Have you ever examined the bone structure of your face? How about your arms or legs? I’m fascinated by bones, by the way they hook together, or the way they pop when flexed.
The first time I saw a broken bone protruding from a bloody mass of flesh, it excited me to no end. Just knowing what it looked like under there was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
Some might call that odd, but I’m not used to listening to people.
No, I’m not a doctor. When I discuss my fascination with bones, people often ask that question. When I tell them I’m not, they stare at me. It’s like when someone’s talking about a famous novel—you ask if they’ve read it, and when they say they haven’t, you give them a look that just beckons the question.
That’s what it’s like when I discuss my fascination.
There’s something I don’t tell other people though—it’s the fact that I want to see what I, myself, look like. Of course, seeing what I, myself, look like will be a little complicated, but that’s all right.
When I imagine taking a knife and sliding it down my palm, peeling back the flesh and muscle with its curved surface, I get excited. I want to see what I really look like, underneath the false exterior. I want to see if the inside is what ‘really counts.’ I want to see if my bones look whiter than my pale body.
If people could understand how each other feel, it’d make the world a lot easier place. I mean, what’s the point of trying to understand someone else when no one makes an effort? They’ll say, ‘I’ll try to understand,’ but they never try hard enough.
It was like in the marketplace. Most everyone knew each other in such a small town, so it was only obvious that people knew me. This one particular woman—a larger, heavyset lady named Rhonda—would always greet me at the register, asking how my day had been.
On this particular day, I told her I didn’t feel too well.
“What’s wrong, Pansy, Dear?”
For the love of God, how I hated that fucking name.
“It’s Linton, actually,” I said.
“Linton? Dear, since when?”
“Since I changed it.”
“When did you do that?”
When I was eighteen, I thought, but managed to hold my tongue.
Mothers, I swear. It’s cute when you name a baby Pansy, but when you get into the social circle… it’s not cute at all.
“Thank you,” I said, taking the submarine sandwich in my hand. “Have a nice day.”
“You too, Pansy dear!”
I walked out the door wanting to punch the woman in the face.
You know, when you watch the health channel on TV, it makes you wonder how easily you’d be able to cut yourself open with a standard-issue kitchen knife. The surgeons on TV make it look so easy, since their scalpels are so sharp and all.
As I watched a group of surgeons cut a man’s chest open to remove bullets that rested between his ribs, they took their scalpels and made a Y-incision. It was funny, mostly because they made Y-incisions for autopsies, not to get bullets out of you.
It didn’t really matter why they were making a Y-incision though. All they were doing was getting a bullet out. It was standard practice to do whatever was required to save a patient, even when it involved cutting more open than they really needed to.
I unbuttoned my own shirt. I was skinny as hell and had hardly any muscle, but that didn’t really mean anything. Sure, being skinny looked nice and all, but I would’ve preferred being a little bulkier. At least when serial killers kill muscle-studs or fat people, they’ve got something to cut into. Really, it’s the essence of the kill. Why take forever to kill some skinny bitch when you can prolong the actual pleasure of seeing what’s inside with a bigger or bulkier person?
There was no easy way to imagine what my insides looked like. I didn’t smoke, so I couldn’t have blackened interiors; I didn’t do drugs, so there weren’t going to be any strange anomalies protruding from under various organs; and, as far as I knew, I didn’t have cancer, so I would have no diseased lumps surrounding my ribs.
My eyes trailed away from my chest, to my shirt-covered shoulder, then down my arm. My sleeves were pulled up to my elbows, so I was able to examine the details of my forearm until I finally got to my hand.
The tips of my fingers started tingling. It started at the tips—near where the nails begin on the opposite side—and began to tingle down, following the bones until it went to the center of my hand.
The warmth was too great to ignore, each individual throb like an orgasm going off inside my head.
I knew what I had to do.
People don’t realize what happens when you cut yourself. When you start bleeding, the brain produces endorphins, which keeps you from actually feeling the pain until much later. In a way, it gives you a sort of buzz, one that feels good.
The knife was poised in a way that would allow me to start the cut from the bottom of the middle finger. I knew that the first original entry would hurt, but probably not enough to do a whole lot. When I started hitting the hundreds upon thousands of nerves though, that would be a problem.
You might as well do it. Just sitting there and looking at the knife isn’t going to get your hand open.
I met resistance with the first cut, but the pressure I applied to the handle made the tip slide in. The pain wasn’t too bad at first. I barely felt it at all. But when I started pushing the knife deeper—down past the fat and the muscle—it started hurting.
A fourth of the way to the center of my hand, the pain started. Tears broke the surface of my eyes and the burn erupted across every part of my hand. I kept cutting until I got down to the center, then continued on to the bottom.
Now, sitting there with a gaping cut down the center of my hand, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see the bone unless I cut more skin, fat and muscle away. So, I decided to do a Y-incision, just like I had seen on the health channel. I brought my knife up to the center of my palm and made the first diagonal cut. After that cut, I made the second and final one.
With the Y-incision now done, I set the knife down and peeled the mass of flash, fat and muscle back with the fingers on my opposite hand.
Before my eyes lay the most magnificent of things; the white of bone. I flexed my fingers and watched the center of my hand react. It shifted, showing each individual bone’s movement. I did several different things with my fingers. I flicked them, curled them, popped them. Each and every movement amazed me, so much that I continued to do it.
The only reason I stopped was because my grey couch was covered in blood.
I stood and made my way into the kitchen, ready to bandage my hand and have it all over with. When I grabbed the roll and started upwrapping the thick layer of bandage, I looked down at my hand.
It looked like it had went through a meat grinder.
I threw the bandages against the counter. It shattered a wine glass full of vodka.
I’d have to go to the hospital.
Just as I started for the door, I stopped.
The endorphins started working.
When I grabbed my car keys, ready to drive to the hospital, something clicked inside my head.
The room went black.
Everything spun. Like self-induced vertigo, I had nothing to be afraid of. I could move, I could breathe, I could see. But the pain… the pain took on a different form. With each move of a finger, a fireball lit in the fleshy sinews of my hand, and with every false grasp, a dull throb slid up my arm, where it entered my spine and then my mind.
Of course, with the room spinning and my hand throbbing, I didn’t feel like getting up. What would be the point? I had accomplished what I had been wanting for so long. I’d seen my bones, I’d seen them good and plain as day; why did I need to get up?
You don’t, something whispered. But you’re going to.
Of course I’d get up. I mean, how wouldn’t I be able to get up? I had foreign parts of my own body working against me.
“Gotta get up,” I finally decided. “You’re going to bleed out if you don’t.”
Besides; how would I see my other parts if I died?
You won’t, dumbass.
The keys—still slung over the middle finger on my left hand—dangled in my grasp, jingling with each and every step toward the door.
One step two step three step four, five step seven step you’re almost at the door.
At the tenth step, I grasped the doorknob, pulled it open, and let myself outside.
I better lock the door.
I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff, but the few things I had were personal enough to merit my care. I slid the key into the doorknob and locked it before stumbling down the sidewalk. My good hand on the concrete wall that separated my small house from the neighbor’s, I tried as hard as I could to not fall down.
You might not get up if you fall down again, Linton.
“Obviously,” I muttered.
When I got to my car, I slid into the driver’s seat and started the vehicle.
I could drive with one hand.
To the ER we go, I thought, pulling out of the driveway.
I turned my emergency light on for extra measure.
If I managed to die while on the road, at least someone would find me.
Not that I cared… much.
When I opened my eyes, bright, white light filled my vision. I cried out, bringing my hands up to shield my face. But, just when I did that, another pain flared up in my hand.
The knife… my bones…
The last thing I remembered was getting into my car and pulling away from my house.
Where had I ended up?
“Hello?” I asked, hoping that someone—anyone—would hear my voice.
“It’s all right. I’m right here.”
When I opened my eyes, a handsome black man smiled back at me.
“Hey, Linton,” he smiled. “I’m Doctor Stevens, the one who stitched your hand up.”
I looked down. The hand that I had brutally mutilated earlier lay on my chest, where I had set it after flinging it around. The evidence of what I had done lay wrapped under several bandages.
“How did I get here?”
I tried to focus on the doctor’s eyes, but wasn’t able to. So, with nothing else to do, I simply closed them.
“It’s ok,” Stevens smiled. “Don’t worry about looking at me when you’re talking.”
I nodded. I didn’t really care—because my hand hurt like no other—but I still wanted to assure the man that I had understood what he said.
“Anyway,” he continued, “my friend in the ER, he said that you came stumbling in. Before you could say anything, you fainted, right there on the floor. He saw your hand and unwrapped it to see what you’d done. We get a lot of people who come in for little cuts, especially people who pass out because of the sight of blood. But God, your hand… what’d you do to it?”
“I… I don’t know.”
Of course, telling the truth would get me thrown into their psyche ward faster than I could say my full, real name (which, in itself, took a while to do, because I couldn’t say Pansy without cringing. It always took more than a minute to say my last name after that.)
“You don’t remember?” Stevens frowned. “I mean, I can understand it—you lost a lot of blood and all, but you don’t remember anything?”
“I think I was messing around with my blender,” I said.
Real smooth, that other part of my conscience muttered.
“Ouch.” Stevens grimaced. “You must’ve been having a hell of a time with it. Funny, though, how it cut in an almost-perfect Y shape.”
“Yeah, funny,” I muttered.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.”
“It’s ok.” I sat up, rubbing the middle of my forehead with two fingers. “Can I go home now?”
“Oh, no!” the man laughed, setting a hand on my shoulder. “You lost way too much blood, Linton. You’re going to have to stay here for the night, maybe even a day.”
“If there’s something you need to have taken care of, you can use the phone on that table there, by your bed.” Stevens took a few steps back. “There’s also a button on the armrest. Click that if you need me. I’ll be here all night.”
With that, the handsome doctor turned the light off and closed the door.
I’d be stuck here for the rest of the night, if I got lucky.
The next morning, I checked out of the hospital with little to no question. Doctor Stevens told me to call and ask for him if I needed anything.
To top my already-brilliant day off, I got stuck in mid-morning traffic.
Exactly what I needed, I thought, trying to keep a steady hold on the wheel, but trying not to hurt my hand any more than I needed to.
When I thought about it, that was something my Driver’s Ed teacher gave me hell for. You can’t drive with one hand, he had said, whenever I’d tried to do just that. Of course, the man himself drove with only one hand, all the time. I’d passed the class, but my guilty conscience wouldn’t let me drive well if I didn’t use both hands.
“My weakness,” I muttered.
I reached for the radio—with my right hand, nonetheless—but stopped short. My hand hurt enough; it’d feel really good to jar it back before I had to start driving again.
Which I’m not even supposed to be doing.
The handsome black doctor had offered me a ride home, but I’d refused. Regardless of how lonely I felt—and how desperately I wanted a man to fill the black hole that was my life—getting involved with someone wouldn’t be worth it.
He’d just love to see you cut yourself open again, the voice taunted. Might give him something to think about, maybe write a thesis for. He’s not a full-fledged doctor, is he?
He probably wasn’t, now that I thought about it. Doctor Stevens most likely got his doctorate because he had studied something simple, like hands. He said he’d stitched up my hand, hadn’t he?
That’s probably the only thing he can stitch up.
Oh well; the guy saved my hand, so I couldn’t complain.
As that holy light that hung above the intersection marked its right from anger to passage, my vehicle flowed with the traffic, almost without my will. When you learn how to drive, certain things you do become subconscious; checking mirrors, adjusting speed, slowing down and breaking.
When the car in the right lane moved, I merged, making sure that the guy in the fancy white car didn’t hit me. Really, I didn’t care if he hit the car any (because it’s a piece of shit Lincoln that my dad gave me for my sixteenth birthday,) but I didn’t feel like getting it banged up any more than it had to be.
“Besides,” I sighed, then smiled after a moment of thought. “I like this shitty old car.”
Dad had put in a good amount of effort to find it. I’d grown up poor, but my old man had always taken care of me, one way or another. The car had been ‘a rite of passage,’ as he described it. He’d explained how teenage boys went through three big ones; having ‘the talk’ and learning how to shave, getting their first car, and then leaving home.
My old man had been there for all three. And—unlike a lot of my other friends’ fathers—he never beat me.
The minute I saw the street that I lived on, my dad faded from my mind. I hit the turn signal with my left hand—quickly, as always—and directed the old car down the street.
The house was as it had been last night. But, to my surprise, blood stained the concrete wall. It took me a minute, but I realized that the blood had come from my hand, when I had been leaning against the wall for support.
It’ll be fine, for now, I thought, running a hand over my face.
If someone asked, I’d tell them the truth; I’d cut my hand bad enough to merit going to the hospital, and I’d been so disoriented that I had to lean against something or risk falling over. It’d be the truth. I wouldn’t have to lie unless they asked how I cut my hand, which I would most certainly lie about.
I don’t even think I own a blender, I thought, stepping out of my car.
I laughed my ass off all the way to the door.
I took the painkillers Doctor Stevens prescribed. Now—in the kitchen, leaning against the counter—I tried to get my bearings. I had been told not to drive, and while I had politely said that my friend was going to give me a ride and that I’d come and get my car later, it had been a complete and utter lie. I’d dialed my home phone—waited for three rings—then talked to my imaginary friend ‘Roger,’ whom I made up on the spot.
Doesn’t matter, I thought, suddenly feeling guilty about what I’d done. Stevens doesn’t want a liar for a partner anyway.
I’d lied to the man how many times? One for the blender, two for saying that I wouldn’t drive, three for driving home myself; three lies and I’m out. Or did the second and third lie only count as one altogether?
“Who fucking cares,” I muttered. “At least I’m home.”
Oh, yes, the voice said. At least you’re home.
The shiver that slithered up my spine and down my arms had to have been the coldest, slimiest thing I had ever felt.
“It’s ok,” I said, rubbing my arms, trying to laugh my feeling off. “I’m just paranoid, that’s all.”
Or are you?
I’d been paranoid since I hit puberty at eleven. My parents said that I was just going through a phase and that I’d get over it soon enough, but—of course—I never did. I stopped telling my parents I had bad feelings. And, somehow, I had even managed to control the shakes.
They’ll put you in the nuthouse for doin’ that, a friend of mine had said.
So I stopped shaking, I stopped shivering. Surprisingly, I’d even stopped getting bad feelings—until now, that is.
“What I need is some sleep.”
When I turned to face the threshold, black spots filled my vision.
You might have some trouble with vision for a few days, Stevens whispered, old words just coming back. Blood loss does some funny things to you. Just take it easy. Take a few days off work; get some rest.
The first few steps were nothing, but the few after sent me into the wall. I grimaced, thankful that I had fallen to my left and not my right hand, but still nervous. How would I get to the couch if I couldn’t take a few steps?
You can fall on the floor if you need to. Just be careful. Slow, baby steps.
When I stepped on the carpet, everything stopped.
I came to in the midst of black depression. Every single bit of good that I had had in me was gone, replaced by thick knots of black. Tumors, I’d call them, sprouting over the base of my spine, up into the fleshy stems of my brain. They pulsed, twisted, convulsed, like some androgynous sea worm spewed from the bottom of the ocean by a volcanic eruption.
After arranging myself into a sitting position, I took slow, deep breaths to try and keep the spots out of my vision.
You know, that voice inside my head said. It might get rid of the pressure in your head if you make a few knicks.
My body knew the knife like a best friend. The scars on my wrist—while not plentiful—existed in a way that could only have if they had been self-inflicted. While they had since scared over, and while they no longer looked as obvious as they once had, you could still make them out if you looked hard enough.
“I’m not going to hurt myself,” I whispered, closing my eyes. “I’m just going to lay down.”
After getting to my feet, I stumbled the last few feet to the couch, collapsing on its soft, grey surface.
You’ll be ok in a few days, the friendly doctor said. Just take it easy.
“Take it easy.”
For a moment, I thought I hadn’t said the words.
Then I closed my eyes and dissolved into sleep.
When I woke up, I had more energy than I had had in a long time. It felt like I had so much that it’d just start pouring out of my hands.
“I feel better,” I laughed, getting to my feet. “Look at me!”
I jumped around a little, hoping the steam would just gradually burn off.
Five minutes later, it still hadn’t.
Maybe it’s the medicine.
Again, whatever had spoken was not my regular voice.
“It’s just the medicine,” I muttered, walking into the kitchen. I opened the fridge and eyed a cola that I’d bought the day before. I had a low tolerance for caffeine (any kind of drug, really,) so even a little soda would make me go places. A whole liter of the stuff would—in my opinion—be the equivalent of smoking a joint.
Better not drink that.
I thought something, then my conscience added something to the mix.
This time, the voice didn’t reply.
Maybe it didn’t respond when it knew I was thinking about it?
I decided on a sandwich instead of the soda. After pulling the ham, cheese and tomatoes out of the fridge, I threw everything on the nearby table and grabbed a knife.
I hadn’t recalled washing the thin filet knife.
Merely staring at its surface elicited so many feelings. For one, I got excited, really excited. The butterfly flew up from my stomach and settled on my heart, beating its wings against my lungs. I tried to take slow, deep breaths to calm my incessant breathing. My hands twitched—even my hurt one, which, strangely, had no pain. And my eyes, they kept darting over the cheese and tomatoes I’d have to cut up.
You can get rid of these feelings if you let some blood out. You know this.
Yes, I knew, but I had no intention of putting a knife to my arm.
“Yeah, I’m weird,” I chuckled.
As knife met cheese, and as cheese gave way under pressure of knife, I smiled.
It felt good to watch something crumble under my own power.
The next morning, I stumbled into the bathroom, took a shower, and rebandaged my hand. Then I started making breakfast. But when the sausage came out—when I realized I would need a knife—I stopped short.
Get the knife.
Which knife though?
You know which one.
The fillet knife—which I so desperately wanted to avoid—lay only a few feet away. It rested on the lip of the sink, clean but otherwise used.
You’ve used that to cut your hand open, then used it to cut cheese for your sandwich. Now you’re going to use it to cut sausage?
It happened so fast, I didn’t realized I’d swiped the knife off the sink. Before deciding to part the sausage’s meaty exterior, I ran it under some water.
It’s good practice, the voice whispered, for when you do it again.
“I’m not going to do it again,” I muttered, tossing the knife in the sink. “Not ever.”
Breakfast tasted better than I could have ever imagined. Of course, I hadn’t been taught to cook, but I picked it up after a few years of doing it myself. I wasn’t the greatest chef in the world, but I didn’t think I cooked that bad either.
After I finished eating, I walked into the living room and went to work cleaning up the mess I’d made. The gaudy-brown carpet stained like a bitch. Mostly likely, I’d end up paying fifty-something dollars to rent a carpet cleaner, maybe more if I had to have someone come in and do it for me.
Ten minutes of scrubbing at one spot over and over had resulted in nothing more than spreading the stain. I tried watering it down, then rubbing the newly-stained couch, but it only stained the rag.
In my haste to get the carpet cleaned, I’d only made a bigger mess.
“Great,” I said, rising from my knees. “Just great.”
When I was fully to my feet, I almost kicked the bucket of soapy water over. I managed to restrain myself. I kept reminding myself that it’d just be a bigger mess.
Take a few deep breaths, I thought. Calm down.
You wouldn’t want to do anything irrational.
“No, I wouldn’t.”
My hand twitched.
It was time to take my medication.
When I went to the store to pick up some extra bandages, I ran into the same cashier that called me by my real name. She asked about my hand, but I distracted her by setting my groceries up onto the revolving rack.
“You buy so little, Pansy,” she said. “You should eat more.”
I didn’t say anything. I only continued to pack the groceries onto the revolving stand.
“Did you hear me, dear?”
“Pardon?” I looked up, feigning ignorance.
“I said you should eat more, Pansy.”
“My name isn’t Pansy,” I said. “It’s Linton.”
“Are you having a bad day?”
I hadn’t realized that I growled at her.
“No,” I said. “I’m ok.”
“What happened to your hand again?”
“I cut it,” I said. “That’s it.”
“Are you sure, Pansy dear? It’s not that…”
“MY FUCKING NAME ISN’T PANSY!”
My outburst brought many states from my fellow patrons. The woman—who’s name I could never remember—stared at me, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape.
“I’m so sorry, dear.”
She finished scanning my groceries, I paid her—ten bucks too many—and left without waiting for my change.
Every person in the immediate area stared at me.
Really, fuck them.
The phone rang the moment I finished bringing my groceries in the house.
I just begged to talk on the phone. At first, I ignored it, unbagging the groceries and arranging them in their particular cupboards, stands, or place in the small fridge. Whoever wanted to talk was persistent. They’d wait five times, give me a minute, then call again.
Finally, I picked the phone up and placed it to my ear.
“Hello?” I breathed.
“Hi, Mr. Garnet. This is Dr. Stevens, from the hospital.”
The handsome black man.
“Hi,” I said.
“Is everything going ok?”
“Everything’s fine,” I said. For some reason, all the breath I had left my chest. I took a minute to try and get it back. “Why?”
“You don’t sound too good.”
“I just got back from the grocery store,” I said. “I’m tired. I carried everything in by myself.”
“I take it you live alone then?”
No, I live with my fucking parents, you…
I couldn’t finish my thought. Stevens had called to check on me, even when he didn’t have to. Instead, I just said yeah, that I’d been living alone for a few years now.
“If you need help, you can call me,” the handsome man on the other end said. “I’ll help you, Linton. I know what it’s like to be alone.”
I know what it’s like…
“Yeah,” I said, knowing my voice sounded low and sad. “I’ll be sure to call if I need help.”
“All right. Take care, Linton. Bye.”
The moment I set the phone in its cradle, a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a long time enveloped my being.
It was the first time in a long time that I felt truly lonely.
That night—when I got on to check my emails—the eccentric habit came back. I’d looked at the pictures before I had done the deed itself, but not since I got back from the hospital.
The barrier I had put up collapsed.
Some people could—and, most likely, would—call my addiction pornographic in nature. But, really, I’m not addicted to pornography, not even the least bit interested. That kind of shit is so fucking boring, it’s not even funny.
What I wanted to look at was the musculature structure of the human body.
Displayed on the page in brilliant, bloody detail was a human cadaver, trisected with a Y-incision. This man—older, in his thirties—revealed everything he had on the inside; his blackened lungs, his bloated heart, the ropy black of his partially-decomposed intestine.
At this point, I got excited. Like some people like to look at porn—how they get that insatiable warm feeling in their chest that does not go away until all that extra energy is expelled—I got the shakes and the warmth. I stilled the shake in my right hand because it had been tender as hell all day, but my left hand twitched, slapping against my upper thigh.
This is what I want to see, I thought, running a hand around my hurt arm. I want to see something like this.
Of course, getting into a morgue—or something similar—would be extremely hard.
Why waste the time? the voice beckoned. You could easily do this yourself.
I shook my head, violently at that. I knew I was fucked up, but I was not that fucked up.
Why not? It’s not that hard to do.
“Yes it it. I can’t kill someone.”
Ok, so what; I liked seeing the insides of people. I knew I should’ve been a doctor. I knew I should’ve been studying harder instead of just doing odd jobs here and there. This wouldn’t be happening if I had just listened to my dad and followed my heart, no matter where it took me.
Your dad’s a smart man, Linton boy. Or should I call you Pansy? Your name is Pansy.
“No it isn’t. My dad always called me Linton, even before I had it changed.”
Listen to me, Pansy. If you want to see what’s inside these people, you’re going to have to do it yourself.
“No, I’m not doing this.”
I slammed the laptop shut.
When I did that, everything would close, as I had programmed it to.
Maybe I could finally get some peace.
Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t hear the voice anymore
Every day for the next thirteen days, the urge grew; and every time the urge became even more powerful, I would have to hold myself away, sliding my laptop into its case and putting it under the bed so it’d take more effort to get to it.
On the fourteenth day, the largest black tumor—the one at the base of my brain stem—exploded.
The black matter slid down into the course of my spine, locking up my reflexes. It had happened when I had been in the kitchen, pacing back and forth to try and keep the urge away. The immediacy of it was astounding. I’d had no warning, no premonition, no way to prepare for the darkness that clouded my vision—I had no way to prepare for anything.
This is it. This is it. This is it.
Three gongs, three flashes, three excruciating bolts of pain to the back of my neck, all signs that something bad had broke—like the bad egg that slid into a carton, erupting at a moment’s notice and contaminating the others with salmonella, or the conscience that finally bent under the constant pressure of scrutiny, comparable the bullied teen who finally decided to take a gun to the local high school.
Whatever had broken had taken a long time to break.
In the end, the downward spiral would go faster than anything I had ever experienced.
I had lain down to get rid of the excruciating migraine headache. After it passed, I rose and walked to the phone, where I dialed the hospital and asked to speak with Doctor Stevens.
The handsome black man.
“Hello?” the man asked, deep voice sweet as honey.
“Hey,” I said. “It’s Linton.”
“Are you all right?”
“Are you sure?”
A smirk crossed my face.
“Can I help you with something?”
“Yeah.” I rubbed my neck, the curve in the back of the skull tender to the touch. “Can you come over here later, when you get off work?”
“I can. What do you need?”
“Someone to help me do the dishes, maybe clean up a little.”
“I’d be more than happy to help.”
I gave him the address and hung up.
Markus Stevens had just stepped into my territory.
The man made his appearance at nine-thirty that night. He stood at the door, waiting for me to come to it. Of course, I’d make him wait a few minutes, just to examine his movements. He had a habit of running his hand through his dark hair. His first nervous tick, I noticed. The second thing he did when faced with pause was shift his feet. He’d move from one foot to the other, sometimes scratching the back of an ankle with his shoe.
Because of these ticks, I gauged him to be a very nervous man.
Confident, I thought, stepping toward the door, but very nervous.
When I opened the door, Markus’ demeanor brightened.
“Hey,” he smiled. “What’re you up to?”
“Not much,” I said. “Come on in.”
Markus took his shoes off after he asked whether or not I cared. I didn’t, of course, but I preferred people take their shoes off instead of walking through the house.
The carpet is bad enough.
“You said you needed some dishes done?” he asked, rolling his sleeves above his elbows.
“I can help dry them,” I said. “It’s just a few things here and there.”
“I’m more than happy to help.”
Markus smiled. I returned it.
The poor man was head over heels for me.
After a minute, a tint of color came to his dark skin. He told me he’d be in the kitchen if I needed anything.
I told him I’d be in in a second.
That’s when I pulled a hammer from a nearby table and advanced on the man.
“Hey,” Markus said, not even looking over his shoulder. “How long do you usually wash these for? I mean, it doesn’t matter to me, I can just…”
Two heads met; one metal, one bone.
The man went down without a word.
He looked so pathetic, lying on the floor with a small dent in the back of his head. He wasn’t dead, not yet, but he’d be unconscious for a little while.
Pushing the table to one side, I left a single chair in the center of the kitchen. With more difficulty than I had anticipated, I pulled Markus up into the chair and secured his hands and ankles with four pairs of handcuffs.
Then, ever so slowly, I walked back into the living room and grabbed an artist’s chisel.
I will see him, I thought, stroking the long nail. I will see his beautiful mind.
His death wouldn’t be in vain. It’d be for the sake of art, for the love of mankind, for the kinship of two men who were so tired of being alone.
Never again would I be parted from Markus.
The beautiful act of love we were about to make would be forever burned into my mind.
All I’d have to do is close my eyes, summon up his face, and there it would be, all in great, vivid detail.
The chisel slid into my hand as gracefully as the hammer had just a few minutes before, and even more graceful than the knife had several days ago. The steps into the kitchen were like walking on wet sand; peaceful, but partially stressed as well.
“It’s ok,” I whispered, running a hand through his hair. When I pulled my palm away, it came back with blood. “You’re so beautiful.”
I kissed the top of his head. Copper exploded in my mouth, rusting the surface of my teeth and gums.
“You have such a beautiful mind.”
Chisel met skull.
“You’re such a nice man.”
Hammer met chisel.
Chisel hit skull.
“You didn’t have to come over and help me.”
“You don’t know how beautiful it is, Markus.”
“Your mind.” I gasped. “It’s so… beautiful.”
Scarlet escaped his mind, bleeding me red. Hands—now cloaked in beauty—continued to do their work, exploring the inner depths of a brilliant man’s mind. I broke through the exterior, revealing an interior far more beautiful than was normally let on. A labyrinth of medical epitomes—crafted by years of hard work—lay before my eyes.
What I saw could only be true beauty.
The pain in my neck gradually dulled until it finally went away.
The black tumors—sewed together by healing cells—stopped hurting.
Everything had since blurred into one solid but broken line. I could remember things here and there—from stepping out of the kitchen after several long minutes of pacing, to collapsing on the couch when my neck started throbbing—but nothing concrete rested in the box of my short term memory. Had I gotten up to get some pain pills? How long had I been sleeping? Had I called the hospital, maybe to ask what had been happening and if I would be all right?
For some reason, I was reassured that none of those things had happened.
When I lifted my head to glance into the kitchen, I met a stain of red, one large enough to disappear around the bend of the wall.
Did I hurt myself?
No. I couldn’t have hurt myself, because I had been on the couch for God knew how long.
If I didn’t hurt myself, why was there a stain on the floor?
“I spilled something,” I decided. “Yeah, that’s it.”
I stood and crossed the short distance from the couch to the kitchen.
Markus Stevens sat in that chair.
The back of his skull was crushed in.
“Oh God, oh God…”
I stepped around the man’s body.
Not a single emotion lay on that man’s face.
Really, what had I expected? Did I expect pain, anguish, agony? How was a person supposed to look after they’d just been brutally murdered?
You did this, a voice whispered. You did this to him.
“No.” I shook my head. “I didn’t do this.”
Who else knows that you have an art chisel?
I didn’t need to question whatever I spoke to further. On the table—which had come to rest up against the wall—a bloody chisel and a red-speckled hammer lay in all their glory.
You did this, Linton, the voice said. Now we’ve got to finish it.
“No. I have to call someone, I…”
LISTEN TO ME!
In a fraction of a second, everything stopped. I stopped moving, breathing, panicking.
Now, it continued. You did this, Linton. It’s ok; really, it is. You were just interested, that’s all.
“I didn’t kill him,” I sobbed.
You did. And now you’re going to cut him up and get rid of him.
“No, I can’t, I…”
The pain in the back of my neck returned. I snapped my hand back to cover the throbbing spot, but instead of moving to the back of my neck, my hand hovered in front of my face, all five fingers spread.
You have no control. Watch.
One finger flexed, then two, followed by three. The fourth and fifth fingers flexed, then crossed together, the ring finger laying over the pinky.
Now, you can either cut him up yourself, or I can do it.
“You won’t make me!” I cried. “You can’t!”
I flew back. My spine connected with the wall, head slamming into a shelf that held a few odd sculptures. The little black and white figures fell to the floor, but—miraculously—did not break.
I can make you do whatever I want, the voice whispered. Now, let’s get the knife.
When I tried to fight, whatever controlled my body brought my foot down on one of the sculptures.
I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t even be anything.
Against my own will—my body forced to act like a ragdoll to some wicked demon—I grabbed the largest butcher knife from a knife stand.
All I could do was watch as I dismantled Markus Stevens, piece by little piece.
Dismantling such a beautiful man was unlike anything I had ever felt. First I chopped off his feet and hands, then tossed them into the bag. From there, the work got more complicated. While Stevens didn’t have height on his side, the width of his shoulders would be especially troubling.
To compensate for this, I split the bones of his arms in half lengthwise, running from his elbow to the mutilated stub where his hand used to exist. I examined the bones, the marrow, the little blots that covered some of the inside surfaces. I stretched muscle, I fingered fat, I inhaled death.
In a way, it’s beautiful. For something new to begin, something old had to die; the law of nature made it so. Hundreds upon thousands of people die each day, each hour, each minute, each second of the day, and repeated that way is the birth of a human being. A man and a woman—the Adam and Eves of our generation—took each other in their arms and mated. And then—in the orgasmic bliss of a moment—life was born. Sperm met egg, egg harvested sperm, egg became fertile. Some people are destined for greatness, while others are just there to toil in the filth that is the human race. How wasteful we, the human race, are; polluting our oceans, killing our fellow creatures, destroying our planet with machines and constructs of mass obstruction.
For something new to be born, something old must die.
In killing Markus Stevens, something great would happen.
I stared at his bones for the longest while before I cut them off at the elbow, then cracked the bone at the shoulders with the hilt. It took a while, but hard work wielded results. With each strike, the bone dented, separated, reacted until, finally, chunks of bone started coming off with each strike.
When the shoulders existed no more, I cut the head off with a few simple blows.
Amazingly, we’d evolved to reveal one of our greatest weaknesses, right to the public eye. While some creatures’ brains had spread out through their head, ours existed in one simple spot, in one simple circle.
It didn’t matter though.
I’d already accomplished what I meant to do.
When Markus’ body had been broken up to the point where I could fit him in the plastic garbage bag, I tossed it near the threshold of the kitchen and living room before starting to clean up.
This mess couldn’t be left.
The neighbors would complain.
I woke up on the front lawn. Confused, disoriented, and damp from the morning dew, I opened my eyes to the twilight of early morning.
Almost immediately, I remembered Markus. Images of the brutal torture fed themselves to me in small, juicy details—the hammer hitting the chisel, the blood splashing onto my face, the sticky goo of brain matter sliding down my hands and through my fingers.
Don’t worry, big guy. I got rid of him.
“What’d you do?” I sobbed, pushing myself to his knees. “What’d you do to him?”
Isn’t it obvious?
“You killed him!”
Of course I did.
The sound that escaped my throat sounded like a loon out on the lake at night, with its chill cry that gradually rose into a silent scream.
You’re going to wake the neighbors up if you keep doing that.
“I don’t care,” I sobbed. “I’m going to turn myself in.”
No you’re not.
“And why not? What’re you gonna do? Stop me?”
No. They’d stop you. You think the police would just arrest someone who has nothing suspicious about them? What would you say? That you have proof on your computer? Hate to tell you this, but everything on it is gone.
Magnets work wonders on electronic devices.
I hadn’t had anything of importance on that computer, other than the pictures. The pictures, though, they didn’t matter, not anymore. I’d done something too unspeakable to merit any care for a few pictures of human anatomy.
“Why?” I sobbed. “Why did you do this?”
Because I wanted to.
I didn’t say anything.
The neighbor’s porch light came on.
Better get inside. You probably don’t want to explain why you’re on the front lawn, covered in dirt.
Before the next door neighbor could investigate the sound of the sobs, wails and cries, I broke into a run and stole in through the front door.
That same day, I hauled myself into a new set of clothes and took my car out to the local woods. Here, they rested on the edge of a long cliff that people liked to say ‘had no ending.’ Of course, the cliff did have an ending, but most people were too stupid to realize that the ‘no ending’ aspect came from the shadow that shielded the bottom from foreign eyes.
I parked my car near the side of the dirt road and started my search. The body of the man who had only trying to be helpful lay in the woods somewhere, protected by the black mesh of thin, rubbery fabric. It’d be hell to find in the long run, but how else would I find it unless I looked?
You won’t find it, the voice whispered.
Even I don’t know where it is.
I don’t know where it is, Pansy.
I wouldn’t be getting any help from my worse half; that much had been made clear.
The woods seemed to go on forever. Although I kept to the path—only occasionally stepping off to look at something I found suspicious—everything seemed to curve around and come back together.
I had my doubts about finding my friend’s body.
Friend? I thought. Since when had Markus been my friend?
The fact that he had come over to the house had been enough to classify him as a friend, in my book.
He’s not your friend anymore, Linton. I killed him.
“Shut the fuck up.”
I tripped over my own feet.
Watch it. Don’t want to stumble and fall on something sharp.
“I could care less about what you do to me. You already killed someone using my body!”
You are weak. You are foolish. You are insolent.
“But I haven’t killed anyone!”
Better get up and find the body. Daylight’s fading.
It didn’t matter.
I could stay as long as I wanted.
The next morning—after waking in the back seat of my car—I started my search. Tired, sore, and hungry, I trudged on through the cold morning air. I didn’t shiver, not once.
The only cold I felt was betrayal.
How did I end up like this?
Had my mad desire—which had border lined on psychosis just until I cut my hand open—transformed into this… this thing, this other personality? Had I brought all of this upon myself?
Of course you did, I sighed. If only you listened to Dad.
‘And gone to medical school’ was how the thought would have finished, had I decided to complete it. After four years of living on my own, I still couldn’t face the fact that I had failed to get the rest of my high school credits.
Don’t be ashamed, my father had said. I never finished high school, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job keeping you and your mother healthy and happy.
Dad had kept me and Mom healthy and happy, and he’d kept on doing it every single day he went to work.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
I continued walking in the morning air.
That night, I found the garbage bag lying in a ditch near the scenic view on the long path. Here, the path curved to follow the railing, which prevented anyone from running off the cliff should they not be paying attention.
At first, I didn’t know what to do. I don’t think anyone does know what to do when they come upon a dead body, unless they’re trained to handle that situation. The situation was made even worse because I knew I had killed him.
Go to the bag, Linton.
“I don’t want to,” I whispered. “Don’t make me.”
There’s something in there I want you to see.
“I don’t want to see him.”
I don’t want you to see him. I want you to see what’s inside the bag.
“He’s in there though. It’s a trick, I know, I…”
My cut-up hand curled into a hard ball. The pain sent me to my knees.
See? it asked. I can do these kinds of things to you. I am the one in control here, not you.
So, as before, I stood and did as I was asked. I slid down the incline and into the ditch, where I hoisted the bag up into my arms.
How had I—or, technically, the ‘thing’—carried this all the way out here, especially in my body?
It’s too heavy.
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
No. It’s not. Don’t worry. It isn’t. Just bring it back up here.
Yeah, right. It wasn’t heavy. The plastic bag weighed more than anything I had ever tried to lift.
I took three steps forward, heaving the bag up higher in the air. The muscles in my arms and my right hand flared up with pain.
I can do it for you, if you’d like?
“No.” I shook my head. “I can do it.”
Although what was left of Markus’ body weighed more than I could possibly carry, I managed to get it up the incline. After setting the garbage bag on the ground, I fell on my ass and took several deep breaths.
“There,” I gasped. “What did you want me to see so bad?”
Open the bag.
“Why do I…”
Open the bag, Linton. Do it.
The stench had already started to come clearer. Down in the ditch, the overpowering smell of mud and forest had dulled it. Now, though, death hung in the air like an ominous cloud, just waiting to let the rain fall.
Close to the beginning? Yes. It is.
The bag—tied with a red garbage tie—seemed so far away. At that particular moment, I didn’t know whether to reach out and grab it, or just leave it be.
You have to open it. I’ll force you to do it if you don’t.
Of course it would…
Slowly, tentatively, I reached forward and undid the tie.
Almost immediately, the overpowering scent of rot sent me reeling back.
Don’t worry, the voice said. You can get it.
“What am I looking for?”
You’ll know when you see it.
What did that mean?
Don’t question my wants, Pansy.
I wouldn’t, if it meant that I would finally be rid of it. Wasn’t this the end of this whole ordeal? Would this be the final act in a play of hellish proportions?
I can’t keep stalling.
No. You can’t.
I opened the bag and met a man who had shown me more compassion than anyone had in a long time. But, sadly, I didn’t meet the real him. Instead, I met his bones, his meat, his flesh; the three things I had known I would see, but somehow, still couldn’t believe.
As if I needed instruction.
I slid my hand into the bag. Met with cold, fleshy meat and slick blood, I moved my hand through the filth. Several times, I had to pull my hand away because fragments of bone had stabbed into my skin. But with a careful touch, I could trace certain parts of the anatomy. Several times I came across the thing I thought I was supposed to be looking for, but when I tried to pull it out, found the object to be the cracked, open chest of the dead man.
The sense of reality had, up until this point, been ludicrous. Everything had been a game to me, just an obsession that had turned into something concrete. My desire to see the deeper parts of my own anatomy had driven me to commit the act of parting my own flesh. Because of that obsession, I ended up in the hospital, and because of that hospital visit, my life had been entwined within another’s.
That man had died because he had situated himself with me.
It was then and there—thinking of what I had done—that I found the object the voice the voice had wanted.
The butcher knife that had been used to dismember Markus lay in my hand.
“This is what you wanted,” I said.
“Why?” I stared at the blade. “Why do you…”
It’s time to see what your deeds have done.
You’re going to do what you did to Markus to yourself.
“I didn’t do this!”
Yes you did, Linton. You know you did.
“I didn’t kill him! He was my friend!”
Some friends have it in for each other. Now, you’re going to have it in on yourself.
“I’ll kill myself before I cut my own body apart!”
The cliff lay no more than five feet from where I stood.
I broke into a run, but no more than the minute I had started, I fell to my knees.
The knife was still in my hand.
I’ll force you to do it.
The knife cut through three fingers on my right hand. I screamed, trying with all my might to pry the knife away. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even control myself.
The ring and pinky finger came off next.
Good. Now, let’s cut your arm open.
I forced the knife into my arm, cutting lengthwise. Skin, fat and muscle divided easily, so much easier than I had ever imagined they would. I imagined my hand—the one that I had just severed three fingers on—and felt that excitement.
Why did I feel this way? Why did I feel that pain was the greatest salvation that would save me from myself?
The knife stopped at my elbow. From there, I slammed the blade over and over, cracking the bone until it finally lay dangling from a thin bit of muscle.
Why hadn’t I blacked out>
You will suffer this, Pansy. You will suffer what you have meant to suffer.
For the next five minutes—as I bled out and continued to tear my body apart—everything became clear. I had brought this upon myself. The obsession had run too deep, had tainted everything, right down to my mind.
Some people might say I’m cursed. And maybe I am. But at that particular moment—as I lay dying at the foot of the cliff—I didn’t care. I would die here and, possibly, roll off the side of the cliff, where my body would rot until I became nothing more than bones.
I closed my eyes to accept my fate, and—somehow—even managed to smile.
In the end, my own eccentric ways had killed me.
What a fitting ending.