He climbs in through the window. Untidy living room sparsely furnished. Books and scribbled notes scattered around. No pictures. An empty cup of tea on the table. A laptop on a desk in the corner, beside it an unwashed glass smelling faintly of gin. There is nothing noteworthy in the room, apart from a peculiar smell.
The kitchen is likewise unkempt. A sink full of dirty dishes. Empty beer cans line the window sill. A movie poster on the wall. Psycho. He remembers seeing it, a long time ago. The smell is a bit stronger in here.
He steps lightly into the hallway. One mirror. A faded poster by the front door, something in French. He does not speak French. He eases open the door to the cellar and the smell hits him with renewed strength. It is not entirely unfamiliar. The sound of muffled crying seems to come from below. He goes down.
After the stairs come cold tiles. Six steps and he stands in a bedroom. No pictures. One computer. An abstract drawing above the bed. Faint smell of weed, overpowered by something else entirely. He backtracks, stops by another door. The smell is strong, the crying is louder. He opens the door.
Two chairs, two men. One tied, rag in mouth, crying. It's one of the young men renting the house, screaming into his gag. In the chair next to him is a flayed man.
The man's terrified eyes look to him pleadingly. He meets them with a calm gaze. After a moment of confusion, he goes with his gut. He steps forward and slips the knife into the man's neck. He leaves the way he came. He brings his car around, parks up the street, watches the house. He is not a curious man, but this is an exceptional occurrence.
After a while the other inhabitant comes home. Walks calmly up the stairs, disappears through the door. He does not run out screaming. Instead an hour passes calmly by. Then another. No mention of a gruesome murder on the police scanner, or a flaying. He is greatly puzzled.
Five minutes later, the man he killed steps out of the house, whistling. He is wearing a scarf.
He steps out of his car. Assuming himself to be harder to kill than the average cat, he goes back inside. The living room looks the same. No sign of any disturbance by the front door. All the coats have been arranged in an orderly fashion. He steps silently down the stairs, weapon drawn. There is no crying this time, though the smell remains.
The bathroom is now populated by two flayed men. There is no blood on the floor. Hanging on a clothes-line is human flesh. He stares a while. It is the skin of the man who entered the house just an hour and a half before. He looks between the first flayed man and his displaced covering.
The next night he returns, but not alone. He carries a fresh member of the truly free over his shoulder. He enters through a rather tight window leading straight into the cellar. It takes some maneuvering to push his companion through the window. The room does not smell as strongly anymore. No corpses to be seen, though one of the skins still hangs from the clothes-line. He leaves his cargo there. He does not know what he is doing.
He can hear someone pacing the floor above. The footsteps are quiet, only barely audible. The owner knows he's here. He pushes open the window. The pacing stops. He watches the stairway for movement. Then he crawls outside, keeps his face hidden as he walks away from the house.
He waits in his car, patiently watching the strange house as a new day dawns. At noon the front door finally opens. Yet it is the same person as yesterday who appears, carrying a large picnic basket. He scratches his chin.
Some time later the person returns. No picnic basket. He stares at his reflection in the rear view mirror. He is having a hard time explaining to himself why he wasted a body on this. Still, he does not feel like giving up.
The night after that he goes back, alone. Most of the corpse he brought last night is gone. The rest has been stored in the freezer. On a stool in the middle of the room lies a new skin, neatly folded. There is a little note on top of it.
I do not know this person, it reads, but these people I do.
There follows a list of four people. He takes it with him.
Over the next three nights he brings them, all but one. It is a shame not to leave them behind as displays for those still waiting for deliverance, but this little project is simply too interesting. Their empty clothes will have to suffice. Maybe the populace will think he is hinting at the Rapture.
On the day after the third night he is treated to a veritable fashion show, as all sorts of people come and go from the house. A worker at a soup-kitchen begins her grueling day, carting out a heavy load for today's broth. A model in a skin-tight red dress returns. An old doctor limps out, seats himself on a bench outside and lights his pipe in the cool evening air. Then he retires to the house.
Fifteen minutes later, he follows the old man inside. The bathroom has become a veritable dressing room. He leafs through the skins. The model is missing. Someone lights a cigarette in the next room. He finds her there, shivering in her red dress, the cigarette hovering inches from her nervous smile.
"It's…Victor, isn't it?"
He steps inside.
"Sorry, I've, um, never done anything like this before."
His eyes roam over her body.
"My sister always told me I had a thing for bad boys but this…this is…"
It's confusing. She is the exact same woman he killed. Same posture, same voice, same nervous tics.
She is uninteresting. He moves, pulling out his knife. She peels off her face. He stops. A moment passes. He backs away, keeping his eyes trained on her as he leaves. She does not follow.
The next night he brings the last request. She is waiting. Again she wears the model, but her face remains bare. He drops the body to the floor. She raises a knife. He pulls his in answer. She slowly puts hers on top of the freezer. He hesitates for a long while before following her lead. She takes a step forward. He does the same. He raises a curious hand, runs a finger along her naked forehead. How her body functions puzzles him, though he has seen stranger. She puts a hand on his abdomen, running her fingers over stringy muscle. Her fingers trace his scars through the thin fabric of his shirt. Their hands keep exploring a good while longer. Eventually they seat themselves on the floor. The body is starting to stink, but they do not let go. As the time flies their bodies waver, though their curiosity does not. They lie down on the cold floor, embracing each other stiffly. They stare into each other's eyes. The night passes. Neither of them sleeps.
It is only well after the sun has risen that they get off the floor and slowly let go. He backs out of the room, grabbing his knife and deftly stepping over the carcass on his way out. He is confused as he leaves. It is getting harder and harder to explain what he is doing. Does he mean to liberate her? Does he think she can become his partner in suffering and his mission? Has he been led off the true path? His skin crawls as his mind races.
The next night he is back. So is she. He stares at her. She stares back. He steps forward, hand itching to reach for his blade. Her breathing is calm. He breathes out. This has to end.
"This has to end."
A moment passes after she has spoken. Then their lips have come together, her hand has wandered under his shirt, his has fallen on the back of her neck. He shudders at the sensation of her fleshless face. She whimpers as his teeth bite into her tongue. His heartbeat is erratic. They break off the kiss, she stares bewildered at him and her hand drops lower. He gasps as he's hit with desires and sensations long forgotten. Their lips meet once more. The night passes, arduous.
In the morning a man exits the house. Scars adorn his body. He is alone. The house stands empty.