I’m in the middle of writing a short story about Elvis. Or, more precisely, Elvis’s shadow, who’s still hanging about, inbetween worlds. It’s pretty different to my previous horror stuff. I hope you like it! Here’s the first bit.
There’s Only One King
The man in black stood in a grotto the Earth had carved out for him. Hanging weeds like tagliatelli leaked over the edge above, forming a braided curtain through which he watched the world’s rain.
Black hair, black leather, black boots. He hadn’t changed clothes in a long time, and perhaps never would again. He liked the outfit; it was all ’68, when he had last felt powerful, cool, and in control. No hysteria there, just calm adulation. The outfit was more weathered now, but not much, not since ‘77. It kept well.
Water threaded its way down the sky and down the weeds, and dripped to his boots, where it rolled off and finally sunk to the soil. This was a wet, grey place. Even when the sun was out it was shallow and weak. One more time he felt that tremendous pull to go home, and one more time he resisted. The memories hurt.
He ran a hand through the lick of black hair and shuffled his feet, feeling the vibrations. He waited for the rain to stop.
There were few people to talk to these days. Few people who could talk to him. There was the occasional spirit or half-creature, those preternatural things that lived out of sight and sound of the human plane of knowledge and understanding, but those things he’d never felt much of a bond to, nor they him. He wanted other men, other women. He wanted her.
One of the very few living people left around who could communicate with him, and the only person he cared to, was Keith. But Keith hadn’t sent him a letter in some time. Months perhaps, or years. Time was hard to keep up with now, and he wasn’t sure it was even trying.
He figured it wasn’t Keith’s fault, losing touch like that. It’s not as though he had an address to post to, and he was always wandering. Over deserts and hills, along highways and the banks of rivers.
‘Return to sender,’ he murmured, to the tune of the rain. ‘Address unknown.’ His voice, not spoken out loud in days, was elastic and low.
He could chase up Keith’s current whereabouts himself, and go see him in person, but that might involve computers. No matter. He’d run into Keith eventually no doubt, in this half-life or the next.
The rain petered out, and he drew in the freshness of the air, the new-born Earth. He left the grotto and walked out onto moss and rocks. Beneath him was a small pool, and he looked at his reflection. It shivered back at him. His dark eyes, his loose fringe, his high cheekbones and crook of a lip; all that doll-man face cast in perpetual gloom. Even in a cloudless sky would others see that Old World face, shaded under its own cloud. If they could see it at all.
The perfect archetype of man at dusk, the man in black, pulled his leather jacket close against him and traipsed through bracken to a figure sitting alone by a pond.
The figure turned its head slowly at his approach. To say its skin was stone-like would be clutching at the point, for it was stone, a stone that moved and hid itself with human character.
‘And you are?’ it grumbled, from a wide, flat mouth on a wide, flat head.
‘Elvis,’ he said, sticking out his hand. ‘Pleased to meetcha.’
The troll looked at the hand and then back up at his face. ‘I take the hand?’
The troll took the hand, and Elvis shook it. The stone was warmer than the air.
‘I am Amelie,’ she said, lowering her head, on which patterned an array of moss and unlovely flowers.
‘Pleased to meetcha ma’am.’
She smiled, the mouth creaking at the corners. He saw that the eyes were like bright marbles, and she was not wholly unattractive in that beguiling, thick-set trollish way he’d come to know. ‘The Elvis?’ She said, raising her arms up to her knees. ‘Elvis Presley?’
There was no sigh on his part to hold back. As many times as he’d got this, over the decades, he knew full well that one’s life to another was only revealed in miniature, in bite-size parts; that a first meeting should hold only possibility, and enthusiasm, and never rudeness by route of weariness.
‘Elvis Shadow,’ he said, smiling.
‘Shadow,’ she repeated. ‘Then you knew him.’ It wasn’t a question.
‘I knew him well,’ Elvis said. ‘You could say that for a while we were attached at the hip.’
‘Ah.’ She nodded, as though she understood. ‘Then you were there when he died.’
Elvis looked down. ‘I don’t really wanna talk about that, if you don’t mind ma’am. Unpleasant memories, and all.’ Vegas, he thought. The hotel room. Always a foul weight in my mind. So much loneliness in that prison. Thirty-eight years, and never returned. And yet it pulls at me, hooks me like a fish…
‘How long have you been here?’ Amelie interrupted him, and he smiled warmly at her. ‘In the half-life,’ she added.
‘Thirty-eight years, or so, ma’am. I don’t know more than years.’ Thirty-eight years, and never returned to that Nevada sun.
Amelie looked down into the murky pond, and swished her feet in the reeds. ‘Time does not care for us. It pays us very little attention. Not least when we are away. Do you not miss your home? This place is for pond wights and moor hounds, and ghosts of grey knights. Gargoyles and sad elves, and boggarts in the marshes. It is too dank and grim for you. You seem like you best belong back in America. Where the sun is on you, even at night.’
I do. ‘What about your home? With all respect ma’am, England is not your land, either.’
She breathed deeply. ‘I am seeing cousins,’ she said simply. ‘And I am not cold.’
The troll said nothing for a while, and he sat down next to her and watched the swirl of the foggy water around her bare feet. She didn’t speak of the weakness. What it was like to be apart from their sources of power, from belief. Neither of them did.
‘So,’ she said, breaking the silence. ‘Any regrets?
Elvis shrugged. ‘I wish I’d kept more control, y’know? Not been taken for a ride, I guess. Got out of my room. But I had it better than most, even in the bad times. Still do, even now. Even here.’
‘Do you regret the cheeseburgers?’
‘Hey man. I mean ma’am. That was the other guy.’
‘And what would he say?’
‘He’d answer the same as me. You never regret a cheeseburger.’