The woman touched me. Rushing past without
paying proper attention to where she was going, she had allowed her hand to
brush against mine.
“What the hell?”
I shouted, demanding her startled attention.
talking to me?” she asked, feigning innocence.
“You bumped into
“I’m sorry,” she
said, though she really wasn’t. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Liar! I wanted
to scream at her, but I knew it would serve no purpose. People like her
couldn’t be shamed. I turned to go about my business and collided with a pimply
“Why don’t you
watch where you’re going?” I said, shoving him away from me.
“It was an
accident, man,” he said, his tone defensive rather than contrite. I reached out
and yanked the headphones out of his ears, threw them to the ground, and
stomped on them.
right into me, you filthy animal!” I admonished as I ground the headphones
under my heel. People started shouting, cursing the boy, but the idiot grew
more defiant, seeming to think the insults were meant for me. I waved a hand in
dismissal and stomped off, leaving the dolt to the crowd. They were still
cursing him as I rounded the corner.
By the time I
reached my apartment, the skin on my hand was burning where that woman had
touched me. Her skin had touched mine! I shivered thinking about it. I tried to
wash away the stain she’d left upon me, but it was no use. I had to take
drastic measures. I got a pairing knife out of the kitchen drawer and carefully
sliced off the skin on the back of my hand from the knuckles to the wrist. As I
performed this painful, but necessary, procedure, I cursed myself as much as
the woman. I had been a fool to think I could safely navigate the streets of
New York without gloves. I resolved henceforth to always carry an extra pair.
I didn’t sleep
much that night. No amount of medication could stop the throbbing in my hand,
so I was constantly reminded of that awful feeling of the woman’s skin touching
mine. When I finally managed to doze off, I had a nightmare in which I was
suspended naked on a chain while hands reached out of the darkness to caress
and prod me with filthy fingers. It was too much! After that, I abandoned my
bed and all hope of getting any rest before my morning book signing engagement.
I’d worked hard
on my craft, not from any desire to express myself, but from the need to
support myself in a manner that allowed me some measure of isolation. It had
worked out well. I was seen as a great artist, an iconoclastic chronicler of
the meaninglessness of human existence. The apes liked my work. Unfortunately,
my latest novel was lagging a bit in sales, and my publisher had insisted I participate
in promoting it. I agreed to do a book signing at a small venue, hoping nobody
would show up.
It turns out my
popularity exceeded my estimate of it considerably. When I arrived at the book
store, my right hand gloved and my left swathed in bandages, there was already
a line in front of the table they’d set up for me. I was tempted to turn
around, to slip back out before anyone noticed me, but the manager, a corpulent
slug-like man, saw me and waved me in.
waiting for you,” the slug announced, trying to sound jovial. “We’ve quite a
I nodded and
took my seat behind the table. I managed to scrawl my name in the first three
books without having to look at the beasts presenting them to me, but the forth
was more insistent.
“Can you make it
out to Hoola Bean?” she asked, forcing me to ask her to repeat herself.
B-e-a-n,” she said somewhat condescendingly.
“It’s a common enough name.”
I looked up to
see a tiny woman of about thirty. She wore bib overalls, which she’d tucked
into her white galoshes, over a plaid flannel shirt. She was actually wearing a
straw hat with a daisy stuck in the band.
Extending all most to her waist from under the wide brim of the hat were
two bright red pig tails held in place by yellow ribbons. I cringed. She was
obviously another writer.
“If I were to
use a name such as Hoola in a novel my publisher would reject it on the spot,”
I told her. “It’s a ridiculous name.”
“Is not,” she
said, puffing out her chest. “I use it for all my characters, and nobody has
“You use it for
all your characters?” I asked, instantly regretting that she’d shocked me into
a conversation. “Every single one?”
“Well, I give
‘em different last names,” she said. “Nobody’d be able to tell ‘em apart
I shook my head,
made the preposterous inscription, and handed her the book. Then she bent over
the table and kissed me! She put her wet rubbery lips on my left cheek! I
clasped my bandaged hand to my face and jumped up out of my chair.
“Where’s the restroom!” I shouted.
Most of the apes just
stood there gaping open mouthed. A few of them snickered. Finally, the manager
slithered over and pointed to a door behind me at the other end of the room. I
stumbled headlong through the store, knocking over shelves onto the heads of
the customers milling about between them. I heard a woman scream as I trampled
over a child who happened to be between me and my goal, but I didn’t pause. I
made it to the restroom just as the bile forced its way up my gullet.
After I had
finished heaving into the sink, I moved to the sink next to it and started
splashing water into my face. I looked in the mirror. The imprint of her lips
was still there on my cheek! No matter how I scrubbed, I couldn’t wash it off!
I had to find something to cut it off. Remembering the knife I carried on my
keychain, I shoved my hand into my pocket, but pulled it back as the fabric
scraped against the bandages. I ripped my glove off the other hand with my
teeth, dug the keys out, and tore into my face with the knife.
I can still see
the expression on the manager’s fat face as he opened the restroom door and saw
me there, panting, the knife dangling from my bloody fingers. It was an
expression I saw mimicked by what was left of my own face as I looked in the
mirror. They say I started laughing as I wiped the blood out of my eyes, and I
vaguely remember the manager staggering back out of the room just before I
I awoke to find
I could not move. I was strapped to a bed. Tubes ran under and over the straps
to merge with my flesh. My head, except for holes for my eyes and mouth, was completely
covered in bandages. Worst of all, my left arm terminated in a stump. I was
later told the hand had become infected and couldn’t be saved, though I
suspected they had done it to punish me. Apparently I had been out for nearly
two weeks. I shudder to think of how many hands had touched me in that time.
passed. The bandages had been removed, the monitors unplugged, and plans had
been made to transfer me to a psychiatric facility. Of course I opposed this,
but the family I hadn’t seen in years had agreed to consign me to the mad
house, and being mad I had little say in the matter. After spending the morning
plotting my escape, and not really coming up with anything remotely realistic,
I drifted off only to be awakened by something falling upon my legs. I opened
my eyes and looked down to see a straw hat resting on my blanket.
“You! How did
you get in here?” I shouted as best I could with my mangled mouth.
“I think you’re
asking how I got in here,” said Hoola, from the side of my bed. “I convinced
them I was your sister. It was easy as pie.”
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I just wanted
to make sure you were okay,” she said, wiping the drool off my chin with her
sleeve. “I figure I’m to blame for what happened. I’d like to make it up to
you.” She slid her hand up the inside of my thigh and up under my gown. I started
to scream as she grabbed my member, but she smothered the sound by pressing her
lips over mine. I struggled against the straps as she tugged on my manhood and
nearly suffocated me with the violence of her kiss. It went on until I was
finally still. She pulled back, the finger she held up to her lips demanding
“Still want me
to stop?” she asked. “Seems like we’re making some progress down there.”
I nodded, tears
streaming over the stitches in my face.
said, smiling. “But you have to promise to be quiet.”
I nodded again
and she pulled her hand out from under my gown.
whispered through clenched teeth.
something to write about,” she said, sliding over a chair. “I guess you want to
hear my story.” I didn’t, but I knew it was useless to protest. I watched her
pick over the leftover food on my tray and tried not to think of all the places
she’d touched me.
“It all started
when the guy living in the apartment under me went nutzo and started killing
his neighbor’s pets. He was a real sicko, carving them up and making hats and
things out of them. Eventually, he moved on to killing hookers and girls he
picked up in bars. Just before he got caught, he’d had me pegged as material
for his haberdashery but as soon as he found out I was a writer, he decided I
could serve a better purpose. He was pretty sure the forces of justice were
closing in on him, and he wanted to tell his story to the world before they
She paused to wipe
apple sauce from her chin and take a sip from the box of fruit juice. My legs
were itching where she’d slid her greasy palms over them, and my lips were on
fire. The other parts she’d touched felt like they’d had salt poured over them
after being flayed.
“So, they caught
the guy, and I ended up working with the police to help put him away. I became
something of a celebrity, getting a book deal before I’d even made an outline.
By the way, do you do that? I mean do you map everything out before you start
writing? No? Well, you are writing from your imagination. I have a lot of facts
to keep track of.
“Anyway, my book
was a big hit. I was marketed as some kind of specialist on the subject of aberrant
personalities. Of course, it was all bull shit. I’d just been lucky. The thing
is, I needed to write another book, and you don’t get lucky like that twice.
That’s where you come in. I’d heard about your, lets call it a condition, from
an editor who’d worked on one of your books. It was perfect. The brilliant and
popular author harboring a secret madness. I just needed to get your story out
there so people wanted to hear more about it.” She set down the food tray and
bent over me, unfastening my restraints. “That and I needed an ending—something
spectacular that would really get people’s attention.”
“What are you
doing?” I asked, the burning in my groin and on my misshapen lips almost too
much to bear. I was tearing at the stitches in my face as soon as my hand was
“Writing the ending,” she said, throwing her
red vinyl purse over her shoulder and heading for the door. As she reached it,
she paused, pulled something from her purse, and dropped it onto the floor. It
was a knife.
A. Turner’s work has appeared in numerous online and
print venues, including The Half That You See, Horror For Hire,
Death and Butterflies, and Scary Snippets
anthologies, as well as Crimeucopia, Frontier
Tales, Terror House, Lovecraftania, Abandoned
Towers, Jitter, Serial, The Realm Beyond, and Dark