There was paint splattered on the floor by his feet. He contemplated how heavy his eyelids had become, and how heavy the brush in his hand felt. He struggled to put something, anything on the empty canvas in front of him. He tried to imagine his first brushstroke, to visualize a line of blue or green or striking red breaking up the monotonous white that seemed to stretch for miles in front of him. He felt his brush take on another ten pounds of weight as his mind drew a blank.
His deadline was drawing near. He was supposed to be unveiling his latest masterpiece at an art show in the morning, but his masterpiece thus far amounted to an empty canvas filled with an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and self-hatred. If he could harness these emotions and turn them into something for the public and critics to look at, to ooh and ahh and rave over, that would be one thing. But these thoughts and feelings refused to take form in his mind, opting instead to taunt and tease him. He sat in front of his canvas and bided his time, long having given up on producing anything, and instead trying to come to terms with his failure as an artist.
His eyelids finally grew too heavy, falling down in front of his eyes and blocking out the sight of the empty, mocking canvas.
A black line fell straight down, dividing the nothingness. Four more black lines branched off of the first, suggesting long, spindly arms and legs for the headless torso that was taking form. The limbs ended in confused curves and spirals, flickering shadows where the hands and feet should have been. In a few small flicks of the brush, coattails sprouted from a slender waist, framing seemingly endless thighs and calling attention to the creature’s sexlessness. A few more strokes implied a collar where the neck should have been. And finally, a head began to take form. A single elliptical motion gave it shape. The form was fleshed out with shadows, highlights and endless detailing. At the end of it all: there was no face. There was the implication of a face — the indents, the cheekbones, the jawline, but the creature had no eyes, no mouth, no nose. Somehow it still stared, and it still smiled.
His eyes snapped open, and he uttered a startled shout that was cut short by the realization that it had only been a dream. The canvas before him was every bit as blank as it had been when he dozed off, however long ago that had been. The nightmarish creature that had taken form in his restless mind was still tucked safely away in the world of his imagination, though the memory of its features was still fresh and vivid in his memory. For an instant, he was tempted to bring the creature to life on the canvas; he had found his inspiration, so why let it slip away? As soon as he began to lift his brush, however, his heart was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. He lowered his hand once more.
He was perfectly awake when a peculiar darkness began stealing over the blank canvas before him. It climbed from the bottom of the frame up toward the top, the silhouette of a smooth, featureless head followed by an all-too-familiar pointed collar which gave way to a withered husk of a ribcage. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up in hackles as he slowly realized that what was stealing over the canvas was not paint. It was a shadow. He tried to scream, but fingers like snakes curled around his throat and ended the sound before it began.
The artist was never seen again. Popular conjecture was that after completing his magnus opum, he had retired to a tropical island somewhere, to spend the rest of his days painting beaches and sunsets. It was understandable, one critic opined — his final masterpiece was so clearly a work of raw emotional intensity that a permanent vacation was merited. For a few months following the show, pundits wrote that no painter had ever gone out on a stronger note than this. The painting, composed of a series of masterfully overlapping red splatters, would go on to be cited as the finest modern example of an artist putting his life on the canvas.