#1058

Oh sister, don’t you see? Someone cannot become a ghost if they never existed in the first place. You are no specter like he; you are a figment, a concept, an ideal, impossible from the very beginning. It’s a terrible pity that he should live and die and thus be granted a phantom’s immortality while you, you who would have sucked the marrow of life to taste even its final dregs, will never have that chance. If any deserve animation or resurrection it’s you, my dear, but what can I do? These long years have proven I have no power to spark real breath from my words, that I cannot make you a thing of flesh and bone simply by desire alone. Only in dream may I glance into the mirror and find you staring back, slender hands pressed to the glass so I can pull you through. You aren’t in that mirror when I wake – why else do you think I never look too closely as I pass by? You do not haunt my dreams, sister. You are my dreams. And I haven’t the heart to tell you that it only pains me more to know you once in fiction than never in reality. Don’t you see? I would rather have never known the liquid lyricism of your voice than to wake alone when seconds before your laughter tickled against my ear. I would give anything for you, but I’m not a child anymore. I no longer search for fairy rings; I rarely check under the bed at night; I don’t believe if I stand at my mirror and chant “thee to me, sister, thee to me” you will cross over to this world. I know you are impossible. It’s time you accepted it as well. You can’t haunt me if you’re not a ghost.

#1056

It had been a rough night; Daren could tell the moment he woke to dry, puffy eyes, burning cheeks, and an aching throat. So he’d been crying in his sleep, possibly even screaming. Lovely. He couldn’t remember what fever induced night terror or resurfaced memory had triggered the episode, for which he was grateful, but the fact that he also couldn’t remember how much he’d freaked out bothered him immensely. He’d already made a complete fool of himself in front of Tanim by being found nearly delirious from fever. Tanim had given up his bed, privacy, and free time, all to nurse Daren back to health when he could have dropped him off at a hospital and wiped his hands clean of the whole thing. Now the poor man had to deal with Daren’s constant nightmares as well?

Distracted by the sheer embarrassment of the situation, it took Daren a moment to realize that unlike the last times he surfaced from the haze of exhaustion and dizziness over the past two days, he wasn’t alone in the bed. He pushed himself up on wobbly arms to inspect the warm weight by his legs. Sometime during the night Tanim had fallen asleep in the chair he’d brought in to monitor Daren and now he drowsed half seated, half sprawled over the bed. Pale morning light fell over his face, accenting the shadows beneath his long eyelashes and the worry lines between his creased brows. Daren wondered if Tanim had slept at all since taking Daren in or if he’d spent every hour worrying over his patient. By the looks of his exhausted face, it was most likely the latter. Somehow that didn’t surprise Daren.

A lock of dark hair drooped over Tanim’s eye and Daren found himself oddly tempted to brush it away. Daren had never touched Tanim before. Tanim had touched him, of course; hell, he had practically carried Daren the last few blocks to his apartment the night he found the younger man half conscious and hypothermic in an alley. Yet Daren never initiated touch, not even a handshake or a light tap. Now, though, he gave in to temptation and reached out to carefully brush the stray lock back in place. One corner of Tanim’s mouth twitched in a faint smile at the touch but otherwise he showed no signs of waking.

He loves me. The thought twisted Daren’s already unsteady stomach. This wasn’t the first time he’d come to the realization, of course. The first inklings tugged at him months ago, back before the sickness had worsened, he’d lost his apartment, and everything went to hell. It was the way Tanim said his name, the way he watched Daren with a sweet, sad longing when he thought the other man unaware. Tanim never alluded to the blatant affection in his voice and eyes but he didn’t need to; Daren would have to be blind to overlook his friend’s restrained desire. Here, though, was the proof Tanim cared for him far beyond mere friendship. Even Tanim wouldn’t wear himself ragged playing nursemaid to just anyone, yet here he was doing that very thing for a sick, delusional man he’d not even known a year. If that wasn’t love, what was it? Of course, Tanim would never admit it. Daren suspected he would rather suffer in silence for the rest of his life than risk rejection and the ruin of what connection they already had.

Daren shivered as a wave of nausea washed over his clammy body. He didn’t have the strength or mental clarity right now to analyze how Tanim’s emotions changed things between them, nor his own complex feelings on the subject. Thanks to Tanim’s ministrations the fever would pass soon. When it did and Daren could do more than lie in bed and take small sips of chicken broth, then he’d deal with the issue at hand. Right now he had just enough energy left to not collapse as he lowered his trembling body down and drew the blankets close. His last thought before he sank back into heavy fever sleep was the way Tanim had smiled when Daren brushed back his hair, and how silky the coal black lock felt against his skin.

#1054

I’m not sure what I expected. I could see the first time we met that Tanim is a lonely, troubled man. He sought out my dreary company, after all, and that reeks of desperation. But I never imagined someone so gentle and kind could be so broken inside. I think I’m beginning to understand better now that I’ve seen the place he calls home, though. There’s nothing here that feels like Tanim. No personal photos, no piles of clutter, nothing to betray a single fact about the man who lives here. The furniture all matches so I’m sure it came with the apartment, just like the minimalist, passionless décor. I could be in any penthouse hotel suite in the city, not someone’s residence of fifteen years. This place isn’t a home; it’s a prison, a punishment. And I thought my shit hole of an apartment was bad. At least that place inspires emotion, even if that emotion is utter revulsion. Here you can’t feel much of anything. It’s a study in apathy.

The only thing in this apartment that seems truly Tanim’s is his bed, which I’ve inadvertently stolen while he nurses me back to what poor condition counts for me as ‘health’. Soft sheets, thick blankets, a perfect mattress… it’s obvious this bed belongs to a man who craves a comforting embrace, even if he can’t find it in another’s arms. Though my strength is slowly returning, the fever that’s kept me bedridden abating, I don’t want to climb from these blankets just yet. Tanim’s lingering scent is the worst temptation I’ve ever experienced. I can’t help but imagine him lying here alone night after night, unable to sleep, tossing and turning as I do now. I don’t know why Tanim’s chosen this tragic, reclusive lifestyle, but I’m determined to find out. There’s a reason this bed is big enough for two; two people belong here. Tanim isn’t meant to be alone. And if I have anything to say about it, he won’t be any longer.

 

[ A description of Tanim's apartment can be found here, if you're curious. The man may be miserable, but damn does he know how to live well. I mean, he has a fully stocked private bar. ]

#1053

[ Oh, Tanim. Such a drama queen. What am I going to do with you? ]

Don’t ask, don’t tell.” That’s the motto. Polite society doesn’t want to know about your fetishes or what shameful thoughts the right come hither expression inspires. You’re a pervert; you can’t just flaunt your sins in public where good, clean people might see. What if your taint spreads to others? You don’t want that, do you? Of course not. Society can be merciful, though. You don’t need to deny yourself completely. Play your role of dutiful husband and law abiding citizen by day and by night lose yourself in the arms of strangers and the high of drug and drink. If you keep such illicit liaisons to yourself there’s no need to punish you before the multitudes. Just remember we deviants are relegated to the slums, the dark corners where names are forbidden and encounters brief. Sate your hungers in private if you must but never dare admit the truth in the light of day. That’s the deal; they won’t ask and you won’t tell. Everyone wins as long as you remember your place in the shadows.

#1051

There are those who desire only to use others, and those whose only desire is to be used themselves. I have known the former intimately and been the latter for longer than I care to admit. Given my proclivities, you’d think I should avoid the sort who are naturally drawn to ones like me, the predators who scent a willing victim. It turns out, though, that they’re not the worst. It’s the ones who desire nothing that can cause the most pain. Imagine someone who asks nothing of you, wants nothing of you, takes nothing from you. They’re completely apathetic. How can you prove your love to someone like that? You can give them your heart but they don’t have to accept it. You can offer them your body but they don’t have to embrace it. You can kneel at their feet but they still walk right past without a backward glance. There are few experiences more painful than baring your soul to another in complete vulnerability and having them stare through you as if you aren’t even worth the energy of acknowledgment. They have the power to negate your very existence simply by not caring. At least the users allow you to become the conduit of their pleasure, the catalyst for something greater than yourself. They want you. They need you. There’s no dominance without submission, after all. But the unfeeling ones? They don’t need anything. Offer them your heart and they won’t even laugh, just turn away to leave you forever denied and incomplete.

#1050

[ I don’t actually dream about Tanim and Daren that often. I guess by bed time my brain is pretty tired from having thought about them all day long. ]

 

In the silence of the forest Daren’s harsh breathing seems as loud as a gale. He shuts his mouth and tries to draw breath instead through a throbbing nose, tasting blood and dirt with every swallow. For a moment he lays perfectly still, face half buried in winter’s dead leaves, afraid even the slightest movement will betray his hiding place beneath a skeletal bush. Finally the pounding of his heart calms enough that he can hear the sounds of pursuit closing in all around. Torches flicker in the night.

“Tanim…” Daren seeks his lover’s gaze in the darkness, comforted by the determination which still shines in Tanim’s eyes despite the mask of bruises and blood. Tanim shakes his head, raising one finger to his lips to caution silence. Even a whisper risks too much though they lay only feet apart; remaining hidden as the pursuers pass by is their only chance at escape. Instead, Tanim reaches out and presses his hand over Daren’s, communicating by touch all that cannot be said. Far off, approaching footsteps crunch on dry leaves, hunting for two men who dare share an illicit love.

#1049

Submission is a beautifully simple concept; why must we complicate it with unnecessary toys? If you have to resort to whips and chains, you’re doing something wrong. You have no right to dominate someone in the first place if you can’t do it with your body and will alone. Anyone can be bound with handcuffs, after all. Anyone can be gagged and blindfolded. It takes true inner strength to restrain someone with your own hands, to dominate them mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Lips make stronger locks than steel and fingers tighter knots than rope. That’s how the bond is formed; not through the cold contact between metal and skin but the friction heat of flesh on flesh, the pressure of two bodies entwined together in the dark. I will never give myself to an unfeeling object. I will give myself to the passions of a living creature, not their inanimate proxy. Prove to me with your own body that you’re worth my submission and I will be yours in every way. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.

#1048

You say you don’t fear the end but instead what comes after. You wonder where I will go, what I will do, how I will survive in your absence. Beloved, there is nothing to fear. I was haunted by your ghost long before we met. Twenty years it followed me through waking and dreaming, my greatest shame and only comfort. I’ve a name and face for it now, yes, and a body to touch and hold, but that is the only difference. You were my ghost then; you are my ghost now; after you are gone you will be my ghost still. You will always be the longing which alcohol cannot numb nor sleep banish. Fear the end for yourself if you must, but not for me. I can do alone. I can do haunted. Darling, I already have a lifetime’s worth of practice grieving for you. When you are gone, truly gone, it won’t be so different from before. Waking to an empty bed will be nothing new and if my hand moves by habit to pour two drinks instead of one, well, then forgetfulness will come twice as fast.

#1047

“Daren?” Tanim tapped at the closed bathroom door. When he received no answer he knocked again, one hand moving to the knob. “Darling, are you all right? Breakfast is ready.”

“Eat without me. I’m not hungry,” Daren’s voice, hoarse from a sleepless night spent coughing and dry heaving, barely carried through the thick wood. Tanim swallowed a sigh and tested the doorknob; Daren had not locked the door so he eased his way inside. “You need to eat whether you’re hungry or not,” he commanded as he frowned down at the man slumped against the side of the porcelain bathtub, hoping his companion was merely sulking and would give in with a little bullying. When Daren lifted his head, however, Tanim’s hope curdled.

“It’s getting worse, Tanim,” Under the harsh bathroom light the blood which wet Daren’s pale lips shone bright red, a darker counterpoint to the flush in his gaunt cheeks. Dread glazed his normally carefully controlled and emotionless gaze.

“Oh, love…” This time Tanim let the sigh escape as he sank to his knees on the cold tile. “I know. I know it is.” The energy he had woken with this morning drained to the familiar weariness which seemed to plague him daily now. He tried to force lightness into his voice which he did not feel but it came out more pleading than encouraging. “You still need to eat, though; starving yourself won’t do any good. Please–” He reached out to touch his palm to Daren’s cheek but the man flinched away before Tanim could make contact.

“What if it’s contagious?” Guilt flashed in Daren’s dark eyes. “What if I infect you?”

“Infect me? That’s what this is about?” Tanim almost laughed with relief, though under the circumstances it seemed a crass reaction. Instead he pressed his mouth to Daren’s and kissed away the smear of blood before the other man could react. Drawing back, he fixed his shocked lover with a fond smirk. “Daren, I think by now I’ve ingested enough of your, ah… bodily fluids for that to be a moot point. A few drops of blood won’t make a difference.”

Daren nearly choked at the insinuation. “That’s rather vulgar,” he snorted, far less amused than his partner, though the flush in his cheeks darkened perceptibly and not just from fever. Tanim merely shrugged, pleased Daren could not outright refute his argument. “But it’s still the truth. My point is, don’t add another burden to your shoulders. We have enough to worry over these days – like the fact that our breakfast is getting cold.”

“You won’t let that drop, will you?” Daren groaned as the argument he had hoped to dodge came back around. “Bugging me isn’t going to change anything. I’m still not hungry.”

“So? I’m still going to make you eat,” Tanim flashed his most winning smile and slipped his arm through Daren’s, determined to get his companion to at least eat a slice of toast if he had to personally drag him into the kitchen and shove the bread down his throat. Sensing the well-meaning threat beneath Tanim’s grin, Daren heaved a sigh and allowed Tanim to pull him to his feet. “You’re vulgar and stubborn,” he grumbled, though he knew his stomach would probably be grateful for that stubbornness soon.

 

[ I’ve never understood writers who say their characters are like their children. I for one would not want to know the intimate details of my children’s sexual activities, but I don’t have much choice when it comes to Tanim and Daren. XD ]

#1046

ting! ding! cow bells ring
through valleys and o’er mountains
Switzerland’s anthem

[ I took the picture above last July while on vacation with a friend and her family in northern Switzerland. There are dairy cows everywhere in the mountains and you can hear the ringing of their bells for miles around. It’s one of the most peaceful sounds I’ve ever heard. ]

#1045

Daniel waited until the roaring ceased and the wind no longer tore at his duster before lifting his head from beneath his arms. The tornado had been smaller than he’d expected and left behind only torn soil and a spattering of wet snow on the plains. “Thank the Lord for that,” he muttered as he climbed to his feet, groaning slightly at the protest of a body too old to be knocked about by a twister. He found no irony in thanking God for being merciful with a punishment He Himself had sent; after all, it could have hailed instead of snowed. Though there was always next time.

The thought of “next time” prompted Daniel to hurry his check for cuts and scrapes and plan his next move. He scanned the plains, trying to reorient himself in a landscape made unfamiliar by the wind churned earth. Mountains loomed in the distance off to his right, their peaks hidden by the pregnant bellies of purplish storm fronts. There was no sense in going back where he had come from, not when the Lord’s Judgment had already swallowed those towns in wind and water, so he turned his back to the range and set off east.

An hour’s walk brought him to a creek cutting across the plains. Daniel knelt for a drink and a chance to scan his surroundings as inconspicuously as possible. Movement in a grove of pine trees on the other side of the stream caught his eye. Just as he’d expected; the Elders in Providence, the only speck of civilization within fifty miles, wouldn’t leave their border unprotected for just any old soul to wander in. Daniel removed his revolver from its holster as he crossed the stream, careful to keep his motions slow and purposeful. He held up both hands, revolver hanging from his fingertips where it couldn’t pose a threat, and made his way toward the grove. From its shadows a young woman emerged, scowling down the barrel of the rifle aimed at his chest. “Toss the gun over here,” she barked. Daniel obeyed without question. This seemed to appease the sentry somewhat and she lowered the rifle, though her finger never left the trigger. “What’s your name, stranger? And what are you doin’ way out here?”

“Parish. Daniel Parish. I’m seekin’ shelter from that,” He nodded over his shoulder to the mountains crowned in thunderheads. Lightning danced at their slopes, twisting and twining as if pulled together by a force more powerful than just the funneling wind. The storm looked a long way off still but he knew distance made no matter here; the Lord would strike when and where He willed. And He would strike again soon.

“Mmm,” The woman narrowed her eyes as she scanned the horizon. “Movin’ in fast. Well, alright then. Come along and you can petition the Elders for sanctuary.” She pocketed Daniel’s weapon and gestured for him to walk ahead, still holding the rifle where she could raise it quickly if needed. They walked in silence for a while, the only sounds the crunch of their boot steps and the distance rumble of approaching thunder.

“You get any twisters ‘round here lately?” Daniel asked over his shoulder. “Not recently,” the reply came, as professionally perfunctory as everything else the woman had said. “Been calm.” Daniel nodded, thought about saying “it won’t stay that way for long” but decided against it and fell silent. Providence would see the truth soon enough.

Another hour or so brought them to the base of a low rise. At its top sat an impressive structure of polished wood and heavy iron. Try as he might, Daniel couldn’t help but feel at least slightly impressed by the Providence stronghold. It didn’t exactly exude that old time Christian hospitality, of course, but it could handle just about anything this new world order threw at it. Though probably not, he guessed, whatever the good Lord saw fit to unleash upon His children next.

The woman led Daniel to the front gate and passed inside, leaving him to wait awkwardly outside while the sky darkened overhead. As the wind began to pick up, moaning around the corners of the compound, a slot in the gate opened. From within he caught the tail end of a clipped conversation. “…found this fellow wanderin’ out by Shallow Creek,” his guide, hidden somewhere behind the door, explained to whom he could only presume to be the Elder summoned for judgment. “Says his name’s Daniel Parish. He wants shelter from the storm.”

Parish?” A new voice, aged yet still hard as steel, let out a short bark of laughter. “Forgot to add in the ‘Reverend’ part, did he? Or I suppose that’s ex-Reverend now, ain’t it? Sorry, Parish, but only those washed clean in the eyes of the Lord step through this gate. You’ve been wanderin’ a dark path these days so you just turn right around and face the demons you’ve brought down on yourself. It’s God’s will; you know that better’n anyone.” The unnamed Elder gave a dark chuckle. “Best say your prayers, Parish. The long night’s a comin’.”

The wooden slot slammed shut; the laughter faded. Daniel stared at the barred gate a moment, glanced briefly to the sky peppered with funnel clouds, then shrugged. He hadn’t exactly expected to be welcomed with open arms, after all. Providence had never been known to live up to its namesake. Well, if the front gate remained barred, he would just have to find another way in. Even a fortress like Providence must have a side door, a broken window hinge, something. And when he did make his way in, the Elders would understand the true meaning of ‘God’s will’. Maybe they’d even come to regret their hasty judgment when the storm descended. What was it Jesus said about casting the first stone?

“Come on, sinners, let’s go down, down to the river to pray…” Daniel allowed himself a small smirk as he belted out the old spiritual tune and began to search for a way in. Even such an innocent song could sound mighty threatening under the right circumstances. “Come on, sinners, don’t you wanna go down?”

#1044

I have glimpsed the monsters in his gaze. I have watched the orange tentacles unfurl like new buds out of the dark pit of his pupil, questing upward to caress the boundaries of their convex prison. They pool and crowd in the clear chamber of his eye until all that can be seen beneath his thin lids are the squirming appendages. In the right light their slick surfaces almost glow, turning his eyes bright as the Sun rising on the polluted horizon. I cannot hold his gaze for long; the way the tentacles wriggle and heave themselves against his cornea, I swear they seek to break free and pierce my own eyes.