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The Art of Living

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The candle was lit and blood was spilled. He drew a scalpel down his palm and collected the crimson fluid, like honey in the candle light, into a little clay pot. When his hand ran dry he bound a bloodied cloth around his wound. He labelled the pot and set it down on his desk with the others, labelled Master Blaise and Mademoiselle Fay. He had collected their contributions the previous Friday when he met them outside the theatre. A Shakespearean tragedy had played out on the stage and the couple had been enjoying the early stages of courtship, before he dragged them into the shadows and slit their throats; ladies first of course. He was not completely without social graces.

He unscrewed the caps and mixed the two substances together. The two lives fused together; two souls joining as one. They would say I do forever. He blended together the thick mixture; the essence of life. The artist wet his brush and stroked the canvas. Each sweep of his brush delicate and thoughtful. He was creating art, and to create real art, it had to come from the life within. Though not necessarily from the life within oneself.

His picture was of the sun and her battle to rise each day; to diminish her night time counterpart. The sun had always fascinated the golden boy; she was his muse and had provided him with a lifetime of inspiration. She was so vibrant and so young, yet so very, very old. When the blood had dried crisp on his brush he placed it in a basin of rusty water and went to sit by the window.

Every night when the blood ran dry he would sit above the city, glaring down at the bright lights and the noise. Tonight he had finished his work during the twilight hour; the sun was dangling like a pulsing heart in the sky, so full of life yet awaiting the cold, cruel moon to push her aside. The sky was ablaze with a colour he wished he could capture on canvas, but alas his blood supply had run dry, he had no more. He would go into town later to replenish it. He watched the starts as some careless, unseen hand, scattered them across the sky, casting a blazing path for the cosmos to follow into tomorrow.

Everything was hushed in the city below. The bankers had finished counting money for the day, the bakers had sold their last buns and the school gates had spit out the uninterested boys and girls. The street artists looked pathetically into their purses to count the coppers and coins the tourists had so generously parted with. Paris was quiet in the hour between day and night. For the golden boy, it was the best hour; it was when he felt most alive in the loneliness of it all. He turned from his window and grabbed his long leather coat. He journeyed out into the dimness.

He walked along the river, listening to the soft roar of dinner boats, the clatter of laughter and intoxication, and the whispers of lovers venturing into the night. He would never be one of those people. He would never fit in. He did not mourn this though – he had found his niche. He watched the stars and the sun and the moon glide effortlessly in the open sky, each hanging gloriously, tremendously. He hated being out in the city, but tonight he was out of paint and he needed just two more precious essences to complete his collection.

As he walked further along the bank, fog began to skulk around his ankles, prowling with him along the river path. It transformed the quiet night, distorting the shape of the old cathedral and the parliament buildings. They looked blurred and blotched and broken as the fog slunk higher and higher. Underneath the sneaky gloom the long sliver of the silver river reflected the sun and the moon, making it look like blood running with iron.

The fog began to chill him and he crossed the road to warm himself in a nearby tavern, aglow with candles and happiness. He walked inside unseen at first but the cold he brought with him drew many eyes. Immediately he heard less laughter and it was as if the night began to dim. Darkness and cold followed him. The laughing patrons did not know why, but fear was suddenly a visitor in the bar and they watched him with wary eyes. The boy acted as if he did not notice the sudden tension taking hold of the bar’s regulars but he felt it. Fear followed him through the hours of each day; it had become his constant companion, scaring everyone away.

It had been the same way his whole life, dating back to the Genesis of his story. His mother died just a few short hours after his birth. His father had once told him she dies because she could not bear to know that it was she who brought such a monstrosity into the world. His father agreed with his wife’s assessment of their son and sent him to live in the servants’ quarters; but even they felt the fear attached to the boy and tried to keep a safe distance. Then when he was ten he was caught with the blood of a hunting hound smeared across his face and he was delivered to his father’s study. He was terrified of the repercussions of his actions and waited outside the mahogany door until he had the courage to knock. However nothing had happened to him. There had been no repercussions; nothing serious anyway. On opening the door eventually he had noted his father hanging from a beam, a necklace of rope around his neck. All that was left were four words written on parchment in his father’s neat hand: It is his fault. That was when he fled to the city, looking for someone to see him and love him.

The artist took a seat in the corner of the room, at a small table. It would be better for the others if he stayed out of sight. The right hand side of his face was concealed by shadows; a trembling candle lit his left side. He was at once the light and the dark. In the new found quietness he ordered a shot of single malt. The feeling of the crowd did not ease but quiet chatter began again when he did not make any trouble. He glared into the candle light whilst memories of another life haunted his mind; it was not five minutes before he extinguished the flame between his forefinger and thumb, casting his whole face in shadow.

A young waitress brought the artist his drink. She was not conventionally attractive, yet she possessed a quality that made his stomach squirm. Her long blond hair and heart shaped face made him think of her. He grimaced and looked away, not wanting to look upon the familiar face. The girl frowned, fusing her eyebrows together. He heard her gulp and her voice shook when she asked if he wanted her to relight the candle.

He shut his eyes, taking a breath of air so deep his chest began to ache, and shook his head. All he managed was a whisper, “No.”

The waitress nodded and he heard her heels turn; she was about to leave. He opened his eyes to watch her retreat. He could see the phantom sizzle of death about her. He wanted to waste her, to feel her blood oozing into his hands. He needed to be stopped; he needed to be reminded of why he could no kill her. “Wait,” he called to her, “Light the candle.”

The girl nodded, returning with her taper to give him light. Once again he was sitting on the edge of light and dark. This time he let her depart.

All the artist could do was to look into the candle. He watched the flames dance as he once had. He watched them cower in fear as they rightly should. He sat with his drink, the same colour as his hair and eyes, golden like the sun. He downed the tumbler with a neat flick of his wrist and pointed to the empty glass, requesting another. The waitress approached him cautiously, fear plaguing her face, as if afraid he would grab her and bleed her in front of everyone.

He sat in silence and his eyes examined the room. Apart form the blonde there were no prospects for tonight’s collection. As he nursed his second drink he watched the room empty. His presence was making the night time uneasy and the other customers wanted to be rid of him. By the time he was finished his drink the room was almost deserted. There were only three others left: the land lord, an old man singing drunken songs of war and a drunk who had fallen asleep on the bar. Silence caressed the young man’s mind as he watched the candle’s flames jump. He watched his old life flicker in the flames; he saw a life he could never have back. He smiled gently at the kaleidoscope of his memories and the quietness of the nothing. He pinched out the flame between finger and thumb once more and settled into the darkness.

He knew he could no longer keep going this way. He knew he could not stop stealing the lives of others in order to satisfy his own desired. Soon it would be his turn. But not yet. He needed to finish his work. He needed it to be special, to make a difference, to have a purpose. He needed to know that everything that he did was for some greater reason that would mean something to someone; death had to be meaningful. He needed to visit Sebastian, he would help him. His brother would always help him.

As he stepped outside the tavern, the night time shuddered. The god had kept the city warm but still he stuffed his fists into his pockets. He walked back along the river, through the mist, gazing at the clear sky. It would be cold in the morning. Night time had taken hold of the city. The sun had been diminished. The blanket of blackness had been lain on top of the world; the stars had been stuck down in place. He followed the path blindly, not remembering the last time he had visited Sebastian. When he reached his older younger brother’s lodgings he had to knock several times before the door was answered.

One of Sebastian’s menservants peered up at him but the artist did not give him a chance to recognise him as his master’s older brother. He sank a knife into the servant’s throat and watched him sink to the ground. He looked at the body and the artist recognised him from his time with the servants as a boy; Sebastian must have brought him to the city to serve in his new home. He stepped over the body, and with no invitation, entered his brother’s home.

He walked through the house, inspecting the lavish artwork that adorned the panelled walls. He smirked at the mundaneness of the illustrations that held no meaning. What had their creators been thinking? What were they saying to the world as they painted daffodils, lily pads and women walking in fields? They were nonsense. He assumed his brother would be in a world of dreams upstairs in his bed, so the artist ventured to the upstairs landing and looked behind the closed doors. He found two studies, a library and a guest bedroom; his brother was wise with his inherited wealth. He could only presume the last door, at the end of the hall, concealed his brother.

He turned the doorknob gently, flinching when he heard the door screech. The house was alarmed by his presence but luckily this was not true of its occupants. He shut the door carefully behind him and took his time drifting over to the bed. Sebastian’s wife was sleeping on the left side; she was closest to where. He sat on the bed next to her and watched, carefully, as she breathed deeply, completely unaware of the danger she was in.

“My lovely,” he whispered down to her through cracked lips, tracing the edge of her face with his blood-stained fingers. She winced at his touch, but continued to sleep, her hand reaching out for her husband. “I’m going to make you all new again. I’m going to make you spectacular.”

He bent down and placed a kiss on top of her head and told her she was beautiful. He took a scalpel from his belt and kissed the flat blade. “You will be extraordinary!” He traced the blade along the patterns of her skin that decorated, pressing down until beads of blood surfaced. As she began to bleed her eyes popped open in amazement; she wanted to be a part of this! He could tell she wanted to say thank you but her words just gurgled and bubbled in blood. “You are so very welcome.” He whispered to her, and held her in his arms as her life seeped away.

As the artist held the dying woman in his arms he waited for his brother to awaken; the smell and stickiness of his wife’s blood would draw him out of slumber. Sebastian, normally a tall man, looked so small in bed, lying in a pool of his wife’s blood. The brothers looked like each other; when they were younger their father’s friends would often mistake them for twins. But that was before their father would boast about Sebastian and send the artist out of sight, ashamed of his other creation.

His brother turned on to his side and brought the artist out of his childhood memories. He dropped the bloody wife back onto the bed. The sound of her body colliding with the soft mattress created a dull thump, and Sebastian began to wake. Eyes closed, and still half in sleep; he brought his hand to his face to swat the sticky blood that decorated his cheek. That was when he smelt it, the salty iron aroma of his beloved’s essence. He heaved and scrambled backwards, calling her name, calling for his servant to come to his aid. But both were dead.

The artists retreated to the corner, to the shadows, watching the scene play out, remembering something similar in his old life. He watched Sebastian shake his wife and beg her to live, to talk to him, to look at him. But instead she watched the artist. Her wide, glassy eyes looked to the corner where he hid. Her look made him see his life. He could see himself running and catching his victims. Run and catch. Run and catch. Run and catch. She was they judge and the jury sentencing him to a lifetime of guilt. Run and catch.

“Run and catch. Run and catch. Run and catch” He repeated the words over and over just as he repeated the process time and time again. He would run after his prey, stalk them until they were his. “Run and catch. Run and catch.”

“YOU!” Sebastian cried, hearing his brother chant. He lunged for him, blind to the scalpel the artist still held in his hand. Sebastian missed his target, who had taken a step to the side, and crashed into the wall, head first. He lunched again but missed. He lunged again and again but each time he missed his weapon wielding brother.

The artist smiled at his brother in a way that suggested he was pleased to see him. He went over to the bed and sat down where Sebastian had lain avoiding the blood. He seemed unfazed by his brother’s fury. A smile played on his lips, happy to be with his brother once more.

Sebastian was frozen in the corner, staring at his brother. Tears began to fall down his face, grazing his cheeks, but the artist ignored them. “You know,” he said as he watched his brother. “In a perfect world, we’d be slaughtering the innocent. Together. We would be laughing, as we rained destruction on this whole miserable town. We’re brothers, Seb. When I cut into them I can hear the blue of the ocean and I can see the snow on the mountain tops; and it’s beautiful. It is life. Blood is so perfect; I want to create the perfect masterpiece. You should have joined me when you had the chance. You used to be so good with a scalpel! You never should have sold out to the tedious works you have hanging downstairs!”

“I was never a part of this! I’m not that same as you!” Sebastian choked, edging across the room. He took slow movements so his brother would not see what he was doing. He could feel his heart breaking his chest. His breath was so loud he did not know how his mad brother could not hear it over his insane words. As he began to edge out of the door his brother crashed the door shut, crushing Sebastian’s foot between the door and the frame; he yelped and fell to the floor in pain, tears streaming down his face. He put all his effort into getting up, watching his dead wife to fuel his anger. “Please just let me go! Please?”

Sebastian went to cross his arms but in the time it took for his arms to reach his chest, the artist had thrown his right fist in front of him, hitting his brother in the nose and breaking it. Blood spurted out from his nostrils and the shock of the blow gave the artist time to slam the side of his hand on the back of Sebastian’s neck. His brother crumpled to the ground and did not move.

“I am so sorry, Seb.” The golden boy whispered. “But I need to finish this painting, and it needs to be special. And you are special to me, my brother. I love you the most. I need it to be you, Seb! I need your blood!”

As the cathedral bells rang in the new hour, the artist closed his brother’s eyes, whispered his apologies and pulled a knife along his throat. Blood, like the wine, of the Holy Communion, poured from the wound, oozing out the last dying essence of his brother’s life, and he caught it all, storing the lineage they shared in a golden chalice. “I am so sorry.”

The golden boy looked to his hands, they were glittering with blood. He licked the stains from his fingers and savoured the taste. His brother’s blood, his sister-in-law’s blood, was salty and sour; it tasted like tears. Rising he kissed the forehead of his brother’s drained corpse.

Turning his back on his brother’s home and began to run through the streets. Excited, he ignored the protests of tramps and the cat calls from the dinner boats on the river. He just ran. Everything in his head was singing of the beauty he was creating. He killed all those people for very acceptable reasons. His art was all that mattered. He had to finish his paintings tonight. He had to. It took him fifteen minutes to run to his apartment, and that was fifteen minutes too long, fifteen minutes wasted and he couldn’t get to his canvas fast enough.

Carefully he decanted the blood of his brother into a ceramic bowl. The blood was special. The blood was part of his heritage. This brother had bought him a new brush before he planned to run. He had not used it before; he had kept it back for this special occasion. His brother had been an artist, but he was never as good as his brother. He had lacked the courage to paint from within. The golden boy did whatever it took. He painted the meaning of life. He painted it with life itself.

He worked furiously over the painting, not stopping for the most basic needs. He had not even taken his jacket off and it became speckled with blood. He stayed bent over his easel the whole night, the top of his back curving more and more as the night grew older. He smiled every time he stroked his work, and occasionally he whispered words that would make a man’s heart break at the passion and the sadness. When the dawn began to break, his brush fell to the floor and he dropped his shoulders in relaxation. The sun was once again in her throne, dangling over the world, in her rightful place. She told him to stop painting that it was over, time for him to go. He stepped away from his masterpiece he had spent a lifetime dreaming about. His collection was complete.

The artist fell to his knees, a foolish grin lifted his lips, and he began to laugh. He was laughing at the people on the dinner boat and the people in the bar and just laughed. He was so relived, and so happy that his task was finally over. His cravings for the bloodied pictures were gone. He was finished.

Still smiling, he tidied his studio, picking up the scalpels and washing the bloody dishes and pallets. He then drew a scalpel along both of his wrists. He watched in fascination. He watched the beauty of it. He was the true masterpiece. He finished the collection. He was creating art, and to create art, it must come from within.





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