Alex had never considered himself someone who loved their job.
He liked it well enough on average, but that day he felt strangely energised. The walk there had lifted his mood with every step and he almost forgot to take his breaks, given how much energy he had. While sitting outside for his enforced break he wasn’t even bothered that he didn’t have the money for lunch. Sitting in the dappled sunshine was enough.
This mood followed him all the way through the day, towards his building, up the stairs and all the way to the door. The moment he stepped through the threshold, he found his face dropping its smile and he only walked far enough forward that most of him would land on the bed.
He wanted to sleep more than anything, but his phone buzzed in his pocket and he had the energy to check that, at least. It was a message from an old friend asking when his new place would be ready to host a games night. Looking around his living meagre space, Alex reasoned it might never fit particularly since apart from the chair he couldn’t exactly move the furniture around. He was in the middle of replying when he realised that something was wrong.
He sat up and looked at the chair, innocuously pushed into the desk. Alex slowly got up to look at it, wondering if the landlord had provided it. He did remember there had been a chair during his inspection.
As he came into view of the other side of the chair, he saw deep scratch marks and dark stains on the wood. It looks like it had been repeatedly scored by something very sharp. One of the legs was broken near the bottom, as though it had been snapped off. The jagged points reminded him of uneven teeth.
Blankly he thought that the old tenant must had returned it, or maybe the landlord had recovered it from the bins. But surely no person would think this was in serviceable condition and no one should enter his home without permission.
He turned to leave, to go outside and… find the landlord, he decided. Really, he just wanted to leave the room and was using the excuse to justify rushing outside.
As he turned to face the door, he noticed something that paused his footsteps.
The chair in the painting was gone.
It wasn’t just painted over. It was no longer in the scene.
He walked closer without thinking. There were indents in the carpet where the chair had been, as though it had just been removed. He took a step backwards, staring at a painting that was now just a wall and floor. He blinked repeatedly, trying to focus on it. He then noticed that on the carpet was a black shape. Peering closer again, he saw that it was a wallet. It was his wallet. He recognised the cracking on the cheap vinyl spine of the wallet he had kept overfilled with loyalty cards.
Looking at its surroundings, he realised why it had taken so long for him to notice it. The wallet sat in a dark stain on the green carpet. What had looked like the shadow of the chair yesterday was a large, discoloured splotch. It looked brownish. The detail of the painting showing the individual fibres sticking out of the carpet which looked stiff from drying coated in whatever that liquid had once been.
He remembered how crusty it had felt under his feet when he asked the landlord if it could be cleaned.
Blankly, Alex turned once again to look for his wallet on the desk. It was not there.
He was careful to turn his gaze from the desk, to the floor and he turned on the spot, away from the painting to face the wall with the door. He stared in front of his own feet as he slowly walked towards the door, never once letting his eyes move towards the painting.
He found the wall and looked up to see the cream paint coating the wall. The entire wall.
The plain, featureless wall that should have had a door.
Alex was not capable of measuring the time he stood still, mutely feeling for a door that was not there. Every second he spent pretending he was going to find the door was another that he could stall looking at the painting and knowing something worse.
It was when the lighting changed that he finally turned.
He could no longer hear traffic through the window and the room was coated only in the yellow light from the bulb. Once again, he turned away from the painting, followed the ground and a short path to the opposite wall where curtains now covered a plain cream wall.
He sat back upon the bed, staring at the floor. He realised that one part of the floor looked lighter than the rest, as though it had been scrubbed with to the point of lifting some of the varnish. He looked up at the painting without thinking, then quickly back down. The stained carpet was in what would be the same position, if the painting mirrored this room.
He kept his eyes shut. He knew he had seen something else in the portrait just now. Something new. But he was so tired now. He just wanted to close his eyes….
Instead he forced them open. He sat across from it, crossing his legs on the floor with his back against the wardrobe. He stared at the painting, which now seemed larger than it had yesterday. There was a hairbrush on the floor besides the wallet. It was a plastic brush, designed to look like a purple seashell. He remembered seeing it when he had inspected the room. It had been on the bedside table. It looked like the handle had been gnawed on since then.
Exactly like the previous night, Alex could not stop himself from falling asleep. He tried, hoping that watching the painting might stop it from changing, but from the moment he had stepped within its view, he knew it had been sapping him slowly. As his eyes fluttered closed, he thought he saw something moving in the painting.
Alex woke to find himself falling backwards. His head collided with the wall and with confusion he tried to stand up on stiff legs. It was dark now, but he could see outline of the door. Stumbling forward, one hand on the wall, he reached for the doorknob and then froze. The door was on the wrong side of the room.
As he paused, he noticed that he had found himself reaching with his right hand instinctively, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, despite being left-handed. As he stood there with his hand outstretched, his other hand was pressed against a delicate design of flowers etched on wallpaper. Beneath his feet was thick carpet and around him was the smell of rot.
He remained frozen as he saw the door handle turning, inches from his outstretched hand.