#SpookyShowcase: Confession by J. Elizabeth Hill
Welcome to the 9th annual #SpookyShowcase, a Halloween artist and author showcase. A full schedule of submissions can be found here so you don’t miss a single entry for THESE DEADLY CURSES. Now, on to today’s submission!
Confession by J. Elizabeth HIll
Kaylan groaned and stretched, the tingle along his skin lingering. Deep, rumbling laughter forced his eyes open. There he was still, the man he’d met at the bar, taken out for dinner, then brought home for a romp. A lopsided grin exposed a few teeth, and his dark brown eyes smoldered with triumph.
“I don’t know who taught you to do that thing with your mouth, but I’d like to send them a fruit basket.”
Taru laughed again. “They weren’t worth thanking. It was the one good thing I got from that relationship.” He leaned in, his black curls brushing against Kaylan’s forehead, and planted a kiss on his cheek. “You, on the other hand, I have high hopes for.”
Kaylan blushed, and then blushed harder, knowing his face was nearly the same color as his hair now.
Taru flopped back. “But maybe we skipped a step or two. As fun as that was, I’d like to get to know you a bit better.”
Eyes fixed on his ceiling, Kaylan said, “Before we do it again?”
Fingers gripped his chin, turning him to look at Taru. “Exactly.”
He swallowed past a lump in his throat. “What do you want to know? Where I went to school? When I realized men were more my speed than women? When I lost my virginity?”
Taru considered the question, his eyes never leaving Kaylan. “I’ve seen you at Lucifer’s Left Wing many times. I admit, I’ve watched you. And you usually do something surprisingly kind, even if it’s small. At first I thought it was a fluke, then that maybe you knew the person. Only I never see you with any of them again. So I decided it’s just who you are, and that’s why I had to introduce myself, really. So, tell me something that made you who you are.”
Kaylan went cold. Taru didn’t know what he was asking.
After a lengthening silence made things awkward, Taru put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. I won’t think less of you, whatever it is. Or if you don’t want to share…”
Taru moved to get up but Kaylan put a hand out to stop him. “It’s not that I don’t want to share, not exactly. And you can’t know you won’t judge me for what happened.”
Taru leaned back and looked at him, considering. Then he nodded. “Okay then, I won’t promise that. Will you tell me, though? Whatever happened, it’s who you are now that matters to me.”
Kaylan was silent for a long time, trying to decide what he wanted to do, whether he could bear to speak about it. How could he make Taru understand without this wonderful man deciding he’d been a monster as a child? At last he let out a sigh. “I know people make a lot of excuses for kids, especially boys. Like it’s okay if you treat other people badly, because you’re a boy and boys are just rough. Only I learned that not every boy is and not all of them can take it.”
He glanced at Taru, who nodded encouragingly.
“Where I grew up, most of us went to school together from kindergarten on.”
“Where was that,” Taru asked.
“Hope. Small town, you’ve probably never been there, though maybe you heard about it. Anyway, there was one kid. He was new that year. It was,” he paused to think, “maybe seventh grade? And we… weren’t welcoming.”
Sweet god, this was harder even than he’d expected.
“You ignored him?”
There was an almost hopeful note in Taru’s voice, and Kaylan wished he could say yes. “We picked on him. He was different, and so we made jokes. About his clothes, about his accent. About the way his hair was cut. It was like a game to us. A really shitty game, though I didn’t realize how bad then.”
Beside him, the other man had gone still. Finally he broke the silence with a whisper. “What was the boy’s name?”
“Randy. It wasn’t short for Randall, that much I know, though I don’t remember what the rest of it actually was.”
“Oh.” Kaylan glanced over and saw his lover had gone pale beneath his light brown skin.
“I’m not like that anymore, Taru. I don’t… I’m not. I’m sorry. I should stop. I was a shitty kid and I learned better.”
Taru reached out and grasped Kaylan’s pale forearm firmly. “Tell me the whole story. All of it. Every last word, Kaylan.”
Kaylan hesitated, but the words demanded he speak. “We didn’t stop. Ever. I don’t even know why, we just didn’t. We laughed about it a lot. Maybe that’s it. We thought it was funny. Which was stupid.”
He sat up and took a long drink from the water glass by his bed. He wondered what he’d been thinking, bringing a guy he’d just met home with him. But it had felt right, especially the way they’d talked during dinner, like they just got each other. Everything about Taru felt right. Even this confession of everything he’d been too ashamed to tell anyone, even his therapist. The drink didn’t do much to soothe the tickle in his throat but he couldn’t delay forever. And he realized he wanted to finish the story more than anything.
He swallowed, unable to even try to meet Taru’s eyes. “I wish… I don’t know. Maybe that Randy had never met me, or the others in our class. We weren’t even all friends, but we all went after that poor kid. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.”
Kaylan cleared his throat again and wondered if he was getting that bug that was floating around the office. He hoped not, or at least that he hadn’t given it to Taru. Which was a stupid thing to think. After everything they’d done, giving anything he had to Taru was a foregone conclusion. But he wanted to protect this man, to offer him anything he wanted.
And he wanted the story. So Kaylan met his gaze and gave up the last of the secret.
“The worst part is that I was the ringleader. My parents thought I was such a good kid, but they didn’t know.”
His lover said nothing, and Kaylan tried to look away, but those dark, nearly black eyes pinned him. His mouth was dry and he wanted to cringe back, knowing what would come next. Taru would pull away. He’d look at Kaylan with the disgust he deserved. That Kaylan had known was all he deserved since that fateful day.
Except that wasn’t what happened. Instead, Taru’s hand slowly crept over his, then pressed down. “But you learned?”
Kaylan pulled his hand away, his heart seared by the hope he heard in the other man’s voice. “Once it was too late.”
As before, the command would not be disobeyed. Words started tumbling from Kaylan’s mouth, ones he’d once sworn to himself he’d never speak.
“One day, a couple of years after Randy started at our school, a few of us found him outside, behind the gym. We were out there for gym class and hadn’t noticed him slip away from the group. He was crying.” Kaylan got up and started pacing, dragging one breath after another past the raw lump in his throat. He coughed twice before starting to speak again. “That alone should have been enough to stop us. To stop me. But it wasn’t. We… No, I decided we’d give him something to cry about.”
Kaylan flinched from his own words, a pain stabbing deep in his throat. “I sound just like my father when I say that. He said it all the time, about even the slightest weakness.” He shook his head, then snuck a glance at Taru. His lover was frozen on the bed, eyes glistening but fixed on him. He forced himself to go on, no matter how much it hurt to push the words out.
“We beat him. Badly. It didn’t take long. He didn’t even try to fight back. Maybe because we were bigger, maybe because we outnumbered him. But when I look back, I think…”
The silence stretched a moment before Taru asked, “You think…?”
“I think he was all out of fight. Out of will to resist. Or maybe he was done with everything.” Kaylan went to his bedroom window, coughing again, feeling like a razor had buried itself in his throat, his lungs. Yet the compulsion to speak hounded him. “I never saw him again after that day. He didn’t come to class the rest of that day, and the one after, the teacher announced that Randy wouldn’t be coming back.”
He closed his mouth then, intending that to be the end. Taru didn’t need to know the rest. The fallout from what he’d done. Not once in his life had he ever even contemplated telling anyone this part and he wouldn’t now. If it meant Taru walked away from him, so be it. He didn’t deserve anyone so good, so funny and fun, full of life and energy.
“Tell me,” Taru said again, even softer than before, and the words would not be contained.
“I heard my parents talking the next weekend. My father was laughing, and Mom was chiding him over it, saying he shouldn’t do that, that it was serious. A boy attempted suicide.” Tears pricked Kaylan’s eyes but he refused to heed them. He rasped out past the pain in his throat, “I drove him to that. Maybe not that day, not that beating. Maybe it was all of it, but it was my fault either way. I made Randy want to die so much he tried to make it happen. All because we singled him out for being from somewhere else, for being different.”
The tears said fuck you and started falling as his throat burned worse than ever. He coughed and coughed, harder each time. The last one dropped him to one knee before he managed to get back enough breath to speak the words crowding his brain, his mouth. “The worst part is I don’t even know why I did it. It was stupid and cruel. My father would go on and on about how you had to make sure to be the top dog in every situation, and maybe that’s part of it. Only I never wanted to be anything like him. He’s a monster!”
Taru was very still on the bed, watching him closely. Horror touched his expression. As it should be, Kaylan thought as another coughing fit seized him, squeezing his eyes shut. When at last it passed, he looked down at his hand, his floor, and saw the spatters of blood. He felt it drip from his chin. What was going on? And still, he felt compelled to go on, to complete the story Taru had asked for. Had demanded of him.
“Anyway, when I heard he’d tried to commit suicide, I realized what I was doing. Not just to him, but others too. All the people I was hurting, and for what? I stopped. It was a long time before I could look in the mirror without disgust. I tried to go see him, to apologize, I think? But his family moved right after and I was a kid. I didn’t know how to find him.”
Kaylan coughed again, hard, and felt something tear loose inside him. Panicked, he looked up at Taru. The other man was crying too, gently shaking his head, eyes still fixed on Kaylan. Taru whispered, “I’m sorry. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.”
It was getting harder to breathe now. He kept trying to cough but it was too wet, the taste of blood filling his mouth. His whole body felt heavy and weak. The floor rushed up to meet him, breaking their eye contact. The bed creaked, and Taru’s gentle hands grasped his shoulders. He whispered softly in a language Kaylan had never heard before. Something pulled inside him, and for a moment, he thought it was whatever was now broken trying to knit itself together. Then he coughed again, and a gout of blood splashed the floor, darker than anything he’d brought up so far. That can’t be good, he thought distantly.
“Kaylan, I’m sorry. I can’t make it stop. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was trying to punish the person who hurt my brother, but I didn’t know it was you. This curse… I don’t want it anymore but it won’t stop.” Taru pulled him into his lap and Kaylan was too weak to say anything. When had the room gotten so cold?
“Ranvir was never the same after that, you know. We tried to get him help, and maybe it made things better, because he never tried to kill himself again, but the smiling little boy my younger brother had been is gone forever.”
Ranvir, Kaylan thought, that had been Randy’s name. He tried to speak, but there was no voice left to use, so he mouthed brother?
Taru nodded, and his words picked up speed, desperation thrilling through them. “I wanted to make the person who did it suffer. I have since the day I found him with his wrists cut. I cast a curse, so if I ever met the person, they’d be forced to tell the story, and to feel the same pain Ranvir did that day. I didn’t expect it to be you. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would be someone I’d…” He swallowed. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much you’d already punished yourself. How much you’d changed.”
The lights were dimming. The world was dimming. Then Kaylan realized that actually it was he who was dimming. Blood flowed freely from his mouth. He felt it trickling out of his nose, from his ears. He tried to grab Taru’s hand, wanting to in some way communicate his regret more. He’d had this coming. But his hand didn’t move. His body wouldn’t respond to any command. The last thing he felt was Taru pressing a soft kiss into his forehead. He closed his eyes one final time, Taru’s sobbing grief following him down into the darkness.
About the Author
Born in Toronto, Ontario, J Elizabeth Hill exported themself to Vancouver, British Columbia after many years of staring longingly at the map following every snowfall. For as long as they can remember, they’ve been making up stories, but it wasn’t until high school that someone suggested writing them down. Since then, they’ve been hopelessly in love with story crafting, often forgetting about everything else in the process.