Read Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls Online
Authors: Poppy Z. Brite
knew all the stories of that oak. He said an Indian had climbed it to escape
from a bear once. The marks of the bear’s claws were still there, eight feet up
the trunk, deep and twisted in the thick bark. The claws had hurt the tree,
Ghost said, and it had bled clear sap to fill the wound, to stop the blaze of
blind pain. Now the scar was knotted, invulnerable, and the tree sang with the
hum of the power plant far away on the lake.
looked at the tree, silently greeting it most likely. Steve stood watching, one
hand on the warm hood of the T-bird. He ran his other hand through his hair,
shoving it back behind his ears, trying to tame it. Finally, against his will,
he said, “What killed that kid?”
shrugged, pulled his hair over his face. “Something bad. Something really bad.”
started to say no shit, then thought better of it. Sometimes you didn’t want to
say such things to Ghost. They walked to the fence and looked out over the
pastures toward the power plant. Steve curled his fingers around the barbed
wire. It was cold, colder than the night air, as cold as dead flesh. He
shivered. “A psycho,” he said.
dog. Maybe that Doberman the lady had. You suppose there’s any wolves left
tossed his hair back and slowly shook his head. “It wasn’t any wolf or dog.
could they suck him dry like that? And if you think it was a psycho, how come
you’re not scared to be up here? He would’ve taken off. He could be anywhere.”
across the Virginia border by now.” Steve saw again the cavernous throat, the
sad brown hand with road dirt ground into the creases of its palm. He was aware
of the cool air against his eyes, drying and chilling them. He squinted at the
power plant, making the lights run together fuzzily, dazzlingly … and then Ann
was in his head again.
remembered the last time he’d come up here, months ago. With her. They had made
love on a blanket in the backseat of the T-bird, hot and sweaty, but the clear
cool air of the hill had blown over them, and the lights of the power plant had
run together in just the same way.
shoulders drew up and he clamped his arms across his chest, ready to say Let’s
leave, let’s get the hell out of here . . and then Ghost was offering him a
green apple. Distracting him. It worked; Steve had to wonder where in hell the
apple had come from. He took a big bite and handed it back, chewing slowly,
letting the golden-tasting juice run over his tongue: crunchy, sweet. The taste
made him feel better. “You remember the Hook?” he asked after he had swallowed
the mouthful. “That old spook story?”
said Ghost, eating the core of the apple. Steve watched to see whether Ghost
would spit out the seeds. When he didn’t, Steve spoke again. “You know, that
story about the kids out at Lovers Lane. They’re fucking in the backseat, and
all of a sudden this bulletin comes on the radio about a crazy man escaped from
the asylum outside of town. A psycho killer with a hook instead of a hand.”
looked at Ghost. Ghost was leaning against one of the fence posts, head tilted
back, staring at the sky. The moon had gone behind a cloud. Ghost’s face was
shadowed, his eyes dark.
might have been listening; then again, he might have been receiving messages
from an agrarian collective civilization somewhere near Alpha Centauri.
they hauled ass out of Lovers Lane,” Steve went on anyway, “and when they got
home, the boy went around the car to open the door for the girl. And what do
you think he found? A bloody hook, hanging from the handle of the door!” He
leaned over and spoke the last words right into Ghost’s ear.
jumped, almost fell over. He stared at Steve for several seconds, then grinned.
at Lovers Lane?” he asked. Both of them turned to look at the T-bird parked in
sat large and dusty, its engine giving an occasional metallic groan as it
come—” Ghost began, and Steve knew Ghost was about to exhibit the weird,
irritating logic that sometimes possessed him. He was going to ask how come the
couple had the radio on while they were fucking, or why the psycho killer would
have reached to open the car door with his hook when he could have used his
hand. But then the moon sailed out from behind its cloud and flooded the hill
with cold white light, and Ghost sucked in his breath, sharp and scared.
followed Ghost’s gaze to the oak and saw nothing at all. But he knew Ghost saw
something there. And somehow that was scarier than seeing it himself.
felt his feet moving. He hadn’t told them to move. He wasn’t even sure he
wanted them to move. He took several steps toward the oak, and when he got
close enough, the outline of the twins grew clearer, more solid.
were balanced on a low branch, their legs swinging, their hands climbing like
delicate white insects along the trunk. Closer still, and Ghost could smell
them: their strange, heady bouquet of strawberry incense, clove cigarettes,
wine and blood and rain and the sweat of passion. All the things they had loved
when they were alive, the things that dragged them down, drove them to live
upon each other’s essence until they ran dry. But here on this midnight hill,
in the pallid moonlight, the twins were beautiful still. They wore colored
silks, silks that caught the moon and threw it back in a thousand shades of
iridescence. And Ghost could see no
of age on their faces. He saw only their dark lips, their brittle,
false-colored, silken hair of lemon-yellow and cherry-red, their eyes like
silver pearl, filmy and
they were looking at him, he knew that, and when he was close enough to touch
the trunk of the tree, one of them spoke to him. It was only his name, whispered
through the branches, “Ghost,” but it was like a wind blowing from across a
strange sea, like an unseen rustle in an empty room. Ghost put his hand on the
trunk, near a slender silk-clad leg so tangible he wanted to stroke it.
was he seeing them now, these creatures from his dream? He had thought they
were pitiful, but now they frightened him. He found himself wondering what they
had become after their death, how death had changed them. If they were somehow
alive even now, what allowed them to be? And why had he dreamed of them in the
was used to asking himself such questions. He had been visited in his dreams by
the dead; he had dreamed the future as clearly as a story in a book; he had
been able to pick up the thoughts and feelings of people he was close to—and
other people if he concentrated—for as long as he could remember. But he had
never been visited while awake by creatures from one of his dreams.
is it?” Steve called from across the clearing.
Ghost,” said the crimson-haired twin, smiling down at him with rouged lips.
lips were too dark in that pale, peaked face, and there was no warmth in that
smile, only a spasm of muscles long forgotten, a memory of a smile. But Ghost
looked up into those flat silvery eyes, and he was not afraid for his own
safety. Not yet. These twins had been dead a long time, if indeed they had ever
lived outside his dream.
course we haven’t,” said the first twin, catching Ghost’s thought. “We’re just
don’t go around killing little
roadsides long past midnight just to suck their lives out.”
didn’t taste exquisite, did he, love, at the moment of death? No, we didn’t
suck out that little boy’s life, Ghost.”
, not us, not so we could stay beautiful. We’re just
your dream…. ”
they did not intend him to believe it. Beneath the twins’ exotic scent Ghost
caught a whiff of decay, dry and stale, edged with pale brown. Their skin
suddenly looked brittle, as if the touch of a breeze would flake it away from
fragile ivory bones.
wanted to ask them whether it hurt to rot, whether they grew lonely in the
wanted to know whether they were buried together in a casket big enough for two
bodies-big enough for two small dry bodies that knew how to fit together like a
puzzle of blood and bone. Or did their graves lie side by side, and did they
have to reach through the earth to clasp hands?
had to find out what they were, whether they were dangerous. Reluctantly he
reached out and tried to touch their minds; reluctantly he found them. Their
minds were like echoes, like haunted rooms from which all the life had gone.
The touch of their thoughts was light, fluttering, as cold and silver as
graveyard stone, as voracious as feeding animals. They took Ghost into the
grave with them, and he saw the darkest darkness that ever was, darker than a
starless night on the mountain where he’d been born, darker than the darkness
that swam up behind his closed eyelids when he lay in bed at night, darker than
the hour before dawn.
was lying on rotten satin, and he felt his tissues drying and
inside him, felt the secret loving movement of
the creatures that shared his grave, the pale worms, the shiny beetles with
their delicate black legs, the things without shape or name, too tiny to be
seen, the hungry things turning his flesh back into new rich earth—
What the fuck are you doing?” Steve’s hands were on him, large and strong and
undeniably real, Steve’s bony fingers digging into Ghost’s shoulders.
leaned back against Steve. “It doesn’t hurt,” he said —to Steve? to the twins?
He knew not, he cared not.
doesn’t hurt? Who are you talking to?”
doesn’t hurt,” said one of the twins, and a light came into his silver eyes.
“Death is dark, death is sweet.”
other twin took up the litany. “Death is all that lasts forever. Death is
is a lover with a thousand tongues—”
thousand insect caresses—”
IS EASY DEATH IS EASY DEATH IS EASY DEATH IS—”
up!” Ghost screamed. The chant swelled inside his head, became the rhythm of
his heartbeat, sucked him in. “Stop it! Leave me alone!”
Steve’s arms were around him, and instead of the twins’ rotten-spice odor there
was only Steve’s smell, beer and dirty hair and fear and love, and Ghost buried
his face in the soft black cotton of Steve’s T-shirt. When he opened his eyes
again, the twins were gone. Ghost heard only the faraway roar of the power
plant across the water, saw only the branches of the oak, tangled and twisted,
stretching up to the clear, glittering sky.
didn’t talk much on the drive back to Missing Mile. He told Steve only about
the lovely feral faces of the twins and their bright silks and their bewitching
dead smell. He didn’t want to wonder, he said, what kind of an omen those twins
might have been … or, worse than an omen, if they might have been real. Instead
he finished the whiskey and went to sleep with his head hung out the window and
his hair streaming in the wind, and Steve looked from the shimmering road to
the hill of Ghost’s cheek, the dark curve of his eyebrow, the satin scrap of