Cold Breath of the Devil
The wind howled through the night and the bridge beneath Casper’s feet trembled under its force.
It was the only real thing in this concrete hell, the wind. Fuck all these marks of man, all the shields against its fury, it took the channels built as a statement of the blessed order of mankind and turned them to megaphones for its tirade against the world. Here on this bridge above the highway, it buffeted his face in screaming gusts and it came so fast, so quick, so storming that it left behind all the stink of pollution and filled his lungs with the bright taste of nature. Petrichor, the scent of the earth after it rained.
That taste was the only reason he still stood on the right side of the rail.
Night off work, tonight, and right at the beginning, he’d had a call. Five grand, that wheezing voice had said, five grand for the night and anything we like.
Casper asked how they’d gotten his number. The profile had come straight down after his last day and he saved every number that called him. #One, #Two, #Three, on and on. Capped out at #FortyIh8myself.
They said they’d saved it for a special occasion and reiterated the offer. No kids. No animals. No mutilation, surgical play, or dismemberment. Anything else goes.
Five thousand. Casper had tried to remember the taste of shit and after a second, asked for the address.
Now the wind screamed for him.
Was it the cold that made his whole body shudder? It bit so vicious. Bitter ice. Freight trucks thundered down the highway, swaying in the gale, and the odd car with bright headlights dodged between them.
All those lives like suspended murk in the ocean.
Two hours ago, he’d stumbled out of the apartment. Bloody. Bruised. Sick. Sick. Sick. So fucking sick it took every fibre of himself not to just keep walking, stumble out into the road and lie down and die. He’d rung Jack. Incoherent. Jack tore him out for being stupid and a whore and turning tricks again when he swore not to and told him he was done before hanging up.
If he tore off his skin, nothing but putrid slime would coat his bones.
His feet carried him blind along those quiet city streets. No one seemed to blink at the blood crusted under his nose and the black eye swelling closed and the split lip. Casper didn’t. Every injury scoured off another bit of his scum-slick skin.
He could still feel his fingers. Him.
Cain answered on the second ring.
Cain Cain I—I need some help
Cas, where are you?
That bridge do you remember that bridge the one we walked back along I’m on that bridge Cain I really need some help
Fifteen minutes, Cas. Wait for me, alright, don’t—
The phone plummeted from his boneless fingers, the light from the screen like a falling star. It smashed against the tarmac the moment before a lorry smeared it across the road.
Would his body smear out red or brown? Grey brain matter slick on the tarmac studded with skull shards like precious gems. The driver screaming to a halt and throwing up as he staggered from the cab. Hard-faced police officers marking off the muddy streak and shaking their heads that one body could contain such filth. Jack’s slow realisation that Casper wouldn’t be there next time he let go of his anger enough to make things right.
Didn’t it sound delightful?
Casper. Gone. No memory. No filth staining his skin. Free.
For the first time in his life, he’d finally be able to snatch up some control in his blind grasping hands.
Hand over his mouth. Rope scorching his skin. Something so big it tore him in—
Casper slammed his head against the railing and screamed.
--in two. The bang bang bang bang of that headboard against the wall. Count it down roach boy count it down five hundred to zero.
“Five hundred,” Casper whispered, staring down at the headlights whizzing past. “Four ninety-nine…”
Someone settled against the railing beside him at one-ten, and the count died on his lips. Shouldn’t there have been footsteps? The only sound had been the rattle of the railing and a fresh buffet against the wind. Cain wore a coat this time, a long one that billowed behind him in the gale, and his features looked broken in two as his eyes traced over Casper’s face.
His mess reflected right back at him. Something choked in his throat as he turned away.
“Of course I came.” So gentle, but it cut above the wind as if it weren’t there. “I promised I’d come any time you needed me.”
“That’s a … very long story, Cas. A very long story indeed. One day, if you want to hear, I’ll tell you.”
“You’d better tell me now.” Hung over the railing, he pointed his finger to the vertiginous floor. “I’m going down there. As soon as I reach zero.”
Cain straightened from his lounge on the rail. “How far are you from zero?”
“I don’t know. I lost count when you came.”
“Well, I’d better stay then. To ensure the count stays lost.”
And that was why Casper had called him, he supposed. So he didn’t reach zero. A shudder wracked him, and he twisted his fingers through his hair. It was so cold. So cold. He’d left behind his hat and his coat and his other hoodie.
“Cas, love? Is it alright if I give you a hug?”
It was. Somehow, it was. Casper still dreamt of how he’d felt in his arms, that gentle security. Where Jack’s touch burnt away the bad bits, Cain’s just washed them away.
But— “You don’t want to touch me. I’m—” Casper shuddered, ragged moan. “I’m filthy. My—God, my skin, it’s fucking—it’s vile. I’m fucking vile.”
Cain sunk in low beside him again. Behind that wavering smile, everything else crumbled away. His head tilted and his arm stretched past Casper to straighten up his hood, even if the wind whipped it askew again. “I’m asking if I’m allowed to, Cas. If you’re happy for me to.”
Numb, Casper nodded.
Some strength filled the smile. “Do you want my coat first? You look cold?”
The same white shirt and black slacks rippled in the howling wind and the coat he held out billowed like a sail. Cain eased Casper’s arms into it, too big by far bunching up by his hands and trailing on the floor, and he pulled it close and snug around his front. He tugged Casper’s hood up as well, a breath of cold on the tips of his fingers as he pulled it in place, and somehow it stayed there, ignorant of the wind.
The coat smelt fresh. Vanilla and paper and fallen pine needles scattered across a forest floor. Just like Cain’s wrists as they brushed close to his face, hands pushing his ragged hair back beneath the hood, smelt of bitter cold and the first touch of snow. All the warmth of him lived in his dopey smile and awestruck eyes, and in the soft passion in every touch that graced Casper’s skin.
“Still want a hug?”
Casper nodded. Then he cleared the scratch of his throat. “Like—” Casper turned from Cain and his face that broke his stupid heart to look out at the highway stretching between tower blocks and the neon lights on the horizon. “Like this? I don’t want—I need to—to have something to look at.”
And as much as Cain felt safe, he couldn’t bear the claustrophobia of having his face pressed into someone’s chest.
“Of course.” Just a breath, clear through the wind like he whispered in Casper’s ear. Even with all the bulk of this over-sized coat, Cain settled in behind him tall enough to make him feel small. His arms closed around Casper, one low around his waist and the other beneath his arms, holding him tight and close against his solid chest. His chin rested on top of Casper’s head, then the idea of his lips, and then his cheek. “Is this okay?”
A whimper guttered in Casper’s raw throat. “It’s perfect.”
He felt the way that gasped breath tightened through Cain’s stomach against his back. His cheek pressed in against Casper’s head and almost imperceptibly, he rubbed it against the hood. Did he feel the way Casper shook in his arms? Had the filth oozing off his body yet soaked through his clothes and into Cain’s skin? Two lorries hammered down the road fast enough to shake the bridge, a low speed drag race to nowhere.
“If you want to talk, Cas, I’m listening, but if you don’t, I’m right here anyway, alright?”
It could have been hours before the words began to dribble from his lips, a confession as if it might rip out this toxic parasite latched into the core of his brain. However long it took, Cain waited. As he talked, he stayed silent and patient as the world spun by around them.
“Someone rang me earlier. Wheezy voice, kinda like me if I was a mouth-breather. Sounded like a massive creep. Five. Five grand, no questions asked. I do a lot of fucked up shit for a lot less so—so I—I went. I guess it’s not anything to you, but five … even one would—it’d be good. It’d be really, really good. Thought it’d be some fucking weird shit, might even be like—like proper fucked sadistic shit but—but y’know, I’m a fucked up little junkie slut and I kinda like most of that shit anyway so I took some dope with me and got revved up for it anyway. Like fuck it, if it’s five k I’ll treat it like I organised it in the first place.
“G-Got there. Nice place. L-Little house, getting a bit suburb-y. Guy said come—come round the—the back way. Y’know, who wants a freak like me knocking on the door where the neighbours can see, right? I—I knocked and—and—h-he—he— R-R—” Fuck, gonna be fucking sick. Casper hunched over in Cain’s arms and Cain gave him the space, even edged round to the side to hold him like that instead, as he clasped the railing and retched. Dry. Just like his eyes. Why couldn’t he just fucking cry?
Because corpses didn’t have functional tear ducts. Cue the fucking laugh track, roach. Shuddering, Casper wiped away the spit hanging from his lip and pressed his forehead against the railing.
“I just fucking ran,” he croaked. “B—But the gate—one of them tall ass solid wood ones. S—His friend, he’d locked it. Cou—Couldn’t climb it. I mean probably could but before I got a chance there—Like a fucking horror movie right, pounding footsteps and then something smashes over the back of my head. I mean not like a movie, ’cause I only went down for a sec, but D—he—he’s already—he’s fucking got me arms up behind me and—and something st—stuffed in my mouth and a—a gun—”
Casper pressed his fingers up into the fleshy space beneath his chin, shivering, and now Cain held him tighter, still around the side with his forehead pressed against the side of Casper’s head and his breaths harsh, panting in his ear. Almost sounded like the guy was crying. At least someone could cry for the cockroach squished beneath fate’s stinking boot.
“Wish I’d fucking made him shoot me but I’m—I’m so dizzy. Then—then I’m in and it’s all fucking over.
“They let me go once—once th—they were d—done. He knows I’ll never say shit so what’s the fucking harm. I rang Jack and he just—fuck—” Some noise like a sob choked up his throat. The metal shuddered against his forehead, bridge trembling in the wind, as he ground his skull against it. “Cunt didn’t even listen. Just—just went off and I’m standing there on the side of the street wanting to s—smash my head against the fucking floor ’til I break it just—just listening to him fucking go in on me and then he broke up with me. And—and now I’m standing here instead—and I’m counting—I’m counting like I used to count and when I hit zero it’s all over, except this time I won’t have to keep doing the last hundred over and over ’til it’s zero ’cause I’m in control. It’s my fucking skin and I bet if one of those lorries hits me it’ll finally scrape all this fucking filth off. I just want to tear it all fucking off. I’m so fucking filthy and it’s—it’s in my gut and my lungs right down to my fucking bones and I just—I just want—”
It’s our little secret, Cassie. Now be a good boy and put this in your mouth. And the wadded up underwear tasted of sweat and shit and his own fucking fear just the same. No matter how used up he was, it still hurt like it was going to tear it apart. He still fucking deserved every single bit of it and there was no light at the end of the tunnel that wouldn’t burn off his fucking skin.
“I want to run away. I don’t want to live anymore. I just want it all to go away.”
The devil whispered in his ear, black chocolate sin and the weight of his own trembling in his voice. It caressed his lips and his throat and ran smooth long fingers all the way down his quivering stomach to close around his—
“I can take you away, Casper. You told me once, love, that you wished I’d just stolen you away the moment I laid eyes on you and I failed you then, but this time I won’t. This time I can make sure no one ever hurts you again.”
Ice crawled down Casper’s spine, a slow glacier calving off and the shock of cold bursting through his whole body. Heart pounding, he twisted around in Cain’s arms, and his perfect stranger’s fingers settled freezing against his face. The elegant legs of a spider crafted from snow digging into his jaw and pulling him close for the venomous kiss.
Some part of him was still torn between the two worlds he offered on his palms before everything went black.