Note; An Asterisk represents ongoing editing, and so anything marked thus is unfinished.
I stare unblinking at the painting, expecting something to resume or something else to occur. For ten minutes I stand there with eyes locked on the scenic view over the woods. Nothing. No black shapes, nothing at all. With uneasy steps, I turn and walk away from the college and out into the rain pulling my hood up over my head and withdrawing into my thoughts once again.
It isn’t long before I reach the hillside, not because it’s a short journey but because I cast my thoughts out to all the recent events, Frey, the shadows behind my eyes and those black shapes. What were those things and why did they vanish so suddenly without trace? I continue to throw those questions around my head, thinking of all the animals I’d read about to see if any rang any bells but it become clearer and clearer that whatever they were, they weren’t normal. Sitting for hours thinking, my thoughts eventually turn to Frey and her mysterious charm, her dazzling eyes and her instant chemistry. I’m not the most confident boy, but I’m not half as bad as I make out I am. But this girl, she flicks a switch on that I didn’t know existed, it’s scary and new but.. good and happy. The rain had begun to recede and looking around across the landscape I find myself feeling happy. Looking down into a puddle at my feet I’m greeted by my reflection beaming back. I’m smiling and it feels great!
But then my thoughts swing back to the creeping fear, why do I not belong here? There is something wrong and I can’t place it, I can’t explain it and people just can’t understand or see it. There is something different about me, there is something that just isn’t right and I need to find it.
The walk home isn’t eventful, just a few puddles dotted around and I splash in them with my already soggy shoes. Perhaps I should speak to my Gran again, she’ll have wise words to share with me. I love her, we struggle with life sometimes and that’s the way of the world, but she’d do anything for me and that’s what matters, family and love. I walk in and whip off all my wet clothes, changing quickly into cosy, comfy indoors clothes and dry socks. I pad around the house returning all my items to their proper places and sit in the dining room across from my Gran, explaining the day and my feelings.
"Find yourself." she says in a cryptic tone. "Find yourself and say hello." she continues and smiles a warm and loving smirk at me. "And ask him if he can clean your room, because I can’t seem to move you to do it!" And with that she shuffles across the room, pulls me up and hugs me tight.
When she pulls away though, her eyes are serious and her expression stern; “You are different and you are special. But sometimes you can delve too deep within yourself and that can change you forever.” She looks out of the Dining Room window across the garden and resumes her words. “You’re my special little man, even though you’re not little anymore and even though I’m not your Mother, I’ve always cared for you since you’ve lived here and I’d be sad to see you change for the worse.” She smiles and hugs me tighter. “I love you.” she says, snuggling into my chest.
That night I run through what we’d spoken about, I think of what she said and smile at how good my Gran is at saying the right thing at just the right time to fix things. But I can’t help but cast aside her warning, whatever is so special and different, I have to find it. I have to see it.
The painting is covered in shifting black shapes, squirming and wriggling across the canvas, over and under each other. At first they look like leeches or charcoal worms, but they dont fall off the page; they resist gravity and continue their squirming across the page. With their presence the painting is no longer recognisable, its just flashes of colour under a blanket of undulating black shapes. My curiosity is a pile of sticks catching a spark, i want to touch the mass of pitch black worms. As my hand creeps from my side and closes in on the painting a whisper slips past the back of my head, inaudible and impossible to make out; it still catches me offguard, breaking the spell of curiosity and i whirl round to find the culprit.
A wall. A solid, white wall. That couldnt have been a person, unless the sound travelled. Are these shadows playing tricks on me? As i remember the object that sparked my curiosity, i turn once again to find no sign of them. They were gone without a trace..
I miss my Grandad. He’s been gone a long time now and nobody has filled the gap that he left. Some have tried and very few have come even partially close. I never did get to see him that very last time, he was just gone and that was that. It would be nice to believe he’s in a paradise, enjoying himself and spectating my life, nodding and smiling at my achievements. Who really knows where you go after you die, is there anyone in the world who can answer that? Doubt it.
"Hey Stevey, you looking at this painting?" Its a female voice, soft and well spoken. "It’s really pretty, where in the world is that?"
I let the question settle in my mind for a while, throwing it back and forth. I don’t actually know where this is, or even which country it is, all I know is that it’s beautiful and I like it.
"Um.. I don’t actually know. Sorry." I reply awkwardly, stirring and shifting my feet.
The girl standing there is beautiful.
"Well wherever that is, it’s pretty." She chuckles while positioning herself beside me. "I like your hair, it’s curly." She says, frowning at the single curl draped over my eye. Grinning a toothy smile, she sweeps the curl back up to join the rest of my hair. "There."
Blushing heavily, I manage to squeak out a thank you and break eye contact, turning back to the painting. I don’t take any of it in anymore, my eyes stop functioning correctly and my heart races; Girls have never been on my list of acceptable social relations. As much as I’d love to be a confident and socialable individual, I freeze up and lose all appropriate motor function when a girl is in direct conversation with me.
A sudden jab to my left arm turns me back to face her, and I realise she nudged me with her elbow.
“Frey.” She smiles. “I saw you the other day, and thought you might be interesting conversation. Joe told me your name.”
On the outside I’m quiet and formulating an acceptable reply. On the inside I’m having a mental eruption. No girl has spoken to me out of choice, and she seems to like me! I have no answers for this, I’m so terrible at handling the unexpected.
I answer quickly, “Oh yeah! Joe was just having a good go at me in the bathroom.”
Her face is quickly shifts from puzzled, to a huge smile.
"It seems I’m barking up the wrong tree here, sorry to interupt.’ She winks and continues to smile at me.
The shade of red I was before pales in comparison to the bright crimson my face had gone. I’d blown my chance. I should just give up now, thrown in the towel, hand in my notice and perhaps I’ll get a second chance a decade down the line.
I try to formulate a reply, a suitable humourous response but nothing comes. My mind is a tempest of attraction, embarrasment and a plethora of other emotions.
"See you tomorrow then." She turns and begins to walk away from me and my deep red tomato face. "I look forward to it." And with that, she disappears around the corner.
I crumple against the wall once again, my face giving off more heat than an industrial furnace. Regulating my breathing, I look up to give the painting one last glance before standing once again and starting the walk. With that quick glance I see something I hadn’t expected, something new in the painting that wasn’t there before.
If you’ve never taken the time to stand at a mirror and eyeball yourself, you’re missing out on something terrifyingly beautiful. The person staring back at you, is yourself but there’s something eerily different about them. Its like they are a different person trapped behind your personality; they’re another person wearing your face.
“Is that a big one, or have you fallen in?” Chimed a voice from just beyond the door.
“I mean, it’s purely for your safety that I ask, sort of.”
My own eyes seem foreign to me, like i’m seeing them for the first time every time I look. There’s something behind them that i don’t know about and it’s something hides that itself from even me. Something dances beyond the surface, observing through my eyes; is it just watching or is it waiting?
"Look, if it’s you looking into your own eyes again, you won’t find anything. Just like last time and the time before that."
He’s right, i’ve chased shadows for too many years and it’s driving me mad. Maybe i’m looking for an excuse for my mistakes and short-comings; perhaps I want something to be wrong so I can point at it and shift the blame.
Walking to the door in the bathroom I unlock it and step out to see my long time friend, Joe. He has that same look on his face, the one I know so well. He hates when I question myself, he’s a do-er not a thinker. I can’t pose him a question because I get the same answer everytime.
"Why do you care about this inner crap? You’re alive and here and that’s all that matters. You need to stop this shit."
"Look man" I begin to explain. "It matters to me, you know that. I don’t feel like I belong here. You have girls falling at your feet, but me; I have none because they can see it too, this thing I have doesn’t belong here."
"Fine, you keep searching your soul and mind and all that bollocks. I quit with you." He stops to lock eyes, before storming away out of sight.
"Eugh, life." I sigh as I slump against the wall. It’s only a small college I go to, so consequently it’s nicely decorated. My favourite picture is of the heart of a deep forest, with huge trees and no end im sight. I often sit here and imagine what’s beyond those trees, maybe a waterfall or a dusty canyon, maybe an overgrown ravine with huge flowers and tiny animals. I like to dream, I like to cast my mind off to some mysterious and foreign land. It’s a shame I have noone to share my eccentric visions with, I could talk for hours on end about it all.
Just as I lose myself in imagining the gorgeous vistas beyond the forest, a stray curl from my hair swings down into my face and partially blocks my view. I always mean to get it cut so this didn’t happen, but i’m too lazy. My hair has a mind of it’s own at the best of times, untameable and very unruly. It’s nearing the end of the academic day, which means I can go and sit on the hillside on the way home and continue casting my mind out into the land of imagination. It’s not the day you’d expect me to say that on, you’d expect sunshine and beautiful golden rays of light, but it’s raining heavily. I like rain. I like thunder even more; storms are beautiful, powerful and unpredictable; the best kind of combination in my opinion. Perception is what defines us; rain can be seen as a mood killer or it could in fact be a perfect addition to a landscape view.”Perceive like it was intended, not how you intend it.” Thats what my old Grandad used to say. He was a sharp man, and wise in a worldly kind of way, like he’d seen things you’d never even dreamt of.
I always thought i’d achieve something. Thought i’d get a nice job with a wife and kids, maybe an expensive car and a garage. They always teach you that your grades and achievements will dictate who you will become and your future quality of life. In your young frame of mind you believe them and blindly follow the system and for all the normal kids, it works; they grow up and become acceptable members of society. These people pay tax, earn income and contribute in their own ways to each other, a community.
What about us, the kids who lose, the youngsters who arent quite lawyers, arent accountants, psychiatrists, chemists, executives and directors? Let me tell you the story of one such boy, a boy with no hope of a normal, human life but the stars in his eyes and fire in his heart. This is Stevey, this is my story.
It all began, in a college bathroom..