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Dark Muse

The whispering voice behind the Black Paintings.

By Roderick MakimPublished 12 months ago Updated 10 months ago 14 min read
Top Story - June 2023
27
By Francisco de Goya - [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4221233

Little Mariano de Goya was raised in a nightmare.

Whispering voices. Darkness reigning above his head. Madness staring down from the walls, eyes bulging with insanity’s awful knowledge.

His father, Javier, told him again and again to never go upstairs. An impossible thing to say to a small boy. Of course, little Mariano went upstairs.

“Never disturb the air where your grandfather’s paintings live,” his father told him. “The air is sick with them. The air is sick with their darkness, and it will infect you too.”

He tried everything to keep his boy away from the darkness above their heads, on the second storey of the House of the Deaf. When simply telling the boy not to go upstairs didn’t work, he tried barriers on the staircase. When that didn’t work, he added a door at the top of the stairs, and kept it locked.

But somehow (and Javier feared he knew how, and he would not name that fear) little Mariano always found his way in.

For all his efforts, Javier de Goya spent hours upstairs himself, with his own father’s paintings. He couldn’t stay away from them, either. This struck Mariano as more than a little unfair.

It was Mariano’s house, after all.

His grandfather had gone to France with his young mistress and his old madness, and he had left the House of the Deaf to Mariano. Not to his son, Javier. Little Mariano didn’t really understand the business of succession, but he understood the business of ownership as well as any child.

This is mine.

Mine, said a voice in mind that brooked no argument. The house was his. His grandfather told him so, and he should be allowed to go anywhere in it he pleased. The voice grew louder whenever he found himself upstairs, where his grandfather’s mighty paintings looked down on him from the walls.

Up the stairs in the House of the Deaf, where his grandfather’s paintings lived. A monstrous, twisted form of life, leeching off the living. Mind parasites, infecting and polluting with their madness.

With their rage.

With their hate.

With their insanity, just sane enough to know the horror of their madness.

Live they were, and live they are. They each have their own voice, that whispers to all who see them.

But Mariano thought the best voice was the voice behind all of them. The one he couldn’t stop listening to, the one that kept drawing him back upstairs.

The voice that birthed the paintings in the mind of the artist who painted them. The artist who then fled the country and never set foot in this house again, never to speak a word of the paintings to anyone, to the day he died.

Dark muse. Dark voice of the House of the Deaf.

I should know. The voice was mine.

__

Perhaps I should begin at the Beginning.

Yes. That one. The formless void. The darkness. The voice of God, creating the heaven and the earth. Fallen angels raging against the injustice of Creation. Humanity inheriting the earth and being cursed for knowledge. But first – the formless void. The darkness. The voice of God.

Do you see it?

No? Ah well, no-one ever does. At least, not at first.

__

I am only a minor voice, to be fair. I certainly would not expect you to know my name.

It was never one of the important names, and I was not cast down for any of the important crimes. Barely a crime at all, as far as I am concerned. I did not rage against Heaven and God’s Creation at all. I mean, not really. I merely reflected the reality of Creation back to itself, as any good Muse does.

And I am an excellent Muse.

But not long after the Beginning, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to change my ways. My artistic vision was not appreciated. Apparently I sang from the wrong song-sheet, and for that I was called mad, evil, a demon.

But not mad, I. I merely reflected humanity’s madness back to itself. The sheer, unbridled insanity of God’s favoured youngest children. And for that, I was cast down. For that, I was cursed. Cursed with the ultimate deafness – to never again hear the voice of God.

And like any minor spirit, I was trapped to a single place. No longer able to roam the majesty of the cosmos as I wished, here I was trapped on a scrap of dust, not far from what would eventually be called Madrid.

Roaming hunter-gatherers would pass by my scrap of dust and hear my voice on the air. They would fight and kill one another and talk of evil omens, until none passed by anymore.

Shepherds would bring their flocks past my scrap of dust and hear my voice in their minds. The sheep and men scarcely more than sheep would skitter around nervously and then scatter like a wolf had appeared over the hills. Until no more shepherds brought their flocks here anymore.

Marching armies would stop here, and in the camps at night my artistic visions would flood their dreams. The next day they would march on, and atrocity would follow in their stamping footsteps.

For a while, there was a hovel here, while Kings and Queens ruled not far away in Madrid, while New Worlds were discovered, while plagues ravaged. None lived in the hovel for long. Finally, a house was built here and a deaf man lived in it. They named the house after him, but they never stopped to ask themselves why the man went deaf here, in this place.

I was bored, and the man had no artistic talent to speak of. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is, as a muse, to finally have a subject to work upon for an extended period, only for that subject to be unable to go even close to realising the vision that muse has bestowed upon him?

So perhaps I went a bit too hard on him, whispering in his mind until the dull little soul poured hot candle-wax in his ears. The house was empty again, after him, and I thought I had blown my chance.

But then…ah. Francisco de Goya. The greatest painter of his age, already on his road to madness. And he chose this place to live. Perhaps he heard my calls on the wind, one day as he passed by. Francisco de Goya came to the House of the Deaf, and he heard the voice of the Muse in his mind. My voice. In wolf-eye yellow light of flickering candles he transfigured the walls into a mighty exhibition of my vision.

Thirteen mighty paintings that show the true face of humanity, in all its darkness.

I know people try to claim there are fourteen, but only thirteen are mine. We don’t talk about the dog. That damn little dog. That one is Goya’s alone. It still annoys he how he snuck that one past me.

Still, though. Goya. What a subject for a Muse to whisper their vision to. What an artist to tell my stories after I whispered them into his mind. Honestly, I am grateful to him – despite how he tried to trick me in the end.

__

Of course I am grateful – I am not a churlish spirit. Look at the job he did. Each painting is alive, and all speak with their own voice. But any parent will tell you (if they are being honest) that they have a favourite. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Saturn is mine.

Saturn.

Saturn stares out at you, as he devours his dead child. Mad and horrified, with awful pain in his eyes at what he does, but unable to stop himself in his ever-hungry madness.

Can you imagine a more accurate representation of the self-destructive madness of humanity? A species that kills itself so readily. A species that eats its own young, while holding them tight.

Adults killing the future of their own children, for their own greed and gratification. Slaughtering their future to sate their own terrible hunger.

I am only a minor voice, and my ability to foresee and foretell is limited, but whenever it is you happen to see the image of Saturn devouring his child, ask yourself if it fails to tell the story of what humanity is doing to itself, whenever your ‘right now’ happens to be. It will always be accurate. I know.

Poor little humans. You know you never really had a chance of being any different, given the nature of how it all started. Way back at the Beginning.

Do you see it now? The formless void, the darkness, the voice of God? I have never understood how anyone could fail to see it. Deafness was my curse, because I never understood how people could not see.

The darkness. And God said Let There Be Light. You poor fool, how do you not see it?

There was ONLY darkness. And God said, Let There Be Light. God is the darkness. The Light is just a bright little thought-bubble. A floating, meaningless and entirely temporary thing. Ready to pop out of existence again, just as easily as it popped into it. All done in a mere nano-second, when viewed relative to the endless existence of the Eternal Dark.

You see it now.

You do, don’t you? You see how that one, simple shift makes sense of everything. All the horror of existence, for all time, in all the world. All the murder, rape, torture. All the crushing injustice and corruption. All the endless, endless wars over nothing. All the evil.

A baby too weak to wail as it starves to death, holding tight to its dead mother in a plague-struck hovel. All these things have I seen, trapped here forever in the House of the Deaf.

All of it. There was never any other way for life to be, when the Light came from the Darkness. When the Creator is the Darkness.

When God cannot stop himself from devouring his own child, Creation.

When God is evil.

__

Yes, Saturn is definitely my favourite. I waited years without number for an artist great enough to reveal the true splendour of my vision and Goya surpassed even what I first saw, all the way back at the Beginning, when first I gave voice to my creative genius.

For this artistic vision, God cursed me and cast me down with the rest of his children who dared question Him, and honestly, if that doesn’t just prove my point then what does?

__

But still, Goya did trick me in the end.

Even worse, I didn’t realise it for the longest time. Me! Ah well, even a genius can be fooled when everything seems to be going perfectly. After all, the greatest artist of the age was here in my house, transfiguring the walls with my vision – what cause had I to doubt everything was going according to plan?

Even when he suddenly fled to France, I wasn’t overly worried. I just thought the mad old fool had finally snapped. I didn’t mind. He had already finished the paintings. It didn’t occur to me what his real plan was, not until I heard his son Javier telling little Mariano about it, in another failed attempt to keep him away from upstairs.

__

‘I know you are young, Mariano, but you must understand.

The voices you hear, from your grandfather’s paintings. They are real, but they come from the one voice. The dark spirit of this place. Your grandfather knew it, and it almost destroyed him. But he had a plan.

He painted the images the spirit of this place wanted him to paint, but he made sure he kept a hold of a piece of his sanity while he did it. Do you know how?

The little dog, Mariano. Your grandfather’s soul, looking frightened back over the dark hill at the horrors of this place, but refusing to run away. The voice of this place must have thought it was one of his own, as your grandfather painted it, and by the time he realised it was not, it was too late.

And something else, the voice realised too late, if it realised at all. Something only an artist such as your grandfather could have achieved. He did not merely take the vision of the spirit of this place and paint it on the walls – he took the spirit itself.

No longer a disembodied voice, it is now trapped in his pigments, glued in place to the walls of this house, upstairs where he painted them. Trapped here in the dark, where no-one out in the world will ever see them. For that is what the voice wants, more than anything. It wants its vision to be seen, by the whole world.

And now its vision and itself alike are trapped in a little house, on dark walls that no-one will see. And walls can be destroyed, Mariano. Walls can be knocked down and made to rubble. With the little dog, your grandfather was able to keep hold of a piece of his soul and sanity and painted a way to destroy the spirit of this place, even as it used him. But he could not destroy it himself.

The voice was too much in his mind.

And it is too much in mine. I have spent too much time upstairs with the paintings, listening to their voices. I will never be able to destroy this place, the way your grandfather wants. That is why he left the house to you.

When you come of age, you will be able to have this house knocked down, destroyed completely, with the paintings and the voice of this place destroyed with it. That is why you must not go upstairs, Mariano, and you must not listen to the voices up there that live in the paintings. When you come of age, you must be able to destroy this place.

Promise me you will not go upstairs.’

__

I cannot tell you how furious I was when I heard this. I raged. I screamed. And I could not move. It hadn’t occurred to me at all, while Goya painted. Even when he left and Javier and Mariano lived downstairs, it did not once cross my mind. I had just been so delighted with the paintings and how well they exhibited my own genius that the whole time, I hadn’t even thought of leaving them to go anywhere else in the house.

But it was true. I could no longer move where I wished, in my own house. In my own patch of dust where I had been trapped for years without number. Now, I was trapped in an even smaller space, upstairs on the walls. And it was also true – he had not merely painted those walls; he had transfigured them. He had taken so much of my vision that he took my very soul and transported it onto these walls.

Made me into flesh and blood, so to speak.

Honestly, who is to say whether or not Goya’s sneaking little plan would have worked. Perhaps knocking the walls down to rubble would have done nothing more than release me, back to being nothing more than a disembodied voice on the wind on this little patch of earth.

Equally (and I am nothing if not honest) I have to admit that I was just a little worried. For the first time in years without number, I was afraid.

Just a little.

__

All this Javier tried to tell Mariano, but Mariano was very young and the house belonged to him, and he should be able to go wherever he liked in his own house. And he kept finding his way upstairs, to listen to his grandfather’s paintings. And I went to work, whispering, whispering, whispering into his mind.

__

‘Hear my voice. Hear my words and know them to be true. You will let them out. One day, you will let them out, little Mariano. You will remember me as merely a childhood fancy, if you remember me at all. All you will know is that in the house your grandfather left you, there live your grandfather’s paintings. You will know that they will be worth a lot of money.

And you will need the money, Mariano. I don’t need any special skills in seeing the future to foretell this with utter certainty. You are human, you are alive in the world. You will need the money.

You will let the paintings out. Escaped into the world.

And under the cover of Enlightenment, when all the old knowledge of demons, spirits and curses is lost, the world will be cursed forever with my artistic vision.

With my realism.

With my genius.

I will be seen. I will be heard. I will be in the world once more. Through my art, I will exist outside of this space, no more confined to this crumbling altar of dust and madness. Escaped forever from the House of the Deaf, out into the world.

Out into the legion mind of humanity.

Forever.’

__

In the place where time’s

Ticking

Slows and you feel

Moments in strobe-light

Time

Slow motion seconds

And you hear the

Roaring silence

In your ears

The silence of the spaces

Between the atoms

And you see the light burning

In your eyes even as you

Blink

And you feel the weight pressing

Down on your chest.

That is where you find me.

Dark muse.

Waiting to fill that silence

In your ears

With my own

Dark imaginings

Intrusive creativity unlooked for

Unwanted but

Here all the same when all you can

Hear is that roaring

Empty

Silence

In the House of the Deaf.

Author’s note:

The existence of the Black Paintings (as they came to be called) was unknown until well after Goya’s death. He never spoke of them, and they remained hidden away, painted on the walls of a house to which he never returned. Several decades later, his grandson who owned the house sold them to a rich nobleman, who had the paintings taken down off the walls, and brought them out into the world. Perhaps Mariano thought his grandfather’s works were too great to remain hidden forever. Perhaps he just needed the money.

A more accurate translation of “Quinta del Sordo” would probably be “Villa of the Deaf One” rather than “House of the Deaf”, but I preferred the latter for this story. It just sounded a little more ominous to me.

While characters in this story such as Mariano, Francisco and Javier de Goya were real people, creative liberties have been taken with events. For example, when his grandfather left Spain to live in France, leaving the Quinta del Sordo to him, Mariano was about a decade or so older than this story describes him. I’m not entirely sure why – it’s just the way the story first appeared when I heard it, in my mind.

Fiction
27

About the Creator

Roderick Makim

Read one too many adventure stories as a child and decided I'd make that my life.

I grew up on a cattle station in the Australian Outback and decided to spend the rest of my life seeing the rest of the world.

For more: www.roderickmakim.com

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Comments (12)

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  • Mackenzie Davis10 months ago

    Absolutely fantastic. I love the frame narrative here; that mystery at the beginning is just enough to lure the reader in and then they get smacked with a demon narrator...Wow! So much thought went into this, so many details are attended to. I particularly enjoyed the *thirteen* paintings, nice nod to superstition, and this line: "But not mad, I. I merely reflected humanity’s madness back to itself." That "I. I" is so subtle, but I did notice it. A reflection in the sentence! The poem at the end, I think is the best way you could have tied this up. It has an almost Poe touch to it. You made the Dark Muse so real to me that I am terrified by the truth: that those paintings were removed from the house, that he was released, that the horror of this world is unleashed because of him. Of course, the philosophy of this piece could spur on a whole debate. But I like sitting in the space between fact and fiction, as you have done here, and ponder all that has come from the beginning and builds into now and beyond. Well done. This is masterful writing.

  • Raymond G. Taylor11 months ago

    Great story and thanks for sharing. We need more de Goya! I have included your article on my reviews blog for the Art community. Here if you want to take a look: https://vocal.media/art/art-for-our-sake Best wishes, Ray

  • Penelope Jane12 months ago

    Amazing, incredible job. This is the best thing I've read on Vocal ever. I love the way you used the real life events to guide you, but you really tickled my brain when talking about how the darkness is God. I will be thinking about this for years to come.

  • Gerald Holmes12 months ago

    Such great story-telling. You kept my attention from beginning to end. I will be very surprised if this doesn't place in the challenge. Congrats on a well deserved Top Story.

  • Daniel12 months ago

    That's a great narrative

  • Abdulrhmn Hwa12 months ago

    Great!!

  • Raymond G. Taylor12 months ago

    Great narrative and reminds me of a visit to a de Goya exhibition in London many years ago with my late father. Thanks for sharing

  • Phil Flannery12 months ago

    Well done sir. You know when you hear a song, find a painting, read a story, and all you can think is, "I wish I'd done that", well you've done that. That was riveting.

  • C.R. Hughes12 months ago

    Whoa this was so good. I'm in awe. The idea of an actual demon inspiring the Dark Paintings is such a captivating choice already, but to have the demon be the narrator? That's brilliant. It reminds me vaguely of "Paradise Lost" because Satan was the protagonist of that story. I wish I could like this a hundred times. Great job!

  • Rob Angeli12 months ago

    Nice, really profound and creepy.

  • R. J. Rani12 months ago

    Goodness gracious. This was a brilliant piece of storytelling, Roderick - full of detail and suspense and characters that whisper and scream all at the same time. I particularly enjoy your writing style. I’m so glad you wrote this and will be looking for more written by you 🤗

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