This story is based upon the painting "Wheatfield with Crows" by Vincent Van Gogh, which you can view at en_wikipedia _org/wiki/Wheat_Field_with_Crows. If you don't know it already, you should really do so before reading this. I wrote this for the February 2007 AFO monthly challenge and, to my own astonishment, was declared the winner. Hope you enjoy reading it!

People Watching

If you could see me at one of those very moments, you would probably scream aloud and run off in panic, or stand frozen to the spot and shiver all over. That's how everyone has reacted so far. And I can understand that sentiment. I can almost feel the veins in my eyes pop from the excitement, my raven black hair getting stuck in a sweaty mess, and finally, when my fangs slowly break her skin and blood starts dripping down over my pale chin, it must be unearthly to behold.

You wouldn't dare ask me how I came to be what I am. I've told each of them, given myself in to the illusion of honesty, and, deep down, pleading for just a tiny bit of understanding. Which, of course, isn't to be found in the eyes of the girl whose live I am about to slowly drink. They wouldn't understand, and I doubt they even comprehend what I am telling them. That it has all been Vincent's fault.

It was my first trip to Amsterdam, and at that time - barely fifteen years of age - spending your holiday in Amsterdam was far from being exciting. I had tried everything I could think of to persuade them to go somewhere sunny, like the Canaries or Italy, but this time I was simply outnumbered. Ela, my sister, had been bubbling weeks in advance about museums and buildings, while Mom had just kept going on about those 'beautiful canals' with their 'lovely little boats', and how much fun it would be.

Of course, Dad didn't dare to oppose Mom. He was much too fearful to have her wrath hanging over him for two weeks, without any means to get away. And they didn't let me stay at home either, I guess they knew me too well. Though they didn't know about the packet of cigarettes that I had hidden in the attic, which would have made me the king of the lake this summer - at least for a few days. And they didn't know about that cute blonde girl, Susie, who had let me know rather straightforward that she wouldn't mind a bit of snogging in exchange for a smoke.

But that had to wait, for now I was perched in the small breakfast room of the run down guest house with the rest of my family, sulkily spooning cereals into my mouth and trying to shut out all the annoyingly excited tittering of the females. Dad didn't seem too eager about his bacon and
eggs either, and we both were glad when we could finish breakfast and head for the city.

To be honest, Amsterdam IS a beautiful city, but you will understand shortly why I'll never be able to appreciate the view.

After breakfast we walked through the old town for a bit, which, in my mind, wasn't an appropriate activity for a boy, and thus didn't heighten my mood at all. When we arrived at the central railway station we took a tram to the Van Gogh Museum. Strangely, I can still remember that the
bright yellow wagons with their red doors had the number 5 on them, and ever since that day I haven't been able to suppress a shiver each time I came across a tram or bus with that number.

But first things first. Though it was, in my opinion, rather early in the morning, the museum itself -- an absolutely ugly assortment of concrete blocks - was far from deserted. I convinced my parents to let me go on my own, and we agreed to meet at half past eleven at the cafeteria. While the others made their round, oohing and aahing at the silly squares on the walls, I went looking for a good spot where I could exercise my most popular pastime. I called it 'People Watching', but it was more than just watching.

What I was playing was a little mind game, picking out two of the people in the crowd and imagining how one could kill the other.

Now you're surely thinking, ah, see, he's been not quite right in his head all along. You're wrong. It's just that I was a rather bored fifteen year old with a gushing imagination who loved to read crime novels and horror stories. And I wouldn't simply go for the quick kill.
Each of my 'victims' got a detailed personality and background, and the crime itself -- or mystery, depending on the mood of the day -- would have been worth ninety minutes of movie time. Or at least I thought so.

I had barely finished off victim number three - a stern looking old lady, who had her heart frozen by a cheery girl of about ten that was in fact a witch under a glamour charm -- when I saw her. About my age, a bit pale, with a bush of red hair and big -- or even huge, if an insensitive prat like myself was able to notice them from almost fifty feet away -- brown, nearly black eyes. Like myself, she was sitting on one of the coloured, waist high plastic cubes that were scattered everywhere, and from the looks of it, she was playing her own game of 'People Watching'.

When she suddenly lifted her head and looked straight at me, I was mesmerised. She herself seemed curious, raising an eyebrow and frowning. I kept staring at her, wondering if her clothing was a Netherlandish thing, as it would have fit more into 'Alice in Wonderland' than into our current time. A long, plaided skirt and a frilly white blouse with lots of tiny red bows. With a knowing smile she jumped down from the cube and strode over to me. I wouldn't have been able to look at anything else, even if I had tried, and for a second I felt a
disturbingly cold knot in my stomach. But it vanished as quick as it had come, and now I was looking forward to getting to know her.

I should have taken this moment and bolted away as quick as my feet would have carried me. Yet I didn't, and maybe I never had the chance anyway.

Then she was standing before me, just an arm length away, and asked me something in Dutch. I didn't understand a word of it. I mumbled 'sorry', and she repeated it in English. Her voice sounded older than she looked, and it carried something, a timbre, that made the hairs on my arms stand.

If you want to know what we talked, I'm at a loss. I only remember the sound of her voice, and my mouth answering out of its own will, and the next thing being led in front of one of the paintings by her. It was one of the popular ones, titled 'Wheat Field with Crows'.

It's a bit disturbing to watch it, for the normal eye at least. The better part of it shows just what the title says, a golden wheat field, over which a swarm of black birds approaches. It's divided by a gravel road that looses itself in the distances. What really hurts the eye is
the unnatural blue sky that fades to blackness, carrying a foreboding that is accentuated by two moons rising from the horizon.

"Look at it," her voice told me, "look very close."

If someone should tell you to do so, jump, run, flee, but, by all that's holy, do not look! Though I did look, and had I still a heart, it would beat like mad now just thinking of what I saw.

One moment I was standing in a boring museum, the other I found myself in the middle of nowhere. Though the view hadn't really changed, the wheat field in front of me, the black birds approaching under the nightly sky. And that was the moment I became aware that I was doomed, that something was so completely wrong about the situation that I
wouldn't be able to mend it. The birds were in fact approaching, and rather quickly at that. And though they were really close to me, I couldn't hear the faintest sound of crowing or wings flapping.

Have you ever encountered a swarm of bats on a warm summer night? If yes, you know this feeling, that there should be some kind of noise. If you're lucky, they fly so close to you that you can hear it, only for a second, the soft, high pitched whistling of air streaming over their featherless body.

That day, I was 'lucky'. Though the whistling was a lot louder than I could have anticipated, and when one of them flew a turn around me and set its feet on the floor before me, I was by no means prepared for the sight that greeted me. The thing, the monstrosity, however you like to call it, folded its wings and rose upright, watching me with huge, almost black eyes. The bit of red fur on its head reflected the moonlight, and when it began to speak to me I knew it was her.

"Welcome, young hunter." She greeted me, exposing two sets of long, needle sharp fangs as she did so.

I was frozen in my place, and recognizing her intention, I search frantically for words. "Why me?" Was all I managed to mutter.

"Oh don't you see it," she purred, "you're a hunter, like we are. You could never be anything else."

My eyes met hers again, silently begging to be spared, but we both knew there was no way out. After I had fought the wave of pure terror that washed over my nerves, I gave in, and felt -- relieved? As if I had always known, deep down inside, that this day would come. Maybe it was just her magic that was working on me, I'll never know for sure.

Then I knew what to do, without being told, and I fell to my knees before her, inclining my head to give her access to my nape. I closed my eyes and waited for it, feeling her soft, furry body touch me briefly, before her fangs penetrated my skin, only some small pricks at first,
but quickly turning into searing fire that ran all through my veins.

You wouldn't have expected dying -- at least clinically - to be an enjoyable experience, would you? Thank God it didn't take long, and when the pain ebbed away, she started to giggle, her voice carrying through the night like the sound of a most lovely wind chime. The other creatures -- hunters, I should call my fellows now - whistled from all around us.

"I was Vincent's favourite," she told me in a sultry voice, "and you'll be mine. No go, hunt for me."

Since then, if you look close at the painting, you can make out an additional 'crow' just where the sky turns to black. But don't look for too long.

And if you happen to be a teenage girl and ever see a boy of about fifteen, with raven black hair, too pale skin and a faraway look in his eyes - jump, run, flee, but by all that's holy, don't get curious!

After all, it may be me, playing 'People Watching'.