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, andDaren, 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 againyet you are fickle, o death not because we hope to change the ending and I have winced in the light of so many unwanted dawnsbut 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.
Every solstice someone dies. On the summer solstice, the Moon; on the winter solstice, the Sun. Each time is different, yet each time is the same. I spend the weeks leading up to the solstice imagining death after death, murder after murder, seeking the scene that will be chosen for this iteration. Will it be suicide or fratricide – premeditated or a crime of passion? Will it involve a gun or a knife, poison or illness, violence or mercy? The Moon prefers small, sharp things that bleed his lover out slowly, while the Sun prefers to leave bullet holes or bruises on pale skin. And where will it take place? In bed, where they are most vulnerable? The alley, hidden within a curtain of pouring rain? Or on the roof, with all the dark city laid out below as witness? I cannot yet say for sure. Right now all I feel is the thin blade in my hand and all I see is the night sky reflected in his unfocused eyes.
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.
It starts in an unfamiliar city, a maze of empty streets and gaping alleys and the sick yellow of dying streetlights. As he walks he can sense the presence pacing him, never close enough to glimpse in the darkness yet never far enough to lose track. He does not quicken his pace, only casually slips hands into pockets to grip the switchblade’s cool metal. He knows better than to run from a predator of any species – and has no intention of becoming anything’s prey. As he walks, trees begin to appear along the road and alleys, the leafless skeletons of deep winter. Snow begins to collect along the pavement and black branches; soon it covers the ground and drifts lazily from the sky. His feet crunch as they break through the top layer of ice. Still he walks, and still the presence keeps pace, its own footsteps silent. With a slow and subtle motion he removes his hands from his pockets, the knife hidden inside the cradle of his fingers.
Eventually the buildings are left behind and the forest becomes the landscape, bare trees and snow covered earth stretching into darkness in all directions. In the way of dreams, the streetlights continue in an unbroken line, their weak light offering only enough illumination to pass through the treacherous landscape safely. He follows the path of the lights as if in search of their destination, but all of his senses are focused on the creature moving out in the darkness. He can hear faint breathing now, coming first from his left, then his right, then behind and ahead. Whatever follows him moves through the thick snow with practiced ease. It is fast, he thinks. Is he faster?
A low growl rumbles in a throat too close for his comfort and he comes to a stop beneath one of the anachronistic streetlights. The cone of light flattens the surrounding shadows into a two-dimensional wall, but sight isn’t the sense he relies on now; instead, he closes his eyes and strains for any sound beyond the soft hush of falling snow and the last notes of the growl. There is only silence… silence… silence… and then the nearly inaudible sound of a foot depressing the snowpack. Eyes snapping open as quickly as the blade in his hand, he whirls toward the sound and brings the knife up just as a hulking black wolf leaps from the darkness. For a moment they are almost one, man and wolf, white teeth descending and silver blade rising…
…and then the moment passes and they are falling past each other to collapse on opposite ends of the circle of light. Bleeding from long scratches to his face, neck, and shoulder, he stumbles to his feet and turns, blooded blade raised to ward off the next attack. But the next attack does not come, and will not. Across the circle, disturbed snow turns black-red around the unmoving body of the wolf and the beast’s thick fur masks the gash with which the sharp little blade felled its foe. Seeing the hunter turned slain prey, he sinks in exhaustion to his knees once more in the snow. Overhead, the streetlights wink out one by one.
– – – –
Daren woke with the sharp awareness of someone used to assuming danger’s nearness. He lay still for a few seconds, letting his senses process and report the all clear. His hands felt strange and he flexed them, noting his right gripped the knife kept always beside the bed. When he touched the fingertips of his left together he felt the tacky wetness of drying blood. Only now did he turn his head to the warm weight curled beneath the blankets at his side. Tanim lay motionless as if in a deep sleep.