by Eve Lessard
A large hand reaches out to a young boy with a tear-streaked face. The boy’s clothes are covered in mud and blood dribbles down his temple. He is looking up at the white hand through his shoulder-length brown hair. There is no body attached to the arm to which the hand belongs; it is cut off by the edge of the canvas. The limits of a painting.
The painter’s hand trembles and drops the paint brush. He jumps from his stool, knocking it over. The bang of the stool hitting the wooden floor echoes through the room. The painter’s heart leaps out of his chest at the sudden noise. One blink and he is the boy in the painting. His clothes are still wet with mud, only just beginning to dry. He glares up at the blinding sun and the sky with its perfect blue coloring, uninterrupted by a single cloud. When the boy looks down he finds the bright green of summer grass. How had he gotten here? A baritone grunts and when the boy looks up, he finds that same hand outstretched.
A blink and the painter is back in his studio. The setting sun shines through the giant bay windows. The painting still laid on its easel, staring back at him. The painter studies that arm, and a question dances around his head: Who are you? The painter says it aloud. No one answers. Of course not, he thinks, it is just a painting. So he picks up his stool and paintbrush and sits in front of the painting. He dips his brush in a color and mixes it in another to create that slight shine of the sun and slides the brush across the canvas. His heart picks up in his chest and bangs on his ribs. With each stroke, he can feel the wind brushing across his face and the warmth of the sun drying the mud on his clothes. Another stroke and he can feel that mud on his arms, spots of it on his face. The painter picks up a smaller, thinner brush and dips it in brown paint.
When he finishes with the mud he stops and admires his work. The arm with no body takes up more of his thoughts with each tick of the clock behind him. “Who are you?” The painter asks aloud again. The sound of his light tenor voice fills the silence that had been threatening to steal the very breath from his lungs. “Who are you?” He asks for the second time, again into the void of his mind, the void of memories he had prayed would be long gone by now.
“You know me,” the man answers. The painter hops off his stool but doesn’t knock it over this time. He stares at the painting. Maybe because he is alone, maybe because he needs to know, he asks, “What is your name?” No answer. The painter looks around the studio, checks the front door and its ten locks. Each are in place. His skin drops ten degrees and his organs melt into a pool of lava at the bottom of his stomach. “Who are you?” he asks, cringing in apprehension.
“You know me,” the baritone voice echoes in the painter’s ears. “No I don’t!” the painter screams, pulling at his hair, now dyed blond and cut short.
“You can trust me,” the voice answers. I don’t understand, the painter thinks, afraid of what might happen if he says the words aloud. He spins, terrified that he’ll find someone behind him. Around and around and around. Nothing. No one is here. No one is here. No one is here.
The painter stops spinning to stare at his painting. His work. His trigger into insanity. The fingers on the hand twitch. The painter blinks. Not a twitch, but a summons. The painter looks at the boy and shakes his head. Silently begs the boy not to take that hand. The boy’s face shifts into a smile and the studio disappears. The boy takes the hand without looking at its owner and is pulled out of the mud. Into the warmth of the sun and a companion’s hug.
The painter falls to his knees in the middle of his studio. The sun has set now, leaving him in the dark. Shadows dance to a silent song around him.
“You can trust me.”
The painter shakes his head. “I don’t trust ghosts!” he shouts at the shadows. They don’t answer. No one answers. Because no one is here.
“I am here,” the man whispers into his ear. The painter covers his ears and folds himself over so his forehead rests on his knees. This isn’t real. This can’t be real. The painter rocks himself. Left, right, left, right.
The voice disappears. He sits up and the shadows have stopped their dancing. Left to haunt someone else. Maybe even another painter.
A knock on the door disrupts the painter’s moment of peace. His heart pumps too much blood through his veins, to his head, until it is all he can hear. When he doesn’t answer, the knock fills his studio once again. Bang. Bang. Bang. The painter can see the hand pounding on his door in his mind’s eye. The short, blood-crusted nails, owed to a nail-biting habit. The arm covered in burn scars from years of being the royal blacksmith. The painter’s head throbs with all
of these images and the steady rhythm of his unrelenting heart. The knocking refuses to stop.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Open up, the sound screams at him. Just open the door already! When will you stop being a coward and open. Up.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Stop!” the painter screams, “Please!” The banging persists. His heart persists. Bang. Bang. Bang. Until he doesn’t know his heart from the knocking. Reality from memory. Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Who are you!” the painter bellows into the night until his throat aches and he can taste the blood dripping down his throat. Bang. Bang. Bang. Until the shadows return to dance to that silent song hidden beneath the incessant knocking. Until the painter begins to wish to be a dancer. So that he might hear that music and dance with the shadows.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Who are you?” the painter whispers. Bang. Bang. Bang. “Please,” he begs. Bang. Bang. Bang. Over and over and over. Until the morning comes, and the painter returns to his canvas, waiting for the sun to set, and the shadows to return.
Eve is a freshman at UMF with a major in Creative Writing. She is an aspiring journalist who has been published in the Telling Room’s magazine, “Gen Z.” In her free time, she reads everything she can get her hands on, writes realistic fiction, fantasy, and poetry, hikes, knits, and hangs out with her guinea pigs.