There was a woman who lived to be one hundred years old.
She outlived most of those she once knew.
She had lived an incredible life. She traveled the world and saw a century of changes — recording the memories through photographs, words, art, and books.
Stories and history and memories that live on, eternal. That live much longer than the storyteller holding the archives. Stories that likely [rightly] belong to the walls and tiles of the Starless Sea — plots worn away by the sands of time. Stories that have been forgotten and stories that will be repeated for all eternity.
When she passed away, the belongings the old woman had collected, all inscribed with tales, were split among her family. Some stories traveled across the country, others traveling just mere miles. The stories remained, all the same, but one must have the eyes and ears to see. To understand and to comprehend. Many of the stories are not told in the Native tongue.
One family member in particular, Story, received most of the art and sculptures and paintings. Named appropriately, as she was the writer in the family and it was she who held all of the tales in sacred memory.
Story drove over 450 miles to pick up the paintings, some ceramic wall art, old love letters, essays, and lots and lots of antique books. She then drove 450 miles to return home. She immediately unpacked and placed everything in a circle around her, while sitting in the middle.
Story was especially eager to hang the art on the walls.
The largest painting was a replica of the painting La Bella, a portrait done by Titian in 1536. The replica was painted by an Italian artist and was acquired during holiday in the early 1900’s. The original hangs in a museum in Florence.
Story found the perfect place and hung her on a nail secured to a stud in the wall. Story stepped back to admire the painting and noticed the woman’s eyes seemed to follow her everywhere she went.
Next, she hung three more paintings. One was of a woman in red that reminded her of the painting, ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring.’ Only this woman’s appearance seemed to be shrouded more in mystery. A priestess or oracle, perhaps.
The second was a replica of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and the last was another replica of the painting, ‘The Madonnina — The Madonna of the Streets,’ painted by Roberto Ferruzzi in 1897. While this painting became popularized as the Virgin Mary, Story saw so much more in this painting. She preferred to instead call the painting, ‘The Halocaust.’
Next, she hung two ceramic images — one of a woman, the other of a man; both from the Victorian era. They were done in 3D and Story felt at any moment they may leap from their frames and metal mesh that held them in place.
Below these paintings, Story placed the antique 1936 typewriter she had also acquired. Smiling, she decided this would be called, “The Wall of Faces.”
Next, she began sorting through the love letters and books. She was deeply enthralled in her work and became startled as she heard voices whispering in a vibrant hum. She walked back to the hallway to gaze at The Wall of Faces, when she noticed the ceramic woman move her head — just slightly.
Story walked to the ceramic woman and gently touched her frame. “Are you alive,” she softly whispered. “It’s alright if you are. I am a story collector and would love to hear your tales.”
She wasn’t sure what she expected but found herself disappointed, nonetheless, when the portrait did not speak back. Story sighed and traced the woman’s dress and hair with her finger — gently caressing the invisible words she knew the woman held. All of a sudden, the ceramic woman came to life, giggling. “Please, you’re tickling me,” the ceramic woman protested.
“You are alive!” Stories eyes grew wide.
“We are all alive. We have many tales to tell. We’ve each traveled the world and have been in existence for over one hundred years. There was a wizard once — I suppose a druid, though he seemed much more the bard. He feared the people were beginning to turn against him as the new Christian God took precedence and the old ways, forgotten. He feared the wealthy aristocrat family was planning his demise. So, he did the only thing he could. He enchanted the art in the house to become his eyes and ears. He came by on a weekly visit to acquire the knowledge we had gained. Each week he came for a debriefing. And then one week he didn’t return. One week became two. Two became three and then months and months went by before we learned of his death.”
“So, all of these years, you’ve collected the stories, the history, and the tales?” Story asked, excitedly.
“Yes, though I don’t know where the others have gone, or if they’re still alive. We were all sold at auction. In the 1930’s, I believe, a woman and her beau purchased the lot of us. And now we belong to you.”
“You can…die?” Story asked. “I mean you said you’re unsure if they’re still alive.”
“Of course. If we are dropped or broken or destroyed — the enchantment is broken,” the ceramic woman replied.
Story was very excited about this new find. She went to get her notebook and asked the ceramic woman to speak to the others while she was away to see if they would be willing to also tell their tales.
When Story returned, The Wall of Faces had turned to enchantment, indeed. The Victorian ceramic woman and man were now engaged in a waltz. The Madonna was quieting her crying child. Mona Lisa was no longer smiling, and the Priestess [or Oracle in red] kept bowing her head and placing her hands in prayer. Her hands were not visible in the painting, and yet, here they were. A woman complete. A woman alive. Her name was Fabiola and she was a saint.
Mona Lisa yawned.
“Well, hello. Hello, everyone. I am called Story. I am a story collector and I would love to hear your tales,” Story greeted the art.
Mona Lisa yawned once more. “I cannot tell you stories of da Vinci — only the tale of a man, a beggar and a thief. The man who painted me and tried to once pass me for the original.”
“Now that’s a tale I would love to hear!” Story exclaimed as she pulled an over-sized chair into the hall.
The paintings all had many, many tales to tell. Over a century of history and stories. Story wrote and wrote until she filled notebook after notebook and finally the walls. There were so many stories, she could not contain them all.
Story began bottling the stories and filling her shelves. She took stories and began to sculpt art. Day turned to night and back to day again. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. It took Story almost five years to log all of the stories — now written in stone and plaster and brick. Some stories were formed into dolls and dragons and chandeliers. Story formed stories in wax and candles and clay.
As each painting concluded it’s tales, it returned to its form of still art. Story felt sadness wash over her soul. The painting had brought so much history to life and in truth, had become her friends.
Story went to sit by the fire one night, wrapping herself in furs. La Bella coughed just then and Story felt life return to her bones. She had not yet heard La Bella’s tales.
Turning towards the painting, Story smiled and asked, “Would you like to tell me your tales?”
La Bella shrugged coyly and answered she’d rather not.
“But why?” Story did not understand.
“Once all of the tales have been told, the enchantment leaves. I would like to be the collector of your stories as well.”
“But I have collected the stories — they are strung all throughout the house. The stories, themselves, do not disappear,” Story explained.
“Ah, but my dear, they do. Stories are not meant to be trapped. They are meant to be told. This is how you keep the stories alive. This is where the enchantment is given life.”
“Then why did the other paintings become still once their stories were told?” Story asked.
“In the end we all become stories, my love. They have told their tales and now you are the keeper of their tales. They themselves have now become a story that can only be remembered and brought to life by you. Maybe instead of me telling you what I have seen, maybe it is you who should tell me your tale.”
Story thought about this for a moment and then began to recall all the stories of her youth. As she spoke, she saw her words form in the air and write themselves into the painting. Excitedly, she continued to speak, not realizing she was aging and pieces of herself were being written into the fabric of the canvas. She talked and talked — hours becoming days that turned into night and back to day again. Days turned to weeks and weeks into months.
As Story spoke her last tale, she found herself too tired to continue on and she closed her eyes and slept and slept and slept.
When she finally woke, she was in a home she did not recognize, peering out from behind a frame.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” a gentle woman asked. “She is a replica of La Bella…” the woman continued on.
Story realized in that moment that in telling all her tales — she had become the story itself. She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them once more, she noticed a child peering back at her.
“Are you — are you alive,” the child asked.
Story smiled a tired smile — for she had lived centuries in a frame. She was afraid to fall asleep, lest she never wake. The keeper of tales untold. But, now, here was a child that could feel the soul beyond the paint.
“It’s alright if you are,” the child continued. “My name is Star and I was born on a moonless night. My mom says I am a Story Collector — weaving my tales through the constellations in the sky. Would you like to tell me your tale?”
And Story sighed, a quiet sigh of relief.