“Ah, you’ve arrived right on time.”
Kale Herbert smiled at me, reaching out with his free arm to gesture me inside his extravagant home. He used his body to hold the doorway open, and I stepped inside, thanking him. His face was still quite as pale as when we had first met, but there was an energy to him that made him look well. As well as one could be after having survived an attempt on their life.
“Thank you, Mr. Herbert,” I replied, taking in the grandeur of his estate. Kale Herbert was one of the city’s finest artists, known for painting fantastic works for display at the local museum. The slow but steady pace he released new works kept the attention of the masses; perhaps it also helped that all of the other artists in the area were too frightened to even dare to try. Many collectors tried to buy off his pieces, but he only let a select number leave his grasp from time to time to make ends meet. He claimed that he always put a part of his soul into every piece, and that he’d have no soul left if he sold them all off. I’d believe it - the way he used colour and brushstrokes to glorious detail, there was an unimaginable amount of love and effort put into everything he did. Still, I couldn’t help but wish he’d paint a picture for me to keep too. So as a fan of his work, I was immensely excited for having the opportunity to interview him tonight.
“Dinner is just about ready, you’ll have to forgive me for not having it done sooner,” Kale stated, before closing the large wooden door behind me.
“Oh, it’s really no trouble. I’m surprised as it is you were still willing to cook in the first place, what with your injury and all.” My eyes drifted from his face down to his forearm, wrapped in bandage and cradled in a sling. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the blood stain on it.
Kale must’ve noticed my face. “Ah, it’s just paint. I was just doing a quick landscape before you arrived. Care to see it?”
My answer was obvious.
Kale chuckled lightly, then motioned for me to follow. We walked down the corridor, passing many murals and landscapes that I’d never seen before. Exquisite hues and technique filled my eyes, and I had to keep myself from simply standing still and letting them swallow me into their worlds. The subjects and themes of these works were still similar to those Kale would put on public display; mostly people in their day to day struggles, usually exaggerated with ironic sentiments, such as a man carving off a chunk of his own flesh within his run down house, a pile of bills stained in his blood with his family watching from another room. Another painting depicted a woman screaming in agony while every joint in each of her arms were being popped apart, deforming her. She was holding onto something on both sides, slowly being dragged away into the darkness of the painting. In one hand, dollar bills scratched at the inside of her fist and let crimson river pour from them; in her other, her fingers dug into a loaf of artisan bread, just about ready to break off from her. It was the gritty depiction and familiar pain of those average difficulties that really enraptured his audience, myself among them.
Soon after, Kale had led me into a separate room. It was a bit darker with the lights off, and most of the windows were blocked by curtains or bristle board. The only sources of light came from the two open doorways - the one we entered from, and another where the smell of dinner sourced from - and the single large window that gave a wonderful view of the sun setting over the ocean. The paintings in this room were all landscapes; not a single person could be seen on any of them, allowing one to appreciate the splendor of the environments instead. The room had a very odd smell to it, something like an artificial earthiness. On an easel by the open window, there was one such painting; it was a magnificent recreation of the current sunset. The reds and oranges were intense, and the white of the sun cut through it all brilliantly. The ocean was unfinished, but the deep navy blue strokes that were on the canvas still looked nice.
“It’s the oil paints,” Kale remarked. He must’ve noticed my upturned nose. “You get used to the strength eventually.”
“Why is it so dark in here though?”
“I was seeing how it felt, just using the light of the setting sun to paint its image. It was quite… relaxing.”
I kept down a chuckle and just nodded, then followed him through the other door. It led into the kitchen, as expected, which doubled as the dining room, with a massive glass wall overlooking the ocean and its cliffside. Kale invited me to take a seat at the dining table near the studio entrance, and then joined me from the other side of the table. The plates were set and neat, with a bottle of wine waiting on his end.
“Mr. Herbert,” I said. “Would it be alright if I start with a few questions now, if we’re waiting?”
He shook his head and gestured with his free hand. “By all means, go right ahead.”
“Thank you.” I reached into my purse and pulled out a notepad. “So, you know why I’m mainly here. What was your experience with the ‘blood artist’ like, if it’s not too painful to go through?”
Kale shook his head again. “I reassure you, as his only current survivor, I’m more than willing to share whatever I can to help out. You can ask me absolutely anything. Well now, let’s see... I suppose he seemed to come after you had done that first news piece on me, Ms. Jacobs. Must’ve been the attention that drew, same as the rest of them, right?”
I nodded. “That does seem to be the pattern. All four of the other victims were getting in the spotlight very quickly too. So why then did you keep going, if you knew it would put you at risk?”
He shrugged. “Because I wasn’t appropriately scared, I suppose. Because I didn’t think it could happen to me.”
“But it did.”
“Right you are. After painting so many normal problems and basking in their feelings, getting used to the pain of the everyday, I didn’t see this criminal as a threat. I was concerned, sure, that it might happen again, but I also couldn’t just leave my audience hung and dry. And this house doesn’t pay for itself.” He gestured upwards to the ceiling with a laugh, and I joined him in agreement. A villa overlooking the ocean, secluded from the rot and stink and noise of the city, was not a cheap thing.
Kale sighed and slumped in his chair a bit. “So there I was, in the hotel hot tub-”
“The Goodwill, right?”
“Yup, that’s the one I stayed in. Was doing a trip around the state - another reason I thought I was safe, all of the other kills had happened in the city. Anyways, so I’m getting out of the tub, when I hear the door to the pool open. I turned just to see who it is, since it was pretty late, and…”
Kale paused for a moment, trying to describe his attacker. “He was dressed fairly normally for an artist; button up plaid and jeans, absolutely covered in paint stains. It was the mask that made me realize, ‘oh shit, I’m in trouble’.”
I traced the air around my face with my pen, breaking from writing for a moment. “Those, those… drama masks, yeah?”
“Yeah, the frowning theatre mask.”
I paused my own writing. “A frowning mask? All of the others were attacked by a smiling man.”
“Well that’s just it. See my theory is that there’s two of ‘em. That’d explain how this one found me so quick.” Kale shrugged again, raising an eyebrow as well.
“I can see it, yeah. The murders seem too well coordinated for it to just be one person.” I flipped the page in my notepad and continued. “So, what happened when you saw him?”
Kale reached down with his left hand to pull up the side of his shirt, revealing another bandage on his left side abdomen. “Bastard stuck me, I think it was a palette knife. Definitely sharper than it needed to be, I can tell you that much. Went in easy since I was still wet and relaxed from the hot water. So I fell down to the floor, he got on top of me…” Kale shivered, his eyes closing for a moment.
“Mr. Herbert? We can stop if you’d like.”
He opened his eyes slowly, looking towards the floor blankly. “That’s when he pinned me, and took the knife to my arm. Very slowly, god damn… it was like I could feel every single skin fiber get plucked apart, and every single one stung. The blood started pouring, and of course he had a bucket to start collecting.”
“Did no one see this going on?”
“No, like I said, it was late, so there wasn’t anyone else around. I tried fighting back with my free arm, but he’d just jab me in the nose. Eyes teared up, blood pouring from there now, I’m dizzy, and he kept hitting if I moved. I remember…” Kale scratched his hair here, and bit his lip. “He brought the knife towards my nether regions at one point. But he didn’t do anything there.”
“Why do you think they did it?”
“Probably to get my heart racing more, to scare me. Get more blood pumping, bleed me faster. If that was the reason, it worked.” He leaned back, resting his head on the top of the chair while looking upwards again. “I remember getting tired, and I could barely keep my eyes open. Eventually, I blacked out, and the next thing I remember was being in the hospital.”
I nodded slowly. “Alright then… What is your opinion on his methods? Why do you think they’re doing this the way they are, going around and draining artist’s of their blood? It seems very ineffective.”
“Well, he seems to get massively jealous of any up and rising artists. Perhaps he’s trying to upstage them.”
“Upstage them how?”
“His methods are probably excessive on purpose; it’s an act. This is his own show, at least in his eyes. And he thinks it’s the greatest exhibit on earth.”
I tapped my pen on my pad. The admiration in Kale’s voice was odd, but my anxiety only flourished when he stared at me with those dilated pupils. I coughed to clear my throat, trying to think of the next question. “So… what does he do with the blood then? There’s always a lot at the scene, but most of it-”
“That’s the mystery of it. The excitement that comes from his murders; why did he do it? Where did the blood go? That’s the thrill that entices your column readers, isn’t it Emily?” Kale was leaning over the front of the table now, his bandaged arm beneath him.
My suspicions towards Kale were growing ever more intense. While he might have just had some strange fascination with this murderer, considering the tastes of his works were rather dark in their own respect, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another reason. And if my hunches were correct, then this was a situation I had to get myself out of quickly. Biting my lip, I tried another question. “Did the idea ever come across your mind that this person may have been a copycat?”
Kale rested both elbows on the table and clasped his hands together. “Of course. Someone else might have a taste for the blood artist’s work. My attacker was definitely a copycat, they could never get it precisely right if they tried.”
“And why would that be?”
“Because you can’t imitate perfection.”
A silence was born after that, and quickly grew into its uncomfortable adolescence. I slowly copied down his words, trying to avoid making eye contact with the frightening man. I scratched down notes, or at least pretended to, and flipped through my book, “attempting” to find another question to break the eerie quiet. The abrasive ringing of the oven did so for me, signaling that dinner was ready. As Kale stood up to get it out, I followed, clearing my throat. “Um, would it be alright if I used your restroom before we eat?”
Kale smiled softly and nodded, before pointing to the dining room’s main entrance. “Certainly. Second door on the left.”
I nodded to thank him, then quickly shuffled past him, my purse and notepad in tow. The door opened up to the main hall, forcing me to pass by the same paintings as before. Only now, instead of just feeling a dark and surreal fascination by Kale’s works, I was disturbed and uneasy. It wasn’t hard to imagine the subjects of his portraits being his victims.
I began to make haste for the front door, when I noticed that one door was still open a bit - his studio. Though it made me sick to admit it, I wanted to see his art one last time if he was to be arrested after I had made my report to the police - otherwise I might never get that feeling again, regardless of what emotions accompanied it now.
I stepped inside slowly, unable to make out much of what was visible before. The sun had set during our conversation, and so it was nearly impossible to make out any of the paintings distinctly. Feeling on the wall, I felt a lightswitch and gave it a flip. My heart caught in my throat as it skipped several beats; impulsively, I covered my mouth to keep it from escaping. Paint cans sat on the floor, with crimson drip lines running down their sides. Some were filled to the brim, others laid on their sides, the blood caramelized and crusty.
A scream was finally ready to escape my lips when I felt another hand clasp my own, and a sharp kitchen knife driving itself into my back. As I struggled to escape the blood artist’s grasp, more of my life fluid poured from my body, and my consciousness quickly deteriorated. I wanted my last sight to be of his art, to be of something beautiful, but all of the paintings in this room were brown. Even the sunset.
Written by RedNovaTyrant