The Color – Part 2

Unicorn Still lifeHis hand took over. His color began to disappear beneath the blue. He added white to the blue for highlights under the lamp. He added black to the blue for the shadowed areas.

He painted mechanically. No thought was necessary–he already had the correct tones worked out from the tones of his perfect color. He just copied them with the wrong color.

Within a short time, the background was done. His color was still present though–hidden in subtle reflections here–melting into subtle shading there.

A few more touches.

Blue reflections on the dime-store unicorn.

Blue mixed with red to show through on the bowl of plastic grapes.

And, just before it was time to clean up, he had finished.

No trace–not the smallest hint–of his color remained.

He didn’t even look at the painting after that. He left it against wall with the others for grading, ensuring that his was left on top because it was still damp.

“I liked the other color better, too,” sympathized one of his classmates.

He smiled at him, and left. His feet moved like heavy blocks of un-sculpted wood. He was nauseous, but hungry. Not much money. He stopped at a vending machine and bought the most disgusting sweet he could find–a chocolate covered, cream-filled cake thing. He didn’t even remember eating it.

A headache began to surface. It rose quickly, like dirty oil rising to the top of a water bucket.

He went home and flopped on his couch. Briefly. The chocolate was having a predictable effect on his stomach acids. His color–his perfect color–flooded his brain. It was all he could see. He opened his eyes. The room glowed sickeningly with the color.

He felt the bile rise in his throat and he rushed to the bathroom. He vomited violently. He took two aspirin and lay back down.


He had taken the aspirin too early. The chocolate was not finished with him.

He got up to vomit again. He stumbled back to the couch, already spent.


When he closed his eyes, colors–great hued whirlpools–swirled through his head. Not friendly this time. Now they ate into his soul like the acid in his stomach. Colors everywhere. No place to escape from them.

Conscious? Unconscious? He dreamed. He did not sleep. The colors in the pain were too intense. He dreamed of vacuous orange faces. He dreamed of icy blue sounds. He dreamed of callous maroon words. They all drifted in a maelstrom, like leaves and branches and colorful pieces of paper garbage blowing across his inner vision.

The faces were of no one special; no one that he recognized. The faces were not technically even real faces. More like statues. The hue, in itself, was meaningless. The faces were emotion without substance. They existed only to show expression; unpleasant, inane expression. Beneath their outer facade were only clay and more emptiness.

The sounds and the voices blended, neither distinct, neither recognizable–a melted crayon box. The few snatches of words he could catch were nonsense–meaningless–confusing–but somehow menacing. When more distinguishable, the voices would turn into distorted violets, bleeding reds, sickly oranges… The voices mingled with the sounds, and they vibrated collectively with muffled rhythms like an orchestra and a noisy city street thrown together, shaken in a box, and crushed under a lid made of heavy foam.

His throat spasmed. His eyes flew open and he ran to the bathroom to repeat the vomiting routine. Three times. Four. Stomach empty. Bitter bile. Five.

He was hyperventilating. Covered in sweat. He was weak–could barely lift his arms. His hands and feet began to tingle. He felt them becoming numb.

He closed his eyes. Exhausted. But sleep was not possible. Everywhere, clear, distinct, were the colors. His heart pulsed, and with each pulse the pain tore into his head like a great circular blade, and colors would burst across his internal field of vision; hues laced with the pain of the blade and the murmur of the voices.

And through it all, dissonant, uncoordinated with the pulses of rolling pain and boiling intestines, adding to the confusion of his mind, a single black phrase arose like the bile. It repeated itself again and again, louder each time, endlessly.

Is this what it feels like to be insane?

Eyes opened. Perfect compositions filled the room. Composition was easy–child’s play. But what colors would be the right ones?

He didn’t know anymore.

Spasm. Six.

Food poisoning? Salmonella? How long had that noxious piece of chocolate been in that machine?

His brother came home.

“Are you all right?”


“Can I get you anything?”

Pause. His hands and feet were numb and tingled. He had never felt this way before. He was covered with icy cold sweat. The word salmonella flooded his brain. He was hyperventilating–couldn’t catch his breath–too weak to move.

“I want you to call an ambulance.”

Pause. “Are you serious?”


Spasm. Seven.

The ambulance came. Still hyperventilating–fear. They checked his vitals. He felt so weak. The lifted him up and strapped him in.

“He’s just scared,” he heard one of the medics say to his brother.

…just scared.

The nausea fell away from him like a silk blanket.

…just scared.

# # #

When he came home from the hospital it was late. He felt weak, embarrassed. He studied his physics for a while, and then fell asleep.

Somehow he managed to get through both tests the next day. He didn’t have art class until two days later.

He looked at the painting.


Technically, it was fine, but it was still dead.

A whole corner was vacant of life. It drained the life from the rest of the canvas. It drained the life from his stomach.

He did not let himself become nauseous again.

He got an A as his final grade.

Days later. Finals over. The painting sat again in his portfolio bag. He brought it out.

Maybe he could fix it? Maybe if he could repaint it to the correct color…

…the correct color…

What was the correct color?

What had it been? Brown? Red? Maroon?


He could no longer remember it.

It had died of neglect–killed like a firefly left in a jar too long. It had not even received a proper burial. It was now and ever more hidden by the technically correct and exactly incorrect blue.

He packed the painting back into his portfolio case. It would stay there for years. Eventually, he had the strength again to hang it on a wall. Others liked it.

Technically, it was fine.

It had just been Art 101, after all.

The Color – Part 1

I’ve decided to break my longer short stories into two parts.  I’m trying to avoid going longer than 1500 words per post.   This story had no natural break at the halfway point.  Oh well.

The following story is one I semi-consider ready for an attempt at publication.  It is more than based on a true story…it is autobiographical.  The events that happen in the story are very true to an actual event in my life.  I will post part 2 tomorrow.


The Color – Part 1

He slept–a sleep neither restful nor quite peaceful.

No dreams.  No nightmares.

Just a sleep of images: overpowering–irresistible–images.

His mind raced as his body slumbered.  An adrenalin high.  Memories from the previous day floated into his inner vision.  He framed the memories as images–composed them: a stack a magazines next to a basket; a ladies handbag over the edge of a table, almost, but not quite, spilling its secrets.

But it wasn’t the compositions that mattered–it was the colors.  The colors were everything–the only thing.  Subtle changes in shade.  Brighten the pink on the ribbon of the basket and exaggerate the highlights.  Deaden the colors of the handbag and add a bright philosophical contrast–maybe a toy dump truck–maybe a rubber turtle.  The images danced playfully in his mind.

He could find a composition in every memory.

Into the night, for long hours, he played and floated with the colors.

Buzz of an alarm.  He opened his eyes.  He fumbled with the clock and the buzz stopped.  The colors faded, but did not disappear.  The room glowed with them.  He had once heard what an LSD trip felt like.  He did not take drugs–never had–but he felt he knew the feeling.

His sleep had not been restful; his gut was queasy, but not dangerously so.  He got up from his bed and stumbled to the kitchen to find something to settle his stomach.

He did not look into the spare bedroom as he passed it.

He found crackers, and ate them carefully at first.  He sipped tentatively at ginger ale.  His stomach did not express dissent, and he ate and drank with more confidence.  The queasiness passed.  He leaned back in his chair.

The colors were still there, swirling through his mind.  Everywhere he looked, he could see a composition–the cereal box slanted against the potted plant; the spill of sugar against the tablecloth; the wallet and the keys next to the television…

He closed his eyes again. He rubbed them and the colors changed hues.  Some seemed to leak out beyond his peripheral vision.  He could almost make himself believe that they spilled from his head and soaked into the shirt covering his shoulder blades.

He took a deep breath.  He took another.  Trying to quiet his mind

He opened his eyes and stood.  He felt a little more normal.  The colors in his mind were still uncontainable–compulsive, but he suffered no fear of them, and they did not control him.  He let them play with his mind, for now.

He walked to the spare bedroom and could bear to look into it this time.  There it sat.  The final project for his class.  His obsession.  His masterpiece.

He knew enough about art, of course, to know that this piece was not worthy of awards.  But for him, it was perfection.  Every color perfect.  Every color glowed.  When he had turned out the light in the room the previous evening, he had almost expected the painting to continue to shine with a light of its own.

A simple composition, it was a still life of a dime-store unicorn, a bowl of plastic grapes, and the back of a cable control box.  In the background was the single light source–a dimly lit lamp that cast shade–and colors–throughout the scene.

But the colors…

The tone of the background was not ordinary–not a shade that could be found in nature.  It radiated from the light source and cast its surreal shadows across the ordinary landscape.  It was the right color.  It was the ONLY possible color.  It was that color that made the painting his painting.  It pulsated with life, and made the image so much more than a dime-store unicorn and plastic grapes.

It was dry now.  It was now complete.

Gingerly, with reverence, he lifted the painting and placed it into his portfolio bag.  It rested in front of a couple of other paintings–there was one of a single shoe glowing in a sea of orange.  He liked it, but he knew it was not his best.  His treatment of the cloth of the bed sheet was clumsy.  But he knew it was good enough for an A.

It was only Art 101, after all.

He sealed the portfolio bag, carried it out carefully to his car, and made sure it was well secure before driving off.

The cold spring sky helped him almost completely wash the colors from his mind.  He had finished his art projects early.  He still had finals in physics and computer engineering to complete, and he had spent far too little time studying for them.  He knew that he was going to have to spend a long evening of desperate cramming.  That was why he wanted to turn in this project early: so he could study the more complex subjects in peace.  It was only Art 101, after all–just an elective.  He never intended art to be anything more than a hobby.

Still, his fellow students knew him to be the most talented in his class.  He appreciated their compliments, but he could not make himself take them too seriously.  Most of them were not above the involuntary Picasso stage.  Their odd perspectives and distortions were not caused by deliberate genius, but rather by a simple inability to get them right.

His instructor had suggested that he might want to think about art as a career.  But he liked computers, and the idea of being a starving artist held no appeal for him.

The art studio was a plain classroom with a sink and a half a dozen still-lifes scattered here and there.  Many other students were already milling about–some of the others had finished their final projects early, others were still stabbing at canvases in feverous toil.  When fellow students had asked to see his work, he had shown first his shoe painting, which amused and suitably impressed them.  When however, with timid pride, he brought out his masterpiece, they would drop their jaws and exclaim wows and that is really goods.  He was happy, and anxious to show his work to his instructor.

Half the period had passed before the instructor arrived and looked at.

Again, he showed his shoe first.  She smiled and made no other comments.

Then he took out his masterpiece and placed it proudly upon his easel.

The instructor studied it thoughtfully for a moment

And then she shook her head.

“No, no, no.”

She reached for a brush, dabbed it in some blue paint, and, with three swift strokes, she desecrated the background.

Desecrated his one–perfect–color.

Each stroke felt like a knife across his stomach.

“There!” she exclaimed happily.  “That’s better.  Technical detail.  The background needs to be a cool color–too many other warms.  Just fix it up and turn it in.  Good job.”

Just fix it up.

The background was one quarter of the painting.

He had finals the next day.

The perfect color…HIS perfect color…how could she not have seen it?

And blue?  Blue would change the entire feel of the painting.  Blue could not glow here.  Blue would not try to leap from the canvas when the lights went out.

Blue may, technically, have been the correct color.  But to him, that made it EXACTLY the wrong color.

Finals tomorrow.  Much too tired.  Still feeling nauseous.

Numbly, he grabbed the blue brush.  It was wrong.  The three swift strokes of blue paint upon the background deadened the glow.  The painting was wounded.  He felt its pain.

Finals tomorrow.  This was supposed to be finished already.  This was already supposed to be a gold star in his notebook of pride.

No time.

…continued tomorrow.