THE LIVING CANVAS
Red dripped off the end of his brush like blood. A pool of crimson swirled about the pallet before being delicately placed on the canvas.
Huggins laid his pallet down on a nearby table and dropped the brush into a glass of turpentine next to it. Picking up a cup full of tea, he took a sip.
“Oh, that is one thing I will never appreciate – hot tea that has cooled down.”
Huggins slowly stood up and walked across the room to a dead potted fern sitting on a pedestal. He dumped the lukewarm tea into the dirt and lost himself in a few fleeting memories. Using the hand that still held the cup, he pointed his finger at the fern and began to lecture, “You! You, my friend have seen better days. Much better days! You see, there…” pointing to a painting of a vibrant live fern, “…that is what you should look like. Take notes from your former self and be more like him!” still pointing at the painting on the wall.
“What’s the use…?” he said under his breath as he walked away. “It’s already too late for you.”
He tossed the cup lightly into the corner of the room behind a shelf where it broke once it hit the floor.
Walking down a low-lit hallway, he stopped at the end where a stuffed cat sat in a case built into the wall. A painting hung on the wall of the cat in the same glorified sitting pose he was stuffed in. His nose in the air as if half saying, “I’m too good for you” and yet possibly just sniffing the air for fresh tuna.
Huggins petted the cat’s ears and gave him a kiss on his nose.
“Such a proud one you were. Even until the end.”
He went to kiss the cat one more time but was interrupted by the doorbell.
“Just in time! See Xerxes, everything has a time and a time for everything.”
Huggins noticed the cat’s expression didn’t change and then he chuckled before leaving to head for the door.
An older man stood at the front door. He had waited long enough and was growing ever so more impatient. He now repeatedly rang the doorbell non-stop waiting for someone to answer the door.
Huggins cracked the door open, “Mister Carl!! How are you doing this glorious day?”
“I would be better if I wasn’t left standing in the sun all afternoon. I burn and freckle easy!”
Huggins opened the door fully and waved his hand at Carl to enter.
He stepped inside with the help of his walking cane.
“Come in kind sir. Come in and enjoy the splendor of my home.”
“Hmph!” he retorted, his cane echoing in the entryway every time it touched the floor.
Let me fetch you some tea. We don’t have much time. I have been waiting for today for an awful long time!
“All I have is time nowadays, Charles. Time to sit around and not do much else.”
“But today! Today that may change! Today may be a new brighter day for you! I have so much in store for you today!”
“What ever are you going on about? I thought I came over so you could paint my picture.”
“You are here so I can paint, Mister Carl. You are here to witness a masterpiece!
“Then let’s hurry to somewhere I can sit. My legs are weary!”
“Oh, yes, Mister Carl! Wait here just one moment.”
“But I don’t want to wait another…”
Before he could finish her sentence, Huggins had left the room.
Mister Carl looked around the room. The walls were covered in paintings. Carl recognized all the buildings in the paintings, all of them either burned down or turned to rubbish now.
Carl worked his way into the living room entrance slowly. His cane was still echoing through the giant halls.
Across the room on the far wall was a fireplace with a painting hanging above it. Carl admired it for just a moment before his thoughts were interrupted by the return of Huggins.
“Mister Carl, I have a wheelchair for you. It will make things easier for you if you allow me to roll you around. It’s a very large house.”
Carl gave Huggins a leer followed by a grunt, but continued to sit in the chair anyways.
“Would you like to see it closer, Mister Carl?”
“The painting of my father. Would you like for me to push you closer so you can get a better view?”
Carl just nodded and pulled his cane up off the ground as if to signify that he was taking the emergency brake off.
“He was a great man. Made all his wealth by himself with his own bare hands. I learned so much from him.”
“Is that him right there?” Carl asked pointing his cane towards a fancy vase on the fireplace mantle.
“No. Not anymore. It used to be. I kept him in there for one year after he died. Then I poured his ashes out at the top of the hill in the back yard. That was his favorite place to be, so I thought I would leave what I could of him there. That was years ago now.”
“You did a great job on this painting, Charles. Your dad would have been proud. Did he get to see any of the painting before he passed away?”
“He watched me paint most of it. He sat for a few weeks for me while I painted it. A few days before finishing it, he grew ill. He went downhill ever so quickly. He passed away the same day I completed it. He was too weak by that point to even take too much notice of a silly painting.”
“I’m sorry, son.”
“Let’s get to work…”
Huggins pulled the chair back a few inches before turning the chair and pushing it.
They went back through the entry and down a large hall. Mister Carl was a little shaken when he saw the stuffed cat next to a painting of itself.
They came into a large room with lots of windows letting in large amounts of light, but very little direct sun.
Huggins wheeled Carl in front of a mirrored wall and placed him at an angle.
“Would you like a beverage, Mister Carl?”
“Yes, I most certainly would. What do you have?
“I have some hot tea. I started brewing it when I left to fetch your chair earlier. It should be about done by now.”
“I’ll take some of that, with some lemon too. A good bit of lemon, I like to use the lemon to get my liver going.”
“I certainly understand. Tea with lemon coming right up!”
Huggins left the room in a hustle.
Mister Carl sat in his chair for a minute, just looking around and admiring the view of the hillside and the tree line just on the other side of a small pond.
Just to his right, Carl noticed a painting. It was of a fern. Nothing special about the fern in the painting, but then Carl noticed just below the painting was a pedestal with a vase on it containing what looked like a dead fern.
The vase on the pedestal and the vase in the painting looked very similar. The only difference was the vase in the painting had a red star drawn on the front of it. The pedestal fern did not.
Carl got up out of his chair slowly. He took his cane in his hand and walked over to the pedestal. Using his free hand, he carefully began to turn the vase around. As the vase made it to a 180 degree turn, a red star became visible that was hiding on it’s backside.
“Mister Carl,” Huggins blared out, “you should be sitting and conserving your energy. I know you’ll be sitting a while, but even sitting can get to be exhausting. Here take a seat…”
Huggins set down the two china sups of hot tea and helped Carl over to the wheelchair.
Carl let out a sigh of relief, “Thank you, son.”
“My pleasure. Here is the cup of tea for you, sir. I used almost half of a full lemon, so I hope that it is made to your liking.”
Carl brought the cup to his lips and sipped the tea, “Close enough.”
Huggins just smiled as if to say, “whatever” with his grin.
Huggins worked on the painting for a half hour. Making sure every detail was just perfect.
Mister Carl had finished his tea in less than ten minutes. Inside Charles laughed at this, especially with Carl’s ‘close enough’ remark.
“May I see the painting and your progress?” inquired Carl.
“Not until it is finished. Then you can look at it all you would like.”
Huggins worked delicately on the painting with every stroke, changing brushes and mixing colors over and over.
“Are you ready for the truth, Mister Carl?” Huggins asked politely.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“The truth,” Huggins replied, “about why you are really here today.
“I’m here to let you paint me, correct?”
“No Carl, I’m sorry it’s not. It just is not.”
Charles set his brush down and wiped his hands off with a rag. He slowly walks towards Carl, “You love my art Mister Carl, do you not?”
“Yes. Of course I do.”
“Do you know what my paintings all have in common, Mister Carl? Have you been able to notice what they all have in common?”
“Your signature?” Carl answered timidly.
“It’s deeper than that Mister Carl. Much, much deeper than that.”
“Blue…? Dammit, I don’t know! Just tell me!”
Charles set the rag he was wiping his hands with down on a table near Carl. Charles leaned back against the table and folded his arms across his chest.
“Death. Death, Mister Carl, death.
Carl started getting nervous. His pulse was racing but his body felt immobile. He thought it was maybe from the fear about to set in.
“I brought you here Mister Carl so you could see and experience death up close and personal.
Carl tried to move, but he couldn’t. His arms and legs would not budge.
“You should be feeling a little paralysis right now, Mister Carl. I couldn’t let you leave full of trepidation before all the fun was over, now could I?”
“You made it easy, Mister Carl, especially with you asking for the extra lemon in your beverage. That totally covered up the flavor of the drug in your tea.”
Charles pursed his lips and placed his index finger over them, thinking for a moment. He tapped his lips a few times before proceeding; “I noticed you were looking at my fern earlier. You found the red star that I purposefully turned away to face the wall. That fern was flourishing three days ago. Merely three days have passed and the fern is now withered and worn. Dead as of three days ago. Now look at the date on the painting above it.”
Carl squinted and shook his head, “My eyesight is going bad, I can’t see that far that clearly. You’ll have to…”
“It’s dated three days ago, Mister Carl! I finished the painting three days ago!” Charles declared frustrated.
Carl’s body temperature was quickly rising. He could feel the heat rising from his shoulders.
“Do you remember the story of my father, Mister Carl? The one we spoke of not more than an hour ago…”
“How you poured his ashes out on top of the hill?” Carl murmured.
“Incorrect! No. Not that story. You are really frustrating me, Mister Carl. I need you at the top of your game here. I need you to fully understand why we are even here tonight! The story of the painting…do you remember the story of the painting?”
“Yes,” thoughts raced through Carl’s head, “yes, you started painting, he got sick, you kept painting, and within a few days he was dead.”
“Correct! But the part you left out and it’s the most important part of the story, is that he died the day I finished the painting, Mister Carl. The exact same day!” Charles shouted, “Are you getting any of this yet?”
Carl was holding back his tears.
“And I noticed that were a little appalled by Xerxes when I rolled you through the hall too. Can you guess at all how he died, Mister Carl? Any guess at all?”
Carl looked up at Charles with tears streaming down his face and a strained frown. Carl did not, could not answer.
“Mister Carl! Please, work with me. The faster we can get through this, the better off we both will be. Can you make a connection between the first two stories and my cat, Xerxes?”
Barely able to speak, Carl whispered, “Did you paint him before he died?”
“YES!” Charles shouted with pride and determination, “That is exactly it! I think you are catching on finally Mister Carl! There is some hope left for you after all!”
Huggins started pacing the room now, full of hope and anticipation.
Carl only wept.
“Let’s go over this one more time to make sure you have it,” Huggins said, “but let’s simplify. I paint things, and then they die. I paint them, they die. Simple as that.
“Are you going to murder me?” Carl muttered.
Huggins laughed uproariously, “Murder you? Oh heaven’s no, Mister Carl. I’m not a murderer. I’m only an artist with barely above mediocre talents. I have a tough time carving a turkey for Thanksgiving meal, let alone a human.”
“But what about the painting? You paint things then they die. You have spent hours today painting me…”
“Mister Carl, I assure you that it is not I that will murder you. I guarantee that I will not lay any damage or harm to you or your body. But with that said, you must understand that it is definitely not I that has previously killed the fern or my father. I also did not kill my cat Xerxes. I would intend no ill will towards you or any of those things. But that death. That death somehow lies in the canvas and in the paint. It lies within the cursed talents that I unwillingly possess.
“The devil himself lies within you!” Carl barely gasped as his throat felt like it was tightening and his air getting cut off.
“I am just a few moments away from finishing this painting, Mister Carl. Once I complete it, this will be all over. Everyone will be better off.
“Just go on and get it over with! Finish the damned piece of filth you are going to classify as art when you should be calling it a deadly weapon!”
Huggins stopped all he was doing for a second as he just stared at Carl.
“Finish it! End it!” Carl screamed at the top of his lungs.
Charles turned and walked back to the easel holding his canvas. He grabbed a brush and started mixing paints frantically. He would glance up every few seconds just to keep an eye on the temporarily paralyzed old man.
With a leer, Huggins took one last look at Carl sitting in his chair. He dipped a clean brush into the newly mixed blood red color.
Carl’s head began to swim and swirl. The room around him was moving a million miles an hour as the brush neared the canvas.
Huggins completely focused upon the task at hand, kept his eyes on the canvas. With just a few stroked the painting was finished.
Carl closed his eyes as his body hit the floor.
The room remained quiet and motionless for hours.
At one point, a deer approached the large windows but still the silence continued.
He woke up the next morning. He slept so deep that he didn’t even recognize or comprehend where he was. He rolled over and bumped the leg of a table. Grabbing his head, he felt a little stream of dried cold blood on his forehead.
It took all the energy he had to stand up. Holding on to the table he bumped earlier, he crossed the room slowly making his way to the easel.
He grabbed the painting canvas and turned it around along with the easel. He began to cry.
Working his way to the window, he could see out at the top of the hill, what he presumed to be a corpse laying flat on the ground.
He adjusted his eyes a little to catch a quick reflection of the painting in the window. There in the reflection, was the image of a great man and beautiful painter.
“I’m going to miss you, son.” He said.