“Red Rings” was written for Two Dead Queers Presents QUARANZINE. I wanted to write something that took place in a version of a city I grew up near that combined my love and superstition of the roiling southern landscape wrapped around it and the concrete political fears of the time. And neon- lots of neon. This is the result.
The metal towers clustered around Revenant remind Damon of teeth. Red lights atop them flash intermittently against the night sky like cupped hands around an open mouth, calling: CAUTION. HERE BE MONSTERS.
Not that Damon and his kind are monsters, but they’re different and the ring of red lights encircling Revenant is enough to keep the Made separated from the Un-Made until the government figures out what to do with them.
Sometimes Damon wishes they had never woken up from their half-life slumber deep in the earth. But the earth had been screaming and it was a decision of sleeping through the planet’s agony and into their own destruction or rising up to meet what was wrong.
Times had changed, though— even since Damon had gone to sleep in the earth, and he was one of the youngest— and the Un-Made no longer viewed them as gods. Fixing what was wrong was no longer as easy as dragging down a few by their throats and letting rumor and panic take care of the rest. This time, Damon’s kind had been handed packets of pre-bagged blood and told to wait in city-sized cages. That had been two years ago and nothing had changed, like the global governments hoped their arrival was just another thing that would eventually blow over.
The sky above Revenant is split with the thundering drone of a low-flying Black Hawk. Damon watches it circle Revenant almost lazily, then cut across its middle. Pageantry. It must be the visitor he is anticipating.
The muscles in Damon’s back slowly unclench as the sound of the helicopter’s blades fade from the night. As the representative of the Made in Revenant, Damon has met with all sorts of local and global politicians since the Change. Even outside of Revenant. He has seen charts and papers and heard the whispering between politicians. There is, after all, a reason for the barren ten-mile radius around Revenant and why so many more Un-Made cluster in communities fifty miles out from red ring cities like Revenant. A reason why the rings light up in the night to be seen from above. If the negotiations fall flat or the burden to sustain red ring cities becomes too heavy a burden, there is always the option to drop a bomb. And the Un-Made have become spectacularly good with contingency plans involving bombs.
The room pulses with the light from the red rings, illuminating the poured concrete of the walls and floor and ceiling. So many of the buildings of Revenant are falling in on themselves, the carpeting mouldering from the southern humidity. Damon prefers the ugly concrete structure near the edge of the ring most of them have taken up residence in. It’s just a skeleton of the luxury apartments it was going to be. Something to bring life and vibrancy to the outskirts of Revenant. Sturdy and plain, it’s like living in a skull.
He can feel the others like him throughout the seven story building, just out of sight in the shadows, sitting in corners and pressed against the coolness of the concrete. Some sleep their half-life sleep while others simply wait. All of them hang on the same frequency, content with silence, content that none of them are ever truly alone. Damon thinks of paper wasps in their hive for the night, fanning their wings to keep cool and feels a sort of hum flicks out along their shared mental frequency. Damon smiles.
Out on the broken asphalt of Revenant’s streets, a lone figure walks towards their home. Preston Foxe, Damon’s visitor. He moves without the grace of the Made, but even from this distance, Damon can see he moves with particular confidence and bravery. Not that he has anything to fear. Peace is shared along the frequency along with muted curiosity. No harm will come to him, although Damon is surprised to see someone in Revenant without an armed escort. He wonders, briefly, just how much Preston bribed the ring guard to get inside without one.
It is a few minutes before Preston reaches their building, but Damon immediately hears him, as do the others. Listen….listen….listen… rings out along the frequency with each echoing footstep in the stairwell. It is impossible not to.
The door to the seventh story swings open and their collective frequency falls silent. The air feels heavy like a held breath as they listen.
“Hello?” Preston’s voice is soft, almost a whisper, as if he knows Damon could hear him drop a pin on the bottom floor. “Damon?”
Damon watches him step out into the dark hallway, hesitant, his body stiffening when he sees Damon’s form silhouetted in the window. Damon sometimes forgets Un-Made eyes are not accustomed to darkness. He can see Preston perfectly, from his dyed black hair to his leather pants. He is decidedly not dressed like a politician’s son, although Damon has heard he is unconventional. That alone makes him curious. “Yes. Preston.”
Preston picks his way down the hallway to him, hands half outstretched in front of him as if afraid he will walk into something or trip over something in the dark. Damon wonders why he doesn’t pull out his mobile phone to light the way, but based on the way Preston is holding himself, Damon can see he wants Damon to respect him. There is nothing in his way for him to stumble, but when he is almost across the room to Damon, Preston does stumble, feet tripping over themselves in the dark. He barely has time to gasp when Damon’s hands still him: one hand on his shoulder, the other on his hip. In the light from the red ring, gazing up at him, Damon sees some of that timeless awe in Preston’s eyes— the awe that centuries ago made Damon and his kind like gods.
A part of Damon wonders how many Valium the young man had to take to get himself to walk across the wastes of Revenant alone, but he smells nothing but the hint of lavender gum on his breath.
Damon doesn’t remove his hands from Preston, instead the hand that is on Preston’s shoulder slips down the cut of his jacket’s lapel to the button pinned there. Be a Part of the Change, it says in red lettering against a black background. Beneath the letters is the image of a plastic pair of novelty vampire teeth. It’s a pin Damon has seen before— back when they made themselves known again two years ago. Vampires, of course, were pure mythos based off of their kind. In light of everything, the pin was insulting, but its intention, Damon reasoned, had been kind enough. Go with the flow, coexist… So Preston was one of those. Better than the Un-Made that called them Suck Fucks and Bag Fags. Even so, he feels his unease roll out along the frequency and the shiver from the others in response.
When he lifts his eyes to Preston’s, the young man looks away, straightening up. A faint blush rises in his cheeks and he moves away from Damon to the window as if he knows how Damon feels about the pin on his jacket.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Preston is gazing up at the ring, and Damon’s not sure why he should think that. The stars in the night sky are barely visible between the pulses of red light. The afterimage the ring makes behind his eyes feels constant and glaring. Preston might as well pointed at the electric fence running around the edge of Revenant and said the same thing.
“You requested a private dialogue.”
Preston turns to him with a practiced smile. “My father is Senator Foxe.”
Damon waits. He knows.
Licking his lips, Preston turns back to the window, letting the light catch the new wetness of his lips. The warm living hue of his lips, wet under the red light reminds Damon of ready-to-eat cherries. This small Un-Made action makes him enticing, though Damon knows he is not for the taking. Such things are off-limits even if they are offered. Damon wonders briefly if that is what this is: a game for Preston, a sexual hunt where Damon is the prize stag. A fang bang.
The frequency throbs with a thin keening sound, like agitated cicadas.
Preston continues. “He’s a tough man to deal with, believe me, but as his only remaining family, I know how he works better than anyone. Though he disapproves largely of who I am, I can make him keep his word to you and the other Made or have him replaced by someone who will.”
Senator Foxe is publically anti-Made and though he doesn’t condone slurs like Bag Fags, his following is largely made up of those who do. Most recently he suggested implementing tighter security around red ring cities, with Revenant— his home state’s ring city— as a testing ground for new policies. Beyond that, he was deep in the pockets of oil and power companies, caring less about what their byproducts did to the atmosphere and more about their fiscal backing. To get Senator Foxe to fall in line would be a big undertaking for anyone.
Damon smiles to keep from laughing outright. He hasn’t laughed in a long time, but the thought of this politician’s party boy son keeping a firm hand on his father’s politics almost does it. “And if you do that for us, what’s your interest in it?”
Preston looks younger with his eyes round and his lips parted. There’s an earnesty to him even as he straightens up and frowns. “I believe the gap between the Made and Un-Made should close; that we should live side-by-side. Without working together this world is doomed.”
It sounds rehearsed. A vague and empty mantra.
“But why now?”
“Well, someone has to do something…”
“What do you want?”
Preston’s breath catches as the question hangs in the air between them. Guilt flushes his face, then shame, and he stands there open-mouthed and dumb. Damon tilts his head, waiting. He can almost see his pulse fluttering in Preston’s throat.
Wetting his lips again with his tongue, Preston’s voice comes out strangled and brimming with hunger. “Your kiss…”
A fang banger, after all, then. Though disappointed, Damon thinks he could do a lot worse. He’ll kiss him and then fuck him and send him back home to his daddy. Promise him more so he’ll keep his end of the deal. Not the filthiest way to play politics. He doubts Preston will have much of an impact on his father, but Damon cannot deny that the idea of Preston’s warm, youthful body has awoken an old sort of hunger in him. The chance to suck and lick at Preston’s skin until he’s a mewling, conquered wreck is too tempting to pass up.
Closing the space between them until there’s no room for breath, Damon slips an arm around Preston’s waist and cinches their bodies together.
This close, Preston’s breath is feverish as he pants openly into Damon’s mouth. Damon’s tongue cuts into his mouth like a knife and for a brief moment Damon can feel fear spike up within Preston. Maybe he’s imagining just what Damon’s teeth can do. Just what they could do to his tongue. He could, of course, bite clean through it and rip it out. Spit it across the room and smile with bloodied teeth at Preston. One less Un-Made to weave lies and empty promises. He doesn’t, though, and instead, playfully chews on it without drawing a single drop of blood as he fits their lips together.
After several heartbeats that hammer through his entire body from their proximity, Damon pulls away and surveys his work with muted pleasure. Preston is trembling and Damon is almost sure if he let go of him now, Preston would fall to the floor. It’s several more moments before Preston realizes his mouth is still foolishly open like a flower inviting pollination. He is hard against Damon’s leg, and just as flushed in the intervals when the red lights’ eyes are closed as when they are open and full on his face.
Damon’s tongue ducks out of his mouth to run across his teeth and Preston’s eyes lock on the ragged ivory.
“Well,” Damon says, voice low and vibrating with a hunger that he knows sounds so akin to passion to Un-Made’s ears, “I hope my kiss was satisfactory.”
Preston doesn’t have the wits to speak at first, but then he closes his eyes and mouth and swallows slowly. Delightful dizziness seems to envelop him and he presses a hand to the front of Damon’s shirt as if to still himself. His fingers trace over the buttons of Damon’s shirt in a fumbling motion that just barely disguises the shaking of them.
“The best I’ve had. But I’m afraid you misinterpret my desires. I want your Kiss.”
The keening on their frequency rises in Damon’s head and he feels himself go as still as granite.
Seeing this, Preston’s hands turn to a helpless claws against Damon’s chest. “Please, just a bite.”
Something like distaste flickers across Damon’s face at the word and Preston tries again. “Just a taste… I want to be a physical part of the Change. Let me be a harbinger of a future where our kinds live intermingled—”
Damon silences him with a grimace. His teeth catch the red light nicely and a hiss has stitched itself to his voice. “It would change nothing. Your father would throw you in here with us to live out your future.”
“I need this!” Preston’s voice bounces off of the concrete walls and his hands fist in Damon’s shirt. He presses the length of his body against him again and Damon has to shut out the desire to rub himself against Preston’s erection. “I’m about to lose everything: money, support, my damn name. My father is going to cut me off because everything about me is a constant humiliation for him. My sexuality, my political leanings, the parties I end up at. But he fears you— I know it— he’s terrified… I’m nothing like him and everything like you.”
“Like me?” They’re so close, Damon could kiss him again if he wasn’t so fully disgusted.
Preston is breathless. “Look at me! I’m a freak.”
Damon sneers. “That doesn’t make you like us.”
Raising his voice again, Preston pushes Damon away. “You don’t get it! You have so much power. They lock you in here, but what’s to stop you? They’re so afraid of you, if you ever decided to rise up, they couldn’t stop you. They don’t have the infrastructure. You’re wasting your natures in here.” Taking a breath, shaking, the need dripping from Preston is almost palpable. “Please… I’m begging… Make me like you.”
Damon snarls— an open mouth, spitting, cursing— “I am an aberration, an infection.”
“Well, then, you should spread like one. Words and niceties won’t save this planet. You should take it back by force.”
Damon shakes his head. “It’s time for you to leave.”
Preston is panting, eyes wide, and in a trembling second he has pulled a knife from his jacket and pressed the blade against his own throat. “I won’t leave. Save me.”
“I don’t have to give you my Kiss to save your life,” Damon says, “I could just watch and do nothing.”
“Or you could change me. Please,” Preston whispers, unaware to the hunger growing in the air around him, the excitement to watch an Un-Made take their own mortal life. “I don’t belong to their world.”
Damon hears it. He tilts his head, studies Preston’s frightened eyes and shaking hand. “You don’t belong here, either.”
With a cry, Preston rips the blade through his throat, the sound much like fabric being torn in two. He almost falls to his knees but Damon is by his side in an instant, fingers wound tight around his wrists, body crushing his back up against the window. Hissing between a wall of bared teeth, Damon’s being is a pinpoint of focus on the blood pouring out of Preston, staining his shirt and skin.
“You brought this on yourself,” Damon rasps, voice needles and night as he nudges Preston’s head back to keep the gash open and flowing. His teeth carve into Preston’s neck and he twists his face side to side so that blood marks his cheeks. Over and over again he growls. “You’ve brought this on yourselves.”
Nails pushing against Preston’s sides, Damon wants more. He wants to strip away skin from meat and meat from bone, wants to lap at pulsating organs and bury his head in the cavity of Preston’s chest and sleep his false sleep as Preston’s body rots around him. Every last ghost of warmth his and his alone, his birthright as something that has existed for so long alone and in the dark.
A pearlescent breath leaks from Preston’s mouth as he sinks back against the window, eyes rolling to white. Behind Damon, there is an almost imperceptible shuffling as other Made catch the scent, crawling forward slowly in the dark.
Glutted with life, Damon sits down heavily, letting Preston’s body slump down to sit on the floor with him. Licking his lips as the others move in to feast on the rest of the young man’s body, Damon lifts his head to the bloodied window and stares past the flashing red eyes of the red ring. He imagines them crawling out of their home and past the gates, spreading like a red plague. He imagines doing it tonight.
The room fills with wet smacking sounds as the others chew their way through Preston’s wasted corpse. Inside his chest, their frequency vibrates like the memory of a heartbeat, louder and louder. From the way it grows like the thrum of a thousand pairs of wings ready to take flight, he knows the others are thinking of it, too.