By Patrick M. Tracy
“I thought we were happy,” Steve said, his eyes damp. He tried to hold Marty’s hand, but Marty pulled away, the muscle of his jaw jumping.
“You knew I was sad, that nothing was right. You knew that since before we took that trip upstate.” That resentful edge to his voice made Steve want to start crying again, and he’d just stopped.
“I didn’t. I mean, I knew you were depressed, that the sex wasn’t like before, but you wouldn’t ever talk to me.”
“I tried. You’re so unavailable. You never listen. You act like…like nothing’s ever wrong.” Marty slouched down onto the back steps of the club. The alley was plastered with old concert fliers, ramshackle, and smelly. The night had turned cold, and only the shelter of the tall buildings kept the wind from really booming through. Above, trash flew like birds, going out to sea.
Steve stuck his hands deep into his slacks pockets. How come nothing ever worked out? He finally met someone he really liked, but Marty had turned out to be a flake and a drama queen. Still, he never liked quitting on anything. He’d try to make it work. He sat down.
“What can I do? What do you need from me?”
Marty wiped his nose and shook himself. “Well, can you at least acknowledge that there’s a problem?”
Steve shrugged. “Sure. I see there’s a problem now. I don’t understand what it is, but maybe you can tell me.”
“It’s…” He bit his lip.
“Is this about you ogling girls? Are you turning straight on me? Is that what we’re talking about?”
Marty folded into himself. “I always…inside…thought I was wrong.”
“Wrong for being gay? Jesus, Marty. Aren’t we over this now? It’s 2007.”
“It’s not like that. I felt like, inside, I was a woman. I didn’t feel like I was gay, but just…misplaced. When I saw a pretty girl, I’d be so jealous. I’d think about what it was like to be her, to be lucky like that. I thought about how much easier it would have been if I’d been born into the right skin.”
Steve blinked. For a moment, his mind didn’t want to process the words. He’d been read for all the normal problems, all the stuff that happens in a relationship. This…He bit down and put his hand on Marty’s shoulder. “You never said you felt that way.”
Marty leaned into him. “Would you still stay with me…if I was a woman?”
Steve’s heart beat hard. Such a big question. He wished that he hadn’t had those three mojitos. “I think we fall in love with people, not their outward aspect. I have to believe that. Still, I…”
“It’s a long process. I’d still be intact…still male down below, at least to begin with.”
Steve put his head in his hands. “I’d try, Marty. I don’t know if I could feel the same way, but I’d try.”
Marty put his arm over Steve’s shoulder. The look on his face, that massive sense of relief. “I didn’t think you’d understand.”
The footfall at the mouth of the ally broke the moment for them. They looked up, unconsciously disentangling, standing up, trying to make it seem as if they hadn’t been talking about their romantic woes.
“This is all very touching, boys, but I’m afraid your plans will amount to no more than leaves blown by the wind.” He was tall and huge across the shoulders, wearing only a thin silk shirt against the chill of the night. He came in a rush, knocking Steve aside and against the wall of the alley.
On the ground, feeling that his shoulder had to be broken, Steve watched the big guy grab Marty by his collar and hoist him from the ground. God, he was going to beat them, kill them. He was one of those anti-gay psychos…
But no. Steve saw the guy’s face change. Huge, hooked teeth rose from his open mouth. He slashed Marty’s neck, sending a shower of blood across the dirty pavement. One heavy droplet landed on Steve’s shoe. In a moment, Marty was gone, death in white face, collapsed on the broken tar, glazed doll’s eyes staring upward at the moon.
“He did taste a bit womanish,” the creature said. The huge teeth garbled his voice. Blood splashed across his razor-filled mouth like a clown’s makeup. His eyes burned like pale fire in his brow. He turned to Steve, towering over him. The creature reached for him.
“Please…” Steve whispered. He shut his eyes tight, unable to meet the burning gaze. “Marty…”
“It only hurts for a moment. Compared to life, dying is very easy,” the creature told him. “The world runs on death. Some of us just need more than others to get by.” The hands, hot and iron-hard, clasped against his arms, hoisting him up.
Steve braced for the pain. It tore. It burned. The wind whistled for a moment from his broken trachea. As his heart raced, emptying his veins, he opened his eyes again. He fell, body hitting the pavement beside Marty’s. They were together, both looking at the same moon, fleshy puppets, white faced, discarded remnants of the shadow play.