Henry and the Eschaton

XV

By Michael Arram

'We're not geared up here for the living,' Elijah observed, though with a smile.

'The point is, it's hard to get credit and a bank account if you're dead,' Gavin added. 'In fact, it's more or less impossible without certain skills, which we don't have.'

All three were slumped together on one of the broken sofas, their bare feet on the coffee table. Gavin was still sipping at his coke can, burping loudly and irregularly. The practicalities of their situation were coming home to Max. He only had Gavin's spare briefs to to protect him from Biscofshalch's autumn chill (he had given up on the too-short tee-shirt). Not only did Elijah and Gavin not eat or sleep, they apparently did not feel the cold either. Max had wrapped a blanket round himself to keep warm, which he feared made him look like a refugee.

'Look, we'll just have to go on a raid. That's the problem with being undead: you're forced to the margins. We can only go on the web if we break into closed Internet cafés. Normally the rest of the stuff doesn't bother us, but now we have you, Max, we need to increase the local crime rate. So first, clothes.

'I can slip into Davey's place and get your baggage if Lije will give me a hand. Do you think Davey'll mind if we empty his fridge too? We used to be friendly way back. We'll take some carriers. Don't answer the door when we're gone.'

It suddenly occurred to Max that although Gavin appeared to be nineteen - and a young-looking nineteen at that - he was in fact Henry's age, while Lije would be in his thirties had he not killed himself at the age of twenty. The only trace of Lije's seniority, however, was his insistence that Travis was a really cool band.

Lije and Gavin found their shoes. Lije winked at Max, and they were gone. Wish I could do that, Max thought.

Once they had left, he felt very lonely. He opened the blanket to examine his body. He had not himself seen the horrific extent of the injuries the Hellhound had inflicted on him. He put his hands down the front of the briefs and gingerly massaged his testicles. Gavin had told him in a low voice that he had been castrated in the assault. They seemed to be back the same as ever and they certainly worked, but he would never take them for granted again.

Max suspected Gavin of having done something to his mind to moderate the trauma of the attack. It seemed dreamlike now and distant, as if it had happened to someone else.

He noticed Lije's flip-flops over in a corner and got up to push his feet into them. Wrapping himself in the blanket as tightly as he could against the cold, he set out to do some exploration.

Outside what he called the common room was a landing he recognised as the beginning of the spiral stairs leading down to the crypt. Cardboard boxes piled under a window proved to be full of either candles or coke cans.

Through a door opposite he found another room, nearly empty apart from a mattress on the floor, some stacked magazines and an old portable CD player. The only other item of furniture was a work table holding a pile of manuscript and a few books. On the wall above it was a board to which were pinned a few hand-drawn cartoons and a faded photo of a middle-aged couple who were clearly Lije's parents. His eyes filling with tears, Max wondered how Lije had obtained it.

Blinking clear his dimmed sight, he penetrated a further door. This must be Gavin's room and, apart from a mattress on the floor, it was very different. There were chairs and throws, a cupboard and many pictures on the wall. There was a collage of photos, amongst which Max recognised some people, though they were their younger selves: Henry, Ed, Davey, Rudi and Eddie. Each view featured a coy but pretty Gavin. Strangely, the bleak isolation this collection revealed brought far more tears to Max's eyes. He sat on a chair and wept for the loneliness of his lover.

Once he had mastered himself, he curled up on the mattress, rich with Gavin's peculiarly fresh body odour, and tried to think his situation through. He realised his time with Gavin was limited, though strangely that did not diminish his sense of joy and happiness in their love. He knew there was to be a battle in which both his friends might be destroyed, and in which he would have some part. He could not guess at what he might do in such an apocalyptic scenario, but nonetheless a prediction had been made and there was no question it would find him out somehow.

Shrugging mentally, he rose from the bed and went back to the landing, where he took the stairs downwards. The floor below had the same number of rooms, empty of all but dust. There was however an external door which was bolted and locked. The next level below was a cellar, lit by small apertures in the vaults.

Although the stairwell continued down to a lower crypt, Max was hesitant about penetrating farther into the mysteries of Biscofshalch. He sensed that deeper below the tower was the Icon, and he knew that to find it meant death.

As he was pondering this, he heard voices calling from above. Shouting to tell them where he was, he flapped back up the stairs to join his new friends. He found Lije and Gavin manhandling his suitcase into Gavin's room. On the landing there was a pile of Tesco bags filled with goods presumably pilfered from Davey's kitchen. 'We left a thank-you note,' Elijah explained.

A famished Max gratefully began chomping through a tube of digestive biscuits. When he and Gavin settled on to their bed, Elijah caught the hint and left, closing the door behind him. The two were soon kissing in the leisurely way of established lovers.

Max broke off and smiling began to play with Gavin's shaggy mane. 'It's wonderful hair. Does it grow, Gav?'

Gavin shook it. 'No. Just as well, cos I can't pay a barber. My nails and beard don't grow either, not that I ever had much to shave in any case.'

'You don't sweat. You always smell nice. Do you... er, mmm, go to the toilet at all?'

Gavin sniggered. 'You mean the coke? No, the body incorporates the moisture to top up what's missing after I ejaculate, that's all. I don't ever feel hungry and don't think I could eat if I tried, so no poo! I need to wash every now and then to get rid of smuts and stains, and since there's no bathroom here I go down to a stream in the valley. The clothes stay clean for longer too, which means I don't need to worry much about laundry.'

'And you don't sleep. That's so weird. Doesn't it get boring?'

'We have to deal with it. Lije's got his guitar and writes endless stories. We both read a lot. But I've been at it longer, and I've got this trick of sorta meditating. You can switch off that way. Although you don't dream and stuff, time passes surprisingly quickly. I did it for a week straight once. There was dust on my hair when I came round.'

'Bloody hell!'

'You're not getting dressed, Max,' Gavin observed with a smile.

'Nope. I'm losing what little I've got on too. Come here.' After stripping Gavin with slow deliberation, he knelt looking down at the boy's brown and flawless body as he fondled him erect. Gavin had a respectable package for a small man. 'Were you always this big?'

'Oh yes. Henry liked me inside him. He said I was as big as Ed Cornish.'

'So you do top?'

'I quite like it.'

'Good, cos I have an experiment in mind. You come like a fire hose and, providing you have those little red cans, you seem to recharge pretty quickly.'

Gavin looked suddenly as lustful as a satyr. 'So...?'

'I want to know how often you can do me and how much I get out of you.'

Three hours later, very sore between his sticky legs, Max had his answer. When they had recovered from their erotic daze, they had to turn the mattress, it was so deeply soaked. Then, much to the surprise of both boys, Gavin yawned and fell gratefully asleep, cuddled and warm under the blanket in Max's arms.

***

Rudi ordered Henry out to the Green Hills the day after their return from the expedition to Ober Husbrau. 'The bloody Antichrist will be here within a week, according to Terry's information, so I want you rested. No excuses. I need Ed here for a day or two, but he'll follow you eventually, as indeed will I if Harry continues to do well. Also, I want you to do some serious thinking about these powers you appear to have but cannot control or even use, according to one version of the story. Work it through. Davey and the rest will be there to help.'

So Henry duly packed and drove his own car out to Matt and Andy's home, a modern villa near the hamlet of Wenzelsberh. A small platoon of nine-year-old boys was stationed in the drive awaiting his arrival. They had set up a fallen tree branch as a barrier. After he pulled up and wound down his window, they asked for his papers and carefully checked them.

'How do we know that you're not one of them demons in disguise?' asked a suspicious Mattie.

'Cos if you don't let me through, I'll get out of the car and give you a big slobbery kiss.'

'Yuk! Only Uncle Henry could be that gross!' declared Damien. 'Let him through!'

Reggie duly saluted and moved the branch aside. Henry waved to the Mendamero Men when he drove past.

'Security's tight here,' Henry observed as he hugged and kissed Andy Peacher at the front door.

'It makes us feel safer and gives the kids something to do, bless them. Come in and let me show you round the place. We've got a houseful.'

The house was a C-shaped block. The flat front facing towards the drive was ornamented with a central porch and pediment. Two wings enclosed a patio out the back, together with a pool which had been emptied and covered against the approaching winter. The bedrooms were on the first floor, there were service rooms in the northern wing and the rest of the house had the public rooms, including a large dining room, library, recreation and media suites. There was a superbly equipped gym in the basement.

Andy showed Henry up to his double room, where Jerry, Matt's chauffeur, placed his bag. Henry looked out on the grounds. The three boys were playing now in the paddock fronting the house. Across the main road, leafless woods stretched up into low hills.

'It's isolated here. I imagine Rudi hasn't left you unprotected?'

'No. The boys aren't the only security we have. Terry's people are in the woods over there, and you'll see a police car parked in the lay-by opposite the main gate. As of tomorrow there'll be army checkpoints on all the roads around the estate. When Rudi gets here at the weekend, I have no doubt the entire region will be closed down.'

Henry knew the limits of human precautions, but he was nonetheless grateful for them. For the moment, the demonic forces around Bishop Jack wanted to avoid public exposure.

After Andy left, Henry asked for a tea to be sent up to his room. Jerry said he would take care of it. While he waited Henry pondered his situation. It was a difficult one. A demonic assault would soon take place on Rothenia and many of his friends would be in the firing line. He also had to face the fact that Gavin and Elijah would not survive it, nor would they be able to prevent the destruction of the Icon of Christ. Then the Antichrist revealed would turn on him, at which point he would somehow have to find the strength to defeat his adversary.

Henry was aware he had been changed by his encounter with the seraph. He seemed not to be any stronger physically. He grinned as he seized the edge of a desk and failed to lift it even an inch. His muscles were as feeble as ever.

On the other hand, as he sat there and relaxed, he knew his mind was not what it had been. He only had to let it run free to pinpoint where everyone was in the house, sensing them like blurred shapes. He reached across the paddock and felt the minds of the two policemen in their car. One was dozing, his dreams freewheeling. The other was awake and counting his check stubs, while anxiety over his wife's health coloured his thoughts.

Then Henry did something he knew was dangerous and forbidden. He reached into the mind and probed deeper. Memories flashed incoherently past his own consciousness, someone else's memories. There were deep ones which didn't want to be disturbed: a hint of childhood abuse, a first embarrassing and unsatisfactory sexual encounter with a girl. Henry shied away from them quickly, then put the policeman to sleep. It was easy. He simply stirred the currents of the man's mind the way he wanted them to whirl. So that was what Bishop Jack did to people.

Henry withdrew, disorientated and a little ashamed. But he had learned he could pluck out and extinguish some memories if he wished, and change the direction of a person's thoughts if he so chose. It seemed Henry shared the Antichrist's powers to sway the human mind and to heal. So how were the two of them any different?

Suddenly he remembered what Tobias had said. He was a better man in that he would not use the powers in his own interest. Indeed, he would not use them at all except to defeat Bishop Jack.

Still, there seemed no reason why Henry should not use his new senses; that at least was not forbidden. He extended his mind to the north, the fields and hills of Rothenia seeming to rush beneath him as if he were flying. He was searching for a tower in a mountain valley and found it with ease, because deep beneath it beat the golden heart of the Icon. There were barriers which would have repulsed anyone else, but they melted away for Mendamero. He felt three minds, two of which were not unlike his own; the third was also special.

Two of them were close together. Henry grinned to himself. Gavin and Max were sleeping in each other's arms. He felt for their dreaming minds. His love of them both seemed to colour their sleep, for they stirred and smiled in their slumber.

Henry withdrew, but he had one more experiment to make. He allowed his consciousness to settle on a crag opposite Biscofhalsch, then he made his body leap to join his mind. There was a moment of panic and confusion before he discovered he was sitting on a rock in the cold mountain air above Piotreshrad, birds wheeling around him. The tower which housed the Icon was opposite him, six hundred metres away across a shallow valley. So that was how it was done!

***

Max surfaced. He had been having quite wonderful dreams, and his waking mind felt pretty good too. He kissed Gavin's little nose and hugged the warm, smooth body. Then he looked down at himself under the blanket. He was a mess. His inner legs were encrusted and peeling with the overflow of Gavin's cum, and he stank. His backside felt very warm but not too painful when he flexed his anus.

'Wha' time is it?' Gavin murmured. Suddenly his eyes snapped open and he jerked up to a sitting position in the bed. He stared down at Max. 'I slept! But I don't sleep!'

Max laughed. 'Then I must have been a real boring fuck.'

'No! You were amazing.'

Max sang, 'I was the sea and the sky was you.'

'Dan Gillespie Sells?'

'You recognised the lyrics.'

'Lije swiped some CDs for me and I borrowed his player. The thing is, I haven't slept in seven years! Why now?'

'That's not the only problem.'

'What?'

'I need the bathroom.'

'Crap!'

'That's the general idea.'

'Oh damn! I was worrying about that yesterday. Umm. There's no... er, facilities here. Oh bloody hell, I should have taken some toilet paper from Davey's place. You forget these things. Are you desperate?'

'It's getting that way.'

'You'll have to go outside and use some lined paper; there's plenty of that next door. It'll hurt your poor bum though. How is it?'

'Singing with joy and ecstasy, Gav. You're some lover.'

'I love you, Max.'

'I love you right back, Gav.'

Gavin gave a big grin. 'I like "Gav". Henry called me "babe" or "baby". That was nice in those days, but somehow it doesn't fit me anymore.'

'I know what you mean. You're my hero. I couldn't call you "babe" with a straight face. Okay, we'd better go.' Max got up and rummaged in his open case for pants, jeans and a top. He didn't put them on.

Gavin tapped on Lije's door, but the room was empty. So, picking up some blank sheets of notepaper as they passed his table, they went naked down to the next level. Gavin opened the door to the outside. Max shivered in the cold autumn air that blew past him, but he left his clothes with Gavin, kissed him and did his best around the corner with the materials and opportunity provided.

When he came back in he confessed, 'I need a wash bad.'

Gavin winked, and the pair were at the bottom of the hill beside a rushing stream.

Max baulked. 'I can't go in there, it's freezing!'

Gavin nodded. 'I've got a trick. Watch this.' He led Max to a pool where the stream's torrent was caught and held. He placed his hand in the water and concentrated. The water began gently steaming. 'Get in.'

Max did as he was told, and sighed as he settled into the hot water. 'It's amazing! Like a Jacuzzi! Come on in!'

Gavin slid in next to his lover. They kissed and Gavin chafed Max's body. 'Could do with some soap and shampoo,' Max observed. Gavin pointed to the side of the pool. Max's toilet bag and towel were neatly stacked there.

'Nice trick!'

Fifteen minutes later, clean, warm and in fresh clothes, Max returned to Biscofshalch. Gavin, still naked, padded up to his room to find his own clothes. Max was standing at the tower entrance when he heard steps coming up from the crypt. It was Elijah.

'Afternoon, Max. You look like the cat that got the cream. Don't tell me, I could hear you two at it. You're animals! I was impressed at your stamina for a mortal.'

'You okay with this, Lije? You seem less grouchy somehow.'

'Grouchy? Ya rude bugger. But, yep, I s'pose I've got resigned to the whole business. It's only gonna be a few days after all. But the main thing is Enoch.'

'Meaning?'

'You make him happy, Max. I can't say it to him, not in the circumstances, but I do love the guy, and his loneliness was so heartbreaking. Now you've cancelled it. I've never seen him this way; it's like spring after a long winter. Maybe it'll be for just a small space of time, but he's fulfilled and... at peace. You wouldn't believe what a difference it makes to this place. He's been going round singing since he first met you in Stevenage, and now there's never a smile off his little face.'

Max hugged Lije, who tensed for a moment, then relaxed into the embrace.

'You queers, always so touchy-feely,' he muttered, but didn't break away.

Eventually they separated, Max forgoing the kiss he'd have liked to claim. Lije was after all a real babe, with a tight body, dirty-blond hair and sparkling sea-grey eyes.

It was as Max turned that he saw a small figure walking up towards the tower through the field. The figure waved.

'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Lije, 'It's Henry Atwood! How did he get here?'

***

Gavin came running down the stairs when he heard Lije's shout. So all three were standing at the tower door when Henry reached it, grinning fit to bust.

There were hugs and kisses all round, apart from in Lije's direction. Gavin folded his arms and looked quizzical. 'So you're coming to terms with your powers, then? You have to be good to get past the Icon's veil and our defences. I doubt Bishop Jack could have done that.'

Henry failed to look modest. 'I can do the Star Trek beam-up thing too. It's soooo cool. No more stairs for me.'

'Careful, Henry, you can overuse it. Come up then. We've got tea now, though no milk.'

'Yeah, Davey said you'd burglarised his apartment. He's a little pissed at you. How do you boil water?'

'I just look at it and think of Max's ass.'

Max giggled.

'Don't mind me, please,' moaned Lije.

They trotted up to the common room. Henry lifted a pile of books from a chair on to the floor, settled down and beamed.

Gavin sat on the coffee table while the others took up the sofa. 'So, here you are Henry. What are you going to do now?'

Henry lost his cocky grin. 'I wish you hadn't asked that one. To tell the honest truth, I only dropped in for a chat. We have a definite plan deficiency, as you might have guessed. Though did you hear what Terry O'Brien and Andy's dad got up to?'

When Gavin confessed they'd missed out on that, Henry explained. 'So you see, boys, the bastard is not invincible. He can't control everything. What's more, his minions are many of them pretty incompetent and corrupt. Not only that but his Hellhounds can be destroyed, at least if Gavin and I are working together.'

Lije nodded. 'It's encouraging, Henry, really encouraging. But we still don't understand the full capabilities of the Antichrist himself. We do know he's more powerful than Gavin and I, and probably quite as powerful as you seem on your way to becoming. But you don't have the gift of physical power that he has. What powers do you have?'

'I can do the mind thing, influence people, heal them too. Now it appears I can shift from place to place by the effort of will.'

Gavin nodded. 'The way I see it, Henry, your powers are like Tobias's. They belong outside the universe, so you can get round its rules and bring power into it. But being only human you can be harmed. He knows that too.'

Henry spread his hands. 'What was going on last night? Max was a target for the Hellhound. It was stalking our party. I don't think it knew that Mendamero was there, it was after our Max. I wonder if he has been tagged as a dangerous concern after what he did in Soho. Then he turned up again in Cranwell, where Mendamero briefly revealed himself. That Hellhound must have been tailing him, and Max became even more fascinating when he was found in the company of the king of Rothenia. That's why you were snatched, Max.'

'So I have to stay here in Biscofshalch?'

'Nowhere else is safe.'

'What about you, Henry? It could follow Max, but didn't recognise you for Mendamero. Are you deliberately shielding yourself, or is Tobias doing it?'

Henry shrugged. 'It may go with the job. It also works the other way. I can sense the Hellhounds, but not Bishop Jack. We seem to cancel each other out.'

Gavin agreed. 'We need more information about the Antichrist. He's able to counter anything Lije or I can do, and with ease. We seem to be on the same level as he is, but he has more power. Can he transcend the universe?'

'Tobias implied not.'

'Can you reach Tobias?'

Henry shook his head. 'I haven't tried, but I suspect he wouldn't answer.'

'Pity, cos we need more information about the bastard bishop and there's no one else who can tell us.'

Henry subsided. Then suddenly he laughed. 'That sneaky...!'

'What?' demanded the other boys.

'Tobias. The sod did tell me how to pull this off. That's why he dragged me back to Jerusalem in 1942! Time! He could transcend time, and if he can, so can I! You can't, can you?'

Gavin admitted it. 'We can manipulate only the three dimensions, not the fourth. But can you...?'

'I'll have to give it a go. That's the way to find out more about our enemies. But how? It took all of Tobias's power and talent to do it, and he's a seraph.' Henry pondered, then snapped his fingers. 'Got it! I know just the little person who can help me. Sorry, lads, must be off. I need to get back to Wenzelsberh. You can make me a tea next time I'm around. Love you, babes!'

Henry grinned, and was gone.

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