All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream.
approximately 5000 words
Dream a Little Dream of Me
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
-- Edgar Allen Poe
The bar rocked to the raucous rhythms of dance. Lasers flashed in blue and green and red across naked male torsos. Strobes pulsed in cadence with the lunatic beat of the music; visions of dancing men flashed in frenetic spasms of motion. Aloof and alone, Sean leaned with his back to the bar and watched and waited, scanning the mass of masculinity for the perfect lover.
The club lay coiled in an ancient basement, entombed deep beneath the bustle of the city. Mold seeped from the stone walls, cloaked with raven-black tapestries. Here and there, cold steel chains shrouded the walls with mystery and promise.
Sean gazed upon the club in deep satisfaction. He was certain that this place was made for him, just for him. He sucked in cold beer and hot visions of shirtless men. His eyes prowled the room, searching for perfection. Tonight, like so many nights before, hope rose anew that he would find fulfillment. Twice before Sean thought he had found perfection in this endless sea of tricks and one-night stands. Both times he had been wrong, misled by lust and charm. His imperfect lovers had forsaken him, leaving him alone, so very alone. Sean shook his head as if to clear those memories. Tyler and Jack were no more, they would never darken his life again. He sipped at his beer and waited and watched.
As with nights past, Sean had designed his appearance with an obsessive attention to detail. His lean torso erupted from his t-shirt, as though struggling against the bonds of the crisp, blue fabric. His black, denim jeans sported a sharp crease that broke at his black, Reebok high-tops. His longish, blonde hair fell in apparent casual disarray that took him hours to get just so. Rodin surely paid no less attention to artistic effect in sculpting the male form.
He was startled at the faintest touch on his forearm and the hint of a voice in the crowd. He turned to gaze at the man who had appeared next to him out of the crowd and out of nowhere. "What?"
The man leaned into Sean. "Sorry. I didn't mean to bother you." His soft, southern tenor somehow penetrated the wall of sound in the bar.
Sean looked the stranger up and down. He wore black denim slacks, boots, and a dark blue flannel shirt. His shirt was unbuttoned just enough to expose a raven colored mat of hair on his chest. From the neck upward he was conventional enough, with a conservative mustache and a businessman's haircut. From the neck down, well, who could tell? No imperfections screamed forth. Sean held hope.
He smiled and leaned into the stranger. "That's all right. I was just watchin' the show." His hand, as if by accident, brushed the stranger's arm as he lifted his beer to his mouth.
Silent signals exchanged, the stranger lounged back against the bar next to Sean. "Me too. It's always different here, y'know? Even though it's the same too."
"I know what you mean." Sean tilted his head toward a couple conjoined in dance, supple and alluring. "Like those two. See that hairy muscle boy?"
The other nodded. "I know him. He lisps and has face creams in his bathroom. And the skinny guy with him is the top." The stranger sucked at his beer. "What a pair of fuckin' phonies."
Sean leaned back. "I don't think I've seen you here before." The stranger seemed preternaturally real in this mass of illusion. Sean's heart quickened.
The stranger's gaze avoided Sean, as though transfixed by the dancers. "I just moved to the city a couple of months ago. Took me a while to find this place." Sean tried to place his Southern drawl - perhaps Dallas or Austin?
The stranger pulled his eyes away from the dancers long enough to scan him from head to toe. Those crystalline blue eyes gripped him with an allure at once compelling and hypnotic.
"Yeah, this place's kind of hidden away." Sean turned to the stranger and held out his hand. "Hey man, my name's Sean."
The stranger's grip tested his, both men struggling to crush the other. "I'm Gil. Nice to meet you, Sean."
"You bet. What brings you to the city, anyway?"
"Shit man, I just had to get out of the little one-horse town I was in." He chugged the last of his beer. "I ain't got no job yet, I'm still lookin'. Hey, you want another beer?" He pulled a money clip from his pocket and signaled the bartender.
"Sure, thanks man." They exchanged empty bottles for full ones. Sean started at the sight of Gil's reflection in the mirror over the bar, marveling at the animal allure pulsing from his image. They turned and again lounged back to watch the dancers.
"So, what do you do?" Gil still avoided looking at Sean. This was all part of the dance.
"This and that. Right now I'm workin' as a waiter at Chez Madeleine." Sean didn't want to admit that being a waiter was the only job he'd ever had. Some guys were turned off by that. Status queens, he thought with disgust. He supposed he'd find out soon enough what was wrong with Gil.
They stood like that for a while longer, exchanging occasional barbed comments about the dancers and drinking their beers. Then the music lurched from the frenetic dance beat to the gentle melody of a golden oldie. The men on the dance floor froze in startled transition. Some started to sway together in close embrace, others slipped to the bar for beer. Mamma Cass crooned for those who would listen.
Stars shining bright above youGil chugged his beer, then his blue eyes bored into Sean. "You want to dance, man?"
Night breezes seem to whisper "I love you"
Sean imagined their bodies touching, floating in slow rhythm, dreaming erotic dreams. "Sure. Why not?" He finished his beer and pushed away from the bar.
While I'm alone and blue as can beGil strode to the middle of the crowded floor, turned and slipped off his shirt. He tucked it into his belt, on the left-hand side. Black curls matted his chest and torso. His eyes shot a bold challenge at Sean. A dark tattoo snaked from his shoulder down his back.
Dream a little dream of me
A grin flared for just a moment on Sean's face, and then he slipped off his t-shirt. He tucked it into his jeans, but on the right-hand side. His torso, smooth and unmarked with body hair, rippled with every movement. Small rings pierced each nipple, accentuating his sculpted musculature. Submission and dominance established, the two slid into one another's arms in a sinewy embrace.
As they swayed together, the coarseness of Gil's body hair assaulted Sean's smooth skin. His fingers toyed with the muscles on Gil's back while his piercings, pressed close to Gil's chest and tugged at his flesh. The aroma of musk and beer mingled with Gil's hot breath at his throat. A sudden wetness slipped into his ear, then a whisper. "Beauty and the beast." Gil's beard scraped his cheek. Sean's grip tightened. At this moment Gil was the beast and Sean, Sean was nothing but a dream of flesh.
Lost in the music, lost in Gil's arms, lost there on the dance floor, Sean felt the eyes of others upon them. He knew they watched, knew that others envied their sensuous pairing, knew that others were aroused by their erotic pas de deux. Gil's arms controlled him. He had no will of his own. Their mutual hardness pressed against one another. Lost in Gil's arms, lost in the gaze of others, lost in the purity of flesh and desire, Sean was at last alive, his will ravaged but his spirit aflame.
But in your dreams whatever they beThe song faded to silence. Sean inhaled the heady scent of Gil's body. His fingers traced a fine line down Gil's torso, grazing his flesh with the faintest of strokes. They gazed into one another's eyes, and then dissolved into a kiss. Their teeth clicked as Sean opened his mouth and surrendered to Gil's tongue, his body afloat and the torment that was his soul vanquished.
Dream a little dream of me
"I could lose myself in those brown eyes," Gil murmured in his ear. Sean thrilled at the words, his flesh afire at the incandescent caress of the other's breath.
The music blared again, lurching to the pulsating doggerel of a rap song. The magic moment shattered. Gil gripped his shoulders and gazed into his eyes. "You want to blow this place?"
Sean's let his head roll to one side and rested it on Gil's shoulder. "Yes. My place or yours?"
"Mine." His voice held no doubt. His fingers teased the piercings on Sean's chest. "Those are nice."
"I'm glad you like. There's more in other places, y'know. Hope that's okay." Sean pressed the hardness between his legs against Gil. "I like toys. Do you maybe have toys at your place?"
Gil's hand ran along his crotch, feeling the steel embedded there. "Nice. Yeah, I've got toys. And rope too."
Sean smiled. Perhaps on this night potential and perfection would at last conjoin. The ghosts of his past loves haunted him yet, demanding in their flaws. Sean was never alone, though he was always alone. Tonight, though, tonight there was the promise that was Gil. Tonight Sean would not be alone, nor would he be troubled by the apparitions of lovers past. Gil's reflection stared back at him once again from the mirror over the bar and then they departed, arm in arm.
# # #
The next morning Sean woke to pleasant aches and pains. The clatter of pots and the scent of bacon wafted to the bedroom. He stretched and ran his hands over his smooth and naked body. There was a tinge of rawness inside, a pleasant reminder of where Gil had so lately thrust. Sean liked that feeling, a persistence of desire. He felt his wrists and ankles for rope burns and was surprised to find none, despite the writhing activities of the previous night.
He stretched again and padded to the bathroom to relieve himself. Looking about, he saw there was only one toothbrush hanging in the rack over the sink. He shrugged. He couldn't catch anything from a toothbrush that he wouldn't have already caught last night. He opened the cabinet above the sink, found the toothpaste, and brushed his teeth.
He was relieved to find no face creams hidden in the bathroom. There didn't seem to be any other secrets either. No illicit drugs, nothing hidden in the commode. There was an empty prescription bottle for one Gil MacRae, for something called clozapine. He didn't recognize the drug, but it couldn't be serious if Gil hadn't needed to refill it. The prescription had expired two months ago.
He found a razor and shaving cream and lathered his face, humming the song from last night.
While I'm alone and blue as can beIn the mirror Gil's dark visage stared back at him. Startled, he turned about to see his new lover lounging in the doorway.
Dream a little dream of me
"Hey, sleepyhead. I didn't think you was ever going to wake up." A black silk robe clung to Gil's body. "I see you found the toothbrush."
Sean smiled. "Yeah. Morning breath is vanquished." He reached out to embrace Gil. Shaving cream still fluffed about his jaw.
Gil stepped back and raised his hands. "Breakfast is almost ready. Ain't got no time for that shit this mornin'." He pursed his lips and looked Sean up and down. "You sure do look good. C'mon, hurry up now and finish in here so's we can have breakfast." He turned on his heel and strode away as though certain would Sean follow without question. He was right, of course. It was delicious obeying, following a clothed master with his own body exposed. Sam rushed through shaving and trailed after.
"Sit." Gil tipped his head toward the breakfast bar while he attended to the eggs and bacon sizzling on the cook top. "There's juice in the pitcher and coffee. Help yourself."
Sean poured two cups of coffee, one for each of them, and two glasses of juice. He perched on the stool at the counter and gazed at Gil. "You look so domestic."
"Yeah. Maybe I wanted to show you I can cook." He flipped the eggs onto plates, arranged the bacon and buttered the toast. "Here you go." He plopped down next to Sean and started to eat.
Sean dug in. "Hey, this is really good. Thanks. You didn't have to fix me breakfast."
"Glad to do it. I don't want you goin' away any time soon."
Sean felt the other's hand squeeze his thigh and then roam upwards, towards more intimate parts.
"You must shave pretty regular."
Sean rotated his body and opened his legs to give Gil better access. He took a bite of eggs. "Every couple of days. I'm naturally pretty smooth." His voice was muffled by eggs and toast.
"That's good. I like the feel. We make a nice contrast, don't you think?" Gil withdrew his hand and blew on his coffee.
"Yeah. I love the way your hairy bod feels against my smooth skin." Sean felt himself getting aroused again.
An eyebrow tipped and eyes glanced downward. "So I see." His fingertips again teased with Sean's desire. "But I told you, I ain't got no time for no shenanigans this mornin'."
"I know. I can't help it, though." Sean was beyond blushing.
Gil sopped up what was left of his eggs with a piece of toast. "Look, I got to go out this mornin'. Probably be gone most of the day. But I don't want to lose you."
"Well, I'm supposed to work the lunch shift." He glanced at the clock. It was not quite ten. "I've got to be there at eleven and then I'll get off around three."
"Yeah, I wont' be back by then." Gil gathered his dishes into the sink. "Look, I got to get dressed and run. You can hang here, take a shower, whatever." He reached for a keychain hanging above the counter. "Here. You can have a spare set of keys. When you get off work, come on back here." He looked at Sean and pursed his lips. "Can you cook? Or do you just know how to serve food?"
"I can cook."
"Okay, then. Look, I'll be back around seven tonight. Why don't you come back here and fix us some dinner? Then we'll have all night to play. There's stuff around here." He waved at the kitchen. "Food enough to make somethin'. Use your imagination."
"Sure. You got any preferences? I cook a mean Chinese."
"Chinese is good. Lay off the spices, though. I don't want my stomach fightin' with me later. When we play." He put his arms on his hips. "Look, you can have the run of the place. But the spare bedroom's off limits, okay? It's locked up and I've got some stuff stored in there. It's kind of, like, sensitive."
"Cook dinner. Stay out of the spare bedroom. Yes, Master. I hear and obey."
"See that you do." Gil nodded his head and his blue eyes, now cold as steel, lashed at Sean. "See that you do."
# # #
Sean juggled a bag of groceries in one hand and, with the other, fished the key chain out of his pocket. He fumbled a moment to find the right key, and then opened the door to Gil's apartment. Gil may have thought his kitchen was well stocked, but it lacked the ingredients Sean needed for the special meal he planned. He strode to the little kitchen and dumped fresh ginger, scallions, zucchini, Hoisin sauce, sesame oil, whole cloves, and pork roast on the counter. He'd show Gil who could cook!
The keys spilled onto the counter too. There were three keys on the key chain, two of which bore plastic labels. One read "Front Door" and the other read "Spare Room." The third key was unlabelled and curious looking, unlike any door key Sean had ever seen. It was made of blue ceramic and the blade, instead of being notched, was a triangular-shaped dowel. Sean couldn't imagine what it might open.
He clanked around the kitchen, finding the cutting board and the butcher's knife. To his delight, he saw that Gil possessed a set of kitchen knives from Zwilling J. A. Henckels. He hefted the butcher's knife and noted the 'twins' trademark, marking it as the premium line. He grinned: they were identical with the ones in his own kitchen. He gripped the knife, thrilling at its perfect balance. It felt like an extension of his arm.
He started chopping vegetables and putting them into coffee cups for storage. Scallions, celery, carrots, zucchini, he placed each in their own container. When the improvised container was full, he covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Then he turned to the pork roast and scored the surface, shoving thin slices of ginger and garlic deep into the meat. Pork loves garlic and ginger, he thought. He finished by inserting whole cloves into the intersections of the surface cuts he had made earlier. It was four thirty, just right to put the roast into the oven and have it be ready by seven. He would mix the sauce and stir fry the vegetables later.
The keychain on the counter beckoned to him. He ran one finger over the key labeled "Spare Room." Gil's voice echoed in his mind. "But the spare bedroom's off limits." What was it about that room that was so important, what was it that was so secret? Sean remembered how cold Gil's eyes had turned when ordering him to stay out of that room. He fingered the key. It was just a key, and it was just a room, like any other room. He heaved a sigh and shook his head. A hot shower would help him relax.
Sean spent over ninety minutes in the bathroom. First he showered, turning the water to the hottest temperature and letting the little room fill with steam. Sweat flowed from his pores and washed down the drain, flushing toxins from his body. Languid and relaxed from his improvised sauna, Sean stood before the mirror and examined his body. The hours he spent in the gym paid benefits, not in bulk, but in the fine lines of sinew and muscle that knitted together his lean frame. He flexed his arms and twisted his torso, admiring the ripples on his abdomen and his narrow hips. Like a wasp, he thought, but without the sting.
He ran his hands across his smooth skin and felt stubble. That won't do, that won't do at all. He had to be perfect for Gil; he had to be perfect for tonight. He spent many minutes with the shaving cream and the razor, taking great care as the blade passed over his private parts. His flesh would be immaculate and his body unsullied, all for Gil, all for tonight.
He shaved his face last. Then he trimmed his fingernails and toenails, filing the sharp edges to soft nubs.
Finally, he turned his attention to the hair hanging in wet loops across his brow. He conspired with blow dryer and brush, arranging and re-arranging. His hair fluttered in the warm air, he feathered the brush through it again and again. His hair must be just so. It must look as though it had fallen by the purest chance into the perfect coiffure. At last it was exactly as it was meant to be. A fine mist of hair spray locked his tresses into place.
He admired the final product in the mirror. He could find no place for improvement. He gathered the towels scattered on the floor and wrapped one about his waist, tossing the rest into the hamper. He'd find something to wear later.
The aroma of garlic and ginger and pork filled the apartment. Sean checked the temperature of the meat and placed the rack back in the oven. It was too early to start the sauce or to stir fry the vegetables. The keychain on the counter beckoned yet again. The key for the spare room drew his gaze with a hypnotic allure. His fingertips teased the blade and tickled the label on the bow. It's just a key. It's just a room.
On sudden impulse, Sean grabbed the keychain and strode to the spare room. Gil wouldn't know. He would just look for a moment, and then he would lock it again. After all, it was just a room.
The key turned like any key. The door opened like any door. The room was dark. Sean groped for the light switch. When he flipped it on, an ethereal blue light, dim and chill, bathed the room. The walls were painted black and someone had taped black plastic bags over the windows. A sling dominated the middle of the room, hanging from the ceiling by chains. Toys, sex toys, clung to pegs on the walls. Mirrors adorned the walls, mirrors positioned at strange angles so that images reflected upon images in infinite progression.
Sean lusted for this room. The keychain was heavy in his hand. Sean dropped it onto the sling and ran his fingertips along the leather and steel.
A deep freezer huddled against one wall of the room. "What a strange thing to have in a dungeon," Sean thought. The blue light cast a ghostly sheen on the white enamel finish. Curious, Sean strode to it and tried to lift the lid.
It was locked.
Humming a little tune, Sean examined the freezer's lid.
Stars fading but I linger on dear
Still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger till dawn dear
Just saying this
Ah, there was a triangular opening just below the latch of the freezer lid. It was just the size of the dowel on the blue key. This must be the door that the third and final key on Gil's keychain opened.
The keychain rested on the sling, calling to him. As he approached it, out of the corner of his eye, Sean caught a hint of motion, a dark and handsome face repeating in an eternal echo of memories. Fear rushed through him. Had Gil come home early and found him disobeying? No, no, it was just Sean's own image reflected in the mirrors, fooling him.
He tossed the keychain from one hand to another, reflecting, thinking. Gil could return at any moment. He backed out of the room, turned out the light, locked the door, and left the spare room exactly as he had found it.
# # #
That night was as close to perfect as any Sean had ever experienced.
Sean found blue jeans and a crisp, pressed white shirt in Gil's closet. He tried them on, wanting to feel closer to his absent lover. They were a perfect fit. Sean felt indecently pleased at this. I knew we were a match for one another.
The clock had not quite turned to seven when Gil returned to his apartment.
"Hey, guy. Have I died and gone to heaven? That smells wonderful" His gentle Southern drawl caressed Sean's ears.
Sean squirmed like a puppy having its tummy tickled. "I told you I could cook." He held out a forkful of stir-fried vegetables. "Here, try this."
"Um. Fantashtic. But it'sh too hot." Gil waved at his mouth and poured a glass of ice water from the refrigerator door.
Sean returned to the cook top, stirring the drippings from the roast into gravy. Gils' arms folded about him and he resisted. "Now you let me finish cookin', okay?" A wet kiss graced his neck and his body tingled with an electric rush.
"Sure, sure. I got to take a shower anyway." Gil pulled back. "Hey, that shirt sure looks familiar."
"I borrowed it. We're exactly the same size." Sean turned for a moment to beam at him, and then returned to his gravy.
"Well, ain't that somethin'? Be convenient. We'll only have to buy half as many clothes."
"Hush, now. You go shower and when you come back I'll have dinner all ready."
They didn't talk much during dinner. They sat across from one another, eating, sipping wine, and communing. Now and again they would make a casual comment and smile. Other times, for no reason, they would burst into fits of giggles over nothing. It was as though they had been together forever, so easy was their intimacy.
After dinner they stood together in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher, rinsing the crystal, moving in perfect synchronicity. Their arms touched and their eyes met. Silent promises passed between them, promises of shared joy and infinite intimacy.
Before long they were again in one another's embrace in the bedroom. A trail of discarded clothing led from the kitchen, down the hall, past the spare room, and ended at Gil's bed. Their bodies, opposite and identical, anointed each other with blissful joy. Tonight there were no toys. Bondage and ropes were forgotten in their urgent need to give to each other.
Sean longed for these moments to last forever, to give in eternal perfection his body and himself to this man, to this love. When at last Gil slipped inside him, gentle and strong, he folded his soul around the rapture of submission. Their bodies became one and their pain was transformed. Those eternal moments vanquished the ghosts of his past lovers. They were forgotten, unwanted and unneeded.
Sean's body drifted beneath Gil's, wracked with pleasure. A crescendo of sensation consumed his mind and his soul. Together their bodies sang glad hosannas of exaltation and adoration. When at last the climax arrived, it transfigured Sean to pure passion, his mind and his soul and his spirit disappeared in that eternal moment. Only in love and death does the body so thoroughly conquer the spirit, but in love the spirit triumphs and is resurrected to live again.
Afterwards they fell asleep in one another's arms.
# # #
Later, in the dark hours of the early morning, Sean awoke. A siren blared down the street and red lights flashed shadow and light into the bedroom. For the barest moment Sean was disoriented, and then he recalled where he was at. He reached for Gil.
The other side of the bed was empty.
Darkness shrouded the bedroom. A faint blue light crept under the door, seeping into the room from down the hallway. The faintest sound, someone humming perhaps, murmured in Sean's listening ears. A strange compulsion overwhelmed him, drawing him forward. "Gil, are you there?" His voice was a whisper, a prayer, a plea.
He stood and edged toward the door. There was that voice again, humming a song familiar and strange. With the barest of touches, he pushed the bedroom door open. Down the hall, the door to the spare room stood open. A dim, blue effulgence, radiating from the doorway down the hallway, bathed his body. He recognized the song now.
Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries far behind you
He skulked forward, slow and hesitant. "Gil, is that you?" No answer.
He didn't want to enter the spare room. He feared what was there, but nonetheless an irresistible force drew him forward.
At last he stood in the doorway, looking like a ghost in the blue light. It was just as he had seen it before: the sling, the chains, the toys on the wall, and the mirrors with the reflections of infinity. But now, now the freezer was open. A blue fog drifted upward from the open chamber, transported by the cold air.
"Gil, honey, where are you?" Sean's voice trembled and a chill flooded his soul. As in a dream, he drifted to the open freezer, closer, not wanting to look, compelled to look. Part of him, a part suppressed and hidden, knew what he would find there. He hummed to himself.
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me
Finally he stood over the freezer. He forced himself to look down, into the frigid depths. There, inside the freezer, someone had crammed two bodies. Their faces were frozen and blue and there were horrible stab wounds in their torsos.
He recognized them both.
One was Tyler and the other was Jack, the lovers who had forsaken him, dead and eternally frozen here in this freezer, in this room.
He screamed and fell to his knees. "Noooo." The room spun about him and he felt himself coming apart and coming together. "Gil, Gil, what have you done?"
Then he saw his reflections in the mirror, infinite copies of himself echoing to eternity. The face he saw repeated there was so familiar and yet so strange. He touched his chest and he saw the reflections repeat his motion. He felt the dark hair matted on his chest and he saw the tattoo snaking from his shoulder down his back. Reflected in the mirror was his perfect lover, himself. The images repeating to infinity in the mirror were Gil's, not Sean's. In that moment he understood. Sean was but a dream of perfection that was never to be and that never had been. In that moment Sean vanished forever.
Gil knelt and wept for his loss, alone through all eternity.
Lyrics to Dream a Little Dream of Me by Gus Kahn, © 1931.