This week’s TerribleMinds challenge was to mash up two subgenres as decided by a dice roll. I’m not saying I cheated, but I did roll a couple of times to get something that I thought I could work with, and ended up with Cli-Fi and Noir. Now Cli-Fi plays right into Still Turnstiles at Station 6, but what about Noir? I can’t say it’s a genre I’ve written in before and I had to go look it up, only to discover that written Noir is, apparently, different from Film Noir. Anyway. I like what came of it, even if I rarely write in first person and it’s my first time dabbling in the Noir genre.
The pouring rain made short work of the artwork I’d created, washing away the blood in only a few minutes as I crouched beside the body of the young man. A shame, really, that he had to die so soon. I wouldn’t have minded spending some more time with him, but circumstances had necessitated a change of plan and I’d had no choice in suspending our relationship sooner than I cared to. Reaching out, I brushed a strand of soaked dark hair away from his pale forehead before slipping my fingers down to close the lids over his pale blue eyes. He’d been dead for only a few minutes, but the chilly wet weather had already turned his skin cold and there was no longer any enjoyment in touching him.
“Goodnight, sweet prince,” I whispered, quoting the old bard as I took one last look at the piece I had left for the authorities to find. The young man had been a street dweller; skinny and pale, but attractive with his pale blue eyes and dark hair in stark juxtaposition to each other. He wore the new clothes I’d given him and he wore them well even now that the rain had soaked them through. The designer jeans fit him perfectly, as did the charcoal grey shirt with the black tie to go with it. The black leather shoes still held a shine, which certainly said something about the quality of them, not to mention the cost.
The cost had been worth it, of course. In the grand scheme of things, money and wealth meant nothing when the world was ending in a slow but catastrophic climate disaster. Leaving my little pieces of art on the streets was merely one of a thousand ways to protest the inaction of previous generations that had left us with a dying world. My contribution was simply to say that no matter how much money was spent on external and material matters, death came to us all, and that included the world itself. Just as death had come to this young man in front of me all too soon.
The statement I’d made with this piece was in the quick and violent end that the young man had faced. The long gash across his throat had severed both carotid arteries and he had died in less than a minute. A much faster and less painful way of dying than what was offered to the world and the rest of humanity. You might say I was doing the boy a favour by taking his life in such a manner, keeping him from living through the death spasms of the world, but I’m not so philosophical or vainglorious. I’d killed him to make a statement, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.
It was time to go. I stood, took a last look at my latest masterpiece and smiled in appreciation. The rain might have washed all the blood away, leaving a relatively clean body behind. Lying like that on his back with his hands on his chest where I had carefully placed them, he looked at peace, at least as long one could ignore the gaping wound across his throat. It marred his beauty, but that was the point, wasn’t it? To take something beautiful and turn it ugly, just the way our predecessors had done to our planet. My work here was done for the night. Now it was only a matter of time before the authorities came to view it.
* * *
I ordered a whiskey as I sat down at the counter of the dimly lit bar. The place was all done up in dark woods, leather upholstered seats and tarnished mirrors. The shades of the lamps were green glass and there were candles in red glass bulbs on the tables. It was the kind of place where you could expect to be left alone with your drink, where no one asked you any questions or even bothered to notice you in any way. I liked the privacy this place offered, but mainly I had chosen it for the television that was permanently tuned to a local news channel.
The news was the same as they had been for years now: constant rain and flooding in our part of the world, eternal drought in most other parts of the world, all resulting in famine, wars, and refugee crises everywhere with nothing but talk about what to do about it. The latest and most ridiculous plan put forth yet was to evacuate the whole planet and resettle the entire population in the already established colonies around the solar system. Some even suggested striking out for interstellar space, looking for new systems to settle. I very much doubted that those colonies would want to accept more than eight billion new souls in their midst even if it was at all possible to get them off the Earth’s surface before it was too late. I supposed it had to do with hope. People needed that, and the media was all too happy to provide it, right alongside all the dismay.
Two drinks and an hour later, I had waited long enough. I paid up my bill and left the bar without so much as a glance back, letting a small smile play across my lips as I heard the news anchor on the television report on a body found and though the police declined to comment, they had it from an anonymous source that this was very likely another victim fallen to the serial killer they had named The Devil’s Designer. Stupid name, but it had sprung up out of the way the killer – that is, me – dressed their victim in expensive designer clothes. I suppose it could have been worse. There were some reporters who still insisted on comparing my work to Jack the Ripper’s, after all. Quite insulting, that, but I chose to simply ignore those ignorant bastards and go about my business. A true artist couldn’t expect the press to get it right, could they?
* * *
I took my time with my next piece. Starvation, by its nature, necessarily takes a long time. And as I wanted this masterpiece to have a particular aesthetic, it took even longer since simply starving the boy to death would not have accomplished the skin and bones appearance I was aiming for. And so for some time when no new victims turned up, the press speculated about what might have happened to the Devil’s Designer. Some said that the killer had died in the flash flood that had occurred shortly after the last murder, others were convinced that the killer had moved on, found new killing fields either abroad or out in the colonies. So little patience the press had, and soon enough the stories about the Devil’s Designer vanished from the television screens or were buried deep in the digital media’s online editions.
For three months I kept the boy alive on a bowl of rice a day, all the water he could drink, while every now and then, I gave him a treat in the form of a candy bar in order to keep his hopes up. I lied to him, of course, telling him that once I had accomplished my goal of turning him into an image of starvation, he would be free to go, that he would become famous for what he had gone through and what he had survived. The media would love him, I told him, and he would never have to live on the streets again. In the beginning, he hadn’t believed me; he was a smart kid and had already figured out that people weren’t to be trusted. But in the end, with his body and mind weakened, he began asking me questions about what it would be like to be famous and whether he would like it or not.
Comforting him, I continued lying, telling him that everything was going to be just fine, though at the same time, I began cutting back his rations, feeding him less and less every day. His face was gaunt now, to a point where I could almost see the skull through near-translucent skin. Skin which had a rather unhealthy yellowish colour now, that was mirrored in the whites of his eyes. The rest of his body was now at the point I had aimed for: skin sagging around bones with the joints sticking out as hard painful looking angles with no fat at all, and barely any muscle. I could count all the ribs and all the bones of his spinal column just by looking. It was a cruel and horrendous change from the slender but well-muscled young man I had picked up three months prior, but the statement such a change made was beautiful and powerful. It was, in fact, hard to imagine how I could possibly go on from here. Perhaps, indeed, this masterpiece would be my last. Perhaps I could retire now.
By the time I stopped feeding him completely and cut off his water supply, the boy was too weak and confused to realise what was happening and in those last few days, he simply cried and when he couldn’t cry any longer, he just lay there quietly, lips moving though no sound came from them. At that point, he must have known that he wasn’t going to live, but there was no fight left in him and one thunderous night, he slipped away peacefully as I sat by his side, holding his hand. “To die, to sleep,” was my whispered quote for this young man, who was now at peace, in pain no more. I sat with him for a while before I got to work, dressing him in the clothes I had purchased for him that first day when I had met him and lured him in with the promise of new clothes, a hot meal, and a warm bed for the night. The expensive slacks, the designer t-shirt and jacket, as well as the shoes had fitted him perfectly then, but now they sagged unflatteringly around his emaciated starved body, just as I’d planned.
The very last, and most important, touch I made to this piece was to slip a handful of photographs into the pocket of the jacket. They pictured the young man in his new outfit, beaming happily at the camera, clearly thrilled to not only be photographed but feeling comfortable and sexy in the clothes he wore. He had been quite beautiful then with his short blond hair, chocolate brown eyes and a deep, albeit fake, tan. He had worn the surfer look well, and I smiled as I recalled talking with him as I took the photos. He’d wanted to go to California, learn to surf and just lie on the beach when there were no waves, soaking up the sun. I hadn’t had the heart to tell him that the image of Southern California as a paradise had long since been shattered by drought and rising sea levels. I had allowed him to keep that dream safe and sound to take with him to the grave. It was the least I could do, after all, in return for him to become part of my own legacy.
I left him in public, lying on a bench near a high-scale and expensive restaurant that specialised in gourmet burgers and made my usual wait at the bar, watching the news and waiting for the report on my latest masterpiece. When it finally came, after almost three hours of waiting, it was buried between a story of record high temperature average for the month of December, and an item speculating on the building of space elevators in order to assist in the evacuation of the planet. I sighed, finished my drink with a feeling of defeat and left the bar to walk home in the pouring rain, trying to assure myself that most of the great artists had rarely been appreciated by their contemporaries.