Essence

📅 Published on March 9, 2022

“Essence”

Written by Chisto Healy
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Lee was proud of his first apartment.  He would have been more proud had he been able to share it with Alyssa, but she wasn’t ready for that yet.  He hoped it would come in time if he was patient.  They had been dating since junior year in high school. Still, it felt great to get out from under his parents’ roof and have a place of his own. It wasn’t that his parents were hard people to live with by any means.  Truthfully, they were better than most, but he craved independence just as much as any twenty-one year old.  He was a musician, and art came with individuality, and you couldn’t find much of that living at home with your parents.

Lee had walked around his new place, taking big gulps of the air that was now his.  He didn’t have much to bring with him, though, and the place felt naked.  It was lacking the character that his heart desired it to have.  He had to be careful with money because he was his own keeper now and needed to behave responsibly, but he couldn’t invite his friends over here with the place in its current state.  Maybe it was his artistic mind, but it felt almost supernatural to him.  You get a place, and all it is when you first take it is an empty box; walls and floors and ceilings.  Then you add personality and feeling and it comes to life, like magic.  Suddenly that empty box is now a home, and people can enter it and feel its power, its essence.

The place came furnished, so he didn’t need to worry about that.  It was the bare walls that bothered him.  They were this drab off-white color.  There was no life to them at all.  The modern bohemian furniture didn’t help.  He needed something, something real, something with power.  With limited funds, he stayed away from Amazon and the rest of the internet.  He didn’t feel like he would find the type of thing that his soul ached for anyway.  It was the type of thing that you would only find at a garage sale, thrift shop or antique store.

Lee wanted his apartment to inspire his art.  The magic of his home could awaken the music in his soul.  He felt like he was going to write the greatest album of his generation now that he had the freedom to sing and play whenever and wherever he wanted, with volume respect to the neighbors, of course.

At the antique store he saw some lamps and rugs that were cool.  They would definitely bring character to the apartment, but the price tags almost made him choke. He kept looking.

Then he saw the painting.  It wasn’t a painting.  It was the painting.  He’d never seen anything like it in his life.  The image was one of a man staring back at him with a face of terror and anguish, his palms outward as if there was an invisible wall between them.  It seemed to Lee almost like the man was not in a painting at all but in another dimension entirely, trying desperately to get noticed.  He was trapped in vivid color.  It connected with Lee’s soul, and he felt it was a symbol of his art.  It was the music that was trapped within, desperately yearning to be free.  It was how he felt before getting his place and a reminder of the freedom he had recently achieved.  It was perfect.

“Please.  Just take that thing.  I’m tired of looking at it,” a voice said from behind him.  Lee turned around and recognized the man that had been working behind the counter when he first entered the store.  “How much is it?” he asked,

“I mean it.  Just take it,” the man answered.  “No one wants it, I have to see it every day, and it gives me the creeps.”

Lee looked at the painting again.  He couldn’t resist the urge to place his fingertips over those of the desperate painted man’s.  It was as if they were communicating through a pane of glass, like prisoners and their families in the movies.  There was so much life in the eyes, so much pain.  Lee could almost swear they followed him when he moved.  He had heard such a thing was possible.  It was said about the Mona Lisa even, but it still felt amazing to experience it first hand.  The painting felt alive to him.  Art that had life really spoke to him.  “Do you know who painted it?” he asked.

“No idea,” the man said.  “I even tried to look it up.  I couldn’t find a damn thing about it.  Anonymous art doesn’t mean much, and I’m sick of it staring at me every day.  Honestly, I hate that thing.”

Lee looked at him and smiled.  “I’ll take it,” he said.

When he got back to the apartment, Lee hung the painting up immediately, right in the center of the living room where everyone would see it.  The painting felt so alive, it made the room come alive too.  This was exactly what he had been missing.  He couldn’t wait to invite Alyssa over.  He hadn’t even told her his address yet.  He wanted the place to be a surprise.  He was definitely going to call her tomorrow.  She would see immediately why he loved the painting so much and that was why he loved her so much.  He planned to marry her one day.

Lee went and got his guitar and sat cross-legged on the living room floor, where he closed his eyes and began to strum.  The lyrics came on their own.  He sang about being free for the first time, about the world looking different and the air feeling purer in his lungs.  He sang about the power of independence.

When it grew late, and the sky was dark outside his new windows, Lee got up and danced his way to the bedroom.  He would sleep sound tonight, and he was already excited for the dreams that he would have, dreams of a limitless future.  He hit the bed with a smile and was asleep in moments.

***

Lee woke up, and it felt like his eyes were already open.  It was a strange sensation.  It was surreal.  He went to stretch and found that he couldn’t move.  It felt like he was squeezed inside a tiny box.  Lee felt a sudden surge of panic.  He didn’t know what was happening.  Was this sleep paralysis?  Maybe it was a nightmare, and he hadn’t woken up after all.

He looked around, trying to get a sense of what was going on, and he saw that he wasn’t even in his bedroom.  He was in the living room.  He didn’t know how he got there.  Lee tried to reach out, but it was like there was a barrier of some kind, something invisible, a wall blocking him from going any further, but he saw nothing before him.  His palms pressed against it as if it were actually something solid and tangible, like the air was made of glass.  What was happening to him?

He suddenly regretted his decision to surprise Alyssa and wished she knew where he was and could come by to help him.  Maybe his mother would come.  It felt so bad to be in his first week and desperately needing his mother already.  Maybe moving out was a mistake.  That thought was a hard pill to swallow.

Lee’s eyes moved back and forth over the living room.  He saw someone there.  There was a man in his apartment.  Who was he?  Did he do this?  Had Lee been drugged, tied up?

The man walked by, and Lee caught a quick glimpse of his face.  He thought he recognized him from somewhere, but he couldn’t quite place it.  How did he get in?  Lee was sure that he had locked the door when he got home the night before.  Did he break in?  Lee didn’t have anything worth stealing outside of his guitar.  The place was practically empty.  It didn’t make sense.

The man approached.  He stood before Lee and stared into his eyes.  Lee realized at once where he knew the man from.  It was him, the man from the painting, but how was that even possible?  He tried to ask, to yell some of the million questions going through his mind, but he couldn’t.  He discovered that his mouth was already open, frozen in a soundless scream that accurately depicted the terror he felt in his heart.  It wouldn’t budge.  His facial muscles trembled as he fought to change his expression, to make his lips form words, but it was to no avail.

The man spoke, and Lee heard him clearly.  “I’m sorry, but it’s my time now.  You will have your time again someday,” he said.  What did it mean?  Lee was desperate to ask, but his body wouldn’t let him.

The man from the painting told Lee his name was James.  He placed his fingertips over Lee’s the same way Lee had done when he found the painting.  He stared into Lee’s eyes, and Lee wondered what he was thinking.  Did he feel remorse? Was he empathizing?  He had been trapped too, going through this, when Lee found him.  Lee wondered how James had come to be in the painting.  Had someone trapped him?  How many people had been in the space Lee was now in?

When James drew his hands back, he just walked slowly through the apartment, breathing in the air that should have been Lee’s.  He spun in a circle and danced around the place, singing to himself about being free for the first time and the power of independence.  It was Lee’s song, the one he had written before his life had been stolen by this stranger.

Lee hadn’t even played it for anyone yet.  No one would know he wrote it. James was the only person that knew.  He had been in the painting, hanging there on the wall, when Lee grabbed his guitar and wrote it from the heart.  Now he had stolen it, and it was the last song Lee would ever write.  He couldn’t use his hands anymore. He couldn’t move his lips.  The music had been taken from him.

Lee hated the moments when James would leave the living room.  He wanted to know what the man was doing in his apartment, his life.  He could hear James when he took a shower and sang Lee’s song gleefully in the beating water.  It filled Lee with a rage he could do nothing with.  He wished he could at least scream, vent, release some of these feelings, but he couldn’t.  They lived only in his mind, and that was where they would stay.

Every time James passed by the painting on the wall, he would look at Lee or wave, an expression of guilt pulling at his features.  If you’re going to look at me like that, then let me out!

James looked like he knew what Lee was saying.  Maybe he simply remembered from his own time in the painting.  “There is only one way to fix it, and that means death for me, and I’m not ready for that when I’m finally experiencing life again,” he said.  “You’re going to have to wait, just like I did.”

Once James spoke his peace, he would ignore Lee, sit and watch TV, purposely never looking the painting’s way.  Lee saw him, though, and his blood was boiling, if he even had blood anymore.  In his mind, he screamed for hours.

On the third day, the landline rang.  Lee was desperate for it to be someone that could help him, set him free.  James answered it.  Lee could tell from listening that it was his mother.  Mom!  I’m here!  Please come.  I’m here!

James said that he was Lee’s roommate and Lee wasn’t home at the moment.  He apologized, and Lee was desperate to hear his mother’s side of the conversation.  James said he would tell Lee that she had called and have him call her back.  Lee felt confident that his mother wouldn’t just accept that.  She would continue to call and come by.  She would find him.

On the sixth day, James was drinking a glass of wine and told Lee it was to celebrate the job he had just gotten.  “It feels so nice to be out in the world, doing things and interacting with people, being a normal functioning person.  I appreciate your sacrifice.”

Screw you!  Again Lee tried with everything he had to force his facial muscles to take the appropriate commands, and again, they refused.  He wanted to at least cry, but he couldn’t even do that.  His eyes were permanently wide open, his tears forever gone.

The phone rang, and Lee’s heart jumped.  It was his mother again.  He just knew it.  Then he listened as James told her with sympathy in his voice that he hated to be in this position, but Lee was really driven to be independent and was purposely pulling away from his parents and his past.  No!  That sonofabitch!

Lee watched as James eyed Lee’s guitar that he had stood against the wall just below the painting where Lee couldn’t even see it.  James told Lee’s mother that her son was determined to be a rock star.  She didn’t accept that.  Did she accept that? “I don’t see him much myself,” James said, “But I promise I will tell him.  I can’t make him call you back, though.  I’m really sorry.  I hate being in the middle like this. I feel stuck.”

Lee’s mother was saying something back, but he had no idea what it was. He just watched James nodding.

“I understand.  I’ll do my best to keep him grounded, ma’am.”

Lee wished that somebody would find him, save him, but he was starting to lose faith.  Every moment in the painting felt like forever.  There was nothing to do but stare and wait, listen and wait, think and wait.  The moments dragged by painfully as he watched this stranger in fleeting glimpses, living in his apartment like it was his own.  He brought a woman home sometimes.  Lee couldn’t see them, but he could hear them making love on his bed.  It disgusted him.

He wondered what Alyssa was thinking.  Did she believe that he left her? Did the stranger tell her that he did?  Was he comforting her, sleeping with her?  If he was, he wasn’t doing it here.  Lee would have seen her walk in, move past him in his isolation, hanging on the wall.  That would have broken his heart.  Part of him was glad she hadn’t come by.  He feared for her.  What would James do when Alyssa recognized Lee’s face in the painting?

Maybe Alyssa thought he was dead somewhere.  Maybe everyone did. Maybe he was.  He didn’t know anymore.

Was a living death a possible thing?  That was what this felt like to Lee. He was dead to the world, dead to the people he cared about.  He was gone, yet he was very much alive, trapped with his eternally spinning mind.  He was powerless, a bystander on the sidelines viewing someone else living his life, his life that he waited so long for and dreamed so hard of and barely got a taste of before it was stolen.

Lee didn’t know James, but he hated him.  He would see him walk by and fantasize about reaching through the painting and strangling him.  He wished it were possible, but his hands were the hands in the painting now, like palms against glass. He couldn’t defend himself, avenge himself.  He could do nothing.

The woman became a regular fixture.  Lee got to watch as she and James shared a love like he and Alyssa once had, like they should have still had.  It should have been them kissing on that couch or making love in that bed, but it wasn’t.  It was James and Rosemary, strangers.

One day, Rosemary stared at Lee’s face, which to her was nothing more than the painting on the wall.  “Alright.  We’ve been together for months now, and I finally feel comfortable enough to say it,” she told James, who stood nearby.  “I hate this painting.  Can you please get rid of it?  I’ll buy you something new to take its place.”

James kissed her on the cheek.  “Look at it, though, Rose.  The reason it bothers you is the exact reason why it is such an amazing piece of art.  It feels alive, doesn’t it?  You can really sense and feel the pain and fear of the man trapped within the confines of the acrylics.  Many artists can paint someone’s likeness, but the great ones can actually capture a person’s essence.  The artist that created this masterpiece took that concept to another level entirely.”

Rosemary bit her lip.  “I mean, yeah, I can see the artistic talent.  I get everything you’re saying, but that doesn’t make it less creepy.  It’s gross, and it scares me.”

“Alright,” James told her.  “I’m not gonna get rid of it because I feel connected to it.  I feel like I need to keep it forever…BUT…I’ll put it away so you don’t have to look at it anymore.  Fair?”

“Yes.  Please.  Thank you.” Lee felt afraid.  Where was James going to put him?  What would happen if James did get rid of the painting?  Lee wished he could speak to Rosemary, just once, so she would know that he wasn’t just art.  He was a person, an imprisoned, desperate person.

James took Lee off the wall and carried him into the bedroom.  Lee watched the passing scenery changing.  He heard a door open.  Was that the closet? Wait.  No.  Don’t put me in there.  Please.

“Sorry, Lee,” James said before he shut the door and everything went dark.

***

All Lee could see was darkness now since he had been put in the closet. Even the sounds of life going on around him were muffled.  He thought he heard his mother’s voice one time.  Did she come looking for him?  He heard James talking with her, but he couldn’t make out the words.  Even without the words, he could tell that she sounded sad.  He wished that he had a way to call out to her, to get her attention.  He tried.  He always tried.  His opened mouth screamed silence.  It was deafeningly loud.

Lee wished he could say or do anything, but all he could do was stare out into the dark confines of the closet, listen and think.  He smelled mothballs.  Sight was one of the only things he had left, and now it was taken from him.  He couldn’t even make out colors in the darkness of the closed closet.  Color had been taken from him as well.

He couldn’t even sleep to pass time.  He wasn’t even sure he had a physical body anymore.  He couldn’t see it or feel it if he did.  Maybe that belonged to James too.  Maybe he had taken it, packed it away in a closet somewhere as well.  Maybe he would put it on and wear it from time to time.  Could he do that?  What difference did it even make?

Lee tried to write songs, to sing them silently to himself in his mind, to make the painfully slow moments a little easier to bear.  He wished he could actually voice them, but he couldn’t, not even just for himself to hear while he sat alone in his cage.

His voice was only thoughts now.  It had become the verbal equivalent to gray.  Would he ever hear his voice again?  Would he ever sing again?  Would he remember how to?  Would he remember how to do anything?

James seemed to.

One day Lee’s mother came by again, and they must have walked to the bedroom because Lee could hear them.  He listened as James told her that Lee had left months ago and he hadn’t heard from him.  He apologized.  It made Lee sick.  It’s lies, Mom!  It’s all lies!  I’m in here!  Please!

James mentioned something about a record deal and a girl.  Lee’s mother asked if it was Alyssa and said that she had spoken to Alyssa and she hadn’t heard from Lee either.  James assured her that Lee hadn’t mentioned anyone named Alyssa since they met and told her that the brunette that helped him move out was some girl named Lydia.  He wished her the best and offered to help in any way he could.  Lee had never imagined he could hate another human being as much as he hated James.  It consumed him.

Sometimes when Rosemary wasn’t around, James would open the closet door and sit on the floor to talk to Lee.  He knew that Lee could hear him.  Even if it seemed a distant nightmare, James assured Lee that he remembered how that nightmare went.  Then let me out!  Why are you doing this?!  Please!  Let me out!

“I still have to explain the rules to you,” James said one day, before packing Lee up to take him on the journey to the new house he and Rosemary had purchased together.  “It is important that I tell you because they aren’t written anywhere.  I hope you’re listening.”

He stopped and stared into Lee’s eyes, holding his permanent gaze.  Yes!  I hear you!  Tell me!  Lee’s hands pressed against the invisible wall of the painting as they had every day for what seemed like it had to be years.  Whether or not it actually was, he couldn’t be sure.

Finally James spoke.  “You have to wait for someone to connect with the painting.  They can’t just like it or buy it, Lee.  They have to really connect with it.  It has to speak to them.  You can’t speak inside the painting.  You can’t communicate. You have to wait for the painting to do it for you.  Do you understand?  That is the only path to freedom.

“They have to open themselves up to it emotionally so the painting can capture their essence.  When it does, your essence will be set free, and your life will be restored, but the painting always keeps a piece of you.  You’re never truly free. You’re tethered to it, so when you’ve been replaced, like when you took my spot, you have to keep the painting.  You must.  Don’t forget.  It’s wrong.  It’s terrible.  It’s sadistic and selfish, but you must do to them as I’ve done to you, as was done to me.

If the tether is broken, Lee, you cease to exist.  When the painting moves on and switches lives again, you die.  Poof.  That’s it.  It’s a cycle, Lee.  When it is your time, and you get free, and someone takes your place, that will be it for me.  Do you understand?  I wish you could answer me, but I know better than anyone that you can’t.

In time, when I get old, and I’ve raised my child and had a long wonderful married life with Rosemary, then I will release the painting and you with it back into the world.  Then you can steal someone else’s life to set yourself free and keep the chain going.  That’s it.  That’s all I know.  I know you hate me, Lee, but one day you will understand my position.  Until then, goodbye.”

“Are you talking to that painting?” Rosemary said from behind him.  Lee could see the frill of her dress and one of her knees.  “That’s weird, James.  I really wish you would just get rid of that creepy thing.”

James turned to her and showed Lee his shoulder.  “I was just telling it that we were taking a journey and explaining that it was going to have to live in the attic now and apologizing to it for how much you hate it.”

Lee listened to him laugh, and he felt jealousy.  Laughter was so taken for granted.  He would give anything to be able to laugh.

“You’re lucky I love you,” Rosemary said.

“I am,” James agreed.

He pulled the painting from the closet, and for a brief second Lee could see things again, the bed, the colors of his room, James’ jeans and shoes that were once his.  Then he was put inside something, and everything went dark again.  He screamed and screamed.  There wasn’t a single note of sound to it, not even to him, but he was bubbling with raw emotion that had nowhere to go.  He could hear whatever he was in being moved, pushed around.  Then there was nothing, and the nothing lasted for so long.  Occasionally, he would hear muffled sounds of birds or children but they were fleeting and not discernable.

Lee’s only company was the guilt he had, knowing that his girlfriend and his mother felt betrayed and heartbroken, the sadness of knowing that they would go on with life without him, and his fear that he would be trapped like this forever.

He wanted to scream, but he had screamed a thousand times already.  There was no longer any comfort in it.  There was only darkness, only this.  All Lee had ever wanted was to live, to really be alive, and now he spent each passing moment begging for the escape of death, although he knew that it would never come.  James wouldn’t allow that to happen.  The man was right about one thing, though.  When the time came, when this hell was finally brought to a close, Lee would do the same thing to somebody else to get the chance to live again.  He would imprison them in the painting and keep them there for years, and he would make them suffer through this just as he had to.  He hated himself for it, but he knew that he would do it.

What else was there to do after spending every moment of every day of every passing year, awake and waiting, nothing else but waiting on your moment? There was nothing.  He was nothing.  He was a mind, an endless mind thinking and never shutting off, living and never resting, listening but never communicating, watching, always watching.  It was endless.  It was horror in its purest form.  It was his, and it was him.  In his eternally spinning mind, he prayed to a God he no longer believed in, and he begged for mercy.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Chisto Healy
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Chisto Healy


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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