Azazel Anonymous

We began each meeting with a hyacinth, to deny the Hole its hold on our lives. Our trusted servant, Father Brown, distributed flowers and heirloom glasses of cool water. We dipped our hyacinths, blush-quick and simple, and removed them, even simpler. Another dip, and another, and the dormant lacquer of a different, frightening flower cast itself over the stem we thought we knew. The third dip was the worst, no matter how many sessions we’d attended. Billy the Medicare salesman always shook so hard small droplets of water skirted from his wrist. But Father Brown’s voice reassured us that the hyacinth we held and the hyacinth in the water were one and the same, and he removed his flower and flourished its formal singularity, and we all relaxed. The water, although not the Hole exactly, could mimic the Hole’s obliterative properties. In the Hole, the flower became other-flower, its petals the very petals of its prior aspect’s doom.

Every Wednesday night, we pour gallon-jugs of Dasani into somebody’s aunt’s filigreed pitcher and make the Hole. Here, we make and unmake the Hole, Father Brown tells us, quoting from Azazel Anonymous’ Big Book. When Father Brown asks us why, we recite the answer in unison: to remind ourselves of our relationship to ourselves.

* * *

I knew things had gone too far when I walked into Henry’s Blue Ribbon Barbeque to interview for the studly sign-twirler position and realized I’d fucked the other candidates. If my porcine caricature of an interviewer, in what I imagined to be a rare moment of Polo-clad whimsy, asked me to describe the exact dimensions of each of their cocks—whose balls swayed like candied pinecones when we kissed, which mushroom heads were safe to eat and which would send you to the Minute Clinic, who licked the gossamer-pale webbing of skin between my index and middle toes until I came on his 2018 Clemson Sugar Bowl blanket—I could. Idling in the blue-tiled lobby, we eyed each other the way packs of large cats eye dummies stuffed with cameras on cutting-edge National Geographic documentaries. The smell of slow-roasted pulled pork thickened in the air, juiced and herbed and dripping. It frightened me, this proximity to the things I had once envied so much as to occupy, however briefly or illicitly, in posh condominium living rooms and used bookstore bathrooms and the big sexy room of an empty soybean field in the middle of night.

But what frightened me more was the idea that I’d fucked everything that looked like me. Or that I’d fucked everything that imagined itself as similar enough to my idea of myself that it might waltz into Henry’s on a Sunday afternoon and compete for the privilege to wear the little strap-on hooves and furred loincloth and stuffed russet sash of the Henry’s mascot costume. Somewhere deep down, we all considered ourselves a dead ringer for Satan’s go-go faggot, so terribly spurned as to slink the long way from hell to this sad corner of South Carolina to sell prime cuts of beef brisket to women in camisoles.

The interviewer called someone back, a blonde with an incredible desire to be physically crushed during sex, and I knew I needed to get out of there. I needed to reassure myself that I hadn’t fucked myself out of myself, that there was enough of me in the world to still call to whatever about me I might find pleasurable and debonair and charming. I needed it, clearly, differently, in some other and unexpected way. I left Henry’s before the first interview finished, pork scent cloying in my hair, Grindr opened before I’d even reached the driver’s seat of my sad blue Hyundai.

* * *

If our meetings took place in a novel about the redemptive qualities of incredibly ordinary men, we might call ourselves a ragtag bunch, and smile while doing it. Father Brown and Billy; a furtive band of married heterosexuals whose “names”—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Jim—had clearly been selected for the express purpose of concealing their lives from our circle, however much we might try to help them; Lawrence, who worked as a perpetual substitute teacher; Helmut, an aging leather daddy from Chesnee; an ever-shifting collection of heteroflexible line cooks from the wild game steakhouse half a mile from the mall; Blake and Jacob, boyfriends and high school seniors; and a cast of occasional newcomers. We always spotted the newbies before the meeting began. Timid and rattled by their time in the Hole, they wouldn’t speak until spoken to, and they wouldn’t stop once they started. They trawled our most terrible memories of our times in the Hole: Azazel twisting our bodies into things other than themselves, different, yes, but still so far from the most beautiful things in the world. We looked back on our old bodies from our new ones, and the distance crushed us. We could change so much and still never be enough. Could I ever be beautiful? The newbie might ask, and we’d suck our teeth and nod and maybe pat his short-sleeved arm. Everyone saw something different, we knew, and became something else. Words couldn’t quite explain it, couldn’t quite tear down the miasmic wall between yourself and yourself, the wall that was the Hole.

* * *

I showed up to the gloryhole fifteen minutes early. I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of these things, but I wanted to impress the protean but shadowy idea I held of AzzAzzel, the gloryhole’s meister. So far, I pictured him as a plush pair of floating Rocky Horror Picture Show lips, poised atop a placid void like twin strawberry slugs. On Grindr, I couldn’t discern what exactly AzzAzzel used for his profile picture. I’d maximized my iPhone’s brightness, wondering whether he sported Grindr’s automated black square or if his image’s darkness held something more, some slight twist of skin or tooth or hair to picture as he sucked my cock, but I’d found nothing.

As I walked to the specified warehouse—an anterior wing in the ungentrified half of the old textile mill complex, no small-batch kudzu kombucha cat cafes to charm or deter me—I reveled in the sheer faggotry of my decision to visit a gloryhole. I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m doing this, as if I really could believe it but almost couldn’t. I imagined a gaggle of big-breasted car saleswomen and Little Miss Greenville Counties and Vanna White’s ogling my advance, saying, We can’t believe you’re doing this either, babe, as if they really couldn’t believe it but almost could.

I nearly tittered, pushing open the rusted double doors to the warehouse, as if I’d never done something lewd before, something sexually indiscreet and technically illegal. I was visiting the gloryhole the way rich white women visited wellness retreats in adult-sized treehouse communities on Hilton Head Island. I was taking time and space for myself, I thought, stepping over a haphazard array of metal beams and picking my way toward the back wall. I could see the hole, a darker darkness in the dark room, a perfect circle cut out of an entirely smooth and sable portion of the wall. I was transforming, I thought, into a sexier, cooler, better version of myself, one I’d most definitely want to fuck if I could. I pushed my jean button out of its loop and fiddled with my cock, already half-hard, and sauntered up to the hole, ready for anything.

* * *

After collecting the hyacinths, Father Brown led us in our twelve steps. We loved this part the most because we could trust in its sameness. The steps never changed, and therein lay their promise, the radiant and gilded rungs of a ladder out of the hole of the Hole’s memory. We’d stand and intone: We admitted we were powerless over the Hole—that our minds had become unmanageable. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves had rendered us unbeautiful. We chose to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him to command the One who had hurt us. We made a searching and fearless formal inventory of ourselves. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our time in the Hole. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of desire. We humbly asked Him to remove our fear of dissolution. We made a list of all the fantasies we had harbored and became willing to make peace with abandoning them all. We made direct sacrifices of such fantasies whenever possible, except when to do so would injure ourselves or others. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were lustful properly admitted it. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for deliverance from the Hole and the power to carry that out. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to warn others about the Hole, and to deny the Hole in all our affairs.

* * *

I pulled out my cock and waited for the magic to happen. Or, more specifically, I rocked back and forth on the balls of my feet and waited for the lusty little bellboy of perverse sexual encounters to beckon or nod or knock on the gloryhole’s frame and somehow indicate when and how quickly I should sink myself into its dark interior. I didn’t want to catch AzzAzzel unawares; I didn’t want to be rude. I imagined he must have a cocksucking ritual. A special White Barn candle, maybe sage and green tea, that he lit in the mysterious hovel of the other side of the warehouse wall, or a Spotify playlist whose rhythms he massaged into his patrons’ members with his tongue. I looked into the hole, hoping I might catch just a morsel of form with which to tantalize myself. At first, my gaze skittered over the black-on-black uncertainty of the hole, its outline barely distinguishable from the wall. After a full cock-handed minute, tacky globes of precum trickling over my knuckles, I almost gave up—not just on my peeping search-and-rescue mission, but on the entire notion of successfully visiting a gloryhole. Could I really reconnect with my desire to be desired, my desire to desire in others what they desired in me, in the splintery circumference of a hand-hewn hole in what would likely become a vegan astrology small press? My cock wilted from the existential pressure, but as I looked away from the hole, I saw something: a twist of topaz light, small as the sheep a fairy might count as it fell asleep.

I furrowed my brow and studied the hole, suddenly privy to the extreme intricacy of its hue. What I’d previously perceived as a scrim of unchanging darkness I now recognized as a spectrum of kaleidoscopic forms: weird sisterhoods of violet pentagons linked at their fifth points, algal blooms that would vanish in pure sunlight, the papery blush of a thousand trees shedding wirrah after wirrah of thin black bark under a heavy new moon. My ears filled with the low sibilant thrum of fool’s gold on deer antlers, as if a circle of ancestral hunters timed their glint-heavy strikes to the pattern of my breathing, trying to light the most terrible fire in the world. The wind—tumbling and traipsing through the gaps of the warehouse walls—sidled up to my forearms and shins, lapping against my small waves of black body hair.

I felt myself on the precipice of the most incredible feeling available to faggot-kind, the pearl at the heart of a world not designed for my love. I stepped toward the hole as if meeting my partner at a debutante ball for future sodomites. I wanted to be inside the hole so badly, so completely. My entire self wanted to be pulled through my cock’s angry cyclopean eye and into a world beyond imagining. I wanted to give myself fully to the thrall of the hole with no thought of what was already becoming my other life, the lattes and loan debt and lawnmowers of my days before. As I watched myself disappear into its maw, I closed my eyes and saw a white hand, its index finger hooked as if propping up a delicate chin.

* * *

After our first few sessions, we all agreed that the winds in that place—the winds in the Hole—were the worst part of the entire experience. Although everyone endured something different, we all felt the winds. Not the timelessness, so much as its chafing on the skin, or what could be called skin. Not the darkness, so much as its tongue, lapping the most secret parts of our bodies. Not Azazel, but his gaze, a zephyr applied with a fright pipette, right between the eyes.

* * *

I couldn’t explain the how of what happened, but I could explain the what. When AzzAzzel wrapped his lips around my cock, a splendiferous wash of liquid velvet, I nearly sagged against the wall, overcome with a pleasure I never knew my body could produce. It was as if AzzAzzel unspooled the chromosomal thread of desire itself from somewhere deep inside my body, a place both of me and apart from me, and wound it over my skin. I tried to track the rhythms of his movement, but I couldn’t follow for more than a few seconds. I wanted to lose myself in the version of myself to which he delivered me, one capable of otherworldly ecstasy.

I pushed myself even deeper into the hole, and when I opened my eyes, I found myself somewhere else, tethered to what I understood as my body by the slick metronome of AzzAzzel’s mouth, but otherwise floating, loose, un-constituted. I tried to blink but realized I couldn’t. I tried to lick my lips but felt the impulse stutter on its way to the idea of having lips and a tongue. I didn’t have eyes anymore but existed, rather, as a partial distillation of my own ability to see, and I supposed the same went for the rest of my senses. I tried to slap my arms or legs or stomach, to draw the bilious ghost I feared I’d become back into my reliable if occasionally unsatisfactory body, and found that I couldn’t, that I didn’t have a stomach or a hand with which to slap it. Panic mounted inside me—or I mounted inside panic—a foam of pure feeling sluiced over the series of surfaces I considered myself. One little pink fractal caught sounds, the same blood-bound thrum from before, and a chartreuse bowl seemed to collect sensation and ferry it to other glassy constellations through small white tubes. A circle of wand-like protrusions snagged little raptures of visual data, impressions of color and form and shape, then garbled them into a dark attar that dripped continually onto a long, low, corrugated plate, never filling or draining. What I would have called the feeling of AzzAzzel’s mouth on what I would have called my cock persisted, as if cradling these strange menageries of being. I latched onto it, a cerulean cloud billowing and contracting with the rhythm of his mouth, as the only thing with which to recognize myself. I didn’t know what to do about what I’d become, and I didn’t know what it meant to not know something or to be able to do something even if I did know it. I tried to generate the sensation of squeezing my eyes shut, and I focused my energy on AzzAzzel’s tongue, and when I “opened” my “eyes,” I was standing in a garden and staring at an incredibly old but beautiful man.

* * *

Father Brown described Azazel opaquely, as if doling out liturgical porridge at a group home for the sexually otherworldly. Azazel, he would say, is the cause of human sin. Azazel, he would assert, is the jeweler of human demise, handing out baubles to anyone with a penny and a wish.

* * *

Something was wrong about his face, and something was right about my body. I let these facts bloom and twine into each other until I felt newly stabilized in what seemed to be my original body. I wiggled my fingers and toes, I blinked three times in a row, and I twitched my cock. I found everything in working order, and I didn’t want to question my miraculous presence in myself as myself lest I unfurl into a collection of cosmic pinwheels.

I studied the old man’s face. Something about its arrangement was fucked up in an incredibly precise way, as if God had selected the most beautiful features from a hundred faces and lovingly, carefully, slowly blended them into a single face, at once radiant with the minty verve of youth and lined with the grace of an aging queen who started moisturizing at sixteen and never stopped. His eyes were entirely black, and I quickly looked away, loathe to traipse through his gallery of non-Euclidean torment again. Waves of creamy fabric tumbled over his body, obscuring and suggesting in turn, and I struggled to pinpoint anything definite about what he might look like. Was that mass at the robe’s lower center an enormous bulge? Before I could even pucker my lips into the precursor of the “w” in “where the fuck am I?”, the old man spoke.

“Where do you think you are, boy?” His eyes, previously trained on some point beyond me, swiveled to my face, and I winced and glanced away. He raised his hand, peppered with a clutch of blue veins, and gestured to his left. I turned and surveyed his little stretch of beyond.

We stood in a small clearing coated in a luscious and grassy pelt—like the pinky nail of God, I thought, pristinely manicured by solar winds. A tiny golden cap sat on the tip of each blade of grass, fashioned by small and industrious golden beetles in the hour between waking and sleeping in the human world. The human world? I thought, alarmed by the casual scrim between myself and what I imagined to be my home. But before I could pursue the feeling, I felt the boorish string of human attention pulled taut from my toes to my scalp, and I raised my head to look into the distance.

Concentric rings of flowers swirled as far as I could see: forsythia and jessamine and marigolds, sunflowers and wisteria and daylilies, gloxinia and pennywort and saxifrage, arranged in clades of lush hues, the rings counting the years since the birth of beauty itself as a concept and a thing to be seen, touched, loved. The blossoms stirred ever so slightly in a breeze that seemed to issue from the old man himself, as if his every shift of weight elicited an equal and opposite tremble from the pollen-clad hearts of every flower in existence.

I tried to imagine a world beyond this one but couldn’t. Or, rather, I felt that I could, but I didn’t want to.

The old man flicked his ring finger and my head swung toward him. Suddenly, I wanted to become the lustful apogee of calamitous beauty, a paragon of grace so imperious as to topple even the suggestion of another world’s mountain. I wanted the old and beautiful man to fuck me into myself, deeper and deeper, until I molted from my sad, blemished, erratically hairy skin and cracked into the juicy cortex of devotion itself.

The old man nodded, granting me permission to speak.

“Heaven?” I asked. “Is this heaven?”

The old man guffawed—I couldn’t describe it any other way. His jaw opened as if forcibly unclenched by an efficient gargoyle, and a series of short and blocky slabs of sound rang through the air, like congealed moonlight slapping the meat pocket on a lunch tray.

“Not quite, boy,” he said, studying the cool daggers of his nails. “No, this isn’t heaven. But it is paradise.” He paused, expecting a question, and then continued. “In my garden, you can have anything you want, be anything you want.”

“How did I get here?” Spurts of sugary dust rose from the crooning faces of this realm’s flowers. In their queer orbits I saw the decadent fractals of past and future empires: skyscrapers in ruins, the ocean truly dark and Merlot-sour, whores of Babylon seated in high-tech pink plush gaming chairs, crushing teenagers at MMORPGs.

“You came through the hole,” he said. “Or, you came, but you didn’t cum—we haven’t gotten that far.” The salt-slick pulse of his tongue on my cock, I realized, had diminished, now the heartbeat of a small mammal on another plane, trickling through a hole in the portico of space and time.

“Do you want to stay with me?”

I nodded, unable to speak. I felt privy to the turning of something enormous, a zone inside of my idea of space itself swiveling on a hinge I’d never noticed before but couldn’t possibly ignore now.

“All you have to do is say my name. I believe you already know it.”

I imagined he expected befuddlement, a disco-dark otter slowly and unsurely fondling the cosmic heft of being and having anything. But I’d already reached a critical conclusion: this was exactly what I wanted.

“I’ll stay, Azazel,” I said. “When can we start?”

* * *

Of course, we all did our own research about Azazel after Father Brown gave us the name of the thing that had become so central to our understanding of our place in the world, or beyond it. We learned that Father Brown had not deluded us. Although man had selected himself for sin in the garden, Azazel gave him the trinkets with which to consummate it: warfare, eyeshadow, witchcraft. Outside of our AA warehouse, we approached the world with fear. If Azazel was truly the progenitor of sinful artifacts, might any small and errant thing—a Nyx Cosmetics jumbo white eyeliner pencil, a Wendy’s double-Baconator, an heirloom butterfly knife—not be detritus from the Hole, a way for Azazel to exert his hold on us? When we presented Father Brown with these concerns, he calmed us, promising that Azazel, due to certain limitations of quantum barriers and metaphysical knobs, bits, pieces, and bolts, couldn’t actually leave the Hole. His world and our world remained fundamentally separate, connected only at the Hole’s single point. This, he reminded us, was why we needed AA. We needed to train ourselves not to remember objects as they were before, but to create new futures for objects as we might know them, fresh and dewy and promising.

* * *

I never would have guessed how simple it would be to become the hunkmaiden of sheer and incredible beauty. But nothing, it turned out, could have been simpler, in this world or the old one.

After I said Azazel’s name, the exquisite grasses of his paradise cleft twisted and rose into a king-sized bed, complete with a woven comforter and throw pillow set. Azazel tossed aside his robe and revealed that he did, in fact, have an enormous cock, one of the largest I’d ever seen. It already leaked precum which, when struck by this zone’s eerie light, reflected the essence of my own name, a navy aura overlaid with a coral sheen. Azazel patted a grassy towel placed in the center of the bed. Obedient to the narrative thrust of this fantasy, I mounted the bed and assumed the position: face down, ass up, apparently the same in every astral plane. I hadn’t considered myself a powerbottom in the old world, so I tensed in anticipation of being entered, and tensed more when I realized I was tensing. Azazel placed his hands on my hips and a pulse of calm tingled through my entire body, as if a beautiful woman poured water from an ancient silver demitasse into and over every naked inch of my skin. I could feel my hole relaxing, expanding without loosening, as if I’d been blessed with incredibly flexible yet resilient anal musculature. When Azazel entered me, it felt easy as anything, easy as corn silk fluttering in a summer breeze or the surface of the earth moving three-and-a-half centimeters to the left every year, so dependable and measurable as to merit its own science.

Nothing had ever felt better than Azazel inside my newly refurbished pussy. I’d won every trivia night in every gay bar across America at the same time, and my student debt had vanished, and I’d never ignored emails from my grandmother with links to TEDx talks about the power of the evangelical handshake—or, that’s what it felt like, everything righting itself, everything always already having been right and thus not in need of any righting to be perfect. I arrived perfectly at the perfect center of every perfect thing and became it. I’m blossoming, I thought, the chthonic rhythm of Azazel’s thrusts timed to the very pulse of energy and matter through and around the earth, into a beautiful young center of the universe.

Azazel made no sound as he fucked me—he didn’t moan or grunt or even breathe—but I could tell when he was about to finish. We were suddenly tethered in a way that defied all sense, linked and unlinked, two sides of the same coin and an improbable sphere on which the men decorating each side of the coin met and passionately fucked. When Azazel came, I became fuller, suddenly less lacking in a critical mass I’d never known to worry over before but which now commanded all of my attention. The substance of beauty and desirability itself glutted in the deepest parts of me.

After he finished, Azazel ceremoniously dismounted and reclined on the bed, his toes curling and uncurling, his long white hair coiling over his shoulders.

“I think you’re going to like it here,” he said.

* * *

We dedicated ourselves to beauty in all its forms as evidence of God’s provenance over all things seen and unseen. We strove to recast beauty as a form of Godly safety beyond the Hole, a glimpse of the true paradise with which He blessed us. After reciting our twelve steps, we each shared something beautiful we’d seen during the previous week. Jim always said the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen was the particular orange color of the rocks in his exotic fish tank, and Mark always offered his wife as an example of beauty incarnate, and many times we considered throwing them out of the group for deliberately ignoring the rules. Every weekly contribution had to be different, and we couldn’t pick a person as the most beautiful thing we’d seen. Father Brown was always quick to remind us that we could pick a part of a person, an especially sumptuous set of eyebrows or an exquisite cat eye manicure, but not the person themselves, as that would defeat the purpose of finding the personhood of God in all beautiful things. A video of an emerald boa shedding its skin into a tub of warm water; the font on the side of a Dollar Tree bag, its infinite ribbon of Thank-You’s striking in their visual elegance; the mewling of a feral cat upon discovering its customary front-porch milk dish empty. These things and more we collected for God, to remind ourselves Who made beauty and where He made it.

* * *

By the third time Azazel finished inside me—which, I assumed, had occurred later in the day of my arrival in his garden, although time had stripped down to its sparsest components—I’d decided I wanted to stay with him forever. In the old world, I always slunk straight to the bathroom after getting fucked, holding Cottonelle vigils for the inevitable plink of blood into the toilet bowl. But in the new world, I fucked like a champ, like my body had literally been made for absolutely nothing but getting fucked repeatedly by the biggest and most beautiful cock in the universe. I relished in my hole-dom, each session a minor flex on the old versions of myself that peeled away, each whimper a record of my connection to the part of myself that I found most desirable, the lace and citrine vortex of faggotry in my heart of hearts that cried out to please others.

After seven or eight sessions, Azazel said he wanted to try something different—that he wanted to test and revise the limits of what I understood myself to be capable of. I’d grown accustomed, in the short or long time that I’d spent in his garden, to what quickly became a loving routine: our fucking, our lounging, our studying of flowers from afar, rarely speaking, but doing so with tenderness. I hadn’t yet wondered what exactly Azazel got from this arrangement other than a living fuck-toy—surely there must be more? So, rambunctious, eager, and perpetually horny, I consented to a series of successively stranger sex acts. I wanted to please him so deeply that he never felt the need to be pleased again.

First, Azazel snapped his fingers, and a blanket of woven grass covered my entire body. He guided me onto my stomach, waited ten seconds, then tore a hole in the blanket above my ass, fucking me, I thought, the way priests fuck barely-legal Mormon boys in special-interest pornos. He gagged me with a marvelously soft golden cloth, hogtied my hands and feet, and fucked me on my back, a voracious prized pig. Azazel snapped his fingers again and we floated ten feet into the air, the flowers tilting upwards as if greeting our novel flight, and took me through a mid-air tantric obstacle course of thrillingly perverse sex acts that would put a Folsom Street version of American Ninja Warrior to shame. He snapped his fingers and we turned into lithe gazelles. He mounted me, and my little gazelle knees shook and clacked against each other. He snapped his fingers, and five flowers writhed and contorted into the vestal guises of leather daddies, thick leafy mustaches brambling over their upper lips, pale green cocks dangling like freshly cleaned roots, legume instruments of sexual torture unfurling in many-petaled glory from their thorny palms. He bade them take turns with me, and I opened my body completely to their touches. The more of Azazel I took in, the closer to myself I felt. I moved closer and closer to the deep and ancient movements of pleasure itself, their loops and whorls and gyres tracing themselves across the textures of feeling and movement in an infinitely complex yet supremely available pattern—the pattern, I realized, of my very existence. My body’s relationship to time, tenuous already in the garden, dissolved, the sex now unceasing, modified only by a shift in position.

* * *

Everyone agreed that our time in the Hole proved something universal about us, regardless of the minor and major discrepancies between our individual accounts of its terrors. We all wanted, more than anything, to be desired by that which we found desirable—to be, in short, beautiful, or responsible for beauty. Thus, as is the logic of these things, we found ourselves, more and more often, having casual sex with each other at improbable times and in improbable spaces. Leland rented out the greasy employee lounge in the back of the Piggly Wiggly for after-hours trysts, and Blake and Jacob gunned for threesomes with any member of our gospel-adjacent faction of married men, to varying success. Sex with each other came easier than sex with other people after the Hole. We didn’t need to explain our reticence to be licked in certain places, our shyness at certain colors of light or indoor temperatures, our extreme distaste for any form of natural oil as lubricant. We built cruciform lean-tos of sexual expression, a world within a world so far from the world of the Hole as to render it nearly nonexistent.

* * *

In the world of extreme eroticism Azazel created, I came to two critical realizations. I didn’t want to love anything about anyone else, and I didn’t think I’d ever wanted to; I wanted to love myself. I’d thought I needed to find myself in other people, but heaven was finding other people in myself, revising my understanding of myself to include everything I might once love. In my new juggernaut unit of being, I saw a truly biblical tableaux of beneficence: the lion drinking from a bubbling brook with the lamb, three coral snakes sunning in the imperious antlers of a stag, my conservative cousins deleting their Facebook accounts and volunteering at an LGBTQ+ youth home.

Azazel, on the other hand, seemed determined to break me. I came to understand, through the formula of positions through which he put me, that I couldn’t have been the first or only person to have ended up in the garden. Azazel must have sampled other human boys before. Although this blatant reminder of my own expendability would have wounded me in the old world, I felt only curiosity in this one. So confident of my position as the center of the desiring universe, I only wanted to know what exactly Azazel desired from me, if not this series of sexual tests in and of themselves.

As time passed—or didn’t—Azazel’s face, previously a Rushmore’d screen of piqued but stoic interest, began to curdle and turn, his frustration etching itself deeper and deeper into his jowls. In his desperation, he took to whipping and tying and edging me, human practices bereft of their cosmic power, and after the fourth hour of tickling the wondrously sensitive tip of my roped-up cock, I spat out my ball-gag and leaned forward, to the best of my bound ability.

“What do you actually want from me?”

He stopped, voluminous white feather arrested mid-tickle, and looked at me, the shapes in his black eyes recoiling on themselves. “What do I want from you?”

“Yes,” I said, shaking my hands out of his knots—shocked, almost, that I could foil his magical bindings, but also unsurprised. Something was changing between us. Whatever tide on which his power flowed was reversing its course. I didn’t think anyone had ever asked him what he wanted. His desire, as the de facto texture of this world, had never been drawn into a form of scrutiny by which it might distinguish itself from the desire of his playboy, and I wasn’t sure it could withstand the pressure.

“Why did you bring me here? Why all this kinky shit? Not that I’m upset about it.”

He paused, his eyes whirring between deeper and softer darks, as if reviewing the handbook for existential sex at the edge of the world. “I want you to acknowledge that I’m the source of all of your pleasure. That you’re not beautiful, inasmuch as you’re, well…a human boy. I’m making you beautiful, showing you beauty. I made this world, and I brought you here.”

I frowned, unsettled by his sudden ire. “But I am beautiful. You made me this way, sure, but you needed something to start with, right? A blueprint?”

An incredibly deep dark flickered across his eyes. “I can’t imagine you want things to get worse for you.”

“Worse?”

“Worse. Beryl particle chains, bloodletting, the virile leeches of the Gehenna floodplain. There’s always something worse. Until you admit that I’m doing all this, not you.”

“You think I think I’m calling the shots here? You’ve literally fucked me more times than I can count.”

Azazel sucked his teeth and rolled his eyes. “Yes, be that as it may. I know that you think this is all about you. But it’s about me.”

I leaned back on the grass bed and considered Azazel’s injunction. I’d understood our interactions as a fount of poppers and precum and silicon lubricant that would never run dry and that we’d built together, with the power of our desire for each other. But Azazel’s threat shattered my notion of our sexual infinity. For him, we were buzzing toward an end point, and I didn’t want to consider what might happen if he grew bored of me after I admitted that he was, in fact, in charge.

But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that he wasn’t actually in charge, that he’d given so much of himself to me and revealed so much of desire’s fretwork to me that I could, if I chose, disassemble and reassemble the concept of desire itself, the most important and frightening tinker-toy in existence. If I wanted to, I could snap my fingers and change every flower in this garden into a miniature gramophone playing Ariana Grande’s “Into You,” or dye Azazel’s hair a bright, toxic pink, or shift Saturn three or four hundred feet to the right in its orbit. I’d come out on the other side of the hole inside the hole of my own desire, and I didn’t want to leave. I had a different idea.

“Ok, fine. You’re in charge. But could I have something? Before you take things to the next level?” Azazel pursed his lips, incredibly plump and smooth for what I imagined to be his very old age, and said, “Yes.”

I nodded, smiled, and stood up from the bed. I knew I needed to act quickly, before Azazel realized that I’d reworked the logic of his world. I closed my eyes and imagined Azazel as I’d first seen him: austere, Italianesque, robe billowing with uncertain anatomy. To remain both myself and the desire with which I engaged myself, I needed to become something other than myself—or, more precisely, to draw something else into the lux zone of what it meant to be myself. I concentrated on Azazel’s image, his shoulders stiff and unyielding, as if expecting a succession of white crows to land and whisper secrets into his ears. I dove beneath the image of Azazel I’d conjured into the star-dark columbarium of feeling, the cloacal slit from which sensation itself first stumbled, mire-slick and eager, into the world before the world. I drew on the gases and lights and textures I found there, condensing them into a beautiful and brilliant circle at the center of my being.

I knew my trick had worked when I heard Azazel gasp, then cough, then spit onto his grassy bed. When I opened my eyes and looked down at myself, I saw a mirror image of Azazel: the same robe (complete with enormous and suggestive bulge), the same pale forearms, the same long and beautiful fingernails. I put a hand to my neck and felt coils of silky hair beneath my fingertips, and I could tell from the look on the first Azazel’s face that I’d successfully completed my transformation. We stood in mutual awe of what I had done like characters caught in a time loop on a cheesy science fiction show, tentatively raising a hand and seeing that same hand—yet also, necessarily, a different one—raised in front of us. Our reverence for what I had done was so total as to render the act beyond questioning.

As myself-as-Azazel, I knew, however cheeky, there could only be one of us in the garden. I stretched toward the frightening shapes in my eyes and selected the most perfect: a circle. I cast it outside of my body, but within myself—because the garden was me, and I was the garden—and a deep and dark zone opened a few feet above the ground. The first Azazel, trembling, stepped away from the hole, but I snapped my fingers, and he rooted in place. I snapped them again, and his form shifted, his features alternately shrinking and growing until he resembled my body as it had first appeared in the garden: lanky, hairy, pimply, but beautiful, in a pitiable way, the kind of body someone with a similar body could love into the ground. I snapped my fingers for a third time, and he tumbled headfirst into the hole, and it closed, slowly, then not so slowly, over the place where he had stood.

I snapped again, and a plush chair sprang up from the ground just in time to catch me as I settled into it. The flowers, for the first time, were still. In the distance, I thought I saw the peak of a mountain, but I couldn’t be sure. And I felt something I’d never noticed about Azazel, a final secret revealed, finally, by his absence: a pair of wings, folded under the skin of my back, beautiful and hidden.

* * *

He was the first newcomer we’d had in nearly six months. Tall, with a diminutive crown of brown hair, acne dotting his chin like a charm, he skittered into the warehouse five minutes before the meeting and immediately sat down in a folding chair, hands under his ass, eyes set on the center of the circle. We didn’t think anything of his behavior at the time—our hands full of marked-down Lofthouse cookies, our minds full of thoughts of each other’s bodies. By the time Father Brown played the “Shimmer” ringtone on his aux-corded iPhone three times in a row to signify the meeting’s official start, we considered him a commonplace newness, another item on a checklist of items which we approached with a comfortable blend of zeal and distance. We dipped our hyacinths and recited our twelve steps—the newcomer mumbling the words off a laminated yellow pamphlet Father Brown had given him—and then we turned toward the newcomer, ready for his story. When Father Brown explained that he should tell us, in as much detail as possible, what he’d seen in the Hole, the newcomer nodded and removed his hands from beneath his thighs. He sat up straight and angled his head forward. His eyes scanned each of us, their entire surface dark and bumbling with strange shapes we felt we recognized but couldn’t quite place, like queer jetsam from last week’s dreams. Something about the newcomer made us want to listen to him, to devote ourselves to the tiniest details of his story. We leaned in, mouths slightly open, even Father Brown on the edge of his seat, although something flittered across his face every few seconds, a recognition that disappeared just as quickly into his skin. The newcomer smiled, and his eyes darkened. He opened his mouth and began to tell his story.