by Steve Vernon
You can’t cut the air, no matter how sharp your knife.
The old man stares into an empty sky, dreaming of killing jars filled brimful with chilled placental wine.
I’m not part of this, he thinks. I’m not part of anything at all.
He watches a pigeon leaning into the wind with its cinder-gray wings spread wide.
That bird is smart, he thinks. Filtering meat from the wind.
It’s lunchtime, and the businessmen walk by in their carefully cut suits, tailored especially to hide the milk fat congealing around their bones. They glance past him, with pity. Pity for the old man in musty Goodwill glad rags, fishing the occasional quarter from beneath the paper folding knives of their dollar bills.
He smiles at them, feeling his lips skinning away from nubs of his teeth. Sucking wind and spit and whatever the wind brings him. The Auschwitz ashy veins crawl beneath his aged skin, like slow blue forever leeches, hungry and moving and restless.
He meets their gazes, no matter how hard they try to look beyond him. Pounces on their blind stares, holding them fast.
You don’t know me. All you see of me is a bag of skin. You don’t know what lurks inside me. A foolish old man doddering on the brink of a park bench. You can’t escape me. You’re breathing me. The air chowder-slurried with discarded skin cells, the detritus of all crawling life, spinning on the wayward breeze.
He scrapes a bit of dry skin from his thumb tip and holds it out until the wind gives it flight, all the while staring at the fat blind businessmen.
He longs to drag one of those fat gray suits down and tear the brushed silk and polyester blends from their pale and helpless bodies; longs to slice their skin away like a mask and show them the reality of blood and meat.
But for now he sits and blinks as the sun burns the skin from his bones one slow cell at a time.
Yet every night he perches on the ledge of his rusty spring mattress, whetting his flensing knife against a spit-soaked stone that sings its small and patient song — wait, wait, wait — all night long.
Clicking his teeth together, worn with yellowed age, tasting the skin peeled from off of dead men’s eyes.
Wait, wait, wait.
Steve Vernon was born and raised in the North Ontario shield country, but currently hangs his hat in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His stories have appeared in The Horror Show, Cemetary Dance, Karl Edward Wagner’s Year’s Best Horror, Horror Garage, and others. Upcoming appearances include Flesh & Blood #17, Red Scream #1, Inhuman, and others. His novella Long Horn, Big Shaggy (a weird west tale of back-from-the-dead mountainmen, time travelling mad scientists and zombified buffalo) is available from Black Death Books. Steve always carries a small jack knife in his pocket, but the rumor about the burgundy house coat, rabid kangaroo, and bungee cord is completely untrue. For further info on Steve’s nefarious activities go to http://users.eastlink.ca/~stevevernon.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish