This is the second chapter of PAINTING, the second of four chapters for Zack's introduction to the story. It's the second part of the '50 pages of a submission' for agents and editors. I'll post my pitch on here next, but for now, please enjoy the crazy dream and the reworked introduction of the magic system.
Chapter 2 (Hungover)
Zack stared at the pink clouds, and warmth washed over his body. Where am I?
A long, wooded trail with jagged blue trees and purple foliage led him to a pair of towering mountains — one black and the other white. They stood in his path and screamed, “Climb us! Or die!”
“What?” Something thumped against Zack’s. I don’t understand … .
Stale wind carried the stench of rotting meat.
Dizziness slapped him in the face, and he gagged. His stomach turned. On the way up, the acidic bile burned his throat, and on the way out, it seared his mouth.
The loose dirt at his feet didn’t absorb the puddle of vomit. Odd.
“I think … I’ll just go —” Zack turned.
Two massive boulders flew from the mountains and crashed into the ground behind him. The wooded trail collapsed into a pit of black nothingness for as far as the eye could see. Only a few feet of land separated Zack and the monstrous boulders. They floated over the nothingness then rolled towards him, destroying the ground they hovered over.
His blood turned to ice, and he swallowed. “Yeah … this won’t end well.” He spun to face the mountains.
Lightning raced through the sky, and thunder cracked above the mountains. Climbing either could mean death, yet climbing neither seemed to ensure it. Rumbling sounds said the boulders still edged closer to him, obliterating every inch of land they crossed. Something screamed. A second voice joined the first.
They’re acting like Sena. A feral growl rose from his puffed out chest. “I won’t be bullied! You can’t make me climb either of you!” Zack’s voice bounded through the winding paths that led around each of the mountains. “I refuse!” I will not let another person trample my spirit like Sena did! I deserve —
Echoes repeated his words. Suddenly, everything became quiet, and an unseen pain stabbed into his gut. His shadow rose and pulled away from his body before wrapping its hands around his neck, choking him.
Why was his blood fluctuating between hot and cold? His chest heaved. Then, he stumbled forward while prying at his shadow’s fingers. The harder he fought, the tighter the shadow’s grip became. Was victory impossible? His head felt light. His muscles became heavy. Fuck it. He gave in and let his shadow consume him.
It pulled at his guts like a wave’s undertow. His soul thumped.
A white silence enveloped the area around him. A black chill saturated the air.
Then … Zack found peace. Gray energy flowed from his body, and he slammed it into the sides of the mountains. Gray sparks filled the air as the mountains crumbled into two piles of rubble.
The boulders cracked. Without destroying any more ground, they rushed around him and stopped beside the ruined mountains, trembling.
Agony gripped his heart, and it sank. “Why did I have to do that?” He stumbled towards the ruined mountains. Why was he sad?
A massive, Godzilla-like monster rose from their ashes and snatched at the rubble.
Zack screamed like one of his first grade students, his high-pitched voice biting into his own ears and locking up his joints.
Expansive cities and a vast metropolis of people appeared out of nowhere, replacing the nature tail and nothingness as if it had never existed. The growing city spanned further than the eye could see. Everyone bustled about. Could they not see the monster? In the blink of an eye, the monster lit the land afire and killed millions.
Zack reached out with the gray force again, and the power clutched the monster’s legs.
The monster roared and dispersed the power. The monster rebuffed the second, third, fourth and fifth attack.
Zack’s insides froze, and he blasted the ground at the monster’s feet.
Dirt filled the air. Moments later, everything settled down. Nothing had changed. The monster was still unharmed.
Something twinkled in the sky, and Zack looked up.
A string from space glittered in the air and led to the monster. Was it attached to the monster?
“If I focus, I could cut —” Something drew the breath from his body, and he gritted his teeth. “No! I can’t fail now!” His muscles convulsed. With a burning pain echoing through his bones, he fell to his knees. I … can’t … .
Do it alone! Zack’s eyes shot open. His pulse thumped in his ears. “Just a dream.” He inhaled, but the air struggled to reach his lungs. It feels like someone was trying to choke me. “Sena? Are you there?”
The tension in his muscles slacked, and he squeezed the bridge of his nose. A moment later, he patted the soft pillow beside his own. Where is she?
A sigh echoed inside his head.
The soft bed sheets caressed his skin and carried a rose scent — Sena’s scent. It was … relaxing.
Without thinking, Zack sat up, and his stomach lurched. He crashed back into his thick, memory-foam pillow. Vomit bristled against the back of his tongue. His eyes watered, and soon, the acidic liquid retreated. His bedroom spun. “Sena … stop ignoring me. I need —”
“She is not here,” a voice inside his head said.
“I am sorry.”
Zack’s heart fell into his stomach. We broke up yesterday, didn’t we?
“From what I gathered last night, yes.”
“Sorry, that is not within my power.”
Ha. Ha. Ha.
“Besides, I prefer women.”
Zack rolled his eyes. Perfect. A voice with a sense of humor.
“I am Shinji, remember?”
Yes. Yes. How could I forget the voice that not only created a name for himself, but also came up with an original story? Zack kicked his legs off the side of the bed and pulled his feet up short of touching the puddle of vomit on the floor. I guess it wasn’t just a dream. He groaned then hobbled down the bed and stood on a dry section of the floor.
A hard silence hung over his apartment. Each quiet thrum of his headache sounded like giant taiko drums.
He stepped up to the kitchen sink outside the bedroom door. He grabbed a long, skinny glass from the cabinet above the sink and filled it with water. He gulped it down.
The lukewarm liquid flowed down his throat and soothed his stomach. The rusty aftertaste coated his tongue. Why couldn’t the tap water be purer?
His shoulders slumped, and he filled another glass, drinking it in an instant. After a fifth, he sat the glass beside the sink and turned on the hot water.
Cool water warmed as it poured into the sink until steam rose into the air.
Zack turned and glanced into the living room. Why had they never put up something to divide the massive double room?
The living room was a disaster area. Chairs turned upside down. The expensive curtains cut to ribbons. Broken glass strewn across the floor along with the ashes of his sketch book and the heads of several stuffed animals he had given to Sena.
It’s really over, isn’t it? A lump formed in his throat and made breathing difficult. He swallowed, but the throat turd didn’t budge. I. I. His knees weakened, and he found himself sitting on the floor, crying into his hands.
How can I just calm down? My life is over.
“Do not be so over dramatic.”
I gave up everything I loved for Sena. For the daughter we were going to have.
“You can always start over.”
How? Zack pushed himself to his feet and stumbled to the small closet in the hallway leading from the double room.
The front door at the other end of the hallway told him to run away. The computer room ahead and on the left told him to relax. The toilet directly to his right told him to man up. Only the bathroom, ahead and on the right, said nothing.
He pulled the closet door open and grabbed the mop and bucket inside. Vomit first. He stumbled back to the sink and filled it with hot water. He pulled out a bottle of Rinrei floor cleaner from the cabinet beneath the sink and mixed it into the water before returning the bright yellow bottle to its home. How can I just start over? I spent — wasted seven years with a woman I thought I loved. A woman I thought loved me back.
Shinji hmmmmed. “Well, first you have to go out and meet a new girl.”
I went out last night.
“And you probably moped about like a child.”
Zack dragged the bucket into his room and mopped up the vomit. I talked with people.
How could I —
A woman with purple lipstick and black, shoulder-length hair flashed through his memory. Her orbed necklace that reminded him of his coworker Yuuki also stood out in his mind. Why had a transparent tiger accompanied her out of The Hub?
He wiped the floor one last time then stuck the mop back into the bucket. I do have proof, though I don’t know why I have to prove anything to a voice. He reached into his pocket and pulled out Yura’s business card. Take that, voice.
“For the last time, my name is Shinji.”
Shinji harrumphed. “Just because I’m only a voice in your head, does not mean I am not real.”
Says the voice. Zack pushed the bucket of water to the toilet and dumped the brown liquid with care. He flushed. I’ll admit though, most of the time when I talk to myself, the voices don’t lay it on as thick as you.
“That is because I am real. Not some construct of your isolation.”
Sure you are.
Prove it. Tell me something I don’t already know.
“That woman you met last night was a Heathen.”
That’s rude and probably not true. Zack hurried down the hall and washed the bucket and mop out. Then, he returned it to the closet and pulled out the broom.
“Well.” Shinji hesitated. “You are a Light Artist.”
Zack blinked and froze in the middle of sweeping the glass up. A what?
“A Light Artist.”
I heard you the first time, asshole. My question was directed at the definition of the job.
“It is not a job but a birthright.” Shinji made a clicking noise. “What did the Blind used to call it?”
I don’t know. My eyes work fine.
“The Blind are — Will you stop derailing my thoughts!”
Then get to the point. Zack gathered the specks of glass in a pile and swept it beside the TV. Despite the throbbing headache beating against his skull, an amused smile tugged at his lips.
“An Artist uses either Light or Shadow to paint Pieces.”
“Can you shut your mouth for one minute?”
Technically, my mouth isn’t open since you’re just a voice in my head.
An inferno boiled Zack’s thoughts, and his eyes felt like they would pop. Tremors of agony climbed up his arms, and ice raced through his veins.
The broom fell free from his grasp and clattered to the floor. The jarring sound stabbed at his ears.
His stomach twisted like a ballerina, and his left hand shot forward on its own. What —
“If I must.” A rabid growl reverberated from Shinji’s voice. “I will let you touch Shadow to prove my existence. To prove my point. And to prove what you are!”
The room spun.
Zack’s left hand remained outstretched despite his desire to cover his mouth. I —
A black hand materialized in his mind with a white one beside it. The black hand moved towards a wide, stone well. Rather than water, golden energy filled the well. The black hand reached into the large well and siphoned some of the golden energy out.
A tingling sensation danced across Zack’s skin, and he salivated.
The world warped.
A dark-skinned Japanese woman pressed him against the wall of the handicapped bathroom at Nishi-Funabashi station. His pants were on the floor, and she was naked. Her soft lips worked against his while she stroked him.
A shiver of magnified pleasure raced through his body. Why did it feel so good?
The stink of vomit, alcohol and piss twirled throughout the confined space, but with the pure ecstasy clouding his thoughts, the smell didn’t matter.
She shoved him onto the toilet and sat down until he was all the way inside her.
A moan slipped from his mouth.
She was wet. So wet. One stroke, and he wanted to cum. Two strokes. Three.
The world righted itself, and Zack found himself back in his apartment, panting. What just happened?
“An Ecstasy Dream,” Shinji said.
What are —
Black, oily liquid flowed from the fingers of Zack’s left hand. The jet-black liquid formed into a flat oval disk that hung in the air. How did it float like that?
The blood drained from his face, and his eyes bulged. Impossible.
A rough image of a man melded into the center of the oily black energy like a background to a painting. The focus of it. The centerpiece. Zack’s hand moved on its own and painted shackles around the man’s wrists.
Zack’s mouth worked. I must still be dreaming.
“No.” Shinji cackled. “You are just witnessing the power of Shadow. I am teaching you what an Artist does.”
Zack’s hand burst into motion again, adding scars to the man’s arms and bruises to his face. The black hand in his mind reached into the well of energy again.
Back in the handicapped bathroom, the dark-skinned Japanese woman rode him hard. Up and down. Up and down. She sucked on his neck until blood touched his shoulder. Her soft lips walked up his neck then wrapped around his mouth. The coin-like taste of his own blood clung to her tongue as she pressed it against his.
The pleasure of the ecstasy burned him for a long moment. Then, he was back in his apartment, gasping. He felt at his neck. Rough skin and a scab of blood. Did he really have sex with a woman in the handicapped bathroom last night?
His left hand moved, painting a torture table behind the shackled man as well as sharp hooks along the walls of the room around him.
Zack bit into his lower-lip. Is that you moving my hand?
“Yes,” Shinji said.
The terrible dream with the Godzilla-like monster flashed through Zack’s memories. You tried to choke me last night!
“I was only massaging your neck because you seemed a bit tense.”
From the front?
“Why not?” Shinji added a jar of salt to the painting then Zack’s hand fell to his side.
The Piece of art glowed and slowly, spun in the air. The oily black surface and vivid images were so beautiful. Did art like this really exist? The craftsmanship. The details. The oily black Shadow that made the whole painting seem to be alive.
Zack swallowed. Wow. Does —
The Piece dropped to the floor. Splat. The Piece bubbled up into a puddle of goo, and sixteen black arms climbed out of it.
Shinji whistled. “Wow. You are strong.”
The arms rose into the air then shot in every direction. Three bound the coffee table, and it creaked, the short metal legs snapping off. One of the black arms scattered his pile of glass while two others broke the broom in two. Like snakes, the remaining ten arms wrapped around his TV.
Zack gasped. No!
Not my TV!
“Why do you sound concerned about a large plastic ornament?”
Ornament? How stupid are you?
“Not stupid, just old.”
The black arms expanded, cocooning the TV. The plastic groaned. Crack! The glass screen split down the middle. Pop! Pop-pop-pop! The black arms rent the TV into several chunks.
Zack fell to his knees. Make it stop.
“As long as you acknowledge me as real.”
Fine. I believe you.
The black arms vanished.
Shinji made a clapping noise. “That is it! The Blind had called it magic.”
Zack started. Magic?
So, I now have magic?
“Yes … thought it is actually just Art.”
What all can it —
Next: Chapter 3