It’s as easy as 1,2,3!

Jerry’s wife, Samantha, uncovered her hands from his eyes.

“Ta daaaa!” she said excitedly.

Jerry’s eyes focused as he studied the contents of the small room they were standing in.

This upstairs room, a little room they had nicknamed the “Nook,” was an out-of-the-way room that the previous owners had used for simple storage. It had contained some junk furniture and old boxes when they had moved in six months ago, but neither one of them had felt the inclination to sort through it all, at least, not until now.

“Oh, wow…” breathed Jerry.

His wife had been busy while he had been in the hospital.

The little room was mostly cleared out now, all except for an old wooden desk, a wooden chair with a pillowed seat, and an old wooden easel. Upon the desk were a number of different-sized paint brushes, and next to them was a large wooden palette ready to hold various paints, those various paints already waiting upon the old desk next to the palette, each paint stored in small jars ready for immediate use.

“This is…interesting…” said Jerry a little more cautiously than he had intended.

“What?” asked his wife. “You don’t like it?”

“No, no, it’s not that,” said Jerry with a shake of his head. “It’s just…”

“What then?” asked Samantha.

“I…don’t actualleeeee…know how to paint,” drawled out Jerry.

“You can sketch and design,” replied Samantha. “I’ve seen your art, and it’s fantastic! Painting is basically the same thing, right?”

Naahhht really,” drawled Jerry.

“Well, I’ve got that covered,” said Samantha. “When I was clearing out the Nook of junk, I found…”

She walked over behind the easel, reached down, and picked up a large paper book from off the floor. The book itself was huge, but then Jerry realized it was an artist’s easel pad and not an actual book.

“This!” finished his wife.

She held up the easel pad, a huge thing meant to fit upon an actual easel, and its cover consisted of nothing more than a plain brick-red background with the huge white letters “PAINT BY NUMBERS” printed up and down it.

“Oh…” said Jerry in mild surprise.

His wife flipped open the cover to the first page and then set the pad upon the easel so that it was open and ready for painting.

Jerry walked forward, leaned down, and studied the first page of the giant pad with mild interest. He was not particularly into painting, but these paint-by-numbers books usually betrayed the pictures at hand with the lines that were already drawn in. This pad, however, was proving to be far more difficult to perceive in that respect, if not impossible.

The unfinished picture was indeed bedecked with lines, curves, circles, and numbers, but the individual painting areas were so small and convoluted that he could not make heads or tails of what the picture could possibly be.

“This is like baby’s first painting,” smiled his wife. “You see? You’ll be able to pick up painting in no time, and the best thing is, it’s relaxing. There won’t be any strain on your heart.”

Jerry was only fifty, still young in his opinion, but the heart attack he’d suffered through at work had convinced his wife otherwise. She was thirty-seven and still working, but he’d been forced to retire early because of this…stupidity…with his own ticker.

“I don’t know…” he said unhappily.

“Don’t give me that,” said Samantha with a mock frown. “You can at least try it…Besides, I don’t want you sitting around all day playing video games while shouting at the TV…We need to moderate that. You get too excited from it, waaaay too angry at times.”

“Eh,” shrugged Jerry.

That much was true.

“The doctor said it was a miracle you pulled through surgery,” frowned Samantha. “I stayed up all night waiting for someone to come and give me an answer, and it was almost six in the morning when they gave me the good news…You have no idea what that was like. It was like disarming a ticking timebomb, and all the while you’re wondering if that bomb is going to explode at any second…”

“Hon, I…” began Jerry.

His loving wife rubbed up against him from behind and nuzzled her head into his thick neck.

“Come on, babe,” she said gently. “Do it for me?…Please? I went through hell for you.”

“All right, all right,” he sighed. “I’ll try it out…Though this thing doesn’t look like baby’s first painting…Look at it! It’s all squiggles and numbers. It looks like the designer had a stroke in the middle of putting it together…”

“Jer, don’t say that,” frowned his wife.

“Oh, sorry,” he said quickly. “My bad.”

“That’s okay,” sighed his wife in return. “Why don’t you set everything up while I make dinner. You can start with that first page, and then we’ll see how well it turns out when you’re finished. Don’t worry about screwing up at first…”

“Your faith in me is astounding,” smirked Jerry.

“Doofus,” grinned his wife in return. “Try it out. I’ve got dinner to make.”

She gave him a light tap on the arm before taking her leave, leaving him, in fact, to figure out how and what to do with the paints, palette, and pad by himself.

Oooooh, boy,” he said unhappily as he moved the wooden chair over to the desk.

Each jar of paint was a different color, obviously, but each jar of paint also had a number, so it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that those numbers had to match the numbers on the pad, and if they didn’t…well…so be it. He’d match them anyway. At worst, he’d have, like, a green sky and an orange sea, but he’d figure out the paints in the process with this first picture alone, so it was a no-brainer.

He studied the easel first.

The easel itself was odd, because it was designed to specifically hold an easel pad, if not the specific easel pad he was using, which was indeed odd, because most painters used a canvas for their work and not thick paper, as the paints would bleed through most papers to the pages beneath.

This easel also had a thick wooden backing board, unlike most which had no such feature, as most easels were meant for the canvas blanks in question.

Nevertheless, this easel was designed to have the easel pad flipped over the top of it and held in place by clipping a wooden bar across the bottom of the page you were working on.

Secondly, the easel pad had a blank bar at the bottom of the first picture, a clear indication that it was meant to specifically go with this easel, as that blank bar was the locking spot where the easel’s actual wooden bar would lock across it.

It was a little odd to see something like this, true, so the only thing Jerry could think of in explanation was that this paint-by-numbers book, the easel, and the jars were all made as a matching set. They had to have been.

Even so, his wife had said she’d “found them,” not bought them, so Jerry wondered if the paint was even still any good.

He reached over, picked up a jar of dark-brown paint, and twisted off the lid. The smell of fresh paint immediately wafted up into his nostrils, so he quickly screwed back on the lid in response to that discovery.

“Paint, check,” he said to himself.

The next thing he did was check the easel pad. The numbers necessary to use were along the top of the pad in a small bar, so he set aside the matching jars and then went back to inspecting the pad.

“Correct paints, check,” he nodded.

He studied the pad one more time to look for any copyright information, but other than the actual number strip at the top, the scrambled lines, and the paint numbers within those messed-up shapes, there was no information on the pad, and certainly no information about what company had printed this thing.

He resisted the urge to look at the back of the pad.

Paint-by-numbers books usually had a key that showed all of the completed pictures in the back, a guide to what they were supposed to look like, and though Jerry figured there would be copyright information back there, he did not want to spoil the surprise of his paintings by seeing any completed pictures.

Viewing his completed painting for the first time was half the fun, and seeing as how painting like this was going to be next to no fun at all, he did not want to lose half of almost nothing.

Jerry took his time setting up his palette, careful to follow the instructions on his phone via helpful internet videos. He had his paints ready after that, so he selected a couple of smaller brushes to begin with, moved his chair to a readied position in front of his newly-acquired easel, and then he began to paint, following the numbers explicitly.

He took to it after that, but he found his eyelids heavy, his eyes slowly closing after a few minutes…


“Jer,” came a voice from behind Jerry. “Jer!”

He snorted awake from his wife shaking him from behind, and he rubbed his eyes as he gathered his wits after that sudden awakening.

“Dinner’s ready, sleepy head,” said Samantha. “I made vegetable curry. Come on downstairs and eat.”

Jerry shook his head a couple of times just to shake out the drowsiness, and then he groaned as he stood up from the wooden chair he’d somehow fallen asleep in.

“You’re fast at this,” nodded his wife. “See?…You’re a natural. I told you you’d take to it.”

“What?” asked Jerry in confusion.

He turned to look at his painting progress, but the picture he’d barely gotten into before he’d fallen asleep?…It was already finished. In fact, his brushes and palette were already cleaned and set aside next to the jars of paint resting upon the old wooden desk.

“What in the…?” he breathed out.

“Interesting picture,” said Samantha as she cocked her head to her own right.

Jerry studied the painting, though he did not know what to make of it.

The first picture was of a dark wall covered in old brass or gold wallpaper, that weathered wallpaper bedecked with even rows of dark-red fleur-de-lis. The floor beneath the wall was a simple wood floor of dark wooden boards, the area lit by a single fan lamp shining down from above.

In the center of the wall was a door, a faded, white wooden door with an arched top, little glass windows along that arch. There was a single brass knob embedded within this door, and in the center of the door itself was the carved symbol of a larger fleur-de-lis, one that spanned a good foot in length.

“That door looks kind of familiar,” said his wife. “Huh…”

She shrugged once and then took his hand, pulling him toward the only exit to the little room, the open door to and from the Nook, clearly intent on pulling him away for dinner.

He followed her downstairs to the kitchen, and the smell of hot and waiting food wafted through the air to guide him to its magical source.

“Curry, huh?” he asked as he entered the kitchen.

“What?” asked Samantha. “It’s good!”

He sat down at their small square dining table, eagerly awaiting his meal, and in spite of having done practically nothing just a little while ago, he was suddenly very hungry.

His stomach rumbled from the aroma of curry as his wife prepared him a plate.

“See?” said Samantha. “Somebody’s hungry…”

She set the white plate before him, sticky white rice on one side, the curry itself on the other.

Jerry spooned up some curry, mixed it in with the rice, took up a spoonful, and then eyeballed it.

“This isn’t going to kill me, is it?” he asked.

“It’s just vegetable curry,” said Samantha in a disappointed tone. “I made it Japanese style. It’s just got rice, onions, potatoes, and carrots. It’s not complicated, and it’s good. I mean, other than the curry, it’s only got four ingredients…”

Jerry snorted out a short grunt of laughter.

“What?” asked his wife. “What’s so funny?”

“The number four is the Japanese symbol for death,” smirked Jerry.

Samantha’s face immediately fell, but it was more than that. His wife’s lovely face wilted like a flower that had once been in bloom, a darkening of expression that was so quick, it looked like a deflated tire.

“Jer, don’t say that,” she grimaced. “Please, don’t ever say that again.”

“What?” asked Jerry in confusion. “What did I say? I don’t understand…”

“Just don’t say it,” repeated Samantha. “Don’t say that again.”

He was confused as to the conviction in her voice over the matter. There was a story here, something buried as a secret within his doting wife, though he did not know what that secret was, and he wanted to find out, but he was destined never to do so. No, he absentmindedly popped his spoon into his mouth, and once he had, he immediately forgot about everything else.

“Oh, this is good,” he said as he chewed and swallowed.

He eagerly took up more curry and rice, his mind on nothing else at the moment.

“Oh, this is really good,” he nodded in approval. “Maybe you should add some meat to it next time, though.”

“I can make chicken curry next time…” smiled Samantha.

“Yeah, that sounds really good,” nodded Jerry. “Mm…Oh, yeah…”

His wife grinned as she fixed her own plate, and Jerry knew that, for the moment, everything was fine again.


Jerry closed the open door behind him and walked back to the desk where his new paints, palette, and brushes were.

He still could not figure out how he had painted such a detailed picture in such a short period of time, because Samantha had only taken an hour to cook their dinner, as she’d already had the necessary ingredients on hand. She’d simply had to prepare them.

Nevertheless, he was back in the Nook and ready for more painting, mainly because this development of painting while…falling asleep, zoning out…passing out?—he had no idea—but this development had caused him a little anxiety and more than enough curiosity to continue on to the next picture.

“Let’s just set this up and see what’s next,” he said to himself.

Samantha was downstairs watching TV, and because she usually went to bed around ten, he had about three hours to work on this next picture before turning in as well.

“We’ll just see how fast I can get this one done,” he muttered, “and then we’ll see if it turns out as good as the first one.”

The first picture, depressing as it was, was still far better in quality and detail than he had originally thought it would be, so maybe his wife was right. Maybe he did have a natural eye for painting.

He had taken his first painting off the pad and set it on the bare wooden floor, so now it was time for the second picture, and that second picture was already set up and ready to go.

Jerry took his time setting up his palette with the new set of correct paints, though most of them were the same depressing ones he’d used before.

He moved his chair into position before the easel and took to painting once more, but his thoughts wandered as he did, and then those thoughts went blank as he zoned out altogether minutes into his sojourn into the world of art.


“Jer!” called out his wife. “Jer, wake up!…Jerry!”

Jerry awoke with a start at the sound of Samantha’s voice.

“Sam?” he asked as he stretched and yawned.

“You fell asleep again,” said his wife in mild concern. “Is painting just that relaxing?”

“Oh, wow,” yawned Jerry. “I guess it is…What the heck? What time is it?”

“It’s a quarter till ten,” said his wife. “You must have dozed off after you finished painting…By the way, you’re really fast at these, you know. You’ve already gotten three more done.”

“What?” asked Jerry. “I…I did? I mean, I finished three more? Three?”

He turned to look up at his wife’s smiling face.

“Yeah,” she said in audible encouragement. “You’re a natural!…You laid out the other two next to the first one, and it looks like you’ve just finished up the third.”

Jerry groaned, stood up, and then studied the artwork he had laid out on the bare wooden floor.

He had indeed been busy.

The second painting was almost identical to the first, except for one important detail…The door in the painting was slightly ajar. The now open door in the painting was ajar, but nothing could be seen behind it; what little edge beyond the door that could be seen was just a wall of darkness, nothing more.

The third painting was slightly more disturbing. Like the second, it was identical to the nines…same room, same wallpaper, same door…but unlike the first two, the door in this one was more than just slightly ajar, and there was something else that caught Jerry’s eye within the crack of that open door.

Beyond the door was darkness as within the second painting, but a leg was poking through, someone’s leg, that leg dressed in grey tweed, and the foot at the end of that leg wore a left shoe, a left shoe with a spat to be exact, a black dress shoe with a white top sleeve like one would see in an old-timey, black-and-white film.

Above the leg was a gloved hand, that glove all in grey. It was the right hand of someone, and in that right hand was a black cane, the cane pointing down toward the wood of the floor below, its tip coated in plain brass.

“This must be one of those books where each painting is part of a story,” said Samantha in audible wonder. “I guess you have to paint each one to see the whole thing.”

“Yeah…” replied Jerry uncertainly.

He felt uneasy about these pictures, mainly because he did not remember painting them.

He turned to study the last picture he had supposedly painted, this last one still on the actual easel.

The fourth painting beheld the same room, but the figure stepping into that room was a little farther in. The mysterious figure within the painting was clearly a man, though no face was yet to be identified.

This mystery person was half-in and half-out of the room, stepping through the doorway of darkness into the light, left foot first, his profile dressed within a dapper grey tweed suit. His cane was still in his gloved right hand, but in his left, he held up a black top hat that covered his face entirely, covering it like one would briefly cover their face to avoid having their picture taken.

“These all have professional detail, Jer!” breathed his wife in excitement. “You’ve got real talent!”

Jerry looked over to his paints and palette, but once again, his supplies were already cleaned and ready for use once more, all back upon the old wooden desk he’d taken them from.

“Uh, huh…” he said in even more uncertainty.

“Come on, sleepy head,” she nudged from behind. “As exciting as this discovery is, you’re tired, so let’s hit the sack.”

“Right…” replied Jerry. “Yeah…Yeah, I should probably get some real sleep.”

“Come on,” said Samantha firmly.

She pulled him along until he willingly capitulated, though in truth, he felt a little weirded out by the whole painting enterprise. None of it sat right with him, but if it made Samantha happy, then he would do it.


Jerry awoke to the ringing of the phone.

“I’ll get it,” he grunted, but one look to his left confirmed that his wife was sound asleep in spite of the obnoxious ringing from another room.

He forced himself out of bed and stumbled toward the bedroom door, its shape lit by the hallway light beyond it, and then he exited his sleeping area, an area which he wished to return to at the soonest possible moment. It was still the middle of the night, though exactly what time, he did not know.

He made his way to the sound of the ringing phone, that ringing’s source down the hall, from the Nook, of all places. He walked up to the arched door of the Nook, opened it, and entered the small room in order to receive the annoying call.

He walked into the Nook and up to the old-fashioned phone parked upon the wooden desk next to his paints, brushes, and palette.

The phone in question looked like it had come straight out of the late 1930s. It was an all-black pyramid with a brass dialing wheel, the numbers etched in gold for clear visibility, the actual phone receiver a long black bar with large brass ends that held the speaker and microphone respectively. This thing was most definitely a dinosaur, but it was ringing off the hook, so Jerry answered it.

“Hello?” he asked.

“Mr. Ansel,” came a firm male voice.

This man’s tone was not a tone in question as to who was answering the call, but rather a statement as if the recipient were already known.

“Yes?” asked Jerry in open confusion.

“It appears your debt has become due,” continued the unknown caller, his accent crisp and styled in that of an upper-class British man.

“Debt?” asked Jerry. “What debt?…It’s the middle of the night. What is this about?”

“The hour is irrelevant,” said the caller. “The debt in question was received a month ago, and the time due, though short, has been called to my attention for payment. Therefore, payment is thusly due.”

“That…makes no sense at all,” said Jerry. “I was in the hospital a month ago…Did our insurance not pull through?”

“What did not pull through has nothing to do with ‘insurance,’” replied the caller. “The time in question was 4:44 AM, and because of a mix up in location, your debt was not collected upon the actual due date. Therefore, I shall be by shortly to collect it.”

“Wait, what?” asked Jerry. “I don’t owe any debt…”

“Many, many people have tried to cheat me, Mr. Ansel,” replied the mystery caller. “You are not the first, nor shall you be the last.”

“What?” asked Jerry again. “I have no idea what you’re talking about…”

“Good day, sir,” said the caller.

There was the click of the receiver on the other end and then nothing but a dial tone.

“Hello?” asked Jerry. “Hello?”

He shook his head and hung up the phone. He was tired, he was going back to bed, and more importantly, whatever was going on had nothing to do with him. If a debt collector did stop by in the morning, he’d figure out what was up and deal with it then.

Jerry yawned, exited the Nook, and went back to the bedroom. Samantha was still sound asleep upon entering, so he quietly got back into bed and laid his head upon his pillow, and he was out like a light shortly thereafter.


Jerry snapped awake.

Something had occurred to him that had pulled him from sleep, though how such a thought had taken him away from his nightly rest, he had no idea.

“There’s no phone in the Nook,” he said to himself.

He looked over at the clock, and its crimson, digital numbers read 4:36 AM within their scarlet glow.

It occurred to him that he had been dreaming, but the dream itself was so odd that he felt compelled to get up anyway, if only to check on the room at the end of the hall.

Normally, his dreams were so bizarre that they were nowhere near as mundane as the dream of the phone in the Nook, nor had he ever had a dream of this house before, at least, not since they’d moved in six months ago.

His dreams usually consisted of weird colors in the sky and land along with talking humanoid cats, cyber-ninjas, cartoon octopi, and things like that, so the very mundaneness of a phone call in the Nook was about as odd as it got for him when it came to dreamland memories.

He quietly headed out into the hall, walked to the arched door of the Nook, opened it, flipped on the overhead lamp, and stepped inside. He closed the door behind him and walked up to the old desk, but as he had known all along, there was no phone upon it.

“No phone in here,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Not that we’d have a phone that old…Do they even sell those anymore?…Hmmm…Maybe they make reproductions of them…”

His voice trailed off as his eye caught his latest painting, the fourth painting, its stoic form still hanging upon the old easel. He walked over to the other three paintings upon the floor and studied them with an intensity he had not shown before, because something important was nagging at him, a detail he had not previously noticed.

“Wait a minute…” he breathed out.

He bent down, picked up the first painting, swiveled around, and held it up in front of himself.

It was a match for the door to the Nook.

“What the…?” he breathed out.

The Nook’s door was old and the wood weathered, the paint faded away, but it was the same door, right down to the fleur-de-lis embedded within the center of it. The wallpaper surrounding the door was faded as well, but he could still make out the little dark-red fleur-de-lis upon it, too.

It had never occurred to him to study the door or wallpaper in this little out-of-the-way room…His mind had been elsewhere for obvious reasons.

“No wonder Sam said it looked familiar,” he said shakily.

His skin crawled as an unknown fear hovered over him like a dark cloud.

He stared down at the other two paintings, then turned toward the last one, that one resting upon the easel, but this only heightened his anxiety.

“Then who is this guy in the picture?” he asked himself. “Why is this room in our house in the picture?”

That unknown fear that clouded about him felt like it was suffocating now. Something incredibly strange was going on, and for the life of him, he could not figure it out.

He decided to break protocol and investigate the easel pad itself. He didn’t really want to spoil the surprise for himself by looking at the key in the back of the pad, but he was already freaked out by this insane similarity between the Nook and the paintings, so he decided to cheat anyway.

He put the first painting back down upon the floor and turned his attention toward the easel pad.

“Where did this pad even come from?” he asked as he flipped it open.

He flipped to the back of it, fully intending to look for some copyright information…but he stopped as he studied the finished paintings within the key. All of them, every last one of them, were simple pictures of forest scenes with cute animals. There were no pictures of this room or the strange dapper figure within the paintings.

He felt all of the little hairs on his arms and on the back of his neck stand up as his eyes went wide from the realization of this newer insanity.

“What is going on he…” he began to say, but his sentence died in his throat from an audible disturbance.

There were footsteps coming down the hall, and they were not his wife’s.

He heard the tap, tap, tap of footsteps upon wooden floor, but there was more than that, another type of tap, a discernable tap of a metal tip on wood…like one from a cane.

“No…” whispered Jerry, his face blanching from a sudden and terrible fear. “This isn’t possible…”

The footsteps stopped before the door, the knob upon the arched door turned, and Jerry watched in growing fear as a black cane pushed its way into view through the opening doorway, that cane held by a grey-gloved hand.

This unknown person, this replica of the one from the paintings, stepped into the room after that, his black top hat carefully concealing his face, but that obscurement did not last long.

This unknown stranger flipped his hat onto his head to where his face was fully visible.

Jerry opened his mouth and screamed at the sight of the intruder, a high-pitched and shrill scream, something completely unbecoming of him, a scream filled with pure, unadulterated, and heart-stopping terror.


Samantha tried to compose herself long enough to speak to the officer in front of her.

The paramedics had just left the Nook with Jerry on a stretcher, though his body was covered with a white sheet. She was glad for that sheet, too, because the look on his pale face when she had found him…

“Can you tell me anything else?” asked the male police officer.

“I found him in here,” said Samantha in a wavering voice. “I woke up because I’d heard him shout or scream or something.”

“Do you remember what time?” asked the officer.

“The clock said 4:44,” choked out Samantha. “I remember it because I thought it was odd.”

“Odd how?” asked the policeman.

“4:44 is the time they were was going to declare Jerry dead on the operating table during his surgery,” explained Samantha. “He somehow pulled through when they were resuscitating him.”

“Uh, huh,” said the officer. “That’s…That is odd…What…uhhh…What was he doing in here? Do you know?”

“I think he got up to paint,” replied Samantha. “I’d set up this area for him to paint, because I didn’t want him to…to…strain himself…”

She broke down and wept, and it took her a couple of minutes just to compose herself all over again.

“He…He was painting…” repeated Samantha. “These are the pictures on the floor, and this one is new…”

She motioned toward a fifth painting laid out next to the others.

In the painting was the room as before, but a gaunt and dapper figure dressed in a grey tweed suit was standing before the open doorway, that doorway leading to darkness.

This mysterious man held a black cane pointing toward the floor in his right, grey-gloved hand, and in his left gloved hand was a black top hat which he held up in front of his head to cover the details of his face in their entirety.

In the pocket of this mystery figure’s inner grey vest hung a gold pocket watch on a gold chain, though the watch itself was not open.

“So he painted these?” asked the police officer.

“Yes,” sniffed Samantha. “He was doing a paint-by-numbers pad. It’s on the easel…”

She swiveled to look at the easel, the pad still upon it, but the red of its cover indicated that it was closed, but then she realized that what she was seeing was the inside of the cover, and then she realized something else, something far more important.

The easel itself was turned around to face the back wall.

“This is…This is actually the back of it,” she stammered. “He must have turned it around…”

She decided to step to the other side of it rather than exert the effort to turn the whole thing back around. She did not want to disturb anything about the scene until the officers okayed it, and that included the easel.

Samantha stepped around the easel to view the pad, but she sucked in her breath as horror swept over her upon seeing what was actually there.

Jerry had painted one last picture.

In the painting was the gaunt and dapper figure as before, but this time, the picture was of an actual close up, painted to where the viewer could only see the top half of the mystery person, but that mysterious person’s face was more than enough to catch anyone’s attention.

This terrible and gaunt figure wore the black top hat on his head…but that head was nothing more than a soulless ivory skull, that skull hedged with lipless teeth in a fetching grin and eyeless sockets that stared at nothing.

But even this deathly face was not as horrifying to her as the second and third faces within the terrible painting…the face in its pocket watch, and the face of the actual watch.

In this awful figure’s pinched fingers of its gloved left hand was the gold chain, the watch dangling from the end of that chain, and the lid of the watch was open, that lid popped up and painted to resemble a mirror, and in that mirror was Jerry’s screaming face, a look of pure and pale terror upon him, the exact same expression his corpse wore right now.

The open face of the gold pocket watch was readily visible below that reflective lid, that actual watch painted in such detail that the miniature hands of it could be still be read, and those tiny hands read 4:44, that ominous time locked into a permanent, painted place.

Paint by Numbers Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott

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