He pressed his hand to the window, watching as icy rivulets of rain carved impotently at the glass, trailing down from the skies, destined for the dingy gutters below. The pane was cool, vibrating with a gentle pulse that synchronized with the flow of the water. It had been raining for three days in a row and he could not be more happy, or more miserable, about the sum of the experience. These days his core nearly always ached for gloomy weather, like an addict seeking the next surge of dopamine. Sunlight gave him no inspiration; only the thick, oppressing gloom called to him, wailing like a Siren through the lonely days and nights. Everything that surrounded him reflected shades of gray; the dim paint in his workspace, the pregnant skies outside, even the dusty light that filtered through the grainy glass and sprayed onto the distressed wooden floor like a wistful sigh.
He had been stranded here of his own volition. Mutineed by a life that had seen him drawn tightly with lines, cast adrift, and finally marooned on an island of his own design. His failures had been absolute, and he reveled within the darkness, his smile a ghostly memory of a past that was never his to control in the first place. It was a curse he both loved and loathed, but one he cared not to remedy. This dark space, this cloistered house, this broken staircase, this ambient drip-drip-drip of a broken faucet were near perfect companions to the dark gray hopelessness that he wore like a pale cloak. He had shrugged into it years ago, and now wore it like a favorite pair of jeans.
Standing, he strode across the vast empty space of his quarters. When a wooden floorboard squeaked he stopped, still as an antelope, then slowly rocking forward and backward on the ball of his foot, allowing the board to squeak in a tortured rhythm. He repeated until the sound reminded him of the taut lines of a docked boat straining against the rise and fall of the seas. He closed his eyes and cast his head back, breathing deeply through his nostrils, straining for a scent of the sea air. It never came, stifled instead by the musty smell of old plaster and rotting wood.
“Take me to the sea, again, someday,” he whispered quietly, his head still held back and his eyes closed.
He slowly opened his eyes as the moldy, cracked paint in the ceiling swam into focus.
As he released his breath in a long, focused effort, he caught it sharply as he was yanked back into focus by a crisp knock at his front door.
He stopped breathing entirely for a moment, staring at the door, daring it to knock again.
The knock came again, with even more alacrity.
He trod carefully over toward the blackened oaken panel, his bare feet plodding almost silently on the wooden floor. A burst of rain immersed the sides of the picture windows, clawing to get in.
He placed a tremulous hand on the bronze knob. The patina dulled the door pull greatly, but it felt ice cold in his right hand, its oblong form sinking gently into his palm. His breath shortened, and his heart seemed to take a different place in his chest altogether.
“Go. If you want to go,” he whispered, pressing his face to the door.
The sharp knock came again, reverberating through the wood as if a shillelagh cracking him on the cheekbone. His arm hairs pricked, and he thrust himself backward and twisted the knob hard, yanking the door back, his face a wretched mask of anger as he started into oblivion.
A wash of grainy white light burst into his gloom, seeming to push the door off its hinges. The slim figure silhouetted in the doorway was bathed in a blue glow, her essence already creeping in through the doors. Tendrils of vapor so much like fingers wrapped her lithe frame, creeping sinuously through the open portal and finding their way, like a lost soul, into his cloister.
He shoved his palms to his face, ushering back the brilliant light, shielding his eyes from the bright glow. He took a startled step backward, his feet scraping callously against the wooden floor. The misty tendrils crept inward and the figure took inside, the vaporous smoke flinging the door shut behind her as she did.
The darkness of his own space pushed back against her, and a balance was soon reached, her shine dulled only moderately by the dim quarters. He dropped to a knee in obsequiousness, his arm still shielding his face.
“I have loved you for a thousand years,” she whispered ethereally, tendrils of colored smoke reaching to him, tracing gestures on his bare forearms. She raised her head, curled tresses blowing in the breeze as she fixed her smoky eyes on his face.
Still bowed on one knee before her, refusing to meet her sultry gaze, he shook his head fiercely. “No. No. There is a sickness here. We are all only sick in here,” he said, shaking his head, the timbre of his voice approaching a near wail.
He thrust his hand forward, urging her back. A sudden gust of wind blasted the glass picture windows open behind him, shattering dozens of small glass panes as a surge of rain attacked the interior like the blast from a shotgun. Long black drapes railed against their captive rods as the wind gusted in, animated the dark curtains like shadowy spectres. His breath escaped him in short bursts and he could see it clouding before him as the temperature in the room dropped to near freezing.
He could not bring himself to look at her. Tears escaped the corners of his eyes, trailing down his cheeks and falling to the floor in silent crystal shatters, nearly frozen. A surge of terror possessed him then and he stood with alacrity, raising his chin to gaze at her, his eyes wide and panic stricken. He pushed his hands forward and grasped her nude shoulders in a futile effort to shove her away. Instantly, the warmth of her porcelain skin thawed his numb fingers and he felt the warmth of her flush beneath them, the tingle of energy jumping from her to his fingertips and spreading to his elbows and shoulders like an electric current. His intent to shove her back was immediately repulsed as his frozen soul seemingly collapsed upon itself like a dark star. He convulsively grasped her arms, the soft, toned muscle beneath filling his grip. She arched her back with a yearning sigh and fell forward into him, her silken breasts pressing against his chest, urging him to capture her. As her flaxen hair fell in waves down upon his chest the two dropped to the hard floor as one, her head landing on his chest, tiny body pressed close to his.
“It will all be lost,” she sighed, pressing her rosebud lips into the side of his neck. “It’s ok. You didn’t die. I’m here to show you the way. Let me,” she breathed sensuously, her warm breath hot against his skin. She gently kissed him on his sharp jawline.
Wispy tendrils of smoke, turning first from blue to green and then yellow encapsulated their bodies, running snake-like over their entwined forms. His head fell back against the hard floor, now wet from rain as it billowed inward from the rapidly intensifying storm outside, his shocked azure eyes staring skyward as they blinked back tears. Rain immersed the pair, soaking their naked skin in chilly liquid before coursing in tiny rivers down their bodies and pooling on the floor beneath them.
She pressed her body against his more firmly, thrusting her hips against him and exhaling with a sigh of ecstasy. He felt her heat against his legs as a sudden surge of fire filled him from his throat to his heels, countering the freezing chill of the icy rain. Resting her hands to the floor she pushed back and arched her spine over him, her hair hanging in wet layers around her face as she met his stony gaze. Little drops of rain dripped from her chin and nose onto his chest, sizzling into steam with a hiss as it made contact with his skin.
Without a thought he was inside of her, pressing himself into her as she returned the motion. They desperately clung to each other, fingers raking against each other’s cool, wet skin, railing against the frigid rain and gloom. The smoky haze wrapped them in a blanket, metamorphosing from yellow into a brilliant ochre. The light in the room flashed, pushing back the gray and the darkness for just a moment, in a fleeting yet perfect moment. Their bodies collided in a clash of violent energy, and for the briefest moment the world was empty; a great void filled only by the sheer power radiating from their intertwined bodies.
With a flash of lightning, an echo of thunder, and a crackle of heat, it was over. Tiny motes of light drifted down around them, falling to the floor and darkening.
She collapsed atop him, inhaling in ragged breaths. He could feel her heart drumming against his chest, racing as she clutched him compulsively. He wrapped his arms around her body, pulling her against him fervently.
“This is how the world ends,” he recited into her ear.
The mists around their forms tugged around her, became more tangible, and suddenly she was nearly weightless, levitating carefully off his body, drawn back and to her feet by an unseen, smoky hand. The tendrils of smoke around her faded from a brilliant ruby hue, darkening until they were jet black. They wrapped tightly around her body, constricting her movement completely. A look of confusion fell across her face as he carefully stood, standing naked before her as the sinister fingers of darkness held her firmly at bay.
“But you never told me why,” she breathed, her voice cracking into a sob.
He turned cautiously away from her and walked, one foot before the other, purposefully, toward the broken, open windows.
The rain fell straight down in fat droplets, a noise like hammered metal ringing in his ears as it came into contact with the hard copper gutters. He felt the broken glass crack under his feet as he walked, warm blood gently seeping out as the shards lacerated his skin.
In a step he stood on the window sill, his arms extended outward against the sash, hands pressing into the wet wood.
He turned his head over his shoulder to look back at her.
“I loved you when the snows came,” he said in a calm, deep baritone, letting his gaze fall upon her beautiful face.
“I loved you in the spring!” she cried, fighting against the black fingers of mist surrounding her. “And I would love you in the summer, too!” she shouted through choking sobs, “I would love you for a thousand more years! Please!” she sobbed, struggling to free herself.
“I have loved you too much,” he said quietly, turning his head away, and looking down from the open window. Tiny gray cars lined the ashen streets below. Grainy sodium vapor lamps cast pallid light on gloomy sidewalks and soaked black asphalt, flecks of rain illuminated momentarily as it fell.
“I have savored perfection in you, and it can never be eclipsed by anything else,” he murmured quietly.
She fell to her knees on the floor, her soaked hair hanging in tatters around her tear streaked face.
He stood, sinewed muscles wetly silhouetted against the demure light of the cold, gray sky and soapy glow of the lamps as the rain fell around him. He cast his blue eyes on the dark horizon. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rumbled.
“I will love you in the fall,” he whispered, finally.