Today, the fleshland is brittle and aggravated. I step out to retrieve the mail, and each step I take shreds the skin below me, causing blood to well up and soak my slippers. I bend to massage the flesh, console it, but even my soft finger strokes provoke bleeding this morning. I grab the mail and race back to the house, leaving a small river in my wake. I chuck my slippers at the door. I consider telling my husband, Joshua, about this development. Instead, I step into the shower and scrub my feet and hands. I put on boots and venture out to see what is vexing the flesh.
Joshua and I moved here six years ago. His programming job went remote and I had notions of becoming a homesteading housewife. We hunted for fixer-upper properties in the rural West, asked realtors if the land would be suitable for chickens and ponds and greenhouses. Joshua fell in love with this house’s sticker price and windowless basement office. Before we bought the house, I mentioned the odd quality of the ground. Joshua told me to think of everything I could do with ten acres, and I smiled wide, and we paid in cash.
Years passed. I tried to plant crops, but the land remained barren save for hair. I called in a local contractor to install a chicken coop, and he refused to dig into the land. Joshua and I communicated only in grunts and raised eyebrows. On the rare occasions when Joshua would initiate sex, I would think of how the skin looked near our house, how the pink and gray folds layered and rumpled, how the soft hair strangled my attempts at a flower garden. Joshua did not mind being pushed away. He had work.
My friends from the coast would call with news of their children, their jobs and volunteering and marital problems. I stopped calling them back. I had nothing to say to them. Joshua did not require caring for or management. On the sunniest days, I would grab a bottle of aloe vera and a picnic basket. I would take lunch far from the house, where the skin became flat and leathery. I would walk until I found a patch of skin that was split and reddened from the sun, and massage it with the aloe vera and eat lunch beside it.
Now, I walk across the entire property. The once-flat terrain is ridden with keloid molehills and cystic bogs. The ground is too slick for my boots to gain traction. I fall and crawl and stumble my way across the calloused land.
Finally, I reach the edge of the property, where the flesh gives way to a dense, brambled forest. I immediately see the problem: a sturdy sapling has rooted itself directly into a softer patch of skin. I try to pull it out but only break it off at the base, leaving the roots intact.
The next day, I return with a knife, to sever the roots from the earth. Every time I think I have found the end, I discover a new curve or twist. I scramble back home and find a shovel in the attic. I toss scoops of still-throbbing jelly flesh over my shoulder. Still, I cannot find the end of the root. Blood wells up below me and weighs down my jean cuffs. I place my left arm against the root and keep shoveling. Soon, my head is flush with the ground. Blood fills my nose and throat.
I think I am down here for a day and a night. I wonder if Joshua has noticed my absence. I imagine collapsing down here, getting swallowed up by the flesh, becoming a little tumor. If I scramble up the hole I have made, I can see that I’m digging closer and closer to the house.
When I am nearly at the foundation of the house, my left arm slips off the root. I lose my footing and drop about ten feet and crunch onto my knees. For a moment, I gulp in my breath and try to swim upwards. I notice that my nose is breathing clear, warm air. I open my eyes.
I am in something resembling a cave. Right above me is the hole I punctured, surrounded by dangling organic stalactites, which drip lukewarm water onto the ground. Soft cries are coming from the center of the cave, and I wade towards them. I find a creature, hunched into the fetal position, nose barely above the water. I bend to it.
It takes me a moment to recognize the creature as a woman. For a long moment, I am only focused on her components: her muscles and tendons, her raw and wide eyeballs. Her body is bare from skin. I place my hand in hers. She grabs my wrist and sits up and stares at me. She opens her unlipped mouth.
A needle is lanced through her tongue. She stays still and squeezes my hand as I ease the needle out of her mouth and toss it against the cave wall. Her cries diminish, and she buckles into my arms.
Around me, the earth rattles. The hole in the ceiling sutures itself shut. I rise up, as if I have some chance of returning to the surface, but the woman tugs me down with tough fingers. I do not fight her. We sink to the base of the cave pool and hold each other. Fleshed and unfleshed hands intertwined.
Surya Hendry is a writer from Everett, WA. She currently reads for GASHER and Uncanny Magazine. You can find her work in The Leland Quarterly and The Foundationalist, and reach her at @suryahendryy on Twitter.
photo by Vatsal Patel (via unsplash)