What you see is what you get

At a small college, Dr. Sanders, a psychologist, developed an interesting hypothesis. He reasoned that art as a form of expression was a type of communication, acting on the mind not only consciously, but unconsciously as well. He suspected that colors and shapes and their composition comprised a “language of the unconscious”.

He devised an experiment to explore this idea. Volunteers underwent a guided relaxation technique similar to hypnosis and were then shown various abstract artworks. They recorded their impressions, thoughts, and feelings.

Initially, the results were disappointing. The responses were so varied that the only thing that could be said about them was that the observer apparently saw whatever they wanted to see.

However, the samples shown to them had come from students enrolled in the college’s art program and many were not particularly notable for their quality. He speculated that perhaps not all art is of the same importance or comes with the same magnitude of effect.

This idea seemed confirmed by the few pieces that struck a consistent chord in the viewers, and these pieces had this result even without the meditation and relaxation methods. These all came from the same artist, and the school had a number of these works in storage.

Sanders was interested in meeting the artist, but he found this was impossible. Her former professor recalled the individual as being what she described as a classic ‘tortured genius’ who was brilliant in her work but very anti-social. Sadly, the student had taken her own life before completing the program. Having no family, her paintings and sculptures were unclaimed and the researcher was encouraged to use them as he saw fit.

Several different volunteer groups were shown the works and the relaxation techniques were further refined. Perhaps things worked too well. As the professor lead the group in the last sanctioned experiment, the students were shown a piece entitled “My Inner Demon”. The painting was little more than a dark background upon which were bright streaks and orbs reminiscent of eyes.

All of the subjects were profoundly affected in a negative manner, with one suffering an emotional breakdown, requiring the summoning of an ambulance. The students reported that they felt as though a dark and malevolent presence lurked within the image, and the stricken student had screamed about movement in the image and the fear that it was coming after him.

After this event, Sanders was disciplined and barred from repeating the experiment. Over the remainder of the semester, he became very angry and embittered by the school’s decision to halt his work. He vanished near the end of the semester and was replaced by another instructor for the final exams.

His former students were concerned for his well-being and made a visit to his home. The house looked like it had been abandoned for some time, it was dark and quiet and the lawn was badly overgrown. Fearing that something terrible had happened they called the police who entered the residence to discover a horrible tragedy.

The educator had taken his own life some weeks earlier as the advanced state of decomposition showed. He left no note to explain his actions. An examination of the scene suggested the he had continued the experiment using himself as a subject. A photograph [omitted due to its graphic nature] revealed a strange detail that those familiar with the experiment have yet to understand.

The work used in this final session was nothing more than a blank canvas with the exception of a signature and the title “My Inner Demon”.


story by Joe Stanley

The Ghostly World Fictional Ghost Stories

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