I’m different. The other kids cry for their mothers and scream over the sight of a skinned knee. I don’t feel the need to cry for any reason, and I’m fascinated by the redness that lives just under our skin. When my knees get skinned I can watch for hours as the drops bead up at the surface. Other kids quickly want bandages to cover up the scrape. I don’t understand.
I wake up because of the crying. Baby Sister is hungry. It’s been hard to sleep since she came around. After Mom and Dad visit her to make sure she’s alright, I slip into her room. She has quieted down. The steadily growing collection of porcelain dolls stare down at me from their places on the shelf. I like this. It feels like I have an audience for what I’m about to do. I place my hand over Sister’s nose and mouth. My hand is so big compared to her small face. I push down ever so slightly. I can feel her trying to catch her breath. I push harder. I hold tight until her eyes begin to flutter open. I remove my hand so she can take a deep breath and slip back out before the wailing begins. This, I understand. I have given her a reason to cry.
It was a tragic accident. I would have liked to have had her around a lot longer for my experiments. Honestly, I did not think a fall from that height would result in anything more than a broken bone. But the tree had exposed roots and she hit her head. At church my parents look at me, and I can tell they are worried I’m not crying. What kind of child doesn’t cry at his own sister’s funeral?
I need to be more careful.
I conjure up images, not of my sister’s twisted neck, but of dolls being packed away into boxes. My audience being sent away—gone. I manage a couple of tears at the thought.
I will have to become much better at this.
School is a waste of my time, but it’s what normal people do, so I carry on.
High school is a waste of time. Carry on.
College. More of the same.
I don’t understand people, but I understand what they’re supposed to be like. How they should act, what they should do in a normal situation. I do my best impersonation of a normal person. I find a plain girl who works at a diner. I flirt, we date. I marry her and put a baby in her. Normal. I get a job at the community college teaching something or other. It doesn’t matter. It’s a waste of time. But it’s normal.
My parents die. There are no tears, but there is a revelation. Their home is now mine. I’m standing in their attic, my attic, hoping they had been more sentimental than sorrowful. I search the boxes and feel the closest thing to joy ever. I had been nervous that the reminder would have been too painful for them, being normal and all. I had nightmares of them destroying them while I watched. But I had hoped against hope. And here they were. They kept them. The dolls. My audience. Now, I would have to give them their entertainment.
* * * * *
There is more blood than I expected. This will take more time to clean than anticipated. I may have to come up with a convincing story as to why I’m late, but it’s doubtful. My wife is complacent in the fact that someone actually married her and gave her a home. I look down at the girl I picked up at the bus station. People are so trusting these days. It took very little to coax her into my car. She didn’t even seem suspicious when I drove her into the woods and away from prying eyes. Probably thought I might show her some appreciation with some money if she made me happy. As far as I could tell, she was not someone anyone would miss. No family, trying to catch a bus out to … well, anywhere but here.
I told her I wanted to show her something. At the sight of the root cellar, she hesitated. I flashed her my “I’m not a deranged killer” smile and assured her the same thing in words. This was a lie. She looked around the room at the dolls, and I could see in her eyes that my assurances were wearing thin. When she turned to leave, I already had the shearing scissors in hand. I plunged them into her stomach. There was a strange moment when nothing happened. No screams, no words, no signs of violence. Just the ridiculous image of a large piece of metal sticking out from the middle of this young girl as she held on tight.
Then the blood came. It covered her hands, making it impossible to get a grip on the shears. I watched her flail around until she lost her energy, fell to the ground and bled out. I looked at the dolls, but felt no satisfaction from the deed.
* * * * *
I was more precise this time. Like they say, practice makes perfect. I was careful to choose a victim that would go unmissed. I refined my story to make her feel more comfortable. The root cellar was taken for cover, away from prying eyes. I laid out a bare mattress to give the cellar the appearance of a place kept hidden away for trysts. I even let her kiss me a few times to let her believe my intentions were, while not pure, harmless.
When she turned her back to me to unbutton her sweater I grabbed the shearing scissors and swiftly pulled them across her neck. I bent her over the metal tub and let her drain.
Easy. Clean. I could be home in time for supper.
But something still was wrong. I looked up at the dolls and they stared back with their vacant eyes. They no longer felt like my audience; they were just dolls. There was nothing “living” about them; they couldn’t enjoy my actions. My entertainment was lost on them. They needed to be more real.
I picked up a mallet and started to smash their faces one by one. A living re-enactment of my nightmare. But there was no pain. No longing. I didn’t need them anymore.
I will make new dolls. I will have my audience.
Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”