The Prisoner Of Dorian Gray
There was once a brilliant and reclusive scientist called Basil Hallward. Cloistered away within his private laboratory, he made it his life’s work to find ways of preserving all that was healthy and good in life, and to stave back the creeping advance of illness and decay. His lab assistant, Dorian Gray, was far less dedicated. He completed his tasks neatly and competently, yes, but had little interest in the research’s greater aims outside his own daily duties. It was clear that his job was simply a means to an end; a way of earning enough money for the things in life that he considered important: the pursuit of beauty and the fulfilment of the senses. He might also have been using his role to gain access to certain pharmaceutical products that could be used to enhance such an aim. But if Basil ever noticed anything missing from his inventories, he never said anything. The truth was that he was in love with Dorian, and the presence of Dorian’s beauty was the inspiration that spurred him ever further in his research.
He never said anything, of course. The age gap between them, not to mention Basil’s professional reputation, would make any entanglement with an employee out of the question, even if Dorian was by some great fluke to accept him. Besides, Basil’s dedication to his life’s work had never allowed him time for such things. But something in Basil’s manner made Dorian suspect, and he stored the information away for later.
Things carried on in this manner until one day, when Basil finally made the breakthrough he’d been working on his whole life – one that could save the lives of millions. Basil’s new technology would allow a healthy individual to lend some of their life force to a weakened patient, with no long-term cost to themselves.
“A little like a blood transfusion,” Basil explained to Dorian, “But instead of transfusing blood, it transfuses – well, health.”
“What do you mean?” asked Dorian, wide-eyed. The discovery seemed finally to have piqued the lab assistant’s interest. He leaned in close to Basil, their arms brushing and his warm breath discernable on his cheek as he peered into the mechanism of the appliance in front of them. Basil found it hard to concentrate as he continued with his explanation.
“Well, if somebody sustained a grievous injury, for example, the two bodies could join forces to rapidly accelerate the healing process. Or it could be used to help a patient fight a life-threatening illness. The healthy individual would take on some of the ill effects, for a time, but since they’re not the one afflicted, they experience no long-term repercussions, and could give many donations in a lifetime.”
“But, Basil, that’s miraculous!” cried Dorian, taking his employer’s hands in his with unprofessional familiarity, his eyes shining with admiration. “Just think of the lives people could lead – we could sample every experience, live forever, free, finally, of the constant fear of mortality.”
“I’m not entirely sure that’s the application I had in mind…”
Still, Basil was flattered and encouraged by his assistant’s enthusiasm, and noticing a reddened eye from some unknown debauchery, even went so far as to suggest a demonstration. Dorian seemed unusually willing to comply. Within minutes, they were seated opposite each other, the transfusion machine between them.
Basil selected a needle-pointed tube from the scores of coiled tendrils that snaked out of the metal casing, and inserted it into one of the blood vessels beneath his own eye, just visible near the surface of the skin. He pointed out to Dorian the corresponding tube on the opposite side of the machine.
“I can assure you it is entirely safe. I have performed every test possible.”
Dorian seemed to need very little persuasion: it was obvious he was no stranger to needles. Basil switched the dial to a low setting and set the machine into action. Within seconds, the red had drained out of Dorian’s eye, and appeared in Basil’s, to gradually dissipate over a few minutes. Dorian thought about this new development for a long time afterwards.
When Basil arrived the next morning, he was already there, waiting. In tremulous tones, he professed his love for Basil, and the two fell into a passionate embrace. Then, just at the right moment, Dorian reached for the full syringe on the bench behind him and stuck it into Basil’s neck. It was a paralytic, which took action almost immediately, allowing Dorian to drag Basil over to the machine, strap him into the chair, and turn the dial to its highest setting.
From then on, Basil’s life was a nightmarish incarceration. Like a connoisseur of sin, every night Dorian would set out in search of some fresh new debauchery, and every morning, he would crawl into the lab and hook himself into the machine. The transfusions were too frequent, and Basil’s body was soon overloaded, becoming a permanent, ravaged martyr to Dorian’s actions. First he experienced blinding hangovers from drink he’d never drunk, then withdrawal symptoms to drugs he’d never touched, the terrible cravings giving way to delirium tremens, then crippling headaches and cold sweats, while Dorian kept the enjoyable parts for himself. His blood festered with bacteria and viruses, the consequences of incautious actions for which Dorian no longer needed to take responsibility. The cruel irony was not lost on Basil: for years, he had yearned to be part of Dorian’s life – but not like this. Over the decades, his hair greyed and fell out, and a double helping of ageing lined his face. His lungs clogged, his liver ailed and his skin yellowed, and his flesh began to rot and suppurate around the scores of needle-tips that permanently punctured his body.
Then, after a time, an even more sinister symptom began to rear its head. Following a night of horrible, panicked, guilt-ridden dreams about a heartbroken girl who had thrown herself into the nearest river, Basil realized that not only was he party to the physical consequences of Dorian’s actions, but also the emotional and psychological fallout. He began to realize that the crippling guilt and terrifying flashbacks he’d been experiencing, of violence wreaked or lovers spurned, were in fact incidents from Dorian’s own life. And then, one night, Basil had a flashback of a murder.
Over all these years, Dorian had remained as beautiful and youthful as he had been the day the machine started up. In his more delirious moments, Basil had comforted himself with the idea that at least his machine had created a thing of permanent, possibly immortal, beauty. During these times, Basil felt connected to Dorian and, in some strange way, still loved him. But this was too much. If Dorian had committed a murder, he could not be allowed to continue. And as the final, sickening blow, Basil realized that he had at no point felt any second-hand guilt from Dorian about what had been done to himself: obviously, to Dorian, he had never been anything at all.
Basil had tried to escape before, of course, but had found to his cost that, although it was just about possible to painfully free himself from the needles and the chair’s restraints, the laboratory itself was firmly secured, and besides, he lacked the strength for anything more intrepid than a feeble crawl. And nobody had come to find him, or, to his knowledge, even noticed his absence. He had learned too late the terrible cost of his solitary existence. No, if he was going to stop Dorian, it had to be from the inside.
That night, Basil managed, with great difficulty, to wriggle himself free from his bonds and drag himself across the laboratory, where he administered himself with a deadly poison, before crawling back to his chair and hooking himself in once more, ramming the needles back into the open wounds they’d only recently exited. By the time Dorian arrived, the poison was well on its way, the life draining out of Basil with unstoppable rapidity. Dorian didn’t notice. Basil always looked like this nowadays. With a shudder of scornful disgust, he sat down, hooked himself in, and set the machine running.
The effect was instantaneous and catastrophic. With Basil’s life rapidly draining out of him, the process was set into reverse. While Dorian’s life force drained uselessly into the moribund body of Basil, all the consequences of all his actions over his long life rushed back into him, all at once. In seconds, his features sagged and cracked in a hideous fast-forward of the ageing process. His liver failed, his lungs clogged with tar and his blood flooded with pathogens that swarmed and multiplied within his veins. He cried out and struggled vainly to free himself, only succeeding in bringing the whole contraption to the floor.
When the authorities broke in later that day to follow up reports of screams and crashing, they found two bodies: Basil Hallward, smooth-skinned and young as the day he was last seen by the outside world, and another man, withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.
(To the tune of “Danny Boy”)
All life is art, and art is imitation
All love is death, and dead I well may be
We kill the thing we love, without exception
And I will sleep in peace now for eternity
I loved him, for he was the incarnation
Of sins I lacked the courage to achieve
I’d not the strength to yield to my temptations
And so I lived through him, and then he lived through me
Beauty is truth, it needs no explanation
Those who possess it are somehow divine
He was the source of all my inspiration
He was the source of my despair and my decline
We kill the thing we love, without exception
And I killed him, and now I have to die
But while my soul at last regained redemption
It is a desecrated state in which he lies
Oh, sacred youth! It needs no lesser title
It is profound, and worship it I did
Until I found I’d fashioned a false idol
And I’d put far too much of myself into it
For from ourselves we fashion our own devil
And from this world we fashion our own hell
But still, no tale is either good or evil
It is only written wrong or written well.