The Curse

by Julnick


A light breeze ruffled the bills in Cody's hand as he extended them to the old man across the rough, make-shift table. A clapboard shed stood behind the old man, partially obscuring an ancient, rusted pickup and trailer. The man's skin was dark and wrinkled, weathered like old leather left out in the sun and rain for too many years. His eyes were glazed, unfocussed, the faintest milky film obscuring their true color. His fingers worked nimbly over the pumpkin the two young men had selected. Large and round and gently orange. Its surface smooth and clean, barely dented by meridian lines.

Alex allowed his gaze to wander across the field while Cody completed the transaction with the old gypsy. The withering vines lay lifeless amongst the bright points of orange. They had stopped on a lark. Alex had loved carving pumpkins as a child. It seemed perfect serendipity to run across this virtually untouched patch only a day before Halloween.

Down in the city, every pumpkin patch and wagon and grocery store crate had been picked and pawed over until only the most undesirable, thick skinned, discolored and deformed squashes remained for selection. Most years, Alex just brushed off his childhood tradition as a waste of time. But this year, something was different. This year, there was Cody...

He looked up at the man beside him. Tall and strong and gentle and funny and smart and sexy as hell. The wind blew again, this time ruffling the dirty blonde hair that fell almost into wide, slate-grey eyes that looked down a faintly crooked nose that had once been broken playing hockey in seventh grade. Soft lips quirked into a crooked smile that revealed perfect teeth that had miraculously survived hockey in seventh grade, as well as eight, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth.

Alex grinned, himself. The air smelled like forest and earth and faintly but not unpleasantly of the decay of summer. The smell of fall. Preparing the earth for the winter which would add the water for the rebirth that would be spring.

The old man was making change for Cody from a tin box and a sudden movement from behind the shed caught Alex's eye. A young child, Alex wasn't sure if it was a girl or boy, had appeared from the back of the shed. The child studied first Cody then Alex himself from unblinking pools so dark they almost looked black. Alex smiled at the child, but received no response in kind. Instead the child's gaze shifted to something behind the shed and it beckoned. Soon, another child, smaller, long, dark hair caught behind its ears, appeared to stare at Alex. It whispered to the first and was answered only with a nod.

Abruptly, a woman appeared behind the two children. Her dark eyes locked on Alex and he had only a moment to study her, dark hair pulled back in a colored scarf, loose blouse, full skirts, bright colors dulled by dust, before she disappeared again, both children in tow, muttering to them in a language he didn't recognize.

Alex started as Cody gave him a rough nudge. "Come on, let's go..."

Cody was already turning away from the table. Alex reached for the pumpkin and hefted it. Then froze as the old man's claw of a hand closed tightly around his forearm. He swallowed a yelp and let his breath out in a gasp. This place had started to give him the creeps. Cody turned back, but Alex couldn't tear his gaze from the old man's face.

The film had cleared from the blind eyes and they were focused with mad intensity on Alex's own.

"Do not take from this place!" the old man hissed through rotting teeth. Alex felt his heart pounding against his chest. The man's fingers felt like dry bones pressing into his flesh. Cody took a step toward him. The man's voice was like wind rustling dry leaves. "Listen. Remember. Escape the curse! This ground was sacred once. Then raped and fed on blood of its own children. Leave here empty-handed. On the night of Samhain it begins anew!"

Alex felt the pumpkin, cool and smooth against his skin. His belly tightened, his breath had grown short and quick. The man's fingers still dug into his arm. "Samhain?"

Then Cody's hand was on his shoulder, drawing him back from the mad stare. Breaking the skeletal grip... Alex forced his eyes up to Cody's face. Cody was smiling. "He's just trying to scare you, goof. Old Indian burial ground... Ooo..." He turned to the old man. "Good presentation, but old story, mister. You gotta be more original."

Alex glanced back at the man. His eyes were milky white once more, his gaze unfocussed, fingers dancing over the surface of the table like a snake's-tongue flicking at the ground. The cold fist still pressed around Alex's heart, but he stepped away with Cody, reluctantly turning his back to the field and the gypsies. Behind him he heard the feeble voice of an old man mutter, "Have a nice day. Happy Halloween."

They made their way over the rough ground, back to the road where they had parked beneath a large, hand-painted sign advertising "Pumpkins For Sale." Cody's car sat where they'd left it on the edge of the wide turn-out. Alex felt a prickling along his forearms as downy hairs rose atop goose bumps that spread up to the back of his neck.

"Cody..."

Cody was unlocking the SUV and took the pumpkin from his lover's arms. "Geez, Alex, you're ice cold! You want your jacket?"

Alex ran his tongue over his dry lips. His mouth was suddenly parched. He glanced back along the gravel pull-out, then back up the road. "Cody, where's the sign?"

Cody was digging in the back seat. His voice floated back out the open door. "What sign?"

Alex realized he *was* cold. He tried rubbing his hands up and down his arms, but his fingers were like icicles. "The 'Pumpkins for Sale' sign... It was right here when we got here, I almost banged the car door on the post."

Cody emerged from the car frowning. He handed the jacket to Alex who was beginning to nudge around in the weeds with the toe of his tennis shoe. Cody balled his fists on his hips and made a thoughtful sound. Alex glanced at him.

"You're right. I don't know. Maybe they took it down."

"While we were here? And why would they do that? It's still the day before Halloween."

"Dunno. Maybe someone stole it." Cody shrugged, dismissing it. He circled to the driver's side of the car and stepped in. "Come on, I want to get home before the game starts."

Alex shivered and shrugged on his coat, but the slick nylon seemed only to trap the chill against his skin. He cast a final glance back at the pumpkin patch. It rippled slightly, as if the air were heated by a baking summer sun, not cooled by a late autumn breeze. Tearing his gaze away, suddenly eager to be away from the place, Alex slid into his seat and slammed the door shut to the roar of the engine bursting to life.

*****

Alex put the pumpkin on the kitchen table. Cody swatted him playfully as he passed on his way into the living room where he flopped onto the coach and turned on the television.

Alex looked at the pumpkin longingly for a moment then approached the back of the couch. He bent over it, sliding his hands down his lover's chest until his lips brushed Cody's ear. "Come on... You gotta help me carve it... Please?"

Eyes still on the TV, for a moment Cody didn't respond, then his mouth quirked into a smile and he tore his gaze from the television.. His arms circled up around his boy's neck, and he tilted his head up, pulling Alex into a deep kiss. "After the game." He studied his boy's face earnestly. "I promise. We'll do it together."

Alex shrugged and pulled out of the awkward embrace. "Okay..."

Cody patted the cushions beside him, silent request in his bright grey eyes. Alex sighed.

"It's the World Series, baby, come on." Cody reached over the couch back to pull at the front of Alex's shirt. "Come on."

Alex considered. With nothing better to do on a Friday evening, at least curling into the solid, warm body of his lover held some appeal if the men swinging a stick at a ball held none. The game had cut to commercial break, a hot guy in a towel was proclaiming the amazing effects of some or another deodorant. Alex swung his leg up and clambered over the back of the couch.

Cody grinned and grabbed Alex's arm before he could sit. Alex stumbled, realizing where he was headed slightly too late to be of any help. He fell awkwardly across Cody's broad thighs, quickly wriggling himself into better position before a huge, heavy hand fell across the seat of the khakis. He winced, half-wishing he'd changed into his jeans when they'd gotten home. For as much good as that would do him. He never got to keep them long anyway.

"Feet go on the floor, babe, butt goes on the furniture." Between the steady swats that were beginning to leave him distinctly uncomfortable, and his squirming against Cody's leg, which was having an entirely different effect, he could hear another man speaking the praises of mouthwash in a serious tone. Alex pondered a moment the industry that made people smell better. Then Cody's hand came to rest lightly on his bottom which was hot and stinging. "Or over my knee, is always a good second option..." There was a smile in Cody's voice.

Alex let out a heavy breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and let himself relax as his lover's hand moved in gentle circles. One arm still circled firmly around Alex's waist and kept him in position against Cody's solid belly. He could feel the bulge in the front of Cody's pants, matching the one in his own. He took a deep breath. He could hear announcers discussing trades and player stats. The game was back on and Alex felt a tinge of disappointment to be let off so easily. So he was surprised at the way his belly clinched in trepidation when Cody's voice above him said, "Get these pants off, boy."

The arm around his waist became a hand on his shoulder, helping him to his feet. His fingers, suddenly unsteady, couldn't quite work the button of his fly and Cody finally brushed his hands away, a gentle, crooked smile on his lips. Alex blushed as his trouser were swept down his hips and he was motioned once more over Cody's broad lap. As he settled himself, he heard a crack of leather on wood and a roar of voices and felt Cody's body stiffen under him. He laughed softly at his lover's attention being so easily diverted and was rewarded with a searing smack across his right cheek. He yelped once and bit down on a second as another smack landed exactly over the first.

"Never laugh at a man and his baseball..." Cody's voice was light. Alex could almost see him grinning. But the pain from those two swats was almost too much. He desperately fought to keep still, steeling for a third on the same, tender skin... But it didn't come. The next was lower. But somehow, stung just as much. Alex closed his eyes. He was wriggling again, he could feel his cock, hard and desperate, pressing against his belly. His butt was on fire. He was always amazed how fast it happened. And he was desperately regretting ever cursing the thin protection of his khakis. His even thinner underwear was providing next to nothing. But when Cody's hand fell not once or twice but three times below the cut of his briefs, onto bare skin, he moaned into the couch cushions. It would only get worse.

And it did. Far too soon, he felt his underwear tugged down, reluctantly, he pushed his hips up to ease the process and then settled back, feeling cool air on his bottom which he was certain was very pink and was definitely very sore. He renewed his grip on the couch cushions as the restraining arm once again tightened about his waist. He squirmed slightly and could feel the material of Cody's jeans against his erect cock. He closed his eyes.

The sound almost startled him and he choked on a cry. The swats were coming fast and furiously hard upon flesh that had already been visited far too many times. The sound of the television became a distant trickle, even the sensation of denim rubbing against his cock faded to the back of his mind. His world narrowed to only sound and pain as he thrashed and bucked against the strong arm holding him down. He desperately twisted, trying to offer less painful areas to the punishing hand, but it was in vain. Cody's hand fell unerringly on the most tender, sore, burning places. Again and again no matter which way his lover turned. Alex began to wonder if there ever were any less tender spots to sacrifice. If his lover's aim was not so much skill as it seemed but the fact that it didn't matter where his hand landed it couldn't help but elicit sincere yelps and groans from the boy over his knee.

Alex felt his resistance crumbling, tears were pricking at his eyes. A distant wonder meandered through his mind at Cody's ability to bring him to this state with only one, large, strong hand...

Almost to his limits, Alex fought one hand free and threw it back, desperately covering his right cheek. Cody didn't pause. His attention became abruptly focused on the left half of Alex's bottom, raining searing spanks one on top of the next until Alex was bucking again, then he shifted to the tops of the boy's thighs.

That was too much. Alex sobbed, flinging his hand out of the way. It felt like his entire bottom had been dipped in boiling oil. He didn't even realize for a moment when it was over, his bottom hurt so much all he could do was writhe over Cody's knees.

Then slowly it penetrated the haze of pain that the hand on his bottom was no longer striking but stroking. Gently soothing... Gasping, Alex raised his face, tears had finally broken free and left glittering streaks in their wake. He was trembling, disoriented, as Cody helped him to his knees and then to settle his naked, seared buttocks onto the couch.

Alex winced. The material suddenly felt coarse as sandpaper against his punished skin. He squirmed slightly. His face was burning and he bowed his head. He could bend over a chair and take a beating with a belt until tears streaked his face and still turn around and look Cody straight in the eye as they tumbled into bed, tearing at each other's clothes. But something about being reduced to tears over Cody's knee always left him with a feeling of shame and humiliation that he could equate only to childhood.

The television was still on, the announcers were speaking with rapid excitement. Cody, one eye on the television, passed a box of Kleenex to his lover with a grin. "Clean up so I can kiss you, beautiful."

Alex stared at him. Khakis and underwear still tangled around his shoes, his face and hair an utter mess, kissing was about the last thing on his mind. Though, as he took the tissues and began to wipe at his face and nose, he realized his cock, though it had finally given up the fight during the height of the spanking, was now stirring back to life in the glowing warm aftermath and the strange confusion of sitting half naked in front of the gorgeous man he went to bed with every night.

While Alex was attending to his face, Cody began undressing him from the feet up. He managed to find a shoe in the tangle of trousers and tugged it off and then a sock and another shoe... Alex, satisfied with his face, began to help, pushing the tangled mess off his legs and then reaching for his lover's shirt. The aching smart in his bottom just seemed to add a spicy bite to the arousal as they stripped and explored each other with increasing enthusiasm.

As Cody reached back for a condom, Alex's gaze shifted for a moment over the back of the couch, to the table where the pumpkin and carving knife waited patiently to be met in the creation of art. He grinned for a moment, then hesitated, his brow furrowing in thought before Cody was on him again, teeth grazing his neck and nothing else mattered anymore.

*****

Alex padded into the bathroom, snagging a face towel from the back of the door. He put it under the warm tap and wiped the sticky sweat and cum from his skin. He looked in the mirror at the lean face and large green eyes that he'd always felt made him look far too young and innocent. Cody liked them. He watched his lips quirk up at the thought and tossed the towel into the laundry basket before flicking off the lights.

Coming back out into the kitchen, he approached the table... Cody, still sprawled on the couch, stretched like a cat. It was getting dark outside. The interior of the house was turning to shades of hazy grey as the sun finally gave up it's influence to the night. Alex reached for the lights and blinked as the kitchen was suddenly flooded in harsh fluorescence. The pumpkin sat on the table beside the carving knife, blade glinting. Alex stared at it and began to reach for the handle but jumped as Cody brushed against his back. He'd heard nothing of his lover's approach.

Inhaling deeply to slow his heart which was hammering wildly in his chest, Alex could smell the tang of sweat and sex on Cody's skin, and the lingering scent of aftershave and shampoo. He turned his body until he was chest to chest with the taller man. His chin barely cleared Cody's shoulder. "Did you take the knife out?" he asked, running his fingers through the downy hair on his lover's belly.

Cody gave a satisfied purr. Alex could feel it reverberating through Cody's chest and penetrating into his own. "What knife?"

Suddenly, the temperature of the room seemed to go cold around him. Alex drew back, expecting to see his own breath fog before his face. Goosebumps rose up over his skin. He shivered. Even Cody's flesh suddenly seemed stiff and cold beneath his fingers. He jerked back, awkwardly breaking the loose embrace and reaching for the worn, bone handle. When did they get this? Their bodies were suddenly uncomfortably close. The weight of the knife felt strange in his hand. Alex took an unsteady step backwards and brought the blade up into Cody's line of sight. "This knife."

Cody's expression was strange, a smile played at the corners of his lips, but Alex barely recognized it. He felt a cold knot begin to form deep in his gut as Cody raised his hand, his eyes focusing intently on the gleaming blade. His fingers played over the flat surface for a moment, caressing it almost lovingly. "No."

It took Alex a moment to realize Cody was answering his original question. A moment to shake the strange spell of the moment, but it still clung in the air, on Cody's voice, which sounded oddly hollow and detached.

"Did you?"

Alex flinched at the question, the voice was so cold, so hard. Not his Cody. Not someone he'd ever known. "No," his own voice was barely a whispered squeak.

Suddenly, the curtain of cold dropped, the room was warm and bright, Cody's face lit with a wicked grin as he leaned in close. "Must be the curse!"

Alex stood very still for a moment, he felt as if ice water were draining through his knees to the floor. Cody kissed him lightly around the knife that still separated their bodies and carefully pinched the blade between strong fingers. Relieved and still fighting trembling extremities, Alex let it go. Cody grasped the handle and carried it to the sink where he set it in the basin with a clang.

"Where'd we get this thing anyway? I don't remember it. I'm sure *I'd* never have anything so god awful ugly."

"I don't know," Alex mumbled, still disoriented. With every moment in the bright kitchen, Cody banging around the cupboards, humming cheerfully, the furnace breathing warmth into the air, Alex felt himself grow more and more uncertain. Just nerves. Just the creeps. Just letting the old man in the field get to him... He shivered again at that memory and considered putting on some clothes but found himself loathe to leave Cody's company. The hall to the bedroom was dark. He shook himself. Damn coward.

"I need a shower," Cody announced after pulling several cans from the cupboards.

Alex gave him a weak, grateful smile. "Me, too."

Cody's eyes narrowed then he broke into a wide grin. "Well, then..."

*****

The shower and more "recreational" activities warmed Alex's body and blood and spirit until the cold fear that had gripped him, the strangeness seemed all but a distant dream. Perhaps, he thought as he walked back down the hall in warm sweats, perhaps that's all it really was. One of those odd dreams. Lying in Cody's arms after sex, sated and exhausted, sometimes he slipped into a dreamy half-sleep and would awaken disoriented and confused. He'd almost convinced himself of this as he entered the kitchen. Cody was still in the bedroom. And Alex froze.

On the kitchen table, beside the perfect, round, orange pumpkin, rested a knife, handle of dull, white bone, blade glinting in the light. Alex felt the tingle of the hairs rising along his forearms and the nape of his neck. "Cody!" His voice pitched into a higher register than he was hoping for, but he was desperately relieved at the quick footsteps he heard coming down the hall behind him.

"What's wrong?" Concerned tinged Cody's voice. Alex pointed at the knife.

"Didn't you put that in the sink?"

Cody looked at it and frowned. "I don't really remember... Did I?"

"I thought you did..."

"Well... Must not have, unless you took it out."

"I didn't." Alex could feel the faintest tremor starting in his voice.

Cody threw an arm around him. "Then I left it on the table." He smiled broadly. Nothing could be wrong when Cody was smiling. "We don't have ghosts in the house, hon, promise."

Alex stared at the table. Of course. The knife had been there all along. He was just letting the old man get to him.

Cody pushed him gently toward the counter. "Help with dinner, we'll carve your pumpkin while it's cooking."

Alex cast a final glance over his shoulder. Come to think of it, the knife *was* familiar. Where had they gotten it again?

Cody dropped a bag of carrots in front of him and Alex turned his attention back to more important matters.

*****

The moon was bright in the black, velvet sky. A hair shy of full. It would be a full moon for Halloween. Alex smiled. With a casserole in the oven, already filling the kitchen with wonderful, warm aromas, newspapers spread across the table, a bowl set out to catch the seeds for roasting, they were ready to start carving.

Cody seated himself where he could hold the squash steady while Alex did the fine cutting work. Positioning the tip of the bone-handled blade at the crown of the pumpkin, he sank it deep into the stiff flesh, then wrenched it free with some effort and placed a second cut at a sharp angle to the first.

Slowly, painstakingly, he worked his way around in a jagged-toothed circle until finally, grasping the gnarled stem, he was able to lift the lid. It separated with a wet, meaty groan, bringing up tangles of seeds and orange entrails. He grinned. "Pumpkin guts!"

Cody only shook his head and offered the bowl while Alex hacked away the biggest chunks, then dipped his hands into the wet, stinking bowels to draw out more slimy fibers.

*****

Alex decided to go with tradition, having only one pumpkin to carve. The eyes and nose were simple triangles that popped out easily after a only a few straight slices of the knife. The mouth, with its gap-toothed grin had taken longer, but finally Alex positioned the knife for the final cut at the left corner of the mouth... The one that would separate the entire piece to be popped out of the face and leave them with a grinning jack-o-lantern where before there'd been only a pumpkin. He wedged the knife in deep, wriggling it, it had cut just centimeters short of separating the final piece.

Alex braced his left hand against the pumpkin's face and wrenched the knife upward with more force.

"Careful!" Cody warned just as the knife hewed through the final shreds of resistance and virtually leapt upward.

Alex felt a cold, sinking shock penetrate his chest as he could feel and almost hear the honed edge slice through skin and flesh and nick deeply into bone. His breath seemed to come in shuddering gasps as his mind fumbled with too many sensations. He distantly heard Cody cursing. The pain seemed muted, like the roar of a river heard through cotton balls stuffed in one's ears.

Cody was speaking, his words were rapid, agitated, but they were muffled as well. As if he'd forgotten and suddenly remembered he could see, Alex's vision cleared and he saw blood, his own blood flowing fast and bright, like liquid ruby over the silver blade, down the grinning, unfinished face... He shuddered at the grinding of metal against bone as he levered the knife loose from the heel of his hand and slid it past the opened flesh and clear of the wound. Cody had a dishtowel already in his hands and began to bind the gash tightly in the woven cotton.

Alex staggered. He heard Cody say "hospital." For a moment, the pain seemed to well up like a terrible cresting wave, threatening to swallow him, crush him, drown him and drag him away into madness... But then it crashed over him and broke into retreating rivulets.

"No..." The pain had withdrawn down his arm like a wave into the ocean. He stared numbly at the pumpkin. Somehow, as he jerked the knife from his hand, it had dislodged the final piece and the mouth of the jack-o-lantern stood gaping open. A mad grin, wet blood staining it's lips. "No, it's okay. It's not that bad." The pain was now only a distant irritating buzz at the base of his hand. He began to unwrap the towel but Cody's hand fell over his.

"Alex, stop, you need stitches! You nearly cut off your hand!"

Alex laughed softly. "No, I'm fine." He pulled the towel fully free. "It's barely a scratch." He raised the wounded hand. Indeed, the knife had gone deep, but a cut only a few centimeters long still oozed a slow trickle of blood. "Just need a band-aid, I'm fine."

Cody just stared at him, blinking slowly. "There was so much blood... How..."

Alex, felt drained, exhausted. He shrugged and gave his lover a weak smile. "It's okay, Cody, I'm okay. Just help me clean this up, okay?"

Cody still seemed dazed, his eyebrows drawn in thought, but he slowly reached for the blood-soaked dish towel and knife and dropped them both into the sink. The clang of the knife echoed off the metal walls of the basin and made Alex jump. Cody reached for the bowl of pumpkin seeds and looked up at him. "Are your going to get a band-aid?"

Alex realized he'd been standing cradling his hand for several minutes. He blinked. It suddenly felt as if he hadn't blinked for some time. His eyes stung. "I..." He glanced down at his hand. Actually... He looked more carefully. The cut didn't even seem as bad as he'd thought it was a few minutes ago. Beneath the crust of dried and flaking blood, the cut itself was not longer bleeding. In fact, it looked no worse than a long, deep paper cut. "I guess not." He looked down at the blood-stained newspapers. "It isn't that bad, I don't know why it bled so much. Must be a lot of capillaries there or something." Cody looked doubtful but said nothing as he dampened a clean paper towel and began to wipe the dark stain from Alex's hand and wrist.

When Cody turned away again, Alex reached to lift the pumpkin off the table so he could gather the newspapers. He froze for a moment, the pumpkin, lighter without it's innards, looked strangely demonic with a single track of still-glistening blood trickling from the corner of it's mouth. For a moment, Cody saw his hand, the blade of the knife deeply imbedded, blood flowing down over the blade like a crimson river... Blood staining the newspapers, blood pouring down the blade, into the cut-edges of the grinning mouth... Alex stared at it now. The smooth, cut surface was a clean white-orange. He set it down on the counter and studied it, frowning. Then he looked at his hand and shook his head. It must have been shock. Everything had happened too quickly, he couldn't have remembered it clearly. He shrugged and turned to clear the newspapers from the table.

*****

The pumpkin face and tabletop wiped clean, all traces of the unfortunate accident cleared away, Alex dug up an emergency candle from the junk drawer and cut it down to fit inside their madly grinning creation.

After Alex burned his fingers twice, Cody took the matches from him and lit the candle. Alex set the lid on the top of the jack-o-lantern and Cody dimmed the lights. Alex leaned back into his lover's arms and smiled at the warm, orange glow flickering through the features of the darkened face.

Cody's breath was warm on his ear, his voice was a low, soft rumble. "We should put it outside on the steps."

Alex nodded. He felt warm and happy. The pain in his hand was a distant memory. Cody's heartbeat was a steady, reassuring rhythm against his own ribs. "Okay."

The air chilled them as they arranged the pumpkin beside the door and choked its flame.

They fell into bed on top of each other, banking their own fires against the cold night outside.

*****

Alex stumbled in the dark. His heart was pounding so loudly he could barely hear beyond the rush of blood past his ears. He could feel his eyes straining, open wide. He knew something awful, something terrible waited at the end of the long, dark hall. He wanted to turn, he wanted to run, but his feet kept taking him inexorably closer.

Suddenly, there was a lightening of the blackness, an orange glow casting jumpy, formless shadows, its source just beyond his vision. Then, abruptly, a corner seemed to dissolve before him and opened on a room, both familiar and eerily strange. Their kitchen, but the edges faded into blackness, the surfaces that were visible flickered in and out of his vision before the odd light.

The light's source was the center of the room, but hidden, a dark shadow in the middle of the table. It's outline was barely discernable. His heart was beating so fast he could barely breathe. Terror gripped his spine and did an icy climb up the back of his neck. He tried to turn, to run, but his body wouldn't obey his mind, he was trapped in sucking tar that wrapped itself about his legs, his arms, even his tongue. As he tried to scream for Cody, the sound came distant and slurred to his own ears.

The thing swung around completely, two baleful triangles fixed on him, behind the empty, staring sockets flames raged orange and red. The air smelled acrid and bitter. Suddenly, beneath the eyes, a slit opened across the face like a wound, it widened to a gap-toothed maw, something wet and slick dripped from its lips, black against the blinding flames.

For a moment, Alex stood frozen in place, then one flaming eye suddenly closed then opened again in a mocking wink. He screamed.

*****

Alex felt his blood run cold, screams of primal terror sent ice shooting up and down his spine, cold fingers wrapped around his lungs. He couldn't breathe. Something was touching him, grabbing him, he screamed again, suddenly the terror of the dream stepped over the boundaries of reality and into the darkness into his own warm bed, into his own lover's warm, gentle hands. He screamed and screamed. Until finally, the fabric of the nightmare began to thin and shred into gauzy strands. Light flooded the room, chasing shadows and ghosts back to his dreams.

Cody's voice was roughened slightly with sleep, but it was low and gentle. The strong hand on his chest was reassuring. Alex took gasping breaths as his heart rate slowed and evened.

"Jesus Christ, Alex," Cody murmured, sitting fully up in bed beside his partner. "You okay, now?"

Alex took another shuddering breath then nodded hesitantly and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Oh shit..." he breathed when he finally trusted his voice again. "Oh, God."

"It was just a dream." Cody was looking uneasy, his face was creased with concern, but he seemed unsure now what to do with his hands. He finally grabbed a pillow and kneaded it for a moment before tossing it down in front of him. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Alex glanced around the lit room. Everything was familiar, in its place, but it felt cold and sinister. He was just letting things get to him. He took another breath and forced his body to relax against the vestiges of adrenaline thrumming through his muscles. His mouth was sticky and coppery bitter to his tongue. "I just need some water," he said, making a decision in the back of his mind. "I'll be right back."

Regretfully, he pushed back the warm bulk of the blankets and swung his feet to the floor. He fought a moment of irrational panic as a vision of being grabbed from under the bed suddenly flashed to the front of his mind. He took a steadying breath, let the fear fade to a reasonable background level and padded toward the bedroom door.

As he pushed it open onto the dark hallway, his heart began to pound again as the dream déjà vu surged back in upon him. He eased the door all the way open, letting the bedroom light spill out onto the darkened walls and he inched forward until he could reach the hall light switch with his fingertips and brightness assaulted his eyes.

A few more steps and the edge of the kitchen was visible, shadowy in the bleed of light from the hall. Just a few more steps. Alex forced his feet to move, the carpet felt rough and cool under his soles. The floor boards creaked and he flinched. A few more steps. He could see more and more of the darkened kitchen. The corner gave way before him. Through the kitchen window, the moon cast bright, cold light, enough light to see...

Alex shrieked.

For a desperate second his mind told his body to scramble backwards straight through the solid wall behind him. Then he gasped another lungful of air and rational thought seized control again. Slowly, his heart thrumming like a hummingbird caged against his ribs, he approached the kitchen table and the jack-o-lantern grinning madly at him from its center.

Replacing the frantic initial terror, a sick, cold dread crept up into his belly as he stared down at the tabletop. The trickle of blood still glistened at the corner of the empty mouth. The bone-handled knife glinted under the moonlight.

Alex felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and prickle across his scalp. He spun and barely suppressed another scream. His heart stuttered then stumbled doggedly back to a semblance of rhythm. "Jesus, Cody..."

Cody's frame was silhouetted in the door against the bright hallway. His face was hidden by dark shadows. His arms hung loose at his sides, his fingers moved, darting lightly, like a snake-tongue over the cotton of his sleep pants.

A darker horror began claw its way up Alex' chest. "Cody?"

"You screamed." The voice was flat, cold, Alex eased back a step and jerked as his hand brushed the edge of the table.

"I... The pumpkin... It startled me, how did it get inside?"

Cody took a step into the kitchen. The moonlight caught the edge of the cabinets, preserving the shadow over the large man's face. "What are you talking about?"

Alex swallowed, edging another step around the table, both putting the pumpkin into Cody's view and the table between them. "We put it on the porch. This evening. Before we went to bed."

Cody took another step toward Alex, the shadows abruptly dropped from his face, the moonlight cast an eerie glow over a strangely blank expression. "No we didn't."

Alex moved again, putting the table fully between them. The knife gleamed, inches from his right hand. "Cody..."

Cody was still moving closer as he spoke. "That was last night."

Alex shook his head. "No..."

"We brought it in tonight after the trick-or-treaters. We talked about it..." He was sidling around the table now, fingers brushing the surface. Alex shuffled again, keeping the full diameter between them. Vague confusion tickled the back of his mind. Something familiar. Something he remembered. "We talked about bringing it in for the night so teenagers wouldn't smash it."

"No... Tonight..."

Cody stood very still for a moment then he raised his arm and the world shattered.

Alex screamed, the knife caught a shaft of moonlight and flashed blindingly. He felt something wet and warm splatter his arm. The bone-handle was scalding hot in his palm. He closed his eyes, his body seemed far away, moving independently of this quiet place in his mind. His ears heard screaming. Terrible, soul-tearing screams... But they were far away, too. Everything was so far away, cottony... Warm... Quiet...

Alex opened his eyes. He was warm, but he felt himself chilling quickly as the wetness soaking his clothing and coating his skin began to cool in the air. The room was quiet. Almost quiet. He could hear someone breathing.

The breaths were slow, rattling, wet breaths, uneven. Sometimes catching. Hitching and wheezing before falling back into a steady rhythm. The moon was casting long rays through the window. An image suddenly filled Alex's mind. Cody, leaning across the table, eyes bright and intense, raising his arm... Just before everything went to hell... Raising his arm. One finger extended. Pointing. At the window. Alex looked up. No... The moon... At the moon... Full and round. Full... Alex blinked at it numbly. Full moon for Halloween...

The rattling was growing louder... Filling the room... Filling his ears and his mind... Slowly, he tore his eyes away from the bone-white moon and let his chin fall, dropping his gaze to the bone-white handle of the knife sunk to the hilt in his chest.

*****

"Shit." Alex looked up as Cody pushed himself up to sitting, still muttering curses under his breath and fixed his lover with a baleful glare. "You never listen, do you?"

Alex eased himself upright as well and fingered the torn edges of his t-shirt around the knife hilt . "I'm sorry."

Cody shook his head, the gash across his throat opened in a grotesque smile as he moved. "Every fucking year."

Alex studied the ground. There was no anger in the words. Not anymore.

The sun was coming up. The grey was brightening. The deep red of the blood pooled thick around Alex's legs was already growing fainter. Cody climbed to his feet, and looked out at the approaching dawn. His slate-grey eyes had already faded to a glittering silver, his form was becoming hazy, insubstantial. "Fucking gypsies," he growled, although the sound seemed to emanate from the air all around them now.

"I love you." The first ray of sunlight speared the horizon. Alex's voice echoed softly around the empty room for a moment before the bone-handled knife clattered to the dusty floor.


~ Julnick

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