The Girl Without Skin

Mads Peder Nordbo

THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN

PROLOGUE

His skin was drenched in sweat. He wanted to cough but could only gurgle. Mucus had built up in his throat behind the cloth. He tried to bite down on the gag, to spit it out, but it had been shoved in so deep that he could barely move his straining jaws.

His temples throbbed. The overhead light cut through the flimsy fabric that covered his face. His breathing was shallow. Tense. His breath came in bursts. He tried to swallow the thick saliva in his throat and tasted metal. He gulped again, triggering a sensation of choking nausea. Everything was spinning. His stomach lurched and he had to tighten his throat and hold his breath to stop himself retching.

He didn’t dare struggle. The pain in his hands was too severe. Every time he moved, screaming shafts of agony darted from the nail holes in his palms up through his arms to a point deep behind his eyes where everything imploded.

The air was irritating his nose. His lungs and head were pounding. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen. His throat went into spasms. His muscles tried to suck in air but found only saliva and mucus.

He gave a hollow groan when he felt the edge of a cold blade sweep up his stomach, slashing his shirt and heavy pullover all the way to his throat.

Tears trickled through his beard. Please, he pleaded. Please don’t kill me. But no words came out. Only a muffled growl.

He jerked when a finger softly traced a line up his taut stomach.

Then the blade carved a broad, stinging gash through the skin and tissue of his stomach. Steel crunched against bone as it hit his rib cage. Everything in his tensed body gave in. Skin. Flesh. Life. He gurgled a roar, the back of his head slamming against the floor as he pulled at his bloodied hands.

Snot bubbled up inside his nose, blocking the airflow. The cloth bled in his mouth. The light screamed. Disappeared. Screamed.

THE NIGHTMARE

1

NUUK, GREENLAND, 7 AUGUST 2014

The red Mercedes came out of nowhere, and the moment its right front bumper hit the blue Golf, both cars were knocked off course and flung together. The Golf reared backwards and crashed onto the road, while the nose of the Mercedes drove into the tarmac before the car was flipped up like an empty can. The force of a fresh blow to the rear of the Golf caused the Mercedes to stop in midair and drop back to the road, where it slammed against the blue roof. The Golf buckled and its right side was flattened, while to the left the chassis held firm.

The Mercedes continued its fall and smashed into the barrier so hard that a section tore loose and sliced open the side of the car. The Golf skidded diagonally off the road and down the slope, rolling onto its side. The engine had cut out. Inside the Mercedes a man was screaming at the top of his lungs. There were no words. No language. Only screams.

Inside the Golf an ashen-faced man was staring into the eyes of a woman. She was trapped between the compressed roof and the dislocated floor of the car. The man was caught between his seat, the seatbelt and the hissing airbag. The woman’s airbag had split open and deflated. The man was bleeding from several cuts to his head.

He reached down his hand to her, but she didn’t take it. Her body was limp. Her eyes fading. His hand caressed her cheek. She was still there with him, her eyes locked onto his. Her gaze crept inside him, where everything was breaking and starting to trickle out. Down onto her.

His hand moved to her stomach. Rounding the bump. The little girl. The child inside. The woman’s eyes closed forever. And with that everything disappeared.

Matthew woke with a scream and threw off his blanket. His T-shirt was soaked in sweat and clinging to his body. With a roar that came from deep inside his chest, he tore it off and hurled it away too. He smelt the acrid tang of his own sleep as he stumbled to his feet and made his way from the sofa to the balcony.

Outside the air was dense with evening mist. He could taste the sea and feel the moisture hiding in the cool North Atlantic fog while he rummaged around for his cigarettes. The packet in his jeans pocket was warm and squashed: he had been lying on it and sweating. He jammed a cigarette between his lips and lit it, then unbuttoned his jeans and kicked them off. His boxer shorts went too. Everything reeked of sweat.

The smoke seeped out between his lips, wafting down his face and naked body, then it merged with the fog—as did he. You’re a shadow child, his mother used to say to him when he was little. You’re so pale you might dissolve in the fog.

The mist from the cold sea around the headland wrapped itself around him. The chill tickled his skin, made the fine, blond hairs on his arms and legs stand up. The moisture grabbed them. He exhaled.

He still had trouble sleeping. His nightmares refused to leave him alone. They lay in wait and, when he drifted off to sleep, would ambush him and tear him to pieces. Night after night. Month after month. The same nightmare. The same eyes. Staring deep into his.

The cigarette found its way to his lips for the last time before he dropped it into a glass bowl containing a muddy porridge of several hundred cigarette butts and rainwater.

Somewhere behind him his phone buzzed. He picked up his jeans and took it out. It was his editor.

‘Matt! Hi, it’s me. Are you all set for the debate?’

Matthew looked down at his naked body. ‘Yes.’

‘The first debate with Aleqa Hammond and Søren Espersen is on now. Jørgen Emil Lyberth from the IA Party is taking part as well.’

Matthew flopped onto the sofa, grabbing the remote control to turn on the television.

‘It’s on KNR,’ his editor said.

‘I know, I know—’

‘I want a summary of the debate on our home page as soon as it’s over. Misu is ready to translate, so we’re good to go. Have you found it?’

‘Yes, yes… I’m looking at it now.’

‘It’s only just started.’ His editor exhaled heavily. ‘They’re talking about the failed reconciliation commission and the ten million kroner.’

‘I’m looking at it now,’ Matthew said again, somewhat exasperated. ‘Aleqa Hammond says we need to unite rather than divide. Greenland must come together. Lyberth disagrees—he thinks the ten million would have been better spent on the arts than on some expensive commission the Danish government can’t even be bothered to take part in.’

‘Exactly, good, you’re watching it. Remember to get something online right away. You need to be writing while you’re listening, okay?’

‘Okay, I’m on it. I’m going to hang up now so I can make notes.’

The voice of Aleqa Hammond, Greenland’s prime minister, filled the room. ‘The ten million kroner isn’t the problem—the problem is that Denmark can’t be bothered to take part. We need this reconciliation.’

‘We don’t need reconciliation,’ Lyberth interjected. ‘What we need is to face up to some hard truths.’

A third voice joined in. ‘Surely this commission is just another political scam to milk the Danish taxpayer for even more money while at same time clamouring for more independence?’

‘It’s the exact opposite,’ Hammond retorted sharply. ‘It’s about solidarity and being part of a community, but we have a long way to go if the only politician we can get to come up here is some angry right-winger.’

‘And yet here I am,’ Espersen said swiftly.

‘The Danish prime minister and the rest of her government are cowards for not wanting to reconcile,’ Hammond said angrily.

‘What is there to reconcile?’ Espersen said. ‘If it were up to me, Denmark would be running absolutely everything up here. It’s grotesque that we send you billions of kroner every year and yet we don’t have any say at all in what you do with the money. We would never put up with it in any other part of Denmark if it had the world’s highest suicide rate or every third girl there were sexually abused.’

‘And that’s exactly the kind of rhetoric we’ve come to expect from the Danish People’s Party,’ Hammond sneered. ‘You’re reductive and racist.’

‘Being against raping children wasn’t racist the last time I looked,’ Espersen said.

Matthew turned down the volume and the voices faded away. He didn’t need to listen to Hammond and Espersen to know what they were saying. He had heard it all before. He grabbed his laptop.

The first of three planned political debates between Aleqa Hammond and Søren Espersen kicked off with the subject of the reconciliation commission, but was soon hijacked and led to sharp exchanges between the Greenlandic prime minister and the Danish People’s Party’s deputy leader and Greenland spokesperson…

Less than twenty minutes later his summary was ready, and the very same second that a disgusted-looking Hammond shook hands with Espersen, Matthew sent the text off to the translator so it could be uploaded in Danish and Greenlandic simultaneously on Sermitsiaq’s website.

Less than five years ago, when Matthew had completed his degree in journalism, he had never in ...

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