Pieces of Her
When she loves
She dives in
A gleeful child
Barefoot in summertime
Leaping off the pier
Into the sun-warmed lake
Sometimes love isn't
A lakeside summer
But a blade
Cruel and barbed
Until she can't
Little mouths nurse
On the blood she sheds
Tiny unspoiled souls
As perfect as she
Not yet knowing
But she gives until she's dry
And loves them fiercely
As fiercely as
A mother bear
She is beautiful when she cries
When she thinks no one
Beautiful when she bleeds
When she is torn open
Until she looks
For the first time
That she is as real
As the precious ones
For whom she bleeds
Does she know
The bear that bleeds
As it pulls free
Of the steel jawed trap
Still has claws
That can rend?
She would be beautiful
Destroying the world
Using the claws
She never knew
Who bleeds for her?
She feasts on no one
For the world
Has reached in
Each hand grasping
Each mouth pecking
And to swallow
One of the billions
Have I taken
A piece of you
Your blood is so rich
I will not bleed you dry
There aren't enough pieces
So take of me
With your rending claws
And know that you
Every little piece
He rolls me with a deft flick of his tongue, playful at first, and then he begins to suck in earnest, lips tightly closed, keeping all of my sweet juices that mingle with his saliva. I am trapped tightly between the muscular swell of his tongue and the unyielding roof of his mouth, held, claimed, consumed. With every suck he consumes more of me, and I am a part of him, losing myself, soon to be a mere mouthful of liquid sugar rolling down his throat.
Death Comes to Dinner
I can tell my family is having trouble pretending to be at ease with the boyfriend I brought home for dinner. Although they're not crazy about me being gay, it isn't the fact that Steve is a guy that bothers them. It's the fact that he is, in fact, Death.
My sister won't stop staring. I give her a warning look, but she doesn't notice.
"So, how come you don't look like... yunno...?"
I know what she's thinking. She had expected a skeletal creature in dark robes carrying around a scythe, but Steve looks like any other guy. She's always been preoccupied with crass stereotypes, which is a polite way of saying she's kind of racist. I know Steve isn't easily offended, but I'm piqued on his behalf.
"God, Jenny, how can you be so ignorant?"
Steve smiles patiently. "It's okay. I'm supposed to look like a regular guy. I couldn't get anything done otherwise, you know what I mean?"
Jenny almost smiles. "Like when actresses wear big, floppy hats and giant sunglasses so they can go out shopping without being harassed."
"If it helps."
Steve makes eye contact with me for a moment, and I smirk, knowing he's finding her insipid but doesn't mind playing along to placate my family.
"Would you like some more bread, Steven?" asks my mother, ever the committed hostess.
"Thank you, I'm fine, Mrs. Prendergast. Everything is delicious, by the way."
Mom smiles stiffly. Usually she would say, "Please, call me Gail," but she doesn't want to get too familiar with Death.
Dad gets up to fetch himself a second beer from the fridge.
"So, how do you, like... do it?" Jenny asks.
There are several awkward exchanges of glances around the table before Jenny blushes and bursts into giggles, covering her cheeks with her hands.
"I meant the death thing!" she says shrilly. "Not, like... 'It'."
"Jenny!" I snap. "Don't be rude. He might not want to talk about work at the dinner table."
Steve defuses the tension with another patient smile. "I don't mind too much. I just don't want to put anyone off their meals. I know not everyone feels comfortable talking about these things."
Mom and dad frown but say nothing. Jenny continues to stare, embodying the very definition of morbid fascination.
"It's only a touch," Steve says.
I have to hide how much it excites me when he talks this way. He's so blasé about it, his tone so soft.
"I know instinctively whose time it is to go, and I just have to touch them. Nature takes its course."
"Nature!" dad mutters.
Everyone looks at him. He scoffs and leans back in his chair.
"I don't know how you can do this kind of work in good conscience."
I stuff my mouth with spaghetti, stifling away the instinct to rush to Steve's rescue. He doesn't need me to defend him.
"I understand how you feel, Mr. Prendergast," Steve says, ever the gentleman. "I don't necessarily love what I do. Nonetheless, I perform a necessary function. I do what I am meant to do, and trust me, you do not want to live in a world without death. People who wish they could live forever fail to understand the true implications of eternity."
I reach beneath the table, giving his thigh a comforting squeeze. Steve is the only immortal being I've ever dated, and I know it can be a sensitive subject for him.
"There's no life without death, dad," I chime in. "You know... balance of the universe. Light and darkness. Yin and Yang. Life and death. They need each other in order to exist."
"Sounds like a lot of new age hippie-dippy crap to me. But, what do I know?"
Dad had spoken similarly when I'd first come out of the closet. As if being gay were some modern trend, and I was just trying to be edgy. I reflect his sour look back at him. "It's not 'new age'. It's been a universal truth as long as life has existed!"
"Brandon, don't argue with your father at the dinner table," mom says.
Everyone eats in silence for a few minutes.
"So, if it's touch," my sister continues, as if no time had passed since he'd answered her question, "how do you not kill people if you're like, shaking hands, or... uh... yunno, just... touching? Like, does it ever happen by accident?"
I notice the uncomfortable glance she gives me, and I turn to look at the clock on the wall, needing to focus on anything other than the concept of my little sister thinking of me having sex, or dying, or both.
Steve just smiles in his usual charmingly patient way. "There are no accidents with these things. At the heart of it, I'm merely an instrument, a personification of a natural function of the universe, like the wind, the tides, the phases of the moon. I cannot kill by accident, any more than I can choose to spare someone. While this power seems, in a literal sense, to be in my hands, in a much broader, more figurative sense, it's entirely out of my hands."
Jenny seems to be growing bored with his explanations, but I love the way Steve talks. He's so articulate, and so clever. I'm looking forward to this meal being over so I can drag him away and jump his bones.
"Anyone care for dessert?" mom asks once we've mostly cleaned our plates. "I don't have anything ready, but I could throw together a fruit salad."
"No need to fuss," says Steve, taking my hand beneath the table and squeezing. "I was planning to take this guy out for ice cream tonight."
Dad sighs and leaves the table without further comment. Mom says something vaguely polite and clears the table.
Steve drives us to my favourite ice cream place. We get a nice secluded parking spot behind the building and get a little handsy as we kiss.
"You're a saint to put up with all that," I assure him between deep, slow kisses. "It was like the world's most ignorant game of Twenty Questions."
"Come now," he chuckles, kissing my nose and squeezing my ass. "I've been around a while. I've seen everything. That was nothing."
He's so patient, so mellow. Immortal beings are totally my type.
We hold hands as we walk to the front door of the ice cream place. A guy standing outside smoking mutters something about faggots, and blows smoke at us. I cough. Steve pulls me close to his side in a protective gesture, but he gives the man a tranquil smile.
"Those things will kill you, my friend," Steve remarks, nodding at his cigarette.
My grin as we walk through the door is so wide I can feel my cheeks ache.
Boy and the Beast
Papa had always told him he was a foolish boy, with a head full of feathers. No sense, no direction, not even much meat on him. Marius was the youngest of four brothers, and they had all filled out so proudly, bulking up plenty of muscle and helping out papa on the farm. Marius had been a sickly boy in his younger years, and it seemed he'd always be small and frail-looking, with porcelain skin, pink cheeks, green eyes, and a head of long, wavy golden locks that he was perhaps a little too fond of for a young man. His pleasure was not like that of his brothers. He found no thrill in working, sporting, or admiring the young ladies of the village. Marius took joy in fanciful tales, the sweetness of spring breezes, and the the velvet beauty of blooming roses.
His brothers were merciless, always teasing him for being small, slow, and weak, and for having a girlish appearance. Marius knew he could never fit in with his brothers, though he wished he could at least earn their love. He took solace in daydreaming, exploring, and reading books those rare times he could get his hands on them.
Marius and his brothers had a maiden aunt, a shrewd businesswoman who had a small fortune left to her by a merchant she had once been engaged to marry, but who had been lost at sea. In his memory, the woman continued to wear the ruby ring he had given her, and spent her life travelling extensively, trading in exotic goods and even more exotic tales. Marius and his aunt had a special bond, and he never tired of tales, whether they were of far-off castles, fearsome creatures, or tragic romance.
Every autumn, the aunt visited to bring them stories of her travels as well as gifts. Each year she asked the four young men what sort of gifts they wished of her upon her next visit. They requested exotic and valuable things, which they would thereafter go into town to sell, as what they really wanted was money. They did not tell her this, but she knew their character. Marius, however, was not interested in money, and asked for the true desires of his heart. He asked for lovely flowers from foreign lands, or, if she would be so generous, books. His aunt was wise, and knew all of the ways in which he was different from his brothers. Unlike others, she cherished these differences, praising his delicate appearance and appreciation for all things beautiful.
One year, the aunt came to their little farmhouse, pale and shaken, with none of her usual exotic parcels. When the four brothers and their father asked her what was wrong, she told them a tale of a catastrophe that had befallen her only a day's ride outside the village. In the deep woods, she had been set upon by highwaymen, who had taken her precious parcels and even her horse, leaving her carriage empty and useless upon the path. Searching nearby for assistance, she had come upon a magnificent chateau - at least, a chateau that once had been magnificent, but now was nearly overgrown, neglected, and fallen into disrepair. Hoping she might at least take shelter there, the woman approached and discovered a magnificently tended garden that defied the gloom and chaos around it. Thinking of Marius, she had taken the most beautiful red rose, knowing the lovely boy would appreciate it.
No sooner had the woman cut through the stem than a fearsome shadow had loomed over her. A great, snarling creature, not quite a man, not quite an animal, roared his rage at her, threatening to imprison her for daring to steal what was most precious to him. The woman was in awe, but found voice enough to beg the beast for mercy. She poured out her love for her golden-haired nephew, who was pure of heart and asked for little more out of life than beautiful flowers and stories. Intrigued by her words, the beast had tamed his anger and offered her a bargain. If he could meet this nephew she spoke of, he would release her, allow her to take the rose, and even give her a gift of gold coins to share with her family.
The woman had quickly agreed, The beast, however, knew that if he allowed the woman to leave, she may never return, and there was nothing to hold her to her end of the bargain. He demanded she leave what was most precious to her as collateral. All she could offer was her ruby ring.
Marius wept, embracing his aunt and professing deep gratitude that she had returned to them unharmed after this harrowing encounter. His father expressed skepticism that there could possibly be such a creature, and suspected the woman to be hysterical. The three elder brothers were inspired to find this beast and kill it, to skin it and bring its head and pelt back to the village as a trophy that would earn them fame and respect. Their aunt warned them they would never succeed, as the creature was too large, too fierce. In order to distract them from their aggression, she reached into her cloak to pull out the pouch of gold coins the beast had given her. The men were quelled by the gift.
Marius and his aunt were awake after the others had gone to sleep. He cared little for the gold, as she had suspected, but when she reached into her cloak once more and pulled out the stolen rose, Marius was rendered breathless by the beauty of the delicate bloom. He held it as a treasure in his hands, and brushed the velvet petals against his smooth cheek. His beloved aunt had paid dearly to bring him this precious gift, and he was seized with a passion to return her kindness.
"You must bring me to this chateau," he insisted. "I will meet this beast, and get you your ring back."
"I could not allow such a thing," said his aunt. "One ring is a small price to pay for freedom, and for the safety of my lovely boy. Let us speak no more of this, and soon it will be as if it never happened."
Marius was grieved, and could not rest knowing there was a debt to be settled and his aunt's precious ring was being held for ransom. He longed to set things aright as much as he longed for adventure and exotic tales of his own, and so, before first light, he saddled his mare and departed.
Remembering details of his aunt's tale, Marius knew which road she must have taken. He knew he was being reckless, but could not be dissuaded once he had an idea in his head. He rode all day until he came upon what he was looking for: his aunt's abandoned carriage. From here, he was able to discover where his aunt must have gone on foot. There was a recently trampled side path, almost a deer trail, that his horse was too large to enter. He embraced the animal about the neck and set her free, hoping she would find her way home.
The chateau drew him as if it wanted to be found, looming ahead of him as he pushed past the grasping foliage of the narrow path and into the clearing. He was trembling with exhaustion, hunger, and cold, having planned poorly for his journey. Daylight was quickly waning, and an icy chill of premature winter pierced his inadequate traveling clothes. Although afraid of what lay ahead, he staggered toward the chateau and toward his adventure.
The front door was not barred. Marius pushed it open and entered a great hall, dimly lit by a fire in a nearby hearth.
"Hello?" he called out, his voice timid and thin.
Ahead of him was a grand marble staircase stretching up to a landing hidden in shadows. Marius heard a distant click-click-click, as of a large dog's claws on a stone floor. A dark shape appeared near the top of the stairs, leaning over the railing to see him. Marius found his breath frozen in his chest.
The shadowy thing moved swiftly, leaping over the railing rather than descending the stairs, and landed heavily on four broad paws. Weakened from his journey as well as startled, Marius fell backward onto the unyielding floor and remained there prone, weakly gasping.
The beast sidled closer, gradually illuminated in the firelight as he approached. Marius was convinced at first that it was a bear, but he could soon make out a pair of horns, as of a bull. The shape of the face as it came into view was something like a lion's, and shining beneath a heavy brow were two wide, golden eyes.
The beast's jaws parted, revealing a set of long, sharp teeth before he spoke, in a low, rumbling voice: "You are the boy who was promised to come."
"You are not a boy, but a young man," the creature continued, creeping closer on his heavy paws, almost standing over Marius now. He lowered his furry head, and his nose twitched.
"Y-yes master," Marius stammered.
The beast snorted, taking a step back. "Do not call me master, for you are now mine, and I your servant."
Marius watched in wonderment as the creature prostrated himself, pressing his shaggy chin against the floor next to the boy's feet. "I... I don't understand," he exhaled, nearly breathless as he attempted to push himself up. "I've only come to help my aunt fulfil her bargain, so that I can return her ruby ring to her."
The beast pressed himself even more tightly against the floor, almost cowering, though his nose continued to twitch curiously. "I will honour the deal, young master, but not yet. You are tired from your journey, and your belly growls with hunger. You will eat well tonight, warm yourself at the fire, and sleep in comfort."
Disoriented and weak, Marius stumbled in his attempt to stand. The beast lunged forward, pressing his snout against the boy's middle to prop him up. Marius found himself leaning over the great furry head, clutching a pair of horns for balance. He inhaled deeply. The creature smelled of roses, of freshly turned soil, and of something dark and bestial. Marius was keenly aware of the twitching nose buried in his clothing, and the long, sharp teeth very near his soft belly.
"Thank you," Marius whispered uncertainly, finding his feet so that he could release the beast's horns and step back. Now that he had touched the creature, he knew he was not imagining it. "Is it terribly rude of me to ask who, and what you are?"
"I am cursed," said the beast, "and that is all you need know at this time. You are still weak, master, and need sustenance. Climb upon my back, and I shall carry you to the dining room."
Marius trembled as he placed a hand on the back of the crouching beast. The fur was soft, and beneath was warmth and hard muscle. He carefully mounted the beast as if mounting a horse. The creature moved with surprising grace and care, avoiding jarring the boy as he bore him away, across the shadowy hall and through an arched doorway into a series of dark corridors. Marius could not see where he was going, but the beast was surefooted and unhesitating. There was something lionine about the beast; perhaps he had a cat's eyes and could see by night. Or, perhaps he had simply walked these corridors a thousand times before.
Subtle changes in the air pressure and wisps of moonlight filtering through the occasional window indicated to Marius that they were passing through rooms large and small, but it was a smaller chamber that the beast brought him to, just the right size for two to enjoy an intimate meal. The room was illuminated by several softly flickering lamps, and the table was already lavishly set.
The beast lounged like a loyal dog near Marius' feet as he sat at the table, his stomach groaning with need. He lifted the domed cover off of the plate in front of him, and a cloud of steam was released, accompanied by a mouthwatering aroma. The plate was piled with tenderly cooked meat and vegetables, and Marius did not stop to wonder who had cooked the meal, or whether its presence suggested his arrival had been anticipated. He picked up a fork and ate ravenously. Between bites, he gulped from a silver goblet next to the plate that was filled with spiced wine. Marius had never had such a meal. He ate until his belly ached, and he felt ready to hibernate for the winter.
The beast once more carried the boy upon his back, this time up the stairs to a large bedchamber with a sumptuous canopy bed. Glowing red coals in the nearby hearth kept the room warm. Marius could no longer keep his eyes open, and was barely aware of being rolled onto the bed and covered with plush blankets and furs.
He dreamed of the chateau. He was wandering the labyrinthine corridors, searching for something he wasn't sure of. A voice called out to him from some distance away:
He followed the sound, quickening his steps. The voice continued to call his name, a deep voice, yet weakened with what sounded like distress.
"Where are you?"
Marius began to run, knowing there was a man somewhere in this chateau who needed help. He turned so many corners, passed through so many rooms, that he was certain he was lost forever.
Ahead of him was a dead end, and a set of tall double doors. He approached, and turned one of the gilded handles, heaving the massive door open to reveal a palatial bedroom, the walls hung with portraits and tapestries. The monstrous canopy bed, hung with heavy velvet curtains, seemed half the size of the house Marius had grown up in. He felt very small in this room, but he knew that whatever he was doing was important. Someone was in that bed.
The voice was a whisper now.
Marius drew aside one of the heavy velvet curtains. A man of about thirty, with deep brown hair, warm hazel eyes, and a neatly trimmed beard was lying on the bed draped in heavy blankets. His bare arms were stretched over his head, and each wrist was shackled to one of the massive oak bedposts.
"Who are you?" Marius wondered.
The man smiled wistfully. "I was once a prince, but now I am only a prisoner. Come closer, my lovely boy."
Transfixed, Marius crawled up onto the bed to sit next to the imprisoned prince. "How very sad. Can I set you free, and let you be a prince again?"
"It may be too late for me," the man sighed. "If you could set me free, I would be forever grateful. But I am not sure you can." He tugged on the thick chains that held him in place.
Marius leaned in to inspect the heavy iron links, and the shackles that seemed permanently affixed to the poor man's wrists. He felt great pity for the unfortunate prince, and his heart was grieved. "Please, might I do anything to help you?"
"Only stay with me a while, lovely Marius, and you will be helping a great deal."
The boy stayed at his side, gazing down at him. The imprisoned man was just like a handsome prince from a story. Marius's eyes followed the muscular arms to the bare shoulders, realizing that he wore no shirt.
"Be a sweet boy for me," the prince said in a soft, coaxing voice, "and take down the blankets down a little. It's very warm."
Marius reached out and slid the covers down, baring his broad, hairy chest.
"Do you like me, Marius? Do I please you?"
Marius could not form words, but he met the prince's gaze, feeling that his excitement must be obvious.
"Keep going," the man whispered.
Marius drew the covers down further, exposing his navel. A light trail of fur pointed the way downward.
The vision broke before he could get much further, and Marius awoke feeling breathless, shivery, and hot all over. He squirmed beneath the blankets and furs, indulging in a luxurious, full-body stretch.
Unaccustomed to privacy, luxury, and quiet, Marius lingered abed as long as he dared. Eventually, outside his door, he heard a steady click-click-click, recognizing it as the sound of the beast's claws on the stone floor. The creature was pacing back and forth outside his room, impatient perhaps, but polite.
Marius crawled out of the big bed, tried to straighten his rumpled clothing, and used his fingers to comb his long hair into a semblance of order before opening the bedroom door and peering out.
The beast paused his pacing and perked up his ears. "Master... did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thank you," Marius replied.
"Come," the beast invited, turning to lead the way down the corridor. The boy curiously followed along, glancing at each door they passed and wondering if there was a prince imprisoned within.
Marius found himself in a beautiful room with an ornately tiled floor, the centrepiece of which was a huge wooden tub lined with beaten copper. It was filled invitingly with steaming water.
"Please, refresh yourself," said the beast. "You had a hard journey yesterday. There are clean clothes in your room, and you are welcome to them once you've bathed. Then, you may join me for breakfast."
Marius hesitated before responding, concerned about the possible consequences of refusing the creature. Although the beast had been gracious and hospitable thus far, Marius had not forgotten the threats of imprisonment that had so frightened his aunt.
"It looks lovely," he ventured, "and you've been more than kind. But shouldn't I be leaving before it gets too late? I'll have to walk all the way. My family will be worried, and I'm sure my aunt misses her ring."
The beast dropped his head, somewhat in the manner of a guilty pup. He slunk over to a tall, arched window. "Look."
Marius joined him at the window and looked out. The grounds and forest beyond were blanketed in soft and deadly white, which was still floating thickly down from the heavens. His heart dropped. He had failed to anticipate this. If it didn't let up soon, he could be trapped here for months, with his family not knowing where he was.
"Oh no," Marius exhaled. His breath fogged up the glass and obscured his view.
"My apologies, master."
"Winter isn't your fault."
They stared at the blizzard in silence for a minute or two before Marius felt the beast's nose nudge his shoulder.
"The bath is hot, master, and should comfort you."
Marius nodded. His throat felt constricted, and he said nothing as he approached the tub. The water was fragrant with what smelled like rose oil. The beast nudged a chair toward the tub, stacked with plush towels, a washcloth, and a luxurious robe, and then left him alone.
He shed his clothing and climbed into the roomy tub. The bath was relaxing, the fragrance soothing him, and the warmth reaching all the way to his bones. He scrubbed himself all over and washed his hair, which felt very nice. Nonetheless, there were soon tears coursing down his cheeks. He soaked in the tub until the water was no longer hot, quietly sobbing all the while.
When he heard the distinctive sound of the beast's approach, he tried to wipe his face and calm himself.
"Master? Do you need anything?"
Marius turned to see him peeking around the door. "No," he forced out. His voice cracked, betraying his emotion.
The beast stepped in, creeping closer to him. Marius watched those golden eyes fixate on him, watching for signals perhaps, anticipating his objection. The boy said nothing, and made no move. The furry creature reached the tub and sat down.
"Don't call me that! I am no one's master. I am simply, Marius."
"Marius, then. I see that you are sad. I do not want you to feel like a prisoner here. I would like you to consider this place a home, and I would like to make it pleasant for you. I understand I am... not the sort of company anyone would wish for."
Marius sighed and closed his eyes, leaning back against the edge of the tub. "It's not that. I just feel awfully foolish."
"Well, isn't it quite apparent I'm not very bright? I came all this way on my own without thinking it through. I told no one, and took nothing with me. I could have gotten lost, or caught in a snowstorm. Papa says my head is full of feathers. I suppose he's right."
The tears began to flow again, and Marius covered his face in shame. Soon he felt the beast's snout nudge at him. His hands fell, and a warm tongue lapped at the salt of his tears. It painted his cheeks and neck until he squirmed and was no longer crying.
"You are adventurous," the beast said next to the boy's ear in his low, rumbling voice. "Feathers are soft and pleasant. Feathers also enable a bird to fly. If you are full of feathers, then you are full of magic."
Marius opened his eyes, regarding the beast with astonishment. No one had ever said anything so lovely to him, save perhaps for his aunt. "You are nothing like I expected."
The beast averted his gaze, his ears dropping. "I suppose you would not have received a very positive report of me. I... regret my behaviour. I have been alone a very long time, with only my garden for company, and consumed by bitterness. I should have welcomed a visitor, and instead I growled and made threats."
Marius tentatively stroked the beast's shaggy mane. "I know what it's like to feel alone. Even among my brothers, I always felt that way. They laugh at me, and call me names. They think I'm girly, and useless. I get lost inside my own head."
The beast pressed, catlike, against his hand. "Sometimes, Marius, imagination is all we have."
He gave the boy privacy for finishing his bath and drying off, and soon Marius was wrapped in the soft robe and back in the guest bedroom, combing through many handsome garments fit for a nobleman. His tears quite forgotten, he dressed himself in a blue and silver brocade waistcoat with matching jacket and breeches, and the shiniest leather shoes he had ever seen. He finished by tying his hair back with a blue velvet ribbon, and giggled at his reflection in a full-length gilded mirror.
"Sir Marius," he declared, giving himself a stately bow, and giggled once more before stepping out, his heels clacking on the stone floor and making him feel very important.
The beast was waiting for him in the corridor, and lowered himself to the floor when he saw the finely dressed boy. "You wear it well, Marius. I am honoured to host such a noble guest."
Marius blushed and was helpless to hold back another giggle. He spun around, and then bowed. "The honour is mine, noble beast."
Breakfast was as rich and satisfying as last night's dinner had been, and while Marius was now clear-headed enough to wonder where the food was coming from, he refrained from asking. He knew instinctively he was likely to get a vague and elusive answer, or perhaps there were some mysteries he did not yet want the answers to.
Marius spoke more about his brothers, his father, his childhood, and the dreams and fancies that sustained him, yet earned him the scorn of his family and peers. When he spoke of his adoration for books and stories, the beast seemed excited and immediately proceeded to lead him on a journey through the chateau. Noticing that the boy occasionally had to run to keep pace with him, he stopped and crouched. Accepting the tacit invitation, Marius climbed aboard.
His laughter echoed through the otherwise barren halls as he rode, clinging to the beast's furry scruff. The creature moved not at all like a horse, and Marius was fascinated by the muscular movement of the warm body beneath him.
At last, the beast slowed and padded through a tall, arched doorway. Brilliant light reflected off of the snow outside and filtered through the large windows, illuminating a sprawling library. Comfortable-looking leather chairs, small tables, and a couple of desks filled most of the floor space, and shelves of leatherbound volumes with gilt lettering stretched from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling.
"Ohhh...!" Marius moaned, overwhelmed and breathless. He dismounted and tiptoed up to the nearest shelf, reaching out with hesitant fingertips as if the books might pop out of existence like soap bubbles. Soon he was running his hands over the smooth, cool spines and pulling out book after book, examining titles and contents, sighing at the flood of words and the sweet, organic fragrances of aged paper and leather. He hugged a small stack of volumes to his chest and looked to the beast, finding his image blurred and refracted through a film of tears.
"You have no idea how I've dreamed of a place like this," he whispered shakily.
"Then it must be yours," said the beast, sitting like a proud lion before the boy. "Every book belongs to you, Marius. Take, read, and have your fill."
Marius laughed with joy, nearly sobbing, and continued his eager exploration of the shelves, making himself at home. "I've never been so thrilled in all my life! Have you read them all?"
"I have not," the beast responded in a low, almost growling tone. "I cannot."
The tone of the reply was so grim that Marius turned around with concern. The beast had raised one large paw and was staring down at it morosely. Marius felt foolish for not realizing the challenges the beast must face.
"Then you must choose the first book I will read to you," Marius declared.
The day melted into a dream. The beast stretched out in front of the hearth like a living rug, and Marius leaned against him, reading aloud from books of mythology and folktales.
Later in the evening, Marius spent a long time combing out the beast's fur as they spent hour upon hour in deep conversation, discussing what they had read as well as what was ahead of them, the topic wandering from folklore to history to science, philosophy, and numerous other subjects.
"Beast, am I dreaming?" Marius exclaimed. "Never have I had someone to speak with about so many wonderful things!"
"Not even the aunt you so love?"
"Oh, she is very nice to talk to, but rarely does she have the time for reading or for thinking about things beyond traveling and business. She had seen more of the world than a boy like me could ever hope, but I suspect there is more of the world here on these shelves than she will ever see."
"And your brothers, they are not interested in stories, I suppose?"
Marius scoffed. "They are only interested in scheming how to get money, or mooning over pretty girls. One grows tired of such talk."
Two golden eyes examined him closely. "You don't want money, or pretty girls?"
Marius stopped combing for a few moments and sighed. "I know that makes me a peculiar boy."
"Hmmm," the beast grumbled. "Well, there's no one else peculiar around here, is there?"
Meeting the creature's dancing eyes, Marius realized the beast had made a joke. It was so unexpected and so delightful that Marius collapsed against his furry side, shaking with laughter. The beast nuzzled him with boisterous affection.
"And what does young Marius want, if not money?"
"Books, of course!" Marius giggled.
"And instead of girls, what then?" the beast went on. "Boys?"
Marius quieted, and his cheeks felt very warm as he recalled his dream of the prince chained to the bed, and how he'd felt when he'd woken.
"You needn't be embarrassed, master."
"I'm not!" Marius exclaimed, and quickly lowered his tone. "That is... embarrassed about what? I don't understand."
"You needn't pretend either. Not here. Not with me. This is a safe place for you, away from a world that wants us to be something other than what we are."
In silence, Marius contemplated the meaning of this as the beast announced it was time to retire, and they left the library, making their way back through the labyrinthine halls.
After changing into a clean, soft linen nightgown, Marius let his hair down and crawled into bed. His mind was awash with everything that had happened in the last two days, which seemed like a much longer time. Home and family were distant memories.
As he lay in the oversized bed trying to fall asleep, he wondered if he'd dream of the prince again. The anticipation worked against him, and he could not lie still.
Marius lit a bedside lamp and found a pair of soft slippers for his bare feet. He padded out into the corridor and set off on a solo exploration. It felt so like last night's dream that he wondered if he was asleep even now. He tried to bring to mind the set of double doors the prince had been behind, wondering if the room he had discovered really existed.
He was cold in only a nightgown, and felt foolish for not thinking ahead and putting on a robe. He considered going back before he got lost or caught a chill, but when he turned the next corner, he was facing a set of double doors.
Breathless, he hurried forward, grabbing hold of one of the door handles and pushing inside.
There was a dim, reddish light from the coals slumbering in the hearth, and Marius could just make out the presence of a massive bed, and a shape upon it. The scent heavy in the room was dark and sweet, as well as familiar, and the boy was certain at once that he had stumbled upon the beast's chamber.
To make sure, he tiptoed close to the bedside, unable to free himself of the image of the imprisoned prince.
The beast raised his head, and Marius could see the twin glints of his leonine eyes in the darkness. The silhouette of him grew, and the boy felt a hot breath against his bare neck.
"Master," rumbled the impossibly deep voice, "have you come to me?"
Marius was choked for the space of a few deep breaths, as he felt the beast inhale against his neck and exhale hard, blowing his fine hair about.
"Only by chance," he stammered. "I lost my way."
The beast drew back, and another silence settled between them. At length, the beast pushed himself up, stretched, and hopped down from the bed.
Marius humbly followed as the beast led the way back to his guest room.
"Are you cross?" he could not resist asking. "I've intruded, and I do apologize."
The beast paused and glanced back at him. "No, master. There is no need. You could not possibly intrude."
Marius nonetheless felt as if something had changed between them, and he was unsure if he felt more concerned or intrigued.
"Why do you continue to call me 'master'?" he wondered. "You are not my servant nor my dog."
"Do you not find me to be like a dog?"
"No. You may have fur and paws, but you have a voice, and a magnificent mind, and a kind heart. You are not an animal."
The beast said nothing immediately, and they had soon arrived at the guest room.
"The reason I call you 'master'," he said as Marius slid beneath the warm covers, "is that I wish you would consider this chateau your home, and me your servant. It is more than I deserve. You say I am no dog, but I have been in years past. I have been lower than a dog. Your graciousness toward me is a treasure far beyond gold or jewels."
The boy reached for him, entwining both slender arms around the thick, shaggy neck. "Only call me Marius. I will be no one's master."
Marius heard and felt the deep sigh he heaved in response, and after a long pause, the beast whispered, "Stay. Stay with me, and be mine."
Marius' grip loosened, and he drew back, wide-eyed. A great many thoughts and emotions swarmed through him at once, and in the end, all he could say was, "How...? How could I?"
The beast lowered his head and slunk back toward the doorway. "Of course. Forgive me."
Left alone, Marius once more lay awake a long time. It was well into the night before he nodded off.
He was wandering the corridors again, looking for the prince. Though he heard no call, this time he felt more certain of the way, and before long he had pushed inside the bedroom to find the handsome prisoner slumbering, softly lit by warm dawn light filtering through diaphanous golden curtains. Marius crawled up onto the bed. He was naked, and knew the prisoner was also, though beneath the covers.
"My prince," he whispered, caressing the bearded cheek. "Why didn't you call for me?"
Sorrowful hazel eyes opened to meet his. "I dared not hope you would come to me, whether or not I demanded it."
"Why speak so? I'm here, and have been longing to return to your side."
"Sweet Marius." The prince's expression warmed. "You melt my weary heart. Let me see you, beautiful boy."
Marius rose up onto his knees, letting the man gaze upon him. "Do you like me?"
"Very much." He pulled at the chains that bound him. "I would give anything just to have freedom enough to put my arms around you."
"I have two arms free. May I?"
The prince smiled a very handsome smile. "Please do. Would you like to slip beneath the blankets with me?"
Marius burrowed beneath the covers. His bare body pressed against the prince's, and both sighed as he embraced the man.
"Marius," came a soft whisper, "I would very much like to kiss you."
The boy raised his head. "Truly? You wouldn't rather kiss a girl?"
The prince chuckled. "No. Would you?"
"No," Marius giggled nervously. "But it... it just isn't done! It isn't... allowed."
"I assure you, it is indeed done. Behind closed doors, people do a great many things that just aren't done. It's only you and me here, Marius. Who will tell us what isn't allowed?"
Marius swallowed, and drew closer. His lips were a breath away from the prince's, and he knew they would taste so sweet.
He awoke in mingled disappointment and excitement, every inch of him abuzz. It took him some time to catch his breath and feel ready to stand.
The day passed much as the previous one had, as did the day after that, and the day after. He continued reading to the beast, cuddling close to him, sometimes combing his fur. Most evenings, the beast asked him to stay, to be his. Marius was inevitably intrigued yet nervous, and was politely elusive. Every night, he dreamed of the prince, and grew ever more infatuated.
One day, the beast was quieter and more downcast than usual. He suggested Marius put on warm clothing so that they could go walking the rose garden.
Wrapped in a thick cloak, and with a knee-high pair of leather boots on, Marius followed after the beast as he went ahead, digging a path through the deep snow. The garden was unrecognizable, buried as it was, but Marius was astonished when the beast used his huge paws to clear some of the snow, and beneath were brilliant red roses, still living despite the chill.
"Books and roses," the beast mused. He pulled one magnificent bloom free with his jaws, and dropped it into Marius' hand, along with a second, smaller object. "I recall every day how your aunt spoke of you, of your pure heart, and the way you always asked for books or roses when she offered gifts. I have given you all I could, and you have given me more than you know, Marius. You must go."
Marius stood stunned as the snow swirled around him. He looked down at his hands. He was holding the most beautiful rose he had ever seen, and his aunt's ruby ring. He had almost forgotten his purpose in coming here. "Are we saying goodbye?" he stammered. "Here, and now?"
"I cannot in good conscience keep you any longer. I have done you wrong, and I cannot even ask for forgiveness. I have loved you, sweet boy, but I have failed in showing it, as I always do."
Tears rolled down the boy's cheeks. "I don't understand," he stammered. "What wrong have you done? You have only ever been good to me."
The beast's shaggy head hung low to the ground. "Come."
Marius followed him along a barely discernible path, away from the chateau. He was beginning to shiver, despite the warm clothing. Did the beast truly expect him to go home in such conditions? He sobbed and wiped his sleeve across his face, clearing away the tears that felt like they were freezing to his cheeks.
The beast stopped, and looked back at him. "You must go on alone from here."
Marius stood next to him, weeping helplessly. "How can I?"
"You must keep walking, master."
"I won't survive!"
"You will. You will see. You will understand."
Marius sniffled. "I don't want to leave you."
The beast stood still as the boy embraced him, clinging to his thick neck. He allowed Marius to hold him as long as he wished, and when the boy let go, he said nothing, but only gave his back a gentle nudge.
Marius wiped his face again and drew the cloak tightly around himself. He looked back once at the beast, wounded, and then pressed onward. The snow was nearly up to his thighs. He fought his way forward, feeling hopeless, abandoned, and lost.
The snow ended so suddenly that Marius cried out and took a tumble, landing on a mossy path lined with crisp autumn leaves. Gasping, he rolled over and looked back the way he had come. All he could see was autumn. There was no snow, no chateau, and no beast. Even the air had grown significantly warmer.
"It wasn't real," he whispered after a minute or two of attempting to gather the scattered fragments of his overwhelmed mind. Had none of it been real?
Marius stood and hurried back the way he had come.
The snow and cold hit him like a wall, and once more he cried out in shock.
"Beast!" he screamed, unable to even take two steps through the snow. "Beast!"
He didn't think the beast would come, but soon Marius saw a dark shape approach.
"You made it snow!" Marius exclaimed. "You made it snow, so that I would stay."
"You understand now."
Tears continued to roll down the boy's cheeks. He cried for the beast now, for the force of loneliness that would drive him to do such a thing. "I forgive you."
The beast growled and turned his face away. "You must not! I do not deserve it!"
"Nonetheless, it is given. Come away with me. We'll be friends. I'll take care of you!"
"Don't you want to be with me?"
"More than anything. But I am tied to this place. If I cross that barrier, the chateau is no more. Everything will be gone. Every room, every tapestry, the clothes, the unseen servants, the roses, and the books."
Marius was silent. He felt a terrible ache in his chest.
"Go now, Marius."
There was nothing more to be said. Marius turned to leave, once more transitioning from bitter winter to mild autumn. The cold, however, remained in his heart as he trudged in the direction of home.
With no mount, the journey was long, and he had to pass a miserable night curled up next to a hay bale in a farmer's field. At first light, he resumed walking, and it was into the following afternoon before he found home again.
His father and brothers received him with astonishment and fierce rebuke. They exclaimed over his foolishness, and wondered where he had gotten such ancient-looking clothes. Marius decided he did not want to tell them a thing about his adventure, knowing they would either refuse to believe a word of it, or, as they had done after their aunt's tale, threaten to find the beast and kill it.
To Marius' relief, his aunt was still staying with them, having thought it best to settle there for the winter, particularly as she had hoped for Marius' return. Marius greeted her with an embrace, and placed her ring in her hand.
"Marius!" she gasped. "How could you take such a risk?"
"I suppose I needed an adventure."
She looked him over as she brought him a bowl of soup. "You certainly have found one. However did you escape the creature?"
Marius hungrily devoured the meal. "He made me leave," he said between bites. "He's not quite what he appeared, you know. He was kind, and took good care of me. We were... friends."
"Friends!" the woman exclaimed. "Marius, surely you are not as foolish as your brothers seem to believe."
"Perhaps I am," Marius shot back irritably. "I had a beautiful time there, and I wish I could go back. He is a dear creature, and I have forgiven him every wrong."
They talked until nightfall, and by the time Marius was ready to sleep, he felt disenchanted and sorry he had returned. His aunt encouraged him to come away with her in the spring, to travel with her and learn a merchant's trade. He promised he would consider it, but he knew it wouldn't happen. Another time, he might have loved nothing better than the opportunity to embark upon world travel with his dear aunt, but after what he had experienced, he knew it couldn't satisfy. He wasn't sure anything could. He carried a heavy burden of guilt for leaving the beast all alone, though he had insisted.
What could be done? Could anything be done?
He lay awake with the beast's rose in his hand, stroking his smooth cheek with the velvet petals.
He dreamed that night of the chateau, in a sense. It was a castle made of ice, and he could scarcely walk through the rooms and corridors as it was all melting away. Would the chains melt too? Would the prince be freed, or would he be drowned?
"Where are you?" he cried out. "Call my name, and let me come to you!"
There was only silence. Now there seemed to be spatters of blood beneath his feet, but he realized they were rose petals, trampled into the ice. Marius began to weep.
It was not yet dawn when he awoke from this nightmare. Knowledge had come to him spontaneously, and of all of the times he had felt foolish for failing to think of something that ought to have been obvious, this moment was the worst. Marius cursed himself for leaving the chateau, and for not understanding who the prince was.
This time, when he left, he determined to think ahead. He packed everything he owned, though it wasn't much, and a fair amount of food and other provisions, strapping his hastily packed bags to his mare.
There was still daylight left when he arrived at the small but now familiar path, next to which his aunt's old cart still lay dormant. Marius strapped his mare to it and gave the old girl a few treats for her hard work.
"I hope I won't be long," he told her, and then dashed down the path, swatting aside branches and ferns as he went.
Marius was still wearing the warm clothes and cloak he'd gotten from the chateau, though when the blizzard hit him like a wall of ice, they provided little protection. The snow had grown even worse, and Marius had to fight for every step.
He had intended to head straight for the chateau, but the visibility was down to almost nothing, and he veered off course, ending up in the garden instead. Perhaps some part of him had come here deliberately, because this was where he found the beast, by now only a mound of snow with a few tufts of brown fur showing. Scattered all around him were rose petals that looked like blood in the snow. All of the roses had been shredded.
Marius threw himself upon the shape and began brushing away the snow with numbed, nearly useless hands.
"I'm here!" he called over the howl of the wind. "I've come to you! Do not leave me, my prince."
At last, he could feel a little warmth beneath the snow, and was hopeful the beast had not perished. He plunged his hands deep into the thick fur until he had sensation again, and continued to clear away snow. At last he found a horn, and an ear beneath it.
"I've come to you," he said next to the ear, both arms clutching at the warm, furry body. "I will not stay, but I will be yours if you come away. Let me set you free, my prince. Let us leave this place, together. I will not go without you."
Marius feared the beast was dead after all, but at last, he felt movement, and a warm breath. The great, furry head rose to face him.
"You cannot mean that... foolish boy."
Marius sobbed and pressed his face against the beast's cheek. "I do mean it. I may be a fool, but I would rather be your fool than anyone else's."
"You would leave your home, your family? You would leave even the chateau, the roses, and the books?"
"There will be other roses," Marius insisted, his fists closing tightly around the beast's fur. "There will be other stories. Everything else meant little to me. There is only one of you, and the way I feel when I am with you is the only thing I refuse to sacrifice. Though it may make me the world's greatest fool, I do love you."
The beast rolled onto his back, and Marius found himself sprawled across a warm, furry belly, with two massive paws holding him tightly. If this were the form his prince must take, he supposed he could live with it.
"I cannot leave this place," the beast said, at length, the rumble of his voice vibrating through every inch of the boy atop him. "Sweet Marius... with you next to me, I feel free. But you must know, when I told you everything would disappear should I cross the barrier, I neglected to include that I, too, would disappear."
Marius sobbed into his fur and held him with all four limbs. "Then let me stay!"
The beast said nothing, and continued to hold him in a protective embrace. The roaring wind calmed, and the snow stopped falling. It was now so quiet that Marius could hear the thumping of the beast's heart.
"Let me stay," he reiterated in a whisper.
The beast rolled to one side and let him go. "Climb on my back."
Marius climbed up, and held tightly to his neck. "If I am to stay, I should set my horse free, and bring my things. I left them nearby."
The beast took them away from the chateau, and back toward the barrier. When he stopped, Marius slid down, looking for his golden eyes beneath the disheveled fur. He stroked the soft muzzle. "You will let me stay... won't you?"
"Marius... I will not allow you to imprison yourself for my sake."
"But this isn't a prison to me!" the boy cried. "And it's for my sake as much as yours. Don't you see that I love you and want to be yours? It's what you wanted!"
"It was selfish and wrong of me to ask such a thing of you."
"You cannot make me go," Marius charged onward, now haughty. "I'll only keep coming back."
"Then there is only one thing that can be done. I am sorry, my lovely boy."
The beast took a step back, and then, with a powerful kick of his rear paws, leaped at the barrier.
"No!" Marius screamed.
The word remained trapped in his throat as he hit the ground hard enough to nearly knock the wind from him. He lay sprawled in a drift of autumn leaves, with ferns and bare branches all around him, and not a trace of snow. Marius knew it was all gone now, because even the clothes had left along with the snow. He was sitting naked in the forest, softly weeping.
He gasped, and quieted. Turning toward the voice, Marius brushed aside a curtain of ferns and found a familiar pair of hazel eyes. The hair was in disarray, and the beard far from tidy, but otherwise it was the prince from his dream, just as naked, and no longer in chains.
They both crawled forward at once, grabbing for one another and embracing as they fought for breath. The prince was the first to let go, pulling back only to place both hands, hands he had sorely missed, upon Marius' smooth cheeks. His eyes streamed with tears.
"I never dared to hope... that this could happen," he gasped, and was overcome, sobbing as he let his head fall upon Marius' shoulder.
"Shh," Marius soothed, stroking his hair and back. "It's all going to be fine now. I'm here."
"They told me if I left, I would perish. All this time, all these years... I could have simply walked away!" His body trembled with anguish. "What worse torture could there be? Oh Marius... if you have ever thought yourself a fool, you are not so, not compared to me."
Marius comforted and rocked him. "But perhaps you could not have walked away, after all. Perhaps you needed a handsome boy to fall in love with you to break the curse."
The prince raised his head, took in the boy's smile, and grinned through his tears. "Oh, I should much prefer to believe that." He combed his fingers through Marius' long, golden hair, reacquainting himself with sensations long absent.
Lost in bliss, Marius yielded to his touch. He thought about asking the prince what had caused him to be so cruelly imprisoned, but decided it could wait. They had the rest of their lives for stories.
"Will you come now?" Marius whispered. "I have a horse, and supplies. Even clothes. We seem to both need them."
They looked down at one another, and helplessly laughed.
"You are anything but foolish, my lovely boy," the prince said, standing and extending a hand to him.
Marius stood, and continued to hold onto both of his hands as they stared at one another. "I still don't know your name."
The prince's cheeks darkened. "Ah... of course. I am Alain."
"Alain," Marius sighed.
Alain grinned. "It's beautiful beyond description to hear my name from your lips."
"Alain... I should very much like to kiss you."
Alain's smile widened, his eyes glinting with amusement. "Oh, is that allowed?"
Marius laughed, and it felt wonderful to do so. He shifted closer, until their bodies were nearly touching. "Who is here to tell us it isn't?"
Alain's lips were as soft and as sweet as Marius had dreamed, and he loved the tickle of the prince's beard on his chin, and the light fur against his chest.
"Now," Marius declared, "let's go have an adventure."
Sea Child: A Boy’s Fable
Hector was just eight years old when he first encountered the boy with the silver tail. He'd been playing with some of the other boys in the water, an aquatic variation of blind man's buff, and had drifted out further than he'd intended. The waves seemed to taunt him, giving him a small nudge back toward the shore, and then a much stronger pull into deeper waters. He wasn't a strong swimmer yet, and when his toes could no longer reach the sand, he had begun to panic. The cold water drained the strength from his little body and the air from his lungs. He could not cry out, but only managed to gulp in a deep breath before a wave surged over his head, and he immediately lost track of which way was up.
A small, cold hand had closed around his wrist. Hector could not open his eyes underwater. At first he thought one of the other boys was helping him back to the surface, but when he remained beneath the water and felt himself being pulled along at a pace unbelievable for a young boy, even a Boy Scout who had earned all his badges for swimming, he became certain he was going to die. Some creature of the deep was dragging him down, down to the inky depths where beasts with sharp teeth and bulbous, glowing eyes lurked. His lungs were screaming for air, and he only by a small margin managed to avoid sucking in any deadly brine.
What seemed like half an eternity later, but could not have been much more than a minute as he was still holding his breath, Hector felt two cold hands push at the small of his back, and he burst to the water's surface, gasping, wheezing, and almost immediately collapsed into tears. He found himself clinging to a large, smooth, slightly slimy rock, and he let his upper body settle upon it, feeling that this rock was the finest thing he'd ever touched. Once he was certain he was, in fact, alive, and his breathing had become less frantic, he raised his head to examine his surroundings.
Hector did not recognize where he was at first. He was not so very far from shore, but he could no longer see his friends. He found that the rock he was holding onto was at the edge of a large cluster, almost an island. Gradually, the arrangement of rocks became familiar. His shivery sobs paused when he discovered that this spot was where the sea lions usually sunned themselves. Often he'd observed them from the shore, and tried to venture closer to get a good look at the funny whiskered creatures, but they always dove into the water and disappeared before he could get within a stone's throw of them. Of course, he would never throw a stone at a living creature, but beasts of the sea always knew to be wary of those land dwellers that walked on two legs.
He pulled himself out of the water and sat his bottom down on the rock. He remembered belatedly that someone had dragged him here, and he frantically glanced about to find them.
"Hello?" he called out, his voice weak and hoarse.
He was alone. His vivid imagination suggested to him that perhaps one of the sea lions, wanting to make peace with him, had saved him from drowning. He peered down into the water, and there, just beneath the surface, about three feet beyond the reach of his toes, was an indistinct figure. His mouth dropped open in shock at the possibility that his helpful sea lion fantasy might actually be true. However, the figure in the water was much paler than any sea lion he'd ever seen. He leaned forward, trying to get a closer look. The thing drew back, and then, little by little, inched closer. Hector maneuvered himself onto his belly, and reached a trembling hand into the water, softly beckoning.
He waited. Several slow breaths passed, and a small, cold hand touched his. A hand, not a flipper. A hand much whiter than his, and with thin webbing between the fingers, but otherwise similar in form.
The figure became more distinct, and a milky pale head broke the surface of the rhythmically rocking water. At first it looked to Hector like some sort of large anemone, but as it rose up further, he realized the strange living tendrils were something like hair. A child was staring back at him, a sea-child with large eyes, inky black in the center and shining silver around the rims. The nose was small, something in the middle between humanoid and amphibian. When the sea-child parted its lips, it sucked in a breath so suddenly that Hector nearly cried out in surprise. They both tensed, equally startled. Hector was still holding onto its icy cold hand.
His, he corrected himself. He was sure, somehow, that it was a boy.
"Are you real?" he whispered. A foolish question. Hector could see him, feel him, had been saved by him.
The sea-boy's head cocked to one side, not understanding his language but perhaps responding to his tone. His small, shell-like ears twitched. Abruptly he turned, freeing his hand from Hector's and diving beneath the surface. Hector watched the hairlike tendrils spread and fan out beneath the water like hundreds of tiny sea pens. He was reminded of the time he'd observed a group of larval salamanders in a stream while on a Boy Scout campout. They had similar tendrils, all around their heads, and someone had told him that those were their gills.
Moments later, the boy popped up to the surface again, this time closer to Hector. Hector smiled shyly. The pale boy looked back at him with a sort of amazement and smiled back as he breathed in a strange, halting pant. He drifted right up close to Hector, and white fingers plucked curiously at the heavy, wet fabric of his swimsuit. Hector, still lying on his front, watched over his shoulder as the creature's attention drifted down his legs to his feet, staring at them with an astonished expression. Those cold little fingers stroked the sole of one foot and grasped at his toes. Hector giggled. The sea-boy turned to grin at him, displaying rows of sharp little teeth, and rolled playfully onto his back. Up came a proud silver tail, where his feet ought to have been. It shone in the sunlight, flicking around cascades of crystal droplets, and Hector's mouth formed into a little "o".
"You're a...!" he gasped.
The creature flashed him an impish expression and swam even closer, his hands bracing upon the rock next to Hector as if he intended to pull himself up and sit beside the human boy. Before he could do so, his ears twitched and his features shifted all at once to startlement. He jerked his head to one side, looked in the direction of the shore with those wide, dark, silver-rimmed eyes, and then flipped himself over and dove, disappearing into the sea with one last flick of his gleaming tail.
"No!" Hector burst out, in anguish that this singular encounter should end so soon. He scrambled up onto his knees, searching for his new friend, but it was as if the boy with the silver tail had never been there at all.
When he heard his name being called in the distance, Hector looked to the shore to see distant figures approaching, and realized why the creature had had to flee.
Mother had wept with relief as she cradled him close, all the way back to their rented cabin, trailed by his father, sister, and a swarm of concerned friends. She swore several times that she'd never take her eyes off of him again. Hector was dismayed to hear such news, knowing instinctively that if he couldn't be alone in the water, he wouldn't see the boy with the tail again.
He hadn't intended to tell anyone what actually happened, but that night as he lay unable to sleep in the room he shared with his older sister during these seashore holidays, he could feel the story rising in him. Peggy might be the only person who would believe him. Although she ought to have been too old to have faith in such things, she'd been preoccupied with mermaids ever since mother had read her the Hans Christian Andersen tale years ago.
"Are you awake?" he whispered.
"Can I tell you a secret?"
In the moonlight, he saw her sit up in bed. Her enigmatic little brother rarely told her secrets, and to her it was an irresistible privilege. "Yes!"
"When I almost drowned today... it was a mermaid saved me." His heart thumped hard against his thin chest. "A real, actual mermaid."
Peggy took several moments to reply. "Are you teasing me?"
"No. For real. Cross my heart."
With a little gasp, Peggy threw back her covers and darted across the small space between their narrow beds to climb in with her brother. Hector was a serious little boy who never crossed his heart carelessly. "Was she beautiful? Did she have long, beautiful hair?"
"No... it was a boy mermaid."
"Oh." The girl considered this for a minute, and then added, matter-of-factly, "Merman then, not mermaid. Don't you know 'maid' means 'lady'?"
They lay in silence for several minutes, weaving fairy tales in the privacy of their own imaginations.
"Don't tell anyone, Peggy," he whispered before either of them could fall asleep. "Not even mama. No one, ever. They'd think we're foolish."
"Our secret?" she whispered back, and he could hear the smile in her voice. "Just for us?"
"Just us. Do you promise?"
"I promise, Hec. I promise forever and ever."
* * * * *
Hector dreamed of the boy with the silver tail over and over. Mother was true to her word and kept him close, and he had no opportunity to search out his new friend. His heart hung heavy in his chest when they had to pack up and drive home. He felt as if leaving the seashore would break the spell forever, and going back to his normal life would mean he'd have to accept that he'd imagined the whole thing.
Nonetheless, Hector clung to his memory of the sea-boy. Peggy asked him about it now and then, but eventually her interest in mermaids moved on to boys, while he remained preoccupied with silver tails and everything to do with the ocean. He was a child of the sea now, and worked on his swimming skills at every opportunity. He even secreted away Peggy's neglected copy of "Andersen's Fairy Tales", and read the mermaid story over and over by lamplight while the rest of the household slept. Often he wept over it, finding that the tale brought him an aching, yet irresistible sadness. He had begun to experience a near destructive longing for the sea, feeling a kinship with the mermaid who had sacrificed everything for a chance at life on land.
The family only had the budget for a seaside holiday every few years, and some of Hector's obsession had dulled by the time they returned. At a distinguished eleven, he was ready to leave behind most childish fancies, but his memory of the sea-boy lingered, and as soon as he was near the ocean again, his longing rushed back. Mother and father stayed close when he went in the water, not seeming to care that he was a much stronger swimmer now. They would not let him out of their line of sight. Even if they had, Hector held little hope he'd see the creature his mind was now suggesting to him had been a daydream. Still, he was drawn with longing to the cold depths, and to the rocks way out where the sea lions basked, where he was under no circumstances allowed to go.
By thirteen, he'd accepted that there had never been any sea-boy with a silver tail. He continued to pore over Andersen's mermaid tale in private, finding that it still drew him in. He felt like he belonged in that story somehow, though he could not yet make sense of the instinct. That summer at the seaside he spent little time in the water, but mainly explored the fascinating ecosystem of the tidal flats, or brooded upon the ocean from shore with a book in his lap as he watched the boys he used to play with show off for girls.
Back at school, things were strange. Hector felt he was late to bloom, and that he was missing something important when the other boys talked endlessly of pretty girls. Hector was more interested in the swim team. He enjoyed the water, as well as the camaraderie. The water seemed the only place he wasn't the odd man out.
He still thought often of his strange childhood hallucination. When he called to mind the details, Hector wondered at the fact that he had not been afraid of the appearance of a semi-humanoid creature with a fishtail, milky skin, and small, sharp teeth. He'd not been a brave child, and didn't even like to sleep with the lights out. He didn't like spiders, mice, or snakes. He had liked the sea-boy very much.
Sometimes he still carried around the volume of Andersen tales, carefully tucked between schoolbooks in his backpack, a sort of talisman that made him feel less alone. He managed to keep it from everyone until his mid-teens, when an older, more athletic boy had bumped into him in the hallway while he'd been at his locker. His open bag tumbled to the floor, and the Andersen book leaped free as if it had a life of its own.
"What's that?" the larger boy guffawed, seizing it and showing it to his equally large friends. "You keep dirty pictures in here, candy ass?"
Hector bristled as the boy flipped through the pages. The miscreant had no right to touch his sacred book. "Give it back!" he demanded.
The older boy was still laughing as he found there was nothing in the book but what its cover suggested: "Fairy tales for a fairy!" he jeered as his friends laughed with him, and a small crowd grew.
All the breath left Hector's lungs. For a brief time, it was like the sensation of drowning. He went very red.
"Look at his face!" sputtered the boy still molesting his book. "He's not even denying it! Fairy boy, fairy boy! You want your baby book back, fairy?"
Hector took his mathematics textbook in hand and swung it with such force and speed that he surprised himself most of all. The bully went to the nurse with a bloody nose, and Hector had earned detention for the first time in his life. The only thing that mattered to him then was that he got his book back.
He'd demonstrated well enough that he could defend himself physically if necessary, but Hector was by no means immune from teasing, insults, and rejection. The other students didn't seem to care nearly as much about the fairy tales as they did about him being a "fairy". Of course they had nothing to go on to demonstrate that he was indeed what they accused him of, but that was never the point. Names stuck, and an opportunity to make sport of an outsider made them feel more confident in themselves. He had already been an outsider for as long as he could remember, and had accepted that even if it grieved him at times. What he regretted most now that he had a label was that the boys on the swim team, the one small group he felt he belonged to, had begun to shut him out. They didn't want a "fairy" looking at them in the showers before and after practice. Ironically, they spent a great deal of time looking at him, looking for signs. It made him feel especially self-conscious. In turn, they noted his silent discomfort and took it, as had the bully who'd taken his book, as a tacit confirmation.
Hector wasn't one to fuss, but to withdraw. He withdrew further and further until he barely felt he existed. He went to school to do his work, and kept out of everyone's way. He swam as much as he could. He worked at the Woolworth's after school a few days a week, stocking shelves for pocket money that mostly just collected up in a shoebox. He tried to offer it to his mother and father to help toward a trip to the seashore while things were lean, but they refused it, encouraging him to save up for a car, or to take out a nice girl. He didn't want a car, or a nice girl—he wanted the sea.
Another summer passed without the holiday he longed for. To fill those desolate months, Hector worked as many shifts at the Woolworth's as they would give him. After his shifts, he often lingered at the luncheonette, sipping a Coca-Cola, or a malted milk when he felt indulgent, as he read book after book.
Halfway through the summer, Hector was particularly missing the ocean and decided to drown his sorrows with a chocolate shake. He watched the boy behind the counter mix the beverage. Recently, he'd often paused to notice the boy who doled out ice cream sodas and sundaes. His nametag read, "TOMMY". Tommy was handsome and blonde, with the wholesome, all-American good looks of a youth straight out of a soda advertisement. The gleaming marble counter was usually lined with girls in braids and ponytails, swinging their feet as they sipped drinks or nursed sundaes and attempted to catch his eye. Tommy indulged them often, leaning over the counter to meet their gazes, sometimes winking, making gently flirtatious remarks that spurred choruses of female giggles, and plenty of nickels were left for him.
What Hector admired about Tommy had nothing to do with the reasons girls mooned over him. It was the way he acted so coolly, no matter what the situation. He could tell Tommy only flirted for the tips, and the moment the girls got up from their stools he was completely disinterested. He didn't leer after them like so many boys did. Even when some customer got angry and made a fuss, Tommy was patient and courteous. He seemed to rise above everything.
Although, it was true he wasn't unpleasant to look at.
Hector was distracted watching him scoop ice cream when something wet and very cold struck the back of his neck, and slithered down into his shirt. Hector let out a high-pitched yelp. His back arched involuntarily, trying to shrink away from the shock of the ice against his flesh, and his elbow bumped his glass. It toppled, spilling most of its contents across the counter, and then rolled off the edge before Hector could recover himself enough to catch it. It smashed on the red-and-white checkered floor, flooding melted ice cream and scattering glass shards across the clean tiles. He stared down at the mess, paralyzed.
The raucous laughter of several teenage boys filled the silence that followed the shattering of glass.
"Nice going, spaz!" jeered a familiar voice. "Aren't fairies supposed to be graceful?"
Hector continued staring at the floor, waiting for the laughter to end. He didn't have to look up to know who had thrown the ice cube at him, and who was continuing to make "fairy" comments.
"That's enough!" a commanding voice spoke up, causing Hector to lift his head. "You boys are out of here!"
Tommy was emerging from behind the counter, confronting the bullies. Hector had never heard him speak so forcefully, and he was rapt. There was some resistance from the troublesome boys, but soon they were heading for the exit, muttering curses behind them.
It was only when Tommy bent down to pick up the larger pieces of glass that Hector was spurred into action. He grabbed a handful of napkins in an attempt to help mop up some of the mess.
"I'm so sorry," he exhaled. "I'm so very sorry. I can't believe I was so clumsy. Whatever the glass cost, I'll pay for it."
"Forget it," Tommy replied, glancing up to make eye contact with him. "You know none of that was your fault, don't you?"
Hector's mouth worked, trying to form an answer, but he could come up with nothing. "Um, let me help you at least," he stammered, maneuvering himself so that he could dismount his stool without stepping in any of the mess.
"No, no," Tommy said quickly, holding up a hand, palm facing him. "Please, don't get up. I've got it. I don't want you stepping on any glass."
Feeling very small and very raw, Hector obeyed, allowing Tommy to mop up all around him. He was used to sweeping up around the five and dime, and it felt wrong not to help, even if he was off duty. He didn't know what to do with himself, so he tried to read his book, but it might as well have been in a foreign language.
He didn't realize how much time had passed, but Tommy soon startled him by sliding over a fresh chocolate shake from across his accustomed side of the counter. Atop the crown of whipped cream, a trio of glossy red cherries winked at him, rather than the usual one. He looked up, and Tommy immediately averted his eyes, as if embarrassed. Hector pulled a quarter out of his pocket and slid it over to the other boy, but Tommy shook his head and pushed it back.
"It wasn't your fault," he reiterated. "You're not paying for two shakes."
Hector wrung his hands, staring at the coin lying on the freshly wiped marble. "Thank you," he whispered.
It was the best shake he'd ever had, but he couldn't bring himself to look up anymore, nervous now of meeting Tommy's eyes. When he was finished and ready to go home, Hector pulled a nickel from his pocket to leave as a tip. The quarter was still lying there, gleaming beneath the lights. His hand hovered over it for a few moments, and then pulled back. A thirty-cent tip was exorbitant, he knew. It was more than the cost of his shake. But Tommy had earned it, and what else was Hector going to do with his money? He forced himself to look up. His heart pounded against his ribs, and throbbed in his ears and the tips of his fingers. Tommy had his back turned as he polished glasses. Not wanting to be noticed, Hector grabbed his book and retreated. He glanced back once, just before slipping through the door, and glimpsed the two coins still lying there. Tommy was taking off his apron, at the end of his shift.
What if he didn't get the thirty cents? What if someone else noticed?
Hector fled the store in embarrassment, wishing more than ever that he were invisible... or better yet, at the seashore.
He stopped, his insides clenching up. When he turned back to see who was jogging up the sidewalk to catch up with him, he experienced a brief moment of confusion. He didn't immediately recognize the older boy without his apron and little white hat.
"I think you left this."
Hector looked down as Tommy held out his hand, a quarter resting on his upturned palm.
"Um," Hector stammered, "yes. I know I did. It's yours."
Tommy looked uncertain, almost vulnerable. He even looked younger. In the Woolworth's, with his apron on, he'd seemed so in charge, but now that he was out here, dressed like a regular fellow, Hector realized that he was simply a person, perhaps with some of the same insecurities and uncertainties as himself.
"It's too much," Tommy insisted, trying to press the quarter into his hand.
"No," protested Hector, retreating. He was smiling sheepishly now, his cheeks aflame. "I... I think it's not enough. I've never had such, um... impeccable service at a lunch counter."
Tommy reflected back his smile and dropped his gaze, closing his fist around the coin. "I didn't do much. But thanks." He shifted his weight from foot to foot. His blue eyes flicked up, now with a puckish glint dancing in them. "I guess I could always sneak it back into your pocket when you're not paying attention."
Hector grinned and turned even redder when the other boy's hand darted in the direction of his pants pocket, brushing against his hip as he squirmed playfully away.
"So... can I walk with you?" Tommy asked.
Unsure why he was asking but not objecting to the company in this case, Hector nodded. He turned to resume his usual route home, this time with a companion. He didn't know what to say, so he remained silent until Tommy spoke up again:
"You're the shy type, aren't you? Quiet. Probably smart. Reading a lot."
"I guess." He shrugged. "I like books more than people."
Tommy smiled at him, though there was sadness in it. "I suppose I'm not surprised, considering how people seem to treat you."
Hector looked down at the sidewalk and said nothing.
"Is it true?" Tommy's voice was almost a whisper.
"That... the thing they said about you."
Hector went all hot and cold. "Why? Why are you asking me that?"
When no answer was forthcoming, Hector felt an ache of despair well in the pit of his stomach. Probably Tommy would assume as everyone else did that it was true, just because he hadn't immediately denied it. People were so frustrating. He craved the ocean more than ever, wanting to lose himself in the soothing rhythm of the waves, the salt spray, the darkness of the cold, fathomless depths.
"You want to go to the park?"
Hector balked. "The park...? Why?"
"Please. Please just go with me."
He went. Uncertain of everything, he wandered along winding green paths at Tommy's side. Neither spoke, and Hector's nervousness grew. He was beginning to think this could be a trick, and Tommy, despite all appearances, might be in cahoots with the bullies. They were going down quieter, more heavily wooded trails now, and Hector imagined that they'd be waiting for him around the next bend, waiting to pound him.
Tommy took him by the wrist, and he stiffened. There was a secondary trail veering off to one side, a barely-there beaten track that could easily be missed by most passersby. Tommy was attempting to pull him down this trail.
"Let me go," Hector gasped, yanking his arm away from the other boy, and dropping his book in the process. His hands shook when he tried to bend down to grab it, and he dropped it twice more. Despite the humiliation it caused him, he began to cry.
"Hey," Tommy said with aching tenderness, leaning down to pick up his book for him. "Hey... please don't. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. Please, Hector... look at me. Can't you see I don't mean you any harm?"
Hector blinked several times to clear his vision. He ventured a look up at Tommy as the taller boy held out his book. Hector took it cautiously. Tommy truly did look about as benign as a boy could. "Why are you doing this?" he whispered. "Why are we here?"
"Because... because... I just wanted to be somewhere with you. Away from everyone. Away from those chumps."
Hector reached up to knuckle away his tears, still at a loss to understand. "But why?"
Tommy sighed, and glanced up and down the path. Quickly he took Hector's hand, and leaned in, placing a gentle kiss near the corner of his mouth that lingered a few moments before he straightened, flushed and breathing heavily.
Hector stood frozen. The place where he'd been kissed still tickled. A shiver passed through him, traveling all the way to his toes. "Oh," he whispered.
"I've been wanting to do that," Tommy said. His voice was trembling. "You're... different. And I like you. And I guess I thought... I hoped you might...."
"...Be a fairy?"
Tommy dropped his eyes. "Please don't say it that way."
"I'm sorry," Hector whispered. "There just... aren't any nice words for it, are there?"
Frowning, Tommy shrugged. "There are a lot of not-nice words for it. But it's really called 'homosexual'. My uncle told me he read a book about it. My folks don't let me talk to him anymore... but I don't believe he's a bad person. And neither am I. And neither are you."
"Well," Hector mused, "whatever you call it... I don't know what I am. I'm just... lost."
"Let me help you," Tommy breathed, venturing closer, almost close enough to kiss him again. "I'm lost too. I just know when I'm with a girl, it's... like pretending. But this, it feels real. It feels right. Let's be found, together."
Hector squeezed his hand. This time, he allowed himself to be led down the narrow path. When he saw where it led, he felt a sense of calm wash over him. There was a tiny lake ahead of them, one he'd never known existed.
"Oh, this is wonderful!" he gasped. "Water is my favorite thing in the world."
Tommy looked back at him, grinning. "Yeah? There are lots of turtles living here, and frogs, and sometimes I see a great blue heron. I'm all about the wildlife."
They settled on the mossy bank, and Hector allowed Tommy to continue holding his hand as they watched the turtles swim. He kicked off his shoes and dangled his feet in the water, relishing the refreshing cold. If he couldn't be at the seashore, this wasn't too bad a substitute, and having someone next to him, liking him, was an unanticipated pleasure. Tommy leaned over and kissed his cheek. Hector turned his head, smiling, and then Tommy's lips were covering his. Hector rarely gave much thought to what it might be like to kiss someone, but the way it felt was unexpected. It was like being underwater, floating, wrapped in warm silence. Within moments, he was slaking a thirst he hadn't known existed in him. Wrapping both arms around Tommy, he sucked at his mouth as the other boy sucked at his.
The snap of a twig echoing across the smooth water tore them apart, panting. They scanned the landscape for signs they were being watched, and saw no one. It might have been only an animal, but now Hector felt a sharp dig of fear in his guts, and was keenly aware that this reaction had to mean they were doing something wrong.
"We shouldn't," he whispered, still staring out across the lake.
"Because... because it just... it isn't done!"
Tommy took his hand again. "Be that as it may, we did it. The world hasn't ended, has it?"
"I need to go home!" He freed his hand and snatched up his book before leaping up to return to the little path they'd taken to get here.
Halfway back to the main trail, ferns swishing around his calves, Hector slowed to a stop and turned to face the other boy. There were tears in Tommy's eyes, almost spilling over, and he felt a throb of guilt. His throat burned, and he could feel a hot pulse in his swollen lips. He felt he could neither stay nor go without tearing himself apart.
He made a snap decision and lunged toward Tommy, pulling him into a tight embrace. They clutched each other like two drowning creatures, each huffing hot breaths into the other's ear.
"Are you afraid you'll go to hell for kissing me?" Tommy whispered.
"No. I don't think I believe in hell."
"Are you afraid people will hate you, or say terrible things about you?"
"No. They already call me names and think I'm strange."
"Are you afraid of going to jail?"
"No. I hadn't even given that a moment's thought."
Tommy pulled back from the embrace just enough to meet his eyes. "What then? That's everything I'm afraid of. What's the worst that could happen?"
"I'm... I'm just... afraid," Hector breathed, scrunching the fabric of Tommy's shirt in his fists. "It's my family, maybe. I don't feel very close to them, but... they're good people, and they don't deserve to be humiliated."
An unsteady smile twitched at Tommy's lips. "I knew as soon as I first saw you that you had a kind heart."
Hector rested his head on the other boy's shoulder. He didn't feel like a kind person, but the validation was soothing. "Walk me home?" he whispered.
Tommy walked him home, and did so nearly every day they shared a shift that summer. Hector told his parents Tommy was his best friend, and they were delighted enough that he had one to give the two boys their space, assuming that behind closed doors, the only thing going on was talking about girls.
Tommy's defiance of his own fears emboldened Hector to set aside his own, and they bonded over their shared secret. Finding opportunities to be alone a few times each week for the remainder of the summer, they made the most of their shared privacy, falling in love with the reckless abandon that is the sole domain of youth. Having had little use for most of the world since childhood, Hector had no problem shutting it out in favor of each chance to enjoy Tommy feasting on him in a flurry of lips, eager hands, bared flesh, and tangled limbs, punctuated with impassioned whispers of dedication and plans to increase their closeness while protecting their secret.
The prospect of school starting up again was unpleasant enough to avoid until it was only days away. Hector was starting his final year of high school, and Tommy would be attending college. Both kept part-time positions at the five and dime, but they soon found that their schedules rarely overlapped.
As their occasions for alone time dwindled down to once a week, and then even further to only a couple of times per month, Hector began to feel he was going into hibernation. It was reminiscent of when he was craving the ocean, and had to wait yet another summer to return to where he belonged. He went through his days as if in a dream, barely there, doing only what was necessary, his existence fuelled solely by the promise of regaining who and what he loved.
With graduation on the horizon, Hector put up an appearance of being responsible and thinking of his future. He told his parents he had been applying to colleges, and even that he had been accepted to one, when in reality his only plan for the future was Tommy and the sea, which in his mind now existed together in some hypothetical endless summer holiday. Heedless of reality, he poured all of himself into this goal, and as soon as he had confirmation that their traditional holiday at the seashore would finally be happening, he asked for permission to invite Tommy along. An opportunity to take Tommy to his favorite place in the world, to explore the beaches and tidal pools and swim in the ocean together, was everything Hector wanted out of life, and nothing on either side of that imagined perfection seemed to matter.
Peggy was to be married in May, and Hector thought he would be grateful to her for life. She was marrying a young man who came from money, which meant his parents were covering enough of the wedding costs to leave them with a budget for a summer holiday, and moreover, her excitement at being a wife meant she didn't have the time for, or interest in, holidays with her parents and brother anymore. There was, therefore, a vacancy, and permission was granted for Hector to ask his best friend to accompany them. He could scarcely contain his elation while he waited for a chance to tell Tommy. Fate seemed to be giving him a rare nod.
The chance came three weeks later, after a rare shared evening shift at Woolworth's. Hector rushed to finish cleaning up in time to catch Tommy before he could leave the luncheonette. To his surprise, Tommy's nametag now read simply, "TOM".
They walked together in the direction of the park without needing to discuss it.
"Why did you get a different nametag?" Hector couldn't resist asking.
"Well, we're getting older now," Tommy replied matter-of-factly, straightening his shoulders. "I don't think I can be taken seriously in the business world as 'Tommy'. It's going to be 'Tom' or 'Thomas' from now on."
Hector considered this for a minute. "Can I still call you Tommy?"
Tommy turned to smirk at him as they ventured down a wooded path. "Well, you know, when it's just you and me alone, I'm okay with a lot of things."
Hector smiled weakly. He wasn't exactly sure if that was an affirmative. Would he actually have to call him "Tom" from now on, if they were around other people? He felt disproportionately disappointed at the thought. Perhaps he just didn't want to acknowledge that they were becoming men. Or at least that "Tom" was a man. Hector still felt very much a boy, and he wasn't especially inclined to enter some new plane of existence wherein he'd have to begin caring about how he was perceived.
"I have news," he said, deciding to set the name issue aside for now. His hand tingled with the desire to take hold of Tommy's, but he couldn't. Not until they could be certain they were alone, which would usually be by the little hidden lake they'd come to think of as theirs.
"So do I," Tommy replied, his tone hushed.
They had a perfect spot at the lakeside, semi-sheltered, where they had passed many an hour in each other's arms. As soon as they had reclined on the soft grass, words shifted into second place as they fell into their usual habits. When they were lip to lip, with warm hands sliding eagerly beneath each other's clothes, there was room for little else in their minds.
Later, glowing with warmth and connection, the pair straightened their clothes and made room for other matters. Hector decided he wanted to leave his news for last.
"So what did you want to tell me?" he whispered, leaning on Tommy's shoulder.
It was nearly a minute before the equally hushed reply came: "I've been... seeing a girl."
Hector straightened, turning to gape at him. "What? You what?"
Tommy raised his hands in a defensive gesture. "Now, I don't want you to overreact, or misunderstand. Hear me out, okay?"
The warmth of their intimacy was leaving Hector in a hurry, to be replaced with a grim chill that reached down into his innards with icy fingers. "I'm listening," he exhaled, though he could already feel the pricking of angry tears around his eyes.
"You must have noticed how things are changing," Tommy went on in the tone of one delivering a lecture. "Two boys can get away with plenty in secret, but we're not boys anymore. At least, I'm not. We need to think about the future. People are going to start raising eyebrows at two men spending all their time together, and showing no interest in women. Surely you understand what I'm getting at."
Hector stared at him, uncomprehending. No words came to him, and the longer he stared, the more uncomfortable Tommy looked.
"We're not going to be able to get away with this much longer," he continued, determined but not sounding quite as confident. "I've been trying to... you know... blend in. And you should think about doing the same."
Hector took a deep breath, held it for a few moments, and exhaled shakily. "You have a girlfriend?" he asked in a weak, hoarse voice.
Tommy chewed on his lower lip while considering his response. "Sort of. Well... yes. She's a nice girl. She doesn't demand a lot of me, and she's... trusting."
"Trusting," Hector echoed, pressing a fist against the welling ache in his stomach. "You mean... she'll believe you when you lie to her."
Sighing, Tommy avoided his eyes. "It's not exactly my fault. The world expects a man to want a wife. Either I lie, or I'm a miserable outcast. Besides, don't talk as if you don't do plenty of lying yourself. It's not fair to get all judgemental with me when you lie to your parents constantly."
"That's different!" Hector exclaimed.
"How is it different? You love them, don't you?"
"Yes, but they... they're parents!" Hector huffed. "Parents and children always keep things from each other, and eventually you have completely separate lives! Those lies don't really hurt anyone. But if you start a serious relationship with some innocent girl... and God forbid, get married, have babies even...?"
"I still don't see what the big difference is," Tommy grumbled.
Hector covered his eyes with clenched fists. It was tying knots in his guts that Tommy wasn't even denying he might get married and have children. "Making a family... a whole family... based on lies? You really don't see why that's monstrous? Would you be a husband and a father, and have your little house with a little fence and a dog and little children running around calling you 'daddy', and it would all just be pretend to you?"
Tommy cautiously placed a hand on his back. "I didn't realize you'd be so upset, Hec. Though I've always known you have a tender heart. You're sweet to worry about hurting people. But they wouldn't have to be hurt, don't you see that? They wouldn't have to know anything was different from any other family. And it's not like I'd be incapable of loving them."
"Her?" Hector rasped. "You'd love her? Do you love her? Love both of us at once?"
"You're the one I love," Tommy assured him. "I could love her too, but just... in a different way."
Hector could barely breathe now. When he finally lowered his hands, they were shaking. "Do you actually want to be married? Make babies? Do you want that?"
"Well... sure. But it's not as if I could do that with you. What choice do I have?"
The tears started to flow now. Tommy tried to pull him close, but he squirmed away. "There could be lots of choices!" he exclaimed hotly, smearing his tears with the back of his wrist. "But you didn't even ask. You didn't even discuss it with me. How was I to know it would ever be this way? How could I know you were going to have a family? Do you really expect me to do that? To deceive some poor girl, and pretend I want her, and close my eyes and think of you while I put babies in her that I never wanted? Just so people won't think bad things about us? This is horrid, Tommy! It's a nightmare, and I want no part of it!"
Tommy sighed. He slowly got up, and wandered away a few steps, facing the water. "It was all for you, Hec. For us. I thought you could understand."
"It's not for me," Hector retorted. "It's because you're a coward, and because you think you can eat your cake and have it. If it were for me, you would have asked me what I wanted."
Tommy brushed his hair back in frustration, leaving it sticking up in all directions. He whirled to face Hector. "God, you're still such a child! I know what you want, Hec. You want to just be in love and be together and leave the world behind. We can't leave it behind! We live in it, and it's going to tear us apart if we don't learn to play along!"
"And you suddenly think you're a man just because you've been to college for a few months!" Hector shot back. "You don't know everything, and you don't have the right to make decisions for both of us. Ever since school began, things have changed. I hardly see you, and when I do, I never can tell what sort of person you are because we hardly even talk. And now you're not even Tommy anymore because it's not manly enough, and... and... we're losing everything. I'm losing you. Everything. Tommy...."
As his increasingly panicked words fragmented into sobs, Tommy returned to his side and pulled him into a tight embrace. "I'm sorry, Hec," he whispered, kissing the top of his head. "I'm sorry things turned out this way. I'm sorry the world is against us. I'm sorry if I wasn't as open with you as I should have been. I guess we both didn't want to have to acknowledge reality. Just... please don't throw away what little we have because it's not ideal. You could have a family, and maybe you'd even like it. We could go through it together. And we'd still tell people we're best friends... and whenever we can be alone...."
Hector shook his head slowly. "No," he squeaked out, and sniffled. "I don't want to trap some girl into a fake family. I don't want to be the one you're thinking of when you're sleeping with someone else. I don't want just the scraps left over after you've cared for your real family. I don't want to be the perverse secret that would tear that family apart if we were caught. You have to choose."
"Really?" Tommy exhaled, struggling between comforting him and increasing temptation toward exasperation. "Is that honestly what you expect of me? Give up everything, just to sneak around with you? Never have a normal life, because you're too immature to handle sharing?"
Hector pulled away from him. He picked up a pinecone as he stood, and flung it into the water, watching the resulting concentric ripples across the otherwise glassy surface. "Is that what you'd tell your wife if she found out, and her heart was broken?" he asked, whisking away a few more tears with his wrist. "She's too immature to handle sharing? Is it always someone else's problem when you hurt someone?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think it means?" Hector cried, turning to face him, arms tightly crossed. "You've been with someone else, and you won't even admit you've done anything wrong."
Tommy furrowed his brow. "So you're saying... I cheated on you? This is what's really bothering you?"
"That... and other things."
Tommy's mouth tensed into a tight little line for a few moments, and when he spoke up, his voice was strained: "When did we ever define what this was? When did we ever make promises?"
The words were salt in his already smarting wounds. "You said you loved me."
"I do, Hector. But does 'love' mean some sort of bondage to you? Does 'love' mean I have to be with only you, forever, regardless of the fact that it could get us both into a lot of trouble? Ostracized from society, at minimum? When I tell you I love you, it's because I enjoy being with you. It was never some sort of... proposal... or volunteering to put my entire future at risk for your sake."
Hector swallowed hard against the searing lump in his throat. "I wasn't expecting you to surrender your soul to me. I just want to be with you. I want more of you, not less. I thought we both wanted the same thing."
Tommy raised his hands in a helpless gesture. "This is just another example of why you need to grow up, Hector. Listen to me! We do want the same thing. But there's so much more to life than what we want."
"I know there is!" Hector hollered, losing his temper now, though there were still tears streaming down his flushed cheeks. He kicked at the ground, sending a clod of grass and dirt flying. "Stop accusing me of childishness! You're the one who wants to have it all, not me. You admitted you want to get married and have kids—"
"I never said that!" Tommy snapped.
"Yes you did! I asked you if you wanted a family, and you said yes! But you also want to keep me on the side. I'm ready to give up everything else life has to offer if I can just have you... but you're not willing to give up anything. You have to take risks and make sacrifices if you really want something in life. You have no sense of commitment! Instead you're folding to other people's expectations because things might get risky or difficult if you even try for what your heart wants. Maybe you're the one who needs to grow up!"
"You don't understand!" Tommy growled, slamming a clenched fist into his opposite palm. "I said I wanted everything with you, but I'm settling for what I can get. How can you ask more of me? You think I'm not making sacrifices?"
Hector scowled. "Gee whiz, I'm sorry you have to sleep with girls when you're not with me. You must really be suffering."
"Damn, you Hector!"
"Damn you right back... Tom!"
They stared at each other in silence, both hurt, angry, and fearful.
"I guess we don't really want the same thing after all," Tommy mumbled.
Hector's chin trembled. He took a hesitant step forward, and when Tommy melted and held out his arms, he ran to him. They squeezed each other so tightly that neither could breathe for a several moments. When they loosened their grip on each other and met eyes, Hector realized that he wasn't the only one crying. He held his breath, waiting for Tommy to assure him that it would be okay, that they'd figure things out, together.
Instead, Tommy took his hand, and pressed a small, flat object into it. When he looked down, Hector saw that it was a quarter. He knew Tommy had kept the quarter from their first encounter, and carried it with him most days. It had become a symbol to both of them, and Hector understood the meaning of it being returned to him this way.
"It's yours," Tommy whispered, and sniffed. "I'm sorry, Hec. It was always doomed from the start, wasn't it?"
Hector said nothing, and closed his fist around the coin. The tears that had been streaming a minute ago dried on his cheeks. He didn't move when Tommy took a step back, and shortly thereafter, left without another word.
Hector sat at the water's edge until it was starting to get dark. He'd expected to cry like he'd never cried before, but instead nothing happened. As soon as that quarter had been placed in his hand, his emotions seemed to have turned off as if a switch had been flipped. He searched inside himself, trying to find a feeling, but there was nothing there anymore. Just cold.
But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.
* * * * *
School passed without any fanfare. Hector had already quit his job at the Woolworth's, not wishing to lay eyes on Tommy again. He didn't feel he had any use for the money anyway—nearly everything he'd earned remained stuffed in a shoebox.
He felt an unshakeable sense of finality as he packed for his holiday. Beneath all of his preparations was an assumption he would not be back here again. Before leaving, he dropped the quarter Tommy had returned to him into his shoebox full of money, and wrote "For Tom & his future wife" on the lid. The box remained next to his pillow.
"I'm sorry your friend couldn't come," Hector's mother remarked after far too long a silence had settled over their drive to the seashore.
"Yes, well," Hector murmured, staring out the window, "he's been quite busy with his job, and his classes, and his girlfriend."
"Oh, is she a nice girl?"
"He says so. I never met her."
Another silence ensued, and when Hector looked up, he caught his father's gaze in the rearview mirror. The man quickly returned his eyes to the road ahead, and cleared his throat.
"Hector," he said in an authoritative yet hesitant tone, "we've been concerned about you."
"Well... always so quiet. Can't say boo to a goose, it seems. So much on your own, except when you were with that friend of yours, that you spoke so little of."
Hector looked out the window again. "Is there something wrong with being quiet?"
"There could be," his mother ventured, "if it causes your loved ones to worry. We don't know what you might be thinking, or feeling, or really what you're up to most of the time."
"So I must be up to no good?"
"That's not the point, sweetheart. We just want you to know you can talk to us. You seem... unhappy."
"There's more," his father cut in.
Hector glanced at his parents in time to notice a brief, silent argument between them. Dad seemed to win.
"Hector... you haven't shown any interest in girls. Ever. For years, your mother's been saying you just need some more time to grow up, but nothing's changed. It's not normal."
Hector looked down at his hands. He knew he should have been afraid, but he still didn't feel anything. "There's nothing you need to worry about," he said. "I keep a lot to myself. It's just the way I am. I'm pretty much grown up now, aren't I? I'll be leaving soon for college. I'll probably find a nice girl there. High school girls just aren't very mature. I'll grow up, and I'll have a normal life. I'll be a normal man with a normal wife and normal kids. Everything's fine."
His father looked at him in the mirror again, and then turned to have another silent exchange with his wife. Few words were said for the remainder of the trip.
When they reached the cabin, Hector took only enough time to change into his swimsuit before hurrying to the beach. As he inhaled deep lungfuls of sea air and felt the cool water lap at his toes, he was enlivened, somehow more real and tangible than he had felt in years. There were times he'd been with Tommy and thought he'd been truly alive, but he'd forgotten how wholly he belonged to this place. This was home.
He only wished he didn't have to be so alone.
Hector walked along the surf, his feet feeling connected to the cool, wet sand and the foamy brine. The sea foam brought to mind that dark yet fascinating fairy tale he used to read over and over. Details of the story flooded toward him like rising tide, and he paused his steps, feeling breathless now as it took on a layer of meaning he'd never been able to grasp before. Like the mermaid, Hector had been loved by his Prince, but never had a chance to belong to him—not in this world. The honor he'd craved went to another. A suitable bride.
With eyes already glazing she looked once more at the Prince, hurled herself over the bulwarks into the sea, and felt her body dissolve in foam.
The emotions that had been eluding Hector now began to brew, and he resumed his walk along the surf, this time increasing his pace. He didn't realize he had a destination until a familiar arrangement of rocks materialized in the distance. He could spot signs of activity, and knew the sea lions were out. As soon as he entered the water and started swimming toward them, they made their lumbering way, one by one, down from their perches and disappeared into the depths.
He was weeping when he found his familiar rock, and threw himself upon it, purging the depths of his hurt and hopelessness. He cursed fate, or God, or whatever was responsible for him being born this way. He begged to simply be able to dissolve away, as had the mermaid who, like him, was helpless to earn the full and complete love of the one she desired.
Once he had cried until he ached, he clumsily pulled himself up fully onto the rock, which was smaller than he remembered, and sat down to gaze out at the sea he'd longed for his whole life. It was only the thought of going back to the human world that made him feel the panic of drowning, and his languishing heart begged for a savior, cherishing his childhood fantasy of being rescued by a boy with a silver tail. Was there no witch that would let him trade any valuable piece of himself for even a day down there in the dark and cold and quiet?
He remained there for hours, searching the water for answers, and contemplating the ramifications of simply not returning to shore. He didn't want to cause anyone inconvenience or grief, leastwise not his parents, who had always meant well. Still, his options were limited if he refused to play the game Tommy was playing.
He made an abrupt decision and pushed himself to his feet only to dive, disappearing into the brine just as the sea lions had. His legs and arms fought with the water, clawing, pulling, and pushing his way deeper and deeper. The air left his lungs bubble by bubble, and soon his chest was screaming for breath. His limbs grew clumsy, numbed. He wrestled with his own weakness, with his body's complaints. He had no sense of direction anymore, and his head was growing light as his heart and lungs panicked.
The darkness beneath swallowed him up, the sea water entered him, and the panic passed. He was finally at peace, and there was soft light on the other side of the darkness.
* * * * *
Hector awoke with painful reluctance, pulled out of what felt like the sweetest dream, though he could not recall a single detail of it. His body protested consciousness. Hot blades speared through his lungs as he attempted to inhale. He curled into a fetal position, only now finding that he was lying on his side on wet sand. Something cold and slick pressed against his back. He began to cough, and it was a pain he'd never known before. He moaned hoarsely between laborious intakes of breath. His stomach clenched violently, and he vomited up great quantities of saltwater, punctuated by more coughing. His head, lungs, and stomach all pulsed with agony.
The cold pressure between his shoulder blades slid beneath his chest, gently encircled and lifted him from the sand, turning him over. His eyes were bleary and burned with salt. He blinked several times and reached out a hand, half-blind. His palm came to rest against cool, smooth scales. He strained to see what was wrapping itself around him, and recognized the indistinct features of a face too pale to be human.
The mermaid kissed his high and shapely forehead. As she stroked his wet hair in place, it seemed to her that he looked like that marble statue in her little garden. She kissed him again and hoped that he would live.
Hector closed his burning eyes and coughed until he retched, though there was nothing more in his stomach to be expelled. The heat of unbidden tears sliced down his cheeks. Cold fingers traced those hot lines moments later. The pallid face gazing down at him like the moon drew closer until there was nothing between them. A cold mouth sealed over his.
One December when he was six or seven years old, he'd been helping his father unpack and test strings of Christmas lights. Not noticing how ragged one of the wires had gotten, he'd carelessly tugged at it, and when he pushed the metal prongs into the outlet, a surprising, tingly vibration had surged up his arm. The sensation had been very similar to the arresting cascade of minute tingles that was flooding into him now, starting at his lips, and then filling his mouth like something palpable, dancing and tickling down his throat, his esophagus, his windpipe.
Then a surge of air was forced past his lips, inflating his lungs with a cold, electric, thrumming breath of life. His spine went rigid for a few moments, and then, as he relaxed, all of the pain and discomfort that had been assailing him melted into bliss.
The cold, unearthly mouth pulled away from his, and he exhaled with a tremor that shook his entire body. He blinked a few more times, and his vision cleared enough to meet the strange, yet familiar pair of black and silver eyes staring down at him.
"Are you real?" Hector whispered, unconsciously echoing the same question he'd uttered the first time he'd come face-to-face with the creature he remembered so vividly, yet had convinced himself had never existed.
Feeling alive and strong, breathing easily, he maneuvered himself so that he could sit upright under his own power, only now noticing that he'd been curled up halfway in the lap of his rescuer. As he looked down at it, he saw not legs, but shining silver scales that stretched all the way down to a broad fishtail, now waving lazily in the lapping surf. His eyes swept upward. From the waist to neck the creature was like a man, except for the impossible whiteness of the flesh and a random scattering of scales across the chest where Hector had a few sparse hairs. No longer a little sea-child, this was a man.
Merman, he told himself, remembering his sister's voice from nearly a decade ago.
He'd grown much bigger than Hector, broad and well-muscled. Here and there across his white flesh, arcane symbols had been scarred into him like tattoos.
Hector hadn't noticed how his companion was studying him in return until a webbed hand reached out to touch his chest, curiously fingering the fledgeling hairs that had sprouted there only within the past year. He gazed at the eyes raking over him and a bloom of joy curled his mouth into a grin. As he had at the age of eight, Hector knew instinctively that he was in no danger, even as the merman opened his mouth to reflect back the smile and revealed two neat rows of impressively sharp teeth.
Eyes and hands explored new fascinations, learning the alien landscapes, textures, and temperatures of each other's flesh. Hector tentatively touched the strange anemone-like tendrils that he'd long ago surmised were gills. The other shivered at the touch and pawed at the boy's damp hair.
"Do you have a name?" he wondered aloud. "I'm Hector. Hector."
He patted his own chest as he repeated his name. The merman twitched his shell-like ears and cocked his head. He worked his mouth into shapes that seemed to be trying to imitate what the boy's mouth did, but all that came out was a brief series of consonant-like clicks that Hector found charming.
If his silver-tailed savior had a name, it wouldn't likely be one he'd have any ability to utter, Hector thought as he admired the foreign symbols etched across the milk-white flesh. He decided he would have to give the creature a human name. Naming the merman after Hans Christian Andersen was an attractive choice, though he didn't like Hans or Christian.
"Anders," he stated, placing his hand over the silvery-white, pearlescent scales clustered at the center of the merman's chest. "Anders. A-a-a...?"
The newly christened Anders was spreading his mouth into the shape of a vowel in imitation of Hector. Only breath came out. Hector leaned closer, breathing back at him. Only a handsbreadth apart now, they breathed at one another, one warm and one cool. Anders raised a hand, placing it between their mouths so that he could feel his own cold breath on one side and Hector's warmth on the other. Enthralled, the pale fingers stroked Hector's lower lip, and then entered his mouth, finding his tongue. Hector remained still, permitting each exploration, and tasting salt where Anders touched him.
The webbed fingers slid down his chin, and Hector watched the merman's mouth as he leaned even closer, nearly touching. Anders formed his mouth into a little round kiss, and inhaled sharply, chilling Hector's lips. Understanding the suggestion, the boy leaned in, trembling, and sealed his lips over the merman's. He exhaled a deep breath into Anders's mouth, filling his lungs as his own had been filled earlier. He felt the merman's cold body rise and shudder in the throes of a new thrill, perhaps finding the sensation of being warmed from the inside as surprising as Hector had found the chill of the other.
The sun had gone from the sky. Hector was vaguely aware that meant he must have been out a very long time, and missed supper. None of that mattered at the moment. What mattered was lying back on the beach with this magnificent creature reclined against him, gazing at him as if he, and not the silver-tailed savior, were the magnificent one. What mattered was the exquisitely slow sweetness with which Anders's cool lips caressed his, the occasional trading of breath, and the tacit communication of eyes and exploring hands.
He grew concerned, however, when Anders began to squirm with noticeable discomfort. Hector scarcely had to guess at the reason—he was a creature of the sea, and had been out of the water for quite some time.
When Hector rolled both of them over and began to tug on the merman's hand, coaxing him back to the water, the excited, toothy grin Anders flashed him was a delight to behold. Both exactly where they wanted to be, they laughed and frolicked in the water like children, making the most of the day's remains. Anders played with Hector, splashing him with his tail, putting up a pretense of a chase even though the human boy had obvious disadvantages. Hector could not remember ever spending a happier hour, and a growing sense that it was coming to an end flooded his insides with a burgeoning grief. Fatigue was rapidly draining him, and the sky was darkening to the point that he could scarcely find Anders's silver eyes anymore. He wound his arms around the merman's neck and clung to him, letting Anders tow him along the surface of the water with leisurely flicks of his tail.
"I don't want to go," Hector whispered. "Please don't make me go. Just let the world stop so I can stay here forever."
Anders stroked his hair and his back with a soothing touch, and continued swimming, keeping Hector's face carefully above the surface. Hector felt so comforted and safe that he nearly drifted off to sleep as he relaxed against cold flesh and scales, with the rhythmic muscular motions of Anders's tail rocking against his lower body.
Hector didn't know how far down the beach they had been, or how long Anders had been swimming with him, but he soon opened his eyes and noticed starlight glinting off of the waves. Before long there were more lights, this time originating from land. Campfires and electric lights signalled the proximity of the human world, and Hector dreaded going back with an intensity that twisted his stomach into a sour knot. Even now, the cold didn't bother him. He had been a child of the sea for as long as he could remember, and he belonged to it now more than ever.
Feeling himself once more pulled onto solid ground was a rude awakening. Hector grabbed hold of Anders's wrist.
"Don't go," he begged, though he knew he had no right. Anders could no more survive near the shore than Hector could survive the depths. The bitter cruelty wrenched at him, and a sob arose from his burning throat.
Anders embraced him, imparting all the comfort he could while there was still time. He nuzzled the warm tears that poured down Hector's cheeks, and licked up the salt they left behind. Hector found his lips in the starlight and kissed him fiercely, as if to forge an unbreakable connection.
Too soon the merman was retreating back into the water with a final caress of his thigh, and then his calf, and then his foot. Hector tried to compose himself, but moments later, in a panic, he threw himself back into the water, his arms grabbing for the solid body he needed to hold onto. Anders found him, and embraced him only to haul him back onto the beach.
They wrestled there, equally strong-willed, Anders determined to push him back toward his own people, and Hector unwilling to be returned. Hector, however, was much weaker in body, and could no longer fight.
He lay back with the surf lapping at his feet, staring up at the stars that were blurred and refracted through his tears. The cold of Anders's final kisses and touches lingered, tickled at his skin, equally a pleasure and a torment.
Hector didn't know what time it was when he finally staggered to his feet and turned himself in the direction of his parents' cabin. What could he tell them? What would they demand of him? He wove a tale as he shuffled in the direction of the lights. Something about meeting a girl, and falling in love. That might be the only thing that would placate them.
Halfway back to the cabin, he stopped. Everything felt wrong. Sand had given way to grass beneath his feet, and it was wrong. The night air tickled the bareness of his damp flesh, and that was wrong. He was about to go weave lies to people he cared about, to find some pretense of a normal life others expected that he never wanted, and that was especially wrong.
Hector thought of how he'd felt when packing for this holiday, the sense of finality that had lodged itself within him. He'd prepared for this. He'd quit his job, made no plans, embarked upon this trip with the intention of staying forever. In his own way, he had said goodbye, and now everything in him was screaming to move forward, not back.
He turned, and began to run. His feet found the soft sand, and then the surf. He threw himself into the water, shed his swimsuit, and felt that, finally, everything was okay. He swam with all the strength left in his aching limbs until a cold, slick body found his in the darkness and wrapped itself around him, and they understood one another.
Hector felt himself pulled beneath the surface, and down, down to the impenetrable darkness and chill. It seemed at first that he no longer needed to breathe, but eventually his lungs ached and panicked. It was then that Anders's lips found his, and once more breathed a tickling, thrumming flood of life into him as they descended, locked together.
My smithy man's a wave at sea
Crashing, churning over me
He fills me up and wraps me round
And lifts my feet up off the ground
He pulls me from the rocky shore
To toss me, blissful, tumbling o'er
My feeble frame, though spent, begs more
As he breathes life into my core
My smithy man's an artist's soul
Raw beauty traced in lines of coal
His arms, the strength of iron bands
Yet life is coaxed with tender hands
From copper shapes a feathered bird
Weaves poetry without a word
Sweet heaven, how my life began
When first I had my smithy man
A Spark of Life
A woman stirred, rousing from slumber. She reached over, caressing her companion. Gradually, they came alive. Sparked. Danced. Climaxed.
Despite having watched thousands of times, I remained smitten by these powerful acts.
That was 7 days ago.
The woman prepares in her kitchen, unaware as I observe.
I descend from up high, through the roof, ceiling, floor. There she stands. Care-free, oblivious, beautiful. There within was the potential for pain, pleasure, challenges, adventures, love.
It is time.
I look at her once more.
Just as the soul departs after death, so it must join at conception.
See you soon, mother.
Soft golden peace
Freedom from the jangling dissonance of voices
Of noise and constant demands
Your silence begins to scream
Every unbearable outcome plays
I see you weeping alone
Drawn into yourself
Suffering in stubborn solitude
While my hand
Reaches for you
Waiting an eternity for you to grab on
The longer your silence
The more fears ignited
Every foolish paranoia parading incessantly
Gruesome pantomimes behind my eyes
You are the ill-fated headliner
Crushed in a slow-motion wreck
Or lying inert
Pale as the sterile hospital sheets
In your silence
I wait helplessly
While in my cursed imagination
You begin to doubt I'm real
You believe you're alone
Succumbing to the lies your old wounds whisper
And the silence of others drowns you
I watch obsessively
For some word from you
Even a passive aggressive single letter
To assure me you're still alive
Anything is better than your silence
Yell at me
Tell me I'm smothering you
Just don't be so awfully