Patrick Soames encountered his ex-girlfriend as he emerged from the party house’s bathroom. Rebecca, deep in her fifth cup, spoke to Patrick with even more venom than usual.
“So are you some kind of furry now, you queer bastard?”
She wore a rather pathetic get-up—a ragged black dress with an asymmetrical hem and a neckline that nearly reached her navel, one black elbow glove, bright red heels that didn’t go anywhere, and a pointed black plastic hat.
“Don’t furries…have fur?” Patrick refrained from commenting on her “Sexy Witch” costume, something she’d probably found on clearance that morning. She could’ve afforded spectacular tailoring on her realtor’s salary, could’ve paid someone to have the creativity and dedication she lacked. Instead, she looked like cold, wet shit with cleavage.
Patrick’s Halloween costume, though elaborate, was also relatively light and easy to take on and off. There was even a pocket he’d devised inside to stow his wallet, keys, and phone.
“Whatever. I mean what are you supposed to be, a dragon or something?” She looked him up and down.
“I’m a seahorse.” He’d taken pains, perfecting it. He formed the papier maché into the ridged body and the elegant, elongated head, painted it a glossy pale green, created the fins from repurposed Spanish lace fans.
“Ugh. You’re so weird.” She had to grab the wall for support, and Patrick hoped to be in the room when she inevitably wiped out on those heels and bashed her face against the tile floor. He imagined a tooth snapping off from her jaw and skidding to a bloody halt at his foot.
“How’s your car, Becky? Did the court give you back your license?”
The crowd at the party continued slipping in and out of the hallway, their costumes mostly uninspired. One or two paused and looked over when they heard the comment, but most stepped away quickly from the rage that simmered in Rebecca’s throat.
“Fuck you, Patrick!” she half-belched.
Even shitfaced, she knew how to eviscerate him verbally. To leave her with nothing but fuck you was indeed a triumph.
“You don’t know what you want, Patrick. You never know,” she gurgled, turning to make her way through the crowd.
She was wrong.
Patrick watched her go, then followed into the largest gathering room of the house. She pushed then pulled the sliding glass door and stumbled into the back yard. She was gorgeous, and whenever she remained sober she reminded him of the woman he once loved. The other Becky. He thought of their past together as a three-way relationship without the best part; he made love to sober Becky and to drunk Becky, but never both at the same time.
“She’s still in love with you,” Danny said, sneaking up behind him. Danny had that horror movie quality, moving silently up to people and starting conversations from nothing but a desire to be acknowledged. “She talks about how much she misses you.”
“Why are you telling me that?” Patrick turned and intentionally knocked Danny across the forehead with the beak of the seahorse head atop his own.
Danny took a step back, his boots clopping audibly on the tile floor, above the din of the packed house. “Watch it! You’ll break my horns.”
Danny’s stubby little satyr horns nestled into his curly brown hair. Stripped to the waist, he’d fashioned fur leggings ending in hoofish fetish boots, the kind with no heel, forcing the wearer to perch on the balls of the feet. He’d drawn on chest hair and a goatee using brown eye pencil. Danny would likely be his type, if he were more attracted to men—needy, highly intelligent, yet oblivious, painting curls of dainty hair around shaved nipples. Poor Danny. Rebecca’s pet.
Danny sipped his bottle of cider and avoided eye contact, yammering on. “I just don’t want you to take it personally. She only hates you because she loves you, does that make sense?”
Patrick didn’t need to get off with Danny; he just needed Danny to. Patrick had to cast Majesty in order to convince himself he could do the deed. He broke the entire task into a series of smaller spells: find Danny; charm Danny; get Danny across the threshold of the house; convince Danny to follow through. It was a gamble that the man would even be at the party. It had to be tonight. If it came down to it, Patrick was ready to use Poundr or one of the other apps to find a replacement offering, but using a stranger was a last resort. Danny would be easier to control.
He flipped the seahorse’s head back on its hinge, revealing his own sweaty blond hair. “She’s still in love with me, huh? And what about you, Danny?”
Danny bobbed and swayed to the sounds of “Thriller” floating in from the back yard, watching the men in the more revealing costumes as they came and went. He seemed to enjoy the one night a year when the straight men were granted permission to roam around as objects and prey.
“She’s not in love with me. She would tell me. She can’t keep anything a secret.”
Patrick closed the snare. “But are you still in love with me?”
Danny blinked but didn’t break his gaze into the middle distance. “Did she tell you that?”
Patrick lifted his fingertips and touched the nadir of Danny’s painted chin, turned it so they were eye to eye. With all his conjured courage, he closed the snare on Danny. “It’s pretty obvious.”
As the car made its way down the rain-spattered paving of Interstate 5, they made the small talk of those about to fuck: how nice and clean the car is, how they each still live in the same buildings in Seattle.
“Are you still Wiccan?” Patrick asked. He thought he should do something approximating affection, like ruffle Danny’s hair or stroke his ear. He decided not to push his luck.
“Uhhhh yeah, of course I’m still Wiccan. Are you still an atheist?”
“Not really. No, I suppose by definition I’m not an atheist anymore.”
The car exited the highway onto the suburban street. Soon, the car pulled into its place in the garage, and the door went loudly down behind it. Step by step, Patrick drew Danny into the quaint little rambler house.
Patrick led him into the kitchen. “Can I get you a drink? Water? Beer?”
“Ummm yeah, a beer would be great. I guess I’m still a little nervous, y’know? I liked you for a really long time, and I’m still kinda shocked that we’re here. Where should I put these boots?”
He put his hand on Danny’s shoulder, as if about to say something, then pulled him in and kissed him. It felt close to kissing women, not so bad at all.
He pulled away. Danny looked at him with all the tender grief of someone who is given sex when they want love. “I’ll get you that beer.”
While Danny cleaned off false whiskers of makeup and prepared himself for sex, Patrick made the final arrangements in the bedroom. He quietly summoned the Qlippothic host to accept the offering. He lit his candles and drew his sigils, then swallowed the drug he’d procured from the Thelemists who worked at the bookstore. His heart grew steadily faster.
When Danny at last came into the bedroom, clean and clad only in regrettable Superman briefs, Patrick took a moment to admire him. This is going to work, he assured himself.
“What?” Danny asked. “You’re staring at me.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Patrick sat on the edge of the bed. The bedside lamp glowed and the candles flickered.
Danny walked towards him. “The candles are a nice touch. Wasn’t expecting that.” He stopped in front of him, their knees touching, Danny looking down into Patrick’s eyes.
“Thanks. I wanted to make it nice for you. Is it nice?” Patrick’s anxiety grew as Danny’s subsided.
Danny kissed him on the forehead. “It’s very nice. You’re very nice.”
Patrick tilted his face up and kissed him again.
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” Danny said.
“It’s Halloween. We all get to be something different, don’t we?”
Danny smiled down at him and kissed him again. “Good point.”
He climbed onto the bed. “Ummm do you get tested for STDs?”
“Good. Me too. I’m all clear. You?” Danny started running his hands underneath Patrick’s shirt. Patrick’s stomach quivered as Danny’s fingertips brushed along it. It felt better than he’d expected it to.
“Yes.” Patrick rubbed Danny’s thigh. If he was going to do this, he might as well enjoy it for what it was. For all he knew, he might enjoy this enough to do it again.
He kept his hands on Danny’s face, which he guided down to his neck, across his chest, and down, as Danny kissed and nibbled him.
The blowjob almost made him cum, and he withdrew from Danny’s mouth.
Danny smiled up at him. “You gonna unload inside me, stud?” He sounded just like the men with whom Patrick had been practicing the conversation on Poundr. All the unnecessary small talk.
Patrick’s heart clenched. If he thought too much about what to say, he would ruin it, and they were almost there.
“Actually, Danny, I was hoping you’d unload inside me first.”
Danny snickered at him. Why did he laugh? “You are full of surprises tonight.”
Patrick used the line he’d been rehearsing in the mirror all week. “I just thought, if I’m going to be with a man, I might as well try it all.”
Danny giggled and said, “I can fuck you. If that’s what you want. Maybe we could switch after?”
“Promise,” Patrick lied. He reached up and ran his fingers through Danny’s curly brown hair. He sat up, kissed Danny hard, then turned around and got onto his hands and knees. “Like this. Till you cum inside me.”
“Don’t you want me to use a condom?”
“Shut up and do it, Danny!”
For a long and anxious moment, nothing happened. Patrick was sure he’d ruined it. He even heard the faintest laughter in the air, but not from the man just behind him.
“Yes, Sir,” Danny finally said, and Patrick heard the sound of the top of the lube bottle click open.
Afterward, Patrick thought he could feel the demons moving inside him. He hoped the offering would please them enough.
Danny cuddled him. “So? Was it everything you imagined?”
“We’ll see,” Patrick replied.
Patrick didn’t speak again. He soon heard Danny snoring, giving Patrick the opportunity to close the ritual without fucking Danny. That was good. Less to go wrong.
In the morning, he allowed Danny to kiss him, then shooed him out with a breakfast bar and cab fare. He watched Danny’s face in the cab window, the same expression he’d seen the night before, that bittersweet wish. Danny waved. Patrick didn’t wave back.
At first, there was nothing. Two weeks and no recognizable effect.
Then nausea, which never fully subsided. Patrick became hopeful. Soon, a diarrhea, which lasted two months. He feared taking pills for it, lest the chemicals interfere. Patrick worried that his body would reject the work entirely, send it spraying out of him like spoiled shellfish.
He lost weight so quickly that his coworkers chittered about cancer or AIDS. He overheard as they dared each other to ask him. None did. Only his team manager, Katie, broached the subject.
As she sat behind her desk in her creamy cotton/poly blend pantsuit, Katie’s soft brown hands twisted a large diamond engagement ring around her finger. “Patrick, are you…okay?”
He glanced away from her hands to her bookcase: an abyss of manuals presented to impress visitors. Coding texts, management guides, some soft-New-Age drivel about “sacred agreements,” and one book with its cover facing outward rather than its spine: Working with Difficult People.
The abyss of books stared back at him.
“Patrick. I asked you if you’re okay.”
He looked back at her and tried to make eye contact, his eyes dull and sunken.
“I’m fine, Katie. Thank you for asking.”
She slipped off her ring and pumped a few squirts into her palm from an obscenely large container of hand sanitizer. “Well, you don’t look fine. You look like you haven’t slept in a week. Do you need to take some sick days?”
Patrick huffed. “Maybe I do. I’ll let you know.” He looked back down again. He wondered if she sanitized her hands during every meeting, or if that was a quirk she reserved especially for him. Perhaps she truly hated him. Perhaps was just neurotic. He suspected both to be the case.
“Look, Patrick, you seem pretty broken down. Have you been staying up working on a new project?” She wiped the sanitizer down past her wrists, then put the ring back on.
“No. Sort of. Not really. I just haven’t been feeling well.”
“Are you…taking anything?”
“I’m not on drugs, Katie. I’m not even taking drugs for the nausea.” Without any physical sensation to warn him, tears suddenly came down his cheeks. He panicked and began to sob.
Katie grabbed a box of tissues from her workstation. “Jesus, Patrick! That’s it. You’re going home early. Jenny will take over your part of the app.”
“No!” he snapped, and Katie jerked backward. “That’s my project! Do not give it to Jenny. I’ll finish it.”
Katie clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Sounds like you’re under a lot of stress right now. Tell you what—take tomorrow off too. Come back Monday.”
Patrick felt his panic rising. Would she fire him? He’d never snapped at a boss before.
“And Patrick? Go. See. A doctor.”
He thanked her and left her office. He heard her pumping out more sanitizer as the door closed behind him.
He took the days off, but didn’t see the doctor. No good could come of that. Instead he researched conditions that would present the same physical changes he endured. He picked hyperthyroidism and reported back to Katie on Monday. There would have to be more tests; he might have to try several treatments over the next few months before his endocrine system evened out. Katie bought the whole ruse, but she’d also given the project to Jenny.
By the middle of January, he was ravenous. Drawn gaunt from the intestinal changes, he began eating almost hourly, the weight quickly gathering around him, such a sudden opposite extreme that his coworkers began to avoid him altogether. People can tell I’m off. The thought nagged at him.
More likely it was the smell. Bottomless in his hungers, the stuffs he craved were often not considered food at all, and he could tell when their scents lingered on him, not so much a wet and cloying rot as a musty decay. Through February, he couldn’t get enough mushrooms. Raw, with farmer’s dirt still clinging to them, he clapped handfuls into his mouth or nibbled the larger discs like pita bread. By the Ides of March, he foraged lichens off rocks and trees.
He let the bread molder in earnest—cheese as well—then pressed black and green sandwiches on the skillet, toasting five or six at a go for supper. His gut churned, but every spasm refined and repurposed his body. No going back—this was part of him, in him and of him at the same time.
He received his mother’s monthly call in April. He asked her how she was doing, half-listened to her answer.
“Oh, you know. I have my good days and my bad days.” She began to go through a month’s worth of inconsequential small talk. Another cousin engaged. His aunt travelled in Asia. The arthritis pained her more this week. His sister had had yet another miscarriage.
“Christ, why don’t they just adopt?”
“Oh, shame on you, Patrick. Be considerate.”
The power circulating in his body emboldened him. “No, shame on them. Shame on Elissa and Tom. They keep putting themselves through this. It’s senseless and bizarre. They’re so desperate for—I don’t even know what.”
“Since when do you care this much? When’s the last time you called your sister?”
“I’ll call her this weekend.”
His mother made a quick goodbye and hung up. Good. Patrick had never known what to say to her, even in adolescence. She talked mostly of things uninteresting or else unfortunate.
Elissa called him an hour later.
“What did you say to Mom? She called me, and she was totally ape shit.”
“Was she now? I didn’t even say anything about her. I think she’s living vicariously through you. She really wants that grandbaby.”
A pause, then, “Patrick, who the hell are you? We haven’t talked in months, and suddenly you’re Mister Bold and Cruel?”
He said nothing. The boldness was another unexpected emotional effect; he made a mental note. Elissa went on.
“I just meant—you’re just so unemotional all the time. And now Mom calls and tells me you’re cursing at her over the phone. What is going on? Are you in some weird therapy? Landmark Forum or something like that?”
He smiled so widely his dry lips cracked. “Something like that. And I didn’t curse at her, I think I only said ‘Christ.’ In vain, but still.”
“Well, you know Mom. She still isn’t over the fact that you’re an atheist. Mom wonders if you’re gay or something. She wishes you stayed with Rebecca. She really liked Rebecca. She was the only woman you ever brought home. And she was Catholic.”
That was too much. “Rebecca is an alcoholic bitch who nearly killed me. Does Mom remember that little detail? That Becky almost actually killed me with her car?”
Elissa hesitated, then said, “I didn’t know it was like that.”
“Oh yeah, it was like that. And maybe I am gay, Elissa. Or something else. Something worse than gay.”
“Patrick, stop it.”
“And I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry that you keep miscarrying. If anyone deserves a baby, it’s you. Of everyone in our family, you’re the only one who doesn’t make me feel like an outsider in our own mother’s house.”
He hadn’t even realized he was crying until it broke up his voice. He seemed to cry all the time now, even when he felt exhilarated and unstoppable.
“Patrick, I know we haven’t been close in a while, but you’re my baby brother. I still think of you as this amazing little kid, pretending to be a wizard in the back yard. I just want you to be happy.”
“I love you too,” he said, not sure whether he’d heard her say it. “I think I need to go. Thanks for calling me.”
“Sure. Please figure out how to be happy, Patrick.”
“I think I’m going to be, Elissa. I think I’m finally going to be.”
He could only imagine what went on inside his body. Externally, there was the weight gain, much of it a watery swelling more so than mere fat. He still found himself racked by sentimentality, which he should’ve foreseen but hadn’t expected. He fancied himself a logical man, not a passionate one. He’d expected the capricious mood swings to be only temporary, but as April poured itself into May, Patrick wondered if the sentimentality might be permanent. After all, the spell inside of him would soon make its way out, and then what would he do?
Crowley fantasized about it but never pulled it off. Anaxagoras attributed it to gods alone, while some Inuit groups preserved legends about special men able to do it. It was through intensive occult study that Patrick had figured it out in the first place. God and magic had been nothing to him but equal rubbish, but fascinating rubbish.
It wasn’t until he tried a few spells—just for the hell of it—that belief quickly swallowed him up. The Abundance ritual had yielded a lottery ticket with five out of six numbers, netting a thousand dollar payout. Finding buffalo teeth and wolf piss proved far more difficult than actually getting the money, but the internet was a deep and filthy place.
I’ll be more specific next time, and he was. He asked for nine thousand and thirteen dollars, just to see how precise he could get. A great aunt died and left him eleven thousand. After some inheritance tax fondling by his accountant, exactly nine thousand and thirteen dollars remained—after the accountant’s fee.
Awkward Patrick, suddenly pulling the wires, programming reality. He inverted the legend of the secular archaeologist who sought to debunk Genesis but instead became born again. While Christ dangled on the sunlit side of the Tree of Life, Patrick meditated in the Tree’s shadow.
All this sudden power, and he only really wanted one thing, the same thing he’d wanted since before Rebecca. Fame, money, sex—these fleeting things existed for smaller minds.
No. Given a knowledge of this hidden clockwork and a schedule of demonic fees, Patrick chose grand ambition over pedestrian cantrips. Even if he failed, he’d already taken the spell much further than anyone he’d read about.
“I’m putting in my two weeks’ notice,” he told Katie. He beamed, radiant and predatory, an ecstatic jackal.
She sneezed into her elbow and grabbed a tissue. “Excuse me.” She wiped her nose, tossed the tissue, then pulled her engagement ring all the way off and put it on the ring finger of her right hand. She put her hands back in front of her on the desk.
“God bless you, Katie,” Patrick said slowly, savoring the words. She flinched.
“Thank you. So, Patrick, did you find something better? Are congratulations in order?”
“Congratulations are indeed in order, Katie. I found something much better,” he said, leaning forward and resting his fingertips on hers.
She pulled away and tucked her hands into her lap. “That’s good, Patrick. I—we’ll miss you. You always were—dedicated.”
“Yes, I am. Thank you.” he said and rose. She sneezed again into her elbow and pumped a pool of sanitizer into her trembling hands. He left her office, hoping he left the soft scent of mold in his wake.
In June the walls in his house began to sweat. Beads of rain gathered indoors and slid down the windows. His moods changed wildly. He missed Danny, of all people, but he didn’t call.
He ordered the groceries delivered. He used simple little spells to find freelance coding and design gigs, the kind he could do from home without having to shake a hand or fake a smile. He stopped leaving the house altogether. The money came in steadily, and it gave him something to do other than masturbate or watch The Exorcist for the fifteenth time.
Spirits continued to reshape him inside. Patrick held faith that they wouldn’t let anything terrible happen to him. Not until it was finished, anyway.
His mother made her monthly call. She talked as though nothing unusual had happened, though she’d skipped May.
Then Rebecca called. He took the call, clearing his throat rather than saying hello.
“How could you do that, you fucking bastard?”
“Nice to hear from you, Becky. What charming insult is it this time?”
“You know what you did! Danny told me all about it. How dare you? I knew you were low, but I never—never—thought you’d use him to get back at me. You crushed him, Patrick!”
He ate a tablespoon of spoiled and refrozen peanut butter ice cream from its tub. “It took him this long to brag about it? I hardly think that giving your pet manchild his heart’s tenderest desire is so terrible, Becky.”
Becky screamed something unintelligible into his ear.
“That was uncalled for. I’m hanging up now. Becky…please don’t call me again.”
He ended the call. She didn’t call back.
For the final few weeks, he took to bed and ate nothing but sweets. The Seattle weather outside had grown sunny and dry, but with shuttered window blinds the miasma in his house lingered. He took long baths, sometimes leaving the body-soiled water in the tub and returning to it later. As parts of his body shriveled and others bloated, Patrick wondered if he could actually detect the advancement of the mildew spreading along the shower tiles. It had also spread into his clothing. He didn’t need much clothing anymore.
The waiting was worst. He constantly felt as though he had to use the toilet, and each time he feared his guts would come tumbling out his ass. To pass the time, he researched names. “Caliban”—sufficiently poetic, Shakespearean, but also pulpy, a pale and bug-eyed comic book villain. Either way, Caliban was a pitiful thing. “Merlyn”—that was good, powerful, but still a bit tacky, too cartoonish to take seriously.
He decided on “Emrys.” That one was dignified. Regal, even.
On the equinox, he woke in the middle of the night to sheets sticky with filth. He’d shat the bed in his sleep. Sitting up, nausea overwhelmed him and he vomited, some of it getting into his nose. The spell reached its conclusion.
He struggled out of bed, down the short hall to his bathroom. He vomited again across the floor before he could get to the toilet. He slipped a little on it and nearly cracked his head open.
Patrick’s excitement bloomed. Each rack of nausea invigorated him. He twisted the taps of his bath and hoped it wouldn’t come before the tub filled. He had the presence of mind to place the trash bucket next to the tub so that he could puke there instead of into the water. Why even bother? he wondered, but he threw up into the container for the sake of it.
The cramps became rhythmic. The water’s level rose. He leaked feces and mucus into the tub. His bulbous abdomen writhed.
It came quicker than he’d feared. He’d had months upon months to imagine an excruciating rite that would last for twenty hours, tearing his rectum like paper. This, however, only took about ninety minutes. He heaved and huffed and applied lubricants and a topical anesthetic. The previous weeks’ muscle training, steadily increasing the size of the objects with which he penetrated himself, was worth every drop of precious blood.
The squeeze and stretch of it vacillated between unbearable and ecstatic. Then it was done.
He lifted the thing from the septic water. It was fist-sized and without limbs like a huge fat tadpole. There was no discernable face, only an oblong, greenish black body with a slick tail. It appeared almost sculptural, sleek and undifferentiated, a polished mass.
Patrick’s short-lived exhaustion gave way to a new panic. The baby was dead. It didn’t move its little tail, didn’t quiver or wriggle. This was the cruelest gift. The demons had helped it grow to term inside of him, had shape-shifted his body ever so slowly to support this life, only to have it born lifeless.
His baby. His and Danny’s and the demons’, an infernal parentage necessary to bring forth a new marvel that would earn Patrick Soames’ name a place in Hell’s genealogy.
Now nothing. Just pain. He laughed at the absurdity of it. In what did demons traffic, if not suffering? Their traps shattered the faces daring to eat the bait.
He held the cambion to his chest. “Please live. Your name is Emrys. Emrys Daniel Soames.”
He held it up again, desperate for it to move. And then it did.
The tail flicked. And again. It struggled in his hands, then shot a brackish fluid out of an unseen hole at its anterior end. Patrick’s tears continued to flow, now drops of hope.
“I did it,” he said to the baby, to the invisible demons watching from mildewy shadows.
The baby breathed, its mass expanding and contracting gently and with a barely audible whistling. Patrick examined it, turning it over and around. A thought occurred to him, one that surprised him for not surfacing before.
He pulled the baby in close to his face, ready to kiss it. “Are you…the Antichrist?”
A single eye opened and blinked at him, startlingly human and aware. A seam opened, revealing gleaming, square little human teeth.
“No, Father,” came the child’s voice. “You are not so special.”