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The Bare Room - a short story



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Old August 31st, 2011, 10:00 pm
RosieWildsmith  Female.gif RosieWildsmith is offline
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The Bare Room - a short story

The Bare Room - This is a short story about a cursed painting. The painting of The Bare Room first appeared in a short HP fic I wrote, it was one of the Dark Objects in the secret room under Malfoy Manor's drawing room. But since then that painting has been playing on my mind and it's been virtually asking to have something more written about it. Of course, a Muggle like Lucy Edwards wouldn't know that the painting was imbued with powerful dark magic - but for her ignorance, she paid the ultimate price...

Lucy Edwards looked around the room and let out a sigh. It was strange, she thought, how you could live in a house for years, and yet when it came time to move out and all your possessions were packed in boxes, the house reverted back to the way it had looked when you first saw it – blank, indifferent, as if you’d never lived there at all. While she had been through so many ups and downs in this house, laughed and cried within its walls, the house retained no imprint of her presence, or James’ for that matter. Lucy was something of a homebird; she had decorated this house lovingly and spent a lot of time arranging the rooms, buying ornaments and paintings to adorn its shelves and walls. Yet however she felt about the house, it was obvious now that the house felt nothing for her. Bricks and mortar didn’t retain memories, and nothing, once she had left, would remain to show that she had ever been here. A house did not remember. A house did not regret.

Lucy had plenty of regrets. It was into this house that she and James had moved when they’d made the monumental decision to live together. She remembered their first night here, how they had childishly jumped up and down on their big double bed, laughing – a place of their own at last! Lucy remembered her messy brown ponytail becoming unravelled in the process, before they both collapsed, laughing, onto the bed. He had kissed her then, covering her slim body with his muscular one, kissed her passionately. They had been so happy, then. Lucy had spent the last month wondering when it had all started to go wrong. The break-up had come out of the blue for her; when he’d said they “needed to talk”, she had had no inkling of what he was about to say, and the revelation had hit her hard. She couldn’t possibly afford to rent this house alone, so here she was now amidst the wreckage of the life they had shared together, packing everything into boxes. The one-bedroomed flat she had found a few miles down the road would suit her well enough for now, give her the space and time she needed to grieve for the future she would now never have. Time to wrap her mind around the momentous changes that had taken place recently. Losing James and their shared home so unexpectedly. Had she been an idiot, she wondered, for not seeing that he was becoming increasingly unhappy? Could she have done anything different, had she known?

Lucy stood up, brushing her tangled hair out of her eyes. It was pointless, she told herself, to be thinking like this. What was done was done, and there was no option now but to “get on with it,” as her mother had so sympathetically pointed out. She paced around the room, trying to decide what she should pack next. The trouble with packing was, once you got the big stuff out of the way, you were left with an assortment of odds and ends that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Tin openers, awkwardly-shaped ornaments, odd socks and bits of costume jewellery. It was depressing to her that this was what her life had come down to – odd socks and kitchen equipment. When it was all packed, her entire life would fit into ten boxes, two suitcases and an assortment of plastic bags.

She turned, and caught sight of the painting that hung above the fireplace. She eyed the painting with suspicion – she had never liked it. It had been there when they moved in. Lucy moved towards it now, wondering for the umpteenth time why anyone would buy a painting like this one. Lucy had several canvases she had bought herself, and they were all colourful, all meaningful to her in some way. She liked vibrant, life-affirming art. She had always found something vaguely sinister about this painting. It showed a bare room – four walls, painted in a nondescript bluey-grey colour, an uncomfortable-looking chair in the centre, and one tiny window. That was all.

The subject matter seemed innocent enough, but the painting gave her the creeps. She found herself staring at it sometimes, and would glance at the clock to realise an hour had gone by without her noticing. She didn’t want to look at the painting, but sometimes it seemed as if she couldn’t help it.

Lucy decided that she had finished packing for tonight. She just couldn’t find the motivation any longer. She supposed she had better make something to eat; now that she thought about it, she couldn’t remember if she had eaten at all today. Then she would go up to their almost empty bedroom, and lie in the big bed by herself, trying to sleep despite the strangeness of being alone, despite the lack of warmth from another, familiar body sleeping soundly next to her. She and James had always been cuddly sleepers – she would wake up to find herself nestled in the crook of his arm, or to find him lying beside her, his knees tucked up behind hers, his strong warms wrapped around her waist. Nowadays, she found herself fighting for sleep as the night wore on, and when she did finally doze off, she would wake in the small hours and momentarily wonder where he had gone – until it came back to her with sickening clarity that he was simply gone, and that she would miss him every day like this.

Pull yourself together, she told herself sternly, even as she recognised another of her mother’s favourite sayings. She walked slowly towards the kitchen to make her solitary evening meal.

**

Lucy suddenly became aware, a feeling like swimming up to the surface after having been too long underwater. She had been asleep and now – where was she? She was standing upright in the dark. She swayed on her feet. She had an odd sensation of being pulled forward, an insistent jerk that she felt somewhere in her midsection, as if she was a dog on a lead, fighting against the relentless walking pace of an impatient owner. She steadied herself and as her eyes adjusted to the gloom she saw that she was standing in the living room, in front of the painting of the bare room. She must have been sleepwalking. Lucy had often done so in her childhood, but couldn’t remember sleepwalking recently. It must be because her emotions were running high, she decided. As well as having trouble sleeping. It was perfectly understandable that she would sleepwalk at such a difficult time in her life. But still, she felt uneasy that she had ended up in this exact place, in front of this painting. As she had emerged into consciousness, she had almost had the feeling that she was being drawn into the painting itself, as if she could climb through the frame and find herself in that bare room, and sit down on the hard-backed wooden chair, looking out at her own living room, at the stacks of boxes – which surely from that point of view would seem like the real painting, as the bare room would become her reality…

Lucy shuddered. She turned away from the painting and, without glancing back, made her way back upstairs and back into bed.

**

“Well I can’t say I’m all that surprised, dear. He was a very nice young man, but after all you can be a bit…demanding, if you don’t mind my saying so. Never thought you’d hang onto him very long, but I kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t want to upset you. But there’s plenty more fish in the sea, Luce, I can tell you that much. Why, when your father passed away I never thought I’d find anybody else. Widowed at fifty! I thought I was all washed up, let me tell you. But look at me and Nigel now, we’re so happy together. Did I tell you we’re getting another dog? He loves animals, does Nigel, and they really respond to him…”

Lucy allowed her mother’s endless chatter to wash over her like waves over the sand. She had gotten so used to her mother’s nitpicking, her habit of criticising everything Lucy said, did, or wore, that it didn’t really affect her anymore. Criticism was just an inherent property of Jacqueline Edwards, in the way that being soft was an inherent property of pillows. It was futile to rail against the natural order of things, pointless to wish for her mother to be anybody but her mother.

Jacqueline worked swiftly and efficiently, lifting heavy boxes with no sign of effort. A robust woman with several chins and a permanent wave, Jacqueline was still active at 60 and showed no sign of slowing down anytime soon. When she wasn’t working part-time as a receptionist in a hair salon, she could be found walking her dogs (Lucy had lost count of how many she had now) or volunteering for a local heart disease charity (“You should volunteer too, Luce, I mean after everything we went through with your father, it’s the least you could do really.”) She never put off until tomorrow what she could be getting on with today, and had insisted on coming round to help Lucy move house. Lucy knew that she should be grateful, really; any help was better than none. But sometimes she felt she would have preferred less practical support and more emotional consolation. Her mother had not once acknowledged that Lucy had just lost the love of her life – she had felt sure that James was the one. She had allowed herself to imagine a wedding – herself in white with a veil, James looking dashing in a pinstriped suit and cravat – and a few years down the line, a little girl with James’ dimpled smile, or perhaps a little boy with his father’s arctic blue eyes…

“Enough daydreaming, Lucy, I’m not doing all of this by myself, you know! At my age too. Come on, pick up that box of plates and let’s get it finished so we can have a cup of tea. You were always like it, you know, going off into a world of your own. You were ever such a strange child, always staring off into nothing as if you could see something nobody else could. Your father swore you were seeing fairies. Come on now, in the car with the rest of them…I need to be getting back to feed the dogs you know…”

**

Once her mother had gone, Lucy breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her mother, but she found her most tolerable in small doses. Now she just had to finish cleaning the house. Her friends had warned her what letting agents were like – the slightest speck of dust on a windowsill and they’d have your entire deposit faster than you could blink. Cleaning products were the only things left in the house now. The rest had been moved to her poky flat down the road, the place were she would now live as simply “Lucy”. Not “James and Lucy”, not “Jimmy and Luce”, as they were known to their closer friends. Friends tried to cheer her up, talking about how she could really “discover herself” on her own and “do the things she really wanted to do.” The trouble was that, without James, she wasn’t quite sure who she was, and she didn’t really feel like doing anything. She wasn’t excited by the prospect of living alone, of the supposedly limitless freedom she would have as a single girl. Instead, she dreaded the thought of the long hours after work when she would sit in that flat, bored, with the TV on for company even though there was nothing on she wanted to watch. When it got to the time that James would usually come home from work, she would automatically check the time, wondering if he was running late, and then realise he wouldn’t be coming through that front door, not tonight, not any night.

Whenever she imagined her new, solitary existence, she was filled with unnameable anxiety and dread. All those hours, with nothing to fill them…

She set to work, vacuuming the carpet first. It was almost threadbare, and was an indiscriminate dark colour, chosen she assumed for maximum stain-masking properties. Next she started methodically dusting. As she dusted, she became aware that she was staring again at the painting. It seemed to draw her eyes to it, no matter where she was in the room. The painting had always bothered her, but over the last few days it had begun to do so more and more. It was almost like an itch she needed to scratch…except she wasn’t quite sure how to scratch it. She could take it down, she supposed…but she would be leaving this house in a few hours anyway. She would be dropping her keys off with the letting agents tomorrow morning and she’d never need to see that painting again. For now, she would just ignore it, she decided, and carried on dusting.

But no sooner had she turned her head away than she could have sworn she saw something in the painting change. She couldn’t have said what it was; it was a quick impression, picked up out of the corner of her eye, and then gone again. It was almost as if something had moved within the painting. The hairs on Lucy’s arms stood on end. She had the most eerie feeling all of a sudden, a feeling that, just out of reach, beyond the picture frame, something lurked, something with evil intentions. Something lurked there, and waited. She could feel it waiting – an oppressive, unmistakeable feeling. The absence of any sound almost felt like the absence of sound when somebody holds their breath. The silence and stillness had a marked quality to them, and this definite but indefinable sensation scared Lucy immensely. She tried to tell herself she was just being silly, but now she couldn’t seem to turn her back on that damned painting. She didn’t know what would happen if she looked away from it, but she felt that to do so would be enormously foolish, like looking away from a tiger hidden in the long grasses. She felt that if she looked away, she would be leaving herself vulnerable to attack. Attack from what, she was not sure, but the feeling was instinctive and very powerful.

I’ll just take it down, she decided. I’ll take it down, and cover it with something. Maybe I’ll put it in a cupboard. It won’t do the painting any harm, not for one night, and I’ll tell the letting agents where it is so they can put it up again. I need to take it down for now, my imagination is running away with me.

Lucy put down her dusting cloth and moved towards the painting, still wearing her rubber gloves. As she approached the painting, she felt an odd sensation – similar to vertigo, as if the ground had given way beneath her.
Just take it down, she said to herself. It’s only a painting. Just take it down and put it somewhere where you can’t see it.

As she moved to touch the painting, still fighting her feelings of nausea, she felt her vision begin to swim. She seemed to be looking down a dark tunnel, and all she could see at the end was the painting of the bare room…

She fainted.

**

“Hello, is anyone in? I’m from Cole and Sons lettings, just going to let myself in. Hello? Anyone home?” The neatly suited Lettings agent with the highly polished shoes let himself in to the living room, wiping his shoes on the welcome mat. He looked around. All the old tenant’s furniture seemed to be gone, that was a plus. It meant he wouldn’t have to organise movers to come and shift all the things they’d left behind. He’d been doing this job for five years now, and he still had trouble believing the things people left behind when they moved house. Bed frames, food, even animals sometimes. That was how he’d come by Daisy, his tabby kitten. Left locked in a kitchen for a week with no food and water. Some people could be so irresponsible. But he’d never had the impression that Miss Edwards had been like that. He’d even been sorry to hear that she’d split up with her boyfriend, James Mayfield. He remembered when they’d come in to sign the contract for this place, and they’d seemed so happy together and so full of hope for their shared future. Still, these things happened all the time. Couples seemed to break up over the silliest things nowadays. He and his wife had been married twenty years and they’d stood by each other through the good times and the bad – but not everyone valued commitment so highly these days. But he had been surprised when she hadn’t even come to hand in her keys.

He looked around the house, finding all the rooms empty. He returned to the living room, scratching his head. He sighed – they’d just have to change the locks. He’d have to hope that Miss Edwards had left a forwarding address at the office so they could send her the bill.

Before he left, he glanced at the canvas above the mantelpiece. He saw a lot of houses in his line of work, and yet he vaguely remembered this picture. He was sure it had previously been a painting of an eerie little bare room – it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing he would have hung in his own house. Still, he supposed his memory must be wrong, for there plain as day was a woman sat on the chair in the middle of the room, her head hanging down, long brown hair falling into her face. Her hands were clasped in her lap, and she looked like she was wearing rubber gloves.

The Lettings agent shuddered, despite the warmth of the day. There was definitely something about that picture that made him uneasy. Oh well, maybe the next tenants would like it. There was no accounting for taste after all.

He let himself out, wiping his shoes on the welcome mat again. He locked the door, and got into his car, his mind already on the paperwork he needed to complete once he returned to the office.

Back inside the house, the newest occupant of the bare room hung her head in misery, as silent tears began to trickle down her canvas cheeks.


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  #2  
Old November 26th, 2012, 4:24 am
Hallelujah  Female.gif Hallelujah is offline
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Re: The Bare Room - a short story

I really love this. Excellent job.


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  #3  
Old November 27th, 2012, 10:04 pm
asdfasdf17  Undisclosed.gif asdfasdf17 is offline
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Re: The Bare Room - a short story

Wow that was amazing and kind of eerie. You did a really good job and your writing style is very good too. I'm not usually interested in short stories but this one captured my attention right away so that's a plus!



Last edited by asdfasdf17; February 22nd, 2013 at 11:08 pm.
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