“Shadows bleed.” I say.
Your heart shelters pity—an orphanage for unwanted love. You watch Maddie lick my skin. A ritual of old wisdom. Her kiss summons pain and you almost protest. Inherited blood rises from a re-opened wound. The colour of a vulgar lipstick.
“You cut too deep.”
Maddie and I know true intimacy. She’s a tender whisper on a crimson tongue. I invite her deeper. Your expression changes to pregnant sorrow.
My eyes linger on your fading tattoo. A black and grey outline of a heart pierced by a woeful dagger. I wonder who stabbed your heart and how many hearts you’ve stabbed in return.
“Lemme enrich that colour,” I stir my fingers in a palette of skin and blood, “lemme breathe life into your pale heart.”
You flinch away from me. Like I’m a piranha in a river of stillbirths. Your intense gaze falls on Maddie. She stares back.
“Drop the razor, Leon.”
You think you know me, but I refuse to betray Maddie. Her silver touch makes me feel alive. A complex relationship built on foundations of mute discretion and sharp comfort.
“We are here for the same reason. I won’t die, don’t worry.”
You kneel beside me. Teardrops falling like ancient civilizations. I adore the smallness of your feet. Delicate and pastel-white.
“Stop. Think of Freya. She won’t benefit from your death if you cut too deep.”
Your words don’t move me. Only the language of your eyes. Galvanic affection swirling in a wave of punishing blue. I caress your freckled face and your hair glows like dying embers. Rivulets of blood parachute to the grave-cold ground.
“Shadows bleed.” I say again.
The room smells of burnt parchment and wasted lives. There are two beds, but I’m alone. Almost. Maddie sleeps in my pocket. She wakes and punishes me for what I lost. For what I am. Cold teeth tease inked runes around my wrist. An unbearable tension pulses beneath. Maddie bites. Relief wrapped in dark blood, blossoming together. You enter my ash-smeared world on the fourth night. Your face is a chart of bewilderment. Like you’re sharing a cage with a broken animal. You contemplate turning back.
“Stay.” I say.
Maddie bares her teeth, still tinged with my bleeding regrets.
“Why are you cutting yourself?”
Your voice is croaky. Alcohol sings in your veins. I seal the wound with a cheap plaster.
“I’m feeding shadows.”
I finger-point at the untouched bed. Heavy duty. Military issued.
“What’s your name?” you ask, sinking opposite me.
Silence trampolines from my lips. You’re waiting, wondering why I haven’t asked. The truth is—your name is meaningless. I’m here to die.
“How long you’ve been in this place?”
“Four days.” I say.
“And how long does it take?”
I blame alcohol for blunting your mind. My face is a festival of sadness.
“I’m still here. I don’t know.”
“That’s crazy. No consistency then?”
Your lisp is betrayed by ill-chosen words. I grin and you blush like a clumsy ballerina.
“My tongue is too big for my mouth.”
I feign indifference, yet adoration hooks my heart.
“I need a drink.” you say.
Your large tongue teases behind fluorescent teeth, baiting me. I saunter across the room in slippers made from cold shadows. The cabinet is well-stocked.
“What would you like?”
You rummage in an unbranded rucksack. Layers of dark charisma are reinforced by the small, horizontal scar in the corner of your left eye.
“Something that gets me drunk”
I nod and reach for a bottle of absinthe from a country I can’t remember the name of. I feel your eyes on me. Maddie-sharp and guileful. I don’t read the label.
“Taste this hellfire.” I say, pouring you two fingers.
I glance at your lips, coloured like morganite. They welcome alcohol with mad urgency. A ravening gulp and you smile at the cloudy bottom.
“Mmm, devilishly good”
You raise your glass for a refill, but your eyes drink me instead. I feel like you undress my soul. The sound of flowing absinthe distracts you.
“Get drunk with me, Leon. We might be dead tomorrow.”
You swallow liquor like Maddie swallows blood.
“Does your savior have a name?” I say.
“What do you mean?”
I sit beneath your feet in half-lotus like a love-sick disciple.
“Maddie is my razor blade. She drinks my pain. What do you call your savior?”
“Captain Morgan. We shared many voyages together.”
You salute me, then the green fairy disappears down that sensual mouth I so badly want to taste.
“How long have you been cutting yourself?” you say.
There’s no point in hiding the truth. It will never leave this base. We’ll burst into the black sky and only stars will sing at our funeral.
“I was a human totem in my village.”
“What do you mean?”
You repeat those four words more than any other combination.
“Drunk old men believed that if they carved certain symbols into my skin—the gate would open. Well, they thought that I would open.”
I drop my gaze to your girlish shoulders, then to your tartan pants and Doc Martens, and back up to that mischievous grin. I instantly gravitate to your energy. I thrive on it.
“The gate to what?”
A soldier barges in. I don’t know his name or rank. He’s tall and unarmed and ordinary. His face is stained with authority and something like gratitude.
“Afternoon. It’s time. Thank you once again for helping us study what exactly happens to bomb victims. We’re making valuable progress here, thanks to people like you.”
You and I greet dark sun together, hand in hand. I glimpse two bomb chairs in a graveyard of lost body parts. I close my eyes and imagine when they detonate us. A vicious rain of limbs. If only we met under different circumstances. In another life, I know I could love you.
Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer, born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic. He roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism. He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry. His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library, Manor House Show, and The Black Room Manuscripts Volume IV. Other works include Katerina, Rare Breeds, The Crabian Heart, and Toroa.