Skin SuitPosted 4 months ago under Uncategorised,
by Mark Towse
Mark is the winner of our September 2018 competition.
After a 30-year hiatus, Mark recently gave up a lucrative career in sales to pursue his dream of being a writer. He has only been writing short stories for seven months now, but already his passion and belief has resulted in paid pieces in many prestigious magazines including Books N’ Pieces, Artpost Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Antipodean SF, Page & Spine, Twenty-Two Twenty-Eight, Montreal Writes and two anthologies. One of his stories has also been produced on The No Sleep Podcast and six anthologies set for release this year will include his work.
Mark resides in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children.
I have felt like an oddball for some time, now I know the truth, and it hasn’t helped at all.
Every lunch-time at school instead of kicking a soccer ball around, spitting up walls or lying about how much I knew about the female anatomy, I would stare up at the sky with absolute wonder. I tolerate the other kids and envy how comfortable they are in their own skin. They chase each other around, and they fight and laugh and entertain themselves with banality. It’s not that I feel superior, just different.
My fascination began in the summer of 1986 after watching the Star Trek re-runs—William Shatner as Captain Kirk was my hero and I longed to be a space explorer, “To boldly go,” well, you know the rest. My parents often joked they could be walking around with axes in their head and I wouldn’t have noticed when the show was on. I challenged them on that. Before it started, I greased my hair back with brill cream and wore my orange T-shirt, and from the moment the music started, I was entranced—wondering where the crew and I would be going and who we would meet. I was the extra crew member you didn’t know existed, funnier than Scotty and bolder and even suaver than Kirk. I was Donovan, chief explorer; I never carried a weapon and just relied on my wit and coolness to get out of sticky situations.
I wear the brill cream every day now as I know the sweet floral scent will encourage one of my daytime adventures. It feels comforting to me, the sweet smell of familiarity.
I’m not sure what started it exactly—as far as I can remember, I have always been a dreamer. I feel it coming on, the fade out and then the images, sometimes so vivid they feel like memories rather than thoughts. When I am lost in these new galaxies, treading the surface of new moons and planets, I can smell the air, feel every gust of wind and every rock crumble underneath my feet and I know I am smiling. The pure pleasure of travelling into the unknown sends nervous but excited shivers through me. My heart thumps in my chest with adrenaline so quickly I feel I might burst, and I am on a new plane of happiness—far beyond what I could achieve on planet Earth.
I am usually brought back to reality by my teacher, or one of the kids will discreetly nudge me or throw something at me, and the smell of books, paper and chalk filters through my nostrils like a dose of smelling salts.
My parents worry about me; they sent me to see a therapist that claims to understand the workings of a child’s mind. She sat on an expensive chair and smiled and frowned at me and asked me to talk through some of the experiences. I told her everything, and the words came out quickly as I relived my voyages. She smiled and nodded. The excitement must have been apparent as I often saw my spittle spray ahead as I thundered words out and threw my arms around wildly, graphically trying to describe vast new worlds and galaxies I encountered. I threw myself in the chair at the end of it, exhausted, and she offered me a jelly bean—it was peach flavoured.
The upshot is my parents want me to live in the real world; they want me to be present and to behave like the other children. I want to please them; I do, and often say things that I know will be well received. Sometimes I tell them I love them and I note the impact those three words have—the warmth it creates between them. They are nice people and deserve happiness, but I feel incapable of giving them what they need.
Then came that night.
I was struggling to get to sleep; excited by the recent adventures of Jim and crew and uncomfortable from the dry heat I went to open my window. It was the clearest sky I had ever seen, a spectacular light show of vast proportions that seemed to want to suck me in with unfathomable force; I could feel it pulling at me so strongly it made me dizzy. I slumped into my Captain’s seat; a wooden chair covered in LEDs held on by manky old pieces of bubble-gum. That is when it happened—an unforgettable explosion that jolted my whole body through the window and into a tunnel of light that propelled me upwards into the world’s fastest elevator. I felt as though my stomach was floating in my chest as I saw Earth beneath me get smaller and smaller and then vanish out of sight.
It took me on an incredible journey through stars and galaxies, planets of gas and rock that I had never seen in science books were now almost within touching distance. I started laughing, and it echoed through space as though my voice was traveling light years ahead. When I wiped the tears of laughter away, I saw the ship—a gigantic spherical mass of twisted metal and colour—a floating work of art. It emitted a laser-like tractor beam that cut the black void of space in half and then locked onto me. And then there was just blackness.
My eyes were closed tightly shut, and the feeling of disappointment washed over me. Was this just a dream? Did I fall asleep in the chair? I didn’t want to wake up back in my room, and I kept my eyes shut hoping I could find my way back to the ship, but there was nothing but blackness, and I wanted to cry.
I opened my eyes, and I wasn’t in my room. I stepped off the silver table to find myself surrounded by translucent shapes without any particular form. They moved with ethereal ease and circled me in perfect symmetry, and then one by one passed through my body and came out the other side disguised with my human mould. I nervously scanned the room—it was silver and clinical—but I suddenly felt a warm surge through my body that seemed at odds with the neutrality of the room. I looked at each of the shapes, and they returned the curiosity, and then a low humming noise started to fill the room.
It seemed as though they were communicating with each other, an angelic chorus intertwined with an ever so subtle change in colour. One of the human shapes drifted towards me and stopped a few inches away—it felt like an important moment. Silence fell, and the group closed in. I knew from Kirk not to look away as it might be looked on as a show of disrespect or a sign of weakness. I forced myself to look straight on and pinched my leg as a means to focus, I winced at the initial pain, it wasn’t a dream, and I was sure of it now.
The face began to take human form, but it was one with a too perfect arrangement of symmetric and bland features—it had nothing distinguishing—and the skin was smooth and synthetic. I felt an unexplainable affinity to the form in front of me, more so than I had ever felt for any single human on Earth.
What would Jim do?
“I—I—I come in peace,” I said.
Instinctively I raised my hand in the shape of a Vulcan salute in a Spock like gesture.
The counterfeit human in front of me lifted its hand and duplicated the symbolic gesture—it left it there for a few seconds and then the hand fell back to its side. The shape began to cry; it even produced water from the corner of its newly formed eyes and mopped it up with the left hand as any human might. I thought this strange. How did they know about crying? Were they watching us from all the way up here? Why do I feel so much affinity to them?
My hand then started to lose molecular structure and to swim around in front of me; the skin that used to cover it fell to the ground. Instinctively I went to retrieve it, panicking I shakily tried to wrap the skin back around my hand, but the rest of my skin soon followed and slumped to the floor—almost as though someone had unzipped me from it. The other shapes slowly began to transform back to their original non-human form and before long started gliding across the room.
My human guise had gone, and slowly the fear went too, and I cannot do that feeling of euphoria justice as I lifted from the ground no longer trapped by the confines of my human body. I stretched, I shrank, I took on the form of a dinosaur, a tank, a bird, and there were no limitations, and I laughed—an uncontrollable child-like laugh that I had not experienced to that date. The chorus started again—as though they were laughing with me. The only way I can describe it is similar to the sonic charge dolphins make and then slowly and intermittently I started to pick up little bits of the language. I couldn’t put together any sentences though, just odd words that loosely translated as Earth, life, war, peace, and death. I didn’t even consider how that was possible—it all felt so natural.
A strong sensation of déjà vu swept over me suddenly, and then an even stronger feeling of familiarity as one of the shapes drifted towards me and reached out in what I can only describe as a mental embrace. We locked together, and the memories started to come back, ones that I have difficulty capturing with a pen and ones that do not constitute typical human experiences—but still ones of a time gone, of love, and of family and belonging. The rush of such a wide range of emotions in such a short space of time is difficult to describe, but it left me confused as to who I was or who I thought I was. I was vulnerable, and I began to cry. I was still locked in, and I felt the sorrow and knew I wasn’t alone in my grief.
I heard a noise behind me, and the language from the two new shapes was urgent and aggressive. Our minds were ripped apart, and the pain that followed was intense and more than just physical or mental—it was on a new level—heightened like my first euphoric foray out of human skin but on the other end of the scale.
The familiar shape in front of me was hauled away and thrown to the other side of the room by the new forms; another one came from behind and latched onto me. I could feel them tunnelling into the memories and their attempts to destroy them. I started to pick up odd words again such as forbidden, experiment, rules, and Mother.
I felt the anger rise through me, a new emotion for me that I didn’t know how to manage. I screamed—it wasn’t a human scream that left me—but an inaudible sonic wave that sent shapes flying everywhere and I was free.
I moved towards her, and we locked in again. She never wanted any of this, and it was all done against her will. I could feel her pain and the love she was sending out—it was overwhelming. She was hurting so much, and yet still, I could feel the love pouring into me, and this was the feeling I had ached for, and it was worth the wait.
Again, we were ripped apart as other shapes swarmed the room and began to lead her away from me. As the sliding door opened, I saw another shape emerge, unmistakably the leader as the others parted and let them through. There was a ripple of intense light and a high pitched cry that was over-powering, and I clumsily tried to cover my eyes and ears but within seconds I was back, head spinning, and translucent fingers wrapped around the chair’s wooden arm. Slowly but surely the human skin claustrophobically wrapped itself around my form as the word “Mother,” left my once again human-like mouth.
I often sit on the front balcony and look towards the stars. Sometimes I cry just like a human. These people that I live with—that I still think of as my human parents—are merely part of my studies.
I want to go home.