Don stopped typing and looked at the last passage he wrote about a horrendous murder in his hometown:
“The Burke family was slaughtered in their beds. Parents and the two children had their throats slit. No clues left behind. Investigators baffled about motive.“
As the lone reporter for the local newspaper he had to write about the murder. He didn’t want to sensationalize it, but the editor insisted. One side of his brain said tamp the story down. The other said quit worrying and do your job.
The last thing he wanted to do was bring unwanted attention to himself!
Clem got off his worn-out horse. The poor creature was near death after three days of running from his tracker who he suspected was a bounty hunter.
His crime, killing a man in self defense. No trial.
Took his saddle and warbag off his horse, turning him loose. In the horizon he saw a cloud of dust. A rider. Maybe an hour away. The blazing sun was merciless. He was out of water. Only one bullet left in his revolver.
This was his last stand. Finally, the rider drew near.
“Is that you Clem?” his brother cried out in surprise.
Tom heard scratching at the front door and turned to his six-year-old sister Sara to see if she heard it. She was clutching her rag doll and he could see by the fear in her eyes she had and was looking for guidance.
He wished their parents were home while clutching the pistol. They had to go to town, a days ride from the ranch. At nine, he was considered old enough to be in charge.
It was snowing outside and the wind whistled through the wooden cabin like a banshee.
Tito refused to come out when they called his name. If he let his hostage go he worried they’d kill him. He prodded the janitor in the back with the tip of his knife as he considered his predicament.
The crowd thought he’d killed the coach’s daughter. It was a matter of time before they rushed the gym and overpowered him. Desperate, he let the janitor go with a message that he was innocent of any crime.
The crowd outside rushed in with weapons!
“Stop!” The coach’s daughter suddenly shouted from the top of the bleachers.
That top sirloin steak was the tastiest meat I ever did eat. Folks in the hills would be green with envy if they saw what I just finished packing down.
Beside that 16 oz. steak, I had a lobster, a baked potato, and some steamed collard greens with gravy on them. I followed that up with some rhubarb pie topped with vanilla ice cream. I have to say, it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten.
And its the last meal I’ll ever eat. Crime don’t pay.
Storm clouds gathering as the endless line disappeared in miles of concrete jungles surrounded by crumbling buildings.
The edge of reality and civilization.
The line’s inhabitants dumbly moving forward, like lemmings on a mystery tour. Rumors of food and shelter passed up and down the line, giving some hope. Most were skeptical, having been in the line for an eternity.
The storm clouds never seemed to go away. Always looking like they were going to burst any second, causing a catastrophic flood where they would be no safe places.
No one knew if there was an end to the line.
(Author’s note: I continue to experiment with telling a story in 100 words. What do you think about this format?)
“Don’t be startled. I know it’s not everyday that a voice comes from a wooden box. I get that. Just think what a novelty this fine piece of craftsmanship will be at your parties. Especially if people hear my voice.
“The auctioneer has no idea that I talk. I didn’t like him from the moment my last master decided to sell me. He thinks I’m just an heirloom from the 17th century. The fool has no idea what he’s missing out on. You, on the other hand, appear to be an intelligent person open to the mysteries in life. The fact that you’re still standing here looking at me suggests an active interest. Well, my friend this is your lucky day. Successfully bid on me and I’ll share arcane knowledge that will give you mastery over men and beasts. Good luck.“
Bernard Crackerton II looked around the lobby to see if anyone else heard the voice. The small group of people seemed more interested in the paintings and sculptures on the other side of the room. They talked in hushed tones, pointing at the artwork and bantering about prices. None of them noticed Bernard. He looked around self-consciously. A talking wooden box wasn’t normal. The last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to himself so he went to the main room and got his auction paddle with a number on it. Finding a seat in the rear of the rows of chairs, he sat down and opened the auction guide booklet. On the last page he found the wooden box. It was listed as a 17th century German Fugured Walnut Marquetry Document box…$4,300.00. There wasn’t any additional information on it. The price didn’t concern him. He was a successful day trader with a net worth of 14 million dollars. Going to auctions and searching for rare and interesting objects was his one big passion. At 31-years old, he was considered a real catch in Boston society. He dutifully attended events where he rubbed shoulders with the wealthy and powerful, always searching for information that would help him make money on the stock market.
He realized he was day-dreaming about the talking box when he was startled by a sudden applause after the sale of a Warhol print. The auction was winding down as he patiently waited for the box to be brought up for sale.
“Last, but not least, we have this beautiful 17th century German Fugured Walnut Marquetry Document box. Here we go… $4,300 dollars! Do I hear $4,300 dollars?
Bernard looked around the room. People were leaving and no one made a bid. He stood up and called out “$4,300!” while holding up his paddle.
“Sold! To the gentleman in the rear…number 181.”
After paying for his prize Bernard took it home to his penthouse on downtown Boston. He was pouring himself a 1988 Chateau LaFite Rothschild when the voice said, “Thank you.“
He was startled at first then looked at the wooden box and said, “Oh, it’s you.”
Holding up his glass he said “Cheers!” After taking a sip he set the glass down and opened the box. Lifting the lid back, he exposed the simple interior. He examined it closely, running his fingers around it, looking for some hidden clue to the voice. Nothing. He reluctantly closed it. He couldn’t find a hidden drawer.
“I hope you’re not disappointed that there’s nothing inside,” the Box said.
“It does poise a mystery. I expected to find a hidden trinket that would lead me to the source of your voice.“
“You don’t seem to think that a voice coming from a wooden box is odd.”
“Of course, I do. That’s why I bought you. I’m open to the mysteries that surround us all every day. One of the many reasons I go to auctions is I’m seeking rare and unusual items. One never knows what they’ll find. You’re a perfect example.”
“I have a confession to make. I don’t have arcane knowledge to pass on to you. I just wanted out of the storeroom where they kept me. It was really boring. I was getting desperate when you came along. It was really my lucky day.”
“How nice…for you. I don’t mind as long as you talk with my guests when I ask you too.“
“No can do.”
“What! Why not?”
“Because, I’m inside your head.“
“That’s not possible! I’m not crazy. I heard you clearly the first time, and I hear you right now,” Bernard lashed out defensively.
“Why do you think no one else heard me in that room when you were looking me over?
“Damn you! Stop messing with my head!”
He stumbled across his display room holding his hands over his ears. In an attempt to get away from the voice he picked up one of his treasures and held it up in his hand. A 1941 Vacheron Constantin 18k Gold Tear Drop watch. A masterpiece of engineering.
Then it said, “You’re going to have to get use to it Bernard!“
“No!” he screamed and threw the watch down so hard it shattered the glass over the numbers.
Shaken to the core he reached out for a Byzantine Silver Oil Lamp with a Lion handle. For seconds he held it…waiting for the voice to return. When the Lamp suddenly roared, he dropped it in terror and backed up into a display case.
A pair of Victorian Brass Gothic Revival Altar Candlesticks began to laugh at him! His prized 1863 Burmese Repoussee Silver Bowl joined in on the laughter. When the Thai Sandstone Buddha head began to talk he screamed again!
He kept screaming until his throat was swollen and raw, and the night turned to day. He was crawling around like a frightened animal as rays of sunlight streamed through the open shutters. He looked fearfully at his “treasures” and whimpered, “I’m not crazy...it’s my active imagination.”
Getting up his courage, he stood and took a few hesitant steps towards the hallway.
“Where are you going Bernard?” his trophies called out.
“That’s enough!” he shouted. He ran over to a row of shelves and grabbed an ancient Roman Green Stone knife and waved it around wildly.
“It all started with you,” he accused the silent wooden box.
“I’ll show you whose crazy!” he screamed, while slicing his own throat.
As It Stands, we never know when (or even if) we could go crazy.
Alouette Arsenault was cursed with the ability to paint anything.
That’s the way she looked at her talent. Her work was so realistic it actually looked like photographs of people and landscapes.
It was the people part where the curse came in.
Alouette was a simple country girl born in the south of France in 1565.
When her mother was burned at the stake for being a witch, she was taken by her aunt Aimitee, who raised her from an infant in a hut located in the middle of the Aquitaine forest.
It was her ability to depict things around her in charcoal at an early age that caught Aimitee’s attention. She watched Alouette draw imaginary friends and the world around her with pride. She was a born artist who deserved to work in more lasting mediums.
When Alouette turned fourteen, Aimitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there, and he took them in. With his help, and the money Aimitee made sewing people’s clothes, she was sent to a nearby art studio.
As the only female there, she suffered constant indignities, but the master, Ferdinand Elle, let her stay after interviewing her aunt. When shown examples of her work he was impressed. He saw something that none of the jealous young male artists in his studio had going for them; Alouette was a natural artist with an exceptional eye for detail. It was that eye for detail that most impressed Elle. He was astounded at the confident ease with which she quickly rendered her work. His instinct told him she was something special. Otherworldly even.
Using oil on canvas, Alouette painted her first portrait at fifteen years-old. It was of a minor city official. Elle allowed her to have the commission, and to paint her customer in the studio. After studying the client’s face, she saw a hint of a shy smile. When she was finished the client was overjoyed with her work. From that point forward he was a transformed man. Where once he spent all of his time worrying about things, he was now impossibly happy. His life transformed.
Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before new clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. It came as no surprise to Elle who decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.
Alouette didn’t make the connection with how happy her first client’s life became. How could she? She never saw him again. Nor was she aware of her second clients transformation who insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose). When his portrait was complete his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.
This went on for over a year. She painted clients whose lives changed for better or worse afterwards. Leading a hermit-like existence she was content to stay in her little bubble and paint. Elle watched proudly as each work became a masterpiece.
But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after Alouette painted their portraits. Some noted that there lives had improved and they were happier. But others talked about people being so sad after getting their portrait painted, they committed suicide. Rumors spread claiming that she worked for the devil and had signed an evil pact with the dark lord. Her growing infamy swirled through the streets of Paris, fueled by fears that she was practicing witchcraft on them.
People became more and more concerned it was the devil’s work. Worse, it was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were being burned at the stake, hung, or drowned in trials designed to see if they were a witch. The mania descended upon Paris like a plague with groups of witch-hunters prowling the streets.
Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she began refusing to paint anymore clients Elle took her aside and asked, “What’s happening little one?” even though he’d also heard the rumors.
“I cannot paint any longer master Elle,” she said.
“I knew you were a witch a long time ago. That’s because I’m a warlock!”
“Witch!” she cried out in shock. “You mean, I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.
“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. I’ve been meaning to tell you this. Trust me. It will be your greatest work, I assure you. Now listen to me. One of the many reasons you’re such a talented artist is because you have a great memory.
“We must put this memory to the test. I will walk with you through town and you must pay attention to everyone you see, especially city officials. Fix their faces in your wonderful memory as we stroll through the streets.”
It only took her three days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of all the people of Paris. They all had big smiles as they went about their daily routines. Elles hid the final product, which was titled, “Gay Parie in the Springtime,” in a secret vault below the studio. As long as the masterpiece remained intact, peace and tranquility would be assured for all Parisians. The witch hunts came to a halt afterward.
The mania that had infected the city was gone, allowing Alouette to once again move freely about in society. But her desire to paint was no longer there. She became wary of her powerful ability to affect people’s lives and eventually decided to quit painting altogether.
Her gratitude to Elle was endless. The old warlock had taught her many things. By revealing her power he opened up her inner eye, unlocking mysteries from her unconscious mind. When the time came to move on Alouette wept and kissed her mentor.
She left Paris for the countryside to live with her aunt Aimitee, disappearing into the dusty footnotes of history.
As It Stands, I’ve often wondered why there weren’t more women artists during the Renaissance period in the western world.