ISBN (ebook only): 978-1-907623-30-1
Kindle ASIN: B0083V4QIK

Length: 11,200 words ( 22 .pdf pages) / Short Fiction
cover art by Anna Reith

Chiaroscuro is available for Kindle from,, .de, .es, .it, and other regional sites. Please search on your country’s Amazon website using the Kindle ASIN, and enjoy a quality, DRM-free read.

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Also available in print, in Black Ice: collected stories.

A shy, socially inept art history student becomes obsessed with a painting of Saint Sebastian in the National Gallery.

But, as Mark finds himself inexorably – and strangely – drawn to the painted saint, his world is changed in more ways than he ever imagined.

An Excerpt from:


© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.

I SAT ON ONE OF THE LEATHER-TOPPED BENCHES provided for weary art-lovers, a little bit surprised at how absorbed I was. I couldn’t look away… and he was so beautiful.

That shook me. It really did. So I sat, and thought about the wordage I’d write on this. Pulled out a notepad and pen, scribbled some stuff down. Noticed more and more of the staggering detail. Individual plants in the stony Mediterranean foreground were so exact that they could have been botanical sketches. The bead of sweat on one archer’s brow glistened like it could almost be on the cusp of trembling and falling to the parched dirt, even after all these years. And then there were Sebastian’s softly parted lips, and the trickle of blood from the wound in his side. Those penetrating shafts cleaved so tightly to his flesh, with no discernible mark of entry; like they grew from him, were a natural part of him, rather than an invading force.

They seemed not so much to pierce him like weapons but to, well, penetrate in a different way entirely; tight-pressed into his flesh, hard against the soft puckers in his skin. I shuddered at the directions my mind was ricocheting to, unsettled by and vaguely appalled at myself. What next? Springing a stiffy in the National Gallery, as I sat there ogling a five-hundred-year-old painting? No way. It was bloody ridiculous.

Instead, I concentrated on making copious notes about the use of perspective and visual planes in the work, and forced myself to evaluate the role of armoured men and the pennant they carried in the background, instead of the titillating little wisp of gauze cloth protecting the saint’s modesty. At last, I readied my stuff and prepared to go, to slip back through the halls worn with years and adoration, out into the city and the bustle of grimy noise.

It was really stupid, I knew, but as I packed up my things, surveying the skeins of scribble I’d written—and when had I last been so inspired to work that hard at anything?—I got the strangest feeling.

All day, I’d barely noticed the other people in the gallery. The crowds were thinner at this end of the Renaissance and medieval spectrum, because they all wanted to see the big guns: the famous old paintings with real gold on them, and the ones by artists who, like modern-day superstars, are known only by a single name.

Most of the people who passed the Pollaiuolo Sebastian did so in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. A lot of them only looked at him from the other end of the room, and then wandered off in search of something more glamorous. I was the only one who’d stayed all day.

The security guards had noticed. I’d seen a couple of them watching me; maybe they thought, despite the painting’s size, I was trying to work out how to steal it.

Anyway, as I tucked my notepad away, the nape of my neck prickled. I felt like someone was watching me… like there was someone standing right beside me, staring at me with wide, intense eyes.

I glanced up, and of course there was nothing.

Nothing but him. Nothing but the painted saint, bound and bleeding gently… watching me.

Interested in the art history elements explored in this story? I’ve made the paper I wrote on The Pollaiuolo Sebastian available for readers. More on the painting, and my ramblings about pain and devotion, here.