Sam saw it, and shouted my name. I looked away from Milo, past him to where Sam was, running forward, pulling an arrow from his pack. He was looking behind me. I turned as one of the many girls on the street screamed.
The thing behind me gaped open. Its skin was stretched to the sides as if an autopsy were being performed on it, all the way from the top of the skull to its toes. The insides glistened devoid of organs, and bones spilled out all about it, seeming to float in the air as if frozen there. The skull was even split apart, hanging in sections, teeth rattling together softly. I only had a second to take this all in, because it was winding its way around me, closing over me. Its bones bit into my skin and its flesh fell steaming hot onto mine, and Sam couldn’t fire his arrow because I was inside it, and to hit it was to hit me.
It ran, and as its legs bent and pushed at the ground, so did mine, but so quickly my muscles sang out an alarm to stop, that they couldn’t go on like this for long. The thing was far stronger than me, and I couldn’t make an action against it. I was trapped in the dark and, though I could breathe, the metallic scent of blood and bile filled my nostrils and burned my lungs.
The more I fought it the more it closed around me: its fingerbones around my hands, its ribs against my chest, pieces of its skull around my head. Its femur and tibia pressed to each side of my calf kept pumping forward, running on. It felt like forever but was probably more like five minutes. My muscles were on fire and my sides were screaming by the time we stopped. It unfurled from around me and I fell forward onto a rug, clawing at myself to get all the bones off of me. They were sucked away, pulling at my skin as they went. Even as I scratched them away with a certain frenzy I took inventory. I no longer had my pistol or my rifle. Even my knife from under my coat was gone.
“Thank you for joining us,” I heard. “I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.”
I looked up. A man reclined on a couch before me. He had a smug way about him in every sinew of his body. He looked at me trough half-lidded eyes.
I reached up to feel my face, which still stung. Tiny imprints of teeth were etched along my jawline.
“I asked your name,” the man said, something dangerous just under the surface of his voice.
I stood, with much effort. My legs shook and I wobbled from side to side, but I stood. I looked behind me and there was the thing, but all put together now. No flaying this time, but it was still a monster, skin flaccid and sagging, the bones inside shifting and poking at the flesh. It wobbled like me but it rattled. It looked like it was swaying in a wind.
I turned back to the man, eager to rest my eyes on something – anything – else. He was directly before me, eye-to-eye. I hadn’t heard him move.
“Tell me your name.” His voice was gravel. His eyes were so blue they glowed.
“Faye,” I said, not even thinking to speak.
“Good,” Amnon said, turning his back to me. I could have attacked him had the thing not still been standing behind me. No one else was in the room with us. I glanced around for anything I could use as a weapon but it was only a regular living room – couch, chairs, coffee table. There were empty beer bottles scattered about, and ashtrays with the remains of cigarettes lying dead in the bottom. The smell of both was overpowering now that I was back to my senses. In fact his question of my name had cleared my head, like he had blown away a fog. But I now could see the filth on the rug, ashes and spilt beer, and I could see the grime on the walls, the way the tacky wallpaper was peeling to reveal rotten wood, the way the citylights worked their shine through the smeared glass.
“Now, Faye,” he continued, sitting down on the filthy couch. “I’m wondering why you are nosing around outside my establishment with Sam.”
I looked at him and noticed that his eyes weren’t blue at all. They were brown. “How did you find out?”
“Not all my followers are vapid. And not all the girls on the street that are afraid of me stay away from me.”
“But you waited?”
“I knew you had spoken to Corrie. I knew you were biding your time waiting for Milo. So I bade my time as well. To make a point.”
“And what point is that?” I could still hear the crackling thing behind me, swaying from side to side and rattling, rattling.
He leaned forward, peered up at me, his eyes furious. “That I will not have my work or my toys taken from me.”