The Old Master

D&December, 2017

The man in her studio will not smile.

Typically she would not object, even after hours of finicky fidgeting and the foolhardy notion that this portrait would be done in less than a day. He is, after all, a paying customer and had proved an otherwise dutiful client. She can hardly afford to insist upon a particular facial feature, let alone urge him to remember that this painting must be perfect, as his progeny will likely have no other likeness. If it is his wish to scowl at her through the tilted easel and crisp canvas, then who is she to dictate otherwise?

Today, however, is an exception, as the jellied jowls peppered with wisps of curly white chin hair slacken and sink nearly to his collarbone with each smooth stroke and his eyes roll and rile, reaching for something slippery in every corner of the room. The priest's hands upon his shoulders tremble, tucked in tight fistfuls of lush velvet between long fingers, and jerk the old man upright every minute or so. In protest, the old man snaps and snarls and seizes every opportunity to shake the priest away.

"This doesn't seem right," is her complaint as she sucks the skinny tip of a slender paintbrush between lips drawn thin with frustration. "I can't capture his face like this. Can't you make him still for a moment?"

A scream when the priest attempts to hook a finger underneath a quivering cheek and pull the puffy lips into a friendlier grimace. When she glances up, she sees a streak of red stumps smearing across the old man's cheekbones and hears the sickening squelch of sharp teeth on raw, ruined meat.

"Perfect."

She gives the paintbrush a deliberate drag and carves a jagged red smile across his jaw.

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