This Non is important. The Else trembles with anticipation. He must be made perfect. There have been attempts, imprecise and thus discarded. One cannot squander an opportunity more than ten years in the making. This one must be as I’ve always envisioned it, as I’ve dreamt it. It must be exquisite and flawlessly executed. Not the first, but The First. It has taken all of my discipline to hold out this long, but the moment has finally come.
The quarters twirl and turn, turn and twirl.
Tails over heads over tails they whirl.
They shall decide (Not I, Not I)
The Non and the method by which they must die.
When I first see him, I know. He will be the first brushstroke of my masterpiece. One of many such strokes in many such masterpieces. He is the inception. I shall call him Origin...
It was painfully simple, as it so often is. The Else is a benevolent provider. A phone call and he came to me. Darien Jackson picked me up in his taxi, put my bag in the trunk and drove us, oblivious, to his final destination. His tip upon arrival was that of a needle. Once I had him situated in the cold, empty warehouse, I drove his cab to an abandoned lot a few miles away and walked back. I may have whistled a tune.
Much I had prepared in advance. As I set up the rest, I was sure to show Darien everything that I was doing and the tools I intended to use on him while he lay helpless on the stainless steel hospital table—a small but worthwhile investment.
It went far too quickly, though I suspect Darien disagreed. What, after all, is a few short days in the creation of a masterstroke? The single, beautiful brush of a thousand blades?
I don’t think Darien ever truly appreciated how important his role in this was. I attempted to explain it to him, but I suppose it’s reasonable to assume he had other things on his mind at the time. He was the only person with whom I have ever shared the entirety of my grand design. After all, what else was there to do during our time together? Alas, he is in no position to speak of it to anyone now.
The Pancuronium preserved a precarious peace between the two of us while the first of my strokes opened him up, little by little. Some trickled. Some spurted. Some gushed. Some were too deep. Those that threatened to abbreviate our time together, I seared closed with a wood-burning tool. The smell of scorched flesh was an unpleasant but necessary evil. He couldn’t be allowed to bleed to death until each of my brush’s thousand bristles had carved their crimson.
But Darien had other plans. He tried to take a permanent hiatus at 312. It was far from the worst incision, but he went into shock and flatlined. I could hardly release him unto the Else in such a state. He was incomplete. So I revived him. Covered him with a blanket. I gave him an IV of fluids and dextrose. I allowed him time to recuperate. I was anxious to continue, but perfection requires patience.
My masterpiece was far from complete.
When he had sufficiently recovered, I adjusted his position so he could watch himself unmade by my blades as they puckered, punctured and pulled at his skin. The pool of blood he lay in deepened. He was much paler than when we started—a shade of grey that looked decidedly unhealthy.
There was still so much canvas to cover.
Darien fell unconscious several times. During one of his slumbers, I meticulously placed the quarters to either side of him in the blood that had pooled on the table. Each state side facing up, in the order of their statehood, exactly two inches apart. 25 to his left. 25 to his right.
The paralytic had mostly dissipated when Darien woke next, but by then, he was far too weak to put up a fight. He so desperately wanted to live. He begged. He wept. He told me of the agony of the Pancuronium—the horror of not being able to cry or scream or shrink away from my blades. The hellish pins and needles. His skin was shrouded in a sheen of blood mingled with sweat. He was feverish, even though his body could no longer muster the energy to shiver against the cold.
I couldn’t resist. I lay the brush on him a few times then—purely for my own pleasure. His lungs produced powerful but mostly silent screams. Tears fell into the blood next to his head. His muscles flexed with the pain. Blood trickled and sometimes poured down the slopes of his body onto the table. And ever so slowly, it began to cover the quarters next to him.
At 871 he succumbed again. I couldn’t allow it. I brought him back and went to work. More quickly now, but cautiously. We were so close. The thousandth should be the last. Of course, I could have cheated and continued after the Else had taken him. But those would have been wasted strokes. Pain unfelt. Terror unknown. I began to run out of canvas. I went internal. His tongue and gums were worth a few strokes of the brush. His cheeks. I amputated most of an ear.
His breathing became shallow and shaky. His eyes rolled back in their sockets. Our time was drawing short. There would be no more bringing him back. The Else was too hungry for him now.
999—I opened his scrotum.
1000—A nice, deep gouge in his upper, inner thigh severing the femoral artery. The blood flowed surprisingly well, considering everything he’d been through. As his heart beat, the laceration would gush, then pour, then gush. There would be no cauterizing this time. Gush. Pour. Slower—the space between longer:
Gush. Pour. Gush. Pour. Gush. Pour.
Then gravity simply took what was left to take.
Darien entered the Else the Thousand-Flayed. Skin and flesh dangled from him. He was bloodstained and spoiled by feces and vomit and urine. Three days to create this—this single, sublime brushstroke. And he was terrifyingly beautiful. He was Art. The Else surely beheld him in awe.
The last of his blood settled over the table. I made some adjustments using it’s built-in handy tilt feature until it was just so. The fifty statehood quarters were covered, buried beneath this new layer of blood.
I took four Nevada statehood quarters from a pocket and placed them carefully on Darien’s body. I left them as they had turned. Heads—his right palm, tails—over his right eye, heads—his left eye, tails—his left palm: the pattern of Darien’s death, determined by the Else. Heads, tails, heads, tails: death by blade. And I merely obliged. The quarters decide. (Not I, Not I.)
I left Origin to the cold confines of the empty warehouse. I left knowing he'd been made Ready. Perfect. I left what remained of him for the Else to feast on.
Not my first stroke. Certainly not my last. But my very first masterstroke. The masterstroke that will eventually bring me to him—the only one that may be worthy of me. Then the games will truly begin.
Sleep well, Nicholas. Your nightmare is just beginning.