Devotee's Paradise
By: Jess Mercer
( 2010 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

 

After finishing up my latest novel and getting it off to my agent, I decided to clear my mind by taking a no-plans holiday. With no particular destination in mind, I am simply driving along a coastal highway. Although it's late spring, I have no trouble finding a motel room wherever I stop for the evening.

When I stop in a village for some petrol and a Pepsi, it feels so good to get out and stretch that after I've filled the car I pull over to the side of the service station lot and park. I wander idly along the main street, enjoying the quaintness of the place. Out of casual curiosity, I stop in front of a realtor's storefront office and look at the ads. A very small one in the lower corner of the window catches my eye: A select isolated community for a special few. The picture shows a sweep of grass extending to a sandy beach and water beyond. The house looks typical of those in a small English village, but separated from its neighbors by a more than generous amount of space. Intrigued, I enter.

"Good afternoon, sir. May I help you?" A nice looking young man appearing to be no more than twenty-five asks.

"The advert for the isolated community?"

He looks me over carefully, then indicates the chair next to his desk. "Please. May I ask why you might be interested in a small isolated community?"

"I'm a writer. The idea of peace and quiet holds some appeal for me."

He nods. "I understand. However that are certain aspects of your personal life I must determine before I can speak of it further."

I'm even more intrigued now. "Ask away."

"How do you feel about an all male community?"

"If you're implying it's a gay community, I have no problem with that, as long as it's quiet and there are no loud parties."

His eyes widen slightly. "You're gay?"

"I have the tendencies, but I have remained celibate."

"I see. And people with disabilities?"

"They're people just like the rest of us. Why would you ask?"

"There are a few who choose a community for acceptance they can't find elsewhere."

"I can respect that."

He looks me over again. "You look to be in your late twenties."

"Twenty-seven."

"Excellent. You fit the age range of many of the inhabitants. Let me explain. Sandy Ridge was established by an Anglophile who became reclusive after losing his legs. After meeting several other amputees on the net, he invited one or two to visit. They so enjoyed themselves they went together and formed a corporate trust which bought five-hundred acres of land, fenced it in, and formed the basic community modeled after an English village the founder loved. With a few exceptions, it remains closed to anyone who is not an amputee and gay. You say you are gay, but can you meet the other requirement?"

The idea of spending some time among amputees who aren't senior citizens delights me. Not only do I find myself attracted to them, but observing them in every aspect of daily life will be invaluable to my writing. "I'm not an amputee, but most of the books I've written have at least one amputee character shown in the most positive way possible."

"I see." He mulls this over for a bit.

"Is this a resort, or a permanent community?"

"A mix. There are permanent homes and a few townhouses that rent seasonally."

"Could I take a look?"

The realtor closes his eyes for a few moments, appearing in deep thought, then asks, "I'd like the name under which you publish and several titles."

I give him my name. "It's my real name. I'm not ashamed of anything I've written."

He smiles. "A genuine pleasure to meet you. I have every one of your books in my personal library. Please excuse me for a moment. I need to make a phone call."

He disappears into an inner office and shuts the door. A few minutes later he returns with a smile. "Are you in any rush?"

"Not at all. I have no set plans. I've just finished a new book, so this is a holiday to clear my mind and relax."

"Excellent. I have permission to bring you out to Sandy Ridge. There is a cookout this evening at which time you will meet some of the residents and have them meet you. If they give approval after talking with you, you may stay overnight. As I'm screening agent for the community, my townhouse also serves as a guesthouse for overnight visitors."

"I'm looking forward to it, but I do need to shower and change beforehand."

"You may do that at my place, though what you're wearing will be fine. Except for rare occasions, formality is frowned upon." He consults his watch. "It's just gone three. Shall we go?"

"Now?"

He shrugs. "Why not? There's no need for me to stick around the office. The phone forwards calls, and if anyone were to drop in as you did, Sam, next door, will talk to them, give me a call if need be."

We walk out together. He locks the door and says, "You'll have to follow me out, or you'll never find Sandy Ridge. Where's your car?"

I point down the street. "I left it at the service station while I took a walk."

"Mine happens to be there, too. I left it for Ted to service."

I'm a little alarmed when we approach the station and I see the bonnet on my treasured MGA raised. "Is there anything wrong?" I ask.

A young man in mechanics coveralls raises his head. "Not at all. Haven't seen one of these in years, so I wanted to get a look. You keep it perfect," he says as he closes the bonnet. "Must have been restored by a real expert." He wipes his already clean hand on the rag he's holding, then extends it. I'm Ted."

"Alex." It's then I notice then he's holding the rag in the hook that replaces his left hand. "And thanks, but it's just as I bought it, not restored. I do all the work on it myself, though parts are getting difficult to find now."

He fishes in his pocket and hands me a card. "I have a source for most anything you might need. I'll be happy to help you out if you're in this area. Specially if you decide to stay." He smiles at the realtor, and I realize he hasn't given me his name. "Your wagon's all ready, Steve."

Wagon, indeed! When Ted backs it out of the service bay, I can't believe it's a spotless dark blue Range Rover less than a year old, near fifty thousand dollars worth of vehicle. Real estate business must be far better than this little place would appear to support. Once we're on the road I'll have no trouble keeping this in sight.

Steve drives leisurely, so it's easy to follow him some fifteen miles out of town through wooded countryside. He turns off between two trees onto a rutted path I would have never noticed or, if I did, I would have assumed to have been made by a log truck. After we've made two short sharp turns screened by heavy undergrowth, we hit a paved single-lane road. It's another mile or so before Steve pulls up to a gate and stops. A brawny security guard about my age and wearing a green uniform steps through a door in the guardhouse and speaks to Steve, then comes to me. "I'll need your driver's license and registration, sir."

I pull them from my wallet and hold them out.

"Hold them for me, please." He cradles his small clipboard with his handless right arm and begins to write. "Thank you, sir, and enjoy your stay at Sandy Ridge."

He steps back into the guardhouse and the gate begins to swing open. I follow Steve's Range Rover to an attractive set of six row-houses, stopping behind him in the drive. He gets out of the Rover and comes back to me. "If you don't mind my driving this beauty, I'll give you the dime tour. You can see a lot better from this than from the Rover."

I don't like anyone else driving my MG, but I move over into the passenger seat and he gets in and starts the engine. He shifts into reverse smoothly and backs out. The road twists among the trees, then suddenly we're in an open space, facing a large immaculately mown green on which a dozen guys younger than I, all with one leg and using crutches, are playing soccer. Steve drives past the green, then points out the clubhouse. I see two more guys with prosthetic legs playing on one court, while on the other are two guys with prosthetic arms. I have admire their skill, for I doubt I could keep up. Any one of them would be stiff competition for me; I don't get time to play that much. Steve drives on through another wooded area, and pulls off into a parking area capable of holding no more than four cars. Two already occupy the space along with three golf carts and several bicycles. When I mention them, Steve tells me that as everything is within easy walking distance, most people here walk or ride bikes.

"The beach is just over the dune here. Please use the boardwalk, because the dunes are planted to protect them from erosion."

The boardwalk is a broad ramp. When we reach the top and start down, I stop to gawk. It's a devotee's dream come true. On the beach are at least two dozen guys, some lounging on blankets soaking up some rays and drinking beer or soft drinks, others are playing in the water or swimming. Every one of them is an amputee in some degree. At least three are missing both legs, and one very attractive guy is missing both arms below the elbow. The ultimate picture for me is a teen BK amp, using an old-fashioned wooden peg-leg.

Steve turns to me with a grin. "Like our beach?"

"Unbelievable!" I gasp.

"And private. A number of these guys come here every year for that reason. The sand is finer than that on most beaches, and the ocean is usually calm with no undertow like you find at most other places along the Atlantic, another reason why this place is here. Let's go. You'll meet some of these guys at the cook-out."

Back at his townhouse, Steve pushes open the door and we walk in. "Another amenity of Sandy Ridge is that no one locks a door here unless they're going to be out of town for an extended period. We carefully vet everyone who applies, so we have a crime free environment."

His house bears every sign of a professional decorator, yet it's personalized and homey, not a show place. He shows me to his guestroom. "If you have them with you, I'd suggest you wear shorts for the cookout. Everyone will be wearing them. If you're ready before I am, the bar is open in the kitchen."

I shower and dress as Steve has suggested, then go to the kitchen to mix myself a vodka tonic. He has fresh limes and I like a twist in my drink, so I make free to slice one. While I'm sipping it and looking out the patio doors at the natural beauty of this place, I wondering how much it costs to live here, deciding that if it takes my last penny, I'll make the move if they'll accept me. I hear a soft sound behind me and turn.

Steve stands there wearing shorts and smiling. He's on crutches, his left foot missing at the ankle. "That drink looks good. Fix me one?"

"Sure. I've noticed there are a number of kids in their teens. Are they visitors?"

"One or two, but most of them are residents."

I shake my head. "But I didn't see anyone old enough to be their parents when we were looking around."

"Doctor Anders, who you'll meet tonight at the cookout, founded Sandy Ridge. His only child, a gay boy, lived with him after his mother's death. The accident that took Doctor Ander's legs also took one of Tommy's arms and both of his legs. Since he was in his early teens, he was very sensitive about his prosthetics, so he was home-schooled. That's another reason Doctor Anders founded this place. As for the teens you see around, they are either orphans or kids who would be difficult to place in foster care because they are amputees and/or gay. This is a licensed facility for their care. I should mention that we have a tiny but superior hospital on site. Doctor Anders and two of our residents who are registered nurses provide superior medical care."

When Steve asks, I'm happy to autograph his copies of my books. As he slides the last one back on the shelf, he says, "I hope you're approved. You'd be a real asset to our community." He turns and smiles again. "In some way, almost everyone here is employed by the trust that runs Sandy Ridge. I'm a GRI and have a degree in psych, so I'm the one who meets the public and does primary screening of anyone who inquires as you did. In case you're wondering, I also maintain a regular real estate business, though in a place as tiny as Mills Ford it doesn't amount to much more than a farm now and then. What beach property there is, is part of a national forest. I'm also counselor to the kids in Sandy Ridge school."

I shake my head sadly. "I've already decided I'd love to live here, but I'm a writer. Not much I can contribute since you apparently don't advertise this place."

"Absolutely not. A few of the doctor's friends send us referrals from time to time, and, rarely, there are drop-ins like you, but no way do we want public attention. However, if you write, you must have a reasonable command of the language."

"I have a degree in English, for what it's worth."

"Excellent. We have our own school. It's for the kids that live here, and accredited by the state and the national private school association. We need an English teacher for the upper grades. You would set your own curriculum. With no more than thirty kids in the whole school, you'll have plenty of time left to write."

I hear someone running up the walk, then a good-looking teen bursts into the room and hugs Steve with his one arm. "Hi, dad."

Steve returns his hug and ruffles his hair. "Hi, babe. Alex, this is my son Aaron."

I hold out my left hand, since Aaron's right arm is gone at the shoulder. "Hello, Aaron. Nice to meet you."

He grins. "Great to meet you, Alex. Will you autograph your books for us?"

"I already asked," Steve tells him. "Aaron loves your books, too," he says to me, then swats Aaron lightly on the backside. "Let's go."

Outside, Aaron reaches in and strokes the leather seat of my MG lovingly. "Would you like to ride with me to the cookout?" I ask.

His broad grin is my answer. "Don't bother. It's an easy walk," Steve says.

"No bother. I'll be happy to take Aaron. Sorry there's not room for you, too."

"Please, dad?"

"Okay. This is probably the only one you'll ever see."

I show Aaron how to reach under the door opening and pull the cord to spring the latch. He gets in, looking at everything closely. When I start it, I rev the engine a little so he can hear the roar, then back out of the drive. "You'll have to direct me, Aaron."

"It's on the green near the clubhouse." I see him watching as I speed-shift the gears. Yes, I'm showing off a little, but what kid doesn't love a sports car.

"This is fantastic!" Aaron says. "Wish I had one like it, but I couldn't shift and steer at the same time with just one arm."

"You might try putting one knee against the wheel to hold it while you were shifting. I saw a guy do that when I was in college. Do you drive yet?"

"I'm only fifteen, but Steve lets me drive his Rover inside the fence."

"Have you ever driven anything with gears?"

"The riding mower at the club."

"Then you know about the clutch and all."

He nods, so I stop and get out. "Okay, Aaron. Give it a try, but take it easy on the gears."

He looks at me unbelievingly. "For real?"

"For real, guy."

After I show him the gears, I'm surprised at how well he manages, putting his right knee against the wheel and shifting gears quickly to avoid losing speed. He's one big smile when he pulls into a parking space by the club, and shuts the engine off. "Gee, thanks, Alex. That was super."

"My pleasure. You drive well for one so young."

About then several teens come over to admire the car. Still sitting under the wheel, Aaron's in heaven. Steve swings up on his crutches. "What the hell, Aaron?"

"Alex let me drive, dad. Way cool."

Steve looks at me in shock. "You didn't?"

"He drives well. He said you let him drive the Rover once in a while."

"I do. But a straight shift?"

"I showed him how a one armed guy I knew in college did it. Aaron didn't clash gears once, and held it steady."

"Good." He takes me by the arm. "Want you to meet Doc."

When we're a little distance from the boys, he says, "Thanks for letting Aaron drive your MG. He lost his arm six months ago and he's had a tough time adjusting. I could tell from his expression he's overjoyed at doing something he thought he couldn't. This will really help build his confidence."

"Is he really your son?"

Steve grins. "Not by blood, but he lost his parents in the accident that took his arm. He was in such bad shape emotionally, Doc asked me to help him. He quickly accepted me as a surrogate father, so I adopted him. The papers came through last week. And, yes, he's gay."

"I'm surprised the laws on gay adoption are that advanced here."

"They're not, but the Doc has friends you wouldn't believe, one judge in particular. Social service never bothers to investigate when he hears an adoption case from someone here. You'll see why at the cookout."

I'm very impressed with the quiet dignity of the imposing older man in an electric wheelchair to whom Steve introduces me. The man standing beside the doctor is huge. His craggy face and size are so intimidating I'd hate to meet him on a dark street, but when he smiles and speaks in a deep soft voice, he becomes almost handsome. His left arm is myeoelectric. Steve tells me later that Tom is one of the nurses at the hospital.

The doctor nods at the introduction. "I've enjoyed several of your books, Alex. Steve tells me you are impressed with our community."

"Indeed. I would be very happy to live with such fine people as I've met here."

The doctor waves his hand. "Take a look at these people."

I do, and see that with the exception of a few of the arm amputees wearing their hooks, there's not a prosthetic device in sight other than a few pair of glasses, but it's a crutches expo! To me, crutches have always been wood and go under arms like the pair Steve is using and I used when I cracked my leg in grade school, so that's the kind I've always given my characters to use. Now my mind is blown, for there are modern designs I never dreamed of, not to mention colours. My future characters will have a new dimension in their lives.

The doctor's voice breaks into my ponderings. "You would be happy living with a bunch of queer cripples?"

Uh,oh. I turn back to the doctor with a smile. "Cripples, sir? I don't see any. However I do see a number of people enjoying themselves and showing affection toward one another that I've seen in no other community." I point to a bunch of teens having the time of their lives playing soccer and yelling friendly insults at one another. "Tell me there's not caring on the part of everyone when kids can have that much fun teasing each other about their physical challenges." Just then there's a roar of derision directed at the leg-less goalkeeper for not standing up and stopping the ball from going in. He joins in the laughter.

I get a nod of approval. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Alex. Now, if you will pardon me, I have a few other people to see before we eat."

There is none of the youthful rowdiness I expect when we line up to eat. Even the youngest kids are quiet and courteous. After Steve and I have filled our plates and found seats at one of the tables, I notice a couple of boys sitting on the grass nearby. One of them has two filled plates in front of him, and is helping the armless kid next to him eat in a way that appears perfectly natural. They're having a great time, and give each other an occasional kiss.

Steve points out one of the cutest kids I've ever seen. He's tow-headed, sharp faced with a slightly tipped up nose sprinkled with freckles. The left leg of his shorts lies flat against the ground. "That's Wolf, Aaron's talking to. He's fairly new and needs a father figure badly."

"Wolf?"

"Yeah. His name's Leonard, but he despises it. He's only fourteen, and he swears he's changing his name to Wolf as soon as he's of age. He's a damn nice kid."

"Cute."

"If you come here and like it enough to make it your permanent home, Wolf's in bad need of a gentle caring father."

"Are you proposing I take him in?"

"Right on the mark. You said you've been celibate, and if you pass our vetting, you would be perfect for Wolf. We don't allow pedophiles here, though the kids are allowed free sexual expression among themselves, as are the adults. Wolf is here because he was frequently abused sexually by his father. He needs genuine affection to recover, and from the way you've been looking at him, I think you can offer him that. I'll get Aaron to introduce you after we've eaten."

Wolf avoids every adult except Steve, and even with him he is distant, but I see his eyes light up when Aaron asks if I'll show Wolf my car. The kid seems so entranced, I let him get in, then hand Aaron the keys. "Once around the green, Aaron, and be careful. Please let me have your crutches, Wolf. I'll put them behind the seat, so they'll be out of your way and won't scratch the door." He reluctantly lets me take them, though he cringes when my arm accidentally brushes against him.

When they return and Aaron parks, I lift Wolf's crutches out and open the door for him. "Here you go. Have a good time?"

"Yeah," he mumbles, and drops his head.

I have an urge to hug this cute kid, but I limit myself to one stroke of his hair. "I'm glad. Maybe we can take a longer ride sometime."

I watch him and Aaron take off, then turn to see Tom. "Doc wants to see you in the clubhouse," he announces solemnly.

"Alex, come in and have a seat," Doc says. Tom sets cups of coffee in front of Doc, Steve, me, then pours one for himself and sits down with us at the table. "How do you feel about joining us here?" Doc asks.

"I feel even more strongly about it than I did at first, but there's no way I can afford it."

"Au contraire. I believe Steve has told you of our need for an English teacher at our school. If you accept the position you will find a townhouse quite affordable. Those who contribute to the good of our community have their costs subsidized by our trust. And should you take in one of our boys, all of his basic needs will be met by the trust as well." He gives me a rental figure for the townhouse next to Steve's that's half what I pay for my less than desirable flat. "The directors feel that if you will consider taking Wolf to live with you, you should be next door to Steve, especially as Aaron is the only older boy Wolf lets close to him. I hope you will give serious thought to joining us here. You may speak further with Steve and give him your answer before you leave tomorrow."

To make a long story short, that's how I came to move into a devotee's idea of paradise two years ago. As well as teaching beautiful amputee boys, I've written three novels during this time. All three contain gay amputee characters and one has become a best seller. The initial battle with my libido has been solved by the relationship I have with Steve. The only remaining negative in this paradise is that I seldom get to drive my MG any more. My son Wolf recently got his license and drives whenever we leave Sandy Ridge to shop for specialty items the community greengrocer doesn't stock. Also, he and Aaron occasionally receive permission to drive it to a nearby town to take in first-run flicks together. They're dating heavily and, if we're not co-fathers of two lovers by that time, Steve will make a great in-law for Wolf.

The End

Posted: 06/25/10