Wednesday, November 10, 1999


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

I could not decide which was the more beautiful sight, the vast expanse of the azure-blue ocean to my right or the almost inky blackness of the volcanic sands that met it at the island's edge. The fine powder shifted slightly as I walked through it, my footsteps leaving a series of impressions that were periodically washed smooth as the waves rolled in to wash the beach clean again. It was exactly as I had been promised; the tropical island cooled by sea breezes and verdant with palm trees, fruit bushes and huge-leafed plants. Somehow, I couldn't quite remember the plane trip that had to have brought me here. My senses were so overloaded! A bevy of brightly colored parrots flew noisily overhead, wheeling and chasing each other in a cloudless deep-blue sky.
But it was true! The email ad I had received had looked like just so much spam, but it had been legitimate! 'Fantasy Vacations! Literally!' the notice had proclaimed. A return email had led to a phone call which had led to an interview which had led to a trip to Chicago which had led me to this spot! Or what looked like this spot. Part of my mind understood that I was actually floating in a sensory deprivation tank back at Roark Enterprises. The technicians there were monitoring my well being while all the time an electro-induction helmet was imprinting all that I saw and heard and felt and smelled and tasted directly into my brain. It was an illusion! But what a grand one! I even pinched myself to see if I could feel it. The sting registered just as naturally as any other sensation I was feeling, I could not tell it from the real thing!

I was beginning to wonder if the doctors and other minions of the company had made a mistake and sent me on the wrong vacation. Yes, here I was on the tropical island, but it was not the vacation I had asked for. I was alone.
My eyes scanned the horizon all around me. Yes, there it was. High on the hill was the hotel that I had been told to look for. There would be phones there. I could easily place a call back to Roark's home office and they could adjust the fantasy from there. Yes, that's what I would need to do.
I started to cut toward the building, to look for a path through the undergrowth. It was at that moment that a movement down the dark beach caught my eye. It was a figure running along the sand, apparently very far away. As the shape came closer I divined that it was not a person far away, rather it was a small person fairly nearby. A boy perhaps seven or eight years old was running toward me. I dropped to a squat there at the edge of the surf as he spattered to a halt on the sand.
"Are you Mr. Mike?" He asked, dusting the sand off his knees with his hand.
"Yes, my name is Mike," I told the smiling child. He was a cute little rascal and the lack of his lower left arm just below the elbow made him enchanting. His arm! This boy was an amputee! I was at the right place! How surprised I had been when the interviewer had immediately known about devotism when it came up in our scenario interview. I finally got my wits together and asked, "What's your name?"
"I'm Beau. My brother sent me to find you," he said excitedly.
I smiled at the childish enthusiasm for his errand. "Does your brother work here?" I asked. We both stood up and began to walk easily down the beach in the direction from which the boy had come.
"Naw," the boy began, "Kyle and I are here for a vacation!" He flexed the short stump below his elbow several times and gestured down the beach. "You ought to see this place!" He exclaimed.
"How's that?" I asked innocently.
"This place is so neat!" He said excitedly. "There's a whole bunch of great kids here to play with! And guess what? They're all like me!"
"All your age?" I asked.
"Oh, a lot of 'em, but they're like me," he said, lifting his left arm toward me.
"Oh," I said with polite interest. "There are other kids with one hand?"
"Yeah! Some of 'em. There's also some guys with just one leg!"
"How about the girls?" I asked.
"What girls?" He asked. "My brother told me! This place is just for guys!"
"Not even any moms here?"
"Naw. We got a real neat counselor who does all the stuff we need! There's about a dozen of us and we all stay in this one big room just up the beach here! It's a lot of fun! They don't even make us go to bed! We just stay up as late as we can and drift off when we want to!"
"Sounds like a paradise!"
"Yeah! I'm real glad my bro' offered to bring me on this trip with him."
We rounded a point of land that created a gentle corner on the beach and a fantastic sight opened up before me. The blackness of the beach I had trod changed over a bare ten-foot stretch to the pure white of coral sand! A few hundred feet ahead was a set of thatched huts, obviously drink and hot dog stands, and the like. The dozen or so children frolicking at surf's edge were a striking collection of exquisitely broken figurines. Each was missing a single limb, but no two were at the same level, the variegation striking me as having an almost artistic beauty. The group was playing frisbee, a youngster with almost no left arm flipping the disk toward a slightly taller boy who made three powerful hops on his single left leg to make the catch, his four inch right stump flipping up and down as he did so.
As sweet and exotic and engaging as this sight was, the vision a hundred yards further down the beach was even more interesting. It was, on one hand (pardon the pun) a mirror of the scene with the youngsters. Yet, it was different. The frisbee players were evenly split: half of the participants were amputees in some regard, the other half were not. I wondered about that for a moment, but said nothing.
"See the guy with the frisbee?" Beau asked.
"Yes. The man in the blue trunks."
"Uh-huh. That's my bro'. Would you go on and tell him you're here? I wanna get back in the game!"
I laughed out loud. "I'll be glad to, Beau. Thanks for coming to get me!"
"Later!" He called over his shoulder as he ran to join the game.
I walked the hundred or so paces and stopped to watch the game. It took only a few moments for someone to notice me and say something to the fellow in the chartruse bathing suit. He made a single hop and turned in mid-air to face me with a warm and genuine smile. He hopped twice more on his right foot. As we met he offered a handshake, the nub of his left leg peeking out of his bathing trunks as he shifted slightly to maintain his balance on the loose sand. "Mike?" He asked.
"Yes. Mike Cherepski."
"Kyle Morgan. Good to meet you."
I glanced down at his leg, then caught myself, afraid he had seen me do it. "The young man who met me said he was your brother."
"Yeah," he nodded. "I got the word that you had arrived and I asked Beau to go meet you." He looked down and worked his stump up and down a couple of times. "As short as this thing is, I don't walk the best even with my artificial leg... especially on sand."
"I can see that," I returned neutrally. He didn't seem sensitive about his loss. Then it hit me. This is a fantasy! Of course he's going to be what I dream of! I relaxed. This was my week to be at ease, to not worry about looking at the sights around me. I looked down at the offered nub.
"How'd you lose it?" I asked.
"I had cancer when I was 13," he said easily. "They fooled around with it for about two months and decided they weren't going to be able to get rid of the cancer, so they got rid of the leg."
I looked over at Beau, racing another kid for the airborne frisbee disk. "Beau, too?" I asked.
"No. Beau was a victim of a drunk driver about two years ago."
"Strange," I said, "that two people in one family would lose limbs like that."
"I actually had a friend in the IT group at my office run the stats. It's about one in 400 million!"
I looked around. The rest of the group was back to the game. "So, why did you get the job of greeting me?" I asked. "I'd have thought that someone on the hotel staff would do that."
"Easy. I'm your roommate." He raised a single eyebrow as he smiled. He looked back at the game. "Want to join us? Or do you need to freshen up?"
I looked at the group again. "I'd just as soon join the group," I said, then it hit me. "What's with the able guys in the group?"
"Simple," he answered. "Those are the other devotees!"
I found that I was more tired than I had realized. About thirty minutes of the game wore me out. I caught the lift chair from the beach up to the hotel and took a quick shower before dropping off to sleep for a nap. I was a little surprised when Kyle awakened me by gently shaking my shoulder.
"Dinner time," he said when I opened my eyes.
I looked at my watch. I had slept almost two hours. "Where's the dining room?" I asked.
"I'll wait and show you where it is."
I noticed that Kyle was now sporting a pair of legs. He limped slightly, a concession to the short length of his stump manipulating his prosthesis, but he was one good-looking dude! The close-cropped blond hair and large blue eyes were to die for! The back of my mind kept telling me, 'Of course! They made him to BE your fantasy!' But that didn't keep me from finding him fascinating in every way!
I dressed quickly and we took the elevator down to the ground floor. Kyle led me to a table with two chairs, our names on place cards before them. The casual dress of the gathering belied the elegance of the surroundings. I looked around and found the other couples I had met and been briefly introduced to down on the beach seated at tables of their own. Apparently the pairing-off had been done by the computer, or whatever method they used before we started the vacation. There was no time wasted looking for a compatible companion here! Damn! It's so hard to keep remembering! No one here is real; they just seem that way! I need to forget that. If I keep remembering it, I'll miss the fun of this week!
Across the room the kids were all seated at a long table of their own. I saw Beau near the far end. Like Kyle, he was now wearing his prosthesis, a simple plastic tube supporting a cable driven split-hook hand. I watched him 'shrug' his shoulder to pick up a gooey barbecue strip from his plate.
"The kids are sure having a great time here," Kyle said, grinning at my stare.
"They sure look like they are. How long have you guys been here?"
"We got here yesterday afternoon. You were the last guest to arrive."
I looked at this sparkling friendly man before me. He was open and seemed genuinely interested in talking. "Are you real?" I finally asked.
"Real? What do you mean?"
"I mean... I know I'm in this place because this is my fantasy... this is what I wanted above all else. I wanted an island full of friendly, open gay amputees who wouldn't be offended by the fact that devotees exist in general, and by me in particular. And here it is! Here you are! High LAK is my favorite amputation site. It drives me crazy! And what are you? A high LAK! I'm fascinated by high tech prosthesis... I hear the piston in the knee of your leg working as you walk. Let me guess: It's a black carbon compound bucket with a high performance hydraulic knee and a Seattle foot. Right?"
"You're correct. It is."
"Imagine that."
"And because I'm what you dreamed about, you think I'm not real?"
"Of course you're not going to tell me that. You've got to be programmed to explain the issue away. Roark Enterprises has been doing this a long time."
Kyle gave me a mischievous smile. "You are correct, of course. In many ways this is a dream. But, Mike, let me assure you. I'm as real as you want me to be."
"Then riddle me this: Why did you come here? Why would you want to put yourself on display like this for me?"
He smiled again. "Perhaps viewed another way, you are my fantasy. Wouldn't you think after a while an amputee would get tired of feeling like damaged goods? That he wouldn't relish the pure adoration that a devotee can give, if it could be done in a way that wasn't sick and single-minded and crazy?"
"I suppose so."
"Well, real or not, I feel like that. I'm ready to try a week here with a hot six foot three dude who's got the dark good looks that any guy would kill for. I want to relish in your physical perfection and the fact that I can have you for my boyfriend for a week and not worry about you seeing someone you'll want more. If I'm a program or a person doesn't matter. I'm going to do for you and you're going to do for me!" He smiled. "Is that a deal?"
I gave up. "Deal." I noticed that there was something odd about the acoustics in the room. I could hear the excited chatter of two or three of the youngsters at the long table, but the conversations of the other couples much nearer were an indecipherable murmur whose meaning and exact sound was lost just below the level of comprehension. Odd.
The dance band started some gentle easy jazz. Kyle surprised me by asking if I wanted to dance. I decided to stop being surprised and simply answered, "Will you lead or shall I?" He told me to lead, and I did.
I take back what I said about deciding to not be surprised any more. Yes, there were moves that he couldn't make, but take it as a whole this one-legged guy was one hell of a smooth dancer! We had a great time, taking about half of the numbers until the place closed about midnight.
By that time we had both had quite enough to drink. My wine coolers had worked on me about the same way that Kyle's Margaritas had worked on him. We sort of helped each other stumble up to our room.
Once there, there was none of this coy 'do we or don't we' bullshit. We knew what we were going to do. We each sat on a side of the single double bed and stripped off, the clothes making a growing pile at the end of the bed. I was naked and lying down when I heard Kyle's artificial leg join the clothes with a dull thud.
Only the muted light from the bathroom was streaming through a crack in the doorway when he rolled over next to me. I rolled to meet him and we began to kiss. My passion ignited immediately, despite the drinks. We struggled and pressed for a couple of minutes, then he pushed me back flat on my back and used his right leg as the lever to swing his body over on top of mine.
With his leg on one side of my hips and that short stump resting on top of my own right leg, he was stunning, and I knew what he was about to do. He took my hand and placed it on the short cone of flesh. I caressed him there, savoring the feel. I was surprised how fissured the closure scar was. I needed to stop being surprised, he was everything that I found sexy! As I caressed him there, he slowly worked his way into position above my love-rocket. When we joined together I thought I was going to die. Was it his skill as a lover? The fact that he was my ideal? I didn't care! I just wished the night would never end.
It did of course. The following morning we began what was to be the routine of the place. We would go and spend the morning walking the easy tropical paths that crisscrossed the island in every direction. Always at the end of each path was a treat, an overlook with a spectacular view of a valley or a bluff or the sea for some, a quiet flower pool or a waterfall basin begging for a skinny dip at others. Always, there was privacy. No one ever disturbed us on any of those trips, yet there was always a chilled wine cooler for me, and a frosted-lip Margarita for Kyle within easy reach when we became thirsty. I loved it!
In the afternoons we'd take the chairlift down the hill to the white beach where we'd spend three or four hours swimming and playing beach games. I must admit to enjoying those afternoons immensely as well. There were none of the amputees who interested me as much as Kyle, but they were of interest!
And the boys! What eye-candy. It is a tragedy for anyone to become an amputee. I rationally know that. It is doubly so when the victim is a child. And yet these children were here, playing with a gusto that the adults could only hope to mimic, oblivious to their plight. One could not help but look at them, not with adult lust, but with parental tenderness and appreciation for the inner beauty that the outer flaws were only succeeding in magnifying. I wondered, idly, why Roark had placed them here. I had not mentioned youngsters in my interview. Actually, I had always tended to think kids something of a bother and a hazard to be avoided at all costs. Not having kids was one of the main advantages I saw to the gay orientation! Yet, here were kids that no one could fail to appreciate and enjoy.
In the evenings Kyle and I would either dance at the Dining room, or take a boat cruise around the island with one or two of the other couples.
It was a week I thought would never end, but it did, of course.
The night before we were to leave Kyle was oddly distant at the dinner table. I couldn't understand it. I had hoped that since this was our last night he would give me something extra to remember (as thought he hadn't done that already!) He would. It was just not what I was expecting.
"You go on up to the room," he told me about 9:30. "I'll be up in just a few minutes."
I did so, and was waiting for him, bare, on top of the bed. Kyle came in a few minutes later, that mischievous smile on his face again. "What?" I asked.
"Do you love me?" he asked.
"Do what?"
"Do you love me."
"Of course," I responded. "You're my fantasy guy! My dream come true! How could I not love you?"
"What if I weren't everything from your fantasy? What if part of it were missing?"
I giggled. "Part is missing! And that's part of what makes you perfect!"
Kyle smiled and nodded. "Mike, there's a change in the program tonight."
"Oh? And that is?"
He just smiled and began to undress. When he stripped off his trousers, my heart skipped a beat! Instead of the high tech prosthesis that Kyle had worn (when he wore one) the whole week, there was what appeared to be a perfect cosmetic replacement. It was so like his sound leg that I could even see tiny hairs glowing in the back-light! "Amazing!" I said. "When did you get that cosmesis?"
He pulled off his boxer shorts and my heart went into full-fledged arrest. It was not an artificial leg! Kyle was whole!
"You've whispered in my ear that you love me and you love my stump, and you even whispered a couple of nights ago that you'd give anything if I could have my leg back, because you wanted me to be happy. Remember?"
All I could do was nod dumbly.
"Remember Mike? This is a fantasy! They can do anything here!" He looked at me. "I know I've sort of sprung this on you. If you don't like it, I'll go back downstairs and have them take it back off. And I'm okay with that, I just thought it'd be fun to try it this way for just one night. What'll it be?" He smiled.
I reached out for his hand. Fantasy or not, he had made me incredibly happy over the past week. It didn't matter that he wasn't real... that he was a digital phantom. He seemed to be pleased, and somewhere down in my mind that was important to me. I pulled this unbelievable blond god onto the bed and began a final night that I would never forget.
When I woke up the next morning, I was alone in bed in the room I had occupied for the entire week. At least, that's what it looked like. The phone rang. It rang for the first time since I had arrived on the island.
"Yeah," I answered.
"It's time to wake up, sir," the voice said pleasantly. "You're home."
I looked around. "I'm no such thing. I'm still on the island."
"The room appears as your fantasy quarters did, sir," the voice assured me. "That's done so you are not shocked when you awaken. However, if you'll open the door, you will find it leads into a hallway on the third floor of the Roark Building. The doctors are coming to check you out right now."
On cue there was a knock at the door. The white-coated butterball of a man who examined me declared me fit and ready to leave. I was still shaking my head. The fantasy had been so very real! I was worth every bit of the $10,000 I had paid for it!
It took only a few minutes for me to finish checking out once I hit the main floor. Just before I left an odd little man about three feet tall wearing a business suit walked up and handed me an envelope.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Complimentary voucher for a steak dinner," the little man replied with a hint of French accent. "It is recommended that you get a lot of protein the first day back. The restaurant is just across the street. Bon App├ętit!" And he was gone.
As I stepped out into the bright sunlight, it was like a splash of cold water. It was reality. I was back in the real world and, for the first time in my life, I felt truly lonely. I missed Kyle terribly. My God! Listen to me! I'm missing a DREAM! A fantasy! Is that what these people do? Create a fantasy world so wonderful that you keep coming back? That may be the plan, but it's not going to work here. I don't have another $10,000!
I ordered my steak and was waiting for it to arrive when my eyes played a cruel trick on me. A young boy came strolling in through the front doors. His short sleeved shirt displayed a left arm gone just below the elbow. I kept looking at him, he was so like Kyle's little brother! Was this the real child on whom they had patterned one of the program characters? How odd to actually bump into him out here in the real world. What were the chances of that? I was betting that they were far greater than the chances of two members of the same family becoming amputees in separate ways. When I looked back up from my reverie, he was gone.
Suddenly the doors opened again and the tyke reappeared, joined by two other boys, one missing his right arm above the elbow and the other sporting a plastic leg sticking out of his tennis shorts. The group also had an adult in tow. I would have recognized Kyle Morgan by his sharp good looks, winning smile, and limp anywhere!
I literally jumped up and ran across the dining area! Both Kyle and Beau embraced me, and I returned in kind.
"I don't understand!" I said, looking at him. "Am I still asleep? Is this part of the fantasy?"
"No, this is quite real." Kyle smiled.
He giggled silently. "Let's sit back down, Buddy. I didn't believe it when they told me about it either."
The boys situated themselves at a nearby table and ordered burgers. Kyle began to speak in low tones so they would not overhear.
"Several weeks ago, I contacted the people at Roark about a fantasy for Beau."
"For Beau?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. What I told you on the island was true." He smiled and glanced down at his slacks covered prosthesis. "About both of us. When Beau lost his hand after that wreck, he never did quite get over it... the being different, you know. I thought if I could get a fantasy for him where he would be part of a group, it would help him to come to terms with himself. The people at Roark were great! Not only did they build that fantasy for him, but they actually did the research and found two other amputee kids here in town who wanted to join him in the vacation. No charge... their families couldn't afford it. The psychologists there told me this would be much better, because after the fantasy, they could reinforce the positive feelings he had gained."
I nodded. "It makes perfect sense, but how could they do that?"
"Do what?"
"Let the boys share the fantasy."
"It's the helmets. They're two-way, Mike. They have to be. They have to get your thoughts out to the computers to know how to continue with the simulations. Instead of just linking to the machine, Beau's thoughts were also being fed to the other two boys and visa versa!"
"So... the others..."
"Yes. The other dozen or so were just computer images. Just like we were the only real adult couple there!"
"Yeah!" I responded. "What about that?"
"It was decided that I ought to go with Beau to make sure he didn't become frightened. The interviewer even asked me what kind of fantasy I'd like to have." He smiled. "I told them that I'd like to find a lover on the island who would love me even with my disability. I wanted a devotee who wouldn't be an asshole about it." He paused. "And that's just what they gave me!"
I was dumbfounded. When I got my voice back, I finally asked. "Obviously they told you that I was real! Why didn't they tell me about you?"
"I had no idea you were real until we got back. They know about the political nature of the relationship between devs and amps. They figured they'd tell me and let me decide what to do."
"I'm stunned. I still can't believe you're here!"
He smiled. "You made sure of that, Mike."
"How?" I asked.
"The last night. Yes, that really was a request I made at the last minute for my fantasy. You'd be surprised what that room service phone could have gotten for you!" He laughed. "They gave me my leg back. I wanted it just to feel what it was like for a while… to be whole again." He looked into my eyes. "But that was what made me decide to come over here and see you."
"How was that?" I asked.
"You loved me," he said quietly. "Without my stump. You made love to me, and it was great."
I smiled and slowly nodded. "You have no idea how much I was missing you as I walked out of that place," I told him. "I was trying to decide how I could ever face reality again after finding someone so perfect, even if they weren't real."
"Oh, I'm real," he insisted, reaching across the table to take my hand. It was a familiar caress; one that I had felt a hundred times before in the past week. "So, you want to try it?" He asked.
"Try what?"
"You and me? In the real world?" He grinned wickedly. "The restored leg was the one thing they couldn't provide for me out here. But if a guy loves me, stump and all, the way you seem to, I think I can live with that!"
Across the street, on the fourth floor of the fantasy vacation center, the suit-clad midget shuffled up next to a tall man in a white tropical cut suit looking out the blinds of a window. He hopped up on a chair and peered out at the pair of men and the attendant children departing from the steakhouse across the street. "What's up, Boss?" He asked.
"Ah, a great deal," came the lightly Spanish accented reply. "Just proof that sometimes the things we do without turning a profit are the things that are worth doing."
"The business with the amputee kids?"
"That was nice of you boss. I guess you know we lost our asses on this week they spent here."
"We make enough." He nodded and wiped a tear from the corner of one eye. "I guess it is time for me to retire. I'm becoming a sentimental fool in my old age."
"It's okay, Boss," the midget insisted. "I always knew."

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