That After Murder Glow

by Vincent Holden

XIV. Conclusion

Christophe's mother had always said that every person is presented with an opportunity in their life to kill another human being and get away with it " if they weren't averse to the inclination, that is.

He sat together with Gregory, staring off into the night sky, a single street lamp playing the part of moonbeam above their hunched frames. Sitting on a long concrete wall that served as a barrier against flash floods and a target to graffiti artists, Christophe and Gregory gazed silently at the lake as it reflected the waxing lunar visage. It was so utterly breathtaking that he could barely inhale from the cigarette he was smiling around. What a soft night. Yes... "soft" was the best way to describe it.

Gregory kicked his legs back and forth like a toddler, disregarding the wavy hair bunched around his eyes, grinning from ear to ear. He looked so angelic and young. And they still were, being only nineteen years old. They were in the prime of their lives. Not even afternoon insomnia or midnight fly bys could slow them down. They were, in a sense, immortal. Every step a song, every lungful of air a dance. They lived forever within the stanzas of each other's eyes and the guises that hid behind them. Every witness was a new adventure with a new set of heroes.

Christophe took a drag and held the smoke in, feeling it burn delightfully in his trachea, before he let it out in a wistful sigh. Nothing could disturb this peace. Nothing could wrong this right.

The boy next to him stretched like a feline, yawning with content at the starry canvas above. His smile was so warm, Christophe could feel the heat from it. Gregory scratched at himself and smirked " when had smiling become their favorite pastime? When the US government exiled them, leaving them with nothing better to do? Or when they realized how laughable so called "life" in this world really was?

No.

Yes.

Maybe.

Who gave a shit?

All that mattered right now was the two them, together, only a few paces from the slowly lapping shore of a clandestine lake. Christophe and Gregory. Bonnie and Clyde. Romeo and Juliet. What's in a name?

"Christophe?"

He melted at the sound of Gregory's mellifluous voice, shivers running up his spine, causing his entire body to surge with endorphins. (That's what's in a name.)

"Say it again," Christophe mused in enchantment, the shell of his ear tickling with the lasting sensation. Gregory's vocal chords could produce verbal orgasms.

"Christophe."

Shivers. Was it wrong to feel this right? Was it right for their wrongs to be forgiven? Well, if it was wrong to be forgiven when you're right, then they didn't want to be either. "Yes, Gregory?" he replied, his voice gruff and low with the haze of smoke.

"I think I'm wearing your shirt." Gregory chuckled " bubbles in golden champagne " as he tugged at the white, button down shirt that was one size too large for him. It slid down his shoulder, revealing his supple flesh.

"That you are," Christophe noted, his eyes still enraptured by the clearness of the moon on such a silver lining day. He didn't need to see Gregory's cute struggle with the loose fabric. He could feel the tightness of his own shirt around his chest, one size too small. Christophe's mouth spread into an amused curve. He never really believed that people would be so flustered that they accidently switched garments, but hey... seeing is believing, right?

"That reminds me," he said, tamping out his cigarette on the cold concrete wall he was perched upon. "We'll have to burn these clothes."

"Aw," Gregory whined, laying his head into his knee, wrapping his arms about his leg. "I think the red adds just the right amount color."

"It also adds just the right amount of evidence," Christophe reminded, mocking Gregory's undulation, though none too concerned, really.

"Please," Gregory scoffed. With a leap, he vaulted himself down from the shallow wall, landing firmly on the sand below. "We're in Canada, Christophe." Shivers. "Far, far from the wandering eyes of troublesome Americans."

Christophe slowly joined him on solid earth, sauntering towards Gregory, and wrapping his arm around his shoulder.

"I think I'll be Dmitry in the morning," Gregory thought out loud, staring into nothingness. It was a lie when they said the void stared back. If it did, Gregory would certainly have engaged it in conversation.

"Sounds very Goddess of Agriculture-esque," Christophe quipped, pulling Gregory into his body. The smaller boy's fingers light across his collar before lying pensively atop Christophe's chest. His heart pounded harder in his rib cage, almost as if it were trying to touch the fingertips splayed just within reach.

"What about you?"

Christophe pondered this delightfully vague question. If he wanted, he could answer practically anything. But he knew what Gregory was asking, and he was still flying so high that he didn't have the countenance for the added weight of wit. "Christophe shall be a dead man," he said, simply. "And in his stead, I will be Arion the poet... your kin."

Gregory scrunched up his face at this. "That sounds too equestrian-esque. I don't think it would pan out all too well. Why not just Aaron?"

"Fine, fine," Christophe conceded. No matter what label, Gregory could make it a serenade.

They both glanced at the glimmering shock of steel remaining idle on the concrete block, shadows of crimson speckled down its length. Gregory turned, clicking his tongue at the clearing and picnic table where they sampled their just desserts. "What about him?" he inquired, not confused " just cordial. "Who will he be when the dawn finally breaks?"

"He'll be a dead man too," Christophe chortled. "Though not by choice."

There, a few yards away, spilling life that irrigated gorgeous maroon tributaries through the malleable sand, was their number thirteen. He had a name, sure. He may have had several. But, there, beneath their guile, under the applauding starlight and the chorus of malcontent crickets, he was nothing but a corpse in the grass with a blanket tossed over his gruesome face.

-----

I. Prologue

They were immune.

People thought AIDS was bad in the 1980's. What a joke. The preamble of disaster is always humorous in retrospect. The 2000's... now that's when the overture bid its farewell and the symphony crashed into the hapless, unsuspecting masses, a coda holding over trebled catastrophe.

Canadians " eh? " never amount to anything but good intentions. And we all know that the house at the end of that road is not one to be chucking eggs at. But, the faux-French just couldn't let up, could they? Sometime around 2009, 2010, they started developing an experimental vaccine to HIV. It really wasn't to destroy the virus, but to increase the efficiency of common lymphocytes in the immune system so that it wouldn't need the dilapidated T-cells to fend off the body's invader.

They predicted it would take ten years to accurately calculate the results.

It only took six for them to screw everything up.

Someone hadn't done their research. As it turns out, the enzymes used in the experiments not only affected white blood cells, but also the HIV particles as well. The application of human interference helped to accelerate the mutations within a new strand of HIV, and before anyone could say "We gave it our best shot, eh?" the AIDS virus was airborne.

The world hung on bated breath for the scientists' final verdict:

"We're fucked."

-----

VI. Rising Action

The two men approached the front porch of the ramshackle shed of a house, having parked their car on the gravel driveway. It was a little demeaning how pure motivation could drive a couple to such a backwards place. Dorothy goes by house " these two fly via Chevy and intuition. Geography aside, none of them were in Kansas anymore.

Nobody came to Canada, not even to see the once famous Niagara Falls. It was perceived by doom-sayers to be the birthplace of disease. When AIDS broke out here, it spread like wild fire. Not to mention the reputation it carried for housing the fool researches who stepped on the toes of God. "Vacant" wasn't the word to describe it. "Virtually empty" worked so much better and "abandoned" was pure poetry.

But these two knew: Canada was a theme park for them. Danger is the ultimate panacea, even though neither of them were, nor could be, infected. They were plagued by a different affliction, one just as devastating. They were not conflicted with the curse of reticence, but became casualties of the human condition. Scapegoats.

The porch steps groaned underneath their feet as they ascended the rickety wood. They looked at each other blithely before the one on the right wrapped his knuckle against the door. There was no response. He struck it harder, hoping to either draw attention or break it down. Either means brought them to the same end.

Before they could knock a third time, the door swung open and the double barrel of a shotgun stuck its neck out. The two men jumped back out of surprise, but once they saw the playful weapon, they relaxed. It was nothing to be feared. If a woman had burst from the door, it may have been cause for alarm... if only a little less briefly.

"What do you want?" the shotgun asked, totting up and down. "Leave me alone."

"Good sir," the first man started, looking past the lock and stock and toward the blackness inside. "It's getting late. We'd like to know ""

"State your name and business!" the shotgun demanded, as if this were a company building. The home was barely a shack in the woods.

"I'm Christophe," the first man said, hoping his tone of voice sounded disarming. The last thing he needed was a bullet through the head. Not that it wouldn't be welcome. It was just the last thing he needed.

If Christophe was stoical, the other man was simply blissfully unaware. He smiled, unfazed, his expression only tightening into a confused glance when Christophe introduced himself, almost as if the name was foreign to him. He shook his head dismissively and cleared his throat. "And I'm... Gregory. Please, sir, could we stay here for the night?"

"Are you AIDS victims?"

Victims " ha! What a loaded question. These days, who wasn't a victim of AIDS, in one way or another? Christophe shrugged away this idea.

"No," he answered, innocently enough.

"I don't have room for you," the shotgun barked. "I don't have room for myself, even! Get out!"

"Just one night, sir, we won't bother you in the least," Gregory pleaded.

"You won't even know we're here," Christophe added.

There was a lull in the debate and the shotgun withdrew into the confines of the house. An army of locks was made at ease from the door and it inched open with a tired creak.

-----

III. Characters

Not-Christophe enjoys a good drag, in all definitions of the word, but mostly just when smoking. He likes the solitude of wilderness, but thinks himself to be most alone when he's in a crowd. If he had a super power, it would be the ability to not use his super power. Not-Christophe wanted to see Paris someday, just so he could ask Not-Gregory "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" and get away with it.

Not-Gregory is the type of person who would count backwards from ten, not to calm his anger, but for the simple pleasure of proving he still could. He has never met a person he hasn't liked. He's "hard core fucking romantic," or as Not-Christophe likes to call it: a sap for rosebuds in candlelight. Not-Gregory asserts that the minute you are born, you start dying, so you might as well enjoy it, no?

Both Not-Christophe and Not-Gregory felt immortal, in their own ways.

Both Not-Christophe and Not-Gregory were attracted to each other's immortality.

-----

VII. Setting

Henry Bastille was a portly man who lived all by his lonesome in a single story cabin, somewhere deep in the woods just outside of Quebec. He was French-Canadian and not well informed. He was a man who spent his entire life farming potatoes and doubting the air he breathed. Christophe spoke like an architect and Gregory played with his food like a writer. Henry, on the other hand, was in no sense of the word "artistic," and as such, was nothing to the boys. Unless you were considering Picasso's Cubism as a reference. He was old and lumbered around as if he had a stick up his ass and acted the very same way.

"You guys better not be lying to me," he kept muttering under his breath. He was a parrot squawking for a cracker, but neither of the boys spoke, apprehensive about their hands being bitten. Offering up sympathy was not on their agenda. They have had their fill of empathetic epithets.

The room (singular, as in there was only one in the entire house) reeked of festering wood and maggots. Henry didn't do too much on up keeping his abode, obviously. Perhaps Henry himself was a fly. Though, not by night, as Christophe and Gregory. They sat at the table and stared at the slop Henry had poured into their dirty bowls. Silverware made out of aluminum foil " how quaint.

"Mashed potatoes," Henry explained, coughing without even using his hand to stifle the spittle, and served himself the largest portion. Christophe waited for the word "soup" to punctuate his sentence, but it never did. Henry was either a liar or an awful cook, and Christophe suspected it wasn't the former. What a shame; he might have retained a shred of respect for the pot-bellied man. Christophe wasn't keen on saving face, especially not Henry's.

"This is all you have, Jacque?" Gregory inquired, unable to hold back the insolent, whining inflection. They called him Jacque because he was French-Canadian. And because it made Henry's face flush with a comical red.

"Mashed potatoes are all that's good anymore," Henry snorted. "And, for the last time, my name's not Jacque, it's Henry. Potatoes are from the ground, untainted by the air."

Illogical oaf.

"But Jacque," Christophe started. "I hope you don't consider this to be a proper meal. I mean, where are all your basic food groups?"

"Don't get preachy with me, boy!" Henry spat, suddenly angry. Christophe and Gregory didn't flinch. "Potatoes are all I eat, all I've ever eaten, and if you want to stay in my house for the night, you'll eat what I say and won't complain."

"I am wont to complain," Christophe murmured under his breath.

"Man cannot live by mashed potatoes alone," Gregory said, trying to be helpful.

Henry slammed his fists on the table and belched.

Christophe sneered. "Ah, then Jacque is a walking contradiction."

-----

V. Digression

Not-Christophe stared at the bug as it squirmed in vain to be released from its sticky situation. It had one leg caught in gum on the pavement and couldn't free itself. Not-Christophe strained his ears in an attempt to hear the screams of the six legged insect, but he couldn't pick out anything over the wind.

He leaned down, hoping to save the bug by pulling it free, but stopped himself. To wrench the insect away would be to liberate it of its appendage as well. He couldn't pick the lesser of two arthropods. He waited to see if it could somehow fight against its otherwise protective exoskeleton in order to gnaw away at the gum, but its head merely thrashed in its socket like a metronome.

All at once, Not-Christophe watched as, in a burst of desperate strength, the insect pulled away from the mess in a single heave... minus one leg. It hobbled off across the concrete. It didn't cry. It didn't lick its wounds. It just limped away, off to join life once again.

When Not-Christophe told Not-Gregory about the event, Not-Gregory nodded sagely with snickers, both in hand and in mouth (a sweet heart with a sweet tooth). "That bug was the zenith of situational irony."

-----

II. Exposition

Six billion.

Six billion is a number.

Six billion can mean many things. For one, six billion was roughly the amount of people living on Earth during the year 2019.

Five million.

Five million is a number.

Five million was roughly the amount of people living on Earth during the year 2084.

2084.

2084 is a number.

2084 is also the year that the first signs of immunity to HIV were being discovered. A mere eight years later (eight also being a number), Christophe and Gregory were born, in separate hospitals, by separate mothers (mother, here, having the meaning of a female human, not a test tube " astounding aspect to wrap one's mind around, for sure). Only they weren't Christophe and Gregory then. Today, tonight, possibly tomorrow, even maybe a week from now, they could still be Christophe and Gregory. But they weren't born that way.

2093.

2093 is a number.

2093 is the year that the American government, or what was left of it, decided that arithmetic was no longer essential to the school curriculum. In fact, school was no longer essential to the school curriculum. Nobody was attending anyway, and they needed the money for researching a cure for AIDS.

School.

School, though it has two zeros in it, is not a number. What is a number is 2109, the year when the people decided that homosexuals were the cause of AIDS back in 1980 (also a number; also a year), so they must have been the cause of AIDS today. 2109 is the year when homosexuality, though it had been legal for decades before, was now outlawed. In reality, it was a form of veiled jealousy, as studies had shown that of all the people who were developing a genetic immunity to the AIDS virus, 100% of them were homosexual.

Not-Christophe and Not-Gregory met each other soon after, and fell in love.

Not-Christophe and Not-Gregory were immune.

They were immune.

-----

VIII. Motivation

Henry see-sawed slowly back and forth in the rocking chair, to the tune of his own self-loathing and preconceived notions of prejudice. He polished his shotgun, masturbating the hard, double barrel almost lovingly.

"You know who started all this?" Henry grumbled, not looking up from his work. "The goddamn fags."

Christophe swallowed, a still lingering aftertaste of starch filming over the back of his tongue. He felt Gregory's gaze hot against the back of his neck, but he didn't turn to see him. He was suddenly rigid, keeping all of his attention and focus on the trigger of Henry's gun.

"They caused AIDS, and now, they spread it," Henry continued, his lips curling into a grotesque arch. He looked down the brim of his nose. "And when God graces the world with a cure, he gives it to the damn fags! Jesus said it best: 'Why have you forsaken me?'"

He stood with a grunt and placed the gun back on his mantel above the fire place that wasn't lit " Henry was not one to be a fan of flames, nor fan them, no matter the context of the word.

Christophe made note of the gun's location.

Henry meandered into the kitchen area and sat down in a different chair. Gregory finally connected with Christophe's gaze. They didn't blink as they nodded, silently and knowingly, to each other.

Thirteen. It was more than just a number.

-----

XIII. Intermission

Blood play is a lifestyle, not an art form. And masochism is merely a degree of acceptance. Everyone has the potential to be morbid, but not all can see poetry within the pandemonium.

Regardless of the dos and don'ts that are involved, you have to be committed to fulfilling the motions in order to keep from losing your head. But, astonishingly enough, considering the times, it never grew in popularity. In some idiotic, round about way, people still feared it for a reason lost to the likes of Christophe and Gregory. Though, to be honest, they once feared it too.

Not anymore, it would seem " those were not moans of fright. Henry would be so embarrassed to watch them. But he couldn't see anything with his face covered like that.

With the rise of a new age defined by death and horror, not only the perception of fear, but the concept of it as well had been altered. People just didn't have the same sense of terror as they once did. Or, perhaps, they were just saturated with it. Like a belligerent alcoholic, the survivors began to build, not cities and monuments, but tolerance and apathy.

Fear, instead, grew rise to hate.

-----

IX. Monologue

"I've been living in this house for all my life. Nearly 40 years now."

"I had friends once, but I can't remember their faces. It's all a blur to me."

"I farm potatoes. That's what I do. No TV. No books. Just me and the earth."

"I used to cry myself to sleep, you know. But I guess my eyes have just dried out."

"I've longed for some company. I've been alone for so long. I wasn't supposed to live here. This was just the first place I ran to when people started dying. I wish... I wish I could remember my mother's face. But all I can picture when I focus real hard... is her on her hospital bed... asking if it was me or not because she couldn't see past her swollen eyes. I've been so alone here. I'm... I hate to admit it, but... I'm glad you two are here."

The more Henry reminisced, the more Christophe and Gregory were reluctant towards killing him.

-----

IV. Narrative Hook

They died practically every week. Not in the literal sense of perfunctory tombstones and forced eulogies, but in terms of identity and consciousness. "Gregory" and "Christophe" as they called themselves now, had so many names that they didn't want to keep track of them all. But they did anyway, if but for the sole reason of avoiding repeats.

Anathema, however, was not one the things they dubbed themselves as, even if the rest of the world did.

As sacrificial lambs to appease the blind masses, the two nineteen year old boys, Christophe and Gregory " then known as Vincent and Thomas " were absolved from their sins with the payment of banishment, having no chance for pardon. It was illegal for them to even think of home " as if they wanted to.

Not long after, Vincent and Thomas " then known as Charles and Mitch " engendered a list. They called it the "U.S.A." or "Unusually Satisfying Agenda." It was composed as carefully as an orchestra masterpiece and with as much foresight as the Disciples of Christ. They were all things that they wanted to do before they died. They wanted to prove that they could still live. A few things on this list were as follows:

1. Lose their virginity to each other.

At the time, during the heat of the moment, Oliver wasn't coherent enough to form sentences; but looking back on it, both he and Harris commented, "...Eh...."

2. Smoke one cigarette a day until the pack was gone.

"You're going to get addicted to those someday!" Benjamin chastised when Lance bought another pack afterwards.

10. Jump from the highest diving board into a pool.

"I'm afraid of heights," Richard admitted to Ian, "but I love the feeling of falling."

27. Go on a road trip through Canada.

"If we're stuck here, we might as well see it." Felix and Tristan nodded to each other, smiling.

(But perhaps most importantly of all)

13. Kill another human being and get away with it.

They had laughed at this one. It was a joke. They didn't expect to actually do it. Neither did they expect not to.

-----

X. Conflict

Henry was incorrigible.

He would pace back and forth across the floor with the fervor of a caged animal. He bit away at his fingernails until they were bloody stubs and looked as if he didn't even notice that he had done it. The old man mumbled things in a hushed whisper to himself and sometimes to others like: "They won't get me... they won't get me...."

"You two say you've all around this country?" he interjected suddenly, catching Christophe and Gregory off guard. "You've been all around? Even in America? No one goes to America " they don't let anyone in!"

This topic was touchy for the boys. They remained silent; Christophe sitting at the far end of the meager, wobbly table, Gregory leaning against the wall diagonal to him, his arms crossed... his eyes cold. Christophe drummed his fingers against the wood with a smirk, keeping the beat, keeping time as he counted seconds. This topic was touchy for the boys, and that's exactly how they wanted it.

"You've been all around," Henry repeated again, a broken record. He was having a tough time wrapping his mind around the concept, but Christophe could see the cogs whirring in his skull. "But... aren't you afraid? AIDS is spreading, it's everywhere! Aren't you afraid of getting sick?"

"No," Gregory stated, the question just a step in the right direction.

"But you'll get sick!" Henry persisted. He had stopped pacing, though his eyes still possessed that wide look of bewilderment. It was almost amusing to watch him solve the riddle. "You'll die! You'll die just like the rest of them! You'll ""

"Not us," Christophe interjected. He rested his chin on his hand, tilting his nose upward. If they were playing "Hot-and-Cold," Henry, here, would be on fire.

"You don't get sick?" the older man warbled, his voice cracking, his feet gravitating toward his mantle. The idea was so foreign to him that even the words didn't make sense. Christophe's mouth twitched a little. Gregory didn't hold back his smile. "You're... you're immune?"

Christophe's smile broke free.

"We're immune."

"But the only ones who are immune are... are...."

Henry paused for a beat, but his heart kept skipping, a broken record now thrown off its needle. He had let not one, but two abominations into his house. This thought snapped him from his daze and, in a flash of movement and a groan of arthritis, he snatched the shotgun from his mantle piece, aiming his sights at Christophe's gleaming, white teeth that peeked from behind his curled lips.

His finger on the trigger...

Click.

Gregory caught his breath in an exhilarated gasp, his veins dilating like pupils.

Maybe this was a mistake. Finger on the trigger again.

Click.

Christophe sat " alive and in one piece. He stopped drumming his fingers and lifted his other hand from with his lap.

Without a word, he placed two shotgun shells onto the table. Perhaps if Henry hadn't spent so much time down memory lane, he might have noticed the boy when he strayed towards the mantle and fussed with the gun not an hour before.

Gregory straightened out his back from the slouched position and stepped toward Henry. Christophe's chair screeched along the ground as he stood and came from the other direction. Henry, the cornered prey, prayed, dropping his useless gun to the floor and backed away. You'd think a man whom had surrounded himself with fears all his life would have been less terrified.

-----

XII. Falling Action

They stared at the corpse, their chests heaving as adrenaline soaked into their very cores. Gregory knelt down, pressed his fingers underneath the cloth covering the body's face, and felt for a pulse. There was none. He staggered backward and hit his back against the concrete wall, the knife in his hand grinding against the gray stone, leaving an incriminating trail of crimson.

"He's dead," he breathed, his visage one of shock and awe.

Christophe bent over to double check. Henry Bastille was indeed dead. Regardless of his previous uneasiness, he couldn't help but feel as if they had done the poor man a favor. He no longer had to live alone. He no longer had to eat nothing but potatoes. He no longer had to be afraid. Of anything.

He stood up again, his mouth agape. Gregory stared at him, shaking, trembling. He reached out to Christophe, and they embraced each other tightly until Gregory's tremors subsided.

The looked in each others eyes. Felt their hearts beating as one. Felt the thrill... and the excitement... and the power surge over them... until it boiled their flesh... and over flowed... and they just had to kiss, they just had to touch each other " against the wall, atop the picnic table, rolling on the ground!

Christophe thought Gregory looked absolutely adorable with that blood stain on his cheek....

-----

XI. Climax

Henry had been tied up, sitting cross-legged with his back against the front door. Just like everyone else, his fear had given in to anger.

"You goddamn fucking little pricks! How dare you fucking come into my god damn house and do this you fucking fags! You're walking abominations and god spits on your fucking grave! You're gonna fucking burn in fucking hell with all the other fucking sick perverts, you goddamn, fucking, shit-eating, know-nothing faggots! You're nothing! You're fucking nothing!"

Christophe and Gregory stood over him, dark and silhouetted in the dim light. The watch on Christophe's wrist beeped midnight. They said nothing.

"Untie me, you fucking perverts! The world hates you fucking dicks! Go fuck your mothers you goddamn... goddamn..." Henry's words trailed off into unintelligible babbling, tears brimming at the corners of his eyes.

The two boys waited patiently for a minute. Christophe folded his arms over his chest. "Are you finished?"

"No, I'm not fucking finished!" Henry shouted, bursting into life again, struggling against his bonds. "I'll never be done. I'll never be done with the likes of you! You'll all burn in hell for what you've done! Fucking burn, for all I care! Burn!"

Christophe and Gregory were silent. They didn't even move. They loomed over Henry as he shouted profanities through his panic stricken sobs. Christophe's stoic expression faltered as Henry reminded him of the bug he had seen, squirming against the gum on the pavement. Would Henry have the courage to tear off his own leg to be free?

Henry shouted. He snarled. He begged and he pleaded. He shouted again. Snarled again. Then he resorted to begging for his life a second time. For every new emotion, Christophe and Gregory would give no reaction. They let him scream to his heart's content.

The watch beeped at one in the morning. Henry hadn't said anything for nearly twenty minutes. Gregory leaned over him. "You finished?"

Henry didn't reply. He had nothing left to say.

Christophe grabbed the older man by the back of his collar and kicked the door open. He dragged Henry along the ground, down the porch, through the yard, and around the back of the house. They came to a clearing in the forest where they saw a concrete wall and a lake beyond it. There was a single street lamp there, and a picnic table. This must have been a park a long, long time ago. Back when people actually went outside.

Christophe released Henry in the clearing as Gregory stared at his reflection in the polished knife.

They stood above him, not entirely sure what to do next. They had never killed a man before. They looked into Henry's frantic, silent eyes and their stomachs lurched in unison.

"I don't know if I can do this," Christophe sighed, feeling silly.

"Me neither," Gregory whimpered, his voice echoing Christophe's concern. Henry twitched, hopeful, but neither boy saw this " they weren't paying any attention to him as they conversed. Henry might as well have been a fly.

"He keeps staring," Christophe complained.

Gregory clicked his tongue and ran his hand under his lover's chin. "That's because you're so beautiful. He can't help it."

Henry would have shouted "fags," but he had already screamed it so many times. He had nothing left to say. "Let's just get this over with," Gregory continued, feeling chills course down his spine. He didn't like that feeling.

"I don't know," Christophe winced. "I can't. Not like this. He was just a lonely old man."

Was. Past tense.

Gregory thought for a minute, licking his lips, and playing absently with the kitchen knife. "Ah!" he exclaimed in epiphany, and giggled. He ran all the way back to Henry's house, only a short walk away, and came into the clearing again carrying a towel. "Got it off his laundry line," he said, feeling proud of his ingenuity.

Christophe smiled, taking the cloth, and laid it over Henry's head, blotting out his desperate eyes, stuffing his mouth a little while he was at it. "There," he breathed, feeling much better. "Alright then, now we can get it over with."

The two boys joined hands, holding the knife together. They stood on either side of the wriggling body, looked at each other one last time as if to ask we're really going through with this? And then they knelt down together, both of them plunging the steel deeply into the bulging gut.

The man shrieked, but it was more of a "Mhhhmmf!" sound; the shouts were muffled by the cloth. In the end, its racket died away into simple grunts and agonized panting.

Christophe and Gregory withdrew, feeling the warm blood spill between their fingers. It got everywhere, and soon dots of it were already on their clothes " like sloppy artists with finger-paints. Christophe laughed first, and Gregory soon followed suit. They were so high with the thrill, feeding off of each other's passion. Who knew blood could feel so natural dripping from your fingertips?

They took turns wielding the knife. Christophe slashed at its arms, feeling a little sympathetic for the rope burns on its wrists and legs. He ignored the muted yelps and dug under its fingernails with the tapered point. Gregory whined, pouting like an impatient child, and Christophe reluctantly handed their metaphorical paintbrush over to him. He lifted up the blood drenched shirt and carved a shallow smiley face into its stomach. Tears of blood swelled beneath the smiley's eyes on the panting canvas and streaked down its side. It made a trickle almost like a river you'd see on a map.

"Look," Gregory chirped, gleefully. "All those potatoes really did make its tummy happy." They laughed. They didn't even care that the joke was cheesy. It was so utterly juvenile that it was hilarious.

"Gregory, you tease," Christophe scolded, mockingly, taking the knife away. He tried to draw a star, but couldn't get the lines straight. He jabbed the knife into the skin with a frustrated curse.

"You go in too far," Gregory coached, taking Christophe's hand in his and guiding him. "Make small cuts, else too much blood will come out and mess you up." They tried again, and soon the flesh was sprinkled with perfect new stars. It reminded them of the night sky.

They experimented for a while: if they pricked it here, would it bleed more or less? Does it always fidget that way, or do you have to cut it just right? If you slice deep enough, can you really see the bone underneath? Yes... yes you can. Fascinating. It was like dissecting a frog, only life-size.

It was getting woozy, they could tell from the way it was breathing. Neither of them said anything. Christophe prodded into the flesh again and an unusually large spurt of blood squirted out, splashing Gregory across the face. But that was okay. They thought it was amusing, and it only made their hearts pound harder. Nothing in the blood or air could harm them. They were immune.

They were immortal.

Together, they leaned over, lifted the cloth just enough to reveal the tender neck, but not enough to uncover the face. With one hand from each boy on the hilt, they drew the knife across its throat. It gurgled and sputtered, and they thought it sounded funny. So they laughed, and cut there a second time, just in case it made that noise again. It didn't. It didn't make any noise at all. It didn't even move anymore.

-----

XV. Resolution

Aaron and Dmitry sat on the concrete divide overlooking the lake. They had just changed and burned their clothes, much to Dmitry's frustration. He really did like the color red. Aaron now gazed off into the dawn, another smoldering cigarette between his fingers.

They had decided that instead of burying the hatchet, they'd just let it sink. And they were far too lazy to try and erase the blood smeared into the sand that led directly into the cozy tide. The rain would do that much for them, eventually. And it wasn't like anyone was going to come investigating any time soon. Or ever for that matter.

Aaron breathed in a drag, held it for just a moment, and let the smoke leak from between his lips. He lifted up the cigarette to his eyes and examined it in the light of the rising sun. "Yep," he mused softly to Dmitry. "I'm addicted."

He flicked it into the pond and heard it sizzle ever so slightly and chuckled to himself. Dmitry snickered too (their laughter was contagious), and they smiled at each other with accomplishment. Aaron noticed that Dmitry was looking particularly radiant this morning. It took him a while, but he finally deciphered just what it was that gave them that added sense of beauty:

It was that after murder glow.

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