#2187 – Winter Solstice

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.)

THE HOUSE

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.

THE STUDY

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.”

THE OBSERVATORY

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 BALLROOM

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.

THE LIBRARY

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 CELLAR

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.

THE STUDY

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.”

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#2184

Are you coming to me?

What urges me to search for you here among the snow and ice? Why do I linger on the side of this dead mountain, straining to catch your voices on the wind, when you could never have been here? This isn’t your story. This isn’t your grave. So why this place, this time, this particular tragedy? Perhaps it is the mystery that draws me, the kinship I feel for those who will forever search in vain for a truth only the dead know. Or perhaps every place touched by death is a link to you, you who are death embodied, you who are ancient beyond comprehension, and those places become an access point or a portal or just another clue on my never ending scavenger hunt. Maybe; perhaps; possibly. At the end of the day all I know for sure is you are one of these mysteries too: a flicker of light at the corner of my eye, a single footstep in the frozen forest, a distant figure in the fog I cannot ever quite reach. Some part of you waits for me here at this bleak crime scene – so I kneel and dig.

Will you find me?
Will you find me?

 

#2169

I would eat groves of pomegranates if by their seeds I could be cursed to remain in your kingdom of death forever. I would eat them until my teeth stained red and my fingers yellow, until that bitter juice so infused every cell in my body that I could not pass through to the realm of the living if I so desired. Come try your hand, o lofty gods, come make an attempt o you angels and demons! I would be so tainted that all the powers in the universe could not drag me from your cold realm. Every bite would win me another year until I had swallowed down a victorious eternity of darkness with you. And there I would stay, no need to name me queen – I am content merely to remain by your side.

#2148

Despite being both sun and moon, you are truly winter gods. You rule over a city of darkness and storms where summer is merely an abstract concept. Even the summer solstice is soaked in blood, after all, and the sun’s inevitable triumph is something to be mourned, not celebrated. Between the solstices are a succession of long, starless nights bleeding into short, rainy days. Or perhaps it is all the same day, the same night, the same moment drawn out into eternity; I admit it’s hard to tell. Either way, your realm is not for those who wish to honor the ever-turning wheel of the year and its balance of light and dark, death and rebirth. You are gods of death only. Each solstice is ushered in with blood and in between darkness reigns.

#2145

Mage opened her eyes to an unfamiliar room. The floor and walls were all of dark stone and the tall arched ceiling disappeared into darkness. Only weak light filtering in from recessed windows high above provided any lighting, and that served more to strengthen than dispel the shadows.

“Hello, nameless one,” A voice from somewhere behind and above her made Mage twist around in a ready stance. “Who–” She tilted her head back to see the speaker fully and then sighed, relaxing her defensive pose with a slump of her shoulders. “Ah shit, am I dead?”

“You are indeed,” The figure before her nodded, face hidden by a raven skull mask. The goddess stood several times taller than Mage’s not inconsiderable height, her body hidden by a cloak of raven’s feathers that stirred on the ground as if from an unperceived wind. When she spoke her words echoed both through the stone chamber and within Mage’s mind. “Welcome to the halls of the Raven Queen.”

“Thanks… I think,” Mage’s eyes wandered as she searched her memory for what had happened before she’d woken up in this strange room. At first the thoughts were too slippery to hold onto, like half-remembered dreams, but then they solidified. She remembered a battle, fire and lightning and earth all torn up and hurled together. Someone yelling and someone else – her – cackling in joy. “Oh!” She looked back up to the Raven Queen. “Did I at least take the avatar out with me?”

“Yes, for what that may be worth to you,” A hint of amusement crept into the goddess’ voice, though with the mask on it was difficult to determine at what exactly she was amused. “As you know, their path to reincarnation is a little more straightforward than yours. Somewhere a baby takes its first breath and the cycle begins anew.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Mage waved the news away. “It was still fun though.” Clearly unconcerned about her own death, she began examining the hall with marked disappointment. “Huh, I was kind of expecting, like… a lake of fire or something. For my misdeeds and stuff.”

“That can be your fate, if you prefer,” The towering figure shrugged elegantly. “However, I have a better proposition for you. I have need of your… particular skills… in regards to souls which have escaped their appointed fates and have thus unbalanced the worlds. If you are willing to act as my avatar on the other planes when necessary, I am prepared to offer in return a place within my halls.” She spread black-clad arms to encompass the realm over which she reigned. “No lake of fire, no eternal darkness. Plus you can kill things. So very many things.”

“Hmm…” Mage pursed her lips and rolled her head back and forth in contemplation, then shrugged. “Sounds pretty sweet. I’m in.” She spit on her hand and held it out. The Raven Queen grimaced behind her mask but shook the proffered hand anyway while replying, “Then let this pact be sealed.”

#2143

I extracted exactly one promise from you before you left, just one, yet even that you could not keep. Do you remember that morning? I woke on cold tile to the taste of vomit and a headache that pulsed in time to the sound of your lighter snapping open and closed, open and closed. I’d overdosed before so I knew what it felt like, though not since we became… whatever we were. I was already babbling apologies and trying to force myself up on trembling arms when you shoved me back down to the bathroom tile. You had that fucking knife of yours against my throat and I truly thought it was the end, that I’d bleed out while laying in a pool of my own vomit. It would have served me right. You didn’t finish things, though. You just held my gaze as you pressed that cold little blade into my skin and said very, very softly, “This will not happen again, do you understand? Your life is not yours to end. It’s mine.” As you walked away I asked, impulsively, “Do you promise?” You paused in the doorway for a brief second before replying, “Yes.”

Yes. You promised. And yet here I am, as alone as I was before you came. You are gone and I wait like a fool for an end I swore to you I would not hasten. Please, darling, could you keep this one promise, could you do just this one thing for me? I asked so little of you while you were here and you know it. You owe me this. Please, don’t make me break my word to you by breaking yours to me. I can’t wait any longer. 

#2115

it occurs to me that perhaps my life is just like The Others, you know, and – SPOILER ALERT – it turns out i was the ghost all along, what a fucking plot twist, no wonder all the things i tried to hold onto kept slipping away, no wonder all the times i tried to stop you from leaving you just passed right through me like i wasn’t even there – because i wasn’t there, was i, i wasn’t on your mind or even on your same fucking plane of existence, so yeah, maybe all these years ive been haunting you and not the other way around, wouldn’t that explain some things, and maybe you finally found some priest or medium to exorcise me so you can sleep at night without my chains rattling in the hallway, good job i guess, sweet dreams, but you know ill be back