Lisa tapped her foot gently back and forth between the table legs in the large conference room, tracing her fingers into the shape of hairy dicks under the table, counting down the clock for lunch while her boss, Barry, continued to drone on and on about graphs and financials. This meeting could have easily been an email rather than pulling all thirteen of the company’s employees into a stuffy room built for seven. She tried not to make it clear that she was bored up to her sweaty tits.
“Brrrgggurgll,” came a noise directly from her center. Lisa clasped her stomach and adjusted herself in her seat. The conference room was silent and Barry looked at his watch.
“Lisa makes a valid point,” he said, “it’s time for lunch. I’ll send the results of the project to you by email. Lisa, just a moment?”
The team chuckled as they gathered their laptops and exited the room. When the door closed behind the last analyst Lisa, with an awkward smile, turned to Barry and said, “Yes, Mr. Kontor?”
“That last report you sent me, for the Tanek project, I need you to adjust those numbers so that the fiscal year is represented as February to January.”
“But that isn’t the actual fiscal year.”
“Oh, I know, but it would make the numbers look a lot better and we really need to present that report in the best light.”
“Isn’t that fraud?”
“Oh, goodness no,” he feigned offense and walked around the conference table behind her. He placed his hands on Lisa’s shoulders and she felt a shiver run through her muscles, “it’s just showing the numbers in a different way. The investors don’t know what our fiscal year is.”
“Yes, Mr. Kontor, I’ll get the report back to you before the end of the day with the adjustments,” Lisa agreed reluctantly so that she could exit the room and shake off his touch.
“Thank you, Lisa,” he excused her, but he stopped her before she was all the way out of the room, “Oh, and, sweetheart, could you do me one more favor?”
“Sir,” she cringed.
“If you’re going out for lunch today, there is a really good coffee place on Keres Street, could you stop and get me another coffee?” he turned his ‘Best Boss’ mug over to show it was empty, “No sugar, just a dash of cream.”
Lisa couldn’t rush out of the conference room faster. It had taken nineteen years for Lisa to climb the ladder in the corporation, starting as a secretary, earning her degree, proving her worth, and she was still getting coffee for the boss. She wasn’t just feeling stymied at work, but with so few outlooks on the future of her career she was also feeling it in life in general. She started to bring in kitsch, but all the Maneki Neko, smiling Buddha, and hand-blown glass roosters in the world wouldn’t change Lisa’s attitude.
Lisa hadn’t planned on going out for lunch. Each weekend Lisa would make five meals for the week to store in the fridge. This week her lunch was a homemade salad with spinach, cherry tomatoes, baby corn, and garbanzo beans. She might switch up the dressing but preferred bleu cheese.
She pulled her salad from the fridge and stared at it. She was so tired of the same thing day in and day out; she needed something different, and if she was going to go out and get Barry coffee anyway... She tossed the unopened Tupperware into the trash and walked out the door on her way to Keres Street.
As she walked she passed a hotdog vendor. She had never eaten food from a street cart and it seemed intriguing. She fished some dollar bills from her pocket and ordered a hotdog with cheese, relish, and mustard. She ate it as she continued down the street.
A gallery caught her eye, Radsla Art and Antiques, pushed back from the larger buildings; it was a hidden gem that sparked some intrigue. It had large glass windows displaying several intricate pieces; the displays said they were oil paintings, but they were so incredibly lifelike that it was hard to believe they weren’t blown up photos.
The first was a man slight bespectacled man with tall, wavy, brown hair. He wore a loosened tie over a partially unbuttoned shirt which were tucked into black trousers. One shoe was on and the other was floating away. He looked serene as he floated in an endless pool of water.
The second was a little girl in ballerina dress. She sat at the top of a large grassy knoll as moonlight shone down on her from above. You could see some of the stars shining beyond, but the edges of the painting were dark to silhouette her.
The third was an elderly woman, more than elderly, ancient. She sat upright and proper, with her hands folded in her lap, in a highbacked wooden chair. There wood paneled room she sat in was nearly bare save the sawdust on the floor.
The fourth was a mohawked young man sitting at a pink and white child’s tea set. He wore a sleeveless black jean jacket to show off the dozens of old school tattoos that stretched from fingertip to jawline.
There was a spot near the door where a nail stuck out. It was clear that something was meant to hang there, but was waiting for something new.
She spent so much time looking at the artwork that she nearly forgot the coffee for Mr. Kontor. It was the first time in a long time she felt energized and couldn’t wait to come back the next day.
She returned to view the artwork any day she had a bad day at work, which meant that she returned the next day and every day for the next two weeks; she didn’t even mind that the gallery never seemed to open, but the more she visited the more she grew intrigued about the artist inside. There was no sign to indicate when the shop opened and no phone numbers to call for more information. She tried changing her lunch hour and stopping by before or after work, but the shop remained closed and locked.
One day, as she stared at her favorite of the four pieces, she heard a bell tinkle and the door creaked ever so slightly open. With only a little hesitancy, she pinched the door and pulled it the rest of the way open to peek inside.
“Hello,” she whispered, “are you open?”
There was no answer, but she took the opportunity to open the door the rest of the way and walk inside.
“The door was open,” she said with more confidence, looking around the dimly lit space. It was larger than it had appeared on the outside with several exhibit walls set up creating a maze-like structure. The walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with dozens, maybe hundreds, of additional artworks and a few scattered tables filled with random metallic gadgets and doodads.
There was a rotund man sitting on a bench who was holding a large batch of balloons, a teenage boy sitting horseback in a meadow, a cowboy standing behind a roaring fire, a gorgeous woman submerged in a bubble filled bathtub, a girl jumping so high into the air that you couldn’t see the ground below her, a fully dressed clown with big, floppy, red shoes.
As she wandered from the front of the gallery to the back, taking her time with each new piece, she found a large open space.
“Hello,” came a meek voice as a hidden door opened and a small man in a painter’s robe and scally cap came out. He was holding a paintbrush and a jar of filthy brown water, “I thought I heard the door open.”
“I’m so sorry if I’m trespassing. The door was open,” Lisa said, hands up in defense, “I just had to see the beautiful works you have inside.”
“No harm, my dear” said the man with an unplaceable accent, “and I appreciate the compliment.”
“You’re the artist?”
The man raised an eyebrow and gestured to himself with the paintbrush.
“Of course you are, my apologies.”
“Atropos Radsla at your service,” the small man bowed, “but please call me Poe. You may look to your hearts content.”
“I’ve been admiring the pieces in your windows on my lunchbreak. I have been hoping to see more, but you’ve been closed.”
“I like to close shop when I work on a new piece. I’ve had a bit of an artistic block,” he said, “I thought closing might help me focus, but I’ve lost my inspiration.”
“They are all so beautiful and realistic,” Lisa said as she gazed a shirtless black model framed to appear as if he was holding the edges of the painting in place.
“I’ve been a little stuck on this new one, but you are giving me a little inspiration,” eyeing her up and down, “Would you be interested in sitting for me?”
“Oh, Mr. Poe! That sounds lovely, but I’m not really a model.”
“Please, just Poe, and everyone is a model,” replied Poe with a twinkle in his eye, “and that door opening must have been fate calling. You really are the inspiration I needed. Please, you must sit for me.”
“I’m only on my lunch break and it’s almost over. I only get an hour. I really couldn’t today.”
“Come back tomorrow then. Eat quick and we can use the remainder of your break. When we run out of time we can pause until the next day.”
It didn’t take Lisa long to think it over. She agreed and shook the small man’s hands with a huge grin on her face, “I’ll be back tomorrow at 11am sharp.”
Lisa eagerly arrived 10 minutes early the next day. Poe was still setting his easel up in the large space.
“I thought you might prefer to sit in this room so that you can take a look at the works around you while I paint. Please have a seat,” he gestured to a rolling chair across from the easel. It was awkwardly the same brand of executive rolling chair that she sat in at her office, but she knew it would at least be more comfortable than the little stool Poe sat on. She sat down.
“I hope what I am wearing is okay,” she gestured to the white skirt and blouse combo she had worn.
“Yes, yes, it is perfect. It’s your face that I need the most. You may move your eyes and hands, but please try not to move your head too much,” Poe said as he sat down and started dipping his brush into the paint.
Lisa focused on a painting of a dark-skinned woman in a blood-red dress and dripping in gold jewelry. She held a very large yellow snake. The snake rested its head on the woman’s palm and they stared into each other’s eyes. Its body wrapped around her arm and down her body with the tip of the tail resting between her bare feet. The imagery was so vivid she could almost hear the hiss of the snake. The more she looked the more she felt like the snake was curling tighter and tighter around the woman. It blinked its eyes and opened its mouth and –
Before she had a chance to let her eyes wander to another painting she heard Poe say, “I think that’s enough for today. We’ll get you back to work so that you don’t get in trouble.”
“Did an hour really go by?”
“Yes, and quite a tight one, I don’t want you to be late. I’ll see you again tomorrow? Same time?”
“I’ll be here.”
Lisa came back the next day, eager to shake off another painfully bad day at work, and took her seat. This time she focused on a painting of a disheveled young man in suit and tie working to open a closed umbrella. Lightning scattered the dark clouds in the background. The deeper she looked she could almost hear the crash of thunder.
“Tell me about you,” said Poe, startling her out of her focus, “you can move a little more today. Tell me about you. Go deep, give me your beginnings and your fears. It will help me capture the essence of Lisa Mallory.”
Lisa blushed, trying to remember when she had introduced herself. Sitting for the artist had all been such a blur. “Oh, there isn’t much to tell. I grew up in the city and haven’t travelled a lot. I went to Calabi-Yau University and graduated with a master’s in business administration.”
Lisa stared into the eyes of the man trying to open the umbrella as she spoke, “I think my biggest fear, right now, is being stuck in my job, working for a man that doesn’t respect me. A man that graduated in my same class and thinks he’s smarter than me because he has a cock.”
Thunder in the distance grew louder. Lisa kept talking, “Never taking chances, never progressing. I sit at my desk and dream about escaping while my boss aims his eyes at my tits and his hand at my ass. He’ll treat me like his personal assistant and call me sugar tits and it won’t matter how hard I try to avoid him I will dread, day after day, going into the office.”
She saw the lightning begin to sparkle and she continued, “spending my every waking day at that desk, letting my degree go to waste, until the moment I release my last breath and topple over onto my desk dead on a Friday evening and the janitors find my smelly dead corpse bloating and maggot filled the next Monday morning and even then my boss asks why I’m not being productive enough.”
Rain started to pour down on the man and he still couldn’t get his umbrella open. The wind whipped up, the umbrella burst from his hands, and rain pelted him from every angle as he tried to cower in his suitjacket.
“That’s enough for today,” said Poe.
Lisa broke from her trancelike fantasy, “oh, the hour goes by so fast.”
“Yes, it does.”
May I have a preview of your progress?” Lisa asked.
“Each artist is different and I’m afraid the work would cease to pull you in just right if you see it before it is done, but soon.”
It was hard to get through work the next day, she was barely focused on anything anyone was saying.
“Earth to Lisa,” she distantly heard Sharon, the only other female employee, say with snapping fingers. “Earth to Lisaaaaaa!”
“Sorry, I was just thinking about this artist I met.”
“Oh? An Artist, are you finally off the market?”
“No,” Lisa blushed, “not like that. It’s a little art gallery down Keres Street. I stopped there a couple weeks ago and the art is just amazing.”
She went on to tell Sharon about Radsla’s gallery and the funny little man who wanted to paint her. She described the big windows and the empty space, “I think my portrait might get hung right in the empty space by the door when he’s done.”
“That’s really cool, I’ll have to check it out when it’s done. But, right now, for real, you should get focused on the Tanek project. Mr. Kontor is in the kind of mood where you better either show really good report results or unbutton your blouse a little… and I’ve seen your reports lately,” Sharon walked away.
Lisa checked her watch, it was still a couple hours away until her lunch break. She unbuttoned a button on her blouse and started into her report. She stretched her neck back and forth, looked at her pie charts with a grimace, and unbuttoned a second button.
When she arrived at Radsla’s she was ready to go. She sat on her chair and, with complete wordless understanding between herself and the artist, he began to paint.
Lisa focused on the portrait of a pregnant mother. She was beautiful enough to be an old-fashioned pin-up with a bouffant of red hair and a red ribbon tied around a cherry bedazzled white dress. She was sitting at the end of a picnic table, one hand cradling her swollen belly, the other lounging on the red and white checked tablecloth. There were rectangular sandwiches stacked on a plate next to her. The details in the paint were so good you could nearly see water glistening off a clear pitcher.
“You mentioned your job yesterday. Why do you stay there?”
“It pays me enough to be comfortable and I worked hard at school to get to where I am. I might be getting a promotion if I spend a little time working on the weekend.”
The woman took a deep breath and, with one hand still on her pregnant belly, pinched a sandwich between forefinger and thumb. She put it to her lips and took a bite.
“I thought you said you fear it. That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Tell me,” Poe said.
The woman chewed and swallowed. She blinked. She swallowed. She squeezed her eyes together and she swallowed. She put her hands to her throat, opened her bulging eyes wide, and opened her mouth in a forceful, but silent, scream.
“It wasn’t at first, then I started working late and then working weekends; I was taking work home. I didn’t have anyone in my life and I didn’t want anyone in my life. After nineteen years I was so deeply invested that I had nothing else and I’m still pouring coffee for a misogynist.”
The pregnant woman had fallen to her knees. She desperately moved from clutching her throat to the rhythmic pounding of fists to the soft spot under her ribcage. The veins in her eyes burst one by one as she collapsed to the ground and thrashed about. Her belly wiggled with choking life as a tiny hand or foot pushed, begging for air that wasn’t arriving.
“Coming to your gallery was the first thing I had done for myself in a long time and I want more of it. I want to be part of something bigger and now my greatest fear in the world is leaving this art gallery and going back to the office. I have so much life and potential. I can accomplish any dream that I put my mind to. I am going to stay as long as you need me to stay because I am never going to go back.”
“I’m very glad to hear that Lisa Mallory,” said the little man, “but I am afraid our hour is up for the day.”
Lisa was jolted back into the gallery and the pregnant woman smiled pleasantly down at her from her seat at the edge of the picnic table.
“Oh,” Lisa blinked, “I got a little caught up. I didn’t realize that the hour went by so quickly.”
“It’s always does,” said Poe with a queer smile as he showed her to the door, “I’ll see you again soon.”
Lisa took her time walking back to work. She remembered the conversation she and Poe had like a fading dream, losing more and more of it the closer she got back to her office, yet the feeling of dread increased in kind.
She sat on the bus bench across the street from her building and stared at the front door. People came in and out and she just watched. She went from late to extremely late returning until her cellphone rang.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Lisa, it’s Barry, Kontor, we had a scheduled one on one and I was just informed you didn’t clock back in from lunch…”
“I quit Barry. I’m not coming back,” she said, choking back her terror. She turned her phone off before he could interject. She stood and walked directly back to the gallery.
The door to the shop was still unlocked and Lisa walked inside. The chime on the door tinkled as it closed behind her.
“Hello,” Lisa said, “I did it, Mr. Poe. I quit my job!”
She moved around the exhibit walls making her way to the rear. The easel was still in the center of the room, but Poe and his stool were gone. She tried to find the hidden door to the backroom, but the wall appeared seamless.
The portrait on the easel was covered in a black cloth. Lisa circled the hidden portrait. She pinched the corner of the cloth, tempted to take a sneak preview, and felt the silkiness between her fingers.
“Hello,” she said again.
“Hello,” came a small voice in return. It wasn’t Poe’s. It was the voice of a child.
She turned and saw a shadow slip around the corner of an exhibit wall with a giggle. She followed the shadow, “I didn’t know there was a kid here. Are you related to Mr. Radsla?”
There was no one there, but a portrait of a young girl stuck out. She sat on the edge of her bed and smiled back at the viewer. Lisa heard another giggle and turned to look around, but she didn’t see anyone. When she returned her gaze to the portrait she saw a hand reaching out from under the bed, gripping the girls ankle. Had it always been there?
She moved away from the girl’s portrait and heard a cracking sound. The portrait around the corner was a close up of a middle-aged man grinning widely, gray hairs sticking out from his ears, and as she looked deeper she saw his front tooth crack. The crack grew and spread as a trickle of blood dripped from his lips.
Lisa backed further into the gallery as she heard a scream from her right and the unsheathing of a knife from her left.
Somewhere a vicious sounding dog growled.
“Help,” came a whisper from behind her. She turned to see a portrait of a man half buried on the beach.
“Help,” came another whisper and she watched as the cowboy was engulfed in flames.
“Please,” said a voice as she watched a swarm of bees envelope a bald man.
A chorus of screams and pleas for help surrounded Lisa as she spun to witness each and every portrait in motion.
Without realizing it she had backed into her easel, nearly toppling it over. She turned to steady it and the black cloth over the portrait started to writhe and swirl.
“What the fuck,” she whispered and started to her way toward the exit. The cloth sunk into the portrait like a slow whirlpool.
Wind gusted from the man with the umbrella’s portrait. Water spilled onto the floor from the woman in the bubble filled bath.
Lisa slipped and spun on the floor, facing away from her swirling black nothing of her portrait. She struggled to stand as she was pulled back feet first and she felt a force lift her until the sole of her foot was pressed against the black canvas. It pulled and pulled and then –
Lisa woke up at her desk. Barry standing over her.
“Rise and shine sweetheart. Can’t have you falling asleep on the job.”
“I’m so sorry Mr. Kontor. I have no idea what happened.”
“Did you bring me my coffee?”
On her desk was the ‘Best Boss’ mug with fresh hot steam swirling as it rose from the surface. She didn’t remember getting it, but she also didn’t realize she had fallen asleep at her desk.
“Yes, sir, here it is,” she handed it to him.
“Thanks sweet cheeks,” he said, squeezing her shoulder, “don’t forget your report is due within the hour.”
Lisa closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. It had all been a dream. The whole thing had been a dream.
“Did you bring me my coffee?”
She opened her eyes to find Mr. Kontor standing over her desk.
The ‘Best Boss’ mug was on the edge of her desk, fresh hot steam swirling as it rose from the surface.
“Oh, ummm, yes Mr. Kontor,” she picked the mug up and handed it to him, “sorry.”
“You little ladies, you have to be on top of these things,” he said, tapping her on the forehead before brushing his hand across her arm, “don’t forget your report is due within the hour.”
“That was a weird déjà vu,” Lisa thought, standing to watch Mr. Kontor close his office door. She wanted to see if anyone else in the office had noticed, but quickly realized no one else was there.
“Did you bring me my coffee?”
The ‘Best Boss’ mug was on the edge of her desk, fresh hot steam swirling as it rose from the surface and Mr. Kontor was standing right behind her.
“Yes Mr. Kontor, it’s right here.”
“You need to relax, sweetheart. Take down one of these buttons,” he leaned in close and unlatched the top button on her blouse.
Lisa’s heart began to pound.
“Did you bring me my coffee?”
“I just can’t believe she up and quit like that. Didn’t even have the decency to come in and clean off her desk,” Sharon said on the phone as she dumped a box of kitsch into the nearest dumpster, “I had to work late to make up for her reports and clean off her desk of all her crappy little trinkets. Now I’ve missed the last direct bus, but don’t worry about me, I’m walking down Keres Street to catch the express. I’ll be home soon enough. See you soon.”
Sharon made a kissing noise to the phone before hanging it up and putting it into her purse. As she looked up she noticed she was outside a little art gallery. She watched as a hand appeared from behind the internal wall and hung a portrait up in an empty spot by the door, adjusting into position.
“I’ll be damned,” Sharon admired the portrait, “Lisa wasn’t exaggerating. That is a damn good painting. They even gave her the bosses mug.”
About the Creator
I'm Jeff Carter; I wanted a unique & personal pen name. Writing offers an opportunity to create and heal. These stories in the bizarre, horror, and magic realism help inspire me to move forward with novel writing. Thank you for reading.