Colonial Rhode Island….
There was a beauty that arrived with the cold that Thomas Winterborne drank in, though it did no good to alleviate his mounting thirst.
Will it always be like this? He wondered.
It was that time of the year when winter’s chill triumphed over summer’s heat. Insects were silenced, birds fled and the fertile green forest slowly went to sleep. Death awaited the glory of its true season.
So, here he was staring down a leaf strewn road, lined with large, drowsy orange and yellow trees. The thing that was most alive was the wind. It was busy, fetching and carrying the cold like buckets of water, tossed into the air to nurture the chill.
Thomas Winterborne’s eyes begin to ache. He winced but it did no good.
It’s the light. The rising sun. I should have known.
Thomas craved darkness like he used to crave a warm blanket. But the dawn attacked his flesh like an infection.
“AH!” Thomas doubled forward, his bones and muscles refusing to obey. There was a fence lining the road, yet outside that fence was a vast field and no trees. The trees could only afford so much protection.
He was trapped.
Whenever the fledgling rays grasped at him through gaps in the branches above, that burning pain smothered his flesh.
Then a smell hit his nostrils that entranced him yet tormented him further.
Blood. This was different to the cavorting warlocks he’d encountered last night. One of whom had been his father, a man who had always sworn by his godliness yet who only dealt with demons.
However, this blood wasn’t tainted with greed and wicked conjuring. There was clean, animal blood. Horses.
Two men. One driving the carriage, another inside. Their intentions were indiscernible given the presence of animals and his own pain.
I should imagine I will get better. Wait…get better at what?
In his other life, Thomas would have fled and hid behind a tree. He’d have been ashamed of being a wandering vagabond, unable to cope with sunlight. Yearning for something, he wouldn’t have been able to name.
Yet now, a new instinct over-ran his senses as a carriage door opened.
Thomas stopped and bit his tongue, forcing his eyes to remain open despite the agony the morning was subjecting him to.
“Good day, sir.” His voice was controlled to the point of sounding foreign to his ears.
“May I offer you assistance? You appear as a man who has had far too long in the tavern.”
One corner of Thomas’s mouth turned up. He folded his hands and replied humbly.
“I am sober, sir. But I have an ailment where the light doesn’t agree with me. I had to come out to seek sustenance in the forest, but the sun has taken me by surprise and I find myself disorientated.”
The gentleman inside the carriage was a few years older. His shoulders were straight, he held himself similar to the way English officers did. With the haughty discipline required of any occupying power.
“Rather dangerous, don’t you think? Wandering in the woods all alone? The natives could be anywhere. There’s nothing for it. You’ll have to come with me.” The gentlemen reached his hand out. Thomas accepted the man’s grip, thirst and hunger rushed his senses, nearly robbing him of decorum. It was the sensation of the other’s pulse, beating a vigorous rhythm within rivers of blood flowing just behind the calloused flesh.
Likely affluent, this was still a healthy man who knew hard work.
The shelter within the carriage was an immediate balm to Thomas’s affliction.
“Goodness man, you’re pale as death. Yet your skin is on fire. Are you quite well? Drive on!” he shouted, knocking on the roof.
Thomas leaned back in the seat, the clip clopping of the horse hooves and rocking of the carriage a natural lullaby. He grinned sleepily.
“I have always been like this. It was foolish of me to be in day light. It’s a childhood condition I’m afraid. My dear mother could hardly go out with me as a boy.”
The lie came from his tongue with ease. Where had his shame gone?
“I am called Benjamin Williams. I have a house, not far from the fort. It’s…nice and dark, if you need somewhere to stay. Unless, you have family..”
“I have no family.”
“No? You answered so quickly. You don’t have a wife or..”
“No.” Again Thomas answered quickly. Fatigue was making him cross and as the carriage ambled along the forest road, slumber beckoned him to submit.
“Are you..” Benjamin’s voice was muted suddenly. Thomas’s consciousness was extinguished like the flame on a candle.
Thomas awoke in a mercifully dark room. His head snapped towards a gust of air that blew over his body. A black cloth covering the window billowed, revealing the world outside.
He saw a fading orange sunset shifting into dusk.
I cannot remain awake long while the sun is out. And when night falls, my eyes open again.
Thomas swallowed and winced when a heartbeat thrummed from somewhere nearby.
“Hello, Benjamin. “ Thomas said, recalling the man from the carriage. Footsteps sounded and the door to whatever chamber he was in opened.
“You wake, finally. I wondered if I should send for a physician. But then, I imagine no doctor could help you.” The feather mattress sank with Benjamin’s weight.
Thomas sat up, keeping his eyes locked on Benjamin as he searched for some sort of threat.
Benjamin smiled and said, “Childhood afflictions that carry on into adulthood, are rarely curable. What regretful ailments we are forced to bear, eh?”
Then, Benjamin removed his outer coat and began unfastening his shirt sleeves and rolling them up.
Thomas remained still, although thirst was starting to tug at his control.
“You’ll have to get used to it.” Benjamin said
“What do you mean?”
“Being thirsty.” And before Thomas could think of a reply, Benjamin had placed his bare wrist before Thomas’s lips.
Like a magnet, Thomas clamped his mouth around Benjamin’s flesh. Teeth that were his and yet not sunk deep into the skin, avoiding bone yet drawing on the rich flowing river within.
Thomas’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he had visions of the orange and yellow forest path. Only this time, the leaves turned red and fell from the branches, dropping on the road like drops of crimson rain.
The tormenting light cooled and darkened, easing his memories of the morning’s pain as well as nourishing him.
He squeezed Benjamin’s wrist and pressed it even closer to his mouth.
Inhaling sharply, he flung himself back against the headboard, cracking the wood.
Benjamin didn’t flee. Rather, the man appeared flushed, his chest heaving and a small amount of sweat dotted his forehead.
There was something in the air, Thomas could barely discern as it was so alien. Yet the excited look upon Benjamin’s face…
Was something like when he’d seen Mary, his beloved, trying to caress Prince, who had been their slave.
Merely from the memory he now knew that Mary’s advances were against Prince’s will. At the time he’d been only confused and betrayed. He’d spent much of his life yearning for Mary Hawthorne’s caresses.
As it turned out, she only desired men when she had control. When she preyed upon the one she touched. She could drive a hard bargain with Prince, demanding a lusty performance. Not all women were like Mary, he reminded himself.
Before he could consider anything else, Benjamin’s hand was on his cheek.
“So…astounding. I often wondered if there would be creatures in this New World what are in tales in England and Europe. Did a witch do this to you? Did…did one of the savages do this to you? I’ve heard they can do magic.”
Thomas sighed, Benjamin’s blood tasted like wine made from berries and meat cooked over flames. There was a lust radiating from the man who, despite being older had an aura of naivety about him. His accent suggested he was reasonably new to the colonies.
Thomas licked his lips and said, “We rarely encounter the savages. Father used to speak of great slaughters and righteous victories. I think, savages have much more to fear from us than we from them. We are the monsters who dream of being holy, yet we operate with cruelty and trickery that would make the devil proud.”
Benjamin tilted his head, nodding slowly before saying,
“Hmm, I do fear the consequences of the sins committed in this land. But you are not like that. I knew you wouldn’t hurt me. We can do great things together, you and I. You will be…exceptionally strong. You have an air of someone to be feared. The young man in the woods…imagine it! I am good at hiding. Our services could…be useful.”
Benjamin stood up and bit his fist and faced the window. He ran his other hand over the top and back of his head, clutching his loosely tied hair. He released the brown grey strands and turned back around, his blue eyes wide. He all but lunged at the bed.
Benjamin’s face drew closer to Thomas’s. All Thomas could think of was meat dripping with juices and swallows of berry wine.
Thomas placed his hand upon Benjamin’s chest, the pounding human heart beat inciting him to grip and bite the man, so fierce and sudden was this urge.
Instead, he said in a tight voice,
“Tell me, are you from England? Do you have family here in the colonies? Do those stationed at the fort know of you?”
To stay Benjamin’s visible disappointment, Thomas reached out and placed his hands upon his arms gently at first, then he began to knead the taught muscles as a sculptor would manipulate clay.
Thomas’s touch was obviously a distraction for Benjamin, whose brows were knit together, wariness warring with lust.
Benjamin said, “Tell me, you have killed before?”
“Yes.” It was no lie.
“So have I. Only, my victim was a fellow soldier of the King. I was….young and foolish but he was not a good man you should know. My family had money, though much of it was spent to put me in hiding. My parents died, mercifully I suppose, I’d been such a burden despite their love for me. After some time in Europe I was led here. I am…a different man. This is a new life. I have yet to make my presence known at the fort but soon no doubt they will know of me. I’m….rather good at espionage as it turns out. And here, in this wild place I will make my mark. However, secret it will be.” Benjamin smiled and winked.
Thomas’s chest fluttered with memories of all things belonging to a yearning heart. Sorrow sang in his mind, reminding him of his absent pulse.
But what sort of existence was it? Perhaps one worth forgetting.
His previous life of unrequited love and misery faded like a ghost fleeing the scene of its mortal death.
A heaven of satisfaction and love could be his.
But then again…who is this man?
“You will use me?” Thomas said, doubt slithering into his happier thoughts.
“I will. As I should imagine you will use me. But, trust and faith are necessary to take full actions. Else we’d stumble in half steps, starving before we even reached the dinner table. Imagine such foolishness, Thomas. People would become hollow corpses, expiring inches away from sumptuous feasts. So, do you trust me?”
“That depends…what is on the dinner table.” Thomas replied.
“Will you partake with me?”
“I would like to.”
“Then let me make the decision for you.”
Thomas’s next words were all but strangled in a coarse, savage kiss. Ecstasy roared within him.
Instinctively, Thomas knew his strength was superior to Benjamin’s. Yet he allowed Benjamin’s rough hands to ruthlessly guide him in an act he’d only heard mention of in Father’s horror stories.
Details were always denied, but the insinuation was crystal clear.
What hell awaits God’s enemies when he sends his glorious angels to punish them.
Nausea nearly rushed Thomas at the memory of Father’s oily, murderous voice. This, was nothing like tales of shameful wickedness he’d heard.
Indeed, sleep well Father. What a loathsome demon you were.
And for the first time in Thomas’s existence on God’s vibrant, conflicted earth he experienced joy that only comes with the freedom to choose one’s own path. Benjamin was like an angel. Both were unrepentant in enjoying the gifts of this world and other higher planes.
Thomas Winterborne’s rescue from the light turned out to be his utter salvation.