Friday, August 03, 2007

Grief Enough To Encircle The World

This was a story I wrote for a contest Hellnotes had a couple of years ago. The idea was to use one of their "prompts" -- in the case "something bad is happening to the moon" -- and write a story of 1000 words or less. Here's what I came up with.

Grief Enough to Encircle the World
By Mark Justice

I hadn’t seen Jeremy since sophomore year of college, after Raiders of the Lost Ark led him to switch his major from English Lit to Archaeology. I stayed in journalism, my dreams of a career as a crusading journalist giving way to a position in sales at a newspaper in Massachusetts, a victory of economics over integrity.

We lost touch over the next two decades. While he delved into the past, I struggled through two marriages, a drinking problem and a firing. When Jeremy’s letter reached me, I was selling cars at a Ford dealership in Worcester and hating every minute of it.

The return address was someplace in Vermont. The message was simple: “Please come.”

So I did. I took a vacation from the car lot and drove my ten-year-old Taurus up I-89 to a small house set next to the woods outside Burlington.

Jeremy had aged a lifetime in twenty years. Rail-thin, with sunken eyes and thinning hair, he greeted me like the ghost of a friend.

He invited me in to the cluttered house, leading me through a living room deep in dirty dishes, through a dark hallway, to the screened-in porch. A thin chunk of stone, maybe two feet in diameter, rested on an easel. Several books and writing pads were on a card table. Jeremy pulled two beers from a cooler.

“Still a Rolling Rock man?” he said.

“Not anymore,” I said. Just the sight of the bottle made my mouth go dry.

“Oh. Okay.” He put one bottle back, opened his and took a long swallow. “Thanks for coming.”

“Yeah. So, you okay? You look...”

“Rough?” He chuckled. “I know. You ever marry?”

“Twice. You?”

He looked away. “Once. I met her on a dig in Ireland. Her name was Isabella. She was...” He made a small sound, like a cough. “She was everything.”

“Where is she, man?”

He rested his hand on the stone. “We found this in Syria. It’s the find of a lifetime, the culmination of everything we had worked for, the cornerstone of....”

“What happened?”

“There was an accident. A cave-in. Isabella, she...”

I stepped out in the back yard to smoke and to give him some privacy. In about five minutes, he joined me.

“Why did you come?” Jeremy said.

I shrugged. The smoke from my cigarette curled over the surface of the full moon. “You’re my friend.”

“A friend you haven’t seen in a long time.”

I dropped the cigarette on the damp grass. “Things haven’t been good for me in a long time. I needed a change of scenery.”

He chuckled again.

“Why did you ask me up here, Jeremy?”

“I need your help. I’m going to bring Isabella back to life.”


After he talked me out of leaving, we sat on the porch and he tried to explain.

“The old gods,” he said. “Every culture had them. Isabella believed they existed.”

I snorted. He pretended not to hear.

“She had a theory. There’s not enough time to show you the evidence, so just listen. Isabella believed that all physical manifestations of the gods were the result of the merging of a human with what she called the God Force. She thought this was an energy that has always existed, shapeless and without sentience until it became part of a human. The ancient writings she discovered led her to conclude that only a few knew how to perform the unification ceremony, and once that knowledge was lost, it never happened again.”

I nodded toward the piece of stone. “And that’s where this comes in?”

“She died to find this. I’m going to use it. With the power of a god, I can bring her back. Will you help?”

I thought of how crazy it sounded. Then I remembered the ten-hour days at the car lot.

I opened a beer.

“What do I have to do?” I said.


I had to read some funny words that Jeremy had written phonetically on several yellow pages from a legal pad. He would be standing in a circle of stones in the yard, also chanting. And waving an odd looking knife around. Making sacred glyphs in the moonlight, he said.

I didn’t understand and I didn’t believe. I would see this “ceremony” through, then go back to my boring, sober life.

Sometime after midnight, Jeremy began his strange dance inside the stone circle. The blade of the knife flashed and pulsed in the moonlight.

“Nee-tay cole-zall-tay ree-kaw-no,” I said, along with many other meaningless phrases. At least I thought them meaningless until the moon went dark.

An eclipse? But this wasn’t gradual. It was sudden, total darkness, as if a celestial light switch had been turned off.

I dug my lighter from my pocket. The circle of stones was still there. Jeremy wasn’t.

I walked around the circle but I couldn’t find him. He must have run into the trees. I started in that direction. Then the moon was back.

The return of light was accompanied by a wail of pain and despair, resonating deep in my skull.

The scream came again and this time my own voice joined it. The pain was terrible and it forced my head up until I could see the surface of the full moon.

Jeremy’s face was spread across the yellow globe. His eyes were open wide in anger and confusion.

And something else.


Jeremy screamed again and the earth shook. Crimson lightning tore the sky apart.

I knew he could see me. I knew he could see everyone.

He mouthed a silent word. It was his wife’s name.

The ground quaked and a large fissure opened near the house. The structure began to collapse. The red lightning struck the trees, lighting them afire.

Jeremy blamed me, blamed the world.

There would be no resurrection tonight. There would only be revenge.

The vengeance of a mad god.

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