Tales from the Gallery : The First Image : Ventricle

I started off down a crimson corridor to the left. It turned right and ended in a cross way. I chose another corridor. Then another, and another. Thus I wandered for an indefinite space of time through the crimson maze that for each turn proved only more intricate and myself only more lost. I began to worry whether I would return in time to heal the eye and re-instate its glitter – for eyes are supposed to do that, aren’t they? One tends to forget. Indeed, I began to worry whether I ever would find my way out of the labyrinth, should I succeed in finding a remedy.

Finally, I came upon a room of great space. It was a fanciful imitation of a lava grotto. There were stalactites and stalagmites in all shapes and sizes and pools of bubbling red lava. The walls, floor and ceiling had jagged surfaces and all was bathed, as in the corridors before, in a crimson light, but of a softer shade. It was a quaint, yet, at the same time, homely place. I dipped a hand in a lava pool and the thick fluid enclosed it cosily. There was a familiar air about the place that I could not quite put my finger on.

Having dodged my way through pools and stalagmites, I found myself at the base of a dark staircase with broad steps that led up far beyond the limits of my sight. I ascended.

At the top was a large, dimly lit, square room. Each of its four concrete-grey walls were adorned with an arras. The one above the portal through which I had entered portrayed creatures of the night in a murky woodland clearing. Among the trees, sinister shadows slipped to and fro and a multitude of eyes darted from within the foliage. Here and there were seen the gnarled, claw-like hands of some unmentionable race gripping trunks or branches of trees. To one side, at the edge of the woods, a werewolf with the scattered remains of its last prey and, aloof, the silhouette of a raven perched, the moon shining through the hole in its wing. In the centre of the clearing a band of Little People played their wild games around a fire. I liked it.

The motif upon my right was a Panic feast. Pan sat in the centre upon a blossoming rock, playing his syrinx; his disciples all about, under and over him. Satyrs and silens, rough and up to no good, the fair spirits of the trees, meadows and waters, up to pretty much the same, centaurs, a river deity, clad in nothing but freshwater plants, and Silenos, cheeks blooming, with a wooden goblet adorned with acorns in his hand, drinking. The sun shone brightly; there were no shadows, only colours. I’d swear that Pan for an instant turned to me and winked. I liked that too.

Opposite me a laughing, handsome Robin Hood and his Merry Men were having a memorable meal in the green. They were all there: Little John and Will Scarlet, bickering over a joint of lamb, Alan-A-Dale tenderly stringing his instrument, his facial expression showing a man remote in thought, his impish eyes a man remote to the same, and Friar Tuck with his arms folded across his substantial waist and apparently belching contentedly. Would that I were there.

The final arras to the left showed the ocean. A great shark dominated the scenery, powerful and regal, its white belly reflecting the changes in the ocean surface as the sun pierced it in cascades of brilliance. Behind the predator, schools of shimmering fish could be glimpsed like a marvellous, fleeting fabric of bright colours and silvers. Below and beyond a rich bed of coral spread, alive with the most bizarre and fabulous occupants. I could have stared at it all day.

In the centre of the room was a square black pit, just barely a yard on each side. I stepped forth to its rim and peered in. I could make nothing of it at first.

All of a sudden, a pale, silent shape passed swiftly underneath. I feared the dark and the unknown presence, yet I was aware that it was the only way forward. So I plunged.

What I saw down there, I shall not relate in detail – the ghosts were mine. Behind the fog lay a cold and a decay that should not exist in such places; a few forts stood still tall in the morass, valiant and resilient, but their pillars were cracked and crumbling. What had once dwelt there had been reduced to ghastly forms, passive and lingering, but not without rancour. Small vessels were thrown to wind, their occupants gazing into the blank horizon in silent horror.

I shall neglect no more … if I can.

Later, I made my way back to the eye, and saw that it had been restored. I saw then that it had not been a painting, but a mirror in which my own eye had been reflected.

On the way out, I noticed an inscription above the entrance to the gallery. It said: ‘Do not neglect to review the nature of your being at frequent interval lest you be unexpectedly disturbed by unpleasant discoveries’ and was signed “Varla Mundalj”.

I ascended the steps, entered the fog and, as I travelled back, I watched it clear.

The gallery is always open.

© 1994, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2010, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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