Standing in the Flames
It pressed on Michael from the moment he walked in the gallery door. The last exhibition of Itu experiential art, and it was packed, but the crush of humanity was hardly more than a thread against the overwhelming presence of the art. The almost tangible buzz made him stumble and apologize to a woman who barely knew he was there. A pickpocket’s dream, if only there were earplugs for the mind.
Michael looked out over the swimming room and saw him. A slouched figure, strangely alone, in front of a jangling, twisting work in the corner. He closed his eyes, then pushed his way across, deliberately avoiding looking at the other man. He fixed his gaze thoughtfully on a corner of the frame, trying not to see the art itself, and spoke.
“I was afraid you’d be here.”
A sharp laugh, and a twitch of the hand. “You did say you wanted to say goodbye.”
“This isn’t what I meant.” He slanted his eyes left. “You look terrible.” It was true. Lucien was gaunt and jittery, unshaven. Worse, the same consuming aura that radiated from the art seemed to spark from his skin.
A snort. “Doesn’t matter now, does it? Not too many places left to hide.” His hand twitched again, fingers moving as if they were weaving the light. In the gallery, Lucien was just part of the background noise, but on the street, people would feel the alien energy coming off of him for blocks.
“Why didn’t you just go with them when they left?” It was the question Michael had been wanting to ask all along.
“At first I didn’t want to. And then it was too late.” His fingers moved, moved, and Michael began to think that he could see a swirl of light starting to form around them. He jerked his gaze away.
“If you didn’t want to stay with them, you shouldn’t have let them teach you in the first place.” It had changed him far too much.
“Too late,” Lucien repeated, a bitter humor in his voice. The light flowed ever more strongly around his fingertips, and Michael felt himself begin to fall into it.
He jerked himself away, no longer caring what it looked like, and stared at the glossy tiles beneath his feet. “Goodbye, Lucien.” He hesitated. “Good luck.” And then he reeled past the buzzing, pulsating vortices on the walls and plunged out into the cool night.
This is my response to this week’s Red Writing Hood prompt on Write On Edge, which provided a picture of an art gallery for inspiration (click through to see the photo). Thanks for reading!