The story behind the painting I drew is already told
No more tearstains on the pages of my diary
Each cog has its proper place on the geometric ballroom floor. Each dancer whirls in perfect time, an elegant machine created only for beauty. There is no room for the superfluous. Keep the ¾ time or be replaced by one full of vigor and grace. And fade away.
Such should have been the case for Dorian Gray, who was no longer young. But still he whirled, the clockwork heart of the dance. Shining like silver, for a time none suspected the tarnish that had dulled his heart. The blush of youth was upon him, though he was by no means young. His soul was old and lecherous, feeding off the decay of all he once held dear. Such is the curse of eternal beauty. However, his time is running out. The Fates will not be cheated of their prize. Soon, Dorian Gray will come face to face with his twisted soul in the form of his portrait…and would destroy himself with it. But that day is still to come.
Destiny is catching up with Dorian Gray. The smell of sickness is upon him, and the dancers draw away, leaving him in an empty circle. Those who get too close to Gray invariably end up enmeshed in scandal, or tragedy, their reputations in tatters. It’s really a pity that young miss Lorena Hadley could not see through his pretty face.
His kiss tasted of Opium.
And four months later, when she could no longer hide her shame, she wished she could call upon the drug of the Lotos-Eaters to forget it all.
Lorena did not last long after that. Persephone Gray was the herald of her death. Lorena died of septic poisoning caused by complications of childbirth when Persephone was a matter of weeks old. Mere hours before succumbing to infection, Lorena was able to take Persephone to a church, which was obligated by Christian morals to take her in.
“Why on Earth are you telling me this?”
“Why are YOU at an art show? It seriously makes no sense.” Persephone Gray had cornered the poor nouveau riche man while he was blankly staring at the wall between paintings.
“Er…” the young man nervously fiddled with a pair of dark Ray-Bans. “I-”
“Ooh, I get it.” Persephone raised a knowing eyebrow. “You should go talk to that guy over there. I have a premonition that you two will totally hit it off.” She propelled the protesting young man over to a corner where some of her trippier eldritch abomination pieces were hanging. A guy who was absolutely and utterly underdressed for the gala was solemnly studying them.
Persephone then sauntered off to the other side of the room. This was her gallery opening; she had to act sophisticated for the occasion. In her blue-and-orange ombréd dress with a Dali-esque melting clock on her mid back she certainly looked the part.
An older gentleman walked up to her. “Excuse me miss, you’re the artist…?”
“Guilty as charged.” Persephone smiled.
“I couldn’t help but notice that your paintings seem to be…moving. How did you create this effect?”
“An artist never reveals her secrets. Or price tags.” This guy’s toupee would go flying across the room when he saw those. Since it was effectively impossible to create a half-decent print of living art, the originals were mind-numbingly expensive. Persephone’s agents and lawyers got most of the cash, but she certainly made more than enough to get by.
“But you see, my organization thinks we could use your technique for--”
Persephone cut him off. “Sir, if you want a commission you can find the details on my DeviantArt page. At the moment you’ll have to excuse me.”
Persephone hurried off to a brightly lit grotto…it was one of those places that every museum has, an exhibit room that seems to exist slightly out of sync with the rest of the world. Artificial lighting gives it the eternal appearance of midafternoon, and one cannot quite retrace one’s steps when revisiting the exhibit. Time seems to pass differently here, the air heavy with mixed scents of age and the metallic future.
“Erica! Sorry I’m late; I was busy setting up that rich brat with the cosmonaut. I think they’re totally going to hit it off. And then this other guy wanted something but I forgot to actually stick around and find out what it was. Oh well. Actually, the whole cosmonaut thing was probably a terrible idea, oh well, too late now. How’ve you been, it’s been forever, thanks for coming!”
Erica Zann smiled, amused. Her hands moved rapidly as she signed ‘nice to see you too, chatterbox’.
“Erica, I have no idea what you’re saying…er…signing. Saying through signing?”
Erica rolled her eyes, still smiling. She pulled out a small whiteboard.
Nice to see you too. What’s going on?
Persephone clapped her hands together. “Right! The Plan! This is really simple; they’re exhibiting the Estonian Crown Jewels tomorrow. They’re in a maximum-security bank vault right now. I’m going to hop over there and steal them, then come back here. But wait! That’s not the good part; I’m also going to leave perfect painted replicas in their place, but that’s STILL not the best part. The best part is that at the opening ceremony, the gems are going to melt into paint. And inspector Clouseau is going to look to the sky and yell ‘POOOORTRAIIIT!’. But I’m going to have the airtight alibi of being here, at my own exhibit. So if anyone asks, I’m directly out of their line of sight, or with you. Either one.” Portrait nodded rapidly.
‘On one condition,’ Erica wrote.
‘You have to dogsit for me during my concert series in July.’
“Aw, your dogs are total monsters! Fine, I’ll do it.” Persephone rolled her eyes.
‘Also, what’s with the secrecy? You love getting attention for stealing things.’
“I ‘reformed’. Gave a press conference and everything. And people actually bought it. But because people don’t really know how my powers work, for all the feds will know, I stole the gems months ago and they just never figured it out. Now I have to go, those diamonds won’t steal themselves.”
Persephone walked over to one of the paintings on the wall. In it a young girl stares mournfully at the artist. She is dressed in white, and golden flecks of dust spin around her. In the background, an old grandfather clock ticks steadily. The room is voluminous and wood-paneled, a relic of times gone by.
Persephone stepped into the painting, and vanished.
The grandfather clock was what she most associated with her childhood. It emitted a cold sophistication that she felt she could never escape.
Persephone had not spent long in the care of the church orphanage. Her veins flowing with the blood of Gray, she was the picture of childhood beauty, rosy-cheeked and smiling. An older couple took her in out of some misplaced sense of purpose, a twisted view of charity. Not out of love. They wanted Persephone to be seen, not heard. A disinterested governess, who Persephone despised, raised her. Hours upon hours were spent in that varnished room, the grandfather clock ticking along with the seemingly endless list of French words it was essential for Persephone to memorize. Didn’t she want to be a lady?
No. She wanted to make mudpies.
For a moment, Persephone locked eyes with her younger, painted self. She nodded acknowledgement, then stepped deeper into the Painted World. Colors swirled around her. If one examined them closely, one would see that each speck of color was actually a painting in miniature. Everything from the works of the masters to the scribblings of a young child was here. With a practiced eye, Persephone reached into the vibrant maelstrom, and pulled out an image. It grew larger, displacing the mass of paint like a stone thrown into a pond. As Persephone stepped into it, she was coated in a film of multicolored paint. This shifted and changed, and a moment later Persephone was in her uniform. Or costume. It really depended who you asked.
“Much better. Dresses are the worst. No, wait, that’s wrong. CORSETS are the worst.”
Portrait looked around. She was in one of those really terrible bland paintings that banks liked to hang up for no apparent reason. She carefully stepped out of the painting onto the tiled floor. It was time to steal some crown jewels.
At the first opportunity, Persephone had left her adoptive family and struck out on her own. However, career opportunities for an unmarried woman were few and far between. One could take up a potentially dangerous, low-paying job in a factory, or one could become a whore.
The vault was in the back, past a bunch of action-movie props. Lasers, motion detectors, all that good stuff. Portrait kept low, flipping on the infrared lens in her goggles. Okay, this didn’t look too terrible. Heat sensors weren’t an issue since she wasn’t flesh and blood…there didn’t seem to be any pressure traps. So she’d just disable the motion detectors and cameras, then she could deal with the lasers.
Of course, Persephone was going to have none of that. She went directly to the British government and joined the Secret Service. Espionage was very much ‘in’ at the time, with World War I just around the corner. The best of the best taught Persephone the tricks of the trade: how to get information, how to remain undetected, how to fight. When the Germans began to march, Persephone was deployed to France. Unfortunately for the war effort, that was when Persephone stumbled upon her powers.
Portrait took out a small container of paint, the sort that comes with children’s painting kits. She flipped open the top and flicked it onto the screen of the motion detector, coating it with a screen of black paint. The paint would melt away in a few hours. Then she took out a Polaroid camera and snapped pictures of the room. Waving the pictures, she ducked under the line of sight of the surveillance cameras, reaching up and pasting the photos in front of them. No one would suspect a thing…the pictures would move, dust and light changing slowly. This done, Portrait strolled towards the back room where the vault was. A latticework of lasers crisscrossed the hallway. Portrait couldn’t really use any tricks here…she just had to rely on good old-fashioned acrobatics. Taking a running start, she leapt through the gap between two lasers, rolling under a third. Then she flipped up into a handspring, twisting between several more of the pesky beams. After a neat landing on the other side, she was through. “Suck on that McKayla Maroney,” she muttered.
When in France, Persephone had accidentally stepped a little too close to a painting in the Louvre. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself inside it. Confused, she searched for the exit, but found none. Panic followed shortly, and Persephone was lost in the Painted World. It took her years to figure out her powers and make it back to Earth. Then she had to get used to a whole new world…what is there for one to do in the 1950s?
Portrait faced the vault, scowling at the control pad and heavy metal door. If this was a normal operation, she could get in pretty easily, but she had to be stealthy. She couldn’t let people know she’d been there. Unfortunately, messing with a control pad can get pretty obvious. She sighed, leaning against the door. Suddenly, she sensed something. There was a painting in the vault. Someone had been a total moron and left a painting. In. The vault. It was technically cheating, but she HAD passed all the lasers and stuff already so…
Portrait raced back to where she had entered the bank, jumped into the painting, and emerged a few minutes later inside the vault. There were the crown jewels, sitting there in a glass case just ASKING to be stolen. Portrait sauntered over to them, and examined the case.
It turned out the 1950s were a great time to become an art-themed super-thief. So were the ‘60s, the ‘70s were AMAZING, and the ‘80s and ‘90s weren’t so bad either. Security began to get a bit more intense in the early ‘00s, but nothing to worry about. The whole ‘reforming’ thing was more a change of pace than anything else.
The case was pressure sensitive. It would trigger an alarm if it was breached or opened. Portrait shrugged and took out another small paint container. She placed it next to the lid of the case. It flowed out onto the pressure pads, and Portrait lifted the lid. She scooped up the diamonds, sticking them into one of the pouches of her belt. Then she took out perfect painted replicas and placed them into the case.
Portrait stepped into the painting, changed back into her fancy dress, and appeared back at her gallery show just as people were beginning to wonder where she went. A job well done.