Welcome to StoryTime Blog Hop, Halloween edition! Here is my contribution, please check out the links at the bottom for the other participants. Happy blog hopping!
The first time Kelly saw the picture, he was struck with how ugly it was. The girl in it was pasty-pale, her cheekbones jutting too sharp over grey hollows. Her eyes were flat, sullen black disks, and her dark hair faded into the splotchy brown background in erratic swirls. Whoever the painter was, it looked like he’d resented every sloppy brush stroke of this.
The picture belonged to Uncle Algy, who had a store of what he called “antiquities and collectibles”. What anyone would want with shabby old chairs or fifty-year-old model trains, Kelly didn’t know. But apparently, someone was buying these things, because Uncle Algy still occupied his dusty, dim-lit corner store between Main and Church Street, even though Kelly’d never seen a customer inside, in all the years he’d spent his afternoons there, waiting for his mum to pick him up.
Uncle Algy had a perpetual scowl between his bushy eyebrows, hidden in his tangled beard, but he never minded if Kelly poked around the shop.
So when he loomed up behind Kelly’s shoulder and asked “What’ve you got there now?”, Kelly showed him the picture. He didn’t expect for Uncle Algy to rip it out of his hand. “Keep your hands off of that, boy!” he thundered.
“It’s just an ugly picture!” Kelly’s voice cracked on the last word, squeaking up into a child’s defensive plea.
Uncle Algy bent down, swept up the grey cloth Kelly’d found the picture under, and wrapped it back up.
“It’s not ‘just’ anything!” Kelly thought he could see dust sift from the ceiling beams from the volume of Uncle Algy’s voice. “It’s cursed, this damn thing is, so you just forget you ever saw that!”
“Yeah, right,” Kelly grumbled, but the look Uncle Algy gave him was so withering that he kept the rest of his opinion to himself.
Cursed. What did that even mean? It was just an ugly old picture.
He didn’t forget about it. Instead, he kept thinking about it all weekend. He wanted to sneak another look, to follow the swirl of paint in the grey hollows of the girl’s cheeks, to see if there was really nothing more to the blank blackness of her eyes.
So the next week, he went searching for it. It took him until Thursday to find it, and with every day, he got more curious to see it again. He knew it was a little silly, but when he finally found it, stuffed between dismembered dolls’ limbs in a box under the counter, he brushed the grey cloth aside with careful hands.
And there it was: pale girl, wild hair, smudged brown background. It was the same as before, and he wondered why he hadn’t been able to get it out of his head. There was something– something about those black eyes. It was, he thought, the way they seemed to stare right at him even though they were so flat. How did they do that? Well, there, he realized– there was the tiniest dab of white in the black, a pin-prick of reflected light, there was a subtle sheen of blue to give them depth, to outline the shadow of her eyelashes…
Once again, the picture was ripped out of his hands, hard enough to leave a splinter in the thin skin next to his thumb. He sucked on it, glared up at Uncle Algy.
This time, Uncle Algy didn’t yell. “Out,” he said, and pointed to the door.
“It’s hours until Mum comes!” Kelly protested, but it was futile: Uncle Algy threw him out of the shop. And when Kelly’s mum finally showed up, he told her Kelly wasn’t welcome there anymore. His mum was as confused as Kelly was, but there was no reasoning with Uncle Algy. Kelly ended up having to wait in the library after school.
The library wasn’t half as interesting as Uncle Algy’s shop.
Kelly’d never considered whether he liked the shop or not, but now that he had to while away the hours in the too-clean, too-cheerful library, he realized it was home– more, certainly, than whatever flat he and his mum ended up living in.
And all because of a stupid picture.
He wanted another look at the picture– a proper one, without interruptions. And once he’d done that, he’d get rid of it, and tell Uncle Algy, and then maybe he could go back to the dim golden-brown light and the smell of dust and wood and ageing paper.
Uncle Algy always hid the key under the flowerpot by the back door. So on Saturday evening, when his mum left for her yoga class, Kelly fluffed his pillow and blankets into a semblance of a sleeping person, left his window open by a crack so he could sneak in later, and hopped on the bus into town.
The sun was sinking golden behind the roofs, and the bus was full of people dressed up for a night out.
Uncle Algy’s shop stood silent in the dusk.The street lamp outside threw foreign orange beams of light through the dusty window panes, rendered the trains and the chairs into alien shadows.
Kelly hesitated. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe he should just go back home.
But he was already there, and he’d brought a flash light, and really, it was just Uncle Algy’s shop. What was the worst that could happen?
So he set to searching. Of course the picture wasn’t in the box with the doll parts anymore. Neither was it hidden between the faded books on the shelves, or among the creepy frames of pinned butterflies and beetles.
No, it was in the weirdest place of all: in the corner with the other paintings.
It was late by the time he found it, and Kelly knew he’d soon have to leave to catch the last bus. But he had a few minutes yet, enough for a quick peak.
He took the picture to the front of the shop, where the street light made it marginally brighter. He hopped onto the counter, and unwrapped the small frame in his lap. He studied it in the mingled orange and white glare from his flash light and from outside.
It was still ugly. The girl’s hair writhed up around her face, and her mouth was so narrow and pale that he could hardly see it in this light. Her black eyes stared straight at him.
He found that little speck of white, the subtle tint of blue. The longer he looked, the less flat her eyes seemed. There was something… A gloss. A… reflection. He raised the picture and his flash light, searched for… There. Another tiny dab of colour, light-blue. A fleck here, a breath there. He juggled the flash light to see better. It was… there was a form. A shape. The closer he looked, the clearer it became. Her black eyes pulled him in. Colour came together, and he could almost make it out, almost…
It was a dim figure limned in light, orange and white.
The black surged up like an ocean wave, swallowed him whole.
The first time Erica looked at the picture, she was struck with how ugly it was. The boy’s face was thin, his colour uneven. His hair was a random swirl of reddish brown, his eyes the colour of mud. The brushwork was awkward, going this way and that, like the painter had been confused, hadn’t known what he was doing.
She smiled a little, and tucked the picture frame into her bag before she let herself out of the shop onto the night-time street. It wouldn’t do to look into those dull eyes for too long. It wouldn’t do at all.
(Now with updated links arranged in proper hopping sequence)
- Peg Fisher All In the Fall, a Fractured Fairytale
- Bill Bush Trapped
- Crystal Collier Emily’s Ghost
- Viola Fury 911
- Benjamin Thomas Autumn Cascade
- C. Lee McKenzie Beautiful
- Erica Damon Penance’
- J. Q. Rose Sorry
- Elise VanCise Lady In The Woods
- Barbara Lund Spooky Space
- Angela Wooldridge Quiet Neighbours
- Katharina Gerlach Australian Dream
- Karen Lynn The Waves at Midnight
- Sherri Conway Ants
- Elizabeth McCleary Over James Henry Wilcox Dead Body
- Juneta Key Shiny People substituted story