How to Read "The Paper Boys"

This one should be a fairly easy read-- well, disturbing and awful, but mechanically simple. I've written this functionally the same way as any prose you'd read in print. The structure is a little weird, though. There are two scenes thus far: the opening, and the first scene where he's with his patient. I also started to rewrite the opening between writing those scenes but didn't have time to finish it. The NEW opening with the completed second scene are at the top of this page- if only because there is more cohesion between them than there'd be with scene two and the first opening. (For one thing, using the paper boys as simple diagrams would be a waste... so that's not what I'll end up using them for. For another, Cayden's going to be Thirteen now. Number symbolism, you see. He's going to make it through this; I don't know if that makes him the luckiest or unluckiest among them.)
The original draft is below it. Still titled as such.
I also will provide context behind some of my ideas, which either weren't expressed at all or weren't expressed properly here. This is a constant process.
In my piece, I go back and forth a lot between alchemy and medicine. The former is less familiar, so I'll start there:
The philosopher's stone is the end-goal for any alchemist. It is the end-goal for Auriol, whose surname refers to gold/being golden; the trait most associated with the stone is turning other metals into gold. That said, he's not really interested in gold, per se, though I could see him working with people who want the stone for that purpose. It's also an elixir of life, which can exist in a liquid form, and purportedly cures any illness and gives immortality to whoever has it. In Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood- the series I hold on a pedestal above all others- it also created the homunculi, who could regenerate after any injury so long as their stones were not depleted. I thought that was cool, so I might use it later on.)
And that's why Auriol wants it. He's an ex-heart surgeon who's been convinced, through various tragedies in his life, that human beings are fundamentally too weak-bodied to stand a chance against anything, and alchemy's the only way around those unjust limits. (I have this planned in more detail, but I'm kind of hesitant to post all those plans online. Frankly, I don't trust the Internet. If you care to see them, Professor, I do have them saved on my computer.)
Anyway, the stone is a thing of legend... most likely. Nobody knows how to make one for real. The process is called the alchemical magnum opus, which happens in four stages: nigredo, albedo, citrinatis, and rubedo, associated with the colors black, white, yellow, red. Stage one is decomposition of the old materials; two is purifying the decay; three awakens the power of it; and four is the successful completion of the process. Beyond that, it's unclear what goes into it making the stone. I looked for the recipe Newton (yes, that Newton) wrote; various news sources posted a picture of his notes recently, but his writing is illegible. If anyone really knew how to make one, it was probably Nicolas Flamel (yes, that Flamel). This means I'm making one up for now. I can't guarantee I won't copy FMAB's version of the recipe, which involves using human souls. And that's it. That's as specific as they ever get with it.
(One more thing I'm semi-ripping off from FMAB: soul-binding. You can bind souls onto physical objects: suits of armor were the popular choices. Professor, you mentioned you thought the paper boys might be voodoo dolls, and my concept of those has always been that they're dolls with a person's essence bound to them somehow. I am going to combine those concepts. This also means they have eleven souls on hand already, should the above formula become part of things.)
The substances I mention by name relate to alchemical elements- the three basic ones are salt, sulfur, and mercury (in vermilion). I used an element already in the blood, bromine, and another one in the body generally, zinc. The setting of this piece is roughly Victorian era (who knows where?), so I'm not using any compounds that wouldn't exist in the late 19th century. All of the ones I mention are/were used in medicine at that time. That doesn't mean they're safe to use, but they didn't necessarily know that yet.
Oh yeah, speaking of medicine: 'twilight anesthetia' is when they sedate you without putting you under completely. It leaves you in kind of a calm, hypnotic state; you'll do anything the doctor says, and once you come out of it, you won't remember anything that happened. The concept of that is both nice and absolutely horrifying to me; in the wrong hands, that could be used for something absolutely evil. By Hollywood hypnosis logic, anyway. I also just like the term itself. (Also from that paragraph: Isaac is a new edition to this, who will be expanded on at some point. Same with Oswald, the wizard behind the dolls' creation. After two weeks' treflection, I've decided I need at least a few more characters in this story for it to work in the long term. Otherwise it's just 2-3 people barely talking to each other. I might want to write a story like that, but I don't think anyone wants to read it.)


(Ex-)doctor Edward Auriol sits at the white desk in his white makeshift office, fastidiously filing through the vials laid on the desktop. Everything in and about the room is clinical, sterile white...well, almost everything. There are the paper boys, for one: eleven yellowed cutouts of crude human silhouettes. Paper dolls,with red-inked veins, and staring black-inked eyes, and holes punched through their flimsy little bodies. All tacked up on the wall parallel the desk.
Auriol works with his back to the dolls. To be honest, he doesn't like having them there. Watching. Seeing. It's uncomfortable, to say the least. Yet Oswald insisted it was necessary; he said they had to know what was happening. He conveniently failed to elaborate on the obvious, implicit follow-up questions. Whether the paper boys knew what happened to them in the first place; if they knew what became of them, or what they are now. Now, sitting here, Auriol does his best to deal with their grey silence and ignore them. It doesn't particularly bother him; he likes the quiet.
His hair and figure going grey, he looks too dark for his ivory environment, though time and wear, and all this stress, may soon wash the rest of his coloring away. He hunches over his work, his focus among the tiny vials of color. His blackish shadow dyes their contents dark.
But Auriol doesn't notice this. He doesn't need to see the vials in color anymore; always puts them in the same white box, their own same spot, labelled, and by now he knows their arrangement by heart. Each vial contains an ingredient of life. Pulling out the ones he needs- zinc sulfate, vermilion, sodium bromide- is a matter of instinct now, not one of thought. So is measuring them, mixing them, swirling them together into today's syringe... He's rendered his whole procedure mindless by design. It keeps his head clearer, this way. Frees up his focus.
All he needs to focus on is keeping his hands steady.
Steady hands are vital, especially in medicine... and now in this field somewhere beyond it. One twitchy wrist and the wrong valve's cut; one wrong cut and the patient's dead- and all that blood spilt. Auriol learned from experience how easy it is to break a person's body beyond repair. He spilt the blood himself, once, and couldn't clean it off his hands no matter how hard he tried. And then he'd seen the aftermath of one trivial glitch on the railway: how badly maimed it left his wife and son. He's spent all the years since then reteaching himself to keep his mind on the task and nothing else. (Nothing else. Ignore the stains. Ignore the eyes on you, and stay on track.)
Patient Number Twelve is well on his way to becoming paper.
He is awake-barely- and sedated into twilight when Auriol enters his room, stands in his usual spot beside the bed. This room is even whiter than the rest of the basement, right down to the boy within it. He is a small, pale, crudely human thing, with platinum hair and waxy skin and eyes like clouded glass. Once those eyes held something like emotion. They used to smile, however faintly, whenever Twelve held his treasured teddy bear, which now sits across the room; used to follow Auriol's steps around the room; used to go wide whenever the doctor touched him; used to squint shut when the needle pierced his skin and the elixir was pushed into his body. Now they move less than the stuffed bear's eyes, and less than the eyes inked in black. That ragged, whitish bear, which Twelve had been carrying when he was first taken and clung to like a safety tube for months, remains abandoned and untouched.
Auriol makes a point of handling his patients delicately. He takes Twelve's small wrist into his big cold hand without closing his grip around it. If he did, he'd surely fold or tear that parchment paper skin, or snap the fragile bones, like brittle twigs, beneath it. Instead, he poses Twelve the way a careful child might play with a doll, twisting the boy's arm up and around the socket to expose his underarm, where the narrow veins are closest to the surface of his skin. Every movement is soft, steady, and provokes no reaction from Twelve, whose glass gaze remains flat and fixed on nothing nowhere.
Even as Auriol drives the needle through his skin.
As the serum enters the bloodstream, it quickly conquers the current of blood, coursing through Twelve's arm throughout the rest body. Soon every vein's aglow with red. After bandaging the wound, Auriol moves the hand he's kept around the boy's wrist, then uses his first two fingers to feel the patient's pulse: quickened to an almost normal rate. The doctor's heart speeds up right along with it. Because, right now, victory feels that much closer. Maybe this boy will get to be real again yet.
Though his eyes appear no less dead, Twelve stirs in place. He tries to remove his arm from the doctor's grip. It shouldn't be hard- Auriol's grip is still easy, steady- but the hand tightens ever so slightly in response. A reflexive movement, surely; he'd be mad if he knew the boy was resisting treatment, but now he just continues taking his pulse as though nothing had happened. But by now Twelve's lost the necessary muscle to fight against even the doctor's reflexes, and with it, the will to bother trying. Still, he has his voice, he thinks, if he remembers rightly. Hasn't tried using that in a while. He means to say, "Let go," but the words are all dammed in behind the pain rushing through his little body; all that comes out is a soft half-groan, which sounds something like "llllth. The doctor barely hears it.
Reasonably so. What does a piece of paper's voice sound like? Who would expect a living doll to talk?
To the boy's gratitude, though, the doctor drops his wrist. Another reflex, this one out of shock. He did hear something from the doll- the boy- after all, however faintly. The briefest reminder of a voice. Which was odd... Twelve shouldn't be able to make a noise right now, not unless Auriol speaks to him directly. Isaac, the team's anesthesiologist, must have decided to alter the dosage again. I need to have a word with Isaac later. For now, there must be some way I can work with this. Today's the only day in weeks that Twelve's in any shape to answer questions… now, what to ask?
"You haven't left bed in over a week," Auriol begins. Then pauses. Come to think of it, there's never much to be gained from talking to the patients directly. Nothing worthwhile, at least. Any answers they can provide are already clearly written on their bodies, in holes and in scars, in blotchy reddish spots or in spots where the white has gone translucent-pale, like tracing paper, showing the outlines of bones, veins, and nerves. Flipping through the notes now- the doctor retracing every spot and scar with his fingertips- nothing there explains why the boy couldn’t cross the room for his teddy bear, at least. He loves that filthy bear. At last, Auriol simply asks, "Why not?"
Lightning-fast, the glass eyes glance his way, hinting at something behind the clouds. Twelve's dry lips open just a fraction of the way. But a sudden gush of glowing blood cuts off both patient and doctor. It comes spilling down Twelve's arm beneath the bandage, a vicious waterfall on a meager mountain.
Auriol instantly kneels at the bedside, letting the question be forgotten. Takes the bandage off- the waterfall becomes a geyser, its blast barely missing his glasses- and applies gentle pressure to the wound, hoping to cut the bleeding off. A few minutes pass: the bloodflow ebbs, but several droplets still push through, their color deepening from crimson to near-ebony.
Brief alchemical perfection returns to impurity.
The patient himself has turned an even paler shade of white. Although he had no answer to Auriol's question, he gathered the air to speak anyway; but a brief gasp cost all his breath, and sent him back against the bed, collapsed. None of which Auriol notices, still focused on keeping his hands steady over the gauze. When the bleeding's stopped, he looks back at Twelve's face. The glassy eyes are back to empty. The other features look like crude drawings on faded scraps.
The pulse is back to faint.
The boy is back to paper.