Trigger warning: body horror
It began when, as a small child, I noticed a cut on my forearm the size and shape as the tip of a cat’s tongue. I had been scaling a cluster of tall rocks on the beach’s far end. Out of sight my mother slept peacefully, the pitched tent of a beauty magazine shading her face. Blood welled inside the shallow puddle of the cut, and as I instinctively put my fingers to stop the flow, peeled the skin off my forearm in one long strip. There was no pain, and the wind blew my cry of shock out to sea. I held my forearm before me, a gleaming butcher hook.
I was at least ten feet up on a rock and had to work my way down slowly, the skin flapping behind me in the coastal breeze like a flag. A few flies landed on the raw meat, and I waved them away with my hand holding the skin. When I reached ground again, I was very careful not to get any sand onto my arm; I didn’t know it wouldn’t make a difference, then. It took a few tries for me to get the skin back on; I didn’t know which end went from wrist to elbow and had to make sure it went freckleside up.
What could I get with my newfound quirk, this abnormal body? The immediate thought was money. My mother worked over fifty hours a week for the two of us, a dog, and a small home. I could upload a video of my fleshless jaw bobbing in front of the camera, the coronoid processes like the dorsal fins of two phantom sharks emerging from an ossified lake, and reap in the profits of my celebrity. But I knew even then as I sheathed my forearm back onto my skin that I was not a normal boy and that this secret would have to be kept as silent and unseen as the blood within me.
There were a few frights. Once at a school mate’s birthday party, the birthday boy, unaware that I was in the process of unfolding myself the bathroom, came in and saw the bald wax of my skull in the wall mirror while my eyes stared calmly back, the only unchanged feature within my face. He screamed and ran immediately to the mothers chaperoning us, but once he calmed down, they could only guess what he meant was that I had made a strange face at him. I shrugged at him apologetically across the table as we ate cake. And during the serried solemn ritual of kindergarten peeing, there were times when the teacher would knock furiously on the stall door, momentarily convinced that she had seen an organ or bone appear between the gap of the stall door and the floor. Despite these times where my secret was nearly revealed, I managed to keep it to myself.
In adolescence I began to experiment. I would smoke for a year and stand in the mirror afterward, seeing the withering black state of my organs, the damaged tissue. I wondered if I could remove my eyes from their sockets but was too squeamish for that. I became an intimate practitioner of origami. And at night I would lay in the dark and my body responded to its own touch the way a flower responds to first light.
And yet, I grew tired bored of the world around me with these daily dissections of myself. The problem is that without one’s skin, the exterior of the body becomes bland. The familiar primate shape is gone and replaced by an intricate weave of everything you see in the Biology textbooks and what Doctors only experience professionally, pranks included. And with that exterior world of the person diminished, so are his works, habits and customs. I could not explain this dilemma to anyone because I knew it was unique only to me, and the deeper I went inside of myself the more taciturn I became.
That’s when the voices started. First it was in my dreams. I had always dreamed in dialogue, but the voices were as if heard through a dark tunnel; now they were clear as air. They were very loud but the words were cryptic, indecipherable. Explanitum. Gorgiosen. Strange incantations beneath the eyelids. I began to feel afraid of sleep. As a coping mechanism I began to write all of the words down as soon as I woke up. They seemed like gibberish, but it helped soothe the fevered mind upon awaking.
The internal difference of myself from others, long kept secret, was slowly surfacing. My eyes changed colours, sometimes rapidly, other times throughout the day. My skin turned green and black in bovine patterns across my body. I took to wearing dark sunglasses, long coats and gloves. But these colour patters affected my face also, and I knew it was unsustainable. As a stranger it was possible that I could live with this strange condition as I had with my internal one, but I was afraid that before long someone would approach me and my secret would be revealed to the world. I sought answers in my dreams. And they came.
Looking over the volumes of dream words I had compiled over several years, they traced a map of all my inner functions, with the latter of them a map of my childhood neighborhood, and the beach and those tall rocks where I had discovered myself. They were not words in themselves but a visual pattern, a mosaic drawn between several books, and I understood what I was to do. I flew back home on the first flight available to me (the first ones were too expensive) and left everything in my apartment behind. I imagined what the landlord and maybe police would say as they puzzled over everything left intact and clean.
The beach was calm and warm. I sat in the sand until the last beachgoers left. Then I undressed and waded out to sea. The water was so warm that my skin did not tingle at its contact, and soon my feet could not reach the bottom. I swam until I was too tired to swim any further. Behind me, the shore was a thin scratch of paint on a blue surface. And the voices started again. They boomed from deep beneath the water, somewhere I could not see, and they sounded as clear and commanding as they had in my dreams. The sky blazed above me, all colours and shape in constant rearrangement and dissembling. I unfolded myself. My insides dangled beneath the surface, and I floated in a cloud of blood. And as I began to sink, inscrutable bodies of great size swam beneath me, and I knew this was where I was meant to be, the true home of angel and demon barely glimpsed by man. My head slid underwater, and I inhaled my first breath of another realm.
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hi Emily, Congratulations on being shortlisted😁. Your story is graphic and colorful and, ahem, creepy. Very creative!
This was very interesting. It reminds me of Gideon the Ninth, about necromancers. I like the abstract imagery here, my imagination really had to work to picture a person doing this to their body. Keep it up Emily.