Heddy Johannesen is a conjuror of Gothic Fiction. She has written for many horror magazines such as Polar Borealis, Handbook of the Dead, The Feminine Macabre, Paranormal Chronicles, Untimely Frost, Samhain Secrets, One Night in Salem, Wax & Wane: A Gathering of Witchy Tales, Witches and Pagans Magazine, and Horror Novel Reviews: One Hellacious Halloween. 

Heddy Johannesen has fourteen years of experience as a freelance writer and a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She successfully graduated from an online Copyediting Certification course through Writer’s Digest Online University. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She attended the virtual Horror Writers Association StokerCon convention in both 2021 and 2022. She’s a writer with a fascination for the paranormal. 


by Heddy Johannesen


The skeleton man gazed at his ghastly form.

Jake’s bone-fingers held the yellowed skin in his hands and studied it for a moment. Gingerly, he stepped into the right leg of skin, then the left leg. The skin clothed his bones and warmed them. He was accustomed to the sensation.

He unlocked his closet with a unique gold key. A sight greeted his eyes that would horrify anyone else.

The fluorescent bathroom light flickered overhead. Jake regarded his appearance. His upper body bore flesh, and now his lower body did as well. He removed a box from the closet, which he opened.

His eyeballs and teeth rested next to each other. Jake pushed the hard round eyeballs into the eye sockets and snapped his teeth into his jaw. He clacked his teeth to make sure they were in place.

He returned the box to the closet and locked it with the key. He shuddered, remembering his nightmare. Demonic rats gnawed on his bones and eyes, and his throat swelled. He had writhed in agony during the nightmare.

He yawned, stretched and peered out the parted curtain to the bathroom window. The moonlight shined over the shadowy street. Relief coursed through him. He was always happy when there was a full moon.

He resisted the urge to scratch his legs. There couldn’t be a single tear, snare or snag in his skin. Somehow, he had managed to survive without a single cut for twenty-five years and he had no plans to end that winning streak.

But that didn’t mean his skin wouldn’t experience wear and tear. Jake sighed as he glanced down at the frayed skin of his lower torso. He would need new skin soon.

Jake opened a leather medicine bag. He removed the moisturizer, toothpaste, toothbrush, cologne, and aftershave. He smoothed the tinted moisturizer over his face, carefully blending evenly and combed gel through his scraggy hair. Jake tucked his black shirt into his creased black trousers. He scowled as he returned the items to the medicine bag and shut it. He had nearly finished the moisturizer. He would need more of that soon, too.

Jake knelt and lit a candle at the altar he had carefully constructed in his bedroom. The candle cast a warm glow. He whispered a prayer to Odin and studied the goat skull on the wall above the altar. He lingered for a moment in contemplative silence.

Then his gaze landed on the statue of Loki, the cunning Norwegian god who had the ability to change his shape and sex. He grimaced and tensed. He closed his eyes. Loki cursed him for existing between the worlds of the living and the dead.

“You are making me exist like this. For how long?” he whispered and rose to his feet. He knew he would not get an answer.

The cold floor sent shivers up his leathery body. He wore his silver rings, skull pewter necklace, and a black top hat adorned with a purple feather and gripped his cane decorated with a silver serpent.

He peered one final time out a window, this time the one in his living room. Under the bright moonlight, colorful leaves trickled down to the cold earth. Carved pumpkins rested on porches and decks; their eerie grins pasted on their orange faces.

Jake’s green cloak swished. He strutted out the door and tucked the unique gold key into his cloak pocket. He headed for the cemetery to work his shift. There were bills to pay.


Robert stood under the streetlamp outside his wife’s café. He read The New Yorker and smiled at Jake in recognition as he approached.

Jake examined Robert for a moment as gray smoke curled in the air from his pipe. Robert’s dark blue suit was tailored, and his short dark hair was clipped close to his head. Jake knew that Robert’s cornflower-blue eyes always scrutinized everything he saw.

Jake regarded Robert with intense hatred. Even if he was in Robert’s presence for five minutes made him want to scream. It was because of the guilt he felt at what he wanted to do. It was easier to project hatred upon his future victim than upon himself.

“Good evening, Jake,” Robert said. He spoke with an affected British accent.

Jake inclined his head in greeting and didn’t say anything. Robert coughed heavily.

“I'm dying here. I’m on so many pills,” Robert complained. He coughed again. Blood appeared on the Kleenex he held to his mouth during the cough. “The doctors think I don't have long to live.”

Jake helped Robert over to a nearby bench. Robert sat down.

“How is Laura these days?” Jake asked him.

“She’s fine,” he said, wheezing. “She’s in the cafe now in case you want to talk to her. She works the late shift.”

“No need to talk to your wife. I hope you feel better soon, Robert,” Jake said, nodding his head in pretended sympathy. Although he continued to hate Robert, he had a use for the man.


Jake walked to the cemetery to begin his shift. The quiet night called to him. Moonlight glowed over the cemetery when Jake arrived to begin his night shift. The hours crawled by.

After Jake did his shift at three in the morning, he returned home and lay in bed to wait out the coming day. He dreamed about demonic rats’ razor-sharp fangs gnawing on his body. Their feet pattered on the ceiling and walls; their shrill eerie squeaks filled the air. They nibbled on his skin and blood spurted everywhere. Their sharp incisors were bloodstained. He awoke and shook all over.

He slept to hide during the day from the sun’s blazing eye. He couldn’t remember when he was mortal.

When the night finally arrived, he rose from the creaking bed and unlocked the closet. As always in his nightly routing, he took his skin from the box. His bones ached from stiffness.

When he put it on, his pale, old, yellowing skin itched. He smoothed his skin over his legs. He shuddered, not knowing how long he could still use the old skin.


Jake watched Robert leave the house. His left hand grasped his cane and he knocked on the front door with his right. He needed to know if Robert had any suspicions about him.

She opened the door and stood there in front of him. Tears stained her face.

“Good evening, Laura.” He handed her a handkerchief. She dried her tears with it. The tight black dress she wore accentuated her curves. Her wavy brown hair hung down her back.

“I know your husband’s illness is difficult,” he said. “You know I am a good friend of Robert’s. You might feel better if you had someone to talk to.”

The expression on her face told him all he needed to know. He laid a hand on her shoulder.

She invited him inside. “Do you want a coffee?”

He shook his head. “No, thank you.”

“You live alone, don’t you?” she asked, and that question annoyed him. “Something is mysterious about you. For example, you wear cloaks and use a fancy walking cane. Other people don’t do those things.”

She suddenly sat next to him on the couch and put her hand on his shoulder, almost like she wanted to comfort him. Jake flinched. Complete isolation left him unaccustomed to human touch. And besides, he was supposed to comfort her, not the other way around.

“I guess I’m just quirky. Listen, has Robert talked about me at all?”

“Just that you two talk on the street at night in front of my café. Why?”

He could tell that Robert had not talked about him to her. That meant Robert had no suspicions.

“I guess I’m not doing much good here.” Jake needed to leave.

Laura looked crushed. “Do you really have to leave? I could offer you some wine.”

“I'm sorry, I have to get going.” Jake headed straight for the front door. He sighed and glanced at her. She wore an angry look on her face.

“Why are you so evasive?” she snapped as she walked Jake to the door.

“Why are you so curious?”

Their gaze held for long moments.

She faced him, her hands planted on her hips. “There’s something about you. I want to know what that something is.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Jake opened the door. “Goodnight, Laura.”

He left. The cold air hit him like a thousand knives as the moon glowed above the city skyline. Costumed children ran down the street, their Halloween bags laden with candy.


Robert’s coffin lay under the ground. Fresh dirt covered the grave.

One thought burned in Jake’s mind. No one must ever know. The energy of the night filled him as he stared out his living room window. A cold smile crossed his face. A strange giddiness overcame him.

Jake continued to stare out the window. Shadows landed on the street. His problems would be solved soon. He quivered at the prospect ahead of him.

It was time to leave. It was time to visit Robert.

He placed his specialty knife inside his cloak. He toyed with the double-sided blade. The Gothic knife was decorated with a silver inlay over a black handle. It gave him a unique medieval feel when he held it in his hands.

Cars lined the quiet streets, and dry leaves skittered over the ground as he walked towards his destination—his destiny. He glanced over his shoulder several times as he strode down the dingy street, preferring to take the longer route to avoid detection. It seemed to take forever.

He approached the grounds. Cemetery workers had finished their shifts long ago. He glanced around to make sure, but he was alone. He took out his key to open the cemetery gate.

The blood moon glowed over the cemetery. Eerie shadows fell on the gnarled trees and headstones and seemed to dance when the branches moved in a small breeze. As he walked, he could hear the dead leaves and twigs crunch beneath his feet. He was cursed to exist in solitude. The headstones, shadows and the morbid stillness of the cemetery comforted him. He felt at home here. 

Jake basked in the quiet darkness and passed the rows of graves, carrying a shovel and a large black plastic garbage bag. Jake arrived at Robert’s grave. He prayed he would not get caught.

A crow landed on a headstone, cawing. Jake nearly dropped the knife in his surprise. Crows did not fly at night. Why was this one defying nature? He shivered with superstition but then recovered. He had a mission to accomplish.

He ignored the crow and it took off into the moonlight. His bones ached with anticipation. Jake shoveled the dirt from Robert’s grave until he heard a heavy thud. There was no concrete vault in this grave, just the casket buried in the ground. He frowned when he realized the cemetery hadn’t used a sealer on the casket. That meant there was a risk that water may have seeped into the casket. On the other hand, it meant that it would be easier to open the casket, and besides, the dirt surrounding it was fairly dry.

He went into the grave and removed the coffin lid with effort. It reminded him of the TV series of Salem’s Lot, when Mike jumped into the grave of a vampire. Again, Jake shuddered in superstition. He didn’t want anything to go awry on this night.

He had forgotten how difficult it was to remove a casket’s lid. He sweated and grunted with the effort, and then suddenly the lid popped off with a cracking noise.

There lay the fresh corpse. He drooled over it. A corpse decomposes within a week. Robert’s corpse was fresh. He tore the clothing apart with his knife to reveal the flesh.

Jake ignored the upper part of Robert’s body. He knew his upper-body skin would still be fresh enough to wear a year from now. But he needed the lower skin immediately.

He needed to remove the entire lower skin of the man in one perfect piece. He couldn’t jerk his hand, not one twitch, not one error. He began at the feet.

He carved the skin of the feet from the corpse. His breathing filled his ears as he cut around the toes, and his other hand grasped the limp flesh underneath. He was careful as he worked his way up to the ankle and then the calves.

He was not concerned with the genitals. There was no need for any considering the way he lived…or, he thought, existed.

He withdrew the large black garbage bag he stored under his cloak and lowered the skin into it. Jake put the clothing back on the corpse and put the coffin lid back into place. He shoveled the dirt back into the grave.

When he exited the cemetery, he heard police sirens as they wailed in the distance. He prayed they were after someone else and kept his head down. Jake continued to hold the plastic garbage bag under his cloak.

No police stopped to question him. People passed him, their eyes questioning as he lugged the load to his apartment door. Once inside, he deposited the bag into the coat closet.


The next evening, Laura knocked on Jake’s door. He saw who it was through the door’s peep hole and was thankful he already had his old skin, eyes, and teeth in place.

He invited her in and she sat down on the couch. “I think it is time we talked,” she said.

A dog barked outside. He started at the sound and peeked out the curtains, too late realizing that she may find his actions to be paranoid.

Laura’s hand covered her heart. She looked worried. “I want to know what it is that is making you so afraid. Afraid of me…hell…afraid of the entire world.”

A heavy silence fell between them. Jake needed to prepare the skin. He had to do it very soon, and here was the victim’s widow in his living room. He should never have let her inside. What was he thinking to do so? “You see monsters when there are no monsters,” he told her. “I am not afraid of you or the world.”

“Oh, but you are. I’ve been thinking. You only started to be friends with my husband after he became sick with a terminal disease. Just out of curiosity, tell me why you would befriend someone who was actively dying?”

Jake let his frustration show. “Oh, for god’s sakes. I met Robert when I met him. I had nothing to do with him getting sick.”

She looked at him. “I didn’t say you did. But now I wonder. Did you have anything to do to cause his illness?”

He became angry. “How dare you? I think you need to leave.”

She ignored that. “I smell something strange in this house, like weird incense. I want to know what it is.”

Suddenly Laura jumped up and ran to his bedroom. She stopped and stared at his altar. “What is all this?”

He went beside her. He said, “I’m Norwegian by birth. This is a shrine devoted to Loki, one of the Norwegian gods. This is America. I have a right to freedom of religion.”

She turned to face him, intently studying his features. Then after a moment, she said softly, “Yes, I suppose you do. But if I remember my mythology, Loki was the god of tricks; of deception. You are hiding something, Jake. It had better not be about my husband.”

He didn’t know what to say, but she did. “I guess it’s time for me to leave.”


After Laura left, Jake removed all of his outer skin. His bones creaked and he wondered if it was possible for them to age.

He placed old newspapers on the floor. He inspected every inch for cuts or tears. It needed to be perfect. Jake knew he needed to let the skin to dry for a couple of hours. He lay down on the couch. He was asleep when sunlight peeked into the room from the living room window curtains.

Hours later, Jake awoke and examined the skin. It was perfect. He brought the skin to his bedroom altar and stepped into each leg carefully and formed the new skin over his entire lower body. He held his breath. The fresh human skin fit! He released his breath with a whoosh.

He glanced at the magical sigil on the wall above his altar. He held his hand over his heart. Death pants were a tradition of his Scandinavian ancestors, Nabrok, the death pants. He closed his eyes, then opened them and admired his new skin. Snakes shed their skins to grow new ones. Why shouldn’t he? The thread of life, death and rebirth had occurred since the dawn of time.

Jake donned his clothing and top hat. He swung the cane as he strode down the street. An autumnal chill lingered in the air. As he paced down the road, he basked in the sensation of his new skin.


Laura approached him that night from the cafe where she worked, a hot coffee in her hand. Uh-oh.

“Hi, Jake. The police questioned me,” Laura told him as they stood under the street lamp.

He suddenly gripped her arm. “What did they ask?”

“Hey! You’re hurting me!” The coffee mug fell from her hand and shattered on the sidewalk.

He gripped her arm even harder. “What did they ask?”

He could see her eyes widen in fear as he let go of her. He narrowed his own eyes. He could see that people who were having a late dinner stared at him from the picture window of the café.

Jake’s mind raced. He panted hard. Why would the police be interested in him? And how did they know that Laura knew him? He gripped his cane so hard his knuckles turned white.

He steered her out of the range of view of the cafe. “Why would they ask you about me!” he shouted and he could feel himself break out in a sweat on his fresh, new skin.

“It has something to do with Robert, so that’s why they talked to me. I told them that you live alone, and you’re a little odd—well, it’s true! I didn’t tell them about your altar! Oh my god, oh my god, why are the police questioning me about you? What are you?”

He glowered at her darkly in the moonlight. “Laura, please. I don’t want to harm you. I can’t have you doing this, okay?”

“Doing what? And why would you harm me? I swear that if you hurt me, I’ll get the police after you big time!”

He wondered how much she had told the police and if they found out what happened to Robert’s grave. He knew that Laura didn’t realize how much she threatened everything he had guarded so carefully. He struggled to remain calm.

“Everything will be all right,” he told her. “I’m not going to harm you. Go ahead, go back to work. I won’t ever bother you again.”

“That sounds like you’re leaving town.”

“Perhaps I will leave town.”


Jake took a different route home to avoid the police. He headed for the cemetery to check to see if everything looked normal. The autumn leaves blew in the wind, and his cloak swished around his body.

To his alarm, he saw that the police and security guards gathered around Robert’s grave. That’s not possible! he thought. I left it the same as I found it!

“Identify yourself,” the policeman said.

He gulped. “My name is Jake Smith. I work here…the late shift.”

He gave Jake a stern look. “A witness saw you here last night.”

Jake’s mind raced. Who could have seen him? As far as he knew, there was no one in the cemetery when he dug up Robert’s body. He said, “Of course the witness would see me here. I work here! I am here from ten o’clock until three. If anything happened here, it would be outside of those hours.”

The policeman said nothing, but continued to stare. Jake heard himself babbling, “It could have been a prank pulled by crazy kids, it’s Halloween season after all. Any teenager could have disturbed a grave.”

“How did you know a grave was disturbed?” the cop asked.

“I didn’t. But it is logical that would have happened if the police are here. You wouldn’t just come here if a tombstone was toppled, right? Am I being arrested?”

“No, not at this time. But you should know that you are a person of interest.”

“Then I am free to leave.” Jake posed it as a statement, not a question. “I think I’ll take the night off from my job.”

“Yes, you are free to leave. But don’t leave town. If you do, we can always find you if we need to. But I don’t want to go through that trouble, so I’m telling you again: don’t leave town.”


He removed his robe and stood in front of his bedroom altar with a stricken expression. He knew he was caught. It was over.

He also knew he couldn’t be arrested. He could not stay in any borrowed skin for more than twenty-four hours. If he did, his bones would begin to protrude through the skin and tear it. Borrowed skin was not very resistant over the timespan of a day.

The thread of life, death and rebirth had occurred since the dawn of time. Death: the non-existence. He had lived for so very long. He didn’t know when his life had first started. But he would know when it would end.

He faced the statue of the god Loki, placed in its honored position in the center of the altar. He hoped to meet the real Loki soon.