Sunday Snippet (Flash Fiction), Wallpaper by Bill Chance

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

—- Bill Chance, Wallpaper

Ganesha,
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, Texas

Sam tore the wallpaper off the walls in the spare bedroom – the one at the end of the hall. Nobody wanted to sleep in that room – the old house was a firetrap – especially on the second floor and that isolated windowless room would be impossible to escape from in a house filling with smoke. It was handy for drunken visitors to crash in, but not much else.

It was stale and airless and the condensation was making the paper peel. That upset Sam’s sense of order and the he thought about gluing it back – but once he inspected how loose it was, how spotted with mold, he decided it had to go. He’d tear it off, see what was underneath, and then deal with it.

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

The plaster that had been hidden by the wall coverings was painted with fantastical figures – one figure, or group of figures, on each wall. They seemed to be a gallery of deities – some shaped like animals – others voluptuous and human in form.

There was a large elephant improbably balanced on one leg and wearing a crown of skulls – holding a massive spear. Across the room a curvaceous woman stood in the same pose with a multitude of arms sprouting from behind her – each clasping a different mysterious object.

To the side, a couple sat – he in the Lotus position – she on lap with her legs wrapped behind his back. They each had three faces – one set looking at each other – the other two off to the side. Their bodies were covered in jewelry – colorful and detailed – with the same shapes as the object held by the many-armed woman.

The final wall was divided into many rectangles and each one contained a small drawing – crude compared to the detailed murals on the other walls – but still clear and strong. Around the characters in the small frames were curved lines of mysterious writing – filling every square inch of the surface.

Sam was stunned and obsessed. The small room had no electrical outlets so he stretched an extension cord down the hall and scrounged up four lamps – replacing the bulbs with a higher wattage in order to study the drawings better. He removed the few items of furniture but brought in a thin mattress. He began to sleep in the room, feeling somehow that the deities on the wall would protect him from the possibilities of fire.

At first, the others were curious and climbed the stairs, braved the hall, to come down and look at the walls – but Sam became surly and began to discourage casual visitors. After a week he repaired the hinges on the door, cut a passage for the extension cord, and installed a strong new lock. He felt and acted like the room was his and the deities were looking over him alone.

He did decide to pay a visit to a professor at the university – an elderly woman from the Asian Studies Department. With frayed nerves and strong second thoughts he led her down the hall and into his room, turning on the lamps.

She showed no emotion, but walked around the room giving the characters names – Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Rama. Sam politely took a few notes, knowing he’d never need to look at them – the names and stories were instantly burned into his brain.

“This is a strange mixture,” she said. “The deities are mostly Hindu – an unusual melange of times, regions, and sects. It’s as if the person that drew these borrowed freely from whatever tradition seemed to mean the most to him and made up some additional myths to suit his purposes.”

“Purposes? What would those be?”

“I have no idea. And this,” she said, gesturing at the complex wall of panels, “is a complete legend, a story.”

“What is it about?” asked Sam, trying to conceal the eagerness in his voice.

“Well, again, it’s a mixture. The characters seem to be mostly familiar minor Hindu Demi-Gods, but the story looks like the Chinese Buddhist legend of the Monkey King. It’s a famous legend – one of the classic myths of the world.”

“What Language is it?”

“That’s what is especially odd – I don’t really know. I’ve never seen it before. It looks like a dialect of Tibet – one I’m not familiar with. That might make sense – Tibet is at the juncture of India and China – the border of Buddhist and Hindu traditions – which would help explain the mixture.”

The woman wanted to photograph the walls of the room and said she would make arrangements to return with a photographer and proper lighting. But Sam never returned her calls – although she tried many times to reach him. After a few weeks she gave up. By then Sam had become even more obsessed with the drawings, spending more and more time in the room, neglecting everything else.

At first Sam thought that he was losing his mind, but after a month it began happening so often he came to realize it was real. With a great expenditure of willpower he stayed out of the room for a day and a half, sleeping fitfully on the couch downstairs. With a desperate relief he gave in and threw the door open.

There was no doubt now. The drawings were different. They were changing. They were moving.

Shiva Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, 11th century, bronze, Dallas Museum of Art

Shiva and Parvati
Stele of Uma-Maheshvara… 12th Century… Buff Sandstone
Dallas Museum of Art

 

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