I went over to see the mystery picture. The customer looking at it had run like a startled rabbit at Carolyn’s entrance, banging the door behind her. I wanted to view the painting she had found so enthralling.
It was a portrait of a woman dressed in seventeenth-century clothing. Tight black curls were piled up on her head, and more cascaded down to her bare shoulders. Her gown was white, her skin was white, her full face with its high cheekbones was white. The only color in the picture was in her hair and her large dark eyes. They stared out across the years as if their owner were looking right through me. It was eerie, and I wanted to turn away and hide myself from her gaze. Because there was something in those eyes, an intensity, a kind of voracious hunger. I wasn’t sure what to call it, but it frightened me. Yet I could not stop staring at her. She was so—alive. Slowly, against my will, I reached out and ran my fingers over her painted features. All at once, I could hear people shouting, chanting, screaming. Smoke was filling my nostrils and my lungs. Flames were rising all around me, the heat becoming more and more unbearable. Still, a voice was crying defiantly. “You shall not destroy me! Death cannot hold me captive. My power is too great. I shall return!”
I jumped as Carolyn said my name. She was standing beside me again, looking puzzled.
“I had to call you three times! I’ve got your painting ready to go.”
I answered her unspoken question. “This is quite a portrait, Carolyn. Once you see it, it’s hard to look away. Who is the artist?”
“Interesting question. It’s on loan from the Morrisville Museum. There’s no signature on it and I don’t recognize any artist or style. I’ve done some research, but I haven’t turned up anything. It’s old, though, it could actually be from the seventeenth century. Isn’t it fascinating?”
“It’s a beautiful portrait,” I agreed tentatively. “But she’s almost—well—too alive.”
Carolyn laughed. “I know what you mean. She’s been here for three days, and everyone who comes in is drawn to her like a magnet. But no one asks who she is or if she’s for sale. Sometimes I swear people look frightened of her!”
I’ll bet they do, I thought. And aloud: “It’s probably the eyes. They seem to be looking right through you. She’d be perfect in a haunted house!”
“Wouldn’t she, though? Well, my dear, here is your check. Don’t forget to bring me more work. Yours has such a gentle and spiritual quality to it, not like the Witch!”
“The witch?” I enquired, startled.
“That’s what I call her,” said Carolyn. “She does seem to cast a spell over people!”
“Well, good luck with her,” I replied. “I’ll come in again at the end of the week, okay? And thanks again!”
“Thank you, Lily!” Carolyn beamed. “I’ll see you later.”