by Sakana Sara (魚 サラ)
I don’t have to do it like this, just so we’re clear.
It isn’t really necessary for me to stand here in the middle of a graveyard at midnight, all dressed up like some immortal pretty boy out of an Anne Rice novel with my fake skin all pale and perfect and my fake hair blue-black and carefully mussed and my fake eyes a shade of green just this side of unnatural and rimmed with just a touch of black stuff. I could have told the guy to meet me at a crossroads out in the middle of nowhere. Hell, I could have told him to meet me at the Starbucks on Fifth and Main and we could have done this whole thing over coffee.
What can I say, I like to put on a show. And this kid appreciates a good show. I like that about him. We understand one another, at least on the importance of a good show.
The actual paperwork… well, okay, that’s a necessity. Have to have these things in writing, of course, but I didn’t have to bring a fancy fountain pen for him to sign it with. Maybe if he was a little less industrial and a little more goth I would have gone with the full “here, sign this in your own blood” routine, but really, any old pen will do.
And the collar… well, it doesn’t have to be this fancy, no. In fact, we don’t have to have the collar at all. That’s just my own personal touch, there. But I didn’t think he’d have a problem with it. He likes that kind of stuff.
Anyway, you’ve probably figured out why I’m standing out there in the middle of a graveyard at midnight with a sheaf of paperwork, a fancy fountain pen, and a fancy collar in the pockets of my black leather overcoat and waiting for someone. I’m a collector, of sorts. Some guys collect fine art. Some guys collect antique cars. I collect people. Mostly writers and poets and shit back in the day, mostly rock stars now. Or, well, future rock stars.
Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name.
Just kidding. That’s a trick question. I don’t have a name–at least, not anymore. Just a number. It’s a long story. Of course I’ve got a couple of pseudonyms I work under these days, you might have heard a couple, but I wasn’t using any of those that night. This one guy a while back thought I looked like a Drew, and I figured it’s as good a name as any. And that’s the one I gave this guy I’m waiting on.
Speaking of which… how long is he going to let me wait out here? I’ve got things to do. Places to go. People to buy.
It happens sometimes. The deal doesn’t go through. Sometimes they chicken out at the last minute, or they talk themselves into believing I’m not what they know I am and I’m going to chloroform them and leave them short a kidney in a motel bathtub full of ice or something. And one of them–in all these years, only one–figured out who and what I was before we even started talking serious business, gave me the finger, and told me to go fuck myself. When that kind of shit happens, there’s nothing you can do about it. No signature, no proof of purchase, no deal. That’s just the way it works.
I’m starting to wonder if this kid’s going to pull that on me. I hope not. It’s hard to find a good starving musician these days, you know that? Well… not so good, if he was any good he wouldn’t need me. You know what I mean. The first time I saw him perform, it was all I could do to not walk out of the place and I wasn’t the only one. It’s not that I didn’t see potential in the kid, of course he’s got potential, even I can’t help a guy with no potential. But “green” doesn’t even begin to describe him as a musician. Hell, he isn’t even green yet. He’s the bit at the base of the blossom, that hard little knot that might turn into an apple someday if it’s lucky.
Is he lucky enough to turn into that shiny red apple without my help? Maybe. But I wouldn’t be willing to bet money on it.
So I’m just about to give up on him, pack my stuff and go back to window shopping, and here he comes sprinting up the path.
Black Docs. Jeans with the knees ripped out, covered in Sharpie scribbles. Black leather belt covered with silver stud things. Black T-shirt that looked like it’d been painted on him. Hair flying everywhere despite his best efforts to keep it corralled with a strip of leather, hair that particular shade of blue-black that only comes out of a bottle and dirty blonde roots to confirm it, except for that one violet lock hanging in his eyes.
“Sorry,” he wheezes, panting like he’d run all the way across town. “There was some kind of wreck in the tunnel, took g*ddamn forever to clear it out, and I didn’t have your number or anything–”
He’s telling the truth. I know these things. “It’s cool,” I say, and it is. “You still on board with this?”
“Oh yeah.” He laughs. “Let’s do it.”
“All righty, then.” I reach into one pocket and draw out the paperwork, then the pen; I spread out the former on the bench-style granite tombstone that shows where some guy named Robert Fuhr is buried. And just because I’m a nice guy, I reach into another pocket and hand the kid a little flashlight so he can see the thing to sign it.
So what does he do? He picks it up and reads it.
He reads it. He doesn’t just skim it. He actually reads it.
And that makes me nervous.
They never take the time to actually read it. If they did, half of them would throw it down and go oh fuck you, Jack and take off on me. The other half’d keep me out here till sunrise, debating every little point with me. Either way, when they read the contract, that’s never a good sign.
So he stands there, actually reading the contract, every word of it, while I sit there on Bob’s headstone trying to make sure I have a neat, tidy answer prepared for any question he might have, any concern he might have over the wording, any last-minute freakouts, anything. I can’t lie about the terms of the deal. A breach of contract would be a very, very bad thing for me to get caught in. But like any salesman I can exaggerate a little here, stretch the truth a little there, gloss over this little bit of fine print over there, sprinkle a little bullshit over there.
He flips to the second page and keeps right on reading.
I’m fucked, I think then. I’m going to have to let him go. And that’s too bad. I would have given him the talent he wants and the fame he craves just like that. Without me, it’s going to take him years, years to even get a paying gig in his own neighborhood, and besides that, I really, really liked him–
“Okay,” he says, flapping the paperwork back down onto Bob’s bench-stone and giving me a nod. “How do we do this? Do I, like, prick my finger or something?”
It takes me a full eight seconds to realize that he’s fucking serious, that he’s still on board and he is really going to sign the contract. I can’t believe it. I clear my throat. Human form, human tic, sue me. “No, you just–” I hand him the pen. “That’ll do. Initial here…” I point at the first little blank. “And here… and date here… and sign at the bottom.”
He initials. And again. And dates. And, finally, he signs.
And it’s done. Well, not quite done, there’s still one small detail, but the part that counts is over.
“So, um…” He laughs, softly. “How long does it take to, uh… When does it kick in?”
I reach into my other pocket and pull out the collar.
Strip of buttery-soft black leather, little web of silver chains dripping from the bottom edge, silver buckle that once fastened could never be unbuckled again by any hands but mine. And a little silver tag near the buckle. You don’t need to know exactly what that tag says. Suffice it to say it means this is mine.
I don’t bother waiting for his okay. It’s not like I need it. I probably don’t need to be so careful to sweep all his hair out of the way so it won’t get caught in the thing, and I definitely don’t need to spend as much time as I do working at the buckle in ways that make my fingertips brush the soft skin of his throat.
“Right now,” I say to him, and let the last soft click of the buckle serve as the period on that little sentence.
Fast-forward a few nights.
It didn’t happen overnight. Oh, I didn’t lie about that, of course not. I told him it started when I collared him, and that’s true. But even I can’t grow talent overnight. It takes a few days for it to stick.
He’s playing the same crappy bar I found him in, but this time nobody’s getting up to leave halfway through the set. This time, they’re not even wanting to go out and smoke while he’s on. This time, there’s actually a mosh pit. Hell, even I have to admit this might be something I’d listen to by choice and not just if forced to at proverbial gunpoint. He sounds good. He looks even better.
And this time, it just so happens that over by the end of the bar is a guy who knows a guy who’s looking for a guy like mine.
You’ve probably got no idea how big a collection I really have. Some of them are pretty obvious, like the lovely little matching set of death metal bands I’ve got in Norway and the assortment of black-haired, pale-faced moany goth boys and girls scattered around North America and the U.K. Some of them even credit me in their liner notes, and everybody thinks it’s just a big old joke, just a cute little publicity stunt when they thank Satan for all the help (no, I’m not him, but close enough for government work).
Some of them you’d never guess. That sweet little fresh-faced J-pop boyband? Mine. That cute little girl with the great big voice, the one that keeps getting compared to Céline Dion? Mine. That gospel-singer-turned-R&B diva? Oh yes way. You think that’s crazy? Let’s just say that one Chick tract about Christian rock bands is mostly bullshit, but it’s not complete bullshit. Well, it’s not like they actually believe what they’re singing about.
The screamy industrial type, though… I hadn’t bothered with them in a while. Kind of a sore spot, just between you and me. You know that one guy, the one who figured me out and told me to go fuck myself? That guy was the last screamy industrial type I tried to buy.
Much like the one about why I don’t actually have a name for you to guess anymore, it’s a long story. It boils down to me being kind of out of circulation for a hundred years or so and getting released back into the world sometime in the late eighties, and by the time I got my bearings in the modern world and found this guy he didn’t really need my help anymore. Which didn’t keep me from trying. I’m not going to name names, but I guarantee you’ve heard his. And no, I didn’t have a thing to do with him being where he is today. I don’t give free samples.
The saddest part of this whole botched deal was, I sort of had to ask him not to remember any of it. I go to his shows–I go to a lot of his shows. Yeah, I admit it, it’s kind of pathetic, I know. Sometimes he’ll see me standing there in the front row and he’ll think I look so damn familiar, but he just can’t place me. And then he forgets about me and goes on about his business.
This new guy… business took the exact opposite turn with him. He knew exactly who and what I was. He knew exactly what he was getting into–or, well, as close to “exactly” as his wee human brainmeats would let him. He read the contract. He actually read the fucking contract. And he still signed it.
So naturally, I spent about the first month waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Fast-forward a few weeks.
I’m sitting on a stool in a bar full of people wearing various configurations of black leather, chains, chrome studs and spikes and stuff, and eyeliner, waiting for my boy to come on when I realize someone’s sitting on the stool next to me. And staring at me.
“Out a little past our bedtime, Drew?” he asks me, and of course I know exactly who it is.
I really try to look annoyed when I turn around to give him the finger, I do, but I end up grinning instead. Of course he was going to show up sooner or later. Of course. See, this guy next to me? This guy who’s sitting here in a rivethead bar in an expensive black suit and a blood-red silk shirt and a black silk tie and strangely not getting fucked with? He’s kind of technically my boss. I say “technically” because we’re pretty much on the same level, and he can’t really make me do anything. He’s just got a higher number, is all.
Still, he just loves to give me shit about my collection. “A little overdressed, hyaku-san?”
“Now, now.” He makes a big show out of trying to look all offended and hurt, but I can hear him laughing on the inside. “If you’re going to use a human name, you could at least do me the courtesy of using mine.”
“Oh, excuse me.” I snicker. “Boss.”
He rolls his eyes and favors me with an exaggerated sigh. “Close enough, I suppose.”
My boy takes the stage, and he and his band erupt into a wall of samples and distortion and noise. It’s the first track from their demo CD. He gave me a copy yesterday. It’s actually something I’d listen to by choice. It helps that a couple weeks ago, he just happened to meet a guitarist and drummer who actually knew how to play their respective instruments. What a coincidence.
My boss gestures at the stage with his pretentious German beer. “Who’s this?” he asks me; one advantage to being what we are is that I can actually hear him over the structured chaos coming from my boy and his band. “The one that got away?”
“No.” I resist the urge to flip him off again; he catches my intent and laughs anyway. “This is the new one.”
“…Really.” One eyebrow goes up. Human face, human tic. “He’s actually kind of… not horrible.”
“Yeah, well.” I order a pretentious beer of my own. The bartender just happens to not card me. “You should have heard him before I bought him.”
We watch my boy and his band for a while. My boss is doing that thing he does, that thing where he just happens to lean right into my personal space, that thing where he occasionally just happens to drag his fingers across my shoulder or my knee or whatever. Well, it’s not like I don’t do it right back. Sometimes, anyway. I can’t be bothered right now. I’m too busy watching my boy. And my boy’s all business, but every once in a while I catch him glancing my way. When he shifts his gaze a foot to my right, I’m pretty sure I hear him thinking something like back the fuck off.
“He doesn’t like me, does he?” my boss says in the same tone you’d use to say it’s warm in here, isn’t it? “Understandable, I suppose. He wants to fuck you.” He leans over and finishes directly into my ear. “And you want to let him.”
“So what if I do?” I continue to ignore that hand creeping up my arm. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“Why would I? It’s not my business, he’s your toy.” A laugh in my fake ear, soft and warm. I can feel his fake lips curl up into a fake smile, and then he leans back again. “You do own him, you know. You can have him anytime you want.”
“I know.” I shrug. A new song starts up, slower, more melodic, with a simple thick bass beat under the synths. I can’t remember its proper title, but it’s labeled people will totally have sex to this ;) on the demo CD. “It’s more fun like this.”
Fast-forward a few months.
Now things are happening for my boy. That guy who knew a guy who was looking for a guy like mine liked what he saw. He called his guy, who called his guy, who called my guy and set up some things. And now my boy’s got a record deal. Every time the radio stations play his more radio-friendly tracks, the DJ’s phone and e-mail light up with calls and messages from listeners demanding to know who the fuck that just was and where they could get his CD.
I’m proud of him. Well, technically, I guess I’m proud of myself too, for making it happen, but mostly I’m proud of him. I mean, my boy’s just played his first out-of-state gig and it was awesome. And it’s just going to keep getting better for him.
And to answer your question: no, I haven’t. Not yet.
My boy’s bandmates have the second best suites in the hotel, courtesy of yours truly. A little taste of things to come, you know? So does my boy, technically, except he’s hanging out with me.
I’ve got the penthouse, naturally. Only the best for me. Hey, would you sell your soul to a guy that lives in a third-floor walkup and stays at the Super 8 when he travels? I wouldn’t. Besides, it’s fun to milk that whole “man of wealth and taste” thing for all it’s worth. It’s fun to make people wonder how that little barely-legal boy and that admittedly talented but not yet precisely famous rock singer can afford to have that penthouse all to themselves. It’s fun to invite a growing troupe of groupies up for drinks and expensive shit from room service and listen to their theories about who I am and how I have all this money–some of them actually get it right, and they think they’re just kidding.
Tonight, it’s just me and him. I offered to talk some cute young things up to the suite, but he wasn’t interested. Fine by me, not that I mind watching him play with his groupies or anything, but sometimes I just like to have my pets to myself.
You can have him anytime you want, my boss said. Sometimes I take advantage of that, sure–wouldn’t you?–but not with my boy and the others like him. Not with the centerpieces of my collection. It’d be like dragging out the best china for that Hot Pocket you just pulled out of the microwave or something.
Besides, even if I ended up never touching him beyond the occasional hand on the small of the back or head on the shoulder, I could watch him like this, lounging on the bed, fresh from the shower and naked except for black boxers and the collar, forever. He’s watching MTV and he grins like it’s Christmas morning when they run his video, grins and scoots over to lay his head on my knee.
Good boy, I think, and just to carry that theme a little farther I lay my hand on the side of his head and twirl that one violet lock of hair around my finger.
This isn’t the first time he’s done this, this thing where he rests his head on my shoulder or leaves his hand on my arm or my knee a little longer than he really needs to. But it is the first time he’s turned his head to nuzzle my thigh while I pet him.
Human body. Human reaction.
I’ve never really gotten used to the sensation of all my blood rushing straight to my cock. Just between you and me, the first couple of times I didn’t like it at all. Well, put yourself in my shoes. There I was, minding my own business, some random pretty poet boy asked me if I’d like to go out back and let him suck my dick (okay, not in so many words, this was a long time ago, but you get the idea), and all of a sudden this piece of my fake human body just went and did something I didn’t tell it to do. It’s a control thing. I don’t like not being in charge when I should be, especially when what I’m not in charge of and should be is my own fake human body.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate the rush that goes along with the occasional minor surrender of control.
Still, there’s no need to hurry into this. I’ve waited this long. A few more minutes or even a few more hours won’t make any difference now.
He sucks in a breath with a hiss and lets it out with a soft groan when I let that violet lock of hair drop from my fingers and trace the curve of his ear with the very tip of my middle finger. Just to see what other kinds of noises he’ll make, I do it a few more times, just running my fingertip along the outer edge of his ear from the top to the lobe and back, a few more times nice and slow before I move on to the rest of his ear. The little silver ring in the lobe, the little spot behind it, the lovely little sensitive bits inside accessible by fingertip and tongue. And before I’m done here the fingertip does give way to the tongue, just the barest little flicks over those lovely little spots.
“Fuck,” he whispers when the tip of my tongue dips into his ear and out again just as quickly; when I lean back I can feel one of his arms wrapped behind me and see his other hand clutching at my thigh and see the head of his cock, flushed and hard and just a little damp at the very tip, peeking through the fly of his boxers. “Fuck,” he whispers again, shifting that arm behind me to grab at a handful of my silk shirt.
“Do you remember that night you played the Engine Room?” I ask him, trailing my fingertips down his jaw, down the side of his neck. “Do you remember the guy sitting next to me?”
“Yeah,” he gasps.
Down his neck to the soft hollow of his throat, down the middle of his chest with a detour to the left to tease a nipple. “That was my boss.” Down further still, over his stomach. “He told me you wanted something else from me.”
A swallow. “What?”
I pause there, playing with the waistband of his boxers. “You tell me.”
He lets out a shaky breath when I slip just the tips of my fingers under the elastic and mumbles something into my thigh that sounds vaguely like “wnfugya,” and that’s just plain adorable. Adorable enough to get just a tiny swipe of my thumb across the head of his cock, anyway. Not quite adorable enough to do much else about.
“Sorry,” I chirp, walking two fingertips under his boxers, just to the boundary between smooth skin and rough hair, “I didn’t catch that.”
He doesn’t clarify that for me until I slide one fingertip up along the underside of his cock, all the way up, finishing with a few slow, tiny, wet circles around the very tip. Third one is, of course, the charm; he jerks his head up, and pushes up on the elbow behind me. “I want,” he starts, through his teeth, hips twitching forward like they’re trying to tell me themselves, “to fuck you.”
“Really?” I say, like it’s never even occurred to me and this is some kind of big surprise, never mind the fact that I just told him I already knew, and this big old cheery grin creeps across my face. “Well, you know that’s not exactly in the contract, but maybe we can work something out.” I slide that fingertip down a little to rub at that sensitive spot just under the head of his dick. He hisses in a breath and claws at my thigh and turns his head to mouth at my stomach through my shirt. “Why don’t you show me what you had in mind?”
One thing I really like about this boy: when it comes time to get down to serious business, he cuts straight through the crap and gets down to serious business. He didn’t fuck around with petty bullshit when he was talking to the suits at the record label, he didn’t fuck around with petty bullshit when he was talking to the merch people, and he’s not fucking around with petty bullshit like small talk and awkward cuddling now. He just pushes up onto one hand, tangles his other hand up in my hair, pulls my head back, and crushes his mouth to mine like he needs it to live. He tastes like beer and adrenaline, smells like cigarette smoke and machine fog and hot stage lights.
If I wanted to, if I really wanted to, I could take control of this, pin him down on the bed and ride him until he screamed. But not right now. Not with this one. This one, I want to see what he comes up with on his own. So far I like it. He’s dispensed with trying to devour my mouth and moved on to my neck, and now he’s got me pinned down on my back, isn’t that interesting? He’s got me pinned down on my back, he’s yanking shirt buttons free and yanking my shirt open so he can get his hands and his mouth all over my chest. And then it’s just his mouth because his hands are working on the fly of my slacks. Actually, just one of his hands is really working–the other one’s kneading, rubbing, squeezing my cock through the fabric and then he gets my fly open and yanks at the waistband. I reward him for a job well done by planting my feet on the bed and pushing my hips up off it so he can get my slacks off. I think I hear something tear when he yanks them down. Not that it matters.
“I’ve got some stuff in my briefcase,” I tell him, jerking my head towards the black leather case next to the bed. He flicks his tongue over a nipple as he slides off to see to that. He pops the two latches, reaches into the pocket, and comes out with a little packet of lube and a couple of condoms.
He laughs a little when he notices exactly what kind of condoms I pack–the black ones, naturally. Then he gives me this little puzzled look. “Do we–I mean, do you really need–”
“Yes.” I can’t catch the kinds of things people worry about these days, but I’m fairly sure I can carry them and I’d rather not take that risk with my investments. Especially this one. “We do.” And before he can say anything else about it, I snatch one of those silly black condom packets and tear it open with my teeth. Maybe a little prematurely, because at this point I can’t quite reach his cock. I’m not about to complain about this, because he’s gone back to mouthing his way down my chest, down my stomach with a little pause to nibble at the little silver ring in my navel. His mouth trails down lower, he pauses again and nuzzles that little sensitive spot right under the head of my cock, and then he sucks the whole thing into his mouth, all the way to the root.
When I first put this body on, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have made that bit a little more impressive in the size department. Since then, I’ve had enough good blowjobs to convince me that it was fine as it was. This one, in particular. The mouth that was screaming on stage three hours ago is talented in other ways, it seems. He knows how to use his tongue. He knows how to use his teeth, and if that’s not impressive enough he knows how to multitask, even as he’s pulling back to flutter his tongue over the very tip of my cock and plunging down on it again, his hands are busy working that little pack of lube open. A few seconds later, the tips of two slick fingers push into me, pull back a bit, then press in deeper and pull back again, and his fingers are every bit as talented as his mouth. He pulls back, lashes his tongue up the underside of my dick.
“Don’t come yet,” he growls, and this time when he pushes his fingers in again he doesn’t pull them back, he just keeps them there, buried in me as deep as he can get them, and he does this thing with the knuckle of his thumb and the rest of his hand behind my balls and those two fingers in my ass, this kind of rhythmic grinding rippling thing. Fuck, that’s good, and if I didn’t have the kind of control I have I’d come right then and there whether he wanted me to or not.
I wonder… how long can he wait? How long can he wait when I start rocking back against his fingers? Or adding a little moan every time his thumb presses tighter against that spot under my balls? How about when I hook my legs over his shoulders and just kind of absently run two fingertips up the underside of my cock, just once, with that condom peeking out from under my curled-up pinky and ring fingers like a shiny black latex subliminal ad?
Yeah, that’s done it. “Fuck,” he snarls, and I can’t help but grin; it sounds like equal parts generic exclamation and command. With his free hand, he plucks the condom from my fingers and I push up on my elbows to watch him work it down his cock. He gets it all the way down and thrusts into his fist a few more times than he probably really needs to; then he does it a few more times on the pretense of spreading whatever was left of the lube in that little packet on.
He doesn’t bother to ask me if I’m ready or if I’m sure I’m cool with this or any of that shit, he just pulls his fingers out of me and replaces them with his cock in one swift motion. There’s no pause for adjustment, there’s no introductory slow-and/or-shallow phase, just zero to hard and deep as he can go in two strokes.
The TV is still on, my boy’s video long since done. I don’t hear it. I can’t be bothered. All I hear are the important things, all the delicious sounds that go along with a good hard solid fuck. It sounds like one of his songs, kind of. The rasp of his breath, the rush of his blood, the bass drum beat of his heart and the rhythm of flesh on flesh to accompany it, and my boy growling out the occasional encouraging dirty word or phrase, all building in a big crescendo of carefully orchestrated chaos to that last repeat of the chorus.
His rhythm falters, once, barely enough to notice. He snarls against my shoulder as he picks it up again, and I laugh softly into his ear.
“Is it okay,” I begin, pausing to suck his earlobe between my teeth and give it a little nip, “if I come now?”
He doesn’t answer that, not directly, not in words. But he growls out something indistinct and pushes himself upright on his knees, which frees his hands up to grab my hips and take complete control of the rhythm and gives him a nice unobstructed view when I reach down and wrap my hand around my cock. I give it a few idle strokes, a little fingertip-tickle at the head, just to see how he deals with being teased like that at this stage of the game. He deals with it by clutching at my hips hard enough to bruise a normal person and pounding into me as fast and hard as he can. More so of both than any normal person could be expected to keep up for long.
So I dispense with the teasing. I know it’s not going to take long but it happens about four thrusts sooner than I planned and it even catches me a little off guard; before I have a chance to properly aim I’m coming, wet heat spattering my stomach and my chest and fingers. And it’s good, the kind of good solid orgasm where my whole body just clenches up tight, from my feet hooked together behind his neck to my balls cradled in the curled fingers of my other hand to my head craned back as far as it’ll go and everything in between. I actually yell a little, which I don’t usually do sincerely.
Sincere or not, that seems to be what puts him over the edge; just as I’m coming down from that he yanks me back hard against him and throws his head back and that yell, that’s a very sincere yell. His hips jerk forward and his hands pull me back to meet those last few erratic thrusts; his cock pulses and throbs inside me in a way that actually makes me come just a tiny bit more.
Yes, I decide as he collapses on top of me in a sweaty, panting heap and lays his head on my chest, as I reach up to pet the side of his head and twine that violet lock of hair in my fingers, this was very much worth the wait. In fact, I think I’ll make him wait a few months before we do this again. It’ll be like saving him for a special occasion.
So much for that, I think as he’s stumbling over to my briefcase to dig out another condom an hour later.
And again the next night, when he sucks me off in the back of his bus not half an hour after he finishes his show.
And again a week later, when we end up quietly jacking one another off under the stage between his second and third sets.
And again a week after that, when he… oh, fuck it.
Add one more minor surrender of control I’ve come to appreciate to the list.
One morning I wake up to this low murmur of masterwakeupmastermasterwakeup all around me and this little startled yelp of “What the fuck!” next to me. I crack one eye open, and I see that we’re not alone. They’re gathered around the bed, six of them, six vaguely man-shaped shadows peering down at us with empty red eyes.
“Drew–” My boy shakes me by the shoulder as I blink myself awake. “Drew, what the fuck are they–”
“It’s okay. They work for me.” I scrub a hand across my face. I’m certain I told them to knock last time they did this. I would have asked them to dress a little more appropriately, but they’re barely strong enough to borrow a real human body, let alone make a fake one like mine. “All right, all right, I’m awake,” I tell my… assistants after I’ve made fairly sure there are no maids screaming in the living room of my suite; the last time they did this, I had to gently convince an entire restaurant full of people to not remember the incident. “What do you want?”
They answer in a rustle of dissonant voices, a buzz of master and Anderssen and collect.
Oh. That. That’s right, that was on my schedule for today, wasn’t it?
“Drew?” My boy still sounds a little unnerved, and I can’t say I blame him. I’m going to have a talk with the one on the far left later about what it’s doing right now. It can’t wear a real human body, can’t make a whole fake one, but it can give itself a cartoony-flat fake toothy grin. Which it’s doing right now, right at my boy. It probably thinks it’s being cute. My boy doesn’t think it’s cute. He has visions of being eaten like a rack of baby back ribs running through his head. “What’s going on?”
“Business.” I swing my legs out of bed (and “accidentally” kick that idiot on the left as I do; it makes a little meeping noise and its stupid fake grin vanishes) and nudge my way past my associates to fetch some clean clothes. “Sorry, there’s something I need to take care of. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” Somehow I know that’s not quite going to be enough to satisfy my boy, and it’s not like I owe him a full explanation, but I’m in a generous mood. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. “You know Thor’s Hammer? Death metal band? Their lead singer’s one of mine. His plane just went down. His idea, he wanted to go out while he was young and famous.” I put on a fresh pair of slacks, socks, shoes. “I need to go pick him up.”
“Oh,” my boy says, like that makes perfect sense to him. And then it seems to sink in a little deeper. “…Oh.” He remembers what exactly I mean by that. He remembers that someday it’s going to be his soul I’m collecting. Or maybe that’s me remembering. Either way, it’s awkward and I don’t like it.
“We’ll talk about it later,” I tell him, buttoning my shirt and throwing on a jacket. “Wait out there,” I tell my assistants, gesturing towards the living room. They nod and make yesmaster noises and creep on out the door, single file.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.” I lean down and kiss him on the forehead. By the time I get back, he’ll have brushed the whole incident off as just a little bit of weirdness in his morning. Maybe he’ll even think it was just a dream. Either way, we won’t talk about it later. Yes, I know, messing around with his memory just to avoid having that conversation is a chickenshit thing to do and I’m sure my boss will have something snotty to say about it–not because he thinks I shouldn’t, just because it’s a chickenshit thing to do. I don’t care.
I pick up my paperwork and follow my assistants out the door.
Fast-forward a few years.
There’s my boy again, on a much different stage. People paid seventy bucks each for the nosebleed seats. Scalpers were getting three, four, five hundred a head. He’s got an army of techs and caterers and gofers running around backstage. He’s got Madison Square Garden packed with screaming fans. He’s got an album that just went platinum and four more behind it, even after he gave his record label the finger. He still looks pretty much the same. Same ripped scribbled jeans. Same black Docs. Same leather belt. Slightly shorter bottle-blue-black hair and that one violet lock whipping around his head while he screams into the microphone.
He meets me backstage after the show, sweaty and warm through his T-shirt when he pulls me against him and I ask myself what the fuck I’m about to do here, even though I’ve been over it in my head and over it and over it and I know my boss is going to give me all kinds of shit for this but the more I thought about it, the more sure I was that I could not deal with what happened to my guy from Thor’s Hammer happening to this one. Not the way he died. What happened after.
It’s never really bothered me before. It didn’t really bother me with that guy. It didn’t bother me with the three I’ve collected since–one overdose, one boat accident, and one premature heart attack. In fact, most of the time, I think it’s fairly funny. Here’s the Mr. Big Shot of the week, just got to the end of his life and I show up to meet him there and half the time even as I’m walking up to him with my assistants in tow he’s still thinking he got a pretty good deal. I’ll let him think that for a while. I’ll let him keep thinking that Hell is just a marginally uncomfortable place, just an inconvenience, like a motel room with cracks in the walls and mouse shit on the pillows and flat Shasta in the Coke machine and a stain on the carpet you don’t want to think too much about. And that’s when I drop the bomb. The looks on their faces and the noises they make when I drop whatever human mask I wore for them, when they get their first look at the place where they’ll be spending the rest of forever, when they realize just how big a mistake they made when they signed that contract, it’s Hell’s Funniest Home Videos $10K winner material there. Even now, thinking about Mr. Anderssen’s face as my assistants…escorted him to his new forever-and-ever home makes me grin a little.
But every time I think about it happening to this one…
I don’t know if it’s just another case of “human body, human reaction” or that’s actually me, but when I think about what’s going to happen at the end of his life, when I think about how he’s going to look at me when I drop the mask (and I thought for a while maybe this time I would leave it on, just this once, just for him, one last little act of kindness before they drag him down), when I think about the fact that someday, this beautiful boy screaming into a microphone in front of thousands and thousands of people is going to be an empty man-shaped shadow with empty red eyes, that this beautiful voice currently shaping the lyrics of a song about standing up to authority is going to be an insectile little buzz of master master master, when I think about what’s going to happen to him after he dies I get this sick feeling in the middle of my chest. Like someone cut me open, stuffed something cold and dead and slimy in there, and sewed me back up again. I don’t like it. I don’t know whether it’s just that I’ve worn a human body a little too long or it’s really me feeling like that, but either way it’s a weird feeling and I don’t like it and I just want it to fucking stop.
Over the past year or so, I’ve thought about how I might be able to make it stop. No matter how much I thought about it, everything just led to the same damn conclusion and it sucks. It sucks and I hate it but I can’t see any other way out of this for either of us.
And he knows. He knows something’s wrong. “Hey,” he says, giving my shoulder a playful shake, “I just played to sold-out Madison Square Fucking Garden.”
“I know.” I steer him towards his bus, arm around his waist. Maybe I can get one last good solid fuck out of him before I do this, I think, and what the hell am I even thinking? “We need to talk.”
He laughs and drapes his arm around my shoulders as we walk. “If it’s about the hotel bill in Newark, I can explain, floating the mattress in the pool really did seem like a good idea at the–”
“It’s about your contract.”
He stops a second, shakes his head, and keeps walking. “…Man, fuckin’ label just doesn’t know when to quit, I thought they got the message last time the lawyer talked to them.”
“No. I meant your other contract.” I can’t even look at him. “Mine.”
“…Oh.” He stops again. “Is something wrong with it?”
He tightens his arm a little around my shoulders, just a little squeeze before he starts walking again, pulling me along with him.
We get to his bus, climb in, and head straight for the back. “I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?” he asks me. “I didn’t–y’know, ask for too much?”
“No.” He sits down on the bed in the very back of the bus, and I sit next to him. “You couldn’t possibly ask for too much, considering what you signed over to me.”
What does he do? He shrugs. He fucking shrugs, like it’s not a big deal. Like it’s no big deal at all. “I think you’re getting the short end of the deal,” he says. “You gave me talent, you made me famous, and I don’t even have to do anything–”
“That’s just it,” I say, and I am not going to let this escalate into a screaming match in the back of his damned tour bus right after the biggest gig he’s ever played. “You don’t have to do anything, not until after you die. And then we take you to Hell and we break you down into a perfect little burned-out shadow and we use you for cannon fodder, maybe a gofer or an assistant if you’re really lucky. And don’t fucking tell me you don’t believe that’s really going to happen, you know damn well who I am, you know damn well what I am, you’ve seen my boss, you’ve seen my assistants, you’ve seen what you’re going to become, now do you still think I’m getting the short end of the deal here?”
He blinks. And shrugs again. I want to choke some sense into him, remember the contract, and refrain from killing him right here for being an idiot. “I know,” he says. “It doesn’t seem that bad. Honestly, it doesn’t–”
So much for not letting this escalate into a screaming match. “Do you understand ‘forever!?'” Something falls off the little shelf by the bed when I jump off it. He doesn’t notice. “Do you understand fucking eternity? No you don’t, you can’t, your mind can’t handle it, it’s like asking you to tell me what infinity plus infinity is, you can’t understand that, nobody can understand that–hell, I can’t even really understand it and I was right there watching when your great-times-a-billion grandparents first grew legs and crawled out of the fucking sea!”
He doesn’t say anything. I know he’s sitting there trying, trying to imagine his family tree all the way back to the first microscopic water bug that ever swam on its own, just so he can tell me he can. He can’t even make it farther back than his great-times-twenty grandparents.
I take a breath while he’s thinking about that.
I pull a sheaf of paperwork out of my pocket. His contract.
“If you people understood what you were signing away, if you really fucking understood it, how many people do you think would sign these?” I shake the contract, folded loosely in half lengthwise, at him. “None of you. Nobody would. Because it’s not worth it. Nothing we give you could ever make it worth it.”
He’s given up trying to trace his lineage back to protozoa, and now he realizes what’s going on. “Drew–”
“It’s all yours,” I tell him. “It stays yours. The talent, the fame, the money, all of it. Everything I gave you, you keep. Free of charge.” I hold up his contract–
“Drew, wait a fucking minute!”
–and I rip it in half.
The collar’s buckle unlatches and falls open. The collar itself snakes down over his shoulder and lands in his lap.
“That’s it,” I tell him. I rip the contract into quarters, eighths, confetti. “You’re free.”
He stares at the collar, draped over his thigh, now nothing more than a strip of leather with some silver chains and a fancy buckle he can’t even fasten. “I don’t care,” he says, and he can’t even bring himself to pick that collar up. “Okay? I don’t.”
The shredded remains of the contract burst into cold blue flame and vanish in my hands. “I do,” I tell him, and as stupid as something like that sounds coming out of someone like me, it’s the truth. It’s–pardon the expression–G*d’s honest truth.
One advantage to being what I am: I can avoid that whole “walk to the door and get caught when he comes to his senses and chases after me” thing. By the time he snaps to, I’m on the other side of the country seeing if my top-40 pop singer feels like a quick screw, just to get the taste of a deal gone bad out of my mouth.
It’s stupid, I tell myself over and over again for about the next year or so, it’s stupid for someone like me to get so attached to a human. It’s like a human getting attached to a pet ladybug or something.
Actually, I think the exact phrase I use most often is “completely retarded,” but whatever.
I have a new screamy industrial guy. It’s not the same. He’s not the same. Not even close.
I end up letting him go too, for which my boss gives me no end of shit, just because I don’t want him. He doesn’t even argue, just goes “whatever, man,” when I rip up the contract and bails with his talent and not a whole lot of fame. It’ll take him six years to get a decent paying gig.
I’m sitting on a barstool in Seattle, windowshopping for a DJ a few months after I let that guy go. I’m sitting there, sipping something with fruit chunks on a skewer in it, watching this guy with whiteboy dreadlocks work a couple of turntables and running a mental comparison between him and the girl with all the metal in her face back in Chicago.
And then I feel something I haven’t felt in a hundred years, at least. A little tug. A feeling kind of like hearing the intercom tell you to pick up the white courtesy phone at the airport.
I’m being summoned.
I am being honestly ferfucksake summoned.
I burst out laughing right there on my barstool, because who in this day and age actually summons guys like me anymore? Oh, sure, you’ve got your kids in black with bong-water-stained mass-market paperback copies of the Necronomicon trying to invoke shit they can’t even pronounce, but as far as an actual working summons targeted at one specific one of us? It doesn’t happen. It’s even more ridiculous that I’m being summoned by name–not “Drew” or “Anthony” or “Lucia” or any of the other nicknames I go by–my actual name I haven’t used in four thousand years.
Contrary to popular belief, even if you’re specifically being summoned, you don’t have to answer it. It doesn’t hurt, there are no dire consequences for ignoring it, it’s just kind of annoying. Like someone playing ding-dong-ditch with you or following you around poking you on the shoulder and going “hey, hey, hey, hey” at you all day. So I could ignore it. Or if it got too annoying, I could send an assistant or two to go see what the hell the summoner wanted.
But the truth is, it’s been so long since anyone’s ferfucksake actually summoned me, I’m curious now. Way too curious to just let it go.
I finish my drink and slide off my barstool, navigating my way through the wall of dancing bodies to the men’s room. It’s empty. That makes things a little easier.
I can still feel the summons, and now whoever’s calling me is using one of those pseudonyms along with my real name–“Drew.” And that makes me a little nervous, because although there are plenty of people who know me by that name, there aren’t many who know me by that name and know who I really am.
In fact, there’s only one.
Fuck. He could not possibly be doing this. He could not possibly be this fucking stupid. After all this time, he could not possibly be trying to call me up to fucking renegotiate. Of course I know perfectly damn well that he is, and I step out of a men’s room in a bar in Seattle and into cool outdoor night air in a cemetery outside Sacramento. Yes, that cemetery.
And there he is, sitting right there on Robert Fuhr’s bench-shaped gravestone, in front of a sigil traced with ashes and sand with a brass bowl of smoldering resinous stuff and a thick layer of gauze freshly wrapped around his hand, bloody at the palm. There’s nobody else around. Nobody else who could have done this. I don’t know what I want more–to strangle him for being an idiot or to strip him naked and ride him right there on Bob’s gravestone.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I ask him, trying for all the world to sound angry and annoyed and disappointed. It doesn’t quite come out that way.
He smiles, just a little. It doesn’t touch his eyes. Is he pissed? He looks it, a little. “I want to talk business,” he says. “And it’s not like I can just call you on the phone.”
“You’re an idiot,” I snap off at him. “What part of ‘free’ don’t you get? I let you keep everything I gave you, what the hell else could you possibly want to throw away your–”
“No you fucking didn’t,” he spits back at me. “You didn’t let me keep everything.”
“What!?” I do a quick mental inventory. Fame: check. Talent: check. Money: check. Good backup band: check. All the sex he could ever want: check. “Of course I let you keep everything, you’ve still got–”
I blink a couple of times. “…I beg your pardon?”
He takes two steps forward. “You didn’t let me keep you.”
Part of me wants to say I saw this coming, but the rest of me will freely declare that that part is full of shit. “That wasn’t part of the deal,” I tell him. “I never said–”
“‘Everything I gave you, you keep.‘ Your exact words.” He takes another step forward. I resist the urge to take a step back and the conflicting urge to take two steps forward right into his space. “You didn’t say shit about the original deal. You didn’t say ‘everything but you.'” He takes two more steps, right up into my personal space. “You said ‘everything I gave you, you keep.’ Everything. That means you.”
I’d like to say he remembered that wrong or heard that wrong or something, but I know he didn’t. That was what I said. Damn it, that was exactly what I said.
And he’s got me. He’s got me, and we both know it. An oral contract is still a contract, and I never even stopped to think that a poor choice of wording might come back to haunt me like this, and now he’s got me in a very precarious situation. There are rules for these transactions, like I said; I can’t lie, I can’t bait-and-switch, and if I promise something I have to deliver it. He’s caught me in a breach of contract. A fairly serious one. And now he can do pretty much anything he wants about it.
I could lose my job. If you think that sounds like a fairly light punishment, like I could just e-mail off a couple of resumes and be back in business in a couple of days, you obviously don’t know shit about shit. Suffice it to say it is absolutely the worst case scenario for me.
“So,” he says, reaching into the pocket of his overcoat and drawing out a thin sheaf of papers, “I guess I could get you into a lot of trouble for that, huh?”
“You could,” I say. It comes out a lot softer and weaker than I would really like, but believe me, I am fully prepared to beg and grovel and throw every last shred of dignity I own to the winds if it will keep him from taking this up the chain of command. Not yet, though. Not yet. For now, I watch him roll that paperwork into a tube, unroll it, bend it into a loose lengthwise fold, and repeat the process. “Is that a formal complaint?”
He smacks me in the chest with it. “Read it.”
I take the papers and skim over the first couple of paragraphs.
And I’m not sure I’m actually seeing what I’m seeing here.
I look up and see him watching me, that I will take no shit from you look he wore when he told his record label to fuck off pressed into his face.
It’s airtight. Perfect. Not a loophole or stray bit of ambiguous wording or critical typo anywhere. No wiggle room for either of us. Terms laid out in black and white, clear, concise, precise. He had help with this. Had to have. Not just from a lawyer, either–from one of us. The plain English version: he’s offering himself to me as before, except this isn’t a sale. It’s a trade. Because the asking price he’s listed for his soul? Is mine.
Most times, if someone presented me with this offer, I’d pack my shit and walk away from the proverbial table. This time, with this boy… no.
Even better: this contract expires when he dies (which, I have it on good authority, won’t be for another fifty years), at which time ownership of his immortal soul reverts to him. It’s not a sale, it’s not even really a trade–it might as well be a marriage vow written in High Middle Legalbullshitese. And it’s fucking brilliant. It’s so brilliant even I have to ask myself why I never thought of it.
When I finally look up after my fifth read-through just to make sure he didn’t miss anything or try to sneak anything past me that’d end up coming back to bite him (neither of which he did), he’s just giving me this look. One eyebrow raised. The collar I’d put on him in his right hand. A different collar in his left.
I incline my head towards his left hand. “I guess that one’s for me.”
“You guess right.” He nods towards the contract. “What do you think?”
I flip to the back. He hasn’t signed his part of it. “I think you’re insane,” I tell him, but I’m already going into my pocket for a pen. “And a genius. But mostly just fucking insane.”
“So you’d sign that?” There’s a bit of a smile. “You’d seriously sign that. And let me keep you as long as I live. And let me go when I die.”
“Absolutely,” I reply, extracting my pen from my pocket with a little flourish. “I’ll have you, you’ll have me, and at the end of it all you’ll go free.” He gets that look on his face, the one that tells me he’s mentally setting what I just said to music. “And that’d be a terrible song, don’t even think about it, trust me. But this is an excellent deal.” I sit down on Bob’s headstone to sign it.
Just before the tip of the pen touches the paper, he takes the contract right out from under it. “Or we could, y’know, do this the right way instead of dicking around with all this legal bullshit.” He grins, holding the contract just out of reach.
“The right way?” I raise an eyebrow. “How’s that?”
He rolls the contract back into a tube. “We could just trust each other. Like normal people.”
I can’t help but chuckle at that. “I’m not exactly normal.”
“I’m not exactly people, either.”
“And you’d really just trust me? Just like that?” I laugh a little. “My kind aren’t exactly renowned for their honesty and trustworthiness.”
“You’ve never lied to me. And you’re not ‘your kind.’ You’re you.”
I open my mouth to counter that, and I find that I can’t. You just can’t argue with that kind of logic, can you? “Who helped you, anyway?” I gesture at the sigil and the paraphernalia on the ground. “Maybe you could have written up the contract on your own, but this? How’d you know how to do that? Hell, how’d you know my name? I haven’t used it in so long even I almost forgot what it was.”
He shrugs and grins a little, the same sheepish grin he gave me the first time I had to convince an angry hotel manager to forget that his bassist tried to flush a pillow down the toilet in his suite. “Your boss came to the show in Houston last month.”
My first reaction is something like get the fuck out, no way. My second is more like shit, what does he get out of it? But no… no, this actually is something he’d do with no strings attached. Not often, mind you–don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s on your side. But just between you and me, he’s got a little bit of a soft spot for humanity sometimes. And sometimes I guess maybe he’s got a little bit of a soft spot for me too.
“He said you weren’t the same after you tore up the paperwork,” he tells me. “I think the exact words he used were ‘insufferably emo.'”
Yeah, that sounded exactly like him. Okay, maybe not so much the soft spot for humanity on this one. Whatever.
“So,” he says, waving the rolled-up contract at me, “I’d really rather do this my way, but if you’d feel better about having the paperwork and shit I’m cool with–”
“Fuck the paperwork,” I declare, and then in lieu of a signature I throw both my arms around his neck and kiss him, long and deep and here we are, two pretty at-least-somewhat goth boys making out in a graveyard at half past midnight without the slightest trace of irony. He knows it too, and that’s so deliciously ridiculous that we have to stop and laugh a few times. We’re going to have to leave soon–I draw the line at having sex on a grave (what? People leave roses sometimes, and do you think they bother to strip the thorns off first?) and there’s a penthouse suite downtown with my name on it. With our names on it.
My boy — Kevin, I guess since we’re on equal footing now I’m going to have to get used to thinking of him by name — Kevin rips the contract into halves, quarters, eighths, teeny tiny bits I then set cold blue fire to. Then he hands me the collar, the soft black thing I’d put on him before. The one he’s brought for me–it’s got the same kind of buckle, the kind nobody but him will ever be able to open. But instead of black leather it’s violet, like that one dyed lock of his hair, and the little tag next to the buckle has his logo stamped on it.
Maybe I really have been wearing a human body too long. This should feel weird. Being owned, I mean. Even with a deal as loose and informal as this one, it should still feel weird. It does, I guess, kind of. Just a little. But it’s the kind of weird I think I could get used to. And I think I’d like that. I’m not going to stop doing what I do, don’t get me wrong. It’s going to take a lot more than one particularly awesome boy to make me stop collecting. But I think maybe I could get used to having a constant, someone who’ll stick around just because he wants to and not just because I’ve got a piece of paper with his signature on it. I really do think I could get used to it.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” I tell him as I fasten the black collar around his neck again.
“Likewise,” he tells me as he fastens the purple one around mine.