Ben shut the bathroom door before he turned on the fan, the sink, and the tub faucet. He paused for a moment, then turned on the shower as well, a cascade of sound surrounding him. It wasn’t enough. He imagined he could still hear the thrashing in the backyard pool, the way it grew increasingly frantic before it finally slowed. Then, as always, stopped.
He sat on the edge of the tub, almost hyperventilating. The water from the shower beat a warm staccato against the vinyl shower curtain pressed against his back. Drops of mist caught in his hair and mingled with the sweat that trickled down his face and back, soaking into his clothes.
He wasn’t sure how long he remained like that, mind racing but going nowhere, until he was shocked out of it by a knock on the door. He didn’t answer, and after a few long moments, it opened slowly.
Nick stood in the doorway, nude, his long dark hair dripping puddles around his feet and huge, even darker eyes bright with concern. He was beautiful. Never more beautiful than now, pale skin shimmering with water, lean muscles taut and toned save over the curve of his stomach—now the slightest bit distended, but soon to flatten back down to washboard perfection. Beneath that, his manhood—also something that Ben admired—flopped half-erect, and as much as he might wish it, Ben couldn’t really pretend that it was just from seeing him.
“Are you all right?” Nick asked, in that faintly-accented voice that still gave Ben butterflies, even hearing it every day for two months.
Ben nodded, then shook his head. “I…” He began, but the shower was still pouring water, and he had to raise his voice to be heard above it. “We need to talk.”
Nick tilted his head, and came to sit on the toilet seat, only a foot of wet floor now between them. He reached out a hand toward Ben’s leg, and, when Ben didn’t pull away, laid it on his knee. “Then let us talk.”
Ben took a deep breath. “I don’t think I can keep doing this.”
“What part, being with me, or…”
“Just… these nights. When you…”
“When I feed.”
“When you ask me to help.”
“Mm.” Nick sat back, his eyes scanning Ben up and down. Ben wondered if he wanted him to elaborate, but Nick seemed to see what he was looking for in Ben’s face, because he was the one who spoke. “You watched, the first time.”
“Yes,” Ben whispered. That night was a blur in his memory, punctuated with images too sharp to seem real, feelings too vivid and bright, inappropriate in retrospect, but too pure in the moment for guilt. They’d done it together, that time, picked a boy up in the same bar where they had first met, a boy who looked too young to be there, but swore that he was twenty (a white netted shirt over brown skin. Nick had hooked his fingers into it and asked what kind of fish he was trying to catch.) They had taken him home, and out to the pool behind the house Ben rented, where they poured drinks and promptly abandoned them to strip off their clothes and plunge toward the pool, laughing and playing like children. Ben stood in the doorway of the house (air conditioner cold on his damp back, tracing icy fingers down his buttocks) and watched as Nick pulled the boy in. Only one of them got back out.
Nick and Ben made love, afterwards, and Ben had felt the bulge of Nick’s stomach against him and in a pleasure-clouded haze he imagined that they and the boy were sharing the ménage-a-trois they had promised after all.
He had never watched again, even when he went hunting alone, never to the same place twice. The latest two had been rentboys from the avenue, who he paid in cash from an ATM on the other side of town. He could never quite bring himself to rifle through their pockets and get his money back. He wondered if Nick did, when he disposed of their possessions. He’d never seen Nick use money at all.
“What has changed?”
Ben considered the question in earnest. The things wrong weren’t what should have been wrong. He should have felt terrible for luring young men to their deaths at the hands of this—yes, he would say it, at least in his thoughts—monster. And he did feel guilt. It was a sharp pain, but eased as he saw the sheer joy that the victims brought his lover. But the thing that kept him shut in the bathroom wasn’t guilt. It was a deeper, sicker, gnawing thing. He said it, as soon as he put a name to it, thinking out loud: “I’m jealous.”
Nick made a low noise deep in his throat, a growl or a purr. Some of that lingered in his voice as he leaned closer and asked, “Of who?”
“I don’t know,” Ben admitted. “Both of you, maybe.”
Nick nodded solemnly, and reached out to take one of Ben’s hands in his own. “That is understandable. These things—they are complicated, connected. Death, life, food, sex, the reactions we have are deep. Visceral. Sometimes they are hard to tell apart, no?”
Ben nodded hesitantly, unsure where Nick was going with this.
Nick patted the back of his hand. “I admit this: I did not intend for this arrangement to last forever.”
Ben’s heart skipped a beat and restarted two or three times faster, his breath coming quick and shallow. “You didn’t?”
“No. Of course, I do not really need your help finding prey.”
“Of course you don’t,” Ben agreed, robotic.
“I wanted you to see this. How I lived, how I hunted. I wanted you to know.”
Ben felt like Nick’s eyes were boring into his, and he couldn’t break the gaze. It took him a few moments to find his voice again. “Why?”
“I had thought of taking you for my own that first night. Did you guess as much?” Ben nodded, dumb. He still wasn’t sure why Nick hadn’t, but the other seemed to sense his unspoken question, and answered. “You were so sad. You smiled, you pretended to flirt, but it seemed as if you had given up. You feel trapped, here, and alone. You do not believe you have a future, do not know what place you would ever belong. You walk through the human world but you are no longer a part of it. I can sympathize with that.” He smiled ironically, and Ben could see the flash of sharp teeth behind his lips, teeth he had felt on his skin so many times now. “I wanted it to be more than a one-night stand. I wanted to give you a choice.”
Ben licked his lips. “What choice?”
“This life, this world—they give you no pleasure. I can free you from them.”
“By… eating me?”
“That is one way.”
Ben had fantasized about it. How could he not, having seen the vague shapes moving in the darkness of the water, having felt his lover’s monstrous power? But now, faced with the possibility… He hissed through his teeth, forcing himself to breathe. “Are there others?”
“Yes. There is another that I prefer, actually.” His thumb brushed circles in Ben’s palm, affectionate and soft. “My kind… we are not always born as you are. Some take human wives, but those wives do not stay human. Mating with our kind… the body changes. We make those humans like ourselves.”
“And those of you who aren’t interested in… in wives…”
“I’d become… like you?”
“What if I said no?”
Nick shrugged. “Then I go, and you remain as you are.”
“Do I really have a choice? What if I left, what if I told everyone about you, confessed to everything?”
Nick smiled sadly. “I think you can imagine that yourself. Your choice is yours to freely make. I do not want you if you do not want me. What you do with your life is what you will. I like you too much to take that from you.”
“Would it hurt?”
“Yes. It is a slow thing, and the body labors. Some do not survive.”
“And I would be bound to the water, as you are. I’d always have to return to it.”
“Yes, but all the water in the world is ours, though salt stings the gills if you are not used to it, and our cousins in the sea are not as kind.”
The shower was cold, now, but still drumming against the curtain at his back. Nick was watching him, fierce and hungry. Ben wondered how he had ever thought this man was human. He couldn’t see it at all, now.
He cleared his throat, and gave his answer.
The string of disappearances briefly made the news. Young men, mostly vagrants, had gone missing, approximately one per week. A few articles of clothing were recovered from a local river, but no bodies were ever found. Eye-witness accounts managed to link several of the men to one local man they had all been seen with, but by the time authorities investigated, his residence was abandoned with no sign of where he might have gone. The disappearances ceased.
The summer storms came hard that year, and rain turned every road into a river. Cars were trapped on the highway, schools were closed and people remained indoors.
But if you followed the water, you could go anywhere at all.
Xander Briggs is a queer, trans writer currently living in a haunted house in rural Virginia with his husband and many, many cats. His previous work about people loving monsters can be found in the anthologies When the Hero Comes Home and Rigor Amortis.
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