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 His father had withdrawn from him after the “Talk,” and Eric had withdrawn from his entire family.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.
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.
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.