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YOUR TALE: Painting

“YES, SOLD to the gentleman with the glasses over there.”

Mr Duvarn ignored the tired and bitter murmurs, and sat proudly in his chair. He had gotten what he wanted, albeit with a costly sacrifice. Who cared about them? Then again, an anonymous rude whisper regarding his baldness almost made him irately retaliate…

A light tap on his shoulder brought Mr Duvarn out of his thoughts.

“You seemed very eager to get that,” an impish mutter came from behind him. “You don’t even know what it is.”

Mr Duvarn languidly turned to the man he had fought and beaten in the auction, flashing him an arrogant smile.

“Nor do you,” he replied. “And yet you struggled with all your little might, my boy.”

Mr Duvarn turned back to where the painting stood, brushing aside the shocked face of the man. The landlord was well known for his brashness, but with his status not many dared to bite him back. He stared at the rectangular form presented beside the auctioneer, neatly wrapped in brown paper. The buyers had been told that the object was a painting, but no one knew who had given the painting up for auction, or what the picture actually was. It had simply been given in, wrapped, with a note detailing that the seller was to remain anonymous and the painting unseen until a buyer claimed it.

Mr Duvarn, whose passion for the arts was almost an obsession, had been hooked like a fish by the unknown. After the appropriate forms had been filled and the irritable formalities completed, he rushed off home with his trophy, tearing off the wrapping as soon as he came through the door.

Ah, a portrait, how wonderful!

Mr Duvarn clumsily weaved his way through his maze of grand hallways and corridors, half fixated on the painting he clutched in his hands. He passed the numerous treasures he had collected with his great wealth, wealth that had been accumulated through greed and unscrupulous trade.

He hung his new painting in his office, admiring the sitter in the portrait – his mane of healthy hair, the seemingly pompous smirk, and the strange dark blot below his left eye, which the landlord assumed was a birthmark.

Despite the clear effort and skill that had been put into the making of the portrait, Mr Duvarn could not help but feel that the head seemed somewhat out of place from the rest of the picture. As if the painter had made some sort of fault with the perspective.

The man eventually ignored the discomfort, blaming his aging eyes, and drifted off into the kitchen. If it was a fault on the painter’s behalf, it wasn’t that much of a concern to Mr Duvarn; he was covetous, yes, but not a perfectionist.

However, as time went by Mr Duvarn became more and more concerned about the painting. Every occasion he passed by it, the eyes seemed to follow him. Silent. Unblinking. Watching.

“Ridiculous,” Mr Duvarn muttered at one point when paranoia ached to snatch his mind away. Obviously it was an illusion; all portraits did that. Without a second thought he turned away from the painting. He scoffed at himself, embarrassed by his childish fear. It was equivalent to being scared of the dark! Such nonsense. He headed off to his room for the night, casting such ludicrous thoughts from his mind.

Yet even the night seemed to play tricks on him. In the late hours, cold whispers wafted over him – sneering, giggling… laughing! What was this? Were these hands that were pressing against him, holding him down like anchors? What – why couldn’t he breath properly? Something was tightening around his neck, strangling him – killing him!

Mr Duvarn thrashed out of his bed with a scream, tumbling to the ground. No one was there… nothing but the faint vile giggles drifting off into emptiness.

No, this was crazy, surely! It had just been a nightmare; yes, that was it. He had eaten something bad, and was simply paying the consequences.

But reason was slowly losing its hold on the poor man. Every day, there was that harrowing presence. Every night, those giggles maddened his ears. That painting, those eyes… why were they following him? Wait – was the face getting larger? Closer each day he looked at it?

“Leave me alone!” Screamed the now rugged, scrawny figure shivering in the dark corner of his office. “What are you? What do you want? Money? Have it! Take it all! Just – just leave me alone!”
He dared not turn away from the painting anymore, petrified by the feeling of the haunting eyes on his back. He ignored phone calls. He ignored his hunger and fatigue. All that mattered was the painting. That damned painting!

Days…weeks. Hardly anyone came; hardly anyone knew or cared about Mr Duvarn. Those who knocked on his door were met only by silence and curtained windows.

He sat alone in his corner, surrounded by his cold lifeless wealth. No one to help him. Nothing to comfort him except his own hoarse breathing, reminding him he was still barely alive. He could not hold on any longer, could not keep his eyes from closing.

“Go away…” whispered the groaning voice of Mr Duvarn, whose morbid days had reduced him to a skeletal lump. “Please… go away…”

And as he fell away from his life, he was certain he saw the smirk on the portrait widen evermore.
The postman gritted his teeth in contemplation of meeting the irritably arrogant Mr Duvarn as he made his way to the landlord’s front door. The postman didn’t normally remember the characters of those he delivered to; yet Mr Duvarn had unfortunately made an impression on the young man. He carried the package in his hand, aiming to simply set it down on the porch, knock on the door, and then walk away without hesitation. However before he could even complete the first step, the door suddenly opened.

“Oh, err, hello,” the postman said with surprise, mentally cursing himself for not moving fast enough to avoid an encounter. Mr Duvarn was also taken aback by the young man’s sudden appearance, but to the postman’s surprise the landlord simply smiled with a greeting.

“Ah, I see it has arrived in capable hands,” Mr Duvarn replied smoothly, nodding at the large parcel.

Quickly gathering his thoughts together, the postman nodded and extended the package to the landlord. It seemed that Mr Duvarn was dressed to head off somewhere, car keys in hand. The postman also noticed something leaning against the wall beside Mr Duvarn, something large and rectangular. A painting, perhaps?

“Curious, huh?” The landlord’s gentle voice suddenly broke off the postman’s contemplation.

“Oh, sorry,” he quickly replied, looking back at Mr Duvarn. “I didn’t mean to waste your… time…”
Strange, he could not help but feel that something was very unfamiliar about this man. Something… different.

Was it his hair? No, it appeared nice and well kept as usual. What was that thing below his eye? Oh yes, the birthmark. Nothing unusual there.

Nothing unusual about Mr Duvarn then.

The sun was probably getting to him.

“No, it’s fine,” Mr Duvarn assured the postman sincerely, taking his package and setting it aside on a nearby shelf. He then lifted up the painting for full view. “You’re just curious. See? Just a flawed counterfeit painting I need to take to the dump.”

The postman observed the painting of a stern-looking bald man wearing glasses. The head seemed a bit off, perhaps a mishap with the perspective.

But nevertheless the painting seemed exquisite and beautiful to the postman, too good to just throw away.

Who was he to judge Mr Duvarn’s decision anyway? It was his money to waste.
“Just a flawed counterfeit, my good man…”

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Greetings, this is the fifth edition of Your Tale.

The selected story, Dawn, written by Mario López-Goicoechea, is an intimate, vivid portrayal of two people longing for each other, yet constrained by their circumstances. The male and female protagonists are entwined in a poetic dance of emotions, where death, guilt and lust play prominent roles. Congratulations to Mario for this sensual and moving story.

Please keep sending your stories into your.tale@gvmedia.co.uk (entries must be under 1300 words in Microsoft Word format). Persist in exploring the world through words!

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