A serpentine tale of horror.
Maurice Gantry knew that something strange was happening to him. His skin was drying and becoming rough to the touch, in places acquiring a slight silvery sheen as though he were forming an armoured carapace over his aged body. At times, large pieces of hardened skin would flake off and, once, a great strip peeled off his arm and lay on the floor before him, as though accusing him of leprosy.
His wife, Beatrice, sometimes muttered about the trail of dried skin that followed him and lay like snowfall upon his shoulders. But she told him that it was normal for people to develop dry skin in old age. “Put some of my lotion on it,” she suggested. Maurice recoiled at the thought of that grease touching him and fell back into a mood of defiant resistance to the world and its ills. He continued his journey into desiccation, getting secret satisfaction from scratching off bits of dried skin here and there.
It was the find of a discarded snake skin in the basement that first made him suspect. As he turned the empty sheath in his hands, marvelling at its silver transparency and delicacy, he could not stop the thought that entered his head. “It’s like that strip that fell off my arm.”
The idea bothered him so much that he did not wonder where the snake had gone. Deep in thought, he left the basement and brooded silently for the rest of the day. Over the next few days, he fell ever deeper into a morose mood without communication to Beatrice. She, in her turn, accepted it as standard behaviour for her cantankerous husband.
There came a morning when Maurice was showering, still thinking of the snake skin, when his fingers felt a flap of skin come loose from his back. He grabbed it and pulled, expecting a small flake to peel away, as had happened before. It pulled more skin with it.
As much as Maurice enjoyed the feeling of pulling off flaking skin, he paused. This was no longer a minor thing like peeling the scab off a scratch. It felt as though a great chunk of skin were coming with the flap he’d found. He was suddenly afraid.
For a few minutes, he stood motionless under the pouring water as he considered his situation. He did not like the thought that he might be removing all the skin off his back but, at the same time, to leave a large flap of it hanging off him was unthinkable. The struggle within him continued as he remained like a statue in the shower.
Then he decided he must continue and he began to pull at the flap. More and more skin came with it until he reached the side of his body and could look down at what he was doing. His hand gripped a frighteningly huge sheet of skin, enough, it seemed, to cover at least half of his back. It was too late to stop, however, and, gritting his teeth and with closed eyes, he tore the skin from his chest and stomach and around to the other side of his back. The edges tore at his neck and above his groin but he kept ripping it away, determined to rid himself of the silvered skin.
There was no pain, just that delicious feeling of peeling coupled with relief at becoming free of his hardened skin. Having ripped off the front and back of his body, he continued by tearing off skin from his face and arms, then down to his legs and finally feet. He threw it all, like a discarded wetsuit, into a corner of the shower and leaned against the cold tiles in exhaustion.
The cascade of water began to cool as the hot water ran out. Maurice reached forward and turned it off. Recovered now, he stepped out of the shower and wiped at the condensed steam on the mirror. The streaked vision that looked back at him knocked him back so that he stumbled, almost falling back into the shower. He grabbed a towel and wiped off the mirror properly.
Maurice Gantry gazed back into his astonished expression. Not the Maurice of today, the Maurice of over seventy hard years and wrinkled, dry skin and sagging flesh. This was the Maurice of forty years ago, firm, pink complexion glowing with health and life, the Maurice that still lived in him in spite of all outward appearances. He knew himself instantly.
A quick inspection of his hands and body assured him that he was indeed renewed, as though miraculously granted the gift of new life. He touched his toes and stretched to confirm that the transformation was not just skin deep. Somehow, he had been given back his youth.
He smiled into the mirror and the sharp fangs in his mouth flashed in reflection at him. This was interesting. He drew back his lips so that he could see more of his teeth. His mouth was dominated by two long fangs at the front, exactly like…
A long, black, forked tongue zipped in and out between his teeth. Maurice looked into the evil, black depths of his eyes, the eyes that had become suddenly catlike in their vertical pupils. This was going to be very interesting, he thought.
The problem of Beatrice passed momentarily through his mind, only to be dismissed as swiftly as a bite from his fangs would kill her. And then, the world!
Maurice put his head back and laughed, a strange, hissing sort of laugh but a laugh indeed.
Word Count: 936
Slough: Merriam-Webster definition (entry 4 of 5) 1b, “to cast off one’s skin.”