• Permanent Exhibition

    by  • March 5, 2018 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An essay by Mr. Vince DeMarsh, as provided by Dr. J. A. Grier
    Art Amanda Jones


    As an agent for eccentric artist-types, my life was unpredictable, but I had an eye for the kind of talent that made money. In fact, I was on the phone with some of that talent, and was getting more and more frustrated as the conversation continued. Trish was saying, “Vince you don’t understand. I can’t work. I mean it; it’s like my head is splitting open. I told you I’d be like this if it rained. I’m always like this when it rains.”

    “You can’t take some aspirin?”

    “No. Martin and I have tried absolutely every available treatment for my migraines and nothing works. Even the strongest prescription painkillers can’t cut through. We’ve tried acupuncture, homeopathy, supplements, allergy remedies, and all sorts of food intolerance tests. It’s making me nauseated just thinking about it. There is no solution other than waiting for the sun.”

    “Given how much rain we’ve been having, I think that might not work.”

    “I know. Listen. Bottom line is I might not have the paintings finished on time for the first exhibition.”

    I got angry. “Trish, you are under contract–a very strict contract with substantial financial liability for both of us. You will fill that gallery show, and then the two shows afterwards, or neither of us will work in this city again.”

    “Stop ranting; it’s making my head pound. I just need you to move the date by a week.”

    “I can’t. We are locked in, both of us. So you absolutely will fill that gallery by opening night.” Then I softened my tone, thinking maybe that approach would be more effective. “Look. I know you have some older work. It’s not as fresh as your recent stuff, but between that and the pieces you’ve painted this spring I bet you can pull this together. Remember, this is the kind of opportunity that could make your career. Will make your career.” It would make–or break–my career, too, but I didn’t say that.

    Here was a long pause. Finally, she said, “Okay. I will manage somehow. I’m not missing this for anything. Anything.”

    She hung up.

    The rain hardly quit for the next two weeks. I called every few days to get an update, but the only person answering her phone was her husband Martin. He kept assuring me that the paintings would be ready to go on schedule. I was concerned, but I knew that Trish was ambitious, driven, and tenacious. So I wasn’t too surprised when, at the critical point, there were indeed enough pieces to pull off a show.

    It was thankfully good weather that night as patrons filed in to view Trish’s pieces. Trish stood by, pale but smiling, answering questions and avoiding me. I was working the crowd.  I always kept shows casual but classy, with a drink and a handshake for everyone through the door. I had a great memory for names and faces, too.

    But the act was a struggle tonight. The art was good, but not as stunning as I’d hoped. I knew she was capable of a great deal more than this, which is why I had agreed to this gamble in the first place.

    After all the patrons had left, I grabbed a bottle from the bar and poured myself another glass of wine. I went up to Trish and Martin. “Well, a passable opening here overall. A few pieces sold, but, Trish, this is not what I’ve come to expect from you.”

    She frowned. “I’m more disappointed than you are, I guarantee it.”

    “Maybe. If you sell a few more pieces over the next two weeks while the art is on display, then that will help. But the financial outlay for these three exhibitions is considerable, as you are well aware. Either we pack them in for the next two shows or we take a big loss. Your contract–”

    Martin spoke, irritated with me. “Yes, we are well aware, Vince.”

    I was not going to be derailed, and continued to address Trish. “Can you guarantee me a better second show?”

    “If it stops raining, then yes.”

    I turned to Martin. “There really is nothing you haven’t tried?”

    “That’s right.”

    I rubbed my chin then shrugged. “Well, it’s only our careers on the line. Let me know if there is anything I can do between now and July.”

    They both gave me a sour look. Martin said, “Find a cure for migraines.”

    With that, we went our own ways. For a week it was fine, the sun was shining and reports from Trish were that she was working pretty steadily, and she liked the results.

    Then it started raining again.

    I had to admit I was nervous, really nervous. I was going to look like a fool if the art at the next show was anything less than stellar. I’d made a lot of promises about this one. I couldn’t sleep, and found myself pacing around my apartment. I finally decided I needed a little help to get relaxed, or I was going to have a heart attack. It had been a while since I’d done anything like drugs, but I had a very special contact who could hook me up when necessary. I needed something better than booze to relax me.

    I met Dr. Kevin Elander at his place, and he let me in with a small smile. “Hello, Vince. It’s been a while. You said on the phone that you needed something to smooth things out.”

    “Yes, not strong just … something.”

    “Don’t worry. I have a lot of stuff in the works, and I think I know just what you need.”

    Kevin was a bit of an oddball. He was a neurologist with a love of “lab” work. We’d met years ago at one of the art shows I represented, and had struck up a friendship based on a mutual interest in surrealism. Enough of a friendship that that he’d eventually let me in on his “experiments.” These usually revolved around different sorts of hybrids of marijuana, poppies, and other drug-related plant life.

    I followed Kevin into his basement, and was astounded to see it looked like a high-tech chemistry laboratory. The last time I’d been in this place it was essentially filled with weed growing by sun lamp. This here was a very impressive setup. I stared around. “You’ve upgraded.”

    He laughed. “I certainly have. I have more clients at the hospital who need some special treatments. The sort of things the system denies them because of ‘risk.’ I’m making all sorts of wonderful concoctions down here now–designer, as they call it.” He rubbed his chin. “I can’t give you details. My work has required a lot of experimentation, making contacts all over the country, and I don’t want to give away any trade secrets. But I bet I can get you whatever you want. Ask for anything. I love a challenge.”

    I got a strange idea then, and asked, “What do you have for painkillers?”

    “Painkillers are simple, prescription-level stuff. I can do that legally from the hospital pharmacy if you like. Not a challenge.”

    I put up my hand. “No, I’m actually serious. Got anything for migraine headaches? I have a friend, one of my artist clients, who is suffering pretty badly. She claims to have tried everything, and I believe her.”

    He gave me a patronizing look. “It’s always a friend.” I was going to contradict him, but then he said, “Give me a moment. Hmmm. Yes, I think I can provide something … unique for that. I’ve been looking for a reason to do more experimenting, anyway, and migraines are right up my alley. This would be a stimulant–really strong. It’ll be mixed with some other, secret ingredients–effective, potent, and quite illegal of course. How do you want it?”

    I considered for a moment then said, “Um. Pills?”

    I waited around for quite some time while he tinkered with his equipment, measured out powders, and filled up capsules. Finally, he handed me two dozen pills. “Take one if you want to feel good, and two if you want to feel great.”

    I asked, “How addictive is this stuff?”

    He shrugged. “It’s a strong stimulant, among other things. If you need it more than once a week, well, headaches probably aren’t the real problem. Do you still want the ‘relaxers’?”

    I shook my head, paid the hefty fee for the pills, and then left.

    I was second-guessing myself all the way over to Trish’s house. What was I thinking, really? That I’d find some kind of cure when they’d been trying themselves for years? Well, I was getting desperate. I had a career to consider, and rent to pay, like everyone else. Even more, I wanted to avoid the humiliation of a bad show. The thought left an acid burn in the center of my stomach.

    I knocked on the door and was met by Martin. He gave me a surprised look and said, “Vince. I didn’t … that is … it is raining, so she’s not really–”

    I held out the bag of pills. “I have an offering.”

    This got me in the door and at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, which was about as much as I’d ever gotten out of the over-protective Martin. He was looking at the pills. “Experimental drug, huh?”

    I nodded and did some lying. “Yes. I can’t give you names, but the doctor that I spoke with said they’d been working on this for some time, and it is already through the trial stage with humans. They have had very encouraging results, but it’s not on the market yet. I figured this was probably the only thing you hadn’t had the chance to try.”

    “You are right about that.” Martin took a deep breath. “Well. We are out of options. She’s afraid she’s going to miss the chance of a lifetime. You have no idea what these exhibitions mean to her, Vince. It’s all she talks about. She wants this more than I can say.” He looked at the bag. “Well, what can it hurt?”

    I was ushered out. I held my breath for about three solid days, wondering if I’d hear anything or not. It kept raining, and every day I woke to that dark sky made me more anxious. Finally, my phone rang. It was Trish.

    “Vince! My God, you miracle worker, you! This is incredible!”

    I felt a rush of relief. “I’m so glad you feel that way.”

    She laughed, and it was a good sound. “My head doesn’t hurt at all! I have so much energy. I can’t wait to show you this work I’ve done these past few days. Come by Friday.”

    It was a smiling Martin who let me into their house later that week. I walked into her studio area and gazed around at several works of art drying on the walls or in place on easels. The work was vibrant, full of life, and yet had that edge–that slightly strange edge that was uniquely Trish. I grinned more and more as I looked over the paintings. Trish was in the corner in her favorite spot, painting by the window. It was another grey, dripping day but she clearly didn’t mind at all.

    I walked up to her, and she asked, “Well?”

    “The work is excellent. But we need more.”

    “I’ll get you more, if you get me more.”

    I blinked. More? “Um. That was like three months of–”

    She snorted. “I’m sure that’s just the dose the doctor suggested for liability or something like that. I’m taking two every rainy day. Works great.”

    I blinked again. “And you … are sleeping okay?”

    Martin was at her side. “No problems at all that I can see. I know this is a higher dose than what was recommended, but you can’t beat the results.”

    I couldn’t help myself and said, “It might not be safe.”

    Trish laughed. “I don’t happen to care. I’ve lived with debilitating migraines all my life, and now they are gone. Get me more, Vince. I’ll pay any price.”

    I told her the price.

    At the door, Martin handed me three times that. “She’s never been this happy. Get lots.”

    I walked out feeling a mix of guilt and relief. The relief was stronger than the guilt, and I wound up back at Kevin’s place. He was shaking his head as I came in. “You said you needed more? I mean yes, I’m happy you had good results, but don’t start selling these things yourself. I’d not take kindly to that.”

    I said, “I’m not selling. I told you I’m sharing with a client. But that’s all. I swear I’m not opening up a shop or anything else.”

    He nodded, and I waited around again for hours as he came up with three dozen of the little pink pills. He handed them over with a wink. I drove them over to Martin, and then didn’t hear a word for another week.

    This time it was Martin on the phone. “Vince. Yeah, she’s so busy she didn’t want to call. There is tons of her work in this place. It’s amazing.” But his voice was flat.

    I asked, “What’s up?”

    “It’s odd. It isn’t just that she does not feel headaches anymore. She does not feel pain anymore, any pain at all. She burned her hand on the stove and she didn’t even notice for hours. It is beyond bizarre.”

    I coughed. “Maybe she should take a break from it for a while.”

    “I suggested that. She said she will only take breaks on sunny days. I hope it is sunny tomorrow.”

    It was another week before my phone rang.

    “Vince. I’m running out.”

    “Going to say ‘hello?'”

    A snort. “You know who this is and you know what I want. More. Lots more.”

    “Trish. I think you might be–”

    “Addicted? I certainly am. Look, I’m taking three per rainy day. That’s what I need. No more or less.”

    “Martin is worried about you.”

    That stopped her for a moment. “He’s always worried. Get me more, Vince. I really need them. I’ll pay anything.”

    I hesitated. What I was doing was really, really wrong. I’d duped a client into getting addicted to an unknown drug so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed at a show. But the more I thought about that, the more I thought it was okay. After all, she’d been looking for something like this for years, and all I had done was give her the option. So I said, “OK.”

    Kevin was getting worried, too, what with the large order to fill. I paid him double and he calmed down and gave me what I asked for, a six-month supply. I gave the pills to Martin, who didn’t look me in the face. He handed me a check and shut the door.

    I didn’t hear anything until it was time to arrange for the art to be shipped. Martin handled the details, and refused to talk about anything but work. I was concerned that Trish wouldn’t be at this second opening, but there she was. She looked very calm, shaking hands with a small smile on her face. Martin was nearby, drinking rather heavily.

    The show was a big hit. Many pieces sold and many more patrons said they would spread the word about the exhibition over the next two weeks. I was confident most of the works would sell within that time.

    When we were alone I walked up to Trish. “Well done!”

    She nodded, looking over the work. “I have so many ideas. So many. The third show will be the very best. A blowout, I promise you.”

    I coughed and in spite of everything, I found myself asking, “Are you sure that you don’t need a break?”

    Martin was right there. “That’s a thought. A break might be–”

    She brushed this off. “I don’t want to stop, and I don’t need to stop. Things are going spectacularly well. All I want to do is paint.”

    We weren’t able to change her mind, and they left. Martin was frowning, and Trish was looking like she was going to go straight back to the studio and paint through the night.

    Weeks went by, and the only person I heard from was Martin. He’d tell me everything was fine, and then hang up. I tried to hold down my concern, but each time we talked, Martin sounded worse and worse. Finally, after a month, Martin called. “Vince. It’s gotten really bad. You have to come over. You are the only one who can talk her out of this.” He sounded utterly distraught.

    I got in my car and over to their place as fast as possible. Martin met me at the door, looking like he hadn’t slept for days. I followed him into the studio and looked around at the art on display. It was terrible. There was no vibrancy to the work, and her unique edge was gone. I walked over to where she was standing before a canvas, slowly moving a paintbrush up and down over the surface, as if in a trance. I got a good look at her face; it was pinched and thin. Deep circles were under her eyes. She looked profoundly ill.

    I gasped. “Trish. You have to stop.”

    She looked up at me, and for a moment the brush stopped moving. “I’m running out.”

    My eyes bulged. “That’s–”

    “Five a day. I need five any time it rains or the pain comes back.”

    I drew up my courage. “You have to stop. This is killing you. Give up on the exhibition. Stop taking those pills.”

    She stared me in the face, eyes suddenly blazing. “No. The exhibition means everything to me. Nothing will stop me.”

    I threw my arms out, indicating the pieces on the walls. “Look at this work. You know it’s all crap. It isn’t worth showing. You need to stop. How many pills are left?”

    “A week’s worth.”

    “Start weaning yourself off of them. Don’t go cold turkey. Use what’s left to taper off. I’m not bringing any more.”

    She slid down and sat on a chair. Her breath was unsteady as she looked out the nearby window into the rain. She pulled a clear bag out of her pocket, and I could see the pills there. She looked at them a long time then put the bag away. She gave me a forlorn gaze. “I can’t live without them, Vince. That’s all there is to it.”

    Martin’s voice floated up from behind me. “You can. We will find a way.”

    I nodded firmly. “He’s right. No more pills.”

    She put her hand over her face and started crying. She waved the other hand at the door. “Leave me alone.”

    Martin and I left. He invited me to have a cup of coffee, and we stared into our cups. He finally said, “She hardly eats or sleeps anymore. She only paints.”

    “You can see the difference in what she’s painting, I’m sure.”

    He nodded, looking defeated. “Yes. I can certainly see it. This isn’t anything like her other work. It’s lifeless.”

    “When did things go bad?”

    He shrugged. “I don’t even know, it was so gradual. I didn’t know how much she was taking until recently, but it was already too late by then.”

    We didn’t say anything more as our coffee got cold. No doubt he was worried about Trish. But I was thinking about the show–about the loss of money, and the loss of reputation. I had no idea how I was going to salvage the situation, or even if I could.

    Martin finally stood. “Maybe you should take a look at some of the work she did just after the last show, before … well, maybe there is something you can use.”

    I didn’t want to. I knew that no matter what I found, it wouldn’t be enough. But Martin looked so miserable I humored him.

    He walked into the studio, saying quietly, “Hey Trish, we’re going to take a look at–” He stopped suddenly. Trish was crumpled on the floor beneath her easel.

    Martin was there immediately and knelt next to her. “Trish? Trish, are you okay? Come on, we need to get you into bed.”

    She didn’t respond. I became alarmed and knelt down next to Martin, whose eyes were wide. He was pulling a clear bag out of her limp fist. It was the pill bag. It was empty.

    We both stared at it, then each other. Martin leaned forward and felt for a pulse and for breath. Then he sat back, looking stunned. He spoke, his voice shaking. “She’s … she’s gone. She must have done this as soon as we left. She’s already going cold.”

    I was frozen, unable to believe what was happening.

    After a long moment, he said, “I have to call an ambulance. But it’s too late. I know it is far too late.”

    I felt a rush of fear, my mind whirling with implications. I put my hand on his arm. “Martin, you can’t.”

    He looked at me, very confused. “But … we have to call–”

    I shook my head. “No. We can’t. These pills, you know I got them illegally. An autopsy will show what killed her. It might even show that she’s been on a huge dose of these things. They will figure out that we gave her these drugs–that I got them and you paid for them. Who knows how that would come out in court? Criminal negligence? Manslaughter? Something worse?” Certainly at the least I’d be charged for dealing the drugs. But Martin was certainly implicated.

    He chewed on that a while. “I don’t believe this. I just can’t. She’s lying here dead and you … and I–” He started crying.

    I put my hand on his shoulder and held down my fear and frustration. Instead, I said, “Martin. You know I’m right.”

    He gasped. “What the hell do we do, then? God, Vince, I don’t even care anymore.”

    “Of course you care. Fortunately, she has no other family to come looking for her. Let’s you and I bury her here at home and let it go. I’ll handle things on the exhibition end, and you take a long trip somewhere.”

    He was looking at me, blinking through tears. “That’s never going to work. Someone will find out eventually.”

    Silently I agreed, but I also figured that by then, the only evidence left would all point to Martin. I thought more and realized it would actually be easy to set it up that way on purpose. “No. It will work. Come on.”

    We went out in the rain and darkness and dug a deep hole in the ground. By the time we installed Trish’s body, Martin was half catatonic, just going through the motions with no outward sign that it affected him at all.

    I had to be the one to do the final burying, and then I was the one who made sure the traces of it were cleaned up. I talked Martin into taking a shower, and then sat him down with a strong drink while I took a shower, myself. He was asleep on the couch when I came downstairs. I stayed up late washing and drying our muddy clothes, and then woke him up.

    He was groggy. “Trish?” Then memory flashed in his eyes, and he stared down at the floor. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

    “Give it a few days, Martin. Then leave for a week or two. By the time you get back, I’ll have the art situation all straightened out.” I’d also have everything set up so that Martin would certainly get the rap for his wife’s death, too, and I’d be in the clear.

    I didn’t change a thing about the exhibition, of course. I went about my days as if I knew nothing at all. I spent my time concocting a story for the police. I was wondering when Martin might get back into town when I got a call.

    “Vince. Come over. Everything’s fine.” He sounded a little hysterical.

    “Um. Martin? You okay there?”

    “Oh, yes, definitely. Come on.”

    I thought for a moment. If Martin became unhinged, then so much the better for my story. I’d go over and “notice” his wife was not there then I’d call the cops with my “suspicions.” Perfect.

    Martin let me in the door, smiling strangely. “Come on, let me show you.”

    I followed him slowly, wondering what the hell was going on. I walked into the studio and was going to ask more pointed questions when the art caught my eye. All of the previous pieces had been removed and brand-new work was on display. I stepped in front of one of the paintings and stood rooted to the spot. It was a livid, throbbing, aching piece of art. Stunning in beauty and grief. I finally drew a breath and looked around. Every piece in the room was enthralling–raw, glittering and heartbreaking.

    I turned to Martin. “You–?” I couldn’t finish the sentence.

    He grinned and shook his head, pointing to the nook by the window.

    I slowly walked over. There was someone there, working on a canvas. This person was covered with dirt, hair tangled, and skin filthy.

    I stood aghast at what I was seeing. It could not be real. But it was. It was Trish.

    She turned her eyes to me and spoke; her voice had a sinister, teasing edge to it. “Vince. What do you think of my work?”

    I was shaking in my shoes. “Marvelous. Perfect. Haunt … haunting.”

    She smiled, and for some reason, that made me want to scream. “Good. The third exhibition is going to be a tremendous success. We are going to be rich and famous. It’s all you ever cared about, and it’s going to be yours.”

    I swallowed hard and nodded.

    Art for "Permanent Exhibition"

    Trish was smiling. “It is dangerous. It is very addictive. I need more.”

    “I need more, Vince.”

    I asked, “The pills?”

    “Yes Vince, the pills.”

    “You … are alive.”

    She chuckled darkly. “By no means.”

    I looked at Martin, who was swaying and humming behind me. He said, “She crawled out of the garden just yesterday and did all this incredible work.”

    “Yesterday.” I was trying to process it. I could imagine that we’d somehow buried her alive accidentally. But if she were buried that long, there was no chance she could still be living. None.

    A sense of dread had filled my chest. “There has to be some mistake.”

    Trish turned to me and gave me a look that had my knees melting. “There’s no mistake, Vince. Other than the one you made with the pills. You are a greedy bastard, and that was a dirty trick. But now I want more. Lots and lots this time, at least a thousand.”

    “I don’t think that’s possible. The doctor–”

    Her eyes narrowed with anger and I took a step back, terrified. “Don’t try to toy with me. These didn’t come from any kind of reputable source.”

    I stuttered. “But, he is a doctor and–”

    “He’s a dealer. Go to your dealer and get the pills.”

    I didn’t ask her how she knew. “I don’t know if he can even make that many.”

    “I don’t care. Get them or die, Vince.”

    I stared, unable to breathe. Martin smiled at me and waved. “See you soon, then?”

    I turned and ran. I ran outside and back into the place in the garden where we’d buried Trish. There was in fact a hole the size of a person, and even muddy footprints leading away. This … this had to be some kind of a joke. Had Martin and Trish set this up? Had they been on to me all along with those drugs? Nothing made sense.

    I got into my car and back home. When I went to see Kevin the next day, he was suspicious, but also seemed concerned for me. “Look, are you sure you need that much? Do you even have the, ah, funds for that kind of an order?”

    “I have it.”

    “I can’t make it all in one go. I’ll have to do it in stages.”

    I nodded then calculated in my head how much would be needed to get through the final exhibition, even if it rained every single day. He frowned at the number. “I think I can do that, barely. But it’s going to take me hours.”

    “Fine.” I fell asleep on his couch. I certainly hadn’t slept the night before.

    I dropped the pills off with Martin, who looked tired and rumpled, but happy. I figured the poor bastard had lost it completely. Either that, or I was being played like a fiddle. It was working. I had no desire to see Trish at all, and left as fast as I could.

    Another month, and the day came to arrange to move the artwork to the gallery. I got Martin on the phone. He sounded exhausted, but was enthusiastic about helping get the pieces sorted. I usually had a more hands-on approach to a gallery opening, but this time I didn’t do a damn thing. I let Martin and the gallery manager install it all. I sat and drank until it was time to leave.

    The gallery was already filled with patrons when I arrived. Nobody noticed that I was late because they were all staring at the artwork. The place was absolutely buzzing with excitement and energy. There were already little “sold” cards on most of the art. It was an absolute smash hit. People started coming up to me and patting me on the back, handing me champagne and toasting my incredible success.

    Martin was there. He was wearing a suit as usual, but hadn’t shaved or even combed his hair. It went uncommented, given the incredible distractions all around us. I drew up my courage and approached him. I asked quietly, “Where is Trish?”

    He gave me a vague grin and pointed. She was leaning against a wall, smiling at all the people, her eyes bright. She looked as she always did at openings, and yet the expression on her face made my skin crawl.

    As the evening went on, I was approached with propositions from the managers of other galleries, as well as from museum representatives and a few wealthy patrons. Everyone wanted more. Much more. Trish was a rising, brilliant star, and we were both going to be very rich. Rich. As long as there was more …

    She didn’t talk to me until the show ended. She walked up and said, “I have so many ideas, Vince. I have plans for another series. It will be fantastic.”

    All I did was nod. I was afraid. My gut was in knots.

    A final patron was walking through the paintings, and I put my hand up to caution Trish to stop speaking. That’s when I realized the patron was Kevin.

    He inclined his head nervously to us. “Vince. I’m very sorry to have to come find you at an exhibition. But I have to speak with you.” I made to direct him away to a side room, but Trish stepped forward.

    She said, “You are the source.”

    He looked around at the three of us, concerned, but I said, trying to keep my voice level, “This is my friend. The artist who had the migraines.”

    Kevin was surprised. “Really? I thought you were lying about your friend.” Then he turned to Trish and said, “I’m Dr. Kevin Elander. I’m a neuroscientist.”

    Trish’s eyebrows went up. “You are a good deal more than that. Or less.”

    Kevin looked embarrassed, even guilty. “I guess … I guess you are the person I need to speak with, either way. The pills I created, what is in them … it’s not quite what I thought it was. It could be dangerous. I mean, I don’t even know what it could do. In any case, you need to stop taking the drug right away.”

    Trish was smiling. “It is dangerous. It is very addictive. I need more.”

    Kevin heaved a sigh, and ran a hand through his hair. “Let me explain. I was shipped some materials by a contact in California who knows of my interest in unusual … preparations. I thought what he sent me was basically cocaine, but he’d cut it with … with … I can’t even say this. They were into some rough stuff out there, and I don’t mean drugs. Crime. Murder. They had to hide the bodies.” He looked between us, eyes wide. “They burned the bodies down to ash and then they dumped the ashes into the drugs.”

    I felt a pulse of horror and nausea. I looked at Trish, expecting her to turn on us both in a fit of rage.

    Instead, she said, “I know. I know.”

    Kevin was stunned. “You … that’s impossible.”

    She was unimpressed. “As if I wouldn’t know the taste. Of course I do.” Her voice turned menacing. “You like living, don’t you, Kevin?”

    He took a step back. His eyes became icy. “You presume a great deal. I’ve been working with hard people for many years, given my … hobbies. Threats don’t work.” He pulled a serrated knife out of his coat.

    I stepped back fast. “Don’t. Kevin, don’t.”

    She was right in front of him. “Some doctor you are. ‘No harm,’ huh? Go on. I dare you.”

    He hesitated. She laughed. She reached forward and put her hand around his neck. With a show of astonishing strength, she pulled him right off the ground and slammed him back into the wall.

    He thrust his knife into her stomach. Martin laughed.

    I waited for her to break Kevin’s neck. Instead, Trish put him down easily on the floor, watching him. His face had turned from twisted anger to shock. He looked at the knife he was holding, still buried inside of Trish’s body. He withdrew it slowly. It wasn’t smeared with blood. It was smeared with wet, black earth.

    I think Kevin would have collapsed if he hadn’t already been against the wall.

    She said, “Let’s all be friends. I will make the art. You will make the pills. Don’t worry. Martin and Vince can help ‘collect’ the ingredients. They need to be fresh. Remember that. Fresh is always better. You can, ah, incinerate them yourself.”

    Kevin was looking at me. “Vince?” His voice was small and scared.

    My own fear had solidified into resignation. I reached for a bottle of champagne. “We are all going to be rich, and you, Dr. Elander, are going to have whole new avenues for experimentation open to you. Not having a choice about that makes the decision easy.”

    Trish nodded and turned her eyes to the darkened window. She rubbed her head. “You better hurry, gentlemen. Tomorrow it’s going to rain.”


    Mr. Vince DeMarsh is the highly successful CEO of the DeMarsh Agency, representing the finest artists in the metropolitan area. His most famous client, artist Trish Randall, has received rave reviews for her latest exhibition of paintings around the theme “The Consuming Fire.”


    Dr. J. A. Grier is a planetary scientist, poet, fiction writer, and wine lover. Her stories and poems have appeared in venues such as Mad Scientist Journal, Eye to the Telescope, Liquid Imagination, and Mirror Dance. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. Dr. Grier spends her time penning odd articles, reading strange stories, comparing vintages, and looking at impact craters on other worlds. She throws a fabulous Halloween party every year where one room is decorated entirely in eyeballs. Her babblings can be found at jagrier.com and @grierja on Twitter.


    Amanda Jones is an illustrator based in Seattle. She likes reading horror stories, binge watching seasons of her favourite sci-fi/fantasy shows, and everything Legend of Zelda. She focuses on digital portrait painting and co-creates the webcomic The Kinsey House. You can find more of her work on Tumblr under ‘thehauntedboy‘.


    “Permanent Exhibition” is © 2017 J. A. Grier
    Art accompanying story is © 2017 Amanda Jones

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