"God's Wall"

Written and copyright © 1999-2002 by Kevin Kelm
All rights reserved.

Illustrations by Krahnos


I watched Beau from across the room, maintaining eye contact with him as I chattered with the black-clad attendees of my latest art showing in one of the more chic galleries in the city. I smiled to him, and he made a discreet toasting gesture to me with his wine glass.

Our private little engagement was interrupted as my agent pulled me away on business. Flung back into the noise of the party, now in the final moments of its third hour, I grimly went to meet some rich snot who'd just bought one of my works.

He was well dressed, though a bit unkempt in his mane and forelock. He shook my hand vigorously and was effusive with praise, which sounded less and less sincere the more I heard of it. Still, I smiled wanly, nodding and agreeing with him wherever it felt appropriate. I finally derailed his chatter and asked him which piece he'd bought.

"Why, I love all your works--so dark, so vivid and painful. But the big one, over there-- lovely piece. My buyer specifically requested it." He pointed to the immense mural to his left.

I stopped cold. It was "God's Wall"--the piece that took me over a year. The piece I loved so dearly that I affixed a ridiculous price to it, hoping it would never sell.

"I... I see. Well, I... hope..." I broke off. "Congratulations." I shook his hand again and left for the bar. I hovered there for a while, downing a drink or two, trying to imagine my favorite piece hanging in some stranger's house.

Gradually, the guests bled off to wherever they came from, until my agent and the gallery owner ushered the straggling few out the door. I didn't wait for the final pleasantries with the two of them; I left the brightly lit building and joined Beau, already outside waiting for me. I accepted his hand and we turned toward home.

"You've gained quite the following there, Peri," he said as we hoofed slowly down the sidewalk.

"They bought it," I said dejectedly, not even caring about the money. It was the painting that mattered to me. "They bought 'God's Wall'. I can't believe I let you talk me into putting it on the market."

I felt his grip tighten a bit. "Ah, well. That's... too bad," he said perfunctorily. "...Still... I guess that'll fund you for a while."

"I know you didn't like it, Beau," I said. "But that painting really meant a lot to me."

"I think it meant too much to you, Peri. I really just wish you'd lighten up sometimes. When was the last time you painted anything cheerful? You don't do anything fun anymore." He smiled. "Like a nude."

I didn't answer. He continued, "Anyway, it was a good show. You did pretty well, all told."

"Yeah," I agreed.

We made our way back to our studio flat and I changed out of my clothes and into a robe, then immediately hit the couch and brooded, flipping aimlessly through channels on the television.

Beau tidied up a bit, then joined me on the couch, entwining himself around me affectionately. He didn't try to say anything, he just nuzzled me and quietly pet at my chest fur. I rested my muzzle alongside his and huffed a sigh.

He stroked my thigh a bit, then slid his hand between my legs, cupping my balls and jiggling them. He whispered hopefully in my ear, "Horny, stallion?"

I pulled back wearily. "No, not now. Not tonight."

He was clearly bothered by it, but remained polite. He patted my thigh conclusively. "Well, then I should get to bed. I have an early lecture tomorrow. Sophomores."

He stood and tousled my mane a bit, then clip-clopped off to the bedroom and closed the door.

I just sat and brooded in the dark, and eventually I fell asleep on the couch.

I woke up around 10:30 the next morning. It was pissing rain outside, the clouds low and dark. Beau was long gone--off to teach theology to apathetic kids. I tossed down some coffee and puttered into my studio. I set up a canvas and stared at it for a while. Nothing really came to mind except flashes of "God's Wall".

I mixed a palette, thinking. In the thin, heavy light, even normally bright and vibrant colors appeared almost gray. A few uninspired strokes at the canvas and it was already spoiled. I struck the whole canvas back down to a flat gray, and wandered to the window. I looked down on the world below through the fog and the rain.

The cathedral across the street was buzzing with activity. Throngs of people packed around it; some had picket signs, some had cameras, and others had riot gear.

Oh goody, I thought. Another conflict. God 1000, world 0.

I tossed on some clothes and went down to see what was up. Making my way through the fringes, I soon found myself at the heart of the conflict--a bunch of people were protesting the church's conservative social policies again. Worried-looking priests clustered just outside the doors at the top of the steps. A line of policemen buffered them from the ranting crowd, while reporters with cameras asked probing questions to incite the crowd to further frenzy about gay marriage rights. I felt my gut tightening as anger welled up inside me. I wanted to get away.

I pushed my way back out of the gathering, leaving a void behind myself that others gladly filled, and I walked fast to put some distance between the church and me. I walked almost two blocks before I could no longer hear or see the demonstration. The rain had let up a bit, but it still drizzled with a persistently cold breeze. Since I was heading in that general direction anyway, I ambled toward the university.

I navigated through the maze of buildings and old trees to Beau's office. His door was closed, but it indicated which lecture hall he was in. I made my way there and stood quietly in the back of the auditorium while he tried to engage the students in matters theological--more or less unsuccessfully.

He announced his office hours and dismissed the class. As the lecture broke up and students gathered their belongings, I joined Beau at the front. He animated when he saw me.

"Peri!" He hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. I looked around and cringed at those who'd witnessed Beau's display of affection. A few smirked, but a few were scowling with disapproval. Beau flattened his ears and those few quickly went about their business--no sense in pissing off the prof, I guess.

He returned his attention to me and licked my nose. "What brings you here, studly?"

"Oh, I was just... kinda in the neighborhood. Thought I'd stop by. You know."

We went back to his office, followed by a small cluster of students needing further help. I stood uncomfortably in the corner of his cluttered office while he answered their questions, quietly reading titles on the hundreds of volumes of disorganized books that comprised his dissertation research. The last of the students left and finally, we were alone.

He sat back in his chair, silently appraising me. We waited for a moment. No more students showed up. He closed the door and locked it, and then ushered me into his chair. Beau got on his knees between mine and whuffled along my thigh.

As he started to unzip my trousers and pull them down, I listened hard for any sign of somebody approaching, certain that every pair of footsteps in the hall was to end up here.

Beau worked at me enthusiastically and I began to react. Still I strained, listening hard for approaching footsteps, eyeing distractedly out the window, praying that nobody could see us. My mind elsewhere, I only attained half-mast in Beau's attentive muzzle as he stroked me.

A knock came at the door, startling me. He pulled free and silently shushed me, hoping they would go away.

"Dr. Fleethoof?" came the query.

I stood, forcing him away with hissing whispers, "Stop... No, I... should go. You've got work..." I quickly pulled up my pants and zipped them. Beau furrowed his brow and sighed. He sat down and sighed. I surprised the poor girl on the other side of the door by flinging it open, and with an embarrassed glance I squeezed hurriedly past her.

"Hello, Sarah.... You know I'm not a 'Doctor' yet. So what can I do for you today..." is all I heard from Beau as I left in a hurry and headed home, unsure why I'd come in the first place.

That evening when Beau came home, he was kind of quiet.

"Hey Hon!" I called from the studio when I heard him grabbing a beer.

Beau wandered over behind me as I sat at the still-gray canvas. "No progress, huh?" he asked, rubbing at my shoulders.

"No," I said. "I can't get 'God's Wall' out of my head."

"Hrm," he said. He stopped rubbing my shoulders and leaned over my shoulder. "Peri--I wish you hadn't left my office so quickly today. I ended up spending the whole, quiet afternoon there, alone. We could have had a lot of fun."

I tensed shrinking away from his touch a bit. I changed the subject, "Hey, so let's get some dinner, ok?"

"Peri, what is wrong with you...?"

I flattened my ears at his words, and turned back to the still-gray canvas, intensely studying the nothing there. "What...? Nothing--Just--lay off, ok?"

He spat, "Oh, bullshit! You get weird every time we get close. And look--I can't even touch you without it happening. D'you know how long it's been since you and I did anything?"

He was yelling now--and crying too. I just stared at the canvas silently. I had no idea what to say.

"You need help, Peri. God dammit, you need something! I can't do this anymore! You and I used to be so close. We did so much. What the Hell's happened to us?"

I still couldn't answer him. He gave up trying, and stomped off to the bedroom.

I felt so miserable for him. I sagged, listening to his sobs grow softer and softer. The evening light slowly waned to twilight darkness and the bedroom grew silent. Inside me, a battle raged; I wanted so badly to apologize to him and comfort him, but something--pride? --wouldn't let me. Finally, I overcame it.

I walked softly to the bedroom. It was still silent except for his deep breath--he had finally exhausted himself and fallen asleep, facing away toward the window. I stripped and crawled into bed, sliding up behind him, rousing him in the process. I embraced Beau around his broad chest and rested my muzzle along his, my legs entwined with his. I kissed his cheek and hugged him as tight as he could bear and held him there for a long while, softly stroking his chest.

Just being together always seemed to solve our problems. Before long he'd turned to return the embrace. We soothed each other, petting each other in the dark without a word.

Apparently Beau had relaxed a lot--he was already hard, straining in his pants, and I bumped against it while petting him. I stroked at it through the denim and he exhaled contentedly.

I took care of his needs dutifully and I waited for him to ease into the relaxed stupor. I started, "I'm going to get something to drink. You want--"

Beau stopped me from continuing, reaching out with a firm grasp on my semi-firm erection. "Yeah, I want."

I paused. "I'm... I've got to get something to drink. And I've got to get back to work..."

He released me, knowing from experience this really just meant "No."

"No, nothing for me. I'm tired," he conceded, sighing. "Good night Peri." Beau rolled away from me and pulled the blankets over himself.

I tossed on a robe and ambled out to the kitchen, closing the bedroom door behind me. I really was horny, but I just didn't... feel like it. I guess. I stared out the window at the nightscape of the city from the darkened apartment, and guiltily stroked myself off 'til I came. I then fixed a sandwich and went back to my studio to try to get something done while Beau slept.

By the next morning, I'd fleshed out much of the details of a painting of an angel in flight, reaching toward heaven, but cracking--torn apart from within by the demon breaking out of him. It needed a lot of refinement and detail, but I'd done what I could by the time dawn came, and I rolled into bed exhausted, just as Beau was getting up to go to the university. We crossed paths wordlessly.

I slept most of the day, waking up in the late afternoon as the phone rang.

I answered it groggily, "Hello?"

"Yo, Peri! Hey, guy--you doin' the club tonight?" came the voice.

"Oh. Hi, Dahl ... yeah, that sounds cool. Want some dinner first? I had a good show last night... my treat." I said.

"Hell yeah! Catch you at eight," he said, hanging up.

The "club" was really just a coffeehouse dive that some friends and I met at. It was also the place I connected with my agent, and a hangout for a lot of the kind of people that buy my paintings.

I made some tea and sat down to appraise my new work-in-progress and decide what to do next with it.

I fiddled with subtle lighting changes and details for a while. Just as it was getting dark outside, Beau came home looking haggard. He eyed me and flashed a thin smile, then crashed on the couch.

"We're going to the club tonight, Beau. You wanna come?" I asked from behind the canvas.

He heaved a weary sigh. "No, Peri."

I flattened my ears and peered around the canvas. "Oh, just spit it out. I know what you want to say."

Beau rolled his eyes. "NO, PERI," he repeated with exasperation, "I don't want to spend the evening with your depressed, Gothy friends who get hardons talking about how shitty life is!"

I sat back smugly. "Suit yourself."

Beau got up and headed for the bedroom. He paused in the doorway and turned. "Peri. I've arranged on-campus housing." He turned and disappeared inside with, "I'm moving out."

His words hit hard. Alarm boiled inside me. "WHY?" I yelled, though I pretty much knew why. I was terrified of him leaving. I headed for the bedroom, listening to the sounds of him packing things. I leaned weakly in the doorway.

Beau hustled about his preparations, delivering a well-rehearsed monologue. "Peri... I don't know you anymore. I remember the handsome young artist I fell in love with. He was kind, sweet, attentive, and he was mine. Today you're dark and depressive and spooky--I can deal with that--but we're not close anymore!"

"...But I blew you last night!" I interrupted.

He stopped and stood, staring at me. "Yeah, Peri. But when was the last time you let me get you off? Was it--what--six months ago? More? And when was the last time we just cuddled? You've been getting increasingly distant for a long time. I need to feel like I make you happy, but I feel like you don't want me anymore."

I grimaced silently.

His voice broke a little. "Peri, I just want a guy who doesn't push me away. God, I wish it was you."

We stood for a few minutes, both staring at our hooves.

He slung his night bag over his shoulder and paused at the front door. "I'll be back for the rest of it this weekend."

He opened the door and paused halfway through it. "Peri... Please take care of yourself." With that, he left.

I stared at the door for a long while, picturing him coming back through it, and back to me. It didn't happen. I sat heavily on the bed, keeling sideways. I lay there, sad beyond tears, watching the door grow dim in the waning light of dusk.

By 7:30 it was pretty dark. I left the apartment and wandered down to the club feeling drained and tired. Dahl was already there at a table.

"Heyyyy, Peri! The rich artist guy! Buy me an espresso."

I sat down and ordered sandwiches and coffee for us both.

"Hey, you're kinda quiet, Per. What's up?" he finally asked.

I slunk low in my chair. "Beau left me."

"Oh, man. Hey, I'm sorry." He paused. "Err... here, drink your coffee."

Dahl babbled for a while about every woman who'd ever dumped him. While he talked I scanned the joint, not honestly listening to him. I was pretty sure I'd heard about all his relationships before.

"...And then she left and stole my VCR, man!" He'd gotten kind of excited telling the story and was hoping for some response.

"Yeah, OK Dahl, I get it. She ripped you off. Look, I don't want to talk about it anymore."

He shrugged and looked around. "Hey, OK... So... you had a good show, huh? What'd ya sell?"

I stared at him. " 'God's Wall'... and I don't want to talk about that, either."

"Hey whoa... touchy, man. Sorry." Dahl gave up and turned his attention to the stage where a girl was preparing to read something she'd written. She did OK, delivering a modest little poem. She smiled weakly at the thin smattering of applause that rewarded her.

Dahl stood and took his turn at the microphone. "This one's for my pal, Peri. His boyfriend dumped him today," he said. I cringed. He pondered for a moment, and then slowly delivered his poem.

     "Charlatan souls reaching for heaven
     Lift not themselves but lower masses
     To show to God a face that's purer
     Than their cursed brothers'.

     "They build a hell for other souls
     And cast them there for sins unbound
     That God may see their struggling will
     Resist the ways of others.

Dahl thanked the crowd, which responded with the same polite level of token appreciation, and sat down. "So what'd you think?" he grinned.

"Deep. You gonna publish that one?" I asked.

"If I can write it down... Hey, gimme your napkin." He scribbled the poem down and pocketed it. We both downed our coffee and sandwiches.

On the way out of the club, Dahl said, "Hey, Peri-- I know! Let's go down to the Lodo Theatre... there's a live band, we'll have some beers--it'll relax you."

I shrugged. "Sure, OK." More than anything else, I just didn't want to go home to an empty apartment.

At the theatre, the music was loud, ringing, harsh punk/metal stuff. Everybody was drinking too much and screaming--and that was just the band. Dahl and I started with beers, but quickly sank to heavier drinks.

Each couple I saw kissing--or more--served as a reminder of Beau, and that we don't have that anymore.

Dahl kept disappearing, trying to chat up every girl he saw wearing too many piercings. He finally brought one back and she sat down with him. I just sat at the table and drank, watching the two of them getting friendly. He'd worked his way down her muzzle and neck and to her chest when she shot me an evil glance. I guess I'd been staring.

"Getting your rocks off on this, dude?" she asked in a nasty tone.

Dahl laughed and told her above the din, "Don't worry about Peri, babe. He's gay!"

She wrinkled her nose and looked me up and down. "Oh, great." She slapped Dahl on the shoulder. "Let's blow this place. I don't wanna get stared at by pervs."

Dahl grimaced at me apologetically, but he stood anyway. "Hey, you gonna be OK getting home, Peri?"

I just nodded and waved him off. They left together and I settled back and drank, letting the booze and the cacophony gradually blur the evening into a chaotic, confused, numbing buzz that drew into the small hours of the morning.

I don't remember much more about the theatre, other than bumping a few people on the way out.

The brisk night air cleared my mind just enough to start it miserating over Beau. I trudged home, thinking about our lives. We'd been together nearly five years.

We'd met when Beau was trying to make ends meet and he posed for one of my figure drawing classes. He'd spread out nude on the drop cloth, and happened to be gazing in my direction. We made eye contact, and then discreet smiles, and then I forgot the sketch completely, staring at his stallion form with a lump in my throat and in my pants. The class ended early due to his growing erection problem. We had our first date that afternoon.

Each time I thought back to some fun thing we'd done, some tender moment, a stab of pain hit me knowing that we didn't do that anymore and that because of that, now he was gone. He was the only family I had left; I felt so empty, and so alone.

I finally got home. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the kitchen cabinet and downed a few draughts. I walked around the house, my steps echoing from the hardwood floor in the quiet apartment. No Beau, of course. I found myself looking out the window, across the quiet, pre-dawn cityscape.

Off to the left, around the corner of the building, was the university. Somewhere out there was Beau. I opened the window and climbed out to the fire escape, where I could see around the corner. There were the campus lights, and somewhere under them, Beau-- without me.

I pulled my legs over the railing and sat there, pulling down swigs of booze and staring at nothing particular in his direction, as if somehow I might catch a glimpse of him. Looking down, the sudden, sick sense of vertigo struck me. I reeled, clinging hard to the fire escape, my nerves singing. I looked down again into the depths of the dark alleyway.

I hung there on the fire escape, clinging drunkenly to the ironworks as I debated the darkness below. A horrible thought crept into my mind--a mad, stupid impulse. Killing myself would be a sin. But it would be no effort, no overt act to die from here--only the passive lack of action. All I had to do was stop holding on.

One last thought of Beau, of how I'd fucked up our wonderful relationship and driven him away, was all it took. I closed my eyes, and my grip relaxed. The bottle fell, but for a brief moment nothing else happened. I pitched forward into the depths of the alley that the streetlight could not reach. A sudden burst of cold, wet air rushed by as I lurched sickeningly past the world.

I could not have been prepared for the impact. It tore my breath away as I knew it would, but the bone-shattering collision with cold concrete never happened; instead I hit something strong, soft and warm. Gasping hard to find my breath, I opened my eyes, staring wildly up at a beautiful Pegasus stallion, cradling me in his arms as his wings beat hard to fight the force of my fall.

Far below, the bottle shattered. I blacked out.

I awoke slowly, gradually finding the fuzzy edge of consciousness. I opened my eyes and my surroundings snapped into focus. Before me stood two men. They flailed uselessly against a wall dividing them. The wall was only a few feet wide, but it extended far up into the heavens. They beat against the wall, calling to each other, never able to just step around the wall--separated forever. One of them looked just like Beau, and the other looked just like me.

I sat up, incredulous. It was "God's Wall". The great mural took up most of the space on the wall before me.

I looked around some more. I was tucked neatly in my own bed, yet this was not my room--not my chaotic studio flat, but a stately room with dark wood paneling and fine furniture. Warm, brilliant golden sunlight filled the room.

I crept forward to inspect the painting before me more carefully. It was, in fact, the original, and the signature was mine. I startled when I heard a voice behind me.

"Yes, it's yours."

I whirled around and saw the handsome Pegasus stallion who caught me, standing in the doorway, his wings tucked neatly up behind him.

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to frighten you," he said.

I fell to a sitting position on the floor, beholding him. Never had I seen a winged horse before--I thought they were purely mythical. "You... You're the one who bought it?"

He smiled and nodded. He sat down on the bed and patted the spot next to him. I obliged, suddenly noticing a pervasive ache in my body and the painful, nauseous thrumming of a hangover.

Once I sat down, he gently pushed me backward until I was resting on my elbows.

"Peri," he started. "What do you remember of last night?"

"Well..." I thought out loud, "Beau. Oh God. Yeah-- Beau. And then the club, and the theatre, and then..." I looked to him, eyes wild with fear as I remembered those last moments.

He shook his head, "Peri--there's no technicalities here. 'Just letting go' is the same as jumping."

I panicked for a moment, then scanned the room around me, then stared at him. "You mean I'm...?"

He only stared back, expressionless.

I drew away, crawling fully onto the bed, and I rolled up into a fetal position, shaking and sobbing, "What have I done?" The kind stallion sat next to me on the bed, shushing and stroking my mane softly.

I must have fallen asleep, or passed out, or something--but I woke up at some point later refreshed, my tears dried. I was alone and the warm, lulling sunlight still bathed the room just as before.

I pulled myself to the edge of the bed and sat there for a long while, gathering my thoughts. "Dead." God, I wished I could take it back.

At length I stood and walked slowly, curiously, through the door and into the wide hallway. Huge sculptures stood in the hall. Its floors were draped with beautifully woven carpets, and its walls held beautiful paintings. Even the ceiling was ornately decorated with frescoes and plasterwork.

Many doors along the hallway were closed, so I kept walking, admiring the works of art. Each was new to me, but some of them... their styles were familiar. I spotted what could only have been a Raphael--and it was. A Raphael I had never seen before!

With new intensity, I retraced my steps and looked much more carefully at the works of art as I passed them, marveling-- Gauguin, Picasso, da Vinci, Michelangelo-- they were all here, and so were many fantastic works by people I had never heard of! I paced down the hallway and I was so engrossed in the artwork that I didn't even realize I'd worked my way into a spacious library filled with fine antique furniture and even more stunning works of art, nor did I notice the room's occupant.

"Do you like them?" it asked, right behind me.

I whirled, taken by surprise. It was the Pegasus stallion.

"I'm sorry," he smiled warmly, placing a hand on my shoulder, "I keep doing that to you." He then took my hand gently in his and drew me to a soft Victorian couch.

"No, I wasn't... I mean... it's OK." I looked past him to a magnificent Renoir. "Where did you get these?"

The stallion chuckled. "From their creators. Some were even commissions."

I sat back and pondered the increasingly obvious, then voiced it. "You're... ummmm...." I swallowed nervously.

He cocked his head a little, with a cheerful grin, offering, "...'God'?"

I couldn't answer. I could only stare, dumbstruck. He answered for me. "I guess. 'The Creator.' That's more precise."

I stared into my lap, my mind flashing to a sick feeling of helpless danger, suddenly very aware of the impending "Judgment" I was terrified of. I sat perfectly still, and perfectly silent, concentrating with complete focus downward, not daring to move or look away. I maintained that fearful paralysis with nary a word or movement out of him for a long time.

I jumped, tensing as he placed his arm around my shoulder, pulling me in his direction.

"Peri..." he said. "...My beautiful little horse. I'm not here to hurt you. I'd never do that."

I have no word to adequately describe the emotion I felt at that moment, but it was akin to fear, guilt and shame mixed with hope and gratitude, all rolled into one great explosion.

I leaned against him and I cried like a colt. Oh God, how I cried. I collapsed downward, my head in his lap, and the tears came in great, unstoppable gales for a while. He petted me soothingly through it all-- calmly and quietly-- until I calmed down.

I laid for a bit there on his couch, in his lap, my hands wrapped around his thigh, feeling utterly safe to a degree I had never known before. After a while I sat up, wiping away the tears. I looked at him bashfully and he was still wearing that warm, benign smile. I giggled involuntarily for a moment, and then I hugged him. He embraced me firmly, and finally pat-pat-patted my back as we withdrew.

He took me by the hand again, and stood. "Walk with me," he said. I stood with him, and he opened a set of glass doors and we walked out onto a shaded patio. I kept looking at him--admiring his strong, lean form, and those magnificent wings. He actually looked to be about my own age. He interrupted my admiration, speaking.

"You have questions, I bet." he asked as we left the path, wandering through the mazes of grass, bushes, and flowerbeds of his garden.

My mind raced for something to ask him, since he clearly was in a mood to tell. I started with the one I asked myself every day. "Why do you allow so much suffering in the world?"

He drew a deep breath, but was still smiling. "You don't pull punches, do you?"

"Well, let's see. I'll start at the beginning, I guess. I created the world you were born into, many eons ago. For so long, I watched the dust coalesce. I watched the sun ignite its nuclear furnace. I watched your world solidify and settle, cool and take shape. I watched simple life struggle hard to maintain itself in the hostile environment of the young planet."

We continued walking through the garden, and rejoined the path as it arched back toward the house.

"And I watched life shape itself over time, building and growing, covering the planet in its rich variety. I watched your people rise from simple grazers on the Serengeti to the clever, tool-wielding founders of civilization and continue their growth, taking their first steps understanding science and the world around them."

"All the way, I've admired your peoples' ingenuity--your active, inquisitive, inventive minds never cease to amaze me. You struggle all your lives to achieve something lasting, to excel beyond the realm of the beautiful animals you are, and into a societal, spiritual capacity. That struggle itself fills me with a pride you cannot fathom."

"But what I most appreciate about your peoples' accomplishments is that you did it all yourselves. I didn't intervene at all. If I did--if I halted every inequity, prevented every accident, and took your people by the hand, it would just be wrong. First of all, you would not be happy. You just wouldn't. People want to run their own lives, chart their own destinies. And that's the second reason--I'm interested in seeing how your people grow on their own, not imposing what I want."

"And that, Peri, answers your question. I'm sorry people suffer when they do. But every facet of peoples' lives and experiences helps you as a people grow into something new. Sometimes I want so much to intercede." He flashed me a smile. "And sometimes I can't help myself." He drew me onto a tiled patio, and gestured forward to the house.

We had approached a broad door in the mansion, and we entered it. We were back in the house, very close to "my" room. He led me there, continuing.

"And pretty recently, in the scheme of things, you were born, Peri. And the little colt grew up into a fine stallion, and a very good artist." He gestured at the wall that bore my painting.

I appraised the painting and what it meant to me, and then I looked to him. I averted my gaze, suddenly uncomfortable. All I could venture in response was, "I'm... sorry."

He chuckled, and pulled me closer. He stood behind me, hands on my sides, chin resting on my shoulder, and asked, "Oh? For what?"

"For... err... the painting. That is, what it means."

"Mmmmm." he said. "Well, I like it."

I turned, embracing his sides in turn and cocking my head as I looked at him. "How could you like it? Don't you find it... insulting?"

"Peri, I like this painting because of the passion with which you created it. I like it because it's a beautiful work of art. And I don't mind its content at all...

I started to speak, but he cut me off, "...NOT because it portrays the truth." I closed my mouth. "That is, it doesn't," he continued. "Peri, you're clearly in pain. You think I disapprove of you and Beau--that pain defines you. It has shaped every facet of your life for the last few years." I hung my head, listening.

He palmed my chest from behind, stroking all the way down it and my tummy. "But I don't disapprove of you two at all. I think you two had a beautiful potential together."

I ventured, "But what about the Bible, and everything it says about--". He shushed me, a finger to my lips.

"--It was written by men, and men have personal and political motivations for their actions. They usually mean well, but that's always in the background. Peri, it's in your peoples' nature to seek justification for your beliefs and viewpoints. What better justification than divine edict? There are some good things in that book, and there are some terrible injustices too. But just like your painting, Peri-- it's fiction."

At that point he stroked the side of my muzzle very softly. "If you and Beau can find happiness together... Well, I'm all for that."

I didn't know what to say. I just smiled and tipped my head forward, resting against his.

I suddenly felt free of a terrible image that flashed through my mind over and over for years, of another confrontation right outside the church across the street from our apartment. Beau and I had been walking by, hand in hand, minding our own business, when a Bible-wielding evangelist accosted us. He got right in my face and quoted, "Thou shalt not lie with males, as with females: it is abomination." (Leviticus 18:22)--you will burn in Hell, faggot!" Beau and I laughed him off at the time, but it still struck me hard. That moment changed my life in terrible ways--it was the beginning of the end of our relationship.

At the time, I thought I was just doing it to better concentrate on my work. But now I think my gradual withdrawal from Beau, from intimacy with him--or at least intimacy for my own pleasure--began at that point. It was also then that I began fervently painting the dark, painful imagery that had become my trademark.

I paused, suddenly realizing a new incongruity. I asked him, "But if that's not true, then what is? I mean, how do you decide--heaven or hell--for any one individual?"

He laughed, and sat back on the bed, pulling me into his lap. I sat down and looked to him curiously. His demeanor had turned serious.

"Peri, there is no heaven. And there is no hell. The only heaven and hell are what you make of your life. Nothing more. There is no Devil; there is no cosmic struggle between good and evil. There's just you, all alone. Your people define good and evil in your own way. You don't need divine direction."

I sank against his broad chest, and he embraced me warmly from behind as I thought through the staggering ramifications of what he'd just said. He continued, "I don't judge you, Peri. Not in any conclusive way that determines your fate. No absolute rules, no final justice. It only saddens me when you hurt each other."

I was confused. "No heaven or hell? Then what--?"

He cut me off with his answer, "There is no afterlife, Peri. Not as you'd define it. There's only a waning, filtering away of the mind, at least for a few moments--and then peace."

I was appalled. "When we die, we're just... gone? FOREVER???" I asked indignantly.

"I'm afraid so," he said quietly.

I stood up, staring at him accusingly. I was nearly yelling. "That's horrible! That's so unfair... WHY?"

He sat forward, elbows on his knees. "Well... what would you do with infinity, Peri?"

"I..." I paused. "I have no idea, I guess. 'Everlasting Happiness'?"

"Nothing can be everlasting for your people, Peri. Your minds just don't work that way. They need stimulation. They need change. They need the challenges, trials, and tribulations of everyday life in order to function."

I squinted at him skeptically.

"Given infinity, Peri, your consciousness would just slowly ebb into oblivion. It would waste away. 'Joy' is a reaction to a stimulus, and over time your mind grows numb to the same stimulus. I'm sorry, that's just the way it is."

"But surely you could do something about that--change something to make it possible...?"

"Yes, I could make you ever-joyous," he conceded. "But what resulted wouldn't be you anymore. It would be a mindless, happy 'robot' devoid of the intellect and personality that make you the amazing, wonderful creature that you are--the 'you' you know today would be just as dead. Do you really want to be replaced by a puppet with the smile painted on?"

I had to chuckle at the sick mental picture. I admitted, "No. I guess not. But it just seems so sad that we die, and we're just--gone."

He pulled me back to lie on the bed and he reclined at my side, propped up on an elbow as he softly stroked my chest with a broad palm. "And that is why you must make the most of whatever life you get. Doesn't the world seem so much simpler to you now? All that angst and furor about who's going to heaven and who's going to hell--wasted?"

I settled into his attentions, stroking his flank in return as he smiled that omnipresent smile at me, but something seemed wrong. I finally realized what. "Wait a minute! If there's no afterlife, what... where am I?"

He chuckled. "You'll note I never said you were dead, Peri."

I boggled at him and tried to sit up, but he held me firmly down, shushing me.

"In fact, you're not. You're in a deep coma lying in a hospital ward right now, and the doctors see little chance of you waking up. Your Beau is crying his eyes out over the decision they just asked him to make--whether or not to 'pull the plug' on the machines that breathe for you."

I stared at him in horror as he continued, "Now, you only have a few moments to decide--if you still want oblivion, I will stay here to usher you into it. If not, you have to say so now."

I quickly embraced him in a tight hug, both hopeful at the prospect of another chance, and sorrowful to leave him so suddenly. In his ear I whispered earnestly, "Thank you for my life."

The room flashed to a hot, brilliant, golden light, and then to a stunning, absolute darkness.

Pain tore at my throat, my head--my whole body--and my eyes snapped open, the bright lights of the room slamming my pupils closed as I arched my back, unable to breathe.

Electronic alarms throbbed as people scurried to restrain me, barking orders at each other. "He's conscious!" and "He's fighting the machine, get that tube out!" and a cacophony of other sounds swirled around me in those first, confused minutes. They quickly pulled the tube from my throat and held me firmly as I calmed down, the world slowly coming into better focus.

There at the foot of my bed, out of the way of the nurses and techs, stood my Beau. He looked like hell; the fur on his muzzle was matted with tears, his mane and clothing were rumpled, he had days of whisker growth, and he clearly hadn't slept much.

The staff gradually filtered away as soon as it was clear I was out of trouble, leaving the two of us alone. He approached, and laid his weary head to my chest and bawled. I held him, petting him, until he was spent.

My throat hurt from the tube they had in it, but I managed to croak, "Oh God Beau, I am so sorry. I'm so, so sorry, my beautiful stallion." We spent the better part of the afternoon like that, just holding each other.

Over time, I healed. Some mandatory counseling didn't hurt either, but I entered into it already on the right keel. Beau came back on the condition that things improve, and they did. A huge burden had been lifted from my life, which I changed almost completely. Beau's dissertation took a new direction once I related my story to him--and he won his PhD. My art took a permanent detour into the erotic with the two of us as models, and we made regular, mad love to each other. Together we grew very old and very happy.

I did a follow-up painting as soon as I got out of the hospital-- a companion piece called "God's Wall II". In it, God's great wall still extended to the heavens, but with a different purpose. On one side were two lovers in a warm embrace--one of them looked just like Beau, and the other looked just like me. On the other side was a huge, heavy crucifix, which would have toppled over onto the lovers--were it not for that wall.

I put it in the gallery, and it sold quickly--to the same unkempt buyer's agent as before. I asked the agent to give the buyer a message for me. "Send him my love."


Copyright © 1999-2002 by Kevin Kelm. All rights reserved.