In The Skin

Dr. Milanesi had been the Bakers’ pediatrician for fourteen years and guided both their older girls healthily into teenagehood, so it was with the utmost trust they left him alone with their youngest, three-month old Clara, who had come down with an unusual rash.

As he examined the girl, Dr. Milanesi could barely contain his glee, for as he scraped across her reddened skin with his instrument, it made the most wonderful sound, like a dying man’s fingernails scratching hopelessly against the asphalt of a dark alley…

Later, after arranging the pentagram and other occult necessities, and fortifying himself with several glasses of Cognac, Dr. Milanesi made the call.

“She is found,” he told the Grey Man.

The assault occurred behind the downtown building in which Mr. Baker worked.

He had exited, Clara cradled in his arms, when they appeared.

The killing was quick. He had not even time to scream before he was stabbed, Clara taken and his throat slashed—cascading blood while his fingers scratched in terror at the alley floor.

They brought Clara sedated to the Grey Man.

He needed a cocoon.

For this, the Grey Man hunted alone. He had his selection, for the city was laden with homeless, junkies and other undesirables, many of whom were already but walking dead. He chose finally for youth and innate vitality. The process would be arduous and survival the prime consideration.

The Grey Man acted—

The victim awoke to immobility. His eyes bugged, rolling madly in their sockets, before coming to a half-closed rest. His limbs were secured to the granite slab on which he lay. After his initial burst of fear, he babbled incessantly, but the syllables meant nothing. His tongue had been removed, tied into a gag, and stuffed back into his mouth.

Dr. Milanesi watched him impatiently from above. Myriad surgical instruments glistened on a cart opposite the granite slab.

“Let him bleed his demons,” the Grey Man said, rocking the slumbering Clara, now raw and scabby, in his arms.

Finally the victim fell silent.

Dr. Milanesi applied the anesthetic, and began the procedure.

He inserted a scalpel below the victim’s neck and sliced downward, before unfolding the body like an organic briefcase and removing the organs until the victim was muscle, bone and emptiness. He then placed the extracted organs into several glass containers set beside the victim on the slab. The organs squirmed; the jars steamed. Next, he reconnected the external organs to the body, taking especial care with the pumping lungs and beating heart, so that the victim remained alive.

At last, the Grey Man lowered Clara gently into the fleshy cavity, and Dr. Milanesi sutured the enveloping skin.

For sixty-six days, Clara remained within the victim, whose externalized viscera worked rhythmically for benefit of host and parasite alike.

On the eve of the sixty-seventh, she emerged—

Penetrating claws—

Ripping apart the victim’s chest until standing bloody and revealed before them: glorious gargoyle-child with skin of impenetrable stone!

“Beautiful evil.”