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|I was 25 and worked for Stan Winthrop, the richest man in my state. In three years working for Stan, I impressed the crud out of him. The suppliers all reported to me, as did the business assistants for everything outside of his corporation. I worked like a madman. Other than a 5 mile run everyday, and 10 on Sunday, every hour was dedicated to the Winthrops.
Stan Winthrop asked me to take his sons and their friends on a summer experience the summer before I was to become a Vice President in his DC operations. How different things would have been if I’d not taken the request. Instead, I found myself the “25 year older” brother to 22-year-old Hayden, 19-year-old Dodd, and Hayden’s 3 soccer team-mates from Michigan. It was 9 weeks of travel through Africa that changed our lives, and who know how close this group would grow.
Hayden turned out to be not just the leader his father wanted him to be – but far, far more. He was young enough when we started that his abilities to inspire and rise above hadn’t shown, but even then, sometimes at night by the fire you could see the wisdom in his black eyes. The buzz of his chestnut hair would glint in the glow of the flames.
His friend, Sprague, was quick – in the way he moved, his hand would snap flies from the air as we walked – but also in his quickness to smile, to laugh, to find connection and a reason to egg us on. I’d seen Spraque on the soccer field and it had been liquid to see him moving with his whippet frame and silky dark hair.
Jacob was the face-sculpted listener – never forgetting a detail or an issue about one of his bonded pals. On the trail he was a reluctant talker – contributing only a word for every 100 or 200 contributed by the others. But when he spoke it connected. He synthesized truth. His body, on the same fit scale as the others, complemented a face that was narrow and sharp. It sat beneath trim, shiny waves of light brown.
Gray’s name played well to his steady, attentive attitude. He had beach boy features, a gold countenance and blond with overtones of a warm-drenched sun. He dressed smart over his loose build.
Dodd was a young pup – with a body he shouldn’t have had, a swimmer’s dominance that IGLA was seeking to exploit and urges that matched both characteristics. He was tall with shoulders that were inches wider than any of the rest of us. His hips narrowed to 12 or 13 inches across and his legs had a modest, but noticeable shape on their length. At the sight of water, he would drop to a Speedo. He couldn’t be ignorant to the fact that he lay in his suit in such a long way, but he showed it nonetheless. In his backpack, he carried a “Juggs” magazine that he studied several times a day alone in the tent. But beyond that he was loyal and he was there for every activity.
The group collectively was closer than any group of guys I’d known. We started distant, but one night on the Zambezi River temperatures dropped and we’d built a fire in mid-raft and started sharing around it. Eventually, it shifted to ideas about the world, and then to hopes and disappointments - what we’d once wanted and what we’d found difficult to do or survive.
Later, in the brush of Zimbabwe, one fell ill – it was Jacob – and, through two nights we stayed awake and pillowed his head and tended with grave attachment the sweat on his fevered Orlando Bloom features. The scare made us more open with each other, attentive to each other’s needs, and grateful for these honest friendships.
In Kinshasa, we were invited to the Track & Field festival. They put Jacob, Hayden, Gray, and Sprague in unitards that etched over soccer legs and their skinny bods. The guys were daunted by the idea of really wearing those things out, and perhaps their high modesty, or shyness, prevailed and they switched from the provocative wear to something plainer. Only Dodd in the end wore such brashness, and did unexpectedly, taking a heat of the 400 meters with his natural height and gait. The rest of the guys got beaten, but not by much, and loved the recognition given at being the only white guys at this largely black event.
By Kilimanjaro, I felt like the 6 of us had forged friendships that would be significant for life. There weren’t other dudes I could respect more or hold in higher esteem. We’d speak and it was like the most interesting rhythms of life. Our trip gave us good physical challenges – 40-miles marched over two days, river-diving from 30-feet, carting mahogany logs from the wood – and we’d succeeded. We’d come to express our affections with high-fives and frat-guy holds. But, other than Dodd, we had dignity. We wore our young-guy styles and wouldn’t go shirtless and when it came time to change our clothes we disappeared to be alone and private.
Now that’s changed – how frickingly it has changed.
On Kilimanjaro, we learned the legend of the mountain warriors and we wanted to know more. “Tell us”, we said. Our local trip guide pointed up the scrabble field and said “they came from there – but this excursion won’t take you on that route,” and he went to sleep.
Before dawn, Dodd woke me, “I’ve got them all to go, come on.” I objected but there was something in his request. “Ok,” I said. He darted off into the dark, the white of the briefs across his ass holding the firelight longer than his body – what a showoff that kid was and knew he could be. “Dang it, whatever,” and I stood up.
Gray led the way, our stuff still at camp. I looked across the boulders and saw nothing directly, but when my eyes were on Gray’s Abercrombie plaid button-down, I couldn’t help getting the sense that there was a path beyond him and beyond my sight. “Do you know where you’re going, Gray?” I asked. “Of course, he does,” answered Sprague. A puzzled look must have shown on my face. Jacob turned. “We see the path, Galen,” he said to me. I frowned, “you see it?” “We do,” he said. Gray continued leading and the sensation of the pathway lingered for me, but when I tried to look beyond Gray I still saw only rock. “Ok.”
At 7:30 am, the sun cracked the level of the plains below us and the world lit up blue – it was a cool sunshine and I can’t say I’d ever felt physically better. My body was floating and something felt alive within me.
We stopped for water at a stream, and, without discussing it, soon were all shirtless for the first time. God, this group was actually handsome - thin chests, slightly curved arms, and lean butts, but facially very noticeable with the kind of model-bodies Herb Ritts couldn’t get enough of. We continued and the ground began to fall away on either side until we were on a ridge that crossed in the open air. We continued despite a growing sense that this had crossed from adventure into something truly risky.
Fear grew in the group, but something in Hayden became more certain and shepherding. “Come on,” and he addressed each of us by name, “this is an adventure and we are meant to live it.” He touched us – and when he got to Dodd, he wrapped his arms from behind Dodd’s back and let his hands massage Dodd’s admirable long trunk. “C’mon, Prince,” he laughed at Dodd’s unfamiliar look of trepidation and swatted him, “are you in?” “Yea, bro, we are all in,” Dodd answered in his sexy lows. And so, we continued.
Several hundred feet across the bridge, a boulder rose – it was a dead-end obstacle. I started to turn, but out of the corner of my eye someone bigger than our group moved around me. I looked directly at this newcomer, and had been wrong. I saw that it had been a trick of vision and that it was just Gray – hungry looking in his shorts and glossy blond hair. Gray put his hands on the rock to push and nothing happened. “There’s not a chance,” I said. Hayden looked at me, his face calm and almost proud. He stepped to me and put one of his hands on my shoulder and neck. “Things are changing, Galen.” Our hands all went on the rock – and it felt strange – this sense of intention – I was losing my doubt that we’d be moving the rock. “Now,” Hayden said, and we dug in our feet and heavily used our soccer legs and runner thighs. We felt our arms steady against the weight. The rock found a pathway that yielded more easily, and our efforts hurtled it from the bridge and we fell onto one another. It was strange, but with Sprague on top of me I felt something going on in his groin that I didn’t think he should have.
When we all stood, my heart beat. “Dang,” I said. I looked at the others, how their flat fronts were etched. Some ad-maker would have loved to have this group, somewhat shredded as we were from the hiking and sweat. My lips were painfully thirsty and I smacked them and fell in line.
We continued on and the unseeable trail turned onto a craggy rock face. We pulled ourselves up and around the mountain surface. It was an hour or more before we were a thousand feet up the dangerous face on a narrow ledge. “WoW, yesss,” Dodd let out. I could see the slinky redness of his swimsuit showing above his shorts. His shorts - well all of our shorts – were progressively sagging on our tiring frames.
“We should enter here,” said Gray, sounding weary and pointing to a crack in the rock face. His hair caught the aging sun and an aura suggested itself around the glistens of his gold and further down his rangy torso. All of us looked bare of fat now - emaciated and hungry. Dodd’s arm sinews, usually handsome, looked long and failing. Most of all, Hayden looked effected – hollows were growing in his cheeks, and his face was pale, and shadow-y lines circled along each rib.
“Geez – GREAT!” faked Dodd, he was working to keep himself and us together. Jacob half-mumbled his contribution, “It seems we have a choice – if we go forward, I’m not sure we come back.” Hayden stepped forward, “It could be dangerous, but we go… I’ll go first.” He disappeared. One by one we followed. The crevasse was an immediate change – dark and narrow and we had difficulty proceeding.
We were lost in our thoughts. I felt an inability to speak. This lasted for many minutes when Sprague broke the silence strangely, “No creature is greater than man.” None of us seemed to anticipate this announcement or be able to respond to its oddness, we were just left with the alternative of contemplating it. I followed as close to Sprague as I could to maintain contact. His hair was panther black in the dark. The silence was broken again, this time by Jacob. “Man has the greatest of gifts from all Dominion.” Again, none of us could respond. The trail entered an enormous space and rubble steps seemed to descend before us. “As Man was made – he was meant to rule,” said Gray. Halfway down the rubble field, all heard the expanding silence – an absence of sound that was engulfing. I cleared my throat and the “ahem” died before it went anywhere. Dodd had started to shiver and somehow looked more boyish and more vulnerable. “The bonds of men know all power,” said Hayden but his face looked empty – it was as though he were almost absolutely drained. I looked at the others and the vitalness was gone. We were merely stupidly underdressed cold guys who happened to be facially advantaged and we were wandering around in the smothering, wet depths of the earth. “Let’s go back,” said Dodd. “Destiny offers no retreats, little Bro,” croaked Hayden and stepped further down.
A tabled plateau rose before us and we climbed toward it. Hayden somewhat crawled as he led, grabbing the rocks ahead of him and using them to steady his uncertain feet. Behind him, Jacob fell on the third step and his limbs were lifeless. Gray and I raised him and he continued with our support. Over the top first, we could hear Hayden say, “There’s something here.” Dodd was over next, “Something – some pile of junk.” The rest of us cleared the rim and saw in the thin layer of dirt a lonely mound of artifacts. They looked like iron – but in the jumble who could make out what it was?
“What is this stuff?” I asked and turned to Hayden… he appeared hazy with a trance on his face. He opened his mouth but his voice was inaudible. We could see that Hayden’s breath was shallow; his ribs were rising and falling lightly. His face looked strained – his breath came in small gasps. He tried for a few more words and it was only an unheard whisper. He staggered and Sprague and Dodd, the swiftest, caught him. Hayden’s eyes rolled in his head. “Crap, this is scary,” Dodd said in a hushed manner that was unlike him, “What’s up with Hayden – what’s up!?” I looked at the others – I saw real emotion on their faces. Gray spoke, “I don’t know what to say.” Sprague answered, “I don’t know what to do.” Now, Hayden opened his eyes and waved us off and lowered himself so that he could lay back. “I think I need rest, boys,” he said. He closed his eyes again. Sprague looked relieved, “Yes, I’ve never needed rest more.” Jacob looked thoughtful, then saying “We’ve been brought to our limits.” He probably hadn’t recognized but he’d absently touched his hand into his shorts and quick fingered his crotch as he spoke. “You need a rest?” Dodd looked quickly around, “who wants to rest??” But he looked exhausted too. Sprague argued, “We’ve not eaten since dawn. We’ve gone for 18 hours – be real.” He lowered himself beside Hayden, and put himself close seeking to corral the scarce warmth against the dark’s cold. His eyes rested on Hayden’s face and then he put his arm across the pale chill of Hayden’s chest. Gray, Jacob, and I lay down and moved tight against them. We drew in until all of us could share the meager warmth from the other dude’s shivering shells. “What the fuck,” said Dodd, clipping off the last word with a chatter, “I know you’re right.” He half stooped and then tumbled on to Jacob. Awkwardly, he settled kind of across Jacob and me. I looked and his shorts were far off his hips now and in the plainly visible stretch of his lifeguard bikini – he’d plumpened hard. Even for him, it was impressive.
“Wake up, Hayden,” we called to our friend who’d seemed to be most affected. “What a dream,” he mumbled and looked around at us in the cave and there we were – Jacob, Gray, Sprague, and me – circled above him. “Whoa, guys” he said, then counted, “Where’s, Dodd?” We pointed. Dodd sat behind Hayden’s head and as Hayden looked back, he saw Dodd’s tired-grinning face – was it possible that that face had changed and that it looked more sculpted? The shorts were gone now, and the swimsuit’s lycra traced the placement of Dodd’s penis. “Oh, jesus,” Hayden said. “Look at them,” said Dodd springing up. The stretchy fabric pinched in his crack and lifted his length in the front. “They put on the warrior gear.” “What?” Hayden said. Sprague, Jacob, Gray, and I had iron arm cuffs on each upper arm, stupidly loose, and heavy medallions that hung on our thin bodies. “Jesus, you guys,” Hayden rolled his eyes. “There were six sets,” said Jacob, “we’ve left the last for you guys.” “So, when’d you have the guide set this up, Galen?” Hayden swatted at me. “Sorry, Hayden, not my doing this time.” How silly we looked, shivering, cold, and tired with these over-obvious symbols of male dominance. I wanted to shed them and head back. But the others had insisted – this was the capping moment to the adventure and would add that interesting detail to the story when it was retold.
Dodd went to the pile and pulled out the iron pieces. “Cuffs and crowns, Hayden,” he said. The cuffs were the same as ours, but larger, and instead of medallions the remaining metal pieces were clearly crowning ornamentation. The first was a simple twine of two iron bands – it dipped into a point at the front so that it would v to the hairline of its wearer’s forehead. The second was an iron band cast with a sculpted bas-relief. At the forehead, two fists met knuckles to knuckles, and then proceeded back into a set of arms that wrapped to the rear. The sculpture was such that the arms were something warrior-like and strong. The proportion of the sculpture was over-developed and would have made these flexers 24 inches, with tight wrists and elbows. “Cool,” Hayden said looking at the two artifacts. He and Dodd grabbed the cuffs and each pulled on a pair. But, since they were bigger than ours, they wouldn’t rest on their arms. Hayden supported the bands around his wrists with his fingers. “Ha, this is studdish.” Hayden smiled at Dodd and curled his iron pinching fists into a double biceps. His lips tightened even as the split of his grin climbed further back his face. “See,” Hayden said. But, he was looking emaciated. The ribs were almost protruding now and there wasn’t enough meat on Hayden’s arms to yield any kind of accumulation while he flexed. His shorts were drooping and we could see that the black of his shiny European bikini was loose. He dropped his hands and pushed the shorts from where they tangled at his waist so that he could step free. From my glance to his newly revealed locus, I could see that he shared a genetic similarity with his younger brother. “Which do you want, lil’ Bro?” Hayden asked and looked to the crowns. His body looked somehow alluring with its scrawniness and clad only in the small, spare wrap of the black stretch that just avoided hanging around him. Dodd’s expression shot back a right to Hayden’s question – he knew which he’d be allowed to prefer, and put the twined iron circlet on his head. “What do you think, big Bro?” Hayden started to open his mouth to wisecrack back in some fashion, but then Hayden actually looked at Dodd. We all looked. There was something different immediately about our perception of Dodd. He looked authoritative, dominant and wild in an indefinable way. Something had changed in his face – probably not physically – the features must have been the same – but something seemed forceful and calm in his visage with the crown perched above. “Oh god, Bro, you look good.” Hayden said. We looked and had to agree – Dodd looked exhausted but his meatlessness angled on his gaunt frame and the ancient roughness of these metal ornaments suggested something in a unexpected way with its contrast to the synthetic red material that hammocked him and offered no modesty. Dodd panted and a coil came into his posture. His lower torso arched and his shoulders angled over his hips. His eyes were taking on a fixated appearance to some unidentified distance and his parted lips were turning red. “Are you Ok?” I asked. There was genuine concern in my voice. “I feel Great, Galen, guys,” he looked at us from his cocked body as though he were enjoying a moment steeped in anticipation, “As great as I’ve ever felt, guys.” Sprague and Gray stepped closer to Dodd and touched his shoulder looking him in the face to confirm that he meant what he said – that this wasn’t some sign of dementia caused from fatigue. Dodd lifted his head and there was clear command of himself in his look and authoritative attractiveness had taken up residence on his face. “Spraguer, Grayson…. It’s more than that – I was so tired – but suddenly, I feel great more than great.” Hayden hoola’d his crown in his hand and looked at the rest of us, Do we believe him? his look seemed to say. I hazarded an answer, “I think it’s understandable. Tired like we are – swings of how we feel is something we’re just in store for.” The release of tension from Hayden’s face said that he accepted this. He looked at Sprague and Gray. “You know what guys?” he started and shifted his focus to include the rest of us in his address, “Why don’t we all just give it up on the shorts – they’re not doing a bit of frickin’ good are they? If we’re going to do this warrior thing, let’s just f’ing do it, huh?” The rest of us smiled at him. Gray kind of chuckled. Sprague started to laugh back, “Yeah, let’s just shed these…” but he saw Hayden had meant it. He looked down at his shorts that were hanging from beneath his butt, just clinging to his tired thighs. The others looked at themselves too. And then, Sprague, Jacob, Gray, and I all drifted in different directions away from the group. When we came back we all wore the black slink that matched Hayden’s. The whole set of kind-of suggestive garments was the result of a packspace-saving purchase we’d made in Frankfurt on our layover on the way here. I couldn’t have anticipated my assessment of Sprague, Jake, and Gray seeing them this way – but their tightened, slim bodies were hotly flattered by the scant revealing items.
“Ha – not an impressive group of warriors,” said Hayden, “who could have expected this from our start yesterday.” He played with the crown in his hands, balancing it on his fingers, tossing it from hand to hand. “Wear it, don’t play with it,” said Gray. Hayden continued to play with it and used the lift of his right lip to signal – of course I’m gonna play with it – don’t be so impatient. And then he spoke, “You know what, I don’t want to put it on here – I think there’s something disrespectful to that, instead I’ll carry it back – we can donate it to the Kenyan anthropological center.” We knew Hayden was making an appropriate decision. The crown continued to loop in his hands and we all fished our shorts from the rocks and readied ourselves. “Let’s go,” said Dodd and he looked taller to us and his eyes looked toward the steps off the plateau.
Up the rubble field, I followed behind Jacob again staying close because of the threaded path and the diminished light. Periodically, we’d come to larger rocks and as he clambered up them his whole body would move in front of me. In the shadows, it gave the impression of moving differently. His mounting was easier than I expected, but then so was mine. And as his butt passed, I’d note the grip his clinging bikini briefs would make. His cheeks rounded in a way that was even beyond what I expected of a soccer player.
As we came close to the top of the rubble field, I turned too quickly to comment to Dodd and lost my balance. I was headed for the ground at full speed, when Dodd whipped forward his arm and caught me with just the one hand. I couldn’t believe the strength – or I guess it was dexterity – that had shown. Where his hand gripped on my chest, I was surprised at the sting and at the feel of his fingers as they dug into my flesh. But, all of it was funny, because I suddenly couldn’t deny that I was feeling good. Very good. The others were as well, I could tell by the rising verbalization from the group – comments, laughs, calls to one another. There was a certain life that was coming back into us.
We approached the end of the open field and as I came next to Gray, I wanted to put my hand in his blond hair. It was like a golden field on his head. I swatted him instead and felt how nicely the black shine of his gluteage arched away from his back side. It was suddenly very explicit and tangible to me what a handsome configuration it made.
We’d probably climbed several hundred feet, but the funny thing was that my legs felt more alive. It was like the more we climbed the less the sense that I was exerting effort. My legs were churning through the steps like it was nothing. Again, this was common to all the guys – well at least to all of us but Hayden. Gray laughed and said, “Look at the stride I’m taking.” The way his arms pumped looked more athletic too – like he was using an awareness of his body to turn the climb out into a display of pure fitness.
As we approached the narrowing of the vaulted area, we decided to rest to give Hayden a break. I brought my arms over the shoulders of the night-haired Sprague and the tall, crowned Dodd. My arms felt wonderful, and as they stretched over these guys lean builds the stretch across my front felt extraordinary – I wanted to throw my hands into the air and ball my fists. I wanted to flex my chest and bring their heads together against my torso. I wanted everything. I laughed and I angled my hips, looked in the dimness at my shredded waist and leanness. I was glad to be in nothing but this groinal slinker.
Gray and Jacob stood across from us, somewhat visible, and looked great with their slim bodies. Their shoulders seemed to be held back, their heads high, their arms hung to their sides, and their chests were raised and forward. What guys we were – what guys being men.
Hayden shuffled in after us. He seemed to look more tired than any of us, still so hungry and gaunt. He looked like he was slight in comparison to the group of us who were recovering. The crown weighed heavy in his hands. “I can carry that if you want?” said Dodd. The cave must have been causing some kind of echo because his voice had hit a lower register, one almost musical.
Hayden’s eyes grew wide – a sense of distrust. “No! I can carry it,” he rasped irritated. “Cool, Don’t sweat it,” said Dodd, yet as he said it, he stretched up and unconsciously leaned himself taller, looking longer and harder than Hayden despite his fewer years.
“C’mon, let’s keep going,” said Jacob and he put his hand on the nape of Hayden’s neck and massaged it temporarily. His chisel-shaped features examined Hayden – it was as though his mind was looking to see something through his eyes that the rest of us could not see.
We continued on.
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