Is It Art?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
The third and final story based on creatures I came across in 'The Emerald Atlas' by John Stephens.

Submitted: August 21, 2016

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Submitted: August 21, 2016

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Is It Art?

 

Kate (call me Cat) Halligan loved to go exploring the back streets. Asher Blake, her boyfriend of two months, wasn’t quite so keen on it himself but always went along, if only to please Cat. Today they are heading along a one-way cobbled street. There are lots of buildings but most of them seem to be empty, or at least not trading any more.

 

Cat stops at a window of a small shop that does still seem to be open. The window holds an arrangement of tarot cards, a crystal ball, an assortment of candlesticks. There is a shelf of old and fragile-looking books inside but from where they are standing, Cat can’t make out the titles.

 

She has always felt an attraction for things like that. It’s the ideas of how these things could work that she finds so attractive. She does tend to dress the part, favouring a more gothic look. Asher has started to wear more black now, rather than his previous jeans-and-shirt casual attire. He won’t go in for the make-up though – that he leaves strictly to Cat.

 

Do you want to go in and have a look around?” he asks.

 

Cat shakes her head. “No, not now. Maybe later. For now I think we should carry on and see what else we find.”

 

She turns to give Asher a quick kiss on the cheek before they carry on along the road, arm in arm and feeling happy. The shops have gone back to being nearly all empty or boarded up, but further along the road they can see a couple of figures just sort of standing there. Could be promising?

 

There are only a few other pedestrians about; the occasional solitary figure walking resolutely down the road. As they get nearer to the figures Cat can see that they are handing out some sort of flyer to anyone that passes. Interesting! She picks up her pace, eager to find out more and Asher strides out beside her.

 

These figures are all in black with large hoods pulled low over their faces. They both look identical, not that Cat can actually see their features; it’s more of a stance and build thing. She’s definitely eager to get a glimpse of that paper, whatever it is.

 

As they draw level, Cat slows her pace. A black gloved hand moves hardly at all to hand out what looks to be an invitation to her. The other figure does the same to Asher. Apart from that one small hand movement they seem to be completely stationary. They don’t even move their feet and seem oblivious to each other and anything else apart from someone passing. Cat has a fleeting idea that they could be robots, but shakes that off. They are way too life-like.

 

She carries on walking with Asher. For some reason, she does not want to stand there next to those two figures while she reads what they have handed out. As they put a bit more distance between them she glances down at the piece of card. An invitation to an art exhibition that very evening, in that very building......

 

Shall we go?” Asher looks at Cat, he doesn’t look that keen.

 

Cat quickly looks over her shoulder. She can still just about make out those two figures and they don’t seem to have moved a bit. There is definitely something creepy about them, something strange. But isn’t that just what she is craving for –something different.

 

Cat turns to smile at Asher. “Yeah, Ash. I think we shall.”

* * * * *

 

There is quite a bit of time to kill before the exhibition but not enough for Cat and Asher to bother going anywhere else. They carry on a bit further along the cobbled street until they come across a tiny cafe. It is empty apart from the woman behind the counter who silently serves them with coffee, sandwiches and cake.

 

Sitting at a small table as far from the counter as they can get Cat and Asher start to eat. The atmosphere is strained. Cat keeps making glances towards the woman; she doesn’t catch her looking in their direction but she feels sure that they are being observed. She had been so hungry but now her appetite has deserted her. Asher seems unaware of the atmosphere until he notices Cat was not eating.

 

Are you okay, Cat”.

 

Sure,” she replys, then leans forward to whisper, “I don’t like it here.”

 

Asher takes a last swig of coffee then pushes back his chair. “Come on, then, Cat. Let’s make a move shall we. Thanks,” he says, in the direction of the woman. Does she detect the sarcasm? Probably not, he thinks, as she merely looks at them as they walk out.

 

On the street again, Cat lets out a big breath. “Well, that was.....painful.”

 

Asher rolls his eyes and acts like a zombie.

 

Yeah, she was a bit, wasn’t she.” Cat grabs Asher’s arm and, laughing, they make their way back the way they had come from.

 

The two figures are still in position outside what must be the gallery. They do not move or respond in any way as Cat and Asher walk past. Again Cat is struck by how robotic they are in appearance; she could have sworn they were still standing in exactly the same positions as before.

 

More zombies?” Asher jokingly asks when they are out of earshot.

 

Yeah, maybe! Let’s go take a look in that shop if it’s still open. I could happily spend hours in there.” Cat shakes off her unease as she and Asher pick up pace.

 

The shop is small, crammed full of stuff. But unlike the cafe, the atmosphere is friendly. The guy behind the counter looks up as they enter. He smiles an easy smile then goes back to reading, leaving them to browse without feeling like they are being scrutinized. And there is so much to browse through.

 

I could spend a fortune here, Ash. There’s just so much......I don’t know quite where to start.” Cat looks around herself then heads over to the boxes of tarot cards. “I’m gonna see if I can find that Ciro Marchetti set I’ve been trying to find for ages. His art is absolutely amazing.”

 

Okay, Cat. I’m gonna stay with the books for now.” Asher is a bit out of his depth with all this mystical stuff, but Cat, she loves it. And anything she liked, he would like too. He scans through the books in front of him, picks up ‘The Emerald Atlas’ by John Stephens, and begins flicking through it.

 

Some time later, Cat comes to stand beside him. “Good book, huh? Look what I’ve found, and at a fraction of the price I’d have paid on the Internet.” She triumphantly waves not one, but two, decks of cards at him.

 

She takes her cards to the guy behind the counter. He smiles, says, “Glad you found what you wanted. And you can take the book. No charge.”

 

Hey, thanks,” Asher says.

 

As they are leaving the shop, the guy between the counter calls over to them. “Just a bit of friendly advice. Be careful. Things aren’t always what they seem.”

 

Asher isn’t sure if he really nods at the book or not. Weirder and weirder this day is turning out to be.

 

* * * * *

 

The light is starting to fade as Cat and Asher make their way back towards the gallery. Cat is still almost drunk on her successful search.

 

You wait until you see these pictures, Ash. No one else does art quite like this guy.” Cat stops talking and jumping around as those same two figures come in to view. “I hope these poor guys are being well paid. They’ve been standing out here for hours with hardly anything to do,” she says in a hushed voice.

 

Inside the gallery it is even darker. As they pass through the door the two guys who had given them the invitations earlier follow them and close the door. Cat tells herself they are not really guarding the door, that it’s just her imagination playing tricks. Asher must have noticed too because he looks at her and shrugs.

 

There are not many other people at this exhibition. Cat looks around and can make out maybe five or six people who appear to be fellow ‘guests’. There are far more of those hooded figures. All of them look identical, although there is some variation in height. It is how they stand, their rigidly still position and the fact that their faces are hidden that makes them look so similar. There are at least twenty of them standing around the room, maybe even more.

 

And for an exhibition there seems to be curiously little art on display. Both Cat and Asher look around and there only seems to be that one solitary piece that the other guests seem to be gathered around.

 

Do you think we should leave?” Asher asks Cat, but she is already moving forward to get a glimpse of the picture that is getting so much attention.

 

He looks back towards the still shut doors. He somehow thinks those guys aren’t going to open them for him should he try and leave. With much misgiving he follows Cat.

 

He stands next to her and looks at the picture. It is about two feet square, nothing exceptionally large. It seems to show a desolate landscape, well painted, fair enough, but not spectacular enough to warrant the attention being showed to it. But there is something about it – a feeling that seems to flow out of it. And the feeling isn’t pleasant. It is one of deep desolation and despair.

 

Asher wants to look away but he doesn’t seem able to drag his eyes away from it. Even Cat seems to be held in its spell, whatever it is. He is vaguely aware of another figure entering the room, a tall, thin man with a cruel face.

 

It is at his nod that it begins. Without making any sort of movement the shrouded figures emit a screech. It is a sound that is piercing, painful. He and the other guests lift their hands to shield their ears but there is no protection from it. It is inside him, inside Cat.....inside the other guests. It worms it’s way through them to grip their hearts and to squeeze.

 

When they are all writhing on the floor the screech stops just as suddenly and instantly as it began. The pain remains but is no longer so intense. Asher and Cat struggle back to their feet.

 

I want to go home now, Ash,” Cat says, with tears running totally unchecked down her cheeks.

 

So do I , Cat. But I don’t think that’s an option right now.” There is no doubt in his mind now that the doors are indeed being guarded. That he and Cat have somehow voluntarily walked into some kind of cultish trap.

 

* * * * *

 

Enough of this gentle introduction.” The thin man’s voice is surprisingly loud, commanding, coming from a person so thin. “Look at the picture! All of you. That’s right. Look hard and look deep and tell me, is this not the perfect personification of art.”

 

Cat is staring at it. Asher tries to keep his eyes on her but slowly he too is becoming immersed in the picture. There is just so much sadness. And it is changing. The picture is becoming more of a window, a viewpoint over total hopelessness.

 

That’s right. Feel it. Feel all the terror, all the blackness, all the absence of any sort of hope. Let the misery take you. Because this is what you have now. Nothing but hopelessness and fear.”

 

The spell breaks. Asher can move again, can think through the veil of sadness that had engulfed him. There is something there, nagging in the back of his brain; something that he read......And then it hits him.

 

Morum Cadi,” he says. “The Deathless Warriors.....But you are not real, just characters in a book. Is this some sort of dream.”

 

Cat looks at Asher then at the book he is holding. “He tried to warn us......”

 

Well, well. Somebody recognises my army for who they really are. And what an army they are!They never grow tired and do not feel pain. They have no compassion for life of any sort. In fact they hate it and relish causing the fear that they feed off.” The man looks directly at Asher as he continues. “Your knowledge will do you no good, you know. But perhaps it will add to your fear.”

 

The morum cadi begin to screech again. Asher tells himself it’s not true, it’s all in his mind, but the noise holds him in an iron grip. The air is forced out of his lungs. He can barely make out the faces of the other guests as he reaches out to grasp Cat and hold her close.

 

The morum cadi are now approaching, brandishing their blades in their odd stilted movements. Their screeching stops as their blades start to swing.

 

If anyone in the gallery could see they will find that the picture has changed. The barren, desolate landscape has vanished. The picture now shows the very same carnage that is taking place around it.

 

 


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