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Author's note: I was inspired by the trials that people go through everyday, and what would happen if something else had taken place, if a different choice had been made. The Painter is based off of...well, you can guess that yourself.
In a year that no one knows, in the town of Port, resided a simple man of simple desires. He’s the type of guy that you wouldn’t glance twice at if you passed him at the mall. Yet he has a gift, a gift for painting.
He wasn’t famous, no; he was an unknown artist who did portraits for very little. He was known as the People’s Painter. He had no desire for money, all he wanted was to help people. His latest customers were a husband and wife.
The art studio smelled of turpentine and alcohol. The man who had just entered was called Mac, while the woman who followed was called Judy. They were young, and already in a state of depression.
“I still don’t know why we’re doing this Mac,” Judy stated, “Especially after what they said at the clinic.”
Mac sat on the couch across from the painter, who was a grizzled old man with dark features and black hair speckled with gray spots. Judy sat next to him. He looked into her eyes.
“Look, if push comes to shove, we can always adopt. You know that,” Mac comforted. He had a concerned look in his eye that showed as his wife held back tears and nodded.
“It still won’t be the same though!” Mac knew that she was right. It wouldn’t be the same.
The painter just adjusted his canvas, carefully listening to the couple’s problems. He smiled.
Mac looked up. “Alright, man, you can start.”
“Of course,” the old man replied. He picked up his brush and began.
Stroke after stroke he created his masterpiece. His concentration was inhuman as he created the couch accurately and applied the details to the couple’s faces. There was only one thing on the portrait that did not match the scene in front of him. Instead of the skinny middle that Judy had, a slight baby bump poked through her shirt. The man smiled at his completed work. He signed the bottom of it.
“It is finished,” the painter confirmed. Mac helped Judy up and walked to the portrait. They smiled simultaneously.
“It’s beautiful,” Judy said, “Every detail is perfect.”
“It’ll take only a couple of days for it to dry completely,” the artist commented, “You can come back for it later.”
“That’ll be great, just call the number I gave you and we’ll come get it,” Mac said. They both turned to leave.
“Wait!” the artist interrupted. “I forgot to ask, how far along are you Judy?”
Judy smiled at the question. “Just about four months!”
“Congratulations,” the old man complimented.
The painter took a deep breath as he stood in his studio, alone. He had been doing this a very long time. He still wondered when his Father would let him rest, but he never complained. Perhaps soon…
The man was interrupted by his next customer. This consumer was a man wearing an expensive-looking suit with black sunglasses. He was talking on his phone. He was Ryan Etter.
“I don’t give a damn, Irving!” he yelled in his phone. “I don’t give a damn about that Boys and Girls Club next to the office! We need to expand and we already have the property deed for the area! So make it go boom already!”
Ryan hung up his phone and sighed. He turned to the painter. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Troubles with work?” the painter asked.
“Not really, just disobedient employees. Trust me, it’s a lot better to work alone, wouldn’t you agree?”
The painter shrugged.
“Oh and you’ll receive your payment of five hundred dollars after the portrait’s complete,” Ryan added.
The painter gave him a look. “I believe we agreed to a thousand?”
Ryan shook his head. “No, it was five hundred.”
The painter knew he was lying, but he did not accuse him of it. Ryan went and posed on the elegant chair that the painter had set up. The painter noticed that his cell phone was sticking out of a pocket that was on the top half of the suit. He allowed himself an inward smile.
“Ready when you are,” Ryan said.
The painter began his portrait. He slowly made the chair appear. After it was done, he added Ryan’s leg and foot that stood on top of it.
He grunted as he felt a sharp pain rocket through his arm. He dropped the brush. Ryan didn’t move.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Looking up, the painter nodded. “I’m fine, let me finish.”
He continued upward, bringing to life his other leg and midsection. He finished the upper body and drew in the cell phone. Using a detail brush, he wrote a name on the caller id screen of the cell phone. Finally, the painter finished darkening the sunglasses. He signed the bottom of it.
Ryan’s cell phone rang. He answered it on the first ring.
“What is it Irving? You’re kidding? That’s great! I’ll be over there in a couple of minutes.”
The painter smiled. “Good news?”
Ryan grinned. “Very! The landowners on the other side of our office building finally agreed to sell! This means we’ll be able to expand far more instead of tearing down that old Boys and Girls Club!”
The painter nodded in acknowledgement. “You will be able to pick it up soon. I’ll contact you when it is completely dried.”
“Of course, your payment of a thousand dollars will be transferred to your account.”
The painter cocked his head. “Wasn’t our agreement on five hundred?”
Ryan shook his head. “Hell, man, I think you deserve more than that. Like I said, the payment will be transferred.”
“I hope you enjoy the portrait and congratulations on your good fortune!”
The painter rubbed his arm as Ryan left. The sudden pain worried him. It signaled that it was time to move. It was time to start again.
The old artist searched a box of his old things. He sifted through old pictures, newspaper clippings, and other mementos. He pulled out the photo he was looking for.
It was a picture of him, at about four years old. It was in color, him having been born when color photography was on the rise. He would need it if he wanted to accomplish his ultimate goal. It was a large picture, so he would be able to see it clearly when he…
A young man with short black hair walked in. He held a photograph in his hand. He also had a sad look in his face.
“You are Jason Paige, yes?” the painter asked.
The man nodded. “Yes, I had originally wanted you to paint a portrait of me and my cat Ziggy, but he died yesterday, unfortunately.”
“So you have come here to cancel the order?” the painter guessed. Jason shook his head. He handed the painter the photo. It was of the cat stretched out in the sun.
“I want you to paint me and Ziggy together, with him in my arms. I hear you’re an amazing artist, so this picture should be enough for you to do that, right?”
The painter looked at the photo again, and nodded. “Of course, go sit in the chair and act as if you are holding Ziggy. I’ll do the rest.”
Jason complied and went to sit down on the recliner. He moved his arms as if he was holding the cat.
The painter clipped the photo to a board next to the canvas. He would use it as a reference. Smiling, he began to bring the canvas to life.
He started with the easy part, Jason himself. The painter drew in the chair and Jason’s legs. He continued with the upper body, leaving a space for the cat. He finally finished him and then moved on to the cat. Using the photo as reference, he painted the cat’s form into Jason’s arms. He used his specialty brush to give the fur a realistic look. The painter made the cat’s eyes shine a fantastic yellow. Finally, he finished with the cat’s tail lying across Jason’s arm. He signed his name at the bottom.
“Done!” the painter announced. Jason stood up and walked over. He nodded and smiled.
“It’s great!” Jason exclaimed. “Aren’t you one good looking cat, Ziggy?”
Jason held the black cat up to see it. “Your payment will come soon, sir! You’ve done amazing work!”
“Thank you, Mr. Paige. I hope both you and your cat enjoy it!”
Jason left with the resurrected cat in his arms. The painter looked at his image in the window. His hair was graying rapidly. Wrinkles were beginning to appear in his face. There was no doubt now, it was nearly time.
The old painter pulled the large canvas out of the box that it came in. It was the biggest he’d ever work on. He set it against the wall. On the table next to it was the picture of him as a child and several expensive oil paints. If he wanted this to go right, he needed to not make a single mistake. He stood up as he heard another customer walk through the door.
A young red-haired woman burst into studio. She carried a cardboard cutout. She was Jane.
“I’m here!” she announced. The artist set the picture on a nearby table and closed the box. He stood up and approached the young lady.
“You must be Jane,” the painter greeted.
She flipped the cutout around. “And this is Andre Ethier! And I am Jane Ethier yes!”
The painter nodded, knowing that this girl was obviously delusional. He already knew what he should do, but he decided to have a little fun.
“Ma’am, you do realize he’s made of cardboard?” the painter asked.
Jane gasped. “He is not! Look at his manly muscles and his smooth skin! How can that be cardboard?”
The painter’s eyes went from Jane, to the cutout, and back to Jane.
“Alright then, Mrs. Ethier, go pose with your husband near that wall.”
She picked up the cutout and walked over to the wall. Jane struck a suggestive pose with the cutout. The artist rolled his eyes and began to paint.
He started with Jane. He outlined her form and colored in her ginger hair and her white skin. He dotted the eyes with green. He then started on the cutout of Andre Ethier. Instead of painting it flat, he fleshed out his form. He made him three dimensional and added certain details that weren’t in the cutout. He finally finished the details on the face. He smiled and signed his name at the bottom.
“It is finished!” the painter announced. Jane walked over. Her eyes lit up.
“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed. She turned around. “Come take a look, honey!”
Andre Ethier walked over and examined the painting. “It’s amazing; a perfect likeness of us.”
“I thank you for your kind words,” the painter said. “I hope you enjoy it.”
“We will. Your payment of five grand will be transferred immediately upon delivery,” Andre conversed. He wrapped his arm around Jane Ethier and walked her out. She looked happy. The painter smiled.
That smile quickly vanished as his left leg gave out. The painter fell to the floor hard, causing his brush to skid across the room. He moaned, but not loudly enough for the Ethiers to return. He tasted blood. How much longer could he go on?
The painter looked out into the distance. What lay before him was a sea of gray and black. This used to be the world’s oldest forest….until it was destroyed by arsonists several years ago. The painter could not bear to look at it any longer. He had not come here based anyone’s whim. He had come here of his own accord. This was to be his final act before the time came to…
A raccoon ran across the painter’s foot, startling him. He chuckled and unloaded his equipment from his truck. He set up his easel and set a blank canvas on it. The painter grabbed a box full of his paints from the bed and set those on a collapsible table next to the easel. He lifted his brush.
The painter started with the sky, seeing as it would make a great barrier. He outlined the clouds he saw in the sunny sky. He held off on the sun. He filled in the sky and clouds with blue and white respectively. He moved on to the forest in the distance and worked his way closer.
He outlined the many trees he saw. He recreated the perception perfectly on the canvas. He added so much detail, that an untrained eye would perceive this as a photograph. He moved his detail brush slowly and with inhuman dexterity. He lay back as he finished the trees. He was not done yet, however.
What that was done, he began to add animals, animals of all kinds. He drew in squirrels and raccoons, deer and elk, mountain lions and bears, anything he expected to be in the forest. He lay back again, and before signing his name, he drew in the moon in the space he had left open in the sky. He signed the name on the bottom.
Breathing in the night air, he moved the easel to the side and was met with a beautiful sea of green trees. He could hear owls in the distance, and saw deer moving in to bed for the night.
The painter felt a great, dull ache throughout his entire body. It took all the willpower he had to pack up his things. He fell into his truck and drove drunkenly back to his studio.
The moment was nearing. The last customer has been served. The materials are ready for use. The painter stood outside of his studio, staring at the full moon.
“My Father,” he began, “I am tired. I have been doing this for a long time now. I feel that it is time to begin anew. I trust that you will protect me once I complete my renewal. I hope that you are pleased with my work that I have done. Amen.”
The painter looked at his reflection in the fountain outside of his studio. His hair was snow white and his face was etched deep with wrinkles. Liver spots covered the visible areas on his scalp where the hair had fallen away. The painter pulled away.
He walked inside the studio. He had already set up the big canvas in the middle of the studio. The picture of him was set up on the board next to it. His paints were on a table on the opposite side. The painter pulled up a tall chair and sat down. He normally stood up when he painted, but he would have to make an exception for this final piece.
The painter brought up his brush, looked at the picture, and began.
He started with the face. He carefully fleshed out the child’s face, adding every detail that was visible in the photograph. He then brought out the boy’s dark brown hair. It was short and spiky at that age, so he used the smallest brush he had to bring it into detail. He then moved on to the torso.
The painter felt another sharp pain fly through his arm, but he managed to hold on to the brush.
He painted in not the child’s shirt, but his own. He painted it loose and baggy, as if the boy was playing dress-up. He made the normally short sleeves so long that they reached past his elbows. He fleshed out the hands with the most amazing detail that he had ever put into a painting. He had one of the brown hands gripping a paintbrush. The next part was the lower body.
The painter’s vision blurred. He stopped for a second and blinked his eyes repeatedly. He managed to restore his vision to an acceptable degree.
He had the shirt overlap the waistband of the oversized jeans. The painter created deep creases in the pant legs. He had them rest at the shoes, which he made so loose to the point where they were about to fall off, dragging the large socks with them. Finally, he drew in the chair that he was sitting on. The painter lay back.
He stared at the picture. It was the best he had ever done. It would’ve been easier if he could’ve simply drawn the child in with the clothes he had in the photo, but then it wouldn’t have worked. The painter sighed. It was time. There was no turning back. He sighed again, and signed his name on the bottom.
The painter looked in both directions. He felt his shoes fall off, followed by his socks. The boy thought that was odd, but the thought passed quickly as he climbed off the chair, causing his pants and underwear to slide off. The child stepped out of them as he ran to another part of the studio. His shirt hung down to right above his ankles.
The boy could not remember how he had got here. He looked in both directions again, this time seeing a man at the end of the room. The boy thought that he might be able to help. The man held out his hand.
“Come with me child, you have earned your renewal,” the man said in a voice that seemed to be made up of a multitude of voices. The boy wondered what the nice man was talking about. He took his hand.
And the studio was empty.
Judy gave birth to a healthy baby girl, who they named Marie. She and her husband Mac never knew of the magic that they had encountered. The new family lived happily for the rest of their lives.
Ryan Etter, as insensitive as he was, made a fortune with his company. Unexpected to everyone he knew, he eventually became a celebrated philanthropist, donating millions to the Boys and Girls Club and children’s hospitals all around the world.
Jason Paige and his resurrected cat Ziggy were reunited once more. Amazingly, Ziggy lived until Jason died at the age of ninety-three. Ziggy died not long after. Ziggy was eighty-one years old.
Jane Ethier and Andre Ethier lived many happily married years. They had ten children. To this day, Andre Ethier has no memory of his former wife, for she now existed in a separate universe.
The rain poured down heavily. Emergency generators were the only power source in the suburb. These generators did not power the street lights, so the man in the black hood walked in the darkness.
He held a child by the hand. The child was not scared, nor was he nervous.
The man knocked on the door of his destination. It was answered by a young black woman with her hair in braids.
“Hello!” the man greeted. “I’m sure you’ve been expecting us.”
The woman smiled and nodded. “Yes! I thought the rain might hinder you.”
The man shook his head. “Nothing can hinder me. I’ve brought Ray. He’s really excited to finally have a mom.”
Ray smiled and nodded. The woman knelt.
“How are you, Ray?” she asked.
“Good!” Ray answered.
The man nodded and smiled. “I think I’ll let you two get acquainted. It was nice talking to you Ms. King.”
He turned to leave. Just as Ms. King was about to close the door with Ray in hand, the man stopped and called out.
Ms. King stopped and opened it again.
“I just wanted to remind you, he loves to draw,” the man added with a twinkle in his eye.
Ms. King felt a touch on her shoulder. When she turned, nothing was there. She turned back, and the man was gone.
And on the seventh day God finished the work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.