Stan blows up his old life with a few Facebook messages and a few cellphone photos, and after the divorce is over and he's bled dry as corn husks, he packs up his few remaining belongings in his shitty little fifth-hand Kia (the only car on Craigslist he could afford) and moves to North Garth to start rebuilding. He gets an apartment (studio), and a job (washing dishes), a new(ish) pair of sneakers and a rat in a glass case he names Salzer, after the famous German poet. He spends his first few months looking back, crying in the dark, calling his old house from grocery store parking lot payphones and hoping that Melinda doesn't pick up because they both know she's not going to let him talk to Cassie. Stan misses his daughter more than he misses the rest of his stupid old life and he tells himself that maybe that's ordinary.
Whenever his little girl answers, he never tells her it's him calling, just whispers all his secrets to her in alphabetical order and hopes she understands. When he runs out of those, he starts telling her his memories. When he was six, his dad shot himself in the garage with the Browning he brought back from Vietnam and ever since then Stan's had nightmares about red paper fans pressed against cracked window-glass. He stomped crayfish to paste by the creekside when he was a teenager. He married too young and tried to fix a broken thing with a baby. He tells her that despite all his sins she's beautiful and she's perfect and she's all he ever wanted and that's when Melinda yanks the phone away from their daughter and screeches PERVERT!! down the line at him and then it clicks dead in his ear. The next time he tries to call, a mechanical woman tells him that number's been disconnected. He screams and smashes the receiver against the base until it comes apart in his hand and the grocery security guards have to come and drag him away off the store property.
Back home, broken and battered and hammered out of shape, he drags himself into the bathroom and scoops a handful of scummy hair from the shower drain with bloody fingers, cradles it in his palms, coos nursery rhymes to it. It's a good start. But he'll need more.
Eventually he notices there's a new waitress at the diner: her name is Alexandra and she has a green and black tattoo of a snake stretching from her right wrist all the way to the line of her jaw and she laughs at his lame dad jokes and smokes too many menthol cigarettes and carries around a five year AA token like some people carry around crucifixes. She asks him about his bandages and he makes some stupid quip, hoping she gets the message. They start to have sex a few times a week, always at her place and only ever when her boyfriend isn't home. She watches him get high sometimes and never asks why he never invites her over to his apartment.
Stan starts to plan. Stan invests in a full set of antique dental tools off eBay. Stan takes showers that last for hours, pulling out the thin hairs circling his chest and his belly and his ever-expanding bald spot and letting them collect in the drain until they just about stop up the tub before he pulls them out and adds them. Stan buys weed and sometimes coke from the other dishwasher at the diner, another down-on-his-luck case who looks like a Chad but insists everyone call him Pablo. Stan has wet dreams about his ex-wife sometimes and always calls Alexandra to apologize after. Stan starts to buy anesthetic from one of Pablo's other customers, some asshole veterinarian who can't handle his shit. Stan doesn't go in the kitchen anymore because that's her room and she needs her privacy.
Salzer's been dead under a pathetic pile of shredded paper bedding for weeks before Stan notices, and when he finally does, he just throws the whole terrarium out into the alley where it shatters and startles a homeless man so badly he never comes back around. This city is dying anyway. Stan doesn't see the poor bastard beat his retreat down and away and it's just as well because Stan wouldn't care if he did.
His apartment starts to smell like rot so he spends his whole paycheck at the Yankee Candle one Friday and congratulates himself for his ingenuity. He walls off the kitchen with broken-down boxes and cheap duct tape that doesn't tear right but gets the job done. He sings while he puts it up, The Itsy-Bitsy Spider and London Bridge and Mary Had A Little Lamb and more. He tells himself she likes it but there'll be no way to tell until he's finished and that's not going to be for a while because he has to go slowly and carefully otherwise everything's going to get fucked up and he can't let that happen.
This is too important. She's too important.
One night, laying in bed, he tells Alexandra a little bit about himself, and in return, she tells him she thinks he's the loneliest person she's ever met. She tells him about her son who lives with her parents in Spokane and then he leaves because he can't handle that shit, and the next day at work she acts like nothing's wrong but he can see by the puffy glow around her eyes that she's been crying. He doesn't ask about it and she doesn't share. She doesn't answer his calls for the rest of the week either, but he's okay with that. He's got plenty of work at home to keep him occupied without having to worry about her feelings on top of all of it. He's got to focus.
Things are moving faster, now.
The next Saturday, he waits up and does lines of blow until well after midnight and then breaks into a local funeral home because those shitty Labrador painkillers he has at home aren't doing the job. He stumbles through the dark, upending chairs and caskets on his way through to the prep room and uses a screwdriver to snap the padlock off the supply locker: inside are racks of tools and rows of brown bottles with labels he only understands a little. These'll probably work. With one arm, he sweeps a whole shelf into his duffel bag for later and when a voice behind him asks
Who the hell are you? What are you doing in here?
he grabs one of the many-angled implements from the cabinet and opens the man's face with it. The sound is like a claw hammer against a steak and Stan leaves him there, crumpled on the floor in a creeping pool of his own blood.
In the bathroom of his apartment, Stan loads a pair of syringes with a mixture from the bottles and sets them on the edge of the sink while he works up the nerve. The first time he really does it, he starts small. A needle prick in the tips of his first two fingers, then he goes out to his car for the pliers while the itchy numb takes hold. He lays out paper towels all around the sink, gets a good hold, grits his teeth and yanks out one fingernail, then another. They come out with a wet sucking thwick and even through the warm embalming drug haze, the pain is exquisite, a fuzzy screaming wave that turns his whole hand into a burning, open nerve. There's not as much blood as he expected, though. He runs a cold tap over his bare fingers until it feels okay again, then he takes his ripped-free nails out to the kitchen to add.
Over the course of the next week he does the other eight, and then all ten toes, and then uses the antique bag of tools from the internet to start in on his mouth. He brings it all to the kitchen, taking his time to make sure each piece fits just so. It's only when the gaps in his smile grow wide enough to pass the neck of a bottle through that the weird, awful people at the diner start to notice. Are you okay? they ask. Do you need to talk to someone, Stan? He shrugs them all off. He's doing just fine. Every day he comes to work missing bigger clumps of hair and one time he lets slip to Pablo that he's been spending a lot of time digging for materials at the city dump. Barbed wire and medical waste. When Pablo asks him to explain a little bit more, Stan slaps him in the crotch and pretends he doesn't speak English. Pablo never talks to him again, not even when Stan comes in the next week missing the last three fingers off his left hand.
The blood seeps through the cheap vinyl off-brand bandages and gets everywhere, pattering spots on bowls and countertops and fresh napkins, but Stan insists this isn't a problem. It's no problem. He'll clean it all again, he'll scrub twice as hard. The manager sends him home and says not to come back until he's doing better. Stan asks what that means just in time to get the door shut in his face. On the way back through the parking lot, he puts a fist through the driver's side window of the manager's crappy old Buick. He stands there bleeding from both hands for a while before the idea comes to him and he starts scooping up handfuls of sea-green pebbles.
She needs eyes to see, after all.
And she always liked green. It was her favorite color.
Or was it purple?
He fills his pockets with safety glass, sure he'll find the right two somewhere in there. He's so close, now.
Back at home, Stan does all the coke he has left and it makes his brain feel like a trashcan that's on fire but if he pays attention he might be able to finish her tonight and that would make it worth all the shit and the hurt and the pain and the misery so he decides to do that: okay let's focus so we can do this come on let's fucking go. He lets himself into the kitchen through the cardboard door and goes to work, spilling his pockets all over the Formica countertop so he can find the right ones.
She waits for him at the table, hideous and cruel and nearly perfect, wrought from clumps of mottled, sticky hair and fresh stripes of leg-skin and mangled lumps of cartilage and broken bone, lashed together with tape and tight loops of wire and twine, her shape ruined humanoid, the proportions all warped and wrong. She smiles at him with his own torn-out teeth—they sit in her misshapen head glistening pearl red, arranged in as neat a row as Stan could fix them. She nods at him and he goes to work sifting through the jagged pile. The edges bite and slice into the pads of his remaining fingers, rendering the shards slick and hard to keep a hold of, but he keeps at it until he finds two that he thinks will work. He leans in and whispers to her, telling her about their angles, and when her smile spreads, he knows he made the right choice.
Stan steps in close and uses one butterflied thumb to make two little divots in her head so he can put the eyes where they need to go, but before he can place them, there's a knock at the front door.
Stannie? Alexandra calls from the other side. Stannie, are you in there? I just want to talk, please. She must have followed him home. Stannie, I'm worried about you. Nosy. She's always been nosy.
Ignore her, the creation hisses.
But Stan hesitates, stuck between the only two people left in his pathetic excuse for a life.
Open the door, Alexandra pleads. Please, Stan. I just want to help.
Give me my fucking eyes, his new child snarls.
Tears pour down Stan's face and he jams the glass into his replacement girl's makeshift skull and she shivers with pleasure, rising from her seat to meet him where he stands. Outside on the welcome mat, Alexandra's stamping her feet in frustration and calling his name, her voice swollen with sobs, but he can't hear her, now. His wretched abomination wraps him in her damp, ghastly embrace and when she squeezes it's like being devoured by knives—she shreds him apart and absorbs him, uses his parts to fortify her own, a doll of hair and meat and blood and metal. She blooms and overlaps herself, feels her father pulped inside the limits of her heinous body. She turns and tears down the fake wall, lurching toward the front of her prison, then crashes through the cheap pressboard door and onto the weeping woman she finds there, consuming her whole, the hair and steel coiling and thrashing her to red ribbons. The world beyond smells like fear, and hate, and blood, and she will devour it all, in her brutal, malignant perfection.
She opens her stolen mouth and crows to the heavens above, born to unmake the world in her image, and the gods she mocks there watch and weep and turn away to hide in their barrows. Deep inside her, as he’s pulled apart and digested to slurry, Stan’s last thought is of the family that left him, the world that forsook him, and in the moments before he truly becomes another part of his girl’s terrible entirety, he weeps with joy.
The end has finally come.