The Unfinished Painting
In a small town on Long Island, there was a creepy urban legend going around in the early 1990s. For most adults, it seemed childish. But for children—especially twelve-year-old boys—it was much too tantalizing to ignore.
The last owner of the haunted house on Gristmill Lane was an artist who went mad because of a painting he couldn’t quite finish. Out of frustration, he ended up murdering his new bride with a hatchet. Or so the story goes, according to one eyewitness, a neighbor who later disappeared herself.
No bodies were ever discovered. No murder weapon. Nothing. A jury found him “not guilty” due to a lack of evidence.
The trial ended. The artist did not have to spend any time in prison, but the neighborhood never trusted the acquittal. Those old enough to remember recall watching the artist grow old and seldom leaving his house. He’d walk to the end of his driveway every morning to retrieve the paper. That was it. He spoke to no one and was presumably very much lost in his work, the painting he could never quite finish.
Then the morning papers started piling up and spilling over onto the front lawn. The old artist never came out of his house again. He was last seen in the spring of 1963.
Several people have investigated since. Police, private investigators, several government officials, the FBI and a few curious ghost enthusiasts. But whoever entered that house for any reason, never came out. The investigations themselves had to be investigated. Nothing ever came of it. The media simply lost interest and the house was condemned. The urban legend was born.
Grownups who were too young at the time to remember reasoned the stories were largely made up to keep kids away. Perhaps all the warning signs and barbed wire surrounding the property were due to an asbestos problem or something. Why the house wasn’t just torn down or at the very least flipped for profit, who could understand?
Mickey Four Eyes—as he was affectionately known due to his unusually thick glasses—loved scary stories and was much too curious to accept the “official” report of the haunted house on Gristmill Lane.
It was a spring Saturday afternoon when he enlisted the help of his three best friends: Jerry, Paul and Zachary.
“Be home for dinner!” his mother shouted as he ran out the kitchen door. “6 o’clock sharp. Not a minute later.”
Mickey Four Eyes went into the open garage to get his bike and his father’s bolt cutters. He turned his head in both directions to make sure no one saw him place the bolt cutters in his backpack.
He rode like mad to the house on Gristmill Lane, where Jerry, Paul and Zachary were already waiting for him in the woods behind the backyard.
“Who’s gonna go in first?” Mickey Four Eyes said.
“I thought we’d all go together?” Jerry suggested.
“Are you nuts?” Paul asked. “That’s just what the ghost wants. To kill us all at once.”
“Ghost,” Zachary said incredulously, with a roll of his eyes.
“Okay, so demon,” Paul said.
This made Zachary laugh.
“Mickey should go in first,” Paul said. “It was his idea.”
“That’s fair,” Jerry agreed. “How about it Four Eyes?”
Mickey had to think fast.
“Yes,” he said. “The bravest one should go. That’s me. It’s about time you admitted it.”
“No,” Zachary interrupted, and Mickey held back a smile. “I’ll go. And I don’t need to be brave because there’s nothing to be scared of. There’s no such thing as a haunted house. But I don’t see how we’re going to get through the barbed wire fence. I’m not climbing it.”
That’s when Mickey Four Eyes took his backpack off and pulled out his father’s bolt cutters.
Zachary made sure to look outwardly relieved, but he was sorry he opened his mouth.
It took a few minutes for Mickey to make a hole in the chain-link fence large enough for each of them to stoop under and enter the property.
“Okay, little girls,” Zachary teased. “Here it goes.”
The house was just forty short feet from the chain-link fence separating the woods from the property line. Zachary walked with purpose, past the weeping willow that hung down as if it wanted to grab any passersby. From the back porch, there were French doors that led presumably to a dining room.
The other three boys looked on with a mix of admiration and shame. Admiration for their brave friend. Shame for their own cowardice.
The French doors were locked. Zachary turned to his friends and shrugged, as if to say Oh, well. I guess that is that.
“Just break the glass by the handle and reach in,” Paul said.
Zachary sighed and looked for a rock. He did as Paul suggested. A small area of glass above the door handle shattered and Zach took care to not cut himself. He opened the French doors and looked back at his excited friends. He took a deep breath and entered the house.
It was completely empty and smelled of mildew. The walls were cracked, the wallpaper was peeling and the wood floors creaked with each step. Zachary entered the living room and was surprised to see a single painting on the wall.
“The unfinished painting,” he whispered as if to not awaken it.
Zachary walked over to the work of art to get a better look. The grotesque scene shocked him. It depicted a dark sky thick with storm clouds. On the far left was a man holding a paintbrush in his left hand and a bloody hatchet in his right, standing on top of a pile of bodies. Countless bodies. Zachary examined each one. There were bodies of police, people in hazmat suits, FBI agents and a mound of civilians. On the very bottom of the heap were two women.
“The wife and the witness,” Zachary said under his breath. He looked at the murderer on top of the carnage. He stared into his strange snake eyes, then glanced down at the killer’s boots. Zachary’s eyes widened in horror.
The boys outside were trying to look through the windows, but the weeping willow blocked quite a few of them and the living room with the painting was behind a wall.
“It’s been a while,” Jerry said. “What’s taking him so long? Should we all go in now?”
“No,” Paul answered. “Let me check it out. Wait five minutes. If I’m not out by then, call the cops.”
“The cops!” Mickey said. “We can’t do that. We broke into the house.”
“So what,” Paul said. It’s an abandoned house anyway.”
“But we cut through the fence and everything.”
“Well, I’ll open a window or something and let you know I’m okay. But if I don’t do that within five minutes, go get help.”
The boys agreed on the plan and Paul entered the house. Five minutes came and went.
“I don’t like this,” Jerry said.
“I guess we should go in now,” Mickey said.
“Are you crazy? I’m not going in there. I’m going home and calling the police.”
“We’re gonna get in trouble! Don’t do that!”
“Well, why hasn’t Paul opened a window? He was supposed to do that. What happened to Zachary?”
“I don’t know. They’re just messing with us or something.”
“I’m outta here.”
Jerry left through the hole in the fence, hopped on his bike and pedaled like mad till he was out of sight.
Mickey Four Eyes was not sure what to do
“Zachary!” he called out. “Paul! I know you guys are just messing around. You can come out now. Jerry left.”
There was no response.
Mickey did not think it was the right thing to do to leave his friends in there, but he also wondered if Jerry really was going to call the cops. He didn’t want to be here when they showed up.
I’ll just run through really quick, he thought. Maybe they found something cool in there.
Mickey mustered up his courage and whispered to himself over and over, “There’s no such thing as a haunted house.” He pushed away the weeping willow’s tentacles on his way to the French doors. He let himself in.
At first, he was surprised. There didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. He took notice of the mildew smell, the peeling wallpaper, cracked walls and creaking floors. But it didn’t seem scary.
“Paul!” he called out. “Zachary!”
No answer. He then entered the living room and saw the artwork.
“The unfinished painting,” he whispered.
Mickey walked up to it. He examined all the bodies starting at the bottom. There were the two women followed by all the others. But when Mickey’s eyes reached the very top of the pile, he let out a shriek he didn’t know he was capable of making. The two bodies on top of the heap, right under the murderer’s boots were none other than his two friends, Zachary and Paul. He then noticed the killer had a paintbrush in his left hand and a bloody hatchet in his right. He stared into his snake eyes, then down to his feet. The last thing he ever saw was a new body forming under the killer’s boots. The lines and contours were being painted into the canvas as if by an invisible hand and brush. Mickey squinted to make sure, but there was no doubt. Same thick glasses and everything. The face on the new body was his very own.
Mickey Four Eyes never did make it home for dinner at 6 o’clock. When police and government officials came to investigate, they already knew the drill. Ignore Jerry’s testimony, dispose of the bikes, patch up the hole in the fence, and leave the house alone. Until curiosity killed the next unfortunate ghost enthusiast, there the painting would remain, undisturbed and never quite finished.