Archive for vampires

The Summer of ’22

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 30, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

In general, Zed thought that John was a bit of a pussy for his retreat into the coffin, following the New Year’s Eve of 2013. As time went by, however, he began to occasionally, reluctantly, understand. It had been Gangnam Style, that godawful trend, that had sent John tumbling over the edge from drunken fury into absolute terror, at the fact that he could no longer understand the modern world.

“I have no place here!” he’d moaned into Zed’s neck, in the back of the taxi home. “I don’t understand these people! Why were they all dancing like that? Why is the whole fucking world dancing like that?!”

Admittedly, Zed hadn’t really helped – though he was a lot younger than John, Gangnam Style was utterly lost on him too – all he could point out was that it was just a trend, another fleeting trend, over and done with in a matter of months, and what did months mean to an immortal? But John had groaned in despair, replying, “Just a trend…that’s even worse! Trends following trends, and don’t you see them getting more completely insane with every year that goes by? I can’t bear it anymore! I can’t bear another fucking second of this repulsive planet! I’m going to sleep! I’m going to sleep forever!”

Zed had been pretty sure, initially, that John was just being his usual melodramatic self, when he’d threatened to sleep “forever” – as soon as they got home, John had stomped into the kitchen, drained three bags of A-positive, then stormed off upstairs, crawled into the coffin that had previously been nothing more than an artistic coffee table, slammed the lid into place, and after an hour of quiet sobbing, it all went silent. Zed had peeked inside the next night, and found John utterly dead to the world. When there was still no change two weeks later, he’d given John a hopeful poke, but John might as well have been a corpse.

After that, Zed resigned himself to a bit of a wait, but just a bit – six months, maybe. A year at the absolute most. But the years had rolled past, and if Zed had been told in those early days that it would be near enough five decades before John finally returned to him, he probably would have staked himself. Sometimes it was better not to see the future.

In the year 2022 though, Zed had managed to rouse John from his slumber, albeit just for a groggy hour that John would later write off as nothing more than a surreal dream. The catalyst behind Zed’s decision to drag his tormented lover from the grave had been – ironically – another mortal trend. In 2022, Zed began to feel that John might have been right, drunk and slurring in the back of that long-ago taxi. Trends stacked on trends, slithering into a yawning abyss of absolute madness. The humans were going completely demented, and he felt that he might finally be losing his foothold in sanity.

Back in the 1950s, when Zed had been made immortal, rock n roll had been the trend that terrified the old folks. Elvis Presley’s sexual gyrations were the most lewd and dangerous thing they had ever seen in their lives, and preachers all over America, that foreign land he was washed up in, were decrying the satanic blackness, the End Times, brought on by nothing more than lively songs with mild sexual undertones. Zed and John had surfed that wave with abandon – it had been a good time to be alive, and an even better time to be alive forever. The music had flowed on, sometimes becoming interesting, sometimes appalling – but the human trends had just gotten weirder and weirder.

By the time John retreated into the coffin, leaving Zed to face the world alone, there was really no such thing as music anymore. Occasionally Zed came across a rockabilly band that warmed his heart, but in general even these seemed so recycled, so artificial, or worse, a depressing reminder that those days were forever gone. Even the young mortals of this awful new millennium knew it – all over the internet they bitched and whined about their shit luck, in being born now, in this vacuum of plastic-wrapped crap, when all the real stars, made of blood and sweat and drugs and fury, had burned out in the sky or drowned in the chemical soup that had become the world’s toxic oceans. The ‘End Times’ those ancient preachers had prophesised really did seem to be upon them.

But the thing that did it, the thing that really drove Zed over the edge, in the summer of 2022, was the fucking noses. Over the past decade, facial features had been getting bigger and bigger. First it was the eyes – women were blinding themselves with huge plastic contact lenses that made them resemble sad little anime characters, their artificially enlarged eyeballs fringed with a million false lashes. Then it was the cheekbones, injected with fillers, contoured and bronzed and highlighted until they looked like David Bowie had mated with a sexual alien. The eyebrows came hot on the heels of this trend, bigger and bushier and angrier, and then along came the lips, a million children bruising and slicing up their mouths as they attempted some ridiculous charade known as the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’. Even the teeth were getting bigger – Zed spent many a horrified evening drinking whiskey and watching grisly Youtube videos of veneers being fitted, a person’s perfectly decent-looking teeth filed down to tiny, painful, useless stubs, before being stuffed into vast, neon-white porcelain tombstones. By the end of the 2010s, humans barely looked human anymore. And then, in the early 2020s, there came an abrupt parting of the ways when it came to noses. For many years, noses had been getting narrower and narrower, almost disappearing in the midst of those swollen, accentuated features, the huge round eyes, the bloated lips, glowing white teeth and furious werewolf brows. But finally, as with all trends, this look became cliché, it became so basic bitch, as they all used to say, and a new trend sprouted in its place.

By 2021, you could hardly find a single adult human who didn’t have fillers somewhere in their faces – in their cheeks, their wrinkles, their lips, and finally, the humans seemed to decide that their noses had been overlooked for way too long. The anime look was out – the manatee look was in. Some of the humans went for a perfect, wide triangle, bloating out their rounded nostrils and applying a perky blob of pink blush to each swollen extrusion. Others went for the ‘Roman dignitary’ look, and had fillers applied to the central bridge, to give a haughtily downward-sloping nose. And then, of course, as always, there were the kids who just wanted to be the next internet sensation, and they went the whole damn hog. Their entire nose would be filled with up to 50ml of Juvederm filler, until it was the size of a baby’s arm. For maximum effect their lips would be blown up to similar proportions, and painted royal blue, a jaunty pop of colour peeking out from beneath the vast, dangling sausage of their oversized nose. Fashion bloggers of the time raved about the sexual connotations of this cosmetic enhancement – these vast, blubbery noses often turned mildly purple and veiny, resembling an engorged penis. Just like Elvis’s hips, it made you think of sex, and sex always sold. More than this, it was a status symbol – these kids were carrying around near enough $6,000 of liquid filler in their faces, and the kids of this era, Zed had long since learned, liked to flash their cash in the most grotesque of manners.

Zed’s horror at the ongoing mutilation of human faces continued to grow, day by day, week by week. By 2022, John had been asleep for nine years – Zed had long since moved the entire coffin into a dusty storage room, and resigned himself to living life with the awkward, tentative freedom of a guy whose partner had as good as authorised him to sleep with other people…but not without crippling guilt. All Zed really wanted was John back – they’d been together for over half a century, and Zed was stuck in his ways almost as much as John had been – a creature of habit. He loved nothing more than listening to Elvis and watching Lonesome Dove on an endless repeat, and he loved nothing more than being with John – the one person on Earth who he could reminisce with endlessly, about anything. Their whole lives had been shared, lived together – until now. Until the point that John had got so crazy, so infuriatingly irrational, about nothing more than that stupid goddamn song, he had abandoned Zed completely, sulking in his coffin like the worst vampire cliché on Earth. There were a lot of times that Zed got seriously pissed off with John, late at night, all alone, drunk on whiskey, adrift in this crazy human world. At times like these, he often found himself storming out into the night in his most melodramatic trenchcoat, and disappearing into the humid embrace of a gay club.

The first nose-related disaster Zed suffered, happened at a gay club just a few blocks from his apartment. Already a long way past drunk, Zed was rapidly befriended by a young, cute guy with bright purple hair, who had offered him a small white pill. Zed was too pissed off with the world to even bother asking what it was – he just swallowed it, and rolled on top of his new friend. They’d ended up on the dancefloor, and for a modern-day club, Zed was reasonably satisfied with the music, but the boy, who had introduced himself as Fish, was getting sulkier and sulkier, until finally Zed allowed himself to be dragged out into the night, and into the back of a taxi. Everything had taken on a mildly surreal tinge by the time they reached their destination, the sweaty neon-lit depths of another gay club – the décor slicker, the music even louder and more obnoxious. Fish had gone to the bar for a round of drinks, and Zed had lost him completely. By this point, he was definitely feeling weird, and he couldn’t make his mind up yet whether it was a good weird, or a bad one – he felt a bit like an alien spy, slipping unseen through this demented Gomorrah, and the feeling was pleasingly mischievous. At the very least, it made a change from feeling like a depressed, abandoned vampire whose boyfriend had been replaced with a fleshlight.

Zed began taking a tour of the club, slipping through the shadows, quietly making spaceship noises to himself, becoming more and more convinced that he was a sinister, invisible entity, sent to discover the culture of these peculiar young mortals. When the bass dropped and the whole place went insane, he’d managed to strand himself right in the deepest depths of that awful place, and this was when it all went wrong. Suddenly the strobes were going crazy, the flailing bodies jolting between beats of light, and Zed was equal parts hypnotised and terrified by their faces. This club, it turned out, was very, very hip, or swag, or on fleek, or whatever the fuck all the jumped up internet tossers were saying these days, and that meant that every face in the room was down with the manatee trend. Zed found himself staring into a glowing sea of hideous, mutated faces – bulbous, veiny, dick-like noses bouncing wildly up and down, until he felt as though his mind was under attack from a dangerous colony of aggressive neon penises. Artificial teeth were glowing under the blacklight, and the music sounded like the scraping of a million dental drills, grinding Zed’s teeth into terrifying raw-nerved stubs, his mind flashing up gruesome images of dental surgery, plastic surgery, syringes stabbing into swollen lips, plastic lenses being prodded horribly into the jelly sacs of eyeballs, the strobe flashing madly and the purple penises bouncing and the alien race he was studying had seen him now – they knew he was an outsider, and they were going to get him, going to mutilate him, chop off his dick and staple it to his face – for all eternity he’d be trapped in this godforsaken hellpit with stumps for teeth and a dick for a nose, and what came next, what came next, he didn’t know, but he had the ghastly sensation that his nuts were trying to crawl inside his body cavity and he was pretty sure that he was about to puke everywhere, and the lights were driving him crazy, and those faces, those fucking faces!

Zed had no idea how he got home, that night – it was all a hideous blur of vomit and headlights and warped, swaying faces, but finally he was home, with a blanket over his head, watching Lonesome Dove and alternating between a sense of soaring peacefulness at being safe in the sanctity of his flat, followed by sudden waves of paralysing dread that those nightmarish creatures would find him and come for him and crash down his door at any second.

After that, Zed avoided the gay bars for quite a few weeks, but inevitably the loneliness returned, and the resentment returned, and out he went once more. He managed a few quiet drinks this time, and a bit of a dance, before he was aggressively hit on by a guy whose once-attractive features were now marred by the most monstrous of dick-noses. It was a bizarre experience for Zed, being chatted up by this absolute mutant, whose self-confidence was sky high purely because of the monstrous abomination he had grown on his own face. Finally, when all attempts at subtlety failed, and Zed couldn’t get the guy to just go the fuck away, he told him flat out that manatee noses really turned him off. The guy watched him with a calculating gaze, whipped out his phone, and snapped a picture of Zed. Before Zed could be entirely sure what was happening, the guy had tapped and swiped and tapped some more, and then he flipped the screen around to show Zed the result.

“You’d be so much hotter!” Dick-Nose yelled over the music. “Big is beautiful, man – ain’t no need to be jealous! I can hook you up, yo – I know this guy, works strictly on the down-low from a hotel car park, and he’d do you a pretty sweet deal! We’d put in 20ml for starters, then-”

To Zed, his words filtered through a red haze of disbelief, fury, and nauseous dismay. Glowing from the screen in front of him was a picture of himself, looking mildly shell-shocked, with the most gigantic dick-nose he’d ever seen in his life. Worse than this though, it was so realistic – the image was burning itself into his brain forever more, until the ground seemed to sink beneath his feet and he had the horrifying sensation that he was staring into a mirror, and it was all too late, too damn fucking late. The strobes were flashing again, the guy yelling in his ear about prices and sizes and internet-purchased self-injection kits, and Zed just about managed to pull himself together enough to shout,

“I HOPE IT ROTS RIGHT OFF YOUR FUCKING FACE!” before he whirled around and stormed out into the night.

As he strode furiously through the rain, Zed’s phone vibrated in his pocket, and when he reached the shelter of his apartment building, he pulled it out to find that the hideous picture was now saved to his phone, complete with the message,

“2-for-1 deal on 2mrw, bring a friend. Back of Red Lake Motel, noon!”

Zed snarled at his phone, feeling another wave of horror and confusion – he certainly hadn’t given that dick-nosed wanker his phone number, but the stupid devices came with so many apps installed these days he couldn’t keep track of what was possible anymore. Apparently dick-nose could now harass him throughout eternity with nose-job deals, and this really was the final straw. Zed marched into his apartment, grabbed a bag of A-positive, and crashed into the storage room, flinging off the lid of the coffin and staring down at John. Something inside him relaxed immediately, just a tiny bit, at the sight of that sleeping face. John’s black hair was a tangled, dusty chaos, his pretty young face smooth and untroubled, over a foot of empty air between the top of his head and the end of the coffin. Seeing John’s face was like coming home – always, but tonight it was particularly soothing to Zed, to gaze upon the one face that would never change, a face bereft of bizarre mutilations, a face that had never been stabbed with syringes and pumped full of crap. The face that was reflected in every one of his favourite memories… But as Zed sat there, that sense of peace rapidly faded into loneliness, just as it always did. John was nothing more than an empty shell, just like he’d been for the past nine years. He might as well be a faded photograph, the urn of a loved one’s ashes, for all the comfort he brought. And as Zed sat and stared, the unfairness boiled inside him once more, that he had to deal with this shitty, shitty world, all alone, while John sat it out completely, nestled inside his satin-lined coffin, stubbornly oblivious. As this thought crossed Zed’s mind, John smiled peacefully in his sleep, and Zed lost his shit completely.

“Wake UP!” he hissed, grabbing John’s shoulders and violently shaking him. “Wake the fuck up you lazy little arsehole!”

John remained limp and lifeless, still smiling, and Zed shook him all the harder, snapping,

“If you do not wake up this fucking second so help me god I am going to piss all over you! You can spend all eternity in a coffin full of PISS for all I care, you lazy, self-centred, obnoxious, selfish little shit! I AM GOING TO-”

“Wha’ th’fck…” mumbled John, beginning to frown sleepily. “Wha’…wha’?”

Zed stopped shaking him, and attempted to pry John’s eyes open. Finally a bleary green eye stared back at him, and John mumbled,

“Wha…whass…goin’ on? You gon’…piss on me?”

“Yes,” said Zed, grinning widely. “If you don’t wake up right now and keep me company, I am going to piss on you. Right in your hair.”

John let out a grumble of disgust, opened his other eye, and stared at Zed with a bemused frown. When the silence stretched on, Zed broke open the IV tube on the bag of blood, and stuffed it into John’s mouth. John sighed happily, and drained the entire thing in seconds. When it was gone, he clumsily tugged it out of his mouth, yawned, and mumbled,

“’s a bit early…f’me…”

“It is not fucking early!” Zed snapped, “You’ve been asleep for nine years!”

John shrugged, and closed his eyes, lapsing back into corpse-like stillness. The sight of it sent a shiver of absolute terror down Zed’s spine, another nine years of abandonment crashing down on his head, and he pleaded desperately,

Please, John – just wake up for a little while, just for an hour or two! I need you! Everything’s so horrible, and I can’t bear it anymore!”

John opened one eye, and surveyed him like a haughty cat. Finally he let out a dramatic sigh, opened his other eye, and sat up, giving Zed a hug. Zed wrapped his arms around John’s small, dusty body, and never wanted to move again, but finally, John asked,

“What’s so horrible? Are they still…doing that dance?”

“No,” Zed told him. “It’s the noses… I just can’t stand the fucking noses anymore…”

“Think…” said John, “You’re going to have to explain…”

.

.

Over the next half hour, Zed sat John down in front of the laptop, and took him on a tour of mutilated human faces. John stared in quiet awe at the whole thing, then demanded a cigarette. Zed got him out an old stashed-away pack of Luckies, which was probably stale and revolting by now, but John sucked up the smoke delightedly regardless. Zed showed him the grisly Youtube videos of veneers being fitted, and John wrinkled his nose from within a cloud of smoke, before carefully poking his own teeth as if to make sure nothing terrible had happened to them during his absence. Eventually, when John seemed to be more or less up to speed, sniggering at an Instagram feed of one of the darlings of the manatee scene, a dark-haired boy with a veiny purple sausage-nose dangling right down over his lips, Zed sighed, and asked,

“Are you ready to see the thing that really fucked me up tonight?”

John glanced at him with a frown, and said,

“You mean…there’s more? More than…that? What else can they possibly do to themselves?” He paused, apparently considering this, then went on in speculative tones, “I think toes could be quite interesting, really. I think they might be the next big thing. These people are going completely crazy, but they’re definitely being innovative. So…what about toes? Lots of people in the world have foot fetishes, don’t they? And everybody has more toes than they need, probably. So…I think the next thing will be cutting off a toe, and just…sewing it onto your face. And then, instead of kissing, the people of the future will just suck on each other’s nose-toes…” He trailed off, and they both shuddered in unison.

“No,” said Zed, trying to banish that gruesome visual from his mind, “Nobody’s sewing toes onto their faces. Not yet, anyway. But…a few weeks ago, I took some…well, fuck, I don’t even know what I took, it didn’t exactly feel like acid, but no one does acid now anyway, it’s all this synthetic crap, but I was depressed, and angry, so I took this stupid pill, and I ended up in this godawful nightclub full of these dick-nosed wankers, and I was tripping hard, and it really…it just…scared the shit out of me, and then, tonight, I-”

“You’ve always been fucking lousy on acid,” John interrupted, lighting another cigarette. “Why haven’t you learned that yet? We don’t trip, or, well, you don’t trip, without a pocketful of valium and antipsychotics in case of an emergency. And in a gay club? On your own?” He shook his head in despair, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Yeah,” Zed muttered, cracking open the nearest whiskey bottle, “It was stupid. But as I might have mentioned, you’ve been asleep for the past nine fucking years, and you’re the one with the mysterious ability to summon up any drug known to man at a moment’s notice. I can barely get weed without you…”

“Apparently you can get synthetic LSD. That sounds interesting…”

“It wasn’t. I mean, it really, really wasn’t! It was even worse than that time in ’69 when we tripped with your ‘harmless hippies’ who turned out to be the Manson family. Worse than that.”

“Bummer,” John mumbled, yawning. Zed watched him with a frown – his eyelids were drooping and he looked half asleep. How in hell a person could sleep for nine years and still be tired was absolutely beyond him, but he could feel his time with John slipping away by the second.

“Look at this,” he commanded, pulling out his phone, suppressing a shudder as he brought up the edited picture, and thrusting it under John’s nose. “Just look at this fucking thing!” John stared at it in groggy bemusement for several long seconds, before asking,

“When was this taken? You…you did that thing? To your own nose? Ohhh, it’s hideous, Zed, thank god it’s gone away now!”

“I didn’t do that thing!” Zed snapped, rolling his eyes, “I’m not completely fucking mental! I went to a club, tonight, and this dick-nosed wanker started hitting on me, and then he…I dunno, he photoshopped me into…into this, and now he’s trying to make me get it done for real! He wants you to get it done too, this ‘two for one offer, bring a friend, you can both get mutilated into total twats together’ thing! This is what I’m dealing with, John, every fucking day! This is what life is like now, and you’ve just left me, to deal with it all by myself! It’s not fair, and I can’t-” He broke off as John’s head nodded forward, and just before he fell off the sofa, John woke himself up with a jolt, beginning to blearily rub his eye. Zed watched him dubiously – John had had the occasional dalliance with heroin since the eighties, and this was an all too familiar sight. But when John met his gaze, his pupils were perfectly normal, and besides, he hadn’t left Zed’s side for a second since he’d stumbled out of the coffin…

“’m really sleepy…” John mumbled, by way of explanation, flopping over and burying his face in Zed’s chest. “The noses’re…awful, but…’m jus’ really sleepy…”

How?” Zed asked. “How in fuck’s name can you possibly be sleepy?!”

John just sighed, but after a long silence, he dragged himself upright, and mumbled,

“I toldjoo ‘m not ready to…wake up yet. ‘m sorry, but…’m just not. So…put on some…Lonesome Dove, or somethin’, ‘n just…hold me, for a while… before I go back to sleep…”

Zed frowned, torn between misery and sexual frustration – nine damn years he’d been waiting, and apparently he wasn’t even going to get a five minute fuck before John sodded off back into his coffin. But John was crumpling sideways onto the sofa, and Zed sighed, grabbing him and hauling him to his feet. They plodded a weaving path into the bedroom, where Zed zapped on some Lonesome Dove, and curled himself around John’s slim body. John tangled his fingers into Zed’s hair, rolling over and sleepily biting his neck, mumbling,

“’m sorry… I guess y’could just…sleep…with me, in my coffin, f’r a…few years, or somethin’…”

“I can’t,” Zed said quietly. “I can’t just…crawl into a box for decades, wake up not knowing what’s going on. One of us has to keep up with the world…”

“S’pose…” John conceded. “Sorry ‘m so shit…”

Me too, thought Zed, but instead he kissed John on the forehead, and they lapsed into silence. Zed tried to soak it up, every second of this – every slow, steady breath John took, every tiny movement of his fingers, lazily stroking Zed’s hair. John was still here, and still himself, even after nine years in a coffin. Dead to the world, but not dead. Never dead – not really. However long it took, Zed decided, he could wait it out, keeping up with all the demented trends of the mortal world, until finally, some day, when John was ready, every night would be like this, just like it used to be – John’s small body nestled into Zed’s, Lonesome Dove on the TV. No more loneliness, no more depressing masturbation, no more soulless gay clubs. Someday…

Even the noses didn’t seem so terrifying, now he’d shared them with John. Everything he went through, battling this hideous modern world, he would store it up in his mind, nothing more than a strange tale to tell John, when he finally emerged from the coffin. Whenever that might be…

Zed had just about resigned himself to this fate, when John groggily raised his head, and said,

“Make me some coffee, Zed… N’one’s fucked me in…nine years…or somethin’…”

Zed laughed, asking,

“Really? I think it might traumatise me for life if you go into corpse mode with my cock in your mouth…”

John gave him a serene smile, and promised,

“I’ll stay awake…prob’ly. I’ll risk it…f’you will. Coffee?”

“Coffee,” Zed agreed. “Strong fucking coffee.”

“For fucking with,” said John, sniggering.

 

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The Opium Sanctuary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

2nd September, 1865:

I think that I like being immortal – it suits my temperament. I always thought I had the right temperament for wealth and power – I certainly had the right face for it, but a face will only get you so far unless you’re prepared to throw your arse into the deal as well, which I most certainly was not. Well…not usually. Only for the right price. And not for anybody hideous, stinking, or syphilitic, which of course rules out the majority of London. But anyway, those days are behind me. Now that I’m immortal, and in possession of a whole slew of fiendish talents, my lifestyle has finally begun to suit my temperament.

Look around you, for instance. This is the sort of place in which I was always supposed to be living. One could almost call it obscene. Vast and sprawling, most certainly, with the lovely dark wood panelling and the Oriental rugs covering these age-worn floorboards, trampled into a warm patina, made silken underfoot by the aristocratic soles of two centuries of Lords and Ladies, the last of whom I confess I ate in order to secure the property. Their disapproving oil-painted likenesses scowl down at me daily, and I smile back up at them, relishing their annoyance. All that power, all that wealth, all that blue blood, and I swallowed the very last drop of it. I was a little disappointed to discover that it wasn’t actually blue – I even took a short trip to Windsor Castle to sample one of the lesser royals, as an experiment into the colours of blood, so I can tell you without any doubt at all – it isn’t true. Not a word of it. They didn’t even taste any different, really – a little richer on the tongue, a little more complex, a touch spiced, but that has nothing to do with breeding, and everything to do with diet. If you want a truly exquisite dining experience, you have to try seducing that enormous homosexual who always presides over the best dining houses – he is vast and ruddy-faced, an elegant brandy glass in his bejewelled fist, his little finger pointed to the sky like a prim old aunt. He will be bedecked in glorious satins like an obese peacock, forever drunk, reasonably amusing, and always receptive to the attentions of someone such as me. And this man, I tell you in no uncertain terms, has the finest blood in all of England. It’s the things he eats, you see. All the spices, the duck fat, the expensive port and the fine cigars – all these things, all these delicious trappings of wealth and finery, they are distilled into the thick red potion of his blood, and it is quite the experience. So much so, in fact, that I never kill this sort of man – I like to keep him alive and friendly, so that I might experience him again and again, and every time is a little different, for he is just as much the intrepid dining connoisseur as I am.

Anyway – I digress. Not that it matters – one is allowed to digress when one is well-dressed and wealthy. People never interrupt their betters, and everybody sounds more interesting in a well tailored suit. I am learning all sorts of things about life these days, which is ironic, when you consider that I am really dead. The details of that event, I do not care to dwell on. It was traumatic, and violating, and unpleasant. I often wish that I could have appeared as an elegant spectre to the slovenly pauper I was before, and told him, “Don’t be so bloody silly about the entire affair! There’s no need for all the screaming and howling and praying to a nonexistent god that we never believed in anyway! It will be over and done with in the space of a few hours, and after that, you will look like me, and your life will be splendid. So don’t be such a wet blanket about the whole affair!”. But of course, I can’t. Time travel and spectral haunting are not amongst my new boudoir of demonic skills. As for the downsides to immortality, well…there aren’t any, really. I can still drink wine and brandy – thank the gods! I mean, what aristocratic figure would be seen to be an abstainer? Wandering about the best ballrooms with a cup of steaming tea? Nobody would take me seriously, and they would be quite right in their mockery! So, I still have all the pleasures of a human.

I don’t have to concern myself with my family either – it was clear from the outset that they had every intention of leeching away my newfound wealth, so, naturally, I ate them, and then the matter was quite solved. As for my new family, my immortal family, they number just two. Obviously, there is the demon who created me, in every possible sense of the word, and he is quite pleasant enough. I only see him perhaps twice a week – he bought me this house, and set me up with a bank account, as he likes to keep me in the finery to which I have become accustomed. For him, I am quite willing to bring both my face, and my arse, into the bargain. His name is Byron. The second of my demonic clan is a rather spoiled and objectionable female named Matild, who is old enough to be my…god only knows what, to be perfectly honest, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. Captured in the body of a pouting teenage concubine, and quite aware of her own good looks. Byron likes to fuck her on occasion, hence the reason for her continued existence in London – he often appears in my bed drenched in the poisonous stench of a whore’s bed-linens, and I refuse to present my posterior until he’s bathed himself clean. I do not interact with Matild. Because I’m jealous? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I suspect that Byron has more of us, to be honest – his appetites are insatiable and yet he only troubles me twice weekly; it is evident enough that he is fucking others in this city. But jealousy is an ugly emotion – I refuse to sully myself with it, and besides, it’s not as though I don’t have other people that I’m fucking. Byron isn’t jealous – it’s one of his many fine qualities; there are really no drawbacks to our little contract. I gave him my mortal soul, and he gave me…everything. Forever. So why should I be jealous?

My favourite thing in the world though, my favourite thing, in the midst of all this splendour, my oil paintings and rugs, my gleaming horses, my young, beautiful, obscenely shaved fucking-boys, my bottomless wealth and newfound social status – of all these things, there is one I love the most. I have many vices, and all of them delight me, but opium is the finest of them all. I am rarely to be found in an opium den, because they are foul places filled with foul people, and one’s reputation can be ruined in an instant if seen in such a place too frequently. But reputation doesn’t unduly trouble me – it’s the squalor that does. When one goes to an opium den, and smokes there, one is forced to sprawl out upon stained, stiffening pillows that reek of sweat and vomit, with dirty straw and rat droppings beneath one’s feet, and worse than this is the company. Opium ceases to be remotely enjoyable when one is forced to endure the inane babblings of the deformed, demented, frothing halfwits that frequent those places. Mortals in the depths of an opium dream are hideous to witness, sprawled about with strings of drool hanging from their slobbering mouths, groaning horrifyingly and scratching their filthy crotches, stumbling about like impinged ogres with their eyes gone crooked – it truly is the stuff of nightmares, and I strongly suspect that opium tar’s bad reputation is solely due to these scenes. But opium itself, is quite a different thing. Opium itself, is elegant and warm and beautiful – I think, in fact, that it is my favourite thing in the world. There is nothing about it that isn’t beautiful, from the fields of flame-red poppies whence it comes, to the intricately carved splendour of my pipes, to the warm golden light of the lamps and trays, and finally to the state of perfect contentment it invokes.

I realised all of this some nine months after Byron made me what I am. I rapidly set about transforming a room of my house into the most splendid private opium den I could manage, with gloriously coloured Oriental silk draperies and cushions, all the necessary setup created from hammered gold and copper, so that in the light of my lamps the whole room would become a glimmering paradise, a warm smoky heaven of my own creation. I purchased a selection of pipes in bone and silver and wood, all engraved and inset with fabulous stones, glittering opals and gleaming tigers-eye, so that I would always have things to touch and look at and wonder over. I brought in a variety of instruments from across the globe, and would spend whole nights hypnotised as I ran my fingers over the strings of a lute, or tilted a crude tribal creation back and forth to make the sound of falling rain. I installed a small library of my favourite books, complete with quills and ink and rose-scented paper, that I might write letters to my lovers from the true depths of my heart, with all my cynicism, all my mortal hindrances, washed clean by the opium. I employed two small Chinese slave boys, who were well versed in the preparation of opium tar, the loading and upkeep of pipes – of course one can do it oneself, but it’s such a bore; the whole point of wealth is to separate oneself from the mundane tasks of mortality, so that one has all the time in the world to pursue loftier and more valuable pastimes, like actually smoking the opium. It took several months to complete, but finally my opium room was perfect, and I loved it more than anything else on Earth.

It was my slave boys who made the trips down to those sordid dens on the river, bringing me back my opium. They get it for a far better price than any white man ever would, and despite their helpless youth, their own people would never beat and rob them – they’re quite safe out there. I feel a strange affection for those boys, borne of so many long, drowsy nights, when they would share my glistening sanctuary, silently loading my pipe and watching from a corner, still as statues, their dark eyes gleaming in the lamplight. They speak a little English, and sometimes I converse with them, just to hear their charming accents – so strange that their voices should sound endearing in English, when their own tongue is so harsh and jarring, a gibbering of wide, incredulous vowel sounds. The other servants I keep here, I confess I often feed on. Several have vanished mysteriously, having succumbed to my appetites and been dumped into the reeking mud of the river, but my opium boys I would never lay a finger on. Recently I have been teaching one to read, and encouraging the other to learn to play my piano. At first they stared at me in horror with their huge dark eyes, convinced that it was some trick – grubby little Oriental children, laying their fingers upon the ivory keys of this gleaming grand piano? It was blasphemy! But finally I convinced them to try, and so they did. He likes to play with two fingers only, picking out strange disjointed tunes that flow in their own odd way like early morning birdsong. I am considering having the piano moved closer to the opium room, that I might hear it while I dream.

Of course, there are plenty of other pleasures in life – often I think that life has become nothing more than an endless stream of perpetual pleasure, and I revel in every second of it, from the simplest to the most indulgent. Small pleasures are usually the product of Byron’s wealth – clean, luxurious bed-linens, to sprawl out upon, drunk and naked. Scented handkerchief water, and elegant cologne – for that matter, my marble bath, in which I might have each of my conquests cleansed and perfumed before we fuck. I still remember with distaste how foul fucking used to be, when I was just as foully poor. No matter how beautiful the boy or girl, I would kiss them and the taste of their mouth would make me recoil, or when they parted their legs, the stench that arose would be ungodly. Of course we would still go about our business, because in those days we knew no other way. People were all smelly creatures, weren’t they? Nothing to be done about it. How pleased I am to be taught otherwise! Tooth powder and brushes were quite the revelation – to kiss people whose mouths tasted of peppermint or pine, and then to perform orally on genitals that taste of nothing more than soft, fragrant skin; these things are pleasures in the utmost.

Another of my favourite pleasures, or perhaps vices, is pride. I always knew that I was beautiful, but there is no pride in that when you are poor, and your soon-to-wane beauty is the only thing you have in the cold, cruel world. These days, I am far more than just beautiful. My eyes were a sort of warm, trustworthy brown before, I was told, whereas now they are filled with light and dimension – gold glimmers and a deep, velvety violet lurks in their depths. The power of my eyes is also a benefit, that I may bewitch the minds of mortals, and have them do my bidding, but often there is no need to wield this advantage – my beauty alone undoes them. I am pale, and youthful, and my eyes are shocking against my white skin, my long dark hair. When I enter a ballroom, everyone turns to stare, and I stare back at each of them, drinking in the adulation in their eyes, assessing it, feeding upon it…working out who I shall fuck tonight. The most beautiful virgin girls in London allow me to deflower them, and then I make them thank me. And so they do. And I adore it.

In my bedroom, I keep an entire cabinet of absinthe – I am currently sampling a new one each night, or sometimes for a succession of nights, as an experiment into the pleasures of dreaming. Absinthe in the correct quantity produces splendid, vivid, and frequently erotic dreams, but you have to get it precisely right. Too little and you will be overly excited for sleep, too full of thoughts and fancies, but too much and you will close your eyes and be overcome with nausea. Yet with just the right quantity, combined with a touch of opium – for this I use the tincture, and add it to my drink – you will fall into a long and blissful sleep, full of awe-inspiring visions and depraved acts. These dreams I will often wake from, and yet strangely find that I may close my eyes, and return once more to the same dream, continued. Occasionally I am even visited with power and lucidity in these dreams – aware that I am dreaming, and then of course, I behave as no man may ever do in reality. In these rare lucid dreams, I have slain entire ballrooms and fucked the corpses as the orchestra played on with abandon, gore spattered across their faces. I have flown across otherworldly purple jungles as though I were a swooping bat, and above all, the things I have seen in these dreams are beyond all comprehension! In the depths of a normal dream, one takes all as reality – one never notices the absurdity. And yet, when one is dreaming, yet aware, one sees all – the people on the streets I walk down will have tongues for eyes, their heads on backwards, the scenery grotesquely, obscenely distorted, and when I awake, I try my best to draw the scenes I have witnessed. The art I create is depraved beyond words, and I never show it to anybody, or rather, I haven’t yet. I am still honing my skills, and I want the moment to be perfect, but I know for a fact that when I show it to the world, I will be lauded and despised as a pervert genius, and I shall love every second of it.

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23rd August, 1872:

I think I am becoming bored with life, this summer. So many balls, so many garden parties and picnics, endlessly fucking brainless youths under oak trees, and all I can think is fuck it all. I’m so frightfully bored. And I listen to the brainless drawling of those brainless youths, and I think, Oh, do shut up. Just shut up, and put on your bloody clothes, and bugger off! The boredom never seems to leave me. At the moment of my very orgasm I am bored – it just never fades! And I can tell you why, as well. It isn’t that I am a boring person, as so many claim – that infuriating, petulant adage that only boring people find themselves bored – I am most certainly not a boring person! The reason for my perpetual boredom, is that Byron has spirited me away to this ungodly countryside shithole, just one of many – we travel constantly from house to house, and ball to ball, but always it’s the same, trees and fields and tedious bumpkins. It’s just intolerable!

Byron’s stated reason for this ghastly exile is that he tires of the maelstrom of London society, and yearns for the unchanged landscapes of his youth, which is a very pretty and poetic way to put it, so like a fool, I fell for it. It seemed such an elegant notion, to be reminded of the spectacular creature who is my lover – to be reminded that this youthful face and perfect form contain a being that has walked the Earth for centuries, alone and unchanging. It’s such a romantic idea! I was swept up in it, wanting to walk those ‘unchanged landscapes’ by his side, and to hear all these glorious, impossible tales of a time centuries before my birth. He is far older than any mortal man alive today, and every single one of them from his own time has died out – isn’t that a thought! What a thing he is, I thought. I will go with him, and I will learn more, for perhaps one day I shall be just the same, ancient and elegant, a powerhouse of hidden secrets and unfathomable depths. So I went along with him, and for a time I was entertained.

When I became bored by our exile, however, and I spoke my mind to Byron, begging for a return to the city, even for just a week or two, he became evasive, and even manipulative. I rapidly began to suspect that everything was not quite what it seemed. He had brought me here under false pretences, and he kept me here under still falser ones. His reasons, I cannot wholly fathom, but I have my suspicions: Byron is beginning to deeply disapprove of my vices, particularly of the opium, and of the absinthe, and above all, of the painting. He was the second person I showed, when I decided that my art had reached a high enough standard. The first was a drunk young boy who I’d just finished fucking, and he was so appalled and speechless that he began laughing hysterically, to the extent of vomiting – right across the bed! This I took as a very good sign. My art was truly as depraved as I hoped! And so, I showed it to Byron, believing that he would be awed, and pleased with me – he is, after all, an immortal demon who has slaughtered thousands, and who taught me everything I know of decadence. And yet…he was not pleased. Not in the slightest. He seemed deeply concerned for my mental state, and the look in his eyes was of one gazing into the drooling face of a lunatic! I was quite insulted, actually! And barely three months after this, I am dragged off to the countryside, bereft of opium or absinthe or paints.

And I tell you, in no uncertain terms, that I am intolerably bored with life!

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17th October, 1889:

This year has been a sad one. I suppose it was all coming for quite some time, but I never truly noticed it. Things, to me, seemed as though they were perfect. My opium boys, once so small and silent, had grown into men, and through necessity had been told, in the strictest of confidence, what I am, and why it is that I have not aged in all this time – they appear far older than I do, now. They never came to view me as a demon though, instead I seemed some sort of god to them – the Orientals have many odd beliefs, and peculiar deities; they seemed to idolise me, rather than cringing in fear, as all English mortals do, if they discover my secret. Although, in general, those English mortals are right to fear – I rarely reveal my secret to anyone who is not destined for a prompt execution. But my opium boys were quite different – I had brought them up into men, and had taught them many things they should never, in the natural course of things, have learned. One became adept at writing and mathematics, and is now employed in accountancy, doing very well for himself and often coming to visit me. The other – who as a young boy adopted the name Stephen, having found that for Londoners, his given name was quite impossible to pronounce – continued in his studies of music. He rapidly learned to use all his fingers to play the piano, and I engaged the services of a tutor for him. He was a fast and adept learner, and I spent many happy nights in my opium room, listening to his songs drifting in through the open door. From there he studied a little with the violin and flute, and was very soon in constant demand as an entertainer at London balls.

Stephen was the one who never left me, despite his many engagements. He lived under my roof always, and although I had employed new boys to service my opium requirements, Stephen seemed to take pleasure in his old work, loading my pipe, then bowing politely, and slipping outside to begin playing for me. I loved him in a wholly parental manner, a wholly clean and platonic sort of love – they are beautiful, the Oriental boys, but Stephen had become a son to me; I would never have dreamed of fucking him. I don’t fuck many people, in truth, these days – I often wondered whether it was simply my age, that although my body has not begun to sag and wither (for it never will), my mind had perhaps grown old and weary, calmer and less filled with lust. But Byron met these views with scorn and anger – it was not the case with him, nor with Matild, nor with any other immortal he had ever known. “We do not age, Lucas,” he stated, rather tersely, “not in mind, nor in body – you are wasting everything I have given you.”

He blamed it on the opium, you see. He blames everything on the opium. He doesn’t like it at all, my love for it – I believe he thought that I would grow weary of my infatuation, and it would begin to wane, but it truly never has. I love it just as much now, if not more, than I ever used to. My love for opium has not changed in the slightest, but I find that my love for many other things has. The theatre rarely amuses me now – I go, on occasion, usually on Byron’s insistence, but by the middle of the second act I begin to feel restless, unsettled, and the whole scene commences to irk me. The stench of sweat and perfume and orange peel rankles in my nostrils, the stage lighting hurts my eyes. My seat feels impossibly uncomfortable, and I begin to feel that I might scream or attack somebody or leap across the room in a terribly inhuman feat, if I don’t escape immediately, and yet no matter how eloquently I try to explain this, Byron always seems exasperated, if not furious. And yet…it never troubles me for long. I feel simply awful as I hurry out of that palace of stinging lights and perfumed flesh, and the carriage journey seems impossibly long – nauseating and horrid. But when I arrive, and I slip into my little sanctuary, and the boy prepares my pipe, everything is instantly alright again. More than alright – the miseries I suffered beforehand seem to amplify the peace I then feel. The silence of my glittering haven washes over me with the soothing hands of angels, my lamps glow all the warmer, their golden illumination seeming pure and holy and angelic, and I feel that I have entered some religious trance, and that can’t be wrong, can it? It can’t be wrong to feel so good, so pure, so holy.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of…unpleasant scenes, between myself and Byron, when it comes to my love of opium. Many of them I have dulled and blurred memories of, having been intoxicated during, or immediately afterwards, but nonetheless, I feel their sting. Sometimes he seems despairing, saddened, pleading with me, and on those occasions I confess I feel the most guilt. I will always try, for him, thereafter, to appear more normal, more outgoing, more jovial. I force myself through theatre outings, through balls and writhing orgies, but always the strain begins to tell – always it exhausts me in the end and I can no longer endure it, and in the depths of some hellish semen-stained dawn I burst into tears and confess it all and everything descends into a sort of blind, deaf chaos, and I never know quite what I have said or what has happened, but always I find myself back in my opium room, and everything seems alright again, until I next see Byron’s face, and the fury behind it. And after that, the pleading and the sadness give way to a terrifying anger, and he storms about my sanctuary like a terrible god of destruction, smashing my pipes and my lamps and horrifying my slave boys, but this only makes me worse – it makes me hate him, for days at a time, and so I throw myself all the more violently into my love of opium, in order to spite him, and to comfort myself, all in one fell swoop. But I never thought that he would take it as far as he did. I never thought him capable of what happened next.

It was three months ago that the tragedy befell me. Our tired old routine had played out once more – Byron pleading with me, despairing of me, until I launched with renewed vigour into Trying To Be Normal. Trying to give up opium. Trying to separate myself from the thing I loved most in the world. It was doomed to fail, just as it always is. Every moment of every day, in every theatre and bedroom and brothel, I found myself bored and restless, never fully present, never truly able to be there, in the room, with everybody else. At balls I would only feel myself when I slipped away to the bathroom, or slunk into an unused bedroom to smoke a cigarette, for in there I could sit down, and be silent, and be sad, and think of my loss and my misery and my overwhelming sense of ennui. But eventually somebody would find me, and I would be dragged back out into that appalling, dazzling chaos, and I would have to smile and laugh and make clever anecdotes, and it felt as though my whole body, my whole personality, was some sort of elaborate but artificial machine, and I was simply fuelling it with the guttering flame of my tired soul – curled up in the back of my brain, exhausted and defeated and depressed, and desperate to escape. That was how it went for three whole weeks, and it never got any better. It came to the point that I saw no reason for my continued existence, and began to think lazily of suicide. It became my entertainment, my salvation, in those ghastly situations, at balls and brothels. I would clutch onto the thought of suicide like a drowning man to a raft, holding it in my mind like the golden key to a final door of escape – escape from all this awful futility, this tedious, exhausting pretence.

Would I really have ended my own life? I don’t know. I don’t like to think so – it’s a little bit weak – isn’t it? I am only 47, and I have the possibility of eternity before me, which so many mortals would give up a limb for. I soon resolved that it was not death I truly lusted after, it was simply that I couldn’t endure the circumstances I was trapped in. My ennui was not inexplicable, incurable – I was not some deranged depressive poet. I knew perfectly well what made me happy – a mere three weeks ago I had been perfectly, blissfully happy, and the solution was simple enough. Opium was my salvation, just as it had always been. Opium makes me happy, above all things. More than happy, it makes me content, which is the sort of happiness that lasts forever – contentment is something purer and deeper and truer than the fickle nature of ‘happiness’. I understood that Byron disapproved of the opium, but the simple truth of the matter was that we would have to agree to disagree, when it came to this particular subject. I had tried it his way, and to put it bluntly, it made me want to kill myself. So, that was that, I thought. I had given it a fair shot, I had turned the matter over in my head at great length, and this was the way of things. I would explain it to Byron, and he would understand. Surely he would understand, because he loved me, and he had created me, and we were family – immortal family, forever and always. I may have some quirks of character that displeased him, but that is the nature of reality. Byron would understand.

As it turned out, Byron did not understand. Not at all. I explained everything very lucidly, and logically, and with – I thought – a reasonable degree of eloquence. I had been carefully compiling my words for some hours, that they might be well received, but…it was as though I was spouting gibberish. He made me feel that I was spouting gibberish, when I knew that I was not! I knew my own soul, didn’t I? Had I not suffered in silence for weeks in an attempt to placate him, to please him? I had tried so hard and suffered so much, and yet he made a mockery of it all. He didn’t understand, and he wouldn’t understand, and I got more and more emotional as he mocked me and belittled me and twisted my words into knots, until finally I could endure it no more, and I picked up an entire desk and hurled it at him. It missed, of course – Byron is far faster than me, a result of his increased age – but it infuriated him, and as I raced into the night I heard him cursing me and damning me, and the whole thing was a terrible mess. I’m sure you can guess where I went, directly. My opium room was the place I had fantasised about for all those miserable weeks, my little haven, my glimmering oasis of serenity. I was so upset by Byron’s words that I didn’t even take a carriage – I leapt up onto the rooftops and sped across the city in a matter of minutes, hurling myself in through my own bedroom window, and racing down the stairs to my opium room. I didn’t even take the time to call for my boys – I loaded my own pipe, heftily, and lay down to smoke it.

It was not to be the joyous reunion I had hoped. The opium soothed me, as it always did, but my distress at the terrible mess I had left behind, the awful chasm that now gaped between us, it tugged at me and it hurt me, despite it all. And so I loaded my pipe again, and again, until I was so intoxicated that the pipe slipped from my fingers and landed on the tray with a horrible clatter, and I just lay there like a depressed worm and stared at it. And then Stephen came in, my beautiful Stephen, and he seemed to sense my distress automatically. He knew without me saying a word what it was that I needed at that very moment, and so he fell back into his comfortable old role of opium boy. Just as it always used to be, he lapsed into silence, and busied himself with my pipe. And that is when Byron found us.

Before I could speak, he had grabbed Stephen about the neck, and hurled him into the wall. Byron had destroyed my sanctuary so many times before, but this time his rage was direct, and it was white hot. All of it went into Stephen – he didn’t merely kill him, he obliterated him, destroyed him – tore him apart and trampled him underfoot, and what was left would have been unrecognisable as a human being. Brains and gore and entrails were strewn across my sanctuary, until it was as if Stephen had never existed – he had been dismantled, and I could not grasp it in my mind. I had been too intoxicated to move, to intervene, even to rise from the floor, and now I could not wrap my mind around the enormity of what had just happened. Stephen had been here, with me, just as he always was, just as he had been for thirty years, and then he had been terrified, and in pain, and now…he was dismantled, into the base components of his physiology, slippery purple sleeves of intestine, a blood-clotted porridge of brains and hair, crunching shards of ivory bone – how could this mess ever have been a person, a living thing? I felt that Stephen’s soul had been torn into bleeding shreds before my eyes, and burned into oblivion! Byron stepped through the gory wreckage, and told me,

“I want you to think of his death and his pain, every time you pick up that filthy pipe.”

And then he was gone.

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After Stephen’s death, things went on as before. Byron visited me the very next day, and he was clean and polite and charming, and he spoke as if it had never happened. I began to feel that it had all been an illusion, some hideous bloated opium dream, but the stench that lingered in my sanctuary for weeks told me otherwise. But Byron would not let it come between us, did not give it time to fester – did not give me time to think in a sober state, and resolve to truly despise him. To Byron, I believe, it was a just and level punishment. It was as though I was a misbehaving child, and he had spanked me, and broken my toy, and I had learned my lesson. And that was that – the lesson was over, and life moved on. I do not understand it, if I am truly honest. I do not understand why I don’t hate him, why I can’t hate him. He is the one who created me, and these days, he is really all I have. And the most painful thought of all, the thought that shreds my throat like razors to speak it aloud, is that I know Byron believed his intentions honourable. He perceived Stephen to be the instrument of my destruction, crouching there with my pipe in his hands, he perceived Stephen to be hurting me, and so…so he tried to help me. To save me. This knowledge has the taste of bitter bile – it would be so much easier, so much simpler, to despise him forever more, but I truly cannot. The memory of that awful night is too terribly muddy, and I haven’t the strength to turn away from him. And so, life continues, without my Stephen.

But I do think of him, just as Byron threatened – I do; I think of Stephen always. I think of him in life, and I am haunted forever by his ghastly end. But it doesn’t turn me away, why on Earth would it? It saddens me and it hurts me, and that makes me want the opium all the more. I can drift back then, and remember him. Sometimes I would swear that I can hear his thin brown fingers racing across the keys of the piano, until I remember that Byron took it away too, and burned it, another punishment for my love of opium. I don’t know why he cares so much. I admit there was a period of a few months where I found it impossible to summon any physical arousal, when he would kiss me and suck me and there would be a shameful lack of response – it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, not precisely. I was just quite content with the opium, and I wanted him to simply lie with me and stroke my hair. I would always submit, and let him fuck me anyway, but my flaccid cock seemed to annoy him, as though it was a personal insult, and on the night during which I fell into a deep sleep with him still inside me, I awoke to find a very unpleasant note upon my pillow. But after that I really did try – I went to the apothecary, and to the Orientals at the opium den, and with a combination of Mariani’s coca wine and a pouch of Chinese herbs, I became quite well able to stay awake and perform to my best, but Byron still seemed displeased. He said that I looked different, that my eyes were glassy and that it wasn’t the same – the vin tonique made my hands shake and I would often find myself talking for hours, as though the conversation were a blossoming flower and I could see every potential root sprouting from the last one and it became an obsession to follow each tangled root down into the dirt of truth and experience, and it fascinated me, but Byron said I was gibbering like a madman.

And yet, life goes on. I suppose this is how it will always be – I am finally learning the truth of immortality. Things can befall you, things so awful, so horrifying and traumatic that you feel the very Earth has ceased to spin, that life cannot possibly go on…and yet it does. Life goes on, eternally, no matter how bleak and gruesome it becomes.

Life goes on…

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10th May, 1905:

I feel very uncertain today, very uncertain indeed. Life seems far more daunting and perilous now than I have known it for half a century. I never realised how entirely I relied upon Byron, my tie to the world, my eternal guardian, until it seemed that he was no longer there, and I cannot truly tell you how it happened.

I have a new opium boy, who is barely eight years old, at a guess, and speaks not a word of English besides ‘sorry’, which he pronounces in the most comical manner – I am very fond of him already. But it is deeply unfortunate that this was the boy I had employed, on that fateful, terrible night. All seemed as it should be, when I awoke from my dreams, and gestured for my pipe to be loaded anew. All seemed wholly tranquil when I lapsed back into sleep, but when next I awoke, the tiny boy was sobbing in a corner, and could not tell me what was wrong. I sent for my second opium boy, some years older and fairly competent now in English, to translate what had distressed him so, and I learned from him that Byron had appeared mere moments earlier. Had he been violent? I asked. Did he hurt you? The older boy said no. “He seemed…” It took them a while to seek out the fitting English word, and finally he told me, “Weary. But…not so. More…failed. And…going. Weary, but…going. He was…done with his weariness.”

At these words, I grew quite cold, and asked them if he had spoken. Yes, they said – at length. There had been rage in his tone, more and more so, and this was what had upset and frightened my boy. But only he – that tiny child – had heard the words that Byron spoke, and to him they held no more sense than the sad and slowing bumbles of a dying bee. His mood was all they could give me. I arose as soon as I was able, and went to search for Byron, but his house was empty, as was Matild’s. I truly fear that Byron has gone. I fear that he has left me.

He didn’t even wait for me to wake up – didn’t care enough for a goodbye, to even tell me where he was going! Just gone – just like that! Gone for how long? I haven’t the slightest idea. But it has a terrible feeling about it, a terrible feeling of permanence. Particularly when I spoke to my bank – Byron would always transfer my allowance on a Thursday, that I might have ample funds for any weekend activities I cared to partake of, which is something we often laughed about. What did the days of the week matter to creatures such as us? Still, it seemed to amuse him, this little private joke, where we would pretend to be hardworking peasants who must respect the grim sanctity of a Monday morning, so I always remembered – Thursday is the day. The money day. I would usually send my opium boys out on a Friday – my whole existence revolved around Byron’s schedule. And this week, no money came. Byron isn’t absentminded – even in the midst of travelling to wherever he’s gone, he would have remembered me, and made arrangements for me…if he still cared. I can’t bear to think of him not caring. I wish I knew what I’d done wrong. I wish I remembered. The last few weeks are such a blur. I mostly remember being quite happy, quite tranquil. I didn’t leave my opium room too frequently, but that isn’t unusual. If I think very hard, and enter the realm where memory meets imagination, I believe I can see Byron lurking in a corner of my room, wearing a face like thunder. My opium boys feared him. He does look so disapproving, or…no, perhaps not disapproving. Bored. Bored with me. How terrible…

.

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2nd November, 1930:

It is such a cold winter this year. I know not whether winters were always so cold, and I just never noticed before. Finances are becoming problematic – I can no longer afford to fuel the fires. I have held it off for as long as I can, the dwindling of my resources. The only thing I have left is this house, and I am clinging onto it by my very fingernails. I have tried as best I can to get by – I sold off the furniture first, then the oil paintings. When I can find tenants I let out some of the rooms, but the economy is bad, I am told, and nobody wants to live in this draughty old house, with its bad plumbing and no furniture or telephone. We have weathered so much together, this house and me – I never left it during the war. I couldn’t bear to leave my opium sanctuary – the thought of leaving it and it being destroyed by a bomb, never to be seen again – it was all too much. I felt safest here, no matter how illogical that may have been. If there were bombs, I knew that my sanctuary would protect me. And there were bombs – I heard the sirens, I saw the whole of London blacked out, in utter darkness, as never before. It had become a ghost town, steeped in a clinging fog of perpetual fear, those sirens rising up like the cries of the dead – so many nights I shivered, alone, in my sanctuary, listening to those terrible wails, the distant explosions of falling bombs. My house was lucky, in the end – it passed the war nearly unscathed, with only mild damage from nearby explosions. It protected me, just as I had hoped. But this only pains me more, as I watch my resources dwindle – I know that some day, and some day soon, I will have to leave this house, to abandon my sanctuary, and I will be lost and alone as never before. I have used my demonic powers to their fullest extent, in protecting myself from being dragged from this house and tossed onto the streets, but I do not understand the ways of the world now, and it is becoming ever more impossible. When the men come to remove me, I bewitch them into leaving, or even kill them if they come alone, but always there are more, and more – an unstoppable tide of beastly men bent upon my ruination. I know that I cannot stem these floods forever.

The world has changed now, in so many terrible ways. I truly never thought that my opium would betray me, but it has. The horrid schemings of mortal men are meddling in my business in the most heinous of ways – opium has been made illicit, even to the very tincture sold in apothecaries. For a time it made almost no difference; I had to be a touch stealthier in my acquisition, but I paid it little heed. And then…everything began to fall apart. The ground on which I walked commenced to crumble beneath my feet. First of all it was the quality – the opium I bought was always of very good quality, in both consistency and strength; it was easy to smoke, good-tasting, and highly potent. Over the years I had experienced very few problems, and when problems arose, the fury of my threats were more than enough to rectify the matter. But now…all is in ruins. I began receiving opium that was packed with straw and dirt, and no amount of threats could alter it – it was truly the only thing reaching these shores. I began smoking it nonetheless, but I barely felt its effects, and it tasted of filth. And then, in a heart-stopping instant, it was gone altogether. Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months. My lover had deserted me, after all these long and blissful years.

When I went in a fury and a panic to the Orientals, they sold me morphine instead – it was the new thing, they said; nobody was smoking opium anymore. And so I returned home, anxious and bemused, but desperate to try it anyway – desperate to find some comfort in this stark and lonesome world. The Orientals had furnished me with everything I required, and had taught me by demonstration precisely how it was done. The boy who had given me my lesson had been barely conscious by its end, which gave me a small flaring of hope – hope that perhaps there was still bliss to be found in the world; that the beating heart could be restored to my sanctuary. Nothing had been more painful than to dwell there without opium – every surface was coated in the memories of my love, and I felt its searing loss all the more keenly. It was horrid, truly, for my sanctuary to have become the barren pit of my newest hell.

And so it was that I came to be back there, with the equipment I had purchased from the Orientals. It was strange to me, and not at all as elegant as my shapely pipes and glittering lamps. I possessed a peculiar tool of the mortal physician, a syringe of glass and steel. My new drug was a clear liquid, contained in a number of slim glass vials. Finally, they had equipped me with a worn old belt, nicked all over with teeth-marks, its end looped through its closure. And so, with dread and hope in equal measure, I began the act.

I shed my shirt, and slipped the belt about my bicep, pulling it tight and biting down on it as I had been shown. I took the vials and syringe, and drew up the recommended dose, then I turned it in my hand, and began driving the point into my own flesh, into the soft skin at the crook of my arm. The pain was not so bad as I had feared, but the act itself was gruesome. I was seeking in the depths of my flesh with this insectoid silver needle for the elusive vein therein, and I rapidly found myself nauseated, coated with a film of nervous sweat. When the needle met with my vein I felt it – there was a rubbery resistance, until with a loathsome muffled crunch, the point tore through the casing of my vein, and slipped within. My hand had begun to shake, and the metal in my grip was cold and slick. It was with great difficulty that I forced the plunger down, until finally the thing was emptied, and I yanked it from my arm with a groan of exhaustion. For some seconds I stared at the floor, shaken and unable to compose myself, and then, from nowhere, everything had changed. There was an intense and breathtaking wave of tingles across my entire body, and I felt it – the morphine! The world had in a single instant grown warm and soft and golden, and the glimmering trays of my little sanctuary were glowing just as they always used to – the colour of late autumn honey, the colour of safety, and I felt that I was sitting upon some long ago hillside, watching the sun set, with Byron’s hand in mine. Everything was alright again – I was home.

I lay down and slept.

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18th June, 1951:

I truly despise the world of late. There is almost nothing left that I do not despise. My beautiful house has long gone, and with it every memory I ever had, of love and bliss and happiness, has been taken from me and forever destroyed.

I am living now in a small and horrid flat – much of the money from the sale of my house went directly to the bank, but through many stealthy bewitchments I managed to keep for myself enough to live on for a time, and enough to secure my present dwelling. At first I felt that I would warm to this abode, eventually – life had been horribly uncertain, for so very long, as I constantly fended off my angered creditors, that teeming army bent on my destruction; there was no peace to be found anywhere, not even in my sanctuary. And so, once I had the key in my hand to this little flat, I felt that perhaps I would be at peace here – I would be left alone, I would not be bothered by all those meddlesome people. This property was legally mine, and I would be safe here. Perhaps in time I would grow to love it. But it has been many years now, and I truly have not. It is so dingy, so depressing, and there are always hideous children shrieking in the streets outside, drunkards brawling in the evenings, and on occasion I even have bricks hurled at my windows. There is no peace here, and I fear there never will be.

The world continues to change, and more than this, it continues to strip from me all that I love. I had begun to grow comfortable with the morphine – it was never quite as glorious as the perfumed elegance of my beloved opium, and I never ceased to abhor the grotesque ritual of self-injection, but nonetheless, I had adapted. I had just about adapted, when the same hideous cycle befell me! Morphine became scarce, and then vanished altogether. Once more, I was forced to beg and plead with strangers, until I was sent home with another unknown drug. They call it ‘heroin’, the substance I take now, and I loathe it to its core. When first I heard its name I felt so hopeful – it sounded so elegant, so aristocratic, a relic of better days. And yet its name is nothing more than a sinister, filthy lie. Heroin is a grim and slovenly drug – truly it is – it tastes entirely too disgusting to smoke, but injecting it is just so thoroughly vile, this ‘cooked up’ soup of reeking chemicals, always leaving a foul residue of mysterious origins in the spoon. With every needle I poke into my vein I respect myself a little less.

Worse than the nature of this grim synthetic drug is the people I am forced to buy it from. How I yearn for the days when I had my boys, my beautiful, kind opium boys! When they would make the trips for me, to those gruesome dens by the river – when I was never forced to tarnish myself with these horrid people! The men who sell me heroin are peasants, truly, in the worst possible sense of the word – they are lowly and unpleasant to their very bones, mean and stinking, and con-artists with it. I never know what I shall bring home – sometimes it has been nothing more than dirt mixed with sugar, other times I will inject it and be visited by a heinous chemical stench, a mirage of a scent, coming not from the air, but from the chemicals within my veins! It will linger in my nostrils for several seconds, and I shiver all over as I think of the poisons that run in my bloodstream. Yet more than this, I despise the constant uncertainty. I despise being at the mercy of these criminals. Much as I detest it, heroin is the closest thing I have to safety, to happiness, in this cruel and changing world, and like a pathetic beaten dog I crawl back time and time again to my loathsome, peasant masters.

Even when the heroin I buy is of good quality, it is never the same as my lost, beloved opium. The most purely refined opium was not a stupefying, narcoleptic thing, you see – history has mangled this fact, in all its vulgar depictions. I know this, for I read every book I can lay hands on, in the hope that it may convey me back to those wonderful times, but always I am sorely disappointed. They paint my beloved opium in such a cruel and tarnished light – it is clear that the authors know not of what they speak, these idiot scholars wishing only to court favour by regurgitating tired moral cliché! Am I not living proof of the beauty of opium, the perfection of opium – that it was the drug to end all drugs, free from the sins and filth of this gruesome modern era? Look at how my life has changed, beneath the sordid whims of the law-makers, the politicians, who know not of what they speak! It is their laws and their sins and their idiocy that has driven my downfall, and with it that of so many others! In the days of freedom and rational thinking, this filthy peasant underclass did not exist, these wretched criminal ‘junkies’ – each one of them, and the miseries they inflict upon society, is a product of nothing more than the idiocy of their political masters! When opium was traded freely, in dens and apothecaries, people had their dignity still! In the glorious days of opium, blissful intoxication did not bring about such utter ruin. I had my dignity, and I had my house. I had my beautiful sanctuary. And I had Byron…

Opium was a beautiful thing, in truth. If ever I chose to leave my little sanctuary, after I smoked, to take a walk through the darkened streets, I would see beauty and magic in all creation – in the eyes of the mortals I passed, in the cloud-veiled face of the crescent moon, in the reaching leaves of trees. Opium blessed the entire world with her elegance, and within her cradling arms I wondered at each miracle of existence. Heroin is not like that. Heroin sucks me down into a heavy stupor, and I feel no compunction to do anything. I simply lie there, and listen to the wireless, and stare up at the watermarks on the ceiling, watching the dust motes swirl. Watching the light fade into darkness, until I am left in gloom, sprawled across the mouldering dust of these old rugs. It sounds terribly depressing, when I say it like that, but I suppose it isn’t quite so bad as it sounds. Or rather, it is not so bad, because I have known far worse. My greatest fear is that I will be conned once more by those reeking, peasant criminals, and the heroin I buy will be useless. When this is the case, life becomes simply unbearable – I am lost and alone in this terrifying modern wasteland, and there is no escape from my loss and my pain and my sadness! And so, when the heroin is good, it is never truly depressing. Though it feels heavy, and though it makes me slow and sleepy, and I merely lie sprawled across these dusty rugs, in a small way, I find myself content. I am wrapped up once more in the velvet arms of opium’s love, the ghostly arms of my long-lost Byron, and I am safe here once more.

At these times, I have come to realise that my sanctuary was never truly a place. It was never about the golden trays, the exquisite lamps, the Oriental hangings or the beautiful music of the piano. The opium sanctuary was in my heart. The opium sanctuary was the opium itself – do you see? Anywhere could become my home, my sanctuary, so long as I had my opium. My sanctuary was in the opium, and in my own heart, and it protected me from everything. Until it was taken away from me forever.

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.

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4th September, 1982:

Looking into the mirror is the most painful thing, of late. The reflection I see is the oldest thing I possess, the only thing that remains to me of everything I once had. I was forced to pawn every beautiful garment, every glittering diamond ring, many decades ago, until all I have is memories. I have no pictures of Byron, nor Matild. But my own face…it remains with me. And yet within it I see every moment of the pain and loss that I have suffered.

I do not even have the miserable solitude of my flat anymore, not in the way it was. Money became so scarce that I was forced out into the strange and ghastly world, to seek employment for myself. For a time I was surviving on my demonic wits, bewitching mortals into giving me money – just enough to buy heroin, for what else is there, but it was exhausting – so exhausting. Every night I had to go out, like some desperate, low-paid whore, dredging the streets for blood and money – it was endless, and it was exhausting. And lately, I am finding that my powers do not always work. It made no sense to me for a time – from everything that I learned from Byron, my powers would increase as I aged; my speed, my strength, my demonic abilities. And yet they have not. I am very strong, and very fast, when I am not intoxicated, but my power of bewitchment seems…faulty, of late. I fear it must be the heroin, or perhaps some loathsome chemical therein – I never suffered these pains with opium, because it was so pure, and so good, and so natural. But heroin…it is filth, truly, and all the more filthy by the time it reaches these shores. It nauseates me often, I become shaken and sickened – on occasion I even vomit, bringing up the clotted, blackened remnants of the last blood I drank. It happens enough that I keep a bucket in my bedroom, and it is all so grotesque, so awful. So far removed from my opium sanctuary – its glimmering beauty, its elegant library, the gleaming eyes and kind smiles of my opium boys. All I have now is this cold and squalid flat, with its peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpets. Though I do love the invention that is the television. I am no longer alone, you see – not truly. I feel that they are my friends, the miniature humans who speak to me nightly from that happy little box. I have company again, and entertainment.

But my employment brings me no pleasure. I am working in a prison, and it is a grim and godless place. Each day I don my ugly grey uniform, and as I regard myself in the mirror I feel a little sadder every time. Seeing myself in these clothes is like seeing myself eroded. Everything I loved and valued in myself, every ounce of pride I had, it is eroded by this thing I see in the mirror. I feel so lost…so lost in this new world. Some days it feels as though everything I once knew was nothing more than a blissful dream, and now I have awakened into the cold, harsh light of this relentless reality. The heroin is my only escape, my only respite. I put on my uniform, and I stare at myself in the mirror, and I smoke a little heroin – not from an elegant silver pipe, but from the loathsome surface of a cheap piece of ‘kitchen foil’. It tastes of filth, and I despise it, but it numbs me enough to manage the day.

At the prison, the convicts and officers alike mock me. They mock my long hair, though I tie it back, and they mock my manner of speaking. I know not how to change it. I try to imitate the way the tiny humans in the television speak, but it feels so artificial, and I often get it wrong and provoke further mockery. The convicts I am allowed to hit with my stick, which is deeply satisfying, and I do it often – it is the one part of my employment that I enjoy. I frequently find myself taunting them, not directly, but vaguely – I will speak in my most archaic manner, so that they will begin taunting me, and then I hit them about the head with my stick until they bruise and bleed, and I immediately feel a great deal better. When I am hitting convicts with my stick, I feel almost alive.

At the prison, I often feed upon the children who come to visit their fathers. The minds of children are easy to bewitch – I do not kill them, as this would provoke great inconvenience, but I feed upon them a little, to keep myself warm and comfortable, and the blood of infants is sweet and vibrant. Yet even so, it is all so grim. A grim and godless existence, night after endless night. How I long for my oil paintings, for my Oriental rugs, and for Byron. Above all, how I long for my opium. I have nothing left but memories, and all they do is haunt me. Night after night, as I pace back and forth in front of the cages of imbeciles, poking them with my stick, I think of opium, and opium, and opium, and it makes my soul sick with longing. And every night when I roast the putrid heroin over a candle flame, and it releases its ungodly chemical stench into the air, I think of opium, and opium, and opium, and I remember its sweet narcotic perfume, the seductive spice of its smoke, and I feel my soul shrivel a little in the cold, bitter air of this vulgar century.

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24th December, 1996:

The heroin I was sold last night was rather strange, but not unpleasant. I lapsed into a deep sleep for many hours, the drugs overwhelming me so suddenly that I fell into unconsciousness with the needle still hanging from my vein, and I found myself dreaming of Byron. He was here with me, in my little flat, peering down at me where I lay. His face was pale and smooth in the darkness, his hair as long and luxurious as it ever was, and I felt tears rise up in my eyes at the sight of him. I wanted to reach out and embrace him, but I found myself paralysed, unable to rise from the floor. His face was sad, a worn and weary angel, as he said to me,

“It appears that nothing has changed.”

“Everything has changed,” I told him. “Everything has changed…”

“I am so sorry, Lucas,” he said softly, as he knelt to brush his fingers across my cheek. The scent of him brought back a thousand memories, a thousand bedrooms, a thousand ancient midnights, and I wanted to weep. “It was wrong of me to make an immortal of you, when you were so young, so wayward. I would take it all back now, if I could…”

And then he was gone.

I dreamed on, and grew quite peaceful. When I awoke, there was a pan of freshly cooked pasta on the stove. Was he really here?

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2nd September, 2015:

Some days, I feel that I am coming to terms with life. There are still the days when I weep and moan for all I have lost, but they are becoming fewer. I am no longer struggling through my accursed employment at the prison – some three years ago I made a concerted effort to give up heroin for a period of five weeks, and my experiment was bountifully rewarded. My powers were returned to me – greater than ever before! I was quite well able to bewitch every necessary individual at that reeking gaol, and ever since I have been on early retirement, which means that I no longer have to go there, and am instead paid to simply live my life with freedom. What I am paid is a pittance, but nonetheless, I am rather happier than I was.

I could not endure to live without heroin any longer than was vitally necessary, but when I have recouped my mental energies, I intend to undertake a second crusade into sobriety, in the hope of bewitching myself a more pleasant abode. I know not how to go about this, as yet, but I have been visiting the local library, where a helpful lady with shiny hair has become my friend, and helps me with my enquiries. I pretend that I am a novelist, and as such, my strange and disjointed questions about the intricacies of modern housing and banking law are not viewed with suspicion. She is very good to me, and I like to see her smile. I think that even after I have made sense of the modern world, and bewitched myself into a comfortable house in the country, I shall continue to pay visits to her, and ask her more questions. She seems to find joy in seeking the answers for me.

In the meantime, my retirement money is sufficient, enough money to live on – I only spend it on heroin, I don’t eat mortal food anymore, so what else is there to buy? I did buy myself a friend. I suppose all of my life that’s what I’ve been doing – buying my friends. My latest friend is a ferret, a sort of lovely mottled brown with a black snout and tail, and I have called him Byron in an attempt to sweeten the memory of my abandonment. He is warm and furry, and always filled with joy. He makes me feel a hollow memory of joy as he bounds around my poky flat, making wonderful chuckling noises and pouncing on my feet. I take Byron for walks every day, on a lead. Right now we’re sitting by the park – Byron is tired of walking and has clambered onto my lap. He likes to roll over like an otter in a stream, and I stroke his long belly. He reminds me of a fox scarf I used to wear, all those centuries ago, and this shames me a little. In those days, no doubt I would have made Byron into a scarf without a second thought. Were we all so cruel, in those days?

I am rudely jerked from my musings by a raucous chorus of voices, howling again and again, “FREAK! WIERDOOOOO! OI, YOU WEIRDO!”

I know they’re talking about me. I suppose I do look eccentric. I could never bring myself to cut off my hair, and even if I did, it would grow back within a few nights. I like to wear green velvet trousers, and a jacket of some futuristic fabric which gleams like a river, slick and bright red and wholly water resistant. People think me eccentric. People think me homeless. People think it odd, to cuddle a ferret in broad daylight. The voices continue, and they are bothering Byron. I gently lay him down, and turn to see who is mocking me. It is a small van filled with school children, nasty little rotters. Their adult driver is temporarily absent. Even as I face them, they continue, and something about the mocking in their eyes drives me out of my wits. I have just enough forethought to tie Byron’s lead to the bench before I cross the street in a single bound, moving far beyond the capabilities of a human. Some of them don’t notice, others show fear, and it thrills me to my core. I seize the handle of the door, and rip it from the vehicle with a crunching groan of tearing metal, and then I’m inside, in the warmth and heat of eight pulsing bodies, and they’re breaking in my hands, blood gushing into my mouth. Behind me I hear Byron chuckling in delight – ferrets are quite vicious, you know. Once they are mostly dead, lying bleeding and shattered across their seats, I return to the bench, and untie him, carrying him to the vehicle. He laps at the blood, paddling through it and leaving wonderful little red pawprints everywhere he goes. One boy-child is not quite dead, and stares at me with terror and confusion in his wide, gleaming eyes, wordless choking sounds sending delicate sprays of blood from his gaping, stupid mouth. He will mock me no longer – this is quite certain. Smiling, I lift Byron, and we return home. There is some pleasure in the world, it appears, even now.

Life goes on.

G.O.D

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2014 by ofherbsandaltars

 

For the second time in 140 years, Zed was beginning to despair of his boyfriend’s inability to cope with immortal life. John had previously spent half a century in self-imposed exile, comatose inside a dusty coffin, until Zed dragged him out into the modern world of 2063. And although John had been enraged by Beef Elvis and all the other horrific inventions of that vulgar age, he had finally come to terms with their new way of life, and they had spent a blissful decade together, catching up on fifty years of blood-drinking, whiskey, grainy old westerns and spine-tingling blowjobs.

But all too soon, their happiness had been cut short – by 2075, John had lapsed back into monosyllabic misery, spending whole nights lying flat on his back on the roof, drinking whiskey and gazing mournfully up at the lurid ruination of his beloved moon, now home to the hideous Lunar Resort, a-swarm with crass, obese tourists. He refused to leave the house, burst into tears if the TV was turned on, and even the arrival of a newspaper filled with daunting inventions and alien culture could send him into a state of total catatonia for up to a week. Finally, one night in July, he quietly informed Zed that he was going back to sleep, back into his coffin, because he just couldn’t bear it anymore. He looked so hopelessly dejected that Zed didn’t even try to argue with him – instead, he vowed to join him in exile, and John managed a sad little smile in response.

Two days later, Zed had paid the rent on his apartment for the foreseeable future, and procured a coffin built for the fattest of fat people. After a ceremonial last supper of Type O Positive, he followed John into its spacious, satin-lined darkness, curling himself around John’s slim body, and making a silent but fervent wish that this time, he wouldn’t sleep for quite so long.

At first, the years passed quickly, and Zed enjoyed the vivid, intricate dreams that would unfurl inside the brain of a hibernating vampire. He drifted happily through a swirling gumbo of memory and fiction, finding himself wandering through the world he had once known and loved, the bustling dancehalls of the 1950’s, the scents of whiskey and Brylcreem and cigarette smoke, as Elvis and Johnny Cash gyrated on stage to twangy guitars. This was the rose-tinted world in which he had first met John, a fellow Brit washed up in Tennessee, when he had become entranced by his pale, flawless skin, his pretty face, his bright green eyes and bizarre sense of humour, when they had loved nothing more than to drive his vast old Cadillac out into the hills, parking up and gazing out across the city lights, sharing a bottle of whiskey and talking about nothing at all.

The decades that followed had flown by in utter contentment, and Zed had barely noticed the gradual reversal of their roles, as John began to fear and distrust each new invention, began to tear his hair out in despair and hopelessness at every song on the radio, every strange new cultural fad. Suddenly Zed was no longer the protégé, the baby vampire who must be taught – he became John’s eternal guardian, patiently explaining to him how to use a mobile phone, what the internet did, what hipsters and hashtags and 3D cinema meant. It had amused Zed, John’s increasing and endearing eccentricity, until in 2013 John gave up on life altogether, and disappeared into his coffin for an eternity. Zed had found himself abandoned in that hideous 21st century, an ancient creature lost and alone in a terrifying world, and finally, he had begun to understand the reason for John’s despair.

 

 

Zed wasn’t sure how many years had passed, when the vivid colours of his dreams began to fade, and slowly but surely, he found himself waking up. John was motionless beside him, and at first he buried his face in John’s chaotic black hair, tried to will himself back to sleep, but sleep would not come. Boredom arrived first, then a hunger so intense he felt sick. Finally, he shoved open the coffin, and crawled out, stumbling weakly into the kitchen to devour the blood supply. There was a thick layer of dust on all the worktops, and though the blood settled his stomach, it tasted musty and strange, well past its best. Zed stuffed the empty bloodbags into the bin, and wandered cautiously into the living room. He picked up the black credit card that lay on the coffee table, blew the dust bunnies off it, and pointed it at the wall. A vast screen burst into life, and he flipped through to the news channel. The date, he discovered, was Saturday, March 2nd, 2097. They had been asleep for more than two decades, and this fact disturbed him. Zed had never before given in to existential despair, had remained a conscious, functioning part of the world, every single day of his extended lifetime, and now he felt horribly lost, as though he had been tossed into the future against his will.

He frowned at the TV screen, his sense of bemusement increasing as a newsreader in a neon-lime zebra-striped suit held forth with enthusiasm over ‘GOD Day’. Zed had no idea what this meant – before he went to sleep, religion seemed to be dying out, but now, GOD was on every channel he could find, always written in those imperious, demanding caps. Soon there were rapid clips of bizarrely attired humans, each one pleading with the camera, with GOD, for things they desired to be granted. Each one of them spoke with an intensity of obsessive zeal that made Zed question their sanity – they seemed wholly convinced that GOD was listening, was watching this very broadcast. After staring at this perverse spectacle for ten minutes, Zed sighed despairingly, and fired up his trusty purple laptop. It was time to decipher this sinister new decade.

 

 

For the next month, Zed drifted back into his old routine, tirelessly researching the hellish inventions of humanity, sifting through alien information until his brain throbbed and the words blurred before his eyes. Frequently he discovered things that appalled him to the depths of his vampire soul, and when this happened, he sought his oldest comfort – an entire bottle of whiskey, followed by a lengthy session of furious vomiting off the edge of his roof, until he felt soothed and exhausted enough to wander back inside for an all night viewing of Lonesome Dove. On some of these occasions, he found himself drifting into the storage room and opening up the coffin, where John still lay, smiling serenely in his sleep. Zed would watch him for hours, sometimes stroking John’s tousled hair, kissing the cold softness of his lips, yearning to wake him up, to share his confusion with the only person on the planet who would understand – the only person on the planet who remembered the world as it used to be, a world that had once made sense. But always, Zed stopped himself – he knew he couldn’t do it, not yet, not until he had made sense of the world himself. If he couldn’t explain everything to John, in words that John would understand, he would be overwhelmed completely, terrified beyond endurance by this alien environment, and Zed couldn’t bear to see that hopeless look in his eyes, all over again. And so, he would quietly close the lid over John’s sleeping face, and plod back to his laptop, where he would sit for the rest of the night, striving to understand all the things he never should have lived to see.

 

 

There were many inventions and cultural fads that baffled and infuriated Zed, but there was one he found oddly seductive. He had been surprised to discover that Facebook’s successor, Facenet, was still running, that his and John’s profiles were still live, though hopelessly outdated and all but abandoned by their human friends, now in their forties and fifties. But the very nature of Facenet’s continued success, with its aging population moving perpetually towards death, had provoked the creation of a programme that stood on the border between genius and blasphemy. It was known as the ImmortoBot, and its stated purpose was to comfort the grieving, its lurid banner adverts declaring Now there really is life after death! With ImmortoBot, your loved ones will never leave you. For just $899 a month, you’ll never be lonely again!”

The purpose of this strange piece of software was to keep a person’s Facenet profile live and active following their death. By combining information on the deceased user from Facenet, Google, and other major players in the information-for-sale business, ImmortoBot could devise a realistic but fictional plotline of the person’s continued existence, allowing them to post new Facenet statuses every day, and even to reply to the statuses of their friends and family, as though they had never left. The humans had not yet conquered death, but they had managed to deceive themselves out of grief – death was no longer final, no longer silent, instead it had become nothing more than a joyous extended vacation.

Zed pondered the ImmortoBot for several days. He was, without a doubt, the programme’s target market – lonesome and abandoned, desperately missing the boy he loved more than anything else in the world. Would it really be so wrong to bring him back, to allow himself this one tiny comfort – John’s online presence, thriving once more, for him to talk to late at night? He was wholly aware that John – the real John – would be appalled by the idea, and this knowledge held him back, but it was quickly eclipsed by stubbornness. Why should John have a say in it? Why should John have a say in anything when he had chosen, for the second time this century, to entirely abandon him, to lie comatose and useless in a box while Zed faced the world alone. If Zed had to cope with this sinister neon wilderness all by himself, the very least John could do was allow him the one small comfort of his demi-fictional online presence. Finally, Zed’s repressed irritation, combined with half a bottle of whiskey, pushed him through his initial resistance – he got out his credit card, and signed John’s Facenet account up to the ImmortoBot.

It took Zed a number of weeks to fully understand the mystery of GOD, the strange religious fervour he was now surrounded by, but all too soon, GOD became a continual blight on his existence. After many nights of brain-aching internet research, he had finally managed to delve into the history of GOD, discovering that this seismic shift in modern religion had taken place just three years after he and John retreated into the coffin. In 2078, a group of Texan evangelists had threatened to nuke the entire United States in a violent effort to bring about the second coming. The rebellion had been quashed with only moderate loss of life, but it had brought the eternal problem of religious warfare to a head. At an international summit in Berlin, it was finally agreed that the issue was the sheer impossibility of reaching a consensus, where different religions were involved. Even the early 21st century rise in atheism had caused problems, spawning a generation of suicidal children taught to believe themselves nothing more than soulless lumps of meat, existing in a world where nothing mattered – so many of these children had hurled themselves to their meaningless deaths from the tops of skyscrapers in the early 2030s. It was clear that religion was natural, even essential, to the human mindset, but was it logical to base one’s beliefs on perverse, antiquated texts, to pray to a God who hadn’t been seen in millennia?

After much debate, an innovative solution was reached. Humanity would take religion into its own hands – make it literal, make it profitable, make it work. Immediately following the summit, there was an ugly scramble by global corporations to seize world control of religion, and over the next eighteen months, many gods were born, and died their lonely deaths. One victor emerged, unstoppable, from the chaos – G.O.D, the Google Omnipotent-love Deity, powered into existence by the most powerful, all-knowing company on the planet, easily able to answer simple prayers before they were even spoken, via an exhaustive knowledge of the user’s internet browsing history. Google already knew the world’s deepest, darkest secrets, and now, Google had been reborn as the One True God. Within ten years, GOD was everywhere – on every single phone and computer, in the form of the PrayerStation, which beamed the desperation of human souls directly into the stratosphere, bouncing off satellite dishes and rerouting to GOD’s Island in the middle of the Atlantic, a floating ecosystem of nuns and monks who worked tirelessly to shepherd the lost sheep. Lonely people would install GOD’s Eye cameras in their homes, and it comforted them to know that they were no longer alone, that GOD was truly watching, truly listening to their every word, and even responding with messages of comfort and salvation that would flash up on their computer screens.

Above all, the constantly evolving strength of GOD was driven by the fervent success of GOD Day. By the time of Zed’s awakening in 2097, every Saturday had become a minor GOD Day, with additional bi-annual celebrations of vast decadence. Humanity would be whipped into a frenzy by the promise of prayers granted, not with mere words of wisdom, but with cold hard cash. Every GOD Day, 150 people in the USA would have their greatest wishes granted. Every GOD Day, the TV stations portrayed endless sob stories of families in need, until 10pm, when the chosen wishes would be granted, and the victors were paraded before the nation, weeping tears of joy, as the world poured out its love and thanks to the eternal goodness of GOD.

Zed watched much of the GOD Day coverage in a state of speechless bemusement, but it was when he stepped outside his flat that the true horror hit him. Everywhere he went, humans were dragging around vast neon crosses, wearing wreaths of luminous peas that dripped realistic phosphorescent blood. They were gathered in groups with their phones held aloft, falling to their knees and weeping in the streets as they poured out their desperate pleas to the PrayerStation. Wherever he went, shopkeepers asked him what he had prayed for, or who was his choice of this week’s TV darlings. Everywhere, the nation was awash with desperate obsession – Zed felt as though he were surrounded by children frantically awaiting the coming of Santa Claus, except that it never, ever ended. Every single week he had to endure the same frantic insanity, until he refused to leave his flat at all on weekends, but still the 10pm fireworks and cries of joy and despair drove him slowly out of his mind.

There wasn’t a single programme on modern TV that Zed understood or enjoyed, but GOD Day was by far the worst. He had even been known to flip the channel onto reruns of the Dump Diaries to avoid it, and Dump Diaries was the lowest of the low, the inevitable depths of the reality TV barrel, wherein normal people recorded their most trivial and pointless thoughts whilst sitting on the toilet in a specially made Poop Confession Booth. By the eighth week of this routine, Zed was truly beginning to despair, finding himself, once again, voluntarily and avidly watching nondescript mortals pondering their shopping lists, or moaning about their boyfriend’s toenails, punctuated by the soft splashing of faeces hitting toilet water. Was this really what his life had become? Had he truly survived 166 years on this planet to rot away in a lonely apartment, his sole entertainment a fat man taking the longest shit in existence? Zed didn’t know whether to laugh or cry during these moments of ghastly introspection, but inevitably he would whip himself into an existential fury, and end up vomiting whiskey and bloodclots off the edge of his roof, interspersed with howling insults at the GOD Day revelers in the streets below.

Yet another source of consternation was John’s ImmortoBot reincarnation. Zed was beginning to suspect that the ImmortoBot was slightly homophobic. John’s online persona had explained its twenty year absence with a rather lame tale of amnesia, brought on by a freak windsurfing accident in Benidorm, which didn’t particularly impress Zed – John despised hot countries, despised the culture of British people on holiday, burning themselves lobster-red and balancing cans of TitWhizz on their wobbling beer-guts – Zed found it impossible to envisage John ever wanting to go to Benidorm. Grudgingly, he made allowance for this initial error – presumably the ImmortoBot didn’t often have to contend with the peculiarities of a vampire gone missing for decades. Nonetheless, the ImmortoBot’s inaccuracies continued to spiral out of control. Within two weeks, John had made a heartfelt confession that, for the majority of his life, he had been ‘confused’ about his sexuality, which downgraded their 140 year relationship to a mere teenage fumble. Three days later, John was excited to be going on a date – with a woman. Zed watched these events unfold in a state of increasing bemusement, but somehow, he couldn’t bear to look away. Next, came a disturbingly convincing photograph of John on a beach, his arm around a pretty blonde called Miranda. What Zed found most horrifying of all, however, was that the ImmortoBot had taken the liberty of ageing John as though he were human. Zed’s pale, pretty-faced boyfriend was now rotund, greying, bizarrely sunburned and developing a bald patch. That night, Zed vomited off the roof for three straight hours.

Zed’s state of ever-growing disgust finally peaked on Friday 24th June. It had been impossible to ignore the building atmosphere of delirious excitement that was sweeping the nation – tomorrow was Midsummer GODmas, one of the two major religious holidays, and the humans were going crazy. Tomorrow, 2,000 Americans would have their most lavish prayers answered, and a further 1,000 would be given the power to smite their most hated enemy. The result was an intoxicating cocktail of greed and wrath, and everywhere Zed went, mortals were drooling over luxury hover-yachts, private rockets and permanent rooms on the Lunar Resort, interspersed with violent imaginings of their troublesome neighbours being lynched, their bosses being castrated, that dog that never stopped barking being throttled with its own tongue. Even on the Dump Diaries, the ponderings from the Poop Booth ran on similarly vicious lines, and for the past three nights, Zed had vomited off the roof until his throat bled and stars danced before his eyes, but still the horror wouldn’t leave him. On Friday 24th June, he sat on the sofa in front of Lonesome Dove, and cried into his bottle of whiskey, overwhelmed with despair, until in the desperate hope of comfort, he logged onto Facenet. John’s chubby sunburned alterego popped up, happily declaring that Miranda was now pregnant, and Zed howled with horror, hurling his whiskey bottle at the wall, where it exploded into a million sparkling fragments

As Zed stared blankly at the mess of whiskey and broken glass, he knew that he couldn’t bear it any longer. It was time to wake up John, whether he liked it or not.

 

 

In the storage room, inside the faded satin luxury of his oversized coffin, John was still sleeping. Zed brought in an armful of blood bags – he knew only too well that John had perfected laziness into an art form, could sleep through earthquakes and gunfire; kick-starting his metabolism with a bag of blood was the only thing that would rouse him. Crouching down next to the coffin, Zed broke open the IV tube on a bag of blood, and poked the end into John’s mouth. John smiled in his sleep, beginning to quietly drink, until the bag ran dry, and the smooth skin of his forehead puckered into a bemused frown. Zed removed the tube from his mouth, and gave John a poke in the chest, saying his name.

“No…” John mumbled. “Go ‘way…”

“Please wake up,” Zed persisted, beginning to gently shake his shoulders. “I want to talk to you…”

“Nooo…” John groaned despairingly, “They’re mine!  Jus’…jus’…leave ‘em alone!”

Zed laughed, and shook him harder. John’s mumblings became more and more irate, until his eyes snapped open, his pupils dilating with fury, and he launched himself out of the coffin, landing on top of Zed and violently punching him in the ear as he howled,

“GIVE THEM BACK, YOU BASTARD MOTHERFUCKER! YOU SCUMBAG FUCKING-”

“It’s me!” Zed protested, trying desperately to grab John’s wrists before he received another fist to the face. “Stop hitting me!”

After several seconds of violent flailing, the manic light faded from John’s green eyes, and he went limp, staring at Zed with an expression of confusion. Zed shuffled out from underneath him, grabbed a second blood bag, and held it out, suggesting,

“Drink this.”

John regarded it suspiciously, but eventually accepted, biting into the plastic and slurping up the blood, still looking decidedly bemused. When the blood was gone, Zed asked,

“Why did you attack me?”

“Thought you were George W Bush,” John said thoughtfully. “I’d found the last pack of Lucky Strikes on the entire planet, hidden inside a fat man’s beard. But just as I was about to light one, George called them terrorist sticks and started tossing them into a puddle…”

“He’s dead, remember?” Zed replied, grinning. “He’s been dead for ages. And no one says terrorist anymore, they’re evilists now.”

John rolled his eyes, and bit into the final blood bag. There was a rapid explosion of fireworks from the night outside, and a chorus of human voices yelled,

“WE LOVE YOU, GOD!”

John took the bag out of his mouth, and frowned at Zed, demanding,

“What the fuck’s going on out there?”

Zed stood up, and dragged John to his feet, leading him down the corridor and into the living room. He mutely zapped the TV onto the news channel, where the pre-GODmas build-up was well underway. John dumped himself down on the sofa, and frowned at the screen. An obese woman was promising to commit the life and soul of her firstborn daughter to the eternal service of GOD, if she could be granted a BMW Supersonic with a luminous rainbow paint job. Next came a red-faced man with tiny piggish eyes, who was begging for the opportunity to smite his cheating wife – he wanted to heat up her curling iron and then sodomise her with it. John shuddered at this idea, looking horrified. Glancing up at Zed, he asked fearfully,

“Is this a thing now? A new sexual kink? Have you tried it? It sounds awful!”

Zed laughed, sitting down and sliding his arm around John’s waist.

“It’s not a thing,” Zed reassured him, “And I definitely haven’t tried it. This is what happens tomorrow: GODmas – people get stuff they want, or they get to do horrible things to the people they hate – all legal and government sanctioned. And then the rest of the world watches it on TV and gets really excited.”

“God…does this for people?” John asked, glancing nervously over his shoulder. “There’s an actual God now? Since when? Is he scary? What does he wear? Does he still hate gays?”

Zed laughed, leaning over to give him a kiss. John pulled away, casting another fearful glance at the ceiling, until Zed told him,

“God can’t see us here. He’s not a real God – it’s just this ridiculous new Google stunt. Hang on.”

He opened the laptop, and flipped to the most succinct page he had yet found on the GOD phenomenon. John read it with a frown, before snorting with laughter and muttering,

“Google Omnipotent-love Deity! That doesn’t even spell God! It just sounds like a terrible sex toy for kinky Catholics!”

Just then, the laptop let out a gleeful ping, and Zed’s other tab started flashing. Before he could intervene, John had flicked over to Facenet, where his own aged and bloated face was staring back at him, once again depicted on the beach with Miranda, holding out a pregnancy test as both of them smiled soppily at each other.

WHAT”John exclaimed, his eyes widening, “The fuck is this! Is that supposed to be me? What the fuck have they done to my face?! And who the fuck is that woman and WHY IS SHE SMILING AT ME?!”

“Umm…” said Zed, feeling his insides freeze with shame. “She’s…she’s your girlfriend. She’s pregnant. But…but it’s not real!” he added hastily, as John fixed him with a horrified green glare. “It’s just this computer programme that pretends you’re still alive and happy, and I only did it because I missed you so much!”

“You missed me?” John repeated hysterically. “You missed me so much that you decided to turn me into a fat red balding HETEROSEXUAL?!”

“I didn’t mean to!” Zed protested. “I didn’t get to choose what happened, I just paid for it!”

John fixed him with a long and withering gaze of total disgust, before standing up haughtily, and stomping away down the corridor. Zed jumped up and ran after him, pulling him to a halt outside the storage room and pleading,

“Don’t go back to sleep, John! I’m sorry – I’ll get it shut down tomorrow, I promise, just please don’t leave me again?”

John slowly turned around, drawing himself up to his full height, and scowling up at Zed.

“I’ve got some whiskey?” Zed offered nervously. “Have a drink with me?”

John continued to scowl at him, his lower lip sticking out in a sullen pout, but Zed took his silence for assent, and wandered into the kitchen. There was only a quarter of a bottle left, now that he’d smashed the other one, but it would have to do. He led the way up the stairs to the roof, and John followed along behind, grumbling under his breath.

When they emerged into the night air, John’s eyes immediately flicked towards the moon. Its glittering belts of red, white and blue were flashing on and off, and across its middle it declared in luminous green capitals “WE LUV GOD!” John shuddered violently, and snatched the bottle out of Zed’s hand. As he wandered around the rooftop, swigging from the bottle, he stared out across the neon-lit city skyline, his eyes finally coming to rest on a nearby rooftop, where several blazing crosses had been erected. Pointing an imperious finger at this bizarre spectacle, he demanded,

“What the hell is that? Who the fuck needs four burning crosses, isn’t one enough to make a point?! And there’s a…there’s a…” he peered into the distance, before exclaiming, “There’s a fucking black guy standing next to them! Who do the racists hate this time?!”

“It’s not racist,” Zed explained, “Not anymore. You know what modern people are like – if they can make something glow, they’ll always do it. At least those bloody luminous peas are dying out now though, I hated those things…”

John sighed, and went to sit down on the edge of the roof. He hesitated, wrinkling his nose, and sat down on a different spot.

“You’ve been puking off the roof again,” he said accusingly, “haven’t you?”

“Almost every night,” Zed admitted, sitting down next to him. “I’ve only been awake for three months, but it’s been awful…”

John said nothing, frowning at the whiskey bottle, but Zed could tell what he was thinking.

“I know you didn’t want to be woken up,” he said, taking John’s hand, “Not when everything’s so terrible, but I just couldn’t bear it on my own anymore. You made me what I am so that you’d never have to be alone – don’t I get to ask the same of you?”

John glanced up at him, sighed, and took a large gulp of whiskey.

“Haven’t they invented time machines yet?” he asked despairingly. “Can’t we just go back? Can’t we just go back to how the world used to be, when it wasn’t awful?”

Zed shook his head. “That was one of the first things I looked up. They invented a time machine twelve years ago, but it turned people inside out. After it totally eviscerated twenty volunteers, the inventor smashed it to bits, burned all his notes and then shot himself in the face. Sorry…”

“Hmm,” John conceded gloomily. “I suppose I’d even rather be here than turned inside out…”

He drained the whiskey bottle, and Zed suggested,

“Come for a walk with me? It’ll be crazy out there, but there’s no more booze in the flat…”

John blew a pessimistic raspberry, but nonetheless stood up, and plodded towards the stairs.

 

 

As they made their way towards Walmart, Zed kept hold of John’s hand, towing him along as he stared around himself in a state of speechless disgust. The night air was thick with the stench of rancid cinnamon, belching out of the exhaust grills in a glittering line of Honda Godspurs, several of which had been fitted with blazing orange crosses that towered into the night sky, American flags fluttering in the breeze. As they continued up the road, they passed a group of teenagers, one holding up a phone while the others threw themselves about in a crazed, violent jig to a tinny rendition of ‘GODmas Vengeance’. Gangs of fat, shirtless men were reeling past, swigging from cross-shaped vessels of obscenely luminous yellow liquid.

Why,” John hissed in Zed’s ear, “Is everyone drinking radioactive piss?!”

Zed burst out laughing, dragging John into a nearby doorway to kiss him. When they finally broke apart, John gave him a reluctant smile, and they continued on their way.

“The radioactive piss,” Zed explained, “It’s called BlessedBeer – it’s the official drink of GODmas, and one in a thousand caps wins you a year’s supply.”

Wonderful,” John replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “How did I ever live without a year’s supply of nuclear urine! Have you ever fed on these people? I bet they taste revolting!”

Zed opened his mouth to reply, but a deafening rumbling interrupted him, as a vast gleaming BMW Supersonic came growling past, three fat drunken men hanging out of the windows, hollering,

“TITS OUT FOR GOD! YEAHHHHHHH!”

“Oh, will you just FUCK OFF AND DIE!!” John shrieked at the retreating car, leaping up and down in a furious wardance, and Zed laughed, taking his hand and pulling him away from the road.

“It’s much better now that you’re here,” he said, smiling.

John glanced up at him with a frown, retorting sulkily,

“There’s something wrong with you. You’re only happy when I’m suffering!”

“I’m not happy that you’re suffering,” Zed disagreed. “You haven’t been here the last few months. Do you know what I’ve been doing, since I woke up? I’ve been watching people sitting on the loo, taking awful shits and talking about nothing – every single day! That has been the highlight of my day for the past three months. That’s how bad my life’s been, without you in it.”

John glanced up at him, and Zed could see him trying very hard not to laugh.

“Watching people shit?” he repeated. “How? And…and why?”

“It’s a programme called Dump Diaries. I haven’t literally been lurking around in toilets, getting my sexual kicks from fat men shitting…”

John sniggered, and wandered off into Walmart, looking happier than he had all night.

 

 

They passed the wall of PrayerStations, where people were making last minute drunken demands on GOD, and made their way to the booze aisle. Most of the shelves were weighed down with luminous vessels of BlessedBeer, but Zed managed to grab two dusty bottles of whiskey from the back of the shelf. As they turned towards the tills, John stated,

“I want something to smoke. I can still see George Fucking Bush tossing my Luckies into a puddle.”

“But you know that-”

“I know, I know,” John interrupted irritably, “Anti-Tobacco Act of 2036, this century’s biggest blight on my life! Don’t they sell any of those things anymore though, those pretend cigarette pussy-sticks?”

Zed laughed. “Yeah, but they’ve gone a bit…GODly…”

He led the way up another aisle, and plucked off the shelf something that appeared to be a cross between a crucifix and a cigar, the words Halo Haze scrawled down its length. John eyed it with suspicion, clearly reluctant to partake in anything GOD-related, but eventually he sighed, and took it from Zed.

 

 

When they emerged into the night, John took a dubious drag on his holy cigar, and blew out a cloud of phosphorescent golden vapour. As he stared at it in horror, it began to swirl around his head, as though he was wearing a shimmering halo.

“Fucking hell,” he muttered. “There really is nothing left that they can’t make glow…”

Zed smirked. “You can even get an implant put in your dick that glows – you can have a hard-on for hours, a massive, purple-glowing boner! I was actually quite tempted with that…”

“Don’t you dare!” John exclaimed, gaping up at him in horror. “Don’t you even think about it! If you get your dick sliced open and turned into a…a…a fucking lumo-dildo, I’m going to be celibate forever!”

Zed laughed, and John took another irritable drag on his cigar, turning back towards the flat, when something stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Do you hear that?” he asked, glancing back with an expression of sheer amazement.

Zed paused to listen, and his eyes widened. John suddenly beamed widely, grabbing Zed’s hand and dragging him up the street at top speed. An alien sound was filling the air, completely at odds with the throbbing electronic bleep-and-squelch of ‘GODmas Vengeance’, the drunken prayers, the blazing crosses and the stench of rancid cinnamon. The sound was Elvis, and he was belting out Hound Dog, raucous and joyful above the bouncing riffs of a twangy guitar. John broke into a run, laughing with disbelief, and Zed had to restrain him from leaping right over a car in a decidedly un-human manner. Soon they came upon a vast glowing sign, declaring,

“Granted by GOD, on June 1st 2097 – Axton’s Antiquity Bar!”

John barely paused to read it, before dragging Zed around the corner. On a gloomy, deserted sidestreet, stood what appeared to be an old fashioned cinema, the dully-lit sign above its steps announcing,

“TONIGHT: ELVIS, LIVE ON STAGE!”

John beamed ecstatically, and towed Zed up the stairs. Inside the darkened room, it was hot and humid, the air thick with a scent that Zed hadn’t smelled in half a century, a scent so nostalgic it brought tears to his eyes. It was cigarette smoke, and beer, and sweat, and at the front of the room, a young, beautiful human boy with a voice like roughened gold was still howling out Hound Dog.

John had gone bounding across the room before Zed could blink, dropping to his knees in front of the stage and staring in open mouthed wonder at the boy. Zed made a quick detour to the bar to buy a pack of illicit brand-less smokes and a lighter, before joining John at the front. As he lit a cigarette for John, then for himself, they stared at each other in silent ecstasy, inhaling the half-forgotten poison, feeling it burn down into their lungs, until John’s lips were on Zed’s, his mouth tasting dirty and smoky and alive just as it had in those long ago days, before the world went directly to hell. The boy on stage segued into a hectic, bouncing rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, and John broke away from Zed, snatching a bottle of whiskey out of his hand, flicking off the cap and leaping manically around the dancefloor, gulping from the bottle and sucking down vast lungfuls of smoke, his green eyes glittering behind a film of tears. Zed just stood back and watched him, smoking his cigarette and feeling as though his heart would rupture with joy – feeling as though this moment could sustain him through a hundred years of torment, that whatever the world might throw at him tomorrow, he would always have this moment

He was broken out of his reverie when John came leaping across the room, hurling himself into Zed’s arms, and dragging him towards the bathroom. The bottle in his hand was as good as empty, and as he pushed open the bathroom door he tripped over his own feet and Zed had to grab him before he hit the concrete. Undeterred, John hauled him into the nearest bathroom stall, wriggled out of his jeans and began clumsily fumbling at Zed’s fly. Zed pushed his hands away and dropped to his knees, taking John’s cock in his mouth, until John shivered and mumbled,

“No…not like that… Just fuck me, Zed, right here – just fuck me…”

Zed stood up, surprised, unable to remember the last time this request had been made, and he pointed out,

“I haven’t…got any lube though…”

“Then spit on it!” John retorted imperiously, sprawling out across the closed toilet lid. “Fucking spit on it, and then fuck me with it!”

Zed tried not to laugh, as John drunkenly snatched the cigarettes out of his pocket, and lit himself a new one, closing his eyes and inhaling deeply with an expression of utter bliss. Zed spat into his hand, smeared saliva over his cock, and knelt back down on the dirty tiles. John still had his eyes closed, and appeared to have passed out drunk, but for the fact that he was blowing out a vast plume of cigarette smoke. As soon as Zed started cautiously entering him, his eyes snapped open and he beamed drunkenly, grabbing Zed’s hips and grinding against him, sucking up cigarette smoke and letting it out in a blissful moan. Through the wall, they could hear Elvis slowing the tempo, crooning out You Were Always On My Mind, and soon, they were softly singing along, clinging to each other in the dirty, smoky little stall. The neon wasteland outside the walls of this dingy old bar had faded into nothingness, until all that remained was that golden voice – was John’s slim body against Zed’s, the burnt-out taste of his hot wet mouth, and just for a moment, the world was alright again.