William Currens Devol
I spent some quality time in Swanky’s basement in the early spring of 1975. The joke at the Ohio University of the Swanky’s era was that it was a gay bar. It was a place where you could find any kind of college kid, college kid wannabe, or sad post grad that was fighting growing up and leaving the 1960s. And you could find dope…any kind you wanted.
Hell, I bet most people didn’t even know Swanky’s had a basement. The door to the basement was below the stairs outside the rear door of the notorious night club where Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were playing the week that Born to Run went to the top of the Billboard 100 and where I once got high with an incarnation of the band Deep Purple that included no one from the original group.
There was a set of fire-escape stairs behind Swanky’s. The stairs descended to the brick alley behind Kantner Hall. Swanky’s basement door was under the stairs and down another flight of four steps. Today there is a CVS pharmacy roughly where Swanky’s used to sit.
The night of Swanky’s basement I had been drinking cheap pitchers at the Frontier Room in Baker Center with guys from my old floor section in Jefferson Hall. We decided to go to Swanky’s because Matt swore he knew a guy that could get us some hash if we could scrape $30 together and we didn’t mind waiting an hour or so. Amazingly, we did have $30 among the seven of us, so we piled out the side door of Baker Center and started north on College Street.
An alley ran from College to Court Streets right next to Kantner Hall. One of us, I don’t remember who, stopped to relieve himself on Kantner Hall. That seemed like a great idea to most of us and we were engaged in trying to wash Kantner Hall away when the police lights started flashing.
Athens police were really pissy about public pissing. They booked you on indecent exposure and loved to listen in while you tried to explain to your parents how you got arrested on the streets of Athens with your pecker hanging out.
Six of us took off in as many directions. Only Matt, who was holding the hash cash, had his dick zipped safely away when the police flashed their lights. He stood and laughed at us until the police decided they’d take him in for questioning. He wouldn’t narc on any of us, so they threw him in the drunk tank for public drunkenness. He kept the $30.
I ran up the alley in behind Swanky’s thinking I could hide in the stairs to the basement. I peeled to the left and took a running dive into the short flight of stairs. I poked my head up to see three the other guys keep going up to Court Street. A policeman was right on their tails. I ducked back down and crouched against the basement door. It creaked inward and I rolled in and down another set of wooden stairs to the basement floor.
The wind rushed out of me and I thumped my head pretty good on the concrete. That’s when I realized my dick was still hanging out of my pants. I used the stairs to pull myself up. I had just finished zipping when I heard running outside the door. I rolled under the stairs into a pile of old, paint-spattered canvas drop cloths. I pulled the canvas up to my nose when I heard the door creak open again and saw a flashlight beam cut the darkness. The light swept back and forth across a surprisingly clean and roomy space. Upstairs in the bar, you could imagine catching all manner of clap and syph. Down in the basement, you could eat off the floor.
After a few sweeps of the light, it went out and I heard the door shut above me. I wasn’t going to leave Swanky’s basement for a while. I had visions of Athen’s finest setting a trap for me out in the alley. I was safe where I was, and I was surprised how quiet it was in the basement, considering how loud things got in Swanky’s on a Friday night.
The canvas was comfy and warm. I had about four pitchers of beer in my system. I fell asleep. A while later, I woke up because I had to pee like a race horse.
I knew people were in the basement before I opened my eyes. I heard feet shuffling, the snap of crisp cloth, and finally a man’s voice saying, “Watch it, you stupid fuck. If you snap me with that alter cloth again, I’ll rip your eyes out with my teeth.”
When I opened my eyes I saw a string of low-wattage blubs glowing a pale yellowish light across the basement. At the end opposite me, a large table was being draped in red cloth. It looked like satin. A big man with a biker beard and wearing biker colors stood at one end of the table. At the other end of the table a tiny man in a black suit with no shirt on under the jacket was grinning from ear to ear.
“You won’t lay a hand on me, you ape,” Shirtless said. “The black shepherd would have your balls.” He giggled then like a little girl…high-pitched and kind of crazy.
“Well, fuck you, asshole,” Biker bellowed. “One of these days, he won’t think your shit don’t stink, and I will snap your spine and eat your heart.”
A door in the wall behind the table opened into the basement and a human shape was silhouetted in the door frame. Both Shirtless and Biker snapped to attention.
A very soft but deep voice came from the shape in the doorway, ”Our guests will be here very soon. If the church isn’t ready by the time they arrive, I’ll make you wish you were never born.”
“Yes, Master,” said both men and they exploded into a flurry of activity.
“Better,” was the one-word reply from the closing door in the far wall.
Silver candlesticks were fitted with black candles and a huge inverted crucifix was suspended above what I could clearly see was intended to be an alter. The crucifix had to be at least six feet long and three feet wide. Someone had painted Jesus with clown makeup and stuck a red, round clown nose on this face.
I still had to pee, and it was getting imperative that I figure out what to do about it. I had resigned myself to pissing my pants when I saw an empty orange juice carton against the wall to my left. I inched my hand out and hooked the open spout with my pinky finger. I dragged it back under the canvas very slowly.
I took advantage of a lull in the action when both Biker and Shirtless went in through the door in the far wall by getting to my knees and pissing into the waxed cardboard carton. I had zipped up and gotten comfortable again before Shirtless came back through the door and lit the five black candles on the alter. Before he went back through the door, he turned off the overhead lights and left the basement flickering in the weak light of five candles.
I should have bolted for the alley the minute the door in the far wall clicked shut. I could have been up the stairs and into the alley in less than five seconds. I was tensing to do just that thing when red spot lights blinked on up in the corners of the basement ceiling.
The lights didn’t just blink on. There was audible thud like a big circuit breaker had been thrown. I saw, heard, and felt those lights go on. There was another thunk, and a series of black light spots must have been activated.
The clown makeup on Jesus glowed like neon. Writhing, twisting fanged snakes glowed to life on the side walls of the basement. They must have been painted with ultraviolet ink or paint. A giant goat head was painted in the same manner on the wall with the door in it. The goat’s beard took up the entire length on the door. The goat’s eyes had upside down stars for pupils.
Low, throbbing drum music came from speakers I couldn’t locate, and I was officially scared shitless.
I pulled the canvas up around my head so I was peeping out of a tiny eye-sized gap. That’s when Biker came through the door in the far wall buck naked except for a sheathed knife strapped to his massive left forearm. Biker had a big tattoo of a goat head that went from just above his rather substantial sexual equipment to his collarbone and from armpit to armpit. His nipples were the pupils, and I shuddered thinking about how much it had to hurt to get your nipples tattooed.
Biker stood to one side of the door in the far wall, and I quit worrying about tattooed nipples when Shirtless came through the door wearing a knife just like Biker and with a thick sliver chain wrapped around his waist and a thick metalring through his rather substantial dick.
I have since found out that it’s called a Prince Albert. A ring goes into your urethra and is shoved through the underside of you dick right were the soldier’s face would be if the head of your dick was actually a helmet. I moaned softly inside my canvas hideout and grabbed at my own, not nearly as substantial sexual equipment.
The drum beats easily covered my moan. Then I remember thinking, “Charlie Manson.” Sharon Tate hadn’t been dead all that long. The trials of the Manson Family were still fresh in the collective mind of America. I imagined being discovered and being stabbed 27 times with a fork. I wondered what they would write in my blood. I started shaking. I bit down on my tongue to get myself focused.
There are few things like the taste of your own blood to bring focus. Get punched in the mouth, taste blood, get focused. I bit hard enough to draw blood and focused on the issue at hand. Was I safe were I was?
I would have been much safer in my bed in my apartment on Fort Street behind the National Guard Armory, but no one in the basement knew where I was. I was pretty sure Biker and Shirtless would have taken turns chopping me into pate’ or sodomizing me, or both, if they knew I was a witness to what was going on.
That’s when it hit me. What the fuck was going on? That’s when the first guests arrived.
I saw feet on the stairs in front of me. The drum music drowned out the opening of the alley door, so the first I knew we were no longer alone was when a combat boot came down on the stair tread about a foot in front of my face. It was a green canvas and black leather combat boot. They were standard issue in Vietnam, but I’m certain the girl wearing them didn’t pick them up in country.
Combat Boots was a tall, thin girl in a black granny dress. She was accompanied by a shorter, plump woman wearing a tie-dyed peasant blouse and a matching skirt.
Tie-dye and Combat Boots walked down the short flight of stairs into the basement without making a sound. They stepped to my right and began taking off their clothes. Combat Boots was painfully thin. Her collarbones stuck out above her flat breasts and her hip bones looked sharp enough to slice through her abdomen.
Tie-dye, it turned out, wasn’t plump so much as her breasts were twice the size of her head. Neither Combat Boots nor Tie-dye owned a razor. Combat Boots had a snake tattooed on her left butt cheek, and Tie-Dye had a goat’s head tattooed on her left ankle and blue mushroom on her right.
Over the course of the next ten minutes 8 more people entered Swanky’s basement and stripped. There was Jeans Jacket; he had a black palm print tattooed between his shoulder blades. He was scrawny and had the first penis smaller than mine I had seen in the basement so far.
There was Bald Boy with a pentagram tattooed at the nape of his neck. Equipment gigantic, of course.
There was Blonde Surfer Girl with no tattoos but gravity-defying boobs and steel bars pierced horizontally through each cute pink nipple. She obviously had access to a razor.
There was Fat Cher with long, straight black hair, eyebrow length bangs, and crooked teeth. She wore a pentagram on a leather thong that dangled between her dangling breasts; the cellulite on her butt looked like purple cottage cheese.
Castro Beard had an ivory bone through his nose and a studded leather cock harness…yes, and giant equipment.
Pixie Haircut had a Bette Paige haircut and a body to match. She was deeply tanned. Her equipment was shaved clean and something down there was pierced and sparkling.
Sleepy Girl yawned non stop as she stripped. She was short and thin with washed out red hair. She had a dagger tattooed on her stomach with its business end dripping blood and pointing down toward her lady business where the carpet matched the drapes.
The last guy to arrive made the stairs creek when he descended. Steroid Steve was well over six feet tall. He was an artistic stack of lean slabs of muscle and totally hairless below his eyebrows. His shoulders were wide and his hips were narrow. His equipment looked like it had been doing some weight training, as well.
The 10 new nudies arranged themselves in a boy-girl-boy-girl semi circle facing the alter. Without a word, the group held hands. Biker and Shirtless went down on one knee at their respective places beside the door in the far wall. There was no sound.
My pulse was banging at my temples hard enough to hurt. I was sweating and cold at the same time. I was as scared as I had ever been in my life. I was scared because I knew I would be discovered and I was convinced that they would kill me or worse.
The pounding drum soundtrack continued to throb and grow louder. I could feel the bass thumping my chest through my canvas covers. In just an instant, the drums stopped and a loud explosion sounded as a huge fire ball blossomed between Biker and Shirtless.
Where the smoke cleared, He was standing in the room.
He must have stepped through the door in the far wall just as the fire ball reached its maximum diameter. He had shut the door behind him leaving the impression that he had materialized in that ball of fire. He was tall and hairless…he didn’t even have eyebrows. He was totally naked and apparently very glad to see everyone as his package was at maximum tumescence… and hard enough to drive nails.
Biker boomed out , “Hail, the Black Shepherd.”
Shirtless followed suit with a higher register, “Hail, the Black Shepherd.”
The naked 10 dropped to their knees and shouted in unison, “Hail, Master.”
“Praise Satan,” shouted the Black Shepherd.
“Praise Satan,” everyone else responded.
“Oh shit,” I whispered.
Then, everyone started fucking everyone else. It was a full-fledged, no-holes-barred Roman orgy of an orgy. People screwed on the alter. People screwed on the steps in front of my hiding place. There was moaning; there was groaning and squishing and skin slapping against skin…there was Satan praising…then, Shirtless made what turned out to be a huge mistake.
Shirtless had been astride Fat Cher. From where I was under the stairs, it looked like Shirtless had been trying to crawl inside Fat Cher…and it looked and sounded like Fat Cher was more than a little into the scenario. Shirtless, in a moment of abandon as he reached his dénouement, shouted out the “G” word…”Gooooooodddddddddddddd!”
All movement stopped. It was like someone quick froze the previously gyrating group. Biker crawled out from under Tie-dye, Sleepy Girl, and Steroid Steve and stood staring at Shirtless who was just starting to realize what he had shouted.
Black Shepherd lifted his bald head from between Blonde Surfer Girls legs, looked once at the now horrified Shirtless, and then looked and nodded at Biker.
Biker pulled his knife out of its arm scabbard and took three huge steps toward Shirtless, who was still more than halfway inside Fat Cher. Shirtless never said a word as Biker grabbed him by his hair and bent his neck back to his shoulder blades.
Shirtless’ head came off with one huge slice. The fountain of blood that gushed from the stump of his neck drenched Fat Cher, Combat Boots, Jeans Jacket, and Castro Beard…that was before everyone kicked into full psycho mode and began rolling in Lake Shirtless.
Everyone was soaked in blood in seconds. They began tearing at the headless corpse, and when it broke open like a grisly piñata, they rolled and screwed in the innards. Biker had retrieved Shirtless’ head and was grinding his giant dick in what had become the ruined left eye of the recently departed.
That’s when I lost it. First, I pissed myself. Then, I began screaming like a little girl. When I saw heads jerk up from the pile of blood fucking humanity and turn in my direction, I bolted from my hiding place and crawled up the stairs on my hands and knees.
I saw Biker try to lunge in my direction, but he slipped on a piece of liver or stomach or some other part of Shirtless and went crashing to the floor at the foot of the stairs. Just before I pulled open the alley door and bolted into the Athens night, I saw Shirtless’ head become dislodged from Biker’s pike and go rolling back into the pile of bloody fuckers.
I ran toward the East Green. I think I must have rolled more than half way down Jeff Hill. I think I tore the knee out of my jeans on the bricks of the hill. I didn’t stop running until I found myself on the path by the Hocking River behind New South Green. I collapsed on the path and rested until my breathing slowed to normal.
I felt suddenly exposed out on that path by myself. I worked my way back toward Peden Stadium and eventually to the West Green. I fell in with a bunch of kids heading up Richland Avenue Bridge and kept going straight out South Congress when they turned on East Union to head uptown.
I walked in shadows as much as I could. Some asshole blew a trumpet from the window of one of the fraternity or sorority houses next to Bromley Hall. I pissed myself again. I started running again and soon crossed West State and then East Carpenter. There was a big church on the corner of East Carpenter and North Congress. I think it was a Baptist Church.
I ran up the steps of that church and pulled one of the doors open. They used to leave churches open back then. I don’t think it was just for people that had the fear of God put in them by witnessing a murderous, Satanic orgy, but that’s why I went in.
I ducked inside the sanctuary and sat in the back pew. I didn’t exactly pray, but I kept saying “Dear God,” under my breath. When the minister put his hand on my shoulder, I pissed myself for the third time that night. I screamed too. I scared the minister and he jumped back. He told me later he thought I was hopped up on goofballs which he explained meant he thought I was freaking out on drugs.
Reverend Graham was very kind. He sat with me and talked, but I could tell he was trying to figure out if I was drunk or stoned. We talked about where we were from and how we came to Athens. We talked about my major and how my classes were going. After about an hour of small talk which established that I was neither drunk nor high, Reverend Graham finally asked me why I was in his church at midnight on Friday with piss in my pants.
I told him everything. It took me about 30 minutes, and I left nothing out.
“Are you ready to call the Athens Mental Hospital, Reverend Graham,” I asked when I finished my story. His answer nearly was more frightening than what I’d seen in that basement.
“Did anyone see your face, boy? Can any of them identify you,” the tone of terror in Reverend Graham’s voice chilled me to the bone. He had grabbed my upper arms and was staring intently into my eyes.
“No,” I said. “That end of the basement was in deep shadow. They know somebody saw everything, but I’d bet my life they didn’t see my face.”
“That’s what you’ll have to do unless I can talk you into leaving town tonight and transferring to another school,” Reverend Graham said. “You’ve heard all the crazy ghost stories about this town, I assume?”
I nodded my head.
“Most of them are crap,” he said letting go of my arms. “The ones that have some validity aren’t nearly as spectacular as the one that get repeated. The biggest problem this town has is that it is lousy with witches.”
“Witches,” I said, “Witches in 1975?
“Boy, you didn’t just see a bunch of crazy people that play at being Satanists. You saw a coven of witches at a Sabbath. You saw real Satanists. You would be dead right now if this so-called biker hadn’t fallen down. He would have killed you and fucked YOUR eye socket,” Reverend Graham said, giving the curse word a hard emphasis that sounded strange in a minister’s mouth.
I could only stare at the Reverend.
“I am the last person you will tell this story,” he had grabbed my arms again. “If you want any kind of life that doesn’t involve either looking over your shoulder for or actively fighting these people, you will keep your mouth shut. Do you understand, boy?”
I shook my head vigorously, “Yes, sir, Reverend Graham. I understand.”
“If you ever need to talk about what you saw, come to me and we will talk. I will not betray you to anyone. Now, go home and never speak of this again in your life unless it’s with me…go,” he said, and I did.
I talked with Reverend Graham two times before I graduated. Each time he convinced me that I wasn’t equipped to fight the kind of battle I would be in for if I told anyone, let alone the police.
Reverend Graham died in 1979, two years after I graduated from Ohio University. I was still in Athens. I was in my second year of teaching at Vinton County High School in McArthur. I happened across Reverend Graham’s obit in the Athens Messenger and saw that visiting hours were that evening in the funeral home just south of the Baptist church.
The funeral home was packed with parishioners, fellow clergy, friends and family. Some people say things like, “They look like they could sit right up and talk to you,” when they see bodies at a funeral home. No one would have said that about Reverend Graham.
Whatever killed him had left him 40 pounds lighter than the last time I had seen him. My guess was cancer, but all the obit had said was “after a long illness.” I spent as little time as I thought respectable at the coffin and got in line to give my condolences to the family.
Just as I got to the family group standing near one of the doors to the viewing room, I stuck out my hand but tripped on the leg of a folding chair. As I looked down to see what I had stumbled on, a woman took my offered hand and said, “So nice you could come. How did you know my father?”
I looked up into the face of Fat Cher from Swanky’s basement. She had lost 30 pounds, but her hair and her teeth were the same.
I couldn’t talk. I tried to speak, but instead I squeaked. I pumped Fat Cher’s hand and tried to make words, but it was useless. I finally pointed to my mouth, moved my lips, and shook my head like I was a deaf mute.
“I understand,” Fat Cher said and thanked me for coming. I ran out of the room and ran out to my car.
I was shaking behind the wheel of my car when I spotted the Black Shepherd and Biker walking up the front steps of the funeral home: they were both in solemn black suits.
I started looking for a new job the very next day. That fall, I was teaching in an out-of-the-way school district to the west of Toledo and hoping three quarters of a state was enough real estate between me and Athens.
Flash forward to three weeks ago when I was visiting my parents who live within 25 miles of Athens, Ohio.
I was driving into Athens on old back roads because I wanted to see if a trailer park friends of mine had lived in at one time was still operating after more than 30 years. I was alone because my wife had stayed home in the Toledo area to be with the dogs, the cats, and the hamster…and to avoid my asshole brother-in-law who insisted things would be much better in America if everyone was armed and very, very pale.
I was thinking about how many times I hitched out to the trailer where my friends lived back when we were all college students and about how high I always was when I hitched back.
I was nearly to the Athens city limits when I saw someone on my side of the road with their thumb stuck out. I figured I needed to repair my karma for all the people that gave me rides back in the day, so I flipped my blinker and pulled over to the shoulder.
The hitcher was a woman with salt and pepper shoulder-length hair. At first, I thought she was fat, but she had gigantic breasts and they made her look much heavier than she really was.
She stepped to the passenger door and bent to see what kind of a maniac had stopped for her. She smiled at me and opened the passenger door and scooted into the bucket seat. As soon as she pulled the door shut, my car started to stall out. All the liquid crystal displays on the dashboard went black, and the glove box dropped open.
“Oh, crap” she said. “I do that sometimes. Give it a few seconds and it will be OK.”
I started to ask what she meant, but, before I could, everything went back to normal and the engine revved twice and returned to a quiet idle.
I looked over to see if the glove box door was going to jump shut on its own and saw the goat’s head tattoo on her left ankle and the blue mushroom tattoo on her right ankle…It was Tie-Dye.
I took a deep breath and managed to sound almost normal when I said, “That was weird. Where are you going?”
“You could drop me at the CVS if you are going up town,” Tie-Dye said.”You know where that is, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I most certainly do. Feel free to roll your window down if you want .” That was all the conversation I managed on the trip to the CVS.
Three minutes later, I stopped on Court Street to drop off Tie-Dye. She opened the door and got out. When she turned to shut the car door, she leaned into the car.
“Thanks, Thanks a lot,” she said, and then she called me by my first name.
How am I going to explain to my wife that we will be moving to Florida?