It was 3.17 am, and he couldn’t stand it anymore.

Short Stories

This story contains warnings for body horror.

It was 3.17 am, and he couldn’t stand it anymore.

The sheets were rumpled round him in tangled, sweating snakes. He’d laid in bed for four hours and twenty-nine minutes, and nothing he had tried had made him sleep. The podcast had stopped ages ago, the soothing woman’s voice had abandoned him. He chose a different podcast every night, and by extension, a different woman. This was the kind of man he wanted to be. The kind of man that took a new woman to bed with him every night. If he closed his eyes, he could be that man, smirking in satisfaction as she sighed in his ear, whispering him to sleep. He was always asleep before she left. Like the man he wanted to be. But not tonight. Not with the itch.

He didn’t take the tablets because he was sad. Sad would have been bearable, an improvement even. The doctor had written up the prescription, and he discussed his childhood with Lisa once a week, and everyone kept talking about depression, but that was not what he felt. Instead, there was nothing. He wasn’t a pressure cooker, gurgling with rage and melancholy. More of a leaky kettle that never reached boiling point. They told him, Dr Ford and Lisa, that what he was feeling was very common, and that the tablets would help to rid him of these feelings of numbness and hollowness. They would allow him to find joy in things again, like he used to. That he’d feel like a brand new man. However, as his mind and body accustomed to this hormonal jump start, there might be side effects, including but not limited to dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, decreased libido and itching.

He hadn’t really noticed most of these. Falling asleep was never a problem. If anything, he usually slept too much. Decreased libido? No. The problem wasn’t not wanting sex, it was not getting any. His last date had been three months ago. It had ended in an awkward hug and clinical ignorance of every one of his attempts to contact her thereafter. She had been an overweight divorcee from accounting. It still stung that someone like Christine could think she was too good for him. In any case, there had been no sickness, no thirst, and he was jerking off more than ever, twice before he’d switched the lamp out that night. He flicked it on again, and glared at his alarm clock. 3.46 am. The first of several alarms would start blaring in under three hours.

He sat up in bed, and tried grinding his back against the wooden headboard for some relief. His nails scrabbled feverishly at the pale skin of his arms as he wriggled, his eyes screwed shut in concentration. The itch travelled over his body like the feet of a hundred thousand termites, and he huffed in exasperation and discomfort. His eyes snapped open, and he let out a noise that fell somewhere between a whine and a snort. He looked wildly around the room, almost in accusation. Who was doing this to him? Why? Glancing down, he spotted flecks of red on the sheets. It took him a moment until he realised that his arms were bleeding.

He inspected his fingernails with a detached sort of disgust. He couldn’t stand dirty fingernails. Christine had had dirty fingernails. He remembered how she had tapped on the table when they had waited for the bill after they went for dinner. Her hands were doughy and soft, and her fingers ended in short, grimy nails. The skin around her thumbnail was ragged, as though she had been chewing it. His stomach had lurched when he saw that. He had made a mental note at that point that when they fucked later, he wouldn’t let her touch his dick. He had standards, after all. As it had turned out, so did she.

He made his way to the bathroom, thinking dark thoughts of Christine’s fat fingers that she apparently couldn’t bring herself to touch him with. The bathroom was spotless, like the rest of his small flat. That was another thing. He had read that depressed people often let things slide, their living spaces and personal hygiene suffering as they lost all motivation and drive. He couldn’t relate to that. He wondered what Christine’s home looked like. Probably like its owner; dirty and neglected awash with junk food wrappers and empty boxes of wine. The man he was, the man he wanted to be, would never allow that to happen.

He squinted against the whiteness of the tiles and attempted to twist around to see his back in the mirror. His skin was blotchy, and there was much more blood than he had expected. It stained the dirty blonde hair at the nape of his neck, tracing rivulets over his shoulders, itching him even more. He contorted, trying to stretch his left hand around to scratch his right shoulder. He dug his nails into his shoulder, clawing at his inflamed skin. He gasped in pain as his skin parted under his fingers, causing more blood to patter onto the pristine floor. That did it. He turned the shower on, easing the temperature down and praying that the cool water might soothe him. If nothing else, it would wash the blood away.

Bending awkwardly, he stepped into the shower, trying and failing to avoid spilling blood onto the bathmat. He watched as the water turned a pinkish red colour under the shower stream. He sighed with relief and hunched forward to let the water lap at his prickling back. It was helping, but not fast enough for him. He tried pressing his back flat against the wall, savouring the cool, clean feeling. The water poured over his chest, his flabby stomach, his smallish penis. When he was the man he wanted to be, his belly would be taut and tanned. When he looked down, he would see a beautiful young woman, mouth open, waiting to please him. The man he wanted to be would laugh when Christine admitted her mistake in dismissing him before. He turned around, mesmerised by the patterns that his blood had made on the tiled shower wall. Somewhere in his reverie, he noted a tinge of concern that the bleeding hadn’t stopped yet.

Grabbing the loofah, he scoured his arms roughly. He scrubbed at his thighs, his sides, his face, chasing the itch around his body like a witless teenager trying to flirt. It was painful, but cathartic. Ten minutes passed in this way. Then fifteen. Eventually, he threw the loofah down in anger and slumped to the floor, closing his eyes to the stream beating down on him. He knew the tablets were important, and he mustn’t stop taking them suddenly. This was all just a “settling in period”, the doctor had said. It had been just under four weeks. How much more settling could he cope with? How many more nights like this could he stand?

Stretching a thin, bleeding arm, he turned the temperature knob on the shower, letting heat sink into his body. If cooling his skin wouldn’t help, perhaps he could burn the itch away. The heat rose, and soon he was surrounded by swirling steam. He liked this. It distorted his vision, and if he tilted his head, his biceps seemed to swell. He flexed an arm, looking at his blurry reflection in the glass shower door. Lifting his hand, he traced a finger along his upper arm, deflating when he felt the same sagging, itching skin, instead of bulging muscles. Absentmindedly, he lightly scratched again, and the skin tore like damp paper. He froze at that. Human skin shouldn’t break and peel like this.

In horrified fascination, he took hold of the loose flap of skin between his forefinger and thumb, and gently pulled. It curled away from his body like a ribbon, revealing the hot angry meat beneath. He was vaguely reminded of peeling an apple, pulling the skin all the way down to his fingertips without breaking the thread. He was bleeding furiously now, a red pool gathering in the gap between his crossed legs. He was dimly aware of being hard, his dick emerging from the bloody water like a sinking ship. While the stripe of skinless flesh on his arm burned and ached, it no longer itched. Unable to stop himself, he examined his arms for more wounds, and found a tear on his left wrist. Methodically, he began to pull again. And again. Soon his entire right arm was as red at the lipstick on Christine’s teeth, and despite the agony of the hot water biting into his tender flesh, he felt oddly euphoric. Liberated even. He glanced up at the shaving razor in the soap dish, and made his mind up.

It took several hours. The alarm clock screeched from his bedroom down the hall, but he made no move to leave the bathroom and silence it. He couldn’t stop until it was done. Eventually all that remained was his face. After a moment’s consideration, he decided he’d like to watch the final unveiling. Stepping from the shower was excruciating, the flayed soles of his feet screaming as they touched the rough bathmat. Staggering, he made his way to the sink, gripping the bowl to steady himself. The mirror was fogged with condensation, and his hands streaked blood onto the glass to clear it.

What stared back at him was grotesque. The razor had dug too deep at his elbows and kneecaps, and white bone peeked out from the red. He had almost sheared away one of his nipples, and it dangled from his chest like a grizzly pink flower. Trembling, he brought the razor to his forehead, nicking a wide cut over his brow. He wondering if his face would come away in one, like a Halloween mask. He glanced back at the shower tray, where his old skin lay coiled like pale worms. Back to the mirror, he took a final look at his face. His lips were thin and colourless. Acne mottled his cheeks and chin. His eyes looked tired, but determined. It had to get better than this. He started to pull.

Afterwards, he walked back to his bedroom. Both the alarm clock and his phone jangled angrily, urging him to wake up. He almost laughed at that notion. For the first time in his life, he was awake. He thumbed the alarm clock into submission, and picked up his phone. 9.42 am. He was supposed to have arrived at work over two hours ago, and there were several missed calls and text messages. Idly, he scrolled through the notifications and saw that there had been three messages from Christine.

7.26 am

“Hey, John asked me to check in with you, on my day off!. Where are you? The division head is due in at 8am and John’s freaking out. Call when you get this please.”

7.51 am

“Hello??? Is there something wrong? You can’t pull shit like this today!”

8.11 am

“This really isn’t like you. I’m worried. You’ve been acting like a completely different person for the last few weeks. Maybe we could get a coffee this afternoon, if you need someone to talk to. You can even come round to mine. I’m sorry I’ve been distant since we went for dinner. Call me soon. x”

He smiled, his jawbone jutting out underneath his lipless red mouth, and began to type.

“Hi. I’m fine. Just been doing some self improvement. Coffee sounds great. Text me your address. Say around 12.30?”

Dr. Ford had been absolutely right. The tablets had made him feel like a brand new man.

One way or another, it was time for Christine to see that for herself.

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