30 Jun The Painted Journey
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"The Painted Journey"Written by Jordan Arciniega
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Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
I didn’t feel like speaking to anyone. I spent most of the day in my room trying to relax by watching my favorite comedy movies. When that failed, I tried playing Counterstrike on my computer. That also failed. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about my twin sister, Lisa, who had disappeared without a single trace a year ago. And it didn’t even make sense. She just didn’t come home one day after school. The police tried their best to solve the case and even had a list of suspects that could have possibly been held responsible. None of them were found guilty.
“It’s an odd case,” the detective told me. “There’s absolutely no evidence about her whereabouts. Zero. Sorry kid.”
Ever since then, everything just blatantly sucked. My parents were always crying, and nothing in the world would have made them feel any better. They even had the audacity to blame it on me, which pissed me off to no end. Word of her disappearance spread like rapid fire, and everybody in town came together to try and find her, which I guess was kind of them, but it just brought more unnecessary attention to myself. Of course, after all the long searches, questioning, flyers, and media involvement, we never got remotely close to finding her. And despite everyone’s annoying optimistic comments, I am not one to be in denial. In my mind, she was dead. Just gone with the wind, and people should have accepted that. Rest in peace, Lisa.
It was almost midnight, and I was relieved that the day came to an end. Craving a snack before bed, I strolled down the stairway and into the kitchen. The night just had to be a cliche one. It was raining heavily accompanied with constant lightning. I opened a kitchen cabinet and browsed all the possible choices. I grabbed an Oreo box, closed the cabinet, and then immediately dropped the cookies all over the floor. There, sitting on the windowsill, was a boy. He appeared to be around my age, maybe a year or two younger than me. He surely must have heard me walk into the kitchen, but he didn’t seem remotely bothered. He was staring out the window, minding his own business. I tried turning on the kitchen lights to see him better, but they didn’t work. Although a little frightened, I wanted to come off as authoritative as possible.
“Who the hell are you?” I said.
No response. He continued to stare out the window as another flash of the lightning lit up the room. I didn’t know what else to say. A minute passed by before he finally spoke.
“Hi Brett,” he said.
The fact that he knew my name made me think that maybe he was a friend of mine trying to prank me. He disproved my theory when he turned around to face me. I had never seen him in my entire life. He wore a white dress shirt with black suspenders, along with some fancy black pants that were rolled up at the bottom to show his long black socks and shoes. His black bow-tie was the icing on the cake for his old-fashion clothing style. What grabbed my attention the most was his shadow-like appearance and big bright eyes,
“Answer my question, who the hell are you?” I asked.
“I am a friend.”
“Get out of here, or I am calling the cops. You’re fucking crazy, kid.” I took out my smartphone from my pocket and pretended to dial numbers as a scare tactic. “One last chance.”
“I know where your sister is,” he said.
I dropped my phone on the kitchen table. If he aspired to be a jokester, then he had another thing coming. Still, just to somewhat play along, I asked him what he meant.
“Lisa is a great girl. I’ve seen a lot of kids in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen someone with such charisma as your sister. Definitely one of the most painful ones I had to watch,” he said. He began to fiddle with his fingers. “I don’t know how else to put this. You’re actually kind of lucky. For the first time in a while, she has a chance of being saved. And I’m here to help.”
He made no sense to me, and I refused to hear anything else from him. Enraged, I rolled up my sleeves and told him that if he didn’t leave, I was going to make him leave myself. Of course, my threat didn’t seem to phaze him. He began to approach me. I strengthened my fists, ready to take action. Yet, his calm and serious demeanor gave me goosebumps all throughout my skin. instead, however, he decided to snatch my phone off the table. He examined it with great curiosity.
“Technology today is amazing,” he whispered.
I took a few steps back as even more goosebumps arose. I had to rub my hands together as they felt completely numb. “What the hell dude, you must be on something right now,” I said, still trying to portray fearlessness.
“So you can just call anyone at any place at any time with this thing?” he asked.
“Listen, I’m sure my dad is going to come down here any minute and-”
“He can’t possibly hear us. Trust me,” he said. He placed the phone back down on the table and walked around me to enter the living room. “Let’s go.”
Not being able to tolerate him anymore, I immediately followed him and tried to tackle him. However, I missed. I just straight up missed. I fell to the floor, landing on my wrists. The worst part about it was he still didn’t seem bothered. I decided to just resort to plan B: yell for my parents. And I did. I yelled as loud as I could. I was confident that I would soon hear them run down the stairs and resolve everything. But what a shocker, they never came down. I finally got up on my feet. All he was doing was staring at the corner of the living room.
“If you’re a bit scared, that’s okay. I am too to tell you the truth,” he said. “But please believe me that we must not linger any longer. We must go.”
“For fuck sake. Go where? What do you mean?” I asked.
To this day, I’ll never forget what he told me, simply because it sounded downright ridiculous. Apparently, we were to go somewhere, a place that is not meant for the living as he put it, and save my sister Lisa. He was the definition of insane, but I couldn’t help to be intrigued. He kept talking about how I had so much power in me, saying that I can do so much more than I can possibly imagine. This was the turning point for me. He surprisingly sounded really nice and comforting. On paper, being asked to go somewhere ‘spiritual’ by a stranger to save someone sounds unbelievable. But this kid was just something different. I thought that perhaps there was something I could take away from him.
“C’mon, Lisa is waiting,” he said. He opened the front door and walked outside, signaling me to follow him. I stood there for a few seconds, and without much hesitation, I went along with it. I didn’t know if it was just fear of me not obeying his orders, or me actually trusting him. Of course, I repeatedly told him that I merely had nothing better to do, just in case this was a prank. I grabbed my coat and an umbrella, but he said that I didn’t need it. We left the house only to find that the rain had ceased, and there were no signs of lightning. We began to walk down the misty and empty street.
“Can you please tell me more about exactly where we are going?” I asked, still kind of annoyed by his ambiguity.
“Don’t worry about the destination. Your sister is there, and that’s all that matters,” he said. He rarely ever made eye contact with me, which was also quite annoying. He would only focus on the path in front of him.
Right as we were about to cross the street, an oncoming car made me stop — but he kept going. He crossed the street as if there was no possible danger whatsoever.
“Car! Yo dude, watch out!” I yelled. The car was moving well over the speed limit and was only seconds away from hitting this kid. The driver didn’t even pull the brakes or even attempt to go around him. And then boom. Just like that, he was hit. But to my surprise, the driver drove away from the scene like normal. Hell, there wasn’t even a ‘scene’ to begin with. I watched this kid successfully make it to the other side of the street unharmed. It was one of those things where you had to see it to believe it. The car legitimately went through him. I tried to not shit my pants, but damn was I close. I walked across the street with my mouth wide open in shock, keeping my eyes locked on him.
“Yes, you’re the only one that can see me. Yes, I’m not tangible. If you want to think of me as a ghost, you may. I guess it isn’t too far off.”
I stood there in utter disbelief. The nerve of this kid. I mean, this was beyond comprehensible. But yet again, something about him strangely attracted me. Every time I got close to him, I felt this blanket of comfort and protection. I completely forgot about what just transpired because he had this innocent and friendly vibe to him. And ok, to be honest, he was kind of cool for that, but I kept that thought to myself.
I continued to follow him as I tried to fathom what he just told me. It then occurred to me that I didn’t even know his name, and so I asked. He took a few seconds to respond.
“Nick,” he answered.
The fact that he delayed his response made me think he was lying, but then again, I didn’t care enough. I cared more about why he wanted to help ‘save’ my sister in the first place.
“Helping you helps me,” he said. “That reminds me. Here, take this.” He gave me what appeared to be a drawstring backpack. He told me to put it on, and so I did. Apparently, it would become of use for later. I had no idea where he got it from as I didn’t see him with a bag at all, but after what I witnessed just moments ago, I didn’t question it.
“Also, brace yourself. In the next minute, it will become absurdly foggy and dark. Keep close.” Nick said.
He was right. The fog collected exponentially in just a short amount of time. Even scarier, the scenery became pitch black in a matter of seconds. It felt like a dark void filled the entire neighborhood so perilously, and I lost my sense of direction entirely. All I could see was Nick, who now had a particular ghost-like glow to him. I shivered vigorously at the thought of it all.
Eventually, a small yellow light gleamed in the upcoming distance. As we got closer, I couldn’t help but notice that I’ve seen it somewhere. It then hit me. It was the same light that hung above the front door of my house. And indeed, it was my house. The roof, the doorsteps, the front lawn, it was all there. Of course, the pitch black surrounding it marked the only difference.
“What the hell is this supposed to be?” I asked Nick.
“Your sister is inside,” he replied.
I had almost forgotten about my sister, and now my motivation increased a bit. We soon reached the front door. Nick told me that he planned to save some of his energy for later and so he asked me to open the door. What was on the other side of the door startled the hell out of me. It was just a dimly lit red hallway. A row of red lightbulbs tied to thin wires dangled from the ceiling in a repetitive manner. The hallway itself was narrow and long. But the most eye-opening part? An abundance of large paintings covered the walls all throughout.
As we walked down the hallway, I carefully examined each drawing. I noticed that a black figure inhabited every single one of them. This thing was shown to be a tall figure, wearing a large black coat that covered its entire body. But it had this distinguishing long red hat, one that a magician would wear. The hat was extraordinarily long, and the shadow from the hat obscured the face. This thing didn’t appear to have limbs whatsoever. Just a black coat and a red hat. In many of the paintings, the figure hovered in mid-air.
If that wasn’t concerning enough, each painting depicted unfortunate events. They consisted of wars, airplane explosions, bomb explosions, car crashes, tsunami’s, crossfires, floods, burning buildings, shipwrecks, and the list went on. And again, all these events were depicted with the odd figure. If I was by myself in this eerie hallway, I would have shitted my pants. Fortunately, Nick still provided a sense of comfort, as much as I hate to admit it. I continued to keep close to him.
As he had always been doing, Nick looked ahead with complete tunnel vision. The paintings didn’t disturb him one bit, and I assumed that he knew something about them.
“The pictures are disturbing, I know,” he said. “And I know you have questions. Well, these paintings are nothing good. I’m sure you know that much. Brett, this is vital for you to know. Under any circumstances, you are not to sign a painting.”
Sign a painting? What did he mean? A significant amount of questions rushed into my mind. It was when I looked closer at the pictures that I figured what he possibly meant. Some of the paintings contained signatures of random names. Most were typical American names and others sounded a lot more foreign.
A few seconds later, in the distance, I saw something coming our way. Goosebumps yet again overtook my skin. This ‘something’ consisted of an entire army of small moving figures. Each of them wore a long black cloak, with their heads covered by a hood. Their walk was quite organized as if they were in the military. When they got closer, I noticed that they were, in fact, kids. They each had a big smile, but it wasn’t anything near adorable. Their eyes were similar to Nick’s but even more inhumane. They were wide open without a single blink. Their pupils were entirely motionless and made it seem as if they were seeing through me rather than at me. I was creeped out, to say the least. I stepped behind Nick, using him as my protective shield. For a moment, I thought they would become violent and start a fight. Instead, they chose to walk right through us. Yup, just like Nick and the car, these kids were intangible.
“Don’t mind them,” Nick said. “They are lost souls.”
I came to the conclusion that this group had no cognition. As soon as the last kid passed through me, I heard giggling. I turned around, and I saw them run off in the distance, maintaining their laughter.
“Nick, what do you mean by lost souls?”
As he usually did, he kept quiet for the first few seconds until he finally responded. “I mean that they are under its control.”
“Who is that?”
“The black figure you see in every painting on the wall.”
Anxiety struck me faster than the speed of light. The thought of that figure being real almost made me have a panic attack.
“How do you know this?” I asked. I hated that I asked so many questions, but I couldn’t help it.
This time, he replied almost instantly. “I have been in this world for a long time, Brett. A long time. I know, well at least I think I know, how this all works.”
“But if the other kids are under its control, why aren’t you?”
“My situation is different,” he said. “All the other kids signed a painting, selling their souls and causing something terrible to happen. But for me, I never signed one. And yet here I am. It’s complicated, but as of now, I’m not under its control.”
I still had more questions, but I figured that enough was enough. After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at a door at the end of the hallway. Nervously, I turned the knob and pushed it open. A large dark room stood before us, but something in the middle just a few feet ahead grabbed my attention. There she was. Lisa. She sat on the floor with her back faced against us. She kept still with her head tilted forward.
“Lisa? What the … Lisa, it’s me, Brett!” I yelled. I immediately ran toward her, and as soon as I touched her, I flew several feet back. Something had pushed me, and it pushed hard. I fell on my back, taken aback by this aggressive push. The force must have been invisible because I didn’t see anything. I stood up and turned to Nick for answers. To my misfortune, I didn’t see him. That was the moment that I felt vulnerable. While this whole trip had been creepy, at least I had Nick with me. But with him out of the equation, I felt every ounce of hope and bravery diminish. And when I tried to scout for my sister, she too was no longer there. I wanted to put myself out of my misery.
I just stood there alone, unable to see anything. I called out for Nick several times. No response. It must have been several minutes of me standing there like an idiot. Suddenly, another round of shivers overtook my body. I started sweating profusely. It felt as if … something had its eye on me. It felt like those times where you would think something sinister inhabited your room while you slept, but this one seemed extra promising. Still not being able to see a thing, I wiped my tears out of my eyes and looked closer at the other side of the room, being five percent sure that something resided there. “Nick?” I called out, even though I knew it couldn’t be him. I took a few baby steps toward it, and with each step, my percentage increased. I extended my neck forward and squinted my eyes real hard.
I continued to stare for several minutes. Suddenly, my eyes widened and I took a few steps back. Something was most certainly there. To my luck, this thing started to become bigger and bigger. Indeed, I was not alone. This all-black figure gradually approached me, and it must have been levitating based on its smooth movement. Something then started to glow with a dark red color. It resembled the shape of a large hat. I tried crying, but fear itself wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t decide whether to run away or stay put. This figure was horrendously tall, perhaps ten to twelve feet. Its face, if it even had one, was hidden by the shadow of the hat. Just like I didn’t want to believe that my sister had gone missing when I first heard the news, I didn’t want to believe what stood before me. But in this situation, it couldn’t be any clearer.
The sound of a piano broke the silence. It sounded as if someone kept slamming their hands randomly across the keyboard, producing an ugly noise. Logically, it would have made sense to run from this ordeal, but paralysis hindered that significantly. I watched in horror as this creature came closer and closer.
A white flash blinded me. It covered the whole room, and now the place became completely white as opposed to dark. Even when I covered my eyes, the sudden brightness was still too sensitive. Once the discomfort went away, I opened my teary eyes. The room remained entirely white, and at the other end of it, stood Lisa. She held her hands together and had a bright smile on her face.
“Brett!” she said. “You actually came. I love you for that. Please, come to me,” she said.
I wiped off my tears to get a better look at her. I should have been happy to see her, but I couldn’t forget what had just happened. “Lisa … is that … wait, where did you … hold on, wait,” I said, stuttering immensely. Nonetheless, I started to walk toward her to give her a hug. I always hated to show affection, but it was my sister that I hadn’t seen in a year.
Suddenly, Nick ran past me at an incredible speed. I anticipated something ugly to happen because of his determined demeanor. I was right. Without hesitation, he punched her straight in the face. I couldn’t believe it. Nick had just hit my sister, and I didn’t know what to think of it. They both then began to levitate, and the whiteness of the place instantly returned to a subtle blackness. And with that, the two began to fight to their deaths. I never even knew that my sister had fighting skills. They clearly had an intense hatred for each other, as their fists did all the talking. They were each connecting blow’s on each other’s faces, and I felt like I was watching something out of an action movie. Nick had the upper hand, which angered me. He eventually managed to grab Lisa by the throat, choking her.
You’ll be finished for good!” Nick yelled.
“Get off of her!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
“Brett, this isn’t your-“ A loud scream interrupted Nick. The sharpness of it made me think that my ears were going to bleed. It sounded unnatural, to say the least. Certainly, not a noise that a human could emit. I looked all around me, but I couldn’t determine where the noise originated. The next series of events made me question everything I knew about life. It was like the scream itself pushed the two walls apart from each other, creating a larger room in the process. Random areas of the floor started ripping apart as the whole place shook aggressively from the noise vibration. It was like an earthquake on steroids. Despite the intensity, I had no trouble standing on my feet. Nothing in this realm honestly made any sense.
“Brett, please! please!” Nick yelled, struggling to keep his hands firmly around Lisa’s neck. “Inside the bag, the matches! Burn this entire place down with it! With the match! Hurry while we still have a chance!”
I barely heard what he said over the loud and unpleasant roar. It was weird seeing him actually look human for once with such strong emotions. He looked like any other sane kid that I’d befriend. I despised him for choking my sister, but I couldn’t help but consider that maybe he had good intentions behind it. But burn the place down? Who would do such a thing?
However, I trusted him. I removed the bag he gave me earlier off my shoulders and opened it up. The only thing inside was a box of matches. I took a match out of the box, rubbed it along the surface, and observed the color of the small flame. It was white.
“Brett, hurry! Drop the match on the floor! Do it!” Nick yelled. The place started to shake even harder, the scream still as horrid as ever.
But right after Nick yelled at me, out of nowhere, I heard Lisa’s voice. “Brett, don’t drop it.” It was even louder than Nick’s, but it sounded more depressing, like how a lonely ghost girl would talk. I could see Nick in extreme agony as he tried his best to keep Lisa pinned.
“Brett, please. Don’t listen to him. If you drop the match, we will all die,” Lisa said.
“No! No, not at all! Brett, please!” Nick yelled.
“Brett, please,” Lisa said.
I knew that indecisiveness couldn’t be an option. I had to choose a side. Either I follow Nick’s demands and burn the place with some mysterious white fire, or I could just stay put and watch the show. My brain chemistry must have messed with my head because I couldn’t concentrate. The situation was too dramatic for me to handle. I was flooded with drastic apprehension. I knew that this journey had to come to an end one way or another. But why did it have to end with my decision? How did this all even happen in the first place? I began to have flashbacks of the depression I went through after losing my sister. I then remembered seeing Nick for the first time on the windows sill. I was at the peak of self-destruction. I felt a power that drove me to some endless dimension. Big doors kept opening around me, but I couldn’t choose which door to enter. A poison spread and suppressed me, but it did so unpleasantly gentle. While it confused me to no end, while it hurt me like no other situation had before, I had this feeling that at that moment, I was responsible for something far greater than I could ever imagine.
I chose to stand there and watch. I didn’t drop the match to the floor.
Within the next minute, Lisa successfully escaped Nick’s grapple and managed to send him flying. It was hard to see due to the shaking, but it appeared that Lisa didn’t even lay a finger on him. Nick soared into the distance as if a black hole sucked him. The high-pitched screaming noise had finally ceased.
“NOOOOOO!” Nick shouted as his voice gradually diminished. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!? NOOOOOOOO!”
That was the last time I ever heard from him. The next round of events almost gave me a seizure. Perhaps it did. The ground shook at an all time high now. This time I logically fell on the floor. On top of that, the room repeatedly shifted colors between black and white. The white flame at the tip of my match had vanished. After a minute of the madness, the shaking came to a halt. Black apparently won the war as I found myself in complete darkness. The next thing I knew, I was by myself, or at least I thought. I turned my head over to my right and saw Lisa walk toward me. She had the same smile like earlier, and she held out her arms for a hug. Not knowing what to think, I hugged her right back. I was in a complete dissociative state of mind, as I couldn’t form opinions on anything. I had always thought that if I ever saw my sister, I’d be ecstatic. Instead, I felt just as empty inside as it was in the room.
Lisa thanked me and told me that it was time to go home. She mentioned that it’d be best to lie to the townsfolks about her actual whereabouts so that we didn’t have to explain all the supernatural events. After that, her talking went through one ear and out the other. I wasn’t able to concentrate or converse. It was like all my humanity drained out of me. I stared into the empty darkness ahead of me, not moving a single muscle. Her words had no meaning whatsoever, but eventually, she asked me something that brought me back to reality.
“You need to sign this painting for us to get out of here,” she said, holding a pencil for me to grab.
The painting she gave me depicted some sort of building on fire. Because of everything I went through up to that point, I essentially became desensitized to any possible disaster, so I didn’t care to question it.
I knew that this was a strange request. I knew that there was probably more to the story. I knew that I wanted nothing else bad to happen. I knew that every action certainly had its consequences. But then I remembered about Nick. I didn’t even know how to feel about him. When I first met him, he came across as insane, but as time went on, I heavily relied on him for protection and comfort. I knew that he dragged me into this mess in the first place, but nonetheless, I kind of missed him. And yet, despite lecturing me about saving my sister, he ended up choking her. I didn’t understand the logic behind that.
But then I remembered. He tried to tell me something earlier. This isn’t your … this isn’t your … I tried to think. I looked up at a smiling Lisa, still holding out the pencil for me to grab. And yet, with all the craziness, I didn’t feel the need to contemplate anymore. I wanted to leave this entire ordeal alone. I wanted to erase everything. It was all irrelevant so why bother. I reminded myself that nothing that just happened mattered in the grand scheme of things. What did matter was that I finally found Lisa, who I actually cared for. In contrast, I didn’t care so much for Nick. I mean, he was some random kid that I had just met, so all his previous statements were of no value to me. In truth, I felt bad for thinking that, but I had to consider the facts. Lisa and I were finally reunited. We were going to return to our normal lives, and I was more than pleased with such outcome.
I grabbed the pencil and signed my name on the painting.
Credit: Jordan Arciniega
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