Nov 11th 2022
Eleanor sat at the easel, her back straight, head tilted in concentration, and stared at the canvas. Her legs tucked under the chair, feet coiled around the legs to anchor her to the spot like roots of a long-dead tree. She didn’t notice these details, didn’t have awareness beyond the blank white before her and the swirling fog within.
I watched her, day after day, consciousness trickling back to me. There was something familiar in the scene before me, glimmers of memory that loomed under the surface of my thoughts, like shadows of kelp that beckoned from the deep.
Some days the memories tugged free and I would recognize something new; the rusty stain in the worn floorboards where I’d sliced my hand on a broken champagne flute that New Year’s, or the shaft of pale winter sun that poured in through the open terrace doors.
Other days my mind was a void, silent and unrelenting, until fear and impotent rage consumed me. Heedless of my struggles, Eleanor sat and stared, until something clicked and her mind spoke through her hand in deft strokes of vibrant oils.
The days she painted more were the days I remembered most. When the art fought back, when her mind and body were at odds, subsumed with grief and restless energy, I drowned in the murk of my own memories. Once I realized the connection between the artist and my own awareness, I endeavored to encourage her.
At first I was nothing more than an inkling, the tickle behind her ear as a stray lock of hair brushed sensitive skin. Other days I was the whisper of the breeze as the long drapes rustled against the old wooden floors. But, before long, I was the moan of shutters in the spring storm, the creak of the floor under her bare feet. Soon the house breathed and fidgeted with my presence, until not even she, focused as she was, could ignore me any further.
She took to speaking aloud, her voice a bright beacon on my darkest days. She spoke to me, whether she knew it or not. And as she spoke the warmth of her words and the tantalizing scrape of bristles on canvas unlocked all that I once was.
Weeks went by and Eleanor’s vibrant spirit called to me. She continued to paint, the inspiration pouring from her. And if she got stuck, I gave her a nudge; a word whispered, but too clear to be mistaken, the flicker of a candle’s flame on a still night. Eleanor saw it all, the consistent inconsistencies and every inexplicable phenomena in the house. And yet she never flinched. Never feared.
I adored her for it.
When a summer storm sank the house into night, I knew. She lit candles and bathed, taking her time to luxuriate as I whispered to her through the rain on the roof. She poured a glass of wine with hands that never trembled, and then she set to work, rooting herself before the canvas once more.
In the dim room, lit only by flickering candlelight and lightning strikes, I felt the pulse of the house thunder within me, low and heavy. Tonight was the night she would call me forth to join her, as I so longed to do.
I watched, my sight no longer limited to the frame on the mantle, where I’d resided all those months. I was more, connected and conscious and more. I watched her from all angles, saw the pulse in her throat flutter in the fickle half-light, the tug of her lip pulled between teeth as she hesitated, knife hovering over her palette.
“Red,” I breathed, the intent flowing from me more than the sound. I smiled when the painting knife adjusted and dipped into the crimson oil before returning to the painting. The scratch of the metal on the canvas thrilled through me, a shudder of joy and anticipation.
I watched a moment more, the piece flaring to life with her final touches. The edges were smudged shadows, gray and black and blue. Bruised edges, sad and consumed with saturated darkness. In the center stood two figures, so tall and lithe as to seem inhuman, only recognizable as people by the sharp, pale faces that stared out of the gloom, one just behind the other. The expression in the foreground was uplifted and blank, unaware of what loomed just beyond the reach of the shadows.
“Yes.” For the first time in nearly a year my feet found the cold caress of the floor beneath them. Silent and weightless I approached her, watched as she used the large, steel painting knife to trickle red paint down the front of the first figure, the brightest color in the whole piece.
My fingers brushed the tools of her trade, her passion, as I passed them. I smiled at the sensation, then reached out and gently took her hand in mine. The heat of her skin shocked me, startling in its contrast to my icy fingers.
She blinked up at me, her delicate brow furrowed in confusion.
I smiled, soft and sad, then plunged the dripping painter’s knife into her throat. I considered the painting once more while I waited, while Eleanor gasped and gurgled her last breath and dark blood drenched her painter’s apron.
I looked back at her, a solemn, hopeful witness of her final moments, unable to breathe with my own sudden fear. What if she didn’t come? What if I’d snuffed out that which made her so vital, so brilliant?
Then she lifted from herself, from the cooling stillness of her corpse where it had dropped to the floor, and her eyes opened to meet mine.
I smiled, whole for the first time since my death.
Author Bio: B. Zelkovich writes Speculative Fiction from the magical realm of the USA’s Pacific Northwest. Find more of her stories and connect with her online at bzelkovich.com.
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