“It is done.” The demon vanished, leaving a faint acrid smell of smoke and scorch marks on the ceiling.
Xander rubbed his eyes. Did that really happen? Maybe it was a dream. But the sandwich was gone. He made some toast, and wondered.
In the middle of the night he sat bolt upright. He knew what to paint. He ran downstairs, set up a new canvas, and set to work.
A few days later there was a knock at the door. Xander was loath to stop, he was on a roll, but the knocking continued. He snatched the door open.
“I’m working, Fabian,” he yelled and went back inside.
Fabian strolled in. “That’s good, because otherwise I’d have to ask for the advance back. My little gallery can’t afford – what’s that?”
Xander continued to paint. “Just something from my imagination.”
“It’s very striking. How long till it’s finished?”
“I don’t know, but longer if you don’t leave me alone.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll pop back next week.”
A week later Fabian returned. “Xander, this is your best work for ages.”
Xander didn’t look away from his canvas. “You can’t have it.”
“What do you mean?” He scowled at Xander. “You owe me, did you get a better offer? I’ll match it.”
“I mean it’s not ready yet. Come back later.”
Fabian returned many times over the next few weeks, offering larger and larger sums for the painting. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the red and black figure so vividly depicted.
“Are you eating, Xander? You look thin.”
“Bring me a sandwich, I have to keep going.” His hand was a blur of movement.
“It looks amazing, please let me show it at the gallery. You can name—”
“I’m close, but it’s not perfect!” Xander roared.
Fabian backed away. These artistic types had to be handled carefully, especially when they got that mad look. But he was determined to return and secure his prize.
Xander barred the door and returned to work.
Fabian got the police to break down the door some weeks later. Xander’s emaciated body lay curled on the floor in front of his easel, his hand clutching the brush. The canvas crackled with dark life in red, black and gold. Black wings, flames and swords, and hair seemed to move in an unseen wind. Darkness swirled where the figure’s eyes should have been. The longer Fabian looked at it, the more unsettled he became. The paramedics averted their gaze as they took the body away.
Fabian remained, staring at the picture, drawn to the void. Trying to see the eyes.
He didn’t notice the demon T’rrak standing behind him.
“It’s an excellent likeness, he almost captured my eyes.” T’rrak chuckled, though no-one heard him. “Almost. Of course attaining perfection is like chasing the horizon. He needed to let it go.”
First published in Talking without being interrupted