The Painting, Part 2

Missed Part 1? Read it here!

“What’s going on?” I clapped my hands over my ears, trying to drown out the sound. I looked for the waiter we had been talking to, but he’d disappeared.

Guests were rushing past us, towards the exits, I assumed, since I couldn’t actually see the doors.

“Come on,” ordered George, his mouth tight with worry. He grabbed my elbow and directed me along with the others, not towards the lobby where I’d seen the painting, but towards the back of the restaurant.

Outside the restaurant were several vans. The maître-d’ was directing people into straight lines, waiting for the vans to pull up at the bottom of the stairs.

“What’s going on?” I repeated my question to him when he reached us.

“Fire in the kitchens,” he replied, glancing at my husband. “We’re evacuating you to another location to keep you safe.”

George wrapped a protective arm around my waist. “Thank you,” he said, and the maître-d’ rushed off to the next couple.

“I wonder what happened to the others,” I mused. “I hope they got out alright.”

“I’m sure they did, sweetie,” replied George. He rubbed his hand gently over my belly. “But I don’t really care about them. As long as you’re both safe.”

I smiled. “I was safe the whole time, because I was with you!” My eyes filled with tears again.

“Your hormones are acting up again,” teased George.

“Next group, hop in!” shouted a driver.

George helped me into the van, and settled in beside me. The van wobbled as others got in after us, and then the engine started up.

“George,” I whispered. “I don’t feel so well.” The van lurched forwards, and I clapped a hand to my mouth. “Stop!” I cried. “Stop, I need to get out!”

The driver looked back at me. “What seems to be the problem, Madame?”

“I’m going to throw up all over the back of your seat if you don’t let me out right now,” I said, and my stomach heaved again.

“It’s not much farther…” he began.

“Now!” I screamed.

The van screeched to a halt, and I opened the door on my side of the car. I fell to my knees on the grass beside the road, dry heaving.

The van drove away–good riddance–as I felt hands pulling my hair back from my face. George’s voice filtered through the blood pounding in my ears. Eventually, as my stomach calmed, I was able to make sense of his words. “We don’t have to go to the other restaurant, we can go home and stay in, just the two of us, Sophie and George.”

I froze, my blood turning to ice in my veins, though I didn’t understand why. “And the baby,” I said cautiously. Something was niggling in the back of my brain, trying to make itself known.

George nodded at me, a half smile on his face. “Sophie, George, and the baby.”

I sat down, my legs too weak to hold me on my knees. I looked at George, my thoughts whirling quickly as the thought thrust itself into the forefront of my brain: my husband was French-Canadian; he always pronounced his name with a French accent, Georges. This impersonator Anglicized the name. I, however, never used his French name. On top of that, what was with all the nicknames? That was unlike him. What on earth was going on? He looked like my husband, but wasn’t him. Which brought me to my next question; if he wasn’t my husband, then where was George?

“I think a bit of a walk will help me,” I said calmly. “Help me up?”

George reached for my hand and pulled me to my feet. “Which way would you like to go?” he asked.

“Away from the restaurant!” I laughed, trying to show an outward calm, although my insides were screaming at me to run. “How about towards the forest?” I pointed in a direction that veered away from the road. “We don’t have to go in,” I continued, interpreting the look of apprehension on fake-George’s face, which I took to mean that this was a good direction to go.

We started walking slowly, as I was still a little shaky from the nausea. What had been with that vehicle? I sometimes got motion-sick, but rarely that quickly. I shrugged; the oddest things affected my body now that I was pregnant.

About halfway between our starting point and the forest, a short metal fence blocked our path. It barely reached my knees, so I went to step over it but fake-George yanked me back by the arm.

“We shouldn’t go that way!” he exclaimed, eyeing the fence anxiously.

“There’s no sign saying to keep out,” I tried to reason with him. “What’s wrong with you? We’ve gone places we shouldn’t before!” I attempted to pry my arm from his grip. “Let me go, you’re hurting me!” I could feel a prickly burning sensation on the inside of my wrist.

“No! We shouldn’t cross the barrier!” he pressed. “You can’t cross it.” He didn’t release my hand.

“Why can’t I cross it?” I asked, exasperated. I stopped struggling. It was only making things worse.

“You…you just can’t,” he retorted.

I took a deep breath and stepped closer to him. “Watch me,” I said, and kneed him in the groin. He dropped to the ground, letting me go.

I ran the two steps back to the fence and stepped over it. I kept going a few more paces before looking back at him, writhing on the ground.

I took one glance at the sickly blue-purple tinged creature that had been masquerading as my husband and had to turn away. Seeing him in his natural form brought my memories back in a rush, and my head started to ache. I was in Ireland, but I was alone. George had died a month ago in an accident. My eyes filled with tears, and I started gasping for breath. No wonder I had been so willing to accept that monster as my husband in the restaurant. I missed him.

“How did you cross the fence?” the creature wheezed. “You shouldn’t have been able to cross the iron barrier!”

I glared at the creature. “You should be incredibly grateful that I could cross, liar! You…you kidnapper!”

He staggered to his feet, and I backed up a couple steps. He was slightly taller than I was, with shiny scales covering his body. They were a sickening, swirling purple and blue colour that had no discernable pattern. He had a tail that curled down to the ground, sharp teeth in a mouth too wide for his face, and four eyes; two on the sides of his hairless head, and two at the front.

“What are you?” I gasped.

“A liar,” he smirked. “A kidnapper.”

I growled at him. “I knew that already. Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” he retorted.

“Even though I bested you?” I mocked. “Taken out by a human? A pregnant one, at that!”

His two forward facing eyes flicked down to my belly, and a green tongue came out to lick his lips. I shuddered.

“I can tell you whatever you want in exchange for one thing,” he offered.

“You’ll get nothing from me,” I spat at him. “You owe me for kidnapping me.”

The creature scowled. “Under what pretense? I didn’t kidnap you. You walked into our cavern. I was first in line to take care of the next human who came to us.”

A trickle of memory started to come back to me. I had been exploring the caves north of Belfast with my tour group after lunch. The tour was supposed to help get me out of my cycle of depression. “What did the painting have to do with anything?” I asked. “The Van Gogh. You were deliberately avoiding talking to me about it.”

“We are bound by law to give every human a chance to leave,” he sighed. “If you say the name of the painting, it activates an alarm. That gets you out of the restaurant, and you have the chance to get away. The Van Gogh is not seen by many.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Exactly how many humans have managed to escape?”

“Very few.” The creature grinned cruelly. “Most humans don’t even realize that they’ve been trapped, or they eat something and that keeps them from crossing the barriers.”

I was suddenly very grateful that I had not had any water. “So Van Gogh is a good painter?” I wanted to have the record set straight on that point.

“Van Gogh’s original paintings are so powerful that they have their own magical capabilities. A human that sees one will not be able to get it out of their mind. It will call to them.” He glared. “You shouldn’t have seen it. We get so few pregnant humans in our world.”

I glared right back at him. “And whose idea was it for you to impersonate my recently departed husband?”

“When humans step through our gateway, we can briefly see into their minds and hearts. Your husband featured prominently in your thoughts, so we knew he would be the one most likely to set your mind at ease.” He shuffled his feet. “How did you realize I was not him?”

“Oh ho!” I cried. “It seems you don’t know everything. You’re going to have to die not knowing the answer to that.”

“I will die shortly for allowing you to escape, for the colony must eat,” he said.

“Do you really think I care?” I replied in disgust. “Wait, you were going to eat us? No,” I raised my hand to stop him from answering, and my stomach roiled at the thought. “I don’t want to know.”

I turned and squinted at the sun, deciding which direction I should walk. I placed it behind me and started across the meadow, away from the creature.

“You and your child are marked. Death would have been a kinder fate.” On my wrist where he’d grabbed me was a crescent moon mark that could have been a tattoo.

“Screw you, monster,” I snapped at him over my shoulder. “I hope I never see you again.”

“You won’t,” he said, his voice a mixture of anger and sadness. Moments later I heard his screams and a noise like angry dogs ripping apart an animal.

I didn’t look back; I didn’t dare. The savage sounds faded behind me as I continued on my way back to human civilization. It wasn’t over, the mark on my wrist was proof of that, but for now I’d won. Everything else I could worry about later.

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