This is one of my short stories. As a wise writer said, the hardest part of writing a short story is keeping it short. They all want to become novels. Comments welcome. – Alex
Ainsley Smyth held her breath as another couple strolled toward her booth.
She had sold 10 landscapes within three hours of the art show’s opening. Finally she had enough money in her bank account to enable her to reduce her hours working at the coffee shop and devote more time to painting, her goal since finishing art school.
Several customers had left their names for notification of her next show. Some had described the kinds of scenes they wanted. She envisaged the landscapes and seashore vistas she would create for them. Finally her career was coming together.
The couple barely glanced at her remaining piece before moving on. It showed was a double hung window partly open to let a gentle summer breeze ripple lace curtains. Hints of a garden, trees and a rubber tire swing hovered in the background.
While artist friends told her it was a good painting, to Ainsley it did not fit with her other works because it lacked the sweeping scenery she had become known for. Even when she pointed it out, no one seemed to see it.
She had dumped it in the garbage, and then retrieved it saying she would reuse the canvas. When she could not bring herself to paint over the scene, she tried offering it free with no takers. It was like a stray mutt that had adopted her. She called it The Window. Unlike her other works, she had no memory of painting it.
Three fashionably-dressed women did not slow for a look at it. Under the terms of the show, exhibitors could only leave before closing time if all their pieces were sold. It was early afternoon and she could be outside enjoying the sunshine.
While close to 100 people wandered from artist to artist stopping at most exhibits for a chat, they kept walking past her.
She rearranged the promotional material for her studio, and then pulled out her sketch pad to work on ideas for her next paintings. The clock mounted above the entrance to the display room read 1:30 pm. Four o’clock seemed so far away.
She glanced at the painting and to her surprise, a man was examining it. She had not heard him arrive.
People usually stepped back to get a better view of a painting. He stood so close his nose was almost touching it. His head moved as if peering out both sides of the window as well as the top and bottom. Did he expect to see something?
Ainsley shook her head. Most art lovers babbled on about colors and images and where they could hang the piece. He kept examining it. She tiptoed around the desk and approached him wondering how to inquire about his usual form of art appraisal.
Five steps away him she saw something move in the background of the painting. A scream formed in her throat, but stayed there. This is a painting, not an animation.
“Just take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” the man said without taking his eyes off the picture. She inhaled. “My apologies, Ms. Smythe.” The man faced her. “I should’ve been more careful. You shouldn’t have seen that.”
Ainsley could not get any words out.
“We knew a portal had been created but until now we couldn’t find it.” The man’s soft voice did not mask his excitement. Ainsley still could not say a word. “How much do you want for it? All I have with me is $400.” He pulled the cash out of his pocket.
That was more than a full week’s shift at the coffee shop. The man wore a light blue polo shirt, brown shorts and running shoes. His black hair was cut short. Overall, his appearance was respectable but not flashy. “Name’s Harvey Abrams.”
Ainsley hesitated in case her voice conveyed her guilt about accepting so much for a painting she despised. “Why are you interested in it?”
“I came to the show after reading the article in Brush Strokes on the grandeur of your renderings hoping you might be able to create portals for us. The last thing I expected was to find you’d already painted one.”
“That?” she said, pointing at The Window.
Harvey nodded. “It might sound delusional to you but you did spot a creature moving. Rare is the artist who can create portals with the range of yours.”
Ainsley glanced around to make sure they were alone. “What is this all about and what moved in the painting?”
“Step closer to it.” When she did, Harvey placed his hand on the window frame.
The scene came to life. In the background she spotted towering snow capped mountains and great soaring birds. She leaned forward. A large animal shuffled through a meadow. Its meandering gait resembled a bear in no hurry to go anywhere. “So what am I seeing?”
“Another dimension.” Harvey removed his hand and the faint outline of the swing returned. He handed her the money and produced a business card. It said he was a temporal and timeline consultant. “I have a lot of customers with special requirements.”
“Watching other dimensions?”
“It’s connected and your portals will play an important role in our work. I only let you see it briefly because when anyone other than a watcher looks through a portal it alerts ….” He hummed. “Let’s call them the bad guys.
“They would wreak havoc if they got into our world. I can watch without them noticing. I look for other things too.”
Ainsley stuffed the cash in her purse and pulled out her receipt book. Too bad Harvey was odd, she thought as she filled out the slip of paper. Still she would like someone to celebrate selling all her paintings. His comments about portals and other dimensions had raised a lot of questions.
“Would you please keep my card handy?” he said. “Someday you’ll paint another portal and we’ll pay well for it. Don’t worry. It won’t be for a while. It’d be a shame to interrupt your landscapes.”
She held out her hand. “Would you like to go for a coffee?”
“I prefer tea.”
She loaded her notes and promotional material into her bag and took a step toward the entrance.
“If I carry the painting unwrapped, people will see what you did in it,” Harvey said. “If you would take it to where they wrap it in brown paper, I can carry it from there. Even if I trigger the portal, no one will see it.”
Once they were outside the building, Harvey pulled out his phone and typed in a number. He did not identify himself to whoever answered. “Portal secured. Works better than expected. Discussing acquisition of additional ones.”
After stowing the painting in his SUV, he stepped away and locked the vehicle with the obligatory squawk. He typed a second code. “That ensures a nasty surprise for anyone who attempts to break into it.” They walked to the coffee shop.
Harvey remembered every detail about her that was in the Brush Strokes article. She selected a table on the patio where they could chat without being overheard. She waited until they were seated before questioning him.
“I’m both an electrical and computer software engineer,” he explained. “One of my pals took astro-physics and became intrigued in the research into other or parallel dimensions to ours. He roped me into helping him understand the physics of parallel dimensions and I was hooked. While I’m busy enough as an engineer, some of my assignments have led me deeper into the concept. But until now, our ability to see into them was limited to technology that isn’t anywhere effective as your portal.”
“Do you have other portals?”
“Yours is the first and when you’re ready, we need more. Money is no object for the people I work with.”
“Could we just make copies of that picture; the process is fairly inexpensive these days.”
“My understanding is that only original paintings work.”
“If I painted the same scene from scratch?”
Harvey shook his head. “I doubt it.”
“I wish I could remember what was going on in my head when I painted it. Any idea on what kind of scenes would work.”
“I’ve been wondering about that. I don’t know what’s in The Window that enables me to see other dimensions.”
“Ponds have been used in literature to enable people to see what’s happening elsewhere.”
“That might work if there is a sense of depth to the water or something mysterious hinted at in its depths. Perhaps a shadow.”
Ainsley pulled out her tablet. “I’ve copies of all my paintings on this. Maybe one will give you some ideas.” She passed the tablet to him. “You’ve a lot of security on your vehicle.”
“The bad guys have agents in this dimension and they try to disrupt our efforts to monitor their bosses. They’ll be a threat to you and we’ll provide you with special security. I’ll bring it to your place once it’s fully programed. I’ll show you how to expand its capabilities and knowledge of what you do. It does ask a lot of questions.”
“Will it follow me around?”
“No because it’ll be too obvious and attract a lot of attention. It’ll monitor your whereabouts when you’re at work or out. It should also be able to determine whether what you’re working on has the potential to be a portal.”