Someone (or something) else?

So many corridors. There seemed to be miles of them, darkened and sleeping, stretching on and on and lined with endless paintings, none of which were anything even close to what he was seeking.  There were only bland portraits of fictional characters or the long-dead aristocracy, neither of which he had any time for at all. In the occasional landscape, cows or horses snorted and shifted nervously, seeing nothing but sensing the malevolence he trailed behind him like smoke.

Where was it?

He'd thought maybe there would be a safe behind one of the paintings, but they were attached too firmly; he'd tried to pull one off, and failed. That had made him angry. He'd tried to cut through to the wall behind one of the others, but it had revealed nothing. That had made him angrier. But anger got him nowhere, he had to remember. He pushed it fiercely away, sealed it over. He had to stay cool.

It had to be somewhere.

Every few steps, he tapped the wall, seeking a hollow cavity.

Tap. Tap.

Suddenly, his eye was caught by the faint blinking light of a security camera. There was another one on the other wall, and alarm boxes. He stared curiously at them. There hadn't been nearly this level of security in the other corridors. This boded well.

Could it possibly

He ghosted towards the door at the end of the corridor. The security cameras blinked, and picked up nothing. The heat-seeking alarms registered only the coldness of the night-time walls.

Even the door, triple-locked and bolted, provided absolutely no resistance. It swung open as though the hinges had been greased.

And there it was.

The very thing he'd been searching for for so very long, hanging on the wall in front of him. He'd finally found it. And now it was his.

Stepping forwards on silent feet, he reached out and fingered the ornate gilded frame. Gaudy, in his opinion. The picture inside would be much more enhanced with a plain frame. People would be forced to look only at the paint on the canvas.

He transferred his fingers to that paint, brushing it as softly as the kiss of a feather, too softly to wake its drowsing occupant. The skill, the skill of that brushwork-it surpassed everything. The other paintings this museum housed were fit only to be burnt. He felt nothing for them.

But there was no time to lose himself in it now. He had to get it out. Remembering how tightly the other painting had been fixed to the wall, he edged his fingers behind the frame and tested. Yes. Adhesive of some kind. Well, that wasn't too hard to deal with.

Shortly afterwards, only the hooks on the back kept the picture in place. Returning a tiny bottle to its hiding place, the dark figure reached out greedily and unhooked the precious painting. It was his.

And then the painting began to scream.

The End

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