En Plein Air
Nathan painted the last strokes onto the canvas and gathered his things. He glanced at the glimmering mansion ahead, then back at his canvas and nodded, satisfied that his painting looked like the original. Though there was still plenty of light before sunset, sweat beads rolled down Nathan’s forehead, stinging his eyes, and his wet shirt stuck to his back. He could no longer stand the heat, and even the cicadas buzzed in anger at the shining sun.
While Nathan finished packing his easel and paints, two hunters carrying duck carcasses emerged from the forest path leading to the lake. Spotting Nathan, they waved.
Nathan smiled, and waving, called, “Good hunt?”
“Oh yes,” the hunters answered and, gesturing towards the mansion, invited Nathan to join them for dinner.
Nathan paused for a moment, considering the invitation. He glanced up at the sky and noticed the sun was nearing the horizon. Although curious to enter the mansion, he was new to the area and feared getting lost in the darkness. The hunters waved goodbye, and Nathan watched them disappear under the tree-lined mansion entrance.
Nathan reached town just as the sun was setting. He found an unoccupied table in the local tavern and settled down to a filling dinner. When the waitress brought his beer, she noticed the canvas on the opposite chair.
“That’s a wonderful likeness,” the waitress remarked, pointing to it.
Nathan thanked her, mentioning he had spent the day painting it from life.
Smiling, the waitress turned to leave him when Nathan asked, “Who lives there? In the mansion?”
“It’s abandoned,” she replied, “no one has lived there for centuries.”
“But two hunters invited me to dine with them this evening, and I watched them enter the mansion,” Nathan remarked, confused.
The waitress’ demeanor changed; her sunny smile dropped, and concern shaded her eyes.
“You saw them? The hunters asked you to dinner?”
“Yes, two men, duck hunting.”
“Did you dine with them?”
“No, I declined.”
“Good,” the waitress breathed a sigh of relief.
She glanced towards the bar, then leaned closer and said, “People say those duck hunters are the Devil, and if you accept the invitation, you lose your soul.”
Bewildered, Nathan glanced at his painting; the tavern’s dim lighting cast an eerie shadow upon it.