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T. S., I Remember
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T. S., I Remember
Haunted pictures? Do you have one?
[802 words]
Jenny Mercer
This is a short, short story about a painting that has a very strange effect on its observer. The painting, it seems, has a life of its own. I was driven to write this story because I have always been strangely moved by photographs and paintings. They seem to get inside your head.
[November 2000]
T. S., I Remember
Jenny Mercer

The picture has haunted me for years. It hangs in my mother's house in the hallway by the front door, a cheap reproduction in a cheap frame. Even so, the eerie luminous quality of the painting is still evident in the ancient Pier One print. The original painting is called "The Iceberg," and it's by one of those landscape painters in the mid eighteen hundreds, I think. I can't remember his name. The painter's name is not important, neither is the name of the painting, for that matter. What's important is that the damn thing is malevolent. It's haunted in other words, possessed--whatever you want to call it.

It all started a few years ago when my mother brought it home from one of her Saturday morning garage sale forays over on the west side--the "gentrified" but still slightly seedy side of town. She knows it's slightly dangerous for a woman her age to be going to that neighborheed by herself, but I think that's part of what she loves about it. But I digress. Anyway, I saw it a couple of weeks later when she called me to help her hang it. It's not very big, only about eighteen by twenty-four, but you know how it is hanging pictures, it always seems to take forever. By the time you find the bulldog hook and stretch the wire, and what have you, you've wasted half the day.

My mother always calls me to do these kinds of chores, although she's perfectly capable of picking up a hammer herself. She says that's one of the benefits of having a son living nearby--I can do all the things for her that Dad used to do when he was still alive. I don't really mind, most of the time, but this morning I was in a hurry and wanted to get out of there to go shoot a round of golf.

We were standing there in the hall, me holding it up to determine exactly where she wanted it hung, when I noticed something strange about it for the first time. I hadn't even looked at it at that point, I was actually looking at my mother while I held the picture in both hands up against the wall. As I stood there, I felt something start to vibrate, so resonantly in the beginning that it felt like the buzz from a helicopter overhead. I realized right away that there was no helicopter, but I was unconcerned at first. "Where's that buzzing coming from? Do you hear that?" I asked my mother. But she was too absorbed with the calculations of proper picture hanging placement to pay any attention. But then the frame started to burn my hand, a scorching heat that went from a warm glow when I first noticed it, to a searing supernova of pain in less than a second. I dropped the picture onto the tile floor, and it fell face down with a loud crack.

"What's wrong with you?" my mother yelled, as she rushed over to survey the damage. I stood staring at my hands like I had never seen them before, looking for some evidence of the heat that had burned them, but there was no trace. They were as smooth and soft as a baby's. My mother was more interested in her new-found object d'art than she was in my pain, as she stooped to survey the damage. She turned it over on the floor and miraculously, it was unbroken, totally unblemished, in fact. "What luck!" my mother chuckled as she picked up the picture and glanced momentarily at my hand. "Did you get a cramp or something?" she asked, as I stood ther staring at the picture she was holding.

That was the first time I really looked at it, and it has the same effect on me now as it did then. I feel like I'm being pulled into the damn thing, like a giant vacuum cleaner is sucking my consciousness into a black hole of evil and corruption.

It's not such an ususual picture when you first look at it. It's just the emtiness of it. The icebergs loom ovr the landscape like giant glassy-eyed predators. A greenish glow rises from the huge jagged glaciers like phosphorescent ghosts in the desolate frozen landscape. They look voracious, predatory--and patient. They look like they're waiting for me.

Now, every time I walk by it, I try not to look, but I"m compelled to, like drivers on the freeway gawking at accident victims. I feel it vibrating as I come near, and I try to hurry by before it can get me, but it always does. It reaches out with fingers cold from the depths of an ancient void, to pull me back--back into this formless wasteland, this nothingness . . . this doom.



"Jenny, I see what you're trying to do here, and it's a great idea... but for some reason it doesn't tug at my mind in the right places. oh, believe me you, it DOES tug, but not the way you obviously want it to. Bring more emotion into the story: facial expressions, narrowing eyes, unholy sensations, etc... you can do it, you've got the flare... just bring it out a tad more:-) Chao mira mi" -- Kimberly De Liz.
"I can almost feel the affects of the nightmares related to his experiences. Anything haunting him this bad would bring them on in a blink of an eye. I believe this is what short stories are for...our continued imagination." -- Barbara Heick, Denton, Texas, USA.
"Clever title--"And other withered stumps of time were told upon the walls; staring forms leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed..." You might want to read Nabokov's short story, La Veneziana--"I would get the feeling that I was softly congealing, cohering with the canvas, merging into a film of oil color. Then I would shut my eyes tight, yank with all my strength, and leap out." Your story works kind of like that, sucking the reader in until we finally get a powerful glimpse of the picture in the last (and best) paragraph. This could be a nice compact gem of a mood development story--remember, its effectiveness will lie in each and every brushstroke. " -- Matt Holman, Groton, CT, USA.
"WOW, interesting concept a real mind bender. It makes you think... " -- Nathaniel Miller, Bend, OR, USA.


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© 2000 Jenny Mercer
November 2000

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