She had an ominous feeling in the pit of her stomach as she gazed attentively at the wearied old woman. Red and yellow leaves fell gently around them…silent witnesses to the occasion.

“It’s yours now,” the elder said as she handed over the thick stick, its knots and bumps matching her gnarled, arthritic knuckles. “But be warned,” the old woman added, “It can be used for good AND for evil.” The forest seemed to darken a bit as the ancient lady shuffled off.

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

“Why can’t you draw anything nice? Something beautiful?” For the past fifteen years I’ve heard the same criticism: my art is too dark. My explanation is simple. You can only draw what is inside you and what is inside me is darkness.

You’ve only just met me so let me be the first to tell you, I am a bad person. This isn’t modest self-deprecation; I truly am bad. Not the type of bad that, like, kicks puppies, but the type of bad that people instinctively avoid. If it wasn’t part of their jobs, the guards here would stay away from me, too.

It took nearly two decades to get what I call my ëcrayon privileges.’

Maybe I earned them through good behavior or maybe I’m just too old to concern anyone. Either way, for the past fifteen years I’ve been trying to draw something “nice,” whatever that means. Still, everything comes out dark and scribbled, evidence of exorcisms performed through paper and wax. But today I’ll try again.

It’s autumn outside. I remember autumn not the glimpses of it that I get passing a tiny window, but actually living it, breathing in the warmth of the reds, the earthiness of the browns, the liveliness of the yellows. I close my eyes and she is there: Dolly. Our last day together was in autumn. What were we doing? A picnic? Yes, we wanted to see the leaves changing colors and so we went on a picnic. She was wearing a blue dress? Green? Maybe a green top with jeans. It was probably jeans; women don’t wear dresses much, except in my imagination. I line up the red, orange, yellow, brown, green, blue, and peach crayons. I push away the dark purple, the black, the navy blue. Today I’ll make something pretty.

Staring at the blank page I try to picture Dolly, but can’t see her clearly. I can see everything in detail the woods, her blanket, my car, but Dolly is blurry. I don’t read into this much; everyone’s faces are blurry, even my parents’. The only faces I can see clearly are the guards’. Time does that, I suppose.

I grip the peach crayon in my hand and notice how different my gnarled knuckles look after sitting in this building, breathing recycled air, living under fluorescent lights, for over three decades. Dolly would be aging, too, I suppose. I decide to go back to that picnic in my mind, not as I was, but as I am now an old man. I do the same for Dolly. A wrinkly old man courting a wrinkly old woman.

“Come have a seat,” Dolly smiles as she pats the ground, red and yellow leaves falling around her. This is the moment I’ll draw. My fingers fly up and down as streaks of color fill the page. Grand tree trunks reach for the sky as their colorful leaves tumble down, making the ground indistinguishable from the patchwork quilt Dolly sits upon. A little pile of apples sits to the right of her some creative license as I’m not sure what food was there. I almost draw her ponytail, but decide to create a more mature-looking, shoulder-length haircut. As the white page transforms into something more, my mind whispers, “God, it’s beautiful,” and the world is once again mine to behold.

I almost put a sandwich in Dolly’s hand, but instead give her a stick a little line of bare white paper. It is a scene of absurdity: Dolly’s now old, arthritic hands giving me a little white stick as she says, “It’s yours.” I laugh at the mashup modern Granny Dolly announcing our baby by handing me that pregnancy stick from decades ago. She shakes the stick at me, warning me that if we go through with this, it will be tough, but this baby can also be good, something really good for the both of us.

I blink my way out of the daydream and cover my mouth, embarrassed by my goofy smile. Glancing at the blank cinder block wall, my breath catches as I think: a little boy! If this picture can be all decades all at once old people living their youthful moments, why can’t the little boy be there? A circle for his head, a little blob for his body, and lines caught in motion for his legs. The little crayon boy runs towards his mother with a…I scan the crayons and grab brown…football in his hand. Maybe there is a pile of leaves in his way. Yes, he would love it if I gave him a pile of leaves to jump into.

I drop the crayon and look at the picture. My heart is thumping as my eyes well up with tears. “My God, it’s beautiful,” I whisper, knowing the spell is about to be broken and I will be sent back to a world of walls.

The guard notices I finished and walks over to my table. “Damnit, oldtimer, why can’t you ever draw something nice? Something beautiful?”

I wipe away the tears with the hem of my shirt and look at my picture again. The red leaves falling from the trees merge with the scribbled red blood that pools around Dolly’s body.

You can only draw what is inside you and, as I told you, I am a bad person.