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Leper (FICTION)

Nov 04, 2010 - 0 comments
Tags:

Fiction

,

short story

,

AIDS

,

Survivor's guilt

,

homosexuality

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gay relationships



WARNING:
ADULT THEMES, including  HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY RELATIONSHIPS ARE DEPICTED IN THIS STORY.
IT IS NOT EXPLICIT. IT ALSO IS ABOUT AIDS.
IF THIS OFFENDS YOU, PLEASE LEAVE!
~N*O*W~ !!!

                                                                    LEPER
                                                                     by Ike

Andrew  woke up sweating, overwhelmed by the continuing horror of the Dream. He could not get used to the nightmare, even though it was basically the same one that he had been having periodically for close to two years. In recent months, the Dream had haunted him almost nightly:

He would be walking down Christopher Street in the Village. In the Dream, the street looked different than the thousands of times Andrew went cruising down that street, or when he had gone there to go to the bars. In the Dream it was late afternoon, and the bright harsh sunlight would reveal to him how tawdry and run down the street really was. It was not the exciting and brightly colored street of sexual possibilities he normally found when he would arrive there late at night, filled with thousands of brother gay male predators stalking sexual prey.

In the Dream, strangers of all kinds would stand and stare at him in horror and revulsion. Some would hide their faces from him; others would point at him and whisper to their companions. As Andrew’s dream-self would reach the first corner, a young boy always began to cry at the sight of him. The boy would turn to clutch the leg of the handsome young man who had been holding his hand. The man would never look directly at Andrew, but turn away from him. Andrew always dream-stopped in front Ty’s, the first gay bar he had ever been in. It would always be empty, but music blared from the open door; the bar covered with beer cans and half filled glasses.

Dream-Andrew would then always cross the street to his favorite leather shop to examine the display in the window. Slowly, the window would transform into a mirror, and he could see that his face and neck were covered with the kind of lurid Technicolor sores that Hollywood had used to depict lepers in old movies like Ben-Hur. In the Dream, Andrew was never shocked; for some reason he felt relieved when he saw the leprous lesions.

Suddenly, three extremely tall male figures in long monk-like robes of a material so black that all light seemed to be absorbed by it would march through the crowd which would part for them in silence. The trio would approach him in a solemn procession, each carrying a different object. The hoods of their robes totally hid their faces from him in shadows. Andrew would turn to look back at the mirror window and now he would be naked, and he could see that the sores covered all over his body, except for the area from his hip bone to halfway down his thighs. There his skin was in perfect condition.

The first monk would kneel in front of him. He would tightly tie a wide red velvet ribbon around Andrew ’s genitals, leaving the long ends to dangle from between Andrew’s legs, blowing in a breeze Andrew did not feel. Although he could see that part of his body which in many ways defined his adult identity, Andrew could no longer feel it. This would always make him think of the innocent days of early childhood, before he had discovered the pleasure available between his legs. Then Dream-Andrew would suddenly feel sexless; unmanned; neutered.

The second monk would approach Andrew, and silently dress him in a coarse white robe that fell to his feet. The robe did not close across his chest; it was open in the front, leaving most of Andrew’s body exposed. The third monk would now stride forward, carrying a tall cane, like a shepherd’s crook, with a large bell dangling from the tip of the curved end. With the staff in his right hand, Andrew would now be silently guided to follow the monks in a procession towards the River.

With each step that he took, the bell on the staff would ring loudly and surprisingly deep, like the death knell that rang before a funeral from the Catholic church across the street from Andrew’s apartment. As they progressed down Christopher Street, identical groups would join them. The on-looking crowds would draw back against the walls to avoid touching the growing procession of monks and their white robed men with staffs that pealed so loudly. The bells clanged in unison, a dirge for the dead.

When they reached the corner of Hudson Street, Andrew was always puzzled anew to see that the long closed adult bookstore was now open. Sense-memories would flood through him of the many hours spent on his knees on the brick floor in the backroom, worshipping the manhood of all who presented themselves to him, as he drank from their communion spout, in an attempt to become one with them for at least a few seconds. Other reminiscences would fill him of the hours when it was time for his own manhood to be the object of adoration by the host of men assembled there to receive his hot white liquid, the form of communion which their brotherhood treasured. The Chalice had been his Manhood.

White robed men would be escorted out of the store by their dark monks to join the procession; other groups would shuffle in from the side streets. The line would grow longer; they would walk down the center of the street four across, but each group of three monks and their white robed victim covered with sores would walk separate from each other. The unvarying clanging of their bells grew deafening as their numbers increased.

As they approached West Street and the Hudson River, the sun would be setting over New Jersey. It was always a picture perfect sunset, complete with a rainbow aura. When they got to the corner, Andrew would always be amazed to see that the old abandoned pier buildings where he had spent so many hours engaged in anonymous sex with shadowed strangers had been resurrected. It had been many years since they had been torn down, but now they were back, decrepit and dark, just as Andrew fondly remembered them. The procession now marched through the wide doors into the first pier. Although it would now be twilight in the Dream-world, there was always a glow that gently lit the vast derelict area.

The massive room no longer looked neglected; it would now be a hallowed shrine. Candles would be glowing in colored glass bowls on shelves along the wall. There would be bright colored banners hanging from the rafters, but there was never enough light for
Andrew to make out the details of the banners, only that they were colorful. The immense doors at the far end of the hall were always opened to the River. A glowing bank of fog would obscure the view of the New Jersey sunset; the space in front of the doors almost blinding in it‘s brilliant and colorful light. The radiance would illuminate a platform, with an ornate, altar like table on it. Above the dais would hang an ornately lettered banner: “There, but for the Grace of God, go I” in letters of fire.

The monks would lead their charges to stand in front of the walls, facing the center, then would stand behind them, melting into the shadows there. Now Andrew would be able to see the other men in the white robes more clearly. They would all between the age of 45 and 60, Andrew‘s contemporaries, and all of them would have the same unconvincing looking Technicolor sores on their bodies with the same unmarked area around their genitalia.

They seemed to have nothing else in common. There would be tall men and short; there would men so handsome they had to be models, and men so plain that the kindest description of them was “homely“; very muscular men and scrawny men and others who were extremely flabby; there would be white men and black and brown and red and yellow men. A few still would be wearing jewelry: wedding rings or ornate pectoral crosses. A small number would have the distinctive ear locks of Chasidic Jews. Some of them would be obviously effeminate by the way they were standing, most would look like “straight acting” men, others would stand in a pose of hostility and hyper-masculine defiance, while others stood at the “parade rest” pose of a well trained military man.

There WAS one thing they all had in common - a look of confusion and even terror on their faces. Total silence would always blanket the room. Slowly a quiet music would flow from around the men, until it filled the space. An exceedingly tall figure in a gray hooded robe would appear at the front door and would stride to the “altar“, followed by a procession of muscular young men in gold loin cloths carrying tall candles. As they got to the front of the room, the candle bearers would line up along the front of the stage, leaving an opening in the center that would grow to be a short flight of stairs for the tall figure to walk up. The figure would stand behind the table and faced the gathering. In a very deep voice, he would begin to chant in a language Andrew had never heard. The monks in their black robes would respond with a different chant, while the candle bearers would sing in a higher voice then the others a third, more melodic chant.

The voices of the chant would flow together in a complex pattern, so that it would almost seem like words he could understand. Every night, Andrew strained to understand the words; to understand the Ceremony and the Dream. Indistinct, it sometimes sounded to Andrew like “Unclean, Guilty, Unclean”.

Prodded from behind by one of the monks, Andrew would try to join the other men in the chant, but they were all as unsure as he was of the words. Those on the platform would be going through some elaborate and arcane ritual which varied nightly, but which always ended with the leader standing alone in the center.

The gray robbed figure at the altar would slowly reach up a gloved hand to push back his hood. Just before the light could reveal his face, Andrew would always wake up, sometimes screaming, always terrified and dripping a cold sweat, convinced that the sight of that face would mean his death.

* * *

In recent months the Dream has been changing; Andrew thought of the Dream as  “devolving”. Waking well before the end of the Dream, he realized that he had recognized some of the faces of people in the Dream, but he couldn’t remember who they had been when he woke up.

One night, Andrew bolted awake with the realization that little boy who screamed was not a little boy at all. Andrew knew exactly who it was - not a child, but a small man he had not thought of in a few years. He was a short, powerfully built man who had been a friend for a number of years; he was the first hemophiliac Andrew had ever met. He was the one who, in 1981, had shown Andrew a small clipping from the New York Times, which reported some cases of a rare and lethal skin disease among Gay men in San Francisco and New York, referring to it as “the Gay Cancer.” About a year later, he had called Andrew in hysteria. The Times had reported the same rare disease among hemophiliacs who took a clotting factor derived from human blood. The man was gay, AND used human clotting factor. The short muscle man had eventually taken a job in Washington, and after a few years, they lost contact. Andrew had always worried if his friend, a member of two “risk groups” was still healthy and alive, but had never taken any steps to find out. Fear froze him. He realized the handsome young man who the “boy” clung to who refused to look at him was the man’s younger long time lover, who had been quite tall.

In his head, Andrew heard the hooded man chant “Guilty”.

* * *

A few nights later, Andrew recognized the man who always stood opposite him in the chapel-like Pier as his retired boss. A closeted man, he is married to the daughter of the owner of their firm. They had ignored each other whenever their paths crossed in this very chamber, this temple of anonymous, dangerous sex, but he had called Andrew into his office to tell him the news about the anonymous testing program the city had started.

They had gone together twice a year to be tested; gone together twice a year for their continued negative results, getting drunk after each visit, then staggering together to the alternative places where anonymous sex had become available after the destruction of the Piers. Andrew was puzzled - he had seen his former boss at a company party a few days before. Alive and healthy.

As the weeks went by, more faces became clear. The faces in the crowd who stared in horror at him he slowly recognized as friends, coworkers and neighbors who had died of AIDS over the last 25 years. Those who cringed from him were living acquaintances infected with the retrovirus. The men in the white robes were former lovers and current friends who were, like him, free of infection.

Inevitably, nightly, the gloved hand of the gray hooded figure reached up, and Andrew woke up, positive that under the hood was the face of Death, and equally positive that to see Death would end his life.

* * *

When the dreams had begun, Andrew had been dating three men. Two of them, contemporaries of Andrew, grew tired of the screams and the terror, and after a period of trying to be patient, understanding and supportive, each ended the relationship. To Andrew’s surprise, the third man, Zach, who was half his age, was totally unfazed by the experience. A very spiritual person, he unwearyingly weathered Andrew’s eruptions as they became more frequent, with care and concern and humor. As the two men became closer and spent more nights together, he would hold and rock Andrew until the tears of terror ended and he slipped back into sleep. Without any discussion their relationship had become exclusive, and Andrew found himself very happy about the situation. He realized that just being with Zach made him happy.

From the very beginning, it was the most unusual relationship Andrew had ever experienced. First of all, the younger man had  pursued Andrew with a steadfastness which wore down the older man’s resistance to dating someone so much younger. Andrew was used to being the one who made the plans for dates and paid for them, Zach had casually assumed that since he had asked Andrew out, it was HIS place to make the arrangements and pay; Andrew was surprised by the elaborate and expensive plans made by the younger man.  This behavior made Andrew fear that Zach would be aggressive and domineering when they eventually became sexual, since he had no doubt that they would develop sexually.  

Yet Zach allowed Andrew to make the first sexual moves, and guided them to the most balanced and equal sexual relationship the older man had ever been in, while letting Andrew teach him new things. Andrew was shocked when Zach taught HIM a few new tricks! Andrew had not been at all surprised when Zach whispered “I love you” one morning as he woke up; the younger man WAS surprised when the usually reserved older man grinned and casually answered: “That’s a good thing, since really I love you, too.” To Andrew’s amazement, it had been his young companion who proposed that Andrew move in with HIM as lovers. Zach was very successful in a new technical field that Andrew didn’t even understand, and owned a very large apartment. It had been fifteen years since Andrew had allowed himself that intimacy, but he could not refuse the only man who seemed to accept and understand his night-terror. Not to mention the fact that he was deeply in love with the man. Except for the almost nightly visitation of horror, they were very happy.

On the eve of their first anniversary living together, Andrew woke up screaming “Unclean, Guilty, Unclean!”.  His young lover, who had come out and grown up in the Age of the Plague, asked him for the first time the details of the nightmare. Andrew sobbed as he began to explain the end of the Dream. “I can’t hear the words of the chant clearly, but I could swear it’s ‘Unclean, Doomed, Guilty, Cursed by God! Unclean!’” He then described his terror as the gloved hand of Death reaches for the hood.

After some thought, Zach proposed that Andrew might be interpreting the Dream wrong. “You will not know the meaning of the Dream until you let it come to an end, Andrew. Remember that no one ever died from a dream.” As Andrew drifted back to sleep, his lover stroked him softly, quietly repeating to him over and over that he was with him, that he was safe, and that seeing the end of the Dream would end the terror. Forever.

* * *

Andrew entered his familiar nightly Hell at the foot of Christopher Street. It was unexpectedly different. There was a new light, and he saw things more clearly. He looked closely at the faces of loved ones who had died as they moved away from him. It no longer seemed as if they were revolted by him; but were looking at him in sorrow and shame. A close examination of the still living sick friends who turned from him showed not disgust, but regret and jealousy. His bawling little friend was not screaming in fear, but in warning for Andrew‘s safety. His tall lover had looked away after a quick look of jealousy and anger.

The procession was not as organized as usual, and the bells sounded more like clappers, muted. The robes of the monks were made of cheap material, and were filled with patches. He had never noticed before that all the monks were gaunt and short, with stooped over shoulders. They were no longer figures of fear and authority, just odd dream-figures.

The picture perfect sunset looked fake - the River and the New Jersey skyline was just a poorly painted set, and the sunset a child’s painting of a rainbow sunset.

The Pier no longer had a romantic look; it had returned to a decaying ruin. The bright banners were actually dusty cobwebs, and for the first time he smelled the stench of decay, old urine, dried semen and sexual urgency that had always been part of the experience at the Piers. As he looked at the other white robed men, he noticed that they had a combination of feelings visible on their faces - guilt, relief, fear and self-loathing. In place of the emasculation that he always experienced during the Dream, Andrew was aware of an erection stirring. He looked down, and the shameful red ribbon was gone. The hideous vivid sores were gone from his body, now restored to his healthy, vigorous condition, as were the bodies of all the other men in white robes.

As usual, the chant grew louder and more complex than ever as it surrounded him in confusion. The feared moment from each Dream had arrived. This night, Andrew did not wake up with the fear of the Skull of Death - the Dream continued. In fact, Andrew watched the grey figure closely as the gloved hand touched the hood, and held his breath. The heavy hood fell back. There was no Skull of Death. Instead, the serene face of Zach, of his handsome young lover, radiant with an inner light, was revealed in splendor and glory. It filled the decaying ruin with a bright light, and made all the men smile with joy.

Andrew remembered suddenly that his boyfriend had told him on their first date that he had an unusual real full first name: Zacchaeus, an ancient Aramaic/Greek name which meant “pure and innocent“. His heart felt a flow of love from his Zacchaeus fill it.

All at once, the mystifying chanting turned into totally clear and distinct words: “Clean, Fortunate, Innocent, Blessed by God.” With tears of joy in his eyes, Andrew slowly awoke to a new day, and to that handsome, beloved, blessed and glowing face from his Dream, pure and innocent, smiling at him with love and lust. He knew his Nightmare was over forever, and the happy life of his secret dreams was about to begin.


© 2007, revised 2010 - Ike
This story may not be sold, nor made part of any collection, without prior consent from the author, who can be reached at ***@****.



The original version was "Published" on 4/22/07 on the defunct
Rainbow Community Writing Project  website (http://www.rcwp.homestead.com/)

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