Illusione Attica

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

That unbearable realization of the ever-ticking melting clock, of the ever-fading temporary youth, of the ever-proceeding impatient life forced her into the arms of delinquency. She was too old to believe in miracles. She was too dispirited of finding the love of her life. There were no great events to remember and no future dreams to look out for. There was the current in-between, not bad, and not good, obscure, and indifferent. Nothing changed, nothing would ever change. Unless she reshaped her repetitive reality by force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

It was a weird summer. The cold-and-rainy-out-of-breath-and-sweaty kind of summer. Girls walked out in their summer dresses into the burning sun, but later that day they sought refuge from the stingy rain and raging storm. The sun and the storm were unpredictable, they replaced each other at random, with the sky turning into unusual and depressive colors of a Munch painting during the evening. The dark, menacing grey of the stormy clouds was ruptured by the feverish, lava red of the setting sun. And the air constantly smelled to wet asphalt.

The bus stopped. A few people walked out, speeding up their pace to the intensity of the rain. The driver had to wait before taking off because of cyclists blocking the road. Everybody secretly hated them but were forced to tolerate the privileged treatment they enjoyed because of national feelings of pride for that sport. Elisabeth looked out of the window. Her gaze rested in a puddle of water on the road, right under the bus. The raindrops formed concentric circles on the surface of that puddle, oddly reminding her of the Pacific Ocean. That day was just like any other day of that peculiar July, although a bit more exciting than usual. And she found that excitement highly unwelcome.

She couldn’t afford having stress or giving in to her usual inner tremor. Not today. She still had the chance to change her mind, get off on the next stop and simply carry on with her quiet, law-abiding life. To calm down her nerves, she allowed herself to think of that reasoning concept but she realized that was never an option. No one forced her to commit that crime, no one threatened her. She acted autonomously, fully grounded on her own decision. It wasn’t a spontaneous whim, but a thoroughly analyzed and well-prepared plan. Backing off wouldn’t mean self-preservation, but a cowardly betrayal of herself and a devastating waste of the time and the effort she put into her scheme.

That loyalty, that sincerity, that truthfulness she owed to herself was just as natural and important to her like oxygen. No matter what happened, at the end of the day, before going to bed, she had to look in the mirror, stare into her own soul and detect the apprehensive reflection in her eyes that she had stayed true to herself that day. Her actions had to be in accordance with what she thought and said, not letting herself deviate from it even in the slightest details.

Elisabeth was aware that her perception of righteousness didn’t always correspond with the expectations of the outside world. Frankly, she didn’t care for those expectations. Her spiritual inner peace was all that mattered to her. Besides, she didn’t consider herself to be immoral or irrationally reckless. That’s why she didn’t suffer from any mental discomfort when she picked out her first victim. Although, she didn’t regard John as a victim. She called him her friend.

If crime investigators had to sketch her psychological portrait, they would stumble upon unusual contradictory characteristics typing Elisabeth. She was an intelligent, sophisticated young woman. She had a good education and she had a job. Physically she didn’t pose any possible threat to anyone. She was weak and had some health issues. But that didn’t make her less harmless. She was a low-key sociopath and stalker. All the people she came across she checked in her database. Her database was the Internet, social media and all the other channels she could get her hands on to quench her curiosity and gather all the possible information about a certain person. All she needed was a name or the place the person worked at. It took her maximum three hours to make a general file of the man or woman concerned.

Personal contact was indispensable but she never got the desired result whenever she approached someone whom she was interested in. Despite her intellect and her great looks people weren’t eager to open up to her or exchange phone numbers. Something about her frightened them off. It was difficult to cope with her menacing silence, her icy composure, and her constant staring in their eyes. She felt their fear and irritation when she gazed into their mind. That was how she communicated. She didn’t talk to people, she just stared at them until she fully sensed their core. Through their eyes she saw the reflection of their soul. Therefore, the initiative had to go out from people she was intrigued by or who in some way could be of use to her.

That’s how she caught John in her web. One time, she overheard his conversation with a friend on the terrace outside a local pub. She sat with her back to them, pretending to read her book and drink tea, while carefully following their discussion about John’s work. He worked in a gallery famous for antique and traditional art. She loved art and she loved that gallery. She had visited that museum many times. His spastic friend was arguing with him about the great importance of contemporary performance art. John said it was a scam and a joke. Elisabeth couldn’t agree more. But it wasn’t just for their like-minded contempt for contemporary art she wanted to get to know him better. Unconsciously, her recent bold plan took a blurry, undeveloped form that day, on that terrace. That plan needed the space to grow and the time to ripen. Elisabeth nurtured it for five years, before it could manifest itself in its matured state for her mind’s eye.

She found John in her database after an intense two hour hunt. Her visits to the gallery became more frequent. She attended every new art exposition John could be at. She even took up arts studies. And then, finally, one day he spoke to her. She stood in front of Morpheus, looking at his closed eyelids, imagining how he opened them and she would experience the intensity of his hypnotizing conjuration.

John: Hey there! I keep running into you everywhere I go. It feels like I’ve known you for a long time, but haven’t had the honor to know your name …

 

2

Once she tried tai chi. She hated it. The idea of moving with the invisible stream of air to learn how to control her body was great but she didn’t have the patience for it. Keeping her stability and not disturbing other passengers in a still moving vehicle - that was the true art of balance. She possessed that talent and she even liked the gravitational forth and back pulling force of the bus. But there were inconsiderate people who only abode to hilarity and chaos or who simply didn’t want to limit their movements to the square meter of their personal space. An individual of that kind sat in the back of the bus. When the driver hit the brakes upon reaching Elisabeth’s stop, the idiot from behind practically let himself fly through the passage and bumped with all his weight into Elisabeth, painfully hurting her shoulder. Her reaction to that was like unexpected thunder on a sunny day. The sleepy, quiet bus suddenly woke up from its lethargy when she confronted the jackass.

There was a time when she tried to avoid conflicts and solve problems with persuasion and common sense. But at some point, maybe because of getting older, maybe because of being disgusted of her own delicacy of letting people wipe their feet on her, she started to turn into a bitch. She exploited every single excuse to ignite a huge fight. She enjoyed the knife cutting tension. She almost needed it to stir up the condensed air around her. But her collision with the asshat who almost dislocated her shoulder scared even herself. She blamed her aggressive explosion on acute agitation she was building up from the moment she left her house that day. She shouldn’t have reacted so violently. Not because she felt sorry for the verbal abuse that she poured out on him. That jerk deserved it. She was afraid someone could mention that hostile incident in the bus to the police if things wouldn’t go as smoothly as she had planned them. That stupid quarrel could attract attention. One thing would lead to another and that way they would come out on her.

Tranquility soon came over her when she got out of the bus. The green alleys she strolled through were empty and exotically humid. The tree branches hung low, on some places even touching the ground. It was nice to hear the birds sing their song and feel nature’s extremes on her skin, like the burning of the summer sun in open spaces or the chilling humidity in dense wooded spots. The few people outside were just insignificant passerbys, unnoticeable like the time sliding by and through her. But she was aware of that time. She felt how it entered and left her body through her pores, with each new wave washing away a little piece of her youth.

That unbearable realization of the ever-ticking melting clock, of the ever-fading temporary youth, of the ever-proceeding impatient life forced her into the arms of delinquency. She was too old to believe in miracles. She was too dispirited of finding the love of her life. There were no great events to remember and no future dreams to look out for. There was the current in-between, not bad, and not good, obscure, and indifferent. Nothing changed, nothing would ever change. Unless she reshaped her repetitive reality by force.

It was all or nothing. The altercation had to take place no matter the circumstances. She reconsidered a few possibilities of how her life could take another course. Fame was tempting but she was one of those difficult women who couldn’t keep their mouth shut. Even if she managed to become successful in some art, the fame would soon turn into notoriety. That was also the reason why a sugar daddy was out of the question. But she craved more of life. She could get more if she had the money.

Her plan was flawless and safe. She thought of every detail but she didn’t have a clear picture of what she would do with it once all was done. She could keep it hidden in her house, waiting for the storm to lay down, and later find the right person to sell it to. That promised to be a burdensome task because she didn’t have the right connections. But there had to be someone out there interested in what she had to offer. In the end, who didn’t want to have Salome or the Black Sea? She would love to keep them herself but they were of no use to her without money. Salome and the Black Sea were meant to fulfill her future plans.

John didn’t know she was coming. John also didn’t realize that unwillingly he granted her access to the gallery. John couldn’t conceive of the twisted vortex he got sucked into when he first looked into her eyes. He wouldn’t remember how he once told her in a drunken, nonchalant mood about his duties on Sunday. At the end of each week, he appeared at work to reset the camera and the alarm system for prophylactic reasons. He was supposed to stay there for the time the security devices were rebooting. That took a couple of hours. He always left the backdoor open and went out to have coffee in one of the fancy bars in the city. The building was left unguarded.

She would have plenty of time stealing the paintings. The backdoor led to quiet, somnolent backstreets of a densely built-up area. She ordered a moving van that would pick her up at a random address in that neighborhood, under the pretext of transporting goods to another place. There was a risk of being noticed, but usually on a Sunday afternoon the locals were drinking their life away in pubs, so Elisabeth took the risk. Besides, no one would be able to recognize or describe her wearing a medical mask. It was time for action.

She saw the red and white brick mansion behind a barred fence. Before the mansion stood a dark marble statue of the founder of the museum. With the arms crossed on his chest, growing out of the stone, the statue rose above the visitors like a menhir and shielded with its back its beautiful palace with the untimely and precious treasures gathered throughout the centuries. She walked around the statue. The sun appeared behind the grey clouds and shone on the golden cupola of the massive cathedral standing right beside the museum. The cross and the cupola, in their turn, reflected bright arrows of light, piercing through the clouds, trees and the statue of the founder, blinding Elisabeth and making her turn away her eyes from his face.

 

3

A slender man in a tailored black suit, white shirt and red tie walked around a red marble desk crossing the reception hall. The man wore rectangular glasses, not too small and not too big, perfect for his oblong face. He walked with a measured, silent step formed throughout the years of working and walking inside the museum walls. John was a strange man. He fitted perfectly inside the portrait gallery. His ability to melt together with the images of famous writers and painters allowed him to become invisible. But as soon as someone came too close to one of the paintings, he came to life, creeped up behind their back and whispered in their ear to keep distance. Because of his professional disfigurement he slightly inclined his upper body toward the people he talked to, as if he was hard-of-hearing. Small people felt like they were teenagers again, asking their teacher for permission to go to the rest room. Elisabeth found the first impression John made on people to be amusing. She knew he didn’t mean anything demeaning by it. Or maybe he did, she couldn’t really tell. His flamboyancy always figured her.

She hid in the bushes, watching him leaving the building using the backdoor, so that no one would notice the museum was open that day. As soon as he was out of sight, she ran to the door, but before walking in she looked straight into the camera hidden under the roof. There was no red light. The camera wasn’t recording.

It was smothering inside: the air conditioning was switched off. She couldn’t stand the heat, but she was willing to cope with that inconvenience. On walking in, she found an information sheet with what was going on in the gallery. Apparently, Hall 62 was under reconstruction. It was accessible, but there was nothing to see there. All the paintings were stored in the neighboring exposition hall. She was relieved to realize the paintings she wanted weren’t removed.

Illusionary, that’s how she perceived life. And illusionary was her crime. She couldn’t grasp the full complexity of it. That frustrated her because she saw herself as an observer: someone who had to register everything what went on inside her, around her and far away from her. Initially she used that attentiveness as a way of learning about the world and understanding it, absorbing every bit of information like a sponge. But at a certain point her desire for knowledge was quenched, not because there was nothing new to learn, but because that what was left wasn’t enough for her.

Since she was a little girl, she couldn’t understand why her soul was trapped in the small body she was born in. Even for her immature, still undeveloped brain she understood that there was more than just the little, limited world of her physical life in which her immense spirit was housing. She wondered why she wasn’t able to read other people’s minds. Once she asked her mother, why she was only aware of her own existence and could only sense her own physicality and thoughts but wasn’t able to do so with other people. That was the only time her mother, who knew all the answers, didn’t know what to say.

Years went by. Her troublesome worrying about the outer world she had no control over moved to the background. It got replaced by homework, studies, school and dealing with people. At some point, she figured out people’s rotten core and how to play by life’s rules to keep herself from trouble. The contact with others taught her that she didn’t want to know what went on in their mind and kept away from them. But the realization of the existence of her limitless spirit and its boundless capacity always stayed with her and forced her to question the mere reality of her surroundings. She thought and she sensed, therefore she had to be. But what about the others? Did they cherish the same doubts? Were they real or just an illusion? Was she a part of that illusion? What was the point of it? And why?

Because of her boundless thoughts and its compulsiveness, she went that far to cross the line. She wanted and she needed the money, but that motive was rather secondary underpinning. If the question were only about money, she would be able to control herself and mute those ideas in her head. The main initiative came from the inner voice taunting her asking whether she had the guts to do something like that. It followed her everywhere, vehemently repeating itself every morning when she woke up and every night when she couldn’t force herself to sleep. Eventually, she surrendered, not able to fight the mental temptation to prove to herself she could.

 

4

The second floor was her favorite part of the museum. The halls were spacious, broad, and long. There they exhibited paintings and sculptures from 1700 until 1870, when artists were talented and knew how to make art. It was unpleasantly cool compared to the suffocating reception downstairs. Elisabeth regretted she didn’t take a scarf with her.

Hall twenty-five was submerged in foliage green and humus brown. The main themes of the paintings were forests, romantic landscapes, animals, and villages. In the fairytale-like hall twenty-six Elisabeth livened up a bit. It was one of her preferred halls. On entering the gallery, she was welcomed by a huge painting of three husky knights on horseback, looking over some legendary land. The painting covered whole of the opposite wall of the room. There was a painting of a prince, holding tightly onto his princess, fleeing away from their pursuer on top of a wolf. And there was also a deranged looking sad girl who sat by a river and stared into the water. The three knights were flanked by three princesses from the Underworld on the one side and a tall full body portrait of a medieval king on the other side, severely looking down on anyone who dared to show himself in his majestic eyesight.

Hall twenty-seven enveloped her in the warm, reddish, sandy, sunny colors of the Eastern lands. But at the second glance the spectator got overwhelmed by shocking images of decapitated bodies and piles of human skulls. She stopped before one of those paintings and mused about how one day her skull would be symbolically added to that pile as well. Her job was to fill in the moment between now and that final sad point in the future with sense and lusciousness, so that when the clock would strike her last hour, she didn’t feel like she wasted her life on nothing.

She turned around and walked back through halls twenty-six and twenty-seven, to hall nineteen where the Black Sea hung. The title spoke for itself. It was a sublime, phenomenal painting. The author managed to make the dark water move ragingly when the spectator looked at it. It was terrifyingly realistic. It felt like you could lose your mind by staring at it for too long. On entering the exposition hall, she was unpleasantly surprised to find an empty golden frame hanging on the wall, with no painting in it. She ran to the red-purple hall twenty, Salome’s hall. That painting was also gone; there was just an empty golden frame.

The paintings couldn’t have been removed because of restauration purposes; nothing of the kind was mentioned at the information desk downstairs. Elisabeth walked nervously from one hall to the other, trying to figure out what could have happened to the paintings. Where they still inside the gallery? Were they used for another exposition? And if they were, how could she have overlooked that? She knew everything what went on and outside the gallery. She attended all the previous events and she was aware of the upcoming projects. She couldn’t have missed something as important as the temporal removal of Salome and the Black Sea. And even if they were removed in secret, why of all paintings the two she wanted to steal?

The terrifying and emotional paintings around her seemed to influence her mental state. Their negative energy weighed down on her, aggravating her anxiety. She tried not to look at the Grieving Woman, one of the larger works in the purple gallery. It was one of those paintings she called private. Private in the sense that what was portrayed wasn’t meant to be seen by others. It felt like she peeked through a keyhole. No one was supposed to witness the mourning of the Grieving Woman.

Elisabeth figured that maybe she would find information about the two paintings on John’s desk. The temperature in the reception hall seemed to have increased drastically since the moment she walked in. Her heart pounded rapidly when she tried to take a deep breath while walking across the room. She felt her lungs burning as she inhaled the hot still air. Panic got a hold of her heart. She was suffocating. Everything started to spin around her. The reception slowly turned into a huge marble oven. She felt the red marble under her feet sticking to her shoes as the columns supporting the ceiling were melting before her eyes. She ran back upstairs, to the galleries.

The painful drumming in her temples gradually subdued as she recovered laying down on a bench in the red-purple hall. Her eyes were resting on an exquisite large painting of a man sitting on a rock, somewhere in a desert. His once beautiful face looked tired, worried, and dirty from the dust. His cast down eyes showed the despair of every human being who found himself in a difficult, hopeless situation. It was a sad image, but in some way also a comforting one. It felt like she wasn’t alone in the mess she got herself into. Elisabeth was captivated by the serene divinity of his face. She frowned. A strange, roaring sound came from somewhere in the museum, disrupting the feeble beating of her pulse.

She got up and walked around the corner to find out what the possible cause of the strange sound could be. She froze in terror at the sight of a huge black wave forcing its way through the halls of the gallery. The violent wave crushed everything under its mighty weight. Paintings, statues, chairs, and benches were absorbed by the dark mass, disappearing in its horrendous abyss. The substance of the black water wasn’t liquid, but rather heavier and gummy like syrup.

She screamed hysterically at the top of her lungs. There was nowhere to run. There was no place to hide. Her eyes were drawn to the painting with the man on the rock. His eyes were looking straightly into hers. The black wave would hit her no matter what. She read the inevitability of what was going to happen in the man’s eyes. The man who sat on the rock. That was the last thing she saw before the wave covered her under a cold, black satin sheet.

 

5

Her back hurt from the cold marble she lay on. Her eyes needed time to adjust to the bright light of the gallery. She moved her fingers, arms, and legs. Nothing was broken. There were no bruises on her body. Her clothes and hair weren’t wet, as if there was no black wave. She turned on her side and looked around. She couldn’t remember the number of the hall but she knew it was the hall where John spoke to her for the first time. The hall of Morpheus. She loved that statue. She lay right under him. She looked up in his dead white marble eyes. A classic male beauty, reminding her of the statue of Emperor Commode. Had a man like that ever existed? The sculptor had to base his work on certain facial features, hadn’t he? The small wings on his head looked like devil horns. The first time she saw him she thought it was the devil himself.

She held herself up on the wooden column on which Morpheus stood and slowly got up. Her head spun. It felt like waking up in the middle of the night. An unnatural, irksome feeling as if her body weren’t hers. As if her spirit had to get used to her limbs and the circulation of blood to force the body out of its numbness. She rested her forehead on Morpheus. The nervous throbbing of her heart slowly lowered to its regular beat. Gradually, all the objects in the room regained their normal place and stopped moving in circles.

Where did that black wave come from? Why? What happened outside? Was there an inundation? Were the authorities aware of that? Was help on its way? All these questions raged through her head as she walked through the gallery. The wave brought her to the very heart of the museum. The core of the labyrinth. People got lost in there.

Some paintings were behind a glass. On walking by one of those paintings she noticed from her sideview someone’s reflection, walking right behind her. Elisabeth shrieked from surprise and briskly turned around. The pitch-dark eyes of an extremely beautiful, Eastern-looking woman scanned her from head to toe. Her long thick, vibrant black hair was contained under a transparent white veil, which covered her head, shoulders and back. The red and golden top and pantaloons left nothing to the imagination, practically exposing the voluptuous curves of her body. Golden rings and bracelets accentuated the softness of her olive skin. She walked barefoot.

Elisabeth: You scared me! I was looking for John, he told me he worked here on Sundays. But then I got hit by that wave! Are you from the staff? Do you speak English?

The woman repeated the word English with an accent Elisabeth never heard before, emphasizing the sh-sound. She wanted to ask her what other languages she knew, but the woman suddenly ran away from her. The jingling of the golden coins of her hip scarf and ankle bracelets resounded through the gallery. Elisabeth was about to follow the strange woman but observed with astonishment a change in the depth of the museum. The space elongated itself, making the distance between her and the halls before her unreachable. She closed her eyes, terrified of seeing the maelstrom of walls and ceilings dissolving in each other before her eyes. Something extremely disturbing was going on and she couldn’t really tell whether it was real or a deceptive visual interpretation of things. Slowly she opened her eyes and felt a relief to see the space in its normal, usual dimensions. The woman was gone as was the jingling of her garments.

A frightening, bone-chilling scream echoed through the gallery, penetrating to its every remote corner. It was a male voice. It sounded like John. Elisabeth called out his name. As a reply she heard another awful shriek begging her to help him. In panic, she ran into the direction where she thought the scream was coming from. Orientation. Elisabeth’s weak point. No matter where the sound came from, be it from above, from below, from right or from left, she could never tell.

The cries stopped abruptly. Instead, Elisabeth heard the jingling of the hip scarf coins. The woman was somewhere near. The sound got more distinct and louder with each step. Dizzy from spinning around, Elisabeth slowly fell on her knees, weak and exhausted. The woman appeared behind a corner at the other end of the gallery. With a slow measured step, she approached Elisabeth. She carried something on a silver plate, covered under a black sheet. She carried it with so much dignity, almost with piety, if it wasn’t for the blasphemous, playful jingling of the clamorous coins. She stopped before Elisabeth and waited patiently for her to get up.

Elisabeth looked up, but she didn’t perceive any emotion on the woman’s face, be it joy, confusion or even mockery. She just stood there. Her indifferent beauty sent a cold shiver down Elisabeth’s spine. She noticed a dark fluid running down her olive hands, dripping on the floor. The dark drops turned quickly into red when hitting the marble white tiles. She slowly got up and pulled the black sheet from the plate, to see what was hidden beneath it. The horrendous sight of John’s severed head in a pool of blood, his dead eyes looking up at her and the woman’s triumphant, cold stare made tears well up in Elisabeth’s eyes. She couldn’t scream; the shock was too great for her. She took a few steps back, producing wheezing sobs from her chest.

She released herself from the horrific spell the scary woman put on her and ran away. She ran without a clear goal, without direction, without a clue where she was running to. Only when she stumbled over work equipment and fell down a shallow excavation in the floor, she remembered she was in hall sixty-two where works were done. She hit her knee badly, causing it to bleed. She got up but didn’t dare to scream for help. John was dead. No one else would be in the gallery on a Sunday. There was only that awful woman roaming the haunting museum. The pit wasn’t that deep and she could reach with her hands to the edge of the floor, but she wasn’t strong enough to pull herself out of there. She had to take a break after several failed attempts to get out and many times falling on her bad knee.

She heard the roaring of the black wave filling the distant galleries. She had to get out of the pit, or else she would drown in there. The roaring got louder; it came closer. Her chest hurt from the heavy breathing and hitting multiple times against the pit walls. While holding herself up at the edge she felt a frigid thick liquid covering her fingers. The black water dripped off from the edge, slowly filling the excavation where Elisabeth was trapped. The black water reached up to her neck. It was like trying to get out of quicksand; it soon exhausted her. She closed her eyes and saw the man on the rock. He looked at her.

 

6

Old lady: Excuse me, young man. Could you show me the way to hall sixty-two, please?

John: There’s no hall sixty-two here, Ma’am.

Old lady: But why is it mentioned here in your brochure then?

The old lady handed over the brochure she took downstairs in the reception hall at the stand. John opened it on the page with the ground plan of the gallery. The ground plan showed the two floors of the museum: the reception hall with the rest rooms, the cafeteria, the gift shops, the vestibule, and the reception desk and the second floor with the different halls. To his surprise the lady pointed at hall sixty-two at the very back of the museum on the second floor.

John: Thank you for pointing out this mistake, Ma’am! It must be a printing error. I will let our administration know about this.

There weren’t as many visitors that day as usual. John loved his job; he liked the fuss foreign tourists caused when they lost their group. He liked telling enlightened and genuinely interested visitors about the history of the museum and the paintings stored in it. He liked to confront teenagers or not so adequate adults about their inappropriate behavior. But on that day, for some reason, he was happy it was so quiet in the galleries and he didn’t have to deal with daily problems. He walked up to his colleague Ken, who strolled around the museum, pretending he fixed some paintings, or his clothes, acting clearly bored.

John: Ken, could you keep an eye on my perimeter for fifteen minutes? I need a smoke.

Ken nodded in response. John walked out through the backdoor downstairs in the reception hall. At that time of day there were no people and cars in that part of L. It was the only city in the world where all the streets, no matter how clean or how dirty, looked like a set of an action movie. The empty silence created an inexplicable tension in the air, as if something were about to happen. And that staged atmosphere was what he loathed the most. He didn’t mind tourists, but he hated their enthusiasm and adoration of people with doubtful talents immortalized in concrete. Or that long queue of not so bright people who waited to take a picture next to the sign entering L. Yes, it was a famous sign, but not more than that. It wasn’t sculpted, it wasn’t painted, it wasn’t even made of expensive material. So why all this feigned excitement?

Nothing about that city was real. The buildings and metro entrances were a rip off from European architecture. The wealthiness and success were just a utopian add incorporated in simple people’s minds so well everyone believed it was a paradise on earth. Everything was fake; not only body parts, but also smiles and people in general. Even the conversations he heard on the streets were void, emptied of every emotion and logical sense. Sometimes he wondered if he was real. He had to be. How else could he explain his indignation and overall frustration with his surroundings, being the only one noticing the contradiction, the lies, the scam, the obnoxiousness of everyday life?

He lighted a cigarette and leaned against the wall of the museum. Inhaling the smoke and the heat of L., he looked over the palm trees to the azure blue sky. It rained that morning, but the clouds had almost cleared out. Unexpectedly, the sun appeared behind those remaining clouds, blinding John, and causing an unpleasant noise above his eyes when he closed them. He threw his cigarette away and walked back inside. A weird, almost eerie-looking young woman caught his attention. She studied a painting on the wall. She wore a long red summer dress and her long black hair was tied in a tall ponytail. He shuddered when she turned her face to him. Her dark eyes looked like they could rip his soul out. She wanted to ask him something.

John: How can I help you, Ma’am?

Woman: This painting, I’ve never seen this one before.

John: The author of this painting is unknown. Unfortunately, there’s not so much information about it out there. The painting was found in the basement of an old mansion here in the neighborhood. The founder sold it to our museum. The only thing we know about it is the title; it’s written on the back. The Last Hour of Lady M. And this also sheds a light on the subject portrayed. Lady M. was a wealthy woman in Eastern Europe who lived somewhere between 1610 and 1675, the year of her martyr death. Lady M. was a convinced follower of the Old Belief. She refused to convert to Christianity. The local landlord, when he heard of Lady M’s obstinacy, brought her to trial. Even under torture she refused to betray her true belief. She was convicted to death by starvation. She was brought to a convent, thrown into a deep pit she couldn’t get out of and left there to die. One night there was a great storm outbreak, causing an inundation about the convent. The pit got filled with water and drowned her. It’s a genius clair obscure! You see the beautiful yet atrocious contrast of Lady M’s pale face, the expensive red velvet of her clothes and the black, muddy walls of the pit she’s pressing herself against while it fills with water.

Woman: What an awful way to die! There’s nothing beautiful about it. That look in her eyes! Her sickly thin face. It’s as if I look at something private. She wouldn’t have liked it for everyone to see how she died. A woman of her stature, of her wealth, of her strong beliefs.

The weird young woman put on her sunglasses and walked out of the gallery. John looked at her as she opened the door and left the building. She was the strangest woman he had ever seen. He walked to his chair which stood right in between two portraits. While keeping an eye on everyone and everything in the gallery, he couldn’t help repeatedly looking on The Last Hour of Lady M. There was something about it which made him nervous. Something which was there on the surface, but he just didn’t manage to grasp it. He didn’t even like that painting or the style that much, he was more of a Jackson Pollock-type of guy. But he couldn’t keep his eyes from it. It was there. Maybe if he stared at it just a little longer, he would finally see it.

Suddenly, cold sweat broke out on his face. He needed another smoke. The expensive red velvet could go for a long red summer dress. The morbid pale skin. And those eyes. Those eyes that could rip one’s soul out. She almost did. Just a few minutes ago he talked to Lady M. herself! For years he stared at her while working in the museum. And she observed him all this time as well. Both not aware of each other’s existence. Both not aware of each other’s reality. With all the fakeness he had to cope with every day, he could swear Lady M. was the most realistic illusion he ever encountered. And probably, she represented reality. People didn’t like him, just because he was real. And he surely didn’t like her because she was also all too real.

FIN

 

 

 

 


Submitted: December 14, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Al Ashcott. All rights reserved.

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Comments

olive tree

Al, not to flatter you, but you are extremely talented! Every time I open one of your pieces, I'm immediately drawn in.

Tue, December 14th, 2021 11:14pm

Author
Reply

Hello Olive!

Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts with me. I'm glad to know that I'm able to attract someone's attention with my writings :)

Al

Tue, December 14th, 2021 3:26pm

CreativeMarauder

Oh wow.

Wed, December 15th, 2021 3:24am

CreativeMarauder

Oh wow.

Wed, December 15th, 2021 3:25am

CreativeMarauder

Oh wow was my initial reaction to the ending and my ongoing reaction to Booksie not saving my full comment two times in a row.

I enjoyed it, that twist at the end. Poor Elizabeth. I was expecting a mundane crime story, I'm glad you delivered something else entirely because the former would have been boring. This story felt very fresh to me. Unique is something I think that generally describes your work, the majority of it breaks new ground and this one is no exception.

Is this supposed to be a script or is it just what it is like "Artemision Doryphoros"? If it is a script, I admire that you write for your desired medium rather then just hoping for it to be adapted! If not I think the formatting "worked" regardless.

I think this one would have benefited from an additional proofread, there was a noticable number of Grammer mistakes but it didn't detract from my enjoyment. Do you think in English when you write it or do you have to translate in real time from your mother tongue?

Wed, December 15th, 2021 3:26am

Author
Reply

Hello my friend!

And again, thank you for your comment. Everyone who writes, unconsciously repeats everything what he (or she) has heard or read somewhere else before. Not specifically with the same words, using the same syntaxes, but adjusting the narrative their own way, adding or leaving out certain information. Like with that game 'telephone'. The original message of the first person in line is not the same when it reaches the person at the other end of it because somewhere along that line somebody added or deleted a word or two, or misheard something. I think the most original stories were written at the beginning of the times and since then people just repeated them to keep them alive.

And so do I. Salome already existed. Complicated, disappointed women like my Elisabeth also existed, and someone has already written about creepy encounters in museums. But into that constantly repetitive narrative I add my nightmares and dreams, my rational and irrational fears, and most importantly, I try to break the expectation of how a traditional plot or stereotype should develop and end.

This one wasn't meant as a script. I just sat down and wrote it, without having a particular goal of what exactly it was. Usually, it's my intuition telling me 'you should write that sentence down and build some messed up, confusing story around it only you would understand'.

Speaking of spelling mistakes: they've started in the title! :D LOL Actually, it's "Illusione Ottica", which means "optical illusion" in Italian. But I decided to change it when I heard another Al screaming "Attica" at the top of his lungs ;)

It's hard to tell in what language I think whenever I write. I speak six languages, mostly using three of them on a daily basis. So, there is Russian, my mother tongue. We moved to Belgium when I was little and here they have three official languages; Flemish, French, and German. The school I went to made us study all three of them. Later on, during High School and college (I studied Logistics) they added English and Spanish to it. Add to that that I constantly read, everyitme in a different language. I chose English to write my stories in, because this one, for me personally, seems the easiest to write. But it's difficult to pen my thoughts down, because sometimes English is insufficient to phrase my stream of consciousness. I guess I think in Russian-English, if that makes sense. I try to respect the English grammar and syntaxes, but it always morphs into something between Dutch/ Flemish - English.

Al

Wed, December 15th, 2021 12:56am

llywrch

Definitely not the kind of story I expected to find here. I made a few copy edit suggestions, but otherwise I greatly enjoyed reading it. I found this story reminiscent of either Julio Cortazar or Italo Calvino.

Tue, January 4th, 2022 4:15am

Author
Reply

Hello!

Thank you for your comment and the edit suggestions (I look into them this evening after work because I'll have to correct the file on my laptop too), I appreciate it! :) I'm curious now, what kind of stories were you expecting to find here then? :D

I haven't read these authors yet but looked them up on the Internet. They sound like something I'd enjoy reading too :)

Al

Mon, January 3rd, 2022 11:39pm

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