Covering his thinning hair with a dark hat, he wrapped a scarf tightly around his neck and set out to visit an old acquaintance in a red-tinted room in one of those crooked alleys deep within the city.  The man had the wedge-like head and cold eyes of a preying mantis, his needle thin fingers swung on long, hinged arms like an insect marionette.  The scent of bodies preserved in smoke and spice choked him as the red walls threatened to collapse from the heat.  Avoiding the wormy touch of a woman who tried to stroke his hand he sought out his old friend, who clacked his mandibles with delight as he procured a small package for the desperate artist. He fled back into the cold night with several small enameled boxes concealed deep within his pockets.

The contents of those boxes produced little effect except to leave him in a state of agitation and exhaustion for several days while his canvases remained bare.  The white squares grew dusty as the weeks passed and spiders began to cast lines to the walls from the edge of each unused easel.  He felt his health growing worse every day, a constant cough brought up blood-flecked mucous and his bones seemed to form sharper angles, holding his grey skin taut.

Gnawing absently on an unused brush, he was startled late one morning when his servant brought in his tea and unexpectedly announced that a gentleman was at the door for him.  His most loyal patrons had stopped calling altogether.  Perhaps a fresh customer would bring him the change he sought.  Desperate to regain some sort of livelihood he let the man enter the shuttered room where he spent most of his time sitting in a ring of shrouded chairs around the hateful easels.

He gathered that his guest was requesting a commission, but the details of the man's appearance failed to resolve themselves into a single image.  The light never fully caught the man's face.  Whichever way he turned, a shadow seemed to fall across his features, at one moment concealing a hawkish nose and at the next revealing thin lips gently curled in a graceful smile.

He understood the words his guest said but could not grasp the voice, which sounded like crushed insect wings falling from between the pages of an opened book, offering momentary flashes of brilliance and then trailing away into obscurity.

"I trust you will not find my request too difficult," said the stranger, extending a gloved hand to complete the transaction.

When the stranger left, the uneasy peace he had felt while paralyzed by the ghostly presence dissipated and was replaced by fatigue unlike any he had ever felt before.  He fell asleep in the plush depths of the armchair almost immediately afterward.  
V. Sarada holt