Every year, I post a story for Halloween - a tradition that's important enough to me that I stole a few minutes away from my dear friends' wedding reception to post this one!

Many thanks to the fabulous Ms Mana for eleventh-hour assistance with this - all remaining flaws are entirely down to me, especially as I changed things since she last saw it.

Everything changes
by Alex Draven

*****

11pm finds me stepping off a train. I haven't been back in London for years and the area around King's Cross has changed almost beyond recognition.

You've still got the station, of course - stations are always good for an emotional smorgasbord, although personally, I tend to use airports these days. But the streets around the station? These days there are students and clubbers and cocktail bars mixed in with the porn shops and all these neon-plastic chain places; the teenagers that crowd them are junk food for us, just like the burgers are for them, all those candy-bright hyper-real emotions.

Used to be that dealers and hookers, and the dealers and hookers' clients, were the most regular items on the menu outside the station proper. That's why I moved on in the end. All that thin desperation and hopelessness sits sour in the stomach, and I never did have Z's taste for shame.

When I first met Z he was going to AA meetings for the shame.

I was just going to AA meetings.

Last time I was in London I went back to the same building, where we met. They don't hold meetings there any more, but I got charging up on the spiritualist church service I found instead. All that ecstasy and hope and adrenaline, with just a twist of bitterness: one hell of a cocktail, if you ask me. I used to go to churches all the time. Still do, once in a while. It's like comfort food - something that still tastes the way it did when you were a kid. Something familiar.

So, anyway - I haven't been back in London for years, and a lot has changed, but not Z.

Same old Z.

Same old Z, leaning against a wall on a street corner, loitering with a cigarette in his hand, trilby hat pulled down low at the front, black trench coat flapping around skinny legs. Could have been any time in the last fifteen years , except now he's lit up by the bright blue neon of a games arcade that wasn't there last time I was in town.

Same old Z, which made my stomach twist and I wonder once again, now it's too late to turn back, why the hell I'd come to London to meet up with him if he hadn't changed? Definition of insanity, right?


Except the old Z would never have called, and wouldn't have waited for me, either. I never used to warrant that kind of consideration, back in the day, and if I've learned one thing in my too-many years, it's that everything changes, even the flavour of churches.

So, I take a deep breath, and let the impatience-hurry-anticipation of the people rushing for last trains wash over me, and yes, there it is. It's hard to explain, but if you think of the flow of emotion like currents in water - there's water everywhere, right? Deeper some places, rougher some places, but basically everywhere. So, if emotions are like water, then reaching out to someone like Z, like me, someone who sucks up emotion, feeds on it: reaching out to one of us is like finding a dry spot.

It's kind of reassuring that I can still pick him out of a crowd. It must be three, maybe four years, since I last ran into someone I could feel like that, and she made it quite clear she wasn't interested in getting to know anyone who'd be competition for her food source.

I guess he can feel me, too, because Z turns around, scans the pedestrians, and catches my eye. He smiles, and my mouth moves on autopilot, because - Jesus.

The left side of his face is warped and scratched, three dull red scars diagonal across his cheek, twisting those thin, precise lips out of true as he smiles at me, stepping forward, arm outstretched to take mine, and there's me, standing stock still in the middle of a pavement in Kings Cross.

It had never occurred to me that Z could be hurt.

*****

Midnight finds us hunched over camouflage coffees in the back of an all-night cafe, and Z still hasn't told me why he called me. "It's been too long" isn't a reason.

His stiff face keeps catching my eye, though, and I couldn't make myself focus on his stories about following a pop band around the world, shifting gear and drinking down teenage adoration like humans in that industry do drugs. Before I'd even realise what I'm going to do, I reach out.


The scars are cool under my fingers, his thin lips startlingly hot and dry as he turns his face into my touch, his breath steamy against my palm, and in the brief moment when our eyes meet, I feel a sickening lurch of indigestible, unreadable emotion.

Jerking away, I swallow hard, taking in the rill of confusion, consternation, curiosity coming from the other people in the cafe to help anchor and replenish me. I trap my hands between my knees, and, as the bystanders' emotions ebb and the sound of their conversation rises again, I risk a quick glance up at Z.

He looks away.

*****

One am finds us awkwardly together in my hotel room, light from the muted tv painting colours over his pale face, and worn, white shirt sleeves. The painful tension between touching-without-looking and looking-without-touching is familiar, at least, but the vast reservoir of silence and secrets is new. I am trying not to think about the last time we shared a room - shared a bed - because I've figured out enough to know that he doesn't have the reserves to deal with strong emotion from me, still less a misery-mix of guilt and fear and rejection.

There's never a good time for that kind of misery mix, if I'm honest, but multiply that by the drain of processing the emotions of another leech? It gets messy.
Even when our separation was fresh and raw, I was never so angry that I actively wanted to drain him flat. Wanted to know what the hell had happened - hell yeah, but punish him for turning me and then pushing me away? I may still look young but I'm not actually seventeen any more.

Every few minutes he pins a rictus smile on his face and makes eye contact with my shoulder, and says something like 'So, did I tell you about Poland?" and I make sure that my hand isn't touching skin anywhere and try and catch his eye, and say something like "Is telling me about Poland going to explain about what did this to you?" and his smile twists on the side away from the scars, and I feel like a total bastard, but I don't know what else to say.

I don't care about Poland, or how tough it is to get an airport job in the States these days. I care about what can cut and scar a leech like Z - a leech like me - and what made Z reach out and call me, how come he didn't smack my hand away and walk out on me, back in the cafe.

*****
Two am finds Z curled into my arms, head buried against my chest, faking sleep. All I can do is stroke my fingers over the bristly buzz-cut at the back of his neck, and let him get away with the deceit.

It's better than the empty smiles and the knowledge that it's something bad that's keeping him quiet. I can't read his emotions - he's so careful not to give me a chance to feel them, and even if I could, I'd be drained before I could translate them - but fifteen years of hunting human reactions, three of them when Z was my whole world - let's just say my ability to cold-read average humans would have been enough to get me burned at the stake back in the middle ages.

Z's harder, but not that hard.

Thing is, if I think about things that might scare Z, I'm going to get pretty antsy myself. I want to believe that he wouldn't have called me if it was going to put me in danger, but I'm a pretty logical guy - unsentimental, you might say - and I know Z.

Or I knew him.

The Z I knew? If he thought I was his best hope, that being near me would give him the advantage, even knowing that it would get me killed? He'd call me.

Three hours ago, I was betting my heart on the hope that he'd changed. Now I'm starting to wonder if I'm betting my safety.

*****

Three am finds me dozing off in an uncomfortable neck-cricking position, wedged against a padded hotel headboard, with Z's head still resting in my lap.

I'm pretty sure he's not faking any more.


*****

By four am, neither am I.

*****

Five am finds me startling awake, straining to hear the noise that woke me, except I've just jolted Z sharp awake as well, and all I can hear is his swift intake of breath, the cut-off curse word, the smack of his feet hitting the floor.

We listen to each other's adrenaline-spiked breathing, imagine we can hear the race of each other's heart - at least I imagine he must be able to hear mine, thundering as it is. The velvety false silence of a soundproofed hotel room during the thin, grey, early hours surrounds us. I scan around me, chasing nearby humans, and find only the faint ghostly emotions of peaceful dreams, too faint to feed on, so I simply swallow to ease the dryness in my throat.

"What?" Z whispers.

"I don't know," I admit. "Something woke me."

"Jumpy," he says, voice still hushed, and irritation spikes through me, amplified by the unused adrenaline.

"Yeah, well - guess who showed up, bringing trouble with him?" I snap back.

"I brought trouble?"

"Well, I don't know, but you're pretty jumpy yourself, for a guy with not a care in the world."

I can't see his expression, but I can imagine - he always said that sarcasm was the lowest form of wit - and I can certainly hear the exaggerated huff he gave to that. The bed dips as he lies back down, moving around to find a pillow in the dark.


"Hey," I say, reaching out to touch his shoulder, stop him from rolling away entirely. "I'm serious. Until you tell me how you got scarred up, and why you called me, I'm going to be imagining the worst, so if you want me to relax..."

The room is really silent for a while.

*****

Six am finds us lying forehead to forehead, knee to knee, in the dark. There are still long minutes of silence, but he's feeding the silence fragments of sentences, and I'm starting to put it together.

Back when we first got together, before I became a leech, I thought we talked about everything - hours and days and sleepless weekends full of words and words and laughter and then he did tell me everything, and everything changed. I changed, and everything else did, too.

One of the things we never talked about was who it was or how it was that he was changed. Who'd 'turned' him, if you want to draw parallels with popular vampire fiction.

But he's talking about it now. We lie there, in the dark, breathing each other's air, and like a splinter working free, he talks about it in spurts and droughts, the recent past jumbled with the original past, confusion layered upon confusion, pain on pain, so that I, with my puppy-dog devotion and my entirely-to-obvious hopes and hatreds and sense of rejection - I realise how lucky and how strange I am.

I knew Z - I knew him for those delirious weeks when I was falling in love, and growing weaker by the day, and wanted nothing more than to cup his face in my hands and gaze into his eyes, and I knew him after I was changed. We discovered our new boundaries together, and he was callous and cavalier with me, but in the end it was not him who left.

It is strange to learn, so many years after the fact, just how abnormal I am. Or we were.

The leech who changed Z's life - Z didn't know his name, didn't know where to find him after Z woke up alone and starving with a hunger eggs and toast and tea couldn't quench.

I curl closer to Z when he says this, knowing that my sympathy, my concern, my caring cannot nourish him now even if it might have all those years ago.

He says, "I recognised him when I saw him, and I just wanted to know, wanted to ask questions."

His voice is thick, choked; the words are hard to get out.

“He did this.”

I tighten my hands around his, and he scrubs his scarred cheek against his shoulder - scratching and movement in the dark.

“and he meant it,” he says.

The room is silent.

"I still don't know his name."

*****

Seven am finds the cold, grey light of a damp morning seeping around the edges of the hotel's thick curtains, and Z locked in the bathroom, the sound of a running shower making me feel grimy, aware of having slept in my clothes.

Hungry, too.

Z makes me feel, and the story he has told me has made me feel so much. It wears me out; no wonder Z is so exhausted, having to feel so intensely for so many weeks now. But I can't stop thinking about it.

Trying out solutions in my imagination: maybe a stream of human lovers, new men and women every day, a rich diet of hope and desire and fear and lust and ecstasy? Maybe a night-time regimen of finding fights? It might even help the scaring - that rush of anger, malice, fury, fear, the concentrated essence of frustration and bitter confusion under a thick layer of brute satisfaction as punches are thrown and bruises plump up.


The energy from a fight normally balances out the drain of healing - even fighting leech-on-leech, the time I broke my nose on Z's fist, the time I left him. The shock, the horror, the attraction, the reactions of the humans who saw me hit the ground ... I was healed before my train hit York. At least my nose was.

The idea of being injured and abandoned, deliberately drained, and then being eaten away at by your own emotions, by the knowledge that the man who made you wanted you to die...

I shiver, and wrap my arms around myself, and wish more people in this hotel were awake already.

*****

Eight am finds us waiting to board a train, needing to keep on the move until Z can shake the fear that his un-named maker will find him. The fear is still eating at him, even though we're both skimming the surface of a breakfast buffet of 'I'm going to be late' and low-level resentment or hope of the commuters. The area around Kings Cross has changed almost beyond recognition, but the sheer volume of humans washing in and out of it, that's much the same.

It's a grey morning, the first of November, and Z is wearing shades. His hand tightens around mine, and I squeeze back.

Everything changes, right?

**fin**



If you're interested in previous years' stories, here's the list:


Dream Come True (2004)
Thirteen Kisses (2005)
All Souls (2006)
Favour (2007) (for sale)
Soar and Raining Cats (2007)
Tradition (2008)

(plus, there are the two zombie stories. They are seasonally appropriate, but they do come with a 'you click on the link, you take responsibility for your own sanity' warning - the titles are terrifyingly accurate on these two - Zombie Incest Wrongness and the infamous necrophiliac plushy gangbang story)
.

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