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Malifaux Fiction: Life’s Work

28/11/2012
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The competition window for November’s Iron Quill competition closed a few hours ago and, for the second month running I have submitted an entry. Despite not even placing last month (I was up against some pretty stiff competition) my hopes are high for this one. Sure, a lot of that comes from the fact that there are only three entries (unless one is allowed to slip in a day or so late), but I still think I’ve put together a decent entry.

Voting has not yet begun for this round of the competition, nor have I yet looked at my opponents entries. I decided to wait until entries had closed, just in case they wanted to make some last-minute edits to their entries (allowed under the rules).

As with last month, there were four unique “ingredients.” These were:

Theme: The Power of Love

Character: Starving Artist

Line: “Well, there’s no way this can go wrong.”

Item: Jack o’ Lantern

I thought about this for a while and couldn’t really settle on a decent story. Then, a couple of nights ago, I had a flash of inspiration. A couple of hours of frenzied typing and self-editing later, this is what I had….

**********

Harold Cooke had long been a painter of average skill and minimal talent. He could achieve a decent looking landscape, but only after many hours of arduous work, constantly painting over previous attempts, trying to get the colours and shapes just right. He was not put off by this, however. Each commission was like torture, but he seemed to enjoy it. As if he was proving the world wrong with each completed work; no matter how late he was to turn it in. There were not many painters in Malifaux, which perhaps worked in his favour.

Constantly by his side was his doting wife. She kept him fed, mixed his paint, and when the need arose, kept his patrons calm when he inevitably ran behind. It was through her efforts alone that he was able to stay in business, though at times it seemed like it could all fall apart at a moment’s notice. It was one of those moments when a man arrived at Harold’s door carrying a package addressed to him. The man would not say where it had come from, only that his instructions were to deliver it. Confused, Harold accepted the package and took it inside to inspect its contents. Unwrapping it at the kitchen table, he discovered a painting palette. Fashioned from some unknown material, it seemed to shine in the sunlight. Not in the reflective manner of a mirror, but as if it were absorbing light then projecting it in all directions at once.

Taking the palette into his studio, Harold set about loading the new palette up with paint. He had recently received a commission to paint a stately home on the northern edge of Downtown, and had already begun his first attempt at capturing it on canvas. He had already made a sketch of the building, taking in the gross measurements and surrounding features, all that remained was to apply paint. He mixed the colours on his palette, making sure to use the right shades of brown to best recreate the timber of the house. The palette took the paint like any other, but it wasn’t until the paint reached the canvas that Harold noticed a difference. Colours seemed more vivid, and his usually haphazard style seemed to have disappeared. For the first time in his life he was painting with ease.

The painting was complete in record time, a full two days before it was due. Not once did Harold have to go over or touch up any of his work. His wife, astounded with the speed at which he had worked, begged him to paint her. He had previously not been comfortable painting portraits, his laborious process taxing even the greatest patience. Nevertheless, this new palette and the painting of the stately home had bolstered his confidence. Placing a blank canvas in his easel he set to work. As before, the painting was done in record time. He summoned his wife to his side so they could both admire his work, it was truly magnificent. The painting was so lifelike it would have been difficult to tell the difference between it and his wife.

After a celebratory dinner, both Harold and his wife retired for the night. They planned to deliver the painting of the stately home the next morning, then immediately look for new work. Even put an ad in the paper to inform readers of his improved services. They slept soundly, but when Harold awoke the next morning he discovered that he was alone. He did not recall hearing his wife get up in the night, and a quick search of the house confirmed that she was no longer there. Assuming that she had left early to purchase groceries or painting supplies, Harold set about preparing the house painting for delivery.

He was in the middle of wrapping the painting when there was a knock at the door. He opened the door on two Guild guards. They were enquiring if he knew anything about a prominent member of the Guild hierarchy. Thinking for a moment, he realised they were referring to the person who had commissioned him to paint their house. He invited the guards inside, showing them the painting and informing them that he was about to deliver it. Asking why they were asking about this case, he was shocked when the guards replied that the house he had painted had vanished overnight; seemingly disappearing into thin air, leaving no rubble or sign of its passing. Furthermore, the occupants had disappeared along with the house. This had concerned many other members of the Guild, including the Governor General.

The guards took Harold’s painting as evidence and asked him to remain in his house, just in case they had further questions for him. Harold agreed without hesitation, his mind already racing. Could there be a connection between his new-found painting ability and this tragic event? What about this new palette? Could that somehow be causing all this? If only his wife were here, surely she would be able to figure- His wife! A shiver of terror fluttered up Harold’s spine. What if whatever happened to the house had happened to his wife as well? Inspecting the portrait, Harold could not detect a single thing that confirmed his suspicions. That was until he looked into his wife’s eyes. They seemed more glassy than he remembered painting them, as if she were on the verge of crying. He touched the painting, gingerly, but it did not feel damp. It was if the tears had been painted in deliberately.

Still not certain of what was happening, and hoping against hope that his suspicions were not correct, Harold attempted an experiment. He went into the kitchen and gathered up various cooking implements, a frying pan, a selection of cutlery, and a couple of bowls. Taking the items into his studio, he set up two arrangements, each on its own stool. Then, he placed a new canvas in his easel and painted the first arrangement using his old palette. Once it was done, he repeated the process with the second arrangement, but this time used his new palette. As he expected, the second painting looked much more realistic than the first. The metal cutlery even appearing to glint and shine from the canvas.

With the two paintings complete, Harold retired to the kitchen, leaving the arrangements in his studio. He made himself some lunch, for the first painting had taken most of the morning to complete. Once he had finished eating, he tidied up and returned to the studio. To his horror his suspicion confirmed. The first arrangement was still there, sitting on its stool, but the second had disappeared, along with its stool. Harold was overcome with grief. His painting had caused the disappearance of not only a house and family, but his dear, sweet wife; the same wife who now smiled at him from her painting, eyes brimming with tears.

Overcome with emotion, Harold wept openly, pulling at his hair and offering up prayers and bargains to whichever higher power would answer them for the return of his beloved. When none answered, he realised that there was only one thing he could do. If the guards realised what he had done he’d spend the rest of his days in prison, or worse, swinging from the Hanging Tree, serving as a grim warning to those arriving in Malifaux through the Breach. The only he could imagine that was worse than what he had done was to live with it for the rest of his days. In an act of desperation he placed the painting of his wife back on the easel, loaded up his palette and began painting furiously. He worked late into the evening, and eventually collapsed into bed around midnight.

The next morning the Guild guards returned to Harold’s house. After receiving no response to their knocking, they forced their way in, discovering the house to be deserted. A thorough search revealed no signs of the previous occupants. All that remained was a magnificent portrait that hung in the studio. A portrait of Harold Cooke holding his easel, and his wife.

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