HUSK by James Nulick

I like them really young. She’s out there scraping the sidewalk like an old idiot. She’s going to wake them up and that would be bad, the young ones like their sleep. I feed off them during sleep. She’s old and she has old ideas and I honestly don’t know why I keep her on. Maybe because she knows my real age, though she’d never say. If Esmeralda were asked by the press about my age she’d say she was born in when she was born, that’s all.

###

My wiki page states I was born in 1968, but we both know that isn’t true. My manager set that up for me in 1996 – you start off with a lie in one magazine and it continues in another. We both know I was born in 1958. The old actresses used to lose ten years all the time, but that’s gotten more difficult now, high definition tells the truth. It flattens everything and cheapens it, even though the manufacturers’ claim the opposite. There is no magic in it anymore, only junkets and press and interviews and lonely hotel rooms where the boys aren’t with me. When I’m not near the boys, my skin starts changing, returns to its natural state. You’re changing again, Esmeralda says, a lighthouse reminding me of the inevitable. Shut up and act like I pay you, and she does, she returns to her old ways, but she is my constant companion and my watchdog. The press doesn’t get near me without first going through her. She has tighter access than my manager, who perhaps suspects but has no knowledge. The only ones who know for sure are the ones I sleep with, the dancers with forgettable Latin names. Maybe everything’s different this time, Esmeralda says. Shut up and get out of my face. Sometimes I’ll slap her if she gets too familiar. Puta, don’t forget where you come from.

###

I’m sixty now, my last boy before Carlos was twenty-four. I love it when they’re half my age or younger. Esmeralda finds them at dance clubs. They have to look the part, and she knows my part. Mexican, Cuban, Rican, keep them dark and young. You have new world tastes, Esmeralda jokes, too familiar. Shut up and keep in the dark, like I pay you. I need a new boy, so go out and find one, my skin hurts. Ay ay ay, she says. I should just leave here. If you leave you will die, I tell her, and she knows it’s true. I have a housekeeper but I keep her away from the master bedroom, and she’s not allowed to speak to the boys. I took her on after Esmeralda started complaining of lack of sleep. I never sleep, I told her. Yes but I don’t have your gift, she said, and it’s true. She’s an old fool and she looks it, though in truth she is younger than me, born the year Kennedy’s head exploded on television, pieces of him still on the bench seat as she was being delivered. Where were you when blah blah blah? Mi madre was pushing me into the world. You are mine and you always will be, you stupid old fool.

###    

My first album, You Know Me, was a crossover hit, and I earned a million dollars from it. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about money after that. The record label exec was an old Jewish pedophile. We understood each other. You look different in the light, he said. So do you. He knew I knew him. How many Jacobs and Justins and Jasons had he made? In his office, so many years ago, he’d said I’d like to aim for the Latin audience. You’ve got the look for it. Looks are all I’ve got. Keep that attitude up and you’ll have all the boys you’ll ever need. I don’t need anything Lou – only your silence.    

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I’m not sure when I learned I had the gift – maybe eleven or twelve. A boy from the neighborhood came to our ratty apartment after school, a friend of my brother. He came into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, born in 1961. He sat beside me in a hand-me-down tiger striped t-shirt that smelled of an older brother. The shirt drooped off his neck, stretched over his head a thousand times. Your skull and your brother’s, housed in the same fabric. I bent over and bit him on the shoulder, my teeth puncturing his skin. He screamed like a girl and ran from the room. The feeling in my mouth was exquisite, as if I had been reborn. I looked in the mirror, beautiful and radiant, my behind already gathering attention from neighborhood boys, attention eventually converted into money, a singing and acting career. Callipygian, Lou’d once said, in his office, framed gold records reflecting my face. Lou titled my second album Hover to Zoom, I got the idea, well, nevermind. The Jews are good with words – they created the world, after all.  

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When I was thirteen I brought a boy into my bedroom. My sister was at school, my parents not around. Show me, I told him, and he unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants, corduroy gathered round his ankles, his legs peach. I hooked my thumbs on the band of his briefs and grew younger as he collapsed onto the floor, his face a pinched walnut. What are you? Shut up, my hand over his throat, and he left the room, his pants pulled quickly over broomstick legs as he fled the apartment looking twenty years older. They never came back, never bothered learning my last name. It didn’t matter. I grew younger as they grew older, I signed contracts and they worked in hardware stores and 7-Eleven’s, claiming to not know me. But didn’t you… the timzy reporter asked. They would know me soon enough.

###      

My last boy was Carlos Moncebáez. Esmeralda found him decorating the wall at Boulevard. He was twenty-three. She lured him with three C-notes. He was relieved when I walked into the room. I know you, he said. You’ll be good for me, two plus three is five. Que? It’s alright, just shut up and look pretty. The press was harsh, who does she think she is, dating someone twenty-seven years younger than her? If they only knew. Men have arm candy, why can’t women? And he was strong, his legs pistons pushing his desire into me. He could maintain a forty-five degree angle for hours, so much so my skin slippage would create dark pools on the bed. He was advised to never turn on the lights during, due to my beliefs. Dumb and handsome, he always obliged – good for him. I kept him longer than usual because he was beautiful and didn’t talk, which the press find mysterious.

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I don’t like being like this, he said, like I’m some young and dumb thing that follows you around everywhere, like I’m a puppy or something. Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you taken care of? Isn’t your allowance enough? Yes but a man has to be a man, baby, and I wanna try something different, Carlos said.      

###

The darkness of the house closed over them. Expensive cars on Sunset winked and flickered like rare jewels.

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Come to bed, I told him, after Esmeralda turned off all the lights. I was growing bored with him, and my skin was hurting again. The pain was coming on, each new hour nearly unbearable. What was it you wanted to try, baby, I whispered to him, as a mother might whisper to her child. He took me into the bedroom, the green glow of an alarm clock illuminating the records on the wall, pressed gold reminding me who I am and who I was.   

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Officer Javier Linares

One of the virtues of being old is knowing when to disappear. If you’re a pop star, even more so – the public doesn’t want to see its pop stars old, skeletal, and reminiscent of death. She dated a young man and then disappeared. Her wiki page claims she was born in 1968. We all thought she was fifty. That was the official story, anyway.

###

It had been three weeks since anyone had seen her, and the press was getting antsy. Maybe they’re living in Greece or somewhere, my partner said. Who cares? Stop complaining – I’ll go in. I pulled on a pair of black nitrile gloves. My partner stayed in the car. It was only a wellness check, after all.

###

There was a door key hidden on the sconce light, tucked between brass and stucco. She’d clawed her way out of the ghetto but still had ghetto ways. It was funny but I didn’t mind – she had a nice butt for her age.

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Despite the air conditioning, the smell was overpowering. Lights were on, a microwave door left mysteriously open. I called out her name – Miss Romero? But there was no answer. I sensed there wasn’t any staff in the house. You get a feel for these things. I moved slowly down the hall, my gloves invisible, my weapon drawn. You get wrapped up in it, the fear. I am thin but my partner isn’t – he’s not a good runner. I laugh at his heavy breathing, running down an alley after a suspect. You’re gonna have a heart attack one of these days. Go to hell, he says. But those are the good days. Some days aren’t so good, days when you can’t figure people out, when you wonder if this one will finally be the death of you.

###

The bedroom door was partially cracked, yellow light illuminating the deep white carpet. The pile was peppered with black spots, the negative of white spots on an X-ray. Death. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I quickly toed the bedroom door open.        

###    

In the room, five or six mummified corpses, their teeth removed. Desiccation would make identification nearly impossible. I radioed my partner in the car. You’re not going to believe this. You want me in there? Yeah, I need you in here.   

###

There’s something under the comforter. Dave had his weapon drawn. I moved closer to the bed, my gloved fingers near the mound. Dave nodded. I quickly drew the comforter away. On the mattress lay a black mass, its wrists and feet bound by a ligature. Is it human? I can’t tell. Does it have teeth? The open mouth reminded me of the victims at Pompeii. I felt drawn to the darkness of it. There’s a ring on its finger. Let’s get the hell out of here, man. My face was partially reflected in the framed gold records on the wall. I recognized one of them. Damn, it’s her, man. As we moved back toward the hall a soft garbled voice came from the direction of the comforter. Wait, it said.

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