Donald struggled with an obstacle typical of painters — lack of motivation, drive, and a channel to draw the gift into his hands and create joy for all viewers. For many artists, that was a death knell; he was no exception. It was the equivalent of asthma, or the colors going grey in the eyes, like sporadic, chronic and spontaneous combustion of the brain resulting in a type of color blindness that lasts forever. It wasn’t fun.
If anyone could imagine what it would be like to lose arms, legs, eyes, and ears, that’s what this form of block, similar to ‘writer’s block’, was like for a painter. It could be said Donald had the most severe case in the universe, although he could only imagine someone out there had it worse than him.
He would spend an ungodly amount of hours in front of the canvas in his dried-up, drab Los Angeles, California, studio, staring at the whiteness as if to somehow conjure the color, but to no avail. It never came. As if some injection in the back of his neck filtered in a type of downer meant to retard the brain synapses and choke the imagination out of him. Not even a field. Or a landscape. An ocean? Nothing.
He, yet, could see motion in his surroundings — a fly sailing across the white canvas, but landing delicately on the strict fabric as a plane would do on a landing strip. Within seconds, it lifted off, carrying on. Donald could hear the faint traffic sounds of trucks, sedans, motorcycles, and even bikes reverberating around the walls of his studio, and they were all crystal clear.
But his hand? His thoughts? His once flowing fire of creativity in color and line explosions evolved from the studies of Michelangelo Buonarotti and the fervent desire to paint a chapel ceiling, or the unwavering explorations of a Leonardo da Vinci, or the Jackson Pollock splashes of nothingness and everything-ness cascading deeply into something deserving, yet destructive?
….At least Pollock did something, he thought.
True, art was also action. Motion. Movement. And he wasn’t even doing that. In a way…. Donald was the painting. Everything else around him was the painter. He, the creation; the world around him, the creator. That’s not how it was supposed to be.
As a result, bills had to be paid by part-time jobs, odd gigs and borrowing from Mommy and Daddy. He spent most of his days, though, not painting, but ejaculating into his hand and legs while lying on the couch, stretched out spreadeagled, and fixated on some porn film he had borrowed from the local video store. Sadly, he didn’t have the income to manage a Netflix account.
The dream slowly dying, he only reminisced about how there had been promise in his craft once: the Art Institute of Chicago had certainly noticed when he studied there back in the day. A couple of art galleries in California had even prospected him; he’d come relatively close to running his own exhibit.
But somehow…. Somewhere in his life, the spark withered. Sputters of smoke, it seemed, wafted from it, drifting into the void of reality. He was certain it didn’t happen instantly, but it certainly felt like it did. When in the spur and rush of a tactical day and night — go through paperwork, run these errands, make it on time to the diner for that part-time shift, damn it, my head hurts, I need to go to the bathroom, it burns when I pee…. What’s going on with me? — somewhere in the middle of all those thoughts was when the spark went out.
He then woke up one day and felt nothing. And it was the closest thing to death.
At the very least, he managed. As mentioned, Donald wasn’t against taking on some part-time jobs and all of that, just to make due, but the nagging itch inside his mind was the question: what’s wrong with me? It had to be something. Anything.
He went to therapists, doctors, acupuncturists, hypnotists, shamans even. They pretty much all said the same thing:
‘Let’s work on it’.
‘It will take time’.
‘This will be a process’.
‘This process will take time’.
‘We will work on this process and it will take time’.
He even considered CAT scans or MRIs. Maybe it really was in his head. A tumor perhaps. Banging the walls and wanting to rip out his scraggly dirty blonde hair. He was sick of hearing the word “time” bleed out of everyone’s mouth, not mouths, mind you — but just one, big, gaping, massive, ugly, black hole of a mouth, as all the medical professionals in the world and their words seemed to merge together in one weird recording cacophony of montages, repeating the same thing over, and over again. And over, and over, and over again.
Like a chorus from Hell.
Not a bunch of singular singers grouped together, but a mutated musical monster, skin parts grafted together in odd, misshapen ways. And with just one mouth. It was madness. At least that’s what it felt like to him.
He snapped. And there was only one thing he could do: shop.
You see, Donald, at the very least, did have some solace; a back-end with refuge to the madness that was him and the stumbling block that was the apparent world: it was shopping for art, or art supplies…. Or anything that had to do with art.
Oftentimes, he would visit other art galleries and just peruse, window-shopping as a result of not having the coin to manage some of the so-called masterpieces he saw as a way to somehow garnish musing and inspiration to quell the rebellion inside his brain. Other times, he’d meander in art supply stores for maybe a new interesting brush, bigger canvases and other apparatus to spur him on. The products were, of course, much cheaper than created works on the walls of galleries, but there were those days that a paintbrush didn’t do much for him except remind him that he was a wannabe. A hack. A has-been.
Truly, it was a toss-up. A lesser evil. A chance to take and hope that the activity would be enough to manifest something onto his canvases in the studio and make something of himself.
Another way he sought to avoid the repetitive nonsense of art supply studios was study up on new stores popping up around his area — not too far away, of course. Gas was expensive. He wasn’t against going for a stroll as starving artists did on the many occasion. This was the life — and a tough one at that.
One day, he did catch wind of one store, of a diamond in the rough, tucked away in a corner of a back lot no one would notice. Those were the gems. Hard to find, but masterful in exploration. Chances were good that even a paintbrush in those stores could make him feel like a maestro once more.
The store was called The Sangnickel Corner, and walking into it on a Friday afternoon was like entering into a new world — alien to humans, friendly to celestials.
The ceiling was painted in galaxies, and the walls were like van Gogh paintings-turned-murals to break the symmetry of shelves, boxes and beige floors. Literally dozens of big paintbrushes, rollers, cans of paint, watercolors, colored pencils, gel pens, manga design kits, art stands, sketch pads and more lined some of the walls excellently as Donald drove himself with his feet to the front.
It was like being a kid again.
That’s when he saw the guy, assumed to be the owner of the store. He was the only one there. Normally you could tell if there were some store associates by the sounds in the back, but even that was as silent as some private artistic padded room with only the faint sound of wind across the windows.
Dressed in a dirty brown cardigan, the older gentleman hunched over the back end of his counter, organizing materials — or perhaps drawing something for himself. Donald couldn’t tell. His back was so massive, bigger than a hunchback of Notre Dame….
“Um. Excuse me?” Donald said.
The man turned his head a bit to the left. “Welcome. Can I help you?”
Donald fiddled his fingers. “Just wanted to compliment you on your store. It’s beautiful.”
He then swiveled in his chair, revealing his face, covered in a few skin tags and wrinkles of a tired Gandalf with a big nose. Lacking any kind of hair save some strangled strands, it was a bit of a setback to see, but not surprising given the location of the store, the fact that he was the only customer in it, and that there were no other employees.
It made Donald think that this man knew what a starving artist truly was. And that made him feel at home.
He grinned something toothy and toothless. “‘Preciate that. Truly. You an artist?”
Donald smiled, shrugging. “I suppose.”
He nodded. “I see. Still trying to discover the right strokes.” He then shuffled a bit to the left, groaning as he got up. “Well, let me know if you need anything — ”
“Honestly, what I’d like to know is what you’d recommend for inspiration here. Something cheap, too.”
He guffawed. “Of course! Cheap is a commodity here, too, but nothing too cheap. Products cost a bit to have here.” He almost sounded offended, and his wrinkly face looked even a bit scarier as a result.
“I — I don’t mean any offense — ”
“Oh, you’re fine.” He brushed it off. “Well, if you want my honest opinion” — he pointed closer to the front of the store, where all the brushes and paints were — “those supplies really are just ‘tools’. Anyone can use ‘em.”
“Well, yeah…. But don’t they feel good holding onto? And it’s all about color and paint, brings life to the canvas.”
“True, but you need the canvas…. They’re useless without the canvas. The foundation. The paper which then grows the masterpiece” — he raised his arms in triumph — “masterfully.”
Donald looked around…. “I suppose.”
“I would picture the canvas as the Earth, the soil, that would ultimately bring about the biggest trees. You would, of course, need to plant the seeds.” He pointed up, knowingly. “But that’s all it takes. The seeds are useless without it. Now the Earth will always be there waiting…. Waiting for the new birth to come. Nothing can take that away.
“But someone can take away the seeds. And then you can always get more! A canvas, though — virtually limitless by size — perhaps a wall,” — and then he pointed at some of his van Gogh murals — “or the side of a building, or a sculpture, or a little sketch pad, or anything really. They’re irreplaceable.” He leaned in, placing his hands on the counter…. It was the first time Donald saw that he had steely grey eyes. “Your canvas could be anything. Even yourself.”
Donald nodded, the ends of his mouth coming down in thought. Poignant, really, in a dried-up old librarian sort of way, like Bastian Bux’s never-ending story. Inside, he chuckled just a little bit, thinking it was stupid, but mystified all at the same time.
The owner then helped him browse some of the various canvases until Donald heard the call with his eyes of one particularly large set of canvases behind the counter, locked away in a glass case on the wall, six by six. The case had a label on it: The Blood Painter Canvas.
As the owner kept pontificating about some fibers and materials, cotton duck and linen, panels and rolls, it was then that Donald thought he heard a whisper echo from somewhere else.
And he snapped, compelled — “What’s that type of canvas on the wall?”
That stopped the owner clean. Dead silence. As if he knew what Donald was referring to. This might’ve happened several times before with other customers — at least the very rare ones that would show up in the shop. Suddenly Donald felt an energy, heated from his massive hunched back, bleed into his brain like a hemorrhage, like when people get awkward at questions and don’t know how to respond, so they ache to avoid the answers at all costs. It was a negative energy. Didn’t feel good.
He slowly turned around, gazing at Donald with those grey eyes….
“Would you like to see one of them?” he asked, deadpan.
Donald blinked, not expecting that. His first thought was this “Blood Painter Canvas” product had to be one of the ‘pricier’ items, given the glass case and the placement behind the counter, and he knew that his impression wasn’t that of a money maker or infamous celebrity painter —
Shockingly, Donald didn’t even need to respond. The man marched to the back of the counter as if Donald already gave his answer.
Unlocking the case with a latch, twitching the wood with creaks and groans not unlike the man’s groans with his back, he pulled one massive canvas out for Donald to gulp over. It looked even bigger outside of the case.
With those grey eyes, he stared at Donald. “I did mention that the canvas means everything…. We have here the understatement of the century. This canvas is everything.”
It looked stark white to Donald. He just tilted his head in wonder.
“….It was called the “Blood Painter Canvas,” but the owner elaborated further, educating Donald on the newest medium in the art world: blood painting. But the canvas was the key.
Specifically for struggling artists in the industry, the canvas imbued the designs with desires to viewers that were unparalleled in scope, amassing such positive response. But it only worked — and this threw Donald a bit — by using blood as paint.
What kind of blood? Any kind. It would make the canvas come to life, the owner said. At first Donald thought it was avant-garde extreme, Bohemian on acid with abstract expressionism at its most biological in nature, but he was game.
Using blood as paint…. Interesting, for sure, but also the owner was truly cryptic at what he meant by how the canvas would “use” the blood as paint, as perhaps a guiding muse for the artist to craft a visual story — and a story that would come to life. He didn’t illustrate how; he didn’t illustrate what kind of blood he should use. None of that.
He did, however, state that it shouldn’t be “warm.” As in “fresh.” Thankfully, no vampires allowed, but Donald had to laugh at himself at the territory he was getting himself into. Suggestions included going to blood banks, donating, and also approaching slaughterhouses to…ask for blood.
He admitted it was a bit creepy.
A cow, a dog, a cat, a chicken: he surmised that the blood could be from anything. Maybe a human. But seriously what human would want to siphon their own fluids for the sake of painting?
Donald would. And why not? The owner didn’t say he couldn’t do that.
Needless to say, Donald coughed up anything he could possibly muster for just one canvas, six by six, on a good deal given his situation. The owner seemed to understand quite well how difficult the industry was as he didn’t blink twice at the thought of offering a discount.
Sixteen dollars. For one canvas of that size. Donald knew that was a great deal.
Dragging the canvas was a chore as it didn’t fit into his little car. Walking several blocks wasn’t kind to the calves and knees. To make it worse, he did have to at some point run back and get his vehicle. But not tonight. He was shivering with joy — he had a new endeavor to partake in.
Part of the art world involved breaking the norms, pushing the envelope, setting a new bar, going extreme. This had to be about as extreme as could be. While the owner did say not to use warm blood, he had one problem: he really didn’t have the resources to purchase bags and bags of cold blood.
So what was he to do? — this was his version of extreme.
Getting to his studio was the first step. Barely getting the canvas in, he set it on the wall and struggled to find equipment necessary to accomplish what he wanted. He needed…a tourniquet.
Ruffling his already matted hair, it wasn’t an easy task until he found some long rubber bands, but that wouldn’t have been enough to accomplish the task. He needed actual blood drawing supplies.
Going online and finding exactly what he needed wasn’t hard, yet challenging given the additional cost; so it took a few days to muster up the income. A plethora of options existed right there on the first page of Google: phlebotomy kits, blood tubes, safety lancets, needles, syringes, the whole nine yards. Instructional guides also helped, keeping him from overdoing it or busting a vein. Step-by-step procedure was key as he, of course, wasn’t a medical professional…. Just an eccentric starving painter looking for inspiration.
It had to be the easiest way to go, honestly — better than just buying the blood. He couldn’t imagine that it would be any kind of an issue, using his own blood as a medium, and he certainly wasn’t going to hunt for dogs, cats, rats and other animals like some revenant in the night. That would’ve been creepy.
His thought was — given the many horror flicks he had rented — that using someone else’s warm blood would’ve invoked a demon of vengeance, wreaking havoc upon him like a harbinger of Hell for stealing someone else’s life force. Giggling at himself, he thought it funny, but far-fetched. Surmising, justifying and pinpointing the logic that his own hemoglobin would be just ‘fine’ was enough to move forward….
After all…. Donald couldn’t steal his own life force from himself.
Sitting in the moldy bathroom, he commenced procedure. Following the steps, he inserted the needle into the crease on the other side of his right elbow, taping it down. The tubing was easy — it was like a plug n’ play, running it down and connecting it to a bag for collection. The pressure after twisting a knob and then pumping his fingers caused his fluid to funnel through the tube as if he was donating plasma, and then it all made sense. This was how you did it.
About an hour into draining, he had to laugh…. I’m a vampire…. he said.
He imagined the color in his face draining, a deeper white than even the nosferatus of the silver screen. Yet, he would drift off deeply into a stupor and not realize the instructional guides did say to maintain fluids and use ice packs when necessary just in case he would feel like he was going under.
He came close on a few occasions in that hour, the color and light hazing bright. Funny how it would’ve been for him to be found by the police…. Killed by phlebotomy. In his moldy bathroom.
After an entire liter’s worth, drinking water washed his insides with solvents of moisture, enveloped in succulent half-life wizardry and knobbly knees struggling to stay uniform. Donald imagined anyone watching him in his craft panicking in dismay at the fact that his body might’ve crumbled into a fallen house of cards, stretchy skin with the powder of dryness over the lack of water.
Yet he somehow felt fine, he thought. Just a little woozy.
The thought of just refrigerating his own blood sickened him. He had to pull himself together. It wasn’t going to hurt anything to store his blood and get right to work after getting some protein in him to replace the fluid in his system and renew himself, but he also wondered if the blood was going to be any good just sitting out — like expired milk.
He thought perhaps that it was prudent to plan ahead and not theorize the possibilities. After all, this wasn’t a horror story. This was a Bohemian rhapsody of imagination and wonder, birthing a new star of the colored canvas to brace and grace the walls of galleries clear and wide, and he was going to hail himself as the new Picasso of the 21st century. Too late, though; there was no turning back. Ladies would fawn over him like love-potion-number-nine-stricken strigoi, the countless Lilith strixes aching for other intimate fluids to enter their souls through orifices only they could describe to him in detail. It was going to be glorious.
Once everything stopped looking a little brighter than it should’ve been, he went right to it: popping his Bluetooth on, synced with his playlist of classical pieces, and placing the canvas against the wall, he took his blood — his paint — with a larger brush to maximize the stroke and evenly spread the color.
He began…. Painting.
Not sure what to expect, the emotion in him was strangely blank, like the world around him…. Stopped. He no longer heard anything outside of the music, even with the Bluetooth on listening to Chopin, the layered sounds caressing the ears; he normally could hear a lot of the white noise in the surrounding environment underneath, but no longer.
The thick, coagulated blood smeared softly onto the canvas, long combed strokes onto the white to jar the mind in ambient contrast. At first he started with a streak, diagonal across the top portion — building into a spiral. And the sublime transformation began to awaken…something inside him, yet he wasn’t sure what was to come of it.
This was all new to him — an ethereal and cosmic experience. Typically any painter had at least some idea of what to shape and mold with color and line, but this wasn’t the case. Donald had no plan in place. It was off the cuff, shooting from the hip, and letting the brush and his blood guide him into a void of peaceful shadows of crimson, darkened by the same hideous whisper….
It echoed. Every turn, every new line. It echoed. It echoed. Echoed…. Every line. It was divine and deep, like the blood still coursing through his veins and on the canvas.
The whisper…. Just wouldn’t stop.
After what felt like fifteen minutes, Donald wanted to stop for a moment. Perhaps catch his breath…. Then he realized that something compelled him not to. He simply couldn’t put the brush down. And the whisper inside his head, beneath the lines of Chopin, somehow grew that much louder, ingrained within the sputter of the feed inside the Bluetooth amid the digital reframes of sound, shattering truth —
That this wasn’t real.
His vision grew blurry. And hot. Could eyesight get…“hot”? Apparently. Feeling his pupils constrict, he began to wonder…. Did I drink enough water? Perhaps he needed just a bit more protein in his system. The funny thing was although his mechanics managed to stumble in stupor, his painting arm kept fluidity, gracing an imaginary line seemingly led by the brush to build something magical.
It was like…. dying. Or sleeping. If a drug overdose could happen without snorting, injecting, ingesting or smoking, it would feel exactly like what Donald was feeling. The existential remembrance of how to be outside oneself in a Jim Morrison sort of way, building his own set of “doors” to walk through and explore an entirely abstract universe of polygons and planes of imagination, all came back to him as a twister would on a Kansas town, delivering sweet, tranquil destruction upon mankind.
And his stomach churned something fierce, tightening as a vice would on the temples of his forehead, breaking him down from the capillaries out. As if on the surface of Mars, his eyes felt like they were bulging, squeezed the way air would be out of flapping fish on dry land, struggling for breath in hollow organs creaking like the doors of the cabinet, which housed the Blood Painter canvases.
That’s when Donald truly started to panic…. Why am I out of breath? It couldn’t have been the phlebotomy kit. He did everything right. Why was the world spinning…. Why did he feel a cold sweat on his forehead…. Yet his arm kept moving, dancing, twirling…draining.
Dipping the brush back into the bucket of blood, the process seemed so mechanized, automated, immediate. he tried to will himself to stop —
Maybe he needed a break, artists always needed a break, it was time to breathe, because he couldn’t breathe, he needed to breathe, he couldn’t breathe—
Blood. Blood. Blood.
Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. —he thought, repeating to himself, but it didn’t stop. And the whispers, they kept coming. The brush kept moving faster and faster, seemingly on its own.
And as he was inundated with the sounds of some demonic puppeteer helping him paint his entire existence onto the canvas, it was then he felt that same whisper…. Behind him.
It was nighttime in the studio. Not one sound echoed. Donald never left. The lights were still on. And while the Blood Painter canvas remained with streaks of his blood splattered all over the fabric, that wasn’t the only canvas painted. There were others. Small canvases, papers, clipboards, sketchpads, numbering the thousands, it seemed, nailed to walls, strewn across the floor, on the table, brought to life countless designs in rich scarlet hues.
Several dozen odd-shaped figures, not unlike Donald himself, manifested like Papier-mâché and two-dimensional as thin paper, but conjured with motion as tapestries in the wind, also marched from canvas to canvas in the studio as humans do, but like automatons, each carrying a paintbrush, and creating something…new…on their respective canvases, with the exact same blood used to create the first painting…brought to life. Their faces were snapshots of blank and deathly terror, drawings of a male who once was part of the world, but no more. He was now just…a never-ending painting.
SCARY HORROR STUFF
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© Pierre Roustan 2020