Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go to? The grave.
The lights of the merry-go-round flash their cotton candy colors deep inside the bell-cap above him, a note striking each light to life. When the starlight calliope plays its black-eyed lullaby, Edgar thinks he can hear the echo of another human life flashing and fading with each note. He watches the black abyss above the carnival swirl with fog from the back of a fantastical beast sculpted in fiberglass, a screaming mare that ends with the tail of a fish lacquered still in the middle of a thrash.
The machinery sleeps beneath him, dreaming of lights in its bell-cap. In the stillness, he feels more than sees Nny watching him from the yellow grass.
“Little bird, little bird,” the ringmaster whisper-calls, a countermelody to the delicate whirling of the calliope. “Where will you go? The winter has come and taken your home.”
Edgar looks down at him. He doesn’t know the song. He doesn’t know if it’s even a real song. Under his hand, the post of the merry-go-round is cold and smooth, twisted like a golden rope. Maybe you spend this long listening to the calliope and you start to breathe it like air.
Johnny Sea glides along the autumn ground, one slow step after another, his hands folded behind his back. “Your bones are in the cookpot, your grave is in the leaves…”
The tips of his black gloves light on the railing as he leans up, eyes glowing with their luminescent predator's film. His bones glow beneath his skin. He lifts a hand, reaching up for Edgar, cloth and metacarpals, and the fingers curl with longing.
“Come down to me, little bird. Make your home in my eaves.”
The first dawn that Edgar passed with the carnival went by in a daze, a dreamlike scattering of memories. He swears he remembers Nny laying him down against stiff silk, gentle but pitiless fingers, a chaise or a coffin; he remembers laughter, whooping with delight as other voices, farther away, cawed like crows.
There’s a room for him here, among the trailers and tents of the October People, pitched along the far end of the fair grounds. It is all blue and blackening silver in this place, and it glows with broken pearls, with the reflection of his face watching him uncertainly from the foggy mirror. He can feel that there is something different about this place, his place, cool in the bloody golden chaos of the carnival.
One side of the tent is a dressing area. The other side is a bedroom.
“Why all this?” he asked Nny, the first or perhaps second night, while the ringmaster watched him hungrily from the corner of the space. He turned from the rough hemp net that holds his curtain in place, twists of the thread caught between his fingers. “Why not something like Tess has, with all the…” he waved an uneasy hand, heart twanging. “The chains.”
Nny tilted his head. The silver-green circles of his predator eyes flashed. “You made your deal,” he said. “Tess made hers.”
The first night, or perhaps the second night, Sharktooth came to get him. He appeared at the entrance to Edgar’s tent in his heavy boots, his hand impatiently perched on his hip, scowling in his skeletal makeup.
“Look alive, Dollface,” he said, scattering the dreamy shadows that had held Edgar in their sway for countless hours before his arrival. “Bossman wants me to give you the tour.”
Looking at the young man—the scarlet slash of his coat, the glint of his buckles, all of him stark and hard—Edgar blinked away a fuzziness he hadn’t known had overtaken him. Reality seemed to crash in on him all at once, leaving him exposed and startled in its wake. In the cool gloom of his new home, he pressed a palm to his naked chest and winced.
“Oh,” he said, “um—sure, let me just—”
“Aw hell,” Sharktooth said, as Edgar went stumbling over to the little chest of clothing. “Get out here now or I’ll drag you out myself. I ain’t got time to watch you put your face on.”
Edgar paused, something gauzy and completely unfamiliar to him suspended in his hands. “Well that’s a bit rich,” he said, “coming from someone who was doing his literal makeup during our first conversation.”
Sharktooth pointed a talon at his cheek. “This is my job.”
The billow of white fabric was a long jacket, fitted at the wrists, which Edgar hastily pulled on. It did not do anything to fix the fact that his chest was bare, but for fear of making his guide any testier, Edgar resigned himself to it and scrambled out of the tent. “Did you give Tess a tour as well?” he asked, tugging futilely at the collar of the jacket.
Sharktooth made a derisive little noise. “That pity party was a regular feature here a long time before I ever bought a ticket. Come on, I got rehearsal soon.”
He moved fast, marching across the damp earth, and nearly left Edgar alone beneath the swirling fog. Edgar followed the scarlet slash of his coat through the twilight, between dark barrels and under sagging canvas signs.
At the heavy wooden edge of something half-tent and half building, its back pasted with posters for a hundred sickly miracles, Sharktooth stopped long enough to slap a palm hollowly against the wood. “Freak show,” he said. “Pretty soon this baby is gonna overflow with desperate housewives and failed con men just itching for one last gamble. Should carry us through the rest of the season.”
“Oh,” Edgar said, uneasily. “Is that where most people who make deals…?”
Sharktooth flashed his terrifying incisors, pearly and razor sharp. “Wouldn’t you have liked to be the amazing living candle, hot stuff? One night only, a show to remember.”
Edgar pulled his jacket close around himself, shivering against the cold wind that stirred the twilight. For a moment the young man’s eyes flashed like his pearly teeth, laying Edgar bare beneath them, and then all at once the look was snuffed out. He turned on his heel and set off again, calling back, “Hurry up!”
In the foggy maze of the carnival, Sharktooth showed Edgar the exhibition tents and the strange games and the carousel with its baroque mirrored ceiling, alive with lights. Each time he drew Edgar close to show him a detail, he withdrew just as quickly.
After a while, Edgar said, “It seems awfully bare staffed,” peering into the darkness of a tent where a beautiful and sullen woman was practicing contortions. “You must need more hands than this, to pack up the tents and the rides when you go.”
“It ain’t that kinda show,” Sharktooth told him, something almost like pride lighting his barely-human face. “The world comes to us.”
“But,” Edgar said, “when we found it, in the arboretum, there was this—”
“I know, Jesus fuck, you don’t gotta tell me your whole sob story again.” He jerked the flap the tent closed in front of himself and turned on Edgar, expression sour. “Don’t be so literal. If you wanna survive around here, you’re gonna have to get wise fast. The boss might like you, but that don’t mean shit if you stick your hand in the wrong dark crevice.”
Edgar licked his lip. “Right,” he said. “Um…”
Sharktooth narrowed his eyes. “What.”
“Well. You said something earlier about when you bought a ticket…”
Sharktooth flung open a hand in a full-stop warning. “No,” he said. “I know what you’re gonna ask and you can save your breath.”
“I just thought,” Edgar said, “if you were like me, we’d have some common ground.”
“Having a mother is not common ground,” Sharktooth snarled. “A trailer in Missouri is not common ground. You and me, we don’t got common ground! I tracked this monster across six states and I worked my ass off to get this life. You’re just another mark!”
Edgar took an involuntary step back, heel hitting a stack of crates.
“You’re a pretty bird somebody stuffed in a cage,” Sharktooth said, bearing down on him, “and they wanna keep you cause you sing so pretty, but me, I know what you’re good for when the curtain comes down.”
He reached out, twisting his taloned fingers in the sheer fabric of Edgar’s jacket, and pulled him close. His every edge was relentless and intent, and in his grip Edgar felt lightheaded.
“You cause me any trouble and I’ll crunch your little bird bones like fucking popcorn,” he said. “I will eat you alive, Edgar Vargas.”
Time doesn’t pass in the October country the way it passes elsewhere. Edgar is analytical by nature, but even for him it is difficult to keep track of the hours. Maybe it’s more difficult, because he is so analytical. Before he came here, he lived his life by a series of planners and alarms.
On an early night, when Edgar was still fresh and woefully confused by it all—the murky passage of time and the ghostly shapes that haunted the stalls, the way he could stare at his reflection for so long that he ceased almost to recognize it entirely—Johnny Sea came to visit him.
Edgar caught the soft sound of a breath sighing out and turned to find him at the edge of the vanity, craning his neck up to observe the ceiling. The antique silver chains that hung from the poles of the ceiling swayed in some unseen wind, or some deep insidious tide. Each of their glass-tipped ends glowed in the candle light.
“It suits you,” Nny said, reverently touching a single glowing shard. “It’s exquisite. Like you are.”
A pang of something almost painfully sweet knocked the breath out of Edgar, hard and intense. For a moment he was certain that anything he might have sold to be here was worth it, just to bear that feeling one more time. But then the feeling faded, and Edgar was cold again in the candlelight.
“That’s kind of you to say,” he replied, but distantly.
“Jimmy tells me you’re settling in,” Nny said. “Well actually, what he tells me is a lot of shit that I didn’t ask to hear, the devil knows why I didn’t mute that degenerate when I signed him on, but you were in there somewhere. Did you like the tour?”
Jimmy? Edgar thought, and then shook the thought away.
“What did you mean,” Edgar said, “when you said Tess and I made different deals?”
Nny crossed his arms in front of himself. “Oh, you know Tess. She tried to get clever with me there in the middle. We had a lot of fun that day! Me trying to lure her to her untimely death, her trying desperately to maintain her life and sanity - taffy, kettle corn…”
Edgar thought for a moment about the lonely sounds of chains in that dark hollow beneath the starless sky, of Tess’s ragged tearful breathing. It occurred to him that what he regretted after all wasn’t so much his decision to take Nny’s hand as his inability to do anything for the only other human being in this monstrous underworld.
(Edgar has gone back to see her a number of times since that first night, and it has never once ended well.)
Nny flicked his wrist, shattering the memory. “Clever Tess! She caught on just in time. Fast talker, that one. You know she wanted to save me too. Well, at first…” He pursed his thin lips. “I don’t suppose she’s forgiven me yet. But you know how it goes with scorpions and frogs. We can’t help our nature.”
“And me?” Edgar asked.
Nny uncrossed his arms, thoughtfully, and came towards the cot, the striped silk of his coat lining flickering in the dim light. “You could have been free,” he said, “and you knew it. That means something. For your freedom, Edgar-Edgar-Vargas, with your hot little twitching heart, you could buy any prize.”
And then, as Edgar held his breath in something almost fear, almost longing, Nny settled onto his knees at Edgar’s feet. His lighthouse eyes looked up at Edgar, expressionless and alien, as he lifted his fleshless fingers up to Edgar’s cheek. The tips of his ivory digits hovered just above the skin.
“You wanted a home,” he said. “I’ve given you mine.”
The crowds come at night, smelling of smog and fast food grease, whole and human and carefree. Edgar watches them sometimes, how they move in herds through the carnival as the hungry machine picks off the weak and the careless and siphons them away into its dark stomach—rough and reckless boys eager to impress their uneasy dates, third wheels, precocious children.
This is their busiest season. Well that’s no surprise. The season of death, blood on the stones, the dying daylight. In this country it’s always October, so how he’ll know when the calendar truly changes is anybody’s guess. It was on an evening as he was avoiding Tenna--who was friendly in the absolute most disconcerting way and who kept asking him if he’d be willing to part with a finger or two, for purposes no doubt nefarious and perhaps cannibalistic--that Edgar finally found himself drawn into the mechanics of the monster.
There was a hollow thump on the crate below him, at which point Edgar looked down to find Sharktooth in full death-paint, sneering up at him.
“What are you,” he said, “the new lightning rod? Hell’s bells, we’re sure getting our money’s worth out of you.”
“It’s good to see you too,” Edgar sighed. He wasn’t being entirely sarcastic. For all that the showman never seemed pleased to see him, he was at the very least a familiar face in this unpredictable other world.
“If you’re not doing anything up there,” Sharktooth said, “maybe you wanna come down here and make yourself useful.”
A frisson of interest caught Edgar by surprise. He considered the twilight for a moment, the damp wood beneath his hands, and then leapt down to the earth. He found the idea of spending any time with this strange creature as intriguing as the midnight call of a lamp-lit street, a mystery and an omen all in one.
The moment Edgar touched the ground, Sharktooth turned away from him, flipping up the wool edges of his collar. “I got a new toy for the show,” he said, “I need a warm body to test it out on.”
An odd anticipation prickled through Edgar’s guts. “What kind of toy are we talking about?” he said.
“Easier to just show you.”
They picked their way through a maze of construction, under hollow-eyed strongmen lifting fresh signs for new exhibits, around the swollen footage of the freakshow. Edgar followed close on the showman’s heels, thinking a thousand curious thoughts. When he pulled back the tent flap to allow Edgar entrance, the single brief moment of passing underneath his shoulder filled Edgar with another wash of that prickling anticipation.
It was dim here, the only light radiating up from below, from the set that sprawled sullenly across the ground. Edgar froze at the entrance, terrified by the shadow in the glowing murk. At the center of the ring was a clear tank more than twice the height of a man, in which something moved like living thunder. He jolted, sucking in a shock of air, when sharp tipped fingers closed down on either of his shoulders, hairs prickling down the back of his neck.
“How about that?” Sharktooth said, a smirk twisting the edges of his voice. “You like swimming in the shark tank, don’t you, Vargas? You wanna take a dip?”
“I’m not dressed for swimming,” Edgar said, mentally swearing at himself even as he said it.
The creature behind him let out a snarl of laughter, squeezing and then discarding him. “Then you’re not gonna like the box,” he said, making his way lazily across the stage.
With a snap of his fingers, limelight splintered the darkness. On a platform below the tank, there was a box full almost to the top with luminous water, strung with chains. Inside its depth, open manacles drifted heavily. Sharktooth stopped in front of it and rapped it with his knuckles, baring his teeth.
“Daring escapes!” he said, “Miraculous revivals! A damsel in the jaws of death!”
Above him, strung in lights like a theater marquee, the words JAWS OF DEATH flashed and faded.
“Here,” he said, shaking out his wrists, “it goes like this.”
And then he threw out his arm towards the audience, to a ghostly swell of applause. “You, yes, any one of you!” he called out, passing his hand over the empty seats. “Any one of you may suddenly find yourself helpless in the jaws of death! To survive, ladies and gentlemen, you must surrender to the peril! Let your body succumb to the unknown, let it taste you—let it know you!”
His passage over the dark arena broke over Edgar, his gaze pausing as it lit there. For the first time, there was no irritation or impatience in his blacked out eyes, nothing save pure and sultry invitation. His open hand, thrown out before him, crooked into a gesture of summoning. Edgar felt his throat go hot.
“You there,” Sharktooth purred, “won’t you come up to the stage? The abyss is hungry to know you—it’s calling your name, pretty thing.”
Hot and dizzy with the pressure of that unbroken gaze, Edgar felt himself take an automatic step forward. His toe scuffed the sawdust.
But before he could more than begin to move, Sharktooth flicked his fingers and cut the lights. “Of course it would be a girl for the real thing,” he said, shooting the rows of the audience a dismissive sneer. “A wet pair of tits, that’s all these troglodytes wanna see. You gotta give the people what they want, more flies with honey, yadda yadda.”
As he turned his attention back to Edgar, Sharktooth narrowed his eyes. “Hold on, Vargas,” he said, “—were you about to come up here?” At Edgar’s mortified silence, he clutched his hair, caught somewhere between fury and laughter. “Fuck me, you are the easiest mark I’ve ever goddamn seen.”
Edgar flushed. He bent down and, to avoid making further eye contact, brushed imaginary wrinkles out of his lightweight pants. After a moment, the wheeze of furious laughter died away.
“Anyway, the box is new,” Sharktooth carried on, righting himself. “I’m not sure what the effect in action is gonna be. You’ll be alright for a practice dummy.”
“I feel like you’re being unnecessarily insulting,” Edgar said, “for someone who apparently needs my help.”
“I don’t need your help,” Sharktooth corrected him. “You just happen to be the only person not doing anything useful right now.”
“So ask Tenna,” Edgar said. “I know for a fact she’s slacking off. She’s been after my fingers for hours.”
“Uhhhhggh, no,” Sharktooth said, addressing his complaint to the ceiling. “Fine, I’ll be like. The minimum of nice to you if you’ll just help me with this death trap.”
“Well,” Edgar said, "alright," and made his way up the steps.
“What,” Sharktooth said, “just like that?”
Edgar shrugged off his jacket and set it down in a neat roll beside the box. “Honestly, I want to see the rest of the act. Anyway, I’m already bought and sold, there’s not much you can do to me now.”
Sharktooth cocked his hip, a grin slowly twisting the corner of his mouth. “Nah… I can’t take your soul,” he said, “you’re right about that. But what’s gonna stop me from taking your life?”
And then he snapped his fingers.
The world went cloudy and green tinted, in the very moment that Edgar’s heart screamed into panic in his chest. The cool weight of water closed and held him—glass bumped his fingertips—the loose fabric his white clothing went translucent as it dragged against him, drifted in the crushing space. Through the glass he could make out nothing except the shape of a man, one finger tapping a place just above Edgar’s head.
Air. The first thing he needed was air. He had seen a thin empty space at the top of the box—this thing was not actually designed to kill him, just shake him up a bit. As he kicked up, his toes bumped glass. He reached through the water and wrapped a length of chain around his wrist, lifting himself up to the surface, where he coughed and glared blearily down at the laughing figure below him.
“You could at least have let me take off my glasses first,” he said.
The hand clapped to muffle Sharktooth’s laughter was smudged with white greasepaint. “Gotta keep on your toes,” he managed.
Edgar blew out a wet puff of air as Sharktooth pulled himself together and stepped back, giving the tank a thorough look over. He held his hands up in the shape of a picture frame.
“Okay,” he said, after a moment, “that’s not bad. It’ll look better with the cuffs.”
Edgar eyed the open ends of the manacles. “Fool me once, shame on me,” he said. “Fool me twice, I don’t think so.”
Sharktooth scoffed. “Look,” he said, “there’s a whole routine here, I’m not actually gonna kill you. Johnny’d turn my gills inside out for one thing.”
Edgar considered him for a moment, measuring the likelihood of that thought. Although he was wary of this place—of the interest of cats in mice—something in his gut told him that there was too much left undone for this to be the end of the line. The nature of this fairy tale was beginning to come clear in the back of his head. “Yeah?”
Sharktooth grinned up at him. “Yeah.”
The grin faltered. “Seriously? Seriously? You’re not even gonna make me fight for it?”
Edgar untangled himself from the length of chain, ready to let go as directed. “You know how it is with scorpions and frogs,” he said, with a wry smile. “I guess we just don’t get tired of being stung.”
For a moment, through the wetness of his glasses and the glare of the stage lights, Edgar could not make out the exact nature of the expression on the face below him. And then there was a blur of motion, the movement of a hand, and matter shifted in the depths below him. A heavy tightness pulled his ankles, dragging him down below the surface once and for all.
It was a slow process of sinking, the buoyancy of his lungs fighting against the weight dragging him down. His wrists, secured behind his back, left him little to struggle with. Although his body rippled with the panic of a drowning thing, his mind was oddly calm. He could see the shape of his captor through the glass, motionless, and understood that he was being watched with rapt fascination.
Surrender, the memory of that showman’s pitch played again in his mind, succumb—
In the depth that drew him down, his clothing translucent against his thighs, Edgar allowed himself to settle at the bottom of the tank. His knees parted until they met glass on either side; the pressure in his lungs burned hot. Under the green swirl he was dreamily aware of the weight on his body, lovely and dire. He lifted his chin and breathed out a stream of bubbles, thinking—well, in for a penny…
There was no use in fighting his nature. It was becoming clear that he would eat the apple again and again, given half the chance to damn himself.
The sound of the snap rang through the tank like the crack of lightning. All at once the clarity of thin air opened up around Edgar—light burst over him—and he stumbled over the ground, falling against Sharktooth’s chest. Wool scratched the peaks of his bare nipples, hard from the chill.
Sharktooth startled, his hands coming up and closing automatically against Edgar’s shoulders. His skin was strangely cold, despite the fact that Edgar was dripping wet and just about anything ought to be warm by comparison. Goosebumps prickled under the sharp grip.
“Holy hell,” Sharktooth muttered, “forget the wet tits, that’s a show.”
In between heaving gasps, Edgar managed to reply, “—Thanks.”
Sharktooth stiffened. He pried Edgar off of himself, but his grip was tight—for all that he was pushing Edgar away, he didn’t seem quite able to let go. “You’re a reckless son of a bitch,” he said.
“Well,” Edgar said. “I obviously didn’t get where I am by being measured and reasonable.”
The showman’s gaze drifted down, over the length of Edgar’s prickling skin, to the sodden cling of the white fabric against his hips. Edgar suddenly did not feel particularly cold anymore.
Sharktooth let go as if burned. “Fucking Jesus, next time put some clothes on,” he said, jerking the skewed lapels of his coat back into place. Buttons flashing, blackened lips twisted into a scowl, he snatched up Edgar’s jacket and shoved it into his hands.
Edgar accepted the bundle, but made no move to redress. “I appreciate you not murdering me,” he said.
“You better stop tempting me to,” the showman muttered, and stomped away into the darkness beyond the stage, until the curtains swallowed him and even the sound of his boots was no longer audible.
Edgar pulled on his jacket, one wet arm at a time. “I think that went well,” he informed the leviathan in the tank, who had nothing to contribute at that time.
In the strange murky hours between shows—in the twilight quiet, after the calliope has fallen silent—Johnny Sea lays his death mask cheek on Edgar’s thigh.
He is luminous, deadly, but he allows Edgar to run his gentle human fingers through his hair. Bloodless knuckles hang over Edgar’s thigh, twitching as he talks. He is as skittish as a stray when it comes to touch, complaining at times that the heat of Edgar’s body burns him. But he will lay his head on Edgar’s clothed thigh, his razor cheek bone cradled in the dip of thighs, and fill the darkness with the strange violet light of his poisonous beauty.
“The Summer Country is full of so many stories,” he sighs one night, his fingers twitching like the muscles of a dreaming animal. “Have you ever seen The Real Housewives? Mighty fuck, that is entertainment. Sometimes I long for the sweet music of any fucking thing that isn’t the noise inside my head.”
Edgar pauses, palm cupping the back of Nny’s head. “Is it loud?”
“Deafening,” Nny mutters. “A thousand screaming ghosts, the dead and the dying crying out from the sepulchers of the deep in persistent agony, demanding to know whether bellbottoms are still in fashion.”
“They are not,” Edgar says, with certainty. “Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to ask, but… is there anything I can do to help you?”
Even as he says it, he finds that his chest is tightening, full of that same strange and aching wonder from the night of their first meeting—the sensation of standing before a stormy sea, determined to shine his small and flickering light down into the crashing dark. He has been rebuffed once. He doesn't know what the consequences of trying once more will be.
Nny is quiet for a long moment. Beneath his skin, he radiates light like a nuclear holocaust. His gaze lengthens and falls distant. “Tell me a story?” he says.
Edgar tells him a story.
The next night, he tells him another.
It started with a necklace. This one was a heavy silver torque, the half-moon twist of a perfect freshwater pearl suspended from its V. It was objectively gorgeous, and he had definitely never seen anything like it before, so he couldn’t understand how it came to be shoved underneath his pillow when he woke up, with no memory of its being deposited there. It was almost certainly Nny’s doing. By the time he was dressed that morning, he had determined he was going to get to the bottom of it once and for all.
It’s not that Edgar was against wearing jewelry, it’s just that he never… asked for it? Or gave any indication that he was interested in it? And somehow he had accumulated enough bangles and bracelets now to fill an actual jewelry box.
The walk to Nny’s place was a confused meandering between trailers and tents, the black weather-vane of his private residence never seeming to grow any closer. It was an odd structure even for a place like this, a patchwork thrown together from sheets of rusting tin and stained canvas, sections of its roof poking up through the cloth like the shoulders of a misshapen and starving animal. Edgar let himself into the front space, where odds and ends of countless decades sat heaped in no particular order, wheels of enormous ancient bicycles spinning gloomily in the stacks above his passage.
As he came to the back of the room, he stopped at the sound of voices from beyond the curtain. That one he knew—the snide nasal whine was reduced, somehow, but still unmistakable.
“—while I got you,” Sharktooth said. “I was wondering if you’d be alright with some changes to my show? I can run ‘em by you real fast, if you want.”
There was a part in the curtain, through which a sliver of the space beyond was visible. Edgar leaned in closer, peering through it, and caught half a glance of Johnny Sea’s workshop, a gloomy and cluttered darkness teaming with uncanny shapes and shadows.
“And what suddenly has possessed you,” Nny said, “to seek my approval for your show?”
There was an uncomfortable pause. Fleshless fingers hovered over the milky white eyes of a human body as still as a mannequin’s, its only hint of previous life the blotchy red color of its skin. Alcoholism, Edgar diagnosed; with ears that discolored, almost certainly there was alcoholism involved.
“I dunno,” Sharktooth said. “I just thought I should make sure I’m on the same page with your whole vision here, still. Keep to the company line, you know.”
“Okay,” Nny said, unconvinced.
“I do good work here, right?” Sharktooth said, with a brittle brightness that nearly made Edgar wince. “I mean, I bring a lot to the table, don’t I? I’m a good investment.”
Edgar poked a finger between the curtains and pushed it just a little more open, until he was able to see fully the way that the young man stood there, fingers twisted tight behind his back as he rocked on his heels.
Nny turned to him, with some hellish implement glinting in his hand. “When you came to me,” he said, “before you even touched the dust of my workshop, I already knew every black desire in your filthy little heart. Your sins are no mystery to me and mine. Your guilt—” he said, touching the wicked tip of his tool to white throat, “your bitterness—” the touch came to rest against his chest, just above his heart, “—your fear.”
Sharktooth held himself still, as the tool came to rest against his unprotected belly, but the twist of his expression was almost too raw to bear observation.
Nny flicked the implement back into his palm and closed his fingers around it. “I took you as you were, every rotten inch of you, because you convinced me that you understood what this place meant. What its existence matters to the great grey legions of the daylight world, although it is lowly and forgotten in this dreary age.”
He turned, stalking into the depths of the uncanny darkness, his arms opening as if to an audience. “Consequence!” he said, “Retribution! There must be a remembrance for the sleepless dead, and that remembrance is blood! A price for every petty evil, every unthinking cruelty— the ungrateful summer world, hot with life and hunger and overpriced coffee drinks! Lattes in the middle of August! Air conditioners to cool the lattes!”
He whirled, his glinting fist pointed straight at Sharktooth.
“You convinced me that you understood,” he said. “The dark and misshapen live in shame; we subsist on the blood of those who oppress us, as parasites in their shadow, and yet! In this evil we are granted some shred of dignity, to persevere under our own terms. You understand this?”
“Yeah,” Sharktooth said, his dry voice rasping. “Of course.”
“Then you belong here,” Nny said, abruptly dropping the manic drama of his soliloquy.
“Oh,” Sharktooth said. He pulled at the lapel of his coat, drawing into himself. “I just—don’t want to disappoint you.”
For the first time, Edgar regretted his eavesdropping. This was too much, too different from the hostile posturing of every moment before. Sharktooth would not want him to hear this, that much he was sure of. Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
“You’re—” Sharktooth said, “you’re the only person who ever gave me half a chance, I’m—everything I am I owe you, everything I’ve done for you made me more—made me stronger—”
“Hero worship,” Nny said, “is the worm in your otherwise quite fetching corpse. Don’t worry about what I think of you. I’ve always known you were an irredeemable reprobate.”
“Come here,” Nny said. He crossed his arms, waiting impatiently as Sharktooth shuffled across the ground to him. When they were a handbreadth apart, Nny lifted his finger and gestured for the younger man to turn his face.
“Your lids are showing skin,” he said, reaching into one of the many pockets of his heavy overcoat. “Here,” he said, and presented a thin black pencil.
“Oh,” Sharktooth said, hesitating to accept, his fingers curling uncertainly against his palm. “Thanks.”
“Keep it,” Nny said. As he returned to his living project, leaving the young man adrift in his wake, he lifted his hand and gave the room at large a dismissive flick of the wrist. “It’s a good investment,” he said.
The crowd rolls in, without rest, from the moment the last of the twilight fades from this little underworld. Edgar watches them for a while, thinking of himself as both party and outsider to their mortal concerns. He watches them funneling into Sharktooth’s tent, squeezing each other’s shoulders, spilling popcorn. It must be a hell of a show, if the shrill of gleeful screams are any indication. Somewhere between telling himself that he’ll just pass by for a listen and actually passing by, Edgar finds his hand on the red stripe of canvas. He wonders if the creature on the stage is thinking of him, as he weaves his siren summons for the delight of the audience. He wonders which gentle lady will fill the space that his body christened first.
Edgar pulls the tent open and slips inside, tucking himself into the empty place behind the bleachers. The darkness glows with the light that flashes on the leviathan’s back, its rows of saw-bladed teeth, the crash of its titanic neck. Edgar watches the crowd reel back in fear, all of their faces cast in green underlight, and feels a strange sense of pride and jealousy.
Afterwards, as the crowd files out (short a body or two, now), Sharktooth reaches for a coil of rope on the floor, his back to the dwindling audience. Edgar makes his way up to the front and perches on the barrier that separates the stage from the seats.
“I like your show. The part I saw, anyway,” he says, palms against the barrier as he leans forward.
Sharktooth stops, hand on the rope, before snatching it up.
“Do you want something?” he says, without turning.
Edgar considers this. His heel taps the barrier gently. “You know I can’t go home,” he says.
“Yeah,” Sharktooth says, “I was there.”
“I mean I can’t ever go home,” Edgar says. “I still feel like a spectator, like I’m waiting for closing time but it never comes. I feel like a person trying to live inside of a museum.” He tries to ignore the leviathan as it grinds its huge, open maw against the glass tank, not many feet away. “Wouldn’t that be weird? Sleeping in the wax figure’s bedrooms? Brushing your teeth in public?”
“Can’t be worse than living out of a truckstop,” Sharktooth mutters.
His coat, the red and black wool, shines with brass buttons. Underneath it all, Edgar notices for the first time, he is the kind of thin that screams of boxcars and alleyways, flesh barely enough to cover the taper of his waist.
Edgar tilts his head. “You came from out there,” he says. “Now you live here.”
Sharktooth turns to Edgar for the first time, his glinting black lips pressed thin. “Where’re you going with this?”
“Was it hard for you?” Edgar asks him. He’s losing steam as the words he practiced get jumbled on his tongue. “I just wonder—how it comes so easily to you now—”
The fragility of this moment crackles in the air, a single hard breath away from shattering. “I was born with a death sentence,” Sharktooth says, jaw working under his white cheek. “In a singlewide with every spare son of a bitch in the county breathing down my neck. I never had the luxury of a private life.”
“What do you mean?” Edgar says.
Sharktooth breaks his gaze at last, focusing on the looping and knotting of his rope as he says, “I got in the usual way, the first time. Hole in the rock quarry, footsteps, all that shit.” He slings the finished coil over his shoulder, marching away. “Difference between you ‘n me is, I was used to running.”
Edgar frowns, sliding down to his feet. “You think I had an easy life,” he says, trailing after.
“Course you did,” Sharktooth says, “you’re soft Vargas, the shit you pull—the risks you take—you believed the first fuckin thing I said to you, didn’t even stop to think if I was lying.”
“I see how that was not my best moment, in retrospect,” Edgar says, “but if you’re trying to say I deserved to get boiled into nutrient slush for it, I beg to differ.”
“Nobody deserves anything but what they get,” Sharktooth answers viciously. He tosses the rope up onto a hook at the side of the tank and keeps going.
Edgar thinks of poor Tess in her shivering limbo, a fate that’s hard to justify by any metric. He’s not as credulous as Sharktooth believes him to be. The trouble is, his skepticism came at just the wrong time.
“So you deserve this,” Edgar says, instead, nodding his chin up at the gloom of the canvas strung tent.
“I worked for this,” Sharktooth retorts. “I grind up boys like you to make my bread, and for that I get to turn the lights off when I’m ready to leave the stage.”
“And for your sins,” Edgar says, with a wry little shrug, “I guess you get me.”
Sharktooth bares his teeth in a mirthless little smile. “My first sin was a good American boy,” he says.
There is something grim and awful in that expression, in that tone of voice. It’s the black blossom of a bruise under the skin, the sound of a noose cinching closed. Edgar thinks that if he were smarter, he would recoil from it. Instead, he chases it.
“Back home,” he says, “I was a nothing. A no one. Sometimes I thought … if the wind came through too hard —” He blows into his empty hand, a puff of air he releases into the gloom, “—I’d just blow away.”
His fingers drop. Beyond them, Sharktooth is watching him warily.
He wonders if he should cop to the twisted counter he’s been keeping, the old if I had a nickel I’d be rich jar, which he is almost proud of in the way that some people are proud of the number of pins in their bones. The number of people who have fucked him because he was pliable and convenient and they were feeling drunk or depressed—the number of people who did not even remember him afterward—the number of people who, days or weeks after rearranging his organs, had the unmitigated gall to introduce themselves to him as if they had never met.
He finds himself running his fingers over the chains of the stage set, the intimately familiar manacles, the impossibly perfect glass angles, blown as if from a single molten bubble.
“My first sin,” he says, “I guess, was pretending that I didn’t mind.”
Above him there is rigging, chain and bars, intricate pulleys hidden in the shadows of the big top. He can see them glinting in the light of the water. An enormous eye blinks at him from beyond the murk, black as an unfeeling mirror. It must be something to be a part of this.
“Hey, stop that!” Sharktooth says, and all at once he is crowding against Edgar, peeling his wrist off the rigging by force. It’s the closest they’ve been since the fraught test-run, and Edgar’s heart gives a tremendous thump at the proximity.
“Fucking nosey,” Sharktooth mutters, hauling him back away from the set. “Who are you talkin to, me or Rahab?”
“You seem frustrated,” Edgar says.
“Frustrated!” Sharktooth says, his voice breaking.
“By me,” Edgar says, “specifically.”
“I’m frustrated,” Sharktooth said, “because you just—with your tight little— like constantly, I am trying to work here—”
Edgar muffles some doubtlessly unwelcome laughter against his wrist, watching the tempest in a tea cup that is this inarticulate rage. When Sharktooth has reduced himself to panting, shoulders heaving, Edgar says, “You’re the first person who has ever dreamed of implying I’m disruptive workplace influence.”
Sharktooth eyes him, hunched a little from his efforts.
“But I am,” Edgar says, his smile fading, “aren’t I…”
He hasn’t forgotten—cannot forget—the sight of this man trembling before the court of Johnny Sea’s judgment, the longing that softened his features as Johnny railed against the immorality of hot coffee, gentle as warm wax.
Sharktooth releases him. If Edgar didn’t know any better, he’d say the general affect here was one of sullen embarrassment. “You’re just—” the showman says, “You’ve just got too much time on your hands. You need something to do. Fuck knows you could stand to earn your keep around here.”
Edgar closes his hand around his wrist, still tingling from the rough handling, “I may sleep in a wax bed,” he says, with a depreciating smile, “but I’m not made of wax, am I?”
“I don’t know what you’re made of,” Sharktooth says, irritably. He reached up into the set, tugging something back into place that Edgar’s probing fingers displaced.
Edgar can’t help it. “If you’re curious,” he says, brushing out his clothing so he won’t have to watch the expression that comes over that face, “I could show you.”
There’s a hard thump that rattles the apparatus of chains, as Sharktooth bangs his elbow against the glass, swearing so viciously that the sawdust starts to levitate around his feet. Edgar ducks out of range, before he can get his comeuppance, and backs out until he is safely in the bleachers. Sharktooth stamps his boot, arm clutched to his chest. “If I get my hands on you,” he says, “you’re gonna regret that offer. I’ll open you up like a butcher block.”
“Oh will you,” Edgar says.
The face Sharktooth makes is nothing short of a kettle boiling, his painted face screwing up into such rage that he seems actually paralyzed by it. Edgar claps his hands together and backs away, grinning sheepishly. He’s toeing the line between playful and stupid and he’s aware enough of it to quit while he’s ahead.
“Again,” he says, “I liked the show.”
Sharktooth watches him go without blinking, right up until his back hits the tent flap. Edgar pauses there, struck all at once by the lonesome shape of the man on the stage, dwarfed by the towering gloom of the big top, the monstrous heft of the leviathan. Strangely fragile. Strangely powerful.
A pang of something flashes in Edgar’s chest, looking up at all of it. “Still—if you can make a place like this your home,” he says, “I want to believe I can too.”
The sounds of the calliope are the first sign that the carnival is waking up for the night, the lazy reel of the starlight song drifting over the sleeping ferris and down between the trailers, until it crawls beneath Edgar’s tent and startles him into wakefulness. He gives his misty reflection a long, thoughtful look. Today is going to be different. Today.
Sharktooth appears in the doorway as Edgar is pulling on his jacket over his bare shoulders. He doesn’t know what it is about this place, but it clearly does not want him to have shirts. Twice now he has had to hunt down and coax the shirt he came here in out of the mouths of carnival beasts. He doesn’t wear the clothes he arrived in anymore, but he doesn’t feel right if he doesn’t know precisely where they are, tucked underneath his thin mattress like the pelt of a selkie.
“I’ve got an idea for the box,” Sharktooth says.
He is not quite in the doorway, not quite outside of it, shadowed by the glow of the rolling blue fog. His buttons gleam.
“Oh do you?” Edgar says. When he turns, it takes a moment for the showman’s eyes to disengage from his chest.
“Yeah—” his gaze finally snaps up. “I wanna do the three magic breaths routine. I need somebody to practice with.”
Edgar points to a chain of pearls hanging from the vanity beside Sharktooth, who is civil enough to pass them over. Bits and bobs of jewelry are still appearing in his room, and he knows that Johnny is leaving them here, although why he pretends like he isn’t… isn’t entirely clear. Edgar loops this one around his throat and turns back to his guest, who seems to swallow dryly.
He was right. Today is going to be different.
“Okay,” Edgar says, and holds out his hand. “Show me.”
Edgar is up in the Black Ferris, shouting answers down to Tenna as she grills him about the mechanics of its enormous spider heart, when he spots Sharktooth climbing the platform up towards them.
“Hey!” he shouts. “Tenna! Let me borrow the canary for a minute.”
Edgar leans out over the edge and peers down at them.
“Aww,” Tenna says, “come on, I’m not done with him. Wait your turn.”
“Fuck that,” Sharktooth says, “he wants to come with me. Isn’t that right, Vargas?”
Edgar looks from one to the other. He cannot help but be amused by the poorly concealed eagerness on Sharktooth’s face, and by the visible sulk on Tenna’s.
“Just give us five minutes,” Edgar says. “I’ll be right with you.”
In the doorway, breathless and almost glowing with excitement— “I had an idea,” Sharktooth says. “Come practice with me.”
In a clatter of chain, Sharktooth pushes back the curtain to the changing room, catching Edgar by the wrist before he can protest, tugging him out half dressed into the night—
A chill hand, an urgent pace, the glow and whirl of the carnival all around them as they duck beneath banners and through alleys—
“I gotta admit,” Sharktooth says, almost wistfully, “you’re a natural,” as Edgar holds out his wrists for the clasp of silver manacles, trying not to let the stutter of his breathing show when those cool, restless fingers grip his skin.
Edgar pauses in his path, as he notices the crowd of carnies gathered in a mill around the turnstiles. It’s unusual to see so many of them in one place, let alone up at the front. He catches Cleo’s eye, and ducks closer.
“What’s going on?” he asks her.
“Bossman’s due back any time now,” she tells him, in her exhausted monotone, blowing and popping an enormous bubble.
Nny? It’s true Edgar hasn’t seen him in a few days, but that’s not entirely unusual. He is an inscrutable creature, coming and going at his own pleasure.
Because it seems to be the thing to do today, Edgar waits by the ticket booth until at last the crowd starts to churn with excitement, pushing each other out of the way to lean over the turnstiles.
“Shoo!” the familiar voice comes, barely audible over the ruckus. “Get back, you animals.”
As the crowd skitters back, Edgar catches sight at last of Johnny pushing through, chin sunk into the lapels of his coat. With a scowl, he reels back a knee and kicks the backside of a slower moving body. At his heels, there is a little red wagon loaded up with a teetering stack of odds and ends, plastic and glass.
“Can you greedy little monsters at least attempt to do this with some class?” he demands, reaching into the lining of his coat and removing a long sheet of what appears to be a shopping list. “Okay,” he calls out, “who asked for the sea monkeys?”
Edgar watches as item by item, Nny parcels out his hoard of modern luxuries to dozens of delighted hands. As the crowd clears out, Nny looks up from his work and lights on Edgar.
“Oh!” he says, and breaks into a smile. “Of course, for our precious Edgar-Edgar-Vargas. I have a little something for you too.”
From inside of his heavy coat, Nny draws out and spreads several paperback books like a deck of oversized cards. Edgar literally does not understand where he was keeping them. Nny trots over to him, flashing one cover after another, and then pushing them into his hands in one messy stack.
“These were out on the display shelf,” he says, “I figure that must mean they’re popular.”
Edgar gives him a tentative smile. “I’m afraid I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here,” he says. “I haven’t got anything to trade you.”
Nny scoffs and flicks his wrist. “You’re one of us now,” he says, “you just do what the others do. A button or something.”
Edgar blinks as Nny reaches into his deep pockets and draws up a handful of pale stones and chipped buttons, one or two yellow teeth. He pushes his open hand out at Edgar, who—helplessly—pats down the sheer clothing that the trunk in his tent has provided him, in search of something useful. At his wrist he finds the tiny white button and pops it free with his teeth, gently laying it on top of Nny’s peculiar hoard.
“There we go,” Nny says. He grins, and Edgar can’t help but return the smile. He looks down again, at the stack of paperbacks.
“Wait,” he says, “is this a library barcode—?”
“Magic words,” Edgar repeats, doubtful.
“Magic words!” Tenna says, leaning in towards him.
They are helping the strongmen move the coffin of the woman who sleeps like the dead, an ice block in which the flutter of her dreaming eyelids is visible to the delight of the crowds. Edgar is in charge of holding doors open for them.
“If magic is that easy,” Edgar says, thinking of the chains and the deep, of prestidigitation, “then why do any of you walk anywhere? Why do you use that wrench on the ferris?”
Tenna rubs her hands together. “I’m ready for this one,” she says. “You know how it costs more money to send something rush through the postal service than to send it regular?”
“It’s like that.”
Edgar considers it for a moment. “How do you know what the postal service is?”
“Oh,” Tenna says, “and I bet you think I don’t know what a telegram is either. Or a range stove. Get a load of mister modern over here, thinks he invented the talkies.”
“I literally can’t tell if you’re saying old things to make fun of me, or if you actually think it’s 1930,” Edgar says.
“Please,” Tenna says. “Like I’ve ever known what number year it is.”
One by one the pall-bearers leap over a wooded post fallen across the pathway, causing Tenna’s feet to swing merrily against the side of the ice.
“So… what kind of magic words are we talking?” Edgar asks her.
“Let’s say you want to put people to sleep in an instant,” Tenna says, tapping the icy coffin upon which she is currently seated. “There’s a word for that. Want me to teach you?”
Edgar gives the crew a surreptitious glance. “Alright,” he says.
Tenna leans down and taps her lips with her finger. “Trrdigl’yaie,” Tenna says, slowly, somehow pronouncing several letters that should not ever sit next to each other on the tongue.
“…Teriggly,” Edgar says.
Tenna laughs so hard that she topples right off the top of the ice coffin, landing on her back in the sawdust with her legs kicking in delight, as the strongmen bear their cargo away into the night.
“What is Nny to you?” Edgar asks.
He is suspended by his wrists above the swirling tank, trying his best to hook his foot under the rope floating across its surface without having his ankle bitten off by Rahab, who is as fond of him as Tenna and nearly as intent on taking a sampling for taste. Below him, Sharktooth’s marker squeaks off the glass in a distressed scribble.
“What’s he to you?”
The rope bobs under the pressure of Edgar’s toe. “Well,” he says. “Sometimes I think of him as my friend, and sometimes I think of him as my captor, and sometimes I think of him as a…”
Sharktooth leans his whole weight onto his forearm, scrubbing off the stray marking with his sleeve. His face is bare today, the first time Edgar has seen it this way for more than a moment at a time. Without the camouflage of skeletal paint his face is strikingly open, with bright, expressive eyes—something he tries to compensate for by squinting a lot.
“A what?” he says.
“Let’s leave it at ‘keeper’,” Edgar answers, flushing a bit.
Sharktooth pulls back and squints at him, his disconcertingly pale lids low over his bright eyes.
“But you know him, don’t you?” Edgar says. “I mean, as much as anyone can.” The loop of rope slides at last over his foot, and he kicks it over the edge of the tank, down to Sharktooth, who catches it in his hand.
“Not a single non shitty thing ever happened to me,” Sharktooth says, “not one, until I met him.”
“Did he try to eat you too?”
Sharktooth digs the heel of his palm into his clavicle, just above his heart. His expression flickers, bare brows creasing. “What’s up with the interrogation?” he asks.
Edgar swings, trying to get enough momentum to touch the ledge of the tank. Long term, he’s hoping to get fit enough that he can curl up and hook his legs around the chain, he thinks that would be kind of cool, especially if Sharktooth will actually teach him how to pick these locks. He thinks he’s like… four more passive aggressive hints away from getting there.
“I guess—” Edgar says, straining and missing the ledge, “—I never know what it means when he like… gives me things? Touches me?”
“He touches you?” Sharktooth demands.
“Uh—” This swing brings him a little closer. He touches down and strains to keep his footing, one heel over the side. “Yeah—in my bedroom mostly, when he comes to visit—shit, Jesus, I misjudged this—actually he’s very sweet, I wasn’t expecting him to be so—oh god damn it.”
As his toes splash back down into the water, Rahab gives the surface an interested look.
Edgar blows out a puff of air. “Like I said,” he finishes, using his arm to push his hair off his forehead, “I just don’t know how serious it is. Can you let me down from here?”
The strain on his shoulders disappears, and for a half second he is stunned by the feeling of free fall, the shock of his feet hitting water—and then he is on the ground, disoriented, breathing hard.
“You could have just lowered me down with the pulley,” he says, a hand squeezed over his pumping heart.
“It’s serious,” Sharktooth says.
Edgar looks up, a cold feeling coming over him as surely as if he’d been dropped in altogether. Sharktooth is watching him with the grimmest expression Edgar has ever seen on him, all the more for being twisted into his naked features.
“Oh,” Edgar says. “Should I be—should I be worried?”
Shartooth’s lip twitches down. “If anyone should be worried, it’s probably him. You’re about as inevitable as quicksand.”
Edgar makes a face. “Thanks? I think?”
“Ain’t my fuckin call to make,” Sharktooth mutters, more to himself than Edgar it seems like. He turns and uncaps the marker again, picking up where he left off on the intricate pattern of the incantation circle.
“I gotta set up for the show,” he says. “You better go.”
Feeling wrongfooted and uneasy, Edgar says, “I could help?”
Without turning, Sharktooth says, “You’ll help yourself, I bet.”
The last candle is burning down to nothing—Edgar passes his fingers over the parchment thinness of Nny’s forehead, smoothing the habitual wrinkle as he draws another story to a close. Each time he believes he has told every story he has to tell, he will look into Nny’s monstrous glowing eyes and find that he remembers one more, after all. Something about a woman who hid her soul inside of a comb—something about a cosmonaut who returned to earth to find it completely silent.
The way that Johnny watches him, when he talks… how can he not go hot with pleasure at the absolute enrapture, the absolute enchantment of a creature that survives by enchantment? For a moment he forgets his words, stalling out in the middle of a sentence just to look at the unholy marvel in his lap.
“So?” Nny prods, “So how does it end?”
And Edgar, either brave or stupid, says, “Kiss me and I’ll tell you.”
The flurry of motion knocks Edgar back onto his bed. When his vision clears, he finds Nny crouched over him, shoulders rolled back like the hackles of a cat. “What,” he says.
In for a penny, echoes the unhelpful voice in Edgar’s head. “I thought maybe you’d want to,” Edgar says.
“I didn’t bring you here to be some sort of servant of the flesh,” Nny hisses, “some carnal beast of burden, a slave to a master’s whims!”
Edgar doesn’t see how that’s much different from what he’s been doing thus far, and generally speaking, quite enjoying it. He sits up on his elbows. In for a penny, in for a penny…
“I’d like to kiss you,” he says.
Nny stills above him. With his sharp shoulders and tense arms, his head cocked as if he is trying to keep Edgar pinned within his vision, he says nothing for a long moment. Then, at last, he allows himself a slow, long blink.
“Very well,” he says. “I suppose that’s not unreasonable.”
With the careful deliberation of an animal handler, Edgar leans up into him. His lips, thin and cold, just barely light against Edgar’s. But then there is a sharp sound, an intake of breath from somewhere across the room, and Nny freezes. Edgar cracks an eye and follows the sound.
“Oh shit,” Sharktooth says. The tent flap clutched in his hand looks about to rip. “My bad. Uh. I was gonna—never mind though, I’ll come back—”
Nny rears back, one foot hitting the floor as if he is on the verge of lunging. “Jimmy,” he growls. “Did neither of your blasted progenitors teach you to knock?”
Edgar’s mouth, tingling with the momentary brush of skin, pops open. “Is your name Jimmy?” he says.
Sharktooth—Jimmy—makes a frustrated little noise, twitching like there is nothing he would like more than to turn heel and retreat. “I can’t knock, it’s just canvas,” he whines.
“Then announce your fucking presence,” Nny says. “This is a private residence, have some manners! Frankly for what you’ve just seen I ought to cut your eyes out!”
“Whoa, okay,” Edgar says, and pulls himself upright, half compelled to physically stand between the two of them before actual violence can erupt. “Nobody dismember anybody in my bedroom, please!”
“You familiar worm,” Nny says, ignoring Edgar entirely, “you—”
“C'mon, boss, cool down,” the man apparently named Jimmy pleads. “You know me, I’m your guy. I been your guy, right? It’s your show, you can do whatever the hell you want. I ain’t gonna tell nobody.”
“Correct!” Nny says, drawing a long knife from his person with a flourish. “You will not!”
Edgar drops his forehead into his hand, staring into the middle distance. “It was just a kiss,” he mutters, baffled, “it was literally just—”
“Look-” Jimmy throws the curtain closed behind him and stalks inside, fingers squeezing his stressed forehead. “I get it. Why wouldn’t you want him, he’s a tempting son of a bitch,” Jimmy says, waving a hand at Edgar, “I get it man. But if you just let him walk all over you like this, it’s gonna be a disaster.”
“Is it,” Nny echoes, a dangerous edge to his voice.
“You wanna talk about what this is?” Jimmy says, starting to get worked up now, “We can talk about what the fuck this is. Is this a thing for you now? Do you know what you’re doing at all?”
“Edgar is a human,” Nny says, “he has flesh. I am trying to accommodate that.”
“I know things about flesh!” Jimmy says, “I have flesh! You could have come to me!”
“Shall I come begging for your so-called expertise on my knees, then,” Nny snarls, making air quotes with the hilt of his knife still in his hand, “you loveless wretch?”
Jimmy flinches, but the weakness only lasts a second. “I know more than you do!” he retorts. “And I learned it the hard way, but—listen, you don’t have to! I can make this better for you!”
“Doubtful,” Nny says.
“You gotta make sure he knows you’re the boss,” Jimmy says, jabbing a finger at Edgar. “You can’t show—” he waved his hands erratically at the whole scene, “—whatever this is!”
“What are you even insinuating about me?” Edgar says, although he is, predictably, ignored.
“Here,” Jimmy says, “I’ll show you!”
Edgar heaves a startled breath as Jimmy reaches out and grabs him by the chain around his neck, reeling him into a hard grip. He moans in surprise as the hollow of his mouth is pushed open, unable to withhold anything; his body is dipped until he has no choice but to clutch Jimmy’s coat for support. Jimmy kisses him aggressively, consuming him one lick at a time.
When the kiss finally breaks, it leaves Edgar panting and clutching at him in its wake.
“See?” Jimmy says. “You gotta assert yourself or you’ll never get any respect.”
Edgar looks across the room and finds himself under Nny’s piercing gaze. Absently, Edgar licks his swollen lips.
“Um,” he says, dizzy and aroused. “Neat?”
As Nny glances back and forth between them, the boiling fury in his expression wavers. After a moment, the flash of the blade in his hand disappears as if it had never been. “Well,” he says, delicately, “it does seem moderately effective.”
Jimmy’s arm is hooked under Edgar’s back, and he cannot help but sink into it as Jimmy touches him roughly, petting his hair a little too hard.
“Yeah man,” Jimmy says, “if you’re gentle you’ll get bit, you know?”
Jimmy glances down at him for a moment before pulling him upright, offering him to Johnny like a playground tribute, like a toy. Edgar holds his breath as Nny draws him into his arms, eyes flashing with suspicion. Nny takes his chin between his fingers, and after a moment of thought, tugs him down to sit on the edge of the bed. He considers Edgar at length, peering down at him, taking him apart in some alien arithmancy.
But for all his reservation, when Nny kisses Edgar, the gentle pressure of his mouth sears. Caught in the grip of these skeletal fingers, giving himself up to the cataloging and keeping of his master, Edgar could lose himself forever. Even without looking, he can feel the way Jimmy is sitting forward, perched on his vanity, transfixed by the work of his own hands.
And he can feel when Jimmy ducks out at last, although he says nothing to announce his departure.
Edgar takes a seat on a bleacher, several hours later, in the familiar gloom where a familiar form is readjusting the pulley system above the stage. “So,” he says, winding a finger through the jangle of silver chains down his chest. “Jimmy, huh.”
The boy with the shark mouth groans, and kicks the nose of the megalithic beast in the tank below him before it can take a bite out of his ankle.
Edgar is shifting and rocking up into the kiss, his fingers curled in the sheets, when Nny stops altogether above him. It’s his particular habit to only touch Edgar in one place at a time, holding himself above Edgar so they meet only at the lips, or only at the tips of his fingers as he strokes Edgar’s cheek. Now he pulls back entirely, one of his palms hovering over the waist of Edgar’s loose pants.
“What,” he says, “is that.”
Edgar glances down. “Ahh…” he says, “I feel like I’m underqualified to explain what an erection is to a being who’s probably older than the Mona Lisa.”
“I’m aware,” Nny says, “of how human anatomy works. What I don’t understand is what I’m supposed to do with it.”
Edgar bites his lip and looks up at the ceiling, strung with glass and silver wire. “Feel free to just ignore it.”
Nny scowls at him. “But you want me to do something with it.”
Edgar has had a fair amount of experience in this area, which is why it mortifies him that he is flushing hot enough to boil water. “Well,” he says, hedging like his life depends on it, “ideally, I mean, yes. But it doesn’t have to be you, you know, when it comes down to it I’m very self sufficient—”
But Nny isn’t even listening to him anymore. He’s already up, kicking out through the tent door and disappearing into the night. “You!” his muffled voice shouts. “There you are, you degenerate cur—”
Edgar massages the inside of his hip anxiously. It would go away sooner or later, sooner if the conversation stayed this strange, is he supposed to—?
Nny blazes back into the bedroom dragging Jimmy behind him by the ear. Edgar is up on his feet in a moment, ready to break up another potential catfight, but somehow it never starts. Nny doesn’t actually look more than his baseline of irritable as he pulls Jimmy in.
“You said you have experience,” he remarks, releasing his grip on Jimmy in order to shove him the rest of the way into the room. “You should be able to satisfy him, then.”
Jimmy stumbles, catching his balance on the edge of the bed. As he comes up again, he freezes with his eyes on Edgar. His pink tongue swipes over his bare lip.
“Servant of the flesh,” Nny says, gesturing at Jimmy, “meet your master.”
That breaks Jimmy’s fixation. He twists, eyes wide, and says, “You’re fucking with me. I can’t believe you’re fucking with me like this, and after I done right by you all these years.”
“Well if you don’t want to do it,” Johnny says, irritably, “I’ll find someone else, you fickle thing. You certainly seemed keen enough before.”
“But,” Jimmy says, looking from each of them to the other, “but—no, I mean—”
Catching inspiration like the thread of lightning, Edgar makes a show of sighing and leaning against one hip, palm cupping his cheek. “I don’t know, Johnny,” he says. “He keeps talking about eating me whole, I’m not sure I trust him.”
“You will not eat Edgar,” Nny says, narrowing his eyes. “Edgar is not food.”
“He keeps talking about getting his teeth in me,” Edgar says, turning his head until he is watching Jimmy from the corner of his eye. “He says I’m tempting him too much. I can’t tell you what he’d do to me, if he got his hands on me.”
“You son of a bitch,” Jimmy says, grabbing Edgar by the jacket, “that’s not what I fucking said.”
“Mm, pretty sure it was,” Edgar says. His thigh nudges and presses up against Jimmy’s as he leans in. For the first time he notices that, even barefoot, he is just as tall as Jimmy.
Nny squints at the two of them. “This is a sex thing, isn’t it?” he says. He drops onto the bedding with a soft thump. “Disgusting. Carry on.”
As Nny takes his seat on the cot, cross-legged and morbidly curious, Edgar says, “Is that what this is? And I thought you were just working up to split-roasting me.”
Jimmy hauls him around, fist in the collar of his jacket, breath warm against the back of his neck. “You are really playing with fire right now,” he says. “You better cool your jets before you regret it.”
“What’ll you do?” Edgar says, “Take a bite out of me?”
“Maybe,” Jimmy says. Even as he says it, his mouth brushes the nape of Edgar’s neck, the threat of teeth in his skin white hot. Against his bare stomach, Jimmy’s talons prickle at unguarded skin.
“Don’t even think about it,” Nny warns him.
Jimmy catches Edgar’s face in one hand. With his tight grip, he turns Edgar away from Nny. “Aw, boss, I’ll be real gentle. I’ll just break the skin a little is all.”
“Fuck no,” Nny says. “You’ll take a chunk out of him.”
Edgar’s eyes widen as a hot fizzle races down back, from his shoulder to his fingertips. He holds so still that the effort makes him shudder.
“C’mon,” Jimmy says, nuzzling against the curve of Edgar’s neck, “I bet you he likes a little blood in his eye.” He slowly closes his hand against Edgar’s belly, raising angry red lines where his nails drag the skin.“…A little blood down his thigh...”
Edgar makes a hiccupping sound of pure, awful arousal.
Jimmy lets go of his face all at once and shoves him, gets him pinned down on the bed a few inches away from Nny, on his back. His palm presses flat across Edgar’s ribs with a weight that makes the lungs below shorten their breaths.
He looks up at Nny, his expression going uncertain. “This alright?” he asks. “You know I’d never—”
Nny flicks his fingers. “Carry on,” he says. “The sounds are interesting.”
Jimmy switches his attention back to Edgar, coming in hot. He pulls the ties on Edgar’s pants and drags them down over his hips, leaving the warm flesh bare. The chill prickles on Edgar’s skin, but he shivers less from that than from the feeling of finally being stripped naked underneath Jimmy and his voracious intensity. Jimmy grabs his thighs and throws them open.
“Not the first time I’ve seen that,” Jimmy says, giving Edgar’s cock a hungry look.
“Are you going to do something with it this time?” Edgar asks.
Beside his head, his fingers twitch as Jimmy tightens his grip until it leaves bruises. The teeth glitter. Jimmy runs his tongue over his razor-tipped rows; the smile makes something deep in Edgar’s gut howl with repressed prey instincts. How can one mouth hold so many terrible promises?
“You sure you want that, champ?” Jimmy says, and presses his face into the V of Edgar’s thighs, nosing at Edgar’s cock. “You better think hard about it.” His tongue uncurls, dark and pink and soft as it takes a long filthy lick up the shaft. Edgar stops breathing.
Inch by terrible inch, Jimmy draws the cock into his mouth. It slides over the protection of his tongue, deeper and deeper into his throat, until Edgar is whimpering and wide eyed at the wicked teeth that come to rest against his pelvis. He doesn’t dare move. His arousal throbs mercilessly in the soft constriction of Jimmy’s mouth—
“Hh, ha,” he says, as the sharp edges prick his skin.
Silky and slick, the deadly honey trap holds him tight. Jimmy withdraws slowly, saliva gathering in his open mouth until the tip finally falls free, wet and twitching. Glittering wet trails snap as he licks his lip. The moment he’s safe, Edgar clutches and jerks himself for all he’s worth.
Jimmy wipes his mouth clean, smirking, and presses back in. For a moment Edgar thinks he’s going to do it again, and he honestly doesn’t know if that would kill him or make him come, but Jimmy only buries his face in Edgar’s hip and mouths his way down Edgar’s thigh. “Hey boss,” he says, voice rough from the hard use of his throat. “Just a little bite?”
Edgar looks up at Nny, whose expression is one of rapt fascination. Nny looks back at him.
“Go ahead then,” Nny says.
Edgar’s hands scramble for purchase in the sheets as Jimmy cracks open his jaw and sinks his teeth into the inside of Edgar’s thigh—so sharp he almost doesn’t feel the skin break, just the burning pressure of the jaw closing around him—he nearly comes up off the bed, a moan pitching up into a scream, but Jimmy holds him like a vice.
When Jimmy pulls free, he does it with a long, sweet lick of the brutalized flesh. Edgar heaves in air.
Nny cocks his head. “That looks fun.” He snaps his fingers at Jimmy and says, “Disengage.”
Edgar’s broken skin is leaking blood down his thigh as Nny crawls over him, dropping forward onto his skinny arms. He lays his head against Edgar’s chest for a moment, listening to the heartbeat pulsing underneath.
“That’s such a sweet sound,” Nny says, absently. “You’re so hot with blood and life, pretty bird. You burn. I do wonder… what it tastes like…”
He lifts his cheek, and then as suddenly as if becoming another creature entirely, bites into the skin above Edgar’s heart. Edgar clutches his own face, unable to bear the sight of it for a second more. Nny’s teeth, no worse or better than any human’s, bruise deep into the flesh as Edgar kicks blindly in suffering.
When he peels his hands away from his face, he finds Nny looking down at him with unblinking fascination, eyes tracing the outline of the mouth-shaped bruise.
“Look how you blacken,” he says. “Your body is constantly reacting and changing, even now, even to me. How lovely. How strange…”
“Oh my fucking god,” Edgar pants, “if someone doesn’t touch me right now I’m going to lose my mind.”
“Ah,” Nny says, prodding at the blooming bruises with his skeletal fingers. “You want satisfaction.”
“Yes,” Edgar says. “Please.”
Nny tips his head back, pinning Jimmy with his gaze. He snaps his fingers and points to the floor between Edgar’s legs and Jimmy, without so much as a moment’s hesitation, falls to his knees there. “Touch him,” Nny says, and then dips down for a butterfly-light kiss, cool and eager against Edgar’s lips.
Because Edgar closes his eyes beneath the kiss, he feels rather than sees the way Jimmy is licking and squeezing his thigh, and the wetness of the fresh blood that comes dripping from those stinging wounds. As Edgar opens up to the delicate demands of Nny’s mouth, there is a rough swipe against his wet thigh, and then—Edgar cries out into the kiss—palm messy with saliva and blood, Jimmy grips Edgar’s cock and drags down the length of it.
Under their bizarre but unrelenting attentions, Edgar jerks and moans. Nny has no patience with his attempts to catch his breath—he kisses more determinedly, demanding Edgar’s focus, as Jimmy’s slick strokes reduce Edgar to straining and whimpering. He can feel the long torturous licks up the length of his cock, the phantom presence of teeth that he cannot see, the wetness of Jimmy’s breaths against the inside of his thighs.
Nny pulls back from his mouth only when Edgar, unable to hold the kiss any longer, falls slack underneath him. His breath is coming so fast; he can’t keep up. Instead, Nny passes the cool tip of his finger down, over the hollow of Edgar’s throat, down to prod the ache of the bruise wreathing Edgar’s nipple.
The mouth against Edgar’s skin breaks away. “That’s a good spot to get a noise,” Jimmy offers, helpful to the bitter end. “The little brown nub. You just twist it.”
Nny’s fingertip, hard as porcelain, brushes over the perked skin. Edgar bites his lip at the sight of it, the small brown tip pushed back, and the fizzle of pleasure under the skin.
“Why?” Nny says. “What does it do?”
For a second, Jimmy’s thumb stops kneading at the inside of Edgar’s hip. “It, uh,” Jimmy says, “it’s a shock, but in a good way. It’ll make him sensitive. He’ll like it.”
Nny’s thumb and forefinger close around it, just tight enough to make the skin go hot.
“Just try to make it hurt,” Jimmy says, and at Nny’s narrow look, he adds, “It feels better when it hurts, boss.”
The vice grip twitches, and then with excruciating suddenness Nny rolls his fingers, twisting the slight flesh into agonized tightness. Edgar lets out a hiccupping moan, squeezing the bedding.
Nny retreats for a moment, hand hovering. He goes back in for a second taste, twisting at the sore flesh until Edgar has to slap a palm over his own mouth to keep from shouting. Nny doesn’t relent. His fingers work the aching bud back and forth, in no particular hurry. “Hmm,” he says. His mouth comes to rest against the place where shoulder meets neck, perfectly still, untroubled by breath. “That’s pretty good too. What about… both.”
With one neat bite, his incisors click through the skin—Edgar jumps, curses, feels the wet heat of blood beading over the wound. Nny hisses and rears back, moon eyes flashing with green light.
“You’re so hot,” he says, “how are you so hot?”
The soft moan against Edgar’s cock sends shivers up his spine, as Jimmy squeezes him and says breathlessly, “I bet he’s even hotter inside.”
“Inside,” Nny echoes, giving Jimmy a doubtful backwards look.
The weight on the bed shifts as Jimmy pulls himself up with one arm, chest rubbing long and slow against Edgar’s cock. The press of fingers underneath Edgar turns rough. “Sure,” Jimmy says, dragging over delicate skin with his fingertips, “that’s what he really wants. Some big, nasty monster to make him take it.”
Jimmy’s fingers press into him, the thickness of them burning, and Edgar yelps, clutching at Nny’s hand.
“Well how about it, Vargas,” Jimmy says, “are we bad enough for you?”
Edgar cracks an eye open. Twisted in his grip are the bare bones of Nny’s fingers, violet and luminescent in the dark. Blood streaks Jimmy’s teeth and grinning mouth, his chin, as his unseen fingers test how much abuse Edgar can take.
Edgar licks his dry lips. “I don’t know,” he manages, “are you?”
He releases his hold on Nny for a moment and hauls Jimmy up, onto the bed—he goes willingly enough—and then rolls him before he can say a word. Jimmy’s head hits the bedding and bounces, his eyes wide. Edgar throws a leg over his hips and straddles him, pulling open his vest and shirtsleeves until the freckle-dotted flesh comes bare.
There are dark red divots over his ribs, different from the subtle pink of his nipples, and Edgar smooths his hands over all of it, pale and tantalizing, before Jimmy can recover from his shock.
“I like you on your back, Jimmy,” Edgar says, and rolls his palm hard against the straining bulge underneath him, wrist bumping his own skin with a pleasant shiver. “Looks good on you.”
“What the,” Jimmy starts, breathlessly, but Edgar doesn’t give him the opportunity to finish.
His pants come open with a little bit of work, shoved back enough that Edgar can drag free the hard flesh beneath, throbbing and jumping at his touch. Jimmy hisses as the fabric scrapes his tender arousal. It must have been murder, being that hard. Edgar glances at Nny, and thinks that there’s only one reasonable thread of logic in Jimmy staying so firmly clothed this whole time.
He runs his fingertips over Jimmy’s cool but willing flesh. “Nny,” he says, “don’t you think he looks good like this?”
Jimmy stares up at him, eyes wide as saucers—with his slight body bared and his cock caught in Edgar’s tight fist, he is beautifully, satisfyingly reduced. The quick-fast pull of his breaths has his chest heaving under Edgar’s palm.
Unblinking, considering Jimmy with the fascination of a hungry cat, Nny settles down onto his side. He props his head up on his fist. “You are enticing, I think,” he says, at last. “So lovely, under my Edgar.”
Jimmy makes a wounded sound. Edgar squeezes their two cocks against each other as best he can and draws back, thrusting slowly along the pink-flushed length. A low, contented sigh leaves his throat. His eyes flutter shut. The friction is a hundred times sweeter, knowing that it’s unraveling Jimmy at the seams. He can feel the tremble at his every move.
When he opens his eyes again he finds Nny’s hand drifting over the bed, curious fingers reaching, his expression as intent as it is utterly alien, unreadable.
His sharp fingers skate over Jimmy’s chest and, with a decisive flick, wrench the peaked bud of a nipple. The look that comes over Jimmy, jerking and arching, stunned and gasping, is so pretty it could almost break your heart. Jimmy’s hand lifts—it trembles—
Edgar sinks his teeth into Jimmy's shoulder, listening to Nny laugh as he draws blood from the skin. It’s sweet and cool on his teeth, as thin as the surf. Between the gasps and the cackling, Edgar sits back, mouth wet, and glows with the power of Jimmy looking up at him, arching up at him, finally stripped raw and messily wrecked.
Edgar wipes blood from his lips with the back of his hand.
“Careful,” he says. “If you’re gentle, you’ll get bit.”
In the darkness, after he’s done with them at last, Edgar lies drifting. He’s pulled the sheet over his head, because he’s over-stimulated and frankly a little cold, and worn out although pleasantly so. Not far away, the bed dips under Nny’s curled form. It’s a small movement that calls Edgar back up to the surface, something from the end of the bed. As if responding to the same thing, Nny shifts.
“Hey boss,” comes the soft sound of Jimmy’s voice, “can I ask you something?”
Edgar can feel Nny pick himself up, tucking knees under himself. “All pedantic comments about whether or not you already have asked me something aside,” Nny says, “sure. Why not.”
But it takes a long moment for the question to come. When it finally does, it’s unmistakably nervous. “How come you touched me, earlier?”
Both Edgar’s eyes open now, although through the sheet he can’t even see their shapes. He is suddenly quite a lot more awake. Edgar wiggles his fingers just enough to part the sheet over his face, a gap through which he can make out the shadows cast on the foggy mirror. Nny’s head is tilted thoughtfully.
“Should I not have?”
“You don’t—” a breath hisses out of Jimmy. “Look. I sold my soul to you fuckin—what—twenty years ago? And in all that time, you’ve been as untouchable as the moon. I’m your guy, Nny, you know I am. If you asked me for the stars I’d get ‘em for you. But I’m not as dumb as I used to be. I just wanna know, why now?”
“I don’t know,” Nny says. “I suppose I wondered if you would look the way Edgar did.”
“Was I—” Jimmy shifts, “—was I good for you?”
It’s quiet for a moment.
“You wanted this,” there’s a shift as Nny gestures at something, maybe the both of them, “with me.”
“Well, yeah,” Jimmy says, with his face a twisted hopeless mess. “If you wanted bodies, I’d lay mine down at your feet in a second. I’d rather be used by you than almost anyone.”
Nny retreats, leaning back, and Jimmy freezes. Jimmy pulls his hand to himself, ducking his head.
“Sorry, forget it,” he says. “I know you hate the hero worship thing. It’s your call boss, I’ll take anything you give me. If you let Edgar use me, I oughta be grateful for that much.”
“What is it with humans,” Nny says, “if one person isn’t using you, it’s another. If you were going to be another body under the grindstone, I would have just eaten you when you showed up in my tent.”
“I don’t mind it,” Jimmy says, “really.”
“But you want Edgar,” Nny says, narrowing his eyes. “Or else you are an exquisite actor.”
In the darkness Edgar can’t see all of it, but he knows the quality of that stiff, flushed silence. He can imagine Jimmy’s face. “Well so do you,” Jimmy says.
“Okay,” Nny says. “You lost me.”
Edgar rolls his eyes. They’re hopeless without him, clearly.
There’s a sound like Jimmy is sucking uneasily on his lip. “I’ve been stupid obsessed with you since the day I saw you, just years and years, and then Edgar comes along and he’s so fucking nice, so like I can’t even be mad because of course you want him, who wouldn’t want him, I want him. I just, I always thought—” Jimmy sits forward, a hand on the bedding. “If I was just good enough—”
Edgar twinges with the desire to pull Jimmy down and kiss him until he gives in and kisses back. He wishes the man didn’t have to be pinned down and worked over just to admit to a little genuine sentiment.
“Pretty stupid,” Jimmy says, wrinkling his nose. “It’s just sex. I know the difference. But then for a minute there, it was almost like… I belonged to somebody. Like you cared about me. Like maybe he did too.”
After a moment, Nny moves. He reaches out and, very carefully, lifts Jimmy’s hand. In the dark light of Nny’s poison glow, Jimmy’s eyes are so wide—his body is terribly still, as if his lungs and heart have all stopped at once.
“Wicked, angry heart,” Nny says, observing the hand in his skeletal grip. “Where does a heart like yours hide something as tender as that?”
As he sits breathless, Nny brings Jimmy’s knuckles to his thin lips, laying the lightest kiss against the still-too-human skin. Jimmy makes a soft sound, like the touch burns him.
“You were very good for me,” Nny says, looking up. “You’re quite fetching, when you’re speechless.”
As Jimmy goes stiff with pleasure and embarrassment, Edgar lets out a sigh, relaxing at last, and allows himself to drift off once and for all.
On a night tinted with the frost scent of winter, Jimmy tracks Edgar down in the middle of a conversation with Nny, marching into the big tent without a moment of pause. Nny halts his monologue. He eyes Jimmy as he comes towards them, heavy boots kicking up clouds of sawdust. Edgar turns his head just in time to find Jimmy’s fist twining in the drape of necklaces at his throat.
Jimmy pulls Edgar tight, silver chains like a choke collar in his hand.
“Let me borrow him,” Jimmy says, “won’t be long.”
Nny lifts an eyebrow, gaze flicking up and down the two of them. “Alright,” he says, “you absolute farce of debauchery. Have him back in one piece before the curtain goes up.”
The chains at Edgar’s throat make a soft clinking sound. “No problem,” Jimmy says, flashing his shark teeth. “One piece.”
Edgar twists and blows a kiss to Johnny Sea. In visible childlike delight, Nny touches his gloved fingers to his lips, just as the curtain falls closed between them.
Forefinger hooked in his makeshift collar, Jimmy pulls Edgar out into the world. The night is bright with the sound of laughter, with the limbs of the ferris blinking on and off. Somewhere, Tenna is calling into the crowd. Somewhere, the ice witch is dreaming in her transparent coffin. There is danger, and in the moment before the snapping jaws, there is joy.
By the shivering twilight of the bedroom, afterward, Edgar lifts himself from the cot and moves to pull on his jacket against the chill. Mid-reach, the flicker of his reflection catches him short.
Edgar pauses in front of the mirror for the first time in a long time. The twilight in this room is all blue and blackening silver, glowing with broken pearls, with the reflection of his face watching him from the foggy mirror. He is paler than he remembers, the sun warmth of his college days at last faded from his skin. Slowly, he passes the tips of his fingers down over his throat, over the collar, trailing past the glitter of his necklaces down to the red wounds over his hip. Tooth marks, like a running stitch, mark the opening and closing of ellipticals.
He touches the deep brown scar on the inside of his thigh, indelibly marked in the shape of a shark’s hungry maw. The sea glass that hangs above him shines the same deep blue of the vast, fathomless ocean.
Edgar smiles. His teeth glitter like pearls.