God over the Roaches
“What the fuck are you?” Casper hissed. The winds almost whipped away his words.
“I told you before, Cas.” Cain wrinkled his nose and spat blood on the floor. He spoke his next words around his fingers reaching into his mouth. “At least mostly human.”
With a yank, he pulled out a tooth and threw it into the bushes. Fresh, thick blood bubbled up from the gap in his perfect teeth, and Casper couldn’t tear his eyes away from the crimson oozing over his chin.
“That one never sits right.” Cain’s finger rubbed against his gum, his nose wrinkled. “I hope you know I’m going to have to kill a baby to put that back.”
Casper’s stomach dropped out. Oh my god, this fucking—
Cain groaned and waved his hand. “I’m kidding. Just kidding, sorry. Of course you don’t get that.” He put his hand on his hip and ran his fingers back through his rippling hair, sighing. Against the vivid crimson of the setting sun, he cut a striking black silhouette. “God knows teeth are far too easy for babies...”
“You’re fucking crazy.”
“Tell that to your hands, Cas. Now, are you going to come inside with me?”
What choice did he have? These phantom lashes around his wrists didn’t budge an inch no matter how much he strained against them. There was an invisible wall.
Now who’s crazy, Roach Boy
Casper whet his lips and edged up the path toward the hedges towering above him. Some kind of conifer that tickled the back of his neck. The grounds were massive. Maybe if he couldn’t run, he could hide until he found a way out.
“Okay,” Casper croaked. “I’ll come with you.”
A hint of a smile curved over Cain’s lips and he stepped aside to let Casper past him into the open grounds. Bugs scurried over his spine, Cain’s unseen presence like a knife in his back.
The manor house dominated the centre of the grounds, a hulking behemoth of elegant arches and intricate stonework. A patio lay off to one side, hidden in darkness away from the setting sun and ringed with flower beds that looked in full bloom – a shout of colour against the season. Mostly, though, there was grass. Rolling lawns and loping topiary animals and swathes of flowers across the green. In the far distance, just the right side of the forbidding bulk of the hedge border, a copse of trees straddled a small stream.
Not much of a place to hide, but it was a start.
Cain’s long legs carried him effortlessly, and it was easy enough for Casper to trudge in his soaked, mud-logged socks and fall behind. The blinding disc of the sun hung like a spill of blood on the horizon, and it cast Cain’s face in shadow as he glanced back over his shoulder. All dark but for his eyes, glinting fever red.
As soon as Cain turned away, Casper bolted. His feet slapped against the mud and the wind howled in his ears. Behind him, Cain shouted his name. Again and again, and Casper just fucking ran.
“Casper! For fuck’s sake!”
He wasn’t coming. Could he not catch him? Could the freaky witch stuff not reach—
The air shuddered. Cold so bitter deep the shock of it stole the strength from his legs. Casper’s knees splashed in the mud and his breath turned to clouds of ice and no inch of him could do anything but quail.
Sick, black rot churned through the air like a mist seeping out from the void between worlds. It blotted out the grounds. It blotted out the sun. Hundreds of metres above his head the mist closed the world off in a dome and Casper sat alone surrounded by a miasma of death. Cold, dark but for a sliver of sunlight peering through a pinhole high above him.
It was real. The power of it trembled in his bones, whipped against his skin like a blizzard. A corpse-stink rode high in the air, worming down his throat and suffocating him. Casper hunkered down on the ground, shudders gripping his body like a palsy. What is this? The ghoul crept around the wall and slurped up the tendrils of mists that broke free. Is this magic?
Cain’s footsteps squelched in the mud as he walked past. The sharp cut of him towered against the blackness and he stood over Casper, a god above a bug. Yet in the unfathomable mind of this god, some catastrophic snap had him wasting away in the mud with the worms and the beasts. Delirious, he begged the roach in his cupped hands to love him while he crushed the very life from it.
“Don’t run, Cas. There’s nothing out here. Please just come inside and get warm.”
Follow, Roach, your god commands you.
Clawed nails dragged up Cain’s arms, and the ghoul poked its head out from behind him. Cain didn’t flinch as the ghoul gnawed on his shoulder, needle teeth gentle against his flesh and Casper glowered at it, at the swirling in its black eyes and the dizzy red flush across its sallow cheeks as it threaded its arms around Cain’s waist and clawed at his chest. The ghoul didn’t mind him an inch.
The ghoul winked and slid its hand into Cain’s trousers.
“Please, Cas,” Cain said. “Come inside. I promise I won’t take you back to your room.”
Casper nodded and stumbled to his feet. What choice did he have? Even if Cain told him he’d be tossed back in that prison to rot, he’d have to follow or the pestilent fog would ferry him there, all his struggles nothing but claws raking through the mist. Shivering, Casper nodded and stumbled up to his feet. The smile Cain turned to him before letting the mist depart was a slice of a dying sun.
There was no hope, and somehow that was more freeing than all the rest of this. Nothing he did now mattered. His fate was sealed. The norns had dreamed this for him since the moment Cain laid eyes on him in the bar. Before even, back when Jack forced him out of his old bar out of paranoid jealousy. The day he got on a coach with just his backpack and condemned himself to the urban prison. The first time he slung drinks in his old hometown bar. That first, cringing time he’d opened a gay porno on the family computer while no one was home and came as soon as the first cock slipped into a waiting hole.
Maybe the day he was born.
Casper’s startled crack of laughter caught Cain’s attention. He turned back beneath the arching willow that curved above this small side door that he’d led Casper to. Maybe Cain should look triumphant with this victory, but the edges of his lips only pulled out in that weary, almost embarrassed way.
The door opened to a softly lit corridor. It smelt fresher than that vast salon down here. Less dusty, and the floorboards shone in a dull, lived-in way. Casper left the door open, but Cain flicked his finger and the knock of it shutting echoed up the corridor.
The ghoul trailed just behind Cain, its fingers twined around his swinging hand. The wicked grin splitting its face in two made Casper shudder, and dreamy, it swirled its finger around its ear.
“You told me that already,” Casper said to it.
Cain glanced back. “What?”
Spiralling, spiralling, spiralling down. Round and round and down on the black-hole eyes of his ghoul. His life was opening your eyes to the world turned on its head, your bed crushing you into the ceiling and everything outside tumbling away into the beckoning void of space.
This can’t be happening.
Their path wound through the guts of the house, those ugly bits removed from the splendour of the manor, but it was these places – the servant’s kitchen, all big iron pots and stolid wooden counters, and the small breakfast nook, the window by the table now dark with lost light – and only these places that felt like anything more than a mausoleum.
Still, other than the sense of … presence, no other signs of occupation marred the place as if even Cain didn’t live here.