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 Amitee, who raised her from a baby, 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 Amitee’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, Amitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there and he took them in. With his help, and the money Amitee 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.

He saw something none of the jealous young men saw – she was a natural artist. Her eye for detail impressed Elle, but it was the confident ease with which she rendered her work that really made him realize she was going to be something special.

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 done 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.

Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. Elle decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.

Alouette didn’t make any connection with how happy her first client’s life became. Nor how her second client insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose), and when the portrait was done his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.

This went on for over a year.

But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after having Alouette paint their portrait. They talked about people being so sad afterward, they committed suicide. Talk about the devil signing a pack with her swirled through the streets of Paris, sparking talk of witchcraft.

People were concerned it was the devil’s work. It was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were burned at the stake, hung, or drown in trials designed to see if they were a witch.

Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she started refusing 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! You mean I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.

“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. 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.

It only took her two days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of the people of Paris. All with big smiles as they went about their routines. Elles hid the final product…which was titled, “Gay Paree in the Springtime.”

Alouette thanked Elle, and left Paris 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 in the western world.

The Abby of Little Horrors

When Ivan went to school Friday night he had one thing in mind; to get even with his classmate, Miles Newton.

Their rivalry had taken on new heights in the last week when Miles visited Ivan’s girlfriend, Celia, uninvited; while Ivan was taking an exam in the world spells department.

That was the incident that crossed the line.

There’s a saying among monsters, that if you mess with another lupine’s bitch, you better be prepared to eat silver. Touch a wizard’s woman, and there’s going to be hell to pay.

Ivan wasn’t as physically big as Miles who was a werewolf, but he was smarter. He was the son of a wizard. He wasn’t going to attack Miles without some help. That’s where the Jackson twins, who were vampires, came in. They were always ready for an adventure.

Because school hours were at night, it was easy to conceal oneself in the overgrown ruins of the ancient Abby that was their school. Dusky corridors echoed with the screams of monks that were brutally murdered by Viking invaders in dark days past.

Great stones still held up the roof of the Abby, unlike the outlying buildings that were in worse repair and roofless. Stars shone down on the venerable structure and it’s strange inhabitants like curious bystanders.

The creatures of the night that attended the unusual academy of learning at the Abby, were children of werewolves, vampires, and wizards. They were taught by their elders to abide by the laws of the school without question.

Generations of little horrors were prepped for their lives by savvy teachers descended from the most powerful warlocks, witches, werewolves, and vampires of lore. For hundreds of years it had been thus.

Things were about to change.

Ivan and the Jackson twins were waiting for Miles as he rounded the corner smack dab into the three waiting attackers. No words passed. The savage brawl that followed only ended when Ivan pulled out a silver knife and drove it into Mile’s chest!

The law was broken.

When Miles body was discovered, a general alarm went off among the students and teachers. Ghosts wailed pitifully.

Magic crackled in the air angrily. New dimensions opened up. Supernatural electricity darted though the Abby’ stone walls seeking culprits for the outrage.

Chaos was taking over.

The one main rule was violated – Thou shalt not kill a fellow student.

The Abby of little horrors depended upon dark magic and ancient spells for it’s existence. The meanings of the curses and spells were long forgotten, by the central message was always crystal clear. It was a safe zone.

No longer.

A very human emotion, jealousy, was the undoing of all the little monsters. They would never be safe again anywhere. Their universe shifted slightly. A new crack grew between the real world and the supernatural one.

The difference between man and monster narrowed.

As It Stands, the line between the supernatural and the real world is a very fine one.

A Family Thing In The Attic

Listen to this story as master story-teller Otis Jury narrates.

Danny was born in the same sturdy brick house his great-great grandfather built. He learned at an early age not to go into the attic.

He was 10 years-old before he got the guts to check the attic out. It was a rare day. Everyone was gone. His mother let him stay home while the family went into town.

He climbed the narrow stairs leading to the attic until they stopped at a doorway. He turned the old brass knob slowly, barely opening it up. Sweat had started to slip down his forehead and he wiped it nervously away. Looking up he saw light pouring in from the skylights overhead.

The attic was huge. He wondered if it went the length of the house? There was old furniture and numerous old trunks lining two of the walls. A group of human like shapes, covered by white sheets, were clustered in one corner of the room.

Danny’s fevered young mind instantly jumped to the conclusion that dead people were under those sheets. He stumbled twice in his panic to get out of the attic! He didn’t attempt to go in again, until he was seventy-four.

His parents died in a tragic automobile accident. His sisters, Doris and Bella, were married and lived with their husbands in Sedona, Arizona. The house was his.

Danny decided he needed a hobby one day. So he got into his family’s genealogy. He was able to do a lot of online research. It was slow going contacting family members who were willing to provide him with information. But he stuck to it for a year.

He found it odd that there was practically no information on his great-great-grandfather, Bradford Niles Stormer, the man purported to have built the large house. He found paperwork in his father’s safe in the library that showed the year his great-great- grandfather paid to have the house built – in cash.

It was one of the first brick houses built-in Portland Maine in 1830. Bradford was a man with money. His family was from England. None of them went with him when he immigrated to America. There were rumors, in letters, that suggested he was the black sheep in the family.

As for Bradford’s time in America, there was hardly a trace of him. Yet, he had a family that started in 1833 – when Portland became incorporated as a city – according to a birth certificate he filed for his first son, Jeremy Kincaid Stormer.

Danny was able to find out a lot of things about his grandfather Jeremy Kincaid. He became a state senator and was a well-respected man in Maine. He had six children. Danny’s father, Percy Irwin Stormer, was the youngest of the group.

While pondering about his great-great grandfather one day and idea came to him. He should go to the attic and see what was up there. He was no boy now. Sheets covering objects didn’t scare him.

As he walked up the stairs they seemed narrower than the last time. He knew it was because he was older and larger, but somehow it made him a little uncomfortable. The door creaked loudly when he opened it.

It was still light outside but shadows were forming in the niches and corners of the attic. Danny went to a row of old steamer chests and opened one. It was full off oddities like shrunken heads and voodoo dolls.

He went to another one. It was harder to open but he finally pried it apart. It was full of books. They all appeared to be in foreign languages like Greek and Arabic. It was obvious they were old. The ornate gold gilded jackets were bound in leather.

Danny stood up and looked around the room and spotted the sheets. He hesitated for a moment and then laughed at himself for doing so. “I’m a big boy now,” he said out loud.

He pulled off the nearest sheet with a dramatic flare and froze! The thing he uncovered was something from H.P. Lovecraft’s nightmares! It’s misshapen body was half man and half monster. The white marble monstrosity gleamed in the fading light from above.

Danny had never seen anything like it. Still stunned, he pulled the sheet off another statue. It was part bull, and part man, carved out of brown granite. As he uncovered the rest of the statues his mind had a hard time accepting what he was seeing.

They were all grotesque and unique. He never saw anything like them in books or movies. When he got to the last sheet he uncovered a large oval mirror set in a mahogany frame. It’s glass was smoky at the edges, but the center was still in good shape.

“Don’t just stand there man! There’s work to be done!” the man in the mirror said.

Danny fell backward and knocked over the marble monstrosity. “What the hell?” he gasped, sprawled out on the floor.

“Oh get up! I need out of here!” the man groused.

Danny stood up, eyes bulging in terror, and stammered…”Who are you?”

The man crossed his arms thoughtfully. “I’m Bradford Niles Stormer. I believe you’re one of my descendents.”

“I believe I’m going crazy,” Danny said, and ran out of the attic, not even bothering to close the door behind him. He was breathless with horror and confusion when he got to his library.

His mind was trying to accept what he saw and heard, but there was a fog around the process. It wasn’t logical. It couldn’t be real. Yet, he saw and heard something. His curiosity about his great ancestor was peaked. He had to find out more about him.

He spent the rest of the day going through the books stacked neatly in the shelves surrounding the room. He was looking for anything to do with his mysterious relative. His search was unsuccessful, as he sat down at the massive cherry wood desk that was as old as the house.

Not willing to give up, he opened the center drawer and went through it carefully. Nothing of interest. He tried the upper right-hand drawer and the lower one. Nothing. The left hand door was locked. Curious now, he examined the keyhole. There must be a key somewhere he thought.

He went back to the center drawer and find a little tin box that he failed to open. A gold key was inside. It fit the drawer perfectly. Sliding it open he saw a small book titled “Diary of Jeremy Kincaid Stormer.” His grandfather.

He realized that he was hungry and hadn’t eaten all day. Taking the diary with him he went to the kitchen and put together a sandwich consisting of peanut butter and peach jam. He sat down at the table and munched on it as he read the diary.

His grandfather’s words chilled him to the bone. Bradford was a warlock. He hid the fact from his son for years. But an incident happened when Jeremy was only eleven years-old, that changed his life forever.

The newly formed township of Portland had a mayor and city council. A concerned citizen appeared before the august leaders one day and claimed Bradford had put a spell on him and his livestock!

The city leaders consisted of Puritans who believed that the devil, warlocks, and witches wandered the land victimizing unwary humans. When one of Bradford’s servants reported that she heard him talking to the devil, the city fathers decided action had to be taken.

So they came and took Bradford. His trial lasted one day (actually less than an hour) and he was declared guilty of conspiring with the devil to do harm to the local townspeople. The days of witch-burning had mostly passed, but there were still cases reported in the New England area.

On a chilly morning the town father’s dragged Bradford out of the jail before most of the town was awake. They bound him tightly with a hemp rope attached to bags of heavy rocks.

Jeremy was in the small group that witnessed his father taken out to the center of the river and tossed overboard without so much as a word. The four men rowed back to shore and left without talking to anyone.

Jeremy, whose mother had died from consumption, a year before, was raised by his Uncle Harold, Bradford’s brother. It turned out that Harold was a warlock too. The night before Bradford was executed Harold visited him in the prison. The two men chanted throughout the night.

When young Jeremy and his uncle Harold returned to the house after Bradford’s death they went up to the attic. Harold explained that the mirror in the center of the room was magical and he must not ever talk about it. It had to be kept secret.

He explained that his father’s soul was in the mirror waiting to be released into another body. He made sure to impress Jeremy with importance of the secret and how it could cost him his life if he did.

Harold assured him that he would find the right spell to release his father. The magic that the two conjured up that last night, was ancient and was a last-ditch attempt to save Bradford. Now it was up to Harold to find the right spell to free him. The rare books in the steamer trunk were collected by Harold in his search to help his brother.

But Harold was in poor health and one day fell of his horse. He was dead before he hit the ground with a heart attack.

Danny put the diary down after finishing it. The last entry was made on the day Harold died, and simply said…”I’m trying brother.

So there it was. His great-great grandfather was more than just a dark sheep in the family. He was a warlock. His son Jeremy didn’t want anything to do with black magic and covered the mirror up, along with the strange statues he collected while traveling abroad.

Danny had trouble going to sleep that night. When he did fall asleep he had terrible nightmares that covered him in sweat. There was a lurking evil in the house. It lived in the attic.

When he woke in the morning he skipped his normal routine of showering and shaving and went right to the attic. As he went up the stairs he could only think about destroying the mirror and the thing inside of it.

Just before he reached the landing a rush of wind came out of the open door and caught him off guard! He lost his balance and tumbled backwards and down the stairs. He suffered massive trauma to his head and bled out on the floor where his crumpled body lay.

His oldest sister Bella found him two days later when she came by to visit. After the funeral Bella and Doris found the diary, but thought nothing of it, putting it in a box containing the rest of the contents of the desk in the library.

They went into the attic and found the mirror and statues still uncovered. As Bella prepared to cover the mirror with a nearby sheet, a voice caught her off guard, “Don’t be alarmed ladies! I just need a little help!”

Their screams echoed through the whole house!

As It Stands, it was a family thing.