The Plague Artist :
If you’re reading this right now, it means I am no longer of this world. Either I’ve committed suicide or the Plague Artist has grown bored with my existence. I suppose it doesn’t matter which. This isn’t really a warning more than it is my will.
I first encountered the Plague Artist on my outing to a local art festival. While I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, I’d like to think as an art school graduate I have a fine eye for the… obscure. The festival was somewhat stagnate. Not that it was bad, but very few artists stood out. I think the problem was that as I live in Florida, a vast majority of the artwork of the artwork consisted of animal and landscapes; but I digress.
The first thing that drew my attention to him was his display. Each display stood roughly five feet from each other with their work at the front and their signs at the top or side. Some had huge gaudy booths while others had a blanket on the ground. He on the other hand sat with his legs crossed between two booths on the concrete with his work scattered about randomly. As I approached I noticed the crudeness of his work. They were choppy sketches on sheets of loose-leaf paper.
His appearance also struck me as odd. He wore a sweatshirt with various patterns airbrushed onto it, a pair of acid wash jeans, and a white pair of snickers (no branding of any kind). His hood was perched on his head but his long, black, gangly hair reach past it and touched his stomach. His gazed was on the ground so you couldn’t see his face.
“Hello?” I say as I wave my hand in front of his face.
He raised his head and what I saw made me jump slightly. On his face was a mask. One half was a simplistic drawing of a smiling girl and the other half was a more detailed drawing of grinning beast. The girl was right-side up and the beast was upside down.
“Does anything here catch your eye?” He asked tilting his head slightly.
Now, I’ve been referring to the Plague Artist as a “he” but in truth, I’ve only been doing so for the sake of convenience. Even now, I’m still not sure which gender he (she, it?) is. Absolutely nothing about his build or voice alluded to it either. “He” (To which I’ll refer to him at this point on) was very thin, his clothing practically draping over him and his voice sounded like it could belong to either a man or a woman.
“Um… many things actually” I say still gazing at his bizarre apparel.
“Anything pertaining to what’s on display?”
I looked down at the scattered sheets of loose-leaf. His artwork consisted of rough sketches of people and landscapes. When I say “rough”, that’s me being kind. It looked as though he scratches a pencil across the paper until shapes formed. Still, I couldn’t help be curious to why he thought that this was good enough to bring to an art festival.
“I’m curious… this style of yours…. is it bred by choice of limitation?”
I meant no harm in my words, but there wasn’t really any way I could faze the question in a way that wouldn’t come off as offensive. I assumed that I had angered him when he just stared at me for a few seconds before laughing.
“Such is the mindset of the mortal man, to dismiss that which doesn’t appeal to his primitive senses”
“I-I’m not dismissing your work, I just–”
“Work?” He laughed. “Yet another fool crosses my path I see. Art… is not work. It is the extension of one’s being. To put it in the category of “work” would imply that’s something that requires exertion. To put effort into art is… sickening”
A chill went up my spine. He had a very calm and articulate why of speaking which was further amplified by the genuine venom in his tone. Something told me that a change of topic was needed.
“So what brings you here anyway?”
“Are you implying that I do not belong here? This is an art festival is it not? Are you implying that my creations are not art?”
I opened my mouth to defend myself when he spoke once more.
“As I said, your senses are primitive. When you look at my creations you see only what your mind can comprehend. Don’t be upset. This fault is naturally ingrained within you due to your mortality. You are like the rest here, unable to adhere to the principle of art”
I narrowed my eyes and tried to hide the anger in my gaze. In art school, you more than likely to run into at least one pretentious student but his tone lacked any sort of condescension; He was being totally serious.
“And that principle being?”
He tilted his head once more, reminding me of an animal.
“What do you hope to gain from me telling you?”
“I’m always willing to learn” I say with a shrug.
He stared at me for thirty seconds, all the while tilting his head side to side. I assumed he was thinking.
He turned his back to me and pulled out a blank sheet of loose-leaf paper from behind him and smoothing slipped a pencil from out of his sleeve. I couldn’t see what he was doing but I could hear the sound of a pencil scratching at a frantic pace. As I began to peer over his shoulder, he swirled back to me and held in his hand a folded piece of paper.
“In the hands of man, the concept of truth is twisted and perverted to cater to their own inability to understand”.
He quickly stood to his feet and trusted the paper into my chest. I immediately noticed how small he was. I stand a good six feet and he was almost an entire head sure shorter than me. He had a very thin build which further added to the ambiguity of his gender.
“This… is truth. However you wish to interpret it is none of my concern”
He held the paper to my chest until I finally took it from him.
He simply nodded as he sat back. I looked down at him for a few minutes expecting him to say something else. His gazed was once more on the ground and it didn’t seem like he’d be talking anytime soon.
“See ya later” I said as I slowly walked away from him.
I looked back at him after twenty feet and looked back. The space he resided was empty save for the loose-leaf papers that littered the area.
I waited until I got got back to my apartment to open up the paper. My hands reach for the paper but I hesitate. It felt as though suddenly the realization of my stupidity had registered with me. That person was clearly a lunatic. Really, what did I expect to “learn” from his scribbles? I brushed that though aside and laugh. There was no harm in humoring his ramblings, especially since there was a good chance I’d never see him again. With that I unfolded the paper and looked at the sketch. My stomach churned and the desire to vomit quickly took over.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, I don’t have the picture to show you. I think it’s for the better though, as no one should ever have to look at something so wretched. The sketch was that of an overweight woman somewhere in her late forties and it only showed her upper half. Her neck was twisted in an impossible angle and her chest looked as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to it multiple times. Her stomach… bulged grotesquely as her inside spilled out of her sided. On the bottem there was a name, one that I didn’t recognize but it still made me feel uneasy: Susan.
Quickly, I crumple the paper and toss it across the room. I felt both disgusted and angered, though the anger was directed toward myself. Really, I should have expected as much from someone who dressed like a Andy Warhol nightmare. I needed to calm my nerves, so I did what I always do when I want to relax: I broke out a bottle of Jack Daniels and my box of water color paint. Sounds odd I know, but we all have our special way of blowing off steam and getting hammered while painting was one of mine.
In my intoxicated state, I thought back to the mask that he wore. Even now I have to admit, it was an interesting piece of work. For some reason I chose to try and paint it. You might be wondering how I did so while drunk. I’m a more… vivid artist when drunk and I’ll leave it at that. After I was done I felt an immediate sense of satisfaction. With that load off my shoulders, I went to bed.
I woke the next morning, my head reeling. In my lethargic state of mind I decided to skip the show and plopped down on the recliner in front of my flat-screen. My hands fuddled with the remote as my thoughts went to last night.
“That stupid painting…” I muttered.
I didn’t feel like getting up to look at it so I just tuned onto the morning news. There was a brief coverage of the art festival with the typical over-enthusiasm of a news team. I was fading in and out, but I managed to catch something that got my attention.
Police remain baffled at the supposed murder and suicide of local resident Susan Silverman. Ms. Silverman was found run down in an alleyway on 4731 Fairfield Avenue with a green BMW parked at the side. When police examined the driver, his throat had been cut open and his wrist slit.
I quickly sat up in my chair at the sound of her name.
“It’s just a coincidence,” I muttered. “It can’t be…”
Then they showed the picture of the woman. I felt like throwing up. I quickly jumped out of my chair, my hangover somehow leaving me, and I ran to the corner of the room where the crumpled paper still lied. I picked it up, and uncrumpled it to find that the sketching had changed. Her body was whole but her gaze was shifted towards me and her expression was that of pain and terror.
My blood ran cold as my my ran through the possibilities. Could he have followed me home and broken into my apartment? I looked around the apartment trying to find any signs of entry; nothing. I thought somehow came into mind.
The painting…, I thought.
I looked towards the painting to the side of the door and found that my painting too had changed. Instead of my water colored portrait… there was a sketching, done in his normal crude style. It was him, staring directly at me.
I needed air, water, ANYTHING that would put my mind off what I had just been through. I snatched my jacket and stormed outside, not before I made sure that my doors and windows were all locked. I just walked down the street, not really sure where I was heading. At the time it didn’t matter.
I decided after a ten minutes of going nowhere to head to the museum in my neighborhood. Once again, we all have our ways of relaxing. It was partially empty save for a few people but I didn’t care. Looking at a few Andy Warhol’s made me feel a little better (I love the weirdo). Then, as I finally began to forget about my worries, I saw him. He stood in front of this large display that I recognized as The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruege. (it’s this really grim depiction of the plague). He wasn’t doing anything as he stood there with his hands behind his back.
I don’t know what compelled me to walked over but I just needed to know how he did it, or even if he did it at all. Maybe, just maybe if I had stayed away from him these events wouldn’t have taken place.
“Hey…” I muttered.
He looked toward me for a brief moments and I noticed that the faces on his mask were reversed.
“I find it fascinating how your kind believes in a concept as pointless as interpretation. It must lonely atop that nonexistent pedestal”
“…how did you do it?” I asked softly.
“Change the photos”
“I wondered what that. You tried to capture my image, didn’t you?”
His whole body jerked in my direction making me jump back. I clinched my fist and prepared for the worst but he just stood there.
“Know this, I am not of your kind. You, like the rest, were created on the whim of a higher being. You have no purpose outside of your own existence. When I began the process of creating myself I put much thought and care into it. I am not pigeonholed by mortality, I made good sure of that”
He turned his attention towards the painting and leaned forward touching his gently. Instantly, the images in the painting sprung to life. I can’t even begin to describe what I saw. In comparison to what I’ve been exposed to the following months, it was rather “tame” Body’s flayed, souls crying out and corpses piling up. As this was going on in the painting, he continued.
“You see, the truth is your kind exist only to suffer. Whether or not this was the intention of your creator, even I am not certain. My art captures this truth. I can only create truth. Therefore, I exist to distribute pain. Don’t look at me like that. Feelings such as happiness, love, and hope existence only to contrast truth. They are lies that mortals have implemented to further their pointless lives”
As he takes his hand away from the painting the images stop. He slowly proceeds toward me, talking all the while.
“You attempted to capture my image… but only I may interpret my form. As I said, what you see is what you’re capable of seeing”
I back up as he approaches. I’m on the verge of soiling myself.
“What the hell are you!?” I gasped.
“I told you,” He laughed coldly. “I am self-created. Therefore, I am my own god”
He pointed towards me, a dark aura erupting from behind him and slowly spreading throughout the area.
“You on the other hand are a mortal. Now, do what you do best and drown in despair”
I ran as fast as my legs could take me. I wasn’t even sure if I was being followed and I wasn’t about to look. I don’t remember what happened, but I think I passed out from exhaustion because when I woke up, I was in the hospital.
I see him every now and again, though he no longer attempts to speak to me. He’s always watching me though, always in the shadows…
He’s going to kill me, just like he’s done others. I’ve found that he’s killed more people. He started sending the sketches of his victims and any attempts at photographs have been met with the same result: the photo distorted in some way or another. I’ve decided to try one last thing. I’ve placed in the box a sketching of the Plague Artist. Knowing him, he’ll replace it with a sketching of his own, which I’ve learn is more of a reflex then anything. I’m unable to get and photographs but at the very least people will have a rough idea of what he looks like.
I’m sorry, I have to rest. Everything that I’ve gone through, these past few months… suicide is looking less and less like “the cowards way out”. I’m… so sorry… I can’t do this anymore. The only happiness that I have at this point is the fact that someone, anyone, will finally be aware of him outside of myself.
Goodbye. And Eddward, if I disappear, look underneath my bed. You’ll find all of all of my recordings and each of the sketches that I’ve recovered. Put them online for me. If they aren’t there when you look, don’t bother looking for them. I don’t need you crossing his path because of me.