The man collected women as art.
From the remains of what became known simply as The Anterior, man’s new world grew. New civilizations with new cities and skyscrapers; new customs and rules within a new way of life. And at the center of each new city the new elite collected.
They lived in lavish comfort and struggled for nothing but the constant pursuit to transcend one another.
For the elite of Faireden, their bids to transcend were in their collections. Extensive arrays of artifacts from The Anterior were brilliantly outshone by collections of perfectly polished fossils, wholly reconstructed from only microscopic fragments found in the barest of the grey wastes. These in turn were laughed at as dull and colorless and immediately a selection of cloned flowers, iridescence glistening deep purples, blues, and reds, were unveiled and shown to bloom once again for the first time in over a millennia.
Soon, however, the long dead and buried no longer impressed even the most callow among them. They searched elsewhere for inspiration and a new custom grew – one of living displays.
The man was part of this new wave.
But he did not collect animals and permanently costume them to appear as mythical creatures, nor did he gather children and dress them up to resemble machines or dolls, nor even did he create surroundings and settings constructed of painted girls.
No, the man collected women as art.
From young girls to middle-aged widows, he collected women for their features. Hair like raven feathers, lips the shade of strawberries, eyes gold as a fox’s.
Any women he sighted with distinctive features he offered to purchase on the spot. Caretakers and keepers were always ensured that the purchased would be kept healthy and content in the heart of Faireden and that they would be promptly released when they were no longer needed. The man spent hundreds of diamonds, confident in the changing style of collections.
Once purchased they were no longer women; they were art. Featured pieces in a larger exhibit. The art was not to move or speak when on display, nor did he ever touch or speak to them. The art was to be still, silent, so that he and others may appreciate them uninterrupted.
The man purchased Kriti for thirteen diamonds because her sharp cheeks were like cliff walls. Kriti's parents haggled up from seven, and so they were pleased to sell.
Once purchased, Kriti was moved from the boundary to the heart and assigned a bed in the basement where the art was kept. She completed the man's collection as the twelfth piece of art.
But Kriti did not think of herself as art; she was an artist.
She used to carve graceful figurines from beach wood, bits of twisted metal, and other boundary detritus to sell at the market. Working from vague descriptions with omniscient clarity, she once molded clay masks for an elite collector – one known to the man. Not long after that commission, she saw the man exiting the door to her home, a smile on his face. Inside, her parents counted out thirteen flawless diamonds on their dusty floor while the man’s entourage packed her belongings.
Kriti became restless in her still and silent new life. She could do nothing but watch the man just as he watched her. She often watched the way his gaze became fond when appreciating his art and noted how he called attention the distinctive features whenever an audience was near.
In the gold-hued dining hall, she watched him still. Watched the way he cut meat from bones with a serrated blade; back and forth with jagged, careless motions. She watched and yearned to take up one of those blades and carve something pretty. One last time.
And so she did.
A few weeks after his collection was complete, the man hosted an opening in a museum at the heart of Faireden. The art was transported to the museum storage room single file in the dark of night and draped with sheets to cover them from head to earth. There they remained until noon at which time they were prepared for the event.
The man unveiled his collection that evening. In the center of the ballroom, it’s walls glittering as if studded with pearls and opal, the man introduced himself and spoke briefly of his inspiration. Then, without further ado, he signaled for the sheets to be removed.
Several people gasped, but most sat in stunned and confused silence One woman, who carried an opossum that held her belongings in its pouch as if it were a purse, raised her shrill voice in question of the man’s sanity. The man watched all of this with a growing frown before he himself looked upon his collection.
The art with raven feather hair had cut it down to the skull, leaving uneven tufts that revealed the pale scalp of a girl no older than ten.
The art with strawberry red lips had stained them black with fabric dye, transforming her into no more than a mourning widow.
The art with golden fox’s eyes had glued the lids shut with weather stripping adhesive. The woman could not see, but she was seen.
The man gazed upon the twelfth and final piece of art.
Kriti had taken one of those serrated blades to her sharp cheeks and carved deep. Crimson crusted the jagged gash, dribbling down her neck and matting her hair. She watched how his gaze became frantic and listened to his attempts to address the crowd.
But it was the art that addressed the gathered elite.
Earlier, after the art had been transported to the gallery and left overnight, Kriti spoke to the collected women. She reminded them that they were not their features. That they, too, were not art. Each listened and agreed, yearning to be released to live as they once did.
Kriti, touching the gash, repeated this to the crowd and the man now.
The crowd murmured. The man was silent. The collection was ruined, and so was he.
It could take months to repair his reputation and even longer to collect new living displays. But next time he knew he would collect something else, something content to be owned only for its prettiness.
So he dismissed the art. They were just girls and widows now, and there was nothing particularly distinct or unusual about that.
Each returned to their lives and homes. Hair regrew, dye faded, adhesive dissolved. But Kriti's gash remained until it became a scar along her cheek, forever visible.
It was her magnum opus; proof that she was an artist.