Categories > Original > Horror2 Reviews
"When Alexander, Ander for short, was fourteen, his family hid all the mirrors in the house. This was just before Dorian, his half-brother, came home from the hospital." Dorian used to be so beaut...
When Alexander, Ander for short, was fourteen, his family hid all the mirrors in the house.
This was just before Dorian, his half-brother, came home from the hospital.
Ander is fourteen now.
When Ander was five, he frequently woke up screaming in the darkest hours of the night, sweat and tears running down his face in a salt-liquid-fear combination. Every time his eyes closed, he saw hideous creatures with the flesh melting off their faces. Every shadow in his room loomed large and dark over his blue-sheeted twin bed, waiting to sink razor teeth into a soft and tender boy. Sometimes he could almost feel their breath, moist and thick with decay, like leaving a piece of rotting meat in the gym sauna.
It was seven-year-old Dorian who planted these images in his head. Beloved little Dorian was perfect in all grown-up eyes, with hair like corn silk and large moonflower eyes, dandelion-fluff lashes. Their aunties cooed "Precious" at him, kissed his cheeks, pat his head, and behind their hands they murmured how it was "really a shame, the poor thing." Poor, cute Dorian, whose mommy was gone and had no one else left in the world. They had to share a father.
When you're five, no one wants to mention places like institutions and people named Doctor who check up on weeping women too unstable to be mothers.
And Dorian used to be beautiful.
Alexander's own mother loved Dorian unconditionally, even when she had a headache. She didn't love Ander when she had a headache. Dorian said "please, sir" and "thank you, ma'am", and played the piano, quite well. Dorian held his little brother's hand when crossing the street.
Dorian also held his little brother's hand when he threw rocks at birds' nests. He made Ander watch. Sometimes, the birds' nests fell, and all the baby birdies tumbled out. Sometimes their underdeveloped skulls would get crushed on the pavement, and those were the lucky ones. For the others, their beaks could become mashed it, their ribs could shatter, or their tiny featherless wings would break. Their bodies, small enough to fit inside Ander's palm, only half-covered with downy feathers, could lie twitching for hours. When Ander cried for them, Dorian laughed and hit him.
Ander tried to rescue some of these baby birds. He kept them in shoeboxes in his room, tried to keep them warm with light bulbs and rags. He tried to spoon them lukewarm milk, but it would always dribble out of their broken beaks. They never lasted the entire night.
"Monsters eat them", Dorian told him, "they come out at night and eat the things you love." Appetizers, of course - Ander was always the main course. Dorian liked to hide under Ander's bed and whisper things like, "I'm going to nibble on your insides" and "I'll make a coat from your skin".
Sometimes, even now, he still hears that little-boy voice trying to be deep and raspy, talking to him in the dark.
Dorian is quiet these days, and well behaved. Ander pushes his wheelchair. Sometimes he takes him on walks. He grips the handlebars hard whenever they stop at a busy intersection, or in front of a long flight of stairs. Accidents happen, after all. The handlebars leave red imprints in his sweaty palms.
But before, in school, Ander didn't have a name of his own. Everybody called him "Dorian's little brother." Teachers often told Ander that they knew he "could be the best" if he only "tried". He met their eyes unapologetically. Eventually, they stopped calling on him in class.
And at that point in time, Dorian was so beautiful. He was one of those achingly beautiful people that made other people stop, suddenly discover that they had something important that they had forgotten to do, and it had to be done here, now, and rather slowly at that. It was the kind of beauty that made people turn around to look at something behind him, drop their eyes quickly, but sometimes chance a fleeting smile. To stare him in the face made one feel inadequate and dissatisfied. This kind of beauty just made Ander want to punch him in the face.
These days, it's pretty much the same. Everybody is still too intimidated to look Dorian full in the face, but they want to see. Except no one really smiles at him anymore. Instead, they're always looking away - their eyes are shadows on the edges of Ander's peripheral vision. Dorian keeps on smiling, but of course he has no other choice. On one side of his face, his cheek is missing, the skin and flesh burned off, his not-so-white teeth and healthy red gums bared in a permanent half-grin.
Dorian isn't so very beautiful, not anymore.
And Ander writes in his notebook, "You're cooler this way."
These days, people always want to know what happened, but never want to be rude enough to ask. Everybody talks to Ander now, and they tell him, "You're such a good brother." Their eyes are full of questions and pity. "Such a sweet, loving, good boy."
When you're fourteen years old, they don't tell you grisly details, even if you think you're old enough for it. You never get the whole story, just the diluted truth, sanitized-for-your-protection, bleached to prevent infection. You know nothing about Dorian's mother, the Lithane chased with vodka, the heroin. They won't tell you how her head smashed through the windshield in a crash of glass, little bits of bloody diamonds embedded in little bits of skull, all tangled up in rust-encrusted blonde hair. You don't know the details, so you make up your own. You imagine Dorian's arm was crushed to a pulp when the car rolled over him or maybe it was smashed by a boulder, or maybe he had gotten it trapped and had to gnaw through the tendons himself. His lovely face could have been eaten off by battery acid or fire, or maybe it was a pack of wolves that attacked his bleeding body before anyone came to help.
At high enough temperatures, even skin bubbles and melts.
Before Dorian came home from the hospital, Ander helped Dad take down all the mirrors. They packed the smaller ones in rags and bubble wrap, duct-taped the cardboard boxes closed. The full-length mirrors were given away.
Lara, Dorian's pretty girlfriend, brings chocolates and supermarket-freezer bouquets when she visits. She comments on how great Dorian's hair looks. She talks to his wrist, and sometimes his feet. "It'll be okay, Baby," she says, touching his good arm lightly, and looking at his lap.
Even Lara treats Ander like a best friend now, even though she wouldn't have said 'hi' to him a couple of weeks ago. "I don't know how...you can stand it," she chokes out between sobs, "...I can't." Ander doesn't say anything, he just holds her. "I can't possibly leave him, that would be wrong." Her eyes are very blue, wet like oceans, the edges stained red with tear-salt. He strokes her long golden hair, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he notes that his brother's eyes used to be prettier.
The doctors all say that Dorian should be able to talk -his vocal chords are undamaged-but he never tries. If he really needs something, he writes it down on the pad of paper that stays by his side. His writing is large and childish, the letters shaky and unsure; he struggles to use his left hand. Ander is still waiting for the day when he will pick up that notepad and read, "Kill me," scrawled almost illegibly across the page, and then, "please."
All the things you can't say, you write them down. Over and over again in his three-subject school notebook with the micro-perforated sheets, Ander writes, "I like you this way. You're cooler this way. I like you this way."
The pages fill up with shivering ink, the words trembling like the hand that created them, as if hurriedly jotted down when riding the last train alone. He rips out the pages as soon as they are full, folds them over in different ways. Sometimes he makes cranes and paper airplanes, but mostly he crumples them up and throws them away. He leaves the notebook open on his desk.
At dinner, Dad asks, "How was school today?", just like always.
"Fine," Alexander answers. "I'm thinking about trying out for lacrosse this season."
Mom and Dad nod their approval, grace him with smiles. This is what it feels like to be an only child.
"And what about you, Dorian? Everything okay?"
Dorian's remaining grey eye rolls over to look at their father. Dad pastes on his smile that's almost a grimace, and says cheerily, "Good, good."
Mom makes a choking sound, but she laughs.
Mom feeds Dorian spoonfuls of steaming chicken broth and mashed potatoes. "Come on, honey," Mom says. She doesn't spill a single drop of broth - not like back at the hospital. For dessert, he can have pudding or yogurt or soft-serve ice cream. He still can't have solids. Ander's eyes follow the spoon, tracing the ragged scraps of petals that were once Dorian's rosebud lips. When Dorian's mouth opens, wet and cavernous, yielding like some sort of hungry void, Ander wonders for just a flash if it is hot velvet like an open wound.
Before bed, Mom unwraps Dorian's bandages to clean the remains of his right arm. She searches carefully for the signs of infection, for rot and gangrene. The bathroom door is left open just a crack, spilling a line of light into the dark hallway.
Ander stands at the door and hands her the fresh bandages. He pays close attention, just the way Mom wants him to - after all, he will be his brother's keeper one day. She cuts through the white strips of thick gauze. They're stiff, splotchy with colors: dark, dried-blood crimson-brown, plasma-and-pus yellow. The sound they make when coming off is a little peeling like soft Velcro. The skin has not yet healed over the stump completely, and when you look at it, you can make out all the pulsating muscle, the white bone in the center, the layer of fat. She cleans the wound with a mild antibacterial soap and warm water. Dorian's skin on his shoulders and down his back - all the parts left unburned and intact - is as smooth and pale and perfect as ever.
Mom puts Dorian to bed. With her eyes closed, she kisses his hair goodnight. Ander lies in his own bed at night, dinner churning in his stomach, chewed-up chicken and rice and broccoli and homestyle orange juice and whatever mashed together in a pulp. In bio class, he learned it was called chyme. His stomach queases, spins like a carousel, up and down, round and round. He swallows saliva over and over, feeling the muscles in his throat clench and release. He wants to dry-heave.
Breathes heavily. Pant. Pant.
It's the same thing every night.
Only Mom's latex-gloved fingers ever touch Dorian's face. Ander doubts that Dorian even touches it, himself. With his eyes closed, Ander wonders what the disfigured skin feels like under naked, unprotected fingertips. He wonders if it's dry and strange and alien, or that if it's horribly soft, the way that new skin feels. The way that babies feel. Some parts look raw, scarlet and inflamed and itchy, other parts are shiny, stretched and tight.
It's absolutely nauseating, his stomach queases, spins like a carousel, up and down, round and round. He swallows bile. Wants to dry-heave. He presses down on his pants, hard with the edge of his palm, and it only brings a little relief.
Breathes heavily. Pant. Pant.
It's the same thing every night.
The zipper gives a metallic hiss as its teeth slowly rip apart. The teeth lightly scrape his hand as he slips it inside.
Are the aubergine splotches firm and smooth and hard? Is it cold or hot to the touch? He wonders if it would yield delicately under his fingers, and if he pressed too hard, would it burst like an overripe peach?
He can't stop his hand, moving erratically in time to his ever-increasing heartrate. Touching. Touching. Stroking.
Moreover, what does it taste like? Do overexposed nerve endings sizzle when licked? Is raw redness like cinnamon, spicy hot and sweet and sour? Does a grey eyeball on the tongue taste like a grape coated in early spring frost?
He licks his lips. His hand feels hot.
One thought leads to another and they break out like little rashes, and the more you scratch the worse it gets, until all the skin is red and raw and bleeding. Faster. Harder. Breathe. Pant. Squeeze. He can't breathe. His heart crashes against his ribcage. He bites down on the inside of his cheek and does not cry out.
Could you drink pain down?
Hot fluid like sweet fruit juice squishes between his fingers, trickles down the cracks in his palm. He grabs a tissue and wipes it off, tosses it in the trash with all the bits of paper and tissue already there. The tears streak down his face, unnoticed.
He lies on his back, very till, staring at the shadows above him. They drift and stretch, becoming impossibly long. His entire ceiling is a sea of black and grey.
Breathes heavily. Inhale. Exhale.
In the dark, he curls up into a little ball with his nausea clutched to his chest for the night.