Nightmare Magazine




Tiny Little Wounds

Compulsion can be a strange and disquieting thing. For a long while, I’d wanted to write a story about skin-picking and the sense of immense relief that can come from peeling back something which doesn’t belong—or at least feels like it doesn’t belong. I had the first few opening lines and not much else until my brain inevitably turned to ghosts and trauma (as it does), and then this story quickly started to take shape.


The goal isn’t to bleed. It’s okay if you bleed, but that’s never the objective. That’s not the point at all.

• • • •

Once, a ghost got inside me. I didn’t realize at first. That’s how ghosts work: they creep in quiet, they creep in slow, they fill you up, all sticky ooze. Ghosts are a sentient infection. Hauntings are shivered whispers and yellow-white pus.

They called an exorcist, who helped. She said the cleansing words, offered comfort. Drained the abscess, provided brief lucidity—

—but exorcists don’t exorcise, not completely. Not on their own.

• • • •

Lately, it’s been my arms. I can’t stop scouring them, can’t stop searching. My forearms, specifically: pale white flesh and twisted blue veins, like two long strips of undercooked chicken. The skin is so thin there, breaks so easily. Every tiny scratch, every little cut . . . it’s all in my line of sight. My wounds cannot escape me.

I should worry more about what I can’t see. I am worried—I check in the mirror three times a day—my scalp, my lower back. Always, always, my right shoulder blade.

Still, my arms, my arms . . . and those dark scabs dotting my arms, those dark scabs impatiently waiting . . . it’s not that they itch, exactly. They just don’t belong there.

• • • •

I remember the exorcism, but only in pieces. Belly-laughing so hard I threw up all over myself. Speaking names I didn’t recognize, singing songs I’d never heard. I remember what the exorcist said. That thing, it’s still hiding inside, acting like you’re healing, like it’s over. You got to dig it out, girl. Only you can save yourself.

I remember sitting up, twisting. Remember reaching back, back, back—

• • • •

“Please, honey. Sweetheart, it’s gone, that ghost has been gone a long time now, you’re safe, you’re safe, why are you hurting yourself—”

But she doesn’t understand, no one understands. Pain isn’t the point, either, and safe? No. Safe isn’t a thing you can really be.

• • • •

It began after the exorcism. Seeking them out. Keeping track. Noticing not just my own sores but everyone’s tiny little wounds: blood blisters on fingers, blackheads on cheeks, so many cracked, crusted lips, just begging to be peeled. Of course, I’d never do that; I’d never touch anyone without their consent. Besides, it wouldn’t help. We’ve all got to dig for ourselves.

But I dream about it, sometimes. Eating breakfast at a diner, or taking a seat on the crosstown bus, or going to church for Sunday service and asking the waitress, the passenger, the priest—can I shuck your skin? You’ll feel so much better once I do.

• • • •

Because it’s not about the ghosts, exactly, not about the paranoia, the every-single-fucking-second of dread that something rotten and rotting has slipped inside. It’s not about healing myself or hurting myself or punishing myself for getting possessed in the first place. It’s not even that I expect to find something; what I’m really looking for, after all, is a lie. But this . . . this chase is all I have, it’s how I keep going, how I survive, that perfect moment, I need it, I need

• • • •

I felt it, back then, behind my right shoulder: a dark, thick red scab the size of my whole palm. And before I really dug in, before the excavation, before I tore deep down into my flesh—before I leaked blood and pus and whispering dead things all over—I scratched at the surface, I excoriated, I scraped off that clinging skin, that hardened crust, and I remember, I remember—

This breath of relief, a split second of euphoria, that one bewitching moment of victory, of absolute certainty that I would be myself again, whole again. That I’d feel safe again so soon.

Carlie St. George

Carlie St. George is a Clarion West graduate whose work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Sword & Sonnet, among multiple other publications. She is particularly passionate about horror movie tropes, fandom tropes, and fairy tales, and she lovingly dissects movies, television, and other nerdy things on her blog My Geek Blasphemy.