Jessie sits on a log, licking his lips while roasting two marshmallows over the campfire. The flames send sparks into the crisp air, and the winter wind drifts the embers over the snow-filled treetops. His brown eyes show the glow of the roaring inferno in front of him, and his blue hair flows over his shoulders.
Rob sits on another log across the fire pit from Jessie. His blue eyes glance up at the night sky, and he plays peek-a-boo with the stars and clouds. His camouflage hat covers his blond crew-cut hair. Rob snickers as the clouds win the contest, blanketing the heavens.
“What’s up, Rob?”
“I remembered a story my parents told me a few days back on Christmas.”
“What’s it about?”
“A woman named Emily.”
“When did it happen?”
“During Christmas. I can’t recall the year, but it was way before we were born.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“Are you sure, Jessie?”
Rob looks deep into Jessie’s eyes. “It started when…”
Black clouds rumble in, engulfing the Long Nights Moon this Christmas season. Wind rips the branches off the dying trees, crashing them into the windows of the old asylum. Mother Nature’s wrath wakes the patients. Their screams overpower the roar of the raging blizzard.
Five orderlies on duty stand out in their perfect white uniforms. On the men’s utility belts hang a flashlight, keys, and a nightstick. Their heavy boots echo in the corridors as they rush to the patients’ wing. The lights flicker, leading the way.
Andrew withdraws his nightstick from his belt and points it to the right. “Bob, Tom, take the right side.”
“Yes, sir,” they reply.
Andrew points his nightstick to the left. “Roger, Ken, take the left side.”
“Yes, sir,” they reply.
“And get those patients to shut up!” says Andrew.
Each person bangs on the patients’ doors, telling them to shut up. Most of the asylum’s population stops screaming, but a few of them got a needle full of sedatives to calm them down.
Bob bangs on the last door. No answer, no noise. He peeks through the window in the door and stares into the patient’s room. Thunder shakes the roof, alarming the patients for a few seconds. But, not this one. He turns his view towards the ceiling; there he sees ominous clouds appear. Snow cascades from them and melts on the tile floor. There, she lay, soaking in a pool of blood.
“Hey! Everyone, come here.”
Andrew is the first to show. “What is it, Bob?”
Roger, Ken, and Tom arrive.
“It’s snowing in there,” says Andrew.
“How the hell is that happening?” asks Bob.
Roger, Ken, and Tom took turns looking into the patient’s room.
Andrew’s brown hair drips with sweat from running in the hallways. He reaches for his belt and clutches the keys, but they fall onto the tile floor. He crouches and snatches them up, fumbling to find the key that will unlock the cursed door.
His fingers locate the right key, and he unlocks the door, swinging it open. He stands at the entrance; the other men peer over his shoulder, trembling. I could have sworn it was snowing inside this room. Now there’s no snow, no clouds, no water on the floor.
Roger, Ken, Tom, and Bob look at each other, confusion on their faces, and they turn, looking back into the room. The female patient still lies on the crimson floor.
Roger and Ken tip-toe into the patient’s room and notice something is not right. Lightning streaks the sky and the lights in the asylum die.
The men take their flashlights from their belts. Light fills the dreary room, revealing not a body on the floor, but the skin of one. Roger and Ken turn to face the door. Their eyes widen as they meet a female patient blocking their only way out.
“TACKLE HER!” says Andrew.
The rest of the orderlies charge in, only to collapse onto Roger and Ken. They scramble to get up when they hear the door slam shut. Their flashlights flicker a few moments, then fade out. Screams echo throughout the asylum walls. The storm outside drowns them out from the security guards’ station at the asylum’s entrance.
Sunlight warms the December morning air as the next shift arrives at eight. They discover the patients and the staff dead, with no skin.
The day staff could account for everyone, but one. Emily, Excoriare Emily. Only her skin remains.
Jessie’s marshmallows are turning black. “Excoriare Emily, really? You realize that’s not a true story, Rob.”
Rob shakes his head. “Yes, it is. It took place in my town.”
“Which town? You always say,” Jessie forms quotations in the air. He drops the stick with the marshmallows, “this is my town.” His marshmallows melt in the fire along with the stick joining the logs in flames. “It happens all the time when the Marines transfer you to a new base.” Jessie looks and sees what he did. “FUCK, man! Look what you made me do.” He shakes his head. “I was looking forward to those marshmallows. Man, and they were the last.”
“My hometown, dumbass. Springfield, Illinois.”
Jessie smacks his hand on his forehead. “Oh, yeah. I forgot.” Well, your parents lied to you.”
“No, they didn’t. My mom’s best friend’s great-grandmother worked there.”
“Yeah, right. Whatever. Now, this is the true story. It’s not an asylum. But it happened near a cemetery in Sharpsburg, Illinois. Her name’s not Emily, but Patty. You see…”
Patty spends her nights sitting in her rocking chair, pink cat slippers on her feet, and a black afghan covering her legs, chest, and arms. Her head rests on a fluffy white pillow. She watches people below from her sixth-floor apartment building hustling with Christmas presents in hand, cars beep their horns to people they know, and semi-trucks zoom by, not paying any attention to the crosswalks. Most nights, Patty falls asleep as she glares at the dancing cemetery orbs across the street.
Patty spends her days at the meat packing factory. She keeps to herself and packs meat into boxes. When the horn sounds for the break and lunches, she knows of a quiet place to eat and read in the women’s bathroom — a small closet that blends into the wall and is long forgotten.
On Christmas Eve, Patty hears voices during lunchtime. She cracks the door of her hiding place.
Christi is a new girl to the plant. Her blonde hair is high on her head and in a bun. “Hey, Janet, who’s that hobbit at the end packing meat?”
Janet looks in the mirror and takes out her ponytail holder. Her brown hair flows like a river to the middle of her back. “Are you talking about that short woman, with the dirty blonde hair bob?”
“Yeah. What’s her deal?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is she unable to talk or what?”
Janet brushes her lushes’ locks and gathers them up and returns them to the ponytail holder. “Christi, there’s nothing wrong with her. She keeps to herself.”
Christi smiles at her reflection in the mirror. “Well, she’s weird.”
Janet shrugs her shoulders. “Well, yeah, she is.”
Patty closes the door. Tears stream over her rosacea cheeks. The lunch horn sounds, and the coast becomes clear to sneak out of the hidden closet. She walks to the sink to wash her hands, and when she looks, a layer of new skin appears. She sees her shirt, large pieces of dry skin cling to the fabric. Damn, I picked my skin again. She brushes the dead skin off and returns to work.
Patty wakes up early on Christmas morning. The snowflakes drop from the sky. She grabs her coat and a book and strolls to the cemetery to her favorite spot, a cozy bench by an old oak tree. She sits and opens War and Peace. Next thing, she looks up from her reading. The sun’s rays wave goodnight — nothing like getting lost in a book to make time fly by.
Patty closes her book and walks to the gate of the cemetery. Christi and a few of her friends lean against the gates, smoking cigarettes.
“Whatcha doing, Patty?”
“You hang out in cemeteries often?”
“Arntcha afraid zombies will rise and eat your brains?”
Christi and her friends laugh.
“I gotta go, Christi.”
Christi snatches Patty’s arm and the book lands in the soft snow. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Patty struggles against Christi’s grasp. “Let me go!”
Christi trips Patty. She lands on the inch of soft snow. Christi’s friends, dress to the nines in Stiletto heels, takes turns to kick Patty. Patty screams for help, but on Christmas, no one is around to heed her cries.
Patty feels her broken ribs pierce her lungs. She coughs up blood over Christi’s white heels.
Christi stands back. “You bitch!”
Patty breaks loose and crawls into the street. She looks up and sees a semi-truck. He doesn’t see her and runs her over; her body splatters like a ketchup pack.
The state buries her in the same cemetery, under the old oak tree.
A year passes by, and Christi and her friends are once again at the cemetery gates on Christmas night. The unseasonably warm night causes the snow to melt and brings a light fog.
“Hey, let’s go to Patty’s grave,” says Christi.
The group of girls follows Christi.
Christi sings, “Poor little Patty, six-feet deep. Now, you got nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.”
The girls laugh.
“What was that?” asks Christi. “Gina?”
Gina turns and faces the gate. She takes her cell phone out of her purse and turns on the flashlight application. “The gate shut.”
“What the fuck, Gina? Let’s go girls.”
The girls run to the gate and pull on the handle.
“The gate’s locked, Christi,” says Gina.
Christi kicks the gate. “FUCK! THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING TO ME!”
“Calm down, Gina. It’s just the tree limbs breaking off,” says Christi.
A shriek calls out from the fog.
“That, that was just an owl or something,” says Christi.
The girls hold each other and yell for help. Like on the night of Patty’s death, no one is around to hear their cries.
The fog grows thicker as the laughter deepens.
Birds sing to the winter sun. The cemetery keeper awakens from his crypt on the grounds and starts his day. He stumbles to the gate with hot coffee in hand. Hey, I didn’t close the gate last night. He turns and sees bodies hanging from the limbs of the old oak tree. He drops his coffee and runs to the tree. Blood drips from their skinless frames.
“To this day, if you go to the cemetery and sing, Poor little Patty, six-feet deep. Now, you got nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide, she will come to you and pick your muscles clean of your skin,” says Jessie.
Rob laughs, opening a beer. “That’s a stupid story.”
“Who told you that story?”
Jessie shrugs and glances around the outskirts of the campground. “My parents.”
“Yeah, thought so.” Rob shakes his head, “Dude, they played you. They told you that story to keep you out of the damn cemetery.”
“What is it?” Jessies picks up his rifle. “A deer?”
“No. Now shush.”
The creatures of the nighttime forest stop their songs. The wind picks up and swirls the dead leaves from the ground and blows the campfire out. Jessie and Rob take out their flashlights.
“What the hell, Rob?” Jessie looks around, “Rob? ROB?”
Jessie looks up to see Rob’s flicking flashlight from a low branch. The light gives Jessie one last wink before dying, only Jessie’s light leads the way.
Branches crackle behind him; he twists to find Rob’s skin floating before him. Jessie screams and fires his gun. He turns and rushes into the forest, and tumbles over something hard and lands face-first on the ground. His rifle flies out of his hand five feet from him, the flashlight lands on the forest floor behind him. Blood drips from his forehead, he sits up on his knees and takes one of his hands to his head to stop the blood flow.
Jessie twists and sits on the ground. His eyes follow the beam from his flashlight. It shines on something big.
Rob’s skinless body lies in a pool of blood.
Jessie scrambles to his feet and heads towards the truck. A hand reaches out from the darkness and latches on to Jessie’s hair, stopping him in his tracks.
“Please, please, please, no!”
A heavenly voice comes from behind him. “You’re both wrong.” The voice shifts into a sinister laugh. “It’s Skin Slasher Sally.”