A Perfect Art by Bumhe Han

Existence meant ugliness for me. Hi, I'm Tom Hands, writing this will-like letter in a prison, sentenced to death in four days for murdering 13 people with no "obvious" reason—well, "obvious," as attorneys expressed. If so, I wouldn't be surprised if they saw no "obvious" reason that I came to the police of my own volition, just to get arrested.

I've never seen my parents. Supposedly, a janitor of a nightclub found my body in the bathroom when he was about to start his work. My mom—whoever she was, however she looked, whatever she was thinking when she was giving birth to me—apparently ran away, probably crying, but do I care, when she didn't? I was, people have told me, tender, soft, and fragile just like any other baby, except that my first bed was a concrete bathroom floor, and instead of a nurse's caring hands blood, amniotic fluid, and pain killers surrounded me; I survived miraculously. The janitor cleaned up the mess and handed me to police, perhaps murmuring "Damn it!" all along. Whatever his motive was, he was probably the only person who did a gratuitous favor in my life.

I was admitted to a foster-children's center. The manager, who was supposed to be a "caretaker," exploited the fostering system. He used most of the government funds for alcohol and gambling; of course, to me, he was busy "because he was doing many good things in the town." A piece of toast in the morning and a watery soup were pretty much my daily food. I wore the same clothes for months, and they soon became worn out, unbearably odorous, and barely protective of coldness. I did feel hungry and deprived, but I never questioned why; maybe I was too young to realize that such an environment shouldn't be a reality to a six-year-old boy.

In such surroundings, consequently, my peers were sly, possessive, and unemotional. I was scared to look at them, because their eyes were like those of "snakes." In retrospect, they were like a group of starved hyenas in a cage with just a pound of meat to each of them.

One day, a horrible event occurred. A fair amount of the manager's money and cigarettes was missing. He ranted and raved crazily, drunk. I just thought it would be another normal night that I'd been going through. However, when I reached my bag for a cookie that I'd saved for the night, I was astounded to find the missing items in it. I was shocked; someone had slipped the items in there to frame me. I'd never done anything to earn such animosity. I tried to return the things in secret, but I didn't know where to put them; I started to cry, clueless as to what to do. The manager caught me, furiously glowering at me as he found the money and cigarettes in my bag. He slapped me, cussed at me, and then kicked me out of the building. I maintained my innocence, but he was deaf to my plea. For the whole night, I, weeping incessantly and becoming more exhausted by the second, had to keep banging on the door and miserably supplicating to let me in. A seven-year-old boy desperately begging for a place—a dirty, ramshackle one—to stay in order to avoid the dreadful nocturnal chilliness—that's what I was.

As I grew older, the meaning of the "snake eyes" of my fellow foster children became clear, and the clearer it became, the more intense was my pain. At 15, I began to work at a pizza place. Still having nowhere to sleep, I created my own lodgings under a bridge using cardboard boxes and other materials from construction sites. During the day, I wandered around the ghetto in which I was living, always cautious of pickpockets and the luring hands of drug dealers of my age. Often, with what materials I could obtain—brush from the pizza place, chalk alongside the bridge, etc—I practiced drawing, the hobby I'd acquired from the foster center, where there wasn't much entertainment. In fact, I wanted to become an artist, a heroic one who can change this iniquitous world through his artistic expression. I was saving my bucks to achieve the path. For a while, I thought my life was going pretty well.

It was a pitch-dark night, without any sparkling stars or shining moon. I was sleeping deeply, weary from the daily work. Suddenly, I heard approaching buzzing sounds. I woke up, still groggy. Peeking outside, I saw a group of motorcycles whose riders wore all black and were holding something—guns. I could faintly hear them talking:

"So, where the stupid niggers tryin' to get on us?" the guy in the front of the pack asked.

"We gettin' closer, but we still gotta move on," another guy answered.

"Well, your new gun ok?"

"Great, man, wanna see? Let's see….ah…there are some woods over there, check this out!"

And he started shooting relentlessly at my shelter. I'd never done anything to him, but he was hurting me—just like whoever slipped the money and cigarettes in my bag!

I got two shots on my leg, but I couldn't even shriek because the gang might cause me more harm. I just lay there, gnashing my teeth in pain. After making sure the gang had left and was far away, I shouted for help with what strength I had. Several minutes passed, and I felt hopeless, my pain intensifying each and every moment.

Suddenly, I saw someone coming towards me and was momentarily grateful. However, I soon became filled with apprehension when I spied the sardonic grimace of my former foster "caretaker."

"Help…please….," I pleaded.

He slithered up to me with a sadistic smirk and hissed, "Ok, I will."

Afterward, he desperately started ransacking my territory, and I hoped that he was trying to find a tourniquet.

However, he was looking for money.

After stealing the money I'd earned with my sweat, he left, spitting out an egregiously sarcastic "Good night!" That was the second time he left me with endless tears and indescribable anger.

Years went by. From the bullet wounds I'd sustained, I became half-crippled, limping. Nonetheless, I was growing into an acknowledged artist. I was involved in local mural painting and portrait design. My drawings received positive feedback, and my income increased noticeably, enabling me to abandon the makeshift abode under the bridge and move in to a one-room apartment. The apartment, though small, sufficiently insulated me from the cold, and that's all I'd ever wanted. I started organizing my artwork and compiling it into a portfolio. It became the most valuable thing in my life—the years of my time and effort and the tangible reflection of my wish to become a heroic artist who could better the world. I slept with it; it was a part of me. In the middle of my blackened reality, it was a bud of flame that I relied on and hoped for.

One day, an opportunity arose for my portfolio to unfold itself gloriously—an art contest whose winner could receive a professional sponsorship. Naturally, the competition was expected to be fierce. Most contestants, who had been systematically trained and whose parents would do anything to win, were children of the few well-known rich in my community. Though slightly anxious, I signed up, and the local press expressed a high expectation that I would win the contest. Nevertheless, one day I found my room in a mess and my portfolio missing. Someone had broken in and attempted to bring me down, though I didn't do anything to that person—just like whoever slipped the money and cigarettes in my bag!

Staggering in disbelief down the street, I witnessed my portfolio on the top of a moving dumpster truck! I followed it futilely with my half-crippled legs. I fell down, getting dust all over me and tearing my clothes. I pounded the ground in frustration until blood gushed all over my fist and my nails broke into pieces, and then I started wailing till I almost passed out.

The next day, I visited a model's house to complete a requested portrait, though I wasn't in mood for the job at all. As I drew, the memory of the day before kept haunting me. For some unknown reason, I sought the vision of beauty not on the canvas—but in the blood of the model.

And I killed her.

In retrospect, I can see that the murder wasn't spontaneous. My entire life had served as preparation for it. All my life I'd been oppressed and hurt by reality, and so-called "worldly order" represented nothing but chaos. Deep inside my soul had dwelt a powerful misanthropic attitude and nihilistic approach toward life. Therefore, it was no wonder that I came to appreciate the art of killing, the practice of exercising one's absolute superiority over another and letting people, who endeavor unceasingly for things evanescent, realize the futility of the mundanity. Also, a quick, clean murder sharply contrasted with the lasting torment by cowards who had hurt me all my life.

Human blood released in the process of a murder represented a sense of freedom, and everything about murder was incredibly beautiful.

Since the first murder, I was living in a fantasy where murder was an art and the achiever of a "perfect art"—drawn inconceivably, elaborately, and spotlessly and unveiled by and immortalized with the artist himself—was considered a hero. Perhaps such a hero was another side of the hero that I had always wanted to become.

To accomplish the goal, I spent years studying and practicing the art of killing. Finally, I succeeded in murdering 13 people in a beautiful and artful manner—all 13 "crime scenes" consisted of nothing but a piece of artwork—without a trace of my identity. After gleefully watching 13 years worth of totally fruitless investigation, I proudly delivered myself to the police to finish the last stroke of my art.

Four days passed after Tom Hands handed in a letter and asked it to be opened and read by whoever cares after he dies. Tom woke up earlier than usual to change into a new outfit and take a shower. Thereafter, he was escorted to the execution room by the prison guards. After entering the room, he was asked, "Anything to say?" Slowly and clearly, Tom uttered his last words in the world:

"I committed a perfect crime, and in order for it to remain a perfect one, it shouldn't be mystified forever; it should be disclosed, it should be known that it was a perfect crime, and the only revealer should be the perpetrator himself.

I'm greatly honored by this punishment; my crime was a perfect art, and I wanted the consequence of it to be the last piece of it. Had I been sentenced to something besides execution, I would've felt a deep desperation, for my art would've remained an unfinished one. Only upon my death should the beauty of that perfect art be completed, so that I should be immortalized with it forever."

As Tom proceeded to the noose, he was calm, almost imperturbable. When his neck was placed on the noose, he closed his eyes, with a self-satisfied smirk. While being hanged, he made not a sound, nor did he exhibit a contorted expression of agony; rather, he was grinning, almost laughing, at the scene. Even after he breathed his last, his countenance was not that of a penitent criminal crying over the irrevocability of the situation, but that of a morbid artist jubilantly evaluating the completion of his art, a perfect one. For the world, he was a sinister evil, but for himself in his own fantasy, he was a hero, the greatest one ever.