Home Stories Art Seekers by Mason Yates

Art Seekers by Mason Yates


Mason Yates imagines a future where all art is censured.

While Ned Arroyo crouched in the hollow depths of earth and clawed into the dirt pile in front of him, two bloodied men, bound by ropes around the wrists and ankles, knelt on the damp stone floor twenty feet away. Illuminated by two dozen portable spotlights, the cavern felt more like a theater stage than a cave. Nevertheless, the dagger-like stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the constant echoes of dripping water proved the naturality of where they were located. Ten men populated the large room. All of them held rifles, except for three of them: the kneeling two and Ned, who, although he did not carry a rifle, had a revolver attached to his hip as he scooped handfuls of dirt and tossed them to the side. Sweat streaked down his face as he dug deeper into the pile, a pile specifically placed in the cave for the purpose of hiding a secret. It was the only thing in the cave that was not natural. As he worked, Ned guessed the two criminals most likely brought the dirt down into the cave a while ago for the intent of hiding their crimes. Ned had been in the business for a long time. Nothing snuck past him.

Tired of digging with his bare hands, he stood up. An audible crack emanated from both knees, a sign that he was getting too old to be doing his job. He wiped the dirt off on his jeans, and, out of anxiety, rubbed the palm of his left hand over his dark bald scalp. Forcing a grin, he turned from the dirt and eyed the bloodied men across the lighted cavern. He stepped forward.

“One of you better tell me where the prizes are,” Ned started as he fondled the holster on his hip, “or you’re going to leave me no other choice than to shoot one of you. And if that don’t do anything, the living one is gonna be put through hell until he speaks. Now, which is it? You can either do this the easy way or the hard way. Before you speak,” Ned said as he brought his shiny revolver out of his holster, “I want you to ponder how many people I’ve killed with this. I want you to ponder it really good.”

A silence swept over the men in the cave. Everyone stood motionless, their eyes fixed on one another in anticipation for Ned’s decision. While no one talked, the steady natural echoes of dripping water amplified. The wet walls reflected the unfolding scene. Shadows were flung all over the room. Ned Arroyo stood in front of the kneeling men with his revolver at his side. His eyes were locked on them, waiting for an answer. Throughout his time serving the Collective, he had encountered many men like the ones kneeling before him. They had all been so determined to preserve the old ways of life that they had forgotten about the steady progression of mankind. Ned Arroyo served the Collective as a progressionist, someone who looked to the future, not to the past. And as everyone knew, art – anything deemed slightly romantic or beautiful, such as a painting or a novel or music or films – had to be removed from society. The Collective had been good to him, therefore Ned promised to be good to it. He raised his revolver and cocked it.

“You’ve been given enough time to contemplate,” Ned said with a smirk. “I thought you two would’ve been wiser.”

Before Ned could wrap his finger around the trigger and add pressure, one of the men, a scrawny fellow with thinning hair and a sharp jawline, yelped. “No,” he gasped. “No, the works are buried on the left side of the pile. They are buried on top of one another. When we heard the sound of talking above the cave, we didn’t have enough time to bury them spread out. They’re on the left side.”

Ned chuckled and brought the revolver forward. The smooth barrel caressed the side of the scrawny fellow’s face. The criminal recoiled at the touch. He brought revolver forward again, touching the man’s cheek, then bringing it up against the man’s ear. The man noticeably shivered, and Ned felt delighted to see the fear. Fear, as Ned had come to learn throughout his time as an Art Seeker for the Collective, was a powerful thing, a manipulation against a man’s morals. Make him fear, and a man would do anything. At the thought, Ned grinned.

He put the revolver back in his holster and returned to the pile, satisfied after taunting the scrawny criminal. As a young boy, his mother had always taught him not feel like a man by being a bully, but oh, he thought, it felt so good. He crouched and started to dig again. Within a matter of two minutes, he found the paintings. Normally, Ned worked with films and music. On occasion, he’d have to uncover a hidden library of books, but it was a rarity to have to go after paintings. As he pulled the canvas pieces out of the pile, he felt overjoyed to see them before his eyes. He wiped off the loose particles of dirt and examined each one he uncovered. A dinner table scene was found on one canvas piece. A bar scene on another. He saw waterfalls, a church, an assortment of soda cans, a young boy smiling, and others. As he went through the buried stack, he put them to the side. When he came to the bottom of the stack, his heart leapt.

“How many do you have over there, boss?” one of the men from his team asked from the other side of the cavern. “Looks like you got a few.”

“A few,” Ned responded and brought the final piece out of the pile. As an Art Seeker his mind had been programmed to be revolted at the sight of beauty. No, he was not a mechanical robot built for the purpose of seeking and destroying; but in a way, he was. Not a machine, but indoctrinated, brainwashed, taught to hate by the Collective’s propaganda. Ned Arroyo, once an individual, no longer felt like one. He was a piece within a puzzle, a part within a computer, a man within a group of so-called intellectuals. But, for the first time in his life, he gazed down at a piece of art and rethought his perspective. A gasp escaped his lips. The painting – a fine piece depicting rolling green hills and farmhouses scattered among the landscape – struck a sentimental chord in his heart. A strange nostalgia warmed his body, and an odd euphoric high uplifted his soul. A single tear trickled down his cheek. He dashed to wipe it away. The painting was a perfect illustration of his childhood in the American Midwest, a short-lived moment of time before the Collective had taken him into their care. And despite the happiness coursing through his veins, hate lurked around the corner. He hated the way the painting made him feel.

Beauty, the Collective had taught him, is a distraction. The Collective is your home.

Luxury, the Collective had told him at another point in his life, is short lived. The Collective is your home.

Art is a meaningless step back into the past rather than a move towards the future. The Collective is your home!

Ned Arroyo glanced once more at the painting, then dropped it back into the dirt. He felt like he was betraying the people who had raised him, who had done such good things for him. A hatred burned inside him. The Collective made him feel like a prized member of society. They, not anything else, gave him purpose. Ned stood up and crossed the cavern room. As he did so, he struggled with his holster. His long shadow stretched multiple directions. It displayed a tall man with a steady walk. There was a motive in his walk. He was seething with rage by the time he stood in front of the two bloodied criminals. They, he knew, had put those feeling of euphoria in him. For that, they would pay. He ripped his revolver out of his holster. No thought crossed his mind as he aimed it directly between their eyes. Two sharp, deafening cracks echoed off the cavern walls for what felt like minutes. All the while, Ned stood like a statue before the crumpled bodies. His chest rose and fell with heavy breaths, and when silence once again reigned, he, without looking away from the corpses on the cave floor, said, “Burn the art. They make me sick.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here