by Deirdre Coyle
Humans screamed in the ugliest way imaginable: a high shriek that devolved into dry-throated choking. The bear didn’t know how to make them stop. Humans crowded the sidewalk, but ran when she approached. She looked for a hiding place, but humans swarmed over every open space and structure.
The skin stuck halfway out of a blue mailbox on the corner of 9th and 38th. Gently removing the fleshy web, the bear stood on her hind legs and held it against her body. It was a weak-looking human skin with long, light hair and clothes attached: a teal sweater, a pair of jeans, and a necklace displaying the gold symbols “A-M-Y.” Careful not to rip the epidermis, the bear stepped inside it.
Issue #129 soundtrack: Kristin Flammio "Everybody Else"
The humans stopped screaming.
As “A-M-Y,” the bear walked up 9th Avenue until she found a doorway that smelled delicious. She walked inside. Many humans stood in a small space, peering into sweet-smelling glass cases. “Amy” went behind the counter to consume whatever was inside of them.
A woman with white powdered hair thrust a hand in front of her snout. “Excuse me! Can I help you!”
“Amy” shoved the door of the glass case aside.
“Excuse me!” the white-headed woman shouted, making a pitiful attempt to stand between “Amy” and the glass case. “Please wait in line. Someone will be with you shortly.” Whitehead’s eyes bulged from her sockets. “Amy” wondered if another person lived inside her, or if Whitehead’s eyes simply fit poorly into her skull.
“Amy” reached into the glass case, removed an item, and walked outside.
“Amy” found a bench and bit into the stolen thing. Chewing, she looked at the tall trees, the flowering bushes, the soft-skinned humans. Humans covered themselves so thoroughly: hard objects on their heads and wheeled objects on their hind legs. It was no surprise, given how easily their bodies bent into unfamiliar shapes.
“Amy” noticed the skin around her hands pooling—she’d stretched it in her excitement to eat the flaky food. Using one paw at a time, she tucked the loose skin more tightly around her paw pads, creating the illusion of slim human fingers.
“Hey beautiful,” said a hairless man on the sidewalk. His arm was wrapped around a metal pole. His face glistened with moisture, smelled of salt. “Amy” looked him in the eye, and his grin widened. “Are you waiting for this bus?” he asked.
“Amy’s” eye itched. She dabbed her eye-flap, tucking a coarse brown puff back into the eye hole and flattening the rogue fur against her snout.
“You all right, sweetheart? Say, let me take you out to lunch. There’s a deli right there, c’mon. My treat.”
Delicious dead animal smells were, in fact, coming from the deli. “Amy” made a small noise in the back of her throat, hoping not to alarm the hairless man until after he had acquired food.
“Is that a yes?”
She nodded and straightened the blond hair. The man held out his hand. She reached a paw forward, then retracted her elbow and re-tightened the skin around her fingers.
“Don’t be nervous, doll, my hands are pretty clean.”
“Amy” inspected the quickly slackening skin around her knuckles. She placed the limp cache of hand-flesh into his outstretched palm.
“Goddamn, you are a beautiful blonde,” he said.
The man bought her a steak sandwich, ordering for her when she expressed no preference vocally. “You’re gonna love it,” he said. “I like girls who are carnivores, y’know what I mean? None of this vegetarian shit. Meat, baby. Meat makes the man. Or the woman, yeah?”
They sat on a stoop outside the deli, where the man put the sandwich directly into “Amy’s” lap. “You got a name, sweetheart?”
“Amy” made a guttural sound.
“Becky, huh? My first wife’s name was Becky. Whaddaya know. I’m sure you’re a lot nicer than that bitch. You got a sweet face. Bet you were raised right, huh?”
“Amy” pressed her hand-flesh on either side of the sandwich and lifted it to her mouth. She forced the meat and bread between the loose flaps of skin and into her snout. She could feel her teeth protruding through the human flesh. A canine caught the girlish lip and stuck there until she licked it loose with her mammoth tongue. Using considerable restraint, she ate the sandwich in two bites.
The man stared at her, his sandwich untouched. “Goddamn, doll,” he said. “Jesus Christ. You were hungry, huh?”
“Listen, baby, I’m as eager to get back to my place as you are. I’ll give you as much meat as you want. I’ll fuck you like no vegetarian’s ever fucked you before. You ready to go?”
She reached forward and removed the second sandwich from his clean-jointed fingers, eating it in one bite. The flaps of her human mouth ripped, slightly, and fur sprouted from its pink opening.
The man was making loud noises in which “Amy” was uninterested. She ate the paper that had surrounded the sandwiches, abandoned the stoop, and continued along the block.
“Wait!” yelled the man. “Becky—Becky—come back!”
It was getting dark. “Amy” was ready to eat a large meal, to sleep in a place where she would not be bothered. She was too far to return to the forest—if she had come from the forest? Memories shifted inside her head.
“Amy” began searching for a suitable sleeping place. Humans still swarmed inside many of the buildings, and “Amy” was not interested in sleeping anywhere near them. She saw several humans sleeping outside, curled into doorways and stairwells, but they looked so exposed. Their faces hung limply outside blankets, unprotected from the elements.
“Amy” spotted a dark passageway between two buildings, with no humans nearby—no one slept inside it, no one wandered around it, no one saw her enter.
Something smelled appealing, and “Amy” knocked over a large blue canister. Inside, she found a myriad of unknowable items, all of which she ate for her evening meal. They were not as delicious as the item from behind the glass case, but they were here, and unguarded by human Whiteheads.
“Amy” curled against the wall, leg stretched across the wreckage of her meal. She allowed flesh to fold loosely across her face, her skin stretching over her like a blanket. Reveling in the non-silence of the city, “Amy” slept.
In the morning, “Amy” wiped steak juice along her teal sweater as she walked down Columbus Avenue. She licked and nibbled the fabric, still hungry. The skin-coat rested sloppily around her paws, creating lumpy blemishes where the girl’s well-toned forearms should have been. “Amy” used her teeth to tighten the skin, letting the outer layer adjust to the shape of her round digits.
“Amy” wandered into a green area. She removed an elongated, bread-wrapped meat object from a small man’s hand. He yelled, but posed no threat. The meat object was unsatisfying. She walked along a body of water, human cubs throwing rocks into its darknesses, creating ripples that lapped over the rocks. She dearly wished to remove the human skin and bathe as herself—naked, cold water soaking through her fur.
A familiar scent wafted nearer. It wasn’t food, or the human cubs scream-laughing by the water. She lifted her hand-flaps to her face and attempted to pull the skin tight. Another man sat on another bench—a long, saggy man in a dark suit, a thin clump of hair stuck limply above his mouth. “Amy” realized the familiar smell came from his weak human body. She walked several steps closer, sniffing so hard she snorted a gob of pollen. The skin around the man’s mouth gaped. He lifted a hand, pressing the flesh into place. His hands didn’t sag as noticeably as “Amy’s,” but the skin clearly had not grown around the bones the way skin was supposed to.
Trying not to growl or make noise, “Amy” sat next to him.
He looked up, pupils snapping outward, widening and gleaming. There were eyes within his eye holes.
The mouth within his mouth opened and shut, opened and shut. The skin clearly hung on the much smaller frame of whatever body lived inside it. Finally, the man said, “Do you—do you know who I am? Do you know who you are?”
“Amy” released a guttural noise.
“You’re me,” he said. “That’s my necklace. I’m Amy.”
“Amy” hummed in the back of her throat.
“I thought I got rid of it,” the man said. “I took off my skin in the garment district—the skin you’re wearing now. I put it in the mail. I didn’t think anyone would find it.”
“Amy” tilted her head. She felt fur coming from her human eyeholes, and used her hand-lumps to control the outbreak.
The man leaned forward, his eye skin growing looser as he tilted his two faces. “Where did you find that? Who—what—are you?”
“Amy” pulled the skin around her fingers. She growled softly.
“Can I...?” The man lifted sagging fingers toward her mouth, and pulled gently at the human skin of her lips. He pulled wider, trying to look inside. “Amy” growled more forcefully. The man removed his hands. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just wanted to see who was in there.” The man paused, tapping his feet inside appetizing leather shoes. “I walked around the garment district, naked, after shedding the skin you’re wearing. And when I was skinless, no one noticed me at all. No presentation, no existence.”
He plucked at his wrist. “I found this skin in the park, even though I didn’t want to use it. I carried it with me for a while, before I forced myself to put it on. Three-piece suit attached. I didn’t want to be a businessman or anything. I didn’t want to be a man at all. I mean, I didn’t want to be a human.” He drew his feet together, then apart on the dirt path. “I looked everywhere for a different skin. A squirrel, anything. I could have fit. I could have made myself so small. But there was nothing.” He reached for his face, pulling it taut against the body beneath. “I wanted to be an animal, but only humans shed their skin.”
Deirdre Coyle is a writer, fashion librarian, and non-practicing mermaid living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Goddessmode, Hello Giggles, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. For more, follow her on Twitter and visit deirdrecoyle.com.
Jarod Rosellό is a Cuban-American writer, cartoonist, and teacher from Miami, Florida. He is the author of the graphic novel The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) be Found (Publishing Genius Press, 2015) and the illustrated novel, How We Endure, forthcoming from Jellyfish Highway Press. He teaches comics and fiction in the creative writing program at University of South Florida, and runs Bien Vestido Press, a small press for Latinx comics and image-based literature. For more, visit jarodrosello.com.
Kristin Flammio is a Brooklyn-based musician best known for her indie rock band FORTS. Her most recent solo work, written in the California desert, was inspired by Sade, solitude, and the strawberry moon. For more, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.