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Skin Job

Posted on 2006.02.27 at 03:27

 "Where do you get your ideas?"  I'm not even published yet, and already I've been asked this question more than a dozen times.   Are they born of life experience?  The trauma of a broken heart?  Did they seep from lesions in the walnut of your cerebral cortex?  I've even been asked,  "What drugs were you taking when you wrote that?  There's no fucking way you were sober when you came up with that!"   See for example, "Cathedral of Bones."

I don't seek out stories; stories stalk me .  Sometimes they approach like a lover,  whispering hot and heavy in my ear, but in most cases they hit me like a shotgun blast.  I step through the door of sleep and "Blam!"  No warning, no evidence of forced entry.  I close my eyes and take it full in the chest.  Ninety percent of the stories I write are echoes of the double-barrel blast that hits me in my dreams.  I've learned to meditate when I don't know where to take a story, to seek out the gunman who will blow the paint for my canvas out of my heart, but it's never quite as powerful as the ambush.  When I write, I'm documenting a crime scene, a vicious act of self-annihilation.   My job is to get the facts right, to uncover the method and motive.  To do that, you can't be squeamish, can't worry about getting blood on your hands.  You have to grab a scalpel and peel back the skin.  Case in point: 

Skinned Head Dream:

I approached the curb of a busy city street, three lanes each way with cars roaring down the pavement. People crowded the sidewalks in front of trendy boutiques and cafes. It reminded me of downtown San Francisco, or perhaps the Chelsea in New York. As I stood at the curb, I heard someone running toward me; felt a sudden dread knowing that something terrible was about to happen. A greyhound bus barreled toward me and I felt two hands slam into the center of my back. The unseen man knocked me flying into the street, and the bus hit me, dragging my back under the front tires. I felt my spine crush beneath the wheels, and my head, which slammed into the road beyond the driver’s side wheel, scraped across the asphalt. I screamed before my lungs burst, and saw the skin of my head rip away in a single red sheet with the scalp still attached to the bloody mess.

I awoke in a hospital, months later. Somehow I had survived. A surgeon shined a flashlight into my eyes to check my pupillary reflexes. Pain seared through my skull. When the green suns faded from my vision, he told me that my physical therapy had gone well. It was time for me to take off the bandages. He led me to a white, wooden chair that stood before a wall on which a large, rectangular mirror had been mounted. I staggered and slumped heavily in the chair, and knew my spine had been broken in the accident. Still, I could walk. I thought it must be a miracle. Then I looked into the mirror, and saw the cocoon of white bandages wrapped around my head. Only a gash for my lips was exposed, and two gaping pits for my eyes. Through those twin holes in the gauze, I saw my eyes, bright and blue without any cloudiness. But the skin around my eyes, the eyelids and soft tissue that caved toward the bridge of my nose, had been peeled off. I saw rings of glossy muscle tissue, bloody and slick with a layer of salve to keep the exposed meat from drying out. My breath came in pants. I reached up and clawed at my bandages. The surgeon tried to grab my hands so he could carefully lift the bandages away, but I knocked his hands aside and frantically unwound the yards of cotton. The layers closest to my skin were cherry stained with gore, and crusted with dried, yellow lymph. Finally, I removed the last of the bandages, and beheld the skinned horror of my head. It looked like one of the anatomical diagrams of Vesalius. At the top of my skull, I saw an ivory stripe where the facial muscles and muscles of my neck attached to the bone. My jaw and cheek muscles lie exposed, and my mouth looked like grinning death with my lips torn away. My ears had been ripped off, and even my neck had been skinned like a dissected corpse. But the exposed muscle was blood red, veins pulsed along ridges of barely concealed bone. I clutched the bandages in my fist. Tears streamed down my cheeks, stinging the raw nerve endings. I wondered how I could weep without a face.

I jumped ahead a week, and found myself walking down the same street where the bus had run me down. People in the cafes stared at me, and looked away the moment I made eye contact. I was dressed in a finely-tailored, black suit, but had left my head unbandaged. The spectators peered over tiny, steaming cups of espresso, and stole glances while munching toasted baguettes, dripping with brie. People driving by braked when they saw me, and gawked in unabashed horror, safe in their vehicles from social repercussions. I saw another Greyhound bus rapidly approaching; felt the push of air in front of it, stirring up a cloud of grit that stung my flayed skull like hungry gnats. My cell phone rang, though I don’t own a cell phone. I pulled it out of my coat and flipped it open. The blue screen showed the number and name of my surgeon. I answered the phone, "Hello?" The bus roared past me, drowning out the doctor’s words. "Hello?" I asked again.

"I have some good news for you," the surgeon said. "We found your face."

"What?" I asked, certain I hadn’t heard correctly.

"Someone found your face in the gutter. They turned it in to the police. If you come to the hospital, I’ll try to sew it back on for you."

Suddenly, I’m in the hospital, and the doctor sits me down in front of the mirror. The surgeon holds a silver tray, and on it I see a deflated sack of skin with a pelt of slick, black hair on the back. He pulls the sack over my head and makes a few adjustments. Tells me to look in the mirror and see what I think. It’s my face alright, but it fits like a rubber Halloween mask. I stare at my blue eyes through the holes in the mask, and realize my face has no eyelids. Bands of muscle ring my eyes beneath the hood of skin, the scarlet tissue banded like the sawed off trunk of a tree. My face is slightly stretched out, pale as the skin of a corpse. "It’s a miracle someone found your face," the doctor tells me. And it didn’t rot, even though there wasn’t any blood supply to the tissue for several hours. We had to sew a seam up the back--it was rolled out like a chamois after someone washes their car--but now that we’ve stitched it up, it should hold up just fine." I tugged down the collar of my shirt and saw the flap of skin where my neck separated from my shoulders. I slid my finger into the gap and worked it around my throat to smooth out a wrinkle. "Thank you," I told the doctor. "You’ve been very kind."

I left the examining room and seated myself in the crowded waiting room. Next to me sat a middle-aged woman with a black wig done in soup-can curls. Her body was shaped like a pear, her skinny legs half-hidden by her belly. She read "The Star,"that trashy tabloid, and stole furtive glances over the cover. I looked at her, catching her eye, and she gasped when she saw that my eyes shone from an inch beneath the mask of my face. I gave her an innocent smile, knowing how grotesque I must appear. "Oh my God!" she gasped. Her flapjack breasts and swollen belly quivered with fear. I knew she saw a living, breathing image from the tabloid on her lap. I reached up and ran my fingers under the seam of my neck, loosening the skin from the sticky muscle underneath. Then I gripped the sides of my head and rotated my face around my skull. The eye holes slid off to the right and I saw red light filter through the inside of my skin. My veins made forked silhouettes, which gave way to the shadowed bands of hair on the back of my head. I kept rotating the hood until the holes lined up with my eyes. I put my hands on the top of my thighs and smiled at her again. "Neat trick, huh?" I asked. Her mouth stretched wide and she screamed and screamed and screamed.


Comments:


wicked witch of the west
herkind31 at 2006-03-01 00:05 (UTC) (Link)
wowza! i have to say i'm glad i don't have your dreams. i don't think i would want to sleep at night.
Justine Musk
moschus at 2006-03-02 18:46 (UTC) (Link)
"I have some good news for you. We found your face."

Classic!

(Btw, would love to send you 50 pages of Bloodangel 2 -- which my agent just approved, and so sends along to Liz today -- and I look forward to CRUCIFER! Great title.)
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