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The Golden Man

by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

The Golden Man sighed. “Gettin’ too old for this.”

He picked up his box. The fifteenth year of doing this — or was it the sixteenth year? The question that always nagged him flitted through his mind. What have I done to deserve this fate?

The sun beat down upon his back, reflecting off his golden jacket as he meandered along the dirt path. As a child, he’d been a thief. As a teenager, he’d been a murderer. Now, as an adult trapped within the suit of a Golden Man, he’d come to realize that thrills and wealth didn’t manner. The simple things now brought him joy: a bird’s song or a stranger’s smile. If only he could bring peace in return, instead of hidden sorrow.

He set down the box and lifted the lid to remove the stool and stand with the necklaces jangling on the prongs. The necklaces glistened in the sunlight as though set with diamonds, a promise of perfection to hide the sinister aura.

“Perfection can never be trusted.” He climbed atop the stool, rolling his shoulders and arching his back. He left his limbs stiff, robotic, his face tipped to the side.

A family walked by, the father carrying a picnic basket and the mother fiddling with a digital camera. A little boy ran alongside.

He pointed at the Golden Man. “Look at that statue. Ya think he’s made of real gold?”

“It’s a man in a costume,” the mother corrected.

He fell into his routine, moving his arms robotically. He lifted off a necklace with one golden finger.

“See, it is a man.” The mother nodded. “He’s wearing gloves.”

If only they were removable gloves. He tossed the necklace towards the child. A huge smile split the little boy’s face as he cradled it in his hands a moment before dropping it over his head. As the beads settled around his neck, they gleamed, glimmered, flashing for an instant before the gold’s shine faded into his body. His skin glowed, a sheen illuminating the sunburned flesh.

The family continued down the path. Their voices faded into the breeze.

Heat flowed through his golden veins, boiling and bubbling. As long as the child wore the necklace, his energy would be transported to the Golden Man. Such was his fate, to hand out necklaces to stay alive. The energy they drained from the wearer would be so subtle, the victim wouldn’t recognize it, a slow lethargic sensation.

The Golden Man furrowed his brow. At least children had energy to spare, and once they removed the necklace, they would live normally. Guilt still plagued him, though. If only he had another way to survive, he would snatch the opportunity.

A young woman walked along, with a cell phone glued to her ear, eyes shaded by rhinestone sunglasses.

He stiffened his limbs to give himself that statuesque quality.

She paused, tapping the bridge of her sunglasses to lower them down her nose. “Oh my God, hang on a second. There’s this guy dressed up like a gold statue. Yeah, sure, you can call me back later.” As she slid her phone into her purse, she removed her sunglasses.

“That’s such an awesome costume.” The wind stirred her hair. A black curl fell over her forehead.

He snared a necklace and lifted it high, using the other hand to beckon her closer.

“I’m Piper.” She bent her head so he could slide the necklace over, but as he moved his hand to do so, she grabbed his other in hers. She squeezed his fingers, but her grin faded. Her eyes widened; her mouth opened into a startled O.

As the necklace fell over her neck, the golden beads melted over her skin. She tried to release him, but their hands had glued together. Piper, a human like any other, but one with compassion, who’d reached out to a stranger in thanks and would receive a curse. He cringed.

The Golden Man had never expected this day to arrive. Too many years ago, he’d been in her spot, taking pity on a man garbed in gold, handing out necklaces on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. He’d held that Golden Man’s hand, accepted the necklace, and lost his humanity.

She jerked away from him, sobs escaping from her golden lips. “What did you do to me?”

“You touched me.” The Golden Man lifted his hands, with tears — real tears — dripping from his eyes, cascading over cheeks that could actually feel the warm kiss of sunbeams. His skin was real, his clothing of drab, average colors. They weren’t gold. They weren’t perfect. “You shouldn’t have touched me.”

He cupped his hands and lifted them to his mouth. When he blew, his breath didn’t shimmer.

“What is this?” She lifted her hands as though ready to strangle him.

He looked back at her, with that twisted look now shining in her golden eyes. “You’re the new Golden Man.”

“But I’m a woman.”

“Not anymore.”

She trembled, vanishing into her new golden body. She’d lost her curves, become nondescript and plain, a person without gender.

“You’re perfect now,” he said.

“I don’t want to be perfect. I wanna be me. I wanna be Piper.” She lunged at him, but staggered beneath her new, thicker limbs.

“You’re the Golden Man.” He stumbled away from the necklace stand. “You must hand out the necklaces or you’ll die.”

What?” she shrieked.

He fell into the spiel the previous Golden Man before him had given: “The necklaces steal energy from humans to keep you functioning. Without them, you’ll harden into a statue of solid gold. Hand them out any way you can.”

She gaped at him.

He coughed. “Long ago, a sorcerer cast this curse on a merchant. It has been handed down ever since.” His hands didn’t look any older than when he’d first become the Golden Man. He hadn’t aged; he still looked thirty.

“This is ridiculous!”

If he could, he would obliterate the curse. “I’m sorry.” Shaking his head, he moved away along the path in the state park.

“No!” Piper grabbed a handful of necklaces off the stand and tossed them over her head. The beads clicked together.

His rejuvenated heart thudded within his chest. “Wait. A Golden Man can’t wear them himself.” He might not be able to reverse the curse, but he could save her from doom — he had to. Guilt and panic beat at his throbbing veins. He charged back to her and grabbed at the necklaces. She swatted him off and beat against his chest with her hands.

“Leave me alone.” Her voice rose, shrill, and her beating slowed. Piper’s eyes widened as her body began to harden. He seized the necklaces to yank them off her head.

The familiar beat of gold pulsed within him. Piper had touched him. The transfer began anew, but Piper’s shriek faded as she became a golden statue. The necklaces blackened into ash and crumbled. Some drifted into his golden palm and others blew in the light breeze.

He couldn’t go on knowing Piper had hardened because she’d touched him. The guilt of always draining energy became a leaden weight upon his shoulders. His hand didn’t tremble as he lifted a necklace off the stand.

“Farewell, perfection.” He dropped the beads around his neck and clasped Piper’s outstretched hand as his body hardened into a statue, with a smile forever carved on his face.

Copyright © 2012 by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

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