Flesh

by Cory O’Neile

 

It was past midnight when we finally tumbled back through Finton’s door, stumbling and giggling over the threshold and onto the soft cream-white carpet. I had my arm around his neck for support, hanging from him as he half-carried me inside. Finn’s face was red with his large smile and snorting laugh, and when we were safely inside he promptly dumped me on the floor.

I shrieked as I rolled over, snatching at his leg, but he’d already hopped out of my reach, poking out his tongue. I rolled over onto my back and looked at him upside-down as he exited the hallway into the downstairs lounge area and vanished from sight, leaving me on the floor. The front door was still wide open and the light from the porch illuminated the darkened hallway behind me.

Finn’s house was huge, two storeys with a twisting, carpeted staircase at the end of the entrance hallway. Well . . . I say his house, but it really belongs to his parents. They’ve been overseas for two weeks, leaving him all alone over the end-of-year break after graduation; Craig and Becca weren’t coming back until after New Year’s. He had it all to himself, like his own private castle. It’d been a full year since I’d been here last, and in the night it seemed a lot less majestic and a lot more sinister.

I looked down the hallway. Even with the light shining in from outside, darkness still crouched – no, that’s the wrong word – the darkness overhung, smothering everything past the door into the lounge. I could see the staircase at the end, a blurry shadow amid the smoke. It rose into the ceiling, as if inviting me upstairs into the utter black. My mind conjured up images of lurking creatures; beasts stalking through the halls. My skin broke out in goosebumps as the darkness seemed to swell, like it was reaching out towards me with tendrils of shadow.

The light in the lounge flicked on and the shadows flinched back, my imagination settling back down. Finn strolled back through the archway into the hall. He’d kicked his shoes off and his white ankle socks sank into the carpet. I noticed with what I hoped wasn’t a conspicuous series of heavy blinks that he’d undone the top buttons of his shirt, and a small tingle ran through me, the tiniest of rushes in my fingertips and stomach.

Huh . . . that was odd. I mean, don’t get the wrong idea here; there really isn’t much in terms of impressive physique under there. Finn’s skinny, a real sack of ribs and wrists, with just the bare minimum of muscle required to not be visibly bony. It definitely wasn’t his achingly-gorgeous body that was making me fluttery, that was for sure. It was being here, in his house, with his shirt undone. It was just slightly intimate, that was all.

“Close the door before any bugs get in,” he said. I pushed the wooden slab with my foot and it swung around, shutting with a slam. The lock automatically latched. Finn took my hand and pulled me to my feet. His skin was warm. He was always warm.

“You can stay the night if you want,” he said casually, and I smiled as if my heart wasn’t suddenly racing at a hundred miles an hour.

I’m not sure if I like Finn romantically, exactly. We’ve been friends for years, sure, since meeting in the first few weeks of junior school seven years ago, but my feelings towards him have always been just that: friendly. But tonight, I’m feeling something new that wasn’t there before. Maybe it was the couple of drinks I had at the post-graduation party early tonight, or the fact that he took me for a drive around town when the cops came and broke the thing up (Finn, like usual, hadn’t drunk anything). Maybe it was just being here in his house after he chose me to dedicate the night towards. Whatever the cause was, I’m not consciously aware of it. But something that was in my scope of awareness was that I was very quickly finding Finton Greaves to be a desirable individual. I guess he’s not unattractive; like I said, he’s no sex-god, but there was still something visually appealing about his heavily-browed eyes that were both intelligent and warm at the same time, set into his open, grinning face. Finn was bright and charming, down to earth but at the same time as airy as a fairy; he was unpredictable in the sort of way that made him weirdly predictable. You could always count on him to have some stupid, irrelevant fun fact on hand to keep things interesting, as he put it.

All this barged through my mind at once, and then with that same smile on my face, I said, “Thanks.”

He was still holding my hand as he grinned back. “Awesome.” He pulled me gently back, spinning me under his arm in a dance move reminiscent of something from Victorian England, and together we swayed under the arch into the brightly-lit lounge room. I kicked off my shoes as we’d entered; the white carpet felt pleasantly foreign under my feet. After letting go of my hand, Finn skirted rhythmically around the leather couch to a tune only he could hear and lightly lowered himself onto the two-seater, gesturing for me to do the same. I descended onto the leather beside him and we faced each other cross-legged.

“How’s the writing?” I asked. Finn’s ambition was as an author. He’d won some big award a few months ago for a short story he’d entered and was studying writing at university come February. A little pang went through me when I remembered I was studying at a different uni. Psychology, I’d decided, after thinking about and rejecting almost everything else. If anything, it might help me understand how people tick a little more, which I figure was more useful for a makeshift career than a literary major.

“Pretty good,” Finn said, but his voice seemed rather detached. “You know, got some ideas rolling around.” He chuckled a little. “Hard to choose one to go with, sometimes.”

“I’ll never know how you people do it,” I said, and he looked at me curiously, smirking with his eyes.

“Do what?”

“Well, do stories, I suppose” I said. “Like, there are so many books and shows and movies out there, and some are terrible, but a lot are amazing. It’s just cool how you can make a whole world like that, right out of your mind.” I gestured towards him. “Where do you get your ideas?”

“Mine, specifically?”

“Yeah.”

Finn shrugged a shoulder, as if he’d never even considered it, and for all I knew he never had until now. “Just from the world. Watching people around me, taking things I like and sometimes things I don’t. Dreams.”

“You get ideas from dreams?”

Finn nodded, but wasn’t smiling anymore. I suddenly realised that he had shadows under his eyes and wondered how long he’d had them. Without his smile he just looked weary, and the shadows emphasised that a lot. “I dream a lot,” he said quietly.

“You don’t talk about them often.”

“Not really. They recur a lot. They’re vivid to me, but only while they’re happening. I find it hard to remember details afterwards, when I wake up, I mean. I can only just remember the mood. You know?”

I nodded, but I couldn’t really relate. My dreams were madcap and fleeting, usually involving school or my family in bizarre scenarios. My dreams don’t really tend to mean anything.

Finn seemed to brighten all of a sudden. “Hey, do you wanna hear a cool fun fact?”

“Oh, no.”

“Did you know-“

“Here it comes. . .”

He gave me a gently reproachful look, and then his face turned serious, but not the same serious he’d been wearing a moment earlier. This was faux-serious. It seemed purposefully fake, especially after the genuineness just before. “Did you know,” he said in a dramatic tone that made me roll my eyes, “that . . . if you clench your anus, it’s easier to cheat on lie detector tests.”

I punched him lightly in the stomach, scoffing. “Typical boy!” He folded easily under the punch, laughing hysterically, and managed to snort out the words “It’s true.”

“Oh, really?”

“Of course,” he said, nodding eagerly, sitting up again. His face was mock-serious again, but there was a very noticeable smirk hidden just beneath. “So on that thought, let’s play a game. A lie detector game. I ask you questions and you answer them, and I have to guess whether or not the answers are true, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Alright. Before we start, are you clenching your anus?”

“There isn’t an anus in the world more clenched than mine is clenched right now.”

“Ooh, kinky,” he said with a wink, causing an entirely involuntary spark to rocket through my brain. I tried to force my heart to slow down a little.

“Just ask the questions, numb-nuts,” I said, trying to distract from what I hoped wasn’t a blush with a laugh and a head-shake. He looked at me closely, examining my face as if to capture an image of it in his mind, and I furiously tried to stop myself from turning even more red. He didn’t seem to notice.

“To start with,” he began slowly, “what’s your name?”

“Vladimir Putin.”

“No, it’s not.” Finn pointed at me with exaggerated care. “You’re lying.”

“What gave it away, my boobs or the fact that I’m not the President of Russia?”

“Your boobs. Come on, what’s your name?”

“Holly Curtis.”

Finn nodded, concentrating heavily, and steepled his fingers in front of his face. “I think you’re telling the truth. Alright, next question. Something I don’t already know this time.” He paused. “I can never think of questions when I need to. What were your first words?”

I actually don’t know this.

“No idea whatsoever,” I said.

“Those are some advanced first words.”

“I was a gifted child.”

Finn smirked. “I believe you. Have you ever wet your pants?”

“No.”

Finn winked. I scowled.

“You’re obviously not clenching your anus tight enough.”

“Shut up, Finton.”

He held up his hands in mercy. “Last question, then, last question.” He was quiet for a second, as if considering something, and then said in a voice that sent a small shiver down my spine, “What are you thinking about right now?”

My voice caught, and my mind froze, and I didn’t say anything, just looked at him, and he looked back at me.

The air between us grew thick as we gazed at each other. I suddenly became aware that I could feel my own heartbeat straight through my chest. My fingers shook slightly. Finn’s hand had found its way to my knee, stroking it softly. The skin tingled where his fingers traced their way. I glanced down, and then back into his eyes.

Finn perked his eyebrow, an expression of questioning thought slowly growing on his face, and I dipped my head, an involuntary grin breaking out.

“What?” he said, smiling gently.

“What’s with that face?”

“What face?” He looked genuinely confused. I shook my head slowly and realised I was biting my lip. Finn stared me at for a few seconds, but then the doubt in his eyes broke like a wave and blossomed into an absolute steely confidence I’d never seen him wear before. It was dominant, authoritative. He put his hand on my neck – so warm – and pulled me gently but unflinchingly forward.

Oh god, this was happening. And it was happening now.

Finn’s mouth was hot, feverish on mine, and sent a lightning bolt of lust through my brain. His hands shifted over me, holding me at the waist, and his pull was constant, bringing me closer and closer to him. Him. I began to breathe heavier as the thought of Finn reconciled with the very physical Finn in front of me, and as I pressed up against his chest I could feel his own breath quickening in time with mine.

When we broke apart he put both his hands on either side of my face and his forehead against mine, staring intensely as if he could see into my very soul and snatch up the raw desire that rested there. There was a ravenous hunger in his pupils, and when he kissed me again he moved with a rhythm and all at once he’d pulled me flat up against him so that I was almost sitting on his lap. Our hearts beat a fast tango together.

Little firecrackers of ecstasy burst on my tongue. Finn tasted like a new spice I’d never had before, but that I’d smelt in bistros and restaurants for years. The alcohol from earlier in the night dulled the tiny voice in the back of my head telling me it wasn’t wise to go so quickly, and I eagerly ignored it as Finn’s hands danced over my neck, my thigh, my waist. By now I’d abandoned my cross-legged stance, holding myself upright with one leg stretching to the floor, the other folded under me.

“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this,” he murmured into my ear when we paused for breath. Finn slipped both hands under my shirt and pulled it over my head, and I quickly returned the gesture. The clothes hit the floor next to each other. His fingers closed around my left breast and he began to kiss my collarbone; my skin buzzed where his lips touched. Small, pleasure-dripping whimpers escaped my mouth, as I closed my eyes and let him roam, shivering every time I felt his teeth bite softly on loose skin. Moments later the bra followed the shirts and we collapsed back onto the leather, wrestling and writhing.

The rest of the night was lost to pleasure as the small pile of garments on the floor grew higher. All that mattered was the numbing pleasure, the heaving muscles and bare flesh and the layers of sweat, until we finally drifted to sleep exhausted and entwined what felt like hours later. The night faded around my mind and the shadows seemed to blur; as I slipped into the depths of a much-needed sleep, Finn’s heartbeat slowed to a steady pace and his breathing became regular.

He was so warm.

I was just beginning to dream when I felt on the very edge of my awareness a pair of arms scoop under me and lift me from the carpet, holding me almost like a baby. I rolled in my carrier’s grasp, feeling bare skin beneath mine. His scent drifted into my nostrils.

“Mmm . . .” I sighed, still half-asleep. The small shock of Finn’s footsteps reverberated through my body, but I could tell he was taking as much care as he could not to wake me.

“Where . . . we going?”

“Shhh . . .” he whispered, his husky tired-voice only inches from my ear. “Taking you to bed. You can keep sleeping.”

Dimly, with my eyes still closed, I smiled dreamily. “Phm . . . Fine where I was.”

Finn just chuckled, and as I drifted back into the heavy folds of the resting sea a cold breeze blew over my face and I felt the ground dip. But by then I was too far gone.

000

When I woke, I woke painfully and upright with a throbbing pain in my lower back and a mouth as dry as the moon. Blearily, I opened my eyes, only to find that the darkness around me was absolute. I couldn’t see a thing. When I tried to move, to get up, to find light, I immediately discovered myself easily resisted; my arms were pinned to my sides, my legs as unmoving as the trunks of trees. Beneath me, I could feel the sturdy seat of an armless wooden chair.

Oh, God, G-God!”

My tiny voice broke, a half-sob choking from my throat and echoing from the solid walls. It bounced straight back to me, sounding hollow and pitiful even to my own ears. Pure terror filled me to the brim and overflowed.

There was no one . . . no one to hear, no one to help. I was alone. Trapped, strapped to a chair in . . . where was I? My dreams filled my mind until I forced through the messy throng and thought back to last night, when I’d . . . I’d opened my body to Finn. What had happened after that?

I realised that I was still naked, and somehow that made me feel even more vulnerable. I was freezing – even my bones ached from the cold – and somewhere in my mind I noted that it shouldn’t be like that. It was summer, for Christ’s sake, the nights were steamy. I decided that I must be underground, but that didn’t make any sense at all. Last I knew, I’d been in Finn’s house.

My throat was dry, my very own personal desert inside my mouth, and my tongue was heavy and deadweight like a sack of mud that someone had abandoned in the sand. I tried to cry out again, but the searing at the back of that empty cavity of a mouth cut the effort in half. Only another rasping squeak.

Around me the room was inky black, a thick blanket of shadow. I closed my eyes, and then opened them again, and realised that as my eyes very slowly adjusted I could see objects; vague outlines against the walls, which from the echo I guessed were made of concrete. The outlines formed shapes I couldn’t discern. They surrounded me like watchers in the night, and suddenly my imagination went into overdrive. They were hunters, closing in. The darkness seemed to swell, growing thicker, more clotted, surrounding me, pushing at me with the promise of silence forever. I jerked violently and pulled, but my bindings were too tight. I couldn’t move.

I must have sat there whimpering and crying without tears for at least half an hour before there was an impossibly loud clunk and moonlight poured into the blackness, chasing it away enough to see by. A door had opened opposite me, and through it came a shadow. The fear doubled as the figure loomed in the doorframe, fumbling blindly against the wall until with a small murmur of assurance it flicked a switch.
The light was like a miniature sun revolving over my head. After the groping darkness it was agonisingly bright.

“There we go . . .” muttered a voice, and to my horror, I recognised it.

“Finn?” I croaked.

My vision emerged triumphant over the glare, trickling through the cracks in my eyes to reveal him there. He wore an old white shirt and some worn pants. Finton Greaves swung the heavy door around and it closed with a muffled thump.

Finn didn’t speak, barely even looked at me. I twisted my neck and glanced around me. The room was a concrete bunker, four by four maybe, and entirely empty except for Finton, the chair I was tied to, and a small stool in the corner. Finn grabbed the stool now and put it in front of me. In his hand, he held a stainless-steel kitchen knife. I eyed it with alarm, but Finn set it down easily on the floor beside him.

And then he sat, and looked at me.

“Finn . . .”

He looked as tired as I felt, haggard as an old dog, with unkempt hair. He looked at me entirely without expression, without pity or affection or even anger or hostility. Just nothing. His face was like the room around me; empty.

“Finn, what is . . . what are you doing?”

He looked slowly around the room, and bit his lip.

“I’ve dreamed about this,” he said. His voice was different, harsher. It sounded like it had a pang of regret in it, but it was overlain with too much apathy to be significant. “For weeks. Of you. And me. Here.”

“W-What?”

“I haven’t been able to get it out of my head,” he sighed, shaking his head. He was leaning with his elbows on his knees, like we were having a casual chat. “I guess you want to know where we are. I found it two years ago; it’s an old bunker, hidden under a plate at the back of the yard. I didn’t tell Mum or Dad when I found it. I wanted it, my own little Fortress of Solitude. Had to replace the bulb, of course, but all the electricity still works. And more importantly, we’re completely sealed in here. You can scream as loud as you want.”

“S-scream?” I murmured. I couldn’t quite comprehend what he was saying. His expression turned almost sorrowful for me, like he was sympathetic of my situation, despite causing it. Seeing his sympathy caused something to rouse in my gut, a gurgling of resentment that filled out my terror a little. He was acting too normal, but at the same time this was not normal at all. It was Finn’s body, but this person speaking was not Finn.

Or at least . . . not who I thought Finn was . . . What did I really know about him? About who he was . . .? I flickered my gaze to the bare knife resting on the floor.

I’ve dreamed about this for weeks.

I stammered out another question. “What time is it?”

“Almost three,” he said quietly.

I swallowed painfully. And then . . .

“Finn, why are we here?”

And then – at my words – his face came to life, a horrible emotion that wasn’t glee, but something closer to anticipation.

“I’m here to discover something I need to know. And you, well . . . you’re here as the subject.”

What was he talking about? My mind felt like a fragile shell. “What are you . . . no . . . I . . . I gave myself to you . . .” I said. The events of the night before welled in my mind, the lust and the passion. I’d loved it, I realised. I felt sick when I thought of what it might have meant for him, a trick, a ruse, all to get me down here. “Let you . . .”

Finn settled back on his stool, breathing slowly out through his mouth. He swallowed delicately without saying anything, and suddenly I wanted to hurt him. Hurt him like he was hurting me now.

Why are you doing this?” My voice broke as I screamed at him, and I couldn’t stop the burning in my eyes or the tears that began to leak out, forging twin tracks down my cheeks. The searing at the back of my throat reached a peak and I broke into a coughing fit, punctuated by a pair of wracking sobs. Finn winced. I saw him through the rippling veils obscuring my vision. Neither of us spoke for over a minute, and soon the only sound was my crying. It echoed slightly off the empty walls.

“How did it feel?” Finn asked suddenly. He leaned forward, very delicately and very deliberately, until his mouth was uncomfortably close to my face, his cheek brushing against mine. His voice, low, suddenly sensual, breathed a couple of inches from my ear. It was thick, as if he were trying to hold himself in check. It sounded excited, almost. “Tell me how it felt. When I penetrated you, and you whimpered my name, and bit down on my shoulder. Is it what you wanted? Is it what you’ve wanted for such a long time, Holly? Or was it just pleasure in the moment, something to roll with?” I felt his cheek press into mine, just a little bit, and I realised he was smiling. Smiling. “Imagine being able to express that,” Finn murmured. His hands feathered against my stomach, the bare skin brushing softly against mine, caressing me, in a slow, steady rhythm. “Imagine being able to put those feelings, that pleasure, down on paper, so accurately, so truthfully, that all kinds of people would be able to read those words you chose and feel them too, the same way you felt it. That would be incredible. That’s what I want. It’s what I need.”

“You’re a psychopath,” I shrieked. His hands disappeared from my skin. “You’re a . . . a goddamn . . . lunatic!”

“Oh, no. No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head, and then his face was in front of mine, those blue eyes staring at me in one continuous held gaze. They suddenly looked more serious than I’d ever seen them before. His voice sped up. “I’m not like any of them. Lunatics and psychos, they don’t know what’s wrong and what’s right. They can’t understand your emotions. I’m not like that at all. I know what I’m doing is wrong. Immoral, cruel, even evil. I’m not a psychopath. I’m a writer. A normal person. And I know – or at least I can guess – what you might be feeling right now. I can understand that, Holly, trust me. I can feel just like you can. It hurts me to do this too; you have no idea how much this hurts, inside, in my heart and in my brain. But I also know that it’s what I have to do. It’s what my dreams have been leading up to for weeks, where I have to go. I’m not a guy who settles for artistic license. I want it all to be true, as realistic as I can make it. I want every sensation, every thought, every image, every expression, to all be real.”

Finn grabbed at my chin roughly, his fingers horribly strong. They were still so warm. He forced me to look into his face, twisting my head toward him, and his uncompromising eyes blazed at me. There was a glint in them I’d never seen before; a newborn anger and maniacal glee, and suddenly I knew I was gazing at the maturation of madness. The shadows under his eyes . . . they were like pits, deep, dark pits. It was impossible to escape the pits, they were there, right there beneath him, and I realised as I stared at him that their owner had passed the event horizon of that black hole long ago. He’d always had the shadows under his eyes. Always, and I’d never noticed. They weren’t from tiredness, but from this, this insanity, the berserk monster beneath his flesh that was now unbound and unleashed, ready to feed on me.

“The only way to accurately portray something is to have lived it,” Finton was saying, his mouth all teeth and tongue. His eyes crinkled at the corners. “It’s my duty, Holly, my duty as a creator to tell the truth, the truth, only the truth. I cannot lie to readers. I cannot lie. But I cannot tell the truth without knowing what it feels like.”

“What what feels like . . .?” I asked, almost too afraid to hear the answer. My heart was assaulting my chest in a hasty rhythm, and my mind quailed beneath a deluge of disembodied screams and panic, which I realised was my subconscious telling me to get the hell out of there. But the tape was too strong around my limbs, and even if I got free I’d still have to deal with Finn himself. I wasn’t sure if I could take him, not when he was like this. And the knife was well within his grasp.

Finn’s face was close against mine again, and without meaning to I let out a small whimper of revulsion as I felt him delicately kiss my jawbone before his lips moved to my ear.

Everything.

And then he moved, his hand a blur as he snatched up the blade on the floor and pressed it against my throat. I inhaled sharply, my teeth clenched together so hard that it felt like my teeth would shatter. Finn gazed into my pupils. He was breathing hard as well. His eyes were animalistic.

“I had to know what it was like to know you in a way I’ve never felt before,” he said. “I had to know what it’s like to feel you in every way, to experience you. Last night was genuine, Holly, you have to believe me. I’ve loved you since we danced together at the Year Ten Social. I’ve wanted to protect you – to have you – for so long. But I was too scared to do anything about it. But then the dreams began, and I knew the story I wanted to write; I can’t lie to readers, Holly. I’m sorry . . . I’m sorry. Killing just anyone isn’t enough, not like last time. I have to know what it’s like to murder someone I can’t live without. To feel your blood rushing over my fingers, and hear your voice breaking as you die in my hands.”

. . . not like last time . . .

The knife was shaking madly against my throat. I felt the narrow edge, caressing my skin, and when it suddenly bit into me I cried out. I turned to ice for several seconds before realising that it had only been a slip. A trickle of blood ran down over my collarbones, and a sharp sting registered somewhere in my brain, but the cut wasn’t fatal. Not yet, anyway.

“You’ve killed someone before?” I gasped the words out, trying not to move too much in case Finn accidentally cut me again. I was sitting as hard against the chair as I could, with my head stretched back, but the tape held me in place and Finn wasn’t giving me any distance.

“Twice,” he stammered, and even though I was mainly trying to distract him a small part of me turned black with dread. I’d been friends with a murderer without even knowing it, without even suspecting. The revelation made me feel violated in more ways than one.

“The first was last year,” Finn began, speaking quickly. He wasn’t calm anymore. His voice was high and jumpy, and his eyes unfocussed. “I pretended to be sick, stayed home. When my parents left for work I walked over to Benedict Avenue and climbed the back fence of a house I knew a night-shift worker lived at. I found an unlocked window and killed him while he slept with a spade I’d found in the shed.”

I remembered hearing about the murder on the news. It had been Finn this entire time. My face went pale. “And the second?”

“On holiday a few months later in Thailand,” Finn said. “Hotel room, pretended I was room service and strangled the woman inside.”

“Why?”

Finn looked down at the knife and then back up at me. His face had begun turning green as he’d been speaking. “Curiosity. And because I wanted to know what it felt like to look into the face of someone I’d just killed. I have to be accurate.”

Saying it seemed to reassure him. He began murmuring it under his breath, “Have to be accurate, have to be accurate”.

“You’re going to kill me?” I didn’t even know what I was saying, but it felt like it the only thing left I could do. I could hear my own voice, barely a whisper, echoing from the concrete walls, the concrete walls which I knew would hide me forever. Finn had said his parents didn’t even know this place existed; I could rot down here and no one would ever find me. The thought filled me with a sickening sensation of being lost. My thoughts turned to my own parents, my Mum and Dad, how they’d never find me, never know what happened to me, while all the while it’d been him who’d stolen me from them, the boy they’d met and approved of, despite my frequent admonishing that we weren’t dating. He’d stolen me from them, all for a story.

It occurred to me with sudden blinding clarity that I was at the end of my life.

“What are you going to write?” I felt myself ask. I was barely audible, even to my own ears, but Finn seemed to hear me very clearly. He looked up, right into my eyes, and smiled gently. The knife stilled against my skin, tight over my throat, and Finn leaned forward and kissed me, still so softly, before his grin widened.

“This,” he smirked.

The last sight I ever saw was Finn’s face.

The face of my friend.

The face of my lover.

And the face of my killer.