Through the Veneer of Time
His words were a blast that made something inside me snap. Why couldn’t I unlock my eyes from his? Unclench my knees despite an unbearable compulsion to run? I dug my fingernails into my sweaty palms to break the paralysis, drove the graphite shards into my flesh.
“Do you ever wonder what becomes of your characters?” His vacuous smile didn’t reach his eyes. “What comes after your painstaking freeze-frame? Your warrior—” He pointed his chin at the mural. “He’s cocky, but he doesn’t know what he’s riding into. Yet hours from now, he could be lying in some field, stripped of his weapons, bleeding out into the ground as the vultures peck at his baby blues.” His eyes widened. “Leaving his beautiful young widow all alone.”
His impossibly soft voice was a ringing blow in my ears. A tremor braced my throat. I drew a frantic breath against it.
“I’m sorry,” I squeezed out, “I’m not sure I follow.”
“I’m sure you do.” He chuckled. “But don’t look so stricken, Siena Forte. It’s only a painting, a fantasy. Nothing more.”
“Excuse me…” I edged past him, cold all over.
I rushed into the nearest restroom, tossed the broken graphite into the trash can, and locked myself in a stall. I hugged myself. Tight. Tighter. Gasped for air, not drawing any. My vision swam at the edges. Flickering. Fading. My heart thudded, and breath came faster in my chest, choking me.
Fragments of his words whirred around me, and I grasped my head to stop the awful cacophony. But it wouldn’t stop. The image he drew cut like a knife, piercing through something soft and vulnerable inside. Something I’d buried deep down and wished to keep that way. But he’d driven it to the surface and laid it out in the open, raw and exposed.
Someone entered the restroom, and I froze at the squeak of the adjoining stall door. But it was only a pair of black pumps through the divider gap. Heartbeat in my ears, I dropped the toilet lid and sat down.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
Worgen was a narcissistic egomaniac, pissed off at not getting his way. Certainly, he could neither read my mind nor know anything about my visions. He was messing with me. Of course, he was! Pygmalion was a mythical sculptor, whose ivory creation came to life after he’d fallen in love with her. And here I was, a female artist, painting a man. As for the widow, it wasn’t a big leap to imagine a handsome warrior leaving a young wife at home. Worgen didn’t have to know about me to understand this mental image would upset me.
I couldn’t tell how long I stayed in the restroom, but I emerged more determined than ever to continue with my project. I only needed to go outside and get some fresh air first. But Worgen was still there, talking to a visitor, and the only way out was past him.
I clenched my jaw and went toward them.