Shift 11

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"The good news is that God doesn't care if you're gay, straight, or most things in between," Danny said, folding his arms.

"And the--"

"The bad news is that you're not going to meet him if you keep on this path, love."

I scrubbed at my eyes. "Oh, boy."

"Something wrong? I'm sorry the threat of eternal damnation kills your buzz a little. Next time I descend from heaven to carry you a warning, I'll be more subtle about it."

Shaking my head, I answered, "No, it's not that. I sort of figured that when I had a massive stroke and fell into a coma, hallucinating about you would be a little more pleasant."

My dead lover narrowed his eyes at me. "Let me get this straight. You have a demon living in a box in your room. You've gone from dud to stud--no offense--over the course of a night. But you don't believe that I died, went to heaven, and have now--out of the goodness of my angelic heart, mind--broken just about every natural law of heaven and earth to bring you a message?"

"Right on the money."

"Johnny, you've gotten more cynical. I didn't think that was possible."

"Thanks," I said, looking around.

The bathroom appeared real. The floor tiles were cold and sharp against my feet. Fluorescent lights droned overhead like a swarm of irradiated bees. Cautiously, I considered the possibilities. It was possible that I was hallucinating the entire thing. Some aftereffect of the drastic changes my body had gone through in such a short time. Lack of blood to the brain resulting from my larger new organ?

I glanced down at my crotch. My dick hung flaccid under the towel. Larger it might be, but I was definitely flattering myself if I thought blood flow was an issue.

Heavenly visitations didn't just happen. And if they did, weren't they supposed to be all hazy and cloudy, like some bad daytime soap? Angels on television were never this direct.

Moreover, this was so far beyond my frame of reference that I could not grasp it. I tried to work through my disbelief: Logically, if demons existed, angels probably did too. Maybe it was just the baseness of my humanity that had so much difficulty processing the situation. I had no trouble believing that there were creatures of pure evil, but pure good flew in the face of my expectations.

Danny slapped me on the cheek, hard, shaking me from my reverie.

"So, you're not pure good, after all," I said, rubbing at the stinging flesh.

"Maybe I can only hurt you because you're evil," he rejoined.

"Am not!"

"Are--look, stop. I'm real. And you've taken a serious step toward the Dark Side."

I rounded on the thing that called itself Danny. "We still haven't established that you're real. I've had dreams like this--about you!--a thousand times, and every time I wake up, you're still dead. Also, ow." My cheek was bright red. He hit hard for someone that didn't exist.

Danny groaned, running his hands through his hair. "Look, this wasn't supposed to be like this. Angelic visitations are supposed to be ominous and life-changing. Johnny, you're not dreaming." His tone softened. "Please, believe me."

Emotions roiled in my gut as reality tightened its claws around me. It looked like Danny. Even if this was some strange, waking dream, it felt achingly real. His coils of brown hair, streaked with summer blond. The way his eyes shifted in the light, winking from blue to green like twin will-o'-the-wisps. His face had more lines than I remembered, and he was significantly taller and better built than he had been when he died. I felt instantly guilty for checking out an angel. Then again, I was already damned, wasn't I?

"You're older than you were," I noticed.

"I don't have to be. I just kept pace with you."

Death had stolen Danny's flair for bright clothing. He was dressed in a conservative turtleneck sweater, the color of which was somewhere between beige and dark gold in hue. His favorite color had been red. But that was more my style, wasn't it? Mine and Shift's. Red and black and all of those other things that screamed 'bad guy.' I was evil, after all. Wasn't I?

Tears stung my eyes. I shrugged off the improbable situation and shook my head. My subconscious was working overtime on this dream. I said as much.

"Still not a dream. Do I have to slap you again?" When I shook my head, he put his arms on my shoulders. "I know what's going on here, Johnny. A big part of you doesn't want to believe I'm real. You did your grieving, you put it behind you. Some bits of you even blame me for the fight, and for leaving you. I wouldn't have come down if there were any other way."

I turned back to look at my enhanced body in the mirror. The striated cleft between my pecs, the tightness of my stomach. Stronger, bigger muscles imparted a predatory grace to my movements that brought Shift's languid ease of motion to mind.

"Part of you knows that what you did was wrong, despite the reward," continued Danny. "I've tried to send you warnings every step of the way--"

"Oh, really," I hissed, surprised at the venom in my voice. I watched him in the mirror, spearing him with a cold stare. "Where were you when Brent and Reagan beat me? When I found Shift in the first place? You got the easy way out of this mess. You died before you could fuck up your life. If I'm going to burn, I might as well have a good time before I shuffle off after you."

The look on Danny's face surprised me. I didn't think an angel's face could express fury, but I think in that moment I learned what divine wrath was.

His voice was frozen vitriol. "Every time I tried to warn you, you ignored me. I know you felt it, but you threw it off."

A chill swept over me, one that I had been feeling more and more often of late. Recollection settled upon me and coalesced into biting certainty. The first time I'd felt it was the night that had begun my descent. I'd known then that the chill was a warning, but I'd shaken it off time and again so I could get my own way. My knees almost went out from under me.

"I'm an idiot," I whispered, my voice pocked with gravel.

"I know," said Danny, quietly, wrapping my towel-clad form in the warmth of his arms. "But I still love you. I descended because this is your last chance to do something about this. You've got to--"

The bathroom door swung open, and one of the residential aides poked his head in. I spun away from Danny, thinking of an excuse for the two of us being in the bathroom in such an intimate position, but the weight of Danny vanished from atop my shoulders.

"Smith," said the RA. I didn't know his name. "You doze off or something? Wow, looks like you've been working out."

I nodded, but said nothing.


Shift did not come out of his box that night, or the next. Whenever I even thought about a second night with Reagan, the otherworldly chill I had come to associate with Danny tickled along the back of my neck. I tried to tell myself that it was just another dream, product of a late night with my demon. Now I dealt with a new emotion: sharp pangs of guilt hounded my thoughts. Days turned in to weeks, and my newfound muscles softened a bit.

Three weeks had passed before I decided to take my ill-gotten muscles to the gym for a workout. I checked myself out in the mirror before I left. My stomach had gotten a bit soft and a little fat obscured some of my gains. Nonetheless, when I put on my tank top, I felt a little better. Almost cocky. I may not have felt like a little stud, but I was on my way to looking the part.

I jogged to the gym and was breathing hard by the time I made it over. A newspaper dispenser sat to the left of the gym doors, so I decided to pore over a few articles while I waited for my heart rate to normalize a bit. Most of the articles were the typical collegiate crap: movie reviews and commentary about our sorry performance in sports. A student had gone missing while hiking, but I didn't recognize the name.

Dropping the paper in the nearest trash can, I made my way into the gym. Perhaps it was my new equipment or my larger thighs; maybe it was just confidence, but I swaggered a bit as I walked over to the check-in desk.

My new, cocky self evaporated as soon as I set foot in the gym. Some of the guys were my height--at 5'9, I was on the better side of the national average--but everyone looked so much bigger than I. Especially the two boys who had claimed the bench press. I repressed a sigh.

Reagan and Brent again. They didn't notice me as I stationed myself on a nearby treadmill and began an endurance workout.

"Quit being a bitch," hissed Brent. "C'mon, man. You can do this."

"I dunno, man, I'm just having an off day," grunted Reagan, letting the weight fall back into place with an audible clang.

"You've been having an off month. I'm gonna catch up to you soon, bro."

Despite my guilt, I had to repress a smile at that. A glance out of the corner of my eye told me that Reagan was still the solid wall of muscle that he had been since coming to college, but he was definitely closer to Brent's height now. He looked a bit thinner about the arms and chest, as if he had not been pushing himself in the gym of late. One thing was certain, though: Reagan had lost more than I had gained. I figured the rest had been consumed during the transference.

I finshed my third mile with surprisingly little effort, got off the treadmill, and settled myself at the preacher curl machine. To my delight, I had to raise the weight to fifty-five pounds before I could get a serious workout. It wasn't much, but it blew my previous max on the machine away.

The rest of the workout continued along the same lines. Lifting weights had always been a chore before, but with my increased strength and endurance, I was actually starting to get something of a rush by the time I had finished.

I glanced at the clock. An hour and a half had passed, and I was barely sweating. My muscles felt pumped and tight, and I felt like I could have gone another few rounds with the lat pulldown machine. Not wanting to overdo it, however, I headed for the showers.

As I was undressing, I heard the locker room door open and hiss shut. I didn't look up until the lock snicked closed.

Brent and Reagan stood expectantly at the doorway, sweating and sneering. My heart throbbed in my chest, and I took in a gasp of breath. This wasn't good, by any vagary of the imagination.

"You think we'd forget or something?"

I stared up at Brent, not quite comprehending.

"We never got to finish teaching you that lesson," he prompted.

"Guys, look," I said, hating the quaver in my voice. "I don't want any trouble."

Reagan shrugged his huge shoulders. "We do."

"I'll scream," I promised.

"No one'll hear you," answered Brent.

Brent grabbed me by the front of my shirt and shoved me backward over the bench. I felt the sharp edges of the locker dig into my back. Pain rocketed through my back. That's probably why I missed the fist flying at my face. One thing I didn't miss, though, was the hot, wet pain when Brent's punch slammed into my eye.


"You look well," said the demon.

His open box sat on the floor next to my bed, its top spattered with my blood. I'd huddled in the bathroom for a long time before finding the strength to wash myself and dress again. The girl at the front desk looked at me oddly, taking in my swollen left eye and the gash on my lip in quiet shock. I told her I had fallen in the shower.

It took all my strength to make it back to my room without collapsing. I gave up on dismissing people as they asked me if I was all right, and toward the end I just hurried past them with my head down so they could not see the blood leaking from my lips, or the tears from my eyes.

When I'd first gotten up from the beating they'd given me, my first impulse had been to go to the police. I was sure that I could land my two assailants in jail with assault charges hanging over their heads. Maybe it would qualify as a hate crime. Then came the flood of shame that I had been so stupid, so confident after my meager transformation, that I had forgotten how deep their unfounded hatred ran. Finally, I realized that there was only one thing that could help me through this.

I hesitated for a moment before letting Shift out of his box, remembering my daydream of Danny from a few weeks prior. I tried to shrug off the cold chill that rippled up my spine as I pulled the container out from under the bed. Danny was dead; the warnings were not real. Revenge was all I cared about. I had let doubt unman me in the past, but now I would make my enemies pay.

"Can you fix this?" I asked, gesturing to the bruise growing on my eye.

"We can, together," Shift whispered, extending his long, slender fingers toward me. "Make yourself comfortable."

Our hands linked, and I felt the heat of the demon, the realness of him. I could lose myself in Shift entirely, in the empty darkness of his eyes; the huskiness of his voice. He smelled of musk and spice as he drew near to me. We sat on the bed, my hands joined with his, forming a circle of man and immortal.

His heat trickled in to me, flowing through my veins. It was pleasure and pain all at once, a sensation that made my muscles go as lax as a newborn's. Seconds stretched into hours, and the warmth gathered in all of my wounds: my split lip and bruised eye, the jangling ribs one of Reagan's kicks had left behind. All of the little hurts rushed to the fore of my mind, blazing into startling agony before beginning to fade in bursts of warmth.

It was past midnight by the time we finished. Shift's arms were strong and hard around me, like a lover's embrace. Shock had long since vanished, leaving me weeping and shaking as the reality of my mortality set in.

The demon pushed me gently away, lifting my chin with one strong finger.

I stared into his void-dark eyes.

"Why did you help me?" I asked.

"You're my master," he responded, "And now that your doubts are gone, we are going to do great things."

A chill leapt up my neck, vanishing as Shift pulled me into a searing, passionate kiss.

To be continued?