A god and a trans serial killer walk into a bar…
At that point, I considered my course set: I would pursue Golshirazi into the wild mountains, I would find him, and I would kill him. I intended it all along to be Till and I who did the finding and the slaying. I wanted to spend every moment with him.
Hiking through the snow proved enough of a distraction. The trees thinned as we trekked higher into the mountains. Days passed, marked only by the markedly fast rising and setting of the sun. Most of our travel, it seemed, occurred in the dead of night, with the starlight gleaming across the fields of untarnished snow. And on one such night, we came across a marvel of marvels. We came across a tavern in the middle of the icebound mountains.
“Here it is,” I said with a grand gesture, following a lull in which both of us had stood staring in silence at the squat wooden building. “Just where I remembered. Now I can follow through on that drink I promised.”
Till gave me an unamused sideways look. “No way you knew this was here,” he said.
“When did your sense of wonder and gullibility die, Till?” I said, sounding wounded.
“Probably around the time I realized I was a boy in a girl’s body and needed to kill other people to feel okay.” He shrugged, but I sensed the beginnings of a smile at the corners of his mouth. “Can we just go inside? I’m freezing.”
And so with the moon reflecting off the snow, we approached the building—it had lights in the windows and smoke piling out of its chimney, and a companionable din ringing out from within. We pushed through the door and the atmosphere felt perfect: close and heavy and warm, redolent of alcohol and sweat and baking bread.
“Where the hell did they find this many people?” Till whispered as we pushed through the crowded tables and found one huddling in the back corner. Without any prompting whatsoever, a woman in coarse linens forced her way through the crowd to us, dropped two mugs onto the table with a resounding thud, then vanished before I could address her. I blinked after her, my hand half-raised.
“Wait a second,” Till said. “I think it’s midwinter, or—midsummer, or something.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you aware of the season?”
He lifted his shoulders in a long shrug. “Honestly? No. We’ve been in the snow long enough that it feels like winter. But I don’t know if it is.”
“So your point is—”
“—that it’s a celebration. Hence all the people. Hence the unexplained free drinks.”
A grin sprung across my face. “What fortune. Except I do not drink.”
Till mirrored my grin, a rare enough expression on his tight, drawn face. “Well, tonight you do. Hell if I’m going to drink alone.”
I looked dubiously at the mug on the table in front of me as Till lifted his own and took a long drink, polishing off an easy quarter of his own mug before lowering it and eying me expectantly. He folded his hands on the table and continued to smile patronizingly at me. I rolled my eyes and hefted the mug, and took a tiny sip off the top. It tasted about as revolting as I’d anticipated—like week old piss. I made a face.
“Do you want to drink like a maiden, or do you want to drink like a god?” Till hissed across the table at me. Lightweight he was, I could see it going to his head already. I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Perhaps you should demonstrate drinking like a god, so that I am not in the dark.”
He nodded, before downing another good portion of his drink, only lowering his mug once he’d begun to choke. I frowned and took another drink, and then another, and as I went I found a comfortable curtain of numbness drawing across my consciousness. As I went, I found that all of my elaborately crafted pretentiousness and pomp did not lapse, but rather grew yet more bloviating and dramatic. We sat and drank for the better part of an hour, with me regaling Till with every manner of story, making up songs and singing them to him, and with him for once not looking embarrassed by my very existence while all of this occurred.
“Do you know what I have just discovered? Do you know what has literally just popped into my mind and is the most amazing connection I have ever made?” I asked, leaning forward and staring conspiratorily at Till across the table.
“No,” he said. “I mean, no, Jack. I can’t read your mind, I’m not a mind reader.” A wide grin had appeared on his face and remained stuck there.
“I’m basically a ghoul.” I gestured broadly with my arms. “I mean, I am basically a ghoul, except the exact opposite.”
He nodded gravely, still grinning, put his hand to his chin and watched me carefully. “Do explain.”
“So I noticed when we were in the cathedral that the ghouls, they’re always still and silent, but it’s a mask. Just like their masks. You look past the mask, and poof. They have emotions and body language just like everyone else. So they’re all real people, just cloaked in this—masterful disguise.”
“Wait, then how are you opposite?”
“Let me explain. I’m the same, you know? I’m a real person, Till. I have emotions and—and—anyway, I have a mask, too. I’m—eloquent, and nothing bothers me, and I’m elegant and pompous and all of that. But beneath it? I’m just like the ghouls, Till. Just like them.”
“Except the exact opposite,” he said.
“Yes. Except the exact opposite. I am an opposite ghoul.”
“You are so astute,” Till said. “It’s like—mind blowing to me sometimes. I mean. You are just so astute.”
The conversation continued along those lines for another hour, during which the silent woman brought us another round of drinks. This time I didn’t hesitate. I joined Till in drinking like a god. He crowed loudly at that, which might have been disruptive to the people sitting around us, except I suspected they had been drinking like gods for many long hours before we’d arrived. They didn’t appear to even notice us. We’d been sitting there for almost three hours, and I’d by this point lost track of how many mugs I’d drained, when the conversation took a turn.
“You’re my best friend,” Till said. It immediately reminded me of drunk Vandr, which chilled my blood. But then I looked at Till and I realized it didn’t remind me at all of Vandr, who had spoken the words casually and without real meaning. Till had gone abruptly silent, and now when he focused his eyes on me I saw they had gone bleary and weak. I wondered if mine looked the same. Till shifted forward and lay across the table, folding his arms and resting his chin atop them.
“I mean,” he continued, a blush rising in his cheeks. “Sorry if that’s weird. But I’m sitting here surrounded by people and I feel like if you weren’t here I would totally kill someone tonight. Probably shouldn’t say that so loud. Am I talking real loud right now?”
I smiled and nodded.
“Okay. I don’t care. My point is that I love you and I’m gonna say that now because in the morning I’m probably just going to hate everything, including you.”
I grinned and leaned back in my chair, although even that slight motion made the tavern begin to spin around me. I closed my eyes and it accentuated the spinning, so I opened my eyes and fixed them on Till.
“You’re like my new Liam,” I said. I hadn’t spoken the name in—I couldn’t even remember. It was a dead name, to me. It meant nothing and it meant everything.
“I don’t know what that means,” Till said.
“Well—see, I’m like an improved, more violent version of who I was, before, right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I ignored him. “So if I’m improved, more violent Santiago, then you’re violent Liam.” Abruptly I laughed, loud and bitter. “You’re who I deserve, Till. I became a god and you became a serial killer. It’s perfect.”
He closed his eyes. “Okay. I’m probably going to throw up in three and a half seconds, now.”
I arched an eyebrow and sympathized with the notion.
“If I can get us outside, can you wait maybe three minutes instead?”
“Okay. Here we go.” I pushed my hands against the table and stood up, staring at a fixed point between my hands to try and stabilize myself and the spinning room. “Here we go.” I took a step forward, trying to ignore the lurching floor beneath my feet. Till pulled himself up from the table and stared at me with his bleary eyes. I stood in front of his chair and swayed, opened my mouth as if to speak, and instead just stood there for a long moment until my body regained some of its equilibrium and I felt confident that I could stay on my feet.
I lowered myself into a crouch, and patted my shoulders. Till nodded, groggy as a child, and put his arms on my shoulders. I felt his hands on the back of my neck and reached out, hooking an arm beneath his knees and picking him up.
“Okay,” I repeated. “Here we go.”
I staggered the few paces out into the night, and once the door had banged shut behind us, I dumped Till unceremoniously into the snow and pitched forward. I lay in the freezing wet and listened to him struggle a few paces away before throwing up.
Truly a perfect night.