This story is paired with Chapter VIII of Bulfinch’s Mythology. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
He was brought to Father Dunne’s because he set his family’s house on fire. His mother had remarried and Steven’s new father molested him while she was out selling perfume to women who wanted to feel green and cool water. The step father threatened to break Steven’s jaw again and again if he talked.
He thought Sham-father was all alone in the house when he burned it down. The police found the charred bodies of the step father spooning Steven’s brother.
Steven confessed and thought he’d lose all his teeth.
He told a psychiatrist that shortly after the fire, he acquired new powers. Like hearing and seeing what was behind walls or mirrors or people. How many of them were willing to start their own fires. She said that he was just putting himself where he shouldn’t be.
Steven’s roommate at Father Dunne’s was a wispy boy with thick auburn curls named Hugh. In some ways, he reminded Steven of his brother, Timmy. He was withdrawn, preferring the circle of himself to the empty squares of groups and clubs. And he was good with figures but had a strong tendency to brood over abstractions, religious mysteries, like eternity, resurrection, corporeal bodies and virgin birth.
He always fidgeted before giving up an answer.
Then, it became a season of slippery winds.
Hugh complained of missing a bishop’s gold circled ring that he had stolen for good luck. He had always worn it on the forth finger.
And Monsignor Hutchins, who had been coming down with Parkinson’s and perhaps, early Alzheimer’s, went missing. Some of the boys said they watched him at night from their windows, walking unsteadily into the woods, wearing alb and four-peaked biretta, stopping to bless the paw paws, the purple milkweeds, and the tall trees.
And Peter himself was returning to the dorm later and later, barely escaping punishment. While scrubbing his face and talking into the bathroom mirror, he said he discovered where the Monsignor had disappeared.
“Not kidnapped?” Steven said.
“No, I found an endless hole in the floor of the woods. It was covered by leaves. I almost stepped into it.”
“We could have lost you.”
Hugh dried his face and winked at him. Steven felt flushed.
When the chill came, Hugh and Steven would snuggle together under the sheets for the simple fact that they had nobody but the missing people in their lives. Sometimes Steven would cuddle him, kiss him on the forehead, call him Timmy. They kept warm.
One Saturday, Hugh showed Steven the hole. It was under the shadow of stalking birch and scattered cone-flowers, Dame’s Rockets. The sun that day was high and cold.
Steven peered down into it and looked up at Hugh. “Do you think this hole is so deep that if you fall through it, you wind up floating in the universe forever?”
“Do you see how black it is? Isn’t blackness forever?”
They smiled at each other.
* * *
Hugh admitted to staying alone in the basement of his house for two weeks after a tornado tore it asunder. No trace of his mother. He kept looking for her in all kinds of corners and closets
God knows, Steven thought, what he lived on.
Steven held Hugh and kissed him on the cheek for the last time.
Then he went missing.
Steven told the priests that Hugh probably fell down the same hole that everyone else falls through in that woods. They questioned his logic then called the police. But what do the police know about endless sucking holes? Steven thought.
Steven found Hugh, gray and beyond breathless. Located him in the woods and it almost took him all day and part of the evening. Hugh was at the bottom of a different hole, one he must have mistaken for the endless one, thought Steven. But no matter, the results were the same: his spirit would float endlessly in space. He must have thought he could meet his mother by jumping, and falling through, perhaps finding each other by signal and shared memory trace. Electro-static cosmic G.P.S. Maybe by accidental collision in the endless galaxy. Son to morning star. Whatever. Steven carried Hugh’s limp body back to the dorm.
If questioned by one of the students, Steven would say that Hugh was coming down with something, was exhausted from a full day hiking in the woods and up and down the hills. Of course, the blue lips, the ashen face, and the lack of chest movement would take some explaining. Fortunately, no one asked although one student watched from a window on the fourth floor. But he was too far away, like everyone else. Steven placed Hugh on the bunk bed. He told Hugh that he would take care of him, the way he should have all along.
Later, Steven sneaked outside to test a theory. He lit some matches and tossed them down the hole, the endless one. If the hole was not endless, he thought, then the world would burn from within. Internally combustible.
But it didn’t burn. Conclusion: The hole was endless.
Steven was feeling light-headed or light-footed.
Back in the dorm, he lay next to Hugh and told him how he’d never leave him, not for this world. He touched and stroked his cheek bones. Hugh had been lifted. He couldn’t feel an earthly thing. But Steven could hear his thoughts. He had been purified. And this kind of love had its own radar.
Steven took out some remaining matches to set the room ablaze. He told Hugh that they are both going to where we ought to have been all along and they, Hugh’s mom, and Timmy would be together.
Steven embraced the thick, hazy veil of smoke wavering above Hugh, as if he could now see through everything, a ghost of recognition, and he exhaled his root corporeal loneliness.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox and elsewhere. His latest chapbooks are Underground Chrysanthemums from Red Bird Press and Terminal from White Knuckle Press.