Isabelle- An Occult Thriller- Ch2
An Occult Thriller by Tony DeLorger © 2011
A dark figure, silhouetted by a distant light, strode urgently in front of Adam. He could hear the brittle autumn leaves crunching beneath the man’s feet as the pace quickened. In the near distance, a strange bluish light radiated from behind tall, ghostly trees, the rays split by a complex montage of gnarled branches and leaves. They pierced the blackness and exploded in stark contrast, until at their furthest point, they faded to insignificance, consumed by the night.
Adam tried desperately to keep up with the man’s urgent strides. As he quietly drew nearer to the light source, he began to hear the ominous sounds of echoing voices; dark and expressionless sounds that cut through the cold night air like a hot blade through butter. He pushed on until they came on a vast, open clearing. As they approached its perimeter, Adam nervously held back, allowing the man to go forward alone. He was not a participant here but an intruder, and he crouched nervously down under the cover of a nearby thicket, so not to be seen.
Burning torches surrounded the clearing in a perfect circle. Their flames leapt through the blackness bringing shadows to life, their flickering light dancing across the tree trunks and branches and illuminating their long misshapen extremities, enclosing the clearing like poised talons. A group of people had gathered here, all adorned in similar clothing. Long, dark hooded figures stood at spaced intervals around the clearing, their images void of any detail, faceless and menacing. In the centre of the group sat a large square block of stone and lying on that, another figure dressed in the same dark, colourless hooded robes. A large golden amulet sat on the figure’s chest and it sparkled in the glowing light of the torches, revealing encrusted precious stones.
Those ominous voices suddenly resumed and were joined by others in an unnerving chant. The words were strange and unfamiliar and Adam couldn’t understand them at all, nor did he want to. As the chanting slowly grew in intensity and urgency, an icy chill clenched Adam’s stomach. Something was about to happen and he for one wanted no part of it. He looked around, suddenly feeling even more distressed, fearing discovery. He didn’t want to be there, but had not the courage to risk retreat.
As the voices rose to fever pitch, a lone figure approached the stone block. He was carrying something in his hand, but the stone obscured most of Adam’s vision. The figure stopped in front of the stone and fervently raised his hand to reveal a long curved dagger, intricately engraved and adorned with jewels. Adam gasped at the sight of the blade and feeling yet another rush of panic, unconsciously leapt to his feet, accidentally cracking a twig under foot.
The chanting abruptly stopped and a deadly silence prevailed. The dark figures were now all facing Adam, but remained silent, motionless. He was frozen with fear. Then to his horror, the figure on top of the stone slowly rose to a sitting position and his hood gently fell to his shoulders, revealing his face.
‘Christ!’ Adam shrieked. It was the face in the painting, that evil, horrid face. The man suddenly began to laugh incessantly, maniacally and Adam was glued to the spot, unable to move a muscle. His body felt like it was being torn to shreds from the inside, the agony of pure fear, his captor. Amid Adam’s torturous panic, the dagger’s blade suddenly turned downward, the torchlight catching its encrusted handle. Then, as the flash of light cut into the blackness, the dagger was driven with tremendous ferocity into the laughing man’s chest.
Adam gasped in horror and sat bolt upright in a lather of sweat, finding himself in the darkness but also in the safety of his own bed. He had stopped breathing momentarily, his body rigid. As reality slowly returned and he realised he was safe and this was nothing but a dream, he exhaled with relief, but was shaken from the experience.
He sat in a daze, shocked and trembling. This strange event didn’t feel like any dream he had ever experienced; it felt real, all too real. He didn’t know what to think and carefully considered all reasonable possibilities, but that didn’t help. What was the connection between the painting and this dream? Who was this man? Adam knew only one thing, whatever was happening to him needed to be sorted out, for his own peace of mind.
The experience lingered for some time like a bad taste in his mouth, and it took him more than an hour to free himself from it. Eventually, and after great effort, Adam finally got to sleep again. This time there were thankfully no dreams, just the silent, sweet release of sleep.
When he eventually woke up, Adam found himself surprisingly refreshed, and within him a determination to pull himself together and to get to the bottom of all these strange happenings. He uncharacteristically shaved and even put on a reasonably clean pair of jeans. With his hair still damp, hanging in ringlets down to his shoulders, he scavenged the kitchen for some cash and eventually found some in an old coffee jar.
Today, he would join the real world, perhaps buy some treats, do a little shopping for necessities and then see what happens.
When Adam did eat, he had a definite ‘savoury tooth’, and when he put his mind to it would discover the most exotic treats. Delis were his domain and today he had a special one in mind. Mrs. Steinbeck ran a small family business only a few streets away, on the edge of the city markets. For many years she had run this tiny deli and people would come from far and wide to buy from her extensive range of delicacies, and for what Adam considered to be the best damned bagels in the world. He’d suddenly got a pang for some, and there was nothing that could keep him away.
Adam moved sprightly down the street swerving and weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic. He knew ever stone in the pavement, every post and doorway. The familiar surroundings gave him comfort somehow and allow him to forget his troubles, at least temporarily. As he turned the corner and the tiny stone building came into view, a smile crept across Adam’s face. Then with a quick but pleasurable scan of the deli’s quaint facade, he opened the front door and was heralded by a little brass bell attached to its inside top corner.
He spotted the owner straight away, stocking shelves as always. ‘Mrs. Steinbeck!’ he exclaimed, with a welcome smile. ‘Been awhile. I’ve missed those bagels.’
Mrs. Steinbeck had an obvious soft spot for the young artist, and turned to greet him with her face all lit up. ‘Ah, what have you been up to Mr. Bishop?’ she said fondly.
‘Missing you, of course,’ Adam replied, engaging the banter that began their meetings, and to the obvious delight of both parties.
Mrs. Steinbeck had lost her husband many years ago and sadly had no other living relatives. She had put an entire lifetime of work into this little business and what she didn’t know about food wasn’t worth knowing. Everybody loved her; she always had a smile and a story to tell and made all of her customers’ feel more like family than patrons.
The many years she had spent behind the counter had afforded her a great and compassionate understanding of people, and people valued her opinion. She was never short of something to say or the time for someone who needed advice, or some help. The neighbourhood was now her family and family was always of the up most importance. If she had charged a penny for every piece of advice she’d given over the years, she would have been a wealthy woman. But money was of little importance beyond survival; the deli was her life and she took great pride in it.
Adam caught up on all the local news and gossip and revelled in her company. He of course bought a huge bag of bagels and had extracted a multitude of deli titbits from the overstocked shelves.
‘I promise I’ll be back soon Mrs. S,’ he said, collecting his bag of goodies. Mrs. Steinbeck’s face erupted into a beaming smile, displaying several generous rolls of flesh under her chin.
‘When the bagels run out, Mr. Bishop?’ she replied.
‘You better believe it. See ya!’ he added, giving the doorbell a quick jiggle then swinging open the door.
Whistling as he walked, Adam strode confidently down the street, enjoying the colour and atmosphere of his village like neighbourhood. Being near the docks did have its disadvantages; there were places no-one in their right mind would go, especially after dark. But all in all, there was a real cosmopolitan atmosphere here. People from all walks of life, different nationalities and different religions, all shared their lives in relative harmony, creating a vast and diverse array of culture.
Adam had forgotten how interesting and alive the world was, having been so self-involved and preoccupied with his creative pursuits. This little outing was just what he needed, a solid dose of reality and the understanding that he was not alone, not the only one with troubles.
As he turned the corner, Adam stumbled on a raised cobblestone and consequently lost a packet of biscuits from the top of his over packed grocery bag. He was down on his haunches recovering it when he looked up and noticed a young woman sobbing in a doorway, one shop down. She seemed distressed with both hands covering her face, as if to hide herself. She was slim and well-dressed, with long glossy hair. She looked somehow out of place here and Adam felt instantly obliged to offer her help. He hesitantly walked over.
‘Are you OK?’ The young woman lurched back in shock and then embarrassment, that someone had noticed her. She nervously tried to wipe the tears from her eyes, apologising profusely for the imposition. Adam put his hand gently on her shoulder to try to reassure her and she bravely took a deep breath and looked up with a pained smile. Suddenly Adam’s warm expression turned to one of disbelief. It was the girl in the painting, that face of an angel that would be forever etched in his memory. She reacted instantly to Adam’s change of expression and edged her way out of the doorway.
‘I must go!’ she said in a panic, putting her head down and setting off.
‘No wait, I’m sorry!’ he said, heading her off at the bottom of the step. ‘Please wait? You just look like someone I know. Let me help you. You obviously need help.’
‘Look, I don’t even know why I’m here,’ she said nervously. ‘I really must go.’
Again she tried to leave, but Adam insisted, blocking her once again.
‘I’ll walk home with you; make sure you’re all right. Come on? I won’t bite.’ At last a genuine smile crept across her face, tinged with the last remnant of embarrassment. She hesitated for a moment and then nodded.
‘OK, but I live on the other side of town.’
Adam smiled and took her by the arm and led her back to the deli. He asked Mrs. Steinbeck to mind his groceries and they set off on foot.
Her name was Isabelle Harding and she was every bit as beautiful as the painting, even more so in person. He just couldn’t believe that she was real, let alone actually finding her. It was a most curious development, but Adam felt thankful for this strange twist of fate, even if he had no idea what was to be in store for them both.
They walked through the city streets for more than an hour and time seemingly drifted by without even being noticed. Through the backstreets of the markets into the bustling city-centre and on through the residential high rises and suburbs beyond they walked, and Isabelle talked openly, becoming quickly at ease with Adam.
He listened intently to what she had to say and from what he could gather, she had had a hard life. Her foster-mother had died a few years back and then not long ago the father was killed unexpectedly. She had been bequeathed the entire estate and was now financially secure, but something in her life wasn't right; there was more to the story. She was obviously unhappy and something was deeply disturbing her.
They strolled through tree-lined streets, at ease in each other’s company, feeling an unexpected bond quickly growing between them. Adam felt as if they had known each other for years and not merely strangers, as in fact they were. There was a connection here that unsettled him a little, a link between them that although it felt right, was also unnerving.
The sun slowly slid down over a cloudless horizon behind them, soaking the delicate blue expanse with gold’s and pinks, infusing the subsiding light with the last warm thought of day.
‘So why were you so upset?’
Isabelle looked up hesitantly, not all that sure she wanted to discuss it. But as she looked in Adam’s enquiring eyes, she saw a warmth and safety in him that allayed her fears. She sighed deeply and lowered her head.
‘It’s a crazy dream I’ve been having,’ she began. ‘I’ve had it over and over again, the last week or so. I just can’t let it go.’
Adam didn’t know how to respond, after experiencing his own strange dream. He couldn’t just pass it off, as he would have done normally. Dreams can be disconcerting, nearly always revealing, but what he’d seen could hardly be considered normal.
Isabelle and Adam finally arrived at her apartment block; it was almost dark. They both stood rather awkwardly for a moment in the twilight glow, not knowing what to say. Isabelle looked fleetingly up to her apartment, undecided for a moment but then, after somehow reassuring herself, she looked deeply into Adam’s eyes.
‘Come inside. I want to tell you about this dream.’
Adam could see it was important for her, perhaps some breakthrough. He understood her reluctance; he wouldn’t feel comfortable about revealing his own dreams. But since they felt a real connection and since the identity of this woman was more than a curiosity to him, he gratefully accepted and went with her into the apartment.
It was new and modern, roomy yet homely and furnished with an eclectic collection of old and new including many beautiful antique pieces, as well as some modern chairs, lamps and sculptures. Adam was more than impressed with her sense of taste. She was not only articulate, but sensitive and obviously artistic as well.
From a large bay window in the loungeroom you could see the darkened city slowly coming alive with its sparkling night-lights. In the distant horizon, only a glimmer of sunset remained, like a stain on the edge of a deep indigo cloak.
With steaming coffees, they sat together under the light of a single lamp, as the external darkness slowly surrounded them. Isabelle began to describe her dream. Adam listened carefully to every word; her speech was so eloquent and the detail and poetry of her descriptions were astounding. But as the scene unfolded, and the words, one by one parted from her lips, Adam found himself in a cold sweat.
The dream she was describing was his, almost exactly, in every detail. The figures, the stone block and the dagger...all there. But what sent a chill up his spine was the man she saw on the stone block was no stranger to her. His name was Ivan Blaskin, Isabelle's foster-father.
Adam felt a knot in his gut the size of a football. He felt he couldn’t react, couldn’t tell her, it was just too weird, too frightening. As she finished explaining the dream, a single tear rolled down her face. She hung her head, obviously struggling to reveal the rest of her story.
‘You see, Ivan was found stabbed to death in grassland outside the town of Bamfield, not long ago.’
Isabelle began to sob, covering her mouth with her hand in an attempt to avert her emotional outburst. ‘I saw him die...in my dream. He was laughing,’ she cried, leaning forward and burying her head into Adam’s shoulder.
Adam held this young woman he hardly knew and felt like he was about to explode. There was so much he wanted to say to her, but dared not; she was upset enough and how could it make any sense? They just sat there for awhile, silently. Isabelle was glad she’d told someone, getting it off her chest was at least a start, and Adam, although now confused about what was happening, was glad to have found Isabelle. Being together seemed right somehow. Although the reason or purpose was not now obvious, he felt that one way or another it would be and it would be a good to have met her.
After getting Isabelle’s phone number and her promise to visit his studio, Adam headed for home. Isabelle was more than grateful for his kindness and as he did, felt an uncommon bond between them. As Adam walked through the cold night air, he tried to piece all of these strange events together. ‘What was she doing at the docks?’ he thought, having forgotten to ask her. ‘What did this man Blaskin have to do with him?’ The whole thing just didn’t make sense. He didn’t know this girl and there seemed no circumstantial connection between them. It was all just too incomprehensible, unfathomable. The only thing that he knew for sure was that he would see Isabelle again, and somehow they would get to the bottom of it.
Adam was freezing when he got home. He fumbled with his door key, while trying to nurse his grocery bag on one raised leg. Finally the key found its way into the keyhole and the heavy metal door swung open. He resecured his groceries in one arm and switched on the overhead neon light next to the door. While it annoyingly flickered on and off as it had always done, he rushed to dispose of his bounty in the kitchen and to find an electric heater.
After about thirty seconds, the neon at last lit up and the hard white light flooded the studio. Adam looked up while unpacking the groceries and was gob-smacked by what he saw. The entire studio was covered with paint. There were squashed tubes of paint everywhere, canvases torn to shreds, brushes and bottles broken and strewn across the floor. His studio had been ransacked. Drips of paint ran down the windows and walls, even the ceiling was splattered in a myriad of colour. Adam walked over to the sofa and collapsed onto it, speechless. The door had been locked and there was no other way in. If someone wanted his attention, they had it now.
He began to feel a welling anger from deep within him, but there was no direction in which to vent it. He had no idea who or why this was happening to him. Every day held another secret and now a catastrophe, all unexplained. He was fast approaching that grey area that Ted so obviously feared. And now, like Ted, he wanted no part of it.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Adam resolved to clean up the mess and went to the kitchen to bring back a mop, bucket and some cleaner. He placed them on the floor in front of him and began to pick up debris. There were broken bottles, tubes of paint and brushes all amassed on the floor in congealed, sticky clumps. With a large plastic bag in one hand he slowly and carefully picked up the broken glass and anything that could be removed. While crouched down amid the mess, he noticed one of his large bristle brushes standing in the middle of the floor. It was strangely upright in the centre of one of the floorboards, as if it had been forced or stabbed like a knife into the hard wood. Adam was mystified and for a moment just stared at it, trying to figure out how that could have possibly happened.
As he sat there, distracted, he felt a sudden chill, as if someone had left open a window. He instinctively pulled his jacket over his chest and didn’t think twice about it, until the coldness rushed through his body like a freight train. He suddenly felt a presence, as if someone else was in the room. Looking quickly around confirmed that he was alone, but the feeling of a presence remained and it was beginning to unnerve him. He felt suddenly sick to his stomach as an unexplained fear began to tug at him, try to pull him closer. Apprehensively looking over his shoulder again, he thought he heard something in the corner and jumped to his feet. There was nothing there.
A deepening fear was tying him up in knots but suddenly he was compelled to explore the brush and stiffly walked over to it. His legs felt like lead, hardly able to move, and he was trembling, his skin crawling. He stood over the brush and looked down as a droplet of sweat from his brow descended to the floor, and as if in slow-motion, exploded as it struck the boards. His heart was pounding louder and louder in his chest and his skin was cold and damp, his breathing ever quickening. He crouched down and gently wiggled the brush from side to side, eventually easing it out of the floor. With yet another rush of panic surging through his mind, he groaned and closed his eyes, caught in the oppressive agony of it.
Then suddenly, as if grabbed forcibly by the throat, Adam found himself lifted upright with the brush still in his hand, his arm now stretched out in front of him. He felt powerless, unable to struggle against some unknown, overpowering force. Sheer terror overcame him and he could barely breath. His face was rigid, and shaking, his eyes almost falling out of their sockets.
Over in the corner sat a large virgin canvas on one of the easels. Suddenly it began to shake and the small chains attached to the positioning pegs began to jingle- the first thing to alert Adam to its strange unexplained movement. His senses were now razor-sharp and although he was unable to move, he saw and heard everything in stark, exceptional clarity. As the shaking increased in intensity and the legs of the easel began to clatter on the floor, Adam’s heart felt like it was about to stop, the pressure simply too great. Suddenly the easel slid forward abruptly, scraping disconcertingly across the floor and stopping dead in front of him. His eyes widened even further. How much more could he take?
For a moment he remained paralysed, unable to utter a word or move a muscle. Something was controlling him and he was at its mercy, without even the thought of retaliation a possibility. Then, like a fevered rush, he felt a surge of power within him and his body trembled under its seemingly boundless capacity. His arm, with the brush firmly in his hand, lurched forward and connected with the canvas, bright red paint oozing from its tip.
Adam’s hand began to move over the canvas, the brush forming a letter. He tried desperately to close his eyes, but couldn’t. He wanted in no way to be a part of this, whatever it was.
First the letter ‘I’ appeared then ‘S’, and then the rest of the word followed. ‘ISABELLE’ it read. Then ‘I’, ‘S’ followed by a pause, then ‘M, I, N and E’.
Adam’s head was shaking so convulsively, that he could barely make out what he had written. But, as he tried to focus on the blurred canvas, the sound of screaming, agonised voices pierced his ears, and as it built up to a climax, the brush slipped carelessly from his grasp and fell to the floor. Adam looked upward and with his eyes rolling back in his head, he collapsed onto the hard wooden floorboards, unconscious.
An empty silence now filled the studio and a silvery luminescent light streamed through the skylight above, lighting up the canvas. Trails of red paint trickled down the white linen surface and onto the floor. All was now still, dormant, lost in the blackness of night.
The next morning, dark brooding clouds hung ominously over the bay. It looked like rain was on the way and there was an icy chill in the air. The streets were quiet, those who had to be out, bustled hurriedly along the stone pathways, begrudgingly tending their business. In the studio, light had hardly ventured inside and Adam remained on the floor in the same position, still unconscious. Then, through the silence came a faint knocking from the front door.
‘Adam, are you there? It’s Isabelle,’ she cried with her face close to the cold metal door. She was certain he was there and in fact had been worrying about him all night. She didn’t understand why, but she felt some impending danger around Adam, and for her, some connection with it.
‘Adam, are you OK?’ she cried a little louder, with more urgency in her voice.
Adam suddenly woke with a start, hardly knowing where he was or what had happened. He shook his head, trying to clear his vision and awkwardly clambered to his feet. With eyes all squinted up, he hobbled to the door and opened it.
‘Thank God!’ Isabelle sighed, colliding with him in a hug that nearly knocked him off his feet. She stepped back holding his shoulders at arm’s length. ‘Are you all right? What’s happened?’ she asked, scanning the studio.
Adam scratched his head. ‘I don’t know where to begin,’ he mumbled, still rather disoriented.
Isabelle eased the door shut and helped Adam to the sofa. She surveyed the extent of the mess around her but said nothing.
‘Let’s get you cleaned up then,’ she said warmly. Adam looked up and smiled in appreciation and with her aid went to the bathroom to make himself look more presentable. He seemed a little more awake and steadier on his feet, so she left him to shave, shower and whatever.
For a moment she studied the studio, wondering why someone would do such a thing; it was an abominable act. Realising she would know about it soon enough, she went to the kitchen and opened some cupboards in search of breakfast food. But unlike her own well stocked and ordered kitchen, Adam’s was more like old Mother Hubbard’s, empty space and little else. But with what she did find, she managed enough ingredients for a basic breakfast and went about preparing it.
Twenty minutes later, Adam emerged from the bathroom hopping over the icy cold floor, trying to put on some woollen socks on the run. He felt at least civil again, but as he found the arm of the sofa to finish the job, he peered out over his once ordered studio and grimaced.
‘How the hell am I going to get that off?’ he mumbled, falling back over the arm onto the sofa. Then his deflation turned to anticipation as the warm, inviting aroma of a hot breakfast wafted in his direction. Suddenly his face appeared over the back of the sofa, watching Isabelle serving food at the table.
‘Come on. It’ll get cold.’
Adam somehow put his anxiety aside and gratefully sat down and devoured this unexpected breakfast. It ended being more than he usually ate in an entire day. Isabelle sat opposite him, enjoying his enthusiasm and quietly sipping her coffee. It was as if they’d known each other their whole lives. She seemed to know what he liked and what he wanted; she could read him like a book. Adam felt it too, at ease in her company and with a feeling of familiarity that usually came because of years in a relationship. This craziness had fatefully thrown then together; neither understood it, but they somehow knew that they had to be there, together.
Eventually Adam pushed his plate forward in submission and looked up toward the disastrous mess in front of him. He sighed deeply.
‘I just don’t know, Isabelle. Nothing is making sense,’ he began, now resigned to telling her everything. But as he hesitated, searching for the right words to begin, he felt a small tremor through the floor. Accompanying it, a low-pitched rumbling suddenly broke through the silence and the table began to vibrate. They looked at each other in confusion, and Adam’s terrified expression alerted Isabelle far more than the tremor.
‘God, it’s happening again,’ snapped Adam, standing up and holding on to the table, that familiar rush of fear tearing at him. The shaking was intensifying and plates and utensils in the kitchen startled to rattle noisily. An old glass cookie jar on top of the kitchen bench vibrated its way to the edge and fell to the floor smashing into a hundred pieces.
Adam grabbed Isabelle, trying to remain upright as the windows shook with the force and cans and boxes began to spill from the cupboards and furniture danced strangely across the floor. The metal beams overhead began to creak as the building contorted and the rumbling got louder and louder, the shaking more and more violent. They could barely stand up, but couldn’t move to escape, clinging helplessly to the kitchen doorway and huddling together in terror.
Then, to their astonishment, something even stranger began to happen. The spilt paint on the studio walls and floor began to bubble, as if it were molten. Even the dried drips of paint on the walls and windows suddenly turned to a hot steaming liquid, flowing downward to join the rest. They both watched in disbelief as the paint bubbled like some hellish pool of lava. Then, a high-pitched squeal suddenly burst into the studio, with a wind gust that swept them off their feet, throwing them into the kitchen. The gust gathered in the centre of the studio and swirled menacingly around and around, smashing lamps and chairs, anything in its path.
The noise was unbearable, causing both to cover their ears in defence of the squealing, howling and crashing. They hunched up in the corner against the cupboards terrified, their eyes clenched tightly together. It was like being in a tornado.
As the gust swirled relentlessly overhead and the violent shaking continued unabated, something else began to happen. The pools of bubbling paint, now all on the floor began to lift off in clumps, then as if thrown, hurtled toward the mounted canvas, still in the centre of the floor.
‘What’s happening?’ screamed Isabelle, burying her head into Adam’s shoulder, clinging on to him for dear life.
Each globule of paint lifted cleanly from the floor, directing itself accurately toward the canvas to find its mark. It sounded like the onset of a hailstorm. First came a few stones, then some more, eventually followed by a deluge, an almost continuous battering of sound.
As the relentless splattering of paint grew even greater in intensity and the wind gust overhead furiously circled like a whirlwind, Adam and Isabelle huddled helplessly, as the last of the paint collided with the canvas. Isabelle was beside herself, crying uncontrollably while Adam hunched over her, trying to shield her body from flying debris. Then, as if the canvas had somehow swallowed up the turmoil, it all abruptly ended and an unexpected and tentative silence fell over the room. Pieces of paper thrown upward in the maelstrom gently floated through the air and finally drifted silently to rest on the floor.
Adam and Isabelle sat motionless, not believing the lull. Like being in the eye of a tornado, they waited for the next wave of destruction, flinching at each insignificant sound as it broke through the eerie silence. But the stillness remained. They slowly clambered to their feet, brushing the debris from their clothes and hair and peering apprehensively toward the canvas, which was soaked with glutinous conglomerations of paint. They were both speechless, unable to even consider the possibilities. But as they stood there, their mouths gaping, a strange guttural, almost obscene sound began to emanate from the canvas. It sounded much like the squelching of mud through your toes. With it came a foul odour, an almost indescribable, putrid stench that made both of them cover their noses to avoid it, while gagging and trying not to heave.
‘Oh shit!’ cried Adam. ‘ Not again!’
As they peered at the canvas, it suddenly became alive as the colours individually crept and swirled trying to find form, fusing then separating in an erratic but strangely purposeful way. They stood, transfixed by the impossibility of what was taking place in front of them, still frozen with fear and unable to move, they could do nothing. Whatever this was, it was evil, in every sense. As they watched its hideous, primordial oozing, they shuddered, wanting somehow to escape this frightening display.
Then, before their eyes, the painting began to take shape. Lines were forming and colours were separating then blending, merging and creating. As details began to emerge and the form began to become recognisable, both took a step back. Isabelle saw it first and as a cold rush of terror enveloped her, she clutched at her heart.
‘It’s him, Ivan,’ she cried, trembling. She was right, it was that face again, the face that Adam had seen. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back, and as he did the canvas and easel began to vibrate. First slightly and then violently, the wooden legs jumping inches off the ground. With Isabelle firmly in his grasp Adam edged toward the front door, blindly searching for the handle, without taking his eyes off the canvas for a second.
Finally, his probing fingers found the elusive brass handle and he opened the door. Pulling the mesmerised Isabelle through the opening, he ran out onto the landing and then down the stairwell. As they fled, they could hear the sounds of smashing and creaking behind them. With their hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing frantically through their veins, they felt that someone was right behind them, feeling the heat of their putrid breath on the backs of their necks.
They burst through the downstairs door and out into the street in a frenzy. Hand in hand they fled, not looking back, even for a second, pounding the pavement, their faces stricken with fear. Toward the end of the street Adam heard a wailing roar from behind and couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder. Back at the studio he saw an upstairs window explode into a million pieces. Flames were now pouring out of the building, smoke billowing up into the night sky.
Adam and Isabelle ran even faster, pushing their bodies to the limit. On and on they went until they could run no more. Breathless and panting exhaustedly, they collapsed into each other’s arms, realising at last that they had escaped and were safe.
It took them more than ten minutes to calm down and to catch their breath. Their legs felt like quivering masses of jelly, hardly able to hold them up let alone run any further. They looked wearily at each other with such anxiety in their eyes they could not even begin to express it verbally.
Arm in arm, and having reached some modicum of composure, they slowly made their way to Isabelle’s apartment. Once safely inside they sat in silence consoling each other, having felt like they had just seen the gates of hell. Adam was frightened out of his wits, but this last little experience was all that he could take- he had had enough. This situation was way out of hand and he just couldn’t sit back and let it happen any longer. Adam’s anger and determination suddenly overpowered the deep-seated fears within him, and his face hardened. He got up and went to the phone. Looking up, he closed his eyes, retrieving a number from his memory. He began to dial. Isabelle sat nervously on the lounge, feeling shattered and wondering where this would all end. The phone answered.
‘Yeah?’ said Ted, in a bad American southern accent.
‘Ted, it’s Adam.’
‘Taz! Where ya been?’ he asked, obviously in a good mood.
‘Look, I haven’t got time to explain, I’m in trouble. Can you come over?’
‘Sure Taz, of course!’ replied Ted, now more than a little inquisitive.
‘Not the studio though. Write down this address.’
Adam gave Ted details and directions in a businesslike voice, and then sat back down with Isabelle. He put his arm around her comfortingly and she snuggled into his shoulder, still trembling. Adam was straightening himself, digging deep and finding the essence of his inner strength. His eyes were clear and sharp, his brow furrowed and determined and for once in his life, this rather delicate young artist felt empowered, not just in mind, but also in body.
A short time later there was a knock on the door and Adam and Isabelle both startled, having become understandably over-sensitive to any sudden sound. Adam got up and opened the door. It was of course Ted and Jenny and they stood there rather confused, wondering what the hell was going on. After some formal introductions, the four of them sat huddled attentively, nursing a hot cup of coffee.
‘I’m not sure what exactly is going on, but it’s gone too far and I have to do something,’ Adam began.
They all sat nervously, immersed, as Adam explained all that had happened. Each knew a piece of the puzzle but now they had to know everything, and in some way try to make sense of it all. Ted had of course seen the man’s face in the painting, how could he forget? Then, he saw its strange disappearance, as did Adam.
Isabelle, suddenly leaned over to a small drawer in a nearby side table and withdrew an old picture. She handed it to Ted and he examined it.
‘Hell! It’s him- that face. I don’t understand?’ said Ted, confused.
‘You see this guy, Ivan Blaskin was Isabelle’s foster-father. He was murdered some time ago,’ explained Adam.
Ted began to feel decidedly agitated, unnerved to say the least.
‘And then of course there was Isabelle. Hers was the second face in the painting. But that disappeared before either you or Jenny could see it.’
Adam turned worriedly to Isabelle who was now rigid, stunned by the news and trying to somehow digest what he had said.
‘Then fatefully, I met Isabelle. We both experienced the same dream.’
This was simply too much for Isabelle. She was more than in shock and her face suddenly turned pale. Adam continued.
‘I knew the connection, the man in the dream and the painting being the same, but until I met Isabelle, it didn’t mean anything.’ Adam paused thoughtfully.
‘You see, someone or something wrecked the studio the day I met Isabelle. When I was cleaning it up, something else happened. Some force or something took over, controlled me in some way. It forced me to paint a message....
‘ISABELLE IS MINE.’
‘I just don’t see how it fits,’ said Adam, bewildered. Isabelle sat forward in her chair, and looked up worriedly.
‘I think maybe I can answer that,’ she replied, hanging her head and composing herself. ‘Blaskin wasn’t quite right. In fact, I think he was mad. The last few years before his death, he changed dramatically. He somehow developed feelings for me, you know, it made my skin crawl. He was a twisted, tormented man, but I felt sorry for him’.
Adam sat back and looked pensively to the ceiling. ‘It’s beginning to make sense. He loved you- you rejected him. OK, I can see that,’ he said, pausing for a moment. ‘But why me? What have I got to do with this?’ he added, rubbing his forehead and wearily closing his eyes.
Isabelle warmly took his other hand in hers.
Ted and Jenny, rather overwhelmed by all of these revelations, sat stunned, wondering what they could possibly do to help.
‘And another thing,’ Adam continued. ‘In the dream, Blaskin was stabbed to death, as in Isabelle’s dream. But as the knife plunged into his chest, he was laughing, as if he welcomed it, welcomed death.’
Ted edged his way closer to Jenny, feeling insecure. Then he looked up at Adam, his eyes wide.
‘Ted, there’s a dead guy after me and I don’t even know why.’
Isabelle turned to Adam and looked deeply into his eyes. ‘The answer has to be in the dream,’ she said. ‘We’ve got to find out why he died.’
‘You’re right,’ answered Adam, turning to his closest friends. ‘The studio was burnt to a crisp this afternoon, everything destroyed. For us, there’s no turning back now and we just have to get to the bottom of this. Isabelle and I are both in real danger. This is scaring the hell out of me, but if we don’t do something first....well, who knows what could happen?’
‘Blaskin’s body was found in Bamfield, no more than an hour or so from here. Perhaps that’s where we should start?’ asked Isabelle. Adam looked to Ted and Jenny. Ted’s eyes looked like two saucers, he wanted no part of any ghost hunting.
‘Will you help?’ asked Adam, dead serious.
‘Of course we will,’ replied Jenny, without hesitation.
‘Won’t we darling?’ she said to Ted, with a sharp nudge to his ribs.
Ted smiled politely, but his expression looked a lot more like a grimace.