“You do realise this is a massive scam, right?” I said as we walked up to the entrance. The building loomed over us with a grandiose only achievable by those that had been around for hundreds of years. It’s magnificence changed the air around it. The stone steps spilled from the front door out in all directions, sweeping in as many people as possible.
“Oh my God, you are such a misery guts! This is real! So many people have gone through it and seen what it’s like. Aren’t you curious?” Chiara replied, a wistful smile on her face as she turned to me and came to a stop at the end of the queue.
“I have a curiosity for the actual things in the world. Like, how do birds fly? Or, what is it that animals tell each other when they chatter? And, how did the body make the signals to move each individual muscle? I think about stuff that’s real, stuff I can research. Not mythical shit that is set up to make as much money as possible from gullible people like you!” I said, digging my elbow into her ribs. She giggled and pushed me away.
“Oh whatever. You’re going to love it!”
The queue moved quickly and we were soon inside the museum. Our rubber-soled shoes squeaked along the spotless marble floors. How do they keep these floors so clean with this amount of people coming in? I wondered absently. We bought our tickets from a bored looking cashier and made our way to the exhibit. After climbing countless flights of stairs and navigating the maze of corridors, we finally came across the sign we were looking for.
“Become One with Art” it announced, on a background of famous artworks brought together to show the face of the Mona Lisa. Chiara grabbed my arm in her excitement and pointed at it, gushing over how creative and clever that was of the museum staff. I was not impressed by this supposed creativity but seeing Chiara smile like that was infectious.
I was expecting to walk into a small, stuffy room where this ‘magic’ window would be overcrowded by artifacts that were found through it or by plaques detailing quotes from those who had already walked through it. I prepared myself for the stale air and took a couple of deep breaths at the door. Instead, we found ourselves in a large white-washed room. It seemed to stretch out in all directions, light flooding every inch. As I looked around at the ever-growing room I felt small. Insignificant.
Chiara pulled me forward, over to the only two objects in this room. The window and a small stand was in the centre. The stand was full of postcards of local artworks, Pick One, it instructed. Chiara’s face lit up and she crouched down to select her postcard. Her hand went to her lips as it often did when she had to concentrate. A smile played on my lips as if in reply. Her other hand drifted out in front of her to follow her eyes as she perused. She stopped abruptly and snatched up a postcard from the stacks.
“I have to pick this one!” She announced and she jumped up from her crouch. She flashed the postcard in my direction and on it was an oil painted Venetian scene of one of their famous bridges. It arches over the river that runs through the city, the bridge has passersby taking a leisurely stroll while the sun sets behind them. Their shadows are stretched out across the shimmering water. “Yes, this is it. Which one are you picking? Oh! What about this one? Or this one? This one looks great too!” she said, pointing at several postcards.
“Wow, thank you. You have guessed every single choice there is!” I mocked. I scanned the choices and plucked one. “I guess I’ll go with this one?” I said hesitantly as I plucked a seascape out from the mix. It was a stormy sea with grey clouds covering the stretching expanse of the sky. An isolated lighthouse stood on the cliffside, its beam of light cutting through the storm.
“Seriously? That one?” Chiara asked.
“Why? What’s wrong with it?” I said, crossing my arms. I looked at it again. Maybe it is a bit doom and gloom...
“Nothing! Nothing, I just didn’t think you’d pick something like that.” She gazed at the floor.
“Fine, I’ll pick the same as you then.” I said as I swapped out the cards.
“No! No, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.” Guilt was written all over Chiara’s face. Whatever Chiara felt I found to be so infectious… her guilt seemed to transfer over to me too.
“It’s alright, you know what you’re talking about when it comes to art. It’s going to be great,” I said, trying to reassure her. She responded with a shy smile and grabbed my hand. Butterflies filled my stomach.
“Let’s go!” She said.
We went over to the window, which looked like any other. Portrait, with six individual panes brought together with four pieces of light wood. A latch on the right invited us to open it. Together, we stepped through.
Bright light blinded us. We stumbled through the window, holding on to each other tight, and waited for the light to dull. As it did, we took in our surroundings. Chiara gasped as she realised where we were. We had joined the passersby on the Venetian bridge, although they were still the unidentifiable smudges of paint that made them into the shape of a person. They drifted past us as if in a trance. They didn’t even notice us.
“I can’t believe we’re in the painting! How amazing is this?!” Chiara said, gripping my hand tight. “My parents used to bring me here all the time when I was little. I’ve missed this place so much,” She cast her head around, drinking in the sights. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, taking in the fresh scent of the river below us. In this light I can see just how long her eyelashes are. I never noticed that before. She opened her eyes and met my gaze.
“What are you looking at? Do you not realise where we are?!” She grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. “Look! Look at the gorgeous little painted shops and the cutesy cafes. Let’s go look!” She ran around me and started running off to the streets ahead of us.
As her feet padded along the stone bridge, the painted people turned and looked at her. Chiara kept on running, more painted people turned to her. They started walking towards her, some had even changed direction completely. This was starting to feel weird.
“Hey! Chiara! Maybe we shouldn’t go too far from the window? I would like to go home, you know?” I called to her. Chiara turned and put a hand behind her ear, as if she couldn’t hear me. She gave me a wink and vanished behind a painted cafe. I couldn’t help but agree with Chiara, it did look very cute with its windows framed with white panels, outlined in thick black. The cafe’s name was written with flourish above the door. The paint all around was aged and peeling, adding to its charm. The floor in the doorway was a brown and white checkerboard tile. It was very pretty.
The people-shaped smudges of paint had followed Chiara down the alley through which she ran. They moved as if they had become stiff from standing in one place in the painting for too long. What were they doing? With a sigh, I followed. As I turned the corner, I heard a muffled scream. I saw Chiara had been captured by two painted people. They had hold of her arms and a hand over her mouth. Panic warped Chiara’s face as she tried to free herself from their grasp.
“Hey! Let her go!” I screamed. Then, I saw it. What looked like paint seemed to crawl its way from their hands and onto Chiara’s body. It spread over her skin like a cloud creeping over the sun on a glorious day. I watched with horror as within minutes, my best friend had been transformed into another unidentifiable blob.
All the painted people then turned to me. Oh no. I need to get out of here. Now. As I started to run, the painted people followed. They were quicker now. I found my way back on the bridge and started to climb through the window. I threw a look over my shoulder and saw the blob, that might have been Chiara, reaching for me. I gave her one long look.
“I’m sorry.” I said. Then climbed back through the window.
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