I started this story several months ago, and only revisited it earlier this week with it in mind for today’s Flash Friday. By pure coincidence, February 8th is Prešeren’s Day.
Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, like many other European cities, is smothered with graffiti. No wall is safe from the spray can. But several years ago a new type of art appeared. A more detailed, refined style. Overnight, the entire city was stripped of every last scribble. Some of the better pieces were left, only to be overshadowed by the spectacular new ones.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I switched on the local news that morning. A reporter was standing outside the central train station. On the wall behind her was a painting that depicted the building of Slovenia’s first railway connection in the 1840’s. A second reporter was standing by Triple Bridge in the heart of the city. The camera panned over the bridge and down onto the steep concrete sides of the river bank, revealing another incredible piece of art. This one covered a length of wall of around thirty metres, and showed the Ljubljanica River flowing through the ages, with artefacts from ancient times that have been found over the years.
Nobody could understand how pieces as detailed as these could have been painted without being seen, and in a such a short space of time. Fascinated by the story, I decided to stay out that night. I would undertake my own patrol of the city and see if I could find out who was behind it.
I planned a route that took me past all the new paintings, and several other places I thought could possibly be the next target. It would then weave me back through the centre to my starting point at Triple Bridge.
I walked the route several times, nothing. I saw no new art, no gangs and not even the slightest hint of the smell of paint. I came across small groups of people doing much the same as myself, but nobody saw anything. At five am I decided to call it a night and return home to get a few hours sleep before work.
Cold and tired I set off, but then I heard something a short distance behind me. It was a woman’s laughter, giggling as if she were up to mischief. I ran through an alley between two buildings, back down to the street I had just come from, and then I saw her. She was no more than mist, pure bright white, swirling like smoke, floating three feet off the ground. Hardly able to believe my eyes, I crouched in the shadows and watched in awe. I held my breath, afraid that she would hear me.
I watched her as she worked, taking each can in turn and spraying with such precision, within just a few minutes her painting was complete. Swirling up and dancing a few figure of eights, she moved back to admire her work, brushing dangerously close to where I hid. I gasped as she swished past, just a few wisps of glistening white trailing from her. She glanced down. Again, I held my breath, and after a moment she looked away - her attention returning to her handiwork. She began to sing to herself before she rose higher from the ground and took off, into the night sky.
Dropping to the floor, I could barely believe what I had just witnessed. I recognised her as France Prešeren’s muse, she sat behind the great poet on the monument in the square.
Allowing myself just a few seconds to catch my breath, I scrambled to my feet to follow her. She was about 100 yards ahead, and ten feet off the ground, floating and swirling her way through the night air. When she reached Dragon Bridge, she stopped and perched on the back of the first dragon, she had seen me. I stopped in my tracks, terrified but also excited. We held eye contact for a moment, she smiled, willing me to come forward but as soon as I took a step she laughed and once again swept up into the sky and took off over the bridge and towards the castle. Again I began the chase, I knew there was no way I could catch her, but just the sight of her in the distance was too much to give up. As I reached the bridge I slowed down to turn the sharp right to cross it, but suddenly out of nowhere I heard the loudest roar and fell backwards onto the ground. As I looked up, I saw the most terrifying sight. Looming over me was one of the dragons, it’s mouth was wide open baring its teeth and snarling. Green mist blew from it’s huge nostrils, straight down upon me filling my lungs with the most disgusting stench I have ever had the misfortune to inhale. It smelled like the gates of Hell had opened, and the Devil himself was choking me. I rolled over and covered my face with my jacket, desperate to get a gasp of fresh air as I crawled away.
When I had reached a safe distance and caught my breath, I looked back at the bridge. The four dragons were still in their positions on each corner, but the low rumble that emanated from them was enough to make me think again about trying to pass them. The Muse was no longer in sight, and after the excitement of the last few minutes, I felt sure I would not be so lucky to see her again.
The paintings continued to appear for a further three nights before they stopped for good. There were many theories about them but nobody had a proper explanation, except me of course. I know what I saw that night. But I also know that nobody would believe my story.
I pass Prešeren’s monument frequently. Each time, I look up and give his Muse a wink, and let her know that her secret is safe. Sometimes if it’s really quiet, I swear I can hear the faint sound of her laughter in the air.