Carlisle didn’t know what his next life would be. That was what made it so exciting. He licked his lips in anticipation, a nervous habit that had come with his current life, not one he’d miss.
Obviously, he knew a few things. He’d be female for the first time in a while, well educated, respected profession and at least moderately wealthy. That was just from a quick glance at her clothes and the car she’d been driving, a pretty little sports car, silver.
It hadn’t always been this way. In fact, when he’d first started taking lives, it had been just the opposite. He’d spent weeks, sometimes months, studying each new identity. Watching their spending patterns, using e-mail tricks to get passwords, account numbers, it was all so… so cold, so impersonal.
Still, that was the only way he’d had to become someone else, someone new. He’d always hoped it would feel right, that the next one would be the last one. It never had. How could it? He wasn’t really becoming his subject, taking over their lives. It was just a sad imitation, spoiled by the knowledge that the original was still out there, proving him false.
In retrospect, it was embarrassing how long it had taken to realize the obvious next step. That… that had been better, more intimate. It had taken more work, picking subjects with a similar build, without close associates that might notice any mistakes, but it had been worth it, for a time.
Of course, the change to actually taking lives had also required him to know even more about his new selves. Eventually, it had gotten… stale. There was no surprise, no feeling of adventure. This way was better.
He looked down at his next life, restrained by a thick weave of bungee cords. Just for a moment, he let his hand rest over her mouth. Not gripping, he just admired the contrast. For now, his skin was wrinkled, covered in grey hairs and a scattering of liver spots. Her skin was a light brown, tanned, delicate bone structure and that look in her green eyes… he wondered what it meant. Well, he’d know soon enough.
He made the first cut on her left ankle. It was always best to start out somewhere non-vital. At the wrists or the neck, he had too great a chance of nicking a major vein or artery when she struggled. Anything closer to the core, the thighs or upper arms, even the stomach, and it was too much of a pain to constantly adjust the bindings.
He curled the cut up and around, making a long winding strip that was almost exactly an inch wide. The tricky part wasn’t the pattern of the cut, it was the depth. She kept bucking and jerking away, tough to compensate for. Used to be, he let most of his new lives get away, lost when a sudden, unexpected movement sent the knife too deep. Just beneath the skin but not into the meat, that was the trick.
The next part was just like peeling an apple with the colors reversed, red on the inside and white on the outside. He giggled at the joke. When he was done, there was a ribbon of flesh, longer than most would expect, running from just below the knee to just above the foot. Eventually, all the skin would be gone from her body and he’d have the makings of his new life.
Her struggles slowed and her body went limp. Patience was the key here. If he kept on, moving past the knee or moved to the other foot, it’d be too soon. She’d slip away, so deep into shock that he’d never get her back. While he was waiting, he spent the time cleaning the skin he’d already removed, rinsing away the blood and trimming off the bits of muscle and fat.
When she was ready, he did the other leg. After that he moved up to the arms, starting at the wrists. It was a curious thing, but he always found that once he’d taken the skin from a given area, they didn’t move it any more. That meant that as he went along, even though mistakes were more dangerous, the process actually got easier.
That’s why he always left the hands, feet and face for last. The weren’t as dangerous, no big veins near the surface, but they were delicate. Any mistakes would be visible in the final product. Oh, and the dangly-floppy bits. Male or female, those could be tough. Luckily, this one was small enough that it shouldn’t be too tricky. Not childish, those lives were too simplistic to be interesting, she was… delicate, petite.
Hours later, she’d stopped moving altogether. She looked like a dress store dummy, covered in red paint, slowly drying to brown. Next to the life’s old container, he had several large stacks of neat white strips. Clean and dry, they almost looked like pale leather.
He held a sewing needle mere inches from his eye, squinting as he tried to thread it with hair he’d plucked from her head before starting. A grimace crossed his face. Fading eyesight and knobby fingers didn’t make it easier but the worst part was the hair itself. It was soft and brown, very pretty, but she’d had one of those short styles. A page cut or a bob, he couldn’t remember the difference right now but he’d probably know soon.
Happy, he giggled. Once he had one hair through the eye of the needle, it got simpler. All he had to do was tie the new hairs to the old ones, definitely easier than trying to deal with each one fresh.
He set two strips on his thigh, laying lengthwise. A practiced motion pinched their edges together as well as raising them. Another sent the needle through them, joining the strips. Both motions were repeated again and again, more and more strips of skin added to the growing patchwork.
Soon, he held a recognizable coat in his hands. He set it down, careful not to put unnecessary stress on the fragile stitches. After a few moments of fumbling at his throat, he removed a similar garment.
The being that no longer thought of itself as male or female, that had long since forgotten its first name, carelessly tossed its old coat aside. That life no longer held any interest for it. Carefully, almost reverent, it picked up its new life. Its sleeves were too short and it was obviously too tight at the shoulders. The being wasn’t worried. Soon, it would fit perfectly, like a second skin. The being put on the coat, stepped into its newest life.
She examined herself, ran her slender hands down her sides. The woman gave a shy smile and spoke her name as the details of her new life began to come to her. No love life to speak of, distant relationship with her family, she only had a few friends, mostly left over from college.
“What have I been doing with my life?” she wondered aloud. So much effort with so little return…
No interesting powers but plenty of money. That wasn’t so bad. Some of it was from her family but most had come from her- “Oh.” she said with awe. So that’s what she did for a living. This… this was going to be fun!