SKIN SUIT: a horror story in six parts.
Shelley departed and I returned to mail sorting, finding concentration difficult. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I noticed the ice storm in progress. Long, jagged icicles hung from the power lines like paper cutouts. I considered heeding Shelley’s advice, but the ice was already an inch thick and the storm showed no signs of slowing. Still, I tried to walk to C.F.’s flat, but fell a half-dozen times in the post office parking lot before making a hasty retreat. Ice turned to heavy snow, and by 3:00 p.m. nearly six inches were on the ground.
It wasn’t the first time I’d bunked in the post office and I figured that it likely wouldn’t be the last. As darkness fell, I grabbed a pillow and sleeping bag I kept stashed in the closet and switched on a transistor radio. An announcer on KB15 was highlighting news of the Eisenhower Doctrine, but the details were lost to heavy static. I snagged a half-empty bottle of Bordeaux and drunk deep. I grabbed the receiver of the phone and was in mid-dial when the power failed. From the window I spied several downed cables, toppled, I suppose, by the weight of the snow and ice. I attempted the phone call again but there was no dial tone. A few minutes later I dropped to the floor, slid into the sleeping bag, and finished the wine. Sleep quickly arrived.
I awoke before dawn, stiff neck pain interrupting my sleep. The room was cold. I walked to the windows that overlooked Jacobs Street, aware of a municipal snow plow that crawled along clearing the blocked roadway. So much for Shelley’s forboding warning. The electric and phone were still out. I quickly laced up my shoes and grabbed my jacket.
I walked past the office safe and closed its door, nearly slipping on dry patches of dirt atop an otherwise polished linoleum floor. The short walk to the car was still treacherous and I fell a half dozen times before sliding into the front seat. The cold steering wheel upon my fingertips jarred me further awake.
The drive to C.F.’s flat was slow but doable. I entered the darkened dwelling and quietly closed the door before undressing and sliding into bed next to my sleeping lover.
The morning sun, an unwelcome intruder, awoke me from my sleep. I began to draw soft invisible lines upon C.F.’s back with my right index finger. C.F. breathed lightly. I pressed my fingers along C.F.s neck and ran them slowly down his spine.
Almost immediately I realized that something wasn’t right. I felt the outline of a laceration where I knew there should be none.
“Did you injure yourself?” I whispered.
I felt a sticky moistness as my fingers descended toward C.F.’s lumbar spine, and I realized suddenly that the gash spanned the full length of his back. I backed away and stepped out of the bed in search of the light switch, but the power was still out. C.F. turned ever so slowly. His face appeared twisted and stretched out. I stumbled further away from the bed and tripped over a bulky object in the middle of the floor. A naked body. Cold, wet. So wet. I realized that its skin had been completely removed as if it was a jumpsuit. But there was no doubting the shape and size.
There was no time to ponder the how or why of it. The corpse of Charlie Attenborough staggered out of the bed toward me, its severed limbs somehow reformed and nestled snugly within the skin, the skin suit, of my beloved C.F. I screamed, stumbling backward toward the kitchen. The horror lumbered toward me slowly, mouth agape. The grotesquerie continued to stagger toward me, right hand extended and index finger pointing accusingly. I felt around the kitchen counter top, my hands coming to rest upon a cutting knife.
Terror and fear dissolved into composure and self-assurance.
I awoke hours later and was seated in the back seat of a police cruiser, hands cuffed and eyes shut tight. I exhaled deeply and opened my eyes at the sound of a familiar voice.
“I’m sorry it’s ending this way for you,” Shelley said.
“How did you get in here? Never mind, I know how you got in here. Can anyone else see you?”
“Not really. Death isn’t the end, you know. It’s just a stage in a longer journey.”
“Why did you choose to haunt me?”
“I tried to help you.”
“You did a terrific job. I’ve lost mind, haven’t I?”
“I don’t think you’ve lost your mind.”
“Maybe I never had one to lose. What’s to become of me?”
“I’m a spirit, not a fortune teller. I’m going to miss visiting with you at the post office.”
“Why did Attenborough kill C.F.? Why didn’t he simply kill me while I slept?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t have all the answers.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
I waited for Shelley to reply, but quickly realized that she was no longer there.
In every story it seems there are two sides, sometimes more. And even though Hamptonshire has a reputation as being haunted, if not cursed, no one believed my tale. The prosecution, as well as the defense, connected the dots in the easiest way possible: After killing and dismembering Charlie Attenborough, I suffered a total mental collapse. Distraught with guilt, I collected Charlie’s body parts and attempted to reassemble them using the skin of C.F. Hoffmeyer. (Allegedly I felt guilt and shame over my physical relationship with C.F. and, therefore, felt justified in his killing.)
There was no tolerance for talk of ghosts or reanimated corpses in a public courtroom, and my testimonies were largely dismissed and treated as further proof of my compromised mentality. The news clipping about Shelley’s disappearance in February 1926 was regarded as evidence that the entire affair had been fashioned from within my mind, or, as the prosecution stated it: “Yes, people do go missing. No, they do not subsequently appear as ghosts to haunt random postal clerks.”
In the years since my sentencing, I’ve long since learned to accept the hand I’ve been given, having in many ways been my own dealer. Most nights I sleep well enough. Not well, but well enough. And though it’s always just a pillow to which I’m clinging, on some mornings I wake up, fully convinced that C.F. and I are snuggled tight next to each other. The ghosts of the past may fade over time, but seldom do they die.
NEXT: An all-new serial begins.