Sweet Gregory: Part Three, The 59th Street Bridge – 2001

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Gregory is perplexed, and sort of chasing me up the hill. I’m not running, but it’s a steep climb and I’m race-walking. I don’t understand my powers yet -I can’t control them. In the years to come, I will learn that if emotionally triggered, or feeling slightly manic, raising my heart rate isn’t a good idea. Bad things happen when I do that.

Sweet Gregory is trailing behind me on the 59th Street Bridge. I am race-walking us to Queens. A mean plan has sprung up in my young mind.  I’m going to make him walk me all the way home, then tell him to get back on the subway. I’m not going to sleep with him tonight, or any other night. He’s changing, and I don’t recognize him at all any more.

Which is fine. I don’t recognize myself, either.

A racing heart sits inside an awful, jealous, mean, petty version of myself. The quickening pulse thrums out my eardrums. Mania starts to rise; I’m too young to realize its power. Too young to know that if I let the mania swell too fully inside me, I can unleash a terrible force, Like Father, when he built Asteroid M. But, my powers are yet undefined. It’s 2001, and I don’t even know much about myself. All I know is that I’m different than other folks, and that I have to hide it.

An arctic, icy blast lights up behind my eyes. I pick up the pace. Gregory complains.

Hey! Why are you walking so fast? It’s the middle of the night! What’s the rush?

I’m so busy these days Sweet Gregory! I have a rehearsal tomorrow and an audition!

You said you weren’t rehearsing until Friday?

It’s another project, duh! I said I was busy! Keep up!

I don’t want Sweet Gregory to keep up. I want him to lag behind me forever, but his voice has developed two decades in the last nine months. He’s coming into his full power, and I don’t even know what my power is yet! It isn’t fair. He’s a spoiled brat from a wealthy family. That’s not who the arts should be for! The arts are for real artists who had to struggle to get where they are, not for pampered babies whose families paid for their every whim.

(No, that’s not true, another voice in my head suggests. The arts are also a place the rich place their black sheep family members. Their broken. The sociopaths that don’t have a flair for business.)

I think of the improv classes I’m taking. How I had to scrape money together at the end of the month for rent, how I kept taking classes. I think of the regional and Off-Off-Broadway musicals, sometimes for little or no money at all, just to get a chance to get some free voice practice in. Ice crystals form behind my eyes. A bluish-white whisper floats from my mouth. Sweet Gregory is confused. He notices a change in me, but he can’t place it. He’s out of breath. We keep rushing. He stumbles, but I don’t pause to help him, I race out front.

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Come on! I have to get up early tomorrow, I say.

Gregory puffs and huffs behind me. Good luck with that golden voice, I think to myself. Maybe I’ll stick around and wear you out, Sweet, Sweet Gregory?  Maybe, I’ll just keep you tired your whole life, so you can’t sing…

I sense something preternatural near me. A flash in my mind – two unctuous, undulating eels, twisting in East River silt, rutting up tree roots, sliding past rusting cans.

My third eye pops open. I’m linked now, with the two gargantuan eels. This happens sometimes when my powers take over. They link to whatever animals nearby that can use their base instincts to fuel my agenda. Most of the time it’s just birds, but sometimes it’s uglier animals, depending on now insipid I feel inside when the mania triggers. The third eye swells. My skin is gooseflesh. I pause. Blue white light.

Lead him to the top of the bridge, the eels whisper, I am two places at once. I am standing on the Queensborough Bridge with Sweet Gregory, and I’m cold, submerged in the inky water of the East River, amongst flotsam and jetsam, amongst moss and fishes, and discarded needles, river rocks, and sharper stones.  Algae, particulate, brown earthy life, and two self-satisfied, overgrown, fear-driven eels.

Gregory catches up. Thank God you came to your senses!

I didn’t. And you thank God, Gregory! I don’t believe in your Catholic God who speaks an infallible voice through a man called the Pope. I don’t believe any of it!

It’s okay! It’s just religion! We don’t have to agree! Michael, what’s the matter with you tonight? You sang really well, back there! You’re funny! You know that funny people don’t have to learn to sing all that well? Think about all the character actors who make it on Broadway, just croaking out one song a night! It’s the dream job! Full salary for one fun song, and a few lines in the second act! Are you jealous?

Am I what???

Are you jealous of me?

Poison flows through my veins. Hatred pumped so quickly by my heart, fluttering and pounding away – endless pounding in my very soul – pounding deep into my core. Fuck you, Gregory – I’m not jealous. I feel sorry for you!

Michael…

I didn’t stop so you could catch up, Gregory. I stopped so you could have a fair start. We’re racing to the top of the bridge. I feel my tongue splitting in twain as I say this. My tongue silver, my words, quick.  I shift eye contact – right, left, right, left, right, left. Like a swinging pendulum on a grandfather clock. Eye to eye, I press into his mind, a bit, gently, I enter him. It’s easy. He doesn’t even know he has a third eye.

Race me up to the top!

Gregory looks uneasy, stunned, then his eyes glaze over, fuzzy, and he smirks.

Okay, he says, all Fairfield County, all bright and cheerful, but neutral underneath. It’s the tone of voice you might hear from someone who wants to talk about your problems endlessly, but offer no real solutions – it’s a classic politician’s voice – cheerful, smarmy. I’ve used my power to briefly create this moment, in order to make him chase me. It’s working. I feel in control again.

Okay? Ready, set, go!

He’s playing along now, and so am I. For a while I let us run neck and neck, but I’m a competitive swimmer, and I have been for more than a decade. Moreover, my mania will provide an adrenaline dump that usually lets me win a sprint. I’m fast. Gregory is taller than me but I pull away toward the top of the bridge. By the time I see his silhouette approaching, I’ve already climbed over the safety barrier. I’m perched at the apex of the bridge, with a slimy smile on my face. Two eels twisting inside my third eye. Two eels whisper to one another in the riverbed murk and muck, hundreds of feet below us.

Take it. Take him. We want a sacrifice. We need blood.

This takeover is unprecedented. I’ve approached animals before with my eye open, but I’ve never been hijacked like this. It terrifies me when my third eye opens on its own. I have to learn to control this. Go away! I’m shouting at the eels. Get out!

You asked us in! You can’t banish us until you grant a request. We require a sacrifice.

I don’t believe them. I think they’re lying. I clench my teeth; try to force my third eye closed. It moves a bit, then snaps back open. The eels giggle and hiss. Reflexively, I tighten my jaw again, and tear of a good sized chunk of my inner cheek.

We want blood… We need blood. We can’t get back on land unless you feed us. We’re trapped down here in the river.

Who are you?

We’re a little bit like you.

You are not like me.

No, not exactly. But we have powers like you. We could share.

I want you out.

We need blood, and we ain’t leaving.

Sweet Gregory approaches. He is red-faced and out of breath. Sweating through his Oxfords. He’s grinning.

Okay, okay, you win! Come down off there…

I’m not coming down, Sweet Gregory.

What? You’re nuts, come off it.

Come up here with me, Gregory.

Michael, I’m not coming up there. You could fall. If you fall you’ll die.

Gregory, life is about taking risks. That’s what I didn’t like about your song tonight. You sang it perfectly, but there wasn’t any risk in your voice. It sounded like you were doing something for the purpose of not being criticized, but it didn’t sound like you were pulling your own heart out. That song happens right before a character in the show leaves his home country to be with a foreign woman. You sang all the notes perfectly, but you didn’t tell the story.

Michael, I’m 22 years old. That role is written for a 40 year old man.

I want you to take a risk with me. Let’s jump into the river.

What?!?! No. Get down from there right now. This bridge is 350 feet tall, Michael. You’ll die if you jump.

I just read how someone jumped off last month and swam ashore.

Michael, did you also read that 70% of people who jump from this height, even into water, will die on impact? Because that’s an important part of the story, and I read the whole thing.

Make him join you, and push him in, the eels whisper to me, or, join him! We need blood to grow stronger – the more, the better. Both of you, strong bloods. Smells so good. Smells so powerful, crossing our river…

No.

Help us. We won’t let you die, if you deliver us Sweet Gregory’s head, like the head of John the Baptist. We can reward you! We can show you how to control your powers!

No.

You’re just like us, kiddo. Don’t you think we started off as people? Let us show you how to shape your own destiny. Let us unlock your power, and sip some for ourselves, to boot!

Brúttó. Þið tveir eruð ógeðslegir. Farðu úr huganum! Get out!

You’re the one who let us in. We require a blood sacrifice to leave. It’s simple. You can’t force us out until we get blood.

Gregory is nervous.  He can tell I’m considering jumping, now, in a real way. He can tell he has caught me on an evening where I’m so full of self-loathing, I feel like I have nothing left to lose. He can tell I’m dangerous, but he still loves me, a little, and he wants me to stop threatening to jump off the 59th Street Bridge.

Michael, please come down.

Gregory, why are you going into journalism?

Michael, I have to tell you – I’m up for a job as an editor.

You’re 22.

They really liked the articles I wrote for Show Music, and so it’s looking like I could be the editor of Next Magazine soon.

You’re an actor! You’re a great musical theater actor! That’s a local gay magazine that runs interviews with drag queens and has-been Broadway folks looking to rekindle something. Why would you leave the arts? Look – you can learn how to act better, but not everyone gets a voice like that, Gregory. Don’t waste it.

My father respects me now, Michael. It’s important to me. He doesn’t respect acting, as a career choice, but journalism! His son the editor? He respects it. What’s more, I can pay my rent doing it! I’m taking the job.

Bring him to us!

Gregory, come up here.

Yes!

No. I don’t want either of us to jump off a bridge tonight.

Just come up. I promise not to jump, or try to talk you into it. Just take the risk with me. Just hang off the side of the bridge! It’s fun.

Gregory comes up past the safety rail to sit with me on an iron girder.

Push him. Push him over, and we’ll show you how to REALLY use that third eye.

I push my tongue into the gash I bit into my cheek – a thick viscous iron taste. Blood. My third eye swells. Sing for me, I say. Sing another song for me, Sweet, Sweet Gregory. From Chess? The show you sang from at the cabaret bar?

Gregory clears his throat.

Now, sing, I say.

“What’s going on around me

Is barely making sense

I need some explanations fast

I see my present partner

In the imperfect tense”

Keep him singing!

“And I don’t see how we can last

I feel I need a change of cast

Maybe I’m on nobody’s side

And when he gives me reasons

To justify each move

They’re getting harder to believe

I know this can’t continue

I’ve still a lot to prove

There must be more I could achive

But I don’t have the nerve to leave

Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same”

Push him over to us! You’ll be so powerful!

“Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Better learn to go it alone

Recognize you’re out on your own

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

The one I should not think of

Keeps rolling through my mind

And I don’t want to let that go

No lover’s ever faithful

No contract truly signed

There’s nothing certain left to know

And how the cracks begin to show”

Join us. We work for powerful gods. They will reward you for unlocking us from this watery prison.

“Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay too long in your bed

Never lose your heart, use your head

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never take a stranger’s advice

Never let a friend fool you twice

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I place my hand on Gregory’s back. I slide it down to the small of him.

I could push him. I could end both of us.

“Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never leave a moment too soon

Never waste a hot afternoon

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay a minute too long

Don’t forget the best will go wrong

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I bite open my cheek. The blood runs into my mouth. I grab Gregory’s thigh. I could easily throw us both into the river. It would be so simple.

“Never be the first to believe

Never be the last to deceive

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I widen my third eye. I spit the blood down into the abyss. It falls 350 feet to the surface of the river.

NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? YOU FOOL!

Trance-like and slack bodied, I open a portal to Ragisland. I suck up the last notes of Gregory’s song into my Eye, immediately placing his voice inside a small, impish cherub statue a few miles south of my memory castle. I shoved the golden voice into the cracks in the little angel’s marble. The statue rests behind a waterfall, it makes a steady, constant sound vibration.

I’ve locked Gregory’s voice here, at the same moment as my blood sacrifice to those eels. Its mine now. I can always visit his voice. He won’t need it anymore, anyway.

I leave the waterfall, the statue, behind. In the cold spring, now, I thrust my fists into the water. I clench myself. My eyes turn opaque, translucent white icy blue. My jaw, slack, bluish white light from my mouth. The eels in my hands, squirming. I seize them. I’m ousting them from my memory castle. I take them to the portal, and fling them out of my mind, back into the East river to meet their oily bodies, rutting and churning up scrum.

The astral plane is closed, this portal sealed. The eels hiss and scream, and fight one another for the meager blood sacrifice I’ve offered. They wanted a five course meal, and I barely gave them a bite – but they got their blood.

This isn’t over, Michael Martin. We’re not going anywhere. We know who and what you are now. We have tasted you. We’ll never let this go.

Shut up, I hear myself say. You guys are real dicks. They slink off down the coast a bit

We climb down off the pylons. We’re back on the bridge. I tell Gregory to head back to Manhattan, but he insists on walking me to Queensborough Plaza to catch the 7 back to Manhattan. I feel affectionate toward Sweet Gregory again. I want to hold him and be naked with him again, but I can’t. Part of me doesn’t want to ruin the relationship I have right now (though it seems to be ruining itself). Part of me doesn’t want to corrupt him with my frantic, crazy, manic whatever-the-fuck is going on with me. My inner cheek is bleeding. I can’t control my third eye. I’m toxic right now. 

Gregory hugs me at the station before heading up the stairs.

I’m proud of you, I say, and I’m surprised that I mean it.

I’m more proud of you, Michael. I know you’ll eventually make a living doing theater, or at least being funny! You’re perfect for that. I just need to do this. I like the idea of making a living now, and having my Dad’s approval.

You’re a better person than I am, Sweet Gregory.

No, I’m not! I have flaws! You’re a great person!

No, I’m not, I say, and I kiss him on the cheek.

He hurries up the stairs, but then over his shoulder – Yes, Michael. You are a great person! You’re exceptional!

You are, I say! I’m not a great person! I’m barely even decent!

Gregory doesn’t hear me. He disappears into turnstiles, fluorescent lights, ancient carved up wooden benches. His silhouette is distinguishable, for a brief moment, behind the opaque, tagged-up, art-deco glass panel that NYC’s yesteryear forgot to update. Behind the glass, his shadow merges with a sea of others. I can no longer sense his strong blood.

I walk the short distance back to my place in Long Island City. I stop worrying about the eels. I grind my tongue into my cheek and taste the blood already coagulating, already knitting itself together, patching my wound. The mania subsides.

I spend the wee hours of the morning in Ragisland, admiring a statue behind a waterfall. I’m listening to the vibratory hum of Tiny Gregory the Cherub mix with the sound of water showering down all around me, creating a shimmering barrier to hide us. 

I’m practicing turning my skin to diamond.

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Orange County is Burning

Orange County is burning

 

maybe i’ll go to Africa,

the wild savannah sounds enticing

maybe i’ll see giraffe and hippos and

learn tribal dancing, maybe i’ll trek

the nile and find a hidden treasure

beneath murky riverbeds, wearing

a jerkin of faded crocodile skin

maybe i’ll let you in

 

maybe i’ll head to China,  find

terracotta warriors under a vast

cool labyrinth made by pampered

troubled emperors, thousands of

years ago, or search Tibet for relics

haul you out of hazy opium dens

once i let you in

 

maybe i’ll go to Scandinavian fjords

ice floes lock up harbors, once

a polar bear drifting in tiny,

an iceberg, we’ll shoot elephant

guns, and sweat out the bad press,

Greenland can come get their bear,

once i let you in

 

maybe Patagonia, the Southern tip of

the world, angry, happy, together,

wide,  Argentine water

falls  when i think of either

of us, our love as brutal, ugly, dirty,

shameful, unkind or full of sin,

i won’t let that in

 

maybe you’ll be your true self now,

Orange County blazing, wild, afire,

orange like halloween gourds, rotten sneers

after a holiday, pumpkin faces withering

dithering in fear, but not us anymore,

cool dark park, you’ll pierce me low and high

Andes mountains pierce the sky, not skin,

maybe it’s not a sin,

maybe i’ll let you in

Blaze Bernstein was killed by a former classmate. Authorities are prosecuting it as an anti-Semitic, homophobic hate crime.

Click here to make a donation in Blaze’s name to Lambda Legal Defense Fund.

The Fall and Rise of Andy Dick, Part Three: The Man

I walk into Akbar. I’m going to ask Andy Dick to come outside, to dance a little – to fight me. I crack my knuckles. It’s been a while since I let myself have the thrill of a dust-up. Since middle-school, probably, if you don’t count me subduing lovers in younger years, when, wild, they would lash out in juvenile tantrum.

Today, I’m going to allow myself one, though. A nice bum-fight in a tin-can alleyway. Today, I have no fucks to give. Andy Dick stuck his mealy, oily tongue on my wife’s happy face, and ruined a magical night. Now I’m going to beat his ass for him.

I’m going to show him what happens when he violates my wife. When he violates any woman. Any man. Anyone.

I’m going to demonstrate to him what it is to be poked, prodded, cajoled and entered against his will. Maybe I’ll beat him up, or lambast him in front of the whole bar – maybe I’ll lure him into a dark alley, flirting with him – choke him within an inch of his life. Maybe – like in that Stephen King book I read when I was twelve – I’ll tie him to a tree, and penetrate him with sticks and branches, until he bleeds shame into his tight white underwear. I’ll make him shove those underwear down his throat, so nobody will see. Maybe, this time I’ll be the one invoking shame. Tell him I’ll kill him and his loved ones if he coughs up his bloody rag. Maybe, for once, I’ll be the abuser?

I move from the bright, lively Monday night street to the coolness inside Akbar. I try to calm down. How childish I am at times, I think, taking a deep breath. If I’m to be effective here, and call out Andy, I have to keep my cool.

It’s something we’re constantly striving for – hypo-maniacs – to control the endless wellspring of energy, so it doesn’t take hold. It’s easy to let the energy itself start making the decisions.

It’s true, we get things done. We have powers, but they must be honed or they will destroy. I think I’m going to try to trigger him, so he throws the first punch. That will give me a reason to mop the floor with him.   I see them, nearly spot-lit, in the back, center couch – Andy, and his goth/pixie, who bears a whisper of the power Aristotle planted in Alexander at Mieza, in the Nymph’s Temple.

That’s right, I think, accessing a small, brief nook of my memory castle – her name is Alexandra.

But then, something else. An intruder.

My night vision isn’t as good as it used to be. I can still see fine without glasses, but transitioning between light to dark and back takes longer, is more disorienting. I take another breath. The third eye opens, and, unexpectedly, I’m thrown into Ragisland, but I’m not inside the halls of my memory castle. I’m far from it:

It’s dark in here. What is this place? I can’t see things, but the temperature, the atmosphere has changed. I’m not in a bar. I’m in a musty cabin. But where? Suddenly, a knowledge comes. A certainty. 

Sneaky Billy is coming.

Everyone else is coming, too, but slower. Sneaky Billy knows that. He knows they move slowly around him to give him space, avoiding his attention. They stay away. Except his closest familiar creatures. Those, bent over, exhausted, harrowed creatures do his bidding silently. Those who create his illusions. They rarely speak, and if they do, they seem far away – removed, voided, somehow of the very real estate between their eyes, their fingers pricked, dead, sucked dry of juice. Once Sneaky Billy starts feeding on someone, they become a shadow of their former self. Like an addict, but worse – worse than dead, a pathetic, nearly human – like Sneaky Billy.

His lackeys, mostly mute, care only for his favor. But, Sneaky Billy is a cruel master, and speaks ill to his ilk most of the time. They mutter here and there, jealous of one another’s time with The Sneak. Jealous, even, of his abuse. Some people can be trained to feel abuse like attention. They crave attention from his cold, smooth, dry hands. Sometimes I think of Sneaky Billy as a puppet master, with tired, shabby, leaden puppets. The puppets, dancing an exhausted St. Vitus. The master, a cold glint in his eye. Toying with me. Growing bored, growing impatient, growing hungry. 

Cursed, I think to myself, as I stand alone in this dark cabin, waiting for his hands. He is cursed. He did something to one of the Old Gods, and now he walks the earth like this, hungry, powerful, unsatisfied. So monied and pedigreed, so rotten, spoiled, but touched, oh yes, a touch of the bright water that runs through all special folks. But his touch is twisted, gnarled like a pithy tree branch, bony like a skeleton’s finger, alternately pointing, beckoning. 

Waiting, in my loincloth for him to say his ugly gutter magic, to sing-song ‘anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine’ over and over again. His hands obsess over my shabby loin cloth. His fingers slip, oops, he sneers. He’s looking for my third eye and I’ll never open it for him. The nine stones shift. The pool hardens to a tacky, acrid molasses. The croaking frog whispers to the Holy Fool.

Maybe, it occurs to me – maybe Sneaky Billy has a way of stealing their memory castles. I can feel him in the dark, when he gropes me. He smells mine. He can smell my castle. He knows I’m hiding a magnificent kingdom he will never get the keys to. He tried to touch my third eye the first time we met, when I was just a peasant boy in a loin cloth. He placed his hands There is a secret grotto, a fragrant, deadly pool, nine rocks, and an enchanted croaking toad. They work together to form a living, shifting puzzle-lock. They guard entry for me, and I’ll never let Sneaky Billy inside.

The thought of Sneaky Billy, with his Ivy League short cropped jacket, with his tight weave satin Ivory Black and Yale Blue. Always black and blue, like a raw piece of steak, like a fresh bruise on a hustler’s face. Sometimes hints of a dry, gold-yellow. Or brown and orange, like a cast-off nectarine in a deserted fair-ground.

But, always, too, a vicious glint. What might have been a smirk in younger years has curled itself up into a sneer. He wants inside my castle. This whole thing is a game. He wants to show me his castle is better. It’s like chess, or Scrabble, except Sneaky Billy knows how to play more moves than I do. 

“Anterior, superior, iliac, spine, posterior, superior, iliac, spine, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.”He wants to know where the wild roses grow, and I’m like to pick up a heavy rock and kiss him with it. These are all thoughts. This is all just worry. This is all just an Idea of Sneaky Billy.

But, suddenly, the cabin gets colder and silent. There is suddenly much less air to breathe. I feel the dust, like bits of fine glass powder on my vocal chords. In the corner, a basket, colonial toys for children who came to the New World. A gaily painted wooden Monarch butterfly, a crude doll, a squaw, a scrap of leather – the outline of a bison. I can imagine his fingers, cold and otherworldly, creeping down my spine, through my lower back, under the dirty rags Billy made for me to wear. 

He is here.

This is wrong. This is my domain. How did he get here? How did he get on my sovereign soil? True, he’s far away from my castle, but he shouldn’t be in Ragisland at ALL. I open a portal, to check on the Magma Gate. He shouldn’t be able to come here – least of all so close to Skagafjordur. So close to the castle he wants.

So many barriers have been placed against him over these decades. Nine stones form a close formation, nine stones shift and heat and cool. My Croakley – my enchanted frog, stops still, the fragrant pool hardens to a gel, like an old skating rink, not quite solid, not quite liquid – a spongy, searing, sticky death, to the fool arrogant enough to try to touch the magma. There’s a crack in one of my nine stones! I see it now, molten, like lava from an active fissure, seething and undulating under the ground. I ask the toad what happened.

“Stop showing everyone how the clock works!” the enchanted toad says. He’s been drinking gin. It’s late, and his face blooms with rosacea. “Just tell them what time it is!” My toad! My sweet Froggie. My gift from Loki! Why is he slurring? This is more than just a little niplet of gin in the wee hours. This is poison. His heart thrums in his throat, slower and slower. He croaks out another few words. “Why do they call it casual sex?” he asks. He’s always loved riddles and even now, in the throes of a vicious (deadly??) poison he tries to amuse me. 

“Why?” I ask, my voice breaking.

“It’s hard to be casual.”

And just like that, my sweet trickster Toad is turned to porous volcanic rock. A tiny, lonely, hidden person camps inside, but there is no more Toady. He perches, immobile on what I know is rock Nine. There are cracks forming on most of the rocks now. The hardened pool is loosening again, getting more fluid. The rocks shift and drift apart, like estranged brothers. They go their own ways and don’t look back for one another. 

Sneaky Billy never gets his own hands dirty. Sneaky Billy’s hands are soft, but never, ever exactly clean, either.  Cold hands, not as cold as a cadaver, but not as warm as a person’s hands aught to be. Clammy, I think to myself, but that’s wrong. That implies sweat, and Sneaky Billy doesn’t break sweats, he breaks people. He wants my Raven eye. I’ll never let him have it. I feel him approach. I whisper to the Traveller, Mjölnir the Smith, to Freya, even to the Silver Tongued Trickster. I face North, and bend the knee to a family older than this place. To Older Gods than the ones who thirsted for Saint Matthew. 

I don’t know why I know, but I know somehow. Billy is here. It smells like a dirty goat, gamy and hungry for rusted cans and cotton scraps. 

I am alone, in a dark ship’s cabin. It’s musty, now, dusty. there are colonial things shoved in this ship – halberds and jerkins, and stone-hewn hatchets. Quivers and arrows made of North Carolina river reed. Burnt sienna hand prints from nymphs and faeries, who paint their bodies for evening rituals.  Early muskets. A crude pack of tarot cards  – only five lone cards – I pull one – The Holy Fool.  (I can always find him in any deck, at any dinner party, even here in this rotting echo of a ship. He is an enlightened trickster, but he can’t always help, he can’t often interfere – he only provides tools and clues along the way – he juggles and winks at me, eyes back up, about to step off a cliff, about to float off into the heavens.)

 It’s moored – this vulgar, festering monstrosity – far from my castle, down beyond the seediest section of the harbor, in Eyravegur. Moored, I scoff at my self.  That’s an understatement. Some lowlife scrum have pulled it thirty yards inland to rot like the Argo. Disintegrating, landlocked, mildewing, the ship almost bloats.

The mast head a smoothed over splinter, a whisper of what it used to be; Jason’s body long eaten by crows. Not even bones remain. A rusted gasket thumbed into the ground. No one would guess it was once a ring adorning the left index of a Would-Be King.

A miasma – wood rot and mealworm and grub – peaty, loamy, odious. The word fallow comes to mind in this dark cabin, but I correct myself. Things are obviously living, dark unctuous things grow here. Molds, funguses, earwigs. Things scurrying, both vertebrate, and not. A crunch under foot, cast-off exoskeletons, thousands, maybe tens of thousands.  I’m in Sneaky Billy’s Cabin, a slatted ramshackle in the belly of this rotting corpse of a once-mighty ship. He used to pay me to be the gatekeeper of this portal, to outfit the rogues and vagabond-for-hires he chums up and grinds down into paste. Sneaky Billy loves the red pigment, but he’s always searching for the purest, brightest crimson. He’s always smelling. It’s close. He can sniff it out. I stop breathing but his hands find me anyway. 

“You can’t hide from me,” he jeers, circling me  (Anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine.) I built this system myself. My parents had such a crude model, so when mother died, I put father away where nobody could find him, and I razed this, and built this mighty ship.”

“You lie, imp. You have but illusions here, and so far from the heartland where my people are guarded – you lie here, wretched, crumbling. This is another one of your illusions, and though well crafted, it will not endure – for you built it at the expense of others. You had to steal their joy, in order to summon this feeble, rotted corpse.”

Silly Billy’s face loses focus. A curled sneer fades off his face. His brow knits – in his eyes, worry masked over by saccharine empathy.

“I was young once. I fell in love, once. He broke me. I’m broken now.”

I am the sovereign ruler here. I shaped this coast line when I was a boy, and I never, ever made this ship. It’s a lie. It’s elaborate, but it’s a lie. It fooled me, momentarily, but I know what I am. I know who I am. I know what I can and can not control.

My eyes frost over. My organs seize. My bones become liquid. My eye is open. A bluish white light in my mouth. Every hair on my body standing at full attention. A Valkyrie roars behind my eyes.

Komdu út, djöfull! Þú ert bannað. Vertu gleymt einhvers staðar annars staðar!”

One look – horror on the face of Sneaky Billy – his ship fading off into nothing. Me, standing on my perfect, treeless coastline at Sauðárkrókur my arm turning like scales of Elder Armor. Something is wrong here in my memory castle. Sneaky Billy is sucked into a pinhole sized vortex spinning, orbited by his four lackeys, dead, with pricked, tiny fingers, dullard slack in their jaws. William has stolen their third eyes. He wears them like a heinous crown. They are bleeding. He looks like a twisted Jesus. Young gods, I think, as Sneaky Billy winks away. I wink myself away, out of Ragisland. I’ll deal with this insurrection later.

My eyes adjust. I give my anger to the universe. I’m back in Akbar with Plum-Lipped Alexandra and Naughty Andy Dick.

I walk over to Andy and Alexandra, releasing the last of Smelly Billy, relaxing the last of my anger, releasing all the way past the farthest galaxy on the end of an ever expanding Universe. I reach all the way to Forgiveness, and I take a generous hand full. I plop down on the couch next to Andy Dick.

“Hey bud,” I say, all nonchalant. “We gotta talk about boundaries. You violated my wife’s with you tongue.”

Andy looks confused, a little like how Slick Billy looked when I banished him from the garden. He looks sad, and desperate, and hopeless. He opens his mouth, as if to say something, pauses, re-considers, and finally settles on:

“Well!!!!!! She’s not hereee is she??”

“No, she isn’t. She had to go home, because you ruined her evening.”

Now Andy looks just like Sneaky Bill. He’s even wearing old withered gold and Yale black and blue. There’s an Outer Banks glint in his eye. His grin all North Carolina hickory. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, Andy. Yes you do. Remember when we were here a few days ago, and I told you what a good job you did? How inspiring I thought you were, on News Radio? Well, you ruined that tonight. You made my wife have to drive home feeling violated in what should be a safe space for her. It should be a safe space for all of us. You’re ruining it for her, which means you’re ruining it for me. And this is so hard to say – I wanted to hit you or take you out and fight you, but there’s a 17 year gay boy inside me who sees you and sees Matthew. Sweet Matthew who works at a radio station, and doesn’t quite understand the world. I saw you, Andy, as Matthew. I saw myself inside that, and I had hope. You gave me hope. At least as Matthew, you did.”

(Not the same trusting Matthew who gave himself to the murderers, thinking they were new friends. Not Matthew who was killed for nothing. Not Matthew who was extinguished by the reckless byproduct of toxic hetero-supremacy.)

“But that hope is frayed to say the least. You’re holding on to threads, bud. I wanted to hurt you so badly, but I just can’t Andy. I can’t hit you.

Alexandra intervenes – she knows Andy deserves this, but she has to calm him down. He starts squirming. He looks cornered. Wild eyed. I catch eyes with him, I empathize for a brief moment. His eyes notice this and he instictually reaches out for my crotch.

“Noooo. Don’t do that. I’ll break every one of your fingers if you try that.”

Andy looks to Alexandra, who seems with her face to be saying, hey, take your medicine.

“Listen, you gotta knock this shit off. I know you’re drinking again, and probably using again, and I’m not here to judge that, but what I’d like to say is this – we’d like Andy back. What’s more, the world has changed, and you don’t get to just go around touching everyone because you’re Andy fucking Dick. You were one of my heroes, and that’s the ONLY reason I didn’t knock your block off. But rest assured, if you touch my wife again, you might not even live to regret it.”

Andy looks terrified, but I’m zeroing in, now.

“I know you think the rules don’t apply to you, but you’re dead wrong, and if you keep up like this you will die. My advice is this: ask permission. No means no.”

Andy moves to kiss me, and I grab his face with my right hand.

“No, buddy, I’m not letting you do this. I’m not letting you take away my hero from childhood.”

I’m squeezing his face. His eyes are bugging out.

“I loved you Andy. I loved Roseanne. I lived for you two bright lights.”

There’s a long pause. Andy looks sad.

“I miss you both. You both used to seem to stand for something. But now it seems like one of you stands for ignorance, and the other for abuse.”

Andy opens his mouth, says nothing, closes it.

“Things aren’t great out there in the world, bud. Give us the old Andy back.”

Andy takes my hand. “You’re the brilliant one.”

“You can forgive yourself, but in order to get there, you have to change your behavior.”

“I can. I can change my behavior.”

“You WILL. Because if you touch my wife again, I’ll lay you out on Sunset Blvd in a coma.”

We are laugh, but they both know I’ll do it. A few more pleasantries are exchanged and before leaving, I reiterate that I can see the Old Andy in there, and I need him to be inspiring again. His eyes light up. He looks young again, brimming with potential.

I make my way back to Lammie and Robin, who are still canoodling outside. Lammie asks if I took care of it. Yes, I say. I did. How, he asks?

I say nothing. My eyes are ever so subtly frosting over. My skin is livid, burning with cold. I imagine snow crystals on the side of a glacier in Ragisland. How it looks like the glacier has skin which has turned to tiny diamonds. My organs unclench. My bones stop shifting. I am not a diamond.

As charming, but as firm as possible, I say.

After about ten minutes Andy and Alexandra emerge. They’re catching an Uber somewhere cooler, more expensive, more exclusive, or let’s face it, wherever the drugs are, that’s where they’re going. Andy is wandering, hungry, worse than a ghost. He hugs me goodbye. His hands move from my upper back to my mid back.

“No…. Andy, we just talked about this. You can do it. All you have to do is not be a fucking creep.”

His hands travel to my lower back.

“You’ll feel better about yourself, if you don’t do this. And if you do this, you know I’ll hurt you bad, bud. You just got a warning.”

I can feel his hands wanting to go further like Sneaky Billy’s did, to squeeze and dig around – they linger, indecisive.

“Bud, you’re better than this. I need you to be better than this, just tonight. Just once. Just try once not to ruin everything.”

All at once, his hands are off me. He made the right choice, for now. He whisks away in a small Uber X with his pixie in tow.

Wow, that was Andy Dick, Lammie says to Robin and me. But I’m not there. My eyes have frosted over again.

I’m off in Ragisland, burying a stone statue of an Enchanted Frog. I’m sealing all the portals and gathering my ministers. The country is under siege.