Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Rebecca stood in the middle of her little gallery and surveyed her work. She’d hoped her recent direction was going to be different, maybe spark some kind of reaction from this sleepy little town, but the series hadn’t gotten anything more than polite smiles. 

Not one piece had sold. She should never have left Chicago.

Her mournful reverie was broken with a crash, as her boyfriend barreled through the front door struggling with the apparent weight of a large plastic bucket.

“Becc, you’ve gotta see this stuff,” he deposited the pail heavily at her feet, causing thick liquid to splash over the sides, “it’s from that meteorite we saw hit the woods.”

Rebecca surveyed the bucket of viscous, deep coloured liquid, and the splatters across the barnboard floor and her sandal-clad feet, a mix of anger and distaste brewing at the back of her throat.

“Lewis,” she started slowly, “what have…,” she paused, the sudden urge to touch the liquid replacing her annoyance, and she plunged one hand into the pail, pulling it back and studying the near luminescent swirling glove of colour that enveloped her to the wrist.

“It’s beautiful,” she turned and wiped a large stripe across one of the closest finished canvases on the wall. Using both hands, she began smearing the material, pushing out to the edges until the surface was covered completely. She was enthralled as she worked the material, at different thicknesses and stroke directions, it became many different colours, like gasoline on water.

“Get it all,” she turned, fixing Lewis with a stare, “I need all of it.”

Lewis simply nodded as he exited the same clumsy way he’d come in.

Rebecca dragged the bucket around the gallery, covering every canvas she could find with scenes that seemed to her to be almost alive; landscapes with people who seemed to sway of their own accord as the material shimmered in the light and shadow. She made portraits of figures with deep shadows where their eyes and mouths should be, featureless creatures whose gaze nevertheless seemed to follow her around the room as she worked.

Over the next few days, Lewis brought several more buckets into the gallery before he stopped coming at all.

Rebecca didn’t notice.

Someone came in and left with a painting, Rebecca too preoccupied to bother about taking money for it, and before long others came and left, each with a piece of her new found art. Word spread, and as quickly as she could finish the paintings, they were carried off to people’s homes, the surfaces not even dry.

When she ran out of her own canvases, she cannibalized other artwork she owned, and when they were gone she tore covers off the hardback books she’d collected and painted those.

Once she’d run completely out of the liquid, and lacking anything on which to paint anyways, she left the gallery for the first time in weeks.

Walking past her large front windows, she caught her own reflection in the glass. Branches had grown from her back and shoulders, pushing through the fabric of her shirt to reach skyward, gnarly and grotesque. Her face a spiderweb of bruised lines, undulating in waves beneath the surface. She paused to straighten her shirt collar before turning back to the sidewalk.

Across the street, she watched as one of the townsfolk sublimated while walking past the coffee shop. He turned to step off the curb into the street and, just as a sudden gust of wind blew past, he simply became smoke.

She made it perhaps twenty more steps towards the downtown before stopping, a desire stronger than any gale force wind forcing her back.

She turned and headed instead, unimpeded, towards the edge of town.

As the ‘Welcome to our community’ sign faded behind her, and the sound of the interstate was carried to her ears on the evening breeze, she knew it wouldn’t be long.

A city was calling.