“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been six months since my last confession,” Jake Stringer started. He couldn’t help but fidget in the tiny space.
The groundskeeper groaned as he put on his work boots.
“What have you done?”
“I stole the most valuable thing any person can own and I don’t want to give it back,” he answered. His right leg began to twitch as the thought of what he stole entered his mind.
He gripped a shovel firmly with each swing he took into the dirt.
“Why don’t you want to return it?”
“Why? Don’t you even want to know what it is first?” Jake begged, pleaded. He wanted someone to know; anyone. This wasn’t his first time and he knew it wouldn’t be his last.
He stopped shoveling as a mound of dirt where it shouldn’t be got his attention.
“No, son, you appear to already know what you’ve done wrong. I want to know what’s stopping you from doing right?”
Jakes voice broke as he continued. “The voices in my head. They tell me to do things. I tried to get help Father, but no one will listen. I can’t escape the voices. I can’t.”
The groundskeeper looked inside the dug up grave and saw an open coffin with a headless corpse.
“What are they telling you to do?”
Jake pulled a machete from his jacket. “You don’t want to know.”
The shovel fell from the groundskeeper’s hand as he ran towards the church.
Coasting down a deserted highway I met a hitchhiker on the side of the road. Under different circumstances I would’ve kept on driving but as my high beams illuminated him in the distance the bright red heart patch on his sleeve caught my eye.
I’d seen that jacket once before and I needed to know how he came to have it.
As he crouched low to enter my sports car I got a better look at him. Aside from his scruffy and unkempt exterior, his five o’clock shadow made him look surprisingly less menacing.
“Where you headed?” Faded from sweat stains, I was just able to read the name on the pamphlet he handed me: Killman Library. “Strange name for a library, but I’m headed in that direction. I can take you.”
For the remainder of the ride he didn’t say a word. When I asked about the jacket, the heart, a single tear rolled down his cheek.
I pulled up in front of the library at day break and asked if he wanted me to stay with him till it opened. It was at this request when he spoke these words to me:
“What I have to do you cannot see, Diane. But know he loved you dearly and sent me to tell you so.”
Without another word he exited my car. I don’t know where he went from the tears I shed. It wasn’t until I was able to drive away I noticed he left the jacket behind.
The oldest portrait in this castle hung in the Master’s bedchamber. I know because I was the one who placed it there back when his great great grandfather, Eustice Saint George of the Outer Moors, asked me to.
Managing to out live one’s Master three times was unheard of. Before I came along servants would take their own life at the same moment their Master died, out of love and respect. Such fools. I had neither the time nor desire to love or respect the Saint George lineage. I did, however, want to live.
The portrait I mentioned was rather hideous. It became this way, long ago, when it was mistakenly placed too close to an open flame. The paint melted, creating the grotesque figure you see before you.
Suddenly, a mystery presented itself. Who was the subject of this painting? I pretended to know the answer, but I could only divulge the information upon the eightieth birthday of the Master? Why? Because the curse placed upon it stated if I revealed the answer too soon it would bring about the Master’s death. I was sworn to never even whisper the answer.
I knew no Saint George ever managed to live past sixty-five in their entire family history. I thought I was safe, until Little Marnie Saint George, the current Master’s daughter, thought it would be funny to start a fire near me while I slept. Now I really know who that portrait is supposed to be.
The flashes of blinding light weren’t what woke her, it was the thunderous sound that preceded them. Shielding her eyes from the light coming through her thinly veiled windows she hurried to get dressed.
This was a storm she’d been waiting to witness for herself, ever since she was a little girl and forced to hide away from the last one.
Her heart quickened as she raced downstairs in her muddy boots and dirt stained slicker she wore earlier in the day, when the sky hinted something much larger was approaching.
Standing on her front porch she marveled at the war taking place in the sky between the clouds, the rain swirling and the lightning striking.
Sitting in the park on a sunny afternoon, watching family picnics nearby, was the Artist. He spends the majority of his time observing the happiness of others, knowing he can never experience it himself. His job is one of inheritance and servitude. His duties, while simple, and to him, mundane, serve a higher purpose and must be done to the best of his abilities.
He comes from a long line of Artists whose job it is to capture emotions in every drawing in order to feed the Cold-Blooded. They rely on each other. Life in exchange for other people’s feelings.