How do you know if you’re one of the damned?
As a child, Don wanted to become a priest. Now a grown man mostly at ease with being gay, he’s left the Catholic Church and has chosen instead to help people through his work as a parole officer.
His strong faith is shaken when his latest assignment turns out to be Michael, a young man Don hasn’t seen since he took Michael to church as a child -- and saw his parish priest cast Michael out of the church as a demon.
Meeting him as an adult re-ignites the obsession Don had with the boy he couldn’t save. But can Michael be saved at all? Or is the strangely compelling demon with a taste for risky sex as damned as he believes himself to be?
“Come with me,” Michael said suddenly.
Andras. His name was Andras. “Where?”
“To the roof. Come on. The rain’s stopped now.”
Mechanically, Don set his cup on the water-stained table and followed Andras out of the apartment. They climbed a narrow staircase, emerging through a warped and peeling door into a startlingly clear, starry night.
As a child, Don had thought that on nights like this you could see all the way up to Heaven, if only you had enough faith.
“Why did you bring me up here?” Don shivered in the night air. A prowling cat spooked at the sight or sound of them and hurtled away into the shadows.
Probably feral, Don told himself. It would have run from anyone.
“I like it up here. It’s why I chose this place.” Michael turned to Don with a teasing smirk. “Not scared of heights, are you?”
“No. It’s just --”
“It’s just that tall buildings and the mentally unstable don’t, in your opinion, generally mix well?”
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Don told him flatly.
“No? You believe that I’m a demon, as I say. But do you really believe it? In your heart, in your mind, in your soul?” Michael’s mouth twisted. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have one of those.”
“I think, actually, theologians are divided on the question of whether demons have souls,” Don told him, fighting the urge to reach out to the man and then wondering why he did so.
He had to stay professional, he reminded himself. That was why.
“Ah, but it’s all a game to them, isn’t it, Donnie? A theoretical exercise in debate, like the one about the angels on a pinhead. They don’t think what they’re discussing is real, do they? Not like you do. You believe. So, Donnie, you won’t be shocked, will you, when I show you this?”
Michael pulled off his t-shirt and strode to the edge of the roof. Don gasped and started forward instinctively. “You’re not going to do anything -- my God, are those scars on your back?” Don hesitated to believe what the dim, borrowed light upon the roof seemed to reveal. It looked like Michael had been flogged, repeatedly. Some of the scars had faded to white, whilst others looked pinker, newer. Michael turned, and Don realized his chest was similarly marred. “What the hell happened to you?”
Michael laughed. “Now come on, Donnie, you’re letting your naivety show. You’ve seen the file. I killed a man, remember? Breath play that went too far. But that’s not the only way I get my rocks off.”
“You like being beaten?” Don knew these things happened, of course he did, but he couldn’t imagine what the appeal was. He felt a sudden hollow sensation in his gut. I killed a man. Had Michael done it deliberately, after all?
If he’s a demon, he’s evil by definition.
But then, it depended on whose definition you went by. “Did you mean for him to die?” he asked defiantly.
Michael’s head was bowed, his face almost hidden by that coal-black curtain of hair and the cloaking shadow it cast. “No,” he whispered. He looked up, suddenly. “But perhaps it’s in my nature to kill.”
“No,” Don told him fiercely. He would not, could not, believe anyone beyond redemption. “Maybe you are a demon, but you live here as a man. I refuse to believe you don’t have free will, just like the rest of us.”
“A man?” Michael’s smile was mocking, but there was despair in his eyes. He was standing right on the very edge of the parapet, now, his back to the ten-story drop. “Is this a man, Donnie?”
Michael spread his arms out wide in a disturbing, no doubt deliberate echo of the crucified Christ. There was a ripping, tearing sound, and time seemed to slow as two great black wings -- which Don would have sworn upon a Bible he’d seen no signs of only moments before -- unfolded from his shoulders to spread wide and hang in the air, leathery and foul.
“God,” Don whispered, horrified and yet enthralled.
“Wrong answer,” came the taunting reply, as Michael leaned back and slowly toppled over the edge.