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The Pernicious Portrait

The Pernicious Portrait

A Story by PWyates
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How did Gilderoy St. Sebastian, and his loyal butler inherit the magnificent estate from the eminent Ava St. Sebastian? A mystery that will test them to the core when her final portrait arrives.

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Inside the study of St. Sebastian Manor Count Gilderoy St. Sebastian, master of the house sat smoking through an ivory opera length cigarette holder.  The title of “Count” was merely assumed to heighten his already puffed up ego.  Seven years prior Gilderoy had inherited the stately St. Sebastian estate and it became less stately with each passing day under its new owner.  Gilderoy was employed as an “art dealer” currently busy lounging in his maroon swivel chair.  His supple frame leaned heavily against the seat’s large back.  Gilderoy was perfectly camouflaged in his favorite smoking jacket which was almost the exact same shade of dark red as the chair.   He was a true man of leisure through and through.  Suddenly breaking through the comforting smoky haze was Gilderoy’s sullen butler Clive Beachum standing in the doorway.  Dressed in his musty old tuxedo which strongly resembled funeral garb, announcing…

“Caller at the front gate sir, he seems to require an appraisal. At least that’s what I infer from the large framed canvas he is carrying.”

“Ughhhhhh… couldn’t have possibly chosen a more inopportune time.” Gilderoy murmured to himself.  Exhaling slowly he continued, “Well as it seems to be a matter of business, I suppose that there’s time for a guest; just make sure you get right on dinner Beachum” Gilderoy finished.

“I’ll send him up right away, and start on the pineapple chicken post haste Count Gilderoy.”

“Excellent.”  Gilderoy spun round in his chair, facing the window and its dreary view.  Partially to avoid facing his mystery guest until it was absolutely necessary.  Mostly for the scenery and the single lavender flower in a thin vase filled with an opaque liquid.  This sprouted unwanted feelings of apprehension and guilt.  However they were short lived, abating when he heard the door open and close, followed by soft footsteps.

“Greetings Count St. Sebastian; I am Alastair Nesbit.  A dear friend of your Aunt Ava’s” the stranger said introducing himself.  “You may not remember me since we only met once in passing.”  Gilderoy was still staring transfixed at the flower.  Finally, painstakingly he rotated his chair around to face the man.  Gilderoy realized that the visitor had inferred correctly.  All he knew was that the man looked like middle-aged Boris Karloff covered from head to toe in almost archaic garments.  He was also (as Clive had mentioned) clutching a rather large canvas front end facing his chest, with a strange symbol scrawled on the back.  One Gilderoy vaguely recognized, but the memory was too fuzzy to fully recover.  However, once Alastair placed it face down between them on the desk, memory flooded back.  He knew exactly where he’d seen the symbol before, and who the man was.

“Oh yes, now I recall!  You were retained by my dearly departed Aunt to paint what would be her first and final portrait.  Is this the finished product?  I must admit that I am surprised it took you so long.  But nonetheless I am more than grateful for your bringing it here.  This is a fine monument to my late surrogate mother, something my home requires desperately.”

Mr. Nesbit began to respond, but Gilderoy, seemingly recalling something of the upmost importance interrupted him…”I must warn you though Mr. Nesbit, I am a professional art dealer. While the value of personal sentiment on this specific item may be infinite for me; I cannot in good conscience pay more than it is worth in my world.”

Alastair politely waited for him to finish; smiling passively staring at the flower on the window sill behind Gilderoy.  “That was not my intention at all dear sir; this is a gift that we…we being your aunt’s collective pupils, are obligated to bestow upon her only living descendent.  You see the reason the ‘final product’ was so tardy is due to the simple fact that it required finishing touches from all of her students and colleagues.  Namely the flower on the vase to her left, much like the one positioned behind your chair.  It is Monk’s Hood.  A beautiful purplish flower that when ingested causes several unpleasant symptoms that lead to heart failure.  Much like your dear Aunt herself” Gilderoy sputtered out smoke when he said this, “so beautiful; yet so inconspicuously powerful.”

Gilderoy was shaken to the bone by these last statements from this mysterious man; this Alastair could not possibly know his secret.  Let alone deconstruct everything he’d so meticulously built.  “I had no idea that my aunt had any inclination towards the arts.  I assumed this portrait was merely for vanity’s sake.”

“Yes she was indeed intrigued by all forms art.  I’m sure there was much of your Aunt that would surprise even you, not to say you didn’t know her.   Rather that she was a Renaissance woman from another wonderful time.”

“Amen to that, what a fine and unexpected gift this divine painting is along with your company.  Come my new friend, stay for supper and regale me with tales of my illustrious Aunt Ava.  My man Mr. Beachum makes a brilliant pineapple chicken dish.”

“As tempting as that sounds, I’m afraid I must decline your offer.  There is still much for me to do before the sun sets.  Good day, Count St. Sebastian.”  In a flash Mr. Nesbit was gone seconds later Gilderoy heard the front door slam, making the man nothing more than a mere memory.

Gilderoy was relieved by Alastair’s declination to his dinner invitation, the man made him uneasy in all honesty.  Gilderoy was also disconcerted and confused as to what should be done with the grim portrait.  He lost himself staring back and forth at the painting in his hands, and the flower on the window sill.  Several minutes passed before Clive reentered the room.  This time completely unnoticed by the transfixed Count.  “Dinner is served, sir.”

Gilderoy, jumped up with a scream, he dropped the painting leaving it in plain view for Clive to see.  He too was so taken aback at seeing his former mistress that he too almost let out a shriek.  The muffled sound that surfaced was more like a mouse whose tail had just been caught in a trap.

“My apologies sir,” said Clive taking a large gulp.  “Is this what that man had in his arms?  Please, Count St. Sebastian, don’t tell me you’re going to actually put that horrible monument on display in our home.”

“Oh now, Clive no need to apologize.  I guess the day was longer than I thought, must’ve began to doze.  Just set the tray down next to the painting.  Excellent, it seems to be up to par and then-some Clive.  And as for this painting, no need to worry yourself about it my dear man.”

Loyal Clive dutifully, but with an unmistakable air of disdain approached the desk.  He too was lost in the horrifically striking resemblance of his old mistress.  He gulped again, and then looked at the flower behind his employer.  Clattering the platter down on the mahogany, nearly spilling the entire meal on the floor “ss...ss..Sorry sir, I truly am; it’s just that painting.  I never could understand why you kept that other flower from that horrible night.  And just as I’m getting’ used to all of it, this gets sprung on me.  Not trying to complain, sir; this is just a lot for a simple man like me to handle.  Lies and reminders of those lies we keep telling.”

“Get a hold of yourself Clive!  Christ, you are behaving like a hysterical, guilt-ridden child.  The flower is what it is, a reminder.  And so is this portrait,” He pointed down at it without looking, “yet another reminder Beachum.  Not a reminder of an evil deed, rather our triumph and the fruits it has born.  Mr. Nesbit was charitable enough to offer this as a gift.   I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the critical importance that my family’s legacy remains pristine.  A majority of the power behind this estate lies in its legacy, my lineage.”  His confidence shook as he glanced at the flower, but he quickly regained composure.  “How could I call myself Count with any self-respect if I did not respect the roots from which the title bloomed?  This,” he pointed down again.  Still unable to break eye contact with his butler, “is a gift from the community.  I won’t take the slightest chance of gossip spreading about town sculpting me into some sort of foppish ingrate.”

“I understand sir, but when’s the last time we even had a visitor prior to Mr. Nesbit.  Besides, you know how I felt about her, the chills her simple gaze would send up and down my spine.  You look into those painted eyes and tell me they are capable of forgiveness.”  Beachum replied meekly but with no small amount of resolve.

“I certainly do understand your feelings of anxiety, and fear when it comes to my Aunt Ava.  But the bottom line again is the vast worth of the good name this estate was built upon.  The amount of guests we receive is beyond the point.  What is this grand mansion worth, this lavish lair of mine; my dear Clive what is your vocation worth?  The answer is nothing, the painting simply must be hung somewhere.”

Sighing deeply, but discreetly Clive swallowed his defeat and exited the room; just before closing the door he made one last ditch attempt to be heard.  “I’m just sayin’ sir, I know you’re the master of the house and your say goes.  But we both know why you keep that single Monk’s Hood flower in that vase by the window.  Worse, we both know how we sullied your name already.  Most important you know I can handle a secret.  Don’t know if I can handle this again.  Seein’ her face day in, day out you know.  It’ll remind me of what we did over and over again.  Worse than that morbid reminder you got behind you.”

 “Yes well that is why you are the help and I am indeed the master.  As I recall, and as you just reminded me we engaged in a joint decision all those years ago.”

 

 And with that Clive closed the door.  When it re-opens the same room is seen seven years prior.  A stark contrast of decoration is instantly obvious.  Gilderoy, looking about half his current weight and age passes through the threshold into the study.  The unfinished canvas of Ava’s portrait is standing on an easel propped near the fireplace.  Aunt Ava is sitting behind the desk, wearing a pair of half-moon spectacles.  Attentively pouring over several ledgers, journals, pieces of correspondence and ancient tomes as reference to some letter she was writing.  A large, near empty silver sand hour glass was propped behind her.  She quickly glanced frigidly at her unwelcome nephew completely silent, and unphased by his presence. 

Gilderoy adopted his signature s**t-eating grin and sat himself cross-legged in the chair facing his wizened Aunt, who remained silent.  He’d played this game for the majority of his life.  Finally, after several seconds which seemed to him like days; Gilderoy obnoxiously cleared his throat “Ehhhhh-Hehm”.

“Good afternoon Gilderoy” she said as if addressing a bill collector.  “How much will it be this time, and what for?  Your fine gallery somehow unable to turn out a profit; or is it your lavish city apartment itself?  Or is it another outstanding gambling debt, or all three?  Pray-tell what financial clutter do you wish me to tidy up for you this time my dear, dear Nephew.”

“You paint an unfair picture of me Auntie.  With what some might call an insufferable talent for filling me with guilt until I have no gusto to speak my mind.”

“Ohhhh rubbish Gilderoy, the simplest of peons could sense your desires at any given moment.  You put too much stake in what your pampered pals tell you, nephew.  And as if I haven’t supplied you to your heart’s content since I took you into this house all of those years ago.  Even still I foolishly set you up to live in your little dream life on the outskirts of the city.”

“Now that’s going a bit too far Auntie, you’ve quite backed me into a corner; making me out to be the heel as you always do.”  They both sat in silence for a painful moment.  The sand in the hourglass seemed to be pouring slower than they had been.  “While I can’t deny that you gave me the chance to lead a normal life after my parents’ tragic demise; supplied me with the finest accommodations.  Auntie, you must understand no one can start their own business without at least a pittance.  Some sort of start-up capitol.”

  Aunt Ava laughed coldly; it shot directly down Gilderoy’s spine like an icicle.  “Gilderoy…Gilderoy, I have tried my absolute best since the day one to mold you into someone worthy of the majesty I would one day bestow upon you.  But I must admit I now have my doubts.  You’ve never understood the difference between taking something and deserving it.  I also hate to say it, but I am finished in terms of financing you, nephew.  We’ve far exceeded tales of ‘start-up capitol’.  And I think it is about time you reap what you have sewn.  To finally see that there is no safety net, the world always finds a way to give you what is deserved.”

Gilderoy begins to choke up and stammer “well….well you certainly have no qualms with your finances when it comes to the local dirt farmers.”

Aunt Ava laughed again.  This time more out of pity than derision, “as hard as I’ve tried to make you comprehend that there is so much more than this superficial world I see you cling to and climb your way up.  If you only took the time you’d realize that those ‘dirt farmers’ lives are filled with more pure desire, character and substance than you could ever imagine.  It has for some time been obvious that my teachings will never pass through that thick skull of yours.  I’ve been as delicate as humanly possible for as long as I could.  You may continue in your foppish endeavor towards ‘high society’.  But I said.  I will no longer fund it.”

Just as she finished saying this, she looked behind her to see the final grains fall to the bottom of the hourglass.  Like clockwork Clive entered the room; looking perhaps a day or two younger than he would seven years later.  Brandishing a tray with a teapot, two empty cups and a decorative vase filled with water that contained a long beautiful lavender flower.  Another flower’s stem broken apart, the pieces spread symmetrically across the tray. 

Gilderoy threw himself out of the chair and knowingly glared at Clive.  Firmly saying while avoiding eye contact with his Aunt “there’s no need for the second cup, I was just leaving.”  Still looking away from Ava as he stormed out, murmuring to himself “you know Auntie, I really wish that you took the time over these years to get to know the real me.”  He paused and let out a deep sigh.  “Well I guess it goes both ways, because you have always been the most cryptic of puzzles to me.  But it is far too late for that now; as you yourself said the world gives us all what we deserve.” 

Clive stared fixedly at him as he exited pouring the daily (this time deadly) draught of tea for his mistress.  The door closes again, and opens in the present.  The portly, aged Gilderoy was still sitting at his mahogany desk, smoking another cigarette.  For once he was ignoring the still thriving Monk’s Hood.   Gilderoy was far too ensnared in the terrifying doppelganger of his long deceased Aunt that lay before him.  For the second time that night the door opened and he gave out a tremendous shriek, once again it was only Clive.

“My apologies again sir, just returning to retrieve your dinner things; all to your liking I hope Count Gilderoy.”  Clive spoke with both forced loyalty, and conviction.

“Huhh oh yes,” Gilderoy was attempting to maintain his sense of composure.  “Yes, just haven’t felt peckish all day.  Please, take care of it good Clive.  Also I believe it is time for tea.”  He said butting out his cigarette, twisting his elegantly embroidered cigarette holder obtusely.  Then pointing to the elegant vase behind him said, “Hold the Monk’s Hood, would you?”  He chuckled to himself in a feverish frenzy.

Clive felt a shiver run down his spine he had not felt in seven years, dutifully he turned heel and exited the room.  Made his way down the hall, mind racing with images of the portrait and the deadly cup of tea he’d poured all those years ago.  As he drew closer to the stairs Clive began to see a translucent shroud at the end of the hallway.  When he reached the staircase, to his horror he saw it was the shadowy, transparent form of his mistress.   Frantically attempting to escape, she pulled on the end of the elegant rug.  Clive slipped, letting out a small yelp.  The force of the upset carpet tossed him down the stairs violently.  He landed with a wet thud.  Lying spread eagle next to the front door; his neck snapped resting rigidly on his lifeless shoulder.

 

Oblivious to the tragedy that had just transpired, Gileroy was still in his study.  Lighting up yet another cigarette; continuing to vacantly stare at the eerie likeness of his benefactor.  The image of the deadly flower burned in his mind.  Finally he lifted the portrait up.  Sauntered over to the fireplace and began attempting to center it.  But found he was unable to hang it.  Gazing into the dancing flames, in a nearly hypnotized state he almost hurled the canvas into the flames.  At the last minute he tore his eyes away, instinctively looking for the deadly flower by the window; but it was gone.

In a state of dumbstruck awe he clutched the portrait to his chest.  He then frantically ventured out into the hallway.  “Clive!  Clive, when the tea is ready I will need you to hang this monstrosity in the drawing room.  And where the Devil is my Monk’s Hood?”  Silence was the only answer he received.  Growing impatient Gilderoy marched towards the staircase, looking down on an empty drawing room.  “Clive!” he called impatiently, his anxiety was now reaching a climax.  Descending the stairs as rapidly as his bloated body would allow with his Aunt’s portrait held in the crook of his arm.  At the bottom of the empty stairway once again he called in vain for his mangled butler.  Growing impatient he quietly snapped “I guess if anything difficult is to be done properly in this musty abode it must be accomplished with competent hands.”  At that he began to hang the painting on the wall adjacent to the front door.  Checking each angle to assure that the thing was as hidden as possible to anyone other than guests.  Unsettled by the festering, ridiculous idea that her eyes had followed him since she’d reentered his home.  The Count now finally felt a sense of empty closure to this mess.  These feelings were intertwined with an irksome flame in his belly over his butler’s silence.  “Forget about the tea Clive, I won’t be needing it.  I’m retiring to my bedchamber.” 

Gilderoy grabbed a crystal decanter of brandy.  Which he instantly opened taking a long, sturdy gulp and began to waddle up towards his bedroom.  “May the lord have mercy on your soul if my fire isn’t lit Beachum; your head will roll right out that front door if my sleep is interrupted by a draft after all of this.”  Gilderoy stopped and took several long, briskly burning swallows from his lavish bottle of brandy.  Already deeply inebriated by the time he reached his room.

Swinging the door open Gilderoy dropped the bottle almost instantly.  He fell to his knees screaming, oblivious to the shards of crystal that had wedged themselves into his pudgy legs.  The fire was indeed roaring.  It illuminated the wall and something inexplicable upon it.  The portrait of Aunt Ava had somehow moved from the drawing room into here.  Slightly altered however, the face on the portrait now looked more anticipatory and menacing than before.  She also had both the flower from Gilderoy’s office and the one from the portrait in her hands.  The broken thin vase lying in wet ruin on the floor next to her.   

Incapable of bearing witness to any of this an instant longer, Gilderoy threw himself out of the room.  Down the hall towards the stairs, “Clive!  She’s come back for us!  Clive!  Cliiiiiiive where are you?!?”  But his cries fell upon deaf ears.  Glideroy ran down the stairs and into the drawing room to confirm that the portrait was indeed gone.  This was no hallucination, or nightmare.  Fleeing from the entrance to the dining room, he frantically approached the kitchen.  Looking around, he saw nothing out of place, but distinctly smelled some form of tea that was as vaguely familiar as Mr. Nesbit had been.  Just as he almost moved on to the next room, the door to the cellar sprang open quite on its own.  Gilderoy took a quick look behind the door, and then began to inspect the front.  Once he painstakingly crouched down to look at the hinges, the door flew closed on his face.

Gilderoy’s nose smashed into the door and he clattered down the stairs until he reached the cold cement floor of his cellar.  He lay there shrieking, left leg bent inwards; and right foot completely rotated.  Toes keeping the leg propped up six inches off the ground.  He was covered in gore from the unforgiving fall, and shards of broken crystal embedded in his skin.  Gilderoy had never experienced such unrelenting, pain or terror.  However this was not at all the sole cause of his shrieks of terror.   The portrait had again moved and was on the wall before him.  Seemingly hovering before his eyes; the face of his Aunt now one of ravenous blood lust, her hair horrifically disheveled.  However she was no longer holding either of the flowers, where had they gone?  Just as his voice began to break Gilderoy heard the slow, stiff footsteps descending the stairs towards him in the cellar.  It was Clive, his head still resting on his shoulder grotesquely; and he was carrying a tray.  It was holding a teacup and decorative glass of water that held one lavish lavender flower, the remains of another scattered around the arrangement.  One single teacup, undoubtedly intended to pour out one last draught of the deadly Monk’s Hood.   


© 2017 PWyates



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1 Review
Added on September 11, 2016
Last Updated on August 19, 2017
Tags: Horror, Supernatural, Mystery

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PWyates
PWyates

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