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And in Darkness Walk With Me

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From an early age, graveyards never frightened him. Other things caused his blood to chill and his heart to race as adrenaline filled him with the urgency to run. Things typically not real, of course, like Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, werewolves, ventriloquist puppets… Very well, that last wasn’t necessarily ‘fake,’ but it was still an irrational fear, he knew that. But they still filled him with terror. Graveyards, where very real corpses and bones were waiting just beneath the soil, however, did nothing. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the dead, once dead, cannot rise to life again and hurt you (unlike what cinema and fiction depicted with ‘zombies’). That is why the Victorian view on death, mortality, and cemeteries was appealing to him. This was a place of rest. Where one went when the toil, the hardship, and yes, even the joys of life, were done. This was not a place to fear, but to find ease. Relaxation. Comfort.

Thus it was that Damien was actually quite eager to be joining Robert tonight, in one of his favored places in town. As asked, Damien packed a small meal in a basket, and brought along a battery-operated lantern (much more elegant than a modern flashlight, but without the need for oil or the danger of catching one’s self on fire). For the night, he donned his preferred ‘casual outfit’, consisting of his most worn boots, a deep-aubergine vest with golden embroidery, grey trousers, and a cloak that matched his vest. He felt he cut quite a figure in the outfit, and it was used often for his excursions to the cemetery, so it was only natural to choose it. Robert’s letter had specified to be there at 8PM, after the sun had set. Damien was, of course, a few minutes early, but the sky was already dark, and even with the street lamps at the gate entrance illuminating much of the way, he had his lantern on. Damien entered the graveyard and began making his way along the primary walkway, looking about to see if he could spot his companion for the evening anywhere. As he was peering into the distance, head turned to the right, he heard twigs snapping. He turned around to look for the source of the noise.

“Robert?” he called out. No one answered.

He was about to turn back around and continue on when, abruptly, two arms snapped around him. He let out a shriek, dropping both his lantern and his basket. As his screams died down, he could hear loud, familiar laughter in his ear.

“God damn, you’re too easy!” Robert guffawed, releasing Damien from his hold. He was still gasping for air from the sudden panic attack as he spun and slapped thrice at the older man.

“I’ll kindly ask you to refrain from such childish pranks, Mr. Small!” Damien shouted. He knelt to pick up his basket and his lantern. Thankfully, nothing had spilled out of the former, and the latter was not cracked or broken. “Perhaps I should reconsider this night and go home, if that is what you have in mind.”

“Jesus, fine,” Robert said, raising his hands up slightly in a ‘surrendering’ pose. “Truce. I won’t do that again. Low hangin’ fruit, though, Dames.” Robert reached into his jacket, and pulled out a red flashlight, then he started to walk the way Damien had been heading before. “C’mon. There’s a spot I wanna check out specifically.”

That rather perturbed Damien, but he didn’t question the man. Instead he made sure his lantern did, indeed, still work, and followed behind. “You said we were doing something you enjoyed tonight,” Damien said. “When I last saw you here, you were…What was it? ‘Hunting cryptids’?”

“Yep.”

“And where is dear Betsy, then?”

“Home. I only bring her when I don’t have somebody else.”

“I see,” Damien looked into his left, with nothing but headstones visible. “You do realize such things don’t exist, don’t you?”

“And that is where you are wrong, Dames,” Robert countered. “I’ve seen some shit in my life, and I know for a fact that some cryptids exist.”

“Only some?” Damien asked incredulously.

“Mothman’s bullshit,” Robert told him. “Completely. But hey, some stuff’s mistaken for other stuff all the time. I mean, didn’t Victorians used to think vampires were the reason people died from colds?”

“Consumption, and no,” Damien clarified, “that was during the Romantic era. By the Victorian age, medicine had advanced enough that people knew consumption was a genuine disease, and not a supernatural attack.”

“Yeah, but anyway, when people don’t know what a thing is, they toss whatever explanation works.” They continued their trek until they reached a portion of the cemetery where various, blank stones were erected. Singular dates and occasionally names such as ‘John Doe,’ ‘Lady Doe,’ Or ‘The Foundling,’ were engraved upon them.

“Why are we in this portion of the cemetery?” Damien inquired as he paused to prepare their picnic site.

“Cause the unmarked grave, and the angry ghost, of the Maple Bay Butcher is here.”

“The what?” Damien frowned. “Robert, there is no Maple Bay Butcher. I know this for a fact.”

“How? I’ve been here ten years, Dames, and I like to do my research before I go ghost huntin’,” Robert boasted.

“For all I’ve been in my current residence for five years,” Damien told him, “I know that there is no such killer because I grew up here. I should like to think I know my home town.”

“Well, you don’t know it as well as you think,” Robert countered. Damien rolled his eyes and sat on the blanket. Robert dropped down next to him, grabbing his shoulder, and pulling him close. “Settle in, Dames, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Must you?” Damien asked. He didn’t like where this was going. “You promised you would not try to scare me again.”

“I’m not tryin’ to scare you,” Robert said, “I’m educatin’. So… I found out about the Butcher a few years back when I was doin’ research for the Dover Ghost. Serial Killers are prime candidates for some nasty spooks. I found out they were two different things, but that’s beside the point.”

“And the point is?”

“I’m gettin’ there,” Robert assured him. Damien let out a soft sigh of discontent. He was about to hear another of Robert’s fabrications. Very well…at least Robert had his arm around him, still, and it felt quite nice to have the appendage there again. Meanwhile, Robert told his story.

“Anyway, back in 1806, this place was a little port town. Ships came in a lot with cargo from England, France, and other parts of Europe and even the Caribbean, sellin’ whatever they could make a profit on, from meat to men. One day, a ship called The Lady Daniella, was supposed to arrive with her cargo. But the ship was late. She didn’t show up until nearly midnight, with just the local lighthouse givin’ her any way of landing without a wreck. As dock hands, roused from sleep, swarmed to get the ship unloaded, one of ‘em was jumped and attacked.”

“Indeed?” Damien asked. He knew Robert was lying through his teeth, but he gave the man credit: he could spin a good yarn.

“Help came fast, and scared off the attacker, but no one got to see his face. But when they got on board the ship, they found his handiwork. The whole crew of the Daniella had been chopped up, their limbs thrown all over the deck, their chests cracked open like walnuts, and their inner meat thrown around. The cuts were so well done, people began calling the maniac The Butcher. And his killin’ didn’t stop there.” Robert leaned closer to Damien, while simultaneously pulling him nearer. Their eyes locked and Robert’s voice dropped low. “Three days after the massacre on the ship, a man, fancy dressed and rich lookin’, was walking home alone. He never made it. His body was found the next day, carved and cut like the crew on the ship. Four nights after that, another man was found in the same condition. The killer was relentless. He wasn’t gonna stop for nothin’. So the police set up a trap.”

Robert extracted his arm from Damien’s shoulder, much to his disappointment, and stood up, all while continuing his story. “They got the youngest guy in the ranks to dress up all distinguished, and set him up as bait. It didn’t take long for ‘em to lure the Butcher out and snag him. What they caught they could barely call human. He had arms the size of tree-trunks. His teeth were crooked and rotten in his mouth. One eye was pitch black, and the other was blind, and so pale the iris blended into the rest of whites. The fucker was ugly as sin, and he hated anyone who looked ‘beautiful’ compared to him. He cursed ‘em, and every man on earth, spit on anyone who came close. Eventually they hung him. And they buried him ten feet deep in an unmarked grave, right here,” Robert pointed down at the ground below his feet. “Every night, the Butcher’s ghost crawls out of the ground and goes lookin’ for more people to chop apart, wantin’ revenge on humanity and God for his ugliness.”

Damien had listened to the whole tale, but he was not moved, really. Most of it sounded like hogwash, and other parts he knew were lifted from other fables that he himself had either read or heard about (some not even that frightening, really). “Robert, my friend, I’m afraid that, talented as you are in storytelling, I’m not convinced. I know there was never a serial killer in Maple Bay, let alone one who butchered ‘well dressed, handsome men’. It’s simply preposterous.”

They held each other’s gaze until Robert let out a breath, and grunted, dropping back onto the blanket. “Alright, fine, you win. But this is still a haunt of the Dover Ghost, and I’ve seen that one with my own eyes!”

Damien extracted a feta, tomato, and butter lettuce sandwich. “I’m sorry, Robert, but I don’t believe in ghosts.” He handed another sandwich to his companion, who swiped it up fast in his dark, scarred hands.

“You’re tellin’ me, with the house you live in, and all that dark makeup, that you don’t believe in ghosts or vampires or anythin?” Robert asked. “Isn’t that what the whole Goth thing is?”

“Not entirely,” Damien said. “It is also an appreciation for the grotesque, the macabre, the dark and dreary. It is beauty in the ‘other’, discarded by society. It is embracing the night, and its secrets. A confrontation of what is feared. And, quite frankly, I don’t fear the dead.”

A moment after saying that, they heard a loud THWACK, as if something with great weight was swung upon a tree. Both men turned to look around, seeking the sound’s source.

“What was that?” Damien asked, his voice dropping to a whisper.

“Dunno.”

“Is this one of your pranks again?”

“How am I gonna make a noise in the middle of the graveyard when I’m sittin’ right here?”

Before Damien could reply, another THWACK thundered through the night. He tossed himself onto Robert’s lap. They heard footsteps. Slow. Heavy footsteps.

“Robert!!” Damien squeaked.

“Get your stuff. Let’s go. My truck’s close.” Robert helped Damien stand, and the two of them quickly gathered their things, then he led Damien through the nameless, forgotten dead toward the back gates. The door back here, however, was locked.

“How are we going to get out?” Damien asked, his heart already racing. Robert climbed up easily and jumped over the metal fence.

“Toss your stuff over.” Damien did as asked, then started to climb. Damien had the strength to hoist himself up, however…Well, his aesthetic came with sacrifices, and though he’d chosen his oldest, comfiest outfit, he was still far too restricted to nimbly scale the fence. The heavy footsteps, however, were drawing nearer.

“C’mon!” Robert called.

“I’m trying!” Damien yelled back. He crested over the fence’s top, but as he started to climb down, he felt himself catch…His cloak was caught on the fence!

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” Robert grabbed at Damien’s legs, and yanked. Damien screamed, fabric ripped, and he was free. Once both men were down, they raced toward Robert’s waiting truck. They practically threw themselves into the vehicle, and Damien scarce had his seat belt fastened before Robert was screeching the old automobile’s tires along the pavement as they drove away. Damien chanced to look back at the gate they’d escaped through. He saw nothing.

“What…Just happened?” Damien asked.

“Dunno. And right now, don’t care too much,” Robert said. As he drove through the town, he let out a sigh. “Guess this night’s a flop.”

“I wouldn’t…necessarily say that,” Damien said. “That was…well, on top of rather frightening, it was also exciting.”

Robert didn’t answer right away. He only drove. It was then that Damien realized they were…leaving town. Robert took a few turns he wasn’t familiar with, and seemed to be going toward a road that led up into the hills. “Robert,” he asked, “Where are we going?”

“Hopefully, somewhere I can fix this,” Robert replied. They drove for a long while, until Robert pulled up to an overlook. He parked the truck, and Damien unbuckled his seatbelt to look out the front window. Before him was an exquisite, full-spectrum view of Maple Bay. He could see the lights of every building glinting like starlight and jewels. The bay was a perfect mirrored reflection of the sky.

“This is… Marvelous!” Damien exclaimed. “Stunning! Robert, what is this place?”

“Eh, I come up here to think,” Robert said. “I thought you’d like it.”

“I love it,” Damien said. “It might not be the peace of the cemetery, on most nights at least, but it is…exquisite.” They sat in silence, each man on his own side of the truck’s cabin, looking at the view, eventually re-attempting to eat their fare from the picnic basket. And sooner than Damien expected, the brief fright earlier was forgotten, and there was only welcome, shared peace.

Two hours later, with all their food consumed, Robert let out a sigh. He shook his head a bit, then said, “Dames… I’m sorry about before. I… Fuck, I’m tryin’ not to screw this up. Feels like every time I try, it goes wrong.”

Damien’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean? Before, we… We likely heard the caretaker, perhaps. Nothing wrong with that. We shouldn’t have been trespassing so late in the eve.”

“I wanted to have fun with you, Dames,” Robert said, sounding pained.

“And I am having a wonderful time,” Damien told him.

“Yeah, now,” Robert grumbled.

“…Are you not enjoying this?” Damien asked him, a hollow ache forming under his breastbone.

“I like bein’ with you,” Robert said. “I just…I dunno.” He looked away, out of his side window. Damien fidgeted with the edge of his cloak. What could he say to help Robert understand that he wasn’t disappointed in their evening? Perhaps the direct approach? He scooted himself over the slightly cracked and split seat, getting closer to the older man.

“I enjoy my time with you, as well,” Damien said. “I would not have sent you a bouquet, otherwise.” He saw Robert grin in the reflection of his window.

“It was okay.”

“It was a form of my admiration,” Damien said. “Just as this… I hope…is a form of yours?” He hated to think that Robert would take just anyone to this magnificent view of the town.

Robert turned his head to look at him. “Only for people who matter.” Damien felt his cheeks heating from flush. His eyes widened a touch and stayed locked on Robert’s face. This man was full of so much tenderness beneath that rough, roguish façade; how miraculous was it that Damien was granted the chance to see so much of the true man beneath the leather and fables?

Abruptly, Robert’s face twisted, and the man grunted, “Fucking damn it,” before he was moving fast over the seats, hands grabbing Damien’s lapels and pushing him backward, pinning him against his door. “There’s only so much a man can take of that face.”

“Wh-What? What face? I--”

That face!” Robert snapped. “When you look at me like—like I’m somethin’… Somethin’ good. Somethin’…needed.”

Damien’s heart was squeezes, as if the hands on him reached in between his ribs to hold and crush the muscle. “You are,” Damien breathed. “Robert… By God, Robert, I… I’ve wanted you for some time.”

Robert groaned, dropping his head against Damien’s shoulder. Damien’s breathing hitched and paused as he felt the heat of the other man’s body so near his neck and jaw, felt Robert’s body settling against his own. “I’m tryin’ to take this slow,” Robert said. “And it’s hard when you gimme that look—I wanna do so much to you, but I don’t wanna scare you off.”

When Damien regained his ability to breathe, he took a deep inhalation, catching the scents of Robert’s soap, the faint trace of cigarette smoke, and a heavy musk he always smelled off of Robert whenever the two were in close quarters.

“If…If slow is what you wish,” Damien said at last, “Then… There are still things we can do that I-I promise will certainly not ‘scare me.’”

Robert raised his head and, yet again, their eyes met. Dark brown irises glanced down at Damien’s mouth in a silent request. Damien took another breath, and tilted his head, lowering his eyelids. His consent was given.

The searing heat of Robert’s mouth to his caused him to shudder. The kiss was slow, in the beginning. Damien felt the older man’s lips were settling into the shape, the curve of his own. Robert’s stubble pricked at Damien’s clean-shaven skin, but he did not pull away. Damien decided to encourage a bit more…action. He barely parted their mouths, then licked at Robert’s bottom lip before drawing it up for a nip.

The action seemed to cause a severe reaction in Robert; a mere bite to the lip, and the other man’s rough, dark hands were suddenly cupping Damien’s head, fingers tangling in his long locks, and devouring him! Robert made short, hard kisses, sometimes biting at him, sometimes inserting his tongue in. Damien whined in his throat, and returned the kisses with equaled fervor, while his hands shot up under Robert’s jacket. He needed to feel him. Needed to touch him! Take his heat, absorb it, melt against it. He tugged Robert’s shirt up and ran his fingertips against the hard muscles he felt under the skin. As Robert moved his kisses down along Damien’s chin and jaw, he altered his grasp to run his long, black nails up Robert’s sides. Robert growled—like a beast hungering flesh! Then the other man pulled back and unbuttoned his jeans. Fabric shuffled as Robert pulled his phallace from his front flap and Damien had to fight the urge to faint. Oh, he knew that ‘a man of wax’ meant perfection, but Robert was beyond any piece of artwork he could imagine. Robert’s cock was just as dark as the rest of him, his tip practically swelling out of his foreskin.

Damien was so fixated on Robert’s shaft that he hadn’t noticed Robert fumbling with his own trousers. Panic surged up past his arousal, and Damien grabbed Robert’s wrist just as it entered his undergarments. “Wait!”

Robert stopped immediately. He looked up. “You wanna stop?”

Damien gasped, “I—No but-”

Robert took his hand back.  “That’s still a yes.” He began to tuck his beautiful erection back into his jeans, but Damien reached forward to grip him. Perhaps in his haste he’d done so too hard, because Robert hissed through his teeth at the contact.

“I want this,” Damien told him, hearing the pleading in his tone, but not ashamed of it. “I want you. But I…I’m not the same there. I...” Clearly, Damien thought, the one who would be scared off would be Robert. He took his own hand from Robert’s cock, and turned his face toward the seat’s rest.

They were still for a moment before Robert took Damien’s hand back and placed it again on his length. “Then you take the lead,” Robert told him. “Touch yourself while you get me off, sweetheart—I want us to feel good together.”

Damien’s eyes nearly watered. Still, he did as the other man asked. He gave Robert’s cock long strokes. Each motion elicited a moan from Robert, and Damien watched him close his eyes and brace against the seat before rocking into Damien’s hand. Damien waited until Robert seemed achieve steadiness with his thrusts before he reached into his own trousers. He whimpered as he sought his own wet heat and his smaller erection, and quickly caught up to Robert’s pace.

“Ro- Robert!” Damien gasped. He returned his gaze to Robert’s face, watching his reactions to his touch. Robert looked enraptured. Transcended to some place beyond his rough exterior. He looked on the verge of utter bliss.

“I’m close, sweetheart,” Robert said between panting breaths. “Fuck, I’m so damn close, baby, squeeze me!”

“Why?” Damien asked.

“Just do it—make me feel it! Make me cum, baby, and hurt me!”

Damien didn’t quite understand, but he was also close to his release. He grew rougher and harder with his strokes to Robert, squeezing at the man’s length, while his touch upon himself likewise grew more aggressive. Damien started to groan and yelp as he felt the approaching apex. He saw Robert throw his head back and scream before his semen erupted from his tip, coating Damien’s wan fingers in its pearlescent ropes. Damien shut his eyes tight, and thrust himself wildly against his own hand, unable to hold back any longer.

“Robert! Robert! God, Robert!”

“That’s it, baby, let go,” Robert coaxed, breathless and reaching to hold him. “Cum for me, sweetheart.” Damien relented, obeyed, and fell, blinding and magnificent, into the welcoming abyss.

As he came down from the high of orgasm, the two men held on to one another, draped along the truck’s seats, and surrounded by the darkness, the chirps of crickets, and occasional call of night-born creatures, with only their breaths joining the cacophony.

Eventually, they cleaned their hands, straightened their clothing. But it was for naught. Damien felt and, as he inspected himself in the passenger’s visor-mirror, he looked debauched. Robert had stains showing through his shirt, as well, and a few still on his jeans, but he seemed to care little for it.

“So…Don’t wanna spoil the afterglow,” Robert said as he put the truck in gear. “Any reason why you…didn’t want me to do that?”

Damien looked out of his window. “I am certain that Mary has mentioned my…medical history.”

“Yeah.”

“Well. When I first began my transitioning, I attempted…corrective surgery.”

“Yeah?”

“I…there was a complication. An infection. I was in the hospital longer than anticipated. Lucien was much younger, then, and in the care of his friends’ parents. I was…scared that if I attempted further, something would happen.” Damien stared out of the passenger window, at the passing forest as it gave way slowly to civilization. “Lucien and I have only one another in this world. I couldn’t ever risk leaving him alone, just as I shudder at the thought of losing him.”

Such things were not shared lightly, for Damien. He hoped Robert would sense the trust he was placing in him with this knowledge. He seemed to take it and answered, “You love your kid a lot. Are you fine with your, uh…current place?”

“I am on hormones. I can still achieve pleasure. I look as I wish to; I’m satisfied.” He glanced back at Robert. The other man nodded.

“Okay. Just between us, though,” Robert said, “That was hot as hell.” He looked over to Damien. “If you wanna do that again, I’m game.”

“P-perhaps not every time,” Damien answered. “But… Yes. I want to again.”

“Whatever you want, sweetheart.”