We all know that despite their sometimes frightening appearance, SHADOWS are basically harmless, right?
Perhaps..then again, perhaps NOT....
Our spectral tale ensues:
Shadows loom as living entities once dusk begins its nightly reign…
My head rests uneasily as a flurry of frenzied thoughts are rapid in succession, though strangely unclear in terms of any specific storyline or deep-seeded subliminal message.
Do I dream or do the shadows swirling about the room move freely without benefit of a matching object to create it? My glasses sit easily within reach, but may as well be resting on a far away moonscape, as the lethal mix of apprehensive hesitation and bone-weary grogginess prevents their retrieval.
With a jarring start, I awake (or….do I?) and notice that the shadow, which has the dimensions of a human body roughly my own size, no longer sways nor shifts, but has managed to nudge closer to me somehow, clearly outlined at a different position on a nearby wall. It's precise shape still a mystery to my blurred vision, exhaustion overtakes curiosity (not to mention stark fear) and I drift into an uneasy slumber.
As if lighting had struck within the cramped confines of the very room itself, a bright burst of light streaming across the ceiling reawakens me (?). Instinctively I check for the shadow, figuring it to be drawing ever closer as a cloak sewn of pure cowardice engulfs my weak and weary soul.
Surprisingly, it has instead vanished from the wall entirely, leaving behind only the familiar paintings and posters that have adorned such space for eons.
My heart beat slowing somewhat, I twist and roll to the other side of the king-sized bed, dragging pillow, sheet and blanket in my wake. I close my burning, stinging eyes and pray that sleep will now be uninterrupted for the duration of what remains of the blackened night past the witching hour.
Something gnaws at both my gut and chest; an overwhelming feeling of dread and nervous apprehension that should have abated with the shadow's disappearance. I fight with all that remains of the reasonable portion of my brain to ignore such foolish, childish thoughts, but the increased pounding at my temples will not allow for such a hollow escape.
Finally my eyes flutter open as the revelation begins to take hold. The palms of my hands grow instantly moist and my legs are suddenly rubbery stumps without a shred of usefulness.
The shadow hangs directly over my head, it's spidery fingers gripping the tangles of my thick, overgrown coif. My scalp burns and tingles as if set ablaze. It's grip and strength are inhuman, and I feel it’s steamy hot breath swoosh over my bare neck and between my shoulder blades.
I am lifted from the bed like a bird's feather and am being dragged into the shadow's wide, pitch-black base. A base as wide as the bed is lengthy. A base as dark as the deepest, dankest cave imaginable.
It laughs as it pulls me into its cool, dank maw; a cackling giggle I know I’ve heard. Countless times. I heard such maniacal cackling the night my entire family vanished from the house. The house I still occupied despite the warnings from locals who called the very land it lay upon 'the breeding ground of all things evil'.
As I enter it's dark, pulsating center, my body swept inside like a dust mite in a monsoon, I spot my beautiful wife and sweet, young daughter floating freely in the black mists ahead.
I reach for them, feeling as if my heart will surely implode from unrivaled ecstasy.
After only an instant’s hesitation, they levitate closer and reach out to caress my battered soul.
It isn’t until the very moment we come together…come together as a family once again…that I notice the rather bizarre alterations in their facial features. Their teeth seem…too long somehow…grotesquely so….and …freakishly long….
….spear-like, in fact, with stubby bases and sharpened tips…
Their nude bodies are horribly pasty…and….smell of rot…of…decay.
The scent of copper soon overtakes all others…..
My loved ones grasp me…..hug me to their collective bosoms….such love is indeed unconditional…..they then….taste me.
Soon…a soothing darkness, like a blanket sewn from equal parts relief and retribution, washes over my torn, bloodied carcass. I try to scream then…but manage only to spat a glutinous mass I soon realize is my own shredded viscera….
Falling out of the bed, I rise quickly only to bump my head on the metal frame that holds the box spring intact. Over a stiff cup of coffee and a trio of cigarettes, I ponder the hidden agenda of my ghostly ‘second skin’, which is how I’ve come to think of the phantom shadow now sharing my bedroom. I consider moving to the couch before fervently disallowing such childish cowardice.
Moonlight shoots through the open window and paints a striped outline across my empty bed and the mangled mess of sheets and blankets that remain.
Painstakingly, resembling a man twenty years my senior, I crawl back atop, covering my face with a sweat moistened pillow.
No shadows exist other than what should be as I carefully scan each wall.
My family finds the strangest ways to visit me from the dark embrace of their eternal keeper’s domain.
The decision to sell the house is now a concrete one, I realize. The dreams are frequent; restless; ruthless. Worse still, the fine line between reality and fantasy grows far too narrow for comfort. Almost nonexistent, in fact.
The desolate graveyard which looms only a scant half-mile from the bedroom window serves as a malevolent beacon. A beacon one’s subconscious is far too easily drawn to, sounding a silent alarm in the buried catacombs where guilt lays locked away and buried.
The shadow is not a stranger, oh no.
Far from it. It’s origin is no mystery whatsoever.
The shadow is my own, you see.
I…assisted in their premature demise (I find murder such a crude, distasteful word), just over a year ago, and their constant hauntings will never cease until I depart the grounds, even the very region, that witnessed my greatest sin. Money is the root of all evil, it has been notated countless times. All men are created equal? Perhaps. More over, I’d counter with…all men are created EVIL. Similarly, all men have their price. However dire the consequences; come what may. Not all will succumb. The majority, in fact, will find within themselves the self-control needed to turn away the dark side that lurks within.
As it was, three hundred thousand dollars of guaranteed life insurance became the selling price for my own damned, heartless soul. Needless to say, self-control had never been one of my strong points.
Sleep again overtakes my paranoia and I attempt (as is the nightly ritual) to attempt to produce a happier home movie to slumber by. I awake to see myself lying in the bed, my mouth stretched wide and my eyes wide with terror.
I drift across the dry wall like a red-hot scythe through butter.
Tonight, I will join my family.
Our bodies will share the same ground. Our minds the same hellish purgatory.
I reach for my own soul, and both versions of myself, the physical and the shadow, scream and wail as one.
I see my wife and lovely daughter levitate like ceramic angels come to life within the misty air above…
The reeking, rancid odor that emanates from their decaying flesh assaults my flaring nostrils, but I find my gag reflex is permanent out of order…
They open their mouths to kiss me upon greeting… mouths whose lips drip cherry red drool….mouths flayed apart and flapping like dislodged flower pedals in a wind gust of hurricane proportions…
Their kisses begin as gentle pecks…harmless and tickly….
…that soon enough mutate into something far more sinister…born not from love or lust but from the basest of needs as my life source is slowly, methodically drained….
…a family unit is reborn for eternity……
…and all shadows fade as the morning sun rises…
….revealing nothing more than an empty bed and blank, shapeless walls without neither shape nor substance…..
….as my loved one’s have so efficiently shown me, up close and personal, blood is indeed thicker than water….
…it seems the family that slays together, or in this case, is slain together, stays together.
….for whatever eternal hell awaits our kindred embrace.
Site: Speculative Fiction Centre
Reader Reviews for
"Second SKIN "
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|Reviewed by Cheryl Kaye Tardif
|Great story....nice and creepy....just what I'd expect from you Terry!
Hmm....perhaps the 'King of Creep' would be a fitting title for you.
Check out a short I wrote entitled Separation Anxiety......our minds are very similar, I think...
(does that mean I get to be the 'Queen of Creep'?)
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
|Reviewed by Robert Montesino
|Second SKIN is about as good as it gets Terry! The writing is fluid, descriptive & powerfully frightening! Your 1st Person POV helps give this story the kind of intensity needed to produce the desired effect..."FEAR FACTOR." The best Horror stories come from subliminal fear fueled from imagination, hieghtened & fine tuned with powerful prose...you have done all this & more with this piece! Thanks for an entertaining read!|
|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
|GAD, when you do terror, you take it to deeper and more inTENSE levels...thanks a lot, man. If I have nightmares (and more than likely, I probably will THANKS TO YOU! LOL), I'm blamin' yew!!!! Jays, what a scary write--I agree with Nickolaus, I was thinking reptilian...*cringe*
(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
WELL DONE! You scared the socks off me AGAIN!
|Reviewed by April Smith
|This story awoke in me that primal fear, as a child, that the shadows in my room were alive! You've captured it perfectly! And the ending--I did not expect. ;-) Great job, Terry! Thanks for sharing, April|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|wow! you da man, terry! solid story; very well done! bravo!!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in tx., karen lynn. :D
|Reviewed by Doug Boren
|Heh-Heh-heh... I'm reminded of the time long ago when Stephen King said he was done writing horror, and would instead write fatasy, or main stream fiction. Right! That lasted until the very next book. Terry, try though you might, you'll never completely leave the macabre world... and indeed, you shouldn't. You are far to good at it. Not just the revolting, but also the fear, the terror, the surprise ending... all of this is your trademark. Well done!|
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|Oh - my - God. This is a really twisted story for you man, the idea of this has a reptile vibe to it and the idea of a second skin makes me think about a human who has the ability to shed their skin like a snake. A strong nod to the Tales From The Darkside series with this, reminding me that you will never really leave the horror genre all together because each time you want to leave -- it sucks you back in like a beast. You never really lost your form when it comes to horror, even when you're working on the literary fiction novel. I will remember this story for many years to come.|