Saturday, October 20, 2012

Night At MacLellan's

Parcel received from Mokksy Jekks. Date omitted. Found in Jukksy Jekks's personal work desk. His whereabouts remain unknown.

[Dear Jukksy,
   Last night, I was galavanting through the abandoned Summerwood apartments on Demetrius Ave. with Sissy and Marvin. We had been getting a strange pull from it all week, and decided that we'd stop by. Most of the apartments were barren, besides the detritus of fallen brick and sheetrock. We were getting ready to give up and leave, when Sissy started getting a screwy feeling about this one door.
   It was Apt. #43. I know, chills right? She was shivering, and told us all to stop because there was something very important there. I had to kick down the door. The lock was rusted solid. Inside, the smell was bad, man. I mean, we had to hold our breath and everything, which really limited our time inside. All we could see at first was an aluminum bed frame and a ragged hole in the floor of the kitchen. Sissy made a beeline to it.
   When we got close-up, we all started getting terrible migraines. There was some serious voodoo down there. She smeared liverdust over our foreheads and eyelids, and we got on all fours to peer down into it. For a while, nothing happened besides the steady incline of pain in our heads, but soon, we could hear screams.
   It was something really terrible. As you know, people like us don't have weak constitutions when it comes to that sort of thing, but there was something so awful about it... We couldn't fight the compulsion to leave, so we stood up and started taking small, backward steps.
   Just when we were getting to the hallway entrance at the far end of the room, the screaming hole lobbed this short little manuscript at us. Some guy named Jonathan wrote it (later, we discovered, through town records, that Apt. #43 was his). Apparently he used to frequent that old MacLellan's place. The things he described seem pretty familiar, now that I think about it. Unnerving stuff.
   Anyway, I figured this would catch your interest. You're always trying to get more info on what's been going on recently. I think I need to take a little vacation and get out of Alexander, if you know what I mean. Things are starting to get a little hot around here, and the others feel followed, just like I do. I'll try to stop in before I head over to the Greyhound station on Tuesday. Enjoy, but try not to read this alone at night. I wouldn't recommend it.


    Understand this. At first, it didn't seem to me that I was in any special sort of danger. I mean, of course there's that inherent risk of walking out of your front door and getting struck by lightning, but other than that, I felt pretty safe.
    It was unseasonably warm. When I stepped out into the January abyss, I almost regretted wearing that thin hoodie. It was threadbare and full of holes, but still kept me uncomfortably warm. In a normal world, I would have been double-timing it, cursing the frigid bite of Winter with every begrudging step.
    Walking through the town square, I took in the dismal air of the evening. I didn't realize that I wasn't alone at the time, so I walked on with little precaution, hardly noticing anything except for a happy couple that sat by Glover Fountain. They sipped at steaming cups of coffee and told snippy little jokes to each other. At least, it sounded like that's what they were doing... They were laughing their heads off.
    Now that I look back, though, I'm starting to wonder at what they could possibly have found so funny. No one laughs that hard on a first date. That maniacally.
    In case you're wondering how I knew it was their first date, don't worry. I have credibility when it comes to people-reading. The guy wasn't touching her in any way. That's either the sign of a touch-me-not, or a very unsure man, and the way that his eyes glittered with hopeless romance, the prior was rather doubtful.
    Damn it all! That's what makes me so furious with myself for getting into this predicament. As a person who prides himself in his ability to size up the world, I should never have allowed Them to close in so wholly undetected. However, I'm getting ahead of myself.
    I arrived at the bar not long after leaving the apartment. MacLellan's. A favorite haunt of mine. On any given weekday, you could walk in with intentions of being completely anti-social and getting trashed without disturbance. For an Irish pub full of hicks with heads that swim with insignificant things such as college football and recent renovations downtown, it wasn't a bad place.
    Tonight was different.
    I wasn't consciously alarmed by my surroundings, although I had been feeling a slight tinge of apprehension from the moment I entered. Some generic Gaelic drivel was spewing from hidden speakers, and the place reeked of whiskey, meat-sweat, and brimstone. I found a comfy spot at the end of the bar to brood.
    Making a very conscious effort not to display my impatience while waiting for the bartender, I retrieved my phone and went through pictures I had taken that day. When the man arrived, I went through my usual, awkward ritual of asking for a drink.
    To my right, a group of red-faced conservatives were drawling on about national defense and the travesty of Obama's presidency. The usual, lovely bullshit.
    After a short time, my beer arrived, and I immediately began to gulp it down, taking breaks in between to zone out and stare at a glass-faced refrigerator full of Irish brews which never seemed to get ordered. I wondered to myself what it would be like to spend an entire existence chilled inside, looking out upon ignorance. Haphazardly spilled liquids, stupid guffaws and chortles, night after night. The hours rolled long.
    "I woulda shot 'im in the face!" The exclamation jolted me out of a somber, timeless trance. The invalids a few seats down had been whacking each other off for hours, spewing nausea-inducing topics left and right. I was prepared to retire back into a stupor when something caught my eye about them. The one with the military buzz-job, who had brought me out, was speaking - yet, his lips moved side-to-side instead of the natural up-and-down.
    The men that crowded around him were standing in casual, thumbs-in-pockets positions, but frozen in place. And their god-forsaken eyes! Upon further, inebriated inspection, I found them to be cloudy grey, and without expression. If I had been uneasy at any point in the night before then, it amounted to naught, as things had ascended to an entirely new level of mind-fuckery.
    Trying to control restless, sanity-thirsty eyes, I focused on the glossy wood grain of the bar. I told myself, "Maybe it's not something completely terrible. Who knows? Maybe they're intellectuals who meet up every Monday night and take the sardonic ribbing of all that is wrong with society to an extreme level. I'm fine. Yeah..." But no. I was not fucking fine.
    I couldn't keep myself from peering at the bartender, hoping for an equal reaction of petrified puzzlement. He seemed to be content with the scene. He also seemed to be removing his entrails with his bare hands. I couldn't look away. With a furious satisfaction, he unloaded his steaming life onto black, plastic serving trays, and served them to tables throughout the bar. He laughed through bubbles of blood all the time.
    My head followed his journey, and suddenly, the simmering liquids inside longed for escape. I ran a catalogue of the drinks I had ordered: Two vodka-cranberries, a strong White Russian, and - dear stars! - even a blowjob. I found myself distracted at the thought, because it troubled me a great deal more. Who would drink a blowjob alone at a bar?! Anyway...
    The recipients of our dear barkeep's guts chowed down as soon as they could. It appeared rubbery and tough, like the tentacles of an octopus, but they powered through it all the same. The music began to run backwards. The lights, to flicker. The eyes of all I saw, to glow.
    I was glued to my stool. Avoiding the slightest bodily movement, in order to avoid the attention of the freaks that surrounded me, I let my eyes dance across it all. A waltz progressed through coagulated, blood-caked teeth. My corneas mambo'd betwixt ravenous, green eyes and dirty gore fingers. These retinas pranced, and salsa'd, and calypso'd through the physical incarnation of madness.
    My doom was an apparent and sweet requiem. One that rivaled Beethoven's ninth.
    You know those LED strips that most bars hang above the graveyard of liquor shelves behind the bar? The one that delivers the scores of popular sporting events or winning lottery numbers? The very one I found myself staring at announced a grave thing to me in a nearly mincing orange and green.
    "Hello, Jonathan. Ready to sate us? You're the house special."
    Suddenly, it became very quiet in MacLellan's. My dear bar was reciting the song of Death, and a... thing took a seat next to me. When I tell you that I couldn't differentiate its mouth from its eyes and lungs, try not to read into it much. Just visualize it in your mind. A thing, hardly even humanoid, with sooty, yellow skin, garbed in pristine black silk with a mouth/eye/lung for a face. It pulsated in a way that I won't even attempt to describe before dribbling some terrible, dark liquid from its orifice.
    In my mind, I heard it say, "Go back to the trance. You don't want to be around for what comes next." I couldn't do anything but accept its existence, and think back at it.
    "What in the hell are you?" It writhed at my question. An almost comical "harumph" of sorts.
    "I'm every moment you've ever spent wishing you were somewhere else. I'm the demon beneath your pillow that ejaculates into your mind when you believe that you're alone and let the despair dig deep into your soul. I am the greedy, existential dog that awaits the table scraps of your hope, shortly before you succumb to your slummy, comfortable couch and remember that you are lost and waiting to die. Feed me. I haven't eaten since lunch."
    I couldn't respond. It reached out and gently inserted its wormy digits into me. I could feel everything leaving, and I'll admit it: I went away. Everything wilted like smoke.
    This morning, I woke up on my damnable couch. Here I am again. How can I grasp onto anything like dismissal? I won't even waste time pretending I was dreaming again. There is no difference between this world and the other. It's all the same, and besides, I've a hangover from the very bowels of Hades.
    I can't make sense of it. I can't understand any one feeling that comes to me. It has all fallen apart, and please tell me; why are my eyes breathing? Through the window, the trees are skeleton hands that reach for the sky. A vain hope. I know what we'll both need by dusk. A trip to the bar.


May need further corroborating material on events that are accounted within. The being documented is reminiscent of codename: Sliverwood. It may still be in the general area of Clarion County. Agents to dispatch northbound, toward Allegheny National Forest. More to follow. Please destroy after reading.

-Agent T. Went
CIA district HQ (Dusk Division)
Quantico, District of Columbia

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Here is what must be known:
The ailment described in the following account is sometimes known as its slang alternative: "Rotscalp" because of its violent, festering attack on a person's skin, notorious for starting on one's scalp.

Ennie Osiris Jr. woke up one day in April, knowing that he was going to contract a disease but he couldn't know what or where it was going to come from. He, nauseous from anxiousness, rushed out of bed to start an extreme variant on his daily routines. This was the "healthy version" of breakfast, the "healthy version" of  brushing his teeth. This was the "healthy version" of forgetting to look in the mirror and the "healthy version" of putting socks on too quickly to notice discoloration. Ennie would have agreed with you if you had told him he was stupid for ignoring the obvious. I would disagree with the both of you. Fucking suck my dick you fat fucking whore, word up. I just trifled on a nigga I just trifled on a homogenous nigga. It was natural for him to react the way that he did because all week he had been haunted by the recurring theme of general unwellness.

All in one daily outing, he revisted each place he'd gone throughout the past few days. First of these was the prototypical grocery chain where he usually stocked up on whatever drinks happened to be less than a dollar and whatever deli meats happened to be more than a dollar fifty. This was where acquired orange juice. At the checkout line, he noticed again a slight crust in the hems of the cashier's apron. For months of going to this store, he'd debated in his head whether or not to think foul of this middle-aged, over-wrinkled, sad, blonde woman. The obvious bodily residue on her outfit was the final push he needed to affirm that this lady was scum. He was sure that proximity alone would tarnish his concurrent well-being. That nigga dipped, and ran back to his car.

Apparently agitation wasn't enough. Healthy as he was, or could still be, he hightailed his narrow ass to his doctor. Ennie had a doctor. He had that luxury. That's why he's uptight. Still having neglected the usual precursory symptoms under the confines of his crusty ass cumstained socks, he had no idea that the doctor, only willing to help him as far as a routine check up, would not see the particulars of his pending disease. We're all gonna die.

His doctor didn't notice anything wrong so basically the main character started thinking things were sort of fine until he found out that his scalp was getting red as all hell and then it started to spread and it hurt really bad and it drove him mad and his life was never the same for a little while and then he died.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


    For weeks, I stumbled around New Tankesta with tired eyes, swerving between pedestrians on the sidewalks. Downtown, people would stare at me as I veered into the walls of skyscrapers and collapsed onto the ground, screaming. To them, I'm sure I was just another of the regulars; the street-dwelling nut jobs and vagabonds who never got a break from the big city.
    I just didn't realize what was happening, or who I was, and I can't tell you how that whole lifestyle came about. I simply found myself homeless one day, with no desire to go running back to my parents, whose estate had by then been mentioned in a top 50 list in Forbes magazine.
    I hadn't become a slobbering amnesiac. I simply wished to roam through grimy urban streets without a plan. I wanted to have a never-ending conference with the sun and the stars and make a home of Karkulan Park, in the city center. My bed was a dilapidated wooden bench that had been vandalized famously with the phrase, "Floozy Rash", which had been etched in loving, angular letters by one of the local kiddy punks.
    One slow, dripping Saturday in July, I had taken shelter under the awning of a pizza shop on the corner of Chop avenue, and the owner (a roiling, sweaty, Italian blimp of a man) came outside to accost me. I was sitting on the sidewalk with my back propped against the glass storefront, chewing on a lollipop stick, when I heard his feet scuff the concrete a few feet to my left.
    "What's-a da matta wit you, eh? I'm trying to runna da pizza parlor and you're-a scaring away all-a da customers! Shoo! Go away, nasty man!", he said.
    I was roused from a daze when he began complaining, but once my eyes brought him into focus, I saw an epiphany of a sight. His shoes: they were old and grimy; black, and his fat feet caused the sides of them to loll over the edge of their soles and touch the ground. He wore a white button-down shirt covered in slimy red splotches of sauce, and there was a rorschach pattern of sweat under his arms and in the middle of his chest and belly.
     His pants: they were unzipped. Between the zipper's golden teeth, I espied yellowed briefs, and right on the tip of where I thought his winkie was, there was a little bit of shredded mozzarella stuck to the cotton. He was a lost, doomed, Italian man, and I, the same (save Italian).
     He grew even more enraged when I failed to respond or move away from his pizzeria, and he took a few steps closer to me and started smacking his palm with the back of his other hairy mitt. During the three seconds it took him to waddle nearer, my mind was twitching with the image it was dissecting.
     The digits of his hand were each garnished with an outcropping of black, pubescent hairs. There was a patch of them on every section of every knuckle, and they were beaded with his gruesome oily sweat. Every step he took was an entertaining treat: as one massive thigh advanced past the other, it would hang behind until just the last minute, and once the strain of the leg pulled it along, it erupted forward and tremored like ambrosia in an earthquake.
    He wore olive green pleated slacks, and at the place where his thighs must have been rubbing together for an unknown number of horrendous, nightmarish days, the fabric had become so worn that it was eaten away. The resultant hole was about the size of a tea saucer, and the meat of his legs had been in contact with each other, coercing the dermis into a puffy, chapped expanse of salami.
    My eyes widened; their ducts vomited screaming tears.
    I was lost in that moment for an eternity. When the warp of time returned to something normal and he began beating my ribs with the stick of his push broom, I felt as though my soul was too old to exist.
    But that was the beginning of the thoughts.
    After the episode in front of the shop, I must have walked fifty miles through the streets, lunging at parents pushing their babes in carriages and sneering at them as I spat in their bald, innocent faces.
    I couldn't stop thinking about the girth. The bulk. The slop and the sweat and the slime. The shriveled and the voluptuous parts of the Italian that gleamed in spite of the smog filtered sky. Every nuance of his image paraded through my brain, and for the next seventy-two hours, I was a hoarse beast in the streets of a grand metropolis.
    I wondered how an organism like him could even have remotely similar cells to mine. I became obsessed with wanting to know what was inside of that stomach of his; did it contain the usual mortal, meaty fuschia of human insides?
     A week later, I came back to a semblance of cognition for long enough to realize that I was in a dim room whose walls were covered with corrugated metal shelves bearing row upon row of cleaning supplies. There were brooms and mops and buckets; a maintenance closet. At the far end, next to the door where, out of the wall, jutted an old-fashioned porcelain sink, there was a pile of potato sacks, only...
    When I stepped toward the door to leave, I found that this pile was the slimy man, in the flesh, laying dead on cold cement. There was a bloody sheet covering part of his body, so I peeled it off of him and tossed it sideward, only to find that he had been split open from groin to solar plexus, his entrails strung out all over him like a morbid Christmas garland. His lips were contorted like melted plastic, and covered with dry maroon.
    His pants were ripped open at the crotch, and everything in that general area was covered in a white powder. Upon further inspection, I found a box cutter resting between his thighs, and boy... oh, boy... those thighs had been sliced open vertically, with maximum precision, and they were stuffed. Impregnated with scouring powder, as if whoever had mutilated this man was disgusted by what he saw inside and had to seal up the wound; obscure the pure hell within.
    And my hands were covered in crusty blood. My shirt was brown and rigid with it.
    It was then that I knew I was done for. I had ripped this poor pizzaman to shreds, and at the revelation, my knees became weak and buckled under me. I fell, and my face became flush with the floor and the soles of his feet, which had been excavated with some jagged metal thing until the bones within were revealed.
    I slid my hand between his legs and grabbed the box cutter. Finally, I had gotten my answer. He was very much normal. Quite human. Quite deceased, at the moment. I reflected upon the thought as I held the blade within inches of my face and stared at its razor edge.
    I had to do it. Find out if I had guts like his. Every experiment worth its salt in the history of Science had used a control, and what was a more adequate specimen of normality than myself: I, at the center of the very world I knew, whom the day began and ended with? So, I plunged the vicious little steel triangle peeking out of the plastic handle into my belly and yanked it up in a fluid motion.
    My skin parted with itself so easily, like a fine, milky silk, but I was astonished to find that there was no pain. Then, the door was kicked open, and a slick-looking man who looked like a stock broker stood over me. He was frowning, but not very surprised.
    "Ah, god. Why'd ya have to do this, Christoff? You're just like the other three", he said.
    I was frozen in confusion, but I couldn't feel my steamy intestines spitting out of the rip in my abdomen. Everything seemed strange, but not entirely random, about the man. I asked him how he knew my name, and why was he just standing there and not calling the police?
    "Call the police?! Ah, hell. You are really a piece of work. Maybe this is my fault for skipping your last re-calibration. No, no, son. We keep all malfunctions in-house. We sure wouldn't want the media catching wind of this shit."
    I asked him what he meant by malfunction as I stroked the very edge of the opening in myself, wondering why it felt so perfectly sheared; like an arid eyelid.
    "Eh, well, ya forego a little bit of maintanence here, a lube job there, and the next thing you know, you're stripping gears and gutting the local Italians. It's not like this hasn't happened before. Look... you even did a number on yourself. Oh, man. Oh, god. The Karakistas are going to have my head. I better phone in an evac."
    The debonaire gentleman produced a phone and began tapping in a number, and I looked down at myself, at the hole in my body, and saw that there was no blood. No guts. No humanity squelching out of me. I felt a panic coming on and propped myself up on my elbows to find a horror churning in my gut.
    There were only gears inside. Cogs! Springs! I was a human timex, laying next to the late, great canoli king and a suspicious shark-eyed business man who really wasn't one at all. I started to stammer. I told the man that this couldn't be right. That I was just a spoiled white kid who shirked a life of luxury in favor of slumming it in the streets of the Big Pineapple.
    He chuckled with his palm to the phone's receiver. "No, my boy. Your "parents" are the presidents of the company that had you manufactured. You were never meant to leave their house. They're gonna have my ass now, 'cause I told 'em that you would finally be the perfect son they'd been waiting for."
    The world began to spin. I couldn't accept what he was saying. He returned back to his conversation, turning his back on me, and started to tap his foot impatiently.
    "Yeah, we're at Rizzo's on the corner of Chop. Come on in when you get here", I heard him say.
    People were coming, and I realized that I didn't want to be around when they got there. Seeing my last opportunity for escape, I grasped a nearby shelf and hauled myself up onto my legs, the gears inside me whirring and grinding a little louder with the exertion. The man turned around while sweeping a hand across his slicked-back hair, and I charged him, knocking him into a stack of milk crates.
    The greater area of the store was a mess. Blood was splattered all over the preparation table amongst a miasma of olives, pepperoni, pepperoncini, mushrooms, green peppers, and anchovies. For a moment, I wished that I wasn't on the run so that I could nab some money from the register and call in an order from Papa Jim's. I could have gone for a slice, as long as it wasn't from Rizzo's.
    I dashed for the front door, feeling my freedom come closer every second, but a black despair seeped into my spine when five men with automatic rifles closed in on the storefront and filed through the front door to surround me. They had their muzzles trained on my head, and the dapper man from the broom closet limped up to me from behind and clamped a leather-gloved hand tightly onto my shoulder.
    "Time to meet the parents", he said, and a sack was drawn over my head.
    I was thrown into a van and we drove for hours. No one spoke a word, and when we began to drive over what sounded like gravel and stopped, the driver snuffing out the engine with a brisk turn of the key, the side door was drawn open, and I heard my "folks" cooing and laughing to each other.
    "Oh, dear", Mom sighed, "Looks like it's happened again, Martin."
    "Well, it could have been worse", Dad said with a gruff chuckle.
    I was escorted down a driveway and through a door, and the sack was taken off of my head. I was home, but it didn't seem possible. I had always known home to be a mere bus ride from the suburbs to downtown New Tankesta. I asked Mom if it was all true. Dad was beaming at me.
    "I'm sorry to say, dear, but it is", she said, "And it's a real shame that you gave us the slip. We might have come up with an update that allowed you to process a real urban environment. As it is, though, your CPU was simply not up to snuff, and you had all the promise in the world.
    "You see, you had a logical conundrum, so to speak, and it caused you to explore your inquiries, even at the cost of murder, which we have not yet written into your ethics program", Dad added.
    "And now, we're going to have to put you in the back with the others and start a new one of you from scratch", said Mom.
    I tried to wrestle myself free from two handlers who had been standing at my sides, holding me tightly in place, but it was to no avail. I told them that I didn't want to be shut away from the world. That I wanted another chance. That I would be good: I promised.
    "We're terribly sorry, son", said Dad, and then to the guards, "Take him away, and give him a coloring book to play with while he's in there. The others have ripped out their processors by now, so he'll practically be on his own."
    No, I screamed. No, no, no. I implored them not to discard me to "the back", whatever that meant. But in spite of my efforts, I was dragged onward. As I was taken, I twisted to look back at the two of them, my "Mom and Dad". They were standing next to the dapper stock broker man, hand in hand, smiling and waving goodbye.
    The guards shoved me into the room, where I plowed sidelong into a nondescript brick wall. The floor was vomit-green carpet, but other than this, there was nothing in the way of decorations or furniture. In various places around the room, clones of me lay on their sides or stomachs, motionless.
    One of my captors, who had remained at the door, gave me a smug look. I stared at his face and noticed that he had a hair lip. It made me jittery. I wanted to know why this deviation was, and I began to walk toward him.
    "No fuckin' way", he said, "You're not getting me like you got Ted last year." He tossed a coloring book and a handful of crayons at me and shut the door, which sealed itself with hydraulic locks. I was inside with my dead selves, and it was horribly quiet.
    It's probably been something like two years since then, and as time went by, a couple more of myselves were thrown in with me, but they ended themselves pretty quickly once I told them how. I instructed them on jerking on a silicon node attached to the side of their metal spine until it dislodged and watched, standing over them, as they collapsed to the carpet, the light leaving their eyes and their limbs whipping themselves into curious last poses.
    I'm unsure why I haven't put myself out of my misery. Something just compels me to stay here and wait. I'm hoping that someday, one of the guards will slip up while shoving another one in and I'll successfully make a dash for the hallway and the front door, until I'm on that gravel road and headed back to the big city.
    I just know I'll get another shot out there. I'm drooling now. I can't wait so see all of those insides, outside.
                                                                                                                                                               [Author's Note: This story shares a mythos with another story on this very blog, written by our very own Boulshed. You might remember "Zombies on the Night Run" from 2010.If so, then you'll find it a treat to know that Rizzo's pizzeria was taken over by his younger cousin from Preekionstiey, LE after the portly Italian's unfortunate demise at the hands of Christoff and remodeled. The protagonist of Zombies eventually comes to work for the man and, as you'll remember, fails to deliver the greatest pizza of all time due to a troublesome bunch of zombos. It's silly how secret connections like that work into stories, isn't it. Enjoy the world of Terror Keyboard!

                                                                                                                                                                        By the way, to any Italian people reading: A lot of my friends are Italian. We have fun here. No harm meant.]

Friday, October 5, 2012


My Moon Avoids Me
My Ending Arrives in an Eagle's Talon

It was 8 a.m. and I'd gotten a phonecall. I didn't ignore it this time.
I answered, "hello, hi, hi.. hi" because I wouldn't know how loud my voice was, so early.
Waiting for the response, I looked beyond my side table and checked the calender.
I knew it was a Thursday, I knew it was the 25th- a steady constant.
"Yes, hello. So here's the bad news..."
"'re rotting inside."
I know.
That's how we're built.
"'re being hunted."
Seems inevitable.
Honorable, even.
" are alone in the world."
That's not true.
That's not worth a phonecall.

I'm only reminded.
Hindsight and beyond.
Regret of the years, regret of the modest vessel.

It was still 8 a.m.
I'm still waiting, anticipating a horrible introduction.
"'re not very pretty."
I thought I was.

A Floorboard Pamphlet

       It was three days ago: the beginning of a frosty, blustering February. Trees long-dead from the previous Fall whizzed by like skeletal onlookers and it was all I could do to keep myself from jerking the wheel violently to the right and ramming into one. I was traveling across the country to see my mother. It had been a while since I had come home. Our relationship had dwindled years before.

       The trip was to be a jaunt of twelve hundred miles, one-way, and I was all alone. Yes, left in my solitude to soak up the grim, unsettling panorama of the Road, I rolled onward. Every hundred miles or so, I would become so uncomfortable with the dim hum of the engine that I would brave one of the local radio stations.

       They were never a comfort.

       Before I had left on the trip, I made sure to clean my car out, like I always do. I even took pains to vacuum under the mats on the floorboard. I pulled the car up to the neighborhood dumpster and shoved a couple of quarters into a pay-a-vac. Yanking the hose from its housing rack, I raked the chipped, faded plastic mouth of it all across my upholstery and it sucked away every grain of sand and smidgen of litter.

       On my way out of the college town I had called home for nearly half a year, I stopped at a quaint family-owned gas station and picked up a hand-made air freshener while browsing a rack for candy bars. Even six-hundred miles into the trip, I could smell the distinct odor of honeysuckle and thyme. A weird combination, I know, but you just wouldn't believe how invigorating it was. One of the last few pleasures I knew before...

       Well... before I can tell you much more about what happened, I need to convey the absolute sterility of my vehicle. Its interior was so completely, positively devoid of anything that you wouldn't have seen a single mote of dust wedged between the loops of fiber in my carpet seats with a microscope. It's not like what I found in the right-front floorboard just slipped out from under the passenger seat because I slammed my breaks too hard.

       But, sure enough, just after crossing the border from South Carolina into Georgia, I noticed a small white rectangle, right there in the corner of my eye, laying on the floorboard. I immediately sensed how unnatural it was, and felt compelled to pull over at the next exit, even though I had filled up my car twenty miles earlier.

       Given my luck, I hadn't noticed that the exit I had pulled off onto was a service route, and hadn't a gas station or anything remotely resembling a civilized building in either direction as far as the eye could see. After driving five miles down a one-lane gravel road, I found a turnaround point carved into the forest that jutted off to the right a bit, and stopped.

        I couldn't bring myself to look at that simple, horrific object, just laying there with me in my car. The aborted engine was ticking through the dashboard, but even that sound was muffled and oddly distant. There was no avoiding this secret passenger.

        When it could no longer be avoided that I would not be able to continue back down the highway until I had confronted this ordeal, I bent over and reluctantly scraped the thing up into my hand. I slapped it down onto my steering wheel, producing an extremely brief and whimsical honk from the horn which caused my skeleton to nearly wriggle itself out of my skin and go dancing through the forest for the rest of eternity.

        I brought myself to examine the object, only to discover that it was a pamphlet. The foldable kind you find in run-down community colleges on racks in the hallways, where they beckon to you with messages about what to do if you're having suicide thoughts. This one was devoid of color or pictures, however. All there was to behold on its blank, matte surface was a single word in verdana font:



       The word hit me like a sack of bricks to the gut, and all of the breath left in my lungs evacuated. I became mildly hysterical, shivering while my teeth chattered and my eyes darted back and forth from hellish word to rear-view mirror. I was almost giddy. In fact, I even started to laugh in a sad, stunted way.

       I tried to pull myself together a little. To rationalize the whole thing. It was just a word: "skin". For all I knew, it could have been a simple dermatologist recruiting pamphlet, somehow misplaced and conveyed to a sticky spot on the underbelly of my glove box, only to peel off months later and fall to the floor. Heaven knew I'd had friends from school in the car who'd had interest in joining the medical field, and we'd gone to more drive-thru's and pizza parlors than I dared recount. My car must have been coated evenly in a greasy miasma of goos by then.

       Sure, a pamphlet could have gotten stuck to my interior at some point. At least, that's what I let myself believe for long enough to open the thing.

       The sound of it unfolding was crisp. It reminded me of the sound of construction paper being sliced in art class, back when I was in high school, under that levered machete board (or so that's what I called it in my head). Spread open across the beige leather of my steering wheel, it screamed at me with its implications, and all I could do was hold it taut there and gape at it.

Skin Donation (you have been selected!)

 We of the Love Corporation, LLC., have

been in the process of abducting lone  
travelers on America's interstate system
For the past seventy years. We are the 
main cause of missing persons in this
country, and have held the championship 
title for nearly fifty years (save, of course,
for a brief period in the 70's when that
bothersome Zodiac killer stalked the 
lovely denizen of Vallejo, CA., and 
nabbed nearly two-hundred souls. What
a summer!). 
If you have responded correctly to the fear 
catalyst that we've infiltrated into your 
vehicle through the AC system, then you
are sitting in a little patch of sand on a
service route, just off of I-85.
Please stay right where you are, as a rep-
-resentative is approaching your location
as you read this very pamphlet. Thank you
very much for your donation, and have a
wonderful day!

J. G. Waldenfont

        I couldn't breathe. My arms were rods made of lead that kept the pamphlet pinned in front of me, where I could do nothing more than read it in scrutiny, over and over. When I had pulled to a stop at the turnaround point and shut off the car, it felt unbearably hot inside, so I had cracked the windows to allow a bit of fresh air to waft in. As a result, I could hear the ambience of the woods, and had begun to notice the crack of twigs and branches as someone, or something, approached where I was sitting.

       It didn't take long for the baby spruces at the fore of the treeline to bend apart and reveal a grinning man in a slick navy blue suit carrying an anodized steel briefcase. His eyes were cold black marbles. His steps were violent. Jerky and impatient, as if he had two industrial-strength elastic bands attached from his heels to his ass cheeks that yanked his feet up with an ethereal swiftness after each lunge.

       Even so, it might have taken him all of four seconds to close the distance from the woods to the car, and then he had my door open and he was yanking at my seat belt and hauling me out by my legs. He threw me back against the hood, causing the car to rock on its suspension, and ripped my shirt and jeans off with a pair of surgical scissors. I was unable to move during the entire process, except for the fact that I couldn't stop blinking my eyes. I thought that I might be able to blink the whole nightmare out of existence.

        He slammed his briefcase onto the metal near my head and pried it open to produce a large device that reminded me of a lemon zester, only it was powered with a battery that clamped onto the butt-end of its handle, like a power tool would be, and there was a hose at the back of its head which wound around the man's wrist and snaked back and out of sight, over the lip of the case it had been produced from. He pressed a button, and it buzzed to life, its mechanical, ratcheting sound bouncing heroic echoes off of the trees.

       For a moment, he gazed into my eyes, and I don't know why, but I fancied I could see a look of tenderness -- something akin to pity -- but the face soon contorted to an expression of ravenous hunger and he pressed the gyrating, clicking, shining contraption to my naked abdomen, where it began to brutalize my flesh and dig it up into mountains of red, syrupy pulp.

       I went numb shortly after it began, and the rest of the time in which this all happened is a blur to me, except for a few candid moments which appear in my memory as seconds-long short films done in the style of grindhouse avant-garde. The man never said a single sentence, although I feel like I might have vaguely heard him mumble something under his breath urgently, sounding like "give me".

       I also remember his wild breathing, which struggled through his thick neck and sometimes came out sounding like a goose, honking. He would shake his head from side to side in excitement and chomp his teeth together very quickly, like they were a set of those wind-up gag teeth you always see in movies and cartoons but rarely ever manage to find in real life.

      (I am remembering something now: he has just finished shearing all of the precious white skin off of my chest and armpits. He steps back, doubles over with hands on knees, and sneezes. Then, he straightens up, and stands high above me, somehow impeccably devoid of my blood except for an interesting smudge of it running along the left lapel of his coat, which is shaped like a smiling dolphin, and snags a loose flap of skin hanging off of my collar bone. He holds it close to himself at shoulder-level, takes a few steps back, looks around him in every direction like he's checking to make sure no one can see him, and swallows it whole.

       He doesn't even chew it.

       Hours later, as the sun was beginning to collapse beneath the strain of the horizon's advance, I came back to my senses, and was shocked to find that it hadn't all been a dream. There I was, splayed out against my hood (which was now an even coat of reddish-brown, in juxtaposition with my champagne finish) and I could hear owls hooting in the eaves of the pines.

       All of my skin was gone.

        Somehow, I survived for two days under the beating sun, and through the frosty nights. Maybe the low temperatures created a layer of brittle ice-crust that kept me from bleeding to death, but I would have been thankful for that slow, lovely escape from life, as millions of tiny insects enclosed me. Gnats and ants that somehow found their way out of hibernation to feed on my tender, exposed muscle tissue. During the height of noon on those days, when I would thaw out a little bit, my body would begin to itch everywhere, and it was so unbearable that I would scream until my vocal chords ruptured. Then, I would spit up blood until I fell asleep for a spell of half an hour.

       On the cusp of the third sundown, a truck that had happened upon the service route was ambling through and noticed me. He was slow to get out and check me for signs of life, as he had assumed that I was dead, and when he realized that I was breathing and blinking, he wailed like a woman and vomited all over my glistening abdomen.

        I arrived at a hospital in Winder, Georgia an hour later, and there, they administered care to me for over two months. The local authorities questioned me about how it all happened, and I could barely talk to them because, aside from my lack of knowledge about the details of the event, the scar tissue that had developed, shiny, hard, and pink over the expanse of my bodily surfaces kept my movements slow and tense, so that it took me thirty seconds of trying and re-trying to form each word, and even then, the officers didn't understand ninety percent of what I was trying to tell them.

        Shortly after my care was complete, and there was nothing else the doctors or the authorities could do to aid me, I was released. Now, here I am, stuck living with my mother, who doesn't seem to notice one bit that I'm missing all of my skin, and I don't think she would care if she did.

        I was bereaved for a long time, torturing myself with the possibilities of who could have been responsible, and how this happened in a country where things are supposed to be so safe. How the pamphlet made it into my car. Why it was me they chose. Why they needed the skin. But soon, after my scar tissue's hardening forced me into a nearly quadriplegic state, and I could no longer hope to get out and search for answers, my torturous thoughts became distant and blended in with the everyday helpings of porridge and applesauce. 

       All I can say now is that I'm relieved I'm no longer going to college.