Bong Rip Tendency
rating: +107+x

Alexander had a way of owning a room from the moment he walked in. So, as the door soundlessly blew off its hinges, Jude just reached down, pulled a rapidly warming beer out from JJ's backpack, and popped the tab. The door wasn't exactly broken, so much as pushed, so didn't it just make sense that Alexander picked it up and pushed it right back in, like a big jigsaw piece?

He was tall. Taller than Jude, certainly. Wide, dark eyes nearly hidden by the unkempt dark hair. Long, nimble fingers uncorked an extremely large jug of red wine. “Cheers,” he said.

Jude and Alexander both drank. Skunked beer and cheap red wine.

Jude tilted back his head, draining the can of beer. Crushed it, dropped it on the hotel room floor. Esther hadn't moved from the bed. Two beds. JJ was in a different room. Of course he was. He always was.

“I really wish you wouldn't,” said Jude.

Alexander spilled wine in a small line across the entry way. “It can't be helped.”

“This is a stand thing, isn't it?” Quiet. More annoyed than scared. Esther drew her legs up onto the bed.

Alexander raised the bottle, gesturing in a wide arc. Red flowed freely. He took a few steps in. An arc across the door to the bathroom. And then he turned. Another splash of wine stained closed white curtains.

“I pour to Mithras. I pour to Zeus, to Perun, to the warriors and the fathers of old.” Alexander held out the bottle, pooling the wine in front of him before taking a sip.

Jude reached into the backpack and pulled out another can of beer. “Don't drink or anything, Esther. That's how Temple of Love gets you.”

“What? Why would I drink right now?"

“In whose name do your pour, Jude? Do you pour for Christ? The Father? The Ghost? Do they share one, or is that three?” said Alexander.

“Just one. You know whose name. Same as it's ever been." Jude flipped the tab with a hiss. He spilled the beer on the carpet and took a long sip. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down. The can fell lifelessly. “You went to Catholic school, too, you know. Same one I did.”

“Someone's going to have to clean this. What the fuck kind of masculine bullshit is this?” Esther's face reddened. She reached out to Jude, to slap some sense into him, before the space between them widened. It stretched like silly putty. “No.”

Marble pillars sprang up from the beds, and the window opened wide and dissipated. The television flew upwards and fanned out until it became everything there was, a sun and a deep blue sky that soon was covered by the austere white roof. The air was heavy. The sunlight slanted through the columns. Ionic. Corinthian. Jude didn't know which. It was still after midnight, of course, and he was still tired. But, Alexander always loved the brightness. He said it gave him energy. The sun and the hawk and the bull.

Jude cracked his knuckles. It was loud enough to reverberate from the columns.

Alexander smiled. He hadn't changed. But didn't his clothes seem a little cleaner? Gilded, almost, in the outlines? Hard to see.

“You know the rules, Jude?” He bit his lower lip. Fidgeted. A momentary glimmer lost before he yawned, took a sip of the jug of wine in his hands.

“Thunderdome rules, right? Then what the fuck is she doing here?” Jude's eyes narrowed. A cloud covered the sun. The shade was cool.

“A witness. I can smell the monotheism on her, but what is a contest of wills without an audience, Jude? I don't get out of bed for less than an auditorium.” A smile. Wine-stained teeth, too large, too sharp to be human.

The wind picked up and died quicker than it began. The sun was back. Golden orb. If Jude cared to look, which he didn't, he'd probably notice it was a blinding chariot pulled by a beautiful horse. Alexander was always thorough.

And then Esther was screaming. Jude turned. She was in a gleaming, golden cage upon a palanquin. The men that carried her were living statues, every muscle rippling like Bernini. They were marble, of course. Like everything else in the temple. Two had the head of a bull. Two had the head of a hawk.

“So, you're their lapdog, when it all comes down to it? Friendship doesn't mean shit?”

“You killed fourteen of them, Jude. You left the Gardener a walking skin graft.” Alexander took a long drink of wine. The jug was a goblet. Golden. Dazzling gems. An elegant stem.

“I'd do it again if I could.” And then Jude ran at Alexander. All electricity and flame.

Alexander caught the punch in his hand. A marble fist enclosed Jude's, crushing bones with a nice crunch. “I know you think you would, little Jude, but I don't think you have it in you.” And then a knee slammed into Jude's crotch.

His vision went black.

“I'm just saying, I got food poisoning. You didn't. Your, your luck shit doesn't help me if it's going to give me diarrhea.” Jude was pouting. But, then again, wasn't he always pouting?

Esther looked in the rearview mirror. He had his long legs on the car's seat. Muddy shoes everywhere. At least he had taken a shower. They had to stop to buy him new clothes, on the heels of all that shit. He couldn't just make more clothes. She had asked. And he had said, l'maan hashem, that he could never get the size right. That he always made it so the tags dug into the back of his neck enough to leave a rash.

One got used to that kind of thing when being around Jude Kriyot. The only magical incompetent. A man who could keep the car running miles and miles on fumes but who had trouble eating a single meal without splotches of barbecue sauce on the front of his shirt. Or gravy. Or whatever gross bullshit he shoved down his throat.

And the cracking. Cracked his neck, his knuckles, his toes, and, she swore, his jaw.

“You didn't die, did you? I call that good luck then.” JJ's face was against the window. The point of his nose poking against the glass. Rubbing his gross sweat and oil all over it. He had a seatbelt on. No one else thought it was funny but Esther. “And I found that twenty on the ground when you were pooping. So really, your pain benefited us all in the end.”

“You bought that fucking t-shirt with it.”

“I think me looking beautiful and fierce can keep the whole gang's spirit up.”

“It's hideous.”

“Once again, you're just a jealous bitch.”

“Who buys a fucking shirt at a truck stop?”

“The gorgeous.”

The shirt, truthfully, was hideous. World's Greatest Grandpa in large blue Comic Sans. There was an old man at the bottom, crudely drawn. He was fishing in a boat. He wasn't catching anything. He looked tired. It was three sizes too large.

Esther didn't say anything. She kept her eyes on the road as much as she could. She hated being with men. Especially the two of them. JJ was a good friend of hers, certainly, but she always felt she was expected to mother them. To act as the wise middle ground in their constant little dick wars, or maybe it was just a weird kind of flirting.

“Besides, it's my stand,” said JJ.

“Your stand can't be a fucking shirt. There's no song called that.”

“Mine is.”

“Fuck you.” Jude cracked his neck, leaned forward between Esther and JJ. “If you had a stand it'd be like Safety Dance. Maybe, like, Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me. The Oingo Boingo thing, you know. Or, like, Wheel in the Sky. I've gotta bunch, dude. You can have a good one.”

“World's Greatest Grandpa gives me the power to fuck hot silver daddies. Big dudes who smoke cigars.” He paused. “Development Potential: A.”

Jude stopped talking, leaned back, and looked out the window. Esther thought the ugliest thing in the world was a grown man pouting. Childishness. Learned helplessness. Jude was probably the kind of man whose mother made his dinner for him until he left home. Probably had her do the laundry until she was all broken and wrinkled. Probably never learned how to work the oven or the stove himself. Probably the kind of kid whose mother cleaned his room for him.

“Don't say bitch,” Esther said without turning to look at JJ. “Demeaning to women. Even if you mean it in the sassy gay way you always do.”

“Sorry, babe.” Pouted just like Jude. All men were the same, weren't they? Not like a woman. Never like a woman.

They'd had the conversation before. They'd have the conversation again. JJ was a man, but the piece of shit was always so serene so soon. A performative sorrow. A learned reaction in all men to make a woman absorb the brunt of their baggage. It wasn't just the way trouble rolled off his back like water on a duck's ass. It was that he was a man.

“It's okay.” It wasn't. “Just don't do it again.” Men don't change. No matter how hard they tried. He'd do it again.

Her tatty, her dad, her father, Rabbi Kogan, he never changed. Every Shabbat, every time he spoke G-d's words to the congregation. He said such beautiful things. But men forget beauty.

Kh’hob im in d’r erd arayn. As far she was concerned, he was dead and buried.

Her hands bit into the wheel. Wanted to break through it. Wanted to tear it from the steering column and throw it in the street. Fuck to G-d, fuck to Life, fuck to the Stupid Bullshit she had gotten herself into.

“We need to stop,” JJ said suddenly, his voice cutting through the fog like a shofar. “We need to stop. We have to stop. We need to stop. I'm going to open the door. Stop the car. I'm getting out.”

“Fuck. L'maan hashem. Okay, okay.” And then she was pulling into the most nondescript diner she had ever seen. If it was dark outside, she bet most of the letters in the sign would be out. Erma's Diner. Who was Erma? Why couldn't this bitch get some more lightbulbs? The mind boggled.

“Are you hungry?”

“Kind of. We have to stop here.”

Jude grumbled, stretching his long arms and long legs, cracking them like a fucked up daddy longlegs. She wanted to reach back and hit him. And JJ, too. Fuck. Like children. Always a mother. They couldn't even drive. As soon as she parked the car, JJ sprinted out into the diner. Around them were only gigantic trucks. Some with rigs, some without. Wonderful. More men.

“Alright, fine. I could go for something to eat,” Esther said, yanking out the key, opening the door, and leaving Jude stretching and making gross noises in the back seat.

As Jude regained consciousness, he could hear Alexander speaking. The words didn't work in his head. But the tone was unmistakable. Pontification. That's what Jude recognized it as. It was just the way he was. The way he had always been.

“Shut the fuck up,” said Jude. He tried to stand up then fell. He remained on one knee. Panting. It was so hard to be here. So hard to continue existing in the face of this fucking blowhard.

“Rude. Here I am, giving your good friend—what's your name again?” said Alexander just as Esther said, “Shut the fuck up. Oh my G-d.”

“It's Esther,” said Jude, shaking onto his feet again. Didn't fall. The floor was marble. It looked different. The gilded cage was the same. So were the gigantic animal headed statues holding it. Alexander, however, wore a toga and laid out on a triclinium.

“Yeah, beautiful name. Someone in the Old Testament, right?”

“The Tanakh,” Esther corrected, before a single marble arm protruded from the top of the cage and held its hand over her mouth. Its grip looked hard to Jude.

“All monotheism is cut from the same cloth. The same refusal to see the varied power of nature. A simplistic attempt to glean order from a series of wills all clustered and fighting but sometimes together. It's arrogant, really. But I lost my train of thought.” He plucked a grape from a vine that grew, self supporting, to the level of his arm. Alexander took it and popped it into his mouth.

They were the most purple things Jude had ever seen. Anything else that had been purple looked like bullshit in comparison. The apotheosis of purple. The platonic ideal of it. Jude realized he was drooling when he was on his own two feet. Trembling. Anemic. Definitely not a shounen hero. More like a shounen zero.

“What were you boring her about?”

“Oh, yes. I was telling her about our friendship. About my life. I knew your parents, may the gods hold them in their minds for eternity. You knew my mother.” He spilled wine from a goblet that was in his hand for a moment and disappeared the next. “I thought she needed to know. It's good for the audience to have a good idea of the turmoil between the two heroes.”

“You're the antagonist.”

“I guess I am,” said Alexander. He shook his head, sliding off from the couch. “I told her about our childhoods. About high school. About college. Same high school, same college. Recruited by the same art collective slash terrorist group.”

“You were the Architect.”

“I'm still the Architect. I didn't kill twenty of them.”


“I rounded it.”

“You've always been shit at math.” And something like a bolt of lightning shot out from Jude's eyes. An arc of brightness. Like the beam of a flashlight. But it didn't reach Alexander. Jude coughed, sputtered, fell back to the ground.

Alexander sighed, sitting back down. “This is pitiful. I thought you'd give me a battle to sing about for ages to come. You're not even worth spilled wine. What would your father say? What would the father of your fathers say?” He tilted his head, like an animal trying to find the best angle to hear prey. The filigree on the marble columns seemed to breathe. Gold and silver, in and out. A web of shining, delicate lace.

Sometimes, it surprised Jude, the delicacy that Alexander was capable of.

“You're less than a man, Jude. You're not even a woman. You're a sexless, pitiful little thing. You lack all vitality. If your body was your mind, your dick would have shrunk to a pit and fallen off years ago. I don't even—” Alexander began to sputter. He clawed at his neck.

The hand on Esther's mouth fell limply and then retracted back into the top of her cage. She took a breath, but nothing came. Her face reddened, tears of irritation bringing mascara down her cheeks, she screamed. No sound came out.

The sky was dark again. Midnight. The moon hung high and fat. Butter churned. Sweet. Reddened filigree, like molten glass, expanded outward. The marble breathed. Flesh. The marble was skin. The marble was blood. Veins, filled with something strange and dark and unknowable.

“Not a man,” was all that Jude said. He stood tall. He was gold and silver and light.

There was a breeze, and Esther took a long breath. She didn't speak.

“What do you know about being a man, Alex? You fell ass-backwards into it.” Tall as the columns. Or was he the columns? The moon, an eye. The wind, his breath. “I chose manhood. I took it and made it my own. I made my own body, cell by fucking cell. I was never a girl. I never felt like one. And what did you do, Alexander? What did you do? Besides disappoint your mother. Besides acting like a fucking ancient Roman piece of garbage?”

Alexander floated upward. The wind took him. His jeans were dirty. His t-shirt was ill-fitting. Skin, grey. Eyes, closed. Grimacing. Electricity pulsed throughout his body. The Architect's teeth chattered.

“It isn't power. It isn't your gods. It isn't being a father. It's not something as base as reproduction.” His voice was everything. The temple spoke. The Temple of Love was in Jude's name. Dedicated to Jude's god, and world without end. “Manhood isn't so fucking simple. It's, fuck, it's love. I don't know. It's protection. Fuck. It isn't what you are.”

From within him stepped a figure in gold. Muscular, strong. It stepped out from his body, aligned with his and then out like walking through a doorway cast in a spiderweb. One fist was a plus. The other, a minus. It walked like a VHS distortion, scrambled and chopped. The golden figure, Video Killed the Radio Star, punched Alexander. Once, twice, thrice. A flurry of fists. And it spoke. A great flood, a word repeated. Urere. To burn. And the electricity held him in the air. Like the moon, pale and fat. Blood. The sounds of bones breaking. And finally, one last punch rocketed Alexander to a column. As he slid down it, a smile spread across his face.

“It's beautiful,” he said. “This is what I hoped for, Jude. This is a beautiful will worthy of your god. I feel good now. About all this.” Coughed. Blood. There was a lot of blood.

Esther lit the end of the Djarum black with Jude's green lighter. She moved to place it in her purse, but Jude's hand shot out, plucking it from between her fingers. She grunted, took a long drag. The taste was sweet on her lips.

“I used to smoke cloves, too,” Jude said. “I wanted to impress this cute goth boy.”

Esther's eyebrows rose up then down by way of response.

“I remember coughing. People told me I smoked it like weed. I remember, you know, holding it in like I was gonna get high. Still remember the headrush. Can I have one?”

Esther shrugged and pulled one out from the battered pack. Jude lit the cigarette and handed the lighter to Esther. She put it into her purse before he realized what he was doing. What an idiot.

“Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Impress your goth boy. Did you?”

Jude shook his head, the smoke spewing out from his nose and mouth like the shittiest smoke bomb. He hacked and coughed, hands on his knees. Eyes redder than they were on pot. But he was licking his lips. And wasn't he smiling? “No. I'm not good at getting boys to like me. Or girls.” He took another drag, this one much shorter, and tried his best to hold it in before seeming to remember it wasn't weed.

Bisexual, probably, then. Gay and bi men were just as bad as heterosexuals. She took another drag and didn't speak. Wanting to fuck someone different than society intended didn't suddenly make you okay.

Jude sighed, leaning against the diner. JJ was nowhere to be found. They had to wait for him, of course, even though he'd do fine on his own. The question was whether or not they would.

Esther hated the silence. She hated having to hang out alone with Jude. Even with a shower, he had a smell about him. A kind of sweaty desperate scent. Like metal. Like nervous animals.

“Do you ever have trouble believing in God? Like, because of your magic? You're Jewish, right?” He paused, dropped the half-smoked cigarette to the ground and crushed it underneath his sneaker. “Does it, like, interfere?”

“Why would it?” He wasted the cigarette. Esther wanted to reach out and slap the living shit out of him. Why was she plagued by such stupid, thoughtless men? Why was G-d doing this to her, out of all people?

“It's unnatural, isn't it? It's like. I know you guys don't have saints. Ever worry about Hell?”

“We don't have that. Don't even have heaven.”

“Shit, really? Wild.” Jude blinked, in genuine surprise. Leave it to a Christian to be unable to imagine doing good without promise of paradise. “But, like. I have powers greater than a saint. I do miracles like, you know, Jesus. But I'm not. I'm just an idiot with magic.”

“You are an idiot.”

“Yeah, right?” He shrugged. “It just makes me feel like I'm going against order. Like I have too much. I feel like I'm a sin. Like just being is a blasphemy. It feels rude to rely on God, if I'm like this. I don't even think of it unless I need forgiveness. I don't know. I feel like an aberration. I feel like I got too much. Like I'm unaccounted for.”

Esther snorted. She took another drag before dropping the butt on the ground, crushing it beneath her heel. She pulled out another long, black cigarette, stuck it between her lips, lit it.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“It's stupid. G-d made you a man. G-d made me a woman. There's no changing that. She also made us both magic. I make mitzvahs, and you make fancy lights dance. It's arrogant to imply there isn't an order to this.” She took another drag. “Like what G-d said to Job, do you know the mating seasons of mountain lions? Do you know, fuck, the weather? There's something going on way beyond you. An order to things you can never see. And your magic, your bullshit, is accounted for. And in the eyes of the one who created all things, it's paltry idiot shit.”

“I guess.” His face was red.

“Yeah. You guess.”

“What about JJ?”

“Some people are just blessed. There's an order to it. It's unfair, and sometimes it's bullshit. You can hold G-d accountable for the bullshit, or you can just do with it what you can.”

As though called, JJ came rounding a corner “Hey, bitches. Waitin' on me?”

“Where were you?” Jude said.

“Powering up my stand.” JJ winked.

“Don't be gross. Where were you?”

“Suckin' off some old dude's dick in his truck.”

“Are you serious? That's unsafe. It's unsanitary. Like, he could be sick. Did he have a condom? Why are you messing with me?” Jude's voice slid to a whisper as a large man came from where JJ had walked from.

JJ winked at the old man and waved, “Hope to see you again, Burt.”

The large, old man only blushed, nodded, and walked inside.

Jude stared. Wide-eyed. Scandalized. Confused. He shook his head and stalked over to the car. It was locked, but that never mattered for him. He opened the door and slid into the back seat.

“Did you really?” Esther said.

“Nah, I mean. I did hit on him. He's married, though. Said his grandson was gay. Gave me his number. Didn't have the heart to tell him he was too young for me.” JJ stretched and yawned. “We had a great conversation about ham radios, though. Kind of cool.”


“And on the way back, this dude with a Confederate flag on his dashboard left his door open. So I totally pocketed this.” And there was a wad of bills pulled out from his tight jeans. “That means a hotel tonight. Only two rooms, probably. But since I found it, that means you and Jude have to be bunkmates.”

“I'd rather sleep in a ditch.”

“Don't be a baby. You two need some more time to get used to each other.” And JJ turned to the car. Jude popped the lock, and JJ stepped in. Front seat.

Esther took a puff of her cigarette, staring at the two men in her car. She could think of worse places to be.

Esther stepped out from a cage that no longer existed. The four statues had fallen. She went to Jude and said, “He asked me to protect you with my life when you passed out. I have no fucking clue what's going on.”

The light around Jude faded as he stepped toward his fallen friend. The golden figure stepped into him. He bent down to Alexander, on his knees, and he said, “What the fuck is your problem, dude?”

Jude wanted to slap Alexander, but he had already done much more.

“You showed me what I was,” said Alexander. His eyes were dim. The blood was red, but it was golden. Ichor. Not gross. Not Lovecraft's ichor. But ichor like a Greek god. It had a sweet smell to it. Jude felt sick.

“What do you mean?”

“A coward. My mother raised me alone. She, you remember her don't you?”

“It's hard to forget her. She was just like you.”

Alexander smiled. His eyes closed. “It is a sin for you to kill. My gods would look the other way. Yours don't. Yet you did what you believed was right. They hurt, and you hurt them. I wanted to see if it was a mistake. Or if your will was that strong. A man protects the weak. My mother taught me that. You protected the weak by killing him. I did nothing. I said nothing as this consumed you. I was content to not act. But inaction is cowardice. Inaction is a transgression against bravery, against the gods, against our fathers and their fathers.”

“It was a mistake.”

“Yes, it was. For you. But your Christ will forgive. I've been led to believe he's all about that.”

The floor was carpeted. The columns were starting to look more like beds.

“You were never going to die,” Alexander said. “There's no world where I defeat you. I knew that it would be so. You're worthy of facing him.”


“The Critic. The one behind all of this. His hands didn't create the statue, but isn't he just as much a part of it as the Sculptor?” A weak smile. Alex reached out. Hand rested against Jude's cheek for a moment before it fell heavily to his side. “He won't stop. He knows where you are. I know not how. They will know I lost. He'll send another. His Electric Eye sees all.”

His breaths were ragged. The punches weren't what did it. His being, his life force, was leaving. Temple of Love only ever left one.

“I deserve to die. My will remains with you. And I will go on before us. I will go to the afterlife of my gods. I will set aside a place for you. And when you finally die, Jude, you will sit beside me. And we will be friends again. And you can tell me what you did. How you saved them. How brave you were in the face of sin.”

“What—what if I'm right? About God?” Jude was crying. Silently, of course. Alexander was never one for tears.

“I will storm the gates. And I will petition your Christ to forgive you.” A long sigh. “And if he does not, I will descend to the fires of eternity with you.”

Alexander smiled. The blood was all red. He was thin. Pale. Ghostly white. His veins were visible. Everything was fading. Clothing like gossamer.

“In whose name did you pour, Jude?”

“My own.”

Alexander laughed. A long rattle. “After you're done, go to them. All three. Don't let this ruin it. A relationship with your gods is a wonderful thing, Jude. I am certain they will forgive you. And a man is nothing,” Alexander reached out to touch Jude's cheek. “A man is nothing without his beliefs.”

And the hand slid from Jude's cheek. It disappeared before it hit the ground.

There was no Alexander. There were no columns. They were inside, and the outside was outside. The hotel room still stunk of wine, but there was no other sign of Alexander.

For a long time, neither Esther nor Jude said a word.

Jude laid out on the ground, face in the carpet. Esther sat upon the bed.

Esther finally stood up from the bed. She bent to the ground. And she hugged Jude. He cried in her arms, and she held him more tightly.

“Maybe, uh, it's not the time to say this, but, uh,” Esther paused. Like she was searching for a script.

“Say whatever,” Jude said.

“I'm sorry if I ever said anything fucked up. About trans people. I, uh, I didn't know.”

“It's okay.” He laughed. “Where did that come from?”

“I don't know,” she said. “Just, meeting you. And hearing all that. I guess if you could be born and assigned, you know, femaleness, and then, well, embrace being a huge dumbass and becoming a man. Like, maybe, I don't know. It's not so innate. Maybe someone born a dude could be a cool girl. I don't know. Is your friend okay?”

“He's gone. I think he's still with me.” A pause. “And thanks.”

Esther stood back up. Jude noticed there was snot all over her shoulder. Most likely his, unless she was doing weird stuff with her nose. “He really liked you.”

“I know.”

“How do you think he's going to petition G-d for your entrance if his will is with you, though?”

Jude laughed, standing on shaky legs. He collapsed onto the bed. “I wanted to ask, too, but I didn't wanna ruin the moment.” It was dark in the room. Lights off. The wine was on his bed, but Jude didn't care.

Esther sat back on her bed, watching him for a moment. “I'll tell JJ about this in the morning, if you don't think you can.”

But Jude heard nothing. Sleep came more quickly and more mercifully to him than it had in ages.

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