taken by musicwala
Prompt posted Oct 10 2006
|Story Type: Original. The setting is the Louvre.|
Content Cautions: None
Critique: Constructive criticism welcome.
Summary:A security guard patrols a wing in the Louvre at night.
Acknowledgements: This painting appears in the story, and it's part of the reason I changed my setting from a random art museum in Mexico City to the Louvre. I visited the Louvre in July of 2005, and because I thought this painting was interesting, I decided to take photograph it. Also, many thanks to the people over at linguaphiles, especially ernie_lundie, for a translation.
His footsteps echoed through the darkened corridors. Pierre casually panned his flashlight back and forth, illuminating sculptures, benches, and paintings. Just two months ago, he accepted a job as a security guard at the Louvre. Being a new hire, they assigned him to the late night shift. He hated the strange hours and the fact that he didn’t have a lot of time to spend with his wife and kids, but he had a family to support and in the current economy, jobs were difficult to come by.
Fortunately, Pierre’s job was simple. The museum had a fairly sophisticated security system so all he had to do was rotate around the Richelieu Wing to make sure that everything was in order. On the bright side, he didn’t have to deal with guests during the day. Just last week, Pierre’s co-worker, Michel, recounted how he had to throw out a bunch of intoxicated German tourists who had become a bit too unruly.
Pierre knew something about the paintings in this museum since he had majored in art history in college. A lot of good it did. This was the only job he could get after about three months of searching. His favorite artists in the museum were the Flemish painters, particularly the Rembrandts with their rich, dark colors. He also appreciated the Vermeers. A few years ago, Hollywood produced a movie about “The Girl with a Pearl Earring,” a painting that was also in their collection. Pierre reminded himself that one of these days he would have to rent the DVD.
Pierre continued pacing the halls of the Richelieu until the bright circle of his flashlight fell on a painting that both repelled and attracted him. It depicted a scene in which a pair of hawks swooped down upon a flock of chickens. The hawk on the right had an unfortunate hen in its talons, and it was poised to head skyward. The other was closing in on a brightly colored rooster. Other hens, including a few with chicks, fled the scene, squawking in terror. It was your typical rustic scene, yet there was something particularly menacing in the hawks’ sharp beaks and talons. He sometimes wondered if this painting was not necessarily a depiction of barnyard animals, but more a comment on human cruelty.
The security guard glanced at his metallic wristwatch and noticed that it was one thirty. Soon, he would be finished with his latest set of rounds, and he would be able to get off his feet for a while. He thought about the warm lunch he would enjoy in the break room.
However, in order to get to the break room, which was in a different wing altogether, he had to descend an eerie staircase that lead to the museum’s first floor. Said staircase had ornate copper green railings with wooden banisters. They were lit by a number of circular lamps that reminded Pierre of thin streetlamps that jutted up from the railing. These lamps cast a silver light, making the stairs and the floor it was overlooking appear strange and enigmatic. This made Pierre think about the walks he used to take at night when he had trouble sleeping. On moonlit nights, there would be a silver glow that outlined the houses and the trees, giving his neighborhood an almost surreal quality.
Pierre was approaching the staircase when, he began to feel very cold. An icy wind blew past him, and he made a mental note that he would have to talk to someone who handled environmental controls when he got off break.
At the top of the stairs, he stopped dead in his tracks. On the landing about ten feet below him stood a young lady dressed in nineteenth century clothing. She was turned away from Pierre staring intently at something that was on the first floor. He noticed that her brown hair was done up in a proper bun. At first, he thought some asshat that had been smart enough, or lucky enough, had managed to break into the museum and pull a fast one on him.
“Hé! Qu'est-ce que tu fais là,” he called to the lady.
Pierre forgot all about the restful break that lay ahead of him when she slowly turned to face him. That is when he discovered that the ephemeral lady in white had hollow eye sockets. And then, like the shadow of a memory that she was, she became transparent, and faded away.