Here’s another short piece that was written based on a picture prompt on io9, posted to my Facebook page a few months ago. If you aren’t one of a select few, then this will be new to you.
“Yes, I love that piece as well.” Marionne said, striding up beside me and wrapping her arms around my shoulders. “My father is quite proud of it.”
I can think of nothing to say so I simply let my shiver speak for me. The painting is as grotesquely large as it is grotesquely wrought. And yet, I muse, I cannot turn away. Something has reached its long razor claws into my soul and holds me transfixed in the corridor before the hideous work.
“Come, we are going to be late for dinner. And Father hates to be kept waiting.”
Her pull against my arm is just sufficient to break the painting’s spell on me and I smile weakly in apology. She smirks in that way she has – the one that tells me I’m being foolish but she loves me for it. I follow her down the remainder of the long hall, past numerous other portraits and priceless antiques that I dare not give any more than a passing glance to, and we emerge through a crimson veil into the spacious dining room where our hosts are seated around a large, oval table of dark mahogany. The lady of the house smiles warmly and bows her head to greet me and I return the gesture in kind. The man of the house, Mr. LeGuerre, merely raises an eyebrow as he swishes a half-filled glass of wine. I pull the chair out for Marionne and then take the seat beside her.
Dinner is filling and well-made as usual and Lady LeGuerre engages me in spirited talk about my recent travels to Asia. When we are served our coffee and dessert, Mr. LeGuerre finally finds it in himself to speak.
“We were worried you might not be able to join us tonight.” He says grimly. It is not the face of a man who is worried about much of anything.
“Yes, I am sorry. I had several important matters of urgent business to attend to. And then, once I had arrived, I was momentarily distracted by the portrait in your hall.”
“Momentarily?” Marionne giggled. “According to the doorman, you stood staring at the painting for nearly fifteen minutes before I discovered you in the hall.”
A flush of embarrassment crept up my cheeks. “It is intriguing. However did you come to be in possession of such a thing?”
“It is a family heirloom.” Mr. LeGuerre stated. His voice was cold and low, as usual, but there was more than the typical derision hiding there as well.
“It’s a portrait of his great grandmother as a child, I believe.” Lady LeGuerre added, laying her hand on Mr. LeGuerre’s arm. Her touch seemed to soothe his temper by degrees.
“It’s quite remarkable.” I replied. “Beautiful craftsmanship throughout and she was such a lovely child. And the detail on the… thing… is quite incredible as well.”
Eyes of pale ice fell on me from the head of the table. A twitch touched the edge of his mouth beneath the pencil mustache before fading so quickly I could not be certain it had existed at all. An awkward silence had fallen over the table. I took a drink of wine to refresh my dry throat and waited for someone to speak. After a long, long time, Mr. LeGuerre finally did.
“Please describe the painting to me.” He said, with a coolness that raised the hairs on my arms.
I wondered if this was a trick or a jest at my expense. I hesitated and searched my Marionne’s face for any sign of humor, but found only an inquisitive stare. I cleared my throat.
“It’s a quite large portrait. Nearly ten feet in height, if I had to guess. It’s a full body composition of a little girl, possibly six or seven years in age, dressed in a lovely white gown. Her reddish-gold hair is adorned with a small red bow.” I said.
“And?” Mr. LeGuerre asked, his brow knitted tightly together. “What is in her arms?”
I pause and search for the words to describe the thing – the horrible, hellish thing that was draped across her arms like a large family dog. But it was no dog. It was as long as the girl was tall, with a hairless body covered in folds of leathery skin, spotted with boils and awful scales. Its tail was thick and long as a dragon’s. It’s demonic head topped in giant horns and its mouth opened in an angry snarl. Death was in its glassy black eyes. It was as though the girl had just reached below the bottom of the canvas, straight through the gates of Hades, and pulled Cerberus from his place on the river Styx. I could only imagine that the painter had gone mad toward the end of his piece and rendered the girl’s dog as this horrific hellbeast in a fevered delusion. And as the final perverse mockery, he had added an identical red bow to the top of the beast’s head. I shook my head.
“I do not know what one would call such a hideous thing, sir.”
His lips parted in a sick smile that turned my stomach. “Great-Grandmother.”