The crows circled the tower outside as Rainald rested his hands on the stone balustrade surrounding the balcony. Inside he could hear the beating hands of a thousand clocks, each an echo of a heartbeat comingling with the cawing above him. It formed a cacophonous symphony that at once inspired him and terrified him.
INT. UNFINISHED PENTHOUSE – NIGHT
JOE MESSIAH, 34, sits in the center of the disheveled living area staring at an easel holding a stark white CANVAS. In one hand he holds a PAINTBRUSH; in the other a PALETTE full of stale paint.
The canvas was blank. Joe Messiah had been at his easel all night long, had barely breathed, hadn’t blinked since midnight, felt his fingers bent like stone vices around his brush and palette. But before him, the canvas was white.
When the morning sun crested the penthouse windows, he inhaled for the first time in hours and, like trying to bend steel with his bare hands, twisted his head toward the windows. Across the splattered once-white tarp, the open tubes of paint scattered about, the unfinished hard wood floor poking up in places, the sky was vermillion and blue.
He imagined a stroke of one hand, three fingers pressed into a color on the other side. A diagonal stripe and a vertical flutter. A curlicue wind, barely visible.
The canvas, however, remained untouched.
From here to nowhere, I studied the lines on my map, the small drawing of trees meant to be a forest, a swirly circle presumed a lake, and a few triangular ridges: Dragon territory.
A few hours more and I’d rest for the night. For now the sun still shone high in the sky (I said a silent prayer to the silent Aren for the long summer days) and with dusk approaching, I still needed to hunt for some food to eat.
The forest was near. I slipped inside and caught some hare I could roast beside a fire. I gathered some fallen twigs and, with the sky beginning to turn purple in the distance, I struck a flint just outside the trees and held in the hare. It roasted clean through and I feasted.
There was a small stream nearby, so I lifted a hand-made torch (all that remained of my cooking fire) and walked to the edge of the trickling water. In the fire light, the once-strong features my beloved had so loved me for were shallow and gaunt. Though after thirteen days journeying, perhaps it wasn’t the water at all playing with my reflection. I ran my free hand through my course black hair and slammed the end of my torch in the ground.
I stripped off my clothes, set them aside, slipped in the cold water and felt like I’d died. It was as cold as ice and as I moved to climb out, the shore drifted farther away and small eddies of frosty, frothy water began pulling me deeper into the river. I pushed back, but then the ground wasn’t beneath me. I thrashed my arms around, but the splashing made it only harder to breathe while I struggled. Then in the firelight, in the water, I glimpsed a face.
It wasn’t a stream at all.
“Yes, I killed him,” the defendant said.
“He held a knife to my heart and told me to think a minute. He said, either I sell him my soul or he takes my wife and children. But he didn’t realize they were one and the same, so I sent that bastard devil back where he came from, all the way back to Hell.”