodded at Will without a sound.
“Will! What are you doing here?” she asked as soon as she saw him.
“You went missing and I came looking for you,” he said. “Then I find out this guy can turn people to marble and turned you into a statue.” He said. He wrapped his arm around her and tried to pull her away in his direction. Stephanie laughed.
“I knew leaving you a voicemail would be useless,” she giggled. “I didn’t have time to type out a text but I hoped you’d at least check your voicemail after not hearing from me for a few days,” she said. She gave Will a playful shove, then turned her attention to the wizard.
“Sorry my friend’s an idiot,” she apologized. “But, how long was that?”
“It’s a little after midnight, so I guess we’re on the third day,” the wizard replied. Steph nodded and immediately pulled a notepad out of her purse.
“What’s going on?” Will asked. “This guy’s turning people into statues against their will and pretending to be a sculptor. How aren’t you more concerned?”
“Whoa, whoa… who said it was against their will?” The wizard asked. Before Will could reply Stephanie nodded.
“Yeah, you’re just jumping to conclusions,” she said. “Technically, yes, he turns people to stone. But, it’s not against their will; it’s like having your body cryogenically preserved. People pay him for the service to sleep until the future. I had to try it out.”
“What about her?” Will pointed at the newest statue.
“Oh, well…,” the wizard hung his head slightly. “I didn’t expect the date to go as well as it was going. I needed a few minutes to clean up my room; she’s not gonna notice.” Stephanie nodded.
“These last three days passed without me noticing a thing. Even less than the blink of an eye.”
“And as far as pretending to be a sculptor…what’s the harm in making a bit of extra money on the side? People think I’m talented and I get all kinds of money just for hanging out with them or giving talks. I don’t even have to sell any of my statues because an artist is allowed quirky prerogatives. So… can I get back to my date now?” he asked.
“We’re already out the door,” Stephanie replied as she grabbed Will’s hand.