I could not care less if my death should be ruled a murder or a suicide. It is merely a question of semantics; at the core they seem identical to me. After all, if I stay, if I let you wrap your lovely hands around my neck in the dark of some night, who is really to blame – you for your action or myself for my inaction? To whom should my death be attributed, and why should I care one way or another when I am gone? The beauty of that final moment is that we are together, conjoined in our shared sin and experiencing its climax as one. Your squeezing hands, my bruising skin, they are really not so different. Here, darling, take the last breath off my lips and keep it as your own. You may call it a trophy or a suicide note, I do not care.
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.
They told him he did not need to identify the body; they could do so through dental records, to save him the pain. He declined, despite vocal protestations. To shirk such responsibility would make him a creature more pathetic and cowardly than even the killers themselves. Perhaps if the method had been different, if the officers had not with averted eyes and stilted words explained the way Daren had died and the state in which his body was found, Tanim might have avoided the morgue. He could imagine a gunshot wound easily enough, or the curved bruise of a noose, but this? No. He needed to witness for himself the slurs carved into his lover’s charred skin – faggot, freak, queer – and hear from the coroner directly that Daren had been alive through it all. It was the very least he could do when he was unable to do anything of value. Living with the inescapable images of the broken, burned body seemed a meager tribute, but it was something.