Skin Deep


by Wade J. Stillman
Issue 7: Horror | 4523 words

© enjoynz/Adobe Stock

It began one miserable March night. The city was nearly at a standstill as a relentless snowstorm pounded it into submission. Its great streets were clogged by slush and snarled traffic. Traffic lights blinked colored commands to taxicabs and the few suicidal souls who ventured onto the nearly impassable streets in their automobiles. 

Most of the city’s population was entrenched at home. It was easier not to think about the savage winter storm pummeling the East Coast that night.

Thirty-eight-year-old Clark Fischer pulled his cashmere trench close around his tall, lean body as he stepped from his building into the blinding storm. He stood a moment, rubbing his calfskin-clad hands together, trying to decide where to go.

He looked right, then left. The broad sidewalk outside his exclusive building in upper Midtown disappeared into a swirl of snow. He momentarily questioned his decision to go out on such a night. He was hungry, and he didn’t cook or feel like ordering in. But the actual reason for his escape into the snow was because he could not stand to be trapped inside any longer that day.

His doubt passed quickly as he considered the alternative. The last thing he wanted was to return to the penthouse and face the work that he had been doing by computer and phone. Suddenly, the snow and reality that it was not the best night for a stroll in his beloved city were not such burdens.

On impulse, Clark turned right and walked into the wild night.

Clark pushed his way into the small restaurant he had discovered, not surprised to see he was the only one there. It was not his customary style of eating establishment, but his regular haunts were closed or too far. As long as the food was edible, he didn’t care. He hadn’t eaten all day. He had let himself become engrossed in his work.

He unwrapped his scarf, pulling his gloves off his stiffened hands as the lone server, seated on a stool near the kitchen door, looked up from a crossword she had been toying at to kill time. He saw her fleeting frown before she could plaster on a smile and stand, beginning her approach. Clark smiled, relying on his well-maintained good looks to soothe the plump woman’s frustration at his interruption of what she had obviously thought was going to be a quiet, hopefully short shift.

The server’s smile became genuine as she met his dark eyes, “Good evening, sir. Quite a night out there, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Clark agreed, raking his long fingers through his snow-dampened dark hair. “It is quite something.”

“May I show you a table?” the server asked, sounding hopeful.

“Absolutely,” Clark smiled. “And the menu as soon as you have a chance. I have been working all day, and I am ravenous.”

“Of course,” the server said, taking his coat and scarf, hanging them with care on a rack. “Just follow me, and I’ll get you seen to, sir.” 

Five minutes later, the server waddled off with his order in hand, leaving Clark to study the empty restaurant.

The room was dimly lit, making the dark green table linens appear richer and the hardwood floor shine an even deeper burnished gold. Beyond lacy curtains tied back from the windows that overlooked the fashionable street, the storm had grown exponentially worse. He was glad to be inside and warm.

Hardly fit for man or beast, he thought, and smiled sadly. It was an expression his longtime lover, Daniel, used to say every time the city experienced any kind of unpleasant weather.

That innocent memory—as was the way of memories, especially those of Daniel—triggered others: how they had met in university as teammates on the rowing team, how that relationship had flourished and grown over the years. These memories were things he avoided thinking of, if he could. The jagged truth was that Daniel was dead. He had been beaten to death by some crack addict for the cash he had just withdrawn at an ATM, killed without a witness—not even a camera. That horror had been two years ago, but at times seemed more like ten.

Clark stared out at the hypnotic maelstrom of snow and wind, besieged now by the familiar thoughts. He remembered how happy he and Daniel had been in the time they had been given, how they had expected it to be forever. But then the randomness of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, the murder, had changed all that. It had been so senseless. Daniel would have given up the money without argument. He recalled how he had stood at Daniel’s graveside, watching as the elaborate casket was lowered into the damp spring soil, forever taking the only man he had ever loved or been with.

He had never been able to bring himself to look for anyone else to share his bed and life with since. It was just too much. Well-meaning friends and family offered to find him someone new, but he had declined and buried himself in his work instead. Daniel was still a part of him. He was not ready to let go.

Maybe someday, he mused, he would meet someone to make him want to live for something other than his work again, but it would take a very special man, a miracle man, to follow Daniel. Clark was a pragmatist. In his experience, there just were not many miracles.

Then, the door opened amid a blast of snow, heralding the arrival of another wayward soul in search of food and sanctuary. Of course, Clark had no way to know that when the snow cleared, he would find the miracle he didn’t believe in, that he would find himself in love again. Clark felt his stomach quiver and his pulse quicken as he looked up from his melancholy remembrances to see the most beautiful young man shaking snow off himself as the door swung shut.

Clark was vaguely aware that the server had scrambled from the back to greet the young man who had emerged from the storm. He couldn’t take his eyes from the newcomer’s beauty. The man was stunning, and drew Clark in, like a moth to a flame.

The young man was tall, broad shouldered, and lean hipped. He wore wet, torn blue jeans that hugged his long-muscled legs and a threadbare jacket far inferior to the elements. His shoulder-length hair was very blond, like corn silk. Even in the dim restaurant, his eyes were bluer than any Clark had ever seen.

Clark watched, captivated by the man’s every movement, feeling an excitement, a longing that was greater than any he had ever known. Even with Daniel. But somehow, that horrifying reality did not feel wrong.

He saw the server gesturing toward the unoccupied tables. The blond man turned, surveying the room with a glance. He saw the young beauty notice his presence, then mutter something to the uniformed woman. She smiled and nodded. Then, transferring his soaked jacket into her capable hands, the man came across the room to where Clark sat, alone and paralyzed.

“Would it be too great an imposition if I were to join you? I hate to dine alone, and it seems we are the only ones hungry or foolish enough to have ventured out in that,” he said, gesturing to the storm beyond the glass. His wet hair moved with the gesture. He extended one large, cold hand to where Clark sat, stunned.

Clark accepted the strong hand, rising from his chair on legs weakened by the staggering attraction he felt. As they shook hands, Clark found his voice, “Of course not. Please, sit. I am glad to have company on a night like this. Not fit for man or beast, this.”

The young man smiled gratefully, lowering himself into the chair opposite Clark. “Thank you for your kindness. My name is Neal Halprin, by the way. I apologize for not introducing myself sooner.”

“Clark Fischer,” Clark said, adding that if Neal would allow it, it would give him great pleasure for Neal to be his dinner guest.

Neal met his gaze, studying him. Perhaps he guessed the invitation could extend to something other than dinner. But whatever he thought behind those amazing blue eyes, it was a secret. He simply smiled and nodded grateful assent.


They walked together through the howling snowstorm. Neither spoke as they concentrated on walking as quickly as they could to get inside the building’s impressive lobby, out of the storm. Clark followed Neal inside, nodding to the security guards in their glassed booth and thanking the doorman. They simply nodded back respectfully—one of the advantages of owning the building.

They crossed the marble lobby. Clark led Neal to the separate elevator that served the penthouse, swiping his security card as the doors yawned open. They stepped inside, and the doors closed.

Clark pushed the single button that would take them to his home above the city. He smiled at Neal as the elevator began to rise.

He saw Neal smile back, struck again by the young man’s physical perfection. Clark had never seen anyone so flawless. At the beginning of the evening, Clark had been falling into a familiar pattern of remorse. Now, Daniel was the farthest thing from his mind. Clark felt as though his soul had been unexpectedly returned. He was truly alive for the first time after two years sharing Daniel’s grave.

Clark felt passion stir within him again. He knew he and Neal would make love. Neal was new to the city and had admitted to not feeling safe at the hotel where he was staying. When Clark had suggested that perhaps Neal should come with him to the penthouse for the night, they had each known nothing was expected in return. Neal had thanked him and smiled shyly. Their eyes had locked across the table in understanding that what would happen would not be from gratitude, but desire. What would come would be real and wanted.

In the elevator, Clark felt Neal shift; the young man reached down and tenderly took his hand. Clark smiled, staring into the bottomless blue of Neal’s eyes. He would do anything to be with this blond god who had walked into his world on a night when he needed rescuing.

“Would you like a drink?” Clark asked when they had shrugged off their wet coats and boots. He led Neal into the white and black living room off the foyer.

“No, thank you,” Neal said, shaking his head. His long blond hair was damp again and hung in his face. He raised one large hand and raked it back. “But I would love a shower, if that would be all right?”

“Certainly, it’s all right,” Clark said. “Come with me. I’ll show you where things are.”

Moments later, Clark motioned toward various corners of the enormous bathroom off his bedroom, “There are plenty of towels in the linen closet there. There are robes in the walk-in over there, so you don’t have to put your wet clothes back on. I don’t think my clothes would fit, but they are in the same walk-in if you find something more to your liking than a robe.”

“Thank you,” Neal replied.

“My pleasure,” Clark said as he started toward the door. “I’ll be downstairs when you are done.”

Neal’s next words nearly stopped Clark’s heart. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay?”

Clark turned and met Neal’s smiling eyes. He felt his abdomen quake at the bold invitation. He knew the answer, but he was frightened to take the next step. There had only ever been Daniel. 

To avoid answering, he asked, “What are you suggesting?”

Neal’s smile faded. “Did I misread the signals? I thought you were as interested as I am.”

“You didn’t misread any signals,” Clark managed.

“So, I wouldn’t be wrong in thinking you want to spend the night with me?” Neal continued, slowly unbuttoning his black shirt as he spoke.

“No,” Clark admitted. “I would be lying if I said I did not find you very attractive, Neal, or if I said I wouldn’t do anything to spend the night in your arms.”

“Anything?” Neal said, pulling his shirt slowly out of his pants and letting it slide off his torso to the floor to proudly display a smooth, muscled body.

Clark nodded, staring. “Yes.”

“Do you promise?” Neal prodded. His tongue wet his full lips as the palm of one large hand moved down over his bulging chest and hard brown nipples, down across his rippled abdomen to the button that held his torn, wet jeans.

Clark nodded, mesmerized, trembling as he watched and heard Neal’s words.

“Very good,” Neal whispered, smiling, slowly unbuttoning his pants and pushing them down over his lean hips and well-developed legs. The physical perfection continued over every inch of his body. He was truly blessed.

Neal approached slowly, naked as he reached out. One hand surrounded the back of Clark’s neck as Neal drew him into an embrace that felt miraculously like sanctuary. Clark went willingly.

They lay together on the bed, naked in each other’s arms as their hands and mouths explored each other’s faces. The bedroom was filled with the sounds of a building passion.

Clark kissed his way down Neal’s body, not lingering until he found the smooth flesh of his inner thigh. He could smell Neal’s maleness mingling in his nostrils, driving him into an endorphin frenzy. Clark trembled as he worshipped the flawless flesh of Neal Halprin’s body. He was irrevocably lost—already in love with the young man who had given him back life, excitement, the sheer beauty of unadulterated lust and physical touch.

As Clark brought his eager mouth closer to the jutting tower of flesh that was his target, Neal unexpectedly twisted away, cruelly denying him. Clark watched, disappointed, confused, as the young god rose from the bed and strode naked to pose before the roaring fireplace across the room.

“Did I do something wrong?” Clark asked, terrified he had lost his chance. He could not imagine being denied that incredible flesh again. He was already addicted.

“Do you think I am beautiful?” Neal asked, his deep voice regaining a leading tone, the same one used when he had asked Clark to promise to do anything for him.

“You know you are,” Clark replied, holding out one hand in a silent plea for him to return to the bed, to be with him. He had never wanted anyone as much as he wanted Neal Halprin. The denial was exquisite in its precise, surgical torment.

Neal smiled. “How much do you want my beauty?”

“Come back to bed,” Clark said in a lusty whisper, “and you won’t have to ask that question.”

“I didn’t mean that,” Neal replied icily.

“Are you asking for money? Because if that’s it, name your price and I’ll write the check. You know I’m good for it. If that is all you want, it’s a very small price.”

“I don’t want or need your money,” Neal replied haughtily. He stood in front of the blazing fire, the orange-blue flames giving him the look of a magnificent bronze statue, wrought at the hands of an old Master.

“I don’t understand,” Clark said.

“There are other commodities than money,” Neal said, glancing at him.

“What do you want?” Clark asked, wanting Neal back in his arms, growing increasingly frustrated by the wait. 

“Blood,” Neal said, his voice little more than a reverent whisper as he spoke the single word. 

Clark sat up, his erection unflagging between his splayed thighs. He felt his skin go cold. An icy shiver traversed his spine to explode at the base of his brain, the oldest part of the human mind, the animal part, the instinctive part that still understood dark things.

“Blood?” Clark repeated, sure he had misheard, although he knew damned well he hadn’t.

“Beauty is skin deep,” Neal said, his features lost in shadow as the fire backlit his long golden hair and amazing silhouette of maleness. The fire created a halo around his head. A beatification. “But so is blood. You want my beauty. I want some blood in exchange. Is that so much to ask?”

Clark didn’t know how to respond. Six hours ago, he would have. But six hours ago, he had not seen Neal Halprin. Six hours ago, he wasn’t lost to the point where he would even consider such a conversation, such a suggestion, seriously. Now, under Neal’s intense spell, blood didn’t seem too high a price to pay to be with the young man who had changed his world so fundamentally in such a short time.

“You are a businessman, Clark. You know what I ask is a fair and equitable trade,” Neal said accurately. “It isn’t difficult, Clark. And it is fair. We both get what we need.”

“Why do you need my blood?” Clark asked.

“It is far too easy to give other things. But beyond that, the answer really shouldn’t matter,” Neal said, turning slightly to the left to present his huge erection and perfectly rounded buttocks.

“I guess not,” Clark conceded, realizing it didn’t make any difference. He would not risk losing Neal. He had made his decision. It was the only decision he could make when faced with the terrible alternative of not having Neal in his arms again.

“Will you do it then? Will you give me blood?” Neal asked patiently.

“Yes, anything,” Clark surrendered.

“Just a minute,” Neal said as soon as the bargain was struck. “I need something from my jacket.

Clark flopped back onto the bed, every fiber of his body aching for Neal’s presence. He closed his eyes and waited for what seemed like an eternity.

Together again on the bed, Neal knelt between Clark’s splayed legs. Clark held the razor-sharp knife his lover had returned with to his own shoulder and, with gritted teeth, pulled the blade across his skin. Left behind was a single, deep cut that immediately began to bleed. It leaked his hot blood down his chest toward his armpit as he sobbed from the unexpected pain of his self-mutilation. 

“Oh, God, yes,” Neal whispered reverently, falling atop him, pressing his hot mouth to the wound, his tongue tracing the lips of the cut, hungrily lapping at the freely flowing blood, moaning, thrusting against Clark with wild need.

Clark, in the ecstasy of feeling the young god rutting against him with the prospect of much greater heights to come, quickly forgot the pain of the mutilation. He drew Neal tighter, his bloodied hand tracing down over Neal’s sweaty, glistening back to the shallow cleft of his rock-hard ass.

The next morning, Clark stood in the bathroom, the fingertips of one hand gently touching the raw wound on his left shoulder. He winced as the touch reawakened the pain. He took his fingers away. 

By harsh morning light, he contemplated his own grasp on sanity. How could he have agreed to take a knife to his own flesh? How could he have wanted another man’s touch enough to mar his body? And what kind of person lay behind Neal Halprin’s physical beauty and talents?

Yet, even as doubt edged out his memories of Neal’s expert manipulations—the incredible sensations his young lover had produced, the way Neal drained his body of blood and semen with insatiable hunger—the truth remained: once Neal had drunk Clark’s life fluids, he was a willing lover who had offered himself without hesitation. Clark found himself not caring about the loss of some blood and a small scar. It was such a minuscule price for the night they had shared. It was more than a fair and equitable trade.

He knew, even then, after only one night, that should Neal ever make the same request, he would give him both his blood and body without hesitation.


As their relationship deepened, Clark grew more dependent on the addictive sex Neal provided. Neal did ask he stick to their original bargain: sex for blood; blood for sex. Each time they made love, which was frequently, Neal would present the honed knife and watch in trembling anticipation as Clark selected a spot to make the cut, drew the blade across his skin, and slit open his body to bring the blood to the surface. Then, with Neal feasting greedily upon the fresh blood, they would make breathless love, losing themselves in shared passion.

Clark grew increasingly reclusive, locking himself away from the world in the penthouse where he and the young, demanding god ruled. They spent all their time together. They made love at least twice a day, but more often three or four times. They were both deeply addicted to all the other provided. Clark had never known such consuming excitement or satisfaction. Neal’s touch, his very presence, made him weak with desire. All he could think of was Neal’s kisses, his hungry mouth, and perpetually erect cock.

As their relationship intensified over the weeks, Clark lost all objectivity. His days were spent in a constant state of sexual arousal. When he wasn’t in Neal’s arms, he would tend to the dozens of cuts on his arms and legs, on his torso and neck, enduring the agony of them, accepting the disfigurement, willing to give all he had to keep Neal and stoke the insane fire they had built. He no longer even thought or cared about why Neal demanded blood in exchange for sex. It had stopped mattering long ago.

By late spring, a time suspended between the harsh winter past and the approaching burden of heat and humidity that summer in the great city would inflict, the weather grew momentarily warm and pleasant. It was the time for lovers. A time of beginnings and reawakening. A time for love and sex and holding hands. A time to be full of life and exuberance.

However, for the scarred and bleeding creature that was now Clark Fischer, spring was a battle zone.

Clark no longer bothered to dress, prowling naked through the penthouse. Clothing simply hurt too much to bear. His body was emaciated and white, except for the many red and accusatory cuts. His skeleton was clearly visible under his ruined flesh: ribs and cheekbones, pelvis and spine. He was weak and lethargic, spending most of his time lying in the bloodied, fouled bed. He was rarely able to summon up enough strength to tend to his innumerable oozing wounds.

Still, Neal remained, demanding sex and blood with an ever-growing hunger. Clark could not refuse him. If anything, he needed Neal’s touch more than ever. When Neal came to him, naked and even more perfect than before, Clark would take the knife in his trembling hand and allow Neal to drink his life’s blood once again.

Clark stood in the bathroom, impassively regarding what he had become in the mirrored wall. Nearly every inch of his body, from neck to toes, was lined with wounds he had willingly made with his lover’s blade. With his flesh left raw and wasted, the disfigurement was nearly complete.

He knew his health was suffering from the sex and bloodletting. He was too thin. He had no strength. He wasn’t eating properly. His body simply could not replenish the daily demand on his blood supply. His wounds were open and vulnerable, and infection had already set in. He could see its presence in the oozing wounds: the froth of foul-smelling pus and slime that leaked from him. He stunk of rot.

He knew he would die soon if he did not get medical attention. But somehow, the prospect of death was less terrifying to him than no longer feeling the exquisite pain and pleasure Neal provided. He was hopelessly addicted.

He vowed to endure as long as possible.

He had to for both their sakes.

They were on the soiled bed—the atrocity and the bronze-skinned god.

Neal pressed the gore stained blade into Clark’s hand, his bluer than blue eyes shining excitedly as he whispered, “Blood for beauty. It’s a fair trade, Clark.”

“Yes,” Clark said, needing no more to express his total agreement.

“The nipple,” Neal urged, nearly salivating as he lay beside Clark on the filthy bed. “Cut your nipple this time! I want it!”

And with a mere sigh of resignation, Clark obediently positioned the blade and sliced his taut nipple vertically in half. The blood began to flow at once. Moaning, Neal pulled the mutilated bud into his eager mouth and began to suckle sustenance, grinding his erect penis feverishly against Clark’s infected flesh.

Each day continued to be marked by more cuts, more sex. Clark’s condition deteriorated to the point where he could barely move his hand, let alone consider anything that demanded more energy.

He lay in the filth of his urine and feces and infection. His body leaked toxins. He drifted in and out of merciful sleep, always awaiting the next time the door opened and Neal strode into the room demanding blood, demanding an orifice to relieve his insatiable sexual need.

Clark did not await these frequent visitations with fear. He understood they were killing him, but in another way, they were the only thing holding him to life, sustaining him. His physical and mental addiction for what Neal gave and took had increased proportionately to the decrease in his health. He needed Neal now more than ever. That was the paradox, the blessed wonder.


A sunny, late spring day marked the day that Clark Fischer died.

He knew he was dying. He had been drained. He was sick and infected beyond medical intervention. His imminent death was a foregone conclusion; perhaps it had been from the start, when the bargain was struck that first night, which seemed so long ago.

Clark was barely alive when the door banged open around noon and Neal strode gloriously naked to the bed upon which he lay helplessly. Clark saw the erection that jutted from Neal’s groin and knew why he had come.

“I’ve brought the knife,” Neal whispered expectantly.

Clark tried to nod his assent but failed. He was too weak.

“This will be the last time,” Neal said, smiling the same perfect smile he had used to introduce himself to the dying man months before.

Clark blinked, glad death would come as he lay in his young lover’s arms. It was all he could ever remember wanting.

He watched as Neal held up the knife, hearing him say, “I’ll make the cut this time. I know you don’t have the strength left to do it yourself.”

Clark managed a ghostly smile of gratitude as Neal crawled naked onto the horrific bed one final time. As he felt the blade at his throat cut deep into his carotid artery, bringing death in a gush of blood, he heard Neal whisper, “Blood for beauty. Is it too much to ask?”

For a dying Clark Fischer, the answer was no.


Wade J. Stillman

Wade J. Stillman

Wade J. Stillman is a writer of speculative fiction who lives on the east coast of Canada. He believes that queer voices are needed to flesh out the fullness of fiction.