Tonight there’s a lunar eclipse. I think we’d be able to see it round here if it weren’t cloudy. I’ve been thinking about this short in connection with eclipses and other events that inspire human beings with superstition. I like this story because it’s both dark and light.
It was the old, old story, he felt: handsome stranger comes to town, walks in on a feast complete with pretty (and pretty interested) girls, has a great time—and wakes up a night later about to be brutally sacrificed in order to save the village from a terrible drought.
“Seen it a thousand times,” he said aloud, trying to get more comfortable in his bonds.
“No you haven’t,” he answered himself. “Before this, you’d never walked more than three days from home.”
The priest came, carrying a horn. He sat down next to the stone.
“Sunrise soon,” he said, turning to look at the stranger.
“I’m aware of it,” agreed the stranger.
The priest lifted the horn. “We give the sacrifice a forgetting drink, if he wishes.”
“No, thank you,” said the stranger after a while.
The priest shrugged.
“I’ve had all night to wonder,” said the stranger. “What is the point? What is the point of killing a perfectly healthy young man who would be much more useful begetting strong children and fighting off wolves and catamounts?”
“Hopefully you’ve already done the first thing. Feast, remember?” Said the priest, raising the horn.
“Not much of it,” replied the stranger, smiling though he had begun to shake.
“Things are bad,” said the priest. “You saw.”
“I did,” said the stranger, remembering how thin the women had been, how easily tired.
“It’s how we’ve always done it,” began the priest. There was a sound like a gourd dropping. The priest sighed.
The sigh went on for too long; the priest folded over. A bony young woman stood over him, the butt of her hunting knife in her hand.
“Not anymore, not anymore,” she chanted while she cut the stranger’s bonds.
Two more women stepped from the edge of the grove. They looked at the priest, nodded at her.
“The sacrifice went well,” said one.
“No! Not a sacrifice!” snapped the young woman.
“Joke,” said the other, waving her hands.
“Time to go,” the young woman said, holding out his belt and kit.
He looked once over his shoulder, to see the two women gently lifting the priest; the woman tugged his hand over the hill. On the other side, the sun was rising.
“That is the most fine and beautiful sight I have ever seen,” he said to her.
She smiled at him. “Like every one we get,” she agreed.