Ergene Kim is a 17-year old teenager, who aspires to become a published author one day. She fell in love with classics at a young age and has been writing since then. Her works have been published in the New Jersey Live Poets Society, and are set to be published in the Plum Tree Tavern and the America Library of Poetry.
“It’s not very realistic, is it?”
Anna turns her head slightly. “What’s not very realistic?”
“The painting.” He jerks his chin at the display on the wall, the wine in his glass sloshing slightly from the movement. “It’s not realistic.”
She smiles and shakes her head. “Of course it’s not real, it’s a painting.”
“Ah.” He looks down at her, bemused and annoyed. “There is a very distinct difference, my dear, between what is real and what is realistic.” He taps Anna on the head and bares his teeth.
He smiles like a tiger, Anna thinks with distaste, but proceeds to produce her own dazzling smile, because one has to be dazzling at dazzling exhibitions like this. The noise from the crowd is subdued tonight, as if for once, it appreciates the art more than the atmosphere.
“Say,” continues the man, his profile distinct and regal in the artificial lights on the ceiling, “have you been to this place before? You look like a newcomer.”
Anna blinks. “What gave me away?”
The man laughs, the sound pleasant and unfriendly, like the seductive growl of a predator. “Well, you’re not exactly dressed in an evening gown, my sweet.”
She looks down at herself, and sees the flowing skirts of a dark blue dress, the little white jewels embedded in the satin glowing and shimmering. Anna purposefully pulls one off and holds it up to her eye. The jewel is the size of her palm, and in the reflection she can see her easel and her paints.
“I suppose not,” returns Anna easily, bowing her head graciously and moving away, away from the man and his strange little smile.
Why does he stare so?
Belle is on her hands and knees, scrubbing at the perfect squares of marble set into the floor, when he comes gliding through the double doors, his presence unmistakable. Belle calculates, then decides to allow herself a quarter of a moment to stare at Master Anna’s beautiful blue evening gown. It’s a quarter of a moment because not all moments are the same. You have to pay for them, Belle thinks, it’s a type of currency. Give or take.
I’ll take a quarter.
She remembers her father, and her childhood. They had long moments together, categorized into careful little mental slots in Belle’s head. She can count three moments, but only when she hasn’t had time to think of all of them, for surely they had more.
The first moment was when her mother died. That had been a painful time, filled with tears and anguish and mostly a heavy deafening silence that hurt her ears. Her father bought her earmuffs for Christmas to help stop the bleeding. The second moment came years later. She fell in love with a boy who loved to paint. She would chase him through the sand, the rocks scratching her heels and making them bleed. It had been a blissful moment, born of the naivety of youth and love. It ended when the sea reached its foamy hands a little too close to the cove where he painted his sheep.
Belle dips her hands into the bucket of water and lye, ignoring the sharp stinging sensation that attacks the skin on her palms. The train of the dress is black, the edges furled and disappearing into a trail of ash on the floor. Belle watches as Master Anna himself disappears into the next room, the door shutting behind him with a loud clang. Then she cranes her neck to look at the ceiling. The smoke is floating there, uncertainly, fogging up the glass and distorting her perfect reflection. The glass holds its ground.
A glint of metal catches her eye. It’s a sapphire, an opal, a diamond of light, glowing and pulsing with the need for attention that all beautiful things tend to possess. It shines from just underneath the door, the door that clangs, and its presence is consuming. It begins to suffocate Belle, and she shields her eyes so she can breathe as she begins to crawl across the marble floor with the perfect marble squares. The jewel from Master Anna’s dress grows bigger as Belle gets closer, and she begins to see stars from exertion and excitement. She hasn’t taken in a while.
When she reaches the jewel, the glow fades. Belle picks it up and examines it at eye level, twisting it this way and that, instinctively measuring its potential value. A bud of disappointment blossoms in her chest. It’s not shiny anymore. It doesn’t look precious. It’s useless.
But it’s warm, and the steady heat reminds her of the sun that shone down on her head when she found his body in the cove. And so she cradles the loot in her hand as it grows warmer and warmer, hotter and hotter, until it becomes something else entirely. When she unfurls her fingers and looks down at her open palm, the object that lies there tugs uncomfortably at a string of memory lodged somewhere in the depths of her mind.
Something I had to find.
He paints with a pointed brush.
Carlisle turns away from the atrocity in robes, this woman who calls herself Anna, and begins to walk down the hallway to his room, where he will be away from all this. The wine in his glass storms back and forth, a drop of the red liquid spilling from the mouth onto the pristine marble floor. It’s like a drop of his paint, Carlisle thinks with amusement, his lips twisting into an ironic smile. His paint. Paint, but not really.
The moment stretches and morphs and solidifies into the time it takes to walk to one’s safe haven. Click-clack, says his shoes, which have left behind murky footprints. For a moment he’s confused. Had he painted this evening? Certainly not.
He parts the white curtains that separate his room from the rest of the world and steps inside, breathing in that familiar scent of iron. Carlisle puts down the mirror he’s been carrying in his hand, and stretches his fingers, approaching her easel and his paints with barely contained eagerness. The subject is there, too, of course. Sculpted and carved into a humanoid form, beautiful and splendid in its raw, genuine ugliness. He will paint today.
Every artist must paint a painting with a frame.
His brush, the one with the pointed tip, fits perfectly in his hand as he begins. The first slash is gentle, and it’s perfect, he thinks, as the brush leaves behind a graceful line of deep dark red. This is real art--the intentions, the motions, the execution.
He paints and paints, oblivious to all. He doesn’t hear when his metal door is locked shut, he does not see when his hand begins to add the twist, all on its own, and he doesn’t think when the floor is a mess of red, red, bloody paint.
Carlisle steps back to view his work, and is filled with an unexplainable rush of guilt. It’s something he never feels, and shouldn’t feel. Perhaps it was that little added motion, the subtle flick of his wrist, the quick rush of red. Simply drawing his brush across the canvas was an innocent act, devoid of malevolence and a true desire to inflict pain. Adding a swirl, a deep hole, by twisting his dagger, is a sin.
Yet perhaps that is the point of things. To sin.
He is an artist, after all.
His flashlight and keys bump against each other as he makes his way down the stairs to his post. It’s a miserable little place he works at, and it’s absolutely detestable. Is that a word?
“De-tes-ta-ble,” he says out loud, testing out the syllables on his tongue when he reaches the bottom. It sounds about right.
“Clever little thing you are, my sweet,” gurgles the first one, his eyes and hands red from the artificial light that covers the ceiling. The man can’t suppress a shudder as he quickly opens and shuts the door to the cell with a clang, testing out the hinges. What a lunatic.
His second one is more subdued. She is kneeling on the floor of the cell, her eyes boring a hole into the wall and fingernails scraping pitifully at a scrap of metal, most likely a hidden piece of tinfoil from her last meal. He shakes his head, silently clucking his tongue. Thievery seems to be its own drug, then.
When he goes to check on his third one, his heart feels the smallest bit of sympathy it can in this place. She’s talking, like always, talking about the most obscure oddities. He spares a soft smile in her direction, which she doesn’t see, and backs out quietly, the metal door shutting with a loud clang.
As he’s walking back upstairs, his hands clenched tightly on the rail to steady his sanity, she calls out, the cry desperate and hoarse, like a piano that hasn’t been played in years.
“My painting,” she screams, “it’s burning! Save it, save it, save it! What are you doing?”
Unbidden, a cold shiver rips through him, and he has to wipe a hand over his face to clear the fog. For a moment, a single moment, a quarter of a moment, he had seen smoke.
No smoke without fire.
“Crazy bastards,” he says instead, as he climbs the last stair and steps out into the hallway.