The Curious Case of Ale Euclid
Canvases lined the walls. Smudged and erratic strokes revealed a quiet genius encumbered by a great sadness. The open space in which the somber artist brooded appeared larger than it was. Ale Euclid suffered from a tendency to check out from his surroundings, imbuing his personal experiences with a special kind of significance felt only by those who wrote the story of their lives with broad strokes of emotional connection.
Outside the darkness of the light-filled metropolis ebbed and flowed like the lapping shores of the island on which it sprawled. The bustling world around him not only satisfied the collectivistic yearning of his gregariousness, but also allowed him to disappear from the crowd behind closed doors, playing to the reserved sensibilities of an artist in the midst of a storm of conflicting and contrasting ideals. Ale had few friends except for a small circle of fellow painters and artists who populated the Inked District of the remote island of Nyan, the largest of the Tranquil Isles.
Euclid placed a special emphasis on the aesthetics and ambiance of his surroundings, which made island life amidst the peaceful, harmonious culture of Nyan the ideal backdrop for his inspiration.
The outer door of his loft beeped rhythmically, a sliver of light infecting the purposeful darkness of his studio. Ale did not move, instead remaining motionless. His gaze was intently fixed on an almost-finished piece he called Constancy, a magnificent representation of the universe reduced to darkness and light battling toward an inevitable end.
Yet, it remained unfinished.
Footsteps crossed the room, approaching the disheveled figure with a splattered brush in hand. “Ale? Are you not ready?”
Ale thought of himself as a quiet, friendly, sensitive, and kind friend. He tried to enjoy the present moment, paying special attention to the joy around him. However, he went to great lengths to carve out his own place, an undisturbed mental and physical space where his art could take form. The intrusion, though expected, made him prickle slightly in irritation.
“Mian, you’re early.” He continued to look at his work.
Long and thin like Ale, Mian had gorgeous dark hair that she pulled back into a tight, attractive bun, framing her symmetrical features. The musculature of her legs rippled beneath her thin dress as she shifted her weight from one leg to another. “They are already setting up. Some potential buyers have started to trickle in.”
He sighed. Ale desired only for space and time, much like all of the celestial beings decaying on a molecular level throughout the universe. However, he had made a commitment to Mian, and to the rich of the Inked District, to display his artwork so it could be probed and critiqued, purchased and traded.
“I don’t wish to argue, Mian.”
“You’ll find no argument from me, Ale.” She stepped closer to Constancy and pressed a hand to her chest. “This is so evocative. It makes me feel so alone, yet embraced by it.”
Ale stepped forward and applied a single stroke at the center of the canvas, a brush of crimson in the swirling darkness. With a sigh, he stepped away from the painting and pulled a burgundy jacket from a skeletal chair tagged with splotches of color. “This is the last one. We can be social now.”
Mian smiled and grabbed the edges of the painting carefully.
Ale placed a hand on hers. “Not this one.”
She looked at him. “Then why did we wait for you to finish it?”
He walked ahead of her. “I didn’t say it was finished.”
THE AEROPOSTLE GALLERY was lit in such a way that every imperfection would be revealed; as such, the women in attendance painted away their flaws, so their masks of make-up would appear unbroken beneath the harsh luminance. Harsh and bright in places, it also cast shadows where the lighting was less concentrated, less intense.
Ale held the door open for Mian.
Mian nodded, her features tight as she did so.
Whitewashed features marred by campy paint identified the elite of Nyan, those who would be willing to part with resources for art as a means of solidifying their place in the hierarchy. Some clapped as Euclid entered; others raised a sparkling drink that cost more than the wages of four helium miners on the many moons of Sedecim.
Ale dipped his head.
He moved through the crowd, shaking hands and making small talk, mostly about the state of art in the Inked District and his future projects. Euclid had begun to make a name for himself in Nyan; there was talk he would receive a special commission from the Commonwealth. He avoided talk of the simmering conflict between the Commonwealth and the Sovereignty.
As he gestured toward a gargantuan canvas that depicted a range of colors in an orderly and algorithmic fashion, something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Red eyes, flittering in and out of focus, watched him from the shadows.
It gave him pause.
His mouth open, Ale stared back at the red eyes, not realizing he had stopped mid-sentence in his explanation until one of the waxen elite of Nyan cleared his throat.
“Pardon me, where was I?” asked Ale.
A man with a well-oiled mustache and a single line of azure hair traced back over old skin looked at Ale with dull brown eyes before speaking. The hard syllables of his speech were hindered by his uneven teeth. “This painting. Why is it so organized? Is art no meant to convey the liberation and lack of inhibition of the soul?”
Ale dreaded this part of being an artist, pontificating at length about his process. In many ways, it was his worst nightmare: having to listen to rude people criticize his personal choices, as well as his art, for prolonged periods of time. None of them seemed to understand how connected he was to his work.
“Art is expression, but expression need not be disorganized. I find my inspiration in the orderliness of the universe.”
Another movement caught his attention from the shadows. A long coat dusted the edges of the darkness, making a kaleidoscope of fractals similar to rubbing one’s eyes too hard.
Another clearing of the throat: this time from the angular and painted clown that hung on the man’s arm. “I find this piece so…dull. Don’t you, honey?” she said, batting her absurdly large fake eyelashes as if to accent her ignorance.
Ale collected himself, not wishing to create conflict despite her snide attitude. “It is meant to be simple; dull might be a consequence for people who lack a certain kind of imagination when they try to experience the work.”
The man snorted and the woman moved on, her attention drawn to an aesthetically pleasing member of the wait-staff with pants that were far too tight. Ale smiled weakly as they moved on, and Mian moved in close, handing him a stout glass of amber-colored liquid.
“You should have brought down the unfinished painting. I think even this crowd would have appreciated the surrealism of it.”
Ale nodded, but remained quiet, contemplative.
He continued to stare into the darkness of the room’s corner, past the crowds of wealthy huddled around splattered paint upon canvas. Part of him knew that the Constancy piece was something different. It was not so much that he had painted the Void, but more that something compelled him to create the abstraction. While Mian saw randomness and surrealism, Ale felt different.
THE CROWD HAD DISPERSED and the night waned before Ale retired to his loft. Mian offered to keep him company, the insinuation not lost on him. He declined, content to sit before the painting, gazing into the Void.
Sitting there before his latest (and possibly greatest) creation, he realized that for the first time in his life he felt a connection to something he had created. Too often, he viewed his work as derivative and insufficient to sustain a livelihood. This, of course, was more the result of a deflated sense of self than the reality of his bank account; his paintings sold for some of the highest prices on the entire planet of Tertius.
Nyan bustled just beyond his window, but the loft remained whisper-quiet. Ale stood and approached the painting, touching the darkness at the center. A strange sensation overwhelmed him, a familiarity that he had felt once before in his life.
As if in a trance, he walked toward the double glass doors that led to the balcony that overlooked the city. A warm wind caressed his face as he ran his fingers over a small table to his right. Taking a deep breath, he gripped the balcony and slipped into introspection. Ale saw art as compassion, and an exercise in mindfulness. A peaceful being at heart, he lacked the conviction to be an activist; yet, he saw mindfulness as the means to live a more compassionate and loving life.
Looking up into the night sky, observing his relative insignificance in the context of the universe, Ale felt a connection to the great abyss spread out before him. It was not a theology per se, but rather a sense of interconnectedness that transcended the biology of his existence. Ale only considered himself close to a few people, most of those related by blood had been casualties of the conflict between the Commonwealth and the Sovereignty; those who had not been taken in battle had been consumed by the violence and difficulty of the blocs of Tertius.
When Ale looked into the vast consciousness of time and space, he felt alone yet connected to his fellow interstellar travelers. When he listened deeply to the cosmos, he could feel the suffering and the cries of those who desired compassion in the face of such horror; this was his way of doing good in the world, he listened despite the sadness it brought him.
A few sirens wailed in the distance filling the tranquil and prosperous streets of Nyan with discord; its well-manicured parks and ecological preserves spoke of an environmental awareness hidden behind an ego that desperately wished to be noticed for its efforts. Ale despised their superficiality, the falseness with which they showed their care for the sentient creatures of the planet when so much of Tertius was covered in mega-blocs, vast pollution-filled slums where the wealthy and personally unaccountable placed the poor and unwanted under the guise of enlightened welfare.
This exact point of contention drove a galactic conflict between warring ideologies, a question of whether the rich and powerful had the right to impose political freedom in a particular way; one side saw freedom through an aggressive capitalism, while the other saw it in a robust social state.
Ale sighed, irritation creeping across his arm like thousands of small insects just beneath his skin. He couldn’t understand such a radical need for others to define personal freedom; it was in each and every moment, in everyday mindfulness of why people made decisions.
With a sigh, he walked back inside and across the loft, and then behind a partitioned area complete with a bathtub and a sink. Ale tapped a mirror just above the sink. It fragmented into millions of individual pixels. He pressed his fingers against them and they dissipated revealing a cabinet.
A small dark box beckoned him.
Disappearing into himself was as much a part of him as his art; reaching out, he grasped the box. Ale turned it over in his hands, thinking about the painting and wondering whether he wished to make the journey that awaited him within the container.
Ale opened the box, revealing a small stack of wafer-sized sheets. Touching his index finger to the top of the pile, he exhaled. The slightest of touches activated the cocktail of hallucinogens imbued in the slip. His hand began to shake, addiction and anticipation stealing his autonomy.
Closing his eyes, he wiped his finger against the stack, taking a single sheet with it. Ale licked his lips and then placed the slip under his tongue and closed his mouth with a moan. He knew from experience that he only had about twenty minutes until the Euphorium took effect.
He felt the exquisite warmth as it dissolved.
Leaving the makeshift washroom, he took a few short steps and plopped down onto a comfortable chair he had purchased for this precise occasion. It articulated at the base, turning him so that he could see the series of unfinished canvases that depicted various stages of a mathematical void, layers of darkness that brimmed with a divine kind of logic.
Time slowed, and each breath felt like it would last forever. Ale felt his somberness sink into a vast ocean of despair; the moment before already felt like a lifetime ago. Euclid had taken this trip enough times, even in a desperate state, to know that unpredictability was the name of the game. He chose to embrace the exploration of the darkness in his unfinished work, the algorithm that called out to him.
A word filled his mind: constant.
Religion did not appeal to Ale. Insight into the universe that could only be afforded by the Euphorium was what he sought. Awareness at the expense of vivid hallucinations was a fair trade.
The paintings changed; darkness became geometric shapes that pulled from the canvases and danced through the air. The walls breathed and the colors sung, joining the blackness in front of Euclid. He could smell the center of the universe; it reeked of sulfur and bile.
Ale Euclid disappeared and become one with the ego of the universe, with the being called The Great Darkness That Came Before. The room disappeared and became only the vast cosmic canvas on which all of life and darkness and nothingness was painted. It was here that the real painter existed, the true artist.
Form became figure, a vast mass that pulsed and slumbered.
The ego called Ale drifted into the bulkhead of the cosmos.
HOURS PASSED AND THE DRUG-FUELED journey subsided; Ale returned. Sitting there in his chair, he felt the lethargy in his limbs. They felt heavy. His mind crawled slowly. Turning his head, he peered around his loft.
A figure stood stoic.
Ale smiled. It felt strange on his face. “Hello?”
The figure remained impassive.
“Who’s there?” Ale placed his feet on the ground, and immediately recoiled. Cold spikes jabbed him; his legs had fallen asleep. Gripping the cushion rests, Ale pushed himself into a more rigid seated posture. He squinted his eyes as he tried to make out his mysterious visitor.
Licking his lips, he moved around his tongue, trying to generate some saliva. His voice was hoarse as he spoke again. “What do you want?”
The figure moved quickly then. Bridging the distance between them, he grabbed Ale by the shirt and lifted him into the air with ease. Euclid reached his hands out weakly, grasping and struggling, but to no avail.
The dark-garbed assailant threw Ale across the room.
The artist’s wrist shattered as he collided with the floor. He felt his stomach tighten and he vomited in his mouth as he tried to push himself up with his uninjured hand.
The dark-garbed shadow picked up the artist again and struck him across the face.
Ale felt his teeth clatter in his mouth. His mind swam as he sailed through the air and crashed through the partition to his washroom, splintering the divider into thousands of metallic pieces that spread across the ground like grains of rice.
Ale tried to stand, the pain in his face and hand making the numbness in his legs dissipate. Using his good hand he managed to raise himself up to a seated position against the tub. The assailant grabbed Ale’s good hand and bent his fingers back, breaking them easily.
Euclid screamed away whatever euphoria lingered. His screams became whimpers as the assailant crouched beside him. “Take anything you want.” Ale tried desperately to flex his hands.
Up close, Euclid saw that his attacker wore black wrappings that hid any distinguishing features. He reached out with his useless hands to touch the wrappings, but the shadow batted them away with one hand and used the other to grab the back of Ale’s head and slam it against the tub.
Euclid’s head bobbed as he dribbled blood and teeth. He groaned as the assassin lifted him once more and turned toward the large bay windows that reflected the skyline of Nyan.
With a grunt, the assassin threw Euclid toward the window.
Ale landed hard, feeling his ribs break beneath his fall.
Looking across the floor of his loft, he saw another figure. It looked familiar; a long cloak dusted the hardwood floors. Red eyes watched from the darkness. Ale reached out, his broken fingers unable to respond to his wishes.
The assassin lifted Ale for the last time.
Euclid saw the figure take shape as he felt the cool air of the night and the small pebbles of the protective glass break around his back. Staring up into the sky, he closed his eyes and embraced what came next.