by Eugenia Triantafyllou in Issue Sixteen, July 2024

"Not all women were monsters, of course," the man who works at the tourist trap says. His chair is tilted against the wall, legs resting leisurely on the counter.

He strokes the pelt on his lap. His stubby fingers tousle the golden-red fur, grease it with sweat from his clammy hands.

The girl winces. Her ginger hair, feather-light, falls in ringlets on her shoulders.

"I mean, I'm married. I have a devoted wife. Two grown daughters." He nods in a reassuring way. "None of them a monster."

The girl knows he is wrong because all women are monsters. All girls as well. That's how it's always been.

But she wouldn't call them monsters.

Another girl peers out from behind the sunglasses display. She has a pair of specs on, way too big for her head. They are shaped like alligators with long lashes and bright red lipstick. She makes a face at the first girl.

The ginger-haired girl sticks out her tongue in response and they both laugh.

The man grunts impatiently. "You may laugh now," he says, shaking a finger at them. "But those women did... things, terrible things. Anything to have their nasty skins back."

The girls don't notice him. They just lock eyes for a moment, let his words fall on the sticky floor.

He is angry now. His face competes in redness with the pelt. "They were nothing without their skins," he spits. "Nothing. Just plain people like you and me."

Sweat dribbles down his forehead. "Plain," he says again. He savors the words like fine tobacco. "Dull, ordinary."

For a moment the girls ponder telling him the truth. But they know the truth comes to the man in dreams. He sees it in the gleam of his daughters' eyes and tastes its bitterness in his wife's unfathomable kiss. The truth makes him painfully aware of his own nakedness while the girls never feel naked. Ever.

"What did they look like?"

The voice comes all the way from the front of the shack where a third girl marvels at the display of skins. The furry ones are a promise of the woods; the sleek ones feel like a wet fish begging for the sea; the ones made of down are fuzzy and tremble at the smallest draft, fighting to break free. An array of possibilities.

Her hair is black and long, down to the waist. It sways with the rhythm of her hips.

The man sits up from his chair, his eyes darting from the bookcase in the back to the vending machines in the front. Searching for hidden monsters perhaps.

"Anything really," he whispers. "Foxes, seals, alligators, swans..."

His eyes open wide, remembering something. "One of them was a butterfly. Can you believe it? A damn butterfly!"

Satisfied, he goes back to petting the pelt.

"Of course, we killed all of them."

He can't help but smirk at that. The tiniest, sharpest little smirk, concealed under his straw-colored beard.

But the girls can see. The girls can see all of it.

And they know it's bullshit.

Because the girls are made of layers, they possess the sweetness and the bite of a bruise-purple onion. And when one layer is shed, another one already awaits underneath, wet and squirming.

The ginger-haired girl approaches the bench. A guidebook to local attractions clutched in her hand. A canine smile on her face. The other two are very still now. Watching her every move.

"But you don't really know that," she says. "It says here that only their skins were found."

"And what do you think that means, sweetheart?" He chuckles, but his eyes show he doesn't really mean it. "Wherever the skins go, they go." He draws an invisible path with his finger. "They can't help it."

"Right," she says. "I'll take that." She tosses the guidebook on the wooden surface. It drops with a thud. Startles him.

She reaches into her back pocket and takes out a couple of dollars. The others have left the store and are waiting for her outside. They leave the rest to her. Sunshine cascades on their human skin and they bask in it. She can hear them getting in the car, starting the engine.

"Where are you off to?" the man asks. A smile still lingers at the corners of his mouth.

The girl lays the bills on the counter and leans closer. She bares her teeth and the man shrinks in his chair. The dregs of his grin are gone.

For a brief moment she considers shedding this layer of skin in favor of another that will make the man's face go numb, will make his mind melt like a candle burning from the inside. But it's not time just yet. She would like to stay a girl for a little longer. And besides, girls have their own claws and fangs and tools.

So she uses them.

Even though his skin is not exquisite like theirs, it still feels soft to the touch. She decides to keep it along with the guidebook. Perhaps the girls can start their own collection of keepsakes.

Where were they off to, the man who is now a skin had asked.

"Anywhere," she tells him. "Everywhere. And you are coming with us."

© 2024 Eugenia Triantafyllou

Eugenia Triantafyllou

Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. Her work has been nominated for the Ignyte, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, and she is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. You can find her stories in Reactor (formerly, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and other venues. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. Find her on Twitter or Bluesky @foxesandroses, her IG @eugeniatriantafyllou, or her website

Fiction by Eugenia Triantafyllou
  • Skinless