Wednesday, September 8, 1999

A Turn of the Wheel

This story originally appeared on the Secret Garden website and is archived here at the request of author Doug Rogers.



"Mr. Allen?" the nondescript stranger asked softly.
James Allen heard the voice over the various noises the hospital monitoring equipment made. He opened his eyes and waited for them to focus on the source of the intrusion. Finally he made out the figure: medium height, medium build, medium looks... a completely ordinary looking man in every regard. "Yes," he heard his own weak voice answer. "I'm Jim Allen. Who are you?"
"My name is Cristo Skylar," the man replied. He gestured to the empty chair next to the bed. "May I sit and talk with you for a while?"
"Knock yourself out," he replied. "But you'll pardon me if I don't talk too much." He gestured weakly to his chest. "Third heart attack this morning. Doc told me last time this'd be the last. Suits me fine." He coughed. "...tired o' this shit."
"You've not had a pleasant life?" the stranger asked.
Allen turned to look at this man a bit more clearly. No, he didn't recognize him at all. "Who th' hell are you?" he asked. "I never saw you before."
"Oh, that's of no matter," Skylar replied. "I spend a lot of time around the hospital. My work here keeps me rather busy."
"Dear God! A preacher!"
Skylar laughed. "No, not at all. I promise not to try and sell you any bill of goods along that line."
"Well, then what do you want? I'm dyin'. I ain't buyin' anything."
"Nor am I selling anything, Mr. Allen. I assure you that I'm simply here as a friend... Someone to sit with you and keep you company during this somewhat frightening time in your life. Is that all right? I'll leave if you object."
"Suit yourself. But you've got it wrong. I'm not afraid. I'm ready to leave this shit-hole of a world. There's nothing here that makes a good fart in th' wind to me."

Skylar nodded. "What would have made things better for you?" he asked kindly.
"Well, for one thing, God or whoever runs this crazy place could have made me straight." He coughed again. "I'm a queer, y' see. One of those damn fags." He looked at the visitor. "Scare you off yet?"
Skylar chuckled. "Not in the least. You're far from the first gay man I've met. I have no opinions either way about orientation. It is only something that is."
"Where the hell were all the preachers like you all my life?"
"As I said, I'm not a preacher. But go ahead. You would have liked to have been straight. What else?"
Allen managed a faint laugh in spite of himself. "Oh, you know... rich, popular... all that stuff."
"From what I've seen you made quite a good living," Skylar replied. "And you've never wanted for friends."
It never occurred to Jim Allen to ask the man how he knew these things. He had decided that he liked this fellow. He was easy to talk to. "True enough. I was just tellin' you what I thought you expected t' hear." A deeper cough racked his chest.
"I'd like to play a little game with you, Jim," he said almost casually. "I'd like for you to go as deeply into your mind as you can. I want you to remember back to your childhood, to the one thing that you wanted the most, but were never able to have. Can you do that for me?"
"Oh, I don't have to think about that for an instant." He laughed and the coughing got worse. When it had subsided again, he continued. "When I was a small boy I went to see a movie called Hercules. Did you ever see it?"
"I believe I remember it. Go on."
"Well, a few minutes after I got in there... just before the house lights went down... I saw another boy come in. He sat about two rows ahead of me just across the aisle. I was seated on the right edge of the center section, he was on the left end of the right section. I probably wouldn't have noticed him at all except for one thing."
Skylar prompted when a long pause ensued. "And that was?"
Allen cocked his head a bit, as if trying to decide whether or not to continue. Finally, he made up his mind. "What the hell. I'm about to die, and I don't know you from Adam. The thing that caught my eye about this boy was, he was missing most of his left arm!"
Skylar said nothing.
"He looked about my age, and was wearing a knit shirt similar to the one I had on. The end of his stump just showed out the end of the short shirt sleeve. I must admit that I didn't see much of that movie; I was watching him. It fascinated me how he could make that little nubbin of an arm move like he did. He was like most ten-year-old boys, I think. He really got into the movie and was punching along with Hercules on the screen. Every time the strong man made a left punch, I could see him try to do the same."
The dying man had drifted off intro his reverie. He seemed to come to his senses and turn back to his visitor.
"It was the most amazing experience of my life, Mr. Skylar. It was the first time I ever got an erection. I watched the boy until the movie was over, then I followed him out to the lobby. I was right behind him when he dropped the dime into the pay phone and called for his parents to come pick him up. I saw the number he dialed. I can still recite it to you until this day."
"And you got to know him?"
Allen started to laugh, the caught himself. "No. I watched him get into a blue sedan and never saw him again. Still, there has not been a week of my life from that time until this that I've not thought of him... remembered him. He is with me always in my mind."
"And you wanted this boy?" Skylar asked with a wry grin.
"Of course not!" Jim coughed more, this time stopping only when his breath failed him. He took another deep breath and announced: "I wanted to be him." He looked at his companion to gauge the effect. There appeared to be none.
"I used to play for hours when I was alone with my left arm pulled inside of my shirt. I'd stand before a mirror and pull my arm behind my back inside the shirt and try to do various things with one hand. After a year or so I figured out a way to fold a pair of socks so that the top of one would hold the folded inside out ball of the other up in the tee shirt sleeve. It made it more realistic! I fancied that it looked like I really did have just one arm!"
He paused and smiled at his companion. "So you see, Mr. Skylar, I'm really quite mad. I wanted to be an amputee. I wanted to grow up as that boy with only one arm... to confront the challenges that I know must have faced him... to overcome them." He paused. "Pretty sick, huh?"
He was greeted with a smile. "Not at all. Simply different, like your orientation."
"So what is the point of this game?"
"What would you say if I told you that there was a way for wishes such as yours to come true?" he returned.
"I'd say you were crazy."
"Really?"
"Really. I happen to be dying, Mr. Skylar. There's no time left for anything."
The man smiled again. "As far as that goes, I believe if you check your pulse, you'll find you're already dead."
"Do what?"
"Go ahead, check it."
Allen felt around on both wrists and found nothing. "But.. But the monitors... the alarms..."
"Let's just say all of this is happening in the split second before they respond."
He sputtered a few more times. "But I'm still here! I'm still talking to you!"
"True enough."
Jim Allen felt his face drain of color. "But then, that would mean... What did you say your first name was?"
"Cristo," he replied.
Jim began to weep. "And I never believed."
Skylar laughed. "No, no... Not spelled that way. It's the German word for circle."
"Then you're God?"
"No."
Allen began to shake. "Then you must be... oh no!"
"Afraid not. No, I'm neither Jehovah nor Lucifer."
"Then who are you if you're not God or the Devil?"
"Who said there were only the two?" came the reply. "All of the mistranslations and outright forgeries and forgotten passages that made up the book that has gotten all of the press and following still contains particles of the truth. The passage that goes 'let us make man in our own image.'" He paused and smiled kindly. "No, Jim, those two just have the better press agents. There are more of us that watch out for... who look over you." He paused again. "Let's just say I'm to one whose attention your caught."
There was a long pause. Jim felt for his pulse again. "I must be dreaming all of this."
"No, you are quite dead. I'll prove it to you. Get up."
"I can't do that. I've no strength."
"Nonsense. Take my hand. You can get up."
Jim Allen did as the man asked. It was amazing! His body had been a lead weight a few minutes before; now he felt light as a feather.
"Look back there," Skylar told him.
The ashen body of an old man lay in the bed. Jim turned back to his companion. "So where do we go? What do we do? Are you here to take me to your heaven, or what?"
"That all depends on you, Jim," he responded. "Come with me. You can decide as we walk."
"Where are we going?"
"To obstetrics."
"Babies?"
"Yes. There's a mother about to deliver there who is beside herself because of what the sonograms of her baby have suggested." He smiled broadly. "Somehow I think it's a birth you won't want to miss."

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