On the island of Rhodes, Philip came awake to find the entire room bathed in warm sunlight. He stretched, luxuriating in the feel of his own renewed vitality. His body was still thrumming with the pleasures of the night before, his nerve endings tingling with a delicious sensation that reached from the tips of his toes to the very top of his head. Even his hair felt alive. He moaned in soft appreciation of a body that was no longer haunted by pain.
A self-satisfied smile curled his kiss-swollen lips and he looked across to gaze at the man he had taken to his bed last night. A frown crinkled the skin over his nose as he took in the empty place beside him. He reached out, hand skimming along the indentation where another body had lain, feeling the residual warmth.
Must be in the bathroom.
Five minutes later, having heard no sound coming from anywhere within the small hotel room, Philip swung his legs over the edge of the bed and hauled himself up. He gave his body another deep stretch, raising his arms high above his head as he eased the slight kink in his back. He grinned, remembering why he should ache in that particular place. His latest lover had been quite inventive, showing him there was more to being fucked than just sticking his ass into the air or throwing his legs over his lover's shoulders.
He sighed, remembering how his lover had shoved his knees back until he was almost bent double, leaving him fully exposed for the supple tongue that had delved and licked across the sensitive ring of muscle. It was incredible, the remembered feel of that hardened shaft sliding into his gel-slicked body, hearing the grunts and moans of passion as he was filled. He had been unable to do anything but watch as droplets of sweat had dripped from his lover's lust-filled face onto his own heated skin. For the first time in his life he had masturbated in front of another, his own hand pumping his engorged flesh in time to the deep thrusts that powered into him. In the distance had been the sound of banging; the bedstead hitting the wall, and more distant still, the neighbors demanding an end to the noise that cut through the silence of the night.
He had screamed when his lover found that special place, the sensation zinging along already highly-strung nerve endings, sending him spiraling over the edge.
Philip brought his mind back to the present, and knocked on the door to the bathroom. No answer.
What the fuck was his name? Oh, yes.
"Stefan? Are you in there?"
He opened the door and peered inside. Empty. With a sigh, Philip paced back to the bed and sank down onto his lumpy mattress.
"What is it with these guys?"
Since his very first homosexual encounter upon Delos, he had cruised the gay bars wherever he halted for the night and, so far, had accepted the advances of four separate men. All of them different in build and coloring, and all of them handsome. The only similarity had been the deep, longing look in their eyes that seemed to call to his very soul. Philip was the first admit that he could be vain, and he reveled in the attention he received... and in the compliments they paid him. Each one had treated him as if he were some priceless object to be revered, paying homage to his body even as their murmured words of love and desire caressed his mind.
Philip gave another exaggerated sigh. The other thing they had in common was a tendency to disappear by the time he had awoken the following morning, but then, he had been the same before Delos, sneaking out before the light of the dawn seeped into the room to reveal his advancing sickness to his sexual conquest of the night before.
"Oh well, means I don't have to make small talk or buy them breakfast."
He grinned. To be honest, so far he had not had to dip into his own limited resources at all, except to find the fare for the various island ferries. His lovers had been the ones to pay out, buying him drinks at the bar and even paying for the room where they had made love all night long. Nevertheless, Philip knew he would need to find a bank soon, especially if he wanted to move on again.
He laid back down on the bed and closed his eyes. It had been more than two weeks since Delos and he could almost believe that he had *never* been ill. The Philip Padgett that had hidden in the darkness so people would not notice his sickly pallor had gone. Now he paraded in the sunlight in cutoff jeans and muscle shirts, reveling in the admiring looks from men and women alike.
Women? It was strange but he had not thought about women since Delos but then, Delos had opened up a whole new vista of earthly delights that he wanted to explore to the fullest. In comparison, the restrictions of heterosexual coupling had palled for him. It was the power that he found so erotic, the physical strength of another man holding him, impaling him. Another shudder of pleasure rippled through him as his memory returned to this most recent encounter. However, he forced down his morning erection, strangely unwilling to masturbate alone while those after shocks from the previous evening were still tingling through him.
Decision time. Stay or move on.
He had been on Rhodes for three days and had felt he had seen all it had to offer. As he wondered where he ought to go next he realised that it was another land that now beckoned to him - Mexico. Philip knew it had to have something to do with the nightmares that plagued him whenever he slept alone. In those dreams he would *see* this wondrous mansion with its cool, white walls and beautiful gardens, placed high in the hills of northern Mexico. He was the owner, but the beautiful house seemed to hold a terrifying, dark secret. If he closed his eyes he could see strangely familiar faces filled with sickness, pain and fear of death. Those faces changed, became full of health and vitality only to then darken with fear of a different kind; fear of him.
His own body seemed strange as he wandered along the corridors of that mansion and through the darkened garden paths, almost as if *he* were an unwanted lodger within it. He could feel the push of another mind, one full of venom, of putrescence that fed on the fear of others. He could feel it slither over him, suffocating him beneath its unhealthy demands for physical satisfaction.
A name crawled out of the darkness - Asclepius - and yet, there was a slyness behind its offering.
Philip shuddered, pushing away those thoughts before they overwhelmed him. The dreams were so vivid, so real, and yet they had to be fantasy for he had never been to Mexico. He knew the nightmares were probably just a backwash from his illness, fueled by the myths he had been subconsciously soaking up since his arrival in Greece.
Perhaps it was time to leave this land of mystery after all.
There was a small airport on Rhodes and Philip had no difficulty finding a flight that would take him to an international airport. He handed across his credit card and waited.
"I am sorry, sir. I cannot accept this."
"It has expired."
Philip frowned and took the card back. He was certain it had more than a year left on it. Certainly more time than he had expected to live or he would have asked for another before leaving America. He looked at the date.
"No. You've made a mistake. See? There's almost a year left on it."
The woman looked at him strangely as she checked the date he pointed at.
"I am sorry, sir. But the date has expired."
Philip pulled back in confusion as he wondered if he could have been so sick that he had misread or lost track of what year it was. He turned and walked away, still staring at the embossed date as if it would magically change.
"Mind where you are going!"
Philip reddened in embarrassment as he extricated himself from the luggage he had knocked to the floor. Suddenly, the owner gave him an appreciative leer, but Philip paid no mind to him, ignoring the honeyed words drifting after him as he moved on.
"No... my mistake, young man."
Ahead of him, Philip had spied a small newsagent's store. He walked briskly towards it and snatched up the nearest English-written daily paper, scanning the top for a print date. His lips parted in shock when he saw the year; his card had expired - more than six years ago.
His mind reeled from the impact. Somehow he had managed to lose seven years of his life.
Philip wandered in a daze towards the washroom, not stopping until he was staring at his reflection in the mirror above the basin. He frowned as he realized he had not shaved even once since Delos, and yet his skin was as soft and smooth as the finest silk. How come he looked no different? Surely, if seven years had passed then he should have some sign of aging; new lines, the odd gray hair? But he was as beautiful as he had always believed himself to be, in fact if anything, he was more vibrant than ever. His skin glowed with health, his hair shone, his eyes were as bright as the finest emeralds and his moist lips were a sensuous dusky pink. He ran a hand over his own body, feeling the firm muscles rippling fluidly over bone.
Someone had once called him an Adonis; a living work of art more beautiful than Michelangelo's David... and the stranger on Delos had called him Hyacinthus.
Apollo was passionately in love with the young Spartan, Hyacinthus. He followed him everywhere; hunting, fishing, playing. The youth was of unsurpassed beauty and rejoiced in the affection shown to him by the equally beautiful and powerful god of the sun. There were others who also lusted after the youth. Zephyrus, god of the west wind, was one such admirer.
His head filled with foolish ideas of conspiracies... but what had he ever done to warrant such a complicated ruse?
"What the hell do I do now?"
When he let himself calm down, it became obvious that his first point of call should be a bank. Perhaps he could access his American checking account and see if there was any money left in it, although he was certain he had cleaned it out when he decided to go on his world tour. If not then he could always try contacting the credit card company and ask them to authorize a cash withdrawal.
It took more than twenty minutes to find a bank and another fifteen minutes waiting for an English-speaking clerk to become available. Eventually, he took a seat opposite a handsome Greek with short, ebony hair and dark eyes. Philip felt slightly uncomfortable as the clerk stared at him with more than mere professional courtesy, the dark eyes dilating, a pink tongue sliding over dry lips.
"How may I help you, sir?"
It did not take long to explain the situation and, after Philip handed over his passport, he waited in silence as the clerk's fingers began to dance over the keyboard in front of him.
"Hmmm? That is strange. You have been listed as recently deceased. Obviously, that is a mistake." The clerk grinned at him. "However, this means that your American accounts have been frozen. However, all is not bad news. Your Swiss bank account is still open. With your permission I will set up an account for you here, and transfer some of those funds across."
Philip frowned. He could not remember opening any Swiss bank accounts... but then, he could not remember anything of what had happened to him in the last six years of his life. He decided to bluff his way through, his face composed into the guileless expression he had cultivated as an insurance salesman in Newark.
"Sure. Go ahead."
He watched with interest as the clerk accessed this unknown Swiss account.
After several minutes of keying the clerk looked up with even greater interest and renewed respect, his eyes holding the bright green ones of the man seated opposite in appreciation of more than the American's physical beauty. He gave the American a speculative look.
"How much should I transfer, sir?"
"Hmmm... how much is there?"
"3,820,678.24... in American dollars."
The clerk was taken aback by his customer's exclamation. He swung the monitor around so his client could see the display, then watched as the American's face paled even further.
"Are you alright, sir? Perhaps I can get you some water."
It had taken Philip two days of traveling but he had finally reached his destination. Up ahead he could see the mansion; it was exactly as his dream had portrayed it
Or was it a dream?
A growing fear was gnawing in his belly that these were not nightmares but lost memories.
He wandered into the deserted compound, moving slowly through the ransacked house, his fingers trailing along the remnants of tattered curtains that had been made of the finest silks. The carpet beneath his feet was damp and grimy, as if a hundred boots had ground the dirt into it. His memory supplied visions of beautiful artwork that had been displayed to perfection on walls and pedestals - all gone. He glanced at his feet and found the remnants of shattered pottery and gave a wry smile, amending his earlier thought; it was not *all* gone, but what remained had been destroyed.
Philip wandered into the library. Books were strewn around the interior, mainly lying in mildewed heaps on the damp floor. He knelt down, gathering up a few to read the titles, his eyes widening as he realised one of those contained the very information he had been hoping to find on his return from Greece. It was an encyclopedia of Greek mythology. His lack of knowledge of the Greek language had precluded him finding out this information while in that country.
The top of the window seat was covered in a fine layer of plaster dust and he brushed the worst of it away before sitting down. Closing his eyes for a moment, Philip sought to order his thoughts, then swiftly turned the damp pages, searching for a particular entry.
Asclepius, son of Apollo, was blessed with the skill of bringing the dead back to life. He used his gift freely, such was his love for mortals. This enraged the resentful Hades, god of the underworld, who in a fit of pique at losing so many of his subjects, complained to Zeus.
Philip was confused. Asclepius hardly seemed the type to be a vindictive god who would cause - or want - others to fear him. If anything, he seemed far too kind and gentle, with an abiding love for man. The more he thought about it, the more he became certain that the serpent in his dreams was *not* Asclepius. The slyness of the inner voice that had offered up the name came back to haunt him. Philip knew that tone, had used it many a time himself to deceive others as he convinced them to buy insurance policies they did not require, playing on their guilt and their fears for themselves and for their loved ones.
When he glanced out of the window, he noticed that the sky had started to darken as the sun began to set. Philip shuddered as the cool evening breeze ruffled the tatters of remaining curtain through the broken window panes. He left the library, keeping the book in his hand, and made his way through the house, allowing his feet rather than his brain to guide him. The broken furniture and ornaments that were strewn upon the stairs, mixed up with plaster that had fallen from the walls and ceilings, did little to impede his physical progress.
So much destruction.
Part of his heart cried out at the loss of such beauty. He had always been appreciative of the aesthetic, be it an inanimate sculpture, or a living work of art such as a beautiful man or woman.
His feet guided him up the stairs and along to the very end of the corridor. Philip pushed aside the door, stepping back as it toppled off one hinge to hang askew. The final rays of the sun cast long shadows and he watched from the threshold as the darkness crept forward like a living entity to engulf the large bed that dominated the room. He knew this room, he had seen it many times in his nightmares, and he felt the fine hairs at the back of his neck rise in fear and half-remembrance.
Philip turned away and made his way to the bedroom furthest from that place. The mansion was almost in darkness before he managed to light a small fire in the grate, and he sighed as the meager light pushed the encroaching shadows back to the furthest corners. The bed was covered in a fine layer of plaster dust but he swept that aside and lay down, desperately needing to sleep off the jet lag and yet strangely fearful of closing his eyes in this house.
Eventually, his body gave into its fatigue and he slept - and dreamed.
Her wide eyes were full of fear as he towered over her, he could sense it, taste it - and he reveled in it. Her long, golden hair hung loose in long tresses that shone in the moonlight, her ivory-colored nightdress shimmered giving her an ethereal quality, like a fairy queen - or a virginal sacrifice. He leaned over her, his tongue licking along the length of her exposed throat. He felt her tremble with fear, with abhorrence, but she made no move to stop him, terrified that he would make good on his pledge to send her back into a world of pain should she refuse his advances. He took her hand, feeling her rapid pulse beneath his fingers, and led her from the relative safety of her room, along the corridor to his own domain. She pulled back on the threshold, repelled by the sight that lay before her, and he turned and looked deep into her frightened, blue eyes.
"If you don't do as I say then the cancer will come back. Do you want that?"
His voice was soft, husky and yet it dripped of venom. He smiled as he watched her submit to his will and, reaching forward, the tip of his tongue lapped at the bitter tears that fell from her eyes. She allowed herself to be led to the oversize bed.
His fingers, long and slender, teased at the small buttons of her nightdress then eased it from her shoulders to reveal her creamy flesh. His hands cradled her firm breasts, thumbs sliding across the dusky pink nipples until they peaked, but no desire filled her eyes. She closed them as he lay her down, her flesh crawling as the slither of dry scales coiled across her tensed body.
"Look at me, Kelly. I *said* look at me. Am I not beautiful? A body fit for a god?"
He was standing above her, naked - and he *was* beautiful - but her eyes were fixed on his hands, and he could read her terror as she watched the snake he held flick out its forked tongue to taste the fear in the air. He crawled on top of her, his fingers teasing with her virginal folds as his mouth sucked and licked and kissed a path down her throat before latching onto one nipple. He suckled upon her, his fingers seemingly delving deeper inside her body until she realised they were too large. He laughed at her when she finally looked down to see his hands to either side of her hips, her shame turning to horror as she realised it was the snake that had entered her.
Philip sat upright, the cold perspiration of fear clinging to his flesh as the tendrils of a terrible nightmare gradually loosened their hold upon him. He could see her terrified face so clearly, could remember breathing her name in ecstasy as he finally plunged into her virgin body, filling her with his seed. He had fed on her fear, feasted on her humiliation and devoured the shame of her degradation.
Night after night he went back for her, leading her to that room, forcing her into acts of depravity. He recalled her soft cries as other, equally frightened, young girls were forced to play with her while he looked on, stroking himself, even allowing his body to climax, his seed spurting over their writhing bodies. The room had crackled with the negative energy that fed the putrid spirit inhabiting his body, and he had cried out with his victims as all that he had once loved was distorted. *It* had used the images in his mind from his excessive love of porn, coercing these innocent women to act out those fantasies for his own pleasure.
"No. It wasn't me. It wasn't me."
More images paraded across his mind, other victims moving to his every sexual whim with fear filled eyes, terrified of displeasing him lest they be cast out, afraid of their painful, life-threatening diseases returning to claim them once more. And yet there were some, like Kelly, who had willingly walked away, preferring to embrace death than live with the sordidness of his unhealthy passion.
"No. No. No. It wasn't me."
Philip spent the remainder of the long night too terrified to close his eyes as more images assaulted him. Eventually, as the sky began to lighten with the dawn, he left the mansion, following a path through the overgrown garden until he came to the dilapidated ruins of a temple. It was here that he felt the serpent god's power strongest.
Those last few moments of his former life came back to him as he stared at the brown mark that time and the weather had not erased from the dais; his blood. He had died on this spot, and the serpent god had left him, unable to save him. Further proof that it was *not* Asclepius who had extended his powers of healing through Philip's body, for Asclepius had the power to bring the dead back to life.
He curled up beneath the altar stone, able at last to see through the silken lies and twisted truth that had been wrapped around him by the serpent god. The memories of those seven years came flooding back and yet he found himself viewing them from behind a misty curtain. He realised, suddenly, that he had spent seven years under the control of an evil force that pretended to be doing good. The only time he had found himself alone in his own body were those occasions when the serpent had left him to work its perverted healing power. At those times he had been so depleted of strength that he could do little but lie behind the temple, paralyzed by the heaviness of his own limbs, until the serpent returned for him.
When the first rays of a new day bled across the sky, Philip raised his tired eyes and found himself transfixed by the radiant figure standing close by. His thoughts returned to the beautiful man who had stepped out of the shadows at Delos but, when he narrowed his eyes against the brightness of the sun's rays, he realised this new figure was raven-haired rather than blond.
The man knelt down beside him and it was only then that Philip noticed the carpet of purple and silver larkspur that lay beneath him, cushioning him from the coldness of the earth.
Caramel-colored eyes held his own, and Philip could read the desire that had enlarged the dark pupils. The man smiled, his gleaming white teeth adding further brilliance to his countenance. The stranger reached out to brush the back of his fingers down Philip's unstubbled cheek, then slowly he drew one finger across Philip's lips, sending a flicker of energy straight through to Philip's groin. Soft lips followed that finger, pressing gently against him, and Philip felt the subtle pressure of a tongue teasing between them. He sighed, his own lips parting in invitation as the kiss deepened, slowly becoming lost in the sensations as hands tease beneath his T-shirt to travel across his bare flesh.
He found himself gasping as the stranger's mouth slid away to latch onto the strange sunburst tattoo at the juncture of his throat and shoulder. Something about that area was so sensitive, sending licks of fire radiating throughout his body. His limbs turned to jelly, his whole being coming alive in a blaze of passion as the man sucked and licked that recently discovered, erogenous zone. The early morning sun warmed him as his flesh was slowly bared, his clothing stripped from his body to lie in a heap beside them.
The Mexican's naked body was a pleasurable sight, with firm muscle sliding beneath sun-kissed skin. The slight coarseness of his worker hands increased the tactile pleasure for Philip as they stroked across the silken flesh of one ass cheek, with one finger delving into the valley to glide across the sensitive skin, only pausing to tease at the hidden entrance to Philip's body.
He arched up, wanting to feel the other man along the whole length of him, and was rewarded as the Mexican lowered himself to cover Philip like a living blanket. They writhed together, feeling the urgent need of their straining erections which were gliding through slick precome, caught between their close-pressed bodies. With passion rising to even greater heights, Philip made no protest as he was flipped onto his stomach and raised until he was fully exposed to his latest lover. Saliva-slicked fingers breached his opening, pressing deep inside as the other hand worked its own magic on his hardened flesh, squeezing and stroking across the sensitive head.
Philip trembled in anticipation and an overpowering need as the man withdrew his fingers and positioned himself behind his willing body. He was entered in a single, powerful thrust that brought a cry of pleasure and pain tumbling from his swollen lips.
The pace was frantic and he cried out with each deep stroke as the movement brushed across that sensitive place deep inside him, sending his own body and soul spiraling out of control until he was coming hard, his back arching, body pushing back onto that engorged cock, internal muscles clamping around the solid length that filled him so completely.
His lover pounded into him once more then stilled, guttural moans filling the air as Philip felt his innards bathed in liquid fire. They both collapsed, limbs too heavy to support them any longer. Philip sighed as a tongue lapped at the drops of perspiration on the nape of his neck, still caught in the thralls of pleasure as his body melted in the afterglow. The tongue swiped across the sunburst and Philip groaned as the dying licks of energy zinged through his nerve endings. He smiled in pleasure, fully satiated, all memory of the evil of this place wiped out by the sensations that still filled him. He felt the softened shaft slip from his body, felt the other man move to the side, leaving one arm and one leg draped across him possessively.
The warmth of the sun caressing his skin sent his mind drifting into pleasant dreams where he was loved and cherished and, eventually, he slept.
When he awoke, the sun had moved across the sky and some inner sense told him that it was early afternoon. He was not surprised to discover that his new lover had left him all alone on the soft bed of larkspur; it seemed to be a common attribute of his current lovers.
With a sigh, he cleaned himself up as best he could and dressed, pulling on the tight, figure hugging denim and sturdy walking boots. He was tempted to leave his torso bare but gave into a small sense of decorum and pulled on his light T-shirt.
Philip took a last look at the ruins of the temple, gazing in acceptance at the stone snake coiled around a branch that formed the central column. He frowned. When he arrived early this morning the ground had seemed cold and bare and yet, now, it was covered in silver and purple flowers which seemed to radiate out from the base of the dais where, in his nightmares, he had fallen - and died.
Coming to this place had confirmed his worst fears, that the terrible nightmares were forgotten memories breaking free. He had hoped that this place would provide all the answers to his questions, but the ransacked mansion and neglected garden had only added to the list.
He picked up the book that he had carried with him from the mansion, and stored it in his backpack. Something told him that he might need it again. When he reached the main gate, Philip looked back one last time. If he wanted answers then he realised he would need to seek out one of those people whose faces had filled his dreams. His mind supplied names for a few; Monica, Kelly, Rebecca... and Edward Markham.
Philip turned and walked away, knowing he would never return to this place of evil.
THE END... for now.
UPDATED: 20th September 2000