Not quite sure what got Erik totally wigged out the other night, but I knew he’d never make the first move. So, I had to. The lights were all out when I pulled up to his place, so I left the engine and lights shined on the front porch. It wasn’t like him to hide away the way he was. Something was seriously wrong.
If I knew sex would change everything this much, I wouldn’t have let him hit it. Who am I kidding? I totally would.
“Erik,” I said as I knocked against the door.
He didn’t answer, so I used the side fence door to check out the situation on the back porch. It was just as dark, just as quiet.
“Yo, Erik,” I called up to his window.
Threw my voice. Threw rocks. Threw a fit on his front lawn under the spotlights of my Jeep. It was no use. He wouldn’t come out, so I had to go in.
There was a hidden key under a dead plant on his front porch. It slipped in like butter to the lock, but I was hit hard before I had a chance to call out to him.
“Wake up, you lying fuck.”
Water slapped me across the face before a fist connected with my jaw, throwing me into the harsh lucidity of the waking world.
“Erik, what the hell are you doing?”
Erik stood mad and bare chested in front of me surrounded by darkness.
“How dare you wear their skin. Use their voice.” He threw more water into my face. “Be gone darkness. Be gone from this place.”
The light shining down on us must be from his garage’s lamp. Made sense with the harsh smell of oil and coolant from his truck’s leaky engine. What didn’t make sense is why he had me tied up and was wailing on me like I was his meat.
We had thrown some harsh pranks on each other over the years, but this one was really taking the cake. I could taste blood in my mouth and felt some trickling down my face.
“Enough, man, whatever it is I did, I’m fucking sorry. Let me go.” I struggled against the belts binding my hands and feet.
“You’re not going anywhere until you let my best friend go,” Erik said, stepping away from me to go toward the darkness.
My eyes couldn’t adjust to the space around me with the light in front of me, blasting everything out. There was some clanking in the dark and the sound of running water.
“Come on, Erik, you’re going to fuck up my hair with that shit.”
His brown muscular torso came back into the light with a crowbar in one hand and a gallon of water with a crucifix resting in it.
I tried to scoot away from him, but he had bolted the chair to the cement of the garage. Stuck, splayed, and ready for a slicing, I had little else to do but say:
“Okay! Okay, slow down.” Holding his fixed wide gaze, I tried to plead with the boy inside the man before me. The boy who had been my best friend through it all.
Through my first day of sixth grade in a new school. Through getting my ass whooped before I even came out. Through me coming out. Through me getting my heart broken for the first time. Through me coming out again. Through me dropping out of college. Through me allowing myself the privilege to fall in love and be hurt all over again.
He was there. Now, I’m here with him. Just like always.
Erik listened to me, giving me the space I needed to gather myself.
“Where did you put them?” he asked, gripping both the crowbar and gallon of water. “I swear on everything that I care about-which isn’t a lot-that I will skin you alive if you’ve killed them.”
He doesn’t think I’m me.
He doesn’t think I’m me.
I can see it in his eyes, he truly doesn’t believe that I am me.
“Let’s say I don’t know who I am. Would you be able to set me straight?” I asked, imploring the shocked and feared expression painted across his face.
Erik sneered at me, flashing his crooked teeth that he despised. “Yeah right. You’re trying to play me for a fool. But I’m not dumb. I know what you are. I see through all this glamor and skin swapping.”
He dropped the crowbar and rushed me, shoving his face into mine and spilling some of the holy water onto my shirt. “I…know…who…you…are,” he whispered into my ear.
Drunk off his intensity and bleeding from his beating, my head swam. “Listen, Erik, pretend with me for a bit and tell me who I am. I’m obviously not going anywhere, so just talk me through everything.”
If I was lucky enough, he’d take the bait. Slow down enough to see that he was just in crisis. All I needed to do was get him to remember, take him back to the beginning, then he’d see.
“You’ve always been here, but it wasn’t until recently I was able to see your real face. The darkness that you hide behind the faces of my friends, my family, my best fucking friend. Your evil is known to me.”
“So, there’s more of me or just one big evil mess over everything in your life?”
He chuckled, but it was empty. All boom no bam. “You’re eternal. You exist everywhere over everything. I couldn’t see any of you before, but now, now I can.”
“Curious,” I said, nodding along to what he said. “And how is it that you are able to see me, the real me, now?”
He turned sharply on me, throwing water onto my face. “Stop trying to get me to tell you what I know. I know what I know because it keeps me alive. Now, tell me where Sam is!”
All the wind was knocked out of me when he threw a punch at my stomach. Still holding the gallon of water, Erik dumps the rest of it over my head.
“Quit it with the water.”
Tears came to his eyes and his voice cracked. “You fucking piece of shit,” he spat. “You killed them, didn’t you?”
“No, Erik, I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do that. I want you to believe me when I say that I am Sam, but if you don’t believe me, then I need a way to make you believe me. You feel?”
His head bobbed up and down as he glanced at me from the corner of his eye. Walking back and forth in the space of the light. “You’ll help me kill them. That’s what Sam would do. They would help me cleanse all this shit. All of you,” he said, pointing at me.
This was bad.
“Kill them how?” I asked.
There was no use fighting against my binds. He was a boy scot for years. His knots were the best.
“You know how.”
“All right. Just untie me and we can start killing some bitches.” I smiled at him, hopeful, ignorant.
“Okay. All right. I’ll let you go but only under one condition. I gotta make sure there’s no way for you to get out.”
“And how exactly do you plan on doing that?”
I knew the answer would scare me, but I didn’t know it would scar me. After he carved a cross into my forearm, he undid the belts around my wrists and ankles, freeing me.
“Thanks,” I said, using my sleeve to cover my fresh tat.
“Don’t thank me. You’re mine until I get you out of Sam’s body.”
I didn’t want to know what would happen when he found out there was no getting me out of my body. If I played my cards right, there was a way I could get him out of the spiral he was in before anyone, especially him, got hurt.
“We have to go to the graveyard,” Erik said, stepping into the dark and flipping the switch for the rest of the lights in the garage to turn on.
As he pulled on his shirt-the same one he wore the other night at his dad’s death anniversary party-, I looked around the room to see if there were any weapons besides the crowbar. Long ago, I had helped him clear the garage out of anything he could use to do himself real harm. The buzz saw, hatchets, chainsaw, and all other blades were locked in the shed at my mom’s house along with most of the tools and ropes. His dad had left him more than just a house and a rattled brain but had provided him with all the tools he needed to be a real man.
Too bad in his father’s eyes he never was. It shouldn’t have surprised me that what Erik said we needed could only be found by digging up his dad’s grave. We must have looked truly outside ourselves, buying shovels at eight o’clock at night-me bleeding and him wide eyed and wild.
The graveyard was up on a hill overlooking the city. Trees hid the gravestones until you were within the graveyard proper, tripping over tombstones and overgrown roots. I knew the way to his dad’s headstone as though it were my own father-wish that bastard was dead instead of just gone, but luck falls on the beautiful not the brave. We walked together in the dark, having the cross in my arm made him relax a bit with me. Or maybe I was truly getting through to him, reminding him of who I was, who he was, who we were together.
“Start digging, we need to harvest before the sun comes up,” Erik said, tossing me one of the fold-out shovels.
“Harvest?” I asked. “Erik, it’s been over five years since we buried your dad. There’s nothing left to harvest.”
That logic near broke him. “Then we’ll harvest whatever is left!”
We dug in silence at first. Me waiting for his anger to subside enough for him to hear me. Him too busy stabbing the earth with the sharp edge of the shovel. Each blow seemed to drive him madder and madder. But nothing lasts forever. Eventually, he collapsed against the dirt wall rising around us.
With the stars hidden by the trees above us, Erik seemed himself for the first time that night.
“I’m too old for this,” he joked.
His eyes moved around us as if they were trying to gain footing, scared and unsure.
“You okay, man?” I asked.
He nodded, then shook his head. A burp of a laugh bubbled out.
“I feel…more than…feverish,” he said. “Let’s keep going.”
“How about we take a break and go find something to eat?”
This time when he nodded it was firm, set in his answer. “No, we have to get what we came for if we’re going to save Sam.”
“Save me from what?”
He started digging again. “Not you. Them. Save them from all the evil shit taking over my life. Sam’s too good for that. They don’t deserve to go down like that.”
“I will if you keep telling me about how all of this works. The evil that’s taken over your life and that shit,” I said, starting to dig again.
Soon we would reach the casket. Then, the body.
“It’s like mold. It’s everywhere. It’s only when it latches on, takes root does it become poisonous. Starts growing out of control. That’s what’s happening here. I see it everywhere. All over everything I touch.”
“Do you see it now?”
He nodded. “It’s in your eyes. The way you look at me. I can see it swimming behind your irises.”
“Maybe that’s just the sleep you’re seeing.”
He shook his head. “Sleep doesn’t make you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Like you are a ghost. Sleep doesn’t do that. Evil does. It twists everything good and makes it sticky tar.”
“How’d all this tar get in anyway?”
“Because I was weak. I let my guard down. Paid attention to the wrong shit, and let my mind get all twisted and turned around. When you’ve got your guard down, that’s when it gets in. Eats away at everything until you have nothing.”
“You don’t have nothing. You’ve got me. You’ve always had me.”
I stopped digging so I could watch Erik. The way he moved the dirt was mechanical. He was more than dissociating, he was in a detached autopilot.
Would I be able to get him to connect, to remember me?
“Stop trying to trick me,” Erik said, looking up from his digging but never stopping. “It’s not going to work. Not while you’ve got that darkness peeking through.”
Aluminum met wood. We were there.
“Hold on,” I said. “There has to be another way.”
“The cure for this sickness is at the beginning of where it started. It’s inside of him. Once I have it, I can get it all gone, clear it out of my system. Save Sam.”
“Okay, yeah, but let’s step outside of this for a moment and think. The last time you saw me-Sam what were you two doing?”
His eyes grew dark. “You don’t get to touch that. That’s private.”
“Yes, yes we did. It was weird and great and it happened. There’s nothing evil about it.”
He punched me, bringing me to my knees in the dirt. This gave him the space to clear out the rest of the dirt from around the casket enough for him to get a grasp on the handle.
I threw myself down on top of it.
“Move before I move you.”
“You wouldn’t. I’m your best friend remember?”
“You’re not my friend. You’re not anything but the thing that stole them.” He seized me by the shirt.
“Listen to me, Erik, whatever it is you think you have to do to fix what’s wrong with you, you don’t have to. We can just handle this moment right now and get out of this grave.” My body lay sprawled across the top of the casket, pleading with my friend, my only friend in the whole world. “Your dead dad wasn’t able to fix anything. He’s more useless now than ever, but we can fix things. We can work together.”
There was a momentarily glint in Erik’s eyes that made it feel like he saw me.
“If that’s true, then you really are evil. Sam would never want me to just turn my back on what I knew was right. They would believe me and do whatever they had to.”
He was right. That’s who I was.
Pulling Erik down on top of me and the casket, I hugged him. We grappled on top of the casket, landing blows on each other that were beyond two friends fighting. I was battling the evil that had taken my friend. He fought the evil he thought he had to erase. We fought for the same thing on opposite sides.
Inside and outside.
That night or another, we’d always be fighting to save the other. It’s not up to you, Erik, to fix anything. You’re perfect in an imperfect world. We all are.
Aigner Loren Wilson is a queer Black SFWA, HWA, and Codex writer. Her work has appeared in Arsenika, Terraform, Rue Morgue, and more. She was listed on the honors list for the Otherwise Fellowship award for 2019. She also writes or edits for Strange Horizons, Nightlight Horror Podcast, Oly Arts, Discover Pods, and more. To sign up for her writing craft newsletter, click here.