Headline from Aspenvale Post
August 12, 2003
Arts and Entertainment Section
The spirit of Aspenvale’s most controversial expressionist painter lives on in the home of Aubrey Silven, 22-year-old philanthropist and daughter of the late Silven Pharmaceuticals founder and CEO, Donald Silven.
Donald succumbed to lung cancer in mid-March this year. The company is now under new management and the young heiress is using her percentage of the profits to pursue a long-coveted dream: buying and selling art.
“I’ve been an artist since childhood,” said Aubrey. “Art embodies the heart and soul of its creators, of the culture they were brought up in. Schools’ve been phasing fine art classes out of their curricula and replacing them with graphic design labs, and it’s wrong. There’s no soul in graphic design, y’know? You can’t express anything with corporate logos or catalog page layouts. And self-expression is important for kids. We'd probably have less violence in schools if only the adults would pull their heads out of their asses and realize it, and if our country would start taking mental health more seriously than profit margins.”
Aubrey has purchased a dozen galleries, some which she donated to schools all over the country. The city has been in an uproar since she excavated the gallery of infamous prodigy Cameron DeVry from the North Hill Art Museum’s storeroom — frightening paintings that haven’t seen the light of day for several years.
“Miss Silven approached us shortly after the tragedy,” said the museum’s chief curator, Tim Jones, “when the governor threatened to close the museum if I didn’t burn DeVry’s paintings. Art should not be punished for the artist’s transgressions. I agreed to sell the DeVry gallery to Miss Silven around that time — we were both desperate to save it — and her father, gracious man that he was, bought it in his daughter’s name. The paintings have been her property ever since and we’ve simply been holding them for her.”
Photo: The young brunette businesswoman’s smile is all teeth — flawless and ivory white like piano keys. She stands next to a tall cubist painting in which jagged blue and gray triangles construct a vague human figure reaching forward in a gesture of terror and desperation — ten papier mache fingertips glued to the painting’s surface complete the illusion that the creature is trying to dig its way through the canvas to the viewer’s side. The eyes are black pits, decagonal and uneven, burrowing into the viewer’s heart; and the long shark-fin nose between them stabs downward at a raw red mouth frozen in a silent, sorrowful wail. Caption reads, “Aubrey Silven poses with her first prize, DeVry’s Portrait of the Artist.”
Museum-goers have described the DeVry gallery’s one hundred thirteen paintings as a convention of demons from the darkest corners of the human soul. Some pieces are rumored to be so horrific that they induce terrible dreams in the viewer for days, as if the ghost of DeVry himself were invading his/her mind. Aubrey Silven says not all art has to be pretty to be valuable.
“You’re not the first to ask me why in God’s name I would buy those paintings,” she said, showing off a garden of self-inflicted knife scars on her left wrist. “I understand him. You don’t know what an important coping mechanism art is for a troubled kid. If they hadn’t tried to take his outlet away — all because they thought his art was 'inappropriate', of course — then he wouldn’t have done what he did. Nobody has to look at anything that upsets them. I’ll probably be shunned for sticking up for him, but it’s the truth: he suffered among people who loathed him for being different, in a country that doesn't make any real effort to treat mental illness. As for whether I believe in ghosts, you bet!”
Though the city has yet to shun Aubrey, many do not share her sentiments for DeVry.
“She’s honoring the memory of a monster,” said Ellen Garrett, ex-administrator of Aspenvale High School whose son was killed by DeVry. “Those paintings should be burned. He should be wiped from this city’s memory. That’s what the little freak deserves.”
Aubrey plans to collect the gallery a few pieces at a time, and estimates she will have them all by the end of the month.
“I just moved into a big house in North Hill,” she said, laughing. “It’s got plenty of storage space.”
Letter to Brian Galloway 1
August 7, 2003
I bet this reaches Boston before you do, and then you’ll think I’m an obsessive freak. Poor boy, you just escaped my teary goodbyes and now first thing when you arrive you’ll have to deal with me again in written form! But you told me to write, so it’s your own fault.
I suppose Aubrey’s already told you that I left the hospital early. Nobody understood sign language there, so nobody had a clue what I was saying unless I wrote little notes, and I hate when people assume I’m deaf and write their own little notes in reply or shout right in my ears. I must be the only one in the entire state with aphonia.
I didn’t want to bore you with my complaints about the hospital on your last visit. I hated it there. After they set my legs, everyone from the orderlies to the doctors deliberately ignored me. They knew damn well I couldn’t shout for a nurse, much less get out of bed with my legs locked in plastic casts. Nurses almost never came to check on me and I didn’t even get one of those buzzers for calling the orderly!
Thank God for Aubrey. I told her everything and she raised absolute hell with the doctor. She didn’t break anything, fortunately — remember that time in high school when she put a brick through the vice principal’s office window? The hospital agreed to release me in her care. I get to roll around in a wheelchair for the rest of the week, and I get to take lots and lots of pills, which I’m not too crazy about. My last experience with pills was a doozy, if you remember.
Have you been to her new house? It’s a villa! Three bathrooms and three bedrooms, though she’s using one bedroom on the first floor as a studio. Absolutely everything matches: the floorboards, furniture, and lamps are of the same kind of wood, stained a dark reddish-bronze (the same shade as your hair, so I’ve been thinking about you all week); the walls, chair cushions, bedsheets, and lampshades are either custard yellow or a brilliant marble white. Here and there she’s added a potted tropical plant for a tad of contrast. Her study is incredible! A large brick fireplace at the center of the wall opposite the door, and the oak bookshelves lining the walls are as high as the ceiling, each shelf packed end to end with books! The whole building is a giant gorgeous L, and its two wings lovingly hug an exotic garden Aubrey calls her backyard, where she does much of her writing. I realize now how appropriate her name is: it means "queen of the elves" and when she sits in the garden her catlike features give her a stunning resemblance to the elves in Tolkien's books.
I adore the garden. There’s a patio and breakfast table out there, and a pond full of colorful fish surrounded by a lush jungle of tropical flowers I’ve never seen before. I don’t remember any of their names; I just know they’re gorgeous and probably toxic. The foliage is so wild and thick I expect to see monkeys or tigers run past the windows any moment. The guest room I’m staying in is the size of my apartment and has a queen size bed and two large glass doors leading out to the pond.
It’s so beautiful here. She calls it Silven Manor (and giggles every time she does). She has no domestic servants except a cleaning crew that comes by early Sunday mornings to dust and vacuum and polish. She does everything else herself, including waiting on my immobile person.
As you would expect, half the rooms in Silven Manor are cluttered with paintings: leaning against the wall, stacked in closets, crammed behind bookshelves — she buys them before she knows where to put them. When she wheeled me into the guest room, guess who was there to greet me? None other than the self-portrait of Cameron DeVry!
Aubrey forgot she’d stored it there. Apparently her latest art collecting venture is the DeVry gallery: the self-portrait is the only one she has so far, but she says she’s always been a fan of his work and she’ll have the rest moved in by the end of the month. She seemed surprised that the painting startled me. Does she not know about me and Cam? It sure seems everyone else in the city knows. Especially those neglectful orderlies at the hospital.
I feel like I’ve gone back in time. I first met Cam in that very hospital just after I had my appendix removed, and now surgery has united me with him once again. I just wish this acrylic incarnation was as chatty or as capable of pity as the fleshy one.
Aubrey has been so sweet to me since the accident: she cooks all my meals, keeps track of what pills I need to take and when I need to take them, and helps me with my rehabilitation exercises every day like clockwork. She's even covering my hospital bills! I hope I get the chance to repay her somehow, even though she insists I don’t need to because I’m so close to you. Be sure to call her sometime this week, by the way. I can tell she’s still shaken up about her own father and she’d be happy to hear from you. In fact, it’s like she’s been going through withdrawals ever since you left for Boston. Have you two got some sort of kinky history you haven’t told me about? Please respond with vivid details!
I miss you already. I hope Charlie is doing okay. Give my love to that poor old sailor, and write to me often.
Hugs and Kisses,
Enclosed photograph: Two Caucasian women in their early twenties — one blonde, one brunette — sitting at a round glass table. The blonde wears bright blue pajamas and the uncomfortable smile of one asked to pose for a photo only minutes after crawling out of bed. The brunette, smiling a pearly white smile, wears a white silk shirt and wraps her right arm tightly around her friend. White amazon lilies, yellow angel’s trumpets, and purple orchids peer out from the thick foliage behind them like watchful animal eyes.
TalkySue222’s Sent Mail 1
Subject: RE: resting up?
I’ll pass. We weak, soft heretics need gentler “help” than savage Bible-beatings and threats of family exile. Not giving you and Mums a third chance. Kiss her for me.
Mums and I concerned for your health. Just heard staying at the Silven girl’s house. Bless Aubrey’s soul for her kindness but thought you would come to us first if hospital so bad. Will keep your old room vacant if you decide to open up to us. Available to help any way we can as always. Love you tons.
Starry2xNite's Sent Mail
Subject: RE: housewarming party?
Went abso-fucking-lutely fabulous, thanks very much! Way more people showed up than I expected, most of them parents of the children from my after-school art workshops (and a few of the little goats, themselves). Tim was there, of course, and Chris Burgess too! He's still teaching art at Aspenvale High, and he looks like he hasn't aged a day! Freaky shit.
Hells no, I didn't wear a dress. You know better than to ask me that. Closest thing I ever wore to a dress was those cute li'l plaid skirts from my high school days. Y'know, back when my hair changed color twice a week. Picked my fave sleeveless and slacks and greeted people at the door all businesswoman-like. I felt so pretentious I was glad to get a little tipsy and forget to act proper. The life of a princess (har-dee-har). Having Tim and Mr. Burgess there helped me loosen up. I'm sorry Noelle wasn't there for it so she could get some badly needed social interaction and have all the boys ogle her and make you all jealous. She's put on a few pounds but she'd still be bodacious in a party dress. She probably would've just hid in her room, anyway. Oh yeah, swallow Talky Sue's flowery praise of my house with a few pounds of salt, btw. It's not that amazing. It's the blandest rich lady house ever. Cam's paintings are the first trace of personality this dump has had since I bought it.
Guess who else showed for the party, and pre-smashed, I might add? That's right, our very own Ms. Garrett, another fond high school memory. Mind you, I didn't invite the bitch, or at any point subtly hint in a roundabout way that I ever wanted to see her in my neighborhood. She shows up anyway. Comes to the door, drunk, scowling like a brittle stone frog sculpture. She hasn't aged like wine, Doll, let me tell you. From the back you could easily mistake her for a used mop in a blouse. Yes, I got a mile-wide grin just from typing that.
"Where are they?" she slurs like it took every last ounce of concentration to string the words together.
"They who?" I say. "Also, I don't recall mailing you an invitation."
She shouts so everyone can hear, "The paintinns. I wan' shee th' paintins. I wan' shee the abommminations you think ssso highly of. Paintins you put mmmore value on than m'son's life."
Abridged version: never argue with a drunk. Especially if you're gonna tell her pleasant things like how her son was a worthless date-rapist that got what was coming to him. Buster was there to show her out before she broke anything. Alas, I had to change suits after her visit because she saw fit to spit a nice thick one on my vest. Must be how you say "goodbye" in the Land of the Cunts.
And you know what? It was worth it. It was worth it just to see how far that self-righteous cow has fallen, and you'd have appreciated it if you'd been there. Ahh, high school. I look back fondly on the day you and I were late for Photo and we ganged up on Ms. Garrett in the hall with every lewd word and phrase we knew. Didn't she look EXACTLY like the pitiful wriggly fuck from Munch's "The Scream"? Not that SHE would get the reference, the art-burning cow.
Well after reading this much of my raw hand I bet you're whimpering for Talky Sue's flowery prose again. Keep a correspondence going with her so she won't mope like an old dog so much, will ya?
Noelle’s Diary 1
I’ve already broken a vase and nearly killed Aubrey half a dozen times. I can’t wait ‘til I can ditch this clumsy wheelchair and start walking on clumsy crutches instead. At least I’m mobile enough now that I no longer need help getting in and out of it. In reflection, Aubrey’s strength is surprising! I’ve gained at least ten pounds from all the laying around, and yet she can pick me up like a duffel bag full of socks!
Aubrey brought in six more of Cam’s paintings today, including the large untitled one with all the dismal rag dolls having a tea party. It’s always been my favorite, I think. She put it against the wall in my room and promised she’ll let me have it if I ever want it. I don’t know where she put the others.
She’s surprised that I don’t want the self-portrait. I never really liked it that much. Its composition and color balance are perfect, as with all Cam’s work, but he always painted himself as a fractured monster beyond redemption and looking at the portrait makes my heart sink. He never painted the beautiful parts of himself, like his ability to nurture or his kindness to children and animals. He wouldn’t do it, not even for me.
Here I am getting all sentimental. I guess that’s what a diary’s for.
I watched Aubrey work in her studio most of the afternoon. She’s making an unusual series of expressionist pieces by mixing acrylic paints with mud from her backyard and slapping it onto large wooden panels. When she retired for the day she looked like she’d been digging holes in the garden with her face. I’ve been calling her “Dirt Lady” and she seems to think it’s the funniest thing in the world.
I didn’t know we shared a taste for fine tea! She buys exotic teas and bags them herself, and we enjoy them together in her study every evening while talking about art and politics and high school memories. It’s funny watching Aubrey talk because she uses such lively hand gestures, especially when discussing something she’s passionate about. I keep wondering what would happen if I duct taped her hands to her seat — would she be unable to talk at all or start gesturing wildly with her feet instead?
She’s easily distracted, too, which I’m grateful for sometimes. She tends to bring up stressful subjects and vent about people’s stupidity regarding them. She mentioned a story from today’s paper condemning a young couple’s visit to an abortion clinic, and she hates “self-righteous pro-life hypocrites” more than anything (she seems to hate a lot of things “more than anything” though).
“They call it murder if I abort a zygote,” she said. “What do they call all those unfertilized eggs my period wastes? Manslaughter?”
I agree with her views most of the time, but my pills make me drowsy, depressed, and a little nauseous and I’d rather talk about cheery things to distract me from the curdling sensation in my stomach. She tells lots of stories about her internship at the hospital, too. They’re always fascinating, but if I so much as think of hospitals during the day, come bedtime I inevitably have awful dreams about maniacal doctors pulling my squirming appendix out of my gut while I watch. Ugh, my scar is aching as I write.
My darling Brian called her today (that’s what cut our discussion short). Her face lit right up when she answered the phone, and she seemed pleasantly surprised that he had called just to chat with her (as I hoped he would). After a while she became solemn and her voice began to tremble — I could tell they were talking about their fathers. When she finally hung up she sat at the dining room table and cried, and politely asked that I leave her in peace for a while. Since then she’s been in high spirits, as though a parasite had been torn from her heart and thrown away.
I should have turned in an hour ago. The familiar presence of the tea party painting helps me drift off to sleep like a lullaby (and knowing Cam’s portrait is here to guard me helps, too). So until tomorrow!
Subject: got your letter
Dad sends his love to both of you, His condition improved and looks like he’s going to make it, I might stay longer just in case he has a relapse.
What time was that photo taken? You don’t look halfway awake!
I can’t believe the people at the hospital were neglecting you! I will have a long chat with that doctor when I get back.
Living with Lady Aubrey must have its moments, I always thought she resembled a pissed off Siamese myself (ha-ha). We don’t have any kinky history although she did love to torment and humiliate me in junior high, She was sort of the local bully and actually she's the one gave me my limp, She was a nightmare and I’m glad she grew into such a saint, She stuck by me through mom’s death and I love her to pieces but there’s nothing between us so try not to lose sleep over it (ha-ha).
I was thinking about Cameron on the trip up here and it’s funny that you mentioned him, I interviewed him for the school paper our junior year, He was a fascinating guy and I liked him a lot, I was as shocked as anyone by what he did although from what Aubrey says about him I guess I understand even if I don’t condone it. I remember she went ape-shit over his gallery when they talked about burning it, She was in absolute hysterics, I remember her screaming "How many times do they have to kill him before they're satisfied?"
How can you sleep with that portrait staring at you all night? First time I saw it I couldn’t sleep for two days!
I’m sure Aubrey knows about you and Cameron and just doesn’t want to make a big deal about it like everybody does, Actually she was obsessed with him in high school (don’t tell her I told you that). I miss both of you already, Hope your legs get better soon, Hope this letter arrives before your next letter gets here (ha-ha).
Hugs and Kisses,
P.S.: If you’re really worried about pills tell Aubrey to store them someplace safe until you need to take them, Stay on the bright side of things and we won’t have to worry.
TalkySue222’s Sent Mail 2
Subject: kinky history
Aubrey gave you the limp? Tell me whatever you did that set her off, so I make sure I never do it. :D
Noelle’s Diary 2
I had a strange dream about the tea party painting. I’m sure it was a dream because I stood and walked right up to it as if my legs weren’t mangled. But the room depicted was much more dismal than I remembered: the shadows clung to the walls in thick black sheets and the table, the chairs, even the walls all sagged like melting wax. The piece’s ironic marriage of the endearing and the macabre rotted into an atmosphere of decrepitude and hopelessness. Three members of the rag doll family had vanished, leaving only Mother Doll drinking haughtily at the table.
The shadows in the painting were so real that as my eyes adjusted I began to pick out new details. In the furthest corner a shape that I had assumed was a table or chair turned out to be another rag doll, sitting with his chin on his knees, staring at the wall. He suddenly looked over his shoulder and his blue button eyes locked with mine.
The dolls’ positions abruptly changed. Mother Doll was screaming homosexual slurs at the boy doll, beating him savagely with one hand and waving a crumpled pastel drawing in the other. More drawings were scattered all over the floor, wadded and torn. Girls and faggots and useless fathers drew pretty pictures, she hissed. The boy doll shrank before Mother Doll, shielding his head with his arms. Only once he tried to speak and got a haymaker to the face. He fell to the floor, crying. As the scene played out the movements of the two dolls grew more and more sluggish until they finally froze in place.
I told Aubrey about the dream at breakfast and she heeded me so intently her food got cold. Out of morbid curiosity she wants to know about any further dreams I have.
She brought home more paintings, some of them Cam’s most unsettling. Vortex of Despair was counted among them: a typhoon of putrid flesh-tones swirling into a vanishing point near the canvas’s center. I’m never sure if the shapes in the spiral are flailing human forms or just oddly-textured splashes. Cam used lots of spirals in his work.
The other noteworthy painting is Father Figure. It portrays a filthy padded cell stained yellow and black. A dim beam of sunlight pierces the darkness from a tiny window near the ceiling, illuminating a gnarled figure sitting on the floor, its arms crossed over its chest, hands grafted to its back with painful-looking iron sutures. The thing is a shriveled caricature of humanity, wrinkled and stony-faced like a mummy with Cam’s low brow and aquiline nose. Its eyes glow in the darkness like distant torches, bulging and red, staring through the viewer to the edge of the universe. Posted on one wall is a child’s drawing of a smiling young boy and an older man holding hands on a sunny day.
I think Cam told me his father was committed when he was six. He used to visit him at the hospital every other week. He had to walk because his mother refused to drive him.
Brian’s email was a great comfort. I wish he were here now. I’ve been reminiscing about our three-day weekend in Santa Monica and I miss him badly. I miss his little one-two kisses he gives me when he’s in a good mood: kiss-kiss, one for now and one for the road. I’ve been hugging my pillow as a stand-in, but pillows don’t nibble my ears or sing me to sleep.
You’re pathetic, Noelle.
Letter to Noelle Dumont
August 14, 2003
We want to thank you personally for the generous donation you sent us on the 12th. Your previous donation on the 5th was generous enough, and yet you keep giving to us! Your kindness touches everyone here, especially the children. God bless you and that wonderful friend who took you in. Thank you so much, and get well soon!
Everyone at the Sanctuary for Abused Children
TalkySue222’s Sent Mail 3
Subject: RE: limpy limperton
That's awful! But sweet, in a demented way. It seems we all became friends on account of trips to the hospital. When I had my appendix removed Cameron was there, visiting his dad, and saw I was being neglected. He ran all over the hospital trying to find someone to take care of me. And you were sweet enough to be my chauffeur the day I had my stomach pumped. I think you and he would have got along quite well: you both have hearts as big as the moon. And you're both huge nerds.
Aubrey was reading over my shoulder. She says to tell you that you cried more than she did, you big pansy-ass.
Okay well I don't remember the exact details anymore of how it happened, She would remember what we were arguing about better than me, I think she was mean to a friend of mine or a girl I liked, And I was telling her not to be such a bitch all the time, Said some mean stuff about her mom not wanting her, I was pretty mad. Long story short we were arguing by the concrete steps by the bus stop and she shoved me down them and I busted my leg, Not a long flight by any means but a nasty fall for a sixth grader.
Mom and dad were really upset, We were tight for money as it was at the time, But Mr. Silven paid for everything and gave Dad his number and said to call him if I needed anything, He covered the bill for the surgery and pain meds and therapy and everything, I heard he really laid into Aubrey for it. All my friends came to visit me in the hospital and we played games and stuff, It wasn't so bad.
So Aubrey came one day when I was in therapy and she watched me do the exercises and even helped out a little, And when we were done she said she heard I wouldn't play soccer anymore and she was really really sorry, I knew her as a mean little bitch that liked to slap kids around and throw bricks and stuff at them and I hadn't ever seen her cry before, She was a real water show and could barely get the words out to apologize. I should've been mad but I guess I got all my anger out of the way while I was bedridden and now I just wanted to forget about it, So I said it was okay, And she just cried harder and told me I was a moron and stomped out. We've been friends ever since.
Anyway Aubrey wouldn't be taking care of you if she didn't love you to pieces, You two always got along like sisters, Wish you were both here now, Give her a hug and kiss for me and save a few dozen for yourself. I'll call again later.
Noelle’s Diary 3
So long, you miserable wheelchair! The fracture in my left leg has healed and I’ve upgraded to crutches. I can move around much better now, although I can’t sign to Aubrey while standing up and I still can’t use the stairs. I’m dying to see the second floor of Silven Manor.
Made a fool of myself over tea today, crying like a little baby. I told Aubrey I’d seen the article in the ‘Post about her art collecting ventures and how much her words had moved me. She confessed she used to watch Cam paint in the school art studio without his knowledge, but admired him so much that she never had the nerve to approach him. She hated the other kids for laughing when he lost his temper and destroyed a project for not being perfect.
I tried to lighten the air in the room and playfully asked if she was more in love with Cam or Brian. She frowned at me, then stared into the fire and said,
“I can’t compete with you.”
She was short with me for a while, even when I apologized for being so tactless; fortunately once I got her on the subject of elementary schools and art she seemed to forget all about the remark. She’s been wonderful to me and the last thing I want to do is offend her. Besides which she’s bigger than me and not a cripple.
Aubrey makes magnificent sorbet. I have to get the recipe from her.
I dreamt of the rag dolls again last night. I told Aubrey about it and she thinks the paintings have had a subliminal effect on me.
The boy doll toiled in a dungeon with brick walls the color and texture of dirty spit. Flickering next to his workplace was a lantern perpetually on the edge of burning out, which helped me to see him more clearly than before. His torso was a crude metal cage containing a veiny, throbbing thing that roared and hissed and raked with bony talons at the doll’s face and hands. It seemed to want out badly.
The doll’s eyes weren’t buttons this time, but real eyes, red and watery with bags underneath from tears soaking into the cloth of his face. He stuck his paintbrush between his ribs and dipped it into the horrid creature like a knife into jam, and the monster abruptly relaxed into a quivering blob. The doll carefully removed the brush, its bristles dripping with a pulpy serving of the creature which he calmly applied to the canvas. Cage Boy’s painting featured only a single color: the scab-red of the shapeless beast living inside him. As I realized this, the little artist froze in mid-stroke and the scene ended.
Aubrey is encouraging me to write these dreams down so she can turn them into an art project. She’s terribly inspired by the epic of Cage Boy (that’s her name for the little artist). I’m glad I didn’t tell her about the shape.
It sat in the corner of my room just to the right of the garden door. I spotted it immediately after I awoke because there has never been anything there since I moved in. My first impression was a human form — it sat facing the corner with its chin on its knees as though it were pouting or being punished — but the angle of the shoulders was distorted and the head protruded from them like the crooked steeple of a collapsing church.
Like Cam’s portrait, I thought. But when my eyes darted to the painting its twisted subject was still there, as miserable as ever.
The corner was deserted when I looked again. It was roughly 4 A.M. and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I lay there staring at my bedside clock. I’m worried if I tell Aubrey about it she’ll laugh at me…or worse, she may prod me about my dreams all the time, no matter how personal they get. She finds amusement in the most demented things.
Last night was the second time I’ve heard scratching inside the walls. Just like before it was very faint, and I only heard it a couple times, and never in the same place twice — the last I heard it was in the ceiling right above my bed. Aubrey tells me she’s found the occasional mouse or garter snake on her property, and she knows of at least three sparrow families living in her eaves. She promised me her “tenants” are perfectly harmless (and always pay their rent on time, she laughed). The source sounds much bigger than a bird or snake — something big as a bear cub or maybe even a human child. I’m going to take Aubrey at her word or else I won’t get any sleep tonight.
Aubrey has an art show to attend today at the North Hill Museum. I wish I could’ve gone with, but I’m too tired to “walk” anywhere and I want to get some reading done. I’ve got plenty of art to look at here, anyway, and I’m excited to have a whole mansion to myself for an evening. Fixed myself a cup of tea and crashed in her study on this wonderful marshmallowy couch. The fresh air in the garden did me some good, but my mouth is a little dry and I’m starting to think the restlessness in my limbs is a sign that I’m coming down with something. If I must have a cold, at least it’ll be in a warm, comfortable environment and not a crypt-like hospital.
My panic attack is over and Aubrey’s here now, so everything’s okay. Took me an hour to get my breathing down to a reasonable rate. I still don’t understand what’s happened.
I dozed off in the study while reading Chaucer. No idea how long I was out, but it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. I heard footsteps on the second floor when I awoke and thought Aubrey had come back early — she said she’d be at the museum until after seven, and it was only a quarter to six — so I went right back to reading and didn’t give it another thought.
After maybe ten minutes a loud thump directly over my head startled me so badly that I dropped my book. I heard the footsteps again, moving toward the other end of the house. I took up one of my crutches, hobbled over to the stairs and rapped the railing three times nice and loud, hoping to get Aubrey’s attention. I did it again when no one came.
Something ducked out of sight at the end of the hall — I saw it out of the corner of my eye. When I stumbled after the shape, turned the corner into the drawing room and found no one there, it occurred to me that Aubrey had found me asleep when she came home and decided to mess with me. My temper boiled as I followed the elusive shape's trail deep into the east wing of the house, to Aubrey’s studio door. On the other side I heard shoes rustling on a newspaper floor, heavy wooden objects clattering, thick cloth tearing slowly in sadistic hands. There was something terribly strange in the background: a dull hum almost inaudible to my ears, like a television or radio turned on but receiving no signal. I reached for the door handle, but those damned painkillers messed up my depth perception and I missed it on the first try.
When my fingertips touched the handle the room went quiet. I jerked my hand back and nearly stumbled. Several minutes later I convinced myself not to turn tail and pushed the door in.
The floor was covered with newspaper, and soiled from Aubrey’s latest project. But there was no one in the room except a red-and-white-spattered wooden easel standing at the center. Aubrey’s paints and utensils were all locked up for the day in the metal cabinet across the room. When I saw the canvas lying face-down on the dirty floor, my heart jumped as if I’d just found a baby bird fallen from its nest, and without thinking I knelt to set it upright. The frame felt lead-heavy in my hands, like my arms were begging me to leave the image on the canvas hidden, and when it finally stood upright my breath abandoned me.
Cam’s self-portrait stared back at me, and I watched its lips curl into a smile.
I dropped the painting and dragged myself out of the vacuum of the studio, back into the hall where I found my breath again. My eyes wouldn’t turn away from the canvas. It lay waiting like a trapdoor to some horrible other world beneath the house. At any moment I expected the creature to crawl out from under it and come after me.
Something moved. I’m still not sure what. It may just have been the newspaper sheets settling beneath the canvas. But I slammed the door and crawled back down that hall like a panicked rat and sat on the study couch with my hands over my ears and my eyes clamped shut to block out any other ghosts the house had in store for me. Aubrey found me like that when she finally came home hours later. I told her what I saw and at first she laughed; then she saw my tears and sat next to me with her arm around my shoulder, telling me I was all right.
She still thinks I was dreaming because the portrait is in my room right where I left it and it’s not smiling. There’s no painting in the studio. I’m sure I was awake. I don’t know what to think.
The next time she goes to an art show she’s taking me with her so I don’t get possessed by Cam again (as she coarsely put it, which I didn’t find terribly funny). Some of the people at the museum were asking about me and would like me to come, she says. Maybe visiting a few cheerful galleries would be good for me. It would be a nice change of pace at any rate.
That weird incident from the other day is still fresh in my nerves and I just had to get out of the house, so after my exercises and daily dose of pills Aubrey took me to town. We left around 11:30 this morning and had lunch at a deli she’s been telling me about all week. I’ve got to go there again! Their tuna sandwich mix is perfect: not too dry, but not gooey as paste, either!
After lunch we took a stroll through the park to the Kensington Plaza and looked in all the weird little shops there. I love the plaza’s atmosphere: I love that it’s just a city street paved over with stone tiles, elm trees, bronze statues, and water fountains. I love how beautifully it marries “city park” and “town market”. And I love how there’s no roof, so the air is always fresh and always smells and tastes like the forest.
Then Aubrey hissed, “Shit,” under her breath. She turned to me and said, “Heads up, Doll. I forgot these assholes were here today. Don’t make eye contact and maybe they won’t bite.”
I saw what she meant soon enough: the activists were out in full force. Apparently naïve young people go to Kensington Plaza all the time to advertise their social justice movements to the populace. Everywhere we went, small groups of students pestered shoppers with fliers and bumper stickers and petitions. They mixed right in with the jugglers and puppeteers and other street performers. A trio of them accosted us with fliers advertising a pro-life seminar — one of those “preaching to the choir” sorts of events. They shoved one into my hands and urged me to attend, but when they tried to do the same to Aubrey she spat something at them that I don’t dare repeat even to a little journal, then cheerfully led me away while the activists shouted obscenities after us.
In one spot there’s a three-tiered fountain with spouts that make their crystal showers dance like ballerinas, and outdoor cafes on either side so people can watch while having lunch. We rested here and ordered two hot cocoas, and Aubrey told me funny stories about fishing at the lake with her father as a child. Talking about it seemed to transport her to another time, as if she could re-live it all just by describing it: her beaming face seemed only ten years old. She said she rarely got to see him when she was young because of his job, so she treasured every trip — didn’t need to take photographs because she remembered them all so vividly.
“Those moments’re worth too much to a kid,” she said. “Photo would only cheapen it, y’know?”
She’d been talking for fifteen minutes before I realized I still held the activists’ flier absent-mindedly in my hand. Big, bold-face letters shouted Don’t Deny Your Children the Right to Live! before I wadded it up and made a three-point shot into the trashcan.
We were out later than we intended because there was a poetry slam going on in the coffee shop across the street that we decided to attend. It was all pretty bad, but at least some of the poets didn’t take themselves too seriously. One guy recited all his poems like Burt Lancaster and had our sides splitting. Once it ended my head sloshed with drowsiness and my vision blurred a little bit. Aubrey said I looked tired, and it was almost time for more pills anyway. By the time we got back it was almost four.
I had planned to take a nap once we got back, but something cold as ice washed over me the moment I stepped through the front door. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s as if the house welcomed me back with a mean-spirited smile. I try to act casual and not let it bother me, and I swear I can feel the walls chuckling. I think I actually heard someone stifle a laugh as I passed one of Cam’s paintings. Can’t remember which one.
Teatime. I’ve had enough of writing about this anyway.
Found myself scrutinizing Cam’s portrait this morning as if it were a mischievous little kid. I feel completely silly. Aubrey has been more sensitive about my dreams. She hasn’t prodded me for any details since my panic attack the other day.
I've had three separate mini-dreams in Doll Land the last few nights, and now I suppose it would be a waste not to record them. Anyway, they won't leave my thoughts otherwise. Three new dolls starred in these revues.
At first I couldn't guess the gender of the first dream's star, but I finally decided it was female and called it Angst: she wore a beanie and a black t-shirt adorned with a little frowning skull, and her angry red button eyes reflected light more brightly than the other dolls' could. She had a small beast of her own perched on her shoulder like a pet, which occasionally licked her ears or nipped at her face, and like Cage Boy she used it as ammunition for painting violent landscapes on canvas. Those who mocked her creations were subject to the wrath of her pet (or her fists if she was feeling generous), and her rage did not discriminate between classmates and teachers. The Schoolmistress doll seemed determined to stop Angst from producing such offensive art: she would incinerate every finished painting with fiery breath, often battling Angst's pet to do so.
Angst's anger disappeared around Cage Boy. In fact, his mere presence would drive her to hide around corners and behind furniture. She watched his struggles with the beast in timid silence, her eyes changing into tearful mirrors whenever they looked upon him. Only Angst's pet had the courage to call out to him, but with a sob she always strangled the words in its throat before he could hear, turning and retreating further into the shadows.
The second dream starred the doll I call Blue-Eye: he's a sweet little thing with a single great eye of blue glass in the middle of his forehead. No matter what he gazed at, the object of Blue-Eye's interest always had a beautiful reflection in that eye. While walking along a sidewalk that twisted in unnatural angles, he passed an old decrepit single-story house, and to him it was a great German castle from ancient times. No neighborhood surrounded the castle: it stood in its own dark corner of the cosmos where everyone could shun it. Shouts and sobs and awful insults came from within, and Blue-Eye stopped to watch Cage Boy slip out a tower window, climb down the wall like a spider, and escape into the darkness.
Blue-Eye pitied Cage Boy for having such a rotten home. Every day Blue-Eye came home from school to a great big hug and kiss from his mother, a sweet but badly worn doll who seemed to fall apart more and more each time she appeared. She sometimes left a trail of red hair wherever she went. Her left button eye had a habit of popping off when she smiled, and everyone would have to look under the furniture for it, sometimes not finding it until later in the week. Occasionally another stitch would pop, which she repaired herself with increasing incompetence. One day she finally unraveled and Blue-Eye came home to a soulless shell of a house. Father doll sat on the living room couch, inconsolable. That day Blue-Eye's friend, Angst, supplied his hug and kiss, and didn't let him go for a long time — that big eye cried an awful lot of tears.
The third dream ended abruptly as I noticed a little blonde doll watching Cage Boy's struggles from afar with pity in her eyes. I vaguely remember that everywhere she went, the other dolls didn't notice her when she said hello. This was because she had no mouth to speak with.
Aubrey and I played cards all through the afternoon. Had our usual tea date in the study. Aubrey promised to take me fishing as soon as Brian gets back. Just hearing his name broke something inside me. He hasn’t written in a long time. I’m afraid to pester him with mundane things like broken legs and eerie paintings while his dad’s life is hanging by a thread. I hope everything’s okay.
Maybe I should have said yes to his proposal. He’s sworn so many times that he’s happy to have me any way he can, but somet—[remaining text is scratched out]
No, that’s ridiculous. He even agreed it wasn’t necessary. He knows what he means to me. He doesn’t have to write me letters every single day. Why do you worry about every stupid little thing, Noelle?
Aubrey had to go back to the museum for a little while. This time the house was quiet in her absence. Almost.
Whenever I walked past the guest room I heard something moving inside the wall. The sound followed me from one end of the hallway to the other and back again, clicking and scratching its nails as it went to make sure I knew it was there. It never went further than the east wing bathroom or the entrance to the living room, as if it couldn’t leave the boundary of the guest room. It sounded much bigger than a damn mouse. It had to be a family of rats or even raccoons. I swear it sounded like a person but that’s impossible! The space between the walls is too narrow! Naturally when I tried to show Aubrey it stopped and I haven’t heard it since.
She brought eleven more paintings home. I didn’t care to look at them.
Three nights, I think. I can’t sleep anymore. Don’t know the date. All but given up on sleep.
She’s still there, watching. Waiting for her chance. Misery, I think. Consort of…who was she, Cam? Consort of Guilt? or Penance? She steals the victim’s heart and feeds it to the gnawing, yellow-toothed hole in her chest. Nails like razors. Quick as a viper.
She’s been there for three nights, hiding in the ceiling above my bed. Peeks out through a little slit like a trapdoor spider. She stares with her mouth. Lips pulled back into a lovely smile, red and shiny and inviting. No eyes. Not even sockets. Just a lump of pale flesh with voluptuous lips. Don’t remember what the rest of her looks like except the empty ribcage.
Can’t sleep knowing she’s there. I wish she’d go away. I lie here at night with my arms crossed over my chest to keep her back. She sits and waits for me to drop them. Twitching in anticipation. Starved, antsy shuddering like a junky needing a fix. She’s waiting for me to drop them. I wish she’d go away.
If I tell her I want to stay in the other guestroom I’ll have to say why and she’ll think I’m crazy. She won’t believe me. I can’t keep it to myself for much longer because she can tell I haven’t been sleeping well and she says I’m skittish like a mouse during the day. I think I saw Cam’s portrait wandering the house. Several times she’s seen me peering around corners and poking my head through doors. She asks if I’m looking for someone and I never have an answer for her. I tell her I’ve just been restless. What kind of answer is that? What is it supposed to mean?
They want her to think I’m crazy! She never sees or hears them: the things sneaking about the halls, the things crawling inside the walls, the thing in my bedroom. They hide whenever she’s around like cockroaches from the kitchen light. Misery hung down from the ceiling this evening while I was reading in bed. Dangled there, staring, like a hideous chandelier. Zipped back up into her hole when Aubrey came in with my pills.
They keep taking Cage Boy’s tools away. A boy and girl came and beat him up, then they took his brush and broke it. Then the Schoolmistress pushed him down and chastised him for his ugly pictures. She grabbed his easel and marched arrogantly off with it. Then Mother Doll forced him to sit in the corner of the room while she tore his canvas to pieces. She brought in one doctor doll after another and helped them clamp atrocious machines onto his body that bit with rusty fangs and injected chemicals the color of abscess that only agitated the beast. Why are they so mean to him? He just wants to paint! Can’t they see the monster growing inside him? Can’t they see he’s in pain?
Not sleeping in that room tonight. Wanted go to the study and sleep on the couch instead. Thought I’d be safe there. Misery did nothing when I took up my crutches and headed out the door. Certain she can’t access the rest of the house.
But something else can. A shambling thing with skin like old leather. Saw it at the end of the hall, walking awkwardly on rickety wooden legs that could barely support its weight. It wears savage scars like medals on its arms and chest and a poorly stitched sack over its head that obscures its face. Or maybe that is its face, a sagging veil of maimed flesh. I didn’t get close enough to find out. It started toward me. I saw the artist’s knife in its bony hand and I fled.
I stumbled and lost my crutches as I rounded a corner and had to drag myself the rest of the way with that shambling horror looming over me. It didn’t attack. Just followed curiously, watched me pull my legs through the study door. Why didn’t it attack?
Locked myself in. Didn’t hear anything outside for a long time. Tried to sleep. Tried so hard.
Someone talking woke me. Opened my eyes and thought Aubrey was there, but it wasn’t Aubrey. The fireplace had eyes. Wide, staring, desperate eyes behind the mesh curtain. Stared at me and never blinked. I fell off the couch, dragged myself behind and listened to the voice. It knew my name.
Sat in silence for a long time. Eventually gathered the courage to peek under the couch at the hearth. Three faces behind the mesh curtain, all staring at me. I recognized them. Tony Garrett and Casey Jacoby from high school. They hovered on either side of the third face. Dorothy. Her name was Dorothy.
They whispered again. Sounded like they were crying. But the faces weren’t sad. They weren’t anything. Blank like zombies.
“Please let us go,” Dorothy said. It’s all she said.
I don’t know what it means. She won’t explain. She just cries.
“Please let us go. Please, Noelle.”
That’s all they’ll say to me. They won’t shut up. I cover my ears and I still hear them crying.
I don’t know how to help dead people.
The wooden-legged thing is in the room! It’s sitting Indian-style in front of the door, blocking me in, with a hammer and a pile of fat nails as long as chopsticks. Takes one, digs the point into its shoulder or breast and taps it in, straight to the bone. It doesn’t bleed. Taps the nails in like it’s made of wood. I don’t think it knows I’m here. I’m too scared to make a noise.
Tap tap tap. Please let us go, Noelle. Tap tap tap tap. Please Noelle.
brian please please come back
aubrey found my crutches in the hall this morning. had to kick the study door in to make sure i was all right. gone to sleep with the fire poker in my fist. almost clobbered her. can’t remember much last night. can’t remember why left my room. diary is beginning to frighten me.
hard to write because sleep deprived. disoriented sometimes. felt more relaxed today but aubrey didn’t believe me. thinks i have fever. wants me to stay in bed for couple days.
i’m not sure i believe me.
she’s been talking to brian about me! i heard her on the phone this morning, telling him about how neurotic i’ve been acting! voice trembled a lot like she was scared, told him she was worried and didn’t know what to do. she wants to bring a shrink over. are she and brian going to send me away?
she came tonight with my pills, kissed me on the head like a mom would kiss a child with the flu.
“i’m not crazy,” i told her. hands trembled, almost couldn’t form the signs.
“no one said you were crazy, doll,” she said.
“you told brian i was crazy.”
aubrey started, hung her head a little and avoided my eyes. “i told brian i was worried about you,” she said finally. “you been acting all weird like you’re possessed. and you won’t tell me what’s bothering you!”
“i did tell you. i hear things.”
“i told you about the birds and the other critters creepin’ around here.”
“it’s not birds. i saw what they are. they’re inside the house. i’m not crazy. i’m scared.”
“if they’re in the house then how come i haven’t seen or heard them? hm?”
i didn’t know how to answer.
“there’s nothing,” she said, patting my hands, “and i mean nothing to be afraid of in this house. you’re just having bad dreams.”
i snatched my hands away. “i’m not dreaming and i’m not crazy.”
misery peeked down from her hole while we talked. those perfect lips twisted into a grin. i kept staring until aubrey looked up to see what i was looking at so intently. but the hole closed up like an eyeball and she saw nothing but the ceiling. she looked back at me, sighed, patted my hands again.
“get some sleep,” she said.
“don’t talk to brian anymore,” i said. she agreed.
all night i listened to the faceless, wood-legged thing patrolling outside my room. still out there raking its weapon along the walls as it paces up and down up and down the hallway. cam’s portrait was sitting in the corner again for a while, looking over his shoulder at me with those sad black pits, scowling as if he wanted me to confess something. misery finally left me alone. been watching the ceiling for a long time and sh
no, she’s still there. see her lips peeking. trying to trick me. i’m writing on my side so she can’t reach my heart.
how stupid do they think i am?
do they think i can't tell my own friend from a slipshod puppet??
i sat curled up in bed, staring at cam's portrait, asking it for help. it always frowned in reply. i couldn't tell if it wanted to help but wasn't able, or if it resented my asking. i don't know if it's cam himself or just another of his avatars. rotten fruit smell tainted the air.
through the door came this shambling abomination pretending to be aubrey. its wooden make and badly painted features were painfully obvious. they'd built it out of the parts of a wooden easel in ten minutes. i could even see the strings! i could even see the hands that manipulated them sinking down through the ceiling as if it were latex! i'd never seen such a hideous thing in all my life! are they toying with me? do they really think i'm so gullible?
it shambled to the bedside and hovered there. the head cranked lazily downward until its ugly smirk rested on me like a giant weight.
"and how are we feeling?" it asked. the voice was giddy and not aubrey's at all.
it was cameron's.
i didn't answer. the painted-on eyes leered blindly into mine. god the stink! was it coming from the thing? i couldn't stand it. my limbs shuddered and i threw up on the carpet by the bed.
"come see the new paintings!" it said, and shambled back to the door. it hovered there a long time and stared at me. i didn't move. finally it went out into the hall.
i watched the door, waiting for it to come back. it never did. i was grateful to see the real aubrey that evening and gave her a hug.
i hope they don't mean her harm, too.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
LEAVE ME ALONE!
please leave me alone
i’m sorry. i’m so sorry.
It’s strangely quiet at Silven Manor. The calm of a graveyard comes to mind.
I woke up in a soft, warm womb of morning sunlight and thought I’d died. Slept most of the day away and I still feel exhausted. Aubrey says she’s not surprised, given how tightly strung I’ve been.
The paintings are gone. Aubrey says she moved them out of my room early this morning.
Slept like a newborn baby! Maybe I should ask Aubrey to move the paintings into storage far, far away from here. Maybe in another country altogether. Although, strangely, I miss the self-portrait and its sorry frown.
Aubrey offered to bring a psychologist friend to visit me, but I declined. I haven’t felt so physically revitalized in ages. For the first time in over a week we enjoyed idle chat over tea in the study, and we laughed quite a bit, too! I needed it badly after our visit to the gallery this afternoon.
I really did try to enjoy myself. Everyone was warm and friendly with me, which never failed to surprise me after my experiences at the hospital. And the library. And the university. And pretty much everywhere else. Cam’s name isn’t spoken like a dirty word at the museum. So many people there seemed to love Cam very much.
So why did it make me so uncomfortable? Shouldn’t I have felt at home there? It’s not that their feelings weren’t genuine — anyone could tell they were — but I couldn’t help tasting condescension on their words, subtle hints that I didn’t deserve to be there. I could have been imagining it. I asked Aubrey what she thought and she gave me a cold look and told me to stop being so insecure. Real encouraging.
She’s been going into town quite a bit lately, so I’ve spent a lot of my free time exploring the house and the garden. In the parlor at the house’s rear I stumbled upon a painting of a familiar wooden-legged figure, carving large chunks of flesh out of its bony body with an artist’s knife. I remember seeing it once in Cam’s studio. He called it “Shame”. Its lack of eyes spares it from having to look into the eyes of others. Cam told me the creature was doomed to whittle itself away until nothing was left.
That was Misery’s consort! Cam had hung them beside one-another on the museum wall.
I haven’t seen any other paintings by Cam in the house, so I guess Aubrey put them all away. Shame is probably her favorite: she told me when she was young, not long after her mom walked out on her, she used to cut herself to cope with emotional stress. Cam had done it, too. Not quite as pretty as painting pictures.
Aubrey won’t let me apologize for my behavior. She insists it’s her fault for being so thoughtless. “I could just as well have hung your underwear up all over the house and expected you not to flip out.”
I think life at Silven Manor has finally returned to normal. But I stashed one of Aubrey’s box-cutters under my pillow just in case.
Time for my pills. Haven’t needed them as much lately. The pain’s mostly gone, but I still have trouble sleeping sometimes.
I'm in mourning. Cage Boy died last night.
His body swelled and ached with the growing beast that bulged between his ribs. It seemed ready to burst him apart, and from the look on his face he knew it. His eyes burned and hot magma oozed down his cheeks. And all the dolls who saw his anguish simply pointed and laughed.
The pain buckled his legs and he teetered and fell into the waiting arms of Mouthless Girl. She cradled him gingerly and kissed his tortured face despite having no lips to kiss with. They found unity in their crippled self-expression, and when the others mocked them, they paid no mind. The beast was silent for as long as she touched him.
Then Mouthless Girl dipped her fingers inside Cage Boy and spread a fingerful of the beast on her chest like butter onto bread, asking him to use her as his canvas. He did, and despite the crude material the result was an artistic marvel (though just as illegible as the rest of his work). The effort exhausted him and he fainted, leaving Mouthless Girl alone with her thoughts. She stood before a mirror, turning this way, that way, admiring the chic grotesqueness of her new look.
The “paint” on Mouthless Girl’s chest squirmed angrily and began to burrow its tendrils into her skin. She tried to scream, but couldn’t. Horror filled her shiny button eyes and she yanked the thing from her flesh and threw it to the floor, where it quickly died. She seemed ashamed to tell Cage Boy what had happened. She hid her face behind her hands and ran away, seeking solace in her parents.
She found the opposite. They cursed her for touching the beast. They cursed her and beat her until she bled. They sent her to a new school where the nuns burnt her flesh with hot metal crosses and bloodied her with wooden canes if she disobeyed the rules.
Mouthless Girl ran away from this terrible place one day, knowing she would be beaten for it. She ran to Cage Boy's school and attacked him in the art studio. She did to him what the nuns had done to her, beating him with everything in reach and calling him the vilest things she could think of. It was his fault, she said. It was all his fault and it never would have happened if he'd been more careful.
Cage Boy ran home and cried. Several of his ribs broke and curled outward as the beast swelled and swelled, but he ignored it. He would let the thing consume him.
Enter Mother Doll and a fearsome toy soldier, carrying a steel breastplate of Cage Boy’s size. She dragged her son to the soldier, telling him he would be sent away to become a man. The soldier began to bolt the breastplate onto Cage Boy and lock the ever-growing beast inside him forever. But he didn’t get the second bolt in: the beast bubbled and boiled and lashed out at everything around it. More ribs broke away until finally the thing exploded out of Cage Boy’s body with a sound like a hundred jungle animals bellowing at once. Its talons bit into Mother Doll’s chest and tore out tuft after tuft of polyester stuffing. It tore and tore until nothing remained of her but tattered rags.
It rampaged, frightening the other dolls, chasing down Cage Boy’s tormentors. The thing was still a part of Cage Boy, so as it stampeded through the dolls Cage Boy was dragged along, twisting and whipping in the air like the leash of a dog that escaped its master on its morning walk. The beast gleefully disemboweled two more dolls — the boy and girl who’d broken Cage Boy’s paintbrush — before Cage Boy found his footing again and seized the thing in his arms, hugging it with all his might, struggling to force it back inside him. This only made it angrier and it turned on its host and devoured him as the Uroboros eats its own tail.
The other dolls gathered around the carnage, sobbing, whimpering, cursing, screaming. The Schoolmistress doll sat wailing on the floor, cradling one victim’s tattered remains. It used to be her son.
The beast, now without its host, began to die. From the back of the crowd came Angst with a brush and canvas in hand: weeping she knelt by the fallen beast and desperately tried to collect its remains on the canvas in a pitiful attempt to preserve any little piece of Cage Boy she could. Her pet brutalized any bystanders that tried to stop her.
Mouthless Girl was devastated: her grief showed in her endless tears and her red, twisted face and the way her legs refused to work. Gathering all her strength she finally stood upright, outstretched her arms and went to offer the creature one last meal — to share Cage Boy’s fate. As her fingers were inches from touching the starving blob Blue-Eye grabbed her. He pulled her back. He held her tight. He told her it wasn't her fault. The beast wilted like a flower, and Mouthless Girl cried and cried until the scene froze at last, then faded to black.
Should I be grateful to the revenant from Cam's portrait, real or not? Did it reopen this old wound to drain the abscess for me?
Bottling up our grief only makes it rot inside us. Everyone has told me so many times that I did nothing wrong, even though I know better; but I'm beginning to realize Cam's fate may have been preordained. His tenderness and hatred fought for the reigns and the former lost its grip. I want to believe that it wasn’t inevitable — that Cam’s death could have been prevented if not for a faulty variable, like a cowardly girl that should’ve been a brave one. Maybe he would’ve done it anyway. Maybe his final piece was destined to be a work of violence.
Still not very mobile, but at least I can be somewhat useful when cleaning house. Aubrey is cleaning her closet and wants to hit the plaza again for more attractive replacements. She's actually entertaining the thought of buying some dresses! I don't think she's worn one her entire life! She may need me there to keep her confidence up.
Choking from all the dust in the library. Aubrey says she'll beat me up if she catches me trying to do the cleaning crew's job for them again. And that I sneeze like a guinea pig.
After dinner I went into the kitchen to offer help with cleaning dishes. Aubrey stood at the sink washing them with her back to me. I went to touch her shoulder and stopped when I almost gagged at the stench of rotten fruit. Thought myself paranoid at first, but crept back out without a sound and went and sat in the study, listening to her move around the house. She called me a few times. I'm afraid to go to her.
The sounds in the wall are back.
shit shit shit shit shit shit
I think they took Aubrey.
They took her and left something in her place.
It's much more convincing than the other one. Except the glass eyes.
Or did she go away somewhere and forget to tell me?
The hand gestures are stiff, too.
tap tap tapping in the study.
I can't kill her. What if I'm just paranoid? What if I really [rest is scratched out]
I can't leave. They're waiting outside. I catch them sneaking around out there, watching the windows. Will they drag me back in if I try? Or will they do other things?
They don't come into the bedroom. They watch, but that's all. What are they waiting for?
[illegible scribbling] —my bed! In my bed! Vortex people slithering all over! Kicked and struggled but god the stink of rot and those horrible dripping faces like rotten liquid flesh! Held me down so she could ooze down from her hole and take my heart, but the box-cutter was there and it saved me. I think I hurt one of them. Fell out of bed and can’t reach the door or the garden. She’s hiding behind the bed, waiting for me to make a move. I think she cut me. I think I’m bleeding. I have to get out of here.
Think you idiot! Focus!
My stomach hurts like it’s got razors squirming inside! Did she poison m
[two lines blotted out by large blood spots; right half of next three pages is wrinkled and stained red, some words barely legible]
please don’t. please don’t do this to me. how can you be so cruel?
pain too much, had to get it out. cut appendix scar raw and open like a hungry mouth. something wormlike slithered out, slithered up my chest, licked and bit my neck with barbwire jaws. fought it, grabbed it, pulled it out like a tapeworm foot by foot. other end of the worm-thing finally came, first head, then shoulders, then little feet. fetus. whole fetus popped out, slick and bruise-red, dead black eyes staring into mine, dangling from the umbilical cord tangled around its neck. threw it away and sat and stared at it and sobbed. the face! the brow and nose like a Cameron doll!
your portrait saw it all, stood over me, watching me cry with your face melting into a horrible sagging grimace. is it because you feel responsible? because i blamed you like the fucking child that i was? we were both to blame. i was too young. i wasn’t ready to be a mommy. neither of us were ready for a baby. i’m sorry i said those terrible things. it wasn't your fault. we both made a mistake. i know it's too fucking late to say it now. too fucking little too fucking late. i don't hate you and i’m not leaving you and i love you more than anyone in the world and i treated you like fucking shit and i'm sorry. i tried to tell you but you wouldn’t look at me to hear me. you just went to the corner and sat staring at the wall and wouldn’t look at me. i tried to pull you into my arms and you crumbled and dissolved like wet sand until nothing left. you wouldn’t look because you were dead. i killed you. too fucking late.
can’t sit up anymore. too exhausted. damn smile peeking around the bed at me. tonight. she’s coming for me tonight, to take what’s hers. moving slowly, low to the ground, spider on the prowl, slobbering chest-hole licking teeth, flecking strings of black sputum on the carpet s-l-o-w-l-y around foot of bed lips baring perfect white teeth like she’s going to laugh never makes a sound don’t wan to be scared i cant writ troug th teas im scard cameron pleas mak her go awy plea [rest of the page is too scrawled and too blood-stained to read]
Letter to Charles Galloway
September 5, 2003
Don’t ever tell me how unimportant you think you are again, It is not your fault I wasn’t there to help her, Coming to Boston was my choice.
Sorry to start off so bluntly, I needed to get that out.
She didn’t leave a note, Nobody can prove why she did it but that doesn’t stop people from cooking up theories, You should see the disgusting headlines here, I want to start torching newsstands.
I don’t want you to come out here yet, I would rather you stay in Boston till the funeral, You wouldn’t survive seeing Aubrey right now.
I got to her place and she was in Noelle’s room scrubbing an invisible stain on the floor on the far side of the bed, She wouldn’t look me in the eye till I took the washcloth away from her and then she just covered her face and started crying.
She blames herself for absolutely everything, She says she should’ve known better and she should’ve seen the signs and she should’ve called a psychiatrist and she shouldn’t have had all those paintings hanging around the house, She is positive Noelle killed herself over Cam.
She has gone back to cutting herself, Cut her left wrist to ribbons and I had to take her to the hospital for stitches, I’m afraid to leave her by herself so I’m staying with her for a few days. She talked to the police for hours and since they finished with her she won’t utter a word about anything unless I’m holding her tight in my arms, She’s so quiet it breaks my heart.
She muttered something about Cameron DeVry’s angry ghost and I thought she was making a sick joke but her eyes were cold like marbles when she said it.
Noelle’s parents are in pieces, they think it’s their fault, Everyone is blaming their goddamn selves for not preventing this and I can’t stand it.
I still don’t know what to think, The doctors say schizophrenia, They say the anxiety she suffered as a kid is supposedly an early sign but she ate loads of shit from other kids for being a mute so of course she’d have had anxiety then.
Everyone from the doctors to the press keeps bringing up her failed suicide attempt after Cam’s death and they say a second attempt was inevitable, They talk about her like she was some kind of nutcase and it makes me want to tear their eyes out, How can I argue though? No sane person goddamn disembowels herself with a box-cutter, I was lucky I saw her at the morgue where she was clean and peaceful and beautiful and not the mess Aubrey found in her guest room.
Never a moment goes by when I don’t think about Noelle, I see her pale face whenever I close my eyes, I just don’t have time to mourn right now, The Dumonts need me now and Aubrey needs me, My time will come later.
I will see you in a week, Uncle Gary has a room set up for you at his place, Don’t forget to take your pills.
Note from Brian, circa 2005
Go ahead and burn the letters and emails, I don't need them anymore.
You were right, She can't come back, The same shouldn't be said for me.
Letter to Arthur Seacrest, Phoenix Art Museum Curator
February 12, 2006
Dear Mr. Seacrest,
I recently learned of your correspondence with my husband, Brian, regarding the purchase of the DeVry gallery. I regret there has been a misunderstanding: the gallery is my personal property and therefore not Brian’s to sell. I’m afraid the paintings carry many unhappy memories for him and he’s asked me many times to get rid of them. I’m flattered by your handsome offer, but DeVry’s work is special to me and I can’t part with it for any price.
I’m very sorry about all this. He tells me you were so excited about the purchase. I’ll be in Phoenix later this year. If you’d like to discuss the purchase of my other collections, don’t hesitate to write.
Headline from Aspenvale Post
Sept 3, 2015
Arts and Entertainment Section
North Hill residents gather at the museum today for the opening of a new exhibit honoring the life of Noelle Dumont, who committed suicide ten years ago.
The exhibit features eight paintings and a dozen photographs produced by Silven Pharmaceuticals owner Aubrey Silven and her husband, Brian Galloway, both who were close friends of Noelle. Richard and Laura Dumont commissioned the couple to produce the gallery.
All profits will be donated to the Aspenvale Sanctuary for Abused Children, a charity to which Noelle donated regularly.
“She donated several hundred dollars to it every year,” said Brian, Noelle’s would-be fiancé. “Sometimes she’d mine her pockets, her sock drawer, her couch cushions for nickels and pennies to give them.”
The reason for Noelle’s suicide has been the subject of much debate — a debate that has rekindled since the exhibit’s conception. Many still believe the cause to be Noelle’s abortion at age seventeen. The Dumonts refused to comment.
“The pro-lifers and the politicians wouldn’t shut up about her when it happened,” said Aubrey. “[expletive] pigs. They did the same thing to Cam DeVry when he died. People like to make examples of anyone who’s unusual. If you’re unusual, nobody cares about you unless you do something bad. We wanted people to remember Noelle for the sweet, wonderful, caring person that she was, not the suicidal baby killer everyone’s made her out to be. The self-righteous fundamentalist hicks in this town make me want to [expletive] puke.”
The exhibit opens at 10 A.M. and closes at 2 P.M. It will be available to the public from August 29th through September 12th. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Third dream this month. I didn’t wake Brian this time at least. I have to get it out somehow before it drives me insane. And there's nobody else to tell it to but myself, that's the hell of it all.
It’s always the same! Cameron DeVry — he’s an amorphous pillar of disjointed blue triangles, but I know it’s him — strips me, throws me in chains, hangs me on the wall in the museum. He takes that horrible knife, slits me to the bone along my sides, stretches the flesh of my chest with metal hooks on chains suspended from the floor and ceiling. He stretches it into a bloody canvas, smiling as he does it. Somehow I don’t feel any pain. His entire gallery of demented creatures attends like it’s all part of a ceremony.
Cameron assembles his utensils, attacks me with his brush, slashing the paint across my body in Jack the Ripper strokes. The creatures look on with awestruck expressions (the ones with faces anyway). All the while I’m too scared to protest or even twitch. I pray that he’ll be satisfied with the result: that he won’t tear me down, rend me to little pieces like he does all his failures. At the end of the day he and his congregation leave me there, dangling in a silent, black, frigid void. When he’s gone I release all my terror in bursts of weeping and whimpering. Eventually he comes back, picks up his tools again, resumes painting. It goes on like that for days and days.
He finishes, steps back. The creatures marvel at the image on my chest. Some of them look me in the eye, lean to their neighbors, whisper and titter evilly. Then Cameron acknowledges me, gestures to his canvas as if asking my opinion as a critic. I don’t want to look. I always do.
He’s painted Noelle Dumont on my chest, in the distraught-and-clawing style of his "Portrait of the Artist". She’s a yawning abomination of white and yellow triangles, frozen in her final moment of terror. As I take in all the details she springs to life and starts screaming. She screams and sobs and claws at her side of the canvas surface.
Then I feel pain: a thousand razor blades carving through my insides. Hot blood fills my chest, my throat, my mouth and my nose until I can't breathe. I see the impression of Noelle’s fingernails rake down my chest again and again; blood forms on the surface, trickles down to my navel. She’s digging her way out of me. Cameron locks hands with her and he begins to pull her out, smiling ecstatically. Just before he succeeds I wake up, clutching my chest and crying.
Why has this damn dream assaulted me so many times? I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt. Noelle and Cam were destined to be together, even after Cam’s death. Fate hit her with that car and put her in my care. Fate acted through me: it dropped the ball with Cam and couldn't reach it to pick it up without my help.
And I did help because she owed Cam, the fucking whore. That blubbering put-upon little vagina murdered him. She got herself knocked up, rolled all the responsibility into a lead weight, dropped it square on his head and crushed him. All to make her feel better about herself. Fucking whore. I can't begin to imagine what selfish cuntery she would've subjected Brian to if I'd let them marry. Brian's lucky I saved his ass from that eternal torment.
And hadn’t I enjoyed it? That miserable diary was a barrel of laughs! A dash of guilt and a few angel’s trumpet roofies and she's a one-way nonstop flight straight into suicidal mania! I knew she'd have a worse datura trip than I did when I tried it, especially with all the subliminal imagery, but holy hell!
I enjoyed it all right to the end! So why is my sleep haunted so many nights?
I've bottled it up too long, I guess. Can’t express it through art or people will know. Talking to someone is out of the question because who would I talk to? Brian? He’d leave me in a second. I’m lucky he didn’t know she kept a diary. The exhibit must have a hand in it, too. Cam didn’t haunt my dreams until we started that project for the Dumonts. Fuck me, this must be what Cam felt like every day of his life, with this poison rotting his insides and no way to let it out.
I can't talk about it to anyone because only two people in the whole world know what an evil, soulless cunt Noelle Dumont really was. Only two of us, and one of us is dead. Nobody else would believe. They think she was a fucking angel.
Here’s one more item to add to my little box of mementos. I’d like to keep them all. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t.
That’s it! It’s the knowledge that that box exists — that big box of evidence! There’s no way around it. I’ve got to get rid of everything: letters, diary, everything. Then the bitch will be truly dead. Then I can sleep.
Do it this Friday when Brian’s at the game with Dad. Give them one last read before I light them up.
Written by Mike MacDee