The Exhibition
rating: +11+x

I had never been so disappointed before.

Tonight was supposed to be my big night, the anart exhibition that would define my career. Hosted by the richest men of the anomalous world, Marshall, Carter & Dark, luminaries from all across the multiverse had come to see our work.

I remembered how surprised and excited I was to see the letter that I had even been accepted into the exhibition. To receive one of these had been my dream since I was a child, learning all about the wonders of the anomalous on my father's knee. The letter looked so formal, with the logo of MC&D printed at the bottom, that I thought it sealed my future forever.

I spent five hours fretting beforehand. I eventually settled on a suit to wear, a black-and-white chessboard pattern, only with actual chess pieces that moved and played games over the fabric. I had specifically requested that it be made with some of the most famous games of history sewn into it, but when I looked down at myself, I could not tell which game was which. Before I could second-guess my choice of clothing, I looked at the time, and realised that I was running slightly late, and left in a hurry, rushing to the portal that the letter told me to go, in between a bookshop and a bowling alley.

When I arrived, my astonishment at seeing the place was a feeling I would never forget. It was ridiculously surreal, like if M. C. Escher painted an art museum, and the museum was filled with Escher's paintings, with the paintings themselves being alive. The chandeliers were made from glowing crystals, almost looking more like disco balls than chandeliers. The crowd there was as impressive as the art, with all sorts of people from all sorts of dimensions, dressed in the finest suits, capes and cloaks that money could buy. As I approached the host, a tall, imposing figure, with grey robes, a metal mask and a mane of white hair, I felt very intimidated.

'Yes, yes, I've been awaiting your arrival, Natura,' he was saying to a woman before him, a human with a green dress–that I quickly noticed was actually made out of leaves–and dark green hair to match, flowing down past her shoulders, with flowers in her hair and clothes. 'Your work is waiting for you in the west wing.'

The woman, who I assumed was named Natura, eagerly nodded and looked over to her right. She started walking so quickly, she almost bumped into me.

'Whoa!' she said suddenly, stopping herself. 'Sorry about that…'

'No, no, it's alright, it's alright,' I said awkwardly. 'Just gonna go talk to the host, find where they put my work…' I'll casually flex that, why not, I thought to myself.

'Oh, are you an anartist as well?' she asked.

'Yeah,' I grinned. 'Artifex,' I held out my hand.

'Natura,' she shook it. 'Anyway, I'd better go. Good luck!' she started to leave. 'And don't forget…look how lucky we are! We made it!' With one last smile, she ran off.

Happy for her and worried for myself, I approached the host.

'Uh, hello,' I introduced myself. 'My name's Artifex, I'm one of the anartists here…'

'Oh, yes,' he said in what almost sounded like a metallic voice, echoing through my ears. 'Artifex. Your work is in the east wing, it's in the far left corner. Can't miss it if you look for it.'

As disappointed as I was that I would not be with Natura for the exhibition, I was more worried about what he meant by 'if you look for it'.

'Ah, thank you,' I awkwardly nodded, then hurried off.

As it turned out, I had every reason to worry. When I got to my display and looked around, my work was put in a small corner of the museum, getting very little attention from the people, except for those who had grown tired of hobnobbing with the rich and powerful and needed a place to relax for fifteen minutes before heading back into the fray.

‘My, my, isn’t this quaint!’ One particular gallery-goer had said, a tall, thin man with a soft smile, but a hard, imperious gaze. ‘I’ll certainly see something like that painting on a commemorative plate one day, mark my words!’

‘If by that, you mean that it will be widely distributed and beloved by many, then yes, perhaps you’re right,’ I sneered back, but it fell flat as the man merely smirked and walked away.

I was in such a bad mood that I was beginning to contemplate packing up my stuff and leaving, when someone came up to me.

‘Excuse me!’ came a jittery voice from behind me, and I turned to see a bespectacled man in a cheap grey suit holding a clipboard.

‘Oh, hello there,’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Come to catalogue my stuff, have you? See if it fits your price range as a Christmas present?’

‘What?’ He tilted his head in confusion. ‘No, no, don’t be silly. I represent the hosts of the exhibition this evening, Marshall, Carter & Dark.’

‘You represent…?’ My head quickly swelled with optimism. ‘Oh, well, good heavens, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir!’ I reached out and shook his hand, even though it was not offered. ‘May I have your name?’

‘That’s not important, sir,’ the man looked down at his clipboard.

‘Oh,’ I was not in the mood for cryptic stuff. ‘Can I call you Bob, then?’ I joked.

‘If you like,’ he shrugged. ‘You’re Artifex, yes?’

‘Yes, indeed,’ I grinned. ‘The foremost up-and-coming artist of the “Are We Cool Yet?” movement.’

‘As you say, sir,’ he did not look up from his clipboard. ‘Er, have you been enjoying the exhibition?’

‘Oh, it’s been wonderful!’ I lied.

‘Glad to hear it,’ Bob replied flatly. ‘Now, about your work, Artifex…’

‘Ah, yes!’ I grinned again. ‘Have your employers, ah, taken an interest?’

‘Well, it’s just that…’ Bob looked up with an apologetic smile. That’s not a good sign, I thought to myself, worried. ‘Surely, this isn’t your best work, sir?’

‘What do you mean by that?!’ I flared up. ‘Take a look at this one, for instance!’ I pointed him towards my painting on the wall, picturing a beautiful woman–who I now noticed bore an eerie resemblance to Natura–sitting in the middle of a meadow at night. ‘If you gaze at this painting for too long, soon enough you will fall irreversibly in love with her! No way to reverse the process, as far as my experiments have concluded. You’re telling me that counts for nothing?’

‘Oh, Artifex,’ Bob shook his head. ‘You and I both know that people like the Foundation and the Coalition could easily cure an affliction like that. Besides, it’s not exactly hard-hitting, is it? A painting that makes one fall in love?’

‘Well-!’ I began. ‘I mean, no, it’s quite tame, it’s quite modest,’ I corrected myself. ‘But what about this?’ I gestured to a vase sitting on the table, one ordained with beautiful carvings around it, and a bunch of dead flowers contained within. ‘This vase will kill anything that you put in it! These flowers? Dead! Put your hand in? It dies! I even put a mouse in there, and guess what!?’

‘It, uh, died?’

‘Precisely!’ I raised my arms.

‘Hm, a vase that kills things,’ Bob looked at his clipboard. ‘Frankly, it’s even simpler than the last one. You know this exhibition is for anart, right? You might do well to get out of the reach of the anomalous and-’

‘NO!’ I shouted suddenly. ‘No, uh, I mean, what about this?’ In desperation, I pointed to a small sculpture next to the vase, of an ancient Greek archer, striking a pose, ready to loose an arrow.

‘Hm?’ Bob looked down at it. ‘Oh, yes, that. What about it?’

‘Well, it…’ I began nervously. ‘The eyes follow you wherever you go! Could it shoot you? Are you willing to test that?’ My voice faltered.

‘Oh, Artifex…’ Bob shook his head. ‘I’m afraid it just isn’t up to the standards of my employers. You know you were only invited here because of the connections your father has, but now I’m starting to doubt if strings can be pulled for you anymore.’ He started to walk away. ‘Disappointing.’

‘Wait, don’t go!’ I called after him, but he kept walking. ‘I’ve got more!’

It was too late. He had disappeared into the crowd.

As I lost sight of him, I sighed to myself, resigning myself to disappointment. Father's going to be so disappointed. When I started walking back to my display, I heard a familiar voice behind me.

'How'd you fare?'

I turned around. It was Natura.

'Oh, uh, fine, I guess,' I lied.

'You guess?' she raised an eyebrow at me. 'This was fantastic! All night everyone was coming up to me, asking about my work, some guy almost got eaten–I assume he wasn't expecting the fly trap painting to be so lifelike–it was incredible!'

'Yeah, well, this was a good start, I guess,' I shrugged nervously. 'I've got to head off, I think I'll pack my stuff up and go.' I glanced back and forth from my display to her. 'Nice meeting you,' I concluded, and walked off. Yeah, real smooth, I reflected sarcastically.

"Nice meeting you too!" she called out after me.

As I began to pack up my work, taking the painting off the wall, the buzz of the exhibition seemed to die down, and all I could hear were my own thoughts.

Just not good enough, Artifex.

I’ll do better next time.

I have to.

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