by Seán McNicholl
“Speak to me my Lord, show me your will.”
Simon whispered over the sacrifice, the tremble of his fingers hidden as he probed each lobe of the liver.
His god had never been silent before. His tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth as it dried, his breathing grew short and rapid.
The sanguine warmth that coated his hands was beginning to cool and clot.
“Jupiter?” he asked submissively, his eyes flicking to a shadow-draped statue by the wall, its gilded curves glinting in the dim candlelight.
He did not like petitioning the gods of the Romans, but to whom else could he go, when his own god was silent? He raised his eyes and his hands, congealed blood leaching from his fingertips.
“Answer me Jupiter, I am your servant, your magician, priest and wizard. Speak to me. Speak through me. Show me what I seek.”
A solemn squelch sounded as his hands dove back into the sacrifice but still no answer came through.
He felt his throat tighten as the darkness pressed against the candlelight.
His eyes found the slender porcelain image of Baal, hidden deep within the shadows. With fearful trepidation and forbidden lust, he whispered to it.
“Baal, my Lord, speak to me now and I shall sing your praises. Your name shall once more be revered in this city of old.” But still nothing changed.
“I’m sorry,” Simon choked as he flung the innards down into the open sacrificial lamb, a splatter of blood anointing his forehead.
“All gods are silent today. I don’t understand it.”
He lifted his eyes to the elderly woman who stood by the wall, eyes bulging, clutched within the grasp of the shadows. Her fingers fidgeted unceasingly, plucking at strands of skins along
her nails, leaving them as raw as her macerated lower lip.
“But what’s wrong?” she breathed. Simon shook the words from his mouth.
“I don’t know,” he said, staring once again at the bloodied pulp, a chill now nipping at him from within his very being.
“Are… are you sure you did it correctly?” the woman stuttered.
“Am I sure?” Simon snapped.
“Am I sure? Do you know who I am? You dare to question me!?”
“No-no, I didn’t mean it like that, I just-I just need an answer. I am terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to cause offence.”
With a turn of his hand, Simon dismissed the woman, and she backed away from him, stooping with the gravity of her apologies, leaving him to the solace of the shadows.
He swept her stipend into his pocket as soon as she had breached the door, the coins jangling incongruently with the vapid air.
The candles burned erect, not daring to flicker, as Simon stood alone, his breathing coming thick and heavy. He stared long at the sacrifice.
“Please,” he implored, louder than he would have dared in company, “Speak to me! Why are you silent!?”
But the liver remained lifeless, the intestines amassed silently, and the blood – now cooled – was consummating it together in repugnant scornful matrimony.
It was a mistake to leave Samaria.
It was a mistake coming here.
“There was nothing, Helen, nothing. He was silent. Completely silent. They all were.”
Simon paced in agitation around the kitchen, throwing words at his wife but without giving her a glance. Instead his gaze was fixed before his restless feet.
Helen’s attention remained with the simmering pot before her, the sounds of Simon’s preoccupation ringing familiar in her ears, but a frown drew itself heavily on her brow each time she looked from her cooking to his perturbed figure, his internal writhing etched into every move and muscle.
“Are you sure you did it correctly?”
The pacing stopped abruptly. Simon’s eyes remained fixed before him, jaw tightening.
Though short, his reply carried both an answer and a threat. Helen continued stirring the stew as flames gently licked the side of the scorched pot. The sixth hour was approaching.
“We should never have come here,” Simon resumed pacing.
“This is a place forsaken by all gods. We should have stayed in Samaria. I was worshipped there.”
“But you chose to bring us here,” Helen added, eyes still fixed on the stew.
“You said Jerusalem was where he wanted you to go.” Simon paused again and sighed his body into a sag.
“He did. And now he is silent. I don’t understand it.”
A crackle from the fire invaded the space between the two, bringing their eyes to one another for a brief flash.
“Why is it getting dark?” Helen asked, her husband now standing dressed in gloom.
“Surely the sixth hour hasn’t passed, it cannot be dark yet. And I saw no clouds approaching earlier.”
Simon adopted the silence for his own, now awoken from his ruminations. His eyes passed from Helen to the walls, moving through the dim and dark surrounding them.
Through the small tunneled windows, he could see the encroach of the preternatural darkness edging its way across the buildings, blanketed and heavy.
The pair walked to the door, greeted by the growing gloom. In the distance, beyond the city, painted black against the darkening sky stood the silhouette of the three condemned. There they hung, cutting three lines out from the hilltop, their image impenetrable.
Above them, isolated from the brewing clouds, the sun peeked out from behind a solemn mass, obscuring its glow.
“What… but… Simon? What is going on?” Helen’s voice quivered as she stood squinting to the sky.
Simon stood mutely, his hands vainly attempting to filter out the last dying rays that crescented out from the obscurity.
“It’s an eclipse. But that doesn’t make any sense. The alignments aren’t right. It shouldn’t be…”
He trailed off as the remnant of the sun shrank smaller and smaller. From the horizon, heavy set clouds edged in from all around. Darkness fell on the land.
“Is that-?” Helen asked quietly, eyeing the silhouettes. Her hand drifted to her lips.
“Yes,” replied Simon, “He was condemned this morning. And they called him the messiah…”
The darkness continued, the sun remained obscured, and the deep rolling clouds had moved in agitatedly overhead. The hum of anxious fear buffeted around the city, reverberating off the walls, bringing the place to life.
The miracle of the sun had been eclipsed by the reports of the crucifixion. Simon stood once again in his small altar, its cold surface perfuming the room with the metallic stench of congealing blood.
His sigh tickled the surface of the water that filled the basin upon the altar, sending ripples dancing uniformly.
Around him the candles burned in motionless silence once again, in unison, watching on, their smoke whispering overhead.
He felt the rough edges of the husks of cork in his hand. His mind washed incoherently, surging memories like the foam of breaking waves before they petered out on the sands of reality.
He had come to Jerusalem with such high hopes, such expectations. His ego had driven him, leaving behind notoriety for the glitter and the rouge of infamy; the infamy that only Jerusalem could hold.
Perhaps Helen had been right from the beginning. Perhaps he should have joined the Nazarene. The crowds had flocked to him, laying cloaks before him.
But it was too late for that now. He would be dead soon, if he wasn’t already. His fingers pushed firmly into the cork, its soft body submitting to him.
Thoughts of the eclipse crashed upon him. Still it lingered, the darkness holding fast, even though the ninth hour approached. The clouds had now amassed, watching life below with palpable ferocity as though they had the power to shake the earth to its core, fissuring and fragmenting the ground. And yet they held back, moving noiselessly.
Watching. He broke the water again with a sigh.
“Speak to me my Lord. I implore you. Do not be silent with me.”
He squeezed the corks together in his hand, raising them to his lips with a whispered plea, and then cast them before him like lots.
The gentle plop of the corks hitting the water mocked the two stoic candles that stood on either side of Simon, and they bobbed freely, spreading out across the bowl.
Without hesitation Simon lifted his priestly blade and drew it across the palm of his hand, teeth gritted and jaw clenched.
The sound of dripping of the blood into the bowl was suffocated under his own deep breathing.
“I am yours, O Lord, your messenger and your vessel. Show me your will!”
The corks had ceased moving and the only blood moved unseen, coursing through the water, mirroring the candle smoke above.
Simon’s shoulders sank as fear wrapped its skeletal fingers around him, squeezing his chest and hollowing his stomach.
“My god, my god, why have you forsaken me!?” he cried aloud, throwing his hands wide, sending a sprinkle of crimson across the candle on his left.
A dead silence fell.
The air grew cold, dense and oppressive, pushing in on him from all sides.
His eyes stung and watered as the candles glowed brighter, their flames rising taller until they licked the ceiling, finding their voices and screaming at him in their agony.
The water bubbled and boiled before him, shaking the bowl – a shaking which spilled over into the room until the floor beneath him rocked with violence, fissuring under the strain.
The gilded statue of Jupiter fell, landing head first, its image distorted beyond recognition.
The porcelain idol of Baal tumbled, shattering into oblivion, its pieces fallen and lost in the crevices, swallowed up by the darkness.
Simon gave a loud cry, fear billowing from deep within.
And then all was silent. Still.
The candle extinguished, and darkness engulfed him. His god was gone.