Caitlin turned her attention to Tobe. He stood inert beside the Idol, which seemed to totter in the shimmering moonlight. He still had his hands jammed into his pockets and Caitlin could hear his teeth chattering.
She realised that her dad was nearing the end of the speech. It hardly mattered that she had missed it, though. She’d be hearing it again before long.
“Any second,” Ms Blaine said.
“Five,” Ian said.
Tobe pulled himself upright, having slouched more and more during Ian’s speech.
Ms Blaine pulled her clipboard close as if it might stop her shivering.
Caitlin looked at her father, then at Tobe again.
Tobe cleared his throat. So did Ms Blaine.
And then it began.
All of a sudden, Tobe looked petrified. Was the shuddering part of the shedding? His pained expression made him look as though he was trying to keep his bladder in check.
A green light appeared behind him. No, not behind. Around. Caitlin had seen pictures and videos of sheddings before, but up close it was different. It reminded her of videos she’d seen of the Northern Lights. The green halo moved constantly, shifting and licking out from Tobe’s body – not flames exactly, more like projected images of flames.
It lasted for about thirty seconds.
And then there he was.
There they were.
Tobe gazed out at them, then to his right to see what they were seeing. He cleared his throat again.
Beside him stood Tobe. Another Tobe, naked. Just like the first, this Tobe’s rust-coloured hair was plastered down on one side, sticking up on the other. A red swelling made an island blotch under his right eye. Caitlin looked at the original Tobe. His injured eye was as good as new. The swelling had healed instantly.
The new Tobe – the Snakeskin – blinked several times. He shivered.
Caitlin felt suddenly ashamed at seeing his nakedness. She shivered too. Abruptly, she recognised her own fear. Not fear of Tobe and his twin, but fear for herself, for her own future. She rubbed her eyes. Grow up.
One of the Snakeskin’s hands darted downwards to cover his genitals. The other hand stretched out towards his twin.
The original Tobe didn’t respond at first. He stared at his Skin, at the grasping fingers. Then he realised what the gesture meant. He passed the bundle of green cloth over, careful not to let his hand touch his twin’s. The Skin let the cloth billow out in the wind, then pulled the thick green cape around his body. It covered his flesh from his neck almost to his toes. He kept shuffling from side to side. The ground beneath his feet was smooth, cold rock.
Tobe – the real Tobe, the ‘originator’ – pointed at his twin. His top lip curled, perhaps in disgust. “Can I talk to him?”
Caitlin reminded herself that Tobe had been seventeen the only other time he had shed, only slighter older than she was now. Seven years was a long time. For all his bravado, he must be terrified. Perhaps no Charmer ever got used to it.
It was Ian who answered. “If you want. There aren’t any rules about that.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Caitlin noticed Ms Blaine writing something on her clipboard form.
“All right?” Tobe said, addressing the Snakeskin.
The new Tobe looked a little shell-shocked. The licks of green halo carried on shimmering around him for a few moments more, before dissipating.
“Yeah,” he said.
“You know what’s happening? You know you’re a Skin?”
Caitlin hadn’t considered beforehand what the Skin might say. It made sense that it might not be particularly interesting. She remembered a phrase from IT class about computer coding in BASIC: Garbage in, garbage out. Not that Uncle Tobe was garbage, but he had never been the sparkiest conversationalist either.
Caitlin edged forwards. Ian put his hand on her arm: no closer.
She felt a sudden determination. She couldn’t let the moment pass without participating. Surely it was her right to ask a question. She was next in line.
About the Author
Tim's earlier novels and novellas include You Don't Belong Here (Snowbooks), Blighters (Abaddon) and Carus & Mitch (Omnium Gatherum). His short stories have appeared in Interzone, Not One of Us and numerous anthologies, including Best of British Science Fiction 2017 and Best Horror of the Year #10, edited by Ellen Datlow.
About the Book
by Tim Major
An SF thriller examining the repercussions of rejuvenation and cloning on individuals' sense of identity and on wider society.
Caitlin Hext's first shedding ceremony is imminent, but she's far from prepared to produce a Snakeskin clone. When her Skin fails to turn to dust as expected, she must decide whether she wishes the newcomer alive or dead.
Worse still, it transpires that the Hext family may be of central importance to the survival of Charmers, a group of people with the inexplicable power to produce duplicates every seven years and, in the process, rejuvenate. In parallel with reporter Gerry Chafik and government aide Russell Handler, Caitlin must prevent the Great British Prosperity Party from establishing a corrupt new world order.
Snakeskins is an SF thriller examining the repercussions of rejuvenation and cloning on individuals' sense of identity and on wider society, with the tone of classic John Wyndham stories and the multi-strand storytelling style of modern TV series such as Channel 4's Humans.