Memento Mori

(Malexmale) Struck by tragedy, Calael Black - a popular young artist - isolates himself in his new home in the countryside in a desperate bid to save his sanity. However, Semper Place is far from empty and abandoned, and the ghost that haunts the property is neither malevolent nor disinterested in him. On the contrary, the spirit of the beautiful Artemus Moon has been alone for too long, and the two isolated souls soon find themselves locked in a dark, toxic romance, reliant on each other for happiness.

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11. Chapter 11

There was no false optimism in the way Calael conducted himself after leaving.

He didn't acknowledge any others at the rest stop where he got himself lunch. It was a blur to him, like he was numb from the shoulders up, answering the cashier's questions monotonously in a bid to get back to his car faster. The food was tasteless, although it was his favorite type of sandwich, and he didn't bother to turn on the heater when it started to rain outside and a chill was whipped into the air. He allowed himself to grow cold and didn't tighten his jacket or reach for the blanket in the back seat. What was the point?

He had his plans for the day made, his plans for distraction, but right now all he could not to cry or punch the steering wheel was slip into numbness for a while.

It had been a while since he'd fallen straight into a nap after eating. But sleep was the best place he could currently be, and so he allowed himself that sad luxury too, and was only woken by another driver knocking on his window. He registered only that it was a tall, burly and bearded man, who seemed distantly relieved to see him open his eyes. Calael only half heard him when he asked if he was alright, and then called back to him a flat; "Just tired."

The stranger seemed convinced enough by that to clear his conscience. He returned to his wife and kids, and Calael stared at the ceiling for a while longer before glancing at the clock and beginning to drive once more.

He didn't remember turning it on, but he must have, because the radio was playing now. It didn't unnerve him, like his lamp flickering on his first day at Semper Place. Instead, it provided a dull sense of comfort that his body was working to restore a sense of normality while his mind sought to destroy itself. Everything was working like clockwork. Self preservation was running entirely on the back burner and the soundtrack appeared to be a song by 'Daughter,' not that he particularly listened to or registered any of the lyrics. It just clicked somewhere in his mind that Harry used to hate this band because they were apparently depressing, whereas Artemus had said hearing it coming from the studio as he worked made the place seem serene and peaceful. Artemus seemed to prefer slower songs. Anything fast enough that it required a computer brought a kind of panic into his eyes that most would associate with the sound of a snow globe shattering.

He sighed softly. Somehow, whenever he started to think too hard, his mind returned to him, and he didn't want to think about him, or his soft thighs or his beautiful golden hair or how pretty he looked in the garden when the sun was shining..

He focused on the road. If he couldn't be numb, he needed to be angry. If he wasn't angry about Artemus, then he'd remember how he felt about him, and he'd want to go back there and be hit in the face by another of his favourite water colour paintings.

"One of my favourite paintings," he repeated to himself in a murmur. He'd actually assaulted him with his own beloved art! "What a.. What a bastard!"

He sighed heavily when he couldn't summon up enough negativity to stay angry with him, and just gazed out at the dark road.

A while passed on the drive. Rain trickled down the window, and the wipers pushed it back, and occasionally a car would cut past him because he was going at less than fifty on the motorway, and nothing much at all seemed to happen; until all of a sudden he registered the familiar landscape of Manchester. The constantly evolving clash of new and old struck him with a pang of nostalgia, but also a distinct wave of sadness. Their flat had been close by.

He forced himself not to take that familiar route, and instead made his way to a car park, where - once he abandoned the vehicle - he headed out into the dark that had descended so abruptly. He wasn't sure exactly what time it was, but August had never been one to provide exact times for his plans anyway. The fact that evening was approaching was promising.

The Northern quarter hadn't changed so much, aside from the new wave of students who has descended on the scene since the Summer he left. The ragged, bohemian charm of the place was there, but he wasn't focusing so much on the pleasing, grunge aesthetic, or the way the rain soothed his aching chest, but rather how dirty and unkempt everything seemed, and how his solar plexus was going to be purple, and how the rain was soaking his denim jacket and making his hair droop onto his forehead uncomfortably. The high-rise buildings of the inner city were like menacing shadows in the dark of the evening, the gutter serving as a foul smelling swamp rife with piss and stale alcohol. A crying woman passed him in a hurry, dressed in fishnets and a short red dress, her pale face bruised and swelling on one side. He noticed all of this but didn't have the sense to speak to her.

Artemus sometimes made him feel like things were better than this. But, that happy illusion had only persisted in the time he hadn't ventured out from the closed eco-system that Semper Place had become. He had liked believing that everything was brighter than he thought it was. He had liked not having to act the part of optimist.

Perhaps he'd always simply been a realist. It was his reality that had changed. A reality with Artemus, and a reality without.

And besides. Artemus overtly hated the outside world. He couldn't watch a single news broadcast without expressing that.. He saw it through eyes that Calael never could, and he was beginning to understand the man's feelings more and more.

Eventually, he turned the corner to the street where he would find the club. A neon red sign on the side of the brick building directed him down a set of rusted iron steps, where he could already hear - and feel - the pounding of loud rock music on the other side of the doors. He slipped some money to the bouncer stood outside and was quickly allowed in, where the music grew louder, practically striking him with the sheer force of it. A loud indie band was performing on the stage, faced with a crowd of dancers who - in their masses - were dressed so ambiguously that they were practically androgynous as a collective. Their bodies moved in slow motions, tightly close to one another in a manner that would have been quite intimate if most of them hadn't been strangers. Red light illuminated the display, occasionally morphing into pink shadows across their serene faces.

Surrounding the dance floor were booths for groups to sit and socialise, made up of rustic wooden tables and an array of vintage red sofas. The brick walls behind were decorated with posters and vinyls of the acts who had performed there, some of them torn and tatty at the edges from years of being leaned against and plucked at. This area still held the pink glow of the dance floor, with the added light from ornate lanterns hanging overhead.

Further along still was the large, curved bar, which seemed mostly packed, though he managed to worm his way through somewhat uncomfortably and swipe one of the red leather bar stools. August was nowhere to be seen just yet, but he wasn't willing to be in a place like this while sober for long, so he ordered a vodka and coke and started on the alcohol.

Swigging his drink and waiting for it's intoxicating influence to take effect, he removed his sodden denim jacket and tied it loosely around his hips as he began to observe the people around him. He quickly reached the conclusion that he couldn't stand any of them. The over exaggerated, saccharine laughter of women attempting to impress their male counterparts was perhaps one of the most irritating factors, second only to the hysterical shrieks of those who were already completely drunk. Somehow, observing the intoxicated whilst completely sober was rather akin to watching animals interact in a zoo. In fact, Calael thought that an animal would probably conduct itself with more grace and self respect than half of those hovering around the bar.

He did spot a few attractive faces, out of an artists habit, and his eyes would distractedly trace the lines of their features as though mentally mapping out how he would sketch them if he could. Their presence was a small shred of at least superficial beauty that he could hang onto right now, in the cold of his lover's absence.

The man almost scoffed at himself when he realised he was thinking about the spirit again. Quickly, he downed the rest of his drink, desperate to redirect his mind from him; and before long he felt a familiar wave of dizziness settle over him, the beginnings of a drunken night.

Abruptly, a pair of hands on his shoulders caught him off guard. Calael jerked and, assuming the worse, went to reach for his wallet to keep himself from being robbed; until a familiar, jovial voice assaulted his ears. "Calael! The prodigal son returns!"

He turned around, and looked up to see the grinning face of August. He was an attractive man, in a unusual sort of way, his under-cut hair dyed a unique silver colour and left wildly curly on top while it was closely shaven at the sides. A ruby stud glistened in both ears, matching the vibrant hue of his half unbuttoned shirt, which revealed a set of three silver necklaces resting against his bare chest.

"Oh- August!" Calael exclaimed in shock over the banging of the music. He stood up to allow himself to be wrapped in a tight hug by his friend, and chuckled lightly, although somehow seeing the eccentric man did not give him the same joy that he'd hoped it would.

"It's been weird around here without you Cal! Why the hell haven't you visited sooner? It's been months!" August beamed, prompting a nervous chuckle from the brunette.

"Well, I guess I've been busy.."

"Oh? Too busy for our beloved Augustine are we? Well, I won't ask questions like a nosy-parker," the man smirked, pulling up a spare bar stool and taking a seat. August always had been the pacifistic sort; he could throw digs and playful insults and controversial comments all he liked, but never seriously enough to kick-start an argument or attract trouble. He was an acquired taste to some, but overall likable and friendly and easy to get along with, even if prolonged company with him tended to be rather draining.

Calael looked up as the man shouted to the bartender for a pint of Carling and a double set of vodka shots, and raised an eyebrow skeptically. "You know how I get with shots, August, that much hasn't changed.."

"My point exactly. You seem like you could use some drunk and disorderly misconduct tonight," he teased, giving him a playful dig in the ribs with his elbow. The artist didn't object. He maybe had a valid point.

The shots were delivered, and Calael couldn't help but be reminded of their university days. He'd grown since then, but August hadn't, and he wasn't about to deny him his alcoholism, so he picked up the small glass and joined his friend in counting down and knocking them back. It seemed only to energize August and make him laugh in gleeful delight, but Calael curled his lip at the bitter taste and had to cough it off.

"Ugh.. Why do I ever agree to anything you suggest?" he groaned, rubbing his throat a little as the alcohol took it's effect, knocking him slightly dizzier and creating a static sort of blur to the room around him. It was mild, but noticeable; the only thing he didn't notice was how the hated onslaught of negative backing noise faded out slightly.

August just grinned, slinging an arm around his shoulders and clinking their empty glasses together. "When have I ever led you astray?"

"I'd count, but I'd run out of fingers pretty quick.."

"Now now, Calael Seamus Black, tell me I didn't raise a pussy during all those years in halls? Here, another on me," he smirked in amusement, swiftly buying another round of shots. "Whereabouts do you live now, anyway? Do you know how many times I've called trying to arrange a housewarming?"

"Old house up in the Lakes.. The estate's called Semper Place."

"Old house? How old? Like, are we talking me' nan's house old, or like-?"

"Early nineteen hundreds. But, I do suspect a ghost, personally," he murmured, making August bark out another laugh before picking up his newly refilled shot glass. "A'ight! Ready? Three, two, one!"

Calael spluttered a little upon swallowing, again having to slam down the glass as he banged on his chest in recovery. "Christ, that's strong shit.."

"Only the best for my boy," August winked, flourishing his hand in a theatrical little bow.

The drinking continued for maybe an hour into the evening, quickly losing track of time. August bragged shamelessly about how well he was doing in the fashion design industry and, fairly intoxicated by now, Calael was able to act happy for him, proposing a toast to success.

"You up in your cozy rich-man's mansion can hardly talk," August grinned, his words already beginning to slur, although Calael knew that was normal for him. He was only really drunk when the sex talk started.

The artist snorted and shrugged his shoulders. "It was a fixer upper. Price was cut because someone died there."

"Shit, are you 'avin me on?"

"It was a long time ago.."

August scoffed a little and leaned his elbow on the bar. "Still.. I don't know how I'd bloody sleep in a place like that. You know me. I sense shit. I can tell when something is.. You know, present. Something dead."

"Can you sense the rapid dissolving of your dignity when you say shit like that?"

"Fuck off," August grinned, but still swung an arm around his shoulders and pulled his head down to ruffle his hair with his fist. "I've missed your banter, man. You know, I miss your energy, though, where did that go?"

Before he could even contemplate the question, a woman in a vibrant fur coat had thrown herself at August's back, squealing in delight. "August! Babe!"

"Di, hey!" August grinned handsomely, turning on his bar stool to embrace her. "Calael, the lovely Diana, my very favourite model, and-" he looked up, to see three attractive ladies in similar attire standing closeby, wiggling their fingers at him flirtatiously. He whistled slowly. "-and company. Are you sure you're gay, mate? Like, not even slightly bisexual? Not even a little bit?"

"August, you can go," Calael smirked, and August gave him such a grateful look that it was as though he had bestowed the crown jewels upon him.

"Calael Black, you are the greatest man I have ever known. The muses will one day sing songs of praise in your honour-"

"Just, go, August."

August clicked his tongue and, after kissing his friend's cheeks theatrically, retreated to the line-up of glamour models with all the glee of a child in a toy shop. And Calael was left alone.

He didn't much mind. He was too already too drunk to mind anything at all, and simply continued with the drinking his friend had initiated until he was struggling to see straight. However, he was not alone for too long.

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?" someone asked in a sultry tone, and he turned his head to see a small man stood beside the bar. He was lithe and petite looking, dressed in what was easily the biggest giveaway of homosexuality he'd ever seen. He had on heavily ripped skinny jeans, thigh high boots that had likely been purchased in the women's section, and an equally as androgynous crop top that was shredded to the point that it could barely be classed as a shirt at all. Calael coughed into his drink, then shook his head, prompting the man to position himself on the spare stool beside him with his legs crossed and his elbows propped on the bar.

"So. A handsome guy like you all alone? I noticed you with someone before, but, he didn't seem so attached," the stranger grinned, and as Calael looked up he noticed absent-mindedly that his eyelashes were painted. He looked terribly gaudy, from the badly executed makeup to his short, post-box red curls. But, he was pretty, in a certain light.

"August is just my friend. My heterosexual friend," Calael clarified, and the boy produced a saccharine laugh upon registering the articulacy of his accent.

"People don't usually come to a club like this with one friend."

"You could say there are extr- extrane-extraneous circumstances," he stammered, his tongue thick from the alcohol.

In spite of this, the stranger hummed thoughtfully and then took the liberty of pushing his own drink across to him, a sweet smelling electric blue concoction in a tall glass. "You haven't had enough. Here."

Calael regarded this dubiously, but he was in no state of rationality and shrugged carelessly before giving it a swig. It actually tasted tolerable. "What's- what's your name then, red?"

"Hm.. I think I prefer red," the man smirked, before calling over the bartender and ordering himself an exotic sounding cocktail.

Calael, surrendering to the notion of getting even more hopelessly drunk tonight, downed the rest of the blue concoction quickly, and the dizzying effect was almost immediate. He rested a hand on the edge of the bar to steady himself, and his gaze trailed to Red's legs, where he could see streaks of hairless thigh through his ripped jeans.

Red reveled in this, going so far as to pop his hip a little and tilt his head to the side. He sipped on his cocktail leisurely. "Do you have a name?"

Calael didn't even think as he answered. His tone was flat, almost sarcastic; amused by his own warped sense of irony. "Artemus."

"Artemus? What a name.. What do you do, Artemus?" Red purred, leaning across further to him, and hooking a finger under Calael's stubbled chin.

A grin tugged uncontrollably at Calael's lips as he looked at him, and he laughed almost deliriously. "I'm a florist. A damn good one."

"That might just be the gayest thing I've ever heard."

"I'm sure you've met worse," Calael said, the alcohol drying his wit to dust. Red snickered and he rolled his eyes, then tilted his head back to down the rest of his cocktail.

He caught the artists attention by slamming his glass down heartily on the counter, then abruptly grabbed Calael's hands to pull him to his feet. The brunette swayed slightly as he stood, taking a moment to get his bearings and realise where in fact he was being led to. "Hm? Red?"

"Come with me, Artemus - we're gonna dance together."

"Dance?" Calael repeated. He tried to force himself not to think of dancing with Artemus to a song better than this one, but hearing his name was making him real, and altogether impossible to ignore. He needed to forget. Forget that it hurt for a while. And his drunken stupor was making that all too easy; the numbness didn't need to be carefully formulated.

He bit his lip hard, abandoned his sense of self-respect, and nodded a little, stepping forward and wrapping his arm with uncharacteristic confidence around Red's slim waist. "Fine. I like dancing."

"Really now? You didn't seem the type," the man replied, but didn't complain, grinning at the feel of the taller man's hand on his bare midriff.

They slipped together into the tight crowd and were pressed far closer than strangers should ever comfortably be. Red draped his arms around Calael's neck, and moved his face so near to his that he could smell the cheap perfume he'd dabbed under his jaw. Had he been sober, he might have recoiled, but he just started to move to the music as he remembered being instructed, letting Red's body slot against his own.

The man's legs soon found either side of his knee and in due time he was grinding against his thigh, the friction distracting him greatly from the crush of people on all sides of them. Calael hummed and trailed his hands lower  to Red's hips, then to his plump behind, exploring the subtley androgynous curve of his thin body; too effeminate in nature to possibly be acquired without a waist trainer. Except, Artemus' body followed a similar curve.. A less notable one, but more beautiful in its naturalism.

He was thinking about this when Red began to whisper in his ear. Thinking about how much more impressive the blonde was than this stranger. Even in a state of dizzy recklessness he couldn't justify hooking up with a cheap rendition of the man waiting in his home, the man he'd hurt and lied to. Did the spirit want nothing to do with him now? Was their dalliance over because of his selfishness? Or did he have time to win back the only man who he thought would be capable of making a dance like this sensual, or a place like this bright?

He stepped away quickly, and held up his hands as their bodies parted, shaking his head. "I can't do this," he stated firmly, although his words slurred. "Artemus- Artemus deserves better.."

Red's eyes flashed with anger and humiliation, and in barely seconds his hand came up and struck the man he knew as Artemus across the face hard, violently enough to make those directly around them stop dancing and gawk. "You narcissistic fucking freak!" he snapped.

Calael straightened his jaw, staggering a step back as he groaned in pain, before looking up just in time to see Red go storming over to August at his table of girls, looking livid and embarrassed. "Hey! I thought you should know you should really keep your mate Artie on a leash. Bastard touched me up then told me I'm not good enough for him!" he scoffed.

August seemed confused, until he followed the line Red had cleared to where Calael stood holding his wounded cheek. His grin faded. "..Ah. Look, I'm so sorry about him, he's-" he registered his friend approaching, and his gaze narrowed. "Damaged. Maybe just go get yourself another drink, yeah?"

Slipping the livid man a five pound note to clear him off, he straightened and apologised profusely to the girls at his table as he recollected his leather jacket and headed swiftly over to Calael. "C'mon mate, you've caused enough trouble.. Damn it, I shouldn't have ditched ya', eh? Better get you to bed."

"I was just trying to make it up to somebody.."

"To who?"

"To Artemus!"

"But you told that damn twink that you're Artemus! You know, whatever, nevermind, you've had too much to drink and you don't remember.. We're going home. You can take my couch."

Calael felt like crying, but he held it in, and nodded his head like a scolded child as August took hold of his arm and led him stumbling back out of the club into the darkness of the night.

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