By J.J Cheesman
My Father was an artist. Not just an artist, he was a pretty damn good one. I’m not boasting in any form, but my Father’s work was well respected and our house reflected that fact. Unfortunately, my Father’s choice in career left him little time for my sister and I.
He would spend long hours in his studio at the end of the hallway on the second floor of my childhood home. My sister and I were not permitted inside the room where my Father painted his masterpieces and we weren’t even aloud on the second floor where our bedrooms were located if he was painting. Mom said the noise was too distracting for him.
One night however, when Dad felt very ill and was laid out on the couch downstairs slumbering, I got it into my head that I wanted to see what lay beyond the door to his studio. The mystery of a closed door is so entrancing and enticing to that of a seven-year-olds mind. I decided that I would tell my sister so that she could keep a look out and make sure Mom wasn’t coming up stairs to bring laundry or that Dad wasn’t awake yet.
“No way!” Jennie screeched in her sizeable room when I told her my plan.
“What if we get caught? I don’t want to get in trouble!” She whined.
“If we’re caught I will take all the blame, and if you do this for me I’ll give you all of my Halloween candy this year.” Jennie considered this for a Moment, her face scrunching up and I swear I saw the gears in her head turning as she weighed the cons of getting caught, and the pros of having two whole hauls of candy that year. Jennie was actually two years older than me, but I was a stuck up child I will admit. I believed myself to be the more mature of the two sisters, and I didn’t need any childish treats to pine over. Finally, Jennie agreed.
“Okay Lanie, but if I don’t get my candy I’ll tell Mom and Dad everything about you going into Dad’s room!” Of that, I had no doubt.
So Moments later, Jennie sat at the top of the stairwell pretending to play with her dolls as she kept watch over the staircase. I walked as quickly as I could with little regard as to how much sound I was making until I got to the door that Jennie and I knew back then as and only as ‘Dad’s room’. I knew Dad painted back then, except in my childish mind I thought of Dad in that room with crayons of all colors drawing on scratch paper. It’s funny how a child’s mind works. Nevertheless, I had never seen one of Dad’s paintings. Jennie and I were both forbidden to know. I had heard before that Dad drew his inspiration from Picasso, though at that age I couldn’t have any idea what that meant. I was in for quite the surprise.
I reached for the doorknob of on the oak door of Dad’s room, and turned it as slowly as I could as to not make any sound until the handle quietly creaked to a stop. I slowly opened the door, bracing myself for the loud creak of the aged hinges. Luckily, there came none. I decided to open the door only enough for small body to squeeze through, which I did with some effort.
Once inside, my eyes were met with a daunting sight. There were paintings everywhere. Canvases plastered every inch of every wall in that small room. The paintings on each canvas held its own monstrosity. Faces with twisted mouths that stretched over their heads. Bodies that were riddled with bloody infected puss filled holes, and from out of the holes sprouted fully healthy flowers of all kinds.
One canvas I saw depicted a child with cuts all over its face. Its eyes were gone and its hair was ripped out of its head in oddly random spots, leaving a patchy bloody mess on top. Its nose was split, revealing a gruesome opening of bone and white, gooey liquid. I say ‘it’ because I could not tell you even now if the painting was supposed to be male or female, although it was certainly human.
I stumbled backwards in fear, tripping over my own feet and falling to the floor. I landed on my back, though I saved my head from smacking into the wood by keeping it elevated as I fell. My eyes were then met by the grandest and most terrifying painting yet. There, covering the entirety of the white ceiling and painted in a sickly green, was a face. A face that I can only describe best as ‘demonic’. It smiled down at me revealing rows of needle-like teeth. It had two slits in the center of its face that I can only assume were supposed to be his nose. The eyes, oh god the eyes. The iris was a wicked burning-yellow surrounding a fiery orange pupil, and when my eyes met the paintings gaze I swear to this day that awful thing’s smile grew ever wider.
I scrambled to my feet in a madman’s dash and ran out of that terrifying room. I slammed the door of that hell, not caring whether or not anyone heard or investigated, and I sprinted to my own room slamming in locking the door. I ran to my bed and dove onto it, pushing my face as deeply as I could into my pillows and sobbing. Jennie came to my door and knocked asking what was wrong but I just screamed at her to go away.
Later, Mom came upstairs and knocked on my door to tell me dinner was ready. When I came out of my room, Mom said I didn’t look good and she felt my head.
“Oh my you’re warm! Maybe you caught whatever your Father has, get back into bed and I’ll bring dinner up.” I did as I was told, and although I was still quite shaken, I felt much better after I ate. One thing I knew for sure though, I was never going into Dad’s room again.
It was a couple months after that incident that Dad grew to be very moody. Whenever my sister or I would try to talk to him he would brush us off. When Dad had his sessions of painting in his room, we could hear him shouting profanities and curses from all the way downstairs.
“What’s wrong with Dad?” Jennie asked Mom after one of these episodes.
“Your Father is looking for inspiration dear, don’t worry he will find it, he always does.”
Then, one bright and sunny day, I was stuck inside with a cold while Jennie and Dad were out fishing and Mom was making soup. I remember that day so well. The warm sunlight streaming in through my bed room window making the shadows of my curtains dance over my covers in wondrous patterns that made me wish I was outside playing with my friends. I heard the ring of the phone in the kitchen downstairs and then silence as my Mother answered it. Then I heard the shrieking, tormented cry of my Mother. Though I was sick and very weak, her scream forced me out of my bed and downstairs faster than I have ever ran before. When I reached the kitchen, I saw my Mother kneeling down with her back against the wall and receiver in hand. She was crying so agonizingly. When she saw me she howled at me through angry tears to go up to my room. Her shouting startled me, and tears streamed from my own eyes as I sprinted back up to my bed.
Dad and Jennie went fishing that day out on Crystal Lake which was common place for everyone in our sleepy little town as we didn’t have much to do. There was a long wooden bridge at the center of the sizeable lake that stretched from one bank to the other, the middle of the bridge being directly over the deepest part of the lake, and also the point where Jennie had fallen in and drowned. There were many people fishing on the bridge that day, and many people witnessed my sister fall through the wooden slats in the railing of the bridge. She didn’t lose her balance they said, at least it didn’t seem like it. It was more like something pulled or pushed her off that bridge. Witnesses that I’ve talked with to this day have said that my Father was digging through his tackle box, that there was no way he was responsible. That at least, brings me some comfort.
Two other men alongside my Father dove into that deep water after my sister, but they never found her. When the Police and rescue teams came with all their equipment and all their training, they never found a trace of her either.
My Father blamed himself for the whole thing. A week after the incident, some unfortunate soul found my Father hanging from the railing of the bridge at Crystal Lake, his body swaying back and forth in the fog that rolled on the water.
My Mother blamed Dad too I think. For while I was deeply torn and broken by the loss of my Father, Mom showed little remorse. Maybe Mom did show remorse though, because after Dad hung himself she turned to the drink. She would spend long hours in her bedroom reading and drinking, though she didn’t ignore me. Mom still cherished me as ever before, maybe more so. I was still well taken care of, don’t get me wrong. Mom just understandably had her demons, and this most certainly is not a sob story about me. Poor Jennie is the victim in all of this.
Yes, alcohol was just simply at that dark time, my poor Mother’s only escape. I found my escape however, in my best friend Madison. She too had lost someone; her brother David, who died while her entire family went on a hiking trip. David slipped and fell after misjudging the fortitude of a rock and stepping on it, the fall sent him tumbling down a rocky hill thirty feet down. He didn’t even make it until the paramedics got there.
Madison was there for me, and even my Mother as well. A bond was built on our shared anguish. And her cheery attitude despite our shared tragedy, warmed our hearts.
Then came the day not too long ago when things changed for the worse. It has been many years since Jennie and Dad passed away, and I think about them every day. Although time cannot heal all wounds, it does make everything a little better as it moves forward. I was happy enough, on summer break before entering senior year. Mom was talking about needing to clean out Dad’s old room where he performed his gruesome art, but she didn’t know if she could bear to do it. No one had set foot into Dad’s studio since he hung himself, we never felt the need or want to. But Mom who had stopped drinking regularly for about five years now, decided it was time to close that final door.
Though the thought of going into that room sent shivers down my spine, I knew I could handle it better than Mom. For me, all that it entailed was dealing with the sight of those macabre paintings again. For Mom who had been married to Dad for fifteen years before his passing, I am sure it held a maelstrom of emotional strain that I could not (and wished not) understand.
So I called Madison and asked if she would help. Madison said that of course, she had no problem helping me. Madison came over shortly after I called, and we collected empty boxes from the basement saved from various birthdays and Christmas’s with the intent to re-use them for gift packing.
Gathering as many boxes as we could, the two of us headed upstairs and down to the door at the very end of the hall. I stopped before opening the door and took a deep breath.
“Whatever you do, don’t look up.” I told Madison.
“Why?” she asked.
“Trust me, it’s just creepy.” I said.
Madison nodded, and I figured the best way to get this done would be like ripping off a bandage. I twisted the doorknob hard and flung open the door quickly. For some reason, my head jerked upward to look at the ceiling out of some morbid curiosity, and I could not shut my eyes in time. But there was nothing there. In that dark and dusty room only partially lit by the sunlit that poured in from its singular window, I thought somehow my eyes were playing tricks on me. I stared at that empty white ceiling waiting for the green demonic face to suddenly materialize, but it never did.
“Oh my god.” Madison said quietly, and I turned to her. She was looking all around the room in amazement.
“Your Dad was freakin’ brilliant!” She exclaimed. I was taken off guard. “You think so?” I said looking back up at the ceiling and once again finding it blank.
“Yes I do; this is really great!” She said walking over to the eastern wall and examining one of the many small canvases. My gaze wandered from the ceiling over the twisted faces and mangled bodies depicted in the paintings, not wanted to look at any of them directly for long.
“Don’t you think they’re sort of dark?” I asked, my eye catching and stopping on one particular painting that depicted the bloated and blue corpse of a child. I crept closer to the painting, thinking that it was somehow familiar. Madison did not reply to my question, so without taking my eyes of the painting I called back to her.
“Maddy?” Immediately after the words left my lips Madison cried out.
“What the hell?” She said in a troubled voice barely louder than a whisper. I did not ask her what bothered her, I was becoming wrapped up in a realization of my own as my breath caught in my throat. I heard a shuffling sound of wood on wood, and then footsteps as Madison broke my line of sight with the bloated corpse depicted in the canvas, with a corpse depicted on yet another. On the canvas, was one of the same paintings that gave me nightmares so many years ago.
I stared at a child without eyes, and a split and broken nose.
“Why did your Dad paint MY Brother?!” Madison demanded, thrusting the canvas at me.
“What?” I asked, starting to feel the room spin. “My Brother Lanie, why in the hell did your Dad paint a picture of my dead Brother?!” I had no answer for her. I could only slowly shake my head and look back up at the canvas which made my breath catch in my throat. I stared into that awful bloated corpse, floating in a body of water. The twisted blue body, of my once beautiful and radiant older sister.
Madison and I left that room as it was, leaving the painting of Madison’s poor brother lying there on the floor. I explained to Madison through tears that the painting of the drowned girl was my sister and she consoled me for a very long time before suggesting that I stay at her house.
We told my mother that we had worked all day taking down paintings, and that we would finish in the morning but we were exhausted. She said that was alright, and I packed some things to take to Madison’s.
Once at her house, Madison and I shot back theories about what the paintings meant.
“You don’t think your Dad had anything to do with….” Madison said before I cut her off.
“No! he loved us both very much. besides there were witnesses, he didn’t even touch her.” Madison sighed.
“Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t explain my brother anyway, I was there when it happened, do you think he might have been psychic?” I hadn’t considered that, although I didn’t believe in the paranormal I guess after what we saw anything is possible.
After a long night, Madison and I finally went to sleep. For now, that’s where my story ends. I have caught you up with everything that has happened so far, aside from one small part.
Last night I dreamed of horrible faces on the ceiling in Madison’s room. The faces spoke to me. They said awful terrible things in low hushed whispers. I woke up sweating this morning on Madison’s floor, I told her I was sick and needed to go home. She told me that it was okay and she would see me soon.
Once home, I found myself drawn to my Father’s art room, so I entered it. I now sit here, surrounded by drawing instruments of all kinds. I have an urge to draw so badly. I don’t know why. I don’t know what gave me this urge, but ever since I awoke this morning I have not been able to rid my mind of the image in my dream, and I feel that for some reason if I draw it will go away.
I don’t think I have mentioned how beautiful I think Madison is, I think I would like to draw her.
Hopefully when I am finished drawing Madison, this image will leave me.
This horrible green on white.