Skin

(Edited and conceptualized in part by Megan Chan, written by Sophia Du.)

0

The boy who cried wolf is a liar. Liars are bad little boys, and bad little boys get eaten.

1

The sun-baked hills in the distance were a pleasant golden-brown, and the rustling of trees throughout the town made for an scenic day, but a stifling silence hung in the air. Half-empty drinks lined the street. Underneath the surface of the neighborhood, a neurotic sort of tension boiled, and it seemed as if the murmurs behind each boarded up window floated through the air and hung there in anticipation.

2

Rowan rubbed at his bleary, swollen eyes.

I tried to tell them. It wasn’t my fault they thought I lied, he thought, suppressing a sniffle. The harsh, chemical smell of something that he knew but couldn’t recognize lingered in his nose, as it had for days now. It poked and prodded at his brain, try as he might to forget about it.

He fell asleep underneath an oak tree to dreams of dark shadows and glistening claws.

3

Rowan fled to another town. Months slipped by slowly and peacefully as he pulled his life back together. Every once in a while, the smell that had hung around him before resurged for no apparent reason. It always came up in the oddest of places; while he was talking to townspeople, while he was herding his sheep, but rarely when he was alone. He learned to get used to it.

4

Rowan made a friend. A young girl named Aerwyna would frequently come to watch his sheep with him, and he couldn’t say he was adverse to her hanging around, despite her grating cheerfulness. She began to visit every day at noon to give him food, and he began to enjoy the company.

One day, she didn’t come at noon, and Rowan brushed it off. The next day, she returned smelling of that familiar but unidentifiable scent. She looked sick, even if she didn’t act it. Her skin was tinged with gray and her eyes looked glassy. He didn’t bother to ask.

A week later, all of the windows down the street were boarded up in a mirror image of the first town, and this time Rowan dreamt of homemade soup and blood on pale skin.

5

Rowan traveled to three more towns over the course of seven months. His stays at each town were getting increasingly short, and he had grown to become fretful, to say the least.

He searched desperately for a way to end the disturbing, bloody pattern he had begun, but the only similarity he could find between each incident was the smell that was beginning to make his skin crawl.

It struck him where he’d smelled it before — his grandfather’s funeral, when he’d leaned over the open casket to stare in at the preserved body. It stung his nose and made his eyes watery, and now every time he smelled it he felt an invisible gaze boring into the back of his head.

6

The boy who cried wolf is a liar. Liars are bad little boys, and bad little boys get eaten.

7

Rowan stood as still as he could while the rope was tightened around his neck, trying to stop the shaking of his arms and legs. His head throbbed with frantic thoughts, and he might have had last words had he not been so terrified that his jaw felt wired shut.

His eyes drifted to the executioner, a tall, lanky man with an unremarkable face who was standing across from him.

Rowan hardly dared to glance at the crowd of people below the platform he stood on. He felt like he was on a stage, and all of the people below were there to see a show. His death would be their entertainment for the night.

They all think I deserve to die. Maybe they’re right.

He saw that as he took his last breath and the wood beneath his feet fell away to open air, the executioner smiled at him.

Rowan plummeted four feet down, and though this drop happened in a split second for the observers, it seemed to him like he was floating, weightless, for an eternity. He spent his last moments unable to tear his eyes away from the smiling executioner. He could have sworn that he saw the man blink, yet his eyelids didn’t move, as if there was a second pair of eyes shifting behind the grayish, waxy skin. The executioner continued to smile.

His teeth are so sharp. I’ve never seen another person with teeth like that.

The man’s face which had just moments ago been so plain now seemed so vile. Rowan opened his mouth to cry out in fury, but no scream escaped his throat.