The next day, as per his routine, he came round the corner from Elm Road, started to make his way up the main road, towards Old Queen's Road. It was here that I planned to intercept, to attempt conversation.
"Hey, you might not remember me but I helped you yesterday after that incident?" I was awkward in my approach but I felt it was necessary.
"Oh yeah I remember. You got my work off the street." His tone was flat, very matter-of-fact. "You didn't save the puddles from soaking some of them." Cold.
"Sorry, I tried to make sure they weren't too damaged. They're not, are they?"
"They're fine." I got the impression that he was not enjoying this pathetic attempt at conversation & just wanted to move on, but I wanted to talk.
"Your art is amazing."
"Thanks but I have to be off."
"Can I at least help you carry your case?"
His eyes finally peered up at mine, reading my intentions. He relented in his stony demeanour, begrudgingly handing the case over to me.
"What did you think?"
"The art. You saw some of it. What did you think?"
"It's beautiful, I've never seen anything like it. I can't stop thinking about it."
I saw emotion creep across his face for the first time, although only slightly. He seemed to show worry, although I'm not sure why. There was no conversation after that, not until we were finally inside his home. It wasn't particularly fancy, it was furnished but not excessively. It looked like a totally average home, except with an art studio instead of a child's room. The studio was mostly bare, with various canvasses of all sizes strewn about, leaning against the walls. There was one easel in the centre of the room, in front of a door. The easel held an unfinished painting, at that moment just an admittedly still captivating mixture of purples & deep blues, swirling together in ways I hadn't quite wrapped my head around.
"Ignore that one, it's not quite finished yet."
Even so, it was still beautiful. He had decided to allow me to watch him paint. Over the course of the process of finishing the painting, I had managed to find out that he was not from around here & didn't want to be known too well around the village, he liked his privacy. He had taken to painting as a young man & was at one point mildly successful, but over in the U.S. Why that failed or why he came over to a small, unknown countryside town in the north of England, I had no idea. I hoped I would find out another time. Well, I hoped that there would even be a second time. Watching him work was awe-inspiring. Each stroke of the brush was masterful, applied with the perfect amount of pressure, never ruining the harsh & intense mixing of the colours, always saving it from ruin. By the end, it was not like the ones I had seen before. Instead of structures or any landscape features I could pick out, it was a chaotic mess of deep contrasting colours, but nonetheless beautiful. There was order in the chaos; while there was no distinct rhyme or reason to the work, it still held a measure of sense, it felt right somehow. There were colours I couldn't even describe, colours not seen before somehow. I was entranced again.
"It's quite late, you should be off,'' he concluded. It was a few seconds before I could snap away from the canvas & register what he was saying. He was right. I had met him at midday & it was now nearing 10pm. I didn't know how it had happened but 10 hours had passed, just watching the man paint! Mesmerising was an understatement. The feeling was indescribable, just intense longing, like watching a loved one leave. While warming, also like enduring loneliness, the subtle reminder that humanity is alone in the universe.
My dreams took an unusual turn that night. I got home & almost immediately went to bed, feeling dazed. In an instant I was elsewhere. Smooth stone walls surrounded me on all sides, up, down, left & right. I turned in a panic to try to find some escape as dread crept into my stomach, twisting & clawing. Before I could realise what was happening, the floor was moved from beneath me & I was falling through an abyss of colour. Intense, blinding colour. The falling felt endless, like I had been falling for days. And then I was laying on grass, the dew soaking into my clothes, cold & harsh. Rising to my feet I found the sky was blue & the grass was green & extended for miles & miles. I took a few steps forwards & turned, surveying my surroundings once more, except now behind me was a single door, the door from the man's studio. The rush of calm that had flooded my system after finding myself in somewhat familiar land compared to what I had seen before was now ebbing whilst the dread came crawling back again. The door cracked open & inside was darkness. Panic seized me & I froze, unable to even turn my eyes away from what lay inside the door. A putrid stench drifted out, harassing my senses. I gagged & my eyes watered at the scent, but still I could not look or move away, I was firmly held by something outside of myself, yet wholly unseen. I knew that something was peering out at me from the void. I did not know what it was yet I knew that I didn't want to find out. It was awful, a pure manifestation of malevolent forces hiding behind this door. And the door slammed shut & I once again found myself laying on my bed, still fully clothed, lights on. I was drenched in sweat, shaking & shivering, hot & cold. Catching my breath was somewhat difficult & all my joints felt worn down. I prepared myself to sleep properly, though I was fearful of turning the lights off on that night; unfortunately the start of an ongoing trend.