The boys did it with help from an inky tome they came across in the occult section at the downtown branch of the Des Moines Public Library. You had to go downtown to find the good books, the musty volumes full of magic and force. All they carried at the neighborhood branches was kid stuff. Their research began the first day of summer after seventh grade. They spent a month and a half riding downtown daily, Phil on his ten-speed and Nate on his BMX, poring over texts on power-harnessing cult ceremonies, ancient rituals, mythic rites. A beat-up green spiral notebook Nate had used for drawing pictures of pro-wrestlers in Math class came to hold notes of their findings. With a paper clip they scraped P + N’S OCCULT STUDIES into the cover.
Most of what they found was bull crap. All the satanic scripture rang as true as the stuff Nate wasn’t buying from the visiting evangelists at Mom’s church. The Necronomicon, to the extreme disappointment of both boys, hadn’t even been published until 1973. They sought the vintage stuff.
The only book that commanded their attention was titled Ecstasy in the Dionysian Mysteries by Sir James George Campbell, an edition published in 1903. Its spine had cracked and the edges had spotted brown. It was slim, just one hundred thirteen pages, but the contents of Appendix C held the good stuff. There the author had phonetically transcribed the Dionysian rites, which he purported to have deciphered from Linear A, whatever that was. It was Sir Campbell’s assertion that these ceremonies were what the ancient Minoans had used to honor and request things from the god of wine and orgies.
The boys checked it out with Phil’s card.
“Dude, dude,” Phil thrilled descending the library’s brown sandstone steps, “Dionysus can get us drunk!”
No, dude,” Nate said, “Dionysus can get us laid!”
The prospect was terrifying to both thirteen year olds though neither admitted it. They’d been through a mandatory sex education unit in home economics class the previous year. Both boys had been masturbating for a year already but vehemently denied having stooped to it. Only guys who couldn’t get laid did that. So Dionysus it was.
It had to be done at Phil’s house. There was no room in the one bedroom apartment Nate shared with his little sister and mom, who was always there if she wasn’t at church or the restaurant. This was the first summer Phil convinced his parents he didn’t need a babysitter. His dad, a cartographer, worked from home but went away on business regularly. So the day after he left for Hong Kong and Phil’s mom went to work in her cubical downtown, they set everything up in his living room.
Nate, having firsthand knowledge of trances and religious ceremonies, donned the role of hierophant. Both of them wore kids’ togas they bought at Nub’s Novelties and lit ten sticks of patchouli from the head shop at Rosewater Shopping Center. On the floor they coiled their bike lock chains, having blessed them with a prayer to Zeus for strength. Sir James’s notes called for goats and a bull so they set out some steaks from the freezer and a tub of organic feta cheese from the fridge. Also needed was music and fire, so they put The Doors’ Greatest Hits on the stereo, cued “Break on Through” and set it to repeat—Nate said the repetition would heighten the trance state—and lit the fireplace. The final touch was, of course, wine.
“He’ll be able to fill these back up and then some,” Nate noted, insisting that they open every one of the fifteen bottles in the rack in the dining room. Phil, unsure the god would even show up, went along with the plan anyway.
They both drank from the bottles, getting a taste of each one, Phil choosing white and Nate red. They’d both had tastes before but now they took great swigs, pretending to appreciate the tingling, puckering flavor with the medicine after-taste. And with the curtains drawn over the windows and the music thumping and the effects of the wine dizzying their minds, they began.
Nothing happened the first run through. The words Nate chanted over and over from the book weren’t so much words as syllables, everything broken down to its simplest form, where words began and ended a total mystery. Instead of telling Phil he’d got to the end with no effect, he started over again, this time taking a swig each time wine-spilling was called for. Phil grabbed a bottle of wine and drank freely as he danced around.
On the fourth or fifth, maybe seventh run through, everything started synchronizing, the music with the ancient litany, the litany with the flames, the flames with the music. The near-empty bottles started filling from within, the wine level rising steadily to the mounting rhythm, overflowing, flooding the cream carpet a purple marsh. The fire burned patterns of grape leaves and bunches in the air. Phil began chanting along with him, despite not having the sounds written out in front of him. The song and reverie built. They droned to the point of rapture.
And before them, in the flameful vines, stood two legs. A man stood footed in the fire, trapped upright in the chimney. And from that cramped space they heard his voice, muffled and foreign.
“λιβανωτός καὶ πῦρ!”
“Holy shittocks,” Phil gasped, stumbling to the stereo and turning the music down. “There’s a dude in the—”
Nate tripped forward, knocking over bottles to grab the end with the lock on it.
Squatting, scooting out of the flames, arms up, a large man emerged from the fireplace. Wearing a white gown, his black hair adorned with enormous grape leaves, he stood to his full height, probably eight feet, and shone with bioluminescence. The soot and ashes from the fire fell off of his bright skin and shining cloth like crumbs. His face was divine.
“He looks like Elvis,” Phil observed.
“ἐπιφυλλίδες ταῦτ᾽ ἐστὶ καὶ στωμύλματα,” he said, jovially scrutinizing the boys.
“Nah, it’s him,” Nate maintained, his bike chain hanging loose in his hands.
“ὅτ᾽ ἐγὼ μὲν ὢν Διόνυσος υἱὸς Σταμνίου,” the god announced with a hand to his chest.
They pounced, running circles around him with the chains.
“εἶτ᾽ οὐχ ὕβρις ταῦτ᾽ ἐστὶ καὶ πολλὴ τρυφή;” he asked, doing nothing to prevent the cinching of his wrists to his sides.
“Why’s he not putting up a fight?” Phil asked.
“We want hot babes,” Nate slurred, fumbling to close his bicycle lock behind the vine-crowned god. “Hot, hot, hot, hot babes for us.”
“πῶς; οὐ μανθάνω.” The god flashed a patronizing sneer. “ἀμαθέστερόν πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον.”
The boys couldn’t understand him. Chances were he couldn’t understand them either. Still, they admired their handiwork in immobilizing a god. They had the chance to nod about it before he lifted his shoulders and the bonds broke free without much of a snap. Unfazed by their sudden fear, he stepped to the stereo speakers set in the bookshelves.
“αὐλῶν πνοῆς. ἀλλ᾽ ἠρεμὶ πτήξαντες ἀκροασώμεθα,” he said, crouching with his ear to the fabric speaker cover. He listened as though The Doors sang only to him, moving to the music. “μἀλλὰ πλεῖν ἢ μαίνομαι,” he exclaimed, joyous. He grasped the speaker and stood, pulling it out of the shelf, its wires torn loose. Losing sound, he shook it and then heard the music coming from the other speaker. He removed that one from the shelf, too, breaking its wires, and the living room went quiet. “ἀπολιπών μ᾽ ἀποίχεται,” Dionysus said frowning, “ἀγαθὸς ποιητὴς καὶ ποθεινὸς τοῖς φίλοις.”
“We want sexy times.” Nate was drunk. He squatted into a gyration to illustrate. “Women,” he said, emphasizing breasts with his hands. “Bring us horny girls!”
Phil, fogged with wine for the first time, found his own devotion to their mission challenged by the wine-soaked carpet, broken speakers, and uncontainable presence.
“τί δ᾽ εἰς ἔρωτα τοῦδε πέπτωκας μέγαν;” the god asked with some annoyance.
Nate grabbed one of the broken chains and whipped the ground, unable to express why he wanted what he wanted so badly.
The god lifted his palms with compliance. “ἐγὼ γυναῖκας δεῦρ᾽ ὅπλων ἄξω δίχα.” He sized up their togas, clearly unimpressed by the quality. With sleight of hand surprise he gave each boy a thyrsus and a dappled fawnskin to drape over his shoulders. “ἦ πού με τῶν σῶν πρῶτον ἡγήσῃ φίλων,” Dionysus muttered, extending the pleats of their togas to the carpet, “ὅταν παρὰ λόγον σώφρονας βάκχας ἴδῃς.”
Phil and Nate swayed before the god of wine, prettied by him, standing mostly by holding onto the fennel staffs he had provided.
“How do we switch him off?” asked Phil.
“Your parents are prolly gonna kill us.”
Dionysus laughed like an older brother. “οὐκέτι θεατὴς μαινάδων πρόθυμος εἶ;”
“I’m gonna—” And Nate did, all over the coffee table, Phil’s mom’s giant book of Nancy Drew cover art ruined.
The god chastised them, arms folded high. “οὐκ οἶσθ᾽ ὅ τι ζῇς, οὐδ᾽ ὃ δρᾷς, οὐδ᾽ ὅστις εἶ. ἀσέβειαν ἀσκοῦντ᾽ ὄργι᾽ ἐχθαίρει θεοῦ. εἰ δὲ σωφρονεῖν ἔγνωθ᾽, ὅτ᾽ οὐκ ἠθέλετε, τὸν Διὸς γόνον εὐδαιμονεῖτ᾽ ἂν σύμμαχον κεκτημένοι.”
“Can’t understand a word you’re saying, Lord Dionysiuses,” Phil blathered. Nate retched again and he whapped him with his thyrsus. “Aw man, the bathroom’s for that. The bathroom!”
“στείχοιμ᾽ ἄν: ὅ τι γὰρ μὴ χρεών, οὔτοι χρεὼν παθεῖν,” the Greek deity mused for his own benefit, fully aware they had no idea what he was saying or what he was about. “δεῖ γὰρ πόλιν τήνδ᾽ ἐκμαθεῖν, κεἰ μὴ θέλει, ἀτέλεστον οὖσαν τῶν ἐμῶν βακχευμάτων.” He made for the door as Nate stumbled in the general direction of the bathroom.
“Hold on,” Phil shouted. “You gotta clean this mess up! You trashed my house!”
The ancient god fiddled with the doorknob and, no luck, pushed the door down, cracking the doorframe. “οἰμώζετ᾽: οὐ γάρ μοι μέλει,” he said and bent to step out of the house.
Phil passed out on the couch.
“A disturbing story from the west side of Des Moines tonight.”
“That’s right, Kevin. Des Moines Police are following reports of a very tall Mediterranean man in a toga who doesn’t speak English or Spanish. He’s accused of vandalizing a home on Polk Boulevard where he got two thirteen year old boys intoxicated on wine before moving on to incite acts of public indecency at Taco Juan’s and several of the shops along Rosewater Shopping Center on 42nd Street. Officials think the boys, who are still recovering, may have met him on the internet but details are unclear. Though believed to be unarmed and by all reports very charming, he is considered to be dangerous at this time. If spotted, police are urging people to call 911 immediately.”