We come upon a town in the midst of a frenzy. Gaunt men, hands gnarled from a lifetime of labor, swing their scythes at smoke rising from a tyrannical fire in the town square. A handsome square, finely cobbled with troughs to carry waste to the outskirts. Women kneel at these channels as if they were pews, hands clasped around the gathering filth. They collect it in their smocks and convey it to the fire so they may fling handful after handful at the flames. Their children are nowhere to be found, replaced by dogs that bark savagely at the conflagration.
The fire feeds on the skeleton of a stage, out of which three stakes pierce skywards, their offerings charred. The fire needs no tinder, but the men stoke it all the same, forking heaps of bedeviled grain, giving the smoke its woaden complexion. It rises in decadent folds up to the balconies overlooking the square. The homes of merchants and usurers, out to enjoy the afternoon’s entertainment. These patriarchs waft the smoke towards expectant faces, their nostrils luxuriating in it as if were from one of their resins imported from Anatolia. They indulge until their eyes flutter white, their daemons silenced while their wives and daughters are incensed by the odor. They claw at one another, ripping lacework and corsetry. A bodice peels away like armor, revealing the chastened buds of a middle daughter. The father, his peruke askew, leans over to lap at this milk while the mothers call for more, more.
The men in the square are happy to oblige, throwing their scythes into the fire along with any other tools they possess. The women have now raised their sullied smocks so they can collect their own meager pies from the squat to feed to the conflagration. Like them, it is famished, no limit to what it could consume. The unwashed of the square. The monied above. Beyond that are the titled bloodlines and then the firmament and its army of angels. Below resides the source of the flames, all the fury and shame and cowardice of conquered gods. In the middle we suffer justly, our limbs yoked to these two oxen, whipped into plowing towards opposing edges of the map. The ropes are so taut they tremble, the unrepentant flesh holding onto its devil. They are fraying, just as the sinew and striation of conscience does. A mind in ever widening schism, but never snapping, this monstrous birth. One twin is noble, orderly, always in the right, regardless of the cost, great as it may be. The other is sinister, deception rolling from his tongue like silk, he wears the mask of his opposite, comedy appearing as tragedy. He has switched the chalices, the one laced with bane in front of his own plate. Or is this the precise suspicion he means to pour in our ear? The only way to know is to bring one of them to our lips and drink deeply of fate.
Nick Greer is a writer from Berkeley, CA. He publishes Goodnight, Sweet Prince, a digital literary zine that collects essays on side characters in movies (and other media). For more: nick-greer.com.