The Eyes of the Future art exhibit was meant to introduce incoming Appalachian Art Institute students to the community, and let the art-loving residents of Hidden Springs discover up-and-coming talent before anyone else.
The most exciting aspect for Iris was choosing three of her true paintings to go along with the six her teachers suggested.
Other students and even the faculty warned Iris she’d likely be bored to tears and not sell a thing. She was pleasantly surprised to sell everything except the true paintings. She wasn’t surprised people barely glanced at those. Not one person asked about them until a soft, rich voice spoke from behind her.
“It’s a real shame these aren’t for sale.”
A small woman stood in front of a large canvas, one Iris had only painted a few days before. She wore typical student garb. Faded blue jeans, brown hiking boots, and a hunter green sweatshirt from the law school in Bountyfield, a couple of hours away. Dark blonde hair hung in a thick braid down her back.
“They are for sale,” Iris said, standing. She was a few inches taller than the mysterious woman, and at once self-conscious about how much her own black hair provided an unruly contrast. “No one’s interested in them, though. They’re not as good.”
When the woman turned, Iris smiled despite her desire to play the cool, unconcerned artist. She was beautiful, with light brown eyes and full lips curved in a mischievous smile of her own.
“You’re mistaken there. The others are nice enough,” she said, then a delightful blush spread across her cheeks. “I don’t mean that the way it sounds. They’re technically just fine. But these are amazing. Is this one your family?”
Iris frowned, examining the painting. The background was broad strokes of various shades of green, the swirling patterns overlapping and contrasting. Four distinct oval areas in the middle were black, red, brown, and yellow. Several smaller splashes of the same colors ranged throughout the canvas.
She hadn’t named that one. She hardly ever named the true paintings.
Family settled into place in her belly, warm and comforting like hot soup on a cold day.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Iris said. “Why did you say that? What do you see?”
“Well, I think it’s obvious.” She pointed to the larger colors. “These are the parents, or adults who go together somehow. The smaller ones are the children. Is that not right?”
Iris shrugged, shaking her head. That was a lie, though. She had no idea where the colors might come from, but every single brush stroke finally made sense. She’d never imagined such a huge group of people all around her, but Iris felt that desire in every part of her now.
“Almost everyone in my family has black or gray hair, so I don’t think it’s them. Feels right somehow, though.”
“Your future family, then. I’m Gena Wallace.” Gena turned back to the paintings. “The more I think about it, buying these doesn’t seem right. They’re pretty personal, aren’t they?”
“Iris Rutherford, but I guess you see that on the name card.” Iris fussed with the white tag pinned to her shirt, not used to feeling so flustered and awkward talking about her art. In that area if nowhere else, she was normally confident. “I don’t know if they’re personal, but hardly anyone ever wants to talk about them.”
“I think they’re the only ones in this whole place worth talking about. What about this one?”
The smaller canvas, only two feet square, disturbed Iris more than she cared to admit. The background ranged from dark red to bright orange. The effect was close enough to flames and blood that even Iris thought it should be warm to the touch. Dozens of gray slashes, many dug deeply into the thick colors underneath, seemed to spill from the middle of the top of the painting all the way to the edges.
“No idea,” Iris said, rubbing her upper arms. “Makes me a little anxious even though I painted it.”
“Of course it does,” Gena said, turning back to the painting and nodding. “If it were bigger, there’d be thousands of dead bodies. Maybe millions. All coming right toward you.”
Iris gasped and stepped closer. Her fingers brushed against Gena’s arm, but neither of them moved away. That word, dead, dropped like a ball of ice through her middle. It was no less true than family. She wanted to avoid the unknown slaughter more than she wanted to be part of that family.
Iris knew in her gut the slaughter was coming anyway.
“How are you doing that?” she said, looking into Gena’s lovely brown eyes. “I don’t even know what they mean. I just wake up with them in my head and I have to get them out.”
“I don’t know, seems obvious to me. Listen, why don’t you mark them as sold. We can work out the price over dinner if you want.”
Iris knew, in a flash of understanding as clear as any of the visions she woke up with, that Gena would understand a lot more than her paintings.