If you know my work you probably know that i prefer to let the viewer come up with their own interpretation of a piece, usually i dont get to hear what those stories are to other people but i got a great email from a fan this morning that i really wanted to share.
Aaron Flake contacted me with a nice email to say that he had been inspired enough by my Reliquary piece to write a short story during a creative writing class he took in his senior year. Here is the wonderful story.
The Photograph by Aaron Flake
“Now Olivia, you must sit still,” Antoinette du Pont whispered into her little girl’s tiny earhole. “We talked about this.”
Olivia, adopted daughter of Antoniette, shifted and warbled in a chair adjacent to her mother’s, defiantly waving her arms in the air. Antoinette kept a single, unwavering hand over Olivia’s lap. The pinkish, wriggling tentacles that circled Olivia’s mouth curled on ends, flailing near Antoinette’s cheeks. The photographer entered the darkened living room; the only sources of light were the cracks of dull sunshine that crept in through the old shutters. With his lenses and his stands, the man eyed the two strangely, squinting his eyes before he was interrupted.
Thomas Cromsley huffed down the photographer’s neck, taking him by surprise when he placed a firm hand on his left shoulder. Cromsley glared warningly through thin spectacles at the photographer; Antoinette momentarily looked away from the squirming Olivia to see the bearded Thomas in his long gray dress jacket. She scoffed to herself.
“It is rude to stare at a lady and her child, my good sir,” said Cromsley.
The photographer nodded wildly, his dark, uncombed, silver-dusted hair bobbing up and down. Cromsley patted the man’s shoulder, and instantly the man shuffled away to set up his equipment for the session. The many wrinkles in his white, buttoned shirt quivered. His hands fumbled with the camera and the stands. Cromsley walked over to Antoinette and her oddity of a daughter; he courteously smiled at the two: Antoinette did not return the favor--not even a glance--and Olivia continued to warble and coo, ignoring him entirely. Her tentacles now writhing over her little skeletal digits.
Olivia’s head--a transparent globe, similar to a watery sphere--leaned against her mother. Clear droplets slid down every side of her head, but never did a drop strike the musty, pea-green carpet. Inside her head hovered small specters, a congregation of green globs stuck with dotted eyes and frozen smiles. A handful of the specters wandered from Olivia’s dome: carefree, trilling and chirping, floating around Olivia. They floated around the potted Carolina Lilies that bordered Antoinette’s chair, her pale face, and her bare chest inked with intricate markings.
“Fascinating,” said Cromsley at a low volume.
“It--” “She,” Antoinette corrected.
“She.” “I apologize, Madame du Pont.”
Antoinette turned to Cromsley, her expression plain and her gray eyes drilling into his brown pools. Antoinette’s voice remained quiet. She occasionally peeked over to the photographer who continued clattering with his instruments; his head darted the other way whenever their eyes met. “You know why you are here, Sir Cromsley. Do not forget. Even though my daughter is a part of your watchful care, do not think you are obligated to observe her like she is some monstrous experiment. She is a blessing.”
“Understood,” replied Cromsley.
“My duty as a mother outweighs my duty as a reliquary-keeper. She is seen as a dangerous relic to most, but she is gentle--fragile,” Antoinette stroked the back of Olivia’s head caringly, slowly; she straightened Olivia’s dress and fixed her collar. “Olivia’s life is ultimately in my hands, and I am willing to give my life for hers at any moment; you are here to do the same, whether your employers see it that way or not. Do you understand, Mr. Cromsley?”
“And regarding the photograph, do you remember our conversation over the phone?” “Ma’am. My right arm will cross my chest with the slip in hand, I smile for the camera, and cause the photographer to perceive me as your departed husband.”
“Departed,” Antoinette let out a sense of brief disgust. “Is that what they told you?”
A voice cleared its throat--the photographer. Antoinette and Cromsley’s eyes honed onto his direction, Olivia reached out to some of the gliding specters with clutching hands; Antoinette brought Olivia closer, placing the girl on her lap. “I am r-ready, miss,” he mumbled.
“We are not,” Antoinette snapped.
“My good sir,” Cromsley strode smoothly to the man. He gently slapped him on the shoulder, playfully. “My wife may be angry with me; it is dreadful when she is like this. But know that her frustration is not expressed towards you.”
“Oh, good,” the photographer let loose a shiver.
“And oh yes,” Cromsley’s hand dipped into his pant pocket, and brought out two articles: an outlandish slip of paper that resembled a tarot card of peculiar origin, and a beaded crucifix, the cross woven from silver. “You do not mind if I include my father’s wallet and crucifix in the photograph, do you?” Confusion flashed across the photographer’s face; he shook his head. “Oh no sir, that is certainly alright.”
“Thank you,” Cromsley smiled warmly. The man simply nodded. Cromsley arrived back at Antoinette’s side; he lowered himself to the height of her ear. And with a whisper that bore a slickness similar to a serpent’s squirm, he asked, “Should his memory be extinguished the moment this is over, Madame du Pont?”
She looked up at him, her head movement almost mechanical. “Wipe him clean.”
Cromsley stood to Antoinette’s left and faced forward, his dark, parted hair sheened due to the nearby light; his right hand held the illusion-inducing slip, the left gripped the wooden beads of the crucifix. His right arm crossed his chest, and his left was relaxed by his side; the card was facing the camera. Antoinette’s fair skin illuminated, the intricate markings on her chest more exposed; her neatly-rounded hair accented her eyes. Her long, ruffled black dress, contrasted against Olivia’s collared dress of pearl hue. Olivia was still in Antoinette’s lap. The small specters outside her dome continued to circulate around the three, continuously chirping; the photographer did not notice them, only focusing his sight into the camera.
“Smile, everyone,” said the photographer. None of them did, but Olivia’s tentacles seemed more lively after he spoke.
A flash and a click ensued simultaneously.
The moment it occurred--the moment the flash died--Cromsley rushed from Antoinette’s side with the slip and forced it onto the bare flesh of the man’s forehead; the man’s eyes shut closed, tightly, as if racked in pain. Antoinette stood quickly, Olivia in her arms. She made her way to the entrance of the gloomy room; the specters followed behind Olivia, whose arms stretched farther to catch them. But oddly enough, Antoinette paused when reaching the photographer.
“You must pack your things and leave this town when your senses clear,” her instructions precise. “You must.” After Cromsley released the slip from the man’s forehead, he went for the door.
“Cromsley,” Antoinette called. He halted. “The photograph!”
He picked up the photograph off the floor; it was fading into view, revealing the three. Cromsley’s slip was shown as a worn-down, brown leather wallet. Antoinette’s markings were gone. The green specters were nowhere in sight. Olivia was not Olivia, but a little girl the same complexion as her mother. Her hair was long and black, the tentacles were nonexistent, her eyes were as green as the specters; her dress never changed.
But the illusion withered away when the photograph developed. Everything went back to the strange definition of normal: the tattoo, the tentacles, the slip. He handed it to Antoinette when the two reached the door of the old house her father once owned; the photographer was just coming to when they exited.
The three felt a heated breeze from the neighboring sea brush against their faces; the saltiness of the air rolled off their tongues. The thunder clouds that hung over the port town of Mer Chaude dimmed the docks and attracted the eyes of fishermen rocking in their sailboats. There was a booming rumble when the line of rusted lampposts sparked to life; the flames whipped within their glass chambers. Shadows leapt and twirled across the cobblestone paths and merged with the blackened creases of houses and shops. Muffled conversations filtered out of a nearby house; high-pitched chortling and rapid Spanish flowed from its cracked windows.
Antoinette set Olivia between herself and Cromsley, grasping her daughter’s tiny hand;
Olivia waved away the specters bouncing off of Antoinette’s dress. Cromsley chuckled.
“She truly is extraordinary,” he said.
“She is,” Antoinette faintly smiled at Olivia. “Her mother probably adored her.”
Cromsley paused; he rearranged his thoughts. “What happened to--”
“Her mother? I assumed you knew.”
“The company told me, but I rather hear the truth from your lips.”
Antoinette shot the same gray-eyed stare at Cromsley, finding it difficult to view his words as fiction or fact; Cromsley kept a cool, unfaltering composure. Noticing a minute after that her stare was in vain, Antoinette noticed a wooden bench not too far from where they stood; it was settled, engraved with scratches and etchings, feet away from the line of lampposts. “Over there,” she sighed.
Once more, Olivia was put between Cromsley and Antoinette; she hummed more quietly, her tentacles’ movements slowed, and she rested her head in Antoinette’s lap. The photograph- -a memento to the fourth anniversary of Antoinette and Olivia’s meeting--was laid on Olivia’s dress. Antoinette looked down at her daughter, gently rubbing her back. Without lifting her eyes to Cromsley, she finally said, “Olivia’s mother was murdered by my husband.”
Cromsley remained silent; a quick thought of pity washed over him when he glimpsed at the slumbering Olivia. It was another lie he received from the company.
“Times were darker three years ago, Mr. Cromsley. There was no corpse within my father’s casket during his funeral, the du Pont family was scattered across this world, and my husband turned into the very thing he hunted. I do not wish to go into specifics, but while he killed Olivia’s biological mother without a moment’s pause, I stole Olivia; I took her away when he attempted to take her life. I nearly lost mine when I was protecting her from that monster. For a long time, he pursued us after the onslaught; many times, he came close; many times, we barely scratched by. He was a determined man, my husband.”
“I assumed that your husband still lives, Madame,” Cromsley felt he needed to interrupt.
Antoinette glanced at him, then swiftly away; her sight was drawn to the open sea. The occupied fishermen and the boats were no longer there, their existence no longer showed in the waters. The currents tossed gently, silently. The crackling flames of the lampposts died, their wispy remnants swam within the glass. Spanish did not leave the house next door, and the shrieks of laughter diminished with the waves. Mer Chaude became hushed. She continued.
“One night,” her eyes left the sea and drifted to the sky, past the clouds, past moons, past
constellations. “A night like this--he appeared.” Antoinette’s throat grew airy, her utterings quiet
as the smoky chambers of the bony lampposts. “It was the first night I encountered him after her
death, the first night I did not have to flee. But...”
Antoinette cleared her throat, she excused herself.
“It is quite fine, Madame,” Cromsley assured. “Please continue.”
“But what met me was not the man I cherished, not the man that used to call me lovely. He was foul; a devil of hunger,” her voice low, but lucid. Olivia sat up suddenly; the green ghosts within her head frowned with dread. And while Cromsley noticed when their smiling ceased, Antoinette did not process the change in her daughter. “It was as if the ten years of union were obliterated by the intervention of a malicious demon.”
Another thunderous rumble beat the town of Mer Chaude. More violently, much deeper. The town slithered deeper into the dark, the cobblestone paths barely visible to the naked eye. Cromsley fidgeted on the bench--an uncomfortable mixture of impatience and anxiety. Troubled by the clashing sensations, he ultimately asked, “What am I protecting you from?”
Olivia’s arms wrapped around Antoinette’s neck--the quickest action from Olivia Antoinette had seen for the longest time. Her head was tucked into Antoinette’s right shoulder; the daughter trembled and shaken peeps of the little ghosts were uncontainable. Antoinette embraced Olivia with the firmest hug, feeling that she herself began to shudder.
Out of the dark, a single lamppost revived a flame; but the flame cracked and snapped inside. The glass chinked, quaked and burst into fragments. The blaze morphed and molded its form, twisted and rose, extending its reach towards the thunder clouds. The common orange glow of the fiery pillar altered to a sickly mesh of green and blue, the color of tainted billows engulfing shores. Its light expanded to the other lampposts--to the right, to the left--infecting them with its heat. Along with the stretching light, the infected flame devoured the glass chambers; the pillar widened, shot into the clouds.
Olivia’s whimpers were drowned out by the continuous roar, Antoinette stared at the sickly blaze as she held her daughter near--unable to show the fear she felt, the same fear she had known whenever she ran. Cromsley’s hands slipped into the interior of his jacket; his anxiety melted with the unearthly flames. Forming what looked similar to a stair, fire poured from the root of the post, onto the cobblestone.
The fire continued to burn brilliantly, its light bounding from house to house, far into the sea. Loud whispers spoken in alien languages rode the roaring pillar. And while Olivia refused to look, and Antoinette did the opposite, the air mutated, growing boggy and dank.
A form departed from the fire; a figure of human form.
“A beast of power,” Antoinette said. A tear descended down her cheek.
The figure was consumed by the fire’s light; it burned with the pillar when trekking down the fiery steps. The figure stopped the second its feet met the cobblestone; the head turned slowly, it stared at Antoinette.
Cromsley assumed its mouth opened when the same fire spouted into the atmosphere in front of it, and was carried by the wind.
Sluggishly, heavily, as if weighed down, the figure came closer and closer, closer to Antoinette and Cromsley; Olivia was shaking uncontrollably. The figure stopped in front of Antoinette, still staring at the woman. It exhaled a long hiss of fire when its mouth drew open to speak.