Will you write about the monster in the picture? Or the photographer? Or the poor couple who buys the portrait? Or some other unseen angle? Is it real? Is it fake? Will you write horror? Humor? Urban fantasy? Noir? Some weird mish-mash of genres that remains unexpected? Fuck it, go nuts.
See this picture? This one right here? It's fucking creepy. Chuck Wendig posted it as the prompt for this week's flash fiction challenge. Apparently he found it at a San Fran antique shop. (Which immediately makes me think he found it at Asher's Second Hand from the Christopher Moore books.) So, it's time to write a story about this picture. Look again. Go on. Do you see all the places that thing could go?? Wendig himself posts this:
CHUCK!!! My brain feels like it could explode! Seriously, there's so much to work with here! GUH! Only 1000 words? Only one story?? CURSE YOU, SIR! Okay, so now that we've gotten the writer griping out of the way, let's explore the challenge. So, I started writing one about a woman finding the portrait at Goodwill...that turned into way more than 1000 words...so, I started trying to trim it and it just felt like I was rushing. Scrap that draft. Then, I sat down and organized all of the threads my brain wanted to take. One about the photographer...one about the man in the photo...back to the woman who found it...finally, I decided, "Fuck it. Go nuts. The man said so himself." So, I'm not limiting myself to just one piece. I will, however, only post the one here. May add other pieces in later posts, but right now I think this one works.Hope you enjoy!
Lionel sat alone in the public house, his hand clasping three fingers of whiskey. His thoughts flickered like the candle on the table.
I did what was required of me, he thought. I rid the world of a blight in the name of God.
He took another drink, but Lionel’s stomach still soured when he thought of his actions. The shouting voices. The shrill screams that turned into strangled gurgling beneath his fingertips. The blood. Russet stains had formed under his fingernails to match his sullied soul.
And what of old Winston’s conscience? Is he taking his ease in bed while I nurse my wounds with this amber elixir?
Winston did not deserve rest. He brought this about. Yes, it was all Winston’s doing. If Winston had kept his photographs to himself, then perhaps Lionel would even now be enjoying the comforts of his fireside. Instead he was sitting in this damned pub where the whole evil tale began.
Two nights ago, Winston had entered the pub with a parcel under his arm. The man’s face was white as linen and haggard. His eyes bespoke the deepest haunting.
“Constable, thank the Heavens I found you,” Winston said. Getting his breath, the odd little man joined Lionel at his table. “I have need of your service.”
Lionel put aside the book he’d been reading, stroked his moustache and regarded Winston with concern. “What is it, chap? You look like the Devil himself chased you here.”
“You’ve put the name to it exactly, sir. I believe I met the Fiend this very day.”
“Go on, Winston, unburden your soul.”
Winston sagged beneath the weight of his burden. He laid his parcel, an envelope, before him and placed both palms down on the table. Lionel noted that his long, slender fingers trembled.
“The doctor,” Winston began, “he came to me not one week ago to ask if I might make a portrait for his recently widowed son.”
Lionel shook his head remembering the grisly scene of the Lady Chambers’ murder. “Poor boy must still be beside himself with grief.”
“I am not so certain you are correct. You see, I have made his portrait and…” Winston faltered. When he spoke again his voice was little more than a whisper. “I believe I have captured the true form of the boy’s soul.”
Winston slid the envelope to the Constable’s side of the table. Before Lionel could take it, Winston caught his attention. His eyes, alight with madness, pleaded for mercy.
“Know, sir, that I have done no trickery. Inside is nothing more than what the eye of my camera has seen.”
Lionel’s bowels churned at the sight of the ghastly photograph. The doctor’s son, hair combed and suit pressed as befitted his station, gazed out of the portrait. His mouth had been replaced with a gaping maw of wicked teeth. Tendrils writhed off of his cheeks like snakes.
“Monstrous!” Lionel gasped.
Winston nodded furiously. “Yes! You see?”
“Dear God, what is that thing?”
“It is nothing of God, sir. That is a demon. The same demon that killed the young Mrs. Chambers. I’d swear my life by it.”
Lionel’s breath caught in his chest. “That is quite an accusation. How can you be certain?”
“You found no evidence of an intruder, did you, Constable? The Chambers’ servants have spread word over the city that the Lady died of the most horrible slashing, her body ripped to ribbons.”
“We have no reason to suspect her husband, Winston.”
“This is the evidence. This here! I have proof that he is no good man, for what else could this mean? A demon looks at you from this portrait, sir, and a woman’s blood calls for justice.”
An hour or two passed, Winston stating his case. Soon, Lionel found that he was walking with the photographer to call on the young widower. His intent had been to merely question the boy. But, intentions pave the way to Hell and Lionel laid some of the stones himself.
Chambers welcomed them in his sitting room. While Winston cowered in the corner, Lionel sat near the fire. Keeping his tone conversational, the constable asked after the elder Mr. Chambers and his wife, the widower’s business. Then, Chambers asked, “What brings you to visit me tonight, Constable?”
“Mr. Winston here tells me you sat for portraits recently. He found something odd about your image and asked me to look into things.”
Chambers grinned. “My face may not be the most handsome, but I’d hardly say I’m ugly. Is there a blemish?”
Lionel gestured to Winston to bring the photograph. “One could say that,” he said, passing the portrait to its owner.
The change took Lionel’s breath away. Suddenly, the young man’s eyes glowed like angry coals and his mouth stretched into that inhuman pit of daggers. A vile stench of sulfur and decay flowed over Lionel as the thing shrieked.
Without thinking, Lionel took his feet. The demon set upon him, tentacles flapping about. Winston lunged forward, his voice a high warble proclaiming God’s victory, as Lionel grappled with the hellspawn. Venom dripped from the creature’s tongue, burning through Lionel’s coat.
Whiskey and adrenaline obscured Lionel’s memories of the attack. There had been kicking, punching. Suddenly he was atop the demon, its throat in his hands. He squeezed and blood began to spurt forth. After that, a pall fell over Lionel’s thoughts and he remembered nothing. Nothing but the glass on the table before him.
He had murdered a demon.
He had ripped out a man’s throat to do it.
Lionel shook his head, still sober enough to satisfy propriety but not inebriated enough to douse his guilt. Had he been looking, perhaps Lionel would have seen the demon there, sitting at the bar staring at him.
Yes, the fiend said in its gravelly voice. This is the one I wanted.
It is true that Lionel left the pub by himself. But after that night, he was never alone.