Magaly over at Pagan Culture has invited everyone to participate in this year’s All Hallow’s Grim celebration of light and darkness with a new twist (because she likes twists). And coincidentally I had a peculiar story sitting on my hard drive – a story without a home I was not ready to archive. So I thought I would share it with all of you, just for fun, and to remember that love and death are much like light and dark, and that it may be difficult to determine what is good and what is evil. Ready? I hope you enjoy it!
The room seemed unreal. Tiled walls reflected cold, greenish light. Some unknown person had scrubbed the place of even the last traces. Had it not been for the gurneys sitting next to each other along the walls, no one would have known what this room was good for. Clean white sheets were hiding various, probably human, shapes.
Andrew was freezing. His long black coat was supposed to keep him warm and cozy. It was doing a crap job. Or maybe the cold was coming from the inside. He buried his hands deep inside his pockets and tried not to inhale too deeply. The room smelled of dead things and formaldehyde.
Mambo Sweet besides him was busy laying things out on the floor. A chicken was clucking nervously in its portable cage. There were candles and sachets with what Andrew supposed were powdered herbs. Or toad skin, for all he cared. He just wanted his lover back.
“Are you sure there is no magic running in the family?” Mambo Sweet asked in a voice dried out by cigar smoke. She was tiny, and almost as wide as she was tall, wearing a dark brown track suit and faded red Crocs. She looked nothing like Andrew had imagined, and he had said so when he picked her up tonight. He then learned that they had some messy work ahead of them, and that obviously brown hid blood stains best.
“I said, is there really no magic in the family?” Mambo Sweet repeated.
“It is important, you know”, she insisted. “I do not want any magic interfering with my powers. The results would be unpredictable.”
Andres shrugged. He did not believe in magic, anyway. Even now, rolling all gurneys except one out into the hallway, the rational part of his brain kept asking him what he thought he was doing. He had shut his brain up by insisting that this was probably going to be like therapeutic hypnosis, where he was guided through his imagination to find peace. Not even to himself, deep down in the dark, could he confess he hoped it might work. Magic was not real. After all, he was an educated man.
The remaining body was positioned in the middle of the room. Mama Sweet lit some incense. The smell mixed with the cold cigar smoke clinging to her clothes. Andrew started feeling dizzy. He stood in a corner and watched as the voodoo lady drew symbols on floor and walls with a red paste. It had the color of blood, but smelled like earth and rain and strange roots.
The shape beneath the sheet might have been a tall, slim person while it was still alive. Andrew remembered the first time he had seen that long blond hair. Dancing. Loud music. Too many drinks. Kisses from a stranger. Somehow they had ended up in his room, naked, sweaty and tired from the best sex Andrew had ever had.
He then learned that the handsome stranger was called Gabriel.
“My mom probably hoped I would remain her angel”, the younger man said in a quiet voice, smiling. “Well, my life is not exactly angelic. I have not spoken with my family in over a decade.”
“I am sorry to hear this”, Andrew replied. He kept watching this beautiful person – sculpted muscles under slightly tanned, almost golden skin. Pink flowers of joy and exhaustion were blooming on Gabriel’s cheeks. He combed his hair back with his fingers. Hair that almost reached his lower back. It had felt like silk sliding over Andrew’s body.
“Never mind”, Gabriel stretched. The light from the neon sign right in front of the window painted his naked body. “They were a bunch of bigoted dicks anyway.” He turned around and kissed Andrew, deep. Pressed his body against his lover’s. Andrew felt his need. A soft moan escaped his and was caught by the other man’s hungry lips.
They stayed at the hotel till noon and never spent a day without seeing each other, if only for a few minutes, in the three years following that magical night. It did not matter that Andrew was more than ten years older than Gabriel, or that they had to hide their relationship from the world most of the time. Three good years, and then an elderly couple had found Gabriel in an alley, dead. The police never found out who shot him or why. His wallet was gone, as was the spark from his eyes.
Mambo Sweet turned around and looked Andrew straight in the eye. “It’s about to get real. You had better step into the circle with me.”
He obliged. She had explained every step to him when they had met in her home last week, lest he might do something stupid during the ceremony. The improvised altar, the offerings of flowers and fruit, the chicken, the knife.
Mambo Sweet raised her voice in song. The cigar smoke rasp was gone, all of a sudden. She sounded like a wailing banshee. Andrew could not make out any words. He stood motionless, wrapped in his long black coat, and watched the tiny woman singing and dancing around the circle she had drawn on the floor. Fortunately they were three stories below the ground. Else they might have scared the patients to death in their beds.
Andrew thought of the gurneys sitting in the hallway and smiled a sad smile. So many people left behind. So much love gone to waste.
Mambo Sweet drew back the sheet and exposed Gabriel’s dead body.
He looked almost as if he was sleeping. His skin was a sickly pale under the harsh lights of the morgue. The tiny hole in his chest looked like a birth mark. His golden hair was spread out beneath his shoulders.
Andrew could not help himself. He touched his lover. Slid a finger down the dead man’s lean chest, caressing him as he had done so many times. It did not feel the same. He held his breath, hoping for a heart beat – something. Anything. Marveled at the beauty that remained behind. Swallowed, hard.
Mambo Sweet watched him closely. “You understand that this is only so you can say your goodbyes”, she reminded him. “Afterwards we put him back, and you will leave with me.”
“Of course.” Andrew nodded.
“You wouldn’t believe the sick stuff some people ask from me”, the voodoo priestess mumbled. Then she turned around, threw another powder on the glowing charcoals and started a new song.
The cold crept into Andrew’s bones. His throat was dry. He blinked slowly. Dozens of candles were positioned on the gurney – black ones at Gabriel’s feet, red ones around his head. Mambo Sweet was shaking a rattle. It sounded like a convention of angry rattlesnakes. From her song, Andrew could make out the names of gods – orishas, she had called them when she had mentioned them to him during their meeting. The air in the room seemed to thicken, heavy curls of scented smoke swirled around the circle lazily.
Suddenly the song stopped.
Mambo Sweet stood still, head thrown back. She seemed to wait. Then she turned her head at an impossible angle and looked at Andrew. Her eyes were pitch black, and her voice a rumbling bass when she asked, “What do you want, stranger?”
“I want my lover back”, Andrew replied, and, after a short pause, added, “please.”
“What do you offer?”
Andrew swallowed. Suddenly it was all gone – his skepticism, his belief in science and everything that could be explained. Mambo Sweet had laid it all out for him, of course. But this was different. Actually being here. Facing Baron Samedi – most powerful of the Guédé Loa. He had understood as much from Mambo Sweet’s rambling explanations. His throat went dry, and the smell of cigars seemed to thicken in the air.
The person that had been Mambo Sweet smiled. It was rather a baring of teeth. Her face seemed to shrink, stretch over the bones of her skull like a mask made from human skin.
“I said, what do you offer?”
“The blood of a living… living being”, Andrew replied in a whisper. He knew his part. He was afraid. Carefully he lifted the lid of the cage and plucked out the chicken. It clucked nervously, but did not try to escape. Mambo Sweet had fed it with rum-soaked raisins.
“To make things easier”, she had explained. “Also the Baron likes himself some good rum.”
Baron Samedi tilted his head. “A chicken in exchange for your lover?” he rumbled. “Just how much did you love him?”
Andrew did not know what to reply.
The Loa turned around and came to face Gabriel’s dead body. He watched it for a moment, and his smile widened. “Normally I am a lover of women”, he said, “but for this one I might make an exception. A beautiful creature.”
Andrew felt a pang of jealousy. “I know”, he whispered. “Please, bring him back. The chicken, you remember?”
“What else do you have to offer?”
This had not been part of the plan. Andrew’s thoughts raced. He started sweating under his black coat. He had nothing to offer. Nothing, except… “When I die, I am going to be one of yours. A follower.” He exhaled. “A member of your entourage.”
Baron Samedi snorted. “What should I do with you?” he asked. “Now, this one is really beautiful. You, on the other hand…”
“Gabriel is not mine to offer”, Andrew replied. He ignored the insult.
The Loa thought about this for a while. The air grew heavy with smoke and darkness. Finally he nodded. “Well said. Proceed.”
Andrew fumbled with the chicken, transferred it to his left hand. The bird made confused sounds of protest. Then he grabbed the silver knife. A quick slash, and hot liquid sprayed over his hand. The bird trembled for a moment, then it hung still. The cut had been deep enough to almost severe its spine.
Some of the blood had sprinkled the Baron’s face. The Loa smiled. He licked his lips.
Andrew felt his stomach rise. He swallowed hard.
“Please?” he whispered.
Slowly, Baron Samedi nodded. He turned around. His small mortal frame appeared to stretch and grow, and although it was impossible, he seemed to tower over the gurney with Gabriel’s dead body. The air grew heavy, and cold.
Images raced through Andrew’s mind. Gabriel’s smile. The first time he had seen his marvelous body, naked and in action. Red wine spilling down the young man’s chin. He heard laughter and was not sure if it was Gabriel’s, or that of the Baron. It did not matter. Andrew remembered their last fight, and how they had made love afterwards instead of making up. Fierce, like two flames trying to engulf each other. His body had hurt for days afterwards. He did not know anymore what the fight had been about, and in the end he had called and apologized, claiming he had been wrong all along. Everything just so Gabriel would not be mad at him anymore. The image of the young man leaving his apartment immediately after climaxing, sweat dripping down his back, without another word… it had been almost too much for Andrew to bear. He never wanted to see Gabriel leave again. If that meant admitting to being wrong every now and again, he could live with that. So he had called, and apologized, and that night they had once again discovered their love for each other, which was at the same time better and worse than their lust.
Just one week later Gabriel had been gone.
Andrew blinked and noticed he was crying. He did not care. He was waiting for something.
He thought he had seen movement, minuscule action. A finger twitching, maybe. Or his vision was weird from lack of sleep. His heart was racing.
Gabriel’s hand moved slowly, like it had often done when he was sleeping. As if he was looking for something.
The Baron raised his hands high above his head, and the dead man sat up. His eyes were unfocused.
“Offer him a drink, man”, Baron Samedi growled.
Andrew held the chicken out to his lover and watched in horror as the young man buried his face in the blood-covered neck of the dead animal. Nausea washed over him as he heard a soft sucking sound.
The paleness seemed to fade from Gabriel’s skin. His toes flexed. His chest moved. He was breathing. A thin red line crawled down his chest from the hole that did not belong there.
Baron Samedi disappeared without another word. Mambo Sweet stumbled and almost fell. Andrew caught her just in time. The short woman was extremely heavy. Her eyes fluttered open while Andrew was still holding her to his chest. Her voice was flat. “He showed me what you are going to do.”
Sadness washed over him. He looked up. “Gabe”, he called quietly. There was warmth in his voice that had not been there before. “Do you remember me?”
The dead man looked up. The chicken carcass fell into his lap. A mask of drying blood had spread all over his face. He looked confused, then his memory returned. “Andrew!” He reached out to touch his lover.
Mambo Sweet did not attempt to escape. “He won’t stay this way.”
“I know.” Andrew’s grip tightened around her shoulders.
“Gabriel, this woman is going to separate us. We have to do something about it.”
The younger man tilted his head, and golden hair hid part of his face. Then he moved forward. “Can’t let that… happen.”
He ripped Mambo Sweet apart.
His fingers dug into her abdomen and pulled.
The woman screamed.
Andrew clamped his hand over her mouth. She bit him. He did not let her go. Her body thrashed for a moment, then her strength was pulled out of her together with several feet of intestines. The smell was terrible. He gagged.
Gabriel did not seem to care. He worked with the efficiency of a machine. His right arm disappeared into the hole he had dug, almost up to his shoulder. He yanked something, and the voodoo queen went limp. His hand reappeared. He tossed a dark lump of muscle, peppered with shards of bone, onto the table behind him.
Carefully, Andrew placed the woman on the ground. His hand hurt. He looked up and saw Gabriel standing there, blood dripping slowly from the bullet hole in his chest. He swallowed and felt his heart expand.
Together they cleaned the room as good as they could. Put the rags they used scrubbing the walls and floor into giant trash bags. Gabriel followed the orders Andrew gave him mechanically, without any sign of emotion or remorse.
Andrew spread the white sheet that had covered his lover over Mambo Sweet. More blood trickled down the sides of her torso as he did it. For a moment, his gaze went black. He had to eat, and rest, and most of all he had to clean the bite on his right palm. Heavens knew what kinds of germs he had rubbed into it while cleaning. He dressed down to his boxers, put his blood-stained clothes into the trash bag. He had brought sweat pants and T-shirts for both of them. All in dark brown, just in case.
“I am hungry”, Gabriel whispered. The life had returned to his eyes, and his movement was only a tiny bit clumsy. When he moved, the smell of decay inherent to the room swirled around him. He had followed Andrew’s instructions without hesitation.
What did a dead man eat? Andrew did not know. But they would figure something out, that much was sure. He would never ever let Gabriel go. All they had to do was get out of this hospital unseen, and burn the evidence. Mambo Sweet had left the door at the back of the building unlocked. He wondered where she had got the key. Then he dismissed the thought. It did not matter anymore.
“Are you coming?” he asked, his hand on the door handle.
“I am… not sure.” Gabriel’s voice was soft, confused.
“Are you okay?” Please, Andrew prayed to no one in particular, don’t let it go wrong. Not now.
Gabriel looked at Andrew with hungry eyes. Slowly he raised his arms. Grabbed the older man and pressed him to his chest. He was cold. The sound escaping his cold lips might have been a moan, or simply air escaping dead lungs. Golden strands of hair hid his face.
“Let’s go home, please”, he whispered.