Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
“Are you afraid of it?”
“Afraid? No, not afraid.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. I’ve just never liked it.”
“Would you do it with me?”
Ashley opened the old, dusty box she had found in the attic of their new apartment. On the outside it looked like something her grandma could have used for children’s parties, but its contents looked pristine, as if they had last been used yesterday.
“That was here in the attic?” James asked, obviously trying to mask his discomfort at what was to come.
“Yes. Face paint. A treasure chest with what I think are at least a hundred different shades!” Ashley cried out. She was a big fan of dressing up, seizing every opportunity to try different costumes or make-up styles. In that respect James was her complete opposite. To costume parties he would wear a business suit, and if any kind of face decoration came his way, he fled to safety. But not this time. This time he could not dodge the questions. Or the thing itself, it seemed. Ashley had him cornered.
She eyed him expectantly, waiting for the starting signal. James could tell her disappointment would be tremendous if he were to back down now. And their long overdue holiday began in a few days. Was his dislike worth the potential consequences?
“Okay,” he finally sighed.
“Okay, what?” Ashley was already beaming.
“Okay, you may paint my face,” James answered, already regretting his decision.
Ashley leaped forward and kissed him with a force that promised more later on, then disappeared, only to reappear seconds later with a couple moving boxes and a glass of water. She gestured James to sit down, then pulled the chest towards her and rummaged around in it, taking out an orange yellow shade and a brush. Her smile never faltered.
“Close your eyes, now,” she spoke gently.
James kept them closed throughout the session, suffering through it silently. Ashley, on the other hand, enjoyed it tremendously, trying many different shades and brushes. The chest was a gift from heaven, offering every item she could possibly dream of requiring. Painting James’ face was not only a privilege…it would be a masterpiece.
After more than an hour of laboring it was done. James no longer looked like a man. The art looked so amazing that his face actually looked like a tiger’s. Ashley was lost for words. She stepped back in awe. Never before had she painted so well. Or come close, for that matter.
“Stay there. I’m going to get a mirror,” she breathed, and stepped out.
On her return, James was no longer on the chair. Ashley scanned the attic, but the hour had introduced a setting sun, and the shadows had grown long and dark.
“James? Are you still here?” she asked the darkness. No answer came, but Ashley could swear she heard a bit of scuffling on wood.
“James?” she tried again, this time nervous.
A deep, fierce growl sounded from deep within the attic. A pair of glowing eyes flickered, making Ashley stagger back. These were not James’ eyes. If her memory served her correctly eyes like that belonged to a cat, but that was a ridiculous thought. No cat could have made it inside the house. And no domestic cat sounded that feral.
Discarding the sound, her thoughts returned to James. Where could he have gone to? She had only been in the other room for a minute, and she would have noticed anyone passing through. He had to be in the attic. Or did he somehow slip by her unnoticed after all?
Ashley turned her back to climb down into the room, when a tremendous roar momentarily froze her. Out of the shadows leaped a large dark figure she could just avoid. Recovering herself, she saw the painted figure of James, crouched on all fours, ready for the next attack. She also got a better look at his eyes, which had taken on the amber shade of a tiger. The paint had turned her boyfriend into that which his face resembled.
Ashley’s heart, and her mind were racing. Her eyes followed, scanning the floor for anything she could reach that would stop him, that would knock him out. The strangeness of the whole thing was something she would wonder about later.
James leaped again, this time managing to rip off most of Ashley’s top, but luckily no flesh yet. In her dodge she hit the ground hard, though, and pain rushed into her ankle. As James came running once more she blindly reached out, got a hold of the glass of water and flung its contents straight into his face. Immediately afterward she cursed herself for not throwing the actual glass, and closed her eyes for the fatal blow.
It never came. Instead, the tiger screamed and roared, flailing around the attic, clutching its face, finally coming down onto the ground and keeping still. The beastly grunting changed back into a human sound, and Ashley slowly dared to approach her boyfriend. His face was a mess, a completely mixed-up mess of color. With eyes that were his own he looked up at Ashley, his confusion clear.
“What happened?” he asked.
Ashley wished she had a clue herself. She would examine the make-up chest more closely later on, then probably end up destroying it.
“Nothing to worry about, probably some kind of weird allergic reaction to the paint,” she answered, smiling as much as she could muster.
“I knew it was a bad idea,” James grunted, more to himself than anyone else.
“It was.” Ashley helped him up. “Let’s go get you cleaned up.”
As they sat together in the bathroom, cleaning off the shades that had nearly cost Ashley her life, there was one thought that kept reoccurring to her.
What if she had painted him as a clown?
She shivered at the thought.