June 6, 3:30 pm
Jesus Christ, his name is Kimball!
Richard stood on the hillside, trembling and watching the boy and his girlfriend rapidly jogging across the green lawn, their shoes still in their hands. The emotions that roared through him were hard to name and categorize. But more than anything else, he simply felt disgusted. As his youth had faded, Richard knew well that he had sought to reclaim it in the eyes and the arms of ever younger men. But now, as a ghost, Richard feared he had reached the ultimate, pathetic pinnacle of that slow march.
For the last few hours, he had allowed himself to forget that he was dead, desperately seeking comfort in the meager whiff of intimacy that being a ghost provided to him. He had put his head on the boy’s shoulder. He had read his journal as he scrawled in it with his four-color pen. And he had allowed his loneliness to find just the tiniest comfort in the cold, hard figure of this beautiful young boy, who reminded him so much of who he used to be.
Putting his face in his hands, Richard was overwhelmed by an anxious rush that was equal parts longing and regret. Grasping at fractured young men was sad enough when he was alive. In death, it was nothing short of tragic.
He was dead and cold. His body was rotting in a casket somewhere, or perhaps had already cremated. And his fucking heart still wanted to fall in love with some random, fragile and needy young man.
My whole life has been one long flight from death, he thought.
Was it possible that every young man that had ever shared his life, and shared his bed, had somehow been an extended middle finger to growing old? Perhaps feeling their firm bodies, seeing the desire in their eyes, and feeling himself slide into them, or them into him, was nothing more than a blind refusal to accept that his body had an expiration date. There had been dozens of young men that had shared his bed over the years, from one-night stands to brief, but passionate affairs, to (at last) a marriage that had lasted more than a decade. Had it all really been only a sad denial of his own impending doom?
If it were true, it would be a bitter pill. And sadly futile.
Keith had once told him that, “love is when you care for the welfare of the other person more than you do for your own.” Richard wanted to believe that was true, and that he was capable of such a love. But he’d betrayed Justin when he was put to that test. He’d abandoned him at the very moment that Justin needed him the most. He’d turned his back. And it had killed the boy.
I stole Justin’s innocence and his youth, Richard thought, his anxiety rising to a fever pitch. Not only that, I stole his very life. What kind of vampire does something like that?
He loved Keith, but had he been any more true to him than he had been to Justin? He’d now abandoned Keith even more completely. Richard’s murder was not his choice, but somehow, that didn’t seem to matter in the least.
I promised Keith that I would always be there for him. That I would love him forever. And I failed.
He saw again the way Keith had looked just hours ago, collapsed in that pool of gore—his heart so utterly shattered that Richard feared it could never be mended. His kind, soft, beautiful face twisted with such agony that it put a knife in Richard’s heart.
“Keith!” Richard screamed in a voice so loud and with such longing that he scarcely recognized it as his own.
There was no answer in the park. The grass and sunlight swallowed his voice without a trace. He looked around, and the hillside was empty. Richard had never felt so forlorn, so alone, and he struggled to regain his breath. When he did, his voice was soft. And he spoke with a certainty that suddenly made everything clear.
“What am I doing here?” He fought to take another breath. “I… I need to be… home…”
With that, he ran.
And as he ran, he imagined Keith—alone in that house that he’d fled this morning. How could he have fled from the man he loved? Yes, he’d been in the throes of panic, but he couldn’t afford panic now. The only thing that mattered was Keith, and the absolute certainty that he should never have left him.
It amazed Richard how fast he could run. He had noticed it before, on the way to the park. But perhaps because he had no clear goal that morning, he did not know how fast the dead could truly move. But now, he was zooming past cars and through intersections as if he had wings.
This is how the little ghost girl disappeared so fast, he realized.
Richard raced down the wide Salt Lake streets, and as he ran, he felt more and more guilty for his weakness. Whatever this new reality was, he had to accept it. And he had to stay true to what had been the central and guiding principle of his last ten years.
Keith and I need to be together. Forever.
So he had died. So fucking what? Clearly the universe didn’t think that death was enough reason to keep them apart. Then why should he? He’d come back for a reason! If God, or the Goddess, or the universe, or whatever was telling him they still needed to be together, even after a bullet to his brain, maybe he needed to listen.
He put on a burst of speed, knowing he was getting close to home quickly, and every fiber of his being suddenly told him that finding Keith was not only right, but it was necessary. It had meaning. It was meaning. He was like an arrow pointed toward their house in the Avenues, and in no time he was zipping around pedestrians and cars alike, racing toward the man he loved.
And as he ran, his panic ebbed, being slowly replaced with something he wanted to call hope. He no longer felt winded, as he did that morning. In fact, he was feeling exhilarated. He became curious to see exactly how fast he really could run, so he accelerated again. He shot down the wide sidewalks of 7th East, passing pedestrians as if they were statues, frozen in time.
At first he didn’t even hear the voice. But then it became clearer. Someone was behind him, and they were screaming. He tried to ignore it, but the yelling became louder, and soon he could discern words.
“Stop! Stop running!”
Richard hesitated. He stopped abruptly and turned to look back over his shoulder. He couldn’t focus on anyone on the sidewalk behind him. There were a dozen people there, but he couldn’t tell which of them had yelled. He tried to concentrate and look, but the only thing he could see was that he had stopped in the middle of a street. He looked up and saw the sign. He was on South Temple.
“Move! You’ll be reset!!!” a voice yelled, very close now.
He looked back behind him and caught the eye of a boy, who was quickly (too quickly!) nearing the intersection. Did he have a straw hat in his hand? The boy reached an arm out toward him in slow motion, and Richard was sure he was a hallucination. Or was he another ghost? He had just enough time to lift a hand toward the boy, and then it was too late.
The FedEx truck was going at least thirty miles per hour, racing to get through the light. The driver had no idea that he caught Richard squarely on the grill of the truck, slamming into him with a force that would have easily killed any living human.
Richard Pratt’s body shattered, and he winked out of existence.