The Burning Lotus

Dorian Lemar inhaled before heaving a heavy sigh out of necessity. He hadn’t realised he’d held his breath against its will—he had been glued to his laptop’s glowing screen, anticipating the next exchange of dialogue.

“If you didn’t kill him, then who did, sir?”

Dorian was sure he could recite the next line in the same profound manner. In fact he mimed along.

“Who can say? Best thing for him, really. His therapy was going nowhere.”

There! He paused the film: Silence of the Lambs. An instant classic when he’d first seen it.

Zeroing in on the screen, he considered Hannibal Lecter’s features, drawn to his vacant eyes. They were a marbled grey, not quite blue, and sunken. His slicked-back hair made Hannibal look a little owl-like. His clean shaven face, coupled with a callous look, made for an imposing presence. A demeanour that carried calculated confidence.

Dorian had always wanted to summon such self-assurance for himself— it was his dream.

Right now though, such a feeling was a long way off. He had been caught in the rain and neglected to change. The dampness that collected at the hem of his clothes irritated his skin. However, he enjoyed the frigidness that gripped his nose that he was now wriggling. It was the contrast between warm and cold he enjoyed.

Even at twenty-three he still held a child-like curiosity over the colours blended on his body’s canvas and the features dimpled on it. He stopped just short of admiration, contemplating how tones had the unnerving ability to isolate. Pushing the laptop aside, he shifted from his bed and stepped to the full-length mirror as he had done each day for the last decade. Observing himself always began with what he called his “apple-seed” eyes. He resented how they lacked the intensity of Hannibal’s own. Dorian scoffed. And the glasses he wore hardly helped. Glancing up he regarded his hair that was in dire need of a trim. There was some satisfaction at how it had been tamed to fade at his temple, however. He’d give his barber a tip next time for his consistency. He noted too his complexion—he couldn’t quite describe why, but he found rich pride in it.

Dorian clambered back onto his bed. He had never liked mirrors, but he felt that in his reflection he saw truth: he could take in and discern who he was through each sweep of his eyes, scrutinising the imperfections he wished would disappear. In his case it was the faded scar below his eye, faintly indented in the shape of the Japanese katakana for “ku”. A remnant of countless tussles he’d had with his younger brother.

Then he heard it.

The creaking in the hallway, and the clunking keys.

It was faint but his ears had become attuned to the comings and goings of his neighbour, Maya. These days he waited, with childlike impatience, for the clock to hit 4:00 p.m. She usually returned home around this time from what he assumed was work.

Dorian slid from his bed once again. His flat was adjacent to both hers and to what he called his deliverance: the worn down door of an out-of-service utility room that was assumed locked. Except he had a key.

He slinked inside.

He disliked the small confines of the room and its stagnant air, but it housed something precious to him—a glimpse into a life other than his own—a life so very far away from his. Its east wall bordered the west wall of Maya’s bedroom and somewhere along it, light crept into the dark room, suspended dust particles visible.

He pressed his eye up against the opening.

Dorian’s deliverance.

Welcome back Maya….

To him, she represented nothing less than an existence which held life’s secrets. They had seen each other in passing from time to time and he wondered if she had even given him a second thought. His mind could only draw up one answer: She must think I’m a creep.

His heart rate spiked a little as he heard movement. He thought about what side of herself she’d show him today.

Patiently lying in wait, his mind drifted to previous sessions of peeping: he guessed fifteen minutes had passed. That probably meant she was about to change.

He was wrong.

He heard fragments of conversation which proved she wasn’t alone. It was rare for her to have visitors. His heart raced, thinking of the possibilities.

‘I’ll be right back,’ Maya called out to her guest.

Dorian’s pupils narrowed as she walked into her room, flicking on her light.

He tilted his head to get a better angle, freezing as he noticed the man sliding up behind Maya. The man lunged, slamming her onto the bed. He muffled her cries with the handkerchief he whisked from his blazer, balling it up and forcing it into Maya’s unwilling mouth.

Dorian’s gazing eye snapped open as he bore into the image before him with shock, breath caught in his throat.

Maya had gone limp.

No, no, no….

Dorian always left his phone in his flat; a vibration or incoming call could give his peeping away. He thought of what to do. How to save her.

Then it happened.

Having tied Maya’s hands to the bars of her headboard, her attacker proceeded to bind her legs ankle to thigh, frog-style—doing so created easy passage.

Maya sprung to life, quickly onto him before he could register shock. Her hands were free and wielded a long slender chain. Dorian could only watch in awe as she had squirmed her hands free with a magicians’ ease. He wondered how she could have freed herself. With her hands above her head, yet not outstretched, she seemed somewhat cooperative, calm. That was it, the moment he thought to himself. In doing that she had created space between her wrists. Enough space to escape. Well, that was his theory.

She lassoed the chain around his neck and squeezed hard. Her attacker, now turned prey, squirmed as he struggled like an insect caught in a web; his hands grasped at the chain that denied him air. When that didn’t work the man had tried to use his bodyweight. Maya had accounted for this, pressing her knee into his back and stopping him from pushing backward. He didn’t bother straining forward as he knew that was the quickest way down the rabbit hole. Maya’s attacker went for broke, ignoring the chain and instead reaching for Maya herself. His nails made contact with her arms and he clawed. Not enough however. Maya held firm and unrelenting.

Dorian nearly puked. Seeing the man’s life slip from him as his anguished expression screamed with frustrated panic caused him to heave.

Sickened, his body growing as weak as the man’s struggle, yet Dorian was still watching. Until the man’s arms fell limply to his side as energy escaped him.

Then all at once, darkness clouded Dorian’s sight and sounds faded as he slumped over, thudding against the wall.