My walls were covered in sketches. When I say this, I mean it in the completely literal sense. The walls of my room were plastered with so many drawings and doodles that you would be hard pressed to catch even a glimpse of the hideous canary yellow wallpaper beneath them. If I’m being completely honest, that wallpaper is one of the reasons I started posting my work on the walls in the first place. The other reason is a little more complex.
Many artists will say that the characters they create are alive to them, that they know who they are and what they’ve been through after drawing them. Others, who claim to have mastered the art of realism, will say that they can make their drawings seem alive. I will never make the first claim, but the second one hits pretty close to home.
You see, the second reason I have for posting my art on my walls is to keep an eye on it.
The sunlight streamed through my window and glared off of my garish yellow wallpaper. It was hands down the ugliest wallpaper I’d ever seen, and my grandma was notorious for her questionable wallpaper choices. The canary yellow monstrosity that graced my walls, however, put even her orange and green pinstripes to shame.
I tried to ignore the blinding yellow as I worked on my latest project. A local art fair was hosting a character creation contest, and offering a one thousand dollar prize to the winner. My entry commanded all my attention, as that prize money could finally allow me to both pay rent and get new wallpaper, when in the past I had been forced to choose.
My entry was, in my not-so-humble opinion, incredible. I had drawn a gallant spellsword, a champion of good, shining blade raised high and his off-hand glowing with an otherworldly light. He was garbed in plated mail, shimmering steel inlaid with gold. His face, however, was marred by a massive scar that stretched from his forehead to his collarbone. It carved a furrow in his dark beard, an angry blight on an otherwise handsome face. Beyond my knight was his foe, a writhing mass of shadow and flame. It was solid in some places, and a formless mist in others. Its face was half-formed from the shadow, the visage of an old crone with eyes of smoldering embers. Looking back at it, this personification of pure evil looked eerily similar to my Aunt Gertrude.
The subconscious mind can be a funny thing.
I signed my work with my customary loopy scrawl and set it to the side. I was rather confident in my chances in this art contest, so I made my way to my cramped kitchen to prepare myself a celebratory snack. This involved me consuming cheese and crackers in inadvisable portions.
Once I had gorged myself, I returned to my room. I stepped inside, and I immediately knew that something was wrong. My wallpaper, which moments ago had been reflecting the sunlight with enough yellow to permanently damage my retinas, was now dull, as if a shadow had been cast over it. I hurried to my desk, where my drawing sat perched atop another stack of doodles. The knight still stood there, sword raised and glowing palm outstretched. But his sword pointed at a plain white background.
The wraith was gone.
I heard a sharp crackling noise behind me and turned to see it coalesce in the corner of my room, materializing into a cloud of flickering flames and swirling shadow. Its face flickered back and forth between that of my Aunt Gertrude and a gaunt, skeletal maw. A long tongue of flame curled from its jaws and writhed like a serpent.
My first reaction was one of complete and utter panic. A cry tore itself from my lips, and I ducked as its fiery tongue lashed out at me. I clutched at my drawing, hoping that this was all just a cheese and cracker-induced hallucination.
Then, as the wraith closed on me, there was a great tearing sound, and my knight burst from my drawing, sword already slashing towards the wraith. The wraith vanished as the bright blade cut through it, only to re-form on the other side of the room. Its shadowy hands extended into massive claws, and it raked them across the knight’s chest, ripping through his armor as if it was the paper they had both come from.
Before the wraith could retract its shadowy arm, the knight grabbed it with his glowing hand. The wraith opened its mouth in a soundless scream, and the shadowy tendrils began to flow into the knight’s hand, turning it pitch black.
“Give me the paper, boy,” the knight said to me, sheathing his sword and holding out his hand.
Part of me started to complain that he had called me boy, when I was a grown man, but that was probably just the part of me that made the wraith look like my Aunt Gertrude. I try to ignore that part of me as often as I can.
The other part of me, the one that was someone in control of myself, handed over the paper with trembling hands. The knight touched his shadowy hand to it, and the darkness began to flow from him and back onto the page. Stroke by stroke, I watched the wraith begin to appear back in my drawing where he belonged.
“How?” I managed to force the words out, despite the shock that I was in.
The knight set the paper down and turned to appraise me. “You are truly gifted,” he said. “Not many have the power to bring their imagination to life like that.”
“But that’s never happened before,” I said, puzzled. “I’ve been drawing for years and it’s never happened.”
“Most of us are content to stay where you draw us. But when you create something as malevolent as that wraith, it’s different.”
I stood up and put the drawing back on my desk, taking deep breaths to try and soothe my nerves. “So will you be returning to the drawing?” I asked.
The knight nodded solemnly. “I need to keep the wraith at bay,” he said. “That is the job you have drawn me for.” He stepped to my desk and placed his glowing hand on top of my drawing. He began to flicker, and then fade, and then a bright stream of light flowed into the page, forcing me to avert my eyes. When I turned back, he was just as I had drawn him, sword raised, hand extended.
I never ended up needing that new wallpaper; I just drew my own. The knight and the wraith are no longer the only drawings in my collection, but they have a place of honor among the sketches plastered to my walls. They hang just above my desk, along with the first place ribbon that I won by submitting them. Most days, they are as still as I intended them to be, but sometimes they begin to move, and I sit and watch the scarred knight battle the shadowy wraith, thanking him for saving me. When I see his face, part of me thinks he can see me too. I try not to ignore that part of me.