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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1919135-Painter-of-Dreams
Rated: ASR · Fiction · Contest Entry · #1919135
The scenes she paints are real to every sense. Entry for Short Shots, Feb. 2013
"It truly is a fascinating phenomenon," Dr. Galen said, though Dr. Reil still wasn't sure what "it" was. From all the neuroscientist's rambling, Reil had so far only gathered that he was to see a female subject who painted landscapes, and that Galen was far more excited than he ought to have been over such a simple thing. "We brought another psychiatrist in before, just to be absolutely sure it wasn't a mass hallucination. He couldn't explain it either, but he agreed that mass hallucination doesn't make sense."

Reil had trouble following the way Galen carried on; so little of what he said made any sense. It seemed more like the babbling of some troubled patient, but the clear acceptance from those they passed in the halls – some who even waved – banished the errant thought.

They came at last to a small viewing room with a curtain over the one-way glass window. As Galen flipped on a dim light and reached for the curtain’s cord, he said, "I bet you don't really understand all this. It's extremely difficult to fully comprehend until you see it."

The curtain opened, and for a moment, Reil was startled. The scenery distracted him from the female subject; all around her were ancient weeping willows, their branches drooping into an enormous reflective pond. The woman herself sat upon the rocks in a gown and red sweater, one hand moving over a large pad of paper seated on her lap.

With a short laugh and a smirk to cover his surprise, Reil said softly, "I didn't realize you had room for such a big garden in the middle of your facility."

"We don't," Galen said. When Reil looked over, the neuroscientist was grinning wide. With a nod he continued, "As you probably noticed, the hall we just came from could not fit around that. There, that tree would be right in the middle of the hall. This is just a regular room, like all the others."

The psychiatrist furrowed his brow and looked back and forth between Galen and the view through the window. The other man's rambling was finally beginning to make sense, but in the most nonsensical way. "But..."

"As I told you, Dr. Reil, the subject creates landscapes. We have been trying to determine how, but we don’t have enough information yet, and she is refusing to cooperate any further." Galen sighed. "It is far too incredible to give up on. That's why we'd like you to talk to her."

"This is some sort of prank, right? You know this is the sort of thing that can cost you your license."

Galen crossed his arms and frowned. "You can see for yourself that the dimensions of this sector would not accommodate this garden. If you think it's a screen, the door in is right over there. We would prefer you not to enter until you are prepared to speak with the subject, but I don't think you’ll accept it until you experience it yourself. Not that I blame you."

Again Reil looked back and forth, perplexed. Curiosity got the better of him though, and he walked to the door. He hesitated before turning the knob, and looked back to Galen, only to see a stone-serious expression. Shaking his head, he turned the knob and opened the door.

The garden was there. Soft moss gave way under his feet, and he could smell the trees and water and soil. Reaching out to touch a leaf, he found it there, as real as anything he’d ever seen. He looked around, and had he still been harboring doubts about how impossible the size and location was, he could be nothing but certain of it now.

Reil looked toward the woman. In the time he'd been examining his surroundings, she had repositioned herself so that her back was squarely toward him. He cleared his throat and stated loudly enough to be heard at the distance, "Hello. My name is Dr. Reil. May I know yours?"

The woman stayed silent.

"May I come over and talk with you, miss...?"

"No."

The word was so sudden and hard that, for a moment, Reil wondered if perhaps he’d simply heard a rock fall. "Pardon?"

"No," she repeated sharply. "Go away."

Reil nodded. "Very well. I hope you have a lovely day, miss."

Despite how much he wished to examine the strange world around him, the psychiatrist knew better than to force his presence where it wasn't wanted, especially so early on. He turned and left through the same door he'd entered, and there met the amused face of Dr. Galen.

"Her name is Maya Dali, and... that was about as much as she says anymore," Galen said. "You're not giving up already, are you?"

"Not at all," Reil assured. When he looked through the window again, he noticed she was looking at the door. "But I'm sure that, if nothing else, it'll be nice for her to know she has some control over her own life. So, I was told I would be given her files when I arrived?"

-------


Despite being much better prepared the next day, results were about the same – as for the days following. Each day, he went in and introduced himself, and each day she either refused to speak or made it clear she wished to be left alone. Only the scene really changed – a nighttime desert with a starry sky, a meadow in a forest, a dim wetland with fireflies dotting the view....

Meanwhile, Reil busied himself gathering information. He discussed the woman's handling with Galen and others assigned to study her, and was disappointed but unsurprised that in their excitement, they had treated her more like an object than a person. There were also his old studies to sort through and research more in-depth, such as imagination and dreams, but he could find little of use.

She'd stopped turning away after a few days, but it wasn't until almost a week had passed that, just as he was about to leave, the woman asked, "What... what do you see?"

He blinked, glanced around, and described, "A warm, white-sand beach. Almost no clouds in a sunny, blue sky. It's quite different from the dreary rain outside right now."

Moments passed in silence before she asked, "Why do you keep coming and going? And why are you so nice?"

As he considered his answer, he first asked, "May I come over, so I don't have to shout?"

Again the woman was silent, and for the first time, her hand stopped moving across her paper. She still didn't look up, but she finally said, "Yes."

With a warm smile, Reil walked over to sit by her. Now that he was close enough, he saw that it was a paintbrush in her hand, and that the painting was the very scene they sat in now – as her file had mentioned.

"That is a very good painting," he said softly. She pulled it away. "Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. I keep coming because I'd like to get to know you. I keep going because I want to respect your space. If that's nice, well... really, it's just how I think people should be treated."

Once again, the woman said nothing, and soon returned to her painting. Moments passed, and just as Reil was about to ask another question, she stated softly, "I'm Maya."

-------


Galen was thrilled to hear that Maya was finally talking, and kept prodding at Reil, asking when she would be ready to resume testing. It was all Reil could do to keep the neuroscientist no closer than the viewing room, occasionally posing questions to fish for the information Galen wanted so badly. At first, she only spoke about how much she hated the treatment she'd received as a "science experiment." In time, she occasionally mentioned her family and friends, the places she wanted to visit, or how her art classes had affected the way she painted.

Maya never looked at Reil directly, and rarely lifted her eyes from the paper at all; when she did, she only frowned. She often asked when she would be allowed to leave, even pleaded with Reil to talk the scientists into letting her go. When he finally explained that he couldn't, she refused to speak with him for four days.

On the fifth, she only spoke up because he stepped on an uneven stone and fell. That was the first time he'd seen her stand, as well, and he was quick to assure her that he was alright. The concern was still clear in her eyes when Maya saw the gash in his leg, though. Reil promised he'd be back once he had it cleaned up, and whispered to the others to be polite as they cleaned up the bit of blood left in her room.

There was no scenery when Reil returned later that day. Maya lay in a bed, in a warm, simple room, staring at the ceiling. Paintings covered the walls, and the psychiatrist recognized many of them as the scenes he had experienced while talking with her.

"Hello again, Maya. Everything okay?" he asked, wondering if perhaps she'd taken the fault of his injury on herself.

A moment passed, and rather than answer, she asked, "How's your leg?"

"It'll be alright. The nurse expects it to heal up just fine."

He watched as she closed her eyes, breathed deeply in and out, then resumed staring at the ceiling. Before he could ask again if she was okay, she said, "I've been hating you all this whole time."

Reil moved closer to sit on the edge of her bed and asked gently, "Why?"

"I thought everyone was trying to prank me at first. Even when the scientists took me, I didn't believe what everyone was saying. But you all really see it, don't you? You all see the landscapes."

"Well, yes," he answered, confused. "That's why you're here. They're trying to understand how you do it."

A moment passed as Maya's eyes became glossy and wet, and she stated plainly, "I can't see them. I only ever see this room. I imagine it, and I see the paint and the paper, but I'm always in this stupid room."

The confession was baffling. How could she not see them, when everyone else could so plainly? How could she, the artist, the apparent source of the images, be immune?

"I'm sorry. I don't want to talk anymore."

-------


The next day, as Reil was on his way to see Maya, a voice over the intercom called for emergency personnel. When he recognized her room number, he ran, pushing his way through responders by providing his credentials.

Her room was normal, but for the torn paintings and Maya, crumpled and bleeding on the floor. A scientist who Reil recognized as the one on shift to watch the woman sat off in a corner, eyes wide as Galen frantically questioned him. Medics worked to understand how Maya's bones had been shattered, trying to figure out how to move her and stop the bleeding without causing further harm.

Reil knelt near her head and called her name, trying to get her to focus and stay conscious. Clouded eyes searched until they landed on him, and the corners of her mouth curled into a faint smile. Sounding almost thankful, Maya whispered, "I finally see it."

Moments later, a medic declared her dead. Reil sat back, shook his head, then looked around, trying to find some explanation. Not far from where the woman lay was the only intact painting, a strange yet beautiful view from a cliff overlooking the ocean, waves stained orange and red from the setting sun as they crashed into jagged rocks at the cliff's base.

Word count: 1,969
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