Work dragged even more slowly than usual. When nine o’clock came, I was the first one out. I was glad that the painting was wrapped in paper; I didn’t want to catch a glimpse of its glow-in-the-dark secrets in the trunk of my car—not when I could hang it in my room and do it right.
Only after my bedroom was blazing with light did I unwrap the new painting. I wondered how it would change in the dark. Would there be people in the streets? In the shops? Why, I wondered, were the streets so empty? Where was everybody? Even back then, New York was the city that never slept, right?
Suddenly, the house seemed too quiet. I turned away from the painting, fast, and turned off the lights.
“Jesus,” I breathed, shoving my fingers into my eyes as if I could erase what I’d seen, hoping for a half-second that I was hallucinating, or dreaming, or just wrong about the nightmare next to my bed. My hand hovered near the light switch for a moment; then, against all my better instincts, I moved toward the canvas instead.
What was painted there was so gruesome that it seared into my brain instantly, and I knew I could never scrub the memory from my mind. I wanted to look away. I needed to look away. I should have looked away, but I couldn’t.
Each building had become a face, and each face was in agony; each mouth pocked with crumbling and missing teeth; each eyeball rattling in a yawning socket; each hollow cheek reduced to nothing but skin stretched over skull. It was a row of prisoners, of victims, of ghouls, and each one seemed to be groaning, to be screaming.
Then I noticed a message written in the starless sky:
Ça vient pour moi, je crois.
I wasn’t scared—not really scared, anyway—so I don’t know why my fingers were trembling as I typed the words into my phone.
I think it comes for me.
If the first message was personal, this one was even more so: a warning, a threat, a cry for help.
And here I was, all alone, hearing it how many years later?
It was impossible to tell.
What happened to you? I longed to ask the artist. Instead, I took the painting off the walland carried it to my closet.
Then I changed my mind and leaned it against the wall, right next to the first painting.
They belonged together, after all. I sat in front of the paintings and forced myself to stare at the terrible one until it became familiar, the way bad things can be absorbed until you forget just how awful they really are.
After all, she had been brave enough to paint it. I could at least be brave enough to look.
By: Megan E. Bryant
Release Date: September 1, 2017
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