Today’s Brew: Ginger Ale right now.
‘Hey mom, listen to this!’
“You are cordially invited on the night before Christmas – to the Salem Gallery of Art for an exclusive viewing of ‘Hell on Earth – A depiction of gruesome art through the ages’. Students in my high school History of Art class will gain extra marks. Seasonal refreshments will be served. The viewing begins at midnight. Don’t be late – be dead on time (Sorry! Couldn’t resist that, just getting into the spirit)
Signed: Professor Eric Luf – Head of Art.”
‘Can I go Momma, can I? It sounds like a blast! Timmy can drive me and we’ll be back before you know it for Christmas Day with the family’. Sally put on her most beseeching face.
‘Well, I suppose you’ll have done all your chores by then and the tree has been decorated and the presents are wrapped. And let’s face it – you should have a bit of fun with your friends on Christmas Eve. And, it is that lovely Mr Luf, who’s helped the whole class improve their grades this year. Okay – but call me if there’s any problems or if you need picking up’. Her mother had that loving twinkle in her eyes. A look for the last time.
Eric Luf was full of seasonal goodwill. At school it took a little while for staff and students to accept his eccentric way of dressing. It was as if he was living his living, in as much he’d adopted a very ‘arty’ persona mirroring his idol Salvador Dali. Flamboyant clothes, a highly colored waistcoat, a long crimson velvet smoking jacket, cravat with inset sparkling sapphires, a lovingly waxed and upturned mustache, piercing blue eyes of polished glass all topped off with a raspberry beret. No surprises that the kids called him ‘The Prince’. He was not tall of stature but you knew when he was in the room. He exuded presence, a kind of magnetic charisma that demanded attention and obedience without a single word needing to be said. He was a fantastic teacher and everyone admired him.
Eric greeted his students with beaming smiles and mulled wine. The cinnamon and fruit zinging and tickling as the warmth caressed the throats of twelve eager students. They were gathered in the reception area waiting for the exhibition to begin. Sally gripped Timmy’s hand, high on expectation, excitingly scared.
Ever the showman, at three minutes and fifty three seconds to midnight, Eric pressed ‘play’ and AC/DCs ‘Highway to Hell’ blasted an opening of the exhibition. Double doors flew open, dry ice floated like cemetery mist, spotlights shone down upon six of the most evil artistic creations known to mankind, paintings blown up ten foot tall and arranged in an overlapping circle of malice. The students whooped and stomped their feet, laughing, clapping at the over-the-top theatrics. Realization had yet to dawn that a tincture of psychotropic drug had been syringed into the mulled wine. Sally and Tim never felt so relaxed and carefree.
Eric let the noise die down before taking the mic.
‘Welcome everyone! As you see, there are 6 masterpieces to admire tonight and 6 girls and 6 boys – 666, my favourite number. You’ll be working in pairs. I hope you’ve brought your notebooks and pens. I look forward to reading insightful comments and critiques. The first and earliest painting is by Hans Memling, dated circa 1485 and simply named ‘Hell’. The second is the ‘Flaying of Marsyas’ by Titian and painted in the period 1570 to 1575. The third is ‘The Nightmare’ by Henry Fuseli 1781, the fourth is ‘Saturn devouring his son’ by Paul Rubens, the fifth and sixth are by Heironymous Bosch, who captures my idea of hell. The first being ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’ and the sixth and in my opinion the scariest of them all, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Now, please choose your partner and adopt a painting of your choice. Use the headphones to hear my voice with a description of each – enjoy!’
Clutching their workbooks the Sally and Tim stood enveloped by the living nightmare that is ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Mankind had fallen prey to all temptations and was perpetually reaping the punishment of the devil with eternal damnation. Tiny figures are tortured, sliced, cut, degraded in a never-ending cycle of agonizing horror, death and debauchery. The soothing, rhythmic, hypnotic voice of the Prince began to ooze through the headphones like liquid tranquilizer into their pliable brains and to those of their friends.
‘To enter the mind of the artist, to embrace the vision, you must step inside the painting to gain true enlightenment. To be as one with the creator, take one step forward and touch the canvas. Lay both hands against the painting and gently push. Open the door to the other side. Step inside – do it now.’
Six boys and six girls obeyed. They moved as silent automatons to be absorbed by the paintings. Each canvas molding to their bodies sucked, then spat them inside as fresh meat and lost souls. There was a fleeting second, but only a second, when they could turn back and see through the canvas and into the gallery. Only a second to realize they were engulfed, trapped in hell for ever and witness the hideously triumphant face of Satan, the Prince of Darkness, glorying in their panic and distress. His horns, sprouting and piercing the raspberry beret like daggers, eyes of killer-red laser beams, his dandy clothes shredded and torn, his cloven hooves tapping and dancing an exultant, insane jig of delight.
Christmas Day. The whole town was searching and searching. The found Timmy’s car under a foot of snow parked outside a ramshackle shop front. No sign of the Salem Gallery of Art. The snowfall had covered all trace of footsteps. The shop floor was covered in dust and dirty floorboards. A single notebook lay open with Timmy’s scribbles and a deciphered anagram. Eric luf is LUCIFER!
Steve comes to us from my Linked In Short Story writing group. In his first entry into our monthly contest, he won. Way to kick things off! Check out more of his stuff here.