Creative Nonfiction Suspense

The assignment given to Astrid by her Introduction to Art professor was simple, create a self-portrait by use of any medium. The assignment was worth twenty percent of her final grade.

Although Astrid had been provided one week to complete the assignment, she was eager to get started and began immediately. While researching different mediums Astrid found that she was most drawn to the idea of using a pencil to bring to life a black and white photo of herself. The next step was to take a photo of herself, re-arranging her living room, she was able to clear one wall entirely to act as a backdrop. Placing a stool in front of the wall she walked into her bedroom to change into a turtleneck and to place her hair into a tight bun. Looking in the mirror Astrid began contorting her face in the hopes of finding the face that she would make in the photo. Astrid felt that her smile showed too much of her teeth and in contrast her frown highlighted the creases in her forehead.

Returning to the living room she set her camera on a tripod and set the camera for a 5 second timer. Sitting on the stool she opted for a straight-face and took the photo. After many attempts Astrid was able to capture the image that she would use for her self-portrait.

Astrid printed the photo of herself and decided to take a trip to her local arts store. Unable to find the pencil she was looking for she sought out assistance from an employee. After wandering the store for five minutes she spotted an employee standing in the painting isle looking at something. Clearing her throat, she attempted to garner their attention, but they continued to be fixated on what they were looking at.

“Excuse me?” Astrid said as she continued to approach the employee. When she was met with silence she continued forward, when she was within a foot of the employee, she was able to see what the employee was staring at. It was the exact set of pencils that Astrid had been looking for. Feeling uncomfortable with the silence, Astrid reached past the employee and grabbed the pencils. As she pulled her arm back the employee grabbed her arm and turned to look Astrid in the eye.

“Don’t use those, please don’t,” the employee said and strengthened his hold on Astrid’s arm. The employee’s face looked to have been burned badly, with burn scars covering his forehead and left side of his face.

In a quick motion Astrid drove her arm down, in one swift movement she was able to free her arm from the employee. Turning, she began to run to the front of the store, pencils in hand. Not seeing any other employees or customers at the front of the store Astrid decided to leave without paying. Once she reached her car, she locked the doors and turned on the ignition. Reversing the car, she looked in the mirror and observed the same employee standing outside of the store waving at her.

It wasn’t until Astrid opened her front door and locked it behind her that she was able to stop her hands from shaking. In her mind she began trying to make sense of the weird interaction she had just experienced. Deciding not to ruminate on it any longer she took a seat at her easel. With her photo for reference clamped to the top right of the frame she removed the pencils from their plastic casing and began sketching the outline of her face. Once satisfied with the outline she moved on to sketching her mouth. The mouth was difficult to perfect, and Astrid found the more she attempted to draw the mouth the more she was unhappy with the way it looked. Deciding to take a break from drawing, leaving the mouth partially drawn, she made her way to the bathroom. Turning on the bathroom light, Astrid let out a scream as she witnessed her reflection in the mirror. Where her once symmetrically mouth had been, was replaced by a half-erased mouth. Her drawing’s mouth had become her mouth. Reaching up and touching the left side of her mouth she was met with skin where her mouth should have been.

Running to the drawing she attempted to draw her right eye, although she tried her best the eye, she had drawn to seemed to be a lazy eye. After completing the eye, she ran back to the bathroom and screamed again as she observed that her right eye was experiencing Hypertropia. A condition in which an eye is permanently turned up.

“What is happening?” Astrid said out loud.

Returning to the self-portrait, Astrid continued the cycle of drawing a facial feature and then ran to the bathroom to see if her face had returned to normal. The more Astrid altered her drawing the more her appearance continued to become deformed. Eventually Astrid’s face was completely un-recognizable.

Astrid shut herself into her apartment and isolated herself from her friends and family. At some point she lost track of time and stopped eating. All she could focus on was her face and how every time the pencil hit the easel it became a reality. She wondered if the employee who warned her not to take the pencils had known this was going to occur. If he did know, why wouldn’t he remove the pencils from the shelf. Astrid felt disgust with her appearance and with what her life would become now that she had a monstrous face.

After a week, on the due date of the assignment Astrid left her home and made her way to her class. Hiding her face behind sunglasses and a hoodie, Astrid waited her turn and then handed her assignment to her professor.

Looking at the drawing Astrid’s professor said, “This doesn’t look like you?”

Removing the hoodie and sunglasses, Astrid looked at her professor and said, “Doesn’t it though.”

Astrid’s professor’s expression was one of shock and pity. The professor reached out an arm in comfort and quietly asked Astrid what had happened.

Ignoring the question, Astrid responded with one question. “What is my grade?”

November 21, 2023 15:08

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