Through a character's eyes

by Jennifer Knighton

Sculpting a Nightmare

Can you tell me what creatures lurk in shadows that cause children to fear the dark? Can you tell me what monstrous beings make sounds in the night that send shivers down the most stalwart spine? I suspect you can't. It's not that you don't know. Rather, you've grown up and forced that reality into a nice little shadow of denial in your brain that makes life safe to live. The creatures are still there, you just choose not to see or hear them, or at the very least to blame creaky floorboards for their activities.

I'm writing this to tell you they still exist. You are still in danger. In fact, the very act of pretending you're safe makes the world more dangerous. You won't see it coming when the night descends and these creatures choose you as their prey. You won't believe me of course. You'll write this off as a work of fiction and tell all your friends about the wonderfully entertaining story you read the other day. But if even one of those friends is saved by what I write, then I have done the deed I set out to accomplish.

I moved to Chicago straight out of university. I had decided to be an artist and what finer city to place myself in than Chicago? New York and Los Angeles were highly overrated while Chicago still held that romance the artist is inevitably drawn to.

One night, as I sat in a small café sipping a hot tea and staring at a blank piece of sketch paper, trying desperately to draw the image in my mind that had plagued my dreams of the past few nights, in walks this woman. I won't say she was beautiful. To be honest she was quite plain, but my eye was instantly drawn to her behavior. She stood in the center of the room and looked at every single person there. Her eyes washed over them as though she memorized every little curve and wrinkle. I recognized in her eye the traits I found in myself so often – an artist searching for inspiration in the world around her.

When her gaze fell upon me, I met her eyes dead on. She joined me at the table and we discussed art. She was a sculptor and I a mere sketch artist. I don't know how many hours passed in that conversation but by the time she left me, shortly before dawn rose over the city, I had created not only the image from my dreams but pages upon pages of other sketches that I know not whence they came. My sketchbook was filled and I didn't even remember placing pencil to paper I had been so involved in our conversation. She was a marvel. Her name, Ryann.

I met with Ryann every night for a month in that café. At the end of the month she invited me to see an exhibit of her work. I was thrilled. This woman who had inspired so much of my own work, my muse if you will, was offering to let me see her creations. I realized as I walked home that night that I had no idea what to expect from her work. In all our conversations we had never discussed what it was she sculpted.

She picked me up at my apartment and took me to the exhibit. It was in a small studio belonging to some wealthy family in town that liked to sponsor little known artists. Ryann suggested that perhaps I could meet them and convince them to do an exhibit of my work. They were not there that night but she promised to introduce me later that month.

Her work was beautifully crafted and yet I did not sleep for many nights after the exhibit. The pieces were so monstrous and grotesque. I cannot begin to describe them. She had an entire series based on the seven deadly sins. Images from Dante and an intense study of the Spanish Inquisition's methods of torture were obvious, even to one unschooled in such areas as myself. I do not want to know what medium she created these things out of. The realistic feel of the pieces was painful to see and to this day I picture the perfect detail when I close my eyes. She was a master at her craft but the subject was hideous. When I create the images in my head, I fear what thoughts created these pieces through Ryann's hands.

There was one piece in the entire show that I found to be the most beautiful and yet depressing image I had ever seen. There were two women, sculpted in perfect Greco-Roman style, in an embrace. Both resembled Ryann perfectly. It is not unusual for an artist to create a self portrait, but this was the most unique version I had ever seen. One of the girls was weak in the other's embrace, as though asleep. The other was biting into the neck of her partner; her canines were elongated as though she were drinking from the woman. She did not look at the woman in her arms but rather stared directly in front of her at someone who was not there. The sculpture was entitled "Father" and though I asked Ryann for an explanation of the odd title for such a feminine piece, she would not give one to me.

This woman who so fascinated me in conversation, who inspired some of the most beautiful pieces I have drawn in my entire existence, now terrified me as well. She kissed me on the cheek as she left me that night and told me she would pick me up shortly after sunset the next evening to take me to see the Vraska family. I was to bring a selection of my best work to show them as a sample of what I could put up at my exhibit if they were willing to sponsor me. She left me standing on my doorstop staring into the night.

I did not sleep that night. All attempts were met with the most frightening of nightmares. In them Ryann's creations took on a life of their own. I saw those men tortured for their mortal sins and in every nightmare the face of the one torturing them was Ryann's. Her sweet smile took on a terrifying undercurrent. Around 3 AM I gave up entirely on sleep and searched through my books for the pieces I would bring with me the next night.

Somewhere around noon, the lack of sleep beginning to catch up with me, I sat down with a sketch book in front of me. The pencil touched the paper and I closed my eyes. What I drew were not the images I had seen the night before at Ryann's exhibit. When I opened my eyes to see the thing that had formed upon the page, I could not believe it had come from my hand. The indescribable horror of what I had drawn held me transfixed until the ringing of my doorbell alerted me to my friend's arrival. I had stared at my own sketch for over 5 hours unable to comprehend my own terror.

I let Ryann into my little studio apartment and showed her the sketches I had chosen. Her eyes caught sight of the sketch I had created that day and she smiled. "Why not bring that one along as well?"

She could be very convincing and the thing was added to my collection. We drove far out of the city and past suburbia practically to the middle of nowhere, which is difficult around Chicago. The estate we arrived at was heavily guarded and gated. Someone who lived there was quite paranoid. I was amazed they had let me watch the journey to it, especially as Ryann knew how good my memory for details could be.

We were ushered in by a thin pale man who looked about ready to fall over and die at any moment. The man had to be at least 80 years old and yet seemed to be content in his continued servitude. We were led down a long hallway flanked by never-ending portraits of long dead family members. I caught sight of one portrait that sent a shiver down my spine as we left the hallway and entered a grand study and were told the master of the house would be with us shortly. The portrait I had seen, the woman in it looked very much like Ryann. It was impossible. The portrait had been of a woman in the 1940s and the portrait had not aged well. But the face was so similar. Perhaps she was a relative and Ryann had lied about her relationship to the family we were visiting? That must be it, as an artist she was embarrassed to tell that she came from wealth.

When the master of the house arrived, Ryann introduced us in the most formal and polite introduction I think I have ever received. His name was Kosh Vraska. I am not sure what his heritage was but his accent was so thick I had to listen very closely to catch every word.

I presented my small portfolio to the man and let him skim through the pieces. Every once in a while I could see him look up at Ryann. His distaste was not something he hid well and his looks to her were asking her why she was wasting his time. Ryann smiled encouragingly at me but it was a wasted effort. He did not like my work. But then his eyes landed on the piece I had drawn that day, the thing that I still cannot describe to you without reliving the fear with which it was created. He was mesmerized by it. The look on his face was not revulsion but fascination. Was this entire family insane? They seemed drawn to the hideous and malformed terrors that most people pretend do not exist.

Kosh rose to his feet and handed my portfolio back to me, the horror on the top where I had no choice but to look upon it again. He nodded to Ryann and left the room. She smiled at me as she rose to her feet. "He approves and would like you to create more like your most recent piece for the exhibit."

"I do not know if I can create more like that. It… it took a lot from me to create and I'm not sure I wish to find more like it within myself." I had to answer her honestly. I would prefer not to have the exhibit rather than searching myself for more of whatever that thing was. In fact I'd be perfectly happy to allow her and her family to keep that piece so I would never have to set eyes upon it again.

But I told you I would write of horrors that prey upon the dark, of fears only children hold true, children and madmen. Perhaps I am the latter but I know what I have seen and here is where I come to those creatures. Ryann, rather than leading me to the door and taking me back to my home, led me down in the basements of that estate. She wished to show me the family's personal art collection in hopes of inspiring me further in my work.

The things I saw as we climbed deeper and deeper into the darkness below that fortress cannot be described. Even the term 'unspeakable horrors' does not do justice to what I saw. I tried to flee the woman I had grown to call friend. I wanted to escape that tomb. But it is kind to call that place a tomb… it was far worse. These things were not dead, they were no longer alive as we would picture them but the artist who molded their flesh did so in a way that left them alive and in torture for as long as the artist found appropriate.

These things in the family's collection were not human, but they used to be. They screamed in agony and yet lived despite deformation and inhuman sculpting. I fled. I reached the end of the hallway only to find a gate that barred my way. Ryann was slowly following me; even she no longer looked human. Her eyes flickered red and her teeth, my god her teeth. That sweet smile was upon her face but elongated canines bit into her lip.

She reached for me and took me to her. Her voice whispered in my ear, "You will not die. T'would be a pity to lose such talent. But you must leave this city or Kosh will kill you. Greatgrandaddy does not like me leaving my food to wander and speak of what they've seen."

I blacked out. When I woke I was lying in a field with fresh dew upon my clothes. The sun was coming up. I hurt all over but the pain stemmed from my neck. I later discovered that there were two small puncture wounds there where she had fed from me. I left Chicago by the first bus. I left with only the possessions I had on me. I never returned to my apartment or my life there.

I will not say where it is I went after my flight from Chicago. I do not honestly know. The next few months were a blur. I know I was admitted to a mental institution and I vaguely remember fleeing that place as my nightmares grew darker and darker. Somehow I knew that He had discovered what Ryann had done and was coming after me. I read in a newspaper about a massacre that took out an entire mental hospital. I do not know the name of the institution I was in but I know in the center of my being that it was the same one and I had escaped the massacre by only one night.

I continued to run, to flee his anger and my death. I don't know why. Part of me wished for death every day and dreamed of it every night. I do not know why, but in the last month the nightmares have left me. I am free to dream again. Perhaps the monster decided I was not worth his effort or perhaps someone greater than I has ended its existence. Either way, three years after the fact, I finally feel safe enough to sleep at night and to write this story, to tell the world of the horrors I have seen. I still fear the night, that will never change, but at least now I can find some rest.

Copyright 2004-2005 The Lady Gamer. All rights reserved.