Red liquid steadily flowed out of the bottle and into her favourite delicate crystal long-stemmed glass. She lifted the glass and lightly shook it. She watched as the wine crash onto the side of the glass and going back down like tiny little ocean waves. Beautiful.
The sound resonated throughout as she walked across the hardwood floor in her favourite pair of red bottoms heels. She was in her favourite place: an abandoned warehouse stashed far away in the unknown. Lined across the 12-metres tall walls are her collection of all the artworks that caught her eye. She sat down on her wooden chair, slowly admiring all the artwork she collected throughout the years. Her collection was massive, enough to fund a couple of exhibitions. But, even with the copious amount of artwork she had, it never felt complete.
She placed her glass down on the long wooden table in front of her and shifted the centrepiece so she could see her favourite artwork she just attained. There he was, sitting at the opposite end of the table, looking as pretty as ever. His eyes were closed, but she could see it twitching ever so slightly. His shoulders gently moved up and down, and his dark brown hair dancing to the wind blowing from the big window behind. This was it. After four long years, she finally acquired the artwork she wanted since her first sight. Her lips slowly curled up into a smile, and she raised a glass to him.
“Where are you going?”
She ran up to him, dripping in sweat and confusion. He turned around, and there it was, the face that got her here in the first place. Almond-shaped brown eyes, tall and sharp nose and cherry-coloured lips with upturned corners, he looked like he just came out of a comic book. The white button-up he was wearing with the sleeves bunched up at the elbows just made him even more dreamy. She never saw anyone else that looked quite like this before.
“Home, I got to pack.”
“I’m leaving tomorrow, silly.”
She asked, her voice low and serious. Her eyes narrowed, almost as if she were mad. He looked at her perplexed. He awkwardly scratched his nape.
“Graduation trip, did I not tell you?”
“When are you coming back?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll just see how things go.”
The leaves rustled in the wind, with muffled cheers coming in the distance. Is he never coming back?
“I don’t like sharing my things.”
She examines his face, for she fears that this will be the last time she’ll ever see it again. His eyebrows scrunched in confusion. What did she just say? What things?
“Heh, it won’t be too long of a trip, I don’t think,” he said in between awkward chuckles. “Though if you’re maybe worried that I’ll forget about you, don’t be.”
She was upset that he was leaving her, but her face didn’t show as it slowly broke out into an involuntary smile. His shoulders relaxed, and he too broke out into a smile. There it was the face that brought him comfort throughout his school life.
“Ok, I really got to go now. Bye!”
Without missing a beat, he started walking away while waving at her. She watched as his silhouette becomes smaller and smaller, soon becoming a mere dot, and it disappeared over the horizon.
“You aren’t going anywhere.”
The candles went out. She slammed the utensils down in annoyance and let out a huge sigh of frustration. Not again. She stood up and sauntered over to one of her many cabinets in search of her lighter.
Found it. She kicked a metal plate over and made her way across the room to relight the candles. The flame flickered, and light soon filled the room. Nice. She walked back over to her half-eaten steak and continued eating it when she heard him groan.
“Where am I?”
There she was, sitting across from him, casually eating her steak in a white lacey gown, hair tied in a long braid with a golden butterfly pin on the side. She looked ethereal. If he didn’t know any better, he would’ve started hitting on her the moment his eyes laid on her. Was this her home? Why was he here? And how did he get here? Millions of questions ran through his slightly throbbing head, and he wanted to clarify it with her. He stood up and approached the table until he realised; he couldn’t. His ankles and wrists were shackled to the chair he woke up in.
“What is this?”
“What is what?”
He glanced down towards his wrists with a cuff over it and rapidly shook it, and a clanging sound rang throughout the room.
“Ah, that,” she uttered as she puts a perfectly cut medium-rare steak in her mouth. “It’s so you won’t move out of your position.”
The wind grew strong, and he sensed a chill running down his back. But he doesn’t know if it’s because of the cold or because of her. She sounded different. Cold, almost menacing. He gulped down his saliva, and in a small wavering voice, he asked, “What position?”
She stopped moving. Gently placing her utensils down, her eyes slowly disappeared into a line as she smiled at him. Her smile was different. It scared him. It wasn’t the gentle smile he was used to; it was nefarious. His eyes widened, and he slowly started to wiggle his wrist in an attempt to escape. She stood up and walked away. Away from him and into the darkness.
“Where are you going?”
“Where are you going?”
Now only he sits in the room, surrounded by everything she loves. Small quiet gasps came out from his mouth as he grew frantic. Why is she doing this? And where did she go?
The sound of metal clanging filled the room as he tried his best to pry himself free, but to no avail. The cuffs were bounded to him as if they were made just for him.
Each step she took sent shivers down his spine. The sound of her heels felt like it was taunting him, making fun of his futile efforts to run away. She stopped right before the light hits her.
“Why are you doing this?”
He could hear clanging sounds coming from the other side of the room. It was loud, almost deafening. It was as if she was intentionally making noise just to scare him. And it worked. He was terrified.
“Let me go.”
Silence. She stopped moving. He stopped moving. The only thing that he could was the howling wind which was getting stronger by the second. It was piercing, unsettling, and he felt suffocated. Nothing happened for what seemed like forever, and right before he was about to lose it, she slowly approached him.
The sound which scared him mere moments ago suddenly became the most comforting thing he had ever heard. Step by step, she moved into the light. He saw her shoes, then her dress, then her slight grin, then her face. She looked different. He wasn’t looking at the bubbly girl that always followed him around in school. He was looking at someone else; A sinister mirror image of her.
“The light hasn’t come in yet.”
She inched closer to him, placing her face just centimetres away. Her grin slowly grew till it became a smile. For a split second, his heart fluttered. He never saw her that up close before, and now for whatever reason, she almost looked pretty. They just looked at each other with neither one of them blinking. Staring at a familiar face, he was slowly getting comfortable, but she was just getting started.
“The moonlight. I have to wait for it.”
She pulled away and looked at him up and down.
“To immortalise you.”
His eyes widened in confusion, and she pulled herself away and went back to the other side of the room, disappearing into the darkness yet again. Her answer replayed in his head like a broken recorder as he tried to make sense of what she just said. Immortalise him? What? His breath quickened, and he started wiggling his wrists again, trying to break free. He was desperate now. Whatever feeling of comfort he initially had when he saw her had now completely disappeared. He didn’t want to find out what she meant by that.
She stood in front of him, with a paint bucket in her hand and a palette in another. She set it down by the edge of the table, went over to one of the closets by the side and pulled out a canvas and easel.
“I’m going to paint you, but I have to wait until the moonlight comes in and hit the precise spot first. Why do you think I had this big window installed in the warehouse?”
She dipped her paintbrush in water, squeezed paint on her palette her began outlining her already favourite painting.
“Why are you painting me?”
“Because I like you so much.”
Her hands moved elegantly, her skin illuminated by the moonlight. He leaned back onto the chair almost in defeat and just watched as she paints.
“Won’t a picture suffice?” he asked as she swapped paintbrushes.
“How can I capture the essence in a photograph? Such beauty deserves its own painting, don’t you think?”
He knows this situation is wrong, and she is not as sane as he once thought, but that didn’t stop blood from rushing to his cheeks and turned him into a bright red dot. For hours both of them just sat opposite each other, making eye contact every time her head pops out from behind the canvas and examines his face that she adores so much. The moonlight soon came creeping in, casting a flawless white light on him just as she wanted. She quickened her pace, rushing to capture the beauty of the moonlight on his skin before it goes away.
“So, when will you be done?”
“Before the sun comes up?”
She continued painting, changing her brushes every few minutes. Her eyes moved rhythmically, switching from looking at the canvas to him, never breaking focus.
“My legs are getting pretty numb. Do you think you could let me take a quick walkaround?”
“I already told you that you can't move.”
“I’ll just wait till you’re done then.”
She abruptly put her paintbrushes down and took a deep breath. She glanced at him before disappearing into the darkness once again. He simply sat there, trying his best to stretch his numb limbs and trying to figure out when she will be done with the painting.
“I feel tired too. How about a quick snack?”
“What about the moonlight?”
“It’ll be fine.”
She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and approached him with a plate full of seafood pasta, his favourite dish. She knelt to meet him in the eyes and started feeding him. Given that he has been sitting in a chair for hours without eating, he gulped down the pasta faster than the speed of light. She then strode back to the long table and started eating too. It didn’t take long for her to finish as well. She took only two bites, and she threw the rest out.
“If you couldn’t finish it, you could’ve given it to me.”
She simply smiled at him and went back to her painting.
“So, are you still planning on heading overseas?”
He nodded his head. She shook hers.
“Then you better start getting comfortable then,” she said as she tilted her head out to look at him, “because you’re not going anywhere.”
She continued painting.
“You said you’ll let me go when you’re done.”
“When did I say that?”
She puts her paintbrush down and then picked up another smaller one.
“You can’t possibly keep me here forever.”
She moved in closer to the painting, trying to capture the details.
“You have to let me go sooner or later.”
She pulls her head back and flashes a wicked grin yet again.
“Then I’ll pick later. I don’t like sharing my things anyways.”
He sat up straight in shock. The whole reason he stopped resisting was that he thought she’ll let him go when she’s done with the painting, but now it turns out that she doesn’t have any intentions of letting him go? And just like that, he ran out of patience.
“I am not a thing, and I’m not yours.”
“Sure, you are. You’re here right now, aren’t you?”
He felt his anger level rising, and soon he was back to what he was doing when he first arrived here, forcefully twisting his wrists out of the cuffs. It still was no use.
“Stop moving! You’re ruining the painting.”
“Let me go! Let me go!”
His booming voice filled the entire warehouse.
“You’re going to be here a while, so might as well get comfortable.”
He didn’t listen to whatever she said. He screamed for help, shouting at no one in particular and moving his wrists so much it was moments away from peeling. Tears of frustration came soon after, and his screams became more desperate. His voice started cracking.
“Smile… you look pretty when you smile.”
The screams continued. And then a plate broke.
“I asked you to smile; why aren’t you smiling?”
He looked over to see her standing with broken ceramic pieces by her side.
“Let me go!”
“Smile for me.”
“Let me go!”
“Smile for me.”
“Let me go!”
“I said smile!”
There went another plate, flying across the room. She looked at him with such anger in her eyes it felt like actual flames were coming out of it. She then touched her cheek and looked down at her damp fingers.
“Are these… tears? Crying? Why am I crying?”
“Because you’re psychotic.”
She looked up at him and watched as his shoulders rapidly moved up and down. He was fuming. He is going to ruin her painting. She turned her back towards him, sat down in front of the canvas and told him to smile once more. But her voice changed. It was deep and authoritative. Cold-hearted. It was chilling. He started laughing; Laughing at the ridiculousness of this situation. Mere hours before he was ready to pack and go on a graduation trip he had been looking forward to for months, and before he knew, he was chained to a chair in an abandoned warehouse with the girl he thought was his friend but was a neurotic little she-devil instead. His laughter filled the warehouse, and it was like music to her ears. She became lost in her little bubble again, just painting quietly before the moonlight goes away.
She picked up yet another brush and worked on the intricate features of his face.
She smiled in satisfaction. She looked at her work-in-progress and beamed with pride. For someone who has to work with a reference that was constantly moving, she did well.
“Because you’re pretty.”
“What does that even mean?”
Her head popped out once again from behind the canvas. She looked at him dead in the eyes and said,
“Can’t you tell? I like pretty things.”
He turned his head around and looked at all the paintings surrounding him. It was splendid, to be honest. There was a painting for just about anything. And not just that, he could see some sculptures at the back, hiding in the shadows. If he were not chained up right now, and if she were gone, he would love to take a walk and fully immerse himself in all the masterpieces all around him.
“What does this have to do with me?” he said exasperatedly, “Do I look like I belong in your little museum?”
“Who says you don’t?”
It was like her speciality. Each word that comes out of her mouth just pushed him further and further to the edge. He still couldn’t comprehend why she was doing this. He was stuck in between a rock and a hard place, and he couldn’t get out until she says so, if she ever will. And then it began again, him screaming and crying, calling her all sorts of names in the book in hopes that she’ll be frustrated enough that she’ll just let him go. But she’s unfazed. She didn’t throw things at the wall or scream at him like before. She just calmly painted, as if she were deaf and she couldn’t hear him. No one knows how long he resisted and shouted, but much like anyone else, he eventually got tired and stopped. This feels like someone wrote down his nightmare and forced him to live through it, except this time it’s worse; he can’t wake up. His cheeks were drenched in tears, his eyes bloodshot, and his wrists covered in bruises. He looks different, and she didn’t like it. She put down her paintbrushes and simply stared at him with her brows raised.
“Who are you? What happened to the sweet little girl I knew back in school?”
She flashed a mocking smile at him while he struggles to even lift his head.
“I don’t attend your school.”
“I only went there because of you.”
This revelation just sent him further down the spiral. She doesn’t attend his school? Was she not who she said she was? Why was this happening to him? The number of thoughts running through his head was too much to handle, and he was utterly defeated.
“Please…please just let me go.”
Should she? He looks different now anyways, not the same thing she wanted. She contemplated, thinking whether she should continue painting or wait until he goes back to normal. Until his eyes are no longer red, and his face is no longer swollen. They sat there in silence, both unwilling to compromise. It’s a lose-lose situation. Her favourite artwork now looks different, and he’s stuck in a chair.
“Do you really want to go?”
He nodded his head in exhaustion.
She stood up and approached him. Each step she took no longer strikes fear or comfort in him; he feels nothing now. He’s tired, and he just wants to go.
“Since this might be the last time we say goodbye, can you promise me something?”
She gently cupped his face with her hand and bent down to meet him at his eyes.
“Promise me you’ll never change. Promise me you’ll stay the same. Promise you won’t damage my favourite artwork.”
He took little gasps. There it was again, referring to him as an item. But he didn’t care anymore; he would do or say just about anything to get away from here.
He timidly nodded his head and watched as she broke into a smile one more time.
She puts her paintbrush down, and her eyes disappeared into a line as she looked at the painting. She picked up a bottle of wine she had sitting at the table and poured herself a celebratory drink.
After hours of strong winds, the rain finally came. It sounded ever so beautifully haunting. She always liked the rain. It was the perfect weather, even more so tonight. The sound of raindrops outside the warehouse feels as though it was congratulating her and crying for him.
She sat up straight to take in and admire the painting she just did. It really was impressive. Never in her life did she think she’ll ever paint a masterpiece quite like this one, but here it sits, on the little wooden easel she built herself.
She slowly approached the artwork, inspecting it even closer. Beautiful, just beautiful.
Now only mere centimetres away, the grin on her face grew even bigger. She ran her dainty little fingers across, appreciating it once more. Her fingers ever so gently grazed his eyelids. She closed them and wiped a singular tear on his cheek away. Fantastic.
She walked over to her chair and soaked in the beautiful image sitting in front of her. Everything could not have gone more flawlessly. Now in the warehouse finally sits all of her favourite artworks. The most charming and hypnotic works the world never saw. And right in front of her is her favourite, the one she wanted ever since she laid eyes on him, and now he will sit there until she decides otherwise.
“I told you I don’t like to share my things. And like I’ve always said, you really are the prettiest thing I ever did see.”
© 2021 Alison Lian