rating: +80+x

I'm the hard-to-find stations on the AM band.
John Carlyle ran his hands over his face and stared at his naked form in the bathroom mirror. No longer lean and muscled, it was beginning to sag. Everywhere, the hair was beginning to recede, except, he noted, for his back and chest. At least the graying and the wrinkles were evenly distributed. In almost every way, his earthly vessel was beginning to decay.

"So, do you want to go again or what?" came the voice from the bed. John shuddered. Everything about his body was diminishing and breaking down, except the urges. He fought them with every ounce of strength he could muster, but sooner or later, they returned. He had been doing well - six whole months this time - but then that boy who mows the lawn had taken off his shirt and… and… He had barely stopped to tell his wife that it was time for a business meeting in Chatanooga before jumping in the car. He hadn't stopped once on the way to Asheville. The rest he knew well enough from experience that it had almost been a reflex. Check into the hotel, find a boy looking studiedly busy, make small talk, make references to a hotel, wait for interest, inquire how much, return to hotel, and then… oh god. What was wrong with him? He had tried everything from pills to conditioning, trying to get rid of this weakness. He had given his soul over to Jesus was it three times now? Maybe four. Still, no luck. Inevitably, some young man would seduce him and then… this.

The rent boy peeked his head into the bathroom. "I said, you want to go again? It's your money, so you can do it how you want, but I don't much care to sit around while y-"

"Get out. Money's on the dresser," John said, his voice dripping with disgust. He couldn't stand to even look at the young man. John stood without a sound and listened as the boy put on his clothes. He waited in the bathroom until he heard the door slam, staying an extra minute just to be sure. After he was sure that he was gone, John walked into the bedroom and picked up the phone. Like always, he dialed Julie. Like always, he took the revolver out of his trouser pocket. One could never be too careful, he mused as he heard the dial tone. He'd only used it once before, when the boy recognized him and threatened to go to the papers with news that John Carlyle, yes, the John Carlyle, was a queer, unless he paid him off. He pulled back the hammer and put the gun to his head like always. One note of suspicion in Julie's voice, and he'd do it, he swore to God.

"Hi sweetie. Yeah, the meeting just wrapped up… Yeah, I should be there for dinner… Y'all can start cooking and I'll be there by the time you finish up… 'kay love you too. Bye!" He made a kissing sound into the receiver before hanging up. Uncocking the hammer, he laid it down on the bed like always. Through a crack in the bathroom door, John a glimpse of his reflection. It's not me, he thought, it's this. I'm a man, it's this body that perverted and weak. I'm strong, I'm virile, I'm straight, it's this fucking god damn queer fucking faggot piece-of-shit body that keeps betraying me. As he dressed himself, John wondered. Maybe it wasn't this body, maybe it was… no. I'm strong, my soul is strong, it's this body that's weak. When he was done dressing, he opened the door and made his way to the car. Like always, he took a different route to keep anyone from noticing him. A five hour drive back to Atlanta, he thought. Plenty of time to forget all about this moment of weakness.

Ninety minutes into the drive, John was miserable. The late summer heat seeped through every crack in the car. Rolling down the windows didn't help, it just caused the muggy air to fill the car more quickly. What was more, there was nothing on the radio. Being in the ass-end of northern Georgia probably had something to do with it, he reflected, but it was beginning to get to him. Noise was how he always came down. It didn't matter if it was news, pop, negro music, or even a third-rate Billy Sunday telling him that he was going to hell for everything he had done; it just helped him not to think. But it had been fifteen minutes since that lovely sermon about the blind lady from Pasadena and how she was healed by the good Rev. So-and-so had finally faded into static.

In vain, John twisted the dial in an effort to pick up something. Anything. It was static across the dial. John began to sweat. It felt so good, he thought, even if he knew it was wrong. Because he knew it was wrong. He thought of the wedding night, and Julie's words of consolation. The next day, he had done it with a bellboy in a storage closet. That night, Julie had almost collapsed after they made love. No, fucked. He thought of nights spent crying because he couldn't get it off of him (the crying was a sign of weakness, also caused by his body). He thought about his first time, in the lockers, with Todd Willis. In his mind, Todd's face turned to that of the anonymous rent boy. His eyes had been wide, like a jack rabbit's. "Please, mister, I was only fooling." John still remembered the thought that had gone through his head before he pulled the trigger, about how one can never be too careful.

The radio dial rocketed side-to-side as John searched for a station. His hands were beginning to shake. Finally, a burst of clear noise from the static. It only took him a moment to zero in on the frequency.

"-ow, brothers and sisters? We shake 'em by the heads and run 'em down! Dark times, trapped in layers of meat like snake oil, and all covering the blessed waft!" the voice on the radio lisped. A moan of disapproval rose in the background. "We got the best deal in town. Lose that turgid flesh that's anchorin' you and spread like a cobweb! Come join us brother!"

John was no longer thinking about the rent boy with jack rabbit eyes. He had heard some strange shows, once heard a live broadcast of a man swallowing a snake, but never anything like this. Maybe it was one of those beatniks? The slang seemed to fit, but still, it was oddly specific. Was it some hip young preacher? The voice sounded older, though.

"I think we got a congregant, brothers and others!" the preacher lisped. The audience cried out in the background. "A real live cracker, all filled with the fire come back from wicked deeds! Come on you shriveled pachyderm son-of-a-bitch! Slough off your suet! It'll be fine without you! It can't miss you."

John was interested now. He turned the volume up higher, but the station cut to static. Always god damned static. A bead of sweat fell onto his shirt sleeve. He looked down and realized that he was drenched. At the next exit he would stop at a restaurant and get himself cleaned up, he decided. After a minute, a sign announced an exit to Blairesville, "home of Martin and June's Snack Shack." John pulled off the highway and proceeded through the town. As he looked for some indication of where Martin and June's Snack Shack might be, something caught his eye. A church covered in some kind of tent, which must have been the only building in town over one story tall. It wasn't something one saw every day, so John decided to get in closer and get a better look.

As he pulled into the lot in front of the building, he saw someone emerge from the tent. A balding man dressed in a white polo and cut-offs came to greet John as he got out from the car. Between his teeth, the man clenched a pipe. John tucked the pistol into his back pocket. One can never be too careful.

"Welcome friend! I hear you heard our word. A blessed holler finds a willing ear, and don't that just warm the heart?" the man exclaimed as he shook John's hand. A murmur of approval rose from an unseen audience. The lisp identified him as the preacher from the radio. John noticed that the man's lips never seemed to part.

"I'm John Carlyle. Like, of Carlyle furniture. It's nice to meet you…" John waited for the man to give his name. The man's faced scrunched in disgust.

"Folks call this Celebration 'Big Cheese' Horace. Lama Celebration 'Big Cheese' Horace. Brother, I get a good feeling about you. You seem like a fella who'd go far and beyond, make a smoke to swallow the sun! Have you ever had your body crack like eggs and just slipped off your dead shell like a hermit crab?"

John laughed nervously and was grateful for the pistol. "No, I can't say that I have. What is this, anyway?"

"This, brother John Carlyle, is a beautiful congregation. We hover and linger, can't ever be gotten rid of. Without meat, there's no limit to what we can be! Truth be told, I'm hoping you'd be willing to join our little family. We're looking for upright citizens such as yourself to help us bring in the new day." The man put a hand on John's shoulder and motioned to the church.

"Is this some kind of cult deal?" he asked suddenly suspicious.

"Far from it, brother. Cults are false bottoms, drop you further into the hole. We want to take the weakness and pull it out. Make it work for you while you work from home," the man said. He began blinking rapidly.

John nodded and moved for the church. Pulling out the weakness. It was worth a look, shit it might even help. If not, what was the worst that could happen? He had a gun, he was prepared. He stood back as the man pulled back the church's tent and opened the door. John went inside.

Two hours later, the body of John Carlyle emerged. It made a mental note to call up Julie as soon as it got the chance. It'd explain to her that there had been some unexpected traffic, or maybe the car had gotten a flat. But first, it needed to find Martin and June's Snack Shack. It was famished.

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