The Hand Drawn Man

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.

Advertisements

Cobblestones of the Road (Arden #1)

The small cart trundled along, Arden’s teeth chattering as the wheels bounced over the uneven cobblestones.  The cart was piled high with furs, the spoils of a long hunting trip that he was bringing to the market.  It was pulled along by an old half-lame horse named Snorts.  Spend more than ten minutes in his company, Arden often said, and it will become abundantly clear why.

Arden couldn’t see further than fifty yards in the pre-dawn darkness, but he knew that the town of Crickhall was a few miles down the road.  It was the only place that could even pass for a town within a week’s journey, so every road led there.  There he could sell his wares and get a hot meal in his belly before he started the journey home.

As Arden’s cart rattled along, the night began to fade.  The darkness gave way to a pale grey light and birds began to sing softly in the trees to Arden’s right.  To his left, a small river ran.  It was usually thick with fishing boats, but this early in the morning the water was empty.

It was the absence of a sound, rather than the presence of one, that made Arden pause.  He shook his head to fight off his sleepiness and listened carefully.  The river still burbled, and the axles of his cart still groaned in protest of the bumpy road.  There was still the sharp sound of Snorts’s hooves on stone, along with frequent snorting.  The birds, however, had stopped singing.

Arden let out a low whistle, and Snorts slowed to a saunter, then to a stop.  He tossed his head and, of course, snorted.  Arden drew a long hunting knife from his belt and stood up.  “Who’s there?” he called.

He was answered by a rustling in the trees off to his right, and by the emergence of three men.  The leader was a bald man of medium height; he was heavily muscled and had a long sword held low in front of him.  His hands and face were crossed with scars, and his dark beard was peppered with grey.  Behind him stood a young man, flame-haired and baby-faced, and a giant of a man, a veritable boulder of thick muscle.  All three wore a motley assortment of worn and mismatched armor, as if they had scavenged an ancient battlefield.

“You won’t be needing that knife,” said the first man.  He stepped towards the cart, sword pointed at Arden, as the other two circled around to rifle through the furs.  “Toss it away.”

Arden did as he was bid, and the knife clattered to the cobblestones.

“Hand over your purse,” the scarred man said, “and get down from your cart.”

Arden hopped down to the road and withdrew a small coin purse from his belt.  “I don’t think I can just let you take this,” he said.  “This is all I have.”

The man snorted.  “Maybe you should have used it to hire some protection.”

“Jode,” called the young man, “I’ve found something.  There’s something under these furs.”

The third bandit gathered a bundle of furs in his massive arms and tossed them to the street, revealing a chest of white wood banded with dark metal.  The young man leaned down to inspect it.  “It doesn’t have any hinges,” he said.

Jode rounded on Arden and leveled his sword at his throat.  “What is this?” he asked.

“I have the key in my boot,” Arden said.  “I’ll toss it over if you get this damned sword out of my face.”

Jode lowered his sword and allowed Arden to reach down to his boot.  “Toss it over then,” he said, extending a scarred hand.  “And don’t try anythi-”

Arden moved with blinding speed.  He straightened up, drawing something from his boot and sending it flying.  A small knife flashed across the intervening space and buried itself in Jode’s throat.  Jode grasped at his neck as he fell, trying to stem the flow, but there was nothing to be done.

Normally a stunned silence would follow something like that, but Arden never stopped moving.  He leaped over Jode’s falling body and lashed out with both of his feet, shattering the young man’s nose and kneecap.  The fire-haired youth fell to the ground with a piercing scream, but Arden was already attacking the third bandit.  He plunged another knife, this one seemingly pulled from nowhere, into the massive man’s chest, then spun away as the giant’s sword sliced through the air.  The bandit stumbled forward, trying to take another swing, and then collapsed to the cobblestones with a crash.

“Who are you?”

Arden turned towards the shaky voice to see the young man trying to stand, leaning heavily on Arden’s wagon as blood streamed down his face.  “This was supposed to be easy,” he said.  “Three of us against one merchant.  Jode said it would be easy.”

“You never should have listened to Jode, my friend.”  Now, as he sobbed, and blood and snot mixed with his tears, Arden could see just how young the man was.  He couldn’t have been more than eight and ten.

“Didn’t have much of a choice, did I.  I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“There’s always a choice,” Arden said.  “Always.”  He retrieved his knives and wiped them clean on Jode’s pants.  “Was Jode at least smart enough to bring horses?”

The young man nodded.  “We left them tethered a ways back.”

Arden moved past him to gather up the fallen furs.  He piled them back onto his cart, taking care to cover his hinge less chest.  “You’d better start moving then.  That’s a long walk with a broken leg, and an even longer ride to the nearest town.”

“You’re just going to leave me here?”  The young man’s voice was high with indignation.

Arden climbed back onto his cart and whistled to Snorts.  His cart began to trundle down the road again.  “You did just try to rob me,” he called back over his shoulder.  “Be happy that I’m leaving you alive.”

With any luck, the young man would reconsider his life on his walk.  If not, Arden thought, he wouldn’t last much longer as a brigand with only one good leg.

As the little cart rolled down the road, the heat of the day began to burn away the early morning fog.  The birds began to sing.  Arden whistled in return.  Snorts snorted.  The cart’s heavy wheels bounced and rattled over the cobblestones of the road.

Read more about Arden here.