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It never stops.

I don’t know the rules. There don’t seem to be any. I thought, “Okay, this thing is bound to a painting,” but then the digital photo I took of the painting began to change too. Then my daughter’s toy appeared in the image, and in a panic I barricaded her bedroom closet. I wish I could tell you how it works. All I can tell you is that if you are the one who ends up with it, it’s too late. I’m sorry.

For over a week, I hunted for that painting. I had put it on the side of the road to be carted off on garbage day, but someone saw it and picked it up, took it home with them. Who? I don’t know. Do they see it changing? Is it terrorizing them now? What do I do?

It eats at you, not knowing. I refused to open the image file, afraid to see what it showed, certain that that hideously deformed creature would be twisting the knob on the door that presumably lead to my daughter’s bedroom. I lay awake, listening for the distinct sound the hinges on that door make, my heart racing like a track runner’s. Sometimes I would imagine I heard it and bolt into her bedroom only to find it dark and empty, only the soft sound of her sleeping. The closet door still shut and blocked behind a wall of boxes.

In desperation for my own sanity, I removed the doorknob. And then I sat there at my desk, studying the knob, wondering if that had made a change in the image. Was the knob gone in the painting? Oh, God, it was killing me to know… to see whether I was safe or not.

So I opened the file.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I opened the image, biting my knuckle in tension, and when I saw it my jaw clenched up so tight I tasted my own blood and nearly broke my finger.

It was there. I mean, it was —rightthere. The monster, the freak, the thing that lived inside that fucked up painting was staring right at me, filling the screen, details so vivid it didn’t look like a painting at all, it looked like I’d taken a photo of a disfigured man standing in front of a canvas.

You want a description to go with your nightmares? Its skin was like wax… pale, greasy wax. The flesh lumped up in places, sloughed off in others. It was as if someone had tried to build a human head out of modeling clay and then left it out in the rain. There was hair, black and brown and white streaked hair that hung like seaweed off the top of its head, running down over its face, covering its ears. If you asked me to sum up this thing in one sentence, I would say it looked like a desiccated corpse that got dredged up out of the East River after a week in a hot July.

But the eyes, oh merciful fucking heaven, the eyes were the worst part. There was a clearness in them, a sinister intelligence that stared back at me as I tore into the flesh of my hand with my teeth. No dullness or milky-coloration, just piercing brown eyes, looking dead at me.

And a mouth full of teeth curved into a mischievous smile. And I mean full of teeth. It was like I was looking into a shark’s maw: behind the first row was clearly another row of the same crooked, yellowing teeth. Two rows, exposed by its excited grin. That was what it was, not mischievous at all, but excited. It was happy to see me.

It was happy to see me.

And as I had that thought, staring in escalating horror at my computer screen, this inhuman nightmare staring back at me, I knew it was true. It could see me. It wasn’t just a painting that looked like a freak of nature was staring out of the canvas, it actually was looking at me, out from my screen just as I was looking at it.

“FUCK YOU!” I shouted and closed the image. Then I deleted it. Then I emptied the recycling bin just for safe measure. Then I got up and ran away from the computer and spent the rest of the day pacing and feeling irritable and snapping at every question my wife or daughter asked until finally they just stopped asking me anything at all.

When I close my eyes I see it. It’s there behind my eyelids now, smiling at me, its head cocked ever so slightly like a curious dog. It can’t speak to me, but I feel like I know what it was thinking. It was thinking, “Do you really think you can stop me?” No. I don’t think I can.

My wife came into my office that evening. She stood there, frowning heavily and seemingly waiting for me to say something, but I was too distracted to speak up.

Finally she broke the silence. “You’ve got to stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop taking things out on me and Gabby! Stop this story about a painting with a monster in it! Stop acting like you’re crazy!”

“The painting is real. You saw it! I’ve got the image on my computer to prove it’s still changing!”

“Let’s see it.”

“Fine! Oh, wait… I just deleted it.”

“You’re giving Gabby nightmares! I had to change her sheets today because she was afraid to get out of bed to go to the bathroom! This has to stop!”

“I’m trying to protect her! I’m trying to protect us!”

“Monsters don’t come out of paintings!” She threw her hands up in frustration. “You’re a grown man! Stop acting like a child! Stop scaring your child!”

“It’s real, god damnit!”

She stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. I just sat there, holding my head in my hands and tearing at my hair. It felt like my stomach was eating itself from the inside. It groaned and tugged at my guts.

We’d fought before, but never like this. I should apologize. I thought.

She was in the bedroom, packing a suitcase.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m taking Gabby to my parents.”

“In Indiana? For how long?”

She threw a bunch of clothes in the pile. “I don’t know! That depends on you!”

“Don’t go. Please.”

“Look,” she sighed, “you could use some time to relax. I think you’re too stressed lately. And I haven’t seen my family in months.”

“I could go with you.”

She looked at me. “Could you?”

I couldn’t. I had taken too much time off already from dealing with Gabby being sick over the Winter. I pulled at my hair. “No, probably not.”

She went into Gabby’s room and came back with a pile of her clothes to go in the suitcase.

“Its a two-day drive.” I reminded her.

“We’ll stop in a hotel, like we always do. Gabby likes the one with the big pool.”

I covered my face. I didn’t want her to see that my eyes were brimming with tears.

“Please…”

I could feel her eyes on me.

“…call me when you get there.”


I sat at my desk in an empty house. Just me and the television to keep me distracted, to keep me from thinking too much. Shut the brain off, don’t let the mind wander, you know? I wasn’t actually watching it, just listening. If you asked, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what channel it was on.

The clock on the wall said it was just after 11 PM. My wife and daughter had left hours ago, and would most likely be stopping at the hotel she’d made reservations at soon.

That was when I got an instant message from Marc. I hadn’t talked to him in a couple weeks, since the whole nightmare had begun. When the painting had started to change, I’d taken the photo of it and tried to send it to him, but for some reason, the file got corrupted every time I sent it. It felt good to get a little outside contact.

“I WANT YOU TO SEE SOMETHING” his message read.

“What is it?” I wrote back.

DING — he sent a file. I double clicked and opened it.

It was the photo of the painting. The hallway was back to normal though, and no freakish shambling horror was staring at me or anywhere to be seen. The walls weren’t melting, the lights were normal, it was just like it had looked when I first received it from my father.

Except there were eight doors in the hallway. And like before, it fit so perfectly that I couldn’t tell you which door was the new door.

I closed the picture and wrote Marc back.

“I thought the file was corrupt?”

He didn’t respond. I sat there, waiting.

“It looks just like it did to begin with. Did you do something to it?” I wrote.

“LOOK AGAIN”

Something was off.

“I saw there are eight doors now.”

“LOOK”

A pause.

“AGAIN”

I double-clicked the file and the bottom dropped out of my stomach. There was the painting. There was the hallway. There were the lights. There was the red carpeting. There were the eight doors.

And there was my wife and daughter walking into the eighth door.

And in the background, there was the shadow of the shambler coming around the corner.

Oh Jesus,

I scrambled to write a message to Marc. “What’s going on???”

“SEE YOU” he wrote back.

Or did he?

“SOON”

“Marc?” I typed.

No response.

I wrote his name again.

Fuck this, I thought, I need to call Melissa. I ran into the other room and grabbed my phone. Running back into the office, I kept trying to get Marc to respond while dialing her cell number.

When she answered, I nearly screamed in relief.

“What’s up?” she sounded tired.

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I said, trying to not sound as panicked as I was.

“Yeah, we just got into the hotel room. Good timing.”

“What does it look like?”

There was a long pause. I could hear Gabby asking questions about the TV in the background.

“What does the room look like?”

“Well, actually– what does the hall look like?”

“Uh…”

I stopped typing Marc’s name into the messenger box and double-clicked the image file.

The melting man was there. He wasn’t as detailed again, mostly a jumbled smudge of paints, but he was clearly halfway down the hall and looking not at the doors of the hallway, but at me again. I could see stipples of white showing the teeth in his grin.

Oh shit, he’s right there.

On the other end of the phone, I heard my wife. “I didn’t really look. Hang on.” I could hear the latch on the hotel door turning.

“No!” I squeezed the phone in my hand like I was holding her hand and pulling her away from whatever was on the other side of her hotel door.

“What?”

“No! Don’t– don’t worry about it. Tell me tomorrow.” I sat there and stared at the image on my screen. Maybe if I left it up, the thing wouldn’t be able to move. Why the fuck hadn’t I thought of that before? Leave the image up and it can’t possible change, right?

But what the fuck was up with Marc? Why did he send me the photo? Did he? He still wasn’t responding to my messages anymore.

“You’re not Marc, are you.” Had I infected Marc’s computer by sending the file to him?

“What was that, honey?” Oh, damn, I was still on the phone with my wife.

“Just talking to myself.”

I heard Gabby again in the background. “Can we play in the pool?”

“Look, I gotta go. The pool’s only open for another half hour, and I promised Gabby she could play in it. She’s all wound up from being in the car.” To our daughter in the background, “Do you want to say goodnight to Daddy?”

“Wait…” She wasn’t listening to me.

Gabby got on the phone. “Goodnight, Daddy.”

“I love you, Gabby.” I told her. “Can you put–”

My wife was back on the line.

“We love you, honey.”

“I–” She hung up.

I sat there in the dark of my office, the quiet of my house, even the television seemed to have gone quiet. I sat there and stared at the image on my computer screen and prayed. Please, God, protect them.

He didn’t hear me.

I should have been with them. I failed to protect them. Instead, I sat there at my desk all night and stared at the picture of the grinning beast as it lurked in its seemingly frozen state outside the door to my wife’s hotel room.

The phone ringing in the other room snapped me awake. I wasn’t really asleep, mind you, just sitting there in a trance, like a zombie, staring at the computer screen. My brain was in a fog. I shambled into the other room and picked it up.

It was a police officer from Pennsylvania, calling to give me the bad news. They had been found in the hotel pool the following morning. They suspected that my wife had slipped, hit her head on the tiles and fallen into the pool, holding my daughter’s hand and taking her in with her. The injury apparently caused my wife to seize; Gabby had bruises on her arms.

I knew what really happened. They had wandered into its realm. That thing in the painting. And it had finally gotten what it wanted.

I dropped the phone and walked in a trance back into my study. My stomach was fighting to reject everything inside it. Both legs seemed confused about which direction they were supposed to be going. But I had to keep looking. I had to keep my eyes on the picture. I had to keep the monster in the painting.

Melissa and Gabby were waiting for me when I got back to my desk. It had left them dumped unceremoniously in the middle of the hallway. There was blood… on the walls… on the doors… on the two sad forms flopped in the middle of that crimson carpeting. If I hadn’t just gotten off the phone, if I hadn’t known what my wife and my daughter looked like, I might have mistaken them for just a pair of sloppily painted on additions to the whole scene. It left them for me to see. It was gone.

I closed the picture and reopened it.

Nothing changed.

I closed the picture and reopened it.

Nothing changed.

It… It was supposed to come for me. It was my curse. Not theirs.

When I finish writing this, I’m going into my daughter’s bedroom. I reattached the doorknob to her closet door earlier today. I’m so sorry, Gabby. Daddy loves you. I’m so sorry, Melissa.

I’ll see you both soon.

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