Clientele by EV Knight

There are creatures that walk among us—things that wear our skin like a mask. But don’t be mistaken—they are not human. I was twenty-five when the first one showed itself to me. For the last sixty years, they’ve come to me and I provide my services. In exchange for this, I’ve been promised safety from their kind for myself and my family—as long as I keep the knowledge of their weakness to myself. And I have kept it. Now, I am dying, my children are grown and gone and their children are grown. I fear for the future of our kind. I can’t go to my grave with this. It’s time…

The man walked into my massage parlor one half hour before closing. He didn’t have an appointment, but I was free. 

“Do you have time for a deep tissue massage?” he asked. I told him yes, he was lucky, I had a half hour free. 

“I would like to pay you up front in cash and I will need one hour,” he said without emotion.

“Well, I close in one half an hour. I don’t think I can accommodate you today, I’m sorry. Would you like to make an appointment?”

“No. Today. It must be today. I will pay,” he insisted. The cash would be nice, I was trying to run my own business. Reluctantly, I agreed.

I took him back to the massage room, gave him instructions to undress and slip beneath the pre-warmed blankets, and stepped out. When I came back he’d assumed the position.

“No lotion,” he said as I walked over to the oil warmer. 

“Mr.…uh…I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name, but you wouldn’t want me to do a deep tissue massage without lotion. It would be quite painful.” I waited for him to respond, all the while regretting that I had agreed to this but it was too late now. 

“No Lotion,” he repeated, and then “One half hour of massage and then I will require use of the room for one half hour after that. The timer does not start until you do.”

Well, that was it as far as I was concerned. Fine. He wanted a deep tissue massage without lubricant—fine, he could have it. I was going to make him sorry for disrupting my early evening. I began to work on his back. His skin was dry, it really could have used some moisturizer. As I worked—light pressure at first and then harder—his skin began to give way from the tissues beneath. It slid around with my hands. Such an odd sensation. I stopped and held my hands up in freaked-out surrender.

“Continue. You are doing it right,” he said.

“But, something is wrong with your skin. Am I hurting you?” I asked

“No. Continue.”

I did. I felt his skin release. It tore away in sheets. Underneath was a pink, gelatinous coating. I gasped.

“Don’t touch anything but skin. Keep rubbing. It all must come off,” he said.

I did. I rubbed off every bit of his skin. The money was good. Really good. I would have agreed to a happy ending if he’d have asked—at least up until I saw his gelatinous underneath. When he was nothing more than a vague human shape of soft rubbery goo with black disc-like eyes, he told me to leave.

“You may return in one half hour. I will go then, and you can lock up.”

I did as I was told. When I returned, he looked human again—the same as he had when I’d first met him. 

“You will keep this between us. Should word get out about what you saw or did for me tonight, it would be very bad for you and your children.” I could only nod. I was so taken aback by the whole experience; I couldn’t even open my mouth to question him further.  

“There may be others like me who make the same request of you. Agree and you will have nothing further to worry about. You and your family will be safe. Should you change your mind at any time, please understand…women and children go missing every day. Many are never found. Do you know what I am saying?” He chomped his teeth together three times and grinned. It was eerie and I’ll never forget those teeth—sharp and pointed like a predator.

There have been many since that first time. Men and women. They come to me and I help them with their molting. Then, I suppose, they need safety while they reform the protective coating of human skin. Or perhaps they need shelter while they put their costumes back on. I don’t know, I have never questioned it. 

I have noticed a worrisome pattern over the years.  Just prior to one of them showing up for a special massage, there is an increase in the reports of missing persons. I think they go through growth spurts, and I’m pretty sure they eat us. They eat until they have to molt, and that’s where I come in. I help them and in exchange they don’t eat me or my family. But every time I see a new missing child or person poster, I cringe. I know soon I will have a new customer. And yet, I’ve kept my mouth shut all these years, allowing other families to mourn the loss of loved ones. No more. 

They are out there, folks. They look like us, but I believe that every once in a while, they let their guard down—a grin flashes their true teeth or a wink exposes their black matte eyes for a split second. Watch for it. Watch for a cluster of missing persons. Remember, they are at their most vulnerable just after gorging on humans. I don’t know how many there are, I don’t know how long they live, but I know there are many and they walk among us. I know we cannot afford to stay quiet any longer. We must act before our species has been replaced. 

God forgive me for not speaking sooner. 

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