This story was originally printed in CODE 7, VOLUME II, published by Bound in Leather Press in 1982. All 4 Code 7 zines are available again through Agent with Style. Her web page is: http://www.agentwithstyle.com, or you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Daphne G. for translating to electronic format. Comments about this story can be sent to Flamingo.
Let me tell you about Her.
For weeks my dreams have been disturbed by vaguely erotic images - teasing, tantalizing, like a memory that won't pass into the conscious mind - images that never quite toppled over into the realm of the wet dream. I felt foolish and very horny, but I wasn't afraid; I didn't know what She was so I didn't see any reason to fear Her. I told myself that the dreams were only a symptom of my recent celibacy - a condition enforced by my hectic schedule and my concern for Starsky. He had just been released from the hospital, and was convalescing at home while I wrapped up the last bits of Gunther for delivery to the courts. When I realized that it had been months since I had slept with anyone, I wasn't surprised that my subconscious was dredging up tantalizing little sleep-fantasies for me. I shrugged the situation off, assuming that the dreams would stop eventually. Instead, they grew more intense, and became frighteningly real. The strangest thing about them was that they always involved one woman, though not any specific one. She was all women to me.
The results were predictable. As my sessions with her became more frequent and athletic, I began to feel like a wet dishrag during the day. I suppose it must have shown in my face because Starsky remarked on it one Tuesday evening when I stopped at his apartment to bring him groceries. He asked if I was sick. I told him a little bit about my problems and he smiled that funny, quirky smile of his and suggested that I write down some of the more interesting dreams for him. "Make a nice change from soap operas," he teased. Trust Starsky. All the same, I could tell that he was worried. He got me to agree to stay the night; even wanted to give me his bed, but I refused. I sacked out on the sofa.
And that night when She came in answer to some unconscious need in me, She came with wild red hair, and blood-red fingernails and lips . . . even Her eyes were red. She teased and seduced me, and when I took Her into my arms, She began to tear at my throat with Her teeth and nails. I must have cried out, because when I woke Starsky was there gripping my shoulders. "Hutch, Hutch, you okay?" He was breathless and his eyes were saucered. I nodded. "Give a guy a heart attack, why don'tcha?" He sat down on the edge of the couch. "Jeez."
My own heart was pounding at what seemed like 300 beats per minute. We checked our own pulses and then each other's. Then we laughed. "I don't wanna read any of your crazy dreams," Starsky told me. "Man, you must have some wild libido." At which I collapsed in helpless laughter.
When my laughing jag subsided, Starsky tugged my pillow out from under my head. "C'mon, we'll share. I don't wanna have to sprint across the house again to save you from the boogie-woman." He said it with a mock-leer that made me giggle. I was too tired to argue - besides, being close to Starsky has always been good for my emotional well-being.
We lay down back-to-back and I moved as close as I could, wanting - needing - the reassuring warmth of him and the faint scent of sandalwood that clung to his skin and hair. He wriggled his bottom against mine and said "Goodnight, Gracie" and made me giggle again. I was asleep before the laughter died away.
When I woke, I knew it was mid-morning and that I was late for work. But more important - I realized I'd slept undisturbed from midnight on. It was the first night in weeks I'd been able to do that. The smell of coffee and bacon hung in the air. I grabbed one of Starsky's robes and wrapped it around myself.
"Mornin'," Starsky said as I stumbled out of the bedroom and fell into a chair.
"'Bout eleven-thirty. I called you in sick," he said before I could say anything. "And I told Dobey that you needed a vacation." He put a mug of hot coffee in front of me. "He said okay." He went back to the stove and busied himself with breakfast. The coffee was wonderful - rich and strong and smooth. I felt good - as though I had solved an unsolvable problem. "I made waffles and bacon."
"You shouldn't be . . ." I started to get up.
I shrugged. "Working so hard?"
Starsky laughed. "I'm really gonna strain myself turning a slice of bacon. Sit down and shut up." I did as I was told and let Starsky wait on me.
He was quiet enough through breakfast, yet I had the feeling there was something he wanted to say to me but didn't quite know how to say it. "Goin' to visit Ma at the end of the week," he said finally, sopping up syrup and butter with a piece of waffle.
"Yeah." I dreaded his going.
"Wanna come along?"
"Starsky, I can't."
"Sure you can. Dobey said okay to the vacation."
"I can't just drop everything," I protested.
"You're so . . . plan-y, Hutch. When you gonna loosen up a little?"
"Would you mind laying off my faults over breakfast?" I asked. He attacked a slice of bacon as if it was me he was biting in half. "I really don't want to go to New York, okay?"
"Okay," he echoed, chewing thoughtfully. "Okay. It was just an idea is all. Wanna do something this afternoon?"
"Like what?" I began to clear the table. "Let me do this," I added as he got up to help.
"Hey, no argument from me, babe." Funny how reassuring one small word can be. "Let's see, we could go to the Tar Pits."
"How 'bout Frederick's of Hollywood?" I suggested as I rinsed the dishes.
"Gonna buy some lacy undies for your dream ladies?"
"Yeah, I had in mind a red satin, peek-a-boo bikini with black lace trim."
"Yuk." Starsky made a face.
"I thought it would appeal to you," I teased.
We ended up going to the LA County Museum - cool and quiet and very peaceful. We had dinner together and went back to Starsky's to play a game of chess. He asked if I wanted to spend the night again, and I admit I was tempted. I'd come to think of Starsky's presence as a sort of talisman against anything unpleasant. But I said no. Even if Dobey was going to give me some vacation time, it probably wouldn't go through for a couple of days. I was going to have to get up early the next morning.
"I'll miss you," Starsky whispered in a husky, teasing voice.
"Mmm," he said. "'Night, babe."
I dropped into bed as soon as I got home, and slept peacefully all night.
For the rest of the week She stayed away, and on Saturday morning Starsky left for New York. I promised to call him and relate any good, racy dreams as an antidote to his relatives.
That night She came again.
I fell asleep and found Her in my arms, but this time She wore a face I knew - Sweet Alice - and She spoke to me with Alice's voice. Everything about Her seemed right, but I knew that it was terribly wrong. I asked, "Alice, is it really you?" and she said, "Why, o' course, Handsome Hutch. Don' ah look lahk me?" It was true, she did . . . but it wasn't Alice.
When I woke up I kept thinking, over and over, This is nuts. I was definitely spooked by the whole situation, and yet being with Alice hadn't been unpleasant. Truth be known, I'd sometimes wondered what it would be like with her. Professional ethics had always prevented me from taking advantage of her very generous offers, but it seemed that I'd found a way around my ethics. All the same, when I called Starsky on Sunday night, he asked if She'd come back and I said no. There was no reason, I told myself, to worry him. I hung up the phone and turned in. It was still early, but I was very tired.
This time it was Abby. Just as with Alice, everything seemed right, but I knew that it wasn't Abby, not really. I enjoyed her anyway, and I paid the price the next morning. Whoever coined the phrase "blue Monday" sure knew what the score was. I'd given up my morning runs a couple of weeks before because I just didn't have the energy. Now it seemed like a trial to even drag myself out of bed. It was such an effort to shave that I contemplated growing a beard. All the same, I was feeling vaguely itchy. These dreams, no matter how debilitating, weren't quite satisfying - or perhaps they gave me a taste for something that I hadn't had in a long time. If it was my "wild libido" playing tricks on me, then I was going to have to appease it in some way . . . one way.
I had Tuesday off (I'd told Dobey that I'd hold off on the vacation for a while. It seemed silly to me to waste good vacation time sitting at home entertaining a phantom female.) so I went out prowling Monday night. It's a pretty dead night at most bars and discos, but people who work odd schedules and die-hard cruisers are always on the scene. I latched on to a beautiful, lonely-looking woman - an executive type. Turned out that she was married and in town on business and, yes, she was lonely. We went up to her hotel room; I kept her company and she chased my phantoms away. I slept hard and didn't dream, and woke up feeling so good that we made love before she ordered breakfast and again after. Then we slept for a while and went for a swim before she shooed me away. She wanted to meet me later that night, but I said no. I liked her, and I didn't want to use her like a convenient drug; worse still, I was afraid I'd begin to care for her. I said goodbye.
I did some shopping on the way home and stopped at Starsky's to water his plants and pick up the mail. I felt good - even took a run before dinner. I figured that I'd solved the problem once and for all. I was wrong.
I never expected Gillian. Of all the women She could have been . . . Dear God, I cried when I held her; I wanted to go on holding her, kissing her forever. I told her I loved her. It didn't matter that I knew it wasn't really Gillian. Having this phantom in my arms was enough for me. But as always, it ended too soon. And then something inside me cried out in the darkness, begging her not to leave me again.
In the cold light of day I felt a little different, I admit. I woke to find Her still beside me - hovering over me, really, watching me with a hungry look. A shiver went through me as I began to assimilate the situation: it was morning, I was wide awake, and my "dream" was still going strong. I was scared to death. Debilitating or not, She had always been a source of pleasant sensations for me. Almost always. That night at Starsky's She came to me in a rage. Jealousy? I wondered. Jealousy . . . I didn't like the implications at all. If She was real, if I wasn't a candidate for the asylum, then there was a chance that She was dangerous.
I flew out of bed and backed away, but She never moved.
"You asked me to stay," She said in Gillian's voice.
It was true - I had asked her to stay, in my sleep. I was not so sure now that She was what I wanted. I backed into the kitchen and sat down to think. I figured that the possibilities were two: 1) Insanity (If I had flipped out, they'd have to lock me up for sure. The dimensions of my madness were staggering.); 2) She was as real as I was and therefore a being whose nature I couldn't comprehend. The rationalist in me rushed to dismiss that idea, but a tiny voice in my head said: If you deny this possibility, it means that you think you belong in the acorn academy. Either way, I knew I wasn't going back into that bedroom as long as Gillian was there.
I leaned forward a little to look and there She was, staring at me with those hungry eyes. A chill started in the small of my back and worked its way to the nape of my neck where all the little hairs stood at attention. "Hutch, darling . . ." She began. I cracked.
"That's my name!" I screamed at Her. "Don't you dare use my name! Get out, get out!!" When I dared look again, She was gone.
I think I sat at the kitchen table most of the day. I was numb. And I was frightened. I contemplated calling Starsky and blubbering like a baby about Gillian and this whole crazy scene, and begging him to come home.
And do what? I asked myself as my nerves finally began to settle. I wondered - if I packed a toothbrush and some clean clothes and flew out to New York, would She follow me? She'd followed me into Starsky's apartment that night, but not into his bed. Swell. I'd arrive on Rachel's doorstep, wild-eyed and disheveled, and say: I've come to sleep with your son. It's nothing sexual, you understand. He just keeps the demons away." Acorn academy, next stop.
Eventually, when I was calm enough to think rationally about what had happened that morning, I realized that She had stayed because I asked Her to. I had controlled Her coming and going. And I determined the shape She took. It seemed that I'd found something that had eluded me all my life - guiltless sex. I'd never really known that kind of uncomplicated communion of flesh - there'd always been more creeping in anger, possessiveness, macho, and the feeling that something was owed both to me and to the woman I was with.
And I thought about Vanessa. I wished I could have known that kind of love with her. For better or for worse, I loved Van more than any woman I'd ever known. It tortures me to remember how awful I was to her before we finally split. I remembered finding her here, looking so lovely and so peaceful, as though death had taken her gently, like a lover; and I remembered thinking, You should have been a better husband. How utterly useless - the sort of thing that wanders through one's mind in times of unbearable stress and anguish. I remembered noticing that one of her fingernails was broken, and that the plants needed watering. As I sat here alone, with her body, I wanted to be dead, too. I was in darkness - very far down in the kind of darkness that seems to cling to you and dog your steps. But Starsky pulled me back - chased the darkness away. He seemed like living light to me. I remembered that Van hated Starsky, and I wondered, as I had occasionally over the years, if she could have been attracted to him as well. Not that it was important - not ever.
He called me that night.
"Hey, how ya doin'?"
"Fine," I said automatically. "No, not so good."
"Fine or not fine?"
"Flu, I think."
"Blonde, brunette, or redheaded flu?" There was no humor in his voice.
"Honest, Starsk, I feel kind of flu-ish. Headache, sore throat . . ." I made it up as I went along.
"You taking your vacation?" he asked very sternly.
"No? After all the trouble I went to to set it up?"
"Hey, why waste two weeks on the flu?" I asked, trying to sound sensible.
"So waste one week."
"I'll take a couple of sick days, okay?"
He grumbled, but agreed when I promised to take at least one week with him when he got home.
"That's ten days from tomorrow," he reminded me.
"You're really snotty when you're sick," he said, but he laughed a little and it caught at my heart. I missed him terribly and longed to tell him so.
The sound of his voice made me feel real again, and I realized I was hungry. I showered and fixed a huge meal, and ate it while I watched television. Then I read for a while, changed the sheets and went to bed. As I lay in the dark, waiting with some apprehension for sleep to come, I very firmly repeated my charm against succubi: "Stay away, stay away, stay away . . ." I chanted it until I dropped off. I may even have mumbled it in my sleep, but I guess it wasn't good enough because I held Her in my arms again while I slept. And this time She was Vanessa.
She reached into my mind and put flesh on the bare bones of my desires. It was so good . . . when She touched me, it was in all the old familiar ways. She asked me if I'd missed her. It was Van's voice - a voice I'd never liked because it didn't seem to suit her. But I was happy to hear it again. I said, "Yes, I missed you - more than you can ever imagine, my love."
Loving her was like drowning in black silk - that wonderful hair cascading over her shoulders, trailing across my chest, kisses like little bites of ripe fruit - sweet and sharp, black silk parting to crimson and sweet as pomegranate juice on my tongue, her laughter like silver . . . She was perfect. And then it was over, too soon. Always too soon. When I woke I knew if there was a way to capture me, this was it. I think it was at that moment that I surrendered to whatever She was. If there was a price for having Van this way, I was going to pay it. I called in sick.
But as the day wore on and Van and I made love over and over, I became less enchanted by my lovely wife, less convinced of my good fortune. Something nagged at me - something was missing and not quite right - but I couldn't place it. Eventually I told Van to go, and she was gone almost before the command was out of my mouth. I felt wretched.
I lay down on the bed and thought of Lucy, my senior prom date. Sure enough, She appeared to me and we made up for lost time. Then I thought of Marcy, my lonely executive, then of Kira, of Susan, of . . . all the others who meant little to me beyond a cure for some vague itch that had afflicted me all my life. I fucked all night, called in sick again, fucked all day, never wondering where the stamina was coming from.
Then the phone rang.
Yes, it was Starsky. I hadn't called and he was worried.
"Still sick?" he asked. I was ashamed to talk to him.
"Still sick," I echoed. "I was asleep."
"Hey, I'm sorry. I was just worried."
"Yeah. Listen, I'll call when I feel more like talking, okay?"
"Yeah, sure." He hung up. Her hand stroked my leg.
"Go!" I snarled, and immediately the touch was gone.
I sat for a long time, not thinking, not speaking, not moving. I blanked out. I was exhausted, disgusted and very frightened because I'd realized that far from controlling Her as I thought I'd been doing, She controlled me.
And I knew that She was probably going to kill me.
I was going down, down . . . There was no end to this fall, only more falling. I cried.
I must have cried myself to sleep because suddenly I wasn't alone anymore. I was making love to Rosie Malone. It was the inevitable next step of my fall, and it didn't surprise me at all. The curiosity had always been there.
I felt myself slipping away and I was almost glad of it. She was burrowing through long-buried thoughts and desires, giving me things I'd forgotten I wanted - or was too ashamed to admit wanting. For a time I enjoyed Rosie, but I grew tired of her and She disappeared.
Then I lay in bed and drifted, not really wanting anything but oblivion. Peace . . . I wanted peace. I figured I was going to get it, too - soon. What next? I wondered, almost more curious than horrified. If She put flesh to some of my desires . . . I tried very hard not to think about some of my darker secrets. I didn't sleep.
The sun came up. I was still alone. I phoned Dobey around eight to tell him I wouldn't be in. He told me that I could begin my vacation on Monday if I wanted. I said I wanted. He was all gruff concern, but I knew that I was making life hard for him, too.
"I really am sick," I said to him.
"I believe you." I wish he hadn't said that. I wanted him to rant and rave and call me every name I'd called myself in the last days. Instead he said, "I hope you're seeing a doctor."
"Yes, of course." What was one more lie?
All day I lay in bed and waited, too tired even to think about getting up, too lost to fight. Whatever it was that was eating me up, I had no power to resist.
This is your life, Ken Hutchinson . . . Died in the saddle . . . Fucked to death - What a joke. I remembered laughing. Acorn academy, come and get me.
That night when She came into my bed She was Terry. Even in my sleep I was horrified - terrified. My subconscious had called her here. It was an ugly truth in a long string of ugly truths, dear God, dear God . . . I had always loved her, always wanted her even when she was the most special thing in Starsky's life. I tried to push her away, but she was too strong, too persuasive.
She was going to kill me, She was going to suck me dry. I was on the knife-edge of despair and I seriously considered suicide for a time - a very short time - until I realized I didn't want to die. In those desolate, empty hours before dawn on Sunday I wanted so desperately to live. I felt myself struggling out of the darkness again. I needed the sounds of humanity so I turned on the radio. I chose a station playing the Enigma Variations (which had always reminded me of Starsky) and lay back down to listen, not intending to sleep, although I felt like I hadn't slept in weeks. I did sleep, deeply and peacefully, for a few hours, and when I woke the sun was slanting in through the shutters in the front windows. Morning! And I was alone and still alive. The station had switched to Mendelssohn, and I drank a glass of water and stumbled back to bed. I dared to hope it was over.
Of all the forms She could have taken, none would have compelled me the way his did. I knew, even in the never-never land of dreams, that there was no one person I loved more deeply.
At first, She was nebulous in my arms, as though uncertain of the shape She would take. Then suddenly hard muscle formed under my hands, and a soft mat of fur brushed against my chest and belly and a firmness pressed into my groin. Starsky . . . Starsk. There was almost joy in me as we made love.
Waking and sleeping were one now for I clung to him as a drowning man clings to a last scrap of floating debris. This was Starsky, I told myself; this was Starsky come to pull me out of the darkness again, come to break my fall. I wasn't afraid of him. I let myself explore that lovely, familiar body - familiar but new. There was no part of him that I didn't touch, that I didn't kiss, that I didn't call on as a talisman against evil. I entered him - it was what he asked for - and chanted "I love you" over and over until it was finished and I held him in my arms and wept.
It wasn't Starsky and could never be. I knew because I'd finally discovered the missing part of the puzzle. She had form but no substance. The faces, the bodies - even the voices were right - but there were no smells. What I'd missed with all the others, what had been a small, nagging detail was, with Starsky, like Saturn without its rings, sunshine without warmth. Starsky didn't smell like Starsky - no sandalwood, no faint scent of male, no clean, sweet scent from the tumble of dark curls on my pillow. Van's scent, the others' - I hadn't known or loved half so much as Starsky's.
I pushed him away and said "Go," but he lay there, watching me with that same hungry stare that I'd come to know so well. "Go away."
He smiled. "Why?"
"I don't want you any more."
"Yes, you do," he told me.
I did - I really did. There was an ache in me and he was the cause and the cure. This was my last secret, so long buried. From the moment I'd met him I'd loved him. There was a time when we first partnered that I'd wanted him. It was about the time that Van and I were breaking up, and sometimes I'd lie in bed beside her and conjure up guilty fantasies about making love with Starsky. He was the only man I'd ever desired, but I wasn't about to dabble in homosexuality with my much-beloved partner, even if he had been willing, which I assumed he wasn't. So I locked the desires away in a place so remote that She hadn't found them until now. Until the moment when She became Starsky in my arms, I'd almost forgotten that I felt these things for him. Finally there was acceptance. I let myself drown in him again and again.
The phone rang about two that afternoon. It was Starsky.
"Something's wrong," he said.
"Jesus, Starsky . . ." I broke down on the phone. "God . . . I, I'm . . . oh, Starsk . . ." I stammered, tears pouring down my face.
"Hutch! Hutch!" he shouted. Beside me, the other Starsky stroked my cock and whispered, "Hutch?"
"What am I gonna do?" I wailed, pushing the hand away.
"The dreams, Starsk. Oh, my God . . ."
"Take it easy, take it easy." He sounded as if he was verging on the same hysteria that had caught hold of me. "Look, I'll call somebody to stay with . . ."
"No!" I screamed the word. I was totally out of control. "No - nobody else. Please, please?"
"Okay, Hutch, okay, I'm coming home. I'll get there as soon as I can."
I don't know what pulled me back at that moment - maybe it was the pain I heard in his voice, and the fear. And maybe it was my own fear that the thing beside me threatened him in some way. "I can cope," I told him after a few deep breaths. "But I need you, Starsk. Soon, please?"
"I'm on my way." He hung up. And I whispered "I love you" to him. Before he came here I was going to end this craziness once and for all.
I left the bed and put on my robe and went to the kitchen to think. She didn't follow me, but She watched me now with Starsky's eyes.
I drank some juice and thought about how to kill Her. Some vague memory told me that demons and the like hate iron, that they're repelled by it. Presumably it can harm them. (Something small and hysterical in me wondered if I should bash Her to death with my cast-iron waffle-maker.) I searched the kitchen, but all the damn knives were steel and I supposed that steel didn't count.
Starsky'd know, I thought as I walked around the apartment. He likes all those crazy movies - he'd know how to deal with a demon. The thought almost made me giggle. Starsky, the intrepid succubus hunter . . .
I found it in the greenhouse. Fran had given it to me a few years ago - a cast-iron sign that read "The Hutch Patch." I snapped off the sign part and hid the rest up the sleeve of my robe.
I was aware, as I reentered my apartment, that there was a very slim possibility I was going to kill a real person. I shrugged off the idea. It wasn't Starsky - didn't smell like Starsky.
Instead of dwelling on my intentions, I filled my mind with images of our lovemaking. It wasn't difficult. I walked into the bedroom and smiled and S/He smiled back at me.
She knew, just before I drove the stake into Her heart, that She was going to die. I put all my weight on that stake, tore up my left hand. She screamed and begged and changed shape a dozen times: Van, Gillian, Jeannie, Marianne . . . Starsky. In the end She was Starsky, begging to live. I very nearly gave in, but I was angry that She could use him to hurt me, to control me. I bore down on the stake, afraid to stop.
Then She was gone. There was no puff of smoke, no whiff of sulphur, no dreadful shriek as She evaporated. There was blood on the bed, but it was mine. The stake had vanished with Her.
I collapsed and slept for hours, and that's how Starsky found me - bloody and wraithlike. He cried when he saw me. And I told him, "I love you, Starsk." I told him everything . . . everything, and he took it very well, considering. There was no question of his not believing me. He listened gravely, and held my hand while I talked, and when I was finished he was thoughtful. "It's gonna be okay, Hutch," he assured me. "I'm here now and everything will be okay."
Then he set about healing the wounds he found - first my hand, then my home and heart. I took a bath, and when I stepped out of the bathroom it was into a place of peace and love. I knew then that Starsky was living light - my talisman against all spiritual sickness. I would love him, joyfully, till death and beyond. He fed me dinner and put me to bed on clean sheets, but I couldn't sleep. I watched him as he did the dishes.
He put out the last light and came to the side of the bed. "Are you asleep?" he asked.
"No." There were faint rustling sounds, and then the bed dipped as he entered it. His arms snaked around me.
"You said you loved me."
"I do," I admitted. "With all my heart."
Starsky made the hardest things seem easy. "And I love you," he said softly. "I've felt that way for a long time, I guess - but I've never been sure how to say it because I was never quite sure what it was I wanted from you."
"Are you sure now?"
"Yes . . . everything . . . body and soul and heart. Can we cope?"
My heart was pounding and a million tiny butterflies danced in my stomach. "Yes." Oh yes, I thought, yes yes . . . We kissed gently.
"I'll never let anything hurt you again, Hutch." I believed him. "We're gonna spend the rest of our lives together."
The feel of him in my arms was familiar, yet it was not the feel of Her. He was stronger, more substantial, and there was more power and elegance in him than there had been in my dream Starsky. His kisses had the taste of desire in them, and his scent . . . oh, how I'd missed that! . . . heady, like fine wine; warm wood and tang of musk.
But I had no strength left to make love to him. I would have gladly died in the trying, but Starsky knew and held back. "Later," he whispered. "Sleep now. We have all the time in the world. I'll be here when you wake up."
I breathed in his perfume and slept.
And when I woke, I found him asleep in my arms. The genuine article, from the soft curls to the elegant feet - not Her, not ever again. Whatever She had been She was gone now, and despite all I'd suffered I had cause to be grateful.
I thought then that I could never be happier than at that moment, but I was wrong. Each morning of our lives from that day onward we've been together, and on each morning the happiness I feel compounds. All through the years he's been my strength and my joy . . .
And my talisman.