Dr. Carl Gailman waited nervously in the living room of his penthouse. To calm himself, he focused on the trio of candles he'd placed on the table with the utmost precision and care. Things had to be perfect tonight. He would have it no other way. Even one deviation from the plan, no matter how small, would ruin things completely for him. And what a tragedy that would be indeed. The doctor had waited so long for this night.
First, of course, he had to work up the courage to go looking for that special person. Then, actually tracking them down proved more challenging than he had anticipated. But, as the saying goes, "He conquers who endures," and one day, at long last, Carl had found what he'd been looking for for such a long time.
But where was he? Carl eagerly checked the clock. The man said he'd be there at eight o'clock sharp. The present time, 7:58, was cutting it dangerously close. Carl began to wonder if this wasn't all some horrible set up and he'd be left alone and miserable.
But then---ah, what a sweet sound! The doorbell! Carl nearly tripped over himself as he raced to answer it.
He opened the door and found himself standing face to face with a man whose appearance was unsettling to say the least. The pale skin of his face stretched thinly over his sharp bones. His withered lips curled into a smile that didn't quite reach all the way to his dark, narrow eyes. Carl was surprised enough by the way the man looked to second guess his decision for the first time.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello, doctor," said the man in a low, almost melodic drone.
At that, Carl knew this was the right man, and that the man was in the right place. His excitement flickered once again at the thought of what must have been so near at hand. "Come in, come in, please!" he urged.
The man entered the penthouse. As he did so, Carl noticed for the first time that he carried with him a large black leather bag. That must be where it is, Carl thought. I cannot believe this is happening! Externally, he managed to keep his composure, even though his inner schoolgirl wanted to scream and burst into tears. Fighting these instincts with all of his might, he ushered the man to the living room.
There, they sat across from each other. The man simply stared at Carl, never blinking, always grinning that same grin. An uncomfortably long moment of silence passed. Carl's impatience became more and more difficult to bear. Just as he was about to speak, the man headed him off.
"I suppose you'll want to see it?" he asked.
"Yes!" said Carl. Not wishing to sound too eager, he clamped the restraints on his emotions once more. Straightening his spine, he added, "I believe that is the reason for your visit."
The man chuckled. "Yes, indeed."
He placed the black bag before himself and slowly, as if for the purpose of theatre, opened it up. From it, he produced an intricately decorated wooden box. It was large enough that he had to handle it with both hands, and did so as he placed it on the coffee table. Another moment of silence passed as Carl marveled at the box. He looked up at the man.
The man chuckled again. "Yes, my friend."
Carl could contain himself no longer. "May I?" he begged.
"Of course," said the man, sliding the box slowly toward Carl across the glass tabletop, past the lit candles. "You’ve paid the asking price and it is yours now, after all.”
All pretense and self-control left Carl in an instant, and his hands were upon the box. He threw open the lid and tossed aside the red cloth that lay inside.
And there it was, neatly folded, waiting to reveal to Carl the full extent of its glory. Moving slowly now, he took a small corner and began to remove his new prize. It still felt supple, pliable. Not leathery at all. The tattoos were pops of color and intricate designs, just as the man had promised him. It appeared to be exactly as he had hoped: a full-sized pelt from a male human, lacking only the head.
Carl's eyes began to well up with tears. He pressed the skin to his face and reveled in the smoothness. "Yes," he whispered. "My lovely."
"Strange," said the man, still sitting across from him.
Carl was irritated to be yanked so rudely from his fantasies. He glared at the man. "Yes?"
"The way you regard it," the man continued. "The way you fawn all over it. All of the buyers do this. I never understand why. Is it not just skin?"
A flame rose within Carl as his glare intensified. "Sir," he began, "This is so much more than skin. It's a work of art, for one thing. Have you not seen it?"
"Oh, yes, I have," said the man. "I must admit I do not share your enthusiasm."
Carl went on, as if he himself had taken on the role of the skin's seller. "This beautiful object possesses not only artistic value, but there's something... special about it. It contained a life. It once kept a man inside of himself. It held his sweet, masculine energy." He began to lose himself in his imaginations of who the man may have been, and what might have inspired his choices of tattoos. "It's as if... I can feel him."
The man smiled broadly and raised his eyebrows. "Yes," he said. "I see. Well, I thank you, good sir. I will leave you to... feel him... if that is what you wish." Carl made no further acknowledgement of the man as he stood and let himself out.
Now, at last, he was alone with his new acquisition. There was no fear, or remembrance of the searches and black market websites he had to wade through to get it. There was only unbounded joy. The delight of a small child on Christmas morning, or perhaps more like the tingle when love is requited for the first time.
He laid the skin out on the sofa, taking great care to ensure that every part was exactly as it would be were a live person sitting before him. Once he was done, he stepped back and poured himself a glass of red wine. As he sipped the stinging liquid, he allows his eyes to scan the pelt, drinking in all he could. When the time was right, he put down his glass and knelt before it.
"You are so beautiful," he said. "I have been waiting so long for you." He placed a hand gently on the chest. "May I?" he asked. Permission only he could hear was granted, and he began to slide his hand slowly down the chest to what was the stomach and, finally, lower. When his hand brushed against the man's most intimate remains, Carl gasped and shivered. "You are magnificent!" he cried as he pounced upon the skin, and he covered it neck to toe in the sweetest and most loving kisses.
As he laid act after act of violent affection upon the tattooed hide, the most extraordinary thing began to happen. Carl felt the skin harden beneath him. It was not only in the regions one would expect a waiting lover to do so, but all over. He backed up to take in the sight of what was happening to his precious new purchase. What he saw filled him with wonder and terror.
Before Carl's very eyes, the body began to inflate. Something began to fill each part of the hide, molding it once more into the shape of a living human. Even more extraordinary, the body began to move. Carl watched as the fingers flexed, the knees bent and the strong, muscular chest rose and fell as breath were passing in and out of lungs that weren’t there. Before long, he was sitting before the fully formed, completely articulate body of a man who had everything but his head.
"My God!" Carl uttered. He didn't know whether to praise whatever spirit had allowed this to happen or run, screaming in terror, nor did he have time to decide. In another minute, the figure was upon him. Hot, rough hands seized Carl by the throat and threw him to the floor.
"Wh- what?" was all Carl managed to say before he was grabbed once again and hurled to the floor a second time. The realization began to set in: Carl was in serious danger. He tried to move away from his assailant as quickly as he could, but it was no use. Headless though it may have been, the walking skin seemed to know exactly where Carl was. It grabbed his neck for a third time, causing Carl to feel dizzy and faint. As the being hoisted him high in the air, he used what little strength he had remaining to call out, "Help!"
The door to the penthouse flew open and in strode the man who had delivered the box. If Carl was happy to see him earlier in the evening, he was elated now, so much so that his presence never once struck him as odd. The man shouted a string of foreign-sounding words at the body, causing it to freeze in place, with Carl still dangling in the air.
"Thank you!" Carl choked out. "Thank you. Now---"
Before Carl could finish, the man shouted once again, more words that Carl couldn’t understand. To Carl's horror, the last emotion he would ever feel, the skin began to move once more, this time squeezing Carl's neck tighter and tighter until, at last, there was a sickening crunch.
Carl's remains were tossed to the floor, leaving only the man and the headless attacker standing in the room. The man grinned slyly and uttered a few more words in the same language as before. Without a moment's hesitation, the skin fell to the floor in a pile, as if someone had simply been wearing a cloak and allowed it to fall.
Minutes later, the man had folded the skin back up and placed it back into the decorative box, taking care to replace the red fabric that Carl has simply tossed to the side.
There, he thought. All ready for the next buyer.
Written by Jdeschene