Fiction

The Moth and the Flame

20th February 2020 — 10

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Fiction

The Moth and the Flame

20th February 2020 — 10

This is my take on Februarys Blog Battlers writing prompt. This month’s word was “Vivacious”. I’m clearly spending a little too much time writing horror of late, it appears to be leaking into everything. Something I feel the protagonist of this story might be able to relate to. Be sure to check out the other great takes on this month’s prompt. (~980 words)


I first saw her in an art gallery. I’d only agreed to attend the exhibition on the promise that the company and wine would be exceptional. They had lied on both accounts. Faced with a tedious evening, I was making my excuses when she arrived, in much the same way that a grenade tossed into a trench might arrive. An explosion of vitality, she rippled through the room, spreading light and energy. She greeted everyone like a long-lost friend and within moments had transformed the dreary hall into a vibrant buzzing party. She was an artist and that evening the gallery was her canvas, the people her paints. I watched in awe as she created a real-life masterpiece which eclipsed everything on display. My life’s work nothing but dull shadows in her presence.

I fled my exhibit in despair and retreating to my studio set to tearing it apart in a fit of rage and anguish. How could I have been so blind? I only ever sought to capture life, and in that pursuit, I’d singularly failed. I knew that now, seen it with my own eyes. The next day I demanded my paintings returned, much to the outrage of Victor, my long-suffering agent. Not to mention the gallery. That night, in a drunken stupor, I burnt them all, every one, and I vowed I’d never rest until I could recreate real life.

For weeks I poured myself into my work, experimenting with countless styles and techniques. I became obsessed with capturing the essence of what I’d seen that night. As summer turned to autumn, my obsession turned into a kind of madness, spurred on by failure after failure, each canvas a tomb before the paint had dried. At my wits’ end, I implored Victor to track down my muse. A task that did not prove difficult. She was a dancer, the talk of the town and for good reason. What I saw on stage that night was sublime, the very essence of life played out in such vivid and intricate detail that it left me breathless. Inspired, I returned to my studio and for three days and nights I worked relentlessly until exhausted, I slipped into a fitful slumber.

I awoke to Victor excitedly dragging me to the studio. I could not look, certain that I’d failed once more. When finally I looked upon my efforts, I fell to my knees. In the cold light of day, through tears of joy, I realised I’d done it. Entwined in the brush strokes and vibrant pallet, I’d captured something of the dancer’s extraordinary vitality, her spirit, life in all its glory. It was as beautiful as it was beguiling. 
Sentiments Victor shared. Several times he’d gone to leave only to change his mind. We discussed the painting at length all morning until Victor abruptly declared that he’d take it to the gallery, “Right now!” Snatching up the canvas and manhandling it through the door, he raced down the street bellowing at anyone foolish enough to slow his progress. By the time he reached the corner, the street was in chaos. In his wake, an intrigued crowd followed. As did I. What choice did I have?

I fought my way into the gallery, past the crowd that seemed compelled to see the conclusion of this drama. When I caught up with Victor, he was removing a large portrait. Tossing it aside, he replaced it with my painting. The outraged proprietor appeared a moment later, the gallery now a bustling riot of people. When he discovered the cause of the commotion, his indignation turned into hushed consideration. For a long time, he said nothing. When he delivered his critique, he struggled to find superlatives that could do it justice.

I’d created an undeniable masterpiece, and it beguiled all that saw it. Maybe that’s why, in my hubris, I hadn’t seen it at first, even within myself. As I stared around at the rapturous faces desperately crowding in, I realised no one could take their eyes from the painting. Or more accurately, no one wanted to take their eyes from it. It was a subtle but insidious difference, and even as I rationalised it, I could not escape it. So, it was for the countless people that packed the gallery, rich and poor, all were content to stare at the infinitely fascinating masterpiece. Occasionally someone would allude to needing to be somewhere, but no one ever left. This went on for hours and even when night fell, the crowds showed no compulsion to leave.

Occasionally I heard voices from the street, passers-by demanding to know what was going on. Unable to get close, frustrated, they’d inevitability go about their business. Within a few hours’ things became desperate as the demands of nature began to manifest. Accidents happened, but even in their soiled clothes, even with the first pangs of dehydration and hunger biting, they kept their vigil. As young and old fought off fatigue, unable to even sleep, I despaired. I knew then that we were moths drawn to the flame. It was not the vivacious spirit of the dancer that I’d immortalised, but my own madness. My obsession had permeated into the canvas and it infected any unfortunate enough to set eyes upon it.

I knew what I had to do. I even knew how to do it. I simply had no impetus to execute my plan. Neither could I convince anyone around me to do the deed. I should have been terrified. Instead, I was indifferent to my fate and the fate of those about me. For each person who fainted through exhaustion, another stepped up to take their place. The last thing I saw was a news reporter carefully stepping over me and a cameraman sliding Victor’s body aside to get a better angle. The last thing I heard were the words “Live in five, four, three, two, one!”


Cover image courtesy of A_Werdan from Pixabay

10 comments

  • Doug Jacquier

    20th February 2020 at 11:26 pm

    Madness indeed. Excellent piece.

    Reply

  • Chris Hall

    21st February 2020 at 11:04 am

    Great writing, Chris! This is a very powerful piece.

    Reply

    • Chris

      21st February 2020 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks Chris, glad you liked it.

      Reply

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  • aebranson

    21st February 2020 at 9:33 pm

    By the end of the second paragraph I was expecting him to slice off his ear…! 😉 Nicely done, I enjoyed how we discover the true nature of the painting. I did consider that the dancer was some kind of ‘carrier’ of this madness while the painter was the infected person who spread it to everybody else. And I loved the ending how the last words he heard were ‘LIVE in five, four…!”

    Reply

    • Chris

      21st February 2020 at 9:59 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I must admit it took me a while to finish, simply because I couldn’t settle on which way to go. Too many choices. The outline looked nothing like the final story 😉

      Reply

  • Joshua G. J. Insole

    5th March 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Wow, this is absolutely outstanding, Chris! I loved it unreservedly! Utterly brilliant. There’s a gorgeous, pervading sense of dread threaded throughout — I got echoes of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, as Victor works maniacally on his project that leads to his own destruction. Was your Victor a nod to Shelley’s work? I feel as if this story could become something much larger — maybe in a similar vein to ‘Halloween III’ with the insidious masks that get distributed across the planet. Perhaps our artist could unwittingly have is works sent to multiple galleries, much to the destruction of society as a whole. Now there’s a unique idea for an apocalyptic tale! Not only a great story, but beautifully written, too. I particularly liked, “…when she arrived, in much the same way that a grenade tossed into a trench might arrive.” Brilliant!

    By the way, sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this — life’s a bit hectic at the moment!

    Reply

    • Chris

      5th March 2020 at 2:12 pm

      Hi Joshua, coming from you high praise indeed. Well done on spotting the influences btw, I’d been listening to a BBC4 podcast about Mary Shelley and the creation of Frankenstein the week before 😉 I loved Halloween III a very underrated film – I’ll never get that tune out of my head. I had Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel in the back of my mind for this one. Certainly the fatalism of its victims. Now there’s a film ripe for a remake.

      Reply

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        5th March 2020 at 3:23 pm

        Yes, the gothic unease had me feeling the same as when I read her works — nice job, Chris! 🙂 Agreed, I love H3, an often overlooked gem. “Happy, happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!”

        I’ve neither seen nor heard of The Exterminating Angel — I’ll add it to my list of things to watch. Thanks for the recommendation!

        Reply

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