by Aeryn Rudel
The place he called the sitting room was cool and dry, with concrete walls and floor. The smell was pungent, but it never bothered him. It reminded him of the good work he’d done, how his collection had grown, and how each piece had changed over time.
A single chair was precisely positioned in the center of the room and allowed him to view the installation from a comfortable distance. He would sit for hours, pondering the changes that had taken place since his last visit. He allowed himself into the sitting room once a week; more than that and he feared it would lose its magic, its soothing nature. He longed for it constantly, though, and the need made it all the more satisfying when he finally went down and sat.
His sanctuary was an old fallout shelter that had come with the house he’d bought a few years ago. The entrance had been sealed over, and the realtor hadn’t known it was there. He’d stumbled upon it while remodeling and had immediately recognized its potential. It was isolated and quiet, a place made for private display. Before, he’d done his work where he’d found it, leaving little time to revel in the experience. It had to be quick, sudden, ugly—and these early endeavors were now lost to him. The sitting room allowed him to linger over each new work, soaking it in for as long as he liked.
This was the second time he’d visited the sitting room this week, but today was an exception. He had something new to display, and he wanted to get it up on the wall and part of the installation as soon as possible. He’d dragged it down to the room in a burlap sack. It was big, and it would be difficult to mount, but he’d made the necessary preparations.
He stood in the center of the room, behind the chair, the new piece at his feet. He knew he’d made the right decision. The installation, while still beautiful, had begun to look incomplete. He always felt this way just before he added something new; a sense of the unfinished and a lack of purpose that only new work would drive away.
He untied the burlap sack and grabbed hold of the piece. It left a red smear on the concrete as he dragged it toward the display wall. That bothered him. Colors went on the wall not on the floor.
The tools he needed where at the base of the installation: a four-pound sledgehammer, four stainless steel spikes, each six inches long, and a U-shaped bolt, eight inches long and four inches wide, sharpened on both ends. They were ordinary objects—things you could pick up at any Home Depot—augmented for his purposes. He had a sturdy block and tackle bolted to the ceiling that allowed him to raise a new work by its arms so it could be secured to the wall. He positioned his latest piece roughly three feet from the floor, then anchored the rope.
He started with the U-bolt. It provided the most stability. He carefully positioned it beneath the solar plexus with one hand and raised the sledge with the other. He struck a sharp, firm blow, and the twin spikes sank into the piece a good half-inch. Its eyes flew open at the shock and pain. This irritated him—it made the mounting more difficult when they squirmed. He much preferred they awaken during the viewing period; then their movements only added to the work.
The new piece opened its mouth to speak or scream, but both lungs had been perforated and nothing came out but a trickle of blood and a rattling gasp. He continued to hammer at the bolt until it had penetrated the flesh and bone and the wall behind it. The new piece thrashed the entire time, splattering him with its fluids. Finally, he’d had enough, and he smashed the sledgehammer into the side of its head. He heard a dull crunch—the skull fracturing—and the new piece went limp. He frowned; too hard. He hoped that wouldn’t affect its aesthetic positioning on the wall or how it painted.
He did the feet next, hammering a steel spike through each instep. With the feet secured, he moved on to the wrists, one spike just below each hand. The new piece was secured to the wall, and already it had begun to paint, staining the concrete red behind it. In time, he’d make more holes to let other colors out—greens, browns, more reds.
He glanced along the wall where his previous works hung. The one next to the newest had begun to turn gray, and its painting had become muted. Farther along, the paintings grew more and more subdued, and the pieces themselves became withered and shrunken, completing their purpose. The new piece stood out from them, bold and exquisite, a shining monarch of color among its tired gray subjects.
There was still much to do, but the chair beckoned him. He would sit for a while and watch the colors flow.