by Paul Michael Dubal
a great lover of beauty; that's why I do what I do. I know you will probably
misunderstand me. Most people do. Perhaps you think I’m a freak or a misfit.
They called me that in school. That was just the teachers. The kids called me
far worse, in between the kicks and punches. What was so wrong about
appreciating beauty I used to wonder? What was it that I saw that they could
not? I suffered many bruises, black eyes and split lips for love. When I came
home from school, beaten and bloodied, my mother would smother me, sobbing
have they done to you!” she would cry, wiping the blood with a white
handkerchief covered in her spittle until it was stained red. She cried a lot,
and then she would remonstrate with my father at the dinner table.
something!” she would scream at him, as if he could masterfully make everything
alright, to make sense of this hostile world. “What will become of him?” she
father would just sit there, face like alabaster, dutifully silent as my mother
continued her high-pitched, mournful lament, ticking like a time bomb, his eyes
glowering at me. I knew that look and it scared me more than the school gangs
who took delight in spilling my blood and humiliating me. It was a look of
contempt; no, more than that; it was a look of pure hatred. Not even
disappointment. I know he was disappointed. He probably never even told his
mates at the factory that I existed. I know he aspired for me to be the captain
of the football team, to display the athletic prowess he constantly boasted
about from his schooldays, as if to relive past glories from a life turned
sour. That just wasn’t me. I was not born as strong as him.
I was a sensitive flower, as my mother would sometimes opine. My father would
hate it when she said that, but I hated it more. It would make him so furious
that he promised my mother he would ‘cure’ me of my sensitivity. I knew exactly
what he meant. My father’s perverse way of trying to toughen me up. He would approach
me, leather belt in hand, eyes dark and brooding. He would lick his cracked,
bloodless lips in anticipation before chasing me upstairs to my bedroom. My
mother would retreat to her usual sanctuary, grasping her rosary beads and silently
uttering the Lord’s prayer, as if a miracle could save my pain.
That miracle never came. The agonizing snap
of leather tearing
at my skin never lost its intensity. The last thrashing was as painful as the
first. In my father’s perverse reasoning, the greater the pain the faster the
“I’m doing this for you boy!”
he would shout above my tortured
wails, as if it was some form of bitter medicine to endure to make me better. I
cried to a whimper, curled up like a fetus, until my father exhausted himself.
My mother would come and tend my wounds and another miserable day would be
I can hear the screams of the latest girl,
even piercing the
thick, solid walls of the cellar. No one will hear her, of course, but it does
irritate me faintly. I’m preserving her beauty forever. What could be more
rewarding than that? An act of love, and love does not come without pain. My father
taught me that many times.
I could take the beatings until one day he
crossed the line. He
hurt me in a way that I did not believe was possible. The psychologists would
love to study me, to dissect my brain, laid out like a dead flower on a
surgical tray, to be poked at by their scalpels. They would say that on that
day something snapped inside me. I knew at that point the raw feeling of craving
revenge. It was a defining moment. I became a stronger person, but not in the
way my father desired.
One day, out of sheer frustration at my repeated
failure to be
molded into his image, he turned his attention to my beloved collection of
porcelain dolls. Forty of them, all possessing their own unique personality. I
had given a name to each one. I loved their extraordinary glassy eyes and long
lashes, their permanent smile and the pretty dresses. I would talk to them
constantly. They never judged and were always there for me, my only friends in
an inhospitable world.
After another session with the belt, my father
baleful gaze toward the dolls and began moving toward them. Whimpering on the
floor, my flesh stinging, I saw his intention written over his angry face.
“No!” I cried, standing in front
of the dolls in a futile
attempt to block his way.
Seeing my distress, how much I cared about
them, only fueled his
determination. He tossed me to the floor, knowing that he had found a way he
could really get to me.
“A boy don’t need dolls,”
he spat, before grabbing Matilda and
twisting her neck gleefully until the head snapped right off and rolled on the
Then there was Winifred, Gertrude and Daisy,
all eviscerated and
dismembered while I screamed and begged him to stop. Like a man possessed, he
smashed and ripped apart all forty dolls in a frenzy of violence. When he had
finished, my perfect dolls were a mess of sharp, shattered porcelain. Not one
doll was spared from the carnage. It was a massacre beyond my comprehension.
When he stormed out of my room, satisfied with
his night’s work,
I lay there sobbing for hours. Anger mixed with a grief I had never felt
before. Of all the pain and humiliation that characterized my daily existence,
this was the worst. I felt like I had died with my dolls. I wanted to, but I
wanted to live so I could hurt my father as much as he hurt me. I didn’t know
how, I knew I just had to.
The girl is screaming again. I will need to
attend to her soon.
I don’t know why she is complaining. I know it’s a cellar and it’s a little
dark in the dim light of the candles, but she is surrounded by beauty. There
are over twenty girls all around her, their beauty immortalized. Their mannequin
faces are forever held in a gentle smile, their skin absolutely flawless. They
are a proud testament to my skills as an embalmer. It’s a skill I’ve developed
over many years. I wasn’t so good at first, and even the first few girls were
not as perfect as I would have liked them to be. I’m a perfectionist, but I
have learned to live with their flaws, proud of my artwork and knowing that
with each glorious sculpture, my technique improves.
It really is true art, although I don’t
think the world is ready
for it yet. If the authoritarian bullies found out what I held down here, they
would take them away from me. I could not bear to let that happen again. The
raw, impotent anger still courses through me even after all these years, like a
festering scab that refused to heal. Not even revenge could quell the anger. I
couldn’t call it therapy, but it was still worth it. My anger maturated for
years until my opportunity came. It was ironic that I first tested my embalming
skills on my father. While it could never have been called a work of art, I was
highly satisfied with my work. The sheer, agonizing terror on his face as I
skilfully sliced the long hunting blade through his organs was graphically
captured in his final, frozen expression. It was a triumph that set me on a
rich path. Once I had destroyed the destroyer, my next mission was to recreate
And now I’m over halfway there. Twenty-three
completed works of
art, and seventeen to go, or sixteen after tonight. I enter the cellar, the
candles flickering in the sudden rush of cloying air. Dim light fights the
shadows where the girl lies chained to the wall. A necessary precaution I’m
afraid. Some of them had wounded their flawless skin in trying to escape, and
that detracted from my work. I could not have them damaging their beautiful
porcelain skin, as the marks would stay forever. It had taken all my skill to
repair the lesions on some girls. I can’t allow that.
The girl blinks rapidly against the sudden
harsh cellar light. I
know she has been here for three days, but she can’t be lonely, not with so
many beautiful girls around her. I recall every one of my dolls, can picture
their expression as if I am looking at a photograph. Love helps me remember.
Each girl takes after one of my dolls, give or take. I can’t always be choosy,
because only prostitutes would allow me to lure them to the house. This girl
has lustrous golden locks and an angelic face that is twisted in desperation.
She screams and begs me to let her go, but I calmly explain that it will be
“You never have to grow old and ugly,”
I assure her. “Age is the
great equalizer. Everything turns ugly eventually. You deserve more than that.
Yours is the beauty of a chrysalis, gone too soon. It should be captured
She sees my syringe and the black tray of scalpels
laid by my
side and screams even louder.
“It’s alright,” I explain
calmly. “Just a sharp injection in the
vein and soon you will drift away, happy in your dreams.”
It’s best this way because I need to
make a number of incisions
for the embalming process. It’s no good after death. The muscles stiffen with rigor
mortis too quickly. It might hurt a little but like I said, when is there
love without pain?
I approach her with my best smile but her face
is creased in
terror. I can’t have that expression, so when the drug kicks in and they can’t
move, I perform my art. The paralysis is so deep that they cannot even move
their facial muscles. I manipulate their face into the beautiful smile my dolls
always had. I loved their fixed smiles most of all. They forever watched over
me, never blinking, never frowning.
I move forward and she cowers against the wall,
gesture. There’s nowhere for her to go. The chain rattles against her desperate
“I never wanted to chain you, but what
choice do I have? Like the
other girls you would try to run away. You would hurt yourself. Can’t you see
I’m trying to protect you?”
I run my fingers through her golden tresses
and savor the touch.
The hair is so important. I grab a bunch of it and run it under my nose. The
scent is intoxicating. Such a joy. She screams louder so I decide now is the
time. I plunge the syringe into her neck, and she gasps, eyes wide, before I
see her body relax and sag. I catch her and gently lower her to the mattress I
placed there for her comfort. It helps me in my work too. I unchain her and
position her on the mattress.
I marvel at her ornamental grace and then I
picture my dolls in
my mind’s eye.
“Which one are you my beauty? Yes...I
know,” I tell her,
suddenly inspired. “I think I will call you Daisy.”
Dubal settled in Ontario in 2008 from the United Kingdom with his wife and two
children. His day job takes place in the corporate legal field in Toronto but
he is even more creative outside the office. Paul’s first novel, Crimes Against
Humanity is a critically acclaimed thriller about human trafficking in
Canada. He has recently completed the explosive Dictator of Britain trilogy,
a dystopian vision of a near future Britain. Paul's books can be found on
Smashwords at goo.gl/wdeg6n and
Follow Paul on Twitter: @pauldubal
and Facebook: Paul Michael Dubal