Skin deep

In a dusty, old bookshop two people have their lives changed forever when a secret is revealed and the dangerous consequences along with it...

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It was a small, dusty bookshop squashed in the middle of run-down and boarded up shops. How it survived and kept in business was anyone’s guess. It simply existed.

   Inside Bryan smiled shyly at his work colleague Cady who caught him staring at her from across the shelves of books. She looked startled at first and a hurried smile lit up her face for a moment.

  He walked over to her and Cady tucked a strand of mousy brown hair behind her ear, as she balanced thick book volumes.

   "You need any help with those?" Bryan asked, gesturing towards the books.

   She nodded, a book slipped from her grasp and struck the floor loudly. She jumped in shock and almost lost the rest of them. Bryan couldn’t help but laugh.

   “It’s okay I’ll get that.” He bent down and picked up a battered, green book with curling brown pages that had a scratched golden title.

   “I was wondering Cady if you were free at some point this week?” He straightened up and noticed her one green and one brown eye twinkling in the dim lighting; they had an unusual beauty to them and that was not them being different colours.

   “Do you mean see each other after work?” she asked in a timid voice.

   “Yeah if you want to but don’t say yes for the sake of it,” he said quickly and added, “You can say no.” His cheeks were reddening. Cady smiled.

   “I need to check my schedule but-”

   A dark shadow fell over her. She finished the utterance at an inaudible volume.

   “Cady,” the sharp voice of the Boss said.

   Bryan glanced back at the tall, skinny individual, whose nostrils were flaring. Parts of his ill-fitting shirt spilled over his high-waist trousers.

   “And he dare criticise Cady who does everything perfect, the ungrateful bastard,” Bryan thought. He couldn’t stop his eyes gliding over the man’s appearance, angrily drinking in the clear faults of the hypocrite.

   “You need to sort out the boxes in the back properly.”

   “I will in a moment.”

   “Now Cady,” he snapped.

   Cady nodded and shoved the remaining books onto the empty space on the shelf behind her. She rushed past him. He glared after her before setting his eyes on Bryan.

   "What are you staring at?" He hissed.

   "Nothing at all," Bryan replied in a slightly sarcastic tone.

   "Get these books in order," the Boss said, pointing to various parts of the book shelves until his finger finally found the pile of books Cady had left. "Understand?"

   "Yes," Bryan answered and watched the Boss swagger away; muttering about ungrateful employees under his breath.

   Bryan simply rolled his eyes. Setting to work on ordering the chaotic, jumbled lines of books that no one really cared about anyway. Least of all Bryan who had yet to stumble upon an item with any real worth.

***

The sun was setting and Bryan was stood outside the book shop. Cady was working whereas he had the day off. He chewed his bottom lip in anticipation of walking inside, and surprising Cady, with a pair of tickets to see a theatre performance with him this Friday night. He hoped she would enjoy it but most of all he hoped she will say yes to him.

   He had the tickets clenched tightly in his hand. He walked to the front door, which had a closed sign adorning the front, and pushed it open.

   The doorbell rang into the empty gloom. Bryan waited for a minute but could hear no one coming. It was eerily quiet.

    “Probably in the office room in the back,” he thought.  He walked to the counter and slipped through the employees’ door.

   Bryan entered the small office room, which had a desk littered with papers, and cardboard boxes everywhere, each labelled with a black board pen. However there was no sign of her. 

   "Hmmm strange," Bryan thought and spun around to see if he had missed anything. "Maybe she had gone home along with the boss." However he dismissed the notion partly because the shop was left unlocked and the boss never left it unlocked.

   A silver spark flashed in the corner of his eye, he turned, to see another silver spark spring up from behind a cardboard box. His face scrunched up in confusion, a third silver spark escape, he stepped towards the boxes. A breath of cold mist trickled behind from in between the gaps, light refracted in it caused the odd silver sparks.

    “What’s behind this?” Bryan muttered to himself. He went onto his toes and took hold of the first cardboard box, removing it and placing it down. He carried on in that fashion until a hole cut into the wall was revealed.

   Bryan stepped back in shock and amazement as he took in the entrance carved with pictures and symbols. The rock had the soft glow of purple and silver, the mist creeping out of the rock seemed to caress Bryan, taking him by the hand, and leading him into the unknown.

***

   As he travelled further, the pictures and symbols became more elaborate. He stopped at points to admire carvings that had particularly caught his eye. Something was calling for him, pulling him down this pathway. Bryan wondered if this was a doorway to another dimension or an ancient underground ruin that has been kept in secret.

    Eventually the tunnel narrowed into a single wooden door, dark wood with huge bolts across it. Bryan’s eyes glided over it and he noticed that the huge bolts had in fact been drawn to one side, leaving the door unlocked.

   He put his hand on the smooth varnished wood surface, there was the faint smell of something sweet behind the door. Not wasting another moment he pushed the door open and went inside.

***

Disappointment. That was the first feeling Bryan registered as he entered a place that resembled the basement level of a car-park complex. Square blocks of concrete pillars, plain white of course, were set at regular intervals along the length of the room.

   “This is it,” he said staring at the concrete pillar in front of him, and then at the plain grey concrete floor.

   Bryan went to go back through the doorway when there was a low humming, someone was humming a tune.

   “Cady,” he thought smiling. He moved forward and heard the sound more clearly. He was walking down the middle of the pillars, when, the whole place was plunged into darkness.           

   Bryan swore, unable to see anything, not even his own hand outstretched in front of him. An orange glow was lit up in the distance, too far to offer much help to Bryan. His hand came into contact with the cold, hard concrete pillar. He maneuvered his way from pillar to pillar until the orange glow became candles, set in a circle, and a figure standing in the middle of them. 

    It was Cady.

   Bryan went to call her name but bit his tongue to silence himself. He wasn’t sure why, he was just watching her like some instinct calling from his soul told him to hide his presence.     

    Cady was still humming, she began to open her mouth and a strange language flowed from it. She kneeled in the centre, her back to Bryan. Her hands twisted her hair upwards and secure it with a long silver pin. Then they travelled downwards, taking hold of her blouse and lifting it over her head, exposing the smooth skin of her back. She proceeded to unhook her bra and drop it onto the ground. Leaning forward, she turned her hand so that the nail of her index finger, which was unusually long and sharp, could be pressed against the skin, moving up her neck. It cut deeply, red blood spilled out and ran down her back. Upon reaching the hairline, she twisted her arm round to her back, and carried on with the scarring down her back.

   Bryan felt repulsion at this horrific act, was this a misguided belief that involved self-harm? Before he could think of stopping her, she flexed her shoulders and the cut split horribly wide, and revealed underneath were white scales.

   He gagged, his hand flew to his mouth and the other hand grasped the wall for support.  His legs trembled but were powerless to move him away.

   She brought her hands up and ripped away the skin from her shoulders as easily as if it were just another piece of clothing. The skin fell to the floor in a disintegrated mushy pile of flesh. The stench that had been sickly sweet was of blood. She stood up.  Her body a sculpture of white, grey and yellow scales, a line of small spikes lined her back, a long tail with a sharpened end swept the floor. Finally she tipped her head forward and tore the hair and skin away. Long tendrils slithered out in replacement of hair, cascading down her back.

   His eyes swept over the spectre in a fit of tearing themselves apart on whether the creature was exotic and grand or, hideous and gruesome.

   He went to slip away from the scene but Bryan struggled to relay the command to his legs.

   Crunch!

   Bryan flinched at the sound wondering what had caused it, his imagination going from the possibility of bones being crushed, to skulls being smashed in between canines.

   She turned around and in her bony, clawed hand was a blood red apple with a huge section of its white flesh exposed, juices dripped down the apple and the corner of her mouth.

   He watched her, holding his breath. Bryan needed to leave now, he knew that, so he began to step slowly backwards, watching, the creature continue to eat the apple.

   "Maybe she's a vegetarian," he thought hopefully.  Swallowing his nerves, paranoid that he was wearing the pair of shoes that squeaked loudly at any random point.

   Bryan took in the mental image of her once last time before turning his back

   A shadow darted across a wall and her eyes lit up the darkened room in front of him, blocking his way of escape.

   Bryan's legs vibrated with sickening dread that caused his nervous system to jolt and his mind to scream run!

   She stepped forward, the apple still gripped in one hand and her oddly coloured eyes peered into his own dull ones. Her eyes' curious beauty no longer stood out but blended with her new form seamlessly. Her face was a similar shape like before, although with a wider mouth that cut steadily into her cheeks, her cheekbones slightly more prominent, and tendrils that were moulded into her head and curled around her shoulders.

   She moved forward causing Bryan to move backwards until his back hit the concrete pillar.

   Cady was close he could smell her sickly sweet breath. The tentacles of her hair twisting slightly, glistening. Her mouth curved up into a grin so her fangs were on display.

    "Oh crap," Bryan thought as he turned his head away. A nail stroked the side of his face furthest from her, pushing the bottom of his jaw until he was facing her. "She's gonna eat my face, she's gonna eat my face, she’s gonna-"

   She forced her lips onto his, kissing them slowly, deeply. The feelings were a roller-coaster of passion, fear, heat and uncertainty. Dizzying heights and falls of emotion.

   She pulled away suddenly and Bryan was left standing dazed by the whole thing.

   Cady smiled and leaned forward.

   "Hello Bryan," she whispered against his lips.

   He just stared at her, his heart pounding his chest to the point it was going to break through his ribcage. He felt suddenly faint. It must have been obvious because she said. 

   “I have startled you, I was too full-on wasn’t I?”

   “Cady?” Bryan said simply, to which she shook her head.

   “I’m not Cady.”

   “What have you done to her?” he demanded, though his voice trembled towards the end of the question.

   “I am Cady silly,” She laughed slightly.

   He was bewildered by the whole thing and leaned heavily against the pillar.

   “I am Cady in my other form, you’re not meant to see me like this Bryan, in this form I am Alora.” 

***

Her voice was different. Clearer, louder and confident.

   Bryan exhaled slowly. "So your real name is Alora?"

    His eyes travelled over the stranger in front of him. He saw striking similarities between Alora and Cady; the small upturned nose, her unique eyes, her bright smile.

   "It's one of my names, in fact it's my favourite," Alora replied happily.

   The drips of cold sweat cascaded down his temples and he wiped it away with the sleeve of his jacket.

   Alora's smile dropped from her face and she stated "You don't like me as this, you think I'm a monster." She blinked slowly to avoid the tears in her eyes from spilling over.

   "I was going to say you were more confident," he said without a second thought.

   "Really?" She squeaked and suddenly hugged him. Knocking him off balance. "Wow I can't believe it, you are like a fairy-tale prince come to save me."

   "What!" He exclaimed and his eyes widened in shock. What had he gotten himself into? He should be running away, but instead, he was standing there listening to this strange creature talk of fairy-tale princes.

   She pulled away. "Well you did come down here, finding me as myself Alora.  This is destiny, right now I feel like a princess!"

   "I'm a prince... I don't know what to say I'm still getting used to Alora." The name sounded strange coming from him she would always be Cady.

  Alora smiled widely. "Don't worry you don't have to say you're a prince or anything." She glanced around her and stepped to one side. "You need to leave he will be back soon."

   "Who?"

   "Doesn't matter he must not discover you, now leave, don't come down here again." She pointed in the direction of the doorway and Bryan walked forward.

   "And one more thing, if you still think of me as Cady come back to the bookshop tomorrow," she added in a hopeful tone.

   He stopped and turned back. He pressed the crumpled theatre tickets into her hand. "I will be back," Bryan said, and left her.

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