The car accident was a blur. A symphony of shrapnel flying across the highway; the debris of at least three vehicles. At the time, I didn’t know who was at fault, or what exactly happened. I just knew pain. Immense, searing pain. I was in and out of consciousness for a while, but I can put together a picture of the following hours, however murky. The moments I do remember will forever be etched into my memory.
I first came to on a gurney in the hospital, rushing through a brightly-lit hallway. There was some chatter about my condition- none of it promising. A simple but ominous sentiment from a nurse stuck out and stayed with me until I was sprawled out in the operating room.
“This doesn’t look good.”
Shaking on the table, I recall more bright lights, as well as the beeping of medical machinery all around. Many doctors and nurses were at my side, scrambling to keep me alive. Though my mind was an utter mess, I do remember thinking that this was the end of my story. Between the intense injuries and panicked doctors, I could tell death was right around the corner, waiting to take me. My life didn’t flash before me, and I didn’t think of my loved ones left behind. There wasn’t enough time for that. I simply succumbed to an endless slumber and closed my eyes as the flat-line rang through the room.
My eyes were fogged, but I could make out the shape of a tunnel ahead; at its end, a light. I made my way to it, cautious, but curious. Eventually, I reached the glow and my vision returned. I was in a bright room; before me, a tall, older gentleman in a white robe standing at a podium. He beckoned for me to come over and spoke with enthusiasm.
“Hello, newcomer. Welcome to heaven!”
He gestured toward the wall behind him. There were no pearly white gates; just a minimalist, red door, void of any knobs or handles.
“Heaven? So I’m… dead?”
The man smiled.
“Yes, indeed you are! But fret not, for this is heaven; a paradise of the afterlife! Would you like to enter?”
I was disappointed that my life was over, but I knew it was inevitable, given the circumstances. At the very least, heaven was seemingly real, and I had been accepted in.
“Yes. I would like to enter.”
I stepped forward, but the man placed his hand on my chest, stopping me in my tracks.
“Before you can enter the world above, an offering is required.”
I was confused.
“An offering? Of what sort?”
The man smiled again.
“We need your skin.”
My face sank, contorted in dismay.
“My skin? But why?”
“I can’t provide all the details. Just know that it will be too cumbersome for you on your journey. Don’t worry, the removal is a mostly harmless procedure.”
The man unsheathed a thin, silver utensil from his robe and grabbed my forearm. He began carving, to which I pulled away.
“I’m not removing your skin. That’s above my pay-grade. I’m just marking you for our records. I have to dig deep enough to engrave the lower layers of your muscle tissue. Please don’t move.”
I reluctantly allowed him to continue. The pain was severe, but it was nothing compared to the injuries I sustained in the accident. When it was over, I looked down to see a string of unrecognizable characters, along with the numbers that made up my birth date; 03041991. The man then pushed the red door open and stepped aside, motioning for me to enter. I asked one more question before progressing.
“Are you an angel?”
The man pondered for a moment before replying.
“Well, I consider myself a celestial overseer, but If that term suits you, then yes, I am an angel.”
He motioned again for me to enter. Though not completely satisfied with his answer, I obliged.
The door was swiftly shut behind me, leaving me to survey the area on my own. It was a room, similar to the previous, only void of anything other than myself. I was confused as I walked to its center.
Was heaven a plain, white room?
Just as I was about to go back to the red door, the unthinkable happened. I was inexplicably launched upward at a tremendous velocity, like a meteor hurdling through deep space. In a matter of moments, I began burning up; a blue flame filling my field of view, then orange, then red. As my speed increased, so too did the pain. It was like I was in the hospital again, dying of irrevocable damage.
What was happening? Where was I being catapulted to?
My ascent continued, and with it, a deadly realization. I wasn’t just burning. With great difficulty, I was able to tilt my head and gaze down at myself. My skin was peeling. I watched in horror as it left my body completely, slipping into the white abyss below. All that was left was my muscle tissue. Soon after, the flame subsided, and my motion slowed. Steam surrounded me as I landed in a new location.
Though experiencing an insurmountable burning sensation, I was still conscious and aware; alive, if you could even call it that. It was hard to focus on anything but the sharp sting enveloping me, but I was able to comprehend my whereabouts. It was an endless white void. Within it, a plethora of bodies scattered about; skinless humanoid forms writhing in pain, covered only in red, connective tissue, much like my own. They left blood trails as they crawled and slid across the white floor.
My knees quickly gave out, and I too laid down in agony, unable to fight the anguish any longer. I desperately crawled to the nearest individual and spoke with what little energy I had left.
“What is this? Is this supposed to be heaven? Why did they take our skin?”
The grotesque, red face of a person looked up at me and cried.
“They wear it.”
A shiver danced down the length of my spine.
“What? Who? Who wears it?”
Before I could receive a response, an electric shock filled my body and jolted me awake. I was once again in the hospital on the operating table, somehow living, albeit barely. I tried to stay afloat, but I wound up drifting away into the bliss of a painless sleep.
I awoke in a bed, bandaged up from head to toe. My injuries still stung, but not quite as much as before. A nurse assured me I was okay, and very lucky to be alive. Recalling my experience and unable to see most of my body, I had to ask her.
“My skin? Do I still have my skin?”
“Of course you do. Some of it will be scarred, but rest assured, it’s there.”
I sighed in relief, knowing my trip to heaven was just a strange, medicine and shock-induced nightmare. Thank goodness. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when I was finally able to go home, that I would discover something terrible about my wounds.
I’ve told some about my near-death experience, but never the following, for fear of what conclusions might be drawn about my sanity.
My first day back was peaceful. I relaxed and enjoyed my quaint life; happy it wasn’t ripped away from me in an untimely manner. The next couple of nights, however, were anything but quaint.
During my second night home, I woke in a fit of sleep paralysis, my bedroom soaked in darkness and warmer than usual. There, standing at the foot of my bed, dimly lit by a sliver of moonlight coming through the window, was the man from the podium in heaven. His plain, stoic expression was broken up only by the occasional grin; a malevolent smile that made my skin crawl beneath the blankets.
The spike in adrenaline was not enough for me to break free of my chemical restraints. I was forced to endure his presence and watch in terror as he walked to my side and spoke.
“It wasn’t always this way, you know.”
His body seemed to give off an intense heat.
“Heaven truly was a remarkable place. A world where mortals spent their afterlives in prosperity.”
The man grabbed my wrist. It burned, but I was unable to react.
“Thousands of years of routine breeds a fierce boredom. We were born up there; never knowing what it was like where humans roamed. A need grew within us. A craving to explore the world outside of our realm.”
He picked off a piece of melted flesh and waved it under his nose like a glass of wine, inhaling the aroma.
“Our forms don’t bode well in earth’s air. Your skin is the only thing that tempers the reaction; otherwise, we would break down and disintegrate.”
He spread the piece of flesh onto his arms, creating a thin layer of protective paste. The heat dissipated.
“You’ve been marked. We need you back.”
We locked eyes, his head tilting slowly in observation as I futilely attempted to scream. His face lowered to meet mine. Tremors erupted throughout my body. Still, I could not move. Then, suddenly, he vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving me alone in the darkness.
Once he disappeared, I was able move again. I felt my wrist, and it was fine. No missing skin. However disturbing this incident was, I knew it had to be a remnant of my dream from the hospital. A side effect of the trauma I suffered. Nothing more than a recurring nightmare. Regardless of this explanation, I was unable to sleep until daybreak.
The next night was stranger still. After brushing my teeth and looking up at the bathroom mirror, I saw something that shook me to my core. It was me, but without skin. A horrific amalgamation of red, muscly tendons made up my facial structure. Behind me, the same man; his voice echoing off the bathroom walls.
“Come back to us.”
I fell back into the wall behind me. The man was not there. When I looked at the mirror again, the sight I saw was a normal one.
I chalked this up to being another troubling facet of my psyche, post-car crash. It was clear at this point that I was severely troubled. I started entertaining the idea of seeking professional help in the form of a psychologist. The next night, however, disproved all previous theories about my bizarre state of affairs.
Upon peeling back the bandages on my arm to bathe for the first time, I saw it. There were scars in odd, unrecognizable shapes, as well as a familiar numeric sequence.
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WRITTEN BY: Christopher Maxim (Contact • Other Stories • Subreddit)
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