Oct 19, 2012

Art Prompts Fiction - Romantic Friday Writers

Is it just me, or do his eyes follow you around the room?
My writers group (Vannguard Writers) took an excursion to Queensland Art Gallery. Ok, so the art gallery is right next door to the State Library where we have our writing sessions, so it wasn't a big excursion, but still it was a nice change in routine.

Denise Covey, friend and fellow Vannguard writer, hosted this arty session with some creative writing exercises using the artworks as prompts (you can read more about this excursion on Denise's blog). One of the exercises was to imagine yourself as a character in the painting, or put yourself as an extra character into the scene. I flipped this around and took my character out of the painting... literally.

Getting yourself out and about, using prompts to inspire can freshen up your writing, and new layers and textures. Maybe you could visit a museum and write about the interesting items or times, or, a restaurant and write about the smells, tastes and atmosphere.

This week Romantic Friday Writers are hosting a horror blog challenge, and I decided my response to our art exercise would fit in nicely. So if you're up for a bit of afternoon horror, here's my take on the requirement of a scary tale with a touch of romance... (1,000 words - FCA as always, I welcome critique and am not at all sensitive to feedback)

John Opie's Portrait

Christina tugged at the chrome armchair. It was heavy, but with some focused grunts she managed to pull it across the large glass doors. She sighed. Her arms burned, but she couldn’t stop now. She’d have to make sure he couldn’t push those doors open. Exhausted but determined she manoeuvred all six armchairs shoved up against each other.
Feeling safely hidden for the moment she allowed herself the luxury of sinking down to the floor. He would come for her, she could only pray the doors would hold. Outside she heard the wailing of mechanical monsters. So many inventions in this world! Like the voices. When she’d found that poor man in the darkened corridor crumpled in a pile, his uniform patch announcing Chubb Security, Christina had bent to see if she could help him. Too late, she knew as soon as she saw his life spread  to form a dark stain. She’d spun to run, but heard them. The voices. Looking back she thought they came from the dead man. Crackling demons taunting. But there was a box by his side and someone called Doug was checking in on Larry. She didn’t know what checking in involved, but she knew a worried voice when she heard it. She called to the voice, begged him to come, to send help. She warned him the devil himself was loose. 
The only response was a repeat for Larry to check in. She could hear him but some dark magic kept him from hearing her. Maybe help would come in time? She’d didn’t think so. Each time she was pulled from the dark into a newer version of her world, he’d come for her. That was all she could remember. Everything else was hazy. There was only him, his need for her.  And John! It was coming back now. John had warned her, tried to save her each time. Did he succeed? She didn’t think so. If he had, all their souls would be at rest. Instead she kept being ripped from that horrid painting. 
It was always the same and yet Christine could not conjure a clear memory of how the events would run.
She looked around the room only dimly lit from outside. The walls were adorned in many paintings and small round tables displaying pottery and china under glass boxes. She pulled herself up and moved about the room, treading softly so as not to make a sound. She squinted at the plaque by the door, there was just enough light from the hall to read Brisbane State Art Gallery. She knew not of Brisbane. The last time she emerged from the painting she was still in London. The painting had been shipped to this new location. And those foolish teenagers had obviously known the legend and snuck in here on this ungodly night to conjure their own dark magic. But to summon him? Surely the stories of his violence and taste for blood had survived the hundreds of years since the fire. John had made sure the world knew about the Count, the monster he really was. 
But the girl, maybe sixteen with witches eyes and sharp metal swords and rings pierced all over her face, had thought she was resurrecting a lost love. The love between Christina and the Count. It may have started that way, but John Opie came riding his carriage into town, armed with scientific equipment, little pins wobbling along measuring unknown entities and vials of hissing and foaming liquids. He’d been tracking the Count for years. He claimed the charismatic man was actually a demon sent from the depths of hell to devour human souls. Christine had laughed off the claims about her husband. But girls started to disappear. One by one. All of Christine’s servant girls. The Count in turn accused Mr Opie. 
The Newspaper clippings had convinced her. One for each of the places the Count had lived and visited. Missing girls. It was true.
Fire is the only way to return a demon to hell. Christine slipped from her husband’s bed and burned their home down. She would have made her way out too, out to her beloved John. But her husband awakened with a vigour and caught hold of her.
‘Then we die together,’ he’d snarled. And they had. As the flickering heat enveloped the room she saw their wedding portrait remained unharmed. Mocking her through the the flames. 
The teenagers had frightened her with their chants, but she was more terrified when she turned to see the Count smiling beside her. She’d screamed and run.
In the darkened art gallery she’d stumbled about until she’d come full circle. There were the teens. Dead in a heap. She ran on. The man with the Chubb badge stretched across the floor. The sound of the Count calling to her.
‘Christine, my love, wait!’ He appeared, arms stretched to reach her. She spun to the right and ducked down a corridor. Now she hid in the darkened room alone. Or was she? A shadow moved in the corner. She wanted to scream but was too weary with fear.
The silhouette stepped forward until the moonlight through the window revealed his face.
‘John!’ She leapt into his arms.
‘Christine, you bought me back,’ he smiled down at her.
‘I’m so sorry, I tried to come to you, but he held me back, I… I couldn’t get out.’
‘Shhh, it’s okay now. I was there too. I came for you.’
Christine stepped back. ‘But you couldn’t have. I sent the servants home and locked every door.’
‘You remember how this goes?’ John smiled.
‘I don’t understand, I’m confused…’
‘Christine!’ The Count banged on the glass doors.
She gasped and leaned into John’s strong protective arms. 
‘Christine!’ The Count yelled, ‘It was him, he’s the monster, run Christine!’
Christine spun to look up at John, but his face had changed, his teeth exposed, long and pointed. She tried to run, but it was too late.


  1. Another fantastic love story / ghost story gone awry.

    So well done and delicious to read!

    Excellent, just excellent!

    Thank you!

  2. The made this seem like a movie script. I was watching as I was reading. And then the ending made me jump up..! I liked your characters, specially the John :)

  3. luscious and rich. love the twisty bits.

  4. Nice job. If only she'd gone to marriage therapy, or demon therapy...

    Moody Writing

  5. Love it. The surprise ending was great.

  6. I enjoyed reading this. Great surprise ending!

  7. I love all the references to modern day that Christina isn't aware of 'the wailing of mechanical monsters outside' 'the box that talks' and the lead up to the twist at the end and then knowing it will happen again sometime, someplace. I enjoyed reading this.

  8. Ohhh, the story gave me chills. And I love that pic. So funny.

  9. Saw your book featured on another site this morning. Sorry, that was fifty blogs ago, so don't remember who!

  10. Charmaine, you've managed to mix romance and a frightening story well. Very creative. Well done.

  11. I love a good ghost / demon story. I enjoyed how you used art and a gallery for your setting. Wow to your imagination with this story. :)

  12. I loved the pacing of this - the mix of short and long sentences which was done very well, and the intriguing hints of backstory. Sounds like it could be part of a larger story. Great ideas! And it sounds like you have a very fun writers' group - didn't know you knew Denise in person. :)

  13. Hi Charmaine
    Oh, truly spooky with a great twist at the end. I loved it.

  14. Dear Charmaine,
    Thank you for your encouraging comments about my post!
    This was a fun prompt to work from, judging from the many clever ghost stories. What a good idea to use a portrait at an art gallery/museum as a starting point.
    Best wishes,

    For the benefit of other readers:

    RFW No. 46 - 'Jenny Holland's Robinson Crusoe Halloween'

  15. I've been to the Louvre; and the paintings there can really freak you out. So weird sometimes. Some look like the figures are about to leap out of their frames; and yes, the eyes do seem to follow you everywhere.

    This was a cool story; love how she was recalled to life by some well wishers and then to find that she'd been mistaken about the identity of the demon. Totally cool.


  16. So we all think this is the sweetest ghost story, flipping between eras, then suddenly...gulp! Love the feel of this Charmaine. What a great imaginative story to get from a painting. Awesome! :D

    (I read this the other day but I got interrupted by my pesky student before I could comment. Now I worked my way back!)

  17. Best of luck with the judging! I'm glad it's Ann and Nas who have to choose from this awesome lineup! :D

  18. Nice twist in the ending...enjoyed this ~

  19. So clever Charmaine, I do love your heart-thumping passionate prose.

    Eerie details that creep up your spine and raise the hair on your arms.

    LOVE the museum and painting props. SO Dorian Grayish...

  20. Hi,

    Oooh so love the portrait theme, and true enough the mark of a great portraitist is rendering the eyes life-like, to such an extent they do appear to follow a viewer round and about a room. Fantastic story! ;)


  21. Silly teenagers! LOL!!

    What a great spooky creepy story with such a fabulously evil ending!!

    Wonderful!! Thank you for sharing!

    Take care

  22. Great premise and well written level of suspense.

  23. I'm still stuck on his eerie, wandering eyes. ;)

  24. I should seriously take my CP group into an excursion of some kind. That would be epic. I enjoyed your story! :)

  25. Excellent job. At first when I skimmed your post, I was wary because of the chunky bit of text. But you kept me reading all the way through - awesome! Loved the ending especially.

    ~Wendy Lu

    The Red Angel Blog

  26. I love horror and I love your piece.

    Paintings like that are eerie.

  27. His eyes really DO appear to wander...
    Great story with an evil ending... and it seems that your writing group has some fun ideas and exercises!!