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Encounter with a Dorian

Steven Mathes writes many short stories, and is grateful when his percentage of acceptances is greater than his percentage of winning lottery tickets. He has just completed a novel.

***Editor's Warning: This is an adult story, for grownups***
Miles stumbled over it in a poorly lit entryway. He mistook the thing for a pile of trash, mistook a paper-wrapped foot for just paper. Miles fell. He picked himself up quickly, on guard, ready for a mugging. The monster-thing just laughed, laughed in a laugh that mixed gurgling phlegm with the dry rasp of cynical gears. A breeze picked up the cold stench of homelessness.
"Unblemished?" the Dorian shouted. "Unsullied? Kick me harder, kick me! Any stain will make a mark."
Miles gulped down his fear, forced himself toward appropriate behavior.
"I apologize," he said.
Flashing advertisements from down the street strobed over the hideous, half-buried head. Miles saw the bulbous face emerge from the debris, saw crusty lids focus.
"I know you," it said. "I carried your smirch. I carried your foul taint. Where are you now?"
It rummaged through the debris, looking itself over. It wore nothing under the loose rags and papers. It exposed bare arms and chest--sores, rashes, and festering. It flipped aside a big sheet of cardboard, exposing its full length of infection. Miles groped for the door, found it locked. His phone should have opened it automatically.
His phone? In his pocket. Did he forget to charge it?
"Ah, you gave her disease, and I took the the chancre. I remember," it said. "But where did you go? Did you try to reform?"
It pointed to what was left of its livid scrotum. It poked a finger into a small swatch of pink, perfect, synthetic skin.
"Where's your wound?" it said. "Where are you?"
Miles could sense the danger of leaving before hearing this one out. Dorians could pull you in, make you pay for disrespect, for rudeness. This one managed to get to its feet. It came at him, dripping from open sores. Besides, it was the law.
Miles backed into the metal door. It rattled against its steel latch.
"Hah! Unclean, unclean!" the Dorian said. "I see it now. Fear. Guilt. On your face. Your rictus, your dead eyes."
Its breath smelled like wet things rotting. Dry skin flaked away from its lips, and Miles thought it might kiss him. But he also felt something, felt how his lip muscles twisted, curled. He felt a pounding in his left temple.
"Smile," the Dorian said. "Smile like a pervert."
"Please let me go."
"Aren't you soiled?" it gurgled. "What? Surrender brings purity. Embrace me! Rub me."
Miles tried to edge past, but the Dorian slid sideways, grinning its swampy grin. A hot blast of corpse breath staggered Miles. Then cold wind blew his white scarf against the Dorian's shoulder, and it stuck there. Miles pulled it back, but it was stained with spots of blood and pus.
He trembled to keep himself composed, felt the trembles turn into shudders. Somewhere inside, he felt the anger pulsing against his patient temple like a worm.
"Get away!" he said.
"Go ahead. Hit me. Change the current."
It came still closer, closer with each movement. Always approaching, now close enough that folds of Miles's white jacket clung to its festering chest, its genitals. He pulled away a sleeve, heard it peeling from partially formed scabs. Miles pressed hard against the door, bumping against the sharp, painful lock. The Dorian leaned in, leaned its head up, like a lover asking for a kiss, blowing rot into his face.
"Lick me or kick me," it whispered.
Miles felt the muscles in his neck knot, felt his vision tunnel in, felt the heat building in his gut. He needed to smooth the pounding of the wormy anger.
"What's this?" said a voice from the street.
"Are they screwing in our doorway?" said another.
A man and a woman, hand in hand, both smirked. Miles heard the sound of metal on glass, getting louder, then realized it was his own voice. People watching this? Watching his humiliation? The humiliation changed something, set loose the worm of rage.
The screeching, and feelings turned to action. His left knee splatted Dorian's crotch. And when the Dorian folded, Miles's right knee thocked the bridge of its nose.
The Dorian tumbled out of the entry, rolled down the stone stairs, onto the sidewalk. Miles jumped, stomping with both feet. He heard chest ribs crackle. He stomped and stomped. The man and the woman joined in. Everyone kicked, until the Dorian's blood filled the gutter, until its body lay squashed, like a cockroach. A smear of bones, gears, pulleys, and guts, in a limp bag of skin. Perfectly still except for a little oozing.
The three of them stood back, spattered, satisfied. Miles felt his face. His smile felt relaxed. At peace. In the moment. The woman nodded.
"That's what the Dorian things are for. That's why we manufacture them."
"Feel better now?" said the man.
"Yes," Miles admitted.
He understood his earlier disorientation, and could think clearly again. He looked around. He had turned into the wrong doorway. The man and the woman stepped around him, around the smeared Dorian, nodding affably.
"Our building," the woman explained.
They went in. Miles stood there a little longer, and collected himself. He had forgotten how good it felt to be purged of guilty feelings, of inner conflict. He spat out the last of the bad taste, a big gob that landed on the smeared face.
The sight of spittle floating on the cloudy eye raised a shadow in his thoughts. He needed to get home, felt compelled to shower. Already the encounter troubled him. By the time he was two doors down, a frown nagged his face. He almost turned back, but he was home. A woman from his floor held the door for him.
"Cold, isn't it?" she said.
He smiled at his neighbor. He did not smell good. He did not feel good. He tried to imagine a way to feel better, but he could not hear the broken Dorian stirring, preparing to gather up its burdens.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Author Comments

This story started as a study for a novel that I have just begun to write. Instead of thinking about the picture in The Picture of Dorian Gray as a canvas that would allow Dorian Gray to do terrible things, I thought about it as a device for building a utopia. Of course, every utopia is more fun to read about if it has a terrible flaw, and turning the picture into a kind of person seemed like a way to bring the flaw to life.

- Steven Mathes
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