The Winds of the Mind

“The Winds of the Mind”

by Robert Luke Wilkins

“It’s a remarkable piece, Mr. Zaraschel.”

Jonathan smiled and nodded. The wealthy and influential milled around the exhibition—it was the first time he’d been in their company. They were the best-dressed and most beautiful people he’d ever seen, and their scents rose and fell on the air as they passed by—musk gave way to freesia, then to spice, then to peaches.

“The Winds of the Mind,” said the man, reading from the label. He looked thirty, but as wealthy as he was, he could as well have been ninety. “What does it mean?”

Jonathan frowned. How could he explain it? Words were not his strong suit, and never had been. He understood everything about the piece—its sweeps of color, its deliberate clashes—but describing it? He could hear his heartbeat thumping, suddenly loud, as he groped for an answer that wouldn’t come.

“It’s the storm of thought,” said Jess. Relief swept over him as she approached and took his arm. “All the passions and ideas of the mind, swirling and conflicting—at once in harmony, and yet at odds.”

Jonathan smiled as the man studied it. Jess hated these people, he knew—but she masked it beautifully.

“So strange,” the man whispered and traced the line of one dark spiral with his finger tip. “To think you could even function, thinking so! And yet, somehow, you could almost…”

The man stopped and then drifted back off into the throng again without another word, winding his way towards another piece, and another artist. As Jonathan watched him go, he felt Jess squeezing his arm.

“Two hundred thousand,” he said. He still didn’t believe it.

“Three times the price of any other.”

Mister Seward, the curator, was a handsome, seemingly twenty-something man with a carefully engineered baritone voice, and the scent of lilacs followed him wherever he went. “Many people placed bids, and they were very keen to see more of your work.”

Jess hugged him tightly and laughed.

“Two hundred thousand! We can finally get out of that flea-pit—and you can quit the factory!”

“My fees will be deducted, of course,” said the curator. “Ten percent, as agreed. And the state will take its taxes from the top. But even so, you will receive over one hundred twenty thousand.”

One hundred and twenty thousand! That was more than four times his year’s pay!

“And they’ll want more of my work?”

“I guarantee it. I trust you have more to display?”


“Good, very good. I will look forward to seeing the other pieces. A week today, shall we say? Here’s my number. Call me if you need to reschedule.”

An hour later, he and Jess were back in their flea-pit apartment. They’d turned the bedroom into a studio for him, and instead slept on an old mattress in the middle of the living room floor. They sat on its edge at an old coffee-table, and celebrated with mashed potatoes, minced beef and a bottle of cheap wine—the best they could afford, until the money came through.

“We’ll be able to afford a baby,” she said.

“Or we could get immune boosters.”

Immune-boosters were expensive, but they were a staple upgrade for the wealthy, along with precision neural nanotech, artificial skin and bone, and rebuilt voice-boxes. If one only had the means, body and mind alike could be rebuilt to order, whether for health, or for the pursuit of fashion.

But it wasn’t cheap—and few not born into wealth could afford it. Sports teams occasionally scalped a talent from the suburbs and upgraded them with sports-kit reflex enhancements and electrochemical muscle, but it was rare for them to succeed at the highest levels. The privileged kids needed no time to adapt.

The arts, though, offered another way for a talented few to get onto the first rung of that ladder.

“But only the immune-boosters,” said Jess, and she stared at him, studying his eyes as if his soul was there on display.“Not all that other crap.I don’t want to end as one of the living dolls.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, spreading his hands.“Just the immune-boosters.”

Jess grinned.

And a baby! But a new home first—I’m tired of living in this dump! Promise me, okay?”

He nodded and smiled.

“I promise. But first, let’s get the dump cleaned up! We need to show the other paintings.”

“Second,” she said. “First, my favourite artist and I have an appointment on the mattress.”

He kept her appointment with eagerness, and they had a follow-up appointment the next morning followed by a lazy morning of old wine, coffee, and laughter.

Jonathan’s factory manager called around noon when he didn’t show up for his shift, and he enjoyed telling him exactly where he could stick his job. In the end, they didn’t start cleaning until the next day.

The apartment wasn’t really dirty, but it was hard to keep it spick and span—a train-line ran behind the kitchenette, and sometimes the whole place would rattle and dust would shower down over the dishes.

That was one thing he wouldn’t miss.

As they worked, they joked and laughed about the money they were getting and imagined what their lives were about to become.

“And boosters,” he said.“I could get one of those smart-packs.”

Jess’s mood fell flat.

“You promised you wouldn’t.”

Had he promised that? He couldn’t remember—but he was sure he hadn’t meant to.

“You don’t get it,” he said at last, shaking his head. “You’re already smart, Jess. But me, I’m not. I’m stupid.”

“You’re not. You’re brilliant—really, genuinely brilliant, in a way they don’t even understand. What you have, they can’t package—they can’t stick it into one of their little boosters. It’s rare—and beautiful.”

He sighed. How could he explain the way it felt when he tried to think through something and it felt like his mind got stuck before it began? He’d bought a Rubik’s Cube years ago, thinking if he practiced at it, he might get smarter—but he’d not been able to even understand how to begin solving it. Now it just sat on a shelf, just a decoration—and a reminder.

“It can’t hurt to be a little smarter.”

Jess shook her head.

“Okay, I mean—some of this is okay, I guess? Everyone wants to be beautiful. But the things they add to the brain, those are…well, what about the people in the gallery? Didn’t they seem hollow to you?”

He thought back and shook his head.

“Not really. They just seemed smart.”

“Okay, smart. But when was the last time you heard about an artist born from the wealthy?”

He frowned.

“I dunno. But there are some who got famous and did this, right? Like Mesinovic!”

“Sure, but did you see his work afterwards? It was garbage!”

He thought back. Mesinovic’s work had lost something, that was true…but he shook his head.

“Yeah, okay, but his art was all about poverty. No wonder it got bad once he got rich.”

They debated the point a little more, but as always, Jess’s arguments won out—and after he relented and agreed he’d at least think about what she had said, their differences lost the high ground to more exciting ideas. A new house without roaches or rattling trains—a swimming pool and a view of the ocean.

The next day, the urge to paint gripped him.

Jess left him to it, and she worked to clean the apartment and prepare the other paintings for display while he worked on the new one. It took five days for him to finish—unusually fast, but it came easily.

In the middle stood a black and purple figure—much more identifiable than his more abstract works—and to either side, stylized, long-fingered hands pulled at it, trying to draw it in both directions. The figure was spread-eagled and screaming.

He showed it to Jess.

“Well, it’s not very cheerful. What’s it called?”

“I haven’t named it. What would you call it?”

She studied it for a moment.

“A Rending Passion.”

He laughed.


“Well, I’m glad you think so. Will you display it tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow? Tomorrow!” He laughed again. “So soon! I’d lost track.” He shook his head. “I can’t seal it yet. It’ll need a week to dry. But I’ll show it to him, in here.”

She nodded and put her arm around him.

“I think he’ll like it. Maybe you’ll get another sale!”

He smiled. Maybe he would, after all.

Seward looked over the paintings. They’d arranged sixteen in their pokey living-room kitchenette, though Jonathan set aside several that he wasn’t happy with, including a partner-piece of The Winds of the Mind. He couldn’t bring himself to throw them away but he wasn’t about to put them on display, either.

Of those he did display, Seward took seven for the gallery, plus the new one.

“Let me know when it’s ready,” he said. “I’ll send a man to collect it.”

A day after Jonathan sealed and sent the new piece, Seward called to tell him the date of the showing.

“And you will be there, I hope?”

“Of course!”

“Good, good. Buyers do like to meet the artist.”

The next show was different from the last one. This time, the entire display was his—eight pieces, all displayed prominently, and the whole crowd was as interested in him as they were in his art.

Where do you get your inspiration? What was going through your mind? How do you begin a new piece? The questions kept coming and he was glad Jess was on his arm pitching the story for each better than he ever could. He listened to her and while she talked he thrilled in the presence of the buyers—their beauty, grace, and intellect.

When the day was done, all eight had sold.

“Your‘Rending Passion’ was the most popular,” said Seward. “Competition for it was fierce but it sold to the Governor’s Estate for nearly half a million. With the sales of the other seven, the total for today is around a million and a half.”

The numbers didn’t make sense in his head. There would be taxes, again, and more fees. But even then…he tried to do the math in his head but it wouldn’t come.

“A little under a million,” said Seward. “That’s what you’re trying to figure out, isn’t it?”

Jonathan shook his head.

“I’m no good with numbers.”

“That’s what you need me for,” said Jess. “We complete each other.”

He hugged her but said nothing. She did fill in his weaknesses, it was true—but he didn’t like having them. And for a price, they could be shored up—then he wouldn’t have to keep leaning on her. And it was a price he could afford, now.

He could be all he already was—and more.

They got the immune-booster implants and bought their dream house on the hill overlooking the ocean with a square swimming pool in the back overlooked by an artificial rocky waterfall. It wasn’t a mansion by hill standards, but it felt like one—five bedrooms, with a cute, airy one set aside for the baby, when it came. They stood together in front of the mirror, admiring each other and remarking on how cute their baby would be.

Also, Jonathan knew, having this house on the hill was a sign that he was going somewhere.

He turned the south-facing study into his studio and painted every day, though despite the brightness of their new life his work had taken an even darker turn—tempestuous, conflicted, and sometimes violent. He added new things to his work, creating lines with broken crockery and other found-items from their morning walks on the nearby beach. And the new works sold well. Soon, he had banked another three million.

But despite their frequent and enthusiastic efforts, there was no baby.

“It’ll happen,” Jess whispered, and he hugged her and smiled. He did want that baby—he could picture them in the room they’d prepared, giggling and laughing.

But it wasn’t the only change he ached for.

The other, though, he had put from his mind out of love for her. He’d convinced himself that it was for the best, that he could be fine without it. Jess had brains enough for both of them, after all.

And his resolve lasted for months, until he was cornered by a patron during an exhibition while Jess was away answering a call of nature. The man smiled, and looked at him.

“Tell me, Jonathan—what does it mean?”

And he could find no answer.

He stood, dumbstruck, unable to find even crude words to describe his art—and by the time Jess returned to save him, it was too late. The patron had stood silently, waiting—but at last the patience had faded into a look of pity and condescension, and the man had turned and walked away again, leaving Jonathan’s face red, and his mood black.

Jess had tried to cheer him up afterwards. She’d led him to the beach, where the moonlight glittered on the night-time water, then drawn him to a small, shadow-filled spot to fool around under the stars.

It had been good—but it hadn’t changed anything. That look still blazed bright in his mind’s eye, and every time he saw it he imagined that man walking away and talking to the others, telling them all about this idiot artist who couldn’t even describe his own art.

The next morning, he called and booked a session for the neural implants.

He kept his decision to himself, though, until the morning of the operation—then he told Jess as they were drinking coffee in their kitchen’s nook. By then, he’d talked himself into the idea that she might even be fine with it—that she might’ve come around.

“Are you a fool?”She stormed around the living room, all sharp movements and heavy feet. “We talked about this! I thought you understood!”

“What’s to understand? The implants only enhance your thinking—and I need that! They don’t change you!”

“Ah! You’re so blind! Can’t you see what it’s done to the others? They’re not the same as us anymore! They’re cold! And you…you’re already so much more than them! And you’ll lose…”

Jess began to cry and sat down on the couch.

“You can’t do it,” she said at last, her voice broken by sobs. “You can’t. Please, just call it off. Call them and cancel.”

He started to walk over to her, to put his arm around her shoulders and comfort her…but he stopped. Because what could he say to her? That he wouldn’t do it after all? He could—but it would be a lie.

“I’m sorry,” he said at last. “But you’ll see. I promise.”

And he left her there, crying over her coffee.

Over the following weeks, his mind grew sharper—things began to make sense in ways that they never had before. Mathematics came easily to him, and logic chains became intuitive. The Rubik’s Cube sat on a glass display shelf, solved—it had taken him less than two minutes. And soon, Jess would see that he had been right. He was still himself—only better. Calmer, even. Maybe she would even get the implants too.

“You’ve not been painting,” she said one morning, as they sat drinking coffee. “Or coming to the beach with me.”

That was true, he realized—he had just not felt much of an urge to paint lately. And the beach?

“I haven’t been in the mood,” he said at last—and that was true, he felt sure. “Maybe a side-effect—I’ll get over it.”

The next week, it was the same. The week after, he painted again—a plain square of blue, even and smooth, that filled the whole canvas—and named the work Serenity. After that, he set the paints down again. It said everything he wanted to say.

Not quite a month later, Jess moved out.

“You’ve changed,” she’d told him, the night before—and he evidently had, though entirely for the better. He’d already scheduled surgery for electrochemical muscles and a sports enhancer, and was looking over the options for a facial replacement.

Jess would see none of it.

And that was for the best, he decided. After all, she would not change—she would always be her old self, shackled by the limitations of birth, so far below him now. The sex had been good, he remembered—when had they last done that?—but he needed an equal.

And perhaps she had grown bored with him, too—it seemed as likely reason as any for her leaving. She probably struggled to understand him, now that his thinking was so much higher. Before the implants, she had completed him—but now she was redundant.

It was a shame that she would never experience the same ascension, he thought. But then, she had never much liked people like him. Perhaps it was for the best.

It was more than a year later when he saw her next.

He was sitting on the beach when she came walking along the strand with another man, showing the early signs of a pregnancy.

And she looked happy.

They both saw him, and waved—he waved back, and she giggled and whispered something into her new man’s ear. Both of them started laughing, and then made their way out onto the beach, towards the waves.

Neither seemed to know him, which was to be expected—he had gone through facial replacement, and his new features were modeled after Douglas Fairbanks—Thirties film-stars were in vogue. He had the electrochemical muscles, too, and the sports reflex kit, and if you stood close enough, you could catch the scent of lilies from his skin.

But she did look happy.

Once, he might have felt jealous—and he supposed he should have felt happy for her. But in truth, he felt little of anything about it. She was out of his life, and no longer mattered. After all, he had recently been introduced to a new partner, too—and tests had shown they were a great genetic match. Their children would be born with advantages from the outset.

He watched them for a while but said nothing—he sat silent, as they laughed and played at the water’s edge. After a while, he simply stood, and then walked back to the house—uncertain of why he had come at all. He had never really liked the beach.

The last painting, the blue square, had been his last painting. He had picked up the brush again once or twice, but his mind was so calm now—the storm had stilled. There were no more shadows in need of the light. And that was just how he had thought it would be. The good life was a palliative for the soul.

When Seward had come around to see his last piece, he had clucked and shaken his head but he had still displayed it in his gallery. It had gone unsold.

Well, there was no accounting for taste.

Now it rested with his other works, covered with sheets in the room they had prepared for the baby. The easel and paints he had given to Goodwill, and from time to time, he planned to release one of his old paintings for sale—just to remind the world of Jonathan Zaraschel.

But one, he kept for himself.

The study was just a study now, with textbooks and a desk instead of a paint-spattered blanket, but the view from the windows was the same. And next to his desk he had framed and hung the partner-piece of the Winds of the Mind.

Now, looking at it with fresh and better eyes, he understood the confusion of the man who had bought its sibling. How had he ever been able to function with his mind in such a state?

Yet still, it was evocative of . . . something.

He reached out and slowly traced the lines of the picture with his finger. It had been him, once, all of that . . . chaos. But now?

He turned and looked out of the window. Things were so still inside his mind these days. And he was so very, very lucky.


Robert Luke Wilkins works as a software engineer by day, and writes by night, with his stories having appeared in PodCastle, Stupefying Stories, On Spec, and others.  An ex-pat Englishman, he now lives with his wife in Nevada, where their cats Mochi Luna and Teddy Logan do all they can to disrupt the tranquility of their lives. You can find him online at, and until it collapses into a singularity of spite, you can chat with him on Twitter at @RobertLWilkins.

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One Response to The Winds of the Mind

  1. John Baumgartner says:

    A subtle, predictable, but scary precursor to a gray and monotonous future of a humanity ultimately doomed to extinction as the Arts and Sciences die and man no longer desires to explore the worlds of possibilities.

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