The Destruction of Beautiful Things

"They give our Master a crown of thorns, why do we hope for a crown of roses?" - Martin Luther

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5. Chapter Four

Nathaniel watched the girl from his window until all he could see was a blur against the stark city skyline. By the time he finally stepped away, the sun was sinking below the horizon, and the once bright autumn day was being replaced by darkness. Sometimes he thought he preferred it that way.

Adjusting the collar of his crisp white shirt, Nathaniel paced the length of his bedroom, if he could call it that. It was more like an apartment, he thought, with an entire kitchen and drawing room through a set of double glass doors to his left. Everything he would ever need was right here, and in another life, as another person, maybe Nathaniel would have stayed in his rooms and never left.

But he wasn’t that person.

Sighing, Nathaniel walked into the drawing room and collapsed on a brown leather sofa which faced a giant bookshelf filled with countless titles. He reached down and picked up his notepad and pencil that he had left on the floor earlier, and flipped open to a clean page. Drawing had never really been his thing, but as of late the only entertainment at his disposal apart from pleasure houses was his notepad, and Nathaniel had come to make a habit out of it. Most of the things he drew were things he’d seen in his uncle’s labs. The labs had very restricted access, and Nathaniel wanted to note every detail of the labs. If his uncle found out, he’d send Nathaniel back to the Continent, but maybe that would be for the better. After all, the strong hatred he had for his uncle was only fueled by being here.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.

Nathaniel got up and unlocked the door, peeping around the corner to see a man with dark skin holding a clipboard, a pen tucked neatly into his lab coat.

“Yes?” Nathaniel asked.

The man, Ivan, smiled at him, “Your presence is required in the labs.”

Nathaniel paused for a second, his hand gripping the doorframe so hard that the veins in his hand popped out. Finally, he gave in and stepped out into the hallway.

“You don’t like it here,” Ivan stated as he walked down the corridor. Nathaniel followed at his heel.

“It wouldn’t make a difference if I did,” he replied.

Ivan looked sidelong at Nathaniel and sucked on his lower lip, “Doctor Ellsworth is introducing you to a new section of the labs today.”

“Don’t call him that in front of me. He’s my uncle, not my boss” Nathaniel said.

“Right,” Ivan took the pen out of his pocket and wrote something on the paper in his clipboard. The two walked in comfortable silence. It wasn’t because he disliked Ivan; Nathaniel tried to avoid conversation with anyone in the house as much as humanly possible.

The manor was like a maze. Corridors twisted in all directions, all the same pristine white. Without Ivan, he would’ve been lost already, but maybe that would have been preferable to spending the next hour with uncle Ellsworth. Ivan led Nathaniel down a long twisting staircase, and when they finally reached the bottom Nathaniel gritted his teeth at the sight of the elevator before them.

When Nathaniel had first come to Shalom, he had wondered how the city had so much electricity. Back in the Continent, the only people that had access to electricity were those with the money to pay for it. Many people lived in the dark ages, and so upon arriving at Shalom he’d felt as if he were stepping into a different world entirely. He often wondered how Shalom had the money to generate electricity to power the whole city. As they approached the elevator, Ivan pulled out his card. The cards were used to gain access to different parts of the manor house. Ivan’s card let him access any part of the building, whereas Nathaniel’s plain white one gave him access only to his rooms and to the kitchens below. Everywhere else was strictly off limits to him, unless travelling with somebody that had a full clearance card. Everybody in the house had a different level of clearance. For example, the cooks had clearance to the kitchens, the farms and the butchers house right at the edge of the island, whereas the cleaners only had clearance to the top floors of the manor house, never exploring the depths of what went on underneath them.

The elevator doors slid open in front of them, and they both stepped inside. The elevator, like everything else in that damned manor house, was white. There were no control panels, no buttons to press, and you could barely see the seam where the door opened and closed.

It was like a cage.

Nathaniel shook off the feeling and tried to divert his mind elsewhere as the elevator dropped. His stomach lurched, and he found himself leaning towards Ivan in an attempt to stay upright. Ivan looked towards him and smiled.

“You’ll never get used to it,” he said.

Nathaniel grimaced, but before he could reply the lift came to a sudden halt. At the speed that it had been dropping, Nathaniel could only guess that they were about ten or so floors below ground level, if not more. When the elevator doors slid open, a long hallway stretched out before them, the walls made of glass and the floor shiny and white. Even in his time in the manor house, Nathaniel had never seen a space so big. Unlike what he’d expected, there were no people. The only sound was from the elevator door shutting behind him and the flicker of fluorescent lights above him.

“Where are we?” Nathaniel asked aloud.

Ivan turned towards him, lips curving up in a smile, “we’re in the compound.”

Then he began walking. Nathaniel walked beside him, looking at the glass and then realising it was mirrored, so the only thing that stared back at him was his own reflection. He supposed there were rooms behind it, and wondered if he would soon be stood in one of them, readying himself for an operation or a dissection or something equally disgusting. His stomach clenched at the thought. Nathaniel didn’t particularly mind dead things, and he didn’t particularly mind cutting them open either. What he didn’t like so much was when it was alive, and the paranoia that came with knowing that one wrong flick of his knife and a life could be on his hands.

When they reached the end of the corridor, Ivan turned right. All the corridors looked the same, and Nathaniel followed Ivan’s footsteps, trying to figure out how he was navigating his way around. How did he know when to turn right and when to turn left? It seemed as difficult as trying to count a nest of ants. Ivan turned left and right and then left again, and Nathaniel swore they had been walking for hours, until suddenly he stopped. Nathaniel bumped into him. The door in front of them had no sign on it, no numbers or letters indicating towards anything that may be within. The only thing that made this part of the compound different from all the others was this: there were no windows. All the other corridors they had walked through contained some kind of window, whether it was mirrored or covered with curtains from the inside.

But here, it was just white and nothing else.

Ivan held his card up to the door, and it clicked open. Nathaniel was puzzled as to how exactly the cards worked, but didn’t have time to think about it as Ivan pushed the door open and held it for Nathaniel. He stepped inside, and as soon as he did, somebody was shoving a black cloak into his hands and telling him to put it on. He obeyed, and when it was on he realised that it was a lab coat. But they weren’t in a lab.

The room before him was massive, and it seemed to go on forever. There were rows upon rows of metal tables, all sided with a small box that probably contained equipment. People were gathered around one of the tables closest to the door, and Nathaniel walked over. It must have been a crowd of about fifteen, and they all parted to let him through. There, stood at the head of the table was his Uncle. Abraham Ellsworth. Doctor Ellsworth. He went by so many names, and yet the man stood before him looked nothing more to him than the Uncle his mother had fled from. The Uncle that had found him despite moving across the Continent time and time again, and brought him back here to his own island.

His Uncle smiled, and Nathaniel felt like he was going to vomit. He looked down at the table and swallowed the lump in his throat.

It was a monster. Nathaniel jumped, falling back a few steps until somebody caught him. Its face was sickly, it’s almost transparent skin pulled taut over a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. It was completely bare on the table, and yet Nathaniel could hardly identify a gender. Its nails were long and sharp, capable of slicing human flesh without effort. Nathaniel looked back up at his Uncle. Of course, he had heard rumors about the city across the ocean. Shalom. Rumors of monsters that came out at night to feed on human blood. Rumors of the people that hunted them and collected the bodies of the dead.

His Uncle was talking, but Nathaniel couldn’t hear him. He watched as one of the people beside his Uncle picked up a scalpel and leaned across the table, drawing a line down the monsters neck all the way to its torso. If there was any hope of this thing on the table being remotely human, it was all gone now. As the surgeon pulled the scalpel down the monster’s body, a gooey, black liquid oozed out of the wound. Another surgeon stepped in to wipe away any of the substance away before it dripped onto the table.

That was when Nathaniel, a hand covering his mouth, turned away from the table and began walking towards the door. He could hear his Uncle shouting for him, but all he could focus on was the monster. Nathaniel could hear footsteps behind him, and then suddenly Ivan was there, guiding him away from the foulness of the other room and towards the safety of the elevator. Ivan pulled out his card and swiped it in front of the elevator, pulling Nathaniel in behind him.

When they arrived back at the manor house, Nathaniel said nothing as he walking back up the winding staircase and into his rooms. He said nothing as he filled up his bathtub with hot steaming water and stepped into it, his clothes discarded on the floor beside it. And then finally, with the water soothing his tense limbs, Nathaniel silently cried until the water stopped steaming and the room was replaced with darkness.

Two hours later, Nathaniel sat on his bed with a book open on his lap, the glow of the lamp beside him comforting compared to the harsh fluorescent lights in the labs. He hadn’t spoken at all since the horror of what he’d seen down there, and instead tried to indulge himself in reading. But the memory still ebbed at the back of his mind, and eventually he closed the book and sighed. Then, in the complete silence of his rooms came a knock. Nathaniel rubbed his temples, but there it was again.

Knock knock.

Nathaniel waited a few more moments. It was probably Ivan trying to check in on him, and he would have happily continued ignoring the knocking if he hadn’t heard the voice.

“I know you’re in there. The lamp is on.”

When Nathaniel opened his door, Uncle Ellsworth was stood in the doorframe. His whitening hair was slicked back, and a pair of thin rectangular glasses were falling down his nose. Nathaniel stayed in the doorway, refusing to let him into his rooms. The two stood in silence, waiting for somebody to say something.

Finally, the Doctor spoke. “What you saw today is one of many.”

Nathaniel clenched his fist, “One of the many monsters you make people kill for you?”

“Yes.”

Silence again.

“But,” Doctor Ellsworth revived the conversation, “we do this for a good cause. You’ve never visited the city of Shalom. You do not know how many bodies have to be swept up before dawn. And it’s all because of these monsters.”   

Nathaniel replied quietly, “Why did you bring me here?”

The Doctor smiled, “You know why. I wanted you to have an education. Learning in my labs is a privilege many will never have, so do not take it for granted. It’s more of an education than your wretched mother could give you anyway.”

“Don’t you dare talk about my mother like that,” Nathaniel said sharply.

Doctor Ellsworth chuckled, “She practically jumped at my offer to bring you here. Your mother never wanted children, and yet my brother bore her with one anyway. Do you think she wanted you, Nathaniel? Because if she wanted you so badly, then you wouldn’t be here right now.”

He leaned in closer, their faces almost touching, “Don’t you ever be so ungrateful for this opportunity to work here. To learn here. Or I’ll ship you back to the Continent where you can live and breathe and die in that shithole apartment, knowing you ruined the one chance your mother and you had at escaping poverty.”

With that, Uncle Ellsworth walked off, his black lab coat flowing behind him. Nathaniel shut the door and leant against it, tears burning the back of his eyes. He hated him. He truly, utterly hated his Uncle. But he would stay. He would ship the money he was earning back to his mother, and then when he returned to the Continent they could live happily.

But until then, Nathaniel had to bite his tongue and work for his Uncle. 

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