If you build it, they will come. Or, in Freak's case, 'if you challenge, they will write'. So here we are, yet another challenge response. Requirements?
- Must use the words: soliloquy, antichrist, lighthouse, decadent, xenophilia, taxidermy
- One character must say: "There is absolutely. No. Way. You are putting that in there!"
- The story must somehow involve a discussion about the merits of pillowfights or an actual pillowfight.
- No mentions of technology or music (has been further clarified to mean no MP3s/Internet/cell phones/ect.)
- No antagonist of any sort.
- No mentions of animals. AT ALL.
So there. I did it. Because it's NaNoWiMo tiem and I required distraction.
The red line sparkles on the pavement, marking the end of respectability.
Suspended by slim titanium chains, light bulbs illuminate snatches of motion, slick skin, and outlandish clothing. Not much —not much of anything— but it is something. Enough, it seems, to garner catcalls from the darkness beyond the little puddles of lamplight.
"Hey Max," one of the others says to me. I recognize her voice quickly: her name is Lynette and she knows everything. She steps into my little pool of luminescence and leans against the street light lackadaisically. "Someone new on the street. You see him there?"
I do. Two lights down.
"Word is he's an incubus." Lynette giggles softly and a breath of opaque air gurgles from her mouth. "Smart of him. So much energy here. He'd even get paid for it." She shuts her eyes to show off her cerulean makeup, smeared sensually across her eyelids. "Maybe you should talk to him."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Spot of xenophilia?" She suggests, tugging on her sunflower belly shirt. "No, just thinking you might get on well. Then again, you get on well with everyone, even when you don't know who they are."
"Why are you even over here?" I try to ask her, but she has already slipped into the enveloping darkness. Once again alone, I am left deserted in my finite spotlight where I stand on display for passer-by to see. The air is filled with shivers.
He is an incubus. He has to be: no one else around here can carry themselves with such dignity, for we have lost it all long ago. His body looks like a fading lithograph against the black of the distant horizon, illuminated so bright it hurts to stare.
People come for him. They stand in the centre of his space and inspect him thirstily. I can hear their voices because they are the same voices I hear. There are two of them there with him and when one of them takes him by the hand and leads him away, there are none.
Every face looks the same to me.
"Hey," one of the nameless strangers calls from the front seat of his car. "Get in here. I'll give you fifty." I step out of my protective bubble and towards his neon red car. Without hesitation I open the door and slip inside. The leather sticks to my thighs.
The driver begins a soliloquy. I tune it out: I don't want to associate a voice with this at all.
I'm not by myself in the car. Sitting beside me, there is a dim form pressed against the far door, outlined by the whirring lights outside the thin, tinted window. Their breath leaves little twirls of moist condensation.
The hotel he takes us to is non-descript and squat. The lights are dim and everything is brown.
"Undress," that voice says. "Take your clothes off and sit on that bed."
Numbly, I let my clothes fall from my body. They hit the floor and I step out of them, shivering in the cool air. I stand there, naked, before crossing to the bed and sitting on it. I don't look up until I feel a small weight sit beside me.
It's the incubus. Blankness has begun to penetrate his gaze and his body is covered with delicately outlined bruises. I stare at his eyes and they seem so familiar somehow. I've seen a lot of eyes be a lot of different things, but never familiar.
"Kiss," the anonymous voice orders. The incubus leans forward and the swell of out mouths brush together in a single electric touch. "Deeper. I want to see some tongue action. I'm paying you pretty damned good." But really, he's not.
Kissing this one is like plucking the petals of water lilies with my mouth. Hands quivering, he touches the bare skin of my shoulder with the tips of his slender pianist fingers. I begin to feel light headed; I wonder if he is feeding off the new seeds of my sexual energy.
The faceless one watches us with invisible eyes. "Pleasure each other."
We are puppets: human souls to the temptation of the antichrist, Odysseus to a violent, volatile Circle. The incubus doesn't seem to mind though, and because I know that this will be just another anonymous encounter come morning, I can make myself not mind as well.
The voice doesn't come readily to my recognition. The lines of the face though….those are familiar —our faces are always decadent but never familiar— and so I know immediately who it is. "Tristan," I greet him, because that is incubus boy's name.
He smiles at me. "You know my voice?" Lynette must have told him I can't see faces.
Instead of complicating things, I merely nod. "It's very distinctive." Perhaps it is, but I am far too preoccupied with his pert features. "Do you need something?"
He smiles and his teeth glow like filaments of tungsten. Tiny flecks of light bulbs. They are entrancing. "I was wondering…" His hands go to pick at the sequins of his florid skirt. "If you want to go get dinner with me sometime. I mean, breakfast. Or lunch." His mouth is painted the colour of the clematis flower.
"Are you asking me out?" I lean forward. His eyes —his eyes— sing electric. They are a pair of beacons imbedded in his pale skin. "If I don't have a job in twenty minutes, I'll go out with you."
Tristan turns the colour of raw tomatoes. "Okay," he laughs in a tizzy and reaches out to touch my hand. I recoil unconsciously: incubuses are dangerous beings, I don't disillusion myself a moment that they aren't. Thin, like smooth vegetables, his skin is cool against mine.
No one comes to pick me up tonight.
"Where do you want to go?" I turn to face the silhouette against the brick building. "It's been twenty minutes." It really hasn't. Only fifteen or so. No one is coming though, I can feel it. Maybe they're only searching for girls tonight.
"Anywhere that's nice," Tristan says. "And by nice I mean hella cheap." When he laughs, sharp and high like a single piano string, no opaque air gushes from his lips.
"I know somewhere like that." I steer him down the block and then down another, pausing only at that red line painted down the middle of the sidewalk. I can breath again, now that there are people on the street, even if they give us the dirtiest of looks. Go back to where you came from, their unnamed eyes tell us, go back to where you came from.
I ignore them. They are formless to me.
I halt in front of a decaying diner. The windows are smudged with grease and dirt and graffiti older than me. It's dated. "Best burgers I've ever tasted," I assert. He follows me inside.
It is the epitome of eras bygone. Organ music spurts from the wall speakers, infects with a certain agedness everything it touches. Floors, scratched but scrubbed clean, are checkerboards from year to which we have long since bid farewell. Tristan leads me to a red booth, lined with neon and pressed against a white wall in the far corner, and we sit down.
A waitress in a tight pink dress and a chiffon scarf comes to take our order. She stands akimbo, massaging her gum between her crooked teeth. Tristan orders burgers and something else in indistinguishable English, pointing to the menu to ease the girl's strange look. "Milkshake. Chicken salad. That's it."
The wad of money in my pocket suddenly feels uncomfortably small.
Tristan examines my face and I examine his hands. "How long have you been…" But he can't make his sentence finish.
Wryly, I smile. "Three years. How long have you been an incubus?" His face shifts as if I have shocked him with a smack of voltage. "It's not like it's obvious. Lynette told me. I don't know how she knows. Besides," I lean forward on my elbows. "Why else would someone like you sell their body?"
"Maybe for the same reason you do!" he snaps.
"You mean you can't hold down a steady job because you can't recognize your employer too?" I cover my mouth in faux shock. "Who would have thought."
I touch the side of his face with the tips of my fingers. "Cease fire, love. I don't care." His eyes fixate on me and they are like tiny lighthouses dragging me towards him while simultaneously warning me of danger. Thin pupils, claret eyes. A radiant monster.
"Three weeks," he mumbles, drawing spirals in the salt spilled on the table. "I mean, I've been an incubus three weeks. The day Lynette met me was my first attempt to feed."
"Did it go well?" I ask. Our legs brush beneath the table. "And how often do you have to feed?"
"It was okay," he says. His voice quivers a little, shaking the tiniest bit. "And every other night or else I don't feel well. I went four days once, passed out in a ditch and when I woke up there I couldn't remember anything."
"Oh, that must have been awful," I prod on his newfound alacrity with fingertips that flit over his knee. "You're in the right profession though, if you want sexual energy." He leans forward, spit-slick mouth pliant and eyes glazed over.
"Here's your food, boys," the waitress interrupts. Her periwinkle eyes study us a moment. "Enjoy." She turns on her heel and leaves us alone with ourselves.
"Where is your family?" I ask. Tristan picks up a French fry and takes a small bite of it, analyzing the bite pattern. "You don't have to a—"
"They're back home, down south," he interrupts. "Where I come from, taxidermy is a sport." A weak, damaged laugh flutters from his throat. "I haven't seen them in…almost…" His voice stops slowly, hesitating on each remaining syllable until it fades into obscurity.
"A month," I complete. "Three weeks."
Tristan nods. He devours his food with single mindedness, refusing to cease even as tendrils of hair fall into his face. "I sent my sister a postcard," he blurts after he's finished his burger. "I mean…" Mortified, he abruptly stops speaking.
"Awful emotional for a passion-eater," I comment, ambivalent to his status now. "It's okay, you can talk to me. I need to associate your voice with you anyway." The lie doesn't seem to sting me so much. "Make words with your tiger-lily mouth."
Vicious crystal spears dance down from the slate grey clouds. They clatter to the sidewalk, stain it dark and make it slick, hard to walk on. They spare no one their frigid assault.
This is rain.
I take Sundays off. It must be some long buried guilt about church, lurking beneath my skin like an indelible tattoo. On Sundays, I don't make a point to wander around in the red light district, but today Lynette and I are meeting for lunch.
We're cheap whores, so we go back to my place and I make ramen.
"I love your apartment," Lynette says. She runs her spindly fingers down the walls, bumping them along the stucco. "It's so much nicer than mine. It must be so warm at night."
The bubbles in my pot burst and the little droplets of water smart on my skin. "You don't have an apartment," I point out, clicking the ramen back from its simmer. She looks over from her spot by the wall, her hand still resting on one of the dents from the former tenants.
"I know," Lynette says. "So of course it's nicer than mine."
"If you just worked another job, it would all be fine," I tell her as I move to sprinkle chilli oil in the ramen. "You're just—"
"Hold up," she snaps. "There is absolutely no way you are putting that in there!" Her eyes go wide with indignation. "It's a sin again the ancient art of ramen making. Put it in your own food."
I put the chilli oil down on the counter with a click.
Lynette sits at my card table and waits for me to serve her ramen in the china bowls my mother left me when she died. "Oh, no paper plates tonight? I feel special." She traces one of the blue Chinese characters glazed into the grey ceramic. Her nails are painted a yellow, the shade of sunflowers.
I sit opposite her. Our knees knock beneath the table. "Of course you're special. Are you working tonight?"
"I work every night, Church Boy," she replies as she winds a long piece of auburn hair around her ring finger. "Smells good." She takes a dainty bite with her cinnabar chopsticks. There are maple leaves etched into them. "Thanks."
"No problem, Lynette."
I've known her so long and sometimes it hurts to look at her because I know that I'll never recognize her on a street. A few more mouthfuls of ramen gone and she looks through the window at the outside. The rain has transformed it into an impressionist painting, and we are too close to see it all.
"Somebody died," she says a moment later. My trance shattered, I turn my head to her. "Heart gave out in a hotel room." Her eyelids —orange, this time— flutter. "Police are looking for an incubus."
"Why are you telling me this?" Panic begins to blossom in my stomach, creepy assertive vines into my throat.
"Because he's your friend," Lynette replies. "And it's dangerous for you to be around him right now." She leans over the table and touches lightly the side of my face. Her fingertips are like tiny butterflies with their tiny, shoeless feet.
"I understand," I whisper. "But—" Her index finger touches my mouth to silence me.
"Just be wary. That's all I'm saying. Nothing more." She leans back and sits in the white wicker lawn chair. "I'm going after this." Another graceful mouthful of ramen disappears into her mouth. "Thanks for lunch."
She does leave. She stands up and she crosses the room to the door and with only a quick wave over her shoulder, she leaves me all alone. Numbly I sit on the couch and flick on the news, waiting patiently for it to tell me something I don't already know.
It's Tuesday before I run into Tristan again, standing beneath his usual light with his usual clothing.
There's something off about the man talking to him beneath the street lamp. He's not leaning right to be a customer, he doesn't have that thirsty aura about him. Unusual, so I creep closer, thankful I'm not easily detectable in the darkness.
"And I'll give you thirty."
"For?" Tristan arches one scraggly eyebrow.
Now the man's lips curl into a smile, but it's not quite right. Years of blindness and lack of identity have taught me to recognize people by whatever looks familiar: their clothing, their tics, the way they move. This man is not a regular, nor does he fit the template of one.
"Excuse me," I interrupt. "Can we help you?" I stand next to Tristan, wind an arm around his waist and hug his body against mine.
"I was merely—" The man begins, and that clinches it. His voice is all wrong to be here. He's not supposed to be here.
"You have nothing on us," I spit. "Nothing. Leave us alone." I grab Tristan's wrist and lead him out of the light, down the street with alarming speed. I can feel his pulse beneath my fingers, struggling to rush through his veins.
"What the hell?" he demands, shrinking away from me. If everyone should be nervous standing there in the dark, it should be me.
"Cop," I breath. His eyes widen. "The stance and voice was all wrong to be someone who actually wanted sex from you." My lips curl under themselves and I leer at him without meaning too. I am proud of myself.
"Damn it." Tristan leans against the wall and stares up at the baby stars splattered across the night sky. "I'm hungry."
An idea dawns on the horizon of my mind. "Come back with me," I say, picking up his hand to trace over his palm lines. My mother used to do palmistry. "Feed off of me."
"No!" he snaps, yanking back and scooting away. "I killed someone, Max, I'm not going to kill you too." His ardent words hang around in the air like a string of invisible pearls.
"You won't kill me," I say. "But they're looking for you. Come back with me, you'll be safe there."
"They can't find me." His voice betrays his insecurity and I know I have him. "They…they can't. There are other incubi that could have done it."
I shake my head. His face is tinted the colour of garnets. "They don't care. They'll lock you all up and leave you," I lean forward until our faces are almost touching, "leave you to starve. It's a miserable process."
His mouth, moist and hanging half open, begins to quiver. "Okay. I'll go with you." He takes my hand in a sudden moment of regression and I begin to lead him towards my apartment and away from the lamps and their bright lights and all the other things that could break him into a million pieces.
Outside, I can hear the docks.
"Tell me what happened." I hand Tristan a cup of tea in a cerulean mug and sit beside him on my scruffy couch. We stare at the television —it's off— and are quiet for a little while.
"I was hungry," he tells me. "Really hungry and he just started touching me. When I tried to back off a little, because it hurt, he wouldn't stop and it was overpowers and I couldn't help it. Even after he stopped moving. I fed off his aura until there was nothing left for me to consume."
He bursts into tears.
This is the first time I've ever seen an incubus cry.
"It's not your fault," I say. "Lie low a while." I back up just the slightest bit. "Are you hungry now?"
He nods and looks away, face burning brightly. Long, deft fingers pick at the loose threads of my blanket. "I want you," he breathes, though no air dares spurt from his lungs. It never does. He could sleep in the ocean for eternity and never cease his useless breathing.
I lean forward and press my mouth against his.
"Stop," he orders as he pushes me away. "No. I don't want to hurt you or kill you."
"I've done this before."
"Slept with incubi?" His eyebrows raise and his mouth curves into a small smile that doesn't dare reach his eyes. "Thought not." Our hands connect for a moment. "I'll be alright another night."
I hit him with a pillow.
"That's not nice," he tells me. "Hitting starving people." He crosses his arms and he looks so ridiculous there: halfway dizzy, bloodshot eyes, a failed attempt to look like it's not bothering him. Strange as a chimera but not half as vicious.
I hit him again.
He picks one of the other ones up and hits me back. "Take that," he returns. He inches towards me, hits me again. "See? Pillows are weapons."
I reach out to touch his face with the hand not holding a pillow. "That's not nice. Hitting lonely people."
"Are you lonely?" he asks and drops the pillow. He leans again, oozes over my blanket until we're close enough to touch. "Don't be lonely, you have…you have me." His eyes are glistening in the dim light of my apartment. I should replace the bulbs. "If you want me."
I roll my eyes. "Don't be stupid." His body sits in my lap, fragile and shaking with restrained emotion. Emotion he has consumed and can't control. "I'll do whatever you want me to." Because we're friends, of sorts.
"Sleep with me," he says. "Near me. It's cold." He touches my wrists, the underbelly of my arms. It tickles. Raindrops on a lantern-shaped lily.
Of course it is.
He leans forward and kisses me. Inexpert, stumbling, it's a wonder he got this far in our profession. His hands scramble to hold onto my arms —above the elbows, not the shoulders like you're supposed to— and his chest rises and falls just off kilter from my own. It's like playing some strange, delicate instrument or crushing berries picked off of thorny bushes. Chaste. I don't want to scare him away.
"If it's…" he begins, speaking into my mouth. "If it's okay, with you, I mean."
"Of course." My breath fans over his cold skin, pushes the tendrils of hair from in front of his still moist eyes. "Stay here as long as you like."
He blushes and I kiss his cheek.
How can you be so at ease when you are so, so lost?
It won't be nothing forever.
I let him touch my hair, kiss me guardedly. This isn't the first time, or the last time, but it is a time, and that is satisfactory. "You're so pretty," he says to me as his eyelids crush against my cheeks. "Why would you even look at me?"
Like a zeitgeist of tiny petals that tickle the surface of a river.
Because I can see you.
Tada, mates. Hope you liked it. Hesitate not to leave me comments, I loves them.
Little face-blind Maxi gives his thanks.
Special prize (who the hell knows what that is) to anyone who can tell me who Max and Tristan are named after.
Oh, and if you wrote something for Freak's challenge and you review this, I will review back (I'm jonesing for stuff to take up my time besides schoolwork).