Kassandra Steps Through a Painting

Chapter 36

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

In the dark, Kassandra ran one palm along the solid weight of the door. Her chest shuddered, needing air. One hand clawed at the wood, frantic to escape. Then she snatched a breath, head popping up above the water. The air tasted stale and moldy. Kassandra kicked to stay afloat as the water gradually drained from the room, lowering until her feet touched the marble floor. A series of candelabras sputtered to life with a crackle, illuminating the area. The last of the water sluiced through the cracks along the perimeter. Rivulets streamed down her shirt and pants to puddle in her shoes.

There were no doors, only five oversized paintings. It figured. A door would be too easy. The one in the ceiling remained, taunting her. As if she had any chance of reaching it again.

She heard a muffled chirping and turned in the direction of the sound. It came from a painting of the pond and forest. There were even the lion’s footprints leading away. Then the nightingale popped out of the painting into the room. 

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet.

“Yeah, I know. You’re dry.” Kassandra wrung water from her soaked shirt. The bird circled the room before perching on the corner of a picture frame. “Glad you’re happy about all this.”

She faced the painting of the pond again. “Okay, if this is where I came from, then one of these others must lead out.”

The next painting depicted a hallway filled with mirrors—definitely the Hanged Man card. She didn’t want to go there again. 

The next one presented a night scene of New Orleans with lights reflecting in the rain slicked boulevard. A parade of floats clogged the street, surrounded by crowds of people—a Mardi Gras celebration. Kassandra stepped closer and examined the picture. Layers of oil paint shimmered in the candlelight. She scratched her head. What did New Orleans have to do with the Tarot deck? Then she noticed something printed at the bottom of the frame. A single letter ‘X’. That seemed random. Was she looking for buried treasure now?

The painting with the mirrored hall had three letters below it: XII. Of course, Roman numerals. The Hanged Man was number twelve. Which meant Mardi Gras was ten. Maybe it was the next card.

Since there were still two more paintings, she decided to check them out first. The next one showed a vast desert. Craggy rocks filled the foreground and the landscape receded into windswept dunes under an intense blue sky. Nothing else. Pretty boring.

Kassandra was about to switch but caught a flicker of movement. A distant figure hurtled through the dunes, still too far away to tell exactly what it was. Then a second shape followed the first, but this one blended into the sand, making it hard to see. 

Kassandra squinted, leaning closer to the painting. A girl scrambled across the dunes and the shape following was…The lion. It was back! Kassandra spun and looked at the painting of the pond, half expecting to see the creature there again, glistening with razor blades and needles. But the scene looked the same—trees and water, nothing else.

The nightingale had flown right out of there. Maybe she could enter into the paintings. Kassandra looked back at the desert. The girl clambered up a dune, close enough to see her strawberry curls bouncing. It was Lindsay.

Kassandra chewed on a fingernail. All she had to do was step inside. Yet she didn’t move any closer to the painting. The nightingale was oddly silent up on its candelabra perch. It cocked its head.

“What are you looking at?”

Lindsay neared the clump of rocks in the foreground, eyes wide with fear. The lion pursued, its mane nearly blending into the sand. She screamed, although no sound made it through the painting.

Kassandra looked away. The final painting showed a winter scene with a frozen lake. The glassy ice reflected the clouds above. A figure skidded along the slick surface, trying to run. It was Gabriel. Instantly she reached for the painting, but her hand clunked against the canvas. No way in. Kassandra glanced back at the desert. She hadn’t even tried to help Lindsay. What did that say about her?

Gabriel floundered along the frozen lake, trying to escape something, but the landscape was barren. A blond shape flashed along the ice. Kassandra leaned in, but still didn’t see the lion. Gabriel was almost full size now, his face drenched in sweat. He whipped around to look at the empty lake.

Then she saw it. The lion wasn’t above the water. It was reflected in the ice. It swiped and clawed at Gabriel’s reflection, only a few feet behind.

“Hurry!” Kassandra shouted, though he didn’t seem to hear.

In another instant, Gabriel hurtled past the border of the painting and vanished from sight. The lion followed. Kassandra slapped the canvas, causing the picture to billow. Was this some kind of torture? She could see him but couldn’t help.

Kassandra stepped over to the desert scene. No sign of Lindsay. But what if she could enter this one and not Gabriel’s? She shook her head. Didn’t matter. Kassandra reached forward, but bumped into canvas again. Still a no. 

Okay, with five paintings, there had to be an exit. She glanced around the room and counted. Now there were only four.

Kassandra turned, pointing at each one: the icy lake, the desert, Mardi Gras, and the hall of mirrors. What had happened to the pond? There wasn’t even an empty space on the wall. It was like the room shrunk, or the paintings grew. The four remaining painting hung evenly spaced along the wall. 

Her chest clenched up. Would more paintings vanish if she didn’t make a choice soon? Neither Gabriel’s or Lindsay’s were an option. Plus they both had the lion running around, same as by the pond. She hooked a strand of hair over one ear. Maybe that was the trick to this card. People had to face the lion on their own. Kassandra examined the icy lake. It would explain why Gabriel hadn’t show up with her by the pond. He’d gotten sucked into his own confrontation.

That left only two paintings—the mirrored hall and the Mardi Gras. Not a choice really.

She stepped over to the painting of New Orleans and examined the scene. It had to be the smallest parade in history, all concentrated on a single block. People jammed together, cheering the floats as they passed. Hadn’t Auntie Jo lived there?

Kassandra inspected the scene and spotted a small viewing platform on one side of the street. A single person sat on top, watching the parade. She wore a purple apron. A shiver ran through Kassandra. It was Auntie Jo. 

Turning around, both the desert and icy lake landscapes showed no sign of Gabriel, Lindsay or the lion. What if she couldn’t enter the Mardi Gras painting. Then she’d be stuck here. Or worse, have to go return to the Hanged Man card.

Kassandra turned back to the New Orleans painting and reached forward, fully expecting her fingers to thunk the canvas again, but this time they dipped into a cold slimy goo. She jerked her hand back, fingertips smeared with fresh paint. Rubbing them together only smudged the colors into a mucky brown.

This was going to be messy. Kassandra stuck her whole hand in and paint swirled around the arm, a few drops dribbling down the picture. It felt gloppy, like reaching into a bottle of grape jelly. She pushed the other arm and right leg into the painting, trickles of color dribbling down her skin. Finally Kassandra pushed off with her left leg and shut her eyes. 

Paint oozed up her nose and into her ears. It trickled down her back and along every inch of skin. Finally, it settled, seeming to mold to Kassandra’s body. Panic erupted inside her. What if she was trapped this way? Like in some sort of wet coffin. 

She waved her arms and they swung freely. The gooey resistance had vanished. Kassandra’s eyes sprang open to find a deserted street in New Orleans. She spun around. No door, meaning no way back.

Chirping caught her attention. The nightingale sat on an iron railing. Kassandra jogged toward the corner and heard the whooping sounds of a crowd. The sign on the lamppost read: Bourbon Street. She rushed down the rain dampened asphalt. The multicolored buildings on either side looked uninhabited. Everyone seemed to be attending the parade.

Kassandra reached the crowd. They swarmed the street, all shouting and hopping up and down. As she pressed through the mass of people, an elbow whacked her in the face.

“Hey, watch it.”

The guy didn’t seem to notice. He was too intent on the parade. Then she spotted the girl next to him, hands held over her face to mask the tears streaming down.

Kassandra stepped closer, but then noticed another lady, this one Mom’s age. She was crying too. In fact, lots were. Some openly, some with their faces covered.

The men jumped and shouted like this was the best party ever. Only the women were crying. They looked familiar. Some were old and withered, and some were young. Then an icy chill slithered down Kassandra’s spine. Every woman looked like Auntie Jo. 

Teeny Haunts: Elevator to Another World

As a kid, I always dreamed of journeying to another dimension — the tagline of Twilight Zone Fresh in my head.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.

Twilight Zone Introduction

The myth of the Elevator to Another World feels like it belongs smack dab in the middle of Rod Serling’s fictive playground. Despite seeming like it has been with us for years, the legend developed only in this century.

Lucia Peters, from The Encyclopedia of the Impossible, traced the story back to a malfunction with a Japanese elevator. In 2006, an elevator began to ascend with the doors still open (much like the incident in the Resident Evil film). A sixteen-year old high school student was killed in the incident. Investigation into the death showed that a certain brand of elevator had led to a string of deaths.

Elevator Scene from Resident Evil, 2002

The action of the evaluator lifting on its own accord parallels the ritual of the Elevator to Another World. And, though the faulty elevators were replaced, people were understandably nervous about riding on them. Thus the dangerous myth of our extra-dimensional elevator was born. It’s a coping mechanism for the fear swirling around a series of actual accidents.

Yet the element of the lady who enters on the fifth floor doesn’t seem to fit entirely into the Japanese accident. For this, we can look to another source. A short story by William Sleator in 1993, called simply “The Elevator” introduces the idea of a disturbing lady entering the elevator car when you ride alone. The protagonist is a young boy who already has anxieties about riding the old, dilapidated elevator. In this instance, the creepy lady (dressed in green) enters on the fourteenth floor (not the fifth). Yet the other elements of the story and the idea that the lady might trap you are all present in the tale. Perhaps it had an influence on the myth.

But that’s all it is, right? Just a tall tale.

Or is it? The idea that when you try this experiment, you might not return allows the ritual to have no real evidence to back it up. After all, the folks who’ve tried it might have succeeded and just jaunted off to another world.

So the next time you’re in an elevator, maybe you might play the elevator game and see where it takes you. Just beware of the lady from the 5th floor.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: The Night Hag

The idea that some hideous creature slinks into your room at night to suffocate you both enthralls and terrifies me. Obviously the myth grew up around the sin of gluttony — don’t gorge yourself or else! But it also has some science behind it. People who stuff themselves will have breathing problems, especially if they sleep on their backs.

Digging down into the legend, I found that many cultures have this scream-stealing monster. In Moroccan culture it’s known as Bou Rattat — a demon that presses down on the sleeper’s body so they can’t move or speak.

Slavic mythology calls it the Notsnitsa (or the Night Maiden). She was known torment children as well, so that would make a frightening bedtime story. (Hey kids, if you wake up with the Notsnitsa in the room, don’t bother screaming… because you can’t.) Apparently a stone with a hole in the center serves as protection. (Where would you find one of those?)

In Spanish culture you have the Pisadeira, a demon woman who sits on your full stomach while you doze at night. Her victims are always people who have eaten too much. This is where I primarily pulled from for the illustrations.

In England, the creature is the Night Hag. In fact the word nightmare was coined to describe the shortness of breath you have awaking from such a terror.

Scientifically, there is a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, in which a person wakes to consciousness, but cannot move their body. Laying in bed, totally immobilized, some people feel a chilling presence in the room.

Maybe this Night Hag is real and sneaks into our bedrooms at night, slurping up our fear and screams of terror. Now where did I put my stone with a hole in it?

Happy haunts,

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: The Crows

I have always been attracted to birds, crows especially. Many of them flock around my house and in the mornings, I can see the crows “commenting” on the kids trudging to school. It’s like they are a bunch of gossiping people.

I am always polite to crows. I read about a study where scientists donned face masks (the plastic Halloween type) and one scientist was mean to the birds while the other was neutral. Well the crows didn’t the like mean one much, dive-bombing him constantly.

Here’s the catch. The scientists came back every year or so with the masks. Thirty years later, the crows still didn’t like the “mean-naked” figure. Despite the fact that the original crows who experienced this were long gone. So the crows have taught their children to recognize and attack people they don’t like.

Message: be nice to crows.

Happy haunting.

Tim Kane

Moonrise Over Junk Food (Your Monthly Ticket to Weirdness)

For this month we explore landscapes created with junk food, insane Steampunk calculators, and a vampire hunting kit.

Blue Dye #1 Precipice from the series Processed Views 2014

Blue Dye #1 Precipice from the series Processed Views 2014

 

Junk Food Landscapes

Always on the look out for the latest and most surreal items this world has to offer, I was stunned by how  artists Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman used junk food to recreate classic photographs by Carleton Watkins. Look at how the food artists recreated a 1869 photograph of the Farallon Islands photographs.

WatkinsSugarloaf

And now the Ciurej/Lochman version, titled Cola Sea (from the series Processed Views 2013).

SugarloafTest2psd

The artists use processed food to point out just how far our food has diverged from nature. They state: “As we move further away from the sources of our food, we head into uncharted territory replete with unintended consequences for the environment and for our health.”

Stempunk Calculators

Most of use think of calculators are objects from the computer age. Who can blame us when adding apps are available on smartphones or even Google.

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Check out these truly gorgeous beauties from an age where objects were crafted by hand. The calculator, built by Johann Helfrich Müller in 1784, evokes stempunk passion with it’s brass knobs and dials. Check out this close up the workings:

Calc

To view more of these marvelous mechanical wonders, visit this site.

A Love Story Through Coffee

Although this short film features a food product, and thus might fall under the category of propaganda, it’s so charming that it captures my heart. The characters, a boy and a girl, are dusted onto the tops of 1000 cups of cappuccino. The story shows their courtship, love, and family. The commercial is for Ajinomoto General Foods’ Maxim Stick drink flavoring. Watch and enjoy.

Tim Kane