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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic



Artwork Courtesy PEXALS


The sleeping boy tumbled from the small stool he was perched on for what felt like the hundredth time and as usual he paid a price. The block of marble he was supposed to be concentrating on left a souvenir precisely in the middle of his forehead where it could join the other semi-healed injuries from past, tumbles.

As usual, it bled profusely as he sat dazed on the floor in front of the marble block. Actually twice as bad, as it had also caused a previous injury that had scabbed over, to be sheered off and that semi-healed wound began to seep also.

A laughing tut tut noise from behind him preceded a firm whack on his noggin as a deeply blue veined and callous roughened hand holding a white clothe presented itself over his right shoulder.

The boy needn’t look about, his Master, indisputably the most famous sculptor in Florence gravelly voice made him well aware of his transgression, and the reason for the painful boxing of his ear.

Grudgingly he accepted the folded cloth and whispered a barely audible, “Thank you Master!” Then he pressed the cloth to his injured forehead, righted the fallen stool, sat down and once again began contemplating the block of marble.

“Three falls in five days!” His Master intoned gravely. “Please try to stay awake a little longer and concentrate, or soon you will bash out your brains completely, and henceforth be of no more use to me as a apprentice.”

“Yes Master!” Replied the boy, trying, and almost failing to keep a bit of angry animosity out of his tone of voice. But it wasn’t easy.

The boy had been spending hours, each and every day for weeks minutely examining just the front facet of the huge block of stone…it was certainly a most beautiful and obviously very expensive block of marble. But examining it day by day was getting old very quickly, The boy's biggest question was, how did the Master know it was the front? The block had four sides, one of which the boy was, at least allegedly, totally familiar with, having studied it for weeks before being promoted to studying the ‘Front.’ The very thought made the boy groan inwardly, knowing full well as soon as he was ‘acquainted with the ‘Front’ he still had to look forward to the side opposite the one he had already ‘acquainted himself with, and eventually the back facet also. His life was disappearing in what he considered to be great bloody chunks, while scanning an inanimate rock…a very beautiful and extremely expensive rock, but still a damnable rock!

When the Master had ‘found’ The boy almost two years ago he had been chipping away at a discarded piece of marble at the very back of the lot behind Master’s workshop.  Using other pieces of marble as a hammer and chisels.

Master was lumbering towards the urchin while cursing the painful gout in his right toe with every thought of chasing the dirt encrusted boy away. If fact he had loudly rebuked the boy but, quite astonishingly, the boy was so deep in concentration he didn’t even hear Master. At that point he had been close enough to peer over the boys shoulder at whatever he was crafting and it was Master's turn to be astonished.

So much so, that he had as quietly as possible shuffled himself backwards to re-enter the shop without alarming the boy. Little chance of that, the boy was, almost in a another state of mind.

Periodically after that he had peeked about corners at odd times to check the young mans progress. Often as not he wasn’t there, he was probably scrabbling about the old city trying to find enough discarded or stolen food scraps to keep his body alive. The Master then began surreptitiously leaving half eaten scraps near the boys impromptu workshop, along with a sturdy, but moth eaten blanket and clothing with a few less holes than what the boys was currently wearing. It worked..the boy constructed a sort of ‘nest’ in a hidden area of the lot and was more frequently about instead of wandering the potentially deadly and violent docks and storehouses.

However what the boy was doing with the discarded marble was absolutely breathtaking, amateurish actually, but still, considering the complete paucity of his tools and his lack of training it was still astounding. The boy was a natural born sculptor, if such a thing were possible.

At that point Master took matters into his own hands. He hired three burly dockworkers and tasked them with both cornering and capturing the boy late at night while he was asleep in his ‘nest.’

Kicking and screaming and clawing and biting he was eventually subdued, dragged in the main workshop and chained to a huge workbench. The boy was absolutely feral and wild-eyed with fear, and no one would dare approach him. But finally after a week of tossing food in his general direction, and food of so much better quality than the half rotted fare he was used to, he mellowed somewhat.  Once he realized he wasn’t going to be savagely beaten and abused he became quieter but still wary of the attentions he was receiving .

Possibly taking his life in his hands, Master eventually set the boys half finished ‘sculpture’ at the far end of the workbench and using a long pole nudged it into the range of the boy’s chains. The beginnings of gratitude sparked in the boys eyes, and over time, as he was apprised of the Master’s intentions, to make him an apprentice, he yielded. The softer chains of a desire to actually be a sculptor made his iron chains no longer needed.

In the last two years the boy had advanced immeasurably. With access to proper tools and the patient instructions from the Master his work was constantly improving, but it was always items that were finally delivered to the Masters table for the finishing touches.

The boy’s dream was to one day observe that Master would apply absolutely nothing in the way of finishing touches. However he always contemplated the boy’s work, sometimes for hours or on one memorable occasion days. Then, with consummate un-haste,  he delicately removed virtually invisible amounts of material from the piece that always, always, improved it vastly.

This was absolutely maddening to The boy and the second major cause of his gathering depression. The first, of course, was the time ‘wasted’ contemplating a piece of marble for hours on end which the Master insisted upon. This enraged the boy, who felt that he could have been using his time more gainfully {in his opinion} in much more profitable endeavors. However he wisely kept that opinion to himself and eventually profiting from that withholding. It resulted, without him quite realizing it, in learning both patience and tact.

The day arrived finally when the boy was just about ready to erupt in a fiery emotional tirade against his Master concerning the wastage of time contemplating marble blocks. The boy eyes were blazing and just as the long restrained words pried open his lips the Master appeared and simply said.

“Boy! Enough time has passed, please move your stool to the back of the block and observe.”

Happiness and gratitude simply erupted in the boy so quickly that it extinguished what was on his lips, finally his eyes would have something ‘new’ to gaze upon. By the time the ‘fire’ in his soul finally re-ignited his desire to rebuke the Master,  his Master was once again departed and in deep conversation with the marble merchant which the boy dared not interrupt.

That evening, in his bed, the young lad rebuked himself thoroughly and thanked God that he had held his temper. He vowed he would from now on observe twice as hard, at twice as much, as a form of ‘penance’ for what he considered a ‘Sin’ against his Master. To whom he owed an immense debt of gratitude.

That particular vow was severely tested over the coming weeks.

Once again The boy was on the edge of erupting in a furiously raging emotional tirade when the Master, with impeccable timing, had him move to the final side of the marble block.

Finally, with the possible ending of the miserable task of watching a huge block of stone in the near future, The boy’s gratitude squelched the tirade about to erupt. He gratefully adjusted both the stool and more importantly his attitude.

Five weeks later, after what  felt like innumerable hours of minutely examining the huge piece of marble, The boy was astounded to arrive one morning to find it completely enclosed in a canvas shroud and moved to the far corner of the shop.

The boy was elated, that onerous task was behind him finally, but it wasn’t, not really. The boy found himself dreaming night after night about the block of marble, dreaming of minutely examining it over an over. The block haunted his dreams for weeks, and months afterward.

Then, part of The boy’s past was resurrected, the discarded piece of marble that he had been fashioning when he was discovered by the Master appeared on his work table and he was told to resume work on it.

“Resume work on it Master? It is childish, I am ashamed of it, surely I have learned enough to not bother with this errant piece of stone.”

“Not so boy!” Chided his Master with a fiery glint in his eye that The boy had never seen before.

“This is possibly the most important piece of sculpture you will ever work upon.”

The boy was cowed into obedience, he had never seen his Master exude so much passion over something that to The boy seemed trivial.

He continued working on the piece under the ever watchful eyes of Master. He grew to hate the piece of marble with unmitigated passion, eventually he took to wrapping it in burlap and secreting it on the most hidden shelf he could find. But each morning he found it again waiting unwrapped on his worktable demanding his attentions. And invariably each evening, the Master showed up to observe his progress.

However somewhere along the line things changed, the piece became more and more beautiful to look at as The boy’s tiny but critical removal of material improved it dramatically.

The boy became obsessed with the piece, so much so that the Master noted with vast approval on his frequent visits that the boy was, once again, in that trance like state he had observed when he first came upon the urchin chipping away at the abandoned piece of marble.

Finally the day arrived when Master joined the boy at his worktable, simply staring at the piece with the oddest look on his face.

“Finished?” Ventured Master.

“Not quite yet!”  Replied The boy distractedly, as he picked up the tiniest of his chisels and delicately attempted to removes a tiny blemish on the piece.

With that almost imperceptible removal of material the piece shattered into a thousand fragments. The boy was stunned into immovability.

His Master quietly departed leaving The boy to weep uncontrollably.

Hours later, The boy sought out his Master in the darkened shop who was serenely contemplating the flame of a single candle.

“It was always there wasn’t it Master?”

“Well it’s certainly gone now!” Said his Master humorously, with such a comical look on his face that they both burst into uproarious laughter till their sides ached and they could barely breathe.

Finally red faced and still given to giggling the Master spoke.

“Yes it was always there boy, I am surprised it took you ever-so-long to find it.”

“Now I have found it Master, and as you said, it was the greatest lesson for me to learn!”

“Indeed! Now you know there are no perfect stones. Every one has minute flaws where if you trespass with your tools it will mercilessly destroy the entire work.”

“That is why you had me observe that marble block forever is it not Master?”

“Truly it was boy, that particular block is the finest I have ever seen, but it too has it’s secrets.”

“What will you do with it Master?” Asked the boy quietly.

“Oh! It isn’t for me my boy, it is for you, one day you will realize what is inside of that block, and you will free it from its prison.”

Years passed, the boy’s Master died quietly in his sleep, but only after passing on volumes of incredible secrets and details concerning the hidden flaws in every stone that entered the shop.

His Master had never married and on his death the boy, now a sturdy young man, inherited all the Masters worldly goods as he had promised to the boy he considered to be his only son.

Subsequently the man he became, was soon the most celebrated sculptor in all of the city. His works were magnificent and much sought after.

Day after day for years he arose early every morning, to study the block of marble by the light of the early morning sun through the high windows of the studio, and each night again by the light of candles and lanterns.

Sometimes the workmen would find him in a trance like state gazing at the block or walking about it caressing the stone with his fingertips and talking to it in a low voice.

The day finally arrived when the block was carefully moved under his supervision to his work area and he began to arrange his tools.

“ Is it finally time Sir.” Asked the leader of the workmen somewhat timorously, since questioning the Master was certainly below his station.

“Yes! It is finally time!” Responded Michelangelo with a rapt look on his face, for he could now see through the marble block with his sculptors eyes.

The prison was finally to be opened.

For far too many years, the PIETA had waited patiently inside!


Michelangelo’s PIETA {PHOTO {Pexals} Vladimir G. Ladkov 15119322



Submitted: May 10, 2023

© Copyright 2023 HOUDINI. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:



I agree with your analysis and have edited out
the ubiquitous and notorious ... I might have to remove that key from my keyboard to break the habit
What the boy was working on {privately} was destined to shatter, the Master knew it was a flawed piece of marble, that's why it was discarded in the first place, but he also saw the future lesson for the boy even if the boy didn't. Thank you for the constructive criticism. Much appreciated!

Thu, May 11th, 2023 7:41pm


Actually what the boy was working on was developing a 'discerning eye' the Master knew this but the boy was oblivious for a long time.

Thu, May 11th, 2023 7:44pm

Vance Currie

Well written, Houdini, and the ending took me by surprise.

Sat, May 13th, 2023 3:02am


Thank you!

Sat, May 13th, 2023 4:17am

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