By John Adams
Longington Manor was the only home James Clickerton had ever known. Orphaned at four, Clickerton was ushered under the Longington’s protection and had served them since adolescence.
One night, Mrs. Greenmary, the scowl-drenched housekeeper, demanded Clickerton clean the attic. “This place is tumbling toward neglect,” she crowed. So, armed with a candle and broom, Clickerton swung down the ladder door, and trudged into the dust.
Sweeping aside cobwebs, he spotted a telescope, rusting near a window. As adolescents, Clickerton and Master Goodwin spent countless evenings beside that telescope. Watching the sky. Watching each other. “Someday, we shall visit those stars, my Clickity-Click,” Goodwin often whispered, his breath tickling Clickerton’s earlobe.
Clickerton learned many things those nights. But extraordinarily little about stars.
Few condoned Clickerton’s friendship with Goodwin. Certainly not Mrs. Greenmary. “Gentlemen outgrow childhood toys,” she routinely huffed.
Goodwin disdained such warnings—disdained any societal shackles restraining their bond. Before boarding his ship to Madagascar, he even begged Clickerton to accompany him.
“Your parents forbade me,” Clickerton replied, misty-eyed. “Besides…Longington Manor is the only home I have ever known.”
Goodwin sighed. “Then, I shall return in six months—and gaze into the Indian Ocean each intervening day, remembering you.”
Goodwin had not returned in six months. Nor had anyone on that ill-fated vessel.
Three years later, in the attic, Clickerton studied Goodwin’s telescope, remembering the past, imagining the future. Indulging a frequent fantasy, he envisioned a sea-soaked Goodwin, triumphantly returning to Longington Manor. To his overjoyed parents. To his Clickety-Click. Goodwin and Clickerton would lock eyes. Smile. Embrace. They—
Clickerton trembled. No. Goodwin was lost forever. Daydreams only tormented the pain. Eager to silence such thoughts, Clickerton latched onto an easy distraction and peered into the telescope lens.
High above, an uncanny orb spun—unlike anything Clickerton remembered from past stargazing. It resembled a child’s ball, but mirrored.
Its surface reflected infinite stars.
Breath tickled Clickerton’s earlobe.
He whirled around, desperate to see the familiar lips breathing this attic dust. Except somehow… somehow, Clickerton was no longer in the attic.
This room was larger, enormous even. A dangling mirrored ball, identical to the orb glimpsed through Goodwin’s telescope, glistened purple lights. Music thumped more jubilantly than anything Mrs. Greenmary’s Victrola spat out.
Glitter-garbed revelers rejoiced. Men in stark-white suits jutted fingers upwards. Women rolled by on wheeled shoes, and scant else. On stage—yes, an actual stage!—a woman in gold trousers sang, alternatively asking where her baby “got the notion,” then imploring he not “rock the boat.”
But the biggest shock stood before him.
Despite the glittering face, the garish purple suit, Clickerton recognized the handsome figure. “M-master Goodwin! It has been…three years…Your-your ship…”
“…has landed.” Goodwin leaned close, lips poised.
Clickerton stumbled backward. They had kissed before—many giddy nights; they did little else. But such affection was previously reserved for intimate moments, not surrounded by strangers.
Yet, when Goodwin whispered, “My Clickety-Click,” and extended welcoming arms, Clickerton’s hesitations vanished. He accepted Goodwin’s cold embrace. The music softened. And they danced.
“Your appearance…” Clickerton said, after a moment.
“Affectations.” Goodwin gestured to his gaudy garb, his candied face. “Sequins. Velour. Eyeliner.”
Clickerton sank into Goodwin’s chest, resting down his eyes. “Curious words.”
Goodwin chuckled. “The disco era was curious indeed.”
A moan snapped Clickerton’s eyes open. Nearby, a man bucked ecstatically as a woman nuzzled his neck. Modesty demanded Clickerton avert his gaze, but he could not. For the woman did not merely kiss the man’s neck.
She gnawed it.
Blood trickled onto copper-lamé.
“Shall we finally visit those stars, my Clickety-Click?” Goodwin whispered. Lips parted. Incisors jagged.
Competing waves of terror and heartbreak seized Clickerton. He contorted his fingers into a cross. “Vampires! Mrs. Greenmary frightened me with such tales as a child!”
“Not precisely Goodwin,” Clickerton hissed. “You dare steal my beloved’s face.”
“Affectations.” The Goodwin-looking thing waved a bejeweled hand. “Spectrums. Frequencies. Pheromones.”
“Reveal yourself, demon.”
“As you wish.” With a prolonged sigh, “Goodwin” snapped its fingers. The affectations faded. The dazzling room became Longington Manor’s neglected attic. “Goodwin,” along with most of his fellow revelers, similarly transformed.
In their places stood monstrosities.
Clickerton’s lips trembled. “What…are you?”
“Something outside earthly comprehension,” sputtered the creature that had worn Goodwin’s face.
The man in copper-lamé had remained human, as had a few others. They smiled serenely, necks seeping blood.
“What foulness inflict you upon these innocents?” Clickerton demanded.
“We visit Earth. Across disparate eras. We…collect.”
“Servitude?” Clickerton huffed.
“Companionship. We are sensitive to sustenance-providing life-forms. We request but one burden from them. In exchange, they travel. Learn. Love.”
“You seduced me to satiate your hunger.”
“We sensed your own hunger from 100 years hence, James Clickerton. Your yearning. Your loyalty.”
“My loyalty lies with him.”
“And if he never returns?” The creature’s tone was not unkind.
Clickerton’s eyes welled. “That…That is why it is called…loyalty and not…certainty.”
The creature studied Clickerton. “Very well.”
Clickerton blinked away tears. “You’ll leave? You’ll return my true home?”
“In more ways than you realize,” the creature said. “We entice. We encourage. But we do not entrap. Fare you well, James Clickerton.”
It leaned closer.
Not to bite.
Not to kiss.
But to talk. Its whisper tickled Clickerton’s earlobe.
Before Clickerton could untangle its final puzzling words, glitter filled the room. When it faded, the monstrosities and their human companions were gone. Through the attic window, Clickerton saw a colossal, mirrored ball, rotating magnificently, spinning away from Longington Manor.
The next morning, Clickerton tendered notice to Mrs. Greenmary and sold his few possessions.
Days later, crammed below deck on a squalid ship, chest racing, he remembered the creature’s parting words: A hunger mirroring your own yearns elsewhere in this era…
Longington Manor was the only home James Clickerton had ever known. But the house itself was just wood. Stone. Cobwebs. Affectations. Clickerton’s true home waited for him on some shipwrecked island, gazing into the Indian Ocean each intervening day.