Portrait of a Witch

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Alouette Arsenault was cursed with the ability to paint anything.

That’s the way she looked at her talent. Her work was so realistic it actually looked like photographs of people and landscapes.

It was the people part where the curse came in.

Alouette was a simple country girl born in the south of France in 1565.

When her mother was burned at the stake for being a witch, she was taken by her aunt Aimitee, who raised her from an infant in a hut located in the middle of the Aquitaine forest.

It was her ability to depict things around her in charcoal at an early age that caught Aimitee’s attention. She watched Alouette draw imaginary friends and the world around her with pride. She was a born artist who deserved to work in more lasting mediums.
When Alouette turned fourteen, Aimitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there, and he took them in. With his help, and the money Aimitee made sewing people’s clothes, she was sent to a nearby art studio.

As the only female there, she suffered constant indignities, but the master, Ferdinand Elle, let her stay after interviewing her aunt. When shown examples of her work he was impressed. He saw something that none of the jealous young male artists in his studio had going for them; Alouette was a natural artist with an exceptional eye for detail. It was that eye for detail that most impressed Elle. He was astounded at the confident ease with which she quickly rendered her work. His instinct told him she was something special. Otherworldly even.

Using oil on canvas, Alouette painted her first portrait at fifteen years-old. It was of a minor city official. Elle allowed her to have the commission, and to paint her customer in the studio. After studying the client’s face, she saw a hint of a shy smile. When she was finished the client was overjoyed with her work. From that point forward he was a transformed man. Where once he spent all of his time worrying about things, he was now impossibly happy. His life transformed.
Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before new clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. It came as no surprise to Elle who decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.

Alouette didn’t make the connection with how happy her first client’s life became. How could she? She never saw him again. Nor was she aware of her second clients transformation who insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose). When his portrait was complete his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.

This went on for over a year. She painted clients whose lives changed for better or worse afterwards. Leading a hermit-like existence she was content to stay in her little bubble and paint. Elle watched proudly as each work became a masterpiece.

But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after Alouette painted their portraits. Some noted that there lives had improved and they were happier. But others talked about people being so sad after getting their portrait painted, they committed suicide. Rumors spread claiming that she worked for the devil and had signed an evil pact with the dark lord. Her growing infamy swirled through the streets of Paris, fueled by fears that she was practicing witchcraft on them.

People became more and more concerned it was the devil’s work. Worse, it was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were being burned at the stake, hung, or drowned in trials designed to see if they were a witch. The mania descended upon Paris like a plague with groups of witch-hunters prowling the streets.
Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she began refusing to paint anymore clients Elle took her aside and asked, “What’s happening little one?” even though he’d also heard the rumors.

“I cannot paint any longer master Elle,” she said.

“I knew you were a witch a long time ago. That’s because I’m a warlock!”

“Witch!” she cried out in shock. “You mean, I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.

“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. I’ve been meaning to tell you this. Trust me. It will be your greatest work, I assure you. Now listen to me. One of the many reasons you’re such a talented artist is because you have a great memory.
“We must put this memory to the test. I will walk with you through town and you must pay attention to everyone you see, especially city officials. Fix their faces in your wonderful ¬†memory as we stroll through the streets.”

It only took her three days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of all the people of Paris. They all had big smiles as they went about their daily routines. Elles hid the final product, which was titled, “Gay Parie in the Springtime,” in a secret vault below the studio. As long as the masterpiece remained intact, peace and tranquility would be assured for all Parisians. The witch hunts came to a halt afterward.

The mania that had infected the city was gone, allowing Alouette to once again move¬†freely about in society. But her desire to paint was no longer there. She became wary of her powerful ability to affect people’s lives and eventually decided to quit painting altogether.

Her gratitude to Elle was endless. The old warlock had taught her many things. By revealing her power he opened up her inner eye, unlocking mysteries from her unconscious mind. When the time came to move on Alouette wept and kissed her mentor.

She left Paris for the countryside to live with her aunt Aimitee, disappearing into the dusty footnotes of history.

As It Stands, I’ve often wondered why there weren’t more women artists during the Renaissance period in the western world.

(1st published May 2017, As It Stands)

Artist Confronts Daffy ‘Devil’ Duck

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William J. Bernstein was famous for his accuracy as a professional illustrator of animals.

His talent was apparent as early as kindergarten. He drew the best rabbits, puppies and cats in the classroom.

When he was ten he was drawing animals so accurately that his art teacher helped him put together a portfolio of his work. Family and friends were impressed with his artistic flair. In high school he was selling his illustrations to magazines and exhibiting them in art fairs.

His work was popular from the get-go. His admirers talked about how real his animals were. How they could almost walk off the paper they were drawn on.

But William fought an inner war that no one, not even his parents, knew about. It started when he began drawing animals in kindergarten. The first time he drew a rabbit it talked to him!

Startled, he looked around the table at the other kids to see if they heard. They apparently didn’t. He was afraid to reply to the rabbit’s questions and have everyone stare at him.

Even at the tender age of five, William knew rabbits didn’t talk to people. He asked his parents if there were any animals that talked to people? They laughed, and his dad patted him on the head, “My little artist,” he said.

As he got older he became aware that the conversations he was having with animals were in his head. If they were intrusive he would have sought help, William told himself.

The fact of the matter was he enjoyed talking with rhinos and parrots because they shared so much about themselves. The problem was they were becoming his family, at the expense of his real family, and friends.

It was gradual, this transformation from a social little boy to a reclusive artist living in a loft who was awkward around other people. He was an accomplished illustrator that made animals come to life under his pencil but totally lacked any social skills.

When he decided to explore his art – and try cartooning – a new world opened up to him. Literally. The cartoon animals were unpredictable and not always nice, like the realistic ones he drew.

But what an adventure! He’d hole up in his loft with snacks and draw cartoons for hours.

His research included drawing established cartoon characters to “get the feel” of the methods that other cartoonists used. At first, his attempts didn’t say anything. After countless hours of practice however, they proved to be downright gabby.

As the days went by, William made a lot of brand new friends with great stories to tell. Elmer Fudd and Sylvester the Cat had a wonderful sense of humor and he found himself laughing so hard at times his ribs hurt.

One day after drawing Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and The Tasmanian Devil, he discovered another side to famous cartoon characters; they weren’t all nice. Some were downright mean, and in the case of one…evil.

Daffy Duck: What do you think you’re doing? You’re not a cartoonist!

William: Whoaa! Hold on there Daffy! What’s the problem?

Daffy Duck: “You are, you ugly little creep! Why don’t you go stick your blockhead into the toilet bowl and flush it?

William: I don’t get it. You’re acting more like a devil duck than the funny character who I grew to love while growing up and watching TV.

Daffy Duck: When Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones died, I didn’t see any reason to be happy anymore. So, I went to sleep. And, now you woke me up ass brain! There’s hell to pay now!

William: If that’s the way you’re going to be, I guess I’ll put you in the fireplace,” he warned as he grabbed the piece of paper Daffy was on. A minute later he threw it into the blazing fire.

“So much for you, you damn duck!” he crowed, and laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

When his parents found him during their weekly trip to his apartment, he was sitting in the middle of the living room weakly laughing.

After he was admitted to a mental institution, William no longer talked with people (his parents included) and he showed no interest in drawing animals anymore. After a year William was deemed harmless, and allowed in the general population.

On his first day, an orderly put cartoons on the big screen TV. When Daffy Duck appeared William screamed…and screamed…and screamed.

As It Stands, horror is where you look for it!