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by Lilliana Rose

Glass doors open on cue for you.

A welcoming breath sweeps you inside, transports you over the threshold into another world. Walls expand outwards and upwards, revealing a repetitive structure, each shop replicated like a cell, ordered and neat, forming a new type of organism.

The cells detect a change in the chemical make-up, a hint of pheromones, a spike in foreign protein and carbon content, a minor alteration to the balance of this living organism. An adjustment must be made, for the sake of the organism.

Pathways open between cells, unique ionic channels pump the message along the escalator that joins multiple levels and keeps communication open.

The cells begin to work; they want to attract you and others like you who are wandering around. Your carbonic concentration draws you in to ensure optimal efficiency. The cells are in competition, but they work together, the power of choice is with you.

The channels move around you, networks of entrapment build strength and begin to charge; all it takes is a glance at the membrane of a cell and a step of curiosity could land you too close and suck you in.

Despite the network of pathways you don’t feel tempted. A small buzz around your body causes the hairs on your skin to prickle and you have to force yourself to keep breathing — slowly, to keep control. Right now, you are centred and your resolve unshakeable.

The cells on this level aren’t what you want, and you step into the flow of one of the ionic channels and ascend. You look at the cells on this level, talking a peek at the products behind their fragile membrane.

You begin to sway, a dizziness takes hold of you, caused by the excessive charges floating around your head. So much choice. You grab hold of the rail, a cytoplasmic structure of internal strength, which helps you to stabilise once more.

You manage to inhale deeply before the channel spits you onto the second level, causing you to stumble as you resist the pull of two nearby cells. You don’t want to go into the first cell you see, it’s important to compare cells, so you get the lowest charge possible and can stay here longer, savouring each cell.

Around and around you wander on a neutral path, looking, searching.

You walk onto the designated path, the flow is free and calming and allows you to see all the cells and their products. Temptation grows. But you keep looking waiting for that special osmotic force to pull you inside one of the cells.

And then it happens, just when you think it wouldn’t. You see the skins. The attraction is strong and you are sucked through the membrane.

‘Can I help you?’ The words of the cell assistant roll out like a red carpet towards you, as if you are the only person in the cell.

You’re stunned. The excess charge from the skins spins your head with bliss and you struggle to keep your balance. ‘Well... I don’t know what I’m looking for.’

‘I’ll let you browse for a while. Just call me if you need help.’

The clothes hang like skins; lifeless in this living world, they can offer you so much, they drip with your desire. Your hand brings them alive as you move between the different skins, arranged in colors, in sizes, looking for the one. The one that will look good on you, make others look at you, admire you. Want to be like you. Even though you’ve forgotten you don’t want these clothes, these fake skins.

‘Would you like to try this on?’ The cell assistant is back again and you’re tempted. But while there is excess charge from this skin which shorten your breath, you’re not sure if it’s quite right for you.

‘This will look great on you.’ The connection is made and you follow them to a private area at the back, where there’s a smaller cell, your very own, where you can try on the skin in private.

‘Call me if you need any help.’ They shut the curtain, but leave a gap at each end so you can look out, and anyone else nearby can look in. But that doesn’t worry you; as you feel the new skin in your hands, soft and colorful, something you wouldn’t normally wear. The unworn skin smells clean, feels tight, elastic and is ready to be stretched over you, and moulded to your form.

Without thought, you shed your existing skin. Dry and worn, it lies on the floor, dead as if cast away, ready for recycling. The new skin causes you to prickle with pleasure and you look in the mirror. But there’s a little doubt reflecting back. This isn’t what you normally wear.

‘Oh you look great!’ On cue they are back. ‘Just what you need, a new look.’

They turn you around to make sure the skin is sitting right on you. ‘Heads will turn.’

Doubt flies away on their words. You must have this new skin. You must have it now.

‘I’ll see you at the register then. Take your time.’

You don’t want to take this skin off, you feel so energised, others are going to notice you. But you change back, your old skin is abrasive and dampens your mood, just a little, as you walk out of this private cell.

‘Shall I put it in a bag for you?’ You hand over the skin, and then search your bag for your money, or a credit card, because now you are getting excited again.

With efficiency they package the skin, in white tissue paper, with a cute sticker, the mark of the cell, and place it in a brown bag. They smile, handing the package to you as they take your money. ‘You will enjoy this.’

And you are certain you will. The joy of this new purchase, the end of aimless browsing results in you walking out with a new confidence; with eyes wide open, you begin looking for more. Because imagine how you could feel if you found another skin.

The thought of twice the amount of bliss spins your head and you stumble forward. Instead of falling, some invisible force pushes you forward, back on your feet and delivers you right into the cell next door, and you wobble in the cytoplasmic flow trying to get your bearings.

‘Here let me help you.’ The assistant takes your arm, you barely register, as she guides you over to some brightly colored skins.

‘These always help me find myself.’ She melds away out of sight.

You sway a little, looking at the strong shades of pink, yellow, orange and purple. You find yourself settling and the excessive charge hums warmly. There right in front of each skin, the different colors soothes you, makes it easier to breathe.

You touch the pink skins, soft and welcoming, your body aches for such comfort. The familiar buzz is returning and pulses in time with your heart. The skin, the pink skin, is tuning itself to you and you to it.

Just to make sure you aren’t imagining this sensation you glance at the other colors. Now that you look at the purple skin, taut and pulsing, you’ve changed. This one. This purple skin will be the best. Not the pink. The purple is really who you are. You glance back at the pink. Or maybe the pink is who you are? Confusion clouds around your head, lost charges build and set off the odd spark.

‘You’re lucky.’ The assistant returns. ‘We have a two for one sale right now. You can get the pink and the purple.’

Your head pounds with a yes. A specific rhythm that only the cell assistant can pick up. She hears your silent yes.

‘Would you like to try them on?’

You shake your head. You know it would be too much to bear to put on these new skins and to have to take them off.

The assistant picks out your size, like before, wraps them up in white tissue paper, a cute sticker on the front, and places it in a brown paper bag with black ribboned handles that mould to your fingers as you wait for the charge to be added to your card.

‘Have a nice day.’

You breathe out carbon dioxide — long and hard — to try and settle some of the excessive excitement that sparks around your head. You feel your energy is draining, but you just can’t stop.

Your vision blurs as the ion channel is reversed and you are pulled out through the cell’s membrane with two new skins. You can feel their vibration as you walk around the path.

There at the end of this row in the darkness of the living organism, is another cell, one that is so different you have to go and look. Only one more cell you promise yourself.

The purchased skins are causing your arms to ache and your feet hurt and so does your lower back. This is hard work. But you keep walking towards the cell, you can’t change your mind, because you’ve just walked into its channel. With a sigh you are inside, feeling light-headed, lost in darkness.

A red light glows gently to your left. You gasp with pleasure as the cell illuminates. Part skins hang everywhere, all in one shade — black. Some are rather thin, some are nothing more than a strip. And you can’t help but want one of these forbidden skins.

‘Take your time, sweetie.’

You jump at the honey-sounding voice.

‘We are open till late.’ Their hot breath tickles the back of your neck, sending a shiver along your spine. When you get the courage to turn, they have gone back into the shadows.

Your hands shake with anticipation, as you reach forward. The skins are cold and have a harshness that rips pleasure through your body in strong waves. Oh yes, that is what you need, a little skin of naughtiness, it will complete your browsing set, you’ll have something for all occasions now.

Curious you hold up a strip of dark skin and wonder where on your body it would go.

‘Let me.’

Before you can say no, they’ve wrapped the tiny piece around you, and the cell feels hot because you’re overheating with pleasure.

Out of nowhere a mirror reflects your image and even though you have your old wrinkly skin on underneath, you lose your breath.

‘Looks sexy.’ They smile. ‘Very sexy.’

You hadn’t even known you could look like this. It’s a miracle. It’s wonderful.

‘I’ll wrap it up for you.’

You glide behind them to the counter in a haze of warmth and moisture. You hand over your card.

‘You’ll get a lot of wear out of this.’ They hand you a very small bag. ‘I just know it.’ And pops a sphere of skin in the bag. ‘A bit extra for you.’ They wink. And you flush with heat. It’s nice to get something for free. Even though you’ve got no idea where this sphere goes on the body.

It’s difficult to leave the shop.

The skins in here entice you to stay. You use the last of your energy stores to walk against the resistance and finally you step out.

Despite the recent charge, you feel flat and heavy.

So you wander down two levels, to the basement, and find a cell to rehydrate yourself in. The caffeine hits the bliss levels, raising them to a brief high — it’s getting too difficult to maintain such euphoric levels, but refreshed somewhat you pick up your bags of new skins, ignoring the strain in your muscles. One more cell.

One last boost and you end up walking back on the ground floor. With lower energy it’s easier to be pulled into a cell. You struggle to stop yourself from being carried into a cell that you don’t want to go in.

It’s only a matter of time, a slip to the left and you can’t get out of the stream. The pull of the words ‘SALE’, make it difficult to fight. There could be something in last season’s skins, a bargain to lift the spirits.

There aren’t many skins in here, this cell is almost an empty shell. Instead of skins hung on hooks, they are tumbled together on tables — as if ready to be cut up and remade into a different looking skin.

SALE! SALE! SALE! The signs keep you here at the table looking. You rearrange your bags to one hand, so you can begin the huge task of searching for that piece of skin that will change your life, the part of skin that you know is here — provided you look long enough. And you are up for the challenge — it will be something to boast about if you can find that great skin others accidentally overlooked.

Leopard skin is put aside, along with silky skin, fur skin, scaly skin and tight skin. You are getting worried as you get to the bottom of the table, the chances of finding this unknown bargain are diminishing, becoming unlikely. The blissful charge you’ve diligently built fades. Nothing. You discard each skin you touch. It isn’t good enough.

Then you find it, squashed flat at the bottom. You put down your bags, so you can lift the skin up to the light with two hands. The way it reflects the light is mesmerising. It’s a special type of translucent skin. Without any assistance you take the skin you found to the counter for the purchase.

The assistant looks worn and says nothing as she takes your card. It’s taking too long.

‘Rejected,’ she says.

It can’t be possible. You hold the skin tight for protection.

‘Rejected.’ She hands the card back. ‘Do you have another?’

You shake your head clutching the skin close to your body.

Without sympathy she pulls the skin from your grasp. An emptiness wells deep inside of you as the skin is taken away from you and dumped casually on the desk. She ejects you from the cell with efficiency.

You stand neutralised. You’ve got no more ions to charge, nothing for the cells to take. The living organism opens a special channel for you, one that goes straight to the nearest exit. You travel in the channel as if you are a pile of waste.

It must be a mistake.

But it isn’t. The living organism refuses to let you out of this channel. It knows waste when it sees it. Cells must sell, otherwise they die, and you can’t help them to sell anymore. You are nothing to the cells, nothing to the living organism.

You are forced to leave.

And all you can think to do is plan how you can return before the translucent skin, the one you just saw, the one you couldn’t charge, is snapped up by another.

You are ejected out through glass doors with a chilling snap.

Copyright © 2013 by Lilliana Rose

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