Hidden Portraits

Submitted into Contest #169 in response to: Start your story with a character encountering a black cat.... view prompt

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Fiction Thriller Romance

The canvas remains nestled on the easel. No image bestowed. No story to tell. Dust gathers around the square edges. The paints are all dry, nothing left of them to use. What used to be vibrant greens, yellows, oranges, and reds have turned to a dull cracked paste. Leroy hates this room; he hates it with every atom of his being. Why he hates it? He does not know. There are pieces of him he cannot access. Memories, stories, and his past have all fleeted him now. He is left to be consumed only by his raw emotions, never knowing their explanation. He hates this room, he hates the dried-up paints, and he especially hates the canvas. It mocks him with what it lacks, mirroring his own inadequacy. The emptiness is too unbearable to have to be reminded of it. Yet, as much as he hates this room, being within these four walls—he is drawn here. He feels it calling to him, and he always goes—miserably. It is in this room, the room he utterly despises, and cannot escape that he feels something else for the very first time. Hope.

He hears the family before he even sees them. The sound of children laughing excites him, he moves to the window and sees them. A mother, with radiant red hair, carrying a small black cat close to her chest. A father with a taped-up cardboard box, wideset shoulders, and dark curly hair… and lastly, the children. A boy and a younger girl. They tussle over the key ring giggling, arguing about who will help unlock the front door. A front door that has remained locked since Leroy has been here. The older boy is gentle with his sister, he half plays to wrestle for the keys not trying to apply to much force to accidentally yank them out of his sister’s hands. He pretends to give his best effort, and in the end the young girl wins. She waits for her mother to join her on the front porch, to help her insert and turn the key. With a click, and a heavy creek the family enter and pass the threshold, unlocking their way into Leroy’s home.

The mother’s hair is ties back on the nape of her neck. She is kneeling in front of the flower bed, disrupting the soil, and carefully placing each tiny flower in place. She gathers the dirt and forms a tiny mound, packing it atop the roots. Solidifying the stem in place. As she pushes down a glimpse of silver is seen swaying around her neck, a small red pendant at the end. Amelia, Leroy thinks as electricity flows through him. Amelia, where are you? Where did you go? The sensation is overpowering, and Leroy can no longer bare to look at the woman who mockingly plants her flowers the same colors his beloved paints used to be. One thing becomes certain for Leroy, he needs to find her—and quickly.

The fire warms the room as her face reflects the light bouncing from the flames.

“Tilt your head towards me…good now tuck your chin down just so slightly,” Leroy instructs her. She does exactly as he says, shooting him a flirtatious glance with her eyes. The way she looks at him he will never take for granted, and after tonight, Leroy will have captured her on this canvas forever.

“How much longer must I sit for you? So much work and no play?” Amelia chirps at him. He has the shade of her skin down perfectly on the canvas, he added depth and highlights to make her features look as if she were not a basic portrait, but the radiance of beauty that sits before him now. Her eyes are the last thing he needs to perfect, they are so exquisite it will be hard to match their complexity on the canvas.

“Your eyes dear, they are a gift from God. My gift cannot carry them the way they deserve, though I will try. A little bit longer, and then we can play.” He smirks back at her. She playfully rolls her eyes and sighs. Leroy’s attention is drawn to the light catching on her silver necklace, a locket that has remained in its place since Leroy presented it to her last month. A promise for more to come. A promise for an escape.

The father has been going through Leroy’s room today while the cat sits in the doorway eyes locked onto Leroy. Leroy hides in the corner, not to disturb him or cause a scene, the glaring cat unnerves him. The cat knows he’s there. Leroy watches as the father picks through the dusty books on the shelf, inspects the old fireplace for birds’ nest, and contemplates what to do with the remaining art materials. The father scratches his head inspecting the paints and the canvases, Leroy longs for him to get rid of them, to throw them into the empty box he has brought with him. Urges him with is mind to dismantle the last blank canvas leaving Leroy to enjoy this room more peacefully without it. Instead, the father seems interested in the debacle. He inspects the canvas, its material worn thin. He lightly picks it up from its resting place on the easel and turns it over. His thumb runs along the dusty edge, he can tell this was hand crafted. The canvas pulled taught along the wooden edges. The father stops, his thumb rubs the small wooden corner of the canvas, a burned inscription remains. The father speaks the name aloud: Leroy Chambers.

The meadow was brighter that day, thanks to the unforgiving sunlight and clear skies. Amelia lay on a blanket in the grass, Leroy prompt up on this elbow alongside her. Their hands reaching for each other, their fingertips dancing together. Leroy grabbed her left hand, and gently slipped on a small golden band, his mother’s before, Amelia’s now. He could feel Amelia’s entire body stop, for just the slightest second. Her eyes met his, and then looked down at the band upon her ring finger. A testament of love, a promise and commitment for the rest of their days. Marriage, holy matrimony, till death do they part.

“Yes, I love you Leroy Chambers,” she whispers, reaching up from her spot to kiss him. A kiss of wanting and need, he was going to save her. He just promised her that.

A glass breaks in the kitchen, the little girl begins to cry. The mother is soothing, the father shouting. The mother now shouts at the father. The children’s feet start pattering up the staircase. Quickly, swiftly. The door slams and Leroy turns to see the children, red faced and winded. The boy looks around, panicked. He rushes his sister to hide in the corner, the door behind them creeks open. The mother enters, cooing and shushing. The children run to her; they jump into her arms. They kiss her face, they haven’t noticed it yet, but Leroy has. He’s seen that mark before. A kiss that bites deeper.

Amelia’s face is burdened with her truth. She attempted to hide it from Leroy, but he knew the second he laid eyes on her. The soft bruise that has kissed her left eye, the purple color brightening the deep green of her iris. Leroy sweeps a stand of her hair that has fallen in front of her face, and places it delicately behind her ear. He takes her face in his hands, lightly, not to startle her.

“We leave tonight,” He insists. She doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t have to. She nods.

           After dusk, they pack little belongings and make their way out of the house and through the garden. He is finally able to promise Amelia what he has been promising all along, a life free from her abuser. Her husband and Leroy’s employer. A man of many respects of fine wine and artwork but lacks that affection towards his beloved wife. A man that does not deserve Amelia, a man that Leroy has fantasized killing on more than one occasion but is satisfied in making Amelia safe. In making her happy. Tonight, it will all set in motion. He will set it right for her.

           They make it to the garden gate before they hear the dogs barking, they hear the shouting.

           “Run!” She urges him, and together they run past the gate and into the meadow. They run as hard as they are able. Until the groundskeeper blocks their path. It isn’t long until they are cornered. Guns risen. Pleads shouted. Triggers pulled. Dead weight hitting the ground. Leroy’s face turns towards Amelia’s, she lay there lifeless mirroring him. Her eyes, so exquisite but lifeless, fixated onto him.

           Leroy finds the urge to paint today, he didn’t even know he had these urges left in him. The paints are cracked, the canvas dusty but he does what he can. He swishes and swirls, he mixes and molds. The radiant red hair comes to life, but the eyes, the eyes don’t belong to the mother, their Amelia’s. When the portrait is finished, what is left to stare back at him is the face of defiance. The face of love, compassion, and courage. The face of a mother, seeking asylum for herself and her children from their father. The father ironically enters the room after Leroy has finished his new prized piece. He stops when he sees the canvas full of life now. He’s confused. Skeptical. He approaches the piece, and Leroy can sense his fear. He is afraid of this woman in the portrait, not because he is afraid of his wife, but because this woman would leave him. She would forget him in a fortnight. He knows she has this power, he has done everything to subdue this in her, to harvest this force from her. There’s a shift movement behind the father, a chill that breaks both his and Leroy’s attention. They are not alone here, there is another force present. That force makes their presence known, it grabs the father through the chest and strangles his heart. His eyes pulse with fear, confusion, and then utter agony, until his body goes limp and there’s a crashing of dead weight falling to the floor. The force makes their way to Leroy now, he is not afraid. He is open and willing, beckoning his fate. Formless, it slides its way to him, unfolding and revealing their identity. Leroy’s world stops. Amelia, he breathes.

October 23, 2022 01:58

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6 comments

17:01 Oct 25, 2022

Hi Anne, This is a very poignant story about abuse. You've painted a very realistic domestic abuse scenario where everything looks all right on the outside, but it's not all right at all. The truth reveals itself in details. I think this is very well done. You have some beautiful sentences and I think the title is excellent. Nice work!

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Anne O
18:48 Oct 25, 2022

Thank you for reading, Marissa. I appreciated your comment!

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KarLynn Erickson
02:23 Nov 03, 2022

Great work. The story and theme is dark, but it flowed melodically. Your writing is so solid and has an easy flow. I can't wait to read more from you!

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Anne O
22:15 Nov 03, 2022

Thank you for reading Kar Lynn! I appreciate your kind words

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Delbert Griffith
10:29 Oct 23, 2022

There are a few grammatical errors and typos here, but this is a fantastic story. Chilling, in fact. Shades of Dorian Gray permeated the story - and the tone of the story. Nicely done!

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Anne O
18:47 Oct 25, 2022

Thanks Delbert!

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