Title: Watercolored Kisses
Fandom: Poppy Z. Brite - Lost Souls/Drawing Blood/Other Short Stories in the Missing Mile Verse.
Warnings: Ghosts, Language, Adult Content, Slash, Mild Drug and Alcohol Use, Mentions of Violent Death
Disclaimer: If only I owned these beautiful characters. They belong to Poppy Z. Brite (the goddess of all things dark fiction), I'm only borrowing them out of my love for them.
Author Notes: Reading Lost Souls isn't a must for understanding this piece, it is written as a standalone. However if you've read Lost Souls you might understand a few inside jokes that might be missed otherwise.
Prompt: Dia de los Muertos / The Day of the Dead
Summary/Excerpt: On most nights at six A.M., Steve would have already found himself at home and warm. Stretched out on Ghost's floor, staring up at a ceiling covered in faded leaves and painted stars, Steve would be on his 3rd beer and listening to Ghost tell him all about his latest dream or whether or not they should just pack up and head for the stars. But this wasn't most nights.
November 1st found Missing Mile, North Carolina, cold but unfrozen. Too far north to escape winter's bite, too far south to ever see snow at its finest. No, it would not be cold enough for snow till late December, would not see those soft crystal flakes or even sleet and ice till mid-January—if they were even to be seen at all. Even so the air was bitter against the angel's face as he pedaled his bicycle toward town and the wind could not resist reaching out and toying with his pale blonde locks, twisting the multi-colored streamers of his worn straw hat. He blinked against the tears, his eyes the same blue-grey color of the autumn sky. His grandmother had named him Ghost for a reason and he did not mind the cold, not really. The cemetery was still several miles away and if he could not take the chill of getting there, there would be no way he would ever make it through the night. He closed his eyes and pedaled faster.
Downtown Missing Mile was little more than a small strip of buildings and a Greyhound bus stop that didn't even sell tickets—had to go into Raleigh to board. At one point in time the railroads had kept the town alive and busy, that is until one day the ten o'clock train never showed up. A bridge thirty miles outside of town gave out beneath the weight of the engine, causing the train to derail and collide with a bus full of children on their way to school. The train's conductor had survived, went off to Kentucky to work on a tobacco farm to escape his guilt, none of the children had made it. Ghost's grandmother hadn't even been ten years old when it happened, but she'd still told him the story, the story that had become more myth than fact over the years until no one really knew whether or not they should believe it or not. The tracks were never repaired and the town slowly began to crumble in the absence of the trains. Now most of the buildings stood in ruins, long ago abandoned. Their store fronts and dusty window displays long since faded until the point in which no one even seemed to notice them anymore.
The Whirling Disc sat snug between two of these crumbling buildings, across the street from the Farmers Hardware store and a diner that seemed to change names ever year even though the food and employees varied very little. Ghost glanced up at the record store as he let his bicycle coast past. For a spilt second he glimpsed Steve leaning against the counter, laughing and smiling at something Ghost would more than likely never discover. He closed his eyes, focusing all his energy on sending a message to his friend, something solid, some way of letting Steve know he'd be there, that he'd seen him. This had become a routine for Ghost as of late—feeble attempts at forced telepathic communication—but Ghost doubted they ever did anything more than make Steve think about him at random times and knowing Steve, Ghost was pretty sure he already randomly thought about him enough.
Ghost sighed, reopened his eyes and turned his bike away from Main Street, away from Steve and back down the only other road that lead away from town center. Just like that the houses and buildings faded into fields and scattered shacks with vast overgrown front yards. Another two miles down, a left onto Melissa Way and Ghost was as good as home—for the night at least.
For such a small town, Missing Mile's cemetery seemed almost endless. Stretching over a span of several acres, graves gradually shifted from crumbling mausoleums to towering obelisks of crosses and angles to modern marble squares left to be swallowed up by the ever overgrown grass and kudzu. Ghost often wondered if people only came to Missing Mile to die. How else would the town manage to feed such a cemetery without dying out completely? He imagined the graves as wild as the kudzu that eventually covered so much of the rural South, creeping closer and closer toward Main Street, devouring everything in its wake without regret. Vaguely he wondered if it was possible for death to mimic the grape-soda-smell of the violet flowers that bloomed along the vines in the heat of the summer months.
A shudder worked its way up from his very veins and he wrapped his arms tightly around himself, used his knees to drive. To him such a thing seemed more than a possibility. The dead reached out from the ground, touching his mind with their bone chilled hands. Yes, he thought, they agreed with him.
'Ghost-child…' they called out to him, a thousand whispers carried through the autumn breeze. Ghost-child because he could hear them. Ghost-child because even after twenty-six winters they were still far older. Ghost-child because his grandmother now lay among them and she had named him herself.
On most nights, Steve closed the store around ten o'clock p.m., had the floor swept and the cash drawer counted down by eleven, and his feet propped up on his and Ghost's living room couch by a quarter to midnight. It didn't matter if it was a Monday night or a Saturday night. His schedule and hours varied very little, but he preferred it that way, grew to count on the only monotony in his life. However November 1st found The Whirling Disc exceptionally busy. Steve wondered if people had started giving out money to trick-or-treaters instead of the sugar-sticky candy he'd been given as a child or if it really was just because there wasn't much else open on Sunday nights besides half a dozen churches or so. Either way, Steve didn't make it out of there until half past midnight.
He knew Ghost would be at the cemetery tonight. Midnight would mark the beginning of the day of the dead and Steve knew Ghost wouldn't be able to stay away. He also knew that Ghost would need him, that Ghost always needed him, but tonight he'd need him more. Ghost would walk barefoot over the flagstones, tiptoeing carefully over the cracks. His pale skin would glow against the moon light, cheeks flushed red from the cold and his eyes glossed over as they fluttered in and out of the back of his pretty little head. It would be up to Steve to watch over him while he soaked in all the things Steve couldn't see, the things Steve couldn't hear and it would be up to Steve to shake him out of it, set him free when he went too deep.
Ghost hadn't always spent the night of the dead in the graveyard, hadn't always visited his grandmother's grave. "She's not here, y'know," he'd say with nonchalance. She's in the house more. But something about New Orleans had changed him, more specifically something about the vampires they'd gone to that faded velvet city in search of. It had struck something deep within him that he wouldn't talk about; much like their first shared kiss in Arkady's attic bedroom. But just because no one mentions it doesn't make it any less real and ever since he'd made his sunset trips a must. He hadn't missed one since. Furthermore, he hadn't let Steve miss one either. And hell, if Steve could believe in vampires with crooked teeth and busted bottom lips, believing in Ghost was nothing.
To Steve's luck and amazement, his old T-bird cranked on the third try and he cracked open a beer before he'd even made it out of the crumbling parking lot. Fog rolled in thick from the nearby reservoir, making it hard for Steve to see more than a few yards in front of him at any given time. He pushed the car faster than he should, not missing a single turn on the roads he knew by heart, the roads he'd driven every single day since he was thirteen, the roads he didn't have to see to follow.
He topped the hill and turned down the same roads Ghost had ridden his bike down earlier, his headlights briefly illuminating a scattered handful of wooden crosses and wax wreaths along the roadside. They stood in silent memorial to those who had died along the side of the steep slopes and sharp curves of the road. Every year families of the victims would add to them—a worn camo hat, a football jersey, even a bright orange beer koozie. Steve had always found such things ridiculous and tacky, but most people he knew revered them, bowing their heads or muttering things like, "What a shame…" under their breath as they passed them by. Without a second thought, Steve threw his now empty beer can at one of them as he turned down Melissa Way and pulled into the cemetery. He killed the engine and let the door of the T-bird slam in his wake.
Steve saw Ghost the moment he topped the hill that marked the entrance of the graveyard, the hill that served—in part—as the graveyard's front gate, blocking the very vastness of the graves from those passing by on the road, preventing them from realizing what secret horrors called such grounds home. At one point there had been an actual gate, a huge wrought iron creation that connected nothing and kept no one out because of a superstition that it was an abomination to fence in the dead, but a group of drunk college rednecks had fastened a chain from the gate to the back of their pickup and pulled it down for no reason anyone ever discovered. Ghost told him that the pickup had driven off a bridge into the Altamaha River not even a week later, that the guys involved had been on their way to Florida but no one had ever recovered their bodies or their truck. Steve never asked how Ghost knew such a thing, he didn't have to.
Ghost lay on his back in the damp grass, his knees bent and ankles hooked over the rising square back of the grave next to his grandmother's, the grave of someone once named Nfsigbiderie—the man whose name Steve had never been able to pronounce. Steve watched from a distance as Ghost idly colored the tips of his fingernails with a red Magic Marker. The watery color beaded up across the surface of his nails and smeared off in the grass, staining his skin and the cuffs of his faded army jacket. Every now and then Ghost's eyes would trail from his fingertips to the night sky, following the Fed-Ex planes without blinking as they made their way west toward Memphis. Steve's breath caught in his throat, his steps faltered. Slowly Ghost turned his head, his pale eyes instantly locking on Steve as if he'd known he was there all along. And perhaps he had. It was impossible, Steve thought, for anyone to really know what Ghost knew and what he didn't. He was completely helpless as Ghost reached out to him, pulling him down next to him.
"That one died of old age," Ghost began, his voice so soft that Steve had to strain to hear him. "He just laid down one day, thought briefly about whether or not he should take a bath and then fell asleep. Just like that. No pain, no suffering." He tilted his head back without sitting up, his eyes falling upon another grave and back arching as he did so. "The lady over there. Do you see, Steve? The one with the little vines of ivy engraved on her stone? She knew my grandmother, drowned in the creek near the Civil War memorial."
Steve cringed and wrapped his arms around himself a little tighter. The two of them had been sitting in relative silence for the longest time—a joint passed back and forth, a shared bottle of cheap bourbon. Minutes faded into hours and in the distance the clock on top the Farmers Hardware was tolling the hour. One . . . two . . . three . . . Three A.M. Steve cringed again. Ghost reached back out to him, pulling the bottle from his cold fingers and taking a drink.
"You know, there's a guy buried down the way that died drinking vodka. A policeman pried the bottle from his death grip when he arrived on the scene and still has it to this day, sitting in the cupboard with all his others," Ghost shrugged as if everything he said was old news and slightly boring to him.
"Oh yeah?" Steve asked, raising his eyebrows as if he were merely interested and not terrified of the things Ghost knew without knowing. "What kind of vodka?"
"Luksusowa," Ghost shrugged again and looked back up at the night sky, red Magic Marker transferring from his finger tips to his lips as he chewed in the skin along the side of his nails. He seemed apart from the rest of reality, as if Steve was merely getting a glimpse of him through some kind of rift in time. He blinked hard and looked away when Steve wrapped a hand around his wrist, moving it away from his mouth.
"What about that one?" Steve asked, needing Ghost to stay with him, to stay focused. He couldn't bring himself to let go of him, as if he were afraid that if he did Ghost would disappear, vanishing without a trace and leaving him all alone in the dark, musty graveyard. "How did good ol' No-figs-bee die?"
Pale skin grew even paler and Ghost shook his head, his bare feet pressing against the very grave Steve had just mentioned. A strange quiet was followed by the low hum of an engine as another plane passed by overhead.
"What?" Steve chided, his grip tightening on Ghost's wrist. "Don't tell me you don't know."
For a moment Steve could have sworn he smelled melted candle wax, heard the sound of stockinged feet walking briskly over cobblestone. Ghost sat up suddenly and Steve had no choice but to let go, the ground tilting beneath him even though he wasn't even standing and his vision blurring.
"What?" Steve asked again, slightly peeved that Ghost had pulled away from him.
Ghost sighed, but didn't look back at him, and when he finally spoke to answer him his voice was soft and childlike. His hands trembled as he clenched them into fists, not wanting Steve to see even though he knew Steve always saw.
"Nfsigbiderie," he said, pronouncing the name slowly so that Steve could hear every syllable. "Werewolves got that one…"
"Werewolves?" Steve's brown eyes grew wider, then narrowed. "No they didn't you fucker."
He laughed, actually laughed and turned to look at Steve, the corners of his mouth turned up in a grin and the bottle still held between his legs. Moonlight caught his eyes. Two soft lights reflected back at Steve. And for a moment, he appeared fifteen again, just like he had when he and Steve used to sneak out of his grandmother's house after dark and climb hills till they could see over the rooftops, just like he did before she'd died and Steve had dragged him behind him to New Orleans in search of something that wasn't even his to find. Headlights appeared on the road and Steve pulled Ghost back down till they'd passed, suddenly afraid it was the cops and they were going to be caught and carried back home, his mind completely forgetting that they were both adults, that they had nothing to be afraid of as long as they were together.
Habit caused Steve to wrap his arms around Ghost's waist. Habit caused him to brush his cheek against Ghost's temple. Neither of them cared that the bourbon was spilling into the overgrown grass, its amber liquid making its way down to the very graves they laid on top of. Briefly their lips met, then parted.
"I'm drunk…" Steve said a little too loudly for the moment, something he never confessed to unless he wasn't nearly drunk enough.
"But what do you want?" Ghost asked, red smeared across pale lips and his mind touching Steve's across the distance between them.
Steve swallowed, looked away. A million images flooded his mind and he fought desperately to hold them at bay, not to let them escape and betray them. He wondered what would have happened to him if Ghost had let him walk though the spider's web, had never introduced himself or invited him home with him, if he'd simply stayed safely in his tree, watching Steve with his pale blue eyes. Laying there in the graveyard with Ghost made that day—the day they'd first met—seemed a thousand years away. He turned and buried his face against Ghost's shoulder.
Just you . . . Only you.
Ghost caught the thought as a echo, a lost whisper in the midnight breeze. Steve clung tighter to him, but he didn't push him away. He pulled him closer, hands fisting in Steve's faded t-shirt, ankle hooking around the back of his knees.
"I'm not a faggot," Steve muttered against skin, his lips parting and the tip of his tongue tasting the cold salt of Ghost's throat.
"No, of course not . . ."
Mouths locked and fingers tangled in dirty hair even before the last breath of whisper had left Ghost's lungs, a desperate struggle for warmth and a sense of safety. The night grew around them as clothes peeled off like flower petals—he loves me, he loves me not . . . He loves me. Finally, when both were as naked as the stars in the sky and neither could take much more of the waiting, Steve pulled Ghost's pants to him and turned their pockets inside out. Dried leaves, marbles, a broken Catrinas doll and pennies spilled from them and Ghost pushed Steve away, reaching for his jacket instead. Cherry ChapStick. Hell, Steve thought, better than nothing and somehow so suiting.
They did it in the grass with Ghost's knees pushed up, his blonde hair draped like a spider's web across the base of the grave. Steve was rough enough to leave a mark, yet gentle enough not to hurt and their teeth clashed together when they kissed. Fingers traced over jaw bones and the curves of spines. Words of affection became sweet nothings muttered against alcoholic lips. Ghost came first, Steve not far behind him, Ghost's name leaving his lips followed closely by the three words he never said out loud at any other time. The words that he didn't have to say out loud any other time because it was Ghost and Ghost just knew without having to hear.
Heartbeats came down as the morning dew cooled the sweat on the skin and Ghost closed his eyes tightly against the shadows and colors that moved behind his eyelids. The dead pulled back, returned to their graves and peace settled around the pair. Without a second thought, Ghost took in a deep breath and feel asleep safe in Steve's embrace knowing that Steve would follow him; protect him from the demons of his dreams.
"One day you'll tell me the truth, wont you? About how what's-his-name died?" Steve asked as he redressed, his fingers working on re-buckling his belt. He sat on top of the very stone that marked Ghost's grandmother's grave, his lips slightly bruised and completely sober. The sun was already threatening to rise in the distance.
Ghost laughed, the contents of his pockets still spread out in the grass around him. He opened his mouth only to shut it again and then grinned.
"Of course not," he said, righting the spilt bottle and taking one last drink. "What fun would that be?"
On any other night at six A.M., Steve would have already found himself at home and warm. Stretched out on Ghost's floor, staring up at a ceiling covered in faded leaves and painted stars, Steve would be on his 3rd beer and listening to Ghost tell him all about his latest dream or whether or not they should just pack up and head for the stars. Something about Ghost made Steve feel like it was possible. No one understood Steve better than Ghost and Steve didn't even begin to claim to understand Ghost. But he got him and that had to count for something.
A.N. If you haven't read Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite you should download the ebook right now and do so. It's amazing and forever changed the way I view fiction from the very first time I read it. One of those southern gothic books from the early 90's from before vampires were 'all the teen rage.'
For those of you who have read it before, how'd I do? Did I pull them off well enough?
~Shin ( .com )