Conversely, there are rare times when he craves confinement, when nothing but the tightest, darkest space can contain the rising hysteria. Thus morning finds him in the unlit bathroom, hunched over on his knees between sink and toilet, hands pressed to his temples as if physically holding in his sanity. It doesn’t make sense for someone like him, who so fiercely guards his freedom and must always have an escape, and yet it does. Even the most crazed, feral beast recalls the safety of the den, even if that instinct is buried beneath years of madness. Like an animal knows to go to ground when injured, so he seeks a place to hide himself away when at his most vulnerable. If he cannot run, if he cannot fight, then he must have somewhere to hide where nothing can possibly reach him.
Your hunger astounds me, specter. Does it surprise you as well? In my dreams your hunger is bottomless, boundless, a trembling, ravenous craving, a wild thing which can neither be contained nor restrained. With mouth and hands and body you devour him, but no matter how many times you make him yours, it is never enough. You are never sated. You who want nothing, you who need no one, consume him with a desperation that betrays you. Does it frighten you, to learn of what you are capable? Your lover carries shame and guilt in equal burdens, but in you the hunger leaves no room for any other emotion or thought; instinct, the need to covet, to possess, supersedes all else. Worry not, dear ghost. You fear such desire makes you human, but in reality you are still the feral beast dominating and taking what is his.
The facility has been closed for years; the only ones who seek shelter in its halls now are drifters and runaway teens. Tanim stands outside the sagging front gate and stares up at the weathered edifice, trying to imagine what it looked like before the weeds and graffiti took over. Stripped of its junky decoration in his mind, the place still isn’t impressive. It looks like every other low-budget, government-run institutional building meant to convey competence but not compassion. He isn’t surprised it was left to rot when its funding dried up – no amount of remodeling or landscaping could hide the building’s first and truest intention.
Tanim slips through an opening where the fence has been torn from its post and emerges onto a short walkway, the lawn to either side riddled by tall weeds and piles of trash. Even the cement itself has cracked from years of weathering and determined plant roots, and he must watch his step carefully as he makes his way to the front doors. A “No Trespassing” sign and a loop of chain around the door handles bear evidence to the half-hearted attempt to deter intruders, but a few minutes’ searching brings Tanim to a side door hanging wide on its rusted hinges.
Inside, dead leaves and syringes crunch beneath his shoes. Tanim peers through broken windows and into darkened rooms, but each is empty and reveals little about its former purpose. No inch of wall remains untouched by graffiti, and as he walks he can’t help but read the most legible of it. “State-assisted suicide” reads one line. “Don’t go down the rabbit hole,” says another. “The dead do not rest here” and “In the basement” seem to have been written by the same hand, as has “The Devil made me do it”. Freshest on the wall, someone has scribbled codes that seem to indicate Bible passages. At the dead end of a twisting hallway, Tanim finds the phrase, “yet I was not alone, for The Angel watches always”.
Despite the creepy aura, nothing remotely eventful happens and Tanim emerges back into the afternoon sunlight unscathed. On the sidewalk, he glances back for a last look at the hospital. All that can be read of its old sign are a few faded letters, but he manages to just make out the name “St. Anthony”. Later, when he imagines how the place must have looked in Daren’s youth, he sees it with the graffiti superimposed on the stark white walls.
It is very much like a ritual – the coins, the candles – and this brings him a sense of peace. He locks the front door. He walks clockwise through each room, starting in the kitchen. With one hand he anoints; with the other he lights the candles.
He arrives last at the bedroom, and upon entering he closes and locks the door. Within, only moonlight gilds his path, yet he would need no light at all to see in this place. He undresses in the dark, folding each article of clothing with care and setting them to one side. Naked, he walks to the right side of the bed and removes two silver coins from the nightstand. These he places gently on the closed eyelids of the man laying on the bed; in the moonlight they shine just enough that he seems to be alive.
Taking up the third coin, Tanim walks around to the left side of the bed. From the nightstand drawer he removes a revolver. He leans over and places a kiss on his companion’s cold lips, then lays down at his side. The coin he places on his own tongue before threading his fingers through Daren’s. With his left hand he raises the gun to his temple. For just a moment he closes his eyes and pretends the body at his side is still warm, the hand in his pulling away with characteristic disdain, and then he pulls the trigger.
Sometime later the first of the candles burns down to its base. As the wick sputters, a single spark lands on the gasoline-soaked carpet. Flames burst into life and follow the trail of fuel through each room, consuming as they go, until finally reaching the bedroom door.
Later, it was said there was a great battle. This was not true. There was only he who, cherishing freedom above all things, refused the chains of subservience. For this he was named anathema and cast out, and he fell like lightning from that high place. Where he struck, the impact warped the land, and around him thrust up a city of glass and steel. Within this sanctuary he nursed his wounds and covered the sky in cloud and darkness, that those above could not look down upon him.
Later, it was said that those who followed the heretic were likewise cast out. This, too, was not true. Only one followed in his burning wake, and this one chose to leave. Forsaking home and kin, he chose love above all else and so gladly leaped from the edge of paradise. Thus, two came to abide in the dark city, one the seeker and one the sought, and over time their own memories of the event faded to queer nightmares and nameless longings. Yet neither ever quite forgot the sensation of falling, or the desires which drove them to repudiate all they knew.
You used to be children; why is this worse? Why at seventeen or eighteen did your pain seem somehow lesser, or at least easier to bear, than at thirty or forty? I suppose the years lend weight, both those that have passed and those yet to come. Maybe at eighteen a brighter future still seemed possible, while at forty it’s clear there isn’t much time left, nor the will or strength to use it wisely. Maybe despite all the shit you took as teenagers, there was always the expectation that you would rise above it, when, seeing the broken men you become, it’s obvious you didn’t. That you never do. Kids have futures, adults have presents. Maybe that’s why it hurts more now; I know how doomed you are.
None of us are children anymore, are we?
There are good moments, I swear, Tanim says, but when he tries to think of specific memories his mind goes blank. It’s not that he’s forgotten the rare smiles or rarer laughter, the precious glimpses of affection and peace; they just feel disconnected from him, like the remains of a story someone else told long ago. Bled of sound and context, blurred and desaturated, what worth is left in them? Oh, so much, truly, for the right person. What the scribe cannot commit to word, she commits to heart. What the scribe cannot tell others, she tells herself in the deep of the night. There are good moments, she can swear it, even if they are only fragments.