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“Mom, would you stop gawking at that guy? You look paranoid” Clara said, clicking her seat belt around her and staring quizzically at her mother Gina in the driver’s seat.

“Clara, I’m telling you,” Gina said, a wild expression on her face. “These people are up to something. There’s two of them and they alternate living in that apartment every other week. They always have a box with groceries in their arms and they don’t ever talk to anyone; something is up. Maybe they’re hiding something in there. They might have some poor animal tied up or even another person! Or maybe it’s a sex thing.”

Clara scoffed and checked her phone to show disinterest. “They’re probably just separated and are living there one at a time until the lease is up” she said without making eye contact.

Clara and her mother often enjoyed detective shows and horror movies, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for one or the other to come up with wild theories about their everyday life. Today, however, Clara wasn’t in the mood. She was on her way to her fifth job interview in three weeks. Thanks to the fact that she and her husband only had one car, that meant asking her mom to take her today. She didn’t mind most of the time, the two loved spending time together on their days off. However, today Clara was overwhelmed and didn’t have the mental energy to sacrifice for another one of her mother’s paranoid theories.

As their giant silver van pulled up outside of the grocery store, Clara exited, straightened her blouse, and double checked that she had her resume.

“I’m off, wish me luck!” she said with a half smile.

“Good luck, honey. I’ll be right here when you’re done.”

After the interview, the two decided to return to Gina’s apartment and watch a horror movie with some ice cream from a local shop. As they rounded the corner into the development, Clara spied someone leaving the suspicious apartment. It was a man, average build with short brown hair and olive toned skin. He shifted his eyes back and forth as he closed the door behind him. He turned to lock it, and, still assuring that no one was watching him, he made his way to the car. Thankfully he never made eye contact with Clara in the time it took him to get into his car and leave.

“Maybe there is something going on over there” she mused. Gina simply laughed and stifled her “I told you so.”

In the complex where Gina lived, there were three apartments to each solitary building. Gina was in the H building and the mysterious occupants of the other apartment were in building G, right next door. There were two apartments between them, but as the crux of their movie was unfolding and their ice cream melted away in their hands, they heard a loud screech. It was muffled, but it was definitely within the confines of the complex. Clara and her mother exchanged worried glances, aware that something was amiss and the sound they had just heard was real and definitely not from the paranormal adventure movie they were watching.

“What the hell was that!?” Gina cried, standing from her seated position on the couch.

“I have no idea, but I think it might be time to pay your neighbors a visit” Clara said.

“We can’t just walk over there, what if it’s something dangerous or what if they have weapons and are from the government or something?”

“Ma, there’s no way someone that works for the government would choose to live in a shitty apartment.”

“You don’t know that” Gina said “and this apartment isn’t shitty, it’s….affordable.” Clara brushed off her mother’s comments, but rose and slid her feet into her flip flops and followed Gina outside.

The screech came again and this time was more concentrated.

“Have you ever heard that noise before?” Clara asked. “Surely living here and dealing with these people for the last three months, you’ve heard something.”

“No, never” Gina said, her eyes wide and her posture tense. They stood on the small concrete patio outside of the H building silently listening for more strange noises.

“Maybe we should just leave well enough alone” Gina said, a shudder visibly passing through her body.

“What!?” Clara exclaimed “we can’t give up now, we’re onto some fantasy shit here, we might be able to make some money off of whatever we find in there.”

“Language!” Gina yelled, distracted for just a moment by her daughter’s foul mouth.

“I’m sorry, but really, we should investigate. No one is home. Someone was leaving as we pulled in and you said there’s only ever one person here at a time, right?

“Yeah” Gina said quietly, still unsure of what their next move should be.

Without asking for affirmation, Clara stepped off of the patio and strode down the brick-laid sidewalk to building G. She glanced over to her mother who now stood with her hand on the doorknob to her apartment; the fear in her eyes apparent even from this distance. Clara ignored her mother and her innate curiosity got the best of her. After all, what did she have to lose when four out of her five job prospects had rejected her and she didn’t see herself working happily anywhere but for herself? Why not go through the mysterious door and wander into something inexplicable? Why not tempt fate and take a risk for once in her life?

Without a sound, Gina appeared in Clara’s periphery. Still nervous and trembling she said “I won’t let you go in there alone. If you’re going to get eaten by a monster, so will I.” Clara smiled and led her mother towards the door. Thankfully, this apartment had a window and was on the ground floor. The two stepped up to the window and did their best to look inside. Unfortunately, it was higher than both of them and, though they attempted to jump, they couldn’t see anything. Clara grabbed a few Bobby pins from her hair and jimmied the lock before her flabbergasted mother.

“How did you learn to do that?”

“YouTube” Clara smiled.

The ladies entered the small two bedroom apartment quietly though they knew they were relatively alone. Upon further inspection, however, what they had assumed was an artsy furniture set was really patchwork human skin sewn together to look like leather furniture. Before them laid a three seater couch, to their left a small table made with actual human arms. The stitches were professional and neat. Each square of skin was equally measured and various colors and textures spanned the upholstered surfaces.

The screech emitted once more from one of the rear bedrooms. Thankfully, the layout of these apartments were all the same and the ladies made quick work of finding the poor soul trapped in the back bedroom.

The prisoner was handcuffed inside the closet to a reinforced steel closet rod that ran across the length of the closet and was bolted to the walls on either side. The victim was naked, though their sex was indistinguishable as they, and a rotting corpse that was also handcuffed to the rod, had large bubbles jutting out from under the epidermal layer of skin. Each inflamed bubble had a small tube running from it to an oxygen generator. Some were oozing pus, others had burst, but most were red and swollen, expanding slowly with each click of the machine. It was hooked up to both victims, but the deceased had burst bubbles of skin covering their naked body and were covered in blood. The oxygen flowing through the tubes simply pushed the blood around and dried it in awkward small rivers from each wound.

“Oh my god!” Clara screamed, placing a hand over her mouth. Her mother was frozen in fear and all that she could muster were tears of empathy for the suffering human before her. The victim screeched again, this time forcing the two women to cover their ears. It was louder than any sound they thought a human capable of. That is, until they spied yet another tube travelling down their nose and apparently into their chest. Using the extra air, they forced the sound from their ballooned lungs to cry for help.

Clara stood sentient, but her mother sprang into action, her background as a former EMT helped her see past what was happening. She quickly shut off the oxygen generator and asked the victim where the keys to their handcuffs were. They flopped their head towards the room next door.

Gina looked hopefully at Clara, who nodded back and left the room to look for the keys as Gina tended to the victim’s wounds.

Clara stepped through the door to the second bedroom. While she didn’t think it was possible, this room was worse than the one she had just left. A chair sat in the corner half-upholstered with more patchwork human skin. Around the room lay piles of arms, feet, hair, and skin cut into squares resting atop dried bloodstains. A set of keys hung on a hook above the desk that sat to her right pinned to the corkboard with a smiley face pushpin. The rest of the desk was littered with information about skin grafting and restoring furniture. It made her stomach turn. She smacked a hand across her face, pinched her nose, and ran across the room to grab them. The air fresheners that sat upon the desk and varying work surfaces doing nothing to mitigate the smell.

Upon her return to the room with the tortured soul, tears came to her eyes and she unlocked the prisoner. The three slowly made their way to the door, but as it opened, they met the man that had left earlier. Rather than confront them, he walked into the apartment, forcing them all backwards, and smiled from ear to ear.

Last Week’s Story: Pumpkin’s Friend

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7 thoughts on “Patchwork

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