Estimated reading time — 3 minutes
The grandfather clock struck eleven as the wealthy old man rubbed his eyes, tired from reading one of his many dusty books that were stacked neatly on a tall oak bookshelf near the creaky chair on which he sat. He was a collector of the fine arts, having always had an affinity for them since he was a young adult. He had not acquired his wealth through hard work or luck. The man had the pleasure of being born into a very well-off family. He felt he had invested his inheritance well throughout the years, and took great pride in his extensive collection of all varieties of art. The first piece he had bought was a genuine Eugène Delacroix, who he admired for his expressive brushstrokes and eye-catching use of color.
The balding man cast an apprehensive gaze at the newest addition to his collection, a painting that was roughly half the size of his shelf. There were many mysteries surrounding the painting, such as the fact that it was by an unknown painter, or the fact that every previous owner of the painting had been robbed blind, the painting disappearing for months at a time, before inexplicably appearing once more in a different gallery. The subject of the painting itself was even more odd. A figure of nondescript age and gender stood in the dead center of the canvas, taking up most it, the background a desolate landscape with coins, jewelry, and other valuables pooling at the figure’s feet. It wore exuberant clothing that seemed to change with every disappearance, ranging from a heavy, berry-red fur coat to a light, airy dress that seemed to only be weighed down by the treasure at its toes. Some speculated that they were similar but different versions of the same painting, but testing revealed that every painting was completed at the same date, debunking the theory.
When the perplexing painting appeared in a local gallery that the old man frequented, he knew he had to add it to his collection. He inquired about it, and it was sold to him for a pleasantly low price, the man attributing the cheapness to the superstition surrounding it. He was so proud of his purchase he refused to display it with the rest of his collection, instead hanging it above the desk in his private study. He later regretted the decision, as day by day something began to bother him about the seemingly hungry gaze of the person in the painting.
Once again, he brushed it off as hearing so much about the ridiculous story of “The Painting That Stole Itself,” as the local paper had put it once receiving news that it showed up in the town. The shifting nature of the painting was just a bogus claim by the paper to get more readers, and the robberies were just a coincidence. He told himself no one in their right mind would try and rob him. His home, although not in the dead center of the city, was still close enough to other houses to where it would be almost impossible for them not to notice that something was wrong. With this reassuring thought in mind, the old man retired himself to bed.
He was slowly awoken by the clicking footsteps of heels on hardwood floor. Slowly opening his gray eyes, he searched around the room for the source of the noise. It was too dark to see anything. He groped blindly in the dark until he found the matchbox he kept on the bedside table. Striking a match, the yellow glow of fire lightened the room, showing no signs of an intruder. He picked up a white candle, lighting it and quickly blowing out the match before the flame could reach his fingertips, soft from years of idleness. Standing from his lush bed, the floor creaked obnoxiously, evicting a short yelp from the man before he grit his mouth shut, paranoid that whatever might be in his house had heard him. As tempted as he was to blow out the candle and go back to bed, sleepless, he was determined to prove to himself that the seemingly cursed painting was just childish superstition, and nothing more. As he turned to his desk, he realized how wrong he was. In the place where the painting had previously hung was nothing but an empty space and a small hole where the nail had been, as if the painting was forcefully removed from it. He gasped in horror as he heard the floor creak behind him. The man turned around, amber light slowly illuminating an androgynous figure in a berry-red fur coat, holding all that it could carry of the man’s lot. It chuckled, satisfied with its work, as the man’s candle was extinguished, the figure receding into the darkness of the old man’s now empty home.