Walking through a Masterpiece
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Slowly, he sloshed through the murk of acrylics and pencil marks.

Absent were the sounds of birds or crickets. Even the grass, rather than crunching beneath his feet, simply crumbled away. A trail of paint shards marked his path.

"Do you see anything?"

Canvas, he thought. Dusting away the trail he'd left exposed the off-colored, knitted textures he'd expected to find. Even as he pressed a hand to it, the material remained taut.

"…a painting."

"A work-in-progress."

He started walking again. Off in the distance, just within the range of his senses, was the sound of a stream.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been walking for. Long enough for the paint to soak into his pants and pattern a splotchy rainbow, maybe, but time lacked a means of measure. Above him was a sky locked in a stationary scene. It was bright, so bright that he'd hardly noticed when his hand drifted above his eyes just to secure some shade.

He didn't notice how pale his hand had become.

"Why here, exactly? You could have chosen anywhere else."

"Something about it is… Familiar, I suppose."

He turned his eyes to the ground below. The harsh, white sky was too much. Even with the shade of his hand. Besides, he found the sight to be calming. Vibrantly green, swaying grass.

"Even if you've never been here?"

It crumbled as he ran a hand along the collective blades.

"I've seen this place before."

"You haven't."

The sound of water, cascading down and bubbling along the edges, grew louder. Closer. He continued to follow it.

When he arrived, soaked to the bone in hues of green and yellow, he was met with a hollow rut.

He knelt beside it, running his hand along the empty canvas. Leaving a trail of blue where his fingers touched the emptiness.

It was only then that he saw how colorless his hand had become. How a rosy hue had faded to some shade of grey, and how the tips of his fingers appeared like an empty canvas.

"…Mal?"

"Still here, Sal."

Blue began to flow along the empty basin. A narrow trickle weaved its way through stones and channels in the canvas before others began to join it. Familiar eyes peered up at Sal from the stream, mirroring the way his pupils widened as a grey chip fell into the water.

He took a step back.

"You said I've never been here before."

"Because you haven't."

"How are you so sure?"

"…"

The grass continued to sway, but the blades began to change. Once narrow and straight, they started to curl around Sal's ankles. His touch no longer broke them, and when he reached down to weave his fingers through the blades, he felt someone else's thumb brush against his.

More chips began to fall, carried away by the bubbling stream. Those eyes remained in the water, no matter how far back he stepped.

One. Two. Three. Every time he blinked, he saw another pair join in the blue.

"The painting wasn't finished."

"…the sky was white."

"And the stream was dry."

When he tried to look up, the sun smiled down at him. He lifted a hand to shade his eyes, but there was nothing to raise. There was nothing to block the brilliant blue sky.

A million eyes watched as Sal crumbled to the ground.

He felt nothing as he laid along the grass, because he had nothing to feel with. He blinked with eyes he no longer had, and tried to cry with a voice that remained silent.

"…Mal?"

"…I don't want to finish this painting…"

"…"

"…help me…"

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♩ - Salem? ♫

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There was a pressure where his shoulder should have been.

There was a moment where the sky was no longer bright.


.


.


.


He opened his eyes and saw nothing but the almost toxic green shade of his friend's shirt.

…and he screamed.

He screamed until his tears soaked through the fabric and his throat felt as though he'd swallowed a handful of thumbtacks. His friend started, "hey - it's okay - Salem -"

"That stupid - stupid fucking painting-"1

"- again?"

"How do you deal with that stupid thing?!"

His friend said nothing.

He just sat there, keeping hold of Salem until the fear came to pass.

…that waking moment was all he could ask for.

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