‘The Veritas Brush’

The Veritas Brush came to Harley in a most unexpected way. It was Santo that had given it to him. Abandoned by his own father at the age of three, Harley had befriended the old man across the street when he had begun gardening for him at age nine. Santo’s wife had died years before, and despite many attempts, the two had never been blessed with a child. Harley’s mother was an absent one at best, who never found the time to enquire into the nature of her son’s relationship with Santo. She never realised just how lucky she was – that her child had found solace and companionship with such a fellow. Santo and Harley became very close over the years, until age took its toll and Santo became quite ill.
It was on his death-bed that Santo bequeathed the object that would change Harley’s life forever. Twenty at the time, Harley had become disillusioned with life, having fallen prey to the darkest temptations of the night. But, though he had drifted down many a wrong path, he had remained loyal to Santo, and had continued to visit long after he had moved out and become estranged from his mother.
Harley read to Santo as he lay in bed, and he had done countless times before. Santo, as always, listened with an air of contentment, not fazed by his imminent departure from this earth. But on this particular day, an anxiety arose in the old man that Harley had never witnessed before. He forcefully grabbed the young man’s hand and pulled him close, as if suddenly desperate to convey something. It was then that he had hastily told Harley of the Veritas Brush – a sacred instrument that showed the user deep insights into their own soul, ones that could not be reached by any other means. From Santo’s description Harley learned that the Veritas Brush appeared as an ordinary little old paintbrush. But one only had to begin to paint with it to unleash its indefinable powers. Harley had been both confused and intensely fascinated at the time. After he had explained what it was, Santo’s demeanour took on an even more serious tone. He had lowered his voice and stared into the very soul of Harley, saying that it was Harley’s destiny to be the keeper of the brush – that only he could be trusted to use it properly – to enlighten lost souls seeking answers. It was to be used very selectively. Harley began to protest, but Santo was adamant that he would know when the time was right.
Once unburdened of the prize he had guarded for so many years, Santo had felt the end draw intoxicatingly near. With his last breath his eyes bore into Harley’s, as he struggled to voice one final warning, ‘Under no circumstances are you to ever use the brush yourself … for the consequences will be most horrid and unwelcome … it is absolutely paramount that you not …’ And with that last surge of intense effort he was claimed by the afterlife, as Harley sat immobile, frozen with shock and overwhelming confusion.
After the funeral Harley had spent days in his flat, just staring at the ordinary looking object bequeathed to him, angry, and laden with unanswered questions. And then, quite abruptly, he forgot about it for a time. His attentions periodically taken with yet another unsuitable woman, he had tucked the brush away, where it remained untouched for many years.
That was, until Neve came along. After travelling haphazardly around the world for three years, Harley had found himself in the South-West of Australia, picking up odd jobs as they came along. He met Neve, a backpacker from Ireland, when he was fruit-picking. They collided together with an intensity that was foreign to both of them. It was a destructive, yet liberating, melding of souls. They rented a little shack together and stayed there for five months, each feeding the addictive, dark side of the other.
It was in the height of this darkness that Neve began to contemplate suicide. As brutally honest as their relationship was, she held nothing back from Harley, whose arguments against the prospect of death did nothing to shift the canyon of despair within her. But it was only when he first saw her blood that the Veritas Brush re-entered his mind for the first time in years. She had already begun opening up her veins when it occurred to him that he might be able to save her. Without really thinking about it, he ran to his blue backpack and withdrew the faded brown cloth, fumbling to unravel its contents before it was too late. Equipped with only a can of white house paint and no canvass, Harley was forced to think quickly. Staring around madly, he caught sight of the kitchen table. With one foul swoop he ridded it of its contents and threw the tin of paint upon it. He carried Neve into the kitchen like a child, thumped her down in a chair, and clasped her hand around the brush. Then he slowly pushed her hand toward the kitchen table.
‘Paint,’ he demanded.
He stood back, gasping for air, completely unsure of what would, or what should, happen next. For a moment Neve did nothing, she just sat there, with a glazed look in her eyes. Harley began to panic that it had all been a lie. Of course the brush did nothing! Just as his doubts began to seize him, Neve’s body suddenly lurched into motion. She dug the brush hard into the paint and began furiously striking at the surface of the table. Harley stepped back, aghast, and watched as a picture began to form on the wood. Neve was in a trance, yet the image was quite tangible, and so very, very real.
Afterwards, when she had come back to him, they sat huddled together in the kitchen, as she revealed to him the shocking abuse she had endured as a child, and how she had repressed it for all these years, unknowingly wandering the planet in search of another reality. The picture the kitchen table bore had made no sense to Harley until Neve had unburdened the most torturous elements of her soul to him. She went back to Ireland to confront her past soon after, and Harley was left alone to contemplate the true power of the gift he had been given, and what it meant for his future.
It took only one more incident with the Veritas Brush for Harley to realise its full potential, and subsequently his own potential as its guardian. With a diligence and sense of determination most unlike him, Harley moved to Perth and completed a counselling diploma. It was an intellectual time that required no need of the brush, and for a while, his life was somewhat peaceful. He got casual work at a school, and then a part-time job at a rehab centre for adolescents. It was at the latter that he began to struggle. The stories of these children – for they were still so very young – were heartbreaking to hear and Harley found it increasingly difficult to be objective. The Veritas Brush was forever in his mind, as he tried to remedy the damage that had already been done to these young souls. But he instinctively knew that he could not use the brush on one without offering it to all the others. It was an impossible situation that he began to find unbearable.
Then he found himself face to face with Luke. Over several sessions Harley became more and more intrigued by this deeply disturbed, yet highly intelligent, fourteen year old. He had been through unimaginable horrors, which he openly discussed with Harley with a somewhat cold clarity amd objectivity. When the boy began to speak about his father, the urge to use the brush resurfaced with such ferocity in Harley that he could not ignore it.
He had found himself driving, quite unexpectedly, to the father’s house. He had no idea what he was going to say or how he was going to go about it – he just knew, with upmost certainty, that this man must use the brush. It had taken a lot of persuasion, but finally, somehow, the man had conceded. It was as though the sight of the object made refusal impossible. Harley had been prepared that time, despite the spontaneity of the desire. He had come equipped with paint and a sizeable canvass. He was not, however, prepared for what would be revealed to him on that canvass – the barely recognisable shadowed figures, huddled in religious disguises, tearing apart pieces of a body.
When it was over and he had returned to consciousness the man stood, shaking with fear, recoiling from his own truth.
‘What have I done?’ he kept murmuring, almost inaudibly. He realised, in that singular moment, all the wrongs he had committed, and simultaneously, the one deed he could do to make it all right again. Without any further analysis, he grabbed his keys and bolted out the door in search of his son.
Harley had never felt more alive, more inspired, or more … needed. He bathed in complete contentedness that night, with a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction melding together harmoniously in his soul.
It wasn’t long after that that he had made plans to open the retreat. They were minimalist plans, as he lacked decent finances, but he was able to procure a very modest abode, deep in the heart of the Karri Valley – a place that had felt right to him as soon as his feet had touched the earth. He planned for over a year before he was satisfied with the system he had developed. He had devised a stringent selection process for his clients. Only a few were selected and treated at a time, each bound to secrecy, and only allowed to use the Veritas Brush when trust had been fully established. It worked every time, and he saved countless people over many years.
But as the years went by, and more souls walked away enlightened, remarkably and inexplicably fulfilled, something strange began to happen to Harley. Without fully realising it, Harley became enamoured with his own power – arrogant even. He began to believe that it was he who wielded the power to heal and not the brush. He had transformed himself into a sort of shaman – the type of healer who was only accessible on a strange and deep level. When Laurel came back to see him it had been the final straw. He had treated her years ago, but he remembered it vividly. She had been one of the darkest minds he had ever seen, and one of the hardest to reach. When she came back to visit he was not surprised to hear that her life had turned around. But as she spoke of her perfect family, her high-paying, satisfying job, and investments, he felt no sense of pride in her accomplishments. He felt angry and disillusioned, for she didn’t seem to understand the true value of life at all. It made him question the work that he was doing. This woman, having been victimised herself, had committed atrocities upon others that almost saw her not accepted into his programme. He had doubted his decision to take her only until the last session with the brush. But now that she stood before him, all admiring and cocky, he felt sickened and vulnerable.
It played on his mind long after she had left. He became consumed with negative thoughts and severe doubts. He kicked out the two clients who were staying with him without a second thought. And then he sat, drinking whisky from the bottle, and staring at the brush that had been given to him all those years ago. His entire being was consumed by the brush. For days he sat, not eating or showering, just sitting on the veranda, staring down the brush. His mind became riddled with demons, until they exploded violently through his body, taunting him with countless questions. Why should other people get the benefit of me? Why do I do this for others? Why me? Why not me? Harley went quite mad with the incessant nattering of the demons.
But it was the curiosity that finally unravelled his mind completely. As he sat there, quite paralysed by the torrent of emotions coursing through him, he began to get more and more curious about the brush. He had felt the desire before, but had quickly shut it down. Every time it manifested he recalled Santo’s warning to never use it himself. But tonight he could not take his eyes off the brush. It seemed to be calling to him, wanting him to pick it up, needing him to hold it. It was insufferably tantalising.
On the fifth night, after three quarters of a bottle of whisky, he could take it no longer. He meticulously set up a momentous canvass in the centre of the painting grove. He filled his palette carefully. Then he looked at the white nakedness of the canvass and stripped of all his clothes until he too stood bare. In one drawn-out moment that transcended time his hand reached for the instrument of his undoing.
His mind instantly went black. Then suddenly, fuzzy, unrecognisable shapes drifted stealthily through the leaves, planting seeds of ice in his soul. Images of his life flickered painfully through his semi-conscious mind, racing into existence. The very earth crept up to meet him, enveloping him in velvety hatred. A dense grey fog encircled him, tightening its grip around his torso, until the pain was almost unbearable. Yet a strange sense of satisfaction snuck in alongside the pain, and for a brief second Harley was caught off-guard. He felt himself stumbling backwards into an inescapable abyss.
With a sickening punch to the heart Harley’s sight returned to him, and with it, his consciousness. For a moment he stood paralysed, breathless from the tumultuous journey he had just been on. Only when he began to feel his bare feet once again on the earth did he start to realize that he was covered in red paint. Confused, he held out his shaking hands. Fat, red droplets plummeted off them into the dirt below. It was then that he shifted his gaze to the canvass.
What he saw there stripped him of all his remaining strength. He collapsed to his knees. With eyes widened in unimaginable terror he stared at the image, as, with horrifying clarity, he remembered …
Anyone else would have looked at that canvass and seen nothing but a simple, almost rudimentary, black car in a sea of red. But Harley saw his own truth in that image. He remembered his truth. He remembered that night. With violent intensity he recalled the feeling of the car spinning out of control. He saw the look on his wife’s face. He heard his son screaming. In slow motion he saw the blood spilling out of his wife and son, as they lay broken. He saw his own blood melding into theirs as he held them, screaming. The sound of the scream made Harley clasp his hands over his ears, as the memories flicked faster …
His son’s funeral … watching the agony upon his wife’s face … sitting by, feeling so utterly helpless as Neve sunk into depression. Then finally finding her lifeless body hanging in the bathroom …
Then the visions shifted to a different space. He remembered the white walls of the hospital. He saw himself, gazing vacantly out the window, as echoes of Dr Santo Martinez’ voice shivered through the space. The doctor’s words to Harley’s Aunt Laurel, ‘He has experienced a catastrophic psychotic break …’ Conversations flickered through his mind at a frightening speed. Dr Martinez asking him to confront his grief, ‘Neve and Luke would not have wanted you to mourn them forever … it wasn’t your fault Harley’ … His Aunty’s harsh attempts to jolt him back to reality. Vivid visions of the art therapy classes appeared next – those sessions that had finally bought him some small measure of peace.
Harley saw all these things, in one torturous instant, that vibrated endlessly within his soul. He realised, as he stared at the canvass, that none of it had been real. He realised that he had forged an alternate reality that had allowed him to escape the truth. He realised that he had been so truly and utterly broken that he had fragmented his being into pieces, creating characters to save, solely for the purpose of hiding the shame of not being able to save his own family. He had befriended the other patients, and had made himself into a kind of healer. He had been consumed by hatred for Laurel, his one link to his past, and he had used her as a target for his smouldering anger. His world was fabricated. There was no reality.
But where he now stood was real. He was a man gone mad, standing in front of a canvas, held in a prison of white, bathing in the blood of his past.

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