For as long as Hollie could remember, Donald hung in her grandmothers hallway, trapped inside an ornate wooden frame, which was once gold but now murky brown as the paint peeled off in strips like little maggots curling up and dropping to the floor. The Rankin’s didn’t know how exactly they were related to Donald but they knew that somewhere in their elaborate web of relatives, he was family. Donald sat among the dark cracking paint with a blank expression on his velvety features. The light was so sparse that you could only see his face and shoulders, but Hollie could see more.
On Saturday morning, Mum dropped off Hollie at Grandma Jo’s farmhouse for a sleepover. Mum waved as she drove off and Hollie skipped up the bumpy steps towards the house. She scampered over to the pond first to see Greeny the Frog. Next to the water sat a ball of tubby green goo with blinking eyes and a bulging chin that inflated like a balloon. Hollie watched in awe as a bluebottle buzzed around Greeny’s face and landed on the rock next to him. Greeny stayed completely still. With the precision and speed of a snake’s strike, Greeny’s elastic tongue fired out from his lips, wrapped around the bluebottle and sprung back into his mouth. He swallowed and Hollie imagined the insect still buzzing around inside his belly. She smiled, said bye and went into the house.
“I’m here, Grammy Jo!” Hollie called through to the kitchen.
That night, Grandma Jo filled Hollie with as much shepherd’s pie, rhubarb crumble and Ribena as her little stomach could take.
“A surveyor came today, Hollie,” Grandma Jo said after dessert. “Now, I know you like Donald but the surveyor said that he is worth a small fortune. Grammy needs money to fix the dampness in the ceiling so I’m going to sell the painting.”
“You can’t do that!” Hollie whined. “Donald can’t live with a stranger. He’s family!”
“They’re coming to collect it tomorrow, Hollie. It’s not up for discussion,” Grandma Jo said as she cleared the table. Hollie knew the real reason Grandma Jo was doing this. She had never liked Donald. He was creepy, she always said.
After she brushed her teeth that night, Hollie wandered into the hall to look at the huge portrait of Donald. The corridor was dark blue like the night sky outside and only the light from moon faintly illuminated the hall. Hollie stared at Donald’s watery eyes. She told Donald everything Grandma Jo had said.
“But don’t worry, Donny. I won’t let them take you,” Hollie whispered and pressed her hand against the painting.
She pulled her hand away and was about to leave when her gaze was drawn back. Where Hollie’s five little fingers had been, there was now a large white hand pressed against the paint from the other side. Hollie looked up at Donald. His eyes were now looking down and his blank expression twisted into a soppy smile. Hollie paced back a few steps, as she always did to give Donald space. Donald changed from a flat image into a living person inside a hole in the wall. His arms began to move in stiff motions in an attempt to wriggle free from the layers of dust and old paint. His ghostly form edged forward and his long sausage fingers came out from the darkness and wrapped around the wooden frame as he pulled himself up.
Hollie could now see Donald’s thick black hair, long sideburns and his black frilly suit. With one last push, Donald placed his foot up on the frame’s edge and stepped out of the painting. His form was unnatural and disproportionate. He was frightfully tall. His arms were too long for his body and while his left hand was still very large, it was smaller than his right. His left eye drooped and his knees were too high up on his thighs.
Donald bowed down to be closer to Hollie’s tiny height. “Little Hollie. I have lived here for 65 years, did you know? I certainly don’t intend to leave now,” Donald paused to cough and dust floated from his lips. He smelled like old books. “You have to protect me; ensure I remain here, where I belong.”
“I know, Donny! But how can I save you?” Hollie pleaded and she held Donald’s giant right hand.
Donald smiled and whispered something into Hollie’s ear. After a moment, Donald climbed back inside the frame, assumed his previous position and extended his hand. Hollie reached out and intertwined Donald’s now freezing fingers with hers. His expression shifted and he grabbed Hollie’s arm with his other hand and with violent speed, jerked and dragged her inside.
“If you become part of the canvas too, Josephine can never get rid of me.”
The next morning, Grandma Jo went into Hollie’s room to find an empty bed. A sheath of cold sweat coated her forehead as she imagined Donald’s icy sausage fingers trickling down her spine. She walked into the hall, all the while looking at the floor. She reached the portrait and willed herself to look up. Inside that withered old frame sat Donald, but something was different. His slightly smaller left hand was now gripped onto the shoulder of Grandma Jo’s five-year-old little blonde granddaughter, Hollie. Even though Hollie was a child, inside the painting she looked old and almost crumpled. Brushstrokes scarred her delicate face. She was smiling but her eyebrows were contorted as if she wanted to cry; as if she was screaming inside.
From Hollie’s view, it was like sitting inside a small black box with a window. She was glued to the air around her. She was very much alive but paralysed. Grandma Jo screamed and called Hollie’s name but Hollie couldn’t hear a thing, she could only read Grandma Jo’s lips. All Hollie could hear now were Donald’s thoughts.
“Now, we can be with each other forever.”