Soul Searching by AJ Rose, Published by The Grim Writer Press
Length: approx. 71,000 words
Genre: m/m, gay romance, paranormal
Something lurks within the walls of the house Trevor Mathews and his best friend Merrick Taylor share. It watches them and their friends. It needs them. It knows their weaknesses.
Trevor’s in love with Merrick and hasn’t got the nerve to tell him. Merrick’s relationship is already failing, but he doesn’t believe he deserves what he truly desires. And the dark presence enjoys their suffering.
The entity wants to exploit them, push Merrick’s boyfriend into fits of jealousy and possessiveness, encourage Trevor to avoid the man he’s stood by most of his life, and frustrate their friend Tempest who’s tired of knowing Trevor and Merrick are perfectly matched souls, but they’re too scared to try.
The entity needs them to fight, to hurt, to scream at each other in anger and pain. It thrives on their helplessness and targets their insecurities. And it won’t stop until it has devoured their joy, destroyed their hope, and eventually, shattered their souls.
The thump woke me from the best dream ever, which frankly pissed me off. I burrowed under my pillow, cursing my flatmate, Merrick—or more specifically his bartender boyfriend, Will—for keeping odd hours. Honestly, cursing Will for any reason made my life that much better. My dream-self had been this close to watching Merrick tell Will to pack it in, that he wanted me instead, and that bloody thump had to fuck it up. It’s not like I’d ever get the chance at something more than friendship with Merrick in waking life, so I had to take what I could get.
The clock glowed 3:13 a.m., and my groan was loud in the silence as I beat a frustrated fist into the softness of my pillow.
The thump sounded again.
God, if they’re fucking, I’m going to pour cold water on them. Some of us have to be up in the morning.
My lecturers at the University of Manchester wouldn’t give a rat’s arse if I stumbled in like a zombie, but I couldn’t afford to do it for the third day in a row. These nightly bumps and thumps had to stop, or I’d fail.
“Knock it off!” I banged on the wall separating my room from Merrick’s.
I instinctively jerked the sheet to my neck like some kind of prude and stared at the figure in the doorway. “I thought you were in your room, Merrick.” Okay, that came out more accusatory than it should have.
“I was downstairs seeing Will off.” Merrick came in and sat by my leg, the dip in the bed shifting me closer to him. My grip on the sheet tightened. “I thought the thump was you falling off the bed.”
“And I thought you two were going to keep me up for the third night in a row.” Yes, I’m a sulky twat when I’m tired.
Merrick looked sheepish, sucking his lower lip into his mouth by the ring. I loved that lip ring, and the things he did with it, particularly with his tongue. Merrick was beautiful, though most people were intimidated by the facial piercings—lip, nose, and eyebrow—and by his tattoos, a swirling vine creeping up the side of his neck to his ear and an arm sleeve done in a steampunk pirate theme. My favourite part was the clockwork ship with torn sails that morphed into birds taking flight with their clockface eyes and gears hinging their beaks. The ship sailed up his inner arm toward a floating treasure chest made out of machine parts on his shoulder. He kept his spiky black hair shortish, in deference to his job as a joiner. More likely to shoot himself with a nail gun if he couldn’t see through his fringe, he always joked.
But it was all window dressing. Beneath the leather jacket and ink, Merrick was an old soul whose kindness was evident in his eyes. He did the piercings and tattoos to combat his baby face, and I couldn’t blame him. Without the jewellery, tats, and leather, he wouldn’t look a day over twelve. Though his voice was smoky and gruff. He had that going for him.
“Trevor!” Merrick snapped his fingers in front of my nose.
“You were somewhere else. I said your name twice.”
One of these days, he would realise it was him I was daydreaming about. And the idea of tracing his tattoos. With my tongue. I mumbled an apology.
He didn’t acknowledge it. “I said I’m sorry if Will and I woke you last night.”
I waved him off, overcompensating for how much it bugged me with a quick dismissal. Our friend Tempest, who knew me best after Merrick, would have berated me for losing yet another opportunity to tell him how I felt.
“It’s been every night this week, but don’t worry about it. At least one of us is getting a leg over.”
Merrick frowned. “Will was only here last night and tonight, and right now, I’m too tired to get up to anything.”
As if to punctuate the point that Merrick and Will weren’t responsible for the noise, the thump came again, through the ceiling above my bedroom door.
We both jumped, and Merrick latched onto my ankle. The hair on my body stood on end, and we stared through the slightly ajar door, looking for something to explain the sound. My heart pounded in my ears, and Merrick could probably feel it through my ankle. His grip was almost painful, and his breathing was shallow and rapid. The semi-detached house we rented fell quiet. Merrick held his breath and an unnatural stillness descended. Minutes passed, but the sound didn’t repeat.
“Probably just the gobshite neighbours.” My chuckle was as weak as the excuse, but what could I say? Bumps in the dead of night always seemed ominous, even if they were explainable.
Merrick exhaled. “Or our resident ghost.” He was joking, and I laughed harder than was merited, still eyeing the door.
Our house was something I appreciated, even if things between us weren’t quite how I wanted them to be. But in the two months since moving in, sometimes I got weird feelings, as though someone was there when I was home alone. The stairs in particular made me feel like someone regularly walked over my grave. The landing at the top gave me the creeps, and I couldn’t explain why. If I had a pound for every time I slipped on or tripped over the third tread down, I’d be rich. Merrick had got permission from the landlord to fix it, had ripped out the old boards and replaced them, and I still stumbled up that step a few times a week.
There were no more menacing sounds from the darkened hallway, and the light trickling up from the ground floor was enough to see no one was there. Not that anyone ever was when we heard noises.
“Just the house settling then.” I exhaled and rolled to my side, away from him so he wouldn’t see how unnerved I was, and fluffed my pillow. “I need to sleep. Early lecture.”
Merrick stood. “Right. Goodnight.” He paused at the door. “I’ll be up for another few minutes if you need anything. Will left his takeaway on the side in the kitchen if you want it for leftovers tomorrow.”
Of course Will left his mess for Merrick to clear up. Knobhead.
A cracking boom that shook the walls drowned out my voice.
For the rest of the night, Merrick and I slept together on the sofa bed in the front room. If you could call it sleeping.