Nick stirred. He was on the floor. Not an unusual circumstance. He passed out in lots of places. But this was…different. Something was making his heart pound. Something had the blood roiling in his veins.
He blinked, feeling his eyelashes brush the ground. Someone knelt alongside him. That someone wore no clothes. That someone was also impossible and beautiful, and impossibly beautiful.
A hesitant, soft, gentle, and shatteringly familiar voice whispered in the disheveled dimness of his apartment, “Sorry you fell down. Is your name…Nick?”
FOR SOME TIME now, Nick Jordon had been anticipating the true mental break. Not nerves, not depression, not some disproportionate fit of anger. But a sundering of his mind. The real collapse. Madness. A psychotic break with reality. Or however it would eventually get diagnosed, when someone at last discovered his quivering body with the sightlessly staring eyes and carted him off to a health facility.
But somehow he hadn’t guessed that the fracture would result in something so…literal. Almost cliché. His dead lover was reappearing to him in the middle of the night. Naked, to boot.
Nick closed his eyes, not to make the apparition go away—because what good would that do?—but simply shutting his eyes in tragic resignation. Year after year he had at least gone through the motions of maintaining his life. He had stayed employed, even after the police force had let him go. He had trudged through the empty days and weeks and months, keenly aware of his loss. But he hadn’t unduly burdened anybody else with his problems. It helped, of course, that he lived a friendless existence these days.
But going through the motions should count for some
thing, he thought bitterly. That effort, rightfully, should have been enough to stave off total mental disintegration. Oh well. Too fucking bad, Nicky.
Something was poking his shoulder. It felt remarkably like a finger. Tactile delusion.
“Hey. Are you all right? Did you hit your head or something? Hang on…”
Eyes still shut, Nick sensed movement. How deep did this illusion run? After all, his brain had manufactured the sound of his key code, waking him up for this main attraction, the full-on hallucinatory presence of the man he had loved so dearly. Hell, still
loved. Would Nick stay trapped in his mind, stay stuck inside this apartment for the rest of his life, with the naked ghost-Dane for company? It was like Dickens crossed with gay porn.
He laughed. It was a truly ghastly sound, and he choked it off immediately.
“Here, drink this.”
Nick frowned, and the frown felt real on his face. At thirty-four, his features had already started to line. His thick dark hair showed threads of gray at the temples if he looked closely enough.
There was a hand under his arm, pulling him upright. Something was being put into his hand. It felt cool. His eyes stayed closed, but only because he was squeezing them now. A moment ago he had feared insanity. Now… What? Was he afraid that this crazy shit happening here was real
He lifted the glass to his lips and took a long swallow of cold water. The person had gone unerringly to the kitchen nook. Nick had heard the water ration meter tick. Perhaps it was time to see who this really was paying him a nocturnal visit.
Cautiously, fearfully, he opened his eyes.
The evidence of his psychological break was still present in the room with him. The body was still unclothed. He peered into Nick’s face with concern.
The expression was Dane’s. Nick could have graphed it, could have accurately charted the arch of the eyebrows, the play of the cheekbones. There was empathy on that face.
Dane had spoken. He had touched Nick. He had brought Nick a glass of water, which was still tangibly in his hand. Now Nick was looking up at him where he sat on haunches alongside Nick’s prone body. Dane, like the glass, also seemed a palpable presence, belonging to this reality.
Nick put out a shaky hand. His gun was on his other side, on the floor where he’d dropped it, away from this…being. Nick brushed his fingertips over Dane’s cheek. Dane giggled but didn’t flinch away. The contact caused Nick’s heart to race, but the texture of skin under his fingers seemed believable.
Dreams didn’t play like this, even the most vivid ones. Other than Dane’s presence, nothing phantasmagorical had happened in all these minutes. No laws of physics violated. Nothing inconceivable had occurred. There was just a dead man in the apartment.
But the man had asked Nick a question, when he had first come to, after fainting. Fainting.
Yeah, his life had reached a point where he was swooning like a character in a Victorian novel. At least this time he’d had a good reason, not just passing out from booze and pills.
“My name is Nick.” He watched the man’s face, the lovely face, for reaction. There were no lines on those features, no undertow of decay. This person hadn’t aged a day since the last time Nick had seen him alive.
Dane’s soft lips spread in a tentative grin. “You are? You are Nick?” The information appeared to please him.
It choked something in Nick’s throat as he sat up farther, setting aside the water glass. “Yes,” he said quietly. “Now, please, tell me who you are.” His whole reality hinged on this question. Once, in this very abode, the game of sex and romance had changed for him forever. This was another crucial moment.
Those minute flecks of onyx seemed to catch the low ambient light. Shyly Dane said, “I was hoping you could tell me who I am.”
A sudden, dismaying, powerful sob tried to rip through Nick, but he shunted it aside. He put his feet under him and stood. His visitor rose as well, body still moving with a smooth, youthful wiriness. No stiff joints or muscular aches for him
Nick called up the lights. The apparition didn’t vanish under the stronger illumination. He gained in substance, in fact. The detail was perfect. A mole dotted his shoulder, just below the left clavicle. Downy, nearly invisible blond hair dusted his flat belly. His circumcised cock hooked ever so slightly to the right.
The alcohol and tranqs weren’t out of Nick’s system, but their effects, he found, had been blasted away by recent circumstances. He began to feel a deep, cold focus. It was a mode he had once been able to enter at will. He drew a breath and released it slowly.
He said, “Okay. I’m going to say a name to you. You tell me how it sounds to you.”
Eric Del Carlo