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Fall, 2007
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The vivid hues of the foliage seemed to bring the painting to life. Intrigued, she leaned closer. Blowing rapidly down the cobblestone road, the artist's yellow leaves were a dazzling gold, the red leaves burned a deep, unnatural maroon, more beautiful than reality, and the dark orange leaves faded around their edges, as if they couldn't decide which color they wanted to be. She peered closer still, desperately wishing to be there, in that place so far away, and so long ago. Her senses seemed to respond to her subconscious desires and she blinked back startled tears when she suddenly inhaled the scent of wood smoke, felt a cold wind stirring her hair, and saw a movement in the distance...

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.


In the Living Room, A Painting
By Richard S. Crawford, Sacramento, CA

Motel art: the perfect phrase for this painting, Adrian thought. Its use of pastels to create a scene of a sunny field and tiny cabin displayed a banality of subject matter meant to be inoffensive, undemanding, and, above all, marketable. What intrigued Adrian about the painting most, though, was the way the red in the leaves echoed the red of the blood smearing the wall beneath the painting's frame.

In fact -- he squinted at the painting -- several of the leaves on the painting were, in fact, drops of blood. He resisted the temptation to wipe it; it would violate every rule of crime scene investigation.

"Just like the others," he said to the officer next to him.

The officer cleared his throat. "Yes, sir."

Adrian turned back and looked at the woman on the floor against the opposite wall. From her wounds and the damage to the wall on which she leaned, Forensics had determined that she'd been thrown back against it from quite a distance. She looked young. Stylish clothes fit her trim figure perfectly, and her high heel shoes had somehow remained on her feet. If she'd still had a face, she might have been pretty. "Any ID on her yet?"

"Yes, sir. Irma Delaney. 27 years old. HR assistant at a local bank."

Adrian grunted. His attention was drawn back to the painting. "Field of Gold," was its predictable title. Kendall Bright was the artist: a blatantly commercial painter who sold prints of his paintings through a chain of galleries operated like a commercial chain, and late night infomercials. He'd seen "Field of Gold" before. Lately it seemed that every home he'd been to over the past few months had a copy, hung with exquisite care over a mantle or in a breakfast nook.

"This is the third," the officer said, interrupting Adrian's thoughts.

"What's that?"

"The third victim, just like this." The officer's face was still quite pale. "Thrown against the wall with force, face... torn off."

Adrian nodded. "I know," he said.

"They had nothing in common. The first victim was an 82-year-old woman. The second was a 45-year-old male."

Adrian looked at the officer. "Is there a reason you're telling me all this?"

The officer shook his head. "No, sir. Just, uh, whistling past the graveyard."

"Hm." Adrian stared at the painting a moment longer. "I'm going back to the second victim's apartment," he said. "Ivan Marshall. There's something there I want to check out."

#

As Adrian had expected, a copy of "Fields of Gold" hung on the wall of Marshall's apartment, just above the fireplace, opposite the wall where Marshall's body had been found. Adrian flipped open the case folder and studied the photographs. Marshall had died just like Irma had: face ripped off, torso lacerated. And the indentation was still in the wall.

Adrian looked through the case folder. The first victim had died the same way. He scanned the photographs, and found "Field of Gold" hanging in her apartment as well. Opposite, of course, the wall where she had been found.

Three identical murders, with no commonalities between them. They weren't the same age, the same gender. This was no typical serial killer. The only thing the three victims had in common was...

Adrian snapped the folder shut and spun around to stare at the painting.

What the hell are you thinking? No matter how insipid and bland it may be, a painting couldn't be fatal. He stared at it, at the pastels and gold brush strokes, at the tiny cottage in the distance, at the wisp of smoke curling from its chimney. The smoke was the most realistic part of the painting. Why, Adrian could almost smell the wood smoke --

He drew in a long breath. What the hell? The apartment, just a few moments before, had stunk of the dead man's blood, but now the odor of woodsmoke hung heavy. And in the painting, Adrian noticed, the door of the tiny cottage had opened, and a figure was rushing out.

It was a woman. A young woman, with pale skin and hair the color of fresh blood. Adrian had to hand it to Kendall Bright: whatever his faults as a painter, he sure knew how to paint sexy girls.

The woman grew larger as she ran. He had been so enthralled in this vision that for a moment he'd stopped thinking about how strange it was; but his instincts took over and he ducked as the woman reached through the surface of the painting, grasping and flailing, her long fingernails like claws.

"Holy shit!" Adrian breathed.

The woman calmed abruptly, and looked around. She glanced at Adrian, and smiled. "Oh, hey," she said. "I wasn't expecting to find you over there."

"What?"

She smiled coyly. "Come over here for a moment, would you? We should talk about this."

"Who are you? What's going on here?"

"Does it matter? Let's just say that I've been looking for a way in for years and I finally found someone who could provide it to me."

"A way in? To where?"

The woman waved her hand, indicating the room they were in, perhaps the whole world. "Here, of course," she said. She sighed, the sound of a long suffering mother who has more work to do than she can even conceive of. "There's so much to get done. Kendall got it almost right, but I can only go so far. Here, be a doll and help me out, would you?" She reached her hand out to Adrian.

Adrian blinked. He wasn't entirely sure what was happening here, but he was pretty sure of one thing: this woman couldn't be allowed to get all the way out. He reached out his hand, but instead of grabbing hers, he grabbed the picture frame and tore the painting from the wall. He threw it onto the floor, oblivious to the woman's outraged screams, and then stepped hard on the wooden frame, breaking it. Then he reached down with both hands, grabbed the heavy paper, and tore it into pieces. The woman's screams stopped, cut off in mid breath, but Adrian thought he could still feel her rage and hatred spilling through. He tore the paper again, folded pieces over and tore again, until nothing was left but tiny scraps.

Then he leaned back against the wall, next to where Marshall had died. Mission accomplished, he told himself.

Then he saw the tag on the back of the frame. Kendall Bright Stores, it said.

Aw, shit, Adrian thought. This is really going to suck.


What Richard won:

$200 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

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