The city of Svelt sat quietly as the sun started to lower beyond the horizon, the light flickering over the tree line leaving behind patches of warmth from where it last touched. As the last beam of light disappeared into the nearby forest, there was a brief moment of silence before the sirens started. All through the town, one by one, sirens started to sound; they echoed all through the forest and down the nearby mines. The miner’s picks stopped as the echoes reached their ears, dropping them where they stood. They made their way back to the surface. Single file, they marched out of the narrow openings back into the fresh air; as they trudged back to town, the dust of the mine was pulled from their backs and taken by the wind. Meanwhile, in town, a woman was setting up her art, her canvasses decorated the outside of her home. She stood back from her display, content with her efforts; she turned to the skies smiling; she could see the dust clouds from the workers leaving the mines.
“Ok, I will get them this time. I am going to sell a piece today.” Eyne reassured herself as she looked at her reflection, trying to boost her confidence.
The miners all made their way back into town; from all directions, they poured into the city, ready for the beds they were denied all day. Eyne stood by her home, grinning as the miners slowly trudged past. She called out to them,
“Another bad day in the mines? How about you purchase some art to make your home even brighter when you return. Art is great for..” Before she could finish, a man that dwarfed the other miners walked in front of one of her pieces.
“You do draw pretty pictures of the trees and homes, but we work twelve hours a day. We compete with one another trying to find gems and other precious metals; why on Anodyne’s plagued Hollow would we waste our money on shit we would never see?”
The man was staring at Eyne with a face of tired confusion, making her feel uncertain. She stuttered out the only response she could think of.
“To make your homes pretty so you have something to look forward to?”
“We sleep when we get home; some of us are lucky enough to have food waiting. Then there are people like you trying to waste our time and money on useless shit; this is trash; you are trash.”
The man picked up a canvas and smashed it across his knee, throwing it in the mud under the marching miner’s feet. Slowly it was completely trampled into the soft mud. Eyne slumped to the ground, broken, she had been trying for months to sell even one piece, but it was clear that no one had time for her art. Defeated, she started taking down her art from her home. As each one came down, she became more and more filled with emotion. As her hands grasped the last piece, she exploded with rage, throwing it to the ground and smashing the wood her painting was on. Still fuelled with rage, she laid waste to the remaining pieces, scattering colored wood chips all over the front of her plain brown home.
Eyne’s heart took its time. Eventually, it started to slow back down, allowing her to think.
“No, you know what? I am not going to give up, this is my dream, and I will be damned if Anodyne claims this dream as well.”
Eyne rushed inside and started to pull her own walls down to make more canvasses, piece by piece, her home turned into a skeleton, barely able to support the roof above her head. She stayed up all night painting with the last of her supplies; ignoring her job, she painted all through the day in preparation for the miners returning from work.
Sirens start sounding off all around town; before long, the familiar dust cloud emerged from the tree line. Standing tall and ready with her new paintings she was certain she was going to sell today, she had picked a new topic to paint and knew it would go down great.
The miners all walked by as before, but this time one stopped staring. He started to wave down others walking by. Before long, she had stopped many workers in their tracks, all of them staring at her art pieces; even the large man from the night before was standing staring.
“I knew I could win you over; art is important, especially here, because of how shit life is. We need the distraction.”
A man from the crowd spoke out in an angry voice, “Then why in living hell paint the mines?”
Eyne turned to her art, where she had painted miners at work, harvesting crystals, ferrying resources, and leaving their smoke cloud at the end of the day. She did not get a chance to answer the demanding miner; her walls were swarmed by the miners that started smashing every piece of work she had crafted. Pieces were thrown through the windows colliding with what was left of her walls; after only a few minutes, her house came crumbling down.
“We die in those mines; why the fuck do you think we would want to see those fucking rock walls anywhere but work. I am not going to apologize for your house, you are sick, and I hope Anodyne finds you.”
The angry miner spat on the remains of Eyne’s home before following the crowd. Eyne slumped to the ground, defeated; she lay among the pile of scrap that was her home. Her skin shivered in the cold mud as her emotions surged over her. The mud soaked into her clothes; it stuck to her skin and caught the night’s cold winds. She could barely feel her limbs as the cold took full effect.
Her wallowing was interrupted by the sound of carts and trucks rolling through the mud; Eyne looked up, noticing a strange group of people walking through town. They had carts pulled by animals and plenty of them; at the back of the group were motorized vehicles chugging through the soft mud. Eyne was too hurt to speak out, but she watched as they all slowly moved past. A few of the newcomers stared for a moment but did nothing to help Eyne. Eyne had never seen so many living children in one group; they even seemed happy as they stomped their way through the muck.
Eyne climbed out of the mud and started following the loud group of newcomers. It was not long till there was a confrontation; the new arrivals grouped up in the middle of the city and were being harassed by the locals. Loud voices were being thrown all around, but the newcomers were yet to speak a word.
As the commotion of the locals started to die out due to a lack of resistance, an elderly woman emerged from one of the carts; in her hand, she held a frosted bottle which she tossed to the nearest local. They pulled the cork and sniffed it, their nose flared, and their head recoiled. Immediately they took a swig; the longer he drank, the more contorted his face became. After downing half the bottle he released it from his lips exhaling with delight.
“Set up shop, hag.”
The man raised the bottle and screamed at the top of his lungs, “They have alcohol!”
All the locals started to cheer as the newcomers started to spread out and set up stalls; music started nearly immediately, along with the newcomer’s children running about.
“Grab your money and yourself; the Gypsies are in town. We have all the hard-to-acquire tastes, alcohol, emotional drugs, nightmare meat, and so much more.”
Eyne watched as everyone rushed to find their money to buy the life sweeteners that Svelt does not sell. She herself wanted to buy but was incapable as she now had nothing; she turned away to go back to her demolished home. The voice of the miners echoed around her head as she slowly walked away from the town center. Her mind turned to the small amount of rope she had in her home and the tree she used to play on when she was young.
“Come with me, Eyne. I need you.”
Eyne was dumbstruck that this old lady knew her name, “You know my name; you must know I have nothing. I am of no use; worse, I waste what I have. I am beyond useless.”
“My name is Eyne; I assume I am bad at everything because I can’t sell art. That is you; come with me, stupid little girl.”
The old lady walked off towards the gypsy market with Eyne in tow,
Eyne mumbled beneath her breath, “I am not a little girl; I am 48, stupid old lady.”
The two of them walked through the entire Gypsy setup, past all the vendors selling hard-to-obtain goods. The sweet scent of nightmare meat filled her nose before another aroma took over. Someone had removed a lid to an emotional drug and had taken a sip of ‘Happy.’ The man started to cheer and shout instantly as the drug took hold of him; he proceeded to run into a crowd of Gypsies and started dancing with them.
The longer Eyne was exposed to the Gypsies and the enjoyment they were having, the more her insides started to tighten, and her eyes started to well. She was at her breaking point, ready to burst.
“Quick in here, young one.” The elderly lady rushed into a small motor home; it seemed to lean as the plump woman climbed aboard. Eyne was curious; she followed and entered the cramped home. Everywhere she moved, she nearly knocked something to the floor; cautiously, she found her way to a seat where she could knock nothing, anything, or get in the way of the old gypsy lady.
“Why did you bring me in here?”
The old woman turned to smile at Eyne, but nothing was said. She just continued to run around her home, shifting things from one surface to another.
“Look, I have no money, so there is no point in trying to sell me anything.” Still, the woman shuffled items in her home. “Look, you old hag, are you going to answer me or just waste my time?”
The old lady chuckled as she brought over two glasses, “But you have nothing. How can I waste something that is not there?” She proceeded to pour a fine whisky into both of the glasses, “So have a drink, young one, and I will tell you how to sell art.”
Eyne was upset that the old woman had sassed her; she reluctantly took the glass and lent back into her chair, waiting the hear what the old crone had to say.
“First of all, my name is not an old hag. It is Gara-vae. I want to help you sell art because I love art.”
Gara-vae knocked back the entirety of her drink, “I think the best things in life are those that are not needed, and art is right up there when it comes to useless. I mean completely useless, like no one needs it, not one single piece is needed, ever.”
“I get it; it is useless.” Eyne yelled as she took a mouthful, promptly spitting it back into the glass and choking on the smoky burn.
Gara-Vae giggled, “It takes some time to get used to.” She grabbed Eyne’s hands and looked deeply into her eyes. “The only way to make something less useless is to give it a function.”
Eyne was confused. She just sat staring back into Gara-Vae’s eyes.
“This world is beautiful in the most macabre way, it may punish everything you do, but it also gives the opportunity for such beauty, as long as you embrace all forms of beauty.”
“It is simply to paint a canvas with a simple background and watches as they come flocking. All you need to do is eat this and start painting once again.”
Gara-Vae pulled out a small crystal from her pocket; Eyne’s eyes lit up as the crystal shone.
“Do you know what this one does?”
“I do; all I ask in return is you travel with us and sell your art for the community.”
Eyne was incapable of saying no; before her was the opportunity to consume a gem of power. Even though she had no idea what it was, the powers they bestowed would give her the edge to strive in Hollow, not just survive.
Hands shaking, Eyne grasped the gem into her hands; she could feel it humming as she took hold of the tiny crystal.
Months passed, and the gypsy fair arrived at another town; among them was a tired-looking artist sitting among a plethora of pieces. Many people came in to look as she placed her paintbrush against the side of a customer’s head; the brush started to glow as she moved it to the canvass. The brush was pushed against the empty canvass, and an image started to appear; as the painting finished the piece and her eyes seemed to glow a pale purple, then the image started to move. The customer exclaimed as one of her nightmares had been pulled from their brain and placed into a canvass. She was incapable of keeping up with the demand at each new town they stopped at, making her artwork increase in price.
Eyne had never been happier; she had a family for the first time. Traveling nearly every day across the landscape of the largest continent of Hollow, Vispyr. With each passing day, Eyne understood what Gara-Vae meant, although dark Vispyr had a beauty that was unmatched. It was not a beautiful by definition, it was not colorful nor nice, but it was truly macabre. That was the hidden beauty that was hard to find but better than anything Eyne could imagine.