Sick Face, by Lynn Bauman-Milner

Lynn Bauman-Milner at the FFS. Photo by Izzy Brittle.

Did you ever have a day when you were just sick of your own face? It comes out of the blue: you see some random stranger and the face they wear is so perfect in proportion, complexion, structure, that you realise your face is a clunky mess in comparison: a Picasso to their Rossetti. And for half an hour, half a day, half a moment, you wish you had someone else’s face.

You close your eyes and shake off that feeling, maybe have a drink, no matter the time. But a blessed few will do what I did: go find a new face.

I should’ve been satisfied with copying YouTube tutorials on make-up. But even hidden under make-up and latex, it was still my mangy face in the mirror, and it was not co-operating. I broke that mirror, nursed bloody knuckles and a bottle, and planned to replace my face.

The first time, I couldn’t stop thinking and just do it. I had pulled the rabbit’s head back and lifted the knife, then freeze. An hour of start-stop, flip-flop, and I almost had to admit that I wasn’t cut out for cutting.

But then I’d looked at the bunny’s face, had seen the fear in its eyes, and then I knew: I just wanted its face.

The knife flashed across its throat, and the body slipped to the floor. I stared at the blood on my hands then smiled, my face twisting for the last damn time. I arranged the corpse on my worktable and set to flaying skin from flesh.

That first mask is a mess: the nose sits weird, the forehead is bubbled, and the eyes don’t match up. It’s perfect for sheer creep-factor, because nothing says terror like a wonky bunny face looming in your peripheral vision. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to seduce someone on Hallowe’en, wearing a bunny mask and a stained leather apron.

That mask gave me freedom. Working for hours in the shed, I didn’t have to think about my maladjusted features. I breathed in death and meat and found truth in the smell. If I had a smaller subject on the workbench, I didn’t work for the artistry. I recreated butchery and let all the flesh hang loose, hacking away, gleeful in the flat splutch of cleaver into flesh.

Poor bunny mask got soaked on those nights, and rust-red smears striped across the drooping muzzle, transforming Bunny into nightmare; I liked it even more.

The first time I cut a person was terrifying, magnificent. I had practised on rabbits and stray cats for months, to get that initial cut right, so the skin slides off like pulling off a glove. It’s better when you don’t cut first; break the neck instead. Leaves the skin intact and you don’t have to rush the incision against a squirming, kicking body.

You are not my first.

I’ve become pretty handy over the years. It’s amazing the range of courses you can take at colleges around the city. My favourites were taxidermy and mask-making. I’ve been practising, blending the skills together, and if you’ll look to your left – your other left, good boy – you can see the latest additions to my collection. See that blank space next to the door, near the top?

That’s for you.

The shed is isolated of course; I’m stating the obvious, mainly so you’ll stop trying to scream around the gag-ball. The walls are triple-lined with soundproofing blocks. It even sounds dead in here. I find that lack of echo quite comforting. No excess noise, no hissing sibilants piercing my ears. Just me, and you, and them.

Do you like them? I’ll admit that the black gazes were disconcerting at first, but I think that’s because it was just me and him. Like going out for dinner with someone for the first time, and it’s awkward, because you’re hyper-aware of all your dining quirks, and you’re trying to scrape up gravy from your plate without drawing attention. After the second went up, it got easier, like they were keeping each other company and didn’t have to watch me. I was allowed to scrape and shape without feeling their empty eye-holes staring.

You may have noticed the care I took to situate that chair. Right in the middle, where all these eyes can stare at you. The thick wood arms are pitted with scratch marks, signs of spirit not yet broken. Strong leather straps help you remain seated, because I can’t have you squirming. Lean back, there you go, and I’ll adjust the vise a little. You may notice it’s padded for your comfort.

Hush. One quick twist and you won’t feel a thing. I’ve not had complaints before, at least, not any clearly articulated ones. Easy now.

Good boy.

Lynn Bauman-Milner won runner-up in the 2019 Northern Short Story Festival Slam with this story, Sick Face, chosen by judges Tania Hershman and Benjamin Judge, and the audience. Photo by Izzy Brittle.