The Ugly Narcissus

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A writer sits by a crumbling river bank; tufts of hardy grass struggle through the cracked clay around him.

Tapping his nose with a propelling pencil, he spreads a hand to stop wind rustling the leaves of the note book on his lap.

So, he thinks: It’s about someone damning themselves. Simple. No tangled morality, no love, just a bad person getting their comeuppance … totally. A simple short story this time but art nonetheless. I can craft a horror story but can I add art? Let’s see…

He writes some key words he’ll use to set the atmosphere: Karma, Mastermind, Eternity.

The main character needs to be beautiful, he decides.

This writer likes beautiful evil. Now he pauses, thinking: Shall I make a theme … that beautiful people expect life to be easy for them, fail to grow up as fast? No, another time perhaps.

An egret lands, splash, and gazes into the river. The writer wonders if it is enjoying its own reflection; the languid water barely ripples.

The writer frowns in concentration, ripples in his brow: So … he or she has a gang … a group of followers who never tell him … her … what to do. OK, her. Let’s run with her. Her followers always do what she tells them to but never suggest anything themselves. So … she feels in total control. Of course she will despise them for being stupid, mindless. She won’t show too much contempt; she likes having followers, likes to be leader of the gang. Leader – that’s key. Make a note.

It starts off fairly innocently with them not intervening when she bullies another girl, but … but she invites them to take part on another occasion and they do.

She keeps increasing the level of cruelty, deceit, maybe shoplifting … whatever.

Some of them get into trouble – but that doesn’t deter them: they’re always up for more. She fails to notice this and begins to use them to intimidate other girls. It gets worse. Maybe extortion, threats, beatings. Yes, it needs to escalate. But the point is … everything that happens is her idea, her suggestion, or this whole thing flops.

Night time, dark alley … no graveyard … mustn’t make this silly – though they could pass one; maybe use it as a short cut to somewhere.

Maybe one of the gang has reported her, let something slip in front of friends or family and it’s got back to the main character’s parents. No: it has to be much worse.

Someone needs to die … horribly. Some girl she hates. The main character uses the gang, has to use the gang, to achieve this. This allows her to indulge in a megalomania of power over them, over life and death – and ensures the gang’s silence.

Maybe they’ve managed to smuggle the girl, immobilised and totally gagged, into a coffin that is to be buried unopened – or burned.

Gagged? I don’t know enough about gagging. Maybe they’ve stitched her mouth and nose closed and given her a tracheotomy to bypass her vocal cords. That sounds evil enough.

Right, to achieve this someone else, the girl’s mother? has to die in such a way as no one will want to look at the body in the coffin; it must remain sealed. Acid? Something like that. Buried is better than cremation – then there’s time for night to fall before the girl eventually suffocates.

So; the gang abduct the daughter. Hang on, wouldn’t the family postpone the burial if she was missing? Sort that out.

OK, someone else has to die instead. What I want is the gang to stand in a circle, seven of them – yes that’s a good number – around the leader and slowly turn into the demons they always were: just at the moment the buried girl’s heart stops.

No, the middle isn’t strong enough to support the ending.

The leader will have the mother’s body placed so that it will be found – but too late to save the girl.

That’s going in the right direction, getting stronger, but….

Ah, right! It’s the father who has to suffer. Maybe he is a police officer who arrested the main character over theft or something. She wants him to know, for the rest of his life, that he watched his live daughter being buried … and was so close, could have saved her so easily. So it’s got to be the mother being killed first or he wouldn’t attend the funeral. I’ll find a way to swing that. Maybe the gang get the daughter to write a note: Daddy, I don’t want to see mummy being buried. I’ve gone for a walk. I need to be on my own, say goodbye my own way.

Hmm, she’ll have to be late teens or he’d call the police.

The mother’s body could be placed in her own bed. The gang would break in the next day or something and place it there. The point, note this, is that the father needs to discover her and realise where his, by then, missing daughter is.

I need the dark alley: really dark or fire and blistering flesh won’t show up in the reader’s mind so well. I want skin boiling, popping and glowing like lava. The alley can just fade into an infinite black void.

So we go into the main character’s head as she realises she’s never been in control of the gang.

Yes, she’ll need to have boiling flesh … watch it erupting … but unlike the demons she feels the agony.

Her pride turns to humiliation, her power to helpless despair.

The demons’ trap closes. Her eternal torment is their prize and entertainment.

The writer’s frown of concentration clears. He shakes his head while scanning the scrawled notes: What goes on in my twisted mind? Did this stuff really come out of me?

The egret jerks back from the river and heaves itself into the air. Droplets tumble glittering in sunlight: water churns in chaotic patterns.

Tapping his nose with the pencil again, the writer wonders: Is this enough? Have I a story here?

He nods: OK, this will do as an outline but is it art? Well, it’s worked on me as I came up with the idea; but I wonder if readers will react the same way? That is a curious quality of art – you come out of it different.

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©Gary Bonn, 2017

 

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