Vincent’s Secret Students
by Robert T. Jeschonek
The secret of the painting is this: It is what I saw.
This wasn’t some exaggeration of a starry night sky born of madness or imagination or overpowering emotion . . . though I cannot claim to have been a stranger to any of these. It was not an attempt to portray an underlying truth or essential beauty invisible to the naked eye. It was neither an hallucination nor a dreamscape nor a symbolic distortion.
It is what I saw the night the Notfolk left me.
They of the gentle, gliding grace and piping voices. Heads like top hats, bulging eyes rolling around the brim. Great walrus mustaches draping over the lower half of their faces. Bodies long and dark and slender as topcoats touching the floor, showing no trace of shoetips.
They had been coming to me for years, appearing in the night in my room, glowing in a pale blue light like the soft beams of a summer moon. They asked me one question after another, talking to me for hours on end–slithering through my mind–then folding in upon themselves like envelopes and disappearing before my eyes. Leaving me shivering.
Always the questions about my life’s work, my art. They did not understand, did not have such a thing where they came from, wherever that was. Questions about beauty. About dreams. Many questions I did not understand, questions like nonsense, repeated again and again.
And no one else, to my knowledge, ever heard them. Ever saw these people who were not people, not folk, not real by light of day but real enough in shadows.
So this, you see, was what drove me half-mad. Pushed me further from the steady pulse of reason. Year after year.
My work changed as I changed, which intrigued these Notfolk more. What had they done, they wondered? How could they do it to themselves?
One night, finally, they figured it out, and that was the last time I saw them.
They called to me in my room at Saint-Rémy, called for me to come outside and climb the hill.
Orbs of light danced in a sky that flowed and eddied like the sea. Colors within colors within colors. Clouds curled like foaming waves, sweeping forward and swirling into whirlpools. Plumes of silver splashed across the horizon, catching sparks from the shimmering orbs and showering them down to Earth in a rainbow cascade. Even the trees were remade, stretched high in supplication and undulating in the stillness like fronds of seaweed in a tide.
The moon itself became a ball of rippling, golden light.
Everything transformed for a moment, the world a shining vision, a painting on a canvas of night sky. My heart raced.
Then, in a flash, it was gone. The orbs of light rushed down to encircle me, then swam off into the firmament above. Into the starry night.
And that is what I saw. And what I painted.
Their first exhibition.
Robert Jeschonek’s stories have appeared in several Star Trek anthologies from Pocket Books, including Star Trek:: New Frontier: No Limit sand Star Trek: Strange New Worlds volumes III, V, and VI. While pursuing a career as a fiction writer, Robert works as a technical writer for a defense contractor in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the Oregon Coast Professional Fiction Writers Workshop master class conducted by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish