The letter was clutched in strong fingers which, had they belonged to a lesser man, might have been trembling.
It wasn't happiness or elation that he felt. There was a vindication that scratched on the edges of his thoughts, but the only thing really resonating in his mind was, 'what now?' It was the first time in a long while since he had heard anything beside the scornful echoes of his father's words.
It was a dream.
Almost a decade had passed since they'd been said. He'd shyly expressed his fondness for art as a schoolboy, and his father had promptly crushed his meek hopes with an iron tongue. "Fool," he had said. "Dreamer, head in the clouds." He'd laughed then, coarse and cruel. "You'd never make it." And the next semester his star-gazer of a son had been enrolled into technical school.
It started with death.
Standing cold and numb as his father was buried, it was his mother that convinced him to apply that first time with her soft words of encouragement and warm embraces to heal a broken will. So he'd sent in to the art school of his young aspirations, and he'd received his reply.
"Unfit for painting," they said. "Not artist material."
It was when he stood once again with the mourning bells in his ears that those words came back. Mama's eulogy was read, his life faded away, and he was left just another penniless orphan in the world. Alone, nobody, just a stupid little kid.
He managed as well as he could, smearing canvases with whatever he scrapped together and flogging them for as much people would cough up. He couldn't hate the crippling rent notices when they were posted, such harmless scraps of paper with the landlord's latest ultimatum. But he could hate himself.
Head in the clouds.
The words clawed through his brain, tearing at his every thought. The second application was shoved in a mailbox like a live grenade; he'd show himself, he'd show them how wrong they were.
You'd never make it.
The assessment period crawled past, day after day, and he sat and thought. He thought about the look on papa's face, the look on everyone's face. But even as waited for his answer he was already thinking of greater things. He would do more than they ever imagined, he would change the world.
"Passion," they said this time. "Spirit, soul. You have it."
He'd won, and all he felt was numb.
He thought again, then, about the father who didn't see him for who he was, about proving to everyone what he could be. He could achieve the dreams of the whole planet, he could slaughter his way to the top and wield power like a brush dipped in kerosene. But there were other thoughts too – memories, of his mother telling him to follow his heart, of his own imaginings of himself. Not a leader, not a fighter, just a creator. An artist.
There were two roads before him, and it was almost audible in the silent apartment as one crumbled to dust.
It was a dream.
He put the letter down with a smile, and turned to his canvas.
31 Years Later – September 1, 1939
Thick oak doors banged open as the President of Germany stepped through into his newly-built office. The opening of the new parliamentary building was a symbol of change and achievement for the government, which had been struggling its slow way upward since coming into power after the Great War. Wandering eyes drifted over the light cream walls, taking in the spacious room before falling onto the painting that hung over the mahogany desk. He stopped dead in his tracks with a jolt.
It is said that sometimes one single thing, one tiny single unimportant thing...
The image was abstract, distorted, a winged creature in flight with a daintiness in its features yet a darkness that lingered beneath. There was something in those bold brush strokes, something intangible and not quite there, accompanied by the icy shiver of barely-lost potential. But as soon as the feeling came it was gone, leaving only the rich-coloured room and the echoes of the hopes and promises that built it.
...could kill thousands with a disaster on the other side of the world...
"That painting there," he asked his aide, "who is the artist?"
"Oh, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna," the aide replied. "I believe his name is Adolf Hitler."
"He's good with a brush," the president said simply, striding to his seat, ready to lead his country on its path to greatness.
And it ended with life.