The Last Rites


Michael Edwards

"When I was born, the angels watched from on high.  I passed from someplace to earth.  I had no sooner opened my eyes than I saw them looking down on me.  I was full of excitement, and I marveled.  Where their mouths were, a part was made, which, though I did not understand how or why it was made, I knew to be something good.  In later years, my captors occasionally used the same motioning gesture to beckon me, as when, for example, it was time to be fed.  I would always come running, though in time I began to wonder if it was still the smile or just the food I responded to.  I had come to separate things which in my younger days I had always mistaken for a single complete entity.  I grew discriminate.  Only now, when the end is so near (I can feel it, drawing near), do I realize that my confusion, for all my accumulated insight, is all the greater.  When I knew nothing, I understood everything; now, when I understand so much, I know almost nothing.  A cycle is completing.  I have offspring, I have done all that was set before me to accomplish.  Is it a kindness that it seems to have yielded so little?  Have my masters, the angels, established this sequence because they are so much wiser than I, and they discovered long ago that only confusion makes meaningless tolerable?  Here they come for me, their lips parted.  They are bringing something, in a syringe.  Food?  No, I don't imagine so.  Why do they smile at me and pat me as they deliver the needle into my flesh?  I am sleepy.  The last thing I shall see is their mouths closing."

- "No.  No.  It isn't quite right yet.  Tear it up, start again." -

                *                                                *                                                *

Traces of an almost pure gold rustled amidst the rest.  Most of it was a straw color, with here and there something nearly dark enough to be called copper.  The wind which stirred his hair, and which revealed the golden strands, then recovered them, then uncovered them again, and which stirred the deep green grass until it too was made to reveal hidden shades - this wind seemed to have descended from the black clouds directly overhead.  Silver - no less than silver itself - veined the leading edges.  Thunderheads, rising like underground peaks born of countless drops of crushed lime: thunderheads, whose winds scratched this boy's skin and tousled his gold filled hair, transmitted the sky's doings to the ground and, periscope like, gave a view of earth.  At some other time, a tornado might have touched down.  Last evening it touched down, tore a path out of a forest, killed a cow grazing in a meadow, ascended.  The same cloud spread its winds like open arms over this boy, where it might have concentrated them to drain his blood from his heart.  Now it was blue: it.  This thing, not living. 

Trees surrounded on all sides where a slab had been erected, though not without some elaborate scribbles, images, meanings inscribed.  These were very tall trees, very ancient spruce, some green, some blue; many of their limbs were drooping, a few had fallen, and in the deep recess was a mass of decayed and dying needled branches.  This clearing might have been man-made; and it might have happened naturally, the trees advancing no farther upon what they perhaps took for hallowed ground. 

No flowers, nor the stalks of any, were anyplace about.  A claimed land: nature's; and while flowers too were natural, they clustered best where life abounded, or seemed to.  Rain began falling.  Caked, blackened, scaly red was washed clear - separated out from the blues.  The boy was no more than twenty.  He had always lived by his wits, had taken money where and as he could, for favors, for services.  He sold suspect goods: he would go to where people shopped, would go into the parking lot, go up to a car, ask, if the window was down, knock if it was not down, and try and sell whatever he had.

Or he would go over to where young men like himself offered themselves, for a few moments, inside a car, to somebody who had five or ten or twenty dollars.  Occasionally he would rob the younger children of their school lunch money, but not often.  Sometimes he hitchhiked outside the city, to where the interstate highway was; he would then go to the interchange, and pilfer, or try to pilfer, the machine into which travelers threw their quarters, by putting something in to block the slot; later he would return to collect his haul.

He lay still.

                *                                                *                                                *

Brick by brick, one by one, it was built; yet so perfect was the fit, so closely did each brick align to every other, and so nearly did they resemble one another that something other than human effort seemed to have created it.  One could not help thinking of a volcano, a very special kind of volcano, something arising all at once upon the landscape where before there had been nothing - not a mountain already there which spewed its ash and gas and brimstone from its bowels, but one which was its own spew, one which formed from those very entrails let loose through a breach in the earth's crust: a self created edifice.  So this seemed: the product of inhuman agency, five stories tall, three acres of ground thrown out to make room for it, each wall a perfect vertical interlocking its peers.  There were no windows, and only two doors, a back and a front door, the former larger and opening onto a ramp which slanted toward the cement courtyard, the latter at an ascent of several steps from the sidewalk in front.  From the approach - and it was visible many miles distant - a mass of cylinders could be seen stretching from the roof.  These were slender, like minarets, and of varying heights, ranging from the shortest, some ten feet, to the tallest, almost forty feet high.  Occasionally a jet of smoke spewed from one or from a quantity of these air stacks; usually it was pure white, though at times the hue darkened.  Twenty-seven of these cylinders covered the roof, at various distances from each other.,  Additionally, very thin strands of wire could be seen interspersed among the cylinders; when the sunlight was just right, certain of the wires came aglow, as if icicles.

Trees covered the mountaintop.  Dozens - hundreds perhaps - had had to be cleared away to make a place for the building.  From every point of the surrounding landscape the building could be seen, and, conversely, every point below could be seen from the rooftop where, at intervals, watchtowers were placed.  Great electrical wires ran down the mountainside, parallel to it; and in back of the building, some two hundred feet away, stood a huge electrical generating facility, coiled and completely fenced in.  At either side of the building was a parking lot, where the workers and the many visitors could park their automobiles.  No fewer than three hundred cars, on most days, were present; unmoving petals of color against a pitch black base.

On a placard over the front entrance was the name of this place; brass letters inlaid on bronze proclaimed it The Czarn Institute of Scientific Research.  Nowhere had a cornerstone been laid, so that not only did the building's perfection suggest other than human agency, the eradication of its very birth date pointed to its having occurred outside of time as well.  Space and time, it had conquered.

At an appointed minute and hour, it would be cleared of its human inhabitants, until the following workday began and they would reappear.

                *                                                *                                                *

It was barren.  All the trees had been cleared, any shrubbery that was there mashed when the heavy machinery hauled them away.  Nothing had been mentioned in the agreement either for or against the ownership of timber, or its usage, so that since the property had been sold, and before the new owners could situate themselves, every last tree had been removed, almost as if by demons in the middle of the night: hauled off, for the lumber.  A heavy rain preceded, by less than a single day, the new owners' entry; what greeted them was virtually a swamp, which in no time, beneath the hot August sun, became like a desert.  The previous owner, a building contractor, when informed of the property's condition, simply asked to be shown, in writing, where the trees, or the mineral rights, or even the water rights, had been sold.  No such clause could be discovered.

"Once more gentlemen," said the contractor, "the strong survive.  While you're wasting your time creating a make-believe-world on paper, or on canvas, or through the keys of a piano, I've been creating a real world, out of real entities, and made manifest through real achievements, the kind you can forge into an instrument to get what you want in life.  Normally I don't take pleasure in outwitting others.  This time I do, because you had no reason - I'm tempted to say no right either - to neglect the details of your transaction.  You should have cared enough for those trees you come crying to me about now to have made damn sure they'd stay put.  But your minds were elsewhere.  I'm not against art, but I have only contempt for those who let it blind them to the real world.  I have compassion for those poor souls who are so weak they cannot face the world; but it's been my observation that artists are generally strong, not weak, individuals.  I have no sympathy for flights of fancy in those who have the strength to face life.  And if you gentlemen are wise, you'll learn more from this one dealing with me than from all the aesthetic philosophers ever thrown together.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.  And so do you."

Make shift buildings had been thrown up, as near as possible to where there was still enough grass to help hold the soil in place.  These were small buildings, almost like huts, mutants of the kind of steel storage buildings sold in hardware stores, and very little bigger.  They were in part prefabricated, the rest made up of any number of discrete materials, some simply found along streets or at landfills, some already in one or another of the new owners' possession, some the pairing of unlikely bits of matter left over from unsuccessful sculptures or the like.  The interiors of these buildings varied in richness, some being quite elaborate, elegant, while most were bare of adornment, if not of furnishings as well.  Altogether seven buildings were raised upon the five and a half acre plot of land.  It was to be an artistic colony.  Nineteen individuals had pooled their savings to purchase the land and to construct the buildings - they were called homes, these buildings.  They had not meant this to be an experiment in communal living, but rather a simple expedient, many being able to live a little better, a little more cheaply in concert than each one separately.  These were artists, who by their very natures were unsuited to a genuine commune; and they knew it.  They were not even necessarily all friends, nor did they for the most part see themselves as unique among humanity, above consorting with the non-artists.  In no way did they intend this colony as an exclusive paradise; it was simply a convenient arrangement.  This was not a barricade, however ramshackle, to protect either them or their vision from society; neither was it a barrier keeping others away.  People were free to come, free to befriend these artists if they so chose.

                *                                                *                                                *

In an old half abandoned laboratory a white-haired professor of physical science labored over a scale model of something hybrid.  Parts of it openly imitated a ship, something like what artists render Noah's Ark as; while in other places distinct patterns and structuring derived from the modern day rocket ship sought to effect a blend, if such a blend could be effected.  "The Noahan Chronicles," somebody who had peeked in and seen it described it as, making perhaps a reference to a renowned work of 20th Century science fiction.  Though this laboratory was isolated, it was nevertheless situated on the grounds of the state University, and it was not unknown for various fraternities to have their pledges sneak inside and bring back a small token as proof of their courage.  The place was said to be haunted, the professor to be mad, even according to some reports a ghost - all, of course, calculated to strike fear into the hearts of pledges.  Even so, nearly all the pledges managed to come away with something from Noah's Kitchen, as the lab was called.  Professor Julian Norris worked here, and no philology was seriously breached at his name being corrupted at the instigation of fraternity hierarchies: benevolence was the intellectual fashion toward such harmless, yet nevertheless essential, social microcosms.  Young men and women must after all be prepared for the great business of fitting into the grand hierarchy, so it was right that a hoary science like the study of language should merely wink at their pranks.

                *                                                *                                                *

"The day I was born, the angels looked down.  I sensed their greatness.  I had not yet discovered the awesome power of their moral intransigence.  I had yet to learn that what was right could harden their hearts against one as insignificant as me.  Me: made to serve their great purpose."

-"No.  No.  It still isn't right." -

The young man threw down his pen, then closed his notebook and got up.  Tears were in his eyes.  Somebody knocked on his door.  "Come in," he called.

"Larry?" his visitor asked.  "You're not busy are you?"  The young man answered that he was not.  "Good.  I had something I wanted to ask you."

"What?" asked Larry.  His visitor was taller, sturdier, with stronger body features, but about the same age.  Larry had very soft gray eyes, very gentle eyes, and a delicate mouth, more rounded than long, the lips thick rather than thin; there were no sharp angles anywhere on his face.  His visitor was almost totally the opposite.  Both were artists, two among the nineteen who had bought and who now lived on this old Folton landfill.  Years ago it had been covered over, and in time grass and trees had grown, until, the land finally sold, the trees had been all cleared away for lumber, leaving only the faintest traces of their having once been there.

"Larry - and please: don't be offended, because I know you're already working on something.  But there's an ad in the University newspaper for writers to submit poems, a certain type of poem, for a memorial.  It's the centennial of the University's founding, and to commemorate it they want to build a kind of memorial, an obelisk.  They want something to engrave on it.  A poem.  It's a little out of my line, but it's the kind of thing I think you might like to try.  What do you say?"

Larry looked up at his friend, his fellow artist.  "I saw the ad," he said.  "Why did you think I hadn't?"

"I just wasn't sure," Larry's visitor replied.

"Or maybe you felt I needed a little prodding," Larry observed, but without sarcasm, without resentment.

"I'm sorry."

"No, don't be.  You're right, I do need prodding.  I'm not, as they say, exactly a 'self-starter.'  And I am sentimental, I know it.  I never said I could ever be a great artist.  Mark, I know I'm third rate.  That's what hurts so much right now.  I'm trying to write a story, an epitaph, about Gloucester.  Why did they take him, Mark?  He wasn't in anyone's way.  I always took care of him, didn't I?  He never bothered anyone.  He never got off the place.  Why'd they have to come in here and get him?  What did he do, Mark, what did he do?"

Mark, the visitor to Larry's room, did not answer; he only shrugged.  "Can I see what you've written?" he asked.  Larry showed him, pointing out that he had not yet gotten beyond the first paragraph, which he had started over seven times already.

"Maybe," said Mark, "and please don't be hurt by this, but maybe the problem is your subject matter.  Maybe it doesn't lend itself to artistic treatment.  Maybe it's too, well, a bit too sentimental."  The look in Mark's eyes hinted of a question, even if his words had not been expressed in the interrogative.  It was Larry's eyes which responded, with a stream of tears.

"Someone I cared about was taken, and killed, and dissected, and carried out in a black plastic bag, and incinerated - and I want to tell about it, I want the world to know, and to feel, not just know, but to feel that it's wrong, it should not have been allowed to happen!  Why can't art be about that?  Why can't it?  Why must it only be impersonal, objective, only about events where there are choices, and not those which deny the right of free choice?  Why?"

"It just is," was all Mark could say.

"Then it stinks!"

"Then find some other line of work," Mark advised.

"I will," Larry resolved, though barely had Mark left before his resolve began to weaken.  But I love to write, he told himself.  Why is my work no good?  Why is sentiment no good?"

"When I was born," he began again, only to stop and start over, this time deciding to approach it, not from his pet dog's perspective, but from his own.

"When he was born," he began.

"No," he said, "I wasn't there, I got him from the pound."  He thought about his pet beagle, whom he had named Gloucester, after Shakespeare's Richard III, only with an ironic twist: to prove that the name had nothing to do with the individual, that a Gloucester need not be evil, that goodness could assume any name.  His friend, Denny, had said something very strange to him once: he had speculated that some names really were evil, and if you give them to someone who was good, then that person would have evil befall him, even if he did not turn evil himself.  Gloucester had had evil befall him.  Taken up, killed, dissected, put into a bag and carried by material handlers to be incinerated.  For no discernible reason.

"I still don't understand it," Larry confessed again, as he had so often, to his friend, Professor Norris.  He had no better luck trying his story from his own than from his pet's perspective; he left off working and walked the five or so miles to the University.  It was dark when he arrived at the Professor's laboratory.  No one was outside: it was too early for the pledges to come around.  Larry looked up and cursed.  Someone who did not know the place might have imagined him to be cursing God; he seemed to be looking toward heaven.  He wasn't though.  High above the rest of the University, off in the distance but near enough to be visible, high on a mountaintop the great Institute for Scientific Research looked down on the buildings, on the dormitories, on the classrooms, on the athletic fields, on the outdoor amphitheatre, on the cafeteria and on the parking lots and quadrangles.  And, through the ancient locust trees which all but hid it from view, on Professor Norris' laboratory.

"They have their own dogs, don't they?" Larry demanded to be told.  Norris nodded that they did; in his eyes was a fierceness which belied his gentle nod.  "Why did they need mine then?" Larry asked.  "He couldn't have been part of a test, could he?  I would have seen if anyone had tried to inject any test chemicals in him.  I would have killed them!" Larry insisted, though after a moment's reflection he realized otherwise. 

"No," he admitted, somewhat ashamed, "I wouldn't have killed them, or even tried to - though I should, but I wouldn't have.  I would have made them have to kill me though to get him.  Am I being a fool, making so much of this?" Larry asked.  The Professor nodded no, he was not being a fool.  "My friends think so," Larry explained, "especially Mark - I told you about him.  I think, well, I think I'm in love with him.  Not that I'd ever tell him.  I don't know how he'd take it.  He'd probably want to move out, move in with someone else.  Sometimes I think he knows - maybe not how I feel about him, but just, you know, the way I am.  It shouldn't matter.  It shouldn't have to be so important it dwarfs everything else in a person's life.  I think once when I had a friend over - well, Denny: I think I may have mentioned Denny to you; anyway, I think Mark heard us.  He didn't say anything though.  I haven't seen Denny for awhile.  It's so dumb.  Denny's, well, you might say a hustler: you know, he does it for money.  It's so stupid, everyone always says be careful, hustlers are dangerous, one day I'll get cut to pieces.  I hate them saying that, because if they could only see how trusting and how gentle Denny is, they'd see how stupid their warnings are.  Hey, guess what?  I've talked Denny into applying here for next semester!  I said I'd help him pay his way.  In fact, I've got to talk to him: he took his SATs last month, and he should have heard this week.  He was so scared he'd fail and I'd be disappointed in him.  How could I ever be disappointed in him?  He needs me.  I only wished I loved him like I do Mark.  Mark's straight though.  I don't say that just because he has a girlfriend; he is straight though, I can tell.  What hurts is that I should have to feel uneasy, and have to be so secretive, and have to pretend I never have sex with anyone just because I'm gay, while he can be as open as he wants.  Is that fair?"

Professor Norris thought a moment, then nodded his head no, it did not seem fair to him either.  It was not his concern though - he did not say so, but it wasn't.  Animals were his only concern.  What people did, who they slept with, who they loved or didn't love: these were inconsequential.  As far as he was concerned, only one thing mattered: getting as many animals as possible off this earth and into space before it was too late - before they were all destroyed by man.  Only if two boys making love to each other stood in the way of his ambition would he oppose it; just as he would oppose a boy and a girl making love if in doing so they jeopardized his mission in life.  In fact, he felt if anything more disposed toward gays than straights, not that he was himself drawn on any level toward homosexual expression but simply that the fewer people who mated, the fewer humans there would be, therefore the greater chance the other creatures of this planet had to survive.  A sentimental man, he occasionally went to the movies, if he thought there would be romance depicted, although his basic orientation was essentially asexual; but he had once walked out of a movie, Love Story, at that point where Ali McGraw says to Ryan O'Neal: "Let's make a baby!"

Larry stayed about an hour then left.  Professor Norris had said nothing in response to Larry's question regarding the cause of Gloucester's capture, but he had his own theory.  The boy had had the dog almost a year, if Norris' memory served him correctly; in a year's time, at the artist colony, situated as it was atop the old landfill - in a year of rooting about, the dog might be expected to have picked up traces of this or that chemical which might have somehow been brought to the surface.  "Landfill" was, as a few people at the University knew, Professor Norris included, a euphemism.  The place had actually been a chemical dump.

Outside, Larry heard the rustling of leaves and twigs.  Though he could see nothing, he knew what it meant.  The pledges were here, to wait till Norris had retired for the night, then to sneak into his lab and make off with some small token of their having courageously proven themselves worthy of membership in their fraternity.  Were it not for the futility of it, Larry would have gone back to the Professor and warned him; but this might only jeopardize Norris from these particular pledges; and, besides, others would come anyway.  In a repulsive, hideously ironic way, the Professor was better off not knowing that his lab was being stalked: were he to become vigilant, he might provoke a confrontation.  He might be harmed, even killed, whereas, not knowing, he was safer.

Larry paused barely a moment before deciding against warning Norris.  Apparently, though, he was perceived as having decided the opposite.

"He heard us," someone whispered, and Larry could vaguely hear the whisper.  Then, when he stopped and for an instant turned back to the lab, another pledge whispered "He's going to snitch on us."  Then, just as he was about to turn and continue on, a third pledge whispered "Let's get him."  Before he realized what was happening, before the sudden rustling and crackling had time to be registered as growing nearer, he was grabbed from behind, a hand was thrust over his mouth, and he was carried off.  Farther and farther into the thick woods which all but surrounded Norris' lab, and isolated it from the rest of the University, the pledges carried Larry, until, coming at last to a place they evidently considered far enough away to be safe, they threw him to the ground.  

"If you breathe a word about seeing us outside old man Norris' place, we'll cut your tongue out!" one of the pledges exclaimed.  Larry said nothing.  Then another pledge breeched yet a different subject.

"Hey," the pledge cried, "this is that fag Denny was telling us about!"  They all laughed.

"Denny?" Larry moaned.

"Yeah," said the pledge, "he does favors for us.  Knows where to get pot."  Then he said to his companions "Remember?  He pointed this fag out to us?"

"Oh yeah," said another.

"Hey," said another, "let's give him what he wants!"

"Yeah," they all agreed, and pulled their pants down, and stripped Larry of his clothes, and "gave him what he wanted," and left him lying on the forest floor, with a warning that if he told anyone they would castrate him, besides which, no one would believe him because it was their word against his and they were frats while he was only a fag - so who did he think would be believed?

Larry began crying when they had gone.  Not for what they had done, but for what his friend Denny had done to him.  He felt sorry for Denny.  It was so dark there that he did not have to shut his eyes before Denny's image could be created.  He saw him, with his eyes open.  At first, he was going to lie there all night, watching his friend.  Then he decided to get up and try to find his way out.  He had never been so deeply in these woods before; he only vaguely realized how extensive they were.  The forest covered a thousand acres; he had never been farther than a few hundred feet inward. 

The pledges had taken his clothes; had he not become aware of a chill, he would not perhaps have remembered being naked.  Very dimly, it occurred to him to wonder what would happen when he got out of here and had to pass among other people without clothes; but the effort of seeking a way out quickly erased every other thought from his mind.  He deliberately tried to go in a circle, in order to reverse the thing he had always heard said: that people lost in a forest always unintentionally travel in a circle.  Perhaps his steps too would be the opposite of what he intended; and, if they were, they would take him out.  As dark as it was, he could tell whenever he came to a clearing in the woods, though why there should be these patches free of trees was as great a mystery to him as the way out of here.  In any event, he knew he was not describing a circle with his steps: each clearing was in some way different from the others.  Eventually, more than half the night gone, he came to the very heart of this forest, a clearing exactly in the center.  It had grown lighter; clouds had parted to admit the moon into view.  Larry gasped.

Ahead, in the very center of the clearing, was a huge stone, or what looked beneath the moon to be a stone, slab.  A human form, lying prostrate, as if asleep, its arms dangling from the slab.  The body was naked, that of a young male, the soles of its feet facing where Larry stood.  He knew it was young, he knew the particular contours of young males, the kind of slimness which only they had.  From where he was, he could not identify it from its facial features.  He was terrified; even so, he called out.

"Hello," he called, at first softly then louder.  But there was no answer, nor the slightest stirring of the body's limbs.  Larry could no longer endure the sense of panic the stillness prompted in him.  He ran.  Forgetting his strategy for finding a path out, he ran blindly; and, as predicted by those who understood such things, he ran in a circle, coming back again and again to the very same clearing.  Each time, he would cry out, in a muffled "No!"; then run off again, until eventually he could go no farther and, coming one more time upon the clearing, this time from the opposite end, he threw himself down onto the ground after taking one last quick look at the body and, covering his head so as not to have to see anyone, fell asleep, trembling and moaning "No!  No~" over and over.  Very vaguely, just before he covered his head, he saw a light, something like a beacon, very high and very distant but focused, it seemed to him, on this very clearing - perhaps, he thought but dared not look to confirm, it was this beacon which earlier he had mistaken for the noon. 

When he awoke, it was growing light and, perceiving this, he became more terrified than ever because his last look at the body, at its thick hair which even in the moonlight revealed a hint of the most beautiful golden strands, or so it seemed to him - his last look had all but fixed it with an identity, one which of all things on earth he dreaded confirming.  But he knew he must.  Though he was sure the sight of his friend Denny lying dead on that slab would end whatever control he had over his mind, would spell the end either of his sanity or of his life, still he knew he must look.  He stood up, his eyes still closed, then he opened his eyes.  He screamed.

The body was gone.  The slab too.  The clearing itself had changed, it was not the same one, but a much smaller clearing, surrounded by trees not nearly so tall.  And furthermore, this one was very close to the edge of the forest, for he could see, through the trees, though just barely, the buildings of the University.  Trembling, he made for those buildings, very quickly coming to the edge of the forest; then, out of the forest; then into a quadrangle, where a few early morning joggers saw him, stared at him, then continued on, looking back once in a while in a double take.  Still naked, Larry walked to one of the buildings, as it turned out the gymnasium, went in through an open door, and sat down on a bench.  An early morning jogger was just returning and, seeing Larry, assumed he had likewise just come from jogging.

"You look tired," the jogger said, then, noticing the bruises on Larry's body, asked if he had fallen, or if he needed help.

"Someone stole my clothes," Larry said, so when the jogger had changed into his street clothes he offered his jogging shorts to him.  Larry thanked him and promised to return them.  They both left.

Now that there had been a break in the sequence of events, now that contact had been made with another person, Larry felt uneasy, self-conscious.  Now he felt naked, wearing these jogging shorts, whereas earlier, when he had actually been naked, but still under the night's spell, he had felt at ease.  He glanced around, and though there were still only a very few people about, it seemed to him a multitude had congregated to take note of his acute embarrassment.  He thought to himself: I'll have to pretend to be a jogger; so he started running, though he had never jogged before in his life.  But in a very few minutes another thought came to embarrass him even more than wearing the shorts had.  He noticed that his feet hurt, and, wondering why, suddenly realized he was not wearing shoes.  He stopped running; he walked the rest of the way home.

"Jesus, what happened to you?" his roommate Mark asked.  He had managed to avoid all the other residents of the colony, and had tried to slip into his house as quietly as possible; but, as it happened, Mark had been to the bathroom and was just returning to his room when Larry entered.  Mark was naked.  Elena, Mark's girlfriend, happened to overhear the question and peeked out of Mark's room to see what it was.  She too was naked, though only her head, neck and left shoulder were visible from the hall.

"Oh, I fell," Larry replied.  He was embarrassed seeing Mark naked, and still more so at perceiving Elena watching him.  He turned away from Mark so as not to have to see him.

"You must have rolled down a hill to get all those bruises," Elena noted.  "Some of those you should have seen about."

"What were you doing?" Mark asked.

"Oh, I was -" Larry groped for a word - "helping," he said finally, then he went on to elaborate.  "You know: fixing, helping work on something."

"In the middle of the night?" Mark asked.

"No, but I just, you know, didn't come right home.  I stayed overnight.  At a friend's.  I'll be okay.  I think I'll lay down awhile."  With this, Larry went to his room, got undressed, and laid on his bed.  Mark went back to his room and took Elena in his arms.

"Who was he helping?" Elena asked.  Mark shrugged.  "To get hurt like that - I wonder who?"

"Maybe old man Norris," Mark suggested.

"Crazy old Norris?  Who's going to steal all the animals from the labs and put them all on a rocket ship and send them to another planet?  Why would Larry know him?"

"I don't know," said Mark.

"That's strange, don't you think?" Elena asked.  Mark agreed that it was strange - more in the manner of one agreeing with almost anything just to set the subject aside than of one genuinely of like opinion.  He pressed her close and kissed her; then, after holding her in this manner awhile, drew her toward his bed.  They had had each other last night, now they would have one another again.  They would lay silently when it was over, this "having."  The silence would be broken with one of them suggesting they had better have some breakfast; another silence; a second time the silence broken, by the other one agreeing to the suggestion.  They would rise, dress, go to the kitchen.  A short conversation while breakfast was being prepared, perhaps another short conversation while it was being eaten; finally, the dishes stacked in the sink, a farewell kiss "until tonight."  Their love would be put into abeyance "until tonight."

Mark returned to his room, to examine some data he had collected but had not had time to look over yet.  A desk, a chair and a bed were all the furnishings he had; the walls were bare of decoration, the floors without rugs.  Nothing superfluous here.  Each piece of paper he examined bore the heading "Evanescence," and, at the left hand margin, an insignia consisting of a multi-hued puff of smoke.  These were the title and logo of Mark Grainger's literary magazine.

He had first conceived of publishing his own magazine in college, where he had edited the University literary journal.  For this past year he had worked to make it a reality.  He was just now planning his first issue; a tentative date had been set for its publication.  These, however, were far from being the first steps he had taken; rather, they were the final, and logical, outgrowth of a series of steps ranging over the past year.  Funding had had to be secured; some kind of backing from a literary organization, something he could loosely affiliate himself with, had had to be arranged; plans, for at least the possibility of an audience, however modest, had had to be formulated; and a source of advertisement had had to be located, some kind of periodical reference listing major literary journals, though his was not yet major. 

The first listing, in the first directory, was scheduled to appear in one month, coinciding with the premier edition of Evanescence.  While not yet in his possession, the funding had been all but guaranteed: a foundation, responding to his presentation and to significant testimonials from well respected members of the academic and critical world, whose backing he had secured, had agreed to finance his journal at least for one year.  In college, while others spent their time either shut up in their room studying or ranging the countryside playing, Mark had worked very had to gain the respect and the cooperation of important members of the University and of the community.

"He's dynamic," one professor had told his colleagues during a casual discussion of students.

"Very forceful," another had commented.

Even Dr. Czarn, the renowned and, as director of the Czarn Institute of Scientific Research, the most influential member of the University's staff, had been impressed both with Mark and with his work.  He had found the University literary journal, under Mark's editorship, one of the most impressive compendiums of art ever produced under University auspices.

"This is an honor," Dr. Czarn had begun this conversation.  Mark had been personally invited to Dr. Czarn's office in the Institute.

"Thank you, sir," Mark had replied; then, after a brief pause, he added "This is an honor for me as well."  Since he had no automobile of his own, the Institute's limousine had been sent to pick him up.

"What were you thinking," Dr. Czarn asked, "at the exact moment you fixed upon your journal's final form?"

"First of all," Mark explained, "there was no distinction between the final form and the original form as I conceived it.  I knew what I wanted, I knew what would fit that design - mold, if you will - and what would not.  As editor, I allowed nothing to sabotage my design.  In that context, my thought was simply: "It's up to me."

"Up to you?  To decide what art is?  A tall order, wouldn't you say?"

Mark smiled at the stern words and at the even sterner look on Czarn's face.  "There is no such thing as art, with a capital 'A,'" Mark said, "you know that.  So, given that qualification, art - which can only be lower case - becomes anything and nothing,  It is whatever someone with the spine to say it is calls it.  It's never a question of what is art, after all, but only of what will be accepted as art.  I found it necessary, for instance, to reject some of the most genuinely beautiful pieces of literature I'd ever read - simply because they did not fit the specifications or the criteria I had established."

"Was that wise?"

"Clearly it was - or, among other things, I would not be sitting here now.  Unless I miss my guess, you would not reward failure with a personal interview.  I've been given to understand that you were greatly impressed with the finished product - not just you either, but a number of people, both here at the University and elsewhere.  That alone goes a long way toward validating my judgment.  Art is not so much the creation of beauty as it is the concentrated focusing of it.  A beauty - a supreme beauty - which cannot be properly focused, that is to say, formed within a very definite framework - must be discarded."

"He who cannot be ruled must be destroyed," Dr. Czarn noted wryly.

"I grant you it sounds somewhat less than noble stated so bluntly," Mark admitted, "but at the same time I insist it can be no other way.  Beauty, like any intangible, is unwieldy.  It must be honed, given a finish, before it can become art.  I don't presume to say what art can be or must be or ought to be; only what, in a given context, that is, a given time and place, it will be.  Art, like beauty, would be infinite.  We are finite.  We have no choice but to eliminate everything non-essential to our purpose.  Only that which we choose to call art will be art."

Dr. Czarn nodded.  "This is correct," he agreed, "and as it should be.  Purpose and the human will must be paramount.  Art, like every other human endeavor, can only be the servant of our aims.  We must eliminate from its circumference anything which contradicts our aims, or weakens our hold over our lives or threatens our control of our environment.  So it is with every discipline."  Dr. Czarn again nodded.  "You are indeed wise," he commended his young visitor.  Mark thanked him, both for the assessment and for the visit itself.                

On the way down from the Institute, he noticed a number of things he had missed earlier: anticipating the interview, his attention had been diverted from the scene through which he passed, whereas now, only the afterglow of his encounter left, his concentration was relaxed; he was free to look out the limousine window.  As always, height was intangible, hard to gauge, and somewhat outside of one's experience when looking up.

Mark had never been here before.  From the summit itself, though, the perspective assumed a greater reality; it made itself known, in that one could actually experience height through the familiar, below, suddenly thrown into another form and made to recede.  Mark liked it here.  The mountain suddenly felt like six thousand feet high.  What surprised him most, looking down, when a given point of the passage allowed such an extended view. was the forest just beyond the University's grounds: it was much more extensive than he had thought.  Relative to the University, and to the surrounding tracts of land, notwithstanding the overall lessening of the breadth and depth of everything below, the forest covered a tremendous area.  Perhaps even more astounding were the various clearings, which, from above, appeared almost artificial, such was the regularity of their spacing.  The single most striking feature of the entire scene, however, was the one clearing in the exact center of the forest; much larger than any of the other clearings, and more regular in its shape, it formed an almost perfect square.  Right in the center was something which, under the mid-morning sun, glistened a pure white, like finely polished marble. 

The sun had risen to just above the mountain top; its rays as if coming from the roof of the Institute, struck the white slab at the center of the clearing, as if a beacon deliberately directed at it.  Sometimes at night, Mark recalled, in addition to the lights which illuminated the Institute from below, a very strong light beamed downward from somewhere on the mountain top; it was almost impossible, however, to trace its path, it always seemed to get lost someplace in the forest.  Why it should beam there, though, remained a mystery - at least a mystery to Mark, although he never really thought about it except indistinctly, as now, sitting at his desk sorting his journal notes. 

He had noticed it last night, from his window, which faced both the mountain and the forest, though at some distance, as he lay almost asleep beside Elena.  It was still in his thoughts, along with the other events of last night.  The beam was what had prompted his remembrance of his meeting with Dr. Czarn; in some symbolic way it connected that crucial event to his present understanding, as if it had literally carried the seeds of his coming success in its stream of light, keeping them alive until the proper time.

Dr. Czarn's half-brother was the head of a prestigious foundation.  Through Dr. Czarn, Mark had been given an interview with an important official of the foundation, ultimately with Amos Steadley, the number two man.  It was Steadley who approved the grant which, once finalized, would fund Mark's literary magazine.  He had been assured, further, that a number of literary critics, some advisors to the Foundation, some actually on the Board of Directors, would be given an opportunity to review the publication.  This, in turn, could help secure an audience, a very select audience, a very influential audience, for Evanescence.  All that was asked was for Mark to deliver as rigidly controlled, as competently edited - as uncompromising - a journal as the one he had edited for the University.  He never doubted for a moment his ability to deliver.  Success was virtually his.  Strength of purpose, intransigence, single-minded loyalty to an ideal: these were the foundation of his success; and they all but guaranteed it.

For weeks now, Mark had been gathering prospective material: poems, short stories, essays, artwork.  He had sifted through what he had, discarding most of it; individual qualities had no power to move him, neither to change his course nor even to deviate from it.  All of the members of the colony had submitted works to him; he was seen by them as as a kind of hope, perhaps their only hope, their only avenue to a public acceptance of their work.  He had been unable to use any of their material.

"He doesn't owe us, you know," Larry had told a couple of especially disgruntled artists.  "He knows what he's doing."

"Oh yes," they agreed, "that he does."

Mark was still collecting material, still discarding most.  "I'll abandon the whole project before I'll compromise," he explained when it was poinedt out how much still needed to be had in how little a period of time.  "I'll either get it right or that'll be the end of it."  At the suggestion of the Foundation, an editor for a publishing house was asked to work with Mark, if only irregularly, to help assure the propriety of the format.  Occasionally he would come across something he found extraordinary, only to see it discarded as unsuitable.

"My God!" he had gotten into the habit of exclaiming since working with Mark.  "You must be waiting for Shakespeare.  This is a beautiful piece - how can you not use it?"

"It isn't right," Mark had gotten in the habit of answering.

"Aren't you even the least bit concerned that you might be rejecting the work of a genius?" the editor, a young man named Thaddeus, or more simply, Thad, asked.  "Doesn't it make you feel somewhat guilty that you might be discouraging an artist of great potential - maybe even in some way shutting his work off from the world forever?"

"No, on both counts," Mark replied.  "It's not my responsibility.  If he is a great artist, he'll eventually succeed."

"Unless he doesn't fit anybody's format!" Thad noted.

"Then that means the world isn't interested," Mark closed the discussion, adding only that it was not his, Mark's, place to jeopardize his own future just to give somebody else a forum for putting his works before the public.  "I am not the means to somebody else's ends," he said.

"No," Thad was forced to agree, "you shouldn't have to be."  Still, it felt less than right having so neat and so unarguable a principle to fall back on.  Thad had never gotten very far in his profession, and, although he had gotten the job in the first place because his father was part owner of the publishing house, he did not appear very likely ever to rise to the top.  It was explained to his father that he was "too sensitive" to make the tough decisions which, from a business point of view, must be made.  He believed in art, and he believed in artists; he thought of himself as a transmitter of sorts, a telegraph wire leading the beauties of the works he read to that indistinct entity known as reality. 

I can give these people the greatest gift anyone can give anyone else: possibility.  I can, just by being here, bring them a little closer to being recognized.  And I can bring the public a little nearer to great works by great artists.  I don't care if it was only through my father's influence I got this position; I don't even care if I beat a million others out of this job because they had no such pull and I did - all that matters is being there where and when I'm needed.  No, a hundred years from now no one will know my name, no one will remember who I was or what I did - but they may know some great artists who perhaps otherwise they wouldn't have, some great work which would have otherwise been lost forever.  I know what it's like to help deliver a child stillborn into this world: is it so much less an agony with a work you know is worthy of existing, of enduring?

No, Thad was forced, however, by a logic superior to his own, to agree: Mark should not have to be the means to somebody else's ends.  But the thought nagged at him, though hardly formed: why should not both ends be served with the same mean?

"This is good," Thad told Mark.  "Hey: isn't this your roommate Larry?" he asked.

"Yes, it is," Mark said when shown the poem.

"Are you going to use it?"

"No, I can't.  It's theme doesn't fit in too well.  But you're right, it is a nice piece."

Thad muttered something to himself: "A nice piece goes to a party, goes to bed, goes home.  A good piece goes to a party, goes home, goes to bed.  We only want good pieces here.  Only the sacred.  'The Sacred and the Profane,' he recited the title of an old movie.  Then he shook his head and slipped Larry's poem into his pocket.

"I'd better be going now," he said.  "My wife's sister's coming over.  Hey, that reminds me, she's asked me to introduce you.  I told her a little about you.  She seemed impressed.  Is it okay if I bring her over sometime?"

"Sure," said Mark, looking up from his sorting.

It was late in the afternoon when Larry woke up; he had meant to rest only a short while, and even though his sleep was troubled, even though he kept seeing the body of his friend Denny, over and over, in the same clearing, on the same stone slab, he slept so deeply that the scene had no power to rouse him.  When he got up, he went to Mark's room, to talk about what had happened last night, if Mark were there, and alone - which he was.  Larry knocked, even though the door was mostly open, then went in.

"Mark? "he said.  Before he could say anything more, Mark asked him what time it was.  He looked.  "Almost five," he said.

"Five?  Oh Jesus, I've got to stop right in the middle of what I'm doing!" Mark exclaimed.  "I've got to be somewhere at seven.  Elena's uncle's giving a dinner party, and I've got to be there.  Remember, I told you about him: he's the reviewer for LBT Brimstone."  Mark jumped right up and hurried out, patting Larry on the shoulder as he passed him.  "Thanks pal," Mark said, "you're a life saver.  And whatever it was you wanted, we'll get to it tomorrow, okay?"

Larry nodded.  "Okay," he said.  "I'm going out now," he said.  "Soon as I get dressed that is."  Larry was naked.  Mark seemed not to have noticed.  Both of them were medium height, Mark perhaps an inch or two taller; both were considered attractive, Mark in a tougher, more handsome, more masculine manner; Larry more delicate, with a face which everyone thought of as "soulful."  Mark's eyes were a very deep piercing gray-blue, and were set deeply into a firmly structured face; Larry's soft brown eyes were less hooded, his face not as well defined.  Both had brown hair, Larry's somewhat darker.  And though Mark was better endowed, as to be expected, it wasn't as obvious a difference as some of his friends, such as Denny, had speculated.  "Bet his cock's twice as big as yours!" Denny had joked.  "Sure would love to see it - can you arrange it?"  "You mean like say to him: hey Mark, can my friend see your cock to compare it with mine?"

These bodily characteristics were distinguishing elements observed by Larry, pretty much overlooked by Mark.  Larry attributed his perceptiveness to his being in love with Mark, though that failed to account for his perceptions of other people, just as detailed, but less as points of contrast with himself.  The general shape of someone's body told him almost unerringly what they would look like naked, how their contours would blend, where various points of tension would show up, which direction certain tensions would take.

He deliberately thought of all this as he got dressed and, after leaving, as he walked to the town which lay beyond the University.  He thought of naked bodies in the hope it would keep his mind off last night's discovery.  He intended to go to all the places he knew Denny frequented, starting with the particular street corner where they had first met.  

Nothing was out of range of the mountain top where the Institute stood; from everywhere it loomed up, in front of or behind or to the side of wherever one was, an odd obelisk, cone shaped and as inharmonious as if it had been engineered and set into the ground by some race of giants or gods.  Everybody felt vaguely watched from above.  People who had customarily done things by lamplight, particularly sexual things, found themselves reaching to extinguish the light whenever they remembered the mountain's presence.  Some especially retiring souls even used the toilet in subdued light.

At the corner of Davis Place and University Drive was a tavern, called Deedee's, in front of which young hustlers would congregate at certain times of the evening.  It was known to be a "cruising" spot; certain homosexuals passed there occasionally, looking for hustlers to pick up.  Something of a controversy raged to the east, where a larger city was located, concerning this corner and its patrons.  Religious groups pointed to it as an example of the deterioration of society: homosexuals, they said, corrupted the morals of the young.  Gay rights groups, however, insisted that only a small percentage of gays were "pedophiles," that the great majority did not frequent the "meat racks" as such corners were called, and that most gays did not pick up young hustlers.  Civic groups said only that the welfare of the young must be protected.  What did they mean by this?, religious and gay groups alike asked; but they refused to elaborate, so each side took their cryptic public statements to support its own view.

Gay groups insisted gay was good; religious groups that it was evil, unnatural, a thing to be purged from the world.  "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Jeeves," one local cleric reported from his pulpit.  A society of retired butlers took exception, charging the cleric with impugning their good names through association.  "We are not queeries," they said.  "God damn it," stormed the only gay philologist to have come out of the closet thus far, "we're fairies, not queeries!"  The only comment the chief of police would make was "I've got my hands too full chasing the muggers, the rapists, the murderers, the felons, the purse snatchers, the assaulters to worry what one fag pulls out of another's pants!"  "Don't you mean panties?" someone asked.  Both the local haberdashers and lingerie associations as well as a local troupe of female impersonators faulted the chief of police and his questioner for equating the wearing of pants or even panties with being homosexual.  Only the hustlers ignored the whole controversy; they all needed money, so they stood on the corner and waited, oblivious to what went on in a society they had no say and no stake in, and probably never would.

There was no sign of Denny in front of Deedee's.  A few other young men were there, one or two of them Larry recognized as being friends of Denny.  He was reluctant to approach them though; he felt a certain hostility from them.  The first time he had encountered Denny, these two were with him and had tried to get Larry to take out all three together.  He did not wish to be in a situation where they outnumbered him; a friend of his had been murdered a couple years ago by three hustlers, ironically all three of whom both he and his friend had, at separate times, picked up, individually.  They were alright by themselves; they had even been affectionate.  Evidently, when in a group, though, some other side of their natures came out; they became killers. 

His friend had not even been robbed, merely taken out into the woods, tied up, and beaten to death with a tire iron.  Larry had been obsessed at first with discovering how greatly his friend was likely to have suffered; he had asked anybody who might to able to assess pain: physicians, policemen, and so forth.  He was told that a blow from a tire iron to the head would be instantly fatal.  His friend's skull had been cracked, but almost every other part of his body had been battered too, so there was no indication his skull had been struck first.

"Could you tell from his face - from the expression - how much he suffered?" Larry had asked the coroner.

"There wasn't enough left intact to tell," was the reply.

"What about his eyes?" Larry asked, but the coroner shook his head.

"Leave it be, kid," the coroner told him.  Larry concluded that they must have beaten every other part of him first, then given him the fatal blow.  He arms, legs, hands, feet, his hips, his shoulders, his back were all smashed; his testicles were crushed; his penis was mangled.  That he had suffered horribly was the inescapable conclusion.  Larry thought for a time he would lose his mind thinking about it.  He kept seeing what he imagined his friend's body looked like; and, worse still, he kept recalling each of the three hustlers and in every detail the things he had done with them.  It was trying to figure out how the three boys whose bodies he had held, and caressed and given pleasure to could have done such a thing which almost drove him crazy.  He recalled their voices, the look in their eyes, their smiles, their laughter, their moans, and the brief thank you when he had paid them.  How could such beautiful young bodies perform such beastly actions? how could the same muscles which almost signed when he caressed them be used to murder a man, little more than a boy himself, and almost as beautiful?  How?

He had pulled through it though.  The day arrived when he realized it had been put behind him, even if he did not know how.  How can a weakling, a soft, passive, submissive, docile, gentle, soulful creature like me overcome something so hideous? he often wondered.  Others had wondered too.  "I'm afraid this will be the end of him," his friend Mark had predicted, not even knowing the worst of it - not knowing Larry's intimacy with the murderers, which was something Larry felt he could share with no one.

No, he never picked up more than one hustler at a time.  Alone, they were warm, sometimes loving, nearly always grateful for his affection.  Better not look deeper than that into their souls, he decided.  Better not encounter the self they showed to their peers: their social self, the one society expects of them and finds acceptable, until it gets out of hand.

Just when he had made up his mind to approach Denny's two friends, they went inside the tavern.  He had never been in Deedee's before, and had no wish ever to go in; but he felt he had no choice now.

"Hey mister," one of the hustlers still outside the tavern called to him, "I wouldn't go in there if I were you."

"Why not?" Larry asked.

"Well, like it's obvious you ain't one of us, so you must be a fag or you wouldn't be here cruising us, and they don't mind you guys out here, but they don't want you in there."

"Why not?  I'll buy a drink - they're there to do business, aren't they?"

"It ain't that," the hustler explained.

"Then what is it?"

"Look man, you'll give this place a had name, that's all.  They don't want no one thinking this is a God damn fag bar!  So if you're not buying what us boys out here are selling, beat it before they call the cops and get us all busted - okay?"

"You don't understand," said Larry.  "The two guys who were just here and went in: I've got to see them, it's important."

"What, you want to trick with 'em?"

"No, I want to ask them about somebody.  A friend of theirs.  His name's Denny."

"Yeah, I know him.  It's him you want to trick with?"

"I just want to find out where he is," Larry said.

"I could tell you," said the hustler, "but it'll cost you."

"How much?"

"Twenty."  Larry motioned the hustler a little to one side, where there were some shadows, then gave him the twenty.  "Okay, where is he?" Larry asked.

"Well, see, me and him met up with these two really strange dudes - I mean really strange, even for fags.  They took us to some old deserted warehouse, I don't even remember where.  That was last Tuesday.  Or Wednesday - yeah, Wednesday, it had to be Wednesday, because that's when I copped an ounce, from money I made Tuesday.  Then they paid us each fifty bucks.  They had us both get undressed and lie down on some crates, and they turned on a big spotlight on the ceiling - I mean, like way up there on a rafter or something.  It shone down on us.  Maybe there were two beams, one on him and one on me.  I don't remember too well, man, I was stoned out of my mind.  So then they got on these like really weird robes and got all painted up - I don't mean like drag queens, but like they painted masks on their faces.  And they began chanting, and going all around us, kind of dancing.  Then they told us to beat off, and when we did they told me to leave, so I did.  They were like mad at me, like maybe, you know, I didn't beat off just right or something.  I guess Denny did.  No wonder, though, with what he's got to work with.  Shit man, I wish I had one like that!  Anyway, that's the last I seen of Denny.  He hasn't been around since.  Look, I gotta go now, I've got a trick waiting for me."

"Hey," Larry called, "what's your name?"

"Puddin' tane!" the hustler called back.

"No, come on, seriously," Larry prompted, "what's your name."

"I'm one of the Rockefellers - can't you tell?  All you gotta do is figure out which one!"  With this, the hustler went into the tavern, pointing, as he did, to the sign which read "Deedee's," as if offering Larry a clue to his identity.

"Hey," Larry called to one of the other hustlers standing around, "what's that guy's name, the one who just went in?"

"Cost you twenty bucks," the hustler replied.  Larry searched his pockets.  "All I got's ten," he said.  The hustler took it, then, also going inside the tavern, said "When you get the other ten, you'll get the boy's name - if I haven't forgot you gave me this ten, that is!"  He laughed.  The creaking door behind him seemed to be laughing too.  Deedee's was a Fun House.  Larry opened the door.  He was resolved to go in, despite the warning and despite his own trepidation; but first he peeked in, not that that was much help, everything was so dark he could barely see, and what he could see gave the illusion of being shown on a movie screen, one dimensional, all the colors of the patrons' clothes together with the various lights blending into the black as if a moving backdrop, this bit of light at the door the only reality.  The place smelled of sweat, of urine, of beer, of men, all the smells caught up onto the thick haze of cigarette smoke, all of them atrophied, as if the smoke were an air purifier.

"Close that God damn door!" somebody yelled.  Larry closed it, behind him; for a moment he stood there, then suddenly the door was pushed open from from without and rammed his back and he was pushed farther into the background, which still had not assumed the look and feel of a place.  Very shortly, however, it did: he realized he was being stared at, then he noticed a few hands pointing at him, heard some laughter.

"What'll it be stranger?" called the bartender, "a pink lady or a Shirley Temple?"  Laughter arose all around him.  "Can't make up your mind?" the bartender prompted.  Larry shook his head.  The bartender, at this point, seemed to grow weary of his new patron.  "Hey," he called, "somebody make up this jerk off's mind for him or else get him the hell out of here!  He either buys or he goes the hell bye-bye!"

"I just want to ask about somebody's name," Larry tried to explain.  Then he saw saw the young hustler who had told him about Denny.  "Hi," he said.

"Twenty bucks!" went up like a chant all around him.  Hands extended toward him.  He turned and left.  Just as he was almost through the doorway, someone came up behind him and shoved him.  He fell onto the pavement.  The door shut on a peel of laughter.

"Well, look at her!" somebody passing along outside said.

"She must want it bad!" somebody replied.  Then the two laughed and walked on by.  A moment later a hand was reached down to help Larry up.

"Don't mind them," the person said, "they're just a couple of fags."  Larry said nothing.  "Why'd they throw you out?" the person asked.

"No money," Larry replied.

"Bet you could use some then?" the person asked.  Larry shrugged.  The man took out fifty, stuck it into Larry's back pocket and motioned for him to follow.  At first he didn't move; the man motioned again and said "Come on."  Larry followed this time.  When they had come to a deserted place behind some buildings, the man told Larry to get undressed, to lie on the doorstep where he was standing, and to masturbate.  The man shone a flashlight onto him while he was doing as he was told.  Larry began crying.  The man, perhaps fearful that Larry's loud sobs would attract attention, ran away, taking his fifty dollars from Larry's pocket first.

"Oh God," Larry murmured once he had quieted his sobs.  He heard footsteps; he began to tremble, but made no effort to move, or even to get dressed.  A form rose up before him, very dark, very frightening.  "Do whatever you want," Larry said.  A hand stretched out to him, which at first he thought would strike him; in a moment, realizing that it was being offered him in help and not to hurt him, he reached up and clasped it.  He was helped to his feet.  The man took Larry in his arms and steadied him.  Larry saw, by the dim light of some windows in an upper story, that the man had on a priest's collar.  He drew back.  "Oh God," he murmured again.  "You don't know why I'm here or you wouldn't be as generous," he said.  "You're a priest, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I am.  That's not why I'm here though," the priest said.  "I'm not here to condemn you, or to save you, or to forgive you.  I'm here because I want you.  If they knew, I'd be defrocked I suppose.  I saw you back there, I followed when that man led you away.  I know of him, of his...doings, and those of his friends.  I was afraid for you, so I followed.  Now you've fallen from his hands into mine.  If you want, I'll just hold you.  If you feel like talking, or crying, or anything.  We can stay here, or, if you like, we can go to place.  My rectory.  Whatever you want.  And if you want to be paid, there's no shame in that either.  There's only one sin, so far as I've been able to determine: hurting people.  Doubtless it's too simple for most people to accept, so they invent all their elaborate moral schemes, with the most convoluted theologies, philosophies, and what not, alongside which the simple truth appears embarrassingly banal and insubstantial."                        

On a whim, he kissed Larry on the cheek.  Larry looked up at him.  "They call upon God," he told Larry.  "They reveal to you selected portions of His Divine Plan.  His great wondrous Plan, which they assure you demands for its intricate working out the most rigid and esoteric duties and prohibitions.  God, they imagine, blushes when one man felliates another, or else He stares with rage at the 'abomination.'  God, they say, made us to mate and be fruitful.  God should delight in the Indian sub-continent, in the sub-Sahara, in Latin America, in China: in all the overpopulated places on this planet, where because it is the sole aim of sexuality to reproduce, millions starve and succumb to disease.  God, they say, has a Master Plan; every piece fits; and it will all be revealed.  To the starving beggar of Calcutta who laps up the vomit of dogs, it will all be made clear.  They say that my holding you, desiring you, making love to you is damnable; but producing another bloated bellied baby to suffer and die is praiseworthy.  They say it is God's wish.  His Way."

He brought Larry's hand to his lips and held it there a moment.  "No, my young friend so desperately in need of love, which I can give you - no, I am not here to chastise you for your 'sin,' but rather to join you in it.  And to offer it to God as my proof of worth, to show Him that I will not harm another human being but will only give comfort.  My desire - my lust, if you will - can serve that end.  I don't believe He asks anything more of us than that.  Not that the means I use requires justification; it is evil only in some people's minds, not in itself.  Get dressed now; let's go to my place."

Larry hugged the priest, then got dressed, but said he cold not go with him.  "I have to find someone, a friend, who I'm afraid was murdered.  But I don't know where to look, and I only know his first name: Denny.  I don't know where to look."

"Then we'll look together," the priest offered.

"Did you know him?" Larry asked.

The priest shrugged.  I don't know," he said.  "I might have, though, either officially, if he belonged to my parish, or unofficially.  I've been here before," he said after a pause, "I've picked up these young men.  Maybe him too."

"You'd remember him.  He had the most beautiful hair, it was almost golden, and very fine.  And he had a beautiful smile.  A know...too."

The priest thought for a moment.  "I wonder," he mused.  "There was a boy like that in my parish.  I can't recall if I've seen him around here though.  You say you met him in front of Deedee's?"  Larry nodded that he had.  "And golden hair.  It may be the boy I'm thinking of.  I can't quite recall the last name.  I remember the family though.  The father left, I think when the kids were small.  The mother always wore a turquoise coat, one of those all weather coats.  It seems to me the last time I noticed her in church she was alone.  I know I could find the name if I looked through the parish directory.  We keep a listing of all our parishioners.  I know I can find her name in there.  In fact, I'm going to the rectory now.  Do you want to come with me?"  Larry seemed hesitant.  "I promise you this is not a ruse, I won't try to seduce you once we're there.  Okay?"  Larry agreed.

"Do you think maybe Denny was an altar boy?" Larry asked as they walked.

"No, I don't have altar boys.  There's been too much...bad blood over that issue."

"How do you offer Mass?"

"God helps those who help themselves," the priest said.  "I'm my own altar boy."  The priest paused then spoke in a softer voice.  "That's something I believe absolutely - that it's a sin to use a child... like that.  Even if it's a boy who's already destined to be gay."

"But if he isn't hurt by it -" Larry started to say.

"He's always hurt by it, even if he doesn't realize it.  He's crippled emotionally by it."

"But what if he desperately wants to be held, and loved?"

"He's still hurt by it.  Were you an altar boy?" the priest asked.

"No.  But there was this older man I met.  You said when you saw me I desperately needed to be loved - remember?  I was even more desperate then.  Everything was going wrong for me.  It felt finally like something went right.  He held me, and loved me, and made me feel whole - how can that be wrong?"

"It's made you equate love with sex, hasn't it?" the priest asked.

"No, I don't think so.  I don't know.  Maybe a little," Larry finally admitted.

"How old were you?" the priest asked.

"Thirteen," said Larry.  "I just turned thirteen.  I was already past puberty, so it's not like I was still a kid."

"Yes you were."

The Church of the Last Sacrifice, while appearing to be on the outskirts of town, or some wooded tract, was actually in the heart of town, situated in what was once a park but had been turned over to the local parish to build its new church on.  Every architect who could be prevailed upon to draw plans for a building which had a limited and very fixed funding submitted his blueprints; there were seven in all.  This project united the University in a way nothing else ever had.  It would have been unthinkable to these people to have given up their one and only park for anything less than a new parish church.  It was a poor parish, made up of blue collar, mostly non-union laborers and their families, the kind of community which frowned upon wives taking jobs to provide a second income.  Work, to them, was for men, and no amount of logic, no detailing of the benefits to be derived from an additional source of income, nor especially any suggestion that women might actually like holding a job outside the home, could change their opinion.  They put their minds and hearts into building a new church.

The parish itself covered roughly a thirty square block area; the inner city, which its residents vowed they would never yield to the blacks or Hispanics or other ethnicities.  Yet, time being oblivious to human vows, too many of the houses were beginning to wear very badly.  More than a few residents had toyed with the idea of selling, but as the section was poor, the houses rundown, very few takers could be found.  No one in town wanted to move from bad to worse; and the only ones who lived in places alongside which these, the houses of Littletown, looked good were the very poor.  From the perspective of the ghettoes, Littletown was a paradise.  It was sworn, though, that the moment you let "them" in, your neighborhood started going down.  No one mentioned that "your" neighborhood had already started "going down" or else "they" would never have been "let in" to begin with.

There were a few blacks, a few Hispanics; they were ill treated by their neighbors.  They had begun forming, the younger ones at least, into gangs, ostensibly for self-defense.  "See," people would say, "what'd we tell you?"  The parish priest had spoken of a "self-fulfilling prophecy," which, however, seemed to offer damnation instead of salvation, so he was asked to leave.  The new priest had been as dynamic as the old one had been static.  It was under his direction that the new church was planned and built; it was he who had convinced the people to give up their park for the new church's grounds.  Late one night, on his way from the church to his rectory, he was murdered.  His throat was slit.  Robbery was said to have been the motive.  No one was ever apprehended.  For the past ten years, almost since its opening, Father Christopher had been parish priest in the new church.  He was greatly respected; no one knew of his secret life.

Larry had seen this church before, but had never been inside.  He remembered having once heard a friend describe it as having "a weak chin."  When asked how a building could become so designated, Larry's friend referred him to its building materials and to its shape.  "It's like an inverted face - pyramidal, you know - with the chin pointing upward.  I've never understood the logic," his friend pointed out.  His friend was one of the architects whose design for the church had been rejected.  "It seems to me the head, or mind, that is to say the spirit - the soul - should be closest to God, unless you happen to worship a god who's underfoot; the chin should be the base - not vice versa.  To each his own I guess."  His design had been an inverted pyramid; everyone who saw it swore that anything built from it would topple over.  In fact, the architect was himself unable to get any of his scale models to stand up, even at the formal demonstration, though he assured everyone that with enough faith it could be done.  He ended up calling the entire parish "a despicable pack of disreputable heathens, infidels, Philistines, Tongs and Thugs!"  Someone asked if he did not perhaps mean Thongs and Tugs.  He said he'd think it over.

The "chin," or steeple, was wooden; the rest of the church was masonry.  It was the wood which had prompted the disgruntled architect's comment; to his mind, wood was offensive.  Only stone conveyed the kind of strength he thought a building needed to show if it were to endure.  "Give me ten stone churches that fall over to every wooden one that remains standing!" he exclaimed.  

Larry wanted to see for himself what the church looked like.  He found it exactly as he pictured it: a church, not to be mistaken for any other kind of structure.  He was hard pressed to name its architectural style; it was not modern, not if that meant having a certain unconventional look, nor was it truly traditional.  It looked vaguely Greek, as if the Parthenon had served as the model.  It was a substantial building, easily forty feet high, perhaps seventy across and well over one hundred deep.  A good size for a small parish, a poor parish.

The rectory light was on, as was an outside spot light in front of the church, both permanent fixtures ever since the former priest's murder almost in front of the church.  Father Christopher led Larry up the rectory steps and, traversing the tiny porch in three steps, into his house.  A statue of St. Christopher stood on a credenza in the foyer.  Looking at it, the priest made the observation that "Father Christopher's defunct," explaining to Larry that St. Christopher was no longer a saint, but a hoax.

"And I'm named for him," the priest said.

"There's no longer a St. Christopher?  Wasn't he the patron saint of travelers?" Larry asked.

"Sailors beware!" Father Christopher exclaimed.  "Now let's go find that name for you," he abruptly changed his tone, his very manner, to something more businesslike.  Halfway through the book he poked his finger onto a page, three-fourths of the way down, and said "That's her.  There's Denny's mother.  Mrs. Warner Cloak.  Now let's get an address."  The priest took up a pen and, tearing a little strip of paper from the bottom of the page where her name and address were, wrote Mrs. Cloak's address on it and gave it to Larry.  "We don't keep phone numbers," he explained, "so if you want to call her, you'll have to look it up yourself."  Now their work was done.

"I guess I'd better be going," Larry said after thanking the priest for his help.

"Unless you want to stay the night," Father Christopher said softly, extending his hand to Larry.

"I have to go see her."  Larry declined the hand.

"You can't possibly mean this late at night."  Father Christopher again offered his hand; Larry again declined.

"I've got to," he said.

"Do you want me to go with you?"

"No, I've got to do this alone.  Good night, Father."

"Good night, son."

This exchange of farewells transpired before either party had time to assess the absurdity of it.  Once Larry had gone, however, both he and the priest had essentially the same thought, if prompted by different impulses.  They both saw their exchange as the ultimate logic of mankind's obsession with titles.  Here were two men, both homosexual, drawn to one another through their need for sex, even if they had not actually had sex with each other; they were less than ten years apart in age; and because one was a priest, he was addressed as "Father," and, because he was so addressed, the protocol of his position dictated his own response.  An inadvertent incestuous liaison was artificially created, for no other reason than to satisfy social convention.  All it needed to make this encounter a paradigm of absurdity was for their respective ages to have been reversed.

Father Christopher, in fact, had experienced just such an encounter when he was Larry's age and, while aware of his genre of sexual orientation, had taken no step to acknowledge it until then, when an older man - about twenty years his senior - had seduced him.  The man was a parishioner at Father Christopher's first parish, where he was an assistant priest: "someone's apprentice" he called it, much to the annoyance of the parish priest. 

"You saw it in me?" Father Christopher had asked afterward.

"In a way I did," the man replied.  "Mainly I just took a gamble.  Am I your first?"  Father Christopher said yes.  "I thought so," the man said.  He then explained that he had once worked for a zoo, and it was his experience helping to capture wild animals which had helped him define the priest.  "I remember a panther we captured.  We put him in a sack, but we could still feel his muted energy.  You're like that."

When they parted company, the man said "Good night, Father," to which Father Christopher responded, as if answering a chant, "Good night, my son."

It had only vaguely struck him how absurd the ritual was.  Even now it was less the absurdity of the titles than what he considered their dishonesty which had guided Father Christopher's thoughts after Larry departed.  He could not shake the notion of his name being in effect a source of self-deception: there no longer was a Saint Christopher, after whom he had taken his name.  It tended to link up in his mind with the deception he perpetrated on his parishioners.  Were his sexual activities to be known, he would have to be defrocked; his church condemned homosexuality.  The church had come into the world at a time when fewer people starved to death, when fewer mass exterminations could be effectively carried out, when it was possible to see sex solely as a means of reproduction.  Quaint times, when pristine notions ricocheted off fewer realities; the beginning of an age, of a culture, when bodies were needed.  Now the trends had nearly reached their fruition, yet the same naive notions were still being touted.  World hunger, massive overpopulation, barbarism and genocide everywhere - and still they held to the view that sex had no function other than reproduction, that all deviation from that golden norm must be condemned, punished, forbidden.  A priest was still enjoined to protect his flock from the evil of homosexuality that they might be fruitful and multiply, and multiply, and multiply - presumably until all the world were one big "Indian Sub-Continent."  So, too, must abortion be condemned, as must birth control devices.  It was God's way: if He had intended mankind to control his numbers, He would not have created famine and pestilence, would He have?

No, Father Christopher thought, it is not that I think homosexuality superior to or more moral than heterosexuality; of course not.  But neither do I see very much evidence of the reverse.  Of course I value birth, new life - so I value heterosexuality; but so do I despise disease, starvation, overcrowding and the dehumanizing effect it can have - so I value homosexuality.  Each has its place in the scheme of things.  The one is a balance upon the other - a natural check, which mankind in its ignorance has chosen to ignore in favor of those two other natural checks on population, pestilence and famine, as well as the great artificial checks, war and genocide.  Overcrowding must necessarily encourage an increase in homosexuality - but since the taboo is so great against it, those who may be touched by it must largely try and repress it, with the usual consequences of repression: hostility, drugs and alcohol abuse, crime: the gamut. 

No, he thought, not that these are caused by repressed homosexuality, or by repression, alone; only that it bears on the picture.  If for a moment we could eliminate the fabrications of our social selves, we could see our repressions.  Just to be taught that the building of character requires the damnation of all homosexual impulses does not eliminate them; it only sublimates them, not necessarily into "socially acceptable" channels either.

But it wasn't this which bothered Father Christopher; it was his name.  He could not help feeling cheated in being given the name of someone who not only was not a saint but who apparently never even existed.  He went to his room, to his closet; he took out a pair of pink undershorts and, from a small box, a lock of golden hair.  He held the undershorts to his lips.  They held a cock almost as big as mine, he thought before putting them back.

Larry had managed the careful trip to Mrs. Cloak's house.  The neighborhood was one of the worst in the district, therefore one of the worst in town; it had to be maneuvered with caution.  Not that there were muggers everywhere; but there were people everywhere, even this late at night, and at the slightest provocation they might, any one of them or several in a group, attack an intruder, perhaps rob him, perhaps assault him or rape him, perhaps murder him.  One had to act natural when traversing these streets - but not so naturally they might peg him for a fag.  Larry either succeeded or else was lucky.

No lights were on in Mrs. Cloack's row house.  Larry knocked on the front door and waited, knocking three more times before someone answered.  The porch had a wooden stoop which had begun to rot in places; the window frames needed paint, so did the door jamb, so did the porch ceiling.  The house was, like the others, a very dingy brick.  Someone turned on an inside light and looked out; then, realizing the error, switched the inside light off, the porch light on, and looked out again.  Larry smiled, not sure if that was called for or not.  The door opened.  An old woman peeked her head out.

"Leave us be," she said.

"Mrs. Cloak?" Larry asked before the woman could get the door shut.

"No," she said, "I ain't Mrs. Cloak, I'm Mrs. Ponton, her mother.  She's asleep with the dropsy.  She can't be disturbed.  Go away."

"I have to talk to her," Larry insisted, adding that it was important that he do so.

"No one has to talk to anyone, that's a lie!" the old woman replied.

"Please, it's about her son."

"He's run off again, he ain't here!"

"I know," said Larry.  "I think he may have been harmed.  Please let me talk to Mrs. Cloak."

"Mattie!" the old woman called upstairs.  "There's someone here who's just come from talking to Joey!"

"Not Joey," Larry corrected her.  "Denny."

"Denny too!" the old woman called.  "For all I know she may be dead," Mrs. Ponton informed Larry.  "She wears a corset, and I've told her time and again to take that damned thing off when she goes to bed or it'll cut off her breathing.  We've got hideous lungs, whole family does.  Me; her late husband; my late husband; Joey and Denny both; now her too.  Everyone but Poker.  That parrot'll outlive the whole lot of us, you just wait and see!  I've tried to poison him with my rat poison but he can always tell which of his pellets are the ones I've poisoned.  He hides them under his wing till my back's turned, then he throws them onto the floor and says real innocent like 'oh dear, oh dear, butter fingers, poor butter fingers!'  I'd strangle him but I'm afraid to.  They say parrots carry a deadly disease, and it'd be just like him to spit it out on me with his dying breath.  Here's Mattie now, I can hear her coming downstairs.  Mattie," she called, "this young man's been accusing your good for nothing sons of trying to poison him.  Says they sprinkled viruses on his Big Mac.  I told you those boys'd come to no good!"

"Who are you?" Mrs. Cloak asked.  "And why have you come here at this hour making accusations against my boys. They're good boys -"

"They're devils!" Mrs. Ponton interrupted to say.  "They tried to drown me when I was taking a bath by running a hose in through the bathroom window!"

"They are good boys!" Mrs. Cloak insisted in a loud voice.  The violence of her insistence brought on a coughing spell.  "They're good boys," she said, more quietly, when her coughing had ceased.  "I wouldn't know how to rear anything but a good boy."

"And what about Clancy - huh - what about him?" Mrs. Ponton asked to know.  "He was a devil if ever there was one."

"He wasn't my boy, I've told you that a thousand times, he was a friend, a very good friend, who used to come see me when George was at work."

"He raped you, you mean!" Mrs. Ponton said.  "His own mother!  I heard him do it, so don't deny it."

"He wasn't my son I told you!  He was a little impulsive though," Mrs. Cloak admitted.  

"If you'd a had those boys circumcised like good Jewish boys, like I told you, they wouldn't a turned out so evil!"

"We're not Jewish I've told you that a thousand times!"

"If you'd a had 'em circumcised we would be!" Mrs. Ponton insisted.

"And I guess if I'd made 'em wear beanies to school we'd be Jewish?"

"If you'd a had 'em circumcised first we would be!  And then we'd have money, and we'd live in a big house, and I could a hired an assassin to take care of that parrot!  Just ask this boy: he's been circumcised so many times till they got it right he ain't got enough left to get his wife pregnant so he has to hire someone to come in and do it for him!"

Just then a dreadful shriek arose from somewhere within the house, followed by the words "bad dream, bad dream, poor baby, poor baby," whined in a sing-song monotone.  Mrs. Ponton got a gleam in her eyes and took off for the kitchen.

"Time for your midnight snack, Poker," she said in a coaxing voice.

"They're good boys, I don't care what you or she says," Mrs. Cloak insisted.  "They both worked at McDonald's, that's true, but they'd never do anything to sabotage a Mighty Moe, I just know they wouldn't.  So if it's money you're after, I'm sorry, we don't have any.  And my boys aren't here.  They've both run off.  They both got their girlfriends pregnant, then ran off so they wouldn't have to pay child support.  So it looks like I'll be a grandmother."

"You can't be a grandmother, you have no daughter!" Mrs. Ponton called from the kitchen.  "Does she, Poker?" the old woman added.  A word something like "Awk," responded to her question.

"Just what do you want?" Mrs. Cloak asked.

"I've got to find out where your son Denny was last night," Larry explained.

"I don't know where he was," Mrs. Cloak insisted, "he wouldn't say.  And all his younger brother would say was 'God grant that he lie still,' then he laughed and put his two fingers on top his head like they were horns and started prancing around like a bull or a goat or something.  Now he's gone too.  They're both gone.  And I've got the dropsy, and a mother who thinks the family bird is plotting to kill her.  So leave me be!  Go away and leave me be!"  Mrs. Cloak slowly shut the door, pushing hard as though Larry were resisting her efforts.  Just before it clicked shut, a loud voice cried out "oh dear, oh dear, butter fingers, poor butter fingers."

Larry felt vaguely cheated, as if the victim of a con job.  It seemed to him that somebody, forewarned of his visit, had switched families on him, and that this was not Denny's family.  Yet he knew there was no reason for this to have happened; he knew it was simply a case of expecting too much.

What kind of family did he expect a boy like Denny to have, a boy who hustles his body for spending money, who spends his money on drugs and alcohol?  A boy who makes fun of someone, like Larry, who he pretends to care about; a boy who pushes drugs to college frats.  What did he expect?

I care about him though, Larry reminded himself.  I encourage him to prostitute himself, for my sake, for my needs, but I do care about him.  I guess I wanted him to have a nice - a normal - family.  I wanted him to be simply a free spirit, trying out new things, but with a family to return to when he gets it out of his system.  I don't want him to be a real, true hustler, hustling faggots today, hustling anything he can tomorrow, until, at about forty, he's all burned out and a bum lying in an alleyway alongside a garbage can, or else in prison, or else murdered or else killed in a holdup or something.  I guess I wanted his beauty to be proof of his apotheosis.  But it isn't.  It can't change his background, or protect him from his own actions.  

Jesus: I'm supposed to be a poet, and I'm just now discovering that?  This here's my fall from innocence, I suppose.  Chapter two in my coming of age.  The quest.  Enter the archetype.  Ark: it's good to see you, how you doing?  Oh, I'm doing fine - doing time.  Oh? where?  Inside your unconscious, where else?  Is that situated near my Jungular vein, I wonder?  A rich vein, Lar: mighty rich vein.

"Hey!" Larry ceased thinking to say. "Joey!  Of course: Joey!  Find Joey - that's it!  He'll know!  Where there's Joey, can Denny be far behind?"

I never knew Denny had a brother, Larry thought to himself.  Now I know he does.  Younger or older, I wonder?  Hell, I should have asked.  Oh wait: she said younger. I'll find him.  Unless...he's dead too.  What was it Joey said?  God grant that he lie still.  He was lying still when I saw him.

Larry heard a siren.  It grew louder.  And he saw flashing lights reflected in the shadows they created; these shadows receded from him as the siren approached.  Then a police car pulled up beside him.  A policeman got out.

"Hold it right there!" he ordered.  Larry looked around; he seemed to be alone on the sidewalk, so he took the policeman to mean him.  He held it right where he was.  He started to put his hands up.

"I said hold it!" the policeman ordered, rapidly descending upon him.  He moved - very carefully - to the policeman, where he was frisked.  "Alright," Larry was told, "let's see some ID!"

"Lets?" Larry wanted to say, but he didn't.  He got out his wallet and showed his ID cards, all that he had.  They seemed to satisfy the policeman, who softened his tone a little.

"What are you doing out this late - around here especially?" the policeman asked, adding that this was a bad neighborhood.

"I must have gotten lost," Larry said.


"I guess.  I was on my way home from the University, then the next thing I knew I was walking along this street wondering how I'd gotten here.  Or something like that."

"You a student?"

"Part time," Larry said.

"Get in," the policeman said.  "I'll drive you home.  I don't want you out walking these streets, they're dangerous."

"Oh," said Larry, mostly to himself, "cave-ins."

"What, are you a smart alek?"

"No," said Larry.  "I'm sorry.  It's just that...well...there are other areas just as dangerous."

"Sure.  More people are killed in their own homes than anywhere else.  Only difference is, there's not an army of muggers shadowing you every step you take."

"I know," Larry agreed.  "Home is where my girl dumped me.  I asked her to marry me.  She laughed and dumped me.  So I know how dangerous homes can be."  He hadn't lied; he really did have a girlfriend once, and really did ask her to marry him, and she really did laugh.  The part he didn't tell was when she told him she would never marry a faggot.  Till then he hadn't thought of himself as homosexual, only as a free spirit willing to explore different things.

"Thanks, I really appreciate this," Larry told the policeman when the car stopped in front of his home.  "And I apologize if I smart mouthed you."

"That's okay," said the policeman.  "I guess I did come on a little like Magnum Force or something.  Well, take care."

"You too."

As late as it was, Mark, too, had just gotten home, and was still up.  His coat and tie were off, but otherwise he was still dressed as he had been for the dinner party Elena's uncle had given.  It had lasted much longer than anyone would have thought.  And, best of all from Mark's perspective, was more productive.  His literary journal, it appeared, was well on its way; an audience and, for more importantly, a reputation all but assured.

"Harley's guaranteed me access to the right people!" Mark informed Larry once the amenities - the "hi, how was your evening" - were out of the way.

"Harley?" Larry asked.

"Jimps!  Harley Jimps!" Mark quickly, and with some slight irritation, pointed out.  "The reviewer I told you about - Elena's uncle - remember?"  He seemed annoyed.

"Oh, yeah, that's right.  He's with the London Times?" Larry speculated.

"No, not the London Times!  The London Broil Times - LBT: remember?  It's a play on words.  The right people evidently find it chic; you know: clever.  Acceptable.  Corny, but tasteful.  Oh, hell with it, if you don't give a damn, just say so."

"I do," said Larry, trying to mean it.  "Honest, I do."  I wish to God I could tell you I only care about it because I love you, Larry thought.  "I guess I'm just tired right now.  I've had a rough day.  I've been -"

"Hey," said Mark, "how about saving it till tomorrow - okay?  I've had kind of a rough day myself, what with trying to win Harley over and all that.  Heavy stuff, you know.  Okay?"

"Sure.  Good night, Mark."  I love you, he longed to say just once out loud instead of always to himself.

"See you in the morning, Larry."

Harley Jimps had been, as always, attired in a jump suit.  That was his trademark.  Kind of a play on words.  "Jimp the Jump," he was nicknamed.  "Chic is a four letter word," he was fond of saying, "and I'm a four letter man!"  This too was a play on words.  He had gotten his start, his big break as it were, in the literary world by discovering four letters, never before published, reputed to have been written by William Shakespeare to his mistress.  For years, scholars and literary historians had examined them before finally concluding them to be fakes.  By then Harley Jimps' reputation had become secure; the matter was very politely glossed over, made into a joke - a play on words.  It would have delighted Shakespeare who, according to Samuel Johnson, would stop anything he was doing to go chase a "quibble" - that is, a pun.  A play on words.

Jimps was known as quite a "cut-up" in literary circles.  He was also very fond of handsome young well endowed men - "is he or isn't he?" he had asked his niece point blank before inviting Mark for dinner.  He once presented himself, at an exclusive costume ball given by and for literary lions, as an amalgamated boat and typewriter, calling himself "The Archetype."  He was a sensation.  LBT's circulation doubled when the anecdote made the rounds of the cocktail circuit.  Anyone who was anyone in the literary world had been interviewed in his journal; anyone not interviewed was automatically third rate.  Each interview was headed "Prima Facie"; everyone who counted understood its significance.

"Markie-Parkie-Darkie-Sharkie: I like your style!" Jimps proudly informed Mark.  "And some other things about you too," he added with a wink.  "You just might even get to be my protégé someday!  If you play your cards right - and I hear your best card is a 10."  Those were encouraging words to a beginner like Mark, and he said as much, even as sweat broke out on his underarms, crotch and ass.  "You probably wonder," Jimps went on to say, "why I interview - why I don't edit."  Jimps paused, as if to prompt some appropriate response.

"I have wondered why," Mark admitted.

"So has everyone," Jimps owned.  "And I say: let 'em wonder!  And you can wonder awhile more too.  You think about it enough, and you'll figure it out.  And if, when I check back with you, you haven't figured it out, it'll mean you didn't think about it enough.  And that's a no-no!  After all, they don't call me the Sphinx for nothing!"  Jimps said this with a great laugh, which he invited Mark to share if he wished.  Mark laughed.  Someone, in a similar circumstance, had inquired if that meant that once the riddle was solved, Jimps would jump off his mountain top.  That particular individual's name was never again heard in literary circles.

The evening had been fruitful; but, even so, Mark was a little peevish.  When Elena asked if she could stop over, or if Mark cared to stop by her apartment, he very abruptly said no.

"Who wants to interview the same piece two nights in a row?" he observed with a wink to Elena's uncle, that eminent literary reviewer for the London Broil Times.  Jimps laughed heartily, though Mark did not.  He kept watching Elena's face, as if waiting for signs of pain.  There were no signs; Mark turned back to Jimps to converse some more.

"I'll show you around," Jimps told Mark.  "And who knows? maybe we can get in a game  Tens high."

Elena went home, though on the way she parked outside Mark's house and, sitting alone in her Citroen, let the pain show through.  She had parked where her car would not be seen when Mark returned.  She had seen the police car, had grown apprehensive, and was about to get out when she saw Larry, not Mark, emerge from the car.  She had fallen asleep waiting, and had not seen Mark come home half an hour earlier.  He had seen her, and her car, but pretended not to have.  Finally, she dried her eyes and left, assuming he had gone elsewhere for the night.

Mark, alone, in his room, spat on the wall, repeatedly, until his mouth could produce no more.  Then he got a tissue and wiped the spit from the wall.  Most of it had hit one place, just above where a huge poster announcing his literary journal hung; some of it had dripped down onto the poster.  This was a habit of his: whenever he would get like this - like he was now - he would stand and spit, over and over, until he felt better or until his  mouth went dry.  As far back as he could remember, this was how he dealt with anger, with frustration, with sorrow.  He still was not satisfied; he had run out of spit far too soon.  Not knowing what else to do, he got undressed, climbed out of his window, and began running, as hard as he could, as far as he could, until he could run no longer.  Then he lay down, panting, and fell asleep, no more than vaguely aware what place he was in or which direction he had taken, except for an awareness of being on a hillside and of there being a piercing beam of light somewhere over head.  When he awoke, a couple hours later, the sun was just beginning to spread a band of deep red around the horizon.  The sun was behind the mountain, and the introduction of its first rays into the atmosphere, where they reached out along the horizon as if it were a ravine, made it seem to Mark almost as if blood had gushed from the mountain, collected in a viaduct, and been carried around the planet.

This is a dragon! he thought; he was still groggy, not fully emerged from a dream whose content had already faded from his awareness, and he fancied himself something like a scale on a just slain dragon.  He grabbed his belly, as if this could help stop the flow of blood.  Finally he fully awoke, the scene's true complexion came to him, so he relaxed, let go of his belly, laughed, got up, looked about, started down.  He made it home, naked, without being spotted.  He climbed in his window and went to bed.  He dreamed he had changed into a marble fountain.  Water gushed from an opening he knew to have once been his mouth.  People threw gold coins into his lap; they felt good, but soon they began weighing him down until, while he desperately tried to stop the water flowing from his mouth that he might tell the people to stop throwing the coins, something cracked.  His lap split apart, the gold coins tumbled into his bowels.  Elena came to the fountain.  She reached down to place a pearl into it.  Her hand was suddenly caught in the crack and, as she struggled to free herself, she was slowly pulled into the fountain.  A moment later, he lay floating, face down, in the water.

Mark woke up.  His entire face was wet.  Presumably he had been sweating.  It was still early, and although he had a great deal of work ahead of him, he would have liked to have gone back to sleep.  Were it not for the dream, and the possibility of its return, he would have.  He got up though.

Larry was already up.  They exchanged good mornings; Mark asked if there was some coffee made and was told yes.  Very casually, as Mark fixed his breakfast, Larry mentioned a dream he had had, about Gloucester, his pet beagle.  "I dreamed of Gloucester last night.  It was -"

"Gloucester?" Mark tried to place the name.  All he could think of was Richard III.  "Who's that?"

"My beagle," said Larry.  "He was -"

"A dog?  You dreamed of a dog?"

"Well, yes.  Of Gloucester.  In it -"

"I'm sorry, Larry, really - but I don't have time to listen to a dream about a dog!  I've got too much to do today.  Okay?"

"Sure," said Larry.  When Mark had finished his breakfast and left, Larry muttered something about he, too, being too busy to dream about a dog.  "I dreamed it anyway.  He was on an altar, and these people in white robes were praying over him, then one of them lifted a knife, they all mumbled some prayers, the knife was plunged into Gloucester.  The only one I recognized was the one who actually sacrificed him: it was -"

Someone entered the house, by the back door, and listened while Larry told of his dream.  Not until he had finished did Larry realize someone was there.  He turned around.  "Oh hi," he said, not certain if he had been overheard.

"Hi! - and yes, I did hear you, if that's what you're wondering!"  Thad had come in by the back door.  It was after nine, and that was when he had told Mark he'd stop by.

"Oh: talking to myself," Larry explained.

"Mark's still not here then!" Thad half asked, half exclaimed.

"Yes, he's here.  Why?  Oh, I see," Larry answered his own question, "you're wondering why I'm talking to myself if he's here.  Well, he was pretty busy, you know."

"You like Mark, don't you?" asked Thad.

"I think the world of him."

"Hey: you're like that paint: Dutch Boy!" Thad quipped.  "You cover the world!  You cover for Mark."

"Cover?  What do you mean?"

"He's always too busy - for those who love him," Thad explained.  "But for those who can help him, he's got all the time in the world."

"He's not like that!" Larry protested.

"Okay.  I'm sorry.  It's just, well, there are people like that, and I have to deal with them, all day long.  Sometimes all night long.  I was secretly happy when they told me to help Mark out with his journal.  It was, I don't know, almost like getting a second chance.  You know the story: in time you lose your idealism, you see how grubby, how corrupt, how petty everything is, you begin wishing you'd never gotten anywhere in life, that you'd been left behind, somebody's 'go-fer,' stuck out of the way where you couldn't see anything too distinctly.  You start hoping maybe you'll be given another chance; maybe, somehow, something'll come along to show you it's not so bad after all, that there is still some honor, some integrity, some decency, that not everyone has sold or intends to sell his soul to the highest bidder.  You know the story."

Thad paused, as if waiting for Larry to confirm that, yes, he knew the story.  "So this poor wretch gets his chance - his big break.  And what does he do?  He stumbles down a deep hole into the very center of the earth: into the Kingdom of the Self-Made-Man!  Don't worry kid: your pal Mark's going all the way to the top!  He's a giant all right.  A giant.  You know, Larry, there are times, situations, when it truly is a hardship to have been born into the right family.  If I hadn't been, I know I'd never be where I am today.  I'd never have had the drive, or the ambition, or the ruthlessness to get where I am.  It was all handed to me.  I thought I wanted it.  I thought being on the editorial staff of a major publishing house was a dream come true.  I thought of all the great things I could do - of all the great works I could help get published.  Yet I've done nothing.  I will though.  You'll see. They'll all see.  A friend of a friend of a friend - that sort of thing - led me to a young woman, a writer; no one's ever heard of her.  But they will.  Salantha Karr.  She's written the most beautiful novel I think I've ever read.  I can't even describe it, other than that it reads like a painting.  You know how literary works are often compared to pieces of music?  The structure, the rhythm, even the style, the pacing.  But this: it's like a painting.  I'm not even sure what painter it makes me think of.  But it makes me think I'm at a gallery, watching a great work being painted, one dab at a time."

Thad took hold of Larry by the shoulders.  "Larry: I'm going to get her novel published.  I'm not going to let this opportunity pass by.  I've always regarded my good fortune as a means of leaving a legacy of beauty to the world; now I know that's what it is.  Without me, she might never have had access to the public.  Now she will.  'We'll Tell Time,' it's called.  It's about a young woman who is raped and left for dead, till the father of the boy who raped her finds her, not knowing of course it was his own son who did it.  I won't say more of it now, only that it involves the birth of a child, and a battle over who's child it actually is: the father's who is good and loving, or the son's, who is cruel and selfish.  No, I won't say more of it just now, because - mark my words - you'll hear of it later.  Mark my words."

When Thad moved on to Mark's study to help out, Larry realized that he had still not gotten his dream told, unless being overheard, as Thad seemed to have overheard him, counted.  Larry decided to let it count; it would have to, he had other things to do: he had to find Joey.  A smile played on Larry's lips, wondering why Thad had spent so much of his time looking down at his crotch.  "He's a married man," Larry reminded himself.  "Don't even think it."

"Can I talk to you a minute, Mark?" Thad asked when he entered Mark's room.

"Make it later - okay?" Mark almost insisted.

"No," said Thad.  "Make whatever you're doing later.  It's about Elena."

"I just saw her last night," Mark informed Thad, without stopping his work.

"She's upset.  She spent the night at our place.  She's really upset."  Elena was the sister-in-law who had asked Thad to introduce her to Mark.  She had been impressed with Thad's description of his character: his steely intransigence, his strength, his self-confidence, his abundant energy, his great endurance, his perseverance.  She had never met a genuine cliché up to then, although she had encountered any number of individuals who struck any number of approximate poses, all of which in time became dislodged and slithered from their corrugated perches.  She hoped Mark's too would dissolve; particularly she hoped this after meeting him.  And after sleeping with him.  It bothered her, though, that perhaps it was not a pose - that he truly was a cliché, that he had so fashioned his soul, and from so early an age, to these certain specifications that he might never discover the ninety-nine percent of life he had virtually dismissed out of hand. 

It was not feet of clay she was looking for; nor was it fear of or discomfort with his unyielding characteristics she felt.  It was just that she believed a person's perspective to be colored by his or her self-evaluation.  If Mark saw himself as "above" all else then, in effect, what he did was to substitute culture for life.  If, in confining himself to certain purely artificial characteristics, no matter how highly regarded by his culture, he circumscribed the kind of person he would allow himself to be, then he also circumscribed the kind of world he could allow to exist.  He could not be a self created giant without, by implication at least, regarding midgets as inferior beings.  He had no choice but to divide the world into two groupings, separate out the elite, confine the remainder to anonymity.  It was a very old game, and, as the mangled corpses encircling the globe had throughout history shown, a very foul game: one does not, except as an exercise in benevolence, consider the fate of the have nots. 

It wasn't that Mark was strong, or that he saw himself as strong, that worried Elena; it was his evaluation of his own strength that made him a threat, to her, to everyone.  Strength was not a value, as such, which if you had you were better than those who did not; rather, it was a practical necessity, a gift of fortune, which if you had you were better equipped to survive than those without it.  Be grateful for it, Mark - she felt like telling him; be grateful you had whatever is required to get it.  Let it go at that.  Don't use it as a weapon to damn others.  Let others go their way, unevaluated, and you go yours.  Oh Mark, if you must be a cliché, at least be a noble one.  Live and let live, Mark: be that one, if any.

"Thad, I have work to do," Mark explained as patiently as he could.  "I have a deadline to meet.  Everyday I get a pile of junk like this.  I have to sift through it all, trying - hoping - to find something worthwhile to use in my first issue.  I haven't had much luck so far.  Ninety percent of the pieces are pure junk; of the ten percent that has some literary merit, maybe - just maybe - one percent is right, or nearly right, for Evanescence.  And of that, I'm damned lucky if by the time I get finished trying to blend it all together, make it fit the overall style and tenor I've set, I have one lousy piece I can use!  There must be a hundred here, and this is just this morning's mail.  I saw Elena last night.  I know what the problem is.  And I'm sorry, I care about her, very much - but damn it, Thad, I have no time to devote to a lovers' spat!  I have too much to do.  So you can either drop the subject and pitch in and start helping, like you're supposed to do, or else leave.  I'm sorry to have to be so blunt, but that's the way it has to be."

"And one more thing," Mark said, in a firmer tone of voice.  "Don't ever issue me an ultimatum again.  Don't ever tell me to stop what I'm doing because you have something you consider more important for me to be doing.  In this place nothing takes precedence over what I'm dong."  Mark returned to his work.

Thad felt humiliated; he thought of Salantha Karr.  It made him feel better.  He saw in his mind the sleeve of her book, as it would appear once he had convinced his fellow editors to publish it; and he saw her, standing naked against that sleeve, her arms beckoning.  He saw himself, also naked, moving toward her.  In her hand was a pen; with it, she autographed his forehead.  They both laughed.

"I like this one," Thad said, handing Mark a short story.  Mark read a couple paragraphs, shrugged, handed it back.

"Not bad," he said.  "Put it in the reserve file.  If we fall short, maybe we can consider it."

"I wish I weren't going at this blind," Thad complained.  "Six months and I still don't know what it is you're after.  I don't know what to look for!"

"That's because I don't want you to.  I don't want you, or anyone else, second guessing me.  I know what I'm after.  That's sufficient.  All you have to do is separate the cream from the crap; I'll take it from there."

Salantha was beckoning Thad again.  This time she wrote her name across his chest.  Oh God, he thought: I'm a married man.  I can't be doing this.  I mustn't.  I won't.  Salantha winked.

Elena's sister, Irma, had married Thaddeus Ingon when she was eighteen; he was twenty.  They both needed their family's written consent, which was given with almost no reservation.  Theirs was seen as an ideal match - "made in heaven," and "on the stock exchange," as one relative had put it.  The advantages of such a union far outweighed the couple's immaturity, if in fact they were immature.  The only thing the two families - the respective in-laws - found less than ideal was the young bride's new name: Irma Irene Ingon, nee Coalera.  The newlyweds, however, rather liked the alliteration.  "You mustn't like it too much, dear," an aunt of the bride's explained, "since even marriages made in heaven are likely to dissolve before the kids have finished school!"  Irma insisted that her marriage would never dissolve, that she would work as hard as she needed to keep it from dissolving.  "Ah," remarked the aunt, "spoken like a true child!"  Up to now Irma had managed to keep her pledge, though she still had a way to go before her two children finished school.  The one thing she feared most was a woman writer, especially a talented one: knowing her husband's almost obsessive reverence for art and for artists, it was not only likely but virtually assured that, should such a woman appear, Thad would come under her spell, perhaps even fall in love with her.  Perhaps abandon everything for her.  Especially now, her doctors cautioning her not to get pregnant again or the child, like her third child, would almost certainly be stillborn.

Thad had never mentioned Salantha Karr to his wife; it made him uncomfortable not to, but he could not bring himself to do it.  He was now 34 years old with a Master's Degree in English, a full-fledged editor, a member of the editorial board, a shareholder - and here he was, taking orders from a 22 year old unemployed college graduate with a BA in General Studies.  Something's wrong somewhere, he told himself.  He almost felt queer - queer was always good for comparison since queers were ipso facto inferior: and he felt monstrously inferior sitting here following Mark's dictates.  Following this upstart's dictates, he thought, I may as well be sucking his dick!  Yeah, boss: want me to suck your dick?  You won't even have to stop working.  The perfect sex for us both.

"Hey, I really like this," he said as he handed Mark another work, this one a poem, by someone calling himself Friar Christophe.  Mark glanced at it, agreed with Thad's evaluation, told him to put it on reserve.  The poem was about a young man who had been sacrificed, and about a friend of the sacrificial victim, and about a Skid Row bum who helped put the death in perspective.  It had that ring - that quality of truth - to it.  It might do in a pinch.

A noise startled Thad, something nearby, almost violent.  He turned toward Mark, just in time to see a crumpled piece of paper being thrown into the wastebasket.  The noise he had heard was Mark crumpling the paper in his fist.  Nothing was said of it; but later, when Mark went to the bathroom, Thad retrieved the paper and read it.

"Your patron is a murderer," was typed on a piece of paper.  There was nothing else: no name, no date, no title.  Apparently no envelope either; even if there had been, it would have been all but impossible to match it to the note now.  Thad put the scrap of paper in his pocket.

"I'm going outside awhile," Thad told Mark when he returned.  "I think I'd like to look around a bit.  Okay?"

"I really need you here," Mark said.

"I won't be long."  It felt to him almost as if he were expected to clear it with Mark before stepping outside, and then only after giving assurance he would return shortly.  A grown man, having to ask someone's permission to stretch, to get a little exercise, to step outdoors a moment: this, he reasoned, was just about the most obscene thing imaginable, certainly one of the most degrading.  "If only Larry hadn't gone out," he whispered to himself, "I'd beg him to let me suck his dick: sublimate his for Mark's.  It couldn't be more degrading than this." 

And yet, he reminded himself, it was the very stuff of most men's lives, day in and day out.  They could not be trusted with so much as five minutes' unsupervised freedom; they could not set their work aside and go.  Worse still: there was probably some basis for society's concern; most men probably would abuse being able to come and go at will.  Civilization would perhaps crumble without strict discipline.  This, in Thad's view, was saddest of all.  Do you ever get to where you no longer have to ask permission? he wondered.  He nodded; he began reciting a line from Sanuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot."

"Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps."  Again he nodded.  Yes, he thought, there is such a place, such a time, where and when you will be free to come and go as you please.  Free to come anyway.

The ground felt mushy.  There were no marshlands around here, though, so he wondered why the poor drainage.  Why the smell? he also wondered.  He had noticed it before, mentioned it to Mark, but was told that it was nothing - that Mark had, in fact, never noticed it.  Yet it existed.  A pungent odor.  The grass grew in an odd sort of way, in some places very thick and abundant, in other places hardly growing at all, while in a few places it was parched and brown as if there had been a drought.  A few trees and shrubs had started up, but had not had time to grow very well yet.  In spots, the ground seemed sunken. 

This tract of land was a strange place, it seemed more like the back lot of a factory than an artist colony.  Something was wrong here; Thad felt it but could not quite grasp what it was.  A few more minutes around the place and he was ready to go back to work.  He noticed, not far from the house, under a sickly looking tree barely eight feet high, a mound, shaped like a grave.  He walked to it, looked at it, even touched it.  There was something sticky which had either been spilled or had seeped up from below; he got it on his fingers.  It had a vaguely oil-like smell to it.  When he got back inside, he washed it off and, where it had been, he noticed what looked almost like a chafe or slight burn.

The mound was an empty grave. Larry had dug it, as a kind of memorial to his pet beagle, Gloucester, when he learned of his dog's death.  He had not been able to recover the body; it had been burned along with the dozens of others used in this round of experiments.  Every six months a new pack of dogs were brought up to the Czarn Institute of Scientific Research, to be injected with some new chemical agent, the career of which through their tissues would be charted six months later, when they would be killed and dissected.  It was a never ending ritual, as predictable as any of the cycles of nature.  Everyone knew it; no one, however, quite understood why Larry's dog Gloucester had been taken: he was full grown, not a puppy like the others, and he had not had time for any chemical agent injected into his body to properly inhabit his tissues, not if six months were indeed the prescribed period.  He had been at the Institute barely a week when Larry managed to trace him there; he had been killed, his body readied for burning, that very day.  They let Larry see him, though reluctantly and only upon his attorney's obtaining a Court Order; but they refused to turn over the body to him.  In a closed hearing, the Institute was ordered to pay Larry $250.00 for Gloucester - the current market value of beagles; but the judge upheld the Institute's right to dispose of the body.  Larry dug the grave; into it he gently placed the money, then he covered it over.  In time, a pungent, sticky substance began seeing out, crusting over in some spots, seeping back down again in other spots.  No one knew what it was.

"You are murderers," Larry had written anonymously to the Institute.  "Just because our victims are unprotected by law does not diminish the quality of your inhumanity.  Just because no language assigns the name to you does not lessen your crime.  The time is fast approaching when no one will be fooled by your claims of benevolence any longer.  The time is near when the brutishness of your deeds will be seen for what it is.  The time when you can cloak you bloodlust behind what you've designated the scientific method, behind the smokescreen of objectivity, behind the cover of protocol is drawing to a close.  Soon your claim, that only x-many tests upon x-many test subjects will yield the truth, will be seen for the arbitrary rationalization it is.  What you deal in, at its deepest root, is not science but sacrifice - pure, primitive, mindless sacrifice.  Where once your ancestors sacrificed their fellow man to their gods, you sacrifice the lesser creatures of this planet to your god.  But you cannot hide the Universal Truth behind your clinical truth forever.  Sacrifice is sacrifice.  All your protocols are simply rituals prescribing how the victim is to be sacrificed.  You are all murderers, as surely as any heathen who ever, drawing a knife in prayer, plunged it into the heart of his brother.  Only now, you no longer have the plea of fear in your defense; no longer are there angry forces which must be appeased - for you have dispelled these forces, reduced them to equations and theories and patterns which, at will, you manipulate.  No, it is you who have now become the forces which must be placated; or else, like an angry god, you will destroy us all with your fearsome thunderbolts.  We offer up our dogs, our cats, our mice, our guinea pigs, our rabbits, our apes - ours, which in truth are no more ours to offer than yours to accept - in token of our subservience, in the hope that you will be pleased with us through these sacrificial offerings.  We have unwittingly let ourselves become your worshippers as well as your subjects, for you have attained the age-old ambition of all those who sacrifice: you have become both priest and god.  You have transcended reality.  But you have not transcended truth.  Priests or gods or both, you are still tyrants, and slaughter is still your ultimate power over your subjects.  Power has always been and forever shall be the instrument of death, the crowning evil, the ultimate falsehood, the eternal foe of man, of all living things.  Satan could not be he invented power.  Those who wield it, know which master they serve. In time, all shall know."

The letter was received with good humor.  The staff of the Institute dubbed its anonymous author "Zarathusthra."  At a meeting, they read the letter aloud to the awesome opening strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathusthra."  When it was finished, they applauded.

"Thus Spoke the Soothsayer," Dr. Czarn quipped.  Everyone attributed the letter to old Professor Norris, who was known to be opposed to the use of animals for research, and who was said to be designing an ark of some sort to carry all the downtrodden beasts of this planet to a new home somewhere in outer space, where they would live happily ever after, grazing on milk and honey.

"For about ten seconds - until they all explode from the sudden change in pressure!" someone observed.

"Norris should be behind bars, locked away in a dungeon in some remote corner of the big house," somebody maintained.  "Minds like his are dangerous."

"They're anti-social," a sociologist said.

"They're psychotic," a psycho-analyst added.

"Most of all, they're irrational," a philosopher of reason rejoined.

"Nonsense," interrupted Dr. Czarn, "they're simply amusing, neither more nor less.  That's all.  Just enjoy their antics, have a good laugh, let it go at that, let it end there.  Laugh, and I assure you the thing will go no farther."  Everyone was compelled to agree that this was probably true.  So, like a round robin, they each took a turn at laughing a good hearty laugh at poor old Professor Norris and his anonymous epistle.  Then they moved on to other business.  The letter was filed along with the rest of the junk mail in a big circular file.

Larry had shown the letter to Professor Norris before sending it.  Originally, he had signed it; but upon the Professor's vehement objections, he agreed to send it under cover of anonymity.  There was, according to Norris, no telling what might happen to Larry if they knew it was he who had sent it.

"They're butchers - butchers!" Norris almost screamed.  "They'll end up killing us all - you watch!  After they've wiped out every other species on earth - save for the insects, which will inherit this entire world some day - they'll start in on us.  What Hitler did was just a sample of what's to come.  Overcrowding: that's the key to it.  Overcrowding.  Drives men mad.  Turns them against each other.  Forget that business about sacrifice - it's pure Jungian goulash and not worth a damn!  Men don't slaughter one another, let alone other creatures, out of some sense of ritual.  They do it out of madness."

"Maybe they're the same thing," Larry suggested.

"Impossible!" Norris dismissed the very concept.

"But consider it: isn't the preoccupation with form a kind of mania?  Isn't anyone obsessed with how a thing is done - with rules, with roles, with patterns, with all the trappings of dogma - isn't he a little mad?  Just a little?"

"Only if he's overcrowded!" Norris insisted with a bang of his fish on his workbench.                    

"Alright then, what about this: you mentioned Hitler.  But think for a moment: who was actually overcrowded?  Was it the Nazis?  Or was it their captives?  Was it not the Jews, the Gypsies, the Poles, and all the other prisoners thrown into the concentration camps who were overcrowded?  And where did madness reside?  Not in the captives but in their captors!  In the Nazis, who had plenty of space.  The only sanity was among the prisoners - the overcrowded.  How do you explain that?"

"I call it," Professor Norris tried to explain, "the Lemming Deviation.  Named after the lemmings, which en masse hurl themselves over the precipice.  In a word: self-immolation.  That too is a form of madness.  Letting oneself be led to the slaughter.  There's no question but that it's merely the negative expression of the same dynamic which causes some to turn on their own kind, causing in some to let themselves be butchered."

"They didn't choose to be butchered," Larry tried to explain, "they were forced into it!"

"Action and reaction.  I'm sorry, son, it is the law."

"There's no way I can hold those who were murdered to blame for their plight," Larry said.  "They were innocent victims."

"Yet there were those who warned them," Norris replied.  "Always remember, son: they were warned.  From the beginning, the Nazis made it clear what their aim was.  The victims were warned ahead of time what their fate would be.  I can have no sympathy for those who will not accept hate for what it is; or for those who, hearing demagogues brand certain of their fellow citizens as sinners to be exterminated, refuse to believe that, once in power, the demagogues will carry out their threats.  There are always those who, to gain their own ends, will plunder and murder.  No one has any reason to be fooled by them.  For this reason, I have sympathy only for the lesser animals, who cannot understand the human tongue.  No dog or cat or pig, upon hearing a horse or a goat unjustly condemned, has the power of reasoning that if nothing is done to prevent it, they may be next.  Humans have such a power.  If I hear you condemned, for being a poet; or someone else, for being a Jew; or another, for being a homosexual; or another for being a burden to society - if, hearing this, I do and say nothing, I have sealed my own tomb.  I have no one to blame, for if I allow one to be unjustly condemned, I allow myself to be.  We have all heard the famous lament of the German: 'When they came for the communists, I turned away, it was not my concern; when they came for the Jew, I turned away, that too was not my concern...' and so on, until 'When they came for me, there was no one left to turn to.'  I paraphrase perhaps, but I state nevertheless the fundamental social and political axiom."

"Then tell me," Larry asked, "why should I not sign my letter?"

"Because, my son, it is too late for heroics of any sort to save the human race.  We have sat back for too many eons now and watched while too many of our brothers were butchered, not dreaming any of it was our concern.  All over the world, on any given day, at any given hour - perhaps any given minute or second - somewhere, someone is being brutalized by someone else whose power has gone unchecked.  And it is not in anyone else's national interest to speak out, unless it prove politically expedient to do so.  No, my son, do not sign letters of protest.  Not any longer.  You sign your own death warrant.  It is too late for protest.  Too little...too late.  All I want is to try and save whatever of the lesser, the inferior, creatures I can, while there is yet time.  They have not done this thing to the world.  They ought not to have to perish along with those who have brought it to the precipice."

Larry could not tell whether Professor Norris were mad or sane.  But he did not sign his letter; it was sent anonymously, special delivery.  "Up the hill, gingerly," Larry paraphrased, "the mailman totes out the truth."  Oh well, he admitted, Beckett I ain't - but, then, who is?

Rhetorical questions were easy to deal with, he discovered, compared to real ones.  If in whimsy he had asked who Beckett was, in earnest he now asked who Joey Cloak was.  He had never encountered anything or anyone so elusive as Denny's younger brother.  He was even forced to seek out the boy's record of birth to confirm that there was in fact such a person; his frustration trying to trace Joey made him doubt whether Mrs. Cloak had another son at all.  She did though, she had not made it up.  He was a year younger than Denny; this would make him seventeen.  The trouble was, almost no one knew him; and those who seemed to were not certain who he was, what his name was, or who his relatives were.  By description they identified him; they recalled having seen him with Denny Cloak; they mentioned a certain likeness between the two boys: yes, they could be brothers, these individuals agreed.  Beyond this vague description, however, nothing was known of Joey Cloak - at least nothing which anyone wished to tell Larry.

"Is it because I'm an outsider?" he asked someone.

"Mister," was the reply, "where that boy was concerned , the whole rest of the world was outsiders!  I once heard him deny he even existed.  He said he was a materialization of some wizard's mind.  He called him Poker, this wizard.  Yes sir: Poker.  He had a look about him, too, that made it impossible to get a clear image of what he did look like.  If I hadn't heard Denny start to call him his brother once, I wouldn't believe I ever did see him.  Or at least I think that's what Denny started to say; kind of like an introduction.  The boy cut him off though, wouldn't let him introduce him.  Strangest boy I ever saw - or, as they say: I never saw!"

No one ever seemed to have seen him.  Larry remembered reading Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" about a minor character named Rhinehart who everyone seemed to know, but who everyone mistook the central character for.  Joey was at the opposite end of that sort of spectrum: were Rhinehart's identity seemed so scattered that it almost disappeared into that of a total stranger, Joey's was so overly concentrated that it virtually dissolved into its own negation.  If there wasn't enough of Rhinehart in Rhinehart to be real, there was too much of Joey in Joey.  Pure identity, devoid of contact with the identities of others, unsoftened by reality; hard, blinding, compressed like a black hole.

"What does he do?" Larry asked everyone who seemed to know the name.

"Don't know," was everyone's reply.  "Never seen him do anything."  He did not seem to have worked anyplace, even though Mrs. Cloak mentioned how he and Denny both worked at McDonald's.  None of the hustlers claimed to have ever seen Denny's younger brother out in front of Deedees, or anyplace else hustling.  Perhaps he was a thief, or a mugger, or a drug pusher - but the police had no record of him.  They were, however, interested to know why Larry was making such an inquiry.

"I'm trying to find his brother," Larry explained.

"What for?"

"He's disappeared.  I'm afraid something may have happened to him."

"Foul play?" the police sergeant raised an eyebrow to ask.

"I don't know.  I...I don't quite know how to explain what happened.  You see, the night before last -"

"That'd be Tuesday," the sergeant pointed out.

"Okay.  Tuesday night, very late -"

"Now hold it: when you say late, do you mean past midnight?"

"I think so," said Larry.

"Alright, then, that makes it Wednesday."

"Okay: Wednesday morning, very early, I was lost in the woods - you know: the big woods over there?"  The sergeant nodded; Larry continued.  "I thought - now it may have been a dream, in fact I guess it was -"

"Hold it right there," cautioned the sergeant.  "Leave the guesswork to us.  That's what we're paid for."

"Okay," Larry agreed.  "I'll stick to the facts."

"Well, you don't have to go to extremes now.  Just tell what you remember."

"Okay.  I had reached a clearing and I, well, I thought I saw something -"

"Could you describe it?"

"It was a body."

"Holy Jehosephat!" exclaimed the sergeant.  "Go on," he urged.

"It looked like this boy I'm looking for -"

"This Joey Cloak?"

"No, his brother, Denny Cloak.  But then when I woke up, it was gone."

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" the sergeant exclaimed.  "What's this world coming to?  You see a body and first thing you do is go get some shut eye?  Holy Moley!"

"Well, I just, that is," Larry stammered in embarrassment, "well, I guess I sort of, well, passed out.  I'm sorry."

"Hey, I'm not judging - okay?  There's a hell of a lot of people would pass out too if they came upon their own brother's corpse."

"No, I didn't mean to infer he was my brother," said Larry.

"Oh, what am I thinking of, of course you didn't.  You're not this Joey Cloak, you just suspect him."

"I don't suspect him.  I...well...I suspect a devil cult."

"Let me get this straight: you're accusing the devil of killing this boy?"

"No, forgive me.  I don't know why I said that.  I didn't until this very instant even think of that.  I'm not accusing anybody.  I'm not even sure Denny was dead.  Or even if it was him.  Or even if it was anyone.  You see, I could have been dreaming.  See, that's why I didn't want to tell you all this: it could have all been a dream.  See, I was kind of, well, upset. Some guys sort of worked me over and took my clothes."

"And you're here to lodge a complaint!  Now we're at the bottom of this," said the sergeant.

"No, no complaint.  I don't want to lodge a complaint, I just want to find Joey to see if he knows where his brother Denny is, that's all.  I don't even know if it is a police matter."

The sergeant reflected a moment.  "No," he said, "not if it's all a dream it wouldn't be police business.  Now I've had my dreams interpreted, don't get me wrong.  There's a gypsy downtown, every time we pick her up she interprets our dreams.  Now take me: she asked me if I ever had necrophilia.  I had to think about that one, but to the best of my knowledge, I never did, though God knows as a kid I had just about everything but that!  I was your typical sickly kid.  You'd never know it to look at me now, would you?"

Larry agreed that one would ever know it.  "I'd maybe better go now, if it's okay," he asked.

"Well," the sergeant mused, "if you're that sure it's a dream, then yes, you may as well.  It's a shame that little gypsy hustler's not here, or I'd get her to interpret it for you.  Who knows, she might see in it that you had necrophilia too as a kid.  She can read those dreams like nobody's business.  She's damn good in bed too -"  Here the police sergeant abruptly stopped himself and, blushing, explained that that was what he had heard said about her, though being a police officer and a gentleman he had no personal knowledge of it of course.

Larry left, promising to return if he found out anything which might tend to indicate foul play.  He was no closer to finding either Joey or Denny than he had been when he went in.  He decided to go back to the forest, to find the clearing, to look around.  Maybe he would see something he had missed yesterday, something to give him an idea at least if what he thought he had seen had been real or only a dream.  A necrophilia dream.

It was difficult to retrace his steps; if anything, it was more so because of the daylight.  He approached it rationally, as though he were out hiking along well marked trails when, in fact, there was nothing to follow, nothing to guide his steps at all.  Nobody had ever thought to lay a path to the forest's innermost sanctum; and were it not for the absence of the marble slab, he would have had almost no way of distinguishing that one central clearing from all the others.  It was only guesswork on his part that the place he sought was at the center; no amount of guessing, however, revealed its whereabouts.  A couple hours of aimless rambling convinced him that this was not the way to find the place.  Suppose, he thought, I go up there - on the mountain - and look down: it should afford an overall view.  You can almost see it from down here; maybe you can see down here from up there.  What have I got to lose?

Larry made his way out of the forest, though not without some difficulty: a path or two wrongly taken; an unseen hazard, resulting in minor scrapes and bruises; unfamiliar animal sounds; encounters with spider webs and hornets' nests, luckily without injury; a sprained ankle from a hidden gopher hole.  When he was out, and had assessed his scars as minor, he started for the mountain.

Science Road, the way up to the Institute was named.  It was a private road, notwithstanding the Institute's being part of a public institution, a state owned University.  At the base of the mountain, where the road began its ascent, a sign read "Private - No Trespassing."

Larry trespassed, all the same.  He remembered a line from a prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses...."  He did not say it, however, because he was unable to fulfill its completion: he had not forgiven those who trespassed against him.  He had not forgotten the murder of his beagle, nor the ruse that had been used to obtain him.  The dog catcher, one day, making his rounds, got Gloucester, whose tags Larry had been late renewing.  Not that Larry had sent the paperwork in late; but for some reason it had taken so long to get the papers processed that the old tag had expired, despite Larry's frequent calls to the Bureau of Recreation, the agency charged with overseeing such matters.  When Larry went to reclaim Gloucester from the dog pound, he was informed that the dog had had to be put to sleep, it had contracted distemper.  In a report to the Bureau Chief, however, the caretaker of the pound cited no such action, not that week, not the previous week, not the subsequent week.  There was mention of a dog being transferred to the Institute for what was described as "Environmental Testing." on the very day Gloucester was supposedly put to sleep.  By the time Larry's attorney was able to secure a warrant, it was too later.  So now Larry trespassed that he might discover the marble slab where he had seen, or dreamed he saw, Denny Cloak's body - an act for which he sought no forgiveness.                                        

About three-fourths of the way up, he came to an opening in the trees lining the road.  From this vantage, he was able to look down on the forest, to see it all, and to distinguish the clearing where the slab was from all the others.  It was dead in the center; he cold even make out the slab itself.  And, even more astounding, he made out, or thought he did, a spot where because of a very slight variation in the coloring of the soil it appeared that the ground had been dug up and replanted.  This was not in the clearing, not in any of the clearings; and it was only due to a break in the foliage that he noticed it at all.  He tried his best to pinpoint it using the various clearings, which were the only reference points there, as gauges.  It was somewhere between the central clearing and the first clearing to the right.  After plotting a probable course to the center, he started down.  Immediately, he had to seek shelter.

A car approached; it looked to be a limousine, and it was coming up the mountain at a very fast clip.  Larry practically jumped to get hidden behind a tree before the car passed by; he could not be sure if he had been seen.  From where he was, he had a clear view of the driver; and just as the car got to him, the driver - the chauffer, presumably - turned to face him, and grinned.  A chill went through him, prompted not as much by his having apparently been spotted as by something in the driver's face, some eerie look.  What it was that in effect scared him Larry was at a loss to say, because there was nothing really malevolent about that face; in fact, there was nothing at all about it.  It was a blank, almost totally expressionless face, maybe young, maybe old - it was impossible to tell.  But it had a quality, some kind of aspect, a mark of some sort, which made it appear horrible in some way to Larry.  Then the car sped past.  Larry waited a moment then retreated to the base of Science Road.

Later, trying to re-assess the driver's face, he found himself unable to; he could not recall a single detail of it, could not even begin to reconstruct the features.  Nothing would gel.  It was almost like a mask; and it made Larry think of what amnesia would look like if it affected a person physically.  This face had not assumed a reality - an appearance - as if its owner had left it somewhere and forgot where.  So it was not even a mask; more like a skull.

It took two hours for Larry to reach the clearing.  He stood before the slab, at first reluctant to move close enough to touch it.  He stared.  In his mind he kept seeing Denny's body, and especially the boy's golden hair.  And he remembered running his fingers through that hair, at another time, many other times; and being close to that body.  Something that once held breath, that once moved, that once flexed, that once laughed could not be taken seriously as a stone cold lump.  Or, he wondered, is it the living form which cannot be taken seriously.  They say not to take pain seriously because it'll soon be over and things will be better; they say the good outweighs the bad, happiness is more the norm than misery.  The norm.  The norm for a human body, given the range of its existence from dust to dust, is to lie in the ground.  Not to move, but to lie still.  So which do I take seriously: his eighteen living, breathing years filled with the movements of his body? or the eon of stillness?  What is the norm?  Is it to be reckoned in terms of quantity? or of quality?

"And what of my sin against nature?" Larry asked, as if addressing the marble slab.  "Did my loving him so dishonor us both that beside it this slab is a resurrection?  Does his death transcend his submission to sin?"  To sin, he thought silently.  An eon in the ground, a moment in my arms.  Which is real?  Which is wrong?  But, of course, I know the answer, or I couldn't bear to ask the question.  It's only when we don't know the outcome that we're reluctant to inquire, isn't it?

He took the one more step which brought him to the slab.  He reached out, cautiously, and touched it; and, in touching, examined it.  Could there be traces of blood?  Unseen, even unfelt?  And yet be there?  Could forensics find Denny or his murderer when love had failed?  After a time of rubbing his hands against the marble, Larry left the clearing and attempted to find the place where the ground had been dug up.  In a very short while he located it.

So clearly - it was so clearly a grave.  Larry debated whether or not to dig.  All he had was his hands, but even with these modest implements, this fresh, soft earth would yield its treasures.  He thought a moment, then went down on his knees and began digging.  He had been lucky in his choice of directions; at this end of the grave was Denny's head.  With only a few handfuls of excavation, he came upon strands, then more strands, of golden hair.  He could look no farther.  He recovered where he had dug.  Still on his knees, he tried to construct a prayer to say over the grave.  He knew so little of religion that only the most unceremoniously simple words came together; no litany, no ritual, no measured supplication, no chant, no real prayer.  In his mind was the image of Father Christopher; from that image he divined what to say.

"Dear God," he prayed, "forgive Denny if you find his life objectionable.  I don't think he ever knew there were ways laid down of doing things.  He played everything by ear.  Whatever yielded fruit was right; he lived to live, not to learn how to live.  Dear God, I was with him many times.  If to you his taking the love I offered was sinful, then I suppose you must do as you must.  I would simply say to you in his defense: dear heavenly Father, try not being omniscient, not being omnipotent, not being immortal. It might enlighten you what it does to us.  Amen."

Larry arose to go.  He went slowly, partly to avoid getting lost, partly to make sure the trail he had marked on his way here was a good one, and partly to reflect on what all this meant.  One thing kept recurring to him: the words he had used in describing the incident to the police sergeant.  He had called it the work of a devil cult; that was what it had seemed to him, and the more he thought about it the more he became convinced that that was what it was.  His friend, his beloved friend, was murdered by a devil cult.  As part of some bizarre ritual, some devil worship.  As -

"A sacrifice," he said aloud.  Denny was sacrificed.  To Satan.  But what, or who, was Satan?  As real as God? he wondered.  "Who knows," he said.  Who knows.

"I found a body in the woods," Larry told the police sergeant.  "I think it was the boy I was looking for - remember? the one I thought I had seen on the slab in the clearing?  He's in a freshly dug grave.  I'm sure it's him.  I marked a path, I can take you there, if you want."

"This boy was a friend of yours?" the sergeant asked.

"Yes," said Larry.

"May I ask where you know him from?"

"I've seen him around."

"Around Deedee's?" the sergeant asked.

"Yes," said Larry.  "Around Deedee's."

"You see," the sergeant explained, "since you were here I've been doing some checking.  I had, well, let's just say I had a suspicion.  I checked and, yes, my suspicion, I fear, proved correct.  This boy, Denny Cloak, was a hustler.  It wasn't hard to learn that.  He hung out at Deedee's regularly.  One boy called him 'an everyday kid.'  Presumably he spent a lot of time there, out in front, hustling.  Sex for money.  It wasn't hard to piece together.  Now I'm not accusing you of anything; but be forewarned that if there is indeed a body buried out there, and especially if it does turn out to be this boy Denny, you will be questioned.  Thoroughly.  And your story will be checked.  Also thoroughly.  And whatever comes out, no matter how damaging to you, or how embarrassing, there will be no turning back.  This is not that big of a place, and we do not have so many homicides but what this one will attract a great deal of attention.  Everything you do, everyone you've dealt with recently, will be scrutinized.  It can't be avoided.  'The mills of God grind slow,' my young friend, 'but they grind exceedingly small.'  I hope, for your sake, you don't get caught in them."

A search party was sent out, guided by Larry through the forest.  It was already twilight when they started.  They brought search lights and, for some reason, hounds, who, apparently supposing Larry to be the quarry, came and sniffed him all over.  Their tails wagged when he petted them; one jumped up and tried to lick his face but was beaten back by its trainer, who apologized for the hounds' behavior.

It was slow going; the encroaching darkness hid Larry's trail.  His markings, which had seemed so clear in the light of day, had suddenly become elusive; they tended to fade into the underbrush and had to be ferreted out.  Each time Larry moved off a little from the others to seek another sign, the hounds began barking as if trying to warn their trainer of his impending escape.  Once, when he carelessly separated from the others following a path his searchlight created, the hounds broke away from their trainer and attacked him.  His clothes were ripped a little, but he was unharmed.  The dogs were reprimanded by the trainer and threatened with a reduction in their rations.

"Lessee food!  Lessee food!" he cried as he whipped them into submission.  As he explained to Larry, he had always been rather taken with Charlie Chan, the detective.  The dogs seemed to comprehend his threat; they went off by themselves a few steps, as if to discuss the matter, one or another of them every once in a while glancing back at its trainer.

Finally the party came to the clearing where the marble slab stood.  Everyone began moving toward it, chatting among themselves.  The hounds stayed back; even when it looked as if Larry were about to make a break, they refused to pursue him.  "Come on, come on!" their trainer cried, whipping them, but they could not be coaxed.

For some moments the group stood gathered about the slab.  Each took a turn touching it.  It's like a movie, Larry thought, but he couldn't remember which movie.  At last one of the policemen made bold to suggest getting a sample of it, to test it for blood, for fingerprints, for gunpowder, for any telltale evidence.

"Don't forget the bird doo," said one old timer, an out and out skeptic when it came to forensics and all the other highly technical procedures the police relied on.  "Mustn't forget to test for that."

"You know something," retorted the forensics expert: "that attitude of yours is exactly why you're still out pounding the beat while everyone else is moving up!"  This seemed to quiet the old timer.

"There is no bird doo," the police sergeant noted.  The other members of his party, except for the old timer and the forensics expert, laughed at this.  He did not.  "Why is there no bird doo?" he asked; and, this time, his associates realized by his tone of voice that he was not cracking a joke.  "You work on that problem," he pointed to one of his corporals and ordered.  Then he motioned for Larry to lead them to the grave.  That, too, was difficult, even though it was only a few hundred feet beyond the clearing; the same problem of identifying the markings presented itself.

"Here it is!" Larry exclaimed.  The hounds tore loose and came running, as if it was them he had summoned.  They gathered around him and yelped and wagged their tails; a few rolled onto their backs to show their submission  Larry patted their bellies and they got up.  The police was only a step behind the dogs.  Every searchlight was aimed onto the ground.

"Yes," observed one policeman, "it looks freshly dug."  Another said it was most definitely a grave, but a third took exception to that claim.

"My grandpappy was a gravedigger," he pointed out, "and he'd have never called this here a grave.  He'd have been shamefaced.  Rounded edges, uneven.  Look there: too wide up here, too narrow down there.  No, sir, this is no grave - not if my grandpappy has anything to say about it it isn't!"

"Well, he doesn't, so shut up!" the policeman who had called it a grave insisted.

"You both shut up!" ordered the sergeant.  "Or you go back to pounding the pavement tomorrow!"

"That isn't fair," the policeman whose grandfather had been a gravedigger noted, "tomorrow's his day off!"

While the lights were all being held in place, two policeman took out shovels and began uncovering the earth.

"Hit something!" one of them shouted.

"Jesus!" Larry cried out.  "Be a little careful, can't you?  There's a body in there!"  Don't smash it to bits!"

"He's dead, ain't he?" the policeman called back.

"Not till old Doc says so!" he was reminded by the forensics expert.

"Yes sir," muttered the old-timer, "could be a case of catatonic shock.  Premature burial.  You fellas best listen to Mister Einstein here.  Body ain't dead till science says it is!"

"All of you," ordered the sergeant, "shut up!"

The digging continued, but more carefully, until a human body was revealed.  Denny's body.

It felt to Larry as if something had taken him and shoved him to the ground and held him there, against his will.  Before he even realized that he had moaned and fallen to his knees, he found himself grabbing hold of Denny's arm, bringing the hand to his mouth and kissing it, then, letting the hand fall, reaching for the body itself, first the face, which he caressed, then the golden hair.

His action stunned everyone.  It was a moment before anyone could think to pull him away.  The police sergeant reached him first.  It took three grown men to get him away.  He did not appear to be resisting, and he made no sound; but it was all they could do to raise him to his feet and pull him back.  Only then did he gasp.

Denny's chest was cut open.  Pieces of skin and blood vessel hung like tatters.  Inside, when someone shone a light on his chest, it was empty.  It appeared that the heart had been taken out.  Another light revealed another desecration, which made Larry turn away and begin crying.  Denny's genitals were missing; his penis and his testicles had been taken.  On the boy's face was a look of horror which, unconsciously, Larry had been trying to wipe away by rearranging the features; but they had hardened and would not leave their pose.

No attempt was made to examine the body here.  Pictures, of the remains, of the grave, of the surroundings, were taken; then the body was stuffed into a black vinyl bag and carried off, through the woods, following the same path Larry had marked to get to the grave.  Larry was of no further use; he had to be led away, and prevented from falling.  The hounds, true to their mission, stayed close behind him, but made no noise except an occasional whimper whenever Larry came close to stumbling.  An hour later the party was out of the forest and on their way to police central.

Once there, the hounds had to be retrained when it seemed to them that their quarry was escaping.  They growled and snarled and strained at their leashes as if they would tear Larry to pieces.  It took their trainer a long time to quiet them down after Larry had gone; against all his principles, he brought out "Nine Lives," the kind of chow Morris the Cat on TV loved: giving cat food to dogs was almost an admission of failure to properly discipline his dogs, but they adored it, and he could think of nothing else to abort their frenzy.  In time, Larry was out of their thoughts, or their programming, or simply their noses - wherever it is an obsession gets lodged in a hound's brain.  They were not finicky like Morris, though; and this, too, shamed their trainer.

The next day, early, as Larry slept, the police were back at the gravesite looking for clues.  This time the hounds had been given another scent, or so the trainer halfway imagined: that of Denny Cloak, the murder victim.  However, unknown to, though perhaps vaguely suspected by the trainer it was still Larry's scent they followed; a corpse gives off no scent, until it begins to decay.  The trainer had taken the bag Denny's body had been carried from the forest in, and let his dogs sniff it.  They were no help.

Fortunately, however, the police did find an additional clue.  In a fallen, hollowed out tree stump, they discovered Larry's clothes, or what they took to be his: a tank top shirt, faded pink; a pair of jeans, faded blue; a pair of sneakers, off white with navy trim.  There were neither socks nor underpants.  The police, after confirming that these were the dead boy's clothes, let the three articles of apparel be examined by the press, if it wished to see them, before turning them over to the forensics laboratory.

"You mustn't touch, though," the reporters were cautioned.  This press conference occasioned the first public mention of the murder.  Owing to its bizarre nature, the police knew the press would wish to be fully briefed.  The evening newspaper reported the murder: front page headline.

"Bizarre murder uncovered," the headline read.  All the gory details were printed, down to the list of clothing found. The latter, ironically, sparked something of a controversy, which became a news item itself for a couple editions.  A local group, calling itself "Americans for an American America," saw in the list of Denny's clothes the possible work of saboteurs.

"There is clearly an attempt here," their spokesman said in an interview, "to undermine the foundation of our beloved nation.  We are a moral people, conceived in morality, concerned with moralism, conscious of our duty to God, our creator and conceptor.  The family is in constant peril from the foes of liberty.  First we were forced to open our restaurants and our businesses to all customers - the family started to erode; then we were told to sell our homes - which are our castles - to anyone who wished to buy - a little more the family eroded; next we were asked to accept women as our equals - by then the family was almost gone; even as I speak we are being asked to believe that homosexuals and their henchmen the Gay Faeries are entitled to the full protection of our great Constitution which our Founding Fathers gave their lives to defend - there is no family anymore: that's the wages of sin!  Now the forces of treasonous hedonism are telling us its alright for a young man not to wear underpants!  When we all know that's the swiftest path to those twin evils of our time: pre-marital sex and VD diseases!  A boy's underpants is his first line of defense against the lascivious lures of those seductive temptresses who call themselves the Sweet Sixteens and Never Been Kissed!  Who are they kidding?  What with sex education on every street corner and on every movie screen and even in the schoolroom now!  We demand an ordinance insuring that our youngsters not be allowed on the street without proper undergarments!  As loyal, God fearing Americans we demand it!"

There were objections.  Some called this view extreme; others simply said it was impractical: you couldn't enforce such an ordinance without compelling every child to drop his or her pants or skirt - and if you did this, you would be forcing them to commit indecent exposure.  The AAAA retorted that you could check each child in private; or, better yet, have the parents ensure their children's attire - hold the parents responsible for the moral well-being of their offspring.  A famous hygienist was interviewed; he conceded that the wearing of underpants was more hygienic.  This gave the proponents of the Pantie Plan, as the proposed ordinance had come to be known, hope of ultimate success.  A famous athlete, who advertised men's underwear, was quoted as favoring the use of underpants at all levels of society; "from soup to nuts."  His quote was scrutinized by the Privy Council of the AAAA at their annual picnic; they were looking for obscenities.  They found no fewer than seven, with another fourteen words highly suspect. 

An ad hoc committee was formed, a kind of coalition of people variously affiliated with defunct causes to counter the AAAA.  Calling themselves the ZZZZ, they paraded in front of city hall carrying underwear as placards, but were arrested when they tried to disrobe the mayor.  And as a result of all the furor, a girls' sorority at the University conducted a jock strap raid on the boy's dormitory.  The girls being Anglican, the Archbishop of Canterbury was notified, in writing, of the incident.  He never replied.

"They were pink," a friend of Denny's questioned about the boy's death, admitted.

"Pink?" asked the police in some amazement.  "His underpants were pink?"

"Yeah, pink."

"How do you know?" the boy was asked.

"Because I was with him earlier in the evening," the boy replied, "and we were in a restroom where fags hang out sometime, and he had to take a shit.  They don't have doors on the stalls: they took 'em all off to try and keep the fags from sucking each other off!  So when he took is pants down, I saw 'em.  They were pink!  I asked him.  I said 'Hey man, you a fag?' and I pointed.  He said, 'No, man, I wear these cause that fag I told you about likes 'em.  He bought 'em for me.  Pays me extra to wear 'em.  I'm hoping to run into him tonight - that's why I wore 'em!'  That's what he said."

"'Hoping to run into him tonight': those were his exact words?" the police asked.

"Hey, man, I don't know if they were his or if he just copped 'em off the side of the stall!" the boy quipped, but was told to please just give the facts, only the facts.  "Jesus!" the boy muttered.

"Do you know if he did in fact meet this man later that evening?"

The boy thought a moment.  "I'm not sure," he said.  "I think so.  I mean, I saw him talking to this dude all dressed in black, and I just kind of figured that was him.  You know: you see enough fags, often enough, you start to be able to read them.  Like, he struck me as someone who'd go for that pink underpants business.  In fact, he looked familiar to me, like someone I'd hustled a long time ago - maybe a year, you know."

"And had this man brought up the subject of underpants?"

"No, all he wanted was for me to bring mine down!  See, he didn't take me home with him."

"Why not?"

"Cause I wouldn't go!  I'd just got finished having the shit scared out of me by some dude who got me all tied up and began spanking me.  I wasn't going home with nobody after that.  We just kind of rode around in his car.  He had me take down my pants while we were riding.  And he'd reach over and stroke me.  He was nice though.  I can't believe he'd kill anyone, you know?  He never tried to kill me.  He was gentle.  And he seemed to care.  He even said - can you believe it: him being a fag and all?  He said I shouldn't be doing what I was doing.  He said it was wrong.  So I said maybe he's the one shouldn't be doing what he was doing.  And he started crying.  Weird man; weird!"

"Can you give us a description of him?"

"I don't know, man.  All fags look alike to me.  I'll try though."

The boy gave his description and was sent home, but was told not to leave town.  They said he was a material witness; he quipped something about the fabric of Denny's undershorts, which no one found amusing.

The police artist completed a tentative sketch, which was circulated to every patrolman.  Larry was called in and asked if he recognized the man; he said no, though something in his manner, some reluctance, made the police sergeant doubt his reply.  He too was sent home.  At first the sergeant toyed with the idea of having Larry followed, but finally decided against it.  Outside the station, Larry began to sweat; he even felt faint.  He had recognized the man in the drawing as Father Christopher, and he felt too confused to do anything but deny the recognition.  An expression came to him: "playing for time"; he liked it, it seemed to fit, to be what he was doing.  Father Christopher could not have been a murderer - Larry could not accept him as a murderer, not the Father Christopher he had met, the man who had offered him a hand when he was so desperate, who had taken him home, given him strength, given him Denny's name and address: not this gentle man, not a murderer.                    

He may as well be though, Larry thought.  He'll be destroyed, once he's found, no matter if he's guilty of murder or not - because, guilty or not of murder, he'll be guilty of almost as heinous a crime.  Just by being named, he'll be guilty of homosexuality; just by being named.  A murderer - a priest who was a murderer - could not be more odious to his fellow man than what this priest was.  All his other deeds would be thrown aside, as if society, on a rampage, were looking through a file for a vital bit of information and casting everything else aside until the right piece had been located.  What did you do with your life, Father Christopher? they would ask; and they would reply "You committed sodomy."  A human life, reduced to an act which takes no more than ten minutes.  Six an hour; 132 a day; 14,330 a year; 143,300 in a decade; perhaps a million in a lifetime: that's what it took for their word to come true.  For Father Christopher to be a sodomist, he had to be...otherwise occupied...during every sermon he gave, every confession he heard, every requiem he officiated, every baptism, every marriage, every communion.  His life, for society's definition to take, would have to be lived out of the corner of his mouth.  Perhaps society cared to reconsider?

"Hello," said Larry.

"Hi, how are you?" Thad Ingon replied.  Larry shrugged.  "Something wrong?"  Larry nodded.  "You want someone to talk with?"  Again Larry nodded.

"If," he said, "if you have time, and don't mind."

"I have time," said Thad.  "And no, I don't mind."  They walked outside.  It was dark already, and a beautiful, clear evening, every star visible overhead; a cool breeze stirred a few leaves which had fallen, dead leaves, from dying trees, which refused to take root and grow.

"I can't figure it Thad: we can't get any of these trees to live.  What is it with this place, I wonder."

"Wrong time of the year, maybe.  Larry: before you tell me what it is that's bothering you, let me just say I read your poem - the one you submitted.  It's beautiful.  It says...well, I know literature, and I know a little psychology: Freudian analysis and all that.  Your poem says a lot...about you."

"I know," said Larry.  "It was...well, I had Mark in mind when I wrote it.  Thad, before I can tell you what's on my mind, first I have to tell you something about me.  Otherwise my involvement in all this wouldn't make sense."  Larry thought a moment.  "But then," he added, "the involvement itself already says what  No, not 'what I am' - that's the wrong way to put it."  Larry paused, then regretted the pause: it seemed to give what he wished to say a build up.

"I'm gay," he said.  Again he paused.  "Thad: I defecated on the American flag in the middle of communion, and I peed on Mother Theresa's head."  Another pause.  "Of these three things I just mentioned, only the first is true.  Why is it I wonder that they all three require the same set of circumstances to get told?  Why is telling someone I'm gay a major event in my life?  Will the day ever come when it's no more necessary to reveal being gay than to reveal having had asparagus last night for dinner?  When it requires neither a fanfare nor a deep breath of air?  Why must I tell what I do in bed in order to explain my involvement in something?  If I were straight, no one would expect me to say 'You see, I'm straight, that's why I was there when they discovered the missing bra,' or something like that - would they?  But if you're gay....  Oh well.  I suppose now I have to say 'You don't mind do you, my being gay?"

"No," said Thad, "not if you don't mind my being straight."  Thad reflected a moment.  "No, wait a minute," he said, "I take that back - they're not the same.  I'm allowed to mind if you're gay; you're not allowed to mind if I'm straight.  I shouldn't have said it, I'm sorry."

There was another pause, this one much longer than the others.  Finally, Larry spoke.  "I guess we can move on to what I really wanted to say, now that the preliminaries are out of the way, can't we?"

"Not quite yet," said Thad almost in a whisper.  "There's something I need to ask you, but I can't just yet.  I'm too embarrassed."

"You can ask me anything, Thad," Larry assured him.

"Well, you see, I've been thinking lately that I wish I was gay.  Then I wouldn't have this dilemma facing me, regarding Salantha - she's this writer I'm helping.  What I wanted to ask was if I could suck your dick."

"And you think if you suck a queer dick it'll make you queer?"

"No - oh God no, Larry, I swear it, that's not what I meant.  It's just, you know: you being gay I thought maybe you wouldn't mind."

"I only mind if you think sucking a dick makes you queer.  It doesn't.  Denny - the boy I have to tell you about: he even once sucked my dick.  It didn't make him gay."

"Forget it," Thad said.  "It was a stupid idea.  Just tell me what it is you need to talk about."

"What I have to say involves murder, mutilation, burial, grave digging, sex, prostitution, the police...and the church.  About the only things left out are science and art.  Sound like the plot for a best seller?"

Thad did not respond; he took best sellers seriously.  To him, they were not automatically a collection of familiar clichés draped over a hollow tube in a manner calculated to please as wide a range of tastes as possible.  To him, they were as often the work of skill and of artistic integrity as they were of hype and of banality.  To him, some of the more critically acclaimed works were no better examples of art than some of the best sellers.  To him, the work was to be judged one way only: out of context.  It stood on its own merit, not on the opinions of experts, nor on the volume of sales, nor on the reputation of its author.  The critics called this Formalism, a school of criticism they distinguished from the various others.  Thad, who worked every day at putting literature before the public, had no name for it, assigned it to no particular school of critical thought.  It was simply, in his judgment, the only fair way to approach literary works.  He was not oblivious to the realities, though; he understood the essentially "political" nature of this or any other business.  He knew how the worth of a work paled beside all the other considerations.  He knew.

"Thad?" Larry sensed a withdrawal of some sort.  "If you've changed your mind, we can talk some other time."

"Huh?  Some other time?  Oh, no, no, I want to hear it.  Go ahead."

"Okay, if you're sure you don't mind."

"No, go ahead," Thad insisted.  Larry told him all that had happened.  Then he told him about the mysterious suspect, about the artist's sketch, about the priest, but without actually naming him.  He left it "Someone I know, who would lose everything he has if he's linked to this.  I can't identify him," Larry explained, "I just can't do that to him."

"They'll find him anyway Larry, you know they will.  And if you know him, they'll find that out too.  Your best bet is to tell what you know."

"No," Larry nodded as he spoke.  "I won't.  I don't care what they do to me for withholding information.  I can't."

"Then go to him.  Tell him.  If he's truly worth your willingness to risk your own reputation he'll do the right thing.  He won't allow you to sacrifice yourself for him.  And if you're reluctant to put him on the sot, you should still tell him.  He should know what's coming.  If he's honorable, he'll know what to do.  He'll know."

Larry nodded.  "You're right," he agreed.  "Tomorrow," he decided.  At first he was going to go right away, right now; till a thought came to him: maybe he's with someone.  Who knows? Larry thought.  This may be his last...time.  I'll go tomorrow.  I'll warn him.  I guess I have to.

"I think I'll go on in now," Thad said.

"Okay.  I'll be in in a while.  And thanks for listening.  And, Thad, that other thing you mentioned: let's talk more about it sometime."

Larry walked the grounds of the artist colony awhile.  He had meant it to be relaxing, even enjoyable.  He liked the idea of living in a community composed of people with similar interests; of looking about and, for each lighted window, imagining an artist within; of feeling he was part of something; of belonging.  He knew it wasn't entirely like that; he knew they were not really close, he and these others, his fellow artists; he knew there was only a sense of belonging, not a real belonging.  They were all involved in their own projects; and while they did nothing to make one another feel like outcasts, like somewhat less than real, honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth people, still, they did little to actively support one another, at least emotionally.  Intellectually, yes, they were supportive, unlike any average cross-section of people, so many of whom viewed "artists" as existing somewhere along some special continuum where no humans had been placed but only mythological and, at the other end, pathological beings of either a superior or a sub-species.  Emotionally, however, they offered almost nothing.  Not that they were any more or less self-absorbed than other groupings of people, but that they covered the same emotional range as any other people.  Just because they were all artists did not make then soul-mates.

The ground felt funny beneath his feet, and a stink arose which drove him indoors.  He would have liked to have remained outside, to wander past and among the houses, to look up at the stars, to make the customary comparisons, contrasts, parallels between the two light sources: the one, perhaps extinct, reaching millions of miles, the other, alive and real, reaching no farther than the next house.  He would have liked to have examined this, his home, his community, up close and on foot, with the cooling night breeze.  But he was forced back inside by something which was not even of this place, though he had no idea where it did originate.  A strange odor, not quite like sewage, nor like the rotten egg smell of the industrial plants where he grew up, not the backwater stench of fetid ponds and streams whose flow had become blocked; an altogether different smell, like some of the pungent odors he recalled from his high school chemistry class, the kind at first you barely noticed but once you did you nearly vomited they were so offensive.  And the earth itself felt funny, even through the soles of his shoes.

How could you ever get to know your neighbors, Larry wondered, if you never sat out of an evening, as they did where he grew up?  He had always believed a single home would be better than the row houses of his own neighborhood; now he was no longer so sure.  It was true that, there, you got to know your neighbors whether you wanted to or not.  But here, you were almost barricaded inside by the night's aroma.  There's nothing like a porch, he realized.  Do away with the TV room, forget the extra bathroom, even the front lawn if you have to - but whatever you do, don't omit the back porch!  A child should grow up hearing his parents talking to the neighbors, porch to porch.  There is no greater obscenity than letting the telephone become your means of communicating with your neighbors.

The back door slammed behind him.  He felt foolish, but all the same he went to his room mate's door, which was partly open, and, knocking lightly, opened it the rest of the way.

"Mark," he said, almost embarrassed, "if you ever need a friend - really a friend - remember me.  Okay?"  He felt himself blushing.  Mark looked up; at first it seemed to Larry he would say something harsh, but then his face softened and, barely audible, he replied "Okay," staring a moment at Larry before returning to his work.  Larry silently blew him a kiss then shut his door.  Thad had already gone.

Mark, in opening a stack of letters - manuscripts - which had not yet had time to be opened, happened upon one which was hand written, whereas all the others were typed.  Everyone wished to do it right, wished not to insult a prospective editor by not following the prescriptions, or not following them to the letter; so they typed their submissions, double-spaced them, left an inch border, just their name and address and number of words, unless a poem, on the first page, with their last name on each subsequent page.  Here was one not typed.  Mark's hands trembled opening it; he recognized the writing.  It began "Dear Mr. Editor," followed by what appeared to be part story, part personal communication, part essay.

"I walk the Citadel grounds.  My feet are honed, they fit the narrow slits.  A thorn tore my lips.  A lighted window left a paste; when I licked it, a magic house grew visible.  I looked in.  Mark was there.  He had coaxed blood from dried poems.  He smeared his belly.  I created a robot; I set it inside.  It wound its way to him.  He beat it with his groin until its diodes burst.  Oil leaked out.  Under a scope Mark viewed it.  He tried to match it with his printer's ink.  It would not.  He took up the robot I sent him; he crushed it; he sent it back.  I buried it.  I can create more if need be.  But they will move more slowly; they will approach more timidly; they will be more cautious.  The first a masterpiece, the rest mirrors.  I walk away.  I wonder: will Mark notice their being copies?  The Citadel grounds bury my steps behind me.  It is as if I never was."

Mark shook his head, as if to say "No, this won't do.  It's not quite right.  Too much...this; not enough...that; altogether...thus; instead  It won't do.  Sorry."  Then he crumpled it and, hurling it aside, spat after it.  It had been signed "Elena."  He opened no more manuscripts that evening.  Instead, getting dressed, he went out, went to a bar, met up with a woman, perhaps a few years older than himself, claiming to be a "Divorcee," and went home with her.  When they had finished having sex, and he was letting himself slowly drift off to sleep, the "divorcee" nudged him and asked him to please leave, explaining that she did not feel safe with a stranger in her house all night long.  So Mark got dressed and went home, where he did not fall asleep until almost daylight.

Neither had Larry been able to sleep; he heard Mark go out, heard him come in.  He pressed his lips to his pillow and tried to picture Mark.  Off and on he wept, but had no clear idea if he was crying over Mark or over Father Christopher or over Denny Cloak or simply over the events of the past few days.  He too managed to sleep through the very early hours of the morning.  By nine he was up, by nine-thirty he had left; Mark's door was still closed.

At ten o'clock there was a knock on the outside door.  Mark heard it, but he was still in bed and, thinking it was Thad Ingon coming to assist him, did not bother getting up to answer.  Again, the knock.

"Oh, go away!" Mark muttered and rolled over.

"Hello?  Anyone there?" a voice asked through the door.  Then there was a muffled rattling; whoever was there tried the handle to see if it were unlocked.  Then a click, as a skeleton key plunged into the lock to loosen it.  Mark had half drifted off to sleep again when a voice very nearby again asked if anyone was there.

"Hello?" it asked.  "Anyone there?"  This voice had gotten into Mark's house and was just beyond his bedroom door.  His door opened and a man stuck his face inside.

"What the hell is this?" Mark asked, ready to jump out of bed.

"You're wanted," the man replied.

"Wanted?" Mark asked.  "And who the hell are you?"

"I'm his chauffer," was the reply.

"Whose chauffer?"

"Dr. Czarn's.  He wants you.  He sent me for you.  I'll wait outside if you like."  The man waited to be told whether to wait outside or not.

"Yeah, that's a good idea - get the fuck out of here, creep!" Mark replied, adding that he would be ready in fifteen minutes.  "No!" he changed his mind.  "Make that half an hour!  I haven't eaten or taken a shit yet!"

The chauffer bowed courteously and left, to politely await his passenger.  Mark ate breakfast then went to the bathroom, but he was an early riser, his system had been thrown a little off this morning, he could only urinate.  He always rose at six, ate at six-fifteen, moved his bowels at six-thirty, then was ready for the day.  Today, however, he was not ready.

"Hey creep!" Mark called to the chauffer.  "What does he want with me - huh?  Or is that too important for you to get told?"  The chauffer made no reply, he simply continued driving.  When he reached the Institute, he stopped the car, got out, went around to open Mark's door, then bowed as Mark got out.  Halfway to the main door, Mark suddenly turned.  He had forgotten already what the chauffer looked like and he wished to see him again; but he was gone.

"Thank you so much for coming on such short notice," Dr. Czarn expressed his appreciation.

"That's...that's no problem.  I am a little curious what it is you wanted."

"I don't doubt you are," was Dr. Czarn's reply.  "Please sit down," he said, indicating a chair opposite his desk.  The office was richly appointed, but of far more significance, as Mark noted to himself, it was an office, and an office was an office.  Not that it defied description, but that descriptions - perhaps all description - was superfluous.  It did not truly distinguish one office from another, not in this the latter half of the twentieth century, to record its honeyed paneling or its brocaded draperies or its pale plush carpeting, anymore than one individual was truly set apart from all others by his pale grayish eyes or his kinky black hair or his mulattoed features or his dimpled chin or his slightly cauliflowered ears. 

Nor did it seem to matter that he had been a foundling; nor that he had been carried from the isle of Haiti stored in a banana boat; nor that he was rumored to be the illicit issue of a Haitian dictator and a captive white girl; nor that the Czarns had unofficially adopted him and taken him in; nor that he had grown up to dominate the entire family; nor even that the family servants whispered among themselves about the captives he kept in the basement of the family estate, which he had renamed from Czarn's Den to Czarn Dinêa.  None of this seemed to matter; it was only the trappings of a soul; and while it might add color to his character, it did nothing to reveal his soul.  He was something of an adventurer, who just happened to possess a brilliant scientific mind and the skills of a consummate socialite: the charm, the wit, the air of breeding and of self-confidence.  He might have been a turn of the century empire builder in a Romantic novel; in the early 20th century, he might have become the villain in a naturalistic novel; by the late 20th century, he must be no less than the leader of a devil cult, who uses science as his cover, as his cloak of respectability, as the justification and the rationalization of whatever he chooses to do.

Cyril Czarn, Doctor of Physics; Director of the prestigious Czarn Institute of Scientific Research; Leading Citizen of his home town; nationally acclaimed co-discoverer of the Kleeno-Czarn Lazurgiorus Frenkhenheit Dipnis Effect which revolutionized the production of 3 1/2 degree plutonium; author of hundreds of articles and of nineteen books, three of which were awarded the Highest Prizes in Literature for the years of their publication.  Dr. Cyril Czarn: all this...and Hades too.  His dictator father was alleged to have been well versed in the Black Arts; and what the father began, the son brought to a perfect flowering.

All manner of research was done at the Czarn Institute: studies on rocks, on plants, on animals, on eco-evnironments, and on volunteers.  Sometimes the studies were above board, sometimes not.  A grant of several million had netted a safe method for testing the fetuses of pregnant women for an entire range of genetic disorders; untold anguish was spared these prospective mothers.  Diseases which had plagued mankind since the beginning of time were close to being eradicated through the Institute's agency.  One of the great scourges of mankind, the HaggleBard Syndrome, named for its identifier, Dr. H. B. Jones, had been completely controlled.  Other studies proved a bit more scurrilous.  Thirty million dollars had been given the Institute in order that it might, over a period of a decade, solve the problem of worldwide famine once and for all.  The findings were never made public; the whole affair was kept quiet; the Institute's studied opinion, its much heralded and awaited conclusion, was buried in a White Paper which was tucked into the bottom desk drawer of a low-level bureaucrat with the Department of the Interior and left sitting there.  Worldwide hunger, the study concluded, could be drastically curtailed if people could be persuaded, on a grand enough scale, to practice cannibalism.  Additional investigations, one involving the use of a substance derived from human excrement, were left hanging.  The world, in a word, had been bilked.

The Institute, which could isolate so many germs, control so many diseases, could do nothing better to alleviate world hunger than recommend eating human bodies and feces.  One reporter, getting hold of the information, wrote an article around the study; noting the enormous cost, he coined, in his article, an expression:: "Entree of Spilt People Soup followed by main course of Super Shit: Uncle Sam's Menu to the Third World."  His article was killed.  He tried to sell it elsewhere, but found every news source closed to him.  "Too slanted," "Too vulgar," he was told.  One day, he, his article, and his background material simply disappeared; every now and again his name would come up and somebody would wonder what ever happened to him.  A year later, when a corpse which could not be identified was found, there were those who once again thought of him, only this time they could not quite recall his name.  His face, yes; but his name remained "Right on the tip of their tongues.""

"Mark," said Dr. Czarn, "we have a problem.  I'm afraid one which could prove a nuisance.  Specifically, which is one of two very good reasons I've asked you here, it could, this problem, impact on your journal, which, given the interest the Institute has shown in your work, could in turn impact on us - on the Institute.  We wouldn't wish that.  The second reason you're here, Mark, is that this 'problem' concerns your roommate.  His name is Larry, I believe?" Czarn asked.  Mark nodded.  "It seems - and here again, things travel not in their customary threes but in twos; it seems your roommate is in a position to, in effect, give us all a bad name.  The young man in question is involved, apparently, in a murder - though how deep his involvement I can't say."

"A murder?" Mark asked, incredulously.  "Not Larry, you can't mean Larry!"

"Oh, but I do,"Czarn insisted.  "Furthermore, it would seem he is a sexual deviant."

"Larry?  A deviant?"

"So it would appear.  And I have it on, I assure you, very good authority.  Mark, I'll come right out and say this: I think you should sever any ties you may have with this young man, and do so as expeditiously as possible.  Have him move out, or else move out yourself.  I can furnish you temporary quarters, or I can have him evicted if you prefer to remain where you are.  Obviously, the least stink raised the better, but if he proves difficult, I won't hesitate to see to it he's arrested on a morals charge.  Now, I don't know what your involvement with him is, nor am I going to ask, nor do I particularly care -"

"I'm not a fag, if that's what you're hinting!" Mark exclaimed.

"I didn't really think so, and I'm pleased to hear it, and indeed I admire someone who speaks right up, and, as an afterthought, I would advise watching my tone of voice."  Czarn paused, as if to give Mark a chance to speak if he wished.  Mark said nothing.  "Ah," Czarn observed, "silence is golden: an often admirable motto.  As often not though."  Again he paused.  This time Mark did speak.

"I hope," he explained, "I don't seem too sullen or bad-humored.  It's just that, well, I like Larry and, well, this is difficult to take in all at once.  I, I feel -"  Mark paused.  Whatever he was going to say, a look, a quality, in Dr. Czarn's eyes changed his mind.  "I feel betrayed," he explained instead.  "By Larry, I mean.  I trusted him.  I guess one has to be a bit more selective and a bit less trusting."

"It would appear so," Dr. Czarn said in a very worldly wise tone.  After a very brief pause, during which his expression too was worldly wise, he spoke again.  "Actually," he said in a business tone of voice, "the sooner we put this business behind us, the better.  Let the law run its course, my friend.  Let whatever Larry has done undo whatever of his life it must.  It's not in our - I don't wish to say 'interest,' that's so callous - so let me just say it's not in our power to protect him.  As you know Mark, we are a well respected psychological center as well as a center for research in the physical sciences.  It just may be that, when the time is right, when this thing has blown over, when it has quieted down a bit - just maybe, by joining forces, working together, we can help your friend after all.  Frankly - and please, Mark, let's drop all pretense and speak as frankly as we can - I see almost no chance of Larry's avoiding jail.  Unless - and there's where we come in, you and I: unless, his being disturbed psychologically, in a word sick, and never mind the professional reevaluations of homosexuality of recent years, that need not prove a barrier to our helping Larry: this is a relatively small community, standards are mostly conservative and unyielding here - what I'm getting at, Mark, is that he's almost certain to be jailed unless we can convince the Courts to remand him to our care: yours, as a kind of guardianship; ours, as an institution which, God willing, can help this very disturbed young man readjust.  What do you say, Mark?  What do you say we join forces - first things first though!  First we've got to get that journal of yours off the ground.  That's the most important business at hand; we've both got a commitment, and it would serve no purpose - it would help nobody - if we failed to honor our commitments.  But after that, we turn our full attention to helping this tragic young man put his life in order.  What do you say Mark?  Are we partners?  In business, yes - but, more importantly, in decency, in compassion, in caring for those less fortunate?"

Mark nearly gagged on the slime he had just swallowed; he knew it must have been slime, it felt like it.  Perhaps a gob of mucous from his nose had gotten into his throat, or phlegm has ascended his windpipe, or perhaps a worm had generated beneath his tongue: something slimy had gotten into his mouth and had had to be swallowed.

"Yes," Mark said.  "If it's the only way."

"I don't see any other," Dr. Czarn told him in a very resigned voice.

"No," agreed Mark, "I don't either."  Then something - he couldn't say what, and he regretted it afterward: something made him ask a question which brought a scowl to Dr. Czarn's face - something that as he said it felt like the slime he had just swallowed.

"Is turning Larry out of his home the best way to help him?"

"You must think of yourself and your journal first and foremost," Czarn cautioned in a somewhat threatening voice which made it all too clear to Mark that Larry was being primed as a sacrificial lamb.  All he could do was nod his assent.  He couldn't speak.

"Then I'll be in touch," Czarn said.  "I'll have my chauffer, Joseph, contact you when I've gotten this whole business worked out.  Till then, Mark, best of luck with your journal.  I know there are some important people out there rooting for you."

Mark thanked him and left.  He waited a moment for the chauffer to reappear; he almost smiled when he saw Joseph.  There were no lines on Joseph's face; this made him seem more youthful than his bearing would otherwise suggest.  He looked, no matter what else there may have been about him, and there were a number of impressions the people at the Institute had gotten when they saw him - to Mark, now especially, he looked like someone created for one purpose only: to be despised by others.  What it was about him that prompted so cynical an evaluation, Mark could not have said; and in the back of his mind was the resolve to study the matter sometime.  Nevertheless, right now Mark was content despising him; he did not care why, he only felt the need to despise someone.  It was almost as if Joseph had been summoned solely that Mark might satisfy that need.

"Hey creep - take it easy around these curves!" Mark called to the chauffer as the Institute's limousine sped downhill.  The car slowed a little.  Joseph looked back at Mark in the rear view mirror and grinned; Mark held his stare a second then told him to keep his eyes on the road.

"What hole did they find you in?" Mark asked, while at the same time, impatiently observing his own behavior, almost appalled at his callousness.  Joseph grinned but did not reply.  He wore a chauffeur's uniform, but it was ill fitting; the cap especially was too big for him; and even though his body seemed normal, neither misshapen nor disproportionate, his carriage neither too rigid nor too loose, his stance neither hunched nor slouching, still there was something peculiar about his bearing, just as there was a kind of anonymity about his facial features.  He seemed more than anything else like someone who had climbed inside another person's body and, though the fit was perfect, he did not seem to belong there; when you see a panhandler the unlikely inheritor of a fashionable businessman's three piece suit, you know it isn't really meant for him: this was the quality of impropriety Mark sensed in the chauffeur, except that it was less of pathos and more of unwholesomeness.

Joseph let his passenger off then sped back to the Institute to await further instructions.  Mark watched the limousine retreating; he caught a brief glimpse of Joseph's eyes staring back from the rear view mirror, before the car had gotten too far away.  He went inside, expecting to find Thad Ingon waiting.  There was a visitor, but not Thad.

"What do you want?" Mark asked.  Elena had let herself in and, while waiting, had fished her manuscript out of the trash can.

"I knew this would be here," she said, as much to herself as to Mark.

"It didn't meet my requirements," Mark observed, almost as indiscriminately.

'A lot of things don't," Elena noted.

This was a statement Mark could agree with easily enough.  "No," he said, "a lot of things don't."  He went on to explain, as if somehow a certain balloon had gotten to his mouth and required certain sounds to fill it, that he had "standards" which he was not willing to abandon or even to compromise.  He went on to say further that these "standards" were necessary prerequisites not only to achieving one's goals but also to living one's life, and that "without standards we may as well all lie down and die right now."  His balloon was almost full.

Elena got up - she had been seated at Mark's desk - and went to him.  She began undressing him; at first he resisted: "this isn't the way" his resistance suggested.  But he gave in.  When Elena had finished, Mark reached out to undress her; but she slapped his hand.  Before he could resist, she had embraced him.

"I love you," she whispered.  Mark mumbled back that he loved her, adding that he needed her.  His expression interrupted Elena's statement, which she completed anyway.  "Although you're a creep," she whispered also.

"Don't use that word!" Mark half threatened, half pleaded.

Elena drew away.  "My uncle wants to see you," she informed Mark, who immediately grabbed up his pants and held them in front of him, as if Elena's uncle Harley Jimps were in the room with them.  "Don't worry, he's not here, hiding in your closet or under your bed," Elena assured Mark.  "He just said, if I see you, to have you come see him as soon as you can.  So I'm delivering his message.  Now its delivered, so I'll go."

"Why did you tell him how big my cock was?" Mark demanded to know.

"I thought his was kidding," Elena replied.

"Kidding?  Kidding when he sucked me off and stuck his big fat finger up my ass?"

"Did he hurt you?" Elena asked, though not out of concern for his well-being.

"No, I just..." Mark stammered, "I was humiliating!  Like something Larry or some other fag might do!"

"You could have resisted.  Or pretended it wasn't you he molested but your precious journal!"

"Don't go," Mark tried to order.

"Don't go?" Elena echoed the order in the interrogative.  "I am a woman: I therefore melt at your touch?  I ignore the insult?  I give up all for love?  Yes - oh yes! - I'll gladly sacrifice my dignity for you...for your love.  But while you retain your 'standards'?  I'm afraid not, Mark.  I'm afraid, Mark, I don't find a child sexually attractive any longer.  If, and when, you grow up, give me a call sometime.  You know, Mark, occasionally my uncle gets  himself...accused...of child molesting.  So far he's managed to worm his way out.  I don't want to walk in his shoes, Mark.  As beautiful as you are, I won't molest you.  Goodbye."

"Elena -" Mark called after her, but she did not look around or seem even to have heard his cry.  She was gone before he had gotten his pants on; perhaps if he had been more graceful getting dressed he might have reached her before she got in her car and drove away; but he fumbled, he started to put the pants on backwards, then his toes got caught over the inside stitching, then he jammed the zipper.  By then it was too late.  He had no way of knowing that he could easily have stopped Elena had he ran after her as he was: naked.  But a gentleman did not go out without his pants on, not in broad daylight; a man, desperate to keep the woman he loved from leaving, might - but never a gentleman.  A lady would most surely have waited till her gentleman friend got properly attired; but not a woman, who desperately wanted her leaving to take precedence over etiquette.

Mark took off running, but only got a mouthful of the dust Elena's car raised for his effort.  Half  gagging, and exhausted from running in his bare feet down the unpaved road leading from the colony's houses to the main road, Mark finally gave up.  He threw himself onto the ground and stretched his arms above his head, crying out Elena's name, till, in a moment, he realized this was broad daylight.  He shut up, got up, brushed himself off, returned to his room and, after spitting awhile at the wall, to his desk, to his work of applying his standards to the manuscripts before him.  Elena had brought the morning mail in and had set the unopened manuscripts on his desk.  One by one he began opening them.  He set them aside a moment; and, taking up a pen and a notepad, wrote "'Elena?' they will ask.  I'll say 'Elena who?'  They'll say 'Elena You.'  I'll jerk off in their ear.  Reply in kind, my dear.  And you can kiss my ass."  Mark read it back.  Not bad, he thought, so he folded it up and put it in a desk drawer.

"My motto," he said.  Then he went back to work, taking time only to remind himself that he was nobody's lackey.  I'll move out, he resolved.  Larry can stay.  And if Czarn - or all the Czarns in the world - don't like it, they can lick my ass!  And Larry's too.  Though I guess he'd like it, the fag!  The God damn fag!  They call it 'rimming' in his fag world I've been told.  Hell, why should I move out?  Let him.  He can always find some guy to take him in and fuck him all night.  Maybe I'll get him to do me before he leaves, then I'll kick his ass out of here!  Yeah, that's what I'll do!

Circumstance, however, was against Mark's plan.  Forces were being generated which would prevent his roommate from returning home.  An anonymous tip had alerted the police to Larry's friend, Father Christopher, and to Larry's expected visit.  They were watching when Larry left home; watching, following his route to the parish; waiting for him to deliver them to the suspect.  Only that he was a priest had the caller been able to tell them; no name was given.  But if they watched, they could discover the priest's identity: they had, after all, a sketch.  All the rest would fall into place later.

Mid-morning Larry arrived at the parish.  He felt uneasy, but he attributed this more to his own troubled mind than to anything external.  He knocked at the parish home.  There was no answer, so he walked to the church, walked inside, looked around.  He wanted to call, but, this being a church, he refrained.  

You're supposed to feel at peace in a church, he told himself, not full of anxiety.  You come here to lose your anxiety.  Of course, he admitted, it isn't the place but the state of mind you bring to it that counts.  Claudius kneeling, with blood in his thoughts, count not overcome his anxiety long enough to find peace either.  Hey, he thought, that's an idea for an image, for a poem maybe: thoughts, like plates, bloodied buoyancy, rinsing unwashed, soil, from a troubled soul, germs, damning a peaceful flow - or something like that.

"Oh that's great!" Larry spoke out loud.  "That's just great: a friend's being accused of murder, and all you can do is compose a poem!  Jesus Christ, man, some friend you are!"

"Larry?" a voice called out, seemingly from nowhere.  Larry recognized the voice, but, not knowing where it originated, felt a little frightened, as if Father Christopher, or someone mimicking him, were throwing his voice.  "Larry: in here - I'm in here!" the voice called.  Larry moved in the general direction of the voice, off to the side.  He looked around, then he remembered: the confessional.  That had to be where the voice was.  He started to enter.  "Not here!" the voice directed.  "Enter the penitent's chamber."

Larry seemed confused.  "Here?" he asked, pointing to the opening nearest where the voice came from.

"Yes.  There."

Larry entered.  "Father?" he asked.  "Forgive me, Father, but -"

The priest interrupted him.  "Please keep your voice down now," Father Christopher said.

"Yes Father," Larry complied.  "Father, I have something I have to tell you, though in a way I'm afraid to.  I don't want...I don't want to be the one to tell you."

"Larry, you must have no fear, not in the house of God.  Say whatever it is you wish me to know.  Say it in the spirit of a penitent if that will make it easier for you."

"Father - oh God Father, forgive me for bearing such tidings -"

"Larry, you needn't talk like a penitent, just pretend you're one."

"Okay, Father.  It's hard to say.  Father, they think you murdered Denny.  My friend Denny.  You remember?  Denny Cloak.  They think you murdered him.  They have a drawing, a police sketch.  Some boy - a friend of Denny's - said you were there, that you picked him up...that evening.  Now they think you killed him."

"I did kill him," Father Christopher said.

"No," Larry moaned, "oh no, you couldn't have, you couldn't have."

"Not literally perhaps, but I did kill him.  My sins killed him.  I should have shown by my example that his path could only lead to doom, but I was weak.  My flesh craved his flesh, and instead of resisting I gave in to temptation.  I led him to his death, I showed him the path."

"No Father, no: you know that's not true.  You know the events would have happened anyway.  Your being with him had no bearing on it.  Father: this sounds so different from everything you said when we last spoke.  I don't understand how you could be so different."

The priest smiled; his smile was ironic, but Larry could not see it.  "Larry," he said, "I am speaking now as a priest.  I am in church, in the confessional.  I speak as a priest, not as a man.  That the two contradict, I know.  Believe me I know.  I need no one to point that out.  It is a contradiction I have been unable to resolve.  I know my duties as a priest.  I know my needs as a man.  Each damns the other.  I don't find the conflict insuperable, just insoluble.  The laws God has set down demand one thing; the nature He has given me demands another.  And so on.  We've all heard all this.  I merely represent a variant - a deviation.  But as a priest, I could no more take a woman to bed than another man.  The only difference being that while I must counsel the man to avoid other men, I need not counsel the woman to avoid men, except outside of marriage.  You know the story of St. Augustine, Larry?  He had tried to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity.  He saw a boy along the beach digging a hole, into which the boy said he will put the ocean.  He said no, it cannot be done; the boy replied that neither can man comprehend the Trinity.  I think of that, Larry, whenever I serve as a priest.  With this variant: the sea - the mystery - is human nature; the hole into which someone wishes it placed is the body of rules the church promulgates.  Human nature: it is a seething, swirling mass, an enormous vortex.  X-many Do's, Y-many Don't's: they will not contain such a mass, Larry; and all the Popes and Cardinals and Bishops and priests that ever were cannot force the fit.  Yet we continue trying.  Where we should scrap our rules and seek some other methodology, what do we do?  We compress the rules into an even tighter construct.  We hold up a needle, Larry, and ask humanity, on cue, to leap through its eye, as if we were circus masters.  And yet, Larry, I love God - the idea of God - with my entire being.  These people called The Church have the market on the Almighty cornered; if I'm to serve God, and be accepted by mankind as His servant, I must also serve The Church.  Never has there been a more conditioned response than mankind's to religion.  God, without religion, without The Church?  Unthinkable!  So here we are, Larry, confessor and penitent.  Will you absolve me?"

Larry could not tell if Father Christopher had spoken in irony or if he actually sought some kind of absolution.  He answered the literal question.  "I will," he replied, and left it at that.  He started to get up, to go.  Father Christopher also rustled about inside his chamber.

"Don't move!" a cry rang out from somewhere in the church, somewhere nearby, followed by another cry.  "We've got you covered!  Come out slowly, with your hands up!  Don't try to escape: you're surrounded!"

Larry made his way to the curtain, pushed it slowly aside, and, holding his hands as far overhead as he could without impeding his exit, came out of the confessional.

"That's good!" the policeman said.  "Over here!" he ordered.  Larry obeyed.  "Alright!" the policeman cried out again.  "Now you!  Come on out, with your hands up!"

Slowly, Father Christopher made his way from the confessional, as awkwardly as Larry had a moment earlier.  He looked at the four policemen surrounding him, at the four guns aimed at his chest.  He smiled and, winking in Larry's direction, said "Don't shoot!"

In another moment Father Christopher was handcuffed.  "Okay, read him his rights," the policeman ordered his partner.  The rights were read.  Larry, being only a material witness, possibly but not necessarily an accomplice, was not read his rights, nor was he handcuffed.  One of the policemen did, however, decide to question Larry.

"Alright," he said, "what were you doing in there?  I want to know everything that transpired."

Father Christopher spoke up.  "He does not have to tell you that.  Anything said in the confessional by the penitent is privileged information."

"Okay," the policeman agreed, "I won't ask what he said.  I'll just ask what you said.  That isn't privileged - you weren't confessing!   He turned back to Larry.  "So tell me: what did he say?"

"Please don't make me," Larry pleaded, although something of a grin playing at the corners of his mouth contradicted his desperate plea.

"You can tell it now, or you can tell it under oath!" the policeman said.  A second policeman came alongside and whispered "He has to do both!"

The first policeman nodded.  "That's right," he said, "you have to tell both things he said!"

"Jesus!" said the second policeman; then he thought a moment.  "Pardon me, Father," he said to the priest.

"Not out here," Father Christopher informed the policeman, indicating the confessional.  One of the other policemen burst out laughing and said "Shit, we'll be here all night!"

"This is a church!" the fourth policeman reminded his irreverent partner.

"No offense," the policeman who laughed apologized to the priest.

"My son," Father Christopher remarked, "the God I serve would ten times sooner hear a laugh than a prayer!"  An awkward moment followed, as if something a bit blasphemous had just been said.  Finally, the first policeman turned back to Larry and again ordered him to tell anything the priest had revealed inside the confessional.

"He said...He said he loved God," Larry admitted, his voice straining with a feigned reluctance to squeal on his priest.

"This may be amusing to you now," the policeman informed Larry, "but I don't think it will be when you're behind bars for being an accessory to murder!"

"Jesus!" exclaimed the second policeman again.  "We haven't charged him with anything yet!  Will you stop this Gangbusters shit, and -"  He abruptly ceased speaking, aware of uttering yet a second obscenity in a church.  He turned to Father Christopher.

"Don't worry about it," the priest assured him.  "Nine out of ten things that would scandalize the righteous don't even phase God.  He's heard every dirty word, spoken in every conceivable tongue; He's seen every obscene gesture; and what's more He's lived to tell about it!  A shrinking violet he ain't!"  Again, there ensued an awkward moment.  Finally, the four policemen decided it was time to take the suspect and witness back to their station.  As they were leaving, one of the policemen whispered to his partner that this priest was just a little too weird, even for a Catholic priest.

"What do you mean?" his partner asked.

"I mean, I don't think he really is a priest.  I'm going to run a complete background check on him."

"We do that anyway, for Christ sake!"

"You just go ahead and make fun of me all you want, but when it comes time for promotions, we'll see who gets one and who don't!  The fact is, he might very well have something to do with the murder of the priest who used to be here.  He turned up mighty quick afterward - maybe a little too quick!"

"Hey yeah," said his partner, barely suppressing a laugh, "and you know something else?  Remember when President Kennedy was assassinated?  Well, I've always kind of wondered how old LBJ turned up so quick to step in and take over - haven't you?"  The first policeman turned a cold, a very cold, shoulder to his partner.

A thorough search of Father Christopher's house turned up a pair of pink underpants which were identified as belonging to Denny Cloak - the same pants given to Denny by his mysterious patron.  Also discovered was a lock of golden blonde hair, positively identified as the dead boy's.  These items were both labeled "material evidence," insufficient to indict Father Christopher for murder or to deny him bail, but sufficient "probably cause" to instigate a more thorough investigation.  He was told not to leave town, an ironic statement in light of his parishioners response to the news of his arrest and subsequent release.

"We want you out of here," a committee chosen from the parish informed him.  "Out of this parish, out of this town."

"I'm not at liberty to leave the area," Father Christopher told his parishioners.

"Then just get out of this parish.  You can turn the key to your house over to us right now; you can go pack, if you haven't already; and you can leave, the way you came."

The housekeeper, upon hearing this, burst into tears.  "Oh what will I do?" she despaired.  "I've worked here forty years.  Where will I go?  Who will hire me at my age?"  It was explained to her that she was not being fired simply because the priest whose house she tended was being dismissed; she seemed to understand, she let up crying, but started all over again when she saw the priest packing his things.  "What God has joined together," she tried to say, as though hoping to hit the right dictum, "let no man put asunder."  In the back of her mind though she knew it did not apply.

When Father Christopher had packed and was about to leave, he pointed out to his parishioners that it was technically not their place to evict him - that only his superiors in the diocese could do so; but that, as he respected their opinion, he would abide by their decision.  He would willingly leave.

Outside, he found Larry waiting for him.  They had both been held for twenty-four hours; they had been released simultaneously.

"Can I go with you, at least just for now?" Larry had asked.  The priest had said yes.

"Where will you go?" Larry asked.  He knew by the suitcases that Father Christopher had been, just as he had expected to be, evicted, thrown out, dismissed.

"Oh, I'll find a place," Father Christopher answered.  "And what about you?  Hadn't you better go back home now?"

"No," said Larry.  After a few minutes of walking, Larry explained that he had no home.  "I won't go back there," he told the priest; then he added in a sorrowful tone, "I can't."

"Why not?" Father Christopher asked.

"By now Mark must know.  I can't face him.  Father, I love him, so very much.  But I also know him.  He'll think less of me, knowing I'm gay - and he doesn't think a lot of me already.  I don't wish to be looked down on by someone I love.  Maybe that's prideful.  All the same, I'm not going back."

"Where will you go, Larry?"

"I don't know."

"You'll at least get your things, won't you?"

"No," said Larry, "not yet anyway.  Maybe...maybe week or something.  When I know Mark's not there."

"What about money?" asked Father Christopher.

Larry shrugged.  "I don't know.  Maybe I'll go stand out in front of Deedee's.  I guess I couldn't make as much as some of those guys, but I could probably make some."

"Larry, come with me.  You may as well: if you're going to Deedee's, we'll probably meet up anyway.  It may as well be now as later.  We'll get a room together.  We won't have anything, if you don't want to.  You need a place to stay and...and...well...I guess I need someone to be with myself just now.  Larry: they've taken what means most to me.  My illusion.  You see, I thought they would...stand behind me.  Take up for me.  Let me stay, even though deep down I knew they wouldn't.  If this had never happened, I could have perhaps gone through life thinking they really did need me.  The speed with which they moved to evict me mirrors the depth of their dependence on me.  I can't even pretend there was a great debate among my congregation, or that this incident prompted a great deal of soul-searching - either of which would have been a healthy sign.  Larry, it isn't so much their sending me away as it is their not gaining any insight, not growing, not moving closer to God that I despair of.  They took the easy path; they opted for self-righteousness, where they might have let this crisis bring them face to face with the contradictions of human nature.  They might have been forced to turn to God for guidance.  Instead, they second-guessed Him; they assumed they knew how He wished them to deal with the problem.  It never occurred to them that I might have a genuine calling, which, if I did - and Larry: I do: as I stand here, alongside you, I swear before God that I do have a calling - and they might have had to ask God for guidance in evaluating it, in assessing how a homosexual could be called by God into His service, and what it said about the old, the traditional, beliefs.  That's what I regret, Larry: my sorrow, my loss - if you will, my sacrifice - being of no help to my people, my congregation."

Father Christopher paused a moment.  "But they never were my people.  Larry, the priest in me sees it this way; the man in me wants only to lie down in someone's arms and be held while I cry.  I won't ask that of you; I can't ask it.  I'm still a priest.  And so, the man goes begging, while the priest eats to his heart's content.  If I were not a priest and this had happened to me, Larry, I think...I think I would have gone someplace and ended my life.  Though maybe if I were not a priest I would have long since found a shoulder to cry on.  I have never believed in a mean, jealous God; but I do believe He reserves to Himself the right to be the sole source of strength for His servants.  I believe, with my whole being, that as a priest I would sin against Him were I to turn to anyone else for help at such a time.  A priest can have no other comforter than God - no father, no mother, no brother or sister, no husband or wife.  He alone is our comforter.  And I accept this.  I gave up this much of mankind when I took my vows; that I did not give up all of the man in me, that I left scattered pieces, I must try and reckon with.  It is a sin for a priest to love anyone but God.  Forgive me Father for I have sinned.  I loved this boy who was killed.  Forgive me."

They stopped in front of a hotel downtown, not far from the parish, a half and half hotel: half respectable, half sleazy.  Prostitutes went there occasionally, as did hustlers; but so did people seeking nothing more than a place to stop for the night.  The Aladdin Hotel it was called; at one time fashionable, its decor had been a curious blend of Moorish, or somebody's idea of it, and Victorian.  The elegance had gone with the maintenance crew; only the sense of the bizarre remained.  Considerable lattice and grill work marked the archways, and there seemed to be another archway every few steps; something like palm leaves were sculptured about the ceiling and baseboards; tapestries dangled from various perches at key points along the walls; even a huge circulating fan hung from the ceiling above the main lobby; and the floor alternated white and blue mosaic tiles with wooden squares along the parquet mode.  Outside, the building was a once white stucco, textured like adobe, turned dingy, almost yellowish.  The main entrance consisted of a wrought iron gate in a screen door type relationship to a plain wooden door, the gate merely decoration.

Father Christopher and his guest requested and were billed for a room with a double bed; the room was called a suite; the bed permitted double occupancy.  When they had settled in their suite, Father Christopher informed Larry that he was tired and was going to bed.  With this, he got undressed.  Larry had never seen a priest with only undershorts, nor did he expect a priest to be wearing a red nylon bikini brief.

"You seem surprised," said Father Christopher.

"I guess," said Larry.

"Perhaps you expected boxer shorts?" the priest suggested.  "Or perhaps you didn't expect a priest to be...I believe the term is 'hung?'  I'm assuming it shows beneath my underwear?"

"Yeah," said Larry, "it shows."

"Good," said the priest, who got into bed.  "You tired too?" he asked.  Larry nodded that he was.  "Then come on to bed.  And Larry, even though my aim was to arouse you, pure and simple, I won't try to seduce you.  I promise.  I'll respond if you initiate anything, but I promise I won't make the first move.  Okay?"

"Okay," Larry agreed.  He too got undressed, got into bed.  Awhile had passed, and it was clear to them both that neither had fallen asleep.  Finally Larry spoke.  "Father," he said, "can I...get close...but without...?"

"Sure," the priest replied.  Larry moved to where his body touched that of the priest.  Very soon they both fell asleep.  Toward morning, Larry, still half asleep, began calling out.

"No," he cried, "please don't hit me.  No, please.  Oh God, I'm gagging!  Please, don't, I'm choking!"

"Larry?" Father Christopher asked in a soft voice which managed to awaken him.  "Are you alright, Larry?"

"Yeah," said Larry.  "I guess I was dreaming."

"About what?"

"Oh, nothing really.  Well, maybe about those guys the other night - the night I thought I saw Denny lying on that altar."

"What guys?"

"Oh, just some fraternity guys.  I guess somehow they found out I was gay.  They...took me into the woods.  They didn't really hurt me though.  You know: they cuffed me around some, then they made me suck them off while some fucked me.  It was just that I almost gagged.  I mean, I like to do that, both things, so I shouldn't mind, should I?"

"Why not?" asked Father Christopher.  "A woman might enjoy having sex, but that doesn't mean she'd enjoy being raped, does it?  So why would you enjoy being forced to do what you do?"

"I guess I wouldn't," Larry admitted.  "I was scared Father.  Really scared, because once a friend of mine got murdered by a gang of hustlers.  I mean, they tortured him.  They really tortured him.  I guess I was afraid it had fallen my turn."

"Thank God it wasn't," the priest said.  "Yet, if we all lived long enough, and if no one ever lifted his voice to protest the bigotries, the injustices, the hatreds, then in time, Larry, we'd all - every man and woman alive -get a turn at being butchered.  It's something to think about.  But they have a motto, the majority of people, that they think protects them: 'It can't happen here!'  They're decent, they're good, so nothing bad can ever happen to them.  The brutes only devour 'bad meat': why, every page of history proves that!  Oh Larry, I feel so helpless, so...impotent...when I think how impossible it is to convince the average man he has a stake in the well being of his fellow man.  Oh well, no point crying over spilled milk, is there?"

"Father," said Larry after several minutes had passed, "I do enjoy doing those things - not being forced, but willingly.  I'll willingly do it, Father."

The priest reached out.  "Oh Larry," he said softly.  "Oh Larry."

In the morning Larry asked Father Christopher what he would do now.  Specifically, what would he do if they actually indicted him for Denny's murder.  "I don't know," was all the priest could say.  He thought for a moment, as if an answer could not help but come from a process of reasoning; but no answer came, so he shook his head and got hp to locate his underpants, which had gotten tossed someplace during the night.

"I think they're over there," Larry pointed to beside a strange looking bureau, a black painted piece of furniture with brass handles on the drawers - eight drawers in all, four on each side - and a red spot in the middle of each handle.  Father Christopher went and looked.

"Here?" he asked.

"I think so," said Larry.

"I don't see them.  Maybe over here."  With this, the priest went to a vaguely matching dresser, six drawers toll; but he found nothing there either.

"Not there either?" Larry asked and was told no.  "Hmm, maybe we should call the police," Larry suggested.  "They'll ask when we last saw them, and I'll tell them at eleven fifty-eight approximately.  Then, at about twelve thirty, give or take, I felt them, though I didn't actually see them.  Then at twelve thirty-four I gave them a toss.  'Must have been the work of Skat Man,' they'll say.  Then the police'll thank me, say they wished everyone were as conscientious, and how if more good folks were queer there wouldn't be so much underpant thievery, and set about retrieving your drawers."

"Hold up on that call!" Father Christopher cautioned.  "I think I see them."  He went to the window and reached to the top of the drape.  "There they are," he said.  "You got a throwing arm on you!"  He hesitated putting them on; instead, he held them up.  "The most potent little piece of fabric on earth," he said.  "Once I put these on, we become two different people, in a totally different relationship to each other.  That's why I'm reluctant to do it.  You know, those underpants they found in my room?  They were Denny's.  He deliberately left them the last time...he was over.  He said he didn't want them anymore.  His friend said he told him I had given them to him and made him put them on and paid him extra to wear them.  I said yes, I did.  But I didn't.  I suppose Denny was embarrassed.  I suppose none of his friends had ever seen them on him till this one did.  He had to deny it.  What is it they always say?  'Oh, he's dead, it can't matter to him now.'  I disagree.  It mattered.  He didn't want it known he liked - he really, truly loved - wearing pink underpants.  I asked him why.  He cried and said he didn't know and couldn't say.  'Maybe I'm really a fag!' he whispered.'

Father Christopher wiped tears from his eyes.  "There are those who cannot take 'the truth,'" he said.  "Be it the truth of their own actions or their own deepest feelings or of external events; so those of us who can, have to do double duty.  We are like Christ in having to take on the burdens of others.  We should be thankful for the gift of anguish - for the capacity to endure it.  Not because it sets us above those without it, but because it enables us to help lighten their load.  They lighten our load with their carefree light-heartedness.  Denny was so light-hearted.  God I loved him.  I would have cut my dick off for him.  We take and we give. it's time to get dressed.  Put on our little pounds of truth.  Cover our nakedness.  Become who we are again.  The priest and the poet.  And thank you Larry, as much for the poem you recited to me as for the release you gave me.  Thank you."

They got dressed.  Check out time at a hotel like this came early; the management rarely expected anyone to be there come daylight, but if you were still there, you'd better hurry and get gone: house rules.  What society might choose to ignore in the dead of night might not escape its attention in broad daylight, so you'd have to be out of here early.

"What'll you do now?" Larry asked.

"I have just enough money," said Father Christopher, "to buy some food.  Just the essentials.  Maybe for a week."  He paused a moment as they walked along before he said "I'm going away."

Larry too paused.  "You can't leave town," he reminded the priest.  Together they walked some more, in silence.

"No," the priest agreed, "I can't.  And I won't.  But I have no money to stay anywhere.  So I'll stay outdoors.  I'll go to the forest.  Become pastoral.  God does provide for His servants.  I'll live there."

"Father," asked Larry, "can I come with you?"

"Larry, you're free to go where you wish.  I'd rather you didn't though.  I'd prefer being alone.  I won't invite you to accompany me; neither will I stop you.  You belong somewhere, Larry."

"No, I don't Father.  I don't.  I can't go back.  I can't face Mark.  I have no more choice than you do; I have to go to the woods.  But I'll go a different way.  We don't have to be companions."

Father Christopher nodded as they proceeded.  He stopped in a little grocery store and bought some provisions; then they continued to the edge of town, through some open fields in which a few grazing cows looked up to observe their progress, finally coming to the forest.  Father Christopher split the groceries evenly between them; then he looked to the left and to the right.  From their close proximity, the line of trees extended the entire horizon.

"Behold!" he said, "the City of God!"

A noise arose somewhere in the distance, something like the backfire of an automobile or the crack of rifle fire.  The priest winced, as if its following so closely on the heels of his statement were itself a kind of statement, perhaps a contradiction of his designating the forest after St. Augustine's political tract.  Perhaps, the priest thought, God doesn't want this forest a place where under His auspices the wills and minds and hearts of men are bent or mangled by His representatives here on earth; perhaps He does not care for the appellation, for its sanctioning of any atrocity so long as His divine plan is not trifled with; perhaps in His view what happens here on earth is important and does matter - who knows: perhaps He's as concerned for our well being as for the unfolding of His plan - so concerned that He does not wish anyplace in this world named for Him.

"It's an ominous sound," Father Christopher observed.

Larry agreed, adding that, having heard it before, he knew what it was.  "Professor Norris is testing his rocket engines.  Very soon he plans to send off the experimental rocket he's been working on.  If it's successful, he'll go ahead with his plan to build one big enough to accommodate - are you ready for this? - two of each species of animal."

"One male and one female, by any chance?" the priest asked.  Larry nodded affirmatively.  The priest smiled - he did not laugh or ridicule Professor Norris; he just smiled.

"Father," Larry said after a moment's pause, "I'm going now.  I don't know exactly where.  Maybe, like I said, just to...another part...of this forest.  But you're right, I shouldn't follow you.  We both have a capacity to love - a need to; yet we're both able to be alone.  That seems a contradiction, doesn't it?"

"No," the priest replied, "it just means we both have an inner strength.  We need to love, and yet we can survive without it and not lose our capacity to love.  Larry, I wish you'd go home."

Larry nodded.  "I can't," he said.  "I don't know how Mark knew how I was coming to see you yesterday morning - maybe he overheard a friend and I talking about it outside our house; but I can't face him after his telling the police."

"Maybe he didn't.  Maybe they had put a 'tail' on you.  Larry: if you love him, you have no choice but to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Larry, I feel he's in danger of something, of losing something only you can help him keep.  Go home Larry.  Go home."

"Goodbye Father," Larry said.  When he walked off, it was not in the direction of his home.  He was mistaken in his accusation, and because of it he had decided to abandon his home and his friend.  Mark had said nothing to the police; he had not even known about Father Christopher until Dr. Czarn had told him of Larry's involvement.  Nor had the police put a tail on Larry; they had been informed, in an anonymous phone call late the night before, that Larry would lead them to the murder suspect the next morning.  Thaddeus Ingon had been the source of that anonymous tip.  He was crying when he made the call and could barely be heard.

The fact that the call had been made late at night, though Larry's conversation with Thad had taken place just past sundown, might well have suggested the terrible ordeal preceding the call.  Thad Ingon thought of himself as a moral, honorable, law-abiding man; as such, his first impulse had been to telephone the police when he learned that Larry could lead them to a possible murderer.  He hesitated, however.  He felt that he knew people, and that Larry, perhaps more than anyone else he knew, was trustworthy and would never willingly harbor a murderer.  "Call," something told him; yet something else pleaded with him not to call.  He anguished beneath the two opposing forces nearly four hours until finally his sense of civic responsibility got the better of him; he made the call to the police at two A.M. from a telephone in the living room of a client's apartment.  He refused to identify himself.  Then, his information given, he hung up and slowly stopped crying.

"Why wouldn't you say who you were?" his client asked.

"It wouldn't have done any good," Thad replied.  "It would have come out as Judas Iscariot no matter how I tried to say it."

"Is that why you were crying?"


"Thad, don't you think you're making too much of this?  You did the right thing."

"I don't know it's the right thing.  How can you be so sure?" Thad asked.

"You did what you had to," was the reply.

"That made it right?"

Salantha Karr smiled.  "Of course it did," she assured him.  "Pragmatism is the only philosophy.  It alone will survive; all the others will fall by the wayside.  Oh Thad, we have so much to do, why waste precious energy on dilemmas, especially those of a moral character?  You make your decision; and, after all, everyone has some vague idea what to base his decisions on - some overall view of life, if only implicitly; and you forget about it."

"Yes," Thad readily agreed, "but what do you do when there's a legitimate contradiction?"

Again Salantha Karr smiled, and her smile, though exquisite, created in Thad the impression of a gaping hole being etched across the belly of the Virgin in Michelangelo's Pieta.  "All contradictions," she informed him, "are bastards.  Forget contradictions.  There can be none when you're doing what you must do.  Contradictions are for those who impregnate their ideas with sentimentality.  Look to Victorian England for contradictions.  Look to Victoria: a fat, mannish woman full of sentiment who could not bear the very thought of sex, and who gave birth to more than one madman.  Some even say Jack the Ripper was one of her offspring.  Contradictions: I will have none, neither in my stories nor in my life, neither in my living room nor in my bedroom.  I do not wish anything given withdrawn at the crucial moment because someone might have second thoughts.  I do not want what belongs inside a smear around the rim.  Deflection is not my chosen mode.  Perhaps, Thad, you should go home.  Awaiting you you will find your contradiction, your silken slippers, you husbandly duties become legitimate.  Go home, Thad.  Go home."

Thad Ingon nodded.  Yes, Salantha Karr was right, he should go home now.  It was late.  Good night.  And he was gone.  The moment the door shut, Salantha Karr picked up the telephone and dialed.

"Hello," she said into the receiver.  "Cyril, it's me."                                        

It seemed an especially long night to Thad Ingon.  He wanted sleep but could not; he wanted to reach out to his wife but could not; nor could he stop anguishing over the decision he had made.  Did he do right to do The Right Thing? how could he not have? by what standard could he judge if not those of a civilized existence?  Oh, he knew well enough that not every law was right simply because it was there, and not every law should or could be obeyed; he had known the activism of an earlier period of his and of his society's life, when laws promoting or at least protecting, therefore institutionalizing, bigotry had had to be disobeyed in order to point out their impropriety.  And he knew there existed instances of innocence being railroaded.  He was, after all, an ultra sophisticated man, almost a paradigm of what an educated, cultured, upper middle class gentleman should be.  He knew what was what; he knew the nuances as well as the rules.  But he also knew Larry, knew him to be as honorable as anyone he had ever met.  He made his decision alright, but could not sleep with it.

Finally the morning arrived, the time which, when the dictum to sleep on it because it will seem less important after a good night's sleep gets sabotaged, turns the natural order on its head and manages to make getting up a panacea for insomnia.  Thad retained his anguish, plus his embarrassment at being unable to express his sexual needs; but these were lessened by the resolution he had made during the night.  I've waited long enough for them to decide, he told himself; now I'm going to act.  I'm going to issue an ultimatum.  I believe in this novel.  I'm going to stand behind my belief, no matter what.

"The answer is no," the senior editor announced, at the conference table.  Thad requested a meeting of the editorial board.  All the editors were present.

"I've asked you each to read a single chapter," he stood up to explain.  "You can't fail to have seen the woman's genius.  I want an answer: yes or no.  Do we publish or don't we?"

"The answer is no."

A moment passed.  This was clearly not the answer Thad had expected.  He seemed to be trying to decide how to respond.  "I won't ask why you've chosen not to publish this novel.  Your reason can't be made of anything but straw, so I won't ask for it.  Salantha Karr is a name that is going to be spoken with reverence and with awe some day, it's only a matter of time.  I've offered us a chance to be the first to speak it.  You've said no.  You've stated your...ultimatum, if you will.  Now let me state mine.  Gentlemen, if this is not the novel for you, then I am not the man for you.  I cannot remain here as one of you if you reject this masterpiece; I can't be a party to it.  It is a desecration, as surely as that religious zealot a few years back desecrated the Pieta with his hammer.  You must reconsider.  And I...gentlemen, I must offer my job as the price of your reconsideration.  This is not being done in a show of arrogance, please believe that.  I haven't an illusion of being indispensable; but I know my worth as an editor.  I am - and all of you know I am - a skilled craftsman.  Please consider what you are losing.  Please reconsider your decision.  I'll await your answer.  I don't wish to leave this job: I love it; but I will leave if you don't reconsider."

With these words, Thad Ingon made a slight bow of his head toward his colleagues and left the conference room.  Within an hour he was summoned to the office of the editor-in-chief, who offered him a seat.

"Thaddeus," the man began.  "May I call you by your given name?" he asked, explaining that he did not like nicknames or abbreviations of names.  He was told that yes, he could use Thaddeus instead of Thad if he wished.  "Good.  I feel more comfortable with it.  Thaddeus," he said very intently, "let me point something out to you.  Forget a moment your background, your family, and so on.  Just look at yourself, as a man.  You are nearing middle-age.  You have an excellent career, with a great potential.  You're talented, you're dedicated, you have a knack of spotting raw talent.  This Salantha Karr, for example, is a very talented woman.  But her novel is not right for us.  Thaddeus, we will not publish it.  I am asking you not to give up your career.  Not to take so hard a stand for what you believe that you jeopardize everything you love.  As a friend I am asking you this.  I don't want to see you make what is so clearly a bad decision.  Thaddeus: it could spell the end of your career and it's just that simple.  Maybe you could pick up elsewhere, start again.  But if you carry your beliefs with you, you're going to run into the same dilemma all over again.  Believe me, you will.  We have all faced it: naturally we have, everyone on earth to some degree has.  Everyone at some point is faced with some variant of the same basic choice: what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar.  Whether you even believe in God or not this still applies, if only metaphorically.  It is easier, let's face it, to shirk your duty to God than your duty to Caesar.  And, let's face it also: God is more forgiving, more understanding, than Caesar.  It is hideous perhaps that God should be shortchanged so that Caesar can be paid his full due, but it is absolutely unavoidable.  Don't shortchange Caesar, I beg of you, or you'll regret it for the rest of your life!"

Thad let a moment pass before he spoke; he did not seem, however, to be sorting his thoughts out, or in any sense weighing his reply.  Courtesy more than anything else seemed to have prompted this pause.  "I used to regard myself as an idealist," he said.  "But an idealist would be scandalized at what you just said.  I'm not.  I suppose I'm a practical man after all."

Now he did seem to be thinking to himself.  "Yes," he went on to explain, "I really am practical.  I am going to quit, but not for idealistic reasons.  I no longer enjoy my work, or care to continue it.  I imagined I was doing something for the sake of Art.  I'm not.  Art truly does not exist outside the beholder's eyes.  If a work I took to be great - and I think my training, my experience have honed my judgment to where it's valid - if a work I judge to be great cannot be accepted as Art, can never become Art, then I must conclude that artistic judgment has no say in the matter; and, if not, then the one and only thing I have to bring to this job - my judgment - is useless.  I'm useless.  Here at least.  I've always wondered what it would be like being an auto mechanic.  I intend to find out.  I'll move to some big city, study, get a job, fix people's cars.  And since I don't care about cars, it won't bother me if my job degenerates to sabotaging, not salvaging, automobile engines."

"You're making too much of this," the editor-in-chief cautioned.

"No," replied Thad.  "If I were making even as much of it as it warrants, I'm afraid I'd have to commit suicide.  I lived for Art.  Maybe you didn't understand that.  It held my life together.  Now I've seen it dissipate right before me.  If Art can only be what already exists, and can never allow for the future, then it's a dead thing.  If only Homer and Shakespeare and Shelley and Tolstoy and a few more can fit under its auspices, if we need no longer breath life into it, if we already have all the Art we'll ever need - if Art has come to be only a museum piece and not a necessary part of life, of any life, of any culture - then I have truly been serving a false god.  I may as well go and join some devil cult as to remain in the service of the unliving.  But no, despite what you think, I am not making too much of it.  Besides, who says we must be happy in life?  Or fulfilled?  Or successful?  If beauty no longer exists, why not dabble in carburetors and exhaust fumes?  Mechanics can gain as ready admittance to museums as junior editors can.  Perhaps it was a sham from the start, this notion that only certain people are equipped to handle Art, that people need some special kind of certification before they can dabble in the arts.  And I allowed myself to become part of it, imagining I was serving the cause of Art when in fact all I was doing, in judging some works superior to others, was further removing it from the radius of the living.  I was helping create ghosts, because that's what they are, these great artists, whether they're living or dead: they're ghosts, as unreal as the characters they've created, existing in as indistinct a fog as the settings they've put their creations into; but calling it all reality, realism, truth, when in fact it's as incredible, as false to life as the most fantastic yarn ever spun by a two year old; and, like the two year old, they - and we - believe its having been told makes it true, demands it be true, prevents it from not being true  We see our artists in picture books, or on the screen, or signing autographs; and the more removed from life they become, the more real they seem to us.  And all the while the man who lives next door little by little becomes unreal.  It's madness."

"Thaddeus, you're too sophisticated to worry over what has ceased even to be a cliché any longer.  Of course making our heroes larger than life divorces them from reality - my God, Thaddeus, everyone knows that!  It's one of the commonplaces of our modern age.  For God sake, don't carry on as if you had only this moment discovered it - and, please, don't be so foolish as to quit your job over it!"

A very embarrassed look came over Thaddeus Ingon's face.  His eyes watered, though nothing as definite as tears condensed.  And he sighed deeply, then got up.  Standing before his editor-in-chief, feeling naked, he was forced to admit that he had just made the discovery he had related; that he had not until this very moment realized that in certain people being set aside as great, they were being in effect stuffed for a museum display.

"I hadn't realized it," he said in a very small voice.  That almost everyone else had already learned it, that what for him was an earthshaking discovery was for the rest of mankind a commonplace, seemed to hurt him far worse than giving up his job.  He thought to himself: why not make my trial by fire complete by labeling it "The Fall From Innocence?"  But he refrained from saying this out loud.  Instead, he merely said "Goodbye," and he left.

It was not a beautiful day.  Outside, the air was clammy; a haze hung from the sky, making it impossible to tell if there were clouds or not; the sun shone, but an indirect glare which seemed more a reflection of sunlight than the light itself.  Was it not always supposed to invigorate you when you had made your stand and, in doing so, had freed yourself from a burden you had not even been aware of carrying all your life/  Was the day not supposed to signal a new beginning - a new dawn? and was it not supposed to be a flood tide of sunshine and pure blue heaven and gentle breezes? and were you not supposed to feel alive with a renewed vigor, an almost ethereal glow about you that even passers-by had to stop and behold?  Was this not how the great artists and philosophers and psychologists and sociologists had said it should be? would be? must be?  Then why wasn't it?  What had they failed to note, Thad wondered.  What was it, what crucial ingredient, had they left out in formulating their great schemata?

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."  Was that it? he wondered as a line from a song came into his mind.  Had a country and western songwriter, by definition an inferior talent, discovered the great missing link, the great underlying truth of being set free?  So that never a great day but only a foul day could greet the act?   Was that it?  Really it?

Thad walked home.  He left his car sit and he walked home, because he was a free man and a free man needed no car.  And everyone looked, as if they had never in their lives seen a free man before.  Every passer-by looked as Thad walked along the street.  And Thad could barely see a one of them for the tears streaming out of his eyes.  But they saw him.  They saw a perfectly free man that day.

Now, more than ever, he wondered if he had done the right thing in passing along to the police information given him in private.  It had never seemed entirely right; now it felt almost like a kind of betrayal.  He wanted to go to Larry, to tell him what he had done, perhaps to ask forgiveness; but in a sense he felt too ashamed.  I couldn't have, he thought to himself, if things had gone right today, if I had been vindicated.  As it is, their rejecting my ultimatum throws everything into question.  Am I simply being petty?  I thought Art counted; and, somehow bound up with it, law seemed important, following and obeying rules, order, respect for some kind of hierarchy, some manner of structure - it all mattered.  Now it doesn't.  The loss of Art prompts the loss of all the rest?  Oh Larry, please tell me: did I do you wrong?  Did I sacrifice you to some outside consideration I let become more important?  And you, my precious Salantha: have I ruined your chance by being so zealous to preserve the purity, the beauty, the perfection of your work?

"Is there life after death?" he asked aloud before seeping back into his thoughts.  Can we rebuild our dreams, redesign our lives, re-perfect our works once we have compromised enough to attain our place in the great scheme?  They all say we can.  Am I just a coward, too afraid I'll lose it for good to compromise it?  Should I even be thinking such thoughts?  Just because I'm the last man on earth to think them, does that mean they are worthless thoughts?  They were worthwhile the first time they were thought - does the fact that they're being thought the first time only by me count for nothing?  To say that is to say I count for nothing - that only the first man counted.  Only Adam's thoughts are worthy of preservation?  To not have been born Adam is to not be?

"Oh Larry," he whispered, "Larry: I must beg your forgiveness.  I must.  Now I see it, so clearly: I was wrong.  I was.  I'll go right away.  Oh Larry, I'm so sorry, so very sorry."

It was of the utmost importance that Thad Ingon find Larry, confess, apologize and be forgiven; nothing should deter him a moment, neither rain nor sleet nor hail nor dark of night.  None of these conditions prevailed; one did however, a condition which no amount of deduction could overcome: loose bowels.  Despite his best intentions, despite the urgency of his mission, Thad Ingon had to go to the bathroom first.  An immutable law had first to be served before a personal encounter could transpire.  Thad went to a department store - he had just happened to be passing one.  He sought out the restroom, he went into a stall and shut the door; he read while he reaffirmed his allegiance to law and order.  He nearly fainted when, among all the other telephone numbers listed under one of the two universal headings "For a good blow job call" and "For a good fuck call" he discovered his own.  There was no "ask for such and such" beside his number, as there were beside some of the others, however; he was grateful at least for that much.  Then he remembered something.

"Some boy called last night, sounded like a teenager" his wife had told him before he left for work this morning.  Now that he recalled, there had seemed to be disgust in her voice.  He distinctly remembered having wondered at the time if his wife perhaps thought he was buying drugs; now he realized what she had been thinking.  He hastily smeared the phone number with spit on a sheet of toilet tissue.

Who would do something like this? he wondered.  He thought of Larry, and felt guilty for even thinking that Larry would do something like this even if he had discovered who the informer against him had been.  But who else? something kept demanding to know.

"I don't know!" he cried out before realizing where he was.

"That's okay bud," somebody who had apparently entered the next stall replied, though in a normal tone of voice.  "I'm a little constipated myself," the voice added, almost in a whisper this time.  Then the toilet in the next stall flushed; when it had filled and the man had finished buckling his belt, he mumbled "I'll try again later," and left.  Thad took a ball point pen from his shirt pocket and, taking his turn, recorded his existence on the wall.

"Here I sit," he wrote, "reputation in hand/Made it in time, didn't shit my pants."  When he read it back, he was aghast: God above! he bemoaned, it's syncopated!  So he crossed through the word "didn't" and wrote above it "did not."  There, he eased his conscience; meter perfect, art secure, universe good for another eon.  With this unshakable optimism still uppermost in his mind, and his bowels at rest, he wiped his ass, flushed the toilet, pulled up his trousers and left, to find forgiveness for having transgressed against a fellow human being in the name of civilization.  For this, he wondered if perhaps he should go get his car: it was some distance to the artist colony where Mark and Larry shared a house.  He stood outside the department store, watching the cars go by, eyeing each one as if readying to reach out and take it.  The sky was medium rare: by his own assessment, and him a former editor.  Rare, in this instance, meant bursting with sunlight; medium qualified that state to where just the right amount of clouds were spread about.

"Heads I do, tails I don't," he said as he took out a coin.  But when he tossed it, it landed on one of the grills of a grate and, before he could see how it landed, it fell into a pit: chance would have no say in this enterprise.

"I'll walk," he said finally.  It took him two hours to reach his destination, the first hour putting the town behind him, the second hour meadows, country roads barely paved, a stream, some trees marking the beginning of the forest, a few cows, and a corner of the University grounds, the corner where Professor Norris had his laboratory.  In the distance stood a tower, some twenty feet high, made of wood, more a skeleton than a whole structure; inside was a metal cylinder, vaguely pointed at one end, flaring at the base.  This tower housed Professor Norris' rocket ship - the test model; the actual ship had yet to be built, and once it was it would require a thousand such towers to accommodate it.  Two of each species would be put within the real ship, so that the animal kingdom might not perish from this solar system.

"But should they not perish if this world they inhabit perishes?" Professor Norris had been asked repeatedly, his answer always the same resounding "No!  They did not bring it to the brink of chaos, why should they pay for the evil man has brought with him from the cave where he originated?"  He would save the creatures from the ravages of the beast.  "Man is the only beast!" he would say.  Many, many contradicted him; but always their arguments splattered into a multitude of fragments when they were hit, as they always were, by the bomb Professor Norris threw at their epicenter.

"The Apple of Discord," he called the bomb, himself a species of Eras.

Thad Ingon saw the Professor heading toward his test rocket.  He would have left it at that but Norris happened to turn around and see him.  They did not know each other, but it impressed Norris seeing a man walking along this road so he hailed Thad.  He introduced himself.

"Yes, I know," said Thad.

"We've met?" asked the Professor, certain they had not.

"No, but I know of you - everyone is these parts does."

"Ah," Norris reflected, "the crazy old Professor.  The Mad Scientist.  The Norris who has corrupted his name into Noah and plans an Ark because he imagines himself called upon by God to save the creatures of this world.  Well, he may be mad, but he is not Noah, nor does he work at the behest of God.  He sees God as having abandoned this world, not that God could do anything else, being a figment of man's imagination.  All I would say different from those who likewise disbelieve is that man did not create God in his own image but rather re-created himself in God's image.  Observe the distinction.  We took it upon ourselves to become children of God; and thereby gave ourselves free rein to do as we please with this our God given domain, confident all the while we're slowly destroying it that our heavenly Father would not let us complete our destruction; that at the crucial moment, just as our fingers near that infamous button, He will descend from His kingdom, step in, chastise us, forgive us, save us from ourselves, take us with Him back to heaven, and let the meek inherit.  And we shall fall on our knees before our Father and give thanks for all His many blessings."

Norris gave a pause before speaking again.  "Well," he said at last, "please pardon me if I don't propose keeping the lesser creations waiting until God steps in to undo our maniacal works.  The day after tomorrow I shall test my rocket.  I shall try and effect a successful blast off.  And then, if it is successful, I shall begin work on the actual rocket.  Tentative date for its blast off: July 4, 1999.  Hopefully, everyone will be occupied with fireworks and won't notice.  All of this, of course, predicated on there being a world left to leave in 1999.  And on that, sir, I wouldn't bet a plug nickel."  With this advice, Professor Norris turned and began retreating from Thad Ingon toward his tower two fields over, just east of the forest, where his rocket awaited initiation of the forty-eight hour countdown.  Blast off time: 4 P. M., day after tomorrow; destination: salvation.

Thad continued on.  It wasn't much farther.  Half an hour more and, just up ahead, the moon.  This was how Thad characterized the artist colony, a landscape almost too desolate to even be considered a desert.  Only the moon seemed an apt metaphor for this place, with its grayish brown topsoil, its decayed bushes which had never taken root, it parched grass thatched across the ground in spots, its cobbled weeds and its stalk like twigs which were all that remained of the trees planted by the young artists living here.  Thad was reminded of a painting he had seen in a gallery, something lush and vibrant by Corot, a meadow somewhere in France; he always wondered what hideous monstrosity covered the dark side of the canvas, the picture no one could see because it was always kept hidden.  The first time he saw the colony, he ceased wondering: he knew what Corot's skillful hand had hidden from mankind.  The belly of earth had belched out this landscape, with its ashen stench, its poisoned growths dwarfed into a caricature of a garden, and with its acid speckled huts.

"My God!" Thad suddenly realized.  "I know where I've seen this before!  Not in a nightmare but on television.  A place just like it: a chemical dump.  My God, this place is built on top of a wasteland!  No offense, Mr. E."

Thad burst out laughing.  He had to sit down at the road's edge he was laughing so hard.  A thought came to him which turned him almost hysterical: the thought of Mark, the editor, laboring mightily to bring forth from this hellhole the greatest literary journal of all time!  Then another thought, like a slash across his throat, stuck at him, forcing him to quit laughing.  He almost gagged on the outrushing laughter, as though it had been vomit.  It occurred to him that not only was Mark laboring to produce his particular artistic creation, so were the others.  So was Larry, whose beautiful poem Thad purloined from Mark's rejection pile and had in his possession.  The irony no longer amused him.

"A thing of beauty from a troubled soil," he whispered, and he cried; only this time, unlike this morning when he gave up his job, he knew he was crying.  His tears bent him double.  For a long time he could not rise again; finally his sobs, his tears, his heavy body quieted and he got up.

"Larry," he said, "I love you.  And I'm not going to cheapen my love by specifying its nature, or qualifying it.  I love you as one man to another.  If my love makes me rescue a poem you created instead of drawing fluid your body created, it's only a technicality, a different focus.  It's still you I love, whether it be your poem or your penis I take in.  And yet, even as little as a day ago, Larry, when I toyed with joining you in being queer, I was nevertheless prepared to say you were wrong for being queer.  now all of a sudden, when I have nothing, no rank holding my vision to the letter of the law, I see how little it matters how one demonstrates his love.  I do not care, Larry, to touch sperm with you; or to blend blood, in that particular ceremony; but rather to exchange thoughts, ideas and pieces of art.  Yet I will stand proud and tell anyone that I am queer for your talent and for your vision, that I lust after it and that I have sucked your soul from within your poetry.  If it is a sin for one man to love your body then let it be equally sinful for another to love your soul.  You are both; and in truth it isn't which one we'll love - they cannot be loved independently of one another - it's only which we'll focus on.  I can't genuinely love your soul without loving your body also.  My God, how much sorrow has been inflicted because people could not admit that simple truth!  Oh Larry  In my own way I have tasted your body, just as whoever has held you and truly cared for you has tasted your soul, however poor his comprehension of art.  I will try, Larry, to say these things to you.  I pray I'll have the courage.  Just please be there.  Please be there, my precious love."

Thad walked the last few steps to Mark and Larry's house.  He knocked, then entered, without waiting to be admitted; it was his custom, he had become a regular visitor, almost a roommate.  He proceeded to Mark's room, knocked and entered there.  Mark was seated at his desk, fast at work.   A terrible stab of pain shot through Thad: he wished desperately that Mark had been fast asleep instead; he would have gone to him and kissed his forehead.  A smile drove the motor which prompted him to do just that anyway: he walked over and, whispering "Hi Mark" bent and kissed his editor on the forehead.

Mark instinctively pulled away, mumbled something like "What the fuck," but then moved back to where he was, almost as if offering to let himself be kissed again.  He was trembling.  Thad did not repeat the gesture, but he did put his hand on Mark's shoulder to help steady him.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he said.  Mark did not answer right away.  Finally he said it was alright.

"Thad," he seemed almost to be pleading, "do grown boys ever run away?  Because if they do - if they can - I almost think I'd like to.  I'm so sick of all this.  And tonight I'm to go to Harley Jimps.  Some kind of ritual.  He said something to me once about having a question he would be asking me soon to answer - I guess he fancies himself some kind of Sphinx; but I didn't take him seriously.  Apparently he was.  He called a little while ago and invited me to dinner.  'Have your answer with you.  And come as you are,' he said before he hung up.  I mean just hung up; he didn't even say goodbye.  Just hung up.  The last time I was there he sucked my cock and stuck his finger up my ass.  Oh God Thad, what am I going to do?"

Mark kept his voice from breaking, though the strain was evident.  He kept his eyes dry too, but his mouth dripped saliva; his chin was drenched with it.  And he was suddenly aware of having wet himself.  At first he debated what to do, then he asked Thad to leave him alone a moment; but no sooner had he left than Mark followed him out, with a clean pair of jeans over his shoulder.

"I'd better go to the bathroom," Mark said, purposely indicating the stain at his groin.  "I peed myself," he said very simply, very openly, and with greater dignity than he had ever expressed anything else in his entire lifetime.  Thad looked at him and smiled, then took his hand and welcomed him to the club.

"It's alright to pee," Thad told him.  "We all wet ourselves, one way or another.  I came close to shitting myself earlier, after I'd...left work.  Had to use a public restroom.  Saw my phone number on the stall wall - for a good blow job.  I don't know how it got there.?"

Mark smiled back at him then went to get out of his soiled pants.

"Is Larry here?" Thad asked him when he returned.

"No," said Mark.  "I don't know where he is.  I just found out, Thad: he's queer.  I don't know how to take that.  I mean, here's a friend, someone I care a lot about, and he...he...Christ, Thad, he sucks cocks!"

"It's alright to suck cocks," Thad told him, then he added "one way or another."

"The strange thing is, Thad, I'd really like him to do it to me.  I'd really like it.  Because I know he'd like it.  I know he likes me; I see now that it's more than like - Thad, he loves me, I know he does, that's why I'd like to give him a part of me.  Only...I'm afraid I'd beat him up afterward - someone who loves me!"

"Why not sublimate that impulse," Thad suggested.  "Instead of beating him up...beat him off."

"I couldn't touch another man's penis with my hand," Mark protested.

"But his jaw, with your fist - that's okay?" Thad asked.  Mark could only shrug.

"Look, give me a break, man," Mark said, without anger.  "I just peed myself and owned up to it - don't ask anything more of me just now, okay?"

"Okay," Thad agreed.  "Look," he said after a moment, "I've got to find him.  Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"  Mark replied that he had no idea, that he had never known any of the places Larry hung out, that he had no idea who Larry's friends were, that Larry was, in fact, now that he thought about it, almost a stranger to him.

"I just assumed we were friends because we lived together, because we've known each other since college.  Now I realize that I really don't have any friends, except maybe you; but even then, if it hadn't been for this stupid journal we'd never have met.  Thad: let me go with you.  Let me help you find Larry.  Please.  I...I...was looking all afternoon for the poem he submitted but I couldn't find it.  I wanted to read it again, maybe use it after all - to give him at least that much.  But I can't find it.  Oh God, Thad, did I throw it away?  Please, I need to find him."

A number of things crossed Thad's mind; he supposed that this meant he was thinking about Mark's request.  How do you think about something though, he wondered; how do you go about it.  You arrange things systematically, and that means you're thinking?  It's only thinking if everything you focus on interrelates?  If I consider: I want to do this myself, I want to be free to pursue my own path to my objective, I want to speak to Larry in private - if I consider those premises, I'm thinking; whereas if I consider: I want to smell the towel that dried my wife's body after her bath, I want to lie down in a tub of ice water, I want to hear an orchestra playing Borodin's "In The Steppes Of Central Asia" - if I consider these, I'm not thinking?  Is it that simply?  Thought is characterized by organization; it isn't what the mind does but what the authorities choose to accept?  Random, unrelated bits are not an indication of thinking, only a sequence of some sort is?  Well, it's good to know that, and I'll sure as shit keep it locked away inside my heart for all time to come.

Thad shook his head no.  "I have to go alone, Mark," he said.  "You and I will be seeking a different person.  We should go separately."

"I guess I'm a little afraid to be alone with him," said Mark.  "I don't want him to see me break down and cry.  It's been too comfortable looking down on him, and now, with this queer business in a sense justifying my doing it, yet with seeing him differently now, I don't know how to relate to him.  I can't bring myself to accept him as an equal, I just can't."

There was no persuading Thad, however, to let Mark accompany him.  "I betrayed Larry," he said.  "And that's far worse than anything you've ever done to him.  I have to beg his forgiveness, Mark.  And I have to do it alone or I won't be able to tell him why I betrayed him.  I'm sorry.  I've never felt closer to another man in my life than I do you right now.  But I can't take you with me."

The afternoon had crept at a right angle from where Thad remembered leaving it when he entered Mark's house; he was sure the shadows had been south to north, now they were growing distinctly west to east.  To a thinking man, this meant one of two things: either it was getting late in the day, or else birdsong would never again be the same.  He wasn't sure which.

Before he left, he removed Larry's poem from his pocket and handed it to Mark.  The last thing in the world he expected was for Mark to cry on his shoulder.  "I have no right to this," he whispered to Mark.

"I don't either," said Mark.

Mark, left alone, resolved to go to Harley Jimps' after all, just to see what would happen.  Besides, he told himself, Elena might be there.  And even if she wasn't the journal still mattered, and Jimps was still instrumental in helping get it accepted where such things mattered.

"What was that stupid riddle of his?" Mark asked himself.  "Something about the Sphinx.  No, not quite.  Oh fuck, what was it?  Why don't I...why don't I - yeah, that's it: why don't I edit?  Why do I review?  Or interview?  Jesus, who cares."  Mark thought and thought about it, finally hitting on something.  "Shit man," he exclaimed, "that's it, sure that's it!"  He laughed out loud.  "Alright," he mused, "maybe he's not such a fruitcake after all!"

He set Larry's poem down on his desk and went in to take a shower.  He had grown, in just this short period of time, a little chafed where he had wet himself.  He was glad to get this pungent odor out of his loins; when he finished, he applied a layer of antiseptic and on top of that a liberal sprinkling of talc.  Then he got dressed.  Outside, a limousine was waiting for him; lounging beside it was Joseph, the Institute's chauffer.  Seeing him startled Mark.

"What are you doing here, creep?" Mark asked angrily.

"To take you to Mr. Harley Jimps', sir," Joseph replied, and grinned.

"Who sent you?" Mark demanded, but Joseph simply continued grinning.

Mark approached and, on an impulse grabbing the chauffer's coat collar, repeated his question: "I said, who sent you, creep?"

"My master," Joseph replied.

"Who's that?"

Joseph grinned wider and through his teeth, slurring his words, he replied "The great wizard."

"This great wizard: his name is Czarn, I take it?" Mark asked.

"That too," was Joseph's reply.

"That too?  Well, what other name does he have?  And what's his real name?"

Joseph quit grinning and took Mark's hands from his collar.  "It begins with a P," he said, adding "That's all you can be told now."  With this, he opened the rear door for Mark to get in, but Mark refused.

"I'll drive my own car," he said.  He went and got in his car and started off.  The limousine followed him to Harley Jimps'.  "What did you do that for creep?" Mark asked.

"I'll wait for you sir," Joseph replied upon getting out.  "I was instructed to take you and to bring you home.  I'll wait for you sir."  Mark spat upon the ground in front of Joseph then went inside.  Joseph knelt down and, with his thumb and forefinger, scraped the spittle from the ground and examined it.  For several moments he studied the spit, with its core of phlegm; studied it carefully, thoughtfully, as though it were a jewel which had been dropped at his feet and warranted great consideration.  A satisfied look came over his face, and he slowly deposited the gob of slime in his breast pocket.  "Poker moves in strange ways," he whispered to himself.  "In time, he will reveal all."  Joseph's head nodded up and down several minutes, then grew as still as if it had been turned to stone to sit atop a sculptured body, as he waited, beside the limousine, to take his passenger home.  "Don't stay too late," he said.  "Your time is running down.  If I could give you some of mine, I would.  You treat me as you see me.  I'll miss you."

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Mikey-Spikey-Dippy-Typpie!" exclaimed Harley Jimps, extending the three middle fingers of his hand.  Mark extended his full hand, as if he would shake; but Jimps said "No no, no shakey-wakey."  He then indicated for Mark to fold his thumb and little finger.  "There," Jimps commended his guest, "now tappy-lappy."  They touched the pads of their three fingers together.  Everyone within earshot was ecstatic.

"I'm Mark," said Mark.

"What?" questioned Jimps.  "No Mikey-Spikey-Dippy-Typpie?"  Mark shook his head no.  "Then it's Markey-Malarkey to you!" Jimps exclaimed and left his guest standing at the door, a superlative gesture which netted him a burst of laughter from his other guests.  But he didn't get far before the good breeding of his soul made him turn back; and, as he turned, the gold lamé tie belt of his black and gold oriental motif jump suit swung around, the onyx ornament at its tip almost striking Mark in the crotch.  Jimps squealed in delight at the near miss.

"Come on in, young feller, come join us" he invited Mark into his parlor - and it was labeled "parlor" above the archway leading from the foyer, which was also labeled, as in fact every room in the house was.  The pattern - "foyer," "parlor," "kitchen," "bedroom," etc - was broken only at the bathroom, which was labeled "Movin' Out"  Everyone who made a trip to the john commented on it.

"Well, I just thought, by God - by God! - I was not going to let myself become pigeonholed, slave to rhetoric, so I told the artist, I said 'Hey Art: do me a clever turn at the shithouse, okay?'  And that's what came of it!"  This was Jimps' reply each time he was asked how the bathroom came to be labeled as it was.

"Our young friend," Jimps told everyone, as he indicated how his belt had almost collided with Mark's crotch, "nearly had himself a little occident!  Get it?  Occident?  East meets west - get it?  Well, you had to be there!"

"We were!" several said.  "And we loved it - loved it!"

"And this here," Jimps introduced his guest, "is Markey Malarkey.  Say a word to the people, Markey."

"Hello," Mark said.  Everyone booed and hissed.

"Wrong word," Jimps exclaimed.  "Try again."  Mark smiled.  A moment passed.

"He said try again," someone informed Mark.  Mark thought a moment: what word would these people go apeshit over? he asked himself.  Then it hit him; "Say a word" in Jimpsian meant only one thing.

"Word," Mark said to his fellow guests.  They all applauded.  Jimps informed him that he had "hit the jackpot."  Some of the ladies pouted; Jimps saw this and acted quickly to avert disaster.  "Jack and Jill pot, that is!" he said.  The ladies perked right up.  Again he turned to Mark, motioning him to the center of his parlor.

"Whoa" he said.  "Right there Markey Malarkey.  Tell me now - tell us all: have you solved the riddle?  Why I interview but don't edit?"  Mark nodded that yes, he had - or believed he had - solved it.  "Quiet everyone!" Jimps ordered.  "The oracle shall now speak.  Proceed, oh mighty Sybil."

Mark was sweating; every place his body rubbed against his clothes felt soaking wet; even his hair against his scalp seemed drenched.  He opened his mouth to speak; his first sound came out a lisp.  Everyone was enchanted. 

"So," he had meant to say.  "Stho," it came out.  He continued on.  "It's like this: you do not edit, you interview.  Why change the written word when you can monitor the spoken word?  Get directly to the root of the matter: control the source.  Everything else will follow."  He stopped here.

Harley Jimps jumped up and down in his jump suit, cheering and applauding his guest's triumph.  "Ray, ray!" he squealed.  "Give that boy a door prize!  A Kewpie Doll!  Give that boy a Kewpie Doll1"  No sooner were these words spoken than a young man came forward.  He was tall, slender, and in mannerisms extremely effeminate.  He smiled at Mark and said "Hi!" then he knelt before Mark and pursed his lips.

"Well?" Jimps asked Mark.  "He's waiting.  You won him, not me.  So - or should I say 'stho?' - unzip.  He wants the pleasure of your company.  So give it to him.  Take out your penis and put it where it'll work to everyone's best advantage.  And I mean now, markey-darkie."

Mark looked around the room then, shutting his eyes, he unzipped his trousers and took out his penis.  When he opened his eyes again, some ten minutes later, Elena was standing directly facing him.  She, too, had been invited; she had just arrived and was asked to stand so that Mark would see her first.  In her eyes was a look of tenderness which, for some reason, drove Mark into a rage.  Pulling loose from the Kewpie Doll's mouth, he struck out as hard as he could; he knocked the young man completely off balance.  A little scream emanated from the mouth which had drawn seed from Mark's body; Mark vaguely wondered if it were his sperm being attacked by stomach acid which had cried out.  Then he turned and, with his penis flopping loosely against his trousers, ran out of the parlor, through the foyer, and out the door into the night.  He ran as fast as he could and as far as he could; then, unable to continue farther, he fell onto the ground, panting and moaning as if he were being tortured.  A moment more, he heard a car driving up, then a car door open and shut.

"Home, sir?" Joseph asked, reaching down to help Mark up.

The words "Fuck you creep!" began, as if by old habit, to form at the base of Mark's tongue, but were relinquished before they reached the prominence of speech.  Instead, Mark smiled and extended his hand to the chauffer.

"Thank you," he said.  When he was situated in the rear seat, and just before Joseph started the engine, he asked if perhaps he might be driven back to Harley Jimps' to collect his own car.

"Very good sir," Joseph said.  As they drove, though the distance Mark had traversed permitted only a few minutes' ride, Mark was determined to converse with his unlikely benefactor.

"How long have you driven for the Institute?" he asked.

"Before or after?" Joseph sought clarification of the question.

"Well," Mark puzzled, "uhm - before or after what?"

"My resurrection," Joseph answered, in a tone suggesting that his words were self-explanatory.

"Forgive me, Joseph, but I still don't understand."

"I was got out of a hole and put back to work.  When I discovered what I done, I dug a hole and went in.  The great wizard had told me to take up a trade.  I took my brother along that night.  When I discovered my sin, I buried myself, but Poker visited me in the guise of a crow and told me I had not sinned and I was to go back to my trade.  When I go bald I shall die, the great wizard will come for me.  My hair, I cover the mark of my forehead with.  I am cursed, but even so I do his bidding.  Poker.  My lord and master, he who directs my every movement.  In a week from now he had told me to castrate myself.  He is the all knowing and the all seeing.  I have already cut off both thumbs as he directed.  And both great toes.  He told me the pain would purify me.  He is greater than God or Satan, Poker.  He is who they call Master.  God says of him 'Thou art God'; Satan says of him 'Thou art Satan.'  I am his servant.  I will be led to the secret place once I have torn lust from my groin.  I may not use a knife, as I did on my thumbs and toes; I must use only my hands.  So it must be.  I do not fear, for I know he would not deceive his faithful servant."

The car pulled to a halt.  "I will follow you home, as instructed," Joseph informed his passenger.  Mark got out of the car, feeling he should say something but not knowing what.  He hesitated a moment then went to his own car.  What can I say to him? he asked himself, knowing perfectly well the question was beyond answering.  Then something prompted him to go back to the limousine. 

"Joseph," Mark said awkwardly.  "Say...a word...or help me.  Please, I need his help."  

Joseph smiled at him.  It wasn't a grin, it was a smile.  And it was the most beautiful thing Mark had ever seen, a smile so beautiful it brought tears to his eyes.  If only, he thought, if only I had something that beautiful to put in my journal.  But no, nothing that beautiful should ever go before the public.  He put his mouth to the limousine window and soundlessly begged for forgiveness.

He stood a moment, almost transfixed.  Then he went to his car and drove home.

When he arrived, all the way there Joseph's headlights in his rear view mirror a perfect five hundred feet behind, and when he got out, the headlights began retreating.  Joseph drove backward out of the colony instead of turning around until, finally on the main road, the headlights became taillights then disappeared among the appurtenances of the night.

It occurred to Mark, without surprising him or puzzling him, that Joseph still had his thumbs, at least the one on his right hand; he had felt the pressure of it as Joseph helped him up.  Yet, in Joseph's mind, he had cut off both thumbs; or else he merely said so.  At this moment - at this point in time - it seemed perfectly natural to Mark that such a disparity as this should exist; it made sense to him that reality said one thing while the person through whom reality operated said another.  It almost seemed the proper order of things.

"Oh God, be there!" Mark said as he opened the front door.  There were no lights, and it was still fairly early, so his friend Larry's absence could be safely deduced - was almost assured.  Still, Mark hoped.  What he wanted to do more than anything else on earth at that moment was to go down on his knees and beg Larry's forgiveness: the crucial thing was to be on his knees.  Symbolic fellatio.  It's almost becoming a symbol, he thought to himself; then he added, bitterly, that if it were, his journal would never notice it.  Larry was not there.  Mark went to sit among his papers.

"Will he - won't he," he muttered, several times in succession.  Will he publish - or will he not.  No longer was life's crucial question "To be or not to be," but rather its parody: To be seen and heard and read or not.  One's subjective assessment of his own existence no longer counted for much; "to be" meant nowadays, of course, to be perceived.  Bishop Berkley had won out, in the long run.  The 20th century, in its wane, engaged itself in playing out Lucky's speech in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot" - in deadly earnest.  "Qua qua qua qua"" oh yes, oh God yes!  Mark threw back his head and laughed; then, trying to picture the way his gesture must necessarily be expressed literarily, he laughed all the harder, visualizing himself taking hold of his head and giving it a toss backward.

"Ah Art!" he exclaimed, "it imitates life!"  For a while he went silent, inwardly and outwardly; then he moaned "Oh Larry.  I'm going to write something here for you Larry and I'll put it under your covers, on your pillow, so if you ever return you'll find it and, I know, you'll read it.  That's the difference between us Larry: given a note from someone, I know you'd read it, I don't know that I would.  And it's so simple isn't it: you're a better man than I, because you'd read it.  No other criteria is needed.  So here it is my little, late discovery."  He wrote and, as he did, he spoke the words aloud: "It's more important to be loved, when you need love, than to be strong when you need strength.  I can be strong, but now, when I need to be loved, I can't be."  Mark took his note and placed it on Larry's pillow.  Somewhere deep in his heart he knew it would never be read.  But he would never know.

It was still fairly early, just a little past nine, but it had grown dark.  The stars seemed to be weaving among the wispiest parts of the trees; or else they were being woven into the forest's fabric, a kind of sequins, but one which sparkled only when there was no light.  Suddenly, from high above - above the forest, seemingly above the stars themselves - a powerful light descended into the thick trees and began filtering through to a clearing.  Looking up, from their three perspectives, Thad Ingon, Father Christopher and Larry took it at first for the moon; but before long they all three realized it was not.  Larry identified it first as the beacon high atop the mountain - the Institute's searchlight; then the others realized what kind of light it was, though they were less certain of its source.  Father Christopher remembered Larry's explanation of the night he discovered Denny Cloak's body; more than giving him the means to pinpoint the source of this light, Larry's tale now made his blood run cold.  He had known more than he let on; a number of elements had been brought together in this beacon of light, things which now made him fearful - for Larry and for himself.

Ever since his arrival two years ago, Father Christopher had heard strange tales of devil worship.  No one seemed to know exactly where it took place, only that it did.  These tales pleased him at first; they made him feel superior to his parishioners, as if he were the first missionary among "the primitives."  He saw himself charged with bringing them from their dark superstition into the radiant light of the almighty God, where Truth and Salvation and Faith would dispel all their fears.  In time he came to realize how greatly he had wronged them - not because he ever came to accept their stories as true, at least not until now and even now only half-heartedly, but because he realized his God had not chosen him, called him in order that he might stand above them and look down on them.  At first he believed it was his secret life, and the guilt it brought him, which had prompted his wish to feel superior to these parishioners who would, if they knew, look down on him.  When he met Denny, and fell in love, he ceased wishing to be superior.  He tried to assess the change, assuming one moment it was because love conquered all human feelings; the next moment telling himself it was because he had simply realized the nature and the error of his earlier way; then going back to saying that he no longer felt guilty about his feelings, that he felt strong enough to be their equal - none of which answers satisfied him.  It was only when they kicked him out as their pastor that he realized he had in truth never ceased feeling superior to them.  Love had simply diverted his attention: you can't do two things at once.

He thought of Denny as he hid among the trees from the light.  Denny was never really clean; he did not bathe regularly, and he hustled as many men as he could during the course of an evening, so that by the time, late, always late, when the man who loved him got to him, the odor of unwashed sex organs had mixed with that of stale spit and dried semen.  Father Christopher breathed in deeply, and, as always, with every deep breath he took, he could smell Denny's body, a slightly offensive smell, but all the more precious to him because of it.  Father Christopher could not resist the temptation that odor presented his senses.  He went down on his knees, undid his trousers, and began to masturbate, taking deep breaths, holding them, becoming more agitated, releasing each breath then hungrily taking in another.  The priest began to moan as the odor of the boy he loved began seeping finally into his groin; he could feel it deep in his testicles, a pressure building up and up, like rocks being hurled one by one into a pond, which must inevitably overflow its banks.  His moans were fast transmuting into cries of anguish, growing louder with every breath.  Suddenly he heard a chanting; far off at first but drawing nearer.  His mind was aware of it, and a thing of terror was hastily being created somewhere in his gut.  But his will refused to let him cease what he was doing.  He could not keep his voice still; it was tied to the motions his hand performed.  And his hand would not stop: it refused every demand, from every other part of him, to stop what it was doing and be afraid too.

"No!" he muttered through his cries.  "No!"

The chanting drew nearer.  Had his eyes been free, they would have seen the lights of torches drawing nearer too.  Perhaps they did see, even though they were closed.  The torches were bright, but just above the level of the bushes he was crouched behind.  The chants were in a strange tongue, or else just strange words in a known tongue.  In white cloaks the chanters, the torch bearers came.  In his black suit, Father Christopher knelt masturbating.  At last he screamed out.  He had no idea his hand could draw so great a cry from him.

The chanting ceased.  His gasps and final cries were not yet over; they were heard, as his scream had been heard.  They were upon him, surrounding him: the devil worshippers his parishioners had warned him of.  They bound his hands behind him; they held his hair.  He felt himself being raised.  Only then were his pants raised; they hurt when they rubbed against the head of his penis.  He shuddered.  His nakedness covered, he was led away.  The chanting resumed, as if nothing had caused the loss of so much as a beat, a single beat.  The long procession finished its way to a great opening in the wall of trees: the clearing in the exact center of the forest where the mountaintop beacon was directed; and from that lighted place, outward, the beacon traced a path through the forest leading this procession here, leading it out again when their business here was over.  At the far end of the clearing, opposite the point of entry, stood a marble slab, some four feet in height, five feet or a little more in length, and perhaps two feet across, shaped so as to give the impression of being an altar.  Toward it their chanting procession, every fourth or fifth person carrying a lighted torch, made its way; a solemnity marked its movement as the people passed from this introductory stage, this arrival, to one of ceremony.  They formed three concentric circles about the altar, the innermost circle slightly elongated behind the altar.

Father Christopher looked to be an organic member of this graceful ritual; his tied hands gave no indication of any syncopation.  He had his assigned place, to which he was taken without the least disturbance in the rhythm.  He was held, on either side, by a hooded figure; the hoods had been in place before his capture, but only on these two.  Clearly he had become a captive where none was expected, so whatever function the hoods of his two guardians represented had been - had been intended to before his discovery - purely ceremonial; only now did they seem to assume a more distinct significance.

There was quiet, then another, a different sort of, chant went up.  "We call upon thee, O Master," the cry had become a language known to Father Christopher.  "We call upon thee to appear, to give us guidance, to lead us, to protect us."  Three times this was chanted.  Again, silence.  Slowly, one of their number, as if he had had to first be coaxed, came forward, until he stood in the very center of the three circles, up against the lower end of the altar.

"I hear, and I obey," he replied to their chant.  Two others then came forward and stripped him of his robe.  He had on nothing underneath and he stood there, naked, with his head bowed, a massive man with massive properties.  Slowly, two others then came forward, carrying, between them, another robe, one they had taken from a golden box one had carried; this robe was a brilliant scarlet.  They put it around him and clasped it at his throat.  Only then did Cyril Czarn raise his head and address his followers; and when he spoke, it was in a deep, soothing voice.

"This was not the eve of sacrifice," he told his people.  "It is not our business to alter the ways of our eternal Master, the Lord of Light and of Darkness both.  Yet we find in our midst a disbeliever, a sinner against our lord Lucifer, an avowed enemy of all we hold dear.  I call upon our Lord and Master for guidance.  What shall we do with the infidel, O Mighty Lucifer?  Shall we sacrifice him? and will he be an acceptable sacrifice or are his ways too vile to be acceptable?  Here before us is a man who serves your eternal enemy, the One who drove you from your place of honor, the One who misunderstood you greatness as envy, who saw your love of truth as pride, and who felt threatened by your very presence.  Here before us is His priest.  Shall the blasphemy of his being sacrificed to you, O Lucifer, make up for the offense his blood will yield upon your altar?  Tell us, O Master, tell us!"

Cyril Czarn went into a kind of trance; and when he emerged from it, with a jolt as if he had been spewed from another's skin, he looked again upon his people.  "He has said 'Sacrifice the Infidel,'" was his word from Satan to his people.  Only then did the full horror of the situation reach Father Christopher.

You are to be sacrificed to Satan, his soul told him.  You, a priest of God - a sinner, but a servant of the almighty God - are to die in honor of the devil.  You are to be made an instrument of glorifying evil.  Then he thought of another sacrificial victim, and his blood ran cold.  Oh Denny, he moaned in the silence of his mind, oh Denny: what they did to you1  Turning you against God, making you in your death a servant of evil.  Denny, I have prayed for you many times since then.  If I must be made to join you, let me say one final prayer for you.  Nothing can save my soul if they do this to me.  So let me pray for yours.

Father Christopher bowed his head.  When he had finished his prayer, and just as he was raising his head, he was again seized by his guardians and was lifted onto the altar.  His hands were untied but were held fast by the two giants with hoods over their heads.  Two others, but smaller and without hoods, came and held his legs still.  His thought was: I must somehow escape.  Unworthy as I am, I cannot allow my soul to be damned.  If I die fighting them, then at least I will not have died in sacrifice.  But I must pray or else even then my soul may be lost - I must pray to God for forgiveness!  Yet if I do, I cannot escape.  I cannot pray and fight at the same time!  If I don't pray and die, I'm lost; and if I do pray, and in doing so am sacrificed, I'm surely lost.  Oh God! he cried inwardly, why have you sentenced me to this dilemma?  Have my sins so offended you?  Are they sins?  Were they always sins?  Oh God, give me a sign.  Show me where you are - show me where you are!

God's priest began to fight his way free.  He tried to rise up, but was kept from it; he tried to kick but was held back; he tried to hit but could not.  A slow, infinitely sure patience held him securely.  He could not get loose.  Then pray! he told himself, and his body went limp.  No! he then told himself: fight!  And his body stiffened, but equally without success.

Another low chant had begun.  Refinement and grace characterized this ceremony.  There were no sensual, jerky motions, no gyrations, no loud cries, nothing leading to a feverish orgiastic pitch.  All was subdued, prudish, tasteful.  A dagger was brought forward on a golden pillow and offered to their leader.  He bowed to them and took it up, lifted it high about him to where it sparkled in the light from above, a simple subdued ceremonial weapon, not gaudy, not jewel encrusted, a silver handle its only distinction or sign of opulent display.

Cyril Czarn called upon Satan to bear witness to this sacrifice, to sanctify it with his presence among these his followers, and to accept their offering.  Still in prayer, Czarn moved around to the opposite end of the altar, to stand now at the head of his victim.  Another worshipper came forward to loosen Father Christopher's collar and unbutton his shirt.  As this was done, a small silver cross, which lay against the priest's throat, was revealed.  It stood out in the light of the beacon, it shone like a cross of flame; all could see it.

Now! thought Father Christopher.  Now!  You are defeated!  God has turned you away.  His holy symbol cannot be breached.  Now -  But the holy symbol proved no deterrence to these devil worshippers.  Their chant never missed a single beat.  The one who had unwittingly revealed the cross, and upon whom it blazed first and brightest, went about his busywork, preparing the chest of the sacrificial victim; then he walked back to his place, as unaffected as the others.

"Why have you abandoned me?" Father Christopher mumbled in a pitiful voice.  Cyril Czarn, leader of the devil cult, poised with his knife ready to descend into his victim's heart, finishing his prayers, overheard the poor priest and, knowing immediately what had prompted him to cry when he had kept his silence up to now, whispered to him on the sly.

"We aren't vampires," Cyril Czarn informed his victim.  This simple aside made Father Christopher burst out in wild, uncontrollable laughter, which, in turn, threw his captors off guard momentarily.  Sensing their lessened pressure on his arms and legs, but unable to stop laughing and concentrate on escaping, for a split-second Father Christopher imagined it was hopeless to try and get away.  I shall fall down laughing, he reasoned.  Then reason went as dead as a goat, and he rolled first to one side then to the other so rapidly that he was free.  He rolled off the altar entirely and, barely touching the ground, arose and made a mad dash for the woods behind and nearest the altar.  The worshippers stopped chanting and started after him but both they and he were halted in their tracks by a cry from the other end of the clearing.

"Father Christopher!" a voice full of surprise cried out.  The priest turned and, seeing who it was, motioned him away.

"Go!" the priest cried.  "Go!"  By now the worshippers had re-grouped and, splitting up, half again pursued Father Christopher, the other half took off after Larry, who had happened upon the clearing just at the moment when the priest escaped.  At the risk of being caught again, Father Christopher stayed long enough to be assured that Larry had disappeared into the woods.  Their hands were upon him, they had gotten so close, before he again took off running.  This time they could not get a firm enough grip to hold him.  He was free.  And since, save for the lighted path leading to the altar, they knew no more of these woods than he did, he was able to elude them; while, at the other end, by staying well clear of the beacon, Larry too was able to keep from being caught.

The worshippers' efforts to find the two men covered perhaps half a dozen turns around the forest, the group dispatched after Larry covering the greatest distance, the group pursuing Father Christopher restricted by the absence of any light to only the very edge of the forest.  Soon both groups seemed to have a sense of giving up the pursuit; they both returned to the clearing, within moments of each other, where their leader awaited them.  The members of each group fell down upon their knees and begged forgiveness. 

"O Master," they more or less chanted in unison, "we have failed.  Forgive us."  Cyril Czarn looked at them all before replying.

"Do let's not be melodramatic," he said in a calm voice.  With this instruction, the worshippers arose and gathered once more at some semblance of ceremony.  "We are in no jeopardy," Czarn informed his followers.  "I recognized the priest's accomplice, and we have nothing to fear from either.  Their reputations are such that nothing they say need pose a threat.  They are renegades, fugitives from the law - if not in fact, in reality just the same.  The right words, rightly placed - and so forth.  Both men are known homosexuals.  Should they prove a problem, they can be dealt with, and no one need suspect anything beyond their obscene proclivities.  We will not be dissuaded by such as these.  Let us leave now, let us return to the world we come from.  In the name of our Master let us take counsel in patience.  We will prevail.  We will prevail."

The worshippers took up the cry, or what sounded like it, only in some other tongue, the pacing of syllables being chanted carrying forward their leader's great message to the world.  In single file, as they had come to this clearing, they left, with their torches well burned, their robes a little soiled, but their chant intact.  Through the trees the light filtered just enough to guide their way; here and there the thickness of overhead limbs broke continuity, but even these perilous darknesses were easily breached: always, up ahead, never more than twenty feet, the light again broke through to reach the ground and reestablish the path.  And in other places, where the leaves formed such latticework above as to permit only a mottled path underfoot, what light descended cast eerie forms upon the procession, splattering their robes with zigzags of shadow.  And where the light came full force through an abridged overhang to stand like variously shaped pillars, an intensity throwing the glare from the torches into a confusion which for a split-second made them seem to have been extinguished, the worshippers passing immediately through those rays became ghostlike, as if reflections of one another.  Till, at last, passing not fifty feet beyond a silent observer, they worked their way out of the forest and, disrobing and extinguishing their torches, got into their cars and drove away.

It occurred to Thad Ingon to remain hidden, a kind of unwritten law that one keep out of a procession's way till it had passed.  Aesthetically it was the correct thing to do even if it had not been from some, or from all, other perspectives.  Thad had not found Larry; it had been some two, perhaps three, hours since he entered this forest.  Larry's conversation, the mention of the dead boy in the clearing, the speculation about devil worship: all came together to reinforce the imperative to stay hidden.  Now it was safe to come out from behind the bushes.  Until he did come out, Thad was unaware that he was trembling.  Must be more scared than I thought, he told himself; then he realized it was not his own well-being his muscles were reacting to.

"Oh my God," he moaned.  "Oh my God."  He said no more, and his thoughts ceased forming themselves into words and phrases to assume a more distinctly visual aspect.  He pictured Larry; he pictured, as best he could without having seen it, the marble slab; and he saw Larry's body lying on it, the heart torn out.  Then, still unable or perhaps unwilling to think in terms of speech, he saw himself, first running blindly then, on all fours, sniffing the ground like a bloodhound to search out his friend.  This image made him laugh out loud; and when he started off he was almost tempted to crouch down and sniff.  But he neither crawled nor ran; he began walking, slowly enough to feel as if he were following some sort of trail left by the retreating procession.  The overhead light had not yet gone out; but, not knowing it cut a path through the woods which if he followed religiously would take him to the slab, he ascribed its closeness to the apparent trail the procession had taken as a coincidence.  He studied the terrain as he went, watching for broken limbs, disturbed leaves, trampled underbrush.

He was well on his way when the light went out.  He noticed its having gone out, and regretted the loss because it had aided his efforts; but as he had not relied on it in a primary way, the loss did not seriously hamper his progress.  Tiny, darkened clues barely visible in the natural light of a half moon, directly overhead, led him onward, slowly but surely, if painstakingly.  There is no beacon in the real world, only the flimsiest markings of a trail.

It wasn't until Thad came face to face with Larry that he was in any way aware of another human presence, so caught up was he in studying the tiny bends in the branches, the delicate scars on half hidden leaves, the bruises a multitude of humanity had left on nature.  This was for Thad more than a search; this was the first time anyone had ever seen these markings, he felt almost certain of that.  He was equally sure that if he had sufficient light he could detect some form of powder burns on these trees, or their leaves.  Man, he thought, as always, goes among the living to do his evil; and, as always, his passing is recorded around the edges.

The sudden meeting of the two men startled neither of them very much.  Larry, because he had heard Thad moving among the foliage and had managed to get a look at who it was, did not have to be startled.  Thad, because he was so engrossed in his search, had no spare energy to record the meeting quickly enough to be startled, and by the time he did record it he realized who it was he had met.

"What are you doing here?" asked Larry.

"Looking for you," Thad replied.

"Why here?"

"I just assumed," Thad explained.  "Larry, a while ago, some people passed where I was.  They had on robes and carried torches."  This statement was made in a questioning tone, as if Larry was being asked for some explanation:: was it them? Thad seemed to be asking.

Larry nodded yes.  "Thank God they didn't see you," he said.  Larry paused a moment, as if paying lip-service to syntax and the like, before saying, "The devil cult" - as if, knowing the phrase to be out of context, and, being a writer, he could not bring himself to neglect protocol.  Even in a crisis, the true writer avoids infelicity.  Again he paused, making paragraphs out of his voice.  "Father Christopher is somewhere in these woods," he informed Thad.  "They had him, but he got away."

"They had him?" asked Thad.

"On the slab," Larry explained.  "They were going to sacrifice him.  I came upon them, Thad.  I saw what they were getting ready to do.  At first I was too scared to move.  Then he started laughing, I don't know why, and I got the courage to come forward.  But before I had gotten far, he was free.  I don't know if my being there had a part in it or not.  Thad, we have to find him.  They'll be after him.  Maybe me too; I don't know if they saw me clearly enough.  But they'll be after him.'

"Now I know," Thad whispered, a weariness in his voice which contradicted the great energy he had just put into searching for clues to where the procession had originated; he seemed as if he barely had the strength to stand.  "The moment I saw them I knew, even more than I already knew, how I had wronged you and that priest.  That's why I was so frantic, I guess, going among the leaves looking for signs when, now that I see it for what it was, I could just have followed that beacon.  That was their trail, wasn't it?  You see, Larry, I called the police and told them of you and Father Christopher.  I thought it was something that had to be done and it mattered more than a confidence.  And being a literary man I should have remembered something, a statement E. M. Forrester once made: 'If you must choose between betraying a friend or betraying your country, betray your country.'  I chose otherwise.  I regret that choice."

"Thad: it doesn't matter,' said Larry.

"Perhaps the consequences don't," Thad replied.  He noticed a look of regret on Larry's face.  "I see that they do though," he half questioned.

"I thought Mark had told them - that he had overheard us.  And told them."

"Larry: go to him.  Please.  Mark needs you.  I stole your poem.  Mark had looked for it.  When I handed it to him, he broke down and cried on my shoulder.  Something has cut him in half.  Larry, only you can put him back together again.  Please: go to him."

Larry made no reply; and Thad said nothing further.  He thought it beyond replying to: Larry's assumption of being overheard told how complete the betrayal had been, for Larry had not considered that Thad might have told even Mark.  When in fact he told the entire community.  No, he thought, I will ask no forgiveness for this.  He would forgive me; he would forgive me - forgive anyone almost anything.  If you don't want forgiveness, don't ask for it; don't rely on it not being given.  Seize the moment.

What Thad did say, moving away now from personal considerations, drew the conversation back to the priest.  Did Larry know, or have any idea, where Father Christopher was?  Larry said no.

"I don't know even if this incident affects what he said earlier, when we reached this place," Larry said.  "He told me he must be alone.  I don't know if it was to protect me, or because he wanted to be by himself, or what.  So I don't know what to do now."

"You said we had to find him," Thad reminded him.

"I know.  I guess when I said it, I was hoping you'd insist.  Now I'm back to not knowing.  Anyway, what could we do?  They outnumber us - and not just mathematically.  He's a suspected murderer; he and I both are known homosexuals -"

"And I'm a discredited assistant editor!" Thad pointed out.

"So if we try and go up against whoever these people are -"

"And judging from their cars," Thad said, "they are not without influence, some of them at least."

"Who's going to take our side?" Larry completed his argument.  Something just then, some idea, struck Larry with its full force.  "My God," he half moaned, "they're free to do what they want.  There's nothing in the world to stop them.  There's no one we can turn to.  It's like some marauding band come assure on a tiny island - Vikings or the Mafia or something; and there's no force to repel them.  Nor can they be reasoned with, because people only listen to reason if they know you'll destroy them otherwise.  I know reason has already been discredited - it doesn't take me to do it.  But I never thought of it before: reason only works when you're stronger; people don't really respond to your reasoning, they're just pretending to, so they can save face.  Oh, who cares.  It's such an old story, why drag it out again?  The events aren't important; they can be farcical or serious or both together: it makes no difference.  If you survive it's only because someone hasn't gotten around to smashing your skull; and that in turn is because they didn't see you - call that melodrama - or because they dropped their club - call that tragedy - or because in their haste they grabbed up the club soda - call that comedy - or because their club's too heavy to lift - call that irony.  Thad: you weren't seen.  Remember that: you weren't seen."

"Not from the outside," Thad replied.  "Larry," he asked, "is this where I say 'but I'll know' and you knock me unconscious and walk off saying 'I won't let him get caught up in this?'  Or will I convince you it is my fight - that if I stand by while they do it to you today, they'll do it to me tomorrow/  Oh, Larry, just by chance, do you think we can avoid turning this crisis into a cliché?  And how would we do that?  I mean, it's all well and good to save the priest from being sacrificed on the altar of Satan, and helping whisk you out of harm's way before it's too late - but, Larry, what are these compared to that greatest of all human endeavors, that gravest responsibility placed upon us, especially upon us literary souls: the immense task of avoiding cliché, of sidestepping the pitfalls of banality, of escaping the seemingly inescapable bind of ending our story in triteness?  What do we do, Larry, what do we do?"

They began walking.  Neither of them said anything, no suggestion was made that they set down speech and take up movement; they just started walking, first Larry then Thad a few steps back, as if to make it appear not to be following.  Their movement had to be random, there was no fit trail to follow, and neither had any idea where Father Christopher had gone, or could go.                            

A thought came to Larry: if I find him, I can dress in his clothes, he can get away.  I can save his life.  And, as if existence was not content to make a fool of one person, something prompted an almost identical thought in Thad Ingon: I can become Larry, pretend to be, so that if they did see him they'll take me for him at first, just long enough for him to get away.  Two fine minds, of two fine men, both reduced in the dark, as the two men trudged aimlessly through the woods, to near idiocy.  As if, even in this the age of anonymity, one could assume another's identity - or, perhaps more to the point, because it was the age of anonymity, no one had the power of assuming someone else's identity.  You cannot be what does not exit. 

The night moved on; and, like two newly pressed ghouls, Larry and Thad made tracks, each hungry for another person's identity.  The night of the sacrificial beast, this tale of the undead.  An eerie shape finally rose up before them, and they knew they had come too far, they were not in a clearly but had gone to the edge of the forest and were now out of it.  Professor Norris's space ship, its prototype, the test model, ten feet high and with a radius of five feet, stood straight ahead.  It looked exactly like some invading craft that had just landed.  "UFO!" one should run to town screaming; "UFO1  The Martians have landed!  All is lost!  All is lost!"  Any minute now the door would open and out would step -

The door did open.  Not a Martian though, or a little green man, or a hideous monster stepped out, but Father Christopher, who had taken up temporary residence.  The monster was already out long before the door opened.  It stood in wait in the space between the ship and the woods.  Between the man cautiously emerging from the rocket and the two men emerging by accident from the forest.  The history of man lurked between these friendly beings; all that had gone into making them fugitives, outcasts and exiles made faces at them, and for a moment froze their faces in a bloodless stare as, at first, they saw the enemy come to destroy them, and they felt doom surrounding them, reaching out to them.

They started to run, each in an opposite direction from the other, the priest to escape the devil's henchmen who had found him, the poet to escape the Martian his first impulse had conjured, the editor because he did not belong here any longer.  Induced in three friendly souls, an instantaneous fear of one another.  None of the three got far before he realized what had actually happened; at almost the same instant they ceased running and returned to where they were.  An awkward moment followed, the silence too painful for any of them to breach.  A comical, even farcical, encounter in the dead of night; and in that instant all pretence at humanity had vanished.  Without recognition - without that precious identity each ought so carelessly to take from the others awhile ago - three men encountering one another encountered one another as enemies, to be feared, to be escaped from, to be destroyed.  Civilization had ended at two fourteen AM on a Thursday in September.  And that was that.

Then, at two nineteen, Father Christopher, first to stir, pointed up at Norris' rocket ship and, making an awkward kind of joke, muttered something about "My hideout."  Larry and Thad both chuckled, exactly two chuckles apiece.  On of them made some sound that might have been the word "Oh," or it might have been a belch.  Then one of them echoed the priest's statement: "Your hideout?" asked as something of an interrogative.

"My hideout," the priest repeated, in the tone of saying it for the first time.

"You don't know me, but I'm a defunct editor," Thad Ingon chose to say, but there was some confusion as to whom he was speaking.  Father Christopher said nothing but Larry mumbled a word like "Oh."

"I'm a priest," said Father Christopher, then he added "defrocked."  Here too there was confusion, this time of a purely semantic nature.

"Defacto?" Thad asked, trying to understand what a defacto priest might be.

"Debauched, I mean," the priest corrected both now erroneous terms.

"Thad, this is Father Christopher; Father Christopher, Thad Ingon," Larry finally managed to make an introduction.  They each said "How do you do?"  At last the proper relationships had been reestablished, the three identities had once again assumed points of connection with each other.  Civilization began anew at two twenty-five.  No longer three men, you had three identities.  It was safe now; you could come out of hiding.

"Are you alright, Larry?" Father Christopher asked.

"Yes, are you?" Larry replied.  There: they were already inquiring after one another's welfare; civilization had come a long way in a very short time.  "What'll you do now?" Larry asked.  "You can't stay here, they'll come for you.  You'll have to get away."

Father Christopher shook his head.  "I can't leave town - remember?  I'm under suspicion," he said.

"You have to leave," Larry insisted.

"No, I can't.  Larry: a priest is more than a servant of God.  He's also a servant of society - rightly or wrongly so.  It's his traditional role.  He cannot abandon the civilized order.  If the ship of state were to go down, Larry, you might well see the politicians take to the lifeboats - though I can't imagine what kind of lifeboats there could possibly be; but, rest assured, for all our faults, Larry, you will not see the priests get off.  Civilization may not need us, but we need it; we cannot serve God in a vacuum.  We must choose to die through corrupt rules than live without rules."

Thad Ingon had separated himself from the others when mention was made of Father Christopher being under suspicion; he felt he had no right to remain a part of this society of outcasts.  Vague thoughts of Judas Iscariot and of death by hanging free floated among other, more practical thoughts.  Works of art, too, were there, abstracted into pieces of silver.  Judas despaired when he could easily have been forgiven, as Peter had been forgiven his transgressions; but Judas was a man too proud, too self-possessed to forgive himself, where Peter possessed the knack for survival.  Thad Ingon had not gotten so far that he could no longer hear Father Christopher.  The sermon on the social order, he thought, and with the contempt that thought inspired, he ceased his role as Judas.

"Bullshit!" he cried out loudly enough to be heard.  "We owe nothing to any sort of rules!"

"I didn't say everyone," Father Christopher pointed out, "I just said priests.  Nor did I mean to imply our duty was to rules.  Our duty is to obedience.  The great writer George Eliot - no great believer in the Almighty - gave us our true motto: Duty Is Absolute.  I'm tempted to say we can fail God sooner than we can fail duty; but I won't say it."

"Thad, what's wrong?" Larry asked as soon as the priest ceased speaking.  "I've never heard you talk like that.  What's wrong?"

"It's not important, "Thad told him.  "Maybe it's just my rules were corrupt to start with.  I fell in love with a new client.  Salantha Karr.  I suppose now no one will ever hear her name.  I believed certain things had to be done to insure her her place.  They didn't.  Now, I guess, when I hear anyone speak of rules it triggers an outburst.  Never mind though.  It's not important."  Thad paused a moment, then, turning to the priest, he asked "What are you going to do, Father?"

Then, as if out of nowhere, Thad burst forth with what was actually wrong.  "It's because of me you're here, hiding in a piece of metal like a fucking tin man!  I did this to you.  I betrayed you and Larry both.  Like Judas.  For God sake hate me - hate me God damn you!"

Father Christopher hung his head.  Tears were in his eyes.  "I can't," he said.  "As much as it would help heal you, I can't.  As a fucking priest I can't hate you.  Can't you see that?  Can't everybody see that?"

"Oh God," Thad moaned.  "Look what I've done.  You already have the entire weight of the world on your shoulders, and I've added a great stone slab to your burden.  Oh God, forgive me - not for betraying you, but for throwing salt on your wound."

"You cannot not be forgiven," Father Christopher looked up into Thad Ingon's eyes and said.  Then he lowered his eyes again and added "For everything you ever did."

A moment passed.  Father Christopher having returned from his earlier flight to his original place beside Professor Norris's rocket ship, he reached up and patted it.  "This is my new home," he said.  "I'm told it belongs to Professor Norris, that some day he intends to build a real one and shoot all the animals off into outer space.  Maybe he'll offer me a place, as their caretaker.  Who knows, maybe by then I'll accept it.  For now, this is my hideout.  It's even got a lock - on the outside though.  But it's the thought that counts.  Don't think though, either of you, that I'm taking this lightly.  I'm not.  There are no words to express the loss of my priestly duty to God.  I will never say mass again.  It's worse than losing someone who's your whole life; it's like not losing that precious being but simply not being able to have them either.  When your wife, or husband, or lover says 'Let's just be friends from here on out,' and you're sentenced by your very love, which cannot cease as long as that person lives and remains nearby, to an existence which can only be characterized as a living death - that's how it feels knowing I will never say mass again.  If the church could be destroyed and there could be no more mass, I would be far happier.  But this... The words are still on my lips, the feel of the host in my fingers... yet all I can do is listen while others speak those words, watch as others raise the host.  I have never known envy before; but I know now there is no more excruciating emotion than that.  If this torment is the measure of my sin, then I can only pray God forgives me soon, and takes me away from this misery.  If I had it in me to hate God, I would gladly do that in exchange for envying His priests.  So you see, my friends - I started to be a priest and say 'my children' - this metal box is a fitting place for me to end my days.  Being locked inside this comes nearest to correlating with my inner state.  This," he repeated, patting the side again, "is my home.  I cannot invite everyone in.  I regret the discourtesy."

Thad and Larry were reluctant to leave.  They were like someone in love, who tries to read even into the word "Goodbye" a hope of reconciliation; and since Father Christopher had given out so many words, there almost did seem a chance to find in there, someplace, an invitation to remain.  They seemed to be studying his words, in the manner of preparing an exegesis, as if speculating along critical lines.  Never again saying mass, for instance, could be reminding his visitors of the natural community of men, thereby implying he wishes them to stay.  Or his prayer that God take away his misery, could be reminding them that misery loves company.  And so on.

In a sense, Father Christopher seemed aware that this type of hopeless endeavor was transpiring; he was reluctant to put an end to it.  This may well be, he thought, the last genuine human contact I ever experience; I should not be in too much of a hurry to discourage it.  But yet....  Father Christopher smiled.  The two most powerful words in our vocabulary: but yet.  It isn't that I no longer need companionship; I do.  It's just that I don't want it.  The thought of not having it hurts more than the prospect of having more of it than I need.  Nor is it that nobody can replace what, and who, I've lost; they could  Being a man could in time replace being a priest.  But I choose - I choose - not to let it.  Out of self-pity, out of stubbornness, out of pettiness, out of self-loathing, out of sinful pride, out of love for God, out of hatred for God: call it whatever you wish, it's still my choice, still mine to choose.

Nothing more could be made of this moment.  It had been stretched to its limits, and now the inevitable rebound, the impelling force proportionate to the energy locked up in the pull.  Thad and Larry had to leave, and to go far, and to go quickly.  They had to, and if the urgency of their departure had been able to be given a physical correlative, Father Christopher would have seen them go spinning and reeling like two quarters stood on end and whirled.  Presumably this would have been called a burlesque. 

Farewells were said, there were thoughts inside the three minds of never seeing one another again; this far into the 20th century, though, one simply could not take the thought of never again seeing another person very seriously, no matter how important that person was.  Something terrible had happened somewhere between 1950 and 1970: people had unanimously voted to become interchangeable.  Always, people's souls were what was thought to circumscribe their uniqueness, so that when mankind ceased believing in souls it ceased being able to distinguish one person from another; and yet it was always their bodies which provided their individual identities.  Souls are stamped out of non-matter; all non-matter is undifferentiated, pretty much alike.  The set of a soul is the set of all souls; but the special flex of a muscle, or the twitch of an eyelid, or the rumbling of a belly at the importune moment - these no one else could successfully mimic.  When Joe Blow is no longer able to move his arm that special way Joe Blow has, Jane Doe can range the earth over but will never see that moment again.  No one ever told her that though; consequently she will imagine she's seen it in the very next person she comes to.

They were gone; and the priest returned to his rocket ship at the edge of the forest.  They passed Professor Norris's laboratory; he was burning the midnight oil.  Larry would have gone in to speak, but he was afraid he might slip and mention Father Christopher; this would only result in the priest having to abandon his shelter.

"Larry, where will you go now?" Thad asked.

"I don't know," said Larry.  "Maybe back home," he said after a moment's reflection.  "I don't know though.  Where will you go?"

"I don't know either," Thad replied.  Then he smiled.  "At least, we can pride ourselves on being men of our time," he noted.  "Not that either of us is rootless, but that having a place to go doesn't mean anything.  All through history, man has believed if he had a place to go, a place he belonged, he'd be safe.  At last we know: there is no safety."

"'And what's in the bag?'" Larry quoted.  "'Sand,'" Thad replied.  Finally the two men split company, Larry going home, Thad to some out of the way place to hang himself.

The house was empty; there were no lights.  Momentarily, the immensity of the void made itself known.  There were no lights anywhere; every house was empty.  The road was always without light; the gates had neither a protective nor a concealing identity, they were just there, encumbrances to mess with before going in, they could keep no one out who really wished to get in, no one in who had to get out.  The place was deserted.  Anyone who had not just come from the darkness of the forest could have seen it right off.  It was only when Larry realized there was nothing - no brightness - for his eyes to adjust to, that no tiny stab of pain signaled the realignment of rods and cones to iris and lens that the emptiness became real.

He stood inside the front gate staring down the driveway toward the houses of the art colony; exactly the kind of thought one might expect played along the fringes of his consciousness: was it always like this? did I just imagine the lights, the people, the presence, the life? - that peculiar sensation of everyone having gone because of something, some kind of warning they had received but you had not, and now you wondered what you could do.  In the center of these imaginings was one clear point of real thought, born of one painfully obvious feeling.

"I wanted to tell Mark I loved him," said Larry.  "They don't let you though.  They don't let you."  Maybe later, he half reasoned.  And if he reasoned halfway that he could express his love to Mark sometime in the future, it was a quarter way that he reasoned nothing could stop him, and an eighth that it would definitely happen; and by the time he saw it already past him, reason had been so dissected as to need a telescope to make out its pattern.  Larry was not optimistic; he began to cry.  He thought he heard a sound, as of a car pulling up out front and stopping.

The door slammed.  The car had pulled up and stopped.  The chauffer got out.  "I am the driver," he had told his superiors.  I need no help - I can do it alone - was implied.  No one contradicted him; evident in their eyes though was the question "Can you do it alone?"  Joseph nodded and was gone, whispering "Poker decides."  Several times he whispered this.  In the limousine, on his way to the artist colony, he occupied himself in mumbling prayers to this awesome supra-deity named Poker.  Every now and again a bird, or perhaps a bat, would fly past his car; he would slow up, but his prayers would intensify.

"Green is my worship," Joseph prayed.  "Feathers, my sacraments.  In a golden cage sits my lord's soul.  Holy commands disguised as dung, I will read.  Master of all, I do thy Will.  I have ended my loins.  I have neither thumbs nor fingers nor toes.  My ears soon will I tear away.  I will sit and pray.  On a taut wire chanting will I do Thee homage.  Poker is my Lord and Master.  To Him I pray, for Him I live, that He may be honored above all others will I become in flesh alike to his image.  Green is my worship.  Feathers, my sacraments."

Joseph loved the dead of night as he loved no other time.  "I will end my eyes," he vowed, "that I might be immortal.  One is already gone, plucked out by the golden beaked green plume.  I will soon have a match."  Joseph was untroubled by case or number or any other form of agreement; praying transcended all syntax.  In the black platelets, pointed out and named by a bird dropping, night stored itself until a time for its ascendancy appeared.  The sacred plasma; in it, if one knew how to look, was the womb of the almighty being who God and Satan both worshipped when they needed or were called upon to worship, when they were weary of being supreme, of being good, of being evil, when they wished only to cower in the safety of the great wings.  It was then the name of Poker was written by a careful ordering of the black platelets, which only the blinded could read.  God was mute; Satan was mute.  Both literate.  Both submitted to Poker when they could endure being perfect and imperfect no longer.

There was only one light at the artist colony; it came from the house of Mark and Larry.  Joseph maneuvered his car toward it.  "I am to bring them back, all of them I find.  All that I find I will return with, be it one or be it a thousand.  Though without hands or feet I will be sorely taxed to do my duty.  I pray, Poker, for your help; I cannot do it alone.

The car stopped, the engine stopped, the car door first opened then shut, footsteps made their way almost in silence to the front door.  There was a knock.  Larry opened the door.  A hand reached out to take his.  Another hand reached out.  Larry was being led away by a force he could not withstand.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked, frightened because he knew the answer.

"You must come," was all Joseph said.  Larry was pushed into the car.  At each step of the way, he prepared himself to jump out.  He was seated next to Joseph in the front.  While he thought, while he waited for the car to slow enough to permit him his plan, he felt himself suddenly rising.  The car was ascending.  At the summit he could see lights, spires of a sort, slender, with what looked beneath the moon to be smoke coming out, and the half silhouetted shape of a great fortress.  A citadel, on a mountaintop.  The car had never slowed, and when it did, it was too late for escape.  The moment Joseph stopped the car, he grabbed Larry by the hand and pulled him out; he led him inside the Institute.  Larry was welcomed, shown to his quarters, made to feel at home.  He was told he would be summoned shortly, as soon as everything was set up.  The door to his room was locked.  Very soon everything would be ready for him.

"He was alone," Joseph told his superiors and walked out.  The superiors consulted; they could not understand how, out of a colony of almost thirty, only one could be found, but they did not question Joseph - they knew him too well.  If he said no one else was there but this boy he brought, then no one else was there.  It made them shudder to think something so irrational, so unpredictable, could happen; but they dared not doubt it: someone had seen it with his own two eyes, it had to be accepted, or else life had no meaning.  For a moment the seven superiors, face to face with an irrational universe, stared at one another in horror.  There must be an explanation for their disappearance, they all seemed to be trying to reassure each other, and, through each other's reassurance, themselves also.  Soon they managed to forget the enigma; scientific curiosity had overtaken them, they were engaged in discussing the protocols of the experiment they would shortly perform.  If we're careful, they reasoned, we can make do with one test subject.  We are after all men of science, and where there's a will there's a way, and the presence of toxins in one tissue specimen confirms our hypothesis as surely as if we had a hundred specimens.  Now they all smiled and were their old selves again.  Reason, as always, had saved the day.

Not that reason was ever seriously in question; nor that there was ever any real need to doubt that this was a rational universe.  The enigma - the mysterious disappearance of an entire colony - happily coincided with the scientific method.  There never was a mystery.  The people left because they were asked to leave, told to leave, warned that they had better leave.  Nothing irrational had driven them off, no monster from the deep, no alien beings, no horrible plague.  They had not vanished.  And while they were scared off, nothing illogical had created the scare.  They were men and women of the 20th century, they did not run from ghosts or goblins; they ran from poisonous wastes, from pollution, from fear of contamination.  The witches, the storytellers, the priests had all given way to statisticians, to corporate executives, to scientists; the imagination to the meters and gauges of exact measurement.  Demons and boogie men and harpies manufactured from mankind's ignorance of the workings of nature had given way to toxins and corrosives and to the explosions made possible because man had finally learned to understand nature. 

The artist colony, sitting astride a chemical dump, was a place off death, of disease and pestilence, but of inorganic death.  You didn't die in a day here, but in a lifetime.  You didn't all drop together, but singly, over a period extended enough to conceal the connection, to obscure the link, to obliterate the cause, to hide and thereby exonerate the source of death.  You were not in the presence of a black plague, but only of a chemical pollution.  You could always run away to higher ground, death would not follow; you'd be safe.

The builder - the man who had sold the artists this piece of ground, who had made a small fortune off this earth, who had chided the buyers for their carelessness in signing a contract which denied them mineral, oil, timber and topsoil rights - the builder had warned them to get out of this place or else they were doomed.  He had known that the place was an abandoned landfill, and that chemicals had been allowed to be dumped here; but he had assumed it to be safe for habitation, as he was assured it was.  Only within the past month had he discovered otherwise; only then was the highly concentrated level of toxins made public, and only by chance.  A memo had been found; it suggested the extent of the contamination.  Simultaneously, it became known around town - whispered, rumored, the subject of bedroom gossip - that a stray dog which had been kept by one of the artists had been tested and found to contain an excessive concentration of certain toxins.  These toxins were thought to be highly dangerous, potent carcinogens; further tests were being suggested.  It was believed that the Czarn Institute of Scientific Research had already begun plans for such additional testing; and it was rumored that the test subjects had already been selected.  People living for nearly two years on a highly contaminated site - people almost certain to have picked up enormous traces of toxins, shiftless, aimless people, without roots, almost useless to society: in whispers these people, their doom already virtually sealed, were said to have been chosen.  No one could say where these people came from, how they got atop the dump, or how they remained undetected by the artists.  But all mankind would be enriched by their sacrifice; of that there was no doubt.  They were truly to be honored.  

The builder was being investigated to determine if he shared any complicity for not apprising the artists of the potential dangers.

"Don't wait till tomorrow, don't wait an hour, don't take the time to gather up your belongings, don't take anything, not even what you can carry: go!  And go now!  Don't wait even five minutes - go, and go now!  Nothing you have is of any further value.  Your every possession is a poison: take it with you, it'll destroy you.  You must renounce everything you own.  There is nothing here which is not contaminated - even the clothes on your back!  Take nothing.  Here: I have brought clothing adequate to cover everyone here.  Take yours off, put these on - then in the name of God go!  Go from this place, and don't so much as look back.  Just go!  Go now!  Go!"

The builder handed the clothes round.  Everyone stripped, set his or her garments aside, put on the new clothes, and left.  In less than half an hour the colony was deserted.  On foot they all left, all going as in a procession toward the lights of the city, where they hoped they could blend in, start again, reconstruct their lives.  No one took anything; no one went in any other direction.  Except for one artist.

Mark looked like a clown, like a stock vaudeville figure.  Everyone laughed; he laughed.  It was a free for all.  No one had on his own clothes, they each looked like somebody's poor relation in hand-me-downs, mostly ill-fitting, some too small, most too big.  And everyone laughed at one another, pointed and laughed.  Mark laughed with the others, he at them and at himself, they at him, at one another and at themselves, a free for all.  Mark's clothes were too big, the pants were baggy, the shirt hung over his belt - he needed a belt to keep his pants up.  Everyone looked when Mark stripped to put on his new clothes; everyone laughed when the new clothes were on.  No one else looked so beautiful naked, or so funny dressed.  Jokes were made about having a "load" in the seat of their pants. 

Mark joked and laughed too.  And inwardly he cursed.  He cursed God, he cursed man, he cursed the earth, he cursed the clothes, and he cursed himself.  And when the others had gone, and he with them, he hung back; and in the dark he slipped away from them.  He headed back home.  He kept the lights off so as not to attract attention; he knew where to go, where to look.  He collected his papers, his proofs, his master copy of the first edition of his literary journal.  He tied them in a bundle and, just to be sure, he stuffed them into the seat of his pants.  Then he left.

"I still have this," he told himself.  "I still have my future."  The words the builder had used - the words of doom - were only in the vaguest sense true, he reasoned.  So what if they're contaminated? he asked.  Isn't everything?  Aren't they all?  Aren't I?  This last speculation he repeated aloud.

"Aren't I?" he asked, then asked it again, and again, until finally the immensity of this proposition had somehow engulfed every other facet of his existence, had become the condition of his life, and its only condition.

He began to run.  He had instinctively headed in the direction the others had taken, toward  the city.  Suddenly something fell from one of his pants legs.  He had dropped his load of papers; his future lay at his heels.  He stopped and bent down to pick the bundle up.  Fumbling to get it back inside his pants, he tore its binding; the papers all spilled.  He almost screamed, but he managed to muffle it in time.  He stooped again to gather them all up.  It was dark, except for the moon, whose light he blocked in stooping over the papers.  He lost his balance and fell, but was unhurt.  At last he had gathered what he believed was the entire first edition and bound them up again.  But he had become disoriented, he forgot where he was headed or why; so when he started out again it was in the wrong direction, opposite where the others were going.  The words which had startled him previously crept back to keep time with him.  All was contaminated, his papers, his clothes, himself.  Wasn't he?  Wasn't he?  Wasn't he?

Again he began running.  Again he lost his papers.  Again he stopped.  Again he salvaged them.  Again he stored them in his trousers.  This kept on and on until he realized he had become the creature his clothes had surrounded him to be; Mark the artist, the editor, the entrepreneur, now a vaudeville clown.  He stopped cold and let out a piercing scream, and began wailing like a tormented animal, and a flood of tears obliterated everything around him.  He tore his clothes off, then he wrapped his bundle in his pants, sealed it with his belt, and threw it over his shoulder, and again took off running. 

This time he veered not only from the right direction but from the roadway itself into the woods.  He had been running, half blinded by his tears, for a long time, effectively dodging trees and skillfully avoiding the bushes, when he stopped dead.  Silhouetted up ahead, beneath the moon, was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life.  Strong, and big, and reaching to the very heavens.  He ceased crying.  A smile began working its slow way about his features.  He looked up and down and slowly he neared. 

A Tree Of (Endless) Night

This magnificent tree, awesome, powerful, god-like, eternal.  When he was near he reached out and touched it.  Nearer still, he embraced it.  He rubbed himself against it, like a lover.  He grew tense, but nothing happened.  "I want you," he moaned.  But nothing happened.  "I want you," he sighed.  Still nothing happened.  "I must expel seed upon this hallowed ground," he whispered.  Yet nothing happened.  "I cannot fail," he pleaded.  But nothing would come forth, however much he tried.  Then a light - a piece of the moon, a sudden burst within him: whatever it was, a light came on for him.  And in its radiant arc he saw transfixed an image.  And he knew what he must do.  To get blood from a stone, he knew what he must do.  He anointed himself, smearing spit where it would do the most good.  He was ready.  He would now mate.

It was perfect.  It was the perfect tree.  From a great distance it was clearly the best suited.  From the perspective where he first saw it, it stood against the moon; the moon was as a golden cape being held up to fold over its arms and drape its entire length.  He had searched everywhere, the entire forest, before coming upon this stand of trees at the northwest corner, the big tree, the perfect tree to hang from, at the center, the lesser trees its entourage encircling. This had been a long night.  Perhaps he had passed by this tree many times until coming upon it when the moon was poised behind it like this; perhaps, had he been elsewhere, he might still have missed it, or perhaps another tree would have looked as perfect in its place. 

Not wanting to hang from just any tree, Thaddeus Ingon, defunct editor, waited till he had searched out the ideal from amidst all the rest.  The best place to spend eternity.  He had maintained throughout the night an attitude toward trees which held him aloof from the ordinary; some, he knew, from instinct partly, partly from breeding too, but primarily from good taste - some were not correct, could never satisfy as resting places; perhaps most would not do.  This one just up ahead would do.  Only...

...Only it was taken.  As he neared it he knew; it was already spoken for.  A body, it too silhouetted against the moon now that he had come around to a different perspective - a body hung from the tree, a huge growth of some kind on its neck, or else it was the body of a hunchback, horribly deformed. 

Before Thad Ingon saw whose body it was hanging from the tree branch, he saw the growth on its neck: not a growth at all, not of an organic nature, but a bundle tied with the same belt from which the body hung, a bundle tied and in that way connected, but coming loose as gravity worked the contents free, unraveled the cloth in which they were held.

Mark, in his haste to mate, had forgotten to take the belt loose from his pants, so that when he hung himself the bundle of his earthly goods hung like a monstrous tumor at the back of his neck.  He had fumbled with the belt, had puzzled why it seemed so short, why it barely fit around his neck, why almost none was left for attaching to the tree, why he was having such a time getting this done when, all his life, things had come so easily for him.  Not once did he notice the bundle which though pulled tight, took up so very much of the belt.  Even when he climbed to reach the overhanging branch, he was unaware of the added burden he carried on his back.  When he was ready, and when he had become so excited, so aroused, that he knew he would mate as he had never mated before in his life, he seemed at last vaguely aware of his bundle.  He muttered something about "Ballast."  And he leaped.  He heard a crack and felt a crack and died all in the same instant.  A very tiny dribble was all that came of it; but he had no way of knowing that.

Mark might have lived had he taken the time to go down on his knees first and prayed to the great god Poker to accept his immortal soul as an offering.  For then Thad might have been upon him and would have beat him off or sucked him off then driven him off so as to preserve the purity of this great tree.  But in his haste he left his soul hanging in a fetid bundle of filth.

Moving around to the front, Thad Ingon realized who had beat him to this the ideal hanging tree.  "Damn you," was his first reaction, followed by a softer, "My God."  He debated a very long time whether to cut Mark down, whether to bury him, whether to then proceed with his own plan.  The moon could not wait while he weighed the pros and cons of these crucial matters; it disappeared behind the horizon.  Still he had not decided, except to note that the tree looked less perfect, less the ideal.  Across the woods, but hidden along most of its path, the eastern horizon began to grow light with a pale red yellow glow.  Thad Ingon looked up into Mark's half twisted face and whispered "Nothing to be done," even though he knew there was still something to be done.

He climbed the tree and, one hand at a time, eased himself along the branch to where he could reach the belt.  That's Mark alright, he thought: puts more energy into everything he does than any five ordinary mortals.  My God, how did you ever manage to climb out here and at the same time get this mother fuckin' belt looped around here like this?  Couldn't you just hang your fuckin' arrogant self like everyone else?  God damn this fuckin' bastard, I can't get it loose, God damn you, you macho prick you can just stay up here till you rot!

"There! there!" Thad exclaimed in triumph.  "At last1  Got you, you pig fucker1"  The belt came undone.  Mark's body tumbled to the ground, despite Thad's efforts to hold the belt in his hand.  He had some notion of gently lowering the body so as not to jeopardize its beauty.  When it hit, it crumpled over into a fetal position, and the bundle came undone.  All of Mark's papers spilled out at his feet.  Thad managed to climb back down; not that he was afraid of jumping, but he feared he might land on Mark.

"How the hell am I going to bury him?" he wondered.  He took the belt from around Mark's neck - he had to tug at it to get it loose - and tried digging with the buckle.  Half an hour later he ha cleared an area perhaps two square feet and an inch or so deep.  "Forget it," he told himself, "I'll bury you later, Mark.  I'll go get a shovel.  But I'll come back, I promise.  A good assistant never leaves his tasks undone."

The sky had become almost completely morning.  Far, far in the west a few recesses lingered, night like a spun webbing hung between very low clouds and the horizon.  The earth was again becoming distinct from the sky, the forest again a thing of the earth where before it had been, or seemed to be, a kind of way station transmitting messages back and forth between heaven and earth.  A few broken rays of sunlight, partly gold, settled from between the trees onto Mark's tattered clothes hastily thrown over his limbs.  Thad tried to mark the place so he could return and bury his friend, his former employer.  It was not until he had gotten some distance from the place that it occurred to him how little surprised he was at seeing Mark hanging from a tree.  Had it been Larry, it would have surprised him more.  The strong, the tough: they do not always endure, where often the weak do.  This proposition made Thad cry.  He realized how much he really cared for Mark.  He lost his way, or at least the way he took to be correct.

Then suddenly a loud explosion was everywhere; and, up ahead, even through his tears, was a huge pillar of smoke and, rising as if to overtake the smoke, a ball of fire.  His first thought was: Ship ahoy1  Man on the Moon1  His first thought.


"Oh my God," Thad moaned as his thought started dripping into a thousand implications, tiny effects congealing into a dark figure which arose, took on features, assumed a name.  "Oh no, oh God no," he moaned.  He began running toward where he assumed the sound and smoke and flame ascended from.  But it was already too late.

Professor Norris had ignited the engine.  From a distance, at the first ray of sunrise, he readied everything.  In the last minutes of night he had arisen, had gathered what he would need, had journeyed to the abandoned field where his test rocket stood scarecrow like surrounded by trees on all but one side.  He had no need to approach the ship, everything was wired for remote control; this was the 20th century, things which you had once to do for yourself were now done for you by mysterious forces harnessed to little levers and buttons set into brushed chromium and plastic panels on a stand.  Fully automatic.  Even the door latch, to be certain no escaping air dis-equalized the pressure outside and in.  Gauges which were nowhere near the fuel measured it for its vital properties.  You might as easily have launched this rocket from another planet for all your physical presence was needed or worth to the enterprise.  In the 20th century the impulses ran straight from your brain to the object you wished to manipulate; flesh, bone and blood were obsolete except as instruments to feed thought.  Pure thought, God-like, immense, absolute: thought guided this ship.  It was to you as you are to God.

The priest, inside, unknowingly ready to take a ride through the cosmos, yawned and rolled from his left to his right side.  He had had to assume the fetal position; his new sleeping quarters prevented anything else.  Very little of him could stretch out.  In the back of his mind: Soon, soon I must get up, I must go relieve myself.  Soon.

It never got off the ground.  The fuel, so carefully measured - perhaps the fuel was insufficient.  The thrust, it fell short.  The thing would not propel; only burn.  Professor Norris would have to do better if he were ever to get every species but one safely into space.  He counted down, just as they do in real life, except that where you always heard them begin at "10," he began at "9," for no better reason than that nine was the first number that came to him.  Then an eight came to him, and a seven, and so on, until he could go no farther.

"One!' he exclaimed.  Nothing happened.  Then he smiled, remembering that without pressing the proper little button on the panel before him nothing ever would happen.  So he pressed it; and, in doing so, he awoke a sleeping man.

The rocket ship neither took off nor exploded.  It caught fire.  Or perhaps it was just the fuel; perhaps there was the right amount of fuel to burn yet not so much as to explode; perhaps a breach in the tank allowed fuel to leak but no flame to enter the tank.  Perhaps a thousand things - perhaps, as the people would later claim, it was God's vengeance on a sinner, a way of demonstrating His distaste for the sin.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps just a ridiculous, half-farcical round of circumstances.  Perhaps a warp in a black hole had belched out a gob of anti-matter which in turn caused a super nova explosion which in turn shot gammarized radio beams at random, which caused a warped mind on earth to dictate picking up a club and striking a brother creature, which initiated a chain of events culminating in a priest being burned to death inside a defunct rocket ship being tested for bugs on an early autumn morning.

Father Christopher awoke.  A horrible noise awoke him.  He had been dreaming, and at the exact instant the noise occurred a church bell had wrung.  It had been him in the belfry ringing the bell, but the belfry was of an old church, not his parish; his first communion church, a frame church, pale yellow with tiny stones embedded, the windows very thick, so that the purpose of the stained glass was almost thwarted, the light of the sun barely pierced, and where it did pierce only vague shapes showed through, vague colors, a deathly montage of images barely sacred by the time they could be made out, as if a dying theology, its sacred objects obsolete and discarded, with only the feeblest show of blank color to replace them.  He had loved God in that church, he had prayed, had served mass as an altar boy, had felt a calling to the priesthood, had vowed celibacy.  He hoped some day to return there, if only to be buried.  He secretly rang the bell once, and was so ecstatic he experienced a sexual release.  He dreamed of ringing that bell, and again experienced such a release.  A horrible sound awoke him; the bell became like a bomb blast.

And it shook him.  It shook him hard.  All around him the darkness was shaking, he was like a host in a covered chalice being raised above the altar, above the heads of the priests, for all to see, for God to bless.  He reached for the door.  It would not open.  He pushed on it, pulled at it, began beating it with his fists.  And all the while the shaking continued, and a crackling, hissing sound, a loud rumbling as of a waterfall enveloped his senses.

"Help!" he cried.  "Let me out!'  But he knew his voice was drowned out by the great rumbling, just as the impact of his fists against the door was absorbed into the great shaking surrounding him.

"Damn it!" he cried.  "Damn it, let me out of here!  Let me out!"

Suddenly he became aware of another sensation.  Not only were his ears about to burst and his muscles to give way, now he felt something which roused a beast somewhere nearby, or within him, he could not tell which, only that it was at hand, this beast, and clawing at his mind as if it had set out to reduce his reason to an infinity of broken slivers which he would have to rejoin if he were to ever think again.

Heat.  It was heat, this newest sensation.  He could not see outside, he could not witness the rocket ship he was trapped inside engulfed in flames which spewed thirty feet into the air.  He could not see that escape was already impossible, that even if he could somehow get the door open - and it was growing too hot to touch, though he kept on banging: should it open, he would be instantly incinerated by the flames.

"Jesus Christ1" he cried.  "Help me, I'm in an oven!  God damn it, damn you you turned me to a Jew!  No, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!'

His hands were growing scorched with every impact.  He had to stop trying to get out.  He had to start praying.  There was no way for him to think himself outside, to hover spirit like, disembodied, above the flames, to look down, to see the beautiful pillar ascending to heaven, to see the pure white smoke, to see the red hot metal from outside.

"Our father, which am - which aren't - our father, who isn't - our father's father's fathers - Oh Jesus!  Jesus! help me!"

I mustn't die like this, he managed to think.  I mustn't.  Oh God, dear God, don't you see what they'll do?

He looked in horror straight ahead.  Then he turned, as if a ballerina pirouetting.  All around him was a deep reddish glow.

"Ahhhhhh!"  He screamed.  His feet - God!  God! my feet! - his feet were hideously scorched.  His shoes were no good.  He hop scotched, but his feet were hideously hot.  Then all of him became hideous, ugly in its burning agony.  No flame yet, his clothes had not yet flared up, they were flame retardant.  But the heat - oh God! oh God!  I'm being roasted!

Dancing madly a hideous perverted hop scotch, he begged, pleaded not to let this happen.  They'll use it, he prayed, they'll use it to condemn me, to condemn my sins, to say I was punished for being with men, that my -

"Jesus don't burn my cock off!  Jesus, I'm hung, hung, don't do this to me!"

- My cock was taken because I used it against you.  Don't let them say that!

He knew they would though.  He thrust his hands over his crotch as if that could keep his cock safe.

"Damn you I hate you!  No, no, God, I don't, I swear it!"

All around him was growing brighter, redder.  Hotter.  His voice was a steady scream, broken only by intermittent words, occasionally a phrase.

"Save me!  Hail Mary, Holy Mary, God is great, God is good1"


His hair was singed.  His eyelids were stuck tight.  His eardrums had burst.

"Jesus fucking Christ1' he screamed.  "No!  No!  I didn't say it!  I didn't say it!  Forgive me!'

He knew that no more words would be possible, nor thoughts; that the remainder of his life would be spent in screaming.  With every shred of strength left him, he forced his hands from his cock and clasped what remained of them and cried out to God one final time.

"Forgive me my sins!"

Then his existence became a mad spasm of pure energy as every cell in his body began releasing its store of atoms.  He no longer had to dance, the very wind generated by his melting flesh seemed to be spinning him about, and his hop scotching could end too, his feet were in no greater agony than the rest of his body.  At last his brain, in one tremendous convulsion, exploded inside his skull and ran out his nostrils and ears and mouth.  For a time his body shuddered and his flesh slithered back and forth across his bones; then it grew still and fell in a heap on the floor.

Hours later the rumbling outside quieted, the flames disappeared as if gone down into a hole, the terrible shaking ceased.  The rocket ship remained upright, beginning to blacken where the red hot hull had already started to cool this soon after.  The alloy had withstood the flames.  Indirectly, ironically, the test had been a success.  The ship would withstand the heat of lift off from the earth, of impact when it reached its destination.  Professor Norris, disappointment with his ship's performance, went away satisfied none the less.  Just beyond the range of the searing heat, a long figure knelt in prayer.

All this time Thad Ingon had been asking God please to have let Father Christopher escape.  Don't let him be in there, he prayed, over and over, all morning and into the afternoon, until his legs, his knees, could hold him no longer.  He fell forward, face down on the grass.  He could not move, but he kept praying as if nothing had happened.

While Thad was praying, any number of curious thoughts splashed up against the holy spirit he was trying to concentrate on.  He had decided not to pray directly to God, he felt it would do very little: one only prayed to God to beg forgiveness for his sins.  Neither did he pray to Christ, mainly because he was unsure whether this was the kind of thing one prayed to the son of God for.  Jesus, to him, had always been a deeply personal presence; prayers addressed to Jesus were love prayers, not requests, not pleas, not even apologies, but expressions of pure, untainted love.  Thad Ingon had never asked anything of Jesus, had never tried to wrangle any sort of intercession, had never sought to get any kind of good word put in for him to God.  This left only the holy spirit to pray to for favors; so he prayed that Father Christopher would be saved.  To a somewhat stained spirit he prayed, water spotted from involuntary thoughts.

I must go on living, he thought.  I must preserve Father Christopher's reputation.  I must keep this from being interpreted as a retribution.  I must work for gay rights.  I must become gay - no, I mustn't, otherwise they'll dismiss me as having a self-interest.  Just work for the cause.

Every thought had its counter.  I must cease living solely for others, he retorted.  It is not mine to save anybody's name.  I am no more responsible for those whose goals I believe in than I am for those whose creations I value.  I must be only a presence.  I cannot move, I cannot affect, I am not strong, I have no will to override the wills of others, no judgment to contradict the opinions of others, I cannot dominate.  Nor would I if I could.  I can move nothing.  It may be that only those whose only real aim is power have the gifts, the drive, the will, the ambition to move others to action; and that those whose only concern is what they genuinely believe to be good and just are constitutionally incapable of achieving their ends.  It may be you must force people in order to succeed.  To force is to destroy.  To build you must destroy.

"God is great, God is good," he prayed.

We are not meant to build, he thought.  Or else, we are meant to destroy.  One partakes of the other.  These were his thoughts, a kind of acid hurled against the holy spirit, making it almost visibly disintegrate in Thad Ingon's mind; making it drip, as if melted wax.  Not even a brazen image, only waxen.

There could never be peace, or love, or brotherhood, or justice.  The holy powers, in their wisdom, had given only to a select few the strength, the force of character, the magnetic personality needed to accomplish great deeds. Where these gifts originated was a mystery; where they were fueled was the dark subconscious backdrop of the human psyche.  The great passions, the great needs, the great burning desires, the great drives and ambitions.  The dark of the psyche knew no greatness in gentleness or kindness or charity or love or fellow feeling, but only in terrible, awesome lusts, lusts for power, for riches, for blood, for sex, for mastery and domination over all others and ultimately over all creation.  Only he who would be God would ever be king; and only he who could be king would ever command; and only he who commanded could be served; and only in service to God was there accomplishment. 

Acids, dreadful acids, these thoughts, to reduce the holy ghost to a melted blob.  For existence was so constituted that evil - if indeed destruction and death and torment and pain were evil - had no choice but to win, and no chance to lose.  In ruthlessness was inevitability; the more ruthless, the more certain of ultimate success.  The almighty either had not bargained on this or else had bargained on only this.

Thad Ingon was unaware for some time of having ceased praying.  At last it came to him, as he endeavored to rise up from the earth.  It felt to him as if everything in the universe was pressing down on him: as if the hand of God held him pinned to the ground.  Yet he continued struggling, and, in time, he was to his knees.  At first confused, dizzy, he began to pray all over again; but he vomited and that seemed to clear his head.  No more prayers, he thought to himself; in such a universe, Father Christopher had been - could only have been - burnt to a crisp.

Finally he was on his feet, still straining against some invisible force which seemed determined to draw him back to the earth.  Slowly he began taking steps, baby steps, as in a child's game, one by one  His body felt lighter.  His steps grew in size.  Suddenly he sprang forward and began a brisk run.  Back and forth he ran.  His muscles felt alive, felt for the first time in his life his - his muscles, his life coursing through them, his will moving them, his purpose and his direction guiding them.  His body, and his world.  Not a gift, not a loan, not a sacred trust, not a tool for doing unto others, not an organ of citizenship, not a means for somebody's ends, or everybody's, or even God's - none of these things:  not a thing at all, but a being.  A being.

Thoughts which would have occurred to him in a previous life did not occur in this life.  He did not see himself as a cliché, as stale individualism, or as warmed over existentialism or as representing in any way any idea, any science, any philosophy, any creed.  "Yes," he would have heard his peers, his fellow man, echo had he expressed this sense of being alive in his previous existence; "yes, but after all, it is not a new experience.  After all, my dear sir, Piddley-Poop has expressed it just ever so succinctly, and Tiddley-Turd saw it before any of us, not to mention Shittley-Shit who speaks of just such a phenomenon in his fourth treatise on Evacuating the Ontological Vacuum.  There is, alas, nothing new under le soleil."

These thoughts would have paralyzed his new found freedom.  To be warmed in the slimy afterglow of culture he would have quickly and gladly renounced his whole being.  Now, running back and forth along a narrow strip of grass at the edge of a woods, separated by a road from another strip of grass at the edge of another woods, where a burned out rocket ship stood smoldering - now, Thad Ingon had only two words for those who served up slime to him all his life and had made him think it edible: Fuck You.  Two little words, which overturned every ruling made by every tribunal in heaven and on earth.  Fuck You: because not one miserable ruling ever made since time began was ever designed with me in mind, with my needs, my wants, my goals, my ideas, my existence.  So just "Fuck You."  Si vous plait.

And one must say something in French, Thad knew in his heart, before his thesis, syllogisms, arguments, dissertation - his anything - had a chance of being taken seriously.  It was...God's wish. Why else would He have given the world Charlemagne?

"Et maintnant," Thad spoke aloud.  Then he grew somber again.  "And now," he translated his French back into English, on the assumption that English was more for somber thoughts and for unpleasant tasks of every description.  Duty, responsibility: these were English heirlooms.  Or better still, perhaps German; but Thad knew no German. 

He hung his head.  He was all but paralyzed with the dread of what he must now do, or try to do, and he feigned playfulness.  No, he thought, you couldn't imagine somebody, preparing to look for an incinerated  priest inside a rocket ship, going about his task thinking or speaking in French.  C'est impossible!

Thad forced himself to take first one step then a second; his hypothesis was that the impetus would propel him the rest of the way.  He stumbled like a man intoxicated; nevertheless he got across the street and, reaching up to test the metal for heat, found the ship sufficiently cooled to handle.  He fumbled about for the door, then for something to take hold of and open it.  There was a sort of knob, and a latch, a bolt; the door had been bolted from the outside.  He wandered what kind of fiend could have done that, trapped a man inside like that.  He thought some more about it and ceased wondering: anyone on earth could have done it, it fit the MO of the human race.  We are a bad people, he felt compelled to admit; perhaps by nature.  Ruling us won't make us better, nor will forcing us to obey good laws.  No, we'll just find subtler means to torment one another.  We'll search out the latches, latch them, light the torches, set the blazes.  Meanness finds a way around even the most rigid morality; and if its shrewd too, it'll find a way to use that very moral code to do its dirt.  Nope, there just ain't no hiding from it.

"Jesus shit!" Thad cried out.  He fell back.  The moment he unlatched the bolt, the door was instantly flung open, almost striking him in the face.  Quickly ducking to the right, he avoided being hit by the door; but what did hit him, what he could not avoid, was the force which had propelled the door outward.  An immense pressure, built up inside the rocket's chamber from the incineration of Father Christopher - the raw energy released from the charred cells of his body, stored in the ship along with the remnants of heat - sprang upon the intruder in one hot fetid rush of air.

The air stank of scorched flesh.  And "Jesus shit1" was forced involuntarily from Thad Ingon's mouth as he fell backward.  He knew from the smell what to expect; when he got up, nevertheless, he went and looked.  He said nothing; he simply shook his head, gently from side to side.

The body was of course human in name only.  It was little more than the blob of ectoplasm one expects to find where living tissue is burned, with a very general outline of what one could take for features etched into the blob as if a sculptor who reveled in the shock value of his art had been at work here, the kind of mentality which assures itself of its originality according to the number of winces its work receives. 

What struck Thad most, even awed him, was the tight clasp of the hands into what appeared to be a prayer formation.  As hideous as this blob was, these praying hands lent a certain dignity to it - not because they suggested the man having died in prayer, but because they represented a sort of triumph over existence, over nature, over the dreadful impersonal forces which take no notice of human suffering: triumph in that the man had not been forced to abandon his deepest convictions.  His hands - his purpose in life - held firm.  Surely a "God" who would allow such horrible suffering got more than "He" deserved from these praying hands.  It was not "God's" triumph - Thad knew that if he knew anything - but Father Christopher's triumph. 

Let the man be taken as an example of divine retribution; let no one else notice the clasped hands - and Thad knew that no one else would notice, for they would all be too busy condemning his sins to take notice.  Let "God" have "His" due, and man too.  It was enough that Thaddeus Ingon knew the truth - it was nothing that he knew it; it was therefore enough. 

He closed the door and left the hallowed ground where the highest good, the greatest truth, in all the universe lay beneath a smoldering ugly loathsome blob, curled into a theme at the single juncture of two mangled appendages: here was the sum of a man's life, the thing which drove him and which gave meaning to that life, the thing which not even the full force of nature can make him give up, the thing he will die for rather than renounce.

Thad Ingon very quickly was covered in the dense foliage of the forest.  He did not go back to the tree where Mark had hung himself; he realized that hiding a body to protect its reputation was of all endeavors the most futile, for though you might say of one "He was queer," or of another "God did him in," or of a third "He hung himself," you would really just be paraphrasing.  "He was human" was sufficient; it covered all ground, it described all reputations, it hid all shame, it excused all folly.  So leave the bodies intact, let them be discovered, let whatever vultures wish to pick over the remains do so and be done with it; they will always miss the truth of a being's existence, vultures always do.  Thad had nowhere to go but deeper into the woods, so deep that the sky, even at mid-day, was all but obliterated, and the greens surrounding him seemed almost charred they became so dark, and his steps seemed to have assumed a life of their own as they noiselessly crossed the forest floor.                    

                                        *                                            *                                            *

"Salantha Karr curled herself until she fit snugly onto her satin blue sofa.  Her huge black eyes shone like onyx across the room.  A long jaded cigarette holder dangled carelessly from her thumb and forefinger.  A cigarette glowed.  Slowly she raised her hand and took a puff, then blew smoke from her pursed lips.  She spoke.  'Inertia has substance but no soul.'  'And that is why I write.'"

Salantha Karr put down her pen, folded the paper into an envelope - it was the kind of message gram which doubled as its own envelope - and put a stamp to it.  Much earlier that day she had laughed when told that her literary champion, Thad Ingon, had resigned, having failed to convince his colleagues to publish her novel.  This to her was of some momentary interest.  She meant to watch very closely to see what became of Thad; his idealism amused her; and beyond that she wondered what course it would now take.  Not as a subject for her art - she delved deeper than that into the human psyche; but simply for her own entertainment.

Artistically, she really did not care what became of idealists, or romantics, or sentimentalists or the like; only the living dead truly touched her - only those who had given up all vestiges of humanity, those who had gone through everything, those who could no longer even be brutal, those whom even the most heinous sins failed to move to action: only those who had done everything, gotten all goodness and all evil behind them, had the power to inspire her.  Those who simply renounced all life had no power to move her.  She understood them, the way a mathematical prodigy understands common arithmetic almost instinctively.  But those rare few who had left absolutely no stone unturned - those who had loved, had hated, had created, had destroyed, had fondled, had butchered, had tortured, had been tortured: those she compulsively, irresistibly drew herself to.  Those, she felt she must know, must understand, must portray, must control.  There was, for her, no other purpose in life, no other place to go with one's creative gifts.  No other art was possible. 

It did not matter to her in the least whether her work was ever published, or whether it was re-written to become more palatable to the public.  It brought her a step nearer the living dead; what became of the actual pages of her manuscript was no more significant to her than what became of this silly self portrait she had just finished and would mail to her publisher tomorrow.

"Re-write it any way you like," she told her publisher.  "Just send me the check."

She had just hung up the telephone when she got the idea for the self portrait.  It amused her in a very minor way.  Doubtless some junior editor, charged with re-writing her novel to give it a certain mass appeal, would study the portrait religiously to get a feel for her style that he might somehow infuse her otherwise ponderous, obtuse fiction with it.  Inside this ridiculous message gram was a virtual gift from God.

A curious sequence of voices ended her conversation; so after a moment of only silence at the other end, she hung up her receiver.  She had been talking to her lover, Cyril Czarn; he had called to tell her he had secured a publisher for her novel.  She thanked him.  She did not tell him, however, that she already had a publisher, that she had always had a publisher, that her other lover was a publisher.  Instead, she thanked him for his help.  Just then a tiny noise came through the receiver.

"Someone's at the door," Cyril Czarn said.  "Hold on a second."  Then he called out.  "Come on in!"  He had called from his office at the Institute.  They had just finished analyzing the tissue samples taken from the artist colony.  "Ah," he said to someone who had just entered his office, "it's you.  You can go, you won't be needed again tonight."  Then he spoke into the receiver again.  "When can you have the manuscript to him?" Cyril Czarn asked.

"Oh," answered Salantha Karr, "soon I imagine."

"Excuse me," Cyril Czarn said into the receiver.  "I said, Joseph, you could go," he said in a firm voice.  "Don't stand there grinning: go."  A moment of silence followed.  "What's that for?" Cyril Czarn said.  "Put that down and get out of here!" he ordered.  "Did you hear me?" he exclaimed in a deep voice.  "Put that down!" he cried.  Panic was in his voice.  All the while Joseph was mumbling prayers to the great god Poker.  "Oh my God!" Cyril Czarn screamed.  Then he screamed again.  No words, just a pure animal scream, followed by more screams, rising and falling in pitch, as if condensed to a kind of thud in the background, but a wet thud.  Then his screams died out and were replaced by the strange sound of pieces of meat falling almost soundlessly on his desk and on his office floor.  In a moment a tiny noise, as of a door closing, came through the receiver, followed by only silence.

A moment more of silence passed before Salantha Karr hung up her telephone receiver.  Taking up her pen, she composed a message - a self portrait - which folded over itself in four equal flaps.

                                        *                                        *                                        *

The sky grew light, then very light, then less light, finally dark again.  Larry watched it.  From a tiny slit in the wall he could see twenty-four hours pass before him.  He could not know what was happening out there, down there, where time made an impact.  He caught a sliver of moon, the twin horns; he could not know that Mark's body hung silhouetted against them.  He saw, much later, smoke; it arose very high, it seemed to become a cloud, to try and pass itself off as one: whether it succeeded, he could not tell.  He had no way of knowing that this smoke carried death at its core, that Father Christopher lay incinerated and that in a gruesome sense this smoke was proclaiming what it had been a party to.  Nor, from his room inside the Institute, could Larry know that Thad Ingon wondered the forest below, only the tiniest part of which was visible from here, and then only if he elevated his perspective by standing on a stool.  Nor could he know that a coven a devil worshippers, led by the head of the Institute where all the steps he had ever taken had brought him, was looking for someone to sacrifice.

His legs were beginning to cramp.  He tried raising first one then the other as if learning a new dance step.  His entire day had been spent watching the world from this slit.  He knew that this might end up being his last day.  He wished to spend it out there, where he felt he belonged, where it was clear and there was beauty; not in here, not in this tiny room.  This cell.

I'm on death row, he mused periodically.  He tried to get himself to say whether this bothered him, but the answer could not be coaxed.  That means it doesn't he thought, as if to scare himself into a denial; but the strategy did not work.  So he tried its counterpoint: it means it does bother me, he thought, as if to trick himself into admitting how desperately he wished to live.  Still no response.  Then, he was forced to admit at last, I don't care one way or the other. 

No, he corrected himself, not that I don't care but that it can't matter.  I don't expect any difference one way or the other.  This moment of my life goes unfulfilled, cannot be fulfilled - even if the next moment can.  It is lost forever.  This day, this moment, this present of my existence was barren.  So many were; and like layers of dead tissue they build up until my life becomes ancient and withered.  The world will never know what my emptiness is, because it sees only its own definitions, only it own evaluations. 

If I write, in a note, and manage to slip it through this slit in the wall and it carries on the wind all the way to the rest of mankind - if I write "Dearest my fellow humans, I, Larry, have lived in vain because I never went down on my love; his name is Mark."  If I sent them this message, they would read it, dismiss it, never know what a deep, generous and profound beauty was denied me.  They would picture in their minds the act, as if it were a peep show, and that would be the end of it.  A shameful act, nasty, unsanitary, messy, possibly evil.  Lust: they would see it as lust, when in truth it is hardly physical at all.  Or they might try their hand at analyzing it, further reducing its meaning until it was totally disintegrated, at which they would conclude: poor boy, he died for nothing, because what he lived for was nothing.  Fellatio does not exist; only in all the things it is not can it be determined: not good, not moral, not clean, not wholesome, not nice.  Only beautiful, and perhaps only to me.

It won't be long.  It is night.  Soon they will come for me.  I guess when they're finished, whatever if anything is left of me they'll flush down a drain, or dip into an acid, or wrap in black vinyl, or simply throw into a furnace.  Nothing can express my anguish.  Not over dying, but over being disposed of like garbage.  I don't care what happens to me as me; only what happens to me as my love's love.  This body, this mouth: they were to be his, for his use, for his pleasure.  That they, which might have been his, should be regarded as filth to be swept up and discarded: I can hardly bear it.  I can hardly bear it.  There is, for me, no conceivable torment greater.  I don't know - I swear I do not know - how or why my mind has not snapped from the anguish.

What I do know - all I know - is that I will do two things at the end: I will pledge my eternal love to Mark; and I will pray to the god the man who brought me here prays to.  He called his god Poker.  So I will pray to Poker to not let my remains be discarded as refuse.

There was a fumbling at the door as a key was pried into the lock and turned.  Slowly the door opened.  They came in.  They were smiling.  They said his name, as if calling him.  "Larry," they said in their gentle, efficient voices.  All the while they smiled.  "Larry," they said again.  Smiling, they motioned him from the slit in the wall to come sit on the bed.  He slowly moved away and did as they asked.  They drew near.  One held an object in his outstretched hand.  A syringe.  Two others came and stood alongside him, smiling down on him.  They all towered over him as he sat on his bed, looking up into their kind faces.  One took hold of his arm and lifted it.  The one with the syringe drew very close.  They were very gentle with it; it was a very rare specimen.

                                        *                                        *                                        *

What was left was carried out.  The furnace was ready, but the remains were carried out.  The body was neatly scalpeled; tissue samples were taken from all the important organs.  Slides were prepared, appropriate dyes added to the cultures to enable careful study.  Everything was done by the books, marked, labeled, dated, cross-indexed.  Sloppy, careless recording was inexcusable; it was unscientific.  The sliced remains, something like a cross section of a human, were stuffed into a black vinyl bag which looked like the ones a kindly middle-aged man advertised on television as being of superior quality.  The tissue samples were taken to where the microscopes stood on a black top table.  A team of scientists - all specialists in the study of bio-chemistry - sat around the table, each at his own microscope.  Each was given a number of slides to examine.  Each specimen was labeled "Victim of cardiac arrest."  The bio-chemists need never know how the samples were obtained; an attack of conscience at a crucial point could seriously jeopardize the findings.

Joseph had watched the body being loaded into the vinyl garbage bag.  On one side he could recognize the body, quite clearly.  Once more he had been duped into delivering a sacrificial victim.  For his part he did not care; but he must determine how this deception stood with the great deity he served.  Perhaps, he reasoned, Poker does not wish his messenger used as a foil in the service of lesser deities.  He made for a quiet, remote spot, where he prayed to the great deity.  When he emerged, he knew he had been charged with avenging this, and not only this but every insult to the great deity.  Poker would no longer suffer being abused at the hands of these the servants of lesser deities.

The body of the "Victim of Cardiac Arrest" was being taken to the furnace.  Joseph followed the three young lab assistants - University interns - in white smocks.  Just as they were about to hurl the body into the flames, Joseph stepped forth.

"Put him down," Joseph said.  The lab assistants turned and saw, standing not five feet away, the figure of a man in whose hands, raised above his head, was an axe.  They obeyed.  They were struck down.  "I made no bargain to spare you," Joseph said to them as he walked over to pick up the body they had set down.  He left the room.  He made for the laboratory, where the bio-chemists were engaged in examining the samples.  They were all busy writing down their findings. 

Joseph set the body down and went among them with his axe raised.  There were eight of them.  Most were struck from behind, without warning, their skulls cracked open.  From some an involuntary scream came forth.  Those who had time to witness the slaughter of their colleagues got up and attempted to escape, but there was only one door out and Joseph had latched it from the outside.  One by one, at his leisure, he finished them off.  He broke his way out of the laboratory with his axe.  Outside the door, he again picked up the body he had been carrying.  He took it, in an elevator, to the top floor, where in the conference room the heads of the Institute sat around a table nervously awaiting the results of the bio-chemists work.  Once more he set the body down, once more he latched the door, this time from the inside, once more he struck down the defilers of the great deity he served, one by one, till the blood of six more men spilled from their skulls.  Outside, he took up his burden again.

Down the hall - a carpeted hall, a dim hall, pale, very long: down this hall he walked, until he came to a door.  It was closed, but from underneath it he could see a light.  He set his burden down and rapped on the door.

"Come on in!" a big, deep voice called to him.  He entered.  His axe was at his side, partially hidden behind his leg.  He stood a moment just inside the door before advancing.

"Oh, it's you," Cyril Czarn said.  "You can go, you won't be needed again tonight."  Then he spoke into the telephone receiver again.  "When can you have the manuscript to him?" he asked.  A moment later, looking up at Joseph, he said "Excuse me," into the receiver.  Joseph was standing now just beside Cyril Czarn's desk.

"I said, Joseph, you could go."  Joseph stood there, silent, grinning down at him.  "Don't stand there grinning," he said, "go."  He noticed Joseph's axe for the first time.  "What's that for?" he asked.  Joseph began lifting the axe; he was still grinning.  "Put that down and get out of here!"  Dr. Cyril Czarn, head of the Institute and leader of the devil cult, ordered.  "Did you hear me?" he asked Joseph, who had raised his axe as high as it would go.

"Put that down!" Cyril Czarn cried.  Panic had crept into his voice at last.

Joseph grinned and brought it down with his full force.  While it was still in mid-air, before it struck, Cyril Czarn had time to scream out the words "Oh my God!"  Joseph's axe came at him, directly at his skull.  He tried to duck aside.  It struck his neck where it met his shoulder.  He screamed.  Joseph pulled the axe from Cyril Czarn's neck and, raising it, brought it down again onto his screaming, panic stricken victim.  Several times more he raised his axe, several times more he struck, till there were no more screams.  Cyril Czarn lay slumped over the side of his chair, his head almost severed.  In his right hand was still the telephone receiver; all his blood rushed out at his neck, spilling onto the receiver.

Joseph turned and left, letting the door click shut behind him.  He again took up the body he had carried with him.  He made one final stop, at a linen closet where he set both the body and his axe down.  Here, he took a clean fresh white sheet which he managed to spread onto the floor.  Withdrawing the body from the black vinyl bag, he placed it onto the sheet, ever so gently.  Then he wrapped the body in the sheet, careful to cover it completely.  Leaving his axe now where it lay, needing it no more, he took up the body one last time, took it into the elevator one last time, and carried it with him out of the Institute.  He did not take the limousine, for it was no longer his responsibility to drive it.  He no longer worked for the Institute.  He walked down from the mountain, carrying the body he had been charged by his master with removing.  Into the woods he carried it.

                                        *                                        *                                        *

A fresh mound in a hidden recess not far from the center of the forest stood for a gravesite.  The ground had been dug open much earlier.  All Joseph did was place the body he had been carrying into the grave and covered it with the dirt already there.  He spoke a few words over the mound; he called upon Poker to safeguard this bit of earth; he dedicated it, he commended the body beneath it to his master.  When he left, absolute assurance was with him.

"You are pleasing to me," he heard the great deity whisper through the trees.  "You have served me well.  I will do as you ask.  Henceforth this ground will be sacred to me, the body within it I will accept in token of your love."

Joseph bowed in gratitude and walked away, vowing never to return to this spot.  All the rest of the night he wandered the forest.  He saw the sun begin to come up: from inside a clearing he saw it.  He silently thanked his master for the great gift of daybreak.  He stopped to gather some wild berries; he seated himself at the base of a great tree to taste the food Poker had provided him with.  He offered a handful to a sleeping form lying a few feet away, but none were accepted.  He explained, in a soft monotone, that it was not good to refuse these the fruits of Poker's beneficence, but he sought neither to force their acceptance nor to punish the refusal.  After he had eaten, he arose and left this area, unaware that it had been a corpse he offered sustenance to.

Not far from here another form lay sleeping.  Joseph saw him and gathered up some more berries that he might offer them in honor of his master.  As he approached, the sleeping form stirred, about to awaken.  He came and sat beside another tree and waited until this man awoke, then he offered him fruit.

Thad Ingon was neither startled nor afraid at looking up into Joseph's face upon awakening.  He saw  the outstretched hand, the berries offered him.  He sat up and took them.  He did not thank Joseph, but he inclined his head.  As he ate, he wondered who this man was, where he had come from, and why he had come here.  Was he too seeking refuge?  Perhaps.  He looked tired.  His eyes, though, were very gentle.  And he had a look about him which somehow set him apart from anyone Thad had ever seen.  He had the most unique, the most original, expression Thad had ever seen in any human face.  It felt to Thad somehow to be what a human face should look like; it seemed almost perfect - that was the word which came to mind: perfect.  It was perfect.  For a human.

The wind stirred the leaves, the stirring of the leaves rustled the morning light; shadows, but tiny ones, were created at various angles, one second they were here, then the pattern shifted ever so slightly to over there, then back again, then they were somewhere else, never straying more than a few inches from their original place, the place where their shadows lay when no wind blew.  Like a pendulum disintegrated into a thousand tiny chips hanging suspended, a pendulum of asteroids held firm and equidistant by gravity, back and forth it swung, the tree soaked rays of daylight, back and forth, tiny dark moving shadows.

Thad finished eating and looked over to his generous provider.  A thought came to him, an intriguing thought.  The closing lines from a play were begging to be spoken.  He wondered: if he gave out his line, would this other man give out the correct response?  He decided to try.  Let's see, he asked, if art really does reflect life.

Still sitting, he looked into Joseph's eyes and asked.  "Well, shall we got?"

Joseph thoughtfully considered his question, then replied, looking into Thad's eyes, "Yes, let's go."

Neither man moved.


The End