by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by neomeruru
I was absolutely certain I was going to die, and it was because I’d wanted to wash my hands. The last thought that was going to go through my head was going to be that I could have lived a long and happy life if I’d just been satisfied with that bottle of hand sanitizer. And the worst part of it was that I’d die getting my hands dirtier, what with how the zombie I was trying to wrestle off of me was covered in dirt and that undefinable zombie sludge that they seemed to create. I’d hoped it wouldn’t end like this, in a Wendy’s bathroom, while I still needed to pee.
I had started to accept the inevitability of my death when I heard a voice yell, “EAT SHIT!” right before the zombie’s head was removed with a blow from what looked like a shovel with nails in it. I pushed the limp body off of me and was genuinely surprised to find I had not pissed my pants. I wiped my face and checked my sleeves to see if any of the zombie sludge had gotten on me; I was mostly clean. I stared past my shaky fingers up at my savior. Well, the shovel was more specifically my savior, but the guy holding it was pretty important, too.
He had hair like a badger that’d been in a wind tunnel, tattoos on his neck, and abdominal definition I could see through his t-shirt. “Don’t mess with Texas, shitstain,” he said, and stepped over me to the zombie corpse to give it a kick with one scuffed up cowboy boot. Oh, thank god, he wasn’t talking to me. He gave the zombie another kick in its decomposed ass and turned his attention to me. “You get bit?”
“No! No, it didn’t get me,” I said. He sized me up, narrowing his eyes. He gave the back of my knee a nudge with the toe of his boot.
“Get up,” he said, and I pulled myself up. He gave me the head-to-toe, and then a walk-around. “Push your sleeves up.” I did one, and then the other, showing them unmarked. “Lift up your shirt.” I pulled it up to my underarms, exposing my soft belly to the world. He seemed satisfied. “It get any shit in your mouth?”
“No, no, not any. Just a little on my face.” He narrowed his eyes again—actually, the more I thought about it, the more I realized his eyes were just like that, permanent sun-squint.
“Okay, but if you turn, I’m not gonna hesitate.” He thunked his shovel against one of the sinks, knocking a little gore onto the floor. The sound made me jump because I am a nancy. I held up my hands in front of me.
“Of course! No hesitation. Law of the wild and whatever.” He kept looking at me that Clint Eastwood way and then rested his shovel up across his shoulder.
“Well, come on,” he said, and started to turn towards the bathroom door.
“Come on?” I said.
“I’m not leaving a cute little thing like you here,” he said, and I was glad his back was facing me so he couldn’t see my eyes go wide. Oh, Jesus, I had been hiding from the few living people left for months just to avoid this kind of situation. But I was kind of cornered, and he kind of had a death shovel and knew how to use it. I guessed if I was going to become someone’s apocalypse bitch, it would probably be less unpleasant all around if I went willingly.
“Uh, one second, okay?” He looked back over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow and I hurried to the urinal to piss, and then finally washed my goddamn hands.
I followed him out of the Wendy’s into the parking lot, holding on to the shotgun I’d picked up a while back. I’d run out of bullets some time ago, but it was still nice to hold on to, like an uncuddly metal security blanket. It probably would have made a good blunt weapon against the zombie in the bathroom if I had been paying attention. My mom always had told me I didn’t pay enough attention.
“So, um, I really appreciate you saving my life,” I said to the guy. “That was a really cool thing of you to do.”
“Gotta look out for the ones we got left,” he said. I could see the edge of a tattoo peeking up from under the back of his shirt, black lines spreading out in rays.
“Yeah, I’m glad you went for that instead of, like, killing me for food.” I hugged the shotgun a little closer to my chest. “Is that why you were in the Wendy’s? Sometimes they have like sauce packets, those last forever.”
“Nah, I was checking the grease. Rigged up El Presidio to run on cooking oil if it needs to.”
“El Presidio?” I asked, and he turned to me and gave me a big grin, then pointed off just at the edge of the parking lot, behind some trees.
“Oh, querido, you’re going to like El Presidio.” I followed him.
“Holy shit,” I said, when I saw it. El Presidio, it turned out, was an RV that had been converted into some, like, mobile death fortress. The whole thing was reinforced with a mishmash of welded-on steel, with only slight slits at the windows. There were spikes around the wheel wells and it had a jagged cowcatcher on the front that had marks of gore and torn fabric on it. Not so much cows, then.
He was grinning at me like it was Christmas morning. “Come on inside.”
I could put aside the fact I would probably be paying for this ride with my ass and went through the heavily-armored door to see more. “Holy shit,” I said again at the arsenal inside. Apparently a shovel with nails slammed through it was just a jolly little toy for this guy. He had guns, he had knives, he had baseball bats and crowbars and all kinds of shit that would go thud, and he had a freaking crossbow.
“That little stick you got in your hands got any boom left in it?” he said as he came in behind me, gesturing to the shotgun. I shook my head. “Well, you can load up, I got shells. Or take your pick from anything else. Just as long as you stay away from Cynthia.”
He picked a nail gun off his rack of death. “Pretty Cynthia. She’s my sweetheart, I don’t share her with anyone.” He gave it a little kiss on the gun-cheek and put her back. Well, sure, that put me at ease, great. He stepped through the RV and thumped the passenger side seat. “Strap in and let’s get on the road before more z-boys show up.”
I sat down. There was no particular means of strapping in, but there were a shitload of CDs on the floor that I had to try not to step on. “Where are we going?”
“Fucked if I know,” he said. “Somewhere else.”
“Oh. Well. That’s okay.” The combination of safe and deeply afraid I was feeling made me kind of need to pee again. He started up El Presidio and it rumbled onto the road with a great scraping sound. I could only see through the eight inches or so of window left exposed by all the armor plating. Not like the scenery was great, anyway.
We drove in silence for a while, just the growling of El Presidio in the background as I wrung my hands around the barrel of my shotgun. I’d put a polish on the metal from doing that so much. “So, uh…”
“Are you going to rape me at any point or anything?” I just figured it was good to get things out in the open, get myself in the right headspace. He whipped his head around and looked at me like I’d just insulted his grandmother.
“The fuck? No, I’m not.” He gave me the squint side-long. “Are you going to rape me?”
“No!” I said, and put my gun down between my knees to hold up my hands in innocence. “No, definitely not. Although honestly I kind of feel complimented that you think I could pull that off, what with all the weapons and the…” I made a gesture at the interior of El Presidio and his general demeanor, which worked better than any word I could come up with.
Fortunately, he laughed. “You’re a funny one. Didn’t think we had any of those left.”
“I’m hilarious,” I said, and stopped gesticulating to poke my fingers down the barrel of my gun. I really did not know anything about guns. “Sorry to make assumptions, I just haven’t seen anyone in a while, and the last group of guys I saw looked like… like they’d want to use me as a hand puppet?” I shook my head. “That metaphor doesn’t make sense, but you get the drift.”
He grunted. “Tough looking types?”
“They looked like frat guys from my school. So I hid in a tree until they went away.” He laughed at that, which was fair, but my ability to shimmy up a birch like a goddamn squirrel had saved me more times than I could count, even before shit went bad. “So, uh, thank you again. For saving my life and not taking a butt-price for it or whatever.” I reached my hand over to him. “My name’s—”
He held up his hand to cut me off. “Nuh-uh, nope. No names. Things get too personal and we’re both going to be fucked.” He sized me up again. I thought maybe he should keep his eyes on the road, but the damn thing we were in could probably roll over anything that wasn’t a tank. “You can call me…” He reached down between my legs, which made me make a little girlish squeak, but he was reaching for the CDs at my feet. He picked up a Queen: Greatest Hits CD. “Mercury. And you’ll be…” He grabbed another one, steering El Presidio with his knee. “You can be Gaga.”
“Gaga?” I squawked. “Aw, come on!” I peered down at the CDs. Low was down there! “Can’t I be Bowie or something?” He sat up, balancing the offending CD on the tip of my gun. And me without any shells.
“Nope, you’re glam and you’ll like it.” He gave me another grin before turning his eyes back to the road. “You seem like you need a pokerface, anyway.”
“Bowie is glam!”
Mercury shook his head. “No, destiny has spoken. I’m callin’ you Gaga.”
I sighed and slumped into my seat. The end of the world was full of indignities. “Okay, fine, whatever.” I peered out the crack in the window. There were about three or four zombies in a field by the road, circling around what had maybe once been a cow. At least the livestock didn’t rise from the dead. I did miss burgers, though. “So, uh, you seen anyone else lately?”
“Just you and the groaners,” Mercury said. “Surprised to see you, even. How’d a little thing like you last so long?”
“I’m good at running and good at hiding,” I said. “And I was with some people from my school for a while, but…” It felt like years ago.
“Yeah, ‘but.’ I get you.” He pattered his fingers on the steering wheel. “You get into any scrapes with that thing?” he asked, tilting his head towards the gun.
“A few,” I said. “It’s mostly good for knocking them back so you can get away. It is surprisingly harder to blow a head off with a shotgun than video games led me to believe. And I ran out of bullets… um… I don’t know how long ago, I lost track of time.”
“Fuck if I don’t know how that is. I got a nudie calendar in the back that keeps me on schedule, and helps with some other things, too.” He grinned. “You should check it out, you’ll be glad it’s August.”
“Oh, uh, sure, I’ll be sure to…” I decided that sentence wasn’t worth finishing. The average nudie calendar was not my cup of tea to start with, and pretty much any porn these days was weird on account of how everyone in it now probably gobbled brains instead of cock. “Time flies, huh? But I guess you’ve been handling it well, in this thing. Where’d you get it?”
Mercury gave the dashboard a stroke, like petting a good dog. “I’ve had El Presidio for years. Before she was El Presidio. Now she’s all pretty, aren’t you, girl?” He pumped on the gas to make the engine growl and then laughed. “And I mean, fuck, look at all that shit I got back there! Got it all for free, and no one’s gonna make me cool it off in jail overnight for knocking off a few groaners.”
“I guess killing zombies is a nice base-needs-satisfying activity that the whole family can enjoy,” I said.
“Shit, no kidding, it’s kind of the best.” Mercury jerked a thumb to the back of the RV. “I rigged up this one thing… took a car antenna and put a bandsaw blade on it, made a grip out of duct tape. Whacha! Nice little whippy thing, you get the right wrist movement and you can get almost the whole way through a neck.” Oh my god, I was going to die in this RV. “But I tell you what, and I swear I’m not some kind of pervert—” No sentence in history that began with that phrase ever ended anywhere good. “But when I really get down in it, taking out the z-boys left and right, man, when I’m done I’ve got at least half a chub on. You know how that is, right?”
“Oh. Wow. No,” I said, and shifted my gun so it was no longer sitting between my knees. If it weren’t for the fact I hadn’t had a conversation with another human being in at least a month, I would have excused myself to go have a nap amidst the machetes. Human interaction, though, however strange and kind of terrifying it was, felt unbelievably good. “After I have a run-in with a zombie, it’s more like… my dick has retreated. Entirely into my body cavity.”
Mercury pointed at me. “That’s because your key word is ‘run.’ Don’t want anything dangling in the way while you beat those skinny little legs on the pavement.”
“Just another exciting feature of the flight instinct!” I said, and laughed a little. “Guys like me get all the flight, and guys like you get all the fight.”
“And the fight is connected to the fuck,” he said, and then held up a hand when he saw me twitch. “Now, settle down, unclench, I said I wasn’t going to do anything to you and I mean it.” He let out a breath and ran his hand back through the bush of his hair. “Don’t mean to freak you out, mijo, I swear. Been a long time since I talked to anyone. You know how that is.” It didn’t need to be a question.
I poked around at the CDs with my foot. Michael Bublé. That was unexpected. “So, you’re really not going anywhere? Just… driving?”
“Just doing what I always done,” Mercury said. “Besides, where the hell is there to go?”
“I was trying to go north,” I said. “Like, Canada? I heard that there were people up there. Because it’s too cold for the zombies, they just, like, lock up.”
“That so?” I didn’t know if it was true, but the hope of it gave me something to do other than hide in a walk-in freezer crying and waiting to die. “Well, shit. You wanna go north? I might as well go north, too. You got yourself a ride.”
I hadn’t expected to feel so relieved. “That’s… awesome. Thank you. I’ll help out however I can.”
“Company’s good enough help,” he said. “I’m pretty good and stocked up. You hungry?” He laughed. “Dumb question. Got a bunch of cans of shit back there and a hot plate, go to town.”
Holy shit, hot food? I sincerely felt tears coming to my eyes. “Oh my god, you are amazing,” I said, and got up to wander back through the RV. I ate two cans of amazing warm franks and beans while staring at Miss August on Mercury’s calendar. She was sitting on the hood of a convertible with her tits out, holding a cheeseburger. Yeah, that would give anyone a boner.
I came back into the passenger seat with a sigh and a hand on my full belly. “That was amazing. I’ve been living on, like, pretzels and cup-a-soup packets.” That had kind of been my pre-apocalypse diet, too, but he didn’t have to know that. “That was just…”
“Better than sex?”
I laughed. Man, it had been a long time since I’d done that. “Yes. Definitely.”
Mercury grinned. “You must’ve had pretty bad sex, then.”
I thought about objecting on behalf of what a kind and giving partner my left hand was, but we didn’t really need to get into that. “Yeah, I guess so.” My face already kind of hurt from smiling. I rubbed my belly a little more. Months of basically starving and I still had a little gut, how the hell did that even work out? “I was really hungry from the minute I got in here, because, it’s weird, but…”
“It smells like french fries,” Mercury said. “I know. It’s the vegetable oil.”
“Oh, good, I wasn’t hallucinating.” I leaned back a little in my seat, putting my knees up on the dash. “God, french fries would be so amazing. McDonald’s. I’d be like sucking on a ketchup packet for Vitamin C and just thinking about greasy, salty, hot french fries.”
Mercury laughed. “Easy there, sexy, you’re going to get me hard, talking all dirty like that.” He put a hand on his stomach. His was much tighter than mine. “I miss taquitos. The big fucking breakfast ones with potatoes. Fucking hangover miracle.”
“Sometimes I even miss hangovers.”
Mercury grinned at me. “Oh, I can set you up with one of those, don’t you doubt it. You think I got all that arsenal and supplies back there and I didn’t stock the fuck up on booze?”
I peered over my shoulder. I’d missed that when weeping over the cans of soup. “You got any girl drinks?”
“Oh, querido, you like it sweet?” I was starting to be a little less nervous about that grin of his.
“I honestly was never much of a drinker. I didn’t go to a lot of parties or anything, and I only turned twenty-one last December.”
“No fake ID?”
“I was afraid I’d get in trouble!” I pushed my hand back through my hair while I laughed at myself. Jesus, I needed a haircut. “I was kind of a pussy.”
“Now, don’t you call yourself that,” Mercury said, and I started to smile for the kindness. “Because a pussy is the toughest goddamn thing in the world, and doesn’t deserve to have its name stuck on some little baby afraid to get busted for buying a bottle of coconut rum.” He laughed and reached over to squeeze my shoulder. It makes me take in a little breath; it had been a long time since someone living had touched me. I remembered exactly when it was, but it wasn’t a good memory. “But don’t you worry now, Gaga! Who gives a fuck! We’ll find a place to raid and get you some of that sour apple shit, whatever you like.”
“Hey, if there’s any time to butch up, it’s after the end of the world, right? I’ll drink whatever you’ve got.” A guy I’d been traveling with at the beginning had a little flask, liked to pass it around all dramatic cowboy style. I always passed; didn’t seem like a good idea to get boozed with zombies around. In El Presidio, however…
“Got some bourbon back there. Mixes pretty well with the Spaghetti-O’s,” Mercury said.
“Like, in it?” My newly full stomach curdled at the thought.
Mercury shrugged. “Gotta keep things interesting.” He made a little ‘humph’ sound and pulled El Presidio over to the side of the road. “All this talk got me hungry.” He got up from the driver’s seat and headed back into the body of the RV.
“Do you want me to drive for a while?” I called back after him.
He turned and looked back at me with that grin and laughed. “Oh, baby, no one drives El Presidio but me.”
I shrugged and nodded; that was fair. Staying curled up in the passenger seat, I turned back to look into the back of El Presidio, unsure if it would be weird if I followed. “I mean, I don’t exactly have a lot of practice driving zombie-proof mobile fortresses,” I called back. “Most of my driving experience is from my mom’s Prius.”
“I like those things,” Mercury said, accompanied by some thunks. “Real quiet. Sneaky little things. Got hit by one once.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry?”
“Nothing I haven’t broken before,” he said. He’d left the keys in El Presidio’s ignition. The keychain said ‘Remember the Alamo.’ “Hey, Gaga, come on back here and have a drink. I’m done driving for the day.”
He was, in fact, eating Spaghetti-O’s right out of the can, sipping whiskey out of what had once been a jar of baby food peaches. I apparently merited the use of an actual shot glass, a frosted one with the United Nations flag on it. I sat down across from Mercury and picked it up, giving it a sniff. “Smells… good?” It smelled like booze.
“It ain’t bad. Sip it, shoot it, mix it with Kool-Aid powder, whatever you want,” he said, and lifted his little jar. “Fucking toast me, though.”
I lifted my glass. “To what?”
You not being dead seems the pretty obvious one,” he said.
“Oh!” I clinked his jar. “Yes, that’s a good one. To not being dead!” I gave the bourbon a serious stare down and decided to get it over with as fast as possible. This was not going to end without some humiliation on my part no matter what I kicked it back, tried to swallow it without letting any of it touch my tongue, failed at that, and then spent a good twenty seconds coughing while Mercury laughed. He just sipped his whiskey.
“Fucking adorable,” he said. “Anyone ever tell you you’re fucking adorable?”
“My nana,” I said, my voice choked. I rubbed my throat and gave one last cough. “I’m good, I’m good. I could drink six more of those, no problem.” The booze hit my bloodstream hard, and it slowly dawned on me that the strange feeling I’d had growing inside me was relaxation. Some little part of me wondered if I could stay inside El Presidio forever, never stepping outside again, just me and this dangerous lunatic forever. Before the end, I’d spend days never leaving my dorm room. I could hole up in here with ramen noodles amidst the hunting rifles and maybe things would be normal again.
Mercury broke me out of my little fantasy by reaching across the little table to ruffle my hair. I startled a little, up close I could see in detail the tattoo on his wrist, one of a nail being driven into his wrist. It was all in black, so it wasn’t as gory as it could have been, but when he took his hand away, I could see the point of the nail detailed on the back of his wrist. I had to assume he had one to match on the other wrist, or else he’d be dangling off that cross really awkwardly. “You have as much as you want, querido. But if you get sick on anything, you’re cleaning it up.”
I tipped over the U.N. shot glass, letting the last little drop of whiskey dribble on the table. “Hey, some rules never change, right?” I righted the glass and poured half a measure of whiskey into it. “I can do this,” I said over the glass. “I’m a total pussy.” Mercury barked a laugh as I took that drink a little more gently. I still shuddered and made an undignified face, but this time I could just focus on the heat spreading through my chest. I sighed deeply and felt some locked up part of my spine come loose.
“Oh, you look like you’re about to fall over,” Mercury said as he finished up his Spaghetti-O’s. He dumped the remaining bourbon in his jar into the empty can, swished it around a little, and then knocked back the resulting mix. I was going to pretend I didn’t see that. “Kick back on the couch if you want to sleep.”
I looked over at it. There was even a little pillow on it. That was amazing. I’d been sleeping on rooftops and up in the branches of trees for as long as I’d been out on my own, and for no more than a couple of hours at a time. The booze and the promise of a safe, uninterrupted sleep made me tear up a little again.
Mercury stood up from the table and got something out of a cabinet. “I’ll give you some privacy, too.” He tossed a little stack of magazines onto the table, a variety of well-loved and filthy (in more ways than one!) porn magazines. “Probably been a while, huh?”
It was true; being on constant alert against being eaten by the undead did not give one a lot of time to spank it. The alcohol was hitting me harder than I’d intended, though, because I laughed and said, “Sorry, these aren’t my type.”
Mercury laughed. “Oh, you like the skinny girls? I got some of those in the back.”
I shook my head. “No, really not my type.”
A grin spread on Mercury’s face. “Ah. Mariposa?”
“I really don’t know what that means,” I said. “Or what… any of the things you’ve called me mean.”
“Only sweet things,” he said. “You want boys; I can find that for you. Or maybe I can just give you a little show myself.” He lifted up the bottom of his shirt to show off his stomach. His muscles were well-defined and tight, and he had a tattoo across his stomach that said Maldito in intricate script. He wasn’t my type—my type was more the skinny hipster boys in girl jeans and thick glasses, a.k.a. the first ones to go during the outbreak—but the sight still had me staring.
“Uh,” I said, wittily. He gave his stomach a little ripple and then let his shirt drop as he laughed.
“You just let me know, pretty.” Mercury tapped his finger on one of the porn mags. “But page seventeen in here, she’s got no tits at all, maybe you can pretend.” He gave my hair another ruffle. “Dream of french fries,” he said, and headed back into the rear of El Presidio, where his bed had to be.
I put my shot glass upside-down on the table and went over to stretch out on the couch. The cushions were foam and covered in some faux leather, but it felt fucking incredible. I closed my eyes and kicked off my shoes. Who even needed to jerk off when I could do that? As my brain wound down, letting go of defense mechanisms and fear spasms to actually go to sleep, I had the thought that maybe I had actually died back there in the Wendy’s. It wouldn’t surprise me if the afterlife was as weird as this. Did you even get an afterlife if you became a zombie? Fuck it, I was going to sleep.
I woke up for whatever hundredth day in a row it was thinking that if I had a toothbrush right then and there, I might fuck it. I didn’t have a hangover, but the swamp mouth was especially pronounced due to liquor consumption and from sleeping… actually, I had no idea how long I’d been asleep. The vibration under me said that El Presidio was moving again, and I could see sunlight coming from the front of the RV.
“Good morning, princess!” Mercury said cheerily when I stumbled up to the front. “You sleep good?”
“It was awesome,” I said, and scrubbed my teeth on the collar of my shirt. “Where do I pee?”
“That jug in the bathroom ain’t full of Gatorade,” Mercury said. I nodded and went back to add to his impressive urine collection. Maybe he could get the car to run on that, too. The little shower stall—oh my god, I would’ve definitely fucked a hot shower right then—was full of case after case of bottled water, so I grabbed one and headed back up front.
“How long did I sleep?” I asked, nudging my neglected shotgun out of the way to get comfortable.
“About twelve hours. You were sawing logs like no one’s business, too. Have any good dreams?”
“Not that I remember,” I said. “Total coma. I really needed that. I feel like I could run away from at least a dozen or two zombies today.”
“If we see that many, you can watch me take ’em out.” He leaned forward to peer out the window slit. “Hell, there’s one up there now, c’mon, baby, show little Gaga what you can do…” I couldn’t really see anything, but he pressed on the gas, and I heard a scraping sound before a WHU-WHUMP as El Presidio rolled over something. Mercury didn’t seem satisfied, though. “Ah, kinda winged it, only hit it with one tire. Half points!”
I rubbed my hand over my face and drank my water. Hell of a morning already. “Are you saving all that pee for something?” I asked, unsure if I actually wanted to know.
“Shit, you can do a lot of things with piss,” Mercury said. “You boil that shit down, you’ve got ammonia. Little bit of homemade rocket fuel. And if you don’t want to do that, well, hell, it’s sterile. You can drink it.” He looked over at my wide eyes and managed a straight face for about four seconds. “Just fuckin’ with you. Just been too lazy to dump it out.” I understood that. I was not innocent of the crime of peeing in a Vitamin Water bottle when too intimidated by basketball team members on my dorm’s floor to go down the hall to the bathroom.
“Where are we?” I said, and peered out the window. Nothing but highway, abandoned cars and the occasional shambling corpse among them. I didn’t know how long Mercury had been driving, so we could’ve been anywhere.
“I think we’re getting up on Iowa,” he said. “But I’ve been keeping my eye out for some good detours. Gotta find you some decent nudie rags.”
I felt my face get hot. The whole subject was a lot more embarrassing in the light of day with no bourbon in my system. “Oh, uh, you really don’t have to, that’s okay.”
“Fuck that! It’s a basic gesture of human kindness!” He peered out squinting over the horizon. “Might be a little hard to find the cock shots out here in corn country, but I got a good nose for these things.” He started smiling again. He looked a little wistful. “Man, used to be out in Tennessee, there was this place that said it was The World’s Largest Adult Book Store. Had a big sign you could see from the highway.”
“Was it really?” I asked.
“Fucked if I know,” Mercury said. “It was pretty big, though. Had inflatable sheep you could fuck. I mean, not like back in the peep booths or anything, you had to buy them first, but they were there.”
“Huh,” I said. “I guess product always rises to meet demand.”
“Pervs gonna get what pervs want,” Mercury said. “That’s why I’ll find you some good gay spank mags. Gesture of fucking friendship.”
“You really don’t have to,” I said, covering my eyes with my hand. “I mean… like, for one thing, most of the guys in porn like that just aren’t my type.”
“Oh, you’re a picky sort, huh?” He laughed. “That takes balls, being choosy at a time like this.”
“They always said I was special.” Short-bus special, occasionally, but it had been said. “Anyway, porn is kind of depressing now.”
Mercury frowned at me like I had started speaking French. “How?”
“Like those guys are probably all dead… with eaten brains.”
Mercury shrugged. “Not like you were ever going to really fuck ’em anyway, so who gives a shit.” He laughed. “I mean, come on. It’d be honoring their memories, getting a good squirt out of it. And for all the fuck you know there’s maybe an army of porn stars holed up somewhere in Hollywood, armed to the fucking teeth. Shit, I’d like to see that.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the thought. Maybe if society ever came back, someone would make that porno. “I guess that’s a way of thinking about it.” I curled my legs up into the seat. “Sometimes I just really miss… the Internet, you know?”
“Not really. Never was a computer guy,” he said.
“I really took it for granted. I could just see anything or find out anything right away! And I don’t even mean just porn—although the porn was great—but like… I really miss Wikipedia.” I let out a sigh and pulled my phone out of my pocket. “I still carry this stupid thing around! It’s been dead for months! And it wouldn’t even work if it were charged; the best I could do would be play Candy Crush and cry.” I stared at the black screen of my phone, made a frustrated little sound, and put it back in my stupid pocket. I cleared my throat, a little ashamed about my outburst.
Mercury was quiet for a bit, then said, “You know what I really miss?”
“Strip clubs with buffets,” he said.
“That’s… a thing?”
He had a warm smile, like he was seeing his firstborn son’s face for the first time. “Oh, honey, is it a thing. Steak and shrimp and titties, as far as the eye can see. Kinda makes you cry.”
I pushed my fingers back through my hair and smiled a little. “I’ve never even been to a strip club.”
“Not even a gay one? Banana hammocks waggling in your face?”
“Nope, not even that. I was not really the go-out-y kind of type.”
“Man, you really missed out,” Mercury said. “Breaks my heart. They were really places where you could just… fucking look at naked people. Real live naked people, not your Internet shit. Some days I’d’ve had the shittiest goddamn day, and I could just go in a titty joint and watch a dance or two and feel a little better about the world.”
It was funny, even in the pre-apocalypse world, I didn’t have anything that guaranteed to turn a bad day around. “It’s a shame, then, man. I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah, I am, too,” Mercury said, and for the first time in our weird little acquaintance I could see the weight of this fucked up new world on him. But it didn’t last long. He smacked his hand against the steering wheel. “Fuck it, detour.” He took El Presidio off the highway on the next exit.
“Where are we going?”
“Gonna find a fucking strip club,” he said, and that grin was coming back. “I can find one in twenty minutes tops, just you watch. I got a gift.”
He really did, it turned out. Only took him fifteen.
The sign outside it said it was called The Pink Pussycat, and the parking lot was empty. That was usually a good sign; it meant no one had come there to die. Churches tended to have very packed parking lots. You generally wanted to avoid churches.
“Pick your poison,” Mercury said, gesturing to the weapons. He tucked a handgun into his belt and picked out a machete as long as my torso. I grabbed the crossbow. I just couldn’t help myself. “You know how to use that thing?”
“I shot one at a Renaissance Festival once,” I said.
“People dress up all Shakespeare and wander around eating turkey legs and jousting and stuff,” I said. “…Seems kind of dumb, these days.”
“But you get to shoot crossbows?”
“And throw axes,” I said.
“Shit, I’d go,” Mercury said, then grabbed a hand lantern and hooked it onto his belt, and gave another one to me. He opened the door of El Presidio with his gun out, but the coast seemed pretty clear. I listened as I stepped outside and didn’t hear any shuffling or groaning, just that same weird pervasive silence that lived everywhere now. Good sign.
Mercury led the very slow charge to the front door and nudged it open with his foot, holding out the machete. “Anybody home?” he called out, and no sounds came forth. “I’d love to have a dance if anyone’s in there!” He pounded on the front door a few times, making it rattle in its frame. That noise would definitely wake up any zombies around, but no one seemed forthcoming. Mercury flicked on the lantern, propped the door open, and went inside. “You just hold tight,” he said to me as I lingered in the doorway holding my crossbow.
Mercury scooted around the joint ninja Special Forces style, checking behind the bar and around tables, while I flipped on my lantern and got a better look. The sunlight streaming in from the doorway made it look weird; I guessed strip clubs on television always had dramatic dark lighting to make them look sexy or seedy. Natural light just made it seem sad, empty chairs and dusty tables, the pole on stage looking tarnished and brassy. I’d hate to have to tell Mercury that I was not exactly impressed so far.
He came back to the door and propped it open with a chair. “Looks like it’s clear. And there’s a shitload of booze!” He grabbed me by the collar and pulled me in. It didn’t have the usual funk that permeated most buildings, that scent somewhere between mustiness and out-and-out rot. It kind of just smelled like a Bath and Body Works and a gym locker room had a baby and the baby died. It was almost refreshing.
“Now, since this is you first time here, mijo, you probably don’t know there’s a drink minimum,” Mercury said as he went behind the bar, setting his lantern up on it while still holding his blade. “And lucky you, they got all kinds of girly shit back here. I’ll make you something fucking sweet as you can get it.”
I sat down on one of the barstools and swiveled around a little. “It’s like… ten in the morning or something,” I said.
Mercury gave me a look, one eyebrow arched high and dubious. “And what, you have to go to work in an hour or some shit? Who gives a fuck!”
“Okay, okay, good point. Set me up.”
He grabbed a glass and wiped it off on his shirt, a nice redistribution of dirt from one surface to another, and started filling it with what looked like peach schnapps and Midori. Yeah, that was more my speed. He put it on the bar in front of me. “Now, usually one of the girls would bring it out to you and you’d give her a tip.” He grinned and grabbed the collar of his shirt. “But I can just show you my tits for free.” He tugged down the collar, showing that he had what appeared to be a pair of roosters engaged in a cockfight tattooed on his chest. Well, that was only the manliest thing I’d ever seen.
I realized I was staring. “Oh! Oh, shit, you won’t believe it…” I reached in my pocket for my wallet, which I carried for the same reason I still had my phone, and pulled out a dollar bill. “Look what I still have!”
Mercury laughed and leaned over the bar. “Oh, big spender! Maybe I’ll show you more later!” I put the dollar down the front of his shirt and he patted it back to his torso, biting his lip and groaning while he rubbed the bill on his chest. I laughed and took my drink. It was warm and syrupy and kind of gross, but I still could have had about eleven hundred times more of them than any of that bourbon.
“That’s so gross,” I said. “It makes my tonsils hurt.” I drank it down. Mercury snagged my glass and started filling it up again with a different mix, something involving that neon pink sour watermelon stuff.
“Two drink minimum!” he said and pushed it back to me.
“What about you?” The double-punch of alcohol and sugar on an empty stomach made me feel swimmy-headed and warm in my fingers. I kept a hand on the crossbow, though.
Mercury put two shot glasses on the table, filled both with tequila, and through some impressive shifting of mouth architecture, knocked back both at the same time. He shook his head rapidly and then thunked his machete an inch into the wood of the bar. “Now that is a good fucking start!” He reached under his shirt and pulled out my dollar bill. He picked his knife back up, somehow having a deadly grip on the hilt while holding the neck of a bottle of sweet tea vodka between his knuckles, and waved the dollar at me. “Okay, baby, you paid your money, you gonna get you a dance.”
I could feel my eyebrows creep up to my hairline, but he just kept grinning and came out from behind the bar. He planted the bottle of vodka on the nearest table and pointed at the chair at it. “Get the fuck over here!” he said, and I was never one to argue with a man with both alcohol and a machete. I took a seat at the table and opened the bottle for a sniff. Strip clubs having this much girly booze really challenged my assumptions about heterosexual men.
Mercury stabbed his machete into the floor of the stage and hopped up on it. He knotted up the front of his t-shirt into a little crop top, and wow, he had those muscles, those lines of definition that went from the hips down to the groin, a male version of cleavage that didn’t involve an ass crack. He held his hands up over his head and did a little shimmy.
“Gentlemen, please welcome to the stage our newest dancer,” he said, and I was already laughing from the announcer voice he put on. “Just call him the Yellow Rose of Texas, the Piece of Ass-o from El Paso, it ain’t what his mama named him but you just call him Mercury!” I let out a little whoop and applauded some, and he pointed a finger at me. “No, you don’t clap, you put money on the stage.”
“Sorry, I’m new!” I said, and got some more singles out of my wallet and put them on the stage. It’d been a long time since any vending machines worked anyway.
“There you go! Now you bought yourself a dance!” He started… singing wasn’t really the word for it, but he was making something remotely musical with his mouth, a rhythmic mix of uhn and tsss like bad porno music. He wriggled his hips to his own beat and pulled the gun out of his waistband, sliding the barrel of it up his bare stomach, and I had to be half-drunk and apocalypse-warped, because that was actually pretty hot.
He lifted the gun up over his head, and I wondered for a moment if he might fire it, but instead he just hopped around to face away from me and bent over, placing the gun on the stage while he shook his ass rapidly at me. Sexy to hilarious again in about twenty seconds, that had to be some kind of record.
“Take it off!” I hooted at him, and he peeked back over his shoulder with an exaggerated coquettish look, and then slapped his ass a few times before launching himself to do a spin around the pole. Very athletic. I whistled in appreciation. This was just about the stupidest thing I’d been involved with ever. I took a drink of the vodka straight from the bottle and enjoyed it.
Mercury bent over to pick the dollars off the edge of the stage, snapped his teeth at me, and stuffed them in his knotted up shirt. His uhns and tsses got louder and faster, and he worked his hips in a fairly obscene rotation as he undid his belt. I had to admit, he had some moves. He dropped his jeans around his ankles, put his hands behind his head, and treated the air to some tighty-whitey-clad pelvic thrusts.
“Come on, baby, I’m not feeling objectified enough,” he said as he waggled his junk at me. I laughed and got up from the chair to get closer to the stage, holding a five dollar bill.
“I’m supposed to stuff this somewhere, right?”
“Shit, we got a big spender!” he laughed, and shuffled around to stick his ass in my face again. “You just put it right in the coin slot, see if it makes change.”
He really did have a nice ass, firm and round and able to make the whole briefs thing really work for him. I could feel my face heating up as I reached up to tug back his waistband and stick the bill in.
I dropped it to the floor when something grabbed me from behind.
“Shit, fuck!” I yelped as I pushed the dead hands away from my shoulders and staggered, knocking over the table and sending sweet tea vodka to pour out onto the floor. I managed to grab the crossbow as I turned, and fuck me if it didn’t turn out there was a dancer in the joint other than Mercury.
Zombie stripper. I’d just missed getting my head chomped open by a zombie stripper. Her hair had been blonde once, but it was now dark with dried blood and gore from the chunk of her skull that was missing. The pink g-string and the tassled pasties on her boobs really stood out strikingly against her mottled, rotted skin. I didn’t think stuffing my five bucks into her butt crack was going to help me out here.
Mercury’d gotten tangled up in his own pants as he turned around, trying to grab for his gun and his machete both at once. “Fuck, Gaga!” he said, and I staggered back a few steps and she lurched with me, shuffling with one high heel on. I fired the crossbow without really taking the time to aim and the bolt went directly into one of her surprisingly-perky-for-being-dead boobs. That made her stumble back some, and I wasn’t even thinking, I just moved, loading up another shot and firing.
That bolt went straight into her left eye, and she fell back to the ground, shuddering out a last few twitches and groans in a puddle of sweet tea vodka.
My heart had hammered somewhere into the next state. I wasn’t quite sure how long it was before Mercury nudged me, pants done up and shirt untied, to hand me the machete.
“Finish the job,” he said, and I nodded, going to the floor to take off her head in one disturbingly sweet-smelling splatter. I stood back up and handed the blade back to Mercury, who scraped it on the edge of the stage. We stared at the dispatched zombie quietly for a while.
“Well, okay, so we know one thing,” I said. Alcohol and adrenaline made me not give a shit how my voice was fluttering.
“Those are definitely fake boobs,” I said, and pointed to where clear thick goop was oozing out from around one of the crossbow bolts.
“Yeah, you can always tell, when the rest of them is rotting and they’ve still got great tits.” He gave the zombie an appraising look for a while and then looked over at me. “You doing okay?”
“Yeah, I am,” I said, and even though my heart was still racing, I really was.
“You kinda got blood and shit all over your… self.”
I looked down at myself. My shirt had already not been the cleanest piece of fabric in the world, but now I had a big splatter of zombie goop right across the front. “Ugh, shit,” I said, lifted my hand to wipe some of it off, and then realized that was a terrible idea.
“Maybe we can find you something else to wear around here,” Mercury said.
“You’re looking for clothes in a strip club?”
Mercury shrugged and grinned at me. “Well, fuck, they gotta wear something before they take it off, right?” He pointed with his machete to the back room where our zombie friend had been hiding. “Probably a dressing room back there, want me to take a look?”
I took the blade from him. “Nah, I’ll go for it.” Chopping off a zombie’s head had made my balls grow to about six times their regular size, so I was all gung-ho for more destruction if needed. “You’d probably come back with nipple shields and a g-string for me.”
“Well, shit, I gotta look at you, you can’t blame me for wanting you to look cute.” He got his gun from off the stage. “I got your back. I’m ashamed of myself, getting caught with my pants around my ankles like that.”
I went for the back room, machete held like I was ready to try to hit a baseball with it… at neck level, that was the important thing. The back room was empty, though, unless a zombie was hiding in a wardrobe chest, Japanese movie ghost-style. Mercury lingered in the doorway watching outwards while I poked through the racks. It was mostly bras and panties and schoolgirl skirts, but I found some shirts that would fit me, damn my tiny body. “Ugh, fuck,” I said, and picked the most dignified one out of the lot. It had a gold star on it and said ROCK STAR over it in sparkling letters. Whatever, at least it wasn’t covered in infectious zombie gore. I took off my fucked shirt, careful not to get anything in my mouth, and put on the new one, which fit like a vaguely humiliating glove.
I tapped Mercury on the shoulder. “Okay, get your laughing out now,” I said, and he turned and gave me one of those slow raking looks. The sideways smile he had made my face heat up a little.
“Fucking cute,” he said, and I rolled my eyes and nudged him forward out of the dressing room.
“Yes, adorable, I get it, let’s steal some booze and get out of here.”
“No, no, hold up,” he said, and pushed me back a little. “Go back; are there any skirts in there?”
Oh, right, I had forgotten that he was possibly insane. “Yes, but if you think I’m putting one on you are very mistaken.”
“Aw, come on! I gave you a dance, now it’s my turn!” It felt stupid to be blushing so hard while holding a blade that had recently cut off a zombie’s head. “When else are you going to get to dance on stage at a strip club?”
“It was not exactly a dream I’ve had,” I said. “Anyway, I’m possibly the last gay man on earth, I can’t go being all stereotypical.”
“Didn’t mean it like that, querido, just trying to have some fun,” he said. “I bet you’d be real cute…”
Yeah, that was a leer on his face. Well, I suppose it was good to know that if I wanted to lose all of my dignity and lingering shreds of hopes from when things had been civilized, I could put on a skirt and Mercury would happily perv on me. I’d been teased for looking girly back before; I’d kind of hoped growing my apocalypse beard would’ve mitigated that a little. But then again, that possibly made the idea more appealing to Mercury.
He met my eyes again and saw whatever displeased face I was making and got a sweet look on his own face, something sad like a dog who knew he’d done something bad. He smiled and gave me a little nudge on my shoulder. “Hey, you go back and find me a tube top back there. I think my shoulders need to breathe.” He let out a little laugh. “Shit, get the skirt for me! I could air out my balls some, too.”
I broke a smile. “If it’s been as long for you since you last washed as it has been for me, I don’t want your balls anywhere near the air.”
“I’ll scrub up real good for you, I promise!”
I out and out laughed at that. “Yeah, since we’ve got so many showers around here.”
“Well, I don’t have one of those, but I’ve got a bucket and soap and a washcloth,” he said. “We drive out somewhere empty and you can get yourself cleaned up as you want.”
I forgot all of my skirt-based irritation just at the mention of soap. “Seriously?”
“It’s no hot bubble bath but it keeps my ass clean,” Mercury said. “Hell, now that you’re around I can do it more often, since I can have you on the lookout for groaners.”
The benefits of sticking with Mercury far outweighed all of the weirdness and discomfort. He was crazy as shit, no doubt, but seemed like a good guy deep down despite it. I’d probably never have spoken a word to him before the end—shit, I’d’ve crossed the street to avoid him—but now I knew given about three weeks of hot food and bucket baths and I’d be doing whatever dances he wanted. Nothing like zombies to change your priorities. “I want that. I want that very much.”
He winked and gave me a little swat on the ass. “Well, go back and get papi his new outfit. Man likes to feel pretty sometimes.” I laughed and started to walk towards the exit. “No, I’m serious! Gotta keep things exciting in these fucking trying times.”
I guess we did. The tube top I found him was purple and it really did make his shoulders look good, but the skirt would have to wait. We loaded up with shitty girl booze and headed back into El Presidio.
I was sad about the sweet tea vodka, though. At least it had died nobly in battle.
Between the alcohol, the adrenaline and the sugar crashes, I kind of needed a nap after we got back on the road. I put a can of something deliciously rich in sodium into my face and passed out for a sleep full of hazy dreams of swinging tassels and floating dollar bills. When Mercury shook me awake however long later, I flailed upon coming into consciousness, slapping his hand away from my shoulder. Yeah, the girl-slap, a great weapon in the zombie-fighting arsenal. Good job.
“Whoa, settle down there, just me,” he said, and I sat up, rubbing my face. “Found us somewhere good and empty, wanna get cleaned up?”
“Yes. Awesome. Sounds great. Yes.” I scraped my teeth over my tongue. Sugary booze did not sit well with sleep. “Long shot, but do you have mints or gum or something?”
Mercury nodded and went to one of the RV’s cabinets. “Got Altoids. We’ll pick you up a toothbrush when we find you those porn mags,” he said, and handed me a tin of mints.
“Sure, those are at the same place, why not,” I said, and crunched a few. Not exactly dentist clean, but curiously refreshing. “Mm, thanks.”
Mercury popped one in his mouth himself. “Man, you ever have someone blow you after they’ve had a few of these?”
I pointedly did not make eye contact, instead trying to read the serial number off the chainsaw he had mounted on his weapon’s rack. “No, I can’t say that I have.”
“Hell, it’s something else,” he said, and crunched his mints. “It’s all… tingly. Really wakes you up in the morning.”
“Well, I’ll…” Keep that in mind was how I was going to end that sentence, but that seemed like it might be making one promise or another. “I’ll bet it does.”
Mercury grabbed a gun, a bucket, and a jug of water. “Come on and let’s freshen the fuck up.” I followed him out of El Presidio. He had picked somewhere pretty empty; highway and field and an abandoned car here and there along the endless long stretch of road. Mercury scanned the horizon, and then gave El Presidio a walk-around. “Yeah, looks good. I’ll keep an eye out for you, then you keep one for me.” He put the bucket on the ground and dumped some of the water into it, then handed me a washcloth and a bar of soap. “Go to it, dirty boy.” He stepped away, leaving me between El Presidio and his back. He’d kept the tube top on, and I could see more of the tattoo on his back, an ornate Virgin Mary, the kind I’d seen on candles before, done in thick black lines peeking out over the top of the purple fabric. He held the gun at the ready.
Well, it was stupid to be shy now. I stripped out of my clothes and let them pile up next to me. Maybe I could just bury my underwear. I wet the washcloth, soaped it, and started to scrub up. The water was cold and the wind made it worse, but it still felt good just to get all of the old grime and sweat off. “This water is going to be, like, black by the time I’m done.”
Mercury laughed. “And then we’ll powder your bottom and tuck you back into bed.”
“Man, sounds good to me.” I gave my junk a very thorough scrubbing, and man did that feel good, and not even in a sexual way. I hoped Mercury wouldn’t try to sneak a peek, because I was suffering a terrible case of shrinkage at that moment. My dick might have been shriveled to a raisin, but at least it was clean, clean, blessedly clean.
“So, if you don’t go for the porn guys, what type do you go for?” Mercury asked, with his amazing sense of appropriate timing.
“Um,” I said, in the middle of getting crud out of my belly button. Oh, what the fuck, what did it really matter anymore? “Like, kind of skinny guys? Not like twinks or anything—” Did he even know what a twink was? Whatever, they were probably extinct, anyway. “—but more like… me-type.”
“Don’t want a big ol’ guy bending you over?” Mercury chuckled a little. “Or you bending a big ol’ guy over? Which way you go for it, anyway?”
Here I’d thought that the end of the world might have meant I got to stop having incredibly awkward conversations. “Um, I don’t…”
Mercury shrugged. At least he was keeping his eyes out over the horizon and not anywhere near me; I blushed all the way down. “Not into the backdoor stuff? That’s fair, it’s not for everyone.”
“No, I mean…” I could have changed the subject or just shut down this line of conversation altogether, but the two of us were together for now, and I had this itching certain feeling he was going to keep poking at this one. “I don’t actually know.”
“Never tried it?”
“Never tried, um… anything.” If he was going to keep asking questions about my experience, he might as well get an answer.
Mercury stayed quiet and still, thankfully not turning to look at me while I rinsed off. “That is just the saddest goddamn thing I’ve ever heard,” he said, finally, shaking his head.
I laughed in that way where it felt like my chest was congested. “Tell me about it,” I said. “The apocalypse happens and I’m a virgin. It is entirely possibly I am the last living virgin.” I stared at the Holy Mother on Mercury’s back. You and me, sister.
“Ah, we’ll find you someone,” he said. “Some cute little thing up in Canada, pretty little scrawny thing like you. We’ll get him to give you a ride. Or you give him one, whatever, both ways are good in my experience.”
I did freeze for a few seconds at that. “In your experience?”
Mercury let out a little chuckle. “I’m the opposite of you, querido, I’m not picky at all.”
I’d assumed he’d just been kind of picking on me with all the comments about how pretty and cute I was. I guess it was pretty stupid to make assumptions. Well, good to know, if I ever wanted to put on that skirt. “Don’t have a type?” I said, trying to sound cool about it.
“As long as it’s not former food or former people, I’m good.” He paused. “Or animals. Didn’t even buy that inflatable fuck-sheep.”
“Just watch out for the former people who want to make you into current food.”
I could hear him grin. “Yeah, I won’t be fucking any of them. But anyway, pretty comes in all types, you should know that, Gaga.”
He had a point, I supposed. I finished scrubbing myself off and got dressed again. I should have scavenged more clothes from the strip club; I might have passed on the g-strings, but it wasn’t like girl pants wouldn’t fit me. Putting my dirty clothes back on after cleaning up was a disappointment. “Okay, I’m done.”
Mercury turned around and came over to peer in the bucket. “Hoo, bet that feels good, doesn’t it?”
“I am a brand new man,” I said, and held my hand out for the gun. “Your turn?”
Mercury handed it over and tipped the dirty water out of the bucket to fill it up with a little more clean out of the jug. He plopped the washcloth into the water—how intimate we were already, sharing a scrub-towel—and started to make his uhn-tss music again as he wriggled out of the tube top and dropped his pants. I laughed and forgot to turn around to give him privacy, but he didn’t care. He kicked out of his shoes and wiggled his hips at me in his underpants for a while.
“I’m out of money! You took it all already!” I said. I was closer now than I’d been at the strip club, and I noticed a new tattoo, a little line of three dates, all in the 2000s, just above his knee.
“Free show!” he said, and started to wriggle out of his underwear. I turned on my heel like an embarrassed twelve-year-old girl after getting just a glimpse of the top of his dick, and Mercury laughed. “Aw, it won’t bite!”
I stepped back to where he’d been standing to keep watch and gripped the gun. “Nope!” I said, because if I’d stayed turned around I probably would have just openly stared at his junk, unable to control the angle of my neck. “In the ruins of society we must maintain some social mores.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, and I heard the splashing of him washing himself from the bucket.
I looked over the horizon, counting the abandoned cars on the side of the road until I couldn’t see any more, squinting out to see what was probably a farmhouse somewhere way in the distance. I looked up to the sky, blue and clear and not a single goddamn plane in it. It was weird how quiet it was without those. Too quiet, sometimes. “So, uh, I like your tattoos,” I said, making noise.
“Thanks!” he said. “Always did want to get more, but, shit, doesn’t look like that’s happening now. Unless I do some kind of prison shit, and I got better things to spend my time on.” I had no doubt Mercury knew how to do a prison tattoo. Maybe he could give me a tramp stamp if things got boring. “You got any yourself?”
“Oh, no, no,” I said. “Nothing against it, I just never thought of anything I’d want to get in my skin forever.” I flicked at one of my stretched earlobes. It was kind of stupid to keep the jewelry in even now, but feeling them there was a dumb little comfort. “I just did these. Always figured I’d take them out when I grew up and got a job or whatever.”
“Looks like you’re going with ‘whatever!'” He splashed a little more. “Look good, though.”
“Thanks,” I said. I brushed my finger over the trigger of the gun. I’d only fired one like this once before. “So, I get the religious ones—” Or at least, I thought I did; Mercury didn’t seem like any Jesus freak I’d ever known, but then again, Mercury didn’t seem like anyone I’d ever known. “—and the roosters are obvious, but what do those little dates mean?’
Mercury was quiet for a second, and I could tell from the sound he was still. “My kids’ birthdates.”
“Oh.” I was the worst person alive. “Shit.”
I heard the watery sounds pick up again. “Fuck, don’t worry about it,” he said. “I wasn’t ever a good dad anyway. And it’s not like everybody hasn’t lost people.”
“Still,” I said. “I’m sorr—shit!” I caught movement in the distance out of the corner of my eye and turned. Out from behind one of the cars about fifty feet up the road a zombie had emerged. It was shuffling towards us slowly, but at least it didn’t seem to have any friends.
Mercury threw the washcloth in the bucket with a splat and put his hands on his hips. “God fucking damn it, why do they keep showing up when I’ve got no pants on!” He reached out to me with a grabby hand. “Give me the gun.”
My brain was already flipping into action mode. Something about being around Mercury kept me from kicking into that flight instinct; instead I wanted to fight. Although while that base animal part of my brain was waking up, another part of it was trying to get me to sneak a peek sidelong to get a good look at Mercury naked. Now was not the time.
“No, I think I can get this.” I held the gun out with both hands and took a breath to get my arms steady. The zombie was moving slowly and steadily, so it was easy to trace him. I felt the wind blow from behind me, let out my breath with it, and squeezed the trigger.
The zombie’s head exploded in a red spray and it crumpled to the ground. Mercury let out a rodeo-worthy “YEAAAAAAAAAH!” and nearly fell onto his knees before taking a little leap in the air. Okay, now my hands were shaking.
“Holy shit, Gaga, where the fuck did you learn to do that?” he said, and I was just keeping my eyes on the collapsed zombie, wondering if I didn’t hit it right, wondering if it’d get back up. My laugh was shaky.
“I really played a lot of video games,” I said, and Mercury let out another whoop.
“Damn, mijo, you’re making me look bad! You got two already and I ain’t done shit but wave my dick in the air!” Oh, and now I was looking as he did just that. Yes, that was a very, very nice dick. I rubbed my hand over my eyes to keep myself from staring and heard Mercury tip over the bucket.
“This is totally a fluke, I swear. You’ve just really inspired me to grow some balls. What is that in Spanish? Conejos?”
Mercury laughed and I heard him start to get dressed. “That’s close enough for me, bunny.” He reached over and gave me a thump on the shoulder and I let my hand drop away to see him grinning at me. He did have a bit of a look like a proud father. He picked up the bucket.
“Exciting fucking day so far, huh? Let’s get back on the road before that z-boy’s friends show up.”
Back in El Presidio, I put the gun back on its rack, tucked myself up in the passenger seat, and insisted we play David Bowie.
We did not exactly make rapid progress in our journey north. Mercury was fond of taking detours, stopping to raid for supplies all the time, loading up on fuel (be it gasoline or vegetable-based). Sometimes the major roadways would be clogged up with abandoned cars and we’d have to do some exciting off-roading, which made Mercury happily bounce in his seat and cheer, but made me feel like puking. And then there were the times when Mercury would just get bored of driving, park El Presidio, pull out the booze stash, and kick back. Well, it wasn’t like we had a deadline to meet, or anything.
At one point, Mercury had found a guitar in the office of a gas station, and spent a while tuning it while I read a Tiger Beat I’d found. I found the irony that those Twilight guys were probably zombies now delicious. Mercury finally strummed something that sounded like an in-tune chord and I looked up.
“You really know how to play that thing?”
“Nothing makes panties drop like a man with a guitar,” he said, and that was true. Even I had not been immune to the powers of Sensitive Acoustic Guitar Dudes playing Jason Mraz songs in the dining hall. My panties had always been ready to drop.
“So play something,” I said, putting my magazine aside.
Mercury grinned and started into a guitar riff, twangy and skilled and familiar. And then he started singing. “La la la la la la bamba!” He didn’t have a bad voice. “La la la la la la bamba, la bamba bamba, bamba la bamba, bamba laaaaa!” He just didn’t know any of the words. No, that wasn’t fair: he knew two.
“Those aren’t the words!” I said, laughing, and he just gave me a serious glare, since I was interrupting the artist at work, and filled the rest of the song with ‘la’ and ‘bamba’, with one exhilarating breakout into ‘arriba arriba.’ He finished with a flourish and I applauded.
“You like that?” he said. “How’re your panties?”
“Oh, they evaporated. Completely gone.” I blushed a little, because as ridiculous as it had been, I was pretty fucking charmed. “Know anything else?”
He held up a finger to me in a ‘just you wait’ gesture and started playing something, soft and gentle. I didn’t recognize it, but it sounded sweet. He paused and took a breath, ready to start singing. He had me leaning forward a little to hear.
“La la la la la la bamba!” He exploded right back into it. I threw my magazine at him.
“What’re you doing?” he said to me while we were driving. “You got a rash or something?”
“What?” I said, and realized that I’d been pulling at my beard again, scratching and tugging at the whiskers. “Oh, no, I just… I’m still not used to having a beard.” I’d been the twice-a-week shave kind of guy before, but now in the absence of running water, safety razors, and gentle creams for my pretty baby cheeks, I had developed this scraggly yellow thing on my face. I was glad for a general lack of mirrors.
“Yeah, that thing’s a mess,” Mercury said. His own beard was nice and neat, perfectly coiffed, if coiffing was a thing you could do to facial hair. “We could dig you up a razor.”
I rubbed my face. “Seems like it would be more trouble than it’s worth. I mean, it’ll just grow back.”
“Well, I got scissors if you want to trim it.” He ran a hand over his own chin. “How I keep myself so fucking beautiful.”
I poked my lips out duckface style and put my fingers around them, feeling my moustache. “Yeah, maybe,” I said. “I’ve never done that before, so I’ll probably end up looking even shittier.”
“Hell, I’ll do it for you. Barbershop-style. Won’t take long.” Once Mercury got an idea in his head, I was finding, it was pretty much decided that it was what you were going to do. He pulled El Presidio over. He got up and thumped me on the shoulder. “C’mon.”
I followed him back and he sat me down on top of the toilet seat. The bathroom was cramped with just one person; with two it became unavoidable that you’d end up getting intimately acquainted. He basically stood straddled over one of my knees as he reached by the sink and got a little pair of scissors.
“Take your shirt off,” he said, and I did so a little reluctantly. He didn’t wear a shirt half the time, which made me more self-conscious of my skinny pale chest and flabby belly. Maybe I needed to start doing crunches. He took my chin in one hand and I took in a little breath. “Now no wiggling, I don’t need to see any of your blood today.”
He took the scissors to my face in slow, careful snips, taking off the uneven edges of my whiskers in a deliberate, methodical pace. He first held my chin between his thumb and forefinger and turned me to the right. The sound of the scissors near my ear made me shiver, and the brush of his knuckles there made me shiver again, only more. He didn’t say anything, though; he just kept trimming. He stroked my cheek to feel if his work was satisfactory, and god damn it, I was blushing. He tugged my chin again and started on the other side.
From this close, I could smell him. It’d been a while since we’d hit up the bucket, but neither of us had a serious stink on yet. My nose had gotten a little inured to bad smells, anyway. Right now, like this? He smelled kind of good, sweaty and heavy and manly as all fuck. And he was almost sitting on my lap.
“Look up,” he said, and I tilted my head up but looked anywhere but at his face. He took the scissors lightly over my chin and the underside of my jaw, and as subtly as possibly I grabbed on to the toilet paper holder to keep from shivering. It had the hairs on my arms standing up, and I held my breath.
He took one last snip and then stepped back a little, tilting me from side to side. He ran the V of his thumb and forefinger beneath my chin and had to have felt how hard I swallowed then. “There, that’s good. Feel better?”
I let out my breath and ran my hand over my own face. “Yeah… yeah, that does feel better.” He stepped back and let me stand up to actually look in the bathroom mirror. “Shit, I almost look human.”
He snipped the scissors at me. “Anytime, querido,” he said, and left me alone in the bathroom, shirtless and looking at my own blushing face.
Supermarkets tended to actually be bad places to go foraging for supplies, due to all the spoiled produce, dairy, and meat. If you wanted to make it out without gagging you had to tie something around your face first. A well-stocked chain drug store, though, that could get you a pretty good supply of non-perishables, first aid, and just for giggles, lottery tickets.
Mercury was an aisle away, being really picky about potato chips, while I went through the scratch-offs. “You think there’s a winner in any of these?” I called out to him. “We should just check them all.” I scraped off one with my thumbnail. “Really, though, I’d rather have those fast food ones. Free chicken nuggets over millions of dollars, no shit, right?”
My card was a loser. I was about to inform Mercury of this fact when I heard something, a thump from the photo developing booth. I saw the zombie rise from behind the counter and staggered back, crashing into the display of cigarettes and knocking them onto the floor. Funny, I was not quite such a brave warrior when Mercury was not immediately there.
“Fuck, Mercury!” I called out, and scrambled over the register to get to him. The photo department was well-staffed, it seemed; there were more zombies shuffling out from back there. Mercury skidded out of the chip aisle to come right in front of me, blocking my body with his. I am not ashamed to admit I hid behind him.
“I could take ’em,” he said, and since he had brought the machine gun, I believed him, but then I heard something else from back in the pharmacy section, a crash and a groan. I grabbed at his shoulder.
“I know you can, but I think we should just go.” I looked towards the front door, and fuck, there were zombies out in the parking lot, too, shuffling towards the store. Fuck fuck. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t leave Mercury here, even if he could fight his way out.
He looked out the window. “Okay, fight and flight, let’s go.” He fired his gun at the photo zombies, making them dance as the bullets rattled into their chests, but only one went down. My sneakers squeaked on the linoleum as I started for the door, but a zombie came out of the baby needs aisle pointed directly at me, arms outstretched and mouth open wide.
“Oh, no you fucking don’t,” Mercury said, and punched the zombie in the face. In the face! Once it was on the ground, he fired at it, spraying its head out onto the floor. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me towards the door. I could hear them behind us, and see them in front of us. His hand was tight around my wrist.
I didn’t count how many were in the parking lot. You never wanted to count them. But El Presidio was a clear shot. “You said you can run fast, so you show me how fast you can run.” He let go of my arm. “You go right for it, I’ll be right behind.”
I’d left my own gun on the counter, next to my lottery ticket. I was an idiot. I had to trust him, though. I nodded. He gave me a solid look, one I worried that I would be remembering while unable to sleep for the rest of my short life, and kicked open the front door of the drug store. I ran.
I heard gunfire behind me as I pounded across the pavement. I yanked open the door to El Presidio and turned then as I stood just inside it. There were too many of them, but Mercury was taking down every one, sprays of bullets making them fall. I could see him smiling. He cleared a path and came running toward me, and knocked me flat on my back as he launched himself into El Presidio and closed the door.
“Hoo, fuck,” he said, as he rolled off of on top of me and we lay next to each other. “Never play the lottery, kid, it’s a waste of time.” He leaned up and looked over me, then put his gun aside to put his hands on me, through my hair, over my arms, up under my shirt. “Good, you’re clean.” He pulled me up sitting and put his hands on the sides of my face. “You good? You in there?”
I blinked a few times and nodded. “I’m good, I’m good.” I rubbed my hand over my face. “You punched a zombie. You punched a zombie!”
“Fucker was going for you and I didn’t want to aim a machine gun at you,” he said, and ruffled my hair. “Did what I had to.” He got up and went to scrub off his hand.
“Thanks,” I said, and got up onto my legs, shaky like a baby deer.
He tossed me a bag of jellybeans he’d managed to cram in his pocket before we had company. “Anytime. Get some sugar in you before you pass out.”
I ate the whole bag, except for the licorice and popcorn ones, which Mercury ate all at once. He did what he had to, I guessed.
On one particularly nice day, we climbed up to the roof of El Presidio. Mercury stripped down to his briefs and I decided to go ahead and follow, as we stretched out on our backs and absorbed sunlight. It was important to get vitamin D, to prevent scabies or rickets or whatever. It was quiet and warm, just wind through the grass and good sunshine.
“Twenty questions?” Mercury said, after a while.
“Okay,” I said. “Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?”
Mercury made a thoughtful sound. “Kind of all three?”
“Is it a zombie?”
“Fuck!” he said, and laughed. I smiled up at the sky and closed my eyes. “Maybe that one’s not so good.”
I put my hands behind my head. “What’s a vegetarian zombie’s favorite food?”
“Graaaaaaaaaiiins,” I groaned. Mercury groaned, too, in a different way. “What’s a zombie’s favorite method of transportation?”
“Go on,” he said.
“Traaaaaaaaaiiins.” Mercury threw his shirt at me, and I laughed as it landed on my face. I didn’t take it off right away; I was getting to like that smell.
“You do one more of those and I’m throwing you off the top of this thing.”
I bit my lip and stayed quiet for a while, but I couldn’t resist. “What’s a zombie’s favorite country to go to?” Mercury didn’t respond, but I’d waited long enough. “Spaaaaiiiii—agh!!” Mercury grabbed me around the waist and wrestled me over to the edge of El Presidio. I was laughing while he had me dangling half over the edge.
“No more,” he said, pointing his finger in my face while I beamed at him.
I held up my hands to him. “You’ll have to take me to zombie prison, and put me in chaiiiiiiii—” He put his hand over my mouth, and I laughed into his palm.
The liquor store we raided had been pretty picked over already. Not surprising; people had certain priorities in times of crisis. I’d let it slip to Mercury that I’d never actually had tequila, and he nearly ran El Presidio off the road trying to get me to a location with booze. There were a few bottles of expensive stuff left on the shelves, but when I reached for the good stuff, Mercury swatted my hand away with the friendly end of the spiked bat he was carrying.
“Aw, come on!” I said. “Patrón! That’s what, like, famous people drank.”
“And you won’t appreciate it if you haven’t had the shitty stuff first,” he said, and guided my hand down to a bottle that legitimately had a worm in it.
“Please don’t tell me I have to eat that,” I said.
“Only if you’re bad.”
We had salt, but fresh limes were understandably in short supply. We got bottles of alleged lime juice from a supermarket, and Mercury had me drink capfuls of it after each shot. At least it’d prevent scurvy.
“I feel like I’m on the worst spring break ever,” I said as I eyed the third shot. I was just going to… give that one a minute.
“I ended up on South Padre Island one spring break,” Mercury said. “I don’t remember exactly what it was that I got arrested for, but I think tequila was involved.”
I laughed. “I actually never had any spring breaks like that. I’d just use the week off to, like, play video games and watch movies.”
Mercury pointed at the shot glass. I’d continued to merit it; he always chose the empty baby food jar. Maybe he liked it better due to some lingering peach flavor, who could say. “Well, good reason to drink like you missed out on right now.” He put his hands on either side of his chest. “Sorry I don’t have the tits for you to drink it out of, that’d be real authentic. Wanna try the crack of my ass instead?”
I shook my head and steeled myself by licking the back of my hand and sprinkling it with salt we’d taken from a Denny’s. “You’d just end up with tequila up your butt, and you can’t tell me that would be fun.” I took the shot, slurped the lime juice out of the cap, and then let the full body shudders roll over me.
“Don’t knock it until you try it,” Mercury said, and I just fixed him with the one eye I could manage to keep open. “Okay, okay, I’m shitting you, never have done that one. Did see a girl pour half a wine bottle up her concha once.”
I rubbed my hand over my face. Yeah, three was probably enough for me right now. “Red or white?”
“Champagne,” he said, and made a little explosive gesture with his fingers. “Bubbles everywhere.
I flipped the shot glass over before Mercury could fill it up again and leaned back against the couch. “Man, you’ve got all these stories. You got to do all this crazy shit, and I just… did nothing.”
“Well, I been around longer than you,” he said. He’d never specified exactly how old he was; honestly I could have put him anywhere between twenty-five and forty-five.
“Yeah, but you’re all like, ‘I was seventeen and a one-eyed prostitute gave me a freebie in a car in the parking lot of a Sting concert.'” That had been quite a story. “I’ve got, like… one story.”
Mercury knocked one back out of his jar and grinned. “And you haven’t told me? C’mon, Gaga, don’t hold out on me!”
“It’s the worst story. It’s pathetic and sad and you’ll just feel sorry for me.”
“Feeling sorry for yourself is a natural stage of getting plastered on shitty booze,” Mercury said. “You’re doing just fine.”
I sighed and tucked my legs up so I was basically talking into my knees. “Okay, so, it was my sophomore year, and I actually got invited to a party, and I actually went, and there were cool people there, and I got a little drunk.” I sighed. “There was this guy from my Stats class I really had a crush on. Just, like, my total ideal. Hipster perfection, all sexy and kind of ambiguously gay, although I have the worst gaydar in the world so I couldn’t really tell…” Mercury put his arm along the back of the couch to watch me while I talked. “Anyway, there were a lot of drunk girls there, and they wanted to see guys make out.”
“Girls want to see that?” Mercury asked.
“It was kind of a thing, in certain circles.” I sighed. “So me and this guy made out while a bunch of girls watched, and I got a boner in front of everyone, and he left with two girls.”
“What about you?”
“I left alone right after that. Everyone probably thought I went home to jerk off.” I rubbed my brow a little. “And stopped going to parties after that. And that’s… it. That’s it for me.”
I could tell even out of the corner of my eye that Mercury was pitying me. “You at least get a good spank session out of it?”‘
I laughed bitterly. “Yeah, I put it in the spank bank so I could pull it out whenever I wanted to get off and then feel bad about myself afterwards.” Everyone who’d been at that party was probably a shambling corpse by now, and I’d still be embarrassed if I saw one of them. “So now you’ve heard my story. My only story.”
“What, you think that’s all you’ve got in you?”
I hugged my knees a little. “Well, not exactly any girls here to make out for…”
“You need there to be girls?” Mercury asked.
“No, I just…” Maybe I should’ve had more tequila. “That is the context in which anyone has ever tried to do anything with me.”
Mercury looked at me, then put his hand to his forehead and shook his head. “You know, Gaga, you are a real sweet kid and I like you a lot, but sometimes you are dumber than shit on a boot heel.” I uncurled a bit and looked at him. “You been paying attention at all? I haven’t tried anything on you because I said I wouldn’t, but if you want someone to fuck, you got someone to fuck right here. Don’t need an audience.”
My face went hot and my stomach flipped, to say nothing of the beginnings of a full-on riot going on beneath my belt. “But, um…” I swallowed over the choke in my throat. “You wanted me to wear a skirt…”
“I said you’d be cute in one,” Mercury said as he leaned back. “Doesn’t make it necessary. You’re a cute little thing no matter what.” He laughed. “But I guess I’m not your type, right? Picky one.”
“You’re not, but…” A zombie with hands around my neck didn’t make me as nervous as this. “I do like you. A lot. I mean, we could, we really could. You’re not my type, but you…”
Mercury grinned and spread his knees a little. “Have a cock?”
“Are hot. Are really, really hot.” Because, shit, even though I’d spent all my previous years jerking off to pictures of skinny Brooklyn douchebags, in the time I’d spent with Mercury when I went for my own hand I couldn’t stop myself thinking about him. The span of his shoulders, the ink in his skin, the muscles of his stomach, the way he smelled. Maybe it was Stockholm Syndrome, or prison gay, or maybe I was just getting my prissy little head out of my ass.
“Here I thought you were just too good for me.” He let his hand rest on his belt, not undoing it, but the promise was definitely there. “So let’s do it. I’ll give you some more stories to tell. Real good ones.”
“I, uh…” I was getting very hard, but I also had a powerful and incurable case of stupidity. “I don’t want to do it just because you feel sorry for me.” I covered my face with my hands. “I am such an idiot. I should not be thinking about shit like this now, but…” I peeked out through my fingers. Mercury didn’t seem to be looking at me like I was an idiot. “It’s not like I couldn’t have hooked up with someone if I tried.” I put my hands down and just stared at the couple of inches of couch space between us. “I mean, I was great at the Internet, I went on craigslist and Grindr and stuff, I set things up, I just never went through with any of it, because I am stupid, and I wanted my first time to be something… nice. Sweet, and romantic. With someone I really liked.” My fantasies involved things like big pristine hotel beds and candlelight and fucking rose petals. A whole world of easy sex out there and I was hung up on wanting someone to tuck my hair behind my ear and kiss me so I felt fireworks.
Mercury was quiet for a little bit. He had to think I was the dumbest boy left alive. He took his hand off his belt. “Didn’t you just say you really liked me?”
I swallowed. “Yeah…”
“You don’t think I can be romantic?”
“Um.” I glanced up to his face for just a second, then back down again, embarrassed all over again. “You haven’t really seemed, um… gentle.” How did I keep saying the stupidest things?
“Not really much place in the world for being gentle right now, querido,” he said, and inched over on the couch so we were right next to each other. “But I could only be sweet to a sweet thing like you.”
I looked up at his face. His eyes looked soft from this distance. “Yeah?”
He smiled, something warm without that dangerous edge I was so used to from him. “How about I show you and you tell me what you think?” He laughed a little. “And you tell me if it feels like I’m feeling sorry for you, pretty.”
This was something like my fantasies. Sitting on a couch next to someone I liked, heart racing because he was leaning in to me, wondering what would happen next. My daydreams hadn’t involved a line of guns on the near wall, but it was close enough. I let out a little breath. “Okay. Show me.”
Mercury smiled and put one hand under my chin, tilting my head up like something out of the movies, and leaned in to give me the softest, sweetest, gentlest kiss, and oh. There they were, those fireworks. Even nicer than I’d ever imagined them.
He pulled back after… a really immeasurable amount of time, from the viewpoint of my state of mind, and brushed his thumb over my lips. “Gentle as can be, see?”
I closed my eyes. Jesus, there had to be cartoon hearts emitting out of the top of my head, little angels and bluebirds clogging up the air. “Yes… yes, that was what I wanted.”
“Got more where that came from,” he said, and reached up to brush my hair behind my ear. Oh my god, yes. “You want more of it?”
“I really, really do,” I said, and I could feel Mercury grinning against my lips as he kissed me again. He was still soft, but went deeper now, letting me taste the lingering burn of tequila on his tongue. It was almost nothing like that time at the party; no hooting girls, no terrible music playing in the background, and most importantly, I could tell he wasn’t laughing at me somewhere past the kiss.
He made me shiver when his fingers skimmed behind my ear and down my neck. They were rough and I had no idea when they’d last been washed, but feeling them stroke down my neck made me temporarily unable to think of anything but sucking on them. I made a little noise, some sad little whimper—oh god, was I going to be noisy?—and Mercury just pressed in on me further, sucking on my lower lip in a way that made me feel like I’d had the entire bottle of tequila.
I was gasping for breath when he pulled away from my mouth, breathing hard while my heart pounded, and Mercury nuzzled his way over to kiss just beneath my ear. I let out a little yip! noise and I couldn’t even bother being embarrassed, because he was doing things to my ear, wet, hot, sloppy-sounding things that made me grab his shoulders and squirm closer. The thought of him swallowing my jewelry passed through my mind and I laughed a little. He paused.
“Mm?” he went, right in my ear, and I shivered.
“Nothing, nothing. Don’t stop.”
He curled one hand behind my neck and the other around my waist, and was I being tenderly kissed while being held in the arms of someone I liked? Yes, yes, I was, checklist item satisfied. I hoped we could hit a number more of those very soon. They got less sappy and more obscene as you went down the list. I hadn’t thought of Mercury’s voice as being sexy before, but it was when he spoke low and soft and right in my ear. “You want me to ever stop, just say the word.”
This ball was rolling. I could see myself saying ‘slow down,’ maybe, but ‘stop’ was not in my plans now. “I will, I promise,” I mumbled, and mouthed stupidly at his cheek as he went to kiss my neck. I got more whisker than skin against my mouth, but even that felt good, prickly against my lips.
He kept kissing me, mouth and neck and even tugging my shirt down to kiss my collarbones. I jerked and squirmed and made the stupidest sounds at every touch, and it was fantastic. I did, however, have the vague fear in the back of my head that too much of this and I was going to go off in my pants like the sad overexcited virgin I was. Mercury put his hand low on my belly and I took in a breath.
“You having a good time?” he said into my mouth. At some point I’d started grabbing his hair, and I curled my fingers up in it a little more.
“Very much,” I said.
“So you’ve really never done anything?” Mercury said between kisses on my neck. I was getting beard burn there and I liked it. “Never sucked dick?”
I laughed a little, high and breathless. “Never even close.”
His hand nudged down my stomach a little further. “Well, can’t be expected to know how if you’ve never had it done to you.” He had to feel my stomach tense as my dick jerked at that. “How’s that sound?”
“Please,” I said, completely uncool. He kissed me until I went back into the cushions, up against the arm of the couch, and he moved his hand down my body, petting me from shoulder to hip. He smiled when I arched into it, and then pulled away to adjust me more, moving my legs so I was stretched out on the couch completely, and he was between them. Holy shit, this was actually happening. I wondered if he could see my heart beating through my shirt.
“Never have taken a peek,” he said as he rested his hand on my erection. Even through jeans the contact made me jump, biting into my lip. He reached his fingers up and scratched my belly, like I was a good kitty or something, and then undid my pants. “Time for me to meet your fella.”
I spared exactly one second to worry if my dick was too short, or too skinny, or weird in some way before knowing with certainty that none of it mattered because Mercury was not going to give a shit. “Jesus,” I said as he unzipped me and reached a hand in my jeans to rub my dick through my underwear. “Please, please, please,” stumbled out of my lips as I grabbed at the back of the couch, just needing to hold on to something.
“Just take it easy, I’m going to treat you right,” he said, and he nudged my clothing down my hips and wrapped his hand around my cock. Those fingers that had felt good on my throat felt fucking unbelievable just squeezing me, palm and fingers tightening in a little pulse without moving. “Yeah, look at him, he’s nice.”
His hands were bigger than mine. I could feel the knobbiness of his knuckles when he gave me one good stroke that made my back arch. He let his other hand slide up my stomach, rucking my shirt up under my arms. “Just as pretty as you can be,” he said, and I gasped hard in anticipation when he bent down, which just meant the kiss he placed on my stomach went somewhere sucked-in. He reached a finger up under my shirt to brush one of my nipples, and holy shit, I had not previously known I was so sensitive there.
“Please!” I said again, and there was a whine to it by now. He smiled against my belly, a curve of his lips in the center of the prickle of his beard, and put his hand flat over my rocketing heart as he scooted down a little more and sucked my dick into his mouth.
I almost came right away. Very close. But I bit my lip almost hard enough to bleed, and he just had to know, that crazy clever fucker, because he pulled off right away and let out a damp breath against my cock. I did a few multiplication tables in my head, thought of zombie brains, anything to inch me back from the edge. I wanted to come more than I wanted to take a hot bubble bath and eat Thanksgiving dinner, but I wanted even more for this to not be over yet.
When he touched me again it was with his tongue, long slow licks from base to tip. Ice cream obscenity, it was perfect. I reached down and my fingers just sort of floated through his hair; I couldn’t quite gather the focus to curl them in. He licked me like I tasted good; maybe he liked the taste of sweat. Maybe I’d like the taste of it on him.
He started sucking me again slow and steady, his hands holding my hips. He was smart, there; without that I’d’ve been bucking and squirming and might have sent the both of us toppling to the floor. He held me tight and I pawed at the couch cushion, tangled my hand up in my own shirt. You know in your heart before you get one that a blowjob is going to be good, but nothing prepares you for how fucking good it is.
I was panting and whimpering, right up to the edge again, straining against where he held me, and then he stopped. Full stop, mouth away, not even a little sigh of breath to push me over. “Gaga,” he said, and for a moment I couldn’t remember that that was supposed to be my name. “Look at me.”
I lifted my head up and focused my eyes. His mouth was red and I could really see his eyes, no thousand mile squint now. They were kind of fucking beautiful. All I could manage to say was: “Hn?”
“You want to come?”
That, I could answer. “Yes, fuck.”
He just smiled at me, happiest I’d ever seen him, and dropped his head back down. And he’d been holding back before, because that was just a full assault, lips tight, mouth wet, tongue working magic. I came so hard I wondered for a few seconds if I had actually died, stroked out, brain synapses spinning out forever on pure overload. When Mercury wiped his wet, prickly mouth against my stomach, the way it made me jump and yelp like a startled puppy convinced me I was still alive.
He sat up, proud between my legs, and rubbed my stomach. “You feel good now?” he said, after some unknown amount of time.
“I feel… fucking awesome,” I said, because I did. Best I’d ever felt and that included all the time before the end of the world. He scratched my belly again a little and I laughed and wriggled, sensitive and ticklish now.
“You’re sweet, just like I thought,” he said, voice low and warm and proud. “Taste sweet, too.”
I laughed and rubbed my hands over my face, pushing my faintly sweaty hair back from my forehead. “Oh, uh, was I supposed to warn you? Not come in your mouth? I’m bad at sex etiquette.” Holy shit, I’d had sex.
Mercury snorted. “Fuck, no. Good to have protein in your diet.” He put his hand down beside my head and leaned over me to kiss me and let me taste myself on his lips. ‘Sweet’ wasn’t what I’d call it, but the effect was successful, making me shiver and start a new build of arousal as the old one ebbed away. Fuck it, I was a twenty-one-year-old almost-virgin, I deserved to get as constantly turned on as I could, now that someone would take care of it.
And with the way Mercury was pressing down into me, my legs spread so his hips pressed against the insides of my thighs, yeah, I could feel my body doing its best to give the finger to all concepts of refractory periods. My dick was angry it couldn’t get hard again yet, especially with Mercury’s erection rubbing into it through his jeans. He made a low noise as he kissed me, circled his hips once, and then pulled back.
I must’ve looked disappointed, because Mercury laughed. “Oh, querido, don’t be so sad, there’s still more. You want more?”
“Yeah, I do.” I swallowed hard. I’d never tried anything resembling dirty talk before, but no reason not to start now. “I want to make you come, too.”
Mercury’s eyes went heavy and he let out a dark huff of breath. Now he was grabbing the couch cushion. That felt good to see. “Fucking hell. I bet you do.”
I sat up on my elbows, awkward but eager. My dream checklist still had a lot of unaddressed items. “Yeah. What should I do?”
He gave me a long look. He’d raked his eyes over me plenty of times, but fuck, it was different now that I was flushed from coming and my dick was still out. He reached down and gave the bulge in his pants a squeeze. “You want to sit in my lap?”
I smiled. That was weirdly sweet. “Yeah, of course,” I said, and started to sit up. He stopped me, resting a hand on the inside of my thigh. He slid his fingers back and traced his thumb along the seam of my pants, up along my ass.
“I mean, you want to sit in my lap?”
Oh, well. I’d had the romance, I’d gotten the mind-blowing blowjob, and now I could pull off a one-night hat trick and be really, well and truly deflowered? Fuck, I was down for that. Although, really, in the state of mind I was in, I was down for just about anything. I smiled at Mercury. “Yeah, I do.”
He looked surprised for just a few seconds, and then laughed and shook his head a little. “Hungry little thing, aren’t you?” He gave my stomach one last fond pet and got up off the couch. “Get those pants off and I’ll be right back.” He went back into his bedroom, and I wriggled out of my clothes. I ditched the shirt, too, just for completeness. I stayed on my back for a bit and stared at the ceiling. I felt great. It was completely bizarre.
Mercury came back and stopped in the doorway for a bit. “Well, shit, look at you.” He was beaming when he came back to sit down on the couch again, holding what looked like a well-loved tube of KY. He peeled off his shirt and I sat up next to him, and leaned over to kiss one of the tattooed roosters on his chest. There was some hilarious joke to be made about kissing cocks, but I didn’t have it in me right then. “Goddamn, Gaga.”
I pet his chest as he undid his pants and pushed them down, and the littlest edge of nervousness came back into me. I wasn’t afraid of it hurting, or being weird, nothing like that. I’d kind of lied before; I’d never been fucked before, but I did have experience, the kind that involved me in the dorm showers at three in the morning with two fingers up my butt, afraid that against all odds someone would come barging in the stall to catch me at it and simultaneously enjoying the fuck out of it. I had a feeling I was going to like this. I was just worried about making it good for him.
He slicked up his dick with the lube and leaned back. “All right, here it is. Come sit on papi’s lap.”
I laughed into his shoulder. “Oh, papi,” I said, and straightened myself up. I could feel myself blushing all over. “You going to be gentle now, too?”
“I’m not gonna do a thing,” he said, and put his hands on my hips, guiding me onto his lap. Yes, there was my erection returning, hello. “You’re going to do it all. You just go as fast or as slow as you want.” He brushed my hair back with his fingers and kissed me. “That romantic? You want it different?”
I put my hands on both sides of his neck and kissed him, dizzy a little with the feel of being on top of him in a way. “No, this is good,” I breathed, and reached down to take hold of his cock. I got distracted for a bit just there, making some stupid noise just from the feeling of finally getting my hands on someone else’s cock. He wasn’t much bigger than me, but he was uncut, just like all of my favorite boys in my porn, and I took a while to feel that. He bit his lip at that, and I felt less nervous already.
“Okay,” I said, and it took me a minute or so to get him positioned right—they really did make it look easier in porn—but then yes, whoa his dick was definitely inside me. Bigger than my fingers, no doubt, but a better shape for it. I held on to his shoulders and went slow, very, very slow.
Mercury had dropped his head back against the back of the couch and was breathing hard through his nostrils as he worried his lip with his teeth. His hands worked into the cushions, and god bless that crazy fucker, he was seriously restraining himself from just fucking me stupid then and there. That was just so sweet.
My breath hitched as my ass touched down on his thighs, and there was no deeper to go. “Okay,” I said again, and kissed him before he bit through his lip. I put my hands into his hair and he laughed.
“Congratulations,” he said, his voice strained. I made a little questioning sound. “You’re definitely no longer the only living virgin in the world.”
I laughed and lifted one hand over my head in triumph. “Woo hoo!” I said, and Mercury let go of the couch to put his arm to the small of my back. He didn’t guide me, didn’t move me, just rested his fingers there to touch me as I started to move. It felt good to be filled up like that, and it felt even better to move. The in-and-out of it was shallow, but I liked it; it kept him deep, deeper than I’d ever been able to get on my own. Yeah, I was going to end up slutty for this.
My dick started to get hard again against Mercury’s belly as I rode him, filling up as it brushed where his stomach tensed and tightened. I’d thought somehow he’d be a talker, filling the air with filth, but he just grunted and growled and pawed at the furniture. It was possibly the sexiest thing I’d ever seen, other than him sucking my dick fifteen minutes before. I put my hands in his hair and kissed him good.
“C’mon,’ I said against his mouth. “I’m good now. You don’t have to hold back.”
“Fuuuuuuuck!” he let out in a big groan and grabbed both of my hips hard. I laughed a little at the force of it, and then groaned myself as he lifted me off his dick and slid me back down again. Oh, shit that made me see stars. “Fucking fuck, you sweet tight little thing…” Oh, good, he did have dirty talk in him.
He bent me back and leaned his head down to mouth at my nipple, nipping it just once to get me to yelp. He wrapped one arm full around my waist to grab the opposite hip and keep me riding as he grabbed my dick and stroked it good. I thought maybe I’d last longer this time after having gotten off already, but no, that was not in the books, not with how he was fucking me, not with those sexy goddamn hands working me, not with the way he growled Gaga in my ear. I could just forget the name I was born with if he’d keep saying it like that.
“I’m gonna make you come again,” he said into my neck.
“Okay,” I said, an idiot even at the best of moments, and did, thumping my hand into the wall behind his head as my dick spat between our chests. When my body started to go boneless he just grabbed my hips tight with both hands and made me ride, bouncing me on his cock in a way I could feel up into my throat. It was fucking perfect. He came buried deep in me, gasping loud and wordless and raw into my collarbones. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and buried my face in his hair.
He slumped back eventually, breathing hard and grinning huge. He rubbed a fond hand over the curve of my ass before he shifted his hips and pulled his softening dick out. Okay, so that felt weird. He cracked open an eye a few minutes later and rubbed the back of my neck. “You feel good?”
“I feel incredible,” I said. I felt sore and tired and dirty and I could’ve just stayed inside El Presidio like that forever.
“You feel romanced enough?”
I rested my head against his shoulder. “It was pretty good, yeah.”
He put his hands around my waist. “Wait, one more thing…” He stood up then and I yelped as he took me with him, tossing me over his shoulder, total fucking caveman style. He hauled me off to the bedroom, his undone pants threatening to fall down around his ankles, trip him, and see us both killed. I had jizz dripping out of my ass. This was not the most dignified position I’d ever been in.
He tossed me down on the bed and then flopped out next to me. He rolled me over, facing away from him, and then tucked me back into him, his arm around my waist. Holy shit, he was making me the little spoon. He had apparently read my dream checklist in detail.
“You sleep in here now, okay?”
“Sounds good to me.” He breathed into the back of my neck, low and heavy, like he might fall asleep soon. “I guess we’re pretty personal now, aren’t we?”
“Mm, guess so,” he said.
“So I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell you that my name is—” He cut me off, putting his hand over my mouth.
“Nope, nuh-uh. You’re Gaga. My pretty little Gaga. Don’t want to hear anything else.”
I pulled his hand off my mouth and kissed his fingers. “That’s who I am, then. And you’re my… sexy Mercury? Hot-ass Mercury?” His breathing had gone deep. “Mercury?”
He was fast asleep. I tucked his hand up against my heart and found it easy to join him.
“So, what are we going to do if we don’t find anyone up north?” I asked him the next day when we were on the road.
Mercury looked over at me and gave me that fucking crazy shit-eater’s grin. “Well, I never did find you those spank mags. There’s always that World’s Largest Adult Bookstore.”
I put my feet up on the dashboard and smiled. “Sounds like a plan,” I said, and El Presidio drove on.