Header Credits Google.
The problem was that it was in a square and quite a popular one at that. It wasn’t like in a restaurant, or a concert or even a church – most public places involved an element of either sitting down or being alone. Here, she’d have to get him out of the way and that, too, without drawing anyone’s attention. Well, she had to make it work somehow, after the fiasco with the slipped mask last time, she couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong ever again. After all, she was still an amateur.
Lethal injection and a simply stunning green dress; it largely went off without a hitch. He was slumped in a corner between two houses, not far from the square and where there were no security cameras, with a bottle in his hand. Until the harsh morning light burnt away the night before, no one would suspect anything but that a drunk toff had gotten lost or beaten up.
She crept out of the street and tried to find a place to change; it might be stunning but her dress was also conspicuous and there were more than enough tourists around for her to stand out in couture. As she made it out of the alley and onto the main road she walked straight into two policemen. They were armed and considered her with not entirely friendly interest. He had been heavier than he looked and in trying to get him off her and turn his body into the corner, her slight frame had been more than a little tried. She was flushed, breathing heavily and her dress was slightly torn where he had instinctively grabbed her as she had killed him. She moved away from the policemen as quickly as she could, but they were highly unlikely to forget her. She swore under her breath. Now she not only needed to change, she needed to hide.
The museum was open late and proved perfect – not too crowded and not too sparse, with free toilets to change in and a place where she could wait without anyone caring until she felt the coast was clear. The good thing about museums was that they also had numerous entry points and therefore she might not even have to wait – just exit onto another square altogether. She entered the old museum from the main entrance, which was still seeing a healthy flow of tourists. Keen to blend in with their general state of not trying to make their holiday pictures sartorially exhilarating, she found the first public bathroom and disappeared inside a cubicle. Gladly, her dress was full length and form fitting so she could wear almost an entire outfit underneath, as she had done. Her leggings and fitted t-shirt also fit the general costume of the worn-out patrons currently using the museum as somewhere warm to wait until a show started, or a late dinner. She pulled her jacket out of her handbag, wrestled the dress in and surreptitiously threw the whole thing away outside. She regretted it almost immediately; there was no way museum rubbish bins weren’t under the beady eye of a security camera at all times. She really was an amateur.
Heaving a heavy sigh and regretting not having a bag, as every other person did, she made her way through the large, draughty spaces. The walls of the museum were old stone and the entire space had been preserved beautifully, but here and there odd modern additions hadn’t been incorporated correctly. She missed working in architecture. A map on the wall told her the temporary exhibit to her left had an exclusive exit that led out to the opposite side of the square, around the museum and basically into another quarter of the town. She made her way towards the paid for exhibition entrance and bought a ticket.
“The exhibit will close in half an hour.” The slightly elderly attendant gazed at her with confusion and perhaps even disdain. Perhaps her years of service had taught her the invaluable lesson of knowing who actually gave a damn and who didn’t, just from the way they approached her desk. Mandy raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement, took the ticket and walked in.
The entire exhibit was a visiting exhibition from the Sfeir Semler Gallery – some guy called Adnan – Mandy was too busy figuring out where the alternative exit through the exhibition was. As she made her way towards the fastest route out, she saw a painting that caught her eye. All the pieces were small and compact and what laymen would, she supposed, call abstract. Seen as literally everyone around her was either wearing an audio guide, using the museum’s interactive tablets with an air of obligation or simply not paying attention, she guessed the word abstract was being used almost universally then. The piece she was inexplicably gravitating towards was almost child-like in its simplicity. Block colours, block shapes and of a simple field and mountain, or so she thought. She looked at it intently as the audio guides led the majority of people through to the next room and thus she was more alone.
The light shifted. Or so she thought. It looked like a speck was moving on the painting. Too small to tell, she knew it was a bug. She fought the urge to laugh and squinted. Not a bug.
It was getting bigger. It was moving towards the frame. It was moving towards the frame from inside the painting.
Suddenly she was utterly rooted by what she was seeing. There was, standing in front of her, a small canvas frame of a painting and inside the painting staring back at her, was her. Like the moment you tear through the surface of the water, in slow motion, the feeling came back into her legs and as she drew breath to scream, she was no longer in a position to do so. She fell, forwards, fast and into the frame.
The sky looked like paper. So did the ground and the mountain behind them. It was all just paper but stark and two dimensional. She was scared of it, it was blunt in the majesty of its shallowness. And as for her, Mandy tried not to throw up. The woman who had been her spitting image was now standing next to her, with flesh peeling from her bones and blood leaking from her skin. She was falling apart, and she was beckoning to Mandy. Horrified and no longer in control, Mandy followed.
Over the paper they went and with each step, the sky darkened. It came closer and wanted to bear down on them. But her avatar was still rotting away in front of her, walking backwards and transfixing her such that she cried, but still saw clearly through the tears as each drop of blood fell and each inch of flesh tore away from her sinew. Over the paper they went. Suddenly in front was a sheer drop into darkness and a growing vibration over her skin. The longer she stared into the darkness, the stronger the smell of her sisters dying form and the more distinct that noise became. There was some sort of moaning coming from that abyss. It called to her. She obeyed.
She didn’t fall, instead, every part of her was painfully dragged upwards through the blackness, like a reverse pull of gravity, a pull upwards but with fine wire that cut away at her. She still couldn’t scream. She couldn’t see. She could only smell that awful degradation of a person she thought she recognised and hear the pain of something indistinct but undeniable, getting louder than her own pain.
She breathed deeply and was standing at the foot of a large paper mountain. The sky was so close now and so angry. She looked at it mournfully and the form next to her shifted in front. An eyeball slid down its skeletal face and its green muscled jaw was open in a quiet moan of longing. Its tongue moved and Mandy looked down. Her hands were caked, caked, caked in blood. Blood she tried to wipe away but her sisters head shook and made her tongue fall out. Mandy would have closed her eyes but there was no time. Just no time. Instead, the water started to rise.
Water, from under her feet, rising fast but without sound. The moaning had stopped but she could hear something like drumming. Not distant, but not loud. As if it were waiting, patiently for its end to come to pass. The water began to rise over her chest. Now it was cold, so cold that there was only the darkness of the sky it reflected and no other feeling.
Until her sister started to move. Towards her, she came with a stealth and movement not akin to this life or any she had anticipated, like a sea creature but one borne of land, made to traverse where she was not meant to, it crawled like a beaten forlorn breathing thing and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. So much water, she couldn’t see how it wouldn’t drown her and just as her sister came close, close enough for Mandy to hear her rattled breath and almost faint from her decrepit stench, close enough for her to taste something like tears and to feel so wretchedly terrified as to want to die, every inch of her, every inch so tired and cold and aching from terror and vibration and disgust, as every ounce of her being rejected what it was, her insides writhing and the cold making her choke while her sisters proximity overwhelmed her with sickness, her eyes snapped open.
She was covered in sweat and someone had been screaming. The entire gallery was staring at her, there were three security guards, the attendant who looked like her ridiculous years of wasting away behind her desk were finally paying off, someone talking into a walkie-talkie and wearing a suit and what looked like a deeply misjudged guard dog. She realised she had been the one screaming. She looked at the painting, the rope in front of it, the paintings beside it, the ceiling of uninspired taupe, the ridiculous new build of this wing and the floor of polished granite. Nothing, but she, was out of the ordinary. She looked at the guards again and they were utterly terrified. She had been screaming for a while then. Oh the sight of her sister, she must have been screaming for her. Mandy’s head fell and she shook it a little like it needed to be reset. Suddenly, she felt it. She looked at her feet. They were soaking wet.