Eye of the Beholder

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

By

Jeremy Winstanley

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…

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17 thoughts on “Eye of the Beholder

  1. It often happens that real life gets in the way of our beloved hobby time. You’re right, though. It is better to post something, even a past post tarted up, than posting nothing. Good luck with the new job, mate.

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    • Thanks Bryan. Now that the first week’s out of the way, I should be able to be a bit more organised, so we should get new content next week. Still have chibis to finish = just need to familiarise myself with the properties of ‘green stuff’ now that Roger’s kindly sent me some. Plenty of planned content = just need some extra time…

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  2. Well I liked it, though I’m not girl (at least I don’t think I am?), just off to check….

    No sorry definitely, not a girl, still liked it though, it just doesn’t count apparently.

    Cheers Roger.

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  3. Also I never use more than a small pea’ size amount at a time (usually half that size when adding details, as it’s easier to mix then. make sure it’s all completely mixed and I often put the kettle on then mix it, then let it sit while I go and pour the tea, then use it. if you roll it vigorously between you palms the heat will make it softer. I tend also to roll it out into a sausage about 3to4mm thick and cut off small chunks from this as I find it easier to judge amounts for specific bits (if I need two lumps the same size (for eyes/ hands etc) then I roll it out even thinner (1mm thick) as it’s then easier to get two bits the same size (just cut two lengths the same length then roll these back up into balls.

    Hope this helps, if I think of any other tips I’ll let you know.

    Cheers Roger.

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  4. {{I’m curious to see what the girls make of it…}}

    I enjoyed it… a lot. It had guts to it. I just wish it were longer. Extremely well written, i.e. your style of writing is easy and comfortable. It felt like reading a James Herbert book, enticing in an almost nonchalant way. I could happily read lots more of this.. and indeed I would like to see you writing in this style for a good forty/fifty pages, and maintaining momentum to build you weave into a climatic completeness.

    I see Stevie do this all the time (his short stories are usually between 40 to 50 pages long, which is about the amount he writes in a day); so I know the formula to look for. However, as a 1000 word piece (I think that’s what yours was), your timing and balance was dead on.

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    • Thank you very much, Hil. This particular tale was quite challenging, due to its length. I find that stories take as many words as they need, so trying to give enough detail to paint the world AND tell the story in 2000 words was harder than usual.
      However, I was pleased with the result and I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      Being compared to James Herbert was rather nice, as I do own several of his novels and regularly reread them.
      And I do aspire to a full length novel – I just need to find the correct story to tell.

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  5. What interests me in this story is the real hero. The bearded man. He would have to be pure of heart and intent to have a unicorn come to him. Indeed he says himself: “Sometimes, they just come to me” implying that other strange and wonderful beasts, too, perhaps come to him.. sometimes? SO wow this must be some sort of spirit hiding in a human form or a true natural wiccan perhaps? What even his gift, he captures photos of them (and here it gets cloudy) because he obviously then sells the photos for profit {“She thrust her credit card like a talisman”}. More details to work from would have been a nice bonus here.

    “reflected in the eye of the unicorn, was the tiny figure of a bearded man, holding a camera…” was a nice twist and simply conformed what I spotted already when the man said “Sometimes, they just come to me”. I found it an entertaining story (I wish it were longer) and reminded me of reading English lit for my college days. The style DOES have something of Herbert about it, but I would actually narrow it down more closely to C S Lewis, in style and tone.

    Better perhaps to say it is YOUR style and tone, and as such, is a lovely piece of writing.

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    • Thanks Tarot. As i said, I was restricted to 2000 words, so expanding on it wasn’t really an option. Did you read the (admittedly) silly tale of Murakh T’arr that was linked in the post, as that gives an insight into my more ‘daft’ side? But the tale I’m most proud of (and the one that actually made me cry – girl’s blouse that I am) was the one I sent to Hil. It’s beautiful, in my opinion – I am biased though. 😉

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