“…so I gave you the flashlight, and you can use this dolly to make it easier.” Shark pointed to the metal cart. “I mean, nothing should weigh more than you.”
“And you’re not gonna be down there with me,” said Harwood, as he clung to the young man.
“I’ll join you in a bit. Dad has to discuss grandpa’s will with me…again. I mean, they kept the worst of their stuff at the warehouse anyways. It’s just boxes of clothes we’re gonna burn.”
Shark should have known better than to drag his elderly boyfriend to move some boxes. Harwood was a useless weakling well back in his prime, let alone in his twilight years. But he accepted the offer, as an afternoon without Shark sounded worse than an afternoon with him. Even if it was at Shark’s old family home, with all the horrors that came with it.
Ever since Harwood moved to Twinbrook as a toddling child, he heard all the rumors about the Racket family. Did they deal in guns, whores, drugs, or all three? It was something bad, no doubt. Everyone knew a personal friend or uncle that the Rackets murdered. He swore to stay away…until his good friend Annette married into the family. And then, when he least expected it, the family produced an upstanding man like Shark.
He was so upstanding, that there was no way that Shark was wrong about what lurked underground. Harwood took a deep breath and gave Shark an extra squeeze around the waist.
Harwood crept down the stairs alone, dragging the dolly down with him. It bounded horribly on the stairs, but at least it was light on its own. But the work?
It was not going to be some light moving. They packed the basement as tight as they could, leaving only a maze-like path through the junk. As soon as Harwood saw the pair of sniper rifles to his right, he had a terrifying feeling that it would only get worse.
At first, it went okay. None of the wooden crates had blue stickers on them. Neither did the violin, nor the easel, nor either of the rifles. Maybe he could tear down that old call-girl poster and burn it anyways. But nothing fell on him and he didn’t fall, which was a good sign.
And then the lights went out.
The basement was hardly well-lit before that, but the shift to near-blackness almost made Harwood yelp. He then struggled to find the flashlight in his jeans’ pocket.
“Okay…someone probably just switched on a circuit breaker,” he muttered. “But if those are in the basement…no, hold it together.” The LED flashlight lit up enough of the room for him.
There were boxes on the shelf of more rifles too, and none of them had blue stickers. Neither did the containers in back of him. Nor the rifles, nor the handguns, and there wasn’t a path to the boxing gloves and tournament belts hanging on the wall. But if he remembered right, Max was a boxer in high school. And Harwood knew all too well how much of a punch he had.
He was about to move forward, until he noticed a stack of green, hardcover books sitting on a crate. No stickers, but the name and year stuck out to him. Stary Community School of Twinbrook, 1965. That was just two years before he graduated! With help from the flashlight, Harwood could read and remind himself of what an awkward teenager he was.
He didn’t get lost in it for long. The page he turned to was the list of superlatives. It was done on a school-wide level, so Harwood tended to get something each year. 1967 was “Least Likely to be Drafted”, and praise Satan and Allah, he was a filthy draft dodger! 1966 was “Most Artistic”, after that early offer to attend the prestigious Renaissance City School of Design. 1965 didn’t have as much tact.
“Weakest.” It was at a time when Harwood was nothing more than a scrawny brown kid who sucked at PE and math. And the yearbook committee thought it would be funny to have him “playfully” punched by “Strongest” Max Racket. Heavyweight boxer in high school, potential crime lord, and a real pain in the neck, ass, and many other places.
And some more than sixty years later, all it did was remind Harwood that he had a reason to hate that mansion. Of course Max would have a basement full of nasties.
He couldn’t keep dwelling on that. The path was nearing its end. There had to be some boxes with blue stickers! Maybe it was those cardboard ones in the corner. With the best, there weren’t too many of them. Even with the lightest of boxes, Harwood could see himself struggling with more than one at a time.
He shone his flashlight on one of the boxes, and on one round, blue sticker. And another below it! And on something white and chalky, on the floor.
Harwood recoiled at the complete skeleton on the floor. Its skull was caved in, and parts of the ribcage lay crushed below it. It as surrounded by white stones. Maybe it was just regular dolostone, but knowing the rumors, forgotten cocaine was more likely.
The blood drained from his head. He really had gone too far, mingling with those terrible Rackets. Finding boxes for them. Being locked underground in a basement full of guns and coke and at least one dead whore.
And the floor was so hard. If only he realized that before he hit it.
His body looked safe from his new vantage point. Nothing broken or bruised or bleeding. At his age, what a miracle! And the new vantage point…it was scarier once Harwood figured out where he was. One part of him lay on the floor, and the other part stood up and glowed with a warm magenta glow.
Perhaps his body wasn’t so safe after all. Maybe death was just like that. How unfair, as he had tried to achieve that countless times before and failed. But, unfortunately for Harwood’s state of mind, he didn’t have the time to ask that.
Something cold and blue grabbed his face.
“This skinny fag hasn’t changed a bit.”
Even through his jumper and his new, non-physical form, Harwood felt the smooth edge of a knife near his torso.
The other spectre threw Harwood to the ground with complete ease, as if he was a ragdoll. Even with a knife hanging close to his face, Harwood could finally parse who was on top of him. He had seen Max as an old man too, and as far as he was concerned, that vile old Racket forgot about him.
Harwood choked out a sentence. “But…you’re dead.”
“And you can be too! I thought that fire would’ve done you in, or that big bassist-”
“How do you know any of this?!” He tried to fight it, but Harwood was useless against Max. Even sixty and more years later, not much changed. Max was a big man who still must have wrangled assault rifles and unruly hookers. And Harwood was 120 pounds and didn’t have the strength to load a kiln anymore.
The world was starting to go a little black again. But the last thing Harwood saw wasn’t Max at all.
As the scene faded out, he could still hear Shark. It was less of spiteful laughter, and more of yelling out his name.
Harwood woke up with a pounding headache, but nothing else aching out of the ordinary. Maybe he broke his fall without even realizing it. And to his minor relief, the lights turned back on.
“I know I’m just a skinny old faggot,” he mumbled.
“And that’s why we’re together. Of course you know that,” said Shark. He offered a hand to help Harwood up.
He caught a glimpse of that skeleton again.
Harwood sat on the ground, his knees curled up close to his chest. “Fuck me, I didn’t even dream up that?” He was about to cry into his palms. “The power went out and there’s a dead girl down here…I made a huge mistake!”
“I know you did,” Shark said, looking away. “I wouldn’t date into this family either.”
“You’re just so good…did I go in too deep with this? How does Annette even do it?”
“My aunt’s pretty weird…but she’s not stronger than you. Imagine having to date your rapist’s son.”
“Or grandson,” Harwood said.
“I…you know I’m not him, right?” Shark asked.
“I thought I did…I had a very bad dream. I was out of my body, and he attacked me…and then you did…look. I want you. I still do. I just don’t want to be in this terrible place again.”
“Well, dad made a pot of coffee before he fucked around with the circuit breakers,” said Shark. “How about you get some, and I’ll bring these up to burn.”
“What about the skeleton?”
“I’m…leaving that one to dad.”
They got up, and Harwood was quick to embrace Shark.
“I’m glad to have you,” he said, rubbing Shark’s back. “You really are nothing like him.”
“Grandpa taught me what not to be,” Shark said. “But get that coffee before it gets too gross.”
Harwood’s mug of lukewarm, burnt coffee was the most satisfying he had in years. The scent of a bonfire and burning oak wood wafted in through an open window. And Shark was out there loading more logs onto the flames.
He stopped once Harwood found him outside though. Daddy Dennis still had more than enough strength to handle it on his own.
Harwood preferred to have his back to the fire, staying far enough away to enjoy only a bit of its comforting warmth. Or maybe that was just from Shark, who he leaned on.
“You’re looking better,” Shark said.
“Well, nothing helps me from a bad dream like waking up to coffee,” Harwood said. “I oughta thank your dad for that.”
“Aww, but that would mean not hanging on to me!”
“You’re right…oh you are just so right about these things.”
He took a quick look over his shoulder. Max’s old coats started to collapse in the flames. And it smelled a good deal worse than burning wood. Dennis watched with a sly grin, and cracked open a cold pumpkin ale he brought out. If he was alone, he would have done the same thing. And Shark still stayed close, as the warmest lover Harwood had ever known.
One bad afternoon and a nightmare aside, Harwood could almost cry at how much that family had changed. Max was probably a terrible kisser anyways.
A/N: Word Count:
“Aww geez Trip, you just wanted to write about your OTP! This barely fit the theme at all.” So be it. Live long and Sharkwood on.
Actually, the real reason I wrote this was because I bought this cool purple henley shirt last month, and I thought “man, what if Harwood owned that?” And now it’s canon (if not a henley. No one’s made a henley shirt for elders yet!).
But it’s one cool shirt in real-life:
- I tried my best making this independent from the source material, but if you’re left scratching your head, it’s fine. I don’t hold it against you. But all you really should know is that Shark and Harwood are a same-sex couple. Shark’s family is crooked. This takes place sometime in the 2030’s (I bungle my years up all the time in Cicadas, so no specifics. Sorry!)
- In the Cicadas timeline, this happens soon after the events of “Heart Full of Fire”, and maybe a week after the “meeting Dennis for the first time” event brought up in “Saint”.
- I’ve forgotten literally everything from being on the yearbook committee in high school.
- I don’t know the sex of the World Adventures floor skeleton (and skeletons are pretty easy to differentiate, as women have wider, rounder pelvises and men have bigger brow ridges, among other things).
- I’m a New Englander, and it’s every local high school artist’s dream to get into the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Providence is also known as “Renaissance City”, so there you have my lazy name. 😛