Under Your Skin

You’re walking downtown after work one day when you see him. He staggers down the street towards you, his arms and legs twitching with each step. Most of the people walking past do their best to aggressively ignore him. His head bobs at each of them as they pass, his mouth stretched wide into a painful grin.

He stands out, even from two blocks away, like he has been cut out of the world and then hastily pasted back in. His entire body is frayed at the edges. He wears all black, and it hurts your eyes to look at it. It’s the darkness of a cellar with a burnt-out light bulb: you feel something watching you from its depths.

Every instinct you have screams at you to cross the street and avoid him. Still, you find yourself drawn to the ragged figure. The closer he gets, the more the little details stand out. His fingers are bent at the wrong angles, flopping against the backs of his hands. Small flecks of blood drip from under his sleeves. His feet barely touch the ground, and his knees jerk painfully up against his chest with each step.

You stop at an intersection, waiting for the light to change when he sees you. Staring across the expanse of black top and exhaust, you can’t look away from him. He bobs his head in your direction, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.

The light turns green and he bobbles across the street towards you. You freeze, watching as he jerks and twitches with each movement. He gets closer and you hear the grinding of his bones with each step. The heavy smell of sulfur fills the air, and just under his skin little tendrils writhe in time with his movements.

Breathing a sigh of relief as he passes, you start to think that he somehow missed you. Before you can take a step, a hand full of broken fingers lands heavily on your shoulder.

You turn and look into eyes that roll independently of one another. His mouth opens and closes, each time snapping shut with a loud clack. The grin is still plastered on his face. He can’t grab you with his hands, but still you can’t move.

“We see you,” a small voice whispers from deep within his throat. “We’re always watching.”

He reaches up with his other hand, and pats your cheek. Then, bobbing his head in acknowledgment, he pivots and lurches down the street. Your skin crawls where he touched it. You rush into a nearby department store and scrub at your cheek in the bathroom sink until the skin is raw.

The voice still echoes in your head all the way home. “We see you.” Whenever you close your eyes, you picture the thousands of tendrils moving under his skin. Every time you’re jerked awake at night by a sudden movement in your leg, you listen for the sounds of bones breaking.

You stop eating and barely sleep. Most days you stare at yourself in the mirror for hours, wondering if something else was looking back at you. Your skin still tingles where he touched it with his bent fingers. Every day, standing in the shower, you examine your body for any sign of something just under your skin.

Relief floods your body when your finger finally snaps two weeks later. A small fit of giggles bubbles past your lips as you stare at the broken bone. Staggering to the bathroom, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Your lips are twisted up into a permanent grin, and your body pitches itself forward in fits and starts.

The laugh becomes louder when you see the movement under your skin. You can’t tell if it’s you laughing or something else, but the sound echoes in your head. Your body contorts now, bones cracking with each twitch. Something leads you towards the door and you cry a little even as the laughter grows in your mind.

A small voice echoes up from your throat. “Now you see us, too.”

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

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