Rain so sudden, so fervent, it turns the grass to mire beneath his feet. Laughing as he slips and slides, as he sprawls out, the taste of wet earth filling his mouth.
Wondering: Is this what it's like, to be with the worms, to sleep in the weeds?
Not so bad. Not so bad at all.
This old way, the field he used to walk with his Grandfather, when the old man was still alive and able to wander. Falling out here, more than once, unable to get up, found by joggers, dog walkers, drug addicts...cutting his hand, his head. Breaking a rib, once, until Mom and Dad forbade him from coming here, as though he were a child.
Hauling himself up, wondering if the old man somehow still wanders here, if some echo of him stumbles and slips in the rain. He likes to think so; likes to think that the old fuck mutters and curses under his breath every moment of every day, not knowing where or how or what; endless confusion, a Hell of dementia.
More than he deserves; a merciful Hell, given all he did, all he was.
Mike's clothes still stinking of plastic and solder, of smoke and chemicals. He barely notices any more, usually. Today, he's hyper-sensitive to it, the reek stinging his sinuses, making his eyes water, contrasted by the sweet freshness of rain and soil and grass.
Scrabbling up the uneven rise, not caring that he cakes and smears himself in sludge, not giving two shits about those who might see and cluck and tut and comment on his condition.
Worthless shite, each and every one of them. Russian dolls, filled with echoes of their Fathers and Mothers, whatever world they inhabit not one he has any interest in being part of.
Weeds and wildflowers, some stinging as he brushes them, piercing his palms and fingers with thorns and white needles. Long grown numb to them; from the years he's wandered this way, to and from school, to and from work. From the chemical and solder burns he suffers daily at the factory. Laughing at their tickling stings, at their nothing. Grasping them, hauling them up by their roots, imagining that they scream, in some unspoken plant language, that the grass and dandelions quiver to hear them.
Home. Nothing waiting, not even Tabitha. Her food bowl empty, her litter tray full. Out in the field, no doubt, maybe watching him as he stumbled home, slowly closing her eyes in denigration of his awkwardness, his oafish slips and tumbles. Chasing field mice and rabbits through the rain.
A message on his phone, as he slumps at the kitchen table, watching the rain sluice down the window:
Hey man, Louis here. Had a great time the other day. You free tonight? ;)
Free tonight? The thought of humanity disturbing this quiet almost as repugnant as leaving it unbroken, knowing what it would give birth to if he did.
I have to get cleaned up and eat first.
A response coming so fast, he could half believe the man to be some sort of telepath, reading the message as it forms in his mind:
No worries; I'll be at work 'til 6. See you around 7? ;)
Around 7. Of course.
Time seeping yet static, the texture of the sludge drying on his overalls. No sign of the damn cat.
Drown, then. See if I give a shit.
The same minute seeming to tick by over and over, the same raindrops falling; a little purgatory, that he wishes he could suspend...
Move. You know what will happen if you don't...
He knows, he knows, god damn it. Groaning as his grandfather used to, as he rises from his chair, a faint flittering through the archway drawing his eyes. The living room dark.
Scrabbling on the wooden floorboards, claws, many feet. Something slumping and dragging itself, wet, uneven weight catching on carpets, on warped and splintering wood. The image it conjures of an immense slug, bleeding and seeping mucus as it inches through the dark.
Closing his eyes, every inch of himself suddenly acute; every unconscious process: the pulse of blood through veins and arteries, the chemical gurgling of his stomach and entrails. Brute, biological things: no poetry, no myth: just process, mindless, purposeless...
Always the best diversion; the scritching, scrabbling, slithering, whispering, fading as he falls into himself, as he becomes a carnival abyss; a wasteland of clockwork rhythms, suspending this delusion that he calls Mike Varnham.
Time shifted when he opens his eyes again. 6:15. Almost time. Louis likely already on his way. No hope of cancelling, now.
Tired. So fucking tired. Of needing him, of wanting him.
Dragging himself up the stairs, struggling out of his overalls, his shirt, his underwear; their cotton and fabric sewn to him like an old, too-tight skin, refusing to be shed.
Voiding himself, closing his eyes, as his body goes about its idiot processes, as its foulness rises around him.
Nothing; not even the faintest whisper.
Good. Maybe tonight, they'll let him be.
The shower scalding, eliciting gasps, hisses, clenched teeth. Happy for its scouring, not only of the day's filth and grime, but of the cockroaches that swarm beneath his skin, the vermin that have mated and multiplied there all his life.
Belly aching, no food since breakfast; even that a rushed, unenthusiastic affair. The ache intense, a knife twisting in his guts. No matter; too late, now. The seconds before Louis arrives melting like snowflakes on his fingers.
Plucking up whatever clothes are scattered across the bedroom floor, hardly bothering to dry himself. No matter; not as though he'll be wearing them for long.
Thoughts turning to beyond seven, when the man leaves, and there's nothing; none of the knife-edge anticipation, the old anxieties swirling like poison in his belly.
When there's no distraction, and the whispers begin again.
“Stop. Stop it, you fucking moron.”
Self abuse no stranger; the vast majority of his inner-exchanges masochistic, to some degree.
“If it's too much, just fucking leave. Just go.”
What, like Ridgeworth before him? Yeah. That turned out fantastically, didn't it? Nothing to contain them, nothing to divert them...
He saw; his Mother made sure of it: what was left of his Dad, by the time they finished their games.
“Is that what you want? For Louis, for Alex, for everyone?”
Time was, thought of old loves, memories of those lost or abandoned, were enough: enough to have him sigh and accept one more night of play.
But tonight, last night; the night before...almost. Considering it, all the way home: leaving the house be, fleeing into the night, letting whatever powers preside over his idiot, hereditary duty come for him. Whatever they might inflict, whatever they might show, can't possibly be worse than this...
The doorbell ringing, his phone buzzing in his pocket.
Ding dong ;)
Anxiety bubbling like vomit in his throat, lightning scouring every nerve. Shaking his head, laughing at himself.
A blazing smile, a slice of sunlight, awaiting him on the doorstep. Louis seeming to bleed and sweat luminosity, emphasised by the murk of the evening, the natural dark of the house.
A bottle of wine clutched in one hand, a brown leather satchel slung over one shoulder. Blowing a veil of white blonde hair out of his eyes.
“What's that for?”
“What do you think? Oh, don't worry; I'm not planning on moving in or anything; it's just in case, you know, you actually want me to stay...”
Stepping aside, as the man flutters in, seeming to flit like a sparrow, almost weightless.
“...it's not that I don't want you to...”
“I know! I know, all right?; Work, work, work. It's fine. In again today, yeah?”
“Pretty much every day...”
An argument lingering on those pretty lips, aching to take flight. Aborted before the first sigh or syllable.
“Why's it always so dark in here?”
Because it's how they like it. It keeps them sedate.
A shrug. “I dunno. I just like it that way.”
That lop-sided smile, an affectionate laugh.
“You...are weird. Has anyone ever told you that?”
“Someone usually does most days.”
Following him through to the living room, as he flicks on lamps, sets the fire blazing.
“There. Isn't that a little more like it?”
A shrug, already fatigued by him, already feeling his energies bleed into the ether.
Drawing to him, closer than he's been to any other human being in days. His hands on those bony hips, feeling them burn through denim.
“There's more meat on what butchers throw out.”
The man's hands knotting themselves behind his neck.
“Charming as always.”
A kiss, tasting of spearmint and bubblegum, of spice and meat.
Slow, savouring it, anxiety evaporating, a cool and calming blue washing his entrails.
Louis breaking the moment, laughing, pressing his forehead to Mike's chin.
“What the Hell am I supposed to do with you, Mr. Varnham?”
“I can think of a few things.”
“Hush, sweetheart, hush.”
The man stumbling, clinging to him, all the composure and volition of a newborn foal.
“You know; we've been here before. Lots of times. Just a game...”
A whine rising, the man trembling more furiously, as memory returns, as his bladder gives way.
“...just a game, sweetheart.”
And tomorrow, nothing; the man waking without a mark, without a scratch or scar. Courteous sadists, the children he serves; always clearing up after themselves, leaving little to no trace of their mess.
So long as he's present to ensure it.
Weeping, now, as he leads him from the shadows, to the centre of the room.
Always the same: an attic space, of some kind; the dimensions of a cathedral: a vast chapel of old, splintered wood, of greening beams and floorboards. No electric or synthetic lights, what illumination they see by filtering through ruptures in the walls and ceiling; a pale amber, like Autumn moonlight.
Not knowing, only asking until his Mother and Father beat curiosity out of him. A space between; reality in the cracks.
Where the children play.
“Come on, now; crying won't help...”
It never has before. Though it hurts, he won't deny that: cold fingers around his heart, trailing up his spine. Pleas coming through the tears:
“No...not...not tonight. Please...”
A threadbare carpet in the middle of the floor; one of their many nurseries, the playgrounds where they gather. Hearing them, feeling them all around: shapeless, rustling and hissing in the shadows.
Louis clinging to him, as he levers him down. No need for restraints or shackles; the man as weak and helpless as a boneless newborn.
Setting him upright, his head lolling on his chest, crossing his legs beneath him.
“Woah! Woah, steady there...”
Almost toppling on his side, tears and snot streaming down his face.
“Yes, I know, sweetheart: fuck me. Not feeling very inventive tonight, then?”
The least of curses, compared to what the man has slurred and spat at him, what he's gasped between wretches of pure fear.
Not realising, early on; that he can provide proxies, that it doesn't have to be him joining their games every night.
The very notion sickening him, at first, but necessary. He isn't his Father, or Wainwright or Childers; he can't sustain what they did their entire lives.
Not every night; one or two a week. The rest...all his. All his.
More wounding than any curse; the desperation, the appeal to love he wasn't certain of, until now.
The children whispering, some of them whistling fractured nursery rhymes. He sees them, the look on his face, the despair in his eyes...
Mike goes to him, running a hand over his plastic smooth cheek, as he did after their lovemaking.
A kiss, like the one that preceded it, but more urgent, for both of them.
Breaking away, the man grasping at him, weeping, as he falls, splaying out across the carpet.
“Please...please! I...anything! Anything you want...”
The first breaking away from the shadows, from its brothers, with a vile, wet squelching, its bulbous form bleeding matter, shredded and torn open: a thing that might have made him vomit, once: that he recalls screaming and screaming and screaming at, as an adolescent.
Not so much as a snarl of distaste, now.
Myriad faces gasping and grinning across its hideous body, stretched taught, partially subsumed; their eyes black and weeping. Mismatched, spidery limbs clattering over the floorboards, clusters of tubular and sack-like organs wheezing and seeping beneath its bulk.
Louis not screaming at sight of it; his eyes glazing over, his expression slackening.
Perhaps for the best.
Others follow, small and immense, coiling down from the rafters, descending on silken threads, slithering and squirming and fluttering:
Children of atrocity, the inspiration or the spawn of humanity's most delirious nightmares.
Mike doesn't know; has long since stopped wondering.
Always the same dance, the same bizarre reluctance, as though they're afraid, reaching out, pawing the air, prodding and pricking.
The first extending a limb that pierces Louis's shoulder. Now he screams. Mike winces, closing his eyes, turning away.
The night timeless, their playtime...without bound or limit. He doesn't know...how long he stands, occassionally glancing at their play, watching what they make of their new toy.
At points, Louis seems to laugh rather than scream, his mind broken, the game now his as well as theirs. By that point, their's little recognisable left of him; a stretched and smeared face, scraps and tatters strung from the talons and teeth of those fluttering over the swarm.
But still alive. Every shredded, squirming, pulsing inch of him. No death here; nothing so merciful.
Slugs of meat and matter, crawling along the carpet, attempting escape through the cracks between the boards. He doesn't know...where they go, how many will escape his piecing back together, but he sometimes imagines there are thousands of them down there, now; scraps and tatters of himself, his old lovers; the strays and randoms he has brought here in between. Maybe forming their own strange nests and nurseries; mating and melding to form some vile approximation of the men they were.
It doesn't matter; always so thorough in their tidying, never leaving so much as a stain, a shred of meat or splinter of bone.
He smokes, watching as the less brave play voyeur, not confident or eager enough to join their sibling's games.
Hunched and squatting forms, the most human seeming, for the most part.
So tired, by the time they expire, by the time the last of them -the very first to initiate play- drops to the ground, twitching and seeping in its ecstasies.
No words; not even knowing if they understand. Instead, stepping from the shadows into their midst, whistling between his teeth. The children stirring, some immediately, others more sluggish, still blissed out by the atrocities they've worked.
Those that refuse, that lie there trembling while their siblings work...quick boots to their hideous flanks, the creatures soon on their feet (or whatever equivalents they possess), joining in the new game: the gathering and sewing and melding, the grizzly artwork taking shape amongst them quivering as its nerves start to fire, moaning as sense returns to it.
Always the most cruel moment, insofar as Mike is concerned; knowing it well, from his own playtimes: that coming back together, the spark of unwanted consciousness, all that it's endured...still so fresh, so sharp.
Forcing himself to watch; a kind of pennance, as Louis stirs; a seeping, skinless rag-doll, a gasping, trembling abortion of humanity, slowly swelling towards unwanted completion.
The work seeming to last moments, compared to the preceding hours, the children working with such speed, he can barely register where one begins and another ends, what one contributes in comparison to its kin.
The creatures peeling away, with their work done; retreating into the shadows, melting into them, becoming shades and suggestions of their own deformity.
Mike waiting until the last and least of them peels away, until they grow still and silent. No recognition; no acknowledgement that he even exists. Not even the most curious and complex of them glancing his way.
Until tomorrow, when he comes to them alone.
Louis glaring up at him, the pain, the betrayal in his eyes...spitting him through, sprouting thorns that burn like ice and acid. None of the absence he might hope for; the catatonia that trauma might induce.
Only serrated accusation, that will last until he forgets, and tonight becomes just another nightmare.
Seeing him to the door, as always. The night cold, a bitter breeze blowing. Louis lingering on the doorstep, hands in his pockets.
“Well, thanks again. It was...”
“Yeah. Yeah. For me, too.”
Laughing, flipping hair out of his face.
“Jesus, you look exhausted. Haven't you ever, like, considered doing something else?”
Stamping, shivering in the cold.
“Yeah, you know; getting a different career, maybe moving away or something?”
Not for the longest time; not since his Dad almost killed him for the suggestion of it.
“Yeah, I suppose. But...there's not much else I can do.”
“Hmmm. Fair enough.”
Lingering, waiting. Wanting him to ask, so badly. Mike aching to fulfil that desire, but knowing what it might mean, if he does.
“I know. It's...okay. It's just...I like you, Mike. I think...we get on, don't we?”
Listening. Their sleep disturbed by the exchange, by the promise of it...
“Yeah, yeah, we do...”
More than he realised, up 'til this moment; more than he should have allowed.
“...but...we can't really go anywhere or do anything unless you open up a little. I mean, I love coming here, but...a few hours..?; It's just not enough for me.”
Not enough. Whispers, shufflings in the dark behind. Something flopping across the floorboards upstairs.
“What...what was that?”
“It's...just this place; it's old, you know? It always makes weird noises.”
Clearly not sold on that excuse, too intent on their exchange to follow it up. That this...beauty, this man, this boy, can be so enamoured of him to bare himself like this, to bleed for him...
Perhaps. Vile, parasite thought; a carrion worm called hope coiling in his thoughts.
Don't. Don't you dare...
“Perhaps...perhaps just tonight won't hurt.”
Louis's face luminous, the sunlight breaking through from within.
Stepping aside, letting him in from the cold, shutting the door behind him.
An embrace, kisses, burning gratitude.
“Thank you. Thank you...”
Easing him away, as the whispers rise, as the children stir. Louis shuddering, eyes on the ceiling, as they skitter and scrape, as they slither and slope from hiding.
“What the Hell..?”
Taking him by the shoulder, coaxing his frightened eyes back down, soothing them with smiles.
“There're a few things...you need to know.”
The night obliging in confession as it does in play, providing countless hours of both, until they both emerge, blinking, staggering and known to one another, into grey and listless day.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.