“What is that?”
I didn’t mean to ask the question so rudely, but the portrait took me by surprise. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to see when I walked into my mother’s house.
Was that supposed to be a child in the painting? Hard to say. He had an ageless, undead look to him, almost as if his childlikeness was an evil illusion. Ice-blue eyes, pallid face, an apathetic sort of grimace. I couldn’t place his style of clothing, but it was something old, maybe Edwardian or Victorian.
“Oh, that?” My mom came into the room and admired the portrait. Her tone had the casual cheerfulness of somebody who was just asked how she manages to get her garden to flourish so vibrantly or her homemade pineapple upside-down cake to taste so sweet. She didn’t sound like somebody being asked about the demonic painting in an oversized gilded frame hanging on the wall of her living room.
“Yes, that,” I said. “What else?”
“Isn’t it cute?” she asked.
I eyed her. “If you’re Lily Munster.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” she said, going over to it and straightening it. “I found it this morning while I was out antiquing.”
“And you bought it?” Even if the painting weren’t creepy as hell — and I’ll acknowledge that art is subjective, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a connoisseur who didn’t get goosebumps from this painting — it didn’t exactly seem like my mom’s taste. She’s always been more inclined to buy pictures of landscapes rather than baby vampires.
“Well, that’s the thing,” she continued, “I didn’t know I was buying it. I really liked the frame that it’s in. Doesn’t it match the living room nicely?”
“Yeah, sure.” I didn’t want her to digress.
“I bought another painting in this frame, see, it was a map or something, nothing I’d usually be interested in. But I figured I could always take it apart and keep the frame for something really special. And when I brought it home and took the frame apart—well, this picture was hidden behind the other one.”
“Wait, what?” I looked back at the painting to make sure I hadn’t perceived it improperly the first time I looked at it. It was still the same picture of a creepy child. “You found this painting hidden behind another one?”
“I bet the antique store had no idea it was there. Otherwise they would’ve sold it as two pictures instead of one, don’t you think? And nobody ever would have found it if I hadn’t taken that frame apart.”
I blinked at her, dumbfounded. “So let me get this straight: You found this painting hidden behind another one, and you decided instead of setting it on fire or calling an exorcist, it would be a great idea to reframe it and hang it up on your living room wall?”
“Why would I set it on fire?” she asked without a trace of irony.
I look from her to the portrait. I half-expected to see the painting blink at me or twist its mouth into an evil grin.
“There’s a reason that portrait was covered up,” I tell her. “Something bad is going to happen. This is like something out of The Twilight Zone.”
Dylan Roche is a Maryland-based writer who pens magazine features by day and YA fantasy novels by night. When he isn’t writing, he’s usually going on long-distance runs or taming his spoiled corgi. Follow his writing adventures on Twitter and Instagram at @dylaniswriting, or check out his website at www.dylanrochewriter.com.