by Dudgeon

A crewboy experiences an epiphany concerning his society's dogmatic religion.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E




When the son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepard divideth his sheep from the goats.

—Matthew 25:31-32, The Second Testament.

* * *

Winkler lay in his bunk in the long narrow room the crewboys all shared, which looked out the front windows above The Black Hole. That was the booze can the crew ran as a source of income. Its fluorescent sign lit the room. It was early in the week, and business had been slow, so they'd closed fairly early. Jonesie, Richard, Billyboy and several others were away on a raid they'd planned earlier that day. Winkler hadn't gotten the details.

He'd planned to do some reading and await their return. There was often a celebration after a raid. But The Book of New Man lay unopened on his chest as he leaned up against his pillow in the top corner bunk, one arm behind his head, thinking about the future.

Winkler had only recently taken to studying The Book. Not that he believed much of it, except for some of the history of the Great Dying and the enclosure. His mother had never raised him in the Church. But it was the only book he could carry around without attracting too much attention. Nearly everyone had a copy, even if they could barely read.

His mother had a good collection, though. Somerset had smuggled them from the Island when she was exiled to the Mainland as a young woman, carrying Winkler along in her belly. She wanted him to have a proper education when he was born, since books weren't widely available on the Mainland. Not like they were illegal or anything, but there was no need to attract the attention of thieves either. They could get good creds for such rare items, so he and Somerset had always kept them well hidden.

Most of Somerset's collection was history and historical novels from pre-enclosure days, which she liked herself. She also had a good selection of general and intro books on the sciences, social sciences and humanities. That was what Winkler spent most of his free time poring over now.

They were his way of escaping from daily life as a crewboy, the gangs being an unfortunate fact of life for young men in the interior. He'd soon be full patch, too; a full member of the gang, with all of the responsibilities that came with being a crewman. And the risks.

Three years seemed like forever to someone his age. Even so, time itself would eventually free him from his tenure in the gangs. Assuming he survived the experience.

The books held the promise of much more. They were the key to escaping the Mainland itself. Its slums. Its poverty. Its perpetual darkness.

He was already prepping for the UAppt test he planned to take when he turned 19, and could apply to the Coast's only university. Somerset's academic books were all dog-eared and worn from his efforts. They were his ticket out; his ticket to a better life. A life on the Island, where he could attend grad school. Something only the best students could hope for.

It was Somerset's greatest wish, he knew, that he be allowed to return to the Island, where he was conceived. Even though she would never be allowed to accompany him. It was his "birthright," she always said.

It would be like a dream. Just like you saw on the televid. From the Island, with its massive transparent dome, you could even see the sun! The moon! The stars!

Growing up on the Mainland, Winkler had never seen the sky.

He was still fantasizing about that future when he fell to sleep.

* * *

He was awakened somewhat later by Jonesie, the current boss of the Roslyn Crew. He had expected he might be asked to come tend bar when they returned from the raid. Instead, Jonesie stood in the shadows by the doorway in his vest and underwear, a half empty bottle of corp whiskey in his hand. His dark spikey hair stuck out above his headband, like it usually did.

He called quietly to Winkler. He wanted him to come to his room. "Bring The Book if ya want," he whispered, so as not to disturb the other boys.

Winkler got up and slipped to the floor. He took the The Book, and while still a little groggy from sleep, followed Jonesie down the dark hallway to his room. Their bare feet padded quietly along the dirty linoleum floor.

When he got there he slipped into bed. It was a simple double mattress, flopped on the floor in one corner. Jonesie lay on top of the sheets, with his back against the wall. The bottle of whiskey rested on the bed beside him. Winkler positioned himself on his stomach at Jonesie's side, propped up on his elbows, thinking he would be asked for sex. He was Jonesie's favorite after all.

But when he looked up he saw by the light from the street that Jonesie was pretty badly beat up. He had a split lip, and a big welt on his forehead from a basher, staff or whirlie. His knuckles, which clasped the bottle, were bruised and abraded. The cut next to his right eye had left a trail of blood down his cheek, almost like a tear.

"God, Jonesie, what happened?"

"Things went badly." He just stared into the distance.

Jonesie took a long swig from the whiskey, then passed it to Winkler, who sipped and passed it back. He'd probably finished the first half of the bottle himself, Winkler thought, after they got back, as the place was pretty quiet already.

There was a long silence while Winkler waited. There was something more, he knew, but Jonesie didn't seem to want to talk about it, at least not yet. So Winkler reached over with his right hand. He trailed it down Jonesie's muscular stomach towards the waist band of his shorts, thinking he just wanted to be serviced, that maybe he just needed cheering up.

But Jonesie reached out and caught his wrist, tossing it aside. He grabbed Winkler by the back of his head, roughly forcing his face into his crotch. Winkler was shocked. Jonesie had never been so violent with him before. He gagged several times as he attempted to complete the deed. Felt humiliated when Jonesie finally consummated the act.

Afterwards, he just stared down at the sheets, trying to ignore the taste of Jonesie's orgasm. Then he felt the coldness of the bottle of whiskey against his face.

A peace offering. He took a deep draught this time, coughing several times from its bitterness. But at least it washed the taste away.

Finally, Jonesie reached out with his free hand.

"I see ya brought The Book." He picked it up from where it lay on the bed.

"Ya know, the way you've been carryin it round lately, some of the guys're startin to call ya 'The Preacher'?" He managed a weak smile, which made him wince.

Jonesie took another shot and passed the bottle.

"What do ya think of The Book, Winkler, I mean really? Yer a smart guy. Everybody knows that."

Winkler wasn't sure what to say at first. Nor was he certain whether he cared what Jonesie thought, or any of the other guys, at least at that point. He knew Jonesie couldn't read much, though, like a lot of the other guys. But none of them had ever asked him about religion before.

"Ya really wanna know?" His tone was as sarcastic as he thought prudent, under the circumstances.

Jonesie nodded.

"Well, I'm really just interested coz that stranger got a copy. Member, a couple weeks past? The one with em jewels, who didn't know his way round, nor bout creds? The one what said he wanted to study our culture?"

"Ya," Jonesie paused, remembering. "Ya knew what he meant, didn't ya."

Winkler nodded.

"It's Somerset ain't it, the way she grew up Chosen, on the Island. She tells ya things they don't tell us in the gov school don't she, teaches ya prep lingo and stuff."


That was how Winkler explained the things he knew from his books, about history and such, that they were stories his mother told him. Actually, he and Somerset didn't talk that much at all, especially about the Island, or how she was down and outed.

"And yer interested in The Book coz of what that stranger said?"

"Ya. He was a scientist ya know, like from the Island."


So Winkler told him the rest of the story for the first time. The way he'd followed the stranger to the greyland and talked to him after the crew released him. The way he'd been lying about being from Torona, but had actually been studying their culture, and the way their dome worked. The way he was really lost with no proper creds, and had just left the way he promised.

Jonesie wasn't angry. Actually, he was impressed.

"Not many crewboys would've had the guts to do that. Goin to the greyland by emselves. Specially bein lone with that stranger, what with those weird powers he had. The way he knocked out Billyboy, and froze Richard in his tracks without even touchin em?"

"But most of it still don't make no sense, specially that weird shit he did."

"Ya. But even so, ya learned more than we did. More than the Foreboss did, even."

Jonesie passed the bottle again. Winkler didn't drink whiskey much, mostly the home brew, but he was getting used to it now, starting to feel it.

"And so yer interested in The Book coz that stranger was. Coz ya wanna be a scientist too?"

Winkler nodded as he passed the bottle back.

"I think he figured he could learn bout the way we live by readin it. Maybe how we think, I ain't that sure."

"What do ya think he found out?"

"Well he went to Church, too, member? But I think the Church is wrong bout The Book." The whiskey was beginning to loosen him up now. "The preacher always talks like there's no difference tween the three testaments, like they're all equally portant. But I think he's wrong. The first two books're from before the arks, when God was different too. He was even different in em first two. In the first one he's a real bastard..."

Jonesie smiled and winced.

"...always sendin plagues and floods, like with Noah. But the second one, where Jesus come the first time, it's like it's all bout forgiveness. The way he died on the cross to forgive our sins."

Jonesie nodded.

"But I think it's only the third book, The Book of New Man, that's really portant no more, coz it's the one that tells bout the Third Age, and how it is now. How it all started with the Antichrist and the Great Dyin, for example, and how Jesus come gain like the second book said he would, and gathered the Most Righteous, and told em to build the arks, kinda like with Noah. How Jesus died on the cross a second time too, but so as the Lords could be resurrected the way they is now, this time, as the Born of God. That way they could defeat the Antichrist, and rule the arks like Jesus told em and stuff, ya know?"

Jonesie passed him the bottle.

"And God's different gain, too, and so're the teachins. It's all bout service and status now, not forgiveness. More like the first God that way, tellin us how we gotta live til the end of the Third Age, or else..."

"Or else we'll be outed, like your mom, or worse, stuck livin in the Fringe, or as slaves in the polfacts."

"Ya. Course then there's the Final Resurrection itself, when Jesus comes gain in the future and we can all leave the arks, and the faithful are reborn. But that all not for a thousand years, coz of the Antichrist's curse on the land. Anyhow, then things are supposed to be like it said they should be in the second book, only better. See, the stranger'd be interested in all that, too, coz it tells how we live and what we believe."

"Or what the Church tells us to believe?"

"Ya." He passed the bottle back to Jonesie, reaching for The Book as he moved to sit up beside him with his back against the wall.

"Let's see if I can find what I mean." He flipped through the pages of the Third Testament, pausing to scan a page for the passage he wanted.

"Here it is, in the second book of Resurrection, third chapter, verse two," then he quoted, "And Christ ordained that man himself be divided into three, as the Godhead itself is divided..."

"Like the trinity."

"Ya." Winkler picked it up in the next line, "And thus were formed the Born of God, whom Christ himself caused to be born again from the Most Righteous at the Second Resurrection; the Chosen, whom the Born of God were bidden to select as their closest and most favoured servants; and the Saved, whom He caused to be the servants of all. And these three He did cause to be divided based upon their righteousness in the eyes of our Heavenly Father."

Winkler closed The Book. He motioned with it as he continued, "Ya see, that tells bout how we live. How the Lords rules from up bove in the Heavenly Land, ownin the corps, facts, preps and polfacts, and backin candidates in the gov lections on the Island and stuff; how the Islanders gets better stuff and better schoolin and the vote and all that, like we sees on the televid; and how the rest of us're stuck workin in the facts."

"And in the gangs."

Winkler nodded. "Least we ain't in the Fringe."

They both laughed. Jonesie winced a little less now that he'd had a few more shots, and passed the bottle.

"But ya see, it's all bout how close ya are to God too. That's what that last bit bout 'righteousness' means. It means we all deserves what we got coz God sez so."

"Ya mean the Lords're rich and powerful and angelic coz they deserves to be? That's why they were Born of God?"

"Basically. Ya. And our place is to serve."

"Coz that's what we deserves," Jonesie finished.

They were quiet for a while, as they passed the bottle.

Then Jonesie said, "But the preacher always sez if we has faith, and works hard and makes sacrifices God'll see it too. I heard Elvis even gave that jewel the stranger give em when he bought his copy of The Book as a sacrifice to the Church, so as to try and win its indulgence, and become Chosen, and be lowed to live on the Island."

"Really?" The Church's blessing was the only ticket to the Island outside of education, he knew.

"Ya. And the preacher sez Islanders can even be born gain as Lords in this life time, without even waitin for the end times. If they has faith and makes sacrifices and stuff. Is that in The Book too, Winkler?"

"I think so. There's a lot in the three books of Salvation, actually, that's what I'm readin now. Anyhow, they're bout Christ's teachins for the Third Age. They all talks bout the things we has to do to win salvation in this life, or be granted resurrection, specially at the end times. The way hard work'll be rewarded with worldly success and status and stuff, if we has faith and hope and makes sacrifices, just like ya sez."

"Do ya believe that, Winkler, in faith and stuff?" Jonesie passed him the bottle, which was almost empty. "In God rewardin the faithful like the preacher sez?"

"Not really. Why, do ya?" The thought hadn't even occurred to him until now.

But it was the only hope for most people, he suddenly realized. People like Jonesie, with no prep. Nor no books, like himself.

He passed the bottle back. He would have felt guilty for what he'd said, if not for Jonesie's behavior earlier.

Jonesie drained the bottle. He looked away into the distance for a while. Then he suddenly hurled the bottle angrily into the corner. It shattered loudly, adding another stain to the walls.

Finally, Jonesie continued, his voice thick with emotion, "I don't know anymore. I used to... I want to. But life's so fuckin unfair."

When he looked back Winkler realized he was sobbing silently, so as no one would hear. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

Winkler put his hand on his shoulder, suddenly sobering up. "What is it Jonesie? What's happened?"

Jonesie sobbed silently for a moment, his head in his hands. At last he looked up, his eyes red, "Richard's dead, Winkler."

Winkler put his left arm around Jonesie's shoulders and they sat quietly for several minutes, while he hung his head and cried. Richard had been Jonesie's previous favorite. He'd also been teaching Winkler combat skills on the staff. Winkler found himself quietly crying too, though he tried not to, so he could console Jonesie.

He blames himself, Winkler thought. He was sure of it.

After a time, when it seemed like Jonesie was beginning to pull himself together a bit, Winkler said gently, "How'd it happen Jonesie?"

Jonesie sat up, wiping his eyes and sniffing. Then he leaned forward with his hands clasped together, arms on his raised knees.

"It didn't just go badly, Winkler, it was a trap, a fuckin trap. And Jesus Christ I should've seen it, should've done somethin to stop it, but we walked right into it."

He went into the story, then, just like he was reporting it to the Foreboss "from the top." Probably the only way he could get through it.

"Do ya member that raid we did a couple weeks go into the Straddy Crew's turf? The one all the guys've been braggin bout, where we were gonna hit some shops, but ran into one of their bangers bein shown home by two of their crewmen instead?"

Winkler nodded and remained silent. They were feuding with the Straddy Boys. Apparently they'd bled the two guys and laid them out, then raped the banger. Several of the guys were bragging about it, especially Billyboy. About how much she'd liked his "big boy" when it was his turn to "giv'er a go."

"Turns out that was no banger." Jonesie sniffed, and wiped at his eyes. "That was Crazy Boy's girl, the one he was gonna marry."

"Jesus," Winkler breathed. Crazy Boy was Boss of the Stradbrook Crew. A well deserved name, too, from what Winkler had heard.

Jonesie continued right on, like if he stopped he'd never be able to get it all out.

"Course we didn't know that til tonight.

"This aft Billyboy and Richard and some others come back from King James's club in the greyland, sayin they had a scoop on the Straddy Crew's plans tonight. Course ya know both gangs has contacts in the greyland, specially at The King's place."

Winkler nodded.

"Billyboy said there'd been a big meetin of the Forebosses of several crews of the Wardlaw Gang, includin the Straddy Crew, coz one of their turfs'd been hit from the Fringe a couple days go and they were gonna hit em back hard with several crews. He'd heard the Straddy Crew was gonna be part of it, so he thought it would be a good time to raid their turf, while most of em'd be way.

"We decided to hit Archer's place, coz Billyboy said the contact told em the Straddy Boys'd pawned some of our stuff there from their last raid. So as we could make an example of em, ya know, and coz it's only a few blocks from the greyland. So we was proachin up the back alley, thinkin we could get in the back without bein seen.

"We was almost to the back door when a half dozen guys come runnin out. Richard layed out four in a trace with that staff of his, and Billyboy got the other two with his basher. Richard turned back, spinnin his staff, with that big grin he gets when he's in a mix up, like he was bout to say how easy it'd been."

Jonesie paused as the tears came again. He struggled to keep himself together so he could finish, then finally continued as best he could.

"Then suddenly they was everywhere, they'd been hidden all round, several crews at least, and they didn't just want to bleed us, they wanted to make meat. It was like Crazy Boy come out of nowhere, screamin bout his girl, and before Richard could even lower his staff it was like a red line just peared out of nowhere, right cross his throat. Jesus, there was blood everywhere, and he was meat before he hit the ground Winkler, with Crazy Boy holdin up his sharpie and yellin bout havin venged his oath for what we'd done to his girl, and then they was all over us. Christ Winkler, we had to fight our way all the way back cross the greyland, we're lucky we didn't lose more. But..."

Jonesie sobbed heavily, once again. He could barely bring himself to say it. Then he finally managed to push it all out between sobs.

"Jesus... Winkler... we had to leave his fuckin body... we can't even do his... final sacrifice proper."

Jonesie cried again, briefly, wiping at his nose and sniffing. Then Winkler could see anger begin to overcome his tears, though they continued to flow.

"And ya know what the worst part is Winkler? Ya know what the fuckin worst part is?"

Winkler could barely shake his head. He was almost petrified from the story, and the intensity of Jonesie's emotions.

"Richard hadn't even raped that girl for fuck sake. Me and em just stood watch."

"Oh Jesus."

Then Jonesie just collapsed in Winkler's arms for a time—spent, sobbing silently with his head against Winkler's shoulder, until it seemed like he just couldn't cry any more.

Winkler cried quietly too, not only because he'd liked Richard as a friend and mentor, but because of Jonesie's reaction.

Finally Jonesie slowly sat up straight; his face stained with tears, his head hanging and his eyes staring down at his feet. He was obviously down on himself.

"I should've done somethin Winkler."

"But how could you've known?"

"I'm supposed to be the Boss of the crew for Christ sake." He was clearly more angry now than sad. Angry at himself. Angry at the world. "What the fuck've I been doin, always followin Billyboy and Richard's lead?"

And answering for their mistakes, Winkler thought, but said nothing.

"Ya must've seen it Winkler, the problems they've caused for the crew with this feud, other things. But Billyboy's so hard to say no to, and Richard. Well, you've never seen Richard in a mix up. How good he was. How much he loved bein good at it. But I'm the fuckin Boss, and I should've never taken em on a raid like that, on any raid, without havin gotten the info for myself. Confirmed it myself. Looked in the contact's eyes as he sez it."

A contact who wouldn't last long, Winkler knew, if they ever saw him again.

Jonesie shook his head angrily. "I should've known better." Then more quietly, after a time, "You'd've known better."

Winkler didn't know what to say. They were quiet for a long time, leaving Winkler alone with his thoughts.

And then something began to become clear—slowly, bit by bit, until Winkler knew it had to be true. Mostly just little things here and there. From Jonesie's story tonight, and his reaction, especially. But also the way Jonesie so rarely ever asked him to share his bed. Little things about the way he and Richard acted together. The way they were always together. The way they were both still single.

Finally, he had to say it. It was barely a whisper.

"Ya loved em, didn't ya."

Jonesie just nodded sadly, not even looking at him. Maybe afraid to.

"Course we would've had to keep it hidden." So quietly Winkler could hardly hear. "Would've had to marry anyhow. Ya know. So it wouldn't show."

Winkler nodded slowly, almost frightened himself. Course they would, he thought.

Not like it's something they didn't all do. As part of the gangs. As part of the code. And while lots of guys just did what was required for initiation, or came for a crewboy when they needed a go at night, when they thought no one would see, there were also guys who seemed to want to give them all a go at least once.

Billyboy was the worst. He had the biggest of all the crewmen, which he just loved to show off. Winkler remembered that for the first few weeks the other crewboys were afraid to go to the common showers up by their rooms. It seemed like Billyboy was always there; washing it slowly and with great pride, waiting for the next crewboy to walk in so he could have a go. He had even heard him bragging in The Hole after hours about the way all the little crewboys had to get to know his "big boy" more than once, so they wouldn't forget "what a real man was like."

Course the other guys razzed and joked him about it. But it was all according to code, part of the initiation, so that's as far as it went.

And yet despite their initiation, or perhaps because of it, Winkler thought, it was a completely taboo topic with the older men who had left the gangs. There were worse words on the Mainland than suckfuck, or buggerfuck—as they called guys in some of the other gangs—for what the televid called "gay" men. They were considered even lower than slags. And no one who was open about it would have lasted long, Winkler knew, in or out of the gangs. Not on the Mainland.

"But you'll keep my secret, won't ya Winkler?" Jonesie whispered, still not looking at him.

"Course I will Jonesie. I swears it."

Jonesie smiled weakly and finally looked up, giving him a playful "shot" across the chin with his bruised knuckles. Winkler could see that now that the story was out—even more than intended, maybe—and his emotions spent, the whiskey was finally starting to catch up with him.

"And ya'd probably bleed yer palm and do it proper if ya had a sharpie handy. And then I'd have to wash my sheets."

They both laughed quietly, sadly.

"I wasn't kiddin earlier though. When I said ya'd do better than me. And ya will."

"But Jonesie, I'm just a crewboy, I'm not old nough."

"I know, but ya will be. And I'll stay on til ya sez yer ready. But I'm almost old nough for the facts, Winkler, and then can marry.

He said it so matter of factly, yet then paused, like he'd just noticed what he'd said, and remembered that Winkler now knew the truth.

So used to hiding the truth it was reflex, Winkler realized, like me and my books.

Then, after a moment's silence, "But I want ya to advise me, soon as yer full patch, tell me if I'm bein stupid, okay? You'll be my second."

"Anythin ya say Jonesie."

Then Jonesie slid down, so as he could lay his head on his pillow.

God he looks old, Winkler thought, as he watched Jonesie lie quietly for a moment. Old and tired.

"What's it like to live on the Island, Winkler?" Jonesie asked with a sigh, "Where near everyone can afford prep and there's no gangs? Where this stuff wouldn't matter?"

Winkler didn't think Jonesie really wanted an answer, just dreaming out loud.

"I bet you'll find out though, even without faith. Not like the rest of us. Yer better than the facts, Winkler, I know y'are."

There was a pause, then Jonesie continued, half to sleep now.

"And what's it like to be a Lord? They must be almost like gods..."

Then after a short silence, "How much faith does it take, Winkler, to become a Lord?"

He trailed off.

Winkler realized he didn't have to answer. Jonesie had finally fallen to sleep.

* * *

Winkler sat for a long time, watching Jonesie sleep. He was no longer tired himself, having slept earlier. Nor could he sleep after all he had been through, or so it seemed to him now, just sitting there in Jonesie's bed.

It would be a long three years, he thought.

Eventually he picked up The Book. As he flipped through the pages of the Third Testament, he thought about what Jonesie had last said, as he was falling to sleep. He knew the passage would be somewhere in the three books of Salvation, which he'd been reading.

Finally he found it, 2 Salvation 7:46, which he read in the light from the street:

For no man can be Born of God, according to the word of Christ, nor Chosen from among the Saved, lest he have faith in both the Father and in his Son. And if a man is to have faith, he must needs also have hope, that he too may become Chosen, or even Born of God in this life, or that he may be Resurrected upon Christ's return at the end of this Third Age. Further, a man cannot attain to faith and hope lest he also be meek and lowly of heart, and submit his own will to that of Jesus Christ, to the teachings of Our Father, who speaks to the world through Him, and to the Lords which serve Him. Hence, a man must also have charity. He must make sacrifices unto Christ's people and to the Church which serves them, and he must render service to those who are Born of God if he seeks salvation. Wherefore, cleave thee unto charity, which is the greatest of all. For while all things must fail, as the Great Dying has shown, charity is alike unto the pure love of Christ, which endureth forever.

Winkler closed The Book and placed it on the bed beside him, thinking about what he'd just read, and what Jonesie had said.

Faith, hope and charity. Sacrifice to the Church. Service to the Lords. Without creds it didn't seem like someone like Jonesie could even hope, at least not for anything beyond a life in the facts. And faith was the least of the three. Jonesie was right, how much faith does it take?

Winkler never read The Book again.







Copyright © 2007 Dudgeon

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Dudgeon: This is Dudgeon's second appearance on, both of which are based upon characters and situations from his first novel. This story is a prequel to "The Preacher."

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