Charles refused to go. Calliope insisted. Since waking this morning, he understood it had something to do with the witch thing. He sensed Calliope bolting upright in their bed, heard her astonished whisper. “Of course, the Winter Solstice! Return of the light!”
This time he knew better than to encourage her. Having a self-proclaimed witch for a lover was sometimes amusing, sometimes embarrassing. This time, her craziness filled him with foreboding.
He told himself he was incredibly lucky to have found her. The fact was she had found him, pursued him, won him. His friends assured him Calliope was beautiful. And she loved him, that was obvious. The witch thing was the only flaw in their relationship.
So that morning he avoided her as much as he dared, keeping his silence. After lunch, equally silent, he left the table and bumped into her raised hands against his chest. She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him.
“We have to go out tonight,” she said. “We have to stay out until dawn.”
He laughed, but felt no humor. “No way. It’s cold out there, it’s December twenty-first.”
“Yes. The Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year. That’s why we have to go. We have to be there when the light returns.”
He grasped her arms and brought them down. He moved her out of his way and went into his office. All afternoon he tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. He had to know. Before he turned toward the doorway he sensed her presence.
“All right, Calliope, tell me, what’s this all about.”
“I had a dream.”
His shoulders slumped, but she was undeterred. “Listen, you must listen, just hear me out.”
She told him about the old woman. From her past, her ancient past, somewhere far back in memory of her past lives. Come down through the ages to tell her how to heal her love. Go, the old woman intoned, go out into the longest night. Stay, and endure the endless dark. For it will end when the light returns. And you will sacrifice. But your love will be healed with the light.
Because Charles loved her he agreed to go. They dressed warm. When he asked where they were going Calliope kissed him. “You’ll see, believe me, darling, you will see.”
The sun was gone. The longest night began. Behind the dark glasses he always wore, Charles felt the car move out of the driveway straight for three blocks, then turn left onto Route 59, which meant they were leaving Axton. Not long after, the car slowed, and turned sharp right. As it swayed over the rutted, steady incline, Charles knew they were going to the top of the hills that flanked the town.
At last Calliope stopped, helped him out, and led him a few paces away from the car. She sat him down, his back against a tree. She sat next to him, but slightly apart. The ground beneath him was cold, and the air around him was cold, but it was still, with no wind.
Calliope’s voice came from a distance, low. “Take off your glasses. You won’t need them. We’re facing east. Don’t speak to me, I mustn’t be distracted. Be patient.”
Charles tried. He stared into the darkness. He closed his eyes. He dozed on and off. He tried not to think how long he’d have to do this. Calliope chanted, a language he didn’t understand, in a voice that was not quite hers.
Just when he thought he couldn’t stand the waiting any longer, Calliope cried out. “Stand up. It’s coming. The return of the light. Look, look straight ahead. Don’t turn your eyes away.”
Charles lifted himself, stiff and cold, back up the tree to a standing position. The sun rose up over the eastern hills, light blazing as it marched westward. It rose, higher, higher. Charles felt a flicker, a pulse, a veil being lifted. He gasped, shouted.
“Cally, I can see! Oh god, I can see!” He jumped up and down, spun around, looking at everything, everywhere. Trees, ravines, the lake and the college campus below, the bright blue sky, the sun, that glorious sun. Calliope stood where she was, back to him, silent. He went to her, grasped her shoulders, turned her to him, froze. Twin tears leaked from her dead eyes.
“I can’t,” she said.
R.F. Marazas won first place in the Dahlonega Literary Festival 2007 Novel Contest, for his novel Dimensions In Ego, and has published short fiction in five Anthologies and in on-line venues.