And the winning Spooky Story for Fifth Ink Publishing’s very first contest is….
* Insanity on Canvas by Joe Tassone! *
If you’re a fan of Twilight Zone you’ll love this short story!
Enter Vincent, glaring at his bare canvas unable to contemplate his first move. Some nights remain better than others. Lately, the swaying wheat fields outside his lone window can be distraction enough to lose twenty-four hours of progress.
He teeters back on his rickety stool to reach for his half empty bottle of liquor. Yet another procrastination play as time ticks by and the dream of creating a single masterpiece drifts further. Vincent pours a drink and takes a long swallow. The bitter licorice taste burns the back of his throat sending acrid fumes up his nose.
A glimmer of lightning from the passing storm illuminates his weathered face. Aged cracks along his forehead run like rivers down his cheeks pooling into his shaggy red beard. Another burst of light reveals a figure darting along his back wall. The sudden appearance of the shadow nearly topples Vincent.
Earlier today, Doctor Paul recommended several ways to alleviate the recent hallucinations that have been afflicting Vincent. However, Vincent attributed the visions to a combination of an artist’s pressure and his absinthe cocktail, nothing more. Day after day, the doctor’s familiar questions arose. Should Vincent maintain his voluntary status or relinquish his freedom, admitting himself into the mental hospital as a patient? On this day, Vincent pulled his long flannel sleeve over the newly formed scar on his left wrist and marched out the front door.
A thunder crack rattles Vincent. The rolling storm clouds carry no motivation to paint, but with any luck they will break the heat of a sweltering summer night. Vincent peels the front of his sweat-soaked undershirt from his skin to let a cool breeze in.
Another crack, this time from his bones as Vincent pushes off his stool to stretch his fragile legs. Several sunflowers and dahlias arranged in each corner of the broken down cabin bring warmth to an otherwise depressing room. Pacing back and forth through the clutter of his old paintings, he picks up a sunflower and brings it to his nose. The petals tickle his beard and a smile lights up his face for the first time in two days.
As Vincent approaches the canvas, clinging to fresh inner enthusiasm, the temperature of the tiny room drops quickly. He glances toward his only window. Closed. Vincent grabs a heavy wool blanket and wraps it over his bony shoulders before he sits back on his stool. He picks up a brush and dips into a deep violet.
The voice slithers into his ear and raises the hair on the nape of his neck. Vincent spins around holding the brush as if it were a knife.
The room grows heavy as a subtle wind blows across snuffing out each candle. Vincent sits in eerie silence, enveloped in cold darkness. Each breath brings an icy fire to his lungs. The voice comes at him fast.
Why would he start there?
“Where!?” Vincent snaps back into the thick air. “What do you want from me!?”
His questions go unanswered.
A silky dark mass passes by the corner of his left eye. Vincent jumps up from his stool and races across the room. He is immediately entangled in what feels like cobwebs wrapping his face. He awkwardly attempts to pull invisible strings from his body grasping at nothing as the sensation fades away.
Vincent re-lights every candle as the approaching storm clouds wrestle with the glow. He pours another drink and falls into his couch feeling the air of the room release its grip. The used cushions welcome his tired body and the liquor brings a calm to his weary eyes.
The bitter drink does have the ability to produce hallucinogenic effects. Ghosts? Vincent chuckles, places the glass on the table beside him and pulls the heavy blanket up to his chin. He stares at his blank canvas. The canvas stares back, judging him from across the room. A tiny cracking sound breaks the awkward staring contest. Along the bottom of his drink, frost has crystallized and is crawling up the sides.
That’s no masterpiece.
The voice slices like a razor across his cheek. Vincent clambers to his feet and stumbles from the couch. The blanket refuses to let go, sending him crashing into his easel. The canvas breaks under his weight. On the way to the floor his head smacks a sharp wooden corner. Vincent collapses and darkness creeps in.
The rain subsides leaving a residue on the windowpane that creates an iridescent glow around the night stars. Vincent, placing a new canvas on his easel, gazes longingly at the blurry stars. He never noticed beauty in the night sky until seeing it through the tears of a bruised eye. His hand, as if controlled by an unseen force, paints with a newfound inspiration. For the first time in a week, Vincent’s creativity flows, along with his magical drink.
The temperature in the room drops. Vincent can no longer hold his brush as his aching fingers ice up. The voice comes quick, like daggers penetrating his skull.
He’s a cheat, an uninspired fake.
Bright white light flashes behind Vincent’s eyes. He clutches his head in his hands and lets out a tormented scream. “Am I going crazy!?”
He’s going crazy … the voice seems to know Vincent better than himself.
… Get the knife … a fragmented sentence whispered by a high-pitched female. He’s about to get the knife.
Over and over, the word knife echoes through Vincent’s head. Several minutes of torture pass and one clear thought remains. End the incessant jabs of the critics by taking away their vessel; maybe the voices are onto something. Vincent retrieves a gleaming knife from the block on his kitchen counter.
He slices from the top of his ear down extinguishing the crackling sound of the burning candles. The recently sharpened knife makes a smooth cut leaving little time for pain. A shrill ring reverberating through the empty hole in his head replaces the howling winds from another passing storm. He waits. The dull ringing persists, acting as a welcome obstacle for the voices.
Blood drips a path to the bathroom as Vincent grabs a handful of bandages. He wraps a long piece of thick gauze around his head while considering taking the other ear. Silence. The throbbing pain sets in providing a long-awaited change from the constant barrage of critiques. His body shivers excitedly at the opportunity to paint uninterrupted. Carrying the knife, he races back through his cabin. Vincent stops dead in his tracks. There he sits, a young man on his couch, half-seen and half-unseen. Vincent throws the knife. It hits softly against the cushion as the vision shimmers and disappears. The room warms. He feels around the couch for any remains of the mysterious figure. Perhaps the loss of intoxicated blood could bring about such a realistic hallucination. Perhaps. Vincent wraps his weak legs around the stool and paints into the night, moving through the canvas undisturbed.
As the moon shines over the old cabin, Vincent’s thoughts drift to his time at the hospital. Pouring a cordial of absinthe, he paints a soothing memory of the large cypress bush waiting for him just outside the hospital window. Vincent never expected to return.
Nobody sees the world as he sees it…
The voices continue to rise and fade around him yet Vincent pays no mind.
…a sense of loneliness
Past memories, life experiences, all swirl in his confused mind and spill onto the canvas.
Another drink, another stroke as the night continues on. Vincent ignores the freezing temperatures. Another sip.
Spinning in and out of consciousness, Vincent’s sick mind wrestles with the confusion of life. No attention is given to the haunted silhouettes drifting by.
With one final sweep along the canvas, Vincent drops the brush to the ground and proceeds to the kitchen. He pulls a gun from the drawer and returns to his painting.
Over ten transparent figures crowd his tiny cabin. Vincent ignores the visions. The young ghost from his couch floats inches from his face then passes through a second shimmering shadow. Vincent bows his head. The unwelcomed guests swim around and through him. Dragging his feet, he solemnly enters the circle of apparitions.
It’s amazing how one man’s opinion can differ so drastically from the next on everyday topics such as entertainment, politics, or art. Spurring arguments strong enough to cause war. One can love a photo with endless passion while it may rain hatred upon another viewing the same picture. Even in the darkest of times, how is it that glowing sand from a moonlit beach can bring a sense of tranquility to the observer. The universe has created perfection, and we strive to live up to that. Try to call the color of clouds at sunrise horrific and you’d probably be called insane.
Vincent kneels and puts the gun to his chest. Blood splatters onto his final masterpiece.
Loud thuds and a door is forced open, sending shards of wood in every direction. In an eerily lit room, twenty students are slump in their chairs. Most of the fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling have been removed. The only light spills from a glowing green contraption in the center of the lecture hall. Strands of cables reach out from the tall, glass vat and snake their way across the hardwood floor to monitoring electrodes pasted to the temples of each classmate.
Ten soldiers equipped with riot gear charge through the doorway keeping any emotion hidden under dark visors. The clambering of boots echo on the floor jolting several students from a deep sedation. Following closely behind the soldiers are two officers in matching suits with their guns drawn. They shout to an old man sitting terrified in the center of the students.
“Samuel Brown, you are under arrest for the illegal use of History String 13.”
Samuel Brown, his dyed black hair frazzled, waves his hands in surrender.
“No, no, no, Dean Walsh gave me permission, I swear to you, she allowed this!”
Dean Walsh, barrels into the room cutting through the crowd. At six feet tall, she carries her slender body with an intimidating confidence.
“I said nothing of the sort Mr. Brown. You were well aware that our school was not ready, nor equipped to start handling this type of experiment.”
Samuel Brown frantically pleads his case, “It was a few short lessons, everything is fine…”
Dean Walsh tears the electrodes from the old man’s face.
“Everything is not fine Mr. Brown! The lessons we are preparing to conduct should never disturb anything in the past. Our system was not ready to go online and you knew this! Your lesson leaked into the past affecting innocent people. You are no longer the art history professor at my university.” With one hand gesture from the Dean, the soldiers move in and surround Samuel Brown.
One by one, the students peel sensors from their heads. A girl nervously pokes the boy next to her in the ribs, “See Jack, we should have never taken part in this!”
“Oh shut it Kristina,” Jack says.
Kristina crosses her arms and whispers back, “It was illegal!”
Jack whispers excitedly under his breath, “As soon as this thing is back online, I’m gonna board the Titanic! I’m starving, how about you?”
A few older gentlemen in lab coats unplug video cables from the glass structure in the center of the lecture hall. A thick ooze creeps onto the floor from the bottom of the tube as a glowing green liquid drips down the center spilling over a large replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Exit Vincent, a beaten man perched on the brink of insanity; a brilliant artist who received the final push from a future he helped create. Class dismissed.