The room was bustling around Drake as he stood against the wall watching his client. She wasn't smiling. Not even a little bit. He didn't think she ever smiled, at least not that he had ever seen.
He didn't know her age, none did, and none dared ask, but appearances indicated the later half of a privileged life. Her skin was pale, but rouged. Her hair blonde, and piled improbably atop her round head, a few ringlets left to hang aside her equally round cheeks. Her crimson gown, high necked, and low cut, did what it could to highlight what could generously be called a voluptuous figure, if perhaps the speaker was very kind, or very knackered. Her pale eyes swept across the people that filled the room.
The guests were high society all the way. Upper echelon and whatever was above that. Her men moved through the babbling throng. Pale faced to a one, a half dozen of them, dressed alike in dark suits, white shirts, and red ties. Always red ties for them. Long and straight, and never bowed, goodness no.
He shifted the comfortable shape of his folio case under his arm as he waited, and wiped a damp palm across his mulbery vest. The case was the only comfortable thing about the situation. He felt a light sweat break out beneath his collar.
He could blame the painting of the woman in white for him being here, but that would do no good. He'd needed the money, and, as a painter, not accepting a commission was like sanding off his own face. So he'd taken the work. He should blame Dodgson, that madman. A looking glass was one thing, but a two sided mirror? That was sheer foolishness. It was too late for blame though, the woman in red had already arrived, was already ensconced with the elite of society. This was just the latest of her endless parties to impress — or intimidate, he was never sure — what she considered her new subjects.
His painting was to be the centerpiece of the event. She'd meant for it to be his disgrace and his doom, following whatever offense she'd taken from his last work. So she'd given him a simple task with a simple consequence.
Of course the "simple" assignment had been impossible. Everything with her was, he'd known that from the start, but he hadn't really had a choice. She'd meant to humiliate him, but he'd done it, and without great ease either. His frontal lobe still itched, as it were recovering from claw marks he could never see. That sing song voice still echoed between his ears. The voice and that grin. He shivered at the memory.
Somehow he'd pulled it off though, so she'd turned everything on it's head. Now his triumph would be hers. Drake didn't even care. He just wanted to present the painting and get far far away from her and her hallways of flowers dying beneath lacquer and latex.
His client addressed the crowd, her voice high and strained as always.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I've asked you here this evening, for a very special presentation. The good Mr. Drake," he gave a small bow as seemed appropriate, "has recently completed a commission for me. A work of no small skill, and one I am pleased to reveal to you today. I think you all will be rather impressed with this work and what a wonderful addition it will be to my collection."
Light applause filled the room, and she basked in it for a moment, of course.
"Mr. Drake." She gestured for him to proceed.
With only slightly shaking fingers he unlatched his case and withdrew the painting. Large green eyes above a perpetual smile gazed out at him as he carefully hung the work on the wall. Once it was properly in place, he stepped back. For all the stress and strain of the assignment, he was proud of the work, he felt he had truly captured the subject. A rather large cat lay stretched atop a knobby branch; its posture both relaxed and playful in a way that was hard to really grasp.
"I give you, Feline in Repose," his client said.
Warm applause and a babel of appreciative comments broke out at once. His client did not smile, but she perhaps frowned a bit less. Relief washed through Drake. He'd done it. He'd done it and he was free.
Drake opened his lips to speak, to give perhaps a very brief thank you, when something happened. The portrait cat sneakily gestured at everyone. Or perhaps it was only to him. He wasn't really sure. It wasn't a rude gesture, or even particularly obvious, but Drake saw it. A small twitch of a paw, a come hither gesture.
She saw it too. Both of their eyes went wide together. Drake was a good painter but none of his works had ever done that before. They both stepped toward the picture without really thinking about it.
The cat leaned forward as well. Flat as the canvas was, somehow he leaned forward. His lips spread even wider, showing more teeth than any cat had ever possessed, but just the right number to fill that pearly, crescent of a grin. And then he winked one emerald eye, and with that he vanished.
Drake's canvas hung blank before them. As blank as it had ever been.
Drake swallowed. He should have known it was too easy. Despite all his troubles completing the work, he should have known.
She was not pleased. She was less pleased when the crowd took notice of the blank painting and the murmur of conversation turned to throttled chortles of amusement. Clearly at her expense, he knew she would hear it no other way.
And what an expense it would be for him. He knew what she was going to say before she spoke.
"Off with his head."
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Mindnado ExpressShort Story
These sci-fi, fantasy, and horror flash fiction stories bounced around in my head long enough to survive brainstorming and wound up scribbled down out here in the wild. Enjoy.