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The Rock Painting

The rock painting


Estimated reading time — 10 minutes

The knowledge that I gained from my first meeting with the artist Cecilia Smith gave me the chance to do something incredibly effective yet equally dangerous. Considering Ms. Smith’s standing, I am certain that this gift will bring me the artistic success I am so desperate for. Yet, if I do something incorrectly, I could bring about the destruction of myself and thousands if not millions of others.

As the months wear on, I find that my desperation has been growing far stronger than my fear or guilt. I have been passively gathering all the pieces for the ritual whenever and wherever I happen to find them. Every time I find another ritual ingredient, I remember the day when I was partially awakened to the truth about everything.

I was in my sophomore year when I met Cecelia Smith. She was going to give a lecture at the art museum a few blocks away from my college. I probably would have gone to the event anyway, but Mr. Boone, my art professor, made it even more tempting. He said he would give extra credit to anyone in the class that attended the event.

Mr. Boone’s reasons for creating the event were not purely academic, as he would later admit to us. He and Cecelia had been friends ever since college. He wanted to lend her some friendly support.

Eventually, the day and time of the event arrived. Unfortunately, regret flooded my body the instant I stepped into that museum. It was immediately clear to me that most of the people in attendance were wealthy patrons of the museum and/or collectors of fine art.

Though I am a tall woman, I felt as though these people towered over me. Each dress or suit they wore had to cost at least twice my monthly rent. Likely, they had also spent more than my monthly salary to get their hair and/or makeup done. In comparison, I had spent ten dollars at the thrift store to buy the dress I was currently wearing and had fixed up my hair and makeup by using discount store products and video tutorials.

I was so certain that this mere mortal could not be safe standing within one hundred feet of these gods and goddesses, let alone five feet. My mind soon flooded with a daymare about them simultaneously turning to look at me and walking over until they surrounded me and then mocking and laughing at my lowly appearance and then throwing the drinks and appetizers they were holding at me and then picking me up and throwing me out onto the street.

This imaginary situation repeated itself and eventually caused my body to break out in shivers. Yet, I managed to fight against the compulsion I had to rush out of those museum doors at once. My desire to see Cecelia Smith’s paintings, which an online article I read had called “signs of the beginning of a new age of art”, was far stronger than any of my fears.

My shaking body was hard to control, but I didn’t let that stop me from easing myself around the rich people’s conversation circles and towards the hallway just beyond the reception desk. New daymares spawned that depicted a few of them turning from their cheerful chatter and telling me how ugly I looked. Others portrayed me bumping into a rich person and causing him or her to spill their food or drink on their expensive clothing and then they would grab me and shake me violently, demanding amounts of money that I couldn’t even dream of affording.

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Things got worse as I entered the hallway. It was rather narrow and that made many of the conversation circles seem huge. The new daymares became more dramatic as they repeated. I imagined a few of my rich victim’s friends shaking me, surrounding me, and ripping off pieces of my dress and clumps of my hair.

I took deep breaths through my nose and diverted my thoughts by theorizing how paintings that were “signs of the beginning of a new age of art” would look. Perhaps she had added clay to a canvas to make pieces of art that were both a sculpture and a painting. Or maybe she had layered different-sized canvases on top of each other to create a kind of 3D effect. However, as creative as I got, even a person five times more creative than myself could never imagine what Cecelia Smith’s paintings would truly be like.

Finally, I exited the hallway and entered the gallery which was, much to my relief, far more spacious than the hallway had been. There were also far fewer people here, and the individuals that were here did not appear rich. They had gathered around in small groups around paintings and chattering in voices so hushed that they may have thought loudness could cause the paintings’ color to fade.

I took some deep breaths and performed mindfulness exercises until my body stopped shaking. Then I hesitantly approached one of the currently solitary paintings but looked away from it as I walked. In truth, I felt afraid that the paintings wouldn’t live up to the expectations that I had built up in my mind. I desperately wanted them to make the stress of walking through all those rich strangers worth it.

When there was a certain distance between me and the painting, I stopped and waited until I felt ready to see anything in that frame. But then I realized that I would probably never be ready. So I looked up at it and felt immediately confused as the painting seemed to depict the surface of an ordinary rock.

Sure, there was enough high-quality detail that I could see every bump, valley, and scratch along the surface of the rock, but this couldn’t be something worthy of that ‘new age of art’ quote. Feeling like I was about to drown in disappointment, I forcefully leaned in closer until my nose was a few inches from the painting and tried to take in every little detail. As I look back, I think I wanted to do this not just because I needed there to be something I was missing. I also wanted to flee this museum and its scary inhabitants and bury myself in the colors, strokes, and lines.

It turned out that I would escape the museum in another way. After a mere three seconds of staring at the painting this way, my senses started picking up things that couldn’t have been there. If they were, then I would have been impossibly transported to a pine forest within the space of a few seconds.

My ears were picking up the near and distant sounds of animals and the wind rustling through the trees. I could feel this same wind giving me cold kisses on the cheek as well as the muddy ground below my feet. There was also the mud and a previous rainstorm, the smell of which filled my nostrils. The only sense that wasn’t picking up the forest was my sight. My eyes were still focused on the surface of that rock.

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My response to these sensations was delayed, but when my mind eventually picked up what was happening, I shut my eyes and let out a loud gasp. Luckily I managed to muffle it with my hand and avoided bringing unwanted attention to myself.

As soon as I warded off the shock, I realized that in closing my eyes I had transported my other senses back to the museum. I heard that quiet chatter of voices and the clacking of someone’s high heels as they walked across the floor. I felt the warmth that the museum’s HVAC system was blowing into the room. The smell of someone’s flowery perfume and the lemony freshness of the museum cleaning staff’s supplies also surrounded me.

I took in these sensations until I found the courage to open my eyes again. I was back in that forest. I closed my eyes again, and I found myself back in the museum. I had to open and close my eyes a few more times to try and convince myself that my senses were experiencing what they were experiencing.

Even after that, I still had trouble convincing myself that the whole situation was real. Some of the facts just didn’t add up. Yes, this type of effect did live up to the description that the article had given it, but why wasn’t there more? The discovery of a revolutionary effect like this should’ve caused a pervasive media sensation.

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And then there were the other people in the gallery. Why weren’t they more excited? They should’ve been smiling, giggling, and/or even shaking with delight at the new sensations. Even if they had experienced such sensations before, they should have still been jabbering loudly with each other and trying to figure out how the whole thing worked.

How DID it work? What in the world could be the mechanism that caused such a sensation? I theorized that maybe the arrangement of the markings on the rock paintings had created some hypnotic effect. Or maybe there was some kind of beam in the frame of the painting that could transmit these sensory images right into my mind.

Unfortunately, that last guess turned my thoughts into ones of extreme paranoia. If there was a beam that could do that, what else could it do? Could they tell people what to think or erase their memories? Were such beams now hidden in different areas and being used to control the populace? Perhaps, if there was a beam in the frame of this painting, it had already transmitted thoughts that weren’t my own into my mind. I shivered at the thought as I moved my eyes over the frame of the painting but failed to spot any noticeable holes.

I glanced over at the other paintings and the walls, trying to see if I could spot any of these strange theoretical mechanisms. I couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to walk over to and sit down on a nearby bench I had spotted. Then I put my hands in my lap, closed my eyes, and performed some light meditation to help myself calm down.

Once my mind was clear, it pointed out to me that an opportunity may have fallen into my lap. Since I knew Mr. Boone and he knew Cecelia Smith, perhaps he could convince her to give me an apprenticeship. During that, she could teach me how she created those revolutionary paintings and then I could make them myself and be a key part of this new art revolution that the article had predicted was coming. Then I would be just as good if not greater than all of the people here.

What would it be like if I returned to this museum after I had achieved this status? Perhaps they would open a gallery that held my works alone. And then they would have a party at the opening. I wouldn’t be dressed in thrift store rags and using discount beauty products then. I would instead have a dress like the one I admired in that discount store which was blue and had thousands of sequins that shimmered like glints of sunshine in water. And I would hire the best hair stylist in the city to tie up part of my hair in a braid that even the greatest basket weavers couldn’t achieve. And instead of tiptoeing around all the rich people, I’d be talking straight to them because my success would have given me the confidence that I always wanted.

But wait, would Cecelia Smith even take me on as an apprentice? I had been struggling with getting good grades in Mr. Boone’s class because my artwork had been, as he had written, “too pedestrian” and I needed to “be more confident and experimental” with my artistic ideas. Perhaps Cecelia and Mr. Boone would only stand there laughing at me and saying how terrible I was at art and that it was stupid for me to believe I even had a chance at getting an apprenticeship. And then Cecelia’s bodyguards would pick me up and throw me out of the museum.

Wait…that wasn’t right. What sort of visual artist has bodyguards? Yes, the worse that they could do was laugh at me and put me down. But I knew Mr. Boone and while he could be critical he was never outright mean. I didn’t know what Cecelia was like, but Mr. Boone probably wouldn’t let her be too mean to me. They’d probably just stare at me awkwardly and make some excuse on why Cecelia couldn’t take on an apprentice.

Still, there was the possibility that Cecelia could see something in me that others hadn’t. Didn’t that make it worth trying, especially because the consequences couldn’t be too severe? It seemed that way to me.

I got up and immediately started walking as fast as I could in the direction of the presentation room, where I suspected Cecelia and Mr. Boone would be. Luckily, the lecture was about to begin, so I could just follow along with the wave of people and avoid bumping into anyone or having to dart around them. For a moment, I felt like I was part of an army marching into battle. This made me smile.

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When I made it to the presentation room, I immediately spotted Mr. Boone and Cecelia Smith on the right side of the theater. I gently made my way through the crowd and called out to Mr. Boone as soon as I got close. This caused him to turn, see me, smile, and wave. In a few moments, I was right next to him. Unfortunately, though, I was so enthusiastic about my plan that I skipped over greeting him and went right over to Cecelia. I said hello to her, introduced myself, stuck out my hand, and looked her in the eyes.

My anxiety flooded back the instant that Cecelia grabbed my hand. That caused me to shake her hand and look her in the eyes for what was, I assume, a longer time than normal. While I was doing this, much to my shock, my senses were spirited away again.

However, the place this time was different and I could take it in with my eyes as well as with my other senses. I was in a room in a seemingly abandoned house somewhere. I could hear a rainstorm outside, smell a musty odor, and see an old wooden floor on which several seemingly random items had been carefully placed. Hovering above this ritual arrangement was a portal. Looking through it, I could see what I somehow knew was the structure of the universe. Through studying this, I just knew I could learn exactly how the universe worked. Then I could manipulate it to my will and make paintings like the ones Cecelia had made.

Before I could get a full understanding, however, I ended up fainting clean away and missed the lecture. I felt disappointed, but in retrospect, could Cecelia have given me any knowledge that was better than what I had received?

Also, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention anyways. My new knowledge hijacked most of my attention for the next few months. I did my best to try and forget it and kept telling myself to not do anything about it. I could tell it was dangerous and I swore that I could forge an artistic career of my own without any shortcuts.

Yet, it kept coming up in my mind with every bad grade I received and every time I lost inspiration. And no matter how hard I tried, these incidents kept happening. I was soon thinking about what I’d switch my major to and trying to picture a happy future for myself.

However, all that I could see was me sitting in an office job in a sundown office building with half the lights gone and several dozen missing ceiling tiles. I’d be wearing a dress covered in holes and stains because I couldn’t afford any new clothes. I also wouldn’t bother with making my hair and makeup extra pretty or try to start up conversations with my coworkers at the water cooler because I’d be so depressed.

So you see, I have to gather the ritual items, open the portal, and study the structure of the universe enough to understand how to make the painting, no matter how dangerous it is. I’ve been trying to hold back the temptation for as long as I can, but I don’t think I will last much longer. I am truly sorry.

Credit: N N Frerking

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