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PULSE

by Angela Fiddler


Copyright 2008 by Angela Fiddler

Smashwords edition 2018

ISBN 9781370111862


*****

This book contains sexually explicit scenes and is meant to be enjoyed by adults.

This book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment, and may not be re-sold.

Cover image based on “Newman Peak” by pagedooley on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

Original edition edited by Judith David.

PULSE


When the call comes in the middle of the night — disturbing what had been a hot, sticky dream — Chris’s troubles should have been over. The bad guy who was responsible for a series of late night attacks is dead, the waiter a hero. Everything should have been over except for the paperwork. But the young waiter, Gregory, is the one who’s been making Chris’s dreams very hot and sticky. Gregory is on the run from a hypocritical television evangelist who removes the will of people and turns them into mindless slaves. He wants Gregory back – and he’s only getting stronger.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

About Angela Fiddler

Angela’s other books

Read an excerpt from The Care and Feeding of Sex Demons

Chapter One

The dream started out any number of ways, whether it was a nightmare of a test not studied for, or running through fields, looking for something he couldn’t quite define. The threat always remained the same. Something heavy wanted him, and Chris never needed to know what it was. He’d seen enough darkness in his life that he didn’t have to name it.

Then, the rain came. Not real rain, cold and unforgiving, but dream rain. Chris felt it on his skin, but the wetness didn’t chill him. A fog followed, and rather than being threatening, it enveloped him. Anticipation replaced breathless fear.

And, eventually, he came. The young man was naked, as always, except for the knife belt around his waist. The blade was almost the full length of his thigh, more of a machete than a knife, and the leg strap was down by his knee. There were things in this dream that clawed and bit, but the young man kept them away.

Chris had been having these dreams for over a year, and he’d seen the young man’s body fill out. He had lost the last bit of coltish length to his arms and legs. He’d broadened considerably across the shoulders, and today he appeared without a single scar marring his perfect skin. Chris had seen such horrible scars crossing his chest and belly, marks so deep they didn’t seem as though anyone would be able to survive them, and then the next night, a week or a month later, there’d be only a ghost of a scar.

His black hair was slicked down from the rain. His green eyes were bright. His lips were full — that had never changed — and when they kissed, those lips always felt bruised. Chris’s cock stirred as the young man emerged from the mist, but he kept his arms by his side and didn’t stare too long. There had been more times than not that he’d come this far and then something had spooked him. He’d withdraw as quickly as he appeared, leaving Chris with a raging hard-on and the feeling of rain on his skin.

In Phoenix.

They never spoke, either. Not that Chris could. He would open his mouth, ready to ask a million questions, but in the logic of this dream, in this place, no words would come. Or could come. That would ruin the whole thing. In the beginning, the young man played along, giving him a smile and pressing a finger against Chris’s lips. The smile had always seemed forced.

They circled around each other. That much was allowed. The knife should have been a threat to Chris. As a police officer, being unarmed in front of a young man with a huge knife strapped to his thigh, naked though he was, should have raised every bit of instinct for self-preservation Chris had, but it never did. When he was on his knees in front of the young man, his hands on the narrow hips as though he could pull him deeper down his throat, Chris would occasionally hook his fingers into the belt.

The young man would always, without flinching, remove Chris’s hand, moving it up or down, and Chris would let it be. It was only a dream, even if he could taste the salty residue of semen on his lips for hours after he’d woken.

Tonight, this night, the young man was especially skittish. Chris knew he wouldn’t stay. They circled around each other one more time. Chris held out his hands, beseeching. The young man glanced over his shoulder as though someone were speaking to him. A moment passed, then two, and the young man nodded, taking a step closer to Chris.

The young man’s skin was the temperature of the rain. Again, in fuzzy dream logic, one moment Chris was wearing his uniform, the next he was naked as well, naked and on his back in the loam. It shouldn’t have been comfortable. It should have been wet and cold and crawling with insects, but it was soft and dry, despite the rain. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, dream logic or not, to spread his legs, grip his knees, and let the young man push inside him.

There was no burn and no discomfort. The rain was still falling — now Chris felt it running over his shoulders as he was pushed back into the ground — but it fell silently. All he heard was his own breath, and a part of him realized that he was alone in his bed, and not flat on his back, that the hand around his cock was his own. The constant pressure, exact and perfect on his prostate, was nothing more than a distant memory spliced into the dream.

The young man shifted, pulling Chris’s hips to him. He grabbed Chris’s thigh, leaning forward, and his arm came down beside Chris’s cheek. The muscles were tight and sinewy, and Chris, for the first time, saw how callused his hands were. He’d used the knife for more than just show. Chris grabbed onto it, digging his nails in. The young man hissed — making the only sound Chris had ever heard from him.

Chris ran his hand down his own belly. His cock was so hard that at even the brush of his — dry — fingers against his length couldn’t stop his shudder. The young man pushed him, riding him hard. But as much as Chris felt their bodies moving in tandem and the sting against the back of his thighs as their wet skin slapped together, he could still feel the sheets wrap around his legs and tangle hopelessly, sweat the only slickness on his skin.

“No,” he said. Actually forming the word woke him up. The young man’s face was sad, even as the ghost of his weight over Chris’s body followed him back to the sound of the ringing phone.

Ringing phone. The dry heat of the bedroom, the sounds from the street outside his window, and the soft whomp from the ceiling fan brought him the rest of the way out of his dream. Phone. He groped for it, bringing it to his ear even as his other hand was still desperately moving against the hot, sticky sheet over his cock. He stopped, shame-faced, and pushed the talk button.

“What?” he demanded.

There was a pause on the other line, and Chris immediately regretted his outburst. He rubbed his face. “Hello?” he asked, instead.

“Did we catch you at a bad time, lieutenant?”

Chris recognized Jamie’s voice even through the static. It was a bad time — the only night off he’d had in three weeks. He was bone tired and his body suddenly reminded him of all the neglect he’d been forcing on it. But there was only one way to answer the question. “Of course not,” he said. He was the officer on call during the night until the other lieutenant, Niles, returned from his sabbatical, and as much as Chris hated being woken up for wild goose chases most nights, it was nice not to have to hear Niles’s thinly veiled dislike for Chris’s particular tastes. “What is it?”

“The Owl’s struck again, sir. Betty’s Kitchen on Fourteenth.”

Chris shook his head. “How many?” he asked. The Night Owl had been holding up late night diners for weeks, herding the staff and what few customers remained into the deep freeze or storage area and killing them all. Deserted restaurants kept the number of deaths down, but they hadn’t a single shred of physical evidence against the guy. Cameras, panic buttons, it was as though he knew what was there, disabled it, and was out before the cups of coffee on the tables lost their warmth.

“None, sir.”

“What?”

“No one died. Well, besides him.”

Chris sat up in bed. “He’s dead?”

“We assume it’s him, yes, sir.”

“What brought him down?” Chris asked. Sometimes it came down to that. An off-duty cop who was still packing, an irate owner with a sawed-off shotgun, it wasn’t as though the Owl had tried to keep a low profile.

“One of the staff. He’s here with us now.”

Chris threw his blanket off. “Don’t let him go. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Of course, sir.”

Getting dressed when he felt as though he were moving through mercury wasn’t easy. He had to unbutton and rebutton his shirt twice to ensure that both ends met evenly, and even with the last bit of stone-cold coffee from the pot in his system, he was still groggy. Luckily the wind was cool, bordering on brisk, and the green lights ahead of him spanned as far as the eye could see. By the time he pulled into the small parking lot, full of emergency vehicles and a lone ambulance with its lights turned off, he felt human again.

The diner had originally been painted in pale yellows and pinks, but now was so grimy, the colors were mostly distinguishable as darker and lighter patches of dirt. The neon light, announcing it was open twenty-four hours, gave off the same snapping sound as the average bug zapper. The bricks of the small walkway were broken and uneven, and the abandoned lots on both sides said that this had been a bad neighborhood for a very long time.

Stepping into the diner, Chris was surprised by the difference. Inside, every surface was clean. The floor was polished and even, and the tables that hadn’t been occupied were spotless. In the past few months, Chris had resigned himself to see the abandoned seats where the dead had sat, little bits of their life, a key ring here, a cell phone or a purse there, still waiting for its owner to come collect it. There were no remains here. The dishes had the familiar hardened food on them, the coffee cups were still cold, but the people who’d been sitting at the tables were wrapped in the requisite gray blankets kept on hand by the paramedics. They sat at one of the empty, clean tables, the night’s trauma making them all suddenly closer.

Chris looked toward the customers first. Four would-be victims. They’d been sitting apart, it looked like, one just in for coffee and a piece of pie, but the old man had the old woman’s hand in his, and the young man had his arm over the younger woman’s shoulder. Chris didn’t doubt for a second they knew how lucky they were. All were studiously not looking at the draped body by the cash register. The white sheet was still white; it hadn’t been a bloody death.

The cook stood with two officers by the rotating dessert display. That it was still on and still spinning was an affront, but Chris said nothing. The cook was a big guy, easily a head taller than either officer interviewing him, but he was muscular and lean. His white shirt was spotless, unlike any of the stereotypical cooks at a greasy spoon, and there was something about the muscles of his arm that made Chris think ex-con, except for the relaxed way he was talking to the officers. Still, if there was one person in the entire diner who could have taken out the Owl, Chris would have put his money on the big cook.

But Harrison, a cop Chris had worked with since coming to Arizona, looked up from thanking the cook for his time and shook his head. Not him. Who then, he wanted to ask, and Harrison glanced over his shoulder. Chris nodded and walked past the small group.

And stopped.

At first glance, he saw Jamie, his partner, the lone female officer at the scene, her hair plaited back in a thick French braid, her light coffee-colored skin bleached almost white by the florescent lights. Then his glance took in the figure beside her. He was seated and wearing a loose T-shirt and jeans so it was impossible to see if his build resembled the young man in Chris’s dream. But there was no mistaking the dark hair and eyelashes or the bruised look to those green eyes. “Lieutenant,” Jamie said, and she stood.

Chris couldn’t stop staring. The young man noticed the look and turned slowly on his stool. But when their eyes met, there wasn’t a second of recognition in his guileless face.

Jamie stood up. “Lieutenant, this is Gregory. He stopped Richard Heath from committing this robbery.”

Chris nodded. He had to lock his jaw to keep from asking if Heath was stabbed. Despite the surreal aspect of the moment, he wasn’t going to be accused of leading a witness. This Gregory did not have the calluses that were so familiar in the dream. His hands were smooth. Still, Chris could see the long knife in his hands as easily as he saw the watch on Gregory’s wrist.

“What happened?” he asked instead.

Gregory glanced to Jamie. “Do I have to repeat it?”

“You’re going to have to get used to it, Mr. Edwards.”

For the first time Gregory’s expression changed. It was barely noticeable and if Chris hadn’t spent hours studying his face, he would have missed it. Chris had intended to repeat his question, but he knew that it would spook Gregory, even if he wasn’t likely to retreat back into the mist this time. So Chris waited, patient as always, and let Gregory come to him.

“The man came into the diner,” Gregory began, hesitantly. Chris tried to keep his face blank, but he couldn’t stop the encouraging sound in the back of his throat. He shouldn’t have done it. Pure panic flared in Gregory’s eyes. “He tripped, hit his head on the counter, and fell.”

Jamie’s smile faded. “That’s not what you told me,” she began.

Gregory didn’t look away from Chris’s face. “I must have been mistaken,” he said.

Chris didn’t let himself react in any way now that the horse had left the barn. He wanted to let a long string of curses out; they hadn’t sequestered the witnesses, and the only other eye witnesses had heard Gregory recant. Chris turned to the cook. “Is that what you saw?”

Nothing passed between the cook and Gregory. If anything, Gregory was staring out the window, but couldn’t have seen anything but his own reflection staring back. “He fell,” the cook said without hesitation. Gregory’s shoulders relaxed.

“And them?” Chris demanded, motioning to the group at the single table.

“They were already in the freezer, sir,” Jamie said quietly. That was the Owl’s standard MO, but she didn’t say that. They had nothing else that said the man on the floor was the same perp as in the other crimes. Chris still felt something was off, and it wasn’t just Gregory.

“Can you leave us alone?” Chris asked Jamie. Jamie nodded, touched Gregory on the shoulder over his gray blanket, and left them.

“Walk with me,” Chris said. Gregory nodded and stood up. They walked far enough away that they were standing directly in front of the door. With their voices low, no one would hear them. Chris stared at him, expecting some sign that Gregory recognized him, too, but Gregory wouldn’t look past his shoes.

“You look like a good kid,” Chris began. The “kid” got him a frown, one that was achingly familiar. The young man in his dream would look at him like that at the beginning every time. He wanted to take Gregory by the shoulder and shake him, but he refrained himself. He continued. “If you are in trouble, or were in trouble, and it’s a small thing, we can overlook that. We’re more interested in the truth.”

Gregory met his eyes for the first time, and the remembered dream all but slapped Chris across the face. He almost stumbled. “I’m not in any trouble,” Gregory said, speaking in a whisper. “But you can’t take me in.”

“I beg to differ,” Chris said. “We certainly can.”

Gregory frowned again, obviously angry at being toyed with. Problem with authority, Chris decided. “The man you —” he stopped himself. “The man who died may have been responsible for previous attacks. We just want to make sure we have the right guy.”

Gregory’s face went blank. “You have the right guy,” he said, and his voice sounded older than both of them. “Can I go now?” Gregory shrugged the blanket farther up his shoulders. “Officer?”

The word was only slightly ironic, as though Gregory knew Chris had spent the entire time they were together remembering what he looked like naked.

“He fell.” Chris repeated.

“He fell,” Gregory agreed, but he looked pained again. Chris wanted to touch him, to comfort him, but didn’t dare.

“I’m going to ask you not to leave town, Gregory.”

Gregory laughed, but barely made a sound. “You can ask.”

Chris stepped between him and the diners behind them. “I don’t think you realize how serious this is.”

Gregory looked at him again. And without a word, Chris knew that Gregory had had a gun to his temple. He’d been on his knees, on the clean, tiled floor. He’d grabbed Heath’s pant leg, yanking him off his feet, and the sound of his skull striking the counter had been surprisingly loud. And suddenly, Chris wanted to apologize for being so insensitive. “Come on.”

Jamie was by the table. She was taking notes from the witnesses, diligently, but Chris knew from experience she wasn’t enthused by what she was writing. “Are we done here?” he asked.

Jamie waited for the old woman to stop talking, and nodded. “I think we are.”

Chris dutifully gave everyone one of his cards, in case they remembered anything more. “Thank you so much for your cooperation.” Chris raised his voice so they all could hear. “And if you’re willing, I’d like an officer to escort you each home.”

He was looking at Gregory, expecting him to refuse the ride home. Instead, he went quietly to the car. Jamie stood by his side until the last of the black-and-whites pulled onto the street. “Coroner?” Chris asked.

“On his way.”

Chris nodded. They waited for the black wagon to pull up before moving to the body.

“What do you think happened here?” Jamie asked.

“You took the witness statements.”

“None of them saw him approach. He was just in the middle of the diner. After that, it was all so quick. The cook was struck over the head first, and left on the floor. The rest —”

“All comes down to what Gregory saw. Before I showed up, what was he saying?”

“Not much,” Jamie said. She opened her mouth again, but didn’t speak. Chris waited. “He seemed very frightened.”

“But…” he prompted. There was a very big but in her voice.

She hesitated. The coroner’s wagon was pulling up. “He didn’t seem to me to wonder, even once, why him. He looked like he knew why he was being targeted.”

“Run him.”

“Of course, sir.”

Chris knelt down beside the body and flipped back the sheet.

The most noticeable thing about Heath was the fact he was dead. It was the only thing that differentiated him from anyone else on the morning commute. His clothes were average, brown suit, brown tie, brown shoes with scuffs polished over, the bald spot on the back of his head just beginning to be combed over. On his face was a beatific smile.

“You don’t see that every day,” Jamie said.

“What do we know?” Chris asked.

“He’s a former security guard.”

“Last known place of work?”

“Brantley Jones Ministry. They let him go almost two months ago.”

“Right when the killings began.”

“Yes, sir,” Jamie said. “Near perfectly.”

Chris signed off the necessary paperwork and was back in his bed an hour before his alarm was to go off. Tomorrow would be a busy day.


Chapter Two


The two officers in the front seat were tired. Gregory felt it pouring off them like the cold air from an open fridge. It pooled around him at his feet where he sat in the backseat.

It was thick in the air. They’d both pulled double shifts, and the call had come in at the end of their second shift. They’d found the Owl. He felt their remembered excitement. One more beast off the street. One more sicko.

But that sicko had been his friend. They had had breakfast together a thousand times, and had hung out with each other when the big man himself was on camera. He’d only had two people in the world who were there for him, and Brantley had taken them both. Richard tonight and…David. Brantley had split David in two, taking his soul from the body. Ghost was the wrong word for what remained. It could just be that Gregory only imagined he saw his spirit, but that was enough.

Gregory shook his head. And then there was the dream. But he hadn’t known the man was a cop. A filthy, whore-dog cop. It made Gregory feel dirty that he’d let Officer Cunningham inside him. It was just a dream, he knew that, but he’d needed the protection. It wasn’t right. He’d felt so safe with him.

“It probably wasn’t him,” Gregory said. One of the officers stirred when he spoke, but neither of them turned. “They just looked alike. That was all.”

“Settle down back there.”

Gregory didn’t want to settle down. They didn’t actually rattle the cage between them with one of their nightsticks, but Gregory could tell that was the other part of the threat. He sat back deep into the seat, and touched his lips, remembering how they’d felt when he’d been kissed. He was a cop, that wasn’t something Gregory could change. “I loved him.”

The officers didn’t respond. Gregory continued. “My master splits people in half, their bodies from their souls, and their bodies keep living.”

Still nothing. Gregory wouldn’t have been able to say the words in front of them if they weren’t under Brantley’s control. “He’s a bastard,” Gregory continued. “He uses the extra energy to suck people into following him.”

“Settle,” one of the cops hissed, sounding like something reptilian.

Life was full of disappointment. When Richard came into the diner, Gregory had actually smiled. He’d been so glad to see Richard’s familiar face. Even better, Richard’s face wasn’t see-through, like what remained of David.

Only he hadn’t been smiling. It hadn’t been Richard at all, Gregory quickly realized, but something else that wore Richard’s face. It took Gregory an extra second to see Brantley’s cold blue eyes. By then, Richard had taken out his gun.

And then, time seemed to slow down. And not just slow down, but detach from him. He observed with no more involvement than if he’d been watching a rerun of a show he didn’t like on a wall of televisions at a department store. It showed him the fear and dread on the diners’ faces in perfect clarity as they were herded into the freezer. Mike, the cook, exploding with blood as the gun’s grip smashed his lips into his teeth. The way Mike crumbled when the return blow tried to crack open his skull.

Gregory saw it all, down to the soft hair on the back of Mike’s arms rising up from the adrenaline in his system. He smelled the blood. It paralyzed him. Worse, Brantley knew that he wouldn’t fight.

“Why are you doing this?” Gregory had asked. He couldn’t make himself understand. Brantley had learned how to split people, but to use the body as a puppet…he didn’t want to think about how much stronger that made him.

Richard’s lips pulled back in a snarl, but it was Brantley inside him. He held Gregory in place with one finger. It rooted him to the ground. “Down,” Brantley said in a strange, rusted voice.

Gregory felt like his legs had been kicked out from under him. He hit hard, the pain from his knees absolute for an instant. Richard’s face smiled. Richard, who stepped around ants and didn’t like any kind of suffering, enjoyed his pain.

Gregory looked away.

Brantley-as-Richard stepped past him. He wore loose-fitting trousers. Boot cut, Gregory saw, because that was the only thing in his line of sight. He didn’t want to go back. Nothing in life was ever fair. Gregory had learned that early enough in his life, but at least he should have had the right to fight against it.

He lifted his hand, carefully, though it was like trying to move through an icy current of water. He reached up as Brantley passed him, about to press the muzzle of the gun in his hand against his temple, but Gregory had grabbed hold of the dirt brown material of Brantley’s pants-leg.

For a heartbeat, it was too little, too late, and then Brantley was brought up short. He lost his balance, and Gregory pulled as hard as he could.

Brantley fell into the counter, the sound of his fall a crack like something going supersonic.

Whether it was enough to kill a man was immaterial. Richard’s body fell down dead. His body hugged the cracked red stool as though it were a life preserver, and then slid bonelessly to the ground.

Richard had been dead before he’d come into the diner. His body twitched once and was still.

Gregory shuddered at the memory. The back of the police car had seemed safe in comparison to the rest of his evening, but the officers missed the turn into Gregory’s neighborhood.

Suddenly Gregory became very aware of the radio. It was faint, but Gregory would have recognized it anywhere. Brantley recorded his day show for late night broadcast. It was too quiet for Gregory to hear the words, but that didn’t matter. The sound itself was lulling him to sleep, to give in and just let the officers take him wherever.

What are you doing?”

Gregory opened his eyes, unaware even that he had even closed them. Less than a minute had passed by the clock on the dashboard, but his entire body felt as though he’d been woken from a deep, full sleep. He was exhausted.

“What,” he mumbled. The orange display lights made the officer behind the wheel look evil. Gregory shivered.

David sat across from him. He wore the same light blue shirt Gregory had last seen him in. Through the years it had gradually adjusted its shade to match the paler blue of David’s eyes. Gregory hadn’t seen David in months, and the amount of energy it took for him to appear made the air in the car crackle. David had been the first person Brantley had separated body from soul, and he’d been fading ever since.

Gregory rubbed his eyes. “Let me sleep,” he said. But David shook him. He didn’t actually feel the touch, but when they had been Brantley’s boy toys together he’d been shaken enough times that he had the muscle memory of the gesture.

“You don’t want me to let you go back to sleep, and we both know that. He turned Richard into one like me; do you think he will ever trust you enough to welcome you back into his fold with open arms?”

Gregory shook his head. “Richard is dead,” he said.

David was quiet for a moment. He even gave up the illusion of breathing, something he did solely for Gregory’s benefit. Gregory found it disconcerting that David’s chest didn’t rise or fall. Everything David had done since they met was designed to make Gregory more comfortable.

He had loved David like a brother, but that had meant nothing to Brantley when it came time to try his new power from the dark room in which he prayed. David’s living, breathing corpse had been released back into the wild like a house cat that had lost its owner’s favor.

Gregory sighed. His eyes were so heavy that he could barely keep them open. He lifted his feet up and kicked the metal divider with both feet.

The first effort was sadly lacking. But it was shocking enough that the officer in the passenger seat turned off the radio. And that was all Gregory needed. He rattled the cage again, harder this time, and that shook both men from their stupor.

‘‘You missed the turn,” Gregory said, keeping his voice calm. ‘‘Maybe you should turn around.”

“Bloody hell,” the older of the two said. He was obviously annoyed at Gregory. He glared at him through the mirror. “You could have just said something.”

Gregory lowered his eyes.

“I’m sorry. But you did miss the turn. Look. I’m really tired. Can you just drop me off here? Please?”

The cops glanced at each other. They were still exhausted. Gregory felt that in both of them. Perhaps if they hadn’t just been…

Gregory didn’t even know what to call it. Seduced? No, that was the wrong word. Hypnotized, maybe, but he hadn’t known it was possible just through the radio’s voice.

Regardless, the car rolled to a stop in front of a small park just beside an interstate exchange.

Gregory got out, the heat of the evening a shock to the system after the air-conditioned car. He could feel David’s silent presence beside him, and Gregory willed the men to go. One of them looked to be coming back to his senses, but by then the car was already in motion.

The patrol car drove away silently and took the only source of light with it. Gregory waited for it to be completely gone. He was being watched from behind. He turned, and only then did he hear the sound of the swing behind him rocking back and forth. There was no wind.

Richard sat on the swing. Rather than actually swinging, he was dragging his feet. He looked sad — broken, actually — and it was Gregory who had broken him.

Gregory sat down on the other seat. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry.”

Richard said nothing. Gregory could see through Richard’s gray hands to the blackened chain of the swing.

However Brantley had separated Richard from his body, it was different from the way he’d separated David. Gregory knew Brantley had…fed from Richard. Not only fed from him, but somehow had controlled him after his death. If Gregory lived to be a hundred, he would never forget the way Richard’s corpse had looked at him.

They swung together for a minute, then two. Gregory didn’t want to speak. Richard had no voice. His eyes were unfocused and full of horror, and Gregory knew that, unlike David, Richard had been aware of what his body was doing. Every waking moment, he’d known. Gregory wanted to take Richard’s hands, tell him that at least it was over now and…to go on, Gregory supposed, but the unspoken words were ashes in his mouth.

“He knows how you feel,” David said over his shoulder. “You shouldn’t be out here.”

“I can’t leave him here,” Gregory protested.

“You can and will. He’s not here anymore. You have to let him go.”

“How am I going to do that?” Gregory demanded. He couldn’t rid himself of the salt taste of tears in the back of his throat. He was tired, and still more than a little scared, and wanted everything to go back to the way it was before.

“Of course you do,” David said. “But even if you don’t know it, you’re getting stronger. Let him go, and he’ll go.”

Gregory looked up, but David was almost gone. He couldn’t appear for long, and this had been the longest he’d stayed with Gregory in one appearance.

David was right, of course. The darkness brought with it the sound of little claws and teeth chittering. He could only see them on this side of reality as glimpses from the corner of his eye, but could feel them crawling out of the dream world to find him. He’d killed many of them in the dream world, but with so many doors open, like Richard, like David, it was hard to keep them away. Once the dream world had been as safe as playing in a sandbox on a warm July evening, but lately there’d been more and more…things. When he was with…Officer Cunningham — when they were together — nothing could possibly find them.

A line of red appeared on his wrist, and only then came pain. Something with furry wings swept past him, and laughed like a hyena at the smell of his blood. Gregory shook his head, but Richard was already mostly gone. When Gregory reached the street, he turned, and Richard had vanished, though the swing kept swinging in the still air. Gregory ran the rest of the way to his house and spent the rest of the night in the cellar. The dirt floor protected him more than the walls could.

Gregory woke before the sun was all the way up. Brantley had dominion during the day, but in the morning he was not quite strong enough to take complete control. It was the main reason he moved his show to later in the day despite the better ratings first thing. All that adulation gave him more power than he’d ever known, and Gregory had been the one who had opened that door for him. It made Gregory sick just to think about it, so he didn’t. He went upstairs and showered off the dirt.

David waited for him at the kitchen table. The body of David, that was. It ate and drank and slept, soulessly. David’s ghost had been on his best behavior last night. A lot of the time he was bitter and sarcastic and furious over what Brantley had done to him. And Gregory couldn’t blame him. If he thought about it too long, he wandered into that same trap.

But, worse, if David was a soul, Gregory was terribly disappointed by how miserable it would be to be dead.

Still, he forced himself to smile. “I didn’t hear you come in last night.”

He locked the door, of course he did, but David had his ways. He looked up at Gregory and smiled broadly. His blue eyes were flawless and open, his hair trimmed back to the best of Gregory’s abilities. He was still beautiful, but beautiful in the way an empty vase was — lacking something. No, David wasn’t missing something; he was missing everything.

“You probably want breakfast.” Gregory kept his voice light. He went to the cupboard and brought down a bowl. He wasn’t hungry, but he had boxes of high-sugar cereal he kept for David. It was the only thing David really liked to eat, and Gregory didn’t feel like entering into a battle to get him to eat something a little healthier.

David grinned like a child and held out his hands expectantly. Gregory poured the milk and gave it to him but left the carton on the counter for his coffee.

It had taken Gregory weeks to find David. It had been a foolish quest, but one that he was sure of. He thought that when he found David — never ifwhen he found David, that was all he had to do. Find him, look him in the eye, and he would have his David back.

It hadn’t happened that way. He’d found David in a bus station, like David had found him, but nothing had brought his David back.

Gregory had been seventeen. Just turned, if he remembered correctly. That was, what…five years ago? It seemed like forever. He’d still had his ugly bruises from…from…the accident, and those, if nothing else, had kept him safe from most of the predators on the street. And when he met David, it seemed like he’d known him for ever, though they barely had time for a coffee.

David had given Gregory his number. Then that night, Gregory was picked up for soliciting.

He hadn’t been. It had all had been a huge misunderstanding. He hadn’t been surprised that the man who threw him against the bathroom wall and demanded that Gregory suck him off was a cop. The very last thing Gregory had wanted to do when his jaw still ached from meeting the steering wheel so rudely the week before was suck a stranger off in some public washroom. So he’d said no. And that was when his real troubles began. It was a blur. He tasted blood in his mouth, but didn’t know if it was because he had been struck or slammed against the filthy mirror of the public washroom. He had the distant memory of both.

Blood dripped down his shirt. He wanted to wipe his mouth, but his hands were cuffed behind his back. The cop was behind him, guiding him by his hips to the cop car. Nothing here to see. Just another dirt bag. It was clear that the cop had no intention of taking him to the station.

Another officer passed them. He was talking to his female partner, and he didn’t really look at him. Not at first. Still, Gregory shook his head, not actually expecting help. But the cop stopped and looked at him for real, and saw the obvious stress. “You taking this one in?” he asked.

The hand on Gregory’s hip tightened. “Solicitation and resisting, sir.”

The word had no respect in it, but the officer ignored the insult. “Let me take him in. You must be tired from your shift.”

“I can’t let you do that for me, lieutenant.”

Gregory studied the memory. The officer — the lieutenant — was the same officer who had interrogated him at the diner. The same man as in his dreams.

David smiled at him, the empty bowl licked clean. “It was him,” Gregory said. “But why now?”



Chapter Three


Brantley disliked tents. That was an understatement. He despised everything about tents. He hated the canvas smell of them, the heavy feeling of the air in them and the way the sweat stuck to his forehead. He’d spent his childhood in tents, in the front row of cheap folding chairs that hurt the small of his back, and he hated them.

Still, it was what the rubes expected, with their round faces and their polyester. Looking down on them from the pulpit made his stomach turn most times, but he was their own private miracle baby, rescued from a terrible accident when he’d fallen into a cave. The accident had been about the best thing that had ever happened to him. Though that wasn’t exactly right. He certainly hadn’t been a baby, but a full teenager, and he hadn’t fallen alone. The fall hadn’t even been all that horrible; he’d broken his leg, but he hadn’t been in the hole for more than an hour. And, of course, it hadn’t exactly been an accident.

He didn’t want to think about what else had been in the dark, so instead he stared at the side of the tent. He doubted any of the rubes realized that each of the tents that they sat in for the summer tour cost as much as any one of his cars. The reflective yet breathable skin kept the sun’s heat out. Two semis parked outside the tent pumped in fresh, climate-controlled air and kept the public cool and the human smell down. They also mixed in wonderful, calming pheromones Brantley had spent many years perfecting.

And oh, had Brantley perfected them.

His driver opened the door for him, and he slid inside the car’s cool, dry interior. Even the twenty yards from the tent to the car left him uncomfortably hot.

Billy waited for him, settled on the seat like a parrot on his perch. Beautiful, stupid Billy. So eager to please once Gregory had buggered off. Such impossible shoes to fill and Brantley felt a ripple of anger disturb his otherwise vaguely amused day. He lashed out only because he could.

“Drink,” he snarled.

Billy leapt at it like he’d been electrocuted. Crystal glass, polished until it shone. Two perfect ice cubes, not a crack in sight, and three fingers of Lagavulin, from his special whisky stock, swirled three times around the glass, never getting higher than half way up. Billy did it all flawlessly.

Thus saving himself from a tongue lashing, and perhaps worse, later.

Sinfully, Bentley’s cock thickened at the thought of Billy naked, sprawled — tied — to his bed. Billy’s body stretched out so that each muscle group was distinct against his skin and his dirty blond hair finally dark enough for Brantley’s tastes. He’d start by sucking on Billy’s toes and working his way up. Unlike Gregory, who fought him tooth and nail before accepting his punishment, Billy seemed to crave the attention, positive and negative.

Rather than finding it appealing, Brantley only wanted to punish him more for it.


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