Marcus Pelegrimas

Skinners Book 3

Teeth of Beasts

To Dad. It’s never too late.


Easter Lake Township, Wisconsin Territory 1837

Hunger clawed at Henry Bartlett’s gut like a wild animal scratching at his innards. He didn’t have the aptitude for a job and his hands were growing too shaky to be any good with a hunting rifle. Having spent most of his years keeping away from loud noises and the men who made them, Henry hung his head low and allowed his stringy light brown hair to cover his sunken face. He pulled his arms tight against his torso in a way that made him look more like a paltry collection of twigs covered in wet parchment than a man in shabby clothes. Somehow, his bony legs supported his weight and the crooked ridge of his spine kept him upright.

After scraping together what money he could, the thin, twitchy man found his way to the Easter Lake Saloon and calmed his nerves with whiskey that tasted like the bottom of a rusty bathtub. He silenced the growl in his belly with a bowl of greasy soup. The saloon was always noisy and filled with more shadows than the flickering lanterns could repel. Some of them were only inky stains upon the wall, but others lived, walked, and watched from the darkness. A few of the shadows were cast by men who stank of blood that had dried onto the clubs hanging from their belts. Henry could see the scars upon the stalkers’ hands as they lifted dented mugs to their lips. Bleating everything from boastful songs to blasphemous insults from drunken mouths, the locals didn’t pay any mind to the new arrivals. When one of the shadowy men approached Henry’s table before all the soup had been drained from his bowl, the locals were given a different kind of show.

Henry sank his teeth into the man’s wrist while the rest of the bloody men surrounded his chair. Only one was brave enough to step forward without drawing his weapon. His kind face was covered by long gray whiskers. Henry tried to have a word with him, but was dragged away by the others as the entire saloon laughed and hollered at the spectacle. Once outside, he felt his bones twist beneath his skin and something sharp push through his gums. The men spread out and forced him into a stable. Scents of horseflesh, manure, and hay mixed with the creaking of wood and the wet patter of blood dripping from the men’s hands onto the floorboards. As the men encircled Henry, they jabbed at him with clubs that had sprouted into long knives and pitchforks. Before long the one with the beard strode into the stable carrying a net that had been treated with some kind of foul-smelling tonic.

Henry grabbed a pitchfork that was poked into his side and bit into the face of the man wielding it. Everything after that was a rush of blood, movement, and pain. There was a brief moment when he was entangled within the net, but he scraped at the ground to crawl beneath the strange ropes. Once he made it into the fresh air, Henry ran until the settlement was well behind him. The shadowy men were gone when he returned. Even the remains of the one with the pitchfork had been scraped off the stable floor and hidden away.

The incident was ruled a drunken brawl that several of the saloon patrons declared had been started by Henry. He was jailed and served his time huddled in the back of a filthy cage, trying to avoid his foul-smelling cell mates. Upon his release, he tried not to think about the cravings that made him scratch at his own skin and grind his teeth until they cracked and splintered into jagged spikes. He took walks every night, breathing fresh air while choking on the desire to pull the clothes from his back just to feel the warm spray of blood cover his skin.

He’d never learned a trade, but had picked up a knack for climbing in through other folks’ windows and helping himself to a few poorly guarded trinkets, which provided him with enough money to take back to the saloon. Within moments after walking through the tavern’s familiar doors, he spotted a pair of women sitting at a table near the back of the room.

“Evenin’, misses,” Henry said as he lifted his chin and put on a shaky smile to try and mask the new hunger clawing at his belly.

Their dresses might have been frayed and tattered, but both of them were filled out quite nicely. Ample breasts swayed as the sweet-smelling females shifted in their chairs. Painted smiles grew beneath world-weary eyes as they looked Henry up and down. One of the women had hair flowing freely over her shoulders that was as bright and golden as Henry’s had once been when he was a child. The other’s was much longer, black as coal, and loosely bound by faded ribbons.

“What have we here?” the golden-haired one asked. “I’m Shalyn and this is Tricia. Want to buy us a drink?”

The dark-haired whore leaned forward to reach between Henry’s legs. “Or would you rather buy something else? You carrying something for me in there?”

Henry swallowed and dug out what little money he’d stolen during one of his most recent walks. “This is what I got.”

After taking Henry’s stock in the blink of an eye, Tricia shrugged and said, “That’d be enough for one of us. You can get us both for a bit more.”


She nodded.

Shalyn placed her hand upon her body and rubbed suggestively. “I give my word it’ll be worth it.”

As her promise rolled through Henry’s ears, he swore he could feel their hands rubbing against his bare skin and lingering beneath his clothes in the spots where his blood was running the warmest. Before he could question the ghostly touches, his money was gone and Tricia was leading him away. She dragged him out through the back door and took him into an alcove between the saloon and a row of out-houses. After pulling down his britches just enough to get her hand inside and between his legs, she put on a lurid smile and vigorously worked him. Henry leaned back and waited for the craving in his belly to subside.

Before too long, it did.

“There now,” she said as she stood up and wiped her hands upon her skirt. “You liked that?”


“It only gets better if my friend comes along.”

“Really?” Henry asked.

She nodded with the certainty of a fisherman whose hook was sunk in deep. “Better than you could imagine.”

Henry closed his eyes for a moment and tried to imagine, but could only feel the craving gnaw at him with freshly sharpened fangs. After letting out a hard breath, he asked, “How much for the both of you?”

When whispering the sum into his ear, she made sure to brush her lips against his skin. She lingered for a few moments, allowing her hair to brush against the side of Henry’s face, and then turned away. “You know where to find us.”

“But…that’s a lot of money.”

“It’ll be worth it,” Tricia promised with a backward wave.

The twitch of the woman’s hips caught Henry’s eye. The sway of her arm reminded him of a broken doll. The plump curves of her breasts called to him like tender meat already falling off the bone. When he pressed his fingers to his nose, he could still smell the sweat from her shoulders.

Henry’s breath caught in his throat, so he shook his head as if to snap it loose from his neck. The tingling she’d put into him was still working through his legs, and he had no doubt that both women could give him things to dream about for years to come. But he didn’t have enough money. He didn’t even have enough to buy the whiskey that usually got him through the hard times. As the cravings rumbled inside of him, he went for another walk.

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