“Not sure,” he replied, suddenly caught up in the painting. Christ, the two blue figures
appeared to be glowing.
“What do you mean you’re not sure? You put them there.”
Did I, he wondered. Did I really?
Cynthia’s voice softened a little.
“I didn’t notice them, until just now.”
“Kinda’ funny, huh?” he said, feeling eyes on him from the front and back.
“Yeah,” his wife began, sounding a bit confused. “How’d you create an illusion like that
How to answer this one? Frowning, Mark sighed and turned to her. He saw that she looked
confused, utterly puzzled. He shrugged.
“Art like that just happens, sweetie. I can’t really explain it.”
And wasn’t that the truth.
A frown crossed her brow.
“What?” he asked.
“You artists have to be the most complicated bunch in the world,” she said.
Mark shrugged again.
Cynthia smiled. She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him in for a kiss. She said,
“Let’s eat out tonight” when they parted, and she pressed into him adding, “Somewhere nice.”
He smiled and kissed her again.
They left Mark’s studio without another look at the magical painting, Paradise. Yeah. That was
the perfect title, Paradise.
They decided to try the new Italian restaurant, Buchelli’s, which opened a week ago. The food
was superb, the company exquisite. The evening was perfect like his painting.
Yes. The painting.
He thought about it while driving home. He couldn’t remember brushing those two blue figures
in. Why couldn’t he remember? Surely it would stick in his memory if he painted it.
Mark sighed as he pulled the car into their driveway. He let the thought go. He had more
important things to contend with at the moment. Cynthia laughed, placed one delicate hand on
his thigh. She looked at him in that way that always drove him bonkers. They kissed deeply.
What a perfect night.
Mark unlocked the front door and let Cynthia step past him. He flipped on the living room light
“Oh,” Cynthia said. She always had a way with words.
The living room was a disaster. DVD’s were scattered about, some out of their cases, shards
broken on the floor. The couch, their new couch, was a ruin. Stuffing billowed out of the
cushions, looking like ugly fluffy clouds. There were slices through the genuine leather surface
from either claw marks or a knife. The skin, as Cynthia liked to call it.
He looked at the plasma TV. It didn’t appear to be harmed, or even touched for that matter.
Odd. His eyes lowered to the DVD player, which was untouched. Not burglars then. Not
thieves. So who—
“Mark, look,” Cynthia said.
Mark turned to look at her, frowning. It drove him nuts when she did that, asking him to look at
something when his back was turned, his attention elsewhere. She constantly did it.
His eyes roamed over her straight black hair—such lovely hair—and followed the gaze of her
lovely green eyes looking at the floor. He saw what resembled little dark footprints trailing in
every direction. His frown furrowing deeper, Mark hunkered down for a better look,
unbelieving. Yes. They were tiny foot prints made by a couple of what looked like small—really
small—people. He could even make out the toes which looked the same as a human’s but—
“Mark?” Cynthia asked. “Are they what I think they are?”
“Footprints,” he confirmed.
“What kind of burglar forgets the good stuff and leaves tiny foot prints?”
Mark stood and looked at her. His heart trip-hammered in his chest.
“I don’t think it was a burglar, babe.”
“It sure as hell looks like it was a burglar to me. What else could it be?”
“I don’t know,” Mark said, “but what sort of burglar worth his salt forgets to take a new plasma
TV and a new DVD player before he leaves, footprints or not?”
Her eyes drifted in the direction of the TV and she nodded.
“So…” Cynthia trailed off and glanced sharply behind her, “you think whoever did this is still in
“No,” Mark said, without much hesitation.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
He shrugged. He didn’t know. He took her hand.
“Come on. Let’s see what else the bastards destroyed.”
“Don’t you think we should call the cops?”
Mark shrugged. “What can they do, Cyn?”
They left the living room and reluctantly walked toward the kitchen while Cynthia groaned.
“I’m not sure I wanna’ see this,” she said outside the kitchen archway.
Mark flipped on the main light. It looked as if a hurricane had suddenly blasted through, leaving
the room a disaster.
“Figures,” Cynthia sighed.
Pots, pans, silverware, shattered stoneware plates and broken drinking glasses littered the
floor, as did various foods; cereal, various pastas, bread slices, soup cans, and, as an added
bonus, flour sprinkled everything including the sink and counter.
Mark flipped off the light.
“We’ll come back to this,” he said, hoping his light voice was calm and reassuring.
The rest of the house appeared to be just as they had left it. Mark didn’t think to check his
studio, although he jiggled the knob as they passed down the hallway from their bedroom to
the stairs. The door was locked.
They grimaced at the work ahead of them and returned to the living room.
“I’m calling the cops,” Cynthia said, her eyes growing dark.
“I don’t think they will do any good, Cyn,” Mark said.
“I’ll start on the kitchen,” Cynthia growled.
“Divide and conquer,” Mark said, and he shot her a smile.
Cynthia rolled her eyes, but a smile broke through.
She walked to the kitchen.
Mark watched her go, his eyes lowering to her hips, her butt. She was a sexy woman, and—
God!—he loved her so much.
He became absorbed in the task of cleaning, letting it occupy his mind. He discovered the little
footprints were made with paint. Blue oil paint, the same kind he used, as a matter of fact. He
suppressed the thought and cleaned the living room. Afterwards, he joined Cynthia in the
kitchen where the real mess stood.
It took over three hours to clean the rooms, and it still wasn’t finished by the time they
staggered off to bed. Neither of them again mentioned calling the cops to report a break in—
they were too tired to care.
Mark was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. Cynthia, he supposed as he slipped into
oblivion, wouldn’t be too far behind. He slept in his dinner clothes which were sweat soaked
Mark awoke to giggling at four o’clock in the morning. He sat up looking around in a daze. His
lamp on the night stand was on, and next to the bed stood Cynthia, giggling at him.
“What?” he asked in a croaked voice, trying to wake up and rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Cynthia responded with intense giggling. What the hell? He couldn’t help but smile because of
her contagious giggling.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
This time she nodded at him.
“Mirror. Go look,” she managed and commenced with the giggling again.
Mark’s smile faded into a frown. He left the bed and trudged to the master bathroom. He
flipped on the light, looked in the mirror, and gasped. His face had been painted! He looked
like Bozo’s long lost hillbilly cousin, for Christ sake! He reached up with one trembling hand
and touched his white left cheek. Mark withdrew the hand and checked his fingers. The paint
was wet, so it must have just happened. Oil paint. He swirled it between his index finger and
thumb. Was it the same brand he used for his paintings?
He washed his face and took a long warm shower without speaking to Cynthia. Why would she
laugh? Because she did it, of course, and that didn’t make sense. She had a good sense of
humor, but this… this was just plain odd. Cynthia didn’t do stuff like that. She would have told
him as soon as he saw his reflection, but she never set foot in the bathroom, nor had she
shouted from the bedroom, “Ha-Ha! Got ya!”
No. She hadn’t spoken a word since he entered the bathroom.
Once out of the shower, he felt a little better. Maybe Cynthia did paint his face. Maybe she was
waiting for him to come down the stairs to shout, “Got ya!” Maybe, yet he had his doubts. It
was eerie, and he couldn’t shake the feeling he was being watched, or that “they” were still
(somehow) in the house.
Mark went downstairs. Cynthia wasn’t at the foot of the stairs grinning, nor was she in the
living room. Convinced that she might have gone out on the porch to water potted plants, he
heard Cynthia from the kitchen, as he stepped into the foyer.
“Hey,” she shouted in alarm. “What are you doing?”
Mark gasped when he heard her terror-filled voice scream, “Mark!”
Mark sprinted into the kitchen. He skidded to a stop, walked to the sink and turned around.
She wasn’t there.
Mark started toward the doorway leading to a second stairway upstairs, a quick route to his
studio if he happened to be in the kitchen when inspiration took hold and—
“Hey,” a voice, tiny but guttural, to his left.
Fright sprang up and bit into him. He staggered where he stood, eyes widening and heart
quickening. Slowly, he managed to turn to the left. A tiny person stood near the edge of the
stove looking up at him.
Mark staggered, not believing what his eyes revealed to his brain. His mouth opened into a
perfect “O”. The little person—if that’s what it was and not some peculiar figment of his
imagination—glowed a somber blue in color. It sat down on the rounded edge of the counter
and looked up at Mark, as if expecting reasonable conversation.
The little man, or whatever it was, spoke.
“Well,” the miniature manlike creature said, its bald, blue pate wrinkling as it craned its neck to
look up. “Here you are. Not what I thought you were, though. Not as our scripture indicates.”
The little blue man spoke concise English and this, too, gave Mark a sense of unreality. He
thought, with its primitive clothes—a yellow loin cloth and beaded jewelry festooning its body—
that the blue man would speak alien gibberish.
If it was real.
“W-What?” Mark managed.
The tiny man sighed.
“You sure aren’t wise or mighty for a god.”
“God?” Mark asked, bewildered.
The little man laughed, arms hugging his bare blue belly, doubling over, and Mark prayed it
would simply laugh until it fell off the counter and splat on the floor. It didn’t, and the sound of
the tiny shrieking laughter chilled Mark into a violent shudder.
The creature’s laughter eased and it straightened to look up at Mark again.
“You made our world. You are our God—so proclaims our scripture. We saw the door open
called the Door of Trials, and we stepped through it. But, alas, we were disappointed.”
Mark opened his mouth to tell this creepy little man he wasn’t a god, never has been, but he
heard Cynthia scream. It was brief, but it was definitely her. And it came from upstairs. A
harrowing grin spread on the little man’s round face.
“We have your goddess as payment for our disappointment in your supposed Mighty Kingdom.”
“Oh, yes,” the little blue man said.
It slapped its hands together in joy; his amber eyes titled upwards, and fixed on Mark’s. The
creature’s face darkened.
“We can’t wait to eat her.”
Mark’s knees suddenly felt watery, and his head swam in a dense, dizzy fog.
Realization struck strong and intense, holding him rapt. This can’t be real, he thought. This can’
t be real. There’s no way. It’s just a painting, a painting! Just a god damn painting!
The blue man tittered.
Rage ignited a fire inside Mark, propelling his limbs, filling him with adrenalin. He lunged
forward and snatched the tiny man from the counter. The creature squirmed and shrieked.
Mark squeezed harder.
“Where is she?” He shouted at the tiny man clutched in his hand, though he had a good idea
of her location.
It shrieked in agony, but it didn’t say where Cynthia was taken. Mark eased his grip and the
little blue man went limp in his hand, breathing heavily.
“Tell me where she is.”
“Our world,” it wheezed. “We took your goddess to our world that you created.”
Mark’s eyes widened. The painting! But didn’t he already know?
The little man coughed yellowish blood onto Mark’s hand.
“Be-be merciful, oh High God,” it said, it’s voice raspy.
Mark’s grip eased further. He brought the diminutive blue man up to his face.
“I’m not a god,” he said.
He set the injured and nearly crushed blue man on the counter.
It lay on its back, gasping, coughing up yellow blood.
Mark didn’t feel sorry for it. He wasn’t a murderer, no matter how unreal the tiny person was,
he wasn’t a murderer, and because of that he couldn’t kill it.
The tiny creature sat up, grinned at Mark, and leapt to its bare feet.
“Trick you,” it cried. It jumped down from the counter. “Trick you.”
It latched onto Mark’s right pajama pant leg and started climbing. Mark, shocked, jumped and
kicked his leg trying to shake loose the little blue monster, but it held strong, shrieking with
Shrieking himself, Mark kicked his leg, snapping it like a martial artist. The little shit clung on,
now almost above his knee. Mark glanced around, his heart galloping, his skin crawling at the
feel of the little blue menace scampering up his pant leg, and he—
There. Mark reached out, grasped the handle of a sauce pan they had neglected to put away,
and smacked the creature. A slight “oof” followed the dull clunk sound and the blue man
dropped from Mark’s pant leg to the floor. Without hesitation, Mark stomped on its writhing blue
body. Yellow blood shot out on either side of his bare foot. He felt petite bones crush beneath
his heel, real flesh mash into linoleum, making Mark nauseas.
Mark went to the sink and vomited.
His stomach settled and he was once again able to think. His heart bounced like a ball in his
chest. His breathing came and went in harsh, heavy gasps.
He rushed for the stairs, frenzied, the panic-rat loose in his head. He felt he was losing it, and
his eyes burned with the threat of tears. He took three steps at a time, a whine building in his
throat, smacking against his studio door. The knob turned and he was inside with the painting,
his painting of paradise and blue men.
Fresh, warm air, humid and moist, pummeled into him when he swung open the door and
darted into his studio. He paused, unable to help taking in the feel of such luxurious air on his
skin, breathing it into his lungs, exhaling the dust of polluted years past.
Before him stood the painting, only now the ferns, the tree boughs, the grass, and the flowers
moved as if by a subtle breeze. Just an ordinary day in Paradise. The thought was absurd, but
he couldn’t help laughing, though there was nothing funny about this.
On legs that felt like stacked pencil erasers, the laughter subsiding, Mark walked toward the
painting, the evil place he had created. The closer he came, the warmer the air felt on his
And there, lying on her back, eyes closed under an extraordinarily large fern bough, Cynthia.
Mark hesitated for a moment before springing, diving into the painting.
He landed on his stomach, and somehow managed to avoid plowing his face into a ragged
rock. Gritting his teeth against the pain in his stomach from the fall, Mark looked ahead and
saw his wife under a massive fern bough. He glanced around, checking for enemies, and
stood to his feet. He didn’t spy little blue men, but he remained wary just in case. The tiny man
in the kitchen had said “we,” not “I”, so they must be hiding somewhere. Also, there had been
two in the original painting. Two figures under the very same fern his wife now lay.
Mark stumbled to his wife. He had to push through thick grasses as high as his stomach, and
when he collapsed to his knees beside her he let a soft moan escape. He groaned, not from
the cuts on his legs, but because of Cynthia’s condition. She wasn’t moving. He couldn’t see
her breathing. Horror welled inside him and tears prickled at his eyes. They killed her, he
Cynthia groaned and slowly moved her head from side to side. Relief spilled into Mark and he
cupped her face with trembling hands.
Not far away a bird let loose an outlandish song.
Cynthia’s eyes flickered open. Mark couldn’t suppress the tears any longer and they slipped
down his cheeks, while a smile of joy curled on his lips. As her eyes lifted to his face, he saw a
nasty looking red mark across her face, causing anger pumping through him again.
“W-Where?” she said, eyes slowly rolling to look around.
Mark let go of her face and said, “We’re in my painting.”
Cynthia’s eyes rolled back to him without the turning of her head.
She sounded weak, almost as if she were dying.
“Yes. We’re in it. But I think we should get the hell out of it, what do you say? I’m gonna’ burn
the damn painting once we are free.”
She managed a thin smile and uncertain nod, then her eyes rolled in their sockets to look
“B-beautiful,” she whispered.
He slid his arms under her and lifted, while his mind slipped back to the day he carried her
over the threshold after their marriage. What a happy day that had been. Now he intended to
carry her over a different threshold and out of their joint nightmare, out of this world he had
“But it’s a little too fantastical for my taste,” he added, and pivoted toward the portal where he’
d entered this extraordinary world, a window hovering in midair. He stopped and his blood ran
“Shit,” he said under his breath.
They stood twenty feet away, with grinning mouths and gnashing teeth. There were hundreds
of them, tiny blue men.
One of the creatures stepped forward. He was naked save for an undersized, nearly non-
existent scrap of animal skin covering his groin, while the others at least had the traditional
Tarzan loin cloth.
“Where is Pic?” the lead blue man asked, growling.
Mark had no idea who or what Pic was.
Cynthia moaned and shuddered. Mark adjusted her in his arms because she was becoming
The blue man stepped closer, amber eyes glowering.
“Where-is-Pic?” It screamed this time.
“I don’t know!” Mark shouted, and was pleased to see it flinch at his voice.
The blue man stood for a moment, trying to decide what to say next, when a horrid grin lifted
its round, blue face. Its eyes held Mark’s as it spoke.
“You are no god,” it said.
“Of course I’m not, asshole!” Mark shouted again.
The little beast didn’t flinch this time. The others gave each other shocked glances.
“Pic saw your home, your land, as did I. You are not mighty. You are a man.”
Mark wanted to jump up and down with frustration. Should I just plow through them? he
wondered absently. That might work, but he wasn’t sure. Once on his side of the painting, they
might follow, unless they stopped him before he reached the opening to his world. He thought
they looked pissed off enough to bring him down.
“You killed Pic,” said the nearly naked blue man.
Mark understood who the evil little monster was talking about. Pic must have been the tiny
man in his kitchen, the one he squashed. Yeah, sure. Mark remembered the creepy little
sucker, the yellow goo.
He straightened. Maybe it would be best to play the God angle.
“So what if I did?” Mark said, frowning down at the leader. “You two came uninvited, before
your time. I was not prepared for you.”
“You are no God,” the tiny leader shrieked. “You said so.”
“It was a test,” Mark said, his voice calm, feeling his legs quiver with the weight of Cynthia.
He scowled at the little blue leader and said, “You failed.”
A stunned expression bloomed on the leader’s round face.
Mark shot forward, catching them off guard. He screamed savagely as he stepped on and
smashed the leader into the ground, plowing through the rest, a charging buffalo, sending
them flying in every direction while lumbering from Cynthia’s weight.
Through the high grass he went, and above the fantasy forest floor a perfect square cutout
hovered in the lush green, revealing a section of his studio.
Mark slid Cynthia through the square cutout, praying the short fall on the other side wouldn’t
hurt her, and glanced back.
The other blue men were huddled around their crushed leader. They lifted their heads and
turned toward Mark after finding their leader squashed dead, as rage exploded on hundreds of
tiny blue faces.
Mark whirled toward the square cutout and jumped through. He landed directly on Cynthia and
rolled off, hoping he hadn’t injured her.
Closer, closer, tiny ear-piercing shrieks blew from the cutout-reality that was supposed to be a
simple landscape painting. They came in the hundreds, moving toward him from within the
Mark looked around desperately for matches or a lighter to produce flame. This was his studio
where paint thinners were used—a flame would be unwise to use in his studio. What would he
need matches or a lighter for anyway? This was where he worked.
Mark hopped to his feet, wincing as a sharp pain shot up his right leg. Somewhere along the
line he’d twisted his ankle. He searched for a weapon to smash, a match to burn, anything he
could use to destroy the painting.
Painting? No. A world.
He needed to destroy the world like an angry God.
He glanced at the cutout. Little blue hands and arms were reaching out, grasping the lip of the
opening for leverage. He could almost see them on the other side, struggling up, using each
other as step stools.
“Shit!” he shouted.
He looked toward her and there, at the foot of his easel, a can of white acrylic paint.
If he messed up a painting, he used this paint to cover up mistakes and kept on working.
He looked at the cutout and his eyes widened. Savage yowls and shrieks filled the room as the
first little blue men poked their ugly heads into the studio.
Mark went to his wife, pulled her away, screaming in desperation from the flaming pain in his
ankle. He went for the can of white paint beneath the living painting, and cried out as tiny fists
pummeled the top of his head. As he pulled it to him, he realized the lid was not pressed down
completely. He just hoped that the paint hadn’t dried.
Yanking the can up, feeling the fists pound on his head, the lid fell off as white paint sloshed
on the floor.
Not dried up. Good.
Mark stood, can held in both hands, sweat dripping in cold cascades.
The first swarm of little, blue monsters were halfway over the painting’s outer lip, squirming
and wailing with frenzied rage.
“It was a mistake!” Mark screamed at the blue monsters. “A goddamned mistake!”
He grasped the paint can by the top lip with one hand and the bottom with the other, and
doused the cut-out/painting, catching the emerging tiny blue bodies in stark white acrylic paint.
Surprisingly, the paint did not fly through the opening, but splashed instead.
Mark let the can drop from his trembling hands. It hit the floor with a dull, clunk.
“So… so beautiful,” Cynthia moaned.
Mark’s eyes, focused on the painting, watching as the blue bodies wriggled slower, flicked to
his wife, and back to the painting. That opening to another world closed, and what remained
was a three-dimensional still life. Nothing moved. They were frozen in mid-struggle, tiny hands
like grappling claws, reaching, little mouths caught with silent screams.
In the gloom, the large white square appeared to glow. Wet paint dribbled onto the floor in fat,
Mark, lost somewhere between weariness and relief, dropped to his knees beside his wife.
It was Cynthia. He looked at her. She sat up slowly, wincing, and grimacing, rubbing her head
with a shaky hand. He gave her a smile.
“It’s over,” he said.
Her eyes floated to the white square, to the unanimated bodies caught forever in a ravenous
vengeance Mark would never fully understand.
Cynthia began to scream.
“I’ll take it,” Brody Olson said, unable to tear his eyes from the piece of artistry he held. Such
But, of course, what did he expect from the great Mark Chambers? The guy was a genius.
Brody was just surprised this piece hadn’t been hung in a gallery, instead of sitting on a hot
lawn with a fifty dollar price tag. Jesus, this is amazing!
“How’d he get the statues to stay on the canvas like that?” He asked the woman, someone
who resembled Mark Chambers’ wife—only far too old-looking, haggard—conducting the yard
She looked up. He couldn’t help but wince at her bloodshot eyes, how pale and fatigued her
“That,” she said, “is a secret he’ll keep to his grave.”
Brody nodded. He could dig that, and paid the fifty bucks for the artwork. With the magnificent
piece tucked under his arm, he made his way back to the car. But not without one last look at
the simple Chamber house. An ordinary, run-of-the-mill Cape Cod house. Nothing really
special about it except, of course, one of the greatest painters ever to set foot on this earth
lived in it.
Too bad the man had turned recluse a couple months ago, refusing to paint period. Yeah, that
stank a bit. Brody wished Mr. Chambers would just do what he did best: paint awesome
landscapes and eerily real horizons. Still, Mark Chambers would always be one of the greats in
Hell, yeah, and pass the peanut butter.
Brody placed the large, white art piece on the passenger seat of his new Camry.
He sat behind the wheel and closed the door. He turned in his seat to look at it. Emily won’t
like it. His wife never got into art, not even simple landscapes. He didn’t know whybut she
hated every painting or sculpture he hauled into the house.
Sighing, Brody drove away from the Chamber’s house.
On the ride home, he sang along to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and thought about nothing
else but returning home and hanging his deal-of-a-lifetime on the wall of their bedroom.
A grin lengthened on his young face. Emily would hate that.
Unnoticed on the passenger seat, the figures of angry, trapped little men slowly began to move.
It was magic, pure and simple, history in the making.
Mark stepped away from the canvas while dropping his brush into the tray attached to the
easel and staring at what he had created.
“Oh, wow, baby,” Cynthia said, hugging him from behind, and he saw her sparkling wedding
ring, contrasting against his work of art. “Just… wow.”
Mark smiled. “Oh wow” was right.
His eyes flitted across the painting, trying to catch every detail laboriously brushed in, every
stunning stroke. It took him only two days to finish this one, and that, ladies and gentlemen,
was a new world record for the world famous artist, Mark Chambers. His paintings usually took
a couple weeks to finish, sometimes a month.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me about that place?” Cynthia asked, a little awestruck.
“It doesn’t exist,” Mark said, eyes slowly scanning his work.
“What?” she asked.
He sighed and turned with reluctance.
“It’s not a real place,” he said. “It’s a
Fantasy Land. He liked that. Maybe he
could even call it that, or Paradise.
“Fantasy land? Honey, it looks so real it
has to be a real place.”
“It does seem realistic, doesn’t it?” He
said and smiled.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, eyes
scanning the wondrous world on canvas.
“I know,” Mark said with excitement, and
turned back to the painting.
It looked real with different shades of
greens, the mingling of colors, various
highlights; the brightness and detail of
this simple world was absolutely magical
yet realistic. The land he’d made, his
paradise, revealed a quiet forest scene
populated with foreign flowers, ferns,
even peculiar looking trees with giant
furry, banana-shaped boughs.
“What are those?” Cynthia asked.
“What?” Mark said, startled out of his
“The two blue things under the… the… well, whatever
Mark glanced back and saw her pointing. He gasped
when he spotted what his wife was talking about. He
couldn’t remember brushing it in while creating the
“It’s a fern,” Mark said, with a frown.
“Okay, yeah, the fern.” Cynthia said. “The two figures
beneath the fern, what are they? Fairies?”