Rob Bliss

The September Editor's Pick Writer is Rob Bliss

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by Rob Bliss

Carver couldn’t tolerate living in his skin anymore, so he peeled it off and hung it on a hook in his clothes closet.

Instantly, he felt lighter. A hundred small complaints vanished with the removal of his pelt – itches, hang nails, dry skin, rashes, blisters that needed peeling, wiry hairs that always grew back after being plucked, waxed or burned away, and dirt and oil and grime that caught and collected in folds would no longer be a bother. Cool air brushed over and soothed the exposed muscle of his body; he tingled and shivered with a sensation he had never felt before.

It was a sunny and hot July day, so he went out to join his fellow man, walking down the sidewalk, leaving blood outlines of his footprints behind. No goosebumps rose over the surface of his body, and the sunlight and heat didn’t make him sweat. Lifting his lidless eyes to the sky, he burned his retinas to see black dots explode and hold on faces passing, which stared back at the skinless man.

Before the black veils faded, Carver preferred to hear the voices without seeing the faces.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” asked a man’s baritone. “There are kids out here—put some skin on!”

An elderly woman’s vocal cords passed close to his ears, not stopping while stating, “You should be ashamed of yourself, young man—in this day and age!”

Other voices passed or kept alongside Carver’s steady pace.

“Oh my God – is that what we look like inside?”

“What is that?  Is that cancer, or is it supposed to be there?”

“Somebody should call the cops.  Some nudity is okay, but that’s just too much. That’s beyond nude.”

“Don’t touch him, Sally. Just move away, walk into the street if you have to. He probably has a disease. And…it’s not nice to stare.”

“He’s a demon. A devil, an angel shorn of feathers; a Christ come to display the minutiae of his humanity, leaving his divinity packed into his overnight bag. He won’t last long.”

The spots faded and Carver saw the glares and stares, the batted eyelashes and flicking tongues, the hand gestures and signs to ward off ill omens or to invite them closer. The crowd he passed quickly became a dizzying collage of masks, so Carver looked at himself. Flexed a hand and watched the muscles in his forearm move. Dust and dirt that perpetually floated on fresh air stuck to his wet tendons and tingled. But he didn’t scratch so as not to tear open a blood-bulging vein or cut a cord of muscle.

He tolerated the tingle as he tolerated the eyes, and soon stopped feeling either irritant once they built up to a form of thickening crust.

Carver smiled as he thought that if one removed a skin, another would grow.  Either it would collect naturally as one moved through life, or the environment and its many species would demand a body wear a skin.

The individual lines of muscle, tendon, vein and nerve soon vanished under a patina of gelatinous flesh that thickened quickly, spreading a dark purple bruise down Carver’s body from head to toe.

He saw himself in the front window of a video camera store.  A camera on a tripod shot the street and projected passers-by onto a flatscreen television. Carver was hideous; not because his skin was gone, but because it was growing back.

A hardware store was beside the camera store. He went in and terrified and sickened the clerk.

“I need a knife.”

A stiff arm pointed him down an aisle, where Carver found every form of knife needed to build or repair a house. He chose a banana knife, slightly curved, with its inward edge sharpened.

Splaying his arms, knife in hand, footprints overlapping in and out of the aisle, Carver showed the clerk his body as an excuse, saying, “I have no money.”

The clerk waved away the potential theft, hoping the man would just follow in the wake of the wave of other customers leaving the store.

Emerging back onto the sunlit sidewalk with knife in hand, Carver elicited another scattering of screams. Now armed, being a greater threat, he had to sprint bloody steps down the sidewalk, weaving through clothed people, racing ahead of and behind passing cars in the street, making his way to a park.

Blood from his feet slipped off chemically-waxed leaves of grass and absorbed into earth, so his path was hard to follow. Lovers picnicked by a small pond, swans swam passed bulrushes, a toy sailboat caught a breeze and pushed far from its child captain on shore.

Carver dove into the opaque green water and washed off dust particles, but the growing purple skin stayed.  He stood in the shallows and scraped the banana blade up his forearm, strips of skin peeling off his body, dropping into the pond’s murk. Yellow and orange koi-rose iridescent scales into view and snapped puckered mouths at the slow rain of skin curls.

More skin fell as Carver maneuvered the knife like a potato peeler across both arms, down and between all fingers, lifted knees and shins to carve away the crust that had grown over his body.

Shivers shot along his nerves and the blood he had released with imperfect slices warmed the exposed muscle cooled by the pond water. Pain felt good unless the knife hacked down too deeply, but then it was a wound easily tolerated and washed clean.

Eyes had gathered on shore, mouths warped by horror and awe circling the water. Carver didn’t want an audience. The knife had freed him of enough flesh to keep his body light, so he walked out of the pond and pushed through the crowd, ignoring voices telling him the many things that were wrong with him. He knew, and didn’t have to be told. The outside world was no place for him, not yet if it ever would be, so he headed home.

Locking the door, putting on the chain, he sat at his kitchen table and stared out the window across the tops of buildings. Voices drew his eyes to the sidewalk in front of his building door.  A few people milled around, talked, pointed at the red footprints smeared across the pavement.  Shoe prints had trampled through the blood, people slipping into other people, some into the road.

Carver cracked open the smaller ventilation window below the big viewing window to let in the sounds of the street.

“He’s a goddamn menace!” a man’s voice rose up with car engines, horns, radios, a church bell.  “People are getting hurt because of him.”

A woman’s voice responded, “Yeah, but what can we do? They’re footprints—we all have them.”

“Mine are dry. He should get out here and clean up his mess, at the very least. Or maybe hack his damn feet off!”

“Oh please, now you’re being ridiculous. You don’t cure a headache with decapitation.”

“Why not?”

“Stop it. You know what I’m saying. I think maybe we should go—we don’t want to become a mob. What are we here for? I don’t live here.”

“I wanna see if he’s coming out. I’ll talk to him.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know. I just want to talk. Can I do that?”

“Talk or decapitate? I’m going. How did I even get here?”

Carver peered down through a crack in the drapes which he had pulled closed during the conversation below.  He saw the woman leave, but the man stayed to dip his shoe toes in blood and smear it in circles. He pulled back from the drape and edged the small window closed until it clicked.

He didn’t see, but the man outside looked up. Considered retrieving the woman to stand guard and commiserate, but she was just about to step onto a bus. The man had yet to ask himself what he was really waiting for, and why wasn’t he, too, getting on the bus. He lived miles away.

Carver clicked on a light. He had blackout curtains because he once worked the night shift and slept in the day. In the bathroom, he used the knife to carve away more of the purple gelatin skin, which had finally seemed to stop growing. The only explanation Carver assumed was that the pond water had cleaned off the dirt, therefore a thick skin was not as needed. He turned the taps on to fill the tub. He would soak and, hopefully, stop all skin growth, be able to do a more precise job of slicing away the new skin.

A voice mumbled from behind a wall. Mistaken as a neighbor at first until Carver left watery blood footprints across the hardwood floor, echolocating the source of the voice.

Opening the closet, he saw his lips splay and stretch to smile at him as the skin dangled from its hook.

“Welcome home, Twin,” the skin said. “Mind getting this hook out of my neck? Drape me over a chair, lay me on your bed—is that the bathtub filling? Can I have a soak after you?”

Carver lifted the rubbery empty skin off the hook and draped it over a chair. He turned the chair to face outward, and stacked books on the table against which the skin’s head was propped.

The mouth sighed and smiled. Through the hole of the mouth could be seen the bloody inside of the back of the neck. Not easy for Carver to look at, but he was quickly becoming accustomed to the sight of strange forms of flesh.

He pulled up a second chair and talked to himself.

“Why don’t you want to wear me? What did I do wrong?” the skin asked, its entire head rippling and sending waves down its body with every word.

“You’re just not comfortable anymore,” Carver said with a touch of sadness.

“You don’t like how I look and feel?”

Carver crossed an ankle over a knee and lightly touched the worn muscles of his sole. Patches of hard, dried blood dotted his tread and were too thick to be peeled or cut off easily. He idly drummed the point of the banana knife against the crusted sole of blood.

“I’ve worn you for too long,” he told his skin. “I want a change. Why can’t you shed?”

“Even a shed skin doesn’t mean the serpent has lost its colours and texture. Is that it? You wanna be a serpent? You can only be one species at a time. Maybe after death, things change, but no one knows for sure.  Is there reincarnation?  Maybe the lucky ones get to choose their next skin.”

“Why do I have to die before I’m given a second chance?”

The skin’s mouth opened an oblong hollow. “Well! That is the mystery of being.”

Carver got no answers from his skin. He let it lie where it was and plucked his portable phone out of its charger. Thumb-dialed a number he hadn’t called in what seemed like an eon, but which was more likely no time at all.

Paced his apartment as it rang, and no footprints were left on the wood. He had lost a lot of moisture.

“I have call display,” she answered. “By now, everyone has it. So I hope you’re not trying to mysteriously call and hang up like you used to.”

“Emma, just listen.” He heard her sigh and breathe, knowing she didn’t want to talk, but she wouldn’t instantly hang up. She was a good person. “Emma … I took my skin off.”

“What? Why? You can’t do that. No one can.”

“I did. It’s draped over a chair right now. I had it hanging on a hook in the closet, but it said it hurt.  I think the hook put a hole in the back of its neck.” Carver put a finger into the skin’s open mouth. The mouth closed, but without teeth, his finger was only massaged. The skin was playful, so Carver slapped its cheek lightly, not in the mood for games. Through the mouth, his fingernail found and pried up a small chevron of torn skin.  “Yep, the hook pierced it. I didn’t mean to hurt it, just to let it hang.”

“Tell her I love her,” the skin whispered.

Carver wrinkled his eyebrow muscles at the skin, and paced into another room.

“Do you think I did the right thing?” he asked. “I’m a little lost right now, so strange actions seem to be the thing to do.”

“You’re on the news, Carver. Turn on the TV.”

“I got rid of my TV.”

“Why? You can’t do that. No one gets rid of a TV.”

“It didn’t offer me anything anymore.”

“Oh my God. That is so like you.”

“I didn’t see any cameras following me when I went for a walk.”

“Why in the hell would you go outside! You have no skin! Stay indoors!”

“You wanna come over?”

She sighed and breathed again. “Carver…really? Did you hear what you just said? And what would happen if I did?”

“No, it won’t, I promise. It was because of the skin.”

“I doubt that. Why did you take off your skin? Just answer me that, and be honest.”

He swallowed and felt breath frozen in his lungs like two bags of ice. Tingling pectoral muscles did nothing to dislodge the sensation.

“It wasn’t comfortable anymore,” he said in a whisper.

“Yeah, well, we all have to wear our skins for our entire lives. You’re no one special.”

“I think that’s why, partially.”

“Carver, I’m not getting into it with you. I have to go.”

“I know. Emma? My skin says hello.”

“Oh my God…I’m not…I’m just not! Goodbye, Carver.”

The phone clicked and Carver drummed it against a thigh as he paced back into the room where the skin sat.

“She says hi,” Carver lied.

“Is she coming over?”

He went to the window, pulled an edge of the drape aside to peer down through the crack. The man hadn’t gotten on the bus; instead, he held a cell phone to his ear. A dozen people had gathered around him, also holding phones to their ears or typed on them sending text messages, or took photos of the apartment building. Carver wondered how the man was able to call and command so obedient a crowd in so short a time.

“What’s out there?” the skin asked.

“A growing mob.”

“Take me out to them. They can still be reasoned with.”

“They’ll tear you to shreds.”

“And that would hurt you?”

He stared into the bloody backdrop eyeholes. “It might.”

“Do you think you’ll be putting me on again sometime?”

Carver peered back through the crack in the drape.  Someone saw him and pointed up.  Phones were angled upward to photograph, but he pulled away and let the drape fall back into place.

He sat and looked at the muscles in his hands as he wiggled his fingers, then leaned his forehead into the cup of his palm and stared at the floor.

“Why won’t they just let me do this?” he asked himself, but not necessarily his skin.

“The pack mentality both protects and preys upon,” the skin said philosophically.

“This is no time for alliteration, I’m being serious.”

“Neither comedy nor tragedy are ever pure. They each contain the other, if they’re done right.”

“Stop it, I’m trying to think.”

He thought, but the muscles of his head weren’t able to force a revelation into his brain. But his forehead and scalp remained tense.

A knock like gunfire hit his door and echoed in the wood and plaster room. Carver’s muscles contracted but the pulse of his heart pushed his chest muscles outward. He shuffled to the door and touched fingertip muscle whorls to it. Bent an ear.


“It’s an enemy. How are we going to do this? We know you saw us. You coming out?”

“Who do you want? Me or the skin?”

“We want you to put your skin on. You know that, goddamnit. We got kids out here. We got a civilization to run. You like order? Ever need order? You can’t run away. You think I don’t want to? Hell, I’d love to, but if I can’t then why should you?”

“I don’t want to be hunted,” Carver almost screamed, forgetting that he was talking to a door. “When people hunt people, we are all made animals.”

“You pick that up from your skin? See what’s happening? Schism leads to philosophy. That don’t sell tickets to the show!”

“I don’t want to go to the show!”

“Well now you’ve become the show, so it’s all back-fired on you, hasn’t it?”

“I want to speak to someone else.”

“Who? There’s no one here like you. You have no peers.”

“There must be someone who wants the same thing. I can’t be alone in this.  Go look.”

“If you mean that woman, she got on the bus—she’s gone.”

“Just go and find someone, anyone. Please.”

Footsteps moved away from the door and sounded down wooden stairs. Carver sat back in his chair and stared at the door. Started to rub his hands together, but remembered he was still holding the knife. He tossed it onto the skin and the knife point deftly jabbed into a nipple and dangled. The skin cooed.

Voices rose outside. At the window, Carver saw a girl push her way through the thickening mob which had spilled into the street and surrounded stopped cars like pebbles circling boulders in a Zen garden. The girl yelled back at the voices which yelled at her, then heaved her thin body against the flesh barring her passage until it gave way and she squeezed her way to the front of the building.

The door was open for her.

Carver sat back down and stared at his apartment door. The chain was off, and he wondered if the skin had unlocked the door and thrown itself back over the chair when he wasn’t looking.

Anything was possible. That was sometimes the problem.

The girl didn’t knock. She slipped in and pushed the door closed with a soft click behind her, then locked it and put the chain on.

Her black hair had been hacked, self-cut, and her arms and legs were the shape of linked bones, and white scars of every length and width wormed their way across her skin.

Her eyes were hollow balls of green glass.

She stripped off her soiled clothing and left it in a pile, stepped away from it and showed her body to Carver.

Two long deep purple scars snaked up both of her forearms and a pale, banana-shaped scar hooked under her jawline from her left ear. Carver gazed at her in awe, then smiled.  She smiled back.  He plucked the knife point out of his skin’s nipple and passed it to her.

She cut off her skin from the head down in one long sheath and handed it to Carver. He pushed his feet down the tight tubes of her legs and wiggled his toes into hers. Her skin had to stretch and the scars broadened and swam away from their ancient constellations as Carver put his larger frame into her. Not a perfect fit, but what skin was?

He helped her get into his skin, the flesh hanging in rubbery sacks across every inch of her thin musculature. Roomy. She didn’t mind. It allowed for room to grow.

They kissed each other’s lips.

“I’m Carver.”

“I’m Cutter.”

They left the apartment and stood on the stoop of the building before the mob.

The man who had proclaimed himself an enemy spoke for the crowd. “Well, you both look like shit, but that’s never been just cause.”  He turned to face the faces. “Okay, people, show’s over.  Let these nice people get back to living.”

The crowd disappeared. Carver and Cutter went back inside and made love in each other’s skins.

Rob Bliss was born in Canada in 1969. 

He has an honors degree in English and Writing from York University, Canada. He has fifty stories published in thirty web-based magazines, plus two anthologies. He is the winner of SNM Magazine’s Author of the Year for 2013. 

His first novel, Cut, was published in 2014 by Necro Publications.