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The Art of Life

     The tapping of laptop keys filled the room the walls of which were covered in painting, sketches, and doodles. Ellis sat, face lit by the light of the screen, and scrolled through her website running through images of her artwork on t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, and regular old canvases. She made a tidy sum selling her work online, enough to help with all her university bills anyway.

     “You’re proving very popular you know,” she said to the watercolour painting of a sunset with the silhouettes of birds flying into it. There were several orders already waiting. Sighing contentedly Ellis shut down the laptop, returning to the thick layers of paper beside her. She had been sketching the same tree for hours trying to get it just right. Never mind that it had to be coloured in, small details added to it, and then treated so that the lines would not smudge. Art was hard. Ellis picked up her pencil once more.

     “You okay in there?” called Jeanie, her housemate.

 

     “Yeah, I’m alright!” she shouted back even though her rear was growing sore.

 

     “You’ve been in there for hours you know.”

 

     “Working!” said Ellis. Jeanie gave a grunt of understanding. Snorting, Ellis returned to her sketch.

 

     Then it was as if someone had flicked a switch and set her alight. Her body curled in on itself head nearly smacking the table. Pain arced through every muscle, every nerve, making her convulse. She could be screaming, she had no idea, the agony was so great that her very skin seemed to be burning. It went on and on, or it could’ve been seconds, it was impossible to tell. Ellis simply needed it to end, one way or another, she needed it to end or else…

 

     Then it did. Gone, as if the pain had never even been there at all. If Ellis hadn’t found herself lying on the floor it was quite possible that she would have thought she’d imagined it. But no, no it’d definitely happened. She couldn’t have imagined a pain like that. Her breath came in short, rapid gasps and the tips of her fingers tingled.

 

     A thundering knocking made her door shake on its hinges, shuddering under the force of the blows.

 

     “Ellis! Ellis! This.” Thud “Damn.” Thud “Door!” It seemed Jeanie was throwing herself against the wood. It was always getting stuck, jamming solid as if locked, but at this rate she was going to break down the door.

 

     “Jeanie…” Ellis’s voice was croaky “Jeanie I’m okay.” The banging continued. She braced her hands against the floor and, groaning all the while, pushed herself up onto her knees. Crawling into a standing position she seized hold of the rattling door handle, pulling with all the strength she had left. It swung open nearly knocking Ellis back onto the floor. Jeanie leapt inside eyes searching the room as if for an intruder, ready to attack if necessary. “It’s alright, it’s okay, I-”

 

     “You were yelling like you were being tortured!” cried Jeanie “One second you were saying you were alright, the next…” she trailed off staring at Ellis. “What happened?” Ellis bit her lip. She didn’t know what had happened. There was no explanation, no reason, just…pain. Her pencil was on the floor, she stooped to snatch it up her movements easy and quick despite what she’s just endured. She tossed back on top of her papers sighing at the sight of her drawing. It was completely ruined. Deep, dark lines were carved over the delicate branches she had spent so long defining.

      “I don’t know what happened,” her fingers traced over the destroyed sketch “I was just sat here. Then…I don’t know.”

 

     “The screaming? Can you explain that at least?” asked Jeanie her hand on Ellis’s shoulder lowering her back into her chair. Something flickered at the edge of her vision and Ellis stared over the sketches on her table, frowning. “Ellis!” She snapped her attention back stammering as she gathered her thoughts.

     “I just felt pain Jeanie,” she whispered “I was sitting and then…and then…” tears blurred her vision. Once again something shifted in the very corner of her eye and once again Ellis turned to stare. That horse had been galloping. She had drawn it galloping not standing still, hadn’t she?

     “What sort of pain Ellis?” But Ellis was pulling pieces of paper out looking at each of them in turn. They were different, she was certain of it. The shift of a feather, the turn of a face. “Ellis!”

 

     “Sorry!”

     “Don’t you think this is a little more important than looking at your doodles?” Jeanie tugged the sketches out of her hands, ignoring the offended look on Ellis’s face at the word ‘doodles’. “Can you just talk to me about this?” Ellis gaped like a fish, struggling to find the words she felt her lip begin to tremble. Next thing she knew Jeanie was pulling her into a hug, squeezing her so tightly it almost hurt. “We’re leaving this room,” She pulled Ellis up “You’ve been in here all day. So, we are going out into the living room, you will sit in a comfy chair. I will go into the kitchen and make us both hot chocolate that you will sit and drink, okay?” There really was no use arguing the point, so she nodded. 

     Next moment she was curled up on one of the patched armchairs in the living room, Jeanie making a lot of noise in the kitchen for just hot chocolate. Wrapping her arms around her as if she was cold, Ellis stared blankly at a painting hanging on the wall. One of hers from when they’d moved in. It was a sea-scape; the paint rising in ridges giving the waves a three-dimensional effect. Layers upon layers of blues and greens that had taken days to complete. There was only one breaking wave as she had found it exceptionally difficult to make it look right so…

     She leapt to her feet and strode to the painting, lifting it off the wall and bringing it within an inch of her nose. There had been a breaking wave. There had been many hours spent obsessing over exactly how to place the white paint to look like real foam. So where was it? Then, as she stared at it, the waves began to rise and undulate.

     “Er Ellis, why are you intimidating a piece of art?” Jeanie was standing in the doorway holding two steaming mugs.

 

     “It’s moving!”

 

     “Come again?” Setting the mugs down she joined Ellis “It’s what now?”

 

     “The picture was moving!” exclaimed Ellis, as if it was obvious. “Look.” She shoved the painting into Jeanie’s face, so enthusiastically that Jeanie had to lean back to see it.

     “What am I supposed to be looking at?” Ellis turned the painting around; it had stopped moving.

 

     “It was I swear!” She scowled at the picture and its uncooperativeness. But then… “See here! This painting is different from how it was before, it has changed.” Brandishing the painting in Jeanie’s face. Ellis stared around at the some of her other pictures on the walls. A detail, here and there, she was certain of it now and let out a little laugh of triumph. Jeanie’s eyes were wide.

     “Do you hear yourself?” But Ellis had her argument on the tip of her tongue.

 

     “We walk past this painting every day. Every day for a year since I painted it and I am telling you one of these waves here was breaking. I remember using white paint so carefully I thought I would cry whenever I managed to make a dot in the right place. Come on, tell me that this isn’t a different picture!” But Jeanie was shaking her head, backing away from her.

    “Look, maybe you hit your head or something but I think you need to go lie down.” Anger was bubbling up in Ellis’ chest now.

“I’m not crazy you know?!” At least she didn’t think she so. Was she? What she was suggesting was fairly farfetched to say the least. Now she stopped to think about it, it was impossible. Maybe she did hit her head when she fell. She looked at Jeanie, who had retreated all the way to the sofa, trying to wipe the slightly scared look on her face. “I’m sorry,” scooping up her hot chocolate she sat down beside her

   

     “Maybe I am imagining it.”

 

     “It’s okay,” she said, although she still looked a little unnerved. Together they sat, sipping at their mugs as Ellis furiously ignored the tiny movements she glimpsed every so often. It was impossible, it was tiredness, it was a trick of the light. However, as she lay in bed that night, tossing and turning, she couldn’t help but feel like she was being watched.

***

     Someone was knocking annoyingly loudly at the front door. Ellis had been dozing, unable to truly sleep. So, whoever it was bothering them at seven o’clock in the morning had better be prepared to face a very grumpy occupant. Ellis threw back her covers and shivered as she reached for her dressing gown. The knocking continued as Ellis shuffled out of her room, wiggling her feet into her slippers as she went.

     “All right! All right!” Ellis grumbled bumping into doorframes as she blearily made her way toward the door.

 

     “Tell whoever it is to go away!” came Jeanie’s voice. Ellis grunted in response, removing the chain on the door. Her frown was in full force as she swung it open to face the man standing on the welcome mat. A second later she blinked in surprise. He was a broad man, with greying hair and small, dark eyes. He wore a soldier’s uniform, cap under his arm.

 

     “Er…can I help you?”

     “Is this the residence of Miss Ellis Pines?” She narrowed her eyes slightly.

 

     “Why?” He considered for a moment.

 

     “I have important information that I need to discuss with her.” Ellis leant against the hallway wall, moving her whole body to block the opening and crossed her arms.

    “What sort of information?” He paused again, cocking his head slightly like a bird.

 

     “Information I will only discuss with Miss Pines,” he raised his eyebrows “Is that you perhaps?” It was Ellis’ turn to consider. After a couple of seconds, she nodded.

     “Well then, Miss Pines, may I come in? I would rather not talk about these matters outside.”

 

     “You may,” he stepped forward but she held up a hand “if you tell me what this is about.” He sighed.

 

     “Did you see the announcement made by the prime minister yesterday?” She had been in her room almost all day, besides she wasn’t one to sit and watch the news anyway. She shook her head. “A shame. I am here to discuss that announcement.”

 

     “Well what does that have to do with me?”

 

     “Have you noticed any…new abilities lately?” Immediately her thoughts went to her drawings, her certainty that they were moving. It must have shown on her face as he smiled tightly as if she’d confirmed his suspicions. “I see. Then I am here to discuss the Donatus programme. May I come in now?”  

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