In my earliest memory, from the moment I could hold a pencil, I've always been drawing. It started off with me replicating sketches from my coloring books. A memorable moment of my life was when I drew Santa Claus. He was holding a sac over his shoulder and I added presents next to him, even though there weren't any parcels in the original template. I colored him in carefully, ensuring that I stayed within the lines. Younger me would always hunch over that one spot of the dining room table, I would concentrate for hours on end.
My father was in the same room, but he didn't pay any attention to me. He was too busy chatting on the phone while reclining comfortably in his favorite couch. My relationship with him has always been reserved. We barely talked to each other, unless it was absolutely necessary.
On the other hand, my mother was my best friend. I could tell her anything without feeling much judgement from her. She was passing by, probably to go to the kitchen, but she came to a halt when she saw my sketch. I looked up at her expectantly, smiling. I was used to her compliments, but this time, she hadn't said anything at all. She grabbed my drawing sheet and lifted it up, examining it under the yellow light of the living-room. Her silence made me quite nervous.
Eventually, she asked, "Did you do this all by yourself?"
I nodded uncertainly. Did I do something wrong?
"Did you trace this?"
I was surprised by her question. She saw me drawing countless times before, so why would she feel the need to ask this?
"Oh my god!"
I was taken aback by her sudden exclamation. She hadn't ever reacted like this before.
She was calling for my father now.
He was still talking on the phone mindlessly.
Finally, my father lowered the phone down. There was a look of annoyance across his face as he replied bluntly, "Yes? What is it?"
Mother simply held up my drawing and said, "Look what Natalie did all by herself! She didn't trace this at all."
I watched my father's reaction carefully. In a matter of seconds, his face changed from annoyance, to puzzlement, and then he looked stunned. I felt my face getting hot and my palms getting sweaty. There was something unnerving about how my parents stared at my sketch, and how my father seemed lost for words. I wanted his approval so badly. Was I wasting his precious time with my silly drawing? Did he hate it? Oh god, why wasn't he saying anything?
He peeled his eyes off my drawing and he looked at me. Then he looked back at the drawing, as if it was reeling him in. And then he looked at me again.
"Did you really do this?" He asked.
I nodded timidly. Why were they both asking me this? Neither of my parents liked to draw and I was the only child in the house. If it wasn't me who drew the Santa Claus, who else could it possibly be? It seemed like such a ridiculous question at the time.
"Wow..." He seemed breathless. He stood up and walked over to me with his phone still close to his ear. I felt my heart hammering with nervous energy. He got close enough to examine my sketch and compare it to the original template in my coloring book.
"How old are you again?"
I looked down, feeling a flicker of sadness. Father would tend to forget these things about me.
"Eight," I replied.
He went back to talking on his phone, telling whoever was on the other end, about his eight-year-old kid with 'such amazing talent'. Mother was patting my back, telling me 'well done' and 'good job.' That was one of the happiest and significant moments in my childhood. For the first time, I made both my parents proud of me. It felt good to have their validation. It felt good when they showcased my drawings to family members and their friends who'd come to visit. It felt good to receive compliments, but also quite nerve-wracking to have the spotlight on me.
Most of all, I learnt that I had 'talent'. I recognized that I could do better. I wanted to improve, to never stop amazing others with my work, and to constantly make my parents proud. I wanted to nurture the talent I had, until I became the best drawer this world has ever seen.
Then something changed. An event that would stop me from drawing forever.
On the 15th November 2009, my uncle came to visit us and stay for two weeks. I remember this date because it was a day after my tenth birthday. Uncle Johnny was my father's brother and they were uncannily similar. They were 5'7 in height (through my child eyes, I thought they were huge). They had bald, shiny heads and spoke in a booming voice. They wore tank tops, had beer-bellies and short-tempers.
My uncle scared me, quite a lot. In family gatherings, he would usually stay in his own corner, away from everyone else, as he smoked his tobacco and talked on the phone. He would scold at the kids if they were too noisy around him. Once, a kid accidentally kicked a football at his bald head, and Uncle Johnny yelled at him nonstop. He made all the little kids cry that day, including me.
So, of course, during his stay, I made sure to avoid crossing paths with him. Whenever we were in the same room, I was so quiet and still as a statue. I was paranoid around him, fearing that any little movement will set him off and he'll snap at me.
A week later, I was somewhat more relaxed in my home environment, even with his intimidating presence. It was a school night and I was staying up late. I was in my favorite spot, the living room, where my art supplies were scattered all over the dining room table.
I had gotten a new A3 sketchpad, which was a birthday gift from my aunt. It was so big and heavy, and it had a brand-new smell to it. I wanted to fill all the pages with my best drawings. I no longer needed guidelines. I could draw independently, producing art from my imagination. I loved to create my own characters and bring them to life through my sketches. It was a whole new world for me - a world that I loved to spill onto the pages and watch my characters' stories unfold before me, like my own movie.
Usually, I'd draw superheroes or cute and funny things. This time, however, I felt a tension in me.
It was pitch-black outside and I could imagine little eyes shining through the darkness, watching me. The rain was falling heavily, pounding against the window like rocks being thrown against the glass. Lightning clashed every now and then, making my heart jump every time. Thunder rumbled, as if the night sky was roaring with rage. A chill ran through my spine. My pencil was poised against the paper with my hand shaking in uncertainty. What should I draw? How could I draw something cute or funny when I didn't feel this way?
And then I saw her. It was hard to see her at first. Everything was so dark and hazy in my mind. I concentrated fiercely, until I caught sight of her long, black hair. And so, I drew her hair on the page, trying to capture every strand that I saw.
Then I saw her dark-gray dress, which seemed like a nightgown. It reached her ankles, barely covering her pale feet. I sketched that too. I added blue and purple little veins on her feet which, for some reason, were glowing in the dark.
I got closer to her, trying to see her face, which was covered by her hair like curtains. She pulled her hair aside with her fingers. She had no nails on her fingers - it was just pink, spongy flesh.
Her eyes were almost completely white, had it not been for those tiny black dots on the center of her eyeballs. Those eyes were easy to draw as they were smallest part of her, yet they looked so unsettling. They were the first things that anyone would probably notice about her.
Another thing they would notice is that she had no nose. The area where her nose should be, was utterly flat and smooth.
Then I drew her abnormal smile. It seemed like someone had used a knife to carve that smile on her face. Specks of blood decorated where her lips should be. Snow-white teeth were exposed through her wounded skin that was peeling away. The more details I drew, the less human she became.
Her complexion was the trickiest part for me to accurately capture. The upper part of her face was ghastly pale, while the lower half was pinkish red, blood red, and purple, with hints of yellow and brown in the mix.
I colored in the background. Tall trees loomed above her, like black trunks, concealing the gray sky. She was merged together with the darkness, yet I could see her clearly. She was in the center of the forest, her feet hovering above the soil, with thick black tendrils sprouting from behind her. Maybe they were wings, or maybe they were tree branches -- it was hard to tell. She seemed like a big, dark moth.
I leaned back against my chair, staring in awe at what I had created. Usually, when I created my characters, their stories would come to me naturally. However, when it came to her, she was a mystery to me. It was a mystery why I even created her in the first place. I had seen nothing like her before. Most of my characters were inspired by the shows and movies I've watched or the characters in storybooks.
Personally, I never sat through an entire horror movie, or even liked to look at scary stuff. Still, for some reason, I felt compelled to have created this mysterious being.
"What you doin' there, kiddo?"
I had been so absorbed by my drawing that I failed to notice Uncle Johnny creeping up behind me. I jumped in my seat, startled by his loud abrasive voice.
"Oh... um..." I said, trying to form an explanation but failing miserably.
"You have school tomorrow," he said firmly. "You should be sleeping, silly girl."
I nodded shyly and I reached over to shut my sketchpad, but he slammed his hand down onto the page. The harsh sound vibrated through the air. I almost fell off my seat from his fast and sudden movement.
His eyes were glued to my sketch for what seemed like forever. Since I was used to receiving compliments, I expected that he was also awe-struck by my drawing skills. To think that I could actually impress Uncle Johnny made me really excited. I wanted to make his stone heart melt. I sat up straighter with a little smile tugging on my face, expectantly.
"Why did you draw this?" He demanded with his gruff voice. His sharp tone threw me off.
Suddenly, I felt self-conscious and embarrassed. Oh god... what was running through his mind? Did he think I was a weird kid for drawing something so... creepy? Was it inappropriate of me? Was he going to yell at me?
"Um... b-because I-I..." I stuttered.
"Why?" His voice got louder. "Why did you draw her?"
He threw his hands up in frustration and his face was unusually bright-pink. He slammed his hands down onto the table again, aggressively.
"Why, God, why?!"
I scrunched up my shoulders and tears pricked my eyes.
"Have you seen her before?"
His question took me by surprise. I shook my head slowly. His stern expression made me regret drawing her.
"I'm sorry," I said through a strangled voice. "I won't do it again."
Uncle Johnny took a deep breath and stared at me for a moment. Lightning clashed, making him look like a bug-eyed ghost in that split second, and the thunder was getting louder and louder. The rain seemed so frantic, like an ocean was being tilted over from the sky. My heart was racing at a tremendous pace that I felt close to passing out.
"It's too late," he eventually said.
More tears spilled down my cheeks. What did he mean by it was too late? Nothing made sense at all!
My uncle had never reacted so irrationally, and so intensely, as this, even though he could be quite frightening. I've seen him express his anger and annoyance in the past, but right now, it didn't seem like he was experiencing those particular emotions. No, there was an expression across his face that I hadn't seen before. It was difficult for me to decipher at first, but then I caught something flashing through his wide eyes. Fear.
As if I wasn't already confused and scared enough, what he said next made my heart stop.
"We have to burn that sketchpad now."
The Girl in My DrawingA short story for Halloween.
By Who Cares?