Alex stepped back and gazed at The Meadow: wild-flowers in the foreground, forest to the left, and in the background, purple mountains in the misty distance. It had the makings of a magnificent picture: a few small touches and it would be finished.
The canvas was a large one, six by seven, and Alex was excited as always when her creative vision began to become reality.
Stepping back from the picture, Alex turned to her other work-in-progress, a smaller canvas on which a child’s face was taking shape. Working from memory, Alex, continued to add colour to the cheeks of the young girl she had glimpsed years before when witnessing the eviction of a group of travellers from her father’s land. It had been a time of high emotion and the child’s haunted eyes, staring from behind her grandmother’s long black shawl, had touched Alex’s heart, even as the old woman raged and shook her knotted fists.
Alex worked on the child’s portrait for a couple of hours, concentrating on texture and bemoaning the fading light.
The advancing shadows seemed to bring a sense of unease and Alex found herself becoming anxious for no apparent reason. Normally, when a picture was progressing well, her mood was elated but today it was the opposite.
When she set down her brushes and turned to look again at The Meadow she was surprised to see a flaw in the picture that she hadn’t noticed before: a splash of black paint beside the tree-line.
Leaning closer, Alex fancied that the blemish looked like a figure dressed in a loose-fitting garment.
Seizing a cloth and turps she attempted to sponge it off but, frustratingly, the mark refused to vanish completely and she resolved to paint over it when she resumed work the following morning.
Alex slept badly on the futon in the corner of the studio and, rising early, brewed strong coffee before approaching the picture again. The splash of black had become a smear, larger than before and Alex cursed herself for having attempted to remove it whilst she was tired.
Studying it again in daylight, it did indeed look like someone at the forest’s edge: larger now, as though approaching.
Shaking her head in puzzlement, Alex painted it out of the picture and returned to the portrait that was already taking shape, but couldn’t shake the mood of gloom that seemed to gather around her.
Pausing for coffee, mid-morning, she noticed with dismay, that the mark had reappeared, this time even larger than before.
Alex stood before The Meadow. The mark was clearly a figure now, the shape more defined. Someone dressed in a flowing coat, advancing from the forest, head bowed beneath a black cowl. This time Alex made no attempt to interfere with it but moved away, bewildered and slightly afraid.
As the afternoon gave way to evening, she worked on the child’s portrait, recalling the scenes of anger and despair that accompanied the eviction that afternoon long ago.
Each time she allowed her attention to stray to the big canvas however, the mysterious shape seemed larger than before. Alex tried to tell herself it was simply an oil smear spreading, but knew it wasn’t.
Before retiring to bed, she studied the canvas again and saw that the figure was more distinct and its features, though still in shadow, were partly visible.
It was a mean, sallow face, deeply lined and furrowed. The eyes were visible now and, to Alex’s dismay, seemed filled with ill intent.
She turned the canvas to the wall, extinguished the lights and settled down on the futon.
Alex awoke with a jolt. Moonlight spilled through the high window. Something moved in the room.
She sat up, shining her torch round the studio. The large canvas stood at an angle. A triangular strip of darkness between it and the wall looked like a the flap of a black tent Beside it a figure crouched, the hem of its ragged coat spread on the floor like blood; the face, beneath its dark shawl, was unmistakably evil.
Alex hugged the duvet to her chest and began to scream.