Chapter One

Leonardo, Van Gogh, Munch and Vermeer.

Savagery done with the bristles of her brush; a million tiny swords bleeding colour from the fleshy linen canvas. The serene abstracted strokes of red and speckles of white were all black and grey in the absent of the sun. But soon began the rise and with it came to life the beautiful backdrop to the disfigured shadows she could see but had yet to paint.

The artist was Chloe Ferre — the orphan who had lived two decades bearing a supple face of amber, subtle blue eyes and locks of honey that curled behind her ears.

Life was her inspiration. The canvas was time. With each stroke, the earth shook beneath the pillar of memories and brought them crashing down.

Leonardo, Van Gogh, Munch, Vermeer. What savages, she insisted.

Orphan houses and perverted men were the shadows.

Chloe suspended their shapes amidst emptiness with thick charcoal-black lines. There are no shadows without light. There were no shadows without light.

The savagery was impertinent, curt, unkind. Remarkable in her mind’s eye.

Her body was numb and her fingers carried her. The thick paint dried on her knuckles, cracking to become little islands of red and white and black separated by flowing rivers of gold.

Outside her little window, the Parisian sky was grey. The clouds gathered to throw pathetic rain, one handful at a time. The ringing door chime of the bakery atop of which she resided was predictable. The same few men and same few women attended to the baker’s scent of fresh bread and patisserie — Isaac his name was. Monsieur Isaac was old, and he was half blind. “Beauty is a scanty thing,” he mumbled politely the first time he met Chloe, “I want a quietly sensitive tenant who can see me for who I am,” he told her, “Vieil!” Old. He made her giggle. He was one of three men she knew by name. But the other two were destined for her canvas.

Chloe’s night linen still lingered over her body, dancing at the hinges of her little hips; translucent, barely existent. It was past noon and she still hadn’t eaten. The time was ripe, she capitalised on the pivotal moment to exploit her ghosts, free to corrupt as she pleased.

The shadows merged together to form a seance, a ritual of cruelty. Leonardo, Van Gogh, Munch and Vermeer, who were their shadows?

When the sun began to set and the smell of sweet bread left the air, Chloe’s eyes burned and she could see two of every stroke. Breaking out of her trance, she immediately fell behind onto her bed. The tight feeling of paint on her hands warmed her and comforted her as though someone was holding them, not letting go.

She turned to her side and slept a dreamless sleep. Having worked from dusk to dusk, she was exhausted and malnourished.

When she awoke it was nearly dawn. Her eyes were dry and her hands were stuck to her sheets by a thin layer of paint. To peel them off gave her satisfaction.

Chloe lay in her bath tub and cupped a handful of water over her face. Her lips were dry and her hair was matted. She took a shallow breath and let the water flow over her naked shoulders and her hair unfurl and extend.

The birds chirped at the glimmer of sun. She gently pressed her hair with a towel and sat on the edge of the bed, reluctant to see what savagery was inflicted on her canvas the night before, and what savagery remained yet to be done.

Chloe finally mustered the courage.

Her skin freckled with goose-pimples.

She stood against the canvas and let her finger trace the shadows.

Each one was complete and better than she had imagined it. To the last detail, to the last stroke.

Chloe reversed her steps and pinched her wrists. She rushed to see her face in the mirror. Her finger was black with paint and her face flustered with anxiety.

This was no lucid dream — no dream at all.

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