c r e a t i o n
by Derek M. Fox
It begins. Like all things, slowly. At first.
The angle poise lamp throws stark white light upon the drawing pad; it illuminates the sketch of the hand; highlights its flexible, artistic fingers; the skin texture; the barest suggestion of hairs.
The artist is tired, eyes sore from staring over long periods. His own hand aches, the pencil slipping, rolling across the pad on the board to fall silently to the rug.
The hand on the paper . . . moves.
The artist blinks, knuckles his eyes. Surely he didn’t draw the index finger like that. It wasn’t . . . pointing.
Will it be gone when he closes his eyes and opens them again? A trick of the light? His need to work countermanded by lethargy and frustration.
Yes. It’s all right. The hand is partly closed, as intended.
His sigh hangs in the warm air. The beer he drinks from the can is flat, lukewarm, and truthfully he has lost the taste for it. He replaces the can on the sloping board. His watch says three after two a. m. A yawn dislocates his face. He scratches an irritating blemish on his cheek.
The night is soundless, without breeze, he can hear feeding, rutting things, their forays unsettling. Heard but hardly ever seen. He loathes their very nature.
The house rests, the living fire brightening the workroom, caught in tooled leather book spines, and reflected in the framed examples of his prowess. Here are comic book covers after Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, and the rest. And this artist knows he too, is unique.
Again he scratches his face, his two day growth. Working like this hasn’t been good. Lack of sleep and determination his defeat. It does not prevent him hearing the noises.
Shadows cluster at the base of his stool beyond the aureole of light: shadows of varying hues tacked to the walls, cluttering colder corners where the fire does not reach. They shape-change in the fire-dance.
Bemused, he looks back at the picture, the sound he’s heard so like an error being erased.
The stool topples to the floor, as he lurches backwards. The beer can teeters, rolls. They are secondary incidents, the artist unable to look away from the wavering fingers in his drawing. It demands. Its singular movement gut-churning in the extreme.
By the door now, the shadows cloak him, the light distanced, vaguely hypnotic. He gropes and clicks on a switch. The small sun of an overhead bulb spears other shadows whose screams are audible only to him. Fresh torture scrapes his eyes.
He counts time. Nineteen hours and ten minutes. Close to deadline time. Not much longer. Can’t be. He must finish, the thing taking shape on the pad wrought from his own, tortured self. Ideas, like night creatures, walk his thoughts, suggesting a line here, another there. The ideas take shape on paper, and they . . . move.
He is seeing things, the light proving it is his workroom and not some subterranean place he’s discovered.
Touching the drawings, the pencils, tracing fingers across his books, he bathes in the glory of awards won for his creations. His.
REALITY is tiredness, that brain dulling weariness which cauterises fresh thought. The chaise longue beckons. It is on the back wall beneath a framed trio of cup winning sketches, blueprints for a kind of reality born, and subsequently re-born. He sinks onto it, and closes his eyes. Sleep pulls at him. Dare he close his eyes? Just for a moment. He does and hears them.
They scratch the topsoil of his mind, demanding . . . he complete, that he fulfils his obligation as promised.
Fresh, less sleep-drugged thoughts will conjure even better ideas, but they won’t let him sleep and replenish.
Twelve drawings, eight of which are completed, preliminary sketches for another two done, excluding the one on the board, the final one to be commenced.
Deadlines. That word. Must meet it. Under a yoke of tight stipulations, hedgerows are parted, grass trampled beneath the enormous weight of ideas. His mind is a ploughed field, its furrows deep, throwing out some thing he has trouble coming to terms with.
He knows his commission.
The growth of a new, even more terrifying entity. Lower legs, thighs, arms, torso, hands, eyes, and finally, the head. Shadow shapes, misty shapes, all uniting for the anniversary of the birth . . .
Birth? Of what? Whose birth?
He cannot think. It is way past thinking time, and into dream time. He does sleep -
- and awakens to a noise issuing from some deep void: there is nothing to see.
He whispers unintelligibly, like talking through cotton wool. He feels the seat beneath him. As he pulls himself upright he knows it is the same floor littered with scatter rugs. The hewn oak coffee table should be to his left. It is. Therefore, the bookcase is beyond it. Yes. And the drawing board? It’s in the middle, butted up to the wall to the right of the black eye of a dormer window.
A dark reflection forces a pause, glaring eyes – his own painted garishly . . . by the fire? – in the glass, the mouth open in a feral, silent howl.
They won’t leave him be, always pestering, demanding.
What if it’s true, that something lurks out there. He weighs the odds, the possibilities. Fear suddenly overrides common sense. Might he control his thoughts? His hand? Stop it now before he strengthens fearsome intent. Better not to release it again.
His laugh is an expletive, a sharp burst of humourless sound. It is overwork. Light and shade are only varied aspects of the same colour of darkness . . . aren’t they?
Concerned as to who put out the light, he feels for the angle poise lamp over the board. His pencil holder, an old pot cup, tips over, pencils roll, they clatter on the floorboards where the rugs don’t meet. He hopes he hasn’t disturbed anything.
The light bathes his tiredness, long years – time – drawn from reality into a world he has chosen, thrown back from the ornate mirror purchased a lifetime ago.
He studies his work.
There, on the pad, is another hand – a clawing hand. It is one he does not remember drawing.
No! Just not possible.
Not strictly true. It isn’t impossible.
He moves to touch the dark claws, their brittleness setting his teeth on edge as they rake the other sketch towards them.
His grin is cold, his moan gaining momentum, rising in decibels, belching forth a scream.
He sweats, closes his eyes, opens them. The drawing of the hand, his drawing is there, unchanged. The lamp is off, the beer can neatly placed. But . . . where are his pencils? The pot mug?
He refuses to accept and knows he must look beneath the drawing board, beyond the toppled stool if only to prove . . . Damn it! There they are, on the floor, scattered pencils, a shattered mug. Outside things gather, and squabble.
Behind him, the door creaks, an old hinge he hasn’t the heart to oil. A standing joke for years. Like the entrance to an ancient house, that door has been his trade mark.
Someone calls, yet he sees no-one. The image is there though, a shadow beckoning him, a creature not of this earth, small, loathsome, winding in and out of the larger shape’s legs. His legs. It is he who is by the door, stunted, tired, unwilling to go on.
The door slowly closes, the hinge noise lingers. He gawps at the door, then into the mirror again, hating the eyes. Guilty eyes. Their eyes?
Hated them all his life. But his options were chosen the day he picked up pencil and brush.
He jumps at the noise behind.
Outside, they scathe and fight over something rotten fetched from a tumbled binliner, something he discarded because he couldn’t really be bothered anymore.
It’s always the same in the last few weeks: they demand, he supplies.
Not much time. Never any time.
He is edgy now. Tonight is so different. Time marches on. He clenches his hands, attempts a smile, even nods towards the door – the door where his shadow was standing not a moment ago. Was it mine? DEAR GOD!
But I am here, he tells himself. Yet the hinge did creak, shriek, whatever.
His head aches; he feels nauseous but he must finish what he set out to achieve, before the big hand reaches time to go.
Promises. He made a promise always to finish what he started. He owed himself that much. But is it me who is finishing it? he asks himself. So very, very tired. Want to sleep . . . s-l-e-e-p.
Oil paint and spirit clog the room. The shadow army takes shape by the board, the overhead light slowly plips out.
The smells force him to gag, especially the one rising through the now open window he is positive he didn’t open. The rancid aroma rises from the scattered binliners where the beasts feed. And rut. And wait . . .
He licks dry lips: he is hungry now, but eating is for later, when he has finished his commission. He hasn’t painted today, so how can . . . ?
Very, very slowly he turns as a scaly hand clicks on the angle poise lamp. The light in the mirror is blinding.
He sees a body, huge, sexless, its hands dipping a brush into a sickening mixture of paint. It appears headless.
He wants to run but is glued to the spot. A pencil lead snaps, even as he slouches, without finesse, towards the board. The coffee table tips over.
The brush is shoved into his hand, another claw gesturing to his lined wrinkled hand, then to the drawing.
He paints – a sickly mess of obscene shades. The deadline is close, getting closer.
The eye is evil, pure, narrow, wide-eyed evil, holding an incandescent glow within each stroke of the brush giving it birth. The strokes are incidental. It glares, a pinprick pupil effervescent, commanding, the other eye its equal.
They follow his every move.
He sees: they see.
And he glances into the mirror, at his model – and paints from life.
He realises that if he eats, breathes and lives his work he gives it that life he has denied himself. He is tired, but realises that an artist of prowess lives on, is re-created, in whatever form he chooses.
The new image is there, in the room with the shadows. Creatures spewed from his comic artist’s mind live: they form a circle outside on the edge of darkness; the open window seethes with their coming . . .
In through the now open door, shambles the very first, the nucleus of all his other insane ideas. It yowls in victory. The others answer. And he paints quickly now, for in truth he cannot ever stop. He dare not -
It is the nature of the beast . . .
Procreation by whatever means . . .
The shadow from the doorway slides and merges with his own, and in every guttural grunt as they watch, does he not recognise his new self, his new creation, his concepts of death and rebirth proved?
Outside, the others feed on his old, tired body, the one which could not cope with their demands.
But now, when he howls, filling the night with a new, more terrifying sound, they cower, are subservient.
His hand paints the last few teeth before it withers, dies, becomes re-created . . .