[ Another continuation of the Tanim/Daren story Stacy wrote, the original of which can be found here and a prequel to which (written by yours truly) can be found here. This piece takes place where the original story leaves off and was written by Stacy, then added to/edited by me. It actually has two endings, one of which is a continuation of the first, because neither of us could decide which one we liked more. ]
Tanim waited. He was good at waiting. He’d been waiting a long time, after all. Through a century of change, as thick asphalt paved over the cobblestone road outside his house, telephone poles with their lines hung like black garland replacing the rows of old oaks. He felt nothing as his grieving parents dismantled his old life piece by piece, and watched unseen while ruddy Negroes maneuvered his favorite red velvet chaise out the servants’ door and his sisters packed away his finest suits. He even eavesdropped as his mother sobbed in his empty bedroom, turning away at her pleas to God to spare his precious soul.
The years passed without measure and he could only stand helplessly by as his once grand and gilded home fell into disrepair, gray shingles bloated with moss and ivory paint flaking off like newly fallen snow. He saw strangers come and go, changing his house to suit their own desires, but fresh paint (pale lavender, a poor imitation of Victorian style and sensibilities) and a new wrought iron fence did little to restore the building’s glory. The view of his former street made Tanim cringe in disgust, ugly box structures and drab slate drives for miles in every direction. However, his grimace soon twisted into a feral grin as he made his dissatisfaction known from the attic, frightening the new tenants away and leaving him in silent solitude once more.
Alone, Tanim sank back into memory. He recalled his stifled adolescence of glittering luxury, the steady parade of ashen-faced women gently spinning parasols in girlish coquette like a garden of flowers perched on the steps of the gazebo. If he had a body left he might still have blushed at the memory of their laughter, their smiles, their affection he could not return but did not understand why. He would recall his family sometimes as well, kind mother and stern father and flighty sisters all so comfortable in their life of opulence. He remembered he loved them once, but such emotions were too far distant now to touch. Inevitably, his thoughts always circled back to his own crushing unhappiness and the final days of dark melancholy, coalescing in the sensation of coarse rope digging into his soft bare neck. He remembered hooking the toe of his polished black boot around the leg of the chair, remembered his final nervous swallow before closing his eyes and pulling the chair off balance. The feeling was always stronger in the gloom of the attic at 3:30, always overwhelming in May.
So Tanim waited with the endless patience of the dead as Daren’s body swayed gently from the attic rafters, turning to and fro like a cut of meat in a butcher’s shop. He had not anticipated how much it would hurt to see his lover this way, cold and weighted down with the heaviness of death. He wondered if his mother had experienced this disbelieving grief when she watched them cut his own body down, his lean features bloated and blue. Absently, Tanim raised a hand to finger the deep purple line around his neck, imagining his hand caressing a matching mark under Daren’s elegant throat. The bruise that would appear once Daren appeared.
But Daren did not return. Tanim remembered opening his eyes after his own death, thinking in disoriented despair that he had failed. He remembered stumbling back in horror as he caught sight of his dangling body and how he had curled up in a corner of the attic, unable to tear his eyes away from the awful image. His mother had called to him as the sun rose and the household began to stir. When he did not show for breakfast, then lunch, then supper, the family’s unease mounted to panic and the hunt began. It was Marjorie, his favorite servant, who finally found the shell of flesh and blood Tanim had left behind. Trapped somehow on the border between life and death, he had buried his face in his knees as the young woman screamed, unable to watch the cook and gardener cut his limp body down.
Tanim waited but still Daren did not appear. He wandered the house, fingering the dusty white sheets that covered the antique oak furniture and listening to the answering machine as Daren’s boss called and called, his messages growing more frantic. Something is wrong, he thought. It should not be taking this long. He had woken up immediately; why would it be any different for Daren? But it was different, and standing once more in the dusty attic, Tanim realized with an aching numbness that days had passed. Daren’s body was losing any resemblance to the man Tanim so loved, his striking silver hair dull with grease, dark eyes blank and filmed with dust. Mourning, Tanim retreated to his corner of the attic and buried his face in his knees as he once had over a hundred years ago, weeping with the crushing knowledge that he had failed again, that he was now utterly and completely alone.
[ Continuation/alternate ending ]
And so he remained, sunk so deep in catatonia that he barely recognized the sounds of intruders entering the house on the main floor. He only raised his head when the police officers reached his attic, one gagging at the rotten smell of decomposition while the other solemnly shook his head. They cut Daren down without ceremony, unaware of the wayward spirit which trailed them to the top of the stairs and watched in grief borne numbness as they struggled to ease the body of his once lover down the steep attic steps. Then the trap door swung shut and silence reigned once again.
Tanim felt like he had only ever been this flickering wraith waiting in the dark, trapped in death as he had been trapped in life. Only this time there really was no escape, at least none that he could see, and he envied Daren’s freedom. Raging suddenly, he wondered whether it had been a choice, whether he had somehow chosen to stay – or if Daren had chosen to go. But why? Why would he abandon Tanim now after promising the specter so much? Tanim railed against the unjustness of it all, shaking the foundations of his ancient house and tearing at the seams of his self-made prison, raising a racket no one would hear.
Just as he was about to throw himself at the walls of the attic again, a pair of arms wrapped tightly around his waist from behind, pulling him back against a strong chest. Tanim stilled at the firm embrace, turning his head to stare straight into a familiar pair of blank shadowed eyes. “D-darling?” He stuttered in disbelief and sagged weakly against the other man. “That’s enough histrionics from you, Tanim,” Daren murmured back, giving him a thin smile. “It’s okay now. I’m here.”
“But how? You were gone, not a trace of you left. I’d know, I looked for you everywhere. I waited, I did, but you were gone and I was alone again, you left me behind and I couldn’t follow, I was so alone…” Tanim rambled without pause, frenetic eyes scanning every bit of Daren that he could see. His gaze finally lighted on a faint purple line just visible beneath Daren’s pale neck. “Oh…” He raised one hand tentatively up to brush his fingers against the mark. The flesh beneath his touch was cold as ice.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m here now and I won’t leave you again,” Daren’s words fell flat, his voice dulled by an odd note of finality. Of course it matters, Tanim thought, searching his lover’s eyes for some hint as to where he had been, what had kept him away so long. But he let well enough alone. After all, he would have plenty of time to question Daren later.