The Smiling Dead

    In this room, bathing in golden slants of evening light, it seemed like night would never come, with its smiling dead. 

    I stood for a very long moment in the window, looking over the city – my city, not theirs – imagining the sun sticking on the skyline and going no further down.

    “Cop! Turn your face towards me more,” the painter ordered. She was a small thing, and older than me, but very beautiful. But I guess everything would be beautiful in this light, pouring in fifteen-foot tall windows that made up one of the walls. I did as she said, because I wasn’t sure how delicate this process was, but I sure as hell didn’t want to screw it up

    Sure as hell. Ha. That was sort of funny, these days.

    I stood as still as I could and watched the painter squash and stroke and dab paint on the canvas. Too fast to get a good likeness, I would’ve thought. But I was an expert on capturing people, not faces. “Will it hurt?” I asked. I didn’t care if it did, but I wanted to know.
    The painter frowned at me as if it was a very strange question to ask. “Most people don’t notice the moment their soul enters the painting. You might feel a little hungry, later. It goes away.”

    Unthinking, I rubbed my hand over my face, knuckles white.

    “Hold still!” she hissed.   

    I dropped my arms to my side, crossed them, dropped them again. I already felt the loss of my soul, a gnawing starvation in my chest.

    Outside the window, I heard the siren begin. All across the city, doors were slamming, windows were being latched, cars were abandoned where they sat. I knew that somewhere down there, the rest of the police force was parking their cars in their driveways and bolting their doors against the dead and those that kept them.

    “You could just join them,” the painter suggested. “Lock yourself away until morning.”

    I could. But then I’d have to just listen to the terrified 9-1-1 tapes in the morning and hate myself for not being there when the gates opened to below and the people began to scream all over the city. “If I die – my soul – once it’s in the painting –?”
    “We keep the paintings in the gallery. If I learn of your death, I’ll burn it in a church. Your soul will go wherever your life up to this point has put it. This is the last stroke. Do you still want it?”
    Outside, I heard the first scream, and I imagined the panicked call coming into dispatch: one of them came in the back door. Someone please help. The claws oh God –
    I could already imagine the smell of sulphur. Someone had to fight. And if I did this, the worst they could do was kill me.

    I nodded, short and jerky.
    “Good,” she said, “Because I already finished.”

    She turned it around for me to see.

*artwork: portrait of Albert de Belleroche by John Singer Sargent

29 thoughts on “The Smiling Dead

  1. ooh, creepy–this is right up my alley!

    (I’m sure that news doesn’t come as a complete shock.)

  2. You? Like creepy stuff!? Never!

    In other news, YAY! You’re back! (I didn’t say that last night but I meant to)

  3. Creepy and good. I like that it very much captures the decision of “I’ll take my chances with my soul’s destination, so long as I’m safe from *that*.”


  4. Blast! My sister said that too! I told her “They can’t all be novels.”

    And the little voice inside me said, “they can’t?!”

  5. “You might feel a little hungry, later. It goes away.”

    Comedy. Gold.

    I have to agree. More would not be bad. I’m picturing Will Smith starring in the movie, myself.

  6. Will Smith, huh? I subconsciously interpolated my cop husband into this story, and reconciling that with Will Smith is turning out to be both difficult and hilarious.

  7. Will Smith makes everything better. That’s all there is to it. I picture him in the movie version of everything I like.

  8. You have damaged my head and I may never forgive you…

    Also, I friended you back. Yay!

  9. That’s right, Smiling Dead, I remember you when you were just a blurb in Maggie’s mind. Now, you’re all grown up and going to Borders, B&N and Books-A-Million….I’m just so proud.

  10. awesome.
    very, very awesome in the gruesome walking dead souls-in-paintings way.
    which, i would imagine, is what you were going for.

  11. Wow. Love this. It’s just so eerie and creepy. The soul-in-a-painting concept is awesome.

  12. *Grin* Thanks. It’s something I always thought about when I was doing portraits, trying to capture as much of that person as possible.

  13. Holy crap, that’s creepy. *shudder* (…More? It’s evil, leaving us hanging like that…)

    I liked how the cop’s personality, and dedication, came shining through, even in so few words. I’d never thought of that whole ‘soul in a painting’ idea being used for a real purpose before, but yeah, if you’re out there fighting demons, I can see why you’d maybe want your soul well out of the way… eesh.

  14. I totally stole my husband’s cop personality for this short story. I’ll admit to it (cop to it? ohhhh too cheesy).

    I really might develop this into something longer. I sort of want to see what sort claws we’re dealing with, exactly.

    Thanks for the creepy assessment. 🙂

  15. I’ve got to say … having grown up with so many friends and family in law enforcement … this really captures the best of so many of them. And I keep coming back and reading it. I just want to throw my wish out there for more of this, too. 🙂

  16. *grin* Thanks. My husband is a cop and I just stole his personality for this one. It makes me cheerful to think I did my job well.

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