The Power of Love
by Anna Parrish
March 27, 1655, (Wednesday),
Doyle-- age 10;
Bodie-- age 11:
"Stop the whispering and get on with your work," Cowley said sternly, a forbidding expression in his eyes.
The dark eyed boy scowled at the austere teacher but the ten year old with the long, chestnut curls kept his eyes down and away from the instructor's faded blue ones.
"Have you something to say to me, Master Bodie?"
Bodie glanced quickly at the switch hanging on the wall and murmured, "No, Sir."
"Aye, I thought not. Go to the board and finish the problem. Jackson, you may re-turn to your seat now." The fair haired lad at the chalk-board returned the piece of chalk gratefully back into the trough and hurried back to his seat. Bodie's walk to the board was slow, reluctant.
"We do not have the whole day, sir. Kindly cease your lagging."
Bodie glowered at the math problem; Doyle could have done it, one, two, three, but the dark hair youngster, though proficient at sports (and fighting when the need arose), was not very skilled at advanced mathematics.
"Are you memorizing it?" Cowley demanded.
"I can't do it," Bodie admitted. His jaws grew taut.
"No, I can't."
"Bodie, I say you can. Stop listening to your heart and pay attention to your brains. You are capable of following through with the solving; Now do it."
Bodie, body tense, picked up the chalk and studied the board with mutinous eyes. Shock came moments later when he realized he could do it. His hand moved feverishly across the black surface. He turned in triumph and stared in delight at the slim teacher. "I did it!"
"Aye, Bodie, that's a good lad. Now return to your seat."
Bodie scrunched up his eyes. He stood for a moment, wanting more praise from the man but when it was not forthcoming, he retired back to his desk.
"I did it!" he whispered to his best friend and constant companion.
"I knew you could," Doyle whispered back.
Bodie viewed him with astonishment. "But how...."
"I will have silence," Cowley informed them in a hard voice. "Take out your spellers and practice the words on page one-fifty-three."
Bodie's eyes drifted out the window to alight on the dark castle that loomed both threatening and enticing on the hillside.
"Master Bodie, did I direct different instructions to you?"
"No, sir." The young boy tugged his speller from inside his desk and opened it up. Page one-fifty-three: archery...artifice...aversion.... He definitely had an aversion to being in school on a day like this.
I could be swimming, Bodie thought. He gazed sideways at Doyle. With Ray.... Naked...dripping with water...the sun making his skin...his un-clothed flesh...glow with life. There it was again! That strange yearning in his groin. Bewildered at what his body was doing to him, he turned his gaze back outside, back to the strange castle.
They say it's haunted; They say Lord Hemispot is a warlock. I wonder if he is. Bodie yelped in pain as Cowley's thin, switch came whistling down on his unprotected hand. Bodie drew up, hugged it tight to his chest. He hated the tears that sprang to his blue eyes. They were a sign of weakness to him.
"Your eyes should be focused on the page, Bodie, not on the castle. Next time, I'll use the strap. Do you comprehend?"
"Yes, sir." The young boy bit his lip to keep any further words from escaping but they yelled in his head.
"Aye, I thought you would." Cowley continued his stroll down the aisle.
"I hate him," Bodie grumbled-bled as he and Doyle walked home from school later.
"Who? Mr. Cowley?"
"No, your da! Of course I mean the Cow. I don't like being hit!"
Bitterness twisted the young features. "I get hit at home; I get hit at school! I'm tired of it, Ray!"
"I know." He gripped his friend's arm in compassion and total understanding. Bodie's da was a mean man.
"You don't know, Ray, what I...what he...." Bodie choked on the words. "You just don't know what's it like." The pain, the tribulation in his life rose like bile into his throat.
The tone in his friend's voice made Doyle feel uncomfortable. "What is it, William?"
"No." How sad he sounded, how bleakly accepting. "Never mind; It's my problem."
Bodie's eyes shifted up toward the dark house on the hill. They lingered there thought-fully. "I wonder if Lord Hemispot really is a warlock like they say."
"He's just a strange, old man. You know how people are; They enjoy making mountains out of dung heaps."
"I wouldn't mind having that power." There was an earnest, wishful sound in his voice.
"He doesn't have any power, not really. He's just real good at fooling people."
"No one tells him what to do. Can you imagine having that much domination?"
"No one wishes him good morrow either, William."
"No one wants to work for him. They're all afraid of him. I wish...." Bodie turned sorrowful eyes toward his friend. "I wish people were afraid of me!"
"You wouldn't have any friends!"
"I wouldn't have anyone hurting me either!" He crossed his arms across his chest and hugged himself tight. "No one would touch me, not ever again."
Doyle didn't know how to answer that one; He changed the subject slightly. "Can you imagine how dirty his house is?"
Bodie half smiled, completely understanding. "He has Adle working for him."
"Still, one man can't possibly keep that huge place clean. It's his fault though; If he wouldn't pretend he's some type of magician...."
"Warlock," Bodie corrected.
"Warlock...if he wouldn't go around pretending to be one, he could have dozens of servants taking care of him."
"Adle can't talk."
"They say Lord Hemispot became enraged at his servant and placed a curse on him."
"People say a lot but it doesn't mean it's the truth."
"No, but Mrs. Cardle swears she saw him do it."
"Mrs. Cardle drinks. No one believes anything she says, not even her husband. My da told me."
"I'm going to go up there one day and find out for sure."
"You would be wasting your time."
Bodie shrugged. Hesitantly, a little fearfully as well, he admitted in a low voice, "Ray, I'm going to run away to sea. I know they'll take me! I'm eleven and I'm big and I'm strong."
"You can't! William...."
"What have I got to keep me here? School? My da? This town? I can read and write and do sums. That's all I need. All he knows is a fist and a kick. He told me I could go to school until I was twelve, but he's already talking about taking me out and making me work with him. What kind of life would I have here? Should I stay and be a woodcutter like my da? Should I work from dawn till dusk, risking life and limb cutting down trees? There's nothing here, Ray, nothing."
"You'll go off to school in London to study when you're older. You know you will. We both heard your parents talking to the old Cow."
He kicked viciously at a rock. "I can wait until Da goes off to cut wood Saturday and then I can hitch a ride with the peddler. Bundy's going to Liverpool that day. He'll let me ride in his cart; He's already said he would. He'd take me right to the waterfront in Liverpool. He knows a couple of seamen from the taverns he goes to. He'll introduce me; I can sign on as a cabin boy."
"Maybe you should think about this, William; Once you're on a ship, out to sea...." Distress made it hard to breathe, made him feel cold inside.
"I have thought about it." Suddenly, without warning, Bodie clenched his friend's arms. "Don't you say anything to anyone, you hear me! Don't you tell my Da! Don't you tell Cowley! Promise me!" He shook Doyle. "Promise me!"
"I...prom...ise! Stop...shak...ing...me!" Bodie released him. "I'm not stupid, William. If I told your Da, he'd beat you and then keep you locked up. If I told Mr. Cowley, he'd tell your da, and you'd be in trouble. I wouldn't do that you! You're my friend. I won't say anything to anyone, I promise, but I wish you wouldn't go."
"There's nothing for me here, Ray, nothing."
"Just think about it a couple of days, until Monday, please. That's all I ask. You might not feel this way next week, but if you do, if you still want to go off, well, the peddler comes back in a month, doesn't he?"
"I'll think about it." But his face was closed, distant, and that worried Doyle, made him feel strange inside. "Come on. We better go. If Da gets home before I do...."
Doyle only nodded; He did not have to say anything. He knew what Mr. Bodie would do to his son. Everyone in the village knew...and no one did anything about it.
Life is unfair, he thought as they half ran the rest of the way to the fork where Bodie would leave him. William shouldn't have such a father. He told himself all the way home that Bodie wouldn't follow through with his plans to run off to sea. Bodie had never lied to him.
April 1st, 1655, (Monday):
Doyle had convinced himself so thoroughly, that when Monday came, and he waited and waited for Bodie at the fork, he grew alarmed. Had Bodie's father gotten too rough? Had he beaten his son so badly this time that Bodie couldn't go to school? Or had the man finally decided to pull his son from his education? Doyle was torn between going on to school and going to Bodie's cottage. His worry won out and he ran down the right fork towards the woods.
The woodcutter's dwelling gave every appearance of being desolate, deserted. Doyle knocked. When no one answered, he pushed open the door and went in.
"Mr. Bodie?" Nothing.... "William?" Again, there was no reply.
Doyle's footsteps echoed eerily through the unoccupied building. Relief waited on the sidelines, growing stronger as the youngster continued failing in his search for an injured friend. But...if he wasn't injured, then, why wasn't he in school?
"Will?" His voice shook with dread as he hesitated before the opening to the tiny cubicle where his friend slept. He nudged aside the old, faded curtain that was the only door to privacy Bodie claimed, and peered inside. Relief flooded the young boy; Bodie was not lying within.
But the question returned in full force...where was he?
Doyle noticed Bodie's clothing was not hanging on the pegs. It was then that the truth hit him; Bodie had run off to sea.
Desolation struck hard. He had lost his friend. William had promised to wait but hadn't. Bodie had lied to him. Tears flooded Doyle's green eyes. Blindly, he stumbled from the silent cottage.
He was calm when he reached the school, embittered and irate, but calm enough until he saw Cowley.
"You two are late. You'll stay after and make up for your tardiness."
"Mr. Cowley...." There was something in his tone that made the teacher glance sharply toward him. The fragile dam of anger Doyle had built around his heart broke and the agony of losing his best friend, of that pal's betrayal, returned fourfold.
"Raymond?" Cowley's tone was quiet, his walk toward his best student slow and easy, but his blue eyes contained concern.
"He's gone! William is gone! He told me he'd stay but he lied! He's gone!" Tears blinded him. He felt Cowley's hands on his arms and allowed the man to turn him around so he faced the hallway again. "He lied to me!"
"Aye, so you said. Murphy, you're in charge. I expect the work you're all doing now to be finished when I come back, and if I hear any noise, I shall be angry. Is that understood?"
"I'll keep them in line, Sir," Murphy bragged pompously.
"See that you do." Cowley led Doyle down the hallway and on to his private quarters.
"I'll make you a warm cup of tea. Sit." Doyle sat. He blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay. "What happened?" Cowley inquired gently as he put water on to boil.
"William's gone." The tears overflowed again. "He lied to me; He said he would stay and he didn't."
"Where has he gone?" Cowley was a man who did not believe in wasted time; As he talked, he measured dark tea granules into his tea pot. Doyle did not reply; He simply sat there, wiping at the moisture on his cheeks, in his eyes. "Doyle, where did he go?"
"I promised I wouldn't say anything." The tears had ceased but the depression that darkened his life at that moment made his inflection dull.
"Aye," Cowley murmured dryly, "you would." In a louder, clearer voice, he asked, "Does his father know?" He poured water into the tea pot, covered it with a thick cloth. The teacher went to the small davenport and sat beside Doyle.
"I don't know." Grief altered the color of his eyes, darkening them. "Why did he do it?"
"Did he not say anything to you?"
"He said there was nothing for him here and that he was tired of getting struck by you and his father."
"What I did, I did for his own good. Someday, he'll realize that. I fear he'll not find it any easier at sea; Most captains keep a tight hold on the men on board their vessels. Nay, I doubt he'll find an easier life."
"I would like to go home."
"Why?" At the perplexed, hurting shimmer in the green eyes, Cowley announced briskly, "Life is not an easy thing to face at times, but you'll not be doing yourself a service by running away and hiding whenever something's bothers you."
Doyle bit his lower lip so hard, drops of blood appeared on the torn flesh.
"You'll go back into that classroom and continue with your education."
"Yes, sir." A wall of grayness grew around him, like a mist it was, growing thicker with each passing moment.
"I expect you to continue as you did before. I'll not allow you to slack off."
"Yes, sir." The tears had finally ceased but the mist of depression hung on.
Cowley's touch of understanding shocked the boy. "It is hard now, saying good-by, but I promise, it'll get easier."
Doyle believed him, and that offered him a great deal of comfort. "Yes, sir."
The next day, Bodie, senior came stomping into the school room. "I heard my boy has run off! You, Doyle, did you know he was going?!" The rage on his face made him appear uglier than he was. Fear froze Doyle's voice. "I asked you a question!" The grown-up stepped further into the room.
Cowley stepped between the furious man and the youngster. "You canna come into my class room with your wrath."
"Step aside, schoolteacher," Bodie, senior said in disgust. He shoved the smaller man aside and took two more steps toward Doyle. The man's thick, strong hand went up. "Did you know?"
"I'll not let you batter someone's else's child." Cowley worked a miracle; One moment, Bodie, senior was standing, and the next, he was flying backwards into the wall. The huge man was up again instantly. The wrath he was experiencing had grown until his whole face was mottled. "You will act like a human, if you can, or you will leave my home."
Cowley's stance stopped him. "If you try to touch Ray Doyle, I will trash you to the very inch of your life." Something in his voice told the huge, mountain of a man that he would...and that he could. Bodie, senior tried to glare him down but Cowley would not be capitulate and it was the taller, heavier man who surrendered, angrily to be sure, but succumb he did.
"I want my son." His inflection revealed his extreme rage.
"We shall go into my private quarters and speak. Doyle, you will accompany us."
"Yes, sir." His voice, to his horror, was barely above a whisper.
"Hold your head up, Doyle. You've done nothing wrong," Cowley ordered firmly.
Doyle wanted to believe but that repellent glower on Bodie, senior's face, produced icy dread within the ten year old's body. They went into the back room and Cowley shut the door.
"Did you know my son was leaving?"
Doyle's mouth worked for a moment then, "Yes...I mean...he told me but I thought...he promised he would wait." His was so cold with the fear he was experiencing, he trembled violently. His face was ashen.
"Where did he go?" Bodie, senior demanded.
"The sea; He ran off to become a cabin boy on a ship."
Bodie, senior's fist slammed into a small table. It broke into huge, splintered pieces of polished wood.
"You will kindly cease destroying my home." The warning look in George Cowley's expression informed the other man he meant business.
"If I find him...."
"That...sir..." Cowley said sharply, bluntly, "is one reason why he ran off to sea." Bodie's father did not understand. "A child needs love, not violence."
"You! Oh, aye, you're with boys all day long, but what do you know about rearing one? Will would have spent his life playing if I had not kept a tight reign on him! Dallying doesn't provide a living; He has to be harder than the next man if he wants to get anywhere in this life! Aye, I smacked him around...when he needed it. Love doesn't fill an empty belly." Bodie, senior shook his shaggy head. He turned hard, black eyes on Ray Doyle. "You should have told me."
"I didn't think he'd do it. He promised me he'd think about it."
"If I find him...." Bodie's father left, stomping from the room.
"I pity young Bodie if that man locates him," Cowley murmured. Doyle shivered in apprehension. "Go back to the class room. You have to finish your essay."
Three days later, Ray Doyle was waylaid by Tommy McKay, the town bully, and Bolter, his crony. McKay jumped out of a tree right in Doyle's path. Doyle nearly swallowed his tongue. He clutched his books to his chest.
"You're alone, you are," McKay said smugly. Doyle inhaled raggedly. "Not so brave without that Bodie, are you? He's not here to fight your battles, is he?"
"Let me pass."
"Or what? Will you cosh me? Huh?" He pushed Doyle. "Will ya?" He viewed the younger boy's white countenance with conceited satisfaction. "Nah, not you. You're a coward, a regular peepbird, you are. I don't like your face." McKay struck Doyle with an extremely accurate fist. Both boys jumped on the younger one then. They left Doyle in the ground, weeping.
Bleeding, clothes torn and dirty, Doyle picked up his soiled hat, plopped it wearily back on his head. He limped home. His father demanded the names but Doyle refused to tell. Fear was the major reason behind the silence; If McKay was accused, he'd be even rougher the next time.
The next day, Cowley viewed the battered features, the withdrawn manner of the youngster in hidden dismay. "Stay after school." Doyle nodded, too depressed to talk. At four, Cowley inquired, "What happened?"
"Nothing." Bright cheeked, Doyle kept his eyes downward, centered on his scratched hands.
"I'll not have you lying to me. Falsehoods are one thing I will not abide. Do you grasp my words?" Doyle nodded. "What happened?"
Panic made the boy's voice tremble. "I have to go home!" He shot up. Cowley grabbed his upper arm but just as quickly let go when Doyle flinched in pain. "Please, Mr. Cowley." Green eyes pleaded with the man.
"Go then." Worried, he watched the ten year Ray Doyle run from the room.
Ray's footsteps slowed as he neared the spot where the boys had met him yesterday. Surely they wouldn't be here again today. Surely once was enough.
They were there.
"Cor, if it ain't the peepbird."
McKay moved forward in relish as Doyle backed up. The older boys were rougher than yesterday and Doyle finally grabbed a branch from the ground. "Put it down, peepbird."
"Leave me alone!" His panic and terror could not be hid.
"I said, put it down, peepbird." McKay's mouth twisted. "I don't like that stick in your hand." He shot forward and jerked the branch from Doyle. "Nah, I don't like it at all." He swung the large branch at the younger boy's face and Doyle's right cheek bone was broken, the flesh split and gaping. The pain was so intense, he fell unconscious to the ground. He lay there bleeding. His father, concerned over the beatings and the lateness, went in search and found him comatose on the ground.
When Doyle had recovered enough that the laudanum could be halted, Cowley brought homework for Doyle to do. "This should keep your mind occupied while you finish recuperating."
Doyle glanced apathetically at the books.
"When you're better, I'll teach you how to defend yourself. Your father agrees that these beatings canna go on." Dull eyes glittered with humiliation as they gazed, briefly, into discerning blue ones. Cowley's heart ached for the young lad but he did not show it. It was not the teacher's way. "Who did it?" Doyle closed his bruised eyes. "Was it Bodie's father?"
It was difficult for him to talk. His speech was slow and slightly slurred. IF he moved the muscles in his face too much or too fast, the pain returned. He reopened his eyes, met Cowley's scrutiny with numbness. If he did not think then he did not truly feel.
"You'll not do them nor yourself any favors by hiding their identities."
"I thank you for the books." "Wicked creatures they are to take advantage of an innocent such as yourself, but you'll not be staying that way. I'll see to that. I'll teach you self-defense."
"I don't...." Doyle took in a deep breath, "I don't like to fight."
"I don't imagine you're overly fond of being battered either. It's settled then. When you're well enough, when that cheek bone has healed, I'll start the lessons. Until then, I'll be bringing your work here. Your father will be keeping you home."
"And I'll not let you be slacking of because you're in a little pain."
"See that you do all that work. I shall return tomorrow evening to fetch it and answer any questions you might have."
Cowley hesitated then said in a perceptive voice. "Aye, I know things are dark right now but they'll not be staying that way."
Ah, but did the boy believe the man?
"You're a good lad, Ray Doyle; Aye, a good lad, and I'm proud of you."
"Yes, sir, thank you." What did it matter? Bodie was gone; Bodie had lied to him. He tried to grit his teeth to keep the tears at bay but the pain of that action nearly over-whelmed him. Sickness churned in his stomach.
"Tomorrow is another day, Raymond."
Cowley hesitated then said, "I will be back."
Seven years later...
May 17, 1662
Doyle-- age 17:
"Mail!" March yelled as he entered the dorm room. The other students gathered around him. One by one, the tall, lanky red-head handed envelopes out to the proper pupil. Doyle took his two and went to his bed. He opened the one from George Cowley first.
"In the year of Our Lord, 1662, this Third of May, Dear Ray...."
There was news from the village, odds and ends and then: "...Bodie returned April 20th. Shortly after his return, he took on a position with Lord Hemispot. Three days later, Bodie's father died in a freak accident. The death did not seem to bother our Bodie. It's doubtful he's forgiven the old man for things that were done to him while he was growing up.
"I do not like the suffering in Bodie's eyes. He stays away from me. I have tried to speak to him, but he refuses to have anything to do with me. Perhaps he would like to hear from you...."
Doyle dropped the letter onto his lap.
Bodie was back.
Vivid images of eleven year old William Bodie filled Doyle's mind.... Laughter, sunshine on dark hair, impish grins right before they pulled a prank...and the visions changed and he saw a sad Bodie, a bitter friend who desperately wanted a normal, happy life and knew he'd never get it.
Had going to sea been a good thing for him? From Cowley's words, it hadn't.
Would Bodie remember him? Would he want to hear from him?
Doyle tugged his small chest from beneath his bed and opened it. He removed pencil and paper and began to write:
Why was it so hard to write to a friend? There had been a time when there was not enough time in the day to speak together. Words tumbled from them both as though there would never be another day.
We're older, Doyle pondered pensively. We've changed, gone in different directions. Where's the meeting point now?
Sighing, he put words on the paper, memories, accounts of his own life now; He asked questions.
The letter was mailed, but it came back, unopened.
April 21, 1662
Bodie-- age 18:
Bodie stared at the dark house on the hillside. Lord Hemispot was still alive, so was his one servant, Adle. Bodie had seen many things in his travel, done a lot, things that could not be explained away by rational explanations. Was Hemispot a warlock like Momot had said? Was he involved with sorcery? Was he really as strong as that old Arabian had claimed?
He rubbed his jaw where his father had struck him that morning. Cynicism made his lips twist in sardonic pride. He had smacked his father back, sent him onto his backside. "Don't ever hit me again," he had told his father. "And don't you ever come into my room and force me to lay with you again. I'm not a child any longer and I won't let you touch me like that, not ever again."
"I bought your clothes! I fed you! You were a parasite. Why should you live in my home without returning something?"
"I pity you." And, he thought, battling the strong emotions that tried to surge upward and take over, I hate you. God forgive me, but I hate you more than I've ever hated anyone. You're my father but I wish you were dead.
"Ungrateful bastard!" Bodie senior had snarled. "Get out of my house!"
"As you will...father...."
Bodie walked slowly to the dark house, knocked on the door. Adle opened it, peering out through a thick crack. "I wish to see Lord Hemispot; I've come for a job, ' Bodie said.
"Let him enter," a harsh, accented voice said from the darkness of the house. Adle opened the door and Bodie entered, spine stiff and straight. He met the thin slits of the old man's examination with a cool one of his own. Hemispot was ancient, with more wrinkles and aged flesh than anyone Bodie had ever seen. "You wish to work for me?"
"What can you do?"
Bodie stopped playing around. "I studied in Arabia."
The old man's eyes grew wide. There were strange flecks of gold in the brown orbs; There was a red rim around each pupil. "Have you?"
"That and other books."
"Who was your master?"
"I have no master. I studied with Momot Babart."
"Is he still alive?"
"Did he talk of me?"
"And you came to see if what he said had any basis in truth."
Hemispot walked around the sturdy, muscular form of William Bodie. "The villagers say I that I dance with the devil."
"I have heard that."
"What they say is true. Does this frighten you?"
"It should. Only a fool is unafraid of darkness." He ran his had up and down Bodie's arm, felt the muscle beneath the coat. "You are strong. Perhaps, you will do. There is one test. If you pass it, you may labor beside me; If you fail, you die. Are you willing to take this test?"
"I want power."
"Power is quite often deceiving; Power often controls the person who tries to claim it, if the mortal is weak."
"It will not control me."
"Power is often the brother to revenge. Is this what you truly seek?"
"Part of it." His eyes grew distant. A spark of rage sparkled in their blue depths. "Part of it," he repeated in a strange voice.
Hemispot smiled. "I see the black strands of hatred around you. Who is it?" He watched the struggle in Bodie. "Is it more than one?"
"Yes." My father, he thought in torment, those two men on the ship...that man in Egypt....
"You must learn to control that hatred, channel it. Hatred can be more powerful than love." His old eyes narrowed. "Are you willing to learn?"
"I want to learn."
"There is a price."
"There is always a price. What is yours?"
The old man smiled sleepily. "Have you ever enjoyed pain?" He watched the tightening of the other man's facial muscles. "I see you have tasted from that cup."
"If my payment includes that, will you pay it?"
There was a moment's hesitation, then, "Yes."
"Your desire to learn and your desire for revenge, are your masters."
"I have no masters."
"You do. Perhaps, one day, you will stand alone, but that time is not now. Come with me. Let us perform the test. If you survive, then you may move into this house with Adle and me; If you do not weather it, I shall deposit your body at your father's door."
"Do you accept this?"
They went to the sub-basement. The stairs were damp, slippery. Adle went before them with a torch to light their way. That portion of the house smelled, not just of mildew and mold, but of other things...a little of brimstone and sulfur.
Bodie's stomach twisted. For one brief moment, he thought about turning, about escaping. Memories returned sharply to torment and taunt him. His spine grew rigid. Turn and leave? No. He was tired of taking orders, of having to do what others demanded simply because they were stronger than he was. He wanted to have the power to make others do what he wanted. If this was the only way to lay claim to that, then so be it.
Adle opened a side door at the bottom of the stairs and stepped through the opening. Hemispot and Bodie followed him. Heat slapped them in their faces. It was a dungeon with a flame pit in the middle. The flames were bright and strong. Around the pit, a pentagram had been drawn; Around that pentagram, ancient markings had been painted onto the stone floor. Bodie read each one, recognizing them from his studies in Arabia.
This was a place of agony. Instruments of torture decorated the huge, cold room.
In the corner, odd apparatuses stood, glassware, metal containers. Huge, old books graced tabletops.
"That is an eternal flame," Hemispot said. "It will never go out. Look around, William Bodie, what do you see?"
"I see a place of suffering and abuse."
"Is that all?"
"Close your eyes and let your soul do the seeing."
Bodie did. "I see power...and...." He shivered.
"Yes?" There was a gloating emotion in that old man's one word.
"Yes! Now, go look at the books, William."
Bodie did, and recognized many names Momot had given him.
"I can show you the secrets of those books...if you pass the test...if...you agree to my terms."
"I have agreed to your terms. I am ready for the test."
"Then go to the blackened beams."
"Undress." There was a second or two of delay then Bodie did as the old man had instructed. "No, face the pit."
Bodie turned and inspected the flames with dazed eyes. Thinking about doing something wasn't quite the same as actually doing it.
"Raise your arms and allow Adle to fasten you into the apparatus. Adle, pull his arms tightly upward; He must not be able to work free." Adle did. Bodie grunted once or twice as the mute made extra sure the bonds were tight. "Now do his feet. William, spread your legs."
Bodie did and Adle secured his feet in metal bands. "Leave us, Adle." Without waiting, the mute vanished out of that dark, malodorous room.
Hemispot ran his hands over Bodie's nude body. He cupped the firm buttocks, toyed with the man's limp penis. Sighing, the old man murmured, "I wish I could be the first with you but I fear he would not like it. He is not pleasant when he is angered."
He went to the tables in the corner. He undressed and coated his body with putrid smelling oil. Streaks of red appeared on the ancient body. Chanting, he mixed several ingredients into a silver chalice. He moved slowly toward Bodie. "Close your eyes and inhale."
Bodie did. His head swam, making him dizzy, disoriented. "Drink."
Foul tasting fluid was forced into Bodie's mouth. He swallowed, fighting back the nausea as he did so. Within moments, he felt as though he was flying, free of his body, free of the world around him. A vision of a tall, slim man, a man with chestnut curls, appeared in his mind's eye. Bodie's groin reacted pleasantly.
"Open your eyes."
Bodie obeyed. He watched the old man limp toward the fire with the cup. When he poured it into the flames, they shot up a bright purplish-black. They writhed and altered shape. A man sprang forth from the flames, a lean person with long, chestnut ringlets. Bodie felt his groin react immediately, growing fuller. The creature looked around, spied the man hanging at the posts, and went toward him. It stopped in front of William Bodie. Human hands caressed the nude, enslaved form. Bodie's penis hardened fully. The man altered form. It became a grotesque creature, misshapen, black, scaly. Slimy saliva dripped from the huge, ugly mouth. Its odor was a scent of death and decay.
Horror shot through Bodie; It grew until it almost claimed him when the creature began to make love to him.
April 28, 1662,
Bodie-- age 18:
Bodie's father died when a tree he was cutting fell the wrong way and crushed his body.
People in the village swore up and down Bodie had placed a curse on his own father. His obvious lack of caring did little to erase that belief.
September 19, 1665,
Doyle-- age 20, Bodie-- age 21:
"...People shun him because they say he is insane. I confess I believe he is. Lord Hemispot died when his house burned down in June. I thought Bodie would be free then, return to us, but my hopes proved to be false ones; He has grown worse. The phobia the villagers had placed on Hemispot has now been transferred to William. They claim he is a warlock and therefore evil. Sometimes I hear the towns' people muttering about taking his life, freeing themselves of the corruption he bears. I have made fun of them, talked them out of doing that wicked act, but there will come a time when they will no longer listen to me.
"Bodie lives in his father's cabin. He wanders around, not speaking, drunk most of the time. He neither bathes nor washes his clothing. His hair is lank, long, filthy. There is a look of death in his eyes.
"You must come. I fear you are the only one who can reach him. I do not know why I felt thus, but I do. I have no right to request a change of plans on your part, but if anything of the friendship you once shared with William remains, you must come."
Doyle reread the letter. Of course he must go. The dreams he had been having now made sense: Bodie wept in them. He cried for help. Doyle had struggled in his dreams to reach his friend but there was always a thick, hideously-black curtain between them.
Going to Paris to study art would have to wait.
Bodie needed him.
The love he had felt for his friend returned. It resided strongly in his heart, his soul. It was a magnificent thing, beautiful...different than when they had been boys together. Doyle loved Bodie as only a man could love another man. He highly doubted Bodie would ever return it, but love couldn't be stopped simply because it wasn't returned.
Love, if it was real enough, lasted forever.
September 26, 1665,
Doyle-- age 20, Bodie-- age 21:
The old cottage needed repairs; The weeds choked the grounds around it; There was a hole in the roof. Doyle peered inside and sighed. The place was filthy, in bad need of renovation inside as well. Furniture lay broken, scattered across the room. Mice scurried across the slovenly, unsanitary floor.
"Oh, Bodie, why?"
The dwelling was empty. Perhaps Cowley would know where Bodie was. An eerie feeling made Doyle shiver. He whirled, searched the landscape around him and saw no one. Doyle laughed at himself but the feeling remained. It felt as though someone was watching him. The world was too quiet; Even the birds had ceased their singing.
"Bodie?" He waited but no one answered. Don't be such a fool, he told himself. There's no one there. Still.... "You know me," he said aloud. "I'm Ray...Ray Doyle. We were friends once, remember?" Nothing...not even a breeze. "I'm going into town for cleaning supplies and then I'm coming back to scour and disinfect this place. How can you live in such pollution?" The feeling that he was being watched vanished. Doyle picked up his bag and began the long walk to Cowley's house.
"Would you like another wee dram, Raymond?" George Cowley held up his bottle of fine, old scotch whiskey.
"No, this is fine. I came as soon as I could, Mr. Cowley. How he is?"
"He walks around, muttering. Mrs. Cardle passed out when he walked by her yesterday. She swears he put a curse on her."
"Gin is her curse, not William."
"Aye, but the villagers choose to believe otherwise. Ah, well, most of them are fools who still believe there's gold at the end of the rainbow and spend most of their time looking for it instead of working and earning their living. What else can you expect from them?"
"You mean there isn't any gold?" Doyle asked lightly. "All these years and I've been searching those rainbows for nothing."
"Och, you're in fine form, now aren't you?" His eyes sparkled in joy.
Doyle half smiled. "I went to his cabin. I can't believe he would live in that...mess."
"He's haunted; Anyone with half a brain can see that. They all stood back and allowed that man to beat his child. I accept blame for that as well. I could have done something but I did not want to interfere in family matters; I wish I had now."
"I remember you cowing Bodie's father."
"A bully always backs down when someone confronts him face to face. If enough of us had gotten together back then.... Och, well, we canna go back and change the past, can we?"
Philip, Cowley's lone servant came in. "I've gathered all the cleaning items you requested, Mr. Cowley."
"Thank you. Leave them on the outer table; Ray will take them with him when he leaves."
"Yes, sir." He left.
"Will you stay for dinner?"
"That's another thing I need to borrow from you. Could you spare food until I can make it into the village?"
"Aye. I'll have Philip pack a basket. Will you be staying to sup with me?"
"No, I think I'd like to get back out to the cabin and start cleaning; I'd like to get as much done before nighttime."
"Then I'll have the basket fixed now. Go with God, Raymond, and be careful."
Doyle searched Bodie's face. The shock had worn off from them both. Could this be the clean, neat child he had once known? Bodie's hair was long, lank, grimy with oil and dirt. It hung down in his face.
Bodie lifted his head and Doyle saw an expression of animosity and something so darn close to being discomfort in the blue eyes, it could be nothing else but that emotion.
"What the hell are you doing in my home?!"
"I've brought food," Doyle said as he lifted the basket in his left hand. Bodie, silent, hostile, turned his gaze upon the basket in the right hand. "This is cleaning supplies, and from the looks of you, the first thing to be scrubbed is you; I've got the water already boiling."
Bodie tromped in and tried to slam the door but the hinges, half undone, would not allow such a rapid movement. Doyle reached past him and shut the door in easy, restrained movements.
"This should be fixed. When winter comes...."
"I don't want you here."
"I don't suppose you do. It would spoil the effect, now wouldn't it?"
Despite himself, Bodie asked, "Effect?"
"You've got the whole bloody village afraid of you."
"They should be."
Doyle stared coolly at his friend and Bodie turned away. "Get your clothes off."
"Gonna fuck with me then? Do I turn you on? Do I make you all hot and bothered?" He laughed in disdain. "Aren't you terrified you'll get contaminated?"
"Don't be daft. Look, William, I've come to help, that's all. You need food; Your home needs cleaning up and repairing, and you need a bath, clean clothes too. You have to admit that." Bodie grumbled beneath his breath. "The water is ready."
"I don't want a fucking bath! And I don't want you here! I told you that!"
"You stink." The statement was flat, hard. He settled the huge washtub on the repulsive, soiled floor, grimacing as he did so. "You smell as though you've peed on yourself." His lips twisted in disgust. "God, I bet you did."
"No one asked you to come and smell me, did they?" The hatred, the rage, was solid, distinct. "You always did like to meddle in other people's business."
"What's happened to you?"
Bodie rubbed grimy hands in his eyes. "Go away." He stumbled to a stained, grubby pallet and sank down onto it. His whole form had dejection written all over it.
Bodie shot up, darted toward Doyle, prepared to strike the man, force him out the door...and ended up a crumpled heap on the floor instead. "Don't ever try that again," Doyle warned. "I'll throw you further next time." He listened to Bodie's cursing a moment before remarking casually, "I see you learned a lot of new words while you were at sea; Mr. Cowley would be proud of you."
"Fuck Cowley." He sat up but did not rise again.
"No, thank you. Get your clothes off." Doyle waited. "You're not going to eat until you're clean. How hungry are you?" He waited again. "William, how long has it been since you ate?"
"A couple of days...?" He held his head and moaned. "Just go away, you damned fool. I don't want you here!"
"Yes, you do." Bodie issued a long line of expletives. "You were watching when I came in. I felt you. I felt you the first time I came too." After pouring both cold and hot water into the tub, Doyle went to his friend and knelt down.
"Let me help you. Do you have any clean clothes?" He expected rejection, Bodie's shoving him away, but to his surprise, that did not come...nor did a reply. "Are you addled, Will? Do you have any clean clothes?" He tried to unbutton the shirt Bodie was wearing but the cloth was so rotten with age and grime and old food and drink, that the cloth fell apart in his hands. Love increased, nearly overcame him. It was very difficult for him to hide it. "Will?"
"In the chest."
"You can finish removing these...things...and get in. I've brought soap."
"Aren't you afraid of me?" Bodie demanded bitterly.
"I could put a curse on you! A death hex, a spell of bad luck...."
"No you can't. You might fool those silly villagers, but I know better."
"I'm stronger than you. I can hurt you."
"You can, but you won't." When Bodie's lips twisted in scorn, Doyle said sharply, "Did you hurt me a little while ago? If you really wanted to harm me, you would have done it then. Now get those rags off; They need to be burned."
Bodie simply huddled on the floor, appearing confused.
"Cowley gave us strawberry tarts." He watched Bodie's eyes dart to the baskets. "You'll have to bathe first. I'll not eat with you stinking like this. You make me ill. Doyle's calm, green eyes conquered the wrathful, blue ones. He studied Bodie face. "How long has it been since you bathed?" Bodie shrugged. "Please?" Bodie's head shot upward. "How long?" There was no expression in the blue eyes but his body was rigid. "The water will get cool; A warm bath is better than a cold one."
"Leave the cottage then." Doyle's brow lifted in question. "I'll not bathe while you're watching."
"I'll take these blankets outside and try to wash them. Call me when you're through."
Bodie simply lifted his shoulders in a non-caring manner again.
"Make sure you wash your hair!" Again, Bodie simply used a swift movement of his body as acknowledgment. Resisting both the urge to sigh and the one to shake his old friend, Doyle went outside. It was only when the door was safely shut and the room was silent that Bodie disrobed. There were old whip marks on his backs and buttocks. Some of those dated from his early years at sea; some had been put there by Hemispot.
Half an hour later, they were sitting at table. Doyle had scrubbed it as carefully as he could but he knew it would have to be burned and a new one bought. The food was cold but good. Doyle did his best to hide his dismay as Bodie wolfed down his food, eating as though he hadn't eaten in a long time. How many days has it been, William? Doyle's heart ached for his friend. "There's a chicken leg left. Would you like it?" Bodie grabbed it without saying anything and tore into his fried flesh. "No!" Doyle said sharply minutes later when Bodie went to wipe his greasy hands on his clean clothing. "Don't you dare. Here...." He thrust a napkin at his friend. "...Use this." Scowling fiercely, Bodie did. "Now, let's get this mess cleaned up and then I'll cut your hair."
"You can go now."
"You always were an irritating bastard."
"And you were always the best friend I've ever had."
Bodie's throat worked convulsively. He rose and went back to sit on the floor by the fire. "The books are still in Hemispot's cellar. The fire destroyed the upper floors but didn't harm anything below ground."
"Sorcery, necromancy...black magic...."
"I see. Do you still go there and read them?"
A few seconds of silence passed, then: "No."
"Do you plan to?"
"I might...some day."
"You don't need them." Bodie did not reply. "Let me cut your hair. I don't suppose you still have your mother's scissors do you?"
"I don't know."
Doyle hunted for the small object but could not find it. "Maybe I could borrow a pair." A knock sounded at the door. "I wonder who that is?"
"The devil," Bodie said wearily. "He's come to claim his own. Run for your life, fair Raymond."
"Don't be an ignoramus." Doyle opened the door.
It was Cowley with clean bedding. "I thought you could use these. I would have sent my man but he was averse to come here. Can you use them?"
"We can. I tried washing what was here, but they're just tatters, not fit for use." He took the small mountain of blankets and sheets, placed them carefully on a chair. "I could make use of a pair of scissors as well, if I may."
"Aye, I have a pair I can lend. Hello, William; How are you?"
Bodie turned his head, faced the brightly burning fire. "Och, well, at least you look like a human being again. You'll look even better when that hair has been good. I'll bring the scissors tomorrow, Ray. Will you be needing anything else?"
"Not for awhile. Thank you, Mr. Cowley."
"Call me George."
Doyle smiled. "Thank you."
"I'll be going but if you need anything, just ask."
"I will, and thank you, again." Cowley left. Doyle turned to Bodie and said in a hard voice. "You were very rude to him."
"I hate him."
"No, you don't."
Bodie's eyes were wild. "I do! And I hate you! You bloody, interfering bastard!" Panic rang in his voice.
"If you say it enough, you might just begin to believe it." He made two make-shift beds on the floor close to the fireplace. When Bodie refused to budge, Doyle settled a heavy blanket around his friend's shoulder. "You'll get cold. I've made a bed for you. It won't be a soft one but at least it's clean."
It was over an hour later before Bodie lay down. A tired sigh escaped as he turned over onto his side.
"You wouldn't understand, Ray."
"I could try."
"Have you ever hated someone so much you wanted to kill him?"
"No," Bodie said in mild contempt, "you wouldn't."
Doyle waited a moment then asked, "Who did you hate?"
"It was more than one person, Ray, more than one. There was always someone who's stronger than me, always someone there to hurt me." Bodie turned over and refused to answer any more questions.
The sun was bright when Doyle awoke with a jerk. Bodie was sitting on his pallet beside him.
Bodie adjusted his body until he was lying on top of the other man. There was a look similar to lust on Bodie's face, in his blue eyes.
Doyle tried to shove Bodie away but Bodie, ready for the try, tightened his hold. He gripped his fingers into Doyle's hair and forced a kiss on the other man. Within seconds, he was thrusting his tongue into the Doyle's mouth. Doyle adjusted his body and shoved, harder this time. Engrossed as he was, Bodie was unprepared for the launch. He landed back onto the hard floor. Doyle rose swiftly. "Don't ever do that again."
"Ever fuck a man, Ray?" Bodie demanded in a hard, cold voice. He stood up.
"Don't ever do that again," Doyle repeated in an odd voice.
"Are you going to leave now?"
"Oh, no, you're not going to get rid of me that easily."
"If you stay...one night...I will rape you."
"Am I one of those you hate?"
Bodie shivered. He turned away "No."
"Then don't do it. Hate can work both ways; Don't forget that."
Bodie whirled. His features were twisted with rage. "I'm evil!"
"No, you're not." The other man began to shudder violently. "William?" He took a step forward, but Bodie stepped away.
"I killed my father."
"Cowley said a tree fell on him."
Bodie laughed in bitterness. "A tree! I placed a curse on him! I made that tree fall!"
"That's balderdash and you know it."
"You're a fool!"
"Maybe. Did you hate your father that much?"
Sadness fought with hatred. "Yes."
Bodie faced the fire place. A tiny flame still burned within its blackened depths. "Did you know he used to rape me when I was a child?"
Sickness made it hard for Doyle to swallow. "No."
"Some of those bruises came when I tried to fight him off."
"Why didn't you tell someone?"
"Who? And what would they have done? Tell him to stop? Take me away from him? No one would have cared."
"I would have."
"You!? Would you have gone to him, stopped him?"
"You were such an innocent." How sad Bodie sounded. "I couldn't bear the thought of taking that away from you. It meant so much to me; it was so beautiful, so clean."
Rage exploded again. "I don't want your damned pity!" He moved rapidly forward, fists tight. "Get out! Get out!" He stood tense and stiff in front of Ray Doyle.
"Don't send me away." He lifted his hand slowly and cupped the Bodie's face. Bodie's rage vanished rapidly. "Don't send me away, Will. Let me stay with you."
Panic ripped at Bodie's soul. He ran out of his home. He was still gone when Cowley came with the scissors and another basket of food. "Is something wrong?"
"Just a slight disagreement with Bodie."
"Are you all right?" the old man inquired.
"Yes, at least, I will be."
"It'll nay be easy, this course you've set for yourself."
"You're a good man."
"For helping a friend?"
"Bodie's a good person too."
"It's well hidden."
"Aye. It's taken him over."
"Some of that hostility and hatred is legitimate."
"What he told me was said in confidence."
"Then I'll not ask." He contemplated his next words before speaking them. "They're saying in the village that he's hexed you, that you're here against your will."
"How can people be so stupid!?"
"The village is attached to the past since it has very little contact with the future. Take care, Raymond."
"I'll be going now, and Raymond, don't be too trusting."
"He won't hurt me."
"You've been apart too many years; He's changed."
"Not that much."
"Just take care."
It was late afternoon before Bodie returned. Doyle had the house as clean as he could by then. Soup was hot on the hearth.
"Cowley brought the scissors. Sit and I'll cut your hair." Doyle fully expected obstinacy but Bodie only sat. He shivered a couple of times when Doyle's fingers brushed his neck. Bit by bit, the long, black hair fell to the floor. When the cutting was done, Doyle said in triumph, "Now you look more like yourself."
Bodie rose and caught Doyle's eyes with his. Awareness tingled between them. Doyle grew disconcerted. "Let's go into the village and buy our own food. We can't live off Cowley. He doesn't make that much money." He hurried to the door.
"You always were a coward," the dark haired man whispered in derision.
"Don't be too sure of that, William Bodie."
The villagers stared at Bodie in stupefied and at Doyle in awe as Doyle bossed Bodie around, making him carry what he bought. When Bodie gazed in hunger at the ale house, Doyle said firmly, "You don't need that," and Bodie forced his eyes away from the one place in town he had visited frequently.
"Why?" Bodie asked as they walked home.
"You're my friend."
"You don't know me."
"All right, tell me all about William Bodie."
"I fuck men." His voice was hard, daring.
"I figured that out by myself. What else?"
"I wanna fuck you."
Blushing slightly, Doyle managed to say in a reasonably calm voice, "I know that. Tell me about the sea."
"It's got salt in it."
"Don't be an arse. You know what I mean."
"You want to hear that every man on board that ship had me?"
Bodie laughed in contempt. "I wasn't a virgin. Father saw to that. The peddler demanded payment for giving me a ride. The two men in the tavern wanted compensation for getting me a job on their vessel. The men on the ship...." Bodie shook his head as emotions, long buried beneath hatred and vengeance, tried to arise. "There was never any kindness in any of it. I was simply someone smaller, weaker, someone to use. When I fought back, they used a whip on me. I was kept locked in the captain's cabin whenever we were docked. When I was fifteen, I broke loose and jumped overboard. We were in an Egyptian port then. A rich man caught me stealing food from his garden and abducted me. I became his slave, to do with what he wanted, and what he wanted...." He licked his lips, tried to swallow. Doyle kept silent. Though his heart ached for his friend, he knew any sign of pity and Bodie would take off.
"There was never any kindness." The sad expression vanished and was replaced by a grin that made sent shivers of dread up and down Doyle's spine. "The Ice Maiden sank a couple of months ago."
"Was that the ship you were on?"
"Yes. I cursed it."
"I highly doubt words you spoke had anything to do with its going down."
They reached Bodie's home and went in. "I'm going to curse that Egyptian."
"Let it go." He set the basket of provender on the table. "Let the hatred go; It's eating away at you; You don't need it."
Bodie shoved him down on the pallet. Even as Doyle fought back, the dark haired man ripped Doyle's shirt from his body. He moved a free hand down to jerk Doyle's pants downward as far as he could. "I'm going to rape you! I'm going to fuck you until you cry out for mercy."
Doyle stopped struggling. His hand went up to caress the rigid face. "I give myself freely to you." He adjusted his legs to give the other man better access. "Anything you want, I give to you. You don't have to take it from me."
Bodie glared down into loving, green eyes. Swift mood changes swept over him. The hatred vanished...the lust disappeared...confusion came and went...bewilderment...and then his face crumpled. He lowered his head onto the bare chest and struggled to keep his tears under check. Doyle's arms went around him, held him tight and close.
"I love you. I always have. If you want me, I'm yours."
"I'm wicked! I'm evil! I'll end up hurting you." The words were choked with emotion.
"You're not evil, William. You've just been hurt too much. Let me love you. Don't hold me away from you."
Bodie's eyes were stormy as they stared into caring, green ones. "Have you ever tasted pain?"
"We don't need that. Let me undress. Whatever you want from me, I'll give you. You don't have hurt me and you don't have to take it by force. I give myself to you."
Suspicious, Bodie moved. As Doyle finished undressing, he began to shudder violently as lust took over. The gleam in his eyes held nothing of love. He ripped the clothes from his own body and shoved Doyle back down. His hands were rough, demanding as they traveled over the slim form. Within seconds, they altered, became gentle. Hot lips claimed Doyle's soft, willing ones; Tongues caressed each other. Doyle whimpered as Bodie's fingers found his penis.
"I...can't...wait..." Bodie groaned.
"Then don't. Get the lard from the basket."
Bodie rose to retrieve it from the container but then stopped, stared down into desire laden eyes. "How did you know about using lard?"
"I'm not a virgin, William."
"There was a man at school. He reminded me of you. I was lonely, missing you, and we had a short affair."
Confusion reigned supreme in the blue orbs.
"I've always loved you."
"I will always love you. Get the lard and coat yourself." Bewildered, Bodie did. His shivering increased as he coated his shaft profusely with the white substance. Forcing Doyle's legs upward, he thrust sharply into the man beneath him. Doyle gasped in pain and desire. Bodie groaned as he plunged back and forth into that obedient, hot channel. Time stretched into eternity; minutes became hours...hours turned into days. He ejaculated with a scream and a final deep thrust. Collapsing over the quiet form, he allowed Doyle to hold him close.
"I love you," Doyle whispered, stroking, the perspiring back. "I have always loved you; I always will."
They slept together that night. When the dream came to haunt Bodie, his moans of fear and denial woke Doyle. "No! Not now! Please! Not now!"
"He's calling me; I have to go to him." Terror was the emotion in his voice.
"Who's calling you?"
"Shryrclot, the demon of the fire." Doyle tried to hold him down but Bodie shook him off and shot up. "He's calling me!"
"Don't go; Don't listen. It was just a dream."
Bodie hit him hard enough to daze him. When Doyle came to, his friend was gone.
"Oh, God, William." Doyle dressed in a hurry and ran to Hemispot's ruins. It took him a moment to locate the hidden entrance. The stairs were dark and Doyle slipped more than once. His soul could hear Bodie calling to him in horror.
A distant, flickering light caught his attention. Doyle increased his speed as much as he could. It was only a matter of seconds but it felt as though hours had passed before he was at the entrance. The smell from the room made him gag. He had to force himself to enter.
Bodie was sanding before the pit, naked. Doyle saw only his friend, but Bodie was watching a creature, loathsome, obscene in its caricature of a human being. The ghoul's monstrous penis was enlarge, engorged. It was a vulgar thing, lewd. It jutted upward, outward in a mockery of a human's organ. It advanced on William Bodie as he stood silent, frozen.
Bodie watched in horror as the scaly, vile head turned toward Doyle. It's red tinted eyes contained pure animal carnality as it altered its choice of sexual partners.
"No!" Bodie's hands reached. In his mind, he was embracing the demon, but Doyle saw nothing but his friend clutching air.
"Will? What's wrong?"
"For God's sake, Ray, get out of here!" He seemed to be struggling with some thing but what? In Bodie's mind, he was losing his fight with the monster from the pit. "I can't hold it much longer! Get out while you can!"
"William, there's nothing there." He began to walk toward the other man.
Hysteria tinted Bodie's voice. "Get out! No! You will not have him, not him! I won't let you!" He pushed air towards the pit; he pushed the beast back towards the pit of fire. "I...won't...let you...have him!"
The beast went into the pit. Flames sprang up to claim him again. Bodie's hands were licked by the fire. Shaken, he whirled toward his friend and lover.
"Let's go, before he comes back out."
"There was nothing there!"
"There was. We don't have time to talk; We have to leave." He tried to shove his friend toward the door. The flames sprang up high. "Oh, God." He shoved Doyle out into the dark hallway. "No!"
By the time Doyle had picked himself up and had turned back toward the cellar, Bodie was back at the pit. Surely it was the fire that made his body appear to glow a phosphorescent blue. Surely it was only a trick of the flames that gave an illusion of a creature in the midst of the pit. Bodie appeared to be battling it...battling and losing.
Doyle never stopped to analyze his next actions. He did what he did out of pure instinct...and love. He ran forward, jumped up on the rim of the pit and added his strength to his lover-friend's. He felt something beneath his palms. There was something solid before him. No! It was his imagination; It had to be. The flames were hot, terrifying. His body would be burned! If he didn't leave, he would die! Doyle stayed. If Bodie needed his help, then he would take that chance. His own body became opalescence white; Stronger and stronger it glowed. The creature began to shrink. The fire's life began to diminish. Within moments, they had died altogether.
When Doyle felt the rim start to crumple, he fell towards the ground, taking Bodie with him. They watched in silence as the walls of the stone enclosure fell in upon itself. Seconds later, the opening was sealed. They felt a rumble beneath their feet.
"We have to get out of here." Bodie jerked Doyle up and then shoved him towards the door.
"Nice friends you have," Doyle muttered as he desperately tried to keep his feet.
"Stupid bastard!" Despite himself, Bodie felt the urge to laugh.
Outside, in the cool darkness, the moon guided their way as they made their way to a safe distance. The ruins of the old house shuddered and imploded. It sank rapidly into the ground and dirt and the old stones mingled to form a strange burial place. There had been no sound; The night remained eerily quiet.
Bodie wept dry tears against a tree.
"Will you tell me why you're running around the land naked?" Doyle demanded. His voice trembled; His whole body shook with fear. Bodie only looked at him. "What in the hell was that...that...." He wiggled an arm towards the pile of rocks.
"A mistake? A mistake!" He took off his shirt and wrapped it around his friend's waist.
"Yes." He took a step towards his home, one, two, three....
"William, was it real?"
"Was it?" Bodie's muscles ached badly. They protested further use. If they had been in charge, he would have fallen to the ground right then and there, but his will, his strong will, kept him moving.
"You're not going to answer me, are you?" He wanted to lie down and sleep but if Bodie could keep moving, then so could he.
"Does it matter? It's over with."
"Yes." Then he thought, Almost. There is one last thing I must do and then it really will be over. They were silent until they reached the house. "I need to be alone."
Bodie ran his hands through his lover's curls. "You could have been killed."
"You needed me." A shiver ran up and down his spine. "Was it real?"
"Reality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Did you see anything when you came into the room?"
"Just you and the fire."
"Then that's the reality you cling to. Anything else is unimportant. Now go in. I'll be in in a moment."
"You said you loved me."
"I do, with all my heart and soul."
"Then go in, please, and shut the door."
Hesitantly, Doyle went in; the door shut with a tiny click.
Bodie walked slowly toward a clearing before stopping. His breathing was ragged; It showed his exhaustion. After removing Doyle's shirt, he lifted his head, his arms and closed his eyes.
Tiny bolts of electricity covered his naked body. He whimpered in agony. Light radiated from his body. His whimpers changed to sobs as the torment increased. Bodie fell to his knees. He choked back his screams as the movement of black power swam over him and through him. The light that surrounded him shifted from red to blue to yellow and then, finally to a white that grew in radiance until it would have blinded anyone looking. The glow died down and Bodie lay back on the cool grass. There was a lightness in his soul; The hatred was gone, the need for revenge. His memories remained but they no longer controlled him.
"I love you, Ray Doyle," he whispered in triumph. "I can love you now." He turned sluggishly and walked proudly back to his home.
-- THE END --
28 December 1992