Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: Love’s Breath & Sorrow’s Retort

There are fools, and then there are fools in love. Give me the normal fools, for love makes the foolish more so. Who am I to speak such words of sanity amidst the worship our society heaps upon fleeting ephemera?

My name is Emerald. No other moniker required or desired.

For years, I have watched the besotted flock to my door in search of just a taste of that phantasmal creature known as “love.” From the meanest beggars to the bluest-blooded, they all come. To one and all, I give it to them.

But it costs, as everything does. That is one thing the poets and minstrels rarely make plain. I am neither, so I am free with the truth. As I’m not one to make claims without justification, I will give you a tale.

It will cost, however. The price is for you to decide.

My story starts as so many others do:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful maiden. She wandered the village with gay abandon, her smile straightening the backs of peasants bent from toiling in the fields and reddening the cheeks of the eldest widow jealous of those enjoying what time stole from them. Promised to God, her habit brought peace and comfort to the poor villagers.

One day, a prince rode through and spied her skipping about her devotional duties. Eros, always the trickster and bitter at the old gods usurpation, fired his arrow straight to the royal heart, but left her untouched.

The smitten lord spent months in the village, trying to woo the fair nun. Roses by the thousands were delivered to the nunnery, with promises of riches, lands, and titles. He declared the day he first laid eyes on her a holiday. He followed her on her duties with knee ever-ready to bend, only to rebuffed at every turn by her sweet, “I am promised to God, my lord.”

Despondency and desperation go hand-in-hand. When word reached him of a hedge-witch who specialized in potions that melted the hardest hearts, he rode three days and three nights through the Dark Forest. Bandits, ogres, and goblins fell before his blade on his perilous journey, until he reached a small hovel in the middle of the forest.

Fearless, he strode inside with nary a knock and pronounced, “I am searching for the witch! Come out in the name of the Prince!”

A young woman with ancient eyes glided out of nowhere, greeting the royal with an equal’s nod. “Highness. What may I do for you?”

“I need a potion to make the woman I love love me in return. I will pay anything!”

A gleam entered those aged eyes, a warning the smitten prince failed to recognize. “And the woman does what?”

“What does it matter? Make your potion and name your price!”

She clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Magic is delicate, milord. A happily married woman would be much more difficult to enchant than say…an orphan girl with no family. I need to know so I can adjust the spell accordingly.”

The prince ground his teeth, but spat out, “A nun.”

A slender eyebrow raised. “Ah. Well, that will take a strong potion indeed.” She clapped her hands and smiled. “Very well. Bring me that cauldron over there and do exactly as I say.” Her smile grew wider. “Payment we shall discuss…later.”

Once the prince set the cauldron on her table, she poured a cup of water in it and grabbed several vials. “Essence of baby’s laughter,” she muttered as she poured the contents of the vial. “Mist of a rainbow and a unicorn’s tears of joy. The breath of true love’s first kiss.”

She glanced at the prince and handed him an empty vial. “Prick your finger and squeeze ten drops of blood into that.”

The prince grew suspicious, but did as bade. She poured the crimson drops into her concoction and stirred. She lowered a flask into the cauldron. “This potion is potent. Let the contents breath under the light of a full moon, then pour the remains into a cup of rose tea. Have her drink, and she shall be yours.”

The prince snatched the flask from her and hurried back to the village, forgetting about asking about her payment in his haste. He followed the witch’s instructions, and wooed the peasant nun. She broke her vows and traveled to the palace with the prince. They married in a ceremony celebrated by the whole kingdom.

Time passed, as it does, and the new princess found herself lost amid the castle manners and intrigues. She knew nothing of the world in which she found herself. The prince’s ardor for the simple young woman faded, sated now that he’d acquired that denied to him. The couple, married during the throes of passion, found little in common.

The prince’s attentions wandered and, like a rose cut from the stem, the former nun soon wilted from neglect. She withdrew from to her parlor, barred from the outside and the people she’d once served, and alone except for when her husband tried for an heir.

The king passed and the prince became ruler of the land. His wife, barren and faded, but devoted by spell to her husband became queen. So the unhappy couple stayed for several years, the new king searching for any reason to divorce the peasant he married, but foiled by her unwavering fidelity toward him.

One day, the witch, untouched by the years, came before the king. “It is time for my payment, lord.”

The king dismissed his court except for three guards. “I have a new deal for you, witch.” He gestured and the guards grabbed the witch’s arms. “Create a potion that will kill my wife, so I may marry someone of breeding. Do this, and I won’t have you executed for witchery.”

The witch grinned and the temperature of the room dropped. “Of course, my lord. If I may have a place to work?”

“Take her to the dungeon. She can work there.” The guards led the witch to the bowels of the castle, and she did not resist their rough handling.

Once ensconced within her cell, she told one guard she needed a cauldron. He left, but a different man returned with her request. She asked for water from another guard, and a different man brought her a pitcher of water. The two new guards turned on the third guard who carried the king’s secret and killed him.

The witch laughed and set about her task. She pulled various vials out of her dress and added them to a new spell. “Echo of traitor’s promise, a serpent’s tongue, some tears of a fallen angel, and…” She pulled out one last vial, remnants of the former prince’s blood used for the original potion, and stirred it in. When finished, she dipped in a flask and handed it to the guard. “Give this to the king and let him know he must bury it with a freshly hanged murderer for seven days. Then he need merely baste the queen’s dinner meat with it, and he shall have his reward.”

The king followed her instructions, hanging the guard who brought the witch’s potion and burying the flask with him. A week later, the king desecrated the grave to retrieve the flask and finish his heinous undertaking. He smeared the witch’s cocktail on his wife’s dinner and dismissed the servants to deliver it to her room himself.

He watched as she at, an unaccustomed smile creasing his features despite his revulsion at her doe-eyed looks of love she lavished on him. She finished and stood, falling upon her bed as dizziness engulfed her. He rose from his seat and tossed her into a semblance of repose. Once he finished, he readied to call the guard, but her eyes snapped open in fury, startling him.

He backed away, but she stalked him across the room, picking up the knife from her dinner remains. With a speed and strength unexpected from so small a frame, she pounced upon her former false-love. The knife rose and fell over and over.

He never had time to scream.

In the dungeon, the witch cackled and disappeared…

So ends my tale. I’m sure disbelief will be your reaction, visions of fairy tales with happy endings smothering the truth of the events.

So be it, for I am not one to force my views upon anyone. Believe what you wish, it makes no difference to me.

As for the price…payment will be discussed.

Later.

***

For Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at terribleminds. This week the challenge is to create a cocktail, give it a name (to be used in the title), and incorporate it in a way vital to the story. This week he’s giving us 2,000 words to tell the story. Check it out and give it a try!

Hope you enjoy.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

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CWG 4: A Bloody Monday Morning – Jaime

Week 3 CWG

Director Alexa Cameron drummed her nails on the table as she waited for the various agents to find their seats. Her tech-wizard, Julianna Keyes, set thick files in front of each chair. Once the last file left Keyes’ hand, Cameron cleared her throat. The babble died down as the members of her team watched her.

She nodded and Keyes dimmed the lights, taking a seat in the corner. Alexa grabbed the remote at her side and flicked a button. A dark-haired woman, tanned and muscular, popped up on the wall screen. “We’ve all been mourning the loss of Agent Lexmark. Many of you have questions, but I’ve only recently been cleared to reveal the details.”

She peered around the table, grabbing each agent’s eyes with hers for a moment before moving on. “If you want the answers, open the folder and sign the document at the top. This remains classified at the highest levels, for reasons that will soon become clear.”

Scribbling sounded briefly as each man and woman signed away the right to speak about what they were about to hear. The last pen clattered to the table and Director Cameron pointed back to the screen. “That…woman, for lack of a better term, killed Sam.”

A hand raised. Her cool gaze settled on a wrinkled veteran, Collins, not intimidated one whit by her glare. “Why is that classified? Why all the mystery? And I thought that Winters scumbag offed Sam, not some broad.”

Alexa mentally ticked off the days until Collins’ retirement, deciding to wait him out instead of shooting him. “Because Mr. Collins,” she said in a voice that polar bears would frolic in, “Winters shot Sam, but she killed him. From another dimension. By killing his wolf-half.”

Collins shot to his feet, face red and jowls shaking. “Is this some kind of sick joke to you, Director?” The way he said her title made it sound like the worse curse he could muster.

“SHUT-UP!”

Collins whirled to glare at Keyes, who also stood and quivered with rage. “I don’t think I was talking to you, bi-”

“Agent Collins! Enough!” the Director barked. She stared him down into his seat. “Just watch. If I hear another word out of you, I’ll have your badge. Understood?” When he nodded, she slammed the play button and crashed in her seat.

The woman on the screen spoke.

My name is Jaime…you know what? Just Jaime will do. I don’t want to make this too easy for you.

Where to start? I could give you some sob story about how Mommy was a drug addict and Daddy diddled me, but it wouldn’t be true. Nope, both my parents were great people. I almost regret setting that fire.

Almost.

The wide-mouthed grin and wicked glint in her eyes sent a collective shudder down the spines of the assembled agents.

I’ve always liked to hurt things. A shrug. It’s the way I am. Some might say I’ve got some wires crossed, but I like to think I’m just humanity’s reflection boiled down to its true form. Without all the “polite society” bullshit piled on. 

That’s why I’m making this video. I’ve found a…game I excel at, but might end up killing me.

The grin came back. And if I die, I want to make sure I don’t go down alone.

There’s a man named Snyder. He runs a game with a couple of flunkies named Jed and Charley. And this game is amazing. She affected a pleasure-shudder. I get all tingly just thinking about it. Here’s how it works. Jed finds some poor chick and pours on the charm. If she resists…well, let’s just say the pigs can close some murders if they ever track him down.

If, however, they fight back and draw blood, then he kidnaps them and they become contestants. 

“Sonofabitch,” a voice muttered in the darkened room.

They get taken to a warehouse that has a transporter. A transporter to a different dimension. Don’t ask me how he got it or how it works. He may have created it, he may have stolen it. I don’t know. All I do know is that the women dumped in the other dimension never made it back.

Until me.

Collins looked at Director Cameron, but she held up her hand then pointed at the screen.

Snyder would film the poor little dears running around nude and frantic until some wolf, or dinosaur, or something worse mauled them, then turn around and sell the snuff film for obscene amounts of money.

And freaks gobbled that shit up. Follow the money. Snyder kept meticulous records about his “contributors.” I’m sure you can even find some bootleg copies online. 

It was Heaven, Nirvana, and Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory all wrapped up in bow for me. When poor Jed tried to work his magic on me, I beat the bastard and, lucky for him, decided to get his story before making him victim #37.

“Victim #37? You mean this crazy chick is a serial killer?” Collins blurted.

Alexa let it slide, since she’d had a similar reaction the first time she watched the tape. She paused Jaime’s insurance. “Was, Mr. Collins. Was. We’re trying to track her movements prior to her hooking up with Snyder, but the trail is cold and long. May we continue?”

“Sorry,” Collins muttered.

The story sounded so fantastic that I made dickless wonder take me to his leader. I hatched a scheme that would increase profits. Simple, really. He would funnel victims to the dimension and set up a series of challenges. I would take the lost lambs under my wing and guide them through, giving them some song and dance about mind-wipes, winning, and such to give them hope.

She laughed, bitter and spiteful. Then I’d “help” them fight off the wolf-men, dinosaurs, and other dangers before knifing them in one final battle before they could step on the transporter.

It was glorious. You should have seen those faces. Broadcast the “games” on one of those sites available only to those that can afford it, take bets, and watch the cash flow. You wouldn’t believe how many suckers thought these bitches ever had a chance.

You wouldn’t believe half the stuff I’ve seen and done. I’ve killed Dromaeosaurs, avoided swarms of meat-eating mini-crabs, rode out storms of insects.

I lived…and I loved every minute of it.

Alexa stopped the tape. “When we debriefed Jenna Lexmark, she told us about the wolf-men. They are a species called Wolfen, and they exist in two dimensions simultaneously. That one…and this one.”

“You mean freaking werewolves are real now?” Collins called.

She shook her head, but Keyes answered. “Think of Native American mythology and spirit animals. Shamans would call upon the anima, or spirit of the animal, and take on its properties.” She pushed her glasses back up her nose. “Apparently, the anima transfer can work both ways.”

Cameron picked up the thought. “These aren’t men that turn into wolves; these are wolves whose spirit’s inhabit men.”

“And these ‘spirit wolves’ inhabit that dimension?”

“Yes. The leader of the Wolfen pack, In’ang’to, was Sam’s wolf-spirit made flesh in that dimension. He recognized Jenna as his human-half’s sister and tried to lead her to safety.” Alexa waved her hand. “I know. It sounds so fantastical, I’m still having trouble believing it.”

She nodded at Keyes, who pulled up a timeline of events as described by Jenna. “The timing seems to lend credence to the story. At the same time Winters shot Sam, In’ang’to collapsed, bleeding from a wound not received on his side.”

She cleared her throat and took a sip of water. Fists curled as she ground out, “And when Sam died, Jaime stabbed In’ang’to in the back. Which is why the doctors were baffled when Sam…passed from a kidney wound after being expected to make a full recovery.”

“What about the nut-job? She still breathing free air?”

A wintry smile creased Alexa’s face. “She’s not breathing at all. Jenna killed her before we transported her back to this dimension.”

Collins looked confused. “So why are we wasting time with her?”

The grin shifted to grimace. “Because her cryptic clues have left us searching for 36 victims in this world, countless unsolved murders now suspected of being performed by Jed Winters, who knows how many missing women cases, and a money trail that leads to some of the most powerful and influential people in this country and the world.”

“In short, this bitch left a mess. We have to clean it up. Now you know how Sam died and why it was classified.”

She gestured to the door. “So get cleaning.”

The agents stood and started out, but turned back when Director Cameron called, “Oh, and Agents? Don’t mention her at all. When this is over, I want that bitch’s name to die with her. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Chain Writing game

This week on Chain Writing Game were taking a break from serial-storytelling to delve a little deeper into some of the characters from the previous three stories. My choice is Jaime from “A Bloody Monday Morning.” I felt she was the type to leave an insurance policy behind to screw over her partners and admit her crimes for a form of posthumous fame.

Join in the fun. Read the stories and make up a back-story or continuation for a character that catches your eye. Or join us next week as we resume telling a story in 100-word chunks.

Hope you enjoy.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

The Superhero

Teddy leaped off the stairs, cape flapping in the breeze.

“Take off the dog’s blanket,” Mommy said. “You know it makes me sneeze.”

“But I’m a superhero, Mom!” he yelled as he jumped on the chair.

Mommy gave him the LOOK as she brushed little Molly’s hair.

Teddy crawled under the tree to give the presents a poke.

“Teddy, wait until tomorrow,” Mommy said. “This is not a joke.”

Teddy said, “But it’s Christmas Eve, and I want to open something.”

Mommy said, “Just wait, dear. Who knows what Santa will bring?”

Teddy ran upstairs, slamming his door with a BOOM!

He was so bored, he pretended to go camping in his room.

He turned on his music, to see how loud he could sing.

He sang so loud, that he never heard the phone ring.

He grabbed the blanket off his bed to set up his play-tent.

Then Mommy came in, with tears in her eyes. “Ted, there’s been an accident.”

Mommy said, “Daddy’s car was hit when someone ran the light.”

“He’s in the hospital and we’re going to see him tonight.”

“I need you to be a big-boy,” Mommy said. “And help with Molly, okay?”

Teddy just nodded his head, for there was nothing he could say.

Teddy held Molly’s hand after they climbed into the car.

And didn’t let go one time, even though the hospital was very far.

A nurse showed up and took them down a big, bright hospital hall.

Teddy held on to Molly, making sure she didn’t fall.

Daddy sat up when they entered the room, arms held open wide.

Mommy and Molly ran in for hugs, careful of Daddy’s side.

Teddy stayed back, waiting, letting Molly get hugs for a while.

“Come here my little superhero,” Mommy said with a smile.

Teddy ran forward into Daddy’s arms, happy as he could be.

He didn’t care what Santa brought. He had the gift of family.

The End.

This is for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 3rd Annual Holiday Writing Contest.

From her post :

The Contest:  Write a children’s story about a Holiday Mishap, mix-up, miscommunication, mistake, or potential disaster (a la Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer :)).  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 350 words not counting the title (aren’t I being generous?! 🙂  It can be as short as you like, but no more than 350!)  Did the dog knock over the Christmas Tree?  Did little Johnny’s costume get grape juice all over it moments before the holiday pageant?  Did the menorah go missing?  Did travel arrangements get snarled or miscommunicated?  Did Santa’s sleigh have to make an emergency landing?  The field is wide open!  Have fun!  (And because so many people have mentioned this, the story does not have to be funny!  You can have a holiday mishap that is serious or sweet or mysterious…  Please don’t feel that you have to go the humor route!  Also, because a number of people have mentioned it this time, no art notes please.)
Post:  Your entry should be posted on your blog between now and Friday December 13 at 11:59 PM EST and your post-specific link should be added to the link list below which will remain up through Sunday December 15.  (There will be no WYRI or PPBF this week.)  If you don’t have a blog but would like to enter, please copy and paste your entry into the comments below.  (If anyone has trouble commenting, which unfortunately happens, please email me and I’ll post your entry for you!)

Paladin’s Folly

Paladin looked over the dark cityscape he was supposed to be protecting. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary so far and he began to hope he could make an early night out of it.

This job takes way too much of my time, he mused to himself. I could be snuggling with Kira or finally getting that overdue paper done for Professor Tompkins, but NOOOOO I have to be freezing my balls off waiting for evil to happen. Why can’t it be like in the comics, they never seem to freeze or suffer serious shrinkage when patrolling, and trouble usually finds them instead of making them wait around.

“Ya know lad,” the thick Scottish brogue belonging to Rory cut through Paladin’s wandering thoughts, “ya could do somthin’ different for a change and actually patrol. Ya jus’ might stay warm and find that trouble you’re lookin’ for.”

Paladin sighed the sigh of the long suffering and pondered whether to answer back. The problem being if he did an argument would invariably break out, and if he didn’t the others would start chiming in with their unwanted two cents any second. Carrying around the souls of the six previous Champions of Heaven on Earth, while sounding cool, was more often than not a pain in the ass of epic proportions.

What the hell, he decided. It’ll give me something to do. As he geared up for the mental fight to begin a scream rang out.

“About damn time,” Paladin muttered, as he took off running at a speed that would make NASCAR drivers envious. Thank goodness for Akagi’s speed and reflexes, without ‘em I’d be dead and stuck in the sword with the others, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful experience for eternity.

“We heard that,” all of them said together.

“Good,” Paladin replied mentally, “Now shut up and let me concentrate.”

Paladin paused for a second and called up Rory’s senses. Extending his hearing out, he filtered out the normal night sounds of big city life and found what he was looking for, the sound of a girl crying and begging for her mother. Three blocks east; time to call up Akagi’s speed again. Letting go of Rory and filling himself with Akagi’s ability Paladin took off like a shot and reached the area in 45 seconds.

“Careful lad, time to slow down and approach with caution. We have no idea what we’re going to meet,” came the warning from inside his mind.

“M’butu, who’s the Paladin here? Let me do my damn job and just be ready when I call on you. Sheesh, my own mother disowns me and now I find myself with six old hens instead.”

Paladin took off the cross he always wore pinned to his breast and called forth his sword. Suddenly the surrounding buildings and alleys surrounding him became bathed in a bright silver glow coming from the sword in Paladin’s hand.

Three feet long with a beautiful jewel inlaid cross hilt, the real spectacle was the blade itself. Made entirely of the Silver Flame of Heaven, this holy sword was the bane of evil in any form.

Paladin barely knew what all of sword’s powers were, but was glad he had it. With it he could banish demons, wound the souls of the evil, heal the good, and generally kick ass on anything in between.

Of course it also held the souls of its six previous uptight, self-righteous wielders, but that was a minor price to pay.

In the glow Paladin spotted the source of the crying. A little girl, no more than twelve, was scooting backward on her behind as if trying to get away from something in the alleyway. Great, an invisible one, he thought.

He steeled himself, took a deep breath and shouted, “REVEAL”, while pointing the Silver Flame toward the general direction the child was facing. What popped into view made him wish he hadn’t done that.

Fully twelve feet tall, with a savage wolf-head, protruding fangs, clawed hands and feet, burning red eyes, and a huge axe, this thing wasn’t going to be easy.

Then again, if it were easy I wouldn’t be needed, Paladin mused.

Paladin started to pull up M’butu’s strength, but at the last second changed his mind. “Giovonni, time to play wizard,” he called out mentally.

Feeling the mystical power flow through him he called up a solid invisible wall, cutting off the Narwolf from the girl. Now calling on M’butu, Paladin crouched and leaped to the top of the building on the right side of the alley. The Narwolf howled and Paladin felt his entire being go weak for a moment.

“Nice fear effect, asshole, but not really the best thing to throw at me,” Paladin called.

Then his eyes widened and he scrambled for cover yelling, “Shit!”, as a ball of fire headed towards him. Instinctively he held out his sword and it drank in the raging inferno around Paladin and converted it into healing energy.

Mental note, don’t taunt the big scary wolf thing, Paladin thought as he called up Giovanni and fired off his own magic salvo. Lightning streaked from his hand and caught the Narwolf, blasting him back against the opposite wall of the alley. “That should do it.”

Paladin called up Chang and floated down off the roof thinking, If only those guys that make wuxia films knew they’re closer than anyone to the truth about what people are capable of.

“With God’s help, Paladin,” Chang’s voice chided.

“Yeah, yeah, all glory to God and whatever. Let’s just check on the girl shall we?”

Paladin dispelled the forcewall he had created and started towards the girl, who was staring at him apparently dumbfounded at being rescued. “It’s alright honey, I won’t hurt you,” Paladin assured the girl as he got his first good look at her.

She was one of those tall, thin, gawky girls with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. Here’s another one who’ll be made fun of or ignored, that is until she matures and I bet the boys will beat a path to her then.

“What’s your name, kiddo,” he asked. She just shook her head, and then her eyes widened and Paladin noticed a hint of red showing. As he went on his guard, he heard a growl from behind him. He whirled and brought Silver Flame up just in time to parry a cut that would have cleaved him two.

Mental note two, make sure big scary wolf thing is dead before I look to victims.

“Time for the show, Lance,” Paladin thought.

Suddenly the Narwolf seemed as if in slow motion as Lance filled Paladin with his skill. Paladin fell into the battle and within three strokes saw his opening.

Paladin cried out, “I send thee back to hell, demon,” as he swung the Silver Flame in a horizontal arc and severed the Narwolf’s head sending a spray of greenish blood flying.

Panting from exertion and shaking with adrenaline Paladin turned back to the girl only to find she was gone. Snorting with indignation he muttered, “Your welcome,” to the empty air.

“Let’s get back, if I’m lucky Kira’s still up and if I’m really lucky her parents aren’t,” Paladin told the others.

“We should find the girl and investigate this!” Rory exclaimed.

“What’s to investigate, girl gets scared and runs away as I kill demon, case closed. Hell, at least she had the good sense to run from trouble,” Paladin shot back.

“What about her eyes boyo, ya saw the red.”

“I saw a reflection of the Narwolf’s eyes in hers, that’s all and that’s it. It’s time to go.”

As he was about to leave he noticed a piece of metal lying on the ground. Curiosity got the better of him and he took a look. Squatting down he picked it up and found it to be an old, broken iron pipe. It had some type of viscous fluid covering the sharp edges. Holding it up to the light Paladin saw the fluid was gray with dark swirls rippling through it.

Screw it, probably from the Narwolf. Dismissing it from his mind, he called on Akagi and raced to Kira’s house.

Racing through the city at a speed that left him a blur to normal people, Paladin soon reached the university campus where both he and Kira lived. Unfortunately not together, but at least I don’t have far to run if her parents catch me.

“Sinful,” came Akagi’s voice.

“Bite me.”

shocked silence “Well, I never…”

Paladin cut her off. “You should, might loosen that stick up your ass. I don’t need lectures on sin, thanks. I’ve committed and had committed on me more than enough sin to damn me to Hell a hundred times over, so I may as well get what fun I can out of what life I have left. You chose me, not the other way around. Don’t like it, tough, ’cause I’m in charge. Anything else?”

Silence greeted his tirade and Paladin took that as a sign of assent or disbelieving anger.

Either way they were quiet and that’s all that mattered.

He stopped outside a modest two-story house that Kira lived in with her parents. Kira had received numerous academic scholarship offers from various prestigious schools, but with her mother ailing she chose to go where her father was a faculty member so she could help him take care of things around the house.

Paladin really had no idea what she saw in him. If anybody in the world was too good for him it was her. Still, there must be something; she had been with him for two years.

Stepping behind a large oak just outside of her window Paladin looked for signs she was awake. Extending Rory’s senses he heard the faint sounds of that pop garbage she liked to dance to. Good, she’s still awake and if I’m extremely fortunate she’s dancing. Dancing always gets her in the mood.

Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly and a faint silver shimmer flowed over him changing his clothes, cleaning off any grime and blood, and turning him back into just plain Jay Morgan. Taking his glasses out of his pocket, Jay couldn’t help but think, if it’s good enough for Superman its good enough for me, as he put them on.

Stepping closer to the tree Jay started climbing and quickly reached her window and knocked softly. The curtains whooshed back as Kira gave him that smile she reserved just for him, the one that made him think of marrying her every time. She opened the window and Jay started to say, “Am I too late…”, when she grabbed him and kissed him, pulling him in at the same time.

Long moments later they finally broke apart and Jay asked her, “Should we move this to the bed?”

Kira grinned and replied, “Only if you have that paper for my father’s class done.”

“If I promise to get it done right after, can we move this to the bed?”

Holding her arms around his neck she kissed him quickly and said, “Get your lazy, but cute, ass over to my computer and get done. I’d rather not be cold while you work afterwards.”

“Fine,” Jay sighed as he gave her his best suffering look. “If go crazy and jump you I can’t be held responsible.”

“It shouldn’t take you that long, besides its better when you have to wait for it.”

“Somebody’s been feeding you a pack of lies.”

Kira giggled and said, “Come on, get busy and I’ll make you some coffee.”

“Groovy.”

Kira looked at him and said, “Did you really just say groovy?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Nobody says groovy.”

“Well I can think of three, me, Austin Powers, and Shaggy.” Jay tried to do his best Shaggy voice, “Like groovy, man.”

Kira laughed, telling him, “Your Scooby is much better.”

“If I do Scooby, can I see your Shaggy?” he asked hopefully.

“Keep your mind on your paper, perv, you’ll get done faster,” she said while rolling her eyes and giving him a playful slap on the shoulder. She turned to go, but turned back, put her arms around him, and whispered in his ear, “If you hurry, you’ll find I’m not Shaggy at all.”

A few hours later Jay found himself lying in bed with Kira, holding her while she slept.

He had finished his paper in record time, maybe not his best work, but he got it done. Kira was true to her word and it was great, but something kept nagging at him. Normally he would be fast asleep by now; still he lay there wide-awake and thinking about the earlier encounter with the Narwolf. Jay thought about waking up the Rory to talk, but decided against it.

After his earlier explosion he doubted they would be talking to him for a couple of days. Well, it was fine with him. He could use the peace and quiet.

“Why do I keep thinking about that piece of pipe I found? And that girl, who was she, and what was she doing in that neighborhood at that time?” Suddenly it came to him and he breathed out, “Shit!”

Easing himself out of bed so he wouldn’t wake Kira, he went to her computer and pulled up information on dark fey.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, how could I have been so blind? Dark fey find iron painful, poisonous even. They can summon a demon for protection while they take the form of the person they decide to go after. Damn it all, she wasn’t afraid of the Narwolf, it was her guardian. She wasn’t crying for her mother, but praying to the Fey Mother for help. Goddamnit, how could I be so stupid?”

He knew why as he turned in the chair to look at Kira sleeping.

“I need to find out whose form she was wearing.”

Turning back to the computer he started going through school websites, hoping he could get lucky and find her. He started with the schools closest to the area he first encountered them. He struck pay dirt on the third website. The school had posted its yearbook online and he found her in it. Quickly finding an address corresponding with the school district, and writing a short note for Kira, Jay dressed and headed out the window quietly. “I’m coming Lucy Gramerling, I just hope I’m not too late.”

Once down the tree and a few houses down, Jay stopped and called upon the energies that made him the Paladin. Doing this woke the souls and Rory asked him what was going on. Paladin quickly briefed him and the rest on what he had learned.

“You were right Rory, I should have stayed and investigated or found the girl or, or…,” the thought choked off as he realized what he had probably done.

“No time for that lad, what’s done is done. We need to move fast.” Calling upon Akagi the Paladin took off. He reached the Gramerling’s building a short time later. Using skills he had picked up in his past, Paladin quickly got the security door open.

“Gramerling, 4C.” Racing to the apartment Paladin felt a strong sense of foreboding. Stopping at their door, Paladin extended Rory’s senses and smelled a scent he had become too familiar with.

“Blood,” he muttered, “We’re too late.”

M’butu’s voice came forward in his mind, “You don’t know that! These people may need our help still.”

Closing his eyes, he bowed his head and then reached for the door handle. It was unlocked so he stepped inside and was greeted by a sight that would haunt him the rest of his days.

Lucy Gramerling’s parents had been pinned to the wall with great swathes of skin peeled away, leaving muscle and viscera exposed. The muscles had bite marks that showed they had been gnawed upon, and the expressions on their faces meant they were kept alive, and awake, during the whole ordeal.

Paladin didn’t know whether to cry, vomit, or collapse, so he did all three at the same time. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he managed to get a grip on his emotions.

“We need to find the girl,” Rory said more quietly than he had ever said anything before.

Paladin stood up, nodded his head, and consciously averting his gaze from the poor souls on the wall, walked towards the bedroom area.

Opening the door, knowing what he would find, Paladin saw the real Lucy Gramerling lying in her bed perfectly still, the kind of stillness that only comes from death. Walking over beside her, he looked her over, but couldn’t find any marks on her.

“She stole her soul,” Lance’s voice somberly informed him.

“I know.”

Paladin leaned close and ran a hand gently over her hair. “I failed you, Lucy, and your family. Through my own selfishness, anger, and arrogance I failed you. I can’t promise you that something like this won’t happen again, but I can promise it won’t be because I didn’t try. I will avenge you and find a way to set your soul free. I am so sorry.”

“We’ll find the bastard that did this, boyo, and then we’ll send her back to hell!” Rory vowed.
“There’s something I have to do first.”

The Paladin made his way back to Kira’s house slowly. When he finally reached it he made his way inside through the kitchen door. Kira and her father were in there making breakfast, and looked up in alarm at this strange man walking through the door.

Paladin smiled sadly and walked on without saying anything, heading to Kira’s mother, Anna.

Professor Tompkins started to say something, but Kira stopped him by saying, “Jay?”

Paladin nodded briefly, and then activated the Silver Flame. Professor Tompkins surged forward, but was restrained by Kira. Paladin positioned his sword over Anna’s cancer-ridden body and did something he had never done before. He prayed.
In response the Silver Flame spit silvery sparks that sought out the cancer in Anna’s body and eliminated it.
Anna, who had been sleeping, awoke and sat up with a look of wonderment on her face. “The pain, it’s gone, oh thank you God, the pain’s gone. Paul, Kira it’s gone!”

Paul and Kira raced to her side, hugging her in a way that had been impossible for so long. All three wept with joy and happiness. Paladin just stood back looking on stoically, he knew what he had to do. Finally Kira pulled herself away from her mother, ran towards Paladin and hugged him. “Jay, how did you… Will it last? Why do you look so different?” she stammered out.

“Kira, my name is Paladin and I am the current Champion of Heaven on Earth. I healed your mother as my way of saying thank you for taking me into your life. Before you I had never known any type of love from family to friends. I can never repay you for what you’ve done for me.”

“I’m sorry Kira, but I have to leave. I wanted so bad to have a life with you that I allowed my desire to cause others to lose their lives. What happened isn’t your fault, but I can never let it happen again. I hope you understand.”

With that he disengaged himself from Kira and turned to walk out the door.

Crying, Kira screamed out, “Don’t go please, I LOVE YOU!!! Please come back. Please.”

Paladin stopped at the door. He turned his head slightly rearward in her direction and said in a shaky voice, “I love you too, Kira. That’s why I won’t bring you into this life, but if you should ever truly need me, pray and say my name.”

With that, Paladin walked out the door, out of her life, and into his new one.

Hated Love

This is a short story I wrote several years ago. For Yeah Write Weekly Writing Challenge #139 Weekend Moonshine Grid. Head on over for some fun and great writing with no word count limit or genre restriction; you can even use older posts and show them to a brand new audience! Hope you enjoy!

Eric stared out the car window, watching the trees pass by as his parents drove him down a dusty back-road to Camp Shelter.

His mother sat in the front passenger seat, inanely chattering away about how things were going to be all right and that this was God’s will. His father drove in stony silence, a deep frown replacing the normally kind face Eric had grown up with.

Eric couldn’t handle looking at his father too much these days knowing that he had hurt and disappointed him so deeply. He hadn’t asked for these urges, knew they were wrong in God’s eyes, but he couldn’t fight them.

He felt so dirty, so confused. His father had withdrawn from him after the “Talk,” and Eric had withdrawn from his entire family. The only thing he had now was hope and memories.

Word had spread, of course, in the small town of Sojourn, and Eric had found himself cut off from those he had considered friends. He’d never forget that cool night in October after his secret shame had been leaked. He had gone to his Youth in Christ ministry as always,and was struck by the almost palpable sense of disgust, confusion, derision, and hatred that flowed from his group.

Even his Youth minister couldn’t keep the contempt he felt from showing. They didn’t outright ban him from the meeting, but they didn’t accept him either. Not anymore. The lesson that night was over Leviticus. Everyone kept giving him pointed looks the whole time the Youth Minister was talking.

He had just pretended he was looking at the signs posted on the brightly colored walls that said, “Jesus Loves You,” and “All is possible in Christ.”

He had left the Mountain Valley Fellowship church dispirited that night, walking the more than a mile trip home alone. Before his shame became known he could’ve gotten a ride from someone. Now, it was like some disease infected him. No, a disease did infect him. He just hadn’t realized it at the time.

He had walked less than a quarter of the way home, shivering in the cool night air and praying to Jesus for someone to accept him, when Aaron and Russell drove up. His prayers had been answered. They offered him a ride home, and he gladly accepted even though the smell of whiskey flowed from the truck.

He remembered his sense of unease rising as the ride stretched out longer than it should’ve for such a short distance. He remembered the outright panic pulsing through his body as he realized where they were taking him. He didn’t remember much of the beating, except that it seemed to go on for an eternity and the taste of dirt as his two attackers sped off into the night leaving him behind.

How long he lay there soaked in his own fluids and pain he never really found out. All he knew was that someone eventually found him because he woke up in a hospital room. The glare of the lights shone on him like an inquisitor’s spotlight, and he heard voices murmuring around him.

He turned his head and through the haze could make out a gray-haired mass that looked similar to his mother huddled in the corner, hands clasped and lips moving in soundless supplication. A figure shroud in the vestments of his calling obscured his vision and shouted incoherent words at him. Not wanting to endure anymore, he allowed the darkness to reclaim him.

Pain brought him back to awareness a second time. Aches suffused his entire body, with the worst being a dull stabbing pain in his side. He had broken ribs before during a bicycle accident in his youth, so he knew that pain. He tried to move himself to a sitting position, and the toll taken on his damaged body caused an involuntary groan to escape his lips; his weakness of spirit manifesting itself in the weakness of his body.

A firm, but gentle, hand on his shoulder kept him from exerting himself any further. “Take it easy, son. You’ve had a rough couple of days. No need to make things worse for yourself now.”

Eric turned his good eye toward the sound of the voice and saw the beatifically smiling face of Pastor Roberts, the head of the Mountain Valley Fellowship. Eric’s father stood behind the Pastor, arms crossed and frowning as he did every time he was forced to be around Eric now. Pastor Roberts pulled a chair up to the bedside and sat down, clutching his well-worn Bible upon his lap. “Eric, I know this is a difficult time right now, but I want to talk to you about God’s plan for your life,” Pastor Roberts said.

He paused for a second and looked at Eric expectantly. Eric managed to nod a go ahead. Apparently satisfied that Eric could understand him, Pastor Roberts continued. “I understand some of your…recent actions have caused you to stray from God’s path for man.”

He reached over and patted Eric’s hand in a paternal gesture. “Now, I understand that young people your age often rebel against what your elders expect of you. I was no different.” He threw back his head and laughed. “Oh! Some of the stories I could tell you of my wild youth.” His face took on a somber visage, as if he suddenly remembered the seriousness of his task today. “Humph. Be that as it may, that’s not why I’m here.”

He fixed Eric with a stern glare. “You have to understand that your behaviors are not what is expected from a true Christian. Rebelling is one thing, but these behaviors of yours are serious sins in the eyes of the Lord. I wanted to talk to you before this…incident, and how I wish I had! That was my failure.”

Pastor Roberts held Eric’s hand, and looked at him with sincerity shining in his eyes. “I am sorry, Eric. I had heard the rumors, but in my weakness, decided to believe they weren’t true instead of doing my duty to set you back upon the right and righteous path. I failed you and God, and I hope both of you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

A tear rolled out of Eric’s eye. “Not your fault,” he croaked out.

Pastor Roberts shook his head. “Oh, but it is. If I had done my duty and gotten you the help you needed, then this horrible thing could have been prevented. I had hoped that some of your peers might take the initiative to steer you back to the flock. However, that is the shepherd’s responsibility.”

His features took on a grim look and anger crept into his voice. “I want you to know that I will see justice done for this atrocity. It is completely unacceptable and I won’t even appear to condone it. You don’t return a wayward lamb to the flock through violence, but with love. Whoever did this sinned against the Lord, and you have my personal assurance that I will do everything in my power to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Eric swallowed past the lump in his throat and flicked his gaze to his father. He seemed to be standing there with his bowed in shame over his treatment of his son, at least Eric hoped so. He immediately felt guilty over such an uncharitable thought.

It wasn’t his father’s fault, any more than it was Pastor Roberts’ fault, no matter what he might say. He had brought this on himself.

He turned his attention back when Pastor Roberts started talking again. “Eric, I have an important question for you. I’m pretty sure of the answer, but I need to know what you think.” Pastor Roberts took a deep breath. “Eric, do you want to be gay?”

Eric, through streaming tears, cried out, “NO! I want to be normal and have my life back!”

Eric heard two relieved exhalations of breath, even though he kept his eyes on Pastor Roberts the whole time. Pastor Roberts smiled at him in joy. “Good! That’s the first step to recovering from this. I’ve been talking to your parents already about this. There is a place for confused young men and women like yourself that helps turn people away from the gay lifestyle. It’s called Camp Shelter, and it’s run by Revelations Transformational Ministries.”

Pastor Roberts went on about the therapists there, and how insurance would pay for it by filing the therapy under depression or persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation, but Eric was only half-listening. He suddenly felt hope that he could get rid of his unnatural urges, that he could get his family and friends, his entire life, back.

He vowed he would make it through the program and become heterosexual…
The car coming to a stop broke Eric from his reverie. He hopped out of the car and took a look around as his dad strode to the trunk to get his bags out. Before him stood a long two-story concrete building, with a large banner that read “Christ is Key.”

Several paths meandered across the open fields behind the building, heading off to the various activity areas. Eric could make out an archery range nearby, and, if he squinted, a dock with some rowboats for the lake in the distance. The vast open area was dotted with shade trees and pavilions, with the forest and lake creating natural boundaries for the camp. Eric inhaled deeply. He could tell this was a healing place.

“Welcome, you must be Eric,” a booming voice said. Eric turned his attention to the speaker and felt his breath catch a little. Walking toward him was a tall man in casual dress, obviously fit, with dark hair and features that looked like they were chiseled from stone. He suddenly felt an urge to run his hands all over the stranger’s body and explore every inch of him.

He caught himself thinking the thoughts that brought him here in the first place, and viciously berated himself mentally. He had to learn to control himself if he was going to get better. He bowed his head and studied his shoes.

The man, apparently used to this type of reaction from new clients, continued on, smoothly changing his focus to Eric’s parents. “And you must be Eric’s parents. I’m Paul,” he said as he shook first Eric’s mother’s hand and then his father’s. “It is so good to meet all of you, and welcome to Camp Shelter.” He swept his arm toward the building behind him. “If you all will just follow me to my office we can get Eric checked in and on his way to an ex-gay life.”

He waited patiently while Eric gathered his bags. Once everyone was ready he turned and walked slowly to the building, speaking all the while in the tone of someone giving a well-rehearsed speech. “As you probably know, Camp Shelter is a small part of the Revelations Transformational Ministries. We have other camps and offices all around the country to help Christians overcome their homosexual lifestyle behaviors.”

He opened the door for Eric’s family, gesturing for them to precede him. Once they were all in the hallway he took his place at the head of the group and continued speaking. “Revelations Transformational Ministries was founded in 1976 to bring God’s grace and truth to a world plagued by homosexuality. We believe that homosexuality is Satan’s way of taking good Christian souls from Jesus, and we are dedicated to helping those that have fallen under the devil’s sway to reclaim their love of Jesus so that he may love them.”

As Paul went on talking, Eric took the chance to study the long hallway he was heading down. Biblically themed paintings and posters, presumably made by other clients as part of their therapy, dotted the walls around doorways and windows that looked into various rooms.

Eric could see three young women in one room, each dressed in a white shirt and long black skirt, kneeling with heads bowed and holding hands as their lips moved in prayer. Eric looked at the bright white walls in the room and noticed a camera in the far corner that could see most of the classroom before the small group moved on. He noticed more cameras in other rooms they passed, and at various intervals in the hallway.

The door to Paul’s office lay directly at the end of the hall, where the entrance hall and another horizontal hallway intersected to create a T. His solid oak door had a copy of the Ten Commandments pasted onto it, along with a strip of paper that quoted Leviticus 18:22: Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Paul ushered Eric and his family inside. His office was full of pictures of Paul with other men, both old and young. Most of the time they were smiling and shaking hands, but the occasional picture had a more serious look to it. He had a small bookshelf off to the side of the room, filled with copies of the Bible and authors with names like Nicolosi, Paulk, Consiglio, Howard, and Comiskey.

A large potted fern on one side and an icon on the wall of Jesus on the Cross on the other side created a frame for his large oak desk, which was very neatly ordered. The floor changed from plain linoleum in the hallway to a sensuous burgundy carpet at the threshold. Paul gestured for Eric and his family to take the three seats he had placed in front of his desk, while he appointed himself in his very plush leather chair.

Once Eric and his family had situated themselves, Paul leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs, ankle on knee, and steepled his fingers together. “Well, folks, now that you know a little bit about this place, I would like to know a bit more about you, especially Eric here. Eric, tell me what your goal is being here?”

Eric shifted a bit in his seat and looked over at his father. “I want to be cured of homosexuality,” he said. “I want to be a heterosexual and become right with God.”

Paul nodded his head in understanding. “Good.” He leaned forward, his calm features intensifying. “Good, but the first step can be difficult for some. I want you to take that first step with me right now, in front of your parents. Can you do that, Eric?”

Eric nodded and Paul continued on. “Good. Now, the first step is to admit, out loud, that homosexuality is unnatural and that practicing it is wrong. I want you to say it, in front of me, your family, and God.”

Eric could feel his face turning red, but he was determined to do whatever was necessary. “Homosexuality is unnatural and practicing it is wrong,” he mumbled.

“Louder, Eric,” Paul said.

Eric raised his voice so it came out clearer. “Homosexuality is unnatural and practicing it is wrong.”

Paul shook his head. “I’m not believing you, Eric. I don’t know that we can help you if you can’t take this first step.”

“Homosexuality is unnatural and practicing it is wrong!” Eric was shouting now.

“Again, with the same passion,” Paul told him.

“Homosexuality is unnatural and practicing it is wrong!” Eric’s could feel his entire body trembling.

Paul held up his smoothly manicured hand to stop Eric at that point. “Good. You have taken the first step to being an ex-gay, Eric. When you pray at night and in the morning, I want you to ask God for forgiveness for practicing this sin. I also want you, as part of your therapy, to keep telling yourself that in your mind, especially when you feel sinful thoughts of other men cross your mind.”

He turned his attention to Eric’s parents. “Folks, I want you to know that you made the right decision in bringing Eric here. He seems committed to becoming an ex-gay and leading a productive life bathed in the love of the Lord. We specialize in turning teens back onto the right path.”

Paul gave a low chuckle. “Some of our clients are a lot less eager than Eric seems to be, but by the end they have embraced God and created a loving relationship with Jesus. Of course, I can’t guarantee Eric will be cured, it depends on the willingness of an individual to change, after all. However, we do have an 80% success rate, one of the highest in the country.”

Paul gestured to the pictures on the wall. “This is what I call my ‘Wall of Success.’ These pictures show those that have successfully repaired their relationship with Jesus and have become ex-gay. Most have been so grateful that they have gone on to minister God’s truth to others troubled by homosexuality.” He gave them a self-deprecating grin. “I, myself, am one of those success stories. I understand what you are going through, Eric. I promise you that if you let me help you then you will be brought back to the light of God’s grace. It’s as simple as that.”

Paul opened his desk drawer and took something out. “Hold out your hand, Eric. I’m going to give you a simple device that will help you during your time here.”

Eric reached out with his palm up, and Paul dropped a rubber band into the outstretched hand. His smile grew wider as Eric’s face grew confused. “You put the rubber band on your wrist. When you have sinful thoughts about men you merely snap the band and repeat the mantra I gave you. The sharp sting takes your mind off of your thoughts, and the mantra keeps your mind occupied until they subside completely.”

He pulled back his sleeve to show a similar rubber band around his wrist. “This is just one of the simple, but effective, techniques you’ll be taught to overcome homosexual behavior. You’ll also have therapy sessions, both one-on-one and group, along with opportunities to meditate and pray on how your actions have damaged your life and relationship with Jesus.”

Paul pressed a buzzer on his desk intercom. “Now, before I send you to get settled in, I have to go over a few rules we have here. First, I’ll need any jewelry, alcohol, or drugs you may have on you or in your bags.” He looked at Eric expectantly.

“I don’t drink or do drugs, and I don’t have any piercings, sir,” Eric said.

“Are you sure? You have a one-time amnesty right now. Males wearing jewelry, doing drugs, and drinking are all endemic within the homosexual lifestyle. We will not tolerate those types of behavior here.”

Paul glared at him sternly, but Eric just shook his head. “Alright, I believe you. We try to work on a basis of trust here. Second, we have a dress code here. You have to wear button-down shirts and slacks at all times, unless activities planned dictate otherwise. You must also have a full set of pajamas to wear to bed. You have all these?”

Eric nodded. “We brought everything recommended by the packet you sent us.”

“Good. Third, you will have…” A soft knock on the door interrupted Paul. “Excuse me a moment.” He strode to the door and opened it to reveal a wan-looking effeminate young man with longish black hair that covered his eyes. “Ah, I was just about to get to you. Come in.”

Paul turned to Eric and gestured to the young man. “Eric, this is your accountability partner and new roommate, Steve. He will be responsible for keeping you on track while you’re here, just as you’ll be responsible for doing the same for him.”

Paul looked at Steve a little coolly. “We’re just finishing up here. In fact, if Eric doesn’t have any questions…No? Then go ahead and show Eric to his room while I finish up the details with his parents. Eric, say goodbye to your parents. You won’t be seeing them until our next open visitation in a few months.”

Eric stood up slowly, lips quivering slightly now that the moment had finally arrived. His mother gave him a fierce hug. Then she cradled his face in her hands and said, “Get better, honey. I’m proud of you for taking control of your life, and I can’t wait to see the good Christian man that I know is inside of you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll pray for you everyday,” she said as she let him go.

Eric looked at his father, taking an uncertain step forward, but stopping when his father took a step back. “Well, bye, Dad,” he said. His father gave him a slight nod, and Eric followed Steve out the door.

The pair went down the right corridor of the T, with Steve walking in front. Actually, walking was the wrong term. It was more like Steve was sashaying down the corridor. Eric tried to ask him a question, but Steve just glared at him and made a shushing gesture. Eric gave up and meekly followed behind his new roommate, doubts about what he had gotten himself into worming their way into his mind.

They turned left down another corridor once they reached the end of the hall. Steve finally spoke to Eric. “This is the boys’ dormitory area. There are about 10-20 of us at any given time.” He stopped in front of one the non-descript doors. “This one’s ours. Come on in.”

Steve opened the door and Eric stepped through into the spartan room. There were two beds, one made, obviously Steve’s, and one with sheets, blanket, and pillow at the end of the bed. There was a dresser by each bed, as well as a nightstand with lamp and alarm clock.

Steve closed the door behind them, heaved a sigh of relief, and flopped down on his bed. “It’s not much, but it sucks. Welcome to what I think Hell would be like. Sorry about shushing you in the hallway. I just don’t like talking around the cameras too much.”

Eric threw his things on his bed, sat down on the edge, and looked at Steve curiously. “Why are you here if you think it’s so bad? You don’t want to change?”

Steve’s mouth opened wider momentarily, then he laughed at the ceiling. “Of course they would give me one of your type.”

Eric felt his body stiffen. “What type would that be?”

“A self-loathing queer.” Steve rolled his eyes as Eric clenched his fists. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch. I have no room to tell anyone how to live their life.You want to try to change who you are, more power to you and good luck. Me, I like who I am, and so does my boyfriend.”

Eric felt even more confused than before. “Wait a minute. You have a boyfriend? Why are you here?”

Steve sighed, but sat up to look at Eric. “Life stories on the first date, huh? Okay, I’m down with that. Long story short, my parents sent me here. Longer version, my dear old dad kicked me out when he found out I was gay and had a boyfriend. I lived with Terry, my gorgeous hunk of man, for awhile, at least until the rumors of the deacon’s kid fagging it up reached daddy’s church. Quite the scandal from what I understand. Anyway, Daddy Dearest hauled his gelatinous ass over to Terry’s when the whispers became a little too loud for him to ignore. He started threatening Terry, saying he’s going to go to the cops and have him arrested for kidnapping, statutory rape (Terry’s a little older than me), and all sorts of other things. Honestly, I think he made up half the laws he said were being broken.”

Steve paused and Eric heard the pain and anger behind the silence. He waited respectfully while Steve gathered himself enough to continue. “So, to keep my boyfriend from going to jail, I promised my dad I would try to change. I suggested coming here as a compromise. He leaves Terry alone, I’m out of sight and out of mind, and he thinks he’s won.”

The silence stretched out again, this time longer and more bitter than before. Eric shifted slightly, not meaning to interrupt Steve’s thoughts, but the small movement seemed to break whatever spell Steve was under. “Sorry, bud. Didn’t mean to go all Lifetime movie serious on you. It’s just when I think about…” He shook his head, as if the motion would cause all the dark thoughts to be expelled from his head by force. “Never mind. You’ve heard my story. Your turn. I’m sure it’s a wondrous tragedy filled with woe and sorrow,” he said a bit caustically.

Eric told him about his alienation from his family, friends, and community. He told him about how he felt he disappointed his father and how he had to make things up to him. Finally, he told him about the beating, and for some reason he didn’t quite understand, told him about the things they forced him to do before the beating. He hadn’t told anyone else before this, hadn’t even really admitted it to himself.

As he recounted the humiliation and degradation out loud, he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, determined not to break down and cry like a little girl. He looked at Steve, anger sending lightning through his eyes.

Steve flipped back his hair, his sympathy reflected in the tears running down his face. “Man, I’m sorry that happened to you,” Steve said quietly. He rubbed his face with his hands. “Well, it’s official; I’m King of the Douchebags.” He leaped up on his bed and spread his arms in a grand gesture. “Hear ye, Hear ye. Come one, come all, and see your mighty king attempt the amazing feat of pulling his own head out of his ass.”

Steve kept going on and on, getting more and more graphic, until Eric couldn’t help but laugh at his ridiculousness. It was a wild laughter that soon turned to heaving sobs.

Steve jumped back down and crossed the small space between them, sitting right next to Eric and putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. “That’s better. Let it out.”

He pulled Eric closer and gave him his shoulder to cry on. They sat there for several minutes in that position, with Steve stroking Eric’s hair and cooing wordless reassurances to him. Finally, Eric pulled himself slowly from Steve’s grasp and tried to compose himself. “You gonna be alright?” Steve asked.

“I will be. Thanks.”

“No problem.” Steve made a show of looking at his shirt. “Wow, this is a mess. I guess I should be grateful you aren’t a full-on drag queen. Mascara is such a bitch to get out of whites.”

Eric gave his first genuine laugh in what felt like forever. “Were you trying to hit on me just then?” Eric asked him.

Steve made a raspberry sound as he changed his shirt. “What is it with men’s egos that they think every gay man is after them? You’re not my type. I like strong muscular guys. Two sensitive sissies like us would just spend all our time on the couch, bawling over the latest ‘men are evil’ travesty on Oxygen or Lifetime, while getting fat off of bon-bons.” He gave a mock shudder at the thought. “C’mon, bud. We better go show our faces before the sex police start to think we’re making out or something.”

The duo headed out toward the dining room. While they were walking, Eric asked, “So what kind of things do they teach you here?”

Steve just shook his head. “No peeks behind the curtain, Dorothy. You’ll find out soon enough.” Steve opened up the door to the commissary and gestured for Eric to go first.

Eric just made out what Steve mumbled to himself. “And the sad thing is, you’ll probably take it all to heart.”

Over the next twelve months at the camp, Eric did indeed find out. During his therapy sessions he learned that his father had been ineffective and distant when he was younger, which caused him to transfer his longing for a close relationship with his father into sexual feelings for other men. During group therapy they would massage each others shoulders in non-sexual, non-erotic ways to form a closer bond with each other that would fulfill that relationship need.

In behavior modifications he learned how to walk like a straight man, talk like a straight man, and even cross his legs like a straight man. Ankle over ankle, or ankle on knee, knee over knee is the feminine way to sit.

Steve left after a couple more months when he turned eighteen. Before he left, he gave Eric an address, phone number, and e-mail. He told him that if he ever needed a place to crash, hide out, or even just to talk, to not hesitate to contact him. He told everyone else that he was moving back with his boyfriend and there wasn’t a damn thing his dad or anyone else could do about it, and if they didn’t like that they could kiss every square inch of his flaming gay ass.

Eric got a new accountability partner soon after Steve left, but he didn’t get to know him very well. He was focused on creating a new relationship with Jesus based on love. It wasn’t easy by any means. He found himself snapping his rubber band and repeating his mantra often the first few months. As time went on he found himself snapping his rubber band less and less, especially as his mantra became more ingrained in his thought process.

At the end of his time Paul congratulated him in front of his parents on becoming cured. Eric’s mother wept with joy and his father smiled at him for the first time in over a year. He felt a euphoria he had never experienced before. He went home and eventually got a girlfriend.

God shined his light of grace upon Eric, and everything was going to be bright from now on.
* * *
Steve rolled over to give Terry a kiss before getting up for the day. Classes were going great, he was on the verge of getting his biology degree and his teaching classes were more fun than he thought. He padded silently out of the bedroom and went into the office. He turned on the computer to see if he had gotten any messages since yesterday afternoon.

He opened his e-mail and one header caught his eye right away. It simply said, “Eric.” He hadn’t heard from Eric in almost two years, ever since he left Camp Shelter. A feeling of dread seized his spine as he opened the e-mail, and as he read it his heart plummeted.

“Hey Steve,
I hope things are going well for you. They aren’t so great for me right now. I mean I had a girlfriend, my father was talking to me again, I was held up by my church as an example of what a relationship with Jesus can do for anyone. Things were great. Then I met this guy at work. I felt those feelings come back. Why, God? Why did you make those feelings come back? I did everything He asked of me, you know? I tried to fight them, I really did. I repeated homosexuality is unnatural and practicing it is wrong over and over again. I went to my girlfriend’s house and tried to have sex with her, but I couldn’t do it. All I could think about was him. I failed. I failed myself, my family, and God. I can’t go through it again. I’m not strong like you, I just can’t take it. It’s all my fault. Everything. My feelings, what happened that night, all of it. I can’t bear to go through it again. But I want you to do me a favor. Please, tell my dad it wasn’t his fault. Be kind to him. Tell him and my mom that I always loved them no matter what and that I’m sorry. Please do this for me. You were there for me once and I’m hoping you will be again.

Thank you and God Bless You.

Love, Eric.”

Steve stared at the screen for awhile. “Damn,” he said, “I really wish you would have called me.” Then he closed his eyes and said a prayer for the damaged young man nobody ever truly helped.