The Woman In The Painting

It has been three days since I left my dear friend Derrick’s house, and never have seventy-two hours been more filled with fear – for him and myself. In almost thirty years of practice I’ve never let a patient get to me like this, never left them to deal with things when I could help them, yet I cannot bring myself to return to the house of one of my oldest friends when he, above all others, needs my help.

I met Derrick Ourbridge decades ago when we were both young pups in University. Our love of rugby had brought us together though our academic pursuits couldn’t have been further apart. Where I studied the sciences of the mind, his own avenues of study were business related, with a few classes devoted to art history on the side. Looking back I can see that I looked down on him slightly for becoming yet another businessman in a world crying out for doctors and lawyers. Had I known then what I know now I might have given up my psychology lectures and joined him in his other interests, especially as those interests had made him a millionaire many times over by the the time he was thirty. Still, we all forge our own way in the world, and where he earned money I cured many people of the mental maladies that ailed them, building a respectable name for myself in my field.

Derrick and I had remained fast friends through the years, I acting as his best man while he became godfather to my dear son, Jason. When Jason went to University himself it was Derrick who consoled me in my loneliness, bringing a bottle of nicely matured, and slightly oak flavoured, whisky with him. Upon the tragic loss of his wife, Joanne, I travelled to his mansion and we spent several days together drinking and talking of better days. Thinking back we were more foul-weather friends than fair-weather, our respective industries keeping us busy until some need called one to the other. So it was that when he sent me a telegram saying he thought he was losing his mind and begging for my professional services, that I cleared my calendar and bought a ticket on the first train out there.

Derrick met me at the railway station in an unexpected jovial mood, pumping my hand furiously and chattering away about his latest acquisition. He kept talking as we loaded my suitcases into his car, continuing as he drove us from the little village and up through the hills to his mansion. Weary from the trip I half-listened to what he was saying, offering non-committed grunts and nods to show my interest. Only as we entered the gates to the mansion did I start listening intently, and then only because of a marked change in his tone. Gone was his cheerfulness, replaced instead by something I’d never heard in his voice for all our years of friendship – fear. He talked of an old painting and how its eyes seemed to follow one around a room, how he’d felt like he was being watched ever since he bought it as part of an estate auction, how strange things had been happening ever since that day. As we entered the house I’m not ashamed to say a shiver went down my spine.

Dinner was a marvelous affair, a full roast chicken with all the trimmings. Our talk was of our victories in our University rugby days as we devoured the tender bird. After dinner we retired to the drawing room and smoked cigars over brandy while our conversation turned back to the painting and he filled me in on why he’d called for my help. Since buying that thing he’d felt that it watched him whenever he was in the room, a fact that had caused him to cover the painting until he could sell it on himself. It was then that the dreams had begun. He’d seen the woman in the painting climb out of the picture, seen through her eyes as she slowly climbed the stairs, watched with horror as she walked along the landing towards his bedroom. Each time as her hand reached out to the door handle he had awoken, covered in sweat and screaming. As he explained all this my eyes were drawn to the large covered painting on the mantle and I shuddered. Visibly shaken, we both turned our conversation back to rugby and filled the ethereal silence with laughter and cigar smoke. When we retired that night to adjoining rooms I don’t think either of us remembered the painting, but my dreams were fitful, haunted by ghostly figures rattling my door.

The next morning, over a breakfast of bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs, neither of us felt like talking. Poor Derrick looked like his night had been much worse than mine, the bags under his eyes telling me that if he’d slept it hadn’t been for long. After we finished breakfast as the maid collected the dishes, we entered the drawing room and approached the painting together. Without speaking we both knew we were going to do what neither of us could summon the courage to do last night. I found myself concentrating on controlling my breathing as Derrick reached up to the painting and pulled off the cover. There she was, the woman who had haunted his dreams these past weeks, and started to infiltrate my own. She wasn’t a pretty lady, though far from repulsive too. Her clothing suggested her as a nurse to some unknown child, though I feel for any child looked after by that monster, for her features were twisted with malice and insanity. A feeling of dread washed over me and it was only the false bravado provided by being close to my old friend that stopped me from stepping back away from the portrait. Immediately upon seeing this apparition I knew there was only one course of action that may save my dear friend’s sanity and I explained this to him. So it was that we both put on our jackets and walking boots, then went out into the hills taking the portrait with us. The fire we built was going strong when we put the painting on it and watched it burn to ashes, and we were both in a much better mood as we returned to the mansion.

I stayed with Derrick for two more weeks and watched the life return to him. Not once did our conversation turn to the woman in the painting, instead staying on sporting victories we’d shared, business successes he’d had and interesting psychological cases I’d discovered. We ate heartily and drank quite a bit more than we should, and soon I was satisfied that, with the painting gone from his life, he was fine again. As I lay in bed one night, contemplating this, I decided it was time to take my leave of Derrick in the morning and resume my own life and resolved to tell him of my decision right then. I went to his door and knocked, soon being answered and instructed to enter. That was the moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, the sight that caused me to leave that place right then, screaming as I did so. The sight that caused me, at my age, to lose the contents of my bladder right there in that hallway. The sight that caused me to abandon my oldest friend to his terrible fate, leaving my clothes and suitcases in the room beside his and running out into the night in just my nightclothes.

There was Derrick, sitting up in bed and smiling at me. He gestured to me to enter the room and there, reflected in the mirror, the same action was carried out by the woman from the painting like some grotesque puppet-master controlling her favourite puppet. And there was that grotesque insane smile, mirrored on Derrick’s face as he beckoned me.

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29 thoughts on “The Woman In The Painting

  1. This was written to reflect the style and times of HP Lovecraft's multiple works. While it's not quite up to his standard, I got chills writing it and imagining myself in this situation. I'm quite proud of that, so do let me know if it creeps you out at all.

  2. The entire storyline is filled with expectations about that painting and when they`ve burnt it, it was obvious this was not the end :let:Excellent story :yes:

  3. It's a good plot. But the storyline seems a bit terse to me. :sherlock:.It needs to be padded a bit in the beginning to lengthen the lead up. And the ending needs to be a little more abrupt! :up:.

  4. As you know I'm limited by character count thanks to Opera Mini, and e-mail regularly decides to just post a title and no content if the post is too long. That's one reason why the lead up is as short as it is. As for the ending, it's a classic Lovecraftian device with the reveal of the strange happenings and no further information. I do have an alternate ending for this that I wrote this morning. It more fits my own vision for the story but doesn't quite have the impact of the current one. Maybe one day I'll write it up according to my own vision, complete with the different ending.I had a migraine all yesterday and the pressure in my head was just building up and getting more and more painful. I treated myself to an early night and curled up in bed with a copy of selected Lovecraft tales. In the middle of The Cats of Ulthar, I got this vision yet again (it's a story that's been in my head for years now but I've never gotten around to telling it) and was compelled to attempt writing it in a Lovecraftian style. To do this I had to cut the story events down (my original idea for the story has it play out from "Derrick's" point of view and relates the increasing appearances of the woman in black in his life) and introduce a secondary character. Much of the opening of the story is spent establishing a time period (1920s to 1930s) without specifically mentioning it, and building up the fact that the protagonist wouldn't just leave his friend in need of help.

  5. I think I'd have enjoyed your personal version more. :left:.Yes, I know the limits of the mini O :awww:.Just try to upload something and you'll see them! :lol:.

  6. Lovely. I so enjoy creepy stories, and have quite a collection of them in my library. Lovecraft is Lovecraft. He is not the only master. My favorite is Walter De La Mar. M. R James and Hugh Walpole are also good company on a dark winter's night. I'm afraid, Poe is a little over the top for my taste.Wrote a few weird tales myself. One of them about a young man who slowly turns into… well, something different… after he violates a gipsy girl. I liked that one a lot.

  7. Poe has a certain style that I need to be in the right mood to appreciate these days. Couldn't get enough of him when I was a child and my dreams were regularly filled with murdering monkeys. I've been quite partial to Hodgson's short stories this past decade or so. His study of contemporary preternatural theory shows in the tales he writes. Sounds like you've got a justice and consequences theme running through the gypsy story, something I always enjoy writing myself. But sometimes you just want to take someone who's done nothing wrong and make them suffer. ;).Dennis, I learned with The Beast that serialising something causes me to try and make each part stand alone which detracts from the overall story. I'm better if I just do it in one sitting, like with this. Besides, the main fault with this is that I'm fitting a story I want to tell to another person's style. Parts of the tale have been lost and the reader picks up on that, if only subconsciously. Where a story like Fragments is purposely written to allow the reader to fill in the blanks, that same process becomes a problem in this particular style. For example, by mentioning the food the protagonist eats I'm setting up an unconscious expectation for that level of detail to apply elsewhere in the story.

  8. I write in Danish, so I'm afraid publishing any of my stories on Opera would be a waste of time, and I don't do translations. As far as I remember, I wrote that particular story for a horror tale anthology called 'Opening The Door' (Danish: Dørene) some seven years ago. I often touch the supernatural in my writings, especially haunted places, or places that might be haunted. The uncertainty of whether the bad thing that causes the plot is of this world or another is one of the main themes in good horror. You expect a scientific explanation, so that you can get rid of the uncanny feeling the story gives you, but you also know that it might not happen.

  9. Perfect Clint. You read it in the same conditions as I wrote it. Did you have your back to an open doorway? :devil:.

    But also very Furie.

    That's because I've built a signature into my writing. Three cheers for anyone who can tell me one part of it.

  10. Mik's signature is that he always alludes to his training as a professional psychoanalyst/bar-man with at least one of his characters! :p.

  11. I like the creepy sensation a lot! I haven't read any Lovecraft, so I can't compare, but it's a well executed story :yes:Your signature is… naming one of your characters after a 70s German TV detective? :p

  12. 😆 Still not there. Lets put it like this, it isn't a mistake people would expect me to make and they turn a blind eye to it every time, possibly doubting their own knowledge in the process.

  13. Don't tell 'em, Mik. A writer's signature is too be kept a secret, or it will lose it's powers. Trust me.:wizard:

  14. Very familiar and classic style of horror. For some reason the ending reminds me of the Lovecraft story where he finds that the artist had been painting horrors from a photo rather than his own imagination :DPoe's style always makes me think of a quickening pulse, while Lovecraft's always puts me in mind of a gathering storm.That's the key to any good horror story, I think – a hidden rhythm throughout the whole thing that seems to speed up as it nears the dénouement. Other forms of fiction can vary the tempo without ruining the effect.

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