By Mike Leon
Allison opens her eyes to the bright sun shining in through the gaps in the blinds. She sweats under the heavy sheets. The upstairs room is like this every morning during the summer. The sun pours in through the front of the house and the second level becomes like a sauna compared to the downstairs where the thermostat is mounted. She peels back the sheets and steps out of the bed, her right foot making contact with the cool wood floor.
“It’s so gross up here,” Daniel says. He remains in the bed, on the left side, where he always sleeps, as if it makes much difference on the tiny twin mattress. They always end up entangled in some back breaking position together. “We need to move somewhere that doesn’t get hot.”
“Well, if you get a real job,” she sighs as she covers svelte frame with a bathrobe and throws her long hair behind her. The robe is worn and frayed along the bottom.
“I know,” he says, rolling over on the bed to face away from her.
He works in a call center. Everyone they know seems to work in a call center. Banking, or technical support, or generic customer support—if they’re not a teacher or a nurse or an engineer, they work in a call center. Daniel was supposed to be an engineer, but that never happened.
“My parents already said they would help us out if you go back to school,” Allison says, attempting to broach a topic that has been avoided for at least a week.
“We talked about this already,” Daniel says.
“So are you going to go?”
“I feel so itchy.”
“Itchy? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I just feel itchy.”
Allison frowns at him as he climbs out of bed and walks across the room to start the Xbox on the dresser. He’ll lie there for a few hours before he even puts pants on, just like he does any day he doesn’t have to get up for work.
She quietly makes her way down the old stairs from the bedroom. They creak as she goes. She actually feels the bowed wood sinking under her feet as she steps on some of them.
In the kitchen, she begins preparing a cup of coffee. She opens the pantry for a can of Folgers and notices the abundance of Lucky Charms boxes on the top shelf. There are four. She picks up each and shakes it, finding that only one actually contains any cereal. She disposes of the empty ones.
“Hey, babe,” he calls from upstairs. “While you’re down there can you grab me a Mountain Dew?”
She rolls her eyes. Once, she thought it was cute that he ate like he was still a teenager. He had hardly been out of his teens then, and they had money and time and not a care in the world. Now they don’t have money or time, and with each passing day his love handles grow less loveable.
As she waits for the coffee to be finished, she goes out to the yard behind the house. It is not a large yard, but is poorly kept and messy with weeds. The grass is weeks overdue for a mow, and she’ll have to do that herself later if it’s going to be done at all. Next to the rusted propane grill that Daniel never uses, she finds the thing that she came looking for. She takes it into the house, lifting it through the living room and down the hall to the bottom of the steps. There she leaves it as she returns to the coffee maker.
She looks at a foil wrapped Nutri-Grain cereal bar, but decides she is not hungry and puts it back in the box without opening it. She snatches a Mountain Dew can from the refrigerator before pulling out the coffee pot. Black liquid drips onto the hot burner and sizzles as she pours a cup. She puts the pot back before she treks up the stairs with the soda can and her coffee in a cheap Mickey Mouse mug they got at Disney World years ago.
She sets the can down on the chipped black-panel nightstand next to him and sits down on the foot of the bed.
“So, are you going to do anything today?” she says.
“Nothing big,” he says. “Probably play this for a couple hours. Maybe shotgun some Netflix later.”
“The yard really needs somebody to cut it.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“You said that last Saturday. It doesn’t stop growing because you don’t feel like cutting it.”
“I’m too tired. I was up until like five last night.”
“I was trying to beat Battletoads. Seriously, I’m so itchy. Do I have a rash or something? Do I look okay?”
“You don’t have a rash, so no to the first question, but you’re still playing video games in your tighty-whiteys at noon.”
“Could you just lay off me? It’s Saturday.”
“I told my sister we would come over and see the baby.”
“What? You don’t want to do that either?” she sighs.
“I’m just tired of babies. Everybody we know is having babies. All they do is eat and poop and throw up and I just don’t understand.”
“I thought you wanted to have kids?”
“I don’t know. I guess. Just not now—what the fuck?” he growls at the TV angrily. “How did that hit me?”
“Just a second ago! The lag is retarded. I need to call the cable company or something.”
“I meant when do you think you want to have kids?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “Like, after we get married.”
“Yeah? Are we setting a date?”
“Come on, Allie. You know I need to finish school before we can do that.”
“Yeah,” she says, tipping back the mug to finish the last of her coffee. She sets the empty mug down next to his soda can silently and goes to take a shower.
Allison opens the door to the bathroom and walks inside, pushing it behind her. The lopsided old door does not close all the way and remains cracked open just a tiny bit. She pulls the shower curtain closed and turns the knobs to run the water before she sits down on the hamper. She doesn’t want him to hear her crying.
A noise from the bedroom draws her attention, but she disregards it quickly. He’s yelling at the TV again. She wishes he cared about her that much. She thinks he might have once, but not anymore. It has been two weeks since they last made love and if she caressed him now, he would likely chastise her for the interruption.
Again, something sounds from the other room, this time louder than the first. It rings out over the spraying of the shower quite clearly. The mirror quakes in the aftershock. Allison lurches from her seat and rips open the door.
The sight before her in the bedroom is one of terror beyond her wildest nightmares. Standing atop the bed, Daniel wrestles with something the way a person wrestles with a tight jacket as they take it off, but this is not a jacket. It is his own skin. His bare bloody skull turns to face her and she sees into empty sockets and a clicking jaw. Her legs feel weak and she stumbles backwards against the wall. She curls against it until the floor meets her and she remains there, crying out in panic as she watches the wicked horror in front of her reach into its chest flesh like a coat pocket and draw a boney arm from the sleeve of skin and muscle it once wore. Then it moves on to the other with its free skeleton hand, as the skin of his other side hangs limp. When the skeleton pulls its flesh down its ankles, Allison screams.
The skeleton steps out of its skin and leaps down to the floor with her. The bald ankles clatter against the hard wood and a rope of intestines flops out of the chest cavity that leads all the way back to the sloppy sheath discarded on the bed. A whole liver splats against the floor and speckles Allison with red dots. The skeleton holds out a hand to her, as if offering to lift her to her feet. Its jaws chatter relentlessly. It has no tongue with which to speak and no muscles for it to move. It drools blood onto her bathrobe as it pulls her up.
“Get away from me!” she shrieks.
The skeleton chatters more as it reaches out to spread her robe open. It takes hold of her hip with pointed fingers that feel like arrowheads and pinches at the flesh around her waist, stretching it away from her body. It wants her skin.
“No!” she shouts. “No! You can’t!”
The skeleton nods.
“No!” she screams, slapping the horrible thing in its slimy crimson cranium. The skeleton rears away from her, possibly as if surprised, but it has no face and no way to make facial expressions.
It steps back slowly, continuing to beam at her with those black empty sockets, as though it can see her with no eyes. It turns its pointed fingers on itself as it digs into its ribcage to empty out the remainder of its entrails the way someone might scrape leftover food from a dish into the kitchen trash. The lungs, heart, kidneys all land at her knees as she cowers there on the floor.
Then it turns away slowly, toward the dresser where the television sits. It reaches out and wraps its bone fingers around the Xbox and picks it up off the dresser. It rips the cables free from the back of the box and tucks the big black machine squarely under its clavicle. With its other hand, it snatches up a controller and stomps out of the bedroom. It gives her one last look back before it walks down the stairs.
She hears the front door open, and the storm door beyond being pushed wide. Then she hears the slow hiss of the pneumatic piston which draws the outer door gently closed. For a brief moment, there is silence. Then comes the hiss of something left on the bed.
“I- I-” it starts, each time choking off into a gurgle of blood.
Allison crawls over to the side of the bed and places a hand on the nightstand next to her. She is afraid to touch the bed—afraid to touch whatever might be on it. Warily, she rises to inspect the awful thing on top of the soaking sheets.
The sloughed off skin of him is like a broken balloon, or a spent condom, rubbery, deflated and dripping with oozing muck. She can’t explain how, but somehow he continues to make noise. He continues to speak.
“I- I strt skl,” the shed skin rasps. “I guh.”
She takes the ooze covered hand that is closest to her in her own and holds it to her chest.
“It’s better this way,” she whispers. “It’s better this way.”
She untucks the corners of the contour sheets from between the mattress and box spring as the limp rubbery creature continues to gurgle out words that are mostly nonsense to her. Mostly. She finds it too difficult to label them anything else.
She picks up each of the corners and throws them over the pile of gore. She closes her eyes to collect the separate organs that lay on the floor. They squish in her hands in ways she hoped they would not. The intestines she winds onto the bed after leaving the other parts on top of the skin.
“Guh,” the skin says. “Guh.”
“Shush,” Allison says, holding a finger to her mouth to sooth the blob.
When the whole of the solid parts are collected there, she wraps them in the sheets with the flesh sack and hoists it up from the bed. She strains to lift it, as most of the weight of his body remains even without the bones. She sees that it soaked through the bedding and the mattress is wet with a ring of brown stain that makes her cringe. She will leave it for later.
She tugs the red bundle toward the door, smearing a path through the lake of carnage on the flooring. Then she goes down the stairs, the sack slushing against each step as it smacks into them. At the bottom of the steps, she places the entire bag into the hefty brown plastic trash bin.
It continues to speak to her from inside the can. The muffled groaning becomes inexplicably clear as she drags the bin through the kitchen.
“I really need to start working out,” it says.
She checks the bottom of the bin for blood before dragging it across the few feet of carpeted living room on the way to the sliding glass doors that lead out to the yard behind the house. She sees nothing that will be left on the carpet.
“Allison, do you think you would want to get married someday?” the skin says.
Allison pulls the back door open on its sliding frame and then fights to unlatch the cheap screen door on the other side. She prevails after several attempts pushing the door different directions while simultaneously picking at the latch.
She steps out on the patio, and glances out over the length of weeds they call a lawn to the little rotting tool shed where they keep the mower.
“I really should cut that eventually,” she hears the skin say.
She can’t listen to it anymore. She walks to the shed and undoes the padlock with the combination—her birthday. Inside, she retrieves the heavy red gas can. She carries the gas can out to the garbage bin and pops the cap from the long black nozzle. She tilts the can over the lip of the bin and showers the contents with gasoline.
“We should start thinking about having a baby,” the skin says, as Allison lifts up the vinyl grill cover to get the long stemmed butane lighter from the rusted tin cabinet below the burners.
She closes her eyes as she flicks the grill lighter and ignites the vile remnants wrapped up in those sheets.
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You can e-mail Mike Leon at firstname.lastname@example.org