This story first appeared as "Forever Young" on the podcast Nighty Nighty with Rabia Chaudry
The paramedics were not only too late, they were out of their depth.
By the time they arrived, the blood had already sunk into the attic’s floorboards. Pink insulation around the edges had thirstily inhaled the dark red liquid that dying hearts had pumped in their direction.
And there, in the center of the floor, were the bodies.
The Grey Estate had been silent when the ambulances first arrived. With the front door halfway open, the EMTs easily let themselves in, calling out for anyone who might be able to hear them. No one could, of course. Today, their job wasn’t to save anyone’s life, but to methodically check each corner of every room and eventually locate the corpses.
The Grey Estate had never been so hollow and silent.
This mansion had, at one point, been full of life, hosting parties for only the best kinds of people: rich socialites, politicians, famous actors. Once the story of the murders broke, inevitably, they’d all issue statements of shock, distancing themselves from the secretive parties, particularly that horrible event last night. Years ago, the Grey Estate’s halls carried echoes of clinking glasses, voices yelling “cheers” and music performed by only the most popular acts of the day. And upstairs, behind its many closed doors, it was anyone’s guess what went on, but that was half the fun: the rumors. Scandals, urban legends, accusations, and the phrase “it's only a matter of time until someone dies at one of these things,” appeared in thread after thread online. Cell phones would need to be checked at the door, but inevitably photos and videos would continue to leak, allowing the regular world to catch brief glimpses of how great life could really be…if only you had money.
The beautiful people always began the night looking camera ready; practically glowing in their dresses and suits, holding champagne glasses and smiling. But the secret photos taken later in the evening revealed the wild bloodshot eyes, sweaty faces, and disheveled clothes, as untold vices took their toll on the beautiful people each night.
And then there was Dorian. No bloodshot eyes, no bulging veins, not even a hair out of place. Dorian always looked like he must have declined to partake in whatever wreaked such havoc on his guest’s bodies. The big rumor was that Dorian hosted the parties specifically to gather blackmail material over his wealthy friends. Maybe he even supplied whatever it was that transformed his equally handsome guests into drunken slobs. Anonymous people theorized on the internet:
“Maybe he always needs to be the one in control… The perfect host?”
“Maybe he got his self worth from watching perfect people lose control.”
The truth was that, after years of the same party week after week, the rush was gone. At first he thought his tolerance was rising; he’d just have to drink more, take more, indulge more. But in the back of his mind he knew the true reason for his lack of rush: Dorian was getting older.
Dorian got his start as a child actor, a rare occupation afforded by a Grey family legacy of gaining power and money through murder and theft. Grandfather Basil was the first of the Greys to build a fortune, during the prohibition days, Basil kept the repressed swimming in alcohol and cut his competition’s throats. Literally, some would say. All that money needed a place to hide, though, and a television production studio was just as good as anything else. After all, the Grey family’s major industry was entertainment, one way or another.
Basil’s son Walter was born into the family business, and later when Dorian was born, the Grey’s exerted their considerable power to eventually place young Dorian as the lead on a show called “It’s My World.” Nepotism had given Dorian his start, but Dorian’s natural ability to lie without remorse made him a skilled performer. Audiences loved to watch him grow up on screen. He had his first kiss on the show, his voice changed in front of America, and the older he got, the more the tabloids loved to show him in the company of beautiful actresses. Even when his series was over, the show went on. Off camera, Dorian simply played the role of himself.
The Grey family had delusions of grandeur, but it was certainly grandfather Basil who set the bar. His greed and his addictions had contorted his once good looks into those of a frail old miser. Though his spine bowed inward, and his skin grew pale and leathery, Basil refused to face reality. “History is told by winners,” he’d say, and so he commissioned an artist to paint his portrait, showing himself as a lively, vibrant man of strength and vitality.
The tradition continued. Dorian’s father Walter would have his own portrait painted, again with no shortage of embellishments to better portray himself as a shrewd, industrious leader, rather than the weak inheritor of wealth he truly was…And, finally, on his eighteenth birthday, it was Dorian’s turn.
The day his portrait was painted, Dorian posed with a look of superiority on his face, in a room adorned with the portraits of his father and grandfather, who themselves sat in a dark, smokey corner, watching Dorian with pride. Their heir. A legacy. The next perfect male to carry on their proud lineage.
Never mind that between them they’d had five or six wives. Some dead, some lucky to escape alive. Dorian’s own mother had taken her life when he was six. He only remembered what the tabloids said about it. He watched anchors on gossip shows mourn her even as he heard his father laughing with friends in the parlor down the hall. The Grey men always left a body count.
Almost absently, Dorian thought of the next party, scheduled for that very evening. Who would he end up with at the end of the night? How much would he even remember in the morning? It had all become so routine that even the hangovers felt less potent.
Dorian felt himself yanked back to the present moment. The portrait artist was trying to get his attention. Lost in a daydream, Dorian had started to slouch. Apologizing, Dorian snuck in a full stretch before resuming his pose: shoulders back, chest proudly forward, frozen in time. But that didn’t stop his mind from racing as his eyes flicked between the portraits of his father and grandfather. The subjects themselves watched quietly from a smoke-filled corner.
It was all bullshit.
Grandfather Basil had probably never resembled the stronger depiction of himself on the canvas. Certainly the painted face’s pretension was a match for his grandfather’s smug personality, but the old man looked as if even a gentle breeze would knock him to the ground. As for Dorian’s father, well, there had never been a weaker example of strength.
Dorian’s father Walter had inherited everything and built nothing. The money enabled him. Rather than build his wealth and use it as a tool, the money had formed him: bloated and greasy, Dorian’s father saw the world for what it could provide him. While he only took, the portrait displays a proud, chiseled man at the balcony, the entire city behind him, as if he took care of each and every resident. In reality, he couldn’t care for anyone, least of all his son, seemingly doomed to the same mediocre future. Dorian privately blamed his father for his mother’s suicide.
What would Dorian’s portrait turn out to be? Compared to his family, Dorian looked to be in the prime of his life, but who knows what faults his family would find, and urge the painter to repair?
And how futile a ritual was this tradition? The portrait might exist for generations upon generations, while Dorian himself grew older.
No. Not him.
“Dorian!” His grandfather barked. “Pull it together, you want to look like a spineless sissy for eternity?”
“Do what your grandfather says, son.”
The anger in Dorian was only building. A hacking cough and a wheeze from the corner signaled that his Grandfather Basil was laughing at him. Enjoying the loyal dogs he’d sired.
Rain began to lightly top on the roof of the Grey Estate, and soon it was flying sideways through the open window. Dorian neither heard it or felt it, he was lost in thought, almost meditating. The perfect subject for the portrait artist, as still as a bowl of fruit. Dorian’s muscles were tensing. Bit by bit, his right hand formed into a fist, his knuckles glowing white.
“Not me. You took them, but you won’t take me.”
Dorian’s thoughts were like a scream to some unknown deity, a bellow born of rage and fear, though his perfect face showed no trace of the turmoil inside. As lightning flashed and thunder struck, Dorian landed on two ideas that somehow felt right. Almost like he was given the ideas rather than coming up with them on his own.
The first was: “Let my portrait grow older. Let me be the unchanging one.”
The second idea came after another wheezy laugh rippled through Grandfather Basil’s hollow chest in the dark corner. It was almost as if he could hear Dorian’s thoughts. As if he was amused by the magical thinking, the impossibility, or the childishness.
Dorian’s second idea was even more pure than the first: “I will kill him, myself.”
At this, Dorian felt his nails break the skin of his palm, and something warm oozed out. The smoke from his grandfather’s cigar reached out to irritate Dorian’s nose, and a faint sneer crept across his perfect face as lightning flashed and the doors to the parlor burst open. In strode Henry Walker, one of Dorian’s only close friends.
While Dorian’s father and grandfather shouted their disapproval, Henry, forever scheming, asked the painter for their cell phone, snapped a picture of Dorian in his perfect pose, and tossed it back, shouting “paint this” over his shoulder while ushering Dorian back out of the room.
Just before the doors closed, Dorian caught a fleeting glimpse of his portrait, anxious to see what the artist had chosen to change.
Dorian immediately convinced himself he was wrong, but for a second, he thought he saw a stain of red on his portrait’s right hand.
All afternoon, as Henry shared his latest exploits, Dorian’s mind raced. The idea of legacy, of the future, the expectation that he live up to his perfect portrait, develop into a “captain of industry…” It was impossible. He was doomed to fail. Or at least doomed to become a victim of his own inheritance. Dorian wanted to make his own future. Build something for himself.
Dorian absentmindedly rubbed his right palm with his left thumb, while Henry rambled about ditching college and running away. He too felt like the endless parties had grown stale, but he had found something new. A new sort of rush. Henry was always finding the next designer drug, always fighting to kick or balance the old one.
Dorian pictured his portrait. He could still hear his grandfather laughing. He imagined himself wrapping his hands around the old man’s neck. In the corner, his portrait watched…a sneer crawling across its lips, as finally–
A flood of adrenaline coursed through Dorian’s body, and a sharp stinging ripped his skin. Across the table, Henry was studying Dorian’s reaction, holding a small pocket knife just above a slash in Dorian’s right palm. It wasn’t deep, just enough to draw blood–and just enough to pull Dorian back to reality.
“Do you feel that rush?”
Henry’s eyes were filled with a sort of fire.
“I feel it too,” he explained, flipping his knife shut, and handing it to Dorian, who used a cloth napkin to staunch the bleeding.
Dorian wanted to run. But as he watched the napkin in his hand gradually turn red, something inside him reconsidered.
The look in Henry’s eyes was not only dangerous. It was exciting. That was the day Dorian learned all about “bloodletting,” as Henry called it. To hear him explain it, a man at last week’s party had let him in on the secret.
The rush of drawing blood from someone, the rush of having your own shallow tear. Adrenaline and fear. The new drugs.
Dorian felt a kind of liveliness and danger he’d been missing. He understood immediately. And that was before Henry told him about his family’s private plane
It was just after midnight when Dorian returned home. It felt like he’d been away for years. Certainly he’d returned home a changed man.
With his footsteps lightly creaking on the stairs, he walked past his bedroom door, instead heading to the parlor, his portrait weighing heavily on his mind This might be the last time he would set foot in the Grey Estate for years. Pushing open the door with his bandaged hand, his eyes landed on his portrait. The painted Dorian appeared to stare back, as if unsurprised to see a visitor. The eyes felt alive, almost glowing in the dark.
The painter had completed the portrait, yet he hadn’t signed it. A telling omission that signaled the painter’s lack of pride in their work.
Henry’s stories played across Dorian’s mind as he stared into his own eyes, and daydreamed of what he truly wanted:
Places where he could be anonymous. And use his wealth to get that feeling back. The rush. The “bloodletting.”
He glanced at the other portraits and saw futures he didn’t want.
He’d have to pack. Bags, clothes…or maybe he didn’t have to pack anything!
No. Instead, he could move some money around. Pull from the family account into a private one only he could access. Hadn’t he earned a lot of that money? Not only the horrible show he was on as a kid, but the sponsorships, the influencer nonsense?
It was his anyway. He didn’t need the family. He’d forge his own path.
Dorian pulled up a chair and frantically tapped through his phone, transferring sickening quantities of money for his own personal usage. He built walls that none of his father’s ancient accountants would crack, and imagined the look on his grandfather’s face when he discovered Dorian had left them behind. The old criminal.
It was just before sunrise when Dorian noticed it.
His portrait’s right hand.
Dorian hadn’t been imagining anything when Henry dragged him away. The portrait’s right hand was covered in blood.
Some sort of joke by the painter? Unlikely.
No. Instantly, Dorian knew exactly what it meant.
Unraveling the cloth napkin around his right palm, Dorian rubbed away the dry, flaking blood, letting it all waft down to the ground, leaving his palm clear, clean…
No sign of where Henry had slashed him. Not even a sign of where Henry had dug his nails into his own flesh. Not even a scar. It was like it had never happened to him.
Well…he still had one way to remember the event, that reckless feeling that rushed through his body. The adrenaline. The fear. Here it was, pumping again, as he stared at the impossibly healed wound.
And the evidence of it in the paint. Any injury Dorian sustained would be transferred to the canvas. Everything…Was this real life?
Dorian almost felt insane. Trapped in a dream…although…This was an easy theory to test.
Dorian reached into his pocket for the knife Henry had given him. It sat waiting, likely with some of his own blood trapped in the hinge between its handle and blade. The *CLICK* of the knife opening echoed faintly around the parlor, as he stared at the left thumb in his portrait and cut into his own flesh.
Shallow at first, Dorian pushed the blade deeper. Immediately, a trickle of red crept down the canvas in front of him. Removing the knife from his thumb, Henry stared in shock as the skin knit itself back together right in front of his eyes.
Thankfully, he could still enjoy the rush of cutting, even if the pain of bloodletting himself was a bit dim.
Silently, Dorian thanked whatever god had granted him his gift, and, staring up into the eyes of his beautiful portrait, Dorian again sank the knife into his own flawless skin.
By the time Dorian left the Grey Estate, the beautiful rugs in the parlor were stained with copious quantities of his own blood. And yet he appeared as healthy and rested as if he’d spent a week at the spa.
Indeed, he had never felt better.
Henry was waiting for Dorian at the airport. His private jet was on the tarmac, and as Dorian boarded, he was only mildly surprised to see his friend looking more than a little strung out. It looked as if Henry had lived decades between yesterday and today. His unwashed hair stuck out at odd angles, the bright morning light shining in the emerging gray at his temples.
Henry looked like he might have been sleeping, as he slouched in a small seat near the cockpit, but the moment Dorian took a seat, Henry spoke up suddenly, gesturing to a pair of smartphones on a little table. Replacements. Dorian took one, logged into his banking accounts, smirked at the numbers on the screen, and left his old phone behind.
No one would be able to follow them now.
Dorian wondered how his father and Grandfather would make sense of his absence. And especially how they would explain the mess he left in the parlor. Would he be declared dead? Missing? He’d left an impossible amount of blood on the floor, in front of a portrait of himself suddenly covered in scars across its arms, legs, and even once-handsome face. His painted self was now standing in an inch of blood or more.
Dorian dreamed of adding more to the canvas.
Stories of Dorian and Henry spread over the course of months. Their wealth and fame had put bullseyes on their backs that seemed unavoidable. They traveled to Madrid, Venice, and spent a wild few weeks in eastern Europe.
With each stop they met more women, more men, and indulged in more bloodletting. As expected, most of their temporary acquaintances were horrified at the practice of slicing skin to enjoy the taboo rush, but every now and then they’d meet someone who understood the game. How much pain and blood can you produce without risk of serious injury? As their reputation in a given city grew sour, they were gone. To the casual viewer, it would appear that the disheveled Henry was the devil on beautiful Dorian’s shoulder, but that balance began to shift.
Henry may have introduced Dorian to the perverse rush of shedding blood, but Dorian’s impossible condition enabled him to push the game further than even Henry wanted to go.
It was one night in Russia that changed everything.
Henry and Dorian had rented a beautiful apartment for several nights, looking out over Moscow, with the spires of the Red Square dominating the view. As always, they would wake whenever their bodies told them to get up, they would find food, and then would wait for the sun to set before setting out in search of someone to have fun with.
The sounds started somewhere down the street: laughing voices, full of eagerness and life, undeniably making their way to a party.
Henry and Dorian watched from their window, heads pressed against the glass to get a good look at the night’s offering.
In silent agreement, Henry and Dorian made their way to the club themselves, of course with Dorian front and center. His perfect face was their ticket into any room, and he had refined his ability to exude confidence and wealth. Henry was a footnote, sneaking in only on Dorian’s coat tails.
Inside the club, music reverberated against the high ceilings, and neon lights bathed the horde of dancing socialites in blues in pinks.
Flashes of Dorian’s good looks were caught in hundreds of pictures taken. Not that anyone knew to look for him just yet.
Pushing their way through the crowds, Henry enjoyed one of his little games. Flipping open his switchblade knife, he let the blade slide across the legs and arms of anyone unfortunate enough to press against him as he followed behind the beautiful Dorian. Once they found a place to perch together, he’d examine the knife in the flashing club lights and trail his finger along the commingled blood of whoever happened to catch the blade just right.
It never took long. Whoever summoned the courage to approach Dorian first was the winner. Tonight it was a couple. Dorian didn’t care what their names were. In fact, the first thing he asked was simply if they had a place nearby.
This couple had rented a place designed to scream “fun.” Colorful paint on the walls, posters from local bands, and Russian artwork of calm, snowy pastures.
The couple dumped something out of a small baggie and spread it on the table, doubling over to enjoy it. Henry was happy to join them.
Dorian was beyond such things these days. He only watched…and made sure the door was locked.
Henry could be credited with simply nudging open a box in Dorian’s mind. He taught his friend about bloodletting; the rush not only in feeling adrenaline flood your body while your blood flows out in tiny gashes, but the power of being the one with the knife. The director, dictating when the chemicals are allowed to flow.
“Nothing more than a scratch,” Henry would insist.
A scratch had become meaningless to Dorian Grey. He self-administered far more than a scratch just idly throughout any given day.
Even now, Dorian was jabbing the tip of a blade into his thumb. Letting the warmth bloom. Within moments it was healed, his blood was replenished, and he could start over again.
And there was Henry, plying the couple with his usual speech about expanding their minds and trying something new.
Dorian hadn’t told his friend, but it was time to take the game further. He’d had an itch that needed to be scratched, and at the moment, he was eyeing up the woman’s jugular.
Lost in violent thought, Dorian was only dimly aware that Henry’s game had gone wrong. The couple hadn’t taken kindly to the sight of Henry’s knife, and had, instead, begun screaming at Henry and Dorian to leave.
As Henry gestured innocently and turned toward the door, Dorian stood his ground. When the angry, frightened man with no name grabbed the collar of his jacket, Dorian held out his blood-covered hand, brandishing his own knife.
The shock in the man’s face was almost enough to give Dorian a rush. Almost.
What he hadn’t expected was for the man to take the knife, and either in self-defense or as a warning, slash it across Dorian’s beautiful face before plunging it deep in his side. Dorian rippled with pain as he enjoyed his strongest bloodletting yet. He didn’t even notice as his left cheek flopped forward, bending like sliced meat.
Henry and the woman stood frozen to the spot as the man realized what he had done. Dorian stared daggers at the man, ignoring the blood pouring down his face.
For a moment all was still. The four of them were frozen. A painting of misfortune.
And then Dorian, with a groan and a squelch, yanked the knife from his side and went to work.
The man had made Dorian’s decision for him. It was Dorian’s turn to enjoy shedding blood.
Outside the apartment, the pounding club music covered up the sounds of screaming coming from the tacky apartment, which was quickly getting redecorated.
In the morning Henry sat in the corner with his knees to his chest, barely blinking, mind simultaneously blank and somehow racing.
Dorian slept peacefully in a pool of red. When he woke it was as if he’d been resting for days.
Then he saw Henry staring at him with abject terror, and knew he’d have some explaining to do.
Mere hours earlier, Dorian’s good looks had been slashed in half. The left corner of his mouth had been torn, Henry had witnessed it with agonizing clarity, and though he himself had enjoyed a little bloodshed here and there, the sight had turned his stomach.
Impossibly, impossibly, impossibly, Henry watched as Dorian rose, stretched, and used a nearby towel to wipe the blood from his face. Wincing, Henry could only imagine the ripped skin being pulled further, but instead, like a magic trick, as Dorian dragged the towel across his face, his flawless good looks were restored. He didn’t even look like he’d ever accidentally nicked himself shaving.
Dorian explained everything that day. The painting, the possibility that Dorian would never suffer the indignity of aging, let alone the inconvenience of injury. Dorian reflected on his night before leaving home, watching as the painted man on the canvas suffered the cuts, stabs, and gouges that Dorian had subjected himself to. If he had to guess, that painting was now looking even worse for wear. He swallowed his urge to shudder at the thought of its face.
The night’s events had changed everything. Henry seemed as if he might even have been scared straight. But for Dorian, the cat was out of the box.
What happened last night would happen again. And again. Every night if he could manage it.
The question now was whether or not Henry would be a problem.
Dorian had enjoyed Henry’s company for years. As kids, even though Dorian was considered to be a perfectly well behaved student, he enjoyed each classroom disturbance made by his less-than-well-behaved buddy. It was in senior year that Henry began to truly influence Dorian, often convincing him to skip school, text pictures of girls from class, and smoke behind the gym. Henry’s poor behavior was only getting worse over the years, particularly after he was caught stealing chemicals from the science lab, and therefore banned from attending graduation.
Henry appeared to have given up after school. College was never a serious concern for him, and why should it be? His family had more than enough money for Henry to do whatever the hell he wanted. And what he wanted was to continue his education in illicit substances and activities most would consider taboo.
And it was Henry who had found the greatest taboo of all! He had rushed into the Grey Estate, and pulled Dorian away from that miserable portrait to introduce him to his newest discovery: the thrill of bloodletting. The rush of fear, the joy of adrenaline, the sweetness of bloodshed.
Well now here they were, standing in gallons of blood, but Henry didn’t seem to enjoy it anymore?
Unacceptable. He wouldn’t even meet Dorian’s gaze.
Dorian had finally found something that could be his. A hobby that he could take pride in, and feel real enjoyment pursuing. He thought of his father and his grandfather with their careers in deceit; painting themselves into immortality as important figures when really they were aging and decaying more with every passing day, practically begging Dorian to join the family business.
Well, here was something new to pursue. And it might not be something the world would understand, but for Dorian it would be honest. He would feel pure.
Tearing his eyes from the cowering Henry, Dorian surveyed the scene. He had really unleashed his frustration on this unfortunate couple. Sloshing across the room, Dorian swept up the couples’ phones, and took a few photos to remember them by, being careful to remove the sim cards from each phone. If he made sure no one could track these phones, they could serve as reminders for all time. Hard drives of each person’s life, loaded undoubtedly with photos of better days and ending with the last night of their lives. A perfect summary.
From behind him, the sound of Henry slowly rising creaked around the apartment. This would be interesting.
The grimace on Henry’s face told Dorian everything he needed to know. He couldn’t properly digest what had happened.
Henry had officially become a problem. At best a stone around his neck, at worst a threat. If Henry somehow subdued Dorian, or found a way to turn him in, what would happen next? The ageless Dorian would sit behind bars for how long? Eternity? Never aging, never leaving, stuck playing by rules of a game he was far beyond?
Dorian reached for his knife again, and enjoyed the delicious fear that he saw in his old friend’s eyes.
That evening, Dorian left Henry, and Russia, for good.
On his own now, few knew where Dorian traveled, but he made good on his promise to himself that he would never hold back. At scene after scene, detectives would walk into a chaos of blood and flesh. They would decide they were looking for a mad man, a raving lunatic. So many victims had fought back, police would, quite rationally, decide the culprit must be sporting bruises and cuts from his battles with each victim.
And yet, Dorian would leave each crime scene looking as if nothing had happened at all.
Some days, Dorian would wander past his own crime scenes and revel in the confusion his condition created. The victim and the killer both left copious amounts of blood at each crime scene. It was a riddle without an answer, a puzzle with no solution.
Dorian Grey imagined himself as a modern Jack the Ripper, the ultimate evolution in murder. He could study how others had been caught to avoid their fate. Survival of the fittest, and no one would ever be more fit than Dorian Grey.
Bloodletting had become a sport for Dorian. His endless wealth made it easy to flee each town and country, and his never-changing looks provided an alibi that any criminal would be jealous of. He enjoyed tallying up his victims, and marveled at how often he nearly lost count.
It was a joy unlike anything else. Dorian had evolved beyond even needing food and water to survive. But as his tastes developed, his bloodletting needed to grow in intensity to satisfy his urges.
He’d left the knife behind and began tearing his victims apart with his bare hands. The feeling was getting dimmer and dimmer. A lightbulb gradually losing it’s electricity.
And then one evening, he knew it was over.
With his fists dripping blood in beautiful Switzerland, Dorian looked out at the skyline and acknowledged how empty he had become.
He had strangled, maimed, gutted, bludgeoned, and for a time it had been thrilling. More, it had therapeutic. On his own, he was unstoppable. Anonymous to do whatever he wanted to whoever he wanted. But being unstoppable, the rush was gone. Being anonymous, there was no thrill.
Looking down at his latest victim, he took no joy in what he’d done. The routine had grown stale. The police would come, they would puzzle, they would come up with a profile, and they would all look right through the handsome, poised Dorian Grey. Even if he stared them straight in the face.
There was no questioning, there were no cat-and-mouse games like in the movies. There was just Dorian on his own, addicted to the blood and violence, and no reason to stop.
Finishing the ritual, Dorian photographed what used to be a human being on what used to be her phone, slipped it into his pocket, and hopped a train.
What more was there to do? What else could there be?
He had all the money he could ever need, he had experienced every pleasure of flesh and blood and chemicals and collectively they had all numbed him.
He would need to take a new leap.
Standing on the edge of his hotel’s roof, Dorian stared straight down to the ground, and as casually as stepping into a warm bath, he dropped from the ledge.
The inspiration struck at the same time as the pavement. Screams of shock turned into gasps of surprise as Dorian stared up from the ground, disappointed to hear his bones crackling back into place. He had created a small crater in the sidewalk.
Struggling to his feet, Dorian ignored the stunned faces and the people scrambling to film what had just happened.
On the flight home, Dorian watched some of the footage online. It showed the crushed sidewalk before panning up to Dorian, barely able to walk, his face unrecognizable as his skull reorganized itself.
“FAKE,” commenters typed in all caps. “SO FAKE - probably viral marketing for a movie or something”
Dorian’s final performance would be so much more memorable. No one would doubt its reality.
He had taken everything he possibly could from the world. It was time to give something back. Change things. And keep a promise he’d made to himself.
If this didn’t make him feel something again, nothing would.
Pushing open the large and heavy front door, the Grey Estate welcomed the hollow Dorian home with a long echo reverberating through its enormous empty rooms.
It was all waiting for him. All this time. But who would he find haunting the halls? Dorian marched slowly past room after room, finally spotting a shriveled old man who loosely resembled his father. It was him all right. Walter Grey had lost weight and his skin was nearly as grey as what remained of his hair.
In reaction to the approaching footsteps, Walter looked up, perhaps expecting to see some servant bringing him something to eat. Instead, his eyes landed on Dorian, looking no older than the day he’d left, and his reaction was simply to scream.
Disgusted by his frail father, a perfect picture of death, Dorian bellowed at him to shut up. It was a struggle, and while Walter eventually accepted that he was, in fact, face to face with his son Dorian, the fear never left his eyes. It wasn’t just that it was impossible to accept Dorian hadn’t aged, there was something else. He almost acted as if Dorian was some kind of inhuman monster. Something unholy and not of nature.
Dorian learned that not only was his father still limping along, but his grandfather was somehow still clinging to life. He’d been spending his days confined to the attic in recent years, at first refusing to leave, and eventually unable to leave, even if he wanted to.
Urged by his horrified father, Dorian climbed the stairs behind the old man until they reached the top floor. The smell of the place turned Dorian’s stomach and made him immediately hateful of whatever was waiting behind the attic door.
With a creak, the ancient entrance opened, and there was old grandfather Basil. His oxygen machine puffed air for him, a tray of untouched food sat forgotten beside his wheelchair, and then there was grandfather Basil himself, dressed in an old robe, stained and worn. In the corner behind him was his portrait…presumably he spent his days staring at the man he used to be, but the contrast had never been worse. In paint, Basil wore his pride on his sleeve. He carried an air of accomplishment. The real man, however…the skin and bone figure in the chair…Dorian thought he looked almost dead. He’d lost muscle, he was missing teeth, his hair was so sparse and jagged, it made Dorian think about how corpses still grow hair and fingernails as they rot.
The ancient man looked in Dorian’s direction, feebly asking “is it you, Dorian?” Coughs and spasms rippled through the man’s body, and though he wished he hadn’t, Dorian noticed the old man spit out something red.
Dorian’s father hobbled across the attic to somehow help, bones crackling in time with the rotting floorboards.
There in the attic, the scene was somehow worse than what Dorian had anticipated by returning home. His father’s painting stood near his grandfather’s…another lie. And there, between them, was a third frame, covered with a clean white sheet. That must be his own portrait.
Had they covered it so they didn’t have to look at the son that had run away? Escaped from their legacy of mediocrity?
Or no…they had seen.
They knew what was under the sheet. Absentmindedly, Dorian rubbed at his jaw where, a long time ago, a blade once carved his flesh apart. And he felt something familiar flood up his spine as he eyed the old men.
Here was the future, the inevitable brutal future.
The weight gain, the ache of gravity curving your spine to the ground, tooth decay, arthritis, mental decline, loss of bowel control…Every indignity that god could muster to punish his children for having the audacity to live past their prime.
Dorian had beaten god at the game, though! He would drink, eat, and leave behind a good looking corpse…if the day ever came at all!
They had no future. They were the last of the old ways.
The old men turned as Dorian stepped toward them, and muttered with a broad gesture toward the portraits:
“This is never who you were, and look at you now.”
Striding toward the painting in the middle, Dorain reached for the white sheet, only to feel a hand on his shoulder.
Dorian’s father, a pleading look of horror on his ragged face, uttering a single word:
And then Dorian saw red.
No one would tell him what to do.
A childhood of wealth.
The expectations of his future shackled to a family legacy built on lies.
Society’s urging to stay within the lines.
God’s plan that we all get old and die.
Dorian’s hands wrapped around his father’s throat, and together they fell to the ground. Dorian heard something snap in his father’s body, but all he could think about was how this felt better than anyone before. He could punish the people who made him. The men who pretended they had taken over the world.
What would it mean that he had defeated them? What would that make him?
With the last of his father’s breath squeezed out of his body, Dorian heard a squeak of metal behind him.
It was grandfather Basil, pathetically, slowly rolling toward the middle portrait. Reaching with a limp hand toward the white sheet.
Standing, Dorian swept his perfect hair back into place, dusted off his impeccable clothes, and strode confidently to the old man, who had finally managed to grip the cover in his ghastly hand.
Looking up at the covered portrait, Dorian felt a spark of curiosity. What had his portrait become? What shape had he carved himself into?
He watched as the old man began to tug at the sheet…And then Dorian pulled the fabric out of his grandfather’s hand, stuck the blade of his knife into the old man’s neck, and left, locking the attic door behind him.
Rumor blogs, trash tv, social media. They all covered the party scene at the Grey Estate.
Seemingly Dorian had returned home after years away? He’d been thought dead!
The rush had already begun to creep back through Dorian’s veins.
The thrill not of being anonymous, but of being truly seen. Recognized.
They’d all come back, almost immediately. All it took was a series of three phone calls that then rippled into more calls, and more, like the spider-webbing of glass as it breaks. They arrived in their expensive cars, they came to enjoy the good old days.
They had no idea the rot lurking in Dorian’s attic.
They had no idea what he was going to show them.
The rush was fading again. The only shock Dorian felt was at how much he’d truly numbed himself over the years. At his urging, several of his guests, whose names he didn’t care to learn, carried his covered portrait into place on the balcony.
This was it.
Dorian stepped in front of the sheet and called for the attention of his guests. At least he still commanded some presence. Feeling their eyes land on him sent the faint prickle of perverse joy up Dorian’s spine.
“FRIENDS” called Dorian, though his use of this term was as hollow as his soul.
“There is something I have been dying to show you.”
With his left hand, Dorian gripped the white fabric covering his canvas. With his right hand, Dorian pulled Henry’s knife from his pocket, and flicked the blade open one final time.
Here it was. The adrenaline.
For a second, Dorian felt outside of time. There they were below him, the beautiful people, smiling vacantly, some watching the hand on the canvas with curiosity, others catching the appearance of the knife with concern.
Nothing would ever be the same after they saw. He didn’t even care what happened after. This was the moment he lived for. It all led to this, for good or for bad.
And then it went wrong.
Someone was at his side, pulling the knife from his hand. The satisfaction drained from Dorian as he saw it was Henry, looking thinner and worse than ever. Dorian was surprised to see his old friend had survived their encounter in Russia. It didn’t make sense, but it also didn’t matter. If Henry wanted to be part of the display, Dorian would happily slit his throat in front of the crowd.
As they struggled, the phones came out. Everyone was meant to check them at the door, but here they were, filming the struggle. The golden boy, suddenly assaulted by a washed up nobody. No one lifted a finger to help. Henry had brought a long thin dagger, the kind Dorian recognized from old mystery novels. Long and thin. Perfectly dramatic enough for this moment.
Dorian easily gained control over Henry, whose injuries in Russia seemed to have weakened him, let alone the years of abuse his body had taken while trying to keep up with Dorian.
Dorian held Henry like a hostage, facing out over the balcony, now with Henry’s long dagger clutched in his right hand.
“You came just in time,” Dorian whispered, “for the bloodletting.”
Dorian, with a smile, raised the dagger, but rather than stabbing it into Henry’s jugular, he instead pressed the glistening blade into his left temple and dragged downward, drawing a gasp from the crowd as blood trailed down his perfect face.
“Oh, just watch, folks” Dorian urged the crowd, before switching to his right temple and again drawing a line of blood across his face.
More than one person fainted at the sight, as Dorian promised: “You will never forget this moment.”
For a moment, Dorian’s grip on Henry loosened as he reached to uncover his portrait, and in that split second, Henry took his chance, reaching for the Dorian’s hand clutching the dagger. In reflex, Dorian gave it to him, plunging the long thin blade into Henry’s shoulder.
With a groan, Henry wrapped his hands around Dorian’s fist and pushed the dagger further, falling backwards into the covered portrait. The blade, bursting out of Henry’s back, ripped into the canvas as they collapsed.
A tearing of fabric and flesh.
A spray of red.
A guttural wail.
Unearthly sounds. Animal sounds. Pathetic and sharp.
Dorian convulsed, and in desperation, lurched to his feet and hobbled.
Away. Away from the balcony and the crowds.
The pain was ruining him. Destroying him.
He saw. He saw the face beneath the sheet, gnarled and hateful. Detestable. Horrific.
It was more than the scars. The abuse Dorian had done to his soul was painted on that canvas. Something other than human stared back at Dorian, and he could feel it pouring itself back into him. Every evil act Dorian had committed was being unleashed now that Henry had sliced the canvas.
Dorian’s face fell open, his spine shuffled and crackled, a thousand cuts sprang across his body, and the blood let out, with no adrenaline to stop the anguish.
Only pain and horror filling the hollowness of Dorian’s ruined soul.
With his energy fading and body crumbling, Dorian barely managed to scamper to the attic, leaving a shrieking crowd below.
The last of Dorian’s strength left him as he shut the attic door and rejoined his father and grandfather in the darkness.
The press devoured the story. Interview after interview. Talking heads and rumor blogs debated the events of the night for months. It would undoubtedly become something of a legend.
Everyone got Dorian’s bloodletting on film. A photo of beautiful Dorian, smiling between long gashes on either side of his face, was plastered all over social media.
The Grey Estate fell silent again as the police struggled to make sense of the scene. They had the body of Henry Walker, dead from blood loss, laying atop the flawless portrait of the house’s former owner.
But up in the attic was the real shock. The aged bodies almost pathetically discarded, one strangled and the other half dangling off the side of a wheelchair.
As for Dorian Grey, his body was never recovered, though forensics confirmed a pool of blood at the entrance to the attic likely belonged to the troubled former child actor. Though it was almost impossible he could have survived that much bloodletting.
Eventually a report would have to be filed, a determination would have to be made, but everyone in the know was aware that this case would never truly be solved. Even the witnesses to the event couldn’t explain what they had seen.
As the police taped the door of the Grey Estate shut, perhaps for good, the only witness to the end of the dynasty was a strange old man, bent double, wheezing with laughing, almost like he was enjoying a joke no one heard being told.