A feeling of foreboding grew on Gavin. He left Alasdair and began searching for Chris and Peter, but they had gone. Billy was also gone, and it was Billy that he most needed to see.
He took a seat in a dark corner and tried to focus. Since his return to the world of normality, he had been aware that he had not been sent back unchanged. He was physically stronger and quicker than he had been before he had been taken by the ruling powers of the Universe. Moreover, something surfaced in him every time he came in contact with Billy Buchko. When that happened, the man's mind emanated a feeling of pressure, which had a peculiar familiarity to it. Gavin sensed Billy's mind. In his former life he knew he could have penetrated and controlled it. If he still had some part of his former strength and virility, could his mental ability have left vestiges too?
Gavin tried to let his consciousness open and expand, the way it used to do. Nothing. He was unable to reach out to anyone.
He got up and paced about anxiously, ignoring the fun and laughter going on around him. For all his lack of supernatural vision, he still had an uneasy feeling that something was going on just beyond the horizon of his limited senses, something really bad.
A figure appeared in front of him. 'Problem, Gavness?'
'There certainly is. That bloody Billy Buchko's up to something, I'd swear.'
'He always seems to be up to something. Do you think he has multiple-personality disorder? Sometimes he's really nice: the classic big, friendly American guy. The next moment he's a cruising shark from whom no piece of ass is safe. The look in his eyes is scary when he's like that. The freshers won't go near him.'
Max came up beside him and took him by the shoulder. Gavin melted into the reassuring gesture and then it happened. The old familiar feeling came back. His mind broke its chains and leaped outwards. He was aware of everything around him with unnatural vividness. He stiffened in Max's embrace.
'What is it, sweets?'
'Don't move. Just don't move!'
A boiling sense of evil was not far away. His mind arrowed towards it and recoiled, horrified. It was like seeing excrement smeared on a great work of art, or a beautiful city sacked by barbarians. Something innocent and harmless was caged and being tormented by a dark presence that had sunk roots deep into it, like a parasite. Gavin gasped and shook free of the incubus.
Max stared into his eyes. 'I can feel it too... the blackness. What is it?'
'Baby! You and I are back in business.'
Despite everything, Gavin gave a grin. 'Well, if you have any secret weapon up your sleeve that shoots beams of supernatural radiation, now's the time to pull it out, Max.'
Max ignored his crack. 'The thing's close.'
'Yup. It's at Brinkley and it's about to do something unmentionable. Run!'
Gavin took off, leaping down the stairs and slipping past the security detail before the men were even aware he had passed. Max could not keep pace.
Gavin tore along the campus pathways, sensing black evil ahead of him. He encountered a check at the hall door; he had no idea what the code was. Afraid of what might happen if he delayed, he gripped the handle and effortlessly wrenched the door open, bursting the lock. He dashed for the stairs.
It was at the flight up to the second floor that a hostile power began to beat against him. He faltered and stopped, like a runner who was winded.
But Gavin's spirit was aroused now, and by opposing him the blackness nearby was simply provoking a counterstroke. Concentrating, he broke through the barrier. As he did, he heard a distant rumble like that of a gathering storm. Leaping up the final steps, he laid hand on the door. The blackness made one last attempt to hold him back, but he shouldered through.
Thunder detonated not far away. Gavin knew it was bad news when the weather reflected spiritual struggles. Any demonic manifestation disturbed the natural world.
At the end of the dark corridor, he saw two human figures standing rigid and restrained. Beyond them was something that looked like Billy Buchko, but was not. It had taken Billy's easygoing face and contorted it into a mask of insatiable lust. Its naked body was grossly sexual and rampant.
Without even pausing to doubt himself, Gavin reacted as if he were still Enoch. He raised his right hand and, as in the old days, light sprang up to beat back the darkness. The figures ahead stared over their shoulders at him.
'Peter! Chris! To me!' he commanded, loosing the chains the thing had imposed on their wills.
With no hesitation, the two young men bolted past him for the stairs.
And now for the big one , Gavin said to himself. He was not sure precisely what he was going to do, but somehow he knew that action was expected of him. What was it? Was he to fight this thing physically, as he had once fought the hellhounds, or was there something else he must do?
The being - whatever it was - seemed momentarily baffled by his intervention. It brooded on him. Gavin decided the best way to avoid a violent resolution was to pre-empt it. Gritting his teeth, he launched his mind at the thing.
It was not like dealing with hellhounds. This was a completely different form of demon, a creature of warped passion and deceit. It met him with its mind and grappled.
There followed a very strange contest for dominance. He and the demon stood still and silent, their heavy breathing and fixed eyes the only evidence of struggle. The creature beat at his mind, attempting to dominate him with its lust, anger and despair. It channelled crude images into his mind, hateful and obscene, doing its best to overwhelm him.
Gavin pushed back. Thoughts of Lije and Henry, but principally of Max, were his weapons. Their fun, laughter and pure love parried the defilement of the demonic assault.
The demon was unsettled at this riposte, and its concentration gave way. Gavin attacked fiercely now. The images of lust and vileness streamed away from him as he plunged into the darkness of the thing's mind. Then he had it: the cowering core of Billy that was not the demon, seeming instead to be crouched over like a child hiding its head from night terrors. As if it were a child, Gavin embraced it tightly. The world shifted and he was somewhere else.
Gavin found himself in bed with a warm body beside him, breathing gently. For a moment, he thought he had woken up next to Max, but it was soon obvious that he was in neither his own bed nor his own body.
He realised he was within another consciousness, one that was happy and fulfilled. A hand that was not his reached out to explore the other body, very evidently male. Two young men stirred and embraced, then fell apart and held hands. Despite the dimness of the bedside light, Gavin could make out clearly enough that each had a hand tattooed with an elaborate image of a rainbow.
The covers fell off and Gavin could see the other man ready and eager for his host's body. He was quite something, too: slim and beautiful. His host moved to squat above the other man's midriff so he could lower himself to take the waiting erection. It was when the bed began to squeak as he rode the man below him that a door opened and light flooded into the room. A woman screamed, 'Billy! Oh my God!'
Now Gavin was in a modern office. A tall wooden cross was displayed on a wall behind a desk, at which sat a fat man in his forties, his small eyes fixed on Billy.
Billy hated the man. Other memories rose up in him: of those small eyes greedily assessing his young body as he swam and played with the other boys at a church camp; of a hand groping inside his shorts in a dark corner of the church. The man's charisma, together with the boy's fear of revealing that his penis reacted enthusiastically to being gripped and stroked by a man's hand, had kept Billy's mouth shut.
'Pastor, what can we do?' Billy's parents stood on either side of him. He did not want to be there, but what was the alternative? Was he to give up his place in Burnett, where he was about to start his sophomore year? His dad was threatening to withdraw his funding.
The pastor seemed to read all Billy's fear and self-disgust. 'So y'all found the boy nekkid with that no-good trailer trash Tyler Howard? Boy, that is the worst sin! Yuh hear me? Sin! You were possessed by demons of unnatural lust.
'Yet there's hope! The Lord Jesus cast out devils. Stand before the godly congregation and we can exorcise the Beast. In his name will even the demons submit! Luke 10:17. You do this for your folks tonight. They're good people whom your perversion has disgraced! Repent ye, boy!'
Gavin, knowing what the next scene would be, was not surprised to find himself in Billy's body in a seat by his father at the front of a huge auditorium. Thousands of the faithful were ranked behind him, clapping to the music. A gospel choir was swaying and singing on the stage in front of him.
It was a humid North Carolina night in July, and they were in the Evangelical Church of Christ, Thomasville. Gavin could see off to one side of the stage, by an open exit door, a figure he knew would be there. It was the Reverend Anthony Willis as he was when Gavin had first met him: overweight, fidgeting and sweaty. Later that night the real-time Gavin would seduce Anthony in a gay sauna down by the river, and so set in train the downfall of the other man Gavin knew to be present.
Bishop John James was seated next to the podium, head down in prayer. The Reverend Williams was next to him, leading the clapping with his hands above his head. There were dark patches of sweat staining his shirt at the armpits despite the air conditioning in the auditorium.
As the clapping and the singing petered out, rising chords surged from synthesisers, and with them the excited audience began to babble randomly. The phenomenon of speaking in tongues washed down the ranked seats of the auditorium like a waterfall of sound. Every now and then a transported worshipper would stand and prophesy, jabbering incoherently over the rest.
Pastor Williams raised his hands. Then, as he gently lowered them, the murmuring subsided. Bishop Jack snapped back from wherever it was his meditation had taken him. He stood, staring at the congregation and swaying like a cobra, as it seemed to Gavin. Just like those of a snake, his eyes appeared fixed and glazed. The bishop's voice effortlessly raised itself above the hubbub in the church.
'These are the latter days! The days Isaiah proclaimed! Often promised and often denied, yet they must come and have come, as the Lord has promised. The forces of evil have risen and almost triumphed, yet in fire and thunder will the Lord of Hosts descend from His mountain and cause their armies to become as one with the Midianites and Amalekites! The beast has arisen and revealed himself and his name is MENDAMERO. But the sword of flame will be drawn and he will be cast down, he and his foul and corrupt demons: sodomites and perverts, an abomination in the Lord's sight.
'Though the world go down in fire, it will be a cleansing flame, and those the Lord loves will rise unscathed. All will be as Eden, the saved will walk the green grass under clear skies for evermore. Those the Lord loves will have everlasting life. Those who follow the beast will die the real death, as did those in the cities of the plains.'
Billy's father was on his feet, in tears and begging the Lord to cure his son, afflicted with the sin of Sodom. Gavin registered the horror rising in Billy's mind. The boy wanted to run but could not.
The bishop's keen gaze fell on Billy and seemed to seize his mind. He called for prayer and the whole church fell to its knees.
Then he called out, 'Come to the Lord all those who truly repent! Your sins will all be forgiven. Healing will be yours!'
Tugging Billy to his feet, his father pushed him in front of Bishop Jack, to whom he spoke urgently. Gavin caught the bishop's gaze and a chill of fear seized him, despite this being only Billy's memory of the event. It was the cold look he had encountered in the moments before that same bishop had destroyed Lije, his friend.
Bishop Jack turned to the congregation. 'This young man is possessed by the hateful demon that ruled in Sodom long ago.' He raised his hand and his voice boomed out. 'Get thee gone, demon of homosexuality!'
Billy's head reeled. A vast black presence blinded him and poured into his mind. Power, anger and lust washed around his head to such a degree that he collapsed, twitching as if in a fit. He fell into a dark vortex where his mind was lost and chained in a cell to which the only windows were his eyes.
Gavin's anger was like white flame. So that was why he was here. There was still a role for Enoch. The vile Antichrist had opened doors in reality and allowed into the world spirits whose only purpose was the destruction and debasement of the innocent and loving. The struggle was not over for him, it seemed. So now what?
He was not yet back in Brinkley Hall, but rather in a black and lightless place, though standing on a floor. Nearby, water was rushing and thundering. Gavin's mind searched around him. He was aware of Billy's consciousness close beside him, but also a third presence. It was time to test the boundaries. How much power had been granted to him in this crisis?
Gavin raised his hand and a familiar transformation came upon him. Great wings of light sprang from his shoulders, and his body glowed like silver. In the sudden brilliance of his metamorphosis, the surroundings became clear. Almost at his feet was a naked boy curled up in a foetal position: Billy. They were in a rocky cavern and Gavin stood on a floor of black sand at the brink of a foaming, roaring underground river.
'Oh, shit!' he observed. He knew exactly where he was. He and Billy were in the caverns underneath the Kalescznyce Horja, the mountain fortress in eastern Rothenia. Gavin's mind raced. There could only be one reason why he was here, and he finally realised why the demon's mind had been so familiar.
Again he raised his hand. He was perfectly confident now of his capacity to deal with the incubus, for he knew its name. 'Dressner, I summon you!'
He could almost feel the reluctance with which the blackness coalesced in front of him. The manifestation had little resemblance to a human being, except in the way its face and body mimicked the grossest possible human expressions and poses. It knew and dreaded his power, which it had experienced before.
'You know me, I think!'
Like the grating of rocks upon each other the thing replied, 'You are Enoch.'
'You know this place too.'
'It is where I died.'
'No. It is where you were given a last chance for salvation. Had you taken it you would now be more alive than I. In your hatred and anger you chose otherwise. You should have been forgotten utterly and sent into nothingness for all eternity. Yet here you are. Why?'
'You know why. I was taken for another purpose. Because I had caused pain without conscience, a spirit of pain I became in the service of your enemy, the Prince of this world.'
'So Bishop Jack intervened. Yes, I imagine if he wanted an entity that knew how to humiliate the innocent and inflict pain, he could hardly have found anything more debased than you.'
He looked at the hulking, slimy thing before him and found it pitiful. 'And did service to your Prince bring you relief and reward? He was not well-known for gratitude and generosity.'
Gavin got the impression that the demon hung its head, such as it was, though it gave him no reply. Now he had to do something, but what? Where were seraphs when you needed them?
With a certain sense of disgust, Gavin touched the demon's mind. In its anger it had dealt out pain and humiliation to everything that was true and loving. It was utterly debased, but what was more evident to him than its anger was its pain. It shrieked with agony even at the touch of his mind, so far was it gone now from light and goodness.
Gavin was torn with indecision. 'Demon, what have you learned?'
It had an answer. 'There is only pain, and it never ends. I made the boy try to kill himself, hoping for my own release. I had none. There was always someone to save him. For all I could do, there were those who cared for him.'
'And each kindness caused you greater agony?'
'There is only pain.'
'And if I sent you into nothingness?'
'I would bless your name. There would at least be an end.'
The sound of the tumbling waters began to die away. Gavin pondered. 'It seems that judgement has been given to me. And so it is this: I cast you from this boy, and here in this place you shall remain. Yet this I grant you: as you ponder and truly repent of each deed of cruelty you have done, so will that loathsome form you have taken assume more of humanity, until one day you again become a living man. Then you may walk free and make amends to the world you so befouled. I give you the mercy of hope.'
Gavin raised his arm once more, and the cavern shone with light.
Chris and Peter crashed flat into Max coming up the stairs, making the three of them fall together in a heap on the first-floor landing. As they struggled up, Max grabbed Peter's shoulders. 'Where's Gav!'
'Upstairs! Billy tried to rape me! Then we ran and Billy - I think it was Billy - tried to stop us. But Gav came and saved us!'
'Christ! I'd better get up there!'
'I'll come with you,' declared Peter.
Chris look scared. 'Perhaps we should think about this.'
'Yeah, yeah! Okay. It's just I've used up a lifetime's ration of heroism already.'
Max looked at Peter, who grinned. 'He was very brave.'
'Who'da thought it. Come on, you two.'
Max led the way. He pushed the door to the second-floor corridor open, readying himself for anything. What he found was not in the least dramatic, but still it took him aback. Gavin was cradling a naked Billy, who was hugging him tight and sobbing as though the world was ending. Gavin kissed Billy and glanced up at his Max, who saw in Gavin's small face a look of such angelic compassion that tears sprang into his own eyes.
'So he's alright?' asked Max.
Phil Maddox smiled. 'The medical centre has him under observation, but yeah, he's okay. Turns out he had a history of self-harming. That was what the yellow flag on his records was all about.'
'So there was no need to tell his victims to go to the GUM clinic,' Max said.
Gavin gave a snort of laughter. 'Certainly was. The idiots needed to learn a lesson. Miles in particular was terrified. Alasdair had to go with him as no one else would.'
The three sat in Phil's office. Outside, it was a deliciously sunny autumn day, which only added to how good Gavin felt about things.
'So Enoch remains in the world?' Phil leaned forward in his chair.
Gavin nodded. 'Seems so. He's still needed. Billy sought him out unconsciously. That's why he took the exchange in Stevenage. It was a lighthouse drawing him to shore, though he didn't know it. But I don't think being Enoch's a full-time job anymore. Fortunately for me, he seems to have become a corporate effort. I need to be in close contact with Max to trigger the transformation. We've apparently merged spiritually. Together we're much more than when we're apart.'
Max looked fondly on his lover. 'Couldn't have put it more nicely if I'd spent a year trying, Gavness.'
Phil pressed on. 'So what about Billy?'
'He's returned to what he should have been, a kind and loving guy. Bless him, he struggled all he could against the possession the bishop inflicted on him. Sometimes he was nearly himself.
'It was tragic. He was really in love with his Tyler. Half the problem with his parents was that he had been caught with a lover from the wrong side of the tracks, a sweet boy but from a poor family. If he'd been from the right background, they'd have been less angry... bloody snobs.
'Billy had got himself tattooed on his hand just like Tyler. It was the symbol of his love, and perversely, the demon forced all the casual fucks he seduced to get themselves tattooed in just the same way. Billy was blindly trying to find Tyler again through the vile moral fog that had been inflicted on him, but the demon was just mocking and tormenting him with the blue rainbow. It was horrible.
'Anyway, now he's been purged of that incubus, he's back in touch with Tyler. The boy's getting a passport and will be flying over here from Charlotte. It's the best medicine Billy could receive. The two of them will stay together for the rest of Billy's time in Stevie. LGBT Soc's looking for a flat for them.'
Phil cocked an eyebrow. 'And how could Tyler afford the flight?'
'Oh... I got Henry to use some of his lottery cash. As I told him, the money was all part of the Eschaton fee, some of which was owed to me. So he coughed up.'
'Not with very good grace,' Max added. 'He was grumbling about Lance's school fees and how nobody understood the horror inflicted by the costs of bringing up a kid.'
'Boring fart,' laughed Gavin. 'I told him he's getting old. He's lost his sense of romance.'
'I'll bet he loved you for that,' Phil observed. 'What did he make about your confrontation with the demon?'
'He went very quiet for a long time, before saying he'd be keeping away from Kaleczyk for the foreseeable future. But he did talk to Lance about it.'
'Well, if you have an archangel for a son, you might as well make some use of him.'
'And Lance said...?'
'That what had happened to Dressner was a rare event in cosmic history. Few humans ever reach that level of moral debasement this side of psychosis. Rather flatteringly, he said Enoch's action was very proper and he would have done the same himself, had he been in that position.'
'So everything's excellent. Now may I suggest something?'
'Max has a crucial essay due in next Tuesday, and you have to take on the dark forces of the faculty administration over the dog's breakfast which is the sociology course in this university.'
'That's a hint?'
'Take it any way you like, babes.'
Chris was at a loss. He knew he had gone past first base with Peter Lewis, but had no road map for what might follow.
'Whaddya do, Alasdair?'
'How the fuck would I know, yer daft tit! Send him fucking flowers or something like that.'
'Is that what gays do?'
Alasdair raised his eyes to heaven and groaned. 'Ring the boy up and meet him. Oh yeah, and a couple of other things.'
'Time to get yerself a razor, clean clothes, antiperspirant and a decent haircut.'
'Will they make a difference?'
'Nah, you'll still come across a twat, but at least you'll be trying. He'll like that, I'm sure.'
Chris looked shy. 'Is it alright, Alasdair?'
Alasdair returned the look with a tolerant smile. 'Yeah. He's a good kid. You could do a lot worse. He'll sort you out. He's that type, even though he's so quiet.'
So Chris made a hesitant call to fix up a date, then booked an appointment with a stylist.
Peter came through the door of the Carne Arms that Friday to find Chris at the bar, conversing with the manager about the small breweries of the Midland counties, on which Ted had proved to be something of an authority.
'I like the hair,' Peter observed.
'Ta! Cost a fortune.' Then Chris blushed. Foot in mouth again.
But Peter only laughed. 'What's that smell?'
'Like it? It's Lynx.'
'Which bit of lynx? How long's it been dead?'
They looked at each other and grinned. The tension evaporated. They drank and talked, and slowly learned why it was they liked each other.
At the third pint Peter took Chris's hand. 'I never did say thank you properly.'
'For what, Petey?'
'For saving me from that rape. Gavin said a thing to me.'
'He said only the force of true love could have broken through the power Billy was exerting over us.'
Chris blushed red. 'Really?'
'Yeah, really. I just want you to know, Chrissie, how much I'm grateful to you. You really cared for me. I trust you more than any other man I've met. I... want to be with you.'
'Tonight?' Chris squeaked.
'And every night,'
'Oh Jesus.' Chris's hand gripped harder on Peter's. Their eyes met, and their lips followed.
'Hey! Hey! Are you pair gay?'
They broke apart. Peter looked at Ted, standing bemused behind the bar. 'Well... yes.'
Chris grinned. 'Absolutely.'
'Well I never. But yer look so normal.'
'We cover it well.'
'Blimey. Right. As my first official gay customers then, the next drink's on me, and...'
'Get a room if you want to do that sort of thing again.'
'I could pay you to be my chauffeur,' suggested Fritz.
'Can I design the uniform?' Tommy laughed as he snuggled into his lover, with whom he was spending all his weekends in London. Half guiltily, he enjoyed the easy luxury in which Fritz lived: the modern apartment, the giant fridge-freezer filled daily by personal shoppers, and the use of the Mercedes. That Saturday he had driven the two of them down to Brighton, where they had enjoyed the seaside and drunk in some very insalubrious bars.
'I'm sure you'd look beautiful in a uniform, Tomasczu, whatever it was. D'you know? Shopping with you in Harvey Nicks was a revelation. I never imagined there was so much to learn about fabrics.'
'You picked some lovely ties.'
'And you bought some sexy knickers which will be my joy to rip off at regular intervals.'
Tommy got up on his elbows and stared into his lover's sea-green eyes. 'Fritzku, it really doesn't bother you that I occasionally buy and wear women's clothes?'
Fritz kissed him. 'Nope. Not one little bit. I love you for being so different.'
'You're a dream come true. Know that?'
'I like to think so. But it works both ways, Tomasczu. You do a strange thing to me. My past affairs were all like bushfires: they flared up fast and did a lot of damage to me and everyone around me. This has been so different. There's plenty of passion. It's just ...'
Tommy was intrigued by the things the post-coital revelation were unveiling. 'Just what?'
'I'm not sure I fell in love with people the other times, just my idea of what they were. The exception was Henry. But that was mutual comfort between two lonely and disappointed teenagers, not love. You on the other hand, are unique in my experience so far. I see you for what you are, and I love you for it. I just want to know more about you. You're utterly fascinating, Tommy Entwhistle, as well as a gorgeous fuck.'
Fritz gazed back at Tommy with a softened face, a look which paradoxically emphasised the line of his facial scar.
Tommy traced the scar with his little finger. 'Fritzku, you said one day you'd tell me how you got that mark.'
'So I did.'
'It's not a simple story, and it'll take a while to tell. But if you want to know, I think you're ready. Perhaps I should warn you, though, that once I do, the world will never again be the same for you. Also, you may find yourself very nervous around Gavin Price.'
'And I won't be able to keep you away from Rothenia afterwards. Shall I go on?'
'But I'm already desperate to go there. Please carry on, Fritzku.'
'Very well, it's like this. Nine years ago, a very disgruntled new boy entered the sixth form of Medwardine School. He called himself Rudi Burlesdon, and one of his first and most significant acts in his new school was to give a black eye to another boy in the sixth, a lad called Henry Robert Atwood...'
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