Once upon a time an aspiring artist named Philip Euphemism discovered a new medium. He’d spent his life struggling with oils, watercolors, charcoal, pen-and-ink and even fingerpaints. Nothing he attempted produced satisfactory results. He’d lived his whole life hoping to become a famous artist, but was met with failure after failure.
One day, while sitting at his drawing board staring at an empty sheet of paper with vacant frustration, he began to sneeze.
The sneezes were unlike any sneezes he’d ever sneezed. He could feel them start at the back of his head, pulse forward into his face, and then explode out his nose. He sneezed thirteen times. On the thirteenth sneeze an explosion of dark blood spattered the white paper. Struck with inspiration, he leaned over the drawing board and let his nose drain all over the white sheet.
Then he got up and went to the bathroom and held a clump of toilet paper to his nose until he stopped bleeding.
He went back to the drawing board.
He was astounded by what he saw.
The blood on the paper had created faces and forms; a red riot of movement. He could see men on horses clashing swords and peasants fleeing. Roiling red storm clouds hovered over the mayhem. He stood back and the figures were still there. He stared at the paper as closely as he could. They were still there. Within the forms, smaller figures writhed with manic energy: dragons threatening screaming multitudes, marching armies...
He had produced a masterpiece, borne of a nosebleed!
One masterpiece was good, but could he duplicate the process?
First, he tried to sneeze, taking short breaths through his nose and clucking his tongue. His nose itched slightly, but no sneeze was forthcoming. He went into the kitchen to get the pepper.
He shook black pepper into his palm and sucked it up his nose like a pinch of snuff. The pepper burned his sinuses but no sneeze was forthcoming.
Meanwhile his masterpiece began to dry and turn brown.
Panicked, he scrutinized the picture, and then leaned back. The forms were still there, nebulous and brown, but still there.
He decided more dramatic methods of acquiring a nosebleed were indicated.
He placed a fresh sheet of paper on the board and then punched himself in the nose. But he chickened-out at the last second and didn’t hit himself hard enough to draw blood. He girded himself for a more forceful blow. And when no blood came he struck himself again. And again. Finally, he felt a warmth overtake his nose and fresh blood spattered the paper.
Once the paper was covered with blood, he ran to the bathroom for more toilet paper. His nose eventually stopped bleeding. He looked at the paper.
It was just a white sheet with blood all over it. No forms had materialized.
Well, he supposed, one masterpiece was better than none.
And then he felt something gathering at the back of his head. Like a lightning bolt through his face, his nose erupted with sneezes again. Thirteen in all and then came the blood. He quickly placed a new sheet of paper on the drawing board and let his nose drain. Forms materialized. The Madonna with child had coalesced from the glossy blood; a landscape of mountains and clouds in the background.
He felt another tingle at the back of his head and fresh sneezes exploded from his nose. He quickly moved the Madonna aside and placed another sheet of paper on the board. More blood came. As soon as the paper was soaked, he slid another one before him. More sneezes, more blood.
By the time he had completed six new bloody masterpieces he grew lightheaded. He produced another masterpiece. He grew dizzier still.
Philip finished one last work before he slumped over the drawing board, dead from blood loss.
Two days later his landlord, Larry, discovered the body. They carried Philip out and the next day the landlord (Larry) started cleaning out the apartment. He found the bloody pages scattered around the room and, with dollar signs singing in his head, collected them. He brought them to an art expert, hoping he’d finally found his fortune.
The art expert studied them carefully and then said, “Eh, they’re okay. Nothing special...”