by A.C. Quill
I stumble off the night bus, and find I’m lost in South London. In front of me runs a long, high brick wall. The map app on my phone shows me what’s behind the wall: Nunhead cemetery. A big green obstacle, I’ll have to trudge round the edge of it, if I want to get home.
Or could there be a short cut?
A sudden flash of a memory: me, boosting my friend Tristan up a similar wall. He didn’t weigh much. He’d swung a leg over the top, then cried out: “Spikes! Mind your groin!”
I reach a massive pair of wrought-iron gates. It’s dark, and there’s nobody to see me. I heave myself up the ironwork, my feeble biceps straining, and achieve the summit; I topple down the other side. The ground smashes the breath out of me.
When I open my eyes again, I find I’m on a pale avenue, lined by an honour-guard of trees. At the far end stands a chapel, roofless and fire-gutted. I limp towards it. I see stars through the empty window arches.
The whole place smells of leaf mould, undergrowth, chilly autumn night air. The smell turns me on. That’s a Pavlovian response, from my previous adventures with Tristan.
At the chapel steps, the path splits, and both left and right fork disappear into wooded darkness. I’m a part-time occultist, but I don’t relish walking onwards alone.
Why not phone Tristan, while I walk? He might enjoy mocking my fears.
“Callum!” He sounds startled. “What on earth are you up to?”
“Guess where I am?”
“That was exactly what I was going to ask.”
“Jesus! Not permanently?”
“Just taking a shortcut. You know, you’d love it here.”
His voice softens. “Nunhead! We haven’t fooled around there, have we? Shame. I could pin you against that huge obelisk, and go wild…”
Now I can hear his voice, I feel bolder. I choose the right-hand path, and I stomp away from the chapel, past the urns and ferns.
Tristan and I had first met on a tour of the mausoleums of Highgate. “Why are you here? You’re not even a goth,” he’d accused. He was tiny, raven-haired and indignant.
“I’m a psychogeographer.”
“Ooh, do you want to feel my ambiance?” He’d flicked his pierced tongue at me, while the tour guide frowned. I was a flirt-blind nerd, but Tristan had insisted we meet again at Highgate that night, and he’d lured me over the wall.
“We’ll look like grave robbers,” I’d objected.
“Resurrection men.” Tristan had stroked the railings. “I bet I could make you rise again.”
Inside the cemetery, he’d pressed me up against a stone pillar. His mouth had been slippery with black lipstick and so hot and perfect I thought I’d pass out. His fingers sneaked up under my T-shirt and brushed my nipples, making me gasp.
“Oh yes,” he’d murmured. “You’ll do.” I let him sit me on the marble of a low flat grave and straddle my lap. My arse had frozen, my hardening cock had been pressed against his ridiculous lace-up leather trousers. “You’ll definitely do.”
At the other end of my phone, Tristan is drifting into his own reminiscences. “We vowed to visit all of them, the seven big old London cemeteries…”
“We didn’t vow,” I object. “You just kept organising our next date around the next graveyard.”
“You didn’t say no.”
“I said no to some things.” I’d refused (after that first time) to roll around on the graves. Too disrespectful. So we’d started making out on memorial benches. In Memory of Timothy, Who Loved This Place. Cheers, Tim, I’m enjoying it, too. We’d unlaced Tristan’s goth clobber to expose bits of his skin to the night air, traced each other with shaking hands.
Tristan had been so infinitely sensitive. His responsiveness had been very useful, because there was a limited amount you could sexually achieve in a chill graveyard. I’d often wriggle my hand down into his trousers and slide my icy fingers up into his hot wetness. Tricky for him to come, that way, but impossible for either of us to break away, every sensation creating more need.
Suddenly I see a familiar shape silhouetted ahead of me. I’ve come back to the roofless chapel, the path delivering me to its threshold again. “Oh, piss. I must have missed a turn-off.” I retrace my steps, faster this time. Ivy tries to trip me, roots thick as my finger.
“You’re definitely feeling OK?”
“Yeah, just got a bit lost.”
“But you’re usually such a boy scout. Remember when you brought a blanket!” Tristan cackles.
“It was a sensible precaution!” I’d wanted the soft tartan rug to cover up the sharp stones and enable us to fuck, so I could fill Tristan up and feel him spasm round me.
“As though we were going for a picnic in the Peak District.” He was pretending not to remember, how I’d got what I wanted: we’d spread the blanket down between two table tombs and he’d pushed back against me, begged me to go deeper. Angel statues had looked down on us, pallid and calm.
“Sorry I wasn’t transgressive enough for you,” I faux-apologised. “What was that short story you liked, where the two lads shagged in a crypt?”
“His Mouth will Taste of Wormwood. Splendidly decadent. And what did you call it?”
“His Nob Will Taste of Fishfood?”
Tristan sighed. “Philistine. Good job I was so easy-going. And portable.”
God, I’d forgotten that. I’d lifted him up entirely, one time, and pinned him against a thick yew tree. Ground into him, made him howl. “So you were.”
The trees whisper overhead, an owl hoots, but Tristan’s voice keeps me going. Stiffens my resolve, if you like. I’m getting so hard it’s difficult to walk.
“Do you remember that time you saw a ghost?” I ask him, to change to a less stimulating subject. “In West Norwood. You looked over my shoulder…” I’d been on my knees in the mud, licking his delicious small wet cock, but I can leave that part out. “You said: there’s a ghost over there.”
“And you didn’t believe me.”
“What did it look like?” I ask, to placate him. “The ghost?”
“Tall, pale, pissed off. I mean, I know what it was, now.”
“Too much cider?”
“It was you.”
He sounds deadly serious, so I try to be open-minded. “What, gone back in time?”
“Ghosts are untethered in time, aren’t they?”
“You think I’ll spend my afterlife watching myself have sex?”
“Of course! It’s fun! And it’s ethical voyeurism.”
A high building appears ahead, dotted with Gothic nobbles. Have I reached the exit gates, on the far side of the graveyard? No, it’s the bloody chapel, again. I won’t tell Tristan I’ve walked in a circle twice, he’d crow about it. I sink down to sit on the chapel steps. I think of tender things, suddenly: wrapping him in my coat, holding him under my arm, kissing him softly. “What are you up to? We could meet here. Tick it off our bucket list.”
“Callum, I don’t think you’re in any fit state.”
“You’re calling me on the phone, yes? But I’m not hearing you on the phone. I’m messing around with a Ouija board.”
“I’m afraid so. I’d hardly asked is there anybody there, when you came through the ether, frisky as a premium-rate phoneline…”
I hold my phone at arm’s length and stare at it. It looks utterly normal.
Tristan’s voice is tinny: “I hate to ask, but have you been in an accident?”
I look back down the avenue which brought me into the cemetery. At the foot of the gates, on the gravel, is an ominous slumped shape. “Well, it looks like I fell off a twelve-foot iron gate.”
For once, he doesn’t tease me. “Oh dear. Well, you might not be dead! You might be astrally projecting.”
I steal myself and peer closer at my own body, see my chest rise and fall. “Oh, thank heaven, I’m breathing.”
“I’ll call you an ambulance.”
“Will you ring me back, after that?”
“Of course! If I can. You sit tight and think happy thoughts.”
“I’ll think about your awful lace-up leather trousers.”
“You loved them. You used to rip them off me!”
“So I didn’t have to look at them!”
Tristan hangs up. I certainly don’t feel dead, or dying. I feel more alive than ever, with the stone beneath me and the stars above, hungry to hear Tristan’s voice again.
A.C.Quill is English and queer, and writes in their study with a roaring fire while it rains outside. Their work has appeared on the Circlet Press site as microfictions, and Cunning Linguists: Language, Literature, and Lechery by the New Smut Project.