Skin Deep

Hello friends. My apologies for taking so long to post. My paid gig has been driving me to the brink. Below is a story I’ve been working on for quite some time. (You may all remember in a previous post I mentioned my character Darryl?)

This story is inspired by a writing prompt from talented author, Chuck Wendig. Chuck is prolific, warped, and all kinds of funny. Just what a girl looks for in an author. He has an amazing blog called Terrible Minds that you will surely enjoy.

A while ago Chuck challenged his readers to write a piece of flash fiction based on some god-awful stock photography. This is my go at it. The photo that inspired this peculiar tale is beneath the story. Enjoy.

SKIN DEEP

Two pings and a screech sounded the death knell of Darryl’s swift escape from the office. The elevator hummed and moaned but refused to budge. To make matters worse, Jessie from accounting was stuck there with him. Darryl hit the emergency button. No one answered. “Shit,” he said.

Whenever Jessie tried to solve a complicated problem, she did this thing where she ran her finger over her lips. Jessie had very pink lips. No, this was not good, not good at all. He pressed the button again.

“Don’t worry, if no one comes I’ll turn into cat woman, climb out the emergency shaft, shimmy up the cables and save us,” Jessie said laughing as she ran her hand through her hair.

“Good to know,” Darryl said, crossing his arms over his chest and examining a large brown stain on the elevator floor.

“I like that shirt,” Jessie said. “The snaps are cool.” It’s even better than the one you wore last week with the blue skull.”

Was she flirting? He was pretty sure she was flirting. He just needed to stay cool and get out before any weird shit went down.

Darryl was thirteen the first time it happened.

His junior high class had gone to the museum to see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It’s not like he had a choice. After hours of standing in line Darryl got his first glimpse of the painting. He couldn’t stop staring at the light radiating from Mona Lisa’s face, and that strange smile on her lips. Under those layers of varnish, Da Vinci had captured something, a tiny sliver of humanity immortalized on canvas. Before Darryl knew it, he had a boner. He was thirteen for fuck’s sake. You’d be hard pressed to find something that didn’t give him a boner. That wasn’t the weird part though. Suddenly, this burning sensation started in his mouth. He thought his tongue was on fire. The pain ran all the way down his throat. Scared the shit out of him, really.

Darryl hadn’t said another word for the rest of the trip. The minute he got home he ran to the bathroom. When he opened his mouth there it was, a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa on his tongue. It faded about twenty-four hours later. But that was only the beginning.

Any rise in body temperature or blood pressure made things worse. He had to stay calm or shit started happening. And it wasn’t just the Mona Lisa or his tongue, either. The older he got the more paintings appeared all over his body, interfering with his life.

Over the years he even took to studying his archenemies. As if understanding the inner workings of the creators of his suffering might give him some measure of control. But control was the one thing Darryl never had.

Like when his buddy Craig died. Son of a bitch drunk driver mowed him down in the middle of the afternoon. Darryl wanted to go to the funeral. He’d even had a cold shower and a Xanax for breakfast. Nothing was gonna stop him.

Craig was a great guy. He and his wife Wendy had a daughter, Mia, who loved puppets. She made Uncle Darryl name her two favorites. He called them Mrs. Platypus and Cheesehead Jones. Craig and Wendy used to act out stories with them until Mia rolled around on the carpet, giggling.

The morning of the funeral Darryl started wondering who was gonna play Cheesehead now that Craig was gone. And how it wouldn’t make any sense for Wendy to play both parts. Suddenly his skin was on fire and Edvard Munch’s The Scream appeared across his face, chest and forearms. The Scream for fuck’s sake.  He didn’t even like expressionism. He was a fucking mood ring of art history.

Wendy never forgave Darryl for skipping the funeral. He hadn’t seen her since. Sometimes he wondered if Mia still played with the puppets.

The hum of the elevator’s ventilation system suddenly went silent. Hot air filled the tiny space.

Jessie unzipped her hoodie. “Don’t look so glum D. What’s the matter? You claustrophobic?” She squeezed his shoulder.

“No. I’m good, I’m good,” he said stepping back a few inches and bumping into the wall. Jessie wore a green tank top under her hoodie. Shit. Darryl clenched his fist.  It was way too hot in here.

“Do you go to that park with your dog a lot?” Jessie said.

Darryl had forgotten about that time he’d bumped into her. “No, actually that’s my buddy’s dog. Or it was, I mean. But he died a few months ago. My buddy. Not the dog. I suppose the dog’s still fine. I don’t know, really. I haven’t spoken to his wife in a while. Um not the dog’s, I mean.” Crap, he sounded like a moron.

“I’m sorry. Was he a close friend?” Jessie said.

“Um yeah, he was. We were good friends.” Darryl swallowed as the prickling began beneath his skin.

“You look like you’re about to pass out, are you ok?”

“Must be low blood sugar or something,” he said, pressing hard on the emergency button.

He could already see a pattern forming on his arm. Jessie kneeled down to re-tie her shoelace. Maybe she hadn’t noticed? Darryl glanced at his reflection in the button panel just as the head of a man and woman appeared on his neck. Klimt. He recognized it immediately. Erotic symbolism. Fan-fucking-tastic. Shit.

Jessie straightened up and reached her hand towards him. “I…I can explain,” Darryl said, recoiling.

Jessie patted his chest. “That’s ok,” she said. “I understand.”

“You do?”

“Sure. My cousin died a couple years ago. We were really close. I still miss him. Be patient. It takes take time.”

“Uh, thanks,” Darryl said.

Suddenly the vents began blowing cool air again, and the elevator deposited them in the lobby.

“Well, I guess we survived,” Jessie said, smiling.

“Yup” Darryl said. Was it possible she really hadn’t noticed? But the painting was every where by now.

“Have a good evening,” Jessie said.

“You too.” As she walked away Darryl tried to imagine sitting and drinking coffee with her. A moment captured, like in one of Botero’s paintings. All those happy fat people, talking and drinking. Maybe she’d lean in and touch his hand, or throw her head back and laugh. Shit, she had a great laugh.

“Hey Jessie?” Darryl said, calling out to her.

“Yeah?” she said

Darryl walked over. She smiled at him but didn’t seem to notice anything weird. How could she not see it? Maybe she was just being polite? Botero’s subjects probably never had to worry about this crap.

“Do you…Do you wear glasses?” Darryl blurted out.

Jessie laughed. “You want to know if I wear glasses?”

“Uhuh.” Darryl said.

“No, contacts. But one of them ripped this morning. Why? Am I squinting a lot? I’m blind as a bat without them.”

“Oh, that’s it,” he said.

“That’s what? Darryl, I really gotta go, I have to catch my bus. Was there something else you wanted to ask me?”

Darryl glanced down at the vivid pattern emblazoned on his forearms. “Nah, I was going to ask you something about that status report you sent me. But it can wait till tomorrow, I guess.”

“Oh,” Jessie said, the disappointment evident in her face. “See you tomorrow then.”

“Yeah, see ya…” Darryl said.

Just before she walked out the door Jessie furrowed her brow and ran her finger over her very pink lips.

Shit.

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About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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11 Responses to Skin Deep

  1. J.A. Pak says:

    I knew hormones were responsible for some weird and wacky things, but wow!

  2. I love this, Heidi.
    The way your brain works…it makes my tongue tingle, too.
    (and I don’t care how that sounds. you are hot, lady!)

    I also love the paintings you reference; a little literature, photography, and art history.
    Beyond cool, my friend.
    Thanks, as always, for the ride that is your writing.

    p.s. On a technical note, your characterizations are pitch-perfect. Love the details you include. I just a short piece, you REALLY paint a portrait. No pun intended. For real.

    • I honestly didn’t know if I could pull off a male voice like this. I really had to think about it. I wanted his psychology to be expressed on his flesh and not in his head, if that makes any sense.

      And it’s really gratifying to hear the characterizations worked. I haven’t been writing many stories that take place in a modern era lately and I wanted it to ring true and feel rooted in reality despite the weird fantasy elements.

      You are such a lovely supportive friend, Julie. Thanks. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. xo

  3. Graham Pugh says:

    You can’t leave it there! I demand chapter two. Very original. I did a double take when I read “a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa on his tongue”. Eh? That got me hooked. More please. And soon…

  4. Enjoyed this story very much.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read it, Angela. I know my stories tend to take odd turns, so I’m always relieved when people respond well to them. Appreciate the feedback. 🙂

  5. Ilana says:

    Brilliant, Heidi. I loved the weaving of the mundane with the magical. The characters and their interactions felt very real. Miss Platypus and Cheesehead Jones- God is in the details, right? I didn’t look at the picture till the end and the whole time I was picturing an awful piece of stock photography with two central casting type people on an elevator. I thought you had pulled the whole Mona Lisa tongue thing out of your ass:)

    • You know the phrase “pulled the whole Mona Lisa tongue thing out of your ass” is disturbing to me on many levels… 😉 Be that as it may, I’m thrilled you liked it so much. It was very challenging to make that interaction sound legitimate while all this truly bizarre stuff was happening. I’m glad to hear feedback that it worked. Thanks so much for the praise my friend. xo

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