“Stop the crane!” Gregor dodged a startled worker and ran directly at the half-collapsed building. “Stop the crane!”
The big crane whirred and ground, and the beam rose to take the slack from its chain. Gregor looked away, focusing on the operator’s cabin; he couldn’t afford to be distracted by what he might see. He had to reach the cabin.
“Sir, you can’t be here—”
Gregor shouldered the worker aside and ran. “Stop the crane!”
Inside the crane’s cabin, deafened by the massive engine, Charlie pressed a lever and attempted to lift the block of stone from the statue beneath it. Indiana limestone was the finest material for statues and buildings of state, but it was out of fashion in the shiny, modern New York City of the 1950s.
Much to Charlie’s surprise, the block didn’t seem to be rising above the supporting statue. He increased power to the lifting beam, happy to prove his new machine’s strength. Still the stone cap did not come free; the carved man was still holding it, still crouched beneath it, although his legs seemed to be folded a little less than the other figures’. To Charlie, it looked as if the statue were straightening beneath the rising stone block, but that was, of course, ridiculous.
Something hit the window of his cab and Charlie jumped, jerking the lever. A man in dungarees and a white undershirt tore at the door and climbed in.
“Stop the crane!”
“What?” Charlie yelled.
Gregor pointed. “Look at the statue. Look at it!”
The first two figures knelt, bowed beneath their limestone blocks and the façade they supported, but the third stood half-standing, gripping the block with head partly upturned. His empty stone eyes were fixed on the crane.
“Shut down the crane,” Gregor said. “Don’t remove the capital stone.”
Charlie took his hand from the lever.
* * * * *
Natasha stopped the music on her phone and pulled out her earbuds as Ricky drew near. “How’s it going?” she asked.
“Mile two,” he panted. “I’m gonna die.”
She laughed and fell into pace beside him. “Hang in there.”
They rounded the corner and started toward the landscaped ruins that were the abandoned centerpiece of Holliday Park.
“What an eyesore,” Ricky commented. “I’m glad we’re getting rid of those statues.”
“What?” Natasha swiveled her head to look at him and then back at the ruined statuary.
“Renovation,” huffed Ricky. “Tearing them out. Cleaning the place. Updating.”
Natasha jogged away from him to read a new sign pounded into the ground by the outer ring of Greek columns. “Renovation, restoration, renewal.” She skimmed until she found the “replacement” section and read the small print. Then she sprinted to catch up with Ricky. “You’re going to tear down the Three Races?”
He nodded. “Got some hotshot new hipster art to replace them.”
“But—those statues are iconic. They’re historical. They’re part of the park.”
“And they’re a pain. And expensive. We spend twice as much maintaining those as any other statue in the whole system. Those capitals are practically a magnet for ivy and climbing vines, and we’re always trying to tear stuff off before it can damage the stone.”
Natasha glanced at the three big columns in the center of the ruins. “But nothing grows on the figures themselves?”
Ricky considered. “No, not really, now that you mention it. More the caps and the pedestals. But that’s enough, trust me.”
Natasha looked up at the central figure, searching for its face, but its head was bowed beneath its burden. “Let’s take a break,” she suggested, slowing and heading for a bench. “We should talk.”
Ricky dropped gratefully, flexing his feet in the most perfunctory of stretches. “What’s up?”
Natasha remained standing, shifting her weight. “Could you call off the renovations?”
Ricky gave her a dubious look. “Why?”
“Could you do it?”
He shrugged. “It’s technically possible—and, to be honest, I’d like to push funds to a more urban park—but it’s unlikely. We’ve even got a petition from the neighborhood asking us to spruce up the ruins.”
Natasha stared at the figures. “I think you should leave them.”
Ricky grinned. “And your vote outweighs a thousand taxpayers?”
“I’m serious.” She faced him. “It’s not safe to move the statues.”
“Oh, we’ll have professionals, of course. We can probably even sell them to a collector—”
Ricky eyed her. “Okay, Natasha, what’s up? You’re a little too serious, and you’re creeping me out.”
She took a breath. “Not yet, but I will.” She jerked her head toward the statues. “They’re … Look, you know how I said my grandfather was, you know, into some stuff? Supernatural stuff?”
“Yeah. Why? Did he say something about these three statues?”
“He said … He said they’re not really statues. They only look that way for now. They’re trapped there, holding the capital stones. But if those capitals are removed, they’ll be free.”
Ricky laughed. “Brilliant. You should put in for one of the morning radio shows.”
“I’m not kidding, Ricky. My grandfather told me he helped keep the capitals in place.”
Ricky’s grin faded. “You’re serious. Or you think you are.”
“I’m serious, Ricky. I know it sounds more than crazy, and I didn’t think it was real when I first heard it, but I’m not so sure I know better now. Not since I got old enough to feel them looking at me.” She swallowed. “Why do you think I jog here in Holliday Park when I live a half-hour away?”
He frowned. “The pleasure of my golden company?”
She tried to smile but couldn’t quite complete it. “That helps. But I run here so I can, well, check on them. Make sure they’re still where they should be.” She looked past him. “It just feels like I should.”
He sat back against the bench. “I’m listening. Spill your story.”
Natasha took a breath. Too late to hold back now. “The statues were carved for the St. Paul Building in New York City.”
“Yes, I know,” Ricky said. “The St. Paul Building was one of the city’s first skyscrapers, and the figures represent the Three Races of Man, laboring together. Don’t lecture me on park ornament history.”
“Three races, yes,” Natasha said, “but not of man. There are—things—in those statues. They were trapped in 1898 and have been contained ever since. And if you remove the cap stones or sell the statues to someone who might mess with them, they could be freed.”
Ricky smiled a too-patient, too-friendly, indulgent smile. “And if there are creatures trapped in there, shouldn’t we free them? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?”
She shook her head. “Not these things. Remember the Maine? The ship that blew up, started the Spanish-American War, but no one knows why it exploded?”
“And you’re saying the statues did it?”
She pointed to the leftmost figure. “That one, according to my grandfather.”
Ricky looked at the statue, and then at her. “Okay, where are the hidden cameras?”
“Hello, Rick!” A grey-haired man who managed to look distinguished even in his running shorts approached and slowed. “Did you get my message about the new art installation?”
Ricky gave Natasha a quick glance and then smiled at the newcomer. “Sure did. I’m anxious to see the plans.”
“You’ll like them. I just met with the designer yesterday, and, boy, do they look great.” He nodded to Natasha. “Good morning. I’m Jake Sullivan.”
“Natasha,” she said, offering her hand. “Are you working with the renovations? Can I throw in a vote for keeping the Three Races where they are?”
He smiled. “There’s always a place for nostalgia, isn’t there? But we’re ready to modernize the park, put in some contemporary art. Really make it sparkle for visitors.”
Natasha gave him a tight little obligatory smile in return. “I don’t suppose I could talk you out of it?”
“After all the money we’ve spent on fundraising and the new designs? Not a chance! See you at tomorrow’s meeting, Rick.” Jake ran on.
Ricky looked at Natasha. “So, are you going to tell him your dead grandfather said that one of those statues blew up a ship?”
Natasha looked away.
* * * * *
Jake sat forward over the conference table, steepling his fingers. “Now let’s take just a moment here, Rick. We both know the majority of that improvement money didn’t come from the inner-city tax base.”
Ricky nodded reluctantly. “Well, yes.”
“And you’ve got a petition with over a thousand names asking you to update and upgrade the Holliday Park ruins, add more water features and play equipment, make everything more interactive. For the children.”
Ricky nodded again. “I know that, but—”
“Well, what do you want? How many signatures do you have from that downtown park?”
“Not many,” Ricky admitted, “but it could really use a playground, and—”
“And what? You want to beautify a park the taxpayers don’t use? Make a nice backdrop for drug deals and gang shootings?” Jake shook his head.
Ricky took a breath. “I understand your concern, Mr. Sullivan, but—”
“But you want to spend that money on a park in a neighborhood whose residents don’t come to community meetings, don’t participate in discussion, don’t engage in fundraisers or workdays.”
Ricky flattened his hands on the table. “I have to see that funds are distributed fairly, Mr. Sullivan.”
“And fairly means that those who donated should see the results,” Jake answered. “A private committee of park users raised a good deal of money, Rick, and donated it in good faith. They thought their park would benefit. Are you going to deny them that?”
Ricky sighed. “No, Mr. Sullivan.”
* * * * *
Natasha knelt beside the footlocker and opened it, looking down at the leather-bound notebooks within. She had always meant to go through Dedushka Gregor’s books, but she’d never found the time—or the heart.
Lots of grandfathers said they could do magic. Most of them lied, or they meant the quarter-out-of-your-ear variety. But Dedushka Gregor had meant the real thing. He’d said he had plenty to teach her, but then a heart attack had taken him and left her with nothing of his arcane knowledge but his notebooks.
She drew out the top book and flipped through it. The front page bore a 1972 date. She took out another and opened the cover to read 1981. She dug down a little deeper and found 1963. Getting closer. A few books down she found the one she was looking for: 1958. She flipped pages until she found a dateline for New York City, then settled back against the wall.
He had only just made it in time, according to his notes, before the demolition crew had taken the stone capitals and released the figures. After he had convinced the overseer to keep the statues intact, he had arranged for them to go to Indianapolis as part of a park installation. They would be safe there.
“In Indianapolis I will be able to watch them,” the neat handwriting continued, “and my successors. Babushka made great enemies when she sealed the Three, and even if our family line forgets, the beasts will not.”
Natasha blinked. What now?
“Should they break free,” the text read, “they will seek out our descendants, so we must watch them always.”
Natasha stared at the page. The statues would come for her, even if she did not try to keep them sealed. Even if she did not oppose them. Even if she fled the city.
They would come.
* * * * *
Diesel engines ground and roared, and a Greek column that had once graced a convent toppled to the ground, splitting into pieces. Natasha ignored the destruction and ran for the far side of the circle where a crane-truck faced the Three Races.
Chain-link fence and warning signs barricaded her path, but she dug into her backpack for her a clipboard and the electronic Bob the Builder hard hat she’d found at Goodwill. She pressed the hat down on her head—“Can we fix it?” the hat chirped merrily—and passed through an open gate, pretending to consult the clipboard.
The disguise was good enough. People rarely looked for what they didn’t expect to see.
She had nearly reached the cluster of people beside the statues when her eyes moved to the stone figures and she stopped. Two figures still knelt beneath their stone capitals, bearing the weight as always, but the third was … taller. His legs were half-straightened, as if he were rising beneath the stone he held,
Distantly the words of the conferring group came to her.
“I’m telling you,” a short man in a light blue polo shirt said, “there is no such thing! Stone is not resilient or pliant. It doesn’t compress. It doesn’t expand. Sure, you’ll get a little shifting with freezing and thawing, but you’re not going to see anything like that up there. Lifting the capital just cannot make the statue taller. Not possible. I don’t care what you’re seeing.”
Another man jabbed a finger at the statues. “Then how do you explain it?”
“It’s some material besides stone,” the short man said. “Or it’s a street artist in a really good suit.”
“It’s not a street artist. That’s eight tons of limestone. And it is standing up.”
“You’re all crazy,” a third man said. “Statues don’t move. That one was just taller than the other two is all.”
“It wasn’t,” said the first.
“No one would put two short statues with a tall one,” added the second. “No symmetry to it.”
“Um, excuse me,” Natasha tried.
“They’re old pieces, right?” the third man said. “The races of man? Maybe it was a racist statement. Which one is it that’s standing?”
“Excuse me,” Natasha said again.
“Pull that stone up the rest of the way!” the first man called to the driver of the crane-truck.
“No!” Natasha jumped forward. “Don’t!”
The crane-truck’s engine revved into motion as the men turned to her. “Who are you?”
There was no way to say it that didn’t sound stupid. “The statues are alive. They’re real. That’s why he’s standing up. You can’t lift the capital or he’ll be free.”
The men stared at her for a moment as if trying to decide whether she was joking or deranged.
“Is that a toy hard hat?” the short man asked.
“Stop the crane!” Natasha urged. “Please!”
The man turned back. “Too late,” he said, nodding. “The stone is up.”
The stone shelf the figure had been supporting was now suspended in the air. Beneath it stood the statue, now only slightly hunched. No one moved. For a moment Natasha thought she was wrong, she was crazy, and it was just a statue.
And then the statue’s fingers curled, its arms lowered, and its head rotated toward them.
The third man took a step back. “Holy sh—”
The rock struck him in the center of his chest and flung him backward. He was dead before he landed. The stone figure reached down for another projectile, but the other men were already fleeing.
Natasha ran without thinking, knowing only that the creature was behind her. She could hear its heavy footsteps, gaining speed as it lumbered into a run. She half-expected it to grind and scrape as it moved, but it was quiet. Pliant, flexible stone.
The chain-link fence rose in front of her, and she managed a desperate glance behind her. She still had some distance on the statue, but it would be able to cut the corner the fence had forced her to turn. Her breath sobbed in her throat.
But she ran four days a week, and she was more agile than an eight-ton piece of worked stone. She wove through Greek columns and leapt an unruly hedge. The statue crashed through the obstacles, but it was slowed by them.
Natasha looked around her as she ran, hoping for ideas. How could she stop an eight-ton statue? What would hurt it?
A horn blared. She dove to one side as a little Bobcat rocketed into the statue from the side, its front rock loader leveled like a multi-pointed battering ram. The utility vehicle pitched forward with the impact and the statue went down, its legs shattered.
Natasha ran to the Bobcat and climbed in beside the driver. It was Ricky, and he was holding one hand against his bleeding forehead.
“Are you okay?” Natasha asked.
“Is it down?”
“It’s down. Legs are broken. You stopped—” She cut herself off. The upper half of the statue was still, but its legs were moving and twisting, the broken pieces slowly refitting themselves into place. The head moved, and the blank eyes looked past Natasha to the other two stone figures on their own pedestals. A shard slid against the broken thigh and the fractured joint began to seal.
Natasha pushed Ricky aside so she could drive. “It’s … ‘healing’ itself. We have to get the stone capital back in place.”
She floored the pedal and they jounced toward the truck crane. “Is it up yet?” she asked, trying to glance over her shoulder.
“Not yet.” Ricky pulled his hand away, smearing blood across his face. “What happens if it gets up?”
“It’s going to knock the capitals off the other two statues. Then all three of them will be free.”
The little utility vehicle careened over a planter and skidded to a halt beside the big crane-truck. Ricky and Natasha scrambled out of the Bobcat and climbed into the cabin of the truck.
The operator was still in the cab, pressed against the far window with his eyes wide. “Wh-what is that thing?” he stammered.
“Get us over to it,” Natasha barked. “We can shut it down. Go!”
He moved some levers, and the outriggers began to rise.
“We really need to hurry,” Ricky said.
“Can’t move with the tires braced,” the operator said. “Now what?”
“Get the stone capital over it.” Natasha pointed unnecessarily. “Before it stands up. Move!”
The crane-truck rolled across the grass, and the beam swayed and flexed with the stone payload.
Natasha pressed her fists to the glass. “Can’t this thing go any faster?”
“Can’t move more than a few miles per hour under load.”
“Isn’t there some sort of safety override? Hurry! Go!”
The operator worked the controls, and the beam swung toward the statue, which now had complete two legs once more.
The crane pulled the truck out of balance, and Natasha bumped her head against the window. “Can we fix it?” her hard hat piped.
“Set the cap on it!” Natasha ordered. “Set the cap!”
The statue flexed and rolled onto its knees, turning blank eyes on the crane-truck. The beam dropped, and the stone capital lowered toward the statue’s head. The statue rocked onto its feet.
“Hurry!” Natasha shrieked.
The statue recoiled and raised its hands to shield its head, and the stone capital settled inexorably upon it. The statue sank to one knee and went still.
For a long moment, no one in the cabin moved.
Neither did the statue.
At last Natasha exhaled and flung her arms around Ricky’s neck. “We did it.”
The operator sniffed. “I’m glad you pulled it off.”
* * * * *
Two months later, the renovation of the Holliday Park ruins was completed. Newly planted flowers spread about the remaining Greek columns, a few of which were artistically broken as if they were authentic ruins. In the center of the plaza stood a new fountain, overseen by two kneeling figures on a crumbling façade. A third figure knelt a little distance away, bending under an ornate capital like some rendition of Atlas.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a popular costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and, of course, a writer. Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com or on Twitter at @Laura_VAB.