It’s not right. It’s not right. My brush falters on the canvas.
The queen’s hair needs a glint of sunlight. I close my eyes, trying to remember the sun. Slowly, an image from deep memory surfaces: my love, Colette, standing in front of me, the morning sun glistening on her auburn hair and turning it red-gold. In my memory, I slide my hand down the warm tresses. “Samuel,” she whispers, and raises her face for a kiss. Her full lips are soft. We are going to be married soon.
“You! Keep painting.”
I open my eyes to the damp gray stones in the torch-lit dungeon room. The guard who spoke stands beside the iron door. He glowers at me, an expression of hate on his weathered face. I dip my brush into cadmium yellow. Moments later, the queen’s hair is touched by subtle streaks of gold. The red rose she holds is lit by the sun and dotted with dew that sparkles like diamonds. Colette loved roses.
Our village was raided long ago on the night before our wedding by monsters who drank their fill of most of the people. They took Colette, screaming, with them. In my struggle to get to her, I scratched and bit my attacker. His blood filled my mouth. I did not die, but instead, unwillingly became one of his kind.
I never found Colette. After two hundred years, I still grieve her death.
Four other vampire artists are with me in this dungeon. The queen scours the land and brings the undead here to paint her portrait. She does not show her face. Inexplicably, we paint a woman we have never seen.
Hunger gnaws at me. We have not fed since we were brought here. The queen may decide at any moment that she’s waited long enough, and so our brushes fly over our canvases.
A rat appears through a space in the crumbling stone and scurries along the floor. We all stop, our gazes riveted on the rodent. My mouth opens with desperate need. I can imagine my teeth sinking into the rat’s heart. I can sense its blood spilling into my mouth, providing sustenance, however small. But I dare not move from my spot.
One of the artists bolts toward the rat and grabs it. Within seconds, it is emptied of life. The artist holds the limp corpse and wipes the blood from his lips. A drop falls, and I watch its tiny splash onto the filthy floor. By sheer will, I remain in place although I would give anything for just a taste of that wasted blood.
Two other guards rush in. The rat’s limp body drops forgotten to the floor as the artist is forced from the room. A moment later, his agonizing screams echo off the walls.
“Keep working!” the head guard demands.
Bitterness at the queen’s cruelty compels me depict her as a vampire like me. I add a delicate touch of red paint under one corner of her mouth. The moments just after nourishment are bliss. Under my brush, her full lips curve up in a soft smile. Her eyes become half-closed in rapturous delight.
I paint the finishing touches on the queen’s cobalt-green satin dress. The color enhances her eyes – amber like Colette’s. The memory has not faded from my mind. I am painting Colette’s portrait, and the queen be damned.
Suddenly, the door to the dungeon is thrown open. The head guard shouts, “Everyone out! The queen is ready to see the portraits.”
We artists share a dark look. We have no doubt that all the paintings will be rejected. After all, artist raids have been occurring by successive queens for over a century.
We shuffle from the dungeon and through the underground corridors, clutching our canvases.
Eventually we reach an opulent room with marble floors and rich mahogany furniture. A gold throne sits facing away from us. I can only see hands resting on its arms.
We are ordered to keep our heads lowered. Anyone who dares look at the queen will be executed.
One by one, we walk forward and stand in front of the throne to present our paintings. One by one, they are rejected by a dismissive wave of the queen’s hand. The artists are dragged out.
I am the last. I expect that I, too, will be shoved into the sunlight, but I am no longer afraid. I’m ready for this lonely farce of my existence to end.
I step forward and turn to face the throne, staring at the floor, the painting held out for inspection.
Silence. Then, a whisper. “You know my face.”
I shake my lowered head. “I swear I do not see you.”
“Look at me.”
Slowly, I raise my gaze.
Auburn hair. Amber eyes. Full, lovely mouth.
My legs fail me, and I fall to my knees. “Colette.”
“Samuel.” Her voice is a sigh. “After all these years, I have found you. And you have not forgotten me.”
“I searched for you.” My voice breaks. “I thought they had killed you.”
“I was captured and made one of them, then given to the king for his amusement,” Colette says. “He kept me imprisoned and enjoyed watching me feed on his enemies. As he grew older, he spent much time with me. I became powerful as he weakened with age. On his deathbed, he named me his queen.” She takes my hand. “But I am still your Colette.”
I shake my head. “But you have killed our kind. The other artists…”
“They have always been given a choice to end their existence.” She smiles. “Most refuse the offer and are freed.”
I am relieved at this information.
Colette holds her head high. She has changed, become strong and commanding. She is forever my love.
The search for artists has stopped. My portrait of Colette hangs in our bedroom.
After two long centuries, we are finally married.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.
The idea for this story came from a writing contest I entered. I was given an image of artists painting on a cobblestone street, with the sun shining above. The instructions were to write a flash fiction story under 1,000 words that could use one or more of the items depicted in the image. I chose the artist at his canvas, and added the twist of the vampire artist raids in the queen’s search for her lost love.