NINETY-EIGHT, 2.0

Millson dabbed the corners of the storyboard. Yet again, the glue was peeking out around the corners. He’d have to ask Renna to clean it up for him, and that would cost him another few days of snide comments and judgment. No matter, though, because this, he felt, was his finest work yet. An advertisement worthy of only the finest eyes in the finest, richest cities in the world. Millson had no delusions about his worth to the agency, but this would affirm his faith in himself that he was certainly in the right line of work.

As he blew on the lower corner of his board, the doors burst open. Millson watched the slender figure storm into the room and over to the desk in the corner. He hardly had enough time to look at the person’s face before his eyes were drawn down to the paint splotches and spatters down the coveralls worn by the figure.

Mostly red and blue, the bits of green seemed like polka-dots already sewn into the fabric. To Millson, the figure was a walking work of art. He nodded, curious, and said, “Hello, then.” The figure hesitated, slowly looked up. Her brow was covered in sweat and more bits of paint were at her temples, on her chin. “Ah, Renna, it’s you.” Millson felt stupid for not recognizing her, yet also relieved. “I’d begun to wonder if we’d see you again.”

“Where is it?” Renna dashed over to Millson’s desk, hands dangling at her sides. “Where is the oil paint?”

Millson frowned. “Oil, you say? For what purpose?”

“Dammit, just hand over the cans!”

Millson flicked the switch under his desk. Renna’s eyes shot to his hand, then back to his face. “You stupid man.”

She said it with a bite of regret, but Millson didn’t have time to notate why before the letter-opener jabbed into his chest. She’d grabbed it quick off his desk. Funny, he thought, how fast things move when you get older.

Millson watched as his blood mixed with the paint on Renna’s coveralls, and said, “My, we are all art,” before he collapsed to the floor, knocking out his front teeth on impact.

Renna didn’t wait for the light in Millson’s eyes to die out. She immediately turned out his desk, dumping cups of pens and bottles of water out across the room. She hesitated at the sight of the switch he’d pulled, the one for security. “Let them come.”

When she found the tin can, she held it close then looked at the label: salmon. Of course. If he had any oil paint at all, why would he have his paint stored away, hidden, out of sight? What was she thinking?

Renna threw the salmon across the room, denting the wall behind her desk. She ran down the hall, past the secretaries on their daily mail runs, past the CEO’s office, past the phone bank in the corner. She was almost knocked out when the guard swung his fist at her, but she’d managed to duck away just in time. When she reached the stairs, she barred the door with the fire ax, and sat on the top step to think.

Through the thin window, she could see her shack at the edge of the woods — her studio, the one they’d agreed to provide for her. She’d turned out so much work for them over the years, for so very little, in exchange for that studio. But now, instead of a place to paint her dreams and create her work, it was holding in something terrifying. Burning it to the ground was the only way. So she told herself. Her dreams weren’t good any more, and painting nightmares and shapes unrecognizable seemed to only make them worse.

Suddenly, a thought struck her, and Renna stood and dashed down the stairs, through the halls to Mr. Adams’s office. Mr. Adams would see to it that the shack was burned. It was obvious. He couldn’t risk losing her. She’d march in, tell him something about a violation, and then convince him to burn it down or she would quit.

“Go ahead and go,” said Mr. Adams. He hardly looked up at Renna, other than to pass suspicious eyes down the front of her coveralls. “We’ve had a record year and Millson will finish your accounts.”

“I don’t believe he will,” Renna said it with enough confidence to get Mr. Adams’s attention.

He looked her in the eyes and leaned back, lighting a cigarette. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, he can’t handle all of my accounts, and you know it. No one can. It’s why you’ve got me here. Now, burn down the shack, or I leave.”

“And for what? Burn it down so we can build you a new one? State of the art, only to have you come back in another two years and ask for something more?”

“Then, let me do it, and you can increase my pay instead. There’s something living inside that shack.”

“We’ll call an exterminator.”

“You can’t get rid of it. Please, just burn it down.”

“My wife says the same thing when she sees a spider, you know what I say to her?”

“You tell her to make friends and play nice?”

“The shack stays. It’s company property, and you have a contract. If you leave, Renna, then it’s of your own will.”

“What’s inside that shack can’t get out, it’s–”

“It’s none of our business.”

Renna wanted to puke. Outside, she stood at the foot path leading to the shack’s porch and waited, watching intently. If they weren’t going to believe her, and help her, then she’d have to do it on her own.  Still, she’d need fuel, and kindling. Neither were easy grabs.

Fires were rare in this weather, the mist from the seas blowing constantly, rain a daily plague. Worse, the only oils she knew of were in her paints, and she had precious little of them. Not to mention that they were all inside.

Maybe her instincts were right, she could just move away and run her own little shop. She’d have to give up painting, and hire a new artist. She could write copy well enough, but she knew of no other artists besides Millson.

Poor Millson, him and his drawing and inking and…and painting.

Renna re-emerged from the office five minutes later, a stack of Millson’s storyboards in hand and his plastic paint dish resting on top of them. Behind her there were screams and more alarms; they’d come for her soon.

She took a deep breath, Mr. Adams shouting after her, “Renna what did you do!?”

Inside the shack, Renna lightly set down the stack of boards, and threw the plastic paint dish onto the empty canvas. The colors quickly wove together and rose from the paper into a rainbow-colored beast, mouth chomping for her, trying to bite her.

Security was getting closer, soon they would see, they would all see.

Renna backed to the door and closed her eyes in anticipation of the painting come alive, and hoped Mr. Adams brought his lighter.

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