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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5. Chapter 5

Calael's reaction to the dead boy in his windowsill was very much a human one; he let out an almost primal scream, and threw himself back away from the apparition, crawling backwards until he smacked his head on his desk. "Oh god! Shit! Shit! I didn't- shit, I didn't expect you to actually-"

"Appear? You asked me to, did you not?" Artemus asked bluntly, his head on one side, and Calael couldn't help but think about how pleasant and borderline musical that voice was. It was soft and comforting to hear, with no rough or harsh quality, every syllable articulate and well rounded.

Calael swallowed hard and took a moment to adjust to the sight of him. The man was, as his photo would suggest, absolutely striking. He was the closest living representation he was sure he'd ever seen of the fictional Dorian Grey, or of the ancient artwork depicting the god Apollo, and the emperors lover Adonis. He'd always pictured the ghosts in books and television as transparent, hideous things, bearing the ghastly marks of their tragic lives, but Artemus looked well enough to be another living person passing him on the street; with the exception of his porcelain quality. A cascade of blonde hair surrounded his elegant face, curls tied loosely with a red ribbon over his shoulder, and his blue eyes framed with pale, girlish lashes. The man was watching him through them, but Calael couldn't quite meet his gaze. Seeing him in technicolour like this was too much, made him too real. 

"I don't understand," the artist whispered shakily, his hands gradually coming to a halt in their incessant trembling. "Why the hell can I see you niw? Why didn't you show yourself sooner?"

"There are two factors to that, as far as I know," Artemus began softly, folding one long, slender leg over his other in an almost leisurely manner. "I believe that you need to acknowledge my existence to see me. Hence why I have fought so hard for you to notice me.. I had to do it in subtle ways. I have scared away so many, you see, whilst trying to be noticed. I left you that key because I wanted to be found; the human side of me to be found.. That is the other factor - I also need to choose to show myself to you."

"And why did you? So many have already owned this house so I hear, so why me?"

"I thought you'd listen, and trust. Because you aren't afraid of me. You know who I am. You're the first in decades to uncover my story, or at least, the story that was told of me," Artemus sighed, turning his head to gaze down at the roses beside him, running one pale finger across the crimson petals. He grew quieter, far less bold, as the cold tendrils of reality took root in his mind once more. "You brought me flowers.. You mourned me. You remembered me. It has been so long since my name has even been spoken.. I have so missed hearing it."

Calael steadily composed himself, placing a hand on the edge of the desk to pull himself up from the wooden floor. Impulsively, he took the smallest of steps forward, and reached out to prod at the blondes shoulder experimentally. "So, I can-"

"Touch me? Yes. But I'd hope you'd at least buy me dinner first."

Calael wasn't in a laughing mood, and couldn't grasp why Artemus would even try to be. "I still don't understand.. Is the afterlife like this for everyone? Why are you still here all by yourself?"

"So many questions.. Mister Black, I haven't spoken to another human being in.. What year is it? 2017? Oh god - 78 years! Do you realise quite how that feels? I've been alone. Do I seem the sort to enjoy seclusion?" he whispered, leaning forward with a meaningful stare. Calael thought that he did not. He looked the sort to be the life of every party, the one with so many dance partners he'd quickly forget the name of the first. The one who'd command every room he chose to enter, and the one sitting posed like a fine Greek delicatus for the artists he went to university with. He also thought, however, that first impressions could be completely toxic. Underneath that, it was apparent to him this man was struggling to maintain himself. After that explanation, he could certainly understand why.

"No," he said, softly. He wrapped his arms around himself and sank slowly back into his desk chair, folding and refolding his hands in his lap. "I'm sorry."

"I realise this must be a lot to take in. Come now, it's quite alright, I'll answer your questions; I'll talk as much about myself as you desire. Aren't you the talkative sort?"

"Not usually with dead people, no."

"Now, there's no need to completely abandon basic manners, Mister Black. I'm still a person. And gracious, it feels so good to be noticed," Artemus breathed, an small but joyous smile tugging at his flower-petal lips. "Finally, finally I get to speak the truth about everything.. But, those questions you asked, I cannot really answer. I have no idea whether this is the case for everyone but I have to say, I hope not. The concept of hell has long since crumbled away for me. I am of the belief that this, this is hell. Or at the very least, purgatory. I simply can't understand what I did to deserve it.."

"Well, I am an atheist," Calael started, though he supposed he might have to begin some rethinking on that stance. "But Christians think that suicide is a sin, no?" 

Artemus turned quiet and solemn once again. He opened his mouth to speak, and then briefly closed it again, rising to his feet and wandering across the studio to the mirror leaning against the far wall. As though caught in a daydream, he gazed at his own spectacular reflection and a sad smile tugged at his lips; the kind of smile where no real happiness is prevalent at all, but rather a nostalgia of a time long lost. "Why would I ever kill myself?" he whispered.

Calael looked up, noticing the look on his face. Taken aback by the shift in mood, he rose from his chair and approached the male very tentatively. "I don't want to presume anything. But.. Was it your lover? Because they..?"

"My lover? No. No, I-" Artemus seemed only now to truly be realising the weight of this notion that he could, in fact, be seen, and that he could speak, and that he could recite truth. "Oh god.. No. Mister Black," he breathed, whirling around and abruptly grabbing the taller man's shoulders. "I did not kill myself! I didn't- but the whole world thinks that I did! I was killed!"

Calaels brow furrowed deeply, his brain going into overdrive as he tried to decipher what it was Artemus meant. Only, the man's ocean blue eyes seemed to hold no ulterior motive.. He was not speaking in metaphors, or riddles. He was being dearly serious.

"Are you.. Are you talking about murder?"

"Yes! Yes, murder! And that is why I'm still here! I'm telling you, Calael, I have told some misshapen truths during my life, but I am being candid with you now; I was murdered. Cut down in the prime of my life," he lamented, before flinging himself into the desk chair and burying that devastatingly pretty face in his folded arms. "And nobody will ever know! Nobody will ever know I'm more than the coward they accused me of being! That's what my father said to my mother - coward! He is the one who couldn't face what his son was! He was the one who threw my head against the table and cracked open my skull!"

Outside the window, thunder cracked ferociously, and Calael jerked in shock, his eyes wide and his feet carrying him away from the distraught young man almost instinctively. His brain was telling him to retreat. Retreat from the pain like he did his own. But his soft heart sang a different song.

"Oh.. Artemus," he breathed. He slowly knelt beside the chair, watching as a flash of silent lightning illuminated the dim studio and shed light on the blondes tortured features.

"It is so hard," Artemus whispered, his voice breaking. "Did you know that ghosts cannot cry? I have a pet theory, that that is why in the old stories you hear of spirits wailing. It's all that we can do.. It's all that we can do to let out the pain of eternity. But nobody hears unless they want to! I'm trapped here, in this place where I met my end; trapped here forever with nobody and it's agonising, Mister Black, it is no way for any human being to live! I feel like some kind of invalid in solitary confinement.. Even when there were whole families living here, I felt alone in crowded rooms. I could merely sit as a presence among them in my spectral form, hearing them but never being heard! I needed to be heard, I-" a sob escaped him, though no tears came. "I needed to be seen again.."

"I see you," Calael said, with confidence. He reached up one comforting hand and rested it upon his shoulder. Artemus' head lifted slowly at that, allowing him to tentatively move his palm to cup the back of his neck reassuringly. "I'm here. And I promise you, I'm not scared of you. I'm scared of the fact that you yet exist, yes, but - of you? No. You seem gentle. You seem good. I'm going to stay here. I'm sure we can come to some kind of living arrangement that includes us both, hm?"

Artemus' crystalline eyes glistened as that pretty smile took shape again. Without warning, he leaned forward and flung his arms around the artist's neck in an embrace. The man was smaller, more lithe in build than Calael, and he felt soft and small in his arms as he held him in return, not saying a word.

"Thankyou," Artemus whispered, slowly drawing away after a long moment, though his hands lingered upon Calael's broad shoulders. "I'd lost faith in the myth of kind strangers.. Please, I will answer any questions you might ask!"

"I.. I really don't want to overwhelm you.. Come on, let's just head downstairs, alright? Can you eat and drink?"

"I haven't tried.. But I assume so," Artemus sniffled, rising to his feet again with the other man's assistance. "Why?"

"Everyone on the internet raves that herbal tea can help calm the nerves. I've been having maybe two cups a day for months now. It doesn't really work but, it at least makes you feel like you're trying to be better," he smiled wearily.

Artemus was soon seated cross legged on the living room couch, beside where Calael had left his laptop. He watched the tall. brown haired male move around the room attempting to make the place look more comfortable, as though he hadn't already seen it, and found it almost adorable to observe. Someone caring about his opinion again, trying to please and impress him. Simple human things he had dearly missed.

"Those candles - they aren't real?" he observed, his brow quirking with interest. "Is that a popular thing to do now?"

"Ah.. No. I would say not. They're electronic, they were a gift from a friend. I have this problem with migraines and low light helps, but I'm really not fond of having naked flames dotted about my house," Calael chuckled nervously, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. He was unsure exactly why he was explaining this to a man he had just met. Perhaps it was the fact that Artemus couldn't leave, or simply that he seemed so warm and approachable; he wasn't sure what it was that had him so at ease.

Two cups of tea later, Calael had finally sat down beside him, offering the spirit a blanket which was gladly taken with a soft murmur of thankyou.

"Now.. I suppose the first thing I want to ask is whether I'm the only one who can see you," Calael ventured.

"Hm.. Yes. This form is exclusively for you, Mister Black. To any others, I am still spectral. A figure both here and, well, not here.. I can selectively interact with your world in that spectral form, as you have seen. Electrical interference seems the most interesting part of that.. I actually don't always do that on purpose," he explained softly. The blonde stretched out for a brief moment, and Calael briefly observed the lines of his torso, clad in an almost sheer night shirt and pyjama slacks.

"Was it you playing around with my phone?" he asked. "Was that on purpose?"

"I moved it, yes.. I was simply curious. I'd only intended to see what it could do since you seemed so attached to it. And, when the time froze, that was me as well. One of my little clues.."

The puzzle finally clicked together in Calael's head.

5am. Murder.

"You were trying to tell me.."

"I'm still trying to tell you. I need someone to know what happened, what really happened, the night that I died.. And, the time leading up to it," Artemus breathed, dragging his knees up to his chest and staring off through the patio doors into the pitch blackness of the properties derelict demesne. "I suppose it started with Edward. The part that matters, anyway. Edward is the alias 'E' you saw in those letters.."

"You mean you were- are-"

"Yes. We had to be terribly careful not to let on that we were.. You know. Homosexual," he murmured, uttering the word with all the discrepancy of cursing infront of a small child. "I have watched things change for people like me over the years, in the papers and the television news broadcasts of families who lived here. So it may be hard for you to understand that in the time I lived, there was a fear of genuine arrest for men who lay with other men. And with the war office monitoring and censoring letters, correspondence became especially difficult between my lover and I.. He was away in France, fighting the Germans, and as it was before conscription I was still here running my flower shop, alone for months on end," he sighed wistfully. Delicate hands came up to rub at his arms, like he was feeling a chill. "Things had been so perfect before he left. He understood me, saw me for what I am; the man practically worshipped me mister Black! I had many admirers then, and I suppose I took pleasure in seeing the roses and peonys dotting my desk.. Secret gifts from men, or gestures of adoration from women. All ages looked at me and appreciated my good looks and there was no harm in that. I could even get away with being more on the effeminate side, because I damn well pulled it off, and charmed the pants off of anyone who said otherwise. But Edward was the only one I would give my heart to truly. We fantasised about marrying one day, in fact, though it was inconceivable that we would ever be able to.."

"I'm.. I'm sorry. It is hard to imagine," Calael murmured sympathetically, his thoughts returning to the memory of when he'd come out to his family himself. How little they'd cared. How completely unsurprised and indifferent his modern, athiestic parents had been. He'd never really considered before how different things would be if they'd shown disgust and contempt instead of such warmth and acceptance..

Artemus smiled just a little, taking in the sympathy but brushing it off quickly. "I've had a long time to come to terms with it. I suppose in many ways I never really have, but.. That's loss. That's what it does to everyone. It does get easier every day, but when you're alone, it's harder to think of anything else," he said softly. Calael refused to see the irony, and nodded his head in understanding.

"Edward was killed in France. His family recieved the telegram and informed me as one of his 'close friends' not long before I recieved my letter. It was like.. Getting him back. Only for a moment," Artemus went on, quietly. "But I'd been lonely when my love was gone. We were of course not married, and.. My mother had always told me that men like me had no reason to be lonely. I did what I had to do to survive, Mister Black, while I was so solitary and unappreciated in his absence.. But I suppose fate had a different view on my actions to myself. I was caught in - in vulgar terms - in the act.. By my younger brother, Bemus. I had sensed for a long time a hideous envy about him. I was unable to succeed at anything without his jealousy spoiling it. I could hardly enter a room infact without him looking me up and down and pulling his face into a scowl.. It was because people liked me, really liked me. I was a figure in the community, I had a large circle of friends who I'd go walking and dancing with. I had the opportunity to pick and choose who I spent my time with. If I so desired, I could reject the offer to go drinking in the evening to stay home and press flowers, because I'd know there'd be another chance to do so soon. Bemus did not have such freedom as that. While mothers were lining up trying to win me for their daughters, Bemus' sole offer of proposal was rejected by the girl he loved. She was more interested in me. His brother, who'd inherited mother's face rather than fathers," he whispered. "I told him again and again that I did not want her. I think that only increased his hatred for me. And so when he saw me sinning he was the one to proclaim it to all.."

"He outed you?" Calael stated, his eyes widening at the very thought.

Artemus' arched a perfect brow, and scoffed quietly. "Is that what they call it now? Yes, he did.. And within twenty four hours, my image, my reputation, even my business were a shambles. My friends made excuses to avoid me. People would steer themselves far from my shop in fear that they would catch something.. Others jeered and shouted at me on the streets, throwing rocks, and nobody helped because in a small town, everybody quickly knew and hated the very idea of some immoral sinner in their midst. Even men who had slept with me joined in on the relentless harassment, to cover their own guilt! I felt for the first time in my life true shame. I was ashamed of what I was, even began to believe that what I had truly was some terrible disease or illness of the mind.. In the eyes of everyone within my small world I was no longer beautiful, invincible Artemus, the florist who got along with everyone and brought pride to his family.. I was a joke," he breathed. "I wanted to be loved, desired, admired and respected again, but instead I was in constant fear of being killed for what I was. I even tried enlisting in the army to escape it all! Imagine that.. Rushing off into a foreign bloodbath to feel safer. I passed the physical, I passed the mental, and then the village baker strolled in and stated 'I wouldn't touch that one. He's a faggot, a queer.' They said we were done and I nodded like I understood, but I was humiliated. I had to start closing the shop early as Winter came, so I wouldn't have to walk alone in the dark, but the real danger was here; at Semper Place, my very own home. My father had discovered the truth about me rather quickly. His pride was no longer instilled in me, but instead he was bathing my brother in years worth of surplus attention he had been deprived of, while I was treated like a pantry rat. I remember the night Bemus left for the army in his starkly ironed uniform, mother crying and waving her handkerchief as father beamed with pride.. But he was gripping at my shoulder, with such a strength that he bruised me. I was shoved back inside, and with this sneer of utter contempt he told me that he was glad that in Bemus he knew he still had at least one son.."

"Oh my God.. Artemus-"

"Let me finish. Please. I didn't-" he swallowed hard, trying to collect his emotions. "I didn't kill myself, Mister Black. So far this must all seem very incriminating, but I assure you, I never wanted my life to end. I wanted things to get better. I knew in my heart of hearts that I deserved for things to be the way they were before Bemus told everybody what I was," he said softly, quietly, looking down at his hands with a solemn expression.

Calael truly didn't know what to say. Was there anything to say now that was really worth saying? His heart felt like it was in his stomach, and that he could taste bile. More than anything however was a feeling of bubbling anger. He felt that a bottle had been upturned in his mind,  containing the furious passion of the Stonewall riots, and of every queer rights protester before and after, as he stared into the face of the culmination of centuries of prejudice, and was overcome with the helpless guilt that nobody had been there to back Artemus. He had been entirely alone in the world.

"Hey," he ventured softly, reaching out a tentative hand and touching the blondes, just barely. A subtle reminder that he was there, and hearing him. "You did deserve better, you still do. I'm here. I'm here and I really, really want to help. You can call me Calael, okay? Mister Black makes me sound too.. cold. I might be into my reason and my logic, but I like to think that I'm a nice person, which means that you can talk to me. I want to hear the rest."

Artemus looked at Calael in a way that no person had ever looked at him. Like he was overflowing with adoration and sheer relief at his presence. His voice was so soft as he spoke, pretty even as words trembled on his tongue. "Thankyou.. You can't know how much it means to hear that right now. Though I fear you won't like the way the story ends."

"I know how it ends. And I know I won't like it. That doesn't mean I don't want to hear."

Artemus took a long, steady breath before speaking again. He did not need to breathe, of course, being already dead. But it was one habit of human existence that he would never shake. Like pain, breathing came naturally. "My father became more and more violent by the day. Any remnant of the femininity he associated with queers was ripped away from me.. Any pink in my wardrobe, many of my books of pressed flowers, even simple things like my hair brush; maybe as some indication that I should cut my long hair, I don't know.. But he took it all. Not under my roof, he'd say. Not anymore. Often when he grew truly frustrated, he'd strike me and turn my face blue, leaving marks on my throat that were so different to the marks Edward used to leave that I would cry myself to sleep.. I took to spending my time in my attic infact, reading over the letters that Edward sent me, because it was quiet and father would never go up there. Except for when he did. It was the day I'd received the death letter. I was in pieces.. When father beat me, I had no will to fight back against him. Not that day. So when he shook and pushed me, and my head jerked back like I'd been struck by a horse, it hit the corner of the old table and I-" he shuddered visibly, and dry swallowed. "I died. My neck was broken, as easily as you'd break a birds egg.. It was, thankfully, painless, I felt nothing at all. Just one moment, I was hurtling towards the ground and the next, I was watching as my father feverishly formed a noose out of fishing rope and dragged my body up beside the spare Christmas chair to hang me from the ceiling. Taking away the truth of my memory, as well as my life. Scariest of all was that in those last moments in the attic, I even thought I saw remorse in his eyes. I even saw tears."

Artemus shook his head, an utterly miserable smile tugging at his lips in delirium. "Isn't it sad? How I mistook his fear for his own life as grief over mine?"

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