Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls (3 page)

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
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Not
until he could trust himself, anyway. Right now he did not deserve the company
of women. However lonely or horny he got, he had it coming to him for what he
had done to Ann.

 
          
He
played with strands of Ghost’s hair as he drove, winding them around his
fingers,
marvelling
at their fineness, their
silvery-gold luster. Just to feel the difference, he ran his hand through his
own coarse hair, hair the color of a crow’s wing, hair that stood up in wild
loops and cowlicks. His hair was dirty, and he noticed that Ghost’s was too.
Steve hadn’t been taking care of himself—he’d gone days without a shower and
over a month without washing his clothes; he’d been late for his job at the
record store three times last week; he was putting away a twelve-pack of Bud
every day or two —but he hoped it wasn’t rubbing off on Ghost. There was such a
thing as being too damn sympathetic. Steve’s hand felt greasy. He wiped it on his
T-shirt.

 
          
They
were here. Steve had no idea where, but he saw what he wanted: the faded light
of an ancient Pepsi machine sitting outside a
fishin
’-and-
huntin
’ store, casting dim red and blue shadows in the dirt
of the parking lot. Steve swung the T-bird in and killed the ignition. Ghost’s
head had slipped onto Steve’s knee, and he eased out from under it. There was a
little dark spot on the knee of Steve’s jeans. Ghost’s spit, Ghost’s drunken
sleeping spit. Steve rubbed it into the cloth, then absently put his finger in
his mouth. A faint taste of whiskey and molasses … and what was lie doing
sucking someone else’s spit off his finger? Didn’t matter. Ghost was lost deep
in dreams.

 
          
Time
to go to work.

 
          
Steve
fished in the backseat. Cassette cases-so that was where Ann’s damn Cocteau
Twins tape had ended up. Steve had always hated it anyway, the girl’s feathery
voice that was supposed to be so angelic and the ethereal-seasick wall of
sound, Empty food bags and a veritable sea of beer cans. Finally he dug out his
special tool, a length of coat hanger bent into a hook at one end. He wondered
if he ought to pull the T-bird up so it was hiding the front of the Pepsi
machine. No, he decided; anybody out driving this time of night is probably on
business just as shady as mine.

 
          
With
a last glance at Ghost, Steve knelt, fed the wire into the coin-return slot of
the machine, and wiggled it around until he felt it catch. He tugged gently and
seconds later was blessed by a shower of silver. Steve scooped the quarters,
dimes, and nickels out of the dirt, shoved them into his pockets, hustled back
to the car, and got the hell out of the parking lot.

 
          
Twenty
fast miles later, Steve had the radio on a rock station and Ghost was trying to
decide whether to rejoin the living. “Are we still in North Carolina?”

 
          
“Yeah.”
Steve turned Led Zeppelin down and waited for the stories. Ghost always told
Steve his dreams, and they were sometimes coherent, sometimes nonsensical and
lovely, and almost invariably a little frightening. Ghost sat up and stretched,
working out his sleep cramps.

 
          
Steve
saw a flash of belly where Ghost’s sweatshirt parted from his tie-dyed pants.
Pale skin, golden hair sparse and curly. Ghost looked out the window for
several miles, his brow furrowed, his eyes puzzled. That meant he was
remembering. Steve waited, and Ghost began, haltingly, to speak.

 
          
“When
they were young … they were the world’s darlings. The world’s opinion meant
everything to them, even though they tried to pretend it meant nothing. Their
town was even grayer and muddier when they pranced along the streets after
midnight, and the rooftops bent to kiss their dyed hair. They wandered through
the shops putting their delicate fingerprints on the window glass and china,
touching anything colorful or sweet, pinching things between thumb and
forefinger as if to grasp the town in both hands would dirty them. Sully them.”
Ghost rolled “sully” over his tongue as if it were scuppernong wine; in his
thick Carolina voice the word took on a dark, rich flavor. “Sully them. The big
boys. at their school shouted things at them, black dirty things that stank of
toilet-wall scrawls and smeared basins. But those boys never fought them
because they knew the twins were magic. Everyone knew the twins would go away
to the city someday, where they could pick rhinestones out of the cigarette
sludge in the gutter, and the moon would be as aching and vivid as neon cheese
in blue velvet sky. And they did. They went to New Orleans.”

 
          
Ghost
stopped, looked away down the train track they were crossing. Tiny colored
lights shone far down the line, fairy lights, Christmas lights, though it was
only the middle of September.

 
          
Steve
closed his eyes, remembered the road, opened them again. “Go on,” he said.

 
          
“What
happened to them in the city?”

 
          
“Artists
put them in films. They were twins, and the hip crowd loved the perversity of
that. Their mirror-image pornography was art. They were Donatello
Davids
, skinny and beautiful, not heavyset like
Michelangelo’s. Androgynous striplings who outlined each other’s bones in
lipstick. And they were allowed every art and luxury and perversion the city
held because of their
overrouged
lips and their
sluts’ eyes and the poetry of their hands.

 
          
“They
grew jaded, tired, but still insatiable on their own mattress. They lived and
lived and saw the first lines appear around their eyes. They saw years of
liquor, expensive cigarettes, drugs and passion etch themselves on their
movie-starlet faces.

 
          
They
watched the mirror as they would have watched a quicksilver film of their
death, in a cold heat of fascination, dread, clutching each other. They bit at
each other’s throats in desperation, thinking to regain beauty in blood, to
drink the pulse of life. But their blood was thin, grainy, mixed with other
substances–no longer the rich purple fountain they had once known. They went
out less, spending whole days flat on the mattress like two dry sticks side by
side, forgetting to eat, watching the cobweb cracks in the ceiling plaster
widen, spread like the tracery on their faces. They—”

 
          
The
high stupid scream of a siren split the night open. Ghost’s voice trailed off.
Blue light pulsated in the rearview mirror, turned Ghost’s face pallid, made
the litter of beer cans seem to whirl and dance.

 
          
“Shit,”
said Steve, trying to decide whether to pull over. His mind spun with the blue
light: the store and the Pepsi machine were forty fucking miles behind! No one
had seen him jimmy the machine, no one. Would he go to jail? Would Ghost go
too, as an accessory to the crime he had slept through? Ghost would lie, say
he’d planned it, trying to take some of the heat off Steve. Ghost was only
twenty-two, Steve a year older. They had their whole lives ahead of them and an
open bottle of whiskey in their hands …

 
          
Fuck!
Fuck! Fuck! Steve’s mind raced, and the radio got louder, and the siren ripped
the night apart, and he heard Jimmy Page wafting on guitar and then Ghost’s
voice, not at all panicky, saying, “Pull over, Steve, pull over, you dumb
fuck!”

 
          
Steve
wrenched the wheel to the right, braked hard, and they skidded on the surface
of the dark road and slowed … slowed … stopped, gravel spraying from the tires,
a thin trail of black rubber behind them. But they were whole and safe, and so
was the car, and most blessedly of all, the police car was passing them, siren
still screaming, light still whirling like a cold blue dervish.

 
          
“Jesus
fuckin
’ Christ,” said Steve, and let his hands drop
from the steering wheel, his head fall back against the seat. He was aware of Ghost
reaching over to kill the ignition, putting his hand on Steve’s shoulder,
moving closer across the seat. No questions (why are you so paranoid about the
cops tonight, Steve? just carrying a couple of joints? or maybe jimmying Pepsi
machines again? or hiding the raped and gutted corpse of your ex-girlfriend in
the trunk?), no accusations (we
coulda
been KILLED!),
just the gentle, wordless comfort of Ghost’s hand on the back of his neck,
Ghost’s thoughts inside his head.

 
          
For
a few moments Steve accepted the comfort gratefully, thirstily. Then he
remembered who he was (Steve Finn don’t need
nothin

from nobody! No, not much, not much), straightened up, and shook Ghost off.
Ghost withdrew, understanding all too well.

 
          
Understanding
maddeningly. Steve wanted to hurt Ghost, to stop the waves of complacent
sympathy pouring from the passenger seat. But Steve could not find the words to
hurt Ghost, and if he had found them, he could not have made himself use them.
The best he could come up with was “Don’t you call me a dumb fuck.”

 
          
“Okay,”
said Ghost, so soft that Steve could barely hear him.

 
          
Up
ahead was a riot of lights and movement. Red lights, blue lights, someone
standing in the road flagging the T-bird down. Steve stopped, and the flagman
motioned him forward. Slow, he
signalled
. An
ambulance. Two police cars. An officer talking to a tired country woman in a
torn bathrobe and curlers. The woman held the collar of a Doberman, restraining
it. The dog snarled at the police, strained toward the T-bird as it passed at
five miles per hour. A brick ranch house built close to the road, its scrubby
yard littered with broken toys and car parts; on the porch the woman’s family,
a man holding four small children back, apparently telling them not to look.
The man was small and red and scrawny as a chicken neck. The children craned
their necks, pointing, curious. There was something else in the yard, near the
roadside, something that had excited the dog, something the children were
trying to see. Something naked, dry, withered.

 
          
A
child —but what could have
shrivelled
it so, leached
its life away? Steve saw a backpack lying nearby, spilling the kid’s life.
Clothes. A couple of toy robots.

 
          
Transformers,
Steve knew from watching the Saturday-morning commercials. The kid must be a
runaway. Flecks of gravel were embedded in the soft skin of his face; his head
lolled back, half severed, the dark red cavern of his throat glistening-but
there was so little blood, and the raw tissues within looked wasted, parched. A
gray blanket settled over the planes and angles of the little body. A small
brown hand protruded, thin and dirty, scraped by roadside grit.

 
          
As
Steve rolled down his window and handed his driver’s license to one of the
cops, Ghost turned his head and stared back at the blanket, at the body beneath
it. His eyes lost their focus; then, slowly, they closed. Ghost saw through the
blanket through death. He saw how the boy had looked alive, curiosity and
intelligence in his young eyes.

 
          
The
name came to him as clearly as a memory: Robert. He felt the fury that had made
Robert climb out his window, steal away from home and parents who used him as a
receptacle for their overprotective love. There was something they had not let
him do—go to a ball game or spend the night at a friend’s house. Ghost almost
had the knowledge; then it slipped away. It didn’t matter. The important thing
was that the boy need not have died. Ghost felt Robert’s fear at being alone
under the tab trees and the wide midnight sky, the great glittering impassive
sky. He felt the boy almost turn around, almost save his own life, but the
wounded pride of adolescence would not allow him.

 
          
Ghost
felt Robert’s terror mount as he caught sounds—insidious whispers, soft
laughter—sounds not of the night and its usual spooks but something darker,
stranger, more purposeful and far, far deadlier. And then the hands, grabbing
him from behind, four strong and sharp-fingered hands, and the hungry mouths
all over him, sucking out his strength and his life.

 
          
At
the end there was only pain that
spiralled
up and up
and stretched itself impossibly thin–exquisite pain, pain that precluded all
thought, all memory, all identity. To know such pain was to lose one’s self, to
become the pain, to die borne away on pain, its high soundless song in the
ears. That was what had happened to Robert.

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
8.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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