Concept Art Writing Prompt: Family Portrait with a Tentacle-Faced Child

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Is this a sweet family portrait, or something more sinister? Is the child in this woman's lap a monster, an alien, a larval elder god not yet put down for its millennia-long naptime? Come up with a flash fiction story based on this strange and somber painting, and post it in the comments.

The painting for today's prompt is "Reliquary" by Tom Bagshaw, via lines and colors. You can also see detailed crops of the painting (and all those ghostly glowing faces) on Bagshaw's blog. If this painting inspires you, write a story and post it in the comments.

Here's mine:

Two pale green specters escaped from Evangeline's globe, pumping their glowing bodies about the staging area. Jean-Pierre stopped sketching. "Are they supposed to do that?" he asked, pointing his charcoal at the specter dancing around my hand.

I nodded. "Don't think of them as real," I said. That's what the automators at SurroGo had told us. We had to think of them as projections, curious but harmless. They scoped out anything new. At home, they rarely strayed from Evangeline's transparent head, but whenever we went out, they floated about like ghostly puppies sniffing out the corners of the room. Bela's fingers tightened around the chain of his cross, the relic of some backward, pre-Vatican III Catholicism he'd inherited from his father. I didn't understand it myself. My own grandmother was halfway an Anglican (or was she Presby-Episcopol?), and I'd never seen her swing around an instrument of execution. Could he really think his morbid charm would interfere with the specters of her mind?

One year we'd have the SurroDoll. One year from the moment Evangeline slipped through the ice and emerged mostly dead. The Doll wasn't autonomous beyond stimulus and response, but it would keep the program of her mind working, would keep refreshing her memories. After the doctors had grown back the frozen bits of her body and smoothed out new tissue for her damaged brain, the program from the Doll would go back into Evangeline's mind, and she'd spend the next four months in semi-stasis while she attached emotional context to her new, disembodied memories. At the end of it, Bela and I would pick up where we'd left off, with a four-year-old child. They promised us the same wild curls and the same tangled temper. I had clutched the Evangeline Doll to my breast and sworn I could feel the specters tickle my collar bones.

Bela had been against the portrait, of course, but I'd won it in the silent auction. Portia always put up artisans for the annual Hydrogen Widows' charity benefit, men and women who would sponge-paint your floors or hand-calibrate your autopeds. I could picture the portrait so clearly: Evangeline in a christening gown (that should please Bela, I'd thought), her specters forming a green halo about my head. I beat out old Mrs. Campos, whose oldest was headed for an apprenticeship on Ceres.

When I told Bela we would be sitting for Jean-Pierre, he pulled up ancient black-and-white photographs. "There," he said, shaking a red finger at the screen, "all the children in these pictures are dead. Can't you see how creepy this is?"

I stared at those photos for hours, even after Bela left for work. The dead children in those photos were sharp, death granting them the stillness necessary for those ancient cameras. It's the living people who look like ghosts, fuzzy and glowing around the edges. I was once like those fuzzy people. I was a ghost at the sim-parlor, watching in silence as Evangeline chose the latest candy-coated talking dragon sim and forced me into the role of the soon-to-be-eaten princess. I was a ghost at the playgroups while the other parents fretted over education modules and alpha-testing nutritional supplements. I went fuzzy at the edges while Evangeline howled at the snowstorm, begging me to let her outside. The pressure inside the house increased with her fury, threatening to dissipate my fading form. I threw the door open just to let out the pressure, just so I wouldn't disappear. I didn't notice the snow spilling inside, or the tiny footprints leading out the door. It was only when I noticed the absence of her screeching that I ran out into the cold, my spectral feet bare and barely noticing the freeze. I followed to trail of tiny dents until I came to the edge of the pond, where the sight of a hole in the ice finally snapped me into focus.