Whistling the newest tune by Franz Schubert, Reggie stepped lightly down the gravel road. Behind him he tugged a little cart bearing an easel, a canvas, four brushes, and a paint palette. He treasured this morning ritual when the weather allowed it. Now was full spring, and the valley’s blossoms were more glorious with each passing week.
But today the valley looked different. Reggie’s excitement turned to deeper wonder at the glistening colors blanketing the ground.
“Like a rainbow came to earth,” he said. The tears in his eyes made the heavenly colors gleam. “In all my years, I’ve never seen such flowers.”
His easel erected, his palette on his thumb, Reggie let his brush hover over the paints. “I can’t do it.” He surveyed the breathtaking scene. “I cannot capture this.” So he set down his paints and pulled the knife from his belt. Instead of painting, Reggie spent the whole day cutting blossoms from their stems. By nightfall, he had ten thousand petals in his cart, held down by his canvas and easel.
Back home, he filled a sack twelve times to transport the flowers up to his garret. There he crushed them with a pestle, batch by batch, until he’d pureed them into a thick paste. This he blended into a bowl of white paint, so he could spread that spectral shimmer across a canvas and so preserve the splendor of the flowered valley.
The paint was iridescent, with a bronze undertone. “It defies description. It’s every color, yet no color on earth!” Giddily he set up the easel in his room. No need to travel to the valley. The magnificent flowers were now captive on his palette. He had only to create a painting that showed the world their surpassing beauty.
Reggie worked without rest. He took no food and only a few sips of wine. By morning his arms and torso were numb. He found it difficult to blink his eyes or move his mouth. As the sun poked through his blinds, the room seemed filled with a sparkling haze.
“The magic color is everywhere!” he struggled to say. Painfully, he lifted his hand before his face. He saw metallic molecules growing over his skin. He felt them overtaking and transforming his flesh. His movements became stiff and slow until he couldn’t move at all. Although Reggie knew his mortal life was done, it didn’t trouble him. With one last, great effort, he turned to face the newly painted canvas, so he could be galvanized for eternity with those celestial blossoms in his view.
The glistening cancer froze every cell, but it didn’t stop with his body. It spread to the paintbrush in his right hand and the palette in his left. As Reggie stood there frozen, even his clothing crusted over with rainbowed bronze.
But Reggie’s mind never stopped painting. It stayed independent, unaware of his body’s transformation, unperturbed by pain or fear. Reggie’s artistic soul had been enchanted by the magical color that was every color. And something in the unearthly pigment was as spiritually healing as it was physically toxic. His artist’s soul absorbed the color as a balm, and flourished.
Reggie was trapped forever in an iridescent metal that no fire could melt. (They tried a few weeks later when they finally found him.) But his soul broke free and swirled in scintillating ribbons through the hamlet and across the treetops. It snaked over valley and field, shimmied to the edge of the cliffs, and soared over the wide ocean. In the moonlight, the waves reflected its impossible range of hues. Even the fish were amazed.
Soon the artist’s soul reached the ocean’s far shore, farther away than anyone from Reggie’s village had ever traveled. A wind swept up the soul and pushed it along the westward moving line of dawn’s pink light. Tired of this game, the wind dropped the soul in a flower garden. Shimmering, it alighted on the flowers, spreading particles of impossible color onto every single petal.
“Joe,” said Angie from the porch. “Come look at the flowers.”
Her husband called from inside the house. “I seen ’em this morning, sweetheart.”
“No, no, they’re changing color. You gotta see this,” said Angie. “And, Joe? Bring your paints out with you.”
Anne E. Johnson, based in Brooklyn, writes in a variety of styles and genres. She has published over twenty short stories, several feature articles on music for the New York Times, and non-fiction books for kids for the Rosen Group. Her noir-inspired sci fi novel Green Light Delivery will be released in July 2012 by Candlemark & Gleam. To learn more, visit her website.