Black paint spattered the walls, unfinished streaks stretched from one side to the other in the bedroom. Everywhere else in the place looked as if it had been thrown onto the wall in haste. The floorboards were thick with dust, difficult to see in the darkness of the night sky. The pair slipped into the bedroom quietly, slowly letting the window slide closed behind them.
“You said an artist owned this place?” A young girl whispered across the darkness that shrouded the bedroom.
“Sure was, he and his wife. His wife passed away a few months back and he skipped town. I’ve been watching them for months. Whoever they paid to clean up didn’t do a great job.” A boy whispered back, long blond hair peeked out from beneath his mask and bounced as he made his way to the living room. The woman followed behind him closely as they crept around the upscale apartment, the walls still decorated with abstract paintings and wire sculptures. The furniture hadn’t been removed. Clothing was still strewn about the apartment as if the owners had picked up and left all of their belongings where they were.
She knelt beside the coffee table and carefully leaned down to inspect a small painting that had been left there. It depicted a woman with brown or black hair walking into the sunrise away from the frame. “This guy was good.” She whispered over her shoulder as her partner passed through to the other side of the apartment, checking for anyone who might still be asleep. He didn’t reply.
She continued perusing through the clutter of the place. The prior owners had stacked the kitchen chairs and dining table against the far wall, blocking a door that had been half painted, like the walls in the bedroom. She tightened her gloves as she stepped towards the haphazardly piled furniture and moved towards the kitchen on the other side. A pot of coffee had been brewed when people still remained there. She leaned close and found floating clumps of white mold covering the surface.
“Gross.” She wrinkled her nose and passed it by. Sitting atop the kitchen bar, she found a small pile of papers that had been taped to the front door. With a careful hand, she plucked them from the counter and began peeking through them. Each of them carried the same message. Notices of Eviction, seven times since they’d picked up a hint about the place the landlord tried to kick out whoever lived there, and yet, they never succeeded.
“You need to look at this.”
She jumped as her partner appeared in the kitchen beside her.
“Don’t do that.” She carefully placed the papers where they’d been found and followed him down the attached hall.
“This room is incredible.” He whispered as he took her hand.
He led her through the short hall and into an attached bedroom much larger than the one they’d entered. She stepped through and noted the size of the room with its own walk-in closet and attached bathroom, but she only gave them each a cursory glance as her partner clicked on his flashlight and closed the door behind them. She pulled her mask down briefly and stared, immediately picking up a vile scent that filled the room. She pulled her mask back up and stifled a cough.
“Yeah, I made the same mistake.” Her partner nodded, speaking up in the vacant room. She straightened her back as she realized no windows were present to give them away.
“Smells like sex.” She clicked her own flashlight on as the beam of light bathed the wall in front of her, illuminating a massive mural that decorated the entirety of the bedroom. Even the ceiling had been painted, brush strokes carefully laid out upon the walls that told a thousand stories.
“Sex and paint.” He replied, stepping closer to the King size bed, covered in the same black paint that had decorated the rest of the house. Enough of it that a mound had formed and hardened atop the duvet. He tapped it, and a hollow pop echoed through the room.
She couldn’t take her eyes away from the sight of the mural. As she passed her light across the wall, the relationship of these strangers unfolded before her. In the corner nearest the bathroom, it depicted a man, painted in blues and grays who was stiff and stationed beside a coffee shop table. A woman was painted entering the room, her long brown hair dancing in the wind, her countenance bright and red. Outside the door, the painting turned to a scene in a park while the two walked together, hand in hand. The trees themselves making up the ground for another image above that of the man in the painting on one knee. It continued this way, detailing snapshots of moments between the two of them as she watched in the past tense as the couple moved in together and began a life for themselves with mixed splotches of blues and whites, they married in a bright cascade of yellow and orange, the green trees above them casting blue shade onto their figures. They rode on a plane together and landed somewhere with tropical plants and trees, the intricately designed characters were surrounded by others who were less so. A brown-skinned man laid a ring of flowers across the woman’s neck and welcomed her.
“Vee, you won’t believe this.” The man’s voice crashed through the night like a bullet through glass as he stepped to her side. “It’s them.” He shoved a small notebook toward her, knocking her flashlight away from the mural.
Inside the notebook, there was a Polaroid of a couple, only a few years older than herself and her partner. On the base of the photo, a woman had penned a small note.
“Palmer and me, Hawaii, 2016. Honeymoon.”
“This is their life…” Vee spun her flashlight back to the mural as she watched the subject, Palmer, shower her with affection and love. They drank together by the ocean and danced in bright hues. They ventured through the islands together. As she spun around the room and followed the trail of images, Palmer returned home to start his own business. The woman in the paintings continued to shine, her countenance always brighter than his. The way she was painted, so careful. Vee leaned close to a figure of her in the mural nearby, and a short gasp escaped her lips.
“This Palmer guy, have you seen how much detail went into this painting. Look. His wife’s hairs are almost individually counted.” On each image of her, the way she was painted was almost too realistic. Palmer hadn’t slapped color down where color should have been, he decorated her appearance. The folds in her blouse were thicker with paint than in the places it would have been pulled tight. Her hair had been gone over with a fine brush and the glob of brown paint had been delicately manipulated to mimic real hair, even down to the frizz atop her head where the photo of them denoted a cowlick. Palmer had captured it all, and as she looked through each individual depiction of the woman it was the same.
“This guy was unreal.” She pulled her jaw closed as she continued watching their story unfold, nearly forgetting the sickening stench of the room. “The level of detail is beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.”
She turned to her partner, who had continued rifling through the dresser and nightstands. He tossed the contents onto the bed as he went. Combs, phone chargers, and pens littered the pile of dry ink on the center of the bed as he continued about his business, all but unconcerned with the mural.
“Are you listening?” She shined her flashlight towards him.
“I’m working. That’s what we came here to do. We don’t know when the new owner will come back.”
She rolled her eyes. “There’s a layer of dust on everything here, I doubt we should worry about that.”
In response to the silence that followed, she ducked out of the room and back into the living room area. She panned through notes and boxes, finding nothing of particular value before she ducked into the guest bedroom they’d entered through. There, she found more haphazard blotches of black paint and photos of Palmer and his wife, whose name, she discovered from one of them, was Natasha. The guest bedroom was much like the first, filled with the remains of a life put on hold. Clothing scattered about the floor and half-filled glasses of water. Some with dirty paintbrushes still standing amid the cloudy mix of paint swirled within. The brown-grey of the cups covered with a fine layer of mold, not unlike the coffee pot.
“This place is disgusting.” She chirped, leaving the guest bedroom after she nabbed a diamond necklace resting on the bedside table. She glanced quickly down at the heart-shaped medallion that held the gem and found an inscription.
She slipped it into her pocket and made her way across the room to the pile of furniture stacked against the final room. She took her flashlight into her mouth and bit down as she carefully pried the tangled mess of chairs away from themselves. One by one, she worked her way through the stack and set each one behind her ways as her partner continued rummaging through the master bedroom. Every few moments she’d hear him slide open another drawer, or pop the lid off of another box. She continued this way for a few minutes before she pulled the final chair away from the door, and noticed it bulging out toward her.
She paused. “Mick?” She whispered as loudly as she could. The rummaging from the bedroom halted.
“Come here.” She backed away as her partner emerged from the darkness and met her, seeing the door for himself.
“Have you ever seen that before?” She swung the light towards the frame of the door, where it no longer met the wooden edge. The whole thing from top to bottom had bowed out a few inches away from the frame. In the center, a small crack had formed across the paneling.
“Think that’s what we’re looking for?”
“Netzach said this was a big job. I hope so.” He shrugged, gripping the chair. “Stand back.”
She stepped to the side as Mick yanked the chair away from the handle and the door burst open. Viscous black liquid crashed through the opening and filled the room.
“Shit.” Vee turned out her light as the door banged against the wall. The black liquid seeped out, splashing against their boots and jeans as it filled the living room and soaked into the carpet.
“What were we here for?” She stepped through the muck, pulling her boot out of it with a wet pop as it refused to let go. “This shit is like glue.” She’d dropped her quiet cadence. Any hope of remaining unheard had gone out the window with the door slamming into the wall.
“This looks like the place.” Mick shrugged, pulling a small piece of paper from his pocket. He examined it for a moment, the thick creases in the delicate paper threatening to tear itself apart at any moment.
Vee took a delicate step towards the room, drenched in the ichor. With each step closer to the room, she could feel a pull on her emotions. Something nudging her gently from within. She put a hand over her nose as she passed through the doorway and inhaled a deep breath of the same rotten smell that permeated the rest of the apartment. Inside the room, beneath the thick layer of glossy ink there hung canvases all over the walls. Seven of them decorated with once ornate frames which had all been covered with a thick layer of black paint. On the far wall, there was a small piece of paper stuck to the wall, surrounded by a thick layer of black ink that pulled on her soul.
“Careful,” Mick whispered from behind her as he stepped into the room.
Vee ignored him. Another step closer, she heard a distant sound. A woman crying. She turned back to her partner with a raised eyebrow as she reached the small piece of paper, an edge of it cracked free from the shell of dry black paint.
“I think this is what he was looking for.” She put a finger to the edge of the paper and felt the sharp edge poke into her glove. She whipped her hand back to her chest as the sting of the cut pulsed through her finger.
“I said, careful,” Mick repeated as he stepped to her side. The thick muck of the ink on the floor dragging them down into itself. He produced a small glass box and a pair of metal tongs from within his bag and went to work carefully removing the black piece of paper from the wall, where he slid it into the glass. Once he’d secured the lid and put the tongs away, he rotated the box quickly around and saw that on the other side, there was another immaculate painting of a woman. This one different than the last. Her slender body crumpled on the ground with her hands to her face.
Vee took the box and stared at her, inspecting the quality of the painting as she had before. This one still, despite being pressed to the wall, was painted with great care. The frills of her dress and minute details of her hair represented in the paint, but something about it wasn’t right. The sound of the woman crying had all but disappeared as Mick had closed the lid.
“Mick this is what we’re looking for, I know it.” She stared down at the woman, the faint crying barely audible from the other side of the box.
“I know.” Mick turned around and made his way out of the studio while she stared down at the painting as the crying became a muffled scream, a tormented howl, and then the woman in the painting moved. She turned her head and looked, and Vee’s blood ran cold.
She ran out of the studio and slammed the glass box into Mick’s backpack and cinched it closed.
He turned to face her as she passed by him. “You’re right.”
The sounds of pounding footsteps echoed from down the hall, approaching the front door. The pair ran back into the guest bedroom and leaped out the window, landing hard on the fire escape beside them.
“No time to move slow,” Mick whispered as the front door to the apartment banged open and a man shouted.
“I know you’re here, what do you want?” The action of his pistol echoed out the door.
“Let’s go.” Vee closed her eyes and pressed her hands together. Mick mimicked her actions as they turned toward the city, traffic bustling below them. The sound of the woman’s scream continued in her mind. Distant, but present.
The pair opened their eyes and spoke in unison.
“Light as a feather.”
Then… they jumped.
The owner burst through the door, his pistol raised towards the depths of the darkroom. He scanned the entryway and passed into the living room where the door to Palmer’s studio hung wide open. The black ink that had been building within soaked into the carpet. He lowered his gun and turned to the guest bedroom where a lone window was open, and the cool Seattle night air drifted through into the apartment.
“Shit.” He stepped towards the window and saw two figures falling to the pavement below. They landed and began running before jumping up. They floated from their jump to the top of a roof across the street and then disappeared into the dark night.
He turned back and ran to the master bedroom, where the whole place had been ransacked. Palmer and Natasha’s belongings scattered across the room. Dresser drawers ransacked, a large chest laid atop the bed wide open. It’s contents spilled likewise across the room.
He looked inside the chest to find it devoid of everything he’d stored within.
“Damn angel…” he grumbled, reaching across the bed to a small cup filled with clear water, and a tube of red paint. He scanned the painting until he found an image of Palmer lying in a meadow enjoying a bright sunny morning. He unscrewed the paint and sighed.
“My love, it’s time to go.” Natasha’s voice hung sweetly in the air, every day she’d repeated the same phrase. She woke him from the grass, each day at the same time. It was a perfect cycle. One that he had cherished for months. His afternoon nap in the fields outside the village had become one of his most cherished memories. He opened his eyes and found that this day was not the same as the others as Natasha did not arrive alone. Kanuha was with her, and his face was grim.
“What’s the matter?” He sat up.
“Brother, you should see this.” Kanuha turned and went back toward the village without waiting for a reply. Palmer jumped up. Something was wrong. He could feel it. He took Natasha by the hand and dragged her back to the village walls, where the townsfolk had all gathered in the center beneath a great sign. The sky above them displaying an Omen, something he’d warned them about for years. This one, crimson red. He paused with his wife beneath the bloody sky as Kanuha read the words.
“Palmer, June is gone. I need you.”
He skin prickled at the message.
“The time has come, then.”
Kanuha turned to him and embraced him. “I’ll keep things safe for you, while you’re away.”
Natasha gripped his hand and gave him a long kiss. When she released him, he embraced her and spoke into her ear.
“My love, do you remember Bryan?” He paused. Of course, she didn’t. “I need to take some time away, I have an important job to do right now. I will be back as soon as I can. Kanuha will watch out for you while I’m gone.”
She pulled away, her brow furrowed and her eyes glassy. “What do you mean?”
Palmer didn’t reply. He closed his eyes and remembered the world outside of his own. Then vanished, leaving behind a spatter of white ink as he sunk into the ground.
He opened his eyes and appeared in the bedroom beside his old friend, Bryan, who had thrown the paint to the dresser of his old apartment.
“Someone took her, Palmer. I need you to get her back.”
“So that was it then, a perfect moment ruined by the lack of a security system. I knew I should have installed one before I left.”
Bryan slipped a thick knife from his overcoat and handed it over. “I don’t think those thieves know exactly what they took.”
Palmer didn’t ask any further questions. He turned back towards the living room with the knife in hand and looked around the room, seeing the Chroma of their emotions displayed in a wide array as they passed through the room. In the nearest image, a woman, her Chromatic echo warping with each step, uncertainty in pale blue, worry in orange. As he traced her path through the unused apartment, he paused by the coffee pot. The last pot Natasha ever brewed. He followed her through the kitchen into the master bedroom where his dear wife still laid, encased in the ink of that vile monster. Her worry became verdant green wonder as she stayed and inspected the mural he’d depicted. Then her echo moved from the bedroom back into the house, to the guest bedroom and eventually the studio where he paused. Beneath him, the fresh Chroma of June seeped into the carpet, and he tensed. He put a foot down into the black ink and felt her inside him again. Her carnal rage and desire flooded him.
“My Palmer dear, I’ve missed you.” Her gentle voice pierced his mind. His stomach turned.
He pushed on into the room despite the sensation. He followed the girl’s Chroma. The wonder she carried from the mural into the studio quickly dimmed and warped as it shifted to a deep red. Fear.
Bryan stood behind him with his hands in his pockets, watching him work.
“There were two,” Palmer muttered. “One of them took her prison from the wall.” He slammed his fist into the clear rectangle where he’d imprisoned her. White ink shot from the impact. “Those kids are dead, Bryan.”
The ink from his strike recoiled away from the upper right corner. He noticed it pull back, and a cold bolt of terror struck him. There, the smallest blotch of red hung on the corner of the bare wall. Her blood.
“I’m sorry Bryan.” A tear fell from Palmer’s from his eye. Funny thing, he didn’t feel any sorrow. “You aren’t going to like this.”
Bryan shuffled around behind him. “I suppose not.”
“The girl got cut.” Palmer looked back to the paint, the blood. “I have to help them.”
Bryan nodded. “Be careful, I can’t save you twice.”
Palmer nodded, and then licked the blood off of the wall.
It came quickly, the sudden and overwhelming sound within her mind. She kept her focus as she floated to the next rooftop, but as soon as her feet touched the edge of the roof the voice of a man shouting at her overwhelmed her. Mick, who had been a few feet behind her, fell out of the air and plummeted to the street below. She was sure he’d shouted out for her, but she couldn’t hear him as a man’s voice ruptured her thoughts.
“Whoever you are, you’ve made a mistake.” He barked, she whipped around and peered over the ledge, and saw Mick’s body on the sidewalk below. She didn’t think, just jumped.
“Be Light.” She closed her eyes as she sailed down the side of the building. She knew the Bond was broken, if Mick was dead she would be going out too. Another voice emerged from her subconscious as she fell.
“My child, you’ve done such a wonderful thing today.” A woman’s voice. She began laughing.
Vee sank through the air as she held her hands together, fingers knotted like she’d practiced. Without a Bond she would only be half as effective, perhaps it would be enough to slow her fall. The wind bit at her face as the windows flew past her upward. Above her, a streak of white light shot through the sky.
Mick was close, she realized. She glanced down for a moment and saw the world turn dark before her. She was dead. Dead after a successful job. “Light” she repeated to herself as she fell. The ground accelerated to meet her, Mick’s tangled body splayed out in a pool of blood that covered the sidewalk. A crowd had gathered. She slammed her eyes closed.
“You have many questions, I’m sure.” The man’s voice spoke again. It didn’t matter. She was feet away from the impact. The crowd gasped. A band of white shot through beneath her, and nestled atop Mick’s body was a small photograph of the top of the roof she’d just jumped from. She fell and braced herself for the end. Her eyes jammed closed, her heart pounded.
“I’m so sorry Mick.”
She struck the pavement, her foot made contact and she gasped, preparing for impact.
Then she continued falling.
She opened her eyes and realized she was hundreds of feet above the rooftop, right into a large red pool of… ink? She panicked and shouted out. “Light, light, light. Be Light!”
The red pool of ink began to swirl and change, brightening to a muted yellow. She fell and landed in the pool and slowed to a stop, safely.
She looked around her as the yellow ink began to disappear, vanishing into the stone as if it had never existed in the first place. It drained from her clothing as it retracted, and a slender man approached. The man from the paintings.
“Palmer?” She choked the word out through a panicked cough.
“And you are?” He extended a hand to pull her up. She took it.
“Vee.” She peered over the edge where Mick’s crumpled body was piled on the floor, the distant sounds of an ambulance echoing through the neighborhood. “What happened?”
“You tried to kill yourself.” Palmer leaned against the ledge that overlooked the city. “I don’t want you to kill yourself quite yet.”
She recognized him for more than his appearance in the paintings, he was the voice that had shouted to her.
“What do you want?”
“I want what you took.” The painter replied, looking out over the city. She watched him for a moment, standing there in the night, his body covered in dry white paint. “What are you?”
“I am what is going to make sure you don’t get yourself killed.”
She scoffed. “By what?”
Below, the crowd that surrounded Mick screamed in unison. Vee ran to the ledge and looked, watching a black swirling mass emerge from beneath his body. Long, jointed legs emerged from the mass as it sprawled out around his body and grew. The swirling blob formed into a series of small sections, connected together by strings of red and white sinew and muscle as a long centipede-like creature emerged from her partner’s corpse. The crowd ran, shouting and screaming as they trampled their way away from the scene, and from one end of the twisting, jointed mass, a woman’s torso emerged. She laughed and began crawling away from the scene, hoisting Mick’s body into her arms as she climbed up a building across the street and disappeared from view.
“That, Miss Vee.”
The tail of the thing wrapped around the building and vanish into the darkness as she fell back to the concrete.
“That is what will one day kill you.”
There will be no end to the screaming.
Thank you, for coming to hear a new story from the Otherwhere. This is only the beginning. I hope to see you back over the next few days until the end of this year. These are not only retellings of a world long ago. They are a recorded history, a warning for all of us. I am merely the vessel they are speaking through. I hope you share these warnings with as many as you can. The time is not long now. Do not be afraid of the shadows.
I’d love to hear from you on Social Media if you have it, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed thus far. I’ll be back with more.
See you soon.