I know the hallowed halls of your realm as if I have walked them myself. In the bedroom which is your battlefield, I watch you wage war between silk sheets; in the bathroom which is your ninth circle, I watch you speak prophecies through blood. In the apartment which is your palace and your tomb, I watch you dance through death and resurrection and death again. These places are the temple in which I was raised as your acolyte to bear silent witness to the private agonies of gods. Like your every word and breath, so I memorize and immortalize the places which have shaped your tale – the alley where blood and rainwater mix on cold cement, the roof where you dare the wind to pull you off the ledge. In the city which is your essence, the city from which you cast a thousand thousand shadows, the city where you live and die the unending cycle, I watch and I write.
I fight the desire to find some hidden hole in which to die, but it becomes harder every day. I made that choice once and he found me anyway, just this side of in-time, and look what that got me. He’d turn the whole city upside down searching for me if I did it again, and so would do me no good. But still my animal instincts urge me to hide somewhere, anywhere; in the closet or the bathroom, beneath the bed, on the roof, in the fucking walls if possible. Death is a private thing, and having been born alone and lived alone, I would prefer to go out the same way. There is nothing romantic about dying in your lover’s arms, of that I can assure you. Better to die alone and save them the misery of the aftermath, and yourself the guilt of leaving.
I dream about tarot cards. I hold a deck in my hands and draw a card – The Devil, perhaps, or the Two of Swords. I toss the deck into the air to let the cards fall where they may, all face down. I pick one at random – Death – and say to the figure beside me, See, all the cards I draw mean death. By which I mean, All the cards I draw mean Daren.
I’m a member of the Dead Dads Club. It’s a shitty club and you don’t get to choose to become a member; one day it just happens, congratulations, you’re a member for life now. At first I didn’t dream about him at all, or if I did he was always in the periphery, silent, watchful. Then it was dreams where I didn’t know I was dreaming and he was back – he had never died, he had been resurrected, he just walked through the door one day and didn’t know years had passed. Then it was dreams where I didn’t know I was dreaming and we were just hanging out together – riding in his truck, baking chocolate chip cookies, me telling him about Assassin’s Creed. Then it was dreams where I knew it was a dream and he didn’t understand why I’d hold him hard and sob into his chest. Now it’s dreams where I know it’s a dream but I still tell him over and over and over again how much I want him to come to my wedding. I cry, hard and ugly, and the dream never lasts long enough. In the dream it feels unbearable, the thought that he’ll miss this, too, just like he missed so much else. When you’re in the Dead Dads Club, the list of things they miss just gets longer and longer, and yet you’re continually blindsided when something new comes up.
I pray you never know what your lover looks like curled up on the bathroom tile, trembling and covered in a cold sweat. I pray you never know what his voice sounds like scraped raw and coated in blood. I pray you never know what his cracked lips taste like or how erratically his heart beats beneath his pale skin. I pray you never know the urge to cut out your tongue and eyes, scrape off your skin and mutilate your ears, anything to stop seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling the end as it approaches.
In the end, money makes the whole thing almost embarrassingly easy. Money buys his housekeeper’s silence while she diligently washes away the red stains on carpet, bed, and walls. Money secures him a private jet and a wave through customs without so much as a glance into the bag on his shoulder. Money buys an opulent room in a pricey Parisian hotel just blocks from one of the catacomb entrances. And money averts the eyes of the security guard who lets him into the catacombs after dark and then takes a long, long break.
With only a flashlight for illumination, Tanim winds his way through the catacombs, seeking an area where even the bravest tour groups don’t dare explore. He finally comes to a dead-end chamber, its earthen floor untouched by footprints, and here he sets down the bag he has guarded so carefully on his journey.
“Catacombs? Really? That’s hardly creative; you could have just left me in a cemetery back home,” Tanim pointedly keeps his gaze lowered, refusing to glance in the direction of the lazy, mocking voice. Instead, he opens his bag and begins unloading its contents, setting each white bone on the ground with care. Over his shoulder he replies in a similarly mocking tone, “What better place to hide human bones than in plain sight among thousands of their fellows?” Withdrawing the last bone, a lovingly preserved skull, Tanim finally turns to his companion. “Besides, you’ll have company here. You can bother the other ghosts and scare tourists. I’m sure you’ll like that.”
From the entrance of the little chamber, Daren frowns and crosses his arms. “I much prefer haunting you, darling. These past few weeks have been quite enjoyable for me.”
“Yes,” Tanim sighs, setting down the skull, “so I know. But no more. If you won’t stay dead, you can at least stay away from me.” He glances around as if taking one last look at his lover’s final resting place. “I suppose this is goodbye for a second time, then.” He sneers at the specter. “And the last time.”
“Not so fast,” Daren holds up one white hand and takes a step into the chamber. His arrogant mouth curls in a sly smile, half teasing and half pouting. “Wouldn’t you like to stay a while? Reminisce about old times?”
“Not particularly,” Tanim scowls, impatient to be away but refusing to leave Daren with the last word. “I’ll be glad to leave those old times behind me – along with you, beloved.” The word is uttered like a curse or a slur, stripped of all the love and affection with which it was once spoken. Daren only laughs. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he taunts, grinning as another step brings him closer to Tanim. “See, because you took my life, I have the ability to haunt you, to torment you however I like – yet I can’t touch you. Incorporeality can be so frustrating. But this place…” He gestures to encompass the whole of the catacombs, arm outstretched as if to touch the walls themselves. “There’s more power in these tunnels than you can possibly imagine. Bringing me here was a very, very bad idea.” Daren’s fingers brush the brown bones cemented in the wall; dust and dirt crumble away at his touch, but Tanim doesn’t notice this crucial detail. “So won’t you stay a little longer, my love? Even for just one last kiss?”
The ghost closes the distance between them, one hand snaking around Tanim’s waist, the other cupping his face. Tanim tries to pull away but it’s too late, and Daren’s grip is like iron. Then the hand on his cheek slides into his hair and drags his head to the side, and the mouth that bends to his bared neck is very wide and full of teeth.
– – –
The body isn’t discovered for several days, not until the local cataphiles hold another rave deep within the tunnels. At first they mistake it for a prank; after all, you’re clearly supposed to think the skull with its wide red grin was the cause of the ragged hole in the dead man’s throat, and how exactly could that happen? On closer inspection, however, the body’s decomposition appears quite real and the skull is markedly fresher than the ones which shape the catacomb walls. Unfortunately, by the time the police are finally summoned the scene has been contaminated beyond recognition. There’s no way to tell which set of footprints belongs to the murderer, and the officers refuse to believe the drunk, spooked teenagers when they swear only one set of footprints led to the body, and none away.
Sometimes I wish my body was your body. I know I shouldn’t, and why would I? Who wants to be always dead or dying? Who chooses to be trapped inside a burning building? But I do, because it is you. I want to hold up my arms and see how they taper to elegant hands that so casually cradle a knife. I want to feel how gracefully this scarce body bends and turns, and how hard and unyielding it becomes when it takes what it wants. I want to see in my reflection the unforgiving lines of your face and stare into the deep wells of your eyes. And yes, I want to know what it is like to rot from within, to taste blood in the back of my mouth and feel my sanity crumbling at the edges – but only in your body; only your rot. Decay is only as beautiful as the thing it destroys, and thus you in your unbearable perfection have elevated dying to an art form.