I sat on the bed and watched the two pills, in case they made an unexpected move. They looked like oversized cold & flu capsules, transparent ovals of amethyst purple.
I picked them up. They were slightly rubbery to the touch, and seemed a little heavier than they should have been.
Ah, well, I’d taken stranger things. I popped them in my mouth and took a sip of the water. I coughed as the pills lodged in my throat, and I took a longer gulp of the water to get them down. Then I waited for my hands to melt or the walls to change color or whatever was supposed to happen.
After a few minutes without any noticeable effect, I picked up the pad, and examined the paper. Newspaper stock; how inspiring, in its gray drabness. It had its place, but not for this. I looked at the pencils they had given me. Dixon No. 2’s. Maybe they expected me to take the SATs after all.
I was going to have to ask Lily about getting some real supplies; how was I supposed to work with this? With ten hours to go, though, I’d have to make do. I checked the tips of the pencils; all three were sharp. I closed the pad and rubbed the point of one on the cover until it was blunted with a nice rounded tip. That would have to do for pinpoint shading.
I flipped open to the first page. So, I was supposed to sketch whatever came to mind. Why is it that whenever someone asks you to do something like that, you always draw a complete blank? What was a complete blank, anyway? How could a blank be less than complete?
My right hand was idly doodling; I looked at the page, and saw that the doodle was a sort of cloudlike shape. I drew a few circles next to it, and turned it into a thought bubble. A dumbfounded face went below that.
I noticed that the shadow of my hand was particularly sharp on the paper; the light seemed brighter in the room. The fluorescent strip on the ceiling must have warmed up. I moved the incandescent lamp on the nightstand closer to warm up the cold blue glare. Switching between the sharp and blunt pencils, I drew a hand casting a shadow drawing a hand casting a shadow drawing a hand casting a shadow. How Escheresque. I chuckled. It was an optical allusion.
The pencil felt odd in my hand; I could feel the woodgrain through the yellow paint. I drew a house. Someone stomped by in the hallway outside; I added an ogre approaching the house, with a big spiked club in hand.
Whatever else the pills were supposed to do, they had a nasty aftertaste – like paisley would taste if it were ice cream – so I took another swallow of water. It was flat and metallic; I could almost smell the fluoride in it. Still, it helped to clear the flavor of the capsules. It really was bright in here; the table lamp was more than enough light, so I got up and turned off the overhead.
Lamp. Returning to the pad, I flipped the pencil in my hand sideways and shaded the area around the ogre’s legs, transforming him into a genie springing forth from an oil lamp. The fragile, musty surface of the paper was smooth; I dropped the pencil and began smudging the graphite with my fingertips, creating great gouts of smoke around the genie.
I looked at the blackened fingertips of my left hand. I’d only been fingerprinted once. My right hand sketched a man behind bars. God, bars, I could use a drink; the acrid tang of the water was getting to me. Did they still use lead pipes here? I kept doodling.
Or the rope or the knife or the revolver? In the Conservatory or the Study?
Or the study of conservation?
Of conversational French kisses off side start five yard penalty box lunch counter culture shock and awe shucks corn nuts and bolts for cover before striking distance between two points is a straight flush beats four of a kindness of strangers on a train of...something...borrowed something blue moon sun tower world fool and his money are soon parting of the red sea weed killer apply twice daily to affected area fifty-one fifty forty-niner excavating for a mine all mine shaft ya damn right who is the man who would risk his neck and neck around the final turn over your papers and begin...
* * *
I blinked...the pencil was broken in two. My right hand was so cramped, I had to remove the fragments with the left. The remnants of the other two pencils were on the floor. Sunlight was streaming in the window. The clock on the table read 7:42 a.m.
I tried to remember what had happened to the last nine and a half hours, but the memory felt like it was receding from me, growing more distant as I tried to grasp it. I felt slightly numb and deaf, like I was swathed in gauze, and my vision seemed dim. But except for the fuzziness and my aching right hand, my body and mind felt more rested than they had in months.
The pad was lying open in front of me, flipped to the last page. The linen bedsheets around it were smeared with graphite dust. The pad itself was a mess, rips and tears throughout, every page covered front and back with images that seemed dimly familiar – including a pretty good portrait of Richard Roundtree, if I do say so myself. Sometimes the rips seemed intentional; on one page, I folded in all of the torn edges, and found that they obscured everything except a hidden image of a pinnacle struck by lightning.
I closed the pad and carefully placed it on the chair. It was spooky as hell. But damn, it was good.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 3.3]