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The statue of that gorgeous and beloved tyrant, my father, stands in a valley where the weather has only ever been snow. The valley is low, the statue high, and any distinguishing features—trees, houses, civilisations—have been smoothed over like filler in a wall.

I cannot say how tall the statue is. Against the white void it has entirely become landscape. You might as well ask how tall the sky. My father has expanded to fill a vacuum: nothing remains to compare him against.

The pilgrims trudge on, through smog and frost, to wait obeisant at his feet. None has ever seen higher than his belt, and that only on a clear day. They know the trunk exists, the arms and head, only from their distant silhouette. The walls of the valley are not tall enough for such a sight. It requires a mountain perch, and an electric telescope, of the kind sold in far-off lands.

My father’s face remains invisible. The pilgrims hypothesise that he smiles. Whether this is true, whether instead he was recorded in a moment of cruelty, or despair, science cannot determine.

Some say the valley looks out at the edge of the world, that beyond it the land terminates and the rock falls away in a perpetual cliff, as deep as my father’s statue is tall. I have seen the statement repeated, and it is recorded on all the maps. It may be true—for myself, I have never noticed. We can only see so much. Our orbit is thoroughly occupied by him, even in death.

The statue is made of ice, with black rock twisted through it. I do not quite know how that works, but my father was not an ordinary man. My statue will be made of ice, with black rock twisted through it, he would have said, and they would have made it happen. Many hundreds of them might have died in doing it. These were not the sort of details I inquired about as I passed the final frigid outposts on the neighbouring plains.

In those shivering, half-buried towns I bartered and traded for the necessary supplies. I declined the scenic postcards, the votive offerings, the bland water-pastries, and fixed only on my purpose. The shopkeepers retreated into their painted shacks and put up waste-metal shutters when they heard of my intentions. To them, of course, it seemed a very purple sort of blasphemy. I was obliged to disclose my lineage in order to tempt them back to me, to allow the sale of ropes, and knives, and picks that were hungry for the ice.

Each of his feet takes me twenty minutes to circumnavigate. Each a masterpiece of work, the scale of cathedrals and the anatomy of life. The furrows of every hair are exact. Elderly veins push against the surface of thin skin and rise like mountain ridges. The ice has absorbed the talent of many lifetimes. Its authors are nameless and legion.

I pass the outermost toe. Here a low, black seam of rock runs across the colossal nail. On it has been carved a generation of graffiti, names and lovers and phalluses and political ideals. Once, the pilgrims would have meted severe punishment for such defilement. Now, I wonder if they have even noticed. I run an ungloved hand around the polished grooves of an initialled love-heart. In my mind I see them come, armed with chisels, to tattoo history. To imprint themselves on God. They are very lucky that my father is dead.

The snow blows eternal even at this low level, and it is only as I reach the inside of my father’s right foot, which stretches like a wall on either side of me, that I am safe from its howling waves of crystal.

When I die, there will be no statues. I am not the man my father was.

I judge the place as good as any: sheltered, buoyed by a slight rise in the terrain. I hope it is a hill, but I do not check in case it is only bodies. I lodge one pickaxe in the cliff-like base of my father’s foot and begin to climb.

 


 

My father was godly, just as yours was. I remember when he first came down from heaven and made me—what a day that was! I had been quite content being clay, really it hadn’t bothered me at all, but once he had fashioned me into man, well, there was no going back.

He had been attentive to me in those first few weeks. The world was not as new as I was, and it gave him joy to see me encounter it. He was so pleased when, quite by accident, I discovered fire. Of course, he had invented it, but it was an achievement all the same. He came round to congratulate me—I was living in the savannah then, and it was a still night, and dry—and we sat by my brand-new creation as he told me of all the things I could one day do with it. We were so distracted that we didn’t notice as the fire jumped up into the trees, as it chewed up the scrub and sucked down forests like kindling. The animals screamed, and all I heard was my father’s voice, in praise of me.

The next day we paced the edges of the devastation, and the baked earth crackled underfoot, and I knew how lucky I was to have been made something else, when so much had been left as mortal clay.

 


 

It is dark when I begin to climb, as dark as it can be with a wide moon shining onto a plateau of unrestricted snow. The moonlight springs up from the ground and illuminates the lower sections of my father’s feet. It was in this way that I observed the etchings on his great nail, the tiny blasphemies left behind by people who had forgotten that godhood is not wiped away in death. The lunar, midnight glow does not stretch far above the earth. The further I progress, the more I am in darkness.

Gently, slightly, the statue begins to curve. The ice wall bows away from me and I chase after it on my belly. By degrees it becomes less vertical, until I no longer have to climb, but can walk as if on the surface of a steep hill. Here I rest, and I found my base camp. The journey is barely begun, but there will be few enough chances to break. The darkness is at its utmost, and I am sat atop my father’s foot, waiting for a dawn that will make his leg the whole of the horizon.

I have never been a child. I was a man when my father made me out of clay. He was not a giant then. He was my god and he was my father, but of the two of us I had always been the taller. Now the child-world reveals itself as day breaks. His legs are world-trees, immovable, rooted. He is ice and will never melt away, he is rock and will never be ground down. I dig steel into his body, and he does not flinch, he holds my weight and I travel on. I see something of his permanence, years after he has gone.

 


 

He wasn’t the god of all people, not by a long shot. But the people whose god he was thought rather a lot of him. He was regarded as something special. The churches to your father, for instance—how magnificent they are, how austere! They did things with glass that had never been done before, they showed real craft. But, and I mean this as no insult, the head is visible on all of his statues.

Still, you understand something of it. To his subjects he was simply god. God is enough! Their lives bent to him, he needed no other claim. But to me alone he was a father. To me alone he was creator. Some he conquered, others came to him in longing. Only I was dirt before he found me and made me his son.

The day he died, I was with him in the hospital. He’d only gone in for tests, he’d not even taken an overnight bag. Suddenly there he was, in a plastic bed with a shower curtain on it, in a room he would never leave. Him who had ruined cities and brought great floods down, eating jelly from a pot with a shallow spoon and watching the daytime quizzes.

His subjects sent cards and well-wishes. The nurse lined them up nicely on the windowsill, and one on the table beside his bed. I think he had been expecting more.

He had reassured me it wouldn’t happen, but when he went, it wasn’t his hands I was watching, but my own. I had this idea that without him they would crack, like the dead earth my fire had scorched all those aeons ago. They would crumble and collapse into dust, and I would be as I was before.

He went, and I stayed. His hands became statue hands, fixed, cold. Later, the nurse would tell me how fond of him she had been, all the time massaging his fingers, teasing the television remote out from his mortuary grip.

Those first moments passed without sorrow. I felt only relief in outliving him. He was old, my father. He’d been old when the stars began. To finish it in a hospital bed, with crinkled foil balloons bumping up against white ceiling tiles and a big square window looking out onto a car park—that wasn’t bad. Not every god got that.

I was very nearly halfway across the car park when it began to hurt.

 


 

The day grinds on. I reach unknown terrain. My father’s belt is deep enough for me to shelter in, nestled amongst the weight of snow. I do not feel the cold as others do, I am too much earth for that. It settles on my shoulders, crystallises in my throat. If I am not careful, it will unbalance me. I cannot see the belt’s edge, and so I must crawl, one hand on the outmost seam, testing for abyss. I crawl away from the weather and it follows me, I am a train on a set track, orbiting my father’s mighty stomach. Eventually I outrun the oncoming blizzard, I trap it on my father’s right flank while I cower on the opposite hip. Above me his chest towers, reedy, adamantine. I am dug into the rock of him, and I set new ropes to hold me secure.

This must be how a storm feels: vortex, tidal. Regardless, I will climb. It will blow, and I will see nothing. It will break, and I will see the face of god again.

 


 

When I made the plan, he had been dead for some time. There had been a funeral, and articles in the local papers. What more could people do? He already had a statue that might overbalance the world. They could hardly make another.

I survived him, at first. I had vitality enough to stave off the inevitability of mud. Vitality should be used, don’t you think? Not just drawn off over years, allowed to subside into the floor, the walls.

Even statues end. Ice is just one state.

I booked my tickets, and I came.

 


 

It is hazy, to begin with. His head is some way off, and I am clinging to his chest, craning my neck to him. We are anchored together by serrated metal and robe fibre, both buffeted by the dying of the storm. With each inch, each drag of the flayed-out muscles of my arms, the truth comes into view.

I stand on a shoulder that might once have been called a mountain. The weather has calmed, only a thin snow now. I am still enough that it carpets me, statue on statue. Water runs down my face, but I am my father’s invention and have no tears. I consider the way back down. I consider jumping, of course I do. The daylight cannot last, and I must spend the night here, in the shadow of revelation. In my rucksack there are plastic sheets and a collapsible tent. I set myself to work, but it is no distraction, not with my father’s broad, blank face looming over me.

Those last hours were the worst. I knew by then; the excuses had all run out. It was no trick of the light. My eyesight had not failed, I was not snow-blind. They had not carved his face at all.

Justifications rattle through my head like marbles. Perhaps they had not truly loved him. They had made a show of it, lower down, they had pretended. To surface-dwelling man this monument was pretty enough. Homage had been paid in ice and stone, the god could easily be forgot. He had made me exact, and they had got him wrong, and there was nothing I could do.

My father was not always good to his subjects. There were the plagues, and the time he made wolves to punish them. Perhaps enough of them had died, numbed sacrifice, while raising his icon. Enough had dropped their tools and watched them go, and followed them down into silent flurries of snow. One day a thaw might come, and the statue would come crashing down on the bones of craftsmen, chisels and wooden mallets all around. Perhaps there had been no one left, at the end.

He was good to me, and to my children, but then, I was different. I doubt the others in his kingdom received Christmas cards, or got a text every time he saw an interesting bird, that just said “interesting bird” and didn’t include a photograph. They didn’t know about his blue, dented little car. They didn’t know that he sometimes wrote to the people who make cereal.

Perhaps they understood. He had been their god. There was no need for him to be a man as well.

 


 

Look at my hands. You see, when I rub them together? Do you see the dust that is left behind? The thin cracks along the seams of my fingers. Gods nowadays build their seed of more durable materials, like tungsten. But I was the original model, and the terracotta passages of my throat are near worn away.

When I die, there will be no statues. There will only be a mound of earth. Sweep me up and post me to my children. They can bake me into a fine pot, or use me to reinforce their walls.

 


Editor: Kat Weaver

First Reader: Kat Weaver

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Accessibility: Accessibility Editors



Louis Inglis Hall is a civil servant living in Scotland. His stories can be found in Apparition Lit and Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, amongst others. He was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize 2023. His primary hobby is overthinking in supermarkets.
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