The Carmine Canvas
I am the Artist. This is my Muse.
The alley smelled like piss and garbage. I took a long drag from my cigarette as I stared at the wall in front of me. Street art was common in this city, some of it was even good. This one was different, though. After all, street art usually isn’t signed with a blood splatter.
I tucked my khakis up towards my waist and knelt down to look at the bottom corner of the art. Sure enough, a streak of crimson marked the artist's signature. This was the fifth one in the last six months. I stood up and took a step back to look at the picture in its entirety.
It showed skill, but that was nothing new either. It depicted one face split into three fractured forms from left to right. The face had soft eyes, wavy black hair, and distorted features in all three forms across the art. The central face was covering its eyes with both thumbs.
I wasn’t an art critic, so none of it meant a damn thing to me.
I looked to my right and saw a rookie patrolman standing at attention beside me. He adjusted his hat and waited for me to acknowledge him.
“We’ve secured the perimeter. Do you think it’s him?”
I dropped my cigarette onto the ground and stamped it out with the heel of my shoe.
“Yeah, it’s him all right.”
“Should I get a sample of the signature for a DNA test?”
I shook my head. “Already had one sent in, but we all know what it’s going to say.”
The patrolman nodded. “The missing kid, right?”
I could picture his face, or I could just look at the fucking wall in front of me. That’s how this killer worked. He’d send a missing person flier into the station shortly after it was reported, and he’d always write the same message on the backside:
I AM THE ARTIST. THIS IS MY MUSE.
The flier comes to the station, and days later a new art piece goes up somewhere in the city with the victim’s blood left as a signature. Nothing else to go on. No body, no prints, not even a strand of hair.
Until I could find a lead, the routine was always the same. It was a case that kept me up at night. The internet was having a field day with it. The lack of any leads beyond the blood in the artist’s signature wasn’t helping matters either.
“I’m heading out, tell them to call me when the DNA test results come in,” I said.
The patrolman nodded. “Sure thing detective.”
I started the journey back to the street. I needed a cab home, a stiff drink, and some time to think. As I reached the end of the alley though, piercing screams echoed out from the alley behind me. It was full of agony and anguish, like someone being tortured.
“DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!” the voice screamed.
I spun back around and reached for my gun, but saw only the patrolman quietly jotting down something in his notepad.
“You hear that?” I asked.
“Hear what detective?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. Have a good night.”
I turned back to the street, watching the cars pass by as a rain shower slowly started to fall around me. I slid a new cigarette between my lips and waved down a passing taxi.
“I need to get some fucking sleep,” I whispered.
The taxi came to a stop in front of me. I threw the door open and collapsed into the backseat. The driver was a scrawny man with shoulder-length curly brown hair. He wore a black fedora and reflective sunglasses with circular lenses.
“Corner of Edgecomb and 160th,” I said, fumbling for my lighter.
“Need a light?” the driver asked.
I nodded and leaned forward, holding the cigarette out between the two front seats. The driver turned around with a silver lighter in his hands. From behind his reflective sunglasses, I saw a pair of glowing red eyes.
My whole body froze. I watched helplessly as the driver took the cigarette out of my mouth and placed it into his own. He lit the opposite end with a flick of his lighter and smiled.
“I am the artist, detective. You are my muse.”
With a snap of his fingers, everything went black.
My eyes shot open. I was surrounded by darkness. I couldn’t move my arms, my legs, or my mouth. I felt a thin bed beneath me. My breathing was slow and deliberate, as if my entire body was on autopilot. My mind was racing.
“I see you’re awake. Let me ask you a question, detective.”
A fluorescent light illuminated above me, sending spots exploding across my vision.
“Would you prefer to know the exact day and hour of your death? I think I would like it to be a surprise. I’d like to think my muses agree.”
As my vision came into focus, I saw the cab driver standing over me. He was still wearing those reflective sunglasses, but they couldn’t hide the carmine glow of his eyes behind them. He took off his fedora and laid it down somewhere outside my view.
His shoulder-length curly hair beneath had gone from a healthy brown to a thin and ashy gray since I’d last seen him. His skin was wrinkled and cracked. He looked like he was on the edge of death.
“My art sustains me, detective. That is why I must continue.”
My thoughts were consumed with questions, but I couldn’t ask a single one.
“I know you must be confused, maybe even scared. But don’t worry detective.”
The driver turned and hit a switch outside my view. Neon lights illuminated the space around us. He reached down and grasped my head, turning it to the side so I could take in the view.
We were in a hospital. I could see the bars of the gurney I laid in, and beyond them the hall was lined with other hospital beds, all filled with people.
He turned my head back to face him and grinned like an excited child.
“Rejoice, detective! You’re about to become a part of something greater than yourself.”
He unlocked the brakes on the gurney and wheeled me down the hall. Lights passed above and I heard the thud of doors as he pushed out into the main lobby. When the gurney stopped, he turned my head to face a blank wall that stretched the length of the lobby’s back wall.
A sign stood in front of the blank canvas.
New Mural Coming Soon! It read.
He laid my head back to face the ceiling. I watched helplessly as he left and returned with a shining scalpel in hand. The blade came down and dragged across my neck. I felt hot blood spill across my neck.
The driver set the scalpel down and replaced it with a paintbrush. I watched in horror as my own blood rose up through the air like a serpent. It coiled and wrapped itself around the tip of his brush, staining it a deep red.
Color returned to his pale skin. The wrinkles on his face smoothed out, and his brittle hair gained a renewed vigor.
The driver smiled.
“This will be my greatest work yet.”
About the author
Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab