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Delta Diary 1996 (Day Two: The Crucified Man)

Sep 13, 2022

Reposted with the author's permission.

I awake at five thirty, Saturday morning, with my teeth chattering. The two Mexican blankets I brought from home are no match for the chill. I stagger into the bathroom for a shower, praying for hot water, and mercifully the scalding cone of spray begins to warm, then steam, then fill my lungs with welcome heat. I have a great shower and don’t get out until I am warmed to the core. My pants feel like sheet ice going on but the shower was enough to tough it out. Frazier and I share mess detail at 830, so I give him a nudge. Frazier elects for more sleep. “Wake me up two minutes before our shift.” he mumbles before going back to sleep.

I stumble out into the early light and find the limousine from yesterday parked right outside our cabin, end to end with Frazier’s van. Looks like its owners are staying next door. I walk down to the Command Center and find two shivering leatherman standing watch, huddled by the fireplace. Their shift relief never arrived. I offer to take over their watch, but they shake their heads forlornly at the sight of my white badge.

Flipping through my orientation package, I curse under my breath as I realize that Scrotal Inflation was last night. I take out my sketch pad and do a half hour of rough sketches listening to the conversations happening around me.

Fraizer arrives for his shift about one minute early and we take our positions on the chow line. I’m serving bacon: three rashers per man. Frazier, to my right, has the more complex duty of slinging links and pancakes. After we have served every man, we fix plates for ourselves and eat. Ted rises to speak. “Were keeping announcements brief,” he repeats before announcing the Fetish Flea and the afternoons events including an SM history talk. Stanford Hall is closed for the remainder of the run. Also! Because of the cold, scrotal inflation has been rescheduled from last night to four o’clock, tomorrow afternoon.”

YES! We will get to see scrotal inflation after all. We are all very happy as we amble out onto the deck outside the dining hall for the Flea Market. I am still hoping to grab some suspension cuffs or single tail at a good price. On folding card tables I see floggers by Sarah Lashes at list prices, and back issues of Checkmate sold at a discount. Flipping through a pair of old Checkmates I find a great safety overview that will be perfect for the SM beginners packet I am working on for Black Rose, and I vow to speak to Harold about repurposing some of the text. The two uniformed young men man from “The Academy” have a booth of their own where they are showing an SM porno - military barracks discipline scene = on a huge TV screen. Even Jack has his own table covered with metal bondage equipment and has already made the transition to full carnival barker mode.

“Step right up gentlemen!”, Jack calls out with a big smile. “Can’t separate the customer from his money ‘less he sees the merchandise!”

Dazzling the curious, with detailed information about each piece, Jack rattles off the nationality, manufacture, availability, collectability, and other personal anecdotes about each piece. How does he keep it all straight, I marvel. This is his hobby. I buy a “Come along” a wrist choker chain: standard issue police tool in what country I don’t remember, Jack tells me, until amnesty international got involved. It’s marked at twenty-five and I hand over a twenty and a five, wondering if he’ll give me a discount (He doesn’t). I hope Frazier wears his negotiating cap while discussing his fee for building Jack’s Castle.

Luckily for us, Joe, the guy from last night with the pierced cock, has a table of old gear with impossibly low prices. I buy a pair of leg restraints for 5$, one of two gas masks priced at $15, and pass on the twenty-five-dollar hood even though they list for ten times that. Frazier cruises by to ask if he can stash some magazines in my backpack. When he sees my new gasmask, he asks where I got it and what I paid. He vanishes into the crowd and when he returns, he has a gasmask of his own.

But no whips and no suspension cuffs! Looks like I’m visiting the Leatherman. Jack and Ken already have whips of their own, so Frazier and I return to the Leatherman’s warm interior. In part because of the difficulty I have already encountered using my five foot whip indoors, I am looking for a shorter model. Out here in mother nature, there is plenty of room to swing a long whip but in my bedroom at home and in most private dungeons, even a four-foot whip can be a problem. You really need six feet in front, five feet in back to throw a four-foot whip. So when I find they stock a three-foot model I get excited. And not just one. They have four different whips in the three-foot length! The salesman warns me that the three footers are actually trickier than longer whips, but confirms that they are more practical in a private dungeon setting. I arrive at the register same time as Frazier who has picked out a beautiful four-footer. As we are leaving, a young man with a white badge intercepts him.

“Thats a nice whip you got there” says the stranger.

“Thank you”, purrs Frazier, in his silken baritone.

“I’m Gene”.

Gene joins us for the walk to our cabin and before we even arrive, Frazier has negotiated his first whipping scene of the run.

Frazier and Ken decide to take naps. I don’t know where Jack is so I decide to take in a rope workshop and learn how to execute a nifty chest harness on a dapper British gentleman named Graham (who flew from London to be here). When I’m finished, Bob, the instructor, barks “Good. Now show HIM how to do it.” I’m pretty sure I won’t get it right but, somehow, I succeed. I also get paired up next with Johan a handsome yellow haired young man in jack boots, chaps, and a military cap looking inevitably like an SS storm trooper (I can’t remember what tie the instructor has us do). For hogties I am paired with Richard who has pale skin, pale blue eyes and wears a black rubber vest and matching rubber cap. He tells me later that he is the current leader of Men of Rubber or MR. Afterwards, when he sees my sketch pad, he asks if he can leaf through it and seems genuinely interested in my drawings.

I run into Jack on the way to lunch and we get in the chowline together. We start talking about the educational project Black Rose leadership has been wrestling with for the last two years. As good as the Tuesday night demos and lectures can be, there is no substitute for actual hands-on experience. No one ever learned to swim going through a PowerPoint deck, after all. Black Rose has known about this problem for some time and has tried to address it by offering what we call our “Dominants School.”: The Dominants School is a multi-evening hands-on overview of various SM techniques where students learn by actually doing. We’ve only offered it three times, each one about a year apart. I was a student for the first two, with Jack as an instructor. At the third, a few months back, I had graduated to the teaching staff myself. All three courses were well attended, and there was a big demand for more. I tell Jack the the format of Bob’s bondage demo is s exactly what we’re looking for and as we continue to talk the gentleman in front of us introduces himself as Gil Kesler, He is about sixty, five eight in workboots, and serves as Education Director for the Gay Men’s SM Activists or GMSMA. He says he has been holding an immersive hands on training program for the last ten years. We invite him and his friend to join us for lunch and for the next hour Gil us all about the GMSMA’s School For Novice Top’s a program.

Jack and I listen in astonishment while Gil describes his program: eleven four hour work sessions each on a different subject, on Sundays, every other weekend. The mummification talk he’ll give tomorrow with Michael H is one of the modules in his course. He has notes, handouts, lists of supplies, all of which he offers to share when we return to civilization. I am absolutely floored. This is better than anything we have on the drawing board at home. I resolve to write it all down as a pitch to present to Rose, the education coordinator for Black Rose as soon as we are home.

Ted lumbers up to the microphone. “There are just a few announcements. Because of the cold, We’re going to need twenty or so slaves today at 2:00 PM to move the gear in Stanford Hall, up to the Girl’s Gymnasium. We have about ten whip snapping tops to coordinate, so all you slaves report for duty.

Saturday afternoon is the SM History talk. I remember open expressive faces and melodious voices, telling tales of our past. I take 8 pages of notes, cursing my slow, clumsy scrawl and the brisk pace of conversation. Ted, whose been doing the announcements leads the conversation and goes first. He describes the lives of closeted gay men in the post war years, when homosexuality itself was illegal and what he did to manage risk. Due to his government job, Ted couldn’t spend time hanging out at the local gay bar, but he came up with a clever ploy. He befriended the bar boy, who would phone him whenever someone showed up in denim or leather. And it worked! It shaved Ted’s exposure time down a theoretical minimum. Even so, one night, moving swiftly through the crowd, he came face to face with the church organist. It could have curtains, but the organist handled it like a pro. “Oh I see your wife let you out tonight” he purred before vanishing into the crowd. “Its great to be Episcopalian.”, Ted laughs.

Harold goes next, describing getting out of the war in 1946 postwar Norfolk and what he calls “the motorcycle thing: Young men with hard dicks and a lot of imagination.” Harold describes frequenting the gay bars downtown, all mafia owned by the way, and having to park five blacks away because the cops knew to write down license plates of cars parked outside gay establishments. “Main Street, was where it all happened” says Harold, “They tried to clean it up but they couldn’t. Eventually they had to tear the whole damn thing down.” He talks of the loneliness and isolation of growing up ugly, unpopular and queer, (I am stunned to hear he ever felt this way since he is so confident and charismatic today). He describes his adolescence as “eight years of hell”

Bob is also ex-military, and he knew Norfolk too. “Kinsey estimated 8% of all men are gay.” He begins, “This sounds right to me because out of sixteen million servicemen in the war that means about a million were queer. And I know there was a million of them because they were all in Norfolk.” The crowd roars with laughter. He describes the networks of the old days: Gays moving up in military rank, becoming indispensable during the fight against Hitler (Look at Alan Turing! Look at the WACs!). Then, after the war was won, Bob describes how they became expendable again. And if you had HS on your discharge you were denied your GI Bill of Rights. You couldn’t even get a respectable job. This happened to women in the military workforce too, as “Rosie the Riveter” was given the sack and told to get married and start having babies.

The next speaker is John from LA, a handsome, silver haired man with a trim body and a boyish face. John is a full generation younger the other speakers but has still lived a full life in the SM community. He names a top fashion designer (Pierre Cardin) whom he claims kept him as his slave for four years in a private castle in France. John was also a contributor to Larry Townsend’s famous “The Leatherman’s Handbook”: the first ever first hands-on guide to the practice of SM (he was one of the 12 men mentioned in the dedication). There was some grumbling among Larry's fellow tops over his decision to reveal the previously unrecorded secrets of SM technique. The bickering stopped once the deluge of bottoms began pouring into the scene, each clutching a copy of Larry’s book. John goes on to describe getting arrested in the legendary bust of the slave auction at the Mark 4 baths in 1975 - an event I read about in a novel published twenty years ago. John was the second slave on the auction block, that night, just before the cops swarmed in.

John then jumps forward to the End of Leather as we knew it. The end started small: a weird local news story in the spring of 1981. A freak contagion had broken out among a few dozen young gay men in LA, New York, and San Fran. Mysterious red spots and a bad cough that grew worse, and worse, and worse. And then everywhere had it. And then everyone started dying. The American plague, the tidal wave of death that murdered an entire generation of gay men. John’s friends in the SM community were hit especially hard. He had known 6 of the 12 men listed in the “Leatherman’s Handbook“ dedication. Today he is the only survivor.

Someone asks about first time SM experiences and Harold tells the crowd about his first bar pickup “two losers who couldn’t get laid, going home together.” He even remembers the guy’s name: John C, a leather smith “still lurking on the outskirts of the scene” who “single-handedly made studded belts fashionable. The smell of the glue knoc ked you flat when you walked through his front door.” Harold led John through a mock execution. “And the moment that he died in the scene, he came.” Harold’s pauses as I scribble in my pad, his gaze settling on me like the sights of a high-power rifle. “I’m not sure how much of this I want to see in print”, he drawls.

But a young man interrupts, his voice taut with emotion. “Someone needs to be taking all this down. Someone needs to write this or it will all be forgotten.” I’ll think of him later as I try to decipher my woefully incomplete scrawls.

For me, the high point of the afternoon is Charles who describes a different sort of gay life: one scrambled by dependance on alcohol and drugs. He presents himself as a drunk and a screw up whose early experiments with SM were shaped by inebriation and a nihilistic sense of “why the fuck not.” It’s hard to believe any of this looking at him now, articulate and smart, with alert, thoughtful eyes. He makes a passing reference to some articles in Checkmate and I realize that he is the guy who wrote the serialized history of SM that I have been following for the past year. He describes going home with strangers and cruising Central Park, not just the Ramble, but other dark corners of the park as well where he found lots of sadomasochistic action. He describes braving the dangers of muggers, marauding teenage hoodlums, and homicidal religious fanatics. When the criminals were busy elsewhere – there were raids by law enforcement. He describes one night when the Ramble was suddenly pierced by floodlights, cops in dune buggies, bellowing electronic voices even helicopters with searchlights “It was like Apocalypse Now” he says.

Charles remembers Stonewall dimly as just another boozy night in the Village. But as the weeks went by it became clear that the riots were gaining recognition as a sort of cultural milestone. One night a few months afterwards, Charlse was in a leatherbar and the question arose about what eventual impact Stonewall might have on Leather. Not much, was the consensus opinion. “This won’t change anything”, a friend told Charlse “We have our culture. Our leather bars. Our networks. Vanilla straights have never accepted us and they never will. At least here in New York, we already have what we want. Liberated Drag queens? Nelly sweater queers? Do we even want to be united with them?”

“And he was right!”, someone interrupts “We still don’t have leadership. Twenty five years later and we’re still split into a bunch of warring factions: the activists, Guppies, closeted gay men among the power elite - married to women, Drag queens, leathermen, men of color on the downlow, Bis, hustlers, the Christopher clones, the NAMBLA Men. . . We still don’t have the means to speak with one voice.”

But Charlse goes on to explain that he and his buddy were wrong about Stonewall. That unplanned riot of bitchy drag queens - mostly poor, mostly brown and black, mostly really, really young - ended up shaking the leather community to its black, bull hide core. After Stonewall, queer men and women started coming out in droves, way, way more than they ever had. Then they started organizing to fight for their rights. Soon, police harassment of gay bars stopped going unreported. The farcical laws against gay people dancing, drinking, or congregating in public spaces started getting overturned. And before long, gay businessmen were able to open and operate their own God damned venues. And that meant leatherbars, too. Within a few short years, there was a leatherbar in pretty much every major American town. And as leatherbars proliferated, the size and strength of the SM/leather community grew and grew. Leather magazines like Drummer, Dungeonmaster and Checkmate appeared along with venders like The Leatherman and Mister S appeared to serve the growing community. It was Leather’s golden age. The Camelot age of Kink. And it didn’t stop until the grim reaper of AIDS came knocking.

I have a brief scribble iat the bottom of one page in my notes that a John from Texas, a member of Disciples of De Sade spoke also. But next numbered page is missing and I am ashamed to admit I remember nothing of whatever he shared that afternoon.

As I wander back to the cabin, it starts sinking in how fragile a thing history really is. I think about John from LA. One minute he is a horny, happy bastard doing his thing without a care in the world. Then one day, he wakes up to find himself the Omega Man: the last surviving witness to what had once been his life and most of his friends dead and gone. Think about it. One minute your in a big thriving, brotherhood of sexual outlaws, the next you are alone, with an address book full of names and numbers you’ll never dial again. Suddenly one irrational thought forces its way forward in front of all the others: I have to turn back and find Harold and make sure I get all of the old Checkmate’s containing Charle’s history articles. Because if I don’t…. I stop walking because I feel the steady building pressure of what feels like a panic attack coming on. Why now wonder? My thoughts freeze to a halt as they sometimes do when this happens. As I come out of it, I have a second panic at the thought that I might lose my notebook: leave it somewhere like the idiot I sometimes am, and never find it again. It feels heavier in my hand, as though the new information has added to its weight. Above my head, a noisy V of honking geese lumbers past.

Back at the Cabin. Screams and roaring voices from the Academy next door. “Another interrogation” Ken explains, yawning. He and Frazier were going to nap after breakfast, but started popping whips instead, soon attracting a curious bottom who finally poked his nose into their cabin’s front door. “We used every tool in the place on him” laughs Frazier, twirling his single tail over his head.

At dinner I realize that I’ve been eating too much. My stomach feels bloated and full. Jay, the owner, takes the mike for an announcement. “Gentlemen. I want to talk to you about butts. I’m seeing way too many butts around the campground. So if you see one, I want you to bend over, pick it up, and throw it in the trash.” The crowd, which had grown silent, erupts into laughter and applause.

The screaming is still going strong when we return from our supper to pack our toybags for the dungeon party up the hill. Ken (who always seems to know what’s going on next door) tells us The Academy are performing one last interrogation. Voices bellow orders, and other voices volley back “SIR! YES SIR!”, followed by wordless screams of what sound like genuine anguish. We carry three bags outside and move out by car (A no-no but it is really cold). Once inside the Girl’s Gym, we see the wisdom of closing Stanford Hall. Half empty yesterday, the gymnasium is jumping with scenes in progress. Suspension, enemas, saran wrappings. It’s like the SM Olympics. There is even a rope crucifixion scene, just starting, or perhaps winding down across the room

Its Saturday night and everyone knows it. Some are dressed thousands of dollars of gleaming custom leather and look amazing. Richard and his companion are head to toe in sparkling black latex. But there is a healthy openness to the dress code that I wasn’t expecting. Some are clad like raunchy Hells Angels, others in Friday business casual. According to Jack, Harold and his plaid shirts stood out like a sore thumb last year, at Inferno. But tonight, he has plenty of company. I even see instances of brown work boots worn with black chaps, an unpardonable breach of protocol according to Guy Baldwin’s recent article on Old Guard customs. Here it’s just another expression of freedom and the richness of leather diversity.

My three companions have all had scene’s already, and by now I’m starting to get interested in doing some play myself. Harold swings by obviously curious about whether I’m up for something. “Have you done anything with clothespins?” Harold drawls.

“No, but I could be up for that.” I respond. “Lemeh see what kind of skin you have” he reaches out and pinches my waist and frowns “Nah, ahm afraid there’s too mush fet.” Someone appears to whisper in his ear, he listens, then excuses himself and vanishes into the crowd.

We all play. Gil appears, solicitous as a minister, and asks if I have ever bottomed to a TENS unit. I have, I tell him. “Well, you haven’t to ME!” he growls with a wicked smile. He draws out one of the new Japanese Tens units we’ve started seeing around Washington. I have one myself. “Know what this is? he asks, obviously quite proud of it. We spar verbally as a lead into my first bottoming of the run. Soon I am on my back on the electrical bed, marked PAIN, Jeans and boxers around my ankles and Gil is playing up his role as Master of the House.

“Have you ever have had a man handle your junk before? Gil asks. I respond no.

“May I touch your junk? Sure why not, I reply.

He grabs my dick like a thousand dollar an hour hooker, an expert balance of squeeze and pull I’ve never felt anything like. A deep unbidden moan come out of my chest and Gil starts laughing. “You het boys are all the same.” We move on to his TENS unit. “What’s that feel like?” grins Gil, mid scene. ”Profile two, between three and three and a half” I answer,. “Shush! You Bossy bottom!” Snarls Gil, raising the amperage and for a moment I see white and scream my lungs out. At one point I look up and see Jack, Ken and Harold standing beside the table and laughing like idiots while I squawk like a tropical bird. Gil wants to find a setting that will make my dick hard but alas it doesn’t happen. I console him afterwards with the fact that I rarely get a hard dick from bottoming – even to the fairest maids - so he shouldn’t feel bad. I climb down from table and get my clothes back on. I ask someone for the time and do a doubletake. Ninety minutes has flown by.

As I wander the busy dungeon floor I notice the crucifixion scene is still underway. Has he been up there the whole time I wonder? I move forward and join the four or five others who are watching. The crucified man is standing with his back is against one of the horizontal parallel bars, coils of thick white ropes binding his arms snuggly to the bar. His feet are free and standing on a narrow, reinforced hardwood dowel. There is a tight length of rope tied to the dowel on both sides of him and looped over his shoulders and tugging him downward. He is obviously in enormous pain. His eyes are wild unfocussed his lower lip hangs slack, With his thin body bearded face, and dark, sad eyes he is eerily Christlike.

One of the men, shaking hands and offering modest thank yous, seems to be the scene’s architect. I complement him on his work and he thanks me, introduces himself as Bob and helps himself to a big, wet smooch. “I didn’t want to do it. It’s not my usual kind of scene, but when the fantasy committee got his request they said I was the only one qualified to pull it off. He wants to go to the end of his will and then just beyond it.”

Bob explains the scene to me and the other men watching, all of us white tags. “A real crucifixion is an execution by suffocation, not a bleed out scene like most people think. And in this crucifixion the real battle will be between the pain in his arms and the pain in his feet. His feet become pretty evenly bruised until there’s no place left he can stand that doesn’t hurt. That rope loop tugging down on his shoulder (I had missed it until he pointed it out) adds about twenty pounds of dead weight. Eventually he wont be able to support himself by his legs, and he will slip off the bar. As soon as he does, he will be clobbered by the pain in his shoulder, so he’ll probably wrench himself back up. But then, it’s back to the pain in his feet! Back and forth. back and forth. Finally, he’ll slip, pain or no pain and won’t be able to lift himself. When that happens he’ll enter the SECOND phase. Crucifixion forces the lungs open so he won’t be able to exhale which means...” He pauses as though expecting me to fill in the missing word. “CO2! It builds up in the lungs. which increased panting so he’ll be hanging there panting real fast it will feel to him like he will die instantly but you can actually live several minutes like that.” I listen dumbfounded, trying to take it all in. I’ve never watched a scene half this intense. “And actually, for the finish I’m going to need some assistance. Would you be willing to help?” he asks suddenly. We all exchange glances and assure him we do.

I take a position to the right of the crucified man. To my right is a man in a black cap with a metal plate stamped with the word “HARDWARE”. We exchange glances and I realize that, even for the brothers of Delta, this scene is a ten on the intensity scale. “Now when I signal, you lift his right leg and I need YOU (Bob indicates me) to support the left. Just hold him up and support him so he can breath and I can get his arms free.” He gestures at the row of sailor’s knots binding each wrist to the crossbar.

And now we wait. And as I wait, I realize that as a means of physical punishment, a crucifixion has a sort of engineering elegance: no one has to do anything to make the pain grow and grow and grow. I watch fascinated as the crucified man twitches and moves his sore feet, walks up and down the dowel with little mincing steps like a wingless bird, tap-dancing on a hotplate. Sometimes he is still, seemingly asleep, and sometimes his face creases with misery and he cries out as if the pain is coming to him in long, slow, alternating waves.

And then this happens: Somewhere within me I feel a dark presence taking shape, rousing itself and slouching forward to savor the feast of suffering before us. It’s a feeling I recognize, and have felt many times before, going all the way back to my troubled childhood. It’s the same gnawing hunger that scared me as a young man and made dating all but impossible during my twenties: the thing that made me believe I was a monster, or a slowly blossoming serial killer. Sadism. Schadenfreud. But, neither word conveyed the force, the gut level punch of the actual feeling. And now I’m face to face with the purest, most naked experience of sadism I’ve ever felt.

My natural gut instinct of empathy and compassion starts to kick in, but I block it and push it down. I invent a quick story to allow me to hate the man on the cross, enough that I can truly revel in his suffering. I envision him as a swaggering Nazi camp guard, or one of the bullies that made a misery of my junior high years. Then I pivot immediately to his payback. I see him hard roped to the cross, like this guy is, with naked and humiliated, feet throbbing, raging with fury, cursing me, swearing vengeance against me and my loved ones if he ever gets free. Then I watch the swagger and fight drain out of him, as his wrists and shoulders throb and his feet are mashed flat. his swagger depleting as he starts begging for relief. And now my pulse quickens, my eyes zoom to hyperfocus, and a metallic bloodtaste appears in my mouth. I am suddenly wide awake: more awake than I’ve been in days. It’s the same breathless excitement of a child hunting insects with a magnifying glass. Within my jeans, my dick begins to move.

My fantasy vision continues, and I watch my imaginary foe proceed through the stages of slow annihilation: impotent rage rising again, then bawling like a silly little girl, then screaming bug eyed terror as death looms up to stare him in the face. The strength in his legs abandoning him until screaming agony in his shoulders and wrists thrusts him upright once again. Freshly brutalized, traumatized further still. Not an inch closer to deliverance.

I snap out of my revery and look around. Dungeon activity has slowed to a halt, as more and more people have joined the crowd of spectators. Dozens of faces watch transfixed. Someone jokes about poking him with a spear and dipping a sponge in vinegar.

I watch in amazement. We all do. The crowd is now four rows thick and that Richard and I are front row center. And Bob was right. The man’s legs are beginning to tremble, his breath rapid and shallow, the muscles vibrating under his skin. There’s no way he can go on like this. Any moment now. I think, readying myself for the end. Any moment now.

An hour passes.

The fits of trembling come and go. For a whole twenty minutes he crumples, shivering beneath the left horizontal, feet together, hopping on his toes, mouth hanging slack. The first row of the crowd are all topmen now, waiting, empty handed, ready to jump in and assist if they have to. Were real crucifixions like this? Real? Like this one isn’t? By now, most of the other dungeon activity has stopped, and a church like silence has descended across the hall. One hundred and fifty men watch in awe. The man next to me - Richard, I read from his tag - wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. Bob, walks forward and confers with the crucified man, walks over to his bag retrieves a red ball gag, walks back and straps it into the crucified man’s mouth, and then steps back. A crucified man with a red ball gag. I can’t get my imagination around it and it’s happening right in front of me. Like an apple in the mouth of a roast pig I can see somber faced Frazier watching with crossed arms a few rows back to the right and Ken, watching slack jawed, ten feet to my left. The crowd is too thick for me to see Jack, but I know he’s watching too.

The crucified man is weakening. His body slumps forward, his knees buckle, then straighten as he attempts to rise again. He slips and seems unable to right himself. This is it, I think. I look around at the throng of watching, expectant faces. You could hear a pin drop. As he sinks from his perch, and his feet drop from the dowel he’s been standing on this whole time, his arms go taut and his head tilts up and emits a deep howling scream around his gag. Bob, who has been off to one side, moves back into his victim’s field of vision and grins a huge leering grin inches from the tortured man’s face.

More time passes. Then, with fantastic trembling slowness, the crucified man sinks for the last time, his face slack, twirching, eyelids fluttering. Awesomely still. This time he seems insensible to whatever pain is blasting through his nervous system. Seconds tick by and he hangs stock still. One. Two. Three. Four. Five….

And now, Bob nods first to Richard and then to me, and we rush in, swooping beneath the crucified man, lock our fists together and hoisting him up. Other men swarm around us, behind him to support his chest while Bob and two other tops go to work on the row of knots binding his arms to the bar. It takes a while to get him free. Once he’s loose, I expect him to crumple into a pile on the floor, but he’s already on his feet: all smiles and graciously accepting congratulations, hugs and handshakes. His names Peter, and he speaks with a Cajun accent. Bob, meanwhile, has taken a chair and is staring into his lap. There is no applause, no cheering from the crowd. A few minutes later I will see that even loquacious Jack is speechless.

No more play tonight. Frazier and Ken say goodnight and head back to the cabin. I glimpse Jack in hushed conversation with Ted, Harold and two other men I don’t know. I head over to the command post and the beer truck intending to get drunk. I gulp down three red Dixie cups of Bud in a row before pouring a forth then taking a seat by the fire, trying to collect my thoughts. Ten minutes later, Peter, the crucified man, wanders out of the darkness, pours a beer for himself, and is promptly swarmed by admirers. He is fully clothed, bright eyed, and jovial. He tells us this is his fourth crucifixion scene, but the others were mere studies compared to what he managed to do tonight. He has broken his personal best by two hours. Others crowd forward to see him, speak to him, place their hands on him. After he has met with each of his well wishers he refills his red dixie cup and walks off into the night.

No chance I’ll be able to sleep now. I sit back down by the fire and start writing in my notepad about the days events, starting with tonight’s scene. I write until I’m the last person there aside from the night watch.

For reasons I can no longer recall, I spend Saturday and Sunday night in Michael’s cabin. It must have been Jack who ordered the change. Only a full member would have the clout to move a guest from one cabin to the cabin of another member. And it couldn’t have been any kind of big deal, or I surely would have had some memory of the reason. Wouldn’t I have? Had I been snoring on Friday night? Ken, my cabinmate, consulted twenty-five years after the fact, can’t remember either, but feels that this may be correct. But if so, why would Jack place me in in a bunk next to his friend, Michael?

At any rate, back at the cabin. Michael, bless his heart, has left the bathroom light on for me. I climb into my assigned cot and fall fast asleep


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