Hello! Below is my story for Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest
(For an explanation of the contest, click on the link!). My assignment this time was:
Genre: Horror (yes!)
Location: A Foreclosed Home
Object: A Rabbit’s Foot
Word limit was 1000 words. I think my piece is at 995.
And now, without further ado…
LA FONTAINE’S LAST PAINTING
La Fontaine had been an artist, and an important artist. He had also, however, been a crook, and his death was followed almost immediately by the descent of his creditors. In fact, his affairs had started to unravel before his death, and his death had not been a natural one.
The sheriff’s sale was held at La Fontaine’s foreclosed home. I do not know if this is usual, but it was judged necessary in this case. You see, La Fontaine had worked in oils, and his very last painting was not yet dry. Perhaps it could have been moved in safety, but, as I have said, La Fontaine was an important artist.
I, too, am an artist, though a singularly unimportant one. I had known La Fontaine in the early part of his career, and had kept up the friendship until the last year of La Fontaine’s life, when he had become a total recluse. I had, however, kept in touch with Anna P., his muse, his model – and his mistress. I was rather too closely in contact with her, I fear, to feel I had any right to press my society on the artist. In fact, we had been together when La Fontaine, his last painting completed, had hanged himself.
Anna P. was in the front hall when I arrived at the sale. She was dressed in modest black, which drained her face of color and set her red-gold hair to flame. In her small white hands a fan opened and closed constantly. From the loop of the fan dangled a white rabbit’s foot, which bobbled as the fan was jerked open, slammed closed, jerked open again.
“‘Ector, mon ami,” she said as she came to me. Anna P. was not French, but she had long affected a French accent, for it had pleased La Fontaine. So much of her had been made to please him that it had indeed been a sin to seduce her. “Mon ami indeed,” she whispered, her hands grasping mine.
“I feel that I have betrayed him,” I said. She looked away.
“The auction will start now any time,” she said. “Let us go in.”
The auction was held in La Fontaine’s enormous studio. Rows of chairs took the place of easels, canvases, untidiness, lights, and the couch where Anna P. once reclined in naked glory. The room was full of whispers, which grew louder at our entrance. Anna P. held her head up high and led me to our seats, which were along the central aisle.
The auctioneer cleared his throat.
“Why is he so pale?” whispered Anna P.
I did not know, and I said nothing. I felt a sense of danger all around me, and I learned in the Great War not to ignore that sense.
The first painting was brought up and unveiled.
“Lot 1,” said the auctioneer, into the sudden dead silence of the room.
The painting was of the room in which we sat, painted from the doorway behind us, and as if the artist had held his head strangely as he studied his subject. The dark magic of La Fontaine’s brush made this tilted perspective both utterly unsettling and utterly clear.
This was not what had silenced the crowd, though. You see, the room in the picture was full of rows of chairs- and of men and women, the men and women who now sat where they sat in the painting. Most of the figures were shown from the back, but here and there a face was visible, in quarter or profile. There, sitting along the center aisle, was Anna P. And I sat next to her. So he had known, after all. My sense of danger increased.
“Any bids on Lot 1?”
And that crazy angle- La Fontaine had painted the scene as if his neck had already snapped in the noose.
There were no bids on Lot 1.
“Lot 2,” droned the auctioneer. He unveiled it with reluctant hands. At first, this painting looked like innocuous geometries in the Futurist manner, in which every subject is rendered as an exploded diagram of movement. I stared, for La Fontaine had hated Futurism. So why was this painting done in a despised style? La Fontaine must have needed to use it. So he’d needed to show us movement. But why? And what was the subject?
With this sort of painting, one stares, for a minute or for a year, and then in an instant the mind sees beyond the motion, sees the things that move.
I saw. This painting, too, was a representation of this gathering, in this room. The focal point was the central aisle, where something stalked, something I couldn’t yet see, for the movement hid it. But its head seemed to hang strangely, to have a horrid and sickening motion of its own. In the seats along the aisle, faces and bodies were discernable, and their motion was the motion of marionettes whose strings have been cut.
And lying in the aisle was a fan with a rabbit’s foot bobble.
“Anna,” I said, “Let’s go. Now.”
Anna’s eyes were open and staring. I shook her, and heard the small thud of the fan as it hit the floor.
“Lot 3,” said the auctioneer, mechanically, like a man in a nightmare. “La Fontaine’s last painting.” And he moved to raise the cover.
I fled. Another thing I learned in the War: how to flee.
I did not see La Fontaine’s last painting. No living man has.
Later that night, a cleaning woman walked into the hall and found a silent host of dead men, sitting as if they yet waited for something marvelous on which to bid. At the front of the room was an empty easel. At its feet lay a canvas that had fallen face down onto the floor, and had stuck there, so that in the end it had to be removed with chisels.