I could see her through the window. She had no clue what she was getting herself into. For when she left behind the safety of her Porsche and her friends that silently awaited her, to explore the dank, dark, boulevards under the veil of moonlight – I knew my next piece was set in motion.

I am a designer by day, but an artist at heart. Others have always told me that art doesn’t make good money, and that is especially true for the art that I create. In fact, some may even call me mad, but let me tell you, all artists are mad. But one cannot have a passion without a steady income – and it is right here between the ash trees, dutiful soldiers who stood at attention along the sidewalks of 22 Robertson Boulevard where I own a small property. Ah – the Markovich Studio and Boutique.

The velvet-red dress, basking in all the glory it didn’t receive from its previous owner, took center stage at the front of my shop. It was worn by an obedient mannequin that guarded my store since the day of its opening. But I can tell you now – this dress was not your ordinary dress. Indeed, clothing, perhaps man’s most important invention, exists to decorate the fashionable on special occasions, to keep those wearing it warm and safe from the elements, and I assure you that this dress is able to serve all such purposes. However, it could also do something more heinous, more vile, and far more destructive than any other piece of clothing – kill!

“Ha!”, you say. If an object is inanimate, how could it commit murder? Newton discovered inertia centuries ago; you know, that word no child could spell in their fifth grade science class? An object at rest stays at rest; so how could a dress, stiller than even the Northern Star, bring death and inflict suffering?

It began with the dress. Let me tell you, most of the items in my store are designed by me, tailored by me, and put up for sale by me – but this dress is a special exception. Before its dashing appearance at the very front window of my store, it collected dust and the smell of mothballs in my small garage at the back over a long period of five years. The beauty and craftsmanship of the item was stunning – a velvet-red promenade dress with black ornaments that circled the waist; a woven flower pattern that made the wearer resemble a flurry of petals when they moved. Outfitted by some long forgotten Parisian designer and bought from a fancy outlet nestled among the avenues downtown, it was fit only for the most perfect and exquisite of occasions. I do not recall why I made such a purchase; after all, most would probably indulge themselves in laughter, or schadenfreude if they saw a man, six foot tall with unclean stubble on his pointy chin, wearing a dress made for a proper lady. But I remember how I bought it; it must have been a snowy day downtown, and if not for the holiday season attracting customers near and far to the city centre to shop for their loved ones, all of the businesses would have closed. The horrible weather that day would make any storeowner not want to attend work and just stay snuggled in their cozy bed at home. I walked into a small shop, and unlike the other stores on that street, it was not well lit. I could only see a small dim glow behind the black-stained windows. It is always the expensive stores that are small, for most people are too poor to afford their high class merchandise suitable for only the privileged and wealthy. The cashier, a man of average build and height, with beautiful, gleaming blonde hair and azure blue eyes greeted me. No other person was in the store, I figured he must have been both the guy behind the counter and the storeowner. He smiled at me with an irresistible charm, and the way he said “Hello!” gave me a feeling of such warmth and comfort that if I were a girl, I would submit to his charms and ask him on a date. Alas, our meeting was short lived, for I picked up the dress for reasons I could not recall before quickly returning to the front desk for my purchase. The owner, so kind in his ways, did not judge me for my selection nor did he laugh, as I expected him to – rather, he simply bid me “Have a good day!” before I pushed the two glass doors on the way out.

I do not recall what I did to the dress when I arrived home. Perhaps I wore it once or twice in the privacy of my own dwelling, just to satisfy my unending curiosity of what I might look like in such clothes. But the truth is, eventually, the dress ended up in my garage, somewhere in the back cupboard, collecting dust as it patiently waited for its owner to return and wear it again. It was this day, five years later, that I noticed it, still buried within the cupboard beneath stacks of old celebrity magazines while I was cleaning out my garage. They say the house of an artist is always messy, and to an extent, I’d agree. In fact, most of my works are in my garage – for some might consider me crazy if I were to present them to the public. When people say the life of a modern artist is hard, they really mean it. Therefore, to supplant my income, I create traditional oil-on-canvas art in addition to fashion design. It was friendly art that your grandmother would decorate the walls of her flat with. But it is at nighttime when I am able to create true art without facing the harsh judgment of the outside world. It is here that my dagger becomes my paintbrush and their tattered, broken bodies my canvas. It is under the cover of moonlight when my greatest masterpieces are crafted. Like others, you may think my work is cruel, but my talent justifies my actions – I am pure for my work is pure! Art requires a certain degree of cruelty; it is meant to dazzle an audience – to terrify!

I know you think me mad, but remember – all artists are mad. And in fact, I can retell you some of the tales of my greatest works to prove my sanity. Months ago, I recall a night when the moon slept under a blanket of clouds, where even in the suburbs, the lights from the city drowned out the light from the stars – a perfect night to be crafting perfection! Every piece begins with a canvas, a stage, a setting, and I found mine drunk, hunched over in an alleyway, vomiting out the mess of what was his dinner. Carefully, without a slightest sound to even possibly disturb the man, I inched closer to my soon-to-be creation tip-toed. When I was perhaps a few feet behind him, I unravelled my left fist to reveal a large, sharp, stone. I hesitated before striking the man, for only now I noticed that his black hair was balding in several spots like a lawn of grass deprived of water and nutrition. He also reeked of an odour so foul that the only proper way to describe it and do it justice is to call it a mixture of sweat, urine, and feces. “I suppose I shall do with such a tawdry setting,” I thought to myself, and without further consideration, I hit the man with the stone on the back of his patchy head, and he slumped over to the ground, unconscious.

I dragged the man by his hands, carefully so as to not arouse attention, to the side of the alleyway where my pickup was. Luckily, the chilliness of that night served as deterrence for anyone who might have stumbled into my way. The drunkard was quite heavy, and whatever object he held in the pockets of his ripped blue jeans was not helping me carry his weight into the back seat. I closed the back door of the car gently, to avoid disturbing the man from his sleep, before quietly climbing in the front seat of the car, and driving the two blocks home.

The very first action I did upon arriving in my garage and rolling down the garage door was to prepare a bathtub, some spices, and a scented shampoo. Luckily, most of this preparation work was done well in advance – all I had to do was fill up the tub halfway with my garden hose at the back corner of the garage. Then, I dragged the man’s body, still deep in sleep, out of the back seat of the car and onto the floor – I’d have to clean out the insides of the car tomorrow, I thought to myself, as one by one, I gently removed the man’s clothing and spread them aside on the floor. Death is certain, but it doesn’t have to be ugly, for finally, I bathed the man in lavender scented waters and washed the dandruff-infested hair that looked as if it had not been washed in ten years. Afterwards, I laid the body on the floor to dry off before going off to prepare my equipment.

Death should never be quick; it should be a symphony. The delightful agony I am about to inflict. The stage had been set, and now the first movement must begin. With a butcher’s knife, I made a slit in the skin on his chest and a geyser of crimson-red blood spurting out. How dull – this would be a whole lot more enjoyable if blood came in more colours. Working through the night, I slowly peeled his skin off with my knife, careful not to make any mistakes that would damage the presentation of my next masterpiece. Only perfection is acceptable, for I so carefully removed the skin that, inside the untouched layer of fat and muscle, I could still hear his beating heart. The man was unconscious from the concussion he endured, but still alive! But not for long – I finally plunged the knife into his chest – the ribcage cracked open. With the heart now in plain sight before my eyes, I severed the artery as precisely as possible. Despite my careful actions, the blood gushed out like the Yellow River floods. What a useless thing blood is, lacking in any meaning and artistry. Regardless, I walked over to the shelf in the back of my garage and took out a preservative-filled jar that I prepared two weeks prior and placed the freshly carved organ within. The intermezzo is now finished and recorded, and it will be preserved for all eternity.

The rest of the body was useless, for the tender fat and the grotesque organs used for digestion are imperfect, and therefore my genius is not enough to supplant its mediocrity. These waste products would be disposed of at a later date of my choosing. His hide should serve as the main motif of this piece! For the rest of the night, I gently rub a rough saline mixture over the skin to preserve it as best as possible. If the dead could still feel, I am certain he would have described it as a gentle massage. When all of this was over, he too would join the others in exhibition, and move from my studio in the garage to my basement for the grand finale – a stunning show of all my works, each one unique and special, mounted on stands displaying the action they last performed in life. Their eternity is molded by my hands; some stand with an expression of shock, their eyes almost bulging out of their sockets. Others, on their knees, two hands in the air, gasping for mercy. Art presents no opportunities for mercy; every masterpiece requires some degree of cruelty. Beethoven went fully deaf as he composed his ninth and Van Gogh removed his own ear to create his self-portrait – I am no different.

If you still think me crazy, I assure you I’m misunderstood, for beauty cannot be evil. As I unfold the dress, I am reminded of what potential it has to weave beauty into death. A dress itself only serves as a tool to amplify the beauty that already exists – a dress on an ugly person will only multiply ugliness. I need a canvas, a person so beautiful that the dress will make them transcendent! All that remains to do is to find such a person and create my finest piece yet. The dress must be able to subdue the person on its own, and I must be able to locate it and find the body. The stage is now set, and all that is left to do is to begin the opera.

I immediately get to work on finding some way to sell the dress. Dusting it off, I impatiently begin preparations for the next owner – it must be divine! I curl up the left sleeve of the dress to reveal the soft fabric underneath, and adhere a small needle, no longer than half a centimetre to graze the skin. The needle is laced with ricin, a toxin so deadly that when Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was grazed by it in the seventies, he died an agonizing death within three days. Ha! What a perfect way to commence the finest project I have prepared for in my career. Careful not to prick myself with my own meticulous trap, I ran to the front of the store to give my mannequin a change of clothes. Just as I was about to close shop for the night, someone pushed open the door.

“Hello, welcome to the Markovich Studio and Boutique, how may I help you?”

“..uhhh…Hi, I’m interested in your dress,” answered a girl, unconfidently. Her voice was sweet and tender, definitely no older than sixteen. A nymphet. Perfect for my next grand work. She may already be beautiful, but I will make her transcendent!

And thus, the finale begins