The Things I Did for Love
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My name is Jude Kriyot.

And it's a funny name, isn't it? Kriyot is the city from which Judas hailed. You know, the killer of Christ. Or the one who sold out the Christ. Depending on your denomination

(are Gnostics still around?)

he's a hero or a villain. But not exactly something to base a last name around, right?

The weird part is I'm Ukranian, too. Makes no sense, right? Not even Palestinian or Jewish or… I don't know where Kriyot would be actually. I'm not good with geography. I remember asking my dad about it, and here's the thing. He never questioned it. Never ever bothered to think about it. The only thing I can think to guess is, coming to Ellis Island, my great-grandfather, or however many greats, happened to get someone that day who, during the citizen naturalization process, either had a sense of humor (and a theology degree) or was a hard of hearing idiot (with a theology degree).

That's my guess, anyway.

But that really doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that I'm here and how I got here. And how I got here is Alexander.

My friend Alexander was someone I knew from basically forever. We went to high school together. College, too. After that, we parted ways a little. But we still hung out. We just went different directions.

But his different direction got me here. It's the only reason I got involved in this stuff.

Alexander was always the punker one. Punkier? He always was getting into fights. One of the first times he got high, he punched a kid in the face. I remember coming into the room.

I was tripping. Alexander, God love him, had thought it was too risky for him to trip. He said it was because of mushroom allergy. I thought it was because of the fact that psychosis, that magic touch, and psychedelic drugs weren't the best combination on this green earth.

But he didn't think it was too risky to get stoned out of his mind. Perfectly fine to smoke a lot of weed. An ungodly amount, I had later found out. Everyone there, on mushrooms, had felt guilty and thought to include him in bowls that they had very quickly forgotten about. And Alexander was that perfect mixture of intelligence and fiendish to keep the stream flowing.

So there had been a slight. I don't think he ever remembered what it was. I guarantee, that in the moment, when he had gotten done working that fucking razzledazzle on that stupid boy, that he didn't even really remember what the horrible attack had been. But I didn't know about it then. I didn't know until some poor bastard, pale-faced and just animated down to the fucking sub-cellular level with fear, came to me and said, “Alexander's got a kid floating.” And then, he had said, “Also he's punching him.”

And yeah. I came into the room. Throughout our social lives, I had always been the one to kind of defuse things, right? It was a shit job. At every party, every single get together, every dance in high school, and even in some classes we had taken together, I had to explain to them what kind of person Alexander was. That he was a nice guy, really. A good guy. A perfect guy who only had the interests of his friends in mind.

We liked to say that he was excitable. An excitable motherfucker of an esteemed caliber.

But in the room, Alexander had the kid hanging. Not floating, mind you. The kid didn't notice, but there was a fine lattice

(Something like steel and filligree and iridium? I'm not a geologist.)

through the boy's ankles. Not through the skin. There were holes. But they sort of held him in place. And there was another around his middle, locking his arms to his sides. And another around his neck. These terminated into nothing. They were beautiful, delicate things.

Alexander was punching the boy. A little mercilessly. But he turned to me. And the latticework disappeared. The boy fell to the ground. I say boy, but he had to be two years younger then we were, tops. And we had to be, what, sixteen?

God, he was a terror in high school.

But Alexander, he looked at me, and he said, “I don't think I played it cool, Jude.”

And when he admitted he was wrong, it was just impossible for me to get mad at him.

So when he sat there, bygones being bygones, I could never tell him off. When things had gotten more serious, in both of our lives, he got real serious with it. And I kept up with my jokes and my artwork. First and second. And I mean that.

We sat there in a coffee shop we had always hung out in, and he said, “I need your help.”

And I said, “Are you sure I'm not in trouble?”

I thought, it could've been a trick. And sometimes it had been a trick. My work being what it was, my relationship with the people Alexander worked with wasn't exactly cordial.

I wasn't one of the louder people in the group I was in. My clique was pretty chill, all things considered. For us, being the Critic was always a kind of mutual decision among the collective. It wasn't a dick-waving contest. It wasn't some kind of weird metaphysical fistfight or something.

They all said I was good at bringing out the good in them. I'm not, like, humble bragging here. It was a bunch of stoners and do-gooders that I did stupid shit with. I don't think we really touched anything meaningful. Really, you could think of me as an enabler. Chief Enabler. The biggest of them all.

But that's funny. Because in college, when Alexander was just starting to get serious, he had stopped hanging around me. For a solid year. I heard through the grapevine he had badmouthed me. But I also heard it through a huge gossip. A real fucker. This guy, he had told me Alexander said I was never serious. That I wasn't worth shit. And what have you.

But we rekindled our friendship. We never talked about it. But he didn't smoke weed anymore. He didn't drink anymore. He had needed to be away from me to kick it, I think. Away from me to really get his priorities in order.

And I start to think, “Who really is the chaotic, punk one? Is it him? Or is it me?”

But after college, when I went deeper into this world of art and mindless masturbatory bullshit,

(and what kind of artist graduated in English Literature, you ask? One that sticks mostly to poetry and magic, to be one thousand percent honest.)

Alexander had gotten even more serious. He had used his abilities, as esteemed as mine and moreso, to serve The Man. That was the funny thing about them. There were whispers about them everywhere. No one was sure exactly what they were. Or what their name was. Or even who funded them. Everyone had different names for them.

Later, I came to find out that they really don't call themselves anything. The only thing they have is a kind of symbol on some of their in-house stuff. They don't have t-shirts or caps or anything. Not like the FBI. But it's three arrows. Pointing inward. Like that stand. You know the one. The new one.

But he's sitting me down. We're drinking coffee. He says there's a bad thing, some bad stuff, and he needs my help.

“I'm here for you, dude,” and it's true, because I am. I loved Alexander. Still do. Always will do. A friendship kind of love. I remember in college I took a writing class. In one of my stories, two characters ended a phone call by saying “love you.” And both characters, they happened to be gay, and this dude, he said, so fucking earnestly, “Oh, is that a gay culture thing?”

And it's just like, fuck.

Imagine that. Imagine living in this world without any sense of love. Without the ability to tell your friends, the people who fucking give you a reason to keep on fucking going, however corny and anime that sounds, that you love them. It's like living in certain anime, the kind for young dudes. There's no inter-relationships between anyone. There's a barrier. No one touches anyone else.

That's what heterosexuality is.

Except, Alexander is straight, so whatever.

He tells me, “This might be too much. I need you to come with me.”

And I did.

It was too much. But also not really. But I'll get to that. I got nothing but time, you know? Time and a half.

When someone says something like that, that it might be too much, you listen. Take it from me. If anything can be taken from this, maybe take that. I don't know. That might be the wrong thing to think once you hear this whole thing. It's not like I regret anything.

It reminds me of something my dad told me. My grandpa wasn't, from what I heard, the best of men. Died before I was ever born, but he came from the World War Dos a little bit harder than before he left. And that seemed like a lot, because men were just weird back then. Even less love than now.

But my dad once opened up to me. Told me it might be too much, too weird. We were drunk. It was a grown-up Christmas. The kind you have when you come back after college, when your parents are just getting used to treating you like adults.

He said his dad, my grandpa, had him beat his brothers and sisters when he was too tired after work. And my dad, he did it. He listened to his dad. Took the belt to them. And that's not something you forget. It's not something I could. Every time I remembered the ways anger would flash in his eyes, and I thought he'd hit me. When I was so much younger. So much smaller than he was.

He never did. But I always thought he would.

They died. After college. I remember it was before I became one of the Critics. I remember I was making some stupid bullshit. Some farting poem. God remembers, I don't. But I got the news. Mom and dad.

Carbon monoxide inhalation. And how much bullshit is that? Magic son, and they die from some broken ventilation?

Both dead. I didn't think to set up some sort of oxygen spell? I don't know. I could've done something. I didn't, though. Just as sure as my dad beat my uncles.

So I come with him. I haven't had any dealings too positive with the people Alexander works for. I forget if I said that. It doesn't matter. Never been called in. Some of my bigger pieces have gotten the fallout swept up by them. Small cease and desists sent in ways only people like me can perceive. Always seemed to be on the second strike. Seemed like they had kept me in the pocket until something like this.

Someone like me, I guess, is always useful. Wherever I am.

So Alexander took me somewhere. A black site, obviously. Seemed like a normal warehouse. There was even some stuff inside. It was probably used and filled and staffed with people who didn't know shit about what was happening beneath. This was all thumbprint and retinal scans. Some cool stuff.

Lot of people were calling him Doctor. Which was funny. I asked him when he got his doctorate. What it was for. He told me, get this. It was in containment engineering. Like containment sciences. Something like that. I asked him what the fuck that meant and why he didn't ever tell anyone about it.

He told me both those questions sort of answered each other. I asked him how was that. Dr. Alexander over there didn't get a chance to answer. I met a woman named Bridget Callaghan. She thanked me for meeting her. She had me sit. Alexander sat next to me. The room had no security men. No visible cameras. But I got the feeling that if I did anything, magic or not, that I would've been turned inside out.

Not that I wanted to.

It was just the two of them. And it was me.

I got to understanding, through them telling me, that this wasn't exactly Alexander's area. Sure, he apparently had his uses (he was quick to tell me). But this was something beyond him. Beyond everything that could be experienced and created by anything they were capable of.

“You, however, fit the bill,” she said.

They told me about a bug. A big bug. Something that lurked within Christianity. Something that may have eaten my God. Just, you know, some wild shit. I didn't believe it. They provided me with documentation. I read it. Horrible things. Cicada things.

But, when I was reading it, she said, “Haven't things felt so strange lately?”

And Alexander asked, “Has the dream reoccurred since high school?”

“What dream?” I said. “Are you the good cop now?”

“No one's a cop,” he said.

“Is it why I'm here?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bridget.

When I was in college, Alexander and I roomed for a single year. It was almost a single semester, but I got a girlfriend (later a boyfriend) who kept me out of the room long enough that we didn't strangle each other. We didn't gel, Alexander and I. Our two brains in the same room, things didn't last long. We lived in our own filth. We got set in routine. Insular, mean. The cruel nicknames only two stoners at a small liberal arts college could come up with.

And when we weren't mean to others, we were mean to each other. But our habits, that's what grated. He always had to do everything alone. And I, an awkward weirdo, could barely go to the dining hall alone. And he would leave his food everywhere. In secret, disgusting places. He had no sense of smell. None whatsoever.

And, I also had the nightmares. Loud, fucking night terrors.

I never remembered them when I woke up. But it was obvious what was going on, in some part. Every night it happened, my screams woke Alexander up. And then they'd muffle. And he'd pull crackling cicada shells from my mouth. Sometimes, he told me later on, they still had the bugs inside.

This happened once a week.

And we just accepted it. We didn't talk about it much. We just dealt with it. Weekly, my roommate saved my life, and then during the day, we almost murdered each other over stolen weed resin and joint ends.

(I was always the thief.)

Then, when I found my brief significant other,

(One crystalline year in college, and then oh, later, I had met him in the Donahue Showcase. Friend of a friend. A lucky coincidence. We didn't sleep together. But we spent a long night together. An impossible to forget night. God, was it meant to be? Was it ever meant to be?)

the dreams had stopped. And I never had them again.

The similarities, here, were hard to look away from. Especially given the proposed solution. Reverberations sometimes go through time, I've found. Like generational trauma, only in reverse. And I guess mine is only from myself. No descendants in the void.

But I'll get there.

“What does that have to do with anything?” I said, full fucking knowing it has everything to do with everything.

She tells me about the Lions. There are twelve. In the center, they are going to put a person like me. It's gotta be a Christian, too. And Bridget, she says she's with the Ethics Committee. Capitalized like that. And I needed to consent.

I said, “Since when do you guys deal ethically?”

And I remember, she looked at me and said, “We practiced it every time we reigned in your fuck-ups instead of putting you in chains and locked you up somewhere, braindead.”

I said, “Jesus.”

Alexander winced.

The thing was, she wasn't wrong.

I had felt it in the air. The dreams about the bugs had come back. I had woken up with the crunch, night in and night out. Always the wriggle. Always the high bitter taste of innards. Always the terror instilled by the amnesia of just awakening. The iridescent rainbow wings clinging to my throat until I vomited it into the carpet aside my bed.

I had always thought it was an attempt to kill me. But without Alexander to save me from choking, I had still always woken up in time. I never died. Maybe it was a warning. Maybe it was a harbinger.

I don't know.

They told me that all of Christianity would be ended. That I would be put at the center of the Lions, and that I would end everything that had ever been. Jesus-ways. I asked if I would be God.

“Don't be an idiot. You're a block. You'll be locked in eternal struggle with the bug. The awakening thing.”

“What do you guys call it again?”

“SCP-3004-1,” she says.

“Wild,” I say.

And it's waking up. I know that. I've felt the terror, deep in your bones. Like watching mother drink. The cancer as clear in my eyes as the brown of her hair, forever untouched by grey just like her father. The betrayal of her cells, metastasizing in her liver with every sip.

And hadn't that happened to her father, too? Dear Grandpa? An Irish pipe-fitter. His father had left his family after losing a horse. This great-great-grandfather of mine slapped him and said, “That horse is worth more than you. Go find it.” So he left Georgia and came to Ohio then had my grandfather along with so many children, and guess what? That man worth so much less than a horse never learned how to love.

But grandpa tried his best. This isn't that story, though.

I remember him calling me after my grandmother divorced him. I remember his drunken nightly phonecalls. I remember the yellow of his eyes the last time I had seen him. I hadn't known my magic then. So he had died soon after. His liver failed him, but he had come to watch me read my winning DARE essay to the school.

Almost too on the nose, right? I know, I know. But it stuck with me.

And then the carbon monoxide had taken my mother. And father. Silent. Deadly. After all of that storied history. All of that plot being foreshadowed. And it ended because of gas.

So I said yes when they asked me to go into the center with the Lions.

I prepared. It didn't take long.

In the end, I went to the monsters and closed my eyes, and I awaited a world without Christianity.

Alexander said goodbye. He cried. Bridget thanked me. She was cold, but I knew it was beyond words. She was as kind to me as she knew how. I couldn't imagine the things she had done in her job.

I mean, fuck. Ethics Committee, right?

A woman I knew, before this, before all this, she was in a place called the Three Portlands. Kind of. I'm sure locals called it something else. She was a head of a small group of Kabbalists. She was kind of the head rabbi. They didn't really have leaders, either, but they understood she knew the most.

I remember once she told me that Jesus wasn't even considered a prophet in Judaism. And my Christian-centric brain was absolutely thrown by that. He's kind of a big deal in Islam, slightly, but absolutely nothing in Judaism revolves around him.

She taught me how Judeo-Christianity as a term really conflated two practices, two separate theologies, that really shouldn't've been so quickly grouped up.

I miss her a lot.

There's going to be no problem with that now.

When I was put in here, Bridget prepared me for what would be an eternity of battle. Grappling with the thing that was poking its way through all of the practices of my religion, of Christianity. Perverting it into something darker. I read the write-up. I knew what to expect.

Except, there's nothing.

Maybe another part of me went off to do battle. Maybe the part of me that's here is just the stopper. Maybe the stopper is all there is.

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm still here. If this is just like the consciousness equivalent of a phantom limb. Mostly, I remember things. Mostly, I wait.

I don't regret it. But sometimes, it's lonely.

I hope Alexander is okay. I hope Esther is okay.

I love you, JJ. I'm sorry for never having told you. I'm sorry for everything that happened before all this.

I did it for you. You were the best thing that happened to me. You kept me sane in college. And even though we drifted apart, I owed so much to you. Alexander helped, but so much of this was you. I'll never know what you saw in me. Maybe you saw this.

I know you'll be fine in the next world.

I like to think in a different place, maybe one before this or outside of this, we could've been something more.

I don't know.

I don't even know why I direct this outward. I'm worried one day I'll stop thinking. Maybe it'll be a blessing.

I don't feel the bug anymore. Everything's quiet. At least I did that right.

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