Sins of the Flesh
by David Barton
The creature crawled out of
the drain, squeezing its large, bulbous bulk out from the stench-filed orifice of the manhole. There was no traffic at that
time of night, so it emerged unseen by any witnesses.
It took a cursory glance around,
scanning the darkened street, then replaced the cover.
It was lucky no one had seen
it. If there had been any onlookers, curiosity would have been aroused. Attention would have been focused upon it. And soon
the area would have been filled with officials trying to capture it in a bid to discover what exactly it was.
After satisfying itself that
it hadn’t been observed, it took on human form.
Passing the nearest shop window
it caught its new reflection in the glass and adjusted an imperfection just below the left eye. It smiled to itself and said
to the reflection, ‘Hi, handsome, how are you doing?’ in a clearly Mancunian accent, for that had seemed the most
appropriate, as the creature had been listening from the stinking depths of the drains for some days, as the people went about
their business in the streets above and that had been the dominant vioce it had haerd.
As it was naked, it ducked
into a shop doorway and waited. When a man passed it grabbed hold of him, and before the man knew what had happened he been
rendered unconscious by a gentle but effective squeeze to the throat that the creature had perfected in the many years of
carrying out the work it had been assigned to do. Then the thing laboured to remove the man’s suit and quickly slipped
into it itself.
As it went on its way, none
of the few people who passed it took a second glance, as it had done a good job of impersonating a human. After all, this
wasn’t the first time it had done so. It had taken on human form many times before. It had to, in its … line
of business, so-to-speak.
The suit fitted perfectly
and the creature couldn’t help admiring itself as it strode past the shop windows on the journey to its destination.
It quickly found the address
it was searching for, a flat above a haberdashery shop in the centre of town. To its luck the door at the bottom of the stairs
had been left open, so it stole inside quietly, so as not to announce its arrival.
The thing that was now in
human form ascended the stairs and found the occupant frantically searching for his keys.
That had been why the door
at the foot of the stairs had been ajar. The occupant had forgotten his keys. He quickly found them, pocketed them and turned
to make his exit, and it was then he saw the creature now masquerading as a human.
it said to him.
The man, obviously startled
by the sudden appearance of this nightly interloper at the summit of the stairs, visibly jumped, then asked, ‘Do I know
‘You owe me,’
The man‘s eyebrows met.
The thing now human smiled.
‘Oh, yes, you owe me, big time, Ray.’
‘Look, who the fuck
are you? I’ll call the police!’ Ray shouted at the man standing in his doorway.
‘I don’t think
you’d want to do that, would you?’ Then it noticed that Ray seemed to be looking it up and down, as if trying
to remember where he’d encountered this man before. So it said, ‘I didn’t look like this the last time I
saw you. I was a young lady by the name of Clarissa.’
‘Fuck!’ Ray said.
‘I believe we did, if
memory serves me right.’ The creature offered a smile.
Ray backed away shaking his
head, his eyes wide with disbelief. Then he looked past the man standing between him and his only means of exit, to try to
judge whether he could, in fact, make a successful escape attempt.
‘Don’t even think
of trying to escape,’ the creature said, realising what he was thinking, ‘I’ll break your bones to pieces,
you know I’m more than capable.’
‘What do you want?’
the creature, ‘I want what’s owed to me. What you promised. You remember? You promised me the earth! And …
as the saying goes … hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ The thing offered another sinister smile.
‘But you were a …’
‘What? A woman?
Our race is neither one sex nor the other; we are what we choose to be at any one time. Whatever suits us the best at the
time, for that particular job.’
Ray shook his head. ‘I
can’t do what you want.’
… or … won’t?’
‘You don’t know
what you’re asking.’
‘I know exactly what
I’m asking, and you promised. You gave a lady your word.’
The thing’s form shifted,
its flesh reinventing itself until it became the woman, Ray had known, as beautiful as she’d been the last time he’d
set eyes on her.
Although, attired in a suit
now. Her breasts straining for room beneath the jacket. His eyes momentarily strayed there and he remembered fondly how he’d
caressed, kissed and suckled upon them when they had been lovers.
‘Is that better?’
Ray didn’t speak; he
just stared in awe at what had been demonstrated in front of him. This woman had been the woman he’d loved, the woman
he’d wanted to take care of, wanted to be with, the woman he’d fucked. Now he had to come to terms with the fact
that she wasn’t exactly what at first he’d thought she was. He’d always known she’d been from somewhere
else. Exactly where, had never been explained. He had never had any idea that she was someone … something
She had disappeared without
a word after he had refused to do what she’d asked. An appalling act that he could never do, not even for the woman
he’d loved. He had hoped that would be the last he ever heard of her.
What she’d asked, seemed
… well, it just didn’t make any sense. At least, it didn’t make sense in the world he inhabited.
‘I believe you once
thought of me as the most exquisite creature on earth.’
‘Yes, you were, I adored
‘Then, are you going
to do what I asked you and what you promised me?’
The thing, now a woman, threw
its head back and laughed. ‘We’ll keep the fucker alive, don’t worry about that, it’s only his flesh
‘You keep them alive
‘Of course, does that
make it easier for your conscience?’
‘It’s merely a
matter of inserting the knife, splitting the flesh and peeling it. A little like you do when you peel an apple.’ The
creature masquerading as Clarissa grinned.
Ray wanted answers to a few
questions. ‘What the fuck are you? It was never clear.’
‘We collect the sins
of the flesh,’ the creature told him, ‘by collecting the flesh.’
‘What do you do with
the rest of … your victims?’
‘They are not: victims,
they are deserving: adulterers, perverts, rapists, child-molesters, necrophiliacs, lovers of bestial congress … but
in answer to your question … I’ve told you, we keep what’s left of them alive.’
‘In some kind of …
some kind of … hell?’
‘You could put it like
that … a living hell.’
‘Why can’t you
‘I could, but our servants
are rewarded, they become saints, people are usually willing if there’s a saintdom to be had.’
‘I never did understand
… any … of … it.’
‘Nevertheless, you promised
it on the pillow after we’d made love, you promised it after each of our parting kisses and caresses, you PROMISED!’
Ray was silent for a moment,
while he gazed at Clarissa. The woman who was not a woman, but some hellish shape-shifting creature. He hoped he wouldn’t
ever have to witness her true face.
That would be too much.
‘Then, you were the
woman I loved … at least that’s what I thought you were.’
‘And there would be
no chance for us, now?’ Clarissa asked wryly.
‘I would have to be
a little perverse to want to love a … whatever you are.’
Clarissa feigned a hurt look.
‘You break my heart,’ she said.
Ray decided to get the conversation
back to what he was being asked to do. ‘And what if I refuse … to do what you want me to do?’ he asked.
‘If you go back on your
word, it doesn’t bear thinking about the consequences,’ Clarissa told him.
‘So I have no choice
then, not really?’
‘I’m so glad you’ve
finally seen sense, Raymond,’ Clarissa said.
A mere half an hour later,
Ray and the creature he had known as Clarissa were stood in a room, the mutilated remains of something that had been human
cowering from the light in the corner, Ray standing with a bloodied knife, and something that could be a pile of clothes,
heaped at their feet, but that the two remaining occupants of the room knew was something much different.
Clarissa stared at it. ‘It’s
not just beauty that is skin deep, it is flesh that is skin deep.’ She smiled smugly at her witticism.
It had been easy to skin the
man. Ray found that it was in fact, as the creature had explained to him, as simple as peeling an apple.
‘It’s still alive,’
said Ray wide-eyed. He stepped back from the flayed heap of flesh at his feet.
‘Yes, ghostly, isn’t
it?’ the creature commented.
‘It is the Haunted Flesh.
Haunted by perversity. By wanting to experience. The thing in the corner hiding from the light, without its skin, has no ambition
of the flesh. It might as well be dead.’
‘Why don’t you
kill it? Put it out of its misery?’
‘It needs to suffer,
be taught a lesson. Without its skin it can’t get up to mischief again. It’s castrated.’
Ray watched the remains of
the man continue to writhe and squirm.
Clarissa was transforming
now, into a creature the like of which Ray had never set eyes on before. It was like something from a nightmare, which, as
things were, he couldn’t decide whether he was in fact, in, or whether this was actually real.
‘You have done well,’
said the creature. ‘All that remains now, is for me to take this filth back with me.’ He indicated the pile of
flesh at their feet.
‘What about that?’
Ray said, motioning in distaste to the writhing remains in the corner.
‘I take that too,’
said the creature, ‘it will continue to live, uncorrupted.’
‘I’ll never see
you again, now?’ asked Ray, hoping the creature had finished its business with him.
‘I know, parting is
such sweet sorrow,’ it said, then produced a wry look. ‘At least we have our memories.’
Ray looked around at the bloodied
floor and the remains of the man he’d killed.
‘Yes,’ said the
creature, as he saw Ray’s gaze, ‘happy memories.’ It gave a laugh.
‘How can you be so …’
the creature finished for him. ‘It’s a job, I need to be detached.’
‘I’ve got blood
on my hands,’ Ray said, concerned and guilty about what he‘d been made to do.
‘Not innocent blood,
though,’ the creature told him. ‘Corrupted blood.’
‘Are you going to tell
me exactly what you are?’
‘I suppose you could
say that I am an angel.’
‘Angel?’ Ray produced
a puzzled look. ‘You’re not trying to say that this is God’s work, are you?’ He scanned the horrifying
scene of his crime again.
Not for the first time tonight,
the creature laughed, and then said, ‘Things are not so black and white.’
going to tell me exactly what you are, are you?’ Ray asked it.
‘No,’ it said,
‘It’s best you don’t know. What would mankind do if it knew everything? The truth about God, the Devil,
good and evil, Heaven and Hell?’ It became distant, lost in thought for a moment. ‘What would it do? I wonder?’
‘Is there a God? A Devil?’
‘Yes, God … the
Devil … and there’s somewhere over the rainbow with the tin man and the cowardly lion waiting for you. There’s
a Narnia through the wardrobe. Never Never Land …’
‘I guess that you’re
not going to tell me, are you?’
‘I guess I’m not,’
the creature grinned.
Copyright David Barton 2006