Children crowded the dirty street, some carrying bags or sacks of treats given by local residents, or stolen from other children in other parts of the borough. Older kids sat on the curb smoking pot or whatever their pusher sold them last. No mothers would call these kids home as the evening grew steadily darker. Screams filled the night, but that was not unusual for this neighborhood. Jack-o-lanterns that had not yet been smashed by the marauding children of the ghetto still glowed dully in the dirty night.
Reluctantly, the trick-or-treaters and drug users and pushers moved aside to let a battered old Mercury chug past them. The long brown Mercury stopped in front of the house where Dr. Daniel Stillson had set up his medical practice. A tall white man got out from the driver's side, and a huge Negro from the passenger side. The black man opened a back door and began pulling another white man from the seat. The driver came around the car to help his companion.
The man they extracted from the car was unconscious. He was well-dressed, in a tailored gray suit, though his silk tie had come untucked from under his suit coat and flapped in the gentle breeze as the other two men, supporting him between them, dragged him through the yard to the front door of Dr. Stillson's home office. A scowling jack-o-lantern watched them from inside the window.
Once on the porch, the black man knocked heavily on the front door. A curtain in the window flickered the door was pulled open and the three men admitted. The door closed quickly behind them.
"Bring him in here," Dr. Stillson said, waving for the other men to follow him.
Daniel Stillson was a medium-sized man of about forty-five, though he looked at least ten years older due to life in the city's slums. He was losing his dark hair at the crown, but his eyes still burned with unspent life. Tonight they shone even brighter than usual. Tonight he was a man on the brink of revenge.
The doctor led his guests into his examination room, the cleanest room in the house, and also the kitchen. White linoleum covered the floors, and the many cabinets on the walls were painted white, though in many places the paint was faded and stained. The sink in the corner had rust stains around the drain, and the table where the doctor sat to talk with his patients was propped up by chipped bricks because one of the legs had been broken off by a patient who had gotten angry over a price. The only other piece of furniture in the room was the steel examination table, and it was unremarkable except for the fact that tonight it was equipped with pieces of nylon rope tied to each of the four legs.
"Undress him and put him on the table," Dr. Stillson instructed. "Then tie his wrists and ankles with those ropes. Make sure you get them tight. Stretch him out so he can't move." He stood by and watched as his orders were carried out. When he was satisfied, he tossed a bottle of pills to each of the two men.
"Remember," he warned, "You don't know anything."
"Right," they both agreed.
"Good. Now go." The doctor dismissed them and the two hurried out of the house. Dr. Stillson followed, and locked the front door behind them. He heard the cough and roar as the old Mercury was started and driven away. He peeked out the window again to make sure his visitors had not attracted any unwanted attention. Just the usual scum, he decided, the little ones dressed in costumes less monstrous than their reality tonight. He let the dingy curtain drop back into place and returned to the examination room.
He stood over the unconscious body on his table for a few minutes, studying the smooth, pale flesh and the peaceful look of the handsome face. Then, smiling to himself, he turned and walked away.
From a corner he pulled a small wheeled cart with a gleaming metal tray for a top. He removed the utensils he would need from a drawer: a scalpel, a syringe, and a new needle in a plastic wrapper. He took a small, corked bottle of clear liquid from a cabinet and placed all these items neatly on the tray of his cart and pushed them to the examination table. He brought a chair from the conference table and put it beside the tray, then sat down to wait for the man to regain his senses.
The wait wasn't long. The man's head began to move, his well-groomed blond hair becoming mussed. He tried to raise an arm, and the ropes held it down. His head snapped up and he found Dr. Stillson's smiling face. The man's eyes widened in surprise.
"Hello, Jeffrey," Dr. Stillson said. "Or shall it still be Mister Davies? Like it was in the court room? No, I think here it will be just plain old Jeff. Is that all right with you?"
"What am I doing here, Stillson?" Jeff demanded. "Where the hell am I?"
"Why, Jeff," the doctor feigned surprise. "This is my new office. Don't you like it? It's the best I can do since you ruined my practice with that nasty law suit."
"You killed my wife," Jeff accused, again.
"It was an accident," the doctor said harshly. "I explained before the operation that there was the chance she wouldn't make it through. You didn't hesitate to give me the go-ahead."
"You killed her because she wouldn't have sex with you in the hospital room."
Dr. Stillson's face reddened. "She was mine. She needed me as much as I wanted her. You should have heard her begging me to fuck her that first day she came to me. She said her husband was too busy with his work at the bank to give her the dick when he came home, if he came home. She told me she had heard rumors of homosexual activity between you and a clerk in the vault. Did you like getting corn-holed while you were bent over stacks of hundred dollar bills? Huh, Jeffy?"
"Fuck you," Jeff shouted. "Why am I naked? Where are my clothes?"
"They've been taken care of," the doctor promised. "Be happy with what you have on.
"I made love to Molly," Stillson confessed. "You never got me to admit that in court, did you? No. But I did. She was a wonderful lover. Exquisite, really. She was going to leave you before we found out the lump was cancerous. I wanted her to leave you immediately then, but she didn't want to go through a divorce until after the operation. We made love in her hospital room several times. Even after her hair fell out.
"I miss her," Dr. Stillson added. "I doubt you do."
"It's none of your business," Jeff said. "Why am I here?"
"I'm going to do an operation on you tonight, Jeff. I've never performed this particular operation on a human before, but I'm sure if Molly were here she would give me the okay, just like you did for her. Besides, you're not that much different than an animal. Are you?"
"You're not going to cut on me," Jeff said. "You can't."
"Sure I can," Dr. Stillson said. He plucked the scalpel from his tray and showed it to his patient. "I'm all ready to go."
"No," Jeff said quietly. "No! Help! Somebody help me!"
"Nobody will help you because nobody cares!" Dr. Stillson shouted over the other man's voice. "We're in the slums, Jeff. The ghetto. The people out there, they've heard shouts coming from this house before. Most of my patients are thieves, gang members, and their ilk. My neighbors won't care about your shouts."
"Nooo," Jeff moaned.
"Oh, yes," the doctor said in a reassuring tone. He took the syringe and the needle from his tray and fitted them together. He picked up the small bottle and stuck the needle through the cork, pulling the plunger up until the syringe was just over half full. He put the bottle back on the tray and shot a quick stream of the clear fluid into the air.
"Got to get the air bubbles out," Stillson said. "I don't want you dying of a heart attack. I have something much better in mind."
"What is that?"
"This?" Dr. Stillson brandished the syringe. "This is a concoction that I made up. I call it SKN-3. The three is because the first two tries were unsuccessful. It's an amphetamine. Speed. Can you say trick-or-treat? I thought you could."
"Don't. . ." Jeff whined as Dr. Stillson brought the needle close to his arm. He winced as the steel penetrated his flesh. The plunger came down and the fluid was in his blood. "Now what?" Jeff asked, a tear coming from his eye.
"Now we wait," Dr. Stillson said, dropping the empty syringe onto the tray. "It should be just a few minutes before the drug takes effect."
"Then, Jeff, I'm going to skin you alive. SKN-3 will keep you conscious for most of the operation. Won't it be interesting to watch as your flesh is peeled off?"
"NO!" Jeff began yelling for help again. Dr. Stillson let him shout without trying to stop him. He sat calmly and watched his patient, smiling when he saw the drug was working. Jeff's eyes bulged in their sockets, and his face turned red as if he were blushing deeply. He trembled slightly, his heart beat rapidly beneath his skin, causing the flesh of his chest to pulsate.
"My hair's crawling," Jeff said. "Are there bugs in it?'"
"No, it just feels that way," the doctor told him. "I think we're ready to begin." He stood up, pushed the chair out of his way, lifted the scalpel from the tray, and pushed the cart back beside the discarded chair. He stepped close to the trembling man on his table.
"No, please, I'll give you anything," Jeff begged, his voice hoarse with fright. "Anything you want."
"All I want from you, Jeff, is revenge," Dr. Stillson said. "And I'm about to have it."
Jeffrey Davies howled when the cold steel of the scalpel touched his super-sensitive skin. Dr. Stillson ignored the noise and concentrated on his cutting. He made an incision from a point a few inches below the Adam's apple to just above the start of the pubic hair. The cut swelled with ripe, red blood that soon spilled from its canal and ran down the man's hairless chest and stomach. Jeff continued to shriek with pain, and the doctor smiled to himself as he made his next cut along the inside of the left arm, then the right, and then the legs. He joined the slits on Jeff's limbs to the first cut on his torso, and peeled the flesh away from the carcass. Jeff's screams became louder and more shrill, reaching an octave that Dr. Stillson would have believed impossible coming from the human throat.
Jeff's ropy red muscles glistened beneath the room's naked hundred watt bulb. Within moments after his insides were exposed, Jeff passed out. Dr. Stillson looked at his watch.
"Good," he judged. "You stayed awake for the best parts, Jeffy. Thanks to my little drug."
The doctor completed his job, his face a mask of concentration. He cut from the top of his first incision below the Adam's apple around the base of the neck as far as he could reach. He untied Jeff and rolled the body over so he could complete the cuts on the wrists and ankles, then, bringing the cut from the man's neck up around the hairline and back to the forehead.
Taking hold of Jeff's blond hair, Dr. Stillson pulled slowly and steadily. The scalp lifted, and with a little help, the rest of the man's flesh came away from his back with a wet, sucking sound. Dr. Stillson lifted the skin away from the calves carefully so as not to tear the trophy, and then spread the dripping hide out on his floor, inside up.
Leaving the body on the table for a moment, the doctor went to a cabinet and took out several white rags. He knelt beside his prize skin and wiped away the blood. When the inside was clean, he flipped the hide over and wiped the streaks of crimson from the front.
The skinless body still glistened wetly on the table. Dr. Stillson stood looking at it for a long moment. He smiled. "Happy Halloween, Jeffy," he said. "I love your costume."
He brought a bone saw from a drawer and quickly and expertly cut the body into small pieces, which he put into two Hefty Cinch Sacks along with the bloody rags. He then cleaned up his examination table and the floor around it, added these rags to the plastic bags, and closed them up. He pulled them to the far corner of the room to wait until he could hire a couple of junkies to dispose of them. Happy with a job well done, the doctor looked down at the skin laid out on the floor.
"I feel better, Jeff," he said. "Thank you." He took the small bottle of SKN-3 from the tray and examined the remaining fluid. "And thank you for keeping him awake long enough to make my task thoroughly enjoyable." He tossed the glass vial into the air, holding his palm out to catch it.
The bottle went up, tumbling end over end, and began its descent. The fluid within rolled from cork to bottom and back as gravity demanded. The bottle hit Dr. Stillson's upturned palm and bounced up before he could close his fingers around it. Again the bottle sailed through the air. It hit the skin stretched on the floor and shattered on impact with the hard linoleum beneath. Glass fragments flew like sparks in all directions as the liquid spread in a small stain.
"Shit!" the doctor glaried at the mess. He stooped and picked the pieces of glass off the skin and the floor, then went for another rag to wipe up the formula. When he returned, the SKN-3 had soaked into the hide, leaving a small stain that looked like a birth mark. "Oh well," Stillson said, "I suppose I didn't need the rest of it anyway." He dropped the rag onto his table and left the room, turning out the light.
He went to his bathroom and quickly showered, then to his bedroom and lay down, wearing only his underwear. He was asleep within minutes.
In his examination room the skin began to move. At first the activity was only in the area where the fluid had stained the hide; a small rippling motion. Soon, however, the movement traveled outward until the entire hide was flowing, wave-like, from the headless scalp to the feetless legs and handless arms. The rippling became concentrated, and the skin began to inch its way across the floor toward the open doorway.
In the living room of the house it rolled itself into a turn and rippled past a worn chair, the outstretched arm brushing the leg of an end table. The jack-o-lantern in the window took no notice. The skin slithered into a short hallway and then over the threshold of Daniel Stillson's bedroom. It crossed the hardwood floor and was soon at the foot of the narrow bed. Snake-like, it raised itself up until the scalp seemed to be peeking over the edge of the bed. The top part of the skin flopped down onto the mattress and pulled the bottom of the torso and the legs up after it.
The skin quickly covered Dr. Stillson's nearly naked body, wrapping the empty husks of its arms and legs around the sleeping doctor. It began to squeeze.
Daniel Stillson woke up slowly, thinking at first that some of the neighborhood heavies had broken in and wanted drugs. He would give them something that would knock them on their asses for disturbing him. He looked through bleary eyes and saw the skin of Jeffrey Davies wrapped around him. He screamed.
The piece of flesh on the top end of the hide flopped forward. Dr. Stillson sucked Jeff's starchy hair down his throat and gagged.
As the doctor fought to free himself from the skin, the empty hide wrapped itself tighter around him, hugging out the small breaths he could draw around the hair in his throat. At last he lay still, his body limp, his gray eyes, like specks of polished glass, staring at the water-stained ceiling.
The skin continued squeezing for several hours, until all of Dr. Stillson's drug, the SKN-3, had evaporated from the flesh.