This post is written by Mike Staton. Too lazy to write a column from scratch, he decided to go with the tried and true — a short story from his Facebook author’s page. Some of you may have read it. Many haven’t. Please enjoy.
# # #
Dora Turner scrutinized the painting hanging in the Le Jardine art gallery in New Orleans’ French quarter, then turned to her fiancé, Gabin Boutilier. “It looks so real, like a wave might roar out of the painting and splash me.” Gabin adored Dora’s Cajun accent. He never tired of hearing her voice. It made him eager to escort her back to their hotel room for some hanky-panky antics.
“Agree. Looks quite stormy.” Gabin rested his arm on Dora’s shoulders. “Ship’s about to capsize.” He tickled skin beneath her blouse sleeve. “Who painted it?”
Dora peered closer, studying the scribbles on the lower left. “Looks like it says Eden Conley.” Her forehead furrowed. “I’ve heard of her. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Give me a second, sweetheart. I’ll remember.” She closed her eyes, her mouth tightened.
“Doesn’t sound familiar.” He wasn’t a connoisseur of art; that was Dora’s bailiwick.
“I’ve got it.” Her mouth relaxed, then widened into a satisfied grin. “The artist claims to be a witch. Even holds séances. ‘American Artist’ profiled her in its latest edition. Quite the oddball, but she’s flamboyant. Men flock around her.”
“She sounds crazy to me. I hope you don’t believe her, don’t believe in witchcraft.”
“Heavens no!” She rearranged the polka-dot shell hat atop her black hair pulled back into a chignon. “But I do like her personality … so rebellious, so over-the-top. Like I said, she’s an aphrodisiac for men.” Dora giggled. “Wish I could be more like her. Our bedroom time would leave you exhausted.” She gave him a peck on the mouth.
Sweeping his hair away from his eyes, Gabin stepped closer to the painting. “Those sailors in the painting? They’re doomed. The waves are going to win the battle.”
“I want it, darling. Buy it for me.”
“Really?” Open mouthed, Gabin eyed the tiny price tag. “Too pricey for my blood. $3,000.”
“Please. It can be an early Christmas gift. I can see above our parlor fireplace in the Victorian we’re going to buy.” She kissed him on the cheek.
“Let’s get married first,” he rejoined, laughing then shaking his head, his eyebrows arched. “We don’t even own a Victorian.”
She traced her finger along his lower lip. “We will.”
Gabin rolled his eyes. “I can see that having you as my bride is going to be expensive.”
“I’m your princess, right? That’s what you told me.” Dora took his hand and twined her fingers around his. “A Victorian has always been my dream. I want to return from our honeymoon and have a glorious home warming. You’ve two bestsellers and a third one on the way. And always the most sought VIP at sci-fi and fantasy conventions. We can afford the Victorian and this painting.”
“Okay, but only if you ask Sam for a raise.” He swept her into his arms and kissed her full on the mouth.
Dora worked for Sam Nuttingham, the American artist famous for his sunset landscapes. She handled his marketing and helped out in his Tampa gallery. He was notoriously stingy with his money, proof the bah-humbug mien that rarely left Sam’s face.
“I will. At the right time. He thinks he’s going to win an Impressionism – Landscape award in the American Art competition. He’ll be feeling magnanimous. That’s when I’ll ask.”
Gabin harrumphed. “If he wins. Eden Conley thinks she’s a witch. Maybe you can ask her for help. Have her mix a potion that will put him in the mood to give you a generous raise.”
“Don’t be silly. Witchcraft can backfire, a spell can blow up like a threadbare tire. Then again it might do the reverse, make him never want to give me a raise.”
“You seem to know a lot about witchcraft, Dora.” He gave her a hard stare.
“Kid stuff, darling. Girlfriends getting together and playing with an Ouija board. I was twelve I think. We’d ask it about boyfriends and” – she giggled again – “when and how we’d lose our virginity.”
“Okay… I’ll buy the painting if you ask for a raise.”
“You have a deal, my husband-to-be.” She ran her finger along the painting’s frame. “We’ll have a costume ball for the home warming in the Victorian we’re going to buy. It’ll be so much fun. I’ll even invite Sam.”
Gabin sighed. “I can’t wait.” He hated parties.
# # #
Back from the honeymoon in the Loire Valley, Gabin watched his new wife glide among the guests, all dressed in Victorian garb rented from the Vintage Dancer store in downtown Tampa. As expected, Dora got her Eden Conley painting, her Victorian house, her costume ball, and a raise. She was Gabin’s princess after all.
Dress in a glittery gold gown that sparkled in the candlelight, Dora chatted with Milly Nuttingham, Sam’s wife. Standing at the unlit fireplace – it was summer after all – they were gesturing to a spot above the mantel where Eden Conley’s ‘Ship Tossing on Storm Waves’ hung.
On her tiptoes, Milly reached up to the painting and tapped the ocean spray with her finger. “It’s wet. Weird!”
“Really?” Dora balanced herself on her toes tucked inside antique silk evening pumps and touched the same spot on Conley’s seascape painting. “Somehow the humidity’s seeping in.”
Milly shrugged. “If you–”
“How did you like this week’s beefier check, Dora?” Sam interrupted, approaching Dora and Milly. “You’re worth it. My sales are skyrocketing, and I owe it all to you – and the American Art Awards, of course.”
A boisterous laugh lured Gabin away from Sam, Milly and Dora. Dora’s father, Colonel Terrence Turner, ushered a gaggle of tittering older ladies to a stained-glass window near the stairs. “While Dora and Gabin were on their honeymoon,” the colonel began, “I cleaned years of grime from this wonderful art-glass. Dora got her love of Victorian–”
A scream silenced the room.
Gabin jerked his head toward the skin-prickling sound. Partygoers stood motionless, their mouths unnaturally open as if frozen in place by something otherworldly. The Bluesound media player continued to play ‘Never My Love,’ even though the dancing couples had stopped mid-step and now stared toward the fireplace.
A voice – Gabin immediately identified it as Milly – gasped, “Oh God, Dora!”
Sam half-shrieked, half-laughed, “Trickery!”
The Nuttinghams teetered backward as seawater sprayed out from the waves buffering the sailing ship, soaking Dora. Droplets gushed down her hair, loosening pins, sending orchards tumbling to the floor. More water cascaded down her gown, dulling the silk’s shimmer. Her eyes fixed on Gabin, uneasiness in them. Help me, they seemed to say.
And so he did, scurrying to her side. He wrapped his arms around her as the seawater drenched his hair and face and left his suit waterlogged. “I knew I shouldn’t have bought the damned thing. How are we going to explain this?”
Dora dropped her shoulders. “I have no idea.” A smell of salt permeated the air around them.
A lone clap punctured the silence elsewhere in the room. And then another, and another, and another. Soon, everyone clapped. “Bravo! Bravo!” Sam enthused. “How did you do it, Dora? What a fine trick!”
“Yes, tell us,” someone else in the room implored.
Gabin stammered. Dora cleared her throat and answered as rainwater continued to splash her and Gabin, “Tiny pinpricks in the painting, a hose in the wall and a waterskin filled with saltwater on the other side of the wall.”
“Won’t it ruin the painting?” Sam said critically as the spray petered out and then stopped.
“But what a fine joke,” Gabin piped up.
“And a costly one,” Dora’s father said, a stern look wrinkling his face. The head of the paymaster department at an Army base before he retired, Terrence hated wasting money.
“It’s a fake, daddy,” Dora lied. “Bought so we could pull off this joke. Well done, eh?”
“Well done, daughter, but you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Later that night after everyone had departed and Dora and Gabin had changed into dry nightclothes, they examined the painting. “Eden Conley must have spelled it,” Dora ventured. “How else to explain it? Only someone with witch blood could trigger the spell. That’s my guess.”
“I did a 23andMe DNA test last year. Discovered I have a Salem ancestor who was hung as a witch. Looks like she was the real thing.”
“We’re putting the cursed thing up in the attic.”
“No way,” Dora shot back. “It’s staying right up here above the mantel.” She touched the foamy sea spray. “Dry as a witch’s tit.”
# # #
The artist of the painting that illustrates my short story is Miss Aniela, born in Leeds, United Kingdom, in 1986. She graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in English and Media. Her career as an artist began while still at Sussex. Shortly after graduation, she was sought to speak in the U.S. for Microsoft and was offered solo shows in London and Madrid