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 There's Power in a Portrait

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Grand Senior Literati
Grand Senior Literati

Posts : 37
Literary Regard : 250
Join date : 2009-07-13
Age : 30
Location : Brisbane, Australia

PostSubject: There's Power in a Portrait   Sat Jul 18, 2009 2:47 pm

What made Adele so different to most? To look at her, one would merely see a young girl with the promise of beauty ahead of her – exceptionally pale skin, raven hair, lips a full, deep red, the colour of dark wine; her eyes a most hypnotic shade of sapphire. And yet she … well, no mere words can describe it; when she walked into a room, the change in atmosphere was bizarre. Grown men stuttered and spilt their drinks, and burnt holes in their best suits with fine cigars; women felt intimidated without knowing why, indeed, without realising it was this extraordinarily beautiful young woman who did it.

No, she was not simply beautiful. Her parents would exclaim over her seeming perfection in every aspect of life – at the age of ten she was academically more advanced than the average elementary school teacher. She absorbed mathematics and philosophy; she revelled in science and theology; her love of nature and grasp of economics saw her swift rise in geography.

Yet what really defined her was art.

Not since the works of Salvador Dali had such beauty – sinister and mesmerising though it may have been – appeared on canvas. She was a natural in the surrealist world and, at the age of eleven, some of her works were being displayed in galleries.

So what made her different? A somewhat stupid question, one concedes. Aside from her natural genius was that weird aura we spoke of earlier; it seemed to surround her constantly. And something else, too … and that, my friends, is where our story really begins.

* * * * *

Surrealism was fun, but the abstraction quickly bored her; fictional scenes of warped mathematical anomalies, errors of reality and time, ethereality and metaphysics quickly turned stale. And the grinning man was beginning to drive her insane.

She found the remedy quite by accident. “Ma, I don’t want to paint unreality any more,” she said. Anyone else might have been surprised by such a statement from such a young person, but Nadia – for that was Adele’s mother’s name - had had eleven years to get used to her daughter’s brilliance.

“Why not try painting reality then?” she reasoned. “Try painting the back yard. Something nice, for a change, instead of …”

* * * * *

“Instead of…”

Adele’s paintings were irrevocably disturbing. She had presented, when she was eight, a canvas to her mother. There, grinning up from a tsunami of swirling oils, had been a man. He’d been seated at a bar, wearing an Armani suit and resting his hand on a briefcase, his legs crossed. His seat had been a fountain of water, the bartender a bird in a vest, polishing a glass. It would have been cute, had the man not been wearing a cheerful grin and a wink, tipped at the beholder.

Nadia had never known a grin and a wink could be so terrifying.

By the time she was ten, a whole series of these paintings had bedecked the walls of Adele’s small bedroom. The man at the bar was a feature in every one of them: perhaps he was seated on a cloud, his head turned, chatting with a serpent; it was these ones, where that handsome-yet-hideous face was unable to be seen, that Nadia felt most comfortable with. Other times the man might simply be staring blankly out of the picture, so lifelike it was almost a photograph, and these were the most terrifying of all; once he was dressed in a Nazi uniform, a copy of Mein Kampf sticking out the top of one of the pockets, and seated upon the cannon of a Panzer tank on the Moon. Over her daughter’s squealing protests, Nadia had simply thrown this one out.

But the man in the suit was boring her. Unoriginality was never a sin she evoked in any of her other artistic pursuits; in music, in writing, in dance, so why was it so with painting? Determined, she sat on the bottom stair of the porch and let her mind fall free; she began to paint.

* * * * *

The mind truly attuned to the surrealist vision will never let it die. Adele had been painting in this style for years, and she never even thought about the consequences such a mindset might evoke. Subsequently, she drew the back yard – but not as it was in reality; no, she added a few flourishes of her own. Pristine trees twisted and gnarled, the blooms on the rosebush next to the stairs tinted black and weeping blood; the grass a scorched, charcoal grey.

She was disturbed from her trance by Nadia’s shriek.

Nadia had never cared so much about the appearance of the yard. As long as it was reasonably neat, she was relatively happy. So her shriek was not one of, say, a dead bush. But the trees bent out of shape, the grass a dark charcoal colour, and the –

Adele felt liquid drip onto her foot.

Blood, from the weeping bush.

* * * * *

She hadn’t touched canvas or paint for four years. By the time her fifteenth birthday had rolled around, the episode had attained the sort of feeling an old nightmare might do. Adele had burned the unfinished picture, and the moment nothing but ashes remained the garden had returned to normal. She shuddered to think what might have happened had she painted the sky.

It was around this time that the dreams began. As any artist – poet, musician, painter or dancer – will tell you, art cannot die in the minds of those attuned to it. Adele refused to pick up brush or touch canvas, and so her dreamscapes did it for her – except she was not painting in them; no, she was living her painted universes. Lands where the heat of the sun raised blisters on her shoulders and the chill of the night gripped her heart in an icy horror; where toxins on the breeze bewitched her senses and she fell in love with the world, only to be swallowed by nature, to rot alive, to raise her hand and watch the flesh fall away as she screamed in agony –

She awakes.

* * * * *

She’s in a pub; no, an old-world tavern. The doors are the swinging type seen in saloons of the old spaghetti westerns, and the windows are so caked with dust that the outside world is of a mystic, ethereal quality.

She turns, and screams.

Behind the bar is a bird in a vest, polishing a glass with a rag. It raises its cruelly pointed beak, looks at her and


speaks in a deep voice.

“What’ll it be, ma’am? The usual?”

Adele shakes her head in a daze; the bird, in a bizarrely human way, shrugs and continues to polish the pint glass.

A door off to the left opens. She already knows who it will be.

“So,” says the grinning man, his briefcase displaying faded gold lettering she can’t quite make out in the tavern’s gloom, “I trust you’re feeling well?”

“No,” she replies.

He doesn’t enquire, but merely cocks an eyebrow at her. The vulture behind the bar picks its teeth with a piece of bone.

“I’m terrified,” she adds.

The grinning man laughs, a merry, tinkling laugh, and her terror redoubles. “Terrified!” he splutters, as he roars with laughter. “You’d be insane if you weren’t!”

Adele glances around. “Am I dreaming?”

“Oh yes,” says the laughing man matter-of-factly. “Yes, this is all going through your mind right now, but don’t make the mistake of believing you’re safe; a dream can kill a mind, if the killer’s got the knack, and the knack I most certainly have .” He grins at her. “And without the mind, the body can’t live; without the body, the soul can’t stay.”

She looks at him. “What do you want from me?”

“Nothing undoable, love,” he says, waving her question away. “A little bit of this, a little bit of that… perhaps a portrait every now and then…”

She looks at him. “But I don’t paint anymore.”

“Oh, that’s really too bad. You remember what I said about ‘having the knack’? Well, that doesn’t just extend to killing minds,” he says, and his grin is gone now. Instead he wears a very ugly look indeed; his handsome face is slowly melting into a hideous masklike visage. “It’s taken years for me to manifest so strongly in your mind; you see, whilst you were painting me, you were safe. You were letting me flow out into your pictures, and I couldn’t get a grip on you. Only now I’ve got a grip, and once my hold is firm I despise letting go. Only two things might convince me to do so: one, you obey my whim until I deem you’ve done your job, or two, you sign this slip of paper.” He opened his suitcase, and drew forth a piece of parchment with words in a strange tongue written upon it.

.lleH fo relur
,noigeL si ohw eH ,seiL fo droL ,reficuL ,eeht
ot luos ym ngis ylgnivol dna ylgnilliw od



.foereht secneuqecnoc
eht fo noitingocer lluf no os od I dna
,tnemucod siht ngis rewop nwo ym yb od I

There's something sinister about the words which, Adele quickly notes, seem to follow the same basic grammatical rules as English but –

– but reverses them.

And, with growing horror, it dawns on her. The grinning man nods, his smile returning, and places a mirror on the bar; and in the mirror’s reflection, upside down and turned around, she reads the contract, for contract it is:

ruler of Hell.
thee, Lucifer, Lord of Lies, He who is Legion,
do willingly and lovingly sign my soul to



consequences thereof .
and I do so in full recognition of the
I do by my own power sign this document,

“But you can’t exist,” she says, shaking her head. “I’ve studied every aspect of both the Christian and Satanic Bibles, their different positions on the matter, and the scientific evidence. You can’t exist.”

“I think the evidence is fairly compelling that I can,” the grinning man states. “Oh, don’t worry, I don’t truly exist in the way most believe. Call me what you will – Satan, Death, Evil, Lies, Terror – I’m simply insanity personified, with perhaps just a little mystery thrown in on the side.”

“I’m not signing one of those documents,” Adele says. Her voice is firm, despite her terror.

“Oh?” And the man isn’t grinning now, nor is he handsome; his eyes flash scarlet and his tongue, which flickers over his lips like a snake’s, is forked. “In that case, I’m sure I’ll think up a few tricks to put that copious talent of your to use. Until next time, my sweet, until next time…”

And some strange force seems to guide her feet; she walks out through the saloon doors and into a nightmare of surrealism –

* * * * *

Sitting bolt upright in bed, she awakes panting and slicked with sweat. It was just a dream, she tells herself firmly, just a nightmare… me and mom can have a good laugh about it in the morning over pancakes and coffee… nothing to be… scared… of…

She almost screams. The easel that she hasn’t used since the age of eleven is sitting next to her bed, along with a fresh colour palette, a horsehair brush and a brand new canvas. A memory – no, there’s no word for it – steals over her and she cries, she weeps at the image of her mother in bed, her throat slashed and Adele holding a knife. It’s a painting in her mind, a watercolour of incredible depth and skill.

She begins to paint.

An older story of mine, one I wrote about a year and a half ago. I'm still remarkably happy with it, and in revising it didn't deign to change much more than the various tenses used.

Anyone who's interested should note that I follow neither Christianity nor Satanism (I personally think the Gaians have it right). This is fiction, through and through, intended not to portray a message but to tell a story. I hope I encouraged a few chills.
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Grand Senior Literati
Grand Senior Literati

Posts : 70
Literary Regard : 336
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Age : 31
Location : The Fifth Level of Hell

PostSubject: Re: There's Power in a Portrait   Sun Jul 19, 2009 12:29 am

You once took little pride in your prose, and it has been a long time since I've read a story of yours. This, though, was absolute perfection. It is enticingly strange; like Lovecraft on an acid trip, but manages to sustain a palpable fear and drive it home at the end like nails into a coffin. Nicely done, again.
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