Monday, September 30, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #29

Chapter 29
It's All About Me

It’s not what you expect.

One second, you’re sitting there, reading the words, the experience no different from a million other novels and books, the next second, in the blink of an eye, you’re somewhere else.

This is not what you expected, but you can’t help but feel it was bound to happen. Sooner or later.

You’re now standing in the middle of a small park, surrounding by dull suburbia on all sides. There is the sound of traffic in the distance, but you can’t see a single other living person.

You shake your head, convinced that you’ve drifted off, just when you were getting to the end of a story that didn’t make much sense and offered little in the way of plot, characters or actions. Some answers might have made up for that, but they were also sadly lacking.

And yet, the grass beneath your feet feels real enough. You can feel the wind on your face and the faintest of sour scents on it. It all feels real enough.

Then you see somebody fade into view, walking towards you in a slow, purposeful stride. Even though you can’t see his face clearly, you know exactly who it is. Doctor Skin. He has finally made it to the Real World.

He looks just like you imagined he would.

He stops walking a few dozen meters away from you and glances over to his right. You follow his look and see another figure fade into view, standing still, kicking at the ground with an idle foot.

That’s me. I’m just as surprised to find myself here as you are, but I’m not complaining. This is just too cool to complain about.

We stand alone in the middle of the park, looking at each other. I keep thinking we should be reaching for our guns, but this is real life and nobody shoots at each other unless they really have to. There just isn’t any need here.

I stare at you and you stare right back, waiting for some resolution, but I have none to offer. We both look back at Skin who waves cheerfully at both of us.

I wave back and you can’t help but join in. Why not?

You and me and him. All together now.

It was the only way this could ever end.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #28

Chapter 28
Here We Go Now

“None of it means anything.”

Max turned away from staring out the truck window, her train of thought derailed by Farrar’s latest proclamation. “What did you just say?”

“Life,” said Farrar gloomily. It was the first words Max had heard from him all day, but they seemed weighted down with some kind of regret. “It’s all just a big joke. Politics, religion, everything. None of it matters. None of it means anything.”

Farrar lapsed back into silence, leaving Max to wonder what the hell he was talking about. The uncomfortable silence lasted for a couple of blocks worth of traffic, until she couldn’t stand it any longer.

“What the hell are you talking about, Farrar?”

Farrar mumbled something that Max couldn’t quite make out.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Katie,” snapped Farrar, not taking his eyes off the road. “She left me. I got home from a meeting last night and she had cleared out all her stuff. She left me.”

“Oh,” said Max. She didn’t really want to ask the next question, but she couldn’t help himself. “Who is Katie?”

Farrar stopped at a red light, pulled the handbrake on and turned to Max with a look of disbelief. “My fiancée. She left me.”

“I didn’t know you had a fiancée,” said Max truthfully.

“We’ve been engaged for seven months!”


Farrar turned his attention back to the road as the light turned green. “She left me a note. Said she couldn’t handle my shit any more. What the fuck does that mean?”

Max had a thousand sarcastic remarks ready to use, but for some reason she could never explain, she actually felt sorry for Farrar. “I’m sorry, man.”

Farrar kept his eyes on the road, speaking in a dull monotone. “Yeah, thanks. But nothing means anything.”

He lapsed back into silence and Max let it hang in the air. They drove the rest of the way to their next stop without another word.

They pulled into the store as Leanne waited patiently with her clipboard ready. Max was out of the truck’s cab before they had even stopped, eager to escape Farrar’s misery before it became contagious.

Leanne raised an eyebrow and nodded silently at Farrar as he hauled himself out of the truck, but Max just shook her head. Leanne smiled.

“Hey,” she said, pointing back over her shoulder into the depths of the dock. “Can you take that faulty microwave back to the central depo today? It’s been sitting there for weeks.”

“Sure,” said Max. As she walked towards the back of the store she saw Leanne pat Farrar on the shoulder and he whispered something to her. She thought it was funny, she had barely ever seen those two talk, but it looked like she was offering him some small comfort.

“Funny old world,” she said to herself as she reached the back of the store and began to look for the microwave.

“That depends on your sense of humour,” said a female voice that caused Max’s heart to skip a beat.

She turned to see Claire in one of the corners, taking a stock count. She smiled at Max and her heart managed to skip several more beats all at once.

“Hi,” she said weakly.

“Hey,” Claire replied. “How are you doing?”

“Ah…” said Max as her scrambled mind tried to think of something witty and clever to say. “Can’t complain.”

She nodded and went back to her stock count as Max wished for an earthquake to swallow her up, or a lightning bolt to strike her down. Any Act of God would do.

She picked up the broken microwave and headed back towards the exit, where Farrar was helping Leanne unload. She got two steps when she heard a voice in the back of her skull.

“Just ask her, you fucking wimp.”

She stopped. Turning back around she cleared her throat and waited for Claire to look back up from her stock take.

“Hey Claire?”

“Yes?” she asked, tapping her pen on her chin.

“I was just wondering if you wanted to go get a drink tonight after work. Would you be up for something like that?”

Claire’s face fell and Max’s stomach fell perfectly in time with it. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t, not tonight.”

Max began to turn away so she wouldn’t see how pathetic she looked. “That’s okay. I was just-“

“But I’m free tomorrow night. Would that do?”

Max looked back and could not stop the biggest grin she had ever had spreading across her face.

“That would do just fine.”

“Okay,” said Claire, going back to her stock take. “Pick me up from the front of the store at five tomorrow. Okay?”


Max walked back to the front of the dock. She never expected her to say yes, it wasn’t the sort of response she was used to from girls like that.

But she had, all the same.

Max walked towards the light, confident that whatever she had done in the past, whatever time she had wasted, there was still somebody looking out for her.

Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #27

Chapter 27
Green Light Go!

Dr Skin is everywhere. Dr Skin is nowhere.

Dr Skin is everything and anything.

Dr Skin is.


Max woke up five minutes before the alarm clock went off, but she didn’t move a muscle. She just lay perfectly still and watched the bright green numbers count down.

The last minute came up and she buried her head in her pillow, hoping it would somehow stretch out for an eternity, but the alarm went off, shattering her hopes.

“Fuck it,” she moaned, hitting the snooze switch and swinging her legs out of bed.

As she sat on the edge of his bed, she was suddenly hit by the overwhelming feeling that she had forgotten something incredibly important. It wasn’t something she had to do, but something that she knew she should remember.

She rubbed her head and tried to recall what it could be. She remembered watching zombie movies with Brian last night and could even remember drifting off to sleep in the middle of a particularly gory bit.

But then there was a gap in her memories. She knew she probably just shuffled off to bed in a half-daze, but she couldn’t even remember that.

She just couldn’t shake the feeling that something important had happened, something that could potentially have changed her entire life. It was right in the depths of her memory and she tried to concentrate, hoping it would rise to the surface.

But for the second time that morning, her hopes were cruelly shattered by the alarm clock going off. Grumbling and mumbling, Max hit the snooze button again and tried to concentrate again in the lost memory, but it was no use.

It was gone.

“Fuck it,” she whispered. She stood up and moved out into the main room of her apartment, scratching her backside as she shuffled forward. It all looked normal and she spotted a half-smoked joint lying in the ashtray.

That explains the memory loss, she thought, even though it still didn’t feel right at all.

She carried on scratching her backside, only stopping when her phone suddenly rang. She glanced at the clock on the wall, but she still had an hour to get into work, so it couldn’t be them ringing.

Max wandered over to the phone and reached out for it, only to hesitate. She didn’t know why she stopped, she just stood there, her hand held out, not moving.

She began to wish it would just stop ringing, but it just kept on going. She stood still for more than a minute, before shaking her head and laughing at her own stupidity.

“Fuck it,” she groaned. She picked up the phone and answered in a much clearer voice. “Hello?”

There was somebody on the other end of the line, Max could hear them breathing. But they didn’t say anything at first and Max tried again. “Hello?”

This time the voice on the other side replied, speaking in a low, gravelly monotone.

“Everything new is old again,” it said.

“What?” asked Max, but the caller hung up on her, leaving her with a dead line.

Max hung up and didn’t move. There was something about the voice that reminded her of something and she had the strangest feeling that that something was connected to her strange memory loss.

“Fuck it,” she said clearly. She didn’t have time for this.

Max headed for the bathroom to get ready for work. It was going to be a long, hard day and the weekend was still a long way off.


Doctor Skin no longer exists in any conventional sense, but that doesn’t stop him from having a sense of humour about it all.

A hedonist by choice and a nihilist by nature, he was not surprised to have lost all physical form after breaking through the final barrier. His consciousness is still as strong as ever, just severely lacking in any kind of corporeal form.

In the formless void, understanding is everything and Skin knows it all. He knows his own purpose in life, he knows why he ever existed in the first place.

It gives him little comfort, but it still makes him want to laugh.

He feels some regret at leaving Max behind, using her as a stepping stone for his own ascension, another man making his way on the efforts of a woman, even if they were basically the same person. But he also knew in his non-existent heart that she had made the choice to go her own way, and it wasn't up to him to make that decision for her.

Moving on and ditching the guilt, he concentrates and attempts to rebuild himself from the ground up. He has now pushed himself past all worlds and all egos, but the very essence of Skin is eternal and he knows he can build himself up from the smallest, tiniest details.

Doctor Skin concentrates.

He remembers the tiny scar on the back of his right hand, the way it curves back on itself, the whiteness of the scarred tissue against his skin. He remembers how it was right in the center of the hand, directly below the knuckle of his index finger.

He builds the memory up from there, starting with the rest of his hand and his long, bony fingers. The sensation of his arms hanging at his side comes easily, remembering the weight of his torso takes a little more effort.

He creates himself. He builds himself from a lifetime of memory and sensation and experience. His body was destroyed in his final push into the infinite, but he has the will and the skill to start all over again.

Dr Skin feels it all come together as sensation returns to every part of his body, every nerve singing in the joy of life, every muscle coiled and ready for action. He even recreates his very best clothes, including the long paisley jacket he lost 10 years ago. He has become other than what he was, but is still himself, right down to the sub-atomic level.

Satisfied, he opens his new eyes.

With everything he has seen and experienced in his quest for an impossible answer, Skin is ready for anything, but the sight that greets him steals away the first breath from his newly formed lungs.

He is hanging in nothingness, but spread out beneath him is all of time and space, laid out in all its glory. All of history and everything to come can be seen in prefect detail, spread out before him in a glowing tableau. He can see the dinosaurs roam the earth right through one small section and the rise and fall of mankind right next to it.

There is only one thing missing. Although Skin can concentrate on any point and see it in infinite detail, his own life, his own journey, is not there. There isn’t even a blank space where it should be, it is just as if it had never existed in the first place.

“Ha!” he laughs, the noise echoing around the empty void. If he never existed, none of this is real in the first place.

“So why worry about it?” he asks nobody. “Everything old is new again!”

Turning his attention back to business, Skin knows he has all the options he could ever need. He knows what he can do and how he can do it.

In the vast tapestry of everything, Dr Skin finds the one point he needs. He moves towards it, but hesitates and looks back at something.

“Well? Come on then!”

Then he laughs again and leans forward, falling down to the world. It rushes up and envelops him as he rushes towards the last stop.

He falls from outside the world, but he doesn’t fall alone.

You’re with him.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #26

Chapter 26
Destination Unknown

As Dr Skin drank the bottle, Max shrugged and leaned back in her car seat. She looked out the window, but apart from the revelation of the sky, it was still a wasteland out there, unchanged from their first arrival.

And then Max felt it coming on again. The buzzing noise that had nearly driven her crazy earlier began to build up again and everything Max looked at, both in the car and outside it, seemed to come into focus with such clarity it felt like it was searing her retinas.

Her breath quickening, she leaned forward and rubbed her hands together, but even this action felt like too much sensation, every piece of her body suddenly feeling hyper-sensitive.

She glanced at Skin, who didn’t seem worried at all. Or was doing a better job than Max at hiding it.

“I can feel it too,” said Skin, as if he could sense exactly what Max was thinking. He closed his eyes and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the steering wheel tightly. “Another change coming on. Not so random this time. Get ready.”

Max wanted to ask him what he meant by ready, but then it all exploded in her mind’s eye. The wasteland suddenly curved up around them, blocking off the bone sky as they found themselves driving down a long, dark tunnel, a burst of light at the end of it getting ever closer.

Putting her head in one of her hands, Max scratched the side of it with the free hand as the buzzing noise increased, but then it all cut out as they suddenly burst through into the light.

It took Max a moment for her eyes to adjust to the sudden glare, but then she realized they were driving through an immaculately kept park, with flowers blooming and neat green grass all around.

Skin didn’t slow down as they speed through the park on a concrete pathway. The buzzing noise had vanished, but nothing had replaced it and all Max could hear was the beating of her own heart as they drove on.

Then figures began to fade into view all around them, hundreds of people enjoying the sanctity of the park, paying no heed to the car barreling right through the middle of it.

Max caught sight of several of the figures and realized she recognized many of them. She saw Farrar and Kubrick walk around a rose garden, gesturing wildly as they argued in total silence. She saw the security guard who had stopped her entering the court, holding back Jono from entering another part of the garden. She saw Brian and Sonya, sharing a cigarette on a grassy knoll, both waving lazily at Max as the car sped past them.

She thought she saw Claire off in the middle of the crowd, but she only caught a glimpse of the back of her head before she vanished into the throng.

Dr Skin also saw familiar faces from his side of the car. He saw the league of assassins who had tried to stop him playing a friendly game of soccer amongst themselves and the child oracle they had been protecting, still playing in his sandpit.

He recognized the Griffin asking a group of police officers riddles and it shook a claw at him happily. He saw the Librarian up on a small hill, ignoring him as he read a thick book, saw Cthulhu walking hand in hand with the maniac in the hockey mask, saw Mr Green, Mr Yellow and Mr Red all seated at a table, playing cards.

They both felt a shift in the air as somebody appeared in the car’s back seats.

“They’re all here,” said Rocket Fish from directly behind Skin.

“They had to be,” agreed King Goob behind Max. “All the chances that were thrown away, but never forgotten.”

“Can you feel the love?”

“My friend, we are the love.”

Max turned to confront them, but they had vanished before she got around.

“Yes,” said Skin suddenly, a spark flaring in his eye. “Yes!”

“What?” asked Max, but she was shoved back in her seat as Skin floored the accelerator, pushing the car even faster.

“What the hell?” yelled Max as Skin drove the car faster and faster. Max looked out the window, but they were already going so fast there was nothing but a green and red blur to be seen.

“We need to accelerate past it all!” Skin screamed suddenly. “Velocity is the key!”

The car continued to pick up speed and Max felt her ears pop as they smashed through another invisible barrier. They were now traveling through something Max could barely comprehend, a colorful mix of everything, all the detail of all the worlds, all put through a cosmic blender and spread out from here to eternity.

They got faster and faster and the car began to fall apart about them, firstly as small pieces began to tear away, then more seriously as whole sections of it peeled off.

“Fuck!” cried Max as the car exploded around them, the shattered debris instantly vanishing. Neither Max or Skin slowed down, they continued to hurtle through existence itself at speeds that barely made sense, but still managed to exist.

Max felt her very being stretch and pull thin. She thought she was going to tear apart just like the car, but Skin grabbed onto her hand and pulled Max with him.

“Come on!” hollered Dr Skin, barely able to hide his joy. “This is it! This is everything!”

Max wanted to know what he meant, what it all meant, but she couldn’t find the words.

“Holy shit!” screamed Skin, reaching a hand forward as the forces of reality battered around and through them. “I can see it! I’m almost there!”

And all of a sudden, Max knew what it all meant. It was all so clear. She knew what they were facing, but she also knew he wasn’t ready for it. She would only slow Skin down.

Dr Skin looked back at her and in the eerie light of everything, Max saw Skin smile and nod slowly.

“It’s okay,” he said in a small voice that Max somehow still managed to hear. “I understand.”

Max tried to reply, but she couldn’t speak, her words caught in her throat.

“It’s all right,” continued Skin. “I wouldn’t have got this far without you. But I’ll take this last step myself.”

He let go of Max.

Instantly, they were an eternity apart. Max fell back, pulled back down by some inexorable gravity.

She felt calm, knowing she was heading back to her life, away from the weird, back to the normal.

She felt a little regret, but knew in her heart she had no other option.

Max vanished.

Dr Skin took one last long look back, then pushed on, into the infinite.

It all opened up for him. Just like he knew it would.

Skin laughed as passed the last barrier and broke on through to the other side.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #25

Chapter 25
Getting Away With It All

“Are you okay?” asked Max as Dr Skin hobbled around to the driver’s side, blood still pouring from his ruined face. “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?”

Stopping just short of the door, Skin actually managed to look a little offended. “What are you saying?”

“You look like shit, man.”

“There’s no need to get personal,” said Skin, shaking his head. “No, I’ll be all right. This is nothing. I’ll be good as new before you know it.”

He opened the car door and slid behind the wheel. “Now let’s go! There has been far too much fucking about and I’m damn keen to get straight to the point! Come on!”

“Whatever you say, pal,” muttered Max, reaching for the door handle. But as she opened it, she was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of deja-vu, the stench of pure, unbridled nostalgia welling up from deep within him. She had done something like this before.

No, she thought. Not something like this. Something exactly like this, She had done this very action before, getting into a car she didn’t recognize that was standing in the middle of a vast wasteland as Dr Skin waited patiently. It was all so familiar because she had been here before. Her breath caught in her throat and a sinking feeling threatened to overwhelm her as she realized she would always be here, doing the same thing, over and over and over again.

“Get a fucking move on!” barked Skin as he kicked the engine into life, snapping Max out of her panic. She began to breathe normally again, already over her fear. As she got into the passenger seat and began to close the door behind her, she had already forgotten what it was that had panicked her in the first place.

“That was weird,” she mumbled, just as Skin hit the accelerator, the car surging forward before Max even had a chance to close the door. It slammed shut anyway with the sudden start, almost closing on Max’s leg.

Dr Skin shifted through the gears in an instant and soon had the car at top speed, roaring across the wasteland. He took his eyes off where they were going to look at Max mockingly. “That was weird? I must say, you’re taking it all very well.”

“What do you mean?” asked Max. She wondered if she should bother putting the seatbelt on, but there was nothing around them they could hit, so she let it slide.

Skin grinned. “I mean I’m used to strangeness. It’s always been a part of me and I’ve had a lifetime to adapt to it, but I’ve dragged you from your mundane life and thrown you right into the deep end of the weird. Shit, look at my face.” He pointed at his head, which showed few of the signs of the beating he had taken. “I’m almost completely healed. You’ve never seen anything like that before, have you? Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t curled up into a whimpering ball and wished it all went away.”

“Not really my style,” shrugged Max. “This is pretty fucked up and I never expected to end up in a place like this with someone like you, but there ain’t much use in trying to hide from it.”

Max paused as a thought finally occurred to her. “Although…”

Skin still didn’t bother looking at their path. “Although what?”

“Although, I guess there is always the possibility that I have actually just gone totally bugfuck mental. That I’m really sitting on my sofa, shitting in my pants and rocking back and forth as I fall further and further into a fantasy where I get into epic fights and travel between worlds with the snap of a finger.”

Max snapped a finger, then smiled and tapped the dashboard in front of her. “Nah, feels real enough. Guess I’m not crazy.”

“Well,” said Skin, “not as crazy as anybody else.”

“Heh,” laughed Max weakly, just as she noticed there was something at her feet. She reached down to lift it up. “Hey, look at this.”

She pulled up a small hamper and opened it up. It was full to the brim with old comic books, chocolate bars, bottles of cheap wine and a large handgun.

“Wow,” said Max, flicking through a couple of the comics, but handing the gun over to Skin. “Here, you better have this. I’m no good with guns.”

Skin distastefully took the gun between two fingers and opened the window beside him. “I don’t need guns anymore. We’ve gone right past that.”

He blinked and spoke to himself in a tiny whisper. “It’s funny. I thought this was more a Die Hard type of thing, but it turned out to be more 2001 than anything. I guess even fictional characters get the chance to evolve…”

“What’s that?” said Max as she stuffed her face with one of the chocolate bars, spraying crumbs all over the car floor.

“Nothing,” said Skin. He began to toss the gun out the window, but something made him look up and he hesitated.

“Hey,” he said, tapping Max on the shoulder and pointing up. “Check that out.”

Max looked up. The dark clouds that had covered the sky ever since they arrived in the wasteland had disappeared, but they revealed something that looked like no sky Max had ever seen.

“What is that?” she asked Skin.

“It looks like…. bone,” he replied.

Max realized that Skin had picked it right. Hovering over them, only a couple of hundreds meters up, a huge expanse of pure white bone stretched across the sky, curving slightly downwards over the horizon ahead.

“What the fuck is all that about?” said Max

“Let’s find out,” said Skin, spinning the gun around on his finger until the handle slapped securely into his palm, taking aim and firing three shots up at the bone sky.

The bullets bounced harmlessly off the bone, but both Max and Dr Skin screamed in agony and clutched their heads as pain sliced right through their skulls. Skin slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt as they both waited for the pain to slowly subside.

As soon as it had degenerated into a dull throb, Max punched Skin in the arm. “Don’t ever fucking do anything like that again!”

“Yeah,” agreed Skin breathlessly. Realizing he was still clutching the gun, he finally tossed it out the window, put the car into first gear and took off again.

“Jesus,” groaned Max as she opened up one of the bottles of wine. “That was some harsh shit.”

“Did you feel it?” asked Skin.

It took a moment for Max to realize Skin was talking seriously. “Uh, yeah.”

“No, did you feel it? There were three distinct bursts of pain.”

Max considered it for a minute. “Yeah, I guess. Just like the three shots, right? But so what?”

“Nothing,” said Skin, shaking his head. He reached over and snatched the wine bottle out of Max’s grasp. “Here. Give me some of that.”

“Drink driving isn’t big or clever,” said Max in a scolding tone.

“I’ve never been accused of either,” replied Skin, draining the bottle in one huge gulp.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #24

Chapter 24
Second Verse, Same As The First

Mr. Red charged at Dr Skin again, snarling in pure rage. Skin sidestepped him again, but Mr. Red was ready for him this time and swung back around, grabbing Skin around the shoulder.

Skin wriggled out of his grip, but Mr. Red loomed in close and headbutted Skin right across the nose, breaking it and sending blood streaming down his face.

Staggering back, Skin blocked several short, sharp jabs from Mr. Red, but left himself wide open to a huge haymaker which knocked Skin off his feet.

Skin fell to the ground, cradling his aching jaw and Mr. Red went to stomp on his head, but he rolled out of the way. He didn't get a chance to get to his feet as Mr. Red continued to stomp after him. Then Skin stopped and Mr. Red lifted his foot high, ready to drive it right through Skin's chest.

But Skin reached out, grabbed hold of the raised foot and twisted. Mr. Red began to wobble as he lost his balance, but Skin hurried things along by kicking him as hard as he could right in the knee. Mr. Red toppled down and Skin leaped on him.

Mr. Red tried to crawl away, but Skin wouldn't let him budge and the two men began to grapple on the ground, neither of them able to get the upper hand.

Max watched them, disappointed by how quickly the fight had degenerated into a crawl brawl. Skin seemed to be holding his own, but in their current state all finesse was lost and any of Skin's fighting skills were negated. It was only a matter of strength now and Mr. Red had the upper hand in that respect.

She was proven right when Mr. Red moved around and got his legs between him and Skin. He shoved out with them, sending Skin sprawling away as the breath was pushed right out of him.

Mr. Red got to his feet first, although the winded Skin somehow managed to scramble to a standing position a split-second later. Skin could feel the last of his strength failing and put everything he had into one last lunge at the bigger man.

He almost landed the blow that would have finished Mr. Red off, but he dodged Skin's punch and with a slap, grabbed onto Skin's wrist and twisted. Skin cried out, but then screamed as Mr. Red drove one of his huge fists right into the back of the elbow on the outstretched arm.

Dr Skin's elbow bent in a direction that it should never have gone anywhere near and Max heard the snap of bone reverberate around the wasteland.

"Oh fuck," whispered Max as Dr Skin fell to his knees cradling his shattered arm.

Mr. Red gave Skin no further chances and kicked him in the face. Skin fell backwards and Mr. Red leaned forward and began punching Skin over and over again.

The sounds from the beating soon degenerated from dull thumping sounds to something a lot wetter, but Mr. Red showed no sign of slowing down.

Slowly and methodically, Mr. Red began to beat Dr Skin to death and Max suddenly realised she had to get involved.

She had to do something.

She didn't understand any of this. Most of the recent events had gone right over her head, but she knew deep down that she could trust Skin, that she had to help him before he was beyond any help.

She had to do something.

Max saw the blade of the broken spade lying nearby. She picked it up by the small part of the handle that was left and walked towards Mr. Red, who was still busy with his punching and did not notice Max coming up behind him.

Max's mind went blank. She raised the blade and smacked it as hard as she could into the side of Mr. Red's head.

He didn't go down, but he did stop beating Skin.

He turned around to Max with murder in his eyes. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

Max looked stupidly at the broken half of the spade in her hands. "Ah. Nothing."

Mr. Red stood up and advanced on Max. "You idiot. You don't understand any of this."

"I never do," said Max meekly as she backed away. "But I do my best."

Embarrassingly, she could feel her bowels begin to loosen as Mr. Red reached out for her.

And then the other half of the broken spade suddenly sprouted out of the front of Mr. Red's chest, staining his red suit an even deeper scarlet. Mr. Red looked down at it in disbelief and turned around to see Skin standing there.

Dr Skin's face had been pounded into something that could barely be recognised as a face anymore, but he still managed to smile and spit out a few words.

"Our fight is not done yet."

Mr. Red sneered and he tried to slap Skin away, but his legs went out from under him and he fell to his knees on the ground, kicking up a small cloud of dust. He idly nudged the bloody broken end of the handle that protruded from his body with one finger before looking up at Skin and smiling sadly.

"Oh well," he muttered. "I tried my best."

He slowly reached into his suit jacket pocket, pulling something out with a wince of pain. He threw the object to Skin, who caught it in one hand. Looking closer, he saw it was a key-ring with a green smiley-face on it, with one lone car key attached.

Mr Red coughed, a small spray of blood flying out into the air. "You can go now."

Then he fell back into the dust. The ground swallowed him up and within an instant, there was no sign he had ever existed.

Max wandered over to Skin, who was still examining the key. "Jesus, man. Are you okay?"

"I'll be fine," said Skin, accidentally spitting out a tooth as he spoke.

"Are you sure? That arm looks pretty bad."

"Trust me. I'm a doctor." He looked up at Max and forced his broken face into a smile again.

"Thanks, Max. I knew I couldn't have got there without you."

"I didn't really do anything."

"You did everything. You made a choice. Now come on."

"Where?" asked Max.

Skin pointed behind her at the pristine car sitting in the middle of the wasteland. Max didn't recognise the make or model, but Skin did.

"I thought I blew it up," he muttered. "But that's the good thing about fictional things. It's easy to bring them back."

He began to walk towards the car, waving Max on. "Come on."

Max didn't move. "I don't get it."

Skin turned and looked back at her. "You never do. But don't worry, this is the last part of the journey. We're almost there now, it's all just a car ride away. Everything I've ever wanted is just a car ride away."

He held up the key ring and managed a smile again. "And this time, I'm driving."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #23

Chapter 23

"I have to stop you," said Mr. Red, stalking towards Skin, cracking his knuckles in time with each step. "Even if it means breaking every single bone in your body."

"Is that really necessary?" asked Dr Skin, stifling a yawn.

"I've got to."

"Yeah," said Skin, reaching inside his jacket pocket. "Well, I've still got the fucking gun."

He whipped out the pistol from under his jacket, but Mr. Red just watched impassively as it broke apart into a dozen little pieces in Skin's hand. Each of those pieces broke up even further as they fell out of Skin's grip, until only dust hit the ground.

"Bugger," moaned Skin.

"Like I said," continued Mr. Red. "If I have to break all your bones to stop you, I will."

"That's harsh," said Skin as he backed away from him, looking desperately for anything, any weapon or object that could give him an advantage, unfair or otherwise. But apart from Max's broken spade, there was nothing. It truly was a wasteland.

Skin backed up even faster as Mr. Red increased the pace. "I mean, are you even going to break those tiny little bones in my inner ear?"

"Every bone," said Mr. Red, flexing his fingers before forming them back into fists. "Whatever it takes."

Skin glanced over at Max to see if she would be of any use, but Max just shrugged helplessly.

"I'm no good at fighting," she mumbled apologetically. "Really, I'm rubbish. I've only been in one fight and I had my he-"

"Some other time, Max," said Skin just as Mr. Red reached him.

Up close, Skin finally had the chance to see how big his opponent was. Although he shared the same suit and face as the previous colour coded entities he had run into, Skin saw that Mr. Red was considerably bigger than his earlier counterparts and a lot bigger than Skin himself. Each of his fists was the size of Skin's head. If this fight was going to be a test of strength, then Skin had already lost.

Luckily, Dr Skin was not afraid to cheat.

He waited until Mr. Red had just stepped in range, then lashed out and kicked him as hard as he could, right in the groin. Mr. Red's face went a subtle shade of purple and he breathed out a heavy, pained breath.

"That's not fair," he moaned, but Skin wasn't finished yet. He reached forward and poked Mr. Red in the eyes as hard as he could. As the bigger man cried out and covered them, Skin leaped up and kicked him in the throat.

"Yeah!" cried Max, caught up in the moment. "Go Skin! Fuckin' get into him!"

Mr. Skin staggered back a step and Skin leaped at him, but Mr Red suddenly recovered and pivoted away from Skin's blow, pushing him away with his giant palms.

"Um, no," said Max helpfully, "that isn't quite what I meant."

Mr. Red shot Max a dirty look before turning his full attention back to Skin. "This was just a job, Doctor. Now you've made it personal."

"It's always personal," said Skin, turning his head slightly and spitting onto the dry ground. As he turned back he didn't even see that the earth closed up around his spit and swallowed it whole. "It's no use fighting if you haven't got a stake in it."

Mr. Red paused for a second, a strange look that managed to combine puzzlement and amusement on his face. "There are no stakes here. I am going to stop you from breaking that which should not be broken. It's as simple as that."

"You can try, you fuck," sneered Skin, and Mr. Red's eyes blazed as he headed in again, but Max stopped them both.

"Excuse me?"

Dr Skin and Mr. Red both turned to look at Max at the same time and even managed to voice their query at the exact same moment. "WHAT?"

"Um," said Max nervously. "I just wanted to know what you mean, what can't be broken? I mean, as far as I've ever known, there hasn't been any rules that have ever been created that couldn't be broken. If the will is there to break them..."

"I am not talking about rules," sniffed Mr. Red. Skin relaxed from his defensive stance for a moment and began to pick some non-existent dirt out from under his fingernails. "I am talking about barriers, Barriers that can not be broken, that must never be crossed. The line between life and death, the difference between then and soon."

His eyes narrowed just a little. "And characters that should never meet their creators."

Max waited for the punch line, until she finally realized that that was it. "Oh, right."

Mr. Red turned back to Skin. "Anything to add?"

Skin stopped pretending to be fascinated by his fingernail. "No, not really. Could we please fight now?"

"With pleasure," said Mr. Red, suddenly lunging at Skin with a raised fist.

Never one to give up on a tactic, Skin went for the groin again, but Mr. Red spun around it, moving incredibly fast for his size, and swung his fist at Skin's head.

Skin ducked under it and moved past the overreaching Mr. Red, jabbing his elbow into the bigger man's gut with all his force and trying to trip him up as he stepped past.

But Mr. Red stood his ground and trapped Skin's foot, throwing him off balance. As he tumbled forward, Mr. Red grabbed him by the shoulder with one arm and yanked him back, using his free hand to drive a hard fist into the base of Skin's spine.

Skin tried to scream out, but the pain choked him off as Mr. Red spun him around and slapped him with an open palm right across the face. His cheek stinging like it had just been stung by a million wasps, Skin had no time to react as Mr. Red gripped him by the throat, squeezing tighter as he lifted him up off the ground.

Standing only a few meters away, Max was paralysed by indecision. She knew in her heart she should help Skin, but she had not been lying when she said fighting was not her thing. The one serious fight she had ever been in had ended with her lying bloody and broken in a pre-school playground. She would be less than useless against somebody like Mr. Red.

As if he could sense what he was thinking, Mr. Red glanced over at Max and smiled evilly, only looking back when Skin tried to speak.

"What's that?" he asked mockingly as Skin muttered and choked. He pulled Skin closer to hear him. "What did you say?"

Dr Skin actually smiled as he spoke in a perfectly clear voice. "I said you're really starting to piss me off."

He rammed his index finger as far as he could right up Mr. Red's left nostril. Screaming in pain, Mr. Red dropped Skin, who fell into a crouching position and rolled away as Mr. Red tried to kick him in his rage.

Mr. Red held his nose delicately. "I can't believe you just did that!"

"I do what I have to," said Skin, rising up to full height again.

"But you stuck your finger up my nose!" whined Mr. Red. "What kind of fighter are you?"

Dr Skin winked. "One that can improvise. Like you said, whatever it takes.”

Mr Red did not like that. He advanced again, and Dr Skin waited for him.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #22

Chapter 22
Don't Go Anywhere

It didn't feel like a dream, thought Max. Even with all the craziness, everything was clear and sharp.

The only thing that really felt unreal about it was her own reaction. Her life was bone-crushingly normal, and now she was in an other-worldly trip through something she could never have imagined, and she was just rolling with it.

And now they were away again, off and racing. Without even thinking about it any further, Max found herself running down a city street, following Skin blindly as a huge crowd of policemen, soldiers and nuns chased after them, screaming in rage and waving garden implements at them.

Skin leaped over a parked car and made a stand.

“Come on then!” he screamed at the advancing crowd, taunting them forward. “Let’s see what you’ve got!”

“Let’s not and say we did!” cried Max. She didn’t slow down and ran right past Skin.

But she only got a few more steps before everything shifted again and she lurched into the seat of a packed passenger aircraft. A stewardess scowled at her as she cried out with the shock of a sudden stop.

“Please,” she said, the lines at the corner of her eyes showing with her displeasure. “You’re disturbing the other passengers.”

“Yeah,” agreed Skin, leafing through an in-flight magazine with the absolute minimum of enthusiasm. “Calm down, Max. It’s all okay.”

Max smiled weakly at the stewardess and pretended to look out the window. Down below an unfamiliar landscape was passing by, but it could have been anywhere in the world from this altitude.

Max waited until the stewardess had moved on before replying to Skin with a hiss. “Okay? How the fuck is it all okay? Last night I sat around at home getting fucking stoned and fucking watching fucking zombie movies, now I’m getting fucking bounced around from one fucking place to another like a fucking cosmic fucking pin fucking ball!”

“Oh dear,” said Skin, looking up from his magazine. “I wish you hadn’t mentioned them.”

“Fucking mentioned fucking who?” whispered Max harshly, only to get her reply straight away as a zombie lurched out of the darkness around her and tried to bite her face off. “Oh fuck me!”

“Relax” said Skin, that insufferable grin still on his face. He pulled the dead man off Max, stuck his hands in the zombie’s mouth and ripped its rotting jaw right off. The zombie backed away, clutching uselessly at the space where its mouth used to be and Skin kicked it even further away for good measure. He held up a spade and offered it to Max.

“C’mon then,” he said with a grin. “Let’s get into it.”

Max looked around to see more zombies shuffling out of the dark corners of the rundown warehouse. Standing in the middle with her back to Skin, Max felt the reassuring weight of the spade in her hand and made a decision. This wasn’t anything dangerous. This was just another game and she could continue to resist. Or she could play along.

Game on.

“Come on then, you rotting motherfuckers!” she snarled at the approaching undead. “Lets see what you’ve got!”

“That’s the fucking spirit!” laughed Skin, dashing forward and attacking the nearest zombies with his bare hands, ripping into them with his fingers and kicking apart their decaying bodies. He ducked and weaved through their feeble attacks, more than a dozen of them falling apart in a matter of seconds.

“Yeah!” yelled Max, taking her own attack to them. She started smacking them over the head with the spade, but soon discovered the sharp edge of it could cut through the flesh with little effort and she started swinging it wildly at them, taking off heads and limbs with ease.

“They’re such a fucking cliché these days!” howled Skin from the other side of the vast room as he flipped over and crushed the skull of the nearest zombie with his heel. “But that doesn’t mean they still can’t be a lot of fun to beat the hell out of!”

“I can dig that,” said Max, moving back over towards Skin, getting in a few more decent headshots as she went. She had been watching zombie films since she was a teenager and there had always been some part of her brain that had thought about how she would survive a zombie apocalypse. She was actually pleased to discover that all that idle thought had not been wasted after all.

She reached Skin and the two of them, mirror images in a way that could never be limited to something as crude as gender or physical appearance, fought back to back again.

“One thing I don’t get,” said Max, slicing through a zombie’s face at eye level. “I make a mention of zombies and next thing we know we’re facing off against the motherfuckers. Is it really all that simple?”

Skin paused to rip out a spine before replying. “Well, one thing my travels through the multiverse have taught me is that things are usually much more simple than they look.”

“So,” said Max thoughtfully. “If I had mentioned scantily, clad Amazon warrior princesses instead of zombies, would we-“

“Oh crap,” said Skin as the zombies vanished and they found themselves at the top steps of a huge Greek temple, surrounded by thousands of scantily clad Amazon warrior princesses. “That wasn’t such a great idea.”

“Really?” said an unconvinced Max, gripping her spade just a little bit harder. “I think it worked out all right.”

The amazons began to march up the steps towards them, raising their weapons.

“We can’t fight women!” said Skin. “Beating down on the undead is easy enough, but I can’t fight females!”

“That’s very sexist of you, Doc.”

“Maybe, but at least I don’t have the libido and fantasies of a freakin’ 16-year-old.”

The first of the caramel-skinned warrior women reached the top of the steps and brandished her blade, snarling in a language Max had never heard before.

Skin suddenly stepped forward. “Ladies! We don’t need to fight! Can’t we all just get along?”

An arrow flew out of the crowd below and embedded itself in Skin’s right shoulder.

He looked at the arrow sticking out of him. Then he looked at the crowd. Then he looked at Max. Then he looked at the arrow. Then he looked back to Max. Then he looked at the arrow again. Then he screamed.

“Oh god! Oh man, that hurts! Take it out, take it out, take it out!”

The warrior women nearest the two of them stifled some laughter and Max joined them until she heard another deep male voice snickering along with them.

Max stopped and turned to see a man in a dark red suit standing in the middle of a vast wasteland laughing at Skin.

“You really are terrible at this, aren’t you?” he said.

As well as the amazons and temple, the arrow had vanished from Skin’s shoulder along with the pain it had created. But Skin barely noticed. He recognized the man. The suit had changed colour again, but the face was the same.

“Let me guess,” said Skin slowly. “You must be Mr Red.”

Mr Red nodded slightly. “You’re getting better at this, Doctor Skin.”

“So I guess you’re here to offer some ridiculously cryptic advice before we move on?”

“No,” said Mr Red calmly. “I’m here to stop you.”

“Whatever,” yawned Max, moving forward with her spade and swinging it at Mr Red’s head. But he caught the blade of the spade, yanked it out of Max’s hands and with little effort, snapped it in two.

“I see,” said Max, just as Mr Red casually slapped her away. Max found herself flying through the air, hitting the ground hard, her face screaming in agony.

“Jesus Christ!” she cried. “Motherfucker broke my jaw!”

“Hardly,” said an unimpressed Mr Red. “You wouldn’t be talking if I broke your jaw. So just lie there and do nothing, you useless piece of shit.”

“Okay,” said Max meekly. She glanced at Skin. “I guess this means we aren’t playing a game anymore, huh?”

“Game over, man,” said Doctor Skin grimly as Mr Red advanced towards him with clenched fists. “Game over.”

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #21

Chapter 21
Escape into Infinity!

Max squirmed uncomfortably in the wooden seat. “You know, this isn’t exactly what I expected.”

“It never is,” said Dr Skin from the other side of the desk, reaching into his white coat and pulling out a ballpoint pen. “I never seem to end up where I’m supposed to be.”

“I get that. I just didn’t think I would end up in a doctor’s office.”

Skin looked up and around the room, taking in the framed medical certificates, medical instruments and large plastic skeleton in the corner. With a sniff, he pulled a prescription pad out of the desk and started writing on it. “This isn’t my office.”

“I never said it was,” said Max defensively. “It’s just that… I just didn’t think I would end up here
when I stepped through a hole in thin air, you know?”

Skin didn’t look up from his scribbling. “I know what you mean. It’s never what you expect. Somehow, it’s always a lot lamer, like there wasn’t much effort put into it.”

Max rubbed her temple as a headache began to grow. “I just wish there was a point to it, that’s all.”

“Don’t count on it,” said Skin with a wink as he slid the prescription across to Max. She picked it up and read the words on it: ‘DON’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE SCREEN.’

“What fucking screen?” moaned Max, but Skin, who was now sitting beside her, silenced her with a finger to the lips and a harsh hush.

“That fucking screen,” he said, pointing up at the movie screen in front of them. He offered some popcorn to Max, who refused to take any. Skin shrugged and starting shoveling the snack into his mouth.

The empty cinema around them began to darken and Skin laughed, spraying popcorn out of his mouth. “All right! The movie is about to start!”

The transition between the doctor’s office and the cinema had been so smooth Max hadn't even noticed it, but she did see that figures were fading into the seats around them as the screen burst into sudden bright life.

Max nudged Skin. “What kind of movie is this anyway?”

Skin just shushed Max again and slumped back in his seat.

On the screen the movie began with a bang, a huge explosion that was so realistic Max could actually feel the heat of the flames. Max stood and staggered back a step as the blast reached her, but Skin grabbed her, pulling them into the cover of a blast crater.

“What the hell?” screamed Max, momentarily deafened.

Skin yelled just loud enough for Max to hear. “Hurry, they’re coming.”

“Who?” cried Max back, only to see figures emerging from the smoke of the explosion. Dressed in ninja gear with grotesque smiles etched across their black masks in red paint and large submachine guns cradled in their arms. They fired a few shots at Max, their bullets flying high over her head, but she still ducked down in total fear.

“Fucking hell!” she yelled hysterically. “They’re shooting at us! Why are they shooting at me? What the fuck did I ever do to them?”

“It’s okay,” said Dr Skin, whipping out the biggest handgun Max had ever seen. “I’ve got the gun.”

He kissed the barrel of the pistol, then stood up and shot at their attackers. Each shot found its mark, most of them to the head, all of them putting down one of the ninjas with one bullet. Max peered over the edge of the crater to get a better look at the carnage, but couldn’t bear to watch. It was so much worse than she could have imagined, as faces exploded in gore and the men in the ninja suits fell screaming as they died without getting a shot off.

Max fell back into the crater, cradling her ears, not caring if Skin saw the tears that began to form. “Make it stop. Please, make it stop.”

“Oh, don’t be such a wimp,” said Skin, just as the rollercoaster they were on reached the apex of the ride and slid over onto the steep slope.

Max opened her eyes, but shut them tightly again as the roller coaster car picked up speed, shooting down the slope, shaking and rattling as it went.

“I fucking hate roller coasters!” she screamed.

“That’s okay,” said Skin as the g-forces suddenly cut out. Max felt fresh grass under her backside and opened her eyes carefully.

Dr Skin and Max were both sitting right in the middle of a huge, deserted stadium. A slight wind was blowing overhead, although it didn’t touch them.

“Heh,” said Skin, his eyes wide. “That was a fucking rush.”

Max moved around until she was sitting on her knees and dug her fingers into the dirt, squeezing the grass in her hand. “That’s it. I ain’t going anywhere else.”

Skin lay back and put his hands behind his head. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean?” said Max incredulously. “I mean I just want to stay still for a second, okay? I don’t want to flip between all these different places, I just want to catch my fucking breath!”

“What different places?”

Max looked over at Skin, but realized he didn’t know what she meant. “Um, the roller coaster and the cinema and the doctor’s office and…”

Skin sat up slowly. “Oh wait, now I know what you mean. Huh, that’s weird.”

“You’re telling me.”

“No, not the skipping between worlds. I’m used to that. It’s just that I honestly didn’t notice.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“I kinda wish I was,” said Skin. He stood up and began pacing around Max, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “No, everything just seemed to flow between one place and another. It felt just as natural as the difference between one breath and the next.”

He snapped his fingers suddenly, the echo of the snap reverberating around the empty stadium. “Of course!”

Max looked up from where she still gripped the ground. “Of course?”

“I feel so much more… connected. I actually feel like I’m becoming more connected with existence as we move on.”

“How very new age of you,” sneered Max.

Skin ignored her. “But we’re being put through our paces. Everything revolves around conflict and what greater conflict is there than a stranger in a strange place? Well, fuck that! I say bring it on!”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” said Max, more than a little worried.

“I say it’s the best idea I’ve ever had!” said Skin triumphantly, before screaming into the wide open sky above them. “You hear me? Bring it on!”

All right, says a voice that comes from every direction at once.

Max felt the grass disappear from under her, just slowly enough for her to get in one last moan. “Oh fuck. Here we go again.”

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #20

Chapter 20
Come On

Dr Skin almost skipped along the pavement as they moved through the city. It was the middle of the day and the streets were crowded, but Skin danced around the other pedestrians, soaking in the sights.
Behind him, Max wondered what the hell she was doing. Things had gotten weird lately, but this was pushing it. Skin didn’t look anything like her, but Max somehow knew she was his doppelganger in ways she could never properly explain.

But that still did not explain why she was willing to give Skin any help she had to give. There was some truth in what Skin had said earlier, Max’s world was stuck in a rut and she had been hoping something would come along that would push her out of it. She just wasn’t sure that following Skin was the most sensible way of kick-starting her life.

“Oh wow,” said Skin suddenly, grabbing Max by the wrist and pulling her along. “Look there. We gotta get something to eat.”

Max saw that Skin was dragging her towards another burger outlet and did not try to resist that much. She had, after all, not eaten in a while. Some people might have thought it was too early in the day for burgers, but Max had never been that kind of person, and Dr Skin seemed to be the same.

They went inside and ordered. Max was disappointed but not surprised when Skin made her pay for their meals, but she let it go. She was silently relieved when her payment wasn't declined, her pay must have gone through overnight.

Max ate her burger quickly enough and Skin wolfed down his meal with great enthusiasm.

“Wow,” he said as he mopped up the last of his food. “So much for the last meal.”

“Yeah,” said Max. “It wasn’t bad, I suppose.”

“Everything feels sharper here,” said Skin, staring off into the middle distance. “Pain is worse, but tastes are better. God, what will it be like when we go all the way?”

Max frowned. “I still don’t get that part.”

“What do you mean?”

“This whole thing about passing into new worlds. How does that work? And why is this starting to sound like something I believe in?”

Skin ignored the second question. He grabbed a sachet of tomato sauce and poured it out onto the table of the restaurant. He made several intersecting circles with the spilled sauce and punched a finger into each one as he talked.

“There are universes beyond this one, Max. Parallel worlds. Some of them are more parallel than others and you can travel through them easily enough. But some of them are on higher levels and take a lot more effort to get through to. I believe that there is a world beyond them all where everything is more real than anything you could possibly imagine. Infinite detail, utter complexity.”

“Uh-huh,” said Max. The diagram Skin had made on the tabletop had become smeared as he talked and now looked suspiciously like a hugely deformed smiley-face. “Well, I’m glad you cleared all that up.”

Skin stood up. “Right, let’s get going.”

Max went to follow, just as one of the restaurant workers came up to the table and saw the mess with the sauce. “What the hell?”

Skin grinned as he dragged Max out the door. “Sorry about that, but we’re dealing with the hidden secrets of reality itself. You’ve got to expect a little mess.”

The restaurant worker was not impressed by his explanation, but Skin and Max were already gone.


“We can’t go in there,” hissed Max as Skin kicked in the heavy metal gate, the padlock giving way with the first blow. “We’ll get arrested. This is private property.”

“Max,” said Skin consolingly, putting his arm over Max’s shoulder as he lead her over the broken gates. “I don’t think it really matters at this stage. What we need to move on is in here. Private property is not a concern.”

The industrial complex was one Max had passed more than a few times and while she had not given it much attention, the times she had had been enough to convince her it was somewhere she did not need to be. Huge, hulking factories stood tall and while they mainly looked unoccupied, there were odd noises that suggested they were otherwise.

“Over here,” said Skin. He pointed to a small polluted stream that ran right through the middle of the complex. “We follow that until we find a hill. That’s where we need to be.”

“Won’t there be guards?” asked Max, still nervous.

“I certainly hope so,” said Skin, his eyes narrowing.

They carried on in silence for a while and saw no other sign of life, apart from a stray dog that poked its head out from behind a run-down truck before disappearing again. Finally they reached the hill Skin had mentioned. Looking around once more, they began to climb, only to finally get caught.

“Oi!” screamed a voice. “You two! Hold it right fucking there!”

Skin smiled evilly as the security guard who had beat him earlier approached, brandishing his club.

The guard’s eyes lit up as he recognized Skin.


“You,” replied Skin as the guard drew closer.

“You never fucking learn, do you?” The guard raised his club as he stepped up to Skin, Max backing away quickly.

“I learn more than you might think,” said Skin, suddenly lunging forward and driving the straight fingers of his right hand directly into the guard’s wrist. Screaming in pain, the guard dropped the baton but didn’t stop and tried to kick Skin in the groin.

Skin stepped aside, swept the guard’s feet out from under him, sending him crashing to the ground. Skin leaped on him and punched him in the face several times, only stopping when Max stepped forward.

“Hey,” said Max. “That’s enough, man. Let him go.”

Doctor Skin looked at Max, looked back at the guard, punched him once more and stood up. The guard, bloody and beaten, moaned but didn’t move.

“Be nice,” said Skin to the guard, before turning back to Max and pulling her up the hill. “Come on Max, let’s conquer this peak.”

It only took a few seconds to do so, the two reaching the top without much effort. Max looked back at the guard, who was starting to twitch, but Skin paid him no heed, staring at the air in front of him.

After a minute of deep contemplation, Max was about to interrupt when Skin snapped his fingers.

“Oh! Of course! There it is!”

He reached out and grabbed hold of the thin air in front of him. It somehow tore, a two-metre hole appearing out of nothing. Skin winked at Max and stepped through.

“Come on Max!” he cried from the other side of the tear. “No more time to waste!”

Max hesitated. This really did not make any kind of sense and following Skin made even less. She was surprised to find she actually wanted to follow, but her legs would not answer.

“Come on, Max!” repeated Skin as the tear in space began to repair itself, the ends of it rapidly closing up.

“This is a bad fucking idea,” moaned Max, leaping forward and diving through the hole, just as it closed behind her.

At the bottom of the small hill, the guard wiped some of the blood off his face and looked up to see where the man who had attacked him had gone, but there was no sign.

On top of the hill, there was nothing at all.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #19

Chapter 19
Together Again, Never Apart

Doctor Skin barged past Max, stepping into the apartment as if he belonged there. He looked around the room, his nose wrinkling in disgust. “Smells a bit, doesn’t it?”

“What?” asked a dazed Max. She glanced out the front door to see if there were any more surprises before closing it and following Skin inside.

“I don’t know,” said Skin, taking a seat on the sofa and putting his feet up. “I always thought reality would be a bit more exciting.”

“What?” asked Max again. She walked around the room, not taking her eyes off Skin for a second. But the more she looked at him, the more Max realized she somehow knew him in a way she could never articulate.

Doctor Skin smiled. “I know this must be a bit confusing for you.”

“That might just be the biggest understatement of the year. Look, who are you?”

Skin leaped up off the couch and offered his hand to Max. “I’m sorry, how terribly rude of me. I’m Doctor Skin.”

Max took the offered hand and shook it weakly.

Skin breathed a sigh of relied. “That’s lucky. I thought there was a chance everything would blow up if we actually touched each other, but it looks like there was nothing to worry about.”

“Gee, that’s reassuring,” said Max sarcastically. “But wait a minute. Did you say Dr Skin? That’s my last name!”

“Yes,” nodded Skin. “Interesting, isn’t it? I bet your first name is Max too.”

Max didn’t reply, but nodded just a little.

“Excellent!” said Skin, slapping his hands together and rubbing them in glee. “It appears I was on the right road after all. I was a little worried I might have got sidetracked again.”

Max had had enough. “Look, just what is this all about? How do I know you? Where did you come from? What are you doing here? What the fuck is this all about?”

Dr Skin’s face clouded over as he frowned. “Are you sure you want to know?”


“Okay,” said Skin. He took one long, deep breath before launching into his explanation. “I’m another version of you who lived in worlds and dimensions you could barely understand. I have traveled through time and space in every possible direction and had my mind expanded in more ways then you can possibly imagine. I have fought gods and monsters, loved far and wide, lived every moment to the fullest.”

He paused to catch his breath again and Max started in with a sarcastic remark, only to be cut off as Skin got going again.

“I lost my one, true love in a terrible accident that was purely my own fault. I have never got over it, but I have pushed myself on in a quest for the purpose of life. I discovered, with no small regret, that there is no purpose in my life.”

“Really?” asked a bored Max, but Skin waved away his cynicism.

“I did discover that I existed in a world that did not conform to any normality and I resolved to find out why. In the most part, I failed, but I discovered along the way that there was another world, a stronger world, where reality was more defined.”

“And this is it?” said Max, waving her arm around.

“I certainly thought so,” said Skin, pacing around the room. “It took some considerable hardship to get here, with the help of some and the hindrance of many. It took almost everything I had to get here, but…”


Dr Skin moved over to the window and put his hand in its surface as he stared down onto the street below. “This place still feels a little wrong. I think my journey isn’t over yet. I may have to move on again.”

“Wow,” said Max in a dull monotone. “That’s remarkable. All that for an explanation and you still haven’t made a single fucking thing clear.”

“I have to find the answer to my existence!” cried Skin, grabbing onto Max’s shirt. “I am lost without any meaning!

“That’s a shame,” said Max, twisting in Skin’s grip and looking at the clock on the wall. “Look, I have to get to work, so…”

“No,” said Skin firmly, letting Max go. “I have been pushed here to meet you. There is something out there that has pushed us together, the same force that has propelled me on the path to this place. I need your help.”

“Why exactly should I help you? What’s in it for me?”

Dr Skin’s eyes blazed. “You are just as lost as I am, aren’t you, Max? You can’t explain it, but you feel it in the very core of your being.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The vague sensation that there should be more to life, that there is something missing in you, something that you need.”

“Doesn’t everybody feel like that?” said Max in a very, very small voice.

“Maybe,” said Skin with an absurdly cocked eyebrow. “But not everybody gets the chance to do something about it.”

Max found herself nodding and gave in. Skin was right. She had to do something and it was being handed to her on a plate here. She would be a fool not to take the chance.

“Okay,” she said, moving over to her phone. “Just give me a minute.”

“Suits me,” said Skin. “I need to take a piss anyway.”

“Bathroom is through there on the left,” said Max, pointing over to the right as she picked up the phone and dialed the number for work. She only had to wait a moment before it was answered by Farrar.

“Hello, dispatch department.”

“Hey Farrar, it’s me.”


“Me! Max!”

“Oh. What do you want? You’re running late, you know.”

“I know. Look, I’m feeling pretty bad this morning, so I’m just going to stay home.”

“Really?” asked Farrar down the phone line, just as Max heard a howl of joy come from the bathroom. She covered the receiver just a second too late. “What was that?”

“Nothing. Look, tell Kubrick we’ll sort out that other thing tomorrow when I come in, okay?”

“I don’t know, Max. You don’t sound very ill to me. I think you should just come in and make an effort.”

“Fuck you, Farrar. I’m sick.”

“Well, there is no need for language like that.”

“Fuck you, Farrar,” Max said again. “I covered your arse when you went to that stupid conference.”

”It wasn’t stupid, it was important business.”

“Whatever,” sighed Max as Skin came back from the bathroom with a huge grin on his face. “Look, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Farrar began to protest more, but Max cut him off and hung up, turning back to Skin. “What the hell was all that about?”

“What?” said a beaming Skin, the very picture of innocence.

“That howl! What the hell was all that about?”

“Oh, that. It was the piss I took.”

“What about it?”

Skin scratched his leg. “It was, without a doubt, the most satisfying piss I’ve ever had in my entire life. This world might not the best I could hope for, but it has its merits.”

“I’m happy for you. Now, what do we do now?”

Skin walked back over to the window and closed his eyes. “I just have to follow my instincts. That’s all I’ve been doing so far. Pushed and pulled in all directions, but my gut feelings have always been straight and true.”

“Uh-huh,” said Max, wondering again why she was putting her trust in this man. “And what is your gut saying now?”

Skin rubbed his belly. “That I’m hungry. But I think I need to head back to the spot where I came into this world. Reality is weak there. I think we can break through into something else.”

“Terrific,” said Max. “I’ll get my coat.”

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #18

Chapter 18
Hello Again

Max pulled the chair out for Claire and she sat down with a smile as a reward for her tiny act of chivalry.

She sat opposite her and gestured across the empty restaurant for the waiter, who acknowledged her presence, but waved a finger to indicate he would be over as soon as possible.

Max didn’t mind waiting. She looked back at Claire and grinned as she took her hands in hers and began to speak.

But she couldn’t hear anything she was saying. Her lips moved, but nothing came out. Max frowned, wondering if she was playing a joke on her, but then she apparently stopped talking and waited for her to reply.

She began to do so, but nothing came out of her mouth either. She formed the words and spoke them normally, but no sound came from her. She cleared her throat silently and tried again, but nothing happened.

The waiter finally joined them and stood slightly behind Max.

“Are you ready to order yet, madam?” she asked in a familiar voice that sent chills down her spine.

She didn’t want to turn and look at the waiter, but she knew she had no choice.

Turning slowly in her seat, Max saw the waiter’s face. It had not improved since she last saw it on his broken television screen and even appeared to have decayed further. The waiter’s skin was a sickly gray colour and his nose was missing. He smiled at Max with rotting teeth.

“Would you like to hear today’s specials?” he asked and Max finally found a voice, screaming in total fear.

She screamed so hard she woke herself up.

Max found herself lying on the floor of her apartment, shivering in the chilly air. It was still dark outside and raising her head, Max saw by the clock on the wall that it was only a few minutes since she had passed out.

She sat back up and saw the television was in perfect working order. It was still on and showing infomercials, but the sound was turned down. There was no sign that she had kicked it in.

She got to her feet unsteadily, using the edge of the sofa to balance herself. Her knees were weak, but she straightened them with a grunt and fully stood up.

It took her a moment for Max to get her legs moving, but she walked around the floor of her apartment, getting the feeling back into them. There was little sound, just the tiniest buzz coming from the television screen.

Walking over to the front door, she twisted and pulled on the door handle. The door swung open easily. Max stepped outside and looked up down the empty hallway before going back into her apartment, locking the door behind her.

She walked back over to the sofa and was about to sit down when she was suddenly hit by a wave of nausea. She sprinted into the bathroom and threw up the cold pizza she had eaten earlier in the evening into the toilet bowl. The nausea did not subside at all and she continued to vomit, sinking to her knees and resting her head on the cool porcelain bowl in between each retch.

It only took a few moments for the contents of her stomach to run out, but she continued to vomit, sickly green bile burning as it came up her throat, filling her mouth with the worst acidic taste she had ever known.

Finally her body began to calm down and Max sagged back down beside the toilet. The nausea passed almost completely and she crawled over to the bathroom sink to run a cold tap.

She cupped her hands and filled them with water, washing out the taste in her mouth. Once it had faded a little she stuck her head under the water, wetting her fevered face.

She turned the tap off and put the toilet seat back down to sit on it. She sat there with her head in her hands until she had stopped shaking, then stood up and walked back out into the main room.

Falling down onto the sofa, she lay with her head resting on the cushions.

“Christ,” she mumbled, “I gotta lay off the drugs a bit.”

Her head felt like it had grown several dozen hat sizes, but she felt a lot better now and fumbled for the remote control. Finding it under her leg, she turned the volume up and changed the channel.

The Bond film was still on and was racing towards a climax, so Max dropped the remote and watched that for a while, grateful for anything that would take her mind off how miserable she felt.

Lying alone in her apartment, Max wondered what exactly was going so wrong with her world. She began to feel sleep creeping in again and she opened his mind wide to let it in, grateful for the chance to shut down for a while.

She slipped into sleep happily and for a while slept deep, her mind completely at rest.

But it did not take long for her fevered brain to kick in again and she began to dream some more, dreaming of another world.

In her dream, Max was walking down a long, dimly lit corridor with dark red carpet on the floor and wood paneling on the walls. There were no doors off the corridor and it all reminded her of something she had seen recently, but she couldn’t quite place it.

She carried on walking until she reached the end of the corridor. There was still no door out of the hallway, just a blank wall. Max pounded on it and her blows sounded hollow as they echoed back down the corridor, far louder than they should have been.

“It’s not very fair, really,” said somebody behind him.

Max turned to see a man with no face in a curiously old fashioned uniform standing behind her. The lack of any features did not disturb Max at all. Maybe because she knew on some level that she was dreaming, maybe because there was something incredibly reassuring about the blank man’s posture.

“What isn’t fair?” asked Max. Her voice seemed to come out much more slowly than it really should have, the tone low, the words slurred.

“It’s a two-way street, but one direction is so much easier than the other. Your counterpart had much more trouble coming your way than you did coming back.”

“My counterpart?” said Max, still speaking slowly enough. It was starting to really bother her, but she couldn’t stop doing it. “What are you talking about?”

“Counterpart might not be the right term,” said the blank man. His head tilted slightly and if he had possessed eyes, Max would have sworn he was looking off into the middle distance. “But everything comes from something, everything is a creation of something else. It stands to reason.”

A thought tugged at Max and she found himself expressing it. “But something could come from nothing.”

“I do not know why there is something instead of nothing,” said the blank man, sounding pained as he scratched at his featureless face. “I do not know why there is nothing instead of something.”

He suddenly tore his blank face off, but there wasn’t anything under that either, just a pale void where his face should be. Max took a step back, but the void leaped out of him, covering her, smothering her, killing her.

Max sat up suddenly from the sofa, trying to shake off the dream, but she was still unsteady and she fell to a knee. She stayed there for just a moment longer, before sitting back on the couch and catching her breath.

She stayed still, her head in her hands, breathing deeply. The television had switched itself off while she had been sleeping and it was silent in her apartment.

Suddenly Max was filled with the absolute knowledge that there was something in the room with her. She could feel it. Some presence, just out of the edge of her perception. Someone was looking down on her from a direction she couldn’t point to.

Freaking out, Max got to her feet, but once she had stood up, she felt weak and dizzy again and fell back down to the sofa.

The sensation that somebody was watching her passed on, just as quickly as it had arrived, and Max felt utterly alone again.

She staggered to her feet and stumbled into the kitchen area, finding one solitary beer in the refrigerator.

Thanking the universe for small mercies, she cracked open the can and drank more than half of it in one go. With a huge belch of satisfaction, she decided that enough was enough. Time for bed.

Putting the empty beer can on the kitchen bench, she shuffled through into the bedroom and lay her head down, sighing in relief as it hit the pillow.

The moon was coming in through the open window, along with the slightest of chilly breezes, but Max managed to ignore both and was asleep in seconds.

This time she dreamed of a place she was far more comfortable in. It was just a regular bar, no different from a million others like it. The booth she was sitting in was a little frayed at the edges, but extremely comfortable.

There was music in the background, some tune Max couldn’t quite place, and the people in front of and behind the bar were all caught up in their own lives, a little indistinct in Max’s eyes.

She reached out for the glass of beer in front of her and realized there were other people in the booth with her.

One of them was the man in the black suit that she had met at the fast food restaurant. The other wore a battered old combat jacket over a tee-shirt with the picture of a rocketship on it.

Her mind flowing with dream logic, Max knew the names of them now. Rocket Fish was the new one, King Goob the man she had met before. She went to say hello, but found that she had been struck dumb again. Her companions had no such problems, holding a heated conversation without once looking in Max’s direction.

“How does she feel?” asks King Goob

“I think she feels lost, vague,” replied Rocket Fish. “Discombobulated.”

“That’s a big word.”

“Big word, small mind.”

“Bigger worlds, all the time.”

“Big enough for me. Big enough for her.”

“She’s in one of the smallest.”

“The time is right for something new, yeah?”

“It’s always the right time.”

“That’s okay. Things have calmed down a little now.”

“Looks can be deceiving. This is the eye of the storm.”

“Back into it?”

“Straight back into it. If she doesn’t fuck it up.”

“She is pretty fucking useless.”

“Hey, she’s a dickhead. What can you expect?”

That was it for Max.

“Hey, I’m not that bad,” she protested.

Rocket Fish turned to Max and sniffed. “We weren’t talking about you.”

King Goob raised his glass and winked. “Or your counterpart.”

Looking confused, Rocket Fish looked back at the other man. “I thought we weren’t calling him that.”

“Fuck it,” shrugged King Goob. “We can call him whatever we like. He’s not coming back here to stop us.”

Rocket Fish nodded then looked up over Max’s shoulder before locking eyes with her again. “You better wake up now, Max. You need to answer the door.”

And then Rocket Fish stood up and threw his beer in Max’s face. Max woke up instantly, the moon still shining into her bedroom, although the sky out the window appeared to have lightened, just a little bit.

She sat up and wiped the sweat of her brow, worried by how much it smelt like beer. She was still sniffing her fingers when she heard somebody knock three times on the front door of her apartment.

Max glanced at the clock beside her bed.


“Fuck,” she whispered, getting out of bed and walking through the darkened bedroom. Moving back out into the main room of the apartment she stubbed her toe on the corner of the sofa that had been sitting in the exact same place for the past thee years.

“Fuck!” she swore, much more loudly this time. She hobbled the rest of the way over to the front door, thinking that whoever was behind the door, they better have a very good reason for waking her up.

She opened the front door and a gasp slipped out of her mouth when she saw who it was.

She had never seen the man before, but she seemed to know him better than anybody else she had ever met. There was something about the man’s face, even the clothes he wore came with the feeling of deep-rooted familiarity.

“No fucking way,” she said, because she couldn’t think of anything remotely more appropriate to say.

From the other side of the door, Doctor Skin smiled at Max.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #17

Chapter 17
Where You Belong

The Griffin had him in his clutches again and Dr Skin struggled for breath as its claws squeezed him tighter and tighter.
“Why me?” he wheezed as he felt his lungs collapse, getting out the words with the last ounce of breath left in his body.

The Griffin pulled him in close, its beady eye bigger than Skin’s head as it stared him down. “You’re asking the wrong question, Dr Skin. You always do.”

He tried to ask it what it meant, but he had no more air left and the last, terribly final blackness was creeping in at the edge of his vision.

And then he woke up.

His relief that it had all just been another dream quickly disappeared as he realized he still couldn’t breathe. He thrashed about and found that he was lying underwater, the liquid forcing its way into his screaming lungs.

His energy was already almost totally sapped, but he managed to get a grip on a stony stream floor and push himself up out of the water. Pulling his legs around, he leaped out of the tiny stream and onto the bank.

Getting to his knees, Skin coughed up the water from his lungs. When it finally felt like he had expelled a minor ocean, he fell onto his back and lay there, his feet still dangling in the water.

He was not sure what he had expected when he had walked the line and pushed through. Maybe a few existential secrets, maybe a conversation with God. But not this. Not lying beside a dirty stream, soaked through with blood in his right eye.

He wiped the blood away from his forehead and traced the flow to a cut on his temple. He winced as his fingers brushed against it. It was only the tiniest of cuts, but it stung like nothing else he had ever felt.

“Shit,” he moaned as he realized how much he hurt all over. His ankles felt like they were made of broken glass and his chest still ached from their submerging.

After a lifetime of conflict and subjugation, Dr Skin was used to a little pain, but this was something else. It all felt sharper, like he had always been insulated from the worst the universe could throw at him, and it was all coming back to bite his face off now.

He raised his head slightly and saw that the polluted stream ran through an industrial area in some city, which explained the slick oily feeling he felt covering his body after being submerged.

His head dropped back down to the ground with a hollow thumping noise, just as the sun came out from behind a cloud and shone right down on him. Skin raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright glare.

“Hey!” cried a harsh voice from his left. Skin rolled his head over and saw a man in a brown security guard uniform that was two sizes too small for his fat frame walking towards him, waving an angry hand as a short club in his belt slapped against his leg. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Skin sat up, but a headache shot up out of nowhere and carved his brain in two, so he lay back down again. By the sounds of it, this did not impress the guard.

“Oi!” he cried furiously. “You can’t stay here! This is private property!”

He finally reached Skin and stood over him, blocking the sun with his girth. “Come on, loser. Get out of here.”

“One moment please,” murmured Skin, pinching the bridge of his nose as he begged for a small delay to get his head together.

But the guard had no time for any more delays, reached down and pulled Skin up to his feet. The migraine burst into agony and Skin actually had to stifle a cry as the guard started pushing him along the bank of the stream.

“Move it, pal. Fucking homeless cunts, always trying to get in here. What is it about this place?”

Skin counted backwards from 10 in an attempt to suppress the pain that was splitting his skull in two and partially succeeded. He stopped, turned and faced the guard. “Maybe they just want to get out the rain, you fat fuck.”

Skin saw the rage flare in the guard’s eyes as he stepped forward, poking him in the chest with a stubby finger. “What did you say, cunt?”

“I called you a fat fuck, you fat fuck. And if you touch me with your fucking sausage fingers again I’m going to pull them out one by one and shove them up your flabby fucking arse.”

Skin saw the fat man’s eyes go dead as watched as he pulled the short club out of his belt. He looked as he raised it above his head and began to bring it down. He saw it all happen.

Which didn’t stop it being a total surprise when the club hit him in the side of the skull.

Skin had expected to dodge it, or grab the guards arm and twist it away, but his reactions were far too slow, a lot slower than they should have been, even with the headache, cuts and bruises. He just stood there and took it, although he wasn’t standing for very long.

He fell to his knees as another cut opened up on his forehead where he had been struck. He looked up just in time to see another blow coming.

This time it hit him on the deep cut that he already had, splitting it even wider and spraying blood into the stream beside them. Skin almost fell into the stream with it, but the guard kicked him as he swayed and he fell back into the dirt.

A third blow hit him again and Skin finally passed out from the pain. This time there were no dreams of Griffins, just blessed oblivion.

Even that didn’t last long as Skin woke up again as he was being dragged by his arm across the bare ground. The shoulder ached from the tugging, but it was minor compared to his headache, which was almost unbearable. He struggled feebly, but soon gave up the fight.

The dragging seemed to go on forever, but it must have only been a matter of minutes before it stopped. Skin opened his eyes and saw he had been dragged outside a tall corrugated iron gate and dumped on a dirty pavement. The security guard hitched up his pants as he stood over Skin.

“If I see you ever again,” he spat in Skin’s face, “I’ll kill you and bury you in here where nobody will ever find you.”

He kicked Skin once more in the stomach, but compared to his other aches and pains, he barely felt the blow, just fell into the gutter as the guard strutted back into the compound.

Dr Skin lay in the gutter, looking up into the darkening sky. It must have been early evening, although it could have been any time of the day, considering how bad he felt.

He passed out again and when he woke up it was fully dark. Skin could see the stars from where he lay in the gutter, but they seemed so far away.

With the way he was lying, the curb was biting into his back and Skin knew he had to move on or he could end up here forever. He bit back the pain as he struggled into a sitting position, resting his backside on the edge of the gutter.

Reaching inside his torn and soiled suit pocket, he found a packet of cigarettes and pulled them out with a minor squeal of satisfaction. But the moan turned into one of despair as he discovered that every single one of the cigarettes were ruined, soaked by the water in the stream and ripped up in the beating.

“Right,” said Skin, spitting out a mouthful of blood, “that fucking does it.”

He struggled to his feet and started stumbling down the road. He walked past a railway line where a group of labourers were hauling massive bales of straw onto a truck. Most of the workers barely noticed him. One of them glanced up and winced in sympathy at Skin’s wounds, but made no move to help him and carried on with his task.

Skin continued to pass through the industrial area, but the empty warehouses soon gave way to inner city apartment buildings, office complexes and stores all closed for the night.

His back and head were screaming at them, but Skin yelled inwardly back at them and kept on moving. Finally their pleas for rest were too strong and he fell into the doorway of a bookshop.

He sat there with his head in his hands for what seemed like hours. He concentrated, trying to remember the zen healing chants he had been taught in a monastery that existed on top of one of the Mt Everests he had climbed by a monk with a bright pink Mohawk, but they wouldn’t come. He couldn’t remember them.

Skin was still sitting there when a man with long blonde dreadlocks and tattoos creeping up onto his face walked past. He glanced at Skin and kept on walking, but stopped for some reason and moved back.

“Hey pal. Are you okay?”

Skin would have grinned if the muscles in his face would do what they were told. “No, man. I’m pretty fucking far from okay.”

The blonde man crouched in the doorway beside him. “Fucking hell. You’ve taken a beating. You want me to give you a hand getting you to the hospital or something?”

“No, I’ll be all right. But I’ll take a cigarette if you’ve got one.”

The blonde man grinned and pulled a pack of cigarettes out, tossing them to Skin. After a moment’s further searching, he found a lighter and threw that to Skin as well.

“Here. Keep the pack.”


“It’s okay. I’m trying to give up anyway and you look like you need them more than me.” He paused and looked closer at Skin’s bloody face. “Hey, have we met before? You look awfully familiar.”

“I don’t think so. I only just arrived here.”

“Oh yeah? From where?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

The blonde man nodded. “I get that a lot. Look, are you sure you don’t need some medical attention?”

“I’ll be all right. I just need some time to get my head together.”

“Oh yeah. I get that a lot too. Well, I gotta get going.”

He stood up and patted Skin on the shoulder. “You get well, man. I’ll be coming back this way in the morning and if I find you’re still here, I’m getting you help, whether you like it or not.”

“Fair enough,” said Skin. The blonde man smiled in sympathy, nodded once more and left without another word.

Skin fumbled with the cigarette packet, got one out and lit it with fingers that felt like they were twice as thick as normal. Once he had managed that, he sucked gratefully on the cigarette, the warm smoke filling his lungs.

As it did so, he suddenly remembered the healing chants. He remembered them all.

And he remembered everything else.

He remembered what he was doing here.

He remembered what he had to do.

Finishing off the cigarette with one long drag, Doctor Skin got to his feet and began walking down the empty city streets. As he took each step, the pain in his body began to fade. He felt stronger as he sucked in the chilly night air, felt better with every passing moment.

He brushed a hand over his head and willed the pain away. It vanished, along with the cuts on his skull, which healed over instantly. Skin smiled as he felt the tingle of the flesh tying itself back together.

He kept on walking, but he felt full of energy and began running, moving out into the middle of the road and sprinting, running at full speed down the center line.

All his aches and pains were gone now. He was Doctor Skin. He had fixed himself.

He yelled in pure joy, spreading his hands wide as he ran. A car coming the other way had to swerve out of his way and the driver screamed obscenities at him, but Skin ignored him and carried on.

And then he reached a crossroads. Skin stopped in the very middle and looked down each of the roads. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was going, but he felt a certain pulling in one direction. He took off down that road at speed.

As he got closer to his unknown destination, he felt the attraction to it get stronger and stronger until the running wasn’t even a choice, it was something he had to do.

He reached an apartment building that looked like any other, but Skin knew what he wanted was inside. He barreled through the front door and started bounding up the steps until he reached the top floor.

He slowed down a little and caught his breath as he moved down the corridor. He had never been in this building before, but he knew exactly which door to stop at.

It was just another door, no different from all those around it, but Skin knew without a doubt that what he wanted was inside.

The person he needed to see was inside.

He knocked on the door three times and waited. He heard somebody swear as they moved around inside the apartment, but the door was soon opened.

The woman on the other side of the door saw Skin and actually gasped.

“No fucking way,” she said.

Doctor Skin smiled.