queer strange fiction

The Priest

                God works in mysterious ways. Man, the monster in his image. What a dark creature he calls to work his will.

                The bathwater, warm and red, lapped pleasantly against their bodies in the dimming light. Was that the candle dying, or his eyesight fading? The Priest could no longer tell as his eyelids fluttered slowly. So slowly. It was as if the world slowed, as if time ground to a halt, but he knew it was mere perception as life trickled from his veins and into the overflowing bath. The rosewater trickled and splashed onto the tile floor, the water made rose by the lives of the two men within. Yes, the Priest thought again, God works in mysterious ways.

 

                He recalled the first time he was commanded by the Lord to serve.

                The Priest was a child, no more than 5, a yowling biting rebel, a terror to his poor parents and siblings who watched over him with the fraying patience of the most tested saints. He was a terror, that is, until one night he dreamt of desert. One he had never seen in life, of endless sand, of dunes that twisted in the wind, where piano music played in the distance, carried to his diegetically by the breeze. Satie’s 1st Gymnopedie, a favorite of his mother to play while she stroked her swollen belly where the Father-to-be waited for his moment to be born.

                Come to me.

                And so boy walked towards the call, in his dreams a hobbled old man with aged face and weathered hands, until he saw before him a figure. A formless shadow whose dark hands danced effortless across a piano perched delicately in sand. Its eyes were two lights that hung in the dark where a face should be, which held no other features that the Priest could see. The piece finished, though the notes lingered in the air long after its hands left the keys. The figure turned to face the Boy-cum-Old Man, who somehow knew he was in the presence of his Creator.

                “Oh my God…” He whispered in a voice creakier than he remembered. Knees shaking, he fell prostrate on the sand, suddenly feeling all 70-80 of the extra years the dream had placed on him. “Oh my God. Oh my God. God. God.”

                Honor thy father and mother.

                Like the music, the voice seemed to come from the air. A dark and heavy thing, yet not unkind. Not demanding, but with the plainness of one who knew their commands would be obeyed.

                “God, I-“

                Honor thy father and mother.

                And suddenly the Priest saw himself, as the Creator saw him, as his parents and loved ones must have seen him. As ungrateful and angry, a whirlwind of destruction. He wept. Only five and already his life was so steeped in sin.

                “Yes Lord,” He sobbed. “I shall. I shall obey. I will be your light in the world.”

                And he woke in his bed, seeing his room, the world and himself as if for the first time. And from that time on his was the model son and sibling.

 

                One night, ten years later, after a night of shameful fumbling with his own most private of parts, fantasizing about formless darkness, the teenager met the Lord again in his slumber. Again he was an old man, falling at once prostrate on the hot sand. Again the soft piano tremored music through the air. There was no doubt in his mind he would serve, whatever his God asked.

                You must serve me and no others. The darkness commanded.

                “Yes Lord,” The old man acquiesced in a phlegmy tone, as his unnaturally aged joints throbbed rheumatically. “If I may, God…” He began, not lifting his eyes.

                Silence was his only answer.

                Licking his lips to moisten them in the dry-heat of his dreamscape, the Priest to become continued. “If I may… how do you want me t-“

                You must serve me, and no others. As the Lord responded, the Priest saw in his mind’s eye the man he was expected to become. A serious man. A somber man in the trappings of piety, who had forgone the needs of the flesh to serve the aesthetic vision of God. He was to take the sacred oath.

                “I see my Lord, I see your will. And I will become it.”

 

                And so he studied the good book, consumed Augustine, Tertullian and the exegeses of Origen. He forgot desire, or suppressed the remembering of his youthful and became a man of the cloth. One known as the most pious and most high.

                And for a time, he was content. And the Lord was silent.

                Then, 25 years later, a young man walked into his confessional. One he had seen in his church, lurking at the beginning of a service the week before, but had left. Something about the young man, his shock of curly black air, his soft brown eyes, his full lips, his troubled innocence, captured the Priest. He was striking, beautiful even. The color of his oak pews, and skin just as smooth as those varnished seats. He could tell by his darting expression that this young man, still mostly a boy, was in a dark place. Maybe it was a place from where he and the Lord still could pull him out. He thought of counseling the man, and something in him stirred. Something long forgotten. Desire.

                Standing before a crowded congregation in that moment, the Priest was desperately glad he wore a flowing robe.

                The priest tried to put the ‘man’ out of his mind then. Some dark force was testing him. Until that fateful night. When that beautiful boy walked back into his church and entered the confessional to lay bare his sins.

                “Forgive me father for I have sinned. It has been… well, I’ve never confessed.”

                The Priest coughed to clear his throat. “I’m listening my son. Tell me your sins.”

                Tell me your sins. Why did the prospect of sin suddenly excite him so? The Priest shifted uncomfortably on the bench, needing to adjust himself. Afraid that the boy would see. Thrilled by the chance that he might.

                The man, eager to unburden himself, started right from the beginning. “Well, as a child, I was terrible to my parents. I lied often. I stole. I-“

                The Priest, he tried to listen, but was too captivated by the hint of the boy he could see through the wooden slats. His well-formed body. His mouth that listed a litany of horrors, yet beckoned him toward unknown pleasures. He closed his eyes, and felt himself back in the heat. In the dying wind. The quiet notes of Satie called to him on the breeze. Unlike in his previous dreams, it was night, and the soothing music took on an ominous lilt in the darkness.

                The night sky held no stars, and it was almost impossible to see the Lord, a shadow against absolute black. The music this time, it felt like a parting, a mournful goodbye to the dreams that had come before.

                The aged priest, still so far from the man in his dreams, yet much older than the boy who first became God’s servant, took to his knees. “What would you have me do? Are you… testing me my Lord? How can I serve you? How do you want me to serve you?”

                The shadow did not stop playing, yet the music grew more distant. The sand between them seemed to stretch and grow, an expanse of death—the gulf, so vast, that has always separated God from humankind. The Priest never felt it more acutely than he did in that moment.

                “I want to serve you, oh God. But I also want-“

                Sin. The desert grew so wide between the two that the Priest could no longer see the dark God he served. So much sin. You humans steep yourself in it, bathe in the filth like fleas. You want to serve, boy?

                The world grew so dark, the Priest could not see his own hands pass in front of his face. The music faded, the only notes those of his breath—ragged and shallow. “Yes, God, you know it.”

                Then purge yourself. And suddenly the Priest saw a window into the asked-for future, he and the boy embracing. First in the church, then unclothed in bed, then in the bath… their eyes vacant and unseeing. Crimson water spilling out from the bath all around them, pooling around them on the floor. Flooding the room with their spent lives.

                Purge yourself of sin, and come to me.

                The Priest opened his eyes, and shook his head, back in the world, back swimming in his latent desires.

                “Father? Did you hear what I just said?”

                “Sorry my child, please say that again.”

                The Priest could see through the slats as the young man licked his full lips in fear, trepidation… anticipation. The man of God knew what was coming, he feared it. But knew he dare not defy the Lord All Mighty, the darkness who directed his light.

                “I was speaking, Father, of my most recent sin.”

                “Go on, my son.”

                “One of desire… forbidden desire.”

                “And who did you desire, my son?” The Priest asked, hearing the answer before it was spoken. A Man of God.

                “A Man of God, Father.” The young man, the boy, was now quite boldly meeting the Priest’s gaze through the lattice slats of the confessional. And somehow the Priest knew without looking in a mirror that the hunger he saw there was reflected by the need in his own. He rose, left the confessional, walking back through the oak pews to his door of quarters hidden behind the altar. He ignored the judgmental gazes of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the silent admonition of the Mother and the Whore. He did not need to look back to know the boy followed; he could hear his steps echo on the stone.

                They entered the small room, empty but for a desk and small mattress that lay on the floor covered in fraying, threadbare sheets. The boy closed the door behind them and for a while they did not speak, staring at each other, consuming each other. Silent but for heavy breaths.

                Then they came together, and, after a fashion, came—together.

                They lay together on the bed, and The Priest savored this moment. The glow he felt unmatched by anything except that first moment in the Desert with his Dark God: who spun Satie gently into the air; who spoke him into a humble life of devoted service. One of servile delight that now found a dark end. He rose, still naked and still tumescent, and led the boy by the hand, docile after their coupling. Perhaps in awe of a man of God who could ravish him thus. Perhaps at some level aware that he was but an offering.

                He led him down a corridor and into the bathroom. He filled the tub with hot steaming water; got in, and beckoned the young man to sit in the scalding water. And as he did so took him into his arms. The boy’s eyes were closed, lips spread into a grin of guileless bliss. As if he too had been unburdened of his sins. His eyes were still closed when the Father picked up the straight razor he always left by the tub so he could shave as he watched. His body barely jolted as the Priest drew a wider, redder smile into the soft brown flesh of his neck. The boy shook only a few times before lying still in his Father’s arms, his life quickly spent in the dirtied bath water.

                “I’m sorry my boy,” He whispered, running the razor up the veins in both his arms, spilling his redness into the water, which quickly ran the color of the darkest rose. The waters-displaced by their slackened bodies—tumbled over the tub’s edge, staining the church bathroom’s tile with his final sin.

                As he lay there, as time flattened and wound to a halt, as his days of service came to their close, again he heard the music. It drowned out all other sound, that quiet piano, that holy musing of Satie, that call of his dark Lord

What a dark creature he calls to work his will. Man, the monster in his image.

Yes. The Priest thought. God works in mysterious ways.

                Then at last, he closed his eyes.

The Perfect Fit

                There are no perfect fits.

I sit at my desk, haunted by the same page—blank but for a single sentence—on my word processor that’s haunted me for months, contemplating my emptiness. I am looking inwards where there used to be words, an endless reservoir I once thought could never run dry, when comes a knock at my door. Opening it, I frown as I see the man with the perfect smile on my front step.

                “What do you want?”

“What do you think?”

I cross my arms, defense against the suggestion and the thrill it sends crawling through me.

“I told you not to come here anymore.”

                His lips curve upward, flashing those perfectly matching rows of pearls, and for a moment I forget how he broke me.

“Let me in.” He says, in a voice on the edge of song. One that could always move oceans, especially my own.

                Yes. Yes. I almost say, but catch myself. “I can’t. I’m writing.”

                He shakes his head, like a parent who catches their child in an obvious lie. Which—I suppose—he is. “Babe, I’m your editor. If you’d written a word worth a damn in the last year, I’d know.”

                He steps between the door jamb, and I can smell his breath. Cigarettes and mouth wash and… cheap scotch. Only now I notice how he sways, courtesy of the courage he drank to come here. Sliding one arm around my waist, sending half-forgotten tingles through me, he whispers in my ear.

                “Let me in.”

                “No, I can’t. Tonight might be the-” I trail off mid-sentence. What can I say? Tonight might be the night my stories return. Inspiration may yet appear from the emptiness.

                Undeterred, he brushes his lips against my ear. He remembers still how to love me; how to play me like he does all others. And how I long to be played, sometimes. I dare not meet his glance, knowing it will captivate me. I dare not close my eyes, knowing that falling into the pool of memory that contains our previous liaisons will do much the same.

                “Yes, perhaps tonight the walls fall, and your words return. But that is no certainty. What is certain-” Here he guides my hand to below his belt, and I feel his surging confidence. “-is the void in you *I* can satisfy.”

                Looking in my eyes, he sees me relent, and he tilts my head upwards until our lips touch. The tingles I felt at his embrace fan into flames. We grow against each other, the bad taste of our history fading away. A distant memory when weighed against the immediacy of our need. He backs me into the bedroom, not letting our mouths part for a second, pushing me there as if by muscle memory. Our clothes drop to the floor, and in a moment, for a brief moment, I am indeed filled. The anguish and the doubt, my failure to create, my anger at this beautiful man chased away by the pleasure and the pain of our coupling.

                “You bastard. God damn you, you bastard.” I cry softly. He cannot hear me over the rhythms of his drunken ardor. Whether my tears are born of joy or of sadness, I do not know.

                Later, in the night, as he snores loudly beside me, I stare past his slumbering form and out the window, up at the blood moon. Pale and red and angry and remote, like our brief passion now when weighed against the cold reality. Any joy I felt at his surprise return to my door fades as the omnipresent truth returns. Tonight he was my again, tomorrow he leaves my life and returns… to her. I will be left with nothing but another bittersweet memory. And the void.

“Look at you,” I mutter to myself, swimming again in my emptiness, “Gorgeous even in sleep.”

I run my hand through his hair, short and dark and soft like down to the touch. He stirs, but does not wake. Closing my eyes, I consider my own ugliness, my fat stunted form cuddled up against his sculpted perfection.

Why are you with me? Someone like me, deformed and unloved. Why must you torment me with unfulfilled hopes and inspire these unrequited thoughts? I wish… I wish…

Glancing back up at the moon, I finish my thought out loud. “I wish I could know your happiness, and you my sorrow.”

Rolling onto my back, the tears return. Silently sobbing, I slip into unconsciousness.

WHAT THE FUCK!” A scream that is at once familiar and yet impossibly strange wakes me with a start. I am in the wrong place. I somehow switched places with him in the night. The scream came from beside me, and so I turn onto my side… and see my own face staring at me in abject, confused terror. I speak again, quietly this time, for it was my own voice that woke me.

“What—what is hap-” Before I can finish my sentence, by some strange instinct, I roll over on top of myself, clasping my hands with a grip that is bigger and stronger than I remember around my own fat throat. I-He look(s) up at me in gasping fear, fat hands trying to peel away my-his own in vain. Before I even realize, I start screaming in his voice.

“You took everything from me! You bastard!” I begin to understand what has happened, a miracle, a wish. I am become my missing piece. Minutes pass, eventually he-I stop struggling and go limp, glazed eyes open and staring unfocused at the ceiling.

“You took everything… even the words.” I repeat, in a whisper, feeling tired and hollow as I stare impossibly down at my own corpse.

Disturbed by what I have done, by what happened, I leap from the bed with a speed and grace I did not previously possess, and stumble down the hall to the bathroom, still undressed. My head pulses and pounds like I am hungover, but I didn’t drink last night. Did I? A memory flashes through my head. I stand at my own door step, hesitating briefly before I knock, spurred onward by drunken desperation.

I have to see him. I remember thinking. Just one more time. I have to end this life.

The joy, and trepidation, I feel as the door opens and I see my own haggard, disbelieving face, jolts me back to myself. Opening the bathroom door, I look in the mirror and I see the impossibility made truth: his chiseled face stares back at me.

Looking at his-my face, I remember more. Drinking at a bar just down the street from my-his apartment, getting drunker and drunker as I contemplate how to free myself from his-my obsession. I twist the engagement ring on his-my finger as remembrances of our encounters of how my-his words made him-me laugh, twisted his-my heart, completed him-me in a way that no one else ever could. Not even our (our?) fiancée.

And yet he-I must kill me-him. To be free of this obsession, to return to his-my love unencumbered.

So he-I drag(s) our drunken selves up the apartment steps…

Back to the strange face in the mirror, becoming less strange by the minute.

So, the me that is still wholly me thinks, he intended to kill me?

We walk back down the hall to the bedroom, seeing what was my body lying there—tongue lolling and lifeless—is a sight I still cannot process. How that heart beats no longer and yet… I am alive?

In a way, I think, with a rueful grin on my-his… on my strange new face, he succeeded.

Then I hear it. At first I do not recognize the sound, so long it eluded me, but before long it is unmistakable. I take the plunge inward, and where for months there had been only silence, an empty dusty basin devoid of song and of sound, there are a chorus of words. My words. The light of my life, dark for so long, shined once more. I sit back down at my desk and smile at the sentence, my torment:

There are no perfect fits.

And… and… yes! I can. I can! I begin to write.

There are no perfect fits… and that’s okay. We are mere pieces dancing through an emptiness too vast to comprehend, part of a puzzle that is by design incomplete. Our creator, if there is such a thing, is a cruel gameskeeper who has us in a match not meant to be won. But that endless string of loss keeps us searching. That missing fit keeps us hoping that one day—

—our grasp will match our reach.

Then a phone rings. His cell, well… mine now. I step away from the laptop to answer it. I know the name, the man with the perfect smile’s fiancée. My fiancée. For a moment it angers the man I used to be, the sad hollow man who chased an impossible dream, one that filled him for only brief moments. Then I realize she took nothing away from me that I did not gladly relinquish out of fear. The love I craved was never truly mine. So I answer the phone, in his strange, sweet, low tone.

“Hey honey.” It is, I somehow remember, what he called her.

“Babe? Where are you? You didn’t come home after we-we…”

And I also remember the argument, bits and pieces of my dead lover’s life return to me as I need them it seems. They fought before he left her, before he drank up the courage to come and end the part of himself that held him apart from her. Me.

“I… I know. I got drunk and crashed at a friend’s. I needed to calm down and clear my head. We weren’t very good to each other last night were we?” How easy the words are now; how easy it is to become him.

“No,” She laughs, “No I suppose we weren’t. Are you coming home?”

“Yes, let me get rid of this hangover, get something to eat, run a few errands. I’ll be home this afternoon.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I love you too. See you soon.” I hang up, and I realize it is true: he loved her. Now I… after a fashion, feel that love for her too. This woman I have never truly met, yet can picture perfectly in my mind’s eye. The separate selves that were are merging together, and only now for the first time do I understand the pain that must have hidden behind my lover’s smile. To love this woman and yet… to still need me. A need that ran so deeply he thought to remove my life from his like a gangrenous limb.

Well, I think, once again looking down at the unseemly flesh that became my bisected lover’s grave, a life has been removed indeed. It would be rude not to claim it.

Resolved so, I get ready to leave. I give my old body one last look, not of longing, not of regret, but of respectful farewell. Despite the loathing I may have for it, it is the vessel that allowed me to find my passion, where I first heard the words that are my life, that are as close as I will every have to a perfect fit. Then I gather my clothes, every hint of my lover—my self that he left at the apartment before I became him. I skip down to the corner-store and buy a tank of kerosene, which I then douse everything in the bedroom with, leaving a trail out to the kitchen.

I light that with a match, and make my quick escape from the building.

Driving his… my car away from the sirens, the smoke, towards *my* new life. I contemplate the pasts. I have two of them now, one that belonged to the man I was, and one that belonged to the man I am becoming. I can remember more and more of him, as if the world senses that this is who I must be.

I look to the future, to the fiancée I return home to, to the child I can now remember grows inside her, my child. Closing my eyes, I can picture holding her in my arms. Somehow I know it will be a daughter. I can see her grow, and the joy we take in her growing. I see myself filling her in moments of passion, the way I was once filled by the body I inhabit. I see myself still sneaking off to be filled by other men in the venal, necessary way that part of me that is me still craves. I see us happy, despite the lies that haunt every marriage. I see her catching me in quiet moments, when I look up at the stars with the look of a man she doesn’t recognize, or I say things entirely out of character for the man she thinks she knows. I see her asking me what’s wrong, time and time again, unsatisfied by my bizarre non-answer. Yet is the only one I have.

We are old in one of these visions. Our one daughter long gone with kids of her own. I sit by the lake behind the home we bought to grow old—and die in—together. Sitting on the pier, I do not hear her approach, but she can see the look on my face, another one of those looks that is not her husband’s.

She sits beside me, resignedly, and sighs, saying only: “You know, when we were young, I was so sure you would tell me what was wrong. It must have happened that day.”

I turn to her in shock: “What day?”

“There was a day, before we married. We had a fight and you left for a night. You said you went to a friend’s, but…”

“But?”

“You came back, and I was glad you came back. But after that day you were different somehow. Not worse, better in fact, just different. It was after then you took up writing for yourself. Who knew you could be so good at it?”

She pauses for a moment, resting her head on my shoulder. I start to run my hands through her hair, even in brilliant white it is still beautiful.

“Still, I thought, though it doesn’t really matter, does it? I thought you would tell me.”

I take her chin in my hand, and turn her towards me. I tilt her head upwards and our lips meet in a kiss, one of tens of thousands to happen between now and then. Alas, all I have for her are the same words. I have no more to spare.

“My dear, you already know what I’m going to say.”

“Say it anyway, it’s a comfort now. This mystery is the you I love most.”

Then I sigh, I always sigh, though now, with her understanding, it hides a smile.

“In the best stories, the main character always has a secret. One that only he, or she—”

And here, I sneak a secret look up at the sky. Up at you.

“—and the reader know.”