Pleiades – a short story

 

The night sky was vast and seemingly endless above me. It stretched without break as far as I could see. The countless myriad white dots had always fascinated us and engendered deep conversations and debates about alien civilizations and life forms. We would talk and argue, all the while getting to know one another better, all the while pushing our boundaries of knowledge until one of us would resort to searching the web for a definitive answer. There were times when we’d argue our corner until we were blue in the face: the meaning of it all, the point of life, of love, the idea of god, or in Jesse’s case, God.

The overhanging trees to the side of the lawn moaned as the wind gusted through them, fallen leaves rustling and eddying around their trunks. I was mildly surprised that lying on my back, gazing up at the stars as I was, I wasn’t colder. After all it was the end of October, which is normally a time to be snuggled in front of a log fire or wrapped up warm in sweaters and coats and out pranking.

Still, my pranking was done. It had been a doozey of a prank, too–a one off, not-to-be-forgotten prank that would be talked about for years and years and years, if I wasn’t very much mistaken. Though, if I was honest, it probably wouldn’t be reported as a prank. I was well-pleased with my efforts. Well-pleased, indeed.

I was sated. It was Halloween and I was lying flat on my back looking at the stars, sated. Jesse and I had come to Halloween late, at seventeen, just after we met. We both knew, of course, that Halloween was really an American affectation in the same vein as Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus and Hallmark cards. Jesse and I had found out–after one of our debates and its resultant research–that Halloween was a modern term for All Hallows Eve, which again has much older, deeper and darker roots that go back to the festival of Samhain: the first of the witches’ winter sabbats. We’d both shivered when we’d found out that though the modern idea of Halloween–with its pumpkin faces, costumes and tricks or treats–was not followed in England, witches had been celebrating Samhain here for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was a dark and bloody festival made light hearted by those who never trod its true path.

Admittedly, although tonight was pretty much a last minute decision, it was a logical conclusion of thoughts and ideas garnered from a recurring black, black dream. The dream–it was only ever the one–had been nipping and prodding, egging me on and tormenting me for months. It was repetitive and inescapable even when I fought against it. Yet it was apt for it was our anniversary too–the anniversary of the first time Jesse and I had met as well as the last time Jesse and I had spent together. Then, we’d been over the moon happy. Then.

Lying on the lawn in Jesse’s parents’ garden, looking up at the night sky, I spotted the Pleiades which brought back memories of one of our earliest debates. It had been about Orion and why he was chasing the seven sisters across the sky, and why Zeus had put them up there in the first place. Neither of us was right, yet the night–that night–was special. It was a year ago and I could describe it in exquisite moment by moment detail if I could suffer the pain. It ended oh so sweetly. It was the first time we made love.

They say you should never regret, but how can I not. I should have kept him safe. I should have kept a journal rather than a hotchpotch of bad love poems, notes and unsent letters. A paper melange that will, no doubt, be seen as the ranting of a lunatic. I should have more photographs of us, but I don’t. They’ll say it was obsession, and I suppose it is, though I’m no more obsessed with Jesse than Jesse is with me. We’re in love, and it is soul-deep love that cannot be tempered by normality. I know when it began, I know how long it has lasted, and worse, I know why they’ll think it ended. The responsibility for that is irrefutable. Irrefutable. And it is sweet and glorious kismet that the payment for services rendered should be delivered on the anniversary of their rendering.

There are voices shouting behind me now, crackling radios coming from the house. It is a house I know well, a house owned by two of the most bigoted people I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. I once truly thought Jesse’s parents were kind and decent, and I think, I think at first they were. They were glad their son had found a friend and happy the friend he’d made was so normal. Yet there were inklings, little obvious signs I missed that I should have picked up on: Church for one, and God. God with an emboldened capital, double-underlined, seventy-two-point G. No loving god, this one. A god with fire and brimstone for daily advice and excursions to hell at the weekends.

Jesse’s father was bad; but his mother was worse. I’d always thought mothers were kind, nurturing, loving individuals–mine certainly is–but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yet at first Jesse’s mother was a sweet woman and Jesse’s house became my second home as mine was his. His parents were pleasant, though strict and aloof. Then, and I should say it took me a while to work the timeline out, the kind old priest at their local church died and a new incumbent arrived. He of the piercing, crystal-blue gaze and the mellifluous tenor. He with his skewed view of The Book and with sermons to make any gay boy curl up and die. He of the confessional that saw through Jesse’s crumbling wall and ignored his duty to sanctity.

Jesse and I had a year. A year of burgeoning friendship that soon turned to a sublimely exquisite and passionate love. Just a year. Fleeting. Then we were outed and a week later, on Halloween, Jesse hung himself.

I was in hell. My family rallied around, but try as they might they couldn’t help. They tried to mediate with Jesse’s parents, too, but I was refused permission to attend the funeral. The priest smiled as I was dragged off by hired help, his crystal eyes and manic certainty of righteousness tearing through what little sanity I had left.

I sank, gone from the world and lost in memories of what Jesse and I had had and what we’d planned. Sank, blindly unaware of my concerned family, unresponsive to everything as the days, weeks and months rolled by. Sank, until I re-emerged this very morning during breakfast when three things happened. The first was the date: over soggy cornflakes I heard my younger brother on his phone planning a Halloween party. The second: I saw my mother had a new knife block, and the third was a sudden complete epiphany: finally, it was time.

My mother couldn’t believe her eyes as she stood at the bottom of the stairs this evening and watched me trot down them, humming.

“Darling, are you alright?” she said.

“Yes, mum, ‘course.” I smiled at her–albeit only a wan, fifty-watt effort–and took her in my arms and hugged her. It felt surprisingly good and by the end we were both sobbing.

“We were so, so worried about you, Frank,” she said. “Losing Jesse was awful for you, but we miss him too. Truly.”

“Thanks, mum. It was awful, but I think I’m over it,” I said. I held her head in my hands and looked at her. “Love you lots. I love all you guys. You’ve been great.” I let go and stepped back. “I going to pop out and stretch my legs. I’ve been cooped upstairs for far too long.”

She looked concerned. “Really? Are you sure? I’ll come wit….”

“No … thanks, mum. I need some space. To think. I’ve been doing a lot of that today.” I sighed. “I’m going for a walk down by the river. It’s always been a good calming place.” I kissed her on the cheek and smiled, cranking up the wattage a bit. She watched as I put on my leather jacket and opened the door. “See you soon,” I lied. I walked down the drive and looked back once. Mum was watching me from the doorway, her concern obvious. I waved and walked on.

Jesse’s house was half an hour away and I felt his presence every second of it. I was pretty sure he was okay with the prank I’d planned, but there was a part of me that wondered what he’d say. Still, I wasn’t going to wuss out. After all, it was time. High time.

It was dark when I arrived and climbed the boundary wall. I walked across the front lawn, around the side of the house and out to the back garden. The house was in darkness except for the ground floor living room, its French windows spilling light over the patio where the summer lawn furniture was haphazardly stacked. Out of the occupants’ view I stopped in front of a large rhododendron and watched, fascinated, not to mention apoplectically incensed. Jesse’s parents and the priest were sitting in front of a roaring log fire, drinking sherry and chatting happily, smiles galore. On the walk over I hadn’t been entirely sure what I was going to do. Now I was sure beyond clarity. I walked over to the French window, pulled out the heavy ten-inch chief’s knife I’d taken from my mother’s new set in the kitchen and tapped its tip on the glass.

I scared the shit out of them. It was sweet and I started chuckling. Wide-eyed, Jesse’s parents sat immobile. The priest put down his sherry glass and strode to the French windows.

“What do you want, Frank?” he said, the words muted, a small smile gracing his lips. “You’re not supposed to be here. There’s a restraining order against you.”

“Why, father?” I asked, tapping the knife against my leg. “Why is what Jesse and I have so wrong?”

Looking at the knife he frowned, then moved forward and locked the French windows. I felt a bit of an idiot. I’d assumed they’d already be locked.

“Geoff, Marie, call the police,” he said.

“It’s Halloween, father,” I said. “I’m just here for a trick of treat.”

“Right, of course you are. With a large knife.” He raised a sardonic eyebrow. I glanced over his shoulder. In the background Jesse’s mother was on the phone talking vehemently and looking at me as though I was shit on her shoe. I clenched my teeth.

“You have nothing to fear, father. God wouldn’t let you get hurt, would he?”

“No. No, He wouldn’t. You, however, are likely to be struck down.”

“Struck down,” I mouthed the words. Father Willis, Parish Priest of St. Mary’s of The Divine Assumption, stepped forward to hear me better. I drove the ten-inch forged steel blade through the pane of glass and into his stomach, angling it upwards behind his ribs and into his foul, black, mean and twisted heart.

Can you give me Hosanna!

My hand was lacerated and a sea of pain swamped me as I pulled the knife back through the shattered window. I took one step back, lifted my foot–I’d put on my old, faithful Dr. Martens just for this moment–and drove it at the lock. The French windows exploded inwards in a shower of glass and broken wood. I walked into the room and stepped over the corpse of Father Willis.

“Right, you fuckers,” I said, grinning at their terrified expressions. “Trick or treat!” Blood was flowing from my ruined hand, down the knife blade and pooling on their white carpet. I was watching it spread as I became aware of approaching sirens.

“Get out, you filthy little homosexual!” Jesse’s mother shrieked, dropping the phone and running at me, arms flailing and spittle flying from her mouth. I really didn’t have an option. I raised my arm to fend her off and she ran onto the knife blade with a loud ‘oof’.

“Trick then,” I said, and took her for a dance around the room as I hummed Mozart’s Gavotte in G. Marie was burbling–or was it bubbling–as arterial blood ran out of her mouth. She sprayed me with it as she tried to speak.

“Oh, nothing to say?” I asked, “Shame. Don’t mind dancing with a gay boy, though, do you?” Her eyes widened in outrage just before she died, slumping in my arms. I dropped her to the floor behind the couch and–with difficulty as its point was imbedded in her spine–pulled the knife out of her stomach. I was standing up when I was hit hard across the shoulders with something that hurt like hell. Perhaps it was hell. The blow staggered me and I flew over the back of the three-seater to land on the coffee table which splintered under my weight as I rolled over it. I have no idea how I managed not to stick myself with the knife, but I didn’t.

I was on my knees as Jesse’s father came around the couch, eyes blazing, holding a golf club cocked back over his shoulder. I passed the knife to my good hand and ducked as he swung the club, missed and overbalanced. I saw the surprise in his eyes as I drove myself off the ground and body checked him. Don’t ask me how–maybe I was a reincarnate assasin–but his head sailed off his shoulders mere moments later. With a satisfying splosh it landed in an ice bucket on the sideboard and gazed at me as the rest of his body crumpled to the floor. Silence. Dead silence–snigger.

I listened, but the only sound was the metronomic tick-tock, tick-tock from the clock in the hall. The sirens had obviously been going elsewhere: lucky me.

When I’d left to go for my walk by the river I’d thought that that would be that. It was why I’d written letters for my family and left them in a prominent place on my mantelpiece before I’d gone. Now though, it occurred to me I might well get away with this. Maybe other trick or treaters would get the blame. I was tempted to write–in blood–‘all I wanted was a treat’ in an arc over the fireplace. I laughed at the thought, looked around at the carnage, then walked out through the French windows, the crunching of breaking glass loud in my ears. I was walking across the lawn towards the back garden fence when I was smashed in the back. Momentarily I was confused until the sound of the gunfire caught up, along with another bullet. A gush of blood sprayed out of my chest as I spun around and fell backwards onto the lawn.

The sky was vast and seemingly endless above me. It stretched, without break, as far as I could see.

“Hi Frank.”

“Jesse!” I smiled.

“It’s a beautiful night, my love,” he said, sitting down cross-legged beside me, his hands in his lap.

“Mmm, umm … you don’t mind?”

“It’s you I love, my love,” Jesse said. “They gave birth to me and for that alone I’ll always be thankful.” He chuckled, “You pranked them good, mate. I’ll bet Father Willis never saw that one coming.”

“Ta,” I said, finding I could now sit up. I nudged him over and sat beside him, my corpse to our right. “So what now?”

“Now?” he said, taking my hand. “Now we fly away and find out the real truth of the Pleiades.”

And so we did.

2 comments on “Pleiades – a short story

  1. […] Pleiades – a short story […]

  2. […] Pleiades – a short story […]

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