The lost Children .
A picture on the Wall.
I do not mean to play upon your feelings or emotions here but there is no way that I can imagine telling this tale that will not tug on your heartstrings. I am a writer but then you know that as you are reading one of my creations now. A humble short story I conceived in a matter of minutes and wrote in a few short hours. This is no epic tale that will enchant and amaze, there are no volumes to pour over, there is no deeper meaning to the tale than the words you see in front of you, do not search for a story hidden within another for it is not there, everything is exactly as it seems.
One evening, a storm-tossed night in December, not unusual in Scotland, as the rain rarely ceases during the winter months, the wind howling outside but barely heard through the tightly closed windows and doors. Only the odd sound piercing the house from the small gaps in wainscoting, basement and through the letter box, drawing with it the light tang of salt as the tides race in and out is all that you can sense at first.
It is a modest house, small with only a living room, dining room and bedroom but it suits us, it is handy for everything that we need. The dining room is small and multi-purpose, it includes the desk where I sit writing this, a dining table that is normally pushed up against the wall where my wife sits to use her laptop but can be pulled out and set up on the odd occasion that we have visitors; to entertain. It has a small sofa bed that can be used by occasional visitors, and a large bookcase, filled with great books and ornaments that is wide and filled from floor to ceiling.
We have decorated the room in a Gothic style as It suits my personality and taste, my wife also does not mind this though her preference is for a minimalist style. This room, in no way shows her preference’s, nor her style being packed full with furniture, the walls adorned with Celtic and Norse plaques, candle sconces and the odd painting that we have picked up here and there.
And it was there that I sat writing day after day, night after night working on whatever novel, story or article I had decided to air my views upon.
It was there in my garish dining room that I sat one-night writing, whatever I happened to be writing, and lost the thread of the tale. I sighed and sat back in my computer chair, my gaze sliding away from the large monitor I have in front of me to the wall behind it.
It is painted a dark rose.
Dark Rose is a colour that I knew would cover the stained cream paint below.
I had given up smoking you see, and wished to neither smell the nicotine nor see the stains it had left upon the yellowing walls. A dark rose should hide it, I thought, and my wife agreed. I am not sure that she even likes the shade nor the darkness it delivers unto the room but very much likes the idea of a smoke free house and little yellowing going on. My wife was once a smoker as well but had given it up completely many years before me. She had willpower and used it, gave up with barely a whimper and little complaint. She has never relapsed to my knowledge.
There are marks upon the rose wall where my guitars have been placed back to rest, after having been played, machine heads scraping lines upon the paint. Ah but the music they produced whilst lifted makes a few scrapes little payment for the joy and horror that they have produced. I’m a Blues man at heart and if you like the blues then you may well have heard some wonderful sounds coming from the small dining room in which I sit typing this.
If classical, Jazz or opera is to your taste? Well then all you will have heard is screeching guitars and weeping notes that you will have hated but if you like the tender sadness of the blues then you will have liked every note born from the southern US States.
Above the guitars, the slender scratches, made by the guitar’s machine heads upon the rose paint, is again untouched, flawless for a few feet. Above that again lies a painting in an ornate thick gilt frame, an original oil, that measures about five inches’ square in actual terms but when you include the large gilt frame is nearly a foot square. It is lovely.
This painting, at first glance, looks bright and vibrant with vivid hues of lilac and violet above an azure sea. It depicts three cottages, whitewashed, all with different coloured roofs. One yellow, another sage and the last New England, faded, blue: it appears at the first glance jolly. Three pretty cottages sat above an azure sea and under a harvest moon.
As I sat back on my computer chair, looking for the right word or thought to continue what I was writing, I scanned the wall and my eyes lit upon the painting. My wife and I had bought it on a holiday somewhere. It had been up on that wall for many years, lovely but unseen, my gaze directed at the computer screen or my note book that lay on the desk in front of it.
For the very first time I really looked at the painting.
The painting was lovely, it was what drew us to it and made us buy it. Small but possessed of vivid colours and a landscape that that was reminiscent of my native Scotland. A view that I was used to, growing up in Peninver and Campbeltown, one a small seaside village the other a vibrant town close by but both closely linked with the sea and the fishing industry.
I looked at the painting for a while until “the” something that I had wished to recall reappeared in my mind and I returned to writing whatever it was that I was writing at the time. I finished and retired to bed but there was something in my mind about the painting and sleep eluded me.
Not an unusual thing for me, I have suffered from Insomnia for most of my life but in this case, it was even more insidious than usual, the picture, I had seen something in it, something that made me uneasy, made me feel hopeless and alarmed. I had seen faces staring back at me from the windows of the glowing cottages, I had seen shapes in the darkness.
Remember that I am a writer and as such possessed of a wonderful imagination, that creates things where nothing has been, enters faces into a picture where none exist, puts words into people’s mouths and even explains the inexplicable. I did not therefore trust my own judgment; a fantasist should never assume that they are right. After all pure invention is my natural state.
With this in mind I had called upon a friend, one of sound mind and disposition, one capable of assuring me of my own senses, one that I knew I could trust. He would tell me the truth no matter my own thoughts, even if he knew that it may disappoint or even hurt. He was one that I would trust my life to, not just my thoughts and opinions.
A stalwart fellow, sure of his own abilities and possessed of a natural logic far surpassing my own. He was my oldest friend and though in middle age, like myself, he maintained a solid presence, a robust vigor, even the depredations of age had affected him kindlier than it had many others, myself included.
His hair was still full, thick and mostly black, the only difference to his younger years was the addition of flecks of grey at his temples which, in his case, only made him seem more distinguished. His jaw was still straight, resisting the blurring and paunchiness that my own now displayed, his nose regal and his eyebrows straight, uncluttered, not given to the wiriness that so often comes with age.
In short, despite his years he was still possessed of vigor, solidity, of sense and learning. Despite being only two years my junior he had not succumbed to age in the way I had.
I welcomed him and took his coat, offering him the refreshment of tea or coffee as I lead him through to the dining room. Making sure that he was seated comfortably. I hurried to the kitchen and made us both a cup of tea returning quickly to find him standing studying an Ibis and snake mural of Celtic origin that sits upon one of the dining room’s walls.
“Is it real”, he asked, blunt and to the point as usual, his voice deep with an Ayrshire Scot’s accent, not of the rough sort yet still noticeable, rolling his R’s and his A’s sounding like Ahh’s.
“It is not” I replied, “though it is a reasonably accurate depiction of a real one” found somewhere in Kent, I believe, it is marvelous is it not? He nodded in reply still looking closely at it but saying nothing more.
“It is not that piece that I have asked you here to look at, though I must say that I do like it myself, rather it is the painting above the computer, you will have noticed it before when you have been here for dinner or a drink but it seems so normal, so unassuming, a simple landscape, that I suspect that you have barely glanced at it”
I saw him startle as though to disagree but held my hands out waving him down, “do not worry, my friend, even though I have owned it for many years, I have barely noticed it myself, and it was only last weekend that I noticed something very unusual about the painting”.
“I was sitting writing, as is my wont of a weekend evening, as you know, and I lost track of a word, sentence, or something, I cannot recall what It was now but I find that when such a thing happens the best thing to do, for me anyway, is to stop thinking of it. So, what I normally do is focus upon something completely different for five minutes or so and then when I resume, all is clear again. That is exactly what I attempted to do upon this occasion and so I stopped writing, sat back upon my chair and my gaze drifted upwards to that painting”. I nodded towards it, on the wall above my writing desk. He stretched his legs and put his hands on the chair arms to stand but I waved him down again.
“It is a small painting and so you may wish to retrieve your spectacles my friend”, I said to him, “look closely at the yellow white glow issuing from the windows into the surrounding evening”. “The warm colour of many candles burning in the widows upon a summer evening”, “lighting the night around”.
I wished to tell him no more, I did not wish to influence what he may see for himself, I did not wish him to be swayed by my thoughts and ideas, though he was not really that kind of man anyway.
“Now you have your spectacles you see that it is not my imagination, do you not”? “That wonderful warm glow, how lovely the houses look, how quaint and comfortable”
“I know, my friend, that you have not seen inside and that comfort to you, is an arm chair, an open fire, fizzling warmth into the air and this you cannot see in a two-dimensional picture but you get the idea of beauty and comfort from it? He nodded vaguely and continued to peruse the painting, standing on his tiptoes to get closer to it.
“I saw the nod and incline of your face even if you said nothing my friend, perhaps it is because there is also something of this painting that does not seem right, something that discomfits you? Something that is other than it should be. I noted your slight nod upon my thoughts and ideas. You my friend felt it too, you noticed and accepted it”.
“I can see from the incline of your face that you do, that you have seen what I have, the glow of candles in the windows.
You look at me quizzically but there is no need to, my friend. I have seen all that you have and have seen it here and in many other cottage paintings since then. Once I was sure of what I had seen I studied many others, all of seaside cottages, both in person and on the internet and I have also seen the dark faces in the windows and the screaming children. You are neither a fool nor being played a trick upon. Rather you are finally seeing what the painting really shows”.
“Many artists paint truth as they see it and they have seen the dark faces in the windows behind the candlelight, hiding in the shadows, hiding in the dark spaces, behind curtains, under the bed, in cupboards and wardrobes”
“It is a strange painting”, he said, obviously disquieted but not wishing to say more “why do you think the artist painted it in such a way?
“It is the custom here in the country and by the sea to set a candle in the window for those lost at sea, so they will find their way home. The light will guide them. Similar to a lighthouse beacon, warning sailors of rocks, this does the opposite, it temps the souls of those lost at sea, back home to their families and loved ones. I have often heard of this custom and know that it is often practiced.
So many are lost to the sea here in a small fishing town, so many souls lost never to be recovered, bodies gone forever and no solace to be found. All mourn for the many no matter wither they know them or not, it is the way of things.
I urge you now to take your spectacles and look more closely at the glowing windows, the lit candles in them.
I watched as I knew what would happen as he wiped the coal dust and grime from his spectacles upon a handkerchief that he produced from his waistcoat pocket.
He held the clean spectacles up to his eyes but did not place them upon his nose rather holding them farther away so he could magnify the painting well enough to see.
I heard his in drawn breath first as the hand holding the spectacles dropped and he turned to look at me.
“The children found their way home”, he said quietly as though he did not wish to disturb them.
“They did”, I said, seeing the shadowy forms around the candles in the windows, screaming to be let out, screaming to find their way into the nether world and so find heaven or hell or whatever was their due. Yet family held them and the candles and their longing for home and I knew that they would be held there long past their time”.
“Perhaps it is simply the artist’s idea, perhaps this simply an artist that loves the macabre and so made this picture so, to discomfit the person that looked closely”. “that must be it” he continued, “it is simply your well known imagination and sense of wonder making a simple painting more than what an errant artist intended to show”.
I nodded, but said nothing as he walked back to his chair, I also sat on my computer chair and swivelled it round to look at him, I suspected what was coming and was prepared for it.
“It is truly a surprising painting, no wonder you wished for my thoughts and opinion on it but you are right” he said with a deep and heartfelt sigh, “you are not seeing things nor are you mistaken, I have seen as you have”.
“Yet it is no more than a macabre painting, your thoughts on the candles and the souls of those lost at sea being drawn home by the light is nothing more than your wondrous imagination, connecting old folk tales from your youth with the imagination of a rather disturbed artist”. “It is why you are a writer, old friend, you’re strange and wonderful imagination makes connections where there are none. Do not be upset that I do not agree with your proof as I have agreed with all you have noticed”
I simply nodded. We sat quiet, for a couple of seconds, neither saying anything.
“you remember” I began, breaking the silence, “that I said, I really did not believe my own eyes and my own thoughts and that is why I called you here”. “Initially that was true, but even as a fantasist and sensualist, I require proof, I need to know that I have not retired into my created worlds completely as may someday happen”.
“I told you that I had looked at other seaside paintings both in person and on the internet and so I did, I knew that you would be sceptical old friend, even I, the imaginer, was unconvinced of my thoughts. So, I looked at many others, I looked closely, at thousands of works by many different artists that had painted cottages by the sea”.
I turned around and hit the enter button on the computer.
Close ups started to appear on the screen of windows, oil, acrylic, charcoal and watercolour mixed together appearing one after the other with the feature I had noticed displayed in a dark array of depictions, all of screaming faces.
Sitting across from me, my friend nodded once and then his head fell. I could hear him sobbing as I turned to switch the display off.
“They are still there now; I think”.
He did not lift his head, just answered quietly, “it is time to blow out the candles”
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