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C.R. Kwiat

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Member Since: Nov, 2007

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Escape Artist
By C.R. Kwiat
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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I don't know if this is classified correctly. There's no 'Twilight-zone' category.

The warden looked at Sarah’s papers and twisted his beard. “Vehicular manslaughter.” He looked up at Sarah. “Three children and their mother, dead because of you.”

Sarah made no reply as she stared numbly at the wall behind him, handcuffed in front of the warden’s desk in prison attire. Numb was all she ever felt since she had been sentenced to five years of prison. It had taken the place of guilt: guilt of having taken away four innocent lives, guilt of leaving her own children without a mother, and guilt of leaving her husband without any help. All sacrificed because she went out and had a good time with her friends, and on the way home she wanted to find her favorite CD to play…and forgot to look up. Her car swerved onto a sidewalk killing an unsuspecting family. Her life changed in a single instant.

The warden eyed her scrupulously, then nodded at the guard. “Let her bunk alongside the Escape Artist.”

“Sir?” the guard answered.

“Three young children and their mother are dead because of her. Let her bunk with the Escape Artist.”

Sarah peered nervously at the guard behind her as the guard shook his head in dismay. “Come on,” he sighed as he took her upper arm and led her from the office.

He silently led her down the cell block and stopped in front of a cell with a very old woman. Her hair was white and straggly and her face was so wrinkled it reminded Sarah of a rotting pumpkin. Her short body slumped over as she sat on her cot. In front of her was a painting propped up on an easel, and she held a paintbrush in her trembling hand. Sarah wondered why the guard seemed so nervous about placing her in the same cell as an old woman who looked like she was about to expire. Did she go crazy in the middle of the night and stab her bunkmates with her paintbrush?

“She’s allowed to paint?” Sarah asked as the guard slid the barred door to the side.

“The warden allows her. She’s been in here for forty-two years already, and will be here until death does her part. She needs something to do.”

The old woman looked at Sarah and smiled sweetly, then turned her attention to the guard. “Actually, I’ve only been here one year, Frederick.”

The guard laughed. “No, Matty, it’s been one year since your last cell mate killed herself. You’ve been here forty-two. This is your new cellmate, Sarah.”

The old woman’s eyes brightened as Sarah walked in the cell and sat on her cot. The guard slid the door shut and disappeared, leaving Sarah staring at the old woman as she brushed paint onto her canvas with long, delicate strokes.

“The warden called you the Escape Artist.”

Matty smiled. “Did he?”

Sarah hesitated. “Why is that?”

The woman lowered her brush and peered thoughtfully around her painting at Sarah. “Because when you look into my paintings, you lose yourself. You escape this prison.”

Sarah scanned the bare walls. “Paintings?”

“I have only one canvas. When the paint dries, I paint a new picture on top of it.”

Sarah looked curiously at the canvas. “May I see?”

The woman patted the spot on the bed beside her. “Yes. Come tell me what you think.”

Sarah stood up and sat beside Matty, then examined the painting. It was a park in autumn. A brick pathway wound through colorful leaves, and there were light, fluffy clouds in the sky. A single wooden bench with a red dot sat to the side of the pathway. “It’s very nice.”

Matty shook her head. “You’re not looking close enough, dear.” She angled the easel toward Sarah. “Lean your head closer to the painting and smell the oil.”

Sarah looked curiously at the woman, then leaned her head forward so that her nose nearly touched the painting. When she took a sniff of the oil, it didn’t smell of oil, but of fresh air. Suddenly she found herself sitting on the park bench in the painting, but the leaves were real and the sounds of nearby automobiles were unmistakable. She wanted to scream with joy when she realized she now wore a dress instead of striped prison attire, but the scream never surfaced.

“Mom!” A little brown-haired boy ran up to her. “Look what I found!” he said excitedly as he held up a glassy, brown rock.

“That’s wonderful,” Sarah heard a woman say, and she quickly realized she was inside another woman’s body. “You should add that one to your rock collection.”

“You bet I will,” he said proudly as he rubbed his thumb over it. “Do you feel how smooth it is?” he asked as he handed the stone to his mother.

Although Sarah could see the woman she possessed take the stone and run her finger along it, she couldn’t feel the stone’s texture. She could see, hear, and smell…but the sensation of touch was oddly missing.

Sarah’s heart thumped wildly, and she believed she was going insane. She wished to see her prison cell again, and suddenly the leaves turned back into paint. She looked beside her to see Matty smiling.

“You returned rather quickly. Why didn’t you stay longer and enjoy the park?”

“What’s going on?” Sarah asked, jumping to her feet. “What just happened?”

Matty looked longingly at the painting. “You visited a park near my house. The red paint,” she said, pointing at the red dot on the bench, “is magic. If there is a person there, your soul will leave your body and enter theirs as an observer.” She looked at Sarah. “You have no control over the body because only one soul can be in charge, and the sense of touch, of feeling, will never be yours when you have traveled through the painting. The magic lasts three days, then your soul returns.”

“This is insane!” Sarah cried.

Matty blew on the painting. “I’m finished with the park. I’ll let it dry tonight, then I’ll start a new painting tomorrow.” She sighed, laid her paintbrush on the easel’s base, and lay on her cot. “I enjoyed seeing it again.”

Sarah sat down on her cot, staring wide-eyed at the woman. “What are you going to paint tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll paint something for you.”

Sarah lay her back against the brick wall behind her. “The only place I want to be is home.”

Matty turned toward Sarah. “Then I shall paint your home, and you shall have a visit.”

Sarah’s heart beat wildly, and as the old lady fell asleep, Sarah couldn’t wait for the sun to set and rise again.

* * *

The painting two days later showed Sarah’s kitchen. Matty touched the paintbrush to the canvas to make a red dot in front of the oven, then sniffed the canvas. “I smell lasagna.”

Sarah paced excitedly. “Really? Bob always cooks lasagna.”

Matty sat the brush down. “It’s ready.” She smiled sadly. “Stay as long as you like.”

Sarah jumped with joy, then quickly sat down beside Matty at the foot end of the bed. “Thank you!”

She leaned forward and could smell the lasagna, then watched with sheer delight through her husband’s eyes as he reached into the oven with a mitt.

“Lunch is ready!”

Sarah’s soul cried with joy when she saw her children run into the kitchen, and experienced absolute bliss for the rest of the day as she lived inside her husband’s body. Then the phone call came….

Sarah had committed suicide in prison.

The grief her family felt was too painful to bear, so Sarah decided to quickly return to her body to prove to everyone that she was still alive. She wished herself back into her cell, and the painting came back into view. But in the corner of the canvas a new scene had been painted…her drab prison cell with a red dot at the foot of Matty’s bed, exactly where Sarah had sat when she had entered the painted kitchen.

She looked around to find Matty, but she was alone. The small jar of red paint on the bed beside her caught her attention, and she reached to pick it up. She realized her hand was now wrinkled, like a weathered pumpkin. She would have stood up and screamed, but her body was too weak and frail.

“What is it about you, Matty?” a guard outside her cell asked. “Why does almost everyone you bunk with commit suicide?”

Sarah sat staring at the red dot on Matty’s painted bed, now her bed, slowly realizing what had happened.

“Because it doesn’t hurt to die,” she answered quietly. She clenched the red paint in her hand, realizing she now had no family, no future. She hoped the warden wouldn’t wait too long to assign a new cell mate. Perhaps a painless suicide would also be her escape when the time came.

       Web Site: The Link Trilogy

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Reviewed by Sheila Roy 7/11/2008
You totally engaged me with your writing style. A very unique story here. You make the reader think, maybe even go back to see if they missed something. Thought provoking, imaginative, and refreshingly original with strong imagery! Love and Hugs,