A boy is throwing stones into the swamp. Some of them skip, most of them sink. He doesn’t seem to care either way. An alligator peeks at him from beneath the muck. The boy chucks a stone at it but the gator sinks below the murky water before the rock even reaches the peak of its arc. It hits a swath of Spanish moss clinging like cobwebs to the trees and lands in the swamp with a graceless plop.
“Your house is haunted,” the boy says without looking, focusing on his stones. He’s older, maybe fourteen, sullen with a mop of blonde hair hanging into his eyes. They’re blue, blue like the ocean back in California. All of the water in Louisiana is green.
“You’re not gonna stay there long,” says the boy. “No one ever does. The ghosts drive them out.”
He turns and his blue eyes flash. His fingers fall open and the stones fall to the mushy earth beneath their feet.
“Don’t look in the mirrors,” he warns; then he walks away.
“There was a rich man who lived in New Orleans and he built the house for his mistress,” Dom tells him as they poke around the swamp looking for bones. There’s a Voodoo woman in town that pays them five dollars for every bag of feathers and bones they bring her. She makes fake talismans and sells them to tourists. They use the money to buy beignets that make their fingers sticky and leave their lips white with sugar. “She was his wife’s maid, the most beautiful girl in Louisiana. His wife was jealous of the girl so he built the maid this house in the bayou and told her he’d come for her. He told her he loved her.”
“Did he?” Arthur finds a bird skull and smiles. The Voodoo woman gives them extra for skulls.
“No. He didn’t really love her. He didn’t even want to be with her. But she was so beautiful, she could have had anyone and he was so selfish, he didn’t want anyone else to have her. So he built her a beautiful house in the swamp and left her here, like the princess trapped in the tower. He never came for her and eventually she went crazy and killed herself.”
“She went to his house in the French Quarter when he was throwing a party for all the rich folks and she threw herself from the roof while they watched.”
“That’s terrible,” Arthur says, his face screwed up with righteous eight year old indignation.
“That’s the story,” Dom shrugs, but his eyes are hard. Dom believes it, so Arthur does too.
“They call her the Shaded Lady,” Dom says and he stares at Arthur, blue eyes searing. “I’ve seen her. Walking in the swamp.” He shrugs again and digs his stick into the mush, pushing dirt and dead leaves around.
Arthur shivers despite the sweat dripping down his spine.
The floors creak like footsteps when there’s nobody else home. The lights flicker like candles. The wind whistles through tiny cracks in the walls and the ceiling drips when it storms. He thinks he sees the shaded lady a few times out his window, wading into the swamp. But then he realizes that it’s just the smudge of his breath on the glass or the fog hanging low over the bayou.
All of the glass in the house is old and distorted, except for his mother’s china from their old house in Los Angeles. But every time she takes it out of the cupboard, she complains that the glass is filmy from the heavy, wet Louisiana air. The bayou is old and it wants everything it touches to be old too. Arthur doesn’t pay much attention to the mirrors, but there are a few that came with the house, real old with gaudy gold frames that his mother hates. She wants to get rid of them but his father insists they’re antiques. He says he’ll take them to be appraised but he never does. Arthur is a kid and constantly covered in a thin layer of dirt that his mother tries in vain to wipe off with spit and a kerchief every evening before sending him up to his room in frustration. He doesn’t care much about his appearance the first few years after he arrives in Louisiana. But sometimes, when he’s tiptoeing down the halls, moonlight illuminating his path, he can see a reflection in the mirrors that doesn’t look like his. It’s not the face of a little boy that he sees out of the corner of his eye, but when he looks full on at the glass he only sees himself and a few cracks and the wall behind him.
Dom enlists on his eighteenth birthday, when Arthur is twelve. They throw rocks at the swamp in silence for a few hours before Dom has to catch the bus, then Dom leaves, maybe forever, and Arthur goes home, shuffling his feet on the way.
Dom forgets to remind him about the mirrors.
Arthur starts high school and he meets a girl and he moves one of the bigger mirrors from the hall into his room after his mother has finally had enough and threatens to throw the lot of them into the swamp for the alligators to see themselves in. He wipes years of dust off of the glass and digs a cloth into the curves of the frame to reach the grime, and once it’s shining he leans it against the wall. It’s bigger than he is and shows him a lie because the glass is aged and warped and he knows his cheeks aren’t that sharp and his lips aren’t that plump and his shoulders aren’t nearly that broad. But he thinks he looks good. He thinks that girl might say yes if he asks her out. Arthur’s reflection smiles, dimples creasing his cheeks, his eyes are hooded, sparkling and gray. Arthur’s heart beats hard in his chest like he can almost feel it pounding against his ribcage. His eyes are brown... and he isn’t smiling.
He tiptoes down the hall late at night on silent feet because he knows which floorboards are the most warped and make the most noise. He’s been out past curfew and he doesn’t want to wake his parents. The walls feel like they’re closing in and the shadows reach out from the corners to touch him and the house seems to whisper in his ears.
“Arthur,” the house calls to him. “You’ve been naughty, Arthur.”
He’s heard the voices since he moved the mirror and they aren’t always the same. Sometimes a woman with a reed thin voice, sometimes lusty and low, and sometimes they’re men, old men and young men with every type of accent – southern and slow, northern and clipped. Bust most often, too often, it’s a young man’s rasp that sends shivers down Arthur’s spine and makes him hold his breath.
He keeps the mirror in his room, covered up with a black sheet and he falls asleep at night with his back to it, but the voice is strongest in there and he dreams of a shadow with gray eyes and a laughing smile. He covers his ears to keep out the voices, but he hears the young man’s voice in his dreams, British and mocking, calling him naughty, whispering his name.
The air in the bayou is thick and wet and it makes his hair curl in fringes around his face. He takes the sheet off the mirror and stares at his reflection, tries to smooth down his hair and hollow out his cheeks that are still plump with baby fat even though he’s sixteen. The eyes that stare back at him from the glass are not his own and they appraise his half-naked body, rake over his skin with pupils blown wide and Arthur’s reflection licks his lips, slow and hungry. Arthur gasps and reaches up to press his fingertips against his mouth. His lips are dry but in the mirror they are shiny red with spit and he’s laughing.
Arthur goes to the library and sets up camp in front of their one, ancient microfilm reader. He starts with what he can get from the nineteenth century newspapers, yellow and blurred at the edges. There was a girl, named Mallorie, who jumped to her death during a dinner party in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The man throwing the party was named Sherman Cobb, and though Arthur can’t tell from a sepia stained photograph if Sherman Cobb had blue eyes, the rest of his features ring strikingly familiar. Dom's last name is Cobb.
He searches for hours, finds deed after deed of sale for the house. No one stays there long. It seems Dom was right. Then Arthur finds an article dated in the 1920’s about a gangster running a speakeasy from the basement of his house. The man’s last name was Eames, Arthur reads, but the first name has been blurred by time or water before it was scanned and he can’t make it out. The newspaper says he was found dead on the property, a single gunshot wound to the head. Self-inflicted, it says. Beneath the picture of the front of Arthur’s house, marred by the sight of the coroner standing over a body covered by a white sheet, is a list of aliases supposedly held by the man. Not all of them are male and there are a few grainy black and white photos to go with them. He looks different in every picture, thin or fat, clean shaven or with his features obscured by a thick beard and mustache, but two things stay ever the same. In all of the pictures, many of them mugshots, the man’s full lips are pulled taut into a teasing smirk and his eyes are laughing at a joke only he knows. All of the photos are black and white but Arthur knows he’s seen those eyes before, in the mirror in his bedroom.
“What’s that doin’ in here?” Dom asks, glaring hard at the covered mirror leaning against Arthur’s wall.
Arthur wants to say it’s just a mirror. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a piece of glass in a fancy frame but the words stick in his throat. He’s thought about putting it away, up in the attic, getting it out of his room at least. He’s come close enough to let the black sheet pool to the floor, but when he looks he only sees himself – Arthur, skinny and pale, black hair, brown eyes. Nothing strange in his reflection: just him. It’s just a trick, like the voices are a trick, like the pressure on his bed in the middle of the night when no one else is there is just a trick.
Dom shakes his head and a lock of pale blonde hair falls into his eyes like when he was a boy, but he’s not the boy Arthur met throwing stones at alligators. Not anymore.
“You need to get that out of here,” Dom says and turns away, his shoulders set and his posture hard. “This house is going to kill you, one way or another.” He stomps across Arthur’s bedroom, glaring at the mirror as he goes, and then Arthur can hear the clomp of his boots on the old, wooden staircase. He doesn't give Arthur a chance to say a word.
Arthur watches out the grime covered window of his second floor bedroom as Dom walks off over the front yard, hands in his pockets and his head down, headed for the swamp. Since he’s come back he’s been as haunted as he believes Arthur’s house to be. He spends a lot of time on the docks, staring out over the swamp, like he’s waiting for something… or someone that Arthur can’t see.
Dom spends a lot of time staring at the swamp, hands in his pockets. There’s a black shadow that follows him, hovering at his back. Arthur doesn’t know what it means. He tries to get his friend’s attention a few times but the air around him is heavy, even heavier than the wet air of the bayou. Dom is cold now, always distracted. Sometimes, when he’s watching from his window, Arthur thinks he sees a woman’s face in Dom’s black shadow. He’s sure this time she turns to look at him, pearl eyes hard and cold, and his ribcage feels like it’s collapsing in on itself, crushing his heart into dust. The pain brings him to his knees and tears to his eyes. He curls into himself and allows one throaty sob to escape his lungs. He falls asleep on his floor, beneath his window.
There’s a pressure on his shoulder, a brush of breath against the shell of his ear. He opens his eyes slowly, fluttering his lashes.
“Arthur,” whispered against his cheek. “He’s right, you know. You’ll go mad.”
Arthur comes awake suddenly and fully, heart pounding. He lunges to his feet, holding his breath. He tells himself it was just a dream. There are no voices, there is no one in the mirror. There is no ghost hovering over Dom’s shoulder. He glances wildly around his darkened room, too quickly for his eyes to adjust. Something chuckles in the darkness and it feels like it’s coming from every corner.
There is a hand at his waist, fingertips digging into the thin skin above his hipbone, beneath his t-shirt. He gasps and the fingers press harder. Another set of fingers close around his throat, tilting his head back, making him vulnerable to a threat he can’t even see.
“It’s usually the girl drives ‘em off, with her crying and screaming. Wants everybody to off ‘emselves the way she did. Bloody lonely in that crazy head a hers. Worked on me, it did. Lived a life a crime and that broad makes me so miserable I blow my own bloody brains out.”
He feels a heavy pressure at his back, like there’s a body attached to the hands pressing up against him. Arthur can feel the intruder's every exhale in shorts gusts against his cheek.
“She’s got her eyes on your friend though. Going to make him take a swim in the swamp, she is. That leaves you all to me. And you are a lovely boy, aren’t you?”
Arthur thinks he should try to twist away. The thought is persistent in the back of his mind. But his body won’t move, won’t obey what his brain is screaming. The presence at his back gets heavier, more solid, until Arthur is sure if he turned around he’d be able to see someone there. He’s not alone in this room, he can’t lie to himself anymore. He wonders if he’s ever been alone in here.
The hand at his waist slowly begins to slide sideways over his stomach, bunching the fabric of his t-shirt at it goes. It is ice cold against his skin but his body feels feverish and he’s sweating from the heat. The icy hand is like a balm, cooling him down. The fingers at his throat inch upward until they can wrap around his chin. Then one of the fingertips is probing at his mouth, pushing its way between his lips. He should bite it, shock this intruder enough that he lets go and Arthur can run, find Dom, get help. But, despite the way his rational brain is screaming, Arthur’s body reacts of its own volition, his tongue darting out to meet the invasive digit.
“Ohh, you are a bit of a minx aren’t you, boy?” The intruder whispers huskily. “I've been watching you for years now, waitin’. Watched you get prettier and prettier while you ignored your friend’s warnings and pretended you didn’t know I was watchin’.”
The hand at Arthur’s stomach migrates up to his chest and the intruder emphasizes his point by closing two of his fingertips hard over a nipple. Arthur gasps and goes pliant, his head swimming. He should be terrified but his body wants this.
“Who are you?” He finally forces his lips to ask around the finger probing against his tongue. It comes out muffled and a tiny bit of drool begins to drip down his chin.
“You know who I am, Arthur. I did some bad things in this house. I killed some people, cheated others, and then I killed myself because of your friend’s damned Shaded Lady. I’m the ghost what haunts your dreams, darling, the normal ones and the wet ones.”
Arthur finds it in him to struggle then, albeit half-heartedly, and the intruder restrains him easily.
“Don’t fight me, Arthur, and I promise you’ll enjoy this.”
He takes his finger from Arthur’s mouth and forces his head to the side so that Arthur can see the shadow that has materialized behind him in his peripheral. The features are not solid, still shifting just slightly, but Arthur makes eye contact and the eyes are hard and unchanging and gray.
The ghost throws him down onto his bed and Arthur goes gracelessly, bouncing hard. He knows who his ghost is, but when he finally gets a look at the apparition it’s clear. He recognizes all of the faces from the pictures. This is Eames, the gangster who died wealthy and young by his own hand in Arthur’s front yard.
Eames kneels over him, his knees making heavy indentations in the mattress on either side of Arthur’s thighs. He grips the hem of Arthur’s shirt and yanks it roughly over Arthur’s head, exposing his chest where the skin immediately begins to ripple with gooseflesh. His nipples are pebbled and hard already, because Eames is like a winter wind cutting through the Louisiana heat. Eames is shirtless, the muscles in his chest and arms taut and bulging as he forcefully divests Arthur of his pants and underwear without ceremony. Arthur blushes and writhes once he’s exposed but the ghost holds him down, looks him over with those laughing gray eyes and Arthur feels himself get hard despite his embarrassment.
Eames’s skin is golden and black where lines of ink are scrawled across his torso. He spent a lot of time in prison, Arthur knows from his research. Eames smirks to see Arthur watching him, reaches a cold hand down to cup his balls and Arthur gasps out a moan and arches his back, clawing at the bedding and at Eames who isn’t real but feels solid enough beneath Arthur’s fingernails. Eames ignores Arthur’s straining cock and slides a finger past his sac, first just petting the tight ring of muscle between Arthur’s cheeks until it flutters open against Arthur’s will. There is no lubricant but the ghost’s finger slides into Arthur easily. There is no pain, only the pressure of a foreign object inside of him and the pleasure he feels like he should be fighting.
“That’s it, Arthur. Be a lovely boy for me. Open up.”
Arthur moans and lets his legs fall open as far as he can with Eames’s thighs still bracketing him. He feels slutty and shameful but he can’t stop himself. His body doesn’t care what his over analytical mind thinks. Eames grabs Arthur’s shoulder with his free hand, leaving a burning cold imprint there, and pushes Arthur over, rolling him onto his stomach. He slides his finger free for only a second so as not to get trapped beneath Arthur’s body and then it’s back with a second digit, probing and curling and pressing against him from the inside.
He hears the jingle of a belt buckle being undone, the rustle of clothing that doesn’t exist hitting the floor, then there’s a larger pressure at his back, trying to open him up. Arthur has just enough time to panic and remember he’s a virgin before he’s being split open and Eames is inside of him. Arthur cries out, but not with pain. It hurts but not as much as he knows it should, and more than that, it feels good. An electric tingle races up Arthur’s spine when Eames slides an arm around his waist and hikes his hips up.
Eames pounds into him and Arthur can only hump the air in vain, his cock hard and slapping against his abdomen with each of Eames’s thrusts. He can’t stop the broken sobs that escape his throat, echoing the rhythmic claps of Eames’s pelvis against his thighs.
Arthur feels full and empty at the same time, the cold reaches all the way through him, filling him and leaving him bereft all at once. When he comes, it’s without warning, soiling his bedding and splashing his chest and forearms with warmth. He sobs and his arms give out, dropping him face first into the mattress, but Eames still has an arm wrapped around his waist, hoisting his hips high, and the ghost keeps fucking him hard until Arthur’s cock actually begins to stir again. Every thrust drags the tip of Eames’s cock against a spot inside of Arthur that makes him want to scream. He knows it’s his prostate, but he doesn’t know how Eames is managing to tag it every time, bringing Arthur back to life after only a few minutes of almost unbearable sensation.
“That’s a good boy. What a darling boy,” Eames murmurs above him as his cock rapidly fills for a second time. Arthur isn’t fighting anymore. He gives himself over to the sensations, the feeling of the ghost’s cock inside him, of the solid arm wrapped tight around his body, of his own cock hanging heavy and throbbing between his legs.
One of Eames’s hands has been curled over Arthur’s shoulder this whole time, pulling him back onto the ghost’s cock, but now he strokes it down Arthur’s arm and then over his chest, pausing to pinch his nipples and make Arthur squirm. He pats lightly over Arthur’s stomach, making the muscles clench involuntarily and then he presses in on Arthur’s abdomen and hums to himself, stroking over the skin like he can feel himself inside of Arthur. The thought makes Arthur’s cock jump and Eames must notice, because he laughs against the back of Arthur’s neck and wraps cold fingers around Arthur’s throbbing cock and Arthur comes a second time, choking on a sob as the world goes dark around him.
He wakes what can only be seconds later, naked and alone and shivering. His sheets are sticky and wet and his limbs feel like jelly. There is no one else in the room but him and the mirror, the black sheet that had been covering it now nowhere to be seen. Arthur forces himself to look away and pads over to the window on leaden feet. Dom is gone but the black shadow still hovers at the end of the dock, watching the alligators peek their heads above the murky water.