If he were not so fastidious, so dedicated to his craft from the earliest point of childhood, David would have certainly been a nail-biter; he was compulsive by nature, as it was he kept his nails carefully trimmed and smoothed down with elegant precision. The fine white curves of his nails extended no further than the round tips of his slender fingers and everyday he carefully cleaned the dirt out from underneath them and wiped every inch of skin. It was an imperative ritual; his hands were his precious instruments, his skilled tools. Underneath his long fingers a dozen masterful creations emerged each day, following hours of care and dedication.
His father had taught him the craft, since he was old enough to hold and wield the workman's tools. He had been directed using clear patterns at first, shown how to cut wood to a design, to thread string, attach joints, delicately paint and apply details. It had soon become evident though that David had a gift beyond anything that could have been expected. The simple model ships he was instructed to build became gorgeous miniature brigs with ornate rigging and billowing sails. The traditional wooden horse, so easy to produce and so popular amongst young girls, became with David's attention a perfect stallion with a mane that truly seemed to ripple with vitality and whose dark mahogany eyes glistened with varnish.
It was, always, the imitations of living creatures that were the most captivating of David's creations. Once perfected his carved wooden animals became the most popular item in the store, each one an individual piece, a one-of-a-kind and original, they soon became accessible only by select order, the demand was so great. When David would unveil, to his latest customer, a beautiful swan with its neck dipped in a swooping curve, or, a proud lion shaking its head and staring out with a furious passion their breath would falter in a rapturous gasp.
He had, at a remarkably tender age, surpassed his father's talent a hundredfold and no longer had need for his instruction. If Gideon had been a different man he might have resented his child's uncanny talent; his ability to grasp tools even as an infant and use them with the dexterity of a matured adult, but he felt only love and pride. He had been an old man by the time that David was conceived, having longed for a child throughout his youth and long given up hope of such a blessing.
No one could have imagined, either, that his wife would still capable of bearing a child, for she was older than him; her face already lined with heavy-set wrinkles and her hair, beneath the variety of wigs she wore, whitened and thinned. Through some miracle though she had fallen pregnant and given birth to a perfect male baby, one which seemed ethereally beautiful to Gideon who, with his own withered skin and yellowed teeth, could not even recall to himself his own youthful good looks.
Gideon was a calm and patient man and raised David, along with his wife, in a tender and nurturing way. David was a quiet, delicate child, never boisterous like some of the local boys who frequented the quaint little toy store in the afternoons and in the weekends. He attended to his parents in an obedient fashion out of a sincere interest and love of their company. Gideon had only dared to contemplate, upon the birth of his healthy son, that this child might learn the craft his grandfather had taught him and be able to keep the shop that was so beloved to him.
His heart had swelled when David had shown a natural inclination and ability with the work. When his own hands had lost their quickness and he fumbled with the tools too badly to complete anything, he felt a great comfort to see his son work with love and concentration; his small, slender frame bent over the work desk as he applied the tiniest touches of shining gold paint to a soldier's uniform.
Prosperity beyond what the family could have ever anticipated came from David's talent and, as he grew older, the demand for his exclusive, bespoke masterpieces became excessive. Requests would come from the most wealthy and distant of patrons who requested ornate pieces for their loved ones; such as the fantastical rocking horse that David created for a young duchess, adorned with sapphires for eyes, a mane made of real white horse-hair, and with a polished ivory horn set into the centre of its majestic forehead.
David's animals, whose exquisite forms incited such adoration, were not to prove his true passion, or become the most beautiful and sought-after of his creations. It was in replicating the human form that David found his passion. He experimented for years with different types of sculpting, importing all kinds of unusual and rare materials to use for eyelashes, or hair, or nails. He spent sleepless nights with a long row of assorted paints and varnishes in front of him, carefully mixing and applying the most precise and soft of strokes to create the perfect effect of realistic skin tone.
His dolls appeared startlingly lifelike whilst also possessing an unearthly form of beauty; a perfection of the features that was clear in every painted freckle, every bright, glassy eye.
He made small ones for the lovers of miniature with a detail that astounded and delighted his patrons; their tiny eyes, sometimes no bigger than the head of a pin, were endowed with a variety of shades of colour – the irises a perfect blend of blue and green and grey, and framed by dark, minute lashes.
Then he would also make unusually large ones to be loved and adored by children who were the same size as them, or even smaller. He had spent nearly a year on one particular doll, creating it to resemble, and match in size, the daughter of an heiress who was eight years old. He had threaded the girl's own, real hair, into the doll's scalp and carefully painted freckles so like hers upon the smooth skin. Within the girl's arms, both of them dressed in adorable rouge dresses and with lace at their wrists and throats, they looked remarkable alike. The girl had clasped the doll to her with a rapturous delight and told David, confidentially, that she meant to make it her sister.
With the two figures pressed so closely together and what with the careful curl that David had impressed upon the doll's fingers, he was struck with the absurd impression, when regarding them, that it was the doll embracing the girl not the other way around. The fanciful illusion set a strange, uncomfortable thrill through David's body, as did the tender way the girl touched the doll and gave her a name; Clarissa.
David was not exactly a stranger to affection; his aging parents were very loving towards him, his mother constantly fussing about him, twitching her bird-like fingers through his hair and sitting him down with her to drink tea and eat rich, imported cakes. His father was terribly friendly too, always liking to put an arm about him, to commend him on his work, or to sit with him and talk, with relish, about the business he had been brought up in or about his own childhood. This, however, was not quite enough, somehow.
Not only did David lack any siblings with whom he might have played, swapped stories and secrets and have a covert confidence within, but he was also absent any friend his own age. While he was able to please the local children with his beautiful creations, pull a crowd of interested youths and inspire delight and desire within their eyes, he was never able to form an intimacy beyond this though; never able to foster a friendship. He could not imagine being friends with the rough boys who ran through the streets laughing or jostling with each other, nor with the giggling, vivacious little girls who cooed over his medium-sized ballerina dolls. He was quite alone.
His work has so consumed his time and absorbed his attention that he had never before given a thought to his circumstance but in that moment when he saw the young girl with the doll he touched upon a secret ache in his heart; a loneliness and craving that once discovered was impossible to put away again; it coursed through every inch of him make his limbs shudder and his lips quiver.
No one perceived any change within him, he had no desire to change his habits and felt a uneasy shame about his sudden rush of longing that made him endeavour to conceal it almost immediately. He made sure to calm himself and never let his thoughts linger upon the awkward passenger in the back of his heart; the desire for a embrace, a touch, of a most particular kind. If he ever let his resistance fall and traced the edges of his desire he did so when no one could see him, in the darkest depths of the night in which he lay awake in bed, his eyes wet with tears and his heart thudding.
As the years passed and David became a young man his parents grew more enfeebled, weakening in body as age truly began to take them away from themselves. His father's eyesight worsened within the space of a few years to the point where he was entirely blind and his mother became so weak that she became bedridden.
David had always known that his parents age meant that they would not live to see him long into his adult life but they had always spoken to him of this with such sensitivity and acceptance that David felt quite prepared for their deaths, when they came. They had always been grateful for the fact that they were able to raise a child at all, and considered their brief years as parents as a blessing beyond articulation. He cared for them into the depth of their infirmity, along with a kind young nurse he had hired, and had watched them slip away slowly and peacefully.
He cried at first, to have them leave him, but then, in the following months and years, settled into the comfortable life he had carved himself with a solitude, he realized, that was not so different from when they have been alive. The only thing that was really different was the degree to which he was now, so keenly, aware that he was alone and unloved.
An obsessive quality unlike anything that had come before overtook his work now as he pursued beauty and perfection with a tenderness not natural to the creation of art. He refused new orders and commissions as he dedicated himself to creating a doll that was more wonderful and more lifelike than any he had ever made before. The thrill he felt testing and selecting the paints, sourcing the hair and materials, making the moulds and sculpts, was unlike anything he had hitherto experienced in the workshop.
He realized that for the first time in his life he was creating something for himself and once he had identified that distinction he could not help but have it in the forefront of his mind as he worked. He ran his fingers across the materials as he progressed, for the first time, not just to judge the texture or brush away dust and shavings, but to caress as a lover would. He whispered, breathily, now and again as he laboured, 'You will be mine, you will be mine.' The tenderness in his voice came directed from his heart and had the sincerity of a desperate child. He considered his creation as the young heiress had considered her doll; he thought that this doll would be a friend, a companion, something upon which he would project an identity and with whom he would conceive an intimacy.
It was something he reflected on, as he decided upon the right colours and tones, and even picked out a name, that he seemed to be preparing himself as much as he was preparing the doll.
He was to be named, 'Julio' and was given a pair of bright green eyes and soft blonde hair. His eyelashes were thick and dark and framed his wide eyes in such a way to give an impression of intelligence and thoughtfulness. David wanted, above all else, for Julio to appear as though he had his own thoughts and could listen when David spoke and know him, in a quiet, reflective way.
He adorned the bridge of Julio's nose and the area surround his eyes with the palest and densest of freckles and gave his cheeks a heady flush. The rest of his skin needed a similarly diverse and careful level of toning and the process of painting alone took him several months. Having constructed Julio as a life-sized, proportionate adult male David also had to take the time to detail him in a way head never done before with a doll. He added body hair threaded through his legs and upon the backs of his arms; he made this fairer and silkier than even the hair on his head but selected a rougher, thicker type to spread at his lower abdomen and between his thighs.
He had taken care to make Julio as realistic as possible, beyond what he would have even considered for a doll made to order. He had painted the tips of his fingers and nails with blemishes and scratches and tried to create the impression of uneven, bruised skin in places. He gave Julio's lips a chapped look, particularly upon the bottom lip which was full and tender giving him a vulnerable, sensual expression. David bit his own lips, compulsively, as he ran his fingers across the doll's lips – having taken care to make them feel soft and tender as well as appear so. He had discovered and accepted while creating the doll that he would want to kiss the lips he was creating, to kiss them as he saw lovers doing – from the security of windows – with a devotion and adoration. He resolved that these impulses could only be acted upon once the doll was complete.
'Then I shall care for you,' he whispered, his heart thudding with excitement and shame, 'I will kiss you and whisper to you…'
His fingers traced the body as he worked on it will all the more adoration and sweetness – it was as if he were communicating with the inanimate doll, he imagined that the doll could feel his touch and know him through it.
The construction of genitals had been the element which drove into him the most embarrassment and uncertainty. When usually working on a piece David did not even think about what he was doing, he simply put in his time and perfected the image until it was exact and desirable. This endeavour though, was a painfully conscience task and David felt that it was also a terribly obscene one. He worked at it from an anatomical perspective at first, using medical references to ensure it was correct. He felt the need to work at it from an aesthetic angle too though, and felt shame flush his cheeks as he allowed himself to consider the length and colouring that would look best and what material would make the member feel best when he – because the impulse blossomed within him even as he constructed the flesh – stroked and fondled the doll.
He wished he could create the impression of pleasure upon Julio somehow, or even the impression of arousal, but any efforts to do so could only take away from the realism of the piece. He would have to imagine it within Julio's eyes, to construct it himself along with Julio's thoughts and character.
It was winter when Julio reached completion and snow dappled the windows of the closed shop which had long since become more of a gallery for David's select pieces and was visited by patrons just as much for a viewing as it would be for a consultation and an order. He had been closed to any visitors for the best part of the last year as he laboured on his own, secret creation. When he applied the finishing touches to Julio his heart was hot and heavy but he was exhausted from the effort. He had missed sleep for the past few nights to finish the doll and now, felt almost too weary to stare at him in his completion, and run one hand across the soft cheek and through the luscious fair hair.
'Are you happy to be here at last?' he asked gently, speaking to his doll with more conviction and sincerity now that he was complete, 'I have been waiting for you for so long – have you been waiting for me?'
His body ached as he rose from the desk but he carefully slid his arms about Julio to carry him to bed with him – his body had joints to imitate the way a human articulated and David was able to hold him in a naturalistic pose in his arms – a bridal gait. He weighed much less than a human being though and was easy to pull close to his chest.
'You're just in time for Christmas,' he murmured sentimentally, as he laid Julio upon his broad bed, against the luscious bedding and fur coverings. He glanced out the window at the falling snow and the frosted patterns upon the glass as he pulled across the heavy curtains. The light was dimmed significantly but David lit a candle before changing into his nightshirt.
He had procured some expensive, beautiful clothes for Julio too and carefully buttoned him into a long, cotton nightshirt with a curved collar. It clung to his carefully sculpted torso with an attractive lilt, dipping at the arch of his collar bone and smooth and against his narrow hips. David ran his hands over the length of Julio's body lovingly and he slipped into bed beside him and pressed himself close to him. In the candlelight Julio's face looked remarkably convincing, the flickering shadows that gathered in the hollows about his eyes gave the impression that he was blinking, sleepily.
Tenderly, and with his heart thudding wildly in his chest, David leant across to press his lips to Julio's in a passionate, goodnight kiss. It felt just as he had known it would – soft, firm, and with a reassuring warmth. He pressed his lips to Julio's a couple more times and then pushed his face into the doll's neck for a moment, suddenly feeling hideous for the hot, needy ache that threatened to consume him entirely.
He stroked at Julio's hair until he felt calmer and then pulled back to stare at his face for a while and, now and again, whisper things to him.
'I'm sorry,' he articulated his shame in a confused way, tracing the doll's cheek with his thumb, 'did I frighten you? I just wanted to kiss you, you are so beautiful and I love you so much…I won't ever hurt you, we're here to take care of each other. I'm going to take care of you every day – I dress you and keep you clean and brush your hair – but I'll always be so delicate with you, don't worry…' Julio's eyes flickered in the candlelight beautifully but they were still and glassy, like any doll's. David pressed his fingers against the corner of Julio's eyes, to feel the prickle of those thick lashes and imagine that Julio was blinking.
'I just wish you were real,' he whispered suddenly, with a softness and earnestness that trembled in the air, 'I wish you were real…'
Then he rolled over to blow the candle out and settled himself against the pillow, to surrender to sleep.
The winter's night was heavy; a dense and utter darkness that stole over the small bedroom within seconds. If there had been any light it would have been gently smothered by the thick snow that still fell against the walls. The regular pattern of the hard, cold, flakes hitting the windowpane was a soothing one and David did not stir at the gentle howling of the wind.
Now and again an unrecognized disturbance, some indiscernible shifting of the elements, did make him toss his head against the pillow and twist himself beneath the sheets but only for the briefest of moments.
When the night had begun the settle though, into an earthly quiet, there was a movement close by David that made him stir – a shudder and movement right beside him like the articulation of limbs – the pull of sheets as if fingers were twisting beneath them, slowly going down down down in a rhythmic motion.
A wave of natural horror ran over David, his eyes widening and his body becoming stiff and heavy with an instinctual paralysis. He listened as hard as he could, trying to determine definitely that it was not himself that was making the noises within the bed – the shuffling, the shifting, the whispered sounds of breath.
He was almost certain that he could hear another body breathing although the sound was slight. All fragile uncertainties were dashed however, with a thrill of fresh terror, when he felt the sheets clearly lift up around him and a body sit up amongst the covers.
David, unable to lie still but feeling in a state of shock and hysteria, whispered fearfully, uncertainly –
''Julio? Julio?' It could have still been a mistake, an illusion, something imagined in a feverish dream but David felt far too awake now and far too certain about what was happening. At his words the body beside him moved again, fiercely.
Feeling sweat making his nightshirt stick to his skin and his arms trembling, David reached out, fearfully towards the boy, one shuddering hand making it to where his shoulder must be – he felt the heat of human flesh beneath his sweaty palm.
'Julio?' he said again, but this time in a croak which had more fear than the last cry and far less doubt. It was a terrible, certain sound and, along with his gesture broke any strange dream-like quality of the night.
Julio's shoulder shuddered beneath his hand. Then he started to scream. It was a sudden, fierce, high and resounding cry of pure fear and disorientation. It startled David making his flesh suddenly turn cold – the sweat trickle dully – but was also somehow calming. He was grateful that the silence had been broken and they had both found reality at last – even if it was a strange and disconcerting reality.
'Julio,' he murmured fearfully, placing the other hand on the boy's shoulder and trying to hold him. He realized that his words were too quiet under the harsh screams so he repeated over and over, 'Julio, Julio,' trying to calm him.
The sound of Julio's cry tailed away, and the sound of his ragged breath replaced it. After a few moments he spoke, shocking David still further with the sound of his voice, not making an inarticulate cry, but a clear and conscious use of language.
'David?' he whispered, fearfully, as if searching for him. David felt, with a fearful thrill, the sensation of a cold hand touching his face. The fingers felt strange, alien, moist and far too slender.
'Do you know me?' David asked, uncertain in the nature of this miracle, or perhaps, abomination. There was a short quiet filled only with breathing. David had the impression that Julio was struggling with though and expression. After a while he spoke again, in a tremulous gasp,
'You are all I know…' David felt Julio's finger slide down to curl inside his nightshirt, gripping the material tightly, 'but…I barely know myself…'