The Minutes Before the Miracle

Danny was lying nude on the vinyl couch when he first heard the chant. An insipid dance track played, hardly a song at all, just a lockstep bass beat accompanied by shrill whistles and  a smoky-voiced diva’s moans. All the men listened to this tripe. Like the other men of his tribe, he lacked the imagination to escape it. He heard something simmer beneath the thuds from the speakers tucked in the high corners of the room.

The voice in the song was breathy, almost too high to discern, but Danny knew what he’d heard.

The time is now, the time has come

Join us in the high kingdom

From the rear of the house a running shower echoed; Brandon, their host, was still cleaning his anus in preparation for the next round of sex doomed to wither in their memories before sunrise. All the men had agreed to this psychic hobbling, they’d agreed to ostracize any man insisting on affection.

Danny swung his feet onto the floorboards and walked to the stereo. He pressed a button, and the CD skipped to the next track. Another thudding bass beat, the same voices schilling artificial ecstasy. He glared at a speaker, waiting to hear the chant again. The teasing voice began its rhyme, and Danny’s bloodshot, dilated eyes grew wider. He recoiled from the speaker like it was a decaying corpse hurled down from the heavens. He’d smoked too much but not nearly enough. Spent, he couldn’t corral his thoughts.

The time is now, the time has come

Join us in the high kingdom

He listened a few moments, focused. If he concentrated hard enough, perhaps this snatch of song would vaporize, an auditory hallucination from the crystal meth. With each repetition, however, the chant emerged more fully from the dance track, a siren slicing through morning traffic. This wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t enjoyed my cousin raping me the summer after kindergarten, he told himself.

Afraid to be alone, Danny headed peeked into the bedroom and saw Curtis perched atop the bed, masturbating to porn—another download of men too high to refuse sex stimulating more men too high to refuse sex. Curtis may have been tall, may have had flinty eyes. He might have been the man Danny would finally and forever love.

Curtis numbly stroked himself. Loneliness is safer in numbers than in isolation—more common, too.

“What you doing?” Danny asked at the doorway. He remembered to smile.

“Watching this,” Curtis replied in a dead voice. He might have been dead, but he might have been waiting to live again.

Danny stepped forward to see the laptop screen. They watched two men, a built blond and a slender brunette, simultaneously penetrate the ass of an older, bearded man while he writhed atop them. These men always managed to reduce sex to a circus act. The bearded man’s face wrenched in spooky wonderment. The men’s skins were tan and hairless: their bodies moved with the dull precision of knitting needles. Danny found himself enraptured, forgetting the chant. At that moment, no amount of sex could satisfy him. He could not imagine, however, any man he wouldn’t despise the moment after orgasm. Finally, he said, “Brandon showed me this one before.”

“That’s hot.”

“The next scene is even better.”

“Cool.”

Curtis didn’t glance at Danny when he spoke. He gaped at the sexual metronome ticking before him. Danny reached for Curtis’s shoulder but let his hand drop before reaching him. In elementary school, these men learned about “good” touch and “bad” touch. He decided to wait for Brandon to finish bathing to make his exit. Brandon had promised Danny righteous penetration at some point that early morning; doubting him required too much effort. Until then, he watched porn from the doorway.

Still, he could hear the chorus, the voice cajoling him to join an unknown kingdom, but he focused on the loud hum inside his head, instead.

On the laptop, the blond now jammed himself down the bearded man’s throat while the brunette continued thrusting himself inside the man’s ass. Danny fell with relief into the textbook couplings on the screen. The porn required he focus only on the image before him, willfully ignorant of what might follow. There was no past and no future; it was an oasis of flesh in this desert of a house.

The image flickered.

“What was that?” Danny asked.

“What was what?”

“Didn’t you see it?”

Again, the screen cut to darkness. This time, however, a figure emerged from the black, the head of a stallion. Its wide, muscular neck sprouted from the bottom of the screen. Its dead white eye stared directly at Danny and Curtis. Its luxurious mane fanned as if caught in a breeze. The porn did not return. Curtis stared dumbly as if he’d accept whatever the laptop wished to show.

Danny, meanwhile, inched toward the screen, mystified. The quiet, steady crackling in his head grew louder.

Their fathers never expressed interest in what they said, or what remained unsaid.

The horse’s image reared back its head and let out a guttural scream. It was a cry of alarm, of sudden recognition. Throughout the house, it echoed until finally slipping beneath the bumpy dance track. You can’t stop the music—as the old song goes. The three copulating men reappeared on the screen. The blond shot a stream of semen onto the bearded man’s face, into his waiting mouth.

“What the fuck was that?” Danny cried.

“That one guy just came on the other guy.”

“Girl, didn’t you see what happened?”

Curtis’s limp penis drooped between his thighs. “You’re fucking tweaked.”

“There was a horse, and it was screaming. It was right fucking there.”

Curtis looked at Danny through half-shut eyelids, like a sly drunk. “I told you not to fucking smoke so much,” he said. “Tina can be one cruel bitch.”

Danny backed away from the laptop. “But I saw it…”

From rear of the house, Brandon shut off the shower. Danny froze in the doorway, his mind too electric with frenzied life to plot an escape. He’d desired escape for so long that he no longer recalled what trapped him. The chant bubbled from the speakers in the living room, more clearly than ever before.

The time is now, the time has come

Join us in the high kingdom

He looked at Curtis’ empty eyes and slack limbs. Panicked, he hustled from the bedroom, through doorway after doorway, until he reached the closed bathroom. He slammed his fist and the door rattled in its frame.

A low, casual voice greeted Danny from inside. “Nobody wants to fuck a dirty boy.”

“Brandon, get out here.”

“Still drying off, sweetie.”

Danny tried to tell his host about the chant, about the stallion, but he never spoke. The words sounded stupid in his head. Brandon always had good shit, and he was a terrific fuck, so Danny was torn about being branded a tweak freak. When removed from the judgment of society, this subculture of men instantly judged one another. Still, Danny couldn’t bear standing helpless, waiting for a new bizarre signal to reveal itself. He mustered all his calm and inched his face into the door’s opening. “I should take off, sexy.”

“Fuck that, it’s only three o’clock.”

“I’m totally jacked. I need somewhere quiet.”

Danny heard Brandon scrub a towel across his back. “Wait a second,” his host said. The door swung wide and a nude Brandon fixed Danny with a slight downward gaze and tilted chin, a pose of concern. “You were fine when I jumped in the shower.”

Danny didn’t reply. To his horror, red splotches glowed where Brandon’s eyes should have been, shapeless like splattered cherries. Their bewitching brightness mesmerized him. His host was a small, compact and muscular man—or that might have been someone else, some other weekend.

Brandon, meanwhile, continued in his mild, surprised tone. “If this is about Curtis, don’t twist your knickers. He gets like this every time. Stuff enough tweak up his nose, and he checks out.” Danny’s helpless gaze filled a silence longer than he’d expected. “You didn’t do more shit by yourself, did you?” Brandon asked. “I hope Curtis didn’t fucking talk you into slamming.”

“What…what happened to your eyes?”

“I ran out of Visine.”

Brandon seemed to add snidely that Danny had been smoking dope long enough to know the side effects—except he didn’t say that. Among these men, condemnation was never expressed directly.

Danny said nothing, staring into Brandon’s red eyes. He backed, step by slow step, away from Brandon and through the doorway, into the kitchen. His head pulsed and his stomach clenched. His mind couldn’t string all he’d seen together. They remained isolated horrors, each a graveyard spook bolting out from behind a headstone. Danny yanked a chair from underneath the small dining table. He collapsed into the seat, clapped his hands over his face. The unexplained sounds and images were less terrifying than the unceasing menace beyond Brandon’s front door. Perhaps the morning would release him, as it typically did these men, demanding their silence in return. The moment a man admitted he wished for numbness, he lost access to that very thing. Danny wanted to cry but couldn’t remember how.

The chorus repeated itself with no end, now almost as loud as the dance track. Danny covered his ears, squeezed shut his eyes. If he could just wait out the hallucinations, he’d be okay. He believed this like a schoolboy believes in the goodness of candy.

Brandon walked into the kitchen. A ramshackle tower of dirty cups and dishes reached the faucet. Brandon rearranged them and placed a glass beneath the tap. He twisted a knob, and the screech was so horrible Danny snapped out of his cowering state to look. Holding the glass, Brandon’s forehead creased with worry. The red splotches obscuring his eyes shimmered before Danny.

A thick ooze of brownish blood sputtered into the drinking glass. The metallic shriek that accompanied the sludge rang out, as if the room were festooned by wind chimes composed of lead. Brandon didn’t seem to notice any of this. He absently rubbed the small of his back. “Might do you some good to take a shower, too,” he said.

Danny shook in his seat, his feet drawn beneath him, hands folded beneath his chin as if in prayer.

Brandon continued, perfectly reasonable. “If you want, I’ll find a way to ditch Curtis. I mean, if that’s why you’re freaked. He’s so dumb, he won’t know I ditched him till he walks out the door.”

Finally, Danny managed to speak. “I—I just need to go somewhere quiet.”

Yes, quiet. Danny couldn’t speak for other men, not even those he claimed to have once loved, but he himself knew that’s all he desired from life: the din of advertisements and gossip and ridicule to one day stop, the silence like the first hollow moments after a jackhammer finishes its duty.

“I can turn the music down,” Brandon said. “I’d rather not turn it off. You know how silence fucks with your head.”

Danny’s fingers twisted into a useless, gnarled tangle. His eyes jittered in their sockets, bewildered searching for something safe to view. The glops of putrid blood continued to seep into the glass. Brandon glanced back and swiftly twisted the knob. The blood ceased, and he took the glass to Danny, set it in front of him.

“You haven’t drunk anything since we started,” Brandon said. “You’re dehydrated.”

“The time is now,” Danny replied absently. “The time has come.”

Danny gaped at the glass of congealed blood as if he could will it out of existence. He cut his gaze to see Brandon standing over him. His eyes still glowed a horrible red. Danny’s clothes, where were they? He needed to get dressed. He needed to leave. It was the middle of the night. He could handle the sporadic oncoming cars and the brief, fluttering headlights. If he stayed here, he would lose his mind. Worse, someone might take it from him.

He leapt from the dining table, knocked Brandon in the chest. Brandon wobbled back to his feet, but Danny was already past him. The host shook his head and sighed. He took a long sip from the glass of blood.

Danny stumbled to a stop in the living room. He searched wildly along the floor. His clothes, as well as those of Curtis and Brandon, were tangled into a large knot. He clawed through it, tossing skimpy briefs, shirts and jeans. The inescapable chant skipped about the room, now dominating the track, rendering it as incidental as elevator music.

The time is now, the time has come

Join us in the high kingdom

As he jammed his legs, his arms, his head through his clothes, the chant echoed in his imagination. Time for what? Where the hell was the high kingdom? Who lived there? And why speak to him and no one else? Danny rammed his feet into his loafers and dug into his pocket for his keys, hurrying for the door.

Brandon appeared in the doorway at the opposite end of the room, his arms braced against the top of the frame. His long, muscular body arched out from the frame with the good-natured ease of a high-school athlete. “Call or hit me up online when you’re feeling better, okay?” his host instructed. The red splotches in his eyes glistened as he spoke. “I wish I’d gotten to sample that boy pussy.”

Danny quickly nodded and slammed the door behind him. In his haste, he nearly collided with Curtis perched on the porch’s railing. “Girl,” he purred, “you have got to chill the fuck out.” He wore only a flimsy blue bathrobe, the fabric threadbare at the elbows. Danny realized he’d been forgetting what either Curtis or Brandon looked like the moment they left his sight. Some men would consider this a gift.

“I’m sorry,” Danny sputtered. “I gotta go.”

“The will of the high kingdom cannot be escaped,” Curtis said.

Danny stopped in the front yard after hearing those words. He stood motionless, unable to tame the overwhelming static in his brain and decide his next move. “What did you say?”

“The high kingdom, my fellow heathen. The time has come.”

Danny noticed the sky was impossibly bright for this long before dawn. Pale grays, lavenders and soft pinks floated up from the horizon, crawling higher by the moment. The neighborhood was too quiet. No passing cars, no barking dogs, no comforting swell of a nearby party. Danny turned to watch Curtis light a cigarette.

The emptiness filling his eyes now conceded to purpose and malice.

“I come to these gatherings. I offer my flesh. Each time I hope to expand the kingdom. We corrupt our minds so we can’t acknowledge it. We corrupt our bodies so we can’t welcome it. But the high kingdom, Daniel, it can demolish any obstacle.”

An immense cloud of smoke surged from his thin lips. Danny couldn’t help the stirring he felt in his gut, recognizing how the cloud was dense and bright like a cloud from a meth pipe. There was a thickness in his hands and feet, a force pulling him to the ground like a marionette minus its manipulator. Of course, he’d always known the men not like him believed his kind to be corrupt, foul, beneath contempt. They had sent Curtis to collect him.  He could’ve been riding Brandon or calling his dying mother. He backed closer to the curb, his parked car.

“You’re totally fucked up,” Danny stammered.

“We will be saved,” Curtis replied. As he crossed the grass toward Danny, the sky continued to blossom with softer colors. A ring of stark, brilliant bone-white circled the horizon. Danny ducked his head, the brightness was so stunning.

“We need not waste our bodies and minds ever again.”

The harsh sea of white raced through the heavens. The whole atmosphere glowed with a punishing dazzle. Danny fell to his knees, his hands thrown over his head. Curtis stopped before Danny as he cowered at the curb. He placed a hand atop Danny’s head, raised his other as if signaling a congregation. He lifted his chin, and there, underneath the blank eternity, Curtis intoned in a voice firm and rich, “Our whole lives we have waited. We knew You’d come. We were naked and corrupt, but now we are Yours.”

Danny was paralyzed with terror, his heart pounding like a gong. He couldn’t believe that such a meager memory would choose resurface now, but it did: Three or four months ago, he’d scurried downtown in the early and dark morning. The bathhouse stood between an abandoned church and used truck lot, no lighted sign or streetlamps illuminating the way. After leaving through the heavy swinging door, its ominous click signaling his return to legitimate society, he spied an elderly couple across the street. Even with her cane, the old woman poked down the sidewalk, her husband gingerly holding her elbow. Surely, they both knew this would do little to prevent a fall, but the warmth and intimacy of the gesture moved Danny to tears. A moment later, both the man and woman turned to face Danny, realizing he was watching them. Danny waved and the couple’s faces drew tight with distaste. They shuffled away. They knew, he had thought. They wanted me to know they knew. He felt like a child too gangly and sensitive, a child cast adrift. He had spent the next five minutes hiding in his parked car, hitting the pipe. He didn’t remember how to cry then either.

“I’m going home,” Danny announced, his voice hard.

“Yes, my brother, we’re going home.”

“Not with you, asshole.”

“My brother, we soon must leave. Others in crisis need me.”

Danny sprang to his feet and strode purposefully back onto the porch. Curtis gaped at him. Something inside Danny hardened like amber inside a tree, his soul the ancient insect forever trapped inside. He reached for the doorknob.

“My brother, please! I cannot come back!”

Danny’s tone was flat and hard. “Brandon promised he’d fuck me.”

“How much longer can you live this shameful life?”

Danny fixed Curtis with a blank gaze. Danny’s mouth went slack as he leaned against the front door, confident Brandon’s eyes had lost their red fire, and confident he would hear no more about any kingdom. Not all the holy pyrotechnics unfurling in the sky would make him erase who he was.

The muscles in Curtis’s neck stretched tight. “How long must your sorrow last, Daniel?”

“I’ll make that decision.” He opened the door to Brandon’s house. “Right now, I have a dick to suck.”

# # #
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Thomas Kearnes

About the Author

Thomas Kearnes is a 37-year-old author originally from East Texas and now living in Houston. His fiction has appeared in PANK, Storyglossia, Spork, The Ampersand Review, Word Riot, Eclectica, JMWW Journal, Night Train, SmokeLong Quarterly, wigleaf, A cappella Zoo, Underground Voices, Prime Number Magazine, The Northville Review and numerous LGBT venues, including Educe Journal, Diverse Arts Project, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Wilde Magazine and the Best Gay Stories series. His debut short-story collection, "Pretend I'm Not Here," is now available from Musa Publishing. A second collection, “Promiscuous,” is due before Halloween from JMS Books. He is an atheist and an Eagle Scout.
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