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Ugly


To most, it seemed that God was especially generous to Doctor Antonio Christoph, a fair observation given his most extraordinary circumstances. He was a remarkably good-looking man of fifty, with hair that was black and shiny like onyx. His jaw was square and muscular, and his shoulders, even at the venerable age of 50, were broad and strong. His voice was rich, baritone. In addition, there never seemed to be a moment during which he would be caught on camera dressed less than impeccably—but no other quality gave him such a distinction than the nature of his work.

True, it could be considered morally objectionable, but, at least to him, that was beside the point. Doctor Christoph did not care what people thought. There was only him, his money, the pursuit of his art. Once he had gone on national TV—interviewed by a young student of Columbia University named Drew Vincents, who had evidently decided to try to deflate his lofty reputation.

Useless.

Doctor Christoph remembered the student very clearly; six feet tall, give or take, with thick brown hair, high cheekbones, round jaw, and piercing, inquisitive eyes. As he settled into his seat comfortably, his interviewer cleared his voice.

"Good evening Doctor Christoph," the student called pleasantly.

"Good evening," the doctor replied. High pitched screaming erupted from the crowd. They loved his voice, and he knew that very well.

"So let's talk about the moral aspects of your practice," the student added in the midst of the cheers. This one jumped the gun early in the game. No matter.

"What would you like to know?" the doctor answered, his voice like gravel against the smooth, glass walls of the interview room. More cheers erupted from the crowd. As they died down, a dust-like stillness settled in the room. The student cleared his throat.

"Doctor Christoph, don't you think that you are doing the work of God?" he shot.

The doctor paused for a moment, as if deliberating, but this was only a gesture, as he had prepared for the question days beforehand.

"God makes mistakes all the time," the doctor explains with a dark smile. "I'm only picking up the pieces."

An audible gasp echoed through the recesses of the room. This time there are no cheers. The doctor keeps his eyes locked with the student.

"Well then Doctor Christoph," the student ventured. "What of the families of the people you've changed? You've destroyed your patients. You've made them someone else. You've changed them, changed who they are, who they will be. Does this not sound at all wrong to you?"

"Is change bad?"

"No, not necessarily, but-"

"Then I do not understand the issue."

The crowd was silent.

"Doctor, your work is in changing people's personalities, correct?"

"Yes."

"But by doing so you are destroying the person who once was, and creating someone new. Is this correct?"

The doctor deliberated, genuinely this time.

"In a sense, yes."

"Then is that wrong?" the student was excited by a sudden burst of energy, literally flying out of his seat as the last word exploded out of his mouth. The doctor laughed.

"No, no," he chuckled, his voice fading. "Drew, you have wholly misinterpreted the very nature of my work. My work is righteous—very much so. I have cured mental illness; I have given new lives to people who have ruined their first; I have made people more amiable, more calm, more interesting; I have even removed all sexual desires from holy men so that they may be more true to their beliefs. I have made people happy, to endless degrees. My work changes people, yes. I would even venture to say that it is nothing short of a miracle."

Slowly, a barely discernable wave of emotion rippled through the crowd; a splash of wet applause rose slowly, erupting into full height and crashing upon the glass walls of the interview room. The doctor rose from his seat dramatically, and in one powerful gesture, raised his fist towards the sky. With this motion, thousands of fans, blinded with pathos, jumped from their seats, got on their knees, screamed. The student shrunk into his seat in defeat.
*
*
*

Frankly, in recent times, the doctor had become increasingly bored of his work. Initially, there was a sense of fulfillment to his art; it was an art indeed. Every junction, every synapse had to be tuned precisely with the ear of a musician. It was unlike any other scientific endeavor to ever precede it.

In the beginning, he would come home after a long, hard day of work, look at the man in the mirror, and think, "I've made a difference today. I've given somebody a new life."

But now—now as he rose in fame, the only people that came, or rather could afford to come to his door were invariably rich, unstable actors and actresses with geometrically flawless smiles and strategically implemented dimples. They came to his door with nothing but complaints. I'm not happy. I don't find my life fulfilling.

Well, he would say in his calming, baritone voice. I'll just put some more dopamine receptors in your brain. I'll tweak your personality a little bit too. Not a major operation.

And with this, he would be paid a lucrative sum, and the patients would go on with their shallow lives.

There was one patient in particular—Jessica Paige, that clung to his memory. She was a 25 year old actress from Los Angeles, California who decided to get addicted to drugs and destroy herself in an abusive relationship. She came to Doctor Christoph in the middle of the night, her nails bloody stumps, her clothes torn to shreds, tears carving lines down her perfect, mathematically symmetrical features.

"I'm not happy," she said. "Please operate on me. If you don't, I might kill myself tonight. I can't live like this any longer."

And so he had, almost out of pity. When he finished, she thanked him with tears in his eyes and left.

She died two days later.

It turned out that Jessica Paige had an undetectable mental illness that made the delicate architecture of her brain incredibly unstable. After the surgery, her mind essentially decomposed, leaving her to die an incredibly painful death.

How the press screamed. Newspapers ran headlines in huge font as black as nothingness. "Doctor Christoph Makes Fatal Mistake!" "Doctor Christoph Kills Patient!" "Doctor Christoph Is Not God!"

And yet he was not human either. A week after his first failure, the doctor decided to start drinking heavily, and so he disappeared for a while. He returned fully sober. But it appeared to many that he was never quite the same.

An actor would walk in asking for a more seductive personality and would walk out with chronic amnesia and hyperactivity. A pianist would walk in asking to be more receptive to emotions and would walk out bipolar.

And then there was Rachel Kingsley, the daughter of the Queen of England. She was in because of her depression, a simple treatment. The doctor had done it himself a thousand times before. It did not matter to the Queen that the doctor's reputation had taken a beating, because she remained confident in his abilities. The surgery was scheduled early on a Wednesday. Doctor Christoph remembered gazing into his reflection in the mirror. He was shocked. Here was a man sweaty and nervous. His hair was like that of a raven's nest. His hands were noticeably shaking. Perhaps it was from the whiskey he had before the operation to calm his nerves. Perhaps it was because he was not the doctor he had been.

The doctor made his way into the operation room silently, like a mourner to a funeral. Deliberately, he opened up the patient's head. Bit by bit, he started to rearrange the parts. To him, it was so ridiculously easy—child's play.

I can do much better, he thought, flattering himself. Gradually, a thought formed.

She shall have the greatest personality in the world.

With this he began snipping at the neurons quite boldly, reconnecting and rearranging them. Three hours passed. The surgery should've been finished half an hour ago. The doctor finished, and as he was about the close up the patient's head, his laser scraped the side of her brain. The smell of burning flesh rose from Rachel's head.

A wave of panic struck the doctor. He dropped his laser, and let out an animal scream. Normally this would've been a relatively commonplace, though tedious error. But this time, the realization fails to set in. The doctor made his way to the other side of the operation room, and sat down on the bench. He buried his face in his bloodied hands and began to cry. Half an hour later, much delusional, the sobered doctor picked up his laser cutter, and without a single muscle moving in his face, buried it deep inside the patient's brain. He left the cutter lodged in the patient, packed his bags, and left the building.
*
*
*

The doctor is sitting with the Columbia University student again. This time he is nervous. The walls are too thick. They are too close.

"So," the student says coolly. "Any explanation you would like to offer for your actions?"

"I believe it is quite simple," the doctor replied, his voice shaking. "I was creating a work of art. But I ruined it. I would rather destroy a ruined artwork than have it persist and bring ugliness into the world."

There were no screams, no gasps. The crowd sat with their mouths open silently, dumbfounded.

"And is this," the student asked harshly. "Morally reprehensible?"

The doctor nodded slowly. "Absolutely. It is even necessary."

"How so?"

"To preserve and uphold the natural rights of the practice of my art," the doctor declared proudly.

"No further questions."
*
*
*

After the interview, the doctor was nowhere to be seen. His office had been cleaned out. They searched for him, searched diligently with helicopters and ships, but he was not found.

Some say he moved some place where he could be left alone. Some say he killed himself.

However, a note was found on his desk. Here it is in its entirety:


All this time I did not notice the malignant ugliness within myself.


--Doctor Antonio Christoph





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