My mission was simple: a pea coat. Gray wool. Broad collar. Anchor-embossed buttons. This particular dinner party had taken place in the middle of winter, so everybody had come bundled up in downy jackets and scarves.
When I first entered Mom and Dad’s room, I took in their bed, completely covered in coats. A mountain, in my mind. It lifted off the bed and crested to a mushrooming plug. An endless tether of sleeves slung in every direction; its limbs suspended over the mattress, as if a plump octopus had passed out.
All I had to do was find Mr. Pendleton’s jacket. Pull it out. Bring it back.
But there were so many.
The lights were off. I hadn’t thought to flip on the switch—and by then, I was already two steps into the room and didn’t want to turn around. Turn my back to that bed. For some reason, I didn’t trust the looks of the heap. All those sleeves set me on edge. The light from the hall illuminated my path, a column cast across the floor to the bed.
I could hear the adults’ voices from down the hall. Someone, a woman, was laughing.
I took a step forward. Toward the bed.
Pea coat, I repeated to myself as I took another step, the rubberized soles of my pajamas skidding against the floorboards. Gray wool. Broad collar.
Just look for the anchors.
Look for the anchors.
I saw a sleeve slither. Just one. It simply slipped by just an inch, all on its own, shifting across the mound of jackets before settling along the bedspread.
Then, it was still.
I held my breath, waiting to see if it might move again. It didn’t.
Mr. Pendleton’s jacket must’ve been buried deeper within the pile. I had to dig my hands in. I pulled on a woman’s leather jacket, peeling back the skin of that washed-up octopus.
Still no pea coat.
I reached my hands in, blindly rummaging through.
Where is it?
Where is it?
Something loosened against my fingers. Snake skin. I yanked my hands back and leapt away from the bed. All at once, all the coats were moving. Writhing. Every last one. As if a nest of serpents had just woken up, their slender leathery-skinned bodies slinked over each other. The entire pile inhaled, the chambers of its chest swelling. All the pockets filled with air.
It rose. Lifting up from the bed. A patchwork of brown leather and tawny fur-trimmed lining and denim flesh and double-breasted body parts.
Coats sloughed off its body and fell to the floor.
It was shedding its skin.
The pile took on a shape. A human form. It reached for me, several of its tentacles tangled into one another. My pajama bottoms felt warm. The floor went wet. Urine pooled in my footies. The rubber soles were suddenly slippery. I stepped back and slid, losing my balance and falling. Only when I landed on my back, the pain brought the air into my own lungs, and I found my voice and screamed and screamed and screamed.
Clay McLeod Chapman writes books, children’s books, comic books and film.