Phantasm Ch. 01byOrangeRibbon©
I'll make sure everyone at your funeral knows exactly what you are.
They were the words that prefaced the beginning of the worst day of Seth's life. He had quite a few of those in the last twenty years, but that particular October day nearly four years ago, was the one he relived over and over again, in his dreams, wide awake, in the middle of an exam, while watching television...
His father's voice still haunted him daily. Seth had made certain he would never have to hear it again in person, but his father's hold on Seth's own warped mind never failed to drag him from whatever peace he'd managed to find. His own mind tossed him back into his personal hell. The basement, the ropes around his wrists and ankles, the knives, the bat, the broken whiskey bottle, and above all, the smell of rotting meat-- they were all lurking deep in his subconscious, waiting for the right moment to torture him further.
I'll always find you, no matter how far you run. I'm inside you. You're just as crazy as I am, son of mine. The voice broke into giggles.
He woke with a gasp, the crazy still echoing through the small single dorm room. He felt his forehead, brushing aside the long, ratty mess his hair had become during the restless night. There was no burning pain, no blood, no fresh wound.
Seth turned off his alarm—he still had ten minutes until it went off, but he didn't want to close his eyes again—and made his way from his single dorm room to the shared showers. The earlier he could get into the showers, the fewer looks he'd get. It was why he made a point to get up at five-thirty in the morning. He'd long ago forgotten what a proper night's sleep could be like. Instead, he'd gotten a morning job and was far more functional in his morning classes than any other student. He wondered what he'd be like with a full eight hours of sleep. Probably a fucking genius.
He stood in front of the mirror and ran his fingers through his silky black hair, pushing it from the mass of scars on his forehead and cheek in his daily inspection. At least the word wasn't visible any longer. He'd taken care of that himself almost as soon as he realized that plastic surgery wouldn't eliminate all traces. Nobody needed to walk around with the word 'fag' on their foreheads. Especially not when it was etched in the horrible handwriting of his father. The man'd had chicken scratch for penmanship. Bad penmanship was probably standard when you were crazy.
Seth's was pretty bad, too.
Seth wished for the millionth time his eyebrows didn't have so many thin, hairless scars running through them. It made him feel like a skunk. Black hair, white scar, black hair. People ran from him about as fast as they would a skunk, once they got a solid glance at his face. If his eyebrows weren't so striped, he might look just a tad more normal. Maybe not.
He laughed at himself before shuffling into the nearest shower stall. The water stayed cold for a while, and Seth soaped up his goose bumps and willed himself to go numb. He did his best to ignore the rest of his scars. Most of them he could only feel, so it wasn't difficult. Only the rash of criss-crosses along his thighs were scrubbed tenderly. They were his sanity, when the crazy was pressing him to do something stupid and nothing else, not even the piano, worked to calm him down. He was working hard not to turn into his father, even if the crazy kept telling him he couldn't escape.
The water was finally warming up, and he finished shampooing quickly. Soon, his floor advisor and the other early risers would find their way out of the woodwork and swamp the bathroom. He needed to be dressed and gone by then. A final rinse, a quick brush of the towel, and he was done.
He tossed on his jeans and the mandatory work polo. Nobody saw him in the dish room, but it was still standard issue for the job. He hated the hideous navy thing. The university's logo was embroidered over the pocket in glossy red and white thread, letting the rest of the world know he didn't actively choose to wear the monstrosity. Soon enough, the front would get wet and grainy from all the food waste students left on their breakfast trays.
He got to the dining hall early, as always. Nyssa, the manager, was waiting with a cup of coffee and a big smile. The little woman was one of very few who had never been scared to death of him, and she always knew how to start his day. He knew she'd come to rely on him in the last year, since he was the only student who requested the morning shift and worked all five days the hall was open for breakfast. The morning cooks had fallen in love with him quickly, since he was always offering to help them out before he needed to get into the dish room. It was a nice working relationship, Seth thought. He was needed and appreciated here.
"You'll be training a new guy in the dish room today. He's also a sophomore, and he's got the same schedule request as you do, so you'll be seeing a lot of him if he can keep up." Nyssa grinned and presented Seth the caffeine. It was dark, rich, and perfect. The bitterness shocked him to life, and his mind began to spin the way it was meant to.
"Should I get the hall set up now, or do you want me to wait?" Seth asked once the world had righted itself. He tied his hair back and pulled the hat from his back pocket. It was navy and fit awkwardly, but he thought it looked a hell of a lot better than a hairnet. Nyssa didn't even glance at his forehead.
"Now is fine. I'll have to give him a tour and whatnot before he can really sink his teeth into the job." Nyssa gave him a big smile. "Maybe you two can work out a staggered schedule. You come do all the dining prep while he does all the dining cleanup." Nyssa knew how much Seth hated cleanup. He had a ten o'clock class, and students never left the hall when it closed. If he stayed, he'd still get the odd looks, the pitying glances, the frightened ones staring at his face. He wore his baseball cap low enough to cover the worst of the mess, but the thick, pale ridge along his cheek was impossible to hide. And he'd be late for calculus.
A new coworker. Another person he had to hide the crazy from.
You can't hide me forever. Soon enough, you'll become me.
He shut out the voice and dutifully emerged into the dark dining room. He focused on getting the teapot brewing, setting up the milk and juice dispensers, and organizing the breakfast cereal display. He'd coordinated the million little jobs into one long movement, each touch purposeful and choreographed to keep his mind blank. He was finished early, and he made his way back to the kitchens where the serving staff were still setting up.
"Grab a plate, Seth!" one of the cooks called. She waved him over to the hot food line, where she was wedging a great metal pot filled with sausage between the eggs and the french toast.
He grabbed a few sausages from her before she could get it situated, dodging as she laughingly swiped at his backside with her towel. He nibbled on his way to the dish room, rinsed his plate, and set it dutifully in the only plastic dish basket the night crew had deigned to leave on the dirty side.
He could hear Nyssa's chatter as he walked around the dish room, moving everything back to its original place. The night shift always screwed up his order. The heavy plastic baskets were still stacked up on the clean side of the room. He carted the brown plastic to the other side of the room, stacking them by type, and tossed one of each on the table. The baskets for glasses and coffee cups went up on a little shelf, just high enough to be out of the way of the stacked trays and plates.
"This is the dish room, where you'll be stuck most of the morning. Seth, come meet Curtis, your new prisoner of war."
Seth turned around slowly. The man in front of him was nearly half a foot taller, far better built, and incredibly handsome. He had honey-brown eyes, freckles, and a shock of golden brown hair that obviously hadn't been brushed yet. He was wearing the navy monstrosity, but his hat was still in his hand. He was staring at Seth's obvious scar, as every coworker did on first introduction.
You're such a fag. And if he is, he's not going to like you. You're too hideous.
"Curtis, this is Seth. He's the best worker I've got, and he's here every morning. You'll be learning from him. He won't bite, no matter how intimidatingly vampiric he looks."
"I promise I won't grow devil's horns or go all Frankenstein's monster on you, either," Seth said, giving Nyssa a slight smile. The woman knew how to shock people out of staring. "Pleased to meet you, Curtis," Seth offered a hand.
"You too, Seth," Curtis replied, shaking hard. They both pulled away immediately, and Seth snapped into teaching mode as Nyssa left him to it. The little voice in the back of his mind was getting to him today, and he needed to get back on schedule to shut it up.
"Tray belt turns on in five minutes—at six-thirty--but trays will be sparse until around seven-thirty. There's a big rush about ten minutes before to ten minutes after each hour, but we stay constantly busy until nine-thirty." Seth pointed toward his side of the room. "This is the dirty side, where trays come in. Food goes into the trash cans, dishes and trays go into the plastic baskets, silverware goes into special solutions. Sort utensils by type. Picking through for all the spoons is a huge pain in the ass." Seth paused for breath, not looking at his gorgeous charge. He didn't need to see the looks his coworker would be giving him right about now.
"I promise he'll repeat everything to you if you need it," Nyssa said, giving Curtis a reassuring pat. "I'm going to go before I have to hear the rest of the spiel or my brain will rot." She disappeared through the door, leaving Curtis standing in the middle of the dish room.
"Let me start the conveyor," Seth muttered, flipping a switch and pushing the green button on the back wall. He moved back toward Curtis as the machine whirred to life. "This is clean-side," Seth motioned toward the counter on the other side of the industrial dish washer. "The baskets will roll out when finished. You'll play match the dish with the hole. If it fits, it's the right container. Anything that doesn't fit into one of these," he pointed at the host of metal trolleys, "goes on the big cart and gets taken care of later. Got it?"
You'd like him to match his dish with your hole, wouldn't you, slut? It won't happen unless he sees all of you, and you don't want that. Too bad.
The crazy was terrible with puns. Seth pushed the voice deeper, shut it out of his mind. Now was not the time.
"What side do you want me to work?" Curtis asked, and Seth caught a little gravel in his voice. It was sexy enough to send Seth into fantasy land for a few seconds. In a world without scars, Curtis would be whispering in Seth's ear, telling Seth exactly how he was going to fuck him, and that raspy voice would have Seth willing and ready to do just about anything. As it was, he was glad his jeans were stiff enough not to bulge too obviously. He could hear the crazy laughing from deep, deep inside.
Curtis cleared his throat, making Seth tense as reality came rushing back.
"What would you feel most comfortable starting with? Clean side automatically means you'll get wet. Dirty side automatically means you'll get disgustingly gross. It's inevitable, so plan accordingly." He glanced up at Curtis's face before glancing back at the conveyor belt. The first tray was coming around the corner. He was glad for the diversion. The sinfully handsome new golden guy had been staring at his cheek again.
"I'll take clean side, for now. I ought to be able to manage sorting by size and color, at least. I learned that much in kindergarten. At long as it doesn't involve alphabetizing or math."
Seth wondered if he was supposed to laugh at that. He wanted to, but he caught it too late. He went for ignoring the comment and changing the subject instead.
"We can have the radio on, though we only get three stations in this dungeon. The first is country. Here's your warning. I hate country, and if you insist on listening to it with me in the room, I will not be held responsible for my actions." His father had loved country. The bastard had ruined an entire genre for him. "So if you value your life, you have your choice of the station that plays the newest terrible hip-hop hits or the classic rock station that seems to be obsessed with Megadeth. Decide."
"Country isn't my thing either. Um, how about bad hip hop today, Megadeth tomorrow?"
Too bad. I wanted to hear Garth Brooks again. The voice began to sing a horrible, off-key rendition of Friends in Low Places.
Seth just winced, nodded, flipped on the radio, and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. The trays began to arrive, and he began cleaning. The Garth impersonation faded as he worked, thank god. The constant repetition always served to keep the crazy at bay. It was one of the reasons he loved his job. Catching glimpses of Curtis's body beneath the hideous polo was a new distraction, but he welcomed the challenge of seeing as much as possible while not completely ruining his rhythm. He thought of his favorite anal plug, hiding in a drawer in his room, and smiled. He might have a class right after work, but he was free to fantasize about his new coworker all afternoon.
Seth was speeding through the dirty dishes so quickly Curtis could barely keep up. The boy had his hat pulled low over hazel eyes, and a little pony tail was sprouting from the back of his baseball cap and hanging down to brush the collar of his polo. The black hair looked soft and silky, and Curtis had the strongest desire to toss the cap to the floor, rip out the hair tie, and run his fingers through what was underneath. Every time Seth spoke, Curtis had to actively try not to stare at his lips. They were full, sensual, and Curtis was getting the most erotic glimpses of what he'd like to be doing with those lips if he ever got the chance. He nearly dropped an entire plastic tray of glasses on the floor when Seth began to sway his hips to the music.
Every so often, he swore that Seth's form blurred. The rest of the dish room remained sharp, clear, perfectly in focus. Not Seth. Seth was like his mother, blurring in and out.
Curtis decided to ignore it. A haunted dish room wasn't the most frightening thing he'd ever heard of.
"You're fucking fast," Curtis grunted, watching Seth's hands fly as the last tray rolled into the dish room and was cleared in seconds. "You'll have to teach me how to do that tomorrow."
"I'm fast because I've been here almost a year." Seth's voice was low and quiet, hovering somewhere between sweet and dream-like. Curtis swallowed.
"You're also covered in syrup. Kinky." Oops. He shouldn't have said that one out loud.
"Damn." Seth looked down at his shirt in resignation before meeting Curtis's sparkling eyes.
"I guess it'll be my turn to get dirty tomorrow. What do we do now, oh sticky one?"
The boy went back to business mode almost immediately. "Let me wash my hands, and I'll show you where these go. Clean side puts dishes away. Dirty side collects the serving pans, gives them a wash, and then scrubs the dish room and mops the floors. Whoever finishes first helps the other, then we go out and wipe down tables."
His tone was quiet but compelling, and Curtis couldn't help but smile. The boy was a natural at giving orders. This boy with the gentle voice could probably manage to top Curtis if he tried. Curtis liked to top, preferred to top. For the first time in his life, he was contemplating bottoming this quiet, mysterious soul.
He hoped to god Seth was gay.
Curtis was a quick study. They finished quickly, and when Seth asked about staggering the beginning and end of the shift, Curtis agreed. He liked the idea of wiping tables if it meant he didn't have to show up at six in the morning. In turn, Seth could get to his ten o'clock class without worrying.
After that first morning, Curtis stopped staring at the scars and started checking out the rest of Seth's body as often as he could. The boy looked absolutely perfect in his navy polo and a variety of fitted jeans. Occasionally, the polo would untuck when Seth was stretching to put something away, and Curtis could catch a glimpse of creamy skin, far paler than the skin on Seth's arms or face. He wasn't dark enough to be called tan, but the skin on his belly had been positively white. If he never went out in the sun, he'd look like the front of a vampire romance novel.
As Curtis continued to surruptitiously watch his coworker, Seth continued to blur. Not often, but once or twice each morning. Curtis had gotten his eyes checked, just to make sure. They were fine. It was the dish room. It had to be haunted.
To distract himself from ghosts and sexy little asses dancing around, Curtis would strike up friendly conversation about how terrible the university's football team was doing, and Seth added some humorous perspective on how the failings of the team spawned from the ridiculousness of the mascot. Curtis informed Seth about how his family rooted for the rival university during games. Curtis learned that Seth didn't actually care about football and had no idea what the rules were.
They bonded over the derision of the sport. When football talk was exhausted, discussion of their futures began. Curtis was a performing arts major who took the morning job in order to make all his evening rehearsals. He encouraged Seth to come and watch his next performance, just before the winter holidays, and Seth agreed. Seth was into engineering, loved the piano, and self-identified as a nerd. Curtis occasionally asked him math questions and secretly thought of Seth as a closet genius.
More personal facts had begun to emerge during week three, like the fact that they both were gay. Curtis had a private celebration with his wild imagination, his cock, and his hand after that juicy little tidbit was revealed. Curtis started to regularly comment on the deliciousness of certain male celebrities, and Seth jokingly tore apart his taste in men before giving his own opinion. Curtis told Seth how he came out to his parents almost as soon as he figured himself out. He talked about his secret obsession with cheesy horror flicks. Curtis even told him about his mother's psychic abilities and her obsession with ghosts.
"She's a paranormal expert, in her own way," Curtis said as he unloaded a tray of dishes. "She's always been able to see the dead who stick around. She always told me I was lucky I was merely sensitive and not a full spirit medium."
"You believe the dead can talk to the living?" Seth asked, staring back at Curtis with wide eyes.
"I most definitely do," Curtis said, confused. Wasn't that what was happening to Seth in the dish room? Perhaps Seth didn't want to believe, he thought with a smile. "When I came out to my parents, my mother told me she already knew because her mother had seen me kiss a boy in our living room. Grandma had been dead since I was six, and Mom always complained about how she haunted the house. To this day, we still can't redecorate the front parlor without everything going terribly wrong. That spectre is a fiend."
"You can't get rid of the ghosts, then?" Seth asked, surprisingly resigned. Perhaps he did feel the dish room ghost, then.
"You can, but Mom won't do that to Grandma. Grandma is sticking around until Gramps dies. Once he does, she promised she'd take him and go." He chuckled a little at his grandfather, who was still horrified with the idea his dead wife was keeping watch on his diet. "Mom doesn't like to untie ghosts from the earth. They don't go to the right places when she forces them out."