Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
I’ve always been an art enthusiast. I guess I inherited that from my grandmother. She had been a painter for many years, and tried her best to instill a love of the fine arts in me. I have many fond memories of trips to museums and galleries with her, gazing upon the countless beautiful and thought provoking pieces.
Sculpture and photography were nice, but I always had a special place in my heart for paintings. Especially old oil paintings. It’s hard to explain. There’s a sort of special property to paintings that you can only appreciate with your eyes in person. Photographs do them no justice. The way the light refracts off of the oil, and bounces back to your eyes give them a sort of life that no other medium can.
Well as much as I loved oil paintings, I was never much good myself. As a child, my grandmother tried giving me lessons. She’d create a breathtaking scenery, whilst the only thing I managed to make was a colossal mess.
Despite my apparent lack of talent in the oil painting department, it did not in the slightest diminish my love for the craft. My grandmother had a room dedicated to the paintings she had created or collected, which she dubbed “the gallery”. I spent hour upon hour in that room, staring in wonderment.
Despite my being a child, my grandmother had no qualms with leaving me alone in a room with tens of thousands of dollars worth of paintings. She knew I had far too much respect for them to damage them, even as a bouncy little girl. She did, however, have one rule that was to be strictly adhered to at all times in the gallery: if any paintings in the gallery are covered, you are NOT to uncover them. Not even to peek.
Now some might think this a strange rule, I certainly did as a girl, but there is reason behind it. Oil paints are very sensitive, and it’s possible the pieces she had covered up could be damaged if exposed to light, or various other factors.
But regardless of the reasoning, I made sure to follow that rule. Or at least I did, until the day my grandmother received her newest piece.
I remember arriving at my grandmother’s home for a visit and running straight for the gallery. I rounded the corner into the room when I was forced to screech to a halt. There, in the center of the room was an incredibly large painting, propped up by an easel and covered with a long, dark curtain.
I had never seen the piece before, and the sheer size of it astounded me. My curiosity overtook me for a moment, and I found myself slowly reaching out a tiny hand to unveil the mysterious piece. But just as my hand grasped the dark velvet, my grandmother entered the room, wearing a frown.
“Evelyn what are you doing? You know the rule about covered paintings!”
My hand instantly whipped back to my side and my head sulked at the realization of my actions.
“I’m sorry Grandma. I forgot. This painting, it’s so huge! What is it?!”
My grandmother’s expression softened and she placed a hand on my shoulder.
“This painting was just given to me by a friend. Her ill sister painted it shortly before passing away. She said she couldn’t bear to look at it because it made her too sad, so she gave it to me.”
“May I see it?” I asked.
“Perhaps later. It’s very sensitive because it’s in poor condition. I’m going to try to preserve it though. After I’m done, I’ll let you see it like with all the others.” she warmly responded.
Although my curiosity was not satisfied, I agreed and resigned myself to looking at all the other pieces in the gallery. Content that I would no longer cause any sort of mischief, my grandmother returned to the sitting room.
I lay there in the soft plush carpet, gazing at the works of art until my focus drifted. Despite how bad I knew it was to disobey my grandmother, my curiosity continued to burn hot in my chest. I had already stared at each and every piece in the gallery to detail, and had grown restless. I had to see what was beneath the curtain.
Holding my breath, and tiptoed over to the massive easel and grasped the soft fabric in my hand. I’d just peek for a moment. It wouldn’t hurt. Just long enough to quench this burning need to know.
I released the breath I was holding and quickly pulled the curtain aside. Immediately, I felt myself release a gasp. I had seen countless paintings of all genres and matters, but none so utterly disturbing as what lay before me.
The painting depicted what appeared to be a pale young women. Her skin was a sickly yellow, and appeared clammy and unwell. She wore a tattered ivory dress, and her long black hair flowed behind her, seemingly following wind sources from no particular direction.
She sat in anguish, with her hands held up to the side of her face, digging her long black nails into the flesh. As uncomfortable as the piece was as a whole, what really unnerved me was her eyes and mouth. Black, gaping holes sunk into her head where they should have been, and a thick, rust colored fluid seemed to leak from them.
Immediately I panicked and threw the curtain back over the horrid painting. I wanted to run screaming and crying straight to my grandmother, but I restrained myself. I knew that if I did that, she’d know I disobeyed her by looking under the curtain. So instead I gave myself a moment to regain my breath and composure before calmly joining my grandmother in the sitting room.
I never went into the gallery by myself again.
That is until my grandmother passed away, naming me the sole recipient of her painting collection.
The reading of the will was an uncomfortable enough experience on its own, but it was made worse by the fact that my jealous cousins were also present. My grandmother’s estate, belongings, and all of her life earnings were to be split evenly amongst the family. I however, was chosen to receive the paintings alone.
I knew this was because my grandmother knew of my great love for the art, and that I would be the only one not to sell all of them for the money. However, my cousins simply saw it as me inheriting nearly $80,000 in oil paintings, and not sharing a dime of it.
Oh, you can believe they tried to contest the will, but it was iron-clad, and despite their protests, I soon enough found myself transporting the pieces into my own home.
My boyfriend Edward and I had purchased a lovely Victorian style home two years prior, and I, following in my grandmother’s footsteps, had dedicated the long hallway and large room at the end of the third floor to hosting my own collection of paintings.
My grandmother had a great deal more paintings than I, but Edward and I managed to shuffle things around until everything had a cozy new home. Well, everything except for the one, nearly six foot tall canvas, wrapped methodically in several layers of brown paper and twine.
Instantly a knot formed in my stomach. I knew exactly which piece it was. The image of the tormented young woman with bloody caverns in her face flooded my mind, and I felt myself growing pale. Edward however, did not share the same unfortunate memory, and excitedly began unwrapping the piece.
I rushed forward to stop him, exclaiming how I wanted him to keep it wrapped, as it was a horrifically gruesome piece. However, by the time I reached him, he had already revealed the piece’s glossy surface.
I prepared myself for the horrible sight, but to my shock, it was different. The sickly girl in the white dress still stood, hair flowing in the non-present wind and hands digging into her cheeks, but the bloody craters were gone.
Instead, she now appeared to be a pretty little thing. She had soft pink cheeks, sparkling green eyes, and her lips parted daintily into a dreamy smile. I recognized the style immediately. This was my grandmother’s work. She had done an exceptional job covering over the old, horrific facade, however, if I inspected the piece closely, I could still see traces of the gruesome sight hiding right below the surface.
My grandmother had clearly worked painstakingly on the piece. To anyone who hadn’t seen the original, it actually did appear quite pleasant. I, however, hated it to my core. Edward on the other hand, was instantly in love.
The next few days consisted of us arguing over where the piece would be hung. We were out of room in the gallery, and he insisted upon hanging it on the large, blank wall on the far side of our bedroom. I of course wanted nothing to do with the piece, thus the fighting began.
Finally, we came to an agreement. I would let him hang the piece in our room for the time being, but I would begin looking for the family of the woman who originally painted the piece. Obviously, they wouldn’t want to look at it in its former state, as it forever captured the state of sickness in their beloved family member. But now, it was beautiful. It would memorialize her as she was before the sickness began changing her. Certainly they would want it back now!
Edward was hesitant, but agreed that returning it when I found the family would be the right thing to do. So it was that I prepared myself for a few weeks tops of having to gaze at the uncomfortable piece.
The piece went up, and despite my reservations, it actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Without the bloody chasms, the threatening aura of the piece was gone, and I will admit that seeing my grandmother’s painting style made me a little happy.
And while it had taken a few days, I finally tracked down a phone number for the family. The daughter of the woman who had given the painting to my grandmother answered, and seemed excited when I told her of the relic from her aunt. She said she wanted the piece, but she needed some time to find a place for it. Excitedly, we both agreed to hand over the piece the following week.
My excitement however, quickly faded when I learned that Edward was going to be leaving town for the remainder of our time in possession of the piece, due to business. Displaying the piece was one thing, but being home alone with it was an entirely different situation. Despite my grandmother’s beautiful work, being alone in the same room with the piece always left me with an uncomfortable knot in my stomach.
So after kissing Edward goodbye, and locking the door, I immediately ran to the linen closet, where I promptly grabbed a sheet to throw over the creepy painting. I stormed into my bedroom, armed with the linen and a tack, and came to a halt in front of the piece.
It was very vague, and I needed to squint my eyes and lean in to notice it, but it appeared as though my grandmother’s paint had begun to crack and peel a bit, revealing glimpses of the rusty brown color hiding right below.
That was impossible though. The piece was nowhere near old enough for that to occur. Oil paint is famous for staying wet for a very long time. There are even some paintings from the middle ages that are still moist on the inside! There was no way the paint here should be peeling!
Just the sight of that gross, rusty paint made me feel ill. I immediately threw the sheet over it, and breathed a sigh of relief when I was no longer confronted with the eerie sight. I couldn’t give the painting back soon enough.
It was about this time that strange things began happening. Nothing huge and panic worthy. Just little things. Doors I could swear I had left open would be inexplicably closed, every so often I’d feel a soft gust of air as if someone had just walked by, and an occasional creak or groan, which weren’t all too uncommon in a home as old as mine.
Things continued on like this for the first few days Edward was gone. It was Wednesday. Edward would be back on Sunday, and we’d return the piece on Monday. As uncomfortable as I was, my goal was in sight, and I knew I’d make it.
A few more days passed, and things were going relatively well until I decided to look at the piece again. I had been on the phone with a shipping company earlier, trying to decide the best way to wrap and transport the piece. I figured that the cracking and peeling of the piece must have been due to improper preparation and handling, and wanted to avoid further damage. Hesitantly, I lifted the sheet for a quick assessment.
I immediately dropped the sheet once more, and backed away in a moment of panic. The paint had continued to deteriorate, and now even more of the seeping rust was breaking through the girl’s once lovely face, now leaving her with a grotesque, cracked open face.
It was at this point that I decided I needed to speak with the family once more. I dialed the number, and to my surprise, found that the woman who had gifted my grandmother with the piece all those years ago was still alive, and had answered the phone. Apprehensively, I told her about the piece, and she immediately invited me over to talk about it over tea.
Jumping at the opportunity to not be home alone with the piece, I grabbed my purse and immediately headed over. Upon arriving at the address, I was greeted at the door by a smiling old woman. She graciously welcomed me into the home, and in minutes we were settled in the front room with daintily painted teacups in our hands.
She released a long sigh before speaking.
“That painting should have been destroyed a long time ago.” she breathed sadly.
“You’ve seen it. It’s terrible and frightening. It’s the result of a very sick mind.”
She shifted her gaze down to her teacup before continuing.
“My sister had brain cancer. In its final stages, she became very ill mentally. When there was nothing more the doctors could do for her, they sent her home and told us to make her comfortable. She always loved painting, so we bought her the biggest canvas we could, and hoped to make her last moments happy ones.”
“But as you can see, they weren’t. Her mind was plagued by demons. She began withdrawing more and more into the madness of her own world, and it showed on the canvas. I actually walked in on her slashing her arms with a palette knife, and mixing her blood right into the paint.”
The image of the gross, rusty color oozing from the craters in the girl’s face flashed across my mind, and I had to set my cup down for fear of dropping it.
“I was going to get rid of it” the old woman continued “Burn it after my sister passed away. But your grandmother, ever the art enthusiast insisted on keeping it instead. I don’t know why. It’s a horribly dreadful piece.”
“And now, what’s worse, my daughter wants it back in our home. Please, I beg of you. Burn it. Burn it right to ashes. Destroy that accursed thing.”
Right at that moment, the old woman’s daughter walked into the room.
“Mother! What is wrong with you? We have almost nothing to remember Aunt Marnie by, and when something she made with her own hands finally resurfaces in our life, you say to burn it?!”
“It’s a bad painting Sarah. It’s dark, and it’s angry, and it holds all the ugliness of the disease that took your Aunt from us.”
“No! It’s not! Evelyn here said that her grandmother restored it! It’s beautiful now, and I want to display it in our home to honor Aunt Marnie. You’re my mother, and I love you, but this is my home, and I want the painting. That’s final.”
By this point, the atmosphere in the home had gotten quite awkward, so I readily thanked them for the tea, and made my way back home. My newfound knowledge about the piece making me even less eager to keep it in my bedroom.
Without realizing it, I had spent far more time visiting the old woman than I had expected. That paired with the sizable drive back home, I found night to have already fallen by the time I finally arrived on my front porch. The house was empty and quiet, and confirmed my decision to sleep in the guest room that night.
Edward would be back the next day. Silly as I felt, just one night in the guest room wouldn’t kill me. I snuggled down with a good book, and read until I felt my eyes growing heavy. It had been a while since I had felt this at ease. I was quite happy to have made the decision to sleep away from the dreadful painting.
Within moments, I found myself drifting off to a peaceful sleep. However, this did not last. What I assume to be several hours later, I awoke to the sound of a slamming door. I jolted awake, my heart racing. I was home alone, and feared for a burglar.
I immediately began scoping the room for something I could use as a weapon. Thinking quickly, I pulled down the pole that was holding up the curtain, and wielded it like a staff.
Slowly, I crept through the doorway, keeping as silent as possible. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own heart rapidly beating in my ears. Strangely, nothing in the house was amiss. I stood in the hallway pondering a moment before deciding which direction to move in.
My first instinct was to reach for the light switch, but if there was an intruder, hitting the light would immediately give away my position. So I decided to navigate in the dark. I knew my own home better than a thief would, so if I moved quietly, I’d have the element of surprise on my side.
Just then I had to muffle a scream as the door to my bedroom at the end of the hall slammed shut. Then the sound of weeping filled the home. It was sad, and distant, but it was definitely coming from my room.
Acting on instinct instead of logic, I hit the light switch in the hall, and went to investigate. Slowly, and as quietly as I could, I cracked open the door. The light from the hallway spilled into the dark room, and immediately, the weeping stopped.
I held my breath for a moment, not sure of what would happen next. That’s when my eyes fell upon the painting.
The sheet lay crumpled beneath it. I know it was covered the last time I had seen it, yet there it was, strewn across the floor.
Shaking, I pushed the door open further, allowing more light to spill into the room. The oil painting on the far end of the room illuminated, hungrily refracting the beam of light that now shone across it.
The last flecks of flesh colored paint my grandmother had painstakingly applied to the topcoat had crumbled away, once more revealing the horrifying visage I remember from my childhood.
I froze for a moment, overwhelmed by the same disgust that had captured me all those years ago the first time I laid eyes on the piece. That sickly yellow skin, those long black nails, the inexplicable wind that defied natural law. It all looked so terrifyingly real in the faint light.
Those deep oozing craters… Wait. Oozing? Oh my God. There’s no way. The craters in her face were actually oozing that horrible rusty material. It was impossible, but those deep, dark crevices were literally dripping with the stuff. I could see it seep out of the canvas and hear the splatters on the hardwood floors below.
I knew I should run, but my feet seemed glued to their place. I tried to calm my heavy, raspy breathes, however, I soon realized that they weren’t mine… I held my breath for a moment, and the scratchy exhales continued. I focused my gaze on the abomination on the wall, and released a silent scream.
The painting was moving. The woman’s bony, misshapen chest was jaggedly rising and falling in sync with the heavy breathing that now filled the room. My eyes widened in terror as my worst fear came to light. The painting slowly began to lurch. The shape of a crater filled head began to push through the canvas as if it were merely a sheet of spandex.
As the wretched figure began to force its way through, I finally regained my senses. I slammed the door shut and began running down the hall. I had only made it a few feet before I heard an enormous thud. The canvas had fallen off the wall. And at that precise moment, the wailing resumed. This time so loud I physically had to cover my hears.
Right as I rounded the corner, I shrieked in fear as I was immersed in total blackness. I tried desperately to orient myself, but my night vision had only just started to develop. In a panic, I continued forward with my hands outstretched, hoping to find the banister that lead downstairs.
A jolt of terror ran up my spine when I heard the creak of a door opening, followed by the sound of something heavy thumping, then dragging down the hall. The weeping had turned into wild shrieks, and were so loud they were disorienting. I nearly fell down the stairs when my hands finally grasped the banister.
As quickly as I could, I began racing down the stairs. The thumping and dragging sounded closer now. It was moving far faster than I thought. When I got to the bottom of the staircase, I felt for the side table on the right and threw it to the ground, hoping to slow it down.
Something was off now though. The shrieking had stopped. It was silent. No thumping, no dragging. Just silent. For some reason this scared me even more. So I ran as quickly as I could, despite the dark, straight for the front door.
Right as I was mere feet from grasping the handle, I felt my feet give out from underneath me. Something bony and cold had wrapped itself around my ankle. I fought wildly to break free as the sound of heavy breathing filled the room loudly again. I saw the form of something large and dark approaching me, and I swung wildly with my hands.
I felt them dig into something cold and moist. In disgust, I used all my might to push it back, and break through the front door, slamming it shut behind me.
I didn’t stop running until the sun had begun to rise. When I finally stopped, I collapsed on the ground, panting heavily. I raised my hand to wipe my brow, but stopped. I had been so focused on fleeing up until now that I hadn’t taken a moment to look at my hand. It was covered in a dark, rusty material, and tangled in several strands of long, black hair.
When Edward returned, he found the home to have been targeted by burglars. The place was trashed, but it was rather odd. Only one thing in the entire home had been stolen. He noticed that the large, lovely painted my grandmother had restored was nowhere to be found.
The police came by, and told me I was lucky to have escaped. I just nodded and kept quiet. After all, a burglary was the only logical explanation, right? This was a fairly textbook case, you see. A large, Victorian home full of valuable paintings makes a tempting target for thieves.
There was however, one detail about the case that seemed to have everyone baffled. All throughout the home there were trails of a dark, rusty fluid. Lab reports later confirmed it to be a strange combination of paint and old, rotten blood.
I’m not much a fan of paintings anymore. Edward and I sold the gallery, and are using the money to plan our wedding and are currently looking for a new home. I told him that I have trouble sleeping here because I have nightmares about the break in, but the truth is, we never did find the painting.
And some nights, I’ll lay in bed, moments away from drifting off, and I’ll swear I hear the sound of distant, raspy breaths.
Credit To – Madame Macabre