"Here he is now," the voice thunders across the marble floor to the door where Jason stands.
Immense, the room expands before him, lit by torches that lick hungrily at the air, casting an eerie glow on hundreds of grotesque faces contained within picture frames that burnish the walls. A lone shadow by a seating area in the center of the room, separates into two, one closing the distance to Jason, in mere heartbeats, taking his elbow as if to escort him into what awaits. He winces, arm numb, at the cold firm touch.
Golden irises cage his gaze, the face around them crawling in constant movement. Jason gasps, realizing he had been holding his breath and finding himself now in the center of the room, arm released. Shaking his head, Jason looks again into the face of his benefactor, skin smooth as marble. Maybe it was flickering flames he justifies for what his eyes could not have seen.
"Mr. Durant, this is the artist I was telling you about," Jason's benefactor gestures to a rotund man, wrapped in a three piece suit, trimmed with all the finery of luxury, "He has brought us his most recent creation."
"Most excellent," Durant's voice is a hiss, "I can not wait to see it."
The room spins, the weight of all the eyes, both real and in portraits weighing on Jason. He stumbles a bit, the handle of his portfolio biting into the flesh of his palm, and lowers himself into a leather couch. He places the portfolio on a knee high table and rubs the offended hand.
"Mr. Malphis, I am sorry, it has been a difficult morning. My apologies to you as well Mr. Durant," Jason offers, weak as if with great exertion.
Mr. Malphis, the benefactor, and his guest, Mr. Durant settle easily on the opposing couch, "Mr. Durant, Jason has been working for me for some time. All of the painting you have been admiring on the walls as of his craftsmanship. When I found him, he was a meager painters boy, dabbling in art on the side. His works really were nothing of consequence, but I saw in him a hunger."
Jason casts his eyes around the room at all he has done. Grisly faces stare back at him, souls captured in a moment of submission and weakness. They would come to him at night, on nights when sleep finally found him, and whisper their names. Each month when he visits this room, he can feel them and the final moments they spent together.
"He is revered for his ability to create paintings that seem to come to life. This is the gift that I granted him all those years ago," Mr Malphis pauses to let the promise and potential settle settle, "Each month he brings me one painting to add to my collection. As you can see they are very different from the paintings he sells to the public."
Mr. Durant's eye's twinkle as he admires the portraits around the room, the gash of his mouthing widening into an excited grin between his jowls. Jason had never met the man, actually this was the first time Mr. Malphis had ever brought any other person into this room with him. Revulsion embraces Jason, then settles as a heavy discomfort in the pit of his stomach.
"Show us," Mr. Malphis' full attention once more on Jason.
Jason peels back the flap of his portfolio, sliding the unframed canvas from within its mouth. Sarah's eyes catch his and threaten to violently disrupt the delicate balance he has found internally. They are not terrified as those in the other paintings, hers are disappointed, but mostly filled with loss of something precious. Jason is burning inside, sweat bursting across his face.
"Mr. Malphis," Jason begins, then falls silent as the canvas is no longer in his hands but being admired by the two men across the table.
"Oh, I like. This will make a fine addition to my collection. You really have brought me something fresh Jason. My, she seems to almost have genuine feeling for you. The taste of her heart breathing is intoxicating," Mr. Mathis croons, "It will receive a place of honor above the mantle."
Durant fails to restrain his own exuberance, a mongrel before a cut of steak. He rubs his hands, running a thick tongue along his think lips, waiting his turn to hold the portrait. Jason nearly doubles over with pain at the though of Durant's fingers upon her. Malphis though rises and slowly crosses the room as he continues to admire the artwork.
"No!" Jason howls, "No! Please, sir. Please, don't. Let her go!"
Turning slow, Malphis' smile threatens to engulf his face, his voice still, "You do care for her don't you."
"I...I..," Jason stammers.
"You know our deal, Jason. One a month. This is your finest work, surely you don't have a substitute?" Mathis' golden eyes move from Jason to Durant, carrying their own message.
Rain spatters the hard stone beyond the back door to building, wet grey paint covering all color, except red. Thunder cackles from above, angry lightning rippling the darkly mottled clouds.
"You will need this," an umbrella passes hands and opens from within the shadowy mouth of the door.
Shoes clap the stone, as a lone individual exits, turning left along the road. There is no intention in the direction, just somewhere to go. Nothing but questions churn within the chambers of their heart. Once far enough that the shadow of the building is no longer upon them, they stop, removing a canvas from the simple store bag in their fingers.
The portrait seems nearly alive. Striking the canvas, a raindrop runs down the face from the corner of the eye.
This is the conclusion to my three part Magpie Tale. Who is it that holds the portrait? I will leave that up to you. Smiles. Hope you enjoyed the trip. If you missed the previous chapters, they are here, Wet Paint 1 and Wet Paint 2.