by Thomas Nelson
copyright © 1995 by Thomas Nelson
(First published on Ravenscar Nights)
Nathan took the role of duct-tape and sealed the last box. He had spent the last several days going through Josh's effects; trying to decide what to send back to his family, what to keep and what to get rid of.
He sat down on the couch, reached for a stack of pictures he had found in Josh's desk and started to go through them. When you're gone, is this all there is? A stack of photos and a couple of boxes of clothes
Nathan stopped at a picture of Josh sitting on a blanket in a field. a half eaten sandwich in his left hand and a bottle of wine to his right. He remembered that day, four years ago; their one year anniversary:
"Josh, say cheese"
"mph! No fair! I wasn't ready"
"That's the whole point"
are we ever ready?
Nathan stood up and walked into the bathroom. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror, blond bangs hung down over his forehead, hiding a small scar above his right eye - Nathan had had that since he was a small child... it had been there so long that he couldn't even remember how he got it. The sharp light from the overhead bulb made his thin features look cadaverous. A trick of the light. He had a long way to go before he looked anything close to gaunt, but that was not much consolation. The shadows around his hazel eyes betrayed the disease that would eventually claim him. Just as it had claimed Josh last week.
He removed two capsules from a bottle in the medicine cabinet and held them in his hand, looking at them.
"This is my body; broken for you"
He felt the pills go down his throat.
He tasted the bile rise to meet them.
He threw the bottle against the wall. Blue and white capsules spilled out over the white linoleum. Nathan didn't seem to notice. He left the apartment and walked out into the night.
He had only returned to bury his parents. They had been driving at night through the woods surrounding Ravenscar. Dad had been at the wheel. He had swerved to avoid hitting something, probably a deer, in the road and had lost control of the car. It slammed into a tree by the side of the road. They were killed instantly.
Nathan moved back to Ravenscar after the accident to take care of his parent's business. Josh came with him. He was eager to find a slower pace of life that a town the size of Ravenscar offered. In looking back Nathan realized they had moved here to hide. They were trying to escape the death that was stalking both of them.
we didn't hide well enough
"Death is an excellent hunter... you can't hide from him for long", said a voice.
"I... I didn't realize I was speaking out loud."
"'S'ok, no harm done. I was hoping for some conversation this evening. My name is Tyler."
"For a man who is trying to hide from Death, you certainly pick poor neighborhoods to walk in."
With a shock he realized that he had no idea where he was. He had been wandering blindly through the streets of Ravenscar for hours taking turns at random. Nathan looked around him now. He was in the industrial district. Warehouses with sagging walls of corrugated metal crowded up against smaller buildings that in better days had been shops. The high windows on the buildings had been broken out leaving empty squares of darkness. Most of the lower windows had been boarded over, those few that remained were opaque with years of dust. At irregular intervals narrow allies opened up between the warehouses. Most of them were blind, ending a few hundred feet back from the street. But a few went back into the shadows and branched off into a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, easy to get lost in. Down one, Nathan could make out an orange glow from fire in a trash can, and group of figures stood around it for warmth. They had not noticed the pair standing under one of the few remaining street lights on 3d street.
Tyler continued: "There are a lot of unpleasant people in this neighborhood. Can I suggest that we be on our way. Do you drink coffee? I know a wonderful place we could sit for a while... Its open all night."
"Yes," he managed, "coffee would be nice."
Nathan, already feeling confused and disoriented by his grief and anger, allowed his new companion to lead him into the shadows.
Part of him was screaming to be alone, to find some park bench or rock out in the woods or even a deserted street to just sit and think. But walking through the night listening to Tyler was somehow comforting. It reminded Nathan that he was still alive.
"You haven't answered my question yet Nate."
"I'm sorry I forgot what you asked me."
"I was wondering what brought you down to that part of town. It is not an area that most people choose for their midnight strolls."
"I just needed to clear my head, a lot has happened in the last few weeks."
"You did seem upset, distracted, not watching where you were going... you do realize that there was a gang of thugs waiting for you around the next corner? They would have stolen what they could and then they would have beaten you to death."
"What would it have mattered? I'm already a dead man..." Nathan's voice trailed off.
"But all men are dead the minute they're born. That makes you no different from the reset of humanity"
"But most of them can't see it coming. Me, what do I have? A year? Three years? Maybe five if I'm lucky. I'm a dead man. I just don't have the good sense to lie down and shut my eyes."
Tyler began to laugh, a deep throaty laugh that brought a shiver down Nathan's spine. "And what makes you such an expert on death? Your years of hiding from it? Watching him take those around you? Burying your parents, your friends, your lover makes you an expert? Second hand knowledge! Useless! All of it! Only fools believe that the dead lie quietly with their eyes politely shut tight so as not to offend the oh so delicate sensibilities of the living."
Nathan looked at his companion with shock.
Tyler continued: "People today do their best to ignore anything that doesn't fit their limited sense of aesthetics. They trundle blindly forward through the world, cocooned in their illusions. They bury their dead in pine boxes, or burn them and put their ashes in urns on the mantle piece. Then they turn them into saints and martyrs. Josh was no saint, and you are not a martyr."
"Who the hell are you!? How do you know Josh?"
Tyler silenced him with a gesture. "I've been watching the two of you since you came to Ravenscar. I'm not sure why, but you piqued my curiosity. So, I sort of adopted the two of you."
"I don't need your fucking sympathy or your God damned patronage!"
Nathan in a rage stood and moved to grab Tyler. The hand on his shoulder forced him back into his chair before he could reach Tyler. "Sit down lover, and listen to what he has to say." said Josh's voice.
"I've missed you Nathan. Tyler, I think we owe him an explanation."
Nathan was overcome with shock and horror. He had buried Josh just last week, yet he was sitting here with him at this table.
"We, Nathan, to put it simply, are the impolite dead. I saw you and Josh when you first returned to Ravenscar. It did not take long for me to decide that I wanted both you with me. I approached Joshua just before he entered the hospital for the last time, and made he my offer. Now I'm inviting you. We want you to join us Nathan"
"I... I don't understand."
Josh said: "We exist for eternity. I love you Nathan and I don't want to be without you. Please, come with me."
"I don't know, I don't think I could bear to lose you again Josh... But what you are asking..."
A cruel glint came into Tyler's eye. "Listen to him Josh... he sounds so human... 'Oh I just want to grow old and see my grand kids' Oh! I'm sorry I forgot, you aren't going to grow old are you. That plague in your blood will get you first."
"Tyler, shut up" Josh glared at Tyler.
"You are right, that was uncalled for. My apologies Nathan." The tone of his voice did not sound apologetic.
Josh continued: "Nathan, I want you with me, forever, please come with me."
"What do I have to do?"
Josh moved to the center of the room. He slowly removed his shirt and let it fall to the floor. His body was hard, taunt, smooth. Nathan could see Josh's muscles slide under his skin as he held his arms out to his lover.
"Come to me Nathan"
Nathan stepped into his embrace.
Josh, almost delicately, removed Nathan's shirt. Nathan's skin seemed to run a cold fire that followed Josh's hands as they ran across his bare chest. Nathan touched his lips to Josh's face. Cold, smooth, hard, like a statue of polished marble.
Nathan felt Josh's lips brush his flesh, just behind his ear. Then a prick as his teeth pierced the flesh. Nathan held Josh to him tighter as the world spun around his head. The dingy room was forgotten, it was only the two of them, together.
Josh pulled back before Nathan lost consciousness. He took his finger and drew it across his throat. A dark stream of blood ran down from his neck and across the contours of his chest. Nathan felt Josh's hands as they pulled his head toward the wound.
He heard Josh's voice, "This is my blood spilt for you. Drink."
Nathan put his lips to the stream.
He tasted the blood as it ran down his throat.
He felt the fire from it rush into his limbs, burning the virus from his body.