Thorns tore at Josie's arms and legs as she ran through the brush and briars of Gideon's Woods. Blood tracked down the long tears in her flesh, smearing the leaves she brushed against, marking her trail. She needed to slow down, make less noise, but fear kept her running. Running towards the faint hope of escape.
As Josie neared Snakeback Creek, she slowed down to look for the signs Granny had whispered in her ear. Teardrops in a river of blood. Bending over to catch her breath, Josie thought she must have been crazy to believe her grandmother's fable about an old man in the woods who could paint you into a new life.
Hearing the sound of pursuit drawing ever closer, Josie straightened. Lifting her eyes toward the stone face of the quarry wall across the creek, she saw it. A perfect seam of red shale flowing down through the bluestone face. Embedded in the shale were three teardrop shaped crystal deposits.
"Bless you, Granny," she muttered.
Josie crossed the creek and headed towards the quarry wall. She heard shouts behind her and glanced back. Brodie was splashing across the creek towards her. The man wouldn't rest until he possessed her, body and soul. Her hands moved up and down the seam of shale, her fingers desperately searching for the secret opening.
He was almost on her when she found the hidden crevice and squeezed through. His hand grabbed her shoulder but she managed to shrug loose from his grasp and keep moving. Free of the confines of the crevice, she looked back long enough to see a malicious grin spread across Brodie's face. Josie's stomach twisted in a knot as she scurried away.
She found the painter in a small clearing. A gaunt old man sitting cross-legged in the dirt, his fingers moving swiftly between bowls of color and the canvas perched on his lap. Old paint stains tattooed his body, giving the impression that this leathery morsel of human being did nothing but sit here in the dirt painting.
His fingers paused over the canvas and he lifted his head to stare at Josie. He motioned for her to sit down. A mirthless, toothless grin spread across his face sending chills up Josie’s back. She folded her legs beneath her and dropped to the ground. Josie shivered as the painter's hands moved toward her and his boney fingers smeared paint along the curves of her face.
Cackling, he laid the painting on the ground between them, then handed Josie a small wooden bowl and knife. She took the knife and sliced across her wrist, letting the blood drip into the bowl. When seven drops glistened on the curved surface, the painter removed the vessel from her hand. He dipped his finger into the blood, touched a drop to his forehead, then swirled the remaining drops into the still damp paint of the canvas.
As her blood soaked into the painting, Josie felt herself surrendering to the calming blue and green sea of paint, drifting away on a life raft of peace.
Josie's calm was shattered as she felt Brodie's callused hands on her tender breasts. The bulge between his legs plunging deep into her body. The smell of beer and rotten teeth tickled her nose as he pressed his face close to her's and whispered, "You think you can escape that easily?"
Hot tears drifted down Josie's cheeks, she watched them drizzle across the canvas, mixing with the blood and paint to drip over the edge into the vast realm of nowhere. The painter nodded. The choice was hers. Remain in the comforting bliss of the painting or reclaim her life.
Josie's hand tightened on the hilt of the knife as Granny once again whispered into her ear, "We paint our way free with the brush strokes of madness."
Sandra Seamans is a short story writer whose work can be found around the 'net in places like Beat to a Pulp, A Twist of Noir, and Shotgun Honey. You can find here http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com where she blogs about short stories and writing.