Starless Imperium

Morgan Argor Strange, Science Fiction Horror Author

Seth the Skinless

Sepulcher of Strange Illustration by artist Kristian Strange for author Morgan Strange's story The Prince of Murk and Rot
Seth the Skinless and Vraethir drawing by Morgan Argor Strange

Seth the Skinless

By Morgan Argor Strange

Bones illustration by Kristian Strange

You wake up in the middle of the night to a weird itch on the side of your face, but it’s faint enough to ignore and move on to more interesting topics: Like the phenomenon you were researching up until the moment you passed out beneath the covers, Pareidolia—the uncanny ability to view faces where there aren’t any. As you stumble out of bed, ignoring the laughing clown on the ceiling as always, you’re so relieved you’ve finally found a name for this eerie, inconvenient affliction that’s haunted you all your life.

On the way to the bathroom, you nod hello to the shadow people at the end of the hall, but they contort and evaporate into a static black haze, and a laughing black and white jester’s mask takes their place. That one is your least favorite face of all, and that’s saying a lot: It freaks you out so much that you squeeze shut your eyes, and vow not to open them for the rest of your journey through the seemingly endless dark.

It’s fine, you murmur to no one, groping clumsily for the wall, ignoring the sharp, burning pain that flares up when you accidentally scrape your cheek against it. It’s worth it if I don’t have to see the Jester again.

Finally, you feel the wet, brassy solace of the bathroom door handle somewhere to your left. You let out a sigh of relief, and briefly revel in the victory of your journey being half over. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, even if burning red eyes straight out of a Japanese horror movie are staring back at you from behind the toilet right after you open your eyes. Everything’s going to be different, you tell yourself, ignoring them. Now that you have a name, you’ll be able to find doctors, therapists, and maybe even support groups for people who go through the same nightly shitshow as you.

But for now, all I have to worry about is me, this room, and getting back to bed. Back to freedom. For whatever reason, the second you pull the blankets up around your head and tuck the covers in, they all melt away and leave you alone—that, and daylight, are the only things you’ve found that give you some semblance of a break before the nightmare begins again.

Pareidolia, you mutter as you sit on the toilet, shaking your head from side to side to chase away the weird dripping sensation plaguing your forehead no matter how many times you wipe it clean—you look up to see if there’s a leak, but nope—it’s just Sarah, the annoying bathroom harpie that lurks up near the fan every night and watches you like some kind of freak. “See, I know you aren’t real,” you tease, sticking out your tongue and taking her hisses in stride for once. “You’re just good old Pareidolia . . .”

You take your time finishing up, because you know your least favorite part is coming up soon, and you’d really like to put it off for as long as humanly possible. You have to wash your hands, which means ten seconds of pure adrenaline-fueled hell while you avoid looking in the mirror at any cost. The mirror is basically a factory working overtime pumping out freaky faces, after all, and you really don’t feel like staring down Harold the Sewage Monster after such a close run-in with the Jester on the way down the hall.

When the last drops of soap swirl away down the drain, as usual, you can’t help but steal a half-second look into the black, dead portal to a thousand worlds of pain. Weird, you think, raising an eyebrow at the blood-drenched, flayed, sad excuse for a face staring back. Never seen that one before. “What should I call him, Seth the Skinless?” you sigh to no one, turning away and stumbling back towards the bedroom with—surprisingly—no other incidents.

Until morning, of course, when the ungodly hours and the faces they bring are nothing more than a distant memory immortalized in the blood that dried upon your pillowcase. The scabs on your cheeks are stuck to the fabric, and you’re going to need water to rip the mess apart—at least if you want to keep your face. So, you bolt for the bathroom, bewildered and boiling over with pain, hoping that somehow, after you rip this pillowcase off the side of your head, you’ll be able to figure out what the hell is going on.

You find Seth the Skinless in the bathroom mirror even though it’s long past sunrise, forever smiling back with festering wounds where lips should be. There’s something clownlike about him, something familiar . . . Too familiar, you shiver, wondering if he could be tied in with that freaky clown that hangs out on your bedroom ceiling all night.

Only when he parts those hideous wounds, and your lips start moving too, do you realize it’s your own voice softly chanting:

You were so busy looking for faces where they didn’t belong

That it took you ‘til morning to notice that your own face was gone.

Bones illustration by Kristian Strange

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