Dirk Morrigan (not Derek Morgan, and certainly not Dork Merkin!) was going to throw the deepest, darkest, gothiest Halloween party ever, with the most chilling and shocking decor ever. He was as determined upon that as he’d always been to be a proper artist, before settling on what he had to admit to himself was a glorified interior decorating gig. Maybe even more, maybe as determined as… well, as the doctors were on keeping poor Uncle Howard locked up.
Not that Uncle Howard really seemed to mind any more. They’d finally found some combination of meds that kept him from dreaming, it seemed, and while he was plainly incapable of living in the Real World he no longer seemed too much of a danger to himself and others, as long as he was constantly watched and wore what Dirk thought of as his half-strait jacket: the thing was designed to let the patient use his hands, but not to reach his eyes with them (or anyone else’s provided they were reasonably prudent).
Despite the persistent rumors of immense ill-gotten wealth lying in offshore tax havens, Dirk was the only relative who still visited the old guy. Conversation was difficult, and not just because half Uncle Howard’s tongue and all his teeth were missing. No, it was because when you made the effort to understand the individual slurred and distorted words, the sentences they formed made an almost-but-not-quite-sense that tended to make the listener ill at ease, and sometimes downright queasy. He’d be reminiscing about some model he’d dated, and talk about her large, soft green eyes, and casually wonder if they tasted of salt and whether they would have popped between the teeth he no longer had. That kind of thing.
That kind of thing was the main reason that Dirk still visited him. He’d always been unpopular in every clique at school, until he’d happened to mention his insane uncle to a plump Goth girl wearing a t-shit that said “Insanity: a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” She’d offered him a hand-job if he’d take her to see him, and he’d readily agreed – he’d readily have agreed if she’d simply asked, but he wasn’t stupid enough to say so. She’d gone with him twice more, on the same terms, then had wangled permission to visit the old man by herself. Dirk had been deeply hurt by that, and had felt a mean sort of satisfaction when the girl had almost lost an eye in what was apparently a misguided attempt to give Uncle Howard a blowjob. Doubly misguided, according to his uncle’s chief nurse, because besides getting her eyes in range of his hands, there wasn’t really anything left to blow.
After that Uncle Howard was no longer allowed non-family visitors, and Dirk had changed his name from Derek and was a minor celebrity among the local Goths, and had begun to have some small success with his art, even picking up some regular coin doing ever darker and creepier room installations. He had in addition to those ever more devoted customers a dark-clad coterie of hangers-on who would fawn on him, in exchange for his transcriptions of his uncle’s maunderings. The sexual favors had been few and far between though, despite all that. The mavens appreciated his art and anecdotes, but it had to be said that they did not seem to find his doughy body all that attractive, and he wasn’t getting anything like the carnal contact he craved.
That was what he was hoping to change with this party. If they were fascinated by his uncle’s conversation, they should love to see his secretive drawings! Dirk had only occasionally caught glimpses of his uncle’s obsessively detailed drawings of phantasmagorical creatures, and though he knew in the shadows of his heart that he was a lowlier grade of artist himself, Dirk had known them instantly as works of mad genius. To set them up as his Halloween decorations would make him infamous among the dark close crowd of Goth culture. He had managed to abscond with the entire thick sheaf of them slid into the lining of his long black leather duster coat, without anyone else being any the wiser, when Uncle Howard had had his flailing seizure earlier in the day. Hands trembling a little, he laid them out on the floor to peruse them. He peeled back the paper sheath covering them; somewhat to his surprise they were not simply a stack, but bound along one side, like an ungainly large book.
“OH, hells yes,” he hissed through his teeth. These were even more twisted and depraved than he’d imagined. Writhing orgies of naked blank-eyed people ripping holes in each other with their teeth, some of the men copulating with the wounds. A woman skeining a net or web of blood-streaked blue-grey ropes over a cauldron overflowing with fish heads – no, wait, those weren’t ropes, they were her own intestines! A pile of dead puppies, kittens and babies, the tops of their skulls cut open and gaping empty… no. Not empty, not exactly. Dirk swallowed, a clench of nausea struggling, weirdly, with a sudden sick mouthful of saliva, and, unable to tear his eyes away, covered the obscenity with his hands. “Okay, he breathed. “Okay.” He shuddered. “Got to be able to look at them.”
He looked down at his hands. willing them to move aside. They responded sluggishly, as if they were no longer quite his own, and as they twitched clumsily away he saw that the background of the pictures was not, as he’d at first thought, simple black darkness lit by an occasional eldritch gleam sliding around the hideously detailed foreground figures. Rather, the background held more details, horrors upon gaping lunatic horrors, so densely layered that they had run over each other, in a dark dense amalgam of graphite, ink, charcoals, and paints. There must have been a couple of millimeters of built-up pigmentation commingled on the surface of the paper… canvas? No, vellum, he decided it must be. Wasn’t vellum tremendously expensive? He recalled the stories of Uncle Howard’s unmentionable riches, derived from who knew where or how.
Dirk peered at the oddly compelling mishmash of images, holding the painting only a couple of inches from his eyes, smelling the richly confused dank scent of the pigments. He could make out occasional features if he looked thus closely; blurred yet piercing eyes with irregular pupils and riotous, oddly colored veining, writhing tentacles with befanged suckers, a graceful twist of leathery skin refolded into itself fractally, gaping orifices ringed with barbed bristles. It should have been a hopeless melange, but somehow there was an insane order to it.
It was when he reached out to touch, to feel the texture of one amazingly gelatinous looking section of the painting, that he realized that the vellum was much finer and thinner than it had appeared at first, and was not a single layer but had been folded over itself multiple times in strange interlocking angles, like some leathern twist on origami. Flexing the stuff apart, he peeled it outward, first this way, then that, being careful not to tear it at first, for it seemed so thin it must be fragile, but soon discovering that it was in fact marvelously tough. The previously occulted inside layers were also pigmented, and he discovered that they had a very slightly damp feel to them, which made him worry that he would smear the indefatigably detailed artwork beneath. Some of the oddly iridescent coloration did rub off onto his fingers as he proceeded, but he could see no real damage accruing to the pictures.
Indeed, as he got the new layers opened out, they seemed clearer and more precise with every unfolding, as the light in his room – dim as it was, and dimming further as the westering light through the window deepened and reddened – shone through the thinning layers of skin with shimmering, ghostly hues. He was vaguely becoming aware that the entire thick wad of vellum was not a sheaf of drawings on thick vellum, as he had imagined, but a single piece of some membranous skin, and as he folded it out he began to see that it had a shape, a monstrous shape that held itself in position as he unfolded it. Some corner of his mind was telling him to stop now, stop now, don’t unfold any more of it… but it was too late, his hands, now his bare arms had taken on the twisted skirling lines of the lunatic drawings and were being moved by them, as he opened out the skin in its horrific burgeoning, puffing out and hanging itself on the shadows, draping itself over the contours of the dying sun and taking on an awful perverse stiffness, a solidity almost. He felt the lines of black art creeping down over his chest and torso, making his own skin leathery even as that of the art grew livelier, tightening over his chest and torso and groin, and he was unable to react in any meaningful way, not even a whimper much less a scream, as the hungry skein-like tentacles absorbed him, with slow deliberate malice, into the empty center of what his uncle’s art had become.
His last thought, as his consciousness shredded, was absurdly to wonder what his guests would see when they blithely and unknowingly walked in through his unlocked door, and if they would think it was his art they saw crouching in darkness.