The 2015 express Short Fiction Writing Contest received a record number of entries. The judging panel that consisted of award winning writers: Peter Wells, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Julie Helean and last year’s winner Gina Cole shortlisted seven entries for the prize.
Second place went to Steve Danby for his fabulously witty and bitchy story of lust and friendship in a material world; Aisle Altar Hymn. It was piped to the post however, by Carissa Sinclair’s polar opposite dark-fantasy, Shedding Skin. Originally from Christchurch, Sinclair (20) is currently studying English Literature and Creative Writing in Wellington. She tells us she is obsessed with magical realism, inspired by gothic comics and wrote the story with thoughts of puberty and the genre of ‘body horror’ in mind.
“I think identity became a key idea to the piece. I was interested in how we inhabit the bodies we are born into; also how outward appearances can put a strain on one’s gender and sexuality.” she says.
All her shoes were on the ground; stained boots and sandals and slippers. There were ruined white sports socks, ruined jean hems. Maybe it was walking up hills or breaking in new boots. It hurt like hellfire. She had a spread of oversized blisters on her heels; raw bloody matter and the faint white of bone.
It was just bleeding everywhere. One ankle had sprung out into an open faucet. She was sitting up on her bed and the blood just kept springing out. Blood on the duvet, in her underwear, on her big white t-shirt too.
She bent one knee into her chest; held the badly bleeding heel into her hands. She wavered a large thumb over the open part of the wound. She knew what she had to do. This was the ultimate scab, she told herself.
This was the ultimate thread to pull and unravel.
She slowly inserted her thumb into the wound. It went in a full inch before she hit the most tender flesh. She flinched. The knee jerked into her chest. She steadied herself, then continued inserting her forefinger, followed by her middle finger.
The pain was a sick pleasure. Her eyes were smarting tears. She got a full hand inside the pocket of her skin. Blood coated her wrist. From outside her room she could hear the front door clicking open and a couple of voices from the kitchen.
The bite had come. She clenched her teeth and pulled down. It was persistent. It wouldn’t budge. Then slowly the heel bone gave way and tore through the skin. Her tarsal bones broke out. A bag of pulpy muscle burst over the duvet. She let out a cry.
There was a knock on her door and her flatmates entered the room. It was a murder scene. Julia, peering over Todd’s shoulder, broke into hysterics. What the fuck is happening, I’m calling for help, fuck I’m calling an ambulance.
Todd was calmer though. He approached her tentatively. He sized up the skeletal system of her foot that she had started to tear free. He gently gagged before he held out a limp hand. Are you okay, Ginny? What is happening? His voice was caution and fear and repulsion. And yet, he understood her; he knew that she was up to something important.
I’m just getting rid of all this fucking skin, she said very softly, stoically. She continued to dig with her hands to find the edge of skin sleeve behind her ankle. When she had a two-handed grip she tore the skin right up the calf muscle.
Todd threw up.
In the ambulance, the doctor and nurse allowed her to continue. She managed to get her two legs and pelvis structure free. Ligaments and clumps of muscle were still attached to her bones. Arteries strung around her in ribbons, well-bled and deflated. As she tore up her belly her small intestines fell out. The nurse had a huge white plastic bag to collect them. The nurse helped her deposit her stomach and kidneys and other free organs. She slid her arms out of her skin and pulled it up above her shoulders. She was able to detach her breasts from her ribcage. She was beginning to breathe a bit better now. She could even see her heart beating pathetically.
She inspected the doctor on the other side of her. The doctor was filling out a form, occasionally asking a question. Would you like me to contact your family? Not just yet, she said and the doctor nodded. They seemed way too understanding. Why haven’t you stopped me from what I’m doing? The doctor heard her whisper and looked at her somewhat sadly. You know eventually that you’ll have to get back into a skin once again? She was surprised at the comment but then gave a nod. Can I choose a skin that fits me better? The doctor gave a nod back.
She finally removed her scalp and shed herself completely. Her skin looked sad and grey on the plastic floor. Something to be placed in the ‘Lost and Found’. It felt nice sitting in the back of the ambulance with the nice doctor and nurse. She gently rapped the tips of her phalanges against her cranium. Then she opened her lower jaw and her tongue slid out. It bounced along the floor like a dumb goldfish. Good riddance. She stuck her fingers in her rib cage and relieved an awkward itch.
Illustrations | Sam Orchard.