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Ray Miranda is a horror writer from the Bronx whose fiction has appeared in Circuit Traces. His story "Jonesin' on the D Train" is a Dark Planet Archive Favorite.


Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

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Lifeline

by Ray Miranda


     "Reynaldo, be a dear and loan me a few dollars 'till pay day", Antoine said as he bussed the old man's cheek. Without a word, Reynaldo reached into his wallet and handed the younger man a small clip of hundred dollar bills. "You're the best, love. I'll be in touch." Then he was out the door, a trace of his cologne lingering in the air as a souvenir.
     Reynaldo Cortez shook his head sadly as he wandered back into the inner recesses of the mansion. His home was both extravagant and tasteful, a home suitable for royalty. And he had been royalty once upon a time. He was the "King of the Latin Lovers", and at one time all of Hollywood had been at his beck and call. He had been bigger than Gilbert, bigger than Valentino. And unlike them, he had prospered with both a long career and life. The advent of talking pictures had not proven detrimental to his career as it had for so many of his counterparts; in fact, the pairing of his richly accented baritone with his sultry good looks dampened more theater seats than spilled Coca-Cola.
     While Cortez proved impervious to technology, Father Time established himself as a much more formidable opponent. Audiences clamored to see Cary Grant and John Wayne; and later, a young James Dean or Monty Clift, as opposed to a middle-aged relic from the dawn of motion pictures. Thus he was unceremoniously demoted to playing bit parts and character roles, which he accepted with his characteristic grace and dignity. The fact that he was still paid quite handsomely for his diminished screen time allowed his extravagance, if not his ego, to survive intact.
     As the years wore on, the parts became smaller and smaller, until eventually studio execs, directors, and worst of all, his agent refused to accept his calls. Four decades before, a call from Reynaldo Cortez would have had those very same people turning cartwheels to gain his favor. Now his messages were filed away in the "Whatever happened to?" bin.
     And so it came to pass that Reynaldo Cortez, who had more sexual conquests (both male and female) than the remainder of Hollywood combined, was reduced to soliciting favors from pretty boys more interested in his bank account than his box office. They would pamper him, service him, and ultmately, at the end of the day, fleece him. A simple blow job could take on the equivalent value of Paramount stock.

     He first noticed the boy during one of his infrequent trips to the market in town. While barely into his teens, his eyes betrayed a wisdom extending far beyond his years. Reynaldo could not help but desire the youth. He was, in all facets, beautiful; yet there was something disturbing about that beauty, as if something unwholesome lurked directly beneath, awaiting an opportunity to reveal itself. And so he felt a mixture of both trepidation and excitement when the boy approached him, radiating a combination of innocence and sensuality. He stood before Reynaldo, and in a soft but firm voice, said to him, "I would like to come home with you."
     Reynaldo was intrigued by the boy's forwardness. "And why should I take you home, my beautiful little man? What is it you find so attractive about an old goat like me, eh? My money, perhaps? All the boys know I have plenty of that. Or perhaps you need a new pair of shoes? A nice coat, a credit card? Tell me, niño, what is it you want from me?"
     The boy looked up at him and whispered, "Only to love and to be loved by you."
     Reynaldo had survived long enough not to be mislead by insincere declarations of love and fidelity, but there was something about the way the boy spoke that both aroused and enticed him. "And just how would you love me, little man? I have loved many, and been loved by many. What would be so special about your love?"
     "I will love you completely and unconditionally. "
     It was a strange answer, yet the boy offered it with such quiet intensity that Reynaldo felt compelled to pursue the matter further. "What does that mean, niño? To love me completely?"
     "It means I will attend and adore you, act as both companion and servant, treat you with reverence no matter what your behavior, and hope that you will love me as such in return"
     "You are bold, beautiful one, I will grant you that." Reynaldo's voice held a tinge of sarcasm. "But I have heard countless paromours vow their undying love for me years before you were so much as an itch in your fathers groin. What can you teach me of love?"
     "If I have offended you, I am deeply sorry. It was not my intent", the boy replied unperturbed. He paused, expecting a further rebuke. When there was none, he asked, "Would you like to take me home now?"
     Reynaldo stared hard at the boy.
     Desire bubbled inside of him.
     He whispered, "Yes."

     His name was Joaquin. That was all the information Reynaldo was able to extract from the boy. He refused to speak of family, friends, or anything that might reveal some glimpse of his past. "Yesterday is gone, and the promise of tomorrow fleeting", he would chide Reynaldo. "Only today is real."
     "So wise, for one who has yet to ripen on the vine", Reyaldo would always reply to him. "So wise, and so beautiful."
     They did much together in the passing year. Movies, theater, reading, long heated discussions on anything from politics to philosophy. While giving the appearance of an uneducated street urchin, Joaquim was unusally astute, posessing a keen insight into human affairs that dwarfed the wisdom of men twice his age or more. The boy asked for little, and gave much in return.
     Except his body.
     Joaquin had neither offered or requested sexual favors. At one point, Reynaldo chided the boy, and asked, "So what is the problem, beautiful one? Am I too old and wrinkled to share a bed with?" To which Joaquin replied, "You are beautiful to me, señor, but the time is not right. When you give yourself to me, it must be an act of love. Do not rush what you are not yet ready for."
     "Ah, niño, I have been ready since I first laid eyes upon you."
     "Not as ready as you may think, señor."


     During their second year together, Reynaldo noticed an alarming change in the boy. His pallor became a sickly gray, his skin grew taut across his delicate cheekbones. When he asked the boy what was wrong, his replies were always vague and evasive. After months of watching Joaquim's condition steadily deteriorate, Reynaldo called in his private physician to examine the boy. While he expected some resistance, Joaquim's reaction to the doctor's visit bordered on the psychotic. He became violent and abusive, deliberately taking care to hurl both invectives and objects toward the physician and not Reynaldo. The passage of a few hours did little to settle the boy's agitation, resulting in an extravagant fee collected by the doctor for an unconsummated house call.
     When the boy finally appeared to be calm, Reynaldo gathered up the nerve to approach him. "What is it, niño? What is so wrong with you that you cannot stand the sight of a doctor, eh?"
     The boy looked up at him and replied simply, "I am dying."
     "Madre de Dios! You must let me fetch the doctor back at once."
     Joaquim shook his head. "You doctor can do me no good, señor. What I need, he cannot provide. I am not what I seem."
     "Tell me what you need, my beautiful one. Whatever it is, I swear that you shall have it."
     "Perhaps you should be aware of what I am, and what it is that I need, before you make such promises." He drew a deep breath. "I have walked the earth nearly as long as man himself. How and why I came to be as I am is a distant memory best forgotten. I have seen civilizations rise and fall, to make way for newer societies to be rebuilt upon their ashes. I have known alchemists and scientists, kings and dictators. And while I must forever remain on the periphery of your society, fate, evolution, or something else entirely has seen fit to assure that our paths are forever entwined.
     I need you to survive, dear senor. I need your breath and your blood, your flesh and your spirit. But it must be given willingly, you see. I cannot take from you what you are not prepared to give. Oh, Reynaldo, how difficult the last century has been for me to endure! Your people have become sefish, jaded. They have forgotten how to love, and in doing so, have almost surely sentenced me to death. Without their love, eventually, I will cease to be.
     I have given my love as I said I would, and now I ask for yours in return, so that I may live."
     Reynaldo knelt before the boy, his face ashen. They stared quietly at one another, neither willing to break the silence.
     Finally, Reynaldo spoke, his voice choked with emotion.
     "Beautiful one, I have outlived both friends and enemies alike. Life had little meaning until you came to me. You have given me what I had long ago abandoned any hope for. Finally, I have truly been loved, and my soul is finally at peace. So yes, I will give you what you need"
     And as he felt the boy's teeth burrow into his flesh, there was no pain, only contentment.
     With his dying breath, he whispered, "I love you."

THE END