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The Family Portrait

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1889 Family Portrait

Recently at the art gallery I work at, they had a new exhibition for local artists. It was the usual sort of thing; substandard paintings that only got a shoo-in because they were from the local community, paintings of local people and places and so forth. It was my job to decide which paintings got put on display, which entailed me sorting through around a hundred of these awful excuses for art. There was one, though, that really caught my attention. Unlike the others, it was not of a local scene or a local person; it was of a family. A father in a suit sitting in a chair, his dutiful wife behind him and his young son and daughter at his feet.

By the looks of their clothes, they were from the 19th century, typically dressed for a middle class family of that period. Two things struck me about the painting; firstly the attention to detail and the quality of the artwork was impeccable (almost photogenic), and secondly was the shiver it sent down my spine. The people in the portrait had this eerie, gaunt look to them, and expressions that were so blank they looked almost dead. The painting had no artists name attached to it, and Molly from reception had said that she couldn’t recall anybody sending it in. I decided then that instead of putting the painting on display I would take it home with me; after all it had no name attached to it so nobody was going to miss it were they?

I got home and decided that I was going to hang it in my study, and after hanging it, spent the rest of the night filing paperwork. Every so often I would find my eyes drawn to the painting. I felt the strangest, and most uncomfortable, sensation. I felt like the family in the painting were somehow judging me; like I could feel their eyes boring into me from the painting. What’s worse is that because they were staring at the painter (and therefore anybody who looked at the painting) their eyes seemed to follow me around the room. After a while I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned the painting against the wall and vowed that, no matter how interesting it was, I would return it to the gallery the next day. I got a hold of myself though, I had been working quite late and was very tired, and decided that I would sleep on it. I began to finish off the last of my filing at my desk. This was a bad idea; my eyes were heavy and before I knew it I had fallen asleep right there in the study.

That night my dreams were filled with visions of the painting. Over and over again, all I dreamed about was that family staring at me from behind the canvas, drilling into my soul with their blank, visionless stares. With every dream they seemed to get more and more intense, until after a while their eyes were wide and they were giving me looks of such intense hatred that I thought they were about to kill me. After a while, I snapped into awareness to find myself face to face with the painting, except this time instead of blank expressions I was faced with a hellish vision that will haunt me until I die. Their faces were twisted into looks of absolute malice. Their gaunt waxen skin was drawn taught across their pointed cheekbones, their lips peeled back across blackened gums to reveal gnarled yellow teeth bared in a bestial snarl. The less that was said about their bloodshot, protruding eyes the better. I screamed and fell off my chair, stumbling out the room, unable to turn and look back at the painting. I ran across the hallway and dived into my bed, burying my head under the covers.

The next morning when I woke up, I was still terrified. I rationalized it to myself though; you were overtired and you had a night terror, the room was dark and both the shadows and your mind were trying to play tricks on you. I went about my usual routine unperturbed, comforted by the rational logic of my mind. I was about to go to work when I realized I had forgotten about the papers in the study. I opened the door to grab the papers but as soon as I set foot in the room, my heart froze and my blood ran cold. The painting was still turned against the wall. Not only that, but my desk had not even been facing the painting to begin with; it was facing the window.

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