Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tree Fingers by Augusta Li and Eon de Beaumont

With a swipe of his charcoal stump, Graham rendered the gentle slope of Alan’s forehead in profile. A quick, downward slash formed the aquiline nose with the slight bump on the bridge. The pad of Graham’s thumb smeared the black dust into the shape of the shadow between his lover’s dark eye and slender brow. His pinky formed the soft mounds of the thin lips, and the point of the pencil etched the contrastingly sharp chin. Just then, a wisp of ebony hair fell from behind Alan’s ear, the ends lodging in the corner of his mouth.

When Graham set his sketchbook beside him in the arid autumn grass and reached out to brush the strand back, the other man didn’t notice. Alan continued to stare down at the book he read, with a gaze that looked like it could alight the crumbling pages. Alan, with his creamy skin and striking dark hair and eyes, was beautiful, but his intensity, bordering on obsession, frightened Graham sometimes.

“What are you reading?” Graham asked, resuming the study of his lover. He had to repeat the question twice more before Alan lifted and turned his head.

Dappled by the golden light filtering through the yellow leaves, Alan smiled, marked his place with a scrap of red ribbon, and closed his book. “The journal of a seventeenth century German warlock, with translations and notes by the Englishman who found it when the Allies took Berlin. It’s fascinating. Gives detailed instructions for summoning all kinds of spirits. Tells what to say, what to offer them, how to bind and dismiss them.”

“Sounds interesting,” Graham lied. Alan had, at his tender age, already published two books and several journal articles that combined his great fascinations: history and the occult. He contended that a secret society of magic-users had formed at the fall of the pagan world to protect their knowledge. He’d shown, in the first massive tome that Graham had read, how they’d gained power during the Dark Ages and eventually controlled much of medieval society from the shadows. While the idea seemed laughable, Alan’s meticulous research and numerous examples of power shifts and conspiracy got the attention and approval of a few professionals. Even Graham spent a few nights lying in bed, wondering whether the events he’d read about in the daily paper could really be orchestrated by an ancient order.

Though Graham didn’t believe in it, the subject’s ability to commandeer his lover’s attention, to the point where Alan surrendered food and sleep, made him uncomfortable. Too many times he’d phoned Alan for days with no answer, only to find Alan in his apartment, dehydrated and deprived of rest, notes strewn over the floor. Brilliant researcher that he was, Alan could excel in any field he chose. But Alan felt the draw of the supernatural too strongly to give it up. Some of the subject matter Alan pursued disturbed Graham deeply. The idea of ensnaring spirits sent a cold tremor through his belly and chest. He didn’t care to discuss it.

“Lovely afternoon,” Graham said instead.

Alan sat up straighter and looked up at the walnut branches, over at the distant hills painted crimson and rust, and toward Graham’s garden in the other direction as if noticing his surroundings for the first time. Slowly he returned to the physical world and the present. Finally he set his book behind him, next to the morning glory and ivy-entangled privacy fence that separated Graham’s yard from his next door neighbor’s property. He slid closer to Graham, draped Graham’s shoulders with his slender arm, and kissed him lightly on the cheekbone. “Yeah, lovely,” he agreed.

They lay back among the fallen leaves and acorns, temples touching, and bodies and hands forming an ‘A’ on the lawn. A late Indian Summer had warmed the ground. Above them the branches of the walnut tree, stretching over the barrier from the adjoining lawn, crossed in front of a cloudless October sky. Now and then an elliptical leaf, edges browned and curling, spiraled down. One landed on Graham’s sun-painted cheek, and Alan rolled to his side, puckered his lips, and blew it into Graham’s light brown hair.

“I could lie here all day,” Alan said, relaxing against Graham’s body, nestling the side of his face into the dip between the fairer man’s shoulder and chest.

“My sweater itching your face?” Graham asked. He wished he’d removed the cable-knit wool garment; the afternoon was too balmy for it.

“Yeah, but I can hear your heart,” Alan answered, squeezing Graham’s ribs.

Compelled by the unexpected sweetness of the comment, Graham cupped Alan’s chin and angled Alan’s face upward so that they could kiss. The gentle meeting of their lips quickly turned to passion. Any touch they shared ignited flames of lust, and soon Alan had rolled on top of Graham. Graham could feel Alan’s skin heating with arousal as his nips and pecks grew more urgent. His tongue delved down into Graham’s mouth as his hands burrowed under the sweater and worn Oxford beneath to stroke Graham’s waist. Gooseflesh rose on Graham’s skin despite his over-dressed warmth. His fingers wove into Alan’s silky dark hair, while his other hand plunged down the back of his tight jeans to squeeze Alan’s smooth ass cheek.

Pulling his shoulder-length tresses, Graham bent Alan’s head back and licked the length of his slender neck. Alan moaned, and his body responded, cock and nipples going hard against Graham. Nails bit the sides of Graham’s body, and he bent his pelvis to rub his growing erection against Alan. At the same time he clutched Alan’s butt, forcing their bodies even closer. Through the denim of Alan’s pants and the beige linen of Graham’s trousers, their cocks swelled and ground against each other.

Alan’s fingers worked their way to Graham’s nipples as their mouths met again. He circled them, giving each a teasing pinch before withdrawing his hands and sitting up, straddling Graham’s lap. His hair hung in his face, a few strands stuck to his sweaty skin. Arousal darkened his lips and cheeks, making his eyes look bigger and blacker. Graham held his hips, rocking slowly beneath him, as Alan took the bottom of his black and white striped sweatshirt and prepared to peel it away from his slim body.

A hollow thud made Alan drop the hem of his hoodie. His hand darted to the top of his head and rubbed, a grimace replacing his excited smile. Near Graham’s armpit, a particularly large walnut bounced once before rolling under the forsythia.

“Damn tree,” Alan said, still holding his wounded scalp. “That hurt like hell!”

“Hey, I love that tree,” Graham teased, poking the ticklish spot below Alan’s rib with his knuckle, making the other man twitch.

Leaping up, Alan crossed his arms and stood facing the fence, his back to Graham. “I’m glad to know I’m second in your heart to a tree,” he said, mock-injured.

Graham stood and encircled Alan’s waist, his chin resting on the slightly taller man’s shoulder. “Don’t be that way, love,” he said, rubbing the edge of Alan’s ear with the tip of his nose. “Let me show you something.”