The man is sitting in the overstuffed armchair across the hallway from the grandfather clock. He is dressed all in black, or so we are led to believe. Shadows hug tight on moonless nights in the valley; without a moonrise there is no light to lend color to our scene. The grandfather clock sounds forth its toneless click with each pendulum swing. If we listen closely, we can hear the pulse of our subject, keeping time to the offbeat of the great clock. A bead of sweat loosens from the man's temple, and tracks the lines of age to his jaw.
The main door swings open and shut some ten yards from the man's left arm. The interim time witnessed but a shadow slipping onto the foyer of the home. The only sound the shadow makes is the soft scrape of a leather-bound foot pivoting across the stone tiles. If we listen closely, we can hear - but not see - the shadow push a hood back from its cloak. The voice that comes from under that hood hits the man's eardrum like silk, like smoke.
"With such melancholy you would wait," she says. "With such apprehension, Samuel, it cannot be well to sit. Especially once considering the honor you will bring the people."
"Aye, melancholy. Aye, apprehension. Aye, Mary, these feelings. And more."
The hallway feels cramped, and we know why once hearing Mary speak again, with the words much closer than before. "Your clock runs fast, Samuel."
Samuel cocks his head to the side, inspecting the grandfather clock. Seconds pass. "It keeps the time as it ever has."
Mary has knelt beside the armchair, and snakes a hand beneath his left shoulder blade. "'Tis this clock here which I note. There is nothing to dread, nothing to fear. Georgina lived a wonderful life. She lived a wonderful life with you, Samuel. Let yourself calm."
"Calm. Yes, of course. How was your walk here, no troubles on the path, even in the dark?"
"Our feet often recall the steps to a dance. Even so long after we have last danced them." As she stands, Mary's mouth pulls into a smile. Her eyes remain cool.
Samuel's shoulders shake once in a voiceless laugh. "Will... must you take her now?"
"No, I mustn't. I'd see her now, and take my leave after the dawn."
"I'll show you on then," Samuel stands up quickly, not noting where Mary stands, and leans so close his forehead brushes her hair. Her head pulls away from the contact. Samuel pauses, then walks down the hall to the right. Two more turns and they arrive at a door in the center of the home; the glow beneath the door jam is pale, a meld of yellow and orange.
"Where can I find you in the morning?"
"I'll be in the kitchen. Her da wakes early still, the pain in his hip gets worse the end of every winter. We'll break fast near enough to dawn, if you'd join us."
"We'll see what time we have. 'Til morning, then."
"'Til morning, then." Samuel turns, but looks back. "Good night, Mary."
Mary gives another tight lipped smile, and slips into the only lit room of the house.
I know the pieces fit 'cause I watched them fall away
mildewed and smoldering. Fundamental differing.
Pure intention juxtaposed will set two lovers' souls in motion
disintegrating as it goes, testing our communication.
The light that fueled our fire, then, has burned a hole between us
we cannot seem to reach an end, crippling our communication.
Samuel sits at the kitchen table. The sunlight shows bloodshot eyes; wet orbs rested between sleepless laden lids. A bowl of cold oatmeal sits before him, full. There is an old man sitting across the table. His bowl is nearly empty. Samuel pushes his bowl away, and buries his fingers deep into his hair.
The old man pushes the bowl back towards Samuel. "Eat. Standin'll be how you're found half t'day. Bein' t'center o' 'tention means ya can't be goin' and takin' a leave o' yer senses."
"I don't want to eat, I feel sick."
"Aye. Nerves, lad. Eat some, you'll feel better. Some."
"I've spent every day of the past ten years with her... and now I don't know what to say. It's like I have no words to..."
"Don't rack yerself t'be poetic. Simple folk be hearin' you, not the Elders with the heads up their arses."
Samuel allows himself to smile. "Aye, simple folk. 'Georgina was my sun, for she lit my days. Georgina was my wheat, for she gave me life.' Something like that, mayhaps."
A voice, scratchy and thin, comes from the doorway behind Samuel. "Aye, mayhaps that'll do."
Samuel spins on his stool, and knocks it over to hasten himself to the door. His mouth opens, closes, and plants a kiss on his wife's forehead. She is deathly pale, except for the red about her eyes, her nose, and her ears. She is wrapped in an animal hide, prepared to be escorted to the village. "Those are beautiful words, m'love."
"And yet their beauty wilts next to she to whom they refer." The couple smile crazily, like school children. The smile wanes, all too quickly. Samuel turns to Mary, who hovers just outside the warm kitchen, wrapped in her cloak. Samuel holds his breath, and loosens it at her. "Say sorry."
"I won't." Mary crosses her arms in front of her.
"Say you're sorry for what this will do to me..."
Mary slides past Georgina in the doorway and walks to Samuel's side. She carefully spits into her left hand, and places that hand firmly against Samuel's right cheek. "Life for your crop," she whispers. Only, that is not what the old man hears. From across the room, with winter whiskers not yet trimmed from his ears, he swears he hears 'life for our crop.' The old man shakes the nonsense mistake from his head and finishes his oatmeal, having no need to say goodbye to his daughter, knowing he is likely to see her again soon enough.
Mary takes Georgina's hand and leads her from the kitchen gently. Georgina does not break eye contact from Samuel. She blows him a kiss before the wall interrupts their contact for her.
I know the pieces fit 'cause I watched them tumble down.
No fault, none to blame it doesn't mean I don't desire to
point the finger, blame the other, watch the temple topple over.
To bring the pieces back together, rediscover communication
The home from which Mary takes Georgina is about two miles east of the village, which they can see small and foggy at the bottom of the stonecut path they must take to get there. There are many steps on the path, and the morning hoar causes the two women to pick their step carefully. Each foot is placed before shifting their weight. This is their way, and they are familiar with walking on the stone steps even when entirely beset by ice, but still their progress is slow, granting us time to inspect our scene.
The village lies below Samuel's home, and to the west. Farther to the west and north are great mountains which contend with the clouds for supremacy of the skies. Cut into the mountains are terraces, fields currently in fallow. The largest such field, and only one which has been turned of late, lies north. There is a wide stone path leading up from the village to this field, and even at this distance we can see the solid rectangle of gray stone at the back of the field - a table centered just before the field's edge gives way to the mountain's upward progress. Opposite this field, to the south, is an old riverbed. Dry and parched as the lands beyond it, a fatal fracture to the life of farmers' families within the valley.
The women continue downward in silence. Mary waits occasionally for Georgina, but never for very long. Sick as she is, Georgina is a strong woman, and can still walk under her own strength. She is, however, the first to break the silence.
"You played together as children, my beau and you. Dinna you?"
Mary, not facing Georgina, smiles. "Aye. But a long time ago that was."
"Look in on him, will ye? After... after today."
Mary does not respond. She purses her lips in thought and reaches out a foot to test the next step. She wheels in surprise as a frail hand clamps down on her left bicep, eyes widened by the idea of someone, even one ten feet away, sneaking up upon her. "Mary, promise you'll look after him."
Mary swallows hard, and nods. "...Aye. So you ask, and so I will."
Georgina releases Mary's arm, and coughs wetly into her hand. She waves Mary on and the pair continue their walk.
The poetry that comes from the squaring off between,
and the circling is worth it.
Finding beauty in the dissonance.
Samuel wrings a cap in his hands. Before him are four of the Elders of the village, seated comfortably on the dirt floor of the village's central building. Mary stands behind them, warming her hands over the firepit set near the rear wall of the room. Samuel looks from his hands to the elders. "How does this work? I mean... Am I to do anything?"
The Elder on the right, a fat crone, laughs. "Samuel, have you not been to the Ceremony before?"
"He's been to none," Mary says. She stokes the fire, "He believes not that the Ceremony keeps us alive."
Samuel's pained eyes are his only retort.
One of the middle Elders speaks. "My eldest grandson, Max, killed you a doe this morning. It was lost, stumbling down from the mountains. If you would meet him before the Ceremony starts, an hour would be enough, he will help you clean it. After that, you must only wait, and watch. And then wait."
Samuel nods, more out of acceptance than agreement. "Will I be given the opportunity to speak?"
The same Elder shrugs, and nods affirmatively. Samuel nods back. He looks to Mary, who is intent on watching the fire. Samuel turns and exits the room. Mary looks after him only after hearing the door shut.
There was a time that the pieces fit, but I watched them fall away
mildewed and smoldering, strangled by our coveting.
I've done the math enough to know the dangers of our second guessing.
Doomed to crumble unless we grow, and strengthen our communication.
Hundreds of people stand on the barren field. The crust of the earth is dry and ashen, even after being turned all morning by volunteers. Most of the frost, that which hasn't melted, is hidden beneath the hard soil (there's no loam in this part of the world). Samuel is kneeling twenty feet away from the table Georgina stands before. Samuel wears the hide, head intact, of the doe he and Max have cleaned for the Ceremony. The organs and entrails are stacked, neatly, before Samuel. There are no flies yet, as early in the year as it is, and the smell doesn't bother the man who cannot take his eyes off his wife. She is wrapped ankle to throat in a thin white gauze, with her small nipples pressing against the gossamer fabric. The wind blows her hair across her face for a moment, and dies down again.
One of the elders pushes two small boys forward. They run solemnly to the pile of doe entrails and plunge their hands amidst the vitals. They extract their curved fingers and paint Samuel's face even while he bites back tears. Each of the small boys return to the pile and pluck out a kidney before scurrying to Georgina, who bends her knees ever so much to greet them. Standing on either side of the woman, each bites into his kidney, and kisses Georgina on the cheek.
With these kisses, Samuel begins to cry.
Cold silence has a tendency to atrophy any sense of compassion...
Mary bounds off of the bed, still naked. She wipes the thick condensation from the inside of the window and looks outside. Her chest is deeply flushed and her youthful smile does not match the age line of frowns she will have in fifteen years.
"It's still rainin'. I can't believe how wet it is out there!"
"I can't believe how wet it is in here..." groans a young Samuel from half beneath the bedcovers.
Mary jumps back into bed, smiling. "You're horrible!" She play slaps Samuel in the chest. He lets her, and then holds both her arms and pins her down for a deep kiss. "But honestly, it's amazing that we still have the rain, isn't it? The Ceremony was a full month ago."
Samuel rolls off from on top of her. "The Ceremony did not call the rain, the rain came of its own accord."
Mary props herself on her side, leaning into her elbow. "You can't mean that. Every year the rains do not come and do not come, until such a time as we hold the Ceremony, and then rains and planting and harvest and life come forth from that."
"Yea, but at what cost? A life for some water? Aye, Tobias broke his leg, but who are you or I to say that leg would not have set in a splint?"
Mary has left the bed again, standing before the window. Her arms are crossed before her. "It was Tobias who volunteered for this year's Ceremony. He knows the calendar well as anyone, knows the risk of planting any later than now. You speak of the cost... what of the cost of no rain? The entire village could starve during winter."
The two lovers have their backs turned to each other. Mary, as if suddenly aware of her nudity, leaves the bedroom. It will be the last time she sees its interior.
...between supposed lovers.
The crowd is respectfully quiet, such that only Samuel's crying can be heard. Georgina lets slip a single tear down her cheek, which she does not bother to clean away. It is her distraught husband which upsets her, not her own fate.
The crone elder who first spoke to Samuel is not looking at Georgina, as are all others. Instead, she looks up the mountain, to the west, where there is a barely perceptible trail. She has been looking ever more frequently, though never for long. This time, she sees what she has expected. A child has ran around a bend in the trail, and waves with both arms. Only the Elder sees this; the child has ducked back up and around the bend in the trail, hiding as instructed. The elder steps aside to reveal one cloaked figure in their midst. The left hand of the crone grasps the cowl, and the right hand pushes the subject forward. It is Mary, nude and painted toe to crown in the doe's blood.
There is no murmur from the throng. No quickened pulse. There is no seduction in her walk as Mary approaches Samuel. Her hair has been pulled back into a short ponytail, now thick with the same blood her entire body is covered in. She does not bow nor bend in front of Samuel, but rather drops to one knee, facing him, and fishes for the doe's heart. Her eyes do not leave Samuel's. The white of her eyes are the only inch of her not covered, and the white of her eyes do not drop from Samuel's even as she finds the heart, stands, and backs away towards Georgina. Samuel opens his mouth, finds only sobs, and closes his gaping jaw.
The wind gusts. A cloud passes before the sun. The wind stills.
Still facing the crowd, Mary lifts the heart and bites deeply of its center. She turns, and kisses Georgina on the mouth. There is a trickle of blood trailing down Georgina's chin as Mary waltzes behind the woman, picking up the knife from the stone table. Mary puts her right arm around Georgina's waist, holding her like a lover, and whispers in her ear.
Georgina's da, sitting thick in the crowd and covered in blankets, cannot possibly hear what is whispered. He knows all the same that Mary has just said "Life for our crop."
Still holding Georgina, Mary raises the knife above her left clavicle.
The clouds move away from the sun. The wind gusts. But it is Samuel who howls.
Between supposed lovers...
The knife hits home. Georgina does not scream, but her eyes bulge in response to the pain. Mary whispers in her ear once more, and gently eases her to the ground. Mary slides the blade loose, and blood begins to puddle around the gossamer angel, rivulets of life slowly flowing downhill towards her husband. Mary stands up to her full height. Her breasts heave once as she takes in a full carriage of air.
"Good people, of the valley, look now before you at our saviour! Georgina has given her life's water unto us, and in return, shall we not live on?"
The throng, standing all afternoon, now sway back and forth. There is a smattering of amens.
"Sayeth not the good book, that the tree which is hewn may yet give bud at but the promise of water?"
The crowd now, louder: "Amen!"
Mary tilts her face to address the sky, screaming, "Take this life's blood and grant us your lives' blood! Rain down upon us!"
There is a gentle peal of thunder from the west, and rain begins to fall between the sunbeams. Mary, face upturned still, closes her eyes and beams. The villagers whoop in ecstasy, and the Elders move forward to console Samuel, who crawls as a broken man towards his wife.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
I know the pieces fit.
Small type are the lyrics to Schism by Tool
Opening text is bass tablature approximating the opening line written by Justin Chancellor
Remaining text is submitted for the approval of Horrorquest