The Evangelical Project
Part 4: Hellfire and Damnation
I fell asleep, cuddled in Gary’s arms, and dreamed of making love with him. In my dream, I lay on my back; he knelt over me; I spread my legs and lifted myself to him; I put my hands on his buttocks and pulled him toward me; and then, just as his penis touched me, just as I was about to open myself to him, I was burning in the fires of Hell!
I screamed myself awake, but the flames were still there. So was Gary. I could feel him. I reached out to him, but he was already holding me.
“It burns! It’s burning!” I screamed. Then, it became, “They’re burning! They’re burning!”
Gary slapped me, and immediately pulled me to him.
“I’m sorry, Nemesis!” he gasped. “I’m sorry … you were hysterical.” I felt his anger—at himself. He was crying … for me, because I had a bad dream; for himself, because he hit me.
Then I realized: the flames were still there. They were in my mind. They weren’t hurting me, but they were hurting someone. I felt pain, fear, and panic, but they came from outside of me.
A boy popped into the room. He brought his own light. I recognized him. It was Apollo.
“Nemesis, I need help,” he said. I kissed Gary’s cheek and grabbed Apollo’s hand. We popped … into the flames.
“Grab one and follow me!” Apollo said.
Grab one what? I wondered, and then saw them: children … twenty or so of them … pushing against a door. The door wouldn’t open. Smoke filled the hallway. I could barely see, and I knew the children could see even less. There was an explosion behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a wall of fire moved toward us. Apollo had popped out with one child, and had returned.
“Grab—” he said.
“No time,” I interrupted. I pushed my way through the children, drew my sword—the short sword of Phiddipides—and struck the chains that held the door closed. The door swung outward. Encouraged by a rush of air, the fire behind me increased its pace, but the children stumbled out ahead of the fire. I saw Apollo pop out just before the fire reached him.
The door opened into a parking lot. The children scattered. Apollo grabbed me. “There are more, elsewhere … ”
The next minutes were a blur. Apollo seemed to know where there were children trapped by the fire. He popped me to them; we would grab a child and pop to safety, or I would break open a door. Over and over; the night became a blur. I watched Apollo heal. I asked if I could do that, too, but he gestured me back into the flames.
I had never before been so frightened for Nemesis. All the skills I learned in combat, in competitive sports, and in business, they all left me as adrenalin flooded my body. Fight or flight reflex, I knew: just when we humans need to think calmly and rationally, that evolutionary remnant from our millennia as tree-climbing primates on the plains of Africa comes back to haunt us.
As soon as I could calm down, I called Dike. Nemesis had shared with me the warning he had received: don’t piss her off. By now, I was beyond any fear of her.
She answered before I heard a ring. “He is safe. Summon Caden to your home. Prepare for visitors.” She hung up. Her voice had been flat, without emotion. She had been brusk. But, I don’t think she was angry. I had almost gotten her angry when I offered her stale coffee and artificial creamer, once. I thought I knew her “pissed off” voice. I called Caden, put on a pot of coffee, and poured a small pitcher of half-and-half for Dike. She had not said, but I suspected she’d join us.
Caden arrived at 2:30 AM. It had been nearly an hour since Nemesis and the other boy had popped out of our bedroom. I tried to explain to Caden.
“Nemesis had a nightmare; he was dreaming of fire. Then, a boy about his age, wearing a tunic, popped into the bedroom and took Nemesis with him. Nemesis seemed to know him … ”
“Boy in a tunic?” Caden asked. “Curly black hair? Husky voice?”
Caden’s own voice was low, almost nonchalant.
“How do you expect me … ” I started to say. I realized Caden was trying to help me stay calm, and that he was right to ask. I thought for a minute.
“Yes. Yes, to both.”
“Probably Apollo,” Caden said. “You remember that he visited me?”
I nodded. “But flames?”
“Have you checked the news?”
I turned on the television and switched to a local station. Caden and I watched with growing horror as the talking heads told of the fire at an orphanage—the one where Caden was going to apply for a job. They told of windows blocked with bars … of doors chained shut … of children screaming at barred windows while flames licked at their hair … of those children falling back when fire burst from the windows through which the children could not escape.
The fire department and paramedics finally had the situation under control. Apollo had healed scores of children of the worst of their burns. Still, dozens had died, and more would certainly die. Scores would be scarred for life. Apollo was exhausted. I grabbed him just before he collapsed, and used the last of my own energy to pop us back to Gary’s.
Gary and Caden were in the living room … and grabbed us before we fell.
Gary brought water for us. Then, Apollo morphed into his old man personae. I had seen him this way, before, but not like this! His skin was transparent; I could see blue blood vessels on his arms and face. His eyes were sunk deeply into his skull. His once-thick hair and beard were just wisps. His mouth trembled. A memory surfaced. I remembered a man, I think he was my grandfather, who looked like that, and whose mouth trembled like that just before he died.
“I have reached the end of my time,” Apollo said. His voice was thin, just above a whisper. It shook like his mouth did.
“But, there must be an Apollo!” Gary said. “You are too important … ”
“Yes,” Apollo said. “Caden Hopkins, come here.” His voice lost its tremble, and became strong and compelling. Yet, Caden hesitated.
“You don’t mean me,” Caden said. “I’m just a teacher …” He didn’t say Gary, but I knew he wanted to. Apollo knew, too.
“Garreth has a different destiny,” Apollo said. “Come here.”
I don’t know if Apollo compelled Caden or if Caden accepted the inevitability of what Apollo said, but Caden stepped across the room and stood beside the couch on which Apollo lay. Apollo lifted his arm. A bright arc leapt from Apollo to Caden.
Caden was outlined in light. Then, a burst of light went from Caden to Gary.
Gary fell to the floor. Caden stood over him. Apollo vanished.
I ran to Gary and knelt beside him. I looked, hard. I couldn’t see his soul! He was dead! Apollo … Caden had killed him! I didn’t feel the floor when it hit my face; I saw nothing but blackness.
Someone was wiping my face with something wet and cold. I was on the floor. Nemesis lay beside me. He wasn’t moving.
“What?” I rolled toward Nemesis. My head ached, I wasn’t sure where I was, but I knew my little boy was on the floor beside me, and was unconscious.
“He’s okay.” I recognized the voice. A man in jeans, a pullover shirt, and a leather bomber jacket knelt beside me. As Nemesis and Apollo had, the man smelled of smoke.
Death, I thought. He said Nemesis was okay.
“He received a shock,” Death continued. “He was exhausted. Let him sleep a while.”
I nodded. I looked at the other person in the room.
“Caden?” I asked. “What happened?”
“Apollo … transferred his power to me,” Caden said. “There was a short-circuit. Something went into you. Very powerful … you weren’t ready. It knocked you out,” he said. “Nemesis fainted when he thought you were hurt. This fellow … well, he just appeared.”
“Sorry,” the man in the bomber jacket said. “I’m, uh, George.”
“Hmph,” Caden said. “If you’re hanging around these two, and translocating into Gary’s living room, you’re a lot more than George.”
The man in the bomber jacked laughed. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t often have reason to laugh. I’m the avatar of Death.
“But you may call me George.”
Caden’s mouth formed an “O.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I asked for it, I guess.”
“What’s this about Apollo?” Death asked.
Caden answered. “Apollo … Apollo burned out. Before he died, he recruited me to take his place. Some of his power jumped into Gary. Gary passed out.”
Then, another figure popped into the room.
“Everything occurred as it should have,” Dike said. “It may be a while before you to realize it.”
I felt my face freeze. “Did you know this was going to happen?” I asked. I stared at Dike. I bit each word off individually; my lips tightened to a narrow line.
Dike’s eyes flashed; then, she became a grandmother, again.
“Death told you that we have some prescience. I knew that you and Caden had important destinies. I did not know what they were. I did not know about this; however, I am not surprised.
“Ever since Apollo’s sister, Artemis, gave up her aspect as protector of children, that job has been vacant. Apollo tried to fill in, but he was hugely overworked, as are we all.
“When Apollo transferred his Attributes and Authorities to Caden, the Attributes and Authorities of Artemis as protector of children went to Garreth. It’s a good fit.”
I hadn’t realized that Nemesis had awakened. He heard what Dike had said.
“No!” he said. “Gary’s not going to burn out! I won’t let you make him!”
Now, Nemesis’ eyes were flashing, and he was looking straight at Dike. She started to get taller … and then dropped into grandmother mode, again.
She patted Nemesis’ cheek. “You’re a good boy, Nemesis, and, you are right. We will not allow Garreth to burn out. The first thing we will do … as soon as things settle down … is look for helpers for him. I hope we can find them.
“You know that things are getting worse. Civilization is on the verge of collapse.”
Dike paused, and then said, “This is not the time; but we must talk about this, soon. But you must know this now:
“Apollo was an elder god. With his death, there remain only six of the original gods: Zeus, Athena, Mars, Poseidon, Pluto, and I.
“Humanity created us as its protectors and gave us power; then, humanity discarded us for god wannabes whose message of pie in the sky bye and bye was easier, more attractive.”
Gary and I were both tired. It was easy to talk him into a nap. I showered the smell of smoke and charred flesh out of my hair and off my skin, and crawled into bed. Gary was already asleep, but woke enough to cuddle me into his chest before falling back asleep.
Always before, when we cuddled, we spooned so that my back was pressed against his front. This time, I faced him. I looked hard at him. He was now a god, but he was still the man I loved. Now, there was something else, too. Not more noble, for Gary was already in my mind more noble than anyone, man or god, who ever existed. Not more powerful, because Gary was already my strength. More confident? Maybe. Even in his sleep, I think I saw his confidence. His lips were slightly parted. I trembled, and then brushed my lips gently over his. He stirred, but didn’t wake.
I smiled, and then fell asleep.
Gary’s cell buzzed, waking us. We were still lying as we had fallen asleep: cuddled, face to face, chest to chest, crotch …
Gary looked at me. We were inches apart.
“My little Nemesis,” he said. “My little boy. I love you so much.”
“I love you,” I said. “That’s Dike on the phone. You’d better answer before she pops into the bedroom.” I giggled. Yes, I could probably have gotten away with an awake kiss on Gary’s lips. But I knew this was not the time.
“It’s time you two were awake,” I said when Garreth answered. “It’s nearly lunchtime, and it’s Garreth’s turn to buy.” I named a different deli, one patronized by the younger set of Chicago’s nouveau riche. I heard Garreth’s chuckle; he understood.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Noon?”
Dike didn’t say, but I invited Caden—Apollo—who was sleeping in my spare bedroom. I also made a reservation in Dike’s name … I probably could have gotten a reservation using my own name, but there was a delicious irony in making a reservation in the name of a judge. Especially since I knew the rumors that the deli was the scene of some shadowy activities, including soft drug sales and some very high-priced prostitution.
Dike smiled when the maître d’ announced “Judge Everhart’s table,” and then took Nemesis’s arm, allowing him to walk her to the table. I didn’t know he knew to do that, I thought. He’s smiling, though. It must be a good memory.
Dike and Nemesis bent their heads over the menu, and Nemesis ordered a Reuben sandwich. I expected his usual hamburger, and flashed a thank you to Dike.
As before, once we were served, Dike screened us from interruptions, and we talked.
“Nemesis,” she began. “The reason that Apollo drafted you into service at the fire last night was a sign of his desperation … and a harbinger of his demise. He should not have done that. Still, you survived it and, although this is an aphorism and must be considered with some degree of caution, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger. You are stronger for having seen what Apollo showed you; you are stronger for having rescued many, many children.”
The memory of the fire, of the children who could not be saved, made me cry. Gary squeezed my hand, and I felt his reassurances. I wiped the tears from my eyes and then nodded to Dike. I wasn’t sure what to say.
Dike touched my cheek for a second, and I felt her reassurances, too. Then, she looked at Caden.
“Caden,” she said. “Apollo made a wise choice when he selected you as his successor. You have the Attributes and Authorities of an elder god. Garreth and Nemesis, and I will help you understand. Still, there is much you must find for yourself.”
Then, she turned to Gary, and I was afraid, again. “Something … whether it was Apollo, or Fate, or some other power … made a wise choice when it gave you the Attributes and Authorities of the Protector of Children. Your commitment to children, regardless of its genesis, is genuine. Your devotion to that which is good, regardless of its genesis, is genuine.”
Some of the people responsible for the children’s deaths were killed in the fire: the so-called house parents. However, their bosses—the men who operated the orphanage, the ones who were ultimately responsible for the barred windows, the broken alarm system, the chained doors, the faulty sprinkler system—they weren’t there. They were in their Lakeshore Drive high-rise apartments or their North-Lake mansions. Dike had a list. She summoned me to her office.
“I want you to meet someone,” she said. A girl, about my age, wearing a chiton, popped into the room.
“This is Tisiphone,” Dike said. “This is Nemesis.”
I knew who Tisiphone was: she was one of the Erinyes, the Furies, the Kindly Ones. She was the one named “vengeful destruction.” Dike was still talking.
“You may work together, or you may split up this list. Either way, I expect that you will provide the ultimate in retribution or vengeance.”
I looked at the girl; she looked just as hard at me. They say girls mature earlier than boys did. In any case, she spoke first.
“Nothing personal, Nemesis.” She turned to Dike. “I’d rather work alone. If that’s okay, ma’am.”
I thought it was interesting that she treated Dike with the same respect I did, until I realized. Dike is one of the few old gods who are left. Even the Furies were only demigods. Someday, I need to make a list, I guess.
I was surprised when Dike popped into my office, but even more surprised by what she said. She spoke without preamble.
“Nemesis is visiting some of the men responsible for the deaths of the children in the fire. Your plan to close down their operation was the better, but fate dealt another hand. The head will be cut off, and the Chicago coroner and police will be mystified by a sudden rash of heart attacks and strokes.
“Nemesis will need you when he returns. Despite having seen children die, and knowing these men are responsible, he will be affected by their deaths, and his role in that.”
Dike’s eyes softened, and patted my cheek. Her voice seemed husky, as if driven reluctantly through her throat.
“Garreth, I ask this next as your friend. Will you tell Death why you are so afraid?”
My heart skipped several beats. She didn’t finish the sentence, but I knew what she meant. Tell Death why you are afraid to have sex with Nemesis.
She must have read my answer, and my fearful agreement. She disappeared.
I had a standing invitation to join Gary and Nemesis on Friday evenings for pizza and skee-ball. Gary’s schedule was so rigid (that is to say, Gary was so anal-retentive), I didn’t expect his new status as a god to change that, and so I arrived at 5:00. I also had a standing invitation to translocate, and I popped into the kitchen just as Bobby and Benji walked in the back door.
Oops! I thought.
“Hi, Uncle George,” Bobby said. “Did you just appear? Are you another one of the gods?”
Gary had followed the boys into the room. I looked at him for guidance.
Gary took that ball and ran with it. “Yes, he’s another one of the gods. You’ve seen his car, right? So what do you think he’s the god of?”
“There’s a god of muscle cars?” Benji said. “Way cool! Hey, are you going to give Nemesis the Z4 he wants?”
“Umm, maybe when he’s sixteen,” I said.
Gary chased the boys off to find Nemesis, and asked me to sit at the table. He knew I would not take coffee this late in the afternoon, but I did accept a beer. Gary popped the caps of two bottles, handed me one, and then spoke without preamble.
“Dike asked me to ask you why I was so afraid to have sex with Nemesis. You know he wants that; you know I want that; by now, Nemesis probably knows why I won’t. If he knows it, you know it. So I don’t know why Dike said to ask, but I promised her I would. So, I’m asking.”
“Actually, Gary, I did not know until this instant. I once told you that I have the power—and oft-times the obligation—to read the deepest recesses of a soul. But I do not have the desire to do something that would betray the trust of someone I consider a friend.
“Only when you asked, was I able to see. Wait, please.”
Death vanished, and then reappeared. He was gone for so short a time, it was almost as if he’d not left.
“Tommy Carter, the little boy you had sex with, was supremely happy when he died. His parents had just agreed that he might invite you to a sleepover the following weekend.”
I was stunned, but not too stunned to remember, and then to ask, “Then why did he leave in such a hurry? Why didn’t he say anything?”
Death blushed. Yes, the “guy in the cowled robe with the great honking scythe,” as Nemesis was fond of describing him, blushed.
“He was afraid he was going to poop his pants,” Death said. “He was dreadfully afraid he was going to embarrass himself in front of you—the boy he loved.”
At this point, the Nemesis, Bobby, and Benji stormed into the kitchen, and it was time to leave for supper.
That night, before we went to bed, I took Nemesis into my lap. Nemesis knew something was bothering me, but was afraid to ask. (Yes, I was becoming able to read him, and others. It was part of the gift of Artemis-via-Apollo. Although, sometimes, I thought it was more a curse than a gift.)
“Death told me something, today,” I said.
“It was some time ago that he explained why he told me to help you on the first day we met. It was because he was trying to frustrate what he thought was a plan by Mars to use me in a bad way.”
Nemesis started to speak, but I held my finger to his lips.
“Wait, please. He also told me something even more important. He said that he could hear your deepest thoughts … and knew that you wanted to … to have … to have physical sex with me but that you were afraid.
I gasped for air. That had taken so much effort to say. I felt Nemesis shaking.
“I could not ever face this,” Nemesis said. “I never faced it because I was afraid if you did, you’d hate me, and I would lose you, and … ”
I put my finger to his lips, again.
“My little Nemesis, my little boy, I will never hate you, I will never leave you. I love you, and if physical love is to be a part of that, then so be it.”
I expected a faster reaction … but Nemesis was silent for several minutes.
“Not on those terms,” he said. I understood that it was the man he had been who was speaking. I looked hard at Nemesis, and realized that the man was still there, but that the guilt and shame weren’t. Time and deeds had healed him, just as Death’s news had healed me.
“Not unless you want it, too,” he said. “Not because you think it’s something I must have in order to believe that you love me.”
Now it was my turn to be silent. Then, “Nemesis, I love you. I want to make love to you. I have wanted that from the first moment I saw you. I want it so badly my whole being aches with desire, with the thought of kissing you … on your lips, on your throat, on your tummy …
“My whole body aches with desire for you to kiss me, too, but only because you want it and not because you think I want it … ” I was babbling.
“You know why I wouldn’t,” I said. “You know about Tommy Carter.”
“This afternoon,” I said. “Uncle George did something extraordinary. He did something I think he’s not supposed to do. He did it because he is our friend, and because sometimes friendship means more than the rules mean.
“He found Tommy, and spoke to him, and told me the truth about him.
“I didn’t hurt Tommy. I thought for more than 10 years that I had hurt Tommy. You know that.
“Uncle George found Tommy; he talked to Tommy and then he told me that Tommy had loved me and that I had not hurt him …”
Nemesis lifted his head and pressed his lips to mine. A shock ran through me … I felt the same shock run through Nemesis, and I knew he’d felt mine. I knew he could feel my erection … and orgasm. He grabbed my hand and pushed it into his lap. I did not resist, but felt his orgasm. We’d both reached orgasm, just from a kiss.
I felt more; I felt the link between our minds, the link that would always be there. I felt his joy, and I felt him as he knew my joy. I felt his love, and I felt him as he knew my love. I felt his need for my strength and approval, and I felt him as he knew my need for his companionship and support. Our partnership was sealed, and we were both content.
There would be tasks and trials to come; we both knew that. For now, however, it was just the two of us. I stood. Nemesis wrapped his legs around my waist and his arms around my shoulders. He pressed his head into my chest. I carried him into our bedroom.
This story is complete. Additional stories about Nemesis, Garreth, and their friends are in the process of being compiled. Look for “Protector of Children” on the Gay Authors web site in late summer of 2012.