Short Story Competition – Second Place: Old Devil Moon

OLD DEVIL MOON

By Luc de Vries

The spotlight is on us. The fallen night encircles the floor on which we sway, one foot to the other. Shadowed treetops crown my horizon. The stars are aligned in perfect structure: our diamond chandeliers laced with translucent clouds, drifting slowly. A tender step left, a hand on my side pulls me closer, and I abide. The moon shines down on us, and we are its children. Its light favors us, encapsulates us, follows us. We dance.

There is an audience, captivated by our every step. Every moment we almost kiss—don’t kiss. They sit at their tables, gowns stitched to the table cloths, caged like us in the moon’s iridescent gaze. Had the floor been coated to the point where we could see our own reflections once, it is now but rocks and dirt. We did not lose our footing, on the contrary. A finer waltz has not graced the earth.

My heels high, my lipstick a murderous red. His hands hard, his breath caressing my neck. The magic is lost on them. They, who sit around our hallowed grounds, our stage. Their thin hands jingling with jewelry as they point at us. The dangling glitter from their earlobes. All smiles and teeth. They don’t understand what is happening. But as the moon commands us, we sway. Again and again. Truth be told, I’ve yet to grasp the situation myself.

As our spirit wanes, the music appears. Each step adds a layer, each slide a touch. The earth is drizzled in the dew that reflects the faint glimmer of starshine, only to be broken and absorbed into the fabric of my dress, his legs. The perfect fourth sounds, there and back again. I lean in to him, and he leans in to me. The strings’ sweet lull harmonizes with his hums behind my ear. A chill shivers through my flesh like a nail on porcelain. A beat, a turn, back and forth. His gentle touch guides me.

At that moment, he throws me back; I let him. The music tumbles. The audience takes an empty breath. He catches me by the wrist, a grip of ice, and pulls me back towards his embrace. Dry, vacant sockets stare into my eyes. His lipless smile almost brushes my face. I return a smile of my own. From his fractured throat rattles a sweet nothing. I giggle, his skull turns to look sideways, we waltz on. The music returns, and nothing has happened. The bare toes of our feet touch, embracing each other. They won’t let go anymore.

*

My heart beats like a mellow drum, a melodrama. How I would wish for it to stop and leave me to live on. But it is a truth universally acknowledged that when the heart stops beating, life ends. It is a fact of life as troubling as the tide: it holds nothing until you give meaning to it. My reason is the person who holds me right now. He is mine, and I am his.

But this shared existence of a singular soul drifts uneasily on the tide. My heart hasn’t stopped beating, yet his has. Won’t someone tell me of my fate? What twisted pathway has been laid out for me that leads towards a free fall into nothingness? A pathway that intersected and intertwined with his, only to fade away like smoke from a gun. I can no longer see the outlines: they have shattered into countless fragments, and are spread among the sky like stars. My road ended along with his, yet I remain. Still, in his cold guidance. His chalk fingers intertwined with mine, our love undying.

*

The night is almost at an end. I see it, I can feel it. The moon slowly soars downward in galactic anticipation of the sun, and its pull lessens. Our graceful waltz devolves into a waggle, a slapstick struggle against gravity. Our toes have merged, and we cling to each other as we try to maintain balance. Where my knees buckle and touch his, the skin is graying. Cracking and popping, my shinbones splinter as they pierce into his. It doesn’t hurt, quite the opposite. The more I am absorbed into my love, the surer I am that we won’t be separated once the sun dispels our fateful reunion. I indulge in the bliss, lose concentration for a split second, and tumble to the ground in a sheltering embrace.

They laugh, how could they not? Beauty rots in front of their eyes, maggots gnawing through remnants of gray skin, their torn eyelids fluttering loosely in the bleak night air. They haven’t enough skin left to shape anything else but a ghastly grin. They try to rise for the applause; a rustle of hollow rattles and clinking rings and bracelets. They stumble; their clothes attached to their seating and their feet partway buried in cold ground. Some fall, some break, some laugh on. They’re heading towards us.

We scuffle to our coalesced feet, only to find that the bones in our fingers have vanished. His hand digs deep into my side, and my wrist now stops where his spine begins. The hand he guides me with is the same one I’m led by.

The music has long since stopped, and the skeletal fiends that surround us sing us a choir of malady as replacement. Their hands connected, yet not unified like me and my love: our bodies now share one pair of legs. Their screams are fearful, and they swell to the rise of the sun whose first rays color the sky. I no longer deem any part of me to belong to the sun. Its warmth has been replaced. Its light is unnecessary. I no longer need the illusion. I look up at my dearest. His faceless visage, that yet vessels our love, stares into me. The horror that fills me is at once invigorating. I dare not look down at our shambling, decomposing legs. Let this soon be over, my eyes beg him. There is no reply. A sweet, sweet nothing. I smile. Nothing is what I long for. Eternity lies within, hidden deep in those eyes.

Our ribcages connect through our clothes. Cackles drown out the ripping and tearing of my beautiful dress, now drifting downward. And it keeps falling: the ground below us has opened. The ground on which we dance sinks deeper, deeper, earthbound.

The audience leans over the rocky edges, their arms frantically waving towards us. Perhaps they are not yet satisfied with our performance. Me and my love only have eyes for each other. Always have. We’ve never been in it for the glory, all the glitter and the roar.

Our embrace deepens. The ground above us narrows. Our bodies are one, two necks upon a single shape. The cries are silenced.

The earth shuts.

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