Sporulation

Hi reader friends. Below is a one-shot piece of fiction I wrote for the heck of it. It’s been sitting in my notes for a long while and I decided that was not meant to be it’s final resting place.

I share it here in its raw and only slightly edited form. As with all of my works, I will never stop picking at it, fine tuning it, etc. But this version, the short and sweet one, shall rest here.

I hope you enjoy it. Reading is fun! Featured image is a snap from a painting currently on display at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. Maybe if I get the urge to, I’ll try my hand at creating the painting described in this story. For now, I offer only this.


In what was highly ritual for the upper castes of New York society, Mono Gallery opened its doors on the first Friday evening of fall with rich cocktails and pleasantries served on lavish platters to its most prestigious members. To be invited to the First Friday of Fall was a deal. A big one. The guests, wealthy and all too aware of it, would sip and snack and ponder the beautiful installations Mono set up for them, imagining the pieces in their own large homes and looking forward to speaking on the event in their social brunches in the coming days.

This season’s painting of note came from some up-and-comer out of Serbia. It was political in nature (rich folk preferred lining pockets that aligned with them seeming ‘in tune’ to the media) and large enough to dominate the entirety of the wall hosting it. A basic rectangular canvas, the subject in the center of the frame held wilted flowers with a face, abstract and amorphous, that seemed to betray the sorry state of the bouquet. “Times are tough” it suggested, “yet I remain hopeful even still”. 

The work was an incontestable masterpiece. Timely with an expert execution of form, its growing reputation in the art world as contemporary greatness helped in holding the crowd’s attention. Nothing generated more interest than a buzz. The since-inflated asking price was steep but not grander than what was typical for a piece at Mono. 

A man dressed in a fine suit stood to the left of this particular work. A gallery employee, though relatively unfamiliar-looking to the patrons, he handed out pamphlets to women dressed in luxuriant evening gowns and spoke quietly to their partners who sought to bolster their reputations with the right acquisition. So the ritual went, as commonplace as any other before it.

The only difference was that this show would end in a way not one of the attendants would expect. 

“The piece, Sporulation, has been a work in progress for two decades.” The man adjacent to the work spoke in robotic candor, taking his cue from the flow of guests that would end their wanderings by glancing up and into the void where the subject’s face should be. He would continue his droning while silently counting the number of guests Sporulation managed to wrangle, silently noting the faces most familiar to him. He recognized one of the men not for his own appearance but for that of the beautiful woman on his arm. She bore a striking resemblance to the renowned actress that had made headlines a month before after marrying into a set of the deepest pockets the city had to offer. 

“Inspired by the artist’s own upbringing in the midst of tumult and strife in his mother country, Sporulation yields a simple message for its onlookers: poverty is only a state of mind.” The speaker’s monotone swapped itself for boisterous vibrato. He brandished an arm and continued. “Riches come as flowering bodies! The natural world! We must cast out the material in favor of those precious things that cannot be bought.” His flourishes worked the audience as he had intended. They grinned, laughed in glee and nodded along, the irony of their pride of understanding lending power to the presenter’s own warmth and gusto. His uptick in energy would go misinterpreted by these birds of paradise in their fancy ornamentations. 

One man–an agriculture giant that owned nearly half of Nebraska– lifted his rocks glass, hungry to pose a question. The presenter nodded attentively, lending him the space for his postulation. 

“Why’d he name it ‘Sporulation’? Doesn’t that got somethin to do with, ehh, germs er somethin?” He asked in a Southern drawl. Can’t take the country out of a man like that. Not even after dressing him in a 6,000 dollar suit.

The presenter looked from the man to the painting, deep in thought. He left his post and circled before the painting for a thorough look-over himself. When he turned back, the crowd had grown with all eyes upon him. If they could cling to every word, they could really put on a show for guests that would come to their homes to see this significant piece of work.

A woman appeared at the front of them suddenly. She was younger, a bit mousy and out of place. She neither worked there nor had an explicit invitation. How she got in, no one could pin. Nevertheless, she’d done it. Her motivator and sole desire had been to see it, the piece that had dominated the art-media outlets for the past few days. She eyed it with profound admiration then looked to the man presenting it with a smile. Her expression shifted from warmth to confusion to tempered shock at the realization of who this man was. Yes, his picture had accompanied many of these articles she’d read. The artist himself.

‘Gordan Vasić… it’s you! Oh my god, it’s you!” Excited, she looked to the others. They stood like statues; a direct contrast to her lively animation.

No one paid her mind. The artist stood plainly before them and not one of the attendees (besides, of course, the outsider) cared to know. Their lack of caring confused her. She looked about at first wildly but quickly subdued her reaction so that she, too, became static once again. It clicked moments later, her understanding painting itself as a disappointed downturn of a once giddy smile. 

This was, after all, a token of wealth to be used as a means for showing off. Regardless of the intent, of the symbolism, of the story, this piece was famous. A rare bird primed for slaughter. She hadn’t known that. 

Gordon Vasić had. 

That was precisely why Gordan Vasić came to show it here himself. The meaning, although glossed over by all attendants but one, would not be cast out from this room. Vasić smiled at the girl that named him. His smile carried a message that comforted her. “I know, dear, but it is what is.” 

He placed a hand on the side of the piece. His eyes returned to the man who first questioned its name. 

“Indeed, it does. Sporulation is the practice of self-preservation during harsh climates. It is said that many single-celled organisms are capable of sporulating, as well as our plant and fungal friends.” Vasić cast his gaze about the crowd. They were bored, drunk, ready to win the prize and go home. “This piece is a reflection of that physiological practice. If you look closely, you will see the buds of the bouquet this faceless, hopeful man holds are rife with tiny capsules the artist installed prior to completing the work. And–“ 

With force, the painting lifted from its hinges and crashed to the floor with a roar. Vasić had ripped it from the wall. It shook in its frame to a series of gasps that whispered their way through the crowd. The noise brought more wanderers over nearest the installation. The artist nodded at them, urged them to linger further. The crowd swelled to encapsulate most members of the showing, curiosity plain on all of their perfect and rich faces.

Abruptly, Vasić pointed to the girl who named him. 

“Leave. You don’t belong here.” 

She eyed him, her confusion returning. She then noticed the painting’s bouquet, and the nearly transparent mist that began to emanate off it like many tiny chimneys. Spores? Her gaze returned to Vasić and, with a mouth ajar, she nodded sharply and turned on a heel to leave. Intuition dictated the movement of her hands to cover her mouth while maneuvering out of the crowd. They remained there until she disappeared into the street beyond the gallery seconds after Vasić told her to go. She turned once to look at the scene unfolding inside, thought better of sticking around too long, and left. 

“And now, with just a bit of force, the flowers bloom!” Vasić said to his remaining guests. Another flourish of the hand would make clear the opaque something that breathed from the canvas. The mist grew denser as more of the capsules leaked open from the force of the initial collapse and the artist’s gesturing. The spectators spoke quietly amongst themselves, unsure of what to think. A man chuckled at the absurdity. Typical art shit, his laugh said. Vasić giggled too. Oh what we put up with to remain relevant in our social circles, isn’t that right, pig man? Yeah, yeah. The artist sneered.

Some of the spectators chose to move on and cast their bids elsewhere but most remained, intrigued. Seconds passed like hours. All of the folks staring wide-eyed were caught like deers in headlights. Instinctive reflex was a slow-moving mechanism in the proud and stupid.

The first bits of dust or vapor or whatever it was brushed the nose of one of the socialites. She rubbed absent-mindedly at her nostril with her hand. More of the dust found its way in with the following breath. Its amplified presence incited a coughing fit almost immediately after. Spectators looked puzzlingly at her before succumbing to their own similar fits of coughing. 

“You see,” Vasić began, grinning like a madman at the confused mass of elitists who coughed and wailed and worried aloud. “Through sporulation, the world may rid itself of its most prevalent disease.” His own nose began to bleed. “With this ultimate act, I, Gordon Vasić, aim to aid the world in this very eradication! Death to The Bourgeoisie!” Vasić’s laughter cut through the shrieks and screams of the finely dressed women and men. Some had collapsed, blood pouring from their mouths and noses like open wounds. 

The illusion of propriety ceased to exist moments after the painting began to leak. Heads once held high enough as to only offer glances from below the nose now swung madly to and fro like animals. A chorus of coughing and gurgling and moaning overtook the once sweet noise of stringed instruments that pumped in from the gallery’s conspicuous speakers. The music now was sorry, save for the gleeful and monstrous laughter coming from the dying artist as he watched his work–his true masterpiece– unfold. 

A woman donned in some Valentino number molded to mimic the nature of a waterfall attempted to keep propped a rotund man in a Burberry tuxedo with difficulty. She had no choice but to let him fall to the floor, face down and choking. His quivering body made her shriek, urged her to put her own blood-stained, white satin gloves on his shoulders in an attempt to quell the fit. To no avail. Her exertion forced more poison into her own blood and expedited the inevitable collapse of her form atop that of her companion. 

Some of the men– the more brutish man’s men types– staggered towards the Serbian with malice in their leaking eyes. They fought hard to overcome their agony with wrath, but could not bear the weight long enough to do anything beyond collapse a few feet short from where Vasic had slid to the floor. The artist watched them approach, watched them collapse just before him, and continued to laugh his bloody laugh. “Do not fret, my friends! I would not abandon ship as so! We shall all enter judgment together!” He shouted with glee above the groans of suffering spectators. More of them crumpled, decorating the carpeted floors with blood, Italian silk, and fine jewelry. 

That actress he recognized had managed to avoid inhaling a potent dose. Though her husband lay in a heap at her feet, one hand curled about her ankle, she remained upright and lucid. At that moment, her nose bled only slightly. The pain of it was making her eyes water.

She took shallow breaths in an attempt to prevent any further exposure and walked with intention towards the main door. Other sufferers noticed her and followed suit, vying for an escape from this particularly stuffy room. The actress extended a gloved hand to the handle of the gallery’s main door. Her strength was not enough to get the thing to budge even slightly. She shrieked in distress and frustration as the realization struck her. Turning to face Sporulation, to face Vasić laying perched against the wall and fading away, she shrieked again.


“He’s murdering us! All of us! For what?” She wailed, turning to the door and beating it with a feeble hand. Her breaths had increased in volume to keep in pace with her rage and exertion. More of the venom that seeped from Vasić’s work made purchase in her nostrils and into her blood. Her assault on the door became less furious and her sobs turned to coughs. The other hopeful escapees joined in her wailing and coughing. One by one they dropped to the floor, holding dear to some semblance of dignity by fighting to remain propped up in some fashion. Eventually, this too would prove to be too much and their bodies would crumble as the others did. 

Vasić, in his final breaths, let out a hearty chuckle. “You, you see… you see, folks… even, even if they say you’re worth…. worth more… worth more than all of the… the third world’s… GDP… GDP…” His head drooped but snapped back up in his final triumphant observation. “You are still just flies! All of us! Flies!! Begone! For the mother!” He sunk into his eternal silence with a roar to echo the flight of Sporulation from wall to ground zero. It wouldn’t be long until the whole of the room followed suit. Silence came to settle minutes after Vasić first yanked the painting.

———

She was cradling her phone in both hands as if it were some injured baby bird. The screen was lit and tuned in to the latest headliner on her The New York Times application

A lukewarm cup of coffee sat to the left of her, a half-melted foam flower lay atop the drink, untouched. She appeared frozen in time; her eyes burning a dreadful hole into the bold text of the article’s title. Her composure shook at its foundation, daring a breach with an uptick in heart rate, a switch of breath from nostril to throat. 

Up and coming artist, Gordon Vasić, murders 16 at debut show, A-List actress included in the dead.

The headline repeated itself one hundred times in her mind. She blinked once, twice. All of those people, she thought. All of those beautiful and stupidly rich people. Her gaze, glued to the bold letters, liberated itself for moments before becoming entangled in the bulk of text that followed the headline just below. She didn’t want to admit it to herself, but she was…terribly hungry.

In what is being called a “performance stunt”, Serbian-born artist Gordon Vasić shocked spectators at his recent gallery showing with a piece, aptly titled “Sporulation” that had been, unbeknownst to all but the artist himself, rigged with highly toxic amounts of hydrogen cyanide. Officials say the artist initiated the release of the gas and somehow managed to lock the door to prevent any escape. Of all guests in attendance, none survived. Notable victims include Oil Magnate John Rodham and his wife, beloved actress…

She skimmed the kill list, not bothering to look too closely at the names of those who perished.  

The report detailed the lives of the deceased as well as a miniature profile of Vasić himself. Already whispers about town were leaning more towards remembering the artist as a sort of martyr. Leaked videos of the incident (probably propagated by the gallery itself in hopes for a viral story) meant that Vasić’s stunt and his reasons behind it were common knowledge. “For the mother” he had said with his parting breath. Environmentalists were having a frenzy over that particular nibble. 

It’s crazy how such a ruthless act can be perceived in a way that glorifies the one responsible. She chalked it up to detachment, distillation. The story had everything a reader could want. A Robin Hood sort of storyline that commoners could relate to. It was that cycle in history where the poor antagonized the rich to an almost criminal degree. Like the French and their guillotine, the world’s citizens salivated at the thought of righteous retribution. For what? She couldn’t say. All she knew was that she felt it too. Eat the rich, she thought. Or, even better, choke em out in one of New York’s most prestigious galleries. 

Genius. That man really had been one. 

Her thoughts returned her to that evening. The cold metal of the door handle came back to her in an instant. That and its weight, the give, the turning about, and inserting into the keyhole just below the handle the gallery’s primary key. She could remember the finite movements of muscle in her wrist; how they turned to lock the door from the outside. 

She had picked it up on her way out. That key. She had used it to trap them all in there. But why?

What had compelled her to do it? She fought with her own perceived uncertainty, though she knew all too well exactly the reason.

Reading and rereading this article and numerous others did little to convince her otherwise. 

Her finger swiped at the screen absent-mindedly, her train of thought no longer seeking to linger on the blocks of text. She was lost in her mind, in the perception of torment she should be feeling for the part she played. Perhaps if she hadn’t watched the footage, hadn’t seen the artist’s final proclamation, guilt would find her. Alas, all that made a home there was some queer sort of justification.

She would never know the spotlight as he’d had. But she’s glad for it. If he would be around to see the state of the situation, he’d have sought to kill himself twice.

————

“So they sold it, then.” It was no more a question than a statement. The man who spoke, obviously polished and well looked after, took a drag of a fat cigar.

“They said it’s safe enough now for presentation. The capsules are all burst and empty.” The man’s companion, a younger more effeminate lover of the arts, held a phone screen close to his face, reading off the details as he scrolled through them.

“The painting responsible for the deaths of many highly valuable members of New York and Worldly society, was sold at a private auction for a record-setting $50 million closing bid. More than 100 times the painting’s projected original value.” The effeminate man read on in disbelief. A well-known public figure had purchased the thing for the obscene amount reported. An avid art collector known for investing highly in “stunt” pieces, the article stated he intended to build a museum with Sporulation as a primary installment. 

“Admission fees will certainly generate a profit if he chooses to go that route.” The manly one said, again dragging his cigar with long pulls of breath. 

“It’s a bit of a shame, though. Totally goes against the artist’s intent.”

“Eh, what’s he care? Guy’s dead.” Cigar man puffed. “I gotta start keeping an eye on this collector. He’s got a good strategy going for this stuff.”

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