Last night while listening to Lil Nas X’s new album, which is fantastic by the way, I got caught up on the track, ‘Life After Salem.’ The visualizer for it on YouTube sparked something in me after the third round, and a quick scene popped into my head.
While on repeat, I wrote this scene. It stretched longer than I’d realized, and it was the first bit of inspiration I’ve had in some time. It just goes to show what music can do for your soul, especially if you’ve been in a slump. New music, mostly, or something you haven’t heard in many years. It’s why music will always be an important part of my creative process.
Here is that scene. I’d like to flesh it out into a book some day, if I have the spoons for it.
It was late — later than she’d meant to stay on campus. With her friends, however, she felt safer than usual. There was also something about the mysterious dark stranger a bit further down the sidewalk, although his aura was more of a loner’s than anything else.
The young woman’s heart fluttered as it hit her. It was him.
“Hey, what are you doing?” A girl with long blond hair reached out to stop her friend who had jogged ahead. “Are you nuts?”
“It’s fine! I know him.” It was a lie, of course. A half lie. She’d never spoken to him before but had only observed from afar. He was too interesting to ignore, and there was something about him that felt like home to her in a way she couldn’t figure out.
The tall man turned around, and she saw beneath a dark hood black lipstick, bright gray eyes, and below were silver rings on his dark brown fingers. He was ethereal, unworldly. A crow landed on his shoulder.
The young woman brought a hand to her mouth in surprise. He was certainly taller than she realized, but he was just as dark and handsome up close as she’d suspected. She looked to the crow. “Is he yours?”
The dark man glanced at the crow and lifted a hand, letting the bird nip lovingly. “Yeah.”
“Oh, okay.” The girl gripped her messenger bag tightly and took a deep breath, but before she could speak, he interrupted.
“Did you want something? Or are you just curious?” A sly smile revealed two small canines slightly sharper than average.
The young woman’s eyes blew wide. “Oh god, are you a…” She looked around, conscious of her friends still present just a way down the sidewalk watching them. “… a vampire?” she whispered
The dark man fought back a laugh and licked his lips for cover. Feathers flapped as the crow left him. “Nah. Vampires aren’t real.”
The young woman sighed with relief, then chuckled. “That was a dumb question. Sorry, you just look like one. What with the way you dress, you know?” She glanced back again. They still hadn’t moved.
The man finally noticed the three girls and lost the good nature he’d managed. “Is this some kind of joke I’m not in on or?”
The woman grew flushed. “No! Oh my god, no. It’s just… I…” She groaned. “I’m sorry. I’m not really good at this whole meeting new people thing.”
The man looked her up and down from beneath his hooded cloak jacket before holding out a hand. It was covered with a black fingerless glove, and his nails were short but rounded to a point and painted black. “Would it be easier if we were somewhere brighter?”
The girl glanced at his hand and then back to him. “Uh, well, my friends…” She looked behind her to see the three girls huddled together nervously. She then looked back to the mysterious stranger. He had a calming aura about him despite his intimidating attire and his affiliation with crows. It brought back the itch she couldn’t scratch — she had to know who he was. There was just something about him that was so different from anyone she’d ever met. Something not entirely human, even though they’d already covered the vampire bit. There was something else there. Something out of time.
The girl smiled and took his hand. “Sounds good to me. Where are we going?”
The man quirked a brow as he curled his fingers around hers. “I figured you’d be the one to say. I don’t really go many places that are considered lively, nor for the daytime folk.”
“You’re positive you’re not a vampire?” She followed as they walked together down the sidewalk.
A snort. “Nah, not a vampire. Flesh and blood, unfortunately.”
“Right. So you don’t like people-y places. Where do you usually go?”
The man stopped at a cross walk. A moment of silence passed between them before he answered casually. “The graveyard.”
“At night?” She didn’t miss a beat as they crossed and realized they were still holding hands. Her pulse quickened. Why couldn’t she let go of his hand? She could have just dropped his and turned around, but something…
“Yeah. Can’t get caught though, but it’s easy to hide in black.” They came to a side road and the man paused in doubt. “You want to go to a coffee shop or something?”
The girl glanced down the road that gradually got darker with spaced out streetlights, versus the cozy coffee shop in the other direction beneath the city lights. She squeezed the hand in hers. “Um, graveyard’s fine.”
The man’s eyes widened and he looked down at her. “You sure?”
“Yeah, well… Yeah, why not? YOLO.”
The man squinted. “YO… LO?”
“You only live once!” she smiled. She was pretty sure he was safe based on her observations. Safer than most of the other men around campus anyway. He wasn’t one of those frat boys lingering around a stray drink at a party. “Seriously, yeah,” she assured. “I’ve seen you around. You’re pretty cool.”
The man stared at her for a minute before huffing a laugh and steering her toward the side road. “Cool, huh? Never been called that before.”
The girl’s cheeks burned and she spoke no further. She’d finally released his hand as he reached for a cigarette, and she watched as the end lit up beneath the night sky. Smoke drifted around him in a way that made him even more otherworldly, and as he flicked the ash into the air, she noticed even more silver jewelry on his wrists and around his neck. Upside down crosses, pentagrams, and plain silver rings, although there was at least one on his right middle finger that looked like a silver snake curled around the length of it.
The walk was further than she’d anticipated, and she quickly checked her phone for the time. It was nearing ten at night. It definitely wasn’t how she’d expected to spend her evening after a late study session, but she was finding it to be more exciting than hitting the bed. Classes started early in the morning, and it was important to keep up her grades, although most wouldn’t care much about literature. It was her major — minoring in philosophy. Throw in a creative writing course and a few other classes for credits, and she was your average academic nerd. And she loved every second of it.
What was even more exciting, however, was the darker age of it all. The rainy days in the oldest parts of the university. The smell of old books that permeated the library air. She surrounded herself with candles, old tomes, black and brown wool sweaters, and dark academia music. So it really wasn’t too odd that she became interested in…
Oh. She hadn’t even introduced herself.
“Uh, hey.” She stopped him from walking just as they approached the wrought iron entrance. “Sorry, I’m Agnes.”
“Salem.” His voice was quiet and deeper than before as it ground against his vocal chords. It brought out the silence surrounding them in such a forbidden place to be after dark.
“I love that.” She followed him past the gates. “Seriously, that’s a cool name.”
Salem paused and turned around. “What do you want?”
Agnes was taken aback. “What… I just wanted to hang out with you.”
“No one just wants to hang out with me, Agnes.” Her name on his tongue sent shivers down her spine in all the right ways. “A dare? A photo of a weird dude for social media? What is it?”
“No, none of those things.” She started picking at her nails and hung her head, her long brown hair falling in her face before she smoothed some behind an ear. She felt much smaller than she actually was — and she definitely felt tiny in front of Salem. His six feet to her five foot five was a contrast. “I’ve been watching you for a while, and no, I’m not stalking you, I promise!” She looked up at him hurriedly, her over-sized brass, round glasses sliding down her nose. “I just really think you’re cool. You’re not boring like most everybody else. And maybe I’m a little in love with all things dark, even though I might not look like it.”
Salem smiled, to her surprise. “A budding bookworm goth, huh?” He chuckled. “Well, if you’re not here to tease me, then come on. Let me show you something.”
Agnes fixed her glasses and did her best to contain the adrenalin that rushed up inside her. It was so exciting she could burst. She didn’t want to go home any time soon.
Agnes followed Salem to the center of the cemetery where he stopped beneath a large weeping willow. A section of grass was set out for resting, and a few granite benches lined a large stone circle. Salem gestured for Agnes to sit, and as she did, she looked up through the willow’s leaves. The moon was out and almost full, and its silver rays beamed down on her face like magic entering her body. She knew the power the moon had, if you believed in that sort of thing. It could make even the most innocent person wretched, or the smallest person so powerful.
It was also a bad time to go to the grocery store. People hyped up on a full moon night crawled under Agnes’ skin.
Salem went to light another cigarette, but thought twice and pocketed the Newports again. “What kind of music you listen to?”
“Mostly dark piano pieces. I like dark ambiance too.”
Salem smiled. “Dark Ambiance? What kind?”
Agnes’ heart fluttered. They were connecting. They were actually connecting. “Atrium Carceri. Cities Last Broadcast. And I like some darker soundtracks too, like Eyes Wide Shut. The music from that film is just…” She made a sound of pleasure before catching herself and her face grew hot.
“Eyes Wide Shut? Really? You?” Salem turned to see her fully and crossed his arms. “You don’t look the type.”
“I know.” Agnes looked down at herself in her knee-length brown plaid skirt, black Mary Janes, and brown wool sweater with a white button-up beneath. She looked every bit of the dark academia scholar. Her leather messenger back completed the whole aesthetic she didn’t realize had made up her entire being. “I guess you’d just have to understand the things that go on in my head, really.”
Salem dropped down beside her and she caught a whiff of myrrh. It made her head spin. He had a cigarette ready in his hand again but hadn’t lit it. “And what sort of things are those, Agnes?” he smiled.
She was being teased and she knew it. Agnes puffed up and looked him dead in the eye. “I like rainy days. I read Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and Georges Bataille. You tell me.”
He lifted his eyebrows and made a sound of amusement. “That’s interesting company to keep. Story of the Eye?”
Agnes’ breath hitched in her throat. Electricity coiled in her stomach. “One of my favorites.”
A slight breeze rustled the willow, and the silver peeking through danced around them like the leaves were made of crystal. An audible swallow, and then shuffling in the dirt beneath the bench.
Agnes leaned close and took Salem’s cigarette, bravely placing it between her lips. She looked up at him longingly as he pulled out his lighter and lit the tip. She took a deep drag, remembering the habit she’d tried to kick so many times. Her friends would be pissed for sure.
“Huh,” Salem mused. “You’re serious.”
“Completely.” Agnes turned the cigarette and lifted it to Salem’s lips, which he took gently, albeit with a bit of flirtatious flair. Her insides quivered.
Salem took a drag before exhaling off to the side, and when he returned he leaned low to meet Agnes eye to eye. He searched her gaze to be sure she felt safe, and upon seeing the yearning behind her eyes, captured her lips with his own.
She slid a hand along the side of his brown face and squeezed her legs together. This was the magic she’d felt and why she’d been so intensely interested in him. They were the same in many ways, and she could taste it upon his cool tongue. He was the dark night’s sky beneath a cloaked hood, a walking mystery in black and silver. He was a taste of the unknown — the darkness that she wasn’t brave enough to wear so openly like he did.
©2021 Shane Blackheart