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.