The Painted Wall: Hillary Kiffer

I’d like to share this short story I recently wrote. This little story would have made an awesome Twilight Zone episode. I did the illustration with a Pilot G2 ballpoint pen on 1×17 white cardstock. The story is only 2200 words long.

The Painted Wall

by Kurt Brugel

Hillary Kiffer wasn’t anything special in appearance. She dressed more like a boy then a stylish modern woman. Her dark hair was cut really short, and she wore thick-rimmed black glasses. She was twenty-eight years old when this event played out.

She had always aspired to become an Artist one day. All she ever dreamed of was living the life of a famous painter in Paris. At the end of the summer, she saved enough money from waiting tables to buy a one-way ticket to Paris. She stayed with an old college friend for two days, borrowed some money from her and took a bus to her grandfather’s hotel in Auvergne.

The small town of Auvergne was home to an ancient treasure. The people of Auvergne took great pride in their prehistoric painted wall. They promoted the crude drawings on the prehistoric stone wall to the summer tourists. These pictures, depicted on the surface of the cave, included a scene of buffalo, woolly mammoth, a rhinoceros, and a bird-headed, lion-tailed man. To some, the style of the Art was mesmerizing. Most of all, the painted wall was a remarkable, creative accomplishment. The painted wall was ten thousand years old, and it was Hillary Kiffer’s favorite place in the world.

Hillary admired the works of Pablo Picasso over anyone else. She always imagined herself being as prolific and famous as he was. She personally was always caught between wanting to paint from her emotions and be expressive but found the only paintings she sold were the one’s that were more representational. Picasso for her always managed to express himself from his world that straddled both the real and the imagined.

Prehistoric art influenced Picasso. He was a man of art and knew that prehistoric artisans would have created art from their own experiences. “After Altamira, all is decadence.” Pablo Picasso proclaimed upon exiting the painted caves of Altamira in Spain. Hillary loved this powerful saying from Picasso. It matched the feeling she always had for the cave of Auvergne.

In the spring of 1931, a couple on their honeymoon, amorously nesting in the gnarled roots of an old oak, found themselves unexpectedly some distance below the earth into what later became known as the Venus Grotto. It was Hillary’s grandfather’s good fortune to be staying at the solitary inn in the village. The couple returned to the inn in the evening and told their story to her grandfather. The next day he planned to explore the old oak and join the adventurous local lads. A lantern, held in her grandfather’s own hand, illuminated, for the first time, the painted wall.

Upon discovery of the painted wall, Hilary’s grandfather built a hotel, and later a restaurant, being careful to retain the original oak tree, to attract the tourists to his business and the wall. He became financially successful. The Painted Wall of Auvergne was published when Hillary was just a girl. During her summer holiday visits, she received the treasured book for her birthday from her grandfather.

Upon arriving in Auvergne, Hilary found the cave was closed pending work on an extension. She walked down the new, gently sloping entrance that had been constructed, through the Venus Grotto, and into the place where the painted wall resided. Switching on the discreet fluorescent lighting, she went across and examined it, for possibly the hundredth time. The painted wall was her favorite work of art.

She knew it now by heart, but, surrounded by the eerie rumble and swirl of the underground streams, dripping stalactites and stalagmites, she examined it all again. She looked intently at the buffalo charging, the mammoth and the rhinoceros, which had so excited the naturalists and geologists. The scene of the bird-headed, lion-tailed man, leap-frogging over the buffalo towards the mountain, amazed her. And at the bottom right corner of the scene, there were two strangely distinctive markings. They looked like nothing so much as two quick check marks. Hillary got down on her knees and looked at them more closely.

Outside the cave, a thunderstorm had rolled up with incredible swiftness. Hillary stood up and walked to the mouth of the cave. She could see the clouds coming over the distant trees before the first heavy raindrops fell. She squinted her eyes and shrugged her shoulders as the first loud bolts of lightning began to arc down towards Auvergne. The lightning split the tree’s roots and, without a pause, was heard at the mouth of the cave.

It happened quicker than Hillary could blink. She stood just inside the cave as the rain and thunderbolts poured out of the dark blue sky. She found herself immersed by the fireworks mother nature displayed before her. The night sky seemed to be illuminated by the repeated lightning bolts being hurled at the line of trees just beyond the mouth of the cave. In the same moment she thought how amazing the display was, she was instantaneously struck and knocked out by one of the leaping bolts of lightning.

There was a certainty, from the light and the freshness of the air that she was still in Auvergne. She recovered consciousness to hearing the meaningless babble of grunts and chatter. She was lying on the ground in front of the cave. There was a dim light about her. Everything was a bit fuzzy as she peered up. A group of what could only candidly be described as cavemen surrounded her. They had brutish faces and were dressed in a variety of not very carefully cut or cured animal hides. Beyond them, the scene was frighteningly familiar. She slowly stood up, so not to agitate the cavemen. There was a small camp site established around the mouth of the cave. She cautiously walked into the cave towards the painted wall and found the length of the stalagmites were considerably shorter than she remembered them being.

Hillary’s head was throbbing. The cave grew darker as she made her way to the place where the familiar painted wall should be. There were no fluorescent lamps, but the truth was incredible and shocking. She, Hillary Kiffer, had been unexpectedly, by some strange phenomenon, sent ten thousands years back in time. She glanced behind her to find the cavemen all standing at the mouth of the cave. She could faintly see the where the painted wall was and to her shock it was blank.

Making her way back to the outside, Hillary recognized that she was still in her trench coat and everything else she was wearing before the lightning storm struck her. She reached into the left pocket of the trench coat, and yes, found that her cigarettes were still there. She opened the pack, placed one in between her lips and lit it with her lighter. The group of cavemen huddled around her, grunted and moved back two or three feet from her. They were completely transfixed by the tiny flame that appeared to come from her fingertips.

She put the lighter back into the near empty pack of smokes, placing them back into the left pocket. Hillary then took a very long drag and then exhaled a huge gray cloud of smoke. Again, the cavemen grunted and leaped back another two or three feet. A single thought immediately came into Hillary’s head.

She learned the role and status of the tribal artist in the book, The Painted Wall of Auvergne. She remembered the author conclusively demonstrates, the painter was a shaman, and the shaman was always the king of the tribe. There could be no doubt at all that the man capable of such potent enchantments must be revered. Indeed, since she was a painter, she would be worshiped by these savages as their deity.

It was the awareness of this that kept Hillary going, in the face of the dreadful thought that all her comforts and all her existence were now irrevocably set tens of thousands of years in the future. The thoughts of being their shamanic leader cheered her up. This was her chance to be as great as Picasso. She even thought of the possibility of Picasso himself seeing this painting one day. Her hunger took over her thoughts immediately when a cavemen handed her the highly suspicious and barely half-cooked stew. She gagged over it as she had to plunge her fingers into the bowl to start eating.

Without delay, she began the search for materials. Fortunately, the paint was very much in evidence. Every member of the tribe was abundantly decorated with blue and red pigments. The colors she needed all laid in handcrafted bowls at the mouth of the cave. The question of a brush came to mind next. Hillary smiled wryly as she reached into the right pocket of her trench coat. She pulled out and held a used number 10 red sable haired brush. This was Hillary’s favorite brush. She carried it everywhere with her. It reminded her that she was never far from having a painter’s life. At any rate, she was equipped now. Under the interested gaze of the tribe, she marched back into the cave, to the blank wall.

After more than twenty years of studying this wall, there was not a contour of the famous wall painting that Hillary did not know intimately. She outlined the scene without hesitation. At frequent intervals, she was aware of members of the tribe respectfully watching her from behind. When she went out to join the communal meals; the others all stood back until she had had her fill with the most tender morsels in the pot. At night she was given the warmest skins and soon slept soundly in them, forgetting their odor as best as she could. Day by day she continued with her task of painting on the wall, the painting she had studied thousands of years later, in the twentieth century.

After little more than a week, she was almost finished. One last touch, the cryptic vignette of the painted wall featuring the bird-headed, lion-tailed man, hopping over the two buffaloes and the mountain would be completed.

And – the impish thought striking her – why not send a small message to the future people who will later discover the painted wall? Why not sign what was undoubtedly her single greatest masterpiece. She began to scrawl her name – Hillary Kiffer. She had started to paint the initial letter H – like a set of two check marks when she became aware again of figures behind her. She turned. Deferentially – but insistently the chief, dressed in bird feathers and a lion’s tail, was in the cave with her. Wearing the great flint knife slung on his left side, the chief beckoned her out of the cave, away from the painted wall.

Now, she would receive the accolades. With complete authority, Hillary would be ordained a divinity, if only a minor one. Clearly, this life was not going to be so bad as she first feared. Lacking some of the luxuries of the twentieth century, but the twentieth century had never offered such opportunities for self-fulfillment, either. Why confine things to one small tribe? As their leader and with the superior intelligence of a civilized woman, she could lead her people to unimaginable conquests. Yes, the future was very bright for Hillary Kiffer.

Hillary realized the moment was near. The ceremony to enthrone her as a leader of the tribe was about to begin. The rest of the signature could wait. She walked out nonchalantly. As she made her way out of the cave, she placed her favorite brush in her right pocket and grabbed for the last cigarette in her pack, nestled deep in her left pocket. No, she thought, I’ll smoke it after he makes me king of this tribe.

At the mouth of the cave, a cave-girl dropped a garland of flowers over her head. The rest of the tribe were spread out in a crescent semi-circle around her. The chief led her to the center. She was now encircled by the tribe. The crowd gave a low murmur. The chief started to bend his knee, preparing to kneel before the goddess, Hillary Kiffer.

Hillary, with confident detachment, raised her arms and reached out to either side of her. She stared over their heads to the distant mountains. The chief bent his great, hairy knee still further before her. And then suddenly, he stood to face her. His expression was blank. She looked past him, knowing he was going to relinquish his power to her. He removed his great flint knife from his belt. He then carefully and swiftly placed the point of the blade to her belly. Hillary closed her eyes, and the stone edged knife pierced her shirt and plunged into her soft belly. It caused nothing in Hillary to stir. She knew she was bleeding and she still kept her arms extended and eyes closed.

Hillary Kiffer’s last thought was, “How will they ever know I was the one that painted the wall?”

END

Adapted from: The Rather Improbable History of Hillary Kiffer by William Vine. Published in the 1953 Avon Science Fiction & Fantasy Reader issue #2

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