Eeeek, forgive my temporary error. Short Story Contest #165 - Theme: "Red Sun" courtesy of @Fan7asticMrFox Congratulations @Lancie for "Beneath the Surface". The story won by a landslide this time! Send me a PM with your theme for the next contest. And we'll use it in three weeks. @Wreybies will get your bronze medal to you soon. I also enjoyed @qp83's story that took second place, especially the ending. And an honorable mention goes to new member @Jovon Green for the contest entry. Thanks again to all the forum members who voted. You'll find all three stories HERE __________________________________ Beneath the Surface [1807 words] The painting had moved again. Or rather, the woman in the painting had moved. This time, she was looking directly at me. The day before, her wistful gaze had changed from left to right and I had blamed it on a long night of researching. Too much time in front of a computer screen and hunched over books. This time was different. She had moved, and now she was looking at me. Whoever had painted the piece had captured her in astonishing realism. I could barely see a brushstroke. Those wonderfully deep, almost coal black eyes had caught my attention when I first saw it. Shaped like almonds and framed in thick, dusky lashes. Now they were staring out at me. This time, it was unmistakable. I crouched slowly. Without taking my eyes off her I picked up the keys and pieces of phone I'd dropped against the wooden floor, fumbled a moment, trying to force the battery back into the case. The phone vibrated and chimed and I began to stab at the buttons. Alex, are you in? I need you to come to my office now. With a heaviness in my leg, I crumbled into the chair opposite the painting. It was propped up on my desk in my cold little office, tucked in the back of the university somewhere between empty lecture theatres and the old library, and waited. Eventually, I felt my eyes pulled down to the woman's hands, the left lightly raised as though waiting for a lover to gently take it to press their lips against her knuckles. On her forth slender finger was the epicentre of the painting, the heart of my PhD. A giant glittering red diamond set in a sunburst of beaten gold with a halo of perfectly cut, clear smaller diamonds encircling it, known as The Red Sun. It must have been a majestic sight before it vanished. As I starred at the gleaming gem the clock on the wall with it's striking tick tickwent silent. Nothing in the room moved. Like the woman's too real eyes, the diamond sparkled from deep within the canvas. I held my breath and began to reach a hand out to it, but the sound of footsteps echoing down the hall made me look up and finally away from the painting. Alex, shabbily dressed in cords and a t-shirt as usual, stuck his curly head round the door. "Valerie? What's up?" I pointed at the picture. "She moved. She's moved twice now." Alex frowned and smiled all at once and stepped inside, carefully closing the door behind him. "What? Didn't you lock it in the safe?" I snapped my head round and looked up. "I don't mean cleaners moved her, Alex," I sighed loudly. "I mean she, that woman, has moved. Look, she's looking towards me. She was looking to the right when I first got it. Yesterday her eyes had moved left and now..." I trailed off. Alex wasn't looking at the painting. He was looking directly at me. Concern peaked in his eyes. "Just look at it and tell me it's the same or not," I said and waved my hand at it. "Well, I only saw it the once but it looks a little different. Are you sure it's not just the light?" I closed my eyes with a groan. “Trick of the light. Ok,” I mumbled quietly. Then I noticed his hands held a brown envelope. "Are those my X-rays?" Alex nodded. Together we set up my backlight and he produced the shiny black and white pictures. We both recoiled the instant I turned the light on. "Oh God!" Alex grimaced. I could barely see the woman, she was partially hidden by violent, childlike scratchings that smashed out her eyes and turned her mouth into a wide, unhinged violent scream. The rest of her was lost beneath a tangled ribbon of black, thickly curled writing. The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours. Over and over. First in English, but then sporadically in German, then in French, Latin and Greek. As the writing went on it became less neat. It slanted, like it was falling over, becoming less recognisable. By the time my eyes had followed it to the bottom right corner it was ragged and thin, unfinished. As though it was dripping off the canvas. I took in a breath. "The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours,” the words stuck in my dry mouth. "That is disturbing," Alex crinkled his nose and took a step closer. "What is it you were after? A signature?" he asked. I nodded, then shrugged helplessly. "Does it at least prove to you this is a painting of The Red Sun Diamond?" I licked my lips. "I think it proves that when people said this was a creepy painting, they were right." I shivered. "I've gone right off it," I tilted my head. "It is interesting though, in a grotesque kind of way." Alex patted my shoulder lightly. "I'll leave you to it. Shout if she moves again, OK?" he grinned and quickly removed himself from my sight. For the rest of the day, I worked with the picture turned away from me and began to pull together my notes. Despite weeks of searching, I'd not been able to pinpoint an artist. The Red Sun Diamond had, according to legend, been discovered in a cave in Brazil towards the end of sixteenth century. The natives at the time reportedly said it belonged to the Devil. To validate their concerns the cave promptly collapsed and swift vengeance fell on all those who knew of the diamonds origin. Another story had it presented to Marie Antoinette and on her person when the guillotine fell. It had been owned by a smattering of European aristocrats and painted countless times. There were odd stories and accounts that muddled the timeline, of witches cursing and casting spells as their bodies went up in flames leaving nothing but ash and the diamond. Highwaymen periodically stole it in the depths of night and rode across the country with it in their pocket. It was a diamond people were willing to kill for, that much was certain. And yet, the diamond was lost. It's history reduced to myth and nightmare. I was starting to wonder if it had been deliberately destroyed. My painting was believed to be the last accurate depiction of it, though so far my efforts to track any details on it had led me down dusty library aisles to, eventually, nothing. More conflicting accounts and tales of murder swirled around the painting than the diamond itself. Even accounts of the woman's appearance differed wildly. Finally, as night came and my tired eyes began to strain, I turned the painting around. She wasn't smiling anymore. Her lips were flat. A cold trickle ran down my spine. I decided to put her and the X-rays into the safe so I wouldn't have to worry about her moving during the night. I made my usual way home on the bus and dragged my feet up the stairs to my flat. Once inside I switched on the lights and threw down my bag and coat. I crossed my hallway to my kitchen, aiming for the kettle. My hand instinctively went to the light. I pressed the switch three, four more times. Nothing happened. The coldness returned to my spine. The clock on my wall was still. I squinted into the darkness, slowly stepping inside and pulled my phone from my pocket and pointed it's dim blue-green screen light ahead of me. On my terracotta floor I saw the words, in slanted oily black scrawl, The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours. The phone fell to the floor and my legs moved backwards like a command hurriedly towards the door. I spun round. On the table where my bag had landed I saw it there. It was facing the wall, turned away from me. A whimper escaped my lips. And yet, my hands were drifting towards it. Shaking, unable to draw them back, I felt my heart pulsing and trembling inside my chest as it collided with my stomach. My hands gripped the frame and I turned the painting round. The canvas was blank. The woman wasn't there. The light above me flickered and I felt that hateful gaze on me. "The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours." The voice scraped against my skin. My entire being trembled as I turned. "The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours." She took a step towards me. An elegant renaissance styled woman in a deep, blushing red gown, trimmed with scarlet lace. Her black hair hung limp around her waist like a cape. She stepped towards me, raising her bejewelled hand. My feet wouldn't move. I let out a wail and hurled the frame but it bounced right through her. She shimmered, glittering all over, stepped slowly closer. I cried out but no noise came from my dry throat. Sweat fell from my brow despite the cold in my spine. Terror took control and my body held firm to the spot. "The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours." My lips shivering, I croaked "I don't care!" I sank backwards. "Please, I don't want it!" She was unrelenting. "The Red Sun is mine and will never be yours." But then, she began to slip the ring off her hand and my eyes instantly latched onto it. The deep, luscious red was endless, the size of an egg, emitting a spectacular warming glow. The cold in my spine began to warm. She stopped and began to extend her hand. "The Red Sun is yours." The ring was throbbing. I ached to hold it. I needed it on my finger. My hand raised and went towards her. The exchange was seamless. It clung to my finger. "The Red Sun is yours. And I am free." Alex huddled in the back of the Auction Room, biting his thumb nail with concern, right down to his skin, as the lot came up and the room fell into a reverent and rippled hush. The Auctioneer cleared his throat as the painting was unveiled. "Lot 34. Titled Lady with the Red Sun Diamond. A fabled lot that we are pleased to offer, beginning at £2000. Given to us by the University of Birmingham, the painter of the piece has long been a mystery. It depicts the rare Red Sun Diamond in it's glorious gold and halo setting. The lady, also unknown, has blue eyes and brown hair." Alex felt a trickle of cold in his spine and sweat on his brow as he turned and left the room, just as the bidding began.