This is the beginning of a short story I was working on three years ago. It was inspired by a dream, and I may still finish it someday.
The Mirrored Canvas
I never actually saw the painting myself. The closest I ever got to it, before an angry mob destroyed it and half of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, was one hallway away, where a kindly old grandmother from Revere tried to hit me with a fire ax. My name is James Buchanan, formerly of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and this is my story about the short life of Tycho Westerian and his masterpiece, The Mirrored Canvas.
Tycho Westerian was born twenty years ago in the small New Hampshire town of Center Strafford. His parents were unremarkable by most standards; his father owned a small All-Terrain Vehicle dealership and his mother was a high school teacher. Tycho had a normal childhood until the age of four, when he was diagnosed as suffering from Pervasive Personality Disorder, a condition similar to Autism. He would seem normal during some social situations but could not properly adjust to the majority of them. Unable to afford special schooling, the Westerians struggled to find a way to address Tycho’s needs without burning themselves out.
When Tycho turned ten years old all of his symptoms disappeared, literally overnight. His parents awoke to find a perfectly well-adjusted boy with a sharp wit and a sense of humor. While not unheard of in the psychology world, Tycho’s recovery was important enough to receive at least two articles in the appropriate journals. Soon after his minor celebrity status faded, Tycho discovered that he had a keen eye for art. His talent was immediately evident and it wasn’t long before the word “prodigy” began to be whispered. His classic style led some critics to call him “the next Michelangelo.” Used to being in the public eye, Tycho all but ignored the buzz around his work. It was said that he would sequester himself for days at a time during each distinct project.
In his eighteenth year, Tycho began work on a piece that he would call The Mirrored Canvas. By then he had the luxury of a private studio, and for six months he worked on that piece. His former girlfriend would later tell me that while his personality didn’t change during that time, she couldn’t help but feel like he was setting himself up for a mental breakdown. She was wrong, at least insofar as who eventually went nuts. Their relationship did not survive the birth of that painting, although as far as I can tell Tycho made a valiant attempt to save it.
After that turbulent half-year, Tycho revealed his work. It got a more vigorous reception than some extremely controversial works I might mention that featured the debasement of religious symbols, although there was nothing of that sort here. The image itself was simply of a crowd of people staring forward, forlorn or expressionless, rendered in oil paints on a 8’x10′ canvas. People likened it to images of the holocaust or Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before too long it was decided that the Museum of Fine Arts was the only space that could accommodate the volume of viewers. And there were a lot of them, even though the consensus was that the piece was “highly disturbing.”
Even before the painting had become a must-see among art lovers and the pretentious journalists that responded to them, certain unique properties of the work had become apparent. Most obvious was the inability of anyone to obtain a decent photograph of the painting. Traditional film came out black, and digital cameras offered nothing but motion-blurred pictures. A steady stream of professional photographers attempted to record the work, each insisting that their predecessor was an idiot, and each failing. It wasn’t until someone thought to take a picture with an infrared camera that a decent result was obtained, and that was… well, that bit of the story will fit better in the narrative.
Amongst the humans who had no trouble viewing the painting there was another controversy. People disagreed on the number of figures represented in the work. Nobody could agree on whether there were 46 figures or 47. There were no figures half in frame or far in the background or anything like that, so the count should not have been subjective. One thing that everyone who viewed the painting agreed upon, however, was that one of the figures was a dead ringer for themselves.
Three months after The Mirrored Canvas was made public, Tycho Westerian disappeared. That’s where I come in.