My mom told me that the funeral was to be set a week later in their hometown of Heppner, Oregon, a rural little place that she claimed to be quaint. Unfortunately, most of my family couldn’t afford the airline tickets, and the drive would be much too far, so they simply apologized and sent their condolences. I began to take pity upon my mother—if I didn’t attend the funeral then she would have to go alone. I pictured her in front of a headstone, more inconsolable than she sounded on the phone. I knew I had to go or I would regret it.
Later that day my mom called again. Through sobs, I managed to hear her say that I was to stay a week with her in Heppner, beginning tomorrow, if at all possible. She was currently living in her deceased parents’ home that they left her and my aunt in their will. They didn’t die too long ago, either, about ten years ago—months within each other. I couldn’t let my mother toil away in the home where all her loved ones kept dying, so I made a vow to her that I would see her early the following morning. I could almost sense her smile at the sound of my words, and she said, “do hurry,” dreamily. Then the crying resumed. I assured her that I’d be there before she knew it and that I loved her before hanging up.
I then gathered a bag of clothes and toiletries. I then proceeded to call the nearest airline and auspiciously snagged on of the last available spaces for the 5 a.m. departure. The next morning I was awake long before I should have been on an average day. I grabbed my lone bag and drove to the airport. As you’d assume, it was hectic there, even at 4 in the morning. I went through the basic procedures like the security check, and then I reluctantly left my personal belongings with utter strangers who I had no reason to trust. Paranoid, I know, but I’m usually at least a tad skeptical of everyone other than close friends and family members.
At last I was on the plane. I found a vacant seat with a window—not that I’d need it; I used every minute of that two hour flight to try and catch up on sleep. The flight wasn’t as bad as I’d envisioned it to be—there were no delays, and I was in Heppner around 8 a.m., just as I had planned. I got a rental car and phoned my mother for directions. She was still barely audible through the tears. I thought that I had better do something to uplift her mood, so I decided to pick her up a nice bouquet on the way there. Thankfully, such a store was provided right aside the rental car building. See, that’s the convenience of little towns like Heppner.
I arrived at my grandparents’ old house about twenty minutes later. I got out of the car with the flowers and was immediately appalled. Saying that the house was dilapidated would be an understatement; I would have guessed it to be condemned if I was just driving by. The fading yellow paint was beyond chipping—it was completely missing in some spots. A window or two was boarded up with a horrifying greenish-wood. The grass was overgrown, the fence had fallen over, the roof had few shingles left—I could go on for days, but I just shook my head and started up the staircase to the door, which was missing two out of the three stairs, by the way. I tapped on the door and stood there for a moment, not sure what to do with myself. I checked myself in a nearby window to make sure I appeared decently composed; it had been at least six months since I had last seen my mother.
I peered down at my watch. Five minutes had passed. I was showered with tiny paint chips as I started to rap on the door. I stiffly presented myself in front of the door, feeling as if it would open at any second. I decided that I could retreat to the car to grab my cell phone; maybe she’d answer the door if I called. As I turned to leave, the door rattled open almost violently, like my mother had waited until the last possible moment, like she was watching me.
I was taken aback by my mother’s appearance. I hated thinking this, but it was in worse shape than the house. As she flung her arms around me, I saw sharp, deep wrinkles outlining her face. They were the oddest wrinkles I’d ever seen—in some areas they were stretched tight, close to baring bone, but in other areas her skin drooped, perhaps lower than natural, and the wrinkles hung very loosely. I’d never seen her with seen her with such terrible skin; it was as if she had some sort of botched surgery. And her complexion, far from the sun-kissed beauty I’d seen in fading photographs, was sickly. She was covered in pinkish-translucent flesh that had numerous collapsed veins apparent. It was so heartbreaking to see my mother in this state—she was even missing great sections of hair.
But I acted as though I had taken no recognition of her appearance, handed her the flowers, and said how much I had missed her. She invited me inside and gestured for me to take a seat on the couch while she prepared some tea. The living room was cave-like—the dark drapes prevented any hopeful ray of light coming in. The floor was covered in stains of all shades, and, not only that, but the dirt on top of it formed a layer of…Earth, almost. The old-fashioned furniture was adorned with plastic covers, all except the couch I sat on, whose plastic cover laid sloppily in the floor. It was as though they weren’t in use at all—which was anomalous to me. I don’t mean to sound rude or disrespectful at all, but my mother simply did not live like this. She always kept the house pristine. If she had been living here for six months, why was the house in such a bad condition?
Setting all that aside, I suddenly felt the presence of something horrendous—a terrible smell, a combination of rotting and…burning. I was just…confounded. None of this made sense. I went to look for the source of the smell, flipping the couch cushions, looking under the coffee table, then I—
“Tea is ready, Evan!” My mother called from the kitchen.
Slightly bemused, I followed the sound of her voice, having never been in the house before. The awful smell subsided in the kitchen—but only to a degree. My tenuous mother, hands trembling, handed me a dirty teacup, and I had nothing to do but politely accept.
“Thanks for the flowers, they’re gorgeous,” she gushed.
“Oh no problem, I really wanted to get them for you, anyway,” I replied.
In response, she smiled, and drank a sip of her own tea.
“So, mom,” I began, a somewhat nervous, “it’s a little dirty around here; I know you’ve been stressed, so I could clean if you want me to.”
She gave me a blank look. “Now, there’s no need for that.”
She then rose from her seat at the table and went to the sink which faced away from me. Her weak hands clumsily shuffled an assortment of random bottles and cups.
“Uh, are you sure? I really don’t mind at—“
She turned to me. “I insist, there’s just no need!” she said, then dropped one of the bottles she held.
It rolled towards me and the cap fell off. Immediately, a sweet smelling bright-green liquid drenched the floor. I picked up the bottle for her and went to hand to her, catching a glimpse of the label.
“Engine coolant…mom, why’s there anti-freeze in your kitchen?”
She took the still-dripping bottle. “Bought it for the car, of course, but I haven’t gotten around to using it. If you really want help, you could do that for me.”
“Ah, sure…” I said, not realizing before that my mother acted so…eccentric.
“Well, thanks. How is your tea, Evan? I admit, it’s probably not as good this time around, I had to use a different brand of tea bags.”
My eyes darted down at the untouched cup. Little particles—of which I assumed to be dirt—were floating around. I took a sip and felt the gritty substance against my tongue.
“No, mom, it’s actually really good, I like it.” I pretended to take another sip but I actually just spit my first sip back into the cup.
“Hmm, well that’s good.” She responded very vaguely.
“So when exactly is the funeral?” I asked, trying to sound offhanded yet sympathetic.
“Six days from today.” She said a bit shortly.
“Oh, okay, mom.”
My intuition told me that my mother was about to tear up, but, oddly, she didn’t. Maybe she was trying a different method of coping, but all I hoped was that she would be back to a more healthy state as soon as she could be.
“Hey mom, would you mind if I took a shower? I’m sorry, but somehow I forgot to take one last night.”
“Oh, sure, go ahead,” she said, and pointed upwards.
I presumed that she was referring to the staircase, but she could not be any vaguer. I went back into the living room and found a staircase a few feet away from the couch I had just sat on. As I climbed the stairs I felt as though the wood was about to give away because it was just so flexible. At the top of the stairs I was emitted in total darkness. I scanned the narrow hallway for a light switch. As soon as I found one, a dim light bulb close by flickered.
The walls around me were covered wholly in handprints of blood; I don’t know how, or why, but I could tell. There were prominent scratch marks all around that wore away the paneling, going inches and inches into the wood. These were nothing to me. Nothing at all compared to what I saw across the hallway—because it was the most unnerving thing I had ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. It resembled a human—although its flesh was ripped off obscenely, muscles baring and practically pounding in what seemed to be the worst pain. With the skin that remained, there were lines everywhere, from what looked to be pointed fingernails.
Those marks left inflamed wounds far, far into the muscle, revealing bone at some angles. Its hair appeared to be yanked out, which left purplish scars behind. What was most disturbing were its eyes—it rubbed at its eyes, despite the fact that they had already been hallowed out. A bizarre thought struck me; I thought that the creature must’ve clawed its own eyes out; it must’ve, after seeing its own hideous, gruesomely disfigured body, as if the sight of it brought up unhinging agony.
All of my thoughts seemed to happen at once. My heart felt like it was endeavoring to escape my body, as if it was trying to stop the utterly traumatized feeling I had. But I believe, moments later, my heart realized it simply couldn’t do it—so I then fell to the floor.
A few minutes later, entirely dazed, I stood. There in front of me was a broken mirror, my plain reflection showing—aside from the tiny beads of sweat all over. It was just a mirror. What the hell I had seen, I don’t know. I was perplexed. I spun around and the lights gave a feeble flicker, just barely going out, but the walls no longer bore the scratches or blood. In fact, there were no signs of the walls having any indentations or stains at all.
I shrugged it all off. I had a panic attack—due to stress. Plus I had barely slept. Going back to my original motive, to take a shower, I saw three doors in the hallway. I took a wild guess and grabbed the rusted doorknob of the middle door. I had guessed right, it was the bathroom; it was also ill-maintained. I could tell that it had once been a sterile-looking white room. Despite the fact that there wasn’t a single window, it was eerily bright. The white tiles on the floors and walls were tracked in dried mud. The small mirror over the sink was so grimy that I could so no reflection—and I was partially grateful for this. Bewildered, I moved to the shower, which had no curtain. I quickly undressed and left my clothes in a bundle on top of the tile with the least amount of mud. I adjusted the rusted hot and cold knobs on the shower, attempting to find a nice balance, but no matter what I did, it was always a scalding hot.
While in the shower, I tried to sort out my mother’s unusual behaviors and why she lived in this savage-like house. I accounted it to her stress—surely she was in no condition to clean, and of course a death of a beloved family member would alter someone emotionally. I actually wondered if my aunt’s death had triggered my mother to become senile, but I promptly dismissed that thought. She was just reacting the way anyone would in such a situation.
As I switched off the water, I could have sworn that I had seen someone in the corner of my eye. It was a person, crouched and shaking madly. It caused a stitch in my heart once again, but I looked around in every direction to see mud. I knew I had not let my guard down yet from having that mini panic attack in the hallway.
I jumped at a knock on the door but I eased up when I heard that it was just my mother.
“Evan, I just realized that there weren’t any towels in there!” she called.
I opened the door just wide enough to grab the towel she held out. As she passed it to me I saw that her nails were manicured, long and pointed.
“Thanks, mom!” I called back as the door closed.
I looked down at the towel in my hand. It was a vibrant red; it was really refreshing to see something this clean and bright in the house. As I dried myself off, I saw a small corner of the towel that was white. Probably bleach, I shrugged.
I wrapped my towel around me and picked up my crumpled suit, going back into the hallway. I was yet again caught off guard when I saw my mother. Hadn’t she left when she gave me the towel a few moments ago?
“That’s your room right there,” she pointed to the door that was nearest to the stairs and to the left of the bathroom.
I focused my attention back on her. Her gaze on me did not falter; then she said, “Please don’t go in my room, honey. An old lady such as myself needs a nap every here and then.”
I gave her a faint smile. “Oh stop,” I said, and then hugged her as we each went off to our separate rooms.
I opened the door to my room, which was cleaner than the rest of the house, but quite bland. Thick brown drapes yet again hid all the daylight. I pushed them aside, and, to my dismay, saw an even more basic street below. There was nothing—no cars, no people, no clouds, not even a leaf blowing in the wind! Absolutely nothing.
I sat down on the brown bedspread that smelled of moth balls. At least it didn’t reek of whatever was downstairs. I looked down at the floor and noticed my bag. I was happy that my mother was considerate enough to bring them in for me—how nice of her to do that. I lay down on the bed and yawned. I was actually pretty tired, myself. I closed my eyes. Perhaps I could use a little nap, too. I drifted off further and further, emptying all thoughts from my mind, but one had managed to float back: I left the rental car keys in my suit pocket, which was with me the whole time.
I awoke in the middle of the night. I got up as soon as I caught sight of a faded flash. I squinted, and in the very back corner I saw a wrinkled face with beady eyes, her long fingernails outstretched towards me.
My mother got up and advanced towards me, taking small steps, but each one thudded against the floor and reverberated against the wall. It mimicked a heartbeat. I closed my eyes, shaking in a cold sweat. The heartbeat she simulated was becoming slower and slower, but finally she had reached her destination. She leaned down next me and stared intently into my eyes. Her thick, long claws tore into my cheek, scraping the bone. This was so surreal, my mother couldn’t have done this to me, never….
And so I had thought when I awoke again—or did I awake for the first time? It was not the middle of the night as I had thought. It was a bright day, according to the gap between the curtains. I remembered my vision from last night.
How could that ever be possible? I thought to myself, laughing the mere idea of it off. I was just paranoid because of the panic attack I had the day before. No need to worry. I let go of the dream and got dressed. I stumbled down the rickety staircase and down into the living room. The atmosphere of the living room somehow seemed so much more depressing than the previous day—the smell of burning—and some sort of rotting I couldn’t discern—was even more present. It was so strong that I barely breathe; the tainted air was strangling me. I was literally suffocating.
The room was getting progressively darker and I began to fall as my mother tapped me.
“Evan, dinner is done.”
“I don’t want whatever the fuck you’re making, lady.” I was stunned that I just said this.
My mother looked at me as if I hadn’t said anything that would possibly affront her.
“Are you all right? You were sleeping for a very long time, dear. I didn’t want to bug you.” Her face twisted into a concerned frown.
“Oh my gosh,” I instantly felt remorseful, “I’m so sorry, mom. You’re right; I have been a bit off. I don’t really know, though, I was tired yesterday, but not that tired.”
“It’s okay, Evan. I bet you just had a long, tiresome flight,” she said. “So,” she continued, “I’ve been kind of tired myself, so I just made light salad, I hope you don’t mind.”
I shook my head. No, I guess I didn’t mind. I sat down at the table and she presented me with a full plate and a glass. I hadn’t eaten breakfast since breakfast the day before—but I wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t bring myself to eat even half of the salad. I felt very distant with my surroundings, even more distant than I was when all the light seemed to evaporate into the air—just moments ago.
My vision became distorted; it was all just a crude blur. I was being tormented. The ugly, disheveled room was vanishing rapidly. All that was left was my unstable thoughts and the feeling of hands on me, which sent an abnormal sensation across me, steaming and frigid all at once. It was like my body couldn’t process it, it had again failed me, leaving me immersed once again into obscurity.
Some odd hours later, I came back into a groggy consciousness. I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes; every time I did, they just left me with fewer time on my hands and more questions than answers. My brain told me, not yet, just a few more moments, and then you should open your eyes. I felt so betrayed by my own body, so why should I value its opinion anymore? So I opened my eyes.
It was still very dark but could I was in a very small room. I reached out to utilize my other senses; maybe it would finally shed me some light. I felt something—or, many things—hanging. In some areas, it was soft and smooth, but other areas—they were rough, course, and had jagged edges. No matter what the texture, it was freezing. Whatever this was, it was so familiar, I know what it was; it was just that my hazy brain couldn’t form a connection.
I continued feeling this material, hoping to eventually figure out what it was. It was hanging everywhere; I couldn’t move my hand an inch without grazing it. I reached further up to feel two even slits. Mystified, I continued to navigate my hand over the material. Then I touched something dangling from it. There were five pieces, each a different size, the one in the middle being the longest. It was thin and the smoothest of all the material and seemed to have tiny little hairs...hairs…
In my hand I grasped another. The only difference was that this hand was deboned. No muscle, no flesh. No bones. No. All around me was skin, touching me, lying next to me, hanging above me. I was enclosed in a room of skin, probably lying in here for hours… I trembled and shook, although I didn’t notice. The room became lighter—maybe because I was finally thrown back into my malicious reality. I was surrounded by skinned people, all cut brutally, the folds sagging motionlessly—but only for a moment.
They detached themselves from the hook as I began howl, heart thumping unbearably. The holes where their mouths once had been were hanging in a gap of horror, their eyebrows raised in alarm. A wave of heat went over me; I was breathing so heavily, shaking so aggressively. Then the skinned people grabbed me. It was surreal. They weren’t strong; in actuality, they were delicate and frail. It didn’t feel like I was being touched—I could sense them, but their layer of skin was so thin that I hardly felt them at all. The skinned people opened the door of what I know knew was a closet. I shook uncontrollably and shrieked hysterically. I was so uncertain of what was real and what was not at this point.
I saw my mother in the distance, giving a flashy smirk as the skin peeled off her. She even began to tear portions of it off herself, all while maintaining her gleaming grin. I thought that the skins were carrying me away, but now they simply lay on the floor next to me, immobilized. They were now powerless, just as I was. I couldn’t get up. I tried repeatedly to launch myself in the air and flee, but I couldn’t. I was being held by some relentless force. The last layer she pulled off was her that of her face. She continued to smirk at me, now with her widened eyes that ridiculed my existence in but all one stare. Her flesh was deeply looked immeasurably irritated; I could practically see it sizzle.
This was not my mother. This—thing—had lured my mother, just as it has lured me, and stolen her. This repugnant creature was never meant to live. I was struck by the urge to strike it, to set it aflame and let it burn forever—but it seemed to already be doing that—and coping perfectly fine.
“This skin,” it spoke dreadfully in the voice of my mother, “is unfitting. I need new pieces.”
It grabbed one of the folds on the floor beside me and adorned it. “Too worn,” it groaned. Then it swooped down, inches from me, and grazed my face with the long nails had slashed me and they terrible texture of the maroon muscles. The skin didn’t cling to it, but it looked more to be a terrible Halloween costume, where the eyes showed too much; only, this time, instead of revealing the innocent eyes of a child, enormous singed-looking eyes bored through me, leaving me with nothing but the feeling of sinking. My heart was in ice and I wanted nothing more but for this to stop.
It latched onto my skin and took me into the hallway. The creature threw me down the stairs while keeping a firm grip on my skin. I couldn’t even scream as I felt myself unravel. I burned and ached everywhere as I lay at the bottom of the staircase near the couch. The creature took my skin and threw it over itself; it was sadistically zipping my skin up like a jacket. I saw myself leap down the stairs.
I was grabbed by my own mirror image; at the touch of its grip I was set ablaze—although I saw no fire. The creature wearing my skin lifted up the couch and threw me under next to four other bodies.
Well, to say in the least, I never think my complexion will be as good as it used to be.