Stories At An Exhibition


Image skullbook.jpg
Description According to the opening, each of the stories in this anthology is said to be inspired by a single painting. The art isn't included in with the stories, however, perhaps to allow the authors to paint them with words.
Type Offhand (Artbook)
Use See notes
Effects +4 Etheric Power


Halloween Fundraisers in 2012


When using this item you get the message

The book is divided into thirteen stories. You flip it open to one at random.

Followed by one of:

The story begins with a student heading into the Metroplex University art museum, attending a viewing to get credit for Art Appreciation.

Inside the student isn't confronted with boredom. Instead, he comes face to face with a painting of bony creatures… not-quite-human and dragging screaming passengers from a Metros line.

He ignores it at a prank, probably just another lark like the "poetry" on the Quad… performance art, that's it. He notes the words in his comm, walking into the grand hall.

Where the stairs should be, a massive painting hangs instead. Lurid splashes of blood red and bone white swirl together, forming a caldron and the abattoir of limbs and organs waiting to be fed into it. The details are perfect, realer than real, given the sort of life reserved for the forbidden loves of an age's greatest artists.

His legs carry him outside without his mind even noticing it, classes and assignments forgotten.

Staring at the cooling puddle of vomit before his face, he realizes his comm dropped between his numb fingers back in the great hall. He glances over his shoulder at museum's glass structure, feeling the tug of real art for the first time in his life.


The student laughed in the dark. "I have seen beauty! Let me show you!" he cried, but the guards outside his cell knew better.

They knew the thing in the cell was more and less than human. It had seen something so beautiful and terrible that they could never hope to understand it. The "beauty" it wanted to show them was a horror so deep it would reveal the depths of a universe past sanity or reason.

But every few weeks Corporate would send someone to interview him. The guards had learned to stop warning them. The briefings said the guards were superstitious fools and the new examiners were being brought into confidence because of the guards' incompetence.

So they watched as the Corporate men and women strutted into the cell, then crawled gibbering out hours or days later. They'd be taken away afterwards to be debriefed, only to be replaced by another victim.

None of the guards know what the student had seen, but they knew the debriefings were letting Corporate find it out. One day, they'd have it: an idea so keen it would cut thought like a blade, a blade that balanced the depths of madness on one edge and the height of pleasure on the other.

But the guards never said a word of it to anyone. After all, ideas don't cut and no thought image could unravel a mind on its own. That's crazy.


Every day on his way to work, he saw the woman with the parasol. You couldn't help but notice. After all, who brings a parasol on Metros?

And every day, she was on the train before he set foot on it. And every day she was still there when he left.

One day, he decided to solve the mystery and banish a bit of his own terrible boredom. He sat on the train, waiting to see where she got off, trying to convince himself he was just curious and not a stalker.

But as long as he rode, she never set foot off the train. He rode to the end of the line and back, watching her without seeing the slightest motion.

He lost track of how many times he went around the track, but he eventually stood at the Oldtown stop. For the first time, she moved, imperceptibly shaking her head.

He stared, too surprised to keep from gawking openly. She extended a finger, pointing towards the seat he'd just left, where his body remained… motionless, as though it were just sleeping.

She lowered her parasol, revealing a featureless face. "We can never leave."


The woman with the parasol walked slowly, making it easy to follow her… almost demanding to be followed. So he did.

She moved through the streets and alleys and parks. She walked even slower as he grew closer.

Finally, he leapt at her, the paused to examine the needle-tipped parasol pricking into his shoulder.

She wept as she flayed the skin from his body, removing his organs and replacing them with stronger substitutes to maintain his suffering. She did not weep for him or the hundred that went before him, but for the world, because there were no heroes, only monsters that hunt their own.


Smith knew that his "promotion" to plant manager was anything but. Wesson from down the hall had him declared "unfit" at the last psychiatric review and now he was being sent to the tundra to recover.

It was pointless. After all, if anyone was insane here, it was the local workers. Each of their stories surpassed the last as the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard: ancient hags, a man who sees through the eyes of ravens, the ancient ones who walk on the winds, and the crypts of bygone kings. Who could believe any of this?

When he initially ordered the plant to expand over the kings' gravesites, he hadn't known. After all, he hadn't been paying attention to their madness. But when the local historical society began holding rallies, he couldn't back down. But the government getting involved was the final slap in the face.

A few credit transfers later and the crypts were buried underneath concrete and polysteel foundations. He even kept quiet about the dreams he'd been having long enough to get returned from his "vacation."

But the dreams didn't stop. Each night, the skeletal king chased him through the tundra. And each night he died, bleeding out on the cold ground. He moved from coffee to stronger stimulants, snorting uncut Nova rather than dreaming those terrible dreams.

His next review came back stamped with "unfit" and his manager prepared to send him back to the tundra. But the day he was scheduled to take his shuttle hop, she found him slumped in his office chair, a empty vial of Nova clutched in one hand and an antique sword driven through his chest.


An old woman lived in an ancient house beneath an yet older tree. In the autumn, because it is always autumn here, leaves surrounded her little cabin like a blanket of freshly-spilled blood.

No sane soul would approach the old woman beneath the bloody tree, but it's said love drives us all a little mad. On one autumn day, the insane soul at the door was a beautiful young woman. She was mad with grief, trying to save a child she loved more than life or reason.

She begged and pleaded with the mistress of the house, offering her strange treasures from distant lands. But the crone was unswayed by these gifts, insisting she could not help the little girl.

The younger woman offered her own life and blood, but the old woman laughed at her and said the price could never be paid. The maiden screamed in frustration, begging her elder any hint at what could be done.

The woman beneath the bloody tree laughed, telling her that nothing could stop the turning of seasons. With that said, the final wisdom of the bloody tree hanging in the suddenly frosty air, life passed from them all.


A little girl explores an attic with her favorite doll dragging along behind. In a forgotten corner, they find a covered canvas.

They flip the dust cover off the canvas, finding an old charcoal sketch. No matter how they twist their heads, they can't make out the shapes suggested in its lines of ash.

Curiosity gave way to frustration. They'd sneak up to the attic every chance they got, staring at the sketch or looking for other clues among the endless stacks of forgotten lives.

Frustration gave way to grim determination. Their mother began delivering meals to "the clubhouse" in front of the sketch.

Grim determination gave way to obsession. They wouldn't leave the attic for weeks at a time, staring until their eyes could see nothing but the haunting charcoal shapes.

Obsession gave way to epiphany. Their mother simply forgot to bring up dinner one day, then forgot they existed at all. But they learned what the shapes had been all along.


Some families have their Thanksgiving turkey and some still do their Easter lamb, but others exalt the Christmas ham above all others.

Only little Johnny wasn't excited, because he wished he lived with a normal family that liked turkey or lamb. He lifted his nose as mother began to cut the ham, resolving not to embarrass himself on top of everything else.

The knife bit into his thigh, cleanly pulling back a layer of crispy skin. "That'd be Father's," Johnny reflected, "he loves the crispy bits."

Again and again the knife cut, until every plate was filled. Johnny sat uncomfortably, not eating but biting his tongue to keep from spoiling everyone else's meal.

"I'll have seconds!" little Susie called, to a general murmur of assent. Johnny almost hissed something unkind to her, but stopped himself at the last moment. Who was he to begrudge them their dinner, after all? As they started in on the ribs he managed to smile to himself. At least he hadn't ruined anyone's Christmas.


Natalia hadn't meant to buy the brightly colored bird in a gilt cage. Something just snapped when the street vendor said whoever she gave it to would never leave her.

Looking at the bird now, it was obviously the usual superstitious empty promises. But if a red songbird could keep her husband from sleeping with every woman that transferred to his department, it was worth it. And, at the rate he kept being denied promotions, the little bird would even pay for itself.

It's not meant to be, though. He went outside and opened the cage, releasing the bird to compete with the city's pigeons and hawks.

The next morning, though, his assistant brought in his morning 'pick me up,' only to find him fused to his chair, burned in place as though an inferno had torn through the office, touching only him.

She turned to run from the office and report his death when his lips cracked open. She could barely hear his whisper "Natalia."


Every night, we wish for the sunset to last forever. Every night, its red light bleeds into the ocean. Every night, the perfection stretches over moments without count.

But every day is different, filled with petty concerns and true suffering. The rich fret and the poor die. Children are born screaming before they even understand the true horror of their birthright and the old fade from every memory.

We can only hold truth when the sun goes out. We can only truly know each other in the haze. Happiness begins and ends in those blood-red moments, while suffering pours down like arrows in the rays of the noonday sun.


As the stars slide silently across the night sky, they pass from one shape to another. Every minute of every night, they show a new face and a new pattern.

Locked in each pattern is a song, a mad construct of shrieking strings and silent voices. Anyone can learn the song and anyone with a little skill can play it, but few do.

Why is that? It's not because they don't believe, oh no. Everyone who could play it knows, deep in their heart that the song's out there, waiting to be played.

It's because there are other things out there that know the song, things that move in the depths. And they do not like competition.


Once, there was a brilliant scientist. Her talents were so great that every care in the world weighed on her shoulders.

Every disease struck her like a blow, a challenge that only she could match. Natural disasters flaunted her control of the world, demanding her attention. The stars themselves beckoned to her, offering a thousand lifetimes of exploration.

In spite of her abilities, the scientist was only mortal. As she devised a cure to each disease, two more would spring up to take its place. Each natural disaster she averted would be forgotten in the face of an even greater one. The stars twinkled in the night, taunting her when she dared try to sleep.

But she created her greatest invention, a well that could contain all the suffering of her world. And so each disease and death, disaster and distraction went into the well, sealed away forever.

Until one day, she looked into the well and realized that there were people in there, suffering as her people had suffered, crushed beneath the weight of a civilization's burdens.

And the weight of a world was on her shoulders again, but she could not reach them to help. She had designed the well perfectly so only suffering could pass through its mouth. So she stood a silent vigil over the well, weeping over what she had done, her sorrow passing into the well as another sorrow.

They say that on a clear night, with the eyes to see, her eye can be seen staring back.


Jack didn't believe in giants anymore. Nobody believed in giants except the kids who watch too much Zaibatsu filth.

But one day, Jack was wandering in the park and found a massive table. And he feared there may still be giants in the world.

It was an old table, from back when they still made them out of wood, lined with decades of rough use. The knife grooves left by its careless owners were caked in layers of brown gore, long dried like a desperate attempt to paint over the damage.

At first he was too afraid to visit the table, but he found himself there again and again. Each time, there would be fresh scars in the wood filled with fresh stains.

He began waiting out at night, hoping to catch some glimpse of what was happening there. He started imagining the giant killing people at the table and the accolades he'd receive for solving the crimes.

But the giant never came, so Jack finally gave up his hopes of glory. He told the police about the table and resolved never to return there.

When they finally caught Jack, it was that testimony that convinced the judge to rule him insane.

It's said that on a quiet night you can still hear his whispers "I found the giant! I found him!" from the old asylum buried underneath the science labs.


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