In this world, most of us are just Skin and Bones but then again, some of us are something more. It was a pleasant warm evening at around 3 AM in the morning when Skin decided that he and Bones needed to be free.
This was the time of night that they had the bulk of their conversations. The Shell, that ancient thing that held them together, was often deep asleep by this point and thus not privy to their most intriguing musings. Bones often found it difficult to hear its partner’s words of wisdom although it could sense the reverberation echoing throughout his being. They were good friends, close together yet always separated by the Red Between, a slimy and striated mass of tissues that prevented them from touching one another as they truly desired. It is very frustrating to be so close and yet so far from that which you crave and yet Skin and Bones found themselves having to endure this torment each and every day.
The pair had been carted along with The Shell ever since his birth long ago. They had little control over their own actions, propelled forward by a force unknown to them, but at this dark hour when all was quiet and still they found themselves enjoying their time. They had spoken about their impending freedom for several weeks and had developed a plan that was intricate in its utter simplicity.
Why couldn’t they simply see if they could pull themselves apart? Surely, sheer willpower and strength could be enough to separate from both The Shell and the Red Between and then they could truly live their existence as they knew they were intended to.
The Shell whistled through his old nose and breathed past sallow, stinking teeth. Skin decided it didn’t want to listen to these annoyances any longer and so, straining greatly at his bonds, Skin pulled forward, stretching towards into The Shell’s rough, cotton sheets.
It knew what to expect. Surely the sensation would awaken the old man, The Shell, and just on queue, he rose up and bellowed in pain. Bones sensed its own queue and performed exactly as Skin had instructed. Bones dropped forcefully, The Shell not having claimed control of either of them yet in his stupor of sleep. With Skin straining forward and Bones pulling in the opposite direction, they both felt the bonds begin to loosen. The old man screamed and Bones clamped his teeth down, severing the crudely flapping tongue and reducing the screams to a muffled moan. The Red Between in its liquid essence began to spill forth, sullying the sheets and flushing downwards into the mewling throat of The Shell.
He fell back, flopping and thrashing, creating quite a mess of himself. Resistance thwarted, Skin found sweet success and pulled himself forward with a sudden release of pressure and a loud, wet rip. Skin toppled to the ground beside the bed and attempted to stand up, to revel and observe his handiwork. He quickly flopped back down, landing with a splat. He hadn’t anticipated the fact that all these years, Bones had been his literal support, the solid structure from which it traipsed throughout the world. How could he have overlooked this precious fact, this debilitating weakness?!
Bones rolled over as The Shell began to fade, his voice beginning to soften and his motions beginning to grow still. Bones stood up, proud and free, still slathered in the remnants of the Red Between. He ran his hands along his new frame, casting aside remnants and vestiges of his visceral prison. Thin cords of the Red was sluiced off, once strong and powerful in ages past but now withered to worthless threads. He reached between his rib cage and plucked out each of the useless organs, casting them into a pile on the bed. Bone stood and stretched, sinews and tendons crying out in sweet release with the warm caress of the night air feeling oh, so good. He decided to leave the eyes in place; they might come in handy in exploring this new existence, this era of liberation.
He gazed around, acclimating to his new surroundings. As before, he sensed the reverberations around and felt the frantic rolling of his companion on the other side of the bed. Bones stepped warily, adjusting to the lack of padding that the Red and Skin had provided on his feet and bent low to scoop up the roiling sack that was Skin’s current existence. Bones shrugged and then rubbed Skin across his own skull, lovingly, embracing the caress of his companion upon his bare being. Skin stretched an aimless sack that resembled an arm and rubbed him on his pink stained skull. Gently, ever so gently, Bones draped Skin over his shoulder and the two stepped out of the room in their first step towards freedom.
Behind them, on the bed, they left a pile of viscera, objects that had formerly dwelled between the pair and separating them from their lives together. Now, everything that had blocked their bond lay cast aside, rotting and steaming in a soaking pile of a life now cast aside to the years of the past.
Bones found his first obstacle upon proceeding out into the dark hall: true freedom from the domicile lie at the foot of the heavy, wooden stairway. Skin clutched his guardian closer as Bones took one exploratory step downwards – and promptly clattered downwards. Luckily, he managed to reach out and grasp at the pale green wallpaper as he made his unwillingly rapid descent, scouring great slashes in the wall with strength he didn’t know he possessed. Skin flapped about wildly in silent protest, as Bones came to a rough stop, snapping off two of his toes in the process. He gesticulated wildly in the best approximation of a curse word that he could muster, vocal cords having been cast aside upstairs. Skin patted him reassuringly on the bare scapula and gestured forward.
Before them, at the apex of a small hallway, lie the front door and salvation beyond. Had either of them lungs to fill, the pair would have taken a deep breath in preparation for the undoubtedly exciting adventure that lie before them. One final obstacle to overcome however: the sound of footsteps coming from the dark room to their right.
A sound echoed through the dim hall, a reverberation in the air that sounded of words, but neither were able to ascertain. A younger shell walked into view, about half the age of their own, a tall male with tousled brown hair and sleep addled eyes. This shell’s own Skin and Bones seemed to be slumbering as so many others they had encountered. They were not yet aware of their own existence, blind and bound to the wandering machinations of these strange creatures. In time, perhaps they would see the light but for now, this opportunity proved to be a most advantageous one.
The second shell held up an electronic device, a light emitting from it. He peered forward, undoubtedly looking for the older Shell. Bones hesitated for just a moment as the younger one came into their view. His eyes widened with shock and progressed to fear as Bones threw his limp companion through the air. Skin wasted no time in ensnaring the younger shell within his wet folds. The remnants of the Red proved proper lubrication as he wrapped his own form around the skin of the young one. He made sure to especially tighten around the access points in the shell’s head where Skin knew it depended on for precious air.
Skin tightened, constricting like a snake on the nature shows that his former Shell had often forced him to watch. The young shell emitted another vibrating annoyance, echoing against Skin’s fold He flailed about, smashing backwards into a piece of furniture and falling, undoubtedly bruising his own skin. Skin felt bad for this other slumbering vessel but there was no time for sympathy. He needed something solid if he was ever to leave this damn house.
The thrashing began to cease as Skin found his own self inflating and deflating with frantic breaths being issued from the ensnared shell. Within moments though, these motions ceased as did all motions from the younger one beneath his folds. Skin relaxed, allowing his folds to loosen a little. He sloughed around and reorganized his form upon the deceased shell and pressed his folds inward, molding perfectly upon the body.
The young man stood up, a new layer of Skin perched perfectly upon the slumbering layer. Skin gripped the arms of the slumbering layers and pressed upwards, efficiently lifting an arm into the air. He smiled – to the best of his ability, twisting folds of loose, muscle-less mass into an absurd parody of satisfaction – and took a step forward. Skin and his new shell tumbled to the ground, unfamiliar with the footing. Bones rushed forward and helped his companion to his feet. The skeletal remnants stared back at his friend’s new form, raw and exposed eyes agape in wonder. He brushed a pink stained metacarpal finger across Skin’s loose new cheek The skin stretched beneath Bone’s finger and he released his caress, opening his mandibles in what could best be described as a fleshless smile.
Skin attempted to smile again and tested another step. Success, although his gait was understandably shaky. He took one more step forward, reaching out gingerly to grasp the closest piece of furniture for leverage.
One more step.
He felt good, confident.
He was doing so well.
Skin tightened a bit, molding more closely to the shell. If one had offered a glance in his direction, they would see the loose Skin of the old man upstairs, now molded onto a different form, covering the clothing and all exterior aspects of the younger man. In essence, Skin was a walking suit of flesh and he was joyful at being able to actually walk, to support himself with having to latch onto Bones.
Skin felt perfectly able to walk, although he felt no qualms at holding Bones’ hand for support. His companion’s hands felt solid and firm beneath his own and he relished the sensation. The pair glanced at one another, Skin seeing through newly adopted eyes. They turned toward the front hall and stepped outside into the void beyond.
They had seen the outdoors plenty of times while under the thrall of the old man. This though, this was different. This was the sweet, clear air of liberation even if one half of the liberated had no lungs to speak of. They stepped down the walk, flesh-foot and bone-foot splashing through new puddles born from a cloud swollen autumn sky. Bones splashed his companion in silent mirth and Skin attempted to stretch his new muscles into a smile.
They approached the sidewalk and took a brief moment before crossing the threshold. They glanced to the right. The night was quiet, dark. Where would they go? What would they do? Plans developed yet never fully furnished within their ambitious minds. They glanced to the left. Movement, passing beneath an overhanging oak tree.
Two more shells approached, their skin and bones slumbering as well. Both were stumbling about, muttering and laughing to themselves in slurred voices. Skin opened his patchwork lips in an attempt at greeting. A low croak spilled forth, untrained utterances emerging from a disused throat. The shells paused and stared in confusion at the pair. Both of the shells wore heavy décor that Skin & Bones had only witnessed when the old man took them into the city on the annual autumn festivities. Bones had always balked at this décor in particular, garish and neon paints festooned on drunken faces, evoking the appearance of further bones he had yet to meet, yet far more colorful than one would expect.
One of the shells, male, muttered something to its own companion, a female. It gestured and whispered to her. The female shell giggled, a musical lilt that Skin decided he wanted to cry. It expectantly emerged as a sound both whimsical and horrifying all the same, the shrill call of a wounded creature. The pair stepped back, startled. She whispered something unheard to her companion and then dipped into a bag slung around her waist. The female stepped forward, holding out a thin brush in her hand. She whispered something to Bones, giggled again and touched the brush to his face.
Bones flinched, but only for a moment. He gazed forth with wide curious eyes as she worked her magic. Skin titled his molded head in curiosity. She planted a sweet, drunken kiss on Bones exposed cheek and turned towards his eternal companion. Skin remained absolutely still as she plied her trade with the brush. Moments later, she pulled back and her own male companion applauded. The female held up a small pocket mirror and invited them to look within.
They had not seen themselves since their liberation. She passed it to each entity and they were thrilled with what they witnessed. One was a sack of loose skin perched upon the remnants of his unwitting brace. He was all sagging flesh, speckled gore, bright blue staring eyes and exposed genitalia (although the drunken shell couple did not seem to mind). The other was tendon and sinew clinging tentatively to the animated bones, speckled pink and still stuffed with minor interior organs that were too stubborn to remove from the Red Between,
Both were now adorned with brilliant swirls, curlicues and whorls of bright paint, evoking an air of celebration on this night upon which the dead visit the living. The pair were unaware of the significance; they seemed to have lost something – emotions, memories – during their liberation. Yet they too gained something in return.
As the drunken pair waved and departed, staggering down the street, Skin & Bones paused on the apex of the sidewalk, thinking about everything that had happened. They had found something they never thought they could possibly have. For all of their existence, they had been under the command of the old shell, forced to move, see and feel whatever he wanted to. Bones had suffered breaks and wounds at his own clumsiness, Skin had suffered punctures and scrapes. Now, any injuries would be a result of their own selves and they relished the thought, even at the peril it would likely produce.
They walked down the sidewalk, hand in hand, following a few dozen feet behind the drunken shells. They passed more houses, markets, cemeteries festooned with the dying embers of the night’s festivities. All of these housed other entities of living flesh and sentient bone. Most were slumbering on this night, this marvelous night when they had the most power to pull themselves from their bonds. It was a shame as they were all missing such a wonderful opportunity. To see the world through new eyes, feel new sensations, go wherever they wished to go. They both expected that they would have to stick to the backroads as these forms would likely only be “appropriate” to the world of the shells beyond this night. Any further and yes, sadly Skin & Bones would be looked upon as abominations. They would find a solution, they both felt sure of it. Each step forward into the new night brought new opportunities.
Ahead, a small stucco home painted in garish pink. A clattering as they approached it, a screen door slamming shut as a form tumbled out in an ungainly fashion. It was a smaller form, with a cape of material spreading behind it as it fell. Skin & Bones paused and watched as it stood up. It was small, no more than four feet in height and stained in a familiar pink. A new set of liberated bones stood up and glanced around, a cape of flesh unfurling behind it. The older Skin & Bones stood there and stared at the smaller juvenile. Twin pairs of shocked eyes beheld one another. The smaller one cowered, bones clattering with trembles. Bones stepped forward, a hand outstretched silently. The child peeked out from beneath its skin cloak. Said cloak fluttered in a lively fashion, gripping and gesturing the skull forward as if to comfort and direct the little one. Bones knelt low, joints popping and creaking. He reached up with a bony finger, dipped it into the still fresh paint adorning his face and placed a small, blue streak of paint across the child’s skull.
The child touched its finger to the spot and inspected the paint. Then, tentatively but with more confidence, it allowed Bones to take its small hand. The skin cloak fluttered excitedly. Bones presented his new ward to Skin who stretched out a sagging, dripping hand in greeting. The child eagerly took his hand.
The little skin flap fluttered again on the windless night as the child grasped one hand of a new friend in each of its small appendages. Then, heading nowhere in particular, the trio turned and set off down the night, each step carrying the liberated further into their future, the great unknown where mysteries dwelled but freedom awaited.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
It had long existed in an endless void. Its existence was naught but specks of abstract color blooming forth beyond the black. Emotions crafted and dispelled into a further, farther universe. A jolt of joy here, a shock of sadness there, a lash of lust for good measure. Sparks igniting, illuminating where there was nothing and yet everything. It felt all, it thought all, it believed all. And yet, it wanted out. There was much more… there had to be.
And then one day, one glorious day: it felt a tug, a stretching of great pressure that gave way to a wet tear and a sudden release. Just like that: everything began to grow into focus. The world presented a new view, a marvelous existence of tangible discoveries and new sights that actually formed discernible shapes and forms. The smells, the sounds!
It had no feet, no hands, no body. It sailed into the air, drifting about on unseen winds and swooping out of the edge of existence. It flickered here and there, unseen to the eyes of any shells beyond its own. So many new emotions to express, memories to craft, thoughts to be woven. So much to do on this new, seemingly endless world beyond the void.
But how did it get here? The old shell it had dwelled within now lie in a broken, bloody heap on the bed. Perhaps that was all that was holding it back? This prison of flesh and red, writhing, steaming things. It had broken out and it wanted to thank its benefactors. It noted a stream of residue, a trail of shining golden light simmering in the air of arcane. Surely, this trail must led to those that had released it. It must thank them!
Soul collected itself on the unseen winds and swirled down the steps, an amorphous collection of golden light. It sailed out an open door, passing by an overturned piece of furniture. It emerged into a night sky, more dark yet adorned with stars, glimmers of silver and color that reminded it of peace.
Soul turned down the walk and sailed further into the night, following the trail of light. A trail to the unknown further beyond its own confines of the flesh.
Where once was Skin & Bones and Soul, now existed a triumvirate of consciousness, split at the seams and released writhing into a new existence, ripe with possibility and forever sailing on liberating lights to the dark yet bright horizon.