The tree limbs scraped against my body, clawing at my skin as I fled through the woods. But I couldn’t stop.
The moon was high, torn to pieces amongst the naked canopy above. But I could feel it watching over me as I ran from my pursuers.
Just like that, the moon turned its eye away, leaving me in complete darkness. I struggled, slowing down in order to avoid colliding with a tree. My chances of being caught had risen, but I couldn’t accept that. Even when I saw the green fireflies of night vision goggles dancing in the trees in front of me, I dared to continue moving.
But they stopped me. A wire, invisible in the night, threw me off balance. I tumbled into a rather large puddle of mud, coating my already ragged clothes.
Though feeling in my leg had abandoned me as well, I stumbled to my feet, ready to run again.
A bullet put a stop to that idea, tearing clean through my ankle. I returned to the puddle, pain shooting through my entire body.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” spoke a pair of fireflies in the dark.
“Please, I will leave,” I replied to the darkness. “You will never have to see me again.”
“After what your kind has done to the world, I think not.”
The fireflies fizzled out of existence, leaving me wounded in the dark. Within the next moment, lights blazed to life around me. At each spotlight stood a figure, the silhouette of a sentinel. All I could do was look this way and that, looking for some kind of escape route. But there was none, enclosed within that circle of light and dark figures.
One of the silhouettes stepped forward, looking down on me. He was an older man, garbed in black with a swinging cross.
“Deceitful demon,” he muttered, half angry, half frightened. His eyes shook as he stared at me, maybe expecting me to explode at any second.
Another figure approached, a middle aged man with a tall hat and prominent mustache. “What do you want me to do, Preacher?”
The preacher’s eyes ran away from me, retreating to the confines of the mud at his boots. “Remove the sheep’s clothing. I can’t stand looking at this desecration of the human form.”
The man adjusted his hat. “Gladly.”
A knife glittered from the surrounding lights. I skittered backwards with the help of my one good leg, but four hands clutched at me from behind. A man and a woman, people I had known, trusted. Loved, even. Their eyes were dead ahead, deer in the headlights.
“Please, don’t do this,” I begged. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted to—”
“To be human?” guessed the man with the hat. “You’re just a mirror of one. More like one of those funny mirrors from a carnival.” He stepped closer, the knife gripped firmly in his hand.
“But, I’m just like you! I feel pain. I feel love. Everyone liked me before…before this happened.”
“You had the wool over ours eyes, but not anymore. Your kind means the death of all humanity.”
“I’m not like the others! If anything, I am a new form of humanity!”
“Silence!” screamed the preacher, his fists shaking at the word. “Show the demon for what it really is.”
The hatted man shrugged and brought the blade to the base of my scalp. I tried to worm away, but the hands holding me down wouldn’t let me budge. He sawed through, skin and hair coming off in one large chunk. My head felt like it was on fire as the bloodless muscle kissed the night air.
The hatted man paused, looking at the preacher for guidance. The preacher gave me one look and darted away in disgust. “Keep going,” he commanded.
I screamed a non-intelligible request. My vision wavered from the pain, though my eyes remained dry. I couldn’t cry, after all. It had been my downfall.
The knife scraped against metal once the hatted man dug deep enough. The fake muscle was cleaned away, revealing the machinery below. The two people holding me gasped, as if secretly hoping to see skull only to be disappointed. I would have died whether or not I was human. Friendship? Love? It didn’t matter in this world if you don’t share the same solidarity.
The hatted man observed the metal silently in awe for a moment, and then continued. I still screamed and squirmed as he ripped away my face. My nose splashed into the mud below me. If I was to be persecuted for being anything but human, I found it ironic I felt the same pain a human would feel in this same situation. Why…why do I feel pain? What kind of sadist gave me this ability?
After my skin and muscle was gone, the man continued to remove all that made me appear human. With the help of my former lover and friend, my clothes were torn from me. With excruciating precision and attention to detail, the hatted man removed the rest of my skin. When it came to my sexual organs, the man chuckled to himself as he dug deep to remove the useless feature. Useless, but I still felt it.
Had an hour passed? Two? The moon had reappeared, but it gave me no solace. The man had taken his time to remove what had made me myself. He finally stood up, wiping away the sweat at his brow with the back of the hand that the knife was clenched in.
“It’s done, Preacher,” he said, letting the squeamish preacher know that it was okay to look now.
The preacher lifted his gaze from the mud and stared at my naked body. My inner workings were on full display, like a living skeleton. A few chunks of flesh remained at some of my joints, but the shining metal distracted everyone who saw from the details. My eyes and teeth were all that remained of my human visage, but even they looked artificial without the rest of the image.
My body was numb; every single bit of pain had been scraped away. I couldn’t feel anything, not the hands of the people holding me still nor the muddy water beneath me. I didn’t resist any longer nor did I scream. I had lost what made me…me.
The priest now looked at me with a smug grin, as if he was the one who had scalped me. “There’s the demon for what it really is.”