In This Skin
Two teenage runaways, Robyn and Noel, are desperate for a place of safety. Fate takes them to the Luxor which has been sealed from the outside world for decades. They discover that people are drawn here against their will and that certain individuals sense there is a pathway on the old dance floor leading to a fabulous world beyond this one. Only the path isn't just one way. Monstrous beings are stepping into this world too, with murderous intent. And they seek something that they value more than life itself. As Robyn and Noel's lives become entangled with those drawn to the haunted Luxor, the building - and what lies inside - will test then to the limits of their endurance and their sanity.
We are nothing. Less than nothing and dreams. We are only what might have been…
Robyn first met Ellery before they were born. It's not possible to know how or why… or in what kind of world it was, this place where nascent minds originate. They were there, just as we are here now. When they met again in this strange state of affairs we call life they somehow knew they'd met before. Only they didn't know where, any more than they knew they'd brought more than their naked bodies into this world at birth.
Invisible, but hanging on to their proverbial heels, as they slid from their mothers' panting bodies during labor, was an invisible stowaway with a revenant's heart.
We learn because it is a matter of life and death. We learn how to safely cross a road. We learn not to put our hands in fire. We learn not to drink bleach, not to step off the edge of an abyss, or walk alone at night where we know the streets are meanest. Your future happiness and survival depend on knowing the truth. And it doesn't matter whether it's something you learn from a magazine, or from life, or from a book that you think is fiction. You know there are people who want to exploit you and control you. They will sneer that there is nothing important about novels-that a ”made-up-story has no purpose- but that's where some of the greatest truths are concealed. Waiting for you to find them. To unlock their rich secrets. And only you can decide if the story contains a masked truth or not. It's important you know. What you learn today might save a life. Yours.
We are nothing. Less than nothing and dreams. We are only what might have been.
Ellery Hann had read the lines a full month ago but they stuck in his mind as deeply as if they'd been machined into the oozing red stuff of his brain. Ellery murmured the words on his lips; they were like the lines of one of those songs that become a narcotic in your blood. You can't get enough. They go 'round and around through your veins. There's no dislodging them. We are nothing. Less than nothing and dreams…
It was his nineteenth birthday. April nineteenth. He'd just stepped off the El that clattered along its track in the direction of downtown Chicago. In the Windy City tonight hot air breezed along the streets as if a furnace door had opened. Just yesterday it had been snowing. Now the crazy switch in weather had brought the kind of heat that made it hard to breathe and caused your skin to itch. In Ellery's imagination the face of the city had broken open to allow the hot winds of hell to blow through.
Ellery Hann left the station as another train roared onto the platform behind him. He wished he'd not left so late to return home. Darkness had already crept up through the roads and alleyways with all the sinister stealth of a tide from a ghost sea. Damn, he'd promised himself he'd get home earlier. He'd taken the train out to
O'Hare to see Lain off on the Denver flight. His sister had lived there two years now and recently when she visited home there was always the rest of the family filling the apartment so he never got a chance to enjoy the kind of conversations they used to have. And when you've got a devil of a kink in your tongue it's hard to compete when brothers, parents, cousins and neighbors are all speaking, too. Of course, he'd burned up the afternoon talking and talking until her flight had been called. Now it was too late. The sun had slipped away It was as dark as it was going to get, and Ellery faced a fifteen-minute walk through a neighborhood of discount stores, used furniture warehouses and yeah… no bones about it… monsters with human faces.
And speaking of monsters…
”Hey Ellery Where'd you get the shirt?”
”That's no shirt, Logan. That's a blouse. A woman's blouse.”
Keep walking: ignore them.
”Yeah, you can see his brassiere through it. Guess he's trying to turn us on, boys.”
Ellery wasn't wearing any brassiere; that's the way this kind of intimidation started. He'd gone to school with three of the guys who blocked his way. There was a fourth guy he didn't recognize. He looked around fifteen with wispy blond hair on his lip and a pointed chin that bubbled red acne. This fourth member of the gang looked suddenly interested.
”Hey, this is Ellery Hann?”
”Sure,”Logan said, with a grin all over his beer reddened face. ”It's Ellery with a crick-crick-cricket in his mouth.”He laughed.
The youth with the acne stepped aside on the sidewalk as if to let Ellery by Logan put up his hands, indicating his beer buddy had made a big mistake. ”Whoa, Joe. You forgetting the deal?”
”No, but-”The acne kid looked suddenly uneasy.
Logan stared the kid in the eye but nodded in the direction of Ellery ”We all thought we had a deal. You want to hang out with us, you got to prove yourself.”
The kid stretched his arms downward, loosening the muscles. ”Sure.”
Logan turned to Ellery. ”When we were at school you always knew what kids had to do to prove themselves, didn't you, Ellery?”
”I-l-I… The-the… ss n-no… need anymore. S… S-School… S… S… S…”
”Shit.”The kid called Joe stared, wide-eyed. ”Does he always talk like this?”He gave a whooping cry. ”Man, oh shit! He sounds like a snake!”
Logan smirked. ”Ellery here's never said ten words straight in his life, have you, old buddy?”He shook his head in disgust. ”And we've known the poor fuck since kindergarten.”
”S… Fff… It's not ffff…”
Logan tilted his head, listening to Ellery. ”Not what, buddy? Not fair?
Not funny? Not fucking fantastic?”He spat into the gutter. ”No, not for you it isn't. Okay, Joe, what the hell are you waiting for?”
Ellery knew the score. He let his arms go limp at his sides. Even trying to speak was pointless. Not that the devil's own twist in his tongue would allow him. Ever.
Joe didn't have to be prompted twice. He lunged forward, punched Ellery in the side of the head, then tried to get an uppercut under his jaw to cleanly knock him out. More strength than style. The punch ripped into Ellery's nose rather than chin. The gush of blood flicked up into Ellery's eyes, smearing the world crimson outside his head. Instead, it was the third punch to his cheekbone that knocked Ellery down. At times like this Ellery retreated inside his skull, to a place so deep the fists cracking open his face didn't hurt so much. In there, he could tell himself it was happening to someone else, not him.
It was there Ellery found those haunting words again. We are nothing.
Less than nothing and dreams. We are only what might have been.
”What's that you're reading… Robyn?”
”I asked what you were reading.”
Robyn Vincent glanced across the living room to where Noel stood rubbing his glistening black hair with a towel. Another short towel barely clung to his hips. She did a double take of his flat muscled stomach and bulging arms.
She smiled back. ”It's a book of short stories.”
”Must be absorbing. You never even noticed me.”
”But I'm noticing you're half naked. And your mom'll notice too when she comes through that door.”
”She called when I was in the bedroom. She had to pick Louis up from football. He's missed the bus again.”Shaking his head, he grinned that handsome grin of his. ”And you never even heard her call, Robyn? That must be a good story.”
She held the book open as he came across to stand behind where she sat on the arm of the sofa. ”One of the writers used a quotation by Charles Lamb.”
He was teasing. ”I read the quote a couple of weeks ago and somehow I can't get it out of my head.”
”So it's got to be dirty then.”
”It's not.”She laughed. ”Stop jumping to conclusions about me.”
”Go on then, shoot.”
”Read me the quotation. I want to know why it makes you forget everything that's happening around you.”
Robyn didn't have to read it. She knew it by heart.
”We are nothing. Less than nothing and dreams. We are only what might have been.”
”Sounds nihilistic to me.”
”But haunting somehow. As if human beings have taken the wrong path, and that we're not achieving our true potential. That what we've become is just a-Noel! Your mom'll be back soon.”
”Plenty of time. Plenty…”
She felt his mouth on hers as he pushed her back on the sofa, then rolled her onto the floor. The scent of shampoo and his shower-warmed body filled her nose. She loved that smell, and when fresh perspiration broke through clean skin? That sent her… wow!… into outer space. But it was too risky here, even with the drapes closed. His mom and brother might walk in any moment. Besides, there was something else. It was preying on her mind.
He took that as a signal of her arousal. Within a moment he'd slid his hands up her short skirt, up her thighs, up over her hips, gripped her panties and drawn them down.
”Noel, you're going-”
Then his mouth closed over hers. She felt with her hands and knew his towel had gone. Uh… God, he was so hungry for her. She'd barely felt the pressure between her legs and suddenly he pushed into her. This time his lovemaking was different. The sensation had altered entirely and although it didn't hurt, it frightened her. For all the world she could have been a flimsy membrane stretched tight around his penis. She wanted to cry out to him to stop but his mouth was on hers; he could have been sucking the breath from her body until she shrank even more tightly. All she could feel was his presence filling her belly. His cock grew inside of her, pushing into her in a way that became so frightening and invasive, as if it had become a predatory creature hunting for something concealed inside her skin.
That one-eyed snake, she thought, trying to be flippant, but her heart beat hard with fear. There was such a sense of impending disaster running through her. A bad thing was going to happen soon. She felt it loom over her. Like a thug coming toward her, ready to beat her with his fists.
This doesn't make sense, she thought. Noel's one of the gentlest lovers I've ever had. He doesn't bite. Not even in a playful love way When he thrust into her he made sure he restrained himself from using the power contained within that muscular torso of his. He didn't pinch her nipples. Instead he preferred to kiss them or stroke the darkening tips.
But now it seemed to her that her body tried to expel him. Her muscles tensed around his penis, crushing.
”Oh, wow, oh wow”He panted in surprise. ”God, can you grip, Robyn.”
It's because of what's on my mind, she told herself. I've got a secret.
I should be telling Noel what it is. But I don't dare.
Now Robyn's stomach muscles cramped into hard knots. She panted, trying not to whimper with the hurt. Tears ran from her eyes. She wanted desperately to hide how much this was hurting her. Because now the pain had started. She had to conceal it just as she desperately, desperately wanted to hide the truth from him.
She clenched her fists, trying not to imagine his penis as some violent probe hunting what lay hidden inside of her. As her fingers contracted, the nails on her left hand failed to dig into her palm. Then she knew why. She still had the book in her hand.
No sooner had she realized that than the words of the man called Lamb, who was dust in his grave now, came to her more vividly and powerfully than ever: ”We are nothing. Less than nothing and dreams. We are only what might have been.”
Robin and Ellery met each other before they were born. Next week they're going to meet again. They're not going to recognize each other yet. But the shadows they cast even on the darkest of nights will know what they might have been. And what, God willing, they will be.