help desk at artists' retreat

"The Doom Statues" - chapter 26

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 6 Jun 2024

Though they are unable to reach Kidwell Monday, he is on premises Tuesday for what feels like, many of them agree, the most productive day since they’ve arrived at Otherwise. In some sort of zone ever since they returned from Stokely, in fact, Emily knuckles down to work in her cabin beginning on Monday night, and is up to about three in the morning painting. Then wakes at eight, her head buzzing with a million ideas, and jumps into it all over again.

The heavy curtains Denise and Kay picked out for her, at the closeout store, surely help with her sense of well-being. With some tunes cranked and every light in the cabin on, she was firing on all cylinders in this watercolor depiction of a church. It was maybe sort of inspired by one of those witnessed in town, but far simpler, mostly because she hadn’t the patience for sketching subjects nor any sort of photographic recall. Really, the greatest influence might have been witnessing Tom Drucker in action all week, and examining his work, for the colors on this creation are all muted, just variations of brown and black in the building itself, the barren ground surrounding it a little lighter. Finally this vague, purplish gray mist wafting all around, the shade depending slightly upon where one looked.

Jeremy was up with her until well after one, goofing around on his phone. But he could sleep through anything, it seemed, and even with the music relatively loud, the lights positively blazing, her creative fury in full swing, none of it prevented him from dropping off into a full slumber. The merriest pair of drunken roommates on site, Denise and Kay, even stopped by with what remained of a wine bottle, as they’d already plowed through one and a half, in the course of their own remodeling and fortifying project next door. Still Jeremy didn’t so much as turn over in his sleep.

Neither of those two had done much Monday, but both hit the ground running on Tuesday, just like everyone else. Kay drifts up to the third floor of the main house, to fire up a pottery wheel, and is not seen for many hours. Meanwhile Denise, very much in keeping with this surreptitious observer role she feels she has carved, wanders around and plants herself in various locations, sketching away with a pencil in a notepad, making conversation here and there, maybe occasionally jotting oblique little notes next to her drawings, concerning the goings on around this property.

Tony, who says his video installation piece is almost complete, and who anyway claims he can only seem to do serious work at night, with no one around, volunteers for this project to further clean out the barn. They’d really only tackled its central space prior to that dance, throwing tarps over equipment around the edges. The remainder remains highly dusty, or covered with hay and straw along much of the back half, in particular the animal pens.

Kidwell naturally has Jeremy assigned to a number of odd jobs around the property. His most major of these concerns getting that front building in shape to function as a gift shop. The Druckers, who are clearly not messing around and whose ability to combine art with commerce even Kidwell admits, with a hearty chuckle, is highly inspirational, have shown up with boxes upon boxes of prints, and are seeding the gift shop on an agreed upon 50/50 consignment split with Harry. Upon hearing of this deal, Lydia also gets to work cranking out high quality photographs to sell. Still others plan to peddle even their most half baked concoctions — often quite literally, as in barely finished pottery. This sudden flood of product is part of the reason Kidwell wishes to get the barn in order, as a potential overflow point of display space for these tours.

Armed with some additional knowledge, from their library experience, Jeremy and the others continue pressing the owner for more information about this property’s history. He was after all the one who’d mentioned that underground natural spring, just days ago. And yet Kidwell continually insists he doesn’t know anything about the layout here and has no map, just as he’s never heard the name Charles Howard, either.

“I don’t know, man, I mean, my grandma,” he shrugs, when Jeremy presses him on this point, earlier in the day, “I know my grandma had gotten this place on the cheap, and something about a fire, but that’s about the extent of it.”

It’s now mid-afternoon, and Jeremy stands in the gift shop’s front space, replaying this conversation as he stares out the large front window. There are four vehicles parked nose to asshole, directly before here, in a row, with Kidwell’s giant navy blue Suburban leading the pack. Jeremy and Emily have been cleaning and arranging display racks in this gift shop for hours, and are just now taking a break. Grace has dropped by for a visit, and she and Emily are softly chatting, laughing about something this very second, as he idly gazes down the overgrown hill. Rebecca and Jen, curiously enough — not because they have recently been linked as a couple, only because he has trouble picturing Jen anywhere outside that infernal main house kitchen — are cavorting around with a handful of others, with a butterfly net, doing who knows what on this slightly overgrown hill with its bluish purple flowers. Then again, he’s pretty sure he’s glimpsed a marijuana pipe being passed around down there, too, so maybe this explains quite a bit.

“This tour business is always a bit nerve-wracking!” Grace is confiding to Emily, somewhere behind him. “No matter how many times I’ve done something like this.”

“Just say juxtapose a lot,” Emily jokes, “like, all the time. Use it at least once in every description of what an artist is doing, and make up the rest. You’ll be fine.”

Jeremy’s been commuting as his schedule sees fit, this final week of pulling duty in two different places. It’s only an hour, which isn’t horrible, less than others spend one way on the bus or train in major cities. The thought of double dipping on pay for this period is reward enough alone to keep him going. Of course, last night he was off at 10:30 and turned around to work a morning shift today, but what the hell. This seemed to happen at least once a week regardless, and he’s young enough to pull it off.

He and Emily spent a solid two hours dusting the crap out of this counter, outfitting it with a cash register, credit card reader, pens and notepads, brochures and maps and anything else which might come in handy. Still, while this counter does run about ¾ the length of this gift shop’s front room, the space directly in front of it is looking a little barren. That’s actually what he’d been contemplating before zoning out and becoming distracted by those playing outside in the distance. He had strolled around in front of this counter to get a feel for its dimensions, but became sidetracked.

Now he turns in the opposite direction, back to the window, to appraise the shop as a whole. To his left, there’s the front door, and beyond it the gift operation proper. Right now, Grace and Emily are inspecting a rack of clothes near the back left corner, snickering as they examine the pieces. These were all lifted from quote unquote The Collection, specifically curated by a handful of the girls, pieces that were just ironically funky or retro hip or just plain weird enough to pass off at a premium here. Even though Grace commonly wears items from The Collection herself, as most of the artists do. So far Emily has been, thankfully, impervious to that particular affliction, but he feels that’s just a matter of time.

Anyway, they gave the clothes a good wash and a spritz of some fresh smelling spray, and here they are. Just one tastefully arranged rack, so as not to arouse suspicion and over-saturate the market. They look right at home amid the Druckers’ cottage industry of prints and pottery, Lydia’s more modest offerings and the smattering of pieces others have come up with.

So the gift shop eats up probably a good sixty percent of the available space in this one room building. An office, carved into most of the remainder, is accessible from both sides, behind the counter and from the shop itself, with one small unisex bathroom, tucked away in the shop’s elbow, about dead center within the building as a whole. Yet there’s definitely some room up front here for…if not more display space, then maybe room for chairs and a little table? Although this then calls into question who would want to sit there and why, which means it’s probably going to wind up as still more display space. Still, they can put up some bulletin boards, maybe, or chalkboards or something, fashion it into a general information area.

He turns to the window once more, thinking that something about this arrangement of cars is gnawing at him, and he can’t figure out why. Nothing about them nor their configuration seems all that striking, this line of four running parallel to the front of the building. They just look weird, is all he can think. This window is pretty good sized, and lines up well with the counter, if looking straight ahead, centered within it but maybe a foot short on each side. This is why he strolled around the counter and then up to the window, to grab a better look.

There’s some IT guy’s white pickup truck last in line, then that metallic powder blue station wagon, who knows how old, which Tom Drucker is known to putter around in. Some red VW Beetle directly in front of him, which he thinks might be Grace’s, actually, and then, though pretty much just its back bumper and a tiny bit of the rear quarter panel is visible from here, Kidwell’s big old navy blue truck. Jeremy leans up against the glass, to glance left and get a better look at the remainder of the latter, continuing to believe all the while that something is truly weird about its placement there, just sitting in broad sunlight alongside the remainder of this building, when a breathless Denise barges into the front door, startling the crap out of him even though she’s all smiles.

“They found the natural spring!” she pants.

“What?!” the others say uniformly, with Jeremy and then Emily also asking, “where is it?” As Grace merely offers her standard red lipsticked smile, as though a little unsure, but mostly considering this a neat development.

Denise nods repeatedly to this question, mostly to catch their breath, and then explains, “there’s a hatch door in the barn. In one of the stalls. Tony discovered it when he was sweeping out some straw.”

Standing with hands on hips, having crossed most of the distance to the front of the room along with Grace, an open mouthed, wide eyed Emily at last gathers herself to announce, “well, we have to go check it out! Right this second!”

“I already have, actually,” Denise beams, and Jeremy begins to pick up on a little sibling jealousy passing between these sisters, a subtle taunt. “It’s pretty cool. C’mon, I’ll show you…”


Like the story so far? Pick up the entire tale from your favorite store below!



How do you rate this article?



I am a professional writer with 8 published books under my belt. And many other unpublished ones, in various stages of disarray.

Jason McGathey
Jason McGathey

Semi-Coherent Musings - from one of the leading masters of this questionable art form!

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.