Artists to Authors is an exploration of the how art influences authors. Artist Grey Cross has opened his entire portfolio to any author who would like to choose a piece of art and create a short story around it. You can find more information on the project at:
The Artist to Author Project
She bends down to look at the paper. “Just started?”
I dip the brush into black ink. Thin lines cut the whiteness of watercolour paper and it bleeds a little. The exotic scent of magnolia hits my senses. My heart races, my pupils dilate to completely cover my iris black.
Someone’s past has been opened. Someone from my book - but who?
I have names and dates for their past transgressions but none ever follow a particular order. That frustrates and excites me.
Lavender and rosemary precedes footsteps and Lily, fellow artist walks in. She drops an envelope onto the side table. “The invitation has arrived.”
“Good,” but I do not turn.
“Yes,” and I feel Lily’s skin prickle. She backs up a little, unconsciously. She thinks she knows me but I’d kill her in a heartbeat if her scent changed.
“I’m doing the Amazonian Lily - your namesake,” I say and Lily’s breath hitches. I swing around. Her eyes are violet with pain. “Still upset Lily? It has been six months ...”
“Not long enough,” she says. “I still have nightmares about finding Alex at the pavilion.”
I remember him by his scent, crushed cloves mixed with the aftermath of sex. He was good but nothing special.
Lily’s next words flow over the top of my head until I hear, “… a translator.”
“I’m going to find out who killed him,” Lily says.
“But the trail’s cold.”
“Not any more. I found his note book.”
“And you’ve read it?”
“No, it’s written in Sans Script of all things but I found a woman linguist who can translate for me.”
“Really? And you want her trolling through…”
“I have to Dahlia. I feel certain this time I’ll find out who the killer is.”
“Then you will.”
She sighs dramatically. “I knew you’d come around. I’m taking it to the translator today, at three.”
“Hmm. Good…” and I turn back to my brush and ink to make a long confident stroke.
Lily watches a moment then leaves, humming. I sit back and hope she enjoys her little fantasy. It was for the last time. I’d grown sick of her obsession and imagine the translator will enjoy the interesting tales I made up of Alex’s exploits.
I sniff and inhale. The scent of magnolia is still strong. I take out another piece of Watercolour paper and set down my brush. A shape emerges as I sweep the page with lines - a building with a unique frontage, art deco.
I know it. The apartment block is on the other side of town. A bit further than my usual hunting ground.
My body spasms with the pull to act. To alleviate it I glance at the letter Lily dropped on my desk. There are in fact two. The gallery invite and one underneath it, addressed to me.
The paper of the latter is old. The stamp is faded to a sepia sketch, the wavy lines through it, an ancient passage from…
My skin prickles. I slit the envelope very carefully and withdraw a piece of tissue paper. Underneath it lies a book made with translucent handmade paper. I open the cover. Inside a pressed flower orange and gold emits the scent of orange blossom and crushed river reeds. An odd mix and familiar.
“Dahlia,” Lily calls, and I swoop up the book and deposit it in the desk draw; lock it just as she walks back in. “Jeremy called. He said he’ll pick us up tonight at seven.”
“Fine. I’ll be ready.”
Lily departs. I finish the botanical painting I started though I itch to study the book. A test of discipline. One my master and ancestor Jacque would expect.
The clock strikes three. Lily will be in thrall to the translator. I finally retrieve the parcel from my desk and head back to my room.
Inside it I am swamped by a garden of scents. I quickly close the French doors. I cannot afford the distraction. I sit and regard the brown wrapping paper and wonder suddenly about the timing.
Afraid, I dash to my wardrobe and open the false bottom. My book is still there. I drag it out and sit at my dressing table staring at it. Stare and wonder.
I open the pages and inspect the blood stains, the flower sketches and my coded script. Nothing has changed. Nothing has been erased. I close the book. The contract has not been broken.
Am I getting spooked for no reason? The opening tonight has ramifications. I believe I am ready for them. Still…
I return my book to a different hide-e-hole and go back to the parcel, thoughtful now. Could this parcel be a distraction? Had my master instructed others to keep watch and test me?
I grind my teeth then smile. So be it. But first to see the rest, and I turn the pages. Two more pressed flowers. All them of the three families. Three heritages to erase.
I go to another hidden spot and pull out three vials. I take a slither of each petal and secure them in the vials. I’ll add my special preparation later to confirm or deny its authenticity.
Could this be a test? Who else would know?
For now there is Magnolia.
I return to the studio and leave Lily a note. I take the car to the apartment block, park and get out and run a hand over the numbers. My skin tingles. Yes. Number 3. Ironic, and I hum as I push the button for the intercom. A woman’s voice says. “Yes. Who is it?”
I freeze then say huskily. “It’s me.”
The silence is shocking - for her, for me. It’s unusual for the scent trial to manifest after I’d met a target. The buzzer finally sounds and allows me in.
I take the stairs, images flooding me of the last time we were and I want her again.
When I reach the door, she opens and stands there, green eyes as dark as a wild forest. A forest of …magnolia and I falter then move forward eyes bright with tears.
“I knew you’d find me,” she says and I nod. She opens her arms and we embrace. I pull her inside, kissing her, one hand opening my bag and finding the long pin; an old fashioned hat pin.
I move back and before she understands, before I recant, I thrust it deeply into her right eye.
Then I concentrated my will, and with fire consume and reduce her to ash and bones. Ash into the grate. The bones, now shell grit I pour into a jar sealing the stopper – gone and my emotions with it.
NIGHT closes in. I am back home and Lily waits, eyes big and sorrowful. “She found nothing of use,” she says of the translator.
“I’m sorry,” and I try to keep a straight face. “Maybe next time?”
“There is no next time. I’m done,” she says seriously and for one brief moment her scent is different, wafts a mix of carnation and old roses with a hint of…
She touches my hand. “You were right,” then steps back, laughs and twirls. “My dress. You haven’t commented. ”
“Ah,” and I obligingly look. It is pastel blue and suits her but is rather drab and I relax. She is harmless.
“Hurry up and change or we’ll be late,”’ she says, and I oblige.
My dress is red. Scooped neckline and body hugging but tasteful. It swishes as I walk like blood. And I remember the splash of blood, the taste of it that afternoon - the one drop I allow myself to confirm my target.
Even now it is faint, the echo of the magnolia singing in my blood.
The party tonight is a fundraiser for the Botanic Gardens current project – the revitalization of its Herb Garden and my work – repainting a series of original 17th botanical paintings to be encapsulated in glass.
I walk into the conservatory of Ayers House, the air redolent with gardenias in large pots providing an avenue to the table set for dinner.
Lily spies a friend and hurries off. I slip through those gathered, a silent witness to small conversations and much talk of Brandon Lang the sculptor being toasted as another Michael Angelo.
He is standing with a group of women to one side. I study his profile and see confidence and a hard edge. He turns to look at me and immediately strolls over.
“Dahlia Moon. I’ll start on the preliminary sketches tomorrow.”
“No foreplay?” I say cocking my head.
“Ah. The director hasn’t told you yet. There will be an announcement,” and hands me his card. The calligraphy on it is exquisite. I run a finger across his name and it reverberates through me like dark noir.
“Come tomorrow,” he says again. I nod and place the card in my bag before I move on. I do so enjoy a cat and mouse game. He will never see it coming.
I join Lily at the dining table. She eyes me blankly a moment then smiles. She is a cheap drunk. “The wine is fabulous.”
“Good,” and I take a sip.
The meal is served and afterward come the presentations. Then the Director reveals the special commission - Brandon to create a bust of me in appreciation of my work and dedication. It will reside alongside the one of Carl Linnaeus, who in 1735 was the first to revolutionize the natural sciences.
That night I check the vials. The scents are genuine and the originals are now in my possession.
I take a deep breath and look for the watermark on the back cover of the paper - the intertwined vine of my masters. I run a hand over it then stop, go back and forth and feel…a subtle variation. I sit back. This is unsettling. A true scent but with a conflicting provenance.
Something niggles at the back of my mind and I walk to another hidden nook and bring out the jars of my last three kills. Bones have a resonance even after death.
Music, scent and colour are my family’s skill set. In today’s world it is called synaethesia but with us, there is a twist - real energy and a focus.
I find nothing untoward and replace the jars. Then it hits me. The card. Brandon’s card. The feel of it.
He has to be a practitioner and I wonder who suggested the making of the bust. The answer will tell me a great deal. His approach to the making of it as well.
Brandon’s house is old Federation with stained glass windows either side of the front door. Art Nouveau and original work by Charles McIntosh. Brought here I imagine directly and my skin prickles with anticipation.
Brandon opens the door. He nods a greeting, all business. “I’ve a studio out back.”
I follow him into a modern space of white walls and golden polished wood. “How long can you stay?”
“A few hours if necessary.”
“I’ll take them. I’m particular about details and will walk around a lot,” he says.
“Not unexpected. I am used to the process.”
‘Good. I’ll get you some wine then we can start.”
He walks to a small bar fridge to one side and produces a sparkling rose, light and refreshing. I take a sip and appreciate its effervescence as I wander over to the big chair indicated and sit.
Sleeves up and smock on Brandon is ready and with charcoal in hand he draws in long sweeping strokes on paper.
The air fills with music. A scent rises. A mixture pleasurable, soothing and does not set off any warning bells.
“People once feared great art believing it must be magic,” Brandon muses softly, “or the devil’s work when the artist created a likeness too life- like. I prefer to think of it as looking into the others soul.”
“And mine?” I ask.
“We’ll see once I sculpt the wax model,” he says and continues to sketch me from all angles, his focus deep.
My skin tingles. He’s definitely tapping into an energy source. The same as mine? I cannot tell and it is frustrating.
He does not speak as he pulls off reams of pad and leaves them scattered over the bench.
When he finally puts the charcoal down I get up to look at his last drawing. It is a full portrait and I am dressed in a Renaissance gown, breasts like curving moons above the neckline.
It is the exact same dress I’d worn for another sitting centuries ago. I pick it up.
“I couldn’t resist,” he says.
“I see that. But your style is not his,” and I let the page fall.
“You knew him well.”
My smile is sharp. “Very well, and you were… a student?”
“His son actually.”
“Mother?” I do not miss a beat.
“No longer living.”
“My condolences,” I say and wait for more. Instead he gathers the pages silently. I press. “Do you have siblings?”
“A sister. You’d like her, she has a flair for the dramatic.”
I laugh. “She lives here?”
“Not with me. She’s rather occupied with an interesting assignment.”
“A lot going around,” I say keeping up the façade.
“I’ll have your wax bust ready in a few days. I’d like a final sitting and your approval before I make the bronze.”
“Fine. I’ll return then. Same time? ”
He nods then moves to usher me out. I feel his eyes on me but do not look back. I know he sent me the book but do not believe my master has passed on. Something else is at work here. I will find out then deal with Brandon.
Back home I make sure Lily is not around and start my preparations. I sit in my room and with pen and ink outline the tattoo hidden under my skin. I watch it rise to the surface and with it the moment of its inception.
The magic came from multiple sources, land, sea and air. It thrummed as my master stood above me deadly sharp quill ready. He cut. My blood mingled with the essence of all that flowed around and into me. His focus and intent brought a cascade of petals and music. Names. Places and numbers. A spell taking days. Endless pain.
The pain is as great now but mercifully brief. My arm is smoothing to unblemished skin. I run a finger down to be sure and there is no hint of what lies underneath. I can move onto the next phase in a few hours.
A door bangs. Lily is back. She is calling me, voice getting closer. I exit my room. It is too soon after the ritual and a residue of magic remains there. She’s saying, “In the paper. Look. A murder in the Avenues. They found a hatpin through the eye of a woman.”
I freeze. That was impossible. Then she says the deceased name - Gwen Andrews. Not my kill, though she lives close by.
I do not believe in co-incidence. The whole scenario is dodgy. Brandon looms as a prime suspect for a trap. I dismiss it eventually. The murder baffles authorities.
All remains normal at home. Lily flits about. I continue with my botanical water colours and wait the result of the test on the pressed flowers. Some places and names that emerge are true to their origins, the families. A few are ambiguese strong a few like an echo. No telling where the dead now lie.
Today it is time to go back to see Brandon’s wax sculpture. Inside his studio again, I face him. This time I am sure. Time to call him on it. “You, sent the book. Where did you get the flowers?”
Lily steps into the studio. “From me,” she says, eyes and voice now rapier sharp. “My name is actually Elissa. Our ancestor,” and she includes Brandon, “was the daughter of a perfume maker. She was reviled and eventually killed by an assassin. But she’d already birthed a daughter who carried a pressed flower in a locket.”
“The master was her lover? He had many,” I say cruelly.
“Perhaps. Our line perfected scents Infiltrated and trained under the master.”
“Our Grandmother was of the master’s first family but of mixed blood. Left for dead as a babe, but she survived. We are as entitled as you, to the master’s position.”
“The flowers speak for themselves. As do you,” voice now soft and chilling. “Did you think I didn’t know what you did to Alex?” And her scent is bold.
For once I am speechless.
Brandon moves quickly to unveil my wax sculpture. Black ink forms a pattern down one wax arm and pulls at my marks.
I try to stop them but my protections go and I am taken screaming into the bust. Into darkness and an endless existence without art, without scent.
Diana Whiley is a Mixed Media Artist and Writer living in Adelaide Australia. You can view her work at: https://dianakwhiley.weebly.com/