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Creation Story by Richard Seltzer


(from Saint Smith and Other Tales)


            "What are you laughing at?" Adam smashed the stone, the meticulously polished stone, so carefully carved, reproducing every detail of the face and body of its proud fashioner. 

            He had been amazed at his own handiwork, and had for a day and a night sat before it, staring, touching himself and then the statue, then himself -- especially the lower lip, which he had finished last and of which, in his first surge of creative joy, he was most proud.

            It had been the boulder to the sunset side of his fire.  He had been just Adam-the-cave-dweller, just Adam-the-wielder-of-clubs.  He had been alone and without purpose.

            At first he had chipped away idly.  He chipped to hear the sound of stone on stone, to hear any sound that was not of the forest, the fire, and the wind.  He was tired of listening to the garbled, fading echo of his own shouts.  Stone on stone was sharp, precise; and soon he could see that the boulder was not the same as it had been before he chose it:  the pattern of even his random chippings was unlike the wear of wind and rain.  He was changing the universe.  This stone was his.  This stone was him.

            In his first excitement, as he began to see the possibility, the crude outlines of a possible man, a possible self-likeness in the stone, he rushed and hacked, and in a passion pounded.

            On the third day from that first vision, the stone cracked -- from projected head to projected hip and across both thighs.  Embryonic cracks -- flaws -- must have been in the rock before he began.  He had not noticed.  They must have been slowly aggravated by his persistent pounding.  He had not noticed. 

            In despair and exhaustion, Adam collapsed by the broken stone.

            He must have dreamt in that sleep of exhaustion.  For when he

awoke, he was calm.  He knew now that the statue would be small,

smaller than the smallest uncracked section of the boulder; that it would be an exact likeness of himself; that he would proceed very slowly and carefully, not from any fear that he was unequal to the task, that he could blunder, but rather because he knew that this was his project, the source of his hopes and joys, that, in the process of creation, the statue would absorb all his energy, all his thought, all that he would call "Adam." 

            He would proceed very slowly and savor the effort of creation.

            And so he did.  Until he stopped. 

            For a day, he sat and gobbled grapes and ripped the warm flesh from a freshly roasted antelope and laughed and patted his belly in the noonday sun, proud of his handiwork, proud that he, Adam, not just lived in the world, but shaped it with his hand.  The world was his, for he would leave his image in it, in this stone that already had the oblong shape of a man, the outlines of arms and legs, a hint of fingers. 

            Adam even fancied that, on the left hand, the index fingernail was broken just as he had broken his, accidentally, while chipping away at that very hand the day before.  He was so pleased with that touch that he was hesitant to tamper with it.  

            And the strokes that suggested his wild fuzzy hair:  it was so difficult to create the illusion of hair in stone.  He had done it by luck, not skill or plan, and yet it was so right, even in its present crude form.  He doubted that he could make that stroke if he tried.

            And the beginnings of feet.  He could swear he even saw his

protruding vein over the left ankle of the left foot.  Incredible good fortune.

            It was as if the statue were making itself, as if he, or rather his image, were already in the stone, and the chips were falling away of their own accord; or, rather, he was acting as the instrument of some unknown force.

            He laughed uneasily.  Who was he?  What was he trying to do?

            Adam looked at the stone, and it was as if he looked at it for he first time.  He didn't know what to do with it.  He didn't understand why he had expended so much energy on it, why he let it sit on that soft, cool spot where he himself used to sleep so comfortably.

            He reached for the statue.  It was strange to his touch.  No longer was he an "artist."  Once again, his hands were the clumsy hands of Adam-wielder-of-clubs.

            He pushed the stone aside and went to sleep.


            Weeks later, when at noon he was again gobbling grapes and warm antelope flesh, Adam noticed the stone by a pile of other stones he had kicked when frustrated by unsuccessful hunts.  He lifted it, brushed off the dust, and smiled at his former folly. 

            This "statue" had raised him to such a passion.  It was so crude. 

            His "work of art" was barely distinguishable from a stone worn to the shape of a faceless, featureless man by the chance workings of wind and weather.

            But there were strong lines to it.  It had been cut with the grain of the rock, and the long lines of that grain from head to toe now absorbed his attention. 

            It was indeed a fine stone he had chosen.  And Adam could well imagine it being carved in the shape of a man, perhaps even a


            With the first stroke, the first microfine chip, the old fervor returned.  He chipped again.  This time he knew he must not stop except to sleep and eat, must not contemplate his handiwork until it was complete.  And he must proceed slowly that it not be too soon finished.

            But his persistent labor carried him onward despite himself, until he had given shape to the final lip.

            It was done.  It sat there and stared at Adam.  It stared dumbly, blankly, lifelessly.  And for a day and a night, Adam sat there in front of it -- proud.

            He smiled when he realized that the stone not only had all his features, but was grinning, too, just as he was grinning:  one a reflection of the other.

            He pouted and stroked his limp lower lip, pulled it still further down, making grotesquely comic faces. 

            His own lip felt so strange, so foreign, so inert -- just another form of matter.  It was more pliable than stone; but like stone, it was just raw material for a fashioning hand to work with.  Then whose hand was it?

            He had no more made himself than the statue had made itself.  But he was alone -- alone with his creation and without a creator.

            He had freed this stone from the grip of chance, had enabled it to shed these useless chips and become what it could become -- this willed and created shape.

            But what of he himself?  Who or what could he become if he were so freed?

            "What are you laughing at?" Adam shouted at the stone.

            And he smashed the stone, the meticulously polished stone, so

carefully carved -- smashed it on the broken remains of the boulder of which it was once a part. 

            Legs, torso, the head, and one arm fell on the soft ground where Adam often slept.  And in the evening shadows, they seemed to be parts of several Adam-statues, sprouting from the ground.  privacy statement