by Joseph Avery-North
PREFACE: I was digging through a box in my closet and much to my surprise, I found some old writings of mine from back in highschool. I had some friends that thought Stephen King was some kind of literary god. I tried reading a couple of his books and my opinion of his story telling was... well, far less flattering than their views. I thought I could come up with something better and this was what I wrote. It's a piece I wrote for Halloween way, way back when I was 17 or 18 which makes it about 14-15 years old. I feel ancient. Ah well. Figured it's October, Halloween is coming so I may as well throw it up for kicks. Here it is, unedited and as I wrote it all those years ago.
"I love you, you know. That's why I have to do this."
Her face was bone white, the only colour coming from an ugly purple bruise on one side of her face. Strands of her dark hair fell across her face, like cracks running through marble. Her clothes hung in tatters from her body, which was covered in rope burns and bruises, marring the delicate beauty of her pale white skin. She stared at him through eyes that had long ago run dry of tears and as she silently pleaded with him she knew the terror in her soul was reflected in her eyes.
He laughed and she shuddered. His was a mocking laugh, dark and shrill, denying everything that was light and warm. It was also the last thing she heard as his shadow loomed over her and the blow from his fist sent her reeling into darkness.
"I love you. I'd do anything for you. You know that don't you?"
"It's a little early to talk about love isn't it? We've only known each other a short time."
"That doesn't matter. Time doesn't matter. I feel as if I've known you all my life. When I first met you, I felt as if I'd been blind since birth and suddenly I was able to see."
She looked up and regarded him curiously. He was small in stature, with thinning dark hair prematurely streaked with grey and pale blue eyes which seemed like mirrors. She could never see into them, never see into him. All she ever saw was a reflection of herself. He was attractive in a plain sort of way but what drew her to him was his kindness. He was always gentle with her, treating her with a respect that was sorely lacking in some of the other men she'd dated recently who always made there intentions perfectly clear. In fact, she suspected he was a virgin. He trembled every time she took his hand and had actually jumped back the first time she kissed him. He was a perfect gentleman though, catering to her every wish and whim. Yes, he was definitely different from other men… and for some reason, in the back of her mind, that terrified her.
"I hope you enjoyed yourself tonight," he said as they stopped in front of his apartment.
"Oh yes, I had a lovely time tonight," she replied, shuffling nervously. She didn't know why but she was beginning to fell extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the deserted street or the dim lighting, perhaps it was just her imagination but at that moment all she wanted was the safety of her own home and the comfortable familiarity of her own bed.
"Would you care to come up for a drink?"
The question startled her out of her thoughts and she fumbled for an answer.
"I'd love to, really I would but it's late and I really should be going."
Seeing the crestfallen look on his face she smiled and said, "Well I suppose one drink couldn't hurt." 'Besides,' she thought to herself, 'this just might prove interesting.'
Immediately, his face brightened and he straightened up. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out his keys and started up the front steps. Casting a glance up at the grey, starless sky, she followed him up the stairs and into the building.
"Welcome to my humble abode," he said as the stopped in front of his door. "I don't have much in the way of furnishings yet. It's still in storage out west but I hope you'll be comfortable."
Turning the key in the lock, he pushed the door open. "After you, my lady," he said, holding the door with one hand and gesturing for her to enter with the other. Slowly, as if having second thoughts, she crossed the threshold into his apartment.
It was completely dark inside, more than just the absence of light but an impenetrable dark silence that seemed to breathe with a life of it's own. She was certain she could feel it reaching out to her, reaching out to smother her, reaching…
The slamming of the door and the catch of the deadbolt shattered the silence. She whirled around and heard his voice coming from the darkness.
"Perhaps we should have some light to see by."
His voice was no longer soft and pleasant but cold and hollow. The flick of a light switch bathed the room in a dim glow. Standing by the door he regarded her strangely. Raising an arm, he indicated the room behind her.
"Behold, my world is yours to view but please, make no judgements on what you see."
Turning to view the apartment, she gasped. The light came from a dim bulb suspended from the middle of the ceiling. The only furniture was an old cot lying against one wall and a chair in the middle of the room, just below the light. Standing before the chair was a painter's easel but it held no canvas. Looking at the walls her eyes widened. The entire apartment she realised, was painted black. On the walls were paintings, paintings that as she walked closer made her heart pound and leap into her throat. They were all similar. All portraits of women painted in a deep red, a deep blood red.
She never heard him walk up behind her, never felt the blow that sent her falling to the floor. She only heard his whispered voice, echoing in her mind;
"Welcome to my nightmare my beloved."
She awoke some time later, bound to the chair in the center of the room. She glanced around fearfully. There was no sign of him but she was instantly aware of the change in her surroundings. The area around the chair was brilliantly lit by a ring of black candles on the floor. The easel that once stood empty now held a fresh canvas and as she looked at it, she began to shake uncontrollably. She tried to see beyond the ring of light that surrounded her but the flames only made the darkness beyond deeper. She strained against her bonds but it was useless. They were too tight and each move caused the ropes to cut deeper into her flesh.
Suddenly, she knew he was there, watching her. A blackness deeper than the darkest night moved towards her. A flash of silver caught her eye and she knew with sickening certainty that it was a knife he held in his hand. From the darkness his voice called to her;
"It is time my dear, time for you to help me create my masterpiece."
He walked into the lights of the flames, clad in a black robe, the cowl pulled low over his face. In the shadows she could only see his mouth, his white teeth exposed, his lips twisted into a grim smile. She longed to cry out, to scream for help but terror had taken her voice and she could make no sound.
"You see on the wall," he said, slowly raising an arm to point at some of the paintings, "the images of the women who betrayed me. I loved them. Loved them all but they rejected me. They took my love and twisted it, using it to satisfy themselves and when they had taken all I had to give, they left me. But they could never make me leave them. Never." He swept his arms wide in a gesture that encompassed the entire room. "I offered them the world, I offered them my undying love but they refused me. My love was strong though and I endured the pain. I gave them the greatest gift of love, immortality. They live forever in my memory… and on my canvases. They shall never die."
With a deep sigh, he dropped his arms and turned to face her. As he spoke, his face grew whistful and his voice seemed to come from a great distance away.
"But you, you are so much different. Your love is pure and I know that you could never betray me, not like those other women who caused this nightmare I live in. That is why you will be my masterpiece. Everything about you is perfect, you are the embodiment of beauty itself. It is your essence, your living blood, that will paint my masterpiece. My hands are only the tools through which your beauty will flow onto my canvas. Your love will forever be mine, your beauty eternal. You will never age, never die. You will live forever, your beauty untouched by the years of withering and decay that await me. This is my gift of love that I give to you."
His words trailed off into silence. Only the rustling of his robes made any sound, almost like autumn leaves blown by a gentle breeze. Slowly he leaned towards her, silver once again flashing in the flickering candle light.
She knew what was going to happen and she knew there was nothing she could do to prevent it. Closing her eyes she tried to clear her mind, tried to conjure up pleasant memories from her past, anything to distance her mind from what was to come but it was impossible. She could only open her mouth and scream silently, over and over again. He was beside her now, the warmth of his breath an odd contrast to the cold steel she now felt pressed against her throat, slowly breaking through her pale skin. His voice, once again soft, reached out to her one final time.
"I love you, you know. That's why I have to do this