Trompe L’oeil by Ben Howels
The door was a confusing hybrid—a solid, gun-grey metal panel, peppered with small, exquisite squares of stained glass, positioned like the hours on a clock. The panels told a story: a man falling from the sky, staggering to his feet, then climbing weather-worn stairs until he reached a throne.
Part portal, part barrier, part artwork, Freddy considered the door from an aesthetic, almost dispassionate, point of view. It kept his mind off what lay beyond.
He knew about HagenCorp’s rumored criminal connections. Knew about the high staff turnover. But his job offered exceptional opportunities, so Freddy had tried hard not to care.
Being summoned to the CEO’s mansion at three in the morning had changed that. It wasn’t a path he would have chosen, but personal choice hadn’t entered the equation—Hagen wasn’t a man you said no to. Nor was his mountainous personal chauffeur.
Stan’s huge knuckles tapped delicately on the steel door, his porcine, bristly face scrunched with the effort of ensuring he broke no glass.
The staccato rapping mirrored Freddy’s heartbeats, his nerves infected by one squalid thought: does Hagen know?
An invasive beep, and the door swung open soundlessly, revealing herringbone parquet flooring that stretched into a spacious study, drawing the eyes all the way to the far side of the room where a man stood behind a desk.
Freddy had never met Hagen, never even seen a picture of him, but he’d expected more than physical mediocrity—more than everyman made flesh. Only the smile seemed above average.
“Lovely of you to come, Freddy! Can I call you Freddy?” Hagen spread his arms wide and started to walk around the desk. “Welcome to my humble abode. Please.”
Stan shuffled aside, leaving space for Freddy to move past him. Manners ingrained from countless high-society exhibitions, Freddy turned to thank the chauffeur, but the words withered on his lips—Stan’s face was sweat-drenched and pale, his jaws clenched.
Freddy struggled to drag his eyes away, even as he walked into the study. One, two, three paces forward, and he could only look back at Stan. The beep sounded again, and he stopped dead, watching as the steel and glass slowly eclipsed the trembling mound of flesh. Then a warm hand landed on his left shoulder, and he lurched round in surprise.
“Relax, Freddy. Relax. I’m your friend.” The smile was a crescent moon in a tanned sky. “Technically I’m your boss, but I’m sure we’ll be spending lots of time together soon enough.” The smile faltered as a look of consternation crossed Hagen’s face. “You really do look tense. Was it Stan?” Hagen briefly glanced over Freddy’s shoulder, grey eyes boring into the grey metal beyond. “Don’t worry about him. As ludicrous as it sounds, he’s terrified of this room.” The smile returned, the shapely teeth pristine in their firmament. “Unlike you and I, he’s not a being of refined tastes.”
Face to face, Freddy realized Hagen was bigger than he had initially thought, perhaps only an inch shorter than himself. There was an unnerving intensity to the man—eyes sparkling and restive, jaw clenching and unclenching—as though a boundless energy was chained within, desperate to get out.
Belatedly, he realized Hagen was waiting for him to speak.
“Apologies. I’m still trying to wake up, and—”
“Yes, yes, early hour and all that, but sleep’s overrated. Never found time for it, myself.” Gliding sideways, Hagen shifted his grip on Freddy’s shoulder, then started to propel him toward the desk. “Come. I have something special to show you.”
Hagen’s smile was infectious, as was his easy manner, and the room was cozily warm, smelling of cinnamon. All told, things didn’t look as bad as Freddy had feared. In fact, it was starting to look more like an opportunity, and Freddy loved those. He scanned the room as he walked forward. It was only thirty feet or so to the desk, but he was well-practiced; by the time he had been maneuvered into a plush, leather swivel-chair, his internal calculator had done its duty.
Hagen moved swiftly to the seat on the other side of the desk. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve still got some post from yesterday to open. Fan mail, probably. I get all sorts.”
Picking up some letters, Hagen started slicing them open with his thumb, using a metal thimble with a long steel talon at the end of it. Freddy hadn’t seen where it came from, but it looked more suitable for gutting animals than envelopes. All the while, Hagen’s gaze didn’t leave his face.
“So, what do you think of my private collection?”
“It’s…” Freddy shook his head in smiling wonderment, “…well, it’s incredible.” He twisted to look back into the room, only to find the letter-opener pressed suddenly and softly against his cheek. He carefully turned his head back to look at Hagen—whose smile remained warm.
“No, no. I watched you as we walked in. You’ve already scanned the room once.” Hagen’s eyes flashed with mischief, and the blade returned to slicing envelopes. “From what I’ve heard of you, one pass would have been quite enough to assess it all. Such talent!” The letter-opener vanished into a drawer. Leaning back in his chair, Hagen folded his arms across his chest, his gaze expectant. “So then, no peeking, and tell me what’s here. A test.”
Freddy felt his pride pricking at him and gave it freedom. Besides, impressing rich people had always worked in his favor.
“I’ll start with the door. The work is good. The style is not one I recognize, but the technique is consistent throughout, so it’s likely the same artist. The aging on the pieces seems inconsistent though—the falling star looks ancient, whereas the man on the throne looks modern. My guess? Recent project, with an expert doing the weathering.”
Hagen nodded appreciatively, and Freddy carried on.
“Flooring’s exceptional, likely top of the range, but hardly my area of expertise. The three carpets are genuine Asian, probably early 1700s. Regency mahogany cabinets running down the right side; a set of walnut side cabinets on cabriole legs on the left. There’s an eclectic mix of weapons and paintings on the walls. The oriental blades are a triple set of O-Tantos, two Wakizashi and a Katana—all probably Edo period. The occidental stuff?” Freddy gave a shrug. “Not really my thing, but I know period claymores when I see them.” He tapped the desk in front of him. “And this is an unusually big pedestal desk, Victorian era, polished oak, with a tooled leather insert.”
Hagen giggled like a child, clapping one hand against a folded elbow. “Very good. Very good. But I’m surprised you didn’t focus on the—”
“Paintings? I always leave my favorites for last.” Freddy let out a brief chuckle, the warmth genuine; he felt like he was sitting in a treasure cave. “They’re all top end oils, ranging from high to exceptionally high value. You’ve got a Lotto, an Adami, a lost Rembrandt—I should know, I sourced it for you—two Van Goghs, a Titian, a Bellini, and a Gossaert.”
“Well done. Well done, indeed! A fine display.”
“And, of course, there’s also whatever that cloth behind you is hiding.” Freddy pointed a finger over Hagen’s head. “No way I could gauge what it was, but I still noticed it. Hard not to. Two meters across?”
“Well, it is and it isn’t—you’ll see soon enough. In fact, the painting behind me is the main reason I asked you here today.”
“The main reason?”
Fluidly pulling something from a drawer, Hagen placed it on the desk. Another painting.
Damn. Stay calm.
“Do you recognise this, Freddy?”
Stay calm. Stay calm.
“Yes. The Masaccio I sourced for you from Switzerland. Last October, I believe.” Freddy’s face gave nothing away. It rarely ever did.
“Of course. Of course. And such a wonderful piece it is. I particularly like the interplay of light across the nobleman’s rapier. You can almost hear it slicing through the air. Like so.”
A crisp tearing noise rippled through the room as Hagen slashed the painting from corner to corner. Freddy hadn’t seen him put the letter-opener back on his thumb, but it was there again. Unmistakably there.
“Sadly, Freddy, it turns out you gave me a forged version.”
Hagen stabbed at random portions of the picture, gouging faces and limbs. “Why would you give me a fake?”
“I’m… I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have—”
“I mean, you have so much talent, and yet somehow you acquired a ‘dud,’ as the less-eloquent might say.”
Maybe he doesn’t know.
“I didn’t think I’d made a mistake. I tracked the paperwork. I studied the picture on three separate viewings before signing off on it. It wasn’t even shipped until after I had—”
“No matter. It isn’t the original.”
“How can we be so—?”
“Because we are. Because I know. Because—much as I value your judgment—you aren’t the only expert I have on call, and five others have already agreed with me on this.”
Freddy noted Hagen’s accentuation of the word “me” and judged that disagreeing with him any further wouldn’t act in his favor. He opted for contrition.
“In that case, Mr. Hagen, all I can say is how sorry I am for having made a mistake. I genuinely felt that the painting was an original, but if that is not the case, then I will obviously repay your investment in the piece itself.”
“Don’t worry about that.” Hagen waved a hand dismissively. “It’s not expensive in the grand scheme of things, and I’m always happy to aggressively pursue those who have tried to defraud me.” His smile was childishly mischievous. “By any means.”
Leaning back in his chair, Freddy hid a nervous gulp with some deep breaths. Time to cut his losses; if he had to get out, he’d do it on his own terms.
“Your sense of aggrievement is understandable. You pay me well, and I…well, I screwed up. I’ll tender my resignation immediately, unless you’d rather sack me. I can—”
“I…what? That’s very kind of you, but that painting was worth—”
“Yes, but as I’ve already said, I’m not worried about the value. Besides, after I discovered your mistake, I made sure to check all of the other pieces you’ve sourced for me.”
Freddy couldn’t hide his gulp this time. His hands felt warm and clammy. “I hope you found nothing amiss?”
“No, nothing for me to worry about, Fredek. In fact, I’m rather happy with what I discovered.”
“Good. That’s good. I…” Hagen’s words slowly caught up to Freddy, “…I’m sorry. What did you just say?”
“I said there’s nothing for me to worry about, Fredek.”
“Yes. Your name.”
“But I’ve not used it for—”
“Well, it’s what’s on your birth certificate, isn’t it?”
“My birth cert—?”
“And it’s what your mother still calls you, isn’t it?”
Freddy felt knives twisting behind his eyes. “My mother?”
“Yes, she still calls you that. I mean, I could have tapped your phone, but why bother when I can go right to the source?”
“Tapped my… The source… What? You’ve met my—?”
“Lovely lady. Still beautiful. Makes a wonderful cup of chai.”
Freddy’s cheeks sucked inward; his saliva tasted bitter.
“How…when…did you meet my mother? Does she know who you are?”
“I told her I was your boss. Told her how impressed with you I was. Explained that I was checking up on her. Who wouldn’t want to meet the mother of one of their most promising employees?”
Hagen’s smile was somehow feral now, his canines a little more prominent than before. Freddy felt as though his chair was floating but could drop at any moment.
“She just thinks I work for a big company. A normal one. She doesn’t know—”
“About the illegal acquisitions? That the pieces you get for me aren’t always, how should I put it…of ethical provenance?” Hagen waved his arms theatrically. “And what about the rest of it? You’re a smart man. You’ve always suspected the truth, yes? HagenCorp deals in pharmaceuticals, after all. And with the military.” He slapped a palm onto the table, making Freddy jump. “Anyway, back to your name. Remarkable, really. Fredek Stedman. Have you ever considered its origins?”
Freddy desperately tried to recover his composure as Hagen stared at him, the smile once again normal, the eyes warm.
“Come on, come on.”
“Sorry. Yes. My mother—”
“My…yes, Jessica. Mum. She thought ‘Fredek’ would suit my surname.”
“Stedman. Which is from where?”
“She thought it was German.”
Hagen giggled. “Wonderful. Bohemian Jessica—oh yes, I know she was quite a free spirit when she was younger—picked a Hungarian first name to match a German surname. Only, at least in your case, the surname is English.”
“It’s an abbreviation of ‘Steddenham.’ Old English family name. I’ve dealt with quite a few of them down the years.” Hagen’s eyes clouded briefly, as if reaching into faded memories. “Ah, Jessica. Such a wonderful, refreshing lady.”
“Sir… Mr. Hagen… I know what your business is about. I committed to work for you. And the painting… I mean, my mother, she’s totally blameless in all of this, and—”
Hagen’s laugh was like a sudden meteor shower, the barked retorts thudding into Freddy’s ears. “Seriously, Fredek? Seriously? You think your mother is at risk from me? Oh, that is delectable. Delectable!” He leaned across the desk to briefly pat Freddy on the shoulder. “Have no fear, your mother is at no threat from me. Far too pure for that.” The feral smile was back, Hagen’s teeth even more prominent. “Anyway, let’s forget about the Masaccio.” Hagen slashed through the painting one last time, before brushing it onto the floor, where it landed with a mournful clatter. “Nothing for you to worry about, and I’ll tell you why: I’m all about second chances. I am one. I’ve fallen down before.”
For the briefest of moments, Freddy thought he saw something new in Hagen’s eyes, something fragile. Then it passed, and a playful smile erupted on the man’s face, stretching from ear to ear, bleeding into his eyes.
“Well, technically I was pushed, but the result was the same. Bam!” He clapped his palms together, making Freddy jump again. “But I got back up again, dusted myself off, and climbed all the way up to this throne.” He patted the chair lovingly. “Egotistical, I know, but the stained glass in that door behind you was a vanity project. I mean, look at where I am now. Richest thing on the planet.”
Freddy responded before he could stop himself. “Really? I thought HagenCorp was only—”
“HagenCorp? That’s just my favorite front. The authorities haven’t got a clue. I own banks that think I owe them money! Amateurs.” He spread his hands expansively. “Anyway, that’s quite enough about me. I fell; I made it back up. Now it’s your turn—you just need to prove yourself.”
“And what happens if I fail?”
“You won’t. I have faith in you. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?” Hagen’s face lost all traces of mirth, and he leaned forward onto the desk, palms down. “I know about the rumours. Susan Shepherd, John Lassiter, Terry Fulmore. So many more. Faces that were here and then gone again. Vanished. ‘Where to?’ the nervous staff cry. ‘A shallow grave’ the rumours reply.” The smile was back again. “And I like that. Fear is a powerful motivator when used well. But…” he shrugged, “…the true answer is very different. I’m a man with his fingers in oh so many pies, in oh so many places. Those people aren’t lying in the cold dirt somewhere, that I can promise you. They’ve just been reassigned.”
“And do they enjoy their ‘reassignment?’”
Hagen gave a discerning nod.
“You really are a smart man, so I’ll be honest with you—some do and some don’t. It’s all a matter of perspective.” He rapped his knuckles on the arms of his chair. “Anyway, on to more pleasant things. Your test. I have a Bosch that I want you to look at.”
Freddy’s eyes widened, his immediate concerns momentarily forgotten. “A Bosch? You’ve picked up a Bosch? Where from?”
“Why don’t you tell me?”
“That’s probably going to be difficult. Attribution of his work hasn’t always been easy, and most of the confirmed pieces are already in museums, particularly the larger ones.”
The glint in Hagen’s eyes could have started fires.
“Are they though?”
“What?” Freddy drifted his gaze from Hagen to the dust sheet, and then back again. “You’ve got one of the triptychs? How? The news would have been everywhere in the art world. And I—”
“Look for yourself.”
“Yes, but I—”
“Look for yourself. Tell me what I have.”
Freddy saw no doubt on Hagen’s face, only amusement. He looked at the dust sheet and slowly stood, feeling his heart pounding against his ribs. Skirting the desk, he walked right up to the covering. Fingers sweating, he reached for the fabric and delicately pulled it from the edges. With one final tug, he let it slide to the floor.
A stunning painting was revealed, in white and shimmering green, with a gold and black trim. It depicted a flat earth sat beneath a cloud-filled dome, with a bearded man looking down from on high. The piece was painted onto two wooden doors, a line splitting it down the middle. A spidery Latin inscription ran across the top.
“Damn. I’m sorry.”
“Really?” said Hagen. “You can tell it’s a fake from one look? You haven’t even opened it up yet.”
“I know what will be inside—a rendition of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. And if the work on these oak panels is any indication, it’ll be a very good one. But it’ll still be fake.”
“How do you know?”
“The outer panels, showing the work of creation, are meant to be grissaile—a grey-green. This green is too vibrant. It’s verdaille. I’ve been to the Museo del Prado in Madrid. This is a copy.”
“And what if the version in Madrid is the fake?”
Freddy turned back to Hagen. “The Madrid version has been considered the original for centuries. Its veracity is unquestioned.”
“Then question it, Fredek. Believe me, this is the true original. Bosch’s masterpiece. Madrid has only got a copy, and it pales in comparison. Take a look.”
He knew Hagen had to be wrong, but that didn’t stop Freddy’s stomach from fluttering. Because if he wasn’t wrong, then this was truly a once in a century find. He turned and gently swung the panels open.
Three images were revealed—the reverse sides of the doors he had opened and the larger central picture they had kept hidden: Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Ambitious, outlandish, nightmarish. A masterpiece. Freddy didn’t so much study the pictures as gorge on them with his eyeballs.
The scenes were as expected—to the left, God with Adam and Eve in a verdant Eden; in the center, a twisted garden of delights, with dreamlike structures acting as the backdrop to a debauched interplay between man and beast; and on the right, the darkness of Hell itself, where sinners suffered their tortures, and buildings burned in the distance.
It all looked right, it all looked correct, and yet it looked like so much more. The colors were as they should be but were somehow more vibrant. The strokes looked authentic, Bosch’s impasto style unmistakable, but there was more life in this painting than the one in the Museo del Prado.
“You’re right, Mr. Hagen. This is better. But that means—it has to mean—that this is a copy. An exceptional one, but a copy nonetheless.”
“Then when was it made, and by whom? Tell me, are the oak panels the wrong age?”
“It’s impossible for me to determine that without scientific analysis, but at first glance the wood looks about right. One of the first mistakes an amateur would make is to use the wrong mater—”
“And the oils? Do they look like modern oils to you, or are they the sort of oils that would have been used by Bosch? The sort of oils that existed only 100 years after oils were first used?”
“Yes, the paint looks right. But a forger with this level of talent would know to—”
“And what about the details? The placement of each character, of each structure, of each animal? The expressions? The poses?”
“I’d need to measure things perfectly against the original, but I—”
“This is the same, Fredek. The same, but better. The best. The original. The one in Madrid was always the cheap imitation.”
Freddy turned back to Hagen, still sat in his chair, but now facing toward the painting.
“How can you possibly say—?”
“Run your fingers over the brush strokes. They’re truly exquisite.”
“I really shouldn’t. It’s—”
“Come now, if it’s a fake, then who cares? And if it’s the original…well, you’re a professional. You’ll be careful.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Hagen pointed at the painting. Freddy couldn’t help but notice the letter-opener was still on his little finger. “Do it. Third panel. Feel the true majesty of Bosch’s work.”
“If you insist.”
Freddy turned back to the painting, positioned himself to stand in front of the picture of Hell, and gently placed his right forefinger over a blue birdlike creature that was swallowing and excreting people. He could feel the swirls and whorls of paint beneath his finger. The medium was dry, unyielding, and yet it felt like there was movement. A pulsing within. A life beneath. He withdrew his hand as if stung.
“Try the treeman, just above halfway. They say its face was that of Bosch. And they’re right. He truly did put his soul into his masterpiece. This was his last work, despite what the experts think.”
Freddy used the same finger, delicately stroking at the textured paint. He could see the treeman wasn’t moving, could feel the dead oil beneath his touch, and yet it felt as though he was running his hand over a rhino’s hide. There was warmth there—the shiver of muscle fibers.
“Is there some cabling or a power source behind the painting? Because I’ve never felt anything like this. It—”
“Look at the details. Revel in them. Here, use this.”
Freddy took the proffered magnifying glass.
“Concentrate on the background. The very back of the piece.”
Raising the glass to his right eye, Freddy leaned in, focusing on a smoke-wreathed spot right at the top of the painting. As he adjusted to the magnification, he realized there were other buildings there, buildings he’d not seen before, stretching away into the distance. Huts, towers, jails, gatehouses…and people. Tiny, in the shadows, but there nonetheless, and perfectly in perspective.
He gasped, pulling back, looking at the picture again with his naked eye. Nothing. Just smoke and absence. He leaned in again, squinting through the curved glass.
“This is incredible! How did they manage to get this detail in?” He pulled back again, stomach sinking. “No. That comprehensively confirms this as a forgery. This sort of detail can’t have been possible back—”
“Closer. You’ll understand why soon enough.”
Shrugging, but still happy to admire the quality of the artwork, Freddy leaned forward again, pressing the eyeglass right up to the oil.
“The quality of the humans really is…really is…” he gulped, “…I know that face. That’s Susan. The man next to her is John. He’s crying. I can see the tears—”
“He didn’t adjust very well to his reassignment.”
Icy fingers scrabbled at Freddy’s intestines, and he stepped back from the picture. A hand landed on his shoulder, and he dropped the magnifying glass. He heard glass shattering somewhere but didn’t care.
The hand was Hagen’s hand. It had to be; he was the only other person in the room. But it didn’t feel like it had when Hagen greeted him. The pressure was immense, as though pushing down from above him with a great weight behind it. A hot weight. Freddy could smell steam and something fouler. A talon flickered on the edge of his vision, but he didn’t want to look at it. Didn’t want to turn his head. Didn’t want to confirm what he already knew—that it wasn’t the metallic letter-opener.
“You know what really disappointed me, Fredek?”
The voice was Hagen’s, but deeper, with something primal about it. Dark syrup, laced with magma.
“You didn’t move to protect the Masaccio.” A second hand landed, putting pressure on Freddy’s unburdened shoulder, pinning him in place. “When I slashed it, you didn’t move to protect the painting. I mean, I knew it was fake already. Of course I did. I’m me! But still. A poor showing, yes?” Hot breath tickled Freddy’s earlobe. “I’d expected more from you. Not that the end result would have been any different.”
Freddy winced as the hands on his shoulder gripped him more tightly.
“Twelve paintings, Fredek. Twelve. Such a portentous number. Twelve originals that you acquired for me, then forged copies of. Twelve pieces carrying a substantial net value. Tricky to sell on, but I suspect you would have found a way, resourceful young man that you are. If it hadn’t been me you were trying to steal from, I dare say you would have gotten away with it.” A dry tongue flickered at Freddy’s neck, and he shivered. “Of course, I expected as much. I hired you, after all. Why do you think I put so much temptation in your way?”
The hands relaxed their grip ever-so-slightly, the pain diminishing, and Freddy released a breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. “I didn’t know. How could I have known? This isn’t real. It can’t be real. I… I… I’m so sorry. God, I’m so sorry. God help—”
“Not your best choice of words, Fredek, but I understand. Fear does wonders for faith. Sadly, you already belong on my side of the ledger.”
Freddy felt himself being pushed slowly forward. He didn’t even try to struggle—he couldn’t believe what was happening, but on every level, physical and mental, he understood there was no fighting it.
Just as he thought he would be crushed against oak panels and cold stone, he felt lifted, the gentle sensation of floating, and then there was only the painting—spreading out, enveloping him, welcoming him into its dark embrace and flaming heart. He passed over the foreground, over the pale treeman’s enigmatic stare, over monstrous pink bagpipes, over severed giant ears, over the tortures and terror. Fire-scarred buildings rapidly approached, growing in stature, swimming gently in a heat haze. Individual walls, beams, and bricks started to take shape.
Gently drifting to the ground, Freddy came to rest in front of a row of smoldering crosses. The earth beneath his feet felt disconcertingly, horrifyingly genuine. His ears popped, and a wall of noise rushed in—screams, wails, the flickering roar of an inferno, and the crackle of whips. There was no moisture in the air, just dust, embers, and the faintest tang of meat gone off.
Freddy felt his consciousness tearing at the seams, mind melting, unable to process what was happening. Then he felt pain in his shoulders again, and he remembered who—what—was there with him.
“The inscription, Fredek. On the front panels. Do you remember it?”
“Of course you do. It’s from one of the Psalms. Roughly, it translates as ‘For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.’”
“Everyone thought that was about God creating the earth. But it wasn’t, you see. It was my little joke. Bosch painted this for me. I was the one who commanded.”
The hands on his shoulders vanished, and Freddy shuddered, then crumpled to the ground. From far away he heard Hagen’s voice once more.
It was a voice he could only obey. Shaking, he twisted, staring back the way he had come. In the distance was an unreachable light—the room—and Hagen, huge and human, staring at him. He was shutting the outer panels.
“Do you know what Hell truly is, Fredek? It’s not just a place; it’s knowing, for all time, that you were so close to paradise…so close, you could almost touch it.”
The panels swung shut, and then there was nothing but eternity.
Ben Howels is a crime/thriller and speculative fiction writer hailing from Devon, England. He’s had over 20 pieces of short fiction published, including successes with Writers’ Forum, Writing Magazine, Red Sun Magazine, Devolution Z Magazine, Phantaxis Magazine, B Cubed Press, Sirens Call Publications, Spring Song Press, and The Arcanist. He’s proud this means there are people on both sides of the Atlantic who seem to appreciate his ramblings. Having previously completed his first novel (a post-apocalyptic horror), he’s now working on a climate fiction thriller. He can usually be found writing on his laptop, training in the gym, or distracting himself on Twitter.