I am happy. That is as close to happy as I believe I can be. Let’s call it “content.” I’m surrounded by my new audience—everyone made by my own hand. More intimate, more personal … this feels right.
Years have passed, but I haven’t felt them. I am so patient that the passage of time doesn’t affect me. None of my time has been lost; I have filled it with my work. Now, I’m surrounded by that work. They all look down at me as I construct the newest member of their ranks.
I already have shorn the patch of hair that I intend to thread into the doll’s head. I have yet to remove the malleus—retrieving the smallest of bones in their inner ears is delicate work. But, once I’ve removed it and placed it inside the doll’s head (as I have done with all the rest), I can finally attach it to its body that has been sitting idly by, patiently waiting. They are all as patient as I am. And they are good.
I’ve made a mistake. I didn’t mean to be so careless, but I had no other recourse. It’s not like I enjoyed the physical attention lavished on me, but I thought maybe it would help to keep up my appearance of normality. My home life has become unbearable. I sit there, vacant, wishing only to be in my cellar. Instead, I have to sit and listen to the incessant babble of my unbelievably dull son. If my wife wasn’t so plain and insufferable, I would question the boy’s paternity. I felt myself slipping from humanity. I had to be careful to keep up the façade.
As if an answer to an unspoken prayer, she began to show me some affection. I knew it was wrong. I never sought out a victim so close to home, let alone an actual student of mine. But her attentions seemed to keep me grounded in my false humanity. I let her do the things she wanted to do while parked in the college parking lot. Careless. But I started feeling connected again. It was a small secret to cover up the much bigger one; I was regaining control.
She wants money. At first the blackmail was only for grades. My plan had backfired and I was going to be exposed. Grades were easy, but once she saw she had a foothold she kept going. I don’t have the kind of money she’s asking for. This is it; I’m going to be exposed.
She laughs as I lean in toward her, and, thinking that I want some sort of affection from her, a farewell kiss perhaps, she doesn’t notice me grab the seatbelt hanging limp next to her. Her laugh cuts off as I wrap it around her throat. I keep steady pressure on the belt until she slumps forward. I feel for a pulse—very faint. I have little time.
I see her eyes flutter open. She can’t scream for the gag I’ve placed in her mouth. Her eyes dart around the room, looking at all the dolls. How many are there now? A hundred or more? I have bound her to the chair, but I am hesitant to kill her outright. I don’t have a plan. I’m so used to tidiness. If questioned about the disappearance of a student, I need the right story. It is too much to concentrate and give my full attention to the art of dismantling her. I leave her bound and gagged, lock the door to the cellar and head home.
Too many thoughts race through my head. Too many emotions, if that is what they really are. I feel angry—angry at myself for letting this happen. How do people do such things so effortlessly? There is a pain in my arm, but I attribute it to the unexpected exertion and give it no further thought. I pull into the driveway and find myself struggling to catch my breath. I can’t be this out of shape. And what is that strange smell? I trod past my boring son and plain wife as they call out their half-hearted greetings. I remove my shoes and struggle to escape from the confines of my shirt. I need a shower. I get no further than the doorway before I collapse onto the cool tile floor. I can’t move. I stay there for an hour before I hear a scream. I can’t move, and soon the whole world goes dark.
I wake up in a bed. There are rails to keep me in place, but I can’t move. I am aware, but nothing moves. My eyes burn but I can’t close my lids.
What is happening?
I’ve spent years in this room. How many? I have no idea. I understand what’s happening around me, but I can’t react.
Stroke—a simple stroke landed me confined to a bed, unable to conduct my work. I lay here, staring at the ceiling, listening to my plain wife blubbering next to me, until even she loses interest and leaves me.
I don’t know how much of this I can take.
One thought goes through my head—one thought and one thought only. I picture the girl, the one responsible for this. The exertion, the stress … I blame her. I picture her still sitting, strapped to a chair and gagged, rotting away. I picture her decaying in real time, and it’s the only comfort I have.
* * * * *
As this last image passed by me, I stared down at M. in horror. What if this monster’s essence affected her in some way? How could I let this be a part of her?
I wasted no time, and before I could think better of it, I started inhaling. I hoped to reverse the process before any of these memories took root in M.’s mind. For a moment, I had no idea if it was going to work. The image of that girl’s deteriorating face just hung before my eyes. It seemed like an eternity before the black essence started sliding back up into my mouth. Exhilarated that it actually worked, I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should, and I noticed too late that the black had given way to normal silvery color. I was taking M.’s life!
I cut off the connection and heard her take a huge breath. I waited and gaged her. I hadn’t taken much. Still, I failed—not only in adding more life but taking a small bit away from her. I darted outside before the foulness could settle into my body.
As I vomited up his entire life, I had to relive it. I was satisfied as I watched the blackness dissipate on the cement. Just as the face of the gagged corpse passed before my eyes, I stopped, hoping to keep M.’s stolen memory safe inside me.
I keep failing.
I have no idea what to do now.
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.”