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luna65

Archive: Still Life

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The aura of fecundity enveloped in decay...like a neglected painting, fading and cracking with age, its’ tableaux a once-vivid still life of a table lavishly adorned with fruit and flowers...it is as if you can still smell them, just the slightest hint lingers upon the air...of roses, apples and black raspberries...beneath a thick layer of “dusty” sandalwood, frankincense and powdery vanilla.

 

ROSE ~ Self confidence, strong aphrodisiac properties, attracts affection & love, fertility, divination/clairvoyance.
APPLE ~ Love, healing, fertility, good luck , happiness, immortality, fortelling spells.
RASPBERRY ~ Love inducing, aids in pregnancy discomforts, protection. Stamina, vigor.
FRANKINCENSE ~ Purification, consecration, protection, exorcism. Associated with silver and the moon.
VANILLA ~ Aphrodisiac, inspires happiness, playfulness, sexual arousal, lust, vitalizing.
SANDALWOOD ~ Love, exotic, sensual atmospheric; aphrodisiac. Healing, spirituality, exorcism.

 

Created by: Mara Fox

Description: Julie (luna65)

Label art: Clara Peeters - "Still Life with fruit and flowers," 1612

October 2017

 

 

There are many stories of haunted paintings, though one suspects that not all haunted paintings are known, even in this age of ubiquitous cataloging of rumor, urban legend, and anecdotal history. But one such painting is known to me, and I will comment upon it, though I have viewed it only once. I would desire to note that the effects of those so-denoted objects manifest in different ways, but in my estimation one does not require anything more supernatural than one’s imagination to experience a haunting. That is quite enough to suffer a surfeit of dread.

 

But I digress…

 

Five years ago I was employed as an assistant to a man named Edward Vinsdale, whose lineage was of some renown in this region and he resided alone in the ancestral home, far too large for one man but he was insistent that the residence remain in the family. I was his secretary, looking after his schedule, correspondence and various obligations. He also employed a housekeeper and a gardener. As Mr, Vinsdale was getting on in years and rather frail, he never ventured beyond the first floor of his residence. The housekeeper took care of a nominal amount of cleaning, but otherwise no one had ventured up to the second floor in over a decade.

 

A little over six months into my employment a man called upon Mr. Vinsdale with some sort of inquiry, an argument then ensued and my employer raised his voice to the visitor in a way I found disturbing. The phrase I recall most vividly was his declaration, “It’s been painted over now, you’ll never view it!” to which the other man replied, “How can you be sure of it?!” A moment later the visitor stormed out, muttering to himself, and departed from the property.

 

Given my employer’s reaction I knew better than to inquire of him directly,.but instead waited for a moment alone with the housekeeper, Evangeline Murage. I asked her what the visitor could have wanted, repeating what little I had heard of their exchange, and she blandly replied. “There’s a painting upstairs, been in the family for a generation or two, heard tell it belongs to some other man whom Edward’s great-grandfather stole it from, because he was obsessed with the thing.”

 

“A painting of what?” I asked. “Have you seen it?”

 

“Oh sure, it’s just a still life, is all. Pretty, I suppose, but hardly worth such a fuss.”

 

“So someone is attempting to reclaim the painting?”

 

At this she looked around to ensure we were alone, then lowered her voice.

 

“Not to take it back, but burn it.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Heard tell it’s unwholesome, in some way. I can’t see how myself, but that’s the legend of it.”

 

A month passed in which thoughts of the painting occasionally intruded in the same way a goldfish might come to the glass of its’ bowl, curious and close. I pondered how a still-life rendition could be unwholesome. Was it the subject, or the artist, or the medium itself? I knew better than to question Mr. Vinsdale but these intrusive thoughts grew in frequency and duration until at last I could no longer restrain my inquisitive desire. I bribed Mrs. Murage into showing me the painting, which was hung in one of the bedrooms on the second floor.

 

Upon a sunny October afternoon we ventured upstairs during Mr. Vinsdale’s customary nap, the house quiet save for the sounds of a radio broadcast emanating from his room, and the caw of crows alighting upon the trees outside. We climbed the stairs as quietly as possible, ostensibly to perform dusting of various of the rooms. When we reached the specific room, she took a key from the ring she kept on her person and unlocked it.

 

“Are all these rooms locked?” I inquired.

 

“No, only this one. Mr. Vinsdale insists.”

 

It was a rather plainly-furnished bedroom with double bed, nightstands, armoire and chifferobe, along with a marble-topped dressing table. I saw that the painting was, in fact, the only item of true decor in the room, as the furniture was rather utilitarian in design, sturdy maple with no additional adornments save the dressing table which also had a rather ornate mirror affixed whose glass was dark and stained with age. I helped her to dust the furniture, glancing at the painting every so often but not stopping to contemplate it too closely. When we completed our task she stood in the doorway and wiped her hands upon her apron.

 

“Look all you want, but remember you promised to help me.”

 

“Yes of course,” I assured her, looking over my shoulder at her as I stood in front of the painting. I happened to look into the mirror over the dressing table and noticed how warped the reflection of the glass was, given the age of the thing, and also the waning light of the day. Turning back to the painting I was momentarily startled by its’ vividness. How it gleamed despite its' apparent age. It had to have been at least a hundred years old and yet it looked newly-restored. The fruit and flowers within a vase and a bowl crowding a damask-covered table were seemingly at the very apex of their ripening. I turned, suddenly, to look behind me at the mirror and realized there was no mere trick of distortion.

 

The painting was entirely different as reflected in the mirror. I walked slowly over to the mirror, shock making my heart thud in time with my footsteps. The painting showed its’ age, cracked and faded, and the elements themselves were also decaying, the flowers drooping, the fruit bruised and rotting. Insects could be seen at various points within the image. Though I longed to verify my questionable perception I could not take my eyes off the mirror. A particularly loud caw broke the momentary spell and I started, looking toward the window. I then hurried from the room, shutting the door behind me and moving on to assist Mrs. Murage with her dusting.

 

She didn’t inquire as to my impression of the painting. The more I thought on it - as it became all I could think of - I came to the realization that she could not have possibly seen what I saw. She would have told me otherwise.

 

But the painting’s nominal owner, and likely others, knew of its’ macabre effect.

 

I understood why my employer kept the door locked. Because I wanted to do nothing more than to stare at the painting for as long as I could. Without truly knowing why.

 

The following day the visitor returned. When I opened the front door to him I felt myself turn pale and cold, and he immediately discerned the reason.

 

“Have you seen it?” he whispered, his question insistent.

 

“Er, what?” I replied, dissembling.

 

“The painting.”

 

“What painting, sir?”

 

He shook his head in response to my attempt at subterfuge. “It’s not a painting at all, you see. It’s a portal.” He whispered the last in the manner of a dreadful secret.

 

He would say no more and I announced his visit but my employer banged his cane upon the floor and exclaimed, “He is not welcome here! I told him that!”

 

As I turned to leave the room I heard the sound of hurried footsteps upon the stairs, and put a hand to my mouth, wondering if I had remembered to lock the door I turned from the room, my employer demanding to know what was going on, and ran up the stairs as quickly as I could. The man’s footfalls echoed loudly but as I reached the door, all was silent. The door was shut, but indeed was unlocked, and when it swung open I saw that the room was empty.

 

I could not bear to investigate further at that moment, but upon returning downstairs I found Mr. Vinsdale and Mrs. Murage engaged in frantic discussion.

 

“Did he get it?” my employer demanded.

 

“I don’t know, sir,” I replied. “There was no one there.”

 

He demanded we help him up the stairs and we made for the bedroom. To my surprise, the door was locked, and Mrs. Murage gave me a dark look as she took out her key, perhaps to forestall me from unwise admissions.

 

We entered the room, leading Mr. Vinsdale to the painting. I gripped his shoulder then to see, that - as he had earlier insisted - the canvas was painted over with a layer of black.

 

“You see!” he thundered, “It is just as I told him!”

 

I was too confused and frightened to look in the mirror as we left the room. We searched the house over, but never found a trace of the visitor. And we who occupied the house never spoke of the painting again.

 

I think about it often, finally committing my encounter now to these pages, though I dared not attempt to view it again. I think about what would have happened if I’d touched it, or touched the mirror which held a reflection altogether unwholesome for certain.

 

What world lay within that painting? Where does that portal lead? And whomever painted it, where did they come from?

 

It still hangs in the house, upon that wall, I’ve been told. When Mr, Vinsdale died, some months past the incident, the house came into the possession of a distant cousin who has also kept it just as it was, as it always has been. But my services were no longer required.

 

And I wonder: has the new occupant seen the painting as it is? As it truly is?

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