Over the past few weeks, my posts have been coming thick and fast, due to the fact that I was between contracts, which meant I had quite a bit of spare time. However, last Monday I started a new contract, which whilst closer to home, is regular office hours.
This has resulted in the bare minimum of ‘hobby time’ this week, none of which is fit to be shown. This presented me with a slight quandary, as I felt I should post something, but didn’t have any concrete ideas about what I should be posting. Should I resurrect one of my old posts from my previous blog, dust it off, tart it up and post it as revised content? Whilst this is something I do intend on doing, I haven’t really had any time this week, so I’m going to do what I did the last time this happened.
That’s right, it’s story-time…
Long-term followers of my blog will know that the last time this happened was at the end of February, when they had the dubious honour of reading the first short story I ever wrote that I considered was fit for public consumption. This particular piece of humourous fantasy, heavily influenced by the late, great Terry Pratchett is entitled “A Bad Day for Murakh T’arr” – which you can read by following the link.
The short story I’m using as a filler piece for this post was originally written for the ‘Pulp Idol’ writing competition, that the sci-fi magazine SFX ran on an annual basis. The story had to fit within the genres covered by the magazine and had to be 2,000 words or less. This was quite a challenge, as when I write, the story takes as many words as it needs and whilst 2,000 words sounds quite a lot, it isn’t.
So I beavered away at it, trimming extraneous words where I could and when I was finally happy, submitted it.
Then I forgot about it.
A couple of month’s later, the issue containing the final ten runners-up and the winner was published. I knew I hadn’t won or fallen within the top ten, as they would have contacted me. However, the magazine did publish a list of the names of those who had submitted stories that had made it through to the final 50.
And there was my name.
Out of the 5,000 odd people who had entered, I had made it through to the final fifty. I may not have won, or come within the final ten, but they did think my story was better than 4,950 other stories that had been submitted. As far as I was concerned, that was a win. So, here it is. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it.
Eye of the Beholder
Carla was impressed. The way the artist had captured the hesitancy of the creature, as it cautiously stepped from beneath the overhanging trees, dappled sunlight patterning its flanks, was breathtaking. The detail was amazing too. She could see each individual hair on the creature’s coat, the small soft wrinkles along the lips, the soft delicate eyelashes surrounding the deep brown eyes.
Behind the creature, in the depths of the wood, shafts of sunlight from the canopy above struck motes of dust, or possibly small insects, giving the whole picture a sense of realism that was usually lacking from this type of art. It was almost as if the artist had stepped into another world, armed with a digital camera, and taken photos of the wildlife.
But that was impossible, as the creature depicted in the picture was a unicorn and they do not exist. Yet, the picture almost made you believe that they did and that they should…
The rest of the pictures in the gallery were similar, each showing a creature of myth or legend, depicted in such a way that it was like walking through a room of windows, with each picture showing a different view of a world not our own. Here a faun perched on a tree stump, his face ruddy with drink, proposing a toast with an overflowing tankard to a group of shadowy figures gathered round a campfire. There a scaled wyvern curled protectively and alertly around a clutch of eggs, their shells the colour of a summer sky…
The exhibition was called ‘From Life?’ and, according to the pamphlet she had been given by a girl wearing too much make-up on the door, ‘showcased the amazing skills of an artist who has mastered the nuances and subtleties of the medium of digital art.’ As she had meandered about the gallery, examining the pictures, she had overheard the phrase ‘photo-realistic’ mentioned several times. She had to admit, the phrase fitted.
Whilst she had admired each picture individually, there was something about the unicorn that kept drawing her back. She stepped closer, her lips pursed.
A deep male voice interrupted her thoughts, ‘I’m guessing that you quite like my picture, then?’ it asked.
Carla turned. Standing behind her was a tubby, bearded man in an obviously hired suit. He looked slightly uncomfortable, as though he was not used to talking to women, or people, for that matter.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I do. It’s perfect. Exactly what I imagine a unicorn would really look like. You’re very talented.’ The man looked even more uncomfortable.
‘It’s nothing, really’ he said, flushing slightly, ‘Anyone could have produced this picture, with the right equipment.’
Carla turned back to the picture.
‘But to actually produce a picture like this, and the others on show here, takes more than just “the right equipment”.’ She said, ‘You have to be able to see something in your mind, before you can transfer it into another medium, surely?’
The man looked even more uncomfortable, if that was possible, and started to nervously sidle away.
‘Sometimes, they just come to me…’ he muttered, before making a hasty exit.
Carla turned back to the picture of the unicorn. Yes, she decided, I must have this…
At the front desk, an eager young girl in a baggy white t-shirt explained that ‘due to the versatility of this particular digital art form, whilst the artist keeps the original files, we can produce copies of the artwork at any size and for considerably less cost than buying an original piece of art’. She then launched into a detailed explanation of the type of computer equipment necessary to produce work of this nature.
Carla gritted her teeth as the techno-babble washed over her. She thrust her credit card like a talisman at the eager young thing, an action that caused the girl to finally stop talking and produce a typed order form.
Carla selected the size of her copy, chose the type of frame and arranged delivery.
Her apartment was sleek and clean, almost utilitarian, and a picture like this would offer an ideal counterpoint to the modernistic space she dwelled in. Besides, she had a large blank wall space that needed filling.
A few days later, the picture arrived and, true to their promise, the people form the gallery professionally mounted the picture exactly where she wanted it. She stood back and admired it, which at 6’ x 4’, was considerably larger than the one shown in the gallery. It suited the space perfectly, looking like it had always meant to hang there. Now it looked like her fourth-storey apartment had a window into a sylvan glade, occupied by a mythical beast.
Who needs a wardrobe, she thought, smirking.
Over the next couple of days, every time she passed the picture, she paused. There was something about the picture that was niggling at her, like a loose tooth. Something out of place, slightly off kilter, like a warm toilet seat in an empty house.
But, for the life of her, she could not work out what.
Night after night, she found herself sitting pensively in a chair opposite the picture, scouring it with her eyes, trying to see what her mind was trying to tell her was wrong…
Finally, after spending many sleepless nights tossing and turning, as it preyed on her mind, it came to her. She quickly threw back the covers and padded barefoot into the lounge. Flicking the lights on, she rummaged through her desk drawers, searching until she found what she was looking for. A magnifying glass.
Moving across to the picture, she dragged an armchair close to the wall beneath the picture and clambered up onto its soft, yielding surface.
The eye. There was something different…no, not different…more…about the unicorn’s eye. Balancing unsteadily on the arms of the chair, Carla peered through the magnifying glass at the picture. There was a shape there, very small, but she could just make out what it was…
Realisation struck her like a blow and the magnifying glass fell from her now numb fingers. She slowly collapsed into the soft embrace of the chair, hugging her knees tightly.
She then recollected the exact words the artist had said to her, what seemed like such a long time ago, and realised that every word he had spoken was true.
For what she had seen, reflected in the eye of the unicorn, was the tiny figure of a bearded man, holding a camera…