The Artist

The doors to the double storey mansion slammed open, flooding the courtyard with a warm glow. A tall, lean silhouette emerged from inside. A large sack was slung over his left shoulder and he carried a shovel in his arms. A loud rumble from above made him glance skyward. Dark, heavy clouds were filling the moonless sky.

He muttered a curse. The man kicked the doors shut and made his way towards the courtyard, walking with a slight limp as he struggled to carry his load. He set off at a brisk pace towards the woods to the west of the estate.

The storm broke just as he reached the trees. The clouds began to pour sheets of rain onto the parched earth. The wind howled and tugged at old, gnarled trees that creaked and groaned in protest.
The man made his way through the dark glade with practised ease.

Something was off today. The woods felt hostile. Branches scratched his face as he ventured deeper into the glade. The knotted roots carpeting the forest floor threatened to make him trip. The leaves whispered dark secrets as he walked past them but, the man’s resolve was strong.
He was aware only of the weight on his shoulders and the steady movement of his feet as he made his way past the trees. Soon, he reached a wooden cabin built in a small clearing.

The rain assaulted him as he left the protective shade of the trees. He rummaged in his pockets for the key, opened the door of the cabin with great difficulty and stumbled inside. The sack fell on the floor with a dull thud which was inaudible over the sound of the wind blowing in through the open door.

The man heaved the heavy wooden door shut against the storm and collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath.


-          -


The tube light in the cabin flickered on. He had built the cabin a workroom for himself, cut off from all worldly disturbances. Artists’ supplies littered the room. A rack holding jars of paint and painting oil occupied one of the walls. Many finished, covered paintings stood on an old-fashioned desk. A stack of blank canvases was piled in a corner of the room along with tubes holding an array of brushes. A lone easel stood in the middle of the room.

Having caught his breath, the Artist knelt on the cold, hard ground. With trembling fingers, he undid the knot holding the sack closed. His hand snapped back as a pair of feet rolled out of it. He got up and with a swift motion, pulled the sack free of its contents.

His breathing quickened to match his heart rate as he stared down at the corpse of his wife.                                               
                                 
She had retained much of her beauty even in death. Yet, her porcelain skin had acquired an unnatural pallor now; blood and rain plastered her golden hair together.  Her lids were shut tight, hiding her midnight blue irises from the world forevermore.

The Artist chewed on his lower lip as waves of guilt, regret and sorrow washed over him. He had loved her, hadn't he? He had grown dangerously obsessed with her over the past 4 years.

She was responsible for his meteoric rise to fame.

She had rekindled the spark and lit the flame in his mind.

She had transformed him from a street painter to a world renowned artist.

She was his Muse.

She was his.

His and his alone!

How could anyone blame him for losing control when she kept hankering around with other men behind his back?

His rage calmed him down. He had done nothing wrong but he didn't expect the police to understand. He was doing the right thing. This was the perfect spot to bury her, no one would find her in a hundred years.

The storm, however, posed an unprecedented problem. He would have to wait for it to subside before venturing out to do the deed.

He pulled himself a stool and took deep breaths to calm himself.

The prospect of waiting alone in the cabin with the corpse of his wife was not a pleasant one. Try as he might to avoid it, his eyes always came to rest upon the body.

He got back up and began pacing the length of the cabin, his nerves approaching breaking point.
He almost had a heart attack when he mistook the indistinct shapes of trees through the window to be a person. A loud clap of thunder rattled the window panes, making him jump. His restless gaze fell upon the pile of empty canvases and a dark idea took root in his troubled mind.


-          -



The subject.

He couldn’t paint her in her current position, sprawled on the ground. With a sigh he dragged the only chair in the room near the corpse.

With trembling hands, he heaved the stiff cadaver onto the chair. Trying desperately to ignore the bone chilling cold clinging to her wet skin, he forced her into a sitting position. The Artist balanced her neck upon her head, thanking whatever Gods there may be for keeping her eyes shut.

He repositioned his easel to face the chair and with his back to the worktable, began to paint.


-          -


The Artist’s hand grew steadier with every stroke of his brush, his mind taking pleasure in the familiar activity. He lost all sense of guilt, sorrow and anger as he focussed his attention completely onto the canvas. He heard himself hum a familiar tune as he lost himself completely in his work.

The painting progressed at a rapid pace, he had plenty of practice with this subject. However, his composure began to waver as the picture increased in definition.

He couldn't help but remember the countless times he had run his hands through the golden hair he had just spent a half hour composing. The slant of her nose and the delicate curve of her cheek that he was intimately familiar with gave him pause as he painted them.
 As he finished the lips, his mind gave up completely. He found himself lost in a painful labyrinth of memories of his lips against hers, losing himself in their gentle, soothing touch.

He gave his head a shake to stem the flow of memories and looked at the canvas with a critical eye. Modesty aside, it was beautiful. The painting seemed to breathe on the canvas. All that was missing now were the eyes. The Artist gave a sigh and raised his brush again.

He’d have to paint from memory here as he didn't have the stomach to open her dead eyes. It wasn't a difficult task for him, he had painted them plenty of times before.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul,” echoed a musical voice, crystal clear over the steady roar of the rain.

The Artist’s pupils grew wide. He jumped backwards and glanced around at the room like a cornered rabbit.
It took him a moment to realise that he had heard it in his mind, the echo of a long forgotten memory.
 
He uttered a nervous laugh, more an attempt to calm himself than out of humour and got back to his painting.

The Artist laboured in silence for the next 30 minutes or so, adding stroke after stroke to the canvas, watching the eyes take shape. He stepped away from the easel and examined the painting with a frown.

Something was off. He painted over the eyes and made them again from scratch.
Something still wasn't right.
The eyes were not like they always were, sparkling with the promise of an eternity of smiles.

No.

They were much brighter than normal, reflecting a much simpler and primal emotion that he had seen but once.

The eyes in his painting shone with Fear.

He painted over it again and again but every time he tried, his hands produced the same horrified expression. The expression he had seen on her face, moments before he had brought the bottle crashing down on her head.

The Artist stepped away from the painting, his brush clattering to the floor. He raised his quivering palms up to his eyes and looked through them at the face of his beloved, marred by the horrified expression on her face. Her accusing eyes bore through him.

As he shifted his gaze from the painting to his unmoving subject, a bolt of lightning struck the cabin. The tube light went out with a pop, cloaking the room in a thick shroud of darkness.


-          -


All was quiet.

Frozen in place, the only sound the Artist could hear was that of his own ragged breath. it took him a moment to realise that it signalled the end of the storm; it was time to accomplish what he had come here for.

He turned and groped around to reach the worktable and began rummaging inside one of the drawers for a candle. He found one after a few seconds but couldn't locate a match to light it. He cursed himself for the mess as he started pulling out things at random and discarding them in his impatience.

-Tap Tap Tap-

The Artist’s blood froze in his veins. He swung around, brandishing the unlit candle.
“Wh-Who is it?” he called out into the darkness.
Nobody knew about this place and none would be foolish enough to venture this deep into the woods in the storm.

Silence.

Perhaps he had just imagined it again, or perhaps, even likelier, it was the wind. He didn't have to console himself for much longer as his probing fingers found a matchbox. Breathing a sigh of relief, he lit the candle.

-Tap Tap Tap-

The Artist froze again as the sound rang out clearly from behind him. He turned around to face the source.

His trembling hands caused the flame to flicker, casting a host of dancing shadows on the walls. As he raised the candle to illuminate the door of the cabin, he was met with a sight that almost stopped his heart.

A pair of bright blue eyes, glimmering in the candlelight were staring at him from across the room. Their gaze penetrated his flesh and seemed fixed upon his soul.

Fear paralysed the Artist's mind. He screwed his eyes shut and shook his head, willing it to be just a figment of his imagination. But, the nightmare still persisted when he opened them again.

Her skin emitted an opalescent yellow glow as her moist skin reflected the candlelight. She held her left arm poised over an armrest and struck the wood producing the familiar tapping sound. Her right arm rose, like a puppet pulled by its string, and pointed straight at him. She curled her fingers in a jerky motion and beckoned him to come closer in a gaunt imitation of seduction.

His mind screamed at him to stay there, to run the other way, but his legs moved towards her of their own accord.  

He reached the armchair and knelt before her, looking straight into her bright, soulless eyes. She raised both her arms and cupped his face, a tender expression on her face.

“Calliope,” he whispered, drawing his face closer to hers.

“You…Killed me,” she whispered in a cold, rasping voice.

“Calliope,” he moaned.

“You…Loved me,” she continued.

“Calliope”

“I…Forgive you,” she breathed.

“Calliope,” he moaned yet again, tears streaming down his cheeks.

His trembling lips met her icy ones. The cold shot through him like an electric shock but he couldn't pull away. His awakening desire kept him rooted to the spot as one of her arms left his face, brushed his torso and unbuttoned his shirt.

She ran a cold hand against his bare chest moaning through her lips. Her fingers came to stop just above his heart and she dug her nails into his skin.

He tore away from her grasp and staggered backwards, clutching his chest. He held the candle closer to examine his chest, his heart pounding as he his wife’s face contort to form a malicious smile, twisting her features beyond recognition.

There was no mark on his chest where he had felt her claw him. But the pain was becoming unbearable, his chest was on fire.
The Artist watched, transfixed, as his skin began to wriggle and form lumps that stretched painfully as something pushed against it. There was something struggling within him. He had to let it out before he died of agony.

The Artist stumbled back to the table, clutching his heart and groaning with pain. He went through the junk on the table in a violent hurry till his fingers latched onto the handle of his palette knife.
Moaning with pleasure, he plunged it hard into his chest, sighing in relief as the pain decreased in intensity. 
Again and again he stabbed himself till he grew too weak to grasp the knife.

He looked down victoriously but all he saw was a rivulet of thick, hot blood escaping him as a more physical pain blinded his senses. He struggled to raise his head and look across the room as the realisation of what he'd done hit him like a truck. He saw his dead wife's lips part to utter a cruel, dry, humourless laugh.

As he fell to the floor, the candle fell from his hands and set the canvas ablaze. His dying vision was that of flames slowly licking a surreal painting of a beautiful young lady, alive on the canvas, her eyes clamped

-          -


A few days later the same headline was emblazoned across the front pages of the newspapers, Schizophrenic Artist Extraordinaire Murders Wife, Commits Suicide 

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