Monday, October 3, 2016

Lady in the Graveyard by Mala. M

It’s October!
Time for spooky short stories, poetry and prose!
Welcome Mala M., India!



 Lady in the Graveyard
Author: Mala M.

It was my first visit to Paris, though it was a business visit, but my school friend Dan did not leave me easily. As he had vouchsafed to show me the entire city in one day, he somehow forced me to come to the city centre.

“LOL, you’ll leave tomorrow, why do you want to waste your time in the hotel room. Come, let’s enjoy today.” He insisted.

So, it was Dan’s credit that right now, I was standing on the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge between the Notre Dame and Louvre Palace. While we were walking on the bridge Dan showed me numerous locks hanging from its railings, “Do you know, if anyone put a lock here by writing his or her lover’s name on it; the love lasts forever. It is also called the Lovelock Bridge.”

I smiled, “You know, I am an atheist.”

“You may try it.” Dan advised me. I saw a group of street vendors were selling locks of various sizes, the smallest one was five Euros and the biggest one was fifteen.

“No way, especially after my break up with Claudia, I have promised, not to put myself in the trap again.”

“But why?” Dan shouted and at the same time apologised, “I am sorry, it is your personal matter, but Claudia…”

“We are different, our ideologies are different, I am an atheist, don’t believe in rituals and she is too religious…”

“You can work out something to bridge this small gap between you two, John.” Dan advised me like a boss.

“Well, you try; after all you are a married man.”

“Last month I have tied a lock.” He answered with a smile.

I tried to divert the topic and said, “Dan, walk fast we have to see the museum and you’ll buy paintings from the street shops.” I reminded him; my friend was a bit crazy about paintings.

We entered the street where painters were selling their fabulous creations, most of the paintings were landscapes depicting the Eifel Tower and its surroundings, and very few had another kind of depictions. The original paintings were a bit expensive but its printouts were much cheaper. Some painters also copied the Mona Lisa and other paintings on their canvases.

Dan stopped before a small shop where an aged man was painting a landscape on his canvas. I surprised to see that the shop was a bit unusual, it had very few paintings. Some were landscapes and some were portraits, and all were oil paintings. I did not see a second piece of any painting.

“He sells only original ones.” My friend whispered and addressed the man, “Bonjour,” the man looked at us and said, “Monsieur Dand Simos.” He recognized Dan and greeted him warmly. I realized that Dan frequently purchased paintings from him. He showed us his newly created arts and Dan took three oil paintings; I was feeling a bit bored in that shop, because, I did not see anything interesting in those paintings.

“John, please don’t mind.” He apologised politely, “Now, we’ll go to the museum.” He smiled.

Suddenly, my glance fell on an oil painting kept separately in a corner. It was partially visible from my position, application of colours and shades were amazing. The landscape was depicting a moonlit night, I guessed.

“May I see that painting?” I asked the man. He initially ignored me, I thought, he could not understand my words. I repeated my request in French.

The man looked at me meaningfully and answered in clear English, “Yes, you can, but don’t buy.” He took his brushes from the table and kept them aside. I could not understand why he forbade me to buy that painting. I walked towards the corner of the shop and rescued the painting from the mound of old newspapers.

It was depicting an abandoned graveyard in a moonlit night, half of the graves and tombs were in ruin, covered by weeds and creepers. There were silhouettes of big trees at the end of the graveyard. Those trees had black branches forming various shapes against the deep blue sky. If one could see it properly, he could see a lady’s structure amidst of those trees. A lady in a black dress was walking towards the graveyard through its winding path. Now I looked at the rows of tombstones, they were ordinary tombstones with huge crosses, but one of the tombstones was polygonal in shape. I shifted my position and found that the polygonal tombstone was not blank, but had some name written on it, without dates.

“Domerick…” I read.

“Please keep it here, it is not for sale.” The man said in a monotonous voice.

“Amazing painting.” I praised, “You have made it?”

“No, that is why I’ll not sell it. I sell only my work.” He answered rudely.

“Gustave, please don’t mind, my friend does not know.” Dan politely apologised.

“I am sorry.” I said.

Gustave looked at us thoughtfully and said, “Don’t buy it, it has a dark history. This painting is cursed.”

“Cursed?” I surprised.

“Yes,” my friend said, “There are cursed paintings in the world. Did not you hear about the Crying Boy painting? Fire engulfed all the buildings having that painting, but it remained as it is.” Dan informed me.

I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t believe in paranormal things. I know, it is depicting a graveyard, but the artist is skilled enough to reveal smaller pictures through the tree branches he painted at the border of the graveyard.”

With a deep sigh, the old man said, “Monsieur, two months ago, a young man approached me and wanted to sell some old arts. He wanted to repay his debts by selling old antique things and oil paintings. Just like you, I was tempted to buy it, but you know, I don’t sell other artists’ works, so kept it in my wife’s bed chamber because she loved that piece. Two days later, Maria started complaining about sleep disorder as she could feel the presence of someone in her room in the night. One night, she screamed loudly, I was in my studio, finishing some paintings, I ran upstairs and found her in a miserable state. She was on the floor and senseless. The doctor declared that she had a massive cardiac arrest. I informed my sons and daughters, they came but Maria did not survive, she passed away within three days after that incident.” He paused and took a long breath, “She had no ailments, she was completely healthy.”

“I am sorry,” I said, “But it may a coincidence, Monsieur.”

“May be, I did not see any connection between the painting and my wife’s death. After her funeral, all of my children went back to their respective workplaces. Last month, my eldest daughter, Beatrice came from Vienna and decided to spend a few days with me. She preferred to sleep in her mother’s room and in the next morning, she too complained about the mysterious presence of someone in the room. I advised her not to sleep in that room, after all she was close to her mother. My story could be over here, but it did not happen. Though Beatrice changed her room, but nightmares did not leave her. One night she screamed aloud, just like her mother and I ran towards her room, I saw, she fell on the terrace from her room’s balcony. She was brought to the hospital, before her death, she said that, she saw the shadow of a woman coming out of the painting and walking slowly towards the door. So, she screamed and the shadow started moving towards her, she went to the balcony and lost control. I asked her why she went to her mother’s room in the night, she replied that some mysterious sounds and noise of footsteps drew her towards the room. Beatrice also died within three nights after the incident and I was so shocked that could not dare to keep it in my house. I noticed that both the accidents occurred in full moon nights.” His voiced was choked with emotion and tears came into his eyes. Both of us remained standing before the painting.

“What do you want to do with this painting, now?” I asked.

“I’ll burn it.” He answered.”

“Give it to me,” I said desperately, I would not let a superstitious man to destroy a valuable painting like this. “I’ll pay.” I again said.

“It’s not about the money, Monsieur, you’re my client’s best friend, and he buys my arts just because of love, so…”

“But you don’t know, how of respect others’ work. Anyway, I’ll offer you thirty euro, none of your paintings are above that.” To see the man in a dilemma, I offered fifty Euros and finally, he submitted the painting to me.

**************************************

It was a small gathering, I invited some of my office colleagues and neighbours in my home to show the painting I had purchased from Paris. They all appreciated my choice but none of them guessed the name of the artist.

“I have saved it from destruction. A superstitious man would burn it, if I did not offer him fifty Euros.” I said.

“It is worthy of that, John.” Michael said, he was my neighbour and had a hobby of painting collection. “I can offer you sixty Pound, if you like to resell it.”

I replied, “Sorry. I love the work.”

Really, the painting had mesmerised me. Since the day I had purchased it, every night I saw the scene in my dream. It was so vibrant, so lively.

“Forget it,” Michael took a peg of whiskey from the tray.

The party continued till 8 o’clock in the evening. In Edinburg, summer days last for long, but in October sun sets quickly. So, when my guests finally left my house, it was dark except the quarter moon in the sky. The full-moon night was approaching, I recalled the old man, who believed that in the full moon night, the painting revealed its inauspicious side. I smiled a bit and went back to my study. I have to submit a project on time, so, I had to work till midnight.

As I switched on my laptop, I forgot all about the painting and its bizarre story. Suddenly, I felt someone was walking in the drawing room. The carpet on the floor was preventing the noise of her footsteps, but still I realised that someone probably a woman was walking slowly.

‘A woman?’ I thought, my dormant mind was still absorbed in meaningless things; I smirked and took my revolver to see if the person was an intruder. I had heard that some rare paintings attract professional burglars.

As I came to my drawing room, I saw that the room was dark; none of the lights were working. I tried to find out the switches, but suddenly I felt that a soft hand touched me and prevented me from doing so. The hand was so cold that it could not be a living human being’s hand.

“Who?” I tried to ask, but I felt that my voice was choked. The door of the balcony was opened automatically and  the faint moonlight fell on the floor. The nearby chapel’s clock-tower declared midnight and with its every bell, all the windows of my drawing room were opened by a phantom figure. Suddenly, I saw the outline of a woman in a long gown, she was opening the door and windows, and she was trolling in the balcony as it was her own home. I brought out my revolver and shoot her.

A loud shattering noise of breaking the glasses disturbed the entire neighbourhood. The female figure disappeared in the air and I found myself standing in a room full of broken glass.

The police came and asked me to report the incident. I reported about intrusion and attempt to burglary, but the police did not find any evidence of trespassing. The entire night passed in doing formalities and when I finally came back from the police station, I decided to sell the painting to my neighbour Michael.

I called Michael and apologised for refusing him directly, “I have changed my mind, you can take the painting, and it is a gift from me.” I said.

Within half an hour, Michael came to my house. He was looking excited; he had not even combed his  hairs properly. I smiled; he was crazy about paintings just like Dan.

Michael took the painting in his hand, the painting was not too large or weighty, but looked like an A1 size paper framed in an ordinary wooden frame. He tried to guess the painter, but there was no name. ‘Domerick’; he read the name, “Is he the painter or the man in the grave?” he asked.

“No Idea, search the website.” I said wearily.

Michael started searching the name on his android phone; I offered him a cup of English tea. Leaving him in the drawing room, I went to the kitchen and when I came back with two cups of tea, I found the young man was looking cheerful, as he had discovered a new continent.

“An East European artist named Domenick, surname unknown, had painted the picture of a graveyard in 1954. He died young and probably composed one or two paintings for wider circulation. This ‘Lady in the Graveyard’ was his last painting where he mistakenly signed his own name on the gravestone. He died within three nights after completion of the painting and could not sell it.” I looked at the painting, the name was not Domerick but Domenick, really, the name was written in running words, looking like a signature, but it was not visible from all sides.

“Take it and keep it, a rare piece of art. I am a scientist, but you are an art collector. It should be in your home.” I said indifferently.

With a great excitement, Michael took the painting, as he left my house; I felt relief from a burden.

My busy schedule at the office and project submission kept me engaged for the next seven days. I did not meet Michael during that period or did not hear anything wrong from his house. I thought that the entire event was nothing but my imagination.

On a Friday night, while I was returning home from a weekend party, I saw Michael was walking towards my home with a rolled paper in his hand. I stopped my car and offered him a ride. He informed me that he was coming to my house only.

“Hope everything is fine with you?” I asked him, as he got into my car.

Michael smiled mysteriously, “Sure, I like to show you something, Mr John Arthur Cooper.” He uttered my full name in one breath, which made me astonished.

We entered the house and I tried to switch on the lights, but it did not work.

“I think a power cut or short circuit, let me check.” I said.

“No, I am fine without light, whatever I like to show you, can be shown only in the dark, do you know today is the full moon night? Very soon the Moon will appear in the sky.” He caught my hand and forced me to enter.

“Michael, I….I cannot spend much time…”

“Don’t worry, John, everything will be over very soon.”

The clock tower declared that it was ten o’clock of the night; Michael walked towards the balcony and opened the door. The moonlight fell on the floor. I suddenly saw that the rolled paper in Michael’s hand was no other than the painting. He stretched it on the table.

“Why did you bring it here?” I cried.

“So, you know all these. I’ll not leave you in peace, John. I died only because of you and you’ll die too.” He grinned.

“No….no…”

“See, Emilia will come very soon.”

“Who is she?” I first time heard that name.

“The lady in the graveyard.” He answered.

I was feeling sick, what did Michael say? He was dead? He knew the woman in the graveyard. He might have gone mad. I was not in the position to move, suddenly, I felt severe cold. The moonlight was falling directly on the painting; the entire landscape was looking haunted. The trees at the boundary were moving slowly, its black branches were creating the shape of a woman, the figure was moving on the paper, walking towards the tombstone depicting the artist’s name. She was a woman in a black long gown; her face was hidden under a veil and a hat. She was looking like a woman from the past.

“I shall follow you to the grave/ my love, please remain brave/ I cannot live without thee/ we cannot be parted in the sky or in the sea…” I heard a song coming from somewhere. A woman was singing those lines in a melancholic tone.

“Who?” I asked.

“Emilia.” He answered in a hushed voice. I saw a shadow emerged from the painting and a woman’s figure appeared in my drawing room. I could not see her face, but heard her song. She was walking towards the balcony. Micheal started telling me, “Good, you have a strong nerve. Listen carefully, she was the woman who lost her husband in the Second World War and before his death she was at his side and sang the last song. She died shortly after his death and their graves are in Germany. An East European artist Domenick visited the place and heard the story, he drew the graveyard and imagined Emilia visiting her husband’s tomb.  After finishing the painting, he mistakenly signed his own name on the gravestone. His work was so lively that he started dreaming the scene every night and died shortly. His death was mysterious, the painting vanished from his room, later discovered in an auction house. However, whoever possess it can see Emilia and soon follow her in the grave. Now it is your turn.” Michael smirked, Emilia’s movement had stopped, and she was standing just before me. She revealed her face, which had nothing but bones.

I started moving backwards, I forgot that Claudia’s room had been just behind me. I had not opened it since her departure. I also forgot that she put a Cross on the door, because I did not allow her to fix it on the main entrance. “No,” I screamed and pushed the door inside, the Cross from the wall fell on the floor.

Everything happened before my eyes. As Emilia and Michael stepped onto the Cross, both of them screamed and their bodies turned into black smokes. Their scream was so loud that I lost my sense.

One day later I discovered myself in a hospital. The boy who delivered newspapers admitted me there. I enquired about Michael and the Police discovered his rotten body from his house’s back yard. He accidentally fell from the terrace. He died only three nights after receiving the painting from me. I felt bad for the guy. I decided to destroy that cursed painting as soon as possible and after that I would call Claudia for begging apology.



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