The Fox's Bones
by Nix Winter AKA Max
Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Vincent felt the bones under his fingers, some long, some short, some old and smooth. He imagined them stained as a tea bag twice used, but bone dry for the tea had long since gone. Without any real reason, he closed his hand around them, holding to them with firm conviction. Once his hand was tightly around them, he found the courage to open his eyes.
Dry as bones, late summer, a touch of early fall, with dark golds, and then he knew when. The floor stretched out over a ground of the darkest soil, leaves far along their path back into the dance, and shadows laying across shadows of trees hosting the last light of day where no man ought tread lest nature respond unforgivingly. He sat up, reached to his cravat to loosen it, only to find it mostly undone anyway. Frustrated with that, he dropped the bones into the pocket of his waistcoat, then hastily straightened up his cravat. It felt like it had been out of order for the very longest of times, though he couldn’t place just exactly how long.
He leaned his head back against the alder tree behind him. He’d always loved alder trees. There had been great one in the backyard of the house he and his brother had grown up in.
Christopher. Kit. He needed to get back to his twin, to explain things.
Vincent ran a hand through slightly longer dark hair and looked up through the forest’s still clothed branches to the dark blue of twilight, as the light faded away. He really thought he ought to be cold. He rubbed his hands over his arms, ruffling linen shirt sleeves, and while it didn’t make him feel anything, the gesture was familiar and he felt better, nonetheless.
He had to get home. Tongue pressed against his teeth, he worked his way up the trunk of the tree until he was on his feet. How on Earth he had come to be in the deep forest in his dinner shoes was a question he really thought he should be more interested in. They were his favorite shoes, polished to a glass like shine, black patent leather and he leaned down to brush a bit of dirt from the toe. They’d been a gift.
There had been something he’d wanted to tell his brother. They were twins and Vincent felt a pang of guilt for being afraid to tell Kit this really very improper secret. They were going to have dinner and well, there would be a reckoning. That was how men did things, after all, and they were men now.
“Is that so,” a voice asked, sweet and slightly teasing, the voice of a lover and a person with, certainly, less decorum than a proper gentleman should have.
Vincent spun, chin lifted, blue eyes narrowing. “It most definitely is. That is how men work things out.” He held up a finger, not quite pointing, but certainly preparing to point a finger at the other man.
This man wore tight black breeches, black boots to his knees, with straps around them each. His shirt was linen, but an odd Egyptian linen with a loose weave that was hardly proper, and even less so because it wasn’t buttoned neatly like a modern man, but open to his chest and only very loosely laced. He had wildly inappropriate red brown hair that lay on his shoulder in a thick braid, and hung down his chest to his waist. He was completely improper and that was before one lost time looking at those those curvy lips and violet eyes filled with amusement and lined with dark shadow, more so than any woman, more as if he were an Egyptian prince.
“Well,” he said, leaning against a tree as pale as ash, his tongue tracing over a rosey lip between the start and making his claim, “I do know something about settling disputes and the balance of the world.”
Heart beating so that he wasn’t sure he could breathe and be that unsettled at the same time, Vincent forced his eyes away from the man’s lips, lips that he was absolutely certain must be so soft, so warm. “Fortunately, I am not in need of any help and I, unlike some of us, am a proper gentleman.”
Proper or not, he couldn’t stop watching as those hips, under that tight black fabric, swayed with the man’s stride, and then, there he was, close enough to place a palm on the alder, and so close that those lips were warm and the air smelled of cardamom, a scent that made it harder to think clearly, sweet and drawing. A man could fall into those violet eyes. “I’m pretty sure that you need all the help I can give you, Vincent.”
“Hardly,” Vincent snapped. He tugged on his waistcoat just a bit, fully aware that it wasn’t going to be long enough to cover a hardness that there was no present help for at all. “I don’t need anything from you.”
Then there were those fingers ruffling his hair and his heart raced. The man’s hand came around, brushing a thumb over his lower lip, and he needed, needed so much that he could never fully express. Gentlemen just did not do such things, as one might understand, that some might, and he spun to accuse this presumptuous man, his thoughts as jumbled as the shadows of the forest. Accusation turned to attack in a moment and his arms went around the fox haired man, pulling him close, hard chest to hard chest and he breathed against those lips before pressing his kiss deeper, his tongue rushing forward, stealing what no real gentlemen must ever want. The wicked fox haired man’s lips opened, his tongue warm and welcoming, without even the slightest judgement or shame. It was like home, clean and welcome and full of the stirrings of life.
Vincent ran his fingers into the man’s hair, silky and warm, feeling like home. He found himself pushed back against the alder, the man’s knee between his and he wondered if this was all it would ever be for him, a pretend gentleman hiding in the dark of the forest, but connected and alive. His secret lover grabbed his crotch, shamelessly rubbing the hard manhood under fancy evening dress slacks. Insistent fingers opened the first button, then the second, making quick work of his privacy, until that hand took hold of the sensitive flesh of his cock, stroking him with such confidence and ease as if there were no sin in the world, only the perfect pleasure of lovers at their freedom.
Speaking was beyond him, head back against the support of the tree and he told himself that this was a dream, it was something that he could never be caught for and even if it were, that hand stroking him, gentle and loving, brushing over the head of his cock, down the whole length and then the other hand cupping his balls, this stolen intimacy was beyond his will’s ability to reject. “Oh my god,” he half prayed, fearful of the town rector at the very least, the angel of death at the very worst. “Oh dear god!” Hot cream splashed into the woods, liquid proprietary, pure against the dark nature of the forest floor.
“There’s my darling,” the man whispered against his ear, genuine love and and connection in his voice, but then Vincent felt his hand move up towards his waist coat, towards the pocket with the bones.
Jumping back, he held his hand over the pocket with his bones tucked safely away still. His other hand moved to fasten up his trousers. “Now then, none of that, you pick pocket. I’ve no money for you, in any case.”
Braid in hand, he twirled the long length, smirking, a cocky and challenging smile on those full lips. “So there’s something I haven’t been called before. You don’t want what’s in that pocket anyway. I can give you treasure that’s so much better. I have books. You love books.”
Vincent turned, stared in the direction of what he was sure was his house. “I think I hear my brother calling me. We are to have dinner tonight, sir. What,” Vincent asked, looking back over his shoulder, thoughts jumping, slipping through his fingers like sand. “What should I call you then?”
“It’s those things in your pocket that make you forget. They’re unclean.”
“Nonsense! There is nothing clean nor unclean, except thinking makes it so.” He took off at a firm stride, moving towards the house he’d grown up in, where he was to make confession to his brother.
“Then why are you such a prude,” the man asked. “I think you’d be tired of these woods by now.”
“Sir,” Vincent snapped, irritated because he wasn’t sure, exactly, well, for certain, which way to go. Everything seemed so just slightly different. The trees were bigger. The path was different. “Do, give me your name, Sir.”
“I am Thoth.”
Vincent turned, an eyebrow raised. “Your good mother named you after one of the seven deadly sins?”
“With a Th, not an S. Thoth. I am the god of science, medicine, and letters,” he said, following casually, fingers laced behind his back. “If I had a good mother, she’d probably think me following you around the forest more questionable than not. Your age corrupts me.”
“Nonsense,” Vincent stopped, looked back the way they’d come, forward the way he thought they should go, and wasn’t sure they hadn’t just come around that way for third time. “This is the best of ages. Men have never had such a mastery over the world. I was to London last year. There was a shop with thousands of books, hundreds of thousands, why more words than I can imagine counting. Had there been a god, that would be the church in which he would have heard my prayers.”
“I am the god of books,” Thoth said, patiently, “and you have a pretty way with your mouth. Take that waistcoat off and I shall show you what I can do with my mouth.”
“I couldn’t possibly,” he said, but really, and quite impossibly, he found his body was more than happy to oblige the very pretty, very insane man he walked with. Of course, there would be wood in the forest. “I must find my brother. I must.”
“Why must you,” Thoth asked, head tilting. “You might not find it brings you as much enjoyment as it promises.”
“I just,” Vincent said, considering moving off into the denser part of the forest because at least it would be a new path, “I just must. I must see him. I must tell him something.”
“I’m sure he’d find your attraction to men quite the shock.”
Vincent gasped, hand on his chest, mouth making this little circle in his shock. “How dare you suggest such a thing?”
“Well, for one thing, I just gave you a hand job and I am pretty sure you liked it a lot. For two, the idea of my mouth wrapped all around that beautiful cock of yours has made you hard as purity is to maintain.” He was as close as could be again then, hands on Vincent’s shoulders. “Drop those nasty bones to the ground and I promise, you’ll remember so much about me that you will be able to write books and books on the great Thoth. Lovely books they shall be with dark ink and sacred passion upon the altar.”
“Seriously, you are rather full of yourself, are you not? I must find my brother.” Vincent ground his teeth, head aching just slightly.
“Give me just one of those bones and I shall take you to him, quick as lightning!”
“Just one. A small one will be fine.”
Vincent used both hands to get out the smallest of the bones. It was ever so hard to part with, but he felt such a strong pull. Time was important.
The moment the little bone transferred into Thoth’s hand, Vincent found himself at the top of the stairs in the house he’d grown up in.
His brother was there down the hall, in just his shirt and trousers, hair wild from having his hands in it. He spun and those blue eyes were full of a crazy despair. “She’s in love with you! With you! Not with me! Cassandra is in love with you!”
As fast as the memory came, it was gone just as fast. The distance between that moment and this moment felt much wider than Vincent knew they could be. “You said you’d show me the way home!”
“And I have,” Thoth said, gesturing towards a house. It wasn’t the house that they’d grown up in, but a bigger house, seemingly neatly kept with gas lamps in at the end of the walk. It stood by itself, the lights out, though just as Vincent thought how odd that was, a light came on in the upstairs bedroom and a baby cried. “This is your brother’s house,” Thoth said. “I took you at your intent, not your expectation.”
“Well, that’s not right,” Vincent said. It was very foggy in his mind though, how to connect that moment at the top of the stairs, his brother so upset about the neighbor that he’d developed feelings for. “This is Cassandra’s house.”
“And so it was,” Thoth agreed.
As they stood there, a curricle glided nearly silently around the front of the house, drawn by a black horse with cloth bound around his hooves. For just a moment, Vincent thought the man was his twin, but the clothing was wrong, all wrong. The man was certainly up to no good.
“I’ve been in the forest a bit longer than I thought,” Vincent said, suddenly feeling that cold he hadn’t been feeling for a bit. “Why is that young man splashing oil on Cassandra’s house?”
“I’m sure he has his reasons,” Thoth said. “Men always do.”
“You there!” Vincent said, running towards him. “Stop that! Just what do you think you’re doing?”
The young man continued, throwing oil splashing it over the walls of a house that now that he was close up, could have used a fresh coat of paint. There was no doubt in Vincent’s understanding that this man was Kit’s son. It was as if time had rolled in reverse, as if just a fresh coat of paint had been applied to the man. When he didn’t respond, Vincent gave him a hard shove. He was loath to resort to violence, but his hands went right through the man’s shoulders and the vile man went on with his oil splashing.
“This is rubbish,” Vincent howled. “Rubbish. You,” he growled, pointing at Thoth, “stop him! He’s to burn the house! There’s a baby inside.”
“There are two, actually. Twins seem to run in your family. The universe moves to work out a person’s sins as it will. In the underworld, I am master. When they cross into my world, I will weigh their souls against Maat’s feather. That’s the justice I can give you, my love.”
“I don’t want justice! Justice for what? I want to stop him from hurting my brother! I’ll give you the bones!”
“All, but one,” Thoth said, holding out a hand.
With shaking fingers, Vincent pulled out the bones and handed them over. “Let me speak with my brother.”
“Of course,” Thoth said, “but remember.”
He remembered then. He remembered falling, backwards arms reaching up, and he remembered remembering that more times than there were books in all of London, perhaps all of England. This time though, he remembered differently. Kit’s anger shifted to horror, a great fear as he reached out to grab Vincent back, to catch him, his fingers catching only air and Vincent fell, until his body slid to the bottom of the stairs, and there he stood, standing there, forever in fancy dress and never to be cold again.
The memory used to follow his brother as his body was dragged into the forest, but this time he let that pass him by. He didn’t care anymore. He ran into the house, up the stairs, his steps echoing in the nearly empty house. The same sound of his fancy dress shoes on the steps that had driven away the servants.
At the top of the stairs, a woman held a baby to her shoulder, her face pale as snow. “Kit? Holy Mary, Mother of God,” she prayed, holding her baby boy to her.
“I’m not Kit!” He stared at her, extremely irritated. “I’m Vincent.”
“No,” she said, pointing into the room across the hall from the babies’ room. “My husband is there. I married Vincent. He certainly wasn’t a maudlin and bothersome spector a moment ago.”
All the cold that he hadn’t felt had caught up with him, standing his hair on end. “Mistress,” he said, working the details out in his head. “I assure you, you did not marry Vincent. I am completely sure that I would know of such an event.”
“Why wouldn’t you leave us alone?”
He lifted his chin, nose and lips pinching as he glared at her for a moment before he strode past into the room that had been Cassandra’s parent’s room.
An elderly man lay in the bed, lifted up by pillows to make it easier to breath. “Kit?”
The old man turned his head, eyes dull with pain and illness. “Vinnie? Have you come to have your vengeance upon me finally? You’ve walked the halls so many times, but never have you spoken with me. Do you hate me so?”
“No,” Vincent said, appalled at that conclusion as he settled down on the edge of the bed so he could hold of his twin’s hand. “It was an accident. You didn’t mean it. I understand that now.”
Tears filled the old man’s eyes and his hand closed around Vincent’s, just enough as if he could really feel him. “I would give anything to trade places with you.”
“Nonsense,” Vincent said. “Then I’d have to trade with you and we’d be back where we are. All these years, I’ve been searching for you. I must tell you my deepest secret. It is your forgiveness I must ask.”
“You love Cassandra as well, do you not? I stole your life and the woman you loved.”
“No, no,” he said, leaning close, tears in his own eyes. “I’m fancy men, in that certain way, you understand?. I met a gentleman in London when I went and well, we’ve been exchanging letters, you see. I think I shall remain a bachelor for life. Can you forgive me, Kit? Please? I would it were other, but if you can forgive me, I can accept this defect of character.”
“Really,” Kit said, blinking, sitting up just a bit more. “You never wanted Cassandra?”
“Well, that’s ironic,” Kit said, chuckling softly. “Your great secret that we quarreled over was that you were exchanging letters with a gentleman you’d met in London?”
“It does seem a little tenuous now. Can you think of any reason that, perhaps, your and Cassandra’s son might wish to burn the house?”
“I changed the will. I have a new wife, Elsa, and we have twins. I named them Vincent and Christopher. Vinnie is ever so loud.”
Elsa opened the draw and with drew a pistol, a box of ammunition. Being loud herself, smacking wood to wood.
“Madame what are you going to do?” Vincent asked. “I shall deal with him. You needn’t trouble yourself.”
She looked at him in the mirror, a determined look on her face, as she closed the American style revolver and then cocked it. “You, sir, are dead and growing fainter with every word. Your entire contribution to my household has been to make it impossible to hire staff. I have every intention of shooting that boy where he stands.”
“My goodness, things have changed.” Vincent swallowed.
“You have no idea,” Kit agreed, giving Vincent’s hand a squeeze, but going too far now, as if he could no longer feel the edges of him. “She’s a splendid lady.”
“Then what is she doing with you, you scoundrel? Old scoundrel.”
“I can’t rightly say,” Kit said, but then his grip was tight again and he was sitting there, kneeling in the clothes he’d been wearing the night that Vincent died, “Oh my!”
“Indeed,” Thoth said. He reached into Kit’s ghost and pulled forth a dot of light no larger than a berry, which he then settled on a scale, weighing it against the most beautiful of white feathers.
Balanced the scale was not.
“Pity,” Thoth said. “For one brother to be so light and the other to be so dark.”
Vincent’s hand brushed over his pocket, the last little bone, and he quickly pulled it free, set it on the scale, balancing it.
A grin, playful and conspiratorial grew on Thoth’s face. “Well, then, it looks like everything’s lovely! I love when the feather’s happy! Much less screaming.” The scale went up in a puff of smoke and the pretty Egyptian caught the falling bone. “Go then, Christopher Appleton. You are free.”
“Free?” Kit said, confused. “What of heaven?”
“There?” Thoth said, pointing towards a passage of light. “What you desire. We must really go though. It was lovely weighing you. Other souls to bounce,” Thoth said, giving a quick bow and reaching for Vincent’s hand to draw him along. They left as quick as they’d come, going around the house, to where they found a very shocked looking young man as he watched a determined young woman dragging his body into the forest.
“She shot me,” he said, staring at Thoth, then back towards his disappearing body, “to death.”
“You were attempting to burn down the house, with them in it,” Vincent pointed out.
“Well, yes, but,” he said, then suddenly quiet as the scale reappeared, his soul there on the scale and well, Thoth was not a fan of the screaming, but sometimes the universe wanted its due.
Once the boy was gone, both body and soul, Vincent let Thoth lead him back to the forest. “Wait! What about weighing my soul.”
“Oh I weighed you years ago.”
“We all have our secrets. The fox has his bones back,” Thoth said, tossing the last little bone back into the depths of the forest. “I have you. If you’d rather go to heaven, I’ll understand, but I’d love for you to come home with me.”
“So you have books in your house, you say?”
“Millions of books. I have every book ever written,” Thoth boasted.
“Well, then,” Vincent said, happy to be invisible to the rest of the unforgiving world as he leaned closer, close enough to run a fingertip over Thoth’s lip. “Let the fox have his bones. I have you.”