Death is Only Skin Deep

Prompt Day #262: Reveal a secret during an open casket funeral

Death is Only Skin Deep

 

I hadn’t seen my father since my mother died. I didn’t want to see him ever again. He wasn’t the man I once knew. I was seventeen when she died in a car accident. He had her cremated before I had a chance to see her or say goodbye. This could have been forgiven, I suppose. He insisted that the damage done to her body was so severe, there would be no way to have a proper open casket funeral. Maybe that was true, but when he introduced me to Carol a week later telling me they would be getting married, I ran away from home. I hated him and I still hated him when Carol sent me an email to say that my father had gotten ill and died. She said they had no idea it was as serious as it turned out to be otherwise she would have contacted me sooner. I didn’t care. I wanted nothing to do with either one of them.

As you know, your father has left a vast fortune. The reading of his last will and testament will occur immediately following the funeral. I’m sure you realize that you are his only kin and it is likely he has left much to you. You should be here. If you are not present at the funeral, his attorney has been instructed to assume you are forfeiting your inheritance.

I almost didn’t go but the sad truth was I needed that money. Running away at seventeen leaves little options for jobs. So, I graciously accepted the bus ticket waiting for me at the station and came home for what I thought was one last time. I stood for a long time across the street from the funeral home. I watched the people as they entered to pay their respects to my father. He was an orphan and only child. I was the only living biological family he had. I knew none of these people walking in. They must be Carol’s friends and family I supposed.

When I could not afford to put it off any longer for fear I would be written off as a no-show, I walked into the building. The smell of flowers overwhelmed me and I swooned. Someone grabbed my arm to steady me.

“Thank you. I’m good now.” I said. The man said nothing. He smiled quickly and walked away. Another man came up behind me and took my coat.

“Julie?” A female voice said. I turned and saw Carol, a much older version of the woman I remembered though. It had only been five years, yet she looked ancient. Her skin was mottled with age spots. She had a scarf wrapped around her head like a turban. I wondered if she had the same illness as dad or maybe it was cancer. Either way, there was no doubt she was dying. I decided to swallow my dislike and try to be kind. I nodded.

“Carol, how are you?” I said and gave her a shallow hug. She felt brittle, and when her skin brushed my cheek it felt like plastic wrap.

“Your father.” She started “It happened so fast. I’m so glad you came. We have much to discuss.”

“Not now, Carol.” I said “I just want to see dad and get this over with.” I turned away without waiting for a response.

The coffin looked stainless steel. It was unlike any I had ever seen. Bullet shaped with no handles for the pallbearers. I wondered who had picked it. It didn’t seem like something Dad would have gone for, he was always so “traditional”. He had a penchant for 1950’s America. I figured him for a classic wood grain angular type. I approached slowly. So far, the body in the strange new-age contraption was not striking a cord within me. It did not look like my Dad. The skin had a strange, almost greenish hue. His features were softened. My father had a strong brow and a nose that looked like it had been chiseled from marble. This body that only slightly resembled my dad, had a flattened brow that sort of just drooped into a nose. It was unnaturally smooth. I turned around and looked at everyone. No one seemed to be bothered by the fact that this man was clearly not Adam Jefferson Abrams.

I looked closer at the body proposing to be my father. I leaned down as if I was about to kiss him and inspected his weird skin. That’s when I saw it. Near his ear, a small line, a seam. I touched it there was definitely a line in the skin. I picked a little and it bubbled up, pulling away from whatever lay beneath it. I spun around.

“What is going on here? Is this some kind of joke?” I glared at the strange faces in the crowd. Several had features resembling those of the corpse and in the brighter lights of the parlor, Carol’s complexion had a greenish hue as well.

“This man,” I pointed at the body in the coffin “is not my father. So somebody better speak up real quick and tell me what the hell is going on! Is he here somewhere watching? Are you here Dad?” I was getting more frantic as I spoke. The situation was surreal. The crowd was restless, I knew there was something being kept from me. Carol looked around at the others and stood up. She walked to me slowly.

“Julie, please, sit down. That is your father, I know this must be hard for you and you aren’t thinking clearly. Sit down and when the funeral is over, we’ll talk.” She said. There was fear in her eyes.

“No. I want answers now!” I shouted. “I’m not going to sit here and mourn some stranger.” The man who had caught me in the entrance stood now and approached me. He did not look frightened or worried. He looked angry. He grabbed me again, rougher this time. But I saw it coming. I was ready. I shoved at him and flailed my arms up to block him. I reached into the coffin and grabbed at the seam by his ear. I tore and it began to peel off him like dried Elmer’s glue. I saw the color of the flesh beneath it. A sickly absinth green, mottled with grey. This under-skin had a gelatinous look to it and as it let go of the false layer, it fell back onto the face jiggling.

The man grabbed my hand but it was too late. I’d ripped a large strip of skin off exposing a smooth, featureless countenance of something obviously non-human.

“I’m sorry you had to find out this way.” Carol said standing beside the man.

“What is that?” I was shaking as I tried to point.

“Your father.” She said

“That thing isn’t even human.”

“Yet, still it is your father.”

“That’s preposterous.”

“Your mother and father were among the first colonists on this planet. We really thought we were properly prepared, of course or we would never have sent them. You were the first Earth child born of our race and we had such hopes for a new tomorrow here.” She reached up and touched her face. “But the biologic suits we engineered were unable to evolve to the Earth’s unnatural climate and atmospheric changes. Your mother succumbed quickly. I arrived with the necessary updates but of course, we underestimated the damage humans could inflict on their own planet. As time went on, it became clear that the second generation suits would not last.”

My mouth was agape. I had no words. This had to be some sort of prank, although for the life of me I couldn’t imagine who would think this would make a good prank.

“I don’t believe you.” I said. She nodded and reached up, digging her nails into her own skin above her eyes. She tore. It tore in the same way my father’s had, leaving the opaque green jellied skin exposed.

“We have to go back. It’s no use here. No good for us. We have to find someplace new. You have to come with us or you will die.” She said. I backed away from her. She was crazy. I touched my own skin. If it were nothing more than some false over coat, wouldn’t I know? What about all the times I had fallen and skinned my knee or cut myself with a knife? “Your suit is still in good shape, yes. Your body is young and strong enough to aid in its repair, soon though, it will begin to thin and separate. You must come with us before it’s too late.”

“I’m leaving. This is a disgusting trick. You’re all sick” I said. Just then, the man who had been both my savior and my prison guard jabbed what looked like a small flashlight into my upper arm. I felt its multiple teeth like projections anchor themselves into my skin. He turned it on and it whirred. I felt a cool tingling current spread over me and then the sensation of a sheet being pulled over me. When he turned it off and pulled it back I was staring down at my own jade flesh. A shade darker than my father’s and Carol’s, but green and smooth just the same.

So it was true. All of it. I was a dying species trying to live on a dying planet and now it was time to go. I was given my own coffin which turned out to be a “Somnipod” where I would be placed into a deep hibernation type sleep and sent into space towards our mothership. Once all the colonists had been collected, we would go on to find a new home, a safer one, where we would learn and grow in peace. I climbed into the pod and closed my eyes. It was in some ways still a funeral, after all, Julie Abrams was in fact dead. Like her father, however, she would live again.

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