by H.P. Lovecock (力。下。愛ちんちん)
“I can’t quite describe what I saw that night on All Hallow’s Eve, it was something so marvelous and terrible and unspeakable. The more I focus on it the more something in my mind seems to push back against it, like some force outside of my mind doesn’t want me to believe it. I want to remember, because it was so beautiful and terrible, and Fionn was there… the power… beautiful and terrible…
“Sorry. Ever since that night my mind keeps blanking out. I guess this all started when I first came here to MU, when I pledged Theta Omega Alpha. They already knew about me because of my dad. He was a brother back when he went to Ol’ Misk, and his father, and his father before him. Dad was actually the president of the Thetas, so I didn’t have much say in whether I wanted to join or not. Traditions are really important to my dad.
“Some people around campus call us ‘the Alpha queers,’ but they’d never do that to our faces. We’re the oldest fraternity at MU, and they know we have a lot of connections. I’m not really supposed to say this, but a few senators were brothers. You know House Speaker Mueller? He was apparently even initiated to the higher secrets, too… but I can’t really talk about that…
“They probably call us that because of some of the rumors about our initiation and secret rituals. Probably some drunk Theta told his girlfriend a half-truth when he had a few too many, to get it off his chest, you know? And then she told someone, and suddenly the whole campus thinks we’re a bunch of buttfucking queers. I mean, knowing what I know now… But I’m not allowed to speak of the initiation.
“Most of the Thetas are in law or the medical school, or engineering. They probably wouldn’t have considered me if it wasn’t for my dad. I was given preferential treatment even though I was black and only studying visual arts. I was tolerated at the House, the Theta chapter at College and Garrison, that’s where most of us live. I even had a couple of friends, fellow pledges, but I don’t think Howie Phillips—he’s the current president—I don’t think he liked me very much, but he invited me to pledge during orientation and I moved into the Theta House.
“My dad hadn’t told me much, but I knew there was more to Theta Omega Alpha than just some stupid Greek fraternity. Dad said the president was actually called ‘the Hierophant,’ but to never call him that unless I was fully initiated. Dad thought he’d been tantalizing me with whispers about the Magus Mens Mentis, but I just assumed it was some dumb secret society code words. I know better now. I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this…
“Anyways, I guess I was happy enough at the House at first, and even though I’ve lived in New England my whole life, there’s something about this city that’s different than Boston. The whole town is so old and dark, and it has a sort of quiet, menacing energy to it… like there’s something unseen, unknowable, just beneath the surface. The town has so many secrets. Even the way people dress and talk and behave and live, it’s like the town’s never managed to grow out of the early nineteenth century. I hear some of the older houses of the oldest families don’t even have electricity. The gambrel roofs, the crumbling, ancient stone churches, all the Federal style manors, the Greek revival edifices downtown and on campus. I want to be a portraitist, and never had any real interest in architecture before I moved here, but I love the way the city looks and feels so much that I sometimes take my sketchbook to the top of Hangman’s Hill, or sit in a café on Church Street and just draw the buildings, or the landscape of the town; that’s how enchanting and strange it is here. It’s like going back in time. I guess its good practice for an artist.
“I like my courses well enough. The art department isn’t a big deal like the medical school, but the classes are small and even freshmen can use the huge studios in the Pickman Fine Arts building, the vine covered building with the huge columns on West. Professor Yoxall and I met during orientation and we bonded over our love of Goya, especially his pinturas negras. After I showed her my portfolio she invited me to be her studio assistant in exchange for letting me sit in on her life drawing classes. That’s where I first saw Fionn.
“It was near the end of September. I’d helped Professor Yoxall set up for her weekly life-drawing course. It was a second year course, but she let me sit in on it for free to practice, and even in the few weeks I’d been there I’d already improved a lot, I think. Fionn arrived just after the last students and…
“He couldn’t have been much older than me, but he had this energy about him. The way his mop of dark hair flopped in his eyes, his scowl, the way he wore his hood up, the dark clothing, baggy and shapeless, like he’d sewn them himself, made him look like some rebellious teenager, like he was trying to hide inside himself, but then when you saw his eyes… a beautiful blue-silver. There was something so guarded and mature about them like I’d never seen in someone our age. Didn’t hurt that he wore his weird, baggy clothes effortlessly, like they were straight off the runway, and had that sort of ‘I’m hot but I don’t give a shit’ vibe about him. Also didn’t hurt that Yoxall greeted him by name and motioned for him to get ready behind a screen. To undress.
“Naked he was something else entirely; his face had that odd, wispy, angular look that’s usually reserved for high fashion. His body slim, a bit bony, olive-skinned but pale, a little bit of dark black hair between his legs and under his arms… but the most remarkable thing were the scars. Not, like, cutter scars, but tattoos carved into the skin. Flesh made art. I didn’t know what they meant when I saw them, but I looked it all up when I got home. Around each of his wrists and ankles he had these blocky connecting lines that I later saw were symbols of rivers, or running water. On his right upper arm he had a Celtic knot linking around his bicep. On his inner arms there were runes and symbols I couldn’t even guess at, and most incredibly there was an enormous scarification piece depicting the ‘Dara’ knot across his back that danced every time he moved his shoulder blades. I could understand why Yoxall would covet him as a model, not only was he beautiful but he was… captivating to look at, I guess. He held the eye. If the second years were at all like me, no one could take their eyes off his naked body for a second. The only thing he kept on was a chain and amulet with a triquetra intricately worked out of the silver metal. Not an ounce of self-consciousness that you’d expect of someone our age. He was like some strange, mystical spirit that had walked out of a story.
“I… was hard almost as soon as I saw him naked and it wouldn’t die down. I had to adjust myself in my seat so it wasn’t obvious, and as I snuck some glances around I noticed a few similar predicaments. Yoxall started us off with some two-minute sketches, and as he posed there was a sort of dizzying electricity in the air. The five-minute poses were even more intense, the world seemed to drop away and there was only my charcoal, my easel and the model. When Yoxall gave us a break a couple of people ran off to the washroom, embarrassed, but I knew I couldn’t move without giving everyone in the room a show… He put on a robe and chatted, terse but polite enough, with the professor, and I checked my phone as an excuse to keep sneaking glances at him.
“The twenty-minute poses… I’ve never had an experience like that in my life… the room seemed to pulse and Fionn was the heart. I didn’t even need to think about my charcoal flying across the paper; it was like… pure creation. The energy he gave off, it washed over me, like the feeling of walking into a lush, overgrown garden just after a spring rain… I could almost smell it, feel it on my skin, the vibrancy of life…
“Fuck… sorry… just thinking about it…
“When the time went off for the last image there was an audible, exhausted sigh throughout the room. Fionn dressed quickly and was gone with little more than a word to Yoxall. Luckily the professor gave us all a second to… calm, and we started circulating about the room, viewing the work of others. She’d give pieces of advice or little snippets of praise. There were some really beautiful drawings, but when she came to my work… It was the best I had ever done, she could see it, I could see it. I remember saying, ‘It was like I was on another frequency.’ They were only charcoal drawings, but they somehow caught the way his pale brown skin shone in the light of the setting sun through the large transom windows, that aloof, lonely look in his eyes.
“‘He’s something special, isn’t he?’ Yoxall murmured to me as the class cleared out and we were cleaning up. I tried to act cool, but also probe for information. She didn’t know a whole lot more than his name. He was a double major in History and Languages. She’d met him in a first year art history course and had been similarly arrested by his strange, wraithlike beauty. When she put out a general call for life models in the Advertiser as she did every year—it’s a conservative city, she told me, it’s hard to retain the diverse roster of life models that an art professor would want—he approached her after class. She was hesitant about taking on such a young man, especially a student, but there was something in his bearing, she’d said, that maturity. She hadn’t regretted the decision a bit.
“I told her I’d love to work with him some more, and she gave me a look but I tried to play it off as purely artistic interest. ‘He doesn’t have a cell,’ she said, which astonished me, ‘No e-mail address, not even a landline. I have to physically go to his apartment to invite him back every couple of months.’ I convinced her that if he wasn’t interested in collaborating I wouldn’t scare off one of her models, and I think she trusted me so she relented, writing his address on a scrap of vellum.
“When I got back to the Theta house I was quick to secret the drawings away to my room and hide them. The guys had a tendency to moon over my work when they could get their hands on them. You know, ‘Look at the tits on that old cunt,’ ‘check out the saggy balls on him, bet you got a chubby staring at that piece, huh Halsey?’ That sort of thing. As I looked over the drawings before stashing them away I was terrified of what they’d think. Now that I took a moment to study them again… There was an erotic fixation on the model, an androgynous beauty to the pictures that I hadn’t realized when I was drawing them. I locked myself in one of the private bathrooms and… relieved myself, finally…
“I didn’t get to Fionn’s apartment until the weekend, the first Sunday of October. I’d gone through the first round of initiation on midnight of September the 30th… a humiliating ordeal, five of us blindfolded and stripped naked, brought down into the inner sanctum of the House, a cold, damp, incense and mildew choked basement. Only it didn’t end there. We were led through a dripping, squelching, interminable tunnel for what felt like hours, but it could have been mere minutes. The reek of niter and wet stone was thick in my nostrils. We were shivering and a couple of the boys sniffling for fear when we finally stopped in a place where the quiet lapping of the water could be heard, the rotting, muddy stench of the river was overwhelming, I felt nauseous. We were led into the frigid water, standing on a man-made, shallow stone outcrop within whatever hellish cavern that somehow connected to the distant Theta house, and every inch below our necks was shaved bare by cold, anonymous, lingering hands, the brothers snickering all the while, making remarks about what little lie beneath our clothing while Howie Phillips muttered strange incantations that were probably half gibberish. Our fingers were pricked and blood was dropped first into a chilled glass vial and then into the river while we were sworn to secrecy. We were threatened with branding and worse should we ever betray the fraternity. We were lectured about the mad alchemists and American prophets who had founded our brotherhood, and we were made to repeat a series of statements as to the power of the fraternity and the meaninglessness of our lives but in service of Theta Omega Alpha. ‘Gold from blood,’ punctuated the incantations repeatedly, something I had heard my father whisper into the phone the night after my mother’s accident… Howie revealed himself as the Hierophant of our fraternity’s truth, Magus Mens Mentis, the allfathers, the keepers of the old knowledge, the power that would be, gold from blood. He said there would be one more trial for us in a month’s time before we could see the truth. Then we were commanded to return together, and only when we felt the warmth and light of our Theta Omega Alpha home could we remove our blindfolds. The other Thetas terrorized us as we stumbled back through the caves, naked, blind and terrified, the five of us, myself included, sobbing for help and mercy, clinging to one another. Worst was as we pawed our way along the damp, slime slicked stone walls the single, straight corridor broke off and seemed to lead down other passages, conjuring the image of endless miles of tunnel below the city. Sound echoed horribly there, hoots and threats turned inhuman. I couldn’t imagine my father, the indomitable Dr. Halsey, subjected to such a torturous, degrading process as a boy my age. Knowing him he was probably the one who started it, but I suppose this sort of thing ran older…
“My God, why did I tell you that… if the fraternity ever finds out… please… don’t tell anyone what I’ve told you… what they would do to me… Please?
“I hated the older boys from that moment on, especially gaunt, long-faced, fish-eyed, bigoted Howie Phillips. We couldn’t speak of what had happened but they broke their vows by quietly teasing us about our tiny, hairless cocks and our sniffling cries for help for the rest of the month. Someone had evidently taken pictures, they showed us glimpses on their phones, and I wondered about how far back records of their humiliated members went. How often had blackmail been leveraged for political gain by the Thetas?
“I spent a cold, miserable day recuperating from the hazing on Hangman’s Hill, listening to music and sketching listlessly before I finally summoned up the courage to visit Fionn, the astounding, scarified life model. I recognized the address easily enough, anyone of a certain position would. The wretched old boarding house at 598 Angell was some distance off campus on the western slope of French Hill, the poor part of town. The building was distantly owned by the university, or some patron of MU, and rented out to students who couldn’t afford the luxury of one of the modern dorms or an apartment closer to downtown.
“Why anyone would live in such a dark, leaning, grimy hovel of a boarding house, I couldn’t understand. A once beautiful Edwardian manor left to rot in the slums that had grown up around it. Angell Street seemed eerily quiet during the day, and the few immigrants who walked it seemed to shun the house, even crossing to avoiding walking in front of it, making strange signs as they avoided their eyes from the edifice. Even as I walked up the ancient, warped wooden steps a voice inside my head urged me to turn away, but I fought it and eventually rang the doorbell to Fionn’s apartment.
“He answered the door in a faded grey tank top and a pair of baggy, black harem pants, both having that hand-sewn quality of his other clothes. He didn’t say a word as he answered the door, merely cocked an eyebrow and glared. I stammered out my excuse, that I had been in Yoxall’s life drawing and had quite enjoyed drawing him, and was hoping to make a study of him… about as awkward an introduction as you could expect. I offered some money, which seemed to soften his glare. He seemed to considered me a moment before taking the money, giving me a bemused smirk and stood aside from the door, letting me in.
“As we moved up a wide staircase with an ornate but much abused banister, I had the impression that despite being student housing the building was largely empty. I could hear a couple of voices on the second floor, somewhere far down the cavernous hallway, and caught the faint trace of some ecstatic choral music blaring from somewhere even deeper, perhaps Vivaldi?
“We wound up another staircase, and Fionn led me into the cavernous apartment, partially occupying the highest portion of the house’s turret. I was astounded by the space. Every inch of furniture that wasn’t covered in books was occupied by plants; huge bushes of aloe, lavender, feverfew, even more that I didn’t even recognize! Plants I didn’t think could grow in this hemisphere without special conditions, but Fionn’s apartment was thick with them! And even more harvested, drying plants hung before the windows.
“And the books, literal tomes on old Irish and Breton history, Arabic works and a whole section on monsters from Japanese mythology, Australian indigenous spirit lore, and books on languages that I couldn’t even begin to decipher. ‘These are all yours?’ I asked, running my finger up the spine of a gorgeous, first edition, leather bound manual titled Treatise on Primordial Ciphers, printed at the university in 1877.
“‘Some of them were my mother’s,’ he said, his voice coming distant through the thick of the vegetation.
“Aside from books and plants I also spotted the occasional odd trinket. A horseshoe hung over the door with strange carvings, and a few amulets hung on hooks on the walls, either for decoration or for safekeeping I couldn’t tell. Astrology charts plastered the walls, as did a beautiful series of ancient prints depicting medical herbs, perhaps even torn out from an old book. The afternoon light shone in from a half dozen windows, diffused through the greenery. An old mattress lay on the floor in one corner, sheets and blankets twisted on it, a pile of books beside the bed. The only piece of technology I had seen was an ancient laptop, clearly a custom job for the wires that snaked out of it and disappeared into the wall. I was surprised that he had such a thing, and that it even worked. I couldn’t imagine the house had wi-fi.
“The only open space free from the plants and clutter was the wide, windowed circle of the turret. A gorgeous green-upholstered, but ancient and battle-scarred settee straight out of some Victorian novel sat in the light of the windows with a couple of more modern armchairs across from it. A thick old desk was at our left hand, covered in books, scraps of paper, scattered writing utensils and jars of dried plants and… I swear, he had a real fucking pestle! The middle of the circle, however, was cleared and free from the clutter and plants, but I noticed some faded chalk marks, perhaps drawing practice on the old wooden floors?
“I was as enchanted with the space as I was him as he slinked through the veritable jungle before flopping down onto the sofa. I wanted to take out my sketchbook and draw him right then and there, the way the light played over him. There was a moment of awkward silence as I stood beside an armchair before I noticed the glimmer of two gold-emerald eyes from under the couch.
“The silver-grey cat skittered out, eying me up and down. It probably sounds weird to say, but the cat really seemed to consider me, like I might be a threat. It leapt up onto the couch and put its two forward paws on Fionn’s leg. ‘It’s okay, Treads… everything’s all right. Go on now.’ Amazingly, the cat seemed to lock eyes with him a moment before giving me a disdainful glare and disappearing out an opened window behind the couch.
“‘Treads?’ I asked.
“‘His full name is Treads-Through-Oblivion,’ Fionn said, but then quickly changed the subject. Did I want him naked? I said I did.
“Then I was lost again in his body. Alone the force of it, his very presence seemed intoxicating, I could almost smell the headiness of earth after a rain coming off his body, but it must have just been the plants behind me. Drawing him was an erotic act for me and I was… hard the entire time, again. By the time I was done the sun had begun to set, blazing through the windows at an angle, and his body glowed with fiery light. I realized at least three hours must have passed and he had miraculously not moved an inch nor complained at all. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
“He stood and stretched; the skin pulled taut over his muscles was tantalizing, but he didn’t seem in any particular discomfort from being still for so long. He came around my chair, standing too close, my head swam. ‘That’s quite good, actually,’ he murmured. With a mere pencil I had created a minor masterpiece: his reclining body framed perfectly by the curves of the couch, the look on his face piercing forth from the paper into my very mind, the light playing over his body like a some long-forgotten hymn, the dance of those beautiful scars… I can still see it so perfectly.
“I tried my best to keep the sketchbook covering my lap, but he asked if he could glance through it, and who was I to deny this vision? At first he didn’t say anything, but after flipping through the pages he placed the sketchbook down on the edge of the desk, then turned to face me and climbed into my lap, his lithe legs straddling me, his cock rising as it glanced against my stomach. ‘We can create something beautiful together,’ he whispered into my ear, before he kissed me, and I was lost in him again.
“I can’t believe I’m telling you this… I don’t even know you… I mean, I’ve always known I was queer, but I hadn’t done much about it until then. I was the youngest of three, but the only son. Mom wouldn’t really have cared but Dad would have flipped. He’s super-traditional about ‘old family names’ and ‘carrying on the legacy,’ WASP-y, cracker, Ivy League bullshit like that. So I’d had a couple of girlfriends to keep up appearances but was still a total virgin when I came to MU. Jesus… why am I telling you this?
“That was the first time I stayed at Fionn’s place. He taught me so many things and sex with him was like drawing him, only this way after tracing over every inch of his body, mapping it out with fingers and my tongue and my cock I could have a release greater than the creation of any work of art. Fionn wouldn’t tell me much of himself. He was from outside of Salem; he’d somehow managed to come to the university two years earlier than normal, advanced study, some family connection, maybe? So he was only about a year older than myself despite being in third year, didn’t keep many friends but found solace in his work, and his strange cat that came and went, flitting about the apartment and staring with eyes that seemed too smart. What that work was I couldn’t imagine; despite having so many things I didn’t think he could have much money seeing his clothes, or the boarding house, especially if all he did for it was occasional life drawing sessions at school and at the Essex Museum for fine art downtown.
“I told him a little bit more about myself afterwards. He seemed interested enough in my classes at the university and my work, but disdainful of the Thetas. He called them ‘charlatans,’ but wouldn’t say why when I asked what he knew about them.
“I had a deep and dreamless sleep that night, feeling safer in his arms and below a canopy of strange plants than I ever had in my entire life. I awoke only once to find the bed empty, and I heard Fionn speaking in a low voice in the direction of the turret. He seemed to be chanting something quietly. The moonlight seemed to glow brighter through the windows, even though it was late. I couldn’t imagine him as a religious sort, but I put this down to perhaps saying some kind of prayer before I dozed off again.
“This is how the next month went. I would attend my classes, Yoxall’s life drawing classes on Tuesday nights, though Fionn didn’t return as a model during that time. I would put up with the veiled threats of what was to come from the Thetas, all the macho bullshit of day-to-day life with two-dozen guys. On Saturday nights I would draw Fionn at his home, eventually just leaving my easel and pastels there, for I was turning out work like I had never imagined I could. He drew something out in me, as well. I felt more powerful around him, more comfortable in my own body. Nudity no longer bothered me, and sex didn’t seem the arcane thing it once had. I felt almost as if he was shaping me, his hands sculpting me into something better as mine gave life to him on the pages through exotic, surrealist pastel portraits. When I looked on his naked body I seemed to be gazing into a whole new universe of colors. I started to plan a formal acrylic portrait of him, maybe in the style of a Goya, or a Delacroix, although when I brought it up he seemed uncomfortable. He said he’d been enjoying what we had, but that he’d be away for a while at the end of the month. He also wasn’t sure if we should continue after that, he seemed ashamed to murmur the word ‘distraction.’
“That night it was my turn to fuck him, and as I ran my hands over his body, tracing the scars, rough, coloring him with leftover pastel powder on my hands the way he loved, I tried to put something of myself in him… well, something more. He moaned as I pinned him to the floor in the center of the turret, my holding him down with my hand on the Dara knot. The waning moon seemed to shine too close, illuminating the room with exquisite blue electricity. ‘What are you doing to me?’ he gasped as I ran my fingers over his lips. The amulet that he would never remove had ended up flipping around onto his back from the way I had turned him over, and it pulsed between us, practically burning into my skin as we pressed together. Every touch seemed charged with the very essence of life and I put off his release for as long as I could. When it happened without even having to touch his cock he threw his head back and screamed like he never had and we were suddenly lying on the floor of a moonlit forest, thicker with vegetation than the deepest jungle on earth. Cats’ eyes watched us from the verdant darkness that pressed on all sides, but before us was a path and at the end of the path was a great totem tower, a natural onyx lighthouse, mythical Babylon, a ziggurat of the feral lands for it was covered with golden vines and pulsed with the heartbeat of every wild creature. And it called to us. This, I knew, was the very land of the animal gods where no mortal human crept, for if they did they must lose themselves to the very feral spirit of life. The tower blazed and pulsed and I wept for joy for the heartbeat of life was truth and I looked on the very works of the gods, the pinnacle of existence that blazed in the heavens. And I came.
“… And we were back in his apartment, and the vision I’d had was already fading into the darkness of the night as the moon slid out of sight. I don’t even know how I’m remembering it so clearly now. Fionn was looking at me oddly, but pulled me in a tight embrace and kissed me harder than he ever had, even more than when we were in the throes of sex. And I realized he was crying, but he would not say why.
“We were both drained and could barely crawl over to the settee and pull a blanket over us, as the cat glared at us judgmentally from the thick of the nearby plants. Fionn whispered he would be gone the next weekend, so not to come looking for him, but that if he was back I could see him the weekend after. I asked where he was going, and as he dozed he murmured that he was visiting family and friends east of Manchester, Ravenswood was what he mumbled as he began to doze off. I asked if I could see him again before he left, but he said he’d be hiking out tomorrow, and didn’t know exactly when he’d return, but it’d be after Samhain. That’s what he called it. Not Halloween, not All Hallows’ Eve. Samhain.
“The next morning, boldly, as if a final statement, I kissed him on the steps of 598 Angell, and he smiled sadly as I turned to go.
“The Thetas were as restless as I was that week. While I pined for Fionn, the pledges were terrified of whatever was to come that weekend. I had merely forgotten about the final initiation caught up in this infatuation with my muse. The older boys were angry, apparently they had been banned from a couple of local campgrounds for reasons that were never made clear to me. Having recently gone online and poked about a map of the region, I offhandedly suggested driving up to Manchester-by-the-sea if they were looking for dense, secret forests. Howie Phillips himself clasped me on the shoulder, grinned and murmured, ‘Gold from blood.’
“I realized the suggestion held some vague hope that I would perhaps run into Fionn by chance at Manchester. Perhaps surrounded by a loving, normal family, for he seemed hesitant to speak of them if he even had them, but I liked to imagine him surrounded by normalcy. I guess that’s what infatuation will do to a person, because I fantasized about him introducing me to his eccentric but warm, loving family and talking about the work I was doing.
“But I realized that would probably mean him meeting the Thetas, two worlds I couldn’t stand to have collide. When five pledges, eight older Thetas including Howie and an assortment of the older boys’ girlfriends piled into the car that Saturday for the short drive to Manchester, I realized how stupid my hope was. I’d see Fionn the next weekend, after I’d survived whatever disgusting hazing ritual Howie and the Thetas had in store for us.
“The leaves had transformed New England’s forests into a riot of golds, browns and blazing reds, although by that point many of the trees were picked clean and the road was thick with fallen, rotting plant matter. I enjoyed seeing the rural seaside even though I wasn’t looking forward to a weekend of camping with the fraternity. The town was as picturesque a New England seaside colony as I could imagine, old Edwardian and Federal houses set off by the dancing sails of leisure boats clogging the harbor. We stopped briefly at a gas station where Howie Phillips questioned the adolescent attendant for a secluded camping spot. The boy suggested a trail that led deep into Ravenswood Park, although admitted it’d be pretty cold and miserable this time of year. This seemed ideal for the Thetas, since it was clear it was seclusion, not comfort, that they wanted for their initiation. A little bit of hope flared in me. Hadn’t Fionn mentioned Ravenswood? Was I destined to find him there after all?
“We parked the cars at an abandoned rest stop and started the hike into Ravenswood, laden with camping gear and a couple of day’s worth of supplies. I noticed two of the older Thetas carried a heavy chest between them with an ancient lock on it. The girls carried little but complained for the lot of us. I don’t think I was the only pledge with a sense of foreboding. Howie seemed to want to take us as deep as we could go. He claimed it was because they wanted to light a fire, and there was a ban because of the drought, but I had a feeling it was for a repeat performance of the tunnels. It’d probably be worse for every step we took further into the forest.
“After winding our way through the woods for an hour or so we found a glade that Howie deemed sufficient, and we went about setting up the campground before dusk. That first night was the expected drinking and boisterous idiocy of young people camping in the woods. I did my best to join in and pretend I was having a good time for the sake of my pledge, but all I could think about was Fionn and I back in town, my easel and his body. The older Thetas eventually paired off with their girlfriends and ended up in tents, and kept the rest of us up until early the next morning.
“I woke up before anyone else and pulled on my boots to head into the thick of the woods and piss. I climbed the side of a large hill to enjoy the relative quiet of the morning, and from the side I could see a small column of smoke trailing from the side of another hill a little further east from mine. I wondered if they were other campers in Ravenswood with an illicit fire.
“The Thetas were a little bit more subdued as they nursed their hangovers. The girlfriends spent the entire day bitching about wanting to head back home, but an irate Howie finally put a stop to that, claiming that he’d punish the next person who suggested we abandon the initiation. Punish, that was the word he used. The girls wouldn’t be involved and were as ignorant as the pledges as to what the initiation would entail, but there was a menacing edge to his voice that quieted them. They retreated to the largest tent, claiming it for their own and rebuffing their boyfriends’ apologies and advances. Howie said that was just fine, that as per traditional preparation for the ritual that evening would be a night of sobriety, celibacy and quiet contemplation. From dusk onwards we would all be fasting, only drinking water. Howie and six of the Thetas took the large chest deep into the woods that afternoon, leaving a single older boy there to make sure none of us ate or drank or bolted. This last idea had already crossed my mind, and the other pledges had desperate looks in their eyes as well. The silence of the camp that evening was more terrible than anything we could imagine.
“All Hallows’ Day came cold and dry. Hunger gnawed at my stomach and boredom was driving us mad. I tried to do some reading but couldn’t concentrate. The other pledges seemed cowed, huddling in the flimsy tents as if that would protect them. We all dreaded dusk, but it came all too quickly.
“The initial preparations of the evening were predictable, but nonetheless even more humiliating than those that had befallen us in the tunnel. The five of us were stripped naked and our clothes were locked in the chest, now strangely empty, though it had not arrived that way. The girlfriends came out of their tent for the show. They were not subjected to the fast or the ban on alcohol, and they were thrilled at such a hilarious diversion, cackling and lobbing insults at the other boys and myself. The older Thetas, for their part, were now swathed in dark robes, and told us this was just the overture to the true initiation. Howie Phillips was oddly absent from these activities. We were blindfolded and began another awful, stumbling, bruising, cutting trek through the woods, prodded on by our superiors, who were oddly subdued. After an interminable, painful hike on the slope of the hill, we could hear the crackling of a great bonfire nearby. In unison, the Thetas cried out, ‘The brothers of the sacred order of Magus Mens Mentis beg permission of the Hierophant to allow these lowly initiates into his presence. We offer them up to you.’
“Howie’s sonorous, strident voice called back, ‘The Hierophant will allow the uninitiated filth before him if they are prepared for the truth of Magus Mens Mentis. We will claim you now. Gold from blood.’
“‘Gold from blood,’ came the answer.
“I was pushed forward and set on my knees, the mighty fire crackling a few feet away, blazing hot on my bare skin. I was shivering violently at this point, every part of my body aching to flee. ‘Brothers,’ the Hierophant called out, ‘administer the alchemical elixir.’
“Someone grabbed my nose hard and I gasped, and then another hand forced something down my throat. I almost gagged and threw up, but the hand now held my mouth shut and someone muttered that if I didn’t swallow I could find my way back to the university as is. All the while the Hierophant was chanting in a thick, growling phlegmy language, screaming into the crackling fire, interspersing his mad incantations with unintelligible Latin. The words were so alien to English I couldn’t begin to guess what repetitions of ‘chtenff‘ or ‘hriinyth ng’hafh’drn sgn’wahl ftaghu‘ could mean. ‘Aurum de sanguinem,’ was about the only thing I could understand from the Hierophant’s insane ramblings. After a time my head begin to spin as the ‘alchemist’s elixir’ took hold. The top of my head prickled and I suddenly no longer felt like I was within my own body. I heard cries of pain and pleasure on all sides of me, slick terrible noises. The hellish blaze blistered my skin. I could feel my heart beating as if it would explode, and I tore at my blindfold.
“The Hierophant stood wreathed by the flame, gigantic and monstrous, his head crowned with horns. He was robed, but they were thrown and his animal body was naked underneath open and someone kneeled before him, worshipping his phallus blasphemously. All around me monsters were taking the pledges and… I can’t even begin to describe the things they were doing to them as they laughed malevolently and threw their robes open, twisted terrible bodies beneath. The other pledges were dwarfed, overpowered, sobbing, moaning, twisting, bleeding, gasping in pain. I could swear they were being torn apart by horned demons on each end of them. One of the monsters turned and ejaculated into the fire, sending smoke sizzling and filling the air with a sickening, fleshy smell.
“One of the beasts lunged for me, growling that it was my turn to be initiated, and I kicked at him before reeling about and throwing myself into the woods. Suddenly there were howls and I knew the hunt was on for me. This was only another part of the initiation.
“The forest whipped my naked body as I stumbled through Ravenswood, my only prayer to escape the creatures that hunted me. My head lurched from side to side with every step and even though the blindfold was gone I could see nothing. Even the stars seemed dimmer and the place where the moon should have been showed only a gaping, bleeding void of blackness and entropy. I could not return to the bonfire and the demonic Hierophant, but where could I go that the fiends of hell could not follow.
“I slipped and tumbled down the side of the hill, a short fall that seemed to last eternity. I could feel blood dripping down my back, but couldn’t feel my feet or hands as they whirled about for purchase. Suddenly I saw it, five fires on the nearby hill. I remembered the campers, they had to be human, they would have nothing to do with the demons as they consumed our flesh and desecrated us. All I remember of that terrible journey is slopping through a shallow, reeking marsh where unfathomable living things seemed to brush against me below the surface, and then when my hands were scraped raw as I climbed what I thought was only a small hill but appeared now as an un-scalable, awful eminence. All the while I could hear behind me the terrible fluting and shrieking of the demons, the terrible chanting of the Hierophant as he followed, always directly behind me.
“When I reached the summit I turned and vomited, my head cleared somewhat. The air seemed cleaner here too, with a strange smell of ozone about the woods. Something pulled me onwards towards the five fires, clear before me up a short ridge, on a natural plateau. I felt at once three opposing forces, one that repelled me from the fires, urged me to not even look on them, and I thought of that first day on the stoop of Fionn’s boardinghouse, and I longed for his arms around me. Another shadowed voice in my head, that of the demon Hierophant, perhaps, chanted and pushed me on out of fear and desperation. The third feeling, the strongest, was the deep forest aura of my beloved, the vine-covered golden watched tower of the heavens that shone out and promised deliverance.
“There was another chanting now, but I couldn’t comprehend it. Not like that of the Hierophant, these were not even earthly utterances, but the language of the angels. Something pure and resonating and frightening in the way that the voice of the gods would be, should we be blessed or cursed to hear them. I crept forward, wary now. What would I find here?
“This was another rite, a holy rite, something great and terrible. Five half-naked figures danced around a ponderous stone, within a circle of maybe a dozen smaller bronze ones. The five fires blazed from without, holding the power of the rite within, connected with unbroken salt lines that formed a star within a circle. The central figure was enormous and primordial, and without knowing how I knew it I recognized the statue as the Dreaded One, the Head of All Gods. The three men were erect and the women were crying their incantations in ecstasy and I knew I was looking on something a mortal not yet awakened was not meant to see. I was not meant to look on the runes and scars carved into their very flesh that glowed faintly, pulsing with the energy of their work. Seeing these rites with a clear head I could now recognize the Hierophant for what he was: an arcane pretender, a drugging rapist in the woods. The demons were but men, lackeys, continuing the cycle of violence against their charges. The only pact formed was one of human guilt and shame. This… this was something else entirely.
“What were the forms that danced about in the air above the Dreaded One, pressing against the veil between worlds with a crackling, awful power? How could I, a mere slumbering mortal, see them? How did Fionn come by the screaming child, the baby in his arms? Where did he get it, and what was he doing with that knife at the feet of the Head of All Gods? Why did I feel a trickling from my ears, and my eyes? I was no longer crying, so this wasn’t tears. I reached up and my fingers came away crimson. The other men and women were screaming now, their spellbinding reaching a new pitch. Despite the sacrifice… I can’t think about what was sacrificed, and who drew the blood, for I’ll go mad… the incantation wasn’t working. Something was pushing through. Fionn fell before the feet of the Dreaded One, the god of pestilence, drought, starvation, chaos, entropy. I stepped forward and called out his name. As he turned and we locked eyes reality bent inwards, something else entirely, neither man nor dreaded god from beyond, pushed against the very fabric of time, space and human understanding. I understood in that last, crashing moment where all sound and light went from the world that the spellbinders accepted this force of utter nothingness into themselves to appease it, to keep it out. The fires went out, all was darkness.
“I’m sorry, I feel sick just thinking about it. I know it was something I was not meant to see, but I still cannot forget it, even though something wants me to. It’s that force from beyond, not the terrible spirit that was trying to break through, but the pure nothingness. The Gloucester police told me a family found me naked in their backyard the next morning. The Thetas showed up looking for me late that afternoon. Howie told the chief of police that we’d been camping in the woods, celebrating Halloween, when I’d taken some Ecstasy and gone running away, and they’d spent all night looking for me but were afraid I’d died in the woods. The Thetas, including the other former pledges, now fully initiated brothers, corroborated his story. None of them would look me in the eye. I was livid; I called Howie a delusional narcissist, a monster, a rapist. I told him I would go back to MU and tell everyone. The chief leaned close to me and said, ‘Son, now that you’re initiated you’ll find we’ll allow a single error of judgment before we call down swift retribution. This was your one mistake, be a good boy now. Gold from blood.’ I decided I would never speak to another soul about what happened with the Thetas in the woods. As they lead me away from the Gloucester police station Howie congratulated me, and told me that I’m an initiated Theta Omega Alpha now…
“Is Fionn okay? No one will believe me about what happened to him. I told the chief of police, and the commissioner when I got back to the city. We have to send someone up to the mountain in Ravenswood. What if he and his friends are hurt? What if they’re… he’s not dead, I’d know it… please, tell me you believe me…”
The masked figure leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table between herself and the boy and considered his story a moment before saying, “Mr. Halsey, it’s very sweet that you care so much about Fionn. We believe you. We’ll do everything we can to find him and the others in Ravenswood. We very much care about what happened to him.”
Tears filled the boy’s eyes. “Oh God… thank you… thank you… no one will believe me…”
She nodded, “It may be a strange question, but do you have any other drawings of Fionn, aside from what you did in his apartment?”
He wiped at his eyes, “Just the first charcoals I did of him at life drawing… but I… I…” She nodded to someone behind him and the boy’s eyes went wide and vacant as the others worked quickly and efficiently from the shadows: “Of course I don’t mind telling you; they’re in my closet at the Theta House, in an art storage tube pushed behind a box of clothes.”
The masked figure nodded, “Thank you Mr. Halsey, you’ve been most helpful in our investigation. I think you’ll find some small comfort when you awake tomorrow morning and find this is all just some half-remembered nightmare. When you’ve been through something like what those charlatans did to you in the woods, it’s perfectly normal to black out and lose chunks of time, but I promise things will all be back to normal soon. One last question, Mr. Halsey, do you remember the story you just told me? The story about how you met Fionn?”
He had trouble focusing his thoughts; he blinked a few times, trying to remember, “Fionn… who’s Fionn?”