The Lighting of Souls

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
One night in oblivion and nothing will be the same.

Submitted: August 05, 2010

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Submitted: August 05, 2010

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Martin watched the steady stream of afternoon traffic flow by as the numbers continued to climb on the gas pump. At $2.95 a gallon he was noticing a lot more motorcycles and mopeds on the road than he ever had before and with each new price hike it seemed a better and better idea. A motorcycle was bit of a stretch but he could definitely picture himself cruising around on a moped. Until winter anyway. As it was he was content with his '97 Cavalier. She wasn't much of a looker, her bumpers were starting to sag and her paint was getting raised veins of rust, but she got the job done. When the pump finally clicked off at $32.48 Martin shuddered a little and let a swear slip under his breath as he hung the nozzle back on the cradle. After his receipt ejected into his hand he spit on the cement at the base of the pump, feeling quite vindicated in doing so.

The smell of overcooked hotdogs and dark coffee assaulted him as he stepped into the cool air of the gas station. He had become somewhat of an addict with the energy drinks lately and while he couldn't complain about the stamina boost, they sure played hell with his bladder. The short, round woman working behind the counter stared at him over her thick glasses as he navigated the labyrinth of candy bars and fruit pies between him and the restroom. A shaggy haired kid in headphones came out just as Martin reached for the handle and they gave each other a slight nod as they passed.

The bathroom was identical to every other gas station bathroom in the history of the world. The brown tile floor did little to hide the atrocities that had occurred in here, many no doubt due to the shady burritos they sold in this very station. The textured walls had allegedly been white in some by-gone era but now were closer to an almond shade, the result of countless cigarettes hanging from countless lips. He gave thanks that all he had to do was take a leak because, as is standard in these places, they had no toilet paper. With a masterful display of bathroom yoga Martin used both hands to fumble with his zipper while he used the tip of his right foot to gracefully raise the seat on the toilet.

The initial blast of neon urine torpedoed the water like a fat guy cannon balling into a swimming pool. The relief rose from his toes up through his body making his neck hairs stand on end. Martin glanced down at the top of the toilet tank and the spread of magazines and newspaper pages resting on it. When he felt sure that enough pressure had been released that it was safe to do so, he removed one hand from his crotch and thumbed through the magazines. Two-year old issues of Newsweek and a Hunting Unlimited made up the bulk of the pile with the faded comics section of the Dansville Times rounding it out.

He turned his full attention to the ever delicate job of zipping up. He had always wished there was a way to make women understand just how much calculated finesse such a seemingly simple task required. How much was at stake. Mission accomplished, he leaned forward to flush and noticed something catch the light under the pile of magazines. Bypassing the lever on the toilet he pushed aside the pile and uncovered a clear plastic CD case.

The thin jewel case was covered in dried water droplets and dark smears from the newspaper ink but the CD inside was still plainly visible. It was adorned with a simple white label covering its surface and a single red stamp on one side no larger than a nickle. The stamp was shaped something like an animal head or maybe a shield, it was hard to make out any detail at this size. Martin had seen Cd’s left in gas stations before, usually they were the recordings of some condescending evangelist's seminar or ten tips for making millions in real estate. Every disk like that he had ever seen always had writing on them, descriptions of their contents. Hell, some of the real estate ones even had fancy reflective labels that shimmered like the very gold their tips promised to shower you with. This disk was just white label, red stamp. Nothing more. Always the curious soul Martin slid the CD into his back pocket as he flushed the toilet, then left to buy a few more energy drinks before he went home.

Inside Martin's one bedroom apartment one's first thought might be “where is the cash register in this pawn shop.” Every conceivable surface and corner was brimming with, well, junk. Stacks of boxes with God knows what in them, empty cans and wrappers, dirty clothes heaved into the air and left to the discretion of gravity. A bachelor pad in other words. Martin was never much for organization, it seemed too much work and not enough payoff. It was home for better or worse and all in all Martin was content with it.

He took the CD out of his pocket as he crossed over to the boombox on the back shelf. He had to wait till now to play it because the Cavalier, bless her heart, only had a cassette deck. Why someone would have downgraded the stock CD player with a shitty cassette deck was beyond his understanding, but that's how she was when he bought her. The radio blasted to life when Martin hit the power button and he quickly flipped the selection switch to Disk as he ejected the tray. Once the unit had swallowed the CD the display window lit up. Its menu showed there was one track on the disk that ran six minutes long. Seems like a waste of disk space, he thought. He made a small adjustment to the volume knob and then pressed Play.

For a solid thirty seconds the speakers gave up nothing but light static and an occasional pop noise. It sounded at first like someone recorded a radio station that wasn't tuned in, the disk had definitely been recorded on, it was just garbled and unintelligible. He figured he'd let it play to the one minute mark and then he would start fast forwarding through it. Forty and then fifty seconds had gone by according to the blue screen and still nothing but hissing and popping. As fifty-five rolled past Martin reached for the button to start skimming. His finger was a hair's width from the plastic when the static yielded to a throaty voice, one nearly as raspy as the static had been.

“Good day to you. I am Grand master Olin. Since you currently possess this recording then fate has saw fit to extend to you an invitation to this year's festivities. What festivities, you will no doubt ask yourself. The kind which only a very select few are privileged to behold, are blessed to experience. The kind which cannot be described in mere words but rather must be indulged first hand. The kind which will forever change the very core of your existence. Many have come before you, surrendering to the ecstasy of the festivities, unshackling the limits of their pleasure, and all have declared it the definitive night of their lives. You are now presented with the honor of being a part of this tradition. The experience to be found is nothing short of a beautiful gift and it awaits your unwrapping. Some are not meant for such wonders, they do not possess the depth of mind to understand what is being offered. If this is you, and by now you know if it is, then return this disk to where you found it and dismiss all you have heard as rubbish and nonsense. If however you feel your blood running faster than it was two minutes ago, then move this recording to 3:42 for further instructions. We do hope to see you soon.”

And then static. Marin pressed the pause button and sat down on the ottoman. For a few moments he just sat still, staring at the carpet but not really seeing it. It was hard to form any thoughts on what he had just heard. Most of what was said seemed crazy, the baseless ramblings of a lunatic. Something about it stayed with him though, some subliminal hint of truth that he couldn't shake. Despite the overwhelming strangeness of the whole thing there was something to it that just felt... real. Of course a party or festival or whatever, offered to you by some anonymous voice on a CD, was enough to give your smarter parts pause. For all Martin knew this guy could be some kind of “Dansville Strangler” or something but again he felt that pinpoint of truth glowing as strong as any doubts. There was no harm to be had in listening to the further instructions and he would decide where he stood then. He leaned forward and started scanning.

The hissing raced by as the numbers on the screen climbed. He released the button as the time rounded 3:36 and sat in wait. As Martin watched, 3:40 came and then 41 and then a sharp pop....

“You have my admiration for being dedicated enough to make it this far. What follows is for guests and guests alone, outsiders are strictly forbidden. This information is your responsibility. Hear it, remember it, abide by it.

The festivities you shall be attending are held once a year in a rotating series of covert locations. This year we are excited to be back in the place where it all started. Home. As such this year is especially meaningful in the history of our tradition. We shall commence celebration at 9:00PM on the tenth of this month. At the end of this message there will be a tone followed by the address of the location. An important note: every guest is to arrive wearing a mask or means of shielding their face. These festivities are entirely anonymous and at no time is any guest to reveal any details of his or her identity, other than the disclosure of gender. This rule is not negotiable. Finally, be sure to bring this disk with you to the location. It shall serve as your key for entry and you will be turned away without it. Until we meet in pleasure, good day.”

Martin had already gotten a napkin and ink pen ready in anticipation of the address. Just as the voice had said there was a brief beeping tone and then the address, which he scribbled down quickly. He had the date, the time, and the address. Now he needed a mask.

E. O'Neil's Theater and Magic Supplies had occupied the storefront next to the bail bondsman downtown for the better part of twenty years. The shelves and boxes inside were always stocked tighter than Martin's own apartment was, largely because few people actually bought anything, so if anyone had the right mask it was O'Neil. There was no discernible order to the chaos so Martin just shuffled through the milk crates of rubber and vinyl hoping for the best. After passing on the monkey face and the cigar smoking baby, he saw something a little more classy. On the top of the crate at the end of the row was a mask of one of the wise men from Bethlehem. He wasn't sure which one it was, but he imagined it was the one who brought gold because he didn't really know what mur and frankin-whatever was. At $26.95 it was steep, but hopefully the big night would be worth it.

Four days of ever mounting anticipation had past and finally the night was here. Martin had googled the directions to the address and figured it would be a 45 minute drive, tops. He had put the Cavalier on the road a little early and was making good time. He was only vaguely familiar with the area he was in and it seemed to be nothing but trees and the occasional silo. That made sense, with the cloak and dagger secrecy surrounding the whole thing. The napkin claimed the place was close and as Martin squinted through the windshield the driveway faded into view.

The white gravel kicked up poofs of dust as the car crawled eagerly up the driveway. Either side was lined with a dense row of trees that blocked the light of the low riding moon; hanging from the branches at fifteen feet intervals were candle-lit lanterns that covered the virtual tunnel in a pulsating shroud of orange and white. About a quarter of a mile in, as Martin slowly took the car around a curve, the shadows from the headlights peeled off of the trees and climbed up the front of the three story building that rose into view.

“Castle” was the first word that popped into Martin's head, but that wasn't quite right. The building was a grand hulk of granite with an imposing presence but it lacked the sense of authority that was inherent to actual castles. This was more like a five star hotel in the middle of no man's land, a monument to elegance in a deserted wasteland. The driveway ended in a large cul-de-sac, a breathtaking water fountain resting majestically in the center. As he rounded the fountain in front of the main entrance one of two men in formal black suits and white gloves approached. He wore an ornate Chinese mask brushed with gold flakes and blushing cheeks. Martin stepped out and handed the man the keys, receiving a slight bow in return. The man pulled away and as the dust cloud settled, Martin was left looking up the stairs before him at the magnificent wooden doors warmly welcoming his arrival.

Martin did his best to maintain an air of distinguishment as he resisted taking the stairs two at a time. His pressed black tux hung perfectly upon his frame, a modest blue blossom pinned to his lapel. He was never the kind to dress up or even put any real effort into his appearance but he had felt looking in the mirror earlier that as the bearded wise man mask slid into place he was transformed into James Brolin circa 1979. He liked it. The short stride across the front landing brought him face to face with a small balding man, face only half covered with a red handkerchief, standing guard before the door. After a moment of awkward stillness he extended a single hand from behind his back.

“Disk, please” he said with both eyes closed. Martin fished the disk out of his jacket pocket and placed it on the man's open palm. The man glanced down at the disk, eyes barely open now, and lifted the cover. From his breast pocket he produced a small, round stamp and pressed it down onto the disk opposite the existing red stamp. As he handed it back Martin saw that he had added a blue number 5 to the label. The man then dropped something into Martin's hand.

“Your key my lord” the man said with a sly wink. The great double doors opened seemingly on their own as the man raised his hand. “Please enter. And might I say, “Welcome Sir.”

“What's the key for?” Martin asked as he held it up. “Obviously not the front door.”

“Please enter Sir.” the man repeated. Martin slipped the key into the pocket with the CD and gave the man a bow. With a deep breath he stepped forward and through the great doorway.

Martin found himself standing in a mesmerizing room the size of three of his apartments. The ceiling was open up all three floors with great oak balconies running the perimeter of each level. On either side of the room were massive carpeted staircases with finely detailed railings. The pink marble floor reflected the maroon satin wallpaper and tinted the whole interior in a soothing strawberry hue. A single chandelier the size of Martin's Cavalier hung brilliantly from the ceiling, its countless crystals exploding with light.

Spread throughout the room Martin counted twenty-six people, all their faces covered, all their identities unknown. A few of the people were similarly dressed; long, gold velvet robes and solid black masks sculpted with eager smiles. He assumed they were amongst those holding the party, chaperones in a way. The rest were as diverse as the ripples in the water fountain. Two men were dressed like tigers, the masks covered in fur and false tails spilling out between their back pockets. A woman in a plush chair in the corner was sipping red wine through the mask of a fairy goddess. There were angels with plastic halos and gentlemen in capes and Zorro masks. A lavish ballroom full of characters with invisible souls.

Martin looked again at the fairy goddess in the corner, her wine glass now empty. He walked over to her amidst butterflies hatching in his stomach. Her eyes lifted to his as a single drop of deep red wine left the corner of her mouth and traced a crimson trail down the milk white skin of her mask. Martin slowly reached a hand out and gently wiped the trail away with his thumb, which he then ran across his own mask's lips.

“So how might I go about getting you a refill on that?” he asked, nodding at the glass.

“Since I got here a simple snap of the fingers has been working just fine” she said. Even through the innocent veneer of her mask he could feel her smiling flirtatiously underneath. He kept his eyes in her's while he suavely raised a hand in the air and snapped. Even before his hand was down a blue Buddha was next to him with a silver domed tray held at arm's length.

“What desires does Sir seek this evening?” Buddha asked. He sounded genuinely curious, like a doctor asking of your symptoms.

“Uh, what's on the menu?” Martin wasn't sure what to say.

“The world, Sir and anything you want from it. Tell me, what are your expectations for this evening?” he cocked his head a little with the question.

“I don't know, I still don't even now what's going on or what “tonight” really is.”

“Tonight is about you, Sir. The Grand master will make it all clear shortly. In the mean time I ask again, what would you like to come of tonight? Truthfully?”

“Truthfully? Okay, let's see. I'd like to drink up a decent buzz, eat some real food, and uh...”, he looked at the fairy goddess a moment then leaned in next to Buddha's ear, “maybe “socialize”, if you know what I mean.” He heard a muffled chuckle come from the fairy behind him and then Buddha too briefly chuckled.

“I promise you Sir, all that and much more.” He lifted the dome from the silver tray. Next to half a dozen glasses of a green liquid were another half dozen little boxes, brass with hinged lids. Buddha ran his finger momentarily over the boxes before gently opening two of them. From one he produced a white pill with a wavy line etched into to it and handed it to Martin. From the second box he revealed what looked like a black sugar cube. This too he handed to Martin whose hand was still open, palm up.

“What are these?” Martin asked, rolling them around on his hand.

“The beginning, Sir” Buddha said as he slipped a white pill into his own mouth. “Just the beginning.”

“Martin, seeing no reason not to go in headfirst, looked back at fairy goddess then back to Buddha, then to the jungle existing around him. Without closing his eyes he slid both the pill and the cube into his dry mouth. Buddha handed him one of the glasses of green liquid and then took one himself. Fairy goddess leaned forward far enough to take one for herself then fell back into her chair. Buddha raised his glass as if to toast and the other two followed suit.

“To existence,” Buddha said firmly “and all of the pleasures it can provide.”

“Here here” both Martin and fairy goddess said in unison. With a simultaneous lifting of arms the three glasses were emptied, fresh ones taking their place. Fairy goddess and Martin both choked a little on the harshness of the green drink.

“Wow!” Martin shook his head viciously. “What the hell was that?”

Buddha stared at him for a single instant.

“Absinthe. The Green Dragon.” His toned turned lighter. “The festivities have begun.”

An hour later they were in the dining hall. A massive table at least thirty feet long sat in the center. Upon the table was a feast Martin had only ever seen in illustrated childrens' books. In three different spots there was a great platter beneath a gorgeous roast covered in pineapple rings. One roast on its own was big enough to feed everyone here. The rest of the table was hosting every type of side dish imaginable. After his plate was loaded he took the seat next to fairy goddess that was she saving for him. No one talked as food was devoured. The roast was tender and moist, a deep grilled crust covering the outside. The potatoes were so fluffy you could nap on them and the fresh bread was simply divine.

After the dishes were cleared away and everyone was returning to socializing a voice came across the building's intercom.

“Everyone is advised to proceed to the Grand master’s chambers immediately. The festivities' opening ceremony is about to begin.” Martin and fairy looked at each other and then joined the flow of masks to the chambers. They were led down a staircase that went to a basement Martin didn't even realize the place had and through a great brass door. Inside the chamber was essentially an auditorium. A stage at one end with rows of rising benches running the chamber's perimeter. Everyone funneled into the chamber and dispersed amongst the seats. Some people sat in pairs or small groups, others in relative isolation.

Martin sat next to fairy goddess. Before them stood the stage with a huge chair in the center, a gold chair with red velvet padding that wouldn't be unworthy of a king's behind. On either side of the chair was a tiger standing tall, hands behind their backs. When the nervous rustling had subsided the voice returned to the intercom.

“Please rise” the voice demanded. “I present to you your host for this evening. Ladies and Gentleman, your Grand master Olin.” There was silence as the Grand master entered the chamber. A tall man wearing a long coat of crushed blue velvet trimmed with tan lion's fur. He carried a staff in one hand, a bronze ball resting on its top. His head was covered in a hood, a polished silver mask filling the opening with the reflection of the room around him. He stopped in front of his chair and turned towards his audience.

“Good Evening and Welcome. Some of you here tonight are in a state of confusion, you are not sure of what is transpiring in this place. Allow me to explain. Among the masks sitting before me, there are twelve of you who are unique. Though the chances are small that you twelve are acquainted outside of this place, you do have something in common. Each of you is here because you have an invitation. These invitations are distributed in such a way that fate ultimately decides who they go to. Tonight that is you. These festivities were founded long ago on the belief that pleasure is the true purpose of existence. Pleasure is the greatest feeling the mind can know, our Creator's gift that we were meant to indulge. This place is nowhere. The masks around you are nobody. In this place the concept of an individual does not exist, rules and morals are none. In this place pleasure is all that matters, however that may come for you. If you wish to dance, then dance. If you wish to make love, we have plenty of rooms. If you wish to kill, they is much flesh here. This place is yours, do as thou will. Every need that you have shall be handled and any desire indulged. The key you received upon your arrival will open any door in this place. This is your kingdom tonight. The festivities will conclude with the traditional closing ceremonies. This shall commence at precisely 5:56AM, the last minute before sunrise. As always the ceremonies will end with the Lighting of the Souls. Each of the invited guests was given a number when they arrived. Throughout the night a raffle of sorts will be held among you. At random intervals a number will be announced over the intercom and that guest is to proceed to the Grand master’s chambers for further instruction. Good luck to our guests. Everyone, make this the night of your existence, and above all else: Find your pleasure! We shall see everyone in the morning!”

The Grand master bowed to the crowd and then exited the chambers. Everyone stood still and silent for a time, processing the idea of absolute freedom. Suddenly, everyone yelled together and the room fell to chaos. Some people took off running like lunatics let out of the asylum, some tore off their clothes and writhed on the ground, animal heads with naked human bodies. The pills and drinks had elevated everyone to a different plane, one where every nerve ending was exponentially more sensitive. Hypnotic music came spilling from the speakers, songs you could either dance to or become entranced by. Lights tucked away in corners were strobing in beat with the music and a subtle layer of ground fog was being pumped in. As the pills grew in intensity the place gradually dissolved into another reality. The real world no longer existed. There was only this night lost somewhere in oblivion.

Martin had been slower to let loose. Unbridled freedom was a foreign concept to the civilized person and he had trouble accepting it. He was finishing another green dragon when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around, his vision smearing slightly from the drinks and lights, and found fairy goddess gazing at him. She handed him another drink and held a black cube up to his lips.

“I think this night would be wasted if it was spent alone. I think it should be shared.” She slid the cube into his mouth. “So much to experience in such a short time.” She fed herself a cube, Martin looking at her through a typhoon of raging sensations.

“You're right. You're absolutely right.” He threaded his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. “Do we really have total freedom?” he asked, almost terrified that she might say no.

“Complete and boundless” she replied. “Tonight, we are Gods. Let's go make our Heaven.”

She leaned in and kissed him softly, a small taste making it through his mask. He kissed her back with a passion he never realized was in him. He pulled back and fell into her eyes.

“Let's go make our Heaven.” he said.

The pair crossed through the liquid red fog to the carpeted staircase. They were met at the second floor by a long wall running opposite the balcony, a black door every fifteen feet. Martin's arm was around fairy goddess' shoulders as they made their way into the hall. The strobing lights reflected off the chandelier turning the crystals into dancing pixies. The rising fog obscured the view of the main floor below making them feel like they were lost somewhere in the clouds. Fairy goddess put her head on Martin's shoulder.

Together they slowly walked down the hallway, glancing into the doors that were standing open. They passed one room with a man in a devil mask lying on the floor, a needle hanging out of each arm. Another room, dark with soft candles burning, hosted a man running a razor blade over a nude woman's body, applying just enough pressure to draw blood. Everywhere they looked masked souls were indulging in every desire imaginable, some unimaginable. There were laughs and there were tears. There was sex and there was death.

The intake of drugs and drinks had remained constant and Martin and his companion were floating somewhere between a dream and delirium. Martin ran his fingers through fairy goddess' hair, long and chocolate brown. At one point a voice came across the intercom announcing the number two. Fairy goddess glanced briefly up at Martin.

“That's my number” she said quietly. “I don't want to leave you, though. They can wait.” Martin smiled beneath his mask.

“So what desire does a beautiful fairy goddess yearn for on a night like this?”, his voice was mellow and smooth. Fairy goddess raised her eyes to his, the gaze lingering.

“I think it's best if I show you.” She gently took his hand in her's and led him up to the third floor. At the end of the third floor hallway was a ladder built into the wall, its top rung just below a square hatch in the ceiling. With unwavering confidence she ascended the ladder, pausing only long enough to unlock it with her key, and then threw it open. The sweet night air flooded in and swirled around Martin as he followed fairy goddess onto the roof.

The crickets provided the symphony as the lovers sat Indian style on the elegant gray shingles; theirs eyes locked, their hands intertwined. The world faded away beneath the oblivion of the black sky leaving their two bodies the only things to exist. The heat radiating off of them was tangible, the exquisite caress of absolute ecstasy. As their hearts raced, fairy goddess spoke.

“We're in Heaven now. My desire is you, my love. I want you to have me right here.” Their gaze held for barely a moment before Martin leaned forward and whispered into her ear.

“My Goddess.” His breath was warm and arousing. He traced the tip of his nose tenderly along the white cheek of her mask until their mouths softly met.

And from behind their masks they made passionate love. Two actors on a stage; the full moon their spotlight, the stars the shimmering eyes of a captivated audience. They knew their identities no more than they knew what tomorrow would bring but in that moment on the roof they were one soul, two bodies melded into a single perfect being. Tonight was about finding Heaven and as they experienced each others' flesh, they found it.

The last hours of the night passed by as they lay looking at the stars; he on his back, her head on his chest. Soon would be the closing ceremonies and the Lighting of the Souls. And then all of this would be over. Fairy goddess was gently teasing the hair on Martin's chest when she looked up at him.

“I don't want this to end” she said softly. “Not ever.” Martin lifted her chin with his finger.

“It doesn't have to... we don't have to.” She sat up and looked at him with big, round eyes.

“What are you saying?”

“I'm saying that when this is over and it's time to leave, I want us to leave together.” She let out a whimper and threw her arms around him. She cried into his neck.

They waited as long as they could and as they passed through the great brass door into the Grand master’s chambers they saw that they were the last ones to arrive. Martin took a seat on a bench and held fairy goddess' arm as she sat down beside him. He glanced around the masks filling the room, getting a friendly nod from some and a turned head from others. The room was silent until the familiar voice, the one that had been announcing numbers throughout the night, crackled over the intercom.

“Ladies and Gentleman, please rise. May I present to you your Grand master Olin.” The room stayed quiet as Olin crossed to center stage, the two tigers flanking his chair behind him. For a moment he stood looking out over his audience and then he spoke.

“My friends, welcome back. And how was everyone's evening?” The room filled with screams and applause, a few people crying hysterically. “Excellent. Then the festivities were a success.” More screaming and whistles erupted. “My siblings, you are now apart of history and I am happy to say that those who came before us, those who instilled these traditions would not be disappointed. It is with great pride that I take you into this year's closing ceremonies. As you have come to understand, our festivities are organized and presided over by the Grand master. This year that great honor has been mine. Our traditions hold that each year's festivities be governed by a different Grand master, no person shall be afforded the honor twice. Twelve candidates are invited each year as potentials for the position. Those twelve guests who are here by invitation, please rise.”

Slowly, their hands interlocked, Martin and fairy goddess rose with the other ten invited guests.

“You twelve are here because the Creator has saw it fit to be so. It is through you twelve that the Lighting of the Souls may take place.” Olin raised both hands into the air and as he did a large rectangular panel in the floor slid open, revealing a shallow, sparkling pool beneath it. “This, my friends, is The Pool of Finality. One among you is the new Grand master and the remaining eleven shall kneel in the pool, heads bowed, as your new leader is crowned. This is one of our oldest traditions and is a showing of respect and acceptance of the new Grand master. Now, each of you was assigned a number when you arrived, one through twelve. Throughout the night, eleven numbers were announced. Those eleven should now take a place in the pool.

Fairy goddess' number had been called, Martin's had not. With great hesitation their hands parted and she took her place in the pool, ten others kneeling around her. Martin realized as he stood there alone that he was the new Grand master. He was elated but he already missed his fairy goddess.

“Good”, Olin said satisfied. “Now the last guest, the one whose number was not called, would you please join me on stage.” Martin gave a heavy sigh and did as he was instructed. The stage creaked beneath his feet as he took a spot beside Olin. “My son, for the past year it has been my honor to be Grand master. Nothing in my life has been so fulfilling. But now that honor is yours as the title is passed.” Olin turned towards the audience to give the final pieces of instruction. “Tradition holds that the reigning Grand master surrender his mask to the new blood taking his place. When the mask has been passed I shall take my new place in the pool, kneeling before my new Grand master.” He turned back to Martin. He raised his hands to his face and with a slow, smooth motion he removed the silver mask from his face. His head was wrapped in dull white gauze beneath it, only his mouth uncovered, his identity still a mystery. His lips parted slightly as he lifted the mask and placed it onto the face of the gold-bearing wise man.

“Now,” Olin said, “you must chose the name by which you shall be hailed at next year's festivities.” Martin thought for a moment as he glanced out at fairy goddess, her head bowed to him.

“Romeo”, he said, a smile forming beneath the two masks. Olin gave a slight nod.

“My brothers and sisters, may I present your new Grand master Romeo!” The room once again went crazy, cheers and roars filling Martin's ears. “As your first task as Grand master, you must select one person from the pool before you. That person shall be granted automatic admission to next year's festivities as your personal guest. If you would, Grand master.” Olin raised a hand towards the kneeling bodies in the pool. Without a moment's hesitation Martin pointed a trembling finger at fairy goddess. Olin lowered his hand and said, “Would the guest please join your Grand master on stage. Slowly fairy goddess rose up from the shimmering liquid and made her way to Martin's side, his arm immediately sliding around her waist. More applause came from the crowd.

Olin stood looking out at the sea of masks. “As my last words may I say that much of my pleasure this evening was in the company of you fine people. I am delighted to say that those who came before us, those who established the ideals we hold so dear, would not be disappointed. So with out further ado, may we commence with the Lighting of the Souls.” Olin shook Martin's hand firmly, no words were exchanged but none needed be. After a respectful bow to fairy goddess, Olin stepped off of the stage and took his place kneeling in the pool.

One of the tigers approached Martin with a burning torch in his outstretched hand. Martin took it from him, gazing at the dancing flame on top. The tiger leaned in and whispered into Martin's ear for a moment, instructed him on how to finish the ceremony. He was to announce himself to his people and then drop the torch into the pool, officially signaling his position as Grand master. The tiger bowed to him and returned to his place beside Martin's chair.

Martin, holding fairy goddess' hand in his own, stepped to the edge of the stage over the foot of the pool. He held the torch high above his head, the light crawling across the dimly lit walls. The twelve people in the pool held their position, projecting adoration onto their leader. Martin looked at his love a moment and then took a deep breath.

“My companions in pleasure,” he bellowed from beneath the silver mask, “by way of our honored traditions... I am your Grand master Romeo!” All but the twelve exploded into chant, hails and praise filling the air. As the tiger had instructed, Martin held the torch out over the ripples of The Pool of Finality. “By the will of the Creator, the night ends now.”

On those words Martin released the torch and watched it fall end over end towards the pool. The moment the flame touched the liquid the entire pool erupted in flames. In no more than the blink of an eye each of the twelve was engulfed in a swirling inferno of heat and searing pain. As their flesh began to liquify and boil they thrashed around screaming and yelping. Martin and fairy goddess took a giant step back, neither had been expecting what was happening. The rest of the masks in the room stood silent, watching the blackened bodies fall down lifeless one by one. Soon the only movement was the sloshing of the liquid that had become dark and opaque with scorched tissue.

Martin and fairy goddess stood motionless, mouths gaped at the horror before them. In time the two tigers stepped forward and with a hand on the shoulder led Martin and fairy goddess out of the chambers. When the tigers returned they were joined by Buddha and together the three of them approached the pool, the smoke still thick and pungent. With a sense of urgency Buddha spoke to the tigers.

“Get these roasts on ice immediately. They must not spoil before next year's feast.” The tigers obeyed, pulling crispy black flesh from The Pool of Finality and off to the kitchen for storage. The pineapple would be picked fresh next year.

Eleven months had passed since Martin and fairy goddess had touched Heaven on the roof of that place. Eleven months that the two of them had not been apart for more than a day or two. They were finding a life for themselves and not one moment passed that they forgot the things they had experienced that night. What they had become a part of. They never stopped giving thanks to the Creator for joining them together.

Martin walked around the Cavalier to fairy goddess' window. He leaned in and kissed her.

“Do you need anything, my love?”

“No, I've got everything I need”, she said with a loving smile.

“Okay, I just need to use the can, I'll be right back.” He turned and headed into the cool air of the gas station. The small round woman behind the counter watched him over thick glasses as he wound his way to the bathroom. As his neon urine was finding a new home he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a CD in a clear plastic jewel case. He laid it gently on the top of the toilet tank and pulled a three-year old issue of Newsweek over it. A gift for some lucky soul. He looked up at the Creator and said smiling, “It's all yours now.” With exceptional finesse he pulled up his zipper, flushed the toilet, and left to buy a few energy drinks before heading home.


© Copyright 2020 Tim Howard. All rights reserved.

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