Damned Spot, Part 1

This weeks prompt: 19. Revise 1907 tale—painting of ultimate horror.

The Research:We Anti-Mused Now

Warning: This story contains instances of stalking.

Lenora Eckhart woke up in a room to find herself haunted. As she put on her office button up, it felt heavy and ill fitted, too long sleeves and too high a buttoned collar. The eggs she made with mechanical regularity were unpalatable, smelling ever so slightly of sulfur. The yoke was too runny, watery and sluggish. That would all be bearable, Lenora thought, if it weren’t for the boarish and booming snoring of her room mate. She’d have to find some cure today for Deliah’s sleeping problem. In such a mood, she headed out to work.

Walking along the moss and mist filled streets, Lenora wondered how it was that modernity had not made a mockery of the refuse. Eventually, she came to the train station, and found the benches crowded. The concrete slab that rose from the ground, cracked and encrusted with mold and muck, was crowded. And the rumbling grey train was crowded when it arrived. Waves of people trying to escape battered against the masses pushing in. Lenora stood in the sardine can as near the window as she could manage.

The bleak and broken buildings of Livingston began to give way as time rolled by. The train would click to a stop every now and then, and Lenora braced herself for the chaos. Otherwise, the ride was mostly silent, save the mumblings of mad men who stayed aboard the train or the cry of babes. As they rolled past the smoke spewing factories, the mass began to ever so slightly thin. And then he lighted aboard.

Lenora wouldn’t have noticed him at first, a man of middling height and weight, except he stumbled into her as the train lurched forward. Turning about, she barely gave him a second thought at first. A bureaucrat or functionary, in a black suit and with black parted hair and beady eyes. Had she recounted him then and there the most noteworthy thing perhaps would be his nose that seemed slightly askew. But her eyes found something else more worrisome. Something red was dripping from his right hand.

“Sorry, miss, ever so sorry. Still not completely steady on trains such as this,” the man said, smiling as best he could. It was a jagged smile, Lenora noted. Teeth like glass shards.

“Oh. It’s fine. Trains and all.” She said looking ahead.

“Yes, well, they are strange things aren’t they? Do you ride them often?” the man asked. Lenora could feel his eyes on her.

“Occasionally, every now and then when I need to get downtown.” Lenora said, focusing on the steel bars that served as ribs for the roaring machine.

“A lovely lady like you can’t drive all the way down?” the man asked. Lenora’s hair went on end as she felt a hand flop onto her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked, pushing the hand off as she turned. She could feel something still itching there.

“Not yet, no I don’t think so. I go by Pete, but you can call me Peter.” He said, with that crooked smile. There was the click click of the train stopping. Glancing up, Lenora sighed with relief.

“Well, this is my stop.” She said, rushing out with the crowd. Over the mumble and mass, she heard Peter shout something, but she wasn’t sure what.

The building that housed her office was a devoid of any real color, instead appearing almost washed out. Or stained, stained grey with the refuse and detritus of destroyed dreams and savaged souls. Lenora paused. The thought felt alien, intrusive, a voice in her head she didn’t recognize. Scratching her shoulder she dismissed it and went in to the building.

The interior lobby was better, somewhat, than its wasted exterior. It was painted white with a peeling blue paint on the ceiling. The carpet was soft and only slightly covered in dust. The stairs up were wallpapered with faded birds and flowers. Lenora had wondered if they ever made wallpaper like that fresh, or if it came off the assembly line old and worn.

Women at work

Her office was more a workroom, with lines and lines of tables. Paper palisades protected them from actually seeing each other, while the click-clack-ring of the typewriters beat on and on. Hers was nearest to the barred windows (supposedly to prevent people breaking in, though she suspected it was more to prevent people from breaking out), next to Daniel. Daniel was a bespectacled man, overweight and hunched. He had been in the office since it was a single story, since scrivener was a respectable position, since the sun actually peered through occasionally.

“Good god, Len, are you all right?” Daniel asked looking up as she squeezed past.

“I’m fine, Dan. Ran into a weirdo on the train is all.” Lenora said, sitting down. Daniel blinked a few times.

“And stabbed him?”

“What?”

“Your shoulder. Len, you’ve got blood all over it.” Daniel said, pointing with a pen. Lenora pulled her jacket some, and sure enough something dark and red was resting there.

“What on – oh for Pete’s sake this was my good one too! Ah, nothing to be done. No, the freak was bleeding from his hand I think. Probably got it on me too. Health nuisance.” Lenora said, forgetting the matter entirely. She hung the jacket on the back of her chair and set herself to labor. The pitter patter of rain gave a rhythm to the work that was almost pleasing.

Lenora spent several hours copying along, form letter after form letter, letter form after letter form, until she heard something whack against the window. Blinking for a moment, her trance of work disturbed, she turned in time to see a stone smack against the glass. Leaning over she saw a figure in the rain and fog waving and smiling. Blinking, Lenora saw a familiar glimmer of red.

“Oh Christ, he’s down there.” Lenora muttered, turning back to her work.

“The man from the train?” Daniel asked, his concern having been worn down to apathy.

“Yeah, him. How did he even find out I was here?”

“If his hand is bleeding that bad he should be in a hospital, not out in the rain.” Daniel muttered, resuming his typing.

“No, but seriously, did he follow me? I didn’t even tell him my name.” Lenora said, glancing outside again. There was no sign of Peter, not a bit of the red blood. When she turned to type again, the letters looked suddenly strange. To beat of alien drums, strange glyphs impressed upon scroll – no, no Lenora thought rubbing her forehead. That made no sense anyway. It was a type writer, for god’s sake. And complaint response letters weren’t any more ‘strange’ than anything else. Whatever thing was making these thoughts, it needed to stop. Must have been the eggs this morning.

Or hell maybe it’s Peter. They had started once she’d seen him, maybe something about his eyes vulturous leering eyes like a cannibals was doing this to her head. Inspiration comes from strange places, though she wouldn’t call this inspiration exactly. No, it was more like interruptions, breaks from the flow of thought. Invasions might be better. Lenora focused as best she could on the letters, careful to keep her thoughts from intruding.

She found, in time, that she could scribble somethings on a piece of paper. Little drawings that helped focus her thoughts. The interruptions weren’t a problem if they slipped out of a pen onto the page, a self-done exorcism. As she finished a sketch of a skull full of spiders, in between the one hundred and thirtieth and one hundred and thirty-first letters, the door to the office opened again. Peeking over, Lenora already guessed who was there.

There standing next to a familiar suit and red hands was Mr. Levington, her manager. A recluse with a head perpetually bent upward and a hunched back, Mr. Levington rarely ventured out of his office except to give tours to visiting salesman or investors. And even then he avoided the utmost floors. Too dreary and his voice was already a tad depressing.

“And this is the main office. Not much, but it gets work done.” She heard Mr.Levintgon drone on.

“Ah well, what can you expect.” Peter’s said, droning over the typing and mutterings of dozens of clerks. Lenora ducked behind the palisade and quickly busied herself working again.

“You can expect higher profits Mr.Phrike. We process hundreds of notes like yours daily, and with so many clerks, working so fast, it’ll triple your returns.” Mr. Levington replied, footsteps tapping down the rows.

“And how do you keep the people so busy? Certainly there is some rest for even the wicked.” Peter said, a clop-clop steps matching the manager’s. Lenora fought the curious urge to glance up, staring into the black type so long that it flickered red. Red writing, bloody books bound in human hide, wonders of bygone times… Lenora suppressed the thought, moments before it absent-mindedly drifted on the reply to the customers complaint of a defective sink.

“Well, sometimes, yes, but you see coffee is a miracle!”the managerial voice continued on.

“It is indeed. But from heaven or hell, who can tell? Now-Ah! I know you, don’t I? The train this morn?” Peter said. Lenora kept her eyes locked on the paper.

“What is a man like you doing on the train?” Mr. Levington said.

“Well, there are times when traffic is awful, so occasionally I take one when going down town.” Peter replied. Lenora typed as calmly as she could, pretending not to have heard him.

“Punctual! A great trait in an investor.” Mr Levington replied. The clop-clop of Peter’s steps began again, and Lenora felt a familiar weight on her shoulder as Peter’s shadow fell over the typewriter. Something in the air smelled foul as well, like smoke wafting upwards from a blazing cesspit, a dread Gehenna born anew.

“Uh, sir, is there something you need?” Mr. Levingston asked. “We’d ask you not disturb the clerks.”

“No, nothing. That’s a lovely drawing, Miss. Might want to keep them up.” Peter said, patting her shoulder. Lenora winced a bit before continuing typing. Acknowledging him might be encouraging.

“Well, I’ll be seeing you. Now, Mr. Levingston, you said you did factory work?” Peter said walking off. Lenora’s throat closed as his fingers lingered a bit, and soon she was seized in a coughing fit. Her shoulder itched again, like a blistering bug bite a vampiric strain carried by hand. And there was that,that constant invasion of her thoughts and God dammit he had gotten more of that gunk on her, a red brand burning on her skin. It itched something fierce.

She focused though, through the stinging and the shaking. Lenora ignored pressing questions about chance and fate and destiny and how on earth had he found her? That had to have been him in the rain, but he’d have set up a meeting here for months. How long had he been following her? Had he only now decided to make his presence known? Why?

————————————————————————–

Continue the story here or read some forgotten research here.

Intermission Reseach

Well, Lenora is in quite the pickle. But to keep your eyes fresh from our twice as long tale, good friends, I decided to include some things I neglected last time about the nature of muses. Namely, a brief list of examples of hostile and disturbing muses.

Firstly, all credit to the King. Stephen King plays with the nature of creative work many times, and I’ve seen more than one interpretation of Tommy Knockers as a metaphor for various illicit substances that enhance one’s creativity. Certainly that is a toxic muse, and while I have to actually read the book, the idea sounds credible.

The Shining also certainly plays with disturbed writers trying to find inspiration. To avoid spoilers, I will leave it at that, and recommend the film and book highly (The two are rather seperate).

Next, there is Paint It Black, a story from a series of Silent Hill comics. While I can’t speak for the quality of the work, it does engage in the notion of an unwanted muse (or muses) trying to force themselves upon the painter. Again, a similar idea, if less subtle by the monstrous nature of the muse in question.

Lastly, and the one that had the most impact on myself, is a small video from Channel Awesome, a website that hosts a number of pop culture critics. After the cancellation of one of their more popular series (The famous Nostalgia Critic) and the ensuing backlash, as well as a bit of time away from the character, the site released The Review Must Go On. I can’t say it is the best example, but as it was the one most directly connected to a creator I ironically have nostalgia for, it is probably the most prominent. The video is below, the relevant portion being 6.44-24:43

That injustice being rectified, we resume our typical programming.

 

 

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Damned Spot, Part 2

This Weeks prompt:  19. Revise 1907 tale—painting of ultimate horror.

 Part 1 here
The Research:We Anti-Mused Now

There was something frustrating about the invasive thoughts now, as much as they were worrying. Some she was still able to exorcise with pen and paper. Solar temples holding demonic gods and the courts of fae, tables filled with a humanitarian feast were easy enough. Quick sketches on the bottom lengths of paper, easily buried in a pocket or hidden beneath a shifted pile. But then there were other thoughts, less easily separated from her own. Worries about being late for the train were supplemented by images of crowds of people like cattle to the slaughter of lives and she couldn’t place where her idea started and the interruption began.

As the bell at her desk rang, Lenora carefully picked up all the sketches and shoved them into various coat pockets. They weren’t important, really, but they might be useful in case it got out of control. She’d be able to explain things better with diagrams anyway.

“Night Daniel.” She said pushing her chair in and putting on her stained coat. The red was running down the back and arm of it as well. Must be slow drying, Lenora thought.

“Hm? Oh, night Lenora. Be careful out there.”

“ What about old blood hands? I don’t think he’ll be a big problem.” Lenora said with a shrug.Daniel looked at her over his spectacles for a moment before sighing and waving her out.

The mists of town were as thick as at morning, if not thicker. The moon’s light cut through it in patches with islands of artificial light sticking out of sea. She was careful not to trip over the muck and the mold, making her way to the train station as quick as she could. Regardless of what she told Daniel, the night felt more predatory than normal. The lampposts had some ocular quality, glowing balls of fire examining her every move. She was shaking a bit at the train station when the click clack came and she got aboard.

The night train was less full than the morning one. Less people went home at the same time as came in. Lenora was happy to finally be able to sit down at something more comfortable than the office desk. The train began to lurch forward as she leaned back and let out a long relaxed sigh. The pitter patter of the rain was a relaxing beat as she rode home.

Midway through, the ding of the train woke her from her pseudo slumber. Blinking to awareness, she turned to see the rain still streaking across the window. But there was a pattern to it, she saw. Squinting, each drop fell in order, forming a long fractal grin. Teeth within teeth, as what were once lips became fractures and stretched from corner to corner, growing and consuming the entire window. It spiraled and spread, and Lenora’s throat began to close again as the spark of recognition came. It was Peter’s smile of broken glass, ready to gobble her up from the window.

She nearly toppled over, jumping out of her seat. Scrambling to her feet, she did her best to compose herself, putting distance between her and the window. That pattern had vanished, the dots no longer connecting properly to form the face. She must be seeing things, flustered over strange thoughts and Peter’s presence at the office. It was unlikely he could follow her everywhere after all. He didn’t even know her name.

Lenora walked up the the steps, four floors from the ground, to her apartment. It was an older building, mass produced in its way. Universal floor plan, though the wallpaper randomly went from light green to pink with vines on the third floor. Lenora slipped into her apartment without a second thought.

“Lenny, that you?” Deliah shouted from her bedroom.

“Yeah, just got in.”

“You okay?” Deliah said, emerging from her room. She was a bit bigger than Lenora, a bit taller, a bit wider, and with eyes that were a size too big for her head.

“I’m fine. Weird run-in at work, and no it’s not blood, some freak with red paint on his hands.”

“ Weird. Gaunt guy with a bleeding hand stopped by for you.”

“…was his name Peter?”

“Oh. So, you do know him?” Deliah said, shifting a little. Lenora paused midway through filling a pan with water and slowly turned about.

“No…No I don’t. He’s been following me all day. Why? Do you?” Lenora asked, emptying the pan into the water, and rotating her grip. Deliah began rubbing her arm a bit.

“Ah, well, he said he was a coworker, and that you’d left somethings at work that he wanted to return. Seemed kind off, but chatted up well…Your sure you don’t know him?”

“I met him today, on the train. You told him I lived here?” Lenora asked, leaning forward.

“No, no, just promised I’d get the box to you, that’s all! I figured you were friends or –”

“Damn it, how does he know where I live? What box, get the box.” Lenora said, her eyes flashing like lighting, and the pan banging on the sink formed a parallel thunder. Deliah scurried back into her room and emerged with a large cardboard box. Placing it slowly on the table, she slipped back from the inevitable explosion.

Lenora slowly approached the box, putting the pan down beside it. Opening it carefully, she was unsuprised to find a simple note on the top of the insides.

Dear Lenora Eckart,

I hope this finds you well. It is important, I believe, to encourage our artistic talents, and you are one of the best I have seen. Certainly you understand that? That we must break free of this world if we are going to live, burn it down in our minds in order to escape. You’ve seen the shell the world wears, barely constraining its suffering. You’re perfect for letting that all loose.

You’ve seen it all, after all. Imagine the demons of Mr. Hemsworth, the man you found hanging the closet when you were twelve. What kind of people lurked in those nightmares that sent you screaming into your mother’s room, only to be greeted with shouting and tears? What did you want to do to Leonard, when he mugged your sister? All that potential is inside you, waiting for someone to push it loose, to let out the clawing terror. Let it out, and you’ll see how much brighter you burn.

Don’t worry too much about how I found you or why. That’s not terribly relevant. Beneath this note, however, are a number of quite relevant items. I think you’ll find they give your mind the gentle prod it needs to grasp everything as it is. Look and you will see, search and you will find, please try not to run and hide. I am being as gentle as I may, leaving only a couple stains on you that I must.

Always Aware,

Peter Fobos Phrike, Esq.

Lenora’s hands were trembling as she put down the letter. She hadn’t told anyone about Mr. Hemsworth, except the police. Let alone the nightmares, or the incident with Leonard. No, she’d kept that inside and quiet. Turning back to the box, she felt a rush of cold bone chilling air. There were pictures, pictures of bugs, of swarms, of desolate ruins, of corpses, of landscapes torn asunder, there were old paintings and many eyed monsters, slaughter houses and houses full of the slaughtered, there were piles of bodies, there were laughing madmen with eyes of fire, there were…Lenora stepped back and collapsed against the wall struggling again to breathe. There were thoughts boiling in her brain, thoughts she’d never had, thoughts she’d never seen.

Plagues terrible and visceral, cannibal mothers and fillicidal fathers, dark secrets etched in crooked street stones, boiling over and over. Her head was burning, her shoulder searing. She heard crying and gnashing of teeth, leprous mourners dragged in the dirt, she had to get it out. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably, as she rocked back and forth. Out.

Crawling, she toppled the box off the table. Pictures and papers fell on top of her like a rain of nightmares, tapes and small sculptures of strange many headed men and women beating on her back, leaving bruises and aches. Huddling beneath it all, she felt a larger, longer paper cover her back. Rising slowly, she braced herself for something new. Some corpse of God, some terrible beast, some heinous crime so terrible that it need all of that space.

It was blank.

Lenora’s hands went still, her rocking stopped. It was blank. She began to feel something rising up her throat from her stomach, rolling crackling noise, at last bursting into a bombastic laugh. A fae laugh, a laugh that drove Deliah under her bed in fright. The laugh that women have as their family burns around them, at the sheer insanity and nonsense of the world. A broken and crushed laugh.

Her hands sifted through the pile, grasping at pens and a number of brushes. Several of what she assumed were small statues were strangely shaped paint cans. Lenora in the moment couldn’t distinguish the inspired thoughts from her own, the thoughts from what her hands were sketching. It was as if she was simply observing something unfolding before her, towers slipping free from the pen, rolling red mist seeping out of their windows. Great infernos giving to way sky splitting storms, people crushed under foot, white mobs of inquisitors lashing the starving. More and more through the night, colors bleeding form her mind into the lines, shadows scorching their way across the fields of light. Every dark thing she had dreamed of, every horror her ears had heard, every monstrous thought dismissed poured itself out in its infinite measure onto the page.

Morning broke, and she stood exhausted. It had stopped. Her mind finally felt free, the burning and bubbling and boiling gone. It was done, and her head was calm and at last Lenora felt relief and release, as if her clothes were light as feathers, a serene silence as if the world had stalled for her to enjoy the peace of the dawn. And then there was the creak of the door opening.

“There, isn’t that much better.” Peter said as Lenora turned around. “I knew you had it in you, little Len.”

The weight of sleep was already tugging on Lenora’s eyes, and her head was almost rolling. The exhaustion made words hard to form, all her effort caught up in standing upright. Still she managed to pull together enough scattered thoughts to talk.

“Get out.” She said, her words blurring together as she nearly stumbled into the painting behind her. Peter waved a dismissive hand and paced around her to better see the painting, stroking his chin.

“Wonderful, wonderful really. You’ve made something one of a kind here. Really, not since Saturn Devouring His Young have I seen this sort of wildness in a –”

“Get out.” Lenora forced out again, glaring unblinking at Peter. Peter raised his eyebrow and stepped forward. Lenora felt an involuntary flinch. The toothy smile spread across Peter’s face, shards of pallid glass protruding from his lips. She stepped back again.

“Now? But we just got started. No, Len, this is the start of something wonderful, something terrible.” he said, taking a long stride toward her. “Let us go gentle about it, eh? Don’t want anything to bruise.”

Lenora stumbled back again, tripping over one of the discarded paint cans. As she fell, she closed her eyes and braced for hitting the wooden floor. But the impact never came. Instead she felt something catch her back. Opening her eyes, Peter was smiling down, his eyes almost aflame.

“Let’s have the next one with less fuss, alright?” he said, his red hand stroking her face. Lenora twitched as it burned again, as the boiling started. Her throat was closing and the burning bulbous spider webs were weaving through her thoughts again, and it would never end.

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