The Skin of the World

📅 Published on July 27, 2021

“The Skin of the World”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by Drew Blood

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.00/10. From 3 votes.
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My wife and I were house hunting. We’d been saving for years to get the down payment together. A lot of struggling and cutting corners were finally going to pay off. We had visited five houses in various neighborhoods, trying to find the right fit for us.

We pulled up to the next house on our list. It was a nice street, tree-lined and clean. A couple of potential neighbors waved as we got out of the car. We returned the gesture, and my wife smiled at me, obviously pleased with their friendliness. From the outside the house looked amazing. It had been built in the sixties but had been renovated multiple times since.

The woman waiting at the door was not our usual property agent. She had emailed us directly, apparently referred to us by a mutual acquaintance. We liked the pics of the house, so we decided to set up a meeting anyway.

“You must be Mike and Lily,” she said, smiling brightly. “I’m Paula. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She seemed nice, jovial even. We shook hands and made our greetings. I let Lily take the lead as we walked into the house; the smell of lavender air freshener strong. I was content to take notes and pics while they talked.

“So, what’s the square footage?” Lily asked. “You didn’t mention it in the email.”

“Didn’t I?” Paula said. “I’m so sorry about that. It’s just shy of thirty-two hundred.”

Lily looked to me and I nodded in approval. It was plenty of room.

Paula gestured towards the fireplace that took up an entire corner of the living room. “Now this is the original fireplace, but it was converted to natural gas years ago. You have central heating and air, of course, but I’ve been told by the previous owners that it helped keep their electric quite low over the winter months. It does get quite cold in the Wastes.”

“I’m sorry, the what?” I asked.

“Excuse me?” Paula said, confused. “I was just saying it gets cold here in the winter.”

“Oh.” I said, and we continued into the kitchen.

Paula tapped the door of the refrigerator. “These are fairly new appliances, bought and installed just a couple of years ago. If you like them, we could give you a very low price on the set and have it worked into the mortgage.”

“They’re very nice. The previous owners just left them?” Lily asked running her fingers over the stovetop.

Paula nodded. “Yes, I guess they had no need for them where they were going.”

“They moved into a smaller place?” I asked.

“Bigger, but less populated,” Paula said. “And here we have the walk-in pantry…”

I stopped listening to her. I got my wife’s attention and mouthed What was that?

Lily shrugged and followed Paula into the laundry area. I decided to break off from them and made my way down the hall and into the master bedroom. New carpet had been put down, and the room smelled of fresh paint. I stuck my head into the adjoining bathroom for a quick glance. I snapped a few pics with my phone, already thinking of tearing out some cabinets to make room for a garden bathtub.

I opened the door to the closet, planning on getting an idea of how much of it I would need for my meager wardrobe, but it was already full. Men’s hung to left, women’s to the right. I would’ve expected them to all be similar, pants the same length, dresses as well. But this was like a shop, all the clothes arranged by size. I didn’t even need to check the tags; it was that obvious. I wondered then how many people had lived in the house, and why they’d left all their clothes behind.

“I see you’ve found the master bedroom!” Paula said.

I nearly jumped out of my skin but managed not to cry out. “Um, yes,” I said. “This closet is…unusual.”

“What do you mean?” she said. “It’s a walk-in, and plenty of space.”

I pointed to the clothes. “Yeah, but it’s already filled with someone else’s clothes?”

She frowned. “I didn’t realize. They must have been left by the former owners.”

Lilly stepped into the room. “Oh, this is nice. We could put the bed over–”

“Are they coming back for their clothes?” I interrupted.

“Well, I sincerely doubt it,” Paula said. “They’ve already moved on.”

Lily peeked inside the closet. “I can understand them leaving the appliances, but all of their clothes too?” She laughed. “What, were they on the run from someone?”

Paula laughed. It was weird and disjointed, and I realized she was forcing it.

Something was wrong.

“Where did the owners move to?” I asked, my mouth suddenly dry.

Her eyes darted from Lily then back to me. “Phoenix,” she said. “Phoenix, Arizona.”

We all looked at each other for a moment, no one moving.

“Thank you for your time,” I said. “We’ve got to be going, but we’ll be in touch.”

“Wait–” she began, but I was already out of the room, with Lily close behind me.

Lily quickened her step and fell in beside me. “What was that about?”

“I don’t know,” I said, crossing the living room. “Something is off here. Not sure what it is but I don’t want to be a part of it.”

I reached out to open the front door.

“Listen!” Paula called from across the room. “If you leave this house you’re not coming back.”

“Thanks again,” I said over my shoulder then opened the door.

Lily and I crossed the threshold.

When he had arrived at the house it was midafternoon, on a sunny Tuesday in August.

But now it was twilight, and the sky was the color of a fresh bruise.

“There’s no way we were in there for more than half an hour,” I said, mostly to myself. “And now it’s almost dark?”

Lily grabbed my arm hard enough to hurt. “Mike look at the trees,” she whispered.

The trees lining the street looked dead, devoid of leaves, their branches broken and splintered. I looked down to the lawn, but where summer grass had been there was now cracked and dry soil.

I was understandably confused, but I wasn’t scared until I saw our car. It was a rusted-out skeleton of steel, its tires little more than scraps of rubber underneath the wheels.

I turned around quickly, and there stood Paula right inside the door. I could see the living room, exactly as we left it, the smell of lavender still lingering in the air. “What the hell is going on?!” I yelled. “What is this?”

She said nothing, just tilted her head, smiled, and shut the door.

I ran for the door, grabbing the knob and twisting it back and forth. It wouldn’t budge. I began pounding on it then, hammering it with my fist.

“Open the door!” I cried.

Lily voice came from behind me. “Mike, calm down. Let’s just–”

But I couldn’t calm down. Panic came over me, and I kicked, and kicked, and kicked until the door finally swung open, smashing against the inner wall with a hollow thud.

The living room was a mess. Black mold was spread across the carpet like oceans on an unfamiliar map. Cobwebs stretched from wall to wall in every corner. I ran through the house, throwing open doors. Lily called after me, but I kept running, searching from dusty room to dusty room.

I came back into the living room, coughing and panting. “She’s gone. The house is empty. It looks like, well, like the rest of it. Of everything.”

Lily looked to be my opposite. I stood there, adrenaline spiking into every muscle, while she was calm and resolute. “Let’s just settle down,” she said. “And see if we can’t figure this out, okay?”

I nodded, unconvinced but willing to try.

She dug her phone out of her pocket and tapped the screen. “No signal.”

“No surprise there,” I said.

Lily took my hand. “Come on, let’s see if we can find some help.”

I let her lead me back outside. Nothing had changed. The house itself was dilapidated, its roof sagging and every window empty of glass.

We walked into the street, but the scene was the same all around us. Every house was in similar disrepair, some had even collapsed in on themselves.

“Hello!” Lily called. “Is anybody out here?!”

No response came.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s walk back toward the highway. The traffic is always bad this time of day. There’s bound to be people.”

But there wasn’t anyone. Not anywhere.

We walked until our feet were sore, and our voices hoarse from calling out.

I stopped and rested against the hood of yet another ruined car. “Do you hear that?” I asked.

“What?” she said, hope wrapped around her words.

“There’s nothing. This time of evening we should be hearing crickets at the very least. But there’s nothing, Only the sounds we make.”

She cracked then. Tears ran down her face leaving tracks in the dust on her cheeks.

“Everything,” she sobbed. “It’s just gone. Like the world’s been–”

“Abandoned,” I finished. “Like every living thing just packed up and left.”

We walked to a nearby gas station, and squeezed between the broken, leaning doors.

It stunk of rot. Wrapped sandwiches seething with mold sat in clumps along the shelf of an old cooler, and the smell of spoiled milk was strong. We found a package of bottled water and tore into it, each of us drinking greedily. She located some protein bars that still seemed okay, so we eat ate our fill of those as well.

“It’s going to be full dark soon,” she said. Water ran down her chin and darkened her blouse. “Let’s rest here. Keep searching in the morning.”

I agreed, and we eventually laid down on the cool tiles and slept.

I woke sometime later, stiff and sore. I sat up and stretched my back, wincing at the pain.

“Lily?” I said.

But she was gone.

“Lily? Lily?!”

The only answer was my voice echoing around the store.

I ran outside, frantically trying to look in every direction at once.

Finally, I collapsed onto the cracked sidewalk and sobbed harder than I ever have in my life.

And then I looked to the sky and laughed. It hadn’t changed at all, the purple of twilight still hung there, no brighter or darker. Like no time had passed at all.

I think I passed out, like my brain knew it was about to crack so it shut down instead. I remember laughing, and then I woke up on the sidewalk.

That was almost a week ago, I think. With the sky it’s hard to tell. I’m just counting the times between sleeping and calling them days. I walked and walked and got nowhere. Along the way, I found an emergency whistle on a set of keys left on the seat of a car.

So, I walked, blowing the whistle with every other step, hoping for any response.

And I got one.

I had just about given up for the day, when I heard it. A howl, piercing the silence and making my hair stand on end.

I turned toward the direction I thought it had come from and blew the whistle once more.

The reply this time was a series of thuds that I could feel vibrate the ground beneath me. It grew louder, and there was a loud crashing sound, followed by a car tumbling through the air in the distance.

I knew then that whatever had howled was running, its footsteps shaking the ground, and it had tossed a car aside like a crumpled piece of paper.

I turned and ran, cutting across a parking lot and into the nearest building I could find. I wrenched the door open and ducked inside. Outside the steps grew louder until I thought I’d go mad and then just as suddenly they were gone, diminishing until all was silent again.

I went behind the counter, laid down, and slept.

And here I am still, sitting at the manager’s desk and writing this out on the bank’s stationary, because I have nothing else to do. I’ve scoured this building from top to bottom. A few bottles of water but no food to be found.

I think I’m going to die here. I can hear its heavy footsteps outside, patrolling and searching.

If you’re reading this then I hope you’re paying attention.

I thought the world was abandoned, and I thought that was the worst of it, but I was wrong. So very wrong.

Because there is something out there. I haven’t seen it and I don’t plan to, so the best I can hope for is to starve to death right here in the lobby of this bank.

And as far as I can tell, my body will be the only corpse on the skin of the world.

Rating: 9.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by Drew Blood

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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