All these tales about the moon killing the sun on the winter solstice, all these gruesome stories of betrayal and bloodshed on the longest night of the year… Did you never wonder why the sun seems to so easily succumb to his lover’s blade each year, knowing as he must when it will come for him? Why he has never chosen to break this cycle? It’s not because he can’t; it’s because he doesn’t want to. He needs me. He’s tried every other option, after all. Drugs, alcohol, nicotine; rope, blades, bullets; drowning, jumping, suffocating. Every method of suicide and every combination thereof. None of them work, you see, because fate long ago bound us together, I to be his killer and he to be mine. No matter how much he longs for death, I am the only one who can decide when and where he shall meet that end. So like a key into a lock, this is how it must be: my blade, his throat, our endless dance choreographed down to the last struggling heartbeat. It is a gift. One that no other can ever fully understand, true, but a gift nonetheless.
Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. Others say the best revenge is a life well lived. These claims, however, are in actuality both quite inadequate. I have taken revenge countless times, in every manner possible and with every kind of weapon, and I therefore can state with confidence that the most satisfying revenge is intimate. A razor to the throat; a blade to the breast; a knife to the back. The sort of sharp, bloody end most fitting for traitors and cowards, those whose betrayal has cut you to your very core. You want to hold your victim in your arms so you feel the moment his strength finally fails. You want to hear the blood bubbling in his throat as he struggles to breathe. You want to hold his gaze as he dies so in his final moment he knows you did not forget and will not forgive. It is like a dance, two partners entwined, heartbeat to heartbeat, and then the knife. It always ends with the knife.
You ask why the Moon killed the Sun but never why the resurrected Sun in turn killed the Moon. Did he really do so to restore balance to the world, as the story says? To complete the cycle of sacrifice and usher in glorious summer? Perhaps. It gives a nice symmetry to the mythology, doesn’t it? Death for life and life for death. But maybe that’s just the fairy tale version where everything has a purpose and everyone a happy ending. Maybe that’s nothing more than a lovely lie.
Maybe the truth is that the Sun killed the Moon simply for the sweet satisfaction of revenge.
It was all there on the table. The candlestick. The rope. The lead pipe. The wrench. The knife. The gun. He trailed his fingertips along each weapon with veneration. Clue had always been his favorite board game. He loved the idea of giving six people unique opportunities to kill one another. When he played the game as a child he often concocted complex scenarios that resulted in the deaths of all six guests. He’d been sent to Sister Reverence’s office more times than he remembered. It was always the same.
“Young man, this is becoming habitual.”
Habitual. Habit. Like that stupid thing she wears everyday. It would be so easy to grab her by it and pull. Up, up, up. A widening grin. Until she turned purple, like that bitter chalice offered every morning.
(STOP TELLING IT. YOU’RE TELLING IT WRONG.)
Rain falls hard as hail in the night; in the heavy sky above lightning flickers and thunder sends shudders vibrating through the air. The guests enter the mansion beneath an arched front doorway over which is written, “Do not die before your death”. There are six of them, not including their absent host, and each carries a golden envelope in which the mysterious invitation sits.
Tanim arrives first, of course, in a navy blue suit over which he has draped a pale blue scarf with gold tassels. He bides his time by the fireplace, whiskey in hand, staring into the bright flames until another guest arrives. There are two this time, Bast and Wepwawet, both dressed in layers of desert silks and gold adornments. Wepwawet introduces himself as Anubis; Tanim does not comment on the deception. The three trade amicable conversation until Inanna arrives, her spools of red-gold hair commanding attention as they capture the firelight. Tanim nods to her in greeting and steps to the side, continuing his conversation with Wepwawet as the goddesses greet each other. Soon they are joined by the Morrigan, her blood-red dress offset by a gold collar draped across her clavicles. She is polite yet aloof until Mage swaggers in, almost unfashionably late though highly fashionable in her black leather and gold piercings, and then the two fall to discussing something gruesome. They could be sisters with their pale skin, black hair, and cold eyes.
Their host enters last of all, dressed in his customary black. Daren’s only concession to the formality of the occasion is a single gold ring on his left hand. He looks to each of the guests in turn, noting their placement in the room, their dress, their body language both before and after they notice him. “Now that you have all arrived,” he says once the conversations have ceased, “shall we begin? Come this way.” He turns and leads them across the wide marble-tiled hall and into the dining room. Exchanging glances that communicate a variety of emotions, his guests follow in silence.
THE DINING ROOM
The long table is set for seven, three seats on each long side and the seventh at the head. Crystal and polished silver gleam amid candlelight, the china white as bone. Upon each dinnerplate is a weapon: a candlestick; a rope tied into a noose; a lead pipe; a wrench; a knife; and a handgun. The seventh is empty. Daren stands behind the empty seventh seat and rests his hands on the back of the chair. “I assume you know why I’ve called you all here,” he begins, “and thus will not waste time with explanations. Every window and exterior door in the house is locked, save for a single window – though I would be careful, I imagine the roof is quite treacherous right now. There are six weapons and seven of us. You have two hours.” He gestures to the table’s deadly spread. “Good luck.”
Wepwawet stands in the center of the observatory, watching the raindrops light up in silver strands every time lightning cracks across the sky. Inanna enters, bearing the lead pipe, and approaches him from behind. “Do you know why I’m here?” she asks. Wepwawet smiles, neither surprised nor concerned at her presence. “Because you came,” he replies, turning to face her. He stretches out both of his arms, kneeling down on one knee, and lowers his head reverently. Then he then raises his head again and looks up at her, his dark eyes filled with a humble peace, and says, “As you will, Queen.” Inanna nods once. She strikes him across the jaw with the lead pipe; the sound of his neck cracking echoes through the room. She then kneels down beside the god’s prostrate body and caresses one slack cheek. “The Duat has missed you,” she murmurs. As she walks away, his body turns to gold and drifts away on a wind that does not stir her hair.
The warm glow of antique light bulbs is reflected by a myriad antique mirrors and the polished wood panels in between. In one corner a piano plays Moonlight Sonata, though no one sits at its bench to press the keys. No one dances with Inanna, either, and yet her raised arms and twirling form suggest an unseen partner. So does the way she suddenly stumbles back, a hand clasped to her red cheek as if she’s been struck. She glares up through the hair fallen into her eyes and hisses, “How dare you defy me!” In response, something throws her backward as easily as a discarded toy; she crashes into the piano with a discordant shriek of keys, scattering bits of polished wood and ivory across the marble floor. She lays unconscious in the wreckage of the instrument as red blood trickles along the curls of her fiery hair. Above her the wrench floats for a moment before something brings it crashing down on her temple. Once the golden ashes of her body have drifted away, all that remains in the middle of the broken piano is the rusty wrench.
THE BILLIARD ROOM
Daren finds Mage in the billiard room, sitting cross-legged atop the pool table with a drink in hand. She doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the knife in his hand even though she does not have a weapon herself, unless you count the 8-ball she rolls back and forth across the felt. She cocks her head as he comes to stand in front of her, her green eyes to his black. She asks, “Do you think it will work? Will you learn what it is you wish to learn?” and he nods. “I’m confident I will, yes.” And then he sinks the dagger deep into Mage’s right thigh, moving so fast she doesn’t even have time to retaliate before he pulls away. The dagger stays behind.
“Motherfucker!” Mage bites back a grunt of pain as she grips the dagger’s hilt. “I knew you were going to do that.” Daren only gives her his ghost of a smile and leaves. Mage downs the last of her drink, briefly considers pouring another but decides she doesn’t have the time, then yanks the dagger out and begins cutting strips of cloth from her pants for bandages. When she has staunched the worst of the bleeding and can put at least some weight on the leg she grabs the dagger and goes in search of the single open window. She is just passing into the hallway when every light in the house extinguishes at the same moment, plunging the labyrinth of rooms and hallways into darkness. Her swearing is hushed but prolific.
Bast is in the library, perusing the shelves of leather-bound books, when the lights go out. Firelight catches her eye and she turns to see the Morrigan walking in, a tall white candle set in the candlestick she bears. Its flickering flame is the only light in the room. “What happened to the lights?” she asks. The Morrigan removes the candle from its holder and approaches. “Here,” she offers, proffering the light. Bast accepts it with a nod and returns back to the books. Behind her the Morrigan raises the candlestick and whispers, “The weight of the world,” before striking Bast in the back of the skull. The goddess collapses to the carpet and lays unmoving in a widening pool of blood. Then her body begins to glow, transforming into something like golden ash, and then the ashes blow away as if by a strange wind.
The Morrigan never sees her killer. She has found her way through the darkness to the cellar where she searches now along the cool walls for the circuit breaker. She cannot see the two hands which appear out of the darkness behind her, nor are they accompanied by any sound of footsteps or breathing. Between them they hold a length of the untied rope taut. Just as she locates the circuit breaker the hands bring the rope down over her head and pull it tight around her neck. The goddess struggles against her assailant, nails scrabbling at the thick rope, but to no avail; her vision flashes with brilliant fireworks of pain as she runs out of oxygen. Once she ceases fighting and goes limp, the hands let her fall to the cement floor. After a moment her body turns to gold ashes which blow up and away.
Tanim stands in the doorway to the study, the gun lowered at his side. Across the room Daren stares into the fireplace, his form silhouetted by the red glow of the coals; these shed the only light left in the tomb-like mansion, just as these two men are the only living things left in it. He does not move as Tanim approaches, nor when the man stops a few feet behind him. Instead he merely asks, “Is it done?”
“Yes,” Tanim raises the gun to the back of his lover’s head. “Are you satisfied with the state of things?”
“Almost,” Daren strikes just as lightning illuminates the room for one stark, white second, its attendant thunder a cacophony all around them. With one arm he pushes Tanim’s out of the way so the shot goes wide; with his other he sinks the dagger deep into Tanim’s chest. Darkness reclaims the room and the two men fall still. Then the gun falls from Tanim’s limp hand and with a folding of his knees he follows it soon after, collapsing on his back as a red stain blooms about the hilt of the blade still lodged in his chest. Daren kneels at his side and smooths the hair from his face. “Now I am,” he says softly. “Goodnight, brother.”
It is an ancient dance – white teeth and lolling tongue, sharp hooves and swift legs, predator and prey united in survival’s endless contest. Breath mists white in the cool morning air of a summer solstice while wolf and stag twist in choreographed ferocity; feint and fight, snap and stab, blood and brutality. Life, death, to nature it is all of a kind, one long revolution like the earth upon its axis. The stag does not begrudge the wolf his hunger. The wolf does not begrudge the stag his resistance. They were born for this combat, hunter and hunted, and without the one the other cannot exist. Thus when skill or chance contrive to spear leaping wolf upon lunging antlers, sharp tines sinking through flesh and muscle, there is neither regret nor animosity. Today it is the wolf who lays bleeding out on the tundra, but in six months the stag may just as easily take his place.
A dark stage. Tanim stares down into the glass in his hand, gives the amber liquid an idle swirl while I sought you in the last sip of laudanum, he muses aloud. From the darkness behind him, the snik snik and spark of a lighter. The flame catches, burns a small spot in the darkness to reveal Daren as he lights the cigarette poised on his lips, closes the lighter with a metallic snap. Tanim, oblivious, continues. I sought you in brothels and fight rings, and Daren, pacing, wreathed in smoke, they say madness is repeating the same action yet expecting a different result. I sought you nightly like a man possessed, Tanim finishes the drink in one long swallow, as if parched, yet you evaded me. That is not quite true, however. Tanim lifts his head, eyes searching, seeing nothing. The hand holding his glass shakes slightly less than his voice. I prayed to you; you did not reply. I prostrated myself before you; you turned your back. I courted you like a lover and yet you denied me time and time again. Daren drops the cigarette, madness is repeating the same action despite knowing you shall never produce a different result, leaves it burning in the background while he moves closer. I loved you most dearly of all hence we enter this dance again yet you are fickle, o death not because we hope to change the ending and I have winced in the light of so many unwanted dawns but because we know we cannot. Tanim, with a sigh, Can this be the end now? Can I be done? Come, fifth sword, and cut down this hanging man. I am so tired. Daren steps into the candlelight, lays a gentle hand on his jaw. Hello, brother, softly. Did I keep you waiting overlong? Tanim’s weak smile, oh sweet relief, oh final mercy. Never. They kiss. The gleam of the blade in Daren’s hand is the last movement seen before the stage goes completely dark. The glass hits the floor, shatters. The cigarette burns itself out.
The apple. The pomegranate. His hand.
Chest to chest, hip to hip as if one heartbeat, as if one breath
(step, turn, step)
hand to the small of the back and fingers trailing over stiff linen
(step, turn, dip)
and then the bite of the blade, too sharp to even hurt
(step, turn, step)
red drops on white carpet, rose petal wrists
(step, turn, step)
arm sliding around narrow waist, mouths bruising
then the blade to bare throat with merciful speed
and gentle hands amid the red river
lay him down.
The longest night is one of blood and death, but there are many ways to die. The longest night is one of sin and a falling from grace, but there are many ways to fall. Bodies entwined, limbs twist and clutch; fingers dig crescent moons into sweaty flesh; teeth nip and graze and sink deep to leave possessive bruises. Lips seek the source of heat and longing, eager for union, for submission, for the chance to worship on bended knee. In this moment there is nothing but the joining of flesh and spirit, no love or desire greater than that which brings two together in the ancient rhythm of skin against skin. Thus wordlessly, amid only gasps and groans and the erratic cacophony of competing heartbeats, they melt with the heat of the sun and move with the pull of the moon. Entwined, they share the climax which washes over them with a shuddering force, a giving and receiving, a taking and leaving. The longest night is one of death, but tonight it is the little death, and they both partake.