Framed

Kirbee Veroneau

Henry
was ten years old, rambunctious and invincible. He had a vast imagination. He
loved to play make-believe games and explore all day long when he wasn’t at school. He loved stories, and
fairytales were his favorites; he loved reading about castles, dragons,
knights, and damsels in distress. He would often be found roaming around near
his home in Long Island, brandishing a stick that he would undoubtedly call his
sword and chasing a fierce dragon that would undoubtedly be his incredibly
gentle Golden Retriever, Max. On the bright, clear Saturday afternoon, Henry
ran through the forest near his home. His mother had made a crown of twigs and
leaves for him that he wore with such pride it could’ve been made of gold. His light blonde
hair shone brightly in the sun and his clear blue eyes bore the expression of
hunger. Hunger for adventure, that is. He tapped on the trees with his long
stick as he ran farther and farther, not paying attention to exactly where he
was going until he came across a beautiful cottage. Max was panting, loping
lazily far behind him. When Max finally caught up, Henry turned and looked at
his golden friend. He pivoted back to look at the cottage, which was decorated
with a huge garden, filled with flowers and vegetables. The house itself was a
pale yellow with white shutters, and Henry thought it looked like something in
one of his stories. An iron gate encircled it, and so naturally, Henry was
determined to climb it.

Neither
walls, nor gates, nor anything else could keep Henry out, as his mother had
learned with a resigned smile when he was merely six years old. She had barricaded
Henry’s birthday presents in
their basement, stacking as many things as she could find in front of the
presents so as to be sure Henry wouldn’t come across them while he was playing. Henry, of course, had
viewed this as an obstacle course and climbed through the multiple chairs,
tables, and various other junk items that had been in the basement until he got
to his presents. Unfortunately, he had knocked things down on his way through
and was unable to find a way out. His mother heard him shouting and when she
came running, she smiled to herself. “You silly boy,” she would always say.
Henry remembered it fondly. He loved when he outsmarted his mother, because she
was the smartest lady in the whole world. Henry smiled and knew he must climb
over that gate. Knights were adventurous after all, weren’t they? He was going
on an adventure.

And
so it was with some effort that Henry hauled himself over the gate, swung his
legs over the iron bars and let go, landing with a thump onto one of the flower
beds. He stood up, brushing the dirt off of himself and when he looked up, he
noticed a man standing there with a trowel in a gloved hand. He wondered if the
man had been standing there the whole time. Surely not, no one outsmarted
Henry, after all. Did they? The man looked old, with graying hair and
lots of wrinkles. His eyes were a deep blue and he found himself looking
anywhere but at them. Henry felt very uncomfortable standing before him, as if
he had done something very bad. He half expected his mother to come up behind
him and shake her head playfully saying, “You silly, silly boy.” But she did
not. He twisted his fingers together nervously and stared at his feet. He
turned his head and looked at Max who was whimpering behind the gate. His
cowardly dragon. The man cleared his throat and Henry snapped his attention
back to him. The man then said, “You’ve ruined my flowers.” He did not seem angry; it appeared to be
more of an observation, like it’s raining or today would be a nice day for a picnic.

Henry
stared back down at his toes and said in a small voice, “I’m sorry.” There were many things his
mother could say, but she could never call him impolite.

“What
are we going to do about this, then, hm?” The man said in the same nonchalant
tone. Henry shrugged. Then the man said, “How about this? I have a hobby of
painting, so if you let me paint you, I’ll call it even, and you can run along home. I haven’t had a person to paint in years now. You’d be doing me a favor. I’m a lonely man.”

Henry nodded, sneaking a glance up at
the man’s face. He met his
gaze with those piercing blue eyes and Henry was forced to look away.

“What’s your name then, son?”

“I’m Henry.”

“Henry,
that’s a nice, strong name.
Yes, I think you’ll do just
fine. I’m Mr. Calhoun.” There was a pause that
seemed to go on for hours before Mr. Calhoun added, “Here, why don’t you follow me inside and we’ll get started. It’ll
just take an hour or two.” The old man placed a very firm hand on Henry’s
shoulder, steering him inside the house and closing the door carefully behind
him. Henry remembered his mother saying something about not trusting strangers,
but surely that only applied to normal boys. Henry was a knight; he could
defend himself if need be. A small voice in the back of his head told him to
run but Henry pushed it away; he would not be rude. Knights weren’t rude. “Chivalry is dead,” his
mother would say sometimes at the end of a particularly bad day after she’d had sip or two from her Grown-Up
Cup. Not with Henry, no sir. Chivalry was very much alive.

Inside,
the house was very bright. Sunlight poured in from all over, yet even in the
warmth, Henry found that he had goosebumps. Paintings were hung up all over the
walls, containing vast landscapes and towering buildings. Henry gaped at the
skill of the man. He wished he was good at something. “Everyone has talents,”
his mother would tell him, “but not everyone knows what they are right away.”
The more he thought on it, the more he missed her. He wanted her to cradle him
in her arms and read him a story. Max would lay at their feet and Henry would
say, “You are my best friends,” as he ran his fingers through Max’s thick coat, tightly nestled in his
mother’s arms. His mother
would smile sadly at this, for reasons he did not understand. He would kiss her
on the cheek and she would hug him tightly. Sometimes, she would cry and hug
him so tightly that he almost couldn’t breathe. Right now, he wanted to cry and hug her so tightly that she
couldn’t breathe.

Henry
didn’t know why, but he
wanted to leave this place. Mr. Calhoun opened the basement door with a slight
creak and Henry looked toward him.

“Come
on, son, the materials are down here,” Mr. Calhoun said and began to descend
the stairs. Henry followed cautiously and as soon as he was all the way down,
he saw the dozens of paintings hung all over the walls, just like upstairs.
These were of people, children mostly. As Henry looked up at them, examining
the incredible detail, they seemed almost too real. The boy he was looking at in the painting had light
blonde hair like him and was sitting just outside of the cottage. A breeze
appeared to be blowing through one of the trees, and Henry noticed that the boy’s hair seemed to almost blow in
the wind. “This way, Henry,” Mr. Calhoun said, before Henry had time to explain
what he had seen. He saw that Mr. Calhoun was holding an easel, brushes and
some paint. His lips were drawn in such a smile that Henry was reminded of a
crocodile. He turned and followed the man into the center of the room. There
was a stool placed there, and Mr. Calhoun motioned for him to sit down. Mr.
Calhoun sat down across from him, preparing himself to paint.

“Turn
your head a bit to the side there Henry, yes that’s it,” he said. Henry had turned his head,
and he could see the children now, staring back at him through the paintings.
He felt very unnerved. They appeared distraught, their eyes wide and their
mouths turned down in frowns. Some even looked like they were screaming. He
glanced back at the blonde boy he had been studying before and was surprised to
see that the boy had moved. Now, his slight smile was turned down in a
look of disgust. He was standing, and his face seemed to take up almost all of
the frame. It almost reminded him of one of his stories.

Henry
blanched and exclaimed, “That boy…he moved!” He turned his head back to look at Mr. Calhoun.

The
old man looked angry for only a second before his features smoothed back over. “You have quite the
imagination, Henry. Come, why don’t
we go outside?  The lighting will be much
better, don’t you think?”

“Okay.”
Henry stood up and was almost to the stairs when Mr. Calhoun called him back.

“Henry?
Can you grab that stool and bring it upstairs?” Henry nodded and doubled back
to pick up the stool. He grabbed it, hoisting it up and ascending the stairs.
He could hear Max barking from outside, a loud howling sound. Max never barked
like that, maybe something was wrong; maybe he should go check on him. Just as
Henry was about to go out the front door to check on Max, Mr. Calhoun looked
down at him and smiled that crocodile smile again. Then he said, “Henry, go out
through that door there,” he pointed at the back door, “I think we’ll go out onto the patio in the
back yard. I’ll be right
there, I just want to grab a glass of lemonade. Would you like some?” Henry
shook his head and quietly replied, “No, thank you.” His mother had taught him
never to accept food or drink from strangers. What if Mr. Calhoun was an evil
wizard, trying to fatten him up so he could eat him like in Hansel and
Gretel
? Instead, he walked to the back door, opened it, and went outside.
He could still hear Max barking when he sat the stool down on the patio. After
what seemed like a long tim, Mr. Calhoun reemerged, and Henry noticed that Max
was no longer barking. Mr. Calhoun wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead, and
Henry noticed that he had no lemonade in his hand. His mother always told him
how observant he was, how smart he was. It made him feel like a detective when
he noticed things that others didn’t,
which was quite often as it just so happened. But today he was not a detective;
today he was a knight. Even so, his stomach tightened, and he felt very nervous
again. Mr. Calhoun set up his easel and mixed his acrylic paint together,
creating some very vivid colors.

“To
the side again, that’s it.”
Mr. Calhoun said as Henry turned his head to the side once more.

“Mr. Calhoun?”

“Hm?”
Mr. Calhoun said, his eyes on his paint.

“Where’s Max?”

Mr. Calhoun licked his lips and stopped
mixing his paint for a moment before he looked
up at Henry again, “Max?”

“My
dragon. Well, only he’s not
really a dragon. He’s my dog,
Max. Mom always laughs and says he’s a cowardly dragon, but he’s not.”

Mr.
Calhoun smiled, only it didn’t
quite reach his eyes. “Oh, Max. Maybe he went home.”

Henry pondered this. Max had never left
him before, never gone home without him. Cowardly as he might be, he was the
most loyal dragon — dog — in
the whole world. Henry said nothing for a while until he asked, “Where is your
lemonade?”

“My
— oh — I drank it inside. Why, would you like some?”

Henry
shook his head again and then, remembering his manners, said, “No, thank you.”

“You’re a very well-mannered young man,
aren’t you?”

Henry
nodded, “Yes, my mother taught me all my manners so I can have  chivalry.”

“Oh
yeah? Chivalry, is it? And where’s
your mother now?”  

Henry
shrugged, “Home, I guess.”

Mr. Calhoun nodded, his mind on his
work, and the subject dropped. Henry looked out over the yard and saw the wind
rustling through the trees. This reminded him of the boy in the painting and he
asked, “Mr. Calhoun?”

Weary
of questions, the man replied, “Hm?”

“Why
did those children in the paintings move? I saw them.”

Mr. Calhoun stopped and raised his eyes
to meet Henry’s. He had a
hungry look in those piercing blue eyes that the boy had not seen before and in
response all he said was, “Make sure you hold very still, now. You’re going to make a lovely addition
to my — ah — collection.”

Leave a Reply